Title: Cities of the Plain

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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title: Cities of the Plain

(Sodom et Gomorrhe)

[Vol. 4 of Remembrance of Things Past--

(À la Recherche du temps perdu)]

Author: Marcel Proust

Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff

eBook No.: 0300491.txt

Edition: 1

Language: English

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Date first posted: March 2003

Date most recently updated: March 2003

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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title: Cities of the Plain

(Sodom et Gomorrhe)

[Vol. 4 of Remembrance of Things Past--

(À la Recherche du temps perdu)]

Author: Marcel Proust

Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff

Part I
Introducing the men-women, descendants of those of the inhabitants of

Sodom who were spared by the fire from heaven.

CHAPTER ONE M. de Charlus in Society--A physician--Typical physiognomy

of Mme. de Vaugoubert--Mme. d'Arpajon, the Hubert Robert fountain and

the merriment of the Grand Duke Vladimir--Mmes. d'Amoncourt, de

Citri, de Saint-Euverte, etc.--Curious conversation between Swann and

the Prince de Guermantes--Albertine on the telephone--My social life

in the interval before my second and final visit to Balbec--Arrival at

The Heart's Intermissions
CHAPTER TWO The mysteries of Albertine--The girls whom she sees

reflected in the glass--The other woman--The lift-boy--Madame de

Part II
CHAPTER TWO (continued) The pleasures of M. Nissim Bernard

(continued)--Outline of the strange character of Morel--M. de Charlus

dines with the Verdurins.
CHAPTER THREE The sorrows of M. de Charlus--His sham duel--The

stations on the "Transatlantic"--Weary of Albertine, I decide to break

with her.
CHAPTER FOUR Sudden revulsion in favour of Albertine--Agony at

sunrise--I set off at once with Albertine for Paris,


Richard and Myrtle Kurt

and Their Creator

Pisa, 1927

Introducing the men-women, descendants of those of the inhabitants

of Sodom who were spared by the fire from heaven.

_La femme aura Gomorrhe et l'homme aura

Sodome_. Alfred de Vigny.

The reader will remember that, long before going that day (on the

evening of which the Princesse de Guermantes was to give her party) to

pay the Duke and Duchess the visit which I have just described, I had

kept watch for their return and had made, in the course of my vigil, a

discovery which, albeit concerning M. de Charlus in particular, 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 fulness that it

demanded, postponed giving any account of it. I had, as I have said,

left the marvellous point of vantage, so snugly contrived for me at

the top of the house, commanding the broken and irregular slopes

leading up to the Hôtel de Bréquigny, and gaily decorated in the

Italian manner by the rose-pink campanile of the Marquis de Frécourt's

stables. I had felt it to be more convenient, when I thought that the

Duke and Duchess were on the point of returning, to post myself on the

staircase. I regretted somewhat the abandonment of my watch-tower. But

at that time of day, namely the hour immediately following luncheon, I

had less cause for regret, for I should not then have seen, as in the

morning, the foptmen of the Bréquigny-Tresmes household, converted by

distance into minute figures in a picture, make their leisurely ascent

of the abrupt precipice, feather-brush in hand, behind the large,

transparent flakes of mica which stood out so charmingly 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 tree and at the precious

plant, exposed in the courtyard with that insistence 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 hear distinctly, as he got ready

to go out, Jupien who 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, a pursy

figure, aged by the strong light, his hair visibly grey. Nothing short

of an indisposition of Mme. de Villeparisis (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,

used to modify them to suit their own personal habits (habits not,

they thought, social, and deserving in consequence the abasement

before them of that thing of no value, Society--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 curiosities and so forth,

paid calls only between four and six in the afternoon. 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 start for the office, from which he would

return only for dinner, and not even then always during the last week,

his niece and her apprentices having gone to the country to finish a

dress there 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 as ambassador to

the virgin who had so long been waiting for him to appear. 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,

if the insect came, would coquettishly arch her styles; 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 other laws,

increasingly exalted. If the visit of an insect, that is to say, the

transportation of the seed of one flower is generally necessary for

the fertilisation of another, that is because autofecundation, the

fertilisation 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 the insects gives to the subsequent

generations of the same species a vigour unknown to their forebears.

This invigoration may, however, prove excessive, the species develop

out of all proportion; then, as an anti-toxin protects us against

disease, as the thyroid gland regulates our adiposity, as defeat comes

to punish pride, fatigue, indulgence, and as sleep in turn depends

upon fatigue, so an exceptional act of autofecundation comes at a

given point to apply its turn of the screw, its pull on the curb,

brings back within normal limits the flower that has exaggerated its

transgression of them. My reflexions had followed a tendency 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 work, when I saw M. de Charlus coming away from

the Marquise. Perhaps he had learned from his elderly relative

herself, or merely from a servant, the great improvement, 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 tension in his face, deadened that artificial

vitality, which the animation of his talk and the force of his will

kept in evidence there as a rule. Pale as marble, his nose stood out

firmly, his fine features no longer received from an expression

deliberately assumed a different meaning which altered the beauty of

their modelling; nothing more now than a Guermantes, he seemed already

carved in stone, he Pala-mède the Fifteenth, in their chapel at

Combray. These general features of a whole family took on, however, in

the face of M. de Charlus a fineness more spiritualised, above all

more gentle. I regretted for his sake that he should habitually

adulterate with so many acts of violence, offensive oddities,

tale-bearings, with such harshness, susceptibility and arrogance, that

he should conceal beneath a false brutality the amenity, the kindness

which, at the moment of his emerging from Mme. de Villeparisis's, I

could see displayed so innocently upon his face. Blinking his eyes in

the sunlight, he seemed almost to be smiling, I found in his face seen

thus in repose and, so to speak, in its natural state something so

affectionate, so disarmed, 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 insistent, who prided himself so upon his virility, to whom all

other men seemed odiously effeminate, what he made me suddenly think

of, so far had he momentarily assumed her features, expression, smile,

was a woman.

I was about to change my position again, so that he should not catch

sight of me; I had neither the time nor the need to do so. What did I

see? Face to face, in that courtyard where certainly they had never

met before (M. de Charlus coming to the Hôtel de Guermantes only in

the afternoon, during the time when Jupien was at his office), the

Baron, having suddenly opened wide his half-shut eyes, was studying

with unusual attention the ex-tailor poised on the threshold of his

shop, while the latter, fastened suddenly to the ground before M. de

Charlus, taking root in it like a plant, was contemplating with a look

of amazement the plump form of the middle-aged Baron. But, more

astounding still, M. de Charlus's attitude having changed, Jupien's,

as though in obedience to the laws of an occult art, at once brought

itself into harmony with it. The Baron, who was now seeking to conceal

the impression that had been made on him, and yet, in spite of his

affectation of indifference, seemed unable to move away without

regret, went, came, looked vaguely into the distance in the way which,

he felt, most enhanced the beauty of his eyes, assumed a complacent,

careless, fatuous air. Meanwhile Jupien, shedding at once the humble,

honest expression which I had always associated with him, had--in

perfect symmetry with the Baron--thrown up his head, given a becoming

tilt to his body, placed his hand with a grotesque impertinence on his

hip, stuck out his behind, posed himself with the coquetry that the

orchid might have adopted on the providential arrival of the bee. I

had not supposed that he could appear so repellent. But I was equally

unaware that he was capable of improvising his part in this sort of

dumb charade, which (albeit he found himself for the first time in the

presence of M. de Charlus) seemed to have been long and carefully

rehearsed; one does not arrive spontaneously at that pitch of

perfection except when one meets in a foreign country a compatriot

with whom an understanding then grows up of itself, both parties

speaking the same language, even though they have never seen one

another before.

This scene was not, however, positively comic, it was stamped with a

strangeness, or if you like a naturalness, the beauty of which

steadily increased. M. de Charlus might indeed assume a detached air,

indifferently let his eyelids droop; every now and then he raised

them, and at such moments turned on Jupien an attentive gaze. But

(doubtless because he felt that such a scene could not be prolonged

indefinitely in this place, whether for reasons which we shall learn

later on, or possibly from that feeling of the brevity of all things

which makes us determine that every blow must strike home, and renders

so moving the spectacle of every kind of love), each time that M. de

Charlus looked at Jupien, he took care that his glance should be

accompanied by a spoken word, which made it infinitely unlike the

glances we usually direct at a person whom we do or do not know; he

stared at Jupien with the peculiar fixity of the person who is about

to say to us: "Excuse my taking the liberty, but you have a long white

thread hanging down your back," or else: "Surely I can't be mistaken,

you come from Zurich too; I'm certain I must have seen you there often

in the curiosity shop." Thus, every other minute, the same question

seemed to be being intensely put to Jupien in the stare of M. de

Charlus, like those questioning phrases of Beethoven indefinitely

repeated at regular intervals, and intended--with an exaggerated

lavish-ness of preparation--to introduce a new theme, a change of

tone, a 'reentry.' On the other hand, the beauty of the reciprocal

glances of M. de Charlus and Jupien arose precisely from the fact that

they did not, for the moment at least, seem to be intended to lead to

anything further. This beauty, it was the first time that I had seen

the Baron and Jupien display it. In the eyes of both of them, it was

the sky not of Zurich but of some Oriental city, the name of which I

had not yet divined, that I saw reflected. Whatever the point might

be that held M. de Charlus and the ex-tailor thus arrested, their pact

seemed concluded and these superfluous glances to be but ritual

preliminaries, like the parties that people give before a marriage

which has been definitely 'arranged.' Nearer still to nature--and the

multiplicity of these analogies is itself all the more natural in that

the same man, if we examine him for a few minutes, appears in turn as

a man, a man-bird or man-insect, and so forth--one would have called

them a pair of birds, the male and the female, the male seeking to

make advances, the female--Jupien--no longer giving any sign of

response to these overtures, but regarding her new friend without

surprise, with an inattentive fixity of gaze, which she doubtless felt

to be more disturbing and the only effective method, once the male had

taken the first steps, and had fallen back upon preening his feathers.

At length Jupien's indifference seemed to suffice him no longer; from

this certainty of having conquered, to making himself be pursued and

desired was but the next stage, and Jupien, deciding to go off to his

work, passed through the carriage gate. It was only, however, after

turning his head two or three times that he escaped into the street

towards which the Baron, trembling lest he should lose the trail

(boldly humming a tune, not forgetting to fling a 'Good day' to the

porter, who, half-tipsy himself and engaged in treating a few friends

in his back kitchen, did not even hear him), hurried briskly to

overtake him. At the same instant, just as M. de Charlus disappeared

through the gate humming like a great bumble-bee, another, a real bee

this time, came into the courtyard. For all I knew this might be the

one so long awaited by the orchid, which was coming to bring it that

rare pollen without which it must die a virgin. But I was distracted

from following the gyrations of the insect for, a few minutes later,

engaging my attention afresh, Jupien (perhaps to pick up a parcel

which he did take away with him eventually and so, presumably, in the

emotion aroused by the apparition of M. de Charlus, had forgotten,

perhaps simply for a more natural reason) returned, followed by the

Baron. The latter, deciding to cut short the preliminaries, asked the

tailor for a light, but at once observed: "I ask you for a light, but

I find that I have left my cigars at home." The laws of hospitality

prevailed over those of coquetry. "Come inside, you shall have

everything you require," said the tailor, on whose features disdain

now gave place to joy. The door of the shop closed behind them and I

could hear no more. I had lost sight of the bee. I did not know

whether he was the insect that the orchid needed, but I had no longer

any doubt, in the case of an extremely rare insect and a captive

flower, of the miraculous possibility of their conjunction when M. de

Charlus (this is simply a comparison of providential hazards, whatever

they may be, without the slightest scientific claim to establish a

relation between certain laws and what is sometimes, most ineptly,

termed homosexuality), who for years past had never come to the house

except at hours when Jupien was not there, by the mere accident of

Mme. de Villeparisis's illness had encountered the tailor, and with

him the good fortune reserved for men of the type of the Baron by one

of those fellow-creatures who may indeed be, as we shall see,

infinitely younger than Jupien and better looking, the man predestined

to exist in order that they may have their share of sensual pleasure

on this earth; the man who cares only for elderly gentlemen.

All that I have just said, however, I was not to understand until

several minutes had elapsed; so much is reality encumbered by those

properties of invisibility until a chance occurrence has divested it

of them. Anyhow, for the moment I was greatly annoyed at not being

able to hear any more of the conversation between the ex-tailor and

the Baron. I then bethought myself of the vacant shop, separated from

Jupien's only by a partition that was extremely slender. I had, in

order to get to it, merely to go up to our flat, pass through the

kitchen, go down by the service stair to the cellars, make my way

through them across the breadth of the courtyard above, and on coming

to the right place underground, where the joiner had, a few months

ago, still been storing his timber and where Jupien intended to keep

his coal, climb the flight of steps which led to the interior of the

shop. Thus the whole of my journey would be made under cover, I

should not be seen by anyone. This was the most prudent method. It was

not the one that I adopted, but, keeping close to the walls, I made a

circuit in the open air of the courtyard, trying not to let myself be

seen. If I was not, I owe it more, I am sure, to chance than to my own

sagacity. And for the fact that I took so imprudent a course, when the

way through the cellar was so safe, I can see three possible reasons,

assuming that I had any reason at all. First of all, my impatience.

Secondly, perhaps, a dim memory of the scene at Montjouvain, when I

stood concealed outside Mlle. Vinteuil's window. Certainly, the

affairs of this sort of which I have been a spectator have always been

presented in a setting of the most imprudent and least probable

character, as if such revelations were to be the reward of an action

full of risk, though in part clandestine. Lastly, I hardly dare, so

childish does it appear, to confess the third reason, which was, I am

quite sure, unconsciously decisive. Since, in order to follow--and see

controverted--the military principles enunciated by Saint-Loup, I had

followed in close detail the course of the Boer war, I had been led on

from that to read again old accounts of explorations, narratives of

travel. These stories had excited me, and I applied them to the events

of my daily life to stimulate my courage. When attacks of illness had

compelled me to remain for several days and nights on end not only

without sleep but without lying down, without tasting food or drink,

at the moment when my pain and exhaustion became so intense that I

felt that I should never escape from them, I would think of some

traveller cast on the beach, poisoned by noxious herbs, shivering with

fever in clothes drenched by the salt water, who nevertheless in a day

or two felt stronger, rose and went blindly upon his way, in search of

possible inhabitants who might, when he came to them, prove cannibals.

His example acted on me as a tonic, restored my hope, and I felt

ashamed of my momentary discouragement. Thinking of the Boers who,

with British armies facing them, were not afraid to expose themselves

at the moment when they had to cross, in order to reach a covered

position, a tract of open country: "It would be a fine thing," I

thought to myself, "if I were to shew less courage when the theatre of

operations is simply the human heart, and when the only steel that I,

who engaged in more than one duel without fear at the time of the

Dreyfus case, have to fear is that of the eyes of the neighbours who

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