Lucia Anna Joyce: Nora and James Joyce

After James Joyce and Nora Barnacle left Ireland in October 1904, traces of the Joyce family have been chronicled about the many places where they visited or lived. They first went to Trieste where their children Giorgio and Lucia were born in 1905 and 1907 respectively. In Trieste James Joyce got a job teaching English. Over time the family moved between Trieste, Rome, Trieste, Dublin, Zurich, Trieste, Paris, London, Paris, Zurich and other places in between.
As a struggling writer, James Joyce and his family were supported by his brother, friends and patrons who largely contributed to their social and financial welfare allowing him to pursue his writing and other activities while trying to provide for his family. Attributed to various factors, Lucia’s mental health began to decline causing great concern to her family and entourage.
Lucia Anna Joyce (1907-1982)
Accounts of Lucia’s personality and relationship with her family abound and at times are contradictory. Born at a pauper hospital in Trieste on 26 July 1907, her first language was Italian in which she corresponded with her father. Said to be bright and fanciful she studied ballet as a teenager becoming good enough to train with Isadora Duncan. Tall and slim she went on to work as a dancer in the 1920s Paris. A famous photograph shows Lucia dancing at the ‘Bullier Ball’ (1929) in Paris wearing an exotic fish scale costume and head dress that she designed. Her loving father admired Lucia’s artistic and other talents and gave encouragement to continue them.
Lucia’s mental health was deteriorating and she showed signs of erratic behaviour in 1930 around the time she started to casually date Irish writer, Samuel Beckett who was part of her father’s close circle. It caused increasing concern and he called off the relationship. She saw many doctors without conclusion and in 1934 Carl Yung took her on as a patient. Soon after at the Bugholzli Psychiatric Clinic in Zurich she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and in 1935 was placed in psychiatric care at Ivry sur Seine, near Paris. It became a spiral of mental illness and, other than a few short periods, Lucia was permanently incarcerated in psychiatric institutions.
After the war, under the charge of her legal guardian, Lucia went to St. Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, England where she remained until her death on 12 December 1982. She wrote letters and led a solitary existence. She is buried in Kingsthorpe Cemetery, England. Lucia’s life was the subject of a West End play Calico written by Michael Hastings (2004). Carol Loeb Shloss is the author of an in-depth biography titled Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake (2005).
La Baule and Pornichet
Nora and James Joyce’s brief visits to Loire Atlantique in 1939 and 1940 at the sea resorts of La Baule and Pornichet are documented in publications titled ‘Sites et Célébrités’ and ‘L’Epopée des bains de mer’. They were anxiously waiting for Lucia’s urgent war time evacuation from the psychiatric institution near Paris to the Atlantic sea resort of Pornichet (1939-45). On her arrival Lucia was so traumatised and her mental state so fragile that nobody was allowed to see her.
At the crepuscule of his life James Joyce last met his beloved daughter in Pornichet. He unexpectedly died from a perforated ulcer in Zurich, Switzerland, on 13 January 1941, a month after a brief stop in Geneva on 15 December 1940 where he met Sean Lester, then acting Secretary of the League of Nations. He is buried in Fluntern Cemetery, Zurich, alongside his wife and son.
Ita Marguet
Note: Acknowledgement is given to sources used in preparation of this text. It follows a visit to Loire Atlantique (August 2011) with archival research in Pornichet and La Baule about Lucia Joyce. It follows other texts by the author about James Joyce written between 2003 and 2011.