Day Eighty-One: The Guermantes Way, pp. 160-177

From "She seemed concerned to concur..." to "...part of the afternoon in my company."
The narrator discovers that "Rachel, when from the Lord" is intelligent and articulate, if a bit given to slang -- "the irritating jargon of literary cliques and artists' studios." She likes the same works of art -- Impressionism, Wagner -- that he does. He also notes that she was "clumsy with her hands," and that "She recovered her dexterity only when she was making love, with the touchingly intuitive foresight of women who are so in love with men's bodies that they immediately sense what will give most pleasure to those bodies, which are yet so different from their own." How does he know this? 

In talking of the theater, she says that La Berma's "way of doing things no longer appeals to us." He is irritated by the "ironic superiority" with which she talks of other actors, "because I believed -- quite wrongly, as it happened -- that it was she who was inferior to them." He also gives a foreshadowing hint in a remark about "all great talent that is not yet recognized, as hers was not at the time." Throughout this, he refers to her as "Saint-Loup's mistress" more often than he does to her as Rachel.

Meanwhile, Saint-Loup's jealousy continues to flare up, as when he notices that she was "making eyes at a young student who was lunching with a friend at one of the next tables." Then word comes that someone outside the restaurant is asking for him. It is Charlus, his uncle. "My family track me down everywhere," Saint-Loup says angrily, and has a waiter sent to say that he's not there. "An old womanizer like him, and still at it, preaching at me and coming here to spy on me!" And when Rachel continues to flirt with the student, Saint-Loup leaves the restaurant angrily, only to return by another entrance and send word for Rachel and the narrator to join him in a private dining room. 

The narrator begins to get drunk, and his antipathy toward Rachel fades somewhat when she gives him champagne, a Turkish cigarette, and a rose that she unpins from her bodice.
At which point I thought, "I needn't feel I've spent the day too badly; the time spent in the company of this young woman has not been wasted, since I have had from her -- gracious things that cannot be bought too dear -- a rose, a scented cigarette, a glass of champagne." I thought this because it seemed to me that such thoughts would lend an aesthetic flavor to these hours of boredom, and so justify and redeem them. I ought perhaps to have been aware that the very need of a justification to make my boredom bearable was sufficient proof that my feelings were anything but aesthetic.
Suddenly, with an abruptly dreamlike shift that perhaps is intended to reflect the narrator's intoxication, we are at the theater, where he is upset by the efforts of Rachel and a claque of her friends to hoot an untalented young singer from the stage. He also notices that Rachel, whom Saint-Loup had first seen onstage, "had one of those faces that distance ... throws into sharp outline, and which, seen close up, crumble to dust." 
The need for dreams, the desire to be made happy by the woman one has dreamed of, means that it can take no time at all to settle all one's chances of happiness on someone who a few days earlier was no more than a fortuitous, unknown, commonplace apparition on the boards of a theater.
Or, he might have added, in a garden full of hawthorn like Gilberte or with a gang of girls on an esplanade like Albertine. 

During the intermission they go backstage, where the narrator mentions to Saint-Loup that he was sorry that they didn't get a chance to say a proper goodbye in Doncières, and Saint-Loup reveals that he was upset because he had only been able to give him a cold salute as he rode by on his way to the garrison. 
I had already observed in Balbec that, compared with the spontaneous sincerity of his face, with that transparent skin which revealed the sudden surge of his emotions, his body had been admirably trained to perform a number of the dissimulations demanded by etiquette, and that, like a truly skilled actor, he had the ability, in his regimental and in his society life, to play a succession of different roles. 
That this conversation is being had backstage in a theater highlights the observation. Meanwhile he notices a heavily made-up young male dancer rehearsing his moves, who "seemed so entirely of another species from the sensible people in conventional dress among whom he was pursuing his ecstatic trance like a madman." Rachel knows the dancer (whom, translator Mark Traherne tells us in a note, Proust modeled on Nijinsky) and calls him "a beautifully made man." This sparks a quarrel between her and Saint-Loup, who threatens to leave. 

Saint-Loup also notices some cigar-smoking men, a group of journalists, and expresses concern that the smoke will exacerbate the narrator's asthma. When he asks one of them to throw away his cigar, the man replies, "I'm not aware of any rule against smoking. If people are ill they should stay at home." In the background, Rachel is flirting boldly with the dancer, to whom she says, "You look like a girl yourself. I'm sure I could have a really exciting time with you and a girl I know. ... The things we could do together!" Whereupon Saint-Loup slugs the journalist. 

Saint-Loup and the narrator leave the theater without Rachel, but when the narrator pauses for a moment at a spot he associates with Gilberte, Saint-Loup walks on ahead and is accosted by "a somewhat shabbily dressed gentleman." Suddenly, as the narrator catches up with his friend, Saint-Loup begins pummeling this stranger, "who seemed to be losing his self-possession, his jaw, and a great deal of blood." It turns out that the man, "seeing Saint-Loup as the handsome soldier he was, had propositioned him." 

Proust doesn't describe action. He describes the impression of action. So we see both fights, with the man in the theater and the man on the street, through the narrator's unprepared eyes. In the first, Saint-Loup raises his arm "vertically above his head, as if he were signalling to someone I could not see, or like an orchestra conductor" before bringing his hand down and delivering "a resounding smack on the journalist's cheek." And on the street Saint-Loup's fists become "ovoid bodies assuming with dizzying speed all the positions they needed to form an unstable constellation.... Hurled out like missiles from a catapult, there seemed to me to be at least seven of them." The imagery rather suggests a panel from a superhero comic book. 

What we have just witnessed from Saint-Loup is, of course, a gay-bashing. And also, perhaps, an instance of what has been called "gay panic" by lawyers who have defended gay-bashers in court -- the theory that homophobia provokes some men to violence when they are propositioned by gay men. This is Saint-Loup's own defense: 
My friend could not get over the effrontery of this 'clique' who no longer even waited for the shades of night before they ventured out, and he spoke of the proposition with the same indignation that can be found in newspaper reports of armed assault and robbery in broad daylight in the center of Paris. Yet the victim of Saint-Loup's blows was excusable in on respect: the downward slope brings desire quickly enough to the point of fulfillment for beauty alone to be seen as consent. That Saint-Loup was beautiful was beyond question.... [But] thrashings of this sort, even when they reinforce the law, do nothing to bring uniformity to morals.
That last phrase is a strangely tacked-on bit of moralizing over the disturbing scene that has just been presented to us. What's more important here is the subtext. Throughout this selection, Saint-Loup has been more tender toward and more defensive of the narrator than he has been toward his mistress. The love between the two men is stronger. And the eruption of violence takes place first in the ambiguously sexualized ambience of the theatrical backstage, with Rachel's teasing suggestion that the epicene dancer join her another woman in a three-way -- an ironic parody of the trio of narrator, Rachel and Saint-Loup, among whom sexual tension has been bristling all day. It's no surprise that violence should erupt when there is a forthright challenge to Saint-Loup's sexual identity. Note also that the sexually ambiguous Charlus has a cameo role in this episode.   

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