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Rebecca Valette

Taking naps

In Proust's time, masturbation was not at all a "straightforward" subject. Indeed, at the end of the nineteenth century, the act was widely considered dangerous to a young man's future well-being, and fathers frequently would encourage their sons to go to the brothel to discover a more "healthy" outlet to their inner urgings.

Proust the author is quite aware of the mores of his times and certainly would avoid any "straightforward" descriptions. Indeed, most readers of the Balbec "nap" passage would probably not -- and perhaps rightfully so --see any sexual connotation in the flight of the swifts and swallows outside the narrator's window. There is, however, a semi-explicit (though also veiled) masturbation scene that occurs near the end of Combray II (p. 189 in my French Pleiade edition) when the young Marcel returns to his attic room after the outing near Roussainville.


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