German vices: sexual/linguistic inversions in fin-de-siecle France.
While Dubarry's overwrought potboiler and Proust's masterpiece can hardly be considered literary peers, both reflect their authors' keen interest in contemporary French sexology. The musings of the Recherche on the subject of inversion are deeply indebted to medical, legal, historical and ethnographic writings on sexuality that, like Dubarry's, proliferated in France in the second half of the nineteenth century. (1) Proust's novel often elaborates--albeit in far more sophisticated form--tropes derived from such texts; the second part of this essay will be dedicated to exploring one that has particular resonance for both Dubarry and Proust, the notion of deviant sexuality as foreign and/or treasonous to the French nation, and indeed to Frenchness itself.
Sexology was just one of Armand Dubarry's varied interests. In addition to working as a journalist, he also produced children's books; biographies; a history of brigands and smugglers in Italy ("depuis les temps les plus recules jusqu'a nos jours" ["from ancient rimes to the present"] (2)); several titles, both fictional and non-fictional, on ancient Rome; an "anecdotal history of foods"; and numerous thrilling adventure stories, frequently set in exotic locales of the New World, with titles like Les Aventuriers de l'Amazone; L'Alsace-Lorraine en Australie: histoire d'une famille d'emigrants sur le continent austral; and Les tueurs de serpents: aventures d'un officier francais au Lac Tchad.
Dubarry combines several of these genres in Les Invertis. It begins as a mildly salacious bodice-ripper with a standard Gothic plot: Claire, the heroine, who loves an impoverished electrical engineer, Georges, is forced by the terres of a legacy to betroth herself to the loathsome and decadent aristocrat, Adolphe, the comte de Champlan. We soon learn that the real reason for the count's desire to marry Claire is that he has the most dishonorable intentions towards Georges and thinks that marrying Georges' beloved will bring him into closer proximity with the object of his unnatural desire. Meanwhile, the count's sister Florine, the baronne de Morangis--a woman with a suspiciously downy upper lip--harbors designs on Claire and is anxious for her brother's marriage to give her unfettered access to her new sister-in-law so that she can pursue her own nefarious purposes.
The marriage between poor Claire and the evil, effeminate count takes place as scheduled but, not surprisingly, is never consummated. Instead, her new husband launches an all-out assault on the virtue of her beloved Georges, while Claire's sister-in-law assails her chastity with equal fervor. In the end the beleaguered young lovers are forced to flee to Switzerland to escape the clutches of their depraved admirers. Adolphe and Florine pursue them across the Alps, but come to a hideous end when they are, first, trapped by an avalanche and then torn to pieces by a pair of eagles pointedly described as heterosexual. Nature thus has her revenge on those who have turned against her, and the widowed Claire is free to marry her honest engineer. "Par le deces du comte et de la baronne," the final lines of the novel inform us, "leur avenir, leur fortune, leur tranquillite, leur bonheur etaient assures. Il n'est pas rare que le bien naisse de l'exces du mal" ("Their future, their fortune, their tranquility, and their happiness were assured by the death of the count and the baroness. It is not rare that good should be born out of an excess of evil") (Dubarry 314). The moral of the story would seem to be that the violent suppression of homosexuality is actually a pre-condition for the flourishing of heterosexuality; the novel thus stages its anxieties about the acute social dangers of perversion far more openly and dramatically than most contemporary works of sexology, which tended instead to try to isolate and trivialize sexual aberrations as phenomena of which normal people need not take account.
One of the most curious things about Dubarry's already exceedingly odd text is its parenthetical subtitle, which appears, for much of the novel, to be a non sequitur. What do inverts have to do with "the German vice"? Adolphe and Florine are not German, but rather decadent French aristocrats. There are, in fact, no German characters; no one in the novel even travels to Germany. The answer to this question is to be found in the book's middle sections, when the plot is suddenly interrupted by a long essay concerning the origins and cultural significance of homosexuality. Claire has been taken to a party of Sapphists by her sister-in-law; as she looks around her in revulsion, the novel's narrative voice provides us with a brief transition by telling us that "elle commencat a savoir que les moeurs contre nature qui lui soulevaient le coeur, etaient tres repandues, tres anciennes [...]" ("she was beginning to learn that these unnatural customs, which sickened her, were very widespread and very ancient [...]") (Dubarry 92-3). The next sentence is written in the scholarly, objective tone of the historian or the ethnographer, and begins: "Ce n'est pas d'hier, en effet, que datent la sodomie et le tribadisme [...] ("Sodomy and tribadism are not, in fact, of recent date [...]") (Dubarry 93). There follows a disquisition on the history of inversion that goes on for sixty-five pages before the reader is, as it were, dropped back off at the party, as abruptly as she had been transported thence. (3)
This long digression begins with a history of sexuality that, like most contemporary accounts, locates the origins of perversion in the ancient world and especially the East. Late nineteenth-century sexologists and theorists of degeneration typically attributed sexual and gender deviance to over-refinement: to the unwholesome triumph, in any society, of artifice over nature. While Dubarry concedes briefly that inversion is sometimes found in both non-human animals and primitive peoples, he emphasizes that it is far more common in overly-sophisticated civilizations. He lists, among the countries first to be "infected" by homosexuality "[l]a Chine, le Japon, l'Inde, la Perse, Babylone, l'Assyrie et sa capitale Ninive, la Palestine (Sodome et Gomorrhe), la Phenicie, l'Asie Mineure, l'Egypte, la Grece, Rome, l'Empire byzantin" ("China, Japan, India, Persia, Babylonia, Assyria and her capital Nineveh, Palestine (Sodom and Gomorrah), Phoenicia, Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Byzantine Empire"), and so on; "Nous ne parlons pas," he adds, "des pays mahometans qui [...] possedent [la sodomie et le tribadisme] d'une facon endemique, parce qu'ils resultent du Koran" ("Not to speak of the Mahometan countries where sodomy and tribadism are endemic, because they result from the Koran") (Dubarry 93). Finally, Dubarry concludes his sweeping indictment of the depraved and luxurious East by observing that "Les Juifs, portes a la sensualite, les Juifs incorrigiblement sensuels, furent de bonne heure de desordonnes sexuels" ("The Jews, inclined to sensuality, the incorrigibly sensual Jews, were sexually disorderly from early times") (Dubarry 106)--a point to which we will return below.
After this summary of deviance in the ancient and Oriental worlds, Dubarry suddenly drops his tone of scientific objectivity and devotes all of the next chapter to an inflamed attack against the sexual perversity of the modern Germans. Despite the decadence of the East, he exclaims, "Ni les Cretois, ni les Levantins, ni les Napolitains, ni les Orientaux modernes n'ont connu cette exaltation teutonique, et l'on peut dire qu'en aucun pays, l'inversion n'a l'intensite volcanique qu'elle acquiert en Allemagne"("Neither the inhabitants of Crete, nor those of the Levant, nor those of Naples, nor the modern Orientals have ever known this Teutonic exaltation, and one may say that in no other country does inversion have the volcanic intensity that it has acquired in Germany") (Dubarry 142). According to Dubarry, German sexual deviance is of quite long historical standing; Frederick the Great (whom he describes as "franchement pederaste") and Marie-Therese of Austria, a tribade, led by example--and "Aujourd'hui encore," Dubarry assures his readership, "les Prussiens et les Anglais sont a la tete du mouvement pederastique europeen" ("Today the Prussians and the English are still at the head of the European pederastic movement") (Dubarry 121).
The reference to the English here can probably be attributed at least partially to the fact that in 1896, with the trials of Oscar Wilde (which had excited a great deal of public attention in France) so recently concluded, Dubarry could hardly do otherwise than to acknowledge that England was giving Germany a run for its money in this domain. But his occasional allusions to English buggers entirely lack the venomous bile he directs at those who, a scant fifteen years earlier, had defeated the French Army and seized the territories of Alsace and Lorraine. In Dubarry's diatribe, Germany's military advantage over France is sarcastically recast as pre-eminence in the arena of sexual inversion:
Les multitudes de barbares qui inonderent notre territoire, en 1870, incendierent nos villes ouvertes, fusillerent nos francs-tireurs, nos femmes, nos vieillards, nos patriotes sans defense, pillerent nos habitations, nos entrepots fourmillaient de sodomites, et a l'heure ou parait ce livre, les forces militaires germaniques ont toujours, sous ce rapport, une incontestable superiorite sur les forces militaires francaises. (Dubarry 128-9)
The multitudes of barbarians who inundated our territory in 1870, burned our unguarded cities, shot our troops, our women, our aged men, our defenseless patriots, pillaged our homes and our warehouses, were swarming with sodomites; and at the moment when this book appears, the German military forces have still, in this respect, an incontestable superiority over the French military forces.
Significantly, we note, armed French soldiers ("francs-tireurs") are here reduced to the same degree of helplessness as women, suggesting that Dubarry's outrage is spurred especially by the violent effeminization of French men effected by the sodomitical German penetration of their national body. "The body politic," writes Cameron McFarlane, "like the (male) body, establishes its integrity by maintaining its impenetrability" (McFarlane 51); the violation of the former implies, when it does not literally entail, the violation of the latter, and the loss of integrity for both. The image Dubarry evokes of helpless French soldiers menaced by rampaging German sodomites obviously threatens to implicate France in the German vice, if only as unwilling victim of German phallic aggression. But Dubarry moves hastily to reassure his readership that the moral integrity of the French shields them, as it were, compensating for their physical vulnerability; the French miraculously remain virginal despite their rape, entirely innocent of the homosexual tendencies of their conquerors:
Avouons humblement notre inferiorite sur ce point scabreux. On s'honore en rendant justice a ses ennemis. Bien que notre amour de l'humanite soit susceptible d'atteindre aux spheres celestes, nous n'entendons absolument rien a l'amour de l'individu tel que le pratiquent les oppresseurs d'Alsace-Lorraine. (Dubarry 138)
Let us humbly admit our inferiority on this shocking point. One does honor to oneself in rendering justice to one's enemies. Though our love of humanity be capable of reaching the celestial spheres, we know absolutely nothing of the love of the individual as it is practiced by the oppressors of Alsace-Lorraine.
Dubarry's rhetoric performs its own inversion here: as French moral superiority grows to cosmic, even divine, proportions, Germany's apparent dominance is, comically, reassigned to the realm of the individual, the carnal and finally the abject: "La qualification de Prussien," Dubarry informs us, is assigned by French wags to "la partie inferieure et posterieure du corps" ("The term 'Prussian' is given to the inferior and posterior part of the body") (Dubarry 120). Dubarry thus wards off the inference that hovers perilously around the earlier passage, by relocating the passive anus from the body of the French victim to that of the German conqueror.
Dubarry has now created a problem for himself, a kind of continuity error, by composing a work in whose first, fictional part we are introduced to a pair of sinister French inverts, but whose second part informs us that inversion is a predominantly German vice wholly unknown in France. As if in implicit acknowledgement of this dilemma, Dubarry finally admits, towards the end of his genealogy of sexuality, that not all French people are really entirely ignorant of "l'amour de l'individu tel que le pratiquent les oppresseurs d'Alsace-Lorraine." But he attempts to evade this problem by attributing homosexual practices within the hexagon to the Decadents, and then explaining that the French Decadents are not actually French. Instead, they are "internationalists": "Ils ne trouvent, en France, rien a leur gout, pas meme la patrie, car ce sont des internationalistes. En perdant le bon sens et la notion de notre belle langue si limpide, ils ont perdu le sentiment du bien et du mal" ("[The Decadents] find nothing in France to their taste, not even the fatherland, for they are internationalists. Having lost their common sense and their conception of our beautiful, limpid language, they have also lost their sense of good and evil") (Dubarry 150). We observe here Dubarry's fluid transitions between literary, sexual, and moral conventions, and the way his formula invokes a nationalist sentiment that would express itself in the appropriate deployment of both the French language and French sexuality. Misusing one, homosexuals necessarily abuse the other; they do not speak the national language, or the language of nationalism.
In its hybrid structure, its perfervid prose and its fantastical conclusion, Dubarry's novel is almost uniquely bizarre in nineteenth-century French literature. His rhetoric, however, draws thematically on a solidly-established discursive tradition throughout Europe of projecting sexual difference onto the culturally alien by associating deviance with foreign languages and cultures--that which is alien outside the state--and/or with treason--the alien within the state. Commenting on the first strategy in his book Homosexuality in Renaissance England, Alan Bray argues that in England during the Renaissance, for example, images of the sodomite were so terrifying and extra-natural that it was fairly rare for them to be attached to actual English people, as if neither Englishmen engaged in same-sex relations nor those around them could identify real homosex in their own surroundings with the horrors of sodomy. In contrast, they were prompt to identify it in foreign cultures:
[England's] readiness, even eagerness, to recognise homosexuality in an alien context is in marked contrast to its reluctance to do so within. Several travellers wrote detailed and horrified accounts of the homosexuality they witnessed in relatively more tolerant societies: William Lithgow on southern Europe and Moslem Turkey and North Africa; Thomas Herbert on Persia and the Far East; and George Turberville, Elizabeth I's ambassador to Russia, on homosexuality among the Russian peasantry. All three explicitly linked the homosexuality they encountered with the barbarous or Papistical nature of these societies, leaving the reader with the strong impression that in Protestant northern Europe such things were unknown. In this they were only retailing a common assumption. 'Le bougre Italien' according to Thomas Browne was the national character of the Italians; and it was the Lombards, or so at least claimed Edward Coke, who first brought homosexuality into the country. Coke also solemnly reminded his readers that 'bugeria is an Italian word.' (Bray 75)
In the same vein, Joseph Hall, bishop of Exeter and Norwich under Charles I, claimed that Spanish and Italian Catholic influence was responsible for bringing both sodomy and dueling to England (Kiernan 93). In 1663, Samuel Pepys lamented the fact that "buggery is now almost grown as common among our [English] gallants as in Italy" (Pepys 210), indicating that, as Cameron McFarlane says, "it is apparently to be taken as a matter of course that such behavior should flourish in countries other than England, especially in a (not incidentally) Catholic country like Italy" (McFarlane 3). And in the eighteenth century, John Dennis would claim that of "all the countries of the Christian world, that country has been, and is like to be, the most famous for this execrable vice [sodomy], in which idolatry has set up its headquarters"--that country being, of course, Italy, "the home of the sodomite and the pope" (Trumbach 11).
What Catholic and Muslim cultures were to the English, Protestant and Muslim cultures were to the French. Claude Courove's dictionary of gay slang lists twenty-one adjectives commonly used in French to modify "moeurs" in order to signify homosexuality; more than half of them refer to nations or geographical regions, including "arabes," "asiatiques," "byzantines," "grecques," "levantines," "tunisiennes," and "allemandes" ("Arab, Asiatic, Byzantine, Greek, Levantine, Tunisian, and German") (Courove 27). In particular, the concept of "moeurs allemandes" became ever-more resonant in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Courove cites an obscene ditty dating from 1784 that describes a meeting place of homosexuals: "Car en ce lieu chaque vilain/S'amusait tout comme a Berlin" ("For in this place every naughty boy/Enjoyed himself just like in Berlin") (Courove 96). After the Franco-Prussian war, the association of Germany with sexual deviance became deeply etched into the French popular consciousness, especially because it was during this period that sexology first developed as a field of scientific inquiry in Germany and, concurrently, an early German homosexual emancipation movement appeared. The very terms "inversion," "homosexuality" and "uranism" were transplanted into French from German or Italian, lending credence to assertions that the behaviors were as foreign to France as the words describing them (Courove 25).
Even those in France who disputed the stereotype of German deviance had to admit that by the beginning of the twentieth century it was ubiquitous (see Grand-Carteret 4). So widespread was this correlation, indeed, that French homosexuals apparently came to adopt it as a coded means of self-identification; Robert de Billy recalled telling Marcel Proust that by the early 1900s, the question "Parlez-vous allemand?" had become a password among Parisian homosexuals (Billy 176). (4) It is clear, then, that even though homosexuality had been formally relegated to the private sphere once homosexual conduct between adults was decriminalized after the Revolution and then in the Napoleonic Code, (5) it continued to be perceived in France, even by homosexuals themselves, as an inassimilable anomaly within the national--which is to say the public--domain. Sexual difference threatened the liberal concept of the nation as a contract among publicly identical individuals, necessitating its sequestration as a foreign import. In a recent article on the Dreyfus Affair, Nicholas Dobelbower comments on the association of homosexuality with foreignness:
In the context of French Republicanism, with its particular attachment to universalism, gay difference, like Jewish difference, metonymically portends the end of a unified notion of Frenchness, and through a process of semantic slippage tends to be assimilated to the difference represented by dangerous foreign powers. French homosexuality, in other words, is not French, but rather always symbolically foreign. From there, we are only a step away from questioning national allegiances. (137)
This brings me to my second point, the maneuver Dubarry executes in asserting that if occasionally homosexuals tan be found within the nation, it is only because they do not really belong to it. The idea that sexual deviants lacked national loyalty dated back, in Europe, at least to the sixteenth century. Bray suggests that one reason for this is that, in a society in which there is a minimal separation between Church and State, or in which the head of one is the head of the other, a trespass against one will be considered a trespass against both; heresy and treason will not be distinct categories. Thus in Anglican England, to use Bray's example again, same-sex relations, precisely because they were considered a sin, also constituted a crime against the state. As Bray writes, "Rebellion against the Church and rebellion against the state were not concepts easily distinguished in Tudor and Stuart England, and as might be expected homosexuality played its part in the folklore of treason [...] the one was the natural extension of the other." Then Bray quotes Edward Coke's 1644 work The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England. Referring to deviant sex acts--which he variously terms "buggery" or "sodomy," words that referred to a range of sexual behaviors--Coke defines these practices as "treason against the King of Heaven": "Crimen laesae majestatis, a sin horrible, committed against the King; and this is either against the King Celestial or Terrestrial in three manners: by heresy, by buggery, by sodomy" (Bray 20). We can imagine that a similar logic was at work in pre-Revolutionary, Catholic France; although the French monarch was not the head of the Church as in England, Church and State still occupied overlapping terrains and the king, as the divinely appointed head of state, would still be injured by heresies that disrupted the unity of the national (Catholic) body.
In sum, the attribution of sexual deviance to the foreign and the treasonous has several functions. First and most obviously, accusations of sexual abnormality have always had a place in the rhetoric of invective, at least in the West and perhaps universally. Second, as Foucault and others have argued, the idea of sexual self-mastery played a crucial role in European colonialist narratives and thus in competition among European colonial powers: those who could not discipline themselves sexually could not be considered fit to rule over the savages of Africa and the New World. And finally, blaming deviance on foreigners is reassuring because it offers the possibility that perversion can be stopped at the border. When modern states started trying to forge national collectivities out of city-states, feudal domains or multi-ethnic empires, it was useful for them to have a way to acknowledge the existence of deviance, to account for the ubiquity of sexual variations, while still consolidating a sense of themselves as bounded cultural entities unified by, among other things, a common, normative, sexuality. And when that sense of unity breaks down, the conflation of sexual deviance with treason gives a society a way to expel the deviant from the national body, metaphorically if not literally, after he has been identified.
Both of these tropes--homosexuality as treasonous, and homosexuality as foreign, particularly German--helped to underwrite three scandals that, either overtly or indirectly, catalyzed Proust's work on A la Recherche du temps perdu. Those three scandals were the Wilde trials, the Eulenburg scandal in Germany, and the Dreyfus Affair. There is little evidence in Proust's correspondence that he was particularly interested in the Wilde trials at the time they took place, but he obviously knew about them; he did meet Wilde, and refers to him at least twice in the Recherche. And certainly Proust read reports on the trials in the French media, for whom the scandal was an occasion to reproach the British for both homosexuality and homophobia; the gist of much of the press coverage was that since England, unlike France, was teeming with homosexuals, it was hypocritical to prosecute Wilde for a tendency shared by those attacking him. Proust, in contrast, takes Wilde's perversion, and his persecution, as exemplary of the suffering of all inverts everywhere, of whom he writes in Sodom and Gomorrah that their position is "instable, comme pour le poete la veille fete dans tous les salons, applaudi dans tous les theatres de Londres, chasse le lendemain de tous les garnis sans pouvoir trouver un oreiller oU reposer sa tete, tournant la meule comme Samson" ("unstable, like that of the poet one day feted in every drawing-room and applauded in every theatre in London, and the next driven from every lodging, unable to find a pillow upon which to lay his head, turning the mill like Samson") (Proust SG 615-6/SG 21 (6)).
Proust wrote to friends about his interest in the Eulenburg affair, an early twentieth-century scandal in which several intimates of the German Emperor were accused of betraying their country and of being homosexual--or betraying their country by being homosexual. The charges of homosexuality were probably justified (at least, Proust thought so) and the allegations eventually touched Kaiser Wilhelm II himself. In 1937, the critic Robert Vigneron, drawing on Robert de Billy's memoir and Proust's correspondence, declared that the Eulenburg scandal was actually the genesis of the Recbercbe, because it suggested to Proust that homosexuality might be a sufficiently important topic--politically, culturally, and philosophically--to constitute the core of his novel (Vigneron 70).
While Vigneron perhaps overstates his case, there can be no doubt that the scandal surfaces in several places in Proust's text, both thematically and in topical references like those made to the Kaiser's alleged homosexuality. In Le Cote de Guermantes, for example, the Baron de Charlus tells Marcel that "Il existe entre certains hommes [...] une franc-maconnerie dont je ne puis vous parler, mais qui compte dans ses rangs en ce moment quatre souverains de l'Europe" ("There exists among certain mena freemasonry of which I cannot now say more than that it numbers in its ranks four of the reigning sovereigns of Europe") and that one of these is "l'Empereur d'Allemagne" (Proust CG 290/GW 394). Later in the same volume, Proust draws together two heavily encoded allusions when he has [M.sup.me] de Guermantes say that the Kaiser "a quelque chose d'amusant, d' obtenu [...] comme un oeillet vert" (he reminds her of "something 'forced' like a green carnation") (CG 526/ G W 721)--a reference to the boutonnieres sported by Oscar Wilde and worn thereafter as a self-identifying symbol by homosexual men.
The Dreyfus Affair, of course, is a dominant presence in Proust's novel; as well as exposing the role played by sexuality in the Affair itself, Proust uses the Affair as one of the most frequently recurring terms of comparison for illicit sexuality in the novel, a metaphor whose full relevance is only evident in light of the role played by sexuality in the Affair itself, and of the widespread correlations among Jews, Germans, and homosexuals in the cultural, and Proust's, imagination. In 1902, when the Affair was beginning to subside, Proust wrote the following letter to his friend Antoine Bibesco, using the coded private vocabulary he shared with his intimates in which homosexuality was referred to as "Salaisme":
I have had some rather profound thoughts about Salaism, which will be communicated to you in the course of one of our next metaphysical conversations. No need to tell you that they are of extreme severity. But there remains a philosophical curiosity about persons. Dreyfusard, anti-Dreyfusard, Salaist, anti-Salaist, are just about the only things worth knowing about an imbecile. (Proust SL 242)
Homosexuality and the Dreyfus Affair, or rather someone's views on homosexuality and the Affair, are for the Proust of this period so ontologically definitive that even if someone is otherwise without distinguishing or interesting personal traits, these two things have sufficient hermeneutical force to tell us who she is. And a few years later, as Proust composed the Recherche, they remained central to his conception of both "persons"--the character of individuals--and culture, the character of French society during the thirty years of the novel's time-span.
I cannot attempt to do justice here to the complexity of either the Dreyfus case itself or Proust's uses of it. I simply want to try to point out a couple of the ideological and rhetorical features of the Affair that are especially pertinent to a discussion of the themes of homosexuality and "German-ness" in the novel. We have seen that in fin-de-siecle France, "Germans=homosexuals"; the claim could also be made that the same equation held for Jews, at least for Jewish men, whose deviant sexual and gender identity was a standard theme of both anti-Semitic discourse and works on sexology, including, as we have seen, Dubarry's. The Dreyfus Affair evoked yet another equivalence even more ubiquitous in France: "Jews--Germans." French anti-Semitism consistently identified Jews with Germany, an identification resting partly on the historical accident that about two-thirds of French Jews had lived in Alsace-Lorraine, and after the Franco-Prussian war, the majority of these opted for French citizenship and moved to Paris. Because, like most Alsatians, they spoke German as well as French, they were, in the words of Jean-Denis Bredin, "quickly assumed to be Germans, whereas their very choice of expatriation manifested their loyalty to France" (Bredin 26).
Numerous references in the Catholic and anti-Semitic press of the time show how invariably "Jewish" was assumed to be cognate with "German." An illustration from the virulently anti-Semitic "Calendrier des Youtres," published in 1899, depicts a large boot kicking a Jew back over the frontier from France to Germany. Newspapers referred again and again to "the Jewish and German syndicate," or claimed that "The frightful Jews, vomited up into France by the ghettos of Germany, can barely jabber our language" (qtd. Bredin 326, 79). Since many French people already believed that France had lost the Franco-Prussian war not because of military inferiority but because of treachery, and that agents of the Kaiser were everywhere, they leaped quickly to the conclusion that the betrayers were likely to bave been Alsatian Jews, with their liminal racial identities and suspicious bilingualism.
When it was discovered, in 1894, that someone had been selling military secrets to the German military attache, it required little effort to persuade the Army, the public and the jurors of a Court Martial that the culprit was an Alsatian, Jewish artillery officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. From the moment he was named as a suspect, press accounts make it clear that Dreyfus was treated as a literal embodiment of the Jewish/German nexus; during Dreyfus's Court Martial, the prosecutor actually charged that Dreyfus's fluent German constituted evidence against him in and of itself.
If Dreyfus embodied the connection between the Jew and the German, the military attache with whom he was allegedly plotting, Colonel Maximilien von Schwartzkoppen, personified the connection between the German and the homosexual: several of the documents on the basis of which Dreyfus was convicted were pornographic notes from one of Schwartzkoppen's lovers, the Italian military attache, Alessandro Panizzardi. These sexually explicit letters--which French military intelligence had collected from Schwartzkoppen's wastepaper basket--were put into a secret file, the famous "dossier secret," which was shown to the jurors of Dreyfus's Court Martial and, later on, to other military and government officiais who needed to be convinced that Dreyfus was guilty.
Why the Schwartzkoppen-Panizzardi correspondence should have been considered a convincing demonstration of Dreyfus's guilt is unclear, since the letters never name him; Dobelbower imagines that they functioned simply "as a sort of erotic excess" and points out that "[t]he possibility that Dreyfus was in association with Panizzardi and Schwartzkoppen was undoubtedly rendered more believable by the similarity of the ways in which Jews and homosexuals figured into French ideology at the turn of the century" (Dobelbower 133,137). He proposes, therefore, that the letters were added to the file purely to evoke a visceral and irrational homophobic response in readers that would condition their reactions to Dreyfus (Dobelbower 133-4).
Much of the other material in the secret dossier does seem to have been included solely to reinforce the connection between proscribed sexuality and the enemies of France. Classified reports on the activities of diplomats and spies dwell on their sexual affairs, both homo- and heterosexual; women with more than one lover, prostitutes and demi-mondaines were subjected to close scrutiny, and foreign, especially German-speaking, mistresses of Frenchmen were also considered suspicious. A copy of a note dated 24 September 1894 (the month before Dreyfus was arrested) mentions a "Schoenfeld," adjunct of the Archduke Albert, who "a des passions genre marquis de Sade" ("has passions akin to those of the marquis de Sade") and then adds that he is well-known among the filles publiques of Vienna. A clipping headed "Allemagne, le 27 Septembre 1898" and captioned "Les scandales aux ateliers militaires de Spandau" reports:
Au mois d'Aout [sic] dernier, certaines accusations furent portees contre les ouvriers royaux par un journal bismarkien Les Berliner Neueste Nachrichten .
D'apres le gazetier, ces ouvriers sont faineants et debauches; ils touchent beaucoup d'argent pour ne rien faire. Leur temps se passe a se gorger de biere et a se livrer a des actes qui rappellent les debauches de Sodome et de Gomorrhe. (Archives Nationales BB 1984)
Last August, certain accusations were brought against royal workers by a Bismarckian newspaper, "The Berliner Neueste Nachrichten."
According to the reporter, these workers are idle and debauched; they earn a great deal of money for doing nothing. Their time is spent gorging themselves with beer and engaging in debauches that recall those of Sodom and Gomorrah.
None of these materials bas to do with Dreyfus, or any of the other principals in the Affair; none of them is even embedded in commentary purporting to make logical connections among these texts or between them and Dreyfus. Instead, ail of these documents serve, like the Schwartzkoppen-Panizzardi letters, as "erotic excess," creating an almost subliminal paralogical chain of equivalences between spies, perversion, German-ness, licentiousness, and treason that threads its way through, or under, the explicit narrative of the case against a Jew, Alfred Dreyfus.
The contents of this dossier were not made entirely public until 1961, though there were numerous allusions toit in the press and a great deal of speculation about it during the late 1890s, when the Affair was at its peak. It seems unlikely that Proust knew exactly what was in the file, although he was acquainted with several people who had access to it; itis not even certain that he knew that the two military attaches were homosexual. But following the Affair as closely as he did, he could hardly have overlooked the regularity with which the anti-Dreyfusards accused their opponents of sexual deviance. Cartoons of the period often represent the caricaturists' chosen villains in the case as lisping cross-dressers. In particular, Colonel Georges Picquart--the Army insider who discovered proof of Dreyfus's innocence, blew the whistle and was then hounded out of the military--was repeatedly singled out for vituperative commentary about his gender identity and/or sexual practices. One of his superior officers wrote a hostile report about Picquart "suggesting that Picquart shared the sexual mores of Panizzardi: 'In a certain society, Picquart is known under the name of Georgette.' [The officer] also mentioned a police report supposedly confirming these proclivities, stating that 'this report ... would explain the attitude of Picquart in the Dreyfus Case'" (D.L. Lewis 223).
An anti-Dreyfusard poster of the period titled "Les Remparts d'Israel" levels the same accusation against Picquart and, implicitly, the pro-Dreyfus lawyer Alphonse Bard; it shows Picquart dressed in flamboyant drag, with a little ditty below him that reads, "En compagnie de son ami Bard/L'ex lieutenant-colonel Picquart/Devant la cour sitot qu'il entre/S'met a danser la danse du ventre" ("Accompanied by his friend Bard,/the former Lt.-Col. Picquart/In front of the court, at his first chance,/Starts to do a belly-dance") (Musee d'art et d'histoire du Judaisme, Paris). And when she was covering the trial of Emile Zola, the anti-Dreyfusard journalist Gyp tied Picquart's alleged sexual deviance to both Protestantism (Picquart was an Alsatian Protestant) and Jewishness, which registers here not as a race or faith but as an ontological condition of effeminacy and treachery: "Colonel Picquart is the pretty Jew, or rather the pretty Jewish blond. About his religion I have no hint, though I'd wager Protestant. He sways back and forth at the witness rail, moving his hips, which he shows off a bit too much [...]" (qtd. Burns 116). The connection between homosexuality and treason was apparently considered too obvious to require any further explanation.
It is not surprising then that--as numerous references in both the correspondence and Recherche suggest--Proust understood that sexuality, treason, Jews and Germans were intricately analogically entangled in the rhetoric of the Affair, in ways that he found richly significant. For example, he evokes the centrality of sexuality to the Affair by representing the way that sex circulated, via rumor, gossip, the secret dossier and so on, as an explanatory device, which usually obfuscated what it claimed to reveal, as when the Duc de Guermantes says:
--Vous savez pourquoi on ne peut pas montrer les preuves de la trahison de Dreyfus. Il parait que c'est parce qu'il est l'amant de la femme du ministre de la Guerre, cela se dit sous le manteau.
--Ah ! je croyais de la femme du president du Conseil, dit M. d'Argencourt. [ .... ]
--Non, c'est la femme du ministre de la Guerre. C'est du moins un bruit qui court les ruelles, reprit le duc [...]. (CG 237-8)
"You know," he went on, "why they can't produce the proof of Dreyfus's guilt. Apparently it's because he's the lover of the War Minister's wife, that's what people are saying on the sly."
"Ah! I thought it was the Prime Minister's wife," said M. d'Argencourt [...]
"No, it was the War Minister's wife; at least, that's the talk of the coffee-houses," went on the Duke [...]. (GW 320-1)
Even more frequently, it is not just sexuality per se, but homosexuality in particular, that is brought into conjunction with Dreyfusism in the novel. This is accomplished in numerous ways: in similes, metaphors and metonyms; by apposition; by placing them in equivalent relationships to a third term; and through syzygy, where terms are repeatedly lined up in a certain order until, in the course of the Recherche, we learn to expect one once we have seen the others, in the readerly equivalent of a Pavlovian response. After "priming" the reader, at the beginning of Sodom and Gomorrah, with numerous direct analogies between homosexuality and Dreyfusism, in later passages Proust can indicate their relationship purely by juxtaposition. During the reception held by the Prince and Princesse de Guermantes, for example, conversations about the Affair are interwoven with allusions to homosexuality, or staged against the backdrop of a homosexual scene; as Swann discusses the Prince's conversion to Dreyfusism with Marcel, Charlus is cruising Mme de Surgis's sons in the background. And Swann shifts in one breath from denying Charlus's homosexuality to telling Marcel about the Prince's change of heart (a syzygy whose full significance will only emerge once we learn later that the Prince, too, is an invert):
--Il [Charlus] est plus sentimental que d'autres, voila tout ; d'autre part, comme il ne va jamais tres loin avec les femmes cela a donne une espece de credit aux bruits insenses dont vous voulez parler. Charlus aime peut-etre beaucoup ses amis, mais tenez pour assure que cela ne s'est jamais passe ailleurs que dans sa tete et dans son coeur. [...] Donc, le prince de Guermantes continua: << Je vous avouerai que cette idee d'une illegalite possible dans la conduite du proces m'etait extremement penible a cause du culte que vous savez que j'ai pour l'armee [...]. >> (SG 708)
"He is more sentimental than other men, that's all; on the other hand, as he never goes very far with women, that has given a sort of plausibility to the idiotic rumours to which you refer. Charlus is perhaps greatly attached to his men friends, but you may be quite certain that the attachment is only in his head and in his heart. [...] Well, the Prince de Guermantes went on to say: 'I don't mind telling you that this idea of a possible illegality in the conduct of the trial was extremely painful to me, because I have always, as you know, worshipped the Army.'" (SG 146)
Once this connection is quite firmly established, Proust introduces passages in which the term being associated with homosexuality and treachery begins to shift from "Jewishness"/"Dreyfusism" into "German-ness"; the transition from one to the other modulates like a chord being transposed into another key. After all, Dreyfusism is always marked, in Proust's novel just as it was in history, as both Jewish and German. Proust indicates this connection--as well as the way deviant sexuality is imbricated with these other terms--most explicitly in a passage in Sodom and Gomorrah that he excised from the published version of the novel, perhaps feeling it too heavy-handed in its caricature of those who attribute the Prince's Dreyfusism to his wife's German heritage and her infatuation with her husband's homosexual cousin Charlus:
Quand un esprit hesitant faisait valoir en faveur de l'innocence de Dreyfus qu'un chretien nationaliste et antisemite, comme le prince de Guermantes, avait ete converti a y croire, on repondait:
<< Mais est-ce qu'il n'a pas epouse une Allemande ? --Oui, mais ... --Est-ce que cette Allemande n'est pas nerveuse ? N'est-elle pas amoureuse d'un homme qui a des gouts speciaux ? >> Et le dreyfusisme du prince avait beau ne pas lui avoir ete suggere par sa femme et n'avoir pas de rapport avec les moeurs du baron, l'antidreyfusard philosophe concluait: << Vous voyez bien ! C'est peutetre de la meilleure foi du monde que le prince de Guermantes est dreyfusiste. L'influence etrangere a pu s'exercer sur lui d'une facon occulte. C'est le mode le plus grave. Mais un bon conseil. Chaque fois que vous trouverez un dreyfusard, grattez un peu. Vous ne trouverez pas bien loin le ghetto, l'etranger, l'inversion ou la wagneromanie. >> Et lachement on cessait la conversation, car il aurait fallu avouer que la princesse etait une wagnerienne passionnee. (SG << Notes et variantes >> 1185, note to p. 716)
When some wavering spirit pointed out in favour of Dreyfus's innocence the fact that a nationalist and anti-Semitic Christian like the Prince de Guermantes had been converted to a belief in it, people would reply: "But didn't he marry a German? .... Yes, but ..." "And isn't that German woman rather highly strung? Isn't she infatuated with a man who has bizarre tastes?" And in spite of the fact that the Prince's Dreyfusism had not been prompted by his wife and had no connexion with the Baron's sexual proclivities, the philosophical anti-Dreyfusard would conclude: "There, you see! The Prince de Guermantes may be Dreyfusist in the best of good faith; but foreign influence may have been brought to bear on him by occult means. That's the most dangerous way. But let me give you a piece of advice. Whenever you come across a Dreyfusard, just scratch a bit. Not far underneath you'll find the ghetto, foreign blood, inversion or Wagneromania." And cravenly the subject would be dropped, for it had to be admitted that the Princess was a passionate Wagnerian. (SG, Addenda 731)
If Proust chose not to include this passage in the novel, it nonetheless provides a useful index of his sensitivity to the way anti-Semitism, homophobia and anti-German nationalism conspired in anti-Dreyfusism and helps to highlight those associations in passages where they are made less overtly. Pericles Lewis has noted that a lack of patriotism is consistently represented as German-ness in La Recherche, whether during the Affair or during the Great War:
The Germans are, in Proust's novel as in modern French history, the archetypal "others." Throughout the novel, the characters whose patriotism is suspect, whether the Dreyfusard Jews like Swann and Bloch at the time of the Dreyfus affair or the anti-Dreyfusard aristocrats at the rime of the war, are accused by the patriotic French of having German blood or German allegiances. (P. Lewis 135)
In the following passage, for instance, when Gilberte de Saint-Loup writes to Marcel during the war and praises the courteous behavior of the German regiment that has requisitioned the Guermantes' ancestral manor, Marcel is uncertain whether ber sympathy for the Germans should be attributed to her own part-Jewish ancestry or to her marriage into the part-German Guermantes family:
L'etat-major allemand s'etait-il en effet bien conduit, ou fallait-il voir dans la lettre de Gilberte un effet par contagion de l'esprit des Guermantes, lesquels etaient de souche bavaroise, apparentes a la plus haute aristocratie d'Allemagne, mais Gilberte ne tarissait pas sur la parfaite education de l'etat-major [...] bonne education qu'elle opposait a la violence desordonnee des fuyards francais, qui avaient traverse la propriete en saccageant tout, avant l'arrivee des generaux allemands. En tous cas, si la lettre de Gilberte etait par certains cotes impregnee de l'esprit des Guermantes--d'autres diraient de l'internationalisme juif [etc.]. (TR 751-2)
Whether the German staff had really behaved well, or whether it was right to detect in Gilberte's letter the influence, by contagion, of the spirit of those Guermantes who were of Bavarian stock and related to the highest aristocracy of Germany, she was lavish in her praise of the perfect breeding of the staff-officers [...] a good breeding which she contrasted with the disorderly violence of the fleeing French troops, who had pillaged everything as they crossed the property before the arrival of the German generals. In any case, if Gilberte's letter was in some ways impregnated with the spirit of the Guermantes--others would say the spirit of Jewish internationalism [etc.]. (TR 89)
By the time the narrative reaches the period of World War I in the final volume, the Jewish or Dreyfusard link in this chain of equivalences tends to drop out, and what we are left with is German-ness and homosexuality. Charlus--who ought to know, being both homosexual and, as a member of the Guermantes family, part Bavarian--puts this equation into play in La Prisonniere, when he bemoans the changing mores of the day: "Mais j'avoue que ce qui a encore le plus change, c'est ce que les Allemands appellent l'homosexualite" ("But I must admit that the thing that has changed most of all is what the Germans call homosexuality") (P 306/C 409), as though "homosexuality" were a predominantly Germanic concept almost unavailable in the French language. And by the time of the Great War, it is Charlus who becomes the prime exemplar of the connection between sexual deviance and treasonous affiliation with the German enemy. The narrator repeatedly compares the Baron's Germanophilia to his homosexuality, writing that "il ne pouvait pas plus s'empecher de donner libre cours a sa germanophilie qu'a ses autres penchants" ("he was no more capable of checking the flow of his pro-German feelings than of his other inclinations") (TR 802/TR 162), and that "M. de Charlus mettait a prononcer le mot << boche >> le meme genre de hardiesse que jadis dans le tram de Balbec a parler des hommes dont le gout n'est pas pour les femmes" ("M. de Charlus gave the impression of having to pluck up courage to pronounce the word 'Boche,' very much as in the past, in the 'tram' at Balbec, he had when he had talked about men whose taste is not for women") (TR 784/TR 137).
Furthermore, we are told that the deepest impulses of the Baron's German blood are both "provocatrice par ruse, et par orgueil guerriere" ("guilefully provocative and arrogantly bellicose") (P 361/C 487); innately duplicitous (like the Jews), bloody-minded (like the Germans), and homosexual, he is inevitably designated a traitor, alien to the French national body. As Mme Verdurin, Motel and others campaign to destroy Charlus, the narrator tells us that "Mme Verdurin affectait de croire qu'il [Charlus] n'etait pas francais. << Quelle est sa nationalite exacte, est-ce qu'il n'est pas autrichien ? demandait innocemment M. Verdurin. [...] --Mais non, il est prussien, disait la Patronne >>" ("Mme Verdurin affected to believe that he was not French. 'What is his nationality exactly, isn't he an Austrian?' M. Verdurin would ask innocently. [...] 'No, he is Prussian,' the Mistress would say") (TR 765/TR 109). Charlus and his friends are accused of spying for Germany, and in hostile newspaper articles, "L'inversion du baron n'etait pas seule denoncee, mais aussi sa pretendue nationalite germanique : << Frau Bosch >>, << Frau van den Bosch >> etaient les surnoms habituels de M. de Charlus" ("Not only was the Baron's inversion denounced, but also his alleged Germanic nationality: 'Frau Bosch,' 'Frau von den Bosch' were the names habitually used to designate M. de Charlus") (TR 767/TR 112).
Rene Girard has elaborated a series of parallels between the lire of the nation and the life of the salons in the Recherche that helps to make the connection between social and national forms of treason, pointing out that "France is to Germany what the Verdurin salon is to the Guermantes salon" (Girard 205); so Mme Verdurin, representing France, despises and decries the German Guermantes--up until she becomes one of them, of course. "The rigorous parallelism between social and national chauvinism," writes Girard, "suggests that we should seek in the order of the macrocosm a parallel to the dramatic reversal in the microcosm, a reversal which can without exaggeration be considered to touch on 'treachery'" (Girard 206). This constant tracking back and forth between microcosm and macrocosm--between the social, personal and private realms on the one hand, and the geo-political on the other--has led some (notably Arendt) to accuse Proust of trivializing the political. But it is more usefully interpreted as a strategy that enables him to examine, among other things, the ways social prejudices ramify through the political sphere. J.E. Rivers, for example, reads the campaign against Charlus as Proust's moral allegory of the Eulenburg scandal, which had demonstrated so clearly how homophobia could be used politically. Like the journalist who had unleashed the accusations of treason and perversion against the Kaiser's friend Eulenburg, Rivers writes, "Mme Verdurin cleverly bases her assertions about Charlus on precisely the sorts of stereotypes that will make them credible and frightening to a homophobic mind [...] drawing upon the superstition which connects homosexuality with subversive foreign ideologies" (Rivers 133-4).
Charlus is not the only character whose double affiliation, as a German and a homosexual, rouses that superstition and draws accusations of subversion. During the war, Charlus's nephew, Robert de Saint-Loup, incriminates himself through a correspondence with a German officer whose tenor we can infer to have been erotic, but which is assumed instead--or, rather, precisely because of this--to have been treasonous. When Marcel happens on a male brothel that he takes at first for a nest of spies, he sees a military man who might be Saint-Loup leaving the establishment, and thinks to himself:
Je me rappelai involontairement que Saint-Loup avait ete injustement mele a une affaire d'espionnage parce qu'on avait trouve son nom dans les lettres saisies sur un officier allemand. Pleine justice lui avait d'ailleurs ete rendue par l'autorite militaire. Mais malgre moi je rapprochai ce souvenir de ce que je voyais. Cet hotel servait-il de lieu de rendez-vous a des espions ? (TR 810-811)
I recalled involuntarily that Saint-Loup had--unjustly--been involved in a case of espionage because his name had been found in some letters captured on a German officer. He had, of course, been completely exonerated by the military authorities. But in spite of myself I associated this recollection with what I now saw. Was this hotel being used as a meeting-place of spies? (TR 175)
We had actually been prepared for Robert's unmasking--as a homosexual, a Germanophile, and perhaps a traitor--in Sodom and Gomorrah, in one of those passages that becomes marvelously comic in the re-reading, when the secrets it seems to bury can retrospectively be seen to have been lying right on the surface ail along. When we first read the following scene--in which the Cambremers discuss the Dreyfusism of various Guermantes with Marcel--we are aware that Saint-Loup had been a fervent Dreyfusard atone time; we do not yet know that he will eventually become an invert, but we do know that both the Baron de Charlus and the Prince de Guermantes are. We have also been repeatedly told that because homosexual men make such good husbands, the (homosexual) relatives of marriageable women eagerly seek out other inverts for their daughters and nieces to wed, so as to ensure their future happiness. With that in mind, and especially once we return to the passage knowing that Saint-Loup will become homosexual, we are in a position to catch the proleptic joke: throughout this conversation, the word "homosexual" can simply be substituted for the word "Dreyfusard." In the end, the implicit cause of both will turn out to be being German:
M. de Cambremer m'en donnait ces explications : << Je vous dirai qu'avec M. de Charlus c'etait difficile. Il est extremement dreyfusard [homosexuel]...--Mais non ! --Si..., en tous cas son cousin le prince de Guermantes l'est, on leur jette assez la pierre pour ca. J'ai des parents tres a l'oeil la-dessus. Je ne peux pas frequenter ces gens-la, je me brouillerais avec toute ma famille.--Puisque le prince de Guermantes est dreyfusard [homosexuel], cela ira d'autant mieux, dit Mme de Cambremer, que Saint-Loup, qui, dit-on, epouse sa niece, l'est aussi. C'est meme peut-etre la raison du mariage. --Voyons, ma chere, ne dites pas que Saint-Loup, que nous aimons beaucoup, est dreyfusard [homosexuel]. On ne doit pas repandre ces allegations a la legere, dit M. de Cambremer. Vous le feriez bien voir dans l'armee ! --Il l'a ete, mais il ne l'est plus, dis-je a M. de Cambremer. Quant a son mariage avec Mlle de Guermantes-Brassac, est ce vrai ? --On ne parle que de ca, mais vous etes bien place pour le savoir. --Mais je vous repete qu'il me l'a dit a moi-meme qu'il etait dreyfusard [homosexuel], dit Mme de Cambremer. C'est, du reste, tres excusable, les Guermantes sont a moitie allemands. >> (SG 1094)
M. de Cambremer explained it to me as follows: "I must tell you that with M. de Charlus it was rather difficult. He is an extreme Dreyfusard [homosexual]..."
"Yes he is ... Anyhow his cousin the Prince de Guermantes is, and they've corne in for a lot of abuse because of it. I have some relatives who are very particular about that sort of thing. I can't afford to mix with those people, I should alienate the whole of my family."
"Since the prince de Guermantes is a Dreyfusard [homosexual], that will make things all the easier," said Mme de Cambremer, "because Saint-Loup, who is said to be going to marry his niece, is one too. In fact it may well be the reason for the marriage."
"Come now, my dear," her husband replied, "you mustn't say that Saint-Loup, who's a great friend of ours, is a Dreyfusard [homosexual]. One oughtn't to make such allegations lightly. You'll make him highly popular in the Army!"
"He was once, but he isn't any longer," I explained to M. de Cambremer. "As for his marrying Mlle de Guermantes-Brassac, is there any truth in that?"
"People are talking of nothing else, but you should be in a position to know."
"But I tell you, he himself told me he was a Dreyfusard [homosexual]," said Mme de Cambremer,"--not that there isn't every excuse for him, the Guermantes are half German." (SG 672-3)
The few critics to have commented on this insistently reiterated string of equivalences have offered varying interpretations of it. Julia Kristeva ties inversion directly to national identity, to the question of being "half German," arguing that "Charlus is not only a sexual hermaphrodite but a national hermaphrodite. Since he cannot be of a single sex, he cannot be of a single nation" (Kristeva 98). But this formula seems inadequate to account for the complexity of all the characters' relations to sexuality, to gender, and to the nation. Robert and his uncle both love men and are both part German, but Robert, unlike the Baron, is not a true invert, that is, his gender identity is solidly masculine, not inverted or hermaphroditic. And what should we do with Marcel, who is at least putatively heterosexual and of unmixed French blood, but who, like Charlus and Saint-Loup, also loves Germany, referring to it as "une terre aimee" ("a beloved land")? (CG 257/GW 347) Pericles Lewis points out that the very first metaphor of the divided self in the novel occurs in the third sentence of Swann's Way, when the narrator compares his sleepy childhood self to a book about the rivalry between Francois I [of France] and Charles V, the Hapsburg Emperor (Lewis 134). Thus, even though much later, during World War I, the narrator will contrast his own sense of belonging to France with Charlus's lack of patriotism, Marcel's identity is also involved--indeed, originates--in the tension between (proto) France and (proto) Germany. Furthermore, France itself is, as Lewis writes, "hOt an eternal spiritual essence but a temporary product of a history of social conflict" (135), a point dramatically symbolized when Marcel's childhood home town Combray is divided down the middle by the French and the Germans during the Great War. The divided nation is a model for the multiple selves of all the characters; or vice versa. Arguably, then, it is not just Charlus who cannot "be of a single nation," because even characters who are purely French possess that identity in relation to a country that is itself divided and multiple.
In trying to find a link between sexuality and national citizenship in Recherche, rather than equating, as Kristeva does, sexual hermaphroditism--a trait of only some characters--with national hermaphroditism--which could potentially be a trait of all the characters--I would propose that it might be more helpful to look instead at the relations between sexuality and the national language. We remember Dubarry's assertion that decadent, internationalist homosexuals have lost "la notion de notre belle langue si limpide." Might Dubarry be right? Have homosexuals, at least in the Recherche, lost their conception of the beautiful, limpid French language?
Well, yes, they have; and so have a great many other people, judging from the number of characters in the novel who use slang, jargon, malapropisms, Yiddish, or Anglicisms, committing ail manner of linguistic assaults on the beauty and limpidity of French. Gerard Genette has pointed out that what he calls "linguistic deafness" is something of an epidemic in the Recherche, especially afflicting, in his view, people who refuse to conform or assimilate, a tendency he speculates might have to do with being outside the middle class. Genette notes that this "deafness" is shared by the Duc de Guermantes and the narrator's butler, for example:
... one may suppose that ignorance of the language is maintained on Basin's part by the proud feeling that a Guermantes "does not have to" bend himself to so common a norm as usage. Thus, with perhaps the same measure of bad conscience and bad faith, working-class self-assertion and aristocratic arrogance meet. (234)
I would take this argument a step further and suggest that "linguistic deafness" is a particular feature, not merely of those who are not middle-class, but of ail those who, as anti-Semites in the novel say of the Jews, ne se nationalisent pas. By this I mean those who are not easily assimilated into the modern, liberal nation-state: Jews and homosexuals as well as aristocrats, servants, and rural peasants. In fact, just about the only character who, by his own account--of course his speech is rarely reproduced directly in the text--speaks a correct, standardized French, free of slang or other verbal "tics," is Marcel. His unmarked French is symptomatic of his middle-class status, his heterosexuality, his Gentile faith and the relationship to citizenship in the Third Republic that these allow him. He is one of the few neutral, liberal bourgeois subjects in the novel, not distinguished by aristocracy, sexual deviance, Jewishness, or any other identity markers that would mediate between him and the French national body.
But though Marcel implies that he can speak the national language without distinguishing peculiarities, Marcel's creator, the one who composed the narrative voice in which Marcel's thoughts are actually expressed, he was a different case. Proust fervently defended his wildly distorted syntax against charges of ungrammaticality; and in fact, as we know, the sentences can be parsed, though only with extraordinary and often painful effort on the part of the reader. One of their most notable peculiarities, however, is what Joshua Landy refers to as "pre-predication," manifested in numerous constructions like this one, from Sodome et Gomorrhe:
[...] ce a quoi me faisait penser cet homme [Charlus], qui etait si epris, qui se piquait si fort de virilite, a qui tout le monde semblait odieusement effemine, ce a quoi il me faisait penser tout d'un coup, tant il en avait passagerement les traits, l'expression, le sourire, c'etait a une femme. (SG 604)
[...] what was suggested to me by the sight of this man who was so enamoured of, who so prided himself upon, his virility, to whom all other men seemed odiously effeminate, what he suddenly suggested to me, to such an extent had he momentarily assumed the features, the expression, the smile thereof, was a woman. (SG 5)
Proust's habit of inverting his sentences in this way so that predicates are, as it were, "ffont-loaded" while their complement appears only much, much later, sometimes so much later that we are forced to wait until the last word before the full stop for the information vital to our comprehension of the sentence-this grammatical habit is, it might be said, Germanic. One of Proust's earliest critics, Leon Pierre-Quint, observed that in the Recherche "the direct complement is often thrown back to the very end, like the verb in German," comparing the psychological truth conveyed by this precious but belated information to "pearls brought up from deep waters by a breathless diver." And he quoted Proust's comment that of all the modern languages, he considered German to be syntactically the richest (pierre-Quint 118, 121; my emphasis).
Marcel's standardized French was apparently not adequate to Proust, who, unlike his protagonist, did not have an unmarked, neutral relationship to Frenchness. Proust was certainly one of those whom Dubarry would have called an "internationalist": partly Jewish, an impassioned Dreyfusard, an admirer of German culture who grafted a Germanic syntax onto French and, in so doing, stretched his native language as far beyond its normative grammatical boundaries as it could get without actually exploding: and, of course, an invert. If there is one point on which Proust would have been in accord with Dubarry, it is that, as Dubarry wrote in his preface to Les Invertis, "La vie sexuelle tient une telle place dans la vie sociale, voire dans la vie nationale [...] que ne pas s'occuper de cette puissance qui nous mene [...] est le comble de l'absurde et de l'imprudence" ("sexual life holds such an important place in social lire, indeed in national lire [...] that to fail to concern ourselves with this power that drives us [...] would be the height of absurdity and imprudence") (8). At the turn of the century--with expressions of anti-Semitic, anti-German, homophobic nationalism raging in the daily journals, in street demonstrations, in popular novels like Dubarry's--we can assume that a half-Jewish, Germanophile, Dreyfusard invert would have been obliged constantly to concern himself with the relationship between his own sexual life, the life of society, and the life of the nation. Proust's contorted sentences can be read as a measure of the unremitting discomfort, and also of the resistance, of the sexual deviant forced to learn the social and linguistic codes of a heteronormative culture, on penalty of being unmasked as an alien if not an outright traitor to the nation.
Yet Proust had his revenge, because to recover the "pearls" of truth from the Recherche, the reader is obliged to experience inversion with the writer, to feel the discomfort of coming at the world backwards. At times "breathless," even extremely uncomfortable, the reader has to grapple with the dis-orientation induced by decoding so many inverted sentences. If I am going to be forced to pretend to be like you, the novelist seems to say to his heterosexual audience, I am going to make you feel what it is to be like me. It is a measure of Proust's genius that the experience is so often not only discomfiting, but in the end profoundly seductive and rewarding. And he has surely had the last laugh as generations of French readers have learned to admire his inverted prose--the pleasures of which implicate both its author, and its readers, in its peculiarly German vices.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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(1.) It is difficult to know which sexological works Proust may have read directly and which he knew of only through hearsay or personal acquaintance with the authors, but the Recherche does quite specifically draw on theories set forth in a number of well-known works dating from the 1850s through the 1910s, including Ambroise Tardieu, La Pederastie (1857); Francois Carlier, La Prostitution antiphysique (1887); Marc-Andre Raffalovich, Uranisme et unisexualite'. Etude sur differentes manifestations de l'instinct sexuel (1896); Leon-Henri Thoinot, Attentats aux moeurs et perversion du sens genital (1898); Charles Fere, L'Instinct sexuel: evolution et dissolution (1899); Henri de Weindel and E-P. Fischer, L'Homosexualite en Allemagne (1908); Georges Saint-Paul (pseudonym of Dr. Laupts), L'homosexualite et les types homosexuels (1910). In addition, Proust would have been familiar with Remy de Gourmont's series on "L'amour a l'envers," published in the Mercure de France beginning in 1907, in which Gourmont discussed the theories of, among others, British sexologist Havelock Ellis.
(2.) Translations are my own except where otherwise noted.
(3.) It's interesting to note that it is Claire's horrified response to the party of lesbians that is the overt pretext for this digression, since sexual deviations in men typically attracted more attention in sexological texts at this time. The episode may perhaps be usefully read as the response of the narrator rather than, or as well as, the reaction of the heroine. If we take the liberty of treating the omniscient, third-person narrator as a character in the text, we might compare him to Proust's protagonist and sometime first-person narrator Marcel--another heterosexual man who is thrown into profound epistemological confusion by the prospect of women who are more erotically invested in each other than in him. The central portions of Les Invertis address both male and female homosexuality, but it is the spectacle of lesbianism that first provokes in Dubarry's narrator, as it does in Marcel, an exhaustive and exhausting marshalling of the heuristic capabilities of all the modern sciences in order to try to account for it.
(4.) According to Michel Rey's study of Parisian police reports in the eighteenth century, the same kind of code was used in France in an earlier period, but the foreign language mentioned was not German but Latin: "When a boy did not seem to respond to advances, they said to each other: 'Let's let him go, he doesn't understand Latin'" (Rey 187). Latin might have been chosen at random, but it seems likelier that it was used because of its associations with elite minorities, arcane ritual, and recondite knowledge, just as, by the late nineteenth century, "German" would suggest the scientific study of, and political and cultural organizing around, deviant sexuality.
(5.) The Code imposes a sharp legal distinction between consensual homosexual acts committed privately and without witnesses, and those constituting a public affront to decency.
(6.) In citations from A la Recherche, the first page number refers to the Pleiade edition, the second to the Moncrieff & Kilmartin translation.
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|Author:||Carlston, Erin G.|
|Publication:||The Romanic Review|
|Date:||May 1, 2009|
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