James Joyce had two children. They had Italian names--Giorgio (born in 1905) and Lucia (born in 1907)--because Joyce and his common-law wife Nora had left their native Ireland for Trieste, where Joyce eked out a meager living teaching English.
The children had a scrappy life, suffering first poverty, then rootlessness. In 1915 the Joyces moved to Zurich because of the First World War; then in 1920 to Paris where the artistic climate was better for avant-garde novelists. The whole family suffered from the notoriety that swamped Joyce following the publication of "Ulysses" in 1922. As a refuge, Giorgio and Lucia had a private world in which they spoke to each other in the Triestine-Italian and Swiss-German dialects of their schooldays. They came to bad ends.
Giorgio, who had a fine voice and trained as an opera singer, was ruined by becoming his father's errand boy and later the puppet-husband of a wealthy and much older American divorcee. He died an alcoholic in 1976. Lucia, trained fitfully as a dancer and graphic artist, never married. In her mid-20s she fell unhappily in love with, among many others, Samuel Beckett, and became increasingly disturbed. She was diagnosed schizophrenic in the early 1930s, was frequently hospitalized, and after 1936, never lived outside an institution.
When Joyce and Nora fled France for Zurich in 1940, bureaucratic complications left Lucia behind in a mental clinic in Occupied France. She never saw her parents again. Joyce died in Zurich in 1941; Nora, also in Zurich, in 1951. Thereupon, Lucia's guardian and Joyce's patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, had her moved from France to England, to St. Andrew's Hospital, Northampton, where, with the advent of chemical treatment to control schizophrenia, she lived a placid and reasonable life, receiving many visitors, until her death in 1982.
Now there is no reason why a writer should not borrow these facts for fiction and take liberties with them. Shakespeare was hardly scrupulous with the details of the lives of Henrys IV and V, and Margaret Mitchell did curious things with the chronology of the American Civil War. But there must be a point to doctoring reality. Shakespeare's history plays enlarged a greater truth about Englishness; Mitchell had a rattling good tale to tell about Scarlett O'Hara and the ante- and post-bellum South.
Alison Leslie Gold's novel, "Clairvoyant," has no such justification. It takes as its jumping-off point Jung's celebrated statement after treating Lucia in the early 1930s. Joyce was then known to be engaged in a book even more incomprehensible than "Ulysses." What was the difference between father and daughter? Jung had no problem in answering. They are like two people going to the bottom of a river, he said: one falling, the other diving. Gold seems not to have taken Jung's point: that there is a very sharp line between the artistic mind and the shattered one. To suggest that Joyce to the end of his life believed that his daughter was clairvoyant, not mad, misrepresents Joyce. He put off accepting the truth, far longer than did his wife, his son and their friends, because he could not bear it. As a father, he was foolish-fond; he despairingly tried to persuade himself and the world that his beloved child was merely eccentric or gifted.
But he too accepted reality when it hit him--or rather, when it hit his wife, at whom Lucia threw a chair; when the curtains were set on fire, and when Lucia began sleeping outside and getting picked up by the police. When in the late 1930s Joyce paid his visits to her locked ward in Paris every Sunday, he did not think it was a visionary he was seeing but his very sick daughter, whose guards were never very far away.
Joyce knew the difference between madness and art as well as Jung did. "Finnegans Wake" is not the word-salad of a lunatic; it is rather the super-controlled composition of a polylingual wordsmith who programmed his book with explosive meanings. We shall probably never know--theories are rife--whether the Wake , in which one of the central puns is about committing "insects," is actually a coded confession of father-daughter incest. If so, Joyce knew all the more what he was doing when he locked away the meaning of the book.
So much is fabricated in "Clairvoyant" that anyone who reads it unaware of the real lives of James and Lucia Joyce will be led far off the mark. Even the engagingly candid "Afterword" does not come clean with the reader. The author confesses that she has made a salad of the scholarship of others and has added her own invented facts as well. Then she adds delphically that although she has made free with the facts, she has taken great care "to respect the private and personal lives of the subjects" and that "No use has been made of medical records or of intimate letters that invade family privacy."
Here lies the hidden agenda. The life of Lucia Joyce can only be imagined, not told. The many scholars wishing to write about the real life of Lucia Joyce, based on hundreds of her letters now available in university libraries from Buffalo to London, are not permitted to do so by the Joyce estate, which has ruled that Joyce family privacy must be invaded no more and that Lucia in particular is out of bounds. In that light, the fictionalization of an otherwise taboo story takes on a best-that-could-be-done quality and the inspiration for the blatant departures from fact seems more legal than artistic.
As the author of a biography of Nora Joyce which seems to have contributed the lettuce to this salad of a novel, and possibly the tomatoes and cucumber as well, I may not be best placed to judge "Clairvoyant's" qualities as fiction. Lucia's aging mind certainly tossed together random ingredients from her past and present. And she did suffer from an incurable wish to be married--another sign of the disordered time-sense of the schizophrenic.
She did not exhibit the tendency of some schizophrenics to invent their own language. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether the many misprints in the novel are intentional. Joyce at least alerted the reader by opening "Finnegans Wake" with the word "riverrun," indicating that the vocabulary and syntax that follow make their own rules.
Yet some of the liberties are so plainly wrong as to jeopardize the whole enterprise. The book is set in a mental hospital in the West of Ireland to which Lucia is said to be transported to be looked after by Catholic nurses. But Lucia was taken to England, not Ireland, because Joyce held British, not Irish nationality, by his own wish; his legal and financial affairs were handled in London. Lucia's guardian and Joyce's long-indulgent patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, was quintessentially English. It was because St. Andrews' hospital was accessible from London that Miss Weaver was able to carry out her duties as guardian and Joyce scholars could make the pilgrimage as well. Ireland even now is a fairly expensive and time-consuming journey from London, and the puritanical, Joyce-hating, Ireland of the 1950s was the last place that Joyce's daughter would have been placed for permanent refuge.
Much has been made, not only in this novel but by feminist scholars, of the fact that Lucia's genuine talent was blighted by her father's fame and ego. Jealous of the attention paid him in Paris, Lucia once cried out in fury, " C'est moi qui est l'artiste. " But she was wrong. Her father won the contest. She was ill.
In suggesting otherwise, that Lucia's "real" life was extinguished by her father's greatness, this book ventures into feminist-Plath territory: female genius sacrificed to the overweening ego of the male artist in the family. But Lucia was no Sylvia Plath. In her amateurish dancing and drawing, she was probably less talented than her brother, who might have pursued a successful singing career had not his father, and later his American wife, discouraged him.
The idealization of Lucia Joyce is a feminist extension of the 19th-Century habit of romanticizing madness. There is nothing romantic about schizophrenia. It is a cruel and common disease, largely biochemical in origin, which is statistically prevalent in the west of Ireland (the home of Nora Joyce), and which strikes, according to varying estimates, from one in a hundred to one in a thousand in most populations.
It was Joyce's tragedy that his supposedly pornographic work and his mode of life were blamed for his daughter's schizophrenia. It was Lucia's tragedy, as well as his, to suffer from it at a time when the only treatment was incarceration. Perhaps being locked away was no worse than "care in the community"--the current policy on schizophrenia, whose victims now litter our streets. Perhaps more of them should be celebrated--as this fanciful little book celebrates Lucia--for "surviving in the face of a most mysterious and terrible illness." At least no one is blaming their parents for overshadowing them.