I finally finished Proust’s Sodome et Gomorrhe last night. I read it slowly in bits and pieces, because “M,” Proust’s narrator, becomes truly insufferable in this volume. Whether Proust meant this as a criticism of the personality he assigned to his protagonist, or as a self-criticism (since this is a decidedly autobiographical novel), or if he is entirely clueless about himself, is hard to tell. The other characters in the story fawn over “M,” compete to invite him to their dinners, and, as reported by Albertine, talk admiringly and endlessly of him when he is not present.
This is hard to believe, as the fellow is a pompous ass of the sort that Dickens loved to satirize.
For one, he turns this volume into a monument to what we would nowadays call “mansplaining.” He schools the reader endlessly, on everything, including:
• Male homosxuality
• Female homosexuality
• The machinations of the idle aristocracy
• The pretensions of the lower classes and how they use French so very badly
And certainly a few more that I have forgotten, or perhaps blocked out.
Not satisfied with that, he uses a minor character, the half-blind Brichot, to introduce lectures on Norman place names. More than once. In fact, more than twice.
He also describes repeated journeys on the local train (the equivalent of a light-rail service today), as the various aristocrats and hangers-on board and descend on their way to and from dinners at various chateaux in the resort town where much of the story takes place; “M” meticulously records all their gossip and tries to ascribe significance to it.
Then, for a change of pace, there is his abhorrent treatment of Albertine, whom he regularly derides as not really worth marrying, even though he becomes frantic if she so much as stands somewhat close to another male without “M” nearby to keep her leashed. At one point, he insults his longtime friend Bloch by refusing to walk fifty yards to where Bloch’s father is waiting in a carriage so that Bloch can introduce them. Why? Because it would mean leaving Albertine “alone”in a train car crowded with acquaintances, one of whom is his handsome friend Saint-Loup, for the space of perhaps four minutes. This develops further when, as “M” prepares to leave for a concert, leaving her safe at home with her aunt, he taunts her by saying she would not have heard of the composer, Vinteuil, anyway; she answers that of course she’s heard of him, as she is friends with his daughter.
Vinteuil’s daughter is the woman whom the young “M” accidentally spied on as she enjoyed a Lesbian tryst way back in volume 1, not long after the rage over the lost goodnight kiss. So “M” now becomes frantic, assumes that Albertine is an active Lesbian, fears he can’t compete with another woman in bringing Albertine pleasure, and decides he must marry her to keep control of her and assuage his jealousy. This after he has announced to his mother that he’s decided not to marry Albertine after all, because she bores him. He announces his change of heart (though “heart” is perhaps the wrong term here), without explanation, his mother accepts it, and thus ends the book.
The next volume, which is also considered to be part III of Sodome et Gomorrhe, deals with said marriage, and is titled La Prisonniere, with the gender conjugation in French indicating a female prisoner. This, and this only, gives me hope that Proust actually suffers some insight into his character and himself. So I shall read on.
I suspect it will be grim.