Moncrieff: 205-218; Patterson: 140-148
by Dennis Abrams
Charlus’s money and charm, which would have allowed him almost anything, “pleased him simply because it allowed him to have at his disposal…one or perhaps several establishments with a permanent supply of young men whose company he enjoyed.” Jupien’s “house” and various stories from the Arabian Nights. Jupien defends his home ,using a translation of Ruskin’s Sesame and Liilies which Marcel had sent M. de Charlus. The streets go black, the bombing begins, and German aeroplanes fly overhead. “I thought of the day when, on my way to La Raspeliere, I had met an aeroplane and my horse had reared as at the apparition of a god. Now, I thought, it would be a different meeting — with the god of evil, who would kill me.” Buildings on fire, thoughts of Jupien’s house, “perhaps by now reduced to ashes…But what mattered sirens and Gothas to the men who had come to seek their pleasure? The social setting or the natural scene which surrounds our love-making barely impinges upon our thoughts…the threat of physical danger delivered them from the fear which for long had morbidly harassed them.” “But if some, their fears alloyed, remained in Jupien’s establishment, others were tempted not so much by the thought of recovering their moral liberty as by the darkness which had suddenly settled upon the streets. Some of these, like the Pompeians upon whom the fire from heaven was already raining, descended into the passages of the Metro, black as catacombs. They knew that they would not be alone there.” Lust and desire in the anonymous darkness of the subway. The appropriateness of the Pompeian paintings of Jupien’s establishment, Pompeians in the Metro and in Jupien’s house. A new stage of Charlus’s malady. Francoise has never had the curiosity to go to Notre-Dame. The dream we constantly pursue. The poetry of Charlus’s dream.
Amazing amazing amazing.
A couple of passages that really struck me:
“In the people we whom we love, there is, immanent, a certain dream which we cannot always clearly discern but which we pursue. It was my belief in Bergotte and in Swann which had made me love Gilberte, my belief in Gilbert the Red which had made me love Mme de Guermantes. And what a vast expanse of sea had been hidden away in my love — the most full of suffering, the most jealous, seemingly the most individual of all my loves — for Albertine! In any case, just because we are furiously pursuing a dream in a succession of individuals, our loves for people cannot fail to be more or less of an aberration.”
And then, in one of the more audacious passages in the book, Proust somehow brings out the poetry of Charlus’s dream, even though it leads to sadism and literary hell.
“And if there is something of aberration or perversion in all our loves, perversions in the narrower sense of the word are like loves in which the germ of disease has spread victoriously to every part. Even in the maddest of them love may still be recognised. If M. de Charlus insisted that his hands and feet should be bound with chains of proven strength, if he asked repeatedly for the ‘bar of justice’ and, so Jupien told me, for other ferocious instruments which it was almost impossible to obtain even from sailors — for they served to inflict punishments which have been abolished even on board ship where discipline is more rigorous than anywhere else — at the bottom of all this there persisted in M. de Charlus his dream of virility, to be attested if need be by acts of brutality, and all that inner radiance, invisible to us but projecting in this manner a little reflected light, with which his medieval imagination adorned crosses of judgment and feudal tortures. It was the same sentiment that made him, every time he arrived, say to Jupien: ‘I hope there will be no alert this evening, for already I see myself consumed by this fire from heaven like an inhabitant of Sodom.’ And he affected to be nervous of the Gothas, not that they caused him the slightest shadow of fear, but so as to have a pretext, as soon as the sirens sounded, to rush into the shelters in the Metro, where he hoped for pleasure from brief contact with unseen figures, accompanied by vague dreams of medieval dungeons and oubliettes. In short his desire to be bound in chains and beaten, with all its ugliness, betrayed a dream as poetical as, in other men, the longing to go to Venice or to keep ballet-dancers.”
1. The link between the inhabitants of Sodom destroyed by the fire from heaven, the inhabitants of Pompeii and Vesuvius, and Parisians and the German aeroplanes is breathtaking.
2. And, after reading Proust’s description of Charlus’s dream I find myself going back, as I often do, to my favorite line from Jean Renoir’s film The Rules of the Game: “The truly terrible thing is that everybody has their reasons.”
If Proust ‘teaches” us anything, it’s that our ability to understand other people, and their motivations, is sketchy at best.
And finally, from Graham Robb’s recent book Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, a look at Proust, the war, and the Metro:
“Another decade passed, and the great novel was finally nearing completion. The world described in A la recherche du temps perdu was disappearing in the cratered fields of northern France, but the novel, with its gleaming inscrutability, the flawless circuitry of its sentences and its bewildering modes of efficiency, belonged to the new world as much as passenger aeroplanes and the Theory of Relativity.
The author, meanwhile, inhabited a dimension where time moved as imperceptibly as an hour-hand. When he dined at the Ritz, he wore the same stiff white collar; his shoes came from Old England and his dinner jacket from Carnaval de Venise. The thin moustache, waxed by the man who had cut his father’s hair, was the kind of impeccable anachronism that inspired devotion in the waiters. The car waiting outside the hotel was the old Renault, which he had refused to allow the chauffeur to replace with a more modern machine. Apart from a few uniforms at the table and talk about the lack of coal, the war had barely intruded on the Ritz.
In July 1917, when the sirens had sounded, he had climbed to the balcony with some of the other diners to see the first German planes over Paris since January 1916. The searchlights from Le Bourget had lit up the celestial dogfight, and he had watched the constellations of stars and planes rise and disintegrate, replicating with breathtaking accuracy the apocalyptic firmament in El Greco’s Burial of Count Orgaz. He had walked home blissfully in the dark while the Gothas dropped their bombs. One night, the maid had found little splinters of metal in the brim of his hat, and exclaimed, ‘Ah, Monsieur, you didn’t come home in the car!’, and he said, ‘No, Why? It was much too beautiful for that.’
On 30 January 1918, feeling the urge to hear some music unmediated by the theatrophone, he accepted an invitation from the Comtesse de La Rochefoucauld to attend a private performance at her home inthe Rue Murillo of Borodin’s Second String Quartet. At the end of the evening, he was leaving thehouse when the sirens began their mournful warning. It was half-past eleven. A squadron of Gothas, taking advantage of the unusually clear skies, had flown high over the French defences north of Compiegne and were dropping their bombs on the north-eastern suburbs. His usual chauffeur had been unavailable, and the old man who had replaced him was unable to start the Renault. Since Borodin’s poignant and stately notturno was still playing in his mind, and since he did not wish to repeat the farewell ceremony, he stood by the car while the chauffeur fiddled with the engine. Now and then, people rushed past, heading for the nearest Metro station, which was less than four hundred metres away.
Having their targets in the suburbs, the Gothas were now flying over Paris. Some of the explosions were clearly audible, and it was possible to tell on which quartiers the bombs were falling. At last, the engine coughed and rattled. Marcel climbed into the seat, and they set off slowly down the Rue Murillo.
They had crossed the Rue de Monceau and were heading along the Avenue de Messine when the engine stuttered and the car lurched to a halt. They were still close enough to take shelter in the Metropolitain, at Courcelles or at Miromesnil, but the chauffeur was busy with the engine, and Marcel himself had never felt the slightest fear during air-raids, and had never once even visited the basement of his building — and wouldn’t have known how to get there — because of the damp air and the dust.
Fire engines rattled along the boulevard. He thought of Parisians crowded together in the darkness, like Christians in the Catacombs, and of things that certain friends of his had said: that in the black night of the Metropolitain, when the bombs were falling, men and women satisfied their desires without the preliminaries of etiquette. He had written a passage on the subject for the last volume of his novel:
‘Some of those Pompeians, as the fire of heaven rained down on them, descended into the corridors of the Metro, knowing that would not be alone there; and the darkness that irradiates everything like a new element abolishes the first phase of pleasure and offers direct access to a domain of caresses that is normally attained only after a certain length of time.’
He had promised himself that, one night or day, he would witness those ‘secret rites’ for himself.”
And on a more personal note:
1. I’ve noticed that since we’ve begun the section in Jupien’s male brothel, there hasn’t been a single comment. Nothing to say? Shocked? Cat got your tongues?
2. And…in conjunction with the sponsor of this site, Publishing Perspectives, I’m hoping to turn this blog and our experience with Proust into a book. I would love to include contributions from the group: write about anything you want — your experience reading Proust, your thoughts on a particular subject, theme, or character…post it here or email it to me direct. The Cork-Lined Room was designed to be a group experience — I’d like to make the book the same thing.
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: Pages 218-248 “The all-clear sounded at last…” through “And it was in fact an advertisement for the same product.” Kindle locations: 2128-25/3200-3207
Patterson: Pages 149-170 “The all-clear finally sounded as I was nearing my house…” through “And it would indeed be an advertisement for the same product.” Kindle locations 2779-85/3149-56
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.