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James Joyce and the Burden of Disease

James Joyce and the Burden of Disease

Kathleen Ferris
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: 1
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    James Joyce and the Burden of Disease
    Book Description:

    James Joyce's near blindness, his peculiar gait, and his death from perforated ulcers are commonplace knowledge to most of his readers. But until now, most Joyce scholars have not recognized that these symptoms point to a diagnosis of syphilis. Kathleen Ferris traces Joyce's medical history as described in his correspondence, in the diaries of his brother Stanislaus, and in the memoirs of his acquaintances, to show that many of his symptoms match those of tabes dorsalis, a form of neurosyphilis which, untreated, eventually leads to paralysis. Combining literary analysis and medical detection, Ferris builds a convincing case that this dread disease is the subject of much of Joyce's autobiographical writing. Many of this characters, most notably Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, exhibit the same symptoms as their creator: stiffness of gait, digestive problems, hallucinations, and impaired vision. Ferris also demonstrates that the themes of sin, guilt, and retribution so prevalent in Joyce's works are almost certainly a consequence of his having contracted venereal disease as a young man while frequenting the brothels of Dublin and Paris. By tracing the images, puns, and metaphors inUlyssesandFinnegans Wake, and by demonstrating their relationship to Joyce's experiences, Ferris shows the extent to which, for Joyce, art did indeed mirror life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4982-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-14)

    Richard Ellmann’s biography and critical writings on James Joyce, and his editing of the Joyce correspondence, form the foundation on which subsequent Joyceans, especially those of us who studied with him, have built. I am very grateful to Dr. Ellmann for the work to which he devoted so many years of his life. By gathering, preserving, and publishing so much information for his monumental study,James Joyce, he performed an invaluable service to future generations of Joyce scholars. However, just as a titanic writer can dominate an era and become a force from whom those who follow must seek to...

  6. 1 The Creative Daemon
    (pp. 15-38)

    For the creative artist, the act of writing frequently is the result of an inner compulsion, the fulfillment of a need. Sometimes the creative impulse stems from a desire to communicate to others whatever special insights the author has gained through the process of living, to share one’s world view. Writing can also be a means of communicating with the hidden, unconscious part of oneself, or it can be an act of catharsis. As we have noted, for Joyce, writing was a way of ordering experience to try to make sense out of life. It was also an act of...

  7. 2 The wandering Jew in Ulysses
    (pp. 39-65)

    Laughter for Joyce was a means of alleviating pain. “I am nothing but an Irish clown,” he told Jacques Mercanton in a moment of dejection, “a great joker at the universe” (Potts 229). During the latter years of his life, when he poured out his woes over his poor health to Harriet Weaver, he wrote, “my ho head hawls and I feel as heavy as John McCormack but having some congenital imbicility in my character I must turn it off with a joke.” About his children’s illnesses he said, “I feel like an animal which has received four thunderous mallet...

  8. 3 Epics of the Body
    (pp. 66-119)

    Joyce describedUlyssesto Frank Budgen as an “epic of the body,” a term he was to use frequently in reference to the work (Making ofUlysses 21). He wrote to Carlo Linati thatUlyssesis “an epic of two races (Irish and Israelite) and also the cycle of the body,” thus indicating two major planes, mythical and physical, on which his work operates (Ltrs. I: 146). To Jan Parandowski he repeated, “Ulyssesis more an epic of the body than of the human spirit. … for too long were the stars studied and man’s insides neglected. An eclipse of...

  9. 4 An Insectfable
    (pp. 120-147)

    Upon learning of Joyce’s infection with venereal disease, Oliver Gogarty wrote to him, “Well the canker has attacked Art,” thus providing Joyce with another important metaphor for his work. InA Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus memorizes the sentences in his spelling books:

    Wolsey died in Leicester Abbey

    Where the abbots buried him.

    Canker is a disease of plants,

    Cancer one of animals.


    After Stephen’s fall into the polluted ditch, these sentences echo through his feverish head: “Canker was a disease of plants and cancer one of animals: or another different” (21). Other meanings...

  10. Epilogue: Dear mysterre Shame’s Voice
    (pp. 148-154)

    In 1929 Shakespeare and Company published a collection of essays onFinnegans Wake, written by Joyce’s friends and entitledOur Exagmination round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. This anthology contains a letter which Richard Ellmann says is “obviously composed if not written by Joyce himself but never acknowledged by him” (Ltrs. III: 187n). It is a comic epistle, written in puns and portmanteau words and parodying the style of theWake, supposedly from a bewildered reader to Joyce, asking him to explain the meaning of his difficult work. Delivered by post to Sylvia Beach’s bookshop, the letter...

  11. Chronology of Joyce’s Medical History
    (pp. 155-159)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 160-166)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 167-178)
  14. Index
    (pp. 179-182)