Swann As a Problem Novel
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Published in: January-February 2023 issue.


by Marcel Proust
Translated by Lucy Raitz
Pushkin Press. 255 pages, $24.



MARCEL PROUST’S 3,000-page narrative À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) is often cited as one of the great modern novels, as well as one of the foundations of Modernism. That it was. It is also cited as one of the most important gay novels. Whether its artistic importance still makes its seven tomes of often uncritical homophobia one of our community’s most important literary works, I’m not so sure. As I read Lucy Raitz’ new translation of part of it, I recalled Harvey Fierstein being quoted as saying in The Celluloid Closet (1995) that he was happy to see even negative portrayals of gay men in films, because he believed in “visibility at any cost.” I’m not sure how many LGBT people today would go along with this viewpoint.

            It’s one thing to cringe at a homophobic scene in a favorite old movie; it’s over in a minute or two. Swann in Love ends with pages of Swann’s  revulsion at the thought that the woman he loves, Odette de Crécy, might have had sex with other women.

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Richard M. Berrong is a retired professor of French literature who now makes documentary films about World War II in France.