James Joyce’s Daughter, Lucia Joyce, Had Schizophrenia


Lucia Joyce Had Schizophrenia

Lucia Joyce, daughter of Irish writer James Joyce, did not have an easy life. She suffered from schizophrenia. At 20, she was a talented modern dancer and an accomplished illustrator. But at around this time, she fell in love with Samuel Beckett. Beckett was secretary of her father. Their relationship lasted only a short while. Beckett was involved with another woman at the time. He admitted he was solely interested in having a professional relationship with James Joyce.  Soon Lucia succumbed to a psychotic breakdown. This led to decades of institutionalization. As irony would have it, Beckett visited her often in the mental hospital.

Lucia Joyce dancing in Paris in 1929 before she had schizophrenia
Lucia Joyce dancing in Paris in 1929 before she had schizophrenia

Early Life of Lucia Joyce

Lucia Joyce was born in Trieste in 1907. She was born to the then unwed James Joyce and Nora Barnacle after their first child Giorgio. Lucia grew up in a disorderly household. Joyce had turned his back on Ireland in 1904 thinking his countrymen would not give him his due as a writer. He landed in Trieste along with Nora Barnacle. He set to work as a language teacher. It was in Trieste over the next decade or so he completed “Dubliners” and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” With the publication of “Portrait,” in 1916, he became rich. Prior to that, the Joyces were very poor. Some days they went without dinner.

Lucia was a sickly and difficult child and was cross-eyed. Lucia had to endure scoldings from her mother. But her father loved her to a fault. Joyce felt about Lucia that “Whatever spark or gift I possess has been transmitted to Lucia, and it has kindled a fire in her brain.” But he could spare her only so much time. He worked all day and on many nights he went out and got blind drunk. The family got evicted from apartment after apartment. They also moved from country to country. This meant that Lucy got only a spotty education and had to learn a new language at every turn.

Lucia Joyce studied dancing from 1925 to 1929. She trained first with Jacques Dalcroze, followed by Margaret Morris and Raymond Duncan. But her dancing career never really took off, although she worked six hours a day. Discouraged, she concluded that she was not physically strong enough to be a dancer of any kind. Joyce would write to a friend later that this cost her “a month’s tears.”

Lucia Joyce Becomes Mentally Ill

Lucia suffered other grief in her early twenties. Once her father became a celebrity with the publication of “Ulysses,” in 1922, it drew plenty of young artistic types in Paris to his family. Giorgio moved in with an American heiress, Helen Fleischman. Lucia, who had been very close to Giorgio, felt abandoned. So, Lucia herself tried to enter a relationship. But in about two years three men befriended and rejected her. First was her father’s assistant, Samuel Beckett, who was not interested in a romantic relationship with her. The second was her drawing teacher, Alexander Calder, who went back to his fiancée. The third was another artist, Albert Hubbell, who went back to his wife.

Because of this unfortunate streak, Lucia showed open and violent sexual attitudes. This led to her being accused of promiscuity (on one occasion, she publicly announced that she was lesbian). She tried to set houses on fire frequently. She would throw up at the dinner table. Once, she escaped from her home and lived on the streets of Dublin for a few days as if she were homeless.

On her father’s fiftieth birthday, Lucia threw a chair at her mother. This prompted Giorgio to institutionalize her in a medical clinic. Here the effects of drugs, the humiliation of being locked up and supervised, and the blow to self-image took a toll on her. For the next three years, Lucia went back and forth between home and hospital. As her behavior grew worse, her hospitalizations became longer. She went from French clinics to Swiss sanitariums.

At the time Joyce was writing Finnegan’s Wake. Many of Joyce’s biographers believe his daughter inspired this novel.

Lucia Joyce Diagnosed with Schizophrenia

She changed hospitals a few times. But her condition remained the same. Mostly, she was quiet. However, periodically she would go into a tearing rage—breaking windows, attacking people. Then she would be straitjacketed until she calmed down. One doctor said she was “hebephrenic,” a subtype of schizophrenia then. Another diagnostician thought she was “not lunatic but markedly neurotic.” A third diagnosed her with “cyclothymia,” a milder form of bipolar disorder.

Once the world-renowned Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung treated her. Jung believed that both Lucia Joyce and her father were schizophrenics. But Jung felt that James “was functional because he was a genius.” And Lucia was “no genius like her father, she was a victim of disease”.  Jung felt Lucia and Joyce were “like two people going to the bottom of a river, one falling and the other diving.” Jung eventually “thought her so bound up with her father’s psychic system that analysis could not be successful.” He could not help her, and Joyce reluctantly had her committed.

They diagnosed Lucia Joyce with schizophrenia in the mid-1930s. They institutionalized her at the Burgholzli psychiatric clinic in Zurich. In 1951, they transferred Joyce to St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton. Here she remained until her death in 1982, at seventy-five. She spent her last 47 years in a psychiatric hospital.

Implications of James Joyce’s Daughter Having Schizophrenia

After Joyce’s death, friends and relatives destroyed Lucia’s letters and Joyce’s letters to and about her. They did this to preserve Joyce’s reputation. None of Lucia’s letters survive as original documents. Nor is there any trace of her diaries or poems. They did not spare even the novel she was writing. Thus, most of the primary sources for an account of Lucia Joyce’s life are missing.

The case of Lucia Joyce’s is not surprising. We now know that there is a connection between madness and artistic creation. The artists’ mind touches upon that thin line between artistic creation and madness. And at times, it crosses it. This trend alludes to the sensitivity that these characters share. So, no wonder that Lucia Joyce had schizophrenia.

“National Schizophrenia Awareness Day”

Schizophrenia Ireland has designated July 26th as “Lucia Day”. It has adopted it as its National Schizophrenia Awareness Day. For further information on the disease contact Schizophrenia Ireland’s helpline at 1890-621 631 or its offices at (01) 860 1620.

One person in 100 is likely to develop schizophrenia. Its onset takes place between 16 and 24. The cause is unknown. There appears to be a genetic predisposition. People with the disease are unlikely to be violent, being more likely to be victims of abuse.

We treat the disease nowadays with medication and rehabilitation programs. A quarter of schizophrenics make a complete recovery. Around 65 percent have relapses. About 10 percent never recover.

Symptoms include paranoia, confusion, delusions (believing that what is imaginary is real), hallucinations (seeing or hearing what is not actually there in reality), emotional apathy, lethargy, withdrawal, fatigue, and sleeplessness.


James Joyce’s Daughter, Lucia Joyce, Had Schizophrenia
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James Joyce’s Daughter, Lucia Joyce, Had Schizophrenia
Lucia Joyce was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the mid-1930s. She died in 1982, at the age of seventy-five, spending 47 years in a psychiatric hospital.
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