We saw how the telephone affected communication as a rather odd novelty earlier in the novel. In Part Two: Chapter Three of Sodom and Gomorrah Proust introduces the reader to the invention of the “motor-car” and the “aeroplane.” By now, the narrator and Albertine are almost constantly together. She complains that Mme Verduirn’s villa is so far removed from other places she enjoys visiting, which prompts him to order a car (which comes with a driver at this stage, the general public is too accustomed to horses and carriages to handle a motorized vehicle.) Spoiling her at every opportunity, he gives her new clothes to wear, which she adores and wants to show off with the top back on the convertible. “We could lower it later on when we wished to be more private,” the narrator mentions. There is little doubt what is on his mind.
Suddenly, places that used to take up an entire day going to and returning from are accessible in a matter of minutes. This brings a revolutionary experience. “Distances are only the relation of space to time and vary with it. We express the difficulty that we have in getting to a place in a system of miles or kilometers which becomes false as soon as that difficulty decreases. Art is modified by it also, since a village becomes its neighbor in a landscape whose dimensions are altered.” (page 538)
To the amazement of both, the couple arrive at Mme Verdurin’s in no time. The narrator is looking forward to fooling around with Albertine after their visit, but this plan becomes endangered when Mme. Verdurin decides that she would enjoy traveling the afternoon with the young couple in the newfangled machine. The narrator becomes doubly annoyed when Albertine seems perfectly fine with the suggestion. The narrator flat out lies to Mme Verdurin “that because of some trouble which had befallen Albertine and about which she wished to consult me, it was absolutely essential that I should be alone with her.” This is taken as being rude. But it works. Then Proust treats the reader to short easy on how the automobile alters human perception normally accustomed to horse and buggy.
“The face of the countryside seemed to us entirely changed, for in the topographical image that we form in our minds of separate places the notion of space is far from being the most important factor. We have said that the notion of time segregates them even further. It is not the only factor either. Certain places which we see always in isolation seem to us to have no common measure with the rest, to be almost outside the world…But the motor-car respects no mystery, and, having passed through Incarville, whose houses still danced before my eyes, as we were going down the by-road that leads to Parville, catching sight of the sea from a natural terrace over which we were passing, I asked the name of the place, and before the chauffer had time to reply recognized Beaumont, close by which I passed thus without knowing it whenever I took the little train, for it was within two minutes of Parville.” (pp. 548 – 549)
In the meantime, M. de Charlus and Morel (Proust presents the latter as a manipulative scoundrel in spite of his musical talents) are also darting about the countryside of Normandy, enjoying themselves. At a fancy lunch Morel confides to M. de Charlus his desire to have a virgin. “’Do you know,’ said Morel, anxious to excite the Baron’s senses in a fashion which he considered less compromising of himself (although it was actually more immoral), ‘what I’d like would be to find a girl who was absolutely pure, make her fall in love with me a take her virginity.’
“M. de Charlus could not refrain from pinching Morel’s ear affectionately, but added ingenuously: ‘What good would that do you? If you her maidenhead, you would be obliged to marry her.’
“’Marry her?’ cried Morel, feeling that the Baron must be tipsy, or else giving no thought to the sort of man, more scrupulous in reality than he supposed, to whom he was speaking. ‘Marry her? No fear! I’d promise, but once the little operation was performed, I’d ditch her that very evening.’” To which the smitten Baron reacts coldly, immediately asking “what about me?” Morel says he would take the Baron with him, of course, but Proust tells us that “was the least of his worries.” (pp. 553 – 554)
Oddly enough, after his slightly disorienting but revelatory experience with the automobile, the narrator chooses to go for a horseback ride through the back-country to the Verdurin’s. This is strange since at no point previously has he revealed or expressed any enjoyment or capacity for riding. But, Proust has a splendid reason for putting him in the saddle and it affects our narrator more profoundly than traveling by car.
“Suddenly, my horse reared; he had heard a strange sound; it was all I could do to hold him and remain in the saddle; then I raised my tear-filled eyes in the direction from which the sound seemed to come and saw, not two hundred feet above my head, against the sun, between two wings of flashing metal which were bearing him aloft, a creature whose indistinct face appeared to me to resemble that of a man. I was as deeply moved as an ancient Greek on seeing for the first time a demi-god. I wept – for I had been ready to weep the moment I realized that the sound came from above my head (aeroplanes were rare in those days), at the thought that what I was going to see for the first time was an aeroplane. Then, just as when in a newspaper one senses that one is coming to a moving passage, the mere sight of the machine was enough to make me burst into tears.” (page 582)
In the meantime, the relationship between the Baron and Morel parallels that of the narrator and Albertine. M. de Charlus become increasingly possessive of the violinist, who, upon realizing this, becomes increasingly indifferent toward the Baron, ultimately detesting him in some ways. This causes great drama and desperation between them until, finally, Morel begins to invent excuses to not be with the Baron any longer. This leads M. de Charlus to attempt a ridiculous, disingenuous ploy. He will fake a duel in an attempt to secure Morel’s affections. The scheme works, to an extent. Morel arrives to talk the Baron out of the fictitious duel, agreeing to stay with him, if necessary, to prevent it. The Baron is overjoyed, but conceals it well.
This only gives the Baron a brief respite from his torturous possessiveness for Morel, however. “When he was certain of their effect, he longed for Morel to fall out with him forever, for, knowing very well that it was the contrary that would happen, he could not help dwelling upon the drawbacks that would be revived with this inevitable liaison. But if no answer came from Morel, he lay awake all night, had not a moment’s peace, so great is the number of things of which we live in ignorance, and of the deep, inner realities that remain hidden from us.” (page 646)
Then the novel comes to another delightful, and perverse, Proustian episode. The Prince de Guertmantes meets Morel, without knowing who he is (the Prince doesn’t know Mme Verdurin), and is taken by him, offering him money to spend the night in a brothel together. For Morel this offer is “a twofold pleasure…in the remuneration received from M. de Guermantes and in the delight of being surrounded by women who would flaunt their tawny breasts uncovered. In some way or other M. de Charlus got wind of what had occurred and of the place appointed, but did not discover the name of the seducer.” (page 650)
So begins second comedy of errors involving the Prince in Sodom and Gomorrah. The Baron, “mad with jealousy,” summons Jupien to bribe the “woman who kept the establishment.” This secures the two of them access to secluded rooms and passageways inside the brothel so that they can see into the room where the Prince and Morel are to meet. M. de Charlus is comically out of his element with all this intrigue and this part of the novel, like so many other fragments and sections previously, is a fun read.
What transpires is a farcical game of cat and mouse, with M. de Charlus and Jupien moving about the high-class brothel secretly, attempting to catch Morel with the Prince, all parties moving from one room to another in an attempt to either spy upon or consummate the rendezvous as the brothel staff try to accommodate everyone’s divergent requests. Morel, suspecting he is being watched, ends up scared stiff and, basically, unresponsive. Things don’t get much better when the Prince wants to try again, this time at a villa he has rented. He has this “quirkish habit” of decorating wherever he goes with “family keepsakes” in order to feel more at home. Morel arrives and is asked to wait the Prince in the sitting-room.
“But when Morel found himself alone, and went to the mirror to see that his forelock was not disarranged, he felt as though he was the victim of a hallucination. The photographs on the mantelpiece (which the violinist recognized, for he has seen them in M. de Charlus’s room) of the Princess de Guermantes, the Duchess of Luxemburg and Mme de Valleparisis, left him at first petrified with fright. At the same moment he caught sight of a photograph of M. de Charlus, which was placed a little behind the rest. The Baron seemed to be transfixing him with a strange, unblinking stare. Mad with terror, Morel, recovering from his preliminary stupor and no longer doubting that this was a trap into which M. de Charlus had led him in order to put his fidelity to the test, leapt down the steps of the villa four at a time and set off along the road as fast as his legs would carry him, and when the Prince (thinking he had put a casual acquaintance through the required period of waiting, not without wondering if the whole thing was entirely prudent and whether the individual in question might not be dangerous) came into the sitting-room, he found nobody there.” (pp. 655 – 656)
So, basically, with all parties attempting to advance their own agendas to realize private designs or desires, in typical, comical Proustian fashion, virtually nothing happens at all. The Baron never sees Morel do anything and the Prince, inadvertently, scares the young man away.
Proust uses the amusing little incident as a break from the otherwise tortured mind of the narrator with regard to Albertine. Over the course of more than 100 pages, the reader encounters little glimpses of the narrator’s inability to steady himself regarding how he feels and what to do about his girlfriend. Common expressions include: “…I was perhaps in love with Albertine, but I dare not let her see my love…” “…we must be in love with one another after all…” “I was beginning to fall in love with Albertine…” “…it was when I ceased to love her…” “…when I loved her again…” “…I no longer felt any jealousy and scarcely any love for her…”
He becomes “chained to the daily necessity of seeing Albertine.” He arranges “to be with Albertine so that she should not be alone with other people…” The two of them, obviously full of mutual physical attraction, are often “clinging to one another.” But later, no doubt exhausted from all these emotional, neurotic gymnastics, he thinks of the joy of traveling “…to lead a new life, and so made me want to abandon any intention of marrying Albertine.”
It is worth noting that our narrator is not a very appealing protagonist. He is sneaky, he lies, and his constant vacillation for his girlfriend gets rather annoying to read about. And yet, it is genuine. There is no shortage of human beings who have been mentally torn apart by the polarity of jealousy and desire to be free of it. Plus, there is the fact that, whereas he suspects her of all manner of sexual perversity and unfaithfulness, he himself, who has by his own admission had countless sexual encounters with every girl from his cousins, to the entire “little band,” to many others mentioned in passing, doesn’t seem to hold the same standards to himself as he does to her. He is as selfish and disturbed as a character can possibly be where sexuality is concerned.
“The idea of marrying Albertine appeared to be me to be a madness.” This is where things stand as Sodom and Gomorrah enters into its short fourth chapter of Part Two. The narrator announces to his mother that he has definitely decided against Albertine and he convinces himself that he might be, in fact, in love with Andree instead. Then something happens that requires us to go back to Swann’s Way to fully understand.
Recall that Vinteuil is Proust’s fictitious composer representing his appreciation of the Art of music. The “little phrase” in his piano sonata plays an important part of Swann’s love for Odette in the first book. It is just after Vinteuil’s death that the narrator, as a boy, is given permission by his parents to stay out as late as he pleases one hot summer afternoon which passes into early evening. He is hiking and playing in the glory of nature near Combray when he happens upon Vinteuil’s home, now inhabited by his daughter. He finds a shady spot to rest and ends up falling asleep.
The boy awakens to sounds coming from a partially open window of the sitting-room inside the house. In his first act of voyeurism that later comes to help define him as a character, the boy witnesses, without being seen, of course, as his sleep and stillness leaves him invisible with the coming of darkness, Vinteuil’s daughter with a friend in the room. The two young women are in the throes of passion.
“In the V-shaped opening of her crape bodice Mlle Vinteuil felt the string of her friend’s sudden kiss; she gave a little scream and broke away; then they began to chase one another about the room, scrambling over the furniture, their wide sleeves fluttering like wings. Clucking and squealing like a pair of amorous fowls. At last Mlle Vinteiul collapsed on to the sofa, with her friend lying on top of her.” (Swann’s Way, page 228)
The friend laughs ecstatically and proceeds to spit on Vinteiul’s photograph before their passion really heats up. The shade is drawn and the boy can’t see any more. The boy summarizes his impression of the friend: “It was not evil that gave her the idea of pleasure, that seemed to her attractive; it was pleasure, rather, that seemed evil. And as, each time she indulged in it, it was accompanied by evil thoughts such as ordinarily had no place in her virtuous mind, she came to see in pleasure itself something diabolical, to identify it with Evil.” (SW, page 232)
This makes a deep and last impression on the boy, now a young man in our story, whereupon he and Albertine discuss going to the Verdurins for the usual Wednesday afternoon salon. He mentions that he hopes Mme Verdurin will share with him some additional works by Vinteuil, as he has only had the pleasure of hearing the piano sonata and would like to know more of the composer’s work. He feels no need to mention the man by name since he is unknown and he doesn’t see how Albertine could have ever heard of him. But she is a naturally inquisitive character and asks who it is. To which the narrator answers:
“’My dear child, when I’ve told you that his name is Vinteuil, will you be any wiser?’ We may have revolved around every possible idea in our minds, and yet the truth has never occurred to us, and it is from without, when we are least expecting it, that it gives us its cruel stab and wounds us forever.
“’You can’t think how you amuse me,’ replied Albertine…’You remember my telling you about a friend, older than me, who had been a mother, a sister to me, with whom I spent the happiest years of my life, at Trieste, and whom in fact I’m expecting to join in a few weeks at Cherbourg, where we shall set out on a cruise together…is the best friend of Vinteuil’s daughter, and I know Vinteuil’s daughter almost as well as I know her.” (pp. 701 - 702)
The narrator is thunderstruck. He describes “a new phase of undreamed-of sufferings that was opening before me.” Already suspicious of her, weaving pathetically in and out of feelings of love, jealousy and possessiveness for her, he feels this bit of information confirms her bisexuality, which she has constantly and emphatically denied, “beyond any shadow of doubt.”
His reaction triggers as “nervous irritability” that he soon sees as a “sickness” within himself. He has visions of her soon leaving for Cherbourg and reviving “her old habits.” Afterwards, his mother finds him in their hotel suite, having been up all night, distraught and in tears, wondering what is troubling her son. Without understanding the great existential gravity upon him, she points through the window out to the beach at Balbec, offering the splendid view as solace. But all he can see is Albertine, in place of her friend, with Mlle Vintueil, her distinctive laugh fused with that of the friend into “voluptuous laughter.”
Regretfully, he says to his mother: “’I was deceiving myself, I deceived you in good faith yesterday, I’ve been thinking it over all night. I absolutely must – and let’s settle the matter at once, because I’m quite clear about it now, because I won’t change my mind again, because I couldn’t live without it – I absolutely must marry Albertine.’” (page 724) The splendid book, filled with such a variety of wonderful prose, comic and tragic, surprising plot twists, challenging ideas and satisfying musings on sexuality among other topics, abruptly ends there. I am 2,877 pages into the novel.
Review: I Am Dynamite!
2 weeks ago