_____On the way to the Verdurins', the narrator meets Brichot, and their conversation introduces the topic of Swann's death. And we have yet another of those curious interminglings of the narrator's and the author's voice, along with a reference to an actual painting that includes the supposed model for Swann, Charles Haas:
Swann ... was an outstanding personality in the artistic and intellectual world, and so, even though he had not "produced" anything, his name was able to survive a little longer. And yet, dear Charles Swann, whom I knew so little when I was still so young and you so near the grave, it is already because someone whom you must have considered a little idiot has made you the hero of one of his novels that people are beginning to talk about the Tissot painting set on the balcony of the Rue Royale Club, where you are standing with Gallifet, Edmond de Polignac, and Saint-Maurice, it is because they can see there is something of you in the character of Swann.
Arriving at the Verdurins', the narrator and Brichot encounter Charlus, who continues to make Brichot uneasy with his increasingly flamboyant manner. Brichot, the narrator tells us, "reassured himself by repeating pages of Plato, lines of Virgil, because ... he could not understand that in those days loving a boy (Socrates' jokes make it clearer than Plato's theories) was like keeping a dancer today, before one becomes engaged and settle down." But, the heterosexual narrator (apparently not to be identified here with the gay Proust) tells us, today "all everyday homosexuality -- that of Plato's young men or Virgil's shepherds -- has disappeared, and all that survives and multiplies is the involuntary kind, the nervous disease, the kind that one hides from others and disguises from oneself." Narrator/Proust continues with the usual stereotyping: gay men seem to have a greater sensibility for the arts and even (when Charlus discusses Albertine's wardrobe with the narrator) "an inborn taste, a passion for the study, the science of female dress."
Certainly Charlus has changed from the man we met earlier in the novel, the one who railed against effeminacy.
In any case, it was not only in the cheeks, or rather jowls, of the painted face, in the plump breasts and bouncing buttocks of the self-indulgent body invaded by fat, that there now floated on the surface, visible as oil, the vice once so carefully hidden away by M. de Charlus in the furthest depths of his being. It now overflowed in his speech.Charlus even chides the narrator and Brichot for looking "like two lovers. Arm in arm, Brichot, I must say, you are going a bit far!" The narrator wonders if Charlus his lost his grip, if his words were "the sign of an aging mind," or if he is simply showing "the disdain for middle-class opinion that all the Guermantes had underneath." He speculates that "the narrow range of pleasures offered by his vice had come to bore him, and that sometimes "he would go and spend the night with a woman, in the way a normal man might, once in his life, want to sleep with a boy, out of the same kind of curiosity, each the mirror-image of the other, and each equally unhealthy." And he observes that Charlus
now emitted, quite without thinking, something like the little squeals -- involuntary in his case, and therefore all the more revealing -- that homosexuals produce -- in their case deliberately -- when they call out to each other -- "darling!"; as if this purposely "camp" manner, which M. de Charlus had so long avoided like the plague, were nothing but a brilliant, faithful imitation of the intonations that the Charluses of the world inevitably develop when they reach a certain phase of their disease.It's difficult to read these passages today, with their stereotyping and their references to homosexuality as "vice" or "disease," but in their time they constituted shrewd social analysis.
But in the context of the novel, this analysis is really heading toward a crisis in the relationship of Charlus and Morel, which the narrator anticipates by skipping ahead "several weeks" to Charlus's opening of a letter to Morel from the actress Léa, "known for her exclusive attraction to women." In the letter, Léa addressed Morel in the feminine, calls him "Dirty girl!" and says that "you are one and no mistake!" The significance of the letter is left to tantalize us, as is the narrator's statement, "We shall see, in fact, in the last volume of this work, M. de Charlus doing things that would have been even more astonishing to his family and friends than the life revealed by Léa was to him." The narrator notes that Charlus could only feel jealous of Morel when he was with men: "Women had no such effect. This is, in fact, nearly always the rule with Charluses. The love that the man they love has for a woman is something else, happening within a different species (lions don't go after tigers), and does not worry them; indeed, it may reassure them." Unless, the narrator adds, they regard heterosexual intimacy as "disgusting" and "a degradation."
There is one further bit of foreshadowing: a reference to the effect of society gossip. "We shall see later how that verbal press could annihilate the power of a Charlus once he had ceased to be fashionable, and elevate above him a Morel who was not worth a millionth part of his former protector."
Meanwhile, the narrator gets a shock: Charlus tells him that Vinteuil's daughter and her friend are to be at the Verdurins, "and they are two young women of dreadful reputation." As if the narrator didn't know that already. And of course, the Pandora's box of suspicion, regarding Albertine's plans to visit the Verdurins and what she and Andrée had been doing when not under his eagle eye, is opened: "Andrée had said to me, 'We walked a bit, here and there, we didn't meet anyone,' and during which in fact Mlle Vinteuil had obviously arranged to met Albertine at Mme Verdurin's."