The Life of Lucia - new play based on the life story of Lucia Joyce
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The Life of Lucia - new play based on the life story of Lucia Joyce

LUCIA ANNE JOYCE, only daughter of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, died in 1982 after a life that can only be described as tragic.

Born in Trieste, she was a professional dancer before illness overtook her, and apparently had a short affair with Samuel Beckett.

But Lucia was diagnosed as a schizophrenic in her late twenties, and despite treatment — even the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung examined her — she never led an independent life thereafter.

Lucia was institutionalised at the Burghölzli psychiatric clinic in Zurich, where James Joyce was living at the time, and where he is now buried.

She was subsequently transferred to St Andrew's Hospital in Northampton, where she remained until her death.

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Every year on Bloomsday, June 16, Lucia’s grave in Kingsthorpe Cemetery is the focus for Joyce enthusiasts from Northampton and further afield to gather and pay tribute to her life, as well as to share readings from her father’s work.

Celebrants and attendees over the years have included hospital staff who knew Lucia, Joyce’s biographer Gordon Bowker, Sean Cannon from the Dubliners, representatives of the Irish Embassy in London and members of the Triskellion Irish Theatre Company, based in Nottingham.

Triskellion’s indomitable Gerry Molumby is one of the main instigators and organisers of the event.

Gerry Molumby as James Joyce during Bloomsday celebrations in Northampton

In 2018 local writers Richard Rose and James Vollmar decided to enhance the usual readings with a short play entitled Letters to Lucia.

The drama is focused on fictional correspondence to Lucia from key personalities who knew her, including her father and mother, Samuel Beckett, and Kathleen Neel who had performed with Lucia in a Paris dance troupe.

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Frank Budgen, artist and writer and close confidante of the Joyce family, was portrayed as narrator in the drama.

Members of Triskellion Irish Theatre Company performed the play in costume. Incidental music was provided by Irish champion uilleann piper Colin O’Loughlin.

The Triskellion Publications company has now made available the script of this unique play, with additional material by the writers detailing the origins of the project.

The publication also includes a rare and fascinating interview with Sheila George, an occupational therapist who worked with Lucia at St Andrew’s.

The book has a foreword by noted Joyce scholar and Senator in the Irish Parliament David Norris.

According to Senator Norris, the relationship between Joyce and his daughter was every bit as complex as one might imagine.

From biographies it seems that Joyce was in great despair about his daughter’s mental health.

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Senator Norris writes in the foreword: “Jung maintained that Joyce and Lucia were like two people, both going to the bottom of a river, but while Joyce was diving, Lucia was drowning.”

David Norris also reveals that in letters he exchanged with Lucia when she was confined in Northampton (“a desultory correspondence”, as he put it) she regularly referred to her father as “the James Joyce”.

It was almost, Senator Norris writes, as if her father existed in some institutional form.

In a poignant note, the senator recounts how, in 1982 when he heard about her death, he sent a single white rose stem to Northampton.

He was later informed that his single rose was the only flower on Lucia’s coffin.

Senator Norris concludes by writing: “For Joyce enthusiasts and those who would like to know more about this extraordinary family and its links to Dublin, Paris, Zurich, Trieste and Northampton, Letters to Lucia represents a valuable addition to existing Joycean commentary from a unique angle.

For theatre companies it provides a text for performance and an opportunity to share this work with their audiences far and wide.

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Letters to Lucia is available from Gerry Molumby and costs £8 (including packaging and postage worldwide). For further information email  [email protected] or click here.