Charlus Meets His Match


We have seen that jealousy may have a social as well as sexual origin. The same may be said of cruelty. Mlle Vinteuil and her friend act out a scene of cruelty to get them in the frame of mind for sex, since for them sex is tinged with evil. Charlus, too, enjoys both self-inflicted cruelty, at the end of a whip, and verbal cruelty, a sort of orgasmic outburst, sometimes directed at a potential conquest, as Marcel can testify.

“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)

Marcel has gotten over that and now sees Charlus as essentially a good man who badly manages his appetites. Mme Verdurin turns Morel against Charlus.

Perhaps what now struck him speechless was–when he saw that M. and Mme Verdurin turned their eyes away from him and that no one was coming to his rescue–his present anguish and, still more, his dread of greater anguish to come; or else the fact that, not having worked himself up and concocted an imaginary rage in advance, having no ready-made thunderbolt at hand, he had been seized and struck down suddenly at a moment when he was unarmed (for, sensitive, neurotic, hysterical, he was genuinely impulsive but pseudo-brave–indeed, as I had always thought, and it was something that had rather endeared him to me, pseudo-cruel…(V,425-426)

 There is nothing pseudo about Mme Verdurin’s cruelty, nor is it sexual. Motivated by social jealousy, sparked by  Charlus promoting Morel to his aristocratic friends, she concocts slanders about Charlus, which are just plausible enough to convince Morel.

There are certain desires, sometimes confined to the mouth, which, as soon as we have allowed them to grow, insist upon being gratified, whatever the consequences may be; one can no longer resist the temptation to kiss a bare shoulder at which one has been gazing for too long and on which one’s lips pounce like a snake upon a bird, or to bury one’s sweet tooth in a tempting cake; nor can one deny oneself the satisfaction of seeing the amazement, anxiety, grief or mirth to which one can move another person by some unexpected communication. (V,414)

She delights in finding just the right word to mortify Morel.

At this moment there stirred beneath the domed forehead of the musical goddess the one thing that certain people cannot keep to themselves, a word which it is not merely abject but imprudent to repeat. But the need to repeat it is stronger than honour or prudence. It was to this need that, after a few convulsive twitches of her spherical and sorrowful brow, the Mistress succumbed: “Someone actually told my husband that he had said ‘my servant,’ but for that I cannot vouch, ” she added. (V,421)

 

 

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