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Proust, Marcel (1871-1922)  
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Marcel is certainly not beyond reacting positively to male beauty. He shows us a young servant with "a bold manner and a charming face" (V, 271); a pageboy "as beautiful as Endymion, with incredibly perfect features" (VII, 268); and a "handsome angel" of a butcher, up to his elbows in gore (IX, 180).

Young men on the beach at Balbec are "demigods" (III, 366), while the Comte d'Argencourt and the Duc de Chatellerault--both tall, blond, young, and homosexual--look "like a condensation of the light of the spring evening" in which they appear (V, 289). The two sons of Mme de Surgis, to whom Charlus will later take a fancy, are described by Marcel as possessing "great and dissimilar beauty," inherited from their mother (VII, 119).

Marcel, rather lamely, excuses this tendency to admire good-looking boys and men as "the mania which leads people who are innocent of inversion to speak of masculine beauty" (VIII, 283).

Furthermore, there are equivocal moments in all of Marcel's infatuations with beautiful women. There is the occasion, for instance, when he dreams of Gilberte as a treacherous young man (III, 289-290). He sees something of Mme Swann "in the masculine gender and the calling of a bathing superintendent" at Balbec (III, 369); and, conversely, he sees in a portrait of the same woman, at first, "a somewhat boyish girl," then "an effeminate youth, vicious and pensive" (IV, 206).

Saint-Loup reminds him of his beloved Mme de Guermantes (V, 101). And the relationship with Albertine fails (if it tries) to resist the intrusion of the author's autobiography: Whatever one's theoretical principles, it is as difficult to separate Albertine from Alfred Agostinelli as Marcel from Proust.

Certain nonexplicit remarks seem comprehensible to Proust, rather than to the Marcel who makes them, unless the latter has the former's inside knowledge of a relatively hidden homosexual culture. One should include among these a description of Legrandin as "a Saint Sebastian of snobbery" (I, 175); and of the Emperor William II as a green carnation (VI, 298).

It may be that, as André Maurois once said, Marcel's love for Albertine is "nothing but a morbid curiosity." He loves her in order to get close enough to observe her, to find out about her; and he does so in order to spy on himself. He is testing his own heterosexual resolve.

Furthermore, it is hard not to conclude that he is testing it in a manner that prejudges the issue. The imprisoned Albertine (the prisonnière Marcel hides in his most private sanctum in order to contemplate her dormancy at his leisure) calls to mind the metaphor with which that era made a kind of sense of the homosexual male: the female soul imprisoned in a male physique.

The monstrous act of appropriation whereby he incorporates her into his own domain--ostensibly an expression of desire--seems more clearly a sign of Marcel's homosexuality: he steals and keeps her precisely because he does not desire her. (Whether or not he knows this is another matter.)


As soon as we have established the Is-he-isn't-he? doubt about Marcel--with whom, remember, we are in conspiracy to inform/misinform ourselves about the other characters--we have to understand that exactly the same doubt arises about us, and directly affects our competence to participate in the text.

It appears that Proust is consistently aware of, and plays with, the fact that the book is openly, ostensibly chattering with heterosexuals from a heterosexual (Marcel's) point of view, but that it has a closeted homosexual subtext of exchanges between a sexually equivocal Marcel and his homosexual readers.

This gives A la recherche du temps perdu a preeminent position in the as-yet-unwritten history of literary Camp and in the history of homosexual culture. Its place in straight male Modernism may be a red herring.

Gregory Woods

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Barthes, Roland. A Lover's Discourse. London: Cape, 1979.

Bersani, Leo. Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Life and Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Hayman, Ronald. Proust: A Biography. London: Heinemann, 1990.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Homosexuality and Literature 1890-1930. London: Athlone Press, 1977.

Painter, George D. Marcel Proust: A Biography. Volume One, London: Chatto & Windus, 1959; Volume Two, London: Chatto & Windus, 1965.

Rivers, J. E. Proust and the Art of Love: The Aesthetics of Sexuality in the Life, Times, and Art of Marcel Proust. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Tadié, Jean-Yves. Marcel Proust: Biographie. Paris: Gallimard, 1996.

Woods, Gregory. A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.


    Citation Information
    Author: Woods, Gregory  
    Entry Title: Proust, Marcel  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 15, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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