January 10, 2024 | Alicia B.

Tragic Facts About Lucia Joyce, James Joyce's Mad Daughter

Lucia was as troubled as her father James Joyce was renowned. She didn’t just live under the legendary writer’s shadow, she went mad under it.

1. She Went Mad

In hindsight, the red flags were always there, but at the time, Lucia Joyce seemed fine, albeit troubled and with bad in love. Though with Lucia’s difficult childhood, who could blame her? Then, after countless meltdowns, it became undeniable. Lucia was fighting—and losing—the life-threatening battle against her demons. 

Like her famous father, Lucia left behind a legacy...But sadly, much of it has been erased.

Lucia Joyce

2. She Had Daddy Issues

Born in 1907 to legendary Irish writer James Joyce and his muse Nora Barnacle, Lucia Joyce was destined to live an impoverished and turbulent childhood. James adored his daughter but only showed his warm, paternal side when he could find the time. Always consumed by his writing, and often drinking late into the night, he never made Lucia a priority.

Even worse, she didn't even have her mother's shoulder to cry on.

James Joyce portraitCamille Ruf, Wikimedia Commons

3. She Had Mommy Issues

If James was the good (but distant) cop, then Nora was the bad cop. Lucia’s earliest memories were of her mother's harsh reprimands. Moreover, Nora didn't seem to have a strong maternal bond with Lucia at all. Unfortunately, James and Nora’s questionable parenting gets even worse. Lucia never stood a chance.

Portrait Of Nora JoyceBerenice Abbott, Wikimedia Commons

4. She Went Hungry

No matter how you look at it, Lucia’s childhood was a nightmare. James didn’t make a decent living until she was nine. Until then, Lucia knew hunger too well. Not to mention, James and Nora dragged her around the world. Every time, her family relocated, Lucia had to learn a brand new language.

In fact, Lucia struggled so much that someone remarked that she was illiterate in four languages. It’s no wonder she rebelled the first chance she got.

Nora Barnacle. Wife of James Joyce With ChildrenMarka, Getty Images

5. She Rebelled Against Her Parents

When James and Nora disapproved of Lucia’s dancing, she went full steam ahead. But this was more than a rebellion: She was passionate and talented. 

Her future looked promising, with one reviewer even writing: "Lucia Joyce is her father’s daughter…When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter’s father”. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Lucia JoyceLo.Prz., CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

6. She Wasn't Good Enough

Lucia’s love for dance turned out to be as complicated as all her other relationships. She stayed committed at first, despite switching dance schools and dance styles. But Lucia’s training—up to six hours daily—didn’t deliver the results she dreamed of. This led to a crisis when Lucia concluded she wasn’t good enough and never would be. 

After Lucia made peace with this, she made a huge decision.

Woman dancing in a 1920's beaded flapper dressChris Harwood, Shutterstock

7. She Called It Quits

Lucia abandoned dancing and explained she wasn’t good enough—but the real reason might be even sadder. Some insist that her family reached their limit. Once they did, James and Nora pressured their daughter to give up her passion. There’s even speculation that the attention and praise Lucia enjoyed left her mother seething.

Unfortunately, Lucia’s family drama was far from over. 

James JoyceMan Ray, Wikimedia Commons

8. She Felt Abandoned

This time, it was Lucia's brother Giorgio who sparked some family drama. However, this was no comfort to Lucia, who found his relationship with a much older American woman scandalous. Lucia, who was close to her brother, couldn’t help feeling forsaken. At the same time, Lucia also felt like there was something missing in her own life. 

She wanted to give love a chance. Sadly, she had know way of knowing just how badly "love" would burn her.

Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (1882 - 1941, left) with his familyArchive Photos, Getty Images

9. She Was Smitten

In becoming James Joyce's assistant, Samuel Beckett found himself a mentor. He became a part of the Joyces' family life—but unfortunately for Lucia, Beckett also seemed tailor-made for her and her daddy issues. The aspiring Irish writer was another version of her lacklustre father, just in a different font. 

It’s no wonder Lucia fell for him—but the details of their "romance" are utterly unsettling.

Samuel Beckett writer in black turtleneckRoger Pic, Wikimedia Commons

10. She Had No Chill

There’s playing hard to get, and then there’s Lucia Joyce. She pursued her crush on Beckett with a little too much enthusiasm. And by that, I mean Lucia bombarded him with letters when he went away in 1929. Hundreds of them. Lucia might as well have held a giant sign that read “I want you”. But when Lucia’s dreams finally came true, it wasn’t what she imagined. 

vintage manuscriptsScisetti Alfio, Shutterstock

11. She Fell For The Wrong Guy

In particular, Samuel Beckett wasn’t who she imagined him to be—and he certainly wasn't her Prince Charming. Most think they likely slept together, but there's no evidence to these claims. However, even if Lucia had his body, she never got the things that she wanted most. 

Turns out, Beckett had more than one woman in his life. On top of that, his interest in love only went as far as writing about it. 23-year-old Lucia was in for a rude awakening.

Samuel BeckettReginald gray, Wikimedia Commons

12. She Faced Rejection

Unsatisfied with their relationship, or lack thereof, Lucia jumped into action. She invited Beckett to a not-so-innocent meal. Lucia went into dinner "to press him into some kind of declaration," but she left heartbroken. Not that anyone could blame her. Brutally, Beckett didn’t stop at rejecting her: He explained that he only cared for her father and his work. 

Lucia didn’t take this well.

Samuel Beckett 1922Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

13. She Got Her Parents Involved

Lucia’s doomed affair became a family affair. For once, Nora supported Lucia. She lectured Beckett about playing with her daughter’s feelings. However, in the end, it was Lucia's father who landed the biggest blowHe banned Beckett from their apartment. And that wasn't all. 

James Joyce soon made a tragic realization not only about his daughter's relationship, but also her terrible fate.

James Joyce with FamilyBettmann, Getty Images

14. She Showed Warning Signs

Lucia seemed fine in her early 20s, but that didn’t last long. Soon enough, James and Nora faced a harsh reality: Lucia was unwell. Considering her condition, it became apparent that Lucia's romance with Beckett never had a chance of ending in anything but disaster. After her father and Beckett reconciled, the latter remained part of the Joyce family’s lives. But this caused Lucia to spiral even more.

James Joyce and Nora Barnacle. 1930Marka, Getty Images

15. She Became A Stalker

Lucia confirmed that some people never get over their first love—but she proved this a little too well. As a spurned ex, she continued to write to Beckett about how much she wanted to see him. In the meantime, Lucia’s health only worsened. So when their paths crossed, her "knackered" appearance shocked him. All of this sent Lucia down the wrong path.

Samuel Beckett seen from the sideMondadori Portfolio, Getty Images

16. She Was Scandalous

After Beckett broke Lucia’s heart, she broke all the rules. Lucia became a girl out on the town and someone who stayed out until dawn. Whenever people worried about her parents, Lucia promised neither cared as long as she was happy. Still, Lucia couldn’t help but push James and Nora’s patience by falling for the wrong guys—and never learning her lesson.

Nora Barnacle (left), James Joyce (center)Heritage Images, Getty Images

17. She Had A Student-Teacher Affair

When James Joyce hired a drawing teacher for his daughter, he had no idea what he’d bring into their lives. Alexander Calder was an unconventional hire due to his bohemian art and lifestyle. But Lucia was hardly a conventional student. They were a match made in the bedroom.

Alexander Calder 1947 - Photo By Carl Van VechtenCarl Van Vechten, Wikimedia Commons

18. She Was Ghosted

Lucia and Alexander proved why Paris is the City of Love, as they experimented with art and other things. Well, they did, until he ghosted her—or whatever the 20th-century version of ghosting was. Lucia confessed “he never wrote to me and I don’t know what became of him”. Alexander left her with many questions… but the answers weren’t pretty.

Photo of Exterior of Paris Opera House - 1890Library of Congress , Picryl

19. She Was Deceived

While Lucia thought they were in love, Alexander wasn’t on the same page, or even reading the same book. Turns out, this student-teacher affair really was an affair. While people like Albert Hubell knew the truth, Lucia wasn’t any the wiser. She had no clue about Alexander’s engagement to another woman. Not that Lucia stayed lonely or pining for long.

The Joyces, 1924Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

20. She Was Amorous

Reeling from her second heartbreak, Albert Hubell picked up the pieces that Alexander Calder broke. After they met at a party, Lucia made the first move again. This time, Albert was more than agreeable, albeit shocked by her forwardness. Lucia wasted no time, turning hand holding during a date into kissing in a taxi on the same night. 

Despite moving fast and passionately, Albert never saw a real future with Lucia for a huge reason.

Vintage taxiSongquan Deng, Shutterstock

21. She Was The Other Woman

Turns out, Albert had a wife, but that might not even be the worst part. In her previous relationship, Lucia was an innocent victim. This time, Lucia knew she had a married man on her hands, but she just didn’t care enough to stop—especially since his marriage was on the rocks and his wife was in America. 

The deeper Albert fell, the deeper the hole he dug himself became. They were a mess made in heaven.

Vintage 1920's flapper girl in black and whiteChris Harwood, Shutterstock

22. She Was Hot And Cold

Albert confessed, “I could really fall in love with Lucia”—but fear paralyzed him. He feared the consequences of dumping his wife and staying in Paris. He feared asking his hot and cold lover how she felt. Lucia's feelings, like her mental health, were all over the place. Albert had a difficult choice to make.

Vintage 1920's flapper girlChris Harwood, Shutterstock

23. She Was Always Dumped

Everything changed when Albert’s wife stepped foot in Paris. His choice became clearer. Albert dumped Lucia in the worst way by “just sliding out of her life”. Translation: He ghosted her. Poor Lucia was always the dumpee and ghosted, and never the dumper and ghoster. This affair left Lucia tightlipped about the whole thing—but it undoubtedly left its scars.

Place Vendome, Paris, France, ca. 1890-1900Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

24. She Felt Ashamed

It takes two to tango, but it takes only one to take the blame. During mental health episodes, Lucia alluded to her shame. She even confessed to her father that she’d done “terrible” things. But when James comforted her and shared that he had too, her response was heartbreaking.

Lucia replied that it wasn't acceptable for women to behave like this. She coped with her guilt in the most shocking ways.

1920's style flapper girl in sepia toneChris Harwood, Shutterstock

25. She Was Promiscuous 

Lucia kissed and told—at least to her friends. We know this because one of them, Zdenka Podhajsky, spilled the beans. Lucia’s adventures included a rendezvous with an innocent sailor at the Eiffel Tower. But they also included propositioning an older man at her father’s party.  Then, Lucia dropped the biggest bombshell on Zdenka.

Grayscale Photo of Eiffel Tower and park in ParisUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

26. She Came Out

Lucia surprised Zdenka not only by kissing her, but by also stating she was now a lesbian. Lucia came out, and Myrsine Moschos came into the picture. Myrsine was a literary assistant before becoming Lucia’s suspected lover. 

At the time, most thought she was just Lucia’s paid companion—one that just happened to sleep in the same room at night. However, no relationship could save Lucia from her demons. 

girl from 1920-30'sArtemShutov Leo, Shutterstock

27. She Said Yes

The more Lucia declined, the more creative her parents got. This time, her circle landed on an arranged marriage. So they pressured Alexander Ponisovsky, James Joyce's Russian teacher, to get down on one knee. After all, Lucia, a 25-year-old bourgeoise woman, was a catch. At least on paper. 

While most people were hopeful, Lucia's brother Giorgio had a bad feeling. He was right.

Irish writer James Joyce (1882 - 1941) with his wife NoraHulton Archive, Getty Images

28. She Got Cold Feet

The plan backfired: Lucia and Alexander’s engagement eroded her fragile mind even more. After their engagement party, she lay on the sofa for days in a catatonic state. Nothing could break Lucia out of her trance. It’s no wonder Lucia spent their entire engagement questioning whether she even wanted this. Coincidentally, Alexander was in the same boat. 

diamond  engagement ringFOX, Pexels

29. She Wasn’t Over Her Ex

Turns out, Lucia Joyce and Alexander had a few things in common. For one, neither truly wanted to marry each other. Oh, and both were still in love with their exes. Then Alexander faced an early, real-life test about the whole “in sickness and in health” thing. When Lucia’s mental health declined even further, Alexander dipped. 

That’s right: A man ghosted her again. It gets worse.

Teen Girl in a vintage 1920's Flapper outfitChris Harwood, Shutterstock

30. She Snapped

In 1932, James Joyce's 50th birthday was unforgettable in the worst way. In the months leading up to it, Lucia’s behavior was already disturbing. This included public meltdowns and vicious fights. But everything changed at this party after Lucia grabbed a chair and threw it at Nora. Giorgio dragged his sister to a clinic, checked her in, and sealed her fate.

Nora Barnacle. Wife of James JoyceMarka, Getty Images

31. She Was Institutionalized

Over the next three years, Lucia divided her time between home and asylums. But Lucia’s health only deteriorated, and her hospitalizations only grew longer. At her worst, she was so dangerous that straitjackets and isolation felt necessary. Whenever Lucia went to these hospitals, the Joyce family went to war...with each other.

James Joyce & Fiancee Nora Walking To WeddingAuthenticated News, Getty Images

32. She Got What She Always Wanted

James Joyce seemed to finally pay attention to his daughter after she became ill, but it was too little too late. He desperately fought his wife and his son to keep Lucia at home and as far from the asylums as possible. But this was an easy stance to take when he wasn’t responsible for Lucia’s day-to-day care. When Giorgio joined their mother’s side, Lucia knew she was in danger. 

James Joyce, portraitullstein bild Dtl., Getty Images

33. She Knew Her Place

After expensive, unsuccessful, and heart wrenching stints in asylums, Lucia knew her place—and it was one that no person ever wants to be in. Lucia realized that she was expendable, even to her family. But after spending too much of her 20s institutionalized, she was desperate. Lucia gambled, “I will never be able to live in a big city, but we could try and if I do not behave you can give me up”.  

New Jersey state lunatic asylumJ.J. Pease, Wikimedia Commons

34. She Was Dangerous

In 1935, Lucia’s parents allowed her to visit cousins when she seemed moderately stable—only to immediately regret it. She started her vacation in the seaside town by setting their living room on fire. Then, when her cousins' boyfriends came around, she greeted them by undoing the buttons on their pants. 

Lucia even went so far as to turn on the gas tap during the nights, which put everyone's lives in danger. But horrifyingly, this was only the lead-up to an even bigger disaster.

SeaAdebola Falade, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

35. She Disappeared

After terrorizing her cousins, Lucia had one last trick up her sleeve: a disappearing act. Somehow, Lucia made her way to Dublin. She slummed it on the streets until they located her. It took six days. This, along with countless other incidents, extinguished any hope that James Joyce still nursed for his daughter. He couldn’t deny it anymore.

DublinNational Library of Ireland on The Commons, Wikimedia Commons

36. She Was Beyond Hope

James had to face the truth: Nora and Giorgio had a point. Several, actually. Lucia wasn’t getting any better. In fact, she was getting worse. No matter where James looked, he couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. If his love could’ve saved Lucia, she might have walked out the asylum door the very next day. But it was time to accept that it couldn’t.

Irish Novelist James JoyceLibrary of Congress, Getty Images

37. She Received A Life Sentence

After countless hospitals, doctors, and treatments, Lucia finally received a diagnosis—and life sentence—of schizophrenia. When Carl Jung had treated Lucia in 1934, James asked, “Doctor Jung, have you noticed that my daughter seems to be submerged in the same waters as me?” The legendary psychologist replied, “Yes, but where you swim, she drowns”.

Carl JungETH Library, Wikimedia Commons

38. She Was Locked Up For Real

At 28 years old, Lucia Joyce entered another asylum. But this time, Lucia would never have a taste of normalcy again. From now on, Lucia’s only experience of the outside world was whatever she could peek at during transfers. To make matters worse, few people visited Lucia. And that was before WWII broke out.

WWII Europe, FranceNational Archives and Records Administration, Picryl

39. Her Family Abandoned her

Lucia had long felt like she was at war with her mind—and now, the world reflected how she’d always felt. When WWII broke out, the Joyce family made a mad dash to Switzerland. But they left their mad daughter behind. Their excuse: They didn’t have enough time to save Lucia too. However, as the conflict moved closer and closer to her, James Joyce was alone in his desperation.

SwitzerlandLondo Mollari, CC BY-SA 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

40. She Was In Grave Danger

Danger landed right on Lucia’s doorstep when Germany conquered France. To make matters even worse, the Germans in charge were famously not very tolerant, to say the least. James Joyce just wanted to see Lucia again, but WWII turned this simple desire into an extraordinarily difficult task. However, he never lost hope...at least, not until he lost his life. 

James JoyceHulton Archive, Getty Images

41. She Lost Her Last Hope

In the middle of WWII, Lucia's father succumbed to a stomach disease. Lucia didn’t just lose her father; she lost her last hope. It was no secret that Nora and Giorgio had difficult relationships with Lucia, but even so, their behavior was outrageous. Neither even pretended to care about getting Lucia out of France. Those plans ended the moment James did. 

Not to mention, neither informed Lucia that her father had passed. The poor woman had to find out from the papers. And to think, that’s not even their biggest betrayal.

Grave James JoyceLars Haefner, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

42. She Had Nobody In Her Corner

In the past, Lucia Joyce felt abandoned by Giorgio. After WWII ended, Lucia was actually abandoned by him. Even when business took them to Paris, Nora and Giorgio refused to visit. Giorgio didn’t visit until a decade passed. Even then, he barely stayed for one hour. Afterwards, he banned Nora from seeing Lucia and her appalling living conditions. 

With nearly no letters and no visitors, Lucia became desperate.

The Liberation of ParisUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

43. She Begged To Be Saved

At this point, Lucia lost almost everything, but she didn’t lose the motivation to liberate herself. Lucia fought for her freedom until the very end. She still longed to see Paris, Switzerland, Galway, and London again. She continued to beg her cousin to rescue her, only for her pleas to fall on deaf ears. 

View of a room with wheelchair abandoned in the Psychiatric Hospital of Volterra in TuscanyPhotoMik, Shutterstock

44. She Didn’t Have Rights

In Lucia’s later life, people passed her around like she was a hot potato. Lucia required a guardian, but it was a job that didn’t have many takers. After Nora succumbed to kidney failure when Lucia was 44, Giorgio wanted nothing to do with her. Harriet Weaver Shaw, their father’s patron, filled in as her guardian. However, Harriet passed when Lucia was 54. 

When Harriet’s god-daughter stepped in, she stayed until the end.

Public domain photograph of funeral procession - 1930Digital museum, Picryl

45. She Passed 

At 75 years old, Lucia Joyce suffered a fatal stroke. At this point, she’d spent the majority of her adult life languishing in asylums or hospitals. Lucia spent decades abandoned, misunderstood, and mistreated. The progress in our understanding and treatment of mental illness, like many things, came too late for Lucia. Her burial situation was the cherry on top.

Sad people sitting on a bench in a funeral homePavel Danilyuk, Pexels

46. She’s Forever Alone

Even in death, Lucia Joyce couldn’t catch a break. Her family rests together at a Swiss cemetery, where they reportedly saved a spot for her. Asylums, illness, and WWII may have separated the Joyce family in life. But at the very least, they could be reunited in the end. Except that spot remains empty, while Lucia lays in England.

Some insist that this wasn’t another abandonment, but rather, Lucia's choice. 

Kingsthorpe ChurchStJaBe, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

47. She Was Intentionally Erased

Lucia’s story, if certain people got their way, was never supposed to be told. One of these people is Stephen Joyce: her nephew, her heir, and the executor of the whole Joyce estate. When Stephen inherited all her letters, he treated them with the honor they deserved. Just kidding: he destroyed them. Every single one. 

He even forced a writer to remove Lucia from their book. But not everyone forgot about Lucia Joyce.

Vintage old papers, notes, pensil, on burlap, sackcloth background. Vintage and retro design effects.j.chizhe, Shutterstock

48. She’s Remembered

June 16 is a huge deal for James Joyce fans. It’s Bloomsday, an unofficial holiday that celebrates his life and work. Fans celebrate by reading his works aloud at Lucia’s graveside.

Every year, literary fans celebrate Bloomsday, which celebrates the life of James. On top of that, Lucia has been the inspiration for music, books, as well as theatre. This legacy proves that Lucia’s story is stronger than those seeking to erase it. 

Exiled Writers and Artists FactsOsama Shukir Muhammed Amin, CC BY-SA 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

49. She’s Unforgettable

Turns out, Lucia Joyce was easier to dump than she was to forget. Even if Samuel Beckett downplayed Lucia’s impact on his life until its very end. Beckett could minimize Lucia all he wanted, but his writing told a different story. Eagle-eyed readers couldn’t help but notice that Lucia inspired Beckett's works. But he wasn’t alone—he had great company. 

Samuel BeckettLipnitzki, Getty Images

50. She’s Immortal

One of Lucia’s friends remarked “What a book could be written about [Lucia’s] anguish”. According to many, it already exists. And indeed, what a book it is. Lucia’s friends and academics insist she influenced James Joyce’s Finnegans WakeThe legendary novel, like his relationship with Lucia, is difficult, messy, glorious, and everything in between.

James Joyce BooksChilli Head, Flickr

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