Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Sodom and Gomorrah" by Marcel Proust

Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust. Translated by John Sturrock. 557 pp. Penguin Classics. $25.00 (paperback)

"Sodom and Gomorrah" is the fourth volume of Marcel Proust's magnum opus "In Search of Lost Time" (see my commentary on the first, second and third volumes). In the third book, "The Guermantes Way," Proust paints a scathing portrait of the aristocracy with his depiction of Madame Oriane de Guermantes and her salon. In "Sodom and Gomorrah," he continues this theme with Mme. Verdurin, who demands complete loyalty from the regulars in her "little clan." The unnamed narrator, who is living in a hotel at the seaside resort of Balbec, becomes part of this group, taking the train every Wednesday to the parties at a country home that the Verdurins rent from the Cambremers; in this case, the renters and the rentees share a mutual disdain for each other based on snobbery.

The title, "Sodom and Gomorrah," is based on the homosexual theme in the book. Proust, a closeted gay man, doesn't necessarily portray gays, whom he called "inverts," in a complimentary way. One of the members of the Verdurin clique is Baron de Charlus, a verbose, pedantic, histrionic man given to manipulating his petulant young lover, the violinist Charlie Morel. In another development, the unnamed narrator of the novel becomes more involved with Albertine, one of a group of girls he met at Balbec in the second volume. Though he seems to be growing tired of her, he jealously suspects that she will become involved with Mlle. Vinteuil, a lesbian from the narrator's hometown, Combray. This jealousy motivates him to move back to Paris, take Albertine with him and declare to his mother, despite her objections, that he will marry the young woman. In the first book, much of the infatuation of Charles Swann with the courtesan Odette de Crecy was also based on jealousy and suspicion, apparently major motivators in the love relationships in "In Search of Lost Time."

Written in memory of my mother, Dorothy Tone (1923-2006), who introduced me to art and literature, including the work of Marcel Proust.

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