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ClassicsOnline Home » PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 4: Sodom and Gomorrah (Cities of the Plain): Part II (Abridged)
In Sodom and Gomorrah, Part II, Marcel continues his voyage of discovery through the homosexual world, where the affairs of the ageing Baron de Charlus lead to unexpected and hilarious adventures. But the discovery of a secret in the past of his mistress, Albertine, fills Marcel with fear and forces him to change his plans. Sodom and Gomorrah - Cities of the Plain addresses the subject of homosexual love with insight and understanding.
The Good Book Guide
The Boston Globe
Sodom and Gomorrah
(Cities of the Plain) Part II
Sodom and Gomorrah (Cities of the Plain) Part II continues
the story of the
Narrator Marcel’s second visit to the coastal resort of
Balbec where he makes
further discoveries relating to the homosexual behavior of
The ageing Baron de Charlus, in love with the gifted but
unscrupulous violinist Charles Morel, continues to search out casual sexual
encounters elsewhere and dines openly at the hotel with a Duchess’s footman.
Morel, apparently bi-sexual, either gives or withholds his favors from male
admirers, according to how it will benefit him. Bloch’s uncle M. Nissim
Bernard, infatuated with a young waiter, mistakes the young man’s identical twin
– who does not share his brother’s sexual tastes – for the object of his
passion, with disastrous results. The Prince de Guermantes, whom we have
previously met at a brilliant ball given by him and his wife in their mansion,
the magnificent Hotel de Guermantes, engages the services of Morel in the
somewhat less salubrious surroundings of a seaside brothel, once again with
unforeseen and hilarious consequences.
These episodes are at once both comic and tragic. In other
hands they might be the stuff of a Feydeau-style farce. But Proust is no
farceur. Whilst he has a keen appreciation of the humor implicit in these
situations, he is too sensitive and complex an artist not to be aware of their
dark side. He knows too well the
pain of being forced to hide his sexual nature, even from those dearest to him,
and the loneliness of feeling different from other men. Humor is there, but
tempered with compassion for the powerlessness of men swept away by a passion,
which, in a society which permits them no outlet, becomes so urgent, it
breaches the barriers of their lives and precipitates them into ludicrous and
Female homosexuality, for the Narrator, has no such comic
side. In the face of his love for Albertine it exists as a terrible threat
against which he is powerless. As long as he feels Albertine is faithful to him
he is able to consider parting with her, but once she is revealed as a lover of
women, he is tormented with the passionate need to make her, his own.
For Marcel the Narrator, as in the case of Marcel his
creator, is one of those doomed to yearn after phantoms. The incident in his
childhood, recounted in Swann’s Way, where he refuses to go to sleep until his
mother comes to kiss him goodnight, and then is granted more than his wish when
his father allows her to spend the night in his room, creates a terrible
tension between the desire to have his mother to himself, and the guilt and
fear caused by having his wish to exclude his father granted. This powerful
Oedipal struggle has set up a subconscious need to repeat the painful
experience endlessly in a vain effort to try to come to terms with it.
In real life Proust’s passionate attachment to his mother
appears to have led to psychosomatic illness, homosexual desire, and the inability
to form lasting and satisfactory relationships. When his fictional alter ego
falls in love with Albertine, he unconsciously chooses a woman with homosexual
desires, and therefore incapable of giving herself completely to him. As he
imagines her caressing other women, or hears her over the telephone enjoying
herself with friends in a cafe, he suffers the same painful sense of exclusion
– of the woman he loves enjoying herself with others rather than with him –
that he felt as a child lying in bed on a summer’s night with the window open,
listening to the sounds of chatting and laughter wafting up to him, while his
mother entertained guests in the garden below.
Whilst homosexuality is the principal theme of Sodom and
Gomorrah, it is by no means the only one, and Proust’s fascination with human
behavior finds much to interest him in other sections of society, particularly
in the bohemian circle of M. and Mme. Verdurin, which has moved down to the
seaside for the summer. Proust paints a vividly observant picture of the little
clique of ‘the faithful’, held together by its overbearing ‘Mistress’ who lives in terror of being
abandoned by its members. He shows us the cruelty of M. Verdurin as he tortures
the awkward and diffident Saniette, the social pretensions of Mme. Verdurin for
whom ‘bores’ become amusing once they begin to attend her ‘Wednesdays’, the
arrogance of the local aristocracy who consider they do her a favor in
accepting her invitations, the affectation of the ‘faithful’ who pride
themselves on being artistically ‘advanced’, and their pretence that they have
rejected other salons, which in reality they would have no chance of entering,
in favor of this one.
The Narrator presents all this with an honesty and
compassion, which not only observes the faults and pretensions of others, but
also is not afraid to acknowledge them in himself. Proust holds us up a mirror
in which we cannot help but see our own image. In his flawed characters we
recognize ourselves, and are obliged to accept that, in our own way, we all
possess our share of human failings.
Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871. His father, a
distinguished professor of medicine, was from a Catholic family, while his
mother was Jewish.
Although intent on becoming a writer from an early age,
Proust was riddled with self-doubt. During his twenties he co-founded a
short-lived review, Le Banquet, contributed to La Revue Blanche and had his
first book published, a collection of articles and essays entitled Les Plaisirs
et les Jours.
He became an enthusiastic admirer of the work of Ruskin and
translated his Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies into French. A novel, Jean
Santeuil, which was the precursor of Remembrance of Things Past, was eventually
abandoned and only published long after his death, in 1954.
For much of his youth he led the life of a man of fashion,
frequenting fashionable Paris drawing rooms and literary salons, and these
formed the background for a number of his stories and sketches, and
subsequently of Remembrance of Things Past.
The death of his adored mother in 1905 resulted in a nervous
collapse and aggravated his chronic asthma and insomnia. But despite his grief
and the sense of loss from which he never recovered, his mother’s death freed
him with regard to his homosexual emotional life and allowed him to address
homosexuality in his writing, albeit in a manner which treated such experiences
as happenings to others rather than to himself.
In 1907 he moved into an apartment in the Boulevard
Haussmann where, in the bedroom which he had lined with cork to keep out noise,
he embarked upon his great work A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of
This long cycle of autobiographical novels was published in
eight sections: Du Côté de Chez Swann (Swann’s Way) in 1913; A L’Ombre des
Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within A Budding Grove) in 1918; Le Côté de Guermantes
I (The Guermantes Way I) in 1920; Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodome et
Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain I) in 1921; Sodome et Gomorrhe II in 1922; La Prisonnière
(The Captive) in 1923; Albertine Disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone) in 1925; Le
Temps Retrouvé (Time Regained) in 1927.
Proust was obliged to publish Swann’s Way at his own
expense, and even after it had appeared, he had trouble finding a publisher for
the next volume, A L’ Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur. However, when it
appeared in 1918 it received considerable acclaim, and was awarded the Prix
Goncourt the following year.
By the time Proust died on November 18, 1922, the first four
parts of the cycle had been published, leaving the others to appear
posthumously. The English translations by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, from which this
abridged audiobook version has been prepared, were published between 1922 and
In Remembrance of Things Past, the minuteness of Proust’s
observation, the depth of his psychological understanding and the vividness of
his descriptive powers have combined to create one of the most poetic and
magical works in all literature.
Notes by Neville Jason
Neville Jason trained at RADA where he was awarded the
Prize by Sir John Gielgud. He has worked with the English
Stage Co., the Old Vic Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as in
films and musicals. Jason has appeared in popular television serials such as
Maigret, Emergency Ward 10 and Dr. Who, as well as playing classical roles such
as Orestes and Horatio. Formally a member of the BBC Radio Drama Co.,
he can be frequently heard on radio. Jason’s passion for
Remembrance of Things Past comes alive in his adaptation and reading of the
series, for which he has received worldwide praise.
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