Lucia Joyce

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Carol Loeb Shloss is a Visiting Professor at Stanford University in the Department of English who specializes in modernist literature. She has published three previous books. In Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake she examines the life of Lucia Joyce, troubled daughter of James Joyce.

Lucia’s famous father’s biographers have usually regarded her only as his schizophrenic daughter. Shloss attempts to offer a different picture, portraying Lucia as a complex, talented individual and as an important influence on her father’s work. Shloss divides her book, and Lucia’s life, into three parts. Part one, “The Dance of Life” describes the early part of the life, when Lucia was an apparently imaginative child and then a dancer with connections to the surrealists and other members of the European avant-garde. Part two, “The Dance of Death” deals with events from 1932 to Lucia’s death in 1982. During this time, she first began to display difficult behavior, and she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and placed in mental institutions. One of these institutions fell into occupied France after the German invasion in World War II, and she was forever separated from her father. Part three, “The Resurrection Dance” suggests that Lucia played a central part in James Joyce’s complicate final work, Finnegan’s Wake (1939) and that one way to read this book is as a coded expression of the Joyce family experience.

Shloss engages in a great deal of speculation. Her implication that Lucia’s brother Giorgio may have engaged in incestuous relations with her and encouraged her institutionalization to keep these relations secret is a serious accusation to make with so little real evidence. Some readers may also question whether Joyce’s supporters really wanted to get Lucia out of the way just so that the writer could get on with his work. Still, this is an absorbing biography that raises troubling questions about valuing art over human life.