Posts Tagged ‘Baron de Charlus

21
Apr
22

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).

Charlus

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. 😀

//




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

The Cave

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