The Muse of Skye:
Looking at literary friendships via a James & Lucia Joyce story
Before I quit my job in NYC and moved to Scotland, I’d sometimes daydream via the internet. The best way to daydream while at work is wikipedia. So I found myself deep in the wiki-tunnel pouring over the bios of my favorite writers. Faulkner, Williams, Joyce—I read on, but it was mostly info I already knew. Then something about Joyce’s story stuck out to me. I read the section about his daughter/muse, Lucia, and her downward spiral into madness. Also, her relationship with her father’s protégé, Samuel Beckett.
I became fascinated by the idea of a too-much-used-muse. I thought about the roots of the words muse and genius: genius being male and muse female. I wanted to explore what circumstances would cause a female artist in her own rite to give so much of herself to the artists around her that she had nothing left for herself.
I knew I wanted to keep the players the same: a literary giant, his daughter, and his protégé. I also knew I wanted to explore the relationship dynamics between creatives—the idea of literary friendships. Mostly, I’ve been motivated by these questions: What happens when artists form a literary community? How does that affect the work they do? And then what happens when that community breaks down? I wanted to show a gang of artists rise into a golden age, and then crash and burn in alcoholism and disloyalty and mental disorders.
Instead of Joyce’s native Ireland, I decided to transport the story to Scotland and give it a modern narrative track running parallel to the 1920’s setting, a la A.S. Byatt’s Possession. In my mind, it really took shape when I triangulated three models—Possession, David Auburn’s play, Proof, (also about genius, madness and father- daughter relationships) and Lewis Grassic Gibbons’ classic, A Scots Quair.
But of course, I don’t want to stop there. Because for the academic research section of my thesis, I’d like to look at these lcommunities that have shaped some of the best work in the literary canon.
I keep going to back to the ways these friendships affect the work: how they give freedom and feed impulses. But also the ways they impede and taint. I want to look at jealousy, undercutting, backstabbing, gaslighting as well as the inspiration.
I’d like to explore communities where one or more of the creatives battled mental and physical illness. And even though my primary interest is Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace, I’d also like to look at the relationship of women to literary boys’ clubs. Both Franzen and Wallace have been involved in relationship with other artists. Franzen’s girlfriend, Kathy Chetkovich, has written pieces on how her work and well-being was influenced by Franzen’s huge success.
In addition to Franzen and Wallace, I’d like to look at Camus, de Beauvoir and Sartre, The Brontes, as well as Joyce, Beckett and Lucia Joyce as the models of the characters in my novel.