Blame Odette

The narrator sums up the Charlus-Jupien encounter as a thing of beauty.

M. de Charlus had distracted me from looking to see whether the bumble-bee was bringing to the orchid the pollen it had so long been waiting to receive, and had my chance of receiving save by an accident so unlikely that one might call it a sort of miracle. But it was a miracle also that I had just witnessed, almost of the same order and no less marvellous. As soon as I considered the encounter from this point of view, everything about it seemed to me instinct with beauty. (IV,38)

Cottard has planted the idea that Albertine is sexually aroused by Andree (and maybe Gisele). Contrast Marcel’s reflexion above with his thoughts on female homosexuality.

I finally made bold to tell her what had been reported to me about her way of life, and said that notwithstanding the profound disgust I felt for women tainted with that vice, I had not given it a thought until I had been told the name of her accomplice, and that she could readily understand, loving Andrée as I did, the pain that this had caused me. (IV,313-314)

Where does this disgust come from? Perhaps it is Odette’s fault. Marcel recalls Odette’s prostitute origins, her lesbianism, her infidelities and conflates them all.

I thought then of all that I had been told about Swann’s love for Odette, of the way in which Swann had been tricked all his life. Indeed, when I come to think of it, the hypothesis that made me gradually build up the whole of Albertine’s character and give a painful interpretation to every moment of a life that I could not control in its entirety, was the memory, the rooted idea of Mme Swann’s character, as it had been described to me. These accounts contributed towards the fact that, in the future, my imagination played with the idea that Albertine might, instead of being the good girl that she was, have had the same immorality, the same capacity for deceit as a former prostitute, and I thought of all the sufferings that would in that case have been in store for me if I had happened to love her. (IV,275-276)

He tries to convince himself of the error in equating the two women.

Doubtless I had long been conditioned, by the powerful impression made on my imagination and my faculty for emotion by the example of Swann, to believe in the truth of what I feared rather than of what I should have wished. Hence the comfort brought me by Albertine’s affirmations came near to being jeopardized for a moment because I remembered the story of Odette….Was there not a vast gulf between Albertine, a girl of good middle-class parentage, and Odette, a whore sold by her mother in her childhood? There could be no comparison of their respective credibility. Besides, Albertine had in no sense the same interest in lying to me that Odette had had in lying to Swann. And in any case to him Odette had admitted what Albertine had just denied. I should therefore have been guilty of an error of reasoning… (IV,316)

But the damage has been done.


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