Up in Dottyville with Conolly Norman


Department of the History of Medicine, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, 123, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland


Many will recognise my title as a quotation from James Joyce's Ulysses, a book partly written in Zurich. It is intended as a quasi-epigraph to an enquiry into what connections, if any, had Joyce with neurosyphilis.

That fellow I was with ... last night, said Buck Mulligan, says you have g.p.i. He's up in Dottyville with Conolly Norman. General paralysis of the insane.

"Dottyville" is Dublin's lunatic asylum, Dr Norman its medical superintendent, GPI an acute syphilitic dementia, common in 1904 : the inference is that Stephen Dedalus (James Joyce's surrogate) is crazy. It is really a piece of typical student badinage, not to be taken seriously. But there is a trend in Joycean exegesis to base clinical conclusions on insubstantial evidence. This is illustrated by a popular interpretation of the first story in Dubliners in which an old priest is dying. "It was the third stroke", Joyce wrote plainly, but nothing will satisfy the more syphilitic-orientated Joyceans other than a diagnosis of paresis.

My paper (1) examines the suggestion that Joyce wishes to display a panorama of neurosyphilis through his fictional characters - and that he is driven to do so because he is, himself, a victim of lues venerea. I have been over this diagnostic ground before, but Jocyeans are difficult folk to convince. A recent challenge has been mounted (1995) and stubbornly (or should I say courageously?) defended. I propose (2) to avail of the full clinical potential of Letters of James Joyce, suspecting that there is an affective disorder of anxiety-depressive type to assess.

The Joyces (3) were closely connected with Zurich : the great writer died there on 13 January 1941; his remains rest in the Fluntern Cemetery.


Panel 4C   (Degeneration)   (Zurich James Joyce Lecture)
Wednesday, 15 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999