Licentious men

Licentious men

In Brief

Kevin Egan may have left Ireland for "gay Paree" decades ago, but the Irish Catholic puritanical distrust of sexuality remains strong in him. He keeps his memory of a young Swedish woman "who rubs male nakedness in the bath at Upsala" stored next to cautionary tales of "Licentious men" like "Félix Faure," a French politician who died in flagrante delicto.

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Félix François Faure was the seventh President of France from 1895 until his death in 1899. In 1897 he met Marguerite Steinheil, a 28-year-old married woman who hosted a salon frequented by many prominent Parisians. Shortly after their first meeting, they began an affair that ran until 16 February 1899, when servants were called into the salon bleu in the Palais de l'Élysées to find the President unconscious on a sofa and Mme. Steinheil hastily putting her clothes in order. According to rumor, the two had been engaged in some particularly energetic fellatio. After Faure's death (by cerebral hemorrhage, according to Gifford), Steinheil conducted sexual affairs with many other famous men. Egan's comment is: "Félix Faure, know how he died? Licentious men."

From there he is off to memories of a public bath where a young Swedish woman offered massages to the clients. "Moi faire, she said, Tous les messieurs. [I do all the gentlemen.] Not this Monsieur, I said. Most licentious custom. Bath a most private thing. I wouldn't let my brother, not even my own brother, most lascivious thing." Leaving aside the interesting notion that no one should be more physically intimate with a man than his own brother, it seems worthwhile to note that Egan's assumptions about sexual relations between men and women ("Lascivious people") are markedly censorious.

Stephen Dedalus seems like an ironically inapt audience for Egan's fulminations: he has been receiving a lot more than massages from prostitutes since his early teens, and he seems to relish the sexual decadence of Paris. But for all his sexual adventurism, he has not overcome his religious indoctrination in the wickedness of sexuality. (As Buck Mulligan says in Telemachus, "you have the cursed jesuit strain in you, only it's injected the wrong way.") So perhaps Egan does have some limited rapport with the man he's talking to. Later in Proteus, as he imagines the "writhing weeds" under the surface of the water to be women, Stephen echoes Egan's language: "Weary too in sight of lovers, lascivious men, a naked woman shining in her courts, she draws a toil of waters."

JH 2015
Official photograph of Felix Faure, President of France, by Pierre Petit. Source: Wikimedia Commons.