Journal of Modern Literature 28.3 (2005) 170-182
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Lucia Joyce as Cordelia and the Fool
Ecstatic reality . . . takes no account of the individual and may even destroy him.
It seems that the honor of a family requires the disappearance from society of the individual who by vile and abject habits shames his relatives.
The cover of Carol Loeb Schloss's Lucia Joyce: To Dance In The Wake is a photograph of its subject, the daughter of James Joyce, costumed for an original improvisation, part of her first solo dance competition in Paris in 1929. Poised at what might have been the beginning of a career in modern dance, she had designed and built the costume of a fish, with one leg covered in silvery sequined scale-like cloth and one naked. By drawing our attention to the idea that "the allure of a mermaid arises from the frustration of sexual longing," (Schloss 175) Schloss focuses on her reading of Lucia's staging of her frustrated sexuality—her supposed incestuous impulse toward her father to which Schloss gives tremendous weight—and not on another hidden text Lucia might have encoded within it. This improvisation might also reveal an Artaudian ritual of transformation—a young woman half human, half fish, whose dancing was described as "totally subtle and barbaric" by Charles de Saint-Cyr, one of the judges of the competition. (Schloss 176) She cannot live on the land, but is not fully a creature of the sea either. In Jungian terms, the image of this silvery [End Page 170] fish may have been an image from her unconscious, communicated to her by her animus, or "soul," a warning to Lucia that she is caught between the world of art and the world of life, between her inner world and the outer world. For Lucia Joyce, who died in a mental hospital, the silvery fish of the inner world dominated the struggle.
Schloss's epigraph from Luce Irigaray's Elemental Passions, "But I, am I not a reminder of what you buried in oblivion to build your world?" suggests her point of view on the question of the formative impact of James Joyce on his daughter, that she was, in effect, buried in oblivion in order that he could build his world. Despite, or perhaps because of, the ultimate oblivion of Lucia behind the walls of various mental hospitals, Schloss contends that the father-daughter relationship was to a large extent reciprocal in its formative power—a frightening implication for Lucia's identity—and that her role as Joyce's artistic muse shaped him, in turn, as a writer, especially in the composition of Finnegans Wake. Joyce saw the connection between Lucia's suffering and Finnegans Wake: "Sometimes I tell myself that when I leave this dark night, she too will be cured." (Schloss 251) Unfortunately, and inevitably, her role as his artistic muse put her in direct competition with her mother, who did not read Joyce's work, whereas Lucia could and did. Rage against her mother finally provoked Lucia to throw a chair at her—an incident that led to Lucia's first institutionalization by her brother Giorgio, her mother's staunchest ally. Schloss takes the idea of mother-daughter competition to a highly suspect extreme, even suggesting that Lucia was more Joyce's lover than Nora.
In this engrossing and invaluable experimental biography, Schloss presents Joyce as the lone defender of Lucia's sanity and the only person who truly loved her. As to whether or not her creative partnership with Joyce was worth the price she paid for it—surveillance, lack of freedom, homelessness, isolation, institutionalization—Lucia, given the circumstances of her upbringing, had no real choice in the matter. Stuart Gilbert, a friend of the Joyce family who knew Lucia from the time she was a child, speculated that by 1932 (soon after the turning...