Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lucia Joyce

Thousands of books have been written about James Joyce's life and art and the connection between the two. One of my favorite books to come out of the prolific industry of Joyce scholarship is Carol Loeb Shloss's book on his daughter Lucia entitled Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake.

Lucia was born in 1907 in the pauper's ward of a Swiss maternity hospital, the second of Joyce and Nora Barnacle's two children. Her first language was Italian.

Clearly the inheritor of her father's artistry, Lucia was a modern dancer, a writer and an artist. She had a brief relationship with Samuel Beckett when he was her father's secretary. She wrote a novel which her family burned along with most of her correspondence.

Lucia inspired the character of Milly, Leopold Bloom's daughter in Ulysses and more importantly Anna Livia Plurabelle in Finnegans Wake. Her father was her protector and she was his inspiration. He felt that she understood what he was doing with Finnegans Wake more than anyone else and in fact was attempting to capture her way of thinking and speech.

In Ulysses, Bloom sends his daughter away to photography camp because he knows his wife his having an affair. Milly writes to her father but not to her Mother, Molly. Here is Milly's letter -

Dearest Papli,
Thanks ever so much for the lovely birthday present. It suits me splendid. Everyone says I'm quite the belle in my new tam. I got mummy's lovely box of creams and am writing. They are lovely. I am getting on swimming in the photo business now. Mr Coghlan took one of me and Mrs. Will send when developed. We did great biz yesterday. Fair day and all the beef to the heels were in. We are going to lough Owel on Monday with a few friends to make a scrap picnic. Give my love to mummy and to yourself a big kiss and thanks. I hear them at the piano downstairs. There is to be a concert in the Greville Arms on Saturday. There is a young student comes here some evenings named Bannon his cousins or something are big swells and he sings Boylan's (I was on the pop of writing Blazes Boylan's) song about those seaside girls. Tell him silly Milly sends my best respects. I must now close with fondest love
P.S. Excuse bad writing am in hurry. Byby.

After Joyce died in 1941, her mother and brother had Lucia committed into a mental institution where she spent the rest of her life. She died in 1982. The extent of her mental illness, if she was mentally ill at all, is unknown, although she had been institutionalized for short periods previously. She had a volatile relationship with her mother who did not know how to encourage Lucia's artistic temperament and abilities the way her father did. Throughout her monologue in Ulysses, Molly Bloom (the stand in for Nora Barnacle) references to the many ways in which her adolescent daughter in all her budding beauty is beginning to annoy her: "I told her over and over again not to leave knives crossed like that because she has nobody to command her as she said herself well if he doesnt correct her faith I will that was the last time she turned on the teartap"

Lucia's brother Giorgio also attempted to commit his wife Helen, an American heiress, into a mental institution but her family protected her and they got a divorce instead.In many ways, Lucia's fate after her father's death is reminiscent of Sebastian Barry's beautiful and harrowing novel The Secret Scripture. Barry's novel dramatizes the life of a 100 year old woman and her wrongful decades long incarceration in a lunatic asylum in the West of Ireland. Like Loeb Shloss's biography of Lucia Joyce, The Secret Scripture reveals how society in recent history dealt with vulnerable but independent minded women with artistic sensibilities that they could not control.

No comments:

Post a Comment