By Claudia Lindner
Louis Georges Eugene Marcel Proust was a French author and critic. He was born on July 10th, 1871 in
. He was from a wealthy bourgeois family, his
father being a doctor and his mother being a member of a wealthy banker
In 1881 he was first diagnosed with asthma.
He received higher education at Paris Lycee Condorcet; he also made his first attempts in writing there. After graduating, Proust joined the military for a year in 1889 and then started studying law. Proust made the acquaintance of many well known and /or dubious personalities of the French cultural communities of the time.
In 1894, Proust got to know the singer Reynoldo Hahn with whom he had a passionate love relationship with until 1896, when they broke up, but remained on cordial terms with each other. Proust also then finished his law studies without graduating, but acquired an academic grade with a social science study.
In the same year he published his first book. ‘Les plaisirs et les jours’ (The Pleasures and the Days). Proust even engaged in a duel with a critic who had made an ambiguent comment about his first novel.
In the following years, Proust continued writing and translating. He suffered from depression when his parents died and over the years constantly also suffered from neurasthenia, a kind of nervous debility which the main symptoms were exhaustion, anxiety and headaches but also melancholia. Neurasthenia was a kind of fashionable complaint of the Upper Classes at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Proust even sought treatment in a sanatorium in 1905 for several weeks.
Again, we have no information from Captain Jack mentioning Proust about where they met. There is no information about a possible Proust journey to
and the Torchwood Commander’s log is not helpful with that either. So we have to rely upon the Captain’s private
diary again for some hints: Britain
May 11th, 1909
“Sometimes I think I can’t stand being with Torchwood one more day. Their Victorian brutality is appalling. I try my best to prevent the worst, but I don’t always succeed. In fact, I have failed three times consecutively now and if I fail it means some alien is killed for doing nothing wrong, just because it fell through the Rift. Failures like this make me angry and being angry ultimately makes me careless, and I can’t afford to become careless…”
Obviously, Jack was a bit frustrated from his work with Torchwood sometimes, maybe he suffered even some kind of burnout?
May 14th, 1909
“I’m fed up with Torchwood! I can’t stand their smug faces, their ignorance…I hate seeing them, I hate going to work every day – early in the morning, because, of course, you can only be a decent person in the Victorian thinking if you get up at the crack of dawn! Ugh, I could complain here forever. I need a change of scenery, some time off. And I hear
is lovely in May! I told the Commander. He was not pleased, but who cares? I’m off!” Paris
So it wasn’t a Torchwood investigation that led to the encounter with Marcel Proust. The Captain just needed a holiday and some fresh air. Following the Captain’s diary entry we see this note in the Torchwood log:
1909, May 15th
“Field Agent Captain Harkness told me that he wished to take some time off from his work for Torchwood and do some travelling. Usually, Torchwood agents are not supposed to decide to take time off their duties on their own. But given the fact that I observed a certain tendency lately with Captain Harkness, losing his temper easily and not being on his company manners in the best interest of the Empire, I decided to grant him a hiatus, which I of course limited to a certain extent. Also I informed Captain Harkness that he would of course not be paid during the months of his absence.”
Considering his anger and frustration, Captain Jack might even have left without Torchwood’s permission, but anyway, he actually went to
May 23rd, 1909
. It’s really nice and relaxing. The fine weather – why does it always seem to
be sunny here but never does in Paris Cardiff or ? Anyway, I love walking along the promenades,
the boulevards and sitting in the cafes.
Some of the nightclubs are also very nice – well, not in the bourgeois
way, but rather naughty. London
I got myself a nice room with a view in a central
proper boarding house. The concierge
keeps looking at me suspiciously whenever she meets me, but I don’t think
that’s personal, but probably the way she would treat any foreigner.” Paris
And obviously, he quickly made new acquaintances…
June 1st, 1909
“I got to know a man in a café today, one of the more posh places at the Boulevard St Michel. A gentleman, well dressed, perfect manners. We got into conversation when the waiter asked me something in French, which I didn’t understand and he helped me out. His English is quite good, which is unusual for Frenchmen in this era. For a gentleman, he sized me up quite frankly and seemed interested in me. I found him quite interesting too, though he is actually not my type at all. He is a very serious looking man, rather pale, wearing a moustache. But he seemed to be a smart guy, the conversation was quite worthwhile. He is a writer or journalist, or both and very thoughtful. And his strong French accent is kind of cute. We might meet again.”
Can we assume that this was Marcel Proust?
June 23rd, 1909
“Walking in the Tuileries with Marcel. He keeps asking me a lot of questions about me, about what I do, where I come from…Can’t tell him much, even if I would like to because he is a really nice guy. Very intelligent, with a good sense of humour – sometimes. He is likeable, even if he sometimes seems to be much younger than he actually is. And from what I can tell, he definitely is interested. The way he looks at me sometimes, and when he says ‘Jacques, cher ami’ …and all the little gestures and touches. I’m not falling in love, but I’m in the mood for some fun.”
Despite his charm, Jack seemed to have a rough ride with that man though:
July 29th, 1909
“Oh my God, do they never have sex in
? And I thought the opposite was true! I have been courting him for over a month
now. All those profound conversations,
brilliant thoughts. But, ugh, sometimes
I just don’t want to talk anymore. After
a splendid dinner with fine wines and the company of his educated, really nice
friends, we walk home and I invite him to my place. He would come up, we have a glass of cognac
and the conversation gets more intimate.
We even kiss a little bit, but no French kissing! By the way, did the French really invent this
kind of kissing? I have my doubts! He always seems too tense and too nervous to
just let go and have some fun. I once
asked him one night, when he once again kept me at a distance after some
innocent kisses. He replied that this
was his ‘condition’ which I didn’t really get.
Jeez, this man is so complicated!” France
But eventually, things got better…
August 13th, 1909
“Had a great night with Marcel. Opera and dinner first – then we went back to my place. Maybe it’s the summer or maybe he just started to let go his worries or anxieties a bit, but he is quite a passionate lover. Who would have expected that?”
It was still complicated though…
September 9th, 1909
“This man is driving me crazy! There are days when he cancels our dates because he refuses to leave the house. He says he feels too weak and that every external stimulus is too much for him. Even birds chirping disturb him. He is also depressed, though nobody knows this word here yet. I feel helpless then, and when I ask him what I can do for him he says there isn’t much I could do apart from leave him alone as he was bad company to me. Though there are good times too, and it’s not that it’s not good and fun when we are together, the sex is still great, it’s just…it doesn’t happen too often at the moment…”
It looks like Monsieur Proust took Jack on some kind of rollercoaster journey sometimes:
September 23rd, 1909
“…And thankfully, Marcel has recovered from his malady, which he calls neurasthenia. It’s obviously some kind of stress disease, with symptoms of weakness, exhaustion and headaches. He told me many people he knows suffer from it. Many upper class people. This disease seems to be some kind of luxury upper class condition whereas working class people have far more serious diseases to deal with. I dared to mention that one night during dinner at his favourite restaurant which I had arranged. Oh boy, I shouldn’t have – no, really! I had hardly finished the sentence when it insulted in an utterly childish outburst on his part. Did he even stomp his foot? Anyway, he yelled at me for five minutes about what a ‘terrible’ (French pronunciation) person I was, how I could be so ignorant (I almost had to laugh at that one) and superficial. This coming from the man who you could easily call a snob, who spent a lot of nights at the Ritz and spent a lot of money for tips, expensive gifts, flowers for ladies and lots of other useless stuff…
But he stormed out of the restaurant. How can someone so thoughtful and serious at the same time be so immature? Needless to mention that there was no sex that night.”
September 28th, 1909
“I walked along the
afternoon with Marcel, who finally decided to speak to me again after the night
at the restaurant. I apologised for
giving him the impression that I wasn’t taking his condition seriously, the
asthma, but also the stress disease. But
I couldn’t help asking if he wouldn’t feel better if he wasn’t taking
everything so seriously. At that, he
looked at me with his deep, dark eyes and said: “Life is painful,
Jacques.” Anyway, despite everything, we
can’t only suffer all the time. He then
turned to me and said that only in suffering do we recognise beauty. Could you be more pathetic? Jeez.
I pulled his chin to me and kissed him.
Then I answered: “I don’t believe
And so, their relationship continued to deteriorate, as it seems. Until…
October 14th, 1909
“It’s over. I just came home from Marcel after I told him. It just didn’t work any more. I think I finally realised it when I had breakfast with him yesterday at his place. Over the newspaper he ranted about the despicable state of the French political system and society. To distract him I suggested a trip to the countryside, which made him furious. He then shouted at me that I was so superficial and that I must lead a very worry-free life. And that he couldn’t afford to take things so lightly like I would! I felt my anger building up and thought about giving him an appropriate answer – what does he know of my life? At least, what I said to him would only cause another childish outburst. I would never tell him anything, because I don’t love or care about him and would flirt with other men all the time anyway. I told him I would leave him to calm down and when he was open to reasonable talk again he should let me know. When I passed through the door I heard the sound of porcelain crashing – he obviously threw a mug after me.”
October 16th, 1909
“Today I decided it’s time to move on and I went to him and told him that I enjoyed being with him but that it’s over. That I lived a lot of lives and will go on living a lot of lives, and that none of them were free of worry or pain. He looked at me and asked: “Who are you?” I wish I had gotten a pound whenever someone asked me that.
“A traveller who has seen so many different times of which some are lost forever.” I explained that my life isn’t easy either, but that I can’t live with so much angst, sorrow and drama all the time. “I have to go.” I said, and he stood up and took a step or two in my direction, but then stopped and turned around and sighed. I wanted to go to him, but he raised one hand to stop me. “Just leave.” Was all he said. So I went but turned one last time to say “Au revoir.” Okay, maybe that was a bit cheesy after all, but what else could I say?
I think I’ll head for the
my remaining weeks of holidays – maybe enjoy an after season breeze by the
sea.” Cote d’Azur
This was the last entry in Captain Jack’s diary of the time with Marcel Proust. There was a brief note in his diary from
Cannes, so he obviously went to the . Cote d’Azur
Proust continued his life as a writer in the following years. He also got closer to his driver, Alfred Agostinelli, and after 1912, fell in love with him unluckily. Proust started writing his main literary work ‘Remembrance of Things Past”. In 1914, Agostinelli died in a plane crash, which made Proust fall into a deep depression.
In 1916 his second volume of ‘Remembrance’ was accepted by the publisher Gallimard whose editor Andre Gide had still refused to publish the first edition of it, but now published the work in the new literary journal ‘Nouvelle Revue Francaise’. The seven volume oeuvre is the most important of Proust’s work for which he received the Prix Goncourt, the highest French literary award in 1919. In 1920 he was appointed Knight of the Legion of Honour.
Marcel Proust died November 18th, 1922 in
of pneumonia, age 51. Paris
His last three volumes of ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ were published posthumously.
Marcel Proust never mentioned or hinted at his encounter with Jack Harkness. Maybe it was painful for him or maybe it was just a summer adventure, a little affaire d’amour for him. Probably. Clearly, Captain Jack in the end was rather frustrated and often annoyed of his behaviour which is probably why he described him as ‘immature’ to Owen.
Something must have fascinated him about Proust, otherwise he wouldn’t have kept his quote in mind for so long – admitting that he never actually read his works.
Maybe these two men were too different from each other to really be lovers, and weren’t able to fully appreciate who the other was. The immortal, time travelling man from the 51st century, trying to keep the world safe from alien (d)riftwood on the one hand and on the other the French 19th century author, suffering in mind and body, being a bourgeois snob, yet a great thinker.
There is that quote from Proust: “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who makes our souls blossom.” Maybe that referred a little bit to Jack?
For Jack it probably was one of those impossible encounters whose end had to come soon and which Captain Jack took rather lightly. So many men, so little time…