Friday, 4 July 2014

James Joyce's Daughter and the Possible Influence of Her Schizophrenia on Finnegans Wake

Paris, 1929: Lucia Joyce dances at Bullier Ball.
Lucia Joyce, born 1907 to James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, learned Italian as her first language, studied ballet as a teenager, and was believed to have casually dated Samuel Beckett. However, after being diagnosed with schizophrenia in Zurich, Lucia was sent to an institute in Ivry-sur-Seine, France, in 1935 and in 1951 to St Andrew's Hospital in Northampton, where she died at the age of 75.

In Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake (2003), Carol Schloss demonstrates her opinion that Lucia had been her father's muse for Finnegans Wake, the sprawling, experimental work which may well be classed equally as masterpiece and ridiculously challenging.

Lucia's health deteriorated during the seventeen years which Joyce spent writing Finnegans Wake, and for this reason I find it difficult to believe that it didn't affect his writing style in some way.  To what extent, however, is something I'm nowhere near sure of.

The question of Lucia as muse also appears in the Poems That Make Grown Men Cry anthology which I've so enjoyed, as part of one of my most favourite selections (in this case by James McManus). Perhaps what makes the extract in this collection so personal and moving is McManus's own tale of his son's mental health, placed alongside Joyce's own family background. 

However, the extract also does a fine job at showing the expansive beauty of Finnegans Wake, as when McManus leads our attention to the final part of the book, in which the speaker is the River Liffey itself on a drizzly morning, speaking of her own 'father':

and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of it, moananoaning, makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms. I see them rising! Save me from those therrble prongs!

A drawing of Joyce from 1922, the year in which Joyce began
 the 17-year task of writing Finnegans Wake, by Djuna Barnes 
Next in McManus's commentary is what he calls 'the eternal-return seam' of Finnegans Wake, which reminds him of Joyce's 'doomed, saltsick efforts' to understand and stay close to his daughter, alongside his own overwhelming desire to 'begin again' with his son. 

We can perhaps consider this while reading the final few lines of the book:

We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thous-endsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given ! A way a lone a last a loved a long the

And all of a sudden the book comes to a close, incomplete until we turn back to the start and the sentence is resumed, causing the full-circle theme of Finnegans Wake, alongside life itself, to become truly clear to us:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay...

So, can we call Lucia the muse of Finnegans Wake? I'm not yet sure, but McManus and Schloss are two writers who think so. Moreover, how far does the book narrate Lucia's struggles with mental health?

Over the summer I'd like to fully immerse myself in Finnegans Wake, a classic I've never read from start to finish, and consider this context of Joyce's daughter a little further. I've also been meaning to read the graphic novel Dotter of Her Father's Eyes for the last two years, ever since the hype around its publication in 2012, as a book which partly uses Lucia's life as subject.

Have you read Finnegans Wake? How convinced are you of the link between Lucia Joyce's mental health and the content - and perhaps also style - of the book?

Related material

"Madness and James Joyce", Robert Kaplan (2002)


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4 comments:

Miguel (St. Orberose) said...

Ah, thanks for bringing this theory to my attention.

Irene McKenna said...

I had no idea Joyce's daughter had schizophrenia. This is fascinating and so sad. Such a lifetime of wasted opportunities because they had nothing to offer her other than institutionalization. This is an interesting literary theory. And no, I haven't read Finnegan's Wake. :-) It is on my list, though.

tolstoytherapy said...

My pleasure - thank you so much for commenting, Miguel! It's definitely a theory I'd like to look into more, especially as I haven't quite made up my mind about all aspects of it yet.

tolstoytherapy said...

I wasn't aware of it until very recently either, Irene. It definitely is so interesting to research, but definitely sad like you say. Finnegans Wake seems to be the ultimate goal for readers! Thank you so much for the comment - I hope you're well and enjoying some good books!