Face Names

Pity the poor immigrant. However long he has lived in his adopted home, whatever his good qualities, he will never be French.

They repelled–the Jews among them principally, the unassimilated Jews, that is to say, for with the other kind we are not concerned–those who could not endure any oddity or eccentricity of appearance (as Bloch repelled Albertine). Generally speaking, one realised afterwards that , if it could be held against them that their hair was too long, their noses and eyes were too big, their gestures abrupt and theatrical, it was puerile to judge them by this, that they had plenty of wit and good-heartedness, and were men to whom, in the long run, one could become closely attached. (III,559)

But in Saint-Loup, when all was said, however the faults of his parents had combined to create a new blend of qualities, there reigned the most charming openness of mind and heart. And whenever (it must be allowed to the undying glory of France) these qualities are found in a man who is purely French, whether he belongs to the aristocracy or the people, they flower–flourish would be too strong a word, for moderation persists in this field, as well as restriction–with a grace which the foreigner, however estimable he may be,does not present to us. Of these intellectual and moral qualities others undoubtedly have their share, and, if we have first to overcome what repels us and what makes us smile, they remain no less precious. But it is all the same a pleasant thing, and one which is perhaps exclusively French, that what is fine in all equity of judgment, what is admirable to the mind and the heart, should be first of all attractive to the eyes, pleasingly coloured, consummately chiselled, should express as well in substance as in form an inner perfection. I looked at Saint-Loup….the curves of the nostrils are as delicate and as perfectly designed as the wings of the little butterflies that hover over the field-flowers round Combray….(III,560) 

Yet we have learned that certain personal traits can mar even this near-perfect visage. Saint-Loup tells Marcel that he informed Bloch that Marcel “didn’t like him all that much.”

Whatever it was, his face was seared, while he uttered these vulgar words, by a frightful sinuosity which I saw on it once or twice only in all the time I knew him, and which, beginning by runing more or less down the middle of his face, when it came to his lips twisted them, gave them a hideous expression of baseness, almost of bestiality, quite transitory and no doubt inherited. (III,547)

Is there something we don’t know about Robert?

But the Prince de Foix, who was himself rich, belonged not only to this fashionable set of fifteen or so young men, but to a more exclusive and inseparable group of four, which included Saint-Loup. These were never asked anywhere separately, they were known as the four gigolos, they were always to be seen riding together, and in country houses their hostesses gave them communicating bedrooms, with the result that, especially as they were all four extremely good-looking, rumours were current as to the extent of their intimacy. (III,55)

Little wonder that Gide complained that Proust, for all his giving prominence to homosexuals in his novel, never portrayed their experience in a positive light. (Give me a moment and I will find examples of heterosexuals portrayed positively.)



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