(1907 - 1982)
On Nora Joyce, in this site
A FIRE IN THE BRAIN
by JOAN ACOCELLA
The difficulties of being James Joyce’s daughter.
Issue of 2003-12-08
William Butler Yeats, when he was riding the bus, would occasionally go into a compositional trance. He would stare straight ahead and utter a low hum and beat time with his hands. People would come up to him and ask him if he was all right. Once, his young daughter, Anne, boarded a bus and found him in that condition among the passengers. She knew better than to disturb him. But when the bus stopped at their gate, she got off with him. He turned to her vaguely and said, “Oh, who is it you wish to see?”
When I think of what it means to be an artist’s child, I remember that story. There are worse fates. But in the artist’s household the shifts that the children must endure—they can’t make noise (he’s working), they can’t leave on vacation (he hasn’t finished the chapter)—are combined with a mystique that this is all for some exalted cause, which they must honor even though they are too young to understand it. Furthermore, if the artist is someone of Yeats’s calibre, the children, as they develop, will measure themselves against him and come up short. In fact, many artists’ children turn out just fine, and grow up to edit their parents’ work and live off the royalties. But some do not—for example, James Joyce’s two children. His son became an alcoholic; his daughter went mad. Carol Loeb Shloss, a Joyce scholar who teaches at Stanford, has just written a book about the latter: “Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $30).
Lucia grew up in a disorderly household. Joyce had turned his back on Ireland in 1904, when he was twenty-two. Convinced that he was a genius but that his countrymen would never recognize this, he persuaded Nora Barnacle, his wife-to-be, to sail with him to the Continent. They eventually landed in Trieste, and there, for the next decade or so, he worked as a language teacher and completed “Dubliners” and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” With the publication of “Portrait,” in 1916, he acquired rich patrons, but until then—that is, throughout his children’s early years—the Joyces were very poor. Some days they went without dinner. Their first child, Giorgio, was born in 1905, a bonny, easy baby, and, furthermore, a boy. Nora adored him till the day she died. Two years after Giorgio came Lucia, a sickly, difficult child, and a girl, with strabismus. (That is, she was cross-eyed. Nora, too, had strabismus, but hers was far less noticeable.) Lucia’s earliest memories of her mother were of scoldings. Joyce, on the other hand, loved Lucia, spoiled her, sang to her, but only when he had time. He worked all day and then, on many nights, he went out and got blind drunk. The family was evicted from apartment after apartment. By the age of seven, Lucia had lived at five different addresses. By thirteen, she had lived in three different countries. The First World War forced the Joyces to move to Zurich; after the war, they settled in Paris. As a result, Lucia received a spotty education, during which she was repeatedly left back by reason of having to learn a new language.
Was she strange from childhood? With people who become mentally ill as adults, this question is always hard to answer, because most witnesses, knowing what happened later, read it back into the early years, and are sure that the signs were already there. Richard Ellmann, the author of the standard biography of Joyce, and Brenda Maddox, in her “Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce,” both note that the young Lucia seemed to stare off into space, but the strabismus might account for this. It is also said that she was reticent socially. Although she was talkative at home—a “saucebox,” her father called her—she apparently went through periods when she spoke to few people outside her family. But the language-switching could explain this. A friend of the family described her, in her twenties, as “illiterate in three languages.” It was four, actually: German, French, English, and Triestine Italian. The last was her native tongue, the language that her family used at home, not just in Trieste but forever after (because Joyce found it easier on the voice). It was not, however, what people spoke in most of the places where she lived.
When Lucia was fifteen, she began taking dance lessons, mostly of the new, anti-balletic, “aesthetic” variety, and this became her main interest during her teens and early twenties. She started at the Dalcroze Institute in Paris, then moved on to study with the toga-clad Raymond Duncan, Isadora’s older brother. Eventually, she hooked up with a commune of young women who performed now and then, in Paris and elsewhere, as Les Six de Rythme et Couleur. However briefly, Lucia was a professional dancer. She is said to have excelled in sauvage roles. But eventually she left this group, as she left every group. (I count nine dance schools in seven years.) In part, that may have been due to lack of encouragement from her family. Nora reportedly nagged Lucia to give up dancing. According to members of the family, she was jealous of the attention the girl received. As for Joyce, Brenda Maddox says he felt “it was unseemly for women to get on the stage and wave their arms about.”
Finally, after seven years’ training in the left wing of dance, Lucia bolted to the right wing, and embarked on a backbreaking course of ballet instruction with Lubov Egorova, formerly of the Maryinsky Theatre, in St. Petersburg. This was a terrible idea. Professional ballet dancers begin their training at around the age of eight. Lucia was twenty-two. She worked six hours a day, but of course she couldn’t catch up, and, in her discouragement, she concluded that she was not physically strong enough to be a dancer of any kind—a decision, Joyce wrote to a friend, that cost her “a month’s tears.”
The loss of her dance career was not the only grief that Lucia suffered in her early twenties. The publication of “Ulysses,” in 1922, made Joyce a star, and there were plenty of young artistic types in Paris who thought it would be nice to be attached to his family. When Giorgio was in his late teens, an American heiress, Helen Fleischman, laid claim to him; eventually he moved in with her. Lucia, who had been very close to Giorgio, felt abandoned. She was also scandalized. (Fleischman was eleven years older than Giorgio, and married.) Finally, she wondered what she was missing. She decided to find out, and in the space of about two years she was rejected by three men: her father’s assistant, Samuel Beckett, who told her he wasn’t interested in her in that way; her drawing teacher, Alexander Calder, who bedded her but soon went back to his fiancée; and another artist, Albert Hubbell, who had an affair with her and then went back to his wife. Lucia became more experimental. She took to meeting a sailor at the Eiffel Tower. She announced that she was a lesbian. During these romantic travails, she became more distressed over her strabismus. She had the eye operated on, but it didn’t change. Soon afterward, her pride received another blow: her parents told her that they were going to get married. (Giorgio’s marriage to the newly divorced Fleischman got them thinking about legality and inheritance.) This is how she discovered that they never had been married and that she was a bastard.
The following year, on Joyce’s fiftieth birthday, Lucia picked up a chair and threw it at her mother, whereupon Giorgio took her to a medical clinic and checked her in. “He thereby changed her fate,” Shloss writes. That is a strong judgment, but it is true in part, because the minute an emotionally disturbed person is placed in an institution the story enters a new phase, in which we see not just the original problem but its alterations under institutionalization: the effects of drugs, the humiliation of being locked up and supervised, the consequent change in the person’s self-image and in other people’s image of him or her. For the next three years, Lucia went back and forth between home and hospital. One night in 1933, she was at home when the news came that a United States District Court had declared “Ulysses” not obscene (which meant that it could be published in the States). The Joyces’ phone rang and rang with congratulatory calls. Lucia cut the phone wires—“I’m the artist,” she said—and when they were repaired she cut them again. As her behavior grew worse, her hospitalizations became longer. She went from French clinics to Swiss sanitariums. She was analyzed by Jung. (Briefly—she wanted no part of him.) One doctor said she was “hebephrenic,” which at that time was a subtype of schizophrenia, describing patients who showed antic, “naughty” behavior. Another diagnostician said she was “not lunatic but markedly neurotic.” A third thought the problem was “cyclothymia,” akin to manic-depressive illness. At one point in 1935, when she seemed stabler, her parents let her go visit some cousins in Bray, a seaside town near Dublin. There she set a peat fire in the living room, and when her cousins’ boyfriends came to call she tried to unbutton their trousers. She also, night after night, turned on the gas tap, in a sort of suicidal game. Then she disappeared to Dublin, where she tramped the streets for six days, sleeping in doorways, or worse. When she was found, she herself asked to be taken to a nursing home.
Soon afterward, the Joyces put her in an asylum in Ivry, outside Paris. She was twenty-eight, and she never lived on the outside again. She changed hospitals a few times, but her condition remained the same. She was quiet for the most part, though periodically she would go into a tearing rage—breaking windows, attacking people—and then she would be put in a straitjacket until she calmed down. This went on for forty-seven years, until her death, in 1982, at the age of seventy-five.
Carol Shloss believes that Lucia’s case was cruelly mishandled. When Lucia fell ill, she at last captured her father’s sustained attention. He grieved over her incessantly. At the same time, he was in the middle of writing “Finnegans Wake,” and there were people around him—friends, patrons, assistants, on whom, since he was going blind, he was very dependent—who believed that the future of Western literature depended on his ability to finish this book. But he was not finishing it, because he was too busy worrying about Lucia. He was desperate to keep her at home. His friends—and also Nora, who bore the burden of caring for Lucia when she was at home, and who was the primary target of her fury—insisted that she be institutionalized. The entourage finally prevailed, and Joyce completed “Finnegans Wake.” In Shloss’s view, Lucia was the price paid for a book.
But, as Shloss tells it, the silencing of Lucia went further than that. Her story was erased. After Joyce’s death, many of his friends and relatives, in order to cover over this sad (and reputation-beclouding) episode, destroyed Lucia’s letters, together with Joyce’s letters to and about her. Shloss says that Giorgio’s son, Stephen Joyce, actually removed letters from a public collection in the National Library of Ireland. When Brenda Maddox’s biography of Nora was in galleys, Maddox was required to delete her epilogue on Lucia in return for permission to quote various Joyce materials. Shloss doesn’t waste any tears over Maddox, however. In her opinion, Maddox and Ellmann are among the sinners, because they assumed, and thereby persuaded the public, that Lucia was insane. (Whenever Shloss catches Ellmann or Maddox in what seems to her a factual error, she records it snappishly—a tone inadvisable for a writer who, forced to swot up three decades of dance history, made some errors herself.) But the biographers are a side issue. None of Lucia’s letters survive as original documents. Nor is there any trace of her diaries or poems, or of a novel that she is said to have been writing. In other words, most of the primary sources for an account of Lucia Joyce’s life are missing. “This is a story that was not supposed to be told,” Shloss writes. Therefore she tells it with a vengeance.
Shloss says that Lucia was a pioneering artist: “Through her we watch the birth of modernism.” She compares her to Prometheus, “privately engaged in stealing fire.” She compares her to Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. Insofar as these statements have to do with Lucia’s dance career, Shloss is as hard up for evidence as all other people writing about dance that predated the widespread use of film and video recording. What those writers do is quote reviewers and witnesses. But Lucia’s stage career was very short; Shloss is able to document maybe ten or twenty professional performances, and Lucia’s contributions to them were apparently not reviewed. Once, in 1929, when she competed in a dance contest in Paris, a critic singled her out as “subtle and barbaric.” Apropos of that performance, Shloss also quotes the diary of Joyce’s friend Stuart Gilbert: “Ballet yesterday; fils prodigue is a compromise between pas d’acier (steps of steel) and neo-Stravinsky.” This would be an interesting compliment if the prodigal son in question were Lucia, but what Gilbert is clearly describing is George Balanchine’s ballet “Le Fils Prodigue,” which had its première in Paris, with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, three days before Lucia’s dance contest.
Shloss’s evaluation of Lucia as an artist is not limited to her dance career, however. Lucia, she tells us, collaborated with Joyce on “Finnegans Wake.” One of Lucia’s cousins, Bozena Berta Schaurek, visited the Joyces briefly in 1928, and in an interview fifty years later she recalled something from that visit: while Joyce worked, “Lucia danced silently in the background.” Joyce prided himself on his ability to write under almost any conditions, so if his niece saw him, once or twice, working in the same room where Lucia was practicing, this would not be surprising. But in Shloss’s mind Schaurek’s report prompts a vision:
There are two artists in this room, and
both of them are working. Joyce is watching and learning. The two communicate
with a secret, unarticulated voice. The writing of the pen, the writing of the
body become a dialogue of artists, performing and counterperforming, the pen,
the limbs writing away.
The father notices the dance’s autonomous eloquence. He understands the body to be the hieroglyphic of a mysterious writing, the dancer’s steps to be an alphabet of the inexpressible. . . . The place where she meets her father is not in consciousness but in some more primitive place before consciousness. They understand each other, for they speak the same language, a language not yet arrived into words and concepts but a language nevertheless, founded on the communicative body. In the room are flows, intensities.
Shloss thinks that this artistic symbiosis went on for years and that out of it came the theme of “Finnegans Wake” (flow), its linguistic experiments, much of its imagery, and also, because dance is abstract, its quasi-abstract quality. In return for these artistic gains, Shloss says, Lucia’s life was forfeited. Transfixed by Joyce’s gaze, she became too self-aware. And magicked by her relationship with him—“one of the great love stories of the twentieth century,” Shloss calls it—she could never form an attachment to another man. Even years later, when Lucia is in the sanitarium and doing bizarre things—painting her face black, sending telegrams to dead people—Shloss believes that this was Lucia’s way of giving her father material. She wasn’t schizophrenic; she was working on “Finnegans Wake.”
This elevation of Lucia to the role of collaborator on “Finnegans Wake” is the book’s most spectacular act of inflation, but by no means the only one. The less Shloss knows, the more she tells us. On Lucia’s studies with Raymond Duncan, for example, she seems to have almost no information. But here, among many other things, is what she says on the subject:
Lucia’s mind was filled with the grammar of vitality, prizing the dynamic over the static order. She imagined herself in terms of tension and its release; she felt the anxieties of opposing muscle to muscle and the heady mastery of resistances, knew the peace of working with gravity and not against it. To drop, to rebound, to lift, to suspend oneself. To fall and recover, to know the experience of grounding oneself and then arising to circle to the edge of ecstasy. Priests danced, children danced, philosophers’ thoughts rose and fell in rhythmic sequence; lovers danced, and so did Lucia.
This is what you get when you tear up letters on a biographer. Underlying that passage—indeed, the whole book—are many of the irrationalist formulas associated in the public mind with dance. Painting is an art, writing is an art, but dance is a religion, an immolation. It is primitive, it is sexual, it is Dionysiac. (Shloss gives us a talk on Nietzsche.) It is an ecstasy, an obsession—the Red Shoes. Therefore it is cousin to insanity. Shloss points us to Zelda Fitzgerald, who also threw herself into ballet in her twenties, also studied with Egorova, and also went mad. (The two women even ended up in the same Swiss hospital, though Zelda was gone before Lucia checked in.) Nijinsky, too, is invoked. And Lucia’s symptoms are repeatedly described as her way of dancing.
In some sections, however, Shloss forgets that she is writing a symbolist poem or a Laingian treatise and starts writing a biography. That, of course, is when she has some information to go on. At one juncture, she quotes from a history of Lucia that Joyce and his friend Paul Léon wrote for one of the hospitals that she was sent to: “The patient insists that despite her diligence, her talent and all her exertions, the results of her work have come to nothing. The brother, her contemporary, whom she previously idolized, has never worked at anything, is well known, has married wealth, has a beautiful apartment, a car with a chauffeur and, on top of it all, a beautiful wife.” Lucia herself said to a companion that her situation was “just as if you had been very rich, and collected many valuable things, and then they were taken away from you.” These are modest statements, about cars and money, not Dionysus, but they are the ones that make you want to cry.
Another poignant section of the book has to do with Joyce’s efforts on Lucia’s behalf. Joyce believed that Lucia’s problems were somehow inherited from him: “Whatever spark or gift I possess has been transmitted to Lucia and it has kindled a fire in her brain.” (In fact, the fire may have been transmitted by Nora, whose sister Dilly spent a year and a half in a lunatic asylum.) He tried to find ways to heal her, please her. He bought her a fur coat (“My wish for you is warmth and beauty”), and when she lost it he bought her another one. To replace dancing, he persuaded her to take up book illustration—she drew lettrines, ornamental capitals—and he secretly gave publishers the money to pay her for her work. He didn’t think she was crazy; he thought she was special—“a fantastic being,” with her own private language. “I understand it,” he said, “or most of it.” If there was something wrong with her, maybe it was an infection, or a hormone imbalance. (She was given hormones, and also injections of seawater. The treatment of schizophrenia in those days was basically stabs in the dark, as it is still.) He spared no expense. In 1935, Léon reported that three-quarters of Joyce’s income was going to Lucia’s care. When the Germans invaded France, in 1940, and the family had to flee to Switzerland, Joyce practically killed himself in the vain effort to arrange for Lucia to go with them. Indeed, he may have killed himself. A month after the family arrived in Zurich, he died of a perforated ulcer.
Shloss loves Joyce for the pains he took over Lucia. The enemies in her book, apart from the letter-destroyers, are Nora and Giorgio—especially Giorgio, who, though by this time he spent his days in an alcoholic haze, was always forgiven everything by his family, and who, time and again, was the first person to say that his sister should be put away. Shloss repeatedly suggests—again, without evidence—that there may have been some sexual contact between Lucia and Giorgio when they were in their teens or earlier, and that Giorgio, in his rush to institutionalize her, may have been trying to silence her on this subject.
Shloss’s book is part of a tradition, the biography-of-the-artist’s-woman—a genre that is now about thirty years old, as old as its source, modern feminism. Its goal is to show that many great works of art by men were fed on the blood of women, who were then, at best, forgotten by history or, at worst, maddened by their exploitation and then clapped in an institution. In the latter cases—Shloss’s “Lucia,” Carole Seymour-Jones’s “Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T. S. Eliot, and the Long-Suppressed Truth About Her Influence on His Genius”—these books can be very indignant. (Not always. Nancy Milford’s biography of Zelda Fitzgerald basically comes down on Scott’s side.) When the woman is merely unacknowledged, the tone tends to be milder, as in Brenda Maddox’s “Nora”—which, pace Shloss, says that Nora was the primary inspiration for Joyce’s work—or Ann Saddlemyer’s “Becoming George: The Life of Mrs. W. B. Yeats,” which tells the weird story of how Yeats’s wife, Georgie, was the medium (literally) through which he reached the spirit world and thus found the subject of his late work. In recent years, possibly because most of the really shocking cases have been used up, the arguments seem to be getting subtler. In Stacy Schiff’s “Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)” we are shown a woman whose contribution to her husband’s work was to meld with him in the creation of a single, shared personality, which then wrote the books and lived the life—a curious phenomenon.
All these biographies, subtle or not, are valuable, and not only for the sake of justice (when that is what they achieve) but because they tell an important truth about how artists get their work done. Many people are brilliant, and from that you may get one novel, as Zelda Fitzgerald did. But to write five novels (Scott) or seventeen (Nabokov)—to make a career—you must have, with brilliance, a number of less glamorous virtues, for example, patience, resilience, and courage. Lucia Joyce encountered obstacles and threw up her hands; James Joyce faced worse obstacles—for most of his writing life, publishers ran from him in droves—but he persisted. When the critics made fun of Zelda’s novel, she stopped publishing; when Scott had setbacks—indeed, when he was a falling-down drunk—he went on hoping, and working. Lucia and Zelda may have been less gifted than the men in question. But there is something else going on here, too, which the biographies-of-the-artists’-women record: that while nature seems to award brilliance equally to men and women, society does not nurture it equally in the two sexes, and thus leaves the women more discourageable. Nor, in females, does the world reward selfishness, which, sad to say, artists seem to need, or so one gathers from the portraits of the men in these books. One can also gather it from biographies of the women who did not lose heart—for example, George Eliot, whose books were the product of a life custom-padded by her mate, George Lewes. (Phyllis Rose, in her “Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages,” reports that for twenty-four years Lewes screened Eliot’s incoming letters, together with all reviews of her books, and threw away anything that might distress her.) Then there is Virginia Woolf, whose novels would never have been written had she not had non-stop nursing care from Leonard Woolf. Virginia knew this, and seems to have decided she deserved it, or so she suggests in “A Room of One’s Own.” But, male or female, once the artist walks into that private room and closes the door, a lot of people are going to feel shut out—are going to be shut out—and they may suffer.
Monday, Dec. 01, 2003
In the Orbit of Genius
Even before celebrity culture, life with a star had a dangerous gravitational pull
By LEV GROSSMAN
Genius comes at a price, and it's usually those around the genius who pay it. Like a dark star, genius pulls people into its orbit, or sends them spinning off in unpredictable directions, or draws them down and consumes them. We are accustomed to thinking of talent as a creative force, but two new biographies remind us just how shockingly destructive it can be.
When Lucia Joyce was born in 1907, no one knew her father James was a genius. He was just a twenty something layabout, an Irishman drinking away his exile in the Italian city of Trieste, scribbling unpublished manuscripts. Lucia took after her father: tall, pale and skinny. In Carol Loeb Shloss's Lucia Joyce (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 560 pages), she emerges as shy but clever, a bright, pretty girl and a witty mimic. Lucia became a dancer. Her work was by all accounts strange and fascinating--"totally subtle and barbaric," one critic wrote. But her promise was never fulfilled. As she grew from an adolescent to a woman, her life took a darker turn. She fell in love with a succession of men — among them the sculptor Alexander Calder and the writer Samuel Beckett — each of whom left her newly heartbroken. Although she was devoted to her father, she raged at the shadow that his growing fame cast over her ineffectual career, and she became increasingly difficult to live with. She threw chairs, lighted fires, cut the family phone lines, flirted with suicide.
Diagnoses — from a string of doctors that included Carl Jung — ranged from neurosis to schizophrenia to syphilis to barbiturate addiction to simple moodiness. Whatever ailed Lucia, it made her both impossible to live with and unable to take care of herself. She spent the last 45 years of her life in institutions, incarcerated and medicated, until she died in 1982. Shloss's patient research expands what could have been a footnote to literary history into a tragedy of wasted promise. Shloss gives us a James Joyce we have never seen before, a portrait that encompasses both the great writer who subordinated everyone around him to the service of his art and the desperate, doting father who could never quite admit that his daughter was insane. The fragments of Lucia's voice that survive come to us freighted with an almost unbearable sadness. Once, when her mother asked if Joyce should visit her in the sanatorium, Lucia said, "Tell him I am a crossword puzzle, and if he does not mind seeing a crossword puzzle, he is to come out."
The facts of Sylvia Plath's life are better known, but the story that lies behind them is no less mysterious. She met Ted Hughes at a party at Cambridge University in 1956. He was 25 and craggily handsome. She was 23, bright, pretty and vivacious — the word is hard to avoid with Plath. Both were aspiring poets. But Plath's gleaming American smile hid dark, ravenous appetites — for food, for fame, for love, for sex. It also hid gulfs of despair; three years earlier, she had attempted suicide.
Plath and Hughes were wed just four months after they met, and the marriage burned fast and hot. Diane Middlebrook's Her Husband (Viking; 361 pages) takes us inside the tight, intense feedback loop of two obsessive, competitive writers who read and critiqued each other's work fresh from the typewriter. In time, the intensity turned claustrophobic for Hughes. He began an affair with another woman, and the couple separated. But in the agonizing aftermath of their marriage, Plath found a new and devastatingly powerful voice, the voice of "Lady Lazarus," "Daddy" and the other towering, terrifying poems that would become Ariel, the book on which her reputation rests. She became, as if refined by the pain, the poet she had always dreamed she would be. It wasn't enough. In the small hours of Feb. 11, 1963, she set out breakfast for her two small children, then placed her head in an oven.
Plath's story has been told many times — most recently in a film starring Gwyneth Paltrow — but Middlebrook's biography is the first to draw on the papers Hughes left after his death in 1998. Her goal is to clarify his side of the story and to some extent to exonerate him. It's an uphill battle. Plath could certainly be difficult, and unquestionably the presence of Hughes, a major poet in his own right, accelerated Plath's development as a writer. But nothing in Her Husband will settle the question of whether Hughes exacerbated or merely failed to stem the self-destructive urges that finished her. What's clear is that like Lucia Joyce, Plath was finally consumed by the dark star she orbited. But her story has a very different ending. Unlike Lucia, in death she eclipsed him.
A Portrait of the Artist's Troubled Daughter
By DINITIA SMITH
Published: November 22, 2003
Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, by Carol Loeb Shloss (Author), Farrar Straus & Giroux,
She was the light giver, the "wonder wild," James Joyce wrote of his daughter, Lucia. She was what Joyce scholars call the "Rainbow girl" in his masterpiece, "Finnegans Wake," Issy the temptress, who magically breaks up into the colors of the rainbow. Lucia had a mind "as clear and as unsparing as the lightning," Joyce once wrote in a letter. "She is a fantastic being."
But for the most part Lucia has been a marginal figure in her father's biographies, a sad girl with a crooked eye who was rejected by Samuel Beckett, her boyfriend and her father's secretary, and who died in an asylum in 1982.
But now a new book, "Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), by Carol Loeb Shloss, a professor of English at Stanford University, argues that not only was Lucia an extraordinary artist in her own right, she was also central to the creation of "Finnegans Wake," perhaps more so than her mother, Nora, long seen as the main inspiration for the female characters.
"Lucia was a centrally important muse to Joyce, who inspired him and whom he depended upon," Ms. Shloss said in an interview. Their relationship "helped to change the course of modern literature," she said.
Though her interpretation will undoubtedly be debated, Joyce scholars say that Ms. Shloss's work is important because Lucia was pivotal to Joyce's work. But it is a biography that almost did not get published because of objections from Joyce's grandson, Stephen J. Joyce, the son of Joyce's son, Giorgio. Ms. Shloss said he had threatened a lawsuit if she quoted from material relating to James Joyce.
"I had to rewrite this book over and over again," she said. "The process of deleting things that had taken years to find out was just excruciating." She added, "The ability of people to use quotes from Joyce has ground to a standstill."
This is not the first time that Stephen Joyce, the beneficiary of his grandfather's copyrights, has tried to stop quotations from his writings in films, plays and scholarly works. He has been particularly vigilant about material relating to Lucia and has written that he destroyed some of her letters.
Robert Spoo, an intellectual property lawyer and former editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, said, "There is a climate of concern bordering on fear among Joyce scholars that their work may suddenly come under copyright scrutiny."
For instance, he said, Mr. Joyce "has announced that there will be no permission granted for the foreseeable future for quotation from Joyce's letters." This deprives scholars of valuable material because, since the 1966 edition of the letters by Richard Ellmann, "at least as many letters as have been published have been discovered," Mr. Spoo said.
Mr. Joyce, who has retired from his career in international development and lives in La Flotte-en-Ré in western France, would not comment. In a phone call, his wife, Solange said, "We do not speak to the press."
In 1989, however, in a letter to The New York Times Book Review, Mr. Joyce explained his thinking. A year before, he forced the biographer Brenda Maddox to excise material about Lucia from her book "Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom" (Houghton Mifflin.) "The Joyce family's privacy has been invaded more than that of any other writer in this century," he wrote to The Times. He denied "trying to drum up royalties" and said that by delving into biographical sources for Joyce's writing, scholars were taking "all the fun" out of reading.
Clashes between copyright holders and artists and scholars often end up in court amid charges of censorship. The poet Ted Hughes kept tight control over biographies and scholarly articles about his wife Sylvia Plath by denying requests to quote from her work, for example. And the estate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is vigilant in protecting its copyrights.
Stephen Joyce has had a number of run-ins with scholars over the years. Ms. Shloss said he had removed vital material about Lucia from the National Library of Ireland, donated by the family of another of Joyce's secretaries, Paul Léon.
The Joyce estate succeeded in preventing Macmillan/Picador from printing further copies of a 1997 Reader's Edition of "Ulysses," edited by an Irish scholar, Danis Rose. The estate also won an injunction against the publication of an excerpt from the Reader's Edition in an anthology edited by David Pierce, a professor of English at York St. John College in England, in an anthology. The publisher, Cork University Press, was forced to excise some 20 pages from nearly 10,000 printed copies of the book.
Mr. Pierce said he still bore the wounds of the fight. "The copyright issue is so crucial, so difficult, that Joyce research is not something I would recommend," he said.
Despite the restrictions, however, Ms. Shloss was able to incorporate new details about Lucia in her book, including previously unpublished photographs depicting her as a beautiful young woman at the heart of the 1920's Parisian dance scene, sexually free and the author of a novel that has been lost.
Ms. Shloss had access to Lucia's two unpublished memoirs and to papers that she said Mr. Joyce neglected to remove from the National Library. Ms. Shloss also had access to the files of Joyce's biographer Richard Ellmann, which he had not used.
Morris Beja, executive secretary of the International James Joyce Foundation, who read an early version of the book, said it was "potentially very important because the importance of Lucia in Joyce's life has not been given its due." Zack Bowen, a professor at the University of Miami and a leading Joyce expert who is familiar with Ms. Shloss's scholarship on Lucia, called it "terrific."
Lucia was born in 1907 in a Trieste pauper's ward, after her father had abandoned the constraints of Dublin. Her birth, Ms. Shloss said, brought about a creative release for Joyce, who had been stalled over the writing of "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."
In Ms. Shloss's narrative, Lucia was a difficult, dramatic child, driven to fury by the rejection of Nora, who discouraged her talent; by her self-centered father's neglect; and by jealousy of her brother, Giorgio, two years older, whom Nora favored. When "Ulysses" was published in 1922, she cut the phone line to stop congratulatory phone calls to her father, saying, "C'est moi qui est la artiste!"
She studied dance with Isadora Duncan's brother, Raymond, and gave lively impressions of Charlie Chaplin. She toured Europe with a prominent modern-dance company, and in 1927 she had a part in Jean Renoir's film "The Little Match Girl." A reporter for The Paris Times wrote in 1928, "When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter's father."
In 1929 she gave up dancing for teaching. Ms. Shloss writes, quoting Stephen's mother, Helen Kastor Joyce, that Nora nagged her to do it out of jealousy over the attention Lucia was getting. One friend called it the "vengeance of the adult on the gifted child, the creative child."
Lucia had a series of failed relationships. In 1932 she was contemplating marriage to Alec Ponisovsky, who gave Joyce Russian lessons. But Ponisovsky was in love with another woman and she still pined for Beckett. She collapsed, lying for days in a catatonic state.
From there it was downhill. She was treated with Veronal, staged public temper tantrums and was hospitalized. She was released, then hospitalized in other institutions. After setting fire to her room, she was sent to Zurich to be psychoanalyzed by Jung. "To think that such a big, fat materialistic Swiss man should try to get hold of my soul," she said, as quoted by Ellmann.
After Joyce's death in 1941, Nora and Giorgio washed their hands of her, and Harriet Weaver, Joyce's patron, became her guardian. In 1951 she was moved for the last time, to St. Andrew's, in Northampton, England.
Despite Joyce's self-absorption, Lucia's suffering found its way into the masterwork of her worried father, "Finnegans Wake," Ms. Shloss says. "In that night wherein his spirit struggled, in that `bewildering of the nicht,' " a family friend wrote, quoting "Finnegans Wake," "lay hidden the poignant reality of a face dearly loved."
"In the early drafts you can find Joyce using names of Lucia's boyfriends," Ms. Shloss said. "We find Lucia's dance teachers sprinkled all through there. Once you see the creativity of the child, you see the father learning new things about the world through her. The very language of `Finnegans Wake' " — words in perpetual motion, Ms. Shloss said — "is a reflection of Lucia's interest in dance."
Ms. Shloss writes that it is Lucia who haunts the final passages of "Wake." It is she who utters the famous words: "My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. To remind me of. Lff! So soft this morning, ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair!"
"Joyce," Ms. Shloss writes, "left this final tribute and consolation to the child who had been his secret turbulent sharer for most of her young life."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
December 28, 2003
'Lucia Joyce': No She Said No
By HERMIONE LEE
To Dance in the Wake.
By Carol Loeb Shloss.
Illustrated. 560 pp. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $30.
James Joyce said, in 1934: ''People talk of my influence on my daughter, but what about her influence on me?'' Or so the Joyce biographer Richard Ellmann was told, 20 years afterward, by Joyce's close friend Maria Jolas. At around the same time, Ellmann also interviewed Carl Jung, who in 1934 had ''treated'' Joyce's daughter. Lucia Joyce and her father, Jung told Ellmann, were ''like two people going to the bottom of a river, one falling and the other diving.'' In the matter of his daughter, Ellmann commented, Joyce was ''foolish fond like Lear.''
Lear, Jung and Joyce: what hope could there be of rescuing the drowned voice of the mad daughter from such powerful father figures? Carol Loeb Shloss's strenuous, emotional attempt to fish Lucia up from the depths of incarceration and obliteration has to do battle with very weighty pressures, giving her book a strained, excitable, defiant air. For its project of resuscitation to succeed, it must claim that Lucia's ''influence on'' Joyce was indeed paramount: that they were creative collaborators, like-minded modernists, ''dancing partners.'' ''Joyce's art surrounded'' Lucia, Shloss says, ''haunted her from birth; and she in turn was part of the life that surrounded the maker of that art. She gave him the means to fling it amid planetary music.'' ''The place where she meets her father is not in consciousness but in some more primitive place before consciousness. They understand each other, for they speak the same language, a language not yet arrived into words and concepts but a language nonetheless. . . . In the room are flows, intensities, unexpressed longings.''
I quote so much because this sort of fervid glop is served up on many pages. It is a rhetoric that damages the book's credibility, making it read more like an exercise in wish fulfillment than a biography. I lost count of the incidences of ''We can imagine'' or ''It is safe to imagine'' or ''We can speculate'' or ''We can picture her'' or -- most revealingly -- ''I like to imagine'': ''Among all the letters that were destroyed, there was one, I like to imagine, that expressed Lucia's gratitude to her father for persisting in his belief in her.'' And then again, perhaps there wasn't.
Lucia, the second child of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, was born in 1907 in the pauper's ward of a hospital in Trieste. Her parents were extremely poor, and her childhood was spent moving from one flat or hotel room -- or country -- to another. Meanwhile her father tried out numerous money-making schemes (importing Donegal tweeds to Europe was one that didn't come off), taught, drank and wrote: first ''Portrait'' and ''Exiles,'' then ''Ulysses'' (which ''grew up'' alongside Lucia), and then, for 17 years, ''Finnegans Wake.'' By the time she was seven, in 1914, Lucia had lived at five addresses, always cooped up with her brother, Giorgio: ''You are locking us up like pigs in a sty,'' they were said to have shouted once to their departing parents. (An incest plot is hinted at but not spelled out.) During World War I, the Joyces moved from Trieste to Zurich to Paris. Lucia, passing rapidly from school to school, knew some French, Italian and German, showed musical talent and, in her teens, began to study dance. Starting with a course of eurhythmics at the Jaques-Dalcroze Institute in Paris, she worked, in the 1920's, with a succession of radically innovative dance teachers.
There was, first, Isadora Duncan's peculiar brother, Raymond, who went in for Greek tunics and sandals, pacifism and vegetarianism, and flowing Dionysian rhythms. Then, Margaret Morris (William Morris's granddaughter), advocate of expressive open-air dance as a recipe for health, and her talented colleague Lois Hutton, who formed a group of bohemian, experimental women dancers in the South of France called Les Danseuses de Saint-Paul, one of whom, for a time, was Lucia. Other mentors were the brilliant Jean Borlin, whose primitivist and surreal collaborations with Paul Claudel, Darius Milhaud and George Antheil rivaled the Ballets Russes in notoriety and influence; Elizabeth Duncan (Isadora's sister) and the German pianist Max Merz, whose Salzburg school promoted Aryan body-worship; and Lubov Egorova, Diaghilev's colleague and a ferocious teacher. The best feature of Shloss's book is its vivid, informed description of these experimental dance groups in 1920's Europe, and her account of how Lucia came into contact with modernism and surrealism while her father was writing the ''Wake.'' But, as relentless as Egorova, Shloss has to push this parallel to its farthest possible point -- and make Lucia into a collaborator on the ''Wake''; as it were, its co-author.
What Shloss can prove is that Lucia had talent. An interviewer in The Paris Times in 1928 praised her skills as choreographer, linguist and performer, and predicted that when she reached her ''full capacity for rhythmic dancing,'' James Joyce ''may yet be known as his daughter's father.'' But it was just then that things began to go wrong. In 1929, Lucia's plans to teach dance fell through; she either gave up or (Shloss's theory) was forced by family opposition to discontinue her career. There was a series of disturbing events: her father's eye operation, her mother's illness, her brother's affair with the older, married Helen Fleischman, the Joyces' civil marriage, 26 years after they started living together, and the shock of discovering she was illegitimate. ''If I am a bastard,'' Lucia was said to have screamed at Nora in one of their rows, ''who made me one?''
Lucia embarked on her own sexual adventures, which Nora Joyce's biographer Brenda Maddox summed up dismissively as promiscuity, but which Shloss prefers to link to her brother's affair and to the free-living artistic world she moved in. She fell in love with her father's literary disciple, Samuel Beckett, who told her that he was more interested in Joyce than in her. (This led to a breach between Joyce and Beckett). In his ''Dream of Fair to Middling Women,'' the ''jewelly,'' ''wanton,'' ''hollow'' Syra-Cusa, whom Shloss reads as Lucia, is ''impotently besotted'' with Belacqua, who thinks of her as ''hors d'oeuvre'' -- and ''a cursed nuisance.'' She had short-lived affairs with the artist Alexander Calder and with an American art student. In 1932 there was a brief, hopeless engagement to a young Russian Jew, Alec Ponisovsky. Instead of dancing, she was doing some graphic work for Joyce -- illustrations for ''Pomes Penyeach,'' illuminated letters (which were unfortunately lost by the publishers) for a children's book. ''Casting his daughter as his own collaborator,'' Shloss says, ''he formalized and made visible the collusion in place between them.''
But from the early 1930's onward, Lucia's behavior became increasingly erratic -- or, in Shloss's view, angry and frustrated. Her ''scenes'' were all intensely dramatic. She vomited up her food at table; she threw a chair at Nora on Joyce's 50th birthday; she staged a tremendous tantrum at the Gare du Nord, preventing the family from leaving Paris for London; she went into a ''catatonic'' trance for several days after her engagement party; she cut the telephone wires on the congratulatory calls that friends were making about the imminent publication of ''Ulysses'' in America; she set fire to things; she hit her mother; she wrote urgent telegrams and many, many letters.
Desperately, various attempts were made to treat, diagnose or ''cure'' Lucia Joyce. During her first, unwilling incarceration (engineered by Giorgio) in a French sanitarium in 1932, she was said to be suffering from ''hebephrenic psychosis'' (the young person's version of what Kraepelin had defined as dementia praecox). Then she was placed under a disciple of Bleuler at the Burgholz psychiatric clinic in Zurich, where schizophrenia was diagnosed. She was treated by a Dr. Forel, who recommended ''persuasion'' and surveillance. She was analyzed by Jung, who thought her so bound up with her father's psychic system that analysis could not be successful. His colleague Cary Baynes diagnosed repression. Friends of the Joyces -- Maria Jolas, Mary Colum, the heroically well-behaved Harriet Weaver, Joyce's married sister Eileen -- all tried to look after Lucia, in London or Paris or Ireland, more or less disastrously. Her treatments included injections with sea water and animal serum, barbiturates and solitary confinement.
Shloss maintains that Lucia's aberrant behavior was linked to her dancing and to her father's experiments in language: all three forms of ''Wakean dance'' are seen as modernist projects. When she was prevented from dancing, and when her Dionysian expressiveness was controlled by rationalist, Apollonian doctors, Lucia continued, in her gestures, to act out ''the more sinister choreography of the unconscious.'' Her treatments -- drugs, incarceration -- made her worse. Her actions -- incendiarism, singing all night, throwing books out of the window -- were ''her repertoire of coping behaviors.''
When World War II broke out, Lucia was in a clinic in Ivry. Joyce, who never abandoned her, and never believed that she was ''mad,'' moved heaven and earth to get her out of occupied France. But he died, suddenly, of peritonitis, in January 1941, at the age of 59. Lucia was abandoned. In 1951, Harriet Weaver had her moved to a mental hospital in Northampton, England, and there she remained until her death in 1982. Occasionally, she would be visited by family friends, or by Joyce's biographer, and she would write down or say things about herself, sad messages like: ''My father was crying once with the pain he had in his eyes but I was awkward and could not console him''; or ''My love was Samuel Beckett. I wasn't able to marry him.''
That anything at all survives of her letters and sayings seems remarkable, given the ''expunging'' of Lucia that Shloss claims was going on even during Joyce's lifetime. She calls her biography ''a story that was not supposed to be told.'' All such recuperative biographies of ''silenced'' figures attached to great male writers -- whether it's Zelda Fitzgerald, or Vivienne Eliot, or Ellen Ternan -- require someone to be blamed and shamed. Here, almost everyone is to blame: Richard Ellmann for too readily accepting Maria Jolas's version of Lucia; Joyce's friends -- Jolas herself, Stuart Gilbert, Harriet Weaver -- for treating Lucia as a madwoman and for ''deciding that a book was more important than a girl's life'' ; Giorgio Joyce for having his sister incarcerated (''her own brother!''), for abandoning her after their father's death and for making off with Jolas's trunk full of family papers, which were never seen again; Brenda Maddox (whose book is praised but contradicted) for making Nora the heroine; Nora for her jealousy of her daughter; Stephen Joyce, Lucia's nephew, for continuing in his attempts to protect his family's long-violated privacy.
The only characters who escape without blame are Lucia, who is completely romanticized (we don't hear much about her squint and her hairy chin), and -- on the whole -- Joyce. This is not a child-abuse story but a story of love and creative intimacy. And even if, like me, you are skeptical of Shloss's devout belief in Lucia as her father's second self, this biography will certainly alert you to her presence, should you ever be reading ''Finnegans Wake'' -- a pathetic, vanishing figure, flitting through her father's book:
''Then Nuvoletta reflected for the last time in her little long life and she made up all her myriads of drifting minds in one. She cancelled all her engauzements. She climbed over the bannistars; she gave a childy cloudy cry: Nuee! Nuee! A lightdress fluttered. She was gone. And into the river that had been a stream . . . there fell a tear, a singult tear, the loveliest of all tears . . . for it was a leaptear. But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh! I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!''
Hermione Lee is the Goldsmith's professor of English at Oxford. Her books include ''Virginia Woolf.''
promising artist waylaid by crashing of her mind
Stanford scholar examines life of James Joyce's daughter
Reviewed by William S. Kowinski
Sunday, December 21, 2003
To Dance in the Wake
By Carol Loeb Shloss
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX; 576 PAGES; $30
In the spring of 1929, Lucia Joyce was one of six finalists in the first international festival of dance in Paris. In a startling, slithery-scaled mermaid costume of blue, green and silver that she designed and made, she improvised a dance that was so enthusiastically received that the audience booed when first prize was chauvinistically awarded to a Frenchwoman, and demanded it be given to "the Irish girl." Then the 22-year-old Lucia went off to celebrate with her father, James Joyce, and her beau, Samuel Beckett.
The year before, she had studied with and impressed Elizabeth Duncan, Isadora's sister, and danced a small duet as a toy soldier in Jean Renoir's film about the Little Match Girl. The Paris Times interviewed her and concluded, "When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter's father." But the cheers for Lucia's solo dance in 1929 would be her last taste of triumph. For the next dozen years she would be examined by more than a score of doctors with nearly as many psychological and physical programs of treatment, with long periods confined in institutions or under close supervision. After her father's death in 1941, she was abandoned by her mother and brother, and spent the last 30 years of her life in a mental hospital in England.
Now more than a generation after Lucia's death in 1982, Stanford English professor Carol Loeb Shloss has written the first scholarly study of Lucia Joyce's fate; the first not only to attempt answers but also to ask the questions, including the principal one: "What happened to that lively radiance?"
It was a formidable task. Not only had the biographical trail gone cold, with few people left alive to shed light on surviving documents, but with chilling consistency over a period of decades, no fewer than six Joyce heirs and friends of the family destroyed thousands of letters Lucia wrote, including nearly all she wrote to her father. (Others were lost, censored or, in one case, stolen.) Objections by James Joyce's grandson forced Shloss to delete hard-won material and rewrite this book several times. Among those she thanks in her acknowledgments are several lawyers.
But some evidence did survive, and Shloss began not by investigating the purported mental illness that the extended Joyce family felt was a private matter, but with Lucia's involvement in avant-garde dance in the 1920s. It is this sense of Lucia Joyce as a thwarted artist that arouses contemporary interest, feminist and otherwise, and has led to at least four recent plays and a novel about her. Shloss herself makes specific comparisons to Zelda Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf. But as she relentlessly demonstrates that many well-meaning as well as malicious people around Lucia were projecting their own anxieties and standards on her, she also admits that Lucia's behavior was at times "pretty batty" and that the state of psychological knowledge was tragically inadequate.
Though the author snipes at James Joyce's self-centeredness and sees his writer's scrutiny of his daughter as central to her self-image and difficulties, Shloss devotes more detailed attention to him as Lucia's only champion. She asserts that Lucia was the light of his writing from "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" through "Ulysses" and especially in "Finnegans Wake." He would often be alone in insisting Lucia was not mad, a judgment Shloss seems to share. This book not only rescues Lucia's life from oblivion; simply in its description of James Joyce, blind and near death, focused on rescuing Lucia from possible harm as the Nazis devoured Europe, it is also a valuable addition to his biography as well.
What was Lucia's illness, and what precipitated it? The evidence is apparently obscure and ambiguous, leading to a frustrating uncertainty, compounded by the author's scattershot interpretations. Besides painfully failed love affairs (with Beckett and artist Alexander Calder, among others), there are suggestions of an abortion, some unrelated form of incest (perhaps involving her brother) and hints of rape. Shloss seems more definite that Lucia's condition deepened because of barbiturate addiction. She sees Lucia's abandonment of dance because of an unstated physical problem as key, but she does not directly and clearly confront this mystery.
This book gives substance to a life that has previously been treated as a distracting footnote. Shloss adds literary criticism of "Finnegans Wake" to illuminate Lucia's role as subject and inspiration that deepened her father's writing. Students of 20th century European literary and cultural history as well as women's studies will find this book very useful. Many of the problems this book presents to readers are probably due to the dearth of data and coyness created by legal action.
But even with the existing information, there is a lack of narrative clarity. The author warns in her preface that readers will be entering a labyrinth, but some passages leading nowhere seem a product of inadequate organization and inconsistent judgments as much as biographical rigor. Dramatic and affecting moments are sundered by impositions of theory. While Shloss corrects errors and unlikely conjectures by Richard Ellman (in his classic James Joyce biography) and Brenda Maddox (in her biography of Nora Joyce), she adds a daunting quantity of her own speculations, surmises and unconvincingly supported suppositions. However, the book's narrative power gets stronger as it goes on, making this a rewarding journey.
In the end there are still more questions. Except perhaps for informants it inspires to come forward, this book probably contains as much as can be known about Lucia Joyce -- and if Joyce heirs have their way, as much as we will ever know. Perhaps this biography will limit contemporary projections onto Lucia and bolster the integrity of her life. The virtues of "Lucia Joyce" are considerable, and its existence is testament to heroic effort.
William S. Kowinski, the author of "The Malling of America," lives in Arcata (Humboldt County).
Portrait of the Daughter
Two works seek to reclaim the legacy of Lucia Joyce
By Tara Pepper
March 8 issue - When Samuel Beckett died in 1989, a striking snapshot of a feral woman dancing, clad from head to toe in silver fish scales, was found among his papers. Beckett had kept this memento of his affair with James Joyce's turbulent daughter, Lucia, for more than 60 years. To her father, Lucia was the "wonder wild," his dark muse, who spent much of her adolescence locked with him in a room while he wrote "Finnegans Wake," his final novel. "Whatever spark or gift I possess," Joyce wrote in 1934, "it has been transmitted to Lucia and kindled a fire in her brain." But the rest of the world saw her differently; in the history of 20th-century literature, Lucia is portrayed as a troublesome blight on the Joyce family, an eccentric, mentally unstable woman in the mold of Vivienne Eliot, Zelda Fitzgerald and Sylvia Plath.
Two recent works seek to reclaim Lucia from these misconceptions. Michael Hastings's new West End play, "Calico" (through March 29), echoes Carol Shloss's recent reassessment of Lucia's life in "Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake" (576 pages. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux). Both emphasize that Lucia was a powerful creative force in her own right: a poet, illustrator and pioneer of modern dance. Hastings's portrayal of the destructive interaction among family members as Lucia clings to the edges of sanity is poignant and convincing. Lucia's symptoms—promiscuity, outbursts of violence and foul language—inspired a series of diagnoses ranging from "schizophrenic" to "nothing much wrong." But in Hastings's play, they seem the natural result of her isolation and neglect, and the sexually charged atmosphere in the household. Previous biographers of the Joyce family—like Richard Ellman, in his definitive work on James, and Brenda Maddox, who wrote a pioneering study of James's wife, Nora—failed to explore the exact nature of her illness or the reasons for Lucia's confinement in a series of clinics and asylums, where she spent much of her adult life.
Shloss also blames Lucia's upbringing for her mental instability. James Joyce sought to make visible that murky realm of human consciousness that, he wrote, "cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cut and dry grammar and goahead plot." Subjected to the incessant, intense scrutiny of her father, who regarded her as raw material for his work, Lucia's disturbing, unfettered language and behavior were increasingly interpreted as signs of madness, writes Shloss. Left barely educated by the family's peripatetic lifestyle, moving from Trieste to Zurich, Paris, Dublin and London, she had few resources of her own. Shloss notes that Carl Jung, who treated Lucia briefly in 1934, said she and her father were like two people heading to the bottom of a river, except that he was diving and she was falling.
Shloss had great difficulty getting permission to use original material about the Joyce family and Lucia's life. Well known for assiduously guarding the copyright on Joyce's works, Stephen Joyce (the son of Lucia's brother, Giorgio, and trustee of his grandfather's estate) wields immense influence over studies of the family. In 2000 he took legal action against the sponsors of a global reading of Joyce's works. Recently, he sent a letter to the Irish government and arts institutions warning them of legal action should there be any breach of copyright during this summer's centenary celebration of "Bloomsday," the June day on which Joyce's landmark novel "Ulysses" is set. Shloss spent years working with lawyers, cutting out carefully gleaned material from her book. "It was excruciating," she says. Stephen Joyce's wife, Solange, sees it differently: "We're doing our job," she says.
That job seems to include deliberately destroying some of Lucia's personal writing, which might have helped authors like Shloss piece together her life. "She has been expunged from history, Stalinized, made into a nonperson," says Hastings. In 1998 Stephen Joyce declared that he had destroyed Lucia's letters, despite pleas from William Butler Yeats's son, Michael, and Ezra Pound's daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz. The correspondence obviously meant a lot to James Joyce: "I am grateful for your letters," he wrote in 1935 to Harriet Weaver, a family friend and patron, "but the only ones which enlighten me, even if they are wild, are Lucia's own." In an interview with The New York Times shortly after his announcement, Stephen explained, "I didn't want to have greedy little eyes and greedy little fingers going over them."
Some detect within "Finnegans Wake" a sinister hint at what the family might have been trying to hide. Joyce's lyrical writing transgresses every taboo of style and substance. And at the core of this novel, which he worked on so intensely with his daughter, is an act of incest, which sparked speculation among Joyce scholars about the nature of James and Lucia's relationship. Shloss argues, "they were intensely involved, but there's no evidence of literal incest." Both Hastings and Shloss have succeeded in returning a dramatic and nuanced picture of Lucia Joyce to history. But with the destruction of her letters and much other material bound by copyright, she remains, as she was in life, seen always through the eyes of someone else.
James Joyce's troubled daughter spent much of her life in institutions. Carol Loeb Schloss brings Lucia Joyce back from the margins with a new biography
Sunday May 16, 2004
Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake
by Carol Loeb Schloss
Bloomsbury £20, pp528
'Whatever spark or gift I possess has been transmitted to Lucia,' James Joyce once said of his troubled daughter, 'and it has kindled a fire in her brain.' CJ Jung, who treated Lucia for supposed schizophrenia, seemed to agree, describing father and daughter as 'two people going to the bottom of a river, one falling and the other diving'.
It was perhaps inevitable, then, that, at a time when the damaged life is accorded as much attention as the gifted one, Lucia Joyce would be reclaimed from the margins of literary history. Already this year, her dalliance with Samuel Beckett has been turned into a confused drama called Calico, which ran briefly in the West End. Now comes this ambitious and at times extravagantly overreaching biogra phy by Carol Loeb Schloss, an American academic determined to counter the received wisdom about Lucia's blighted life.
That received wisdom runs broadly as follows. Lucia was a sickly second child, whose nomadic, unconventional upbringing seems to have exacerbated the usual confusions of adolescence. In her teens, she pursued a career as a modern dancer and was an accomplished illustrator. At 20, having abandoned both, she fell hopelessly in love with Beckett, a 21-year-old acolyte of her father's.
When Beckett belatedly made it clear that his affection was not romantic, Lucia's life began to unravel. She seems to have blamed her mother, Nora, for the break-up of the relationship, and on Joyce's 50th birthday in 1932, flung a chair at her in a rage. Her older brother, Giorgio, had Lucia committed to hospital. She was 25, and, other than a brief exile in Ireland, it marked the beginning of a confinement in institutions that would last until her death 50 years later.
'This is a story that was not supposed to be told,' Schloss tells us, referring to the destruction of the hundreds of letters that passed between Joyce and his absent daughter. Maria Jolas, one of several strong-willed women with whom Joyce surrounded himself in Paris, destroyed the entire correspondence after Lucia's death. Later, Samuel Beckett burnt his letters from Lucia, having been pressed to do so by Joyce's nephew, Stephen, a man unstinting in his opposition to the Joycean industry in academia and publishing.
As Schloss points out in her lengthy introduction, both Joyce's biographer, the late Richard Ellman, and Nora's biographer, Brenda Maddox, also seem to have cut deals with Stephen Joyce whereby they excised material about Lucia in return for his co-operation. In death, as in life, it seems, Lucia was an embarrassment to her family.
With so much evidence gone and so many of the primary sources dead, Schloss has her work cut out in attempting her painstaking reconstruction of the poignant complexities of Lucia's life. Had she concentrated solely on the known complexities of that life, this book might have been a small masterpiece of reclamation. Instead, it often reads as an uneasy alliance of scholarship and conjecture. Early on, for instance, Schloss sheds much light on Lucia's short career as a dancer, but also gives it a cultural import that seems wholly unjustified. 'Through her,' she writes, with typical extravagance, 'we watch the birth of modernism.' Yet Lucia featured in maybe 20 performances at most.
Schloss is strong, though, on Lucia's struggles to define herself through the brief embrace of a bohemian lifestyle for which she was spectacularly ill-suited. The writing catches fire when she details Lucia's long descent, particularly the poignant description of her brief exile in Ireland and her nocturnal wanderings though Dublin, 'whose every door she had heard named since earliest youth'.
While Joyce's attempts at helping his beloved daughter were often inadequate and ill-judged, they betokened a deeply felt, but seldom focused, belief that incarceration was not the answer to Lucia's problems. In this, he was alone, and overruled by the indomitable Nora.
Schloss is damning, too, of those who, like Joyce's publisher, Sylvia Beach, insisted on the primacy of his work above all else. Ironically, Lucia lives on as an abiding presence in Finnegans Wake, for which she was a muse, and, according to Schloss, maybe even a creative collaborator. The latter claim seems to be based on an ambitious reading of the text, and on one piece of anecdotal evidence, recounted by Lucia's cousin, Bozena Berta Schaurek, some 50 years after a brief visit to the Joyces' Paris apartment.
Bozena remembers being struck by her uncle's ability to write while: 'Lucia danced silently in the background.' From this fragment, Schloss creates a scenario that has precious little to do with biography and borders on wishful thinking. 'There are two artists in the room,' she writes, 'and both of them are working. Joyce is watching and learning. The two communicate with a secret, unarticulated voice. The writing of the pen, the writing of the body become a dialogue of artists...'
Were this a work of fiction in the vein of, say, Colm Tóibín's The Master, which attempts to get inside the head of Henry James, this kind of imaginative leap might make metaphorical or symbolic sense. In a work of scholarship, it is distracting at best, compromising at worst. Besides, her subject's story is extravagant enough without this kind of embellishment.
The possibility that there was a genetic link between his genius and his daughter's illness haunted Joyce until his death in 1941. By then, Lucia, at 33, was again confined in a sanatorium in France, having tried to set fire to her aunt's house in Bray, Co Wicklow.
Ten years later, she was moved to St Andrew's Hospital in Northampton where she died in 1982. She is buried alone in Northampton, far from the family grave in Zurich.
someone who, said one of her admirers in Ireland, 'had a great scope to her',
but seems to have lost her way in early adulthood, and, lacking the guidance she
needed from those she loved, never found it again. This book rescues her from
the margins, but in doing so, bestows on her a cultural importance unwarranted
by her ill-fated life. Even in death, Lucia Joyce seems fated to be a much
misunderstood individual, more sinned against than sinning.
The Bratty Bystander
Lucia Joyce was a failed writer, dancer, and artist—so why does a new biography make her out to be a genius?
By Katie Roiphe
Posted Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2003, at 6:03 AM PT
The biographies of great writers have been slowly overshadowed by the biographies of bystanders—usually female bystanders. These biographies interest themselves not with women who wrote great books, but with women who happened to be there as they were being written, women like Zelda Fitzgerald, Vera Nabokov, Georgie Yeats, Vivienne Eliot, and Nora Joyce.* The latest engrossing contribution to the genre is Carol Shloss' Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake. Once the genre served as an original, quirky feminist corrective, but now, as it becomes more prevalent, it panders to a culture more enamored of family dysfunction and prurient gossip than art itself.
The premise of Lucia Joyce, like the rest of these biographies, is that the woman is an artist herself. The Great Man is not creating by himself, but somehow channeling the energies of the women around him. James Joyce's daughter, Lucia, was a dancer. "She too had been an artist," Shloss tells us, "who worked with a fervor and vision comparable to Joyce's own." Her accomplishments, in addition to dancing, were apparently a novel that's been lost and a few illustrations. But Shloss' evidence of her genius seems to be gleaned from her imitations of Charlie Chaplin at parties, a photograph of a dance performance in which she wore a sensational, mirrored, fish costume, and "excellent report cards" from her childhood. She herself felt quite rivalrous with her father. When friends called Joyce to congratulate him on winning his obscenity trial in the United States, enabling the publication of Ulysses, Lucia cut the phone wire, saying, "I am the artist!" It's unclear whether this episode is rooted in mental unbalance or just petulance. Later, she behaves in ways that seem more clearly mad: She sets fires, throws a chair at her mother, unzips the pants of male visitors, sleeps with the gas on, sends telegraphs to dead people, and wanders through Dublin for days, sleeping on the street.
Inevitably, these biographies conflate brattiness, mental imbalance, and brilliance into a miasma of thwarted ability. One of the hallmarks of the woman-attached-to-great-men genre is that the Great Man has somehow prevented the female family member from achieving her potential. In this case, Joyce spirited his gifted daughter to London away from Paris, where, after years of dilettantish wandering, joining and quitting dance groups that sound suspiciously like cults, she somehow miraculously had been about to find her calling. He wouldn't let her dance, and thus destroyed her spirit. Other male villains lurk in the margins: There are male artists like Samuel Beckett and Alexander Calder who sleep with Lucia and abandon her. There is also a brother who Shloss suggests—with astonishingly little evidence—may have sexually abused her, and seems ferociously bent on keeping her in an institution, so that she won't tell the story of this abuse.
No matter how sensationalized the life, our appetite for these biographies is enormous. And there is no denying that the book is monumentally engaging, but why? We find something reassuring about the stories of the almost-artist, the brilliant "fantastic being," who could have written Ulysses but somehow never got around to it. The ordinary woman, the daughter, wife, mother, whom people remember sparkling in conversation or wearing a particularly beautiful dress, is elevated to the status of artist. In a way, Lucia Joyce is the ultimate heroine of this genre—a dancer who doesn't dance, a painter who doesn't paint, and a writer who doesn't write. Women readers, in particular, are endlessly drawn to these stories of doom and raw talent. It confirms some view we have of the world that is not nurturing our talent; it shifts the responsibility from us onto the shadowy male figures around us. It is the secret biography of our innermost aspirations, the half-written screenplays in our computers, the proverbial novels in drawers. But why have we been thwarted? Has someone physically prevented us from writing Ulysses, or are we just not talented or driven enough? The comforting, democratic message of these books is that you don't have to write or paint or act to be "an artist." It is enough to be. To Shloss, and her readers, "Lucia didn't need books like Ulysses to become modern." Ironically the rise of high modernism itself may have glorified the artist's place outside of social convention, leading to all sorts of imitators who thought that behaving badly or eccentrically makes you an artist without having to bother with the art. For the first time, we can all be geniuses in the privacy of our own minds.
Of course, the biographies of great men's women lend themselves to all kinds of romanticization—romanticization of the artistic process and romanticization of mental illness. It is, in these hefty, attractive books, with their dramatic, sepia covers, enormously glamorous to be mad. Had Lucia Joyce simply married and had children, and stayed in Paris and taught dance to eager young protégés, and pursued her art in a modest way, and grown fat and happy, in a little apartment with a view of the river, there would be no Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake.
In spite of its romanticism, the position of muse is very vague and largely thankless for the muse herself (see Francine Prose's book The Lives of the Muses for more on this). It would be nice to think that Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake could not have been written without Lucia; but, of course, one suspects that they could have been. In this case, Lucia's role as muse seems to consist of an afternoon where Lucia was dancing in a room where Joyce happened to be writing Finnegan's Wake: "[T]here are two artists in his room, and both of them are working. Joyce is watching and learning … the place where she meets her father is not in consciousness but in some more primitive place before consciousness." This is a pretty image, and Shloss embellishes it even further, "They understand each other, for they speak the same language, a language not yet arrived into words and concepts, but a language nonetheless, founded on the communicative body."
And what about Lucia herself, petulant, mesmerizing, fragile, bratty Lucia? She liked to sleep outside under the stars, and walk around without underwear, and swim in the middle the night. Instead she spent 50-odd years in an institution. There is no poetry, no glory in this story, no secret communion, no mystical collaboration, no intangible collusion, between father and daughter, only pointless, run of the mill human suffering. Instead of the subtle literary pas de deux between Joyce and his daughter, the truth is far more painful and nonsensical: Awoman's life was wasted. Books like this give a dishonest, literary gloss to what is a form of illicit voyeurism.
Correction, Dec. 7, 2004: In the original version of this article Katie Roiphe alluded to a biography of Valerie Eliot, but no life story of T.S. Eliot's second wife exists. In 2001 Carole Seymour-James published a biography of T. S. Eliot's first wife, Vivienne, titled Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot.
Katie Roiphe is the author of
Still She Haunts Me.
Don't let her be misunderstood
The writer of Tom and Viv fails to do justice to Joyce's daughter, but Dickens gets his due
Sunday March 7, 2004
Duke of York's, London WC2
Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
The Skin of Our Teeth
Young Vic, London SE1
It's hard to decide what's more irritating in Michael Hastings's new play: the facetious dialogue or the skittering structure which denies the play a focus. What's saddest is that it takes a fascinating true life as its subject, and wastes it.
It's 20 years since Tom and Viv , Hastings's play about T.S. Eliot's first, disturbed wife, was staged. Now he has lit on another troubled attendant on a Modernist writer. In his account, Lucia Joyce, while working with her father James Joyce in Paris, was fascinated by her parents' sexual relationship, and obsessed by her father's secretary, Samuel Beckett, with whom she constructed a fantasy marriage. Prone to setting things on fire, and given to roaring abuse, she was possibly a schizophrenic, possibly a Tourette's sufferer. She spent her life in and out of psychiatric care.
Muddling fact and fiction, Hastings has concocted a mixture of the banal and the unfathomable. You'll not find it hard to recognise Joyce (a bluff Dermot Crowley): he's the wordy one who asks his daughter's companion: 'Did you spreadleg and cocktumble my cloud girl?'
You'll spot Beckett (a shrivelled Daniel Weyman): he doesn't like saying more than a few words at a time. And there's no difficulty in realising that Romola Garai's Lucia is in need of help. In an arresting rather than illuminating performance she behaves like Alice in Wonderland trapped in the shrinking room: stooped, gangling, clumsy, with fixed eyes, widespread arms and nervous plucking of her garments. This is madness by numbers: the only mystery is that she's allowed to roll around the floor saying 'piss' for so long.
So far, so clear. But not necessarily true. A meticulous book about Lucia Joyce by Carol Loeb Shloss gives a similar account of the combustible Joyce household but shows a different Lucia: a talented modern dancer, glittering in mermaid scales, and posing in substantial knickers as a figure on a Greek vase. One psychiatric report speculated that it was turning from dance that drove her mad. Hastings barely touches on her gifts: in one bleak episode he shows Lucia dancing for her daddy and falling over. By stripping her of talent he diminishes his play's expressiveness (what would Calico have been like had it had dance as well as incessant verbiage?), and pushes Lucia towards victimhood, someone defined by her thwarted relationships and her (there's a tiny hint of incest here) dependence on her parents.
Edward Hall's production is overwhelmed by the effort of keeping together the tumult of scenes. Only Imelda Staunton as Nora Barnacle - striding, frowning and eventually crumpling - gives any sense of interior life. Calico has piggybacked its way into the West End on its characters' famous names; it should hike out of there quickly.
There have been few more revealing dramatisations of Dickens than Neil Bartlett's hallucinogenic, realistic adaptation of Oliver Twist. Narrated by the Artful Dodger, freezing from time to time into tableaux, the play captures Dickens's cartoonish shapes and his violent switches of moods, his bleeding heart and his shrewdness, the glare and the gloom of his foggy London.The keynote is a self-conscious theatricality.
Rae Smith's design puts a stage within a stage: bright bulbs hanging above a set that seems to have been tacked together out of ancient wooden packing-cases. Paule Constable's transformative lighting flashes on figures that might have come straight from the pen of Cruikshank. The chalk-white cheeks, lantern jaws, ingrained smuts and grime, stooped shoulders, sunken chests, over-long trailing limbs - all these belong to Dickens's shadowy thief world; Mr Bumble - his waistcoat stretched to popping point over a belly that looks like a pregnancy - is the preening embodiment of a well-fed exploiter.
Though the action is severely cut, the words are Dickens's own, and spoken with a relish that conjures up the writer's meaty prose. They are tellingly interwoven with Gerard McBurney's music, which draws on contemporary music hall song.
Jordan Metcalfe's Oliver is first a convincing, not-too-sweet waif and later a smug little prison visitor, beaming in his Sunday suit at a deranged Fagin. And Michael Feast's Fagin is magnificent: fluttering and screeching, he looks sometimes like a pirate, sometimes like the villain in a melodrama, and most often like a magician who can send his child followers to sleep with an insinuating whisper. As he gathered the little ones to him, on the day that Marc Dutroux went on trial in Belgium, the air at the Lyric froze.
Thornton Wilder's 1942 play The Skin of Our Teeth is propelled by one gag: that of seeing the history of the universe through the eyes of small-town America. Thus a pinny-and-slippers suburban couple turnto each other to inquire: 'Have you milked the mammoth?'
The play begins in the Ice Age, takes in the Flood, and ends with a postwar sequence in which people lament the difficulty of making a good peace. The message is that history repeats itself but people pick themselves up and go on. It was hugely popular on Broadway and in postwar Britain, and what with the climate-change and postwar prattle, it's easy enough to pick out down-homey morals for today, alongside the formal innovations: the cast are continually bursting out of character to wrangle about their lines; as the couple's pet dinosaur scuttles in to warm himself at the radiator you can see a Thurber cartoon in the offing.
David Lan's bravura production delivers more than the play promises. The big effects - stage cracking in two, the cast disappearing into a cleft of the ocean - are staged with full-on Young Vic panache. David Troughton is an impressive pater familias - booming, bullying and vulnerable and Indira Varma is a velvet-voiced triumph as the vamp maid.
Lucia Joyce. To Dance in the Wake
Carol Loeb Schloss
560pp, Bloomsbury, £20
Damaged by Finnegans Wake
Hilary Spurling reviews Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake by Carol Loeb Schloss
The cover of this book shows Lucia Joyce dancing on stage at the Bal Bullier in Paris in 1929: an angular mermaid-cum-fish in a skin-tight sheath of sequins that she designed herself with fins at the hips and fronds falling to the waist. She was 22, dedicated, passionate, erotic rather than sensuous, with a kind of bony, bodily wit and an electric energy that captivated her audience. This was the high point of her life as an artist in her own right, and the last time she danced in public. Samuel Beckett and James Joyce were both in the audience. Lucia longed for fame but from now on her only public appearances would be in their books.
"She lives between a comb and a glass," Beckett wrote of the character based on Lucia in his Dream of Fair to Middling Women. Long afterwards, Lucia said Beckett was the love of her life. This book puts her at the centre of another affair - "one of the great love stories of the 20th century" - this time with her father, who spent her late teens and twenties working on Finnegans Wake. One of Lucia's French contemporaries compared her to the legendary woman said to have been walled up alive inside the foundations of a bridge to give it strength and durability: "Her life was a supporting sacrifice for a novel."
Like all the best muses, Lucia was both narcissist and victim. She flowered briefly in the 1920s during Joyce's early struggles with Finnegans Wake but, as the novel took root and grew, Lucia drooped and faded, retreating into muffled silence, erupting periodically in violent explosions, and ending up - long before the book was finished - locked away in institutions, where she would remain until her death at the age of 75 in 1982.
Born in the pauper's ward of a public hospital in Trieste, she grew up in cheap hotels or rented rooms, surviving on handouts, flitting with her parents from one country and one language to another. "She would slip from English into French, and from French into Italian, in the course of going from one side of the room to the other," wrote one of her father's Irish friends. Her upbringing left her insecure, unconfident - in some ways wholly inexperienced, in others over-exposed to an adult sophistication far beyond the capacities of an adolescent.
She shared her parents' bedroom until well into her teens, and was expected to observe outdated social codes that shocked her more rebellious friends. Joyce saw no call to educate his only daughter - "He said it was enough if a woman could write a letter and carry an umbrella gracefully." Lucia's life had no social, domestic or intellectual framework. It revolved (like virtually everyone else's in Joyce's circle) round competition for her father's favour. He himself said Lucia was jealous of her mother. She was certainly jealous of his book ("She perceived it … as a show-off-brat type of kid who grabbed everyone's attention").
Her attempts to make her own way through dancing, drawing, even writing came to nothing. Beckett rejected her advances. Other people shied away from her. "For a fearful moment, I believed I was looking at my own reflection in a glass," wrote the author Kay Boyle, alarmed by Lucia's need to escape from something nameless, and to reach out for something she could never find. "She was like the high, perishable, wishful tendril of a vine moving blindly up a wall."
Joyce, who adored his daughter, increasingly enlisted others to look after her. Everyone except himself - his wife, his son and relays of devoted literary supporters - saw incarceration as the only solution. Lucia's problems, and their cause, were shrouded in secrecy. Her father feared she had first syphilis, then cancer. Others suspected incest. Recent authorities have generally settled for schizophrenia. Carol Loeb Schloss, who rejects this diagnosis, adds the possibility of one or more abortions, and the probability that Lucia was addicted to barbiturates (in the form of powdered veronal supplied by her doting father).
This monumental scholarly biography is impeccably researched, meticulously detailed and full of fascinating new material. It is also disproportionately long, and so clumsily written that it is hard at first to take its literary credentials seriously. But Schloss leaves no doubt that Joyce occupied the centre of his daughter's life just as she presided at the core of his novel; that theirs was a strictly cerebral affair; and that Lucia's hope of an independent existence was swallowed (like her mother's) by a book she apparently never even read.
July 2, 2004 n.º 5283
A MANIA FOR INSECTS
Carol Loeb Shloss, Lucia Joyce, To Dance in the Wake, 561 pp. Bloomsbury,
ISBN 0 7475 7033 7
USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0 374 19424 6
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