Authors: Marcel Proust
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
D. J. E
T H E M O D E R N L I B R A R Y
N E W Y O R K
Numerals in the text refer the reader to explanatory notes while asterisks indicate the position of textual addenda. The notes the addenda follow the text.
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About the Book
“Flower and plant have no conscious will. They are shameless, exposing their genitals. And so in a sense are Proust’s men and women . . . shameless. There is no question of right and wrong. Homosexuality . . . is as devoid of moral implications as the mode of fecundation of the
Lythrum salicoria.” —S
The theme of
Sodom and Gomorrah
is sexual ambiguity. In the opening scene, the narrator secretly observes a sexual encounter between two men that is played out “as though in obedience to the laws of an occult art” The book unfolds on matters of “vice,” “inversion,” mystery, desire, love, longing, and illusion.
The final volume of a new, definitive text of
À la recherche du temps perdu
was published by the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade in 1989. For this authoritative English-language edition, D. J. Enright has revised the late Terence Kilmartin’s acclaimed reworking of C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation to take into account the new French editions.
Marcel Proust was born in the Parisian suburb of Auteuil on July 10, 1871. His father, Adrien Proust, was a doctor celebrated for his work in epidemiology; his mother, Jeanne Weil, was a stockbroker’s daughter of Jewish descent. He lived as a child in the family home on Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris, but spent vacations with his aunt and uncle in the town of Illiers near Chartres, where the Prousts had lived for generations and which became the model for the Combray of his great novel. (In recent years it was officially renamed Illiers-Combray.) Sickly from birth, Marcel was subject from the age of nine to violent attacks of asthma, and although he did a year of military service as a young man and studied law and political science, his invalidism disqualified him from an active professional life.
During the 1890s Proust contributed sketches to
and to a short-lived magazine,
, founded by some of his school friends in 1892.
Pleasures and Days
, a collection of his stories, essays, and poems, was published in 1896. In his youth Proust led an active social life, penetrating the highest circles of wealth and aristocracy. Artistically and intellectually, his influences included the aesthetic criticism of John Ruskin, the philosophy of Henri Bergson, the music of Wagner, and the fiction of Anatole France (on whom he modeled his character Bergotte). An affair begun in 1894 with the composer and pianist Reynaldo Hahn marked the beginning of Proust’s often anguished acknowledgment of his homosexuality. Following the publication of Emile Zola’s letter in defense of Colonel Dreyfus in 1898, Proust became “the first Dreyfusard,” as he later phrased it. By the time Dreyfus was finally vindicated of charges of treason, Proust’s social circles had been torn apart by the anti-Semitism and political hatreds stirred up by the affair.
Proust was very attached to his mother, and after her death in 1905 he spent some time in a sanatorium. His health worsened progressively, and he withdrew almost completely from society and devoted himself to writing. Proust’s early work had done nothing to establish his reputation as a major writer. In an unfinished novel,
(not published until 1952), he laid some of the groundwork for
In Search of Lost Time
, and in
, written in 1908-09, he stated as his aesthetic credo: “A book is the product of a different self from the one we manifest in our habits, in society, in our vices. If we mean to try to understand this self it is only in our inmost depths, by endeavoring to reconstruct it there, that the quest can be achieved.” He appears to have begun work on his long masterpiece sometime around 1908, and the first volume,
, was published in 1913. In 1919 the second volume,
Within a Budding Grove
, won the Goncourt Prize, bringing Proust great and instantaneous fame. Two subsequent sections—
The Guermantes Way
Sodom and Gomorrah
(1921)—appeared in his lifetime. (Of the depiction of homosexuality in the latter, his friend André Gide complained: “Will you never portray this form of Eros for us in the aspect of youth and beauty?”) The remaining volumes were published following Proust’s death on November 18, 1922:
in 1925, and
The women shall have Gomorrah and
the men shall have Sodom
ALFRED DE VIGNY
he reader will remember that, well before going that day (the day on which the Princesse de Guermantes’s reception was to be held) to pay the Duke and Duchess the visit I have just described, I had kept watch for their return and in the course of my vigil had made a discovery which concerned M. de Charlus in particular but was in itself so important that I have until now, until the moment when I could give it the prominence and treat it with the fullness that it demanded, postponed giving an account of it. I had, as I have said, left the marvellous point of vantage, so snugly contrived at the top of the house, commanding the hilly slopes which led up to the Hôtel de Bréquigny, and which were gaily decorated in the Italian manner by the rose-pink campanile of the Marquis de Frécourt’s coach-house. I had thought it more practical, when I suspected that the Duke and Duchess were on the point of returning, to post myself on the staircase. I rather missed my Alpine eyrie. But at that time of day, namely the hour immediately after lunch, I had less cause for regret, for I should not then have seen, as in the morning, the footmen of the Bréquigny household, converted by distance into minute figures in a picture, make their leisurely ascent of the steep hillside, feather-brush in hand, behind the large, transparent flakes of mica which stood out so pleasingly upon its ruddy bastions. Failing the geologist’s field of contemplation, I had at least that of the botanist, and was peering through the shutters of the staircase window at the Duchess’s little shrub and at the precious plant, exposed in the courtyard with that assertiveness with which mothers “bring out” their marriageable offspring, and asking myself whether the unlikely insect would come, by a providential hazard, to visit the offered and neglected pistil. My curiosity emboldening me by degrees, I went down to the ground-floor window, which also stood open with its shutters ajar. I could distinctly hear Jupien getting ready to go out, but he could not detect me behind my blind, where I stood perfectly still until the moment when I drew quickly aside in order not to be seen by M. de Charlus, who, on his way to call upon Mme de Villeparisis, was slowly crossing the courtyard, corpulent, greying, aged by the strong light. Nothing short of an indisposition from which Mme de Villeparisis might be suffering (consequent on the illness of the Marquis de Fierbois, with whom he personally was at daggers drawn) could have made M. de Charlus pay a call, perhaps for the first time in his life, at that hour of the day. For with that eccentricity of the Guermantes, who, instead of conforming to the ways of society, tended to modify them to suit their own personal habits (habits not, they thought, social, and deserving in consequence the abasement before them of that worthless thing, society life—thus it was that Mme de Marsantes had no regular “day,” but was at home to her friends every morning between ten o’clock and noon), the Baron, reserving those hours for reading, hunting for old curios and so forth, paid calls only between four and six in the evening. At six o’clock he went to the Jockey Club, or took a stroll in the Bois. A moment later, I again recoiled, in order not to be seen by Jupien. It was nearly time for him to set out for the office, from which he would return only for dinner, and not always even then during the last week since his niece and her apprentices had gone to the country to finish a dress for a customer. Then, realising that no one could see me, I decided not to let myself be disturbed again for fear of missing, should the miracle be fated to occur, the arrival, almost beyond the possibility of hope (across so many obstacles of distance, of adverse risks, of dangers), of the insect sent from so far away as ambassador to the virgin who had been waiting for so long. I knew that this expectancy was no more passive than in the male flower, whose stamens had spontaneously curved so that the insect might more easily receive their offering; similarly the female flower that stood here would coquettishly arch her “styles” if the insect came, and, to be more effectively penetrated by him, would imperceptibly advance, like a hypocritical but ardent damsel, to meet him half-way. The laws of the vegetable kingdom are themselves governed by increasingly higher laws. If the visit of an insect, that is to say the transportation of the seed from another flower, is generally necessary for the fertilisation of a flower, that is because self-fertilisation, the insemination of a flower by itself, would lead, like a succession of intermarriages in the same family, to degeneracy and sterility, whereas the crossing effected by insects gives to the subsequent generations of the same species a vigour unknown to their forebears. This invigoration may, however, prove excessive, and the species develop out of all proportion; then, as an antitoxin protects us against disease, as the thyroid gland regulates our adiposity, as defeat comes to punish pride, as fatigue follows indulgence, and as sleep in turn brings rest from fatigue, so an exceptional act of self-fertilisation comes at the crucial moment to apply its turn of the screw, its pull on the curb, brings back within the norm the flower that has exaggeratedly overstepped it. My reflexions had followed a trend which I shall describe in due course, and I had already drawn from the visible stratagems of flowers a conclusion that bore upon a whole unconscious element of literary production, when I saw M. de Charlus coming away from the Marquise’s door. Only a few minutes had passed since his entry. Perhaps he had learned from his elderly relative herself, or merely from a servant, of a great improvement in her condition, or rather her complete recovery from what had been nothing more than a slight indisposition. At this moment, when he did not suspect that anyone was watching him, his eyelids lowered as a screen against the sun, M. de Charlus had relaxed that artificial tension, softened that artificial vigour in his face which were ordinarily sustained by the animation of his talk and the force of his will. Pale as a marble statue, his fine features with the prominent nose no longer received from an expression deliberately assumed a different meaning which altered the beauty of their contours; no more now than a Guermantes, he seemed already carved in stone, he, Palamède XV, in the chapel at Combray. These general features of a whole family took on, however, in the face of M. de Charlus a more spiritualised, above all a softer refinement. I regretted for his sake that he should habitually adulterate with so many violent outbursts, offensive eccentricities, calumnies, with such harshness, touchiness and arrogance, that he should conceal beneath a spurious brutality the amenity, the kindness which, as he emerged from Mme de Villeparisis’s, I saw so innocently displayed upon his face. Blinking his eyes in the sunlight, he seemed almost to be smiling, and I found in his face seen thus in repose and as it were in its natural state something so affectionate, so defenceless, that I could not help thinking how angry M. de Charlus would have been could he have known that he was being watched; for what was suggested to me by the sight of this man who was so enamoured of, who so prided himself upon, his virility, to whom all other men seemed odiously effeminate, what he suddenly suggested to me, to such an extent had he momentarily assumed the features, the expression, the smile thereof, was a woman.