Feature Christmas 2011: Diagnosis

Was James Joyce myopic or hyperopic?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7464 (Published 15 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7464
  1. Francisco J Ascaso, associate professor12,
  2. Jan L van Velze, PhD candidate3
  1. 1Department of Ophthalmology, Lozano Blesa University Clinic Hospital, San Juan Bosco 15, ES-50009 Zaragoza, Spain
  2. 2Aragon Health Sciences Institute, Zaragoza, Spain
  3. 3Department of Literary Studies, University of Utrecht, Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to: Francisco J Ascaso jascaso{at}gmail.com

The standard biography says the great Irish Modernist writer was nearsighted, and the claim has echoed down the years. But what’s the evidence?

James Joyce (1882-1941), considered one of the pre-eminent writers of the 20th century, achieved international renown with Ulysses, the ground breaking and highly controversial work of fiction published in 1922. Joyce’s delicate health and, in particular, his failing eyesight were a constant liability in his life and continued to affect and complicate the composition of his work.

Various biographers, partaking of the general myth of the purblind Joyce, put forward his supposed myopia in early youth as a first sign of his naturally weak eyes. For instance, Richard Ellmann, in his seminal biography James Joyce (1982), stated that Joyce’s “nearsightedness was soon to make him wear glasses.”1 Around 1888, A H …

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