Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Baron de Charlus: an introduction

Foreshadowing the introduction of the Baron de Charlus, Proust writes, "If, when we discover the true lives of other people, the real world beneath the world of appearance, we get as many surprises as on visiting a house of plain exterior which inside is full of hidden treasures, torture-chambers or skeletons..."

The narrator first spots the Baron as a stranger who is staring at him. "He was staring at me, his eyes dilated with extreme attentiveness," and likened him to a "madman or a spy."

"He threw his shoulders back with an air of bravado, pursed his lips, twisted his moustache, and adjusted his face into an expression that was at once indifferent, harsh, and almost insulting. So much that I took him at one moment for a thief and at another or a lunatic."

When M. learns of the Baron's identity, upon meeting him later, "Swift as a lightning-flash his look shot through me, just as at the moment when I had first noticed him." The Baron 's expression had "the devout and sanctimonious look that we see on the faces of certain hypocrites, the smug look of on those of certain fools."

Thus we are introduced to the Baron de Charlus as a haughty, eccentric man in his 40's who stares at boys like M. with intensity. But there is more:

"[T]he circumspect and unceasingly restless expression of those eyes, with all the signs of exhaustion which the heavy pouches beneath them stamped upon his face, however carefully he might compose and regulate it, made one think of some incognito, some disguise assumed by a powerful man in danger, or merely by a dangerous—but tragic—individual. I should have liked to divine what was this secret which other men did not carry in their breasts and which had already made M. de Charlus stare seem to me so enigmatic when I had seen him that morning outside the Casino."

1 comment:

  1. Just one of the fascinating characters in this delicious novel. - Madeline A. Bruce, Nanaimo, B. C. Canada.