Lucia Joyce, the only daughter of James and Nora Joyce, was born on this day in 1907. She died in 1982 having spent 47 years in mental hospitals. Although she was diagnosed as schizophrenic, her father refused to accept it. Instead he believed she was a genius like himself. I wrote about Lucia’s sad, thwarted life and her relationship with her father in my first novel. It was titled THE CLAIRVOYANT, A NOVEL OF THE IMAGINED LIFE OF LUCIA JOYCE by Edinburgh /London when it was first published. The title was changed to CLAIRVOYANT, THE IMAGINED LIFE OF LUCIA JOYCE when next published in New York and likewise when recently reissued (with a new introduction) by TMI Press. I had wanted to title the book THE BLOTTING PAPER GIR but somehow I either changed my mind or was talked out of it. When Lucia first showed signs of mental illness she was treated with injections of seawater, commitments, restraints, and more. When the drug chlorpromazine (Thorazine) was invented in 1957, it controlled Lucia’s violent outbursts. Had anyone been willing to take her at that point she could have returned to the outside world. But, her father was dead, so was her mother, her brother wanted nothing to do with her, and no one else offered, so she remained institutionalized in Northampton, England for the remainder of her life and is buried where she died. In old age she wished for a husband. In my novel, I give her one. Following, an excerpt from CLAIRVOYANT, (Part V, At Twenty, Section 11) when she meets her future husband for the second time:
Shortly afterward we met again and I learned his name. This is how.
Soft rain had been falling that night and from a window the onion seller had been watching the slanted silver across the yellow glow of the gas lamp. He watched as a gaggle of young people began to pour down the street toward the front door. He heard the sound of the door opening, then the echo of voices in the foyer.
He continued to watch the rain as a gust of wind turned the slattern raindrops into silver drops of confetti swirling against the light.
He saw that a couple walked haltingly behind the others, that I, wearing a dark fashionable coat, was bare, headed and stopped on the sidewalk to engage in conversation with Mr. Beckett.
My fingers kept pointing up toward the sky at something. He could not see what. Mr. Beckett looked down at the ground, pinched a glowing cigarette between his fingers and dropped it into a puddle at his feet, grinding at the butt long after it must have been shredded.
The tilt of my head and straight back had been his clue. It was me. His mermaid. If only he could fly down from the window and lift me gently into his arms, cover me with his own body, fly me to a safe, dry place and roaring fire and towel me dry with big Turkish towels.
I first noticed him again with pleasure as he entered the room wearing the same opera cloak lined in midnight-blue silk. His dark hair glistened as though it was wet, the brush marks wedge-shaped, cutting the thick hair in rows, his large, dark eyes like glowing coals as he searched the room for me.
Our host came and pounded him on the back and I noticed that he was breathing as though he’d been running.
Mr. Beckett and I had entered the room and sat down. The onion seller observed me, tall and slender, so distracted that I sat on the sofa, shaped like a comma, squinting off into space at something far away that he could not see. He saw that my rapid-fire, flighty talk tumbled out on and off between moments of distraction.
He heard me speak in Italian and halting French. I never seemed to look in a direction toward which I was addressing. He saw the scar on my chin. He thought it made me more beautiful.
He studied my face, my creamy skin, the long fingers of my hands. Though slim, I had full breasts. I seemed to vacillate between comfort and discomfort like a bird hopping from branch to branch.
I was asked to play something on the piano. Mr. Beckett and I discussed what I should play. Sheet music was brought, thumbed through, discussed again. Finally I made my choice, sat down, and then asked the room at large for someone to turn the pages for me.
Like a newborn lamb this man walked the few feet to the piano. He looked at me. I responded with something resembling a greeting, but to him something better, as though an angel had brushed against his heart. A chair was brought and placed just behind me and to the left. The host introduced him to me as Edgar Anthagros, a Greek Jew working in the produce market in Paris. Ezra Pound, who had now also turned against Father, had once turned the pages for Olga Rudge, and now Mr. Anthagros would do the same for me.
I touched the keys with my fingertips, the piano emitted a fragment of melody. Edgar looked at the score. It read “Prelude of Tristan and Isolde.” This meant nothing to him, I could see from his blank face.
Then I put my fingers to the keys in earnest and began to play.
I told the music to speak to Mr. Beckett of love – lifelong and eternal love — but it spoke to Edgar instead. Edgar lowered his face down almost into my hair. My hair smelled of rainwater. He longed to bury his face in my hair. I wish he had; I wouldn’t have minded.