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Lucia Joyce: To Dance into the Wake (review)

From: Modernism/modernity
Volume 12, Number 2, April 2005
pp. 357-358 | 10.1353/mod.2005.0056

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Modernism/modernity 12.2 (2005) 357-358

Lucia Joyce: To Dance into the Wake. Carol Loeb Shloss. London: Bloomsbury, 2004. Pp. 576. $30.00 (cloth).

It is tempting to present Joyce's daughter Lucia in mythological terms. For her life unfolded—or rather unravelled—beside Olympian figures of twentieth-century cultural life: Beckett was briefly her lover, Jung one of her doctors, and then there was that father. A talented avant-garde dancer, she studied with Isadora Duncan's brother. But her dancing faltered, and in 1936 at the age of 29, after four years during which she saw forty different doctors, she was institutionalized, remaining so until her death in 1982. Her condition, variously diagnosed, was probably manic depression. Add to this tragedy rumors of incest, syphilis, lesbianism and a litigious estate, and you have an alluring vortex of themes, crying out for mythologization.

Such an undertaking has its challenges. Source material—reams of often contradicting documents, letters, interviews and memoirs—is scattered from Oklahoma to Zurich and still emerging from bottom drawers. And there are huge gaps: letters were burned, others snatched away, medical notes shredded and hazy third-hand hints thrown out here and there. Then there is the complexity and volatility of the subjects; a family and a network of friends coping with a daughter going mad: how could one imaginatively yet fairly reconstruct such drama?

The major challenge, however, comes from Lucia's nephew Stephen, the notoriously irascible grandson who stalks the Joycean community, policing scholarship and paradoxically threatening Joyce's standing.

Carol Shloss has met the challenges with mixed results. She has had to struggle for years with the Estate and so, feeling herself a victim, she overstates her central claims, basing them on a victimology. She declares from the start that "Lucia was no lunatic" (31), going against the conclusions of all who knew her after 1932. Joyce did initially resist diagnoses and worked heroically to find a cure for her, but eventually gave in. From this basis, Shloss requires a group of culprits for "exiling" and "incarcerating" Lucia: chief of these turn out to be the mother Nora and brother Giorgio; their motivation is to save Joyce's work.

Stories of mental instability, since long before Hamlet, have been used by moralists who identify and censure causal forces—whether parents, families, schooling, society, doctors, drugs, pride or laziness—and protest against those who misdiagnose and maltreat the misdiagnosed, despite the fact that diagnosis and treatment has been and still is highly fraught. Melodrama and tragedy often make use of the first of these while the anti-psychiatric work of Foucault, Laing and Szasz in the 1960s sets a precedent for using the second.

Shloss moralizes insistently, leaping into the gathered ghosts of the family and gracelessly pointing the finger. At one moment we are told that "the problem for the Joyce family was really a practical one: Lucia was too noisy" (229), as if there was just one problem and it never encompassed anything emotional. Nora and Giorgio, Shloss tells us, thought "it was appropriate to sacrifice her life for her father's art" (303). One might say with just as little evidence that the worry over Lucia hastened Joyce's death. But we should see, in the fact of Finnegans Wake's completion, a story of salvage following a disastrous wreckage, not the result of a fatalistic economy where the creation of one thing entails the sacrifical destruction of another.

Joyce himself is not untouched by this moralizing. For Shloss he is a monomaniac panopticon, with his "eyes always upon" Lucia. This notion grows into a bizarre vision: "Joyce . . . grew to be like a dark observation tower to which the light of Lucia's very being stood exposed" (441). This sounds like Tolkien with Joyce as Sauron and Lucia as Frodo. The eye moreover is desiring: "The father/creator became a voyeur whose appreciation of . . . his child can in some way be considered a precipitating factor in the crises of the girl's later life" (429). "Can in some way be considered" is shifty; while calling Joyce a "voyeur" of his own daughter, Shloss flirts pruriently with that old fault-line...



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