"Sodom and Gomorrah" by Marcel Proust, Translated by John Sturrock (Penguin, 2005)
May 10, 2023
Samson and Gomorrah is the fourth volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. The Narrator confronts the dandy (aren’t they all) character, Baron de Charlus, in more detail, with Charlus’s obsession over his love for the musician Charles Morel. Our beloved Narrator (sometimes known as Marcel) deals with his obsession with Albertine. It’s a look at jealousy and obsessing over the idea of love in a world of French culture and snobs. The subject matter of Homosexuality and Lesbianism enters the fourth volume as well. What I just wrote doesn’t sound promising, but the way Proust tells his tale is truly magnificent.
It’s a combination of reporting and commentating on a world moving from the 19th Century to the 20th. Changes are happening, and Proust, as the driver of this tale, is taking us on a wild, Magical Mystery Tour. Nothing is set forever, moods change, and even the Narrator can’t decide how he feels about his “love” interest, Albertine. It’s as if the entire culture is bipolar, and Proust, in a psychedelic manner, conveys that world that only he can do. If I read Proust for an hour straight without interruptions, I feel a tad stoned by the end of that reading session. So far, reading the first four volumes of In Search Of Time is a unique reading experience. Proust doesn’t flirt with the reader; he shuts the door behind you and makes one focus on the early 20th-century Parisian world with dream-like intensity and hyper-awareness. Is Proust an artist/writer, or is he a narcotic?
Samson and Gomorrah is a powerful nepenthes, where one can escape into a different landscape, but in truth, what Proust writes about is very much part of our contemporary times. The Dreyfus affair is very much part of the surroundings in at least two of the volumes so far. Every character in the book seems to have been touched by the ugliness of antisemitism, which hasn’t changed for the 21st century. With such seriousness of what was happening in the world, it is absurd that there is a focus on the ‘upper’ class and their obsessions with beauty, jealousy, and positioning themselves in a social world. And Proust is very aware of this, and therefore his novel is hysterical. But there is always a tinge of sadness that follows the humor, and that is one of the things that make this series of books such a wonderful exploration of one’s feelings and how one sees the (or their) world. I will read on.
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