Friday, September 8, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 560

   "I'm not interested in history," replied M. de Charlus, "this life is sufficient for me, it's quite interesting enough, as poor Swann used to say."
   "What, you knew Swann, Baron? I didn't know that.  Tell me, was he that way inclined?" Brichot inquired with an air of misgiving.
   "What a mind the man has!  So you think I only know men of that sort? No, I don't think so," said Charlus, looking at the ground and trying to weight the pros and cons.  And deciding that, since he was dealing with Swann whose contrary tendencies had always been so notorious, a half-admission could only be harmless to him who was its object and flattering to him who let it out in an insinuation: "I don't deny that long ago in our schooldays, once in a while," said the Baron, as though in spite of himself and thinking aloud; then pulling himself up: "But that was centuries ago.  How do you expect me to remember?  You're embarrassing me," he concluded with a laugh.
   "In any case he was never what you'd call a beauty!" said Brichot who, himself hideous, through himself good-looking and was always ready to pronounce other men ugly.
   "Hold your tongue," said the Barton, "you don't know what you're talking about.  In those days he had a peaches-and-cream complexion, and," he added, finding a fresh note for each syllable, "he was as pretty as a cherub.  Besides he was always charming.  The women were madly in love with him."
   "But did you ever know his wife?"
   "Why, it was through me that he came to know her.  I had thought her charming in her boyish get-up one evening when she played Miss Sacripant; I was with some club-mates, and each of us took a woman home with him, and although all I wanted was to go to sleep, slanderous tongues alleged - it's terrible how malicious people are - that I went to bed with Odette.  In any case she took advantage of the slanders to come and bother me, and I thought I might get rid of her by introducing her to Swann.  From that moment on she never let me go.  She couldn't spell the simplest word, it was I who wrote all her letters for her.  And it was I who, later on, was responsible for taking her out.  That, my boy, is what comes of having a good reputation, you see.  Though I only half deserved it.  She used to force me to get up the most dreadful orgies for her, with five or six men."
   And the lovers whom Odette had had in succession (she had been with this, that and the other man, not one of whose names had ever been guessed by poor Swann, blinded by jealousy and by love, by turning weighting up the chances and believing in oaths more affirmative than a contradiction which the guilty woman lets slip, a contradiction far more elusive and yet far more significant, of which the jealous lover might take advantage more logically than of the information which he false pretends to have received, in the hope of alarming his mistress), these lovers M. de Charlus began to enumerate with as absolute a certainty as if he had been reciting the list of the King of France.
Marcel Proust, The Captive, pp. 302-303

It's difficult to know what to make of this passage.  When M. de Charlus says, "She used to force me to get up the most dreadful orgies for her, with five or six men" I found myself thinking of of Propopius writing in The Secret History that Theodora wished she had larger holes in her nipples so that she service five men at once instead of the usual three.  Even though M. de Charlus is a pompous ass most of the time I've tried to feel sympathy for him mainly because he was a homosexual in a very homophobic age.  Yesterday we discussed compassion, at, much like Proust, I almost always naturally defend the weaker against the stronger, even if it, to my shame, never rises above the level of sentiment.  In this case it's difficult to have much sympathy for the Baron when he's clearly as guilty as Mme Verdurin (who we saw trash his own reputation a couple days ago) of airing loads of dirty laundry but also potentially just making shit up for the benefit of the audience.  What also bothers me about this is, in regards to the need to defend the weak, it's hard to find someone who is weaker than the dead.  Yes, on the one hand the dead are free of the cares of the imbecility of this world, but at the same time they're not hear to defend themselves (not that they would probably care) and the Baron is clearly scoring points at the benefit of the deceased Swann.  Also, in a society where women then, and sadly now, are at an almost constant disadvantage, spreading stories about Odette's orgies is pretty reprehensible.  Essentially, it's hard to have much sympathy for M. de Charlus.

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