Lucia Joyce lies alone but not forgotten. My Diary piece from The Irish Times

An Irishwoman’s Diary

Mary Russell

The town of Northampton, in England’s southern midlands, is an unlikely place to find a Joyce connection. Yet one of its cemeteries – Kingsthorpe – is the final resting place of Lucia Joyce, the tragic daughter of James and Nora.

Postwar Trieste, Lucia’s birthplace, had been claimed by Yugoslavia which is why her grave is located in the eastern Europe section of the cemetery and surrounding  headstones are inscribed in many of the Slav languages. Lucia’s says, simply: “Lucia Anna Joyce, Trieste 1907, Northampton 1982.”

Her mental disturbance, thought to have been schizophrenic (one doctor noted she was neurotic rather than lunatic) started to manifest itself when she was in her early twenties and the resultant erratic behaviour and violent outbursts made her difficult to live with. She severed the phone lines in her parents’ apartment at a most inopportune moment – just when the momentous news came through that a US judge had given permission for Ulysses to be published there and when newspapers were hungry for interviews.

In her book To Dance in the Wake, Carol Loeb Schloss notes that Lucia always felt that the many young men who came calling showed more interest in her father than in her – which understandably gave some cause for grievance, for she was an attractive twenty-something with a passion for the fad of the day, creative dance.

On her father’s 50th birthday, she threw a chair at the mother she felt favoured her brother Giorgio more than her, though this outburst seemed also related to the fact that Sam Beckett had been invited to the party.

Lucia and Beckett had previously been something of an item, albeit a one-sided one, for the busy young Beckett – he was two years older than Lucia – had seed to sow in other places.

Lucia’s parents found her behaviour more than they could cope with and eventually committed her to a sanitorium – an action which, in those days, was the equivalent of a life sentence. Her first incarceration was in 1932 when she was 25; and though she survived the Nazi occupation in a French sanitorium she was finally brought to St Andrew’s Institution in Northampton by a London-based doctor who had been treating her and who had connections there. She arrived in 1951 and remained until her death, 31 years later, at the age of 75.

On Bloomsday last year, a bunch of flowers was placed on her grave by a nurse from Saint Andrew’s who remembered her. The story goes that the grave was visited by Beckett himself and that he left a card inscribed to his one-time friend. The nurse was in two minds: should she rescue the card and preserve it for posterity or leave it in place? She chose the latter course, but the ink, as you’ll guess, slowly faded and the card blew away in the wind. A fanciful ending, but one in keeping with Lucia’s own self-image.

The leading light of the Northampton Connolly Association is Dublin-born Peter Mulligan and his Iranian wife Golnar. With Peter I crossed the cemetery to visit another Irish grave, that of a one-time member of the Connolly Association and author of the marvellous Diary of an Irish Navvy; he was known to his friends as Danny, though the inscription reads: “Donaill MacAmhlaigh. Scríbhneoir. 1927-1989.”

But the literary trail doesn’t end here. If you take a walk down through the town – once famous as a centre of shoemaking – to the church of All Saints, you’ll find the circle closing. Here, in a small niche set into the outside wall, is where the poet John Clare used to sit (“A shiny seat well sat on, ” says Peter Mulligan), taking his ease and writing off-the-cuff poems for anyone who might come up to him and request one.

Like Lucia Joyce, Clare, who died in 1864, was a long-term resident of St Andrew’s but had a better deal than she had: each day he was allowed out to take up his poet’s position by the church, on condition he was back in time for tea.

Those were more kindly times. Lucia now lies alone, though not forgotten thanks to the Connolly Association, in her English grave, far from her father, mother and brother who are all buried in a cemetery in Zurich.

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3 Comments

Filed under Books, Life, Travel

3 responses to “Lucia Joyce lies alone but not forgotten. My Diary piece from The Irish Times

  1. In 2009, at that year’s Bloomsday gathering at Lucia’s grave, Peter Mulligan introduced me to another grave in the same cemetery: that of Violet Gibson, the Anglo-Irish “woman who shot Mussolini”. I’ve just written about it at http://ianmac55.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/the-woman-who-shot-mussolini/.

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