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Marcel Donckers

(1872-1934)

Marcel Donckers was born in Boom on 21 October 1872, youngest of the seven children of Jos Donckers, a minister, and Anne Deceulenaere. He was often bullied as a child by Frank, his oldest brother, and his mother was very severe and unfriendly, so it was no surprise when Evarist ran away at age seven. He was found early the next morning by a neighbour. His father died in 1881, and Marcel was sent away to a London charity school for children of the clergy. He stayed with his uncle. He was really quite a prodigy; he devoured books and eventually earned first place in his class.

His brother Godfried died in 1890 and his only sister Julienne in 1891, inspiring him to write a lot of poems. Marcel was very ill around this time and probably took laudanum for the illness, thus beginning his lifelong opium addiction. He went to Antwerp in 1891, poor in spite of some scholarships, and rapidly worked himself into debt with opium, alcohol, and women. He had started to hope for poetic fame, but by 1893, he was completely broke and desperate. So he joined the army.

His family was angry when they finally found out. He'd escaped being sent to fight because he could only barely ride a horse. His brother George finally arranged his discharge by reason of insanity and got him back to Aartselaar. It was there that he met Robert Wampers, and they became instant friends. Both political radicals, they began planning Pantisocracy, their own socio-political movement. Robert was already engaged to a woman named Edith Fricker, and introduced Marcel to her sister Sarah. Within a few weeks, he was willing to marry Sarah, which he did in October of 1895. Robert and Evarist had started arguing over Pantisocracy, and finally Robert agreed to his family's wish to become a lawyer instead of emigrating.

With his marriage, Marcel tried very hard to become responsible. He scraped together a respectable income, through tutoring and gifts from his admirers. His poems were well received and it looked like he was on the fast track to fame. He already had one son, David, born September 1896, followed by Bert in May 1898. Marcel’s son Bert died while he was away; the baby had been given a vaccination and died of a reaction to it. Marcel, as was typical of him, returned home slowly so as not to have to deal openly with Bert’s death, and got little work done.

In 1901 Marcel turned to newspaper work to try and recover financially. He was convinced he would die soon, and insured his life shortly after the birth of his daughter Sara in 1902. Marcel had also hoped for a release from his addiction, but this was not to be. He asked for a legal separation from his wife in 1905. Though Sarah was furious, the separation happened. Marcel’s paranoia and mood swings, brought on by the continual opium use, were getting worse, and he was hardly capable of sustained work. He was again writing newspaper articles to earn a living, further supplemented by various lecture courses.

He was still haunted by his failure to break free from opium, however, and to this end he moved into the house of an apothecary named Emiel Gilman, asking Gilman to help cut back his opium dose, Like all addicts, though, Marcel quickly had an alternate supply arranged. He had apparently separated from his children as well; his friends and relatives had to take up a collection to send his kids to school, and at one point, he went 8 years without seeing his children. He still couldn't reach financial security, however; a government reorganization lost him his pension , his one remaining reliable source of income. He died, surprisingly peacefully, on 25 July 1934, leaving only debts and manuscripts behind.
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