A dream, an interpretation, a bevue


Cornell University in Ithaca, NY has an extensive collection of manuscripts, letters and memorabilia from James Joyce’s personal life and career until 1920, which I had the privilege of consulting. Among the papers was a fragile notebook labelled “Notebook listing 4 dreams… 1916”. Here is a transcription of Joyce’s writing of the first dream and its interpretation:

At a performance in the theatre
A newly discovered play by Shakespeare
Shakespeare is present
There are two ghosts in the play.
Fear that Lucia may be frightened
Interpretation : I am perhaps behind this dream.
The “new discovery” is related to my theory of
the ghost in Hamlet and the public sensation
is related to a possible publication of that
theory of that theory or of my own play.
The figure of Shakespeare present in Elizabethan
dress is a suggestion of fame, his certainly
(it is the tercentenary of his death) mine
not so certainly. The fear for Lucia (herself
is little) is fear that either subsequent
honours or the future development of
my mind or art or its extravagant
excursions into forbidden territory may
bring unrest into her life.

I was excited upon reading it. What a find, a dream by Joyce in which he associates to the possible effects of his art and mind upon his daughter Lucia, then 9 years old, whose psychosis became evident only when she was a young adult.

In preparing to write this note, I decided to see if I could find a reference to Joyce’s theory of Hamlet in Richard Ellmann’s biography. I learned that the dreamer was Nora, his wife; the interpretation was Joyce’s.  For Joyce, knowledge was on his side.

This “discovery” sent me into turmoil. This small incident was a manifestation of my own “je ne veux rien savoir”. Had the dream been his own, why would Joyce have written at the beginning of the interpretation, “I am perhaps behind this dream”? Once I know the dream is Nora’s, it becomes clear to me that this was a flashing light that I saw, but unconsciously choose to ignore. My desire to have discovered something that would be of interest to my colleagues blinded me, not only to the detail in the text that should have been a warning that I was missing something, but to the fact that surely others had been there before me. A bevue!