My Great Uncle & James Joyce

20041118175749My father rarely spoke about his family. I didn’t learn that he was Jewish until after he died, when at his funeral a stranger approached me with this news. In fact he descended from two prominent Italian Jewish families.

Among his paternal uncles was Gilberto Senigaglia (when he emigrated to the U.S. my father changed his name to Selgin). Born in Trieste in 1872, Gilberto became a physician, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology.

It was while studying English with him (either privately or at the Berlitz School, where Joyce taught for a time) that my great uncle met and became friends with James Joyce. He went on to become the Joyce’s family physician, delivering their son Giorgio at the Joyce’s home in July of 1905. He cared for Joyce during a bout of rheumatic fever two years later, and presided over the birth of his daughter Lucia, as well as Nora’s third pregnancy, which ended in a still-birth.

Like Joyce—and like my father—my great uncle was an avid socialist. According to the “Museo Joyce Trieste” website, he was a member of the extremely progressive Socialist cultural association Circolo di Studi. He was also an accomplished fencer who took part in at least one duel.

And like my father, Gilberto Senigaglia did his best to deny or conceal his Jewish origins, declaring himself “without religion.” In spite of this, he was the object of a vicious slander campaign by an anti-semitic newspaper.

He died in 1919, at 47, of an infection he caught from a patient.

About Peter Selgin

Peter Selgin is the author of Drowning Lessons, winner of the 2007 Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction, Life Goes to the Movies, a novel, two books on the craft of fiction, and several children’s books. His memoir, Confessions of a Left-Handed Man, was short-listed for the William Saroyan International Prize. His latest novel, The Water Master, won the William Faulkner Society Prize, selected by Random House Senior Editor Will Murphy. His work has won the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, the Dana Award, six Best American Essay notable essay citations, and two selections for the Best American series. A second memoir, The Inventors, is forthcoming from Hawthorne Books in April of 2016. He teaches at Antioch University’s MFA program and is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia College & State University.
This entry was posted in Dreaming on Paper, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.