A Better Model for Proust’s Duchesse
To the Editor:
This is in regard to Andrew Holleran’s review [in the July-Aug. 2018]of Caroline Weber’s Proust’s Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siècle Paris. I have no quarrel with the review, but instead with the book itself, which argues that three prominent salon hostesses went into the creation of Proust’s Duchesse de Guermantes in In Search of Lost Time: I would like to remind your readers of a better model for the Duchesse. She is Elisabeth de Gramont, Duchesse de Clermont-Tonnerre, a writer, sculptor, and leftist political activist who was also a close friend of Proust and is, in fact, mentioned twice in the novel.
The portrait of Oriane de Guermantes is without doubt based on her. By digging a bit deeper—and despite an extensive bibliography (which fails to include my biography Elisabeth de Gramont: Avante- gardiste, 2004)—Weber should have discovered this flower of the old French aristocracy whom Proust references in “Sodom and Gomorrah,” when Monsieur de Charlus, chatting with the young violinist Charles Morel about the variety of pears called Doyenne du Comice, advises him: “You really ought to read the ravishing pages written about this pear by Duchess Émilie de Clermont-Tonnerre.” Charlus calls her Émilie, and Proust plays his cards close to his chest, but the reader knows that he means Elisabeth Lily.
The duchess Elisabeth de Clermont-Tonnerre has a central place in any book devoted to Proust’s duchesses. To have left Lily out undermines Weber’s scholarly credibility and her claim to having uncovered the inspiration for the Duchesse de Guermantes.
Francesco Rapazzini, Paris, France
The ‘Gay Genocide’ Debate Continues
To the Editor:
The article by Jack Nusan Porter in the September-October issue argues that the Nazis’ campaign against gay people did not rise to the level of a “gay genocide.” Another perspective is offered in a publication titled The Gay Holocaust: The Dutch and German Experience, published by Urania Manuscripts in 1979. Although out of print, it is available at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Library. It consists of three papers—by Reimar Lenz, Rob Tielman, and Adriaan Venema—translated from the German and Dutch.
These authors contend that there was a program to exterminate homosexuals, and that the number killed was higher than quoted by Porter. The book also documents how the infamous Paragraph 175 was tightened and enforced to accomplish this intent. The Lenz paper quotes testimony from four eyewitnesses who reported that most of those who wore the pink triangle were killed, and that the effort to liquidate homosexuals was systematic and thoroughgoing.
The Lenz paper also documents that Hitler himself was the driving force behind the extermination, as told to Rudolf Diels, his initial chief of the Gestapo. The camps to which gays were sent included Natzweiler, Fuhlsbuettel, Neusustrum, and Sonnenburg. In Moorlager 5 at Neusustrum, one third were homosexual. At Auschwitz, youths accused of being homosexual were murdered by injection.
Convictions under Paragraph 175 rose from 835 in 1933 to 24,450 in the three years from 1937 to 1939. Dr. Rudolf Klare, a Nazi lawyer, called for a “complete cleanup [and]extermination of homosexuals” with the “utmost severity.” Included for extermination were those with homosexual inclinations, sympathies, and apparent tendencies. To this day it is unknown how many homosexuals were sent to concentration camps, or how many were killed. The paper by Venema uses the range of 50,000 to 80,000 as the number that were exterminated—much larger than the figure of “five to 15,000” that Porter cites.
That said, both numbers are probably too low, because the extermination was so efficient that there were few survivors. Also, because Paragraph 175 continued after the war, surviving homosexuals were too afraid of persecution to come forward and give more evidence. Accepting Porter’s number that 50,000 to 63,000 were convicted on Paragraph 175, and the documentation cited by Lenz that almost all who were convicted died, we arrive at a figure closer to the one cited by Venema.
Furthermore, Porter’s assertion that gays in occupied countries were not rounded up is contradicted by Tielman, whose evidence shows that there was a concerted effort to arrest every homosexual that they could find. That the Nazis were unsuccessful does not negate a “gay genocide.” In all genocides, there are some survivors.
Douglas C. Cable, MD, Huntington Beach, CA
Nietzsche’s Closet and Schizophrenia
To the Editor,
While the topic of Nietzsche’s homosexuality [Sept.-Oct. 2018] may be taboo among conservative Nietzsche scholars, the subject of the relationship between his homosexuality and his psychosis would probably be even more taboo. In the brilliant book Schizophrenia: The Bearded Lady Disease, Michael Mahoney claims, showing numerous examples, that many if not most cases of schizophrenia are due to what he calls “bisexual confusion” in which the psychotic person is unable to decide what his sexual orientation and gender identification might be. This is fully consistent with Freud’s idea that repression is the most common etiology of psychosis, most often sexual repression and particularly repression of homosexual desires.
It is well known that Nietzsche never had any sexual relations with women and that he sought the company of women for intellectual stimulation only. He would have had to suppress his homosexual longings to survive in conservative 19th-century Germany. His mental breakdown in 1889, following years of psychological instability, may well be traceable to his unresolved sexual longings combined with the extreme sexual repression of his age.
Robert Dole, PhD, Chicoutimi, Québec
Sexual Fluidity Not a New Idea
To the Editor:
Nicholas Adjami is right to attack the simplistic rhetoric of “born this way” [in a Guest Opinion piece in the Sept.-Oct. 2018 issue]. But he is remarkably unaware of the history of our movement when he claims that public awareness of sexual fluidity—which I would associate with Freud’s “polymorphous perversity”— “has increased greatly over the past few years.”
Even if one ignores the historical and anthropological evidence for sexual and gender fluidity through much of human history, the early gay liberation movement, both in the U.S. and in Europe, drew on radical readings of Freud to make exactly the points he is now advancing. He’s making an important argument; I just wish he’d done some historical reading before he wrote his op-ed piece.
Dennis Altman, Clifton Hill, Australia
In Praise of ‘Queen’
To the Editor,
I am a dedicated reader of The Review. but not always the fastest, so I am only now replying to an article in the July-August 2017 issue, Jim Cory’s “What Makes a Queen a Queen?” How delightful was this piece! Every clique has its lingo, and “queen” is one of those charged words that belongs to us. I appreciated the way Mr. Cory reviewed a bit of the expression’s history, its subversive overtones, and its appropriation by those not members of our club.
I am now 55 but remember clearly my discomfiture when I was in my twenties and a friend tossed “queen” at me with regularity. I was “out” but doing my best to minimize any feminine gestures and ways of speaking that reinforced gay stereotypes. Carey was as non-descript and “masculine” as I but used the term with glee. How I wish I could have been as nonchalant and carefree as my friend Carey, embracing “queen” as a small act of defiance, much as twenty-somethings now embrace the word “queer.”
Rusty Wyrick, Ghivizzano, Italy
In the July-August 2008 issue, in a review of the TV miniseries The Assassination of Gianni Versace (page 50), the caption for the still shot misidentified the actor and his role in a scene with Gianni Versace (played by Édgar Ramírez). It was actually Ricky Martin in the role of Antonio D’Amico.
In the May-June 2018 issue, in the article titled “Michelangelo’s Gifts to Tommaso,” the captions for Figures 5 and 6 were reversed (pages 14 and 15). Clearly “A Bacchanal of Children” and “The Dream of Human Life” are different matters altogether.