Lucia Joyce

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Lucia Joyce dancing at Bullier Ball - Paris, May 1929

Lucia Anna Joyce (26 July 1907 Trieste - 12 December 1982 Northampton) was the daughter of Irish writer James Joyce and Nora Barnacle.

Early life and career[edit]

Italian was her first language and the language in which she corresponded with her father. She first demonstrated her talent as a dancer after seeing Charlie Chaplin's The Kid in 1921: her party pieces became imitations of Napoleon and the little tramp.[1] She studied dancing from 1925 to 1929, training first with the Dalcroze Institute in Paris run by Jacques Dalcroze, followed by Margaret Morris (granddaughter of William Morris) in her school of modern dance, and later with Raymond Duncan (brother of Isadora Duncan) at his school near Salzburg.[2] She furthered her studies under Lois Hutton, Hélène Vanel, and Jean Borlin, lead dancer of the Ballet suédois.[3] In 1927, she danced a short duet as a toy soldier in Jean Renoir’s film adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's La Petite marchande d’allumettes (The Little Match Girl). In 1928, she joined "Les Six de rythme et couleur," a commune of six female dancers that were soon performing at venues in France, Austria, and Germany.[4] Recognized as a professional dancer, she was profiled in the Paris Times after her performance in La Princesse Primitive at the Vieux-Colombier theatre. The article began: "Lucia Joyce is her father’s daughter. She has James Joyce’s enthusiasm, energy, and a not-yet-determined amount of his genius." Highlighting her choreography for Le Pont d’or, and her skills as a linguist, costume designer, and creator of colour schemes and effects, the article concluded: "When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter’s father."[5] On 28 May 1929, she was chosen as one of six finalists in the first international festival of dance in Paris held at the Bal Bullier. Although she did not win, the audience - which included her father and the young Samuel Beckett - championed her performance as outstanding and loudly protested the jury’s verdict.[6]

After seven years’ training and nine dance schools in the anti-balletic style, she took up professional ballet instruction with Lubov Egorova, formerly of the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, who was now based in Paris. Working six hours a day at the age of twenty-two when ballet dancers usually begin training at eight, she broke under the pressure and decided "she was not physically strong enough to be a dancer of any kind".[7] Announcing she would become a Margaret Morris teacher, she then "turned down an offer to join a group in Darmstadt and effectively gave up dancing."[8] Her biographer Carol Shloss, however, argues that it was her father who finally put an end to her dancing career. Joyce reasoned that the intense physical training for ballet caused her undue stress which in turn exacerbated the long-standing animosity between her and her mother, Nora. The resulting incessant domestic squabbles prevented work on Finnegans Wake. Joyce convinced her she should turn to drawing lettrines to illustrate his prose and forgo her own deep-seated artistic inclinations.[9] To his patron Harriet Shaw Weaver, Joyce wrote that this resulted in "a month of tears as she thinks she has thrown away three or four years of hard work and is sacrificing a talent".[10]

Mental illness[edit]

Lucia started to show signs of mental illness in 1930, a year after she began casually dating the twenty-three year old Samuel Beckett, then a junior lecturer in English at the Ecole normale supérieure in Paris. In May 1930 while her parents were in Zurich, she invited Beckett to dinner, hoping "to press him into some kind of declaration."[11] He flatly rejected her, explaining that he was only interested in her father and his writing. Joyce biographer Gordon Bowker argues that the underlying reasons for the rejection were Beckett's keen awareness of the "strong unfulfilled erotic bond between Lucia and her father" and her need to find "a genius father-substitute", together with "her predilection for unprotected sex."[12] By 1934, after failed affairs with her drawing teacher Alexander Calder, and another expatriate artist Albert Hubbell, her condition had deteriorated to the point that Joyce had Carl Gustav Jung take her in as a patient. Soon after, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the Burghölzli psychiatric clinic in Zurich.

In 1936, Joyce consented to have his daughter undergo blood tests at St Andrew's Hospital in Northampton. After a short stay, Lucia insisted she return to Paris, the doctors explaining to Joyce that she could not be prevented from doing so unless he had her committed. Joyce told his closest friends that "he would never agree to his daughter being incarcerated among the English."[13] Lucia returned to stay with Maria Jolas, the wife of transition editor Eugene Jolas, in Neuilly sur Seine. After three weeks, her condition worsened and she was taken away in a straitjacket to the Maison de Santé Velpeau in Vésinet. Considered a danger to both staff and inmates, she was left in isolation. Two months later, she entered the maison de santé of Dr François Achille Delmas at Ivry-sur-Seine.[14]

In 1951 Lucia was again transferred to St Andrew's Hospital. Over the years, she received visits from Beckett, Sylvia Beach, Frank Budgen, Maria Jolas, and Harriet Shaw Weaver who acted as her guardian. In 1962, Beckett donated his share of the royalties from his 1929 contributory essay on Finnegans Wake in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress to help pay for her confinement at St Andrew's.[15] In 1982, Lucia suffered a stroke and died on 12 December of that year. [16] She is buried in Kingsthorpe Cemetery.


Her mental state, and documentation pertaining thereto, is the subject of a 2003 study by Carol Shloss who believes Lucia to have been her father's muse for Finnegans Wake. Making heavy reference to the letters between Lucia Joyce and her father, the study became the subject of a copyright misuse suit by the James Joyce estate. On 25 March 2007, this litigation was resolved.[17][18] In 2004 her life was the subject of Calico, a West End play written by Michael Hastings, and of the 2012 graphic novel, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, by Bryan and Mary M. Talbot.[19] Another play exploring her life, called L, was performed to a limited audience in Concord Academy from April 14-16, 2016. It was written and directed by Sophia Ginzburg. [20]



  1. ^ Bowker, Gordon (2011). James Joyce: A New Biography, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 297.
  2. ^ Bowker, 327.
  3. ^ Shloss, Carol (2003). Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, New York: Farrar, Straus and Girous, 140.
  4. ^ Le Bihan, Adrien (2011). James Joyce travesti par trois clercs parisiens, Paris: Cherche Bruit, 80.
  5. ^ Shloss, 6
  6. ^ Knowlson, James (1996). Damned to Fame: the Life of Samuel Beckett, London: Bloomsbury, 103-104.
  7. ^ A Fire in the Brain: The difficulties of being James Joyce’s daughter
  8. ^ Brenda Maddox, A Mania for Insects, review of Carol Shloss’s biography, Lucia Joyce, To Dance in the Wake
  9. ^ Shloss's argument summarized in Le Bihan, 80-81.
  10. ^ Brenda Maddox, A Mania for Insects
  11. ^ Bowker, 400.
  12. ^ Bowker, 400.
  13. ^ Bowker, 482.
  14. ^ Bowker, 482.
  15. ^ Bair, Deirdre (1980). Samuel Beckett: A Biography, London: Picador, 451.
  16. ^ Beja, Morris (1992). James Joyce: A Literary Life. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press. p. 125. 
  17. ^ Joyce letters court case settled. B.B.C., 2007-03-25.
  18. ^ Scholar, James Joyce estate settle copyright dispute. First Amendment Center/Associated Press, 2007-03-27.
  19. ^ Cooke, Rachel (27 January 2012). "Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  20. ^,485


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