18 August 2014

James Joyce's poor health

"One summer evening in 1917, James Joyce was walking down a street in Zurich when he developed a pain in his right eye so severe he couldn’t move. A bystander helped him to a nearby bench, where he gazed at halos around the streetlights. After twenty minutes, he was able to pull himself onto a tram and make his way home. Joyce was suffering from glaucoma brought on by acute anterior uveitis, an inflammation of the iris, which had eroded his optic nerves. He’d had two previous “eye attacks,” as he called them—the first in 1907—and now allowed a surgeon to cut away a small piece of his iris. Nora Barnacle, Joyce’s partner, wrote to Ezra Pound that Joyce’s eye was still bleeding painfully ten days on. Joyce’s attacks recurred intermittently for the next twenty years, and in that time he had about a dozen eye surgeries. By the age of forty-eight, he was essentially blind. The origin of Joyce’s decades-long battle with uveitis has never been definitively named. Before penicillin’s introduction, in the 1940s, the most common cause was syphilis (uveitis is now most often associated with autoimmune disorders), and Joyce began visiting prostitutes at age fourteen. Was his affliction sexually transmitted?"
An answer is offered in Harper's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Syphilitic.  I find the new information about his use of galyl (phospharsenamide) to be convincing.

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