Mark's Reviews > Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust
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Dec 10, 08

Read in August, 2008

I have to say I didn't quite enjoy this volume as much as previous ones, mainly because I ended up reading it in a very broken up fashion, spread over a couple of months. That set me to thinking about the demands of Proust, that absolutely optimal reading condition required to take full advantage of his prose. Basically, this would seem to be a situation similar to that which proust himself adopted to write the novel: propped up in bed, being waited on by your maid, and with the sights and sounds of the outside world cut out by cork lining on the walls.

Anyway, this is the volume that famously deals with male and female homosexuality, a theme that had already appeared at previous points in the novel, but here comes to the fore. The opening short chapter that details the encounter between Charlus and Jupien gets straight to the point and is shocking and hilarious in equal measure. The description of Charlus' face as he approaches Jupien in the doorway (he "relaxed the tension in his face and muffled the factitious vitality sustained in him by animated chitchat and by force of will") clearly displays the insight of an 'insider', and the convoluted means Proust employs to enable the narrator to witness the act (perched atop a ladder and peering in through a transom window) is as comically unconvincing a ruse as was his previous spying on Vinteuil's daughter in Swann's Way. The unfolding of the Baron and Jupien's unlikely coupling is placed alongside that of the chance pollination of an orchid by a bee in the Guermantes' courtyard and has to be one of the most richly comic passages in the novel so far.

Thereafter, Proust's observations on 'inversion' are more generalized and along the lines of a 'secret society more pervasive than the Masons'. When he observes of Charlus that his gift for interior decoration gives him away as a 'woman', we are more in the realm of a Jay Leno opening monologue, than any very deep observation. However, that's maybe a bit hard on Proust, given that this was the first time a lot of this kind of subject matter had been broached in print, and perhaps we can credit him with being the originator of the cliche in this case, rather than its perpetuator.

Overall, I think he is best at observation of actual relationships, rather than expounding on homosexuality in a more philosophical way. The relationship between Charlus and Morel, for example, brilliantly sets the template for the gay sugar daddy and his manipulative young protege. And the inevitable pull of her other life acting on the wily Albertine, foreshadows the headbanging torment which the narrator is almost willingly leading himself into.

Other great stuff in this volume: the serenity of the now aged and ill Swann in the face of the anti-semitism on display at the Princess de Guermantes' dinner party; his "lustful glances of the connoisseur" down the front of Mme de Surgis' dress; the narrator's return to Balbec and sudden revelation of his Grandmother's absence on stooping to take his boots off; the description of how his mother is morphing into his grandmother; Andree and Albertine dancing "breast to breast" at the casino; Marcel's games at the expense of Mme de Cambrerer's fickle musical tastes; Marcel's brutal observations on the 'binary rhythms of love'; Albertine's rubber raincoat; Brichot's poetry of place names and etymologies; Marcel's pleasure at the draft in the doorway and the piece of green fabric plugging a broken window at Raspeliere; old Mme de Cambrerer's rule of the three adjectives; the narrator's reflections on sleep; Charlus' bizarre letter to Aime, the head waiter; reflections on the motorcar and how it changes space and time; the baron's bogus duel; Albertine's revelation that she knows Mlle Vinteuil, sealing Marcel's bleak fate.
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