On this day…29 May

On 29 May 1932 Lucia Joyce was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Lucia, who had been staying with Padraic and Mary Colum, was visited by her brother George on 29 May. George misled her about where they were going and, accompanied by Mary Colum, he took her to a clinic at L’Haye-les-Roses where Dr Gaston Maillard diagnosed her as suffering from hebephrenic schizophrenia.

Hebephrenia or hebephrenic schizophrenia is also known as disorganised schizophrenia and is characterised by disorganised speech and behaviour as well as emotional problems. In the months up to May 1932, several incidents seemed to add weight to this diagnosis. In February, at the celebration of Joyce’s fiftieth birthday, Lucia had thrown a chair at her mother and had to be taken to a maison de santé where she remained for a few days.

In April, Lucia had thrown a tantrum at the Gare de Nord railway station as she and her parents were supposed to be boarding a train. After forty-five minutes of argument, Joyce had their bags removed from the train. Lucia, unwilling to go home, went to stay with Paul and Lucie Léon, where she remained in bed for nine days.

However, it was not only Lucia who was frustrated by Joyce’s constant moving around, and in the following weeks Nora threatened to leave him, angry that they did not have family home, blaming Lucia’s condition on him, and claiming that life with him was unbearable.

The Léons felt that it would be good for Lucia to marry, and Lucie Léon proposed her brother Alec Ponisovsky as a suitable candidate. On 17 May Lucia and Ponisovsky became engaged. But after the engagement party, Lucia returned to the Léons’ apartment and lay in a catatonic state on the sofa for several days. Ponisovsky was a friend of George Joyce’s, but when George (who was in the south of France) heard of the engagement, he came back to Paris to persuade his parents that Lucia was not in a fit state of mind to marry.

Lucia moved out of the Léons’ apartment and moved in with Padraic Colum and his wife Mary. Joyce, now anxious about Lucia’s mental state, wanted her to see a psychiatrist, but she refused. Instead, they devised a ruse whereby Dr Henri Codet would visit the Colums’ apartment ostensibly to assess Mary Colum but using Lucia as an interpreter. Mary Colum left Lucia alone with Codet on a couple of occasions so that he could make an assessment, though Mary Colum felt that no doctor could make a proper assessment in this way. Codet’s diagnosis was that there was nothing wrong with Lucia.

At the end of May George tricked Lucia into going to Dr Maillard’s clinic where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Maillard recommended that she spend several weeks in bed, during which time Joyce tried to decide what to do. In July, Joyce smuggled her out of the clinic with her nurse and got her to Feldkirch, Austria, where the Jolases were staying.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Shloss, Carol Loeb: Lucia Joyce – To Dance in the Wake, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003