Thursday, 30 April 2015

Fans Fiction Captain Jack Harkness meets Chris Isherwood by Claudia Lindner

Captain Jack Harkness meets Chris Isherwood

By Claudia Lindner

Back in time…

Christopher William Bradshaw-Isherwood was born 26th August, 1904 on his family’s estate in Highlane, Cheshire.  In 1914, he joined St. Edmund’s School, where he met and befriended W.H. Auden.  In Cambridge he studied history, but failed the final exam in 1925 and left the Corpus Christi college without a degree.  He lived with the violinist Andre Mangeot for a while working as a secretary for his string quartet.  In 1928, he started a study of medicine at King’s College, London, which he abandoned in 1929.  In this year, he joined W.H. Auden and went to Berlin, where he stayed until 1933.  In 1932, he got to know his lover and partner for several years, Heinz Neddermeyer.

His time in Berlin was a very formative one for Isherwood and he not only nostalgically remembered it for the rest of his life, but it also inspired him to write two of his first big novels ‘Berlin Stories’ and ‘Mr Norris Changes Train’.  The musical ‘Cabaret’ was based on characters of both novels.  They capture Isherwood’s experiences and shaped the early 30s Berlin image in the Anglo-Saxon language area and brought him early literary fame.

We don’t know how exactly Captain Jack Harkness met Isherwood and under which circumstances, but from what Jack said in ‘Reset’, we can assume they were both enjoying themselves and in Berlin – ‘cruising’ and having a little ‘thing’ thing going on.  That said, I suppose it was cruising in the gay culture sense of the word meant seeking short time sexual adventures.

Although our posh Captain might have liked some nights on the City central’s famous and very elegant Kurfürstendamm, Isherwood spent most of his time in the working class district of Kreuzberg, which was also the centre of gay culture and freedom at this time in Berlin, with a large number of pubs and clubs frequented by gay people.  We can assume that Jack also enjoyed spending time at those places.  This quote from the Captain may also indicate that Jack was with Isherwood after December 1930, when the author had moved to the district of Schőneberg in Berlin, at Nollendorfplatz, the gay and lesbian district and also closer to Kurfürstendamm.

But Jack didn’t tell his team what exactly brought him to Berlin in the first place when he mentioned Isherwood.  So we must take a look in the Torchwood archives to see if Jack was officially sent there or was on a private mission…

Torchwood – Commander’s Log 1929:

June 16th

   “Received information from Crown and government about some possible political radical movement growing in Germany, which might become a threat to the Empire.  The Crown wants Torchwood to investigate whether alien involvement is possible, as its rising seems quite sudden, unpredictable and quick…
Decided to send Field Agent Captain Harkness to Berlin to investigate.  Captain Harkness though seemed reluctant to go there.  Possibly was again covertly investigating the whereabouts of the target known as The Doctor.  Had to remind Captain Harkness severely of his duties.  The Captain left for Berlin with his order today.”

Probably the threat the Captain was sent to investigate was the Nazi movement rising at the end of the Republic of Weimar in Germany.

To learn what the Captain thought about his mission, we have to search in his private diary:

Berlin, 5th December 1929

   “I’ve been in Berlin for some months now.  I still have no idea what I should do here.  That theory about alien involvement in that Nazi movement is utter nonsense of course, that is obvious to me, even if I didn’t know what will happen.  A threat to the Empire?  Certainly, they are a threat to every decent human being!  But alien threat?  Nope, this nemesis is all human.  Boy, sometimes Torchwood is so delusional, that I can’t seem to be able to wait another day for the Doctor to arrive…maybe, the day he arrives I’ll tell Torchwood that their frickin’ Empire will be gone in a few decades…
Anyway, I think I’ll stay in Berlin for longer, ‘investigate’ for Torchwood and keep sending them the field reports they so love.  Berlin seems to be quite an exciting city.  Very much going on here.  A lot of bars and pubs full of men…too bad, I hardly understand any German, though…but some things are just international obviously…”

And another entry, a few months later

Berlin, 11th February 1930

“Talked to a guy at Cosy Corner last night.  Great place by the way.  Full of hookers, but also regular, working class guys.  He told me of an Englishman who is giving lessons in German.  Walter told me, he is a writer of some kind and gave me his address, which is somewhere near the big zoo, the Große Tiergarten.  I think I’ll pay him a visit in the next few days.”

So this has obviously been how the Captain got to know Christopher Isherwood, who at the time was teaching German for a living – apart from getting regular allowances from a wealthy uncle:

Berlin, 7th March 1930

   “Another lesson with Chris, he’s a good teacher, but I’m a terrible student.  I’ve never been good at the studying thing, learning theoretically.  But when we’re out for a night, Chris says, I’m great with conversations.  So I always drag him out on the streets, preferably in Kreuzberg…not that you have to drag Chris out on the streets very much.  He loves cruising as much as I do…
Chris is a fantastic writer, his ability to observe, to see things, people and stories and to write them down is uncanny.  And that’s how he sees himself too, as an observer, as a public eye…’I’m a camera’, that’s what he often says…”

But soon Torchwood called him back, as it seems, Jack was quite reluctant to leave once again:

Berlin, 24th May 1930

   “Chris asks me not to go, but I have to leave.  Torchwood wants me to come back.  I don’t want to go…don’t want to leave Chris.  I have no choice though.  And what if I stay, and the Doctor finally comes back?   Besides Torchwood won’t just let me go.  When will I ever learn?  What happened with Angelo should have taught me a lesson…”

After this, there were no more diary entries from Berlin.  Jack seemed to have gone back to Cardiff and Torchwood, where the next thing we hear from him was a Torchwood field report.

After Hitler came to power, Isherwood left Berlin and among other places in the world he lived in London, on the Canary Islands, in Spanish-Morocco, Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam and the Portuguese town of Sintra.  In 1933/1934 he worked for the British film studio Gaumont-British as screenwriter, later as advisor for director Berthold Viertel.  In 1938, Isherwood and Auden went on a reportage trip to China.  In 1939, he emigrated to the US, where he first lived in NYC for three months, but then moved to Los Angeles.  He decided to stay because he felt “Los Angeles is a great place to feel at home, because everyone is from somewhere else.”

Maybe Jack did visit Christopher Isherwood once more later?  He mentioned not having seen the Pacific for 70 years, when he arrived at Malibu during Miracle Day with his team.  Maybe Jack met him there once more or just watched him from a distance.

During the War, Isherwood registered as a Conscientious Objector as he didn’t want to shoot Germans but later volunteered with the Medical Corps.  After teaching English to German refugees in 1941 and 1942 for the Quaker organisation, Society of Friends in Pennsylvania,  Isherwood returned to Los Angeles

In 1946 he became an US citizen.  He later moved to Santa Monica, California where he lived with his partner at the time, Bill Caskey.  He continued to work as a writer, script writer in Hollywood and a guest professor for English literature. 

During his life in the US, he experienced a lengthy creative crisis.  Isherwood considered his life in the US as ‘empty, vain, trivial and tragic’, but he also met and befriended a lot of other creatives and writers during that time, among them Truman Capote and Aldous Huxley. 

In 1951, motives from his ‘Berlin Stories’ became the basis of the Broadway Play ‘I Am A Camera’ which is the quote from Martha Jones in ‘Reset’.  The autobiographical play looks at life in Berlin rooming house of 1930 with a photographic eye.  Chris is a struggling young writer whose novel ‘I Am A Camera’ concerns the events occurring around him in the Berlin of 1930.  In 1953 he met his partner Don Bachardy, with whom he stayed together with until his death in 1986.  The couple became well known in Hollywood and an example for the Californian gay community.

Isherwood’s work include the 1962 novel ‘Down There On A Visit’ which was again Berlin-themed and ‘A Single Man’ 1964, (you may have seen the Tom Forde movie starring Colin Firth).  From the 70s on his work also addressed his own homosexuality and Isherwood engaged in the US Gay Rights Movement. 

In 1976, he published his autobiography ‘Christopher and His Kind’ which was adapted into a TV film by the BBC in 2010, directed by Geoffrey Sax and starring Matt Smith as Christopher Isherwood.

Christopher Isherwood died of prostate cancer on January 6th, 1986 at his house in Santa Monica, California.

Did Jack learn of his death and did he mourn him and indulge himself in some nostalgic memories of their time together?  We don’t know, but maybe, being immortal and experiencing so much loss over and over again, Jack maybe had to find a way to deal with these emotions and not let them affect him deeply anymore. 

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