Monday, February 19, 2007

Volume 4 Finished

I finished "Cities of the Plain"(called "Sodome et Gomorrhe" in the original) from In Search of Lost Time! In other words, I've completed an in depth study of the social circles in Proust's France and I've learned a lot about how important one's view of the Dreyfus affair was to one's social life and what military service was like for young officers.

"Guarmantes Way" and "Cities of the Plain" present the narrator's thoughts and experiences of French society with an emphasis on the higher echelons, the long vacations of the period, (I never cease to be amazed at how people pre-20th century could travel for months). Baron Charlus' sexual orientation and short temper with a bit on Albertine (I'd expected more).

One thing about Proust's descriptions of women like Albertine, we're told they're dark haired, yet I keep picturing them as blond and ethereal (like a Renoir figure - though a did see a brunette Renoir recently). All the characters are presented through the filter of the narrator's mind, while this is always the case in fiction, the filter itself is quite interesting so I'm more aware of it, I trust the narrator less, thinking that what he tells me the characters are like and what they really are like are two different things.

It's curious to read about Charlus' sexual orientation and Proust's attitude toward homosexuality, since that was his orientation. He's quite suspicious and labels homosexuality as a vice. It isn't shown as a correlative of positive characteristics like say creativity or humor as it is today frequently. It's a secret thing the narrator thinks about a lot. According to Carter's Proust biography, he also was fascinated with homosexuality and discussed it a lot with his friends, but distanced himself from "inversion" as he called it. He'd get very upset when someone suspected him of homosexuality.

I found the end of "The Guermantes Way" when the grandmother dies so interesting in a culturally anthropological way. Death in this era was so much more social and communal than it is now in the USA at least--lots of visitors and the emotion seemed more open.

Again the book ends with a "zinger" but by now we expect it and we know that once the narrator declares he won't marry Albertine, that that's how Proust will end this book.

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