Why is Proust’s narrator so obsessed with lesbians?
Am still making my way through In Search of Lost Time. I had intended to finish in a month, but it has not been a month, it’s been two months, and I’m still only on the fifth volume. Which is by far the dullest of the volumes. I’d forgotten how little I am interested in the story of Marcel’s love affair with Albertine. In the earlier volumes in which it plays a part (mostly volumes 2 and 4), it’s interesting enough, since it takes place against the backdrop of his general sexual awakening and his movement through society. Albertine herself has an interesting place in society, since, as the penniless ward of her respectably middle-class aunt, she has the veneer of respectability, but still needs to figure out how to make her own way in the world. So I was down with it.
But in the fifth book, they move in together, and Marcel drifts back and forth between being bored of her and being possessive of her. Whenever he becomes convinced she’s being faithful, he talks about how uninteresting she is, and whenever he thinks she might be cheating on him, he’ll fly into a tizzy.
Which is all psychologically accurate, of course, but it just doesn’t interest me. Partly, I think, because it’s so incomplete. To Marcel, this is the essence of love. When you think you’re going to lose somebody, you want them, and when you think you’re safe with them, then you despise them. To him, that is all there is. That is love.
But I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I don’t think Marcel, at any point in these six volumes, ever experiences what I would call real romantic love. He never seems to genuinely care for any of these women or to want the best for him. To him they are always objects. Which, again, is psychologically accurate. Many men do think that way. In fact, all men think that way some of the time. The glory of love, though, is that it frees us, at least for awhile, from that kind of thinking.
And yet to Marcel that’s not a thing. To him the only escape is through memory. You can’t actually enjoy being with someone, because you can never actually possess someone. It’s only later, when you’re alone, remembering, that you can actually experience the life that you never got to have while you were living it.
Oh, but the weirdest part of the Albertine plot is that he becomes convinced that she is having secret lesbian affairs. That is the part that obsesses him. He is, no joke, just like Mr. Healy from Orange Is The New Black. For some reason he just really despises and is horrified by lesbians. I don’t get it. I mean, gay guys are fine. He doesn’t necessarily think they’re the best, but he’ll chill with them. And yet lesbians? Forget about it! They’re beyond the pale. It makes no sense to me. Even in early 20th century France I don’t think people were quite as worried about lesbians as Marcel seems to be.
(Also, I know somebody will pop in right now and be like, “But Proust was gay!” And yet…doesn’t that make this even weirder? I’ve never read another book by a male queer author that cared as much about lesbians as In Search Of Lost Time does.)