Reluctantly Queer: In Search of the Homoerotic Novel in Twentieth-Century Italian Fiction
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When at the beginning of Sodome et Gomorrhe the narrator places himself on the staircase of the Hôtel de Guermantes, peers through the shutters, and witnesses M. de Charlus’ encounter with Jupien, his distant and critical look begins to construct, before the reader’s very eyes, one of the first fully developed gay characters in Western literature. In 1921 when Proust’s novel was first published, homoeroticism was not a new narrative subject. Indeed, it had been a favorite theme of the late nineteenth-century aesthetic sensibility. Nonetheless, in writing Sodome et Gomorrhe Proust ventures into a new literary land: Not only does he tackle homoeroticism in an artistic form as had been done before, but he makes it the thematic center of a bourgeois novel. Sodome et Gomorrhe, unlike most novels published earlier, is not an erotic biography in disguise, nor is it a fictionalized account of a young man’s erotic apprenticeship characterized by the expression of an idealized and asocial homoerotic desire. Rather, it is precisely through a nonidealized treatment of homoeroticism—by placing it within a social milieu, within the frame of a bourgeois novel—that Proust makes it the center of the narrative. In providing M. de Charlus with a name and a social background, with thoughts and emotions, Proust’s novel undertakes the social construction of the homoerotic self and begins to acknowledge its existence as a social subject.
KeywordsLiterary Discourse Narrative Subject Italian Culture Bourgeois Society Fictionalize Account
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