Along time ago I was hopelessly hung up, and not in a good way, on a certain passage in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. The offending passage, obstructing all the rest of Proust for me, lay in the very middle volume, the fourth of seven, which was then called Cities of the Plain (and has since been retranslated, with more accuracy and more filth, as Sodom and Gomorrah).
There was no reason I should have been waylaid there. This was the volume that thrilled Colette: “No one in the world has written pages such as these on homosexuals, no one!” It was the volume, according to Proust’s newest biographer, Benjamin Taylor, that outraged and possibly killed Count Robert de Montesquiou (the supposed model for the sneering gay aristocrat Baron de Charlus). And it was the volume that André Gide abhorred for its sneaky, secretive, un-Greek view of homosexuality.
Here is a scene from that volume. Standing by a window, behind shutters, the narrator daydreams about a bee buzzing near an eager flower, its stamens “spontaneously curved so that the insect might more easily receive their offering.” Now his focus shifts to the tryst unfolding below, between Charlus (also known as Palamède de Guermantes) and the Guermanteses’ ex-tailor, Jupien, who is younger and of a lower class. The narrator describes how each man was transformed once he was sure no one was watching him.
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