Archive for April, 2022


In Search of Lost Time 4-21-2022

A theme so far in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is remembering things once forgotten. Another in the second volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, is sex and a boy developing sexual urges. And another that is becoming apparent in the second volume is misperceptions, usually arriving from being judgmental (and so many characters are judgy), disillusioned, or time (I think). For instance, in Swann’s Way (volume 1), M. Swann was considered a sophisticated person, but in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, which begins two years after the end of Swann’s Way, he is considered vulgar. It’s not clear how the perception of him changed. Maybe something happened in those two years, but it’s not clear. Likewise, M. de Norpois was held in high regard by the narrator’s nameless father in Swann’s Way becomes a full-blown and inconsiderate jerk in In Young Girls in Flower. This might happen because the reader sees more action from him, especially in the interactions with the narrator. Then there is the great actress Berma, whom the narrator has been wanting to see for a long time and has imagined as the greatest actress of all time, as many others believed, but it turns out, for the narrator, she is underwhelming. This is common for the narrator to build up in his imagination a fantasy of a person only to be let down by an actual encounter with the person, such as Bergotte the writer he idealizes. Then there is Madame Swann (formerly Odette de Crécy) who was known as a lady of the evening to both men and women, and despite her being one of the most fashionable people around, was looked down upon in Swann’s Way, but in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, she is considered a prestigious person at the height and near the top of social circles.

And then there’s the narrator. The narrator, as has been clearly established by critics and biographers, is based on Proust himself. Proust has a Jewish background from his mother, and he was gay. According to Alison Flood in “Lost Stories of Homosexual Love Finally Published“:

Proust never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, going so far as to fight a duel with a reviewer who had suggested, accurately, that he was gay. “At the same time that Proust was eager to make love to other young men, he was equally determined to avoid the label ‘homosexual’,” writes Edmund White in his biography of the French novelist.

In addition, he friends and family knew he was gay. In In Search of Lost Time, there is no mention of the narrator being Jewish or homosexual, at least explicitly. It is clear that the narrator has loved a girl, and in the second volume, he lusts for girls like a boy during puberty, which the narrator is experiencing. And so it seems he is a cis heterosexual dude. That is until he meets Robert Marquis de Saint-Loup.

Saint Loup

Robert Marquis de Saint-Loup

According to one critic, when the narrator meets Saint-Loup they become the best of friends, and “[u]nlike most of the relationships described in In Search of Lost Time, which prove to be illusory, corrupt, or sexually ambivalent, the relationship between Marcel [the name many critics give to the nameless narrator] and Robert is straightforward and pure, a platonic ideal.” I think the critic missed out, and maybe deliberately. It’s like the critic went out of his to make sure there was no homosexuality much like those who fail to see the homosexual intimacy between Queequeg and Ishmael in Moby Dick. The narrator for 10 pages writes and gushes on about Saint-Loup. He describes with the same affection for the girls he had crushes on. It reads like a diary entry about someone he loves, but it lacks amorousness. (On a side note, he doesn’t even describe his parents, including his mother who loves very much and almost on an Oedipal level.) It’s clear he has homosexual feelings for Saint-Loup.

Saint-Loup is also misperceived. He is known to have loved women. However, the narrator coyly notes, “some thought there was something effeminate about him,” (309) which I think reads as code for “gay.” This also seems true because Proust somewhere describes being gay as something like being a man with a woman trapped inside. (Unfortunately, I think people still think that today. 😢) So again another misperception.

Another misperception is with Saint-Loup’s uncle, Baron de Charlus (Palamède de Guermantes).


Baron de Charlus

He is also considered a ladies man who hated homosexuals. Saint-Loup even notes:

One day, a fellow . . . showed rather untoward tendencies, made an appointment with my uncle at the apartment. When he got there, the fellow made his intentions quite clear—but toward my uncle Palamède . . . . My uncle pretended not to understand, then on some pretext or other sent for his two friends. They turned up, took the miscreant, stripped the clothes off him, beat him till his blood ran red, then kicked him out—it was ten below zero, and when he was found he was lucky to be alive. (331)

Clearly, he’s a hetero “man” who hates homosexuals. But this is the same man who was cruising for young men when the narrator caught him staring and checking out the narrator, which was their first encounter. The narrator does not think this is what Charlus is doing, but it’s quite clear from reading. Later, when they meet, Charlus is clearly embarrassed by his previous actions, “the gentleman . . . without looking at me, mumbled vague ‘How d’you do?’ which he followed with ‘Hmmm, hmmm'” (334), and then he tries to avoid the narrator. Later, Charlus goes to the narrator’s room with a book by an author the narrator admires. It was clearly a pretense for getting into his room for sex, and it may have happened had someone else not entered the room, and Charlus shyly exits. This leads me to think he beat up the gay man, mentioned above, because of repressed homosexuality, which also mirrors Proust beating up the reporter.

In sum, there is a lot misperception and deliberate misperception. There is also the avoidance to address homosexuality, bi-sexuality, and the author’s Jewish roots.

Thanks for reading. 😀



In Search of Lost Time 4-1-2022

Odette is Swann’s lover. Here are some pictures of what others think Odette looks like.

Swann in Love (film)

From the Swann in Love movie.

What these two pictures and other Goolge searches show is that Odette is a white woman. That’s what I thought when reading about France in the early 1900s. But I may have changed my mind, and I’m surprised that, as far as I can tell, I am the only person to notice what she looks like. Here is what I read on page 139 of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (the second volume of In Search of Lost Time):

[B]etween Mme. Swann, who was dark, and the golden-skinned girl [Gilberte, who is Odette and Swan’s child] with fairish hair. . . . Gilberte resembled a portrait of her mother, verging on a good likeness, but done by a fanciful colorist who had made her pose in semi-disguise . . . It was not just the blond wig she was wearing, but the fact that every last atom of her [Gilberte’s] dark complexion had faded . . . . Her fair complexion was so clearly her father’s that Nature, in order to create Gilberte, seemed to have been faced with the problem of imitating Mme. Swann while being able to use as its sole material the skin of M. Swann. . . . a new variety of Mme. Swann had been achieved, like a white lilac growing beside a purple one.

In this description and what is left out, the narrator describes Gilberte by noticing certain features Gilberte inherited from her mother, Odette, and her father, Swann. What I want to point out is that from this description, it seems Odette is a person of color and not white. This adds a twist to when Odette is first mentioned in Swann’s Way where she is basically described as not being beautiful in the “traditional” conception of beauty. I read that as code for not “white” beauty.

It’s interesting because none of the characters indicate she is a person of color and nor does the narrator. What it does is to make the following seemingly innocuous scene from 29 pages earlier gain new meaning. In the following scene, Odette and Swann are talking about Mme Blatin and judging her (judging people behind their backs seems to be the main occupation of all the characters):

[Swann speaking:] “It’s too stupid. You see, Mme Blatin likes to address people in a way that she thinks is friendly, but which gives the impression that she’s talking down to them.” “What our neighbors across the Channel call patronizing,” Odette interrupted. “So recently she went to the Zoo, where there was this exhibition being given by black fellows, from Ceylon, I think, or so I’m told by my wife, who’s much better at ethnography than I am.” “Charles do stop being facetious.” “I’m not being facetious in the slightest. So there she is, saying to this black fellow, “Good morning, blackie! . . . Well, this form of speech was not to the black fellow’s liking—’Me blackie,” he bellowed at Mme Blatin, ‘you camel!'” (110)

You can see here how two characters reference the man as being black, and one in a most racist manner. I would think someone would say something similar about Odette if she is black, but they don’t . . . directly. In this passage, Swann says Odette is “better at ethnography” and Odette tells Swann to “stop being facetious.” I read this as Swann saying Odette is black so she would recognize where a black person hails from, and Odette is basically telling Swann in a most polite manner to shut up with his racist remark.

I’m not sure what to do with this new knowledge as of now, but I am concerned that I haven’t seen this mentioned elsewhere. But I think someone else needs to investigate this and verify what I am claiming or indicate how I am missing reading all of this.


The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

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