On this day…9 June

On 9 June 1936 Joyce wrote to Harriet Weaver about his family problems.

Joyce’s letters to Harriet Weaver often became litanies of personal problems that he was suffering, and this letter is no exception. In it, he instances problems concerning his brother Stanislaus, his son George, and his daughter Lucia.

In the middle of April 1936, Stanislaus Joyce, now a professor of English at the University of Trieste, was told that he was being suspended from his position and that he would have to leave Italy. Stanislaus was no friend of fascism but he was surprised at being asked to leave Italy. He had contacted Joyce, intending that if his expulsion went ahead he and his wife (and their bulldog, according to Joyce who had no love of dogs) would come and stay in Paris. Joyce told Weaver he was expecting Stanislaus to arrive in a week, but as it turned out the order was lifted and Stanislaus was allowed to resume his position at the University.

George Joyce had an operation on his throat at the end of May 1936, as a result of which, Joyce told Weaver, he had been told to rest in bed or on a couch for four or five months. George had an unstabilised bass voice and, after a singing engagement in America in 1934, he developed a throat condition which led to the operation in May 1936. The operation was a success but one of the consequences was a shift in his voice from bass to baritone.

As for Lucia, she had been staying with the Jolases until mid-March 1936 when she was moved to Dr Delmas’ clinic at Ivry where she remained for the next three years. Lucia’s twenty-ninth birthday was approaching and with it the promised publication of her Chaucer ABC. Joyce was determined to see the publication through not because he wanted to convince Lucia she was a Cézanne but so that she would see that her past had not been a failure. This, he told Weaver, might also help Lucia to see that her future was not blank and this might help her mental condition.

Lucia’s incarceration obviously had a bad effect on Joyce. From May right through the summer of 1936 he remained in seclusion, and often complained of depression. This in turn often impacted on his writing, making it impossible for him to work on Finnegans Wake.

Curiously, Joyce claimed that his children were suffering from some strange illness which, he said, the doctors had traced back to their time in Zurich during the First World War. He told Weaver that, if neither of his children had been able to make anything of their lives, this mystery illness was to blame, not them.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.