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In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
Proust ISOLT Vol 2 Budding Grove > Discussion - Week Six - ISOLT Vol 2 - pp. 308 - 368 (356-425)

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
This discussion covers:

6. The Baron de Charlus, Robert de Saint-Loup and the Bloch Family
Penguin: 308-368
Vintage: 356-425
First paragraph: "One afternoon of scorching heat I was in the dining-room of the hotel, which they had plunged in semi-darkness..."

Andreea (andyyy) | 60 comments I don't know whether to sigh or be excited, the amount of mixed feelings I have about Proust and about how we should (can?) read his novel is increasing with every page I read. With a section focused almost exclusively on Charlus, Saint-Loup and Bloch, the themes of queer identity/ "inverts"/same-sex attraction as well as Jewishness and antisemitism really start to take centre stage behind all of the Narrator's banter about carriages and the sea. On the one hand, it's so much fun because you get very obviously flaming characters like Saint-Loup, but at the same time it's sad, especially when you come across the story about the man Charlus almost got killed for hitting on him - which I guess is the description of pretty much any piece of queer literature, even those written today, but what's distressing is the way both Saint-Loup and the narrator seem completely unimpressed with the story. As the reader you don't know how to take this or how Proust took it.

If you don't know what passage I'm talking about, the quote is:

(view spoiler)

And, of course, that story is followed closely by the suggestion that Charlus picks up "men of humble position". Which is not that unusual since starting with the Wilde Trials, at least in Britain, but my guess is that in France too, homosexuality was increasingly viewed as a "vice" of the upper class, a means through which rich men "corrupt" honest, pure working class ones. And that is true, to an extent, just not in that kind of rhetoric. I dunno, it's all very conflicted and complicated and the constant references to Charlus' "the unceasingly restless" eyes and how he tries to "hermetically seal" his expressions just haunt you and you don't know whether you should feel bad for the guy and view him as the villain (if not for anything else he is Mme's Swann's lover, if Swann is the hero of the novel that would make him the villain).

Also as a small side-note, Madame Sévigné was mentioned before in volume one as the Narrator's grandmother's favourite author and she's mentioned again in this section by Charlus. She's not very well known to English reader, but she was a 17th century marquise whose letters are considered literary works because of how well crafted and interesting they are. They're a sample of the beginnings of women's writing as well as the beginnings of the epistolary novel. They're interesting to read alongside other 17th century French female writers like Madeleine de Scudéry or Madame de La Fayette or just if you like reading letters.

message 3: by Susanna (new)

Susanna I also am getting aggravated with Proust. Does he make his writing intentionally aggravating? Is he making a comment about the society of the time? The book is called "In Search of Lost Time", but is he being nostalgic or is he criticizing this time period?

I'm glad someone else thinks Saint-Loup is flaming, but what are we to make of his actress mistress?

Andreea (andyyy) | 60 comments Susanna wrote: "I also am getting aggravated with Proust. Does he make his writing intentionally aggravating? Is he making a comment about the society of the time? The book is called "In Search of Lost Time", but ..."

I honestly don't know any more whether Proust meant to write an aggravating book, there's a lot of talk about his trying to create a never-ending book which just slowly enveloped his life but it seems a tad fanciful. What I do know is that an early 20th century Frenchman, especially one with a lot of free time, would have been more used to aggravatingly long books than we are. Madeleine de Scudéry, Madame Sévigné's friend, wrote a 10 volume novel called Artamène which has over 2 million words and is the second longest novel in the world. And this was in the 17th century! The English language novel didn't even exist! English did produce some extremely long novels, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy has 9 volumes, for example, but extremely long novels are the exception rather than the rule. There's nothing to compare, e.g., La comédie humaine to in English language novels. I wonder whether it might be because of the different readership (because the first novels were written by upper class people, did early novels not have the same bad reputation in France as they did in Britain?). Either way, A la recherche was written in a time long before TV, people liked reading long descriptions and digressions, there was nothing else to do. Although it should be mentioned that after his failed attempts to get the first volume published, Proust sort of abandoned caring too much about how his novel will be received. It came as a bit of a shock when he won the Prix Goncourt.

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