Sodom and Gomorrah

by Marcel Proust

Other authorsJohn Sturrock (Translator)
Hardcover, 2004





New York : Viking, 2004.


Since the original, prewar translation there has been no completely new rendering of the French original into English. This translation brings to the fore a more sharply engaged, comic and lucid Proust. IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME is one of the greatest, most enjoyable reading experiences in any language. As the great story unfolds from its magical opening scenes to its devastating end, it is the Penguin Proust that makes Proust accessible to a new generation. Each book is translated by a different, superb translator working under the general editorship of Professor Christopher Prendergast.

User reviews

LibraryThing member DieFledermaus
No surprise that this volume, like the preceding ones, is a wonderfully written novel encompassing love, society, death, sleep, memory and time. Proust has razor-sharp observations of a number of subjects and what he says he says more eloquently than most other people.

Picking up right where The Guermantes Way left off, the narrator is about to attend the party of the Princesse de Guermantes. By chance, he sees M. de Charlus and Jupien together, leading to a long digression on the nature of homosexuals. Certainly for them, love is as excruciating as it is for heterosexuals, but there's the added isolation, fear and shame that come along with it. At the party, the narrator attempts to secure an introduction to the Prince de Guermantes while musing on all 'types' of society. A flash forward reveals the Princess' passion for Charlus - completely random and well-described - as well as her friendship with the narrator.

An expected late night visit from Albertine - his Balbec girl - inspires sudden obsession when she doesn't show. She also plays a large role when the narrator returns to Balbec Of all the stellar portions in the novel, the best is his return and the accompanying flood of memories. The hotel is now familiar and pleasant, but this brings back sweet yet painful reminders of his grandma. She'd been dead for a while, however, that fact has not really sunk in. Identical situations at Balbec return his grandmother to the narrator - but only then can he actually comprehend his loss. Being in the same environment, she's more alive to him than she was when he actually had her but took her for granted. During the visit at Balbec - where all the new impressions were violent and discomfiting - she was his one stable, familiar face. Of course he's intellectually aware of her death, but the true emotions were delayed until his return to Balbec.

His thoughts on memory
"it is, no doubt, the existence of our body...that induces us to suppose that all our inner wealth, our past joys, all our sorrows, are perpetually in our possession. Perhaps it is equally inexact to suppose that they escape or return...if the context of sensations in which they are presumed is recaptured, they acquire in turn the same power of expelling everything that is incompatible with them, or installing alone in us the self that originally lived them."

The pain leads to guilt over his selfishness during the first trip to Balbec and for a while he neglects Balbec society and Albertine. However, no pain can last so completely as that and eventually he starts worrying about Albertine's sexual orientation and possible lovers. The narrator is caught in a society battle between the Verdurins and the Cambremers and also gets drawn into the conflict between Morel and his lover Charlus. His obsession with Albertine parallels Charlus, who is actually somewhat vulnerable in his relationship.
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LibraryThing member CatrionaOlding3
It's a pity but I gave up on Proust half way through this...not his fault obviously
LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
“Cities of the Plain”, or the less subtly euphemistic title of “Sodom and Gomorrah”, gives the reader some idea of the main theme to be found within this part of Proust's Novel. The theme is introduced early on, and is relied upon for most of the plot, providing several scenarios and new concerns for the author. The Verdurins depicted as so boring in previous volumes return here to play a fairly large part in the story, where they become slightly more endearing though stay as uninteresting otherwise; I was hoping we had seen the last of them, and I don't know what inspired Proust to change his opinion on them and decide that they were worth writing more about. Apart from this, the book was about as enjoyably to read as the Guermantes way – that is, not as good as the first two parts.… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
"I absolutely must marry Albertine." With these words of the narrator Marcel Proust ends the final chapter of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth volume in his monumental In Search of Lost Time. Whether the narrator is sincere or not, any lack of sincerity is more than supplanted by his passion, if not love, for Albertine. Throughout this volume and especially in the final chapters the narrator has had a tempestuous relationship with Albertine both in his mind and in his life in Balbec and...more "I absolutely must marry Albertine." With these words of the narrator Marcel Proust ends the final chapter of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth volume in his monumental In Search of Lost Time. Whether the narrator is sincere or not, any lack of sincerity is more than supplanted by his passion, if not love, for Albertine. Throughout this volume and especially in the final chapters the narrator has had a tempestuous relationship with Albertine both in his mind and in his life in Balbec and its environs. Some of the other themes that are prominent in the final sections of this volume are the passion of both Baron Charlus and the Prince for young 'Charlie' Morel. Morel, a reprobate and a cad who is made somewhat appealing (at least for this reader) by virtue of being a talented pianist, plays with both men without the other knowing about his liaisons much as a mouse plays with a cat. The ruling word throughout for both the narrator and other characters is passion, if not lust, in the erotic sense which pervades several relationships. The issue of the Dreyfus case is also prominent and Proust is able to convey the complicated views of both sides through the seeming necessity that most prominent characters be identified as either "Dreyfusards" or not. The overall feeling I retain from this reading is one of the cumulative effect of the layers of themes, many of which have appeared in the previous three volumes and will, undoubtedly, appear again in the final volumes of In Search of Lost Time. To some extent this is due to the influence of Wagner and the use of literary "liet motifs" by Proust and the technique of the search, in this case the search for love. That the search for love seems to devolve into an impasse of passion for the sake of sanity if not love itself is a wonder -- one of the many wonders of this continuously engaging novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member BookAngel_a
I'm glad I read this, but it was not my favorite entry in the series, due to the subject matter. Marcel, the narrator, grows up - and learns way more about the sex lives of his friends than I cared to know. Also, a lot of these characters are snobs, hypocritical, and/or manipulative. Fortunately there are a few good ones in the bunch that I could cheer for.

Marcel finally goes to the Princess Guermantes dinner party (the one he was invited to in the last book). There are some funny moments there.

He talks to Swann for one last time.

He comes to terms with his grandmother's death when he travels to Balbec again - without her. He becomes a regular at the Verdurin's house (where Swann met Odette back in book #1) and he gets better aquainted with the Baron de Charlus and the baron's protege, Morel. He spends a lot of time with Albertine and struggles to figure out if he loves her or not.

I enjoyed the writing very much, as usual. Proust's descriptions are a bit long winded, but lovely. Again, I have to say that I love the way Proust shows us what people are thinking and feeling. It's easy to recognize modern day people in some of these characters.

Now, on to book #5!
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LibraryThing member jorgearanda
Another shift of focus---to homosexuality, this time. The narrator's perspective of his acquaintances and friends is transformed by the discovery of homosexuals around him. In the case of men, this gives him an opportunity to explore the layers of interaction in society, and in the case of women, cause for anxiety, as he fears his companion has proclivities that will render her ultimately inaccessible to him.

But it is just a shift in focus; the picture itself is the same. That is, same elements, same quality of insightful observations on the mind and on society, same subtle and powerful language.
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LibraryThing member Leonard_Seet
More than a commentary on Swann’s jealousy or M. Charlus’s homosexuality or the frivolity of the Guermantes’ sorties, Marcel Proust’s monumental work In Search of Lost Time paints the unsuccessful reconstruction of a forgone world and a lost existence from fickle memories, which like morning mists would fade with the rising sun. The narrator Marcel, longing for a past that didn’t exist but must be created, sought to experience Bergson’s continuous time rather than the fragmented and still-framed instantaneous moments by attempting to blur the boundaries between Cambray and Paris, childhood and adolescence, and Swann and himself and integrate here and there, before and after, and him and me through memory fragments of previous objects, people and sensations. As in a neural network or a mind-map, the madeleine linked his aunt to his mother, who in turn was linked to Albertine through jealousy, which also connected Marcel with Saint Loop and Swann, who, as with his (Marcel’s) grandmother, linked his childhood and adolescence. And through recollection, Marcel would try to relive the buried years and resurrect his grandmother and Albertine.

But even during the narrative, Marcel realized memory’s willfulness and the variation in hues, shapes, pitch and timbre between the actual object and its mental reconstruction. When he encountered an old friend, the facial features were so different from his recollection and reconstruction, for better or for worse pregnant with all the emotions, preoccupation, biases, that he could not match face with voice.

Because recollected sensation can never equate with the actual experience and time, like a patient thief, steals memories a morsel at a time until one day the owner would realize he was ruined, Marcel ultimately would fail to recapture and assemble stolen sensations and decayed seconds and in the end, must create new moments, new sensations and ultimately a new biography, through the synergy between past experiences and creative imagination. From those deceased hours and decayed memories sprouted In Search of Lost Time, not only Proust’s novel but also that of the narrator.

Whether we savor Marcel’s frailness, Swann’s infatuation, Charlus’s pompousness, Franscoise’s independent-mindedness, the sorties’ frivolousness or the social revelation of the Dreyfuss Affair, we can enjoy Proust’s classic without resorting to Marxist or Freudian or Feminist critique. And the sentences, like the serpentine Amazon, seemed to flow unceasingly into the distant horizon carrying with it the sparkling sunlight. Although ascending the novel’s three thousand pages appears precipitous, the effort will be well worth the while and, at the end of the adventure, the reader can rest on the crisp apex and savor time’s transience and memory’s playfulness as if they were alpine zephyrs.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
In which our protagonist learns that almost everyone, other than him, is gay. Like the Guermantes' Way, this is a comedy of manners combined with some amazing essays and penetrating psychology. There's not much to say about this volume that one couldn't say about GW, except for the homosexuality, which is an interesting twist. As I was reading it, I thought about Hollinghurst's 'Line of Beauty,' and wondered whether Proust would have been different, better or worse if he'd been able to accept his own sexuality a bit and write about it in a less distanced way. I honestly have no idea.

On a side note, I cried the first time I read the narrator's vision of his grandmother, and I cried this time too.
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
While I found some moments that were entertaining or interesting such as the narrators return to the subject of sleep and memory, mostly this section was an aggravation brought on by the game playing and jealousies of Marcel.
LibraryThing member amerynth
"Sodom and Gomarrah" is Marcel's fourth volume in his epic series "In Search of Lost Time." It certainly isn't one of the better installments.... I grow tired of the narrator, who seems so self-absorbed and uninteresting that I can't understand why he gets invited to all these society parties or why Albertine has anything at all to do with him. I particularly enjoyed when Bloch had a break from and actually agreed with Bloch's assessment of our narrator's character.

In this volume, it seems our narrator discovers that there are a lot of gay people in the world and seems rather obsessed by it. This all ties in with his enormous jealousy regarding any time Albertine spends away from him.

I actually enjoyed the portions of the story involving Albertine, but they actually make up so very little of this book. The digressions about the changing world in French social circles at this period weren't so interesting this time around. Proust continues to be the wordiest man alive... he can turn a sentence like "She opened a door" into a five page essay.

Sadly, my interest in the series seems to diminish with each volume... and this started out so well. I hope things get better in the final three books.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
I was heading to a 4* rating until the final chapter. Marcel baffled me in it with his abrupt volte face with regard to Albertine. Despite this, this 4th volume of the In Search of Lost Time series was much more enjoyable to me than the previous books. Or perhaps I am just getting habituated to Proust's style so that it doesn't annoy or bore me as much as it originally did...… (more)
LibraryThing member viscount
I finished Volume 4 of Proust a few days ago (Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright translation, Modern Library edition), and thought I’d put a few thoughts down in a review. This is my first review of any Proust volume. It feels somewhat awkward to be reviewing one volume, since it’s really just one chunk of a bigger novel. This will be more a set of observations and complaints that apply to the full work (so far).

Sodom is volume 4 out of 7 of ISOLT. That is, it is the center of the set. As such there is a certain psychological satisfaction that comes from completing it: “I’ve read more that half of Proust!”, along with the confidence that I will complete the whole work.

The book of course is great - five stars. But after four long volumes, I mainly want to write down my complaints. And my main complaint is about the narrator.

The narrator (we can also call him Marcel) is a severely underdeveloped character. Despite living inside his head for a couple of thousand pages (so far), he remains a cipher. What is his personality? If you met him at one of these dinner parties he loves to describe, how would he strike you? Is he extroverted, a joke-teller or raconteur? Or a serious conversationalist, getting into long detailed discussions on esoteric or artistic topics? Or a quiet introvert, mainly sitting quietly, listening to others? He must be a likeable person, judging by the way so many hosts and hostesses try to invite him. But why? We don’t know, although there are occasional circumstantial clues in the form of comments from the people around him.

Yes, he sometimes describes, in loving detail, the fine shading around certain emotional experiences, such as his mourning loss of his grandmother. But his thoughts, his internal monologues, are left out. How does he think about his life, his goals, his problems, and his plans?

Let’s take one glaring example. During Sodom, we learn that Albertine is being considered as a marriage candidate for him, at least in the eyes of others. Is he considering marrying her? Is he spending a lot of time thinking about whether to marry her? How does he approach the possibility? Does he mentally weigh up the pros and cons? Is he trying to visualize married life with her, to picture her as his wife, possibly even as the mother of his children? Does he compare her against other single women he knows, or against the wives of friends and relatives? He must be going through such thoughts and mental exercises while at Balbec during the course of the book, but all this is left out of the book.

Proust doesn’t share these key internal moments, to the reader’s great frustration,, and as a result it becomes hard to identify with the narrator, or to like him very much. So when Marcel behaves poorly to others - especially to Albertine - we end up rather disliking him, while she, Albertine, gets our sympathy.

And this lack of characterization of the narrator - who is the main character after all - is all the more ironic given the novel’s reputation as an introspective, interior-oriented novel. It’s not at all. It does share, at great length, Marcel’s acute perceptions of the world around him, and especially his delving into the thoughts and motivations of the people he encounters. But it doesn’t share the stream of thoughts of the narrator, as do other modernists such as Joyce and Woolf, or even the great nineteenth century novelists. This creates distance between the reader and the main character, instead of the identification that would lead us, the reader, to root for him, or even sympathize with him very much.

Now more than halfway through ISOLT, I’m not sure I can even identify what the protagonist’s main problem is - what is he trying to solve, or to achieve? What is he searching or struggling for? Where is the main tension or dilemma of the novel? I don’t see it yet, and that concerns me.

For the record, I still love the book, from the texture of the prose to the long unexpected digressions. I just wish I could know Marcel better. Let’s see if this issue gets resolved - or exasperated - in the upcoming volumes.
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LibraryThing member Pauntley
What follows are some remarks about the John Sturrock translation of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Penguin edition rather than a review of the book. There is also a puzzling question concerning the colour of the Baron de Charlus's hair, briefly discussed in conclusion.
Even in their Kindle version the seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time can be an expensive purchase, if one chooses a modern translation rather than the one by Charles Scott Moncrieff (1889-1930). Cities of the Plain, the fourth book in the Scott Moncrieff series, which he completed in 1921, has several modern and acclaimed modern adaptations of his text, now appearing under the more transparent title of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Penguin edition of In Search of Lost Time, under the general editorship of Christopher Prendergast, assigns a different translator to each book. The Penguin Sodom and Gomorrah was translated by the distinguished English editor and translator, John Sturrock. Though it is much praised, I have reservations about the Sturrock version of Sodom and Gomorrah after reading the first three books of ISOLT in the Yale University Press edition, edited and annotated by William C Carter. (The difference between ‘translation’ in the Penguin edition and ‘editing’ in the Yale is one merely of terminology: both are modern adaptations of the original by Scott Moncrieff.) The switch from Carter was unavoidable. The third of his Yale volumes, The Guermantes Way, was published in 2018 and it is uncertain whether he will complete another.
In retrospect I wish I had made a more careful comparison with other versions before opting for the Sturrock version of Sodom and Gomorrah. Though it is preferable to the original version by Scott Moncrieff, constrained as he was by English sexual pruderies of the 1920’s, there are moments, infrequent but annoying, when Sturrock left me puzzled or even baffled by his rendition. Proust’s labyrinthine, braided sentences require clear threads of sense, if one is to enjoy the sparkle of his wit.
I have three sorts of objection. The first is Sturrock’s handling of the to-and-fro of conversation. He is overly economical in his use of quotation marks, so that once a character begins to speak, interpolations by a listener are marked by a dash rather than a quote mark as for example in the following passage, in which it is not entirely clear whether it is Oriane or the Princesse who promises Marcel an invitation:
‘You ought to make up your mind to let me fix up a cottage for you at Guermantes,’ the Duc went on [addressing his brother, Baron de Charlus]. ‘It’s nice to see the two brothers so affectionate with one another, said the Princesse to Oriane. - Oh, indeed, I don’t think you can find many brothers like that. I shall invite you with him, she promised me. You’re not in his bad books? … But what can they find to say to each other?’ she added, in an anxious tone, for she could hear their words only imperfectly.
One does get used to the technique, but I preferred the traditional spatter of quotation marks in the Scott Moncrieff version which mark a clear separation among the interlocutors’ voices.
Sturrock is equally economical, at the cost of fluent understanding, in his omission of helpful footholds in following some of the more taxing Proustian parentheses. Here is an minor instance of the technique, which can be problematic in longer passages:
[A] soldier in time of peace will sacrifice his social life to love, but once war is declared (and without there being any need even to introduce the notion of a patriotic duty), love to the passion, stronger than love, for fighting
Scott Moncrieff is more helpful. He resumes, after the parenthesis, with a reference back to the original train of thought, ‘…a patriotic duty) will sacrifice love…etc’
There are occasional jarring departures from anything resembling standard English in the Sturrock version. As for example:
‘Although it was after nine o’clock, the daylight it was still which, on the place de la Concorde, had given to the Luxor obelisk an appearance of pink nougat.’ The pleasure that one might derive from the comparison of the obelisk and the nougat is vitiated by the peculiarity of Sturrock’s account of the persistence of daylight. Similarly peculiar departures from idiomatic fluency are apparent in his characterization of a woman and her son as being ‘of a vegetable disposition’. And, on another occasion, Mm de Vaugoubert is supposed to have been driven to Marcel by a ‘vegetable attraction so strong as to seize his arm.’ Google failed to assist me in discovering just what nuance was meant to be conveyed by the vegetables in these passages. Elsewhere, in describing the mental torments of Baron de Charlus, ;they are likened to sculpted marble peaks, ‘as if some statuary, instead of carrying the marble away, had carved it where lay’. No reason is apparent for this resort to the archaism of ‘statuary’ instead of ‘sculptor’. On another occasion Marcel remembers a Balbec girl ‘whose thin reversible face resembled the winged seeds of certain trees’. Scott Moncrieff has a more idiomatic reference to her ‘symmetrical face’.
Enough carping. Sturrock is an improvement on the Scott Moncrieff which I have used in these comparisons and worth the additional cost. But cost conscious purchasers would be advised to make a comparison for ease and fluency between the Penguin Sodom and Gomorrah and one or other modern versions before making their investment.
Finally, to change the subject, there is a puzzle about the colour of Baron de Charlus’s hair. In the earlier books of ISOLT he is presented as an arrogant and darkly glittering personage. His sad descent into a wobbling parody of himself is well under way by the conclusion of Sodom and Gomorrah. People are certainly transformed over the decades encompassed by ISOLT. But for a moment in Sturrock’s translation Charlus seems unrecognizable. Mme de Cambremer remarks to Marcel that he does not seem old at all, ‘see, his hair’s still yellow’. A blonde Baron de Charlus is too much. Scott Moncrieff is more cautious, though oddly unidiomatic in his rendering: ‘he doesn’t seem at all old, look, the hair is still young'.
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