James Joyce had frequent eye problems. In Paris, Dr. Victor Morax operated on Joyce’s right eye in 1921. At the end of May 1922, Joyce was in “great pain” and, for relief, Nora bathed his eyes with ice water. His publisher Sylvia Beach recommended the American oculist Dr. Louis Borsch, who had opened an eye clinic in the 6th arrondissement in a nondescript, six-floor building at 39 Rue du Cherche-Midi.
Joyce first met Dr. Louis Borsch in June 1922. Borsch examined Joyce and diagnosed cataract surgery for his recurring iritis and the film that was covering both eyes. He recommended an eye operation, but Joyce was reluctant. Borsch treated Joyce’s eyes in October. Borsch indicated that Joyce’s eye problems were caused by abscesses in his teeth.
In October, the Joyce family travelled to Nice in France for summer camp. While there, Joyce suffered eye pains and consulted Dr. Louis Colin who applied leeches and dionine, a form of morphine, to reduce the inflammation.
Back in Paris, Borsch suggested that Joyce should have dental surgery before the operation on his left eye, which was undertaken in February 1923.
On 23 April, Joyce returned to Borsch’s clinic. Borsch conducted surgery on Joyce’s left eye on 28 April 1923 to remove part of the iris. Joyce remained at the clinic for several days, but his recovery was slow and he was still toothless from his dental surgery.
On 10 June, he had new permanent dentures fitted. The Joyce family travelled to England on 18 June for a holiday. In London, Joyce visited an oculist twice for corrections to his glasses.
A year later, Borsch recommended another eye operation, which was scheduled for 10 June 1924. Joyce resided at the clinic for sixteen days. He returned for another eye operation towards the end of the year, and in mid-February and 15 April 1925, he underwent further operations.
When Dr. Borsch died in 1929, James Joyce went to Zurich, Switzerland, for eye operations in May 1930, November 1930, and April 1934.
[The dates are estimates from several James Joyce biographies.]
John Louis Borsch was an ophthalmologist from Philadelphia, America, whose parents were from Munich, Germany. He graduated from the Jefferson Medical College in 1893 and left for Paris in 1896, as it offered the best ophthalmological training in the world at the time. Borsch studied at the Faculté de Médecine—the Faculty of Medicine—and gained a second medical degree in 1900 for his doctoral thesis on astigmatism. He returned to Philadelphia and practised at 1310 Walnut Street, but by 1908 he was back in Paris where he remained for the rest of his life in the high-status 1st arrondissement in the Rue de la Paix with his wife.
In Paris, he established the Borsch Clinique des Yeux—the Borsch Eye Clinic—while maintaining his position as the Chief of Ophthalmology at L’Hôpital Américain—the American Hospital. Borsch accumulated many awards in his lifetime. In 1918, the President of France, Raymond Poincaré, awarded Borsch France’s greatest award, the Legion of Honour, “in recognition of his services as eye surgeon at the French military hospital of Grand Palais in the Champs-Élysées.” The Legion of Honour has several levels, and in 1927 Borsch was promoted from Chevalier to Officer for his services to the allied soldiers blinded in war. He also received the Croix de Guerre—the War Cross.
Dr. Louis Borsch died in Paris in January 1929, at the age of fifty-six—dying in his sleep from heart disease.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls