A Certain Penetration


Brichot is the picture of the academic historian, a professor of immense learning who is, nevertheless, at least according to Charlus, appallingly ignorant of history and society. Charlus is thus compelled to give Brichot a lecture of his own, from an admittedly specialized view of history.

The insistence with which M. de Charlus kept reverting to this topic–into which his mind, constantly exercised in the same direction, had indeed acquired a certain penetration–was in a rather complex way distinctly trying. He was as boring as a specialist who can see nothing outside his own subject, as irritating as an initiate who prides himself on the secrets which he possesses and is burning to divulge, as repellent as those people who, whenever their own weaknesses are in question, blossom and expatiate without noticing that they are giving offence, as obsessed as a maniac and as uncontrollably imprudent as a criminal. (V,408)

 For reasons of brevity, I will summarize some of this hidden history.

  • Only three men out of ten is innocent of homosexuality.
  • Swann, for instance, played around a bit with Charlus back in their school days: “In those days he was he had a peaches-and-cream complexion, and, ” he added, finding a fresh note on each syllable,” he was as pretty as a cherub…” (V,400)
  • It was he who introduced Odette to Swann and provided other services to her: She used to force me to get up the most dreadful orgies for her, with five or six men. (V,400)
  • Odette had innumerable lovers, unknown to Swann and she once fired a gun at Swann, nearly hitting him. The enraged Swann then had an affair with Odette’s sister. Who knew?
  • He explains how Marcel’s impecunious friend in Balbec, M. de Crecy, became that way.

O Tempora o mores!  Back in the day, homosexuals were the very bedrock of civilization.

Good heavens, in my day, leaving aside the men who loathed women, and those who, caring only for women, did the other thing merely with an eye to profit, homosexuals were sound family men and never kept mistresses except as a cover. Had I had a daughter to give away, it’s among them that I should have looked for my son-in-law if I’d wanted to be certain that she wouldn’t be unhappy. Alas! things have changed. (V,409-410)

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