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Proust, Marcel (1871-1922)  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  

One thinks, in particular, of the muscular wave that ripples over Legrandin's hips outside Combray church, a "wholly carnal fluency" that draws Marcel's attention to "the possibility of a Legrandin altogether different to the one whom we knew" (I, 169). And we must not forget the "almost symbolical behind" of Charlus (VIII, 10).

Tones of speech, also, lead Marcel into sexual conjecture. On the very day when he first finds out about Charlus, he hears behind him the voice of Vaugoubert and decides at once, "He is a Charlus." Indeed, he already has the confidence to speak of his own "trained ear" in this connection (VII, 89).

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There seem to be other points at which his ear responds in this way, not to voice alone, but to language. Could this be why he consistently misunderstands the gay lift-boy in the hotel at Balbec (IV, 137-138); or why he says Jupien uses "the most ingenious turns of speech" (V, 18)? There can be no doubt as to why, during the War, Saint-Loup learns the slang of as many servicemen as possible, regardless of nationality and rank (XII, 122).

The Two Types of Clues Operating in the Novel

There are two types of clue in operation throughout the book: those to which Marcel responds (or fails to respond) when analyzing other characters and those that he leaves as clues for us readers, rather than state the facts outright.

One of his stated reasons for merely hinting at character in this way is that "the truth has no need to be uttered to be made apparent, and that one may perhaps gather it with more certainty, without waiting for words, from a thousand outward signs, even from certain invisible phenomena, analogous in the sphere of human character to what in nature are atmospheric changes" (V, 82).

So, as we have seen, Marcel can draw profound deductions from a movement in a man's hips. And we are expected to read such clues as he does, unprompted, when, for instance, one man greets another "with a smile which it was hard to intercept, harder still to interpret" (XI, 344, my emphasis); or when Saint-Loup darts at a waiter a glance that "in its limpid penetration seemed to indicate a kind of curiosity and investigation entirely different" from that of an "ordinary" diner (XI, 360).

In such cases, Marcel simultaneously infers and implies a sexual situation, without any certainty whatsoever, in his mind or in ours.

Marcel's hints to the reader often take shape as unspecific promises, accompanied by an "as we shall see," that sometimes, perhaps deliberately, gets lost in his other plans and never comes to pass.

We are promised certain "quarrels" between Charlus and "people wholly unlike Mme de Villeparisis" (V, 369-370); a vision of "Highnesses and Majesties" not of the Blood Royal but "of another sort altogether," again in connection with Charlus (VI, 162); proof that homosexuality is curable (VII, 35); Charlus "doing things which would have stupefied the members of his family and his friends" (X, 13) and appeasing "his vicious cravings" (X, 49); and troubles brewing for the Saint-Loup marriage, not in a social but "in another connection" (XI, 350).

Even if such promises do come to fruition (as some of them do), given the book's length, the reader has often forgotten the promise by the time it is fulfilled. Perhaps its original suggestiveness is sufficient on its own; no further evidence is required. Whether or not the book dutifully delivers, the reader's suspicious imagination will already have done the trick.

The whole book is packed with errors of conjecture, particularly in the matters of sexual status and event. Consider a few examples, all with reference to Charlus. The Marquis de Saint-Loup, himself bisexual, keeps referring to Charlus, his uncle, as a great womanizer, a petticoat-chaser (V, 228; VII, 127, 135); and so, on one occasion, does Swann (VII, 150).

Part of Charlus's reputation for evil is based on a general public confusion, whereby he is associated with another Charlus who was arrested in a disreputable house (VIII, 68).

Charlus himself fondly imagines that only a handful of close intimates is aware he is homosexual, whereas, in fact, this is very widely known (VIII, 259). In Sodome et Gomorrhe, there is a running joke at Charlus's expense, whereby, whenever anyone says, in a perfectly innocent context, that he is "one of them" or "one of us," Charlus immediately bristles with defensive indignation, under the mistaken impression that it is his sexuality that is being referred to (VIII, 120, 159, 263).

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