Part four of the new six-volume Penguin Proust complicates the romantic and social life of autobiographical protagonist Marcel with the specter of “inversion.”
First observing the notorious Baron de Charlus in intimate conversation with the tailor Jupien, Marcel becomes gradually aware of the prevalence of homosexuality in all the circles he moves through, and perhaps also in his conflicted attraction to and frustration with his “athletic,” forthright beloved Albertine. Veteran critic-editor-translator Sturrock handles this edgy novel’s vacillations between intense introspection and societal intrigue easily, alternating long and short sentences with particular success. Sturrock also renders with impressive clarity Proust’s subtle variations on the theme of concealment—of characters’ ancestry, class, and social ambitions as well as their sexuality, embodied in such brilliantly realized figures as aggressively upwardly mobile Mme. Verdurin, absurdly imperious Mme. De Cambremer, the young violinist Morel (on whom Charlus dote), perennial outsider Swann, and the beloved family members fixed in Marcel’s affection and memory.
An essential building-block in the construction of a modern masterpiece.