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NA316712 - PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 4: Sodom and Gomorrah (Cities of the Plain): Part II (Abridged)
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 his acquaintances.
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 embarrassing situations.
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 Things Past).
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 1930.
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 Diction
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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