Charlus in Love IV


Charlus invites Marcel to visit him at near midnight. Charlus keeps him waiting longer than is polite. Marcel is finally shown in.

…already the door stood open, and I could see the Baron, in a Chinese dressing-gown, with his throat bare, lying on a settee….I supposed that M. de Charlus would rise to greet me. Without moving a muscle he fastened on me a pair of implacable eyes. I went towards him and said good evening; he did not hold out his hand, made no reply, did not ask me to take a chair. “…I had, immediately  on my return to Paris, given you to understand, while you were still at Balbec, that you could count upon me.” I who remembered with what a torrent of abuse M. de Charlus had parted from me at Balbec made an instinctive gesture of denial. “What!” he shouted angrily, and indeed his face, convulsed and white, differed as much from his ordinary face as does the sea when, on a stormy morning, one sees instead of its customary smiling surface a myriad of writhing snakes of spray and foam, “do you mean to pretend that you did not receive my message–almost a declaration–that you were to remember me? What was there in the way of decoration round the cover of the book that I sent you?” (III,759)

Marcel replies, in all simplicity, that he remembers some pretty garlands of flowers. Charlus provides a lesson in the Queer Eye.

…I can see that you know no more about flowers than you do about styles,” he cried in a shrill scream of rage, “you don’t even know what you are sitting on. You offer your hindquarters a Directory fireside chair as a Louis XIV bergère. One of these days you’ll be mistaking Mme de Villeparisis’s lap for the lavatory, and goodness knows what you’ll do in it. Similarly, you did not even recognise on the binding of Bergotte’s book the lintel of Myosotis over the door of Balbec church. Could there have been a clearer way of saying to you: ‘Forget me not.’?” (III,761)

 Marcel cannot imagine how he could have angered the Baron so. He had only said to Mme de Guermantes that they were friends.

He gave a disdainful smile, raised his voice to the supreme pitch of its highest register, and there, softly attacking the shrillest and most contumelious note, “Oh! Sir,” he said, returning by the most gradual stages to a  natural intonation, and seeming to revel as he went in the oddities of this descending scale, “I think you do yourself an injustice when you accuse yourself of having said that we were friends. I do not look for any great verbal accuracy in one who could all too easily mistake a piece of Chippendale for a rococo chair, but really I do not believe,” he went on, with vocal caresses that grew more and more sardonically winning until a charming smile actually began to play about his lips, “I do not believe that you can ever have said, or thought, that we were friends! As for your having boasted that you had been presented to me, had talked to me, knew me slightly, had obtained, almost without solicitation, the prospect of becoming my protégé, I found it on the contrary very natural and intelligent of you to have done so.” (III,763)

Marcel again protests his innocence of offending him.

“Do you suppose that it is within your power to offend me? You are evidently not aware to whom you are speaking? Do you imagine that the envenomed spittle of five hundred little gentlemen of your type, heaped one upon another, would succeed in slobbering so much as the tips of my august toes?” (III,765)

The Baron’s sadistic, erotic, outburst has overreached. Marcel has his own tantrum and demolishes Charlus’s new silk hat. Charlus is immediately in control of himself. He

…came runing after me at full speed, overtook me in the hall, and stood barring the door. “Come, now,” he said, “don’t be childish, come back for a minute; he that loveth well chasteneth well, and if I have chastened you well it is because I love you well.” (III,767)

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