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  • Fail BetteLucia Joyce and the Abbey Theatre Ballets
  • Deirdre Mulrooney (bio)

Lucia Joyce, born to Irish exiles James Joyce and Nora Barnacle in Trieste, 1907,1 has captured the imagination of many writers and artists as a tragic muse. Filmmakers, dramatists, and novelists have projected everything from Millsand Boon-style narratives, where the real protagonists are celebrated male writers (Samuel Beckett, one of Lucia's many boyfriends, and her father) for whom she is just a bridge, to unfounded stories of incest and child-abuse, to comic-strip extravaganzas. How did Lucia get to be such a supine, empty space? Apart from Carol Loeb Shloss's groundbreaking and controversial 2003 biography, Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, you don't hear much about Lucia the dancer, who once declared in exasperation "c'est moi qui est l'artiste." The time is nigh to focus on Lucia as artist in her own right, of whom the 1928 Paris Times wrote: "When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter's father."

filed under "miscellaneous"

Aptly, James Joyce described his daughter as "an innovator, not yet understood."2 Triestine Italian may have been her mother tongue, but as the composer George Antheil noticed, "Italian apparently was a sort of secret society between Joyce and his two children to which Mrs. Joyce had not been admitted—and which she did not mind."3 In 1920s Paris, this chasm grew wider as Lucia was known to "skip from English into French, and from French into Italian in the course of going from one side of the room to the other,"4 but as a pioneering modern dancer at the heart of avant-garde Paris, she also "spoke" an innovative physical language that transcended the [End Page 48] verbal. It was a language not yet understood. Lucia's training with early twentieth-century modern dance pioneers Margaret Morris, and Raymond and Elizabeth Duncan; her apprenticeship and performances with Ballets Rythme et Couleur; and, most important, her well chronicled performances, have been largely overlooked by history. This misunderstood artist has been reduced to a "mad girl," synonymous with mental illness, considered primarily in relation to her father, and filed away under "miscellaneous" in coveted James Joyce Special Collections around the world.5 Despite the frustrating paucity of evidence, surely, as a starting point, material relating to Lucia Joyce should be prioritized in its own right in a dance archive.

While making "Georgie's Vision" (RTE Lyric FM, 2016), the first ever documentary about Mrs. W. B. Yeats, another extraordinary and overlooked woman, I was thrilled to discover that news of Lucia Joyce's prowess as "public dancer" had found its way into W. B. Yeats's correspondence with his wife, one month before that Paris Times accolade (see Figure 1).6

Written from Rapallo, Italy, on February 28, 1928—just two days after Lucia Joyce's first demonstration of her own dances with Rythme et Couleur—the Nobel Laureate was on the lookout for outstanding dancers to help him realize his vision in his "Plays for Dancers." Just a few months previously, in November 1927, he had planted a hopeful seed for an Abbey Theatre Ballets with Blessington-born Ninette de Valois (who would go on


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Figure 1.

W. B. Yeats to George Yeats, handwritten letter, 28 February 1928. National Library of Ireland MS 50,622/12/2. Photograph by the author. Reproduced with the kind permission of Caitriona Yeats.

[End Page 49] to found the Royal Ballet of Great Britain).7 "Tom has written praising above all other dancers public dancers, James Joyce's daughter," he wrote to his wife George, who was at home looking after his new Abbey School of Ballet in his absence. "We may use her someday." The unfulfilled possibilities hinted at here are exciting indeed, both for Lucia, and for the ultimate development of dance as an art form in Ireland.

Realigning Lucia Joyce with Yeats's and De Valois's short-lived Abbey School of Ballet (1927–33) reveals that the narrative arc of her training and career should be incorporated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4241
Print ISSN
1049-0809
Pages
pp. 48-125
Launched on MUSE
2022-03-03
Open Access
No
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