Evidence puts sharp focus on Joyce's assumed myopia


DESPITE MANY references to short-sightedness in his work and assumptions by biographers, doctors now believe the author of Ulysses was in fact long-sighted. Based on photographic evidence and a 1932 prescription for glasses, a Spanish ophthalmologist suggests the writer suffered from hyperopia and not myopia.

Biographers refer to Joyce’s supposed short-sightedness in early youth as a first sign of his naturally weak eyes. Richard Ellmann, author of the 1982 biography James Joyce, stated that Joyce’s “near- sightedness was soon to make him wear glasses”.

Since Ellmann made his assertion, several literary critics of Joyce have reiterated the claim of Joyce’s myopia. The supposed refractive status of the young Joyce has been associated with his “acutely myopic” fictional alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, as well as with the theme of social myopia in Joyce’s early fiction.

But in today’s British Medical Journal, Dr Francisco J Ascaso, an ophthalmologist at Lozano Blesa University Clinic Hospital in Zaragoza, says “no one before has either noted the thick convex lenses Joyce manifestly wears in photographs, or attempted to call into question his alleged myopia by means of this photographic evidence”.

In support of his assertion he quotes James Stephens, who said Joyce’s spectacles “made his blue eyes look nearly as big as the eyes of a cow – very magnifying they were”.