Ulrich is Turned On

Ulrich is determined not to succumb to Bonadea, but it is hard. He struggles to keep his chain of thought.

Somehow or other Bonadea lost a shoe. Ulrich bent down for it, and the foot with its warm toes came up to meet the shoe in  his hand like a small child. “Don’t bother, don’t, I’ll do it myself,”Bonadea said, holding out her foot to him.

“There are, to begin with, the psychiatric-juridical questions,”Ulrich continued relentlessly, even as the whiff of diminished responsibility rose from her leg to his nostrils….

Bonadea opened his fingers and spread his hand over her breast. The accompanying glance would have melted a heart of stone. For the next few moments Ulrich felt as if he had two hearts in his breast, like the confusion of clocks ticking in a watchmaker’s shop. Mustering all his willpower, he restored order in his breast and said gently: “No, Bonadea.” (I,283-284)

His attraction to the beautiful Diotima is more easily controlled.

Ulrich sometime felt with great intensity that Diotima was very beautiful. On these occasions he saw her as a young, tall, plump heifer of good stock, surefooted and studying with a deep gaze the dry grasses she was feeding on. In other words, even then he did not look on her without the malice and irony that revenged themselves on her spiritual nobility by drawing on images from the animal kingdom and that arose from a deep annoyance less against this foolish paragon than against the school where her performances were a success. “How likable she could be,” he thought, “if she were uneducated and careless and as good-natured as a big warm female body always is when it doesn’t flatter itself that it has any special ideas!” The celebrated wife of the much-whispered-about Section Chief Tuzzi evaporated from her body, leaving it behind like a dream that, together with pillows, bed, and dreamer, turned into a white cloud all alone in the world with its tenderness. (I,298)

 Diotima is always properly dressed around Ulrich, but this does nothing to diminish her erotic potential for him.

At that time, women were encased in clothes from throat to ankle. Men’s clothes today are like what they were then, but they used to be more appropriate because they still represented an organic outward sign of the flawless cohesion and strict reserve that marked a man of the world. In those days, even a person of few prejudices, unhampered by shame in appreciating the undraped human body, would have regarded a display of nudity as a relapse into the animal state, not because of the nakedness but because of the loss of the civilized aphrodisiac of clothing. Actually, it would then have been considered below the animal state, for a three-year-old Thoroughbred and a playing greyhound are far more expressive in their nakedness than a human body can ever be. But animals can’t wear clothes; they have only the one skin, while human beings in those days  had many skins. In full dress, with frills, puffs, bell skirts, cascading draperies, laces, and gathered pleats, they had created a surface five times the size of the original one, forming a many-petaled chalice heavy with an erotic charge, difficult of access, and hiding at its core the slim white animal that had to be searched out and that made itself terribly desirable. It was the prescribed process Nature herself uses when she bids her creatures fluff out their plumage or spray out clouds of ink, so that desire and terror raised to a degree of unearthly frenzy will mask the matter-of-fact proceedings that are the heart of the matter. (I,301)

 

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