_____When Brichot returns with Charlus's overcoat instead of the narrator's, Charlus drapes it around him and says, flirtatiously, "You know that's very compromising, dear boy? It's like drinking out of the same glass, I shall be able to read your thoughts." And he strokes the narrator's chin. When Brichot suggests that Charlus should kiss the narrator on both cheeks, too, "'Kiss him on both cheeks, really! cried the Baron with shrill delight. I tell you, dear boy, he thinks he's still at a school prize-giving, he's dreaming of his little pupils, I bet he sleeps with them." And Charlus is off on a kind of verbal fan-dance, coyly revealing and concealing his gayness. Brichot eggs him on, with a mention of a recent discovery of a letter by Michelangelo about his love for a woman, which counters his homosexual reputation.
From the moment Brichot had begun talking about men's reputations, M. de Charlus's whole face had betrayed the particular kind of impatience that we see in an expert on medical or military matters, when lay people who know nothing about them begin to say foolish things about therapeutics or strategy.Charlus startles them with an estimate that only "between thirty and forty per cent" of men are truly heterosexual, ascribing "inversion to the great majority of his contemporaries, excepting only those with whom he had himself had relations; their case -- provided the relations had been in the smallest degree romantic -- he regarded as more complex."
When Brichot learns that Charlus had been a friend of Swann's, he asks, "Was he one of them?" Charlus replies, "No, I don't think so." And then talks about introducing Swann to Odette: "She caught my eye in a semi-breeches part, when she was playing Miss Sacripant." And he claims, "She used to force me to organize the most dreadful sessions for her, four, five people at a time." He talks about how Swann was "as jealous as a tiger," and had called on him to be second in a duel.
Brichot next asks about Ski, whom Charlus dismisses as "just people's idea of that sort of man, people who don't know anything about it." Called on to produce names, Charlus claims to "live in a world of abstraction, these things only interest me from a transcendental point of view." The narrator comments,
But these moments of annoyed reaction in which the Baron tried to hide his real life were few and fleeting as compared with the hours during with he constantly let it show through, or displayed it with an irritating self-satisfaction, the need to confide being much stronger in him than the fear of self-revelation.In the midst of a discussion of homosexuality in the court of Louis XIV, Charlus says, enigmatically, "I have a young friend in the army who is making quite a name for himself, who has done great things; but let me not gossip...." If the "young man" is Morel, it's certainly an odd reference, since Brichot and the narrator know about him. Could he be referring to Saint-Loup? And in commenting on the way society has changed, Charlus says,
But I will admit that the thing that has changed most of all is what the Germans call homosexuality*. Good heavens, in my day, if one set aside the men who simply hated women, and those who, while actually preferring them, did other things for money or their careers, homosexuals were good family men and really only kept mistresses as a blind.Charlus then surprises Brichot by revealing the Prince de Guermantes' homosexuality. And Brichot proposes, "if the General Board of the University ever decides to set up a chair in homosexuality, I shall put your name forward at once."
Throughout all this, the narrator has been chafing with the urge to get home to see Albertine: "I now had only one wish, to escape from the Verdurins' before the execution of Charlus was carried out."
*The first recorded appearance of the word "homosexuality"was in Austria in 1869; Richard von Krafft-Ebing popularized the term in Psychopathia Sexualis, published in 1886.