Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lawrence and Joyce: family life

Lawrence and Frieda didn’t have children together. They had very few children in their life on an ongoing basis. Frieda had her own children with her former husband, Ernest Weekly, whom she left for Lawrence. The complication for her was that there were only occasional moments when she would see her children until they were grown up. They were young when she ‘abandoned’ them for a new life. As they became older they featured more in the Lawrence’s life, particularly the eldest, Barby, who was portrayed in a significant role in The Virgin and the Gypsy. The only other constant for the Lawrence’s was the daughter of their Buddhist friends, the Brewster’s. Young Harwood even called Lawrence ‘Uncle David’, the use of his Christian name quite rare. Lawrence was apparently ‘abnormally close’ to his mother, but she died, aged 59, just after Lawrence placed his first published book, ‘The White Peacock’, in her hands in 1910. Lawrence called her ‘his first, great love.’ Lawrence’s father died in 1924. His relationship with his father was very poor to the point that a lot of his life Lawrence resented him. We see a lot of the young Paul Morel’s resentment of his father in ‘Sons and Lovers.’ Later on Lawrence would re-evaluate this period and come to the realisation that his negative attitude towards his father was imbalanced.


There were other Lawrence siblings. They weaved their way in and out of Lawrence’s life. There are accounts of Lawrence trying to shield one sister, Peggy, from his manuscript of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’ Ada, another sister, wrote a loving, very supportive biography called ‘Early Life of D H Lawrence’ (1932). The other sibling of some significance was older brother, William, who died when Lawrence was only sixteen, in 1901. William was just 23. His death is significant because of the transferral of love that was placed on Lawrence by his mother after William’s death, which led them to develop their so called ‘abnormally close’ relationship.


The Joyce’s had two children, both playing a significant role in their history. The son, Giorgio, who, like his father, enjoyed singing, and had somewhat of a modest singing career, spent a lot of time in the USA when he got married. Unfortunately his substantially older wife, Helen, a Jewish American divorcee, was beset with mental health problems later in life. Their daughter, Lucia, who at one critical point in her life was in love with Samuel Beckett, also had considerable mental health issues. There were several major crises (Joyce’s latest biographer calls them ‘cris de nerfs’), and she spent a lot of time after 1930 exhibiting what the Joyce’s and their friends would have described as odd behaviour. There were reports of assignations with strangers and other accounts of reckless promiscuous behaviour, episodes of hysteria and prolonged weeping and possible schizophrenia. Lucia would spend much of her life from the mid 1930’s in the hands of doctors and inside asylums. A bit like her brother, Lucia also experienced bouts of artistic frustration, in her case wanting to become an acclaimed dancer. Joyce, it seems, was very close to her and worried about her a great deal. Her fragile health is even said to have caused him breakdowns. His affections do not seem to be have been reciprocated. There are a number of accounts of open hostility on her part. Some of Joyce’s friends thought the problem with Lucia was that she was spoilt and needed a good spanking. Remarkably, Lucia lived until 1982, aged 74, in a hospital called ‘St Andrews’ in England for the last 30 years of her life.

Giorgio, Lucia, Nora Joyce (Barnacle)

Just as in the case of Lawrence and his mother, Joyce was also very affected by the death of his mother, May. She had quite a lot of children and Joyce came to believe that this had a deleterious effect on her life. She died however quite violently of cirrhosis of the liver at the modest age of 44 in 1903, not long before Joyce began living in exile. Unlike in the case of Lawrence, Joyce’s father, John, had a reasonably significant role in his son’s life, albeit from a great distance, in Dublin. Being a raconteur, singer and generally profligate, it could be said that the two Joyce’s were in many ways quite alike. The sibling Joyce was closest to was Stanislaus, who supported Joyce emotionally and financially for the crucial years when he began embarking on his literary career in exile from his country, the rest of his family, and his friends.

                                                                           Stanislaus Joyce


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