Charlus in Love III

In the space of a short walk, Charlus’s erotic imagination is engaged by Marcel, Bloch and a cab driver. He tries to seduce Marcel with promises of secrets known only to the inner elites.

There is nothing so agreeable as to put oneself out for a person who is worth one’s while. For the best of us, the study of the arts, a taste of old things, collections, gardens, are all mere ersatz, surrogates, alibis. From the depths of our tub, like Diogenes, we cry out for a man. We cultivate begonias, we trim yews, as a last resort, because yews and begonis submit to treament but we should prefer to give our time to a plant of human growth, if we were sure that he was worth the trouble. (III,386)

I have often thought, Monsieur, that there was in me, thanks not to my own humble gifts but to circumstances which you may one day have occasion to learn, a wealth of experience, a sort of secret dossier of inestimable value, of which I have not felt myself at liberty to make use for my own personal ends, which would be a priceless acquisition to a young man to whom I would hand over in a few months what it has taken me more than thirty years to acquire, and which I am perhaps alone in possessing….I could give you an explanation that no one has dreamed of, not only of the past but of the future. (III,389)

Charlus now questions Marcel about Bloch, whom he had heard spoken of at Mme de Villeparisis’s, wondering if  “he was young, good-looking.” There follows some talk about Dreyfus, whom Charlus does not consider a traitor simply because he is not French, but a Jew. He then launches into a remarkably violent anti-semitic outburst than can only be considered, given Charlus’s disposition toward S&M, orgasmic.

Perhaps you could ask our friend to allow me to attend some great festival in the Temple, a circumcision, or some Hebrew chants. He might perhaps hire a hall and give me some biblical entertainment, as the young ladies of Saint-Cyr performed scenes taken from the Psalms by Racine, to amuse Louis XIV. You might perhaps arrange that, and even some comic exhibitions. For instance a contest between your friend and his father, in which he would smite him as David smote Goliath. That would make quite an amusing farce. He might even, while he was about it, give his hag (or, as my old nurse would say, his ‘haggart’) of a mother a good thrashing. That would be an excellent show, and would not be unpleasing to us, eh, my young friend, since we like exotic spectacles, and to thrash that non-European creature would be giving a well-earned punishment to an old cow. (III,390)

Charlus passes up cab after cab, not finding them quite what he was looking for.

At that moment a cab passed, zigzagging along the street. A young cabman, who had deserted his box, was driving it from inside, where he lay sprawling on the cushions, apparently half-tipsy. M. de Charlus instantly stopped him. The driver began to parley: “Which way are you going?” “Yours.”  “Well, I don’t want to get up on the box. D’you mind if I stay inside?” “No, but lower the hood…” (III,401)



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