Marcel, the narrator of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, is in Balbec, a resort on the north coast of France. We read this:
One very hot afternoon, from inside the dining room [of the hotel], which was in half-darkness, sheltering from the sun behind drawn curtains, which were a yellow glow edged by the blue dazzle of the sea, I saw, traversing the hotel’s central bay, which extended from the beach to the road, a tall slim young man with piercing eyes, a proud head held high on a fine uncovered neck, and with hair so golden and skin so fair that they seemed to have soaked up the bright sunshine of the day. In a loose off-white garment, the like of which I would never have believed a man would dare to wear, and which in its lightness was as suggestive of the heat and brilliance of outdoors as was the cool dimness of the dining room, he was advancing at a quick march. His eyes, from which a monocle kept dropping, were the color of the sea. We all sat there intrigued, watching him as he passed, knowing that we beheld the young Marquis de Saint-Loup-en-Bray, famous in the fashionable world.
Marcel is more than “intrigued.” The young marquis, in his early twenties, is only a few years older than Marcel, and Marcel is seeing him the first time. In this glowing, highly charged portrait, we see how Marcel sees the marquis and the beginning of the intense friendship between the two men which, for the next five volumes, is going to totter on the edge of erotic fantasy.
Even if we didn’t know that Marcel Proust was queer, and even if we didn’t know that the marquis turns out to be queer, this description of the marquis—so charged with the beauty of men—is the kind of thing that makes us know this is a queer book.
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, by Marcel Proust (Penguin, James Grieve, translator, 2002)