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Title: Within a Budding Grove
Author: Proust, Marcel
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_Copyright_, 1924, _By_ THOMAS SELTZER


K. S. S.

That _men in armour may be born
With serpents' teeth the field is sown;
Rains mould, winds bend, suns gild the corn
Too quickly ripe, too early mown._

_I scan the quivering beads, behold
The features, catch the whispered breath
Of friends long garnered in the cold
Unopening granaries of death_,

_Whose names in solemn cadence ring
Across my slow oblivious page.
Their friendship was a finer thing
Than fame, or wealth, or honoured age._

_And--while you live and I--shall last
Its tale of seasons with us yet
Who cherish, in the undying
The men we never can forget._

Bad Kissingen, C. K. S. M.

July 31, 1923.


Madame Swann at Home
_A break in the narrative: old friends in new aspects--The
Marquis de Norpois--Bergotte--How I cease for the time being
to see Gilberte: a general outline of the sorrow caused by a parting
and of the irregular process of oblivion._

Place-Names: The Place
_My first visit to Balbec_

Place-Names: The Place (continued)
_First impressions of M. de Charlus and
of Robert de Saint-Loup--Dinner with Bloch and his family._

Seascape, with Frieze of Girls
_Dinners at Rivebelle--Enter Albertine._




My mother, when it was a question of our having M. de Norpois to dinner
for the first time, having expressed her regret that Professor Cottard
was away from home, and that she herself had quite ceased to see
anything of Swann, since either of these might have helped to entertain
the old Ambassador, my father replied that so eminent a guest, so
distinguished a man of science as Cottard could never be out of place at
a dinner-table, but that Swann, with his ostentation, his habit of
crying aloud from the house-tops the name of everyone that he knew,
however slightly, was an impossible vulgarian whom the Marquis de
Norpois would be sure to dismiss as--to use his own epithet--a
"pestilent" fellow. Now, this attitude on my fathers part may be felt to
require a few words of explanation, inasmuch as some of us, no doubt,
remember a Cottard of distinct mediocrity and a Swann by whom modesty
and discretion, in all his social relations, were carried to the utmost
refinement of delicacy. But in his case, what had happened was that, to
the original "young Swann" and also to the Swann of the Jockey Club, our
old friend had added a fresh personality (which was not to be his last)
that of Odette's husband. Adapting to the humble ambitions of that lady
the instinct, the desire, the industry which he had always had, he had
laboriously constructed for himself, a long way beneath the old, a new
position more appropriate to the companion who was to share it with him.
In this he shewed himself another man. Since (while he continued to go,
by himself, to the houses of his own friends, on whom he did not care to
inflict Odette unless they had expressly asked that she should be
introduced to them) it was a new life that he had begun to lead, in
common with his wife, among a new set of people, it was quite
intelligible that, in order to estimate the importance of these new
friends and thereby the pleasure, the self-esteem that were to be
derived from entertaining them, he should have made use, as a standard
of comparison, not of the brilliant society in which he himself had
moved before his marriage but of the earlier environment of Odette. And
yet, even when one knew that it was with unfashionable officials and
their faded wives, the wallflowers of ministerial ball-rooms, that he
was now anxious to associate, it was still astonishing to hear him, who
in the old days, and even still, would so gracefully refrain from
mentioning an invitation to Twickenham or to Marlborough House, proclaim
with quite unnecessary emphasis that the wife of some Assistant
Under-Secretary for Something had returned Mme. Swann's call. It will
perhaps be objected here that what this really implied was that the
simplicity of the fashionable Swann had been nothing more than a supreme
refinement of vanity, and that, like certain other Israelites, my
parents' old friend had contrived to illustrate in turn all the stages
through which his race had passed, from the crudest and coarsest form of
snobbishness up to the highest pitch of good manners. But the chief
reason--and one which is applicable to humanity as a whole--was that our
virtues themselves are not free and floating qualities over which we
retain a permanent control and power of disposal; they come to be so
closely linked in our minds with the actions in conjunction with which
we make it our duty to practise them, that, if we are suddenly called
upon to perform some action of a different order, it takes us by
surprise, and without our supposing for a moment that it might involve
the bringing of those very same virtues into play. Swann, in his intense
consciousness of his new social surroundings, and in the pride with
which he referred to them, was like those great artists--modest or
generous by nature--who, if at the end of their career they take to
cooking or to gardening, display a childlike gratification at the
compliments that are paid to their dishes or their borders, and will not
listen to any of the criticism which they heard unmoved when it was
applied to their real achievements; or who, after giving away a canvas,
cannot conceal their annoyance if they lose a couple of francs at

As for Professor Cottard, we shall meet him again and can study him at
our leisure, much later in the course of our story, with the "Mistress",
Mme. Verdurin, in her country house La Raspelière. For the present, the
following observations must suffice; first of all, in the case of Swann
the alteration might indeed be surprising, since it had been
accomplished and yet was not suspected by me when I used to see
Gilberte's father in the Champs-Elysées, where, moreover, as he never
spoke to me, he could not very well have made any display of his
political relations. It is true that, if he had done so, I might not at
once have discerned his vanity, for the idea that one has long held of a
person is apt to stop one's eyes and ears; my mother, for three whole
years, had no more noticed the salve with which one of her nieces used
to paint her lips than if it had been wholly and invisibly dissolved in
some clear liquid; until one day a streak too much, or possibly
something else, brought about the phenomenon known as super-saturation;
all the paint that had hitherto passed unperceived was now crystallised,
and my mother, in the face of this sudden riot of colour, declared, in
the best Combray manner, that it was a perfect scandal, and almost
severed relations with her niece. With Cottard, on the contrary, the
epoch in which we have seen him assisting at the first introduction of
Swann to the Verdurins was now buried in the past; whereas honours,
offices and titles come with the passage of years; moreover, a man may
be illiterate, and make stupid puns, and yet have a special gift, which
no amount of general culture can replace--such as the gift of a great
strategist or physician. And so it was not merely as an obscure
practitioner, who had attained in course of time to European celebrity,
that the rest of his profession regarded Cottard. The most intelligent
of the younger doctors used to assert--for a year or two, that is to
say, for fashions, being themselves begotten of the desire for change,
are quick to change also--that if they themselves ever fell ill Cottard
was the only one of the leading men to whom they would entrust their
lives. No doubt they preferred, socially, to meet certain others who
were better read, more artistic, with whom they could discuss Nietzsche
and Wagner. When there was a musical party at Mme. Cottard's, on the
evenings when she entertained--in the hope that it might one day make
him Dean of the Faculty--the colleagues and pupils of her husband, he,
instead of listening, preferred to play cards in another room. Yet
everybody praised the quickness, the penetration, the unerring
confidence with which, at a glance, he could diagnose disease. Thirdly,
in considering the general impression which Professor Cottard must have
made on a man like my father, we must bear in mind that the character
which a man exhibits in the latter half of his life is not always, even
if it is often his original character developed or withered, attenuated
or enlarged; it is sometimes the exact opposite, like a garment that has
been turned. Except from the Verdurins, who were infatuated with him,
Cottard's hesitating manner, his excessive timidity and affability had,
in his young days, called down upon him endless taunts and sneers. What
charitable friend counselled that glacial air? The importance of his
professional standing made it all the more easy to adopt. Wherever he
went, save at the Verdurins', where he instinctively became himself
again, he would assume a repellent coldness, remain silent as long as
possible, be peremptory when he was obliged to speak, and not forget to
say the most cutting things. He had every opportunity of rehearsing this
new attitude before his patients, who, seeing him for the first time,
were not in a position to make comparisons, and would have been greatly
surprised to learn that he was not at all a rude man by nature. Complete
impassivity was what he strove to attain, and even while visiting his
hospital wards, when he allowed himself to utter one of those puns which
left everyone, from the house physician to the junior student, helpless
with laughter, he would always make it without moving a muscle of his
face, while even that was no longer recognisable now that he had shaved
off his beard and moustache.

But who, the reader has been asking, was the Marquis de Norpois. Well,
he had been Minister Plenipotentiary before the War, and was actually an
Ambassador on the Sixteenth of May; in spite of which, and to the
general astonishment, he had since been several times chosen to
represent France on Extraordinary Missions,--even as Controller of the
Public Debt in Egypt, where, thanks to his great capability as a
financier, he had rendered important services--by Radical Cabinets under
which a reactionary of the middle classes would have declined to serve,
and in whose eyes M. de Norpois, in view of his past, his connexions and
his opinions, ought presumably to have been suspect. But these advanced
Ministers seemed to consider that, in making such an appointment, they
were shewing how broad their own minds were, when the supreme interests
of France were at stake, were raising themselves above the general run
of politicians, were meriting, from the _Journal des Débats_ itself,
the title of "Statesmen", and were reaping direct advantage from the
weight that attaches to an aristocratic name and the dramatic interest
always aroused by an unexpected appointment. And they knew also that
they could reap these advantages by making an appeal to M. de Norpois,
without having to fear any want of political loyalty on his part, a
fault against which his noble birth not only need not put them on their
guard but offered a positive guarantee. And in this calculation the
Government of the Republic were not mistaken. In the first place,
because an aristocrat of a certain type, brought up from his cradle to
regard his name as an integral part of himself of which no accident can
deprive him (an asset of whose value his peers, or persons of even
higher rank, can form a fairly exact estimate), knows that he can
dispense with the efforts (since they can in no way enhance his
position) in which, without any appreciable result, so many public men
of the middle class spend themselves,--to profess only the "right"
opinions, to frequent only the "sound" people. Anxious, on the other
hand, to increase his own importance in the eyes of the princely or
ducal families which take immediate precedence of his own, he knows that
he can do so by giving his name that complement which hitherto it has
lacked, which will give it priority over other names heraldically its
equals: such as political power, a literary or an artistic reputation,
or a large fortune. And so what he saves by avoiding the society of the
ineffective country squires, after whom all the professional families
run helter-skelter, but of his intimacy with whom, were he to profess
it, a prince would think nothing, he will lavish on the politicians who
(free-masons, or worse, though they be) can advance him in Diplomacy or
"back" him in an election, and on the artists or scientists whose
patronage can help him to "arrive" in those departments in which they
excel, on everyone, in fact, who is in a position to confer a fresh
distinction or to "bring off" a rich marriage.

But in the character of M. de Norpois there was this predominant
feature, that, in the course of a long career of diplomacy, he had
become imbued with that negative, methodical, conservative spirit,
called "governmental", which is common to all Governments and, under
every Government, particularly inspires its Foreign Office. He had
imbibed, during that career, an aversion, a dread, a contempt for the
methods of procedure, more or less revolutionary and in any event quite
incorrect, which are those of an Opposition. Save in the case of a few
illiterates--high or low, it makes no matter--by whom no difference in
quality is perceptible, what attracts men one to another is not a common
point of view but a consanguinity of spirit. An Academician of the kind
of Legouvé, and therefore an upholder of the classics, would applaud
Maxime Ducamp's or Mezière's eulogy of Victor Hugo with more fervour
than that of Boileau by Claudel. A common Nationalism suffices to endear
Barrès to his electors, who scarcely distinguish between him and M.
Georges Berry, but does not endear him to those of his brother
Academicians who, with a similar outlook on politics but a different
type of mind, will prefer to him even such open adversaries as M. Ribot
and M. Deschanel, with whom, in turn, the most loyal Monarchists feel
themselves more closely allied than with Maurras or Léon Daudet,
although these also are living in the hope of a glorious Restoration.
Miserly in the use of words, not only from a professional scruple of
prudence and reserve, but because words themselves have more value,
present more subtleties of definition to men whose efforts, protracted
over a decade, to bring two countries to an understanding, are
condensed, translated--in a speech or in a protocol--into a single
adjective, colourless in all appearance, but to them pregnant with a
world of meaning, M. de Norpois was considered very stiff, at the
Commission, where he sat next to my father, whom everyone else
congratulated on the astonishing way in which the old Ambassador unbent
to him. My father was himself more astonished than anyone. For not
being, as a rule, very affable, his company was little sought outside
his own intimate circle, a limitation which he used modestly and frankly
to avow. He realised that these overtures were an outcome, in the
diplomat, of that point of view which everyone adopts for himself in
making his choice of friends, from which all a man's intellectual
qualities, his refinement, his affection are a far less potent
recommendation of him, when at the same time he bores or irritates one,
than are the mere straightforwardness and good-humour of another man
whom most people would regard as frivolous or even fatuous. "De Norpois
has asked me to dinner again; it's quite extraordinary; everyone on the
Commission is amazed, as he never has any personal relations with any of
us. I am sure he's going to tell me something thrilling, again, about
the 'Seventy war." My father knew that M. de Norpois had warned, had
perhaps been alone in warning the Emperor of the growing strength and
bellicose designs of Prussia, and that Bismarck rated his intelligence
most highly. Only the other day, at the Opera, during the gala
performance given for King Theodosius, the newspapers had all drawn
attention to the long conversation which that Monarch had held with M.
de Norpois. "I must ask him whether the King's visit had any real
significance," my father went on, for he was keenly interested in
foreign politics. "I know old Norpois keeps very close as a rule, but
when he's with me he opens out quite charmingly."

As for my mother, perhaps the Ambassador had not the type of mind
towards which she felt herself most attracted. I should add that his
conversation furnished so exhaustive a glossary of the superannuated
forms of speech peculiar to a certain profession, class and period--a
period which, for that profession and that class, might be said not to
have altogether passed away--that I sometimes regret that I have not
kept any literal record simply of the things that I have heard him say.
I should thus have obtained an effect of old-fashioned courtesy by the
same process and at as little expense as that actor at the Palais-Royal
who, when asked where on earth he managed to find his astounding hats,
answered, "I do not find my hats. I keep them." In a word, I suppose
that my mother considered M. de Norpois a trifle "out-of-date", which
was by no means a fault in her eyes, so far as manners were concerned,
but attracted her less in the region--not, in this instance, of ideas,
for those of M. de Norpois were extremely modern--but of idiom. She
felt, however, that she was paying a delicate compliment to her husband
when she spoke admiringly of the diplomat who had shewn so remarkable a
predilection for him. By confirming in my father's mind the good opinion
that he already had of M. de Norpois, and so inducing him to form a good
opinion of himself also, she knew that she was carrying out that one of
her wifely duties which consisted in making life pleasant and
comfortable for her husband, just as when she saw to it that his dinner
was perfectly cooked and served in silence. And as she was incapable of
deceiving my father, she compelled herself to admire the old Ambassador,
so as to be able to praise him with sincerity. Incidentally she could
naturally, and did appreciate his kindness, his somewhat antiquated
courtesy (so ceremonious that when, as he was walking along the street,
his tall figure rigidly erect, he caught sight of my mother driving
past, before raising his hat to her he would fling away the cigar that
he had just lighted); his conversation, so elaborately circumspect, in
which he referred as seldom as possible to himself and always considered
what might interest the person to whom he was speaking; his promptness
in answering a letter, which was so astonishing that whenever my father,
just after posting one himself to M. de Norpois, saw his handwriting
upon an envelope, his first thought was always one of annoyance that
their letters must, unfortunately, have crossed in the post; which, one
was led to suppose, bestowed upon him the special and luxurious
privilege of extraordinary deliveries and collections at all hours of
the day and night. My mother marvelled at his being so punctilious
although so busy, so friendly although so much in demand, never
realising that "although", with such people, is invariably an
unrecognised "because", and that (just as old men are always wonderful
for their age, and kings extraordinarily simple, and country cousins
astonishingly well-informed) it was the same system of habits that
enabled M. de Norpois to undertake so many duties and to be so
methodical in answering letters, to go everywhere and to be so friendly
when he came to us. Moreover she made the mistake which everyone makes
who is unduly modest; she rated everything that concerned herself below,
and consequently outside the range of other people's duties and
engagements. The letter which it seemed to her so meritorious in my
father's friend to have written us promptly, since in the course of the
day he must have had ever so many letters to write, she excepted from
that great number of letters, of which actually it was a unit; in the
same way she did not consider that dining with us was, for M. de
Norpois, merely one of the innumerable activities of his social life;
she never guessed that the Ambassador had trained himself, long ago, to
look upon dining out as one of his diplomatic functions, and to display,
at table, an inveterate charm which it would have been too much to have
expected him specially to discard when he came to dine with us.

The evening on which M. de Norpois first appeared at our table, in a
year when I still went to play in the Champs-Elysées, has remained
fixed in my memory because the afternoon of the same day was that upon
which I at last went to hear Berma, at a _matinée_, in _Phèdre_, and
also because in talking to M. de Norpois I realised suddenly, and in a
new and different way, how completely the feelings aroused in me by all
that concerned Gilberte Swann and her parents differed from any that the
same family could inspire in anyone else.

It was no doubt the sight of the depression in which I was plunged by
the approach of the New Year holidays, in which, as she herself had
informed me, I was to see nothing of Gilberte, that prompted my mother
one day, in the hope of distracting my mind, to suggest, "If you are
still so anxious to hear Berma, I think that your father would allow you
perhaps to go; your grandmother can take you."

But it was because M. de Norpois had told him that he ought to let me
hear Berma, that it was an experience for a young man to remember in
later life, that my father, who had hitherto been so resolutely opposed
to my going and wasting my time, with the added risk of my falling ill
again, on what he used to shock my grandmother by calling "futilities",
was now not far from regarding this manner of spending an afternoon as
included, in some vague way, in the list of precious formulae for
success in a brilliant career. My grandmother, who, in renouncing on my
behalf the profit which, according to her, I should have derived from
hearing Berma, had made a considerable sacrifice in the interests of my
health, was surprised to find that this last had become of no account at
a mere word from M. de Norpois. Reposing the unconquerable hopes of her
rationalist spirit in the strict course of fresh air and early hours
which had been prescribed for me, she now deplored, as something
disastrous, this infringement that I was to make of my rules, and in a
tone of despair protested, "How easily led you are!" to my father, who
replied angrily "What! So it's you that are for not letting him go, now.
That is really too much, after your telling us all day and every day
that it would be so good for him."

M. de Norpois had also brought about a change in my father's plans in a
matter of far greater importance to myself. My father had always meant
me to become a diplomat, and I could not endure the thought that, even
if I did have to stay for some years, first, at the Ministry, I should
run the risk of being sent, later on, as Ambassador, to capitals in
which no Gilberte dwelt. I should have preferred to return to the
literary career that I had planned for myself, and had then abandoned,
years before, in my wanderings along the Guermantes way. But my father
had steadily opposed my devoting myself to literature, which he regarded
as vastly inferior to diplomacy, refusing even to dignify it with the
title of career, until the day when M. de Norpois, who had little love
for the more recent generations of diplomatic agents, assured him that
it was quite possible, by writing, to attract as much attention, to
receive as much consideration, to exercise as much influence, and at the
same time to preserve more independence than in the Embassies.

"Well, well, I should never have believed it. Old Norpois doesn't at all
disapprove of your idea of taking up writing," my father had reported.
And as he had a certain amount of influence himself, he imagined that
there was nothing that could not be "arranged", no problem for which a
happy solution might not be found in the conversation of people who
"counted". "I shall bring him back to dinner, one of these days, from
the Commission. You must talk to him a little, and let him see what he
thinks of you. Write something good that you can shew him; he is an
intimate friend of the editor of the _Deux-Mondes_; he will get you in
there; he will arrange it all, the cunning old fox; and, upon my soul,
he seems to think that diplomacy, nowadays----!"

My happiness in the prospect of not being separated from Gilberte made
me desirous, but not capable, of writing something good which could be
shewn to M. de Norpois. After a few laboured pages, weariness made the
pen drop from my fingers; I cried with anger at the thought that I
should never have any talent, that I was not "gifted", that I could not
even take advantage of the chance that M. de Norpois's coming visit was
to offer me of spending the rest of my life in Paris. The recollection
that I was to be taken to hear Berma alone distracted me from my grief.
But just as I did not wish to see any storms except on those coasts
where they raged with most violence, so I should not have cared to hear
the great actress except in one of those classic parts in which Swann
had told me that she touched the sublime. For when it is in the hope of
making a priceless discovery that we desire to receive certain
impressions from nature or from works of art, we have certain scruples
about allowing our soul to gather, instead of these, other, inferior,
impressions, which are liable to make us form a false estimate of the
value of Beauty. Berma in _Andromaque_, in _Les Caprices de Marianne_,
in _Phèdre_, was one of those famous spectacles which my imagination
had so long desired. I should enjoy the same rapture as on the day when
in a gondola I glided to the foot of the Titian of the Frari or the
Carpaccios of San Giorgio dei Schiavoni, were I ever to hear Berma
repeat the lines beginning,

"On dit qu'un prompt départ vous éloigne de nous,

I was familiar with them from the simple reproduction in black and white
which was given of them upon the printed page; but my heart beat
furiously at the thought--as of the realisation of a long-planned
voyage--that I should at length behold them, bathed and brought to life
in the atmosphere and sunshine of the voice of gold. A Carpaccio in
Venice, Berma in _Phèdre_, masterpieces of pictorial or dramatic art
which the glamour, the dignity attaching to them made so living to me,
that is to say so indivisible, that if I had been taken to see
Carpaccios in one of the galleries of the Louvre, or Berma in some piece
of which I had never heard, I should not have experienced the same
delicious amazement at finding myself at length, with wide-open eyes,
before the unique and inconceivable object of so many thousand dreams.
Then, while I waited, expecting to derive from Berma's playing the
revelation of certain aspects of nobility and tragic grief, it seemed to
me that whatever greatness, whatever truth there might be in her playing
must be enhanced if the actress imposed it upon a work of real value,
instead of what would, after all, be but embroidering a pattern of truth
and beauty upon a common-place and vulgar web.

Finally, if I went to hear Berma in a new piece, it would not be easy
for me to judge of her art, of her diction, since I should not be able
to differentiate between a text which was not already familiar and what
she added to it by her intonations and gestures, an addition which would
seem to me to be embodied in the play itself; whereas the old plays, the
classics which I knew by heart, presented themselves to me as vast and
empty walls, reserved and made ready for my inspection, on which I
should be able to appreciate without restriction the devices by which
Berma would cover them, as with frescoes, with the perpetually fresh
treasures of her inspiration. Unfortunately, for some years now, since
she had retired from the great theatres, to make the fortune of one on
the boulevards where she was the "star", she had ceased to appear in
classic parts; and in vain did I scan the hoardings; they never
advertised any but the newest pieces, written specially for her by
authors in fashion at the moment. When, one morning, as I stood
searching the column of announcements to find the afternoon performances
for the week of the New Year holidays, I saw there for the first
time--at the foot of the bill, after some probably insignificant
curtain-raiser, whose title was opaque to me because it had latent in it
all the details of an action of which I was ignorant--two acts of
_Phèdre_ with Mme. Berma, and, on the following afternoons, _Le
Demi-Monde, Les Caprices de Marianne_, names which, like that of
_Phèdre_, were for me transparent, filled with light only, so familiar
were those works to me, illuminated to their very depths by the
revealing smile of art. They seemed to me to invest with a fresh
nobility Mme. Berma herself when I read in the newspapers, after the
programme of these performances, that it was she who had decided to shew
herself once more to the public in some of her early creations. She was
conscious, then, that certain stage-parts have an interest which
survives the novelty of their first production or the success of a
revival; she regarded them, when interpreted by herself, as museum
pieces which it might be instructive to set before the eyes of the
generation which had admired her in them long ago, or of that which had
never yet seen her in them. In thus advertising, in the middle of a
column of plays intended only to while away an evening, this _Phèdre_,
a title no longer than any of the rest, nor set in different type, she
added something indescribable, as though a hostess, introducing you,
before you all go in to dinner, to her other guests, were to mention,
casually, amid the string of names which are the names of guests and
nothing more, and without any change of tone:--"M. Anatole France."

The doctor who was attending me--the same who had forbidden me to
travel--advised my parents not to let me go to the theatre; I should
only be ill again afterwards, perhaps for weeks, and should in the long
run derive more pain than pleasure from the experience. The fear of this
might have availed to stop me, if what I had Anticipated from such a
spectacle had been only a pleasure for which a subsequent pain could so
compensate as to cancel it. But what I demanded from this
performance--just as from the visit to Balbec, the visit to Venice for
which I had so intensely longed--was something quite different from
pleasure; a series of verities pertaining to a world more real than that
in which I lived, which, once acquired, could never be taken from me
again by any of the trivial incidents--even though it were the cause of
bodily suffering--of my otiose existence. At best, the pleasure which I
was to feel during the performance appeared to me as the perhaps
inevitable form of the perception of these truths; and I hoped only that
the illness which had been forecast for me would not begin until the
play was finished, so that my pleasure should not be in any way
compromised or spoiled. I implored my parents, who, after the doctor's
visit, were no longer inclined to let me go to _Phèdre._ I repeated,
all day long, to myself, the speech beginning,

"On dit qu'un prompt départ vous éloigne de nous,----"

seeking out every intonation that could be put into it, so as to be able
better to measure my surprise at the way which Berma would have found of
uttering the lines. Concealed, like the Holy of Holies, beneath the veil
that screened her from my gaze, behind which I invested her, every
moment, with a fresh aspect, according to which of the words of
Bergotte--in the pamphlet that Gilberte had found for me--was passing
through my mind; "plastic nobility", "Christian austerity" or "Jansenist
pallor", "Princess of Troezen and of Cleves" or "Mycenean drama",
"Delphic symbol", "Solar myth"; that divine Beauty, whom Berma's acting
was to reveal to me, night and day, upon an altar perpetually illumined,
sat enthroned in the sanctuary of my mind, my mind for which not itself
but my stern, my fickle parents were to decide whether or not it was to
enshrine, and for all time, the perfections of the Deity unveiled, in
the same spot where was now her invisible form. And with my eyes fixed
upon that inconceivable image, I strove from morning to night to
overcome the barriers which my family were putting in my way. But when
those had at last fallen, when my mother--albeit this _matinée_ was
actually to coincide with the meeting of the Commission from which my
father had promised to bring M. de Norpois home to dinner--had said to
me, "Very well, we don't wish you to be unhappy;--if you think that you
will enjoy it so very much, you must go; that's all;" when this day of
theatre-going, hitherto forbidden and unattainable, depended now only
upon myself, then for the first time, being no longer troubled by the
wish that it might cease to be impossible, I asked myself if it were
desirable, if there were not other reasons than my parents' prohibition
which should make me abandon my design. In the first place, whereas I
had been detesting them for their cruelty, their consent made them now
so dear to me that the thought of causing them pain stabbed me also with
a pain through which the purpose of life shewed itself as the pursuit
not of truth but of loving-kindness, and life itself seemed good or evil
only as my parents were happy or sad. "I would rather not go, if it
hurts you," I told my mother, who, on the contrary, strove hard to expel
from my mind any lurking fear that she might regret my going, since
that, she said, would spoil the pleasure that I should otherwise derive
from _Phèdre_, and it was the thought of my pleasure that had induced
my father and her to reverse their earlier decision. But then this sort
of obligation to find a pleasure in the performance seemed to me very
burdensome. Besides, if I returned home ill, should I be well again in
time to be able to go to the Champs-Elysées as soon as the holidays
were over and Gilberte returned? Against all these arguments I set, so
as to decide which course I should take, the idea, invisible there
behind its veil, of the perfections of Berma. I cast into one pan of the
scales "Making Mamma unhappy", "risking not being able to go on the
Champs-Elysées", and into the other, "Jansenist pallor", "Solar myth",
until the words themselves grew dark and clouded in my mind's vision,
ceased to say anything to me, lost all their force; and gradually my
hesitations became so painful that if I had now decided upon the theatre
it would have been only that I might bring them to an end, and be
delivered from them once and for all. It would have been to fix a term
to my sufferings, and no longer in the expectation of an intellectual
benediction, yielding to the attractions of perfection, that I would let
myself be taken, not now to the Wise Goddess, but to the stem,
implacable Divinity, featureless and unnamed, who had been secretly
substituted for her behind the veil. But suddenly everything was
altered. My desire to go and hear Berma received a fresh stimulus which
enabled me to await the coming of the _matinée_ with impatience and
with joy; having gone to take up, in front of the column on which the
playbills were, my daily station, as excruciating, of late, as that of a
stylite saint, I had seen there, still moist and wrinkled, the complete
bill of _Phèdre_, which had just been pasted up for the first time (and
on which, I must confess, the rest of the cast furnished no additional
attraction which could help me to decide). But it gave to one of the
points between which my indecision wavered a form at once more concrete
And--inasmuch as the bill was dated not from the day on which I read it
but from that on which the performance would take place, and from the
very hour at which the curtain would rise--almost imminent, well on the
way, already, to its realisation, so that I jumped for joy before the
column at the thought that on that day, and at that hour precisely, I
should be sitting there in my place, ready to hear the voice of Berma;
and for fear lest my parents might not now be in time to secure two good
seats for my grandmother and myself, I raced back to the house, whipped
on by the magic words which had now taken the place, in my mind, of
"Jansenist pallor" and "Solar myth";--"Ladies will not be admitted to
the stalls in hats. The doors will be closed at two o'clock."

Alas! that first _matinée_ was to prove a bitter disappointment. My
father offered to drop my grandmother and me at the theatre, on his way
to the Commission. Before leaving the house he said to my mother: "See
that you have a good dinner for us to-night; you remember, I'm bringing
de Norpois back with me." My mother had not forgotten. And all that day,
and overnight, Françoise, rejoicing in the opportunity to devote
herself to that art of the kitchen,--of which she was indeed a
past-master, stimulated, moreover, by the prospect of having a new guest
to feed, the consciousness that she would have to compose, by methods
known to her alone, a dish of beef in jelly, had been living in the
effervescence of creation; since she attached the utmost importance to
the intrinsic quality of the materials which were to enter into the
fabric of her work, she had gone herself to the Halles to procure the
best cuts of rump-steak, shin of beef, calves'-feet, as Michelangelo
passed eight months in the mountains of Carrara choosing the most
perfect blocks of marble for the monument of Julius II.--Françoise
expended on these comings and goings so much ardour that Mamma, at the
sight of her flaming cheeks, was alarmed lest our old servant should
make herself ill with overwork, like the sculptor of the Tombs of the
Medici in the quarries of Pietrasanta. And overnight Françoise had sent
to be cooked in the baker's oven, shielded with breadcrumbs, like a
block of pink marble packed in sawdust, what she called a "Nev'-York
ham". Believing the language to be less rich than it actually was in
words, and her own ears less trustworthy, the first time that she heard
anyone mention York ham she had thought, no doubt,--feeling it to be
hardly conceivable that the dictionary could be so prodigal as to
include at once a "York" and a "New York"--that she had misheard what
was said, and that the ham was really called by the name already
familiar to her. And so, ever since, the word York was preceded in her
ears, or before her eyes when she read it in an advertisement, by the
affix "New" which she pronounced "Nev'". And it was with the most
perfect faith that she would say to her kitchen-maid: "Go and fetch me a
ham from Olida's. Madame told me especially to get a Nev'-York." On that
particular day, if Françoise was consumed by the burning certainty of
creative genius, my lot was the cruel anxiety of the seeker after truth.
No doubt, so long as I had not yet heard Berma speak, I still felt some
pleasure. I felt it in the little square that lay in front of the
theatre, in which, in two hours' time, the bare boughs of the chestnut
trees would gleam with a metallic lustre as the lighted gas-lamps shewed
up every detail of their structure; before the attendants in the
box-office, the selection of whom, their promotion, all their destiny
depended upon the great artist--for she alone held power in the theatre,
where ephemeral managers followed one after the other in an obscure
succession--who took our tickets without even glancing at us, so
preoccupied were they with their anxiety lest any of Mme. Berma's
instructions had not been duly transmitted to the new members of the
staff, lest it was not clearly, everywhere, understood that the hired
applause must never sound for her, that the windows must all be kept
open so long as she was not on the stage, and every door closed tight,
the moment that she appeared; that a bowl of hot water must be concealed
somewhere close to her, to make the dust settle: and, for that matter,
at any moment now her carriage, drawn by a pair of horses with flowing
manes, would be stopping outside the theatre, she would alight from it
muffled in furs, and, crossly acknowledging everyone's salute, would
send one of her attendants to find out whether a stage box had been kept
for her friends, what the temperature was "in front", who were in the
other boxes, if the programme sellers were looking smart; theatre and
public being to her no more than a second, an outermost cloak which she
would put on, and the medium, the more or less "good" conductor through
which her talent would have to pass. I was happy, too, in the theatre
itself; since I had made the discovery that--in contradiction of the
picture so long entertained by my childish imagination--there was but
one stage for everybody, I had supposed that I should be prevented from
seeing it properly by the presence of the other spectators, as one is
when in the thick of a crowd; now I registered the fact that, on the
contrary, thanks to an arrangement which is, so to speak, symbolical of
all spectatorship, everyone feels himself to be the centre of the
theatre; which explained to me why, when Françoise had been sent once
to see some melodrama from the top gallery, she had assured us on her
return that her seat had been the best in the house, and that instead of
finding herself too far from the stage she had been positively
frightened by the mysterious and living proximity of the curtain. My
pleasure increased further when I began to distinguish behind the said
lowered curtain such confused rappings as one hears through the shell of
an egg before the chicken emerges, sounds which speedily grew louder and
suddenly, from that world which, impenetrable by our eyes, yet
scrutinised us with its own, addressed themselves, and to us
indubitably, in the imperious form of three consecutive hammer-blows as
moving as any signals from the planet Mars. And--once this curtain had
risen,--when on the stage a writing-table and a fireplace, in no way out
of the ordinary, had indicated that the persons who were about to enter
would be, not actors come to recite, as I had seen them once and heard
them at an evening party, but real people, just living their lives at
home, on whom I was thus able to spy without their seeing me--my
pleasure still endured; it was broken by a momentary uneasiness; just as
I was straining my ears in readiness before the piece began, two men
entered the theatre from the side of the stage, who must have been very
angry with each other, for they were talking so loud that in the
auditorium, where there were at least a thousand people, we could hear
every word, whereas in quite a small _café_ one is obliged to call the
waiter and ask what it is that two men, who appear to be quarrelling,
are saying; but at that moment, while I sat astonished to find that the
audience was listening to them without protest, drowned as it was in a
universal silence upon which broke, presently, a laugh here and there, I
understood that these insolent fellows were the actors, and that the
short piece known as the "curtain-raiser" had now begun. It was followed
by an interval so long that the audience, who had returned to their
places, grew impatient and began to stamp their feet. I was terrified at
this; for just as in the report of a criminal trial, when I read that
some noble-minded person was coming, against his own interests, to
testify on behalf of an innocent prisoner, I was always afraid that they
would not be nice enough to him, would not shew enough gratitude, would
not recompense him lavishly, and that he, in disgust, would then range
himself on the side of injustice; so now attributing to genius, in this
respect, the same qualities as to virtue, I was afraid lest Berma,
annoyed by the bad behaviour of so ill-bred an audience--in which, on
the other hand, I should have liked her to recognise, with satisfaction,
a few celebrities to whose judgment she would be bound to attach
importance--should express her discontent and disdain by acting badly.
And I gazed appealingly round me at these stamping brutes who were about
to shatter, in their insensate rage, the rare and fragile impression
which I had come to seek. The last moments of my pleasure were during
the opening scenes of _Phèdre._ The heroine herself does not appear in
these first scenes of the second act; and yet, as soon as the curtain
rose, and another curtain, of red velvet this time, was parted in the
middle (a curtain which was used to halve the depth of the stage in all
the plays in which the "star" appeared), an actress entered from the
back who had the face and voice which, I had been told, were those of
Berma. The cast must therefore have been changed; all the trouble that I
had taken in studying the part of the wife of Theseus was wasted. But a
second actress now responded to the first. I must, then, have been
mistaken in supposing that the first was Berma, for the second even more
closely resembled her, and, more than the other, had her diction. Both
of them, moreover, enriched their parts with noble gestures--which I
could vividly distinguish, and could appreciate in their relation to the
text, while they raised and let fall the lovely folds of their
tunics--and also with skilful changes of tone, now passionate, now
ironical, which made me realise the significance of lines that I had
read to myself at home without paying sufficient attention to what they
really meant. But all of a sudden, in the cleft of the red curtain that
veiled her sanctuary, as in a frame, appeared a woman, and
simultaneously with the fear that seized me, far more vexing than
Berma's fear could be, lest someone should upset her by opening a
window, or drown one of her lines by rustling a programme, or annoy her
by applauding the others and by not applauding her enough;--in my own
fashion, still more absolute than Berma's, of considering from that
moment theatre, audience, play and my own body only as an acoustic
medium of no importance, save in the degree to which it was favourable
to the inflexions of that voice,--I realised that the two actresses whom
I had been for some minutes admiring bore not the least resemblance to
her whom I had come to hear. But at the same time all my pleasure had
ceased; in vain might I strain towards Berma eyes, ears, mind, so as not
to let one morsel escape me of the reasons which she would furnish for
my admiring her, I did not succeed in gathering a single one. I could
not even, as I could with her companions, distinguish in her diction and
in her playing intelligent intonations, beautiful gestures. I listened
to her as though I were reading _Phèdre_, or as though Phaedra herself
had at that moment uttered the words that I was hearing, without its
appearing that Berma's talent had added anything at all to them. I could
have wished, so as to be able to explore them fully, so as to attempt to
discover what it was in them that was beautiful, to arrest, to
immobilise for a time before my senses every intonation of the artist's
voice, every expression of her features; at least I did attempt, by dint
of my mental agility in having, before a line came, my attention ready
and tuned to catch it, not to waste upon preparations any morsel of the
precious time that each word, each gesture occupied, and, thanks to the
intensity of my observation, to manage to penetrate as far into them as
if I had had whole hours to spend upon them, by myself. But how short
their duration was! Scarcely had a sound been received by my ear than it
was displaced there by another. In one scene, where Berma stands
motionless for a moment, her arm raised to the level of a face bathed,
by some piece of stagecraft, in a greenish light, before a back-cloth
painted to represent the sea, the whole house broke out in applause; but
already the actress had moved, and the picture that I should have liked
to study existed no longer. I told my grandmother that I could not see
very well; she handed me her glasses. Only, when one believes in the
reality of a thing, making it visible by artificial means is not quite
the same as feeling that it is close at hand. I thought now that it was
no longer Berma at whom I was looking, but her image in a magnifying
glass. I put the glasses down, but then possibly the image that my eye
received of her, diminished by distance, was no more exact; which of the
two Bermas was the real? As for her speech to Hippolyte, I had counted
enormously upon that, since, to judge by the ingenious significance
which her companions were disclosing to me at every moment in less
beautiful parts, she would certainly render it with intonations more
surprising than any which, when reading the play at home, I had
contrived to imagine; but she did not attain to the heights which Œnone
or Aricie would naturally have reached, she planed down into a uniform
flow of melody the whole of a passage in which there were mingled
together contradictions so striking that the least intelligent of tragic
actresses, even the pupils of an academy could not have missed their
effect; besides which, she ran through the speech so rapidly that it was
only when she had come to the last line that my mind became aware of the
deliberate monotony which she had imposed on it throughout.

Then, at last, a sense of admiration did possess me, provoked by the
frenzied applause of the audience. I mingled my own with theirs,
endeavouring to prolong the general sound so that Berma, in her
gratitude, should surpass herself, and I be certain of having heard her
on one of her great days. A curious thing, by the way, was that the
moment when this storm of public enthusiasm broke loose was, as I
afterwards learned, that in which Berma reveals one of her richest
treasures. It would appear that certain transcendent realities emit all
around them a radiance to which the crowd is sensitive. So it is that
when any great event occurs, when on a distant frontier an army is in
jeopardy, or defeated, or victorious, the vague and conflicting reports
which we receive, from which an educated man can derive little
enlightenment, stimulate in the crowd an emotion by which that man is
surprised, and in which, once expert criticism has informed him of the
actual military situation, he recognises the popular perception of that
"aura" which surrounds momentous happenings, and which may be visible
hundreds of miles away. One learns of a victory either after the war is
over, or at once, from the hilarious joy of one's hall porter. One
discovers the touch of genius in Berma's acting a week after one has
heard her, in the criticism of some review, or else on the spot, from
the thundering acclamation of the stalls. But this immediate recognition
by the crowd was mingled with a hundred others, all quite erroneous; the
applause came, most often, at wrong moments, apart from the fact that it
was mechanically produced by the effect of the applause that had gone
before, just as in a storm, once the sea is sufficiently disturbed, it
will continue to swell, even after the wind has begun to subside. No
matter; the more I applauded, the better, it seemed to me, did Berma
act. "I say," came from a woman sitting near me, of no great social
pretensions, "she fairly gives it you, she does; you'd think she'd do
herself an injury, the way she runs about. I call that acting, don't
you?" And happy to find these reasons for Berma's superiority, though
not without a suspicion that they no more accounted for it than would
for that of the Gioconda or of Benvenuto's Perseus a peasant's gaping
"That's a good bit of work. It's all gold, look! Fine, ain't it?", I
greedily imbibed the strong wine of this popular enthusiasm. I felt, all
the same, when the curtain had fallen for the last time, disappointed
that the pleasure for which I had so longed had been no greater, but at
the same time I felt the need to prolong it, not to depart for ever,
when I left the theatre, from this strange life of the stage which had,
for a few hours, been my own, from which I should be tearing myself
away, as though I were going into exile, when I returned to my own home,
had I not hoped there to learn a great deal more about Berma from her
admirer, to whom I was indebted already for the permission to go to
_Phèdre_, M. de Norpois. I was introduced to him before dinner by my
father, who summoned me into his study for the purpose. As I entered,
the Ambassador rose, held out his hand, bowed his tall figure and fixed
his blue eyes attentively on my face. As the foreign visitors who used
to be presented to him, in the days when he still represented France
abroad, were all more or less (even the famous singers) persons of note,
with regard to whom he could tell, when he met them, that he would be
able to say, later on, when he heard their names mentioned in Paris or
in Petersburg, that he remembered perfectly the evening he had spent
with them at Munich or Sofia, he had formed the habit of impressing upon
them, by his affability, the pleasure with which he was making their
acquaintance; but in addition to this, being convinced that in the life
of European capitals, in contact at once with all the interesting
personalities that passed through them and with the manners and customs
of the native populations, one acquired a deeper insight than could be
gained from books into the intellectual movement throughout Europe, he
would exercise upon each newcomer his keen power of observation, so as
to decide at once with what manner of man he had to deal. The Government
had not for some time now entrusted to him a post abroad, but still, as
soon as anyone was introduced to him, his eyes, as though they had not
yet been informed of their master's retirement, began their fruitful
observation, while by his whole attitude he endeavoured to convey that
the stranger's name was not unknown to him. And so, all the time, while
he spoke to me kindly and with the air of importance of a man who is
conscious of the vastness of his own experience, he never ceased to
examine me with a sagacious curiosity, and to his own profit, as though
I had been some exotic custom, some historic and instructive building or
some "star" upon his course. And in this way he gave proof at once, in
his attitude towards me, of the majestic benevolence of the sage Mentor
and of the zealous curiosity of the young Anacharsis.

He offered me absolutely no opening to the _Revue des Deux-Mondes_, but
put a number of questions to me on what I had been doing and reading;
asked what were my own inclinations, which I heard thus spoken of for
the first time as though it might be a quite reasonable thing to obey
their promptings, whereas hitherto I had always supposed it to be my
duty to suppress them. Since they attracted me towards Literature, he
did not dissuade me from that course; on the contrary, he spoke of it
with deference, as of some venerable personage whose select circle, in
Rome or at Dresden, one remembers with pleasure, and regrets only that
one's multifarious duties in life enable one to revisit it so seldom. He
appeared to be envying me, with an almost jovial smile, the delightful
hours which, more fortunate than himself and more free, I should be able
to spend with such a Mistress. But the very terms that he employed
shewed me Literature as something entirely different from the image that
I had formed of it at Combray, and I realised that I had been doubly
right in abandoning my intention. Until now, I had reckoned only that I
had not the "gift" for writing; now M. de Norpois took from me the
ambition also. I wanted to express to him what had been my dreams;
trembling with emotion, I was painfully apprehensive that all the words
which I could utter would not be the sincerest possible equivalent of
what I had felt, what I had never yet attempted to formulate; that is to
say that my words had no clear significance. Perhaps by a professional
habit, perhaps by virtue of the calm that is acquired by every important
personage whose advice is commonly sought, and who, knowing that he will
keep the control of the conversation in his own hands, allows the other
party to fret, to struggle, to take his time; perhaps also to emphasise
the dignity of his head (Greek, according to himself, despite his
sweeping whiskers), M. de Norpois, while anything was being explained to
him, would preserve a facial immobility as absolute as if you had been
addressing some ancient and unhearing bust in a museum. Until suddenly,
falling upon you like an auctioneer's hammer, or a Delphic oracle, the
Ambassador's voice, as he replied to you, would be all the more
impressive, in that nothing in his face had allowed you to guess what
sort of impression you had made on him, or what opinion he was about to

"Precisely;" he suddenly began, as though the case were now heard and
judged, and after allowing me to writhe in increasing helplessness
beneath those motionless eyes which never for an instant left my face.
"There is the case of the son of one of my friends, which, _mutatis
mutandis_, is very much like yours." He adopted in speaking of our
common tendency the same reassuring tone as if it had been a tendency
not to literature but to rheumatics, and he had wished to assure me that
it would not necessarily prove fatal. "He too has chosen to leave the
Quai d'Orsay, although the way had been paved for him there by his
father, and without caring what people might say, he has settled down to
write. And certainly, he's had no reason to regret it. He published two
years ago--of course, he's much older than you, you understand--a book
dealing with the Sense of the Infinite on the Western Shore of Victoria
Nyanza, and this year he has brought out a little thing, not so
important as the other, but very brightly, in places perhaps almost too
pointedly written, on the Repeating Rifle in the Bulgarian Army; and
these have put him quite in a class by himself. He's gone pretty far
already, and he's not the sort of man to stop half-way; I happen to know
that (without any suggestion, of course, of his standing for election)
his name has been mentioned several times, in conversation, and not at
all unfavourably, at the Academy of Moral Sciences. And so, one can't
say yet, of course, that he has reached the pinnacle of fame, still he
has made his way, by sheer industry, to a very fine position indeed, and
success--which doesn't always come only to agitators and mischief-makers
and men who make trouble which is usually more than they are prepared to
take--success has crowned his efforts."

My father, seeing me already, in a few years' time, an Academician, was
tasting a contentment which M. de Norpois raised to the supreme pitch
when, after a momentary hesitation in which he appeared to be
calculating the possible consequences of so rash an act, he handed me
his card and said: "Why not go and see him yourself? Tell him, I sent
you. He may be able to give you some good advice," plunging me by his
words into as painful a state of anxiety as if he had told me that, next
morning, I was to embark as cabin-boy on board a sailing ship, and to go
round the world.

My Aunt Léonie had bequeathed to me, together with all sorts of other
things and much of her furniture, with which it was difficult to know
what to do, almost all her unsettled estate--revealing thus after her
death an affection for me which I had hardly suspected in her lifetime.
My father, who was trustee of this estate until I came of age, now
consulted M. de Norpois with regard to several of the investments. He
recommended certain stocks bearing a low rate of interest, which he
considered particularly sound, notably English consols and Russian four
per cents. "With absolutely first class securities such as those," said
M. de Norpois, "even if your income from them is nothing very great, you
may be certain of never losing any of your capital." My father then told
him, roughly, what else he had bought. M. de Norpois gave a just
perceptible smile of congratulation; like all capitalists, he regarded
wealth as an enviable thing, but thought it more delicate to compliment
people upon their possessions only by a half-indicated sign of
intelligent sympathy; on the other hand, as he was himself immensely
rich, he felt that he shewed his good taste by seeming to regard as
considerable the meagre revenues of his friends, with a happy and
comforting resilience to the superiority of his own. He made amends for
this by congratulating my father, without hesitation, on the
"composition" of his list of investments, selected "with so sure, so
delicate, so fine a taste." You would have supposed, to hear him, that
he attributed to the relative values of investments, and even to
investments themselves something akin to aesthetic merit. Of one,
comparatively recent and still little known, which my father mentioned,
M. de Norpois, like the people who have always read the books of which,
you imagine, you yourself alone have ever heard, said at once, "Ah, yes,
I used to amuse myself for some time with watching it in the papers; it
was quite interesting," with the retrospective smile of a regular
subscriber who has read the latest novel already, in monthly
instalments, in his magazine. "It would not be at all a bad idea to
apply for some of this new issue. It is distinctly attractive; they are
offering it at a most tempting discount." But when he came to some of
the older investments, my father, who could not remember their exact
names, which it was easy to confuse with others of the same kind, opened
a drawer and shewed the securities themselves to the Ambassador. The
sight of them enchanted me. They were ornamented with cathedral spires
and allegorical figures, like the old, romantic editions that I had
pored over as a child. All the products of one period have something in
common; the artists who illustrate the poetry of their generation are
the same artists who are employed by the big financial houses. And
nothing reminds me so much of the monthly parts of _Notre-Dame de
Paris_, and of various books by Gérard de Nerval, that used to hang
outside the grocer's door at Combray, than does, in its rectangular and
flowery border, supported by recumbent river-gods, a "personal share" in
the Water Company.

The contempt which my father had for my kind of intelligence was so far
tempered by his natural affection for me that, in practice, his attitude
towards anything that I might do was one of blind indulgence. And so he
had no qualm about telling me to fetch a little "prose poem" which I had
made up, years before, at Combray, while coming home from a walk. I had
written it down in a state of exaltation which must, I felt certain,
infect everyone who read it. But it was not destined to captivate M. de
Norpois, for he handed it back to me without a word.

My mother, who had the most profound respect for all my father's
occupations, came in now, timidly, to ask whether dinner might be
served. She was afraid to interrupt a conversation in which she herself
could have no part. And indeed my father was continually reminding the
Marquis of some useful suggestion which they had decided to make at the
next meeting of the Commission; speaking in the peculiar tone always
adopted, when in a strange environment by a pair of colleagues--as
exclusive, in this respect, as two young men from the same
college--whose professional routine has furnished them with a common
fund of memories to which the others present have no access, and to
which they are unwilling to refer before an audience.

But the absolute control over his facial muscles to which M. de Norpois
had attained allowed him to listen without seeming to hear a word. At
last my father became uneasy: "I had thought," he ventured, after an
endless preamble, "of asking the advice of the Commission . . ." Then
from the face of the noble virtuoso, who had been sitting inert as a
player in an orchestra sits until the moment comes for him to begin his
part, were uttered, with an even delivery, on a sharp note, and as
though they were no more than the completion (but scored for a different
voice) of the phrase that my father had begun, the words: "of which you
will not hesitate, of course, to call a meeting; more especially as the
present members are all known to you personally, and there may be a
change any day." This was not in itself a very remarkable ending. But
the immobility that had preceded it made it detach itself with the
crystal clarity, the almost malicious unexpectedness of those phrases in
which the piano, silent until then, "takes up", at a given moment, the
violoncello to which one has just been listening, in a Mozart concerto.

"Well, did you enjoy your _matinée?_" asked my father, as we moved to
the dining-room; meaning me to "shew off", and with the idea that my
enthusiasm would give M. de Norpois a good opinion of me. "He has just
been to hear Berma. You remember, we were talking about it the other
day," he went on, turning towards the diplomat, in the same tone of
retrospective, technical, mysterious allusiveness as if he had been
referring to a meeting of the Commission.

"You must have been enchanted, especially if you had never heard her
before. Your father was alarmed at the effect that the little jaunt
might have upon your health, which is none too good, I am told, none too
robust. But I soon set his mind at rest. Theatres to-day are not what
they were even twenty years ago. You have more or less comfortable seats
now, and a certain amount of ventilation, although we have still a long
way to go before we come up to Germany or England, which in that respect
as in many others are immeasurably ahead of us. I have never seen Mme.
Berma in _Phèdre_, but I have always heard that she is excellent in the
part. You were charmed with her, of course?"

M. de Norpois, a man a thousand times more intelligent than myself, must
know that hidden truth which I had failed to extract from Berma's
playing; he knew, and would reveal it to me; in answering his question I
would implore him to let me know in what that truth consisted; and he
would tell me, and so justify me in the longing that I had felt to see
and hear the actress. I had only a moment, I must make what use I could
of it and bring my cross-examination to bear upon the essential points.
But what were they? Fastening my whole attention upon my own so confused
impressions, with no thought of making, M. de Norpois admire me, but
only that of learning from him the truth that I had still to discover, I
made no attempt to substitute ready made phrases for the words that
failed me--I stood there stammering, until finally, in the hope of
provoking him into declaring what there was in Berma that was admirable,
I confessed that I had been disappointed.

"What's that?" cried my father, annoyed at the bad impression which this
admission of my failure to appreciate the performance must make on M. de
Norpois, "What on earth do you mean; you didn't enjoy it? Why, your
grandmother has been telling us that you sat there hanging on every word
that Berma uttered, with your eyes starting out of your head; that
everyone else in the theatre seemed quite bored, beside you."

"Oh, yes, I was listening as hard as I could, trying to find out what it
was that was supposed to be so wonderful about her. Of course, she's
frightfully good, and all that . . ."

"If she is 'frightfully good', what more do you want?"

"One of the things that have undoubtedly contributed to the success of
Mme. Berma," resumed M. de Norpois, turning with elaborate courtesy
towards my mother, so as not to let her be left out of the conversation,
and in conscientious fulfilment of his duty of politeness to the lady of
the house, "is the perfect taste that she shews in selecting her parts;
thus she can always be assured of success, and success of the right
sort. She hardly ever appears in anything trivial. Look how she has
thrown herself into the part of Phèdre. And then, she brings the same
good taste to the choice of her costumes, and to her acting. In spite of
her frequent and lucrative tours in England and America, the
vulgarity--I will not say of John Bull; that would be unjust, at any
rate to the England of the Victorian era--but of Uncle Sam has not
infected her. No loud colours, no rant. And then that admirable voice,
which has been of such service to her, with which she plays so
delightfully--I should almost be tempted to describe it as a musical

My interest in Berma's acting had continued to grow ever since the fall
of the curtain, because it was then no longer compressed within the
limits of reality; but I felt the need to find explanations for it;
moreover it had been fixed with the same intensity, while Berma was on
the stage, upon everything that she offered, in the indivisibility of a
living whole, to my eyes and ears; there was nothing separate or
distinct; it welcomed, accordingly, the discovery of a reasonable cause
in these tributes paid to the simplicity, to the good taste of the
actress, it attracted them to itself by its power of absorption, seized
hold of them, as the optimism of a drunken man seizes hold of the
actions of his neighbour, in each of which he finds an excuse for
emotion. "He is right!" I told myself. "What a charming voice, what an
absence of shrillness, what simple costumes, what intelligence to have
chosen _Phèdre._ No; I have not been disappointed!"

The cold beef, spiced with carrots, made its appearance, couched by the
Michelangelo of our kitchen upon enormous crystals of jelly, like
transparent blocks of quartz.

"You have a chef of the first order, Madame," said M. de Norpois, "and
that is no small matter. I myself, who have had, when abroad, to
maintain a certain style in housekeeping, I know how difficult it often
is to find a perfect master-cook. But this is a positive banquet that
you have set before us!"

And indeed Françoise, in the excitement of her ambition to make a
success, for so distinguished a guest, of a dinner the preparation of
which had been obstructed by difficulties worthy of her powers, had
given herself such trouble as she no longer took when we were alone, and
had recaptured her incomparable Combray manner.

"That is a thing you can't get in a chophouse,--in the best of them, I
mean; a spiced beef in which the jelly does not taste of glue and the
beef has caught the flavour of the carrots; it is admirable! Allow me to
come I again," he went on, making a sign to shew that he wanted more of
the jelly. "I should be interested to see how your Vatel managed a dish
of quite a different kind; I should like, for instance, to see him
tackle a _bœuf Stroganoff._"

M. de Norpois, so as to add his own contribution to the gaiety of the
repast, entertained us with a number of the stories with which he was in
the habit of regaling his colleagues in "the career", quoting now some
ludicrous sentence uttered by a politician, an old offender, whose
sentences were always long and packed with incoherent images, now some
monumental epigram of a diplomat, sparkling with attic salt. But, to
tell the truth, the criterion which for him set apart these two kinds of
phrase in no way resembled that which I was in the habit of applying to
literature. Most of the finer shades escaped me; the words which he
repeated with derision seemed to me not to differ very greatly from
those which he found remarkable. He belonged to the class of men who,
had we come to discuss the books that I liked, would have said; "So you
understand that, do you? I must confess that I do not understand, I am
not initiated," but I could have matched his attitude, for I did not
grasp the wit or folly, the eloquence or pomposity which he found in a
statement or a speech, and the absence of any perceptible reason for
one's being badly and the other's well expressed made that sort of
literature seem more mysterious, more obscure to me than any other. I
could distinguish only that to repeat what everybody else was thinking
was, in politics, the mark not of an inferior but of a superior mind.
When M. de Norpois made use of certain expressions which were "common
form" in the newspapers, and uttered them with emphasis, one felt that
they became an official pronouncement by the mere fact of his having
employed them, and a pronouncement which would provoke a string of

My mother was counting greatly upon the pineapple and truffle salad. But
the Ambassador, after fastening for a moment on the confection the
penetrating gaze of a trained observer, ate it with the inscrutable
discretion of a diplomat, and without disclosing to us what he thought
of it. My mother insisted upon his taking some more, which he did, but
saying only, in place of the compliment for which she was hoping: "I
obey, Madame, for I can see that it is, on your part, a positive ukase!"

"We saw in the 'papers that you had a long talk with King Theodosius,"
my father ventured.

"Why, yes; the King, who has a wonderful memory for faces, was kind
enough to remember, when he noticed me in the stalls, that I had had the
honour to meet him on several occasions at the Court of Bavaria, at a
time when he had never dreamed of his oriental throne--to which, as you
know, he was summoned by a European Congress, and indeed had grave
doubts about accepting the invitation, regarding that particular
sovereignty as unworthy of his race, the noblest, heraldically speaking,
in the whole of Europe. An aide-de-camp came down to bid me pay my
respects to his Majesty, whose command I hastened, naturally, to obey."

"And I trust, you are satisfied with the results of his visit?"

"Enchanted! One was justified in feeling some apprehension as to the
manner in which a Sovereign who is still so young would handle a
situation requiring tact, particularly at this highly delicate juncture.
For my own part, I reposed entire confidence in the King's political
sense. But I must confess that he far surpassed my expectations. The
speech that he made at the Elysée, which, according to information that
has come to me from a most authoritative source, was composed, from
beginning to end, by himself, was fully deserving of the interest that
it has aroused in all quarters. It was simply masterly; a trifle daring,
I quite admit, but with an audacity which, after all, has been fully
justified by the event. Traditional diplomacy is all very well in its
way, but in practice it has made his country and ours live in an
hermetically sealed atmosphere in which it was no longer possible to
breathe. Very well! There is one method of letting in fresh air,
obviously not one of the methods which one could officially recommend,
but one which King Theodosius might allow himself to adopt--and that is
to break the windows. Which he accordingly did, with a spontaneous good
humour that delighted everybody, and also with an aptness in his choice
of words in which one could at once detect the race of scholarly princes
from whom he is descended through his mother. There can be no question
that when he spoke of the 'affinities' that bound his country to France,
the expression, rarely as it may occur in the vocabulary of the
Chancellories, was a singularly happy one. You see that literary ability
is no drawback, even in diplomacy, even upon a throne," he went on,
turning for a moment to myself. "The community of interests had long
been apparent, I quite admit, and the relations of the two Powers were
excellent. Still, it needed putting into words. The word was what we
were all waiting for, it was chosen with marvellous aptitude; you have
seen the effect it had. For my part, I must confess I applauded openly."

"Your friend M. de Vaugoubert will be pleased, after preparing for the
agreement all these years."

"All the more so that his Majesty, who is quite incorrigible, really, in
some ways, had taken care to spring it on him as a surprise. And it did
come as a complete surprise, incidentally, to everyone concerned,
beginning with the Foreign Minister himself, who--I have heard--did not
find it at all to his liking. It appears that someone spoke to him about
it and that he replied, pretty sharply, and loud enough to be overheard
by the people on either side of them: 'I have been neither consulted nor
informed!' indicating clearly by that that he declined to accept any
responsibility for the consequences. I must own that the incident has
given rise to a great deal of comment, and I should not go so far as to
deny," he went on with a malicious smile, "that certain of my
colleagues, for whom the supreme law appears to be that of inertia, may
have been shaken from their habitual repose. As for Vaugoubert, you are
aware that he has been bitterly attacked for his policy of bringing that
country into closer relations with France, which must have been more
than ordinarily painful to him, he is so sensitive, such an exquisite
nature. I can amply testify to that, since, for all that he is
considerably my junior, I have had many dealings with him, we are
friends of long standing and I know him intimately. Besides, who could
help knowing him? His is a heart of crystal. Indeed, that is the one
fault that there is to be found with him; it is not necessary for the
heart of a diplomat to be as transparent as all that. Still, that does
not prevent their talking of sending him to Rome, which would be a fine
rise for him, but a pretty big plum to swallow. Between ourselves, I
fancy that Vaugoubert, utterly devoid of ambition as he is, would be
very well pleased, and would by no means ask for that cup to pass from
him. For all we know, he may do wonders down there; he is the chosen
candidate of the Consulta, and for my part I can see him very well
placed, with his artistic leanings, in the setting of the Farnese Palace
and the Caracci Gallery. At least you would suppose that it was
impossible for any one to hate him; but there is a whole camarilla
collected round King Theodosius which is more or less held in fief by
the Wilhelmstrasse, whose inspiration its members dutifully absorb, and
these men have done everything in their power to checkmate him. Not only
has Vaugoubert had to face these backstairs intrigues, he has had to
endure also the insults of a gang of hireling pamphleteers who later on,
being like every subsidised journalist the most arrant cowards, have
been the first to cry quits, but in the interval had not shrunk from
hurling at our Representative the most fatuous accusations that the wit
of irresponsible fools could invent. For a month and more Vaugoubert's
enemies had been dancing round him, howling for his scalp," M. de
Norpois detached this word with sharp emphasis. "But forewarned is
forearmed; as for their insults, he spurned I them with his foot!" he
went on with even more determination, and with so fierce a glare in his
eye that for a moment we forgot our food. "In the words of a fine Arab
proverb, 'The dogs may bark; the caravan goes on!'"

After launching this quotation M. de Norpois paused and examined our
faces, to see what effect it had had upon us. Its effect was great, the
proverb being familiar to us already. It had taken the place, that year,
among people who "really counted", of "He who sows the wind shall reap
the whirlwind", which was sorely in need of a rest, not having the
perennial freshness of "Working for the King of Prussia". For the
culture of these eminent men was an alternate, if not a tripartite and
triennial culture. Of course, the use of quotations such as these, with
which M. de Norpois excelled in jewelling his articles in the _Revue_,
was in no way essential to their appearing solid and well-informed. Even
without the ornament which the quotations supplied, it sufficed that M.
de Norpois should write at a given point (as he never failed to write):
"The Court of St. James's was not the last to be sensible of the peril,"
or "Feeling ran high on the Singers' Bridge, which with anxious eyes was
following the selfish but, skilful policy of the Dual Monarchy," or "A
cry of alarm sounded from Montecitorio," or yet again, "That everlasting
double dealing which is so characteristic of the Ballplatz." By these
expressions the profane reader had at once recognised and had paid
deference to the diplomat _de carrière._ But what had made people say
that he was something more than that, that he was endowed with a
superior culture, had been his careful use of quotations, the perfect
example of which, at that date, was still: "Give me a good policy and I
will give you good finances, _to quote the favourite words of Baron
Louis_": for we had not yet imported from the Far East: "Victory is on
the side that can hold out a quarter of an hour longer than the other,
_as the Japanese say_". This reputation for immense literary gifts,
combined with a positive genius for intrigue which he kept concealed
beneath a mask of indifference, had secured the election of M. de
Norpois to the Académie des Sciences Morales. And there were some who
even thought that he would not be out of place in the Académie
Française, on the famous day when, wishing to indicate that it was only
by drawing the Russian Alliance closer that we could hope to arrive at
an understanding with Great Britain, he had not hesitated to write: "Be
it clearly understood in the Quai d'Orsay, be it taught henceforward in
all the manuals of geography, which appear to be incomplete in this
respect, be his certificate of graduation remorselessly withheld from
every candidate who has not learned to say, 'If all roads lead to Rome,
nevertheless the way from Paris to London runs of necessity through St.

"In short," M. de Norpois went on, addressing my father, "Vaugoubert has
won himself considerable distinction from this affair, quite beyond
anything on which he can have reckoned. He expected, you understand, a
correctly worded speech (which, after the storm-clouds of recent years,
would have been something to the good) but nothing more. Several persons
who had the honour to be present have assured me that it is impossible,
when one merely reads the speech, to form any conception of the effect
that it produced when uttered--when articulated with marvellous
clearness of diction by the King, who is a master of the art of public
speaking and in that passage underlined every possible shade of meaning.
I allowed myself, in this connexion, to listen to a little anecdote
which brings into prominence once again that frank, boyish charm by
which King Theodosius has won so many hearts. I am assured that, just as
he uttered that word 'affinities', which was, of course, the startling
innovation of the speech, and one that, as you will see, will provoke
discussion in the Chancellories for years to come, his Majesty,
anticipating the delight of our Ambassador, who was to find in that word
the seal, the crown set upon all his labours, on his dreams, one might
almost say, and, in a word, his marshal's baton, made a half turn
towards Vaugoubert and fixing upon him his arresting gaze, so
characteristic of the Oettingens, fired at him that admirably chosen
word 'affinities', a positive treasure-trove, uttering it in a tone
which made it plain to all his hearers that it was employed of set
purpose and with full knowledge of the circumstances. It appears that
Vaugoubert found some difficulty in mastering his emotion, and I must
confess that, to a certain extent, I can well understand it. Indeed, a
person who is entirely to be believed has told me, in confidence, that
the King came up to Vaugoubert after the dinner, when His Majesty was
holding an informal court, and was heard to say, 'Well, are you
satisfied with your pupil, my dear Marquis?'

"One thing, however," M. de Norpois concluded, "is certain; and that is
that a speech like that has done more than twenty years of negotiation
towards bringing the two countries together, uniting their 'affinities',
to borrow the picturesque expression of Theodosius II. It is no more
than a word, if you like, but look what success it has had, how the
whole of the European press is repeating it, what interest it has
aroused, what a new note it has struck. Besides it is distinctly in the
young Sovereign's manner. I will not go so far as to say that he lights
upon a diamond of that water every day. But it is very seldom that, in
his prepared speeches, or better still in the impulsive flow of his
conversation, he does not reveal his character--I was on the point of
saying 'does not affix his signature'--by the use of some incisive word.
I myself am quite free from any suspicion of partiality in this respect,
for I am stoutly opposed to all innovations in terminology. Nine times
out of ten they are most dangerous."

"Yes, I was thinking, only the other day, that the German Emperor's
telegram could not be much to your liking," said my father.

M. de Norpois raised his eyes to heaven, as who should say, "Oh, that
fellow!" before he replied: "In the first place, it is an act of
ingratitude. It is more than a crime; it is a blunder, and one of a
crassness which I can describe only as pyramidal! Indeed, unless some
one puts a check on his activities, the man who has got rid of Bismarck
is quite capable of repudiating by degrees the whole of the Bismarckian
policy; after which it will be a leap in the dark."

"My husband tells me, sir, that you are perhaps going to take him to
Spain one summer; that will be nice for him; I am so glad."

"Why, yes; it is an idea that greatly attracts me; I amuse myself,
planning a tour. I should like to go there with you, my dear fellow. But
what about you, Madame; have you decided yet how you are going to spend
your holidays?"

"I shall perhaps go with my son to Balbec, but I am not certain."

"Oh, but Balbec is quite charming, I was down that way a few years ago.
They are beginning to build some very pretty little villas there; I
think you'll like the place. But may I ask what has made you choose

"My son is very anxious to visit some of the churches in that
neighbourhood, and Balbec church in particular. I was a little afraid
that the tiring journey there, and the discomfort of staying in the
place might be too much for him. But I hear that they have just opened
an excellent hotel, in which he will be able to get all the comfort that
he requires."

"Indeed! I must make a note of that, for a certain person who will not
turn up her nose at a comfortable hotel."

"The church at Balbec is very beautiful, sir, is it not?" I inquired,
repressing my sorrow at learning that one of the attractions of Balbec
consisted in its pretty little villas.

"No, it is not bad; but it cannot be compared for a moment with such
positive jewels in stone as the Cathedrals of Rheims and Chartres, or
with what is to my mind the pearl among them all, the Sainte-Chapelle
here in Paris."

"But, surely, Balbec church is partly romanesque, is it not?"

"Why, yes, it is in the romanesque style, which is to say very cold and
lifeless, with no hint in it anywhere of the grace, the fantasy of the
later gothic builders, who worked their stone as if it had been so much
lace. Balbec church is well worth a visit, if you are in those parts; it
is decidedly quaint; on a wet day, when you have nothing better to do,
you might look inside; you will see the tomb of Tourville."

"Tell me, were you at the Foreign Ministry dinner last night?" asked my
father. "I couldn't go."

"No," M. de Norpois smiled, "I must confess that I renounced it for a
party of a very different sort. I was, dining with a lady whose name you
may possibly have heard, the beautiful Mme. Swann." My mother checked an
impulsive movement, for, being more rapid in perception than my father,
she used to alarm herself on his account over things which only began to
upset him a moment later. Anything unpleasant that might occur to him
was discovered first by her, just as bad news from France is always
known abroad sooner than among ourselves. But she was curious to know
what sort of people the Swanns managed to entertain, and so inquired of
M. de Norpois as to whom he had met there.

"Why, my dear lady, it is a house which (or so it struck me) is
especially attractive to gentlemen. There were several married men there
last night, but their wives were all, as it happened, unwell, and so had
not come with them," replied the Ambassador with a mordancy sheathed in
good-humour, casting on each of us a glance the gentleness and
discretion of which appeared to be tempering while in reality they
deftly intensified its malice.

"In all fairness," he went on, "I must add that women do go to the
house, but women who belong rather--what shall I say--to the Republican
world than to Swann's" (he pronounced it "Svann's") "circle. Still, you
can never tell. Perhaps it will turn into a political or a literary
salon some day. Anyhow, they appear to be quite happy as they are.
Indeed, I feel that Swann advertises his happiness just a trifle too
blatantly. He told us the names of all the people who had asked him and
his wife out for the next week, people with whom there was no particular
reason to be proud of being intimate, with a want of reserve, of taste,
almost of tact which I was astonished to remark in so refined a man. He
kept on repeating, 'We haven't a free evening!' as though that had been
a thing to boast of, positively like a _parvenu_, and he is certainly
not that. For Swann had always plenty of friends, women as well as men,
and without seeming over-bold, without the least wish to appear
indiscreet, I think I may safely say that not all of them, of course,
nor even the majority of them, but one at least, who is a lady of the
very highest rank, would perhaps not have shewn herself inexorably
averse from the idea of entering upon relations with Mme. Swann, in
which case it is safe to assume that more than one sheep of the social
flock would have followed her lead. But it seems that there has been no
indication on Swann's part of any movement in that direction.

"What do I see? A Nesselrode pudding! As well! I declare, I shall need a
course at Carlsbad after such a Lucullus-feast as this.

"Possibly Swann felt that there would be too much resistance to
overcome. The marriage--so much is certain--was not well received. There
has been some talk of his wife's having money, but that is all humbug.
Anyhow, the whole affair has been looked upon with disfavour. And then,
Swann has an aunt who is excessively rich and in an admirable position
socially, married to a man who, financially speaking, is a power. Not
only has she refused to meet Mme. Swann, she has actually started a
campaign to force her friends and acquaintance to do the same. I do not
mean to say that anyone who moves in a good circle in Paris has shewn
any actual incivility to Mme. Swann. . . . No! A hundred times no! Quite
apart from her husband's being eminently a man to take up the challenge.
Anyhow, there is one curious thing about it, to see the immense
importance that Swann, who knows so many and such exclusive people,
attaches to a society of which the best that can be said is that it is
extremely mixed. I myself, who knew him in the old days, must admit that
I felt more astonished than amused at seeing a man so well-bred as he
is, so much at home in the best houses, effusively thanking the Chief
Secretary to the Minister of Posts for having come to them, and asking
him whether Mme. Swann might _take the liberty_ of calling upon his
wife. He must feel something of an exile, don't you know; evidently,
it's quite a different world. I don't think, all the same, that Swann is
unhappy. It is true that for some years before the marriage she was
always trying to blackmail him in a rather disgraceful way; she would
take the child away whenever Swann refused her anything. Poor Swann, who
is as unsophisticated as he is, for all that, sharp, believed every time
that the child's disappearance was a coincidence, and declined to face
the facts. Apart from that, she made such continual scenes that everyone
expected that, from the day she attained her object and was safely
married, nothing could possibly restrain her and that their life would
be a hell on earth. Instead of which, just the opposite has happened.
People are inclined to laugh at the way in which Swann speaks of his
wife; it's become a standing joke. Of course, one could hardly expect
that, conscious, more or less of being a--(you remember Molière's line)
he would go and proclaim it _urbi et orbi_; still that does not prevent
one from finding a tendency in him to exaggerate when he declares that
she makes an excellent wife. And yet that is not so far from the truth
as people imagine. In her own way--which is not, perhaps, what all
husbands would prefer, but then, between you and me, I find it difficult
to believe that Swann, who has known her for ever so long and is far
from being an utter fool, did not know what to expect--there can be no
denying that she does seem to have a certain regard for him. I do not
say that she is not flighty, and Swann himself has no fault to find with
her for that, if one is to believe the charitable tongues which, as you
may suppose, continue to wag. But she is distinctly grateful to him for
what he has done for her, and, despite die fears that were everywhere
expressed of the contrary, her temper seems to have become angelic."

This alteration was perhaps not so extraordinary as M. de Norpois
professed to find it. Odette had not believed that Swann would ever
consent to marry her; each time that she made the suggestive
announcement that some man about town had just married his mistress she
had seen him stiffen into a glacial silence, or at the most, if she were
directly to challenge him, asking: "Don't you think it very nice, a very
fine thing that he has done, for a woman who sacrificed all her youth to
him?" had heard him answer dryly: "But I don't say that there's anything
wrong in it. Everyone does what he himself thinks right." She came very
near, indeed, to believing that (as he used to threaten in moments of
anger) he was going to leave her altogether, for she had heard it said,
not long since, by a woman sculptor, that "You cannot be surprised at
anything men do, they're such brutes," and impressed by the profundity
of this maxim of pessimism she had appropriated it for herself, and
repeated it on every possible occasion with an air of disappointment
which seemed to imply: "After all, it's not impossible in any way; it
would be just my luck." Meanwhile all the virtue had gone from the
optimistic maxim which had hitherto guided Odette through life: "You can
do anything with men when they're in love with you, they're such
idiots!" a doctrine which was expressed on her face by the same tremor
of an eyelid that might have accompanied such words as: "Don't be
frightened; he won't break anything." While she waited, Odette was
tormented by the thought of what one of her friends, who had been
married by a man who had not lived with her for nearly so long as Odette
herself had lived with Swann, and had had no child by him, and who was
now in a definitely respectable position, invited to the balls at the
Elysée and so forth, must think of Swann's behaviour. A consultant more
discerning than M. de Norpois would doubtless have been able to diagnose
that it was this feeling of shame and humiliation that had embittered
Odette, that the devilish characteristics which she displayed were no
essential part of her, no irremediable evil, and so would easily have
foretold what had indeed come to pass, namely that a new rule of life,
the matrimonial, would put an end, with almost magic swiftness, to these
painful incidents, of daily occurrence but in no sense organic.
Practically everyone was surprised at the marriage, and this, in itself,
is surprising. No doubt very few people understand the purely subjective
nature of the phenomenon that we call love, or how it creates, so to
speak, a fresh, a third, a supplementary person, distinct from the
person whom the world knows by the same name, a person most of whose
constituent elements are derived from ourself, the lover. And so there
are very few who can regard as natural the enormous proportions that a
creature comes to assume in our eyes who is not the same as the creature
that they see. It would appear, none the less, that so far as Odette was
concerned people might have taken into account the fact that if, indeed,
she had never entirely understood Swann's mentality, at least she was
acquainted with the titles, and with all the details of his studies, so
much so that the name of Vermeer was as familiar to her as that of her
own dressmaker; while as for Swann himself she knew intimately those
traits of character of which the rest of the world must remain ignorant
or merely laugh at them, and only a mistress or a sister may gain
possession of the revealing, cherished image; and so strongly are we
attached to such eccentricities, even to those of them which we are most
anxious to correct, that it is because a woman comes in time to acquire
an indulgent, an affectionately mocking familiarity, such as we
ourselves have with them, or our relatives have, that amours of long
standing have something of the sweetness and strength of family
affection. The bonds that unite us to another creature receive their
consecration when that creature adopts the same point of view as ourself
in judging one of our imperfections. And among these special traits
there were others, besides, which belonged as much to his intellect as
to his character, which, all the same, because they had their roots in
the latter, Odette had been able more easily to discern. She complained
that when Swann turned author, when he published his essays, these
characteristics were not to be found in them as they were in his
letters, or in his conversation, where they abounded. She urged him to
give them a more prominent place. She would have liked that because it
was these things that she herself preferred in him, but since she
preferred them because they were the things most typical of himself, she
was perhaps not wrong in wishing that they might be found in his
writings. Perhaps also she thought that his work, if endowed with more
vitality, so that it ultimately brought him success, might enable her
also to form what at the Verdurins' she had been taught to value above
everything else in the world--a salon.

Among the people to whom this sort of marriage appeared ridiculous,
people who in their own case would ask themselves, "What will M. de
Guermantes think, what will Bréauté say when I marry Mlle. de
Montmorency?", among the people who cherished that sort of social ideal
would have figured, twenty years earlier, Swann himself, the Swann who
had taken endless pains to get himself elected to the Jockey Club, and
had reckoned at that time on making a brilliant marriage which, by
consolidating his position, would have made him one of the most
conspicuous figures in Paris. Only, the visions which a marriage like
that suggests to the mind of the interested party need, like all
visions, if they are not to fade away and be altogether lost, to receive
sustenance from without. Your most ardent longing is to humiliate the
man who has insulted you. But if you never hear of him again, having
removed to some other place, your enemy will come to have no longer the
slightest importance for you. If one has lost sight for a score of years
of all the people on whose account one would have liked to be elected to
the Jockey Club or the Institute, the prospect of becoming a member of
one or other of those corporations will have ceased to tempt one. Now
fully as much as retirement, ill-health or religious conversion,
protracted relations with a woman will substitute fresh visions for the
old. There was not on Swann's part, when he married Odette, any
renunciation of his social ambitions, for from these ambitions Odette
had long ago, in the spiritual sense of the word, detached him. Besides,
had he not been so detached, his marriage would have been all the more
creditable. It is because they imply the sacrifice of a more or less
advantageous position to a purely private happiness that, as a general
rule, "impossible" marriages are the happiest of all. (One cannot very
well include among the "impossible" marriages those that are made for
money, there being no instance on record of a couple, of whom the wife
or even the husband has thus sold himself, who have not sooner or later
been admitted into society, if only by tradition, and on the strength of
so many precedents, and so as not to have two conflicting standards.)
Perhaps, on the other hand, the artistic, if not the perverse side of
Swann's nature would in any event have derived a certain amount of
pleasure from coupling with himself, in one of those crossings of
species such as Mendelians practise and mythology records, a creature of
a different race, archduchess or prostitute, from contracting a royal
alliance or from marrying beneath him. There had been but one person in
all the world whose opinion he took into consideration whenever he
thought of his possible marriage with Odette; that was, and from no
snobbish motive, the Duchesse de Guermantes. With whom Odette, on the
contrary, was but little concerned, thinking only of those people whose
position was immediately above her own, rather than in so vague an
empyrean. But when Swann in his daydreams saw Odette as already his wife
he invariably formed a picture of the moment in which he would take
her--her, and above all her daughter--to call upon the Princesse des
Laumes (who was shortly, on the death of her father-in-law, to become
Duchesse de Guermantes). He had no desire to introduce them anywhere
else, but his heart would soften as he invented--uttering their actual
words to himself--all the things that the Duchess would say of him to
Odette, and Odette to the Duchess, the affection that she would shew for
Gilberte, spoiling her, making him proud of his child. He enacted to
himself the scene of this introduction with the same precision in each
of its imaginary details that people shew when they consider how they
would spend, supposing they were to win it, a lottery prize the amount
of which they have arbitrarily determined. In so far as a mental picture
which accompanies one of our resolutions may be said to be its motive,
so it might be said that if Swann married Odette it was in order to
present her and Gilberte, without anyone's else being present, without,
if need be, anyone's else ever coming to know of it, to the Duchesse de
Guermantes. We shall see how this sole social ambition that he had
entertained for his wife and daughter was precisely that one the
realisation of which proved to be forbidden him by a veto so absolute
that Swann died in the belief that the Duchess would never possibly come
to know them. We shall see also that, on the contrary, the Duchesse de
Guermantes did associate with Odette and Gilberte after the death of
Swann. And doubtless he would have been wiser--seeing that he could
attach so much importance to so small a matter--not to have formed too
dark a picture of the future, in this connexion, but to have consoled
himself with the hope that the meeting of the ladies might indeed take
place when he was no longer there to enjoy it. The laborious process of
causation which sooner or later will bring about every possible effect,
including (consequently) those which one had believed to be most nearly
impossible, naturally slow at times, is rendered slower still by our
impatience (which in seeking to accelerate only obstructs it) and by our
very existence, and comes to fruition only when we have ceased to desire
it--have ceased, possibly, to live. Was not Swann conscious of this from
his own experience, had there not been already, in his life, as it were
a prefiguration of what was to happen after his death, a posthumous
happiness in this marriage with this Odette whom he had passionately
loved--even if she had not been pleasing to him at first sight--whom he
had married when he no longer loved her, when the creature that, in
Swann, had so longed to live, had so despaired of living all its life in
company with Odette, when that creature was extinct?

I began next to speak of the Comte de Paris, to ask whether he was not
one of Swann's friends, for I was afraid lest the conversation should
drift away from him. "Why, yes!" replied M. de Norpois, turning towards
me and fixing upon my modest person the azure gaze in which floated, as
in their vital element, his immense capacity for work and his power of
assimilation. And "Upon my word," he added, once more addressing my
father, "I do not think that I shall be overstepping the bounds of the
respect which I have always professed for the Prince (though without,
you understand, maintaining any personal relations with him, which would
inevitably compromise my position, unofficial as that may be), if I tell
you of a little episode which is not without point; no more than four
years ago, at a small railway station in one of the countries of Central
Europe, the Prince happened to set eyes on Mme. Swann. Naturally, none
of his circle ventured to ask his Royal Highness what he thought of her.
That would not have been seemly. But when her name came up by chance in
conversation, by certain signs--imperceptible, if you like, but quite
unmistakable--the Prince appeared willing enough to let it be understood
that his impression of her had, in a word, been far from unfavourable."

"But there could have been no possibility, surely, of her being
presented to the Comte de Paris?" inquired my father.

"Well, we don't know; with Princes one never does know," replied M. de
Norpois. "The most exalted, those who know best how to secure what is
due to them, are as often as not the last to let themselves be
embarrassed by the decrees of popular opinion, even by those for which
there is most justification, especially when it is a question of their
rewarding a personal attachment to themselves. Now it is certain that
the Comte de Paris has always most graciously recognised the devotion of
Swann, who is, for that matter, a man of character, in spite of it all."

"And what was your own impression, your Excellency? Do tell us!" my
mother asked, from politeness as well as from curiosity.

All the energy of the old connoisseur broke through the habitual
moderation of his speech as he answered: "Quite excellent!"

And knowing that the admission that a strong impression has been made on
one by a woman takes its place, provided that one makes it in a playful
tone, in a certain category of the art of conversation that is highly
appreciated, he broke into a little laugh that lasted for several
seconds, moistening the old diplomat's blue eyes and making his
nostrils, with their network of tiny scarlet veins, quiver. "She is
altogether charming!"

"Was there a writer of the name of Bergotte at this dinner, sir?" I
asked timidly, still trying to keep the conversation to the subject of
the Swanns.

"Yes, Bergotte was there," replied M. de Norpois, inclining his head
courteously towards me, as though in his desire to be pleasant to my
father he attached to everything connected with him a real importance,
even to the questions of a boy of my age who was not accustomed to see
such politeness shewn to him by persons of his. "Do you know him?" he
went on, fastening on me that clear gaze, the penetration of which had
won the praise of Bismarck.

"My son does not know him, but he admires his work immensely," my mother

"Good heavens!" exclaimed M. de Norpois, inspiring me with doubts of my
own intelligence far more serious than those that ordinarily distracted
me, when I saw that what I valued a thousand times more than myself,
what I regarded as the most exalted thing in the world, was for him at
the very foot of the scale of admiration. "I do not share your son's
point of view. Bergotte is what I call a flute-player: one must admit
that he plays on it very agreeably, although with a great deal of
mannerism, of affectation. But when all is said, it is no more than
that, and that is nothing very great. Nowhere does one find in his
enervated writings anything that could be called construction. No
action--or very little--but above all no range. His books fail at the
foundation, or rather they have no foundation at all. At a time like the
present, when the ever increasing complexity of life leaves one scarcely
a moment for reading, when the map of Europe has undergone radical
alterations, and is on the eve, very probably, of undergoing others more
drastic still, when so many new and threatening problems are arising on
every side, you will allow me to suggest that one is entitled to ask
that a writer should be something else than a fine intellect which makes
us forget, amid otiose and byzantine discussions of the merits of pure
form, that we may be overwhelmed at any moment by a double tide of
barbarians, those from without and those from within our borders. I am
aware that this is a blasphemy against the sacrosanct school of what
these gentlemen term 'Art for Art's sake', but at this period of history
there are tasks more urgent than the manipulation of words in a
harmonious manner. Not that Bergotte's manner is not now and then quite
attractive. I have no fault to find with that, but taken as a whole, it
is all very precious, very thin, and has very little virility. I can now
understand more easily, when I bear in mind your altogether excessive
regard for Bergotte, the few lines that you shewed me just now, which it
would have been unfair to you not to overlook, since you yourself told
me, in all simplicity, that they were merely a childish scribbling." (I
had, indeed, said so, but I did not think anything of the sort.) "For
every sin there is forgiveness, and especially for the sins of youth.
After all, others as well as yourself have such sins upon their
conscience, and you are not the only one who has believed himself to be
a poet in his day. But one can see in what you have shewn me the evil
influence of Bergotte. You will not, of course, be surprised when I say
that there was in it none of his good qualities, since he is a
past-master in the art--incidentally quite superficial--of handling a
certain style of which, at your age, you cannot have acquired even the
rudiments. But already there is the same fault, that paradox of
stringing together fine-sounding words and only afterwards troubling
about what they mean. That is putting the cart before the horse, even in
Bergotte's books. All those Chinese puzzles of form, all these
deliquescent mandarin subtleties seem to me to be quite futile. Given a
few fireworks, let off prettily enough by an author, and up goes the
shout of genius. Works of genius are not so common as all that! Bergotte
cannot place to his credit--does not carry in his baggage, if I may use
the expression--a single novel that is at all lofty in its conception,
any of those books which one keeps in a special corner of one's library.
I do not discover one such in the whole of his work. But that does not
exclude the fact that, with him, the work is infinitely superior to the
author. Ah! there is a man who justifies the wit who insisted that one
ought never to know an author except through his books. It would be
impossible to imagine an individual who corresponded less to his--more
pretentious, more pompous, less fitted for human society. Vulgar at some
moments, at others talking like a book, and not even like one of his
own, but like a boring book, which his, to do them justice, are
not--such is your Bergotte. He has the most confused mind, alembicated,
what our ancestors called a _diseur de phébus_, and he makes the things
that he says even more unpleasant by the manner in which he says them. I
forget for the moment whether it is Loménie or Sainte-Beuve who tells
us that Vigny repelled people by the same eccentricity. But Bergotte has
never given us a _Cinq-Mars_, or a _Cachet Rouge_, certain pages of
which are regular anthology pieces."

Paralysed by what M. de Norpois had just said to me with regard to the
fragment which I had submitted to him, and remembering at the same time
the difficulties that I experienced when I attempted to write an essay
or merely to devote myself to serious thought, I felt conscious once
again of my intellectual nullity and that I was not born for a literary
life. Doubtless in the old days at Combray certain impressions of a very
humble order, or a few pages of Bergotte used to plunge me into a state
of musing which had appeared to me to be of great value. But this state
was what my poem in prose reflected; there could be no doubt that M. de
Norpois had at once grasped and had seen through the fallacy of what I
had discovered to be beautiful simply by a mirage that must be entirely
false since the Ambassador had not been taken in by it. He had shewn me,
on the other hand, what an infinitely unimportant place was mine when I
was judged from outside, objectively, by the best-disposed and most
intelligent of experts. I felt myself to be struck speechless,
overwhelmed; and my mind, like a fluid which is without dimensions save
those of the vessel that is provided for it, just as it had been
expanded a moment ago so as to fill all the vast capacity of genius,
contracted now was entirely contained in the straitened mediocrity in
which M. de Norpois had of a sudden enclosed and sealed it.

"Our first introduction--I speak of Bergotte and myself----" he resumed,
turning to my father, "was somewhat beset with thorns (which is, after
all, only another way of saying that it was not lacking in points).
Bergotte--some years ago, now--paid a visit to Vienna while I was
Ambassador there; he was presented to me by the Princess Metternich,
came and wrote his name, and expected to be asked to the Embassy. Now,
being in a foreign country as the Representative of France, to which he
has after all done some honour by his writings, to a certain extent (let
us say, to be quite accurate, to a very slight extent), I was prepared
to set aside the unfavourable opinion that I hold of his private life.
But he was not travelling alone, and he actually let it be understood
that he was not to be invited without his companion. I trust that I am
no more of a prude than most men, and, being a bachelor, I was perhaps
in a position to throw open the doors of the Embassy a little wider than
if I had been married and the father of a family. Nevertheless, I must
admit that there are depths of degradation to which I should hesitate to
descend, while these are rendered more repulsive still by the tone, not
moral, merely--let us be quite frank and say moralising,--that Bergotte
takes up in his books, where one finds nothing but perpetual and,
between ourselves, somewhat wearisome analyses, torturing scruples,
morbid remorse, and all for the merest peccadilloes, the most trivial
naughtinesses (as one knows from one's own experience), while all the
time he is shewing such an utter lack of conscience and so much cynicism
in his private life. To cut a long story short, I evaded the
responsibility, the Princess returned to the charge, but without
success. So that I do not suppose that I appear exactly in the odour of
sanctity to the gentleman, and I am not sure how far he appreciated
Swann's kindness in inviting him and myself on the same evening. Unless
of course it was he who asked for the invitation. One can never tell,
for really he is not normal. Indeed that is his sole excuse."

"And was Mme. Swann's daughter at the dinner?" I asked M. de Norpois,
taking advantage, to put this question, of a moment in which, as we all
moved towards the drawing-room, I could more easily conceal my emotion
than would have been possible at table, where I was held fast in the
glare of the lamplight.

M. de Norpois appeared to be trying for a moment to remember: then,
"Yes, you mean a young person of fourteen or fifteen? Yes, of course, I
remember now that she was introduced to me before dinner as the daughter
of our Amphitryon. I may tell you that I saw but little of her; she
retired to bed early. Or else she went out to see a friend--I forget.
But I can see that you are very intimate with the Swann household."

"I play with Mlle. Swann in the Champs-Elysées, and she is delightful."

"Oh! so that is it, is it? But I assure you, I thought her charming. I
must confess to you, however, that I do not believe that she will ever
be anything like her mother, if I may say as much without wounding you
in a vital spot."

"I prefer Mlle. Swann's face, but I admire her mother, too, enormously;
I go for walks in the Bois simply in the hope of seeing her pass."

"Ah! But I must tell them that; they will be highly flattered."

While he was uttering these words, and for a few seconds after he had
uttered them, M. de Norpois was still in the same position as anyone
else who, hearing me speak of Swann as an intelligent man, of his family
as respectable stockbrokers, of his house as a fine house, imagined that
I would speak just as readily of another man equally intelligent, of
other stockbrokers equally respectable, of another house equally fine;
it was the moment in which a sane man who is talking to a lunatic has
not yet perceived that his companion is mad. M. de Norpois knew that
there was nothing unnatural in the pleasure which one derived from
looking at pretty women, that it was a social convention, when anyone
spoke to you of a pretty woman with any fervour, to pretend to think
that he was in love with her, and to promise to further his designs. But
in saying that he would speak of me to Gilberte and her mother (which
would enable me, like an Olympian deity who has taken on the fluidity of
a breath of wind, or rather the aspect of the old greybeard whose form
Minerva borrows, to penetrate, myself, unseen, into Mme. Swann's
drawing-room, to attract her attention, to occupy her thoughts, to
arouse her gratitude for my admiration, to appear before her as the
friend of an important person, to seem to her worthy to be invited by
her in the future and to enter into the intimate life of her family),
this important person who was going to make use, in my interests, of the
great influence which he must have with Mme. Swann inspired in me
suddenly an affection so compelling that I had difficulty in restraining
myself from kissing his gentle hands, white and crumpled, which looked
as though they had been left lying too long in water. I even sketched in
the air an outline of that impulsive movement, but this I supposed that
I alone had observed. For it is difficult for any of us to calculate
exactly on what scale his words or his gestures are apparent to others.
Partly from the fear of exaggerating our own importance, and also
because we enlarge to enormous proportions the field over which the
impressions formed by other people in the course of their lives are
obliged to extend, we imagine that the accessories of our speech and
attitudes scarcely penetrate the consciousness, still less remain in the
memory of those with whom we converse. It is, we may suppose, to a
prompting of this sort that criminals yield when they "touch up" the
wording of a statement already made, thinking that the new variant
cannot be confronted with any existing version. But it is quite possible
that, even in what concerns the millennial existence of the human race,
the philosophy of the journalist, according to which everything is
destined to oblivion, is less true than a contrary philosophy which
would predict the conservation of everything. In the same newspaper in
which the moralist of the "Paris column" says to us of an event, of a
work of art, all the more forcibly of a singer who has enjoyed her
"crowded hour": "Who will remember this in ten years' time?" overleaf
does not the report of the Académie des Inscriptions speak often of a
fact, in itself of smaller importance, of a poem of little merit, which
dates from the epoch of the Pharaohs and is now known again in its
entirety? Is it not, perhaps, just the same in our brief life on earth?
And yet, some years later, in a house in which M. de Norpois, who was
also calling there, had seemed to me the most solid support that I could
hope to find, because he was the friend of my father, indulgent,
inclined to wish us all well, and besides, by his profession and
upbringing, trained to discretion, when, after the Ambassador had gone,
I was told that he had alluded to an evening long ago when he had seen
the moment in which I was just going to kiss his hands, not only did I
colour up to the roots of my hair but I was stupefied to learn how
different from all that I had believed were not only the manner in which
M. de Norpois spoke of me but also the constituents of his memory: this
tittle-tattle enlightened me as to the incalculable proportions of
absence and presence of mind, of recollection and forgetfulness which go
to form the human intelligence; and I was as marvellously surprised as
on the day on which I read for the first time, in one of Maspero's
books, that we had an exact list of the sportsmen whom Assurbanipal used
to invite to his hunts, a thousand years before the Birth of Christ.

"Oh, sir," I assured M. de Norpois, when he told me that he would inform
Gilberte and her mother how much I admired them, "if you would do that,
if you would speak of me to Mme. Swann, my whole life would not be long
enough for me to prove my gratitude, and that life would be all at your
service. But I feel bound to point out to you that I do not know Mme.
Swann, and that I have never been introduced to her."

I had added these last words from a scruple of conscience, and so as not
to appear to be boasting of an acquaintance which I did not possess. But
while I was uttering them I felt that they were already superfluous, for
from the beginning of my speech of thanks, with its chilling ardour, I
had seen flitting across the face of the Ambassador an expression of
hesitation and dissatisfaction, and in his eyes that vertical, narrow,
slanting look (like, in the drawing of a solid body in perspective, the
receding line of one of its surfaces), that look which one addresses to
the invisible audience whom one has within oneself at the moment when
one is saying something that one's other audience, the person whom one
has been addressing--myself, in this instance--is not meant to hear. I
realised in a flash that these phrases which I had pronounced, which,
feeble as they were when measured against the flood of gratitude that
was coursing through me, had seemed to me bound to touch M. de Norpois
and to confirm his decision upon an intervention which would have given
him so little trouble and me so much joy, were perhaps (out of all those
that could have been chosen, with diabolical malice, by persons anxious
to do me harm) the only ones that could result in making him abandon his
intention. Indeed, when he heard me speak, just as at the moment when a
stranger with whom we have been exchanging--quite pleasantly--our
impressions, which we might suppose to be similar to his, of the
passers-by, whom we have agreed in regarding as vulgar, reveals suddenly
the pathological abyss that divides him from us by adding carelessly, as
he runs his hand over his pocket: "What a pity, I haven't got my
revolver here; I could have picked off the lot!" M. de Norpois, who knew
that nothing was less costly or more easy than to be commended to Mme.
Swann and taken to her house, and saw that to me, on the contrary, such
favours bore so high a price and were consequently, no doubt, of great
difficulty, thought that the desire, apparently normal, which I had
expressed must cloak some different thought, some suspect intention,
some pre-existent fault, on account of which, in the certainty of
displeasing Mme. Swann, no one hitherto had been willing to undertake
the responsibility for conveying a message to her from me. And I
understood that this office was one which he would never discharge, that
he might see Mme. Swann daily, for years to come, without ever
mentioning my name. He did indeed ask her, a few days later, for some
information which I required, and charged my father to convey it to me.
But he had not thought it his duty to tell her at whose instance he was
inquiring. So she would never discover that I knew M. de Norpois and
that I hoped so greatly to be asked to her house; and this was perhaps a
less misfortune than I supposed. For the second of these discoveries
would probably not have added much to the efficacy, in any event
uncertain, of the first. In Odette the idea of her own life and of her
home awakened no mysterious disturbance; a person who knew her, who came
to see her, did not seem to her a fabulous creature such as he seemed to
me who would have flung a stone through Swann's windows if I could have
written upon it that I knew M. de Norpois; I was convinced that such a
message, even when transmitted in so brutal a fashion, would have done
far more to exalt me in the eyes of the lady of the house than it would
have prejudiced her against me. But even if I had been capable of
understanding that the mission which M. de Norpois did not perform must
have remained futile, nay, more than that, might even have damaged my
credit with the Swanns, I should not have had the courage, had he shewn
himself consenting, to release the Ambassador from it, and to renounce
the pleasure--however fatal its consequences might prove--of feeling
that my name and my person were thus brought for a moment into
Gilberte's presence, in her unknown life and home.

After M. de Norpois had gone my father cast an eye over the evening
paper; I dreamed once more of Berma. The pleasure which I had found in
listening to her required to be made complete, all the more because it
had fallen far short of what I had promised myself; and so it at once
assimilated everything that was capable of giving it nourishment, those
merits, for instance, which M. de Norpois had admitted that Berma
possessed, and which my mind had absorbed at one draught, like a dry
lawn when water is poured on it. Then my father handed me the newspaper,
pointing me out a paragraph which ran more or less as follows:--

The performance of _Phèdre_, given this afternoon before an
enthusiastic audience, which included the foremost representatives of
society and the arts, as well as the principal critics, was for Mme.
Berma, who played the heroine, the occasion of a triumph as brilliant as
any that she has known in the course of her phenomenal career. We shall
discuss more fully in a later issue this performance, which is indeed an
event in the history of the stage; for the present we need only add that
the best qualified judges are unanimous in the pronouncement that such
an interpretation sheds an entirely new light on the part of Phèdre,
which is one of the finest and most studied of Racine's creations, and
that it constitutes the purest and most exalted manifestation of
dramatic art which it has been the privilege of our generation to

Immediately my mind had conceived this new idea of "the purest and most
exalted manifestation of dramatic art", it, the idea, sped to join the
imperfect pleasure which I had felt in the theatre, added to it a little
of what was lacking, and their combination formed something so exalting
that I cried out within myself: "What a great artist!" It may doubtless
be argued that I was not absolutely sincere. But let us bear in mind,
rather, the numberless writers who, dissatisfied with the page which
they have just written, if they read some eulogy of the genius of
Chateaubriand, or evoke the spirit of some great artist whose equal they
aspire to be, by humming to themselves, for instance, a phrase of
Beethoven, the melancholy of which they compare with what they have been
trying to express in prose, are so filled with that idea of genius that
they add it to their own productions, when they think of them once
again, see them no longer in the light in which at first they appeared,
and, hazarding an act of faith in the value of their work, say to
themselves: "After all!" without taking into account that, into the
total which determines their ultimate satisfaction, they have introduced
the memory of marvellous pages of Chateaubriand which they assimilate to
their own, but of which, in cold fact, they are not the authors; let us
bear in mind the numberless men who believe in the love of a mistress on
the evidence only of her betrayals; all those, too, who are sustained by
the alternative hopes, either of an incomprehensible survival of death,
when they think, inconsolable husbands, of the wives whom they have lost
but have not ceased to love, or, artists, of the posthumous glory which
they may thus enjoy; or else the hope of complete extinction which
comforts them when their thoughts turn to the misdeeds that otherwise
they must his own meditation, which do not appear to him to be of great
value since he does not separate them from himself, oblige a publisher
to choose a kind of paper, to employ a fount of type finer, perhaps,
than they deserve, I asked myself whether my desire to write was of
sufficient importance to justify my father in dispensing so much
generosity. But apart from that, when he spoke of my inclinations as no
longer liable to change, he awakened in me two terrible suspicions. The
first was that (at a time when, every day, I regarded myself as standing
upon the threshold of a life which was still intact and would not enter
upon its course until the following morning) my existence was already
begun, and that, furthermore, what was yet to follow would not differ to
any extent from what had already elapsed. The second suspicion, which
was nothing more, really, than a variant of the first, was that I was
not situated somewhere outside the realm of Time, but was subject to its
laws, just like the people in novels who, for that reason, used to
plunge me in such depression when I read of their lives, down at
Combray, in the fastness of my wicker sentry-box. In theory one is aware
that the earth revolves, but in practice one does not perceive it, the
ground upon which one treads seems not to move, and one can live
undisturbed. So it is with Time in one's life. And to make its flight
perceptible novelists are obliged, by wildly accelerating the beat of
the pendulum, to transport the reader in a couple of minutes over ten,
or twenty, or even thirty years. At the top of one page we have left a
lover full of hope; at the foot of the next we meet him again, a bowed
old man of eighty, painfully dragging himself on his daily walk about
the courtyard of an almshouse, scarcely replying to what is said to him,
oblivious of the past. In saying of me, "He is no longer a child", "His
tastes will not change now", and so forth, my father had suddenly made
me apparent to myself in my position in Time, and caused me the same
kind of depression as if I had been, not yet the enfeebled old
pensioner, but one of those heroes of whom the author, in a tone of
indifference which is particularly galling, says to us at the end of a
book: "He very seldom comes up now from the country. He has finally
decided to end his days there."

Meanwhile my father, so as to forestall any criticism that we might feel
tempted to make of our guest, said to my mother: "Upon my word, old
Norpois was rather 'typical', as you call it, this evening, wasn't he?
When he said that it would not have been 'seemly' to ask the Comte de
Paris a question, I was quite afraid you would burst out laughing."

"Not at all!" answered my mother. "I was delighted to see a man of his
standing, and age too, keep that sort of simplicity, which is really a
sign of straightforwardness and good-breeding."

"I should think so, indeed! That does not prevent his having a shrewd
and discerning mind; I know him well, I see him at the Commission,
remember, where he is very different from what he was here," exclaimed
my father, who was glad to see that Mamma appreciated M. de Norpois, and
anxious to persuade her that he was even superior to what she supposed,
because a cordial nature exaggerates a friend's qualities with as much
pleasure as a mischievous one finds in depreciating them. "What was it
that he said, again--'With Princes one never does know.' . . .?"

"Yes, that was it. I noticed it at the time; it was very neat. You can
see that he has a vast experience of life."

"The astonishing thing is that he should have been dining with the
Swanns, and that he seems to have found quite respectable people there,
officials even. How on earth can Mme. Swann have managed to catch them?"

"Did you notice the malicious way he said: 'It is a house which is
especially attractive to gentlemen!'?"

And each of them attempted to reproduce the manner in which M. de
Norpois had uttered these words, as they might have attempted to capture
some intonation of Bressant's voice or of Thiron's in _L'Aventurière_
or in the _Gendre de M. Poirier._ But of all his sayings there was none
so keenly relished as one was by Françoise, who, years afterwards,
even, could not "keep a straight face" if we reminded her that she had
been qualified by the Ambassador as "a chef of the first order", a
compliment which my mother had gone in person to transmit to her, as a
War Minister publishes the congratulations addressed to him by a
visiting Sovereign after the grand review. I, as it happened, had
preceded my mother to the kitchen. For I had extorted from Françoise,
who though opposed to war was cruel, that she would cause no undue
suffering to the rabbit which she had to kill, and I had had no report
yet of its death. Françoise assured me that it had passed away as
peacefully as could be desired, and very swiftly. "I have never seen a
beast like it; it died without uttering a word; you would have thought
it was dumb." Being but little versed in the language of beasts I
suggested that the rabbit had not, perhaps, a cry like the chicken's.
"Just wait till you see," said Françoise, filled with contempt for my
ignorance, "if rabbits don't cry every bit as much as chickens. Why,
they are far noisier." She received the compliments of M. de Norpois
with the proud simplicity, the joyful and (if but for the moment)
intelligent expression of an artist when someone speaks to him of his
art. My mother had sent her when she first came to us to several of the
big restaurants to see how the cooking there was done. I had the same
pleasure, that evening, in hearing her dismiss the most famous of them
as mere cookshops that I had had long ago, when I learned with regard to
theatrical artists that the hierarchy of their merits did not at all
correspond to that of their reputations. "The Ambassador," my mother
told her, "assured me that he knows no place where he can get cold beef
and _soufflés_ as good as yours." Françoise, with an air of modesty
and of paying just homage to the truth, agreed, but seemed not at all
impressed by the title "Ambassador"; she said of M. de Norpois, with the
friendliness due to a man who had taken her for a chef: "He's a good old
soul, like me." She had indeed hoped to catch sight of him as he
arrived, but knowing that Mamma hated their standing about behind doors
and in windows, and thinking that Mamma would get to know from the other
servants or from the porter that she had been keeping watch (for
Françoise saw everywhere nothing but "jealousies" and "tale-bearings",
which played the same grim and unending part in her imagination as do
for others of us the intrigues of the Jesuits or the Jews), she had
contented herself with a peep from the kitchen window, "so as not to
have words with Madame," and beneath the momentary aspect of M. de
Norpois had "thought it was Monsieur Legrand," because of what she
called his "agelity" and in spite of their having not a single point in
common. "Well," inquired my mother, "and how do you explain that nobody
else can make a jelly as well as you--when you choose?" "I really
couldn't say how that becomes about," replied Françoise, who had
established no very clear line of demarcation between the verb "to
come", in certain of its meanings at least, and the verb "to become".
She was speaking the truth, if not the whole truth, being scarcely more
capable--or desirous--of revealing the mystery which ensured the
superiority of her jellies or her creams than a leader of fashion the
secrets of her toilet or a great singer those of her song. Their
explanations tell us little; it was the same with the recipes furnished
by our cook. "They do it in too much of a hurry," she went on, alluding
to the great restaurants, "and then it's not all done together. You want
the beef to become like a sponge, then it will drink up all the juice to
the last drop. Still, there was one of those Cafés where I thought they
did know a little bit about cooking. I don't say it was altogether my
jelly, but it was very nicely done, and the _soufflés_ had plenty of
cream." "Do you mean Henry's?" asked my father (who had now joined us),
for he greatly enjoyed that restaurant in the Place Gaillon where he
went regularly to club dinners. "Oh, dear no!" said Françoise, with a
mildness which cloaked her profound contempt. "I meant a little
restaurant. At that Henry's it's all very good, sure enough, but it's
not a restaurant, it's more like a--soup-kitchen." "Weber's, then?" "Oh,
no, sir, I meant a good restaurant. Weber's, that's in the Rue Royale;
that's not a restaurant, it's a drinking-shop. I don't know that the
food they give you there is even served. I think they don't have' any
table-cloths; they just shove it down in front of you like that, with a
take it or leave it." "Ciro's?" "Oh! there I should say they have the
cooking done by ladies of the world." ("World" meant for Françoise the
under-world.) "Lord! They need that to fetch the boys in." We could see
that, with all her air of simplicity, Françoise was for the celebrities
of her profession a more disastrous "comrade" than the most jealous, the
most infatuated of actresses. We felt, all the same, that she had a
proper feeling for her art and a respect for tradition; for she went on:
"No, I mean a restaurant where they looked as if they kept a very good
little family table. It's a place of some consequence, too. Plenty of
custom there. Oh, they raked in the coppers there, all right."
Françoise, being an economist, reckoned in coppers, where your plunger
would reckon in gold. "Madame knows the place well enough, down there to
the right along the main boulevards, a little way back." The restaurant
of which she spoke with this blend of pride and good-humoured tolerance
was, it turned out, the Café Anglais.

When New Year's Day came, I first of all paid a round of family visits
with Mamma who, so as not to tire me, had planned them beforehand (with
the aid of an itinerary drawn up by my father) according to districts
rather than to degrees of kinship. But no sooner had we entered the
drawing-room of the distant cousin whose claim to being visited first
was that her house was at no distance from ours, than my mother was
horrified to see standing there, his present of _marrons glacés_ or
_déguisés_ in his hand, the bosom friend of the most sensitive of all
my uncles, to whom he would at once go and report that we had not begun
our round with him. And this uncle would certainly be hurt; he would
have thought it quite natural that we should go from the Madeleine to
the Jardin des Plantes, where he lived, before stopping at
Saint-Augustin, on our way to the Rue de l'Ecole de Médecine.

Our visits ended (my grandmother had dispensed us from the duty of
calling on her, since we were to dine there that evening), I ran all the
way to the Champs-Elysées to give to our own special stall-keeper, with
instructions to hand it over to the person who came to her several times
a week from the Swanns to buy gingerbread, the letter which, on the day
when my friend had caused me so much anxiety, I had decided to send her
at the New Year, and in which I told her that our old friendship was
vanishing with the old year, that I would forget, now, my old sorrows
and disappointments, and that, from this first day of January, it was a
new friendship that we were going to cement, one so solid that nothing
could destroy it, so wonderful that I hoped that Gilberte would go out
of her way to preserve it in all its beauty, and to warn me in time, as
I promised to warn her, should either of us detect the least sign of a
peril that might endanger it. On our way home Françoise made me stop at
the corner of the Rue Royale, before an open air stall from which she
selected for her own stock of presents photographs of Pius IX and
Raspail, while for myself I purchased one of Berma. The innumerable
admiration which that artist excited gave an air almost of poverty to
this one face that she had to respond with, unalterable and precarious
as are the garments of people who have not a "change", this face on
which she must continually expose to view only the tiny dimple upon her
upper lip, the arch of her eyebrows, a few other physical peculiarities
always the same, which, when it came to that, were at the mercy of a
burn or a blow. This face, moreover, could not in itself have seemed to
me beautiful, but it gave me the idea, and consequently the desire to
kiss it by reason of all the kisses that it must have received, for
which, from its page in the album, it seemed still to be appealing with
that coquettishly tender gaze, that artificially ingenuous smile. For
our Berma must indeed have felt for many young men those longings which
she confessed under cover of the personality of Phaedra, longings of
which everything, even the glamour of her name which enhanced her beauty
and prolonged her youth, must render the gratification so easy to her.
Night was falling; I stopped before a column of playbills, on which was
posted that of the piece in which she was to appear on January I. A
moist and gentle breeze was blowing. It was a time of day and year that
I knew; I suddenly felt a presentiment that New Year's Day was not a day
different from the rest, that it was not the first day of a new world,
in which I might, by a chance that had never yet occurred, that was
still intact, make Gilberte's acquaintance afresh, as at the Creation of
the World, as though the past had no longer any existence, as though
there had been obliterated, with the indications which I might have
preserved for my future guidance, the disappointments which she had
sometimes brought me; a new world in which nothing should subsist from
the old--save one thing, my desire that Gilberte should love me. I
realised that if my heart hoped for such a reconstruction, round about
it, of a universe that had not satisfied it before, it was because my
heart had not altered, and I told myself that there was no reason why
Gilberte's should have altered either; I felt that this new friendship
was the same, just as there is no boundary ditch between their
fore-runners and those new years which our desire for them, without
being able to reach and so to modify them, invests, unknown to
themselves, with distinctive names. I might dedicate this new year, if I
chose, to Gilberte, and as one bases a religious system upon the blind
laws of nature, endeavour to stamp New Year's Day with the particular
image that I had formed of it; but in vain, I felt that it was not aware
that people called it New Year's Day, that it was passing in a wintry
dusk in a manner that was not novel to me; in the gentle breeze that
floated about the column of playbills I had recognised, I had felt
reappear the eternal, the universal substance, the familiar moisture,
the unheeding fluidity of the old days and years.

I returned to the house. I had spent the New Year's Day of old men, who
differ on that day from their juniors, not because people have ceased to
give them presents but because they themselves have ceased to believe in
the New Year. Presents I had indeed received, but not that present which
alone could bring me pleasure, namely a line from Gilberte. I was young
still, none the less, since I had been able to write her one, by means
of which I hoped, in telling her of my solitary dreams of love and
longing, to arouse similar dreams in her. The sadness of men who have
grown old lies in their no longer even thinking of writing such letters,
the futility of which their experience has shewn.

After I was in bed, the noises of the street, unduly prolonged upon this
festive evening, kept me awake. I thought of all the people who were
ending the night in pleasure, of the lover, the troop, it might be, of
debauchees who would be going to meet Berma at the stage-door after the
play that I had seen announced for this evening. I was not even able, so
as to calm the agitation which that idea engendered in me during my
sleepless night, to assure myself that Berma was not, perhaps, thinking
about love, since the lines that she was reciting, which she had long
and carefully rehearsed, reminded her at every moment that love is an
exquisite thing, as of course she already knew, and knew so well that
she displayed its familiar pangs--only enriched with a new violence and
an unsuspected sweetness--to her astonished audience; and yet each of
them had felt those pangs himself. I lighted my candle again, to look
once more upon her face. At the thought that it was, no doubt, at that
very moment being caressed by those men whom I could not prevent from
giving to Berma and receiving from her joys superhuman but vague, I felt
an emotion more cruel than voluptuous, a longing that was aggravated
presently by the sound of a horn, as one hears it on the nights of the
Lenten carnival and often of other public holidays, which, because it
then lacks all poetry, is more saddening, coming from a toy squeaker,
than "at evening, in the depth of the woods." At that moment, a message
from Gilberte would perhaps not have been what I wanted. Our desires cut
across one another's paths, and in this confused existence it is but
rarely that a piece of good fortune coincides with the desire that
clamoured for it.

I continued to go to the Champs-Elysées on fine days, along streets
whose stylish pink houses seemed to be washed (because exhibitions of
water-colours were then at the height of fashion) in a lightly floating
atmosphere. It would be untrue to say that in those days the palaces of
Gabriel struck me as being of greater beauty, or even of another epoch
than the adjoining houses. I found more style, and should have supposed
more antiquity if not in the Palais de l'Industrie at any rate in the
Trocadéro. Plunged in a restless sleep, my adolescence embodied in one
uniform vision the whole of the quarter through which it might be
strolling, and I had never dreamed that there could be an eighteenth
century building in the Rue Royale, just as I should have been
astonished to learn that the Porte-Saint-Martin and the
Porte-Saint-Denis, those glories of the age of Louis XIV, were not
contemporary with the most recently built tenements in the sordid
regions that bore their names. Once only one of Gabriel's palaces made
me stop for more than a moment; that was because, night having fallen,
its columns, dematerialised by the moonlight, had the appearance of
having been cut out in pasteboard, and by recalling to me a scene in the
operetta _Orphée aux Enfers_ gave me for the first time an impression
of beauty.

Meanwhile Gilberte never came to the Champs-Elysées. And yet it was
imperative that I should see her, for I could not so much as remember
what she was like. The questing, anxious, exacting way that we have of
looking at the person we love, our eagerness for the word which shall
give us or take from us the hope of an appointment for the morrow, and,
until that word is uttered, our alternative if not simultaneous
imaginings of joy and of despair, all these make our observation, in the
beloved object's presence, too tremulous to be able to carry away a dear
impression of her. Perhaps, also, that activity of all the senses at
once which endeavours to learn from the visible aspect alone what lies
behind it is over-indulgent to the thousand forms, to the changing
fragrance, to the movements of the living person whom as a rule, when we
are not in love, we regard as fixed in one permanent position. Whereas
the beloved model does not stay still; and our mental photographs of her
are always blurred. I did not rightly know how Gilberte's features were
composed, save in the heavenly moments when she disclosed them to me; I
could remember nothing but her smile. And not being able to see again
that beloved face, despite every effort that I might make to recapture
it, I would be disgusted to find, outlined in my memory with a maddening
precision of detail, the meaningless, emphatic faces of the man with the
wooden horses and of the barley-sugar woman; just as those who have lost
a dear friend whom they never see even while they are asleep, are
exasperated at meeting incessantly in their dreams any number of
insupportable creatures whom it is quite enough to have known in the
waking world. In their inability to form any image of the object of
their grief they are almost led to assert that they feel no grief. And I
was not far from believing that, since I could not recall the features
of Gilberte, I had forgotten Gilberte herself, and no longer loved her.
At length she returned to play there almost every day, setting before me
fresh pleasures to desire, to demand of her for the morrow, indeed
making my love for her every day, in this sense, a new love. But an
incident was to change once again, and abruptly, the manner in which, at
about two o'clock every afternoon, the problem of my love confronted me.
Had M. Swann intercepted the letter that I had written to his daughter,
or was Gilberte merely confessing to me long after the event, and so
that I should be more prudent in future, a state of things already long
established? As I was telling her how greatly I admired her father and
mother, she assumed that vague air, full of reticence and kept secrets,
which she invariably wore when anyone spoke to her of what she was going
to do, her walks, drives, visits--then suddenly expressed it with: "You
know, they can't abide you!" and, slipping from me like the Undine that
she was, burst out laughing. Often her laughter, out of harmony with her
words, seemed, as music seems, to be tracing an invisible surface on
another plane. M. and Mme. Swann did not require Gilberte to give up
playing with me, but they would have been just as well pleased, she
thought, if we had never begun. They did not look upon our relations
with a kindly eye; they believed me to be a young person of low moral
standard and imagined that my influence over their daughter must be
evil. This type of unscrupulous young man whom the Swanns thought that I
resembled, I pictured him to myself as detesting the parents of the girl
he loved, flattering them to their faces but, when he was alone with
her, making fun of them, urging her on to disobey them and, when once he
had completed his conquest, not allowing them even to set eyes on her
again. With these characteristics (though they are never those under
which the basest of scoundrels recognises himself) how vehemently did my
heart contrast the sentiments that did indeed animate it with regard to
Swann, so passionate, on the contrary, that I never doubted that, were
he to have the least suspicion of them, he must repent of his
condemnation of me as of a judicial error. All that I felt about him I
made bold to express to him in a long letter which I entrusted to
Gilberte, with the request that she would deliver it. She consented.
Alas! so he saw in me an even greater impostor than I had feared; those
sentiments which I had supposed myself to be portraying, in sixteen
pages, with such amplitude of truth, so he had suspected them; in short,
the letter that I had written him, as ardent and as sincere as the words
that I had uttered to M. de Norpois, met with no more success. Gilberte
told me next day, after taking me aside behind a clump of laurels, along
a little path by which we sat down on a couple of chairs, that as he
read my letter, which she had now brought back to me, her father had
shrugged his shoulders, with: "All this means nothing; it only goes to
prove how right I was." I, who knew the purity of my intentions, the
goodness of my soul, was furious that my words should not even have
impinged upon the surface of Swann's ridiculous error. For it was an
error; of that I had then no doubt. I felt that I had described with
such accuracy certain irrefutable characteristics of my generous
sentiments that, if Swann had not at once reconstructed these from my
indications, had not come to ask my forgiveness and to admit that he had
been mistaken, it must be because these noble sentiments he had never
himself experienced, which would make him incapable of understanding the
existence of them in other people.

Well, perhaps it was simply that Swann knew that generosity is often no
more than the inner aspect which our egotistical feelings assume when we
have not yet named and classified them. Perhaps he had recognised in the
sympathy that I expressed for him simply an effect--and the strongest
possible proof--of my love for Gilberte, by which, and not by any
subordinate veneration of himself, my subsequent actions would be
irresistibly controlled. I was unable to share his point of view, since
I had not succeeded in abstracting my love from myself, in forcing it
back into the common experience of humanity, and thus suffering,
experimentally, its consequences; I was in despair. I was obliged to
leave Gilberte for a moment; Françoise had called me. I must accompany
her into a little pavilion covered in a green trellis, not unlike one of
the disused toll-houses of old Paris, in which had recently been
installed what in England they call a lavatory but in France, by an
ill-informed piece of anglomania, "water-closets". The old, damp walls
at the entrance, where I stood waiting for Françoise, emitted a chill
and fusty smell which, relieving me at once of the anxieties that
Swann's words, as reported by Gilberte, had just awakened in me,
pervaded me with a pleasure not at all of the same character as other
pleasures, which leave one more unstable than before, incapable of
retaining them, of possessing them, but, on the contrary, with a
consistent pleasure on which I could lean for support, delicious,
soothing, rich with a truth that was lasting, unexplained and certain.
I should have liked, as long ago in my walks along the Guermantes way,
to endeavour to penetrate the charm of this impression which had seized
hold of me, and, remaining there motionless, to interrogate this
antiquated emanation which invited me not to enjoy the pleasure which it
was offering me only as an "extra", but to descend into the underlying
reality which it had not yet disclosed to me. But the tenant of the
establishment, an elderly dame with painted cheeks and an auburn wig,
was speaking to me. Françoise thought her "very well-to-do indeed." Her
"missy" had married what Françoise called "a young man of family,"
which meant that he differed more, in her eyes, from a workman than, in
Saint-Simon's, a duke did from a man "risen from the dregs of the
people." No doubt the tenant, before entering upon her tenancy, had met
with reverses. But Françoise was positive that she was a "marquise",
and belonged to the Saint-Ferréol family. This "marquise" warned me not
to stand outside in the cold, and even opened one of her doors for me,
saying: "Won't you go inside for a minute? Look, here's a nice, clean
one, and I shan't charge you anything." Perhaps she just made this offer
in the spirit in which the young ladies at Gouache's, when we went in
there to order something, used to offer me one of the sweets which they
kept on the counter under glass bells, and which, alas, Mamma would
never allow me to take; perhaps with less innocence, like an old florist
whom Mamma used to have in to replenish her flower-stands, who rolled
languishing eyes at me as she handed me a rose. In any event, if the
"marquise" had a weakness for little boys, when she threw open to them
the hypogean doors of those cubicles of stone in which men crouch like
sphinxes, she must have been moved to that generosity less by the hope
of corrupting them than by the pleasure which all of us feel in
displaying a needless prodigality to those whom we love, for I have
never seen her with any other visitor except an old park-keeper.

A moment later I said good-bye to the "marquise", and went out
accompanied by Françoise, whom I left to return to Gilberte. I caught
sight of her at once, on a chair, behind the clump of laurels. She was
there so as not to be seen by her friends: they were playing at
hide-and-seek. I went and sat down by her side. She had on a flat cap
which drooped forwards over her eyes, giving her the same "underhand",
brooding, crafty look which I had remarked in her that first time at
Combray. I asked her if there was not some way for me to have it out
with her father, face to face. Gilberte said that she had suggested that
to him, but that he had not thought it of any use. "Look," she went on,
"don't go away without your letter; I must run along to the others, as
they haven't caught me."

Had Swann appeared on the scene then before I had recovered it, this
letter, by the sincerity of which I felt that he had been so
unreasonable in not letting himself be convinced, perhaps he would have
seen that it was he who had been in the right. For as I approached
Gilberte, who, leaning back in her chair, told me to take the letter but
did not hold it out to me, I felt myself so irresistibly attracted by
her body that I said to her:

"Look! You try to stop me from getting it; we'll see which is the

She thrust it behind her back; I put my arms round her neck, raising the
plaits of hair which she wore over her shoulders, either because she was
still of an age for that or because her mother chose to make her look a
child for a little longer so that she herself might still seem young;
and we wrestled, locked together. I tried to pull her towards me, she
resisted; her cheeks, inflamed by the effort, were as red and round as
two cherries; she laughed as though I were tickling her; I held her
gripped between my legs like a young tree which I was trying to climb;
and, in the middle of my gymnastics, when I was already out of breath
with the muscular exercise and the heat of the game, I felt, as it were
a few drops of sweat wrung from me by the effort, my pleasure express
itself in a form which I could not even pause for a moment to analyse;
immediately I snatched the letter from her. Whereupon Gilberte said,

"You know, if you like, we might go on wrestling for a little."

Perhaps she was dimly conscious that my game had had another object than
that which I had avowed, but too dimly to have been able to see that I
had attained it. And I, who was afraid that she had seen (and a slight
recoil, as though of offended modesty which she made and checked a
moment later made me think that my fear had not been unfounded), agreed
to go on wrestling, lest she should suppose that I had indeed no other
object than that, after which I wished only to sit quietly by her side.

On my way home I perceived, I suddenly recollected the impression,
concealed from me until then, towards which, without letting me
distinguish or recognise it, the cold, almost sooty smell of the
trellised pavilion had borne me. It was that of my uncle Adolphe's
little sitting-room at Combray, which had indeed exhaled the same odour
of humidity. But I could not understand, and I postponed the attempt to
discover why the recollection of so trivial an impression had given me
so keen a happiness. It struck me, however, that I did indeed deserve
the contempt of M. de Norpois; I had preferred, hitherto, to all other
writers, one whom he styled a mere "flute-player" and a positive rapture
had been conveyed to me, not by any important idea, but by a mouldy

For some time past, in certain households, the name of the
Champs-Elysées, if a visitor mentioned it, would be greeted by the
mother of the family with that air of contempt which mothers keep for a
physician of established reputation whom they have (or so they make out)
seen make too many false diagnoses to have any faith left in him; people
insisted that these gardens were not good for children, that they knew
of more than one sore throat, more than one case of measles and any
number of feverish chills for which the Champs must be held responsible.
Without venturing openly to doubt the maternal affection of Mamma, who
continued to let me play there, several of her friends deplored her
inability to see what was as plain as daylight.

Neurotic subjects are perhaps less addicted than any, despite the
time-honoured phrase, to "listening to their insides": they can hear so
many things going on inside themselves, by which they realise later that
they did wrong to let themselves be alarmed, that they end by paying no
attention to any of them. Their nervous systems have so often cried out
to them for help, as though from some serious malady, when it was merely
because snow was coming, or because they had to change their rooms, that
they have acquired the habit of paying no more heed to these warnings
than a soldier who in the heat of battle perceives them so little that
he is capable, although dying, of carrying on for some days still the
life of a man in perfect health. One morning, bearing arranged within me
all my regular disabilities, from whose constant, internal circulation I
kept my mind turned as resolutely away as from the circulation of my
blood, I had come running into the dining-room where my parents were
already at table, and--having assured myself, as usual, that to feel
cold may mean not that one ought to warm oneself but that, for instance,
one has received a scolding, and not to feel hungry that it is going to
rain, and not that one ought not to eat anything--had taken my place
between them when, in the act of swallowing the first mouthful of a
particularly tempting cutlet, a nausea, a giddiness stopped me, the
feverish reaction of a malady that had already begun, the symptoms of
which had been masked, retarded by the ice of my indifference, but which
obstinately refused the nourishment that I was not in a fit state to
absorb. Then, at the same moment, the thought that they would stop me
from going out if they saw that I was unwell gave me, as the instinct of
self-preservation gives a wounded man, the strength to crawl to my own
room, where I found that I had a temperature of 104, and then to get
ready to go to the Champs-Elysées. Through the languid and vulnerable
shell which encased them, my eager thoughts were urging me towards, were
clamouring for the soothing delight of a game of prisoner's base with
Gilberte, and an hour later, barely able to keep on my feet, but happy
in being by her side, I had still the strength to enjoy it.

Françoise, on our return, declared that I had been "taken bad", that I
must have caught a "hot and cold", while the doctor, who was called in
at once, declared that he "preferred" the "severity", the "virulence" of
the rush of fever which accompanied my congestion of the lungs, and
would be no more than "a fire of straw", to other forms, more
"insidious" and "septic". For some time now I had been liable to choking
fits, and our doctor, braving the disapproval of my grandmother, who
could see me already dying a drunkard's death, had recommended me to
take, as well as the caffeine which had been prescribed to help me to
breathe, beer, champagne or brandy when I felt an attack coming. These
attacks would subside, he told me, in the "euphoria" brought about by
the alcohol. I was often obliged, so that my grandmother should allow
them to give it to me, instead of dissembling, almost to make a display
of my state of suffocation. On the other hand, as soon as I felt an
attack coming, never being quite certain what proportions it would
assume, I would grow distressed at the thought of my grandmother's
anxiety, of which I was far more afraid than of my own sufferings. But
at the same time my body, either because it was too weak to keep those
sufferings secret, or because it feared lest, in their ignorance of the
imminent disaster, people might demand of me some exertion which it
would have found impossible or dangerous, gave me the need to warn my
grandmother of my attacks with a punctiliousness into which I finally
put a sort of physiological scruple. Did I perceive in myself a
disturbing symptom which I had not previously observed, my body was in
distress so long as I had not communicated it to my grandmother. Did she
pretend to pay no attention, it made me insist. Sometimes I went too
far; and that dear face, which was no longer able always to control its
emotion as in the past, would allow an expression of pity to appear, a
painful contraction. Then my heart was wrung by the sight of her grief;
as if my kisses had had power to expel that grief, as if my affection
could give my grandmother as much joy as my recovery, I flung myself
into her arms. And its scruples being at the same time calmed by the
certainty that she now knew the discomfort that I felt, my body offered
no opposition to my reassuring her. I protested that this discomfort had
been nothing, that I was in no sense to be pitied, that she might be
quite sure that I was now happy; my body had wished to secure exactly
the amount of pity that it deserved, and, provided that someone knew
that it 'had a pain' in its right side, it could see no harm in my
declaring that this pain was of no consequence and was not an obstacle
to my happiness; for my body did not pride itself on its philosophy;
that was outside its province. Almost every day during my convalescence
I passed through these crises of suffocation. One evening, after my
grandmother had left me comparatively well, she returned to my room very
late and, seeing me struggling for breath, "Oh, my poor boy," she
exclaimed, her face quivering with sympathy, "you are in dreadful pain."
She left me at once; I heard the outer gate open, and in a little while
she came back with some brandy which she had gone out to buy, since
there was none in the house. Presently I began to feel better. My
grandmother, who was rather flushed, seemed "put out" about something,
and her eyes had a look of weariness and dejection.

"I shall leave you alone now, and let you get the good of this
improvement," she said, rising suddenly to go. I detained her, however,
for a kiss, and could feel on her cold cheek something moist, but did
not know whether it was the dampness of the night air through which she
had just passed. Next day, she did not come to my room until the
evening, having had, she told me, to go out. I considered that this
shewed a surprising indifference to my welfare, and I had to restrain
myself so as not to reproach her with it.

As my chokings had persisted long after any congestion remained that
could account for them, my parents asked for a consultation with
Professor Cottard. It is not enough that a physician who is called in to
treat cases of this sort should be learned. Brought face to face with
symptoms which may or may not be those of three or four different
complaints, it is in the long run his instinct, his eye that must decide
with which, despite the more or less similar appearance of them all, he
has to deal. This mysterious gift does not imply any superiority in the
other departments of the intellect, and a creature of the utmost
vulgarity, who admires the worst pictures, the worst music, in whose
mind there is nothing out of the common, may perfectly well possess it.
In my case, what was physically evident might equally well have been due
to nervous spasms, to the first stages of tuberculosis, to asthma, to a
toxi-alimentary dyspnoea with renal insufficiency, to chronic
bronchitis, or to a complex state into which more than one of these
factors entered. Now, nervous spasms required to be treated firmly, and
discouraged, tuberculosis with infinite care and with a "feeding-up"
process which would have been bad for an arthritic condition such as
asthma, and might indeed have been dangerous in a case of
toxi-alimentary dyspnoea, this last calling for a strict diet which, in
return, would be fatal to a tuberculous patient. But Cottard's
hesitations were brief and his prescriptions imperious. "Purges; violent
and drastic purges; milk for some days, nothing but milk. No meat. No
alcohol." My mother murmured that I needed, all the same, to be "built
up", that my nerves were already weak, that drenching me like a horse
and restricting my diet would make me worse. I could see in Cottard's
eyes, as uneasy as though he were afraid of missing a train, that he was
asking himself whether he had not allowed his natural good-humour to
appear. He was trying to think whether he had remembered to put on his
mask of coldness, as one looks for a mirror to see whether one has not
forgotten to tie one's tie. In his uncertainty, and, so as, whatever he
had done, to put things right, he replied brutally: "I am not in the
habit of repeating my instructions. Give me a pen. Now remember, milk!
Later on, when we have got the crises and the agrypnia by the throat, I
should like you to take a little clear soup, and then a little broth,
but always with milk; _au lait!_ You'll enjoy that, since Spain is all
the rage just now; _ollé, ollé!_" His pupils knew this joke well, for
he made it at the hospital whenever he had to put a heart or liver case
on a milk diet. "After that, you will gradually return to your normal
life. But whenever there is any coughing or choking--purges, injections,
bed, milk!" He listened with icy calm, and without uttering a word, to
my mother's final objections, and as he left us without having
condescended to explain the reasons for this course of treatment, my
parents concluded that it had no bearing on my case, and would weaken me
to no purpose, and so they did not make me try it. Naturally they sought
to conceal their disobedience from the Professor, and to succeed in this
avoided all the houses in which he was likely to be found. Then, as my
health became worse, they decided to make me follow out Cottard's
prescriptions to the letter; in three days my "rattle" and cough had
ceased, I could breathe freely. Whereupon we realised that Cottard,
while finding, as he told us later on, that I was distinctly asthmatic,
and still more inclined to "imagine things", had seen that what was
really the matter with me at the moment was intoxication, and that by
loosening my liver and washing out my kidneys he would get rid of the
congestion of my bronchial tubes and thus give me back my breath, my
sleep and my strength. And we realised that this imbecile was a clinical
genius. At last I was able to get up. But they spoke of not letting me
go any more to the Champs-Elysées. They said that it was because the
air there was bad; but I felt sure that this was only a pretext so that
I should not see Mlle. Swann, and I forced myself to repeat the name of
Gilberte all the time, like the native tongue which peoples in captivity
endeavour to preserve among themselves so as not to forget the land that
they will never see again. Sometimes my mother would stroke my forehead
with her hand, saying: "So little boys don't tell Mamma their troubles
any more?" And Françoise used to come up to me every day with: "What a
face, to be sure! If you could just see yourself! Anyone would think
there was a corpse in the house." It is true that, if I had simply had a
cold in the head, Françoise would have assumed the same funereal air.
These lamentations pertained rather to her "class" than to the state of
my health. I could not at the time discover whether this pessimism was
due to sorrow or to satisfaction. I decided provisionally that it was
social and professional.

One day, after the postman had called, my mother laid a letter upon my
bed. I opened it carelessly, since it could not bear the one signature
that would have made me happy, the name of Gilberte, with whom I had no
relations outside the Champs-Elysées. And lo, at the foot of the page,
embossed with a silver seal representing a man's head in a helmet, and
under him a scroll with the device _Per viam rectam_, beneath a letter
written in a large and flowing hand, in which almost every word appeared
to be underlined, simply because the crosses of the 't's ran not across
but over them, and so drew a line beneath the corresponding letters of
the word above, it was indeed Gilberte's signature and nothing else that
I saw. But because I knew that to be impossible upon a letter addressed
to myself, the sight of it, unaccompanied by any belief in it, gave me
no pleasure. For a moment it merely struck an impression of unreality on
everything round about me. With lightning rapidity the impossible
signature danced about my bed, the fireplace, the four walls. I saw
everything sway, as one does when one falls from a horse, and I asked
myself whether there was not an existence altogether different from the
one I knew, in direct contradiction of it, but itself the true
existence, which, being suddenly revealed to me, filled me with that
hesitation which sculptors, in representing the Last Judgment, have
given to the awakening dead who find themselves at the gates of the next
world. "My dear Friend," said the letter, "I hear that you have been
very ill and have given up going to the Champs-Elysées. I hardly ever
go there either because there has been such an enormous lot of illness.
But I'm having my friends to tea here every Monday and Friday. Mamma
asks me to tell you that it will be a great pleasure to us all if you
will come too, as soon as you are well again, and we can have some more
nice talks here, just like the Champs-Elysées. Good-bye, dear friend; I
hope that your parents will allow you to come to tea very often. With
all my kindest regards. GILBERTE."

While I was reading these words, my nervous system was receiving, with
admirable promptitude, the news that a piece of great good fortune had
befallen me. But my mind, that is to say myself, and in fact the party
principally concerned, was still in ignorance. Such good fortune, coming
from Gilberte, was a thing of which I had never ceased to dream; a thing
wholly in my mind, it was, as Leonardo says of painting, _cosa mentale._
Now, a sheet of paper covered with writing is not a thing that the mind
assimilates at once. But as soon as I had finished reading the letter, I
thought of it, it became an object of my dreams, became, it also, _cosa
mentale_, and I loved it so much already that every few minutes I must
read it, kiss it again. Then at last I was conscious of my happiness.

Life is strewn with these miracles, for which people who are in love can
always hope. It is possible that this one had been artificially brought
about by my mother who, seeing that for some time past I had lost all
interest in life, may have suggested to Gilberte to write to me, just
as, when I was little and went first to the seaside, so as to give me
some pleasure in bathing, which I detested because it took away my
breath, she used secretly to hand to the man who was to "dip" me
marvellous boxes made of shells, and branches of coral, which I believed
that I myself had discovered lying at the bottom of the sea. However,
with every occurrence which, in our life and among its contrasted
situations, bears any relation to love, it is best to make no attempt to
understand it, since in so far as these are inexorable, as they are
unlooked-for, they appear to be governed by magic rather than by
rational laws. When a multi-millionaire--who for all his millions is
quite a charming person--sent packing by a poor and unattractive woman
with whom he has been living, calls to his aid, in his desperation, all
the resources of wealth, and brings every worldly influence to bear
without succeeding in making her take him back, it is wiser for him, in
the face of the implacable obstinacy of his mistress, to suppose that
Fate intends to crush him, and to make him die of an affection of the
heart, than to seek any logical explanation. These obstacles, against
which lovers have to contend, and which their imagination, over-excited
by suffering, seeks in vain to analyse, are contained, as often as not,
in some peculiar characteristic of the woman whom they cannot bring back
to themselves, in her stupidity, in the influence acquired over her, the
fears suggested to her by people whom the lover does not know, in the
kind of pleasures which, at the moment, she is demanding of life,
pleasures which neither her lover nor her lover's wealth can procure for
her. In any event, the lover is scarcely in a position to discover the
nature of these obstacles, which her womanly cunning hides from him and
his own judgment, falsified by love, prevents him from estimating
exactly. They may be compared with those tumours which the doctor
succeeds in reducing, but without having traced them to their source.
Like them these obstacles remain mysterious but are temporary. Only they
last, as a rule, longer than love itself. And as that is not a
disinterested passion, the lover who is no longer in love does not seek
to know why the woman, neither rich nor virtuous, with whom he was in
love refused obstinately for years to let him continue to keep her.

Now the same mystery which often veils from our eyes the reason for a
catastrophe, when love is in question, envelops just as frequently the
suddenness of certain happy solutions, such as had come to me with
Gilberte's letter. Happy, or at least seemingly happy, for there are few
solutions that can really be happy when we are dealing with a sentiment
of such a kind that every satisfaction which we can bring to it does no
more, as a rule, than dislodge some pain. And yet sometimes a respite is
granted us, and we have for a little while the illusion that we are

So far as concerns this letter, at the foot of which Françoise declined
to recognise Gilberte's name, because the elaborate capital 'G' leaning
against the undotted 'i' looked more like an 'A' while the final
syllable was indefinitely prolonged by a waving flourish, if we persist
in looking for a rational explanation of the sudden reversal of her
attitude towards me which it indicated, and which made me so radiantly
happy, we may perhaps find that I was to some extent indebted for it to
an incident which I should have supposed, on the contrary, to be
calculated to ruin me for ever in the sight of the Swann family. A short
while back, Bloch had come to see me at a time when Professor Cottard,
whom, now that I was following his instructions, we were again calling
in, happened to be in my room. As his examination of me was over, and he
was sitting with me simply as a visitor because my parents had invited
him to stay to dinner, Bloch was allowed to come in. While we were all
talking, Bloch having mentioned that he had heard it said that Mme.
Swann was very fond of me, by a lady with whom he had been dining the
day before, who was herself very intimate with Mme. Swann, I should have
liked to reply that he was most certainly mistaken, and to establish the
fact (from the same scruple of conscience that had made me proclaim it
to M. de Norpois, and for fear of Mme. Swann's taking me for a liar)
that I did not know her and had never spoken to her. But I had not the
courage to correct Bloch's mistake, because I could see quite well that
it was deliberate, and that, if he invented something that Mme. Swann
could not possibly have said, it was simply to let us know (what he
considered flattering to himself, and was not true either) that he had
been dining with one of that lady's friends. And so it fell out that,
whereas M. de Norpois, on learning that I did not know but would very
much like to know Mme. Swann, had taken great care to avoid speaking to
her about me, Cottard, who was her doctor also, having gathered from
what he had heard Bloch say that she knew me quite well and thought
highly of me, concluded that to remark, when next he saw her, that I was
a charming young fellow and a great friend of his could not be of the
smallest use to me and would be of advantage to himself, two reasons
which made him decide to speak of me to Odette whenever an opportunity

Thus at length I found my way into that abode from which was wafted even
on to the staircase the scent that Mme. Swann used, though it was
embalmed far more sweetly still by the peculiar, disturbing charm that
emanated from the life of Gilberte. The implacable porter, transformed
into a benevolent Eumenid, adopted the custom, when I asked him if I
might go upstairs, of indicating to me, by raising his cap with a
propitious hand, that he gave ear to my prayer. Those windows which,
seen from outside, used to interpose between me and the treasures
within, which were not intended for me, a polished, distant and
superficial stare, which seemed to me the very stare of the Swanns
themselves, it fell to my lot, when in the warm weather I had spent a
whole afternoon with Gilberte in her room, to open them myself, so as to
let in a little air, and even to lean over the sill of one of them by
her side, if it was her mothers "at home" day, to watch the visitors
arrive who would often, raising their heads as they stepped out of their
carriages, greet me with a wave of the hand, taking me for some nephew
of their hostess. At such moments Gilberte's plaits used to brush my
cheek. They seemed to me, in the fineness of their grain, at once
natural and supernatural, and in the strength of their constructed
tracery, a matchless work of art, in the composition of which had been
used the very grass of Paradise. To a section of them, even infinitely
minute, what celestial herbary would I not have given as a reliquary.
But since I never hoped to obtain an actual fragment of those plaits, if
at least I had been able to have their photograph, how far more precious
than one of a sheet of flowers traced by Vinci's pencil! To acquire one
of these, I stooped--with friends of the Swanns, and even with
photographers--to servilities which did not procure for me what I
wanted, but tied me for life to a number of extremely tiresome people.

Gilberte's parents, who for so long had prevented me from seeing her,
now--when I entered the dark hall in which hovered perpetually, more
formidable and more to be desired than, at Versailles of old, the
apparition of the King, the possibility of my encountering them, in
which too, invariably, after butting into an enormous hat-stand with
seven branches, like the Candlestick in Holy Writ, I would begin bowing
confusedly before a footman, seated among the skirts of his long grey
coat upon the wood-box, whom in the dim light I had mistaken for Mme.
Swann--Gilberte's parents, if one of them happened to be passing at the
moment of my arrival, so far from seeming annoyed would come and shake
hands with a smile, and say:

"How d'e do?" (They both pronounced it in the same clipped way, which,
you may well imagine, once I was back at home, I made an incessant and
delightful practice of copying.) "Does Gilberte know you're here? She
does? Then I'll leave you to her."

Better still, the tea-parties themselves to which Gilberte invited her
friends, parties which for so long had seemed to me the most
insurmountable of the barriers heaped up between her and myself, became
now an opportunity for uniting us of which she would inform me in a few
lines, written (because I was still a comparative stranger) upon sheets
that were always different. One was adorned with a poodle embossed in
blue, above a fantastic inscription in English with an exclamation mark
after it; another was stamped with an anchor, or with the monogram G. S.
preposterously elongated in a rectangle which ran from top to bottom of
the page, or else with the name Gilberte, now traced across one corner
in letters of gold which imitated my friend's signature and ended in a
flourish, beneath an open umbrella printed in black, now enclosed in a
monogram in the shape of a Chinaman's hat, which contained all the
letters of the word in capitals without its being possible to make out a
single one of them. At last, as the series of different writing-papers
which Gilberte possessed, numerous as it might be, was not unlimited,
after a certain number of weeks I saw reappear the sheet that bore (like
the first letter she had written me) the motto _Per viam rectam_, and
over it the man's head in a helmet, set in a medallion of tarnished
silver. And each of them was chosen, on one day rather than another, by
virtue of a certain ritual, as I then supposed, but more probably, as I
now think, because she tried to remember which of them she had already
used, so as never to send the same one twice to any of her
correspondents, of those at least whom she took special pains to please,
save at the longest possible intervals. As, on account of the different
times of their lessons, some of the friends whom Gilberte used to invite
to her parties were obliged to leave just as the rest were arriving,
while I was still on the stairs I could hear escaping from the hall a
murmur of voices which, such was the emotion aroused in me by the
imposing ceremony in which I was to take part, long before I had reached
the landing, broke all the bonds that still held me to my past life, so
that I did not even remember that I was to take off my muffler as soon
as I felt too hot, and to keep an eye on the clock so as not to be late
in getting home. That staircase, besides, all of wood, as they were
built about that time in certain houses, in keeping with that Henri II
style which had for so long been Odette's ideal though she was shortly
to lose interest in it, and furnished with a placard, to which there was
no equivalent at home, on which one read the words: "NOTICE. The lift
must not be taken downstairs", seemed to me a thing so marvellous that I
told my parents that it was an ancient staircase brought from ever so
far away by M. Swann. My regard for the truth was so great that I should
not have hesitated to give them this information even if I had known it
to be false, for it alone could enable them to feel for the dignity of
the Swanns' staircase the same respect that I felt myself. It was just
as, when one is talking to some ignorant person who cannot understand in
what the genius of a great physician consists, it is as well not to
admit that he does not know how to cure a cold in the head. But since I
had no power of observation, since, as a general rule, I never knew
either the name or the nature of things that were before my eyes, and
could understand only that when they were connected with the Swanns they
must be extraordinary, I was by no means certain that in notifying my
parents of the artistic value and remote origin of the staircase I was
guilty of falsehood. It did not seem certain; but it must have seemed
probable, for I felt myself turn very red when my father interrupted me
with: "I know those houses; I have been in one; they are all alike;
Swann just has several floors in one; it was Berlier built them all." He
added that he had thought of taking a flat in one of them, but that he
had changed his mind, finding that they were not conveniently arranged,
and that the landings were too dark. So he said; but I felt
instinctively that my mind must make the sacrifices necessary to the
glory of the Swanns and to my own happiness, and by a stroke of internal
authority, in spite of what I had just heard, I banished for ever from
my memory, as a good Catholic banishes Renan's _Vie de Jésus_, the
destroying thought that their house was just an ordinary flat in which
we ourselves might have been living.

Meanwhile on those tea-party days, pulling myself up the staircase step
by step, reason and memory already cast off like outer garments, and
myself no more now than the sport of the basest reflexes, I would arrive
in the zone in which the scent of Mme. Swann greeted my nostrils. I felt
that I could already behold the majesty of the chocolate cake, encircled
by plates heaped with little cakes, and by tiny napkins of grey damask
with figures on them, as required by convention but peculiar to the
Swanns. But this unalterable and governed whole seemed, like Kant's
necessary universe, to depend on a supreme act of free-will. For when we
were all together in Gilberte's little sitting-room, suddenly she would
look at the clock and exclaim:

"I say! It's getting a long time since luncheon, and we aren't having
dinner till eight. I feel as if I could eat something. What do you say?"

And she would make us go into the dining-room, as sombre as the interior
of an Asiatic Temple painted by Rembrandt, in which an architectural
cake, as gracious and sociable as it was imposing, seemed to be
enthroned there in any event, in case the fancy seized Gilberte to
discrown it of its chocolate battlements and to hew down the steep brown
slopes of its ramparts, baked in the oven like the bastions of the
palace of Darius. Better still, in proceeding to the demolition of that
Babylonitish pastry, Gilberte did not consider only her own hunger; she
inquired also after mine, while she extracted for me from the crumbling
monument a whole glazed slab jewelled with scarlet fruits, in the
oriental style. She asked me even at what o'clock my parents were
dining, as if I still knew, as if the disturbance that governed me had
allowed to persist the sensation of satiety or of hunger, the notion of
dinner or the picture of my family in my empty memory and paralysed
stomach. Alas, its paralysis was but momentary. The cakes that I took
without noticing them, a time would come when I should have to digest
them. But that time was still remote. Meanwhile Gilberte was making "my"
tea. I went on drinking it indefinitely, whereas a single cup would keep
me awake for twenty-four hours. Which explains why my mother used always
to say: "What a nuisance it is; he can never go to the Swanns' without
coming home ill." But was I aware even, when I was at the Swanns', that
it was tea that I was drinking? Had I known, I should have taken it just
the same, for even supposing that I had recovered for a moment the sense
of the present, that would not have restored to me the memory of the
past or the apprehension of the future. My imagination was incapable of
reaching to the distant time in which I might have the idea of going to
bed, and the need to sleep.

Gilberte's girl friends were not all plunged in that state of
intoxication in which it is impossible to make up one's mind. Some of
them refused tea! Then Gilberte would say, using a phrase highly
fashionable that I year: "I can see I'm not having much of a success
with my tea!" And to destroy more completely any idea of ceremony, she
would disarrange the chairs that were drawn up round the table, with:
"We look just like a wedding breakfast. Good lord, what fools servants

She nibbled her cake, perched sideways upon a cross-legged seat placed
at an angle to the table. And then, just as though she could have had
all those cakes at her disposal without having first asked leave of her
mother, when Mme. Swann, whose "day" coincided as a rule with Gilberte's
tea-parties, had shewn one of her visitors to the door, and came
sweeping in, a moment later, dressed sometimes in blue velvet, more
often in a black satin gown draped with white lace, she would say with
an air of astonishment: "I say, that looks good, what you've got there.
It makes me quite hungry to see you all eating cake."

"But, Mamma, do! We invite you!" Gilberte would answer.

"Thank you, no, my precious; what would my visitors say? I've still got
Mme. Trombert and Mme. Cottard and Mme. Bontemps; you know dear Mme.
Bontemps never pays very short visits, and she has only just come. What
would all those good people say if I never went back to them? If no one
else calls, I'll come in again and have a chat with you (which will be
far more amusing) after they've all gone. I really think I've earned a
little rest; I have had forty-five different people to-day, and
forty-two of them told me about Gérôme's picture! But you must come
along one of these days," she turned to me, "and take 'your' tea with
Gilberte. She will make it for you just as you like it, as you have it
in your own little 'studio'," she went on, flying off to her visitors,
as if it had been something as familiar to me as my own habits (such as
the habit that I should have had of taking tea, had I ever taken it; as
for my "studio", I was uncertain whether I had one or not) that I had
come to seek in this mysterious world. "When can you come? To-morrow? We
will make you 'toast' every bit as good, as you get at Colombin's. No?
You are horrid!"--for, since she also had begun to form a salon, she had
borrowed Mme. Verdurin's mannerisms, and notably her tone of petulant
autocracy. "Toast" being as incomprehensible to me as "Colombin's", this
further promise could not add to my temptation. It will appear stranger
still, now that everyone uses such expressions--and perhaps even at
Combray they are creeping in--that I had not at first understood of whom
Mme. Swann was speaking when I heard her sing the praises of our old
"nurse". I did not know any English; I gathered, however, as she went on
that the word was intended to denote Françoise. I who, in the
Champs-Elysées, had been so terrified of the bad impression that she
must make, I now learned from Mme. Swann that it was all the things that
Gilberte had told them about my "nurse" that had attracted her husband
and her to me. "One feels that she is so devoted to you; she must be
nice!" (At once my opinion of Françoise was diametrically changed. By
the same token, to have a governess equipped with a waterproof and a
feather in her hat no longer appeared quite so essential.) Finally I
learned from some words which Mme. Swann let fall with regard to Mme.
Blatin (whose good nature she recognised but dreaded her visits) that
personal relations with that lady would have been of less value to me
than I had supposed, and would not in any way have improved my standing
with the Swanns.

If I had now begun to explore, with tremors of reverence and joy the
faery domain which, against all probability, had opened to me its
hitherto locked approaches, this was still only in my capacity as a
friend of Gilberte. The kingdom into which I was received was itself
contained within another, more mysterious still, in which Swann and his
wife led their supernatural existence and towards which they made their
way, after taking my hand in theirs, when they crossed the hall at the
same moment as myself but in the other direction. But soon I was to
penetrate also to the heart of the Sanctuary. For instance, Gilberte
might be out when I called, but M. or Mme. Swann was at home. They would
ask who had rung, and on being told that it was myself would send out to
ask me to come in for a moment and talk to them, desiring me to use in
one way or another, and with this or that object in view, my influence
over their daughter. I reminded myself of that letter, so complete, so
convincing, which I had written to Swann only the other day, and which
he had not deigned even to acknowledge. I marvelled at the impotence of
the mind, the reason and the heart to effect the least conversion, to
solve a single one of those difficulties which, in the sequel, life,
without one's so much as knowing what steps it has taken, so easily
unravels. My new position as the friend of Gilberte, endowed with an
excellent influence over her, entitling me now to enjoy the same favours
as if, having had as a companion at some school where they had always
put me at the head of my class the son of a king, I had owed to that
accident the right of informal entry into the palace and to audiences in
the throne-room, Swann, with an infinite benevolence and as though he
were not overburdened with glorious occupations, would make me go into
his library and there let me for an hour on end respond in stammered
monosyllables, timid silences broken by brief and incoherent bursts of
courage, to utterances of which my emotion prevented me from
understanding a single word; would shew me works of art and books which
he thought likely to interest me, things as to which I had no doubt,
before seeing them, that they infinitely surpassed in beauty anything
that the Louvre possessed or the National Library, but at which I found
it impossible to look. At such moments I should have been grateful to
Swann's butler, had he demanded from me my watch, my tie-pin, my boots,
and made me sign a deed acknowledging him as my heir: in the admirable
words of a popular expression of which, as of the most famous epics, we
do not know who was the author, although, like those epics, and with all
deference to Wolff and his theory, it most certainly had an author, one
of those inventive, modest souls such as we come across every year, who
light upon such gems as "putting a name to a face", though their own
names they never let us learn, I did not know what I was doing. All the
greater was my astonishment, when my visit was prolonged, at finding to
what a zero of realisation, to what an absence of happy ending those
hours spent in the enchanted dwelling led me. But my disappointment
arose neither from the inadequacy of the works of art that were shewn to
me nor from the impossibility of fixing upon them my distracted gaze.
For it was not the intrinsic beauty of the objects themselves that made
it miraculous for me to be sitting in Swann's library, it was the
attachment to those objects--which might have been the ugliest in the
world--of the particular feeling, melancholy and voluptuous, which I had
for so many years localised in that room and which still impregnated it;
similarly the multitude of mirrors, of silver-backed brushes, of altars
to Saint Anthony of Padua, carved and painted by the most eminent
artists, her friends, counted for nothing in the feeling of my own
unworthiness and of her regal benevolence which was aroused in me when
Mme. Swann received me for a moment in her own room, in which three
beautiful and impressive creatures, her principal and second and third
maids, smilingly prepared for her the most marvellous toilets, and
towards which, on the order conveyed to me by the footman in
knee-breeches that Madame wished to say a few words to me, I would make
my way along the tortuous path of a corridor all embalmed, far and near,
by the precious essences which exhaled without ceasing from her
dressing-room a fragrance exquisitely sweet.

When Mme. Swann had returned to her visitors, we could still hear her
talking and laughing, for even with only two people in the room, and as
though she had to cope with all the "good friends" at once, she would
raise her voice, ejaculate her words, as she had so often in the "little
clan" heard its "Mistress" do, at the moments when she "led the
conversation". The expressions which we have borrowed from other people
being those which, for a time at least, we are fondest of using, Mme.
Swann used to select at one time those which she had learned from
distinguished people whom her husband had not managed to prevent her
from getting to know (it was from them that she derived the mannerism
which consists in suppressing the article or demonstrative pronoun, in
French, before an adjective qualifying a person's name), at another time
others more plebeian (such as "It's a mere nothing!" the favourite
expression of one of her friends), and used to make room for them in all
the stories which, by a habit formed among the "little clan", she loved
to tell about people. She would follow these up automatically with, "I
do love that story!" or "Do admit, it's a very _good_ story!" which came
to her, through her husband, from the Guermantes, whom she did not know.

Mme. Swann had left the dining-room, but her husband, who had just
returned home, made his appearance among us in turn. "Do you know if
your mother is alone, Gilberte?" "No, Papa, she has still some people."
"What, still? At seven o'clock! It's appalling! The poor woman must be
absolutely dead. It's odious." (At home I had always heard the first
syllable of this word pronounced with a long 'o', like "ode", but M. and
Mme. Swann made it short, as in "odd".) "Just think of it; ever since
two o'clock this afternoon!" he went on, turning to me. "And Camille
tells me that between four and five he let in at least a dozen people.
Did I say a dozen? I believe he told me fourteen. No, a dozen; I don't
remember. When I came home I had quite forgotten it was her 'day', and
when I saw all those carriages outside the door I thought there must be
a wedding in the house. And just now, while I've been in the library for
a minute, the bell has never stopped ringing; upon my word, it's given
me quite a headache. And are there a lot of them in there still?" "No;
only two." "Who are they, do you know?" "Mme. Cottard and Mme.
Bontemps." "Oh! the wife of the Chief Secretary to the Minister of
Posts." "I know her husband's a clerk in some Ministry or other, but I
don't know what he does." Gilberte assumed a babyish manner.

"What's that? You silly child, you talk as if you were two years old.
What do you mean; 'a clerk in some Ministry or other' indeed! He is
nothing less than Chief Secretary, chief of the whole show, and what's
more--what on earth am I thinking of? Upon my word, I'm getting as
stupid as yourself; he is not the Chief Secretary, he's the Permanent

"I don't know, I'm sure; does that mean a lot, being Permanent
Secretary?" answered Gilberte, who never let slip an opportunity of
displaying her own indifference to anything that gave her parents cause
for vanity. (She may, of course, have considered that she only enhanced
the brilliance of such an acquaintance by not seeming to attach any
undue importance to it.)

"I should think it did 'mean a lot'!" exclaimed Swann, who preferred to
this modesty, which might have left me in doubt, a more explicit mode of
speech. "Why it means simply that he's the first man after the Minister.
In fact, he's more important than the Minister, because it is he that
does all the work. Besides, it appears that he has immense capacity, a
man quite of the first rank, a most distinguished individual. He's an
Officer of the Legion of Honour. A delightful man, he is, and very
good-looking too."

(This man's wife, incidentally, had married him against everyone's
wishes and advice because he was a c charming creature'. He had, what
may be sufficient to constitute a rare and delicate whole, a fair, silky
beard, good features, a nasal voice, powerful lungs and a glass eye.)

"I may tell you," he added, turning again to me, "that I am greatly
amused to see that lot serving in the present Government, because they
are Bontemps of the Bontemps-Chenut family, typical old-fashioned
middle class people, reactionary, clerical, tremendously strait-laced.
Your grandfather knew quite well--at least by name and by sight he must
have known old Chenut, the father, who never tipped the cabmen more than
a ha'penny, though he was a rich enough man for those days, and the
Baron Bréau-Chenut. All their money went in the Union Générale
smash--you're too young to remember that, of course--and, gad! they've
had to get it back as best they could."

"He's the uncle of a little girl who used to come to my lessons, in a
class a long way below mine, the famous 'Albertine'. She's certain to be
dreadfully 'fast' when she's older, but just now she's the quaintest
spectacle." "She is amazing, this daughter of mine. She knows everyone."

"I don't know her. I only used to see her going about, and hear them
calling 'Albertine' here, and 'Albertine' there. But I do know Mme.
Bontemps, and I don't like her much either."

"You are quite wrong; she is charming, pretty, intelligent. In fact,
she's quite clever. I shall go in and say how d'ye do to her, and ask
her if her husband thinks we're going to have war, and whether we can
rely on King Theodosius. He's bound to know, don't you think, since he's
in the counsels of the gods."

It was not thus that Swann used to talk in days gone by; but which of us
cannot call to mind some royal princess of limited intelligence who let
herself be carried off by a footman, and then, ten years later, tried to
get back into society, and found that people were not very willing to
call upon her; have we not found her spontaneously adopting the language
of all the old bores, and, when we referred to some duchess who was at
the height of fashion, heard her say: "She came to see me only
yesterday," or "I live a very quiet life." So that it is superfluous to
make a study of manners, since we can deduce them all from psychological

The Swanns shared this eccentricity of people who have not many friends;
a visit, an invitation, a mere friendly word from some one ever so
little prominent were for them events to which they aspired to give full
publicity. If bad luck would have it that the Verdurins were in London
when Odette gave a rather smart dinner-party, arrangements were made by
which some common friend was to "cable" a report to them across the
Channel. Even the complimentary letters and telegrams received by Odette
the Swanns were incapable of keeping to themselves. They spoke of them
to their friends, passed them from hand to hand. Thus the Swanns'
drawing-room reminded one of a seaside hotel where telegrams containing
the latest news are posted up on a board.

Still, people who had known the old Swann not merely Outside society, as
I had known him, but in society, in that Guermantes set which, with
certain concessions to Highnesses and Duchesses, was almost infinitely
exacting in the matter of wit and charm, from which banishment was
sternly decreed for men of real eminence whom its members found boring
or vulgar,--such people might have been astonished to observe that their
old Swann had ceased to be not only discreet when he spoke of his
acquaintance, but difficult when he was called upon to enlarge it. How
was it that Mme. Bontemps, so common, so ill-natured, failed to
exasperate him? How could he possibly describe her as attractive? The
memory of the Guermantes set must, one would suppose, have prevented
him; as a matter of fact it encouraged him. There was certainly among
the Guermantes, as compared with the great majority of groups in
society, taste, indeed a refined taste, but also a snobbishness from
which there arose the possibility of a momentary interruption in the
exercise of that taste. If it were a question of some one who was not
indispensable to their circle, of a Minister for Foreign Affairs, a
Republican and inclined to be pompous, or of an Academician who talked
too much, their taste would be brought to bear heavily against him,
Swann would condole with Mme. de Guermantes on having had to sit next to
such people at dinner at one of the Embassies, and they would a thousand
times rather have a man of fashion, that is to say a man of the
Guermantes kind, good for nothing, but endowed with the wit of the
Guermantes, some one who was "of the same chapel" as themselves. Only, a
Grand Duchess, a Princess of the Blood, should she dine often with Mme.
de Guermantes, would soon find herself enrolled in that chapel also,
without having any right to be there, without being at all so endowed.
But with the simplicity of people in society, from the moment they had
her in their houses they went out of their way to find her attractive,
since they were unable to say that it was because she was attractive
that they invited her. Swann, coming to the rescue of Mme. de
Guermantes, would say to her after the Highness had gone: "After all,
she's not such a bad woman; really, she has quite a sense of the comic.
I don't suppose for a moment that she has mastered the _Critique of Pure
Reason_; still, she is not unattractive." "Oh, I do so entirely agree
with you!" the Duchess would respond. "Besides, she was a little
frightened of us all; you will see that she can be charming." "She is
certainly a great deal less devastating than Mme. X----" (the wife of
the talkative Academician, and herself a remarkable woman) "who quotes
twenty volumes at you." "Oh, but there isn't any comparison between
them." The faculty of saying such things as these, and of saying them
sincerely, Swann had acquired from the Duchess, and had never lost. He
made use of it now with reference to the people who came to his house.
He forced himself to distinguish, and to admire in them the qualities
that every human being will display if we examine him with a prejudice
in his favour, and not with the distaste of the nice-minded; he extolled
the merits of Mme. Bontemps, as he had once extolled those of the
Princesse de Parme, who must have been excluded from the Guermantes set
if there had not been privileged terms of admission for certain
Highnesses, and if, when they presented themselves for election, no
consideration had indeed been paid except to wit and charm. We have seen
already, moreover, that Swann had always an inclination (which he was
now putting into practice, only in a more lasting fashion) to exchange
his social position for another which, in certain circumstances, might
suit him better. It is only people incapable of analysing, in their
perception, what at first sight appears indivisible who believe that
one's position is consolidated with one's person. One and the same man,
taken at successive points in his life, will be found to breathe, at
different stages on the social ladder, in atmospheres that do not of
necessity become more and more refined; whenever, in any period of our
existence, we form or re-form associations with a certain environment,
and feel that we can move at ease in it and are made comfortable, we
begin quite naturally to make ourselves fast to it by putting out roots
and tendrils.

In so far as Mme. Bontemps was concerned, I believe also that Swann, in
speaking of her with so much emphasis, was not sorry to think that my
parents would hear that she had been to see his wife. To tell the truth,
in our house the names of the people whom Mme. Swann was gradually
getting to know pricked our curiosity more than they aroused our
admiration. At the name of Mme. Trombert, my mother exclaimed: "Ah!
That's a new recruit, and one who will bring in others." And as though
she found a similarity between the somewhat summary, rapid and violent
manner in which Mme. Swann acquired her friends, as it were by conquest,
and a Colonial expedition, Mamma went on to observe: "Now that the
Tromberts have surrendered, the neighbouring tribes will not be long in
coming in." If she had passed Mme. Swann in the street, she would tell
us when she came home: "I saw Mme. Swann in all her war-paint; she must
have been embarking on some triumphant offensive against the
Massachutoes, or the Cingalese, or the Tromberts." And so with all the
new people whom I told her that I had seen in that somewhat composite
and artificial society, to which they had often been brought with great
difficulty and from widely different surroundings, Mamma would at once
divine their origin, and, speaking of them as of trophies dearly bought,
would say: "Brought back from an Expedition against the so-and-so!"

As for Mme. Cottard, my father was astonished that Mme. Swann could find
anything to be gained by getting so utterly undistinguished a woman to
come to her house, and said: "In spite of the Professor's position, I
must say that I cannot understand it." Mamma, on the other hand,
understood quite well; she knew that a great deal of the pleasure which
a woman finds in entering a class of society different from that in
which she has previously lived would be lacking if she had no means of
keeping her old associates informed of those others, relatively more
brilliant, with whom she has replaced them. Therefore, she requires an
eye-witness who may be allowed to penetrate this new, delicious world
(as a buzzing, browsing insect bores its way into a flower) and will
then, as the course of her visits may carry her, spread abroad, or so at
least one hopes, with the tidings, a latent germ of envy and of wonder.
Mme. Cottard, who might have been created on purpose to fill this part,
belonged to that special category in a visiting list which Mamma (who
inherited certain facets of her father's turn of mind) used to call the
"Tell Sparta" people. Besides--apart from another reason which did not
come to our knowledge until many years later--Mme. Swann, in inviting
this good-natured, reserved and modest friend, had no need to fear lest
she might be introducing into her drawing-room, on her brilliant "days",
a traitor or a rival. She knew what a vast number of homely blossoms
that busy worker, armed with her plume and card-case, could visit in a
single afternoon. She knew the creature's power of dissemination, and,
basing her calculations upon the law of probability, was led to believe
that almost certainly some intimate of the Verdurins would be bound to
hear, within two or three days, how the Governor of Paris had left cards
upon her, or that M. Verdurin himself would be told how M. Le Hault de
Pressagny, the President of the Horse Show, had taken them, Swann and
herself, to the King Theodosius gala; she imagined the Verdurins as
informed of these two events, both so flattering to herself and of these
alone, because the particular materialisations in which we embody and
pursue fame are but few in number, by the default of our own minds which
are incapable of imagining at one time all the forms which, none the
less, we hope--in a general way--that fame will not fail simultaneously
to assume for our benefit.

Mme. Swann had, however, met with no success outside what was called the
"official world". Smart women did not go to her house. It was not the
presence there of Republican "notables" that frightened them away. In
the days of my early childhood, conservative society was to the last
degree worldly, and no "good" house would ever have opened its doors to
a Republican. The people who lived in such an atmosphere imagined that
the impossibility of ever inviting an "opportunist"--still more, a
"horrid radical"--to their parties was something that would endure for
ever, like oil-lamps and horse-drawn omnibuses. But, like at
kaleidoscope which is every now and then given a turn, society arranges
successively in different orders elements which one would have supposed
to be immovable, and composes a fresh pattern. Before I had made my
first Communion, ladies on the "right side" in politics had had the
stupefaction of meeting, while paying calls, a smart Jewess. These new
arrangements of the kaleidoscope are produced by what a philosopher
would call a "change of criterion". The Dreyfus case brought about
another, at a period rather later than that in which I began to go to
Mme. Swann's, and the kaleidoscope scattered once again its little
scraps of colour. Everything Jewish, even the smart lady herself, fell
out of the pattern, and various obscure nationalities appeared in its
place. The most brilliant drawing-room in Paris was that of a Prince who
was an Austrian and ultra-Catholic. If instead of the Dreyfus case there
had come a war with Germany, the base of the kaleidoscope would have
been turned in the other direction, and its pattern reversed. The Jews
having shewn, to the general astonishment, that they were patriots also,
would have kept their position, and no one would have cared to go any
more, or even to admit that he had ever gone to the Austrian Prince's.
All this does not, however, prevent the people who move in it from
imagining, whenever society is stationary for the moment, that no
further change will occur, just as in spite of having witnessed the
birth of the telephone they decline to believe in the aeroplane.
Meanwhile the philosophers of journalism are at work, castigating the
preceding epoch, and not only the kind of pleasures in which it
indulged, which seem to them to be the last word in corruption, but even
the work of its artists and philosophers, which have no longer the least
value in their eyes, as though they were indissolubly linked to the
successive moods of fashionable frivolity. The one thing that does not
change is that at any and every time it appears that there have been
"great changes". At the time when I went to Mme. Swann's the Dreyfus
storm had not yet broken, and some of the more prominent Jews were
extremely powerful. None more so than Sir Rufus Israels, whose wife,
Lady Israels, was Swann's aunt. She had not herself any intimate
acquaintance so distinguished as her nephew's, while he, since he did
not care for her, had never much cultivated her society, although he
was, so far as was known, her heir. But she was the only one of Swann's
relatives who had any idea of his social position, the others having
always remained in the state of ignorance, in that respect, which had
long been our own. When, from a family circle, one of its members
emigrates into "high society"--which to him appears a feat without
parallel until after the lapse of a decade he observes that it has been
performed in other ways and for different reasons by more than one of
the men whom he knew as boys--he draws round about himself a zone of
shadow, a _terra incognita_, which is clearly visible in its minutest
details to all those who inhabit it with him, but is darkest night and
nothingness to those who may not penetrate it but touch its fringe
without the least suspicion of its existence in their midst. There being
no news agency to furnish Swann's lady cousins with intelligence of the
people with whom he consorted, it was (before his appalling marriage, of
course) with a smile of condescension that they would tell one another,
over family dinner-tables, that they had spent a "virtuous" Sunday in
going to see "cousin Charles", whom (regarding him as a "poor relation"
who was inclined to envy their prosperity,) they used wittily to name,
playing upon the title of Balzac's story, "Le Cousin Bête". Lady
Israels, however, was letter-perfect in the names and quality of the
people who lavished upon Swann a friendship of which she was frankly
jealous. Her husband's family, which almost equalled the Rothschilds in
importance, had for several generations managed the affairs of the
Orleans Princes. Lady Israels, being immensely rich, exercised a wide
influence, and had employed it so as to ensure that no one whom she knew
should be "at home" to Odette. One only had disobeyed her, in secret,
the Comtesse de Marsantes. And then, as ill luck would have it, Odette
having gone to call upon Mme. de Marsantes, Lady Israels had entered the
room almost at her heels. Mme. de Marsantes was on tenter-hooks. With
the craven impotence of those who are at liberty to act as they choose,
she did not address a single word to Odette, who thus found little
encouragement to press farther the invasion of a world which, moreover,
was not at all that into which she would have liked to be welcomed. In
this complete detachment of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, Odette continued
to be regarded as the illiterate "light woman", utterly different from
the respectable ladies, "well up" in all the minutest points of
genealogy, who endeavoured to quench by reading biographies and memoirs
their thirst for the aristocratic relations with which real life had
omitted to provide them. And Swann, for his part, continued no doubt to
be the lover in whose eyes all these peculiarities of an old mistress
would appear lovable or at least inoffensive, for I have often heard his
wife profess what were really social heresies, without his attempting
(whether from lingering affection for her, loss of regard for society or
weariness of the effort to make her perfect) to correct them. It was
perhaps also another form of the simplicity which for so long had misled
us at Combray, and which now had the effect that, while he continued to
know, on his own account at least, many highly distinguished people, he
did not make a point, in conversation in his wife's drawing-room, of our
seeming to feel that they were of the smallest importance. They had,
indeed, less than ever for Swann, the centre of gravity of his life
having been displaced. In any case, Odette's ignorance of social
distinctions was so dense that if the name of the Princesse de
Guermantes were mentioned in conversation after that of the Duchess, her
cousin, "So those ones are Princes, are they?" she would exclaim; "Why,
they've gone up a step." Were anyone to say "the Prince", in speaking of
the Duc de Chartres, she would put him right with, "The Duke, you mean;
he is Duc de Chartres, not Prince." As for the Duc d'Orléans, son of
the Comte de Paris: "That's funny; the son is higher than the father!"
she would remark, adding, for she was afflicted with anglomania, "Those
_Royalties_ are so dreadfully confusing!"--while to someone who asked
her from what province the Guermantes family came she replied, "From the

But, so far as Odette was concerned, Swann was quite blind, not merely
to these deficiencies in her education but to the general mediocrity of
her intelligence. More than that; whenever Odette repeated a silly story
Swann would sit listening to his wife with a complacency, a merriment,
almost an admiration into which some survival of his desire for her must
have entered; while in the same conversation, anything subtle, anything
deep even that he himself might say would be listened to by Odette with
an habitual lack of interest, rather curtly, with impatience, and would
at times be sharply contradicted. And we must conclude that this
enslavement of refinement by vulgarity is the rule in many households,
when we think, conversely, of all the superior women who yield to the
blandishments of a boor, merciless in his censure of their most delicate
utterances, while they go into ecstasies, with the infinite indulgence
of love, over the feeblest of his witticisms. To return to the reasons
which prevented Odette, at this period, from making her way into the
Faubourg Saint-Germain, it must be observed that the latest turn of the
social kaleidoscope had been actuated by a series of scandals. Women to
whose houses one had been going with entire confidence had been
discovered to be common prostitutes, if not British spies. One would,
therefore, for some time to come expect people (so, at least, one
supposed) to be, before anything else, in a sound position, regular,
settled, accountable. Odette represented simply everything with which
one had just severed relations, and was incidentally to renew them at
once (for men, their natures not altering from day to day, seek in every
new order a continuance of the old) but to renew them by seeking it
under another form which would allow one to be innocently taken in, and
to believe that it was no longer the same society as before the
disaster. However, the scapegoats of that society and Odette were too
closely alike. People who move in society are very short-sighted; at the
moment in which they cease to have any relations with the Israelite
ladies whom they have known, while they are asking themselves how they
are to fill the gap thus made in their lives, they perceive, thrust into
it as by the windfall of a night of storm, a new lady, an Israelite
also; but by virtue of her novelty she is not associated in their minds
with her predecessors, with what they are convinced that they must
abjure. She does not ask that they shall respect her God. They take her
up. There was no question of anti-semitism at the time when I used first
to visit Odette. But she was like enough to it to remind people of what
they wished, for a while, to avoid.

As for Swann himself, he was still a frequent visitor of several of his
former acquaintance, who, of course, were all of the very highest rank.
And yet when he spoke to us of the people whom he had just been to see I
noticed that, among those whom he had known in the old days, the choice
that he made was dictated by the same kind of taste, partly artistic
partly historic, that inspired him as a collector. And remarking that it
was often some great lady or other of waning reputation, who interested
him because she had been the mistress of Liszt or because one of
Balzac's novels was dedicated to her grandmother (as he would purchase a
drawing if Chateaubriand had written about it) I conceived a suspicion
that we had, at Combray, replaced one error, that of regarding Swann as
a mere stockbroker, who did not go into society, by another, when we
supposed him to be one of the smartest men in Paris. To be a friend of
the Comte de Paris meant nothing at all. Is not the world full of such
"friends of Princes", who would not be received in any house that was at
all "exclusive"? Princes know themselves to be princes, and are not
snobs; besides, they believe themselves to be so far above everything
that is not of their blood royal that great nobles and "business men"
appear, in the depths beneath them, to be practically on a level.

But Swann went farther than this; not content with seeking in society,
such as it was, when he fastened upon the names which, inscribed upon
its roll by the past, were still to be read there, a simple artistic and
literary pleasure, he indulged in the slightly vulgar diversion of
arranging as it were social nosegays by grouping heterogeneous elements,
bringing together people taken at hazard, here, there and everywhere.
These experiments in the lighter side (or what was to Swann the lighter
side) of sociology did not stimulate an identical reaction, with any
regularity, that is to say, in each of his wife's friends. "I'm thinking
of asking the Cottards to meet the Duchesse de Vendôme," he would
laughingly say to Mme. Bontemps, in the appetised tone of an epicure who
has thought of, and intends to try the substitution, in a sauce, of
cayenne pepper for cloves. But this plan, which was, in fact, to appear
quite humorous, in an archaic sense of the word, to the Cottards, had
also the power of infuriating Mme. Bontemps. She herself had recently
been presented by the Swanns to the Duchesse de Vendôme, and had found
this as agreeable as it seemed to her natural. The thought of winning
renown from it at the Cottards', when she related to them what had
happened, had been by no means the least savoury ingredient of her
pleasure. But like those persons recently decorated who, their
investiture once accomplished, would like to see the fountain of honour
turned off at the main, Mme. Bontemps would have preferred that, after
herself, no one else in her own circle of friends should be made known
to the Princess. She denounced (to herself, of course) the licentious
taste of Swann who, in order to gratify a wretched aesthetic whim, was
obliging her to scatter to the winds, at one swoop, all the dust that
she would have thrown in the eyes of the Cottards when she told them
about the Duchesse de Vendôme. How was she even to dare to announce to
her husband that the Professor and his wife were in their turn to
partake of this pleasure, of which she had boasted to him as though it
were unique. And yet, if the Cottards could only be made to know that
they were being invited not seriously but for the amusement of their
host! It is true that the Bontemps had been invited for the same reason,
but Swann, having acquired from the aristocracy that eternal "Don Juan"
spirit which, in treating with two women of no importance, makes each of
them believe that it is she alone who is seriously loved, had spoken to
Mme. Bontemps of the Duchesse de Vendôme as of a person whom it was
clearly laid down that she must meet at dinner. "Yes, we're determined
to have the Princess here with the Cottards," said Mme. Swann a few
weeks later; "My husband thinks that we might get something quite
amusing out of that conjunction." For if she had retained from the
"little nucleus" certain habits dear to Mme. Verdurin, such as that of
shouting things aloud so as to be heard by all the faithful, she made
use, at the same time, of certain expressions, such as "conjunction",
which were dear to the Guermantes circle, of which she thus felt
unconsciously and at a distance, as the sea is swayed by the moon, the
attraction, though without being drawn perceptibly closer to it. "Yes,
the Cottards and the Duchesse de Vendôme. Don't you think that might be
rather fun?" asked Swann. "I think they'll be exceedingly ill-assorted,
and it can only lead to a lot of bother; people oughtn't to play with
fire, is what I say!" snapped Mme. Bontemps, furious. She and her
husband were, all the same, invited, as was the Prince d'Agrigente, to
this dinner, which Mme. Bontemps and Cottard had each two alternative
ways of describing, according to whom they were telling about it. To one
set Mme. Bontemps for her part, and Cottard for his would say casually,
when asked who else had been of the party: "Only the Prince d'Agrigente;
it was all quite intimate." But there were others who might, alas, be
better informed (once, indeed, some one had challenged Cottard with:
"But weren't the Bontemps there too?" "Oh, I forgot them," Cottard had
blushingly admitted to the tactless questioner whom he ever afterwards
classified among slanderers and speakers of evil). For these the
Bontemps and Cottards had each adopted, without any mutual arrangement,
a version the framework of which was identical for both parties, their
own names alone changing places. "Let me see;" Cottard would say, "there
were our host and hostess, the Duc and Duchesse de Vendôme--" (with a
satisfied smile) "Professor and Mme. Cottard, and, upon my soul, heaven
only knows how they got there, for they were about as much in keeping as
hairs in the soup, M. and Mme. Bontemps!" Mme. Bontemps would recite an
exactly similar "piece", only it was M. and Mme. Bontemps who were named
with a satisfied emphasis between the Duchesse de Vendôme and the
Prince d'Agrigente, while the "also ran", whom finally she used to
accuse of having invited themselves, and who completely spoiled the
party, were the Cottards.

When he had been paying calls Swann would often come home with little
time to spare before dinner. At that point in the evening, six o'clock,
when in the old days he had felt so wretched, he no longer asked himself
what Odette might be about, and was hardly at all concerned to hear that
she had people still with her, or had gone out. He recalled at times
that he had once, years ago, tried to read through its envelope a letter
addressed by Odette to Forcheville. But this memory was not pleasing to
him, and rather than plumb the depth of shame that he felt in it he
preferred to indulge in a little grimace, twisting up the corners of his
mouth and adding, if need be, a shake of the head which signified "What
does it all matter?" In truth, he considered now that the hypothesis by
which he had often been brought to a standstill in days gone by,
according to which it was his jealous imagination alone that blackened
what was in reality the innocent life of Odette--that this hypothesis
(which after all was beneficent, since, so long as his amorous malady
had lasted, it had diminished his sufferings by making them seem
imaginary) was not the truth, that it was his jealousy that had seen
things in the right light, and that if Odette had loved him better than
he supposed, she had deceived him more as well. Formerly, while his
sufferings were still keen, he had vowed that, as soon as he should have
ceased to love Odette, and so to be afraid either of vexing her or of
making her believe that he loved her more than he did, he would afford
himself the satisfaction of elucidating with her, simply from his love
of truth and as a historical point, whether or not she had had
Forcheville in her room that day when he had rung her bell and rapped on
her window without being let in, and she had written to Forcheville that
it was an uncle of hers who had called. But this so interesting problem,
of which he was waiting to attempt the solution only until his jealousy
should have subsided, had precisely lost all interest in Swann's eyes
when he had ceased to be jealous. Not immediately, however. He felt no
other jealousy now with regard to Odette than what the memory of that
day, that afternoon spent in knocking vainly at the little house in the
Rue Lapérouse, had continued to excite in him; as though his jealousy,
not dissimilar in that respect from those maladies which appear to have
their seat, their centre of contagion less in certain persons than in
certain places, in certain houses, had had for its object not so much
Odette herself as that day, that hour in the irrevocable past when Swann
had beaten at every entrance to her house in turn. You would have said
that that day, that hour alone had caught and preserved a few last
fragments of the amorous personality which had once been Swann's, and
that there alone could he now recapture them. For a long time now it had
made no matter to him that Odette had been false to him, and was false
still. And yet he had continued for some years to seek out old servants
of Odette, so strongly in him persisted the painful curiosity to know
whether on that day, so long ago, at six o'clock, Odette had been in bed
with Forcheville. Then that curiosity itself had disappeared, without,
however, his abandoning his investigations. He continued the attempt to
discover what no longer interested him, because his old ego though it
had shrivelled to the extreme of decrepitude still acted mechanically,
following the course of preoccupations so utterly abandoned that Swann
could not now succeed even in forming an idea of that anguish--so
compelling once that he had been unable to foresee his ever being
delivered from it, that only the death of her whom he loved (death
which, as will be shewn later on in this story, by a cruel example, in
no way diminishes the sufferings caused by jealousy) seemed to him
capable of making smooth the road, then insurmountably barred to him, of
his life.

But to bring to light, some day, those passages in the life of Odette to
which he owed his sufferings had not been Swann's only ambition; he had
in reserve that also of wreaking vengeance for his sufferings when,
being no longer in love with Odette, he should no longer be afraid of
her; and the opportunity of gratifying this second ambition had just
occurred, for Swann was in love with another woman, a woman who gave
him--grounds for jealousy, no, but who did all the same make him
jealous, because he was not capable, now, of altering his way of making
love, and it was the way he had used with Odette that must serve him now
for another. To make Swann's jealousy revive it was not essential that
this woman should be unfaithful, it sufficed that for any reason she was
separated from him, at a party for instance, where she was presumably
enjoying herself. That was enough to reawaken in him the old anguish,
that lamentable and inconsistent excrescence of his love, which held
Swann ever at a distance from what she really was, like a yearning to
attain the impossible (what this young woman really felt for him, the
hidden longing that absorbed her days, the secret places of her heart),
for between Swann and her whom he loved this anguish piled up an
unyielding mass of already existing suspicions, having their cause in
Odette, or in some other perhaps who had preceded Odette, allowing this
now ageing lover to know his mistress of the moment only in the
traditional and collective phantasm of the "woman who made him jealous",
in which he had arbitrarily incarnated his new love. Often, however,
Swann would charge his jealousy with the offence of making him believe
in imaginary infidelities; but then he would remember that he had given
Odette the benefit of the same argument and had in that been wrong. And
so everything that the young woman whom he loved did in those hours when
he was not with her appeared spoiled of its innocence in his eyes. But
whereas at that other time he had made a vow that if ever he ceased to
love her whom he did not then imagine to be his future wife, he would
implacably exhibit to her an indifference that would at length be
sincere, so as to avenge his pride that had so long been trampled upon
by her--of those reprisals which he might now enforce without risk to
himself (for what harm could it do him to be taken at his word and
deprived of those intimate moments with Odette that had been so
necessary to him once), of those reprisals he took no more thought; with
his love had vanished the desire to shew that he was in love no longer.
And he who, when he was suffering at the hands of Odette, would have
looked forward so keenly to letting her see one day that he had fallen
to a rival, now that he was in a position to do so took infinite
precautions lest his wife should suspect the existence of this new love.

* *

It was not only in those tea-parties, on account of which I had formerly
had the sorrow of seeing Gilberte leave me and go home earlier than
usual, that I was henceforth to take part, but the engagements that she
had with her mother, to go for a walk or to some afternoon party, which
by preventing her from coming to the Champs-Elysées had deprived me of
her, on those days when I loitered alone upon the lawn or stood before
the wooden horses,--to these outings M. and Mme. Swann henceforth
admitted me, I had a seat in their landau, and indeed it was me that
they asked if I would rather go to the theatre, to a dancing lesson at
the house of one of Gilberte's friends, to some social gathering given
by friends of her parents (what Odette called "a little meeting") or to
visit the tombs at Saint-Denis.

On days when I was going anywhere with the Swanns I would arrive at the
house in time for _déjeuner_, which Mme. Swann called "le lunch"; as
one was not expected before half-past twelve, while my parents in those
days had their meal at a quarter past eleven, it was not until they had
risen from the table that I made my way towards that sumptuous quarter,
deserted enough at any hour, but more particularly just then, when
everyone had gone indoors. Even on winter days of frost, if the weather
held, tightening every few minutes the knot of a gorgeous necktie from
Charvet's and looking to see that my varnished boots were not getting
dirty, I would roam to and fro among the avenues, waiting until
twenty-seven minutes past the hour. I could see from afar in the Swanns'
little garden-plot the sunlight glittering like hoar frost from the
bare-boughed trees. It is true that the garden boasted but a pair of
them. The unusual hour presented the scene in a new light. Into these
pleasures of nature (intensified by the suppression of habit and indeed
by my physical hunger) the thrilling prospect of sitting down to
luncheon with Mme. Swann was infused; it did not diminish them, but
taking command of them trained them to its service; so that if, at this
hour when ordinarily I did not perceive them, I seemed now to be
discovering the fine weather, the cold, the wintry sunlight, it was all
as a sort of preface to the creamed eggs, as a patina, a cool and
coloured glaze applied to the decoration of that mystic chapel which was
the habitation of Mme. Swann, and in the heart of which there were, by
contrast, so much warmth, so many scents and flowers.

At half-past twelve I would finally make up my mind to enter that house
which, like an immense Christmas stocking, seemed ready to bestow upon
me supernatural delights. (The French name "Noël" was, by the way,
unknown to Mme. Swann and Gilberte, who had substituted for it the
English "Christmas", and would speak of nothing but "Christmas pudding",
what people had given them as "Christmas presents" and of going
away--the thought of which maddened me with grief--"for Christmas". At
home even, I should have thought it degrading to use the word "Noël",
and always said "Christmas", which my father considered extremely

I encountered no one at first but a footman who after leading me through
several large drawing-rooms shewed me into one that was quite small,
empty, its windows beginning to dream already in the blue light of
afternoon; I was left alone there in the company of orchids, roses and
violets, which, like people who are kept waiting in a room beside you
but do not know you, preserved a silence which their individuality as
living things made all the more impressive, and received coldly the
warmth of a glowing fire of coals, preciously displayed behind a screen
of crystal, in a basin of white marble over which it spilled, now and
again, its perilous rubies.

I had sat down, but I rose hurriedly on hearing the door opened; it was
only another footman, and then a third, and the minute result that their
vainly alarming entrances and exits achieved was to put a little more
coal on the fire or water in the vases. They departed, I found myself
alone, once that door was shut which Mme. Swann was surely soon going to
open. Of a truth, I should have been less ill at ease in a magician's
cave than in this little waiting-room where the fire appeared to me to
be performing alchemical transmutations as in Klingsor's laboratory.
Footsteps sounded afresh, I did not rise, it was sure to be just another
footman; it was M. Swann. "What! All by yourself? What is one to do;
that poor wife of mine has never been able to remember what time means!
Ten minutes to one. She gets later every day. And you'll see, she will
come sailing in without the least hurry, and imagine she's in heaps of
time." And as he was still subject to neuritis, and as he was becoming a
trifle ridiculous, the fact of possessing so unpunctual a wife, who came
in so late from the Bois, forgot everything at her dressmaker's and was
never in time for luncheon made Swann anxious for his digestion but
flattered his self-esteem.

He shewed me his latest acquisitions and explained their interest to me,
but my emotion, added to the unfamiliarity of being still without food
at this hour, sweeping through my mind left it void, so that while able
to speak I was incapable of hearing. Anyhow, so far as the works of art
in Swann's possession were concerned, it was enough for me that they
were contained in his house, formed a part there of the delicious hour
that preceded luncheon. The Gioconda herself might have appeared there
without giving me any more pleasure than one of Mme. Swann's indoor
gowns, or her scent bottles.

I continued to wait, alone or with Swann, and often with Gilberte, come
in to keep us company. The arrival of Mme. Swann, prepared for me by all
those majestic apparitions, must (so it seemed to me) be something truly
immense. I strained my ears to catch the slightest sound. But one never
finds quite as high as one has been expecting a cathedral, a wave in a
storm, a dancer's leap in the air; after those liveried footmen,
suggesting the chorus whose processional entry upon the stage leads up
to and at the same time diminishes the final appearance of the queen,
Mme. Swann, creeping furtively in, with a little otter-skin coat, her
veil lowered to cover a nose pink-tipped by the cold, did not fulfil the
promises lavished, while I had been waiting, upon my imagination.

But if she had stayed at home all morning, when she arrived in the
drawing-room it would be clad in a wrapper of _crêpe-de-Chine_,
brightly coloured, which seemed to me more exquisite than any of her

Sometimes the Swanns decided to remain in the house all afternoon, and
then, as we had had luncheon so late, very soon I must watch setting,
beyond the garden-wall, the sun of that day which had seemed to me bound
to be different from other days; then in vain might the servants bring
in lamps of every size and shape, burning each upon the consecrated
altar of a console, a card-table, a corner-cupboard, a bracket, as
though for the celebration of some strange and secret rite; nothing
extraordinary transpired in the conversation, and I went home
disappointed, as one often is in one's childhood after the midnight

But my disappointment was scarcely more than mental. I was radiant with
happiness in this house where Gilberte, when she was still not with us,
was about to appear and would bestow on me in a moment, and for hours to
come, her speech, her smiling and attentive gaze, just as I had caught
it, that first time, at Combray. At the most I was a trifle jealous when
I saw her so often disappear into vast rooms above, reached by a private
staircase. Obliged myself to remain in the drawing-room, like a man in
love with an actress who is confined to his stall "in front" and wonders
anxiously what is going on behind the scenes, in the green-room, I put
to Swann, with regard to this other part of the house questions artfully
veiled, but in a tone from which I could not quite succeed in banishing
the note of uneasiness. He explained to me that the place to which
Gilberte had gone was the linen-room, offered himself to shew it to me,
and promised me that whenever Gilberte had occasion to go there again he
would insist upon her taking me with her. By these last words and the
relief which they brought me Swann at once annihilated for me one of
those terrifying interior perspectives at the end of which a woman with
whom we are in love appears so remote. At that moment I felt for him an
affection which I believed to be deeper than my affection for Gilberte.
For he, being the master over his daughter, was giving her to me,
whereas she, she withheld herself now and then, I had not the same
direct control over her as I had indirectly through Swann. Besides, it
was she whom I loved and could not, therefore look upon without that
disturbance, without that desire for something more which destroys in
us, in the presence of one whom we love, the sensation of loving.

As a rule, however, we did not stay indoors, we went out. Sometimes,
before going to dress, Mme. Swann would sit down at the piano. Her
lovely hands, escaping from the pink, or white, or, often, vividly
coloured sleeves of her _crêpe-de-Chine_ wrapper, drooped over the keys
with that same melancholy which was in her eyes but was not in her
heart. It was on one of those days that she happened to play me the part
of Vinteuil's sonata that contained the little phrase of which Swann had
been so fond. But often one listens and hears nothing, if it is a piece
of music at all complicated to which one is listening for the first
time. And yet when, later on, this sonata had been played over to me two
or three times I found that I knew it quite well. And so it is not wrong
to speak of hearing a thing for the first time. If one had indeed, as
one supposes, received no impression from the first hearing, the second,
the third would be equally "first hearings" and there would be no reason
why one should understand it any better after the tenth. Probably what
is wanting, the first time, is not comprehension but memory. For our
memory, compared to the complexity of the impressions which it has to
face while we are listening, is infinitesimal, as brief as the memory of
a man who in his sleep thinks of a thousand things and at once forgets
them, or as that of a man in his second childhood who cannot recall, a
minute afterwards, what one has just been saying to him. Of these
multiple impressions our memory is not capable of furnishing us with an
immediate picture. But that picture gradually takes shape, and, with
regard to works which we have heard more than once, we are like the
schoolboy who has read several times over before going to sleep a lesson
which he supposed himself not to know, and finds that he can repeat it
by heart next morning. It was only that I had not, until then, heard a
note of the sonata, and where Swann and his wife could make out a
distinct phrase that was as far beyond the range of my perception as a
name which one endeavours to recall and in place of which one discovers
only a void, a void from which, an hour later, when one is not thinking
about them, will spring of their own accord, in one continuous flight,
the syllables that one has solicited in vain. And not only does one not
seize at once and retain an impression of works that are really great,
but even in the content of any such work (as befell me in the case of
Vinteuil's sonata) it is the least valuable parts that one at first
perceives. Thus it was that I was mistaken not only in thinking that
this work held nothing further in store for me (so that for a long time
I made no effort to hear it again) from the moment in which Mme. Swann
had played over to me its most famous passage; I was in this respect as
stupid as people are who expect to feel no astonishment when they stand
in Venice before the front of Saint Mark's, because photography has
already acquainted them with the outline of its domes. Far more than
that, even when I had heard the sonata played from beginning to end, it
remained almost wholly invisible to me, like a monument of which its
distance or a haze in the atmosphere allows us to catch but a faint and
fragmentary glimpse. Hence the depression inseparable from one's
knowledge of such works, as of everything that acquires reality in time.
When the least obvious beauties of Vinteuil's sonata were revealed to
me, already, borne by the force of habit beyond the reach of my
sensibility, those that I had from die first distinguished and preferred
in it were beginning to escape, to avoid me. Since I was able only in
successive moments to enjoy all the pleasures that this sonata gave me,
I never possessed it in its entirety: it was like life itself. But, less
disappointing than life is, great works of art do not begin by giving us
all their best. In Vinteuil's sonata the beauties that one discovers at
once are those also of which one most soon grows tired, and for the same
reason, no doubt, namely that they are less different from what one
already knows. But when those first apparitions have withdrawn, there is
left for our enjoyment some passage which its composition too new and
strange to offer anything but confusion to our mind, had made
indistinguishable and so preserved intact; and this, which we have been
meeting every day and have not guessed it, which has thus been held in
reserve for us, which by the sheer force of its beauty has become
invisible and has remained unknown, this comes to us last of all. But
this also must be the last that we shall relinquish. And we shall love
it longer than the rest because we have taken longer to get to love it.
The time, moreover, that a person requires--as I required in the matter
of this sonata--to penetrate a work of any depth is merely an epitome, a
symbol, one might say, of the years, the centuries even that must elapse
before the public can begin to cherish a masterpiece that is really new.
So that the man of genius, to shelter himself from the ignorant contempt
of the world, may say to himself that, since one's contemporaries are
incapable of the necessary detachment, works written for posterity
should be read by posterity alone, like certain pictures which one
cannot appreciate when one stands too close to them. But, as it happens,
any such cowardly precaution to avoid false judgments is doomed to
failure; they are inevitable. The reason for which a work of genius is
not easily admired from the first is that the man who has created it is
extraordinary, that few other men resemble him. It was Beethoven's
Quartets themselves (the Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth)
that devoted half-a-century to forming, fashioning and enlarging a
public for Beethoven's Quartets, marking in this way, like every great
work of art, an advance if not in artistic merit at least in
intellectual society, largely composed to-day of what was not to be
found when the work first appeared, that is to say of persons capable of
enjoying it. What artists call posterity is the posterity of the work of
art. It is essential that the work (leaving out of account, for
brevity's sake, the contingency that several men of genius may at the
same time be working along parallel lines to create a more instructed
public in the future, a public from which other men of genius shall reap
the benefit) shall create its own posterity. For if the work were held
in reserve, were revealed only to posterity, that audience, for that
particular work, would be not posterity but a group of contemporaries
who were merely living half-a-century later in time. And so it is
essential that the artist (and this is what Vinteuil had done), if he
wishes his work to be free to follow its own course, shall launch it,
wherever he may find sufficient depth, confidently outward bound towards
the future. And yet this interval of time, the true perspective in which
to behold a work of art, if leaving it out of account is the mistake
made by bad judges, taking it into account is at times a dangerous
precaution of the good. No doubt one can easily imagine, by an illusion
similar to that which makes everything on the horizon appear
equidistant, that all the revolutions which have hitherto occurred in
painting or in music did at least shew respect for certain rules,
whereas that which immediately confronts us, be it impressionism, a
striving after discord, an exclusive use of the Chinese scale, cubism,
futurism or what you will, differs outrageously from all that have
occurred before. Simply because those that have occurred before we are
apt to regard as a whole, forgetting that a long process of assimilation
has melted them into a continuous substance, varied of course but,
taking it as a whole, homogeneous, in which Hugo blends with Molière.
Let us try to imagine the shocking incoherence that we should find, if
we did not take into account the future, and the changes that it must
bring about, in a horoscope of our own riper years, drawn and presented
to us in our youth. Only horoscopes are not always accurate, and the
necessity, when judging a work of art, of including the temporal factor
in the sum total of its beauty introduces, to our way of thinking,
something as hazardous, and consequently as barren of interest, as every
prophecy the non-fulfilment of which will not at all imply any
inadequacy on the prophet's part, for the power to summon possibilities
into existence or to exclude them from it is not necessarily within the
competence of genius; one may have had genius and yet not have believed
in the future of railways or of flight, or, although a brilliant
psychologist, in the infidelity of a mistress or of a friend whose
treachery persons far less gifted would have foreseen.

If I did not understand the sonata, it enchanted me to hear Mme. Swann
play. Her touch appeared to me (like her wrappers, like the scent of her
staircase, her cloaks, her chrysanthemums) to form part of an individual
and mysterious whole, in a world infinitely superior to that in which
the mind is capable of analysing talent. "Attractive, isn't it, that
Vinteuil sonata?" Swann asked me. "The moment when night is darkening
among the trees, when the arpeggios of the violin call down a cooling
dew upon the earth. You must admit that it is rather charming; it shews
all the static side of moonlight, which is the essential part. It is not
surprising that a course of radiant heat such as my wife is taking,
should act on the muscles, since moonlight can prevent the leaves from
stirring. That is what he expresses so well in that little phrase, the
Bois de Boulogne plunged in a cataleptic trance. By the sea it is even
more striking, because you have there the faint response of the waves,
which, of course, you can hear quite distinctly, since nothing else
dares to move. In Paris it is the other way; at the most, you may notice
unfamiliar lights among the old buildings, the sky brightened as though
by a colourless and harmless conflagration, that sort of vast variety
show of which you get a hint here and there. But in Vinteuil's little
phrase, and in the whole sonata for that matter, it is not like that;
the scene is laid in the Bois; in the _gruppetto_ you can distinctly
hear a voice saying: 'I can almost see to read the paper!'" These words
from Swann might have falsified, later on, my impression of the sonata,
music being too little exclusive to inhibit absolutely what other people
suggest that we should find in it. But I understood from other words
which he let fall that this nocturnal foliage was simply that beneath
whose shade in many a restaurant on the outskirts of Paris he had
listened on many an evening to the little phrase. In place of the
profound significance that he had so often sought in it, what it
recalled now to Swann were the leafy boughs, arranged, wreathed, painted
round about it (which it gave him the desire to see again because it
seemed to him to be their inner, their hidden self, as it were their
soul); was the whole of one spring season which he had not been able to
enjoy before, not having had--feverish and moody as he then was--enough
strength of body and mind for its enjoyment, which, as one puts by for
an invalid the dainties that he has not been able to eat, it had kept in
store for him. The charm that he had been made to feel by certain
evenings in the Bois, a charm of which Vinteul's sonata served to remind
him, he could not have recaptured by questioning Odette, although she,
as well as the little phrase, had been his companion there. But Odette
had been merely his companion, by his side, not (as the phrase had been)
within him, and so had seen nothing--nor would she, had she been a
thousand times as comprehending, have seen anything of that vision which
for no one among us (or at least I was long under the impression that
this rule admitted no exception) can be made externally visible. "It is
rather charming, don't you think," Swann continued, "that sound can give
a reflection, like water, or glass. It is curious, too, that Vinteul's
phrase now shews me only the things to which I paid no attention then.
Of my troubles, my loves of those days it recalls nothing, it has
altered all my values." "Charles, I don't think that's very polite to
me, what you're saying." "Not polite? Really, you women are superb! I
was simply trying to explain to this young man that what the music
shews--to me, at least--is not for a moment 'Free-will' or 'In Tune with
the Infinite', but shall we say old Verdurin in his frock coat in the
palm-house at the Jardin d'Acclimatation. Hundreds of times, without my
leaving this room, the little phrase has carried me off to dine with it
at Armenonville. Gad, it is less boring, anyhow, than having to go there
with Mme. de Cambremer." Mme. Swann laughed. "That is a lady who is
supposed to have been violently in love with Charles," she explained, in
the same tone in which, shortly before, when we were speaking of Vermeer
of Delft, of whose existence I had been surprised to find her conscious,
she had answered me with: "I ought to explain that M. Swann was very
much taken up with that painter at the time he was courting me. Isn't
that so, Charles dear?" "You're not to start saying things about Mme. de
Cambremer!" Swann checked her, secretly flattered. "But I'm only
repeating what I've been told. Besides, it seems that she's an extremely
clever woman; I don't know her myself. I believe she's very pushing,
which surprises me rather in a clever woman. But everyone says that she
was quite mad about you; there's no harm in repeating that." Swann
remained silent as a deaf-mute which was in a way a confirmation of what
she had said, and a proof of his own fatuity. "Since what I'm playing
reminds you of the Jardin d'Acclimatation," his wife went on, with a
playful semblance of being offended, "we might take him there some day
in the carriage, if it would amuse him. It's lovely there just now, and
you can recapture your fond impressions! Which reminds me, talking of
the Jardin d'Acclimatation, do you know, this young man thought that we
were devotedly attached to a person whom I cut, as a matter of fact,
whenever I possibly can, Mme. Blatin! I think it is rather crushing for
us, that she should be taken for a friend of ours. Just fancy, dear Dr.
Cottard, who never says a harsh word about anyone, declares that she's
positively contagious." "A frightful woman! The one thing to be said for
her is that she is exactly like Savonarola. She is the very image of
that portrait of Savonarola, by Fra Bartolomeo." This mania which Swann
had for finding likenesses to people in pictures was defensible, for
even what we call individual expression is--as we so painfully discover
when we are in love and would fain believe in the unique reality of the
beloved--something diffused and general, which can be found existing at
different periods. But if one had listened to Swann, the processions of
the Kings of the East, already so anachronistic when Benozzo Gozzoli
introduced in their midst various Medici, would have been even more so,
since they would have included the portraits of a whole crowd of men,
contemporaries not of Gozzoli but of Swann, subsequent, that is to say
not only by fifteen centuries to the Nativity but by four more to the
painter himself. There was not missing from those trains, according to
Swann, a single living Parisian of any note, any more than there was
from that act in one of Sardou's plays, in which, out of friendship for
the author and for the leading lady, and also because it was the
fashion, all the best known men in Paris, famous doctors, politicians,
barristers, amused themselves, each on a different evening, by "walking
on". "But what has she got to do with the Jardin d'Acclimatation?"
"Everything!" "What? You don't suggest that she's got a sky-blue behind,
like the monkeys?" "Charles, you really are too dreadful! I was thinking
of what the Cingalese said to her. Do tell him, Charles; it really is a
gem." "Oh, it's too silly. You know, Mme. Blatin loves asking people
questions, in a tone which she thinks friendly, but which is really
overpowering." "What our good friends on the Thames call 'patronising',"
interrupted Odette. "Exactly. Well, she went the other day to the Jardin
d'Acclimatation, where they have some blackamoors--Cingalese, I think I
heard my wife say; she is much 'better up' in ethnology than I am."
"Now, Charles, you're not to make fun of poor me." "I've no intention of
making fun, I assure you. Well, to continue, she went up to one of these
black fellows with 'Good morning, nigger!' . . ." "Oh, it's too absurd!"
"Anyhow, this classification seems to have displeased the black. 'Me
nigger,' he shouted, (quite furious, don't you know), to Mme. Blatin,
'me nigger; you, old cow!'" "I do think that's so delightful! I adore
that story. Do say it's a good one. Can't you see old Blatin standing
there, and hearing him: 'Me nigger; you, old cow'?" I expressed an
intense desire to go there and see these Cingalese, one of whom had
called Mme. Blatin an old cow. They did not interest me in the least.
But I reflected that in going to the Jardin d'Acclimatation, and again
on our way home, we should pass along that Allée des Acacias in which I
had loved so, once, to gaze on Mme. Swann, and that perhaps Coquelin's
mulatto friend, to whom I had never managed to exhibit myself in the act
of saluting her, would see me there, seated at her side, as the victoria
swept by.

During those minutes in which Gilberte, having gone to "get ready", was
not in the room with us, M. and Mme. Swann would take delight in
revealing to me all the rare virtues of their child. And everything that
I myself observed seemed to prove the truth of what they said. I
remarked that, as her mother had told me, she had not only for her
friends but for the servants, for the poor, the most delicate attentions
carefully thought out, a desire to give pleasure, a fear of causing
annoyance, translated into all sorts of trifling actions which must
often have meant great inconvenience to her. She had done some "work"
for our stall-keeper in the Champs-Elysées, and went out in the snow to
give it to her with her own hands, so as not to lose a day. "You have no
idea how kind-hearted she is, she won't let it be seen," her father
assured me. Young as she was, she appeared far more sensible already
than her parents. When Swann boasted of his wife's grand friends
Gilberte would turn away, and remain silent, but without any air of
reproaching him, for it seemed inconceivable to her that her father
could be subjected to the slightest criticism. One day, when I had
spoken to her of Mlle. Vinteuil, she said to me:

"I shall never know her, for a very good reason, and that is that she
was not nice to her father, by what one hears, she gave him a lot of
trouble. You can't understand that any more than I, can you; I'm sure
you could no more live without your papa than I could, which is quite
natural after all. How can one ever forget a person one has loved all
one's life?"

And once when she was making herself particularly endearing to Swann, as
I mentioned this to her when he was out of the room:

"Yes, poor Papa, it is the anniversary of his father's death, just now.
You can understand what he must be feeling; you do understand, don't
you; you and I feel the same about things like that. So I just try to be
a little less naughty than usual." "But he doesn't ever think you
naughty. He thinks you're quite perfect." "Poor Papa, that's because
he's far too good himself."

But her parents were not content with singing the praises of
Gilberte--that same Gilberte, who, even before I had set eyes on her,
used to appear to me standing before a church, in a landscape of the
Ile-de-France, and later, awakening in me not dreams now but memories,
was embowered always in a hedge of pink hawthorn, in the little lane
that I took when I was going the Méséglise way. Once when I had asked
Mme. Swann (and had made an effort to assume the indifferent tone of a
friend of the family, curious to know the preferences of a child), which
among all her playmates Gilberte liked the best, Mme. Swann replied:
"But you ought to know a great deal better than I do. You are in her
confidence, her great favourite, her 'chum' as the English say."

It appears that in a coincidence as perfect as this was, when reality is
folded over to cover the ideal of which we have so long been dreaming,
it completely hides that ideal, absorbing it in itself, as when two
geometrical figures that are congruent are made to coincide, so that
there is but one, whereas we would rather, so as to give its full
significance to our enjoyment, preserve for all those separate points of
our desire, at the very moment in which we succeed in touching them, and
so as to be quite certain that they are indeed themselves, the
distinction of being intangible. And our thought cannot even reconstruct
the old state so as to confront the new with it, for it has no longer a
dear field: the acquaintance that we have made, the memory of those
first, unhoped-for moments, the talk to which we have listened are there
now to block the passage of our consciousness, and as they control the
outlets of our memory far more than those of our imagination, they react
more forcibly upon our past, which we are no longer able to visualise
without taking them into account, than upon the form, still unshaped, of
our future. I had been able to believe, year after year, that the right
to visit Mme. Swann was a vague and fantastic privilege to which I
should never attain; after I had spent a quarter of an hour in her
drawing-room, it was the period in which I did not yet know her that was
become fantastic and vague like a possibility which the realisation of
an alternative possibility has made impossible. How was I ever to dream
again of her dining-room as of an inconceivable place, when I could not
make the least movement in my mind without crossing the path of that
inextinguishable ray cast backwards to infinity, even into my own most
distant past, by the lobster _à l'Américaine_ which I had just been
eating. And Swann must have observed in his own case a similar
phenomenon; for this house in which he entertained me might be regarded
as the place into which had flowed, to coincide and be lost in one
another, not only the ideal dwelling that my imagination had
constructed, but another still, that which his jealous love, as
inventive as any fantasy of mine, had so often depicted to him, that
dwelling common to Odette and himself which had appeared so inaccessible
once, on evenings when Odette had taken him home with Forcheville to
drink orangeade with her; and what had flowed in to be absorbed, for
him, in the walls and furniture of the dining-room in which we now sat
down to luncheon was that unhoped-for paradise in which, in the old
days, he could not without a pang imagine that he would one day be
saying to _their_ butler those very words, "Is Madame ready yet?" which
I now heard him utter with a touch of impatience mingled with
self-satisfaction. No more than, probably, Swann himself could I succeed
in knowing my own happiness, and when Gilberte once broke out: "Who
would ever have said that the little girl you watched playing prisoners'
base, without daring to speak to her, would one day be your greatest
friend, and you would go to her house whenever you liked?" she spoke of
a change the occurrence of which I could verify only by observing it
from without, finding no trace of it within myself, for it was composed
of two separate states on both of which I could not, without their
ceasing to be distinct from one another, succeed in keeping my thoughts
fixed at one and the same time.

And yet this house, because it had been so passionately desired by
Swann, must have kept for him some of its attraction, if I was to judge
by myself for whom it had not lost all its mystery. That singular charm
in which I had for so long supposed the life of the Swanns to be bathed
I had not completely exorcised from their house on making my own way
into it; I had made it, that charm, recoil, overpowered as it must be by
the sight of the stranger, the pariah that I had been, to whom now Mme.
Swann pushed forward graciously for him to sit in it an armchair
exquisite, hostile, scandalised; but all round me that charm, in my
memory, I can still distinguish. Is it because, on those days on which
M. and Mme. Swann invited me to luncheon, to go out afterwards with them
and Gilberte, I imprinted with my gaze,--while I sat waiting for them
there alone--on the carpet, the sofas, the tables, the screens, the
pictures, the idea engraved upon my mind that Mme. Swann, or her
husband, or Gilberte was about to enter the room? Is it because those
objects have dwelt ever since in my memory side by side with the Swanns,
and have gradually acquired something of their personal character? Is it
because, knowing that the Swanns passed their existence among all those
things, I made of all of them as it were emblems of the private lives,
of those habits of the Swanns from which I had too long been excluded
for them not to continue to appear strange to me, even when I was
allowed the privilege of sharing in them? However it may be, always when
I think of that drawing-room which Swann (not that the criticism implied
on his part any intention to find fault with his wife's taste) found so
incongruous--because, while it was still planned and carried out in the
style, half conservatory half studio, which had been that of the rooms
in which he had first known Odette, she had, none the less, begun to
replace in its medley a quantity of the Chinese ornaments, which she now
felt to be rather gimcrack, a trifle dowdy, by a swarm of little chairs
and stools and things upholstered in old Louis XIV silks; not to mention
the works of art brought by Swann himself from his house on the Quai
d'Orléans--it has kept in my memory, on the contrary, that composite,
heterogeneous room, a cohesion, a unity, an individual charm never
possessed even by the most complete, the least spoiled of such
collections that the past has bequeathed to us, or the most modern,
alive and stamped with the imprint of a living personality; for we alone
can, by our belief that they have an existence of their own, give to
certain of the things that we see a soul which they afterwards keep,
which they develop in our minds. All the ideas that I had formed of the
hours, different from those that exist for other men, passed by the
Swanns in that house which was to their life what the body is to the
soul, and must give expression to its singularity, all those ideas were
rearranged, amalgamated--equally disturbing and indefinite
throughout--in the arrangement of the furniture, the thickness of the
carpets, the position of the windows, the ministrations of the servants.
When, after luncheon, we went in the sunshine to drink our coffee in the
great bay window of the drawing-room, while Mme. Swann was asking me how
many lumps of sugar I took, it was not only the silk-covered stool which
she pushed towards me that emitted, with the agonising charm that I had
long ago felt--first among the pink hawthorn and then beside the clump
of laurels--in the name of Gilberte, the hostility that her parents had
shewn to me, which this little piece of furniture seemed to have so well
understood, to have so completely shared that I felt myself unworthy,
and found myself almost reluctant to set my feet on its defenceless
cushion; a personality, a soul was latent there which linked it secretly
to the light of two o'clock in the afternoon, so different from any
other light, in the gulf in which there played about our feet its
sparkling tide of gold out of which the bluish crags of sofas and
vaporous carpet beaches emerged like enchanted islands; and there was
nothing, even to the painting by Rubens hung above the chimneypiece,
that was not endowed with the same quality and almost the same intensity
of charm as the laced boots of M. Swann, and that hooded cape, the like
of which I had so dearly longed to wear, whereas now Odette would beg
her husband to go and put on another, so as to appear more smart,
whenever I did them the honour of driving out with them. She too went
away to change her dress--not heeding my protestations that no "outdoor"
clothes could be nearly so becoming as the marvellous garment of
_crêpe-de-Chine_ or silk, old rose, cherry-coloured, Tiepolo pink,
white, mauve, green, red or yellow, plain or patterned, in which Mme.
Swann had sat down to luncheon and which she was now going to take off.
When I assured her that she ought to go out in that costume, she
laughed, either in scorn of my ignorance or from delight in my
compliment. She apologised for having so many wrappers, explaining that
they were the only kind of dress in which she felt comfortable, and left
us, to go and array herself in one of those regal toilets which imposed
their majesty on all beholders, and yet among which I was sometimes
summoned to decide which of them I preferred that she should put on.

In the Jardin d'Acclimatation, how proud I was when we had left the
carriage to be walking by the side of Mme. Swann! While she strolled
carelessly on, letting her cloak stream on the air behind her, I kept
eyeing her with an admiring gaze to which she coquettishly responded in
a lingering smile. And now, were we to meet one or other of Gilberte's
friends, boy or girl, who saluted us from afar, I would in my turn be
looked upon by them as one of those happy creatures whose lot I had
envied, one of those friends of Gilberte who knew her family and had a
share in that other part of her life, the part which was not spent in
the Champs-Elysées.

Often upon the paths of the Bois or the Jardin we passed, we were
greeted by some great lady who was Swann's friend, whom he perchance did
not see, so that his wife must rally him with a "Charles! Don't you see
Mme. de Montmorency?" And Swann, with that amicable smile, bred of a
long and intimate friendship, bared his head, but with a slow sweeping
gesture, with a grace peculiarly his own. Sometimes the lady would stop,
glad of an opportunity to shew Mme. Swann a courtesy which would involve
no tiresome consequences, by which they all knew that she would never
seek to profit, so thoroughly had Swann trained her in reserve. She had
none the less acquired all the manners of polite society, and however
smart, however stately the lady might be, Mme. Swann was invariably a
match for her; halting for a moment before the friend whom her husband
had recognised and was addressing, she would introduce us, Gilberte and
myself, with so much ease of manner, would remain so free, so tranquil
in her exercise of courtesy, that it would have been hard to say,
looking at them both, which of the two was the aristocrat. The day on
which we went to inspect the Cingalese, on our way home we saw coming in
our direction, and followed by two others who seemed to be acting as her
escort, an elderly but still attractive woman cloaked in a dark mantle
and capped with a little bonnet tied beneath her chin with a pair of
ribbons. "Ah! Here is someone who will interest you!" said Swann. The
old lady, who had come within a few yards of us, now smiled at us with a
caressing sweetness. Swann doffed his hat. Mme. Swann swept to the
ground in a curtsey and made as if to kiss the hand of the lady, who,
standing there like a Winterhalter portrait, drew her up again and
kissed her cheek. "There, there; will you put your hat on, you!" she
scolded Swann in a thick and almost growling voice, speaking like an old
and familiar friend. "I am going to present you to Her Imperial
Highness," Mme. Swann whispered. Swann drew me aside for a moment while
his wife talked of the weather and of the animals recently added to the
Jardin d'Acclimatation, with the Princess. "That is the Princesse
Mathilde;" he told me, "you know who' I mean, the friend of Flaubert,
Sainte-Beuve, Dumas. Just fancy, she's the niece of Napoleon I. She had
offers of marriage from Napoleon III and the Emperor of Russia. Isn't
that interesting? Talk to her a little. But I hope she won't keep us
standing here for an hour!. . . I met Taine the other day," he went on,
addressing the Princess, "and he told me that your Highness was vexed
with him." "He's behaved like a perfect peeg!" she said gruffly,
pronouncing the word _cochon_ as though she referred to Joan of Arc's
contemporary, Bishop Cauchon. "After his article on the Emperor I left
my card on him with p. p. c. on it." I felt the surprise that one feels
on opening the Correspondence of that Duchesse d'Orléans who was by
birth a Princess Palatine. And indeed Princesse Mathilde, animated by
sentiments so entirely French, expressed them with a straightforward
bluntness that recalled the Germany of an older generation, and was
inherited, doubtless, from her Wurtemberg mother. This somewhat rude and
almost masculine frankness she softened, as soon as she began to smile,
with an Italian languor. And the whole person was clothed in a dress so
typically "Second Empire" that--for all that the Princess wore it simply
and solely, no doubt, from attachment to the fashions that she had loved
when she was young--she seemed to have deliberately planned to avoid the
slightest discrepancy in historic colour, and to be satisfying the
expectations of those who looked to her to evoke the memory of another
age. I whispered to Swann to ask her whether she had known Musset. "Very
slightly, sir," was the answer, given in a tone which seemed to feign
annoyance at the question, and of course it was by way of a joke that
she called Swann "Sir", since they were intimate friends. "I had him to
dine once. I had invited him for seven o'clock. At half-past seven, as
he had not appeared, we sat down to dinner. He arrived at eight, bowed
to me, took his seat, never opened his lips, went off after dinner
without letting me hear the sound of his voice. Of course, he was dead
drunk. That hardly encouraged me to make another attempt." We were
standing a little way off, Swann and I. "I hope this little audience is
not going to last much longer," he muttered, "the soles of my feet are
hurting. I cannot think why my wife keeps on making conversation. When
we get home it will be she that complains of being tired, and she knows
I simply cannot go on standing like this." For Mme. Swann, who had had
the news from Mme. Bontemps, was in the course of telling the Princess
that the Government, having at last begun to realise the depth of its
depravity, had decided to send her an invitation to be present on the
platform in a few days' time, when the Tsar Nicholas was to visit the
Invalides. But the Princess who, in spite of appearances, in spite of
the character of her circle, which consisted mainly of artists and
literary people, had remained at heart and shewed herself, whenever she
had to take action, the niece of Napoleon, replied: "Yes, Madame, I
received it this morning, and I sent it back to the Minister, who must
have had it by now. I told him that I had no need of an invitation to go
to the Invalides. If the Government desires my presence there, it will
not be on the platform, it will be in our vault, where the Emperor's
tomb is. I have no need of a card to admit me there. I have my keys. I
go in and out when I choose. The Government has only to let me know
whether it wishes, me to be present or not. But if I do go to the
Invalides, it will be down below there or nowhere at all." At that
moment we were saluted, Mme. Swann and I, by a young man who greeted her
without stopping, and whom I was not aware that she knew; it was Bloch.
I inquired about him, and was told that he had been introduced to her by
Mme. Bontemps, and that he was employed in the Minister's secretariat,
which was news to me. Anyhow, she could not have seen him often--or
perhaps she had not cared to utter the name, hardly "smart" enough for
her liking, of Bloch, for she told me that he was called M. Moreul. I
assured her that she was mistaken, that his name was Bloch. The Princess
gathered up the train that flowed out behind her, while Mme. Swann gazed
at it with admiring eyes. "It is only a fur that the Emperor of Russia
sent me," she explained, "and as I have just been to see him I put it
on, so as to shew him that I'd managed to have it made up as a mantle."
"I hear that Prince Louis has joined the Russian Army; the Princess will
be very sad at losing him," went on Mme. Swann, not noticing her
husband's signals of distress. "That was a fine thing to do. As I said
to him, 'Just because there's been a. soldier, before, in the family,
that's no reason!'" replied the Princess, alluding with this abrupt
simplicity to Napoleon the Great. But Swann could hold out no longer.
"Ma'am, it is I that am going to play the Prince, and ask your
permission to retire; but, you see, my wife has not been so well, and I
do not like her to stand still for any time." Mme. Swann curtseyed
again, and the Princess conferred upon us all a celestial smile, which
she seemed to have summoned out of the past, from among the graces of
her girlhood, from the evenings at Compiègne, a smile which glided,
sweet and unbroken, over her hitherto so sullen face; then she went on
her way, followed by the two ladies in waiting, who had confined
themselves, in the manner of interpreters, of children's or invalids'
nurses, to punctuating our conversation with insignificant sentences and
superfluous explanations. "You should go and write your name in her
book, one day this week," Mme. Swann counselled me. "One doesn't leave
cards upon these 'Royalties', as the English call them, but she will
invite you to her house if you put your name down."

Sometimes in those last days of winter we would go, before proceeding on
our expedition, into one of the small picture-shows that were being
given at that time, where Swann, as a collector of mark, was greeted
with special deference by the dealers in whose galleries they were held.
And in that still wintry weather the old longing to set out for the
South of France and Venice would be reawakened in me by those rooms in
which a springtime, already well advanced, and a blazing sun cast violet
shadows upon the roseate Alpilles and gave the intense transparency of
emeralds to the Grand Canal. If the weather were inclement, we would go
to a concert or a theatre, and afterwards to one of the fashionable
tea-rooms. There, whenever Mme. Swann had anything to say to me which
she did not wish the people at the next table, or even the waiters who
brought our tea to understand, she would say it in English, as though
that had been a secret language known to our two selves alone. As it
happened everyone in the place knew English--I only had not yet learned
the language, and was obliged to say so to Mme. Swann in order that she
might cease to make, on the people who were drinking tea or were serving
us with it, remarks which I guessed to be uncomplimentary without either
my understanding or the person referred to losing a single word.

Once, in the matter of an afternoon at the theatre, Gilberte gave me a
great surprise. It was precisely the day of which she had spoken to me
some time back, on which fell the anniversary of her grandfather's
death. We were to go, she and I, with her governess, to hear selections
from an opera, and Gilberte had dressed with a view to attending this
performance, and wore the air of indifference with which she was in the
habit of treating whatever we might be going to do, with the comment
that it might be anything in the world, no matter what, provided that it
amused me and had her parents' approval. Before luncheon, her mother
drew us aside to tell us that her father was vexed at the thought of our
going to a theatre on that day. This seemed to me only natural. Gilberte
remained impassive, but grew pale with an anger which she was unable to
conceal; still she uttered not a word. When M. Swann joined us his wife
took him to the other end of the room and said something in his ear. He
called Gilberte, and they went together into the next room. We could
hear their raised voices. And yet I could not bring myself to believe
that Gilberte, so submissive, so loving, so thoughtful, would resist her
father's appeal, on such a day and for so trifling a matter. At length
Swann reappeared with her, saying: "You heard what I said. Now you may
do as you like."

Gilberte's features remained compressed in a frown throughout luncheon,
after which we retired to her room. Then suddenly, without hesitating
and as though she had never at any point hesitated over her course of
action: "Two o'clock!" she exclaimed, "You know the concert begins at
half-past." And she told her governess to make haste.

"But," I reminded her, "won't your father be cross with you?"

"Not the least little bit!"

"Surely, he was afraid it would look odd, because of the anniversary."

"What difference can it make to me what people think? I think it's
perfectly absurd to worry about other people in matters of sentiment. We
feel things for ourselves, not for the public. Mademoiselle has very few
pleasures; she's been looking forward to going to this concert. I am not
going to deprive her of it just to satisfy public opinion."

"But, Gilberte," I protested, taking her by the arm, "it is not to
satisfy public opinion, it is to please your father."

"You are not going to pass remarks upon my conduct, I hope," she said
sharply, plucking her arm away.

* *

A favour still more precious than their taking me with them to the
Jardin d'Acclimatation, the Swanns did not exclude me even from their
friendship with Bergotte, which had been at the root of the attraction
that I had found in them when, before I had even seen Gilberte, I
reflected that her intimacy with that god-like elder would have made her,
for me, the most passionately enthralling of friends, had not the
disdain that I was bound to inspire in her forbidden me to hope that she
would ever take me, in his company, to visit the towns that he loved.
And lo, one day, came an invitation from Mme. Swann to a big
luncheon-party. I did not know who else were to be the guests. On my
arrival I was disconcerted, as I crossed the hall, by an alarming
incident. Mme. Swann seldom missed an opportunity of adopting any of
those customs which pass as fashionable for a season, and then, failing
to find support, are speedily abandoned (as, for instance, many years
before, she had had her "private hansom", or now had, printed in English
upon a card inviting you to luncheon, the words, "To meet", followed by
the name of some more or less important personage). Often enough these
usages implied nothing mysterious and required no initiation. Take, for
instance, a minute innovation of those days, imported from England;
Odette had made her husband have some visiting cards printed on which
the name Charles Swann was preceded by "Mr.". After the first visit that
I paid her, Mme. Swann had left at my door one of these "pasteboards",
as she called them. No one had ever left a card on me before; I felt at
once so much pride, emotion, gratitude that, scraping together all the
money I possessed, I ordered a superb basket of camellias and had it
sent to Mme. Swann. I implored my father to go and leave a card on her,
but first, quickly, to have some printed on which his name should bear
the prefix "Mr.". He vouchsafed neither of my prayers; I was in despair
for some days, and then asked myself whether he might not after all have
been right. But this use of "Mr.", if it meant nothing, was at least
intelligible. Not so with another that was revealed to me on the
occasion of this luncheon-party, but revealed without any indication of
its purport. At the moment when I was about to step from the hall into
the drawing-room the butler handed me a thin, oblong envelope upon which
my name was inscribed. In my surprise I thanked him; but I eyed the
envelope with misgivings. I no more knew what I was expected to do with
it than a foreigner knows what to do with one of those little utensils
that they lay by his place at a Chinese banquet. I noticed that it was
gummed down; I was afraid of appearing indiscreet, were I to open it
then and there; and so I thrust it into my pocket with an air of knowing
all about it. Mme. Swann had written to me a few days before, asking me
to come to luncheon with "just a few people". There were, however,
sixteen of us, among whom I never suspected for a moment that I was to
find Bergotte. Mme. Swann, who had already "named" me, as she called it,
to several of her guests, suddenly, after my name, in the same tone that
she had used in uttering it (in fact, as though we were merely two of
the guests at her party, who ought each to feel equally flattered on
meeting the other), pronounced that of the sweet Singer with the snowy
locks. The name Bergotte made me jump like the sound of a revolver fired
at me point blank, but instinctively, for appearance's sake, I bowed;
there, straight in front of me, as by one of those conjurers whom we see
standing whole and unharmed, in their frock coats, in the smoke of a
pistol shot out of which a pigeon has just fluttered, my salute was
returned by a young common little thick-set peering person, with a red
nose curled like a snail-shell and a black tuft on his chin. I was
cruelly disappointed, for what had just vanished in the dust of the
explosion was not only the feeble old man, of whom no vestige now
remained; there was also the beauty of an immense work which I had
contrived to enshrine in the frail and hallowed organism that I had
constructed, like a temple, expressly for itself, but for which no room
was to be found in the squat figure, packed tight with blood-vessels,
bones, muscles, sinews, of the little man with the snub nose and black
beard who stood before me. All the Bergotte whom I had slowly and
delicately elaborated for myself, drop by drop, like a stalactite, out
of the transparent beauty of his books, ceased (I could see at once) to
be of any use, the moment I was obliged to include in him the
snail-shell nose and to utilise the little black beard; just as we must
reject as worthless the solution of a problem the terms of which we have
not read in full, having failed to observe that the total must amount to
a specified figure. The nose and beard were elements similarly
ineluctable, and all the more aggravating in that, while forcing me to
reconstruct entirely the personage of Bergotte, they seemed further to
imply, to produce, to secrete incessantly a certain quality of mind,
alert and self-satisfied, which was not in the picture, for such a mind
had no connexion whatever with the sort of intelligence that was
diffused throughout those books, so intimately familiar to me, which
were permeated by a gentle and god-like wisdom. Starting from them, I
should never have arrived at that snail-shell nose; but starting from
the nose, which did not appear to be in the slightest degree ashamed of
itself, but stood out alone there like a grotesque ornament fastened on
his face, I must proceed in a diametrically opposite direction from the
work of Bergotte, I must arrive, it would seem, at the mentality of a
busy and preoccupied engineer, of the sort who when you accost them in
the street think it correct to say: "Thanks, and you?" before you have
actually inquired of them how they are, or else, if you assure them that
you have been charmed to make their acquaintance, respond with an
abbreviation which they imagine to be effective, intelligent and
up-to-date, inasmuch as it avoids any waste of precious time on vain
formalities: "Same here!" Names are, no doubt, but whimsical
draughtsmen, giving us of people as well as of places sketches so little
like the reality that we often experience a kind of stupor when we have
before our eyes, in place of the imagined, the visible world (which, for
that matter, is not the true world, our senses being little more endowed
than our imagination with the art of portraiture, so little, indeed,
that the final and approximately lifelike pictures which we manage to
obtain of reality are at least as different from the visible world as
that was from the imagined). But in Bergotte's case, my preconceived
idea of him from his name troubled me far less than my familiarity with
his work, to which I was obliged to attach, as to the cord of a balloon,
the man with the little beard, without knowing whether it would still
have the strength to raise him from the ground. It seemed quite clear,
however, that it really was he who had written the books that I had so
greatly enjoyed, for Mme. Swann having thought it incumbent upon her to
tell him of my admiration for one of these, he shewed no surprise that
she should have mentioned this to him rather than to any other of the
party, nor did he seem to regard her action as due to a misapprehension,
but, swelling out the frock coat which he had put on in honour of all
these distinguished guests with a body distended in anticipation of the
coming meal, while his mind was completely occupied by other, more real
and more important considerations, it was only as at some finished
episode in his early life, as though one had made an allusion to a
costume of the Duc de Guise which he had worn, one season, at a fancy
dress ball, that he smiled as he bore his mind back to the idea of his
books; which at once began to fall in my estimation (dragging down with
them the whole value of Beauty, of the world, of life itself), until
they seemed to have been merely the casual amusement of a man with a
little beard. I told myself that he must have taken great pains over
them, but that, if he had lived upon an island surrounded by beds of
pearl-oysters, he would instead have devoted himself to, and would have
made a fortune out of the pearling trade. His work no longer appeared to
me so inevitable. And then I asked myself whether originality did indeed
prove that great writers were gods, ruling each one over a kingdom that
was his alone, or whether all that was not rather make-believe, whether
the differences between one man's book and another's were not the result
of their respective labours rather than the expression of a radical and
essential difference between two contrasted personalities.

Meanwhile we had taken our places at the table. By the side of my plate
I found a carnation, the stalk of which was wrapped in silver paper. It
embarrassed me less than the envelope that had been handed to me in the
hall, which, however, I had completely forgotten. This custom, strange
as it was to me, became more intelligible when I saw all the male guests
take up the similar carnations that were lying by their plates and slip
them into the buttonholes of their coats. I did as they had done, with
the air of spontaneity that a free-thinker assumes in church, who is not
familiar with the order of service but rises when everyone else rises
and kneels a moment after everyone else is on his knees. Another usage,
equally strange to me but less ephemeral, disquieted me more. On the
other side of my plate was a smaller plate, on which was heaped a
blackish substance which I did not then know to be caviare. I was
ignorant of what was to be done with it but firmly determined not to let
it enter my mouth.

Bergotte was sitting not far from me and I could hear quite well
everything that he said. I understood then the impression that M. de
Norpois had formed of him. He had indeed a peculiar "organ"; there is
nothing that so much alters the material qualities of the voice as the
presence of thought behind what one is saying; the resonance of one's
diphthongs, the energy of one's labials are profoundly affected--in
fact, one's whole way of speaking. His seemed to me to differ entirely
from his way of writing, and even the things that he said from those
with which he filled his books. But the voice issues from behind a mask
through which it is not powerful enough to make us recognise, at first
sight, a face which we have seen uncovered in the speaker's literary
style. At certain points in the conversation, when Bergotte, by force of
habit, began to talk in a way which no one but M. de Norpois would have
thought affected or unpleasant, it was a long time before I discovered
an exact correspondence with the parts of his books in which his form
became so poetic and so musical. At those points he could see in what he
was saying a plastic beauty independent of whatever his sentences might
mean, and as human speech reflects the human soul, though without
expressing it as does literary style, Bergotte appeared almost to be
talking nonsense, intoning certain words and, if he were secretly
pursuing, beneath them, a single image, stringing them together
uninterruptedly on one continuous note, with a wearisome monotony. So
that a pretentious, emphatic and monotonous opening was a sign of the
rare aesthetic value of what he was saying, and an effect, in his
conversation, of the same power which, in his books, produced that
harmonious flow of imagery. I had had all the more difficulty in
discovering this at first since what he said at such moments, precisely
because it was the authentic utterance of Bergotte, had not the
appearance of being Bergotte's. It was an abundant crop of clearly
defined ideas, not included in that "Bergotte manner" which so many
story-tellers had appropriated to themselves; and this dissimilarity was
probably but another aspect--made out with difficulty through the stream
of conversation, as an eclipse is seen through a smoked glass--of the
fact that when one read a page of Bergotte it was never just what would
have been written by any of those lifeless imitators who, nevertheless,
in newspapers and in books, adorned their prose with so many
"Bergottish" images and ideas. This difference in style arose from the
fact that what was meant by "Bergottism" was, first and foremost, a
priceless element of truth hidden in the heart of everything, whence it
was extracted by that great writer, by virtue of his genius, and that
this extraction, and not simply the perpetration of "Bergottisms", was
my sweet Singer's aim in writing. Though, it must be added, he continued
to perpetrate them in spite of himself, and because he was Bergotte, so
that, in one sense, every fresh beauty in his work was the little drop
of Bergotte buried at the heart of a thing which he had distilled from
it. But if, for that reason, each of those beauties was related to all
the rest, and had a "family likeness", yet each remained separate and
individual, as was the act of discovery that had brought it to the light
of day; new, and consequently different from what was called the
Bergotte manner, which was a loose synthesis of all the "Bergottisms"
already invented and set forth by him in writing, with no indication by
which men who lacked genius might forecast what would be his next
discovery. So it is with all great writers, the beauty of their language
is as incalculable as that of a woman whom we have never seen; it is
creative, because it is applied to an external object of which, and not
of their language or its beauty, they are thinking, to which they have
not yet given expression. An author of memorials of our time, wishing to
write without too obviously seeming to be writing like Saint-Simon,
might, on occasion, give us the first line of his portrait of Villars:
"He was a rather tall man, dark . . . with an alert, open, expressive
physiognomy," but what law of determinism could bring him to the
discovery of Saint-Simon's next line, which begins with "and, to tell
the truth, a trifle mad"? The true variety is in this abundance of real
and unexpected elements, in the branch loaded with blue flowers which
thrusts itself forward, against all reason, from the spring hedgerow
that seemed already overcharged with blossoms, whereas the purely formal
imitation of variety (and one might advance the same argument for all
the other qualities of style) is but a barren uniformity, that is to say
the very antithesis of variety, and cannot, in the work of imitators,
give the illusion or recall other examples of variety save to a reader
who has not acquired the sense of it from the masters themselves.

And so--just as Bergotte's way of speaking would no doubt have been
charming if he himself had been merely an amateur repeating imitations
of Bergotte, whereas it was attached to the mind of Bergotte, at work
and in action, by essential ties which the ear did not at once
distinguish--so it was because Bergotte applied that mind with precision
to the reality which pleased him that his language had in it something
positive, something over-rich, disappointing those who expected to hear
him speak only of the "eternal torrent of forms," and of the "mystic
thrills of beauty". Moreover the quality, always rare and new, of what
he wrote was expressed in his conversation by so subtle a manner of
approaching a question, ignoring every aspect of it that was already
familiar, that he appeared to be seizing hold of an unimportant detail,
to be quite wrong about it, to be speaking in paradox, so that his ideas
seemed as often as not to be in confusion, for each of us finds lucidity
only in those ideas which are in the same state of confusion as his own.
Besides, as all novelty depends upon the elimination, first, of the
stereotyped attitude to which we have grown accustomed, and which has
seemed to us to be reality itself, every new conversation, as well as
all original painting and music, must always appear laboured and
tedious. It is founded upon figures of speech with which we are not
familiar, the speaker appears to us to be talking entirely in metaphors;
and this wearies us, and gives us the impression of a want of truth.
(After all, the old forms of speech must in their time have been images
difficult to follow when the listener was not yet cognisant of the
universe which they depicted. But he has long since decided that this
must be the real universe, and so relies confidently upon it.) So when
Bergotte--and his figures appear simple enough to-day--said of Cottard
that he was a mannikin in a bottle, always trying to rise to the
surface, and of Brichot that "to him even more than to Mme. Swann the
arrangement of his hair was a matter for anxious deliberation, because,
in his twofold preoccupation over his profile and his reputation, he had
always to make sure that it was so brushed as to give him the air at
once of a lion and of a philosopher," one immediately felt the strain,
and sought a foothold upon something which one called more concrete,
meaning by that more ordinary. These unintelligible words, issuing from
the mask that I had before my eyes, it was indeed to the writer whom I
admired that they must be attributed, and yet they could not have been
inserted among his books, in the form of a puzzle set in a series of
different puzzles, they occupied another plane and required a
transposition by means of which, one day, when I was repeating to myself
certain phrases that I had heard Bergotte use, I discovered in them the
whole machinery of his literary style, the different elements of which I
was able to recognise and to name in this spoken discourse which had
struck me as being so different.

From a less immediate point of view the special way, a little too
meticulous, too intense, that he had of pronouncing certain words,
certain adjectives which were constantly recurring in his conversation,
and which he never uttered without a certain emphasis, giving to each of
their syllables a separate force and intoning the last syllable (as for
instance the word _visage_, which he always used in preference to
figure, and enriched with a number of superfluous v's and s's and g's,
which seemed all to explode from his outstretched palm at such moments)
corresponded exactly to the fine passages in which, in his prose, he
brought those favourite words into the light, preceded by a sort of
margin and composed in such a way in the metrical whole of the phrase
that the reader was obliged, if he were not to make a false quantity, to
give to each of them its full value. And yet one did not find in the
speech of Bergotte a certain luminosity which in his books, as in those
of some other writers, often modified in the written phrase the
appearance of its words. This was doubtless because that light issues
from so profound a depth that its rays do not penetrate to our spoken
words in the hours in which, thrown open to others by the act of
conversation, we are to a certain extent closed against ourselves. In
this respect, there were more intonations, there was more accent in his
books than in his talk; an accent independent of the beauty of style,
which the author himself has possibly not perceived, for it is not
separable from his most intimate personality. It was this accent which,
at the moments when, in his books, Bergotte was entirely natural, gave a
rhythm to the words--often at such times quite insignificant--that he
wrote. This accent is not marked on the printed page, there is nothing
there to indicate it, and yet it comes of its own accord to his phrases,
one cannot pronounce them in any other way, it is what was most
ephemeral and at the same time most profound in the writer, and it is
what will bear witness to his true nature, what will say whether,
despite all the austerity that he has expressed he was gentle, despite
all his sensuality sentimental.

Certain peculiarities of elocution, faint traces of which were to be
found in Bergotte's conversation, were not exclusively his own; for
when, later on, I came to know his brothers and sisters, I found those
peculiarities much more accentuated in their speech. There was something
abrupt and harsh in the closing words of a light and spirited utterance,
something faint and dying at the end of a sad one. Swann, who had known
the Master as a boy, told me that in those days one used to hear on his
lips, just as much as on his brothers' and sisters', those inflexions,
almost a family type, shouts of violent merriment interspersed with
murmurings of a long-drawn melancholy, and that in the room in which
they all played together he used to perform his part, better than any of
them, in their symphonies, alternately deafening and subdued. However
characteristic it may be, the sound that escapes from human lips is
fugitive and does not survive the speaker. But it was not so with the
pronunciation of the Bergotte family. For if it is difficult ever to
understand, even in the _Meistersinger_ how an artist can invent music
by listening to the twittering of birds, yet Bergotte had transposed and
fixed in his written language that manner of dwelling on words which
repeat themselves in shouts of joy, or fall, drop by drop, in melancholy
sighs. There are in his books just such closing phrases where the
accumulated sounds are prolonged (as in the last chords of the overture
of an opera which cannot come to an end, and repeats several times over
its supreme cadence before the conductor finally lays down his baton),
in which, later on, I was to find a musical equivalent for those
phonetic 'brasses' of the Bergotte family. But in his own case, from the
moment in which he transferred them to his books, he ceased
instinctively to make use of them in his speech. From the day on which
he had begun to write--all the more markedly, therefore, in the later
years in which I first knew him--his voice had lost this orchestration
for ever.

These young Bergottes--the future writer and his brothers and
sisters--were doubtless in no way superior, far from it, to other young
people, more refined, more intellectual than themselves, who found the
Bergottes rather "loud", that is to say a trifle vulgar, irritating one
by the witticisms which characterised the tone, at once pretentious and
puerile, of their household. But genius, and even what is only great
talent, spring less from seeds of intellect and social refinement
superior to those of other people than from the faculty of transposing,
and so transforming them. To heat a liquid over an electric lamp one
requires to have not the strongest lamp possible, but one of which the
current can cease to illuminate, can be diverted so as instead of light
to give heat. To mount the skies it is not necessary to have the most
powerful of motors, one must have a motor which, instead of continuing
to run along the earth's surface, intersecting with a vertical line the
horizontal which it began by following, is capable of converting its
speed into ascending force. Similarly the men who produce works of
genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose
conversation is most brilliant or their culture broadest, but those who
have had the power, ceasing in a moment to live only for themselves, to
make use of their personality as of a mirror, in such a way that their
life, however unimportant it may be socially, and even, in a sense,
intellectually speaking, is reflected by it, genius consisting in the
reflective power of the writer and not in the intrinsic quality of the
scene reflected. The day on which young Bergotte succeeded in shewing to
the world of his readers the tasteless household in which he had passed
his childhood, and the not very amusing conversations between himself
and his brothers, on that day he climbed far above the friends of his
family, more intellectual and more distinguished than himself; they in
their fine Rolls Royces might return home expressing due contempt for
the vulgarity of the Bergottes; but he, with his modest engine which had
at last left the ground, he soared above their heads.

But there were other characteristics of his elocution which it was not
with the members of his family, but with certain contemporary writers
that he must share. Younger men, who were beginning to repudiate him as
a master and disclaimed any intellectual affinity to him in themselves,
displayed their affinity without knowing it when they made use of the
same adverbs, the same prepositions that he incessantly repeated, when
they constructed their sentences in the same way, spoke in the same
quiescent, lingering tone, by a reaction from the eloquent, easy
language of an earlier generation. Perhaps these young men--we shall
come across some of whom this may be said--had never known Bergotte. But
his way of thinking, inoculated into them, had led them to those
alterations of syntax and of accent which bear a necessary relation to
originality of mind. A relation which, incidentally, requires to be
traced. Thus Bergotte, if he owed nothing to any man for his manner of
writing, derived his manner of speaking from one of his early
associates, a marvellous talker to whose ascendancy he had succumbed,
whom he imitated, unconsciously, in his conversation, but who himself,
being less gifted, had never written any really outstanding book. So
that if one had been in quest of originality in speech, Bergotte must
have been labelled a disciple, a writer at second-hand, whereas,
influenced by his friend only so far as talk went, he had been original
and creative in his writings. Doubtless again, so as to distinguish
himself from the previous generation, too fond as it had been of
abstractions, of weighty commonplaces, when Bergotte wished to speak
favourably of a book, what he would bring into prominence, what he would
quote with approval would always be some scene that furnished the reader
with an image, some picture that had no rational significance. "Ah,
yes!" he would exclaim, "it is quite admirable! There is a little girl
in an orange shawl. It is excellent!" or again, "Oh, yes, there is a
passage in which there is a regiment marching along the street; yes, it
is excellent!" As for style, he was not altogether of his time (though
he remained quite exclusively of his race, abominating Tolstoy, George
Eliot, Ibsen and Dostoievsky), for the word that always came to his lips
when he wished to praise the style of any writer was "mild". "Yes, you
know I like Chateaubriand better in _Atala_ than in _René_; he seems to
me to be 'milder'." He said the word like a doctor who, when his patient
assures him that milk will give him indigestion, answers, "But, you
know, it's very 'mild'." And it is true that there was in Bergotte's
style a kind of harmony similar to that for which the ancients used to
praise certain of their orators in terms which we now find it hard to
understand, accustomed as we are to our own modern tongues in which
effects of that kind are not sought.

He would say also, with a shy smile, of pages of his own for which some
one had expressed admiration: "I think it is more or less true, more or
less accurate; it may be of some value perhaps," but he would say this
simply from modesty, as a woman to whom one has said that her dress, or
her daughter is charming replies, "It is comfortable," or "She is a good
girl." But the constructive instinct was too deeply implanted in
Bergotte for him not to be aware that the sole proof that he had built
usefully and on the lines of truth lay in the pleasure that his work had
given, to himself first of all and afterwards to his readers. Only many
years later, when he no longer had any talent, whenever he wrote
anything with which he was not satisfied, so as not to have to suppress
it, as he ought to have done, so as to be able to publish it with a
clear conscience he would repeat, but to himself this time: "After all,
it is more or less accurate, it must be of some value to the country."
So that the phrase murmured long ago among his admirers by the insincere
voice of modesty came in the end to be whispered in the secrecy of his
heart by the uneasy tongue of pride. And the same words which had served
Bergotte as an unwanted excuse for the excellence of his earliest works
became as it were an ineffective consolation to him for the hopeless
mediocrity of the latest.

A kind of austerity of taste which he had, a kind of determination to
write nothing of which he could not say that it was "mild", which had
made people for so many years regard him as a sterile and precious
artist, a chiseller of exquisite trifles, was on the contrary the secret
of his strength, for habit forms the style of the writer just as much as
the character of the man, and the author who has more than once been
patient to attain, in the expression of his thoughts, to a certain kind
of attractiveness, in so doing lays down unalterably the boundaries of
his talent, just as if he yields too often to pleasure, to laziness, to
the fear of being put to trouble, he will find himself describing in
terms which no amount of revision can modify, the forms of his own vices
and the limits of his virtue.

If, however, despite all the analogies which I was to perceive later on
between the writer and the man, I had not at first sight, in Mme.
Swann's drawing-room, believed that this could be Bergotte, the author
of so many divine books, who stood before me, perhaps I was not
altogether wrong, for he himself did not, in the strict sense of the
word, "believe" it either. He did not believe it because he shewed a
great assiduity in the presence of fashionable people (and yet he was
not a snob), of literary men and journalists who were vastly inferior to
himself. Of course he had long since learned, from the suffrage of his
readers, that he had genius, compared to which social position and
official rank were as nothing. He had learned that he had genius, but he
did not believe it because he continued to simulate deference towards
mediocre writers in order to succeed, shortly, in becoming an
Academician, whereas the Academy and the Faubourg Saint-Germain have no
more to do with that part of the Eternal Mind which is the author of the
works of Bergotte than with the law of causality or the idea of God.
That also he knew, but as a kleptomaniac knows, without profiting by the
knowledge, that it is wrong to steal. And the man with the little beard
and snail-shell nose knew and used all the tricks of the gentleman who
pockets your spoons, in his efforts to reach the coveted academic chair,
I or some duchess or other who could dispose of several votes at the
election, but while on his way to them he would endeavour to make sure
that no one who would consider the pursuit of such an object a vice in
him should see what he was doing. He was only half-successful; one could
hear, alternating with the speech of the true Bergotte, that of the
other Bergotte, ambitious, utterly selfish, who thought it not worth his
while to speak of any but his powerful, rich or noble friends, so as to
enhance his own position, he who in his books, when he was really
himself, had so well portrayed the charm, pure as a mountain spring, of

As for those other vices to which M. de Norpois had alluded, that almost
incestuous love, which was made still worse, people said, by a want of
delicacy in the matter of money, if they contradicted, in a shocking
manner, the tendency of his latest novels, in which he shewed everywhere
a regard for what was right and proper so painfully rigid that the most
innocent pleasures of their heroes were poisoned by it, and that even
the reader found himself turning their pages with a sense of acute
discomfort, and asked himself whether it was possible to go y on living
even the quietest of lives, those vices did not at I all prove,
supposing that they were fairly imputed to Bergotte, that his literature
was a lie and all his sensitiveness mere play-acting. Just as in
pathology certain conditions similar in appearance are due, some to an
excess others to an insufficiency of tension, of secretion and so forth,
so there may be vice arising from supersensitiveness just as much as
from the lack of it. Perhaps it is only in really vicious lives that the
moral problem can arise in all its disquieting strength. And of this
problem the artist finds a solution in the terms not of his own personal
life but of what is for him the true life, a general, a literary
solution. As the great Doctors of the Church began often, without losing
their virtue, by acquainting themselves with the sins of all mankind,
out of which they extracted their own personal sanctity, so great
artists often, while being thoroughly wicked, make use of their vices in
order to arrive at a conception of the moral law that is binding upon us
all. It is the vices (or merely the weaknesses and follies) of the
circle in which they live, the meaningless conversation, the frivolous
or shocking lives of their daughters, the infidelity of their wives, or
their own misdeeds that writers have most often castigated in their
books, without, however, thinking it necessary to alter their domestic
economy or to improve the tone of their households. And this contrast
had never before been so striking as it was in Bergotte's time, because,
on the one hand, in proportion as society grew more corrupt, our notions
of morality were increasingly exalted, while on the other hand the
public were now told far more than they had ever hitherto known about
the private lives of literary men; and on certain evenings in the
theatre people would point out the author whom I had so greatly admired
at Combray, sitting at the back of a box the mere composition of which
seemed an oddly humorous, or perhaps keenly ironical commentary upon--a
brazen-faced denial of the thesis which he had just been maintaining in
his latest book. Not that anything which this or that casual informant
could tell me was of much use in helping me to settle the question of
the goodness or wickedness of Bergotte. An intimate friend would furnish
proofs of his hardheartedness; then a stranger would cite some instance
(touching, since he had evidently wished it to remain hidden) of his
real depth of feeling. He had behaved cruelly to his wife. But in a
village inn, where he had gone to spend the night, he had stayed on to
watch over a poor woman who had tried to drown herself, and when he was
obliged to continue his journey had left a large sum of money with the
landlord, so that he should not turn the poor creature out, but see that
she got proper attention. Perhaps the more the great writer was
developed in Bergotte at the expense of the little man with the beard,
so much the more his own personal life was drowned in the flood of all
the lives that he imagined, until he no longer felt himself obliged to
perform certain practical duties, for which he had substituted the duty
of imagining those other lives. But at the same time, because he
imagined the feelings of others as completely as if they had been his
own, whenever he was obliged, for any reason, to talk to some person who
had been unfortunate (that is to say in a casual encounter) he would, in
doing so, take up not his own personal standpoint but that of the
sufferer himself, a standpoint in which he would have been horrified by
the speech of those who continued to think of their own petty concerns
in the presence of another's grief. With the result that he gave rise
everywhere to justifiable rancour and to undying gratitude.

Above all, he was a man who in his heart of hearts loved nothing really
except certain images and (like a miniature set in the floor of a
casket) the composing and painting of them in words. For a trifle that
some one had sent him, if that trifle gave him the opportunity of
introducing one or two of these images, he would be prodigal in the
expression of his gratitude, while shewing none whatever for an
expensive present. And if he had had to plead before a tribunal, he
would inevitably have chosen his words not for the effect that they
might have on the judge but with an eye to certain images which the
judge would certainly never have perceived.

That first day on which I met him with Gilberte's parents, I mentioned
to Bergotte that I had recently been to hear Berma in _Phèdre_; and he
told me that in the scene in which she stood with her arm raised to the
level of her shoulder--one of those very scenes that had been greeted
with such applause--she had managed to suggest with great nobility of
art certain classical figures which, quite possibly, she had never even
seen, a Hesperid carved in the same attitude upon a metope at Olympia,
and also the beautiful primitive virgins on the Erechtheum.

"It may be sheer divination, and yet I fancy that she visits the
museums. It would be interesting to 'establish' that." ("Establish" was
one of those regular Bergotte expressions, and one which various young
men who had never met him had caught from him, speaking like him by some
sort of telepathic suggestion.)

"Do you mean the Cariatides?" asked Swann.

"No, no," said Bergotte, "except in the scene where she confesses her
passion to Œnone, where she moves her hand exactly like Hegeso on the
stele in the Ceramic, it is a far more primitive art that she revives. I
was referring to the Korai of the old Erechtheum, and I admit that there
is perhaps nothing quite so remote from the art of Racine, but there are
so many things already in _Phèdre_, . . . that one more . . . Oh, and
then, yes, she is really charming, that little sixth century Phaedra,
the rigidity of the arm, the lock of hair 'frozen into marble', yes, you
know, it is wonderful of her to have discovered all that. There is a
great deal more antiquity in it than in most of the books they are
labelling 'antique' this year."

As Bergotte had in one of his volumes addressed a famous invocation to
these archaic statues, the words that he was now uttering were quite
intelligible to me and gave me a fresh reason for taking an interest in
Berma's acting. I tried to picture her again in my mind, as she had
looked in that scene in which I remembered that she had raised her arm
to the level of her shoulder. And I said to myself, "There we have the
Hesperid of Olympia; there we have the sister of those adorable
suppliants on the Acropolis; there is indeed nobility in art!" But if
these considerations were to enhance for me the beauty of Berma's
gesture, Bergotte should have put them into my head before the
performance. Then, while that attitude of the actress was actually
existing in flesh and blood before my eyes, at that moment in which the
thing that was happening had still the substance of reality, I might
have tried to extract from it the idea of archaic sculpture. But of
Berma in that scene all that I retained was a memory which was no longer
liable to modification, slender as a picture which lacks that abundant
perspective of the present tense where one is free to delve and can
always discover something new, a picture to which one cannot
retrospectively give a meaning that is not subject to verification and
correction from without. At this point Mme. Swann joined in the
conversation, asking me whether Gilberte had remembered to give me what
Bergotte had written about _Phèdre_, and adding, "My daughter is such
a scatter-brain!" Bergotte smiled modestly and protested that they were
only a few pages, of no importance. "But it is perfectly charming, that
little pamphlet, that little 'tract' of yours!" Mme. Swann assured him,
to shew that she was a good hostess, to make the rest of us think that
she had read Bergotte's essay, and also because she liked not merely to
flatter Bergotte, but to make a selection for herself out of what he
wrote, to control his writing. And it must be admitted that she did
inspire him, though not in the way that she supposed. But when all is
said there is, between what constituted the smartness of Mme. Swann's
drawing-room and a whole side of Bergotte's work, so close a
correspondence that either of them might serve, among elderly men
to-day, as a commentary upon the other.

I let myself go in telling him what my impressions had been. Often
Bergotte disagreed, but he allowed me to go on talking. I told him that
I had liked the green light which was turned on when Phèdre raised her
arm. "Ah! The designer will be glad to hear that; he is a real artist. I
shall tell him you liked it, because he is very proud of that effect. I
must say, myself, that I do not care for it very much, it drowns
everything in a sort of aqueous vapour, little Phèdre standing there
looks too like a branch of coral on the floor of an aquarium. You will
tell me, of course, that it brings out the cosmic aspect of the play.
That is quite true. All the same, it would be more appropriate if the
scene were laid in the Court of Neptune. Oh yes, of course, I know the
Vengeance of Neptune does come into the play. I don't suggest for a
moment that we should think only of Port-Royal, but after all the story
that Racine tells us is not the 'Loves of the Sea-Urchins'. Still, it is
what my friend wished to have, and it is very well done, right or wrong,
and it's really quite pretty when you come to look at it. Yes, so you
liked that, did you; you understood what it meant, of course; we feel
the same about it, don't we, really; it is a trifle unbalanced, what
he's done, you agree with me, but on the whole it is very clever of
him." And so, when Bergotte had to express an opinion which was the
opposite of my own, he in no way reduced me to silence, to the
impossibility of framing any reply, as M. de Norpois would have done.
This does not prove that Bergotte's opinions were of less value than the
Ambassador's; far from it. A powerful idea communicates some of its
strength to him who challenges it. Being itself a part of the riches of
the universal Mind, it makes its way into, grafts itself upon the mind
of him whom it is employed to refute, slips in among the ideas already
there, with the help of which, gaining a little ground, he completes and
corrects it; so that the final utterance is always to some extent the
work of both parties to a discussion. It is to ideas which are not,
properly speaking, ideas at all, to ideas which, founded upon nothing,
can find no support, no kindred spirit among the ideas of the adversary,
that he, grappling with something which, is not there, can find no word
to say in answer. The arguments of M. de Norpois (in the matter of art)
were unanswerable simply because they were without reality.

Since Bergotte did not sweep aside my objections, I confessed to him
that they had won the scorn of M. de Norpois. "But he's an old parrot!"
was the answer. "He keeps on pecking you because he imagines all the
time that you're a piece of cake, or a slice of cuttle-fish." "What's
that?" asked Swann. "Are you a friend of Norpois?" "He's as dull as a
wet Sunday," interrupted his wife, who had great faith in Bergotte's
judgment, and was no doubt afraid that M. de Norpois might have spoken
ill of her to us. "I tried to make him talk after dinner; I don't know
if it's his age or his indigestion, but I found him too sticky for
words. I really thought I should have to 'dope' him." "Yes, isn't he?"
Bergotte chimed in. "You see, he has to keep his mouth shut half the
time so as not to use up all the stock of inanities that hold his
shirt-front down and his white waistcoat up." "I think that Bergotte and
my wife are both very hard on him," came from Swann, who took the
"line", in his own house, of a plain, sensible man. "I quite see that
Norpois cannot interest you very much, but from another point of view,"
(for Swann made a hobby of collecting scraps of "real life") "he is
quite remarkable, quite a remarkable instance of a lover. When he was
Secretary at Rome," he went on, after making sure that Gilberte could
not hear him, "he had, here in Paris, a mistress with whom he was madly
in love, and he found time to make the double journey every week, so as
to see her for a couple of hours. She was, as it happens, a most
intelligent woman, and is quite attractive to this day; she is a dowager
now. And he has had any number of others since then. I'm sure I should
have gone stark mad if the woman I was in love with lived in Paris and I
was kept shut up in Rome. Nervous men ought always to love, as the lower
orders say, 'beneath' them, so that their women have a material
inducement to do what they tell them." As he spoke, Swann realised that
I might be applying this maxim to himself and Odette, and as, even among
superior beings, at the moment when you and they seem to be soaring
together above the plane of life, their personal pride is still basely
human, he was seized by a violent ill-will towards me. But this was made
manifest only in the uneasiness of his glance. He said nothing more to
me at the time. Not that this need surprise us. When Racine (according
to a story the truth of which has been exploded, though the theme of it
may be found recurring every day in Parisian life) made an illusion to
Scarron in front of Louis XIV, the most powerful monarch on earth said
nothing to the poet that evening. It was on the following day, only,
that he fell.

But as a theory requires to be stated as a whole, Swann, after this
momentary irritation, and after wiping his eyeglass, finished saying
what was in his mind in these words, words which were to assume later on
in my memory the importance of a prophetic warning, which I had not had
the sense to take: "The danger of that kind of love, however, is that
the woman's subjection calms the man's jealousy for a time but also
makes it more exacting. After a little he will force his mistress to
live like one of those prisoners whose cells they keep lighted day and
night, to prevent their escaping. And that generally ends in trouble."

I reverted to M. de Norpois. "You must never trust him; he has the most
wicked tongue!" said Mme. Swann in an accent which seemed to me to
indicate that M. de Norpois had been "saying things" about her,
especially as Swann looked across at his wife with an air of rebuke, as
though to stop her before she went too far.

Meanwhile Gilberte, who had been told to go and get ready for our drive,
stayed to listen to the conversation, and hovered between her mother and
her father, leaning affectionately against his shoulder. Nothing, at
first sight, could be in greater contrast to Mme. Swann, who was dark,
than this child with her red hair and golden skin. But after looking at
them both for a moment one saw in Gilberte many of the features--for
instance, the nose cut short with a sharp, unfaltering decision by the
unseen sculptor whose chisel repeats its work upon successive
generations--the expression, the movements of her mother; to take an
illustration from another form of art, she made one think of a portrait
that was not a good likeness of Mme. Swann, whom the painter, to carry
out some whim of colouring, had posed in a partial disguise, dressed to
go out to a party in Venetian "character". And as not merely was she
wearing a fair wig, but every atom of a swarthier complexion had been
discharged from her flesh which, stripped of its veil of brownness,
seemed more naked, covered simply in rays of light shed by an internal
sun, this "make-up" was not just superficial but was incarnate in her;
Gilberte had the appearance of embodying some fabulous animal or of
having assumed a mythological disguise. This reddish skin was so exactly
that of her father that nature seemed to have had, when Gilberte was
being created, to solve the problem of how to reconstruct Mme. Swann
piecemeal, without any material at her disposal save the skin of M.
Swann. And nature had utilised this to perfection, like a master carver
who makes a point of leaving the grain, the knots of his wood in
evidence. On Gilberte's face, at the corner of a perfect reproduction of
Odette's nose, the skin was raised so as to preserve intact the two
beauty spots of M. Swann. It was a new variety of Mme. Swann that was
thus obtained, growing there by her side like a white lilac-tree beside
a purple. At the same time it did not do to imagine the boundary line
between these two likenesses as definitely fixed. Now and then, when
Gilberte smiled, one could distinguish the oval of her father's cheek
upon her mother's face, as though some one had mixed them together to
see what would result from the blend; this oval grew distinct, as an
embryo grows into a living shape, it lengthened obliquely, expanded, and
a moment later had disappeared. In Gilberte's eyes there was the frank
and honest gaze of her father; this was how she had looked at me when
she gave me the agate marble and said "Keep it, to remind yourself of
our friendship." But were one to put a question to Gilberte, to ask her
what she had been doing, then one saw in those same eyes the
embarrassment, the uncertainty, the prevarication, the misery that
Odette used in the old days to shew, when Swann asked her where she had
been and she gave him one of those lying answers which, in those days,
drove the lover to despair and now made him abruptly change the
conversation, as an incurious and prudent husband. Often in the
Champs-Elysées I was disturbed by seeing this look on Gilberte's face.
But as a rule my fears were unfounded. For in her, a purely physical
survival of her mother, this look (if nothing else) had ceased to have
any meaning. It was when she had been to her classes, when she must go
home for some lesson that Gilberte's pupils executed that movement
which, in time past, in the eyes of Odette, had been caused by the fear
of disclosing that she had, during the day, opened the door to one of
her lovers, or was at that moment in a hurry to be at some
trysting-place. So one could see the two natures of M. and Mme. Swann
ebb and flow, encroaching alternately one upon the other in the body of
this Melusine.

It is, of course, common knowledge that a child takes after both its
father and its mother. And yet the distribution of the merits and
defects which it inherits is so oddly planned that, of two good
qualities which seemed inseparable in one of the parents you will find
but one in the child, and allied to that very fault in the other parent
which seemed most irreconcilable with it. Indeed, the incarnation of a
good moral quality in an incompatible physical blemish is often one of
the laws of filial resemblance. Of two sisters, one will combine with
the proud bearing of her father the mean little soul of her mother; the
other, abundantly endowed with the paternal intelligence, will present
it to the world in the aspect which her mother has made familiar; her
mother's shapeless nose and scraggy bosom are become the bodily covering
of talents which you had learned to distinguish beneath a superb
presence. With the result that of each of the sisters one can say with
equal justification that it is she who takes more after one or other of
her parents. It is true that Gilberte was an only child, but there were,
at the least, two Gilbertes. The two natures, her father's and her
mother's, did more than just blend themselves in her; they disputed the
possession of her--and yet one cannot exactly say that, which would let
it be thought that a third Gilberte was in the meantime suffering by
being the prey of the two others. Whereas Gilberte was alternately one
and the other, and at any given moment no more than one of the two, that
is to say incapable, when she was not being good, of suffering
accordingly, the better Gilberte not being able at the time, on account
of her momentary absence, to detect the other's lapse from virtue. And
so the less good of the two was free to enjoy pleasures of an ignoble
kind. When the other spoke to you from the heart of her father, she held
broad views, you would have liked to engage with her upon a fine and
beneficent enterprise; you told her so, but, just as your arrangements
were being completed, her mother's heart would already have resumed its
control; hers was the voice that answered; and you were disappointed and
vexed--almost baffled, as in the face of a substitution of one person
for another--by an unworthy thought, an in sincere laugh, in which
Gilberte saw no harm, for they sprang from what she herself at that
moment was. Indeed, the disparity was at times so great between these
two Gilbertes that you asked yourself, though without finding an answer,
what on earth you could have said or done to her, last time, to find her
now so different. When she herself had arranged to meet you somewhere,
not only did she fail to appear, and offer no excuse afterwards, but,
whatever the influence might have been that had made her change her
mind, she shewed herself in so different a character when you did meet
her that you might well have supposed that, taken in by a likeness such
as forms the plot of the _Menaechmi_, you were now talking to some one
not the person who had so politely expressed her desire to see you, had
she not shewn signs of an ill-humour which revealed that she felt
herself to be in the wrong, and wished to avoid the necessity of an

"Now then, run along and get ready; you're keeping us waiting," her
mother reminded her.

"I'm so happy here with my little Papa; I want to stay just for a
minute," replied Gilberte, burying her head beneath the arm of her
father, who passed his fingers lovingly through her bright hair.

Swann was one of those men who, having lived for a long time amid the
illusions of love, have seen the prosperity that they themselves brought
to numberless women increase the happiness of those women without
exciting in them any gratitude, any tenderness towards their
benefactors; but in their child they believe that they can feel an
affection which, being incarnate in their own name, will enable them to
remain in the world after their death. When there should no longer be
any Charles Swann, there would still be a Mlle. Swann, or a Mme.
something else, née Swann, who would continue to love the vanished
father. Indeed, to love him too well, perhaps, Swann may have been
thinking, for he acknowledged Gilberte's caress with a "Good girl!" in
that tone, made tender by our apprehension, to which, when we think of
the future, we are prompted by the too passionate affection of a
creature who is destined to survive us. To conceal his emotion, he
joined in our talk about Berma. He pointed out to me, but in a detached,
a listless tone, as though he wished to remain to some extent
unconcerned in what he was saying, with what intelligence, with what an
astonishing fitness the actress said to Œnone, "You knew it!" He was
right. That intonation at least had a value that was really
intelligible, and might therefore have satisfied my desire to find
incontestable reasons for admiring Berma. But it was by the very fact of
its clarity that it did not at all content me. Her intonation was so
ingenious so definite in intention and in its meaning, that it seemed to
exist by itself, so that any intelligent actress might have learned to
use it. It was a fine idea; but whoever else should conceive it as fully
must possess it equally. It remained to Berma's credit that she had
discovered it, but is one entitled to use the word "discover" when the
object in question is something that would not be different if one had
been given it, something that does not belong essentially to one's own
nature seeing that some one else may afterwards reproduce it?

"Upon my soul, your presence among us does raise the tone of the
conversation!" Swann observed to me, as though to excuse himself to
Bergotte; for he had formed the habit, in the Guermantes set, of
entertaining great artists as if they were just ordinary friends whom
one seeks only to make eat the dishes that they like, play the games,
or, in the country, indulge in whatever form of sport they please. "It
seems to me that we're talking a great deal of art," he went on. "But
it's so nice, I do love it!" said Mme. Swann, throwing me a look of
gratitude, as well from good nature as because she had not abandoned her
old aspirations towards a more intellectual form of conversation. After
this it was to others of the party, and principally to Gilberte that
Bergotte addressed himself. I had told him everything that I felt with a
freedom which had astonished me, and was due to the fact that, having
acquired with him, years before (in the course of all those hours of
solitary reading, in which he was to me merely the better part of
myself), the habit of sincerity, of frankness, of confidence, I was less
frightened by him than by a person with whom I should have been talking
for the first time. And yet, for the same reason, I was greatly
disturbed by the thought of the impression that I must have been making
on him, the contempt that I had supposed he would feel for my ideas
dating not from that afternoon but from the already distant time in
which I had begun to read his books in our garden at Combray. And yet I
ought perhaps to have reminded myself that, since it was in all
sincerity, abandoning myself to the train of my thoughts, that I had
felt, on the one hand, so intensely in sympathy with the work of
Bergotte and on the other hand, in the theatre, a disappointment the
reason of which I did not know, those two instinctive movements which
had both carried me away could not be so very different from one
another, but must be obedient to the same laws; and that that mind of
Bergotte which I had loved in his books could not be anything entirely
foreign and hostile to my disappointment and to my inability to express
it. For my intelligence must be a uniform thing, perhaps indeed there
exists but a single intelligence, in which everyone in the world
participates, towards which each of us from the position of his own
separate body turns his eyes, as in a theatre where, if everyone has his
own separate seat, there is on the other hand but a single stage. Of
course, the ideas which I was tempted to seek to disentangle were
probably not those whose depths Bergotte usually sounded in his books.
But if it were one and the same intelligence which we had, he and I, at
our disposal, he must, when he heard me express those ideas, be reminded
of them, cherish them, smile upon them, keeping probably, in spite of
what I supposed, before his mind's eye a whole world of intelligence
other than that an excerpt of which had passed into his books, an
excerpt upon which I had based my imagination of his whole mental
universe. Just as priests, having the widest experience of the human
heart, are best able to pardon the sins which they do not themselves
commit, so genius, having the widest experience of the human
intelligence, can best understand the ideas most directly in opposition
to those which form the foundation of its own writings. I ought to have
told myself all this (though, for that matter, it was none too consoling
a thought, for the benevolent condescension of great minds has as a
corollary the incomprehension and hostility of small; and one derives
far less happiness from the friendliness of a great writer, which one
finds expressed, failing a more intimate association, in his books, than
suffering from the hostility of a woman whom one did not choose for her
intelligence but cannot help loving). I ought to have told myself all
this, but I did not; I was convinced that I had appeared a fool to
Bergotte, when Gilberte whispered in my ear:

"You can't think how delighted I am, because you have made a conquest of
my great friend Bergotte. He's been telling Mamma that he found you
extremely intelligent."

"Where are we going?" I asked her. "Oh, wherever you like; you know,
it's all the same to me." But since the incident that had occurred on
the anniversary of her grandfather's death I had begun to ask myself
whether Gilberte's character was not other than I had supposed, whether
that indifference to what was to be done, that wisdom, that calm, that
gentle and constant submission did not indeed conceal passionate
longings which her self-esteem would not allow to be visible and which
she disclosed only by her sudden resistance whenever by any chance they
were frustrated.

As Bergotte lived in the same neighbourhood as my parents, we left the
house together; in the carriage he spoke to me of my health. "Our
friends were telling me that you had been ill. I am very sorry. And yet,
after all, I am not too sorry, because I can see quite well that you are
able to enjoy the pleasures of the mind, and they are probably what mean
most to you, as to everyone who has known them."

Alas, what he was saying, how little, I felt, did it apply to myself,
whom all reasoning, however exalted it might be, left cold, who was
happy only in moments of pure idleness, when I was comfortable and well;
I felt how purely material was everything that I desired in life, and
how easily I could dispense with the intellect. As I made no distinction
among my pleasures between those that came to me from different sources,
of varying depth and permanence, I was thinking, when the moment came to
answer him, that I should have liked an existence in which I was on
intimate terms with the Duchesse de Guermantes, and often came across,
as in the old toll-house in the Champs-Elysées, a chilly smell that
would remind me of Combray. But in this ideal existence which I dared
not confide to him the pleasures of the mind found no place.

"No, sir, the pleasures of the mind count for very little with me; it is
not them that I seek after; indeed I don't even know that I have ever
tasted them."

"You really think not?" he replied. "Well, it may be, no, wait a minute
now, yes, after all that must be what you like best, I can see it now
dearly, I am certain of it."

As certainly, he did not succeed in convincing me; and yet I was already
feeling happier, less restricted. After what M. de Norpois had said to
me, I had regarded my moments of dreaming, of enthusiasm, of
self-confidence as purely subjective and barren of truth. But according
to Bergotte, who appeared to understand my case, it seemed that it was
quite the contrary, that the symptom I ought to disregard was, in fact,
my doubts, my disgust with myself. Moreover, what he had said about M.
de Norpois took most of the sting out of a sentence from which I had
supposed that no appeal was possible.

"Are you being properly looked after?" Bergotte asked me. "Who is
treating you?" I told him that I had seen, and should probably go on
seeing Cottard. "But that's not at all the sort of man you want!" he
told me. "I know nothing about him as a doctor. But I've met him at Mme.
Swann's. The man's an imbecile. Even supposing that that doesn't prevent
his being a good doctor, which I hesitate to believe, it does prevent
his being a good doctor for artists, for men of intelligence. People
like you must have suitable doctors, I would almost go so far as to say
treatment and medicines specially adapted to themselves. Cottard will
bore you, and that alone will prevent his treatment from having any
effect. Besides, the proper course of treatment cannot possibly be the
same for you as for any Tom, Dick or Harry. Nine tenths of the ills from
which intelligent people suffer spring from their intellect. They need
at least a doctor who understands their disease. How do you expect that
Cottard should be able to treat you; he has made allowances for the
difficulty of digesting sauces, for gastric trouble, but he has made no
allowance for the effect of reading Shakespeare. So that his
calculations are inaccurate in your case, the balance is upset; you see,
always the little bottle-imp bobbing up again. He will find that you
have a dilated stomach; he has no need to examine you for it, since he
has it already in his eye. You can see it there, reflected in his
glasses." This manner of speaking tired me greatly; I said to myself,
with the stupidity of common sense: "There is no more any dilated
stomach reflected in Professor Cottard's glasses than there are
inanities stored behind the white waistcoat of M. de Norpois." "I should
recommend you, instead," went on Bergotte, "to consult Dr. du Boulbon,
who is quite an intelligent man." "He is a great admirer of your books,"
I replied. I saw that Bergotte knew this, and I decided that kindred
spirits soon come together, that one has few really "unknown friends".
What Bergotte had said to me with respect to Cottard impressed me, While
running contrary to everything that I myself believed. I was in no way
disturbed by finding my doctor a bore; I expected of him that, thanks to
an art the laws of which were beyond me, he should pronounce on the
subject of my health an infallible oracle, after consultation of my
entrails. And I did not at all require that, with the aid of an
intellect, in which I easily outstripped him, he should seek to
understand my intellect, which I pictured to myself merely as a means,
of no importance in itself, of trying to attain to certain external
verities. I doubted greatly whether intellectual people required a
different form of hygiene from imbeciles, and I was quite prepared to
submit myself to the latter kind. "I'll tell you who does need a good
doctor, and that is our friend Swann," said Bergotte. And on my asking
whether he was ill, "Well, don't you see, he's typical of the man who
has married a whore, and has to swallow a hundred serpents every day,
from women who refuse to meet his wife, or men who were there before
him. You can see them in his mouth, writhing. Just look, any day you're
there, at the way he lifts his eyebrows when he comes in, to see who's
in the room." The malice with which Bergotte spoke thus to a stranger of
the friends in whose house he had so long been received as a welcome
guest was as new to me as the almost amorous tone which, in that house,
he had constantly been adopting to speak to them. Certainly a person
like my great-aunt, for instance, would have been incapable of treating
any of us with that politeness which I had heard Bergotte lavishing upon
Swann. Even to the people whom she liked, she enjoyed saying
disagreeable things. But behind their backs she would never have uttered
a word to which they might not have listened. There was nothing less
like the social "world" than our society at Combray. The Swanns' house
marked a stage on the way towards it, towards its inconstant tide. If
they had not yet reached the open sea, they were certainly in the
lagoon. "This is all between ourselves," said Bergotte as he left me
outside my own door. A few years later I should have answered: "I never
repeat things." That is the ritual phrase of society, from which the
slanderer always derives a false reassurance. It is what I should have
said then and there to Bergotte, for one does not invent all one's
speeches, especially when, one is acting merely as a card in the social
pack. But I did not yet know the formula. What my great-aunt, on the
other hand, would have said on a similar occasion was: "If you don't
wish it to be repeated, why do you say it?" That is the answer of the
unsociable, of the quarrelsome. I was nothing of that sort: I bowed my
head in silence.

Men of letters who were in my eyes persons of considerable importance
had had to plot for years before they succeeded in forming with Bergotte
relations which continued to the end to be but dimly literary, and never
emerged beyond the four walls of his study, whereas I, I had now been
installed among the friends of the great writer, at the first attempt
and without any effort, like a man who, instead of standing outside in a
crowd for hours in order to secure a bad seat in a theatre, is shown in
at once to the best, having entered by a door that is closed to the
public. If Swann had thus opened such a door to me, it was doubtless
because, just as a king finds himself naturally inviting his children's
friends into the royal box, or on board the royal yacht, so Gilberte's
parents received their daughter's friends among all the precious things
that they had in their house, and the even more precious intimacies that
were enshrined there. But at that time I thought, and perhaps was right
in thinking that this friendliness on Swann's part was aimed indirectly
at my parents. I seemed to remember having heard once at Combray that he
had suggested to them that, in view of my admiration for Bergotte, he
should take me to dine with him, and that my parents had declined,
saying that I was too young, and too easily excited to "go out" yet. My
parents, no doubt, represented to certain other people (precisely those
who seemed to me the most marvellous) something quite different from
what they were to me, so that, just as when the lady in pink had paid my
father a tribute of which he had shewn himself so unworthy, I should
have wished them to understand what an inestimable present I had just
received, and to testify their gratitude to that generous and courteous
Swann who had offered it to me, or to them rather, without seeming any
more to be conscious of its value than is, in Luini's fresco, the
charming Mage with the arched nose and fair hair, to whom, it appeared,
Swann had at one time been thought to bear a striking resemblance.

Unfortunately, this favour that Swann had done me, which, as I entered
the house, before I had even taken off my greatcoat, I reported to my
parents, in the hope that it would awaken in their hearts an emotion
equal to my own, and would determine them upon some immense and decisive
act of politeness towards the Swanns, did not appear to be greatly
appreciated by them. "Swann introduced you to Bergotte? An excellent
friend for you, charming society!" cried my father, ironically. "It only
wanted that!" Alas, when I had gone on to say that Bergotte was by no
means inclined to admire M. de Norpois:

"I dare say!" retorted my father. "That simply proves that he's a
foolish and evil-minded fellow. My poor boy, you never had much common
sense, still, I'm sorry to see you fall among a set that will finish you
off altogether."

Already the mere fact of my frequenting the Swanns had been far from
delighting my parents. This introduction to Bergotte seemed to them a
fatal but natural consequence of an original mistake, namely their own
weakness in controlling me, which my grandfather would have called a
"want of circumspection". I felt that I had only, in order to complete
their ill-humour, to tell them that this perverse fellow who did not
appreciate M. de Norpois had found me extremely intelligent. For I had
observed that whenever my father decided that anyone, one of my school
friends for instance, was going astray--as I was at that moment--if that
person had the approval of somebody whom my father did not rate high, he
would see in this testimony the confirmation of his own stern judgment.
The evil merely seemed to him more pronounced. I could hear him already
exclaiming, "Of course, it all hangs together," an expression that
terrified me by the vagueness and vastness of the reforms the
introduction of which into my quiet life it seemed to threaten. But
since, were I not to tell them what Bergotte had said of me, even then
nothing could efface the impression my parents had formed, that this
should be made slightly worse mattered little. Besides, they seemed to
me so unfair, so completely mistaken, that not only had I not any hope,
I had scarcely any desire to bring them to a more equitable point of
view. At the same time, feeling, as the words came from my lips, how
alarmed they would be by the thought that I had found favour in the
sight of a person who dismissed clever men as fools and had earned the
contempt of all decent people, praise from whom, since it seemed to me a
thing to be desired, would only encourage me in wrongdoing, it was in
faltering tones and with a slightly shamefaced air that, coming to the
end of my story, I flung them the bouquet of: "He told the Swanns that
he had found me extremely intelligent." Just as a poisoned dog, in a
field, rushes, without knowing why, straight to the grass which is the
precise antidote to the toxin that he has swallowed, so I, without in
the least suspecting it, had said the one thing in the world that was
capable of overcoming in my parents this prejudice with respect to
Bergotte, a prejudice which all the best reasons that I could have
urged, all the tributes that I could have paid him must have proved
powerless to defeat. Instantly the situation changed.

"Oh! He said that he found you intelligent," repeated my mother. "I am
glad to hear that, because he is a man of talent."

"What! He said that, did he?" my father joined in. "I don't for a moment
deny his literary distinction, before which the whole world bows; only
it is a pity that he should lead that scarcely reputable existence to
which old Norpois made a guarded allusion, when he was here," he went
on, not seeing that against the sovran virtue of the magic words which I
had just repeated the depravity of Bergotte's morals was little more
able to contend than the falsity of his judgment.

"But, my dear," Mamma interrupted, "we've no proof that it's true.
People say all sorts of things. Besides, M. de Norpois may have the most
perfect manners in the world, but he's not always very good-natured,
especially about people who are not exactly his sort."

"That's quite true; I've noticed it myself," my father admitted.

"And then, too, a great deal ought to be forgiven Bergotte, since he
thinks well of my little son," Mamma went on, stroking my hair with her
fingers and fastening upon me a long and pensive gaze.

My mother had not, indeed, awaited this verdict from Bergotte before
telling me that I might ask Gilberte to tea whenever I had friends
coming. But I dared not do so for two reasons. The first was that at
Gilberte's there was never anything else to drink but tea. Whereas at
home Mamma insisted on there being a pot of chocolate as well. I was
afraid that Gilberte might regard this as "common"; and so conceive a
great contempt for us. The other reason was a formal difficulty, a
question of procedure which I could never succeed in settling. When I
arrived at Mme. Swann's she used to ask me: "And how is your mother?" I
had made several overtures to Mamma to find out whether she would do the
same when Gilberte came to us, a point which seemed to me more serious
that, at the Court of Louis XIV, the use of "Monseigneur." But Mamma
would not hear of it for a moment.

"Certainly not. I do not know Mme. Swann."

"But neither does she know you."

"I never said she did, but we are not obliged to behave in exactly the
same way about everything. I shall find other ways of being civil to
Gilberte than Mme. Swann has with you."

But I was unconvinced, and preferred not to invite Gilberte.

Leaving my parents, I went upstairs to change my clothes and on emptying
my pockets came suddenly upon the envelope which the Swanns' butler had
handed me before shewing me into the drawing-room. I was now alone. I
opened it; inside was a card on which I was told the name of the lady
whom I ought to have "taken in" to luncheon.

It was about this period that Bloch overthrew my conception of the world
and opened for me fresh possibilities of happiness (which, for that
matter, were to change later on into possibilities of suffering), by
assuring me that, in contradiction of all that I had believed at the
time of my walks along the Méséglise way, women never asked for
anything better than to make love. He added to this service a second,
the value of which I was not to appreciate until much later; it was he
who took me for the first time into a disorderly house. He had indeed
told me that there were any number of pretty women whom one might enjoy.
But I could see them only in a vague outline for which those houses were
to enable me to substitute actual human features. So that if I owed to
Bloch--for his "good tidings" that beauty and the enjoyment of beauty
were not inaccessible things, and that we have acted foolishly in
renouncing them for all time--a debt of gratitude of the same kind that
we owe to an optimistic physician or philosopher who has given us reason
to hope for length of days in this world and not to be entirely cut off
from it when we shall have passed beyond the veil, the houses of
assignation which I began to frequent some years later--by furnishing me
with specimens of beauty, by allowing me to add to the beauty of women
that element which we are powerless to invent, which is something more
than a mere summary of former beauties, that present indeed divine, the
one present that we cannot bestow upon ourselves, before which faint and
fail all the logical creations of our intellect, and which we can seek
from reality alone: an individual charm--deserved to be ranked by me
with those other benefactors more recent in origin but of comparable
utility (before finding which we used to imagine without any warmth the
seductive charms of Mantegna, of Wagner, of Siena, by studying other
painters, hearing other composers, visiting other cities): namely
illustrated editions of the history of painting, symphonic concerts and
handbooks to 'Mediaeval Towns'. But the house to which Bloch led me,
(and which he himself, for that matter, had long ceased to visit) was of
too humble a grade, its denizens were too inconspicuous and too little
varied to be able to satisfy my old or to stimulate new curiosities. The
mistress of this house knew none of the women with whom one asked her to
negotiate, and was always suggesting others whom, one did not want. She
boasted to me of one in particular, one of whom, with a smile full of
promise (as though this; had been a great rarity and a special treat)
she would whisper: "She is a Jewess! Doesn't that make you want to?"
(That, by the way, was probably why the girl's name was Rachel.) And
with a silly and affected excitement which, she hoped, would prove
contagious, and which ended in a hoarse gurgle, almost of sensual
satisfaction: "Think of that, my boy, a Jewess! Wouldn't that be lovely?
Rrrr!" This Rachel, of whom I caught a glimpse without her seeing me,
was dark and not good-looking, but had an air of intelligence, and would
pass the tip of her tongue over her lips as she smiled, with a look of
boundless impertinence at the "boys" who were introduced to her and whom
I could hear making conversation. Her small and narrow face was framed
in short curls of black hair, irregular as though they were outlined in
pen-strokes upon a wash-drawing in Indian ink. Every evening I promised
the old woman who offered her to me with a special insistence, boasting
of her superior intelligence and her education, that I would not fail to
come some day on purpose to make the acquaintance of Rachel, whom I had
nicknamed "Rachel when from the Lord". But the first evening I had heard
her, as she was leaving the house, say to the mistress: "That's settled
then; I shall be free to-morrow, if you have anyone you won't forget to
send for me."

And these words had prevented me from recognising her as a person
because they had made me classify her at once in a general category of
women whose habit, common to all of them, was to come there in the
evening to see whether there might not be a louis or two to be earned.
She would simply vary her formula, saying indifferently: "If you want
me" or "If you want anybody."

The mistress, who was not familiar with Halévy's opera, did not know
why I always called the girl "Rachel when from the Lord." But failure to
understand a joke has never yet made anyone find it less amusing, and it
was always with a whole-hearted laugh that she would say to me:

"Then there's nothing doing to-night? When am I going to fix you up with
'Rachel when from the Lord'? Why do you always say that, 'Rachel when
from the Lord'? Oh, that's very smart, that is. I'm going to make a
match of you two. You won't be sorry for it, you'll see."

Once I was just making up my mind, but she was "in the press", another
time in the hands of the hairdresser, an elderly gentleman who never did
anything for the women except pour oil on their loosened hair and then
comb it. And I grew tired of waiting, even though several of the humbler
frequenters of the place (working girls, they called themselves, but
they always seemed to be out of work), had come to mix drinks for me and
to hold long conversations to which, despite the gravity of the subjects
discussed, the partial or total nudity of the speakers gave an
attractive simplicity. I ceased moreover to go to this house because,
anxious to present a token of my good-will to the woman who kept it and
was in need of furniture, I had given her several pieces, notably a big
sofa, which I had inherited from my aunt Léonie. I used never to see
them, for want of space had prevented my parents from taking them in at
home, and they were stored in a warehouse. But as soon as I discovered
them again in the house where these women were putting them to their own
uses, all the virtues that one had imbibed in the air of my aunt's room
at Combray became apparent to me, tortured by the cruel contact to which
I had abandoned them in their helplessness! Had I outraged the dead, I
should not have suffered such remorse. I returned no more to visit their
new mistress, for they seemed to me to be alive, and to be appealing to
me, like those objects, apparently inanimate, in a Persian fairy tale,
in which are embodied human souls that are undergoing martyrdom and
plead for deliverance. Besides, as our memory presents things to us, as
a rule, not in their chronological sequence but as it were by a
reflexion in which the order of the parts is reversed, I remembered only
long afterwards that it was upon that same sofa that, many years before,
I had tasted for the first time the sweets of love with one of my girl
cousins, with whom I had not known where to go until she somewhat rashly
suggested our taking advantage of a moment in which aunt Léonie had
left her room.

A whole lot more of my aunt Léonie's things, and notably a magnificent
set of old silver plate, I sold, in spite of my parents' warnings, so as
to have more money to spend, and to be able to send more flowers to Mme.
Swann who would greet me, after receiving an immense basket of orchids,
with: "If I were your father, I should have you up before the magistrate
for this." How was I to suppose that one day I might regret more than
anything the loss of my silver plate, and rank certain other pleasures
more highly than that (which would have shrunk perhaps into none at all)
of bestowing favours upon Gilberte's parents. Similarly, it was with
Gilberte in my mind, and so as not to be separated from her, that I had
decided not to enter a career of diplomacy abroad. It is always thus,
impelled by a state of mind which is destined not to last, that we make
our irrevocable decisions. I could scarcely imagine that that strange
substance which was housed in Gilberte, and from her permeated her
parents and her home, leaving me indifferent to all things else, could
be liberated from her, could migrate into another person. The same
substance, unquestionable, and yet one that would have a wholly
different effect on me. For a single malady goes through various
evolutions, and a delicious poison can no longer be taken with the same
impunity when, with the passing of the years, the heart's power of
resistance has diminished.

My parents meanwhile would have liked to see the intelligence that
Bergotte had discerned in me made manifest in some remarkable
achievement. When I still did not know the Swanns I thought that I was
prevented from working by the state of agitation into which I was
thrown, by the impossibility of seeing Gilberte when I chose. But, now
that their door stood open to me, scarcely had I sat down at my desk
than I would rise and run to them. And after I had left them and was at
home again, my isolation was apparent only, my mind was powerless to
swim against the stream of words on which I had allowed myself
mechanically to be borne for hours on end. Sitting alone, I continued to
fashion remarks such as might have pleased or amused the Swanns, and to
make this pastime more entertaining I myself took the parts of those
absent players, I put to myself imagined questions, so chosen that my
brilliant epigrams served merely as happy answers to them. Though
conducted in silence, this exercise was none the less a conversation and
not a meditation, my solitude a mental society in which it was not I
myself but other imaginary speakers who controlled my choice of words,
and in which I felt as I formulated, in place of the thoughts that I
believed to be true, those that came easily to my mind, and involved no
introspection from without, that kind of pleasure, entirely passive,
which sitting still affords to anyone who is burdened with a sluggish

Had I been less firmly resolved upon setting myself definitely to work,
I should perhaps have made an effort to begin at once. But since my
resolution was, explicit, since within twenty-four hours, in the empty
frame of that long morrow in which everything was so well arranged
because I myself had not yet entered it, my good intentions would be
realised without difficulty, it was better not to select an evening on
which I was ill-disposed for a beginning for which the following days
were not, alas, to shew themselves any more propitious. But I was
reasonable. It would have been puerile, on the part of one who had
waited now for years, not to put up with a postponement of two or three
days. Confident that by the day after next I should have written several
pages, I said not a word more to my parents of my decision; I preferred
to remain patient for a few hours and then to bring to a convinced and
comforted grandmother a sample of work that was already under way.
Unfortunately the morrow was not that vast, external day to which I in
my fever had looked forward. When it drew to a close, my laziness and my
painful struggle to overcome certain internal obstacles had simply
lasted twenty-four hours longer. And at the end of several days, my
plans not having matured, I had no longer the same hope that they would
be realised at once, no longer the courage, therefore, to subordinate
everything else to their realisation: I began again to keep late hours,
having no longer, to oblige me to go to bed early on any evening, the
certain hope of seeing my work begun next morning. I needed, before I
could recover my creative energy, several days of relaxation, and the
only time that my grandmother ventured, in a gentle and disillusioned
tone, to frame the reproach: "Well, and that work of yours; aren't we
even to speak of it now?" I resented her intrusion, convinced that in
her inability to see that my mind was irrevocably made up, she had
further and perhaps for a long time postponed the execution of my task,
by the shock which her denial of justice to me had given my nerves,
since until I had recovered from that shock I should not feel inclined
to begin my work. She felt that her scepticism had charged blindly into
my intention. She apologised, kissing me: "I am sorry; I shall not say
anything again," and, so that I should not be discouraged, assured me
that, from the day on which I should be quite well again, the work would
come of its own accord from my superfluity of strength.

Besides, I said to myself, in spending all my time with the Swanns, am I
not doing exactly what Bergotte does? To my parents it seemed almost as
though, idle as I was, I was leading, since it was spent in the same
drawing-room with a great writer, the life most favourable to the growth
of talent. And yet the assumption that anyone can be dispensed from
having to create that talent for himself, from within himself, and can
acquire it from some one else, is as impossible as it would be to
suppose that a man can keep himself in good health, in spite of
neglecting all the rules of hygiene and of indulging in the worst
excesses, merely by dining out often in the company of a physician. The
person, by the way, who was most completely taken in by this illusion,
which misled me as well as my parents, was Mme. Swann. When I explained
to her that I was unable to come, that I must stay at home and work, she
looked as though she were thinking that I made a great fuss about
nothing, that there was something foolish as well as ostentatious in
what I had said.

"But Bergotte is coming, isn't he? Do you mean that you don't think it
good, what he writes? It will be better still, very soon," she went on,
"for he is more pointed, he concentrates more in newspaper articles than
in his books, where he is apt to spread out too much. I've arranged that
in future he's to do the leading articles in the _Figaro._ He'll be
distinctly the 'right man in the right place' there." And, finally,
"Come! He will tell you, better than anyone, what you ought to do."

And so, just as one invites a gentleman ranker to meet his colonel, it
was in the interests of my career, and as though masterpieces of
literature arose out of "getting to know" people, that she told me not
to fail to come to dinner with her next day, to meet Bergotte.

And so there was not from the Swanns any more than from my parents, that
is to say from those who, at different times, had seemed bound to place
obstacles in my way, any further opposition to that pleasant existence
in which I might see Gilberte as often as I chose, with enjoyment if not
with peace of mind. There can be no peace of mind in love, since the
advantage one has secured is never anything but a fresh starting-point
for further desires. So long as I had not been free to go to her, having
my eyes fixed upon that inaccessible goal of happiness, I could not so
much as imagine the fresh grounds for anxiety that lay in wait for me
there. Once the resistance of her parents was broken, and the problem
solved at last, it began to set itself anew, and always in different
terms. Each evening, on arriving home, I reminded myself that I had
things to say to Gilberte of prime importance, things upon which our
whole friendship hung, and these things were never the same. But at
least I was happy, and no further menace arose to threaten my happiness.
One was to appear, alas, from a quarter in which I had never detected
any peril, namely from Gilberte and myself. And yet I ought to have been
tormented by what, on the contrary, reassured me, by what I mistook for
happiness. We are, when we love, in an abnormal state, capable of giving
at once to an accident, the most simple to all appearance and one that
may at any moment occur, a serious aspect which that accident by itself
would not bear. What makes us so happy is the presence in our heart of
an unstable element which we are perpetually arranging to keep in
position, and of which we cease almost to be aware so long as it is not
displaced. Actually, there is in love a permanent strain of suffering
which happiness neutralises, makes conditional only, procrastinates, but
which may at any moment become what it would long since have been had we
not obtained what we were seeking, sheer agony.

On several occasions I felt that Gilberte was anxious to put off my
visits. It is true that when I was at all anxious to see her I had only
to get myself invited by her parents who were increasingly persuaded of
my excellent influence over her. "Thanks to them," I used to think, "my
love is running no risk; the moment I have them on my side, I can set my
mind at rest; they have full authority over Gilberte." Until, alas, I
detected certain signs of impatience which she allowed to escape her
when her father made me come to the house, almost against her will, and
asked myself whether what I had regarded as a protection for my
happiness was not in fact the secret reason why that happiness could not

The last time that I called to see Gilberte, it was raining; she had
been asked to a dancing lesson in the house of some people whom she knew
too slightly to be able to take me there with her. In view of the
dampness of the air I had taken rather more caffeine than usual. Perhaps
on account of the weather, or because she had some objection to the
house in which this party was being given, Mme. Swann, as her daughter
was leaving the room, called her back in the sharpest of tones:
"Gilberte!" and pointed to me, to indicate that I had come there to see
her and that she ought to stay with me. This "Gilberte!" had been
uttered, or shouted rather, with the best of intentions towards myself,
but from the way in which Gilberte shrugged her shoulders as she took
off her outdoor clothes I divined that her mother had unwittingly
hastened the gradual evolution, which until then it had perhaps been
possible to arrest, which was gradually drawing away from me my friend.
"You don't need to go out dancing every day," Odette told her daughter,
with a sagacity acquired, no doubt, in earlier days, from Swann. Then,
becoming once more Odette, she began speaking to her daughter in
English. At once it was as though a wall had sprung up to hide from me a
part of the life of Gilberte, as though an evil genius had spirited my
friend far away. In a language that we know, we have substituted for the
opacity of sounds, the perspicuity of ideas. But a language which we do
not know is a fortress sealed, within whose walls she whom we love is
free to play us false, while we, standing without, desperately alert in
our impotence, can see, can prevent nothing. So this conversation in
English, at which, a month earlier, I should merely have smiled,
interspersed with a few proper names in French which did not fail to
accentuate, to give a point to my uneasiness, had, when conducted within
a few feet of me by two motionless persons, the same degree of cruelty,
left me as much abandoned and alone as the forcible abduction of my
companion. At length Mme. Swann left us. That day, perhaps from
resentment against myself, the unwilling cause of her not going out to
enjoy herself, perhaps also because, guessing her to be angry with me, I
was precautionally colder than usual with her, the face of Gilberte,
divested of every sign of joy, bleak, bare, pillaged, seemed all
afternoon to be devoting a melancholy regret to the pas-de-quatre in
which my arrival had prevented her from going to take part, and to be
defying every living creature, beginning with myself, to understand the
subtle reasons that had determined in her a sentimental attachment to
the boston. She confined herself to exchanging with me, now and again,
on the weather, the increasing violence of the rain, the fastness of the
clock, a conversation punctuated with silences and monosyllables, in
which I lashed myself on, with a sort of desperate rage, to the
destruction of those moments which we might have devoted to friendship
and happiness. And on each of our remarks was stamped, as it were, a
supreme harshness, by the paroxysm of their stupefying unimportance,
which at the same time consoled me, for it prevented Gilberte from being
taken in by the banality of my observations and the indifference of my
tone. In vain was my polite: "I thought, the other day, that the clock
was slow, if anything;" she evidently understood me to mean: "How
tiresome you are being!" Obstinately as I might protract, over the whole
length of that rain-sodden afternoon, the dull cloud of words through
which no fitful ray shone, I knew that my coldness was not so
unalterably fixed as I pretended, and that Gilberte must be fully aware
that if, after already saying it to her three times, I had hazarded a
fourth repetition of the statement that the evenings were drawing in, I
should have had difficulty in restraining myself from bursting into
tears. When she was like that, when no smile filled her eyes or unveiled
her face, I cannot describe the devastating monotony that stamped her
melancholy eyes and sullen features. Her face, grown almost livid,
reminded me then of those dreary beaches where the sea, ebbing far out,
wearies one with its faint shimmering, everywhere the same, fixed in an
immutable and low horizon. At length, as I saw no sign in Gilberte of
the happy change for which I had been waiting now for some hours, I told
her that she was not being nice. "It is you that are not being nice,"
was her answer. "Oh, but surely---" I asked myself what I could have
done, and, finding no answer, put the question to her. "Naturally, you
think yourself nice!" she said to me with a laugh, and went on laughing.
Whereupon I felt all the anguish that there was for me in not being able
to attain to that other, less perceptible plane of her mind which her
laughter indicated. It seemed, that laughter, to mean: "No, no, I'm not
going to let myself be moved by anything that you say, I know you're
madly in love with me, but that leaves me neither hot nor cold, for I
don't care a rap for you." But I told myself that, after all, laughter
was not a language so well defined that I could be certain of
understanding what this laugh really meant. And Gilberte's words were
affectionate. "But how am I not being nice," I asked her, "tell me; I
will do anything you want." "No; that wouldn't be any good. I can't
explain." For a moment I was afraid that she thought that I did not love
her, and this was for me a fresh agony, no less keen, but one that
required treatment by a different conversational method. "If you knew
how much you were hurting me you would tell me." But this pain which,
had she doubted my love for her, must have rejoiced her, seemed instead
to make her more angry. Then, realising my mistake, making up my mind to
pay no more attention to what she said, letting her (without bothering
to believe her) assure me: "I do love you, indeed I do; you will see one
day," (that day on which the guilty are convinced that their innocence
will be made clear, and which, for some mysterious reason, never happens
to be the day on which their evidence is taken), I had the courage to
make a sudden resolution not to see her again, and without telling her
of it yet since she would not have believed me.

Grief that is caused one by a person with whom one is in love can be
bitter, even when it is interpolated among preoccupations, occupations,
pleasures in which that person is not directly involved and from which
our attention is diverted only now and again to return to it. But when
such a grief has its birth--as was now happening--at a moment when the
happiness of seeing that person fills us to the exclusion of all else,
the sharp depression that then affects our spirits, sunny hitherto,
sustained and calm, lets loose in us a raging tempest against which we
know not whether we are capable of struggling to the end. The tempest
that was blowing in my heart was so violent that I made my way home
baffled, battered, feeling that I could recover my breath only by
retracing my steps, by returning, upon whatever pretext, into Gilberte's
presence. But she would have said to herself: "Back again! Evidently I
can go to any length with him; he will come back every time, and the
more wretched he is when he leaves me the more docile he'll be."
Besides, I was irresistibly drawn towards her in thought, and those
alternative orientations, that mad careering between them of the
compass-needle within me persisted after I had reached home, and
expressed themselves in the mutually contradictory letters to Gilberte
which I began to draft. I was about to pass through one of those
difficult crises which we generally find that we have to face at various
stages in life, and which, for all that there has been no change in our
character, in our nature (that nature which itself creates our loves,
and almost creates the women whom we love, even to their faults), we do
not face in the same way on each occasion, that is to say at every age.
At such moments our life is divided, and so to speak distributed over a
pair of scales, in two counterpoised pans which between them contain it
all. In one there is our desire not to displease, not to appear too
humble to the creature whom we love without managing to understand her,
but whom we find it more convenient at times to appear almost to
disregard, so that she shall not have that sense of her own
indispensability which may turn her from us; in the other scale there is
a feeling of pain--and one that is not localised and partial only--which
cannot be set at rest unless, abandoning every thought of pleasing the
woman and of making her believe that we can dispense with her, we go at
once to find her. When we withdraw from the pan in which our pride lies
a small quantity of the will-power which we have weakly allowed to
exhaust itself with increasing age, when we add to the pan that holds
our suffering a physical pain which we have acquired and have let grow,
then, instead of the courageous solution that would have carried the day
at one-and-twenty, it is the other, grown too heavy and insufficiently
balanced, that crushes us down at fifty. All the more because
situations, while repeating themselves, tend to alter, and there is
every likelihood that, in middle life or in old age, we shall have had
the grim satisfaction of complicating our love by an intrusion of habit
which adolescence, repressed by other demands upon it, less master of
itself, has never known.

I had just written Gilberte a letter in which I allowed the tempest of
my wrath to thunder, not however without throwing her the lifebuoy of a
few words disposed as though by accident on the page, by clinging to
which my friend might be brought to a reconciliation; a moment later,
the wind having changed, they were phrases full of love that I addressed
to her, chosen for the sweetness of certain forlorn expressions, those
"nevermores" so touching to those who pen them, so wearisome to her who
will have to read them, whether she believe them to be false and
translate "nevermore" by "this very evening, if you want me," or believe
them to be true and so to be breaking the news to her of one of those
final separations which make so little difference to our lives when the
other person is one with whom we are not in love. But since we are
incapable, while we are in love, of acting as fit predecessors of the
next persons whom we shall presently have become, and who will then be
in love no longer, how are we to imagine the actual state of mind of a
woman whom, even when we are conscious that we are of no account to her,
we have perpetually represented in our musings as uttering, so as to
lull us into a happy dream or to console us for a great sorrow, the same
speeches that she would make if she loved us. When we come to examine
the thoughts, the actions of a woman whom we love, we are as completely
at a loss as must have been, face to face with the phenomena of nature,
the world's first natural philosophers, before their science had been
elaborated and had cast a ray of light over the unknown. Or, worse
still, we are like a person in whose mind the law of causality barely
exists, a person who would be incapable, therefore, of establishing any
connexion between one phenomenon and another, to whose eyes the
spectacle of the world would appear unstable as a dream. Of course I
made efforts to emerge from this incoherence, to find reasons for
things. I tried even to be "objective" and, to that end, to bear well in
mind the disproportion that existed between the importance which
Gilberte had in my eyes and that, not only which I had in hers, but
which she herself had in the eyes of other people, a disproportion
which, had I failed to remark it, would have involved my mistaking mere
friendliness on my friend's part for a passionate avowal, and a
grotesque and debasing display on my own for the simple and graceful
movement with which we are attracted towards a pretty face. But I was
afraid also of falling into the contrary error, in which I should have
seen in Gilberte's unpunctuality in keeping an appointment an
irremediable hostility. I tried to discover between these two
perspectives, equally distorting, a third which would enable me to see
things as they really were; the calculations I was obliged to make with
that object helped to take my mind off my sufferings; and whether in
obedience to the laws of arithmetic or because I had made them give me
the answer that I desired, I made up my mind that next day I would go to
the Swanns', happy, but happy in the same way as people who, having long
been tormented by the thought of a journey which they have not wished to
make, go no farther than to the Station and return home to unpack their
boxes. And since, while one is hesitating, the bare idea of a possible
resolution (unless one has rendered that idea sterile by deciding that
one will make no resolution) develops, like a seed in the ground, the
lineaments, every detail of the emotions that will be born from the
performance of the action, I told myself that it had been quite absurd
of me to be as much hurt by the suggestion that I should not see
Gilberte again as if I had really been about to put that suggestion into
practice, and that since, on the contrary, I was to end by returning to
her side, I might have saved myself the expense of all those vain
longings and painful acceptances. But this resumption of friendly
relations lasted only so long as it took me to reach the Swanns'; not
because their butler, who was really fond of me, told me that Gilberte
had gone out (a statement the truth of which was confirmed, as it
happened, the same evening, by people who had seen her somewhere), but
because of the manner in which he said it. "Sir, the young lady is not
at home; I can assure you, sir, that I am speaking the truth. If you
wish to make any inquiries I can fetch the young lady's maid. You know
very well, sir, that I would do everything in my power to oblige you,
and that if the young lady was at home I would take you to her at once."
These words being of the only kind that is really important, that is to
say spontaneous, the kind that gives us a radiograph shewing the main
points, at any rate, of the unimaginable reality which would be wholly
concealed beneath a prepared speech, proved that in Gilberte's household
there was an impression that I bothered her with my visits; and so,
scarcely had the man uttered them before they had aroused in me a hatred
of which I preferred to make him rather than Gilberte the victim; he
drew upon his own head all the angry feelings that I might have had for
my friend; freed from these complications, thanks to his words, my love
subsisted alone; but his words had, at the same time, shewn me that I
must cease for the present to attempt to see Gilberte. She would be
certain to write to me, to apologise. In spite of which, I should not
return at once to see her, so as to prove to her that I was capable of
living without her. Besides, once I had received her letter, Gilberte's
society was a thing with which I should be more easily able to dispense
for a time, since I should be certain of finding her ready to receive me
whenever I chose. All that I needed in order to support with less pain
the burden of a voluntary separation was to feel that my heart was rid
of the terrible uncertainty whether we were not irreconcilably sundered,
whether she had not promised herself to another, left Paris, been taken
away by force. The days that followed resembled the first week of that
old New Year which I had had to spend alone, without Gilberte. But when
that week had dragged to its end, then for one thing my friend would be
coming again to the Champs-Elysées, I should be seeing her as before; I
had been sure of that; for another thing, I had known with no less
certainty that so long as the New Year holidays lasted it would not be
worth my while to go to the Champs-Elysées, which meant that during
that miserable week, which was already ancient history, I had endured my
wretchedness with a quiet mind because there was blended in it neither
fear nor hope. Now, on the other hand, it was the latter of these which,
almost as much as my fear of what might happen, rendered intolerable the
burden of my grief. Not having had any letter from Gilberte that
evening, I had attributed this to her carelessness, to her other
occupations, I did not doubt that I should find something from her in
the morning's post. This I awaited, every day, with a beating heart
which subsided, leaving me utterly prostrate, when I had found in it
only letters from people who were not Gilberte, or else nothing at all,
which was no worse, the proofs of another's friendship making all the
more cruel those of her indifference. I transferred my hopes to the
afternoon post. Even between the times at which letters were delivered
I dared not leave the house, for she might be sending hers by a
messenger. Then, the time coming at last when neither the postman nor a
footman from the Swanns' could possibly appear that night, I must
procrastinate my hope of being set at rest, and thus, because I believed
that my sufferings were not destined to last, I was obliged, so to
speak, incessantly to renew them. My disappointment was perhaps the
same, but instead of just uniformly prolonging, as in the old days, an
initial emotion, it began again several times daily, starting each time
with an emotion so frequently renewed that it ended--it, so purely
physical, so instantaneous a state--by becoming stabilised, so
consistently that the strain of waiting having hardly time to relax
before a fresh reason for waiting supervened, there was no longer a
single minute in the day in which I was not in that state of anxiety
which it is so difficult to bear even for an hour. So my punishment was
infinitely more cruel than in those New Year holidays long ago, because
this time there was in me, instead of the acceptance, pure and simple,
of that punishment, the hope, at every moment, of seeing it come to an
end. And yet at this state of acceptance I ultimately arrived; then I
understood that it must be final, and I renounced Gilberte for ever, in
the interests of my love itself and because I hoped above all that she
would not retain any contemptuous memory of me. Indeed, from that
moment, so that she should not be led to suppose any sort of lover's
spite on my part, when she made appointments for me to see her I used
often to accept them and then, at the last moment, write to her that I
was prevented from coming, but with the same protestations of my
disappointment that I should have made to anyone whom I had not wished
to see. These expressions of regret, which we keep as a rule for people
who do not matter, would do more, I imagined, to persuade Gilberte of my
indifference than would the tone of indifference which we affect only to
those whom we love. When, better than by mere words, by a course of
action indefinitely repeated, I should have proved to her that I had no
appetite for seeing her, perhaps she would discover once again an
appetite for seeing me. Alas! I was doomed to failure; to attempt, by
ceasing to see her, to reawaken in her that inclination to see me was to
lose her for ever; first of all, because, when it began to revive, if I
wished it to last I must not give way to it at once; besides, the most
agonising hours would then have passed; it was at this very moment that
she was indispensable to me, and I should have liked to be able to warn
her that what presently she would have to assuage, by the act of seeing
me again, would be a grief so far diminished as to be no longer (what a
moment ago it would still have been), nor the thought of putting an end
to it, a motive towards surrender, reconciliation, further meetings. And
then again, later on, when I should at last be able safely to confess to
Gilberte (so far would her liking for me have regained its strength) my
liking for her, the latter, not having been able to resist the strain of
so long a separation, would have ceased to exist; Gilberte would have
become immaterial to me. I knew this, but I could not explain it to her;
she would have assumed that if I was pretending that I should cease to
love her if I remained for too long without seeing her, that was solely
in order that she might summon me back to her at once. In the meantime,
what made it easier for me to sentence myself to this separation was the
fact that (in order to make it quite clear to her that despite my
protestations to the contrary it was my own free-will and not any
conflicting engagement, not the state of my health that prevented me
from seeing her), whenever I knew beforehand that Gilberte would not be
in the house, was going out somewhere with a friend and would not be
home for dinner, I went to see Mme. Swann who had once more become to me
what she had been at the time when I had such difficulty in seeing her
daughter and (on days when the latter was not coming to the
Champs-Elysées) used to repair to the Allée des Acacias. In this way I
should be hearing about Gilberte, and could be certain that she would in
due course hear about me, and in terms which would shew her that I was
not interested in her. And I found, as all those who suffer find, that
my melancholy condition might have been worse. For being free, at any
time to enter the habitation in which Gilberte dwelt, I constantly
reminded myself, for all that I was firmly resolved to make no use of
that privilege, that if ever my pain grew too sharp there was a way of
making it cease. I was not unhappy, save only from day to day. And even
that is an exaggeration. How many times in an hour (but now without that
anxious expectancy which had strained every nerve of me in the first
weeks after our quarrel, before I had gone again to the Swanns') did I
not repeat to myself the words of the letter which, one day soon,
Gilberte would surely send, would perhaps even bring to me herself. The
perpetual vision of that imagined happiness helped me to endure the
desolation of my real happiness. With women who do not love us, as with
the "missing", the knowledge that there is no hope left does not prevent
our continuing to wait for news. We live on tenter-hooks, starting at the
slightest sound; the mother whose son has gone to sea on some perilous
voyage of discovery sees him in imagination every moment, long after the
fact of his having perished has been established, striding into the
room, saved by a miracle and in the best of health. And this strain of
waiting, according to the strength of her memory and the resistance of
her bodily organs, either helps her on her journey through the years, at
the end of which she will be able to endure the knowledge that her son
is no more, to forget gradually and to survive his loss, or else it
kills her.

On the other hand, my grief found consolation in the idea that my love
must profit by it. Each visit that I paid to Mme. Swann without seeing
Gilberte was a cruel punishment, but I felt that it correspondingly
enhanced the idea that Gilberte had of me.

Besides, if I always took care, before going to see Mme. Swann, that
there should be no risk of her daughter's appearing, that arose, it is
true, from my determination to break with her, but no less perhaps from
that hope of reconciliation which overlay my intention to renounce her
(very few of such intentions are absolute, at least in a continuous
form, in this human soul of ours, one of whose laws, confirmed by the
unlooked-for wealth of illustration that memory supplies, is
intermittence), and hid from me all that in it was unbearably cruel. As
for that hope, I saw clearly how far it was chimerical. I was like a
pauper who moistens his dry crust with fewer tears if he assures himself
that, at any moment, a total stranger is perhaps going to leave him the
whole of his fortune. We are all of us obliged, if we are to make
reality endurable, to nurse a few little follies in ourselves. Now my
hope remained more intact--while at the same time our separation became
more effectual--if I refrained from meeting Gilberte. If I had found
myself face to face with her in her mother's drawing-room, we might
perhaps have uttered irrevocable words which would have rendered our
breach final, killed my hope and, on the other hand, by creating a fresh
anxiety, reawakened my love and made resignation harder.

Ever so long ago, before I had even thought of breaking with her
daughter, Mme. Swann had said to me: "It is all very well your coming to
see Gilberte; I should like you to come sometimes for my sake, not to my
'kettledrums', which would bore you because there is such a crowd, but
on the other days, when you will always find me at home if you come
fairly late." So that I might be thought, when I came to see her, to be
yielding only after a long resistance to a desire which she had
expressed in the past. And very late in the afternoon, when it was quite
dark, almost at the hour at which my parents would be sitting down to
dinner, I would set out to pay Mme. Swann a visit, in the course of
which I knew that I should not see Gilberte, and yet should be thinking
only of her. In that quarter, then looked upon as remote, of a Paris
darker than Paris is to-day, where even in the centre there was no
electric light in the public thoroughfares and very little in private
houses, the lamps of a drawing-room situated on the ground level, or but
slightly raised above it, as were the rooms in which Mme. Swann
generally received her visitors, were enough to lighten the street, and
to make the passer-by raise his eyes, connecting with their glow, as
with its apparent though hidden cause, the presence outside the door of
a string of smart broughams. This passer-by was led to believe, not
without a certain emotion, that a modification had been effected in this
mysterious cause, when he saw one of the carriages begin to move; but it
was merely a coachman who, afraid of his horses' catching cold, started
them now and again on a brisk walk, all the more impressive because the
rubber-tired wheels gave the sound of their hooves a background of
silence from which it stood out more distinct and more explicit.

The "winter-garden", of which in those days the passer-by generally
caught a glimpse, in whatever street he might be walking, if the
drawing-room did not stand too high above the pavement, is to be seen
to-day only in photogravures in the gift-books of P. J. Stahl, where, in
contrast to the infrequent floral decorations of the Louis XVI
drawing-rooms now in fashion--a single rose or a Japanese iris in a
long-necked vase of crystal into which it would be impossible to squeeze
a second--it seems, because of the profusion of indoor plants which
people had then, and of the absolute want of style in their arrangement,
as though it must have responded in the ladies whose houses it adorned
to some living and delicious passion for botany rather than to any cold
concern for lifeless decoration. It suggested to one, only on a larger
scale, in the houses of those days, those tiny, portable hothouses laid
out on New Year's morning beneath the lighted lamp--for the children
were always too impatient to wait for daylight--among all the other New
Year's presents but the loveliest of them all, consoling them with its
real plants which they could tend as they grew for the bareness of the
winter soil; and even more than those little houses themselves, those
winter gardens were like the hot-house that the children could see there
at the same time, portrayed in a delightful book, another of their
presents, and one which, for all that it was given not to them but to
Mlle. Lili, the heroine of the story, enchanted them to such a pitch
that even now, when they are almost old men and women, they ask
themselves whether, in those fortunate years, winter was not the
loveliest of the seasons. And inside there, beyond the winter-garden,
through the various kinds of arborescence which from the street made the
lighted window appear like the glass front of one of those children's
playthings, pictured or real, the passer-by, drawing himself up on
tiptoe, would generally observe a man in a frock coat, a gardenia or a
carnation in his buttonhole, standing before a seated lady, both vaguely
outlined, like two intaglios cut in a topaz, in the depths of the
drawing-room atmosphere clouded by the samovar--then a recent
importation--with steam which may very possibly be escaping from it
still to-day, but to which, if it does, we are grown so accustomed now
that no one notices it. Mme. Swann attached great importance to her
"tea"; she thought that she shewed her originality and expressed her
charm when she said to a man, "You will find me at home any day, fairly
late; come to tea!" so that she allowed a sweet and delicate smile to
accompany the words which she pronounced with a fleeting trace of
English accent, and which her listener duly noted, bowing solemnly in
acceptance, as though the invitation had been something important and
uncommon which commanded deference and required attention. There was
another reason, apart from those given already, for the flowers' having
more than a merely ornamental part in Mme. Swann's drawing-room, and
this reason pertained not to the period, but, in some degree, to the
former life of Odette. A great courtesan, such as she had been, lives
largely for her lovers, that is to say at home, which means that she
comes in time to live for her home. The things that one sees in the
house of a "respectable" woman, things which may of course appear to her
also to be of importance, are those which are in any event of the utmost
importance to the courtesan. The culminating point of her day is not the
moment in which she dresses herself for all the world to see, but that
in which she undresses herself for a man. She must be as smart in her
wrapper, in her nightgown, as in her outdoor attire. Other women display
their jewels, but as for her, she lives in the intimacy of her pearls.
This kind of existence imposes on her as an obligation and ends by
giving her a fondness for luxury which is secret, that is to say which
comes near to being disinterested. Mme. Swann extended this to include
her flowers. There was always beside her chair an immense bowl of
crystal filled to the brim with Parma violets or with long white
daisy-petals scattered upon the water, which seemed to be testifying, in
the eyes of the arriving guest, to some favourite and interrupted
occupation, such as the cup of tea which Mme. Swann would, for her own
amusement, have been drinking there by herself; an occupation more
intimate still and more mysterious, so much so that one felt oneself
impelled to apologise on seeing the flowers exposed there by her side,
as one would have apologised for looking at the title of the still open
book which would have revealed to one what had just been read by--and
so, perhaps, what was still in the mind of Odette. And unlike the book
the flowers were living things; it was annoying, when one entered the
room to pay Mme. Swann a visit, to discover that she was not alone, or
if one came home with her not to find the room empty, so prominent a
place in it, enigmatic and intimately associated with hours in the life
of their mistress of which one knew nothing, did those flowers assume
which had not been made ready for Odette's visitors but, as it were,
forgotten there by her, had held and would hold with her again private
conversations which one was afraid of disturbing, the secret of which
one tried in vain to read, fastening one's eyes on the moist purple, the
still liquid water-colour of the Parma violets. By the end of October
Odette would begin to come home with the utmost punctuality for tea,
which was still known, at that time, as "five-o'clock tea", having once
heard it said, and being fond of repeating that if Mme. Verdurin had
been able to form a salon it was because people were always certain of
finding her at home at the same hour. She imagined that she herself had
one also, of the same kind, but freer, _senza rigore_ as she used to
say. She saw herself figuring thus as a sort of Lespinasse, and believed
that she had founded a rival salon by taking from the du Deffant of the
little group several of her most attractive men, notably Swann himself,
who had followed her in her secession and into her retirement, according
to a version for which one can understand that she had succeeded in
gaining credit among her more recent friends, ignorant of what had
passed, though without convincing herself. But certain favourite parts
are played by us so often before the public and rehearsed so carefully
when we are alone that we find it easier to refer to their fictitious
testimony than to that of a reality which we have almost entirely
forgotten. On days on which Mme. Swann had not left the house, one found
her in a wrapper of _crêpe-de-Chine_, white as the first snows of
winter, or, it might be, in one of those long pleated garments of
_mousseline-de-soie_, which seemed nothing more than a shower of white
or rosy petals, and would be regarded to-day as hardly suitable for
winter, though quite wrongly. For these light fabrics and soft colours
gave to a woman--in the stifling warmth of the drawing-rooms of those
days, with their heavily curtained doors, rooms of which the most
effective thing that the society novelists of the time could find to say
was that they were "exquisitely cushioned"--the same air of coolness
that they gave to the roses which were able to stay in the room there by
her side, despite the winter, in the glowing flesh tints of their
nudity, as though it were already spring. By reason of the muffling of
all sound in the carpets, and of the remoteness of her cosy retreat, the
lady of the house, not being apprised of your entry as she is to-day,
would continue to read almost until you were standing before her chair,
which enhanced still further that sense of the romantic, that charm of a
sort of secret discovery, which we find to-day in the memory of those
gowns, already out of fashion even then, which Mme. Swann was perhaps
alone in not having discarded, and which give us the feeling that the
woman who wore them must have been the heroine of a novel because most
of us have scarcely set eyes on them outside the pages of certain of
Henry Gréville's tales. Odette had, at this time, in her drawing-room,
when winter began, chrysanthemums of enormous size and of a variety of
colours such as Swann, in the old days, certainly never saw in her
drawing-room in the Rue La Pérouse. My admiration for them--when I went
to pay Mme. Swann one of those melancholy visits during which, prompted
by my sorrow, I discovered in her all the mystical poetry of her
character as the mother of that Gilberte to whom she would say on the
morrow: "Your friend came to see me yesterday,"--sprang, no doubt, from
my sense that, rose-pale like the Louis XIV silk that covered her
chairs, snow white like her _crêpe-de-Chine_ wrapper, or of a metallic
red like her samovar, they superimposed upon the decoration of the room
another, a supplementary scheme of decoration, as rich, as delicate in
its colouring, but one which was alive and would last for a few days
only. But I was touched to find that these chrysanthemums appeared less
ephemeral than, one might almost say, lasting, when I compared them with
the tones, as pink, as coppery, which the setting sun so gorgeously
displays amid the mists of a November afternoon, and which, after seeing
them, before I had entered the house, fade from the sky, I found again
inside, prolonged, transposed on to the flaming palette of the flowers.
Like the fires caught and fixed by a great colourist from the
impermanence of the atmosphere and the sun, so that they should enter
and adorn a human dwelling, they invited me, those chrysanthemums, to
put away all my sorrows and to taste with a greedy rapture during that
"tea-time" the too fleeting joys of November, of which they set ablaze
all around me the intimate and mystical glory. Alas, it was not in the
conversations to which I must listen that I could hope to attain to that
glory; they had but little in common with it. Even with Mme. Cottard,
and although it was growing late, Mme. Swann would assume her most
caressing manner to say: "Oh, no, it's not late, really; you mustn't
look at the clock; that's not the right time; it's stopped; you can't
possibly have anything else to do now, why be in such a hurry?" as she
pressed a final tartlet upon the Professor's wife, who was gripping her
card-case in readiness for flight.

"One simply can't tear oneself away from this house!" observed Mme.
Bontemps to Mme. Swann, while Mme. Cottard, in her astonishment at
hearing her own thought put into words, exclaimed: "Why, that's just
what I always say myself, what I tell my own little judge, in the court
of conscience!" winning the applause of the gentlemen from the Jockey
Club, who had been profuse in their salutations, as though confounded at
such an honour's being done them, when Mme. Swann had introduced them to
this common and by no means attractive little woman, who kept herself,
when confronted with Odette's brilliant friends, in reserve, if not on
what she herself called "the defensive", for she always used stately
language to describe the simplest happenings. "I should never have
suspected it," was Mme. Swann's comment, "three Wednesdays running
you've played me false." "That's quite true, Odette; it's simply ages,
it's an eternity since I saw you last. You see, I plead guilty; but I
must tell you," she went on with a vague suggestion of outraged modesty,
for although a doctor's wife she would never have dared to speak without
periphrasis of rheumatism or of a chill on the kidneys, "that I have had
a lot of little troubles. As we all have, I dare say. And besides that
I've had a crisis among my masculine domestics. I'm sure, I'm no more
imbued with a sense of my own authority than most ladies; still I've
been obliged, just to make an example you know, to give my Vatel notice;
I believe he was looking out anyhow for a more remunerative place. But
his departure nearly brought about the resignation of my entire
ministry. My own maid refused to stay in the house a moment longer; oh,
we have had some Homeric scenes. However I held fast to the reins
through thick and thin; the whole affair's been a perfect lesson, which
won't be lost on me, I can tell you. I'm afraid I'm boring you with all
these stories about servants, but you know as well as I do what a
business it is when one is obliged to set about rearranging one's

"Aren't we to see anything of your delicious child?" she wound up. "No,
my delicious child is dining with a friend," replied Mme. Swann, and
then, turning to me: "I believe she's written to you, asking you to come
and see her to-morrow. And your babies?" she went on to Mme. Cottard. I
breathed a sigh of relief. These words by which Mme. Swann proved to me
that I could see Gilberte whenever I chose gave me precisely the comfort
which I had come to seek, and which at that time made my visits to Mme.
Swann so necessary. "No, I'm afraid not; I shall write to her, anyhow,
this evening. Gilberte and I never seem to see one another now," I
added, pretending to attribute our separation to some mysterious agency,
which gave me a further illusion of being in love, supported as well by
the affectionate way in which I spoke of Gilberte and she of me. "You
know, she's simply devoted to you," said Mme. Swann. "Really, you won't
come to-morrow?" Suddenly my heart rose on wings; the thought had just
struck me--"After all, why shouldn't I, since it's her own mother who
suggests it?" But with the thought I fell back into my old depression. I
was afraid now lest, when she saw me again, Gilberte might think that my
indifference of late had been feigned, and it seemed wiser to prolong
our separation. During these asides Mme. Bontemps had been complaining
of the insufferable dulness of politicians' wives, for she pretended to
find everyone too deadly or too stupid for words, and to deplore her
husband's official position. "Do you mean to say you can shake hands
with fifty doctors' wives, like that, one after the other?" she
exclaimed to Mme. Cottard, who, unlike her, was full of the kindest
feelings for everybody and of determination to do her duty in every
respect. "Ah! you're a law-abiding woman! You see, in my case, at the
Ministry, don't you know, I simply have to keep it up, of course. It's
too much for me, I can tell you; you know what those officials' wives
are like, it's all I can do not to put my tongue out at them. And my
niece Albertine is just like me. You really wouldn't believe the
impudence that girl has. Last week, on my 'day', I had the wife of the
Under Secretary of State for Finance, who told us that she knew nothing
at all about cooking. 'But surely, ma'am,' my niece chipped in with her
most winning smile, 'you ought to know everything about it, after all
the dishes your father had to wash.'" "Oh, I do love that story; I think
it's simply exquisite!" cried Mme. Swann. "But certainly on the Doctor's
consultation days you should make a point of being 'at home', among your
flowers and books and all your pretty things," she urged Mme. Cottard.
"Straight out like that! Bang! Right in the face; bang! She made no
bones about it, I can tell you! And she'd never said a word to me about
it, the little wretch; she's as cunning as a monkey. You are lucky to be
able to control yourself; I do envy people who can hide what is in their
minds." "But I've no need to do that, Mme. Bontemps, I'm not so hard to
please," Mme. Cottard gently expostulated. "For one thing, I'm not in
such a privileged position," she went on, slightly raising her voice as
was her custom, as though she were underlining the point of her remark,
whenever she slipped into the conversation any of those delicate
courtesies, those skilful flatteries which won her the admiration and
assisted the career of her husband. "And besides I'm only too glad to do
anything that can be of use to the Professor."

"But, my dear, it isn't what one's glad to do; it's what one is able to
do! I expect you're not nervous. Do you know, whenever I see the War
Minister's wife making faces, I start copying her at once. It's a
dreadful thing to have a temperament like mine."

"To be sure, yes," said Mme. Cottard, "I've heard people say that she
had a twitch; my husband knows someone else who occupies a very high
position, and it's only natural, when gentlemen get talking together..."

"And then, don't you know, it's just the same with the Chief of the
Registry; he's a hunchback. Whenever he comes to see me, before he's
been in the room five minutes my fingers are itching to stroke his hump.
My husband says I'll cost him his place. What if I do! A fig for the
Ministry! Yes, a fig for the Ministry! I should like to have that
printed as a motto on my note-paper. I can see I am shocking you; you're
so frightfully proper, but I must say there's nothing amuses me like a
little devilry now and then. Life would be dreadfully monotonous without

And she went on talking about the Ministry all the time, as though it
had been Mount Olympus. To change the conversation, Mme. Swann turned to
Mme. Cottard: "But you're looking very smart to-day. Redfern _fecit_?"

"No, you know, I always swear by Rauthnitz. Besides, it's only an old
thing I've had done up." "Not really! It's charming!"

"Guess how much. . . . No, change the first figure!"

"You don't say so! Why, that's nothing; it's given away! Three times
that at least, I should have said." "You see how history comes to be
written," apostrophised the doctor's wife. And pointing to a neck-ribbon
which had been a present from Mme. Swann; "Look, Odette! Do you
recognise this?"

Through the gap between a pair of curtains a head peeped with
ceremonious deference, making a playful pretence of being afraid of
disturbing the party; it was Swann. "Odette, the Prince d'Agrigente is
with me in the study. He wants to know if he may pay his respects to
you. What am I to tell him?" "Why, that I shall be delighted," Odette
would reply, secretly flattered, but without losing anything of the
composure which came to her all the more easily since she had always,
even in her "fast" days, been accustomed to entertain men of fashion.
Swann disappeared to deliver the message, and would presently return
with the Prince, unless in the meantime Mme. Verdurin had arrived. When
he married Odette Swann had insisted on her ceasing to frequent the
little clan. (He had several good reasons for this stipulation, though,
had he had none, he would have made it just the same in obedience to a
law of ingratitude which admits no exception, and proves that every
"go-between" is either lacking in foresight or else singularly
disinterested.) He had conceded only that Odette and Mme. Verdurin might
exchange visits once a year, and even this seemed excessive to some of
the "faithful", indignant at the insult offered to the "Mistress" who
for so many years had treated Odette and even Swann himself as the
spoiled children of her house. For if it contained false brethren who
"failed" upon certain evenings in order that they might secretly accept
an invitation from Odette, ready, in the event of discovery, with the
excuse that they were curious to meet Bergotte (although the Mistress
assured them that he never went to the Swanns', and even if he did had
no vestige of talent, really--in spite of which she was making the most
strenuous efforts, to quote one of her favourite expressions, to
"attract" him), the little group had its "die-hards" also. And these,
though ignorant of those conventional refinements which often dissuade
people from the extreme attitude one would have liked to see them adopt
in order to annoy some one else, would have wished Mme. Verdurin, but
had never managed to prevail upon her to sever all connexion with
Odette, and thus deprive her of the satisfaction of saying, with a
mocking laugh: "We go to the Mistress's very seldom now, since the
Schism. It was all very well while my husband was still a bachelor, but
when one is married, you know, it isn't always so easy. . . . If you
must know, M. Swann can't abide old Ma Verdurin, and he wouldn't much
like the idea of my going there regularly, as I used to. And I, as a
dutiful spouse, don't you see . . .?" Swann would accompany his wife to
their annual evening there but would take care not to be in the room
when Mme. Verdurin came to call. And so, if the "Mistress" was in the
drawing-room, the Prince d'Agrigente would enter it alone. Alone, too,
he was presented to her by Odette, who preferred that Mme. Verdurin
should be left in ignorance of the names of her humbler guests, and so
might, seeing more than one strange face in the room, be led to believe
that she was mixing with the cream of the aristocracy, a device which
proved so far successful that Mme. Verdurin said to her husband, that
evening, with profound contempt: "Charming people, her friends! I met
all the fine flower of the Reaction!" Odette was living, with respect to
Mme. Verdurin, under a converse illusion. Not that the latter's salon
had ever begun, at that time, to develop into what we shall one day see
it to have become. Mme. Verdurin had not yet reached the period of
incubation in which one dispenses with one's big parties, where the few
brilliant specimens recently acquired would be lost in too numerous a
crowd, and prefers to wait until the generative force of the ten
righteous whom one has succeeded in attracting shall have multiplied
those ten seventy-fold. As Odette was not to be long now in doing, Mme.
Verdurin did indeed entertain the idea of "Society" as her final
objective, but her zone of attack was as yet so restricted, and moreover
so remote from that in which Odette had some chance of arriving at an
identical goal, of breaking the line of defence, that the latter
remained absolutely ignorant of the strategic plans which the "Mistress"
was elaborating. And it was with the most perfect sincerity that Odette,
when anyone spoke to her of Mme. Verdurin as a snob, would answer,
laughing, "Oh, no, quite the opposite! For one thing, she never gets a
chance of being a snob; she doesn't know anyone. And then, to do her
justice, I must say that she seems quite pleased not to know anyone. No,
what she likes are her Wednesdays, and people who talk well." And in her
hearts of hearts she envied Mme. Verdurin (for all that she did not
despair of having herself, in so eminent a school, succeeded in
acquiring them) those arts to which the "Mistress" attached such
paramount importance, albeit they did but discriminate between shades of
the Non-existent, sculpture the void, and were, properly speaking, the
Arts of Nonentity: to wit those, in the lady of a house, of knowing how
to "bring people together", how to "group", to "draw out", to "keep in
the background", to act as a "connecting link".

In any case, Mme. Swann's friends were impressed when they saw in her
house a lady of whom they were accustomed to think only as in her own,
in an inseparable setting of her guests, amid the whole of her little
group which they were astonished to behold thus suggested, summarised,
assembled, packed into a single armchair in the bodily form of the
"Mistress", the hostess turned visitor, muffled in her cloak with its
grebe trimming, as shaggy as the white skins that carpeted that
drawing-room embowered in which Mme. Verdurin was a drawing-room in
herself. The more timid among the women thought it prudent to retire,
and using the plural, as people do when they mean to hint to the rest of
the room that it is wiser not to tire a convalescent who is out of bed
for the first time: "Odette," they murmured, "we are going to leave
you." They envied Mme. Cottard, whom the "Mistress" called by her
Christian name. "Can I drop you anywhere?" Mme. Verdurin asked her,
unable to bear the thought that one of the faithful was going to remain
behind instead of following her from the room. "Oh, but this lady has
been so very kind as to say, she'll take me," replied Mme. Cottard, not
wishing to appear to be forgetting, when approached by a more
illustrious personage, that she had accepted the offer which Mme.
Bontemps had made of driving her home behind her cockaded coachman. "I
must say that I am always specially grateful to the friends who are so
kind as to take me with them in their vehicles. It is a regular godsend
to me, who have no Automedon." "Especially," broke in the "Mistress",
who felt that she must say something, since she knew Mme. Bontemps
slightly and had just invited her to her Wednesdays, "as at Mme. de
Crécy's house you're not very near home. Oh, good gracious, I shall
never get into the way of saying Mme. Swann!" It was a recognised
pleasantry in the little clan, among those who were not over endowed
with wit, to pretend that they could never grow used to saying "Mme.
Swann." "I have been so accustomed to saying Mme. de Crécy that I
nearly went wrong again!" Only Mme. Verdurin, when she spoke to Odette,
was not content with the nearly, but went wrong on purpose. "Don't you
feel afraid, Odette, living out in the wilds like this? I'm sure I
shouldn't feel at all comfortable, coming home after dark. Besides, it's
so damp. It can't be at all good for your husband's eczema. You haven't
rats in the house, I hope!" "Oh, dear no. What a horrid idea!" "That's a
good thing; I was told you had. I'm glad to know it's not true, because
I have a perfect horror of the creatures, and I should never have come
to see you again. Good-bye, my dear child, we shall meet again soon; you
know what a pleasure it is to me to see you. You don't know how to put
your chrysanthemums in water," she went on, as she prepared to leave the
room, Mme. Swann having risen to escort her. "They are Japanese flowers;
you must arrange them the same way as the Japanese." "I do not agree
with Mme. Verdurin, although she is the Law and the Prophets to me in
all things! There's no one like you, Odette, for finding such lovely
chrysanthemums, or chrysanthema rather, for it seems that's what we
ought to call them now," declared Mme. Cottard as soon as the "Mistress"
had shut the door behind her. "Dear Mme. Verdurin is not always very
kind about other people's flowers," said Odette sweetly. "Whom do you go
to, Odette," asked Mme. Cottard, to forestall any further criticism of
the "Mistress". "Lemaître? I must confess, the other day in Lemaître's
window I saw a huge, great pink bush which made me do something quite
mad." But modesty forbade her to give any more precise details as to the
price of the bush, and she said merely that the Professor, "and you
know, he's not at all a quick-tempered man," had "waved his sword in the
air" and told her that she "didn't know what money meant." "No, no, I've
no regular florist except Debac." "Nor have I," said Mme. Cottard, "but
I confess that I am unfaithful to him now and then with Lachaume." "Oh,
you forsake him for Lachaume, do you; I must tell Debac that," retorted
Odette, always anxious to shew her wit, and to lead the conversation in
her own house, where she felt more at her ease than in the little clan.
"Besides, Lachaume is really becoming too dear; his prices are quite
excessive, don't you know; I find his prices impossible!" she added,

Meanwhile Mme. Bontemps, who had been heard a hundred times to declare
that nothing would induce her to go to the Verdurins', delighted at
being asked to the famous Wednesdays, was planning in her own mind how
she could manage to attend as many of them as possible. She was not
aware that Mme. Verdurin liked people not to miss a single one; also she
was one of those people whose company is but little sought, who, when a
hostess invites them to a series of parties, do not accept and go to
them without more ado, like those who know that if is always a pleasure
to see them, whenever they have a moment to spare and feel inclined to
go out; people of her type deny themselves it may be the first evening
and the third, imagining that their absence will be noticed, and save
themselves up for the second and fourth, unless it should happen that,
having heard from a trustworthy source that die third is to be a
particularly brilliant party, they reverse the original order, assuring
their hostess that "most unfortunately, we had another engagement last
week." So Mme. Bontemps was calculating how many Wednesdays there could
still be left before Easter, and by what means she might manage to
secure one extra, and yet not appear to be thrusting herself upon her
hostess. She relied upon Mme. Cottard, whom she would have with her in
the carriage going home, to give her a few hints. "Oh, Mme. Bontemps, I
see you getting up to go; it is very bad of you to give the signal for
flight like that! You owe me some compensation for not turning up last
Thursday. . . . Come, sit down again, just for a minute. You can't
possibly be going anywhere else before dinner. Really, you won't let
yourself be tempted?" went on Mme. Swann, and, as she held out a plate
of cakes, "You know, they're not at all bad, these little horrors. They
don't look nice, but just taste one, I know you'll like it." "On the
contrary, they look quite delicious," broke in Mme. Cottard. "In your
house, Odette, one is never short of victuals. I have no need to ask to
see the trade-mark; I know you get everything from Rebattet. I must say
that I am more eclectic. For sweet biscuits and everything of that sort
I repair, as often as not, to Bourbonneux. But I agree that they simply
don't know what an ice means. Rebattet for everything iced, and syrups
and sorbets; they're past-masters. As my husband would say, they're the
_ne plus ultra,_" "Oh, but we just make these in the house. You won't,
really?" "I shan't be able to eat a scrap of dinner," pleaded Mme.
Bontemps, "but I will just sit down again for a moment; you know, I
adore talking to a clever woman like you." "You will think me highly
indiscreet, Odette, but I should so like to know what you thought of the
hat Mme. Trombert had on. I know, of course, that big hats are the
fashion just now. All the same, wasn't it just the least little bit
exaggerated? And compared to the hat she came to see me in the other
day, the one she had on just now was microscopic!" "Oh no, I am not at
all clever," said Odette, thinking that this sounded well. "I am a
perfect simpleton, I believe everything people say, and worry myself to
death over the least thing." And she insinuated that she had, just at
first, suffered terribly from the thought of having married a man like
Swann, who had a separate life of his own and was unfaithful to her.
Meanwhile the Prince d'Agrigente, having caught the words "I am not at
all clever", thought it incumbent on him to protest; unfortunately he
had not the knack of repartee. "Tut, tut, tut, tut!" cried Mme.
Bontemps, "Not clever; you!" "That's just what I was saying to
myself--'What do I hear?'," the Prince clutched at this straw, "My ears
must have played me false!" "No, I assure you," went on Odette, "I am
really just an ordinary woman, very easily shocked, full of prejudices,
living in my own little groove and dreadfully ignorant." And then, in
case he had any news of the Baron de Charlus, "Have you seen our dear
Baronet?" she asked him. "You, ignorant!" cried Mme. Bontemps. "Then I
wonder what you'd say of the official world, all those wives of
Excellencies who can talk of nothing but their frocks. . . . Listen to
this, my friend; not more than a week ago I happened to mention
_Lohengrin_ to the Education Minister's wife. She stared at me, and said
'_Lohengrin?_ Oh, yes, the new review at the Folies-Bergères. I hear
it's a perfect scream!' What do you say to that, eh? You can't help
yourself; when people say things like that it makes your blood boil. I
could have struck her. Because I have a bit of a temper of my own. What
do you say, sir;" she turned to me, "was I not right?" "Listen," said
Mme. Cottard, "people can't help answering a little off the mark when
they're asked a thing like that point blank, without any warning. I know
something about it, because Mme. Verdurin also has a habit of putting a
pistol to your head." "Speaking of Mme. Verdurin," Mme. Bontemps asked
Mme. Cottard, "do you know who will be there on Wednesday? Oh, I've just
remembered that we've accepted an invitation for next Wednesday. You
wouldn't care to dine with us on Wednesday week? We could go on together
to Mme. Verdurin's. I should never dare to go there by myself; I don't
know why it is, that great lady always terrifies me." "I'll tell you
what it is," replied Mme. Cottard, "what frightens you about Mme.
Verdurin is her organ. But you see everyone can't have such a charming
organ as Mme. Swann. Once you've found your tongue, as the 'Mistress'
says, the ice will soon be broken. For she's a very easy person, really,
to get on with. But I can quite understand what you feel; it's never
pleasant to find oneself for the first time in a strange country."
"Won't you dine with us, too?" said Mme. Bontemps to Mme. Swann. "After
dinner we could all go to the Verdurins together, 'do a Verdurin'; and
even if it means that the 'Mistress' will stare me out of countenance
and never ask me to the house again, once we are there we'll just sit by
ourselves and have a quiet talk, I'm sure that's what I should like
best." But this assertion can hardly have been quite truthful, for Mme.
Bontemps went on to ask: "Who do you think will be there on Wednesday
week? What will they be doing? There won't be too big a crowd, I hope!"
"I certainly shan't be there," said Odette. "We shall just look in for
a minute on the last Wednesday of all. If you don't mind waiting till
then----" But Mme. Bontemps did not appear to be tempted by the

Granted that the intellectual distinction of a house and its smartness
are generally in inverse rather than direct ratio, one must suppose,
since Swann found Mme. Bontemps attractive, that any forfeiture of
position once accepted has the consequence of making us less particular
with regard to the people among whom we have resigned ourselves to
finding entertainment, less particular with regard to their intelligence
as to everything else about them. And if this be true, men, like
nations, must see their culture and even their language disappear with
their independence. One of the effects of this indulgence is to
aggravate the tendency which after a certain age we have towards finding
pleasure in speeches that are a homage to our own turn of mind, to our
weaknesses, an encouragement to us to yield to them; that is the age at
which a great artist prefers to the company of original minds that of
pupils who have nothing in common with him save the letter of his
doctrine, who listen to him and offer incense; at which a man or woman
of mark, who is living entirely for love, will find that the most
intelligent person in a gathering is one perhaps of no distinction, but
one who has shewn by some utterance that he can understand and approve
what is meant by an existence devoted to gallantry, and has thus
pleasantly excited the voluptuous instincts of the lover or mistress; it
was the age, too, at which Swann, in so far as he had become the husband
of Odette, enjoyed hearing Mme. Bontemps say how silly it was to have
nobody in one's house but duchesses (concluding from that, quite the
contrary of what he would have decided in the old days at the
Verdurins', that she was a good creature, extremely sensible and not at
all a snob) and telling her stories which made her "die, laughing"
because she had not heard them before, although she always "saw the
point" at once, liked flattering her for his own amusement. "Then the
Doctor is not mad about flowers, like you?" Mme. Swann asked Mme.
Cottard. "Oh, well, you know, my husband is a sage; he practises
moderation in all things. Yes, I must admit, he has a passion." Her eye
aflame with malice, joy, curiosity, "And what is that, pray?" inquired
Mme. Bontemps. Quite simply Mme. Cottard answered her, "Reading." "Oh,
that's a very restful passion in a husband!" cried Mme. Bontemps
suppressing an impish laugh. "When the Doctor gets a book in his hands,
you know!" "Well, that needn't alarm you much . . ." "But it does, for
his eyesight. I must go now and look after him, Odette, and I shall come
back on the very first opportunity and knock at your door. Talking of
eyesight, have you heard that the new house Mme. Verdurin has just
bought is to be lighted by electricity? I didn't get that from my own
little secret service, you know, but from quite a different source; it
was the electrician himself, Mildé, who told me. You see, I quote my
authorities! Even the bedrooms, he says, are to have electric lamps with
shades which will filter the light. It is evidently a charming luxury,
for those who can afford it. But it seems that our contemporaries must
absolutely have the newest thing if it's the only one of its kind in the
world. Just fancy, the sister-in-law of a friend of mine has had the
telephone installed in her house! She can order things from her
tradesmen without having to go out of doors! I confess that I've made
the most bare-faced stratagems to get permission to go there one day,
just to speak into the instrument. It's very tempting, but more in a
friend's house than at home. I don't think I should like to have the
telephone in my establishment. Once the first excitement is over, it
must be a perfect racket going on all the time. Now, Odette, I must be
off; you're not to keep Mme. Bontemps any longer, she's looking after
me. I must absolutely tear myself away; you're making me behave in a
nice way, I shall be getting home after my husband!"

And for myself also it was time to return home, before I had tasted
those wintry delights of which the chrysanthemums had seemed to me to be
the brilliant envelope. These pleasures had not appeared, and yet Mme.
Swann did not look as though she expected anything more. She allowed the
servants to carry away the tea-things, as who should say "Time, please,
gentlemen!" And at last she did say to me: "Really, must you go? Very
well; good-bye!" I felt that I might have stayed there without
encountering those unknown pleasures, and that my unhappiness was not
the cause of my having to forego them. Were they to be found, then,
situated not upon that beaten track of hours which leads one always to
the moment of departure, but rather upon some cross-road unknown to me
along which I ought to have digressed? At least, the object of my visit
had been attained; Gilberte would know that I had come to see her
parents when she was not at home, and that I had, as Mme. Cottard had
incessantly assured me, "made a complete conquest, first shot, of Mme.
Verdurin," whom, she added, she had never seen "make so much" of anyone.
("You and she must have hooked atoms.") She would know that I had spoken
of her as was fitting, with affection, but that I had not that
incapacity for living without our seeing one another which I believed to
be at the root of the boredom that she had shewn at our last meetings. I
had told Mme. Swann that I should not be able to see Gilberte again. I
had said this as though I had finally decided not to see her any more.
And the letter which I was going to send Gilberte would be framed on
those lines. Only to myself, to fortify my courage, I proposed no more
than a supreme and concentrated effort, lasting a few days only. I said
to myself: "This is the last time that I shall refuse to meet her; I
shall accept the next invitation." To make our separation less difficult
to realise, I did not picture it to myself as final. But I knew very
well that it would be.

The first of January was exceptionally painful to me that winter. So, no
doubt, is everything that marks a date and an anniversary when we are
unhappy. But if our unhappiness is due to the loss of some dear friend,
our suffering consists merely in an unusually vivid comparison of the
present with the past. There was added to this, in my case, the
unexpressed hope that Gilberte, having intended to leave me to take the
first steps towards a reconciliation, and discovering that I had not
taken them, had been waiting only for the excuse of New Year's Day to
write to me, saying: "What is the matter? I am madly in love with you;
come, and let us explain things properly; I cannot live without seeing
you." As the last days of the old year went by, such a letter began to
seem probable. It was, perhaps, nothing of the sort, but to make us
believe that such a thing is probable the desire, the need that we have
for it suffices. The soldier is convinced that a certain interval of
time, capable of being indefinitely prolonged, will be allowed him
before the bullet finds him, the thief before he is taken, men in
general before they have to die. That is the amulet which preserves
people--and sometimes peoples--not from danger but from the fear of
danger, in reality from the belief in danger, which in certain cases
allows them to brave it without their actually needing to be brave. It
is confidence of this sort, and with as little foundation, that sustains
the lover who is counting upon a reconciliation, upon a letter. For me
to cease to expect a letter it would have sufficed that I should have
ceased to wish for one. However unimportant one may know that one is in
the eyes of her whom one still loves, one attributes to her a series of
thoughts (though their sum total be indifference) the intention to
express those thoughts, a complication of her inner life in which one is
the constant object possibly of her antipathy but certainly of her
attention. But to imagine what was going on in Gilberte's mind I should
have required simply the power to anticipate on that New Year's Day what
I should feel on the first day of any of the years to come, when the
attention or the silence or the affection or the coldness of Gilberte
would pass almost unnoticed by me and I should not dream, should not
even be able to dream of seeking a solution of problems which would have
ceased to perplex me. When we are in love, our love is too big a thing
for us to be able altogether to contain it within us. It radiates
towards the beloved object, finds in her a surface which arrests it,
forcing it to return to its starting-point, and it is this shock of the
repercussion of our own affection which we call the other's regard for
ourselves, and which pleases us more then than on its outward journey
because we do not recognise it as having originated in ourselves. New
Year's Day rang out all its hours without there coming to me that letter
from Gilberte. And as I received a few others containing greetings tardy
or retarded by the overburdening of the mails at that season, on the
third and fourth of January I hoped still, but my hope grew hourly more
faint. Upon the days that followed I gazed through a mist of tears. This
undoubtedly meant that, having been less sincere than I thought in my
renunciation of Gilberte, I had kept the hope of a letter from her for
the New Year. And seeing that hope exhausted before I had had time to
shelter myself behind another, I suffered as would an invalid who had
emptied his phial of morphia without having another within his reach.
But perhaps also in my case--and these two explanations are not mutually
exclusive, for a single feeling is often made up of contrary
elements--the hope that I entertained of ultimately receiving a letter
had brought to my mind's eye once again the image of Gilberte, had
reawakened the emotions which the expectation of finding myself in her
presence, the sight of her, her way of treating me had aroused in me
before. The immediate possibility of a reconciliation had suppressed in
me that faculty the immense importance of which we are apt to overlook:
the faculty of resignation. Neurasthenics find it impossible to believe
the friends who assure them that they will gradually recover their peace
of mind if they will stay in bed and receive no letters, read no
newspapers. They imagine that such a course will only exasperate their
twitching nerves. And similarly lovers, who look upon it from their
enclosure in a contrary state of mind, who have not begun yet to make
trial of it, are unable to believe in the healing power of renunciation.

In consequence of the violence of my palpitations, my doses of caffeine
were reduced; the palpitations ceased. Whereupon I asked myself whether
it was not to some extent the drug that had been responsible for the
anguish that I had felt when I came near to quarrelling with Gilberte,
an anguish which I had attributed, on every recurrence of it, to the
distressing prospect of never seeing my friend again or of running the
risk of seeing her only when she was a prey to the same ill-humour. But
if this medicine had been at the root of the sufferings which my
imagination must in that case have interpreted wrongly (not that there
would be anything extraordinary in that, seeing that, among lovers, the
most acute mental suffering assumes often the physical identity of the
woman with whom they are living), it had been, in that sense, like the
philtre which, long after they have drunk of it, continues to bind
Tristan to Isolde. For the physical improvement which the reduction of
my caffeine effected almost at once did not arrest the evolution of that
grief which my absorption of the toxin had perhaps--if it had not
created it--at any rate contrived to render more acute.

Only, as the middle of the month of January approached, once my hopes of
a letter on New Year's Day had been disappointed, once the additional
disturbance that had come with their disappointment had grown calm, it
was my old sorrow, that of "before the holidays", which began again.
What was perhaps the most cruel thing about it was that I myself was its
architect, unconscious, wilful, merciless and patient. The one thing
that mattered, my relations with Gilberte, it was I who was labouring to
make them impossible by gradually creating out of this prolonged
separation from my friend, not indeed her indifference, but what would
come to the same thing in the end, my own. It was to a slow and painful
suicide of that part of me which was Gilberte's lover that I was goading
myself with untiring energy, with a clear sense not only of what I was
presently doing but of what must result from it in the future; I knew
not only that after a certain time I should cease to love Gilberte, but
also that she herself would regret it and that the attempts which she
would then make to see me would be as vain as those that she was making
now, no longer because I loved her too well but because I should
certainly be in love with some other woman whom I should continue to
desire, to wait for, through hours of which I should not dare to divert
any particle of a second to Gilberte who would be nothing to me then.
And no doubt at that very moment in which (since I was determined not to
see her again, unless after a formal request for an explanation or a
full confession of love on her part, neither of which was in the least
degree likely to come to me now) I had already lost Gilberte, and loved
her more than ever, and could feel all that she was to me better than in
the previous year when, spending all my afternoons in her company, or as
many as I chose, I believed that no peril threatened our friendship,--no
doubt at that moment the idea that I should one day entertain identical
feelings for another was odious to me, for that idea carried me away
beyond the range of Gilberte, my love and my sufferings. My love, my
sufferings in which through my tears I attempted to discern precisely
what Gilberte was, and was obliged to recognise that they did not
pertain exclusively to her but would, sooner or later, be some other
woman's portion. So that--or such, at least, was my way of thinking
then--we are always detached from our fellow-creatures; when a man loves
one of them he feels that his love is not labelled with their two names,
but may be born again in the future, may have been born already in the
past for another and not for her. And in the time when he is not in
love, if he makes up his mind philosophically as to what it is that is
inconsistent in love, he will find that the love of which he can speak
unmoved he did not, at the moment of speaking, feel, and therefore did
not know, knowledge in these matters being intermittent and not
outlasting the actual presence of the sentiment. That future in which I
should not love Gilberte, which my sufferings helped me to divine
although my imagination was not yet able to form a clear picture of it,
certainly there would still have been time to warn Gilberte that it was
gradually taking shape, that its coming was, if not imminent, at least
inevitable, if she herself, Gilberte, did not come to my rescue and
destroy in the germ my nascent indifference. How often was I not on the
point of writing, or of going to Gilberte to tell her: "Take care. My
mind is made up. What I am doing now is my supreme effort. I am seeing
you now for the last time. Very soon I shall have ceased to love you."
But to what end? By what authority should I have reproached Gilberte for
an indifference which, not that I considered myself guilty on that
count, I too manifested towards everything that was not herself? The
last time I To me, that appeared as something of immense significance,
because I was in love with Gilberte. On her it would doubtless have made
just as much impression as those letters in which our friends ask
whether they may pay us a visit before they finally leave the country,
an offer which, like those made by tiresome women who are in love with
us, we decline because we have pleasures of our own in prospect. The
time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions
that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit
fills up what remains.

Besides, what good would it have done if I had spoken to Gilberte; she
would not have understood me. We imagine always when we speak that it is
our own ears, our own mind that are listening. My words would have come
to her only in a distorted form, as though they had had to pass through
the moving curtain of a waterfall before they reached my friend,
unrecognisable, giving a foolish sound, having no longer any kind of
meaning. The truth which one puts into one's words does not make a
direct path for itself, is not supported by irresistible evidence. A
considerable time must elapse before a truth of the same order can take
shape in the words themselves. Then the political opponent who, despite
all argument, every proof that he has advanced to damn the votary of the
rival doctrine as a traitor, will himself have come to share the hated
conviction by which he who once sought in vain to disseminate it is no
longer bound. Then the masterpiece of literature which for the admirers
who read it aloud seemed to make self-evident the proofs of its
excellence, while to those who listened it presented only a senseless or
common-place image, will by these too be proclaimed a masterpiece, but
too late for the author to learn of their discovery. Similarly in love
the barriers, do what one may, cannot be broken down from without by him
whom they maddeningly exclude; it is when he is no longer concerned with
them that suddenly, as the result of an effort directed from elsewhere,
accomplished within the heart of her who did not love him, those
barriers which he has charged without success will fall to no advantage.
If I had come to Gilberte to tell her of my future indifference and the
means of preventing it, she would have assumed from my action that my
love for her, the need that I had of her, were even greater than I had
supposed, and her distaste for the sight of me would thereby have been
increased. And incidentally it is quite true that it was that love for
her which helped me, by means of the incongruous states of mind which it
successively produced in me, to foresee, more clearly than she herself
could, the end of that love. And yet some such warning I might perhaps
have addressed, by letter or with my own lips, to Gilberte, after a long
enough interval, which would render her, it is true, less indispensable
to me, but would also have proved to her that she was not so
indispensable. Unfortunately certain persons--of good or evil
intent--spoke of me to her in a fashion which must have led her to think
that they were doing so at my request. Whenever I thus learned that
Cottard, my own mother, even M. de Norpois had by a few ill-chosen words
rendered useless all the sacrifice that I had just been making, wasted
all the advantage of my reserve by giving me, wrongly, the appearance of
having emerged from it, I was doubly angry. In the first place I could
no longer reckon from any date but the present my laborious and fruitful
abstention which these tiresome people had, unknown to me, interrupted
and so brought to nothing. And not only that; I should have less
pleasure in seeing Gilberte, who would think of me now no longer as
containing myself in dignified resignation, but as plotting in the dark
for an interview which she had scorned to grant me. I cursed all the
idle chatter of people who so often, without any intention of hurting us
or of doing us a service, for no reason, for talking's sake, often
because we ourselves have not been able to refrain from talking in their
presence, and because they are indiscreet (as we ourselves are), do us,
at a crucial moment, so much harm. It is true that in the grim operation
performed for the eradication of our love they are far from playing a
part equal to that played by two persons who are in the habit, from
excess of good nature in one and of malice in the other, of undoing
everything at the moment when everything is on the point of being
settled. But against these two persons we bear no such grudge as against
the inopportune Cottards of this world, for the latter of them is the
person whom we love and the former is ourself.

Meanwhile, since on almost every occasion of my going to see her Mme.
Swann would invite me to come to tea another day, with her daughter, and
tell me to reply directly to her, I was constantly writing to Gilberte,
and in this correspondence I did not choose the expressions which might,
I felt, have won her over, sought only to carve out the easiest channel
for the torrent of my tears. For, like desire, regret seeks not to be
analysed but to be satisfied. When one begins to love, one spends one's
time, not in getting to know what one's love really is, but in making it
possible to meet next day. When one abandons love one seeks not to know
one's grief but to offer to her who is causing it that expression of it
which seems to one the most moving. One says the things which one feels
the need of saying, and which the other will not understand, one speaks
for oneself alone. I wrote; "I had thought that it would not be
possible. Alas, I see now that it is not so difficult." I said also: "I
shall probably not see you again;" I said it while I continued to avoid
shewing a coldness which she might think affected, and the words, as I
wrote them, made me weep because I felt that they expressed not what I
should have liked to believe but what was probably going to happen. For
at the next request for a meeting which she would convey to me I should
have again, as I had now, the courage not to yield, and, what with one
refusal and another, I should gradually come to the moment when, by
virtue of not having seen her again, I should not wish to see her. I
wept, but I found courage enough to sacrifice, I tasted the sweets of
sacrificing the happiness of being with her to the probability of
seeming attractive to her one day, a day when, alas, my seeming
attractive to her would be immaterial to me. Even the supposition,
albeit so far from likely, that at this moment, as she had pretended
during the last visit that I had paid her, she loved me, that what I
took for the boredom which one feels in the company of a person of whom
one has grown tired had been due only to a jealous susceptibility, to a
feint of indifference analogous to my own, only rendered my decision
less painful. It seemed to me that in years to come, when we had
forgotten one another, when I should be able to look back and tell her
that this letter which I was now in course of writing had not been for
one moment sincere, she would answer, "What, you really did love me, did
you? If you had only known how I waited for that letter, how I hoped
that you were coming to see me, how I cried when I read it." The
thought, while I was writing it, immediately on my return from her
mother's house, that I was perhaps helping to bring about that very
misunderstanding, that thought, by the sadness in which it plunged me,
by the pleasure of imagining that I was loved by Gilberte, gave me the
impulse to continue my letter.

If, at the moment of leaving Mme. Swann, when her tea-party ended, I was
thinking of what I was going to write to her daughter, Mme. Cottard, as
she departed, had been filled with thoughts of a wholly different order.
On her little "tour of inspection" she had not failed to congratulate
Mme. Swann on the new "pieces", the recent "acquisitions" which caught
the eye in her drawing-room. She could see among them some, though only
a very few of the things that Odette had had in the old days in the Rue
La Pérouse, for instance her animals carved in precious stones, her

For since Mme. Swann had picked up from a friend whose opinion she
valued the word "dowdy"--which had opened to her a new horizon because
it denoted precisely those things which a few years earlier she had
considered "smart"--all those things had, one after another, followed
into retirement the gilded trellis that had served as background to her
chrysanthemums, innumerable boxes of sweets from Giroux's, and the
coroneted note-paper (not to mention the coins of gilt pasteboard
littered about on the mantelpieces, which, even before she had come to
know Swann, a man of taste had advised her to sacrifice). Moreover in
the artistic disorder, the studio-like confusion of the rooms, whose
walls were still painted in sombre colours which made them as different
as possible from the white-enamelled drawing-rooms in which, a little
later, you were to find Mme. Swann installed, the Far East recoiled more
and more before the invading forces of the eighteenth-century; and the
cushions which, to make me "comfortable", Mme. Swann heaped up and
buffeted into position behind my back were sprinkled with Louis XV
garlands and not, as of old, with Chinese dragons. In the room in which
she was usually to be found, and of which she would say, "Yes, I like
this room; I use it a great deal. I couldn't live with a lot of horrid
vulgar things swearing at me all the time; this is where I do my
work----" though she never stated precisely at what she was working. Was
it a picture? A book, perhaps, for the hobby of writing was beginning to
become common among women who liked to "do something", not to be quite
useless. She was surrounded by Dresden pieces (having a fancy for that
sort of porcelain, which she would name with an English accent, saying
in any connexion: "How pretty that is; it reminds me of Dresden
flowers,"), and dreaded for them even more than in the old days for her
grotesque figures and her flower-pots the ignorant handling of her
servants who must expiate, every now and then, the anxiety that they had
caused her by submitting to outbursts of rage at which Swann, the most
courteous and considerate of masters, looked on without being shocked.
Not that the clear perception of certain weaknesses in those whom we
love in any way diminishes our affection for them; rather that affection
makes us find those weaknesses charming. Rarely nowadays was it in one
of those Japanese wrappers that Odette received her familiars, but
rather in the bright and billowing silk of a Watteau gown whose
flowering foam she made as though to caress where it covered her bosom,
and in which she immersed herself, looked solemn, splashed and sported,
with such an air of comfort, of a cool skin and long-drawn breath, that
she seemed to look on these garments not as something decorative, a mere
setting for herself, but as necessary, in the same way as her "tub" or
her daily "outing", to satisfy the requirements of her style of beauty
and the niceties of hygiene. She used often to say that she would go
without bread rather than give up "art" and "having nice things about
her", and that the burning of the "Gioconda" would distress her
infinitely more than the destruction, by the same element, of "millions"
of the people she knew. Theories which seemed paradoxical to her
friends, but made her pass among them as a superior woman, and qualified
her to receive a visit once a week from the Belgian Minister, so that in
the little world whose sun she was everyone would have been greatly
astonished to learn that elsewhere--at the Verdurins', for instance--she
was reckoned a fool. It was this vivacity of expression that made Mme.
Swann prefer men's society to women's. But when she criticised the
latter it was always from the courtesan's standpoint, singling out the
blemishes that might lower them in the esteem of men, a lumpy figure, a
bad complexion, inability to spell, hairy legs, foul breath, pencilled
eyebrows. But towards a woman who had shewn her kindness or indulgence
in the past she was more lenient, especially if this woman were now in
trouble. She would defend her warmly, saying: "People are not fair to
her. I assure you, she's quite a nice woman really."

It was not only the furniture of Odette's drawing-room, it was Odette
herself that Mme. Cottard and all those who had frequented the society
of Mme. de Crécy would have found it difficult, if they had not seen
her for some little time, to recognise. She seemed to be so much
younger. No doubt this was partly because she had grown stouter, was in
better condition, seemed at once calmer, more cool, more restful, and
also because the new way in which she braided her hair gave more breadth
to a face which was animated by an application of pink powder, and into
which her eyes and profile, formerly too prominent, seemed now to have
been reabsorbed. But another reason for this change lay in the fact
that, having reached the turning-point of life, Odette had at length
discovered, or invented, a physiognomy of her own, an unalterable
"character", a "style of beauty", and on her incoherent features--which
for so long, exposed to every hazard, every weakness of the flesh,
borrowing for a moment, at the slightest fatigue, from the years to
come, a' sort of flickering shadow of anility, had furnished her, well
or ill, according to how she was feeling, how she was looking, with a
countenance dishevelled, inconstant, formless and attractive--had now
set this fixed type, as it were an immortal youthfulness.

Swann had in his room, instead of the handsome photographs that were now
taken of his wife, in all of which the same cryptic, victorious
expression enabled one to recognise, in whatever dress and hat, her
triumphant face and figure, a little old daguerreotype of her, quite
plain, taken long before the appearance of this new type, so that the
youth and beauty of Odette, which she had not yet discovered when it was
taken, appeared to be missing from it. But it is probable that Swann,
having remained constant, or having reverted to a different conception
of her, enjoyed in the slender young woman with pensive eyes and tired
features, caught in a pose between rest and motion, a more Botticellian
charm. For he still liked to recognise in his wife one of Botticelli's
figures. Odette, who on the other hand sought not to bring out but to
make up for, to cover and conceal the points in herself that did not
please her, what might perhaps to an artist express her "character" but
in her woman's eyes were merely blemishes, would not have that painter
mentioned in her presence. Swann had a wonderful scarf of oriental silk,
blue and pink, which he had bought because it was exactly that worn by
Our Lady in the _Magnificat._ But Mme. Swann refused to wear it. Once
only she allowed her husband to order her a dress covered all over with
daisies, cornflowers, forget-me-nots and campanulas, like that of the
Primavera. And sometimes in the evening, when she was tired, he would
quietly draw my attention to the way in which she was giving, quite
unconsciously, to her pensive hands the uncontrolled, almost distraught
movement of the Virgin who dips her pen into the inkpot that the angel
holds out to her, before writing upon the sacred page on which is
already traced the word "_Magnificat_". But he added, "Whatever you do,
don't say anything about it to her; if she knew she was doing it, she
would change her pose at once."

Save at these moments of involuntary relaxation, in which Swann essayed
to recapture the melancholy cadence of Botticelli, Odette seemed now to
be cut out in a single figure, wholly confined within a line which,
following the contours of the woman, had abandoned the winding paths,
the capricious re-entrants and salients, the radial points, the
elaborate dispersions of the fashions of former days, but also, where it
was her anatomy that went wrong by making unnecessary digressions within
or without the ideal circumference traced for it, was able to rectify,
by a bold stroke, the errors of nature, to make up, along a whole
section of its course, for the failure as well of the human as of the
textile element. The pads, the preposterous "bustle" had disappeared, as
well as those tailed corsets which, projecting under the skirt and
stiffened by rods of whalebone, had so long amplified Odette with an
artificial stomach and had given her the appearance of being composed of
several incongruous pieces which there was no individuality to bind
together. The vertical fall of fringes, the curve of trimmings had made
way for the inflexion of a body which made silk palpitate as a siren
stirs the waves, gave to cambric a human expression now that it had been
liberated, like a creature that had taken shape and drawn breath, from
the long chaos and nebulous envelopment of fashions at length dethroned.
But Mme. Swann had chosen, had contrived to preserve some vestiges of
certain of these, in the very thick of the more recent fashions that had
supplanted them. When in the evening, finding myself unable to work and
feeling certain that Gilberte had gone to the theatre with friends, I
paid a surprise visit to her parents, I used often to find Mme. Swann in
an elegant dishabille the skirt of which, of one of those rich dark
colours, blood-red or orange, which seemed always as though they meant
something very special, because they were no longer the fashion, was
crossed diagonally, though not concealed, by a broad band of black lace
which recalled the flounces of an earlier day. When on a still chilly
afternoon in Spring she had taken me (before my rupture with her
daughter) to the Jardin d'Acclimatation, under her coat, which she
opened or buttoned up according as the exercise made her feel warm, the
dog-toothed border of her blouse suggested a glimpse of the lapel of
some non-existent waistcoat such as she had been accustomed to wear,
some years earlier, when she had liked their edges to have the same
slight indentations; and her scarf--of that same "Scotch tartan" to
which she had remained faithful, but whose tones she had so far
softened, red becoming pink and blue lilac, that one might almost have
taken it for one of those pigeon's-breast taffetas which were the latest
novelty--was knotted in such a way under her chin, without one's being
able to make out where it was fastened, that one could not help being
reminded of those bonnet-strings which were now no longer worn. She need
only "hold out" like this for a little longer and young men attempting
to understand her theory of dress would say: "Mme. Swann is quite a
period in herself, isn't she?" As in a fine literary style which
overlays with its different forms and so strengthens a tradition which
lies concealed among them, so in Mme. Swann's attire those half-hinted
memories of waistcoats or of ringlets, sometimes a tendency, at once
repressed, towards the "all aboard", or even a distant and vague
allusion to the "chase me" kept alive beneath the concrete form the
unfinished likeness of other, older forms which you would not have
succeeded, now, in making a tailor or a dressmaker reproduce, but about
which your thoughts incessantly hovered, and enwrapped Mme. Swann in a
cloak of nobility--perhaps because the sheer uselessness of these
fripperies made them seem meant to serve some more than utilitarian
purpose, perhaps because of the traces they preserved of vanished years,
or else because there was a sort of personality permeating this lady's
wardrobe, which gave to the most dissimilar of her costumes a distinct
family likeness. One felt that she did not dress simply for the comfort
or the adornment of her body; she was surrounded by her garments as by
the delicate and spiritualised machinery of a whole form of

When Gilberte, who, as a rule, gave her tea-parties on the days when her
mother was "at home", had for some reason to go out, and I was therefore
free to attend Mme. Swann's "kettledrum", I would find her dressed in
one of her lovely gowns, some of which were of taffeta, others of
grosgrain, or of velvet, or of _crêpe-de-Chine_, or satin or silk,
gowns which, not being loose like those that she generally wore in the
house but buttoned up tight as though she were just going out in them,
gave to her stay-at-home laziness on those afternoons something alert
and energetic. And no doubt the daring simplicity of their cut was
singularly appropriate to her figure and to her movements, which her
sleeves appeared to be symbolising in colours that varied from day to
day: one would have said that there was a sudden determination in the
blue velvet, an easy-going good-humour in the white taffeta, and that a
sort of supreme discretion full of dignity in her way of holding out her
arm had, in order to become visible, put on the appearance, dazzling
with the smile of one who had made great sacrifices, of the black
_crêpe-de-Chine._ But at the same time these animated gowns took from
the complication of their trimmings, none of which had any practical
value or served any conceivable purpose, something detached, pensive,
secret, in harmony with the melancholy which Mme. Swann never failed to
shew, at least in the shadows under her eyes and the drooping arches of
her hands. Beneath the profusion of sapphire charms, enamelled four-leaf
clovers, silver medals, gold medallions, turquoise amulets, ruby chains
and topaz chestnuts there would be, on the dress itself, some design
carried out in colour which pursued across the surface of an inserted
panel a preconceived existence of its own, some row of little satin
buttons, which buttoned nothing and could not be unbuttoned, a strip of
braid that sought to please the eye with the minuteness, the discretion
of a delicate reminder; and these, as well as the trinkets, had the
effect--for otherwise there would have been no possible justification of
their presence--of disclosing a secret intention, being a pledge of
affection, keeping a secret, ministering to a superstition,
commemorating a recovery from sickness, a granted wish, a love affair or
a "philippine". And now and then in the blue velvet of the bodice a hint
of "slashes", in the Henri II style, in the gown of black satin a slight
swelling which, if it was in the sleeves, just below the shoulders, made
one think of the "leg of mutton" sleeves of 1830, or if, on the other
hand, it was beneath the skirt, with its Louis XV paniers, gave the
dress a just perceptible air of being "fancy dress" and at all events,
by insinuating beneath the life of the present day a vague reminiscence
of the past, blended with the person of Mme. Swann the charm of certain
heroines of history or romance. And if I were to draw her attention to
this: "I don't play golf," she would answer, "like so many of my
friends. So I should have no excuse for going about, as they do, in

In the confusion of her drawing-room, on her way from shewing out one
visitor, or with a plateful of cakes to "tempt" another, Mme. Swann as
she passed by me would take me aside for a moment: "I have special
instructions from Gilberte that you are to come to luncheon the day
after to-morrow. As I wasn't sure of seeing you here, I was going to
write to you if you hadn't come." I continued to resist. And this
resistance was costing me steadily less and less, because, however much
one may love the poison that is destroying one, when one has
compulsorily to do without it, and has had to do without it for some
time past, one cannot help attaching a certain value to the peace of
mind which one had ceased to know, to the absence of emotion and
suffering. If one is not altogether sincere in assuring oneself that one
does not wish ever to see again her whom one loves, one would not be a
whit more sincere in saying that one would like to see her. For no doubt
one can endure her absence only when one promises oneself that it shall
not be for long, and thinks of the day on which one shall see her again,
but at the same time one feels how much less painful are those daily
recurring dreams of a meeting immediate and incessantly postponed than
would be an interview which might be followed by a spasm of jealousy,
with the result that the news that one is shortly to see her whom one
loves would cause a disturbance which would be none too pleasant. What
one procrastinates now from day to day is no longer the end of the
intolerable anxiety caused by separation, it is the dreaded renewal of
emotions which can lead to nothing. How infinitely one prefers to any
such interview the docile memory which one can supplement at one's
pleasure with dreams, in which she who in reality does not love one
seems, far from that, to be making protestations of her love for one,
when one is by oneself; that memory which one can contrive, by blending
gradually with it a portion of what one desires, to render as pleasing
as one may choose, how infinitely one prefers it to the avoided
interview in which one would have to deal with a creature to whom one
could no longer dictate at one's pleasure the words that one would like
to hear on her lips, but from whom one would meet with fresh coldness,
unlooked-for violence. We know, all of us, when we no longer love, that
forgetfulness, that even a vague memory do not cause us so much
suffering as an ill-starred love. It was of such forgetfulness that in
anticipation I preferred, without acknowledging it to myself, the
reposeful tranquillity.

Moreover, whatever discomfort there may be in such a course of psychical
detachment and isolation grows steadily less for another reason, namely
that it weakens while it is in process of healing that fixed obsession
which is a state of love. Mine was still strong enough for me to be able
to count upon recapturing my old position in Gilberte's estimation,
which in view of my deliberate abstention must, it seemed to me, be
steadily increasing; in other words each of those calm and melancholy
days on which I did not see her, coming one after the other without
interruption, continuing too without prescription (unless some busy-body
were to meddle in my affairs), was a day not lost but gained. Gained to
no purpose, it might be, for presently they would be able to pronounce
that I was healed. Resignation, modulating our habits, allows certain
elements of our strength to be indefinitely increased. Those--so
wretchedly inadequate--that I had had to support my grief, on the first
evening of my rupture with Gilberte, had since multiplied to an
incalculable power. Only, the tendency which everything that exists has
to prolong its own existence is sometimes interrupted by sudden impulses
to which we give way with all the fewer scruples over letting ourselves
go since we know for how many days, for how many months even we have
been able, and might still be able to abstain. And often it is when the
purse in which we hoard our savings is nearly full that we undo and
empty it, it is without waiting for the result of our medical treatment
and when we have succeeded in growing accustomed to it that we abandon
it. So, one day, when Mme. Swann was repeating her familiar statement of
what a pleasure it would be to Gilberte to see me, thus putting the
happiness of which I had now for so long been depriving myself, as it
were within arm's length, I was stupefied by the realisation that it was
still possible for me to enjoy that pleasure, and I could hardly wait
until next day; when I had made up my mind to take Gilberte by surprise,
in the evening, before dinner.

What helped me to remain patient throughout the long day that followed
was another plan that I had made. From the moment in which everything
was forgotten, in which I was reconciled to Gilberte, I no longer wished
to visit her save as a lover. Every day she should receive from me the
finest flowers that grew. And if Mme. Swann, albeit she had no right to
be too severe a mother, should forbid my making a daily offering of
flowers, I should find other gifts, more precious and less frequent. My
parents did not give me enough money for me to be able to buy expensive
things. I thought of a big bowl of old Chinese porcelain which had been
left to me by aunt Léonie, and of which Mamma prophesied daily that
Françoise would come running to her with an "Oh, it's all come to
pieces!" and that that would be the end of it. Would it not be wiser, in
that case, to part with it, to sell it so as to be able to give Gilberte
all the pleasure I could. I felt sure that I could easily get a thousand
francs for it. I had it tied up in paper; I had grown so used to it that
I had ceased altogether to notice it; parting with it had at least the
advantage of making me realise what it was like. I took it with me as I
started for the Swanns', and, giving the driver their address, told him
to go by the Champs-Elysées, at one end of which was the shop of a big
dealer in oriental things, who knew my father. Greatly to my surprise he
offered me there and then not one thousand but ten thousand francs for
the bowl. I took the notes with rapture. Every day, for a whole year, I
could smother Gilberte in roses and lilac. When I left the shop and got
into my cab again the driver (naturally enough, since the Swanns lived
out by the Bois) instead of taking the ordinary way began to drive me
along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. He had just passed the end of the
Rue de Berri when, in the failing light, I thought I saw, close to the
Swanns' house but going in the other direction, going away from it,
Gilberte, who was walking slowly, though with a firm step, by the side
of a young man with whom she was conversing, but whose face I could not
distinguish. I stood up in the cab, meaning to tell the driver to stop;
then hesitated. The strolling couple were already some way away, and the
parallel lines which their leisurely progress was quietly drawing were
on the verge of disappearing in the Elysian gloom. A moment later, I had
reached Gilberte's door. I was received by Mme. Swann. "Oh! she will be
sorry!" was my greeting, "I can't think why she isn't in. She came home
just now from a lesson, complaining of the heat, and said she was going
out for a little fresh air with another girl." "I fancy I passed her in
the Avenue des Champs-Elysées." "Oh, I don't think it can have been.
Anyhow, don't mention it to her father; he doesn't approve of her going
out at this time of night. Must you go? Good-bye." I left her, told my
driver to go home the same way, but found no trace of the two walking
figures. Where had they been? What were they saying to one another in
the darkness so confidentially?

I returned home, desperately clutching my windfall of ten thousand
francs, which would have enabled me to arrange so many pleasant
surprises for that Gilberte whom now I had made up my mind never to see
again. No doubt my call at the dealer's had brought me happiness by
allowing me to expect that in future, whenever I saw my friend, she
would be pleased with me and grateful. But if I had not called there, if
my cabman had not taken the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, I should not
have seen Gilberte with that young man. Thus a single action may have
two contradictory effects, and the misfortune that it engenders cancel
the good fortune that it has already brought one. There had befallen me
the opposite of what so frequently happens. We desire some pleasure, and
the material means of obtaining it are lacking. "It is a mistake,"
Labruyère tells us, "to be in love without an ample fortune." There is
nothing for it but to attempt a gradual elimination of our desire for
that pleasure. In my case, however, the material means had been
forthcoming, but at the same moment, if not by a logical effect, at any
rate as a fortuitous consequence of that initial success, my pleasure
had been snatched from me. As, for that matter, it seems as though it
must always be. As a rule, however, not on the same evening on which we
have acquired what makes it possible. Usually, we continue to struggle
and to hope for a little longer. But the pleasure can never be realised.
If we succeed in overcoming the force of circumstances, nature at once
shifts the battle-ground, placing it within ourselves, and effects a
gradual change in our heart until it desires something other than what
it is going to obtain. And if this transposition has been so rapid that
our heart has not had time to change, nature does not, on that account,
despair of conquering us, in a manner more gradual, it is true, more
subtle, but no less efficacious. It is then, at the last moment, that
the possession of our happiness is wrested from us, or rather it is that
very possession which nature, with diabolical cleverness, uses to
destroy our happiness. After failure in every quarter of the domain of
life and action, it is a final incapacity, the mental incapacity for
happiness that nature creates in us. The phenomenon of happiness either
fails to appear, or at once gives way to the bitterest of reactions.

I put my ten thousand francs in a drawer. But they were no longer of any
use to me. I ran through them, as it happened, even sooner than if I had
sent flowers every day to Gilberte, for when evening came I was always
too wretched to stay in the house and used to go and pour out my sorrows
upon the bosoms of women whom I did not love. As for seeking to give any
sort of pleasure to Gilberte, I no longer thought of that; to visit her
house again now could only have added to my sufferings. Even the sight
of Gilberte, which would have' been so exquisite a pleasure only
yesterday, would no longer have sufficed me. For I should have been
miserable all the time that I was not actually with her. That is how a
woman, by every fresh torture that she inflicts on us, increases, often
quite unconsciously, her power over us and at the same time our demands
upon her. With each injury that she does us, she encircles us more and
more completely, doubles our chains--but halves the strength of those
which hitherto we had thought adequate to bind her in order that we
might retain our own peace of mind. Only yesterday, had I not been
afraid of annoying Gilberte, I should have been content to ask for no
more than occasional meetings, which now would no longer have contented
me and for which I should now have substituted quite different terms.
For in this respect love is not like war; after the battle is ended we
renew the fight with keener ardour, which we never cease to intensify
the more thoroughly we are defeated, provided always that we are still
in a position to give battle. This was not my position with regard to
Gilberte. Also I preferred, at first, not to see her mother again. I
continued, it is true, to assure myself that Gilberte did not love me,
that I had known this for ever so long, that I could see her again if I
chose, and, if I did not choose, forget her in course of time. But these
ideas, like a remedy which has no effect upon certain complaints, had no
power whatsoever to obliterate those two parallel lines which I kept on
seeing, traced by Gilberte and the young man as they slowly disappeared
along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. This was a fresh misfortune, which
like the rest would gradually lose its force, a fresh image which would
one day present itself to my mind's eye completely purged of every
noxious element that it now contained, like those deadly poisons which
one can handle without danger, or like a crumb of dynamite which one can
use to light one's cigarette without fear of an explosion. Meanwhile
there was in me another force which was striving with all its might to
overpower that unwholesome force which still shewed me, without
alteration, the figure of Gilberte walking in the dusk: to meet and to
break the shock of the renewed assaults of memory, I had, toiling
effectively on the other side, imagination. The former force did indeed
continue to shew me that couple walking in the Champs-Elysées, and
offered me other disagreeable pictures drawn from the past, as for
instance Gilberte shrugging her shoulders when her mother asked her to
stay and entertain me. But the other force, working upon the canvas of
my hopes, outlined a future far more attractively developed than this
poor past which, after all, was so restricted. For one minute in which I
saw Gilberte's sullen face, how many were there in which I planned to my
own satisfaction all the steps that she was to take towards our
reconciliation, perhaps even towards our betrothal. It is true that this
force, which my imagination was concentrating upon the future, it was
drawing, for all that, from the past. I was still in love with her whom,
it is true, I believed that I detested. But whenever anyone told me that
I was looking well, or was nicely dressed, I wished that she could have
been there to see me. I was irritated by the desire that many people
shewed about this time to ask me to their houses, and refused all their
invitations. There was a scene at home because I did not accompany my
father to an official dinner at which the Bontemps were to be present
with their niece Albertine, a young girl still hardly more than a child.
So it is that the different periods of our life overlap one another. We
scornfully decline, because of one whom we love and who will some day be
of so little account, to see another who is of no account to-day, with
whom we shall be in love to-morrow, with whom we might, perhaps, had we
consented to see her now, have fallen in love a little earlier and who
would thus have put a term to our present sufferings, bringing others,
it is true, in their place. Mine were steadily growing less. I had the
surprise of discovering in my own heart one sentiment one day, another
the next, generally inspired by some hope or some fear relative to
Gilberte. To the Gilberte whom I kept within me. I ought to have
reminded myself that the other, the real Gilberte was perhaps entirely
different from mine, knew nothing of the regrets that I ascribed to her,
was thinking probably less about me, not merely than I was thinking
about her but than I made her be thinking about me when I was closeted
alone with my fictitious Gilberte, wondering what really were her
feelings with regard to me and so imagining her attention as constantly
directed towards myself.

During those periods in which our bitterness of spirit, though steadily
diminishing, still persists, a distinction must be drawn between the
bitterness which comes to us from our constantly thinking of the person
herself and that which is revived by certain memories, some cutting
speech, some word in a letter that we have had from her. The various
forms which that bitterness can assume we shall examine when we come to
deal with another and later love affair; for the present it must suffice
to say that, of these two kinds, the former is infinitely the less
cruel. That is because our conception of the person, since it dwells
always within ourselves, is there adorned with the halo with which we
are bound before long to invest her, and bears the marks if not of the
frequent solace of hope, at any rate of the tranquillity of a permanent
sorrow. (It must also be observed that the image of a person who makes
us suffer counts for little if anything in those complications which
aggravate the unhappiness of love, prolong it and prevent our recovery,
just as in certain maladies the cause is insignificant beyond comparison
with the fever which follows it and the time that must elapse before our
convalescence.) But if the idea of the person whom we love catches and
reflects a ray of light from a mind which is on the whole optimistic, it
is not so with those special memories, those cutting words, that
inimical letter (I received only one that could be so described from
Gilberte); you would say that the person herself dwelt in those
fragments, few and scattered as they were, and dwelt there multiplied to
a power of which she falls ever so far short in the idea which we are
accustomed to form of her as a whole. Because the letter has not--as the
image of the beloved creature has--been contemplated by us in the
melancholy calm of regret; we have read it, devoured it in the fearful
anguish with which we were wrung by an unforeseen misfortune. Sorrows of
this sort come to us in another way; from without; and it is along the
road of the most cruel suffering that they have penetrated to our heart.
The picture of our friend in our mind, which we believe to be old,
original, authentic, has in reality been refashioned by her many times
over. The cruel memory is not itself contemporary with the restored
picture, it is of another age, it is one of the rare witnesses to a
monstrous past. But inasmuch as this past continues to exist, save in
ourself, who have been pleased to substitute for it a miraculous age of
gold, a paradise in which all mankind shall be reconciled, those
memories, those letters carry us back to reality, and cannot but make us
feel, by the sudden pang they give us, what a long way we have been
borne from that reality by the baseless hopes engendered daily while we
waited for something to happen. Not that the said reality is bound
always to remain the same, though that does indeed happen at times.
There are in our life any number of women whom we have never wished to
see again, and who have quite naturally responded to our in no way
calculated silence with a silence as profound. Only in their case as we
never loved them, we have never counted the years spent apart from them,
and this instance, which would invalidate our whole argument, we are
inclined to forget when we are considering the healing effect of
isolation, just as people who believe in presentiments forget all the
occasions on which their own have not "come true".

But, after a time, absence may prove efficacious. The desire, the
appetite for seeing us again may after all be reborn in the heart which
at present contemns us. Only, we must allow time. Now the demands which
we ourselves make upon time are no less exorbitant than those of a heart
in process of changing. For one thing, time is the very thing that we
are least willing to allow, for our own suffering is keen and we are
anxious to see it brought to an end. And then, too, the interval of time
which the other heart needs to effect its change our own heart will have
spent in changing itself also, so that when the goal which we had
ourselves becomes attainable it will have ceased to count as a goal, or
to seem worth attaining. This idea, however, that it will be attainable,
that what, when it no longer spells any good fortune to us, we shall
ultimately secure is not good fortune, this idea embodies a part, but a
part only of the truth. Our good fortune accrues to us when we have
grown indifferent to it. But the very fact of our indifference will have
made us less exacting, and allow us in retrospect to feel convinced that
we should have been in raptures over our good fortune had it come at a
time when, very probably, it would have seemed to us miserably
inadequate. People are not very hard to satisfy nor are they very good
judges of matters in which they take no interest. The friendly overtures
of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our
indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way
short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or
acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given
us, and not of all those other speeches and meetings by which we should
have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely
as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever
happening. So that we can never be certain that the good fortune which
comes to us too late, when we are no longer in love, is altogether the
same as that good fortune the want of which made us, at one time, so
unhappy. There is only one person who could decide that; our ego of
those days; he is no longer with us, and were he to reappear, no doubt
that would be quite enough to make our good fortune--whether identical
or not--vanish.

Pending these posthumous fulfilments of a dream in which I should not,
when the time came, be greatly interested, by dint of my having to
invent, as in the days when I still hardly knew Gilberte, speeches,
letters in which she implored my forgiveness, swore that she had never
loved anyone but myself and besought me to marry her, a series of
pleasant images incessantly renewed came by degrees to hold a larger
place in my mind than the vision of Gilberte and the young man, which
had nothing now to feed upon. At this point I should perhaps have
resumed my visits to Mme. Swann but for a dream that came to me, in
which one of my friends, who was not, however, one that I could
identify, behaved with the utmost treachery towards me and appeared to
believe that I had been treacherous to him. Abruptly awakened by the
pain which this dream had given me, and finding that it persisted after
I was awake, I turned my thoughts back to the dream, racked my brains to
discover who could have been the friend whom I had seen in my sleep, the
sound of whose name--a Spanish name--was no longer distinct in my ears.
Combining Joseph's part with Pharaoh's, I set to work to interpret my
dream. I knew that, when one is interpreting a dream, it is often a
mistake to pay too much attention to the appearance of the people one
saw in it, who may perhaps have been disguised or have exchanged faces,
like those mutilated saints on the walls of cathedrals which ignorant
archaeologists have restored, fitting the body of one to the head of
another and confusing all their attributes and names. Those that people
bear in a dream are apt to mislead us. The person with whom we are in
love is to be recognised only by the intensity of the pain that we
suffer. From mine I learned that, though transformed while I was asleep
into a young man, the person whose recent betrayal still hurt me was
Gilberte. I remembered then that, the last time I had seen her, on the
day when her mother had forbidden her to go out to a dancing lesson, she
had, whether in sincerity or in make-believe, declined, laughing in a
strange manner, to believe in the genuineness of my feeling for her. And
by association this memory brought back to me another. Long before that,
it had been Swann who would not believe in my sincerity, nor that I was
a suitable friend for Gilberte. In vain had I written to him, Gilberte
had brought back my letter and had returned it to me with the same
incomprehensible laugh. She had not returned it to me at once: I
remembered now the whole of that scene behind the clump of laurels. As
soon as one is unhappy one becomes moral. Gilberte's recent antipathy
for me seemed to me a judgment delivered on me by life for my conduct
that afternoon. Such judgments one imagines one can escape because one
looks out for carriages when one is crossing the street, and avoids
obvious dangers. But there are others that take effect within us. The
accident comes from the side to which one has not been looking, from
inside, from the heart. Gilberte's words: "If you like, we might go on
wrestling," made me shudder. I imagined her behaving like that, at home
perhaps, in the linen-room, with the young man whom I had seen escorting
her along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. And so, just as when, a little
time back, I had believed myself to be calmly established in a state of
happiness, it had been fatuous in me, now that I had abandoned all
thought of happiness, to take for granted that at least I had grown and
was going to remain calm. For, so long as our heart keeps enshrined with
any permanence the image of another person, it is not only our happiness
that may at any moment be destroyed; when that happiness has vanished,
when we have suffered, and, later, when we have succeeded in lulling our
sufferings to sleep, the thing then that is as elusive, as precarious as
ever our happiness was is our calm. Mine returned to me in the end, for
the cloud which, lowering our resistance, tempering our desires, has
penetrated, in the train of a dream, the enclosure of our mind, is
bound, in course of time, to dissolve, permanence and stability being
assured to nothing in this world, not even to grief. Besides, those
whose suffering is due to love are, as we say of certain invalids, their
own physicians. As consolation can come to them only from the person who
is the cause of their grief, and as their grief is an emanation from
that person, it is there, in their grief itself, that they must in the
end find a remedy: which it will disclose to them at a given moment, for
the longer they turn it over in their minds this grief will continue to
shew them fresh aspects of the loved, the regretted creature, at one
moment so intensely hateful that one has no longer the slightest desire
to see her, since before finding enjoyment in her company one would have
first to make her suffer, at another so pleasant that the pleasantness
in which one has invested her one adds to her own stock of good
qualities and finds in it a fresh reason for hope. But even although the
anguish that had reawakened in me did at length grow calm, I no longer
wished--except just occasionally--to visit Mme. Swann. In the first
place because, among those who love and have been forsaken, the state of
incessant--even if unconfessed--expectancy in which they live undergoes
a spontaneous transformation, and, while to all appearance unchanged,
substitutes for its original elements others that are precisely the
opposite. The first were the consequences of--a reaction from the
painful incidents which had upset us. The tension of waiting for what is
yet to come is mingled with fear, all the more since we desire at such
moments, should no message come to us from her whom we love, to act for
ourselves, and are none too confident of the success of a step which,
once we have taken it, we may find it impossible to follow up. But
presently, without our having noticed any change, this tension, which
still endures, is sustained, we discover, no longer by our recollection
of the past but by anticipation of an imaginary future. From that moment
it is almost pleasant. Besides, the first state, by continuing for some
time, has accustomed us to living in expectation. The suffering that we
felt during those last meetings survives in us still, but is already
lulled to sleep. We are in no haste to arouse it, especially as we do
not see very clearly what to ask for now. The possession of a little
more of the woman whom we love would only make more essential to us the
part that we did not yet possess, which is bound to remain, whatever
happens, since our requirements are begotten of our satisfactions, an
irreducible quantity.

Another, final reason came later on to reinforce this, and to make me
discontinue altogether my visits to Mme. Swann. This reason, slow in
revealing itself, was not that I had now forgotten Gilberte but that I
must make every effort to forget her as speedily as possible. No doubt,
now that the keen edge of my suffering was dulled, my visits to Mme.
Swann had become once again, for what sorrow remained in me, the
sedative and distraction which had been so precious to me at first. But
what made the sedative efficacious made the distraction impossible,
namely that with these visits the memory of Gilberte was intimately
blended. The distraction would be of no avail to me unless it was
employed to combat a sentiment which the presence of Gilberte no longer
nourished, thoughts, interests, passions in which Gilberte should have
no part. These states of consciousness, to which the person whom we love
remains a stranger, then occupy a place which, however small it may be
at first, is always so much reconquered from the love that has been in
unchallenged possession of our whole soul. We must seek to encourage
these thoughts, to make them grow, while the sentiment which is no more
now than a memory dwindles, so that the new elements introduced into our
mind contest with that sentiment, wrest from it an ever increasing part
of our soul, until at last the victory is complete. I decided that this
was the only way in which my love could be killed, and I was still young
enough, still courageous enough to undertake the attempt, to subject
myself to that most cruel grief which springs from the certainty that,
whatever time one may devote to the effort, it will prove successful in
the end. The reason I now gave in my letters to Gilberte for refusing to
see her was an allusion to some mysterious misunderstanding, wholly
fictitious, which was supposed to have arisen between her and myself,
and as to which I had hoped at first that Gilberte would insist upon my
furnishing her with an explanation. But, as a matter of fact, never,
even in the most insignificant relations in life, does a request for
enlightenment come from a correspondent who knows that an obscure,
untruthful, incriminating sentence has been written on purpose, so that
he shall protest against it, and is only too glad to feel, when he reads
it, that he possesses--and to keep in his own hands--the initiative in
the coming operations. For all the more reason is this so in our more
tender relations, in which love is endowed with so much eloquence,
indifference with so little curiosity. Gilberte having never appeared to
doubt nor sought to learn more about this misunderstanding, it became
for me a real entity, to which I referred anew in every letter. And
there is in these baseless situations, in the affectation of coldness a
sort of fascination which tempts one to persevere in them. By dint of
writing: "Now that our hearts are sundered," so that Gilberte might
answer: "But they are not. Do explain what you mean," I had gradually
come to believe that they were. By constantly repeating, "Life may have
changed for us, it will never destroy the feeling that we had for one
another," in the hope of hearing myself, one day, say: "But there has
been no change, the feeling is stronger now than ever it was," I was
living with the idea that life had indeed changed, that we should keep
only the memory of a feeling which no longer existed, as certain
neurotics, from having at first pretended to be ill, end by becoming
chronic invalids. Now, whenever I had to write to Gilberte, I brought my
mind back to this imagined change, which, being now tacitly admitted by
the silence which she preserved with regard to it in her replies, would
in future subsist between us. Then Gilberte ceased to make a point of
ignoring it. She too adopted my point of view; and, as in the speeches
at official banquets, when the foreign Sovereign who is being
entertained adopts practically the same expressions as have just been
used by the Sovereign who is entertaining him, whenever I wrote to
Gilberte: "Life may have parted us; the memory of the days when we knew
one another will endure," she never failed to respond: "Life may have
parted us; it cannot make us forget those happy hours which will always
be dear to us both," (though we should have found it hard to say why or
how "Life" had parted us, or what change had occurred). My sufferings
were no longer excessive. And yet, one day when I was telling her in a
letter that I had heard of the death of our old barley-sugar woman in
the Champs-Elysées, as I wrote the words: "I felt at once that this
would distress you, in me it awakened a host of memories," I could not
restrain myself from bursting into tears when I saw that I was speaking
in the past tense, as though it were of some dead friend, now almost
forgotten, of this love of which in spite of myself I had never ceased
to think as of a thing still alive, or one that at least might be born
again. Nothing can be more affectionate than this sort of correspondence
between friends who do not wish to see one another any more. Gilberte's
letters to me had all the delicate refinement of those which I used to
write to people who did not matter, and shewed me the same apparent
marks of affection, which it was so pleasant for me to receive from her.

But, as time went on, every refusal to see her disturbed me less. And as
she became less dear to me, my painful memories were no longer strong
enough to destroy by their incessant return the growing pleasure which I
found in thinking of Florence, or of Venice. I regretted, at such
moments, that I had abandoned the idea of diplomacy and had condemned
myself to a sedentary existence, in order not to be separated from a
girl whom I should not see again and had already almost forgotten. We
construct our house of life to suit another person, and when at length
it is ready to receive her that person does not come; presently she is
dead to us, and we live on, a prisoner within the walls which were
intended only for her. If Venice seemed to my parents to be a long way
off, and its climate treacherous, it was at least quite easy for me to
go, without tiring myself, and settle down at Balbec. But to do that I
should have had to leave Paris, to forego those visits thanks to which,
infrequent as they were, I might sometimes hear Mme. Swann telling me
about her daughter. Besides, I was beginning to find in them various
pleasures in which Gilberte had no part.

When spring drew round, and with it the cold weather, during an icy Lent
and the hailstorms of Holy Week, as Mme. Swann began to find it cold in
the house, I used often to see her entertaining her guests in her furs,
her shivering hands and shoulders hidden beneath the gleaming white
carpet of an immense rectangular muff and a cape, both of ermine, which
she had not taken off on coming in from her drive, and which suggested
the last patches of the snows of winter, more persistent than the rest,
which neither the heat of the fire nor the advancing season had
succeeded in melting. And the whole truth about these glacial but
already flowering weeks was suggested to me in this drawing-room, which
soon I should be entering no more, by other more intoxicating forms of
whiteness, that for example of the guelder-roses clustering, at the
summits of their tall bare stalks, like the rectilinear trees in
pre-raphaelite paintings, their balls of blossom, divided yet composite,
white as annunciating angels and breathing a fragrance as of lemons. For
the mistress of Tansonville knew that April, even an ice-bound April was
not barren of flowers, that winter, spring, summer are not held apart by
barriers as hermetic as might be supposed by the town-dweller who, until
the first hot day, imagines the world as containing nothing but houses
that stand naked in the rain. That Mme. Swann was content with the
consignments furnished by her Combray gardener, that she did not, by the
intervention of her own "special" florist, fill up the gaps left by an
insufficiently powerful magic with subsidies borrowed from a precocious
Mediterranean shore, I do not for a moment suggest, nor did it worry me
at the time. It was enough to fill me with longing for country scenes
that, overhanging the loose snowdrifts of the muff in which Mme. Swann
kept her hands, the guelder-rose snow-balls (which served very possibly
in the mind of my hostess no other purpose than to compose, on the
advice of Bergotte, a 'Symphony in White' with her furniture and her
garments) reminded me that what the Good Friday music in _Parsifal_
symbolised was a natural miracle which one could see performed every
year, if one had the sense to look for it, and, assisted by the acid and
heady perfume of the other kinds of blossom, which, although their names
were unknown to me, had brought me so often to a standstill to gaze at
them on my walks round Combray, made Mme. Swann's drawing-room as
virginal, as candidly "in bloom", without the least vestige of greenery,
as overladen with genuine scents of flowers as was the little lane by

But it was still more than I could endure that these memories should be
recalled to me. There was a risk of their reviving what little remained
of my love for Gilberte. Besides, albeit I no longer felt the least
distress during these visits to Mme. Swann, I extended the intervals
between them and endeavoured to see as little of her as possible. At
most, since I continued not to go out of Paris, I allowed myself an
occasional walk with her. Fine weather had come at last, and the sun was
hot. As I knew that before luncheon Mme. Swann used to go out every day
for an hour, and would stroll for a little in the Avenue du Bois, near
the Etoile--a spot which, at that time, because of the people who used
to collect there to gaze at the "swells" whom they knew only by name,
was known as the "Shabby-Genteel Club"--I persuaded my parents, on
Sundays, (for on weekdays I was busy all morning), to let me postpone my
luncheon until long after theirs, until a quarter past one, and go for a
walk before it. During May, that year, I never missed a Sunday, for
Gilberte had gone to stay with friends in the country. I used to reach
the Arc-de-Triomphe about noon. I kept watch at the entrance to the
Avenue, never taking my eyes off the corner of the side-street along
which Mme. Swann, who had only a few yards to walk, would come from her
house. As by this time many of the people who had been strolling there
were going home to luncheon, those who remained were few in number and,
for the most part, fashionably dressed. Suddenly, on the gravelled path,
unhurrying, cool, luxuriant, Mme. Swann appeared, displaying around her
a toilet which was never twice the same, but which I remember as being
typically mauve; then she hoisted and unfurled at the end of its long
stalk, just at the moment when her radiance was most complete, the
silken banner of a wide parasol of a shade that matched the showering
petals of her gown. A whole troop of people escorted her; Swann himself,
four or five fellows from the Club, who had been to call upon her that
morning or whom she had met in the street: and their black or grey
agglomeration, obedient to her every gesture, performing the almost
mechanical movements of a lifeless setting in which Odette was framed,
gave to this woman, in whose eyes alone was there any intensity, the air
of looking out in front of her, from among all those men, as from a
window behind which she had taken her stand, and made her emerge there,
frail but fearless, in the nudity of her delicate colours, like the
apparition of a creature of a different species, of an unknown race, and
of almost martial strength, by virtue of which she seemed by herself a
match for all her multiple escort. Smiling, rejoicing in the fine
weather, in the sunshine which had not yet become trying, with the air
of calm assurance of a creator who has accomplished his task and takes
no thought for anything besides; certain that her clothes--even though
the vulgar herd should fail to appreciate them--were the smartest
anywhere to be seen, she wore them for herself and for her friends,
naturally, without exaggerated attention to them but also without
absolute detachment; not preventing the little bows of ribbon upon her
bodice and skirt from floating buoyantly upon the air before her, like
separate creatures of whose presence there she was not unconscious, but
was indulgent enough to let them play if they chose, keeping their own
rhythm, provided that they accompanied her where she led the way; and
even upon her mauve parasol, which, as often as not, she had not yet
"put up" when she appeared on the scene, she let fall now and then, as
though upon a bunch of Parma violets, a gaze happy and so kindly that,
when it was fastened no longer upon her friends but on some inanimate
object, her eyes still seemed to smile. She thus kept open, she made her
garments occupy that interval of smartness, of which the men with whom
she was on the most familiar terms respected both the existence and its
necessity, not without shewing a certain deference, as of profane
visitors to a shrine, an admission of their own ignorance, an interval
over which they recognised that their friend had (as we recognise that a
sick man has over the special precautions that he has to take, or a
mother over her children's education) a competent jurisdiction. No less
than by the court which encircled her and seemed not to observe the
passers-by, Mme. Swann by the lateness of her appearance there at once
suggested those rooms in which she had spent so long, so leisurely a
morning and to which she must presently return for luncheon; she seemed
to indicate their proximity by the unhurrying ease of her progress, like
the turn that one takes up and down one's own garden of those rooms one
would have said that she was carrying about her still the cool, the
indoor shade. But for that very reason the sight of her gave me only a
stronger sensation of open air and warmth. All the more because, being
assured in my own mind that, in accordance with the liturgy, with the
ritual in which Mme. Swann was so profoundly versed, her clothes were
connected with the time of year and of day by a bond both inevitable and
unique, I felt that the flowers upon the stiff straw brim of her hat,
the baby-ribbons upon her dress had been even more naturally born of the
month of May than the flowers in gardens and in woods; and to learn what
latest change there was in weather or season I had not to raise my eyes
higher than to her parasol, open and outstretched like another, a nearer
sky, round, clement, mobile, blue. For these rites, if they were of
sovereign importance, subjugated their glory (and, consequently, Mme.
Swann her own) in condescending obedience to the day, the spring, the
sun, none of which struck me as being sufficiently flattered that so
elegant a woman had been graciously pleased not to ignore their
existence, and had chosen on their account a gown of a brighter, of a
thinner fabric, suggesting to me, by the opening of its collar and
sleeves, the moist warmness of the throat and wrists that they
exposed,--in a word, had taken for them all the pains that a great
personage takes who, having gaily condescended to pay a visit to common
folk in the country, whom everyone, even the most plebeian, knows, yet
makes a point of donning, for the occasion, suitable attire. On her
arrival I would greet Mme. Swann, she stop me and say (in English) "Good
morning," and smile. We would walk a little way together. And I learned
then that these canons according to which she dressed, it was for her
own satisfaction that she obeyed them, as though yielding to a Superior
Wisdom of which she herself was High Priestess: for if it should happen
that, feeling too warm, she threw open or even took off altogether and
gave me to carry the jacket which she had intended to keep buttoned up,
I would discover in the blouse beneath it a thousand details of
execution which had had every chance of remaining there unperceived,
like those parts of an orchestral score to which the composer has
devoted infinite labour albeit they may never reach the ears of the
public: or in the sleeves of the jacket that lay folded across my arm I
would see, I would drink in slowly, for my own pleasure or from
affection for its wearer, some exquisite detail, a deliciously tinted
strip, a lining of mauve satinette which, ordinarily concealed from
every eye, was yet just as delicately fashioned as the outer parts, like
those gothic carvings on a cathedral, hidden on the inside of a
balustrade eighty feet from the ground, as perfect as are the
bas-reliefs over the main porch, and yet never seen by any living man
until, happening to pass that way upon his travels, an artist obtains
leave to climb up there among them, to stroll in the open air, sweeping
the whole town with a comprehensive gaze, between the soaring towers.

What enhanced this impression that Mme. Swann was walking in the Avenue
as though along the paths of her own garden, was--for people ignorant of
her habit of "taking exercise"--that she had come there on foot, without
any carriage following, she whom, once May had begun, they were
accustomed to see, behind the most brilliant "turn-out", the smartest
liveries in Paris, gently and majestically seated, like a goddess, in
the balmy air of an immense victoria on eight springs. On foot Mme.
Swann had the appearance--especially as her pace began to slacken in the
heat of the sun--of having yielded to curiosity, of committing an
"exclusive" breach of all the rules of her code, like those Crowned
Heads who, without consulting anyone, accompanied by the slightly
scandalised admiration of a suite which dares not venture any criticism,
step out of their boxes during a gala performance and visit the lobby of
the theatre, mingling for a moment or two with the rest of the audience.
So between Mme. Swann and themselves the crowd felt that there existed
those barriers of a certain kind of opulence which seem to them the most
insurmountable that there are. The Faubourg Saint-Germain may have its
barriers also, but these are less "telling" to the eyes and imagination
of the "shabby-genteel". These latter, when in the presence of a real
personage, more simple, more easily mistaken for the wife of a small
professional or business man, less remote from the people, will not feel
the same sense of their own inequality, almost of their unworthiness, as
dismays them when they encounter Mme. Swann. Of course women of that
sort are not themselves dazzled, as the crowd are, by the brilliance of
their apparel, they have ceased to pay any attention to it, but only
because they have grown used to it, that is to say have come to look
upon it more and more as natural and necessary, to judge their fellow
creatures according as they are more or less initiated into these
luxurious ways: so that (the grandeur which they allow themselves to
display or discover in others being wholly material, easily verified,
slowly acquired, the lack of it hard to compensate) if such women place
a passer-by in the lowest rank of society, it is by the same instinctive
process that has made them appear to him as in the highest, that is to
say instinctively, at first sight, and without possibility of appeal.
Perhaps that special class of society which included in those days women
like Lady Israels, who mixed with the women of the aristocracy, and Mme.
Swann, who was to get to know them later on, that intermediate class,
inferior to the Faubourg Saint-Germain, since it "ran after" the
denizens of that quarter, but superior to everything that was not of the
Faubourg Saint-Germain, possessing this peculiarity that, while already
detached from the world of the merely rich, it was riches still that it
represented, but riches that had been canalised, serving a purpose,
swayed by an idea that were artistic, malleable gold, chased with a
poetic design, taught to smile; perhaps that class--in the same form, at
least, and with the same charm--exists no longer. In any event, the
women who were its members would not satisfy to-day what was the primary
condition on which they reigned, since with advancing age they have
lost--almost all of them--their beauty. Whereas it was (just as much as
from the pinnacle of her noble fortune) from the glorious zenith of her
ripe and still so fragrant summer that Mme. Swann, majestic, smiling,
kind, as she advanced along the Avenue du Bois, saw like Hypatia,
beneath the slow tread of her feet, worlds revolving. Various young men
as they passed looked at her anxiously, not knowing whether their vague
acquaintance with her (especially since, having been introduced only
once, at the most, to Swann, they were afraid that he might not remember
them) was sufficient excuse for their venturing to take off their hats.
And they trembled to think of the consequences as they made up their
minds, asking themselves whether the gesture, so bold, so sacrilegious a
tempting of providence, would not let loose the catastrophic forces of
nature or bring down upon them the vengeance of a jealous god. It
provoked only, like the winding of a piece of clockwork, a series of
gesticulations from little, responsive bowing figures, who were none
other than Odette's escort, beginning with Swann himself, who raised his
tall hat lined in green leather with an exquisite courtesy, which he had
acquired in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, but to which was no longer
wedded the indifference that he would at one time have shewn. Its place
was now taken (as though he had been to some extent permeated by
Odette's prejudices) at once by irritation at having to acknowledge the
salute of a person who was none too well dressed and by satisfaction at
his wife's knowing so many people, a mixed sensation to which he gave
expression by saying to the smart friends who walked by his side: "What!
another! Upon my word, I can't imagine where my wife picks all these
fellows up!" Meanwhile, having greeted with a slight movement of her
head the terrified youth, who had already passed out of sight though his
heart was still beating furiously, Mme. Swann turned to me: "Then it's
all over?" she put it to me, "You aren't ever coming to see Gilberte
again? I'm glad you make an exception of me, and are not going to 'drop'
me straight away. I like seeing you, but I used to like also the
influence you had over my daughter. I'm sure she's very sorry about it,
too. However, I mustn't bully you, or you'll make up your mind at once
that you never want to set eyes on me again." "Odette, Sagan's trying to
speak to you!" Swann called his wife's attention. And there, indeed, was
the Prince, as in some transformation scene at the close of a play, or
in a circus, or an old painting, wheeling his horse round so as to face
her, in a magnificent heroic pose, and doffing his hat with a sweeping
theatrical and, so to speak, allegorical flourish in which he displayed
all the chivalrous courtesy of a great noble bowing in token of his
respect for Woman, were she incarnate in a woman whom it was impossible
for his mother or his sister to know. And at every moment, recognised in
the depths of the liquid transparency and of the luminous glaze of the
shadow which her parasol cast over her, Mme. Swann was receiving the
salutations of the last belated horsemen, who passed as though in a
cinematograph taken as they galloped in the blinding glare of the
Avenue, men from the clubs, whose names of whom, which meant only
celebrities to the public, Antoine de Castellane, Adalbert de
Montmorency and the rest--were for Mme. Swann the familiar names of
friends. And as the average span of life, the relative longevity of our
memories of poetical sensations is much greater than that of our
memories of what the heart has suffered, long after the sorrows that I
once felt on Gilberte's account have faded and vanished, there has
survived them the pleasure that I still derive--whenever I close my eyes
and read, as it were upon the face of a sundial, the minutes that are
recorded between a quarter past twelve and one o'clock in the month of
May--from seeing myself once again strolling and talking thus with Mme.
Swann beneath her parasol, as though in the coloured shade of a wistaria


I had arrived at a state almost of complete indifference to Gilberte
when, two years later, I went with my grandmother to Balbec. When I
succumbed to the attraction of a strange face, when it was with the help
of some other girl that I hoped to discover gothic cathedrals, the
palaces and gardens of Italy, I said to myself sadly that this love of
ours, in so far as it is love forgone particular creature, is not
perhaps a very real thing, since if the association of pleasant or
unpleasant trains of thought can attach it for a time to a woman so as
to make us believe that it has been inspired by her, in a necessary
sequence of effect to cause, yet when we detach ourselves, deliberately
or unconsciously, from those associations, this love, as though it were
indeed a spontaneous thing and sprang from ourselves alone, will revive
in order to bestow itself on another woman. At the time, however, of my
departure for Balbec, and during the earlier part of my stay there, my
indifference was still only intermittent. Often, our life being so
careless of chronology, interpolating so many anachronisms in the
sequence of our days, I lived still among those--far older days than
yesterday or last week--in which I loved Gilberte. And at once not
seeing her became as exquisite a torture to me as it had been then. The
self that had loved her, which another self had already almost entirely
supplanted, rose again in me, stimulated far more often by a trivial
than by an important event. For instance, if I may anticipate for a
moment my arrival in Normandy, I heard some one who passed me on the
sea-front at Balbec refer to the "Secretary to the Ministry of Posts and
his family". Now, seeing that as yet I knew nothing of the influence
which that family was to exercise over my life, this remark ought to
have passed unheeded; instead, it gave me at once an acute twinge, which
a self that had for the most part long since been outgrown in me felt at
being parted from Gilberte. Because I had never given another thought to
a conversation which Gilberte had had with her father in my hearing, in
which allusion was made to the Secretary to the Ministry of Posts and
his family. Now our love memories present no exception to the general
rules of memory, which in turn are governed by the still more general
rules of Habit. And as Habit weakens every impression, what a person
recalls to us most vividly is precisely what we had forgotten, because
it was of no importance, and had therefore left in full possession of
its strength. That is why the better part of our memory exists outside
ourself, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the
first crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate: wherever, in short, we
happen upon what our mind, having no use for it, had rejected, the last
treasure that the past has in store, the richest, that which when all
our flow of tears seems to have dried at the source can make us weep
again. Outside ourself, did I say; rather within ourself, but hidden
from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged. It is thanks to
this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the creature
that we were, range ourself face to face with past events as that
creature had to face them, suffer afresh because we are no longer
ourself but he, and because he loved what leaves us now indifferent. In
the broad daylight of our ordinary memory the images of the past turn
gradually pale and fade out of sight, nothing remains of them, we shall
never find them again. Or rather we should never find them again had not
a few words (such as this "Secretary to the Ministry of Posts") been
carefully locked away in oblivion, just as an author deposits in the
National Library a copy of a book which might otherwise become

But this suffering and this recrudescence of my love for Gilberte lasted
no longer than such things last in a dream, and this time, on the
contrary, because at Balbec the old Habit was no longer there to keep
them alive. And if these two effects of Habit appear to be incompatible,
that is because Habit is bound by a diversity of laws. In Paris I had
grown more and more indifferent to Gilberte, thanks to Habit. The change
of habit, that is to say the temporary cessation of Habit, completed
Habit's task when I started for Balbec. It weakens, but it stabilises;
it leads to disintegration but it makes the scattered elements last
indefinitely. Day after day, for years past, I had begun by modelling my
state of mind, more or less effectively, upon that of the day before. At
Balbec, a strange bed, to the side of which a tray was brought in the
morning that differed from my Paris breakfast tray, could not,
obviously, sustain the fancies upon which my love for Gilberte had fed:
there are cases (though not, I admit, commonly) in which, one's days
being paralysed by a sedentary life, the best way to save time is to
change one's place of residence. My journey to Balbec was like the first
outing of a convalescent who needed only that to convince him that he
was cured.

The journey was one that would now be made, probably, in a motor-car,
which would be supposed to render it more interesting. We shall see too
that, accomplished in such a way, it would even be in a sense more
genuine, since one would be following more nearly, in a closer intimacy,
the various contours by which the surface of the earth is wrinkled. But
after all the special attraction of the journey lies not in our being
able to alight at places on the way and to stop altogether as soon as we
grow tired, but in its making the difference between departure and
arrival not as imperceptible but as intense as possible, so that we are
conscious of it in its totality, intact, as it existed in our mind when
imagination bore us from the place in which we were living right to the
very heart of a place we longed to see, in a single sweep which seemed
miraculous to us not so much because it covered a certain distance as
because it united two distinct individualities of the world, took us
from one name to another name; and this difference is accentuated (more
than in a form of locomotion in which, since one can stop and alight
where one chooses, there can scarcely be said to be any point of
arrival) by the mysterious operation that is performed in those peculiar
places, railway stations, which do not constitute, so to speak, a part
of the surrounding town but contain the essence of its personality just
as upon their sign-boards they bear its painted name.

But in this respect as in every other, our age is infected with a mania
for shewing things only in the environment that properly belongs to
them, thereby suppressing the essential thing, the act of the mind which
isolated them from that environment. A picture is nowadays "presented"
in the midst of furniture, ornaments, hangings of the same period, a
second-hand scheme of decoration in the composition of which in the
houses of to-day excels that same hostess who but yesterday was so
crassly ignorant, but now spends her time poring over records and in
libraries; and among these the masterpiece at which we glance up from
the table while we dine does not give us that exhilarating delight which
we can expect from it only in a public gallery, which symbolises far
better by its bareness, by the absence of all irritating detail, those
innermost spaces into which the artist withdrew to create it.

Unhappily those marvellous places which are railway stations, from which
one sets out for a remote destination, are tragic places also, for if in
them the miracle is accomplished whereby scenes which hitherto have had
no existence save in our minds are to become the scenes among which we
shall be living, for that very reason we must, as we emerge from the
waiting-room, abandon any thought of finding ourself once again within
the familiar walls which, but a moment ago, were still enclosing us. We
must lay aside all hope of going home to sleep in our own bed, once we
have made up our mind to penetrate into the pestiferous cavern through
which we may have access to the mystery, into one of those vast,
glass-roofed sheds, like that of Saint-Lazare into which I must go to
find the train for Balbec, and which extended over the rent bowels of
the city one of those bleak and boundless skies, heavy with an
accumulation of dramatic menaces, like certain skies painted with an
almost Parisian modernity by Mantegna or Veronese, beneath which could
be accomplished only some solemn and tremendous act, such as a departure
by train or the Elevation of the Cross.

So long as I had been content to look out from the warmth of my own bed
in Paris at the Persian church of Balbec, shrouded in driving sleet, no
sort of objection to this journey had been offered by my body. Its
objections began only when it had gathered that it would have itself to
take part in the journey, and that on the evening of my arrival I should
be shewn to "my" room which to my body would be unknown. Its revolt was
all the more deep-rooted in that on the very eve of my departure I
learned that my mother would not be coming with us, my father, who would
be kept busy at the Ministry until it was time for him to start for
Spain with M. de Norpois, having preferred to take a house in the
neighbourhood of Paris. On the other hand, the spectacle of Balbec
seemed to me none the less desirable because I must purchase it at the
price of a discomfort which, on the contrary, I felt to indicate and to
guarantee the reality of the impression which I was going there to seek,
an impression the place of which no spectacle of professedly equal
value, no "panorama" which I might have gone to see without being
thereby precluded from returning home to sleep in my own bed, could
possibly have filled. It was not for the first time that I felt that
those who love and those who find pleasure are not always the same. I
believed myself to be longing fully as much for Balbec as the doctor who
was treating me, when he said to me, surprised, on the morning of our
departure, to see me look so unhappy; "I don't mind telling you that if
I could only manage a week to go down and get a blow by the sea, I
shouldn't wait to be asked twice. You'll be having races, regattas; you
don't know what all!" But I had already learned the lesson--long before
I was taken to hear Berma--that, whatever it might be that I loved, it
would never be attained save at the end of a long and heart-rending
pursuit, in the course of which I should have first to sacrifice my own
pleasure to that paramount good instead of seeking it there.

My grandmother, naturally enough, looked upon our exodus from a somewhat
different point of view, and (for she was still as anxious as ever that
the presents which were made me should take some artistic form) had
planned, so that she might be offering me, of this journey, a "print"
that was, at least, in parts "old", that we should repeat, partly by
rail and partly by road, the itinerary that Mme. de Sévigné followed
when she went from Paris to "L'Orient" by way of Chaulnes and "the
Pont-Audemer". But my grandmother had been obliged to abandon this
project, at the instance of my father who knew, whenever she organised
any expedition with a view to extracting from it the utmost intellectual
benefit that it was capable of yielding, what a tale there would be to
tell of missed trains, lost luggage, sore throats and broken rules. She
was free at least to rejoice in the thought that never, when the time
came for us to sally forth to the beach, should we be exposed to the
risk of being kept indoors by the sudden appearance of what her beloved
Sévigné calls a "beast of a coachload", since we should know not a
soul at Balbec, Legrandin having refrained from offering us a letter of
introduction to his sister. (This abstention had not been so well
appreciated by my aunts Céline and Flora, who, having known as a child
that lady, of whom they had always spoken until then, to commemorate
this early intimacy, as "Renée de Cambremer", and having had from her
and still possessing a number of those little presents which continue to
ornament a room or a conversation but to which the feeling between the
parties no longer corresponds, imagined that they were avenging the
insult offered to us by never uttering again, when they called upon Mme.
Legrandin, the name of her daughter, confining themselves to a mutual
congratulation, once they were safely out of the house: "I made no
reference to you know whom!" "I think that went home!")

And so we were simply to leave Paris by that one twenty-two train which
I had too often beguiled myself by looking out in the railway
time-table, where its itinerary never failed to give me the emotion,
almost the illusion of starting by it, not to feel that I already knew
it. As the delineation in our mind of the features of any form of
happiness depends more on the nature of the longings that it inspires in
us on the accuracy of the information which we have about it, I felt
that I knew this train in all its details, nor did I doubt that I should
feel, sitting in one of its compartments, a special delight as the day
began to cool, should be contemplating this or that view as the train
approached one or another station; so much so that this train, which
always brought to my mind's eye the images of the same towns, which I
bathed in the sunlight of those post-meridian hours through which it
sped, seemed to me to be different from every other train; and I had
ended--as we are apt to do with a person whom we have never seen but of
whom we like to believe that we have won his friendship--by giving a
distinct and unalterable cast of countenance to the traveller, artistic,
golden-haired, who would thus have taken me with him upon his journey,
and to whom I should bid farewell beneath the Cathedral of Saint-Lo,
before he hastened to overtake the setting sun.

As my grandmother could not bring herself to do anything so "stupid" as
to go straight to Balbec, she was to break the journey half-way, staying
the night with one of her friends, from whose house I was to proceed the
same evening, so as not to be in the way there and also in order that I
might arrive by daylight and see Balbec church, which, we had learned,
was at some distance from Balbec-Plage, so that I might not have a
chance to visit it later on, when I had begun my course of baths. And
perhaps it was less painful for me to feel that the desirable goal of my
journey stood between me and that cruel first night on which I should
have to enter a new habitation, and consent to dwell there. But I had
had first to leave the old; my mother had arranged to "move in", that
afternoon, at Saint-Cloud, and had made, or pretended to make all the
arrangements for going there directly after she had seen us off at the
station, without needing to call again at our own house to which she was
afraid that I might otherwise feel impelled at the last moment, instead
of going to Balbec, to return with her. In fact, on the pretext of
having so much to see to in the house which she had just taken and of
being pressed for time, but in reality so as to spare me the cruel
ordeal of a long-drawn parting, she had decided not to wait with us
until that moment of the signal to start at which, concealed hitherto
among ineffective comings and goings and preparations that lead to
nothing definite, separation is made suddenly manifest, impossible to
endure when it is no longer possibly to be avoided, concentrated in its
entirety in one enormous instant of impotent and supreme lucidity.

For the first time I began to feel that it was possible that my mother
might live without me, otherwise than for me, a separate life. She was
going to stay with my father, whose existence it may have seemed to her
that my feeble health, my nervous excitability complicated somewhat and
saddened. This separation made me all the more wretched because I told
myself that it probably marked for my mother an end of the successive
disappointments which I had caused her, of which she had never said a
word to me but which had made her realise the difficulty of our taking
our holidays together; and perhaps also the first trial of a form of
existence to which she was beginning, now, to resign herself for the
future, as the years crept on for my father and herself, an existence in
which I should see less of her, in which (a thing that not even in my
nightmares had yet been revealed to me) she would already have become
something of a stranger, a lady who might be seen going home by herself
to a house in which I should not be, asking the porter whether there was
not a letter for her from me.

I could scarcely answer the man in the station who offered to take my
bag. My mother, to comfort me, tried the methods which seemed to her
most efficacious. Thinking it to be useless to appear not to notice my
unhappiness, she gently teased me about it:

"Well, and what would Balbec church say if it knew that people pulled
long faces like that when they were going to see it? Surely this is not
the enraptured tourist Ruskin speaks of. Besides, I shall know if you
rise to the occasion, even when we are miles apart I shall still be with
my little man. You shall have a letter to-morrow from Mamma."

"My dear," said my grandmother, "I picture you like Mme. de Sévigné,
your eyes glued to the map, and never losing sight of us for an

Then Mamma sought to distract my mind, asked me what I thought of having
for dinner, drew my attention to Françoise, complimented her on a hat
and cloak which she did not recognise, in spite of their having
horrified her long ago when she first saw them, new, upon my great-aunt,
one with an immense bird towering over it, the other decorated with a
hideous pattern and jet beads. But the cloak having grown too shabby to
wear, Françoise had had it turned, exposing an "inside" of plain cloth
and quite a good colour. As for the bird, it had long since come to
grief and been thrown away. And just as it is disturbing, sometimes, to
find the effects which the most conscious artists attain only by an
effort occurring in a folk-song, on the wall of some peasant's cottage
where above the door, at the precisely right spot in the composition,
blooms a white or yellow rose--so the velvet band, the loop of ribbon
which would have delighted one in a portrait by Chardin or Whistler,
Françoise had set with a simple but unerring taste upon the hat, which
was now charming.

To take a parallel from an earlier age, the modesty and integrity which
often gave an air of nobility to the face of our old servant having
spread also to the garments which, as a woman reserved but not humbled,
who knew how to hold her own and to keep her place, she had put on for
the journey so as to be fit to be seen in our company without at the
same time seeming or wishing to make herself conspicuous,--Françoise in
the cherry-coloured cloth, now faded, of her cloak, and the discreet nap
of her fur collar, brought to mind one of those miniatures of Anne of
Brittany painted in Books of Hours by an old master, in which everything
is so exactly in the right place, the sense of the whole is so evenly
distributed throughout the parts that the rich and obsolete singularity
of the costume expresses the same pious gravity as the eyes, lips and

Of thought, in relation to Françoise, one could hardly speak. She knew
nothing, in that absolute sense in which to know nothing means to
understand nothing, save the rare truths to which the heart is capable
of directly attaining. The vast world of ideas existed not for her. But
when one studied the clearness of her gaze, the lines of nose and lips,
all those signs lacking from so many people of culture in whom they
would else have signified a supreme distinction, the noble detachment of
a chosen spirit, one was disquieted, as one is by the frank, intelligent
eyes of a dog, to which, nevertheless, one knows that all our human
concepts must be alien, and was led to ask oneself whether there might
not be, among those other humble brethren, our peasant countrymen,
creatures who were, like the great ones of the earth, of simple mind, or
rather, doomed by a harsh fate to live among the simple-minded, deprived
of heavenly light, were yet more naturally, more instinctively akin to
the chosen spirits than most educated people, were, so to speak, all
members, though scattered, straying, robbed of their heritage of reason,
of the celestial family, kinsfolk, that have been lost in infancy, of
the loftiest minds to whom--as is apparent from the unmistakable light
in their eyes, although they can concentrate that light on
nothing--there has been lacking, to endow them with talent, knowledge

My mother, seeing that I had difficulty in keeping back my tears, said
to me: "'Regulus was in the habit, when things looked grave. . . .'
Besides, it isn't nice for Mamma! What does Mme. de Sévigné say? Your
grandmother will tell you: 'I shall be obliged to draw upon all the
courage that you lack.'" And remembering that affection for another
distracts one's selfish griefs, she endeavoured to beguile me by telling
me that she expected the removal to Saint-Cloud to go without a hitch,
that she liked the cab, which she had kept waiting, that the driver
seemed civil and the seats comfortable. I made an effort to smile at
these trifles, and bowed my head with an air of acquiescence and
satisfaction. But they helped me only to depict to myself with more
accuracy Mamma's imminent departure, and it was with an agonised heart
that I gazed at her as though she were already torn from me, beneath
that wide-brimmed straw hat which she had bought to wear in the country,
in a flimsy dress which she had put on in view of the long drive through
the sweltering midday heat; hat and dress making her some one else, some
one who belonged already to the Villa Montretout, in which I should not
see her.

To prevent the choking fits which the journey might otherwise give me
the doctor had advised me to take, as we started, a good stiff dose of
beer or brandy, so as to begin the journey in a state of what he called
"euphoria", in which the nervous system is for a time less vulnerable.
I had not yet made up my mind whether I should do this, but I wished at
least that my grandmother should admit that, if I did so decide, I
should have wisdom and authority on my side. I spoke therefore as if my
hesitation were concerned only with where I should go for my drink, to
the bar on the platform or to the restaurant-car on the train. But
immediately, at the air of reproach which my grandmothers face assumed,
an air of not wishing even to entertain such an idea for a moment,
"What!" I said to myself, suddenly determining upon this action of going
out to drink, the performance of which became necessary as a proof of my
independence since the verbal announcement of it had not succeeded in
passing unchallenged, "What! You know how ill I am, you know what the
doctor ordered, and you treat me like this!"

When I had explained to my grandmother how unwell I felt, her distress,
her kindness were so apparent as she replied, "Run along then, quickly;
get yourself some beer or a liqueur if it will do you any good," that I
flung myself upon her, almost smothering her in kisses. And if after
that I went and drank a great deal too much in the restaurant-car of the
train, that was because I felt that otherwise I should have a more
violent attack than usual, which was just what would vex her most. When
at the first stop I clambered back into our compartment I told my
grandmother how pleased I was to be going to Balbec, that I felt that
everything would go off splendidly, that after all I should soon grow
used to being without Mamma, that the train was most comfortable, the
steward and attendants in the bar so friendly that I should like to make
the journey often so as to have opportunities of seeing them again. My
grandmother, however, did not appear to feel the same joy as myself at
all these good tidings. She answered, without looking me in the face:

"Why don't you try to get a little sleep?" and turned her gaze to the
window, the blind of which, though we had drawn it, did not completely
cover the glass, so that the sun could and did slip in over the polished
oak of the door and the cloth of the seat (like an advertisement of a
life shared with nature far more persuasive than those posted higher
upon the walls of the compartment, by the railway company, representing
places in the country the names of which I could not make out from where
I sat) the same warm and slumberous light which lies along a forest

But when my grandmother thought that my eyes were shut I could see her,
now and again, from among the large black spots on her veil, steal a
glance at me, then withdraw it, and steal back again, like a person
trying to make himself, so as to get into the habit, perform some
exercise that hurts him.

Thereupon I spoke to her, but that seemed not to please her either. And
yet to myself the sound of my own voice was pleasant, as were the most
imperceptible, the most internal movements of my body. And so I
endeavoured to prolong it. I allowed each of my inflexions to hang
lazily upon its word, I felt each glance from my eyes arrive just at the
spot to which it was directed and stay there beyond the normal period.
"Now, now, sit still and rest," said my grandmother. "If you can't
manage to sleep, read something." And she handed me a volume of Madame
de Sévigné which I opened, while she buried herself in the _Mémoires
de Madame de Beausergent._ She never travelled anywhere without a volume
of each. They were her two favourite authors. With no conscious movement
of my head, feeling a keen pleasure in maintaining a posture after I had
adopted it, I lay back holding in my hands the volume of Madame de
Sévigné which I had allowed to close, without lowering my eyes to it,
or indeed letting them see anything but the blue window-blind. But the
contemplation of this blind appeared to me an admirable thing, and I
should not have troubled to answer anyone who might have sought to
distract me from contemplating it. The blue colour of this blind seemed
to me, not perhaps by its beauty but by its intense vivacity, to efface
so completely all the colours that had passed before my eyes from the
day of my birth up to the moment in which I had gulped down the last of
my drink and it had begun to take effect, that when compared with this
blue they were as drab, as void as must be retrospectively the darkness
in which he has lived to a man born blind whom a subsequent operation
has at length enabled to see and to distinguish colours. An old
ticket-collector came to ask for our tickets. The silvery gleam that
shone from the metal buttons of his jacket charmed me in spite of my
absorption. I wanted to ask him to sit down beside us. But he passed on
to the next carriage, and I thought with longing of the life led by
railwaymen for whom, since they spent all their time on the line, hardly
a day could pass without their seeing this old collector. The pleasure
that I found in staring at the blind, and in feeling that my mouth was
half-open, began at length to diminish. I became more mobile; I even
moved in my seat; I opened the book that my grandmother had given me and
turned its pages casually, reading whatever caught my eye. And as I read
I felt my admiration for Madame de Sévigné grow.

It is a mistake to let oneself be taken in by the purely formal details,
idioms of the period or social conventions, the effect of which is that
certain people believe that they have caught the Sévigné manner when
they have said: "Tell me, my dear," or "That Count struck me as being a
man of parts," or "Haymaking is the sweetest thing in the world." Mme.
de Simiane imagines already that she is being like her grandmother
because she can write: "M. de la Boulie is bearing wonderfully, Sir, and
is in excellent condition to hear the news of his death," or "Oh, my
dear Marquis, how your letter enchanted me! What can I do but answer
it?" or "Meseems, Sir, that you owe me a letter, and I owe you some
boxes of bergamot. I discharge my debt to the number of eight; others
shall follow. . . . Never has the soil borne so many. Apparently for
your gratification." And she writes in this style also her letter on
bleeding, on lemons and so forth, supposing it to be typical of the
letters of Madame de Sévigné. But my grandmother who had approached
that lady from within, attracted to her by her own love of kinsfolk and
of nature, had taught me to enjoy the real beauties of her
correspondence, which are altogether different. They were presently to
strike me all the more forcibly inasmuch as Madame de Sévigné is a
great artist of the same school as a painter whom I was to meet at
Balbec, where his influence on my way of seeing things was immense. I
realised at Balbec that it was in the same way as he that she presented
things to her readers, in the order of our perception of them, instead
of first having to explain them in relation to their several causes. But
already that afternoon in the railway carriage, as I read over again
that letter in which the moonlight comes: "I cannot resist the
temptation: I put on all my bonnets and veils, though there is no need
of them, I walk along this mall, where the air is as sweet as in my
chamber; I find a thousand phantasms, monks white and black, sisters
grey and white, linen cast here and there on the ground, men enshrouded
upright against the tree-trunks," I was enraptured by what, a little
later, I should have described (for does not she draw landscapes in the
same way as he draws characters?) as the Dostoievsky side of Madame de
Sévigné's Letters.

When, that evening, after having accompanied my grandmother to her
destination and spent some hours in her friend's house, I had returned
by myself to the train, at any rate I found nothing to distress me in
the night which followed; this was because I had not to spend it in a
room the somnolence of which would have kept me awake; I was surrounded
by the soothing activity of all those movements of the train which kept
me company, offered to stay and converse with me if I could not sleep,
lulled me with their sounds which I wedded--as I had often wedded the
chime of the Combray bells--now to one rhythm now to another (hearing as
the whim took me first four level and equivalent semi-quavers, then one
semi-quaver furiously dashing against a crotchet); they neutralised the
centrifugal force of my insomnia by exercising upon it a contrary
pressure which kept me in equilibrium and on which my immobility and
presently my drowsiness felt themselves to be borne with the same sense
of refreshment that I should have had, had I been resting under the
protecting vigilance of powerful forces, on the breast of nature and of
life, had I been able for a moment to incarnate myself in a fish that
sleeps in the sea, driven unheeding by the currents and the tides, or in
an eagle outstretched upon the air, with no support but the storm.

Sunrise is a necessary concomitant of long railway journeys, just as are
hard-boiled eggs, illustrated papers, packs of cards, rivers upon which
boats strain but make no progress. At a certain moment, when I was
counting over the thoughts that had filled my mind, in the preceding
minutes, so as to discover whether I had just been asleep or not (and
when the very uncertainty which made me ask myself the question was to
furnish me with an affirmative answer), in the pale square of the
window, over a small black wood I saw some ragged clouds whose fleecy
edges were of a fixed, dead pink, not liable to change, like the colour
that dyes the wing which has grown to wear it, or the sketch upon which
the artists fancy has washed it. But I felt that, unlike them, this
colour was due neither to inertia nor to caprice but to necessity and
life. Presently there gathered behind it reserves of light. It
brightened; the sky turned to a crimson which I strove, glueing my eyes
to the window, to see more clearly, for I felt that it was related
somehow to the most intimate life of Nature, but, the course of the line
altering, the train turned, the morning scene gave place in the frame of
the window to a nocturnal village, its roofs still blue with moonlight,
its pond encrusted with the opalescent nacre of night, beneath a
firmament still powdered with all its stars, and I was lamenting the
loss of my strip of pink sky when I caught sight of it afresh, but red
this time, in the opposite window which it left at a second bend in the
line, so that I spent my time running from one window to the other to
reassemble, to collect on a single canvas the intermittent, antipodean
fragments of my fine, scarlet, ever-changing morning, and to obtain a
comprehensive view of it and a continuous picture.

The scenery became broken, abrupt, the train stopped at a little station
between two mountains. Far down the gorge, on the edge of a hurrying
stream, one could see only a solitary watch-house, deep-planted in the
water which ran past on a level with its windows. If a person can be the
product of a soil the peculiar charm of which one distinguishes in that
person, more even than the peasant girl whom I had so desperately longed
to see appear when I wandered by myself along the Méséglise way, in
the woods of Roussainville, such a person must be the big girl whom I
now saw emerge from the house and, climbing a path lighted by the first
slanting rays of the sun, come towards the station carrying a jar of
milk. In her valley from which its congregated summits hid the rest of
the world, she could never see anyone save in these trains which stopped
for a moment only. She passed down the line of windows, offering coffee
and milk to a few awakened passengers. Purpled with the glow of morning,
her face was rosier than the sky. I felt in her presence that desire to
live which is reborn in us whenever we become conscious anew of beauty
and of happiness. We invariably forget that these are individual
qualities, and, substituting for them in our mind a conventional type at
which we arrive by striking a sort of mean amongst the different faces
that have taken our fancy, the pleasures we have known, we are left with
mere abstract images which are lifeless and dull because they are
lacking in precisely that element of novelty, different from anything we
have known, that element which is proper to beauty and to happiness. And
we deliver on life a pessimistic judgment which we suppose to be fair,
for we believed that we were taking into account when we formed it
happiness and beauty, whereas in fact we left them out and replaced them
by syntheses in which there is not a single atom of either. So it is
that a well-read man will at once begin to yawn with boredom when anyone
speaks to him of a new "good book", because he imagines a sort of
composite of all the good books that he has read and knows already,
whereas a good book is something special, something incalculable, and is
made up not of the sum of all previous masterpieces but of something
which the most thorough assimilation of every one of them would not
enable him to discover, since it exists not in their sum but beyond it.
Once he has become acquainted with this new work, the well-read man,
till then apathetic, feels his interest awaken in the reality which it
depicts. So, alien to the models of beauty which my fancy was wont to
sketch when I was by myself, this strapping girl gave me at once the
sensation of a certain happiness (the sole form, always different. In
which we may learn the sensation of happiness), of a happiness that
would be realised by my staying and living there by her side. But in
this again the temporary cessation of Habit played a great part. I was
giving the milk-girl the benefit of what was really my own entire being,
ready to taste the keenest joys, which now confronted her. As a rule it
is with our being reduced to a minimum that we live, most of our
faculties lie dormant because they can rely upon Habit, which knows what
there is to be done and has no need of their services. But on this
morning of travel, the interruption of the routine of my existence, the
change of place and time had made their presence indispensable. My
habits, which were sedentary and not matutinal, played me false, and all
my faculties came hurrying to take their place, viewing with one another
in their zeal, rising, each of them, like waves in a storm, to the same
unaccustomed level, from the basest to the most exalted, from breath,
appetite, the circulation of my blood to receptivity and imagination. I
cannot say whether, so as to make me believe that this girl was unlike
the rest of women, the rugged charm of these barren tracts had been
added to her own, but if so she gave it back to them. Life would have
seemed an exquisite thing to me if only I had been free to spend it,
hour after hour, with her, to go with her to the stream, to the cow, to
the train, to be always at her side, to feel that I was known to her,
had my place in her thoughts. She would have initiated me into the
delights of country life and of the first hours of the day. I signalled
to her to give me some of her coffee. I felt that I must be noticed by
her. She did not see me; I called to her. Above her body, which was of
massive build, the complexion of her face was so burnished and so ruddy
that she appeared almost as though I were looking at her through a
lighted window. She had turned and was coming towards me; I could not
take my eyes from her face which grew larger as she approached, like a
sun which it was somehow possible to arrest in its course and draw
towards one, letting itself be seen at close quarters, blinding the eyes
with its blaze of red and gold. She fastened on me her penetrating
stare, but while the porters ran along the platform shutting doors the
train had begun to move. I saw her leave the station and go down the
hill to her home; it was broad daylight now; I was speeding away from
the dawn. Whether my exaltation had been produced by this girl or had on
the other hand been responsible for most of the pleasure that I had
found in the sight of her, in the sense of her presence, in either event
she was so closely associated with it that my desire to see her again
was really not so much a physical as a mental desire, not to allow this
state of enthusiasm to perish utterly, not to be separated for ever from
the person who, although quite unconsciously, had participated in it. It
was not only because this state was a pleasant one. It was principally
because (just as increased tension upon a cord or accelerated vibration
of a nerve produces a different sound or colour) it gave another
tonality to all that I saw, introduced me as an actor upon the stage of
an unknown and infinitely more interesting universe; that handsome girl
whom I still could see, while the train gathered speed, was like part of
a life other than the life that I knew, separated from it by a clear
boundary, in which the sensations that things produced in me were no
longer the same, from which to return now to my old life would be almost
suicide. To procure myself the pleasure of feeling that I had at least
an attachment to this new life, it would suffice that I should live near
enough to the little station to be able to come to it every morning for
a cup of coffee from the girl. But alas, she must be for ever absent
from the other life towards which I was being borne with ever increasing
swiftness, a life to the prospect of which I resigned myself only by
weaving plans that would enable me to take the same train again some day
and to stop at the same station, a project which would have the further
advantage of providing with subject matter the selfish, active,
practical, mechanical, indolent, centrifugal tendency which is that of
the human mind; for our mind turns readily aside from the effort which
is required if it is to analyse in itself, in a general and
disinterested manner, a pleasant impression which we have received. And
as, on the other hand, we wish to continue to think of that impression,
the mind prefers to imagine it in the future tense, which while it gives
us no clue as to the real nature of the thing, saves us the trouble of
recreating it in our own consciousness and allows us to hope that we may
receive it afresh from without.

Certain names of towns, Vezelay or Chartres, Bourges or Beauvais, serve
to indicate, by abbreviation, the principal church in those towns. This
partial acceptation, in which we are so accustomed to take the word,
comes at length--if the names in question are those of places that we do
not yet know--to fashion for us a mould of the name as a solid whole,
which from that time onwards, whenever we wish it to convey the idea of
the town--of that town which we have never seen--will impose on it, as
on a cast, the same carved outlines, in the same style of art, will make
of the town a sort of vast cathedral. It was, nevertheless, in a
railway station, above the door of a refreshment-room, that I read the
name--almost Persian in style--of Balbec. I strode buoyantly through the
station and across the avenue that led past it, I asked my way to the
beach so as to see nothing in the place but its church and the sea;
people seemed not to understand what I meant. Old Balbec,
Balbec-en-Terre, at which I had arrived, had neither beach nor harbour.
It was, most certainly, in the sea that the fishermen had found,
according to the legend, the miraculous Christ, of which a window in the
church that stood a few yards from where I now was recorded the
discovery; it was indeed from cliffs battered by the waves that had been
quarried the stone of its nave and towers. But this sea, which for those
reasons I had imagined as flowing up to die at the foot of the window,
was twelve miles away and more, at Balbec-Plage, and, rising beside its
cupola, that steeple, which, because I had read that it was itself a
rugged Norman cliff on which seeds were blown and sprouted, round which
the sea-birds wheeled, I had always pictured to myself as receiving at
its base the last drying foam of the uplifted waves, stood on a Square
from which two lines of tramway diverged, opposite a Café which bore,
written in letters of gold, the word "Billiards"; it stood out against a
background of houses with the roofs of which no upstanding mast was
blended. And the church--entering my mind with the Café, with the
passing stranger of whom I had had to ask my way, with the station to
which presently I should have to return--made part of the general whole,
seemed an accident, a by-product of this summer afternoon, in which its
mellow and distended dome against the sky was like a fruit of which the
same light that bathed the chimneys of the houses was ripening the skin,
pink, glowing, melting-soft. But I wished only to consider the eternal
significance of the carvings when I recognised the Apostles, which I had
seen in casts in the Trocadéro museum, and which on either side of the
Virgin, before the deep bay of the porch, were awaiting me as though to
do me reverence. With their benign, blunt, mild faces and bowed
shoulders they seemed to be advancing upon me with an air of welcome,
singing the Alleluia of a fine day. But it was evident that their
expression was unchanging as that on a dead man's face, and could be
modified only by my turning about to look at them in different aspects.
I said to myself: "Here I am: this is the Church of Balbec. This square,
which looks as though it were conscious of its glory, is the only place
in the world that possesses Balbec Church. All that I have seen so far
have been photographs of this Church--and of these famous Apostles, this
Virgin of the Porch, mere casts only. Now it is the Church itself, the
statue itself; these are they; they, the unique things--this is
something far greater."

It was something less, perhaps, also. As a young man on the day of an
examination or of a duel feels the question that he has been asked, the
shot that he has fired, to be a very little thing when he thinks of the
reserves of knowledge and of valour that he possesses and would like to
have displayed, so my mind, which had exalted the Virgin of the Porch
far above the reproductions that I had had before my eyes, inaccessible
by the vicissitudes which had power to threaten them, intact although
they were destroyed, ideal, endowed with universal value, was astonished
to see the statue which it had carved a thousand times, reduced now to
its own apparent form in stone, occupying, on the radius of my
outstretched arm, a place in which it had for rivals an election placard
and the point of my stick, fettered to the Square, inseparable from the
head of the main street, powerless to hide from the gaze of the Café
and of the omnibus office, receiving on its face half of that ray of the
setting sun (half, presently, in few hours' time, of the light of the
street lamp) of which the Bank building received the other half, tainted
simultaneously with that branch office of a money-lending establishment
by the smells from the pastry-cook's oven, subjected to the tyranny of
the Individual to such a point that, if I had chosen to scribble my name
upon that stone, it was she, the illustrious Virgin whom until then I
had endowed with a general existence and an intangible beauty, the
Virgin of Balbec, the unique (which meant, alas, the only one) who, on
her body coated with the same soot as defiled the neighbouring houses,
would have displayed--powerless to rid herself of them--to all the
admiring strangers come there to gaze upon her, the marks of my piece of
chalk and the letters of my name; it was she, indeed, the immortal work
of art, so long desired, whom I found, transformed, as was the church
itself, into a little old woman in stone whose height I could measure
and count her wrinkles. But time was passing; I must return to the
station, where I was to wait for my grandmother and Françoise, so that
we should all arrive at Balbec-Plage together. I reminded myself of what
I had read about Balbec, of Swann's saying: "It is exquisite; as fine as
Siena." And casting the blame for my disappointment upon various
accidental causes, such as the state of my health, my exhaustion after
the journey, my incapacity for looking at things properly, I endeavoured
to console myself with the thought that other towns remained still
intact for me, that I might soon, perhaps, be making my way, as into a
shower of pearls, into the cool pattering sound that dripped from
Quimperlé, cross that green water lit by a rosy glow in which Pont-Aven
was bathed; but as for Balbec, no sooner had I set foot in it than it
was as though I had broken open a name which ought to have been kept
hermetically closed, and into which, seizing at once the opportunity
that I had imprudently given them when I expelled all the images that
had been living in it until then, a tramway, a Café, people crossing
the square, the local branch of a Bank, irresistibly propelled by some
external pressure, by a pneumatic force, had come crowding into the
interior of those two syllables which, closing over them, let them now
serve as a border to the porch of the Persian church, and would never
henceforward cease to contain them.

In the little train of the local railway company which was to take us to
Balbec-Plage I found my grandmother, but found her alone--for,
imagining that she was sending Françoise on ahead of her, so as to have
everything ready before we arrived, but having mixed up her
instructions, she had succeeded only in packing off Françoise in the
wrong direction, who at that moment was being carried down all
unsuspectingly, at full speed, to Nantes, and would probably wake up
next morning at Bordeaux. No sooner had I taken my seat in the carriage,
filled with the fleeting light of sunset and with the lingering heat of
the afternoon (the former enabling me, alas, to see written clearly upon
my grandmother's face how much the latter had tired her), than she
began: "Well, and Balbec?" with a smile so brightly illuminated by her
expectation of the great pleasure which she supposed me to have been
enjoying that I dared not at once confess to her my disappointment.
Besides, the impression which my mind had been seeking occupied it
steadily less as the place drew nearer to which my body would have to
become accustomed. At the end--still more than an hour away--of this
journey I was trying to form a picture of the manager of the hotel at
Balbec, to whom I, at that moment, did not exist, and I should have
liked to be going to present myself to him in more impressive company
than that of my grandmother, who would be certain to ask for a
reduction of his terms. The only thing positive about him was his
haughty condescension; his lineaments were still vague.

Every few minutes the little train brought us to a standstill in one of
the stations which came before Balbec-Plage, stations the mere names of
which, (Incarville, Marcouville, Doville, Pont-à-Couleuvre,
Arambouville, Saint-Mars-le-Vieux, Hermonville, Maineville) seemed to me
outlandish, whereas if I had come upon them in a book I should at once
have been struck by their affinity to the names of certain places in the
neighbourhood of Combray. But to the trained ear two musical airs,
consisting each of so many notes, several of which are common to them
both, will present no similarity whatever if they differ in the colour
of their harmony and orchestration. So it was that nothing could have
reminded me less than these dreary names, made up of sand, of space too
airy and empty and of salt, out of which the termination "ville" always
escaped, as the "fly" seems to spring out from the end of the word
"butterfly"--nothing could have reminded me less of those other names,
Roussainville or Martinville, which, because I had heard them pronounced
so often by my great-aunt at table, in the dining-room, had acquired a
certain sombre charm in which were blended perhaps extracts of the
flavour of "preserves", the smell of the fire of logs and of the pages
of one of Bergotte's books, the colour of the stony front of the house
opposite, all of which things still to-day when they rise like a gaseous
bubble from the depths of my memory preserve their own specific virtue
through all the successive layers of rival interests which must be
traversed before they reach the surface.

These were--commanding the distant sea from the crests of their several
dunes or folding themselves already for the night beneath hills of a
crude green colour and uncomfortable shape, like that of the sofa in
one's bedroom in an hotel at which one has just arrived, each composed
of a cluster of villas whose line was extended to include a lawn-tennis
court and now and then a casino, over which a flag would be snapping in
the freshening breeze, like a hollow cough--a series of watering-places
which now let me see for the first time their regular visitors, but let
me see only the external features of those visitors--lawn-tennis players
in white hats, the stationmaster spending all his life there on the spot
among his tamarisks and roses, a lady in a straw "boater" who, following
the everyday routine of an existence which I should never know, was
calling to her dog which had stopped to examine something in the road
before going in to her bungalow where the lamp was already lighted for
her return--which with these strangely usual and slightingly familiar
sights stung my ungreeted eyes and stabbed my exiled heart. But how much
were my sufferings increased when we had finally landed in the hall of
the Grand Hotel at Balbec, and I stood there in front of the monumental
staircase that looked like marble, while my grandmother, regardless of
the growing hostility of the strangers among whom we should have to
live, discussed "terms" with the manager, a sort of nodding mandarin
whose face and voice were alike covered with scars (left by the excision
of countless pustules from one and from the other of the divers accents
acquired from an alien ancestry and in a cosmopolitan upbringing) who
stood there in a smart dinner jacket, with the air of an expert
psychologist, classifying, whenever the "omnibus" discharged a fresh
load, the "nobility and gentry" as "geesers" and the "hotel crooks" as
nobility and gentry. Forgetting, probably, that he himself was not
drawing five hundred francs a month, he had a profound contempt for
people to whom five hundred francs--or, as he preferred to put it,
"twenty-five louis" was "a lot of money", and regarded them as belonging
to a race of pariahs for whom the Grand Hotel was certainly not
intended. It is true that even within its walls there were people who
did not pay very much and yet had not forfeited the manager's esteem,
provided that he was assured that they were watching their expenditure
not from poverty so much as from avarice. For this could in no way lower
their standing since it is a vice and may consequently be found at every
grade of social position. Social position was the one thing by which the
manager was impressed, social position, or rather the signs which seemed
to him to imply that it was exalted, such as not taking one's hat off
when one came into the hall, wearing knickerbockers, or an overcoat with
a waist, and taking a cigar with a band of purple and gold out of a
crushed morocco case--to none of which advantages could I, alas, lay
claim. He would also adorn his business conversation with choice
expressions, to which, as a rule, he gave a wrong meaning.

While I heard my grandmother, who shewed no sign of annoyance at his
listening to her with his hat on his head and whistling through his
teeth at her, ask him in an artificial voice, "And what are . . . your
charges? . . . Oh! far too high for my little budget," waiting upon a
bench, I sought refuge in the innermost depths of my own consciousness,
strove to migrate to a plane of eternal thoughts--to leave nothing of
myself, nothing that lived and felt on the surface of my body,
anaesthetised as are those of animals which by inhibition feign death
when they are attacked--so as not to suffer too keenly in this place,
with which my total unfamiliarity was made all the more evident to me
when I saw the familiarity that seemed at the same moment to be enjoyed
by a smartly dressed lady for whom the manager shewed his respect by
taking liberties with the little dog that followed her Across the hall,
the young "blood" with a feather in his hat who asked, as he came in,
"Any letters?" all these people to whom it was an act of home-coming to
mount those stairs of imitation marble. And at the same time the triple
frown of Minos, Æacus and Rhadamanthus (beneath which I plunged my
naked soul as into an unknown element where there was nothing now to
protect it) was bent sternly upon me by a group of gentlemen who, though
little versed perhaps in the art of receiving, yet bore the title
"Reception Clerks", while beyond them again, through a closed wall of
glass, were people sitting in a reading-room for the description of
which I should have had to borrow from Dante alternately the colours in
which he paints Paradise and Hell, according as I was thinking of the
happiness of the elect who had the right to sit and read there
undisturbed, or of the terror which my grandmother would have inspired
in me if, in her insensibility to this sort of impression, she had asked
me to go in there and wait for her by myself.

My sense of loneliness was further increased a moment later: when I had
confessed to my grandmother that I did not feel well, that I thought
that we should be obliged to return to Paris, she had offered no
protest, saying merely that she was going out to buy a few things which
would be equally useful whether we left or stayed (and which, I
afterwards learned, were all for my benefit, Françoise having gone off
with certain articles which I might need); while I waited for her I had
taken a turn through the streets, packed with a crowd of people who
imparted to them a sort of indoor warmth, streets in which were still
open the hairdresser's shop and the pastry-cook's, the latter filled
with customers eating ices, opposite the statue of Duguay-Trouin. This
crowd gave me just about as much pleasure as a photograph of it in one
of the "illustrateds" might give a patient who was turning its pages in
the surgeon's waiting-room. I was astonished to find that there were
people so different from myself that this stroll through the town had
actually been recommended to me by the manager as a distraction, and
also that the torture chamber which a new place of residence is could
appear to some people a "continuous amusement", to quote the hotel
prospectus, which might, it was true, exaggerate, but was, for all that,
addressed to a whole army of clients to whose tastes it must appeal.
True, it invoked, to make them come to the Grand Hotel, Balbec, not only
the "exquisite fare" and the "fairy-like view across the Casino
gardens," but also the "ordinances of her Majesty Queen Fashion, which
no one may break with impunity, or without being taken for a Bœotian,
a charge that no well-bred man would willingly incur." The need that I
now had of my grandmother was enhanced by my fear that I had shattered
another of her illusions. She must be feeling discouraged, feeling that
if I could not stand the fatigue of this journey there was no hope that
any change of air could ever do me good. I decided to return to the
hotel and to wait for her there: the manager himself came forward and
pressed a button, and a person whose acquaintance I had not yet made,
labelled "lift" (who at that highest point in the building, which
corresponded to the lantern in a Norman church, was installed like a
photographer in his dark-room or an organist in his loft) came rushing
down towards me with the agility of a squirrel, tamed, active, caged.
Then, sliding upwards again along a steel pillar, he bore me aloft in
his train towards the dome of this temple of Mammon. On each floor, on
either side of a narrow communicating stair, opened out fanwise a range
of shadowy galleries, along one of which, carrying a bolster, a
chambermaid came past. I lent to her face, which the gathering dusk made
featureless, the mask of my most impassioned dreams of beauty, but read
in her eyes as they turned towards me the horror of my own nonentity.
Meanwhile, to dissipate, in the course of this interminable assent, the
mortal anguish which I felt in penetrating thus in silence the mystery
of this chiaroscuro so devoid of poetry, lighted by a single vertical
line of little windows which were those of the solitary water-closet on
each landing, I addressed a few words to the young organist, artificer
of my journey and my partner in captivity, who continued to manipulate
the registers of his instrument and to finger the stops. I apologised
for taking up so much room, for giving him so much trouble, and asked
whether I was not obstructing him in the practice of an art to which, so
as to flatter the performer, I did more than display curiosity, I
confessed my strong attachment. But he vouchsafed no answer, whether
from astonishment at my words, preoccupation with what he was doing,
regard for convention, hardness of hearing, respect for holy ground,
fear of danger, slowness of understanding, or by the manager's orders.

There is perhaps nothing that gives us so strong an impression of the
reality of the external world as the difference in the positions,
relative to ourself, of even a quite unimportant person before we have
met him and after. I was the same man who had taken, that afternoon, the
little train from Balbec to the coast, I carried in my body the same
consciousness. But on that consciousness, in the place where, at six
o'clock, there had been, with the impossibility of forming any idea of
the manager, the Grand Hotel or its occupants, a vague and timorous
impatience for the moment at which I should reach my destination, were
to be found now the pustules excised from the face of the cosmopolitan
manager (he was, as a matter of fact, a naturalised Monegasque,
although--as he himself put it, for he was always using expressions
which he thought distinguished without noticing that they were
incorrect--"of Rumanian originality"), his action in ringing for the
lift, the lift-boy himself, a whole frieze of puppet-show characters
issuing from that Pandora's box which was the Grand Hotel, undeniable,
irremovable, and, like everything that is realised, sterilising. But at
least this change, which I had done nothing to bring about, proved to me
that something had happened which was external to myself--however devoid
of interest that thing might be--and I was like a traveller who, having
had the sun in his face when he started, concludes that he has been for
so many hours on the road when he finds the sun behind him. I was half
dead with exhaustion, I was burning with fever; I would gladly have gone
to bed, but I had no night-things. I should have liked at least to lie
down for a little while on the bed, but what good would that have done
me, seeing that I should not have been able to find any rest there for
that mass of sensations which is for each of us his sentient if not his
material body, and that the unfamiliar objects which encircled that
body, forcing it to set its perceptions on the permanent footing of a
vigilant and defensive guard, would have kept my sight, my hearing, all
my senses in a position as cramped and comfortless (even if I had
stretched out my legs) as that of Cardinal La Balue in the cage in which
he could neither stand nor sit. It is our noticing them that puts things
in a room, our growing used to them that takes them away again and
clears a space for us. Space there was none for me in my bedroom (mine
in name only) at Balbec; it was full of things which did not know me,
which flung back at me the distrustful look that I had cast at them,
and, without taking any heed of my existence, shewed that I was
interrupting the course of theirs. The clock--whereas at home I heard my
clock tick only a few seconds in a week, when I was coming out of some
profound meditation--continued without a moment's interruption to utter,
in an unknown tongue, a series of observations which must have been most
uncomplimentary to myself, for the violet curtains listened to them
without replying, but in an attitude such as people adopt who shrug
their shoulders to indicate that the sight of a third person irritates
them. They gave to this room with its lofty ceiling a semi-historical
character which might have made it a suitable place for the
assassination of the Duc de Guise, and afterwards for parties of
tourists personally conducted by one of Messrs. Thomas Cook and Son's
guides, but for me to sleep in--no. I was tormented by the presence of
some little bookcases with glass fronts which ran along the walls, but
especially by a large mirror with feet which stood across one corner,
for I felt that until it had left the room there would be no possibility
of rest for me there. I kept raising my eyes--which the things in my
room in Paris disturbed me no more than did my eyelids themselves, for
they were merely extensions of my organs, an enlargement of
myself--towards the fantastically high ceiling of this belvedere planted
upon the summit of the hotel which my grandmother had chosen for me; and
in that region more intimate than those in which we see and hear, that
region in which we test the quality of odours, almost in the very heart
of my inmost self, the smell of flowering grasses next launched its
offensive against my last feeble line of trenches, where I stood up to
it, not without tiring myself still further, with the futile incessant
defence of an anxious sniffing. Having no world, no room, no body now
that was not menaced by the enemies thronging round me, invaded to the
very bones by fever, I was utterly alone; I longed to die. Then my
grandmother came in, and to the expansion of my ebbing heart there
opened at once an infinity of space.

She was wearing a loose cambric gown which she put on at home whenever
any of us was ill (because she felt more comfortable in it, she used to
say, for she always ascribed to her actions a selfish motive), and which
was, for tending us, for watching by our beds, her servant's livery, her
nurse's uniform, her religious habit. But whereas the trouble that
servants, nurses, religious take, their kindness to us, the merits that
we discover in them and the gratitude that we owe them all go to
increase the impression that we have of being, in their eyes, some one
different, of feeling that we are alone, keeping in our own hands the
control over our thoughts, our will to live, I knew, when I was with my
grandmother, that, however great the misery that there was in me, it
would be received by her with a pity still more vast; that everything
that was mine, my cares, my wishes, would be, in my grandmother,
supported upon a desire to save and prolong my life stronger than was my
own; and my thoughts were continued in her without having to undergo any
deflection, since they passed from my mind into hers without change of
atmosphere or of personality. And--like a man who tries to fasten his
necktie in front of a glass and forgets that the end which he sees
reflected is not on the side to which he raises his hand, or like a dog
that chases along the ground the dancing shadow of an insect in the
air--misled by her appearance in the body as we are apt to be in this
world where we have no direct perception of people's souls, I threw
myself into the arms of my grandmother and clung with my lips to her
face as though I had access thus to that immense heart which she opened
to me. And when I felt my mouth glued to her cheeks, to her brow, I drew
from them something so beneficial, so nourishing that I lay in her arms
as motionless, as solemn, as calmly gluttonous as a babe at the breast.

At last I let go, and lay and gazed, and could not tire of gazing at her
large face, as clear in its outline as a fine cloud, glowing and serene,
behind which I could discern the radiance of her tender love. And
everything that received, in however slight a degree, any share of her
sensations, everything that could be said to belong in any way to her
was at once so spiritualised, so sanctified that with outstretched hands
I smoothed her dear hair, still hardly grey, with as much respect,
precaution, comfort as if I had actually been touching her goodness. She
found a similar pleasure in taking any trouble that saved me one, and in
a moment of immobility and rest for my weary limbs something so
delicious that when, having seen that she wished to help me with my
undressing and to take my boots off, I made as though to stop her and
began to undress myself, with an imploring gaze she arrested my hands as
they fumbled with the top buttons of my coat and boots.

"Oh, do let me!" she begged. "It is such a joy for your Granny. And be
sure you knock on the wall if you want anything in the night. My bed is
just on the other side, and the partition is quite thin. Just give a
knock now, as soon as you are ready, so that we shall know where we

And, sure enough, that evening I gave three knocks--a signal which, the
week after, when I was ill, I repeated every morning for several days,
because my grandmother wanted me to have some milk early. Then, when I
thought that I could hear her stirring, so that she should not be kept
waiting but might, the moment she had brought me the milk, go to sleep
again, I ventured on three little taps, timidly, faintly, but for all
that distinctly, for if I was afraid of disturbing her, supposing that I
had been mistaken and that she was still asleep, I should not have
wished her either to lie awake listening for a summons which she had not
at once caught and which I should not have the courage to repeat. And
scarcely had I given my taps than I heard three others, in a different
intonation from mine, stamped with a calm authority, repeated twice over
so that there should be no mistake, and saying to me plainly: "Don't get
excited; I heard you; I shall be with you in a minute!" and shortly
afterwards my grandmother appeared. I explained to her that I had been
afraid that she would not hear me, or might think that it was some one
in the room beyond who was tapping; at which she smiled:

"Mistake my poor chick's knocking for anyone else! Why, Granny could
tell it among a thousand! Do you suppose there's anyone else in the
world who's such a silly-billy, with such feverish little knuckles, so
afraid of waking me up and of not making me understand? Even if he just
gave the least scratch, Granny could tell her mouse's sound at once,
especially such a poor miserable little mouse as mine is. I could hear
it just now, trying to make up its mind, and rustling the bedclothes,
and going through all its tricks."

She pushed open the shutters; where a wing of the hotel jutted out at
right angles to my window, the sun was already installed upon the roof,
like a slater who is up betimes, and starts early and works quietly so
as not to rouse the sleeping town, whose stillness seems to enhance his
activity. She told me what o'clock, what sort of day it was; that it was
not worth while my getting up and coming to the window, that there was a
mist over the sea; if the baker's shop had opened yet; what the vehicle
was that I could hear passing. All that brief, trivial curtain-raiser,
that negligible _introit_ of a new day, performed without any spectator,
a little scrap of life which was only for our two selves, which I should
have no hesitation in repeating, later on, to Françoise or even to
strangers, speaking of the fog "which you could have cut with a knife"
at six o'clock that morning, with the ostentation of one who was
boasting not of a piece of knowledge that he had acquired but of a mark
of affection shewn to himself alone; dear morning moment, opened like a
symphony by the rhythmical dialogue of my three taps, to which the thin
wall of my bedroom, steeped in love and joy, grown melodious,
immaterial, singing like the angelic choir, responded with three other
taps, eagerly awaited, repeated once and again, in which it contrived to
waft to me the soul of my grandmother, whole and perfect, and the
promise of her coming, with a swiftness of annunciation and melodic
accuracy. But on this first night after our arrival, when my grandmother
had left me, I began again to feel as I had felt, the day before, in
Paris, at the moment of leaving home. Perhaps this fear that I had--and
shared with so many of my fellow-men--of sleeping in a strange room,
perhaps this fear is only the most humble, obscure, organic, almost
unconscious form of that great and desperate resistance set up by the
things that constitute the better part of our present life towards our
mentally assuming, by accepting it as true, the formula of a future in
which those things are to have no part; a resistance which was at the
root of the horror that I had so often been made to feel by the thought
that my parents must, one day, die, that the stern necessity of life
might oblige me to live remote from Gilberte, or simply to settle
permanently in a place where I should never see any of my old friends; a
resistance which was also at the root of the difficulty that I found in
imagining my own death, or a survival such as Bergotte used to promise
to mankind in his books, a survival in which I should not be allowed to
take with me my memories, my frailties, my character, which did not
easily resign themselves to the idea of ceasing to be, and desired for
me neither annihilation nor an eternity in which they would have no

When Swann had said to me, in Paris one day when I felt particularly
unwell: "You ought to go off to one of those glorious islands in the
Pacific; you'd never come back again if you did." I should have liked to
answer: "But then I shall not see your daughter any more; I shall be
living among people and things she has never seen." And yet my better
judgment whispered: "What difference can that make, since you are not
going to be affected by it? When M. Swann tells you that you will not
come back he means by that that you will not want to come back, and if
you don't want to that is because you will be happier out there." For my
judgment was aware that Habit--Habit which was even now setting to work
to make me like this unfamiliar lodging, to change the position of the
mirror, the shade of the curtains, to stop the clock--undertakes as well
to make dear to us the companions whom at first we disliked, to give
another appearance to their faces, to make attractive the sound of their
voices, to modify the inclinations of their hearts. It is true that
these new friendships for places and people are based upon forgetfulness
of the old; but what my better judgment was thinking was simply that I
could look without apprehension along the vista of a life in which I
should be for ever separated from people all memory of whom I should
lose, and it was by way of consolation that my mind was offering to my
heart a promise of oblivion which succeeded only in sharpening the edge
of its despair. Not that the heart also is not bound in time, when
separation incomplete, to feel the anodyne effect of habit; but until
then it will continue to suffer. And our dread of a future in which we
must forego the sight of faces, the sound of voices that we love,
friends from whom we derive to-day our keenest joys, this dread, far
from being dissipated, is intensified, if to the grief of such a
privation we reflect that there will be added what seems to us now in
anticipation an even more cruel grief; not to feel it as a grief at
all--to remain indifferent; for if that should occur, our ego would have
changed, it would then be not merely the attractiveness of our family,
our mistress, our friends that had ceased to environ us, but our
affection for them; it would have been so completely eradicated from our
heart, in which to-day it is a conspicuous element, that we should be
able to enjoy that life apart from them the very thought of which to-day
makes us recoil in horror; so that it would be in a real sense the death
of ourself, a death followed, it is true, by resurrection but in a
different ego, the life, the love of which are beyond the reach of those
elements of the existing ego that are doomed to die. It is they--even
the meanest of them, such as our obscure attachments to the dimensions,
to the atmosphere of a bedroom--that grow stubborn and refuse, in acts
of rebellion which we must recognise to be a secret, partial, tangible
and true aspect of our resistance to death, of the long resistance,
desperate and daily renewed, to a fragmentary and gradual death such as
interpolates itself throughout the whole course of our life, tearing
away from us at every moment a shred of ourself, dead matter on which
new cells will multiply, and grow. And for a neurotic nature such as
mine, one that is to say in which the intermediaries, the nerves,
perform their functions badly--fail to arrest on its way to the
consciousness, allow indeed to penetrate there, distinct, exhausting,
innumerable, agonising, the plaint of those most humble elements of the
personality which are about to disappear--the anxiety and alarm which I
felt as I lay outstretched beneath that strange and too lofty ceiling
were but the protest of an affection that survived in me for a ceiling
that was familiar and low. Doubtless this affection too would disappear,
and another have taken its place (when death, and then another life,
would, in the guise of Habit, have performed their double task); but
until its annihilation, every night it would suffer afresh, and on this
first night especially, confronted with a future already realised in
which there would no longer be any place for it, it rose in revolt, it
tortured me with the sharp sound of its lamentations whenever my
straining eyes, powerless to turn from what was wounding them,
endeavoured to fasten their gaze upon that inaccessible ceiling.

But next morning!--after a servant had come to call me, and had brought
me hot water, and while I was washing and dressing myself and trying in
vain to find the things that I wanted in my trunk, from which I
extracted, pell-mell, only a lot of things that were of no use whatever,
what a joy it was to me, thinking already of the delights of luncheon
and of a walk along the shore, to see in the window, and in all the
glass fronts of the bookcases as in the portholes of a ship's cabin, the
open sea, naked, unshadowed, and yet with half of its expanse in shadow,
bounded by a thin and fluctuant line, and to follow with my eyes the
waves that came leaping towards me, one behind another, like divers
along a springboard. Every other moment, holding in one hand the
starched, unyielding towel, with the name of the hotel printed upon it,
with which I was making futile efforts to dry myself, I returned to the
window to gaze once more upon that vast amphitheatre, dazzling,
mountainous, and upon the snowy crests of its emerald waves, here and
there polished and translucent, which with a placid violence, a leonine
bending of the brows, let their steep fronts, to which the sun now added
a smile without face or features, run forward to their goal, totter and
melt and be no more. Window in which I was, henceforward, to plant
myself every morning, as at the pane of a mail coach in which one has
slept, to see whether, in the night, a long sought mountain-chain has
come nearer or withdrawn--only here it was those hills of the sea which,
before they come dancing back towards us, are apt to retire so far that
often it was only at the end of a long and sandy plain that I would
distinguish, miles it seemed away, their first undulations upon a
background transparent, vaporous, bluish, like the glaciers that one
sees in the backgrounds of the Tuscan Primitives. On other mornings it
was quite close at hand that the sun was smiling upon those waters of a
green as tender as that preserved in Alpine pastures (among mountains on
which the sun spreads himself here and there like a lazy giant who may
at any moment come leaping gaily down their craggy sides) less by the
moisture of their soil than by the liquid mobility of their light.
Anyhow, in that breach which shore and water between them drive through
all the rest of the world, for the passage, the accumulation there of
light, it is light above all, according to the direction from which it
comes and along which our eyes follow it, it is light that shifts and
fixes the undulations of the sea. Difference of lighting modifies no
less the orientation of a place, constructs no less before our eyes new
goals which it inspires in us the yearning to attain, than would a
distance in space actually traversed in the course of a long journey.
When, in the morning, the sun came from behind the hotel, disclosing to
me the sands bathed in light as far as the first bastions of the sea, it
seemed to be shewing me another side of the picture, and to be engaging
me on the pursuit, along the winding path of its rays, of a journey
motionless but ever varied amid all the fairest scenes of the
diversified landscape of the hours. And on this first morning the sun
pointed out to me far off with a jovial finger those blue peaks of the
sea, which bear no name upon any geographer's chart, until, dizzy with
its sublime excursion over the thundering and chaotic surface of their
crests and avalanches, it came back to take shelter from the wind in my
bedroom, swaggering across the unmade bed and scattering its riches over
the splashed surface of the basin-stand, and into my open trunk, where
by its very splendour and ill-matched luxury it added still further to
the general effect of disorder. Alas, that wind from the sea; an hour
later, in the great dining-room--while we were having our luncheon, and
from the leathern gourd of a lemon were sprinkling a few golden drops on
to a pair of soles which presently left on our plates the plumes of
their picked skeletons, curled like stiff feathers and resonant as
citherns,--it seemed to my grandmother a cruel deprivation not to be
able to feel its life-giving breath on her cheek, on account of the
window, transparent but closed, which like the front of a glass case in
a museum divided us from the beach while allowing us to look out upon
its whole extent, and into which the sky entered so completely that its
azure had the effect of being the colour of the windows and its white
clouds only so many flaws in the glass. Imagining that I was "seated
upon the mole" or at rest in the "boudoir" of which Baudelaire speaks I
asked myself whether his "Sun's rays upon the sea" were not--a very
different thing from the evening ray, simple and superficial as the
wavering stroke of a golden pencil--just what at that moment was
scorching the sea topaz-brown, fermenting it, turning it pale and milky
like foaming beer, like milk, while now and then there hovered over it
great blue shadows which some god seemed, for his pastime, to be
shifting to and fro by moving a mirror in the sky. Unfortunately, it was
not only in its outlook that it differed from our room at Combray,
giving upon the houses over the way, this dining-room at Balbec,
bare-walled, filled with a sunlight green as the water in a marble font,
while a few feet away the full tide and broad daylight erected as though
before the gates of the heavenly city an indestructible and moving
rampart of emerald and gold. At Combray, since we were known to
everyone, I took heed of no one. In life at the seaside one knows only
one's own party. I was not yet old enough, I was still too sensitive to
have outgrown the desire to find favour in the sight of other people and
to possess their hearts. Nor had I acquired the more noble indifference
which a man of the world would have felt, with regard to the people who
were eating their luncheon in the room, nor to the boys and girls who
strolled past the window, with whom I was pained by the thought that I
should never be allowed to go on expeditions, though not so much pained
as if my grandmother, contemptuous of social formalities and concerned
about nothing but my health, had gone to them with the request,
humiliating for me to overhear, that they would consent to let me
accompany them. Whether they were returning to some villa beyond my ken,
or had emerged from it, racquet in hand, on their way to some
lawn-tennis court, or were mounted on horses whose hooves trampled and
tore my heart, I gazed at them with a passionate curiosity, in that
blinding light of the beach by which social distinctions are altered, I
followed all their movements through the transparency of that great bay
of glass which allowed so much light to flood the room. But it
intercepted the wind, and this seemed wrong to my grandmother, who,
unable to endure the thought that I was losing the benefit of an hour in
the open air, surreptitiously unlatched a pane and at once set flying,
with the bills of fare, the newspapers, veils and hats of all the people
at the other tables; she herself, fortified by the breath of heaven,
remained calm and smiling like Saint Blandina, amid the torrent of
invective which, increasing my sense of isolation and misery, those
scornful, dishevelled, furious visitors combined to pour on us.

To a certain extent--and this, at Balbec, gave to the population, as a
rule monotonously rich and cosmopolitan, of that sort of smart and
"exclusive" hotel, a quite distinctive local character--they were
composed of eminent persons from the departmental capitals of that
region of France, a chief magistrate from Caen, a leader of the
Cherbourg bar, a big solicitor from Le Mans, who annually, when the
holidays came round, starting from the various points over which,
throughout the working year, they were scattered like snipers in a
battle or draughtsmen upon a board, concentrated their forces upon this
hotel. They always reserved the same rooms, and with their wives, who
had pretensions to aristocracy, formed a little group, which was joined
by a leading barrister and a leading doctor from Paris, who on the day
of their departure would say to the others:

"Oh, yes, of course; you don't go by our train. You are fortunate, you
will be home in time for luncheon."

"Fortunate, do you say? You, who live in the Capital, in 'Paris, the
great town', while I have to live in a wretched county town of a hundred
thousand souls (it is true, we managed to muster a hundred and two
thousand at the last census, but what is that compared to your two and a
half millions?) going back, too, to asphalt streets and all the bustle
and gaiety of Paris life."

They said this with a rustic burring of their 'r's, but without
bitterness, for they were leading lights each in his own province, who
could like other people have gone to Paris had they chosen--the chief
magistrate of Caen had several times been offered a judgeship in the
Court of Appeal--but had preferred to stay where they were, from love of
their native towns or of obscurity or of fame, or because they were
reactionaries, and enjoyed being on friendly terms with the country
houses of the neighbourhood. Besides several of them were not going back
at once to their county towns.

For--inasmuch as the Bay of Balbec was a little world apart in the midst
of a great world, a basketful of the seasons in which were clustered in
a ring good days and bad, and the months in their order, so that not
only, on days when one could make out Rivebelle, which was in itself a
sign of coming storms, could one see the sunlight on the houses there
while Balbec was plunged in darkness, but later on, when the cold
weather had reached Balbec, one could be certain of finding on that
opposite shore two or three supplementary months of warmth--those of the
regular visitors to the Grand Hotel whose holidays began late or lasted
long, gave orders, when rain and fog came and Autumn was in the air, for
their boxes to be packed and embarked, and set sail across the Bay to
find summer again at Rivebelle or Costedor. This little group in the
Balbec hotel looked with distrust upon each new arrival, and while
affecting to take not the least interest in him, hastened, all of them,
to ply with questions their friend the head waiter. For it was the same
head waiter--Aimé--who returned every year for the season, and kept
their tables for them; and their good ladies, having heard that his wife
was "expecting", would sit after meals working each at one of the
"little things", stopping only to put up their glasses and stare at us,
my grandmother and myself, because we were eating hard-boiled eggs in
salad, which was considered common, and was, in fact, "not done" in the
best society of Alençon. They affected an attitude of contemptuous
irony with regard to a Frenchman who was called "His Majesty" and had
indeed proclaimed himself King of a small island in the South Seas,
inhabited by a few savages. He was staying in the hotel with his pretty
mistress, whom, as she crossed the beach to bathe, the little boys would
greet with "Three cheers for the Queen!" because she would reward them
with a shower of small silver. The chief magistrate and the barrister
went so far as to pretend not to see her, and if any of their friends
happened to look at her, felt bound to warn him that she was only a
little shop-girl.

"But I was told that at Ostend they used the royal bathing machine."

"Well, and why not? It's on hire for twenty francs. You can take it
yourself, if you care for that sort of thing. Anyhow, I know for a fact
that the fellow asked for an audience, when he was there, with the King,
who sent back word that he took no cognisance of any Pantomime Princes."

"Really, that's interesting! What queer people there are in the world,
to be sure!"

And I dare say it was all quite true: but it was also from resentment of
the thought that, to many of their fellow-visitors, they were themselves
simply respectable but rather common people who did not know this King
and Queen so prodigal with their small change, that the solicitor, the
magistrate, the barrister, when what they were pleased to call the
"Carnival" went by, felt so much annoyance, and expressed aloud an
indignation that was quite understood by their friend the head waiter
who, obliged to shew proper civility to these generous if not authentic
Sovereigns, still, while he took their orders, would dart from afar at
his old patrons a covert but speaking glance. Perhaps there was also
something of the same resentment at being erroneously supposed to be
less and unable to explain that they were more smart, underlining the
"fine specimen" with which they qualified a young "blood", the
consumptive and dissipated son of an industrial magnate, who appeared
every day in a new suit of clothes with an orchid in his buttonhole,
drank champagne at luncheon, and then strolled out of the hotel, pale,
impassive, a smile of complete indifference on his lips, to the casino
to throw away at the baccarat table enormous sums, "which he could ill
afford to lose," as the solicitor said with a resigned air to the chief
magistrate, whose wife had it "on good authority" that this
"detrimental" young man was bringing his parents' grey hair in sorrow to
the grave.

On the other hand, the barrister and his friends could not exhaust their
flow of sarcasm on the subject of a wealthy old lady of title, because
she never moved any where without taking her whole household with her.
Whenever the wives of the solicitor and the magistrate saw her in the
dining-room at meal-times they put up their glasses and gave her an
insolent scrutiny, as minute and distrustful as if she had been some
dish with a pretentious name but a suspicious appearance which, after
the negative result of a systematic study, must be sent away with a
lofty wave of the hand and a grimace of disgust.

No doubt by this behaviour they meant only to shew that, if there were
things in the world which they themselves lacked--in this instance,
certain prerogatives which the old lady enjoyed, and the privilege of
her acquaintance--it was not because they could not, but because they
did not choose to acquire them. But they had succeeded in convincing
themselves that this really was what they felt; and it was the
suppression of all desire for, of all curiosity as to forms of life
which were unfamiliar, of all hope of pleasing new people (for which, in
the women, had been substituted a feigned contempt, an artificial
brightness) that had the awkward result of obliging them to label their
discontent satisfaction, and lie everlastingly to themselves, for which
they were greatly to be pitied. But everyone else in the hotel was no
doubt behaving in a similar fashion, though his behaviour might take a
different form, and sacrificing, if not to self-importance, at any rate
to certain inculcated principles and mental habits the thrilling delight
of mixing in a strange kind of life. Of course, the atmosphere of the
microcosm in which the old lady isolated herself was not poisoned with
virulent bitterness, as was that of the group in which the wives of the
solicitor and magistrate sat chattering with impotent rage. It was
indeed embalmed with a delicate and old world fragrance which, however,
was none the less artificial. For at heart the old lady would probably
have found in attracting, in attaching to herself (and, with that
object, recreating herself) the mysterious sympathy of new friends a
charm which is altogether lacking from the pleasure that is to be
derived from mixing only with the people of one's own world, and
reminding oneself that, one's own being the best of all possible worlds,
the ill-informed contempt of "outsiders" may be disregarded. Perhaps she
felt that--were she to arrive _incognito_ at the Grand Hotel, Balbec,
she would, in her black stuff gown and old-fashioned bonnet, bring a
smile to the lips of some old reprobate, who from the depths of his
rocking chair would glance up and murmur, "What a scarecrow!" or, still
worse, to those of some man of repute who had, like the magistrate, kept
between his pepper-and-salt whiskers a rosy complexion and a pair of
sparkling eyes such as she liked to see, and would at once bring the
magnifying lens of the conjugal glasses to bear upon so quaint a
phenomenon; and perhaps it was in unconfessed dread of those first few
minutes, which, though one knows that they will be but a few minutes,
are none the less terrifying, like the first plunge of one's head under
water, that this old lady sent down in advance a servant, who would
inform the hotel of the personality and habits of his mistress, and,
cutting short the manager's greetings, made, with an abruptness in which
there was more timidity than pride, for her room, where her own
curtains, substituted for those that draped the hotel windows, her own
screens and photographs set tip so effectively between her and the
outside world, to which otherwise she would have had to adapt herself,
the barrier of her private life that it was her home (in which she had
comfortably stayed) that travelled rather than herself.

Thenceforward, having placed between herself, on the one hand, and the
staff of the hotel and its decorators on the other the servants who bore
instead of her the shock of contact with all this strange humanity, and
kept up around their mistress her familiar atmosphere, having set her
prejudices between herself and the other visitors, indifferent whether
or not she gave offence to people whom her friends would not have had in
their houses, it was in her own world that she continued to live, by
correspondence with her friends, by memories, by her intimate sense of
and confidence in her own position, the quality of her manners, the
competence of her politeness. And every day, when she came downstairs to
go for a drive in her own carriage, the lady's maid who came after her
carrying her wraps, the footman who preceded her seemed like sentries
who, at the gate of an embassy, flying the flag of the country to which
she belonged, assured to her upon foreign soil the privilege of
extra-territoriality. She did not leave her room until late in the
afternoon on the day following our arrival, so that we did not see her
in the dining-room, into which the manager, since we were strangers
there, conducted us, taking us under his wing, as a corporal takes a
squad of recruits to the master-tailor, to have them fitted; we did see
however, a moment later, a country gentleman and his daughter, of an
obscure but very ancient Breton family, M. and Mlle. de Stermaria, whose
table had been allotted to us, in the belief that they had gone out and
would not be back until the evening. Having come to Balbec only to see
various country magnates whom they knew in that neighbourhood, they
spent in the hotel dining-room, what with the invitations they accepted
and the visits they paid, only such time as was strictly unavoidable. It
was their stiffness that preserved them intact from all human sympathy,
from interesting at all the strangers seated round about them, among
whom M. de Stermaria kept up the glacial, preoccupied, distant, rude,
punctilious and distrustful air that we assume in a railway
refreshment-room, among fellow-passengers whom we have never seen before
and will never see again, and with whom we can conceive of no other
relations than to defend from their onslaught our "portion" of cold
chicken and our corner seat in the train. No sooner had we begun our
luncheon than we were asked to leave the table, on the instructions of
M. de Stermaria who had just arrived and, without the faintest attempt
at an apology to us, requested the head waiter, in our hearing to "see
that such a mistake did not occur again," for it was repugnant to him
that "people whom he did not know" should have taken his table.

And certainly into the feeling which impelled a young actress (better
known, though, for her smart clothes, her smart sayings, her collection
of German porcelain, than in the occasional parts that she had played at
the Odéon) her lover, an immensely rich young man for whose sake she
had acquired her culture, and two sprigs of aristocracy at that time
much in the public eye to form a little band apart, to travel only
together, to come down to luncheon--when at Balbec--very late, after
everyone had finished; to spend the whole day in their sitting-room
playing cards, there entered no sort of ill-humour against the rest of
us but simply the requirements of the taste that they had formed for a
certain type of conversation, for certain refinements of good living,
which made them find pleasure in spending their time, in taking their
meals only by themselves, and would have rendered intolerable a life in
common with people who had not been initiated into those mysteries. Even
at a dinner or a card-table, each of them had to be certain that, in the
diner or partner who sat opposite to him, there was, latent and not yet
made use of, a certain brand of knowledge which would enable him to
identify the rubbish with which so many houses in Paris were littered as
genuine mediaeval or renaissance "pieces" and, whatever the subject of
discussion, to apply the critical standards common to all their party
whereby they distinguished good work from bad. Probably it was only--at
such moments--by some infrequent, amusing interruption flung into the
general silence of meal or game, or by the new and charming frock which
the young actress had put on for luncheon or for poker, that the special
kind of existence in which these four friends desired, above all things,
to remain plunged was made apparent. But by engulfing them thus in a
system of habits which they knew by heart it sufficed to protect them
from the mystery of the life that was going on all round them. All the
long afternoon, the sea was suspended there before their eyes only as a
canvas of attractive colouring might hang on the wall of a wealthy
bachelor's flat and it was only in the intervals between the "hands"
that one of the players, finding nothing better to do, raised his eyes
to it to seek from it some indication of the weather or the time, and to
remind the others that tea was ready. And at night they did not dine in
the hotel, where, hidden springs of electricity flooding the great
dining-room with light, it became as it were an immense and wonderful
aquarium against whose wall of glass the working population of Balbec,
the fishermen and also the tradesmen's families, clustering invisibly in
the outer darkness, pressed their faces to watch, gently floating upon
the golden eddies within, the luxurious life of its occupants, a thing
as extraordinary to the poor as the life of strange fishes or molluscs:
(an important social question, this; whether the wall of glass will
always protect the wonderful creatures at their feasting, whether the
obscure folk who watch them hungrily out of the night will not break in
some day to gather them from their aquarium and devour them.) Meanwhile
there may have been, perhaps, among the gazing crowd, a motionless,
formless mass there in the dark, some writer, some student of human
ichthyology who, as he watched the jaws of old feminine monstrosities
close over a mouthful of food which they proceeded then to absorb, was
amusing himself by classifying them according to their race, by their
innate characteristics as well as by those acquired characteristics
which bring it about that an old Serbian lady whose buccal protuberance
is that of a great sea-fish, because from her earliest years she has
moved in the fresh waters of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, eats her salad
for all the world like a La Rochefoucauld.

At that hour one could see the three young men in dinner-jackets,
waiting for the young woman, who was as usual late but presently,
wearing a dress that was almost always different and one of a series of
scarves, chosen to gratify some special instinct in her lover, after
having from her landing rung for the lift, would emerge from it like a
doll coming out of its box. And then all four, because they found that
the international phenomenon of the "Palace", planted on Balbec soil,
had blossomed there in material splendour rather than in food that was
fit to eat, bundled into a carriage and went to dine, a mile off, in a
little restaurant that was well spoken of, where they held with the cook
himself endless discussions of the composition of their meal and the
cooking of its various dishes. During their drive, the road bordered
with apple-trees that led out of Balbec was no more to them than the
distance that must be traversed--barely distinguishable in the darkness
from that which separated their homes in Paris from the Café Anglais or
the Tour d'Argent--before they could arrive at the fashionable little
restaurant where, while the young man's friends envied him because he
had such a smartly dressed mistress, the latter's scarves were spread
about the little company like a fragrant, flowing veil, but one that
kept it apart from the outer world.

Alas for my peace of mind, I had none of the detachment that all these
people shewed. To many of them I gave constant thought; I should have
liked not to pass unobserved by a man with a receding brow and eyes that
dodged between the blinkers of his prejudices and his education, the
great nobleman of the district, who was none other than the
brother-in-law of Legrandin, and came every now and then to see somebody
at Balbec and on Sundays, by reason of the weekly garden-party that his
wife and he gave, robbed the hotel of a large number of its occupants,
because one or two of them were invited to these entertainments and the
others, so as not to appear to have been not invited, chose that day for
an expedition to some distant spot. He had had, as it happened, an
exceedingly bad reception at the hotel on the first day of the season,
when the staff, freshly imported from the Riviera, did not yet know who
or what he was. Not only was he not wearing white flannels, but, with
old-fashioned French courtesy and in his ignorance of the ways of smart
hotels, on coming into the hall in which there were ladies sitting, he
had taken off his hat at the door, the effect of which had been that the
manager did not so much as raise a finger to his own in acknowledgment,
concluding that this must be some one of the most humble extraction,
what he called "sprung from the ordinary." The solicitor's wife, alone,
had felt herself attracted by the stranger, who exhaled all the starched
vulgarity of the really respectable, and had declared, with the unerring
discernment and the indisputable authority of a person from whom the
highest society of Le Mans held no secrets, that one could see at a
glance that one was in the presence of a gentleman of great distinction,
of perfect breeding, a striking contrast to the sort of people one
usually saw at Balbec, whom she condemned as impossible to know so long
as she did not know them. This favourable judgment which she had
pronounced on Legrandin's brother-in-law was based perhaps on the
spiritless appearance of a man about whom there was nothing to
intimidate anyone; perhaps also she had recognised in this gentleman
farmer with the gait of a sacristan the Masonic signs of her own
inveterate clericalism.

It made no difference my knowing that the young fellows who went past
the hotel every day on horseback were the sons of the questionably
solvent proprietor of a linen-drapery to whom my father would never have
dreamed of speaking; the glamour of "seaside life" exalted them in my
eyes to equestrian statues of demi-gods, and the best thing that I could
hope for was that they would never allow their proud gaze to fall upon
the wretched boy who was myself, who left the hotel dining-room only to
sit humbly upon the sands. I should have been glad to arouse some
response even from the adventurer who had been king of a desert island
in the South Seas, even of the young consumptive, of whom I liked to
think that he was hiding beneath his insolent exterior a shy and tender
heart, which would perhaps have lavished on me, and on me alone, the
treasures of its affection. Besides (unlike what one generally says of
the people one meets when travelling) just as being seen in certain
company can invest us, in a watering-place to which we shall return
another year, with a coefficient that has no equivalent in our true
social life, so there is nothing--not which we keep so resolutely at a
distance, but--which we cultivate with such assiduity after our return
to Paris as the friendships that we have formed by the sea. I was
anxious about the opinion that might be held of me by all these
temporary or local celebrities whom my tendency to put myself in the
place of other people and to reconstruct what was in their minds had
made me place not in their true rank, that which they would have held in
Paris, for instance, and which would have been quite low, but in that
which they must imagine to be, and which indeed was their rank at
Balbec, where the want of a common denominator gave them a sort of
relative superiority and an individual interest. Alas, none of these
people's contempt for me was so unbearable as that of M. de Stermaria.

For I had noticed his daughter, the moment she came into the room, her
pretty features, her pallid, almost blue complexion, what there was
peculiar in the carriage of her tall figure, in her gait, which
suggested to me--and rightly--her long descent, her aristocratic
upbringing, all the more vividly because I knew her name, like those
expressive themes composed by musicians of genius which paint in
splendid colours the glow of fire, the rush of water, the peace of
fields and woods, to audiences who, having first let their eyes run over
the programme, have their imaginations trained in the right direction.
The label "Centuries of Breeding", by adding to Mlle. de Stermaria's
charms the idea of their origin, made them more desirable also,
advertising their rarity as a high price enhances the value of a thing
that has already taken our fancy. And its stock of heredity gave to her
complexion, in which so many selected juices had been blended, the
savour of an exotic fruit or of a famous vintage.

And then mere chance put into our hands, my grandmother's and mine, the
means of giving ourselves an immediate distinction in the eyes of all
the other occupants of the hotel. On that first afternoon, at the moment
when the old lady came downstairs from her room, producing, thanks to
the footman who preceded her, the maid who came running after her with a
book and a rug that had been left behind, a marked effect upon all who
beheld her and arousing in each of them a curiosity from which it was
evident that none was so little immune as M. de Stermaria, the manager
leaned across to my grandmother and, from pure kindness of heart (as one
might point out the Shah, or Queen Ranavalo to an obscure onlooker who
could obviously have no sort of connexion with so mighty a potentate,
but might be interested, all the same, to know that he had been standing
within a few feet of one) whispered in her ear, "The Marquise de
Villeparisis!" while at the same moment the old lady, catching sight of
my grandmother, could not repress a start of pleased surprise.

It may be imagined that the sudden appearance, in the guise of a little
old woman, of the most powerful of fairies would not have given me so
much pleasure, destitute as I was of any means of access to Mlle. de
Stermaria, in a strange place where I knew no one: no one, that is to
say, for any practical purpose. Aesthetically the number of types of
humanity is so restricted that we must constantly, wherever we may be,
have the pleasure of seeing people we know, even without looking for
them in the works of the old masters, like Swann. Thus it happened that
in the first few days of our visit to Balbec I had succeeded in finding
Legrandin, Swann's hall porter and Mme. Swann herself, transformed into
a waiter, a foreign visitor whom I never saw again and a bathing
superintendent. And a sort of magnetism attracts and retains so
inseparably, one after another, certain characteristics, facial and
mental, that when nature thus introduces a person into a new body she
does not mutilate him unduly. Legrandin turned waiter kept intact his
stature, the outline of his nose, part of his chin; Mme. Swann, in the
masculine gender and the calling of a bathing superintendent, had been
accompanied not only by familiar features, but even by the way she had
of speaking. Only, she could be of little if any more use to me,
standing upon the beach there in the red sash of her office, and
hoisting at the first gust of wind the flag which forbade us to bathe
(for these superintendents are prudent men, and seldom know how to swim)
than she would have been in that fresco of the _Life of Moses_ in which
Swann had long ago identified her in the portrait of Jethro's Daughter.
Whereas this Mme. de Villeparisis was her real self, she had not been
the victim of an enchantment which had deprived her of her power, but
was capable, on the contrary, of putting at the service of my power an
enchantment which would multiply it an hundred fold, and thanks to
which, as though I had been swept through the air on the wings of a
fabulous bird, I was to cross in a few moments the infinitely wide (at
least, at Balbec) social gulf which separated me from Mlle. de

Unfortunately, if there was one person in the world who, more than
anyone else, lived shut up in a little world of her own, it was my
grandmother. She would not, indeed, have despised me, she would simply
not have understood what I meant had she been told that I attached
importance to the opinions, that I felt an interest in the persons of
people the very existence of whom she had never noticed and would, when
the time came to leave Balbec, retain no impression of their names. I
dared not confess to her that if these same people had seen her talking
to Mme. de Villeparisis, I should have been immensely gratified, because
I felt that the Marquise counted for much in the hotel and that her
friendship would have given us a position in the eyes of Mlle. de
Stermaria. Not that my grandmother's friend represented to me, in any
sense of the word, a member of the aristocracy: I was too well used to
her name, which had been familiar to my ears before my mind had begun to
consider it, when as a child I had heard it occur in conversation at
home: while her title added to it only a touch of quaintness--as some
uncommon Christian name would have done, or as in the names of streets,
among which we can see nothing more noble in the Rue Lord Byron, in the
plebeian and even squalid Rue Rochechouart, or in the Rue Grammont than
in the Rue Léonce Reynaud or the Rue Hippolyte Lebas. Mme. de
Villeparisis no more made me think of a person who belonged to a special
world than did her cousin MacMahon, whom I did not clearly distinguish
from M. Carnot, likewise President of the Republic, or from Raspail,
whose photograph Françoise had bought with that of Pius IX. It was one
of my grandmother's principles that, when away from home, one should
cease to have any social intercourse, that one did not go to the seaside
to meet people, having plenty of time for that sort of thing in Paris,
that they would make one waste on being merely polite, in pointless
conversation, the precious time which ought all to be spent in the open
air, beside the waves; and finding it convenient to assume that this
view was shared by everyone else, and that it authorised, between old
friends whom chance brought face to face in the same hotel, the fiction
of a mutual incognito, on hearing her friend's name from the manager she
merely looked the other way, and pretended not to see Mme. de
Villeparisis, who, realising that my grandmother did not want to be
recognised, looked also into the void. She went past, and I was left in
my isolation like a shipwrecked mariner who has seen a vessel apparently
coming towards him which has then, without lowering a boat, vanished
under the horizon.

She, too, had her meals in the dining-room, but at the other end of it.
She knew none of the people who were staying in the hotel, or who came
there to call, not even M. de Cambremer; in fact, I noticed that he gave
her no greeting, one day when, with his wife, he had accepted an
invitation to take luncheon with the barrister, who drunken with the
honour of having the nobleman at his table avoided his friends of every
day, and confined himself to a distant twitch of the eyelid, so as to
draw their attention to this historic event but so discreetly that his
signal could not be interpreted by them as an invitation to join the

"Well, I hope you've got on your best clothes; I hope you feel smart
enough," was the magistrate's wife's greeting to him that evening.

"Smart? Why should I?" asked the barrister, concealing his rapture in an
exaggerated astonishment. "Because of my guests, do you mean?" he went
on, feeling that it was impossible to keep up the farce any longer. "But
what is there smart about having a few friends in to luncheon? After
all, they must feed somewhere!"

"But it is smart! They are the de Cambremers, aren't they? I recognised
them at once. She is a Marquise. And quite genuine, too. Not through the

"Oh, she's a very simple soul, she is charming, no stand-offishness
about her. I thought you were coming to join us. I was making signals to
you. . . . I would have introduced you!" he asserted, tempering with a
hint of irony the vast generosity of the offer, like Ahasuerus when he
says to Esther:

Of all my Kingdom must I give you half!

"No, no, no, no! We lie hidden, like the modest violet."

"But you were quite wrong, I assure you," replied the barrister, growing
bolder now that the danger point was passed. "They weren't going to eat
you. I say, aren't we going to have our little game of bezique?"

"Why, of course! We were afraid to suggest it, now that you go about
entertaining Marquises."

"Oh, get along with you; there's nothing so very wonderful about them.
Why, I'm dining there to-morrow. Would you care to go instead of me? I
mean it. Honestly, I'd just as soon stay here."

"No, no! I should be removed from the bench as a Reactionary," cried the
chief magistrate, laughing till the tears stood in his eyes at his own
joke. "But you go to Féterne too, don't you?" he went on, turning to
the solicitor.

"Oh, I go there on Sundays--in at one door and out at the other. But I
don't have them here to luncheon, like the Leader."

M. de Stermaria was not at Balbec that day, to the barrister's great
regret. But he managed to say a word in season to the head waiter:

"Aimé, you can tell M. de Stermaria that he's not the only nobleman
you've had in here. You saw the gentleman who was with me to-day at
luncheon? Eh? A small moustache, looked like a military man. Well, that
was the Marquis de Cambremer!"

"Was it indeed? I'm not surprised to hear it."

"That will shew him that he's not the only man who's got a title. That
will teach him! It's not a bad thing to take 'em down a peg or two,
those noblemen. I say, Aimé, don't say anything to him unless you like:
I mean to say, it's no business of mine; besides, they know each other

And next day M. de Stermaria, who remembered that the barrister had once
held a brief for one of his friends, came up and introduced himself.

"Our friends in common, the de Cambremers, were anxious that we should
meet; the days didn't fit; I don't know quite what went wrong--"
stammered the barrister, who, like most liars, imagined that other
people do not take the trouble to investigate an unimportant detail
which, for all that, may be sufficient (if chance puts you in possession
of the humble facts of the case, and they contradict it) to shew the
liar in his true colours and to inspire a lasting mistrust.

Then as at all times, but more easily now that her father had left her
and was talking to the barrister, I was gazing at Mlle. de Stermaria. No
less than the bold and always graceful originality of her attitudes, as
when, leaning her elbows on the table, she raised her glass in both
hands over her outstretched arms, the dry flame of a glance at once
extinguished, the ingrained, congenital hardness that one could feel,
ill-concealed by her own personal inflexions, in the sound of her voice,
which had shocked my grandmother; a sort of atavistic starting-point to
which she recoiled whenever, by glance or utterance, she had succeeded
in expressing a thought of her own; all of these qualities carried the
mind of him who watched her back to the line of ancestors who had
bequeathed to her that inadequacy of human sympathy, those blanks in her
sensibility, that short measure of humanity which was at every moment
running out. But from a certain look which flooded for a moment the
wells--instantly dry again--of her eyes, a look in which I could discern
that almost obsequious docility which the predominance of a taste for
sensual pleasures gives to the proudest of women, who will soon come to
recognise but one form of personal distinction, that namely which any
man enjoys who can make her feel those pleasures, an actor, an acrobat
even, for whom, perhaps, she will one day leave her husband;--from a
certain rosy tint, warm and sensual, which flushed her pallid cheeks,
like the colour that stained the hearts of the white water-lilies in the
Vivonne, I thought I could discern that she would readily have consented
to my coming to seek in her the savour of that life of poetry and
romance which she led in Brittany, a life to which, whether from
over-familiarity or from innate superiority, or from disgust at the
penury or the avarice of her family, she seemed not to attach any great
value, but which, for all that, she held enclosed in her body. In the
meagre stock of will-power that had been transmitted to her, and gave an
element of weakness to her expression, she would not perhaps have found
the strength to resist. And, crowned by a feather that was a trifle
old-fashioned and pretentious, the grey felt hat which she invariably
wore at meals made her all the more attractive to me, not because it was
in harmony with her pearly or rosy complexion, but because, by making me
suppose her to be poor, it brought her closer to myself. Obliged by her
fathers presence to adopt a conventional attitude, but already bringing
to the perception and classification of the people who passed before her
eyes other principles than his, perhaps she saw in me not my humble
rank, but the right sex and age. If one day M. de Stermaria had gone out
leaving her behind, if, above all, Mme. de Villeparisis, by coming to
sit at our table, had given her an opinion of me which might have
emboldened me to approach her, perhaps then we might have contrived to
exchange a few words, to arrange a meeting, to form a closer tie. And
for a whole month during which she would be left alone, without her
parents, in her romantic Breton castle, we should perhaps have been able
to wander by ourselves at evening, she and I together in the dusk which
would shew in a softer light above the darkening water pink briar roses,
beneath oak trees beaten and stunted by the hammering of the waves.
Together we should have roamed that isle impregnated with so intense a
charm for me because it had enclosed the everyday life of Mlle. de
Stermaria and lay at rest in her remembering eyes. For it seemed to me
that I should not really have possessed her save there, when I should
have traversed those regions which enveloped her in so many memories--a
veil which my desire sought to tear apart, one of those veils which
nature interposes between woman and her pursuers (with the same
intention as when, for all of us, she places the act of reproduction
between ourselves and our keenest pleasure, and for insects, places
before the nectar the pollen which they must carry away with them) in
order that, tricked by the illusion of possessing her thus more
completely, they may be forced to occupy first the scenes among which
she lives, and which, of more service to their imagination than sensual
pleasure can be, yet would not without that pleasure have had the power
to attract them.

But I was obliged to take my eyes from Mlle. de Stermaria, for already,
considering no doubt that making the acquaintance of an important person
was a brief, inquisitive act which was sufficient in itself, and to
bring out all the interest that was latent in it required only a
handshake and a penetrating stare, without either immediate conversation
or any subsequent relations, her father had taken leave of the barrister
and returned to sit down facing her, rubbing his hands like a man who
has just made a valuable acquisition. As for the barrister, once the
first emotion of this interview had subsided, then, as on other days, he
could be heard every minute addressing the head waiter:

"But I am not a king, Aimé; go and attend to the king! I say, Chief,
those little trout don't look at all bad, do they? We must ask Aimé to
let us have some. Aimé, that little fish you have over there looks to
me highly commendable: will you bring us some, please, Aimé, and don't
be sparing with, it."

He would repeat the name "Aimé" all day long, one result of which was
that when he had anyone to dinner the guest would remark "I can see, you
are quite at home in this place," and would feel himself obliged to keep
on saying "Aimé" also, from that tendency, combining elements of
timidity, vulgarity and silliness, which many people have, to believe
that it is smart and witty to copy to the letter what is said by the
company in which they may happen to be. The barrister repeated the name
incessantly, but with a smile, for he felt that he was exhibiting at
once the good terms on which he stood with the head waiter and his own
superior station. And the head waiter, whenever he caught the sound of
his own name, smiled too, as though touched and at the same time proud,
shewing that he was conscious of the honour and could appreciate the

Terrifying as I always found these meals, in the vast restaurant,
generally full, of the mammoth hotel, they became even more terrifying
when there arrived for a few days the Proprietor (or he may have been
only the General Manager, appointed by a board of directors) not only of
this "palace" but of seven or eight more besides, situated at all the
four corners of France, in each of which, travelling continuously, he
would spend a week now and again. Then, just after dinner had begun,
there appeared every evening in the doorway of the dining-room this
small man with white hair and a red nose, astonishingly neat and
impassive, who was known, it appeared, as well in London as at Monte
Carlo, as one of the leading hotelkeepers in Europe. Once when I had
gone out for a moment at the beginning of dinner, as I came in again I
passed close by him, and he bowed to me, but with a coldness in which I
could not distinguish whether it should be attributed to the reserve of
a man who could never forget what he was, or to his contempt for a
customer of so little importance. To those whose importance was
considerable the Managing Director would bow, with quite as much
coldness but more deeply, lowering his eyelids with a reverence that was
almost offended modesty, as though he had found himself confronted, at a
funeral, with the father of the deceased or with the Blessed Sacrament.
Except for these icy and infrequent salutations, he made not the
slightest movement, as if to shew that his glittering eyes, which
appeared to be starting out of his head, saw everything, controlled
everything, assured to us in the "Hotel dinner" perfection in every
detail as well as a general harmony. He felt, evidently, that he was
more than the producer of a play, than the conductor of an orchestra,
nothing less than a general in supreme command. Having decided that a
contemplation carried to its utmost intensity would suffice to assure
him that everything was in readiness, that no mistake had been made
which could lead to disaster,--to invest him, in a word, with full
responsibility, he abstained not merely from any gesture but even from
moving his eyes, which, petrified by the intensity of their gaze, took
in and directed everything that was going on. I felt that even the
movements of my spoon did not escape him, and were he to vanish after
the soup, for the whole of dinner the review that he had held would have
taken away my appetite. His own was exceedingly good, as one could see
at luncheon, which he took like an ordinary guest of the hotel at a
table that anyone else might have had in the public dining-room. His
table had this peculiarity only, that by his side, while he was eating,
the other manager, the resident one, remained standing all the time to
make conversation. For being subordinate to this Managing Director he
was anxious to please a man of whom he lived in constant fear. My fear
of him diminished during these luncheons, for being then lost in the
crowd of visitors he would exercise the discretion of a general sitting
in a restaurant where there are also private soldiers, in not seeming to
take any notice of them. Nevertheless when the porter, from among a
cluster of pages, announced to me: "He leaves to-morrow morning for
Dinard. Then he's going down to Biarritz, and after that to Cannes," I
began to breathe more freely.

My life in the hotel was rendered not only dull because I had no friends
there but uncomfortable because Françoise had made so many. It might be
thought that they would have made things easier for us in various
respects. Quite the contrary. The proletariat, if they succeeded only
with great difficulty in being treated as people she knew by Françoise,
and could not succeed at all unless they fulfilled the condition of
shewing the utmost politeness to her, were, on the other hand, once they
had reached the position, the only people who "counted". Her
time-honoured code taught her that she was in no way bound to the
friends of her employers, that she might, if she was busy, shut the door
without ceremony in the face of a lady who had come to call on my
grandmother. But towards her own acquaintance, that is to say, the
select handful of the lower orders whom she admitted to an unconquerable
intimacy, her actions were regulated by the most subtle and most
stringent of protocols. Thus Françoise having made the acquaintance of
the man in the coffee-shop and of a little maid who did dressmaking for
a Belgian lady, no longer came upstairs immediately after luncheon to
get my grandmother's things ready, but came an hour later, because the
coffee man had wanted to make her a cup of coffee or a tisane in his
shop, or the maid had invited her to go and watch her sew, and to refuse
either of them would have been impossible, and one of the things that
were not done. Moreover, particular attention was due to the little
sewing-maid, who was an orphan and had been brought up by strangers to
whom she still went occasionally for a few days' holiday. Her unusual
situation aroused Françoise's pity, and also a benevolent contempt.
She, who had a family, a little house that had come to her from her
parents, with a field in which her brother kept his cows, how could she
regard so uprooted a creature as her equal? And since this girl hoped,
on Assumption Day, to be allowed to pay her benefactors a visit,
Françoise kept on repeating: "She does make me laugh! She says, 'I hope
to be going home for the Assumption.' 'Home!' says she! It isn't just
that it's not her own place, they're people who took her in from
nowhere, and the creature says 'home' just as if it really was her home.
Poor girl! What a wretched state she must be in, not to know what it is
to have a home." Still, if Françoise had associated only with the
ladies'-maids brought to the hotel by other visitors, who fed with her
in the "service" quarters and, seeing her grand lace cap and her
handsome profile, took her perhaps for some lady of noble birth, whom
"reduced circumstances", or a personal attachment had driven to serve as
companion to my grandmother, if in a word Françoise had known only
people who did not belong to the hotel, no great harm would have been
done, since she could not have prevented them from doing us any service,
for the simple reason that in no circumstances, even without her
knowledge, would it have been possible for them to serve us at all. But
she had formed connexions also with one of the wine waiters, with a man
in the kitchen, and with the head chambermaid of our landing. And the
result of this in our every day life was that Françoise, who on the day
of her arrival, when she still did not know anyone, would set all the
bells jangling for the slightest thing, at an hour when my grandmother
and I would never have dared to ring, and if we offered some gentle
admonition answered: "Well, we're paying enough for it, aren't we?" as
though it were she herself that would have to pay; nowadays, since she
had made friends with a personage in the kitchen, which had appeared to
us to augur well for our future comfort, were my grandmother or I to
complain of cold feet, Françoise, even at an hour that was quite
normal, dared not ring; she assured us that it would give offence
because they would have to light the furnace again, or because it would
interrupt the servants' dinner and they would be annoyed. And she ended
with a formula that, in spite of the ambiguous way in which she uttered
it, was none the less clear, and put us plainly in the wrong: "The fact
is . . ." We did not insist, for fear of bringing upon ourselves
another, far more serious: "It's a matter . . .!" So that it amounted
to this, that we could no longer have any hot water because Françoise
had become a friend of the man who would have to heat it.

In the end we too formed a connexion, in spite of but through my
grandmother, for she and Mme. de Villeparisis came in collision one
morning in a doorway and were obliged to accost each other, not without
having first exchanged gestures of surprise and hesitation, performed
movements of recoil and uncertainty, and finally uttered protestations
of joy and greeting, as in some of Molière's plays, where two actors
who have been delivering long soliloquies from opposite sides of the
stage, a few feet apart, are supposed not to have seen each other yet,
and then suddenly catch sight of each other, cannot believe their eyes,
break off what they are saying and finally address each other (the
chorus having meanwhile kept the dialogue going) and fall into each
other's arms. Mme. de Villeparisis was tactful, and made as if to leave
my grandmother to herself after the first greetings, but my grandmother
insisted on her staying to talk to her until luncheon, being anxious to
discover how her friend managed to get her letters sent up to her
earlier than we got ours, and to get such nice grilled things (for Mme.
de Villeparisis, a great epicure, had the poorest opinion of the hotel
kitchen which served us with meals that my grandmother, still quoting
Mme. de Sévigné, described as "of a magnificence to make you die of
hunger.") And the Marquise formed the habit of coming every day, until
her own meal was ready, to sit down for a moment at our table in the
dining-room, insisting that we should not rise from our chairs or in any
way put ourselves out. At the most we would linger, as often as not, in
the room after finishing our luncheon, to talk to her, at that sordid
moment when the knives are left littering the tablecloth among crumpled
napkins. For my own part, so as to preserve (in order that I might be
able to enjoy Balbec) the idea that I was on the uttermost promontory of
the earthy I compelled myself to look farther afield, to notice only the
sea, to seek in it the effects described by Baudelaire and to let my
gaze fall upon our table only on days when there was set on it some
gigantic fish, some marine monster, which unlike the knives and forks
was contemporary with the primitive epochs in which the Ocean first
began to teem with life, in the Cimmerians' time, a fish whose body with
its numberless vertebrae, its blue veins and red, had been constructed
by nature, but according to an architectural plan, like a polychrome
cathedral of the deep.

As a barber, seeing an officer whom he is accustomed to shave with
special deference and care recognise a customer who has just entered the
shop and stop for a moment to talk to him, rejoices in the thought that
these are two men of the same social order, and cannot help smiling as
he goes to fetch the bowl of soap, for he knows that in his
establishment, to the vulgar routine of a mere barber's shop, are being
added social, not to say aristocratic pleasures, so Aimé, seeing that
Mme. de Villeparisis had found in us old friends, went to fetch our
finger-bowls with precisely the smile, proudly modest and knowingly
discreet, of a hostess who knows when to leave her guests to themselves.
He suggested also a pleased and loving father who looks on, without
interfering, at the happy pair who have plighted their troth at his
hospitable board. Besides, it was enough merely to utter the name of a
person of title for Aimé to appear pleased, unlike Françoise, before
whom you could not mention Count So-and-so without her face darkening
and her speech becoming dry and sharp, all of which meant that she
worshipped the aristocracy not less than Aimé but far more. But then
Françoise had that quality which in others she condemned as the worst
possible fault; she was proud. She was not of that friendly and
good-humoured race to which Aimé belonged. They feel, they exhibit an
intense delight when you tell them a piece of news which may be more or
less sensational but is at any rate new, and not to be found in the
papers. Françoise declined to appear surprised. You might have
announced in her hearing that the Archduke Rudolf--not that she had the
least suspicion of his having ever existed--was not, as was generally
supposed, dead, but "alive and kicking"; she would have answered only
"Yes," as though she had known it all the time. It may, however, have
been that if even from our own lips, from us whom she so meekly called
her masters, who had so nearly succeeded in taming her, she could not,
without having to check an angry start, hear the name of a noble, that
was because the family from which she had sprung occupied in its own
village a comfortable and independent position, and was not to be
threatened in the consideration which it enjoyed save by those same
nobles, in whose households, meanwhile, from his boyhood, an Aimé would
have been domiciled as a servant, if not actually brought up by their
charity. Of Françoise, then, Mme. de Villeparisis must ask pardon,
first, for her nobility. But (in France, at any rate) that is precisely
the talent, in fact the sole occupation of our great gentlemen and
ladies. Françoise, following the common tendency of servants, who pick
up incessantly from the conversation of their masters with other people
fragmentary observations from which they are apt to draw erroneous
inductions, as the human race generally does with respect to the habits
of animals, was constantly discovering that somebody had "failed" us, a
conclusion to which she was easily led, not so much, perhaps, by her
extravagant love for us, as by the delight that she took in being
disagreeable to us. But having once established, without possibility of
error, the endless little attentions paid to us, and paid to herself
also by Mme. de Villeparisis, Françoise forgave her for being a
Marquise, and, as she had never ceased to be proud of her because she
was one, preferred her thenceforward to all our other friends. It must
be added that no one else took the trouble to be so continually nice to
us. Whenever my grandmother remarked on a book that Mme. de Villeparisis
was reading, or said she had been admiring the fruit which some one had
just sent to our friend, within an hour the footman would come to our
rooms with book or fruit. And the next time we saw her, in response to
our thanks, she would say only, seeming to seek some excuse for the
meagreness of her present in some special use to which it might be put:
"It's nothing wonderful, but the newspapers come so late here, one must
have something to read." Or, "It is always wiser to have fruit one can
be quite certain of, at the seaside."--"But I don't believe I've ever
seen you eating oysters," she said to us, increasing the sense of
disgust which I felt at that moment, for the living flesh of the oyster
revolted me even more than the gumminess of the stranded jellyfish
defiled for me the beach at Balbec; "they are delicious down here! Oh,
let me tell my maid to fetch your letters when she goes for mine. What,
your daughter writes _every day?_ But what on earth can you find to say
to each other?" My grandmother was silent, but it may be assumed that
her silence was due to scorn, in her who used to repeat, when she wrote
to Mamma, the words of Mme. de Sévigné: "As soon as I have received a
letter, I want another at once; I cannot breathe until it comes. There
are few who are worthy to understand what I mean." And I was afraid of
her applying to Mme. de Villeparisis the conclusion: "I seek out those
who are of the chosen few, and I avoid the rest." She fell back upon
praise of the fruit which Mme. de Villeparisis had sent us the day
before. And this had been, indeed, so fine that the manager, in spite of
the jealousy aroused by our neglect of his official offerings, had said
to me: "I am like you; I'm madder about fruit than any other kind of
dessert." My grandmother told her friend that she had enjoyed them all
the more because the fruit which we got in the hotel was generally
horrid. "I cannot," she went on, "say, like Mme. de Sévigné, that if
we should take a sudden fancy for bad fruit we should be obliged to
order it from Paris." "Oh yes, of course, you read Mme. de Sévigné. I
saw you with her letters the day you came." (She forgot that she had
never officially seen my grandmother in the hotel until their collision
in the doorway.) "Don't you find it rather exaggerated, her constant
anxiety about her daughter? She refers to it too often to be really
sincere. She is not natural." My grandmother felt that any discussion
would be futile, and so as not to be obliged to speak of the things she
loved to a person incapable of understanding them, concealed by laying
her bag upon them the _Mémoires de Mme. de Beausergent._

Were she to encounter Françoise at the moment (which Françoise called
"the noon") when, wearing her fine cap and surrounded with every mark of
respect, she was coming downstairs to "feed with the service", Mme.
Villeparisis would stop her to ask after us. And Françoise, when
transmitting to us the Marquise's message: "She said to me, 'You'll be
sure and bid them good day,' she said," counterfeited the voice of Mme.
de Villeparisis, whose exact words she imagined herself to be quoting
textually, whereas she was really corrupting them no less than Plato
corrupts the words of Socrates or Saint John the words of Jesus.
Françoise, as was natural, was deeply touched by these attentions. Only
she did not believe my grandmother, but supposed that she must be lying
in the interest of her class (the rich always combining thus to support
one another) when she assured us that Mme. de Villeparisis had been
lovely as a youngwoman. It was true that of this loveliness only the
faintest trace remained, from which no one--unless he happened to be a
great deal more of an artist than Françoise--would have been able to
restore her ruined beauty. For in order to understand how beautiful an
elderly woman can once have been one must not only study but interpret
every line of her face.

"I must remember, some time, to ask her whether I'm not right, after
all, in thinking that there is some connexion with the Guermantes," said
my grandmother, to my great indignation. How could I be expected to
believe in a common origin uniting two names which had entered my
consciousness, one through the low and shameful gate of experience, the
other by the golden gate of imagination?

We had several times, in the last few days, seen driving past us in a
stately equipage, tall, auburn, handsome, with a rather prominent nose,
the Princesse de Luxembourg, who was staying in the neighbourhood for a
few weeks. Her carriage had stopped outside the hotel, a footman had
come in and spoken to the manager, had gone back to the carriage and had
reappeared with the most amazing armful of fruit (which combined in a
single basket, like the bay itself, different seasons) with a card: "La
Princesse de Luxembourg", on which were scrawled a few words in pencil.
For what princely traveller sojourning here incognito, could they be
intended, those glaucous plums, luminous and spherical as was at that
moment the circumfluent sea, transparent grapes clustering on a
shrivelled stick, like a fine day in autumn, pears of a heavenly
ultramarine? For it could not be on my grandmother's friend that the
Princess had meant to pay a call. And yet on the following evening Mme.
de Villeparisis sent us the bunch of grapes, cool, liquid, golden; plums
too and pears which we remembered, though the plums had changed, like
the sea at our dinner-hour, to a dull purple, and on the ultramarine
surface of the pears there floated the forms of a few rosy clouds. A few
days later we met Mme. de Villeparisis as we came away from the symphony
concert that was given every morning on the beach. Convinced that the
music to which I had been listening (the Prelude to _Lohengrin_, the
Overture to _Tannhäuser_ and suchlike) expressed the loftiest of
truths, I was trying to elevate myself, as far as I could, so as to
attain to a comprehension of them, I was extracting from myself so as to
understand them, and was attributing to them, all that was best and most
profound in my own nature at that time.

Well, as we came out of the concert, and, on our way back to the hotel,
had stopped for a moment on the front, my grandmother and I, for a few
words with Mme. de Villeparisis who told us that she had ordered some
_croque-monsieurs_ and a dish of creamed eggs for us at the hotel, I
saw, a long way away, coming in our direction, the Princesse de
Luxembourg, half leaning upon a parasol in such a way as to impart to
her tall and wonderful form that slight inclination, to make it trace
that arabesque dear to the women who had been beautiful under the
Empire, and knew how, with drooping shoulders, arched backs, concave
hips and bent limbs, to make their bodies float as gently as a silken
scarf about the rigidity of the invisible stem which might be supposed
to have been passed diagonally through them. She went out every morning
for a turn on the beach almost at the time when everyone else, after
bathing, was climbing home to luncheon, and as hers was not until half
past one she did not return to her villa until long after the hungry
bathers had left the scorching "front" a desert. Mme. de Villeparisis
presented my grandmother and would have presented me, but had first to
ask me my name, which she could not remember. She had, perhaps, never
known it, or if she had must have forgotten years ago to whom my
grandmother had married her daughter. My name, when she did hear it,
appeared to impress Mme. de Villeparisis considerably. Meanwhile the
Princesse de Luxembourg had given us her hand and, now and again, while
she conversed with the Marquise, turned to bestow a kindly glance on my
grandmother and myself, with that embryonic kiss which we put into our
smiles when they are addressed to a baby out with its "Nana". Indeed, in
her anxiety not to appear to be a denizen of a higher sphere than ours,
she had probably miscalculated the distance there was indeed between us,
for by an error in adjustment she made her eyes beam with such
benevolence that I could see the moment approaching when she would put
out her hand and stroke us, as if we were two nice beasts and had poked
our heads out at her through the bars of our cage in the Gardens. And,
immediately, as it happened, this idea of caged animals and the Bois de
Boulogne received striking confirmation. It was the time of day at which
the beach is crowded by itinerant and clamorous vendors, hawking cakes
and sweets and biscuits. Not knowing quite what to do to shew her
affection for us, the Princess hailed the next that came by; he had
nothing left but one rye-cake, of the kind one throws to the ducks. The
Princess took it and said to me: "For your grandmother." And yet it was
to me that she held it out, saying with a friendly smile, "You shall
give it to her yourself!" thinking that my pleasure would thus be more
complete if there were no intermediary between myself and the animals.
Other vendors came up; she stuffed my pockets with everything that they
had, tied up in packets, comfits, sponge-cakes, sugar-sticks. "You will
eat some yourself," she told me, "and give some to your grandmother,"
and she had the vendors paid by the little negro page, dressed in red
satin, who followed her everywhere and was a nine days' wonder upon the
beach. Then she said good-bye to Mme. de Villeparisis and held out her
hand to us with the intention of treating us in the same way as she
treated her friend, as people whom she knew, and of bringing herself
within our reach. But this time she must have reckoned our level as not
quite so low in the scale of creation, for her and our equality was
indicated by the Princess to my grandmother by that tender and maternal
smile which a woman gives a little boy when she says good-bye to him as
though to a grown-up person. By a miraculous stride in evolution, my
grandmother was no longer a duck or an antelope, but had already become
what the anglophil Mme. Swann would have called a "baby". Finally,
having taken leave of us all, the Princess resumed her stroll along the
basking "front", curving her splendid shape which, like a serpent coiled
about a wand, was interlaced with the white parasol patterned in blue
which Mme. de Luxembourg held, unopened, in her hand. She was my first
Royalty--I say my first, for strictly speaking Princesse Mathilde did
not count. The second, as we shall see in due course, was to astonish me
no less by her indulgence. One of the ways in which our great nobles,
kindly intermediaries between commoners and kings, can befriend us was
revealed to me next day when Mme. de Villeparisis reported: "She thought
you quite charming. She is a woman of the soundest judgment, the warmest
heart. Not like so many Queens and people! She has real merit." And Mme.
de Villeparisis went on in a tone of conviction, and quite thrilled to
be able to say it to us: "I am sure she would be delighted to see you

But on that previous morning, after we had parted from the Princesse de
Luxembourg, Mme. de Villeparisis said a thing which impressed me far
more and was not prompted merely by friendly feeling.

"Are you," she had asked me, "the son of the Permanent Secretary at the
Ministry? Indeed! I am told your father is a most charming man. He is
having a splendid holiday just now."

A few days earlier we had heard, in a letter from Mamma, that my father
and his friend M. de Norpois had lost their luggage.

"It has been found; as a matter of fact, it was never really lost, I can
tell you what happened," explained Mme. de Villeparisis, who, without
our knowing how, seemed to be far better informed than ourselves of the
course of my father's travels. "I think your father is now planning to
come home earlier, next week, in fact, as he will probably give up the
idea of going to Algeçiras. But he is anxious to devote a day longer to
Toledo; it seems, he is an admirer of a pupil of Titian,--I forget the
name--whose work can only be seen properly there."

I asked myself by what strange accident, in the impartial glass through
which Mme. de Villeparisis considered, from a safe distance, the
bustling, tiny, purposeless agitation of the crowd of people whom she
knew, there had come to be inserted at the spot through which she
observed my father a fragment of prodigious magnifying power which made
her see in such high relief and in the fullest detail everything that
there was attractive about him, the contingencies that were obliging him
to return home, his difficulties with the customs, his admiration for El
Greco, and, altering the scale of her vision, shewed her this one man so
large among all the rest quite small, like that Jupiter to whom Gustave
Moreau gave, when he portrayed him by the side of a weak mortal, a
superhuman stature.

My grandmother bade Mme. de Villeparisis good-bye, so that we might stay
and imbibe the fresh air for a little while longer outside the hotel,
until they signalled to us through the glazed partition that our
luncheon was ready. There were sounds of tumult. The young mistress of
the King of the Cannibal Island had been down to bathe and was now
coming back to the hotel.

"Really and truly, it's a perfect plague: it's enough to make one decide
to emigrate!" cried the barrister, who had happened to cross her path,
in a towering rage.

Meanwhile the solicitor's wife was following the bogus Queen with eyes
that seemed ready to start from their sockets.

"I can't tell you how angry Mme. Blandais makes me when she stares at
those people like that," said the barrister to the chief magistrate, "I
feel I want to slap her. That is just the way to make the wretches
appear important; and of course that's the very thing they want, that
people should take an interest in them. Do ask her husband to tell her
what a fool she's making of herself. I swear I won't go out with them
again if they stop and gape at those masqueraders."

As to the coming of the Princesse de Luxembourg, whose carriage, on the
day on which she left the fruit, had drawn up outside the hotel, it had
not passed unobserved by the little group of wives, the solicitor's, the
barrister's and the magistrate's, who had for some time past been most
concerned to know whether she was a genuine Marquise and not an
adventuress, that Mme. de Villeparisis whom everyone treated with so
much respect, which all these ladies were burning to hear that she did
not deserve. Whenever Mme. de Villeparisis passed through the hall the
chief magistrate's wife, who scented irregularities everywhere, would
raise her eyes from her "work" and stare at the intruder in a way that
made her friends die with laughter.

"Oh, well, you know," she explained with lofty condescension, "I always
begin by believing the worst. I will never admit that a woman is
properly married until she has shewn me her birth certificate and her
marriage lines. But there's no need to alarm yourselves; just wait till
I've finished my little investigation."

And so, day after day the ladies would come together, and, laughingly,
ask one another: "Any news?"

But on the evening after the Princesse de Luxembourg's call the
magistrate's wife laid a finger on her lips.

"I've discovered something."

"Oh, isn't Mme. Poncin simply wonderful? I never saw anyone. . . . But
do tell us! What has happened?"

"Just listen to this. A woman with yellow hair and six inches of paint
on her face and a carriage like a--you could smell it a mile off; which
only a creature like that would dare to have--came here to-day to call
on the Marquise, by way of!"

"Oh-yow-yow! Tut-tut-tut-tut. Did you ever! Why, it must be that woman
we saw--you remember, Leader,--we said at the time we didn't at all like
the look of her, but we didn't know that it was the 'Marquise' she'd
come to see. A woman with a nigger-boy, you mean?"

"That's the one."

"D'you mean to say so? You don't happen to know her name?"

"Yes, I made a mistake on purpose; I picked up her! card; she _trades_
under the name of the 'Princesse de Luxembourg'! Wasn't I right to have
my doubts about her? It's a nice thing to have to mix promiscuously with
a Baronne d'Ange like that?" The barrister quoted Mathurin Régnier's
_Macette_ to the chief magistrate.

It must not, however, be supposed that this misunderstanding was merely
temporary, like those that occur in the second act of a farce to be
cleared up before the final curtain. Mme. de Luxembourg, a niece of the
King of England and of the Emperor of Austria, and Mme. de Villeparisis,
when one called to take the other for a drive, did look like nothing but
two "old trots" of the kind one has always such difficulty in avoiding
at a watering-place. Nine tenths of the men of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain appear to the average man of the middle class simply as
alcoholic wasters (which, individually, they not infrequently are) whom,
therefore, no respectable person would dream of asking to dinner. The
middle class fixes its standard, in this respect, too high, for the
feelings of these men would never prevent their being received with
every mark of esteem in houses which it, the middle class, may never
enter. And so sincerely do they believe that the middle class knows this
that they affect a simplicity in speaking of their own affairs and a
tone of disparagement of their friends, especially when they are "at the
coast", which make the misunderstanding complete. If, by any chance, a
man of the fashionable world is kept in touch with "business people"
because, having more money than he knows what to do with, he finds
himself elected chairman of all sorts of important financial concerns,
the business man who at last sees a nobleman worthy, he considers, to
rank with "big business", would take his oath that such a man can have
no dealings with the Marquis ruined by gambling whom the said business
man supposes to be all the more destitute of friends the more friendly
he makes himself. And he cannot get over his surprise when the Duke,
Chairman of the Board of Directors of the colossal undertaking, arranges
a marriage for his son with the daughter of that very Marquis, who may
be a gambler but who bears the oldest name in France, just as a
Sovereign would sooner see his son marry the daughter of a dethroned
King than that of a President still in office. That is to say, the two
worlds take as fantastic a view of one another as the inhabitants of a
town situated at one end of Balbec Bay have of the town at the other
end: from Rivebelle you can just see Marcouville l'Orgueilleuse; but
even that is deceptive, for you imagine that you are seen from
Marcouville, where, as a matter of fact, the splendours of Rivebelle are
almost wholly invisible.



The Balbec doctor, who had been called in to cope with a sudden feverish
attack, having given the opinion that I ought not to stay out all day on
the beach, in the blazing sun, without shelter, and having written out
various prescriptions for my use, my grandmother took his prescriptions
with a show of respect in which I could at once discern her firm resolve
not to have any of them "made up", but did pay attention to his advice
on the matter of hygiene, and accepted an offer from Mme. de
Villeparisis to take us for drives in her carriage. After this I would
spend the mornings, until luncheon, going to and fro between my own room
and my grandmother's. Hers did not look out; directly upon the sea, as
mine did, but was lighted from three of its four sides--with views of a
strip of the "front", of a well inside the building, and of the country
inland, and was furnished differently from mine, with armchairs
upholstered in a metallic tissue with red flowers from which seemed to
emanate the cool and pleasant odour that greeted me when I entered the
room. And at that hour when the sun's rays, coming from different
aspects and, as it were, from different hours of the day, broke the
angles of the wall, thrust in a reflexion of the beach, made of the
chest of drawers a festal altar, variegated as a bank of field-flowers,
attached to the wall the wings, folded, quivering, warm, of a radiance
that would, at any moment, resume its flight, warmed like a bath a
square of provincial carpet before the window overlooking the well,
which the sun festooned and patterned like a climbing vine, added to the
charm and complexity of the room's furniture by seeming to pluck and
scatter the petals of the silken flowers on the chairs, and to make
their silver threads stand out from the fabric, this room in which I
lingered for a moment before going to get ready for our drive suggested
a prism in which the colours of the light that shone outside were broken
up, or a hive in which the sweet juices of the day which I was about to
taste were distilled, scattered, intoxicating, visible, a garden of hope
which dissolved in a quivering haze of silver threads and rose leaves.
But before all this I had drawn back my own curtains, impatient to know
what Sea it was that was playing that morning by the shore, like a
Nereid. For none of those Seas ever stayed with us longer than a day. On
the morrow there would be another, which sometimes resembled its
predecessor. But I never saw the same one twice.

There were some that were of so rare a beauty that my pleasure on
catching sight of them was enhanced by surprise. By what privilege, on
one morning rather than another, did the window on being uncurtained
disclose to my wondering eyes the nymph Glauconome, whose lazy beauty,
gently breathing, had the transparence of a vaporous emerald beneath
whose surface I could see teeming the ponderable elements that coloured
it? She made the sun join in her play, with a smile rendered languorous
by an invisible haze which was nought but a space kept vacant about her
translucent surface, which, thus curtailed, became more appealing, like
those goddesses whom the sculptor carves in relief upon a block of
marble, the rest of which he leaves unchiselled. So, in her matchless
colour, she invited us out over those rough terrestrial roads, from
which, seated beside Mme. de Villeparisis in her barouche, we should
see, all day long and without ever reaching it, the coolness of her
gentle palpitation.

Mme. de Villeparisis used to order her carriage early, so that we should
have time to reach Saint-Mars-le-Vêtu, or the rocks of Quetteholme, or
some other goal which, for a somewhat lumbering vehicle, was far enough
off to require the whole day. In my joy at the long drive we were going
to take I would be humming some tune that I had heard recently as I
strolled up and down until Mme. de Villeparisis was ready. If it was
Sunday hers would not be the only carriage drawn up outside the hotel;
several hired flies would be waiting there, not only for the people who
had been invited to Féterne by Mme. de Cambremer, but for those who,
rather than stay at home all day, like children in disgrace, declared
that Sunday was always quite impossible at Balbec and started off
immediately after luncheon to hide themselves in some neighbouring
watering-place or to visit one of the "sights" of the district. And
indeed whenever (which was often) anyone asked Mme. Blandais if she had
been to the Cambremers', she would answer peremptorily: "No; we went to
the Falls of the Bec," as though that were the sole reason for her not
having spent the day at Féterne. And the barrister would be charitable,
and say:

"I envy you. I wish I had gone there instead; they must be well worth

Beside the row of carriages, in front of the porch in which I stood
waiting, was planted, like some shrub of a rare species, a young page
who attracted the eye no less by the unusual and effective colouring of
his hair than by his plant-like epidermis. Inside, in the hall,
corresponding to the narthex, or Church of the Catechumens in a
primitive basilica, through which persons who were not staying in the
hotel were entitled to pass, the comrades of this "outside" page did not
indeed work much harder than he but did at least execute certain drilled
movements. It is probable that in the early morning they helped with the
cleaning. But in the afternoon they stood there only like a Chorus who,
even when there is nothing for them to do, remain upon the stage in
order to strengthen the cast. The General Manager, the same who had so
terrified me, reckoned on increasing their number considerably next
year, for he had "big ideas". And this prospect greatly afflicted the
manager of the hotel, who found that all these boys about the place only
"created a nuisance", by which he meant that they got in the visitors'
way and were of no use to anyone. But between luncheon and dinner at
least, between the exits and entrances of the visitors, they did fill an
otherwise empty stage, like those pupils of Mme. de Maintenon who, in
the garb of young Israelites, carry on the action whenever Esther or
Joad "goes off". But the outside page, with his delicate tints, his
tall, slender, fragile trunk, in proximity to whom I stood waiting for
the Marquise to come downstairs, preserved an immobility into which a
certain melancholy entered, for his elder brothers had left the hotel
for more brilliant careers elsewhere, and he felt keenly his isolation
upon this alien soil. At last Mme. de Villeparisis appeared. To stand by
her carriage and to help her into it ought perhaps to have been part of
the young page's duties. But he knew on the one hand that a person who
brings her own servants to an hotel expects them to wait on her and is
not as a rule lavish with her "tips", and that generally speaking this
was true also of the nobility of the old Faubourg Saint-Germain. Mme. de
Villeparisis was included in both these categories. The arborescent page
concluded therefore that he need expect nothing from her, and leaving
her own maid and footman to pack her and her belongings into the
carriage, he continued to dream sadly of the enviable lot of his
brothers and preserved his vegetable immobility.

We would start off; some time after rounding the railway station, we
came into a country road which soon became as familiar to me as the
roads round Combray, from the bend where, like a fish-hook, it was
baited with charming orchards, to the turning at which we left it, with
tilled fields upon either side. Among these we could see here and there
an apple-tree, stripped it was true of its blossom, and bearing no more
now than a fringe of pistils, but sufficient even so to enchant me since
I could imagine, seeing those inimitable leaves, how their broad
expanse, like the ceremonial carpet spread for a wedding that was now
over, had been but the other day swept by the white satin train of their
blushing flowers.

How often in Paris, during the May of the following year, was I to bring
home a branch of apple-blossom from the florist, and to stay all night
long before its flowers in which bloomed the same creamy essence that
powdered besides and whitened the green unfolding leaves, flowers
between whose snowy cups it seemed almost as though it had been the
salesman who had, in his generosity towards myself, out of his wealth of
invention too and as an effective contrast, added on either side the
supplement of a becoming crimson bud: I sat gazing at them, I grouped
them in the light of my lamp--for so long that I was often still there
when the dawn brought to their whiteness the same flush with which it
must at that moment have been tingeing their sisters on the Balbec
road--and I sought to carry them back in my imagination to that
roadside, to multiply them, to spread them out, so as to fill the frame
prepared for them, on the canvas, all ready, of those closes the outline
of which I knew by heart, which I so longed to see--which one day I must
see again, at the moment when, with the exquisite fervour of genius,
spring was covering their canvas with its colours.

Before getting into the carriage I had composed the seascape for which I
was going to look out, which I had hoped to see with the "sun radiant",
upon it, and which at Balbec I could distinguish only in too fragmentary
a form, broken by so many vulgar intromissions that had no place in my
dream, bathers, dressing-boxes, pleasure yachts. But when, Mme. de
Villeparisis's carriage having reached high ground, I caught a glimpse
of the sea through the leafy boughs of trees, then no doubt at such a
distance those temporal details which had set the sea, as it were, apart
from nature and history disappeared, and I could as I looked down
towards its waves make myself realise that they were the same which
Leconte de Lisle describes for us in his _Orestie_, where "like a flight
of birds of prey, before the dawn of day" the long-haired warriors of
heroic Hellas "with oars an hundred thousand sweep the huge resounding
deep." But on the other hand I was no longer near enough to the sea
which seemed to me not a living thing now, but fixed; I no longer felt
any power beneath its colours, spread like those of a picture among the
leaves, through which it appeared as inconsistent as the sky and only of
an intenser blue.

Mme. de Villeparisis, seeing that I was fond of churches, promised me
that we should visit one day and another, and especially the church at
Carqueville "quite buried in all its old ivy", as she said with a wave
of the hand which seemed tastefully to be clothing the absent front in
an invisible and delicate screen of foliage. Mme. de Villeparisis would
often, with this little descriptive gesture, find just the right word to
define the attraction and the distinctive features of an historic
building, always avoiding technical terms, but incapable of concealing
her thorough understanding of the things to which she referred. She
appeared to seek an excuse for this erudition in the fact that one of
her father's country houses, the one in which she had lived as a girl,
was situated in a district in which there were churches similar in style
to those round Balbec, so that it would have been unaccountable if she
had not acquired a taste for architecture, this house being,
incidentally, one of the finest examples of that of the Renaissance. But
as it was also a regular museum, as moreover Chopin and Liszt had played
there, Lamartine recited poetry, all the most famous artists for fully a
century had inscribed "sentiments", scored melodies, made sketches in
the family album, Mme. de Villeparisis ascribed, whether from delicacy,
good breeding, true modesty or want of intelligence, only this purely
material origin to her acquaintance with all the arts, and had come,
apparently, to regard painting, music, literature and philosophy as the
appanage of a young lady brought up on the most aristocratic lines in an
historic building that was catalogued and starred. You would have said,
listening to her, that she knew of no pictures that were not heirlooms.
She was pleased that my grandmother liked a necklace which she wore, and
which fell over her dress. It appeared in the portrait of an ancestress
of her own by Titian which had never left the family. So that one could
be certain of its being genuine. She would not listen to a word about
pictures bought, heaven knew where, by a Croesus, she was convinced
before you spoke that they were forgeries, and had no desire to see
them. We knew that she herself painted flowers in water-colour, and my
grandmother, who had heard these praised, spoke to her of them. Mme. de
Villeparisis modestly changed the subject, but without shewing either
surprise or pleasure more than would an artist whose reputation was
established and to whom compliments meant nothing. She said merely that
it was a delightful pastime because, even if the flowers that sprang
from the brush were nothing wonderful, at least the work made you live
in the company of real flowers, of the beauty of which, especially when
you were obliged to study them closely in order to draw them, you could
never grow tired. But at Balbec Mme. de Villeparisis was giving herself
a holiday, so as to spare her eyes.

We were astonished, my grandmother and I, to find how much more
"Liberal" she was than even the majority of the middle class. She did
not understand how anyone could be scandalised by the expulsion of the
Jesuits, saying that it had always been done, even under the Monarchy,
in Spain even. She took up the defence of the Republic, and against its
anti-clericalism had no more to say than: "I should be equally annoyed
whether they prevented me from hearing mass when I wanted to, or forced
me to hear it when I didn't!" and even startled us with such utterances
as: "Oh! the aristocracy in these days, what does it amount to?" "To my
mind, a man who doesn't work doesn't count!"--perhaps only because she
felt that they gained point and flavour, became memorable, in fact, on
her lips.

When we heard these advanced opinions--though never so far advanced as
to amount to Socialism, which Mme. de Villeparisis held in
abhorrence--expressed so frequently and with so much frankness precisely
by one of those people in consideration of whose intelligence our
scrupulous and timid impartiality would refuse to condemn outright the
ideas of the Conservatives, we came very near, my grandmother and I, to
believing that in the pleasant companion of our drives was to be found
the measure and the pattern of truth in all things. We took her word for
it when she appreciated her Titians, the colonnade of her country house,
the conversational talent of Louis-Philippe. But--like those mines of
learning who hold us spell-bound when we get them upon Egyptian
paintings or Etruscan inscriptions, and yet talk so tediously about
modern work that we ask ourselves whether we have not been
overestimating the interest of the sciences in which they are versed
since there is not apparent in their treatment of them the mediocrity of
mind which they must have brought to those studies just as much as to
their fatuous essays on Baudelaire--Mme. de Villeparisis, questioned by
me about Chateaubriand, about Balzac, about Victor Hugo, each of whom
had in his day been the guest of her parents, and had been seen and
spoken to by her, smiled at my reverence, told amusing anecdotes of
them, such as she had a moment ago been telling us of dukes and
statesmen, and severely criticised those writers simply because they had
been lacking in that modesty, that self-effacement, that sober art which
is satisfied with a single right line, and lays no stress on it, which
avoids more than anything else the absurdity of grandiloquence, in that
opportuneness, those qualities of moderation, of judgment and simplicity
to which she had been taught that real greatness aspired and attained:
it was evident that she had no hesitation in placing above them men who
might after all, perhaps, by virtue of those qualities, have had the
advantage of a Balzac, a Hugo, a Vigny in a drawing-room, an academy, a
cabinet council, men like Molé, Fontanes, Vitroles, Bersot, Pasquier,
Lebrun, Salvandy or Daru.

"Like those novels of Stendhal, which you seem to admire. You would have
given him a great surprise, I assure you, if you had spoken to him in
that tone. My father, who used to meet him at M. Mérimée's--now he was
a man of talent, if you like--often told me that Beyle (that was his
real name) was appallingly vulgar, but quite good company at dinner, and
never in the least conceited about his books. Why, you can see for
yourself how he just shrugged his shoulders at the absurdly extravagant
compliments of M. de Balzac. There at least he shewed that he knew how
to behave like a gentleman." She possessed the autographs of all these
great men, and seemed, when she put forward the personal relations which
her family had had with them, to assume that her judgment of them must
be better founded than that of young people who, like myself, had had no
opportunity of meeting them. "I'm sure I have a right to speak, for they
used to come to my father's house; and as M. Sainte-Beuve, who was a
most intelligent man, used to say, in forming an estimate you must take
the word of people who saw them close, and were able to judge more
exactly of their real worth."

Sometimes as the carriage laboured up a steep road through tilled
country, making the fields more real, adding to them a mark of
authenticity like the precious flower with which certain of the old
masters used to sign their pictures, a few hesitating cornflowers, like
the Combray cornflowers, would stream in our wake. Presently the horses
outdistanced them, but a little way on we would catch sight of another
which while it stayed our coming had pricked up to welcome us amid the
grass its azure star; some made so bold as to come and plant themselves
by the side of the road, and the impression left in my mind was a
nebulous blend of distant memories and of wild flowers grown tame.

We began to go down hill; and then met, climbing on foot, on a bicycle,
in a cart or carriage, one of those creatures--flowers of a fine day but
unlike the flowers of the field, for each of them secretes something
that is not to be found in another, with the result that we can never
satisfy upon any of her fellows the desire which she has brought to
birth in us--a farm-girl driving her cow or half-lying along a waggon, a
shopkeeper's daughter taking the air, a fashionable young lady erect on
the back-seat of a landau, facing her parents. Certainly Bloch had been
the means of opening a new era and had altered the value of life for me
on the day when he had told me that the dreams which I had entertained
on my solitary walks along the Méséglise way, when I hoped that some
peasant girl might pass whom I could take in my arms, were not a mere
fantasy which corresponded to nothing outside myself, but that all the
girls one met, whether villagers or "young ladies", were alike ready and
willing to give ear to such prayers. And even if I were fated, now that
I was ill and did not go out by myself, never to be able to make love to
them, I was happy all the same, like a child born in a prison or a
hospital, who, having always supposed that the human organism was
capable of digesting only dry bread and "physic", has learned suddenly
that peaches, apricots and grapes are not simply part of the decoration
of the country scene but delicious and easily assimilated food. Even if
his gaoler or his nurse does not allow him to pluck those tempting
fruits, still the world seems to him a better place and existence in it
more clement. For a desire seems to us more attractive, we repose on it
with more confidence, when we know that outside ourself there is a
reality which conforms to it, even if, for us, it is not to be realised.
And we think with more joy of a life in which (on condition that we
eliminate for a moment from our mind the tiny obstacle, accidental and
special, which prevents us personally from doing so) we can imagine
ourself to be assuaging that desire. As to the pretty girls who went
past, from the day on which I had first known that their cheeks could be
kissed, I had become curious about their souls. And the universe had
appeared to me more interesting.

Mme. de Villeparisis's carriage moved fast. Scarcely had I time to see
the girl who was coming in our direction; and yet--as the beauty of
people is not like the beauty of things, as we feel that it is that of
an unique creature, endowed with consciousness and free-will--as soon as
her individuality, a soul still vague, a will unknown to me, presented a
tiny picture of itself, enormously reduced but complete, in the depths
of her indifferent, eyes, at once, by a mysterious response of the
pollen ready in me for the pistils that should receive it, I felt
surging through me the embryo, as vague, as minute, of the desire not to
let this girl pass without forcing her mind to become conscious of my
person, without preventing her desires from wandering to some one else,
without coming to fix myself in her dreams and to seize and occupy her
heart. Meanwhile our carriage rolled away from her, the pretty girl was
already left behind, and as she had--of me--none of those notions which
constitute a person in one's mind, her eyes which had barely seen me had
forgotten me already. Was it because I had caught but a fragmentary
glimpse of her that I had found her so attractive? It may have been. In
the first place, the impossibility of stopping when I came to her, the
risk of not meeting her again another day, give at once to such a girl
the same charm as a place derives from the illness or poverty that
prevents us from visiting it, or the so unadventurous days through which
we should otherwise have to live from the battle in which we shall
doubtless fall. So that, if there were no such thing as habit, life must
appear delightful to those of us who would at every moment be threatened
with death--that is to say, to all mankind. Then, if our imagination is
set going by the desire for what we may not possess, its flight is not
limited by a reality completely perceived, in these casual encounters in
which the charms of the passing stranger are generally in direct ratio
to the swiftness of our passage. If only night is falling and the
carriage is moving fast, whether in town or country, there is not a
female torso, mutilated like an antique marble by the speed that tears
us away and the dusk that drowns it, but aims at our heart, from every
turning in the road, from the lighted interior of every shop, the arrows
of Beauty, that Beauty of which we are sometimes tempted to ask
ourselves whether it is, in this world, anything more than the
complementary part that is added to a fragmentary and fugitive stranger
by our imagination over-stimulated by regret.

Had I been free to stop, to get down from the carriage and to speak to
the girl whom we were passing, should I perhaps have been disillusioned
by some fault in her complexion which from the carriage I had not
distinguished? (After which every effort to penetrate into her life
would have seemed suddenly impossible. For beauty is a sequence of
hypotheses which ugliness cuts short when it bars the way that we could
already see opening into the unknown.) Perhaps a single word which she
might have uttered, a smile would have furnished me with a key, a clue
that I had not expected, to read the expression of her face, to
interpret her bearing, which would at once have ceased to be of any
interest. It is possible, for I have never in real life met any girls so
desirable as on days when I was with some serious person from whom,
despite the myriad pretexts that I invented, I could not tear myself
away: some years after that in which I went for the first time to
Balbec, as I was driving through Paris with a friend of my father, and
had caught sight of a woman walking quickly along the dark street, I
felt that it was unreasonable to forfeit, for a purely conventional
scruple, my share of happiness in what may very well be the only life
there is, and jumping from the carriage without a word of apology I
followed in quest of the stranger; lost her where two streets crossed;
caught her up again in a third, and arrived at last, breathless, beneath
a street lamp, face to face with old Mme. Verdurin whom I had been
carefully avoiding for years, and who, in her delight and surprise,
exclaimed: "But how very nice of you to have run all this way just to
say how d'ye do to me!"

That year at Balbec, at the moments of such encounters, I would assure
my grandmother and Mme. de Villeparisis that I had so severe a headache
that the best thing for me would be to go home alone on foot. But they
would never let me get out of the carriage. And I must add that the
pretty girl (far harder to find again than an historic building, for she
was nameless and had the power of locomotion) to the collection of all
those whom I promised myself that I would examine more closely at a
later date. One of them, however, happened to pass more than once before
my eyes in circumstances which allowed me to believe that I should be
able to get to know her when I chose. This was a milk-girl who came from
a farm with an additional supply of cream for the hotel. I fancied that
she had recognised me also; and she did, in fact, look at me with an
attentiveness which was perhaps due only to the surprise which my
attentiveness caused her. And next day, a day on which I had been
resting all morning, when Françoise came in about noon to draw my
curtains, she handed me a letter which had been left for me downstairs.
I knew no one at Balbec. I had no doubt that the letter was from the
milk-girl. Alas, it was only from Bergotte who, as he happened to be
passing, had tried to see me, but on hearing that I was asleep had
scribbled a few charming lines for which the lift-boy had addressed an
envelope which I had supposed to have been written by the milk-girl. I
was bitterly disappointed, and the thought that it was more difficult,
and more flattering to myself to get a letter from Bergotte did not in
the least console me for this particular letter's not being from her. As
for the girl, I never came across her again any more than I came across
those whom I had seen only from Mme. de Villeparisis's carriage. Seeing
and then losing them all thus increased the state of agitation in which
I was living, and I found a certain wisdom in the philosophers who
recommend us to set a limit to our desires (if, that is, they refer to
our desire for people, for that is the only kind that ends in anxiety,
having for its object a being at once unknown and unconscious. To
suppose that philosophy could refer to the desire for wealth would be
too silly.) At the same time I was inclined to regard this wisdom as
incomplete, for I said to myself that these encounters made me find even
more beautiful a world which thus caused to grow along all the country
roads flowers at once rare and common, fleeting treasures of the day,
windfalls of the drive, of which the contingent circumstances that would
never, perhaps, recur had alone prevented me from taking advantage, and
which gave a new zest to life.

But perhaps in hoping that, one day, with greater freedom, I should be
able to find on other roads girls much the same, I was already beginning
to falsify and corrupt what there is exclusively individual in the
desire to live in the company of a woman whom one has found attractive,
and by the mere fact that I admitted the possibility of making this
desire grow artificially, I had implicitly acknowledged my illusion.

The day on which Mme. de Villeparisis took us to Carqueville, where
there was that church, covered in ivy, of which she had spoken to us, a
church that, built upon rising ground, dominated both its village and
the river that flowed beneath it, and had kept its own little bridge
from the middle ages, my grandmother, thinking that I would like to be
left alone to study the building at my leisure, suggested to her friend
that they should go on and wait for me at the pastry-cook's, in the
village square which was clearly visible from where we were and, in its
mellow bloom in the sunshine, seemed like another part of a Whole that
was all mediaeval. It was arranged that I should join them there later.
In the mass of verdure before which I was left standing I was obliged,
if I was to discover the church, to make a mental effort which involved
my grasping more intensely the idea "Church"; in fact, as happens to
schoolboys who gather more fully the meaning of a sentence when they are
made, by translating or by paraphrasing it, to divest it of the forms to
which they are accustomed, this idea of "Church", which as a rule I
scarcely needed when I stood beneath steeples that were recognisable in
themselves, I was obliged perpetually to recall so as not to forget,
here that the arch in this clump of ivy was that of a pointed window,
there that the projection of the leaves was due to the swelling
underneath of a capital. Then came a breath of wind, and sent a tremor
through the mobile porch, which was overrun by eddies that shot and
quivered like a flood of light; the pointed leaves opened one against
another; and, shuddering, the arboreal front drew after it green
pillars, undulant, caressed and fugitive.

As I came away from the church I saw by the old bridge a cluster of
girls from the village who, probably because it was Sunday, were
standing about in their best clothes, rallying the young men who went
past. Not so well dressed as the others, but seeming to enjoy some
ascendancy over them--for she scarcely answered when they spoke to
her--with a more serious and a more determined air, there was a tall one
who, hoisted upon the parapet of the bridge with her feet hanging down,
was holding on her lap a small vessel full of fish which she had
presumably just, been catching. She had a tanned complexion, gentle eyes
but with a look of contempt for her surroundings, a small nose,
delicately and attractively modelled. My eyes rested upon her skin; and
my lips, had the need arisen, might have believed that they had followed
my eyes. But it was not only to her body that I should have liked to
attain, there was also her person, which abode within her, and with
which there is but one form of contact, namely to attract its attention,
but one sort of penetration, to awaken an idea in it.

And this inner self of the charming fisher-girl seemed to be still
closed to me, I was doubtful whether I had entered it, even after I had
seen my own image furtively reflect itself in the twin mirrors of her
gaze, following an index of refraction that was as unknown to me as if I
had been placed in the field of vision of a deer. But just as it would
not have sufficed that my lips should find pleasure in hers without
giving pleasure to them also, so I should have wished that the idea of
me which was to enter this creature, was to fasten itself in her, should
attract to me not merely her attention but her admiration, her desire,
and should compel her to keep me in her memory until the day when I
should be able to meet her again. Meanwhile I could see, within a
stone's-throw, the square in which Mme. de Villeparisis's carriage must
be waiting for me. I had not a moment to lose; and already I could feel
that the girls were beginning to laugh at the sight of me thus held
suspended before them. I had a five-franc piece in my pocket. I drew it
out, and, before explaining to the girl the errand on which I proposed
to send her, so as to have a better chance of her listening to me, I
held the coin for a moment before her eyes:

"Since you seem to belong to the place," I said to her, "I wonder if you
would be so good as to take a message for me. I want you to go to a
pastry-cook's--which is apparently in a square, but I don't know where
that is--where there is a carriage waiting for me. One moment! To make
quite sure, will you ask if the carriage belongs to the Marquise de
Villeparisis? But you can't miss it; it's a carriage and pair."

That was what I wished her to know, so that she should regard me as
someone of importance. But when I had uttered the words "Marquise" and
"carriage and pair", suddenly I had a great sense of calm. I felt that
the fisher-girl would remember me, and I felt vanishing, with my fear of
not being able to meet her again, part also of my desire to meet her. It
seemed to me that I had succeeded in touching her person with invisible
lips, and that I had pleased her. And this assault and capture of her
mind, this immaterial possession had taken from her part of her mystery,
just as physical possession does.

We came down towards Hudimesnil; suddenly I was overwhelmed with that
profound happiness which I had not often felt since Combray; happiness
analogous to that which had been given me by--among other things--the
steeples of Martinville. But this time it remained incomplete. I had
just seen, standing a little way back from the steep ridge over which we
were passing, three trees, probably marking the entrance to a shady
avenue, which made a pattern at which I was looking now not for the
first time; I could not succeed in reconstructing the place from which
they had been, as it were, detached, but I felt that it had been
familiar to me once; so that my mind having wavered between some distant
year and the present moment, Balbec and its surroundings began to
dissolve and I asked myself whether the whole of this drive were not a
make-believe, Balbec a place to which I had never gone save in
imagination, Mme. de Villeparisis a character in a story and the three
old trees the reality which one recaptures on raising one's eyes from
the book which one has been reading and which describes an environment
into which one has come to believe that one has been bodily transported.

I looked at the three trees; I could see them plainly, but my mind felt
that they were concealing something which it had not grasped, as when
things are placed out of our reach, so that our fingers, stretched out
at arm's length, can only touch for a moment their outer surface, and
can take hold of nothing. Then we rest for a little while before
thrusting out our arm with refreshed vigour, and trying to reach an inch
or two farther. But if my mind was thus to collect itself, to gather
strength, I should have to be alone. What would I not have given to be
able to escape as I used to do on those walks along the Guermantes way,
when I detached myself from my parents! It seemed indeed that I ought to
do so now. I recognised that kind of pleasure which requires, it is
true, a certain effort on the part of the mind, but in comparison with
which the attractions of the inertia which inclines us to renounce that
pleasure seem very slight. That pleasure, the object of which I could
but dimly feel, that pleasure which I must create for myself, I
experienced only on rare occasions, but on each of these it seemed to me
that the things which had happened in the interval were of but scant
importance, and that in attaching myself to the reality of that pleasure
alone I could at length begin to lead a new life. I laid my hand for a
moment across my eyes, so as to be able to shut them without Mme. de
Villeparisis's noticing. I sat there, thinking of nothing, then with my
thoughts collected, compressed and strengthened I sprang farther forward
in the direction of the trees, or rather in that inverse direction at
the end of which I could see them growing within myself. I felt again
behind them the same object, known to me and yet vague, which I could
not bring nearer. And yet all three of them, as the carriage moved on, I
could see coming towards me. Where had I looked at them before? There
was no place near Combray where an avenue opened off the road like that.
The site which they recalled to me, there was no room for it either in
the scenery of the place in Germany where I had gone one year with my
grandmother to take the waters. Was I to suppose, then, that they came
from years already so remote in my life that the landscape which
accompanied them had been entirely obliterated from my memory, and that,
like the pages which, with sudden emotion, we recognise in a book which
we imagined that we had never read, they surged up by themselves out of
the forgotten chapter of my earliest infancy? Were they not rather to be
numbered among those dream landscapes, always the same, at least for me
in whom their unfamiliar aspect was but the objectivation in my dreams
of the effort that I had been making while awake either to penetrate the
mystery of a place beneath the outward appearance of which I was dimly
conscious of there being something more, as had so often happened to me
on the Guermantes way, or to succeed in bringing mystery back to a place
which I had longed to know and which, from the day on which I had come
to know it, had seemed to me to be wholly superficial, like Balbec? Or
were they but an image freshly extracted from a dream of the night
before, but already so worn, so altered that it seemed to me to come
from somewhere far more distant? Or had I indeed never seen them before;
did they conceal beneath their surface, like the trees, like the tufts
of grass that I had seen beside the Guermantes way, a meaning as
obscure, as hard to grasp as is a distant past, so that, whereas they
were pleading with me that I would master a new idea, I imagined that I
had to identify something in my memory? Or again were they concealing no
hidden thought, and was it simply my strained vision that made me see
them double in time as one occasionally sees things double in space? I
could not tell. And yet all the time they were coming towards me;
perhaps some fabulous apparition, a ring of witches or of norns who
would propound their oracles to me. I chose rather to believe that they
were phantoms of the past, dear companions of my childhood, vanished
friends who recalled our common memories. Like ghosts they seemed to be
appealing to me to take them with me, to bring them back to life. In
their simple, passionate gesticulation I could discern the helpless
anguish of a beloved person who has lost the power of speech, and feels
that he will never be able to say to us what he wishes to say and we can
never guess. Presently, at a cross-roads, the carriage left them. It was
bearing me away from what alone I believed to be true, what would have
made me truly happy; it was like my life.

I watched the trees gradually withdraw, waving their despairing arms,
seeming to say to me: "What you fail to learn from us to-day, you will
never know. If you allow us to drop back into the hollow of this road
from which we sought to raise ourselves up to you, a whole part of
yourself which we were bringing to you will fall for ever into the
abyss." And indeed if, in the course of time, I did discover the kind of
pleasure and of disturbance which I had just been feeling once again,
and if one evening--too late, but then for all time--I fastened myself
to it, of those trees themselves I was never to know what they had been
trying to give me nor where else I had seen them. And when, the road
having forked and the carriage with it, I turned my back on them and
ceased to see them, with Mme. de Villeparisis asking me what I was
dreaming about, I was as wretched as though I had just lost a friend,
had died myself, had broken faith with the dead or had denied my God.

It was time to be thinking of home. Mme. de Villeparisis, who had a
certain feeling for nature, colder than that of my grandmother but
capable of recognising, even outside museums and noblemen's houses, the
simple and majestic beauty of certain old and venerable things, told her
coachman to take us back by the old Balbec road, a road little used but
planted with old elm-trees which we thought quite admirable.

Once we had got to know this road, for a change we would return--that
is, if we had not taken it on the outward journey--by another which ran
through the woods of Chantereine and Canteloup. The invisibility of the
numberless birds that took up one another's song close beside us in the
trees gave me the same sense of being at rest that one has when one
shuts one's eyes. Chained to my back-seat like Prometheus on his rock I
listened to my Oceanides. And when it so happened that I caught a
glimpse of one of those birds as it passed from one leaf to another,
there was so little apparent connexion between it and the songs that I
heard that I could not believe that I was beholding their cause in that
little body, fluttering, startled and unseeing.

This road was like many others of the same kind which are to be found in
France, climbing on a fairly steep gradient to its summit and then
gradually falling for the rest of the way. At the time, I found no great
attraction in it, I was only glad to be going home. But it became for me
later on a frequent source of joy by remaining in my memory as a
lodestone to which all the similar roads that I was to take, on walks or
drives or journeys, would at once attach themselves without breach of
continuity and would be able, thanks to it, to communicate directly with
my heart. For as soon as the carriage or the motor-car turned into one
of these roads that seemed to be merely the continuation of the road
along which I had driven with Mme. de Villeparisis, the matter to which
I found my consciousness directly applying itself, as to the most recent
event in my past, would be (all the intervening years being quietly
obliterated) the impressions that I had had on those bright summer
afternoons and evenings, driving round Balbec, when the leaves smelt
good, a mist rose from the ground, and beyond the village close at hand
one could see through the trees the sun setting as though it had been
merely some place farther along the road, a forest place and distant,
which we should not have time to reach that evening. Harmonised with
what I was feeling now in another place, on a similar road, surrounded
by all the accessory sensations of breathing deep draughts of air, of
curiosity, indolence, appetite, lightness of heart which were common to
them both, and excluding all others, these impressions would be
reinforced, would take on the consistency of a particular type of
pleasure, and almost of a setting of life which, as it happened, I
rarely had the luck to come across, but in which these awakened memories
placed, amid the reality that my senses could perceive, no small part of
a reality suggested, dreamed, unseizable, to give me, among those
regions through which I was passing, more than an aesthetic feeling, a
transient but exalted ambition to stay there and to live there always.
How often since then, simply because I could smell green leaves, has not
being seated on a back-seat opposite Mme. de Villeparisis, meeting the
Princesse de Luxembourg who waved a greeting to her from her own
carriage, coming back to dinner at the Grand Hotel appeared to me as one
of those indescribable happinesses which neither the present nor the
future can restore to us, which we may taste once only in a lifetime.

Often dusk would have fallen before we reached the hotel. Timidly I
would quote to Mme. de Villeparisis, pointing to the moon in the sky,
some memorable expression of Chateaubriand or Vigny or Victor Hugo:
"Shedding abroad that ancient secret of melancholy" or "Weeping like
Diana by the brink of her streams" or "The shadows nuptial, solemn and

"And so you think that good, do you?" she would ask, "inspired, as you
call it. I must confess that I am always surprised to see people taking
things seriously nowadays which the friends of those gentlemen, while
doing ample justice to their merits, were the first to laugh at. People
weren't so free then with the word 'inspired' as they are now, when if
you say to a writer that he has mere talent he thinks you're insulting
him. You quote me a fine passage from M. de Chateaubriand about
moonlight. You shall see that I have my own reasons for being
refractory. M. de Chateaubriand used constantly to come to see my
father. He was quite a pleasant person when you were alone with him,
because then he was simple and amusing, but the moment he had an
audience he would begin to pose, and then he became absurd; when my
father was in the room, he pretended that he had flung his resignation
in the King's face, and that he had controlled the voting in the
Conclave, forgetting that it was my father whom he had asked to beg the
King to take him back, and that my father had heard him make the most
idiotic forecasts of the Papal election. You ought to have heard M. de
Blacas on that famous Conclave; he was a very different kind of man from
M. de Chateaubriand. As to his fine phrases about the moon, they became
part of our regular programme for entertaining our guests. Whenever
there was any moonlight about the house, if there was anyone staying
with us for the first time he would be told to take M. de Chateaubriand
for a stroll after dinner. When they came in, my father would take his
guest aside and say: 'Well, and was M. de Chateaubriand very
eloquent?'--'Oh, yes.' 'He's been talking about the moon?'--'Yes, how
did you know?'--'One moment, didn't he say----' and then my father would
quote the passage. 'He did; but how in the world . . .?'--'And he spoke
to you of the moonlight on the Roman Campagna?'--'But, my dear sir,
you're a magician.' My father was no magician, but M. de Chateaubriand
had the same little speech about the moon which he served up every

At the mention of Vigny she laughed: "The man who said: 'I am the Comte
Alfred de Vigny!' One either is a Comte or one isn't; it is not of the
slightest importance." And then perhaps she discovered that it was after
all, of some slight importance, for she went on: "For one thing I am by
no means sure that he was, and in any case he was of the humblest
origin, that gentleman who speaks in his verses of his 'Esquire's
crest'. In such charming taste, is it not, and so interesting to his
readers! Like Musset, a plain Paris cit, who laid so much stress on 'The
golden falcon that surmounts my helm'. As if you would ever hear a real
gentleman say a thing like that! And yet Musset had some talent as a
poet. But except _Cinq-Mars_ I have never been able to read a thing by
M. de Vigny. I get so bored that the book falls from my hands. M. Molé,
who had all the cleverness and tact that were wanting in M. de Vigny,
put him properly in his place when he welcomed him to the Academy. Do
you mean to say you don't know the speech? It is a masterpiece of irony
and impertinence." She found fault with Balzac, whom she was surprised
to see her nephews admire, for having pretended to describe a society
"in which he was never received" and of which his descriptions were
wildly improbable. As for Victor Hugo, she told us that M. de Bouillon,
her father, who had friends among the young leaders of the Romantic
movement, had been taken by some of them to the first performance of
_Hernani_, but that he had been unable to sit through it, so ridiculous
had he found the lines of that talented but extravagant writer who had
acquired the title of "Major Poet" only by virtue of having struck a
bargain, and as a reward for the not disinterested indulgence that he
shewed to the dangerous errors of the Socialists.

We had now come in sight of the hotel, with its lights, so hostile that
first evening, on our arrival, now protecting and kind, speaking to us
of home. And when the carriage drew up outside the door, the porter, the
pages, the lift-boy, attentive, clumsy, vaguely uneasy at our lateness,
were numbered, now that they had grown familiar, among those beings who
change so many times in the course of our life, as we ourself change,
but by whom, when they are for the time being the mirror of our habits,
we find something attractive in the feeling that we are being faithfully
reflected and in a friendly spirit. We prefer them to friends whom we
have not seen for some time, for they contain more of what we actually
are. Only the outside page, exposed to the sun all day, had been taken
indoors for protection from the cold night air and swaddled in thick
woollen garments which, combined with the orange effulgence of his locks
and the curiously red bloom of his cheeks, made one, seeing him there
through the glass front of the hall, think of a hot-house plant muffled
up for protection from the frost. We got out of the carriage, with the
help of a great many more servants than were required, but they were
conscious of the importance of the scene and each felt obliged to take
some part in it. I was always very hungry. And so, often, so as not to
keep dinner waiting, I would not go upstairs first to the room which had
succeeded in becoming so really mine that to catch sight of its long
violet curtains and low bookcases was to find myself alone again with
that self of which things, like people, gave me a reflected image; but
we would all wait together in the hall until the head waiter came to
tell us that our dinner was ready. And this gave us another opportunity
of listening to Mme. de Villeparisis.

"But you must be tired of us by now," protested my grandmother.

"Not at all! Why, I am delighted, what could be nicer?" replied her
friend with a winning smile, drawing out, almost intoning her words in a
way that contrasted markedly with her customary simplicity of speech.

And indeed at such moments as this she was not natural, her mind
reverted to her early training, to the aristocratic manner in which a
great lady is supposed to shew common people that she is glad to see
them, that she is not at all stiff. And her one and only failure in true
politeness lay in this excess of politeness; which it was easy to
identify as one of the professional "wrinkles" of a lady of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, who, always seeing in her humbler friends the latent
discontent that she must one day arouse in their bosoms, greedily seizes
every opportunity on which she can possibly, in the ledger in which she
keeps her social account with them, write down a credit balance which
will allow her to enter presently on the opposite page the dinner or
reception to which she will not invite them. And so, having long ago
taken effect in her once and for all, and ignoring the fact that now
both the circumstances and the people concerned were different, that in
Paris she hoped to see us often come to her house, the spirit of her
caste was urging Mme. de Villeparisis on with feverish ardour, and as if
the time that was allowed her for being kind to us was limited, to
multiply, while we were still at Balbec, her gifts of roses and melons,
loans of books, drives in her carriage and verbal effusions. And for
that reason, quite as much as the dazzling glories of the beach, the
many-coloured flamboyance and subaqueous light of the rooms, as much
even as the riding-lessons by which tradesmen's sons were deified like
Alexander of Macedon, the daily kindnesses shewn us by Mme. de
Villeparisis and also the unaccustomed, momentary, holiday ease with
which my grandmother accepted them have remained in my memory as typical
of life at a watering-place.

"Give them your cloaks to take upstairs."

My grandmother handed hers to the manager, and because he had been so
nice to me I was distressed by this want of consideration, which seemed
to pain him.

"I think you've hurt his feelings," said the Marquise. "He probably
fancies himself too great a gentleman to carry your wraps. I remember so
well the Duc de Nemours, when I was still quite little, coming to see my
father who was living then on the top floor of the Bouillon house, with
a fat parcel under his arm of letters and newspapers. I can see the
Prince now, in his blue coat, framed in our doorway, which had such
pretty woodwork round it--I think it was Bagard made it--you know those
fine laths that they used to cut, so supple that the joiner would twist
them sometimes into little shells and flowers, like the ribbons round a
nosegay. 'Here you are, Cyrus,' he said to my father, 'look what your
porter's given me to bring you. He said to me: Since you're going up to
see the Count, it's not worth my while climbing all those stairs; but
take care you don't break the string.'" "Now that you have got rid of
your things, why don't you sit down; look, sit in this seat," she said
to my grandmother, taking her by the hand.

"Oh, if you don't mind, not in that one! There is not room for two, and
it's too big for me by myself; I shouldn't feel comfortable."

"You remind me, for it was exactly like this, of a seat that I had for
many years until at last I couldn't keep it any longer because it had
been given to my mother by the poor Duchesse de Praslin. My mother,
though she was the simplest person in the world, really, had ideas that
belonged to another generation, which even in those days I could
scarcely understand; and at first she had not been at all willing to let
herself be introduced to Mme. de Praslin, who had been plain Mlle.
Sebastiani, while she, because she was a Duchess, felt that it was not
for her to be introduced to my mother. And really, you know," Mme. de
Villeparisis went on, forgetting that she herself did not understand
these fine shades of distinction, "even if she had just been Mme. de
Choiseul, there was a good deal to be said for her claim. The Choiseuls
are everything you could want; they spring from a sister of Louis the
Fat; they were ruling princes down in Basigny. I admit that we beat them
in marriages and in distinction, but the precedence is pretty much the
same. This little difficulty gave rise to several amusing incidents,
such as a luncheon-party which was kept waiting a whole hour or more
before one of these ladies could make up her mind to let herself be
introduced to the other. In spite of which they became great friends,
and she gave my mother a seat like that, in which people always refused
to sit, just as you did, until one day my mother heard a carriage drive
into the courtyard. She asked a young servant we had, who it was. 'The
Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld, ma'am.' 'Very well, say that I am at
home.' A quarter of an hour passed; no one came. 'What about the
Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld?' my mother asked, 'where is she?' 'She's
on the stairs, ma'am, getting her breath,' said the young servant, who
had not been long up from the country, where my mother had the excellent
habit of getting all her servants. Often she had seen them born. That's
the only way to get really good ones. And they're the rarest of
luxuries. And sure enough the Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld had the
greatest difficulty in getting upstairs, for she was an enormous woman,
so enormous, indeed, that when she did come into the room my mother was
quite at a loss for a moment to know where to put her. And then the seat
that Mme. de Praslin had given her caught her eye. 'Won't you sit down?'
she said, bringing it forward. And the Duchess filled it from side to
side. She was quite a pleasant woman, for all her massiveness. 'She
still creates an effect when she comes in,' one of our friends said
once. 'She certainly creates an effect when she goes out,' said my
mother, who was rather more free in her speech than would be thought
proper nowadays. Even in Mme. de La Rochefoucauld's own drawing-room
people weren't afraid to make fun of her to her face (at which she was
always the first to laugh) over her ample proportions. 'But are you all
alone?' my grandmother once asked M. de La Rochefoucauld, when she had
come to pay a call on the Duchess, and being met at the door by him had
not seen his wife who was at the other end of the room. 'Is Mme. de La
Rochefoucauld not at home? I don't see her.'--'How charming of you!'
replied the Duke, who had about the worst judgment of any man I have
ever known, but was not altogether lacking in humour."

After dinner, when I had retired upstairs with my grandmother, I said to
her that the qualities which attracted us in Mme. de Villeparisis, her
tact, her shrewdness, her discretion, her modesty in not referring to
herself, were not, perhaps, of very great value since those who
possessed them in the highest degree were simply people like Molé and
Loménie, and that if the want of them can make our social relations
unpleasant yet it did not prevent from becoming Chateaubriand, Vigny,
Hugo, Balzac, a lot of foolish fellows who had no judgment, at whom it
was easy to mock, like Bloch. . . . But at the name of Bloch, my
grandmother cried out in protest. And she began to praise Mme. de
Villeparisis. As we are told that it is the preservation of the species
which guides our individual preferences in love, and, so that the child
may be constituted in the most normal fashion, sends fat men in pursuit
of lean women and _vice versa_, so in some dim way it was the
requirements of my happiness threatened by my disordered nerves, by my
morbid tendency to melancholy, to solitude, that made her allot the
highest place to the qualities of balance and judgment, peculiar not
only to Mme. de Villeparisis but to a society in which our ancestors saw
blossom the minds of a Doudan, a M. de Rémusat, not to mention a
Beausergent, a Joubert, a Sévigné, a type of mind that invests life
with more happiness, with greater dignity than the converse refinements
which brought a Baudelaire, a Poe, a Verlaine, a Rimbaud to sufferings,
to a disrepute such as my grandmother did not wish for her daughter's
child. I interrupted her with a kiss and asked her if she had noticed
some expression which Mme. de Villeparisis had used and which seemed to
point to a woman who thought more of her noble birth than she was
prepared to admit. In this way I used to submit my impressions of life
to my grandmother, for I was never certain what degree of respect was
due to anyone until she had informed me. Every evening I would come to
her with the mental sketches that I had made during the day of all those
non-existent people who were not her. Once I said to her: "I shouldn't
be able to live without you." "But you mustn't speak like that;" her
voice was troubled. "We must harden our hearts more than that, you know.
Or what would become of you if I went away on a journey? But I hope that
you would be quite sensible and quite happy."

"I could manage to be sensible if you went away for a few days, but I
should count the hours."

"But if I were to go away for months . . ." (at the bare suggestion of
such a thing my heart was wrung.) ". . . for years . . . for . . ."

We both remained silent. We dared not look one another in the face. And
yet I was suffering more keenly from her anguish than from my own. And
so I walked across to the window, and said to her, with a studied
clearness of tone but with averted eyes:

"You know what a creature of habit I am. For the first few days after I
have been parted from the people I love best, I am wretched. But though
I go on loving them just as much, I grow used to their absence; life
becomes calm, bearable, pleasant; I could stand being parted from them
for months, for years . . ."

I was obliged to stop, and looked straight out of the window. My
grandmother went out of the room for something. But next day I began to
talk to her about philosophy, and, speaking in a tone of complete
indifference, but at the same time taking care that my grandmother
should pay attention to what I was saying, I remarked what a curious
thing it was that, according to the latest scientific discoveries, the
materialist position appeared to be crumbling, and the most likely thing
to be, once again, the survival of the soul and reunion in a life

Mme. de Villeparisis gave us warning that presently she would not be
able to see so much of us. A young nephew who was preparing for Saumur,
and was meanwhile stationed in the neighbourhood, at Doncières, was
coming to spend a few weeks' furlough with her, and she would be
devoting most of her time to him. In the course of our drives together
she had boasted to us of his extreme cleverness, and above all of his
goodness of heart; already I was imagining that he would have an
instinctive feeling for me, that I was to be his best friend; and when,
before his arrival, his aunt gave my grandmother to understand that he
had unfortunately fallen into the clutches of an appalling woman with
whom he was quite infatuated and who would never let him go, since I
believed that that sort of love was doomed to end in mental aberration,
crime and suicide, thinking how short the time was that was set apart
for our friendship, already so great in my heart, although I had not yet
set eyes on him, I wept for that friendship and for the misfortunes that
were in store for it, as we weep for a person whom we love when some one
has just told us that he is seriously ill and that his days are

One afternoon of scorching heat I was in the dining-room of the hotel,
which they had plunged in semi-darkness, to shield it from the glare, by
drawing the curtains which the sun gilded, while through the gaps
between them I caught flashing blue glimpses of the sea, when along the
central gangway leading inland from the beach to the high road I saw,
tall, slender, his head held proudly erect upon a springing neck, a
young man go past with searching eyes, whose skin was as fair and his
hair as golden as if they had absorbed all the rays of the sun. Dressed
in a clinging, almost white material such as I could never have believed
that any man would have the audacity to wear, the thinness of which
suggested no less vividly than the coolness of the dining-room the heat
and brightness of the glorious day outside, he was walking fast. His
eyes, from one of which a monocle kept dropping, were of the colour of
the sea. Everyone looked at him with interest as he passed, knowing that
this young Marquis de Saint-Loup-en-Bray was famed for the smartness of
his clothes. All the newspapers had described the suit in which he had
recently acted as second to the young Duc d'Uzès in a duel. One felt
that this so special quality of his hair, his eyes, his skin, his
figure, which would have marked him out in a crowd like a precious vein
of opal, azure-shot and luminous, embedded in a mass of coarser
substance, must correspond to a life different from that led by other
men. So that when, before the attachment which Mme. de Villeparisis had
been deploring, the prettiest women in society had disputed the
possession of him, his presence, at a watering-place for instance, in
the company of the beauty of the season to whom he was paying court, not
only made her conspicuous, but attracted every eye fully as much to
himself. Because of his "tone", of his impertinence befitting a young
"lion", and especially of his astonishing good looks, some people even
thought him effeminate, though Without attaching any stigma, for
everyone knew bow manly he was and that he was a passionate "womaniser".
This was Mme. de Villeparisis's nephew of whom she had spoken to us. I
was overcome with joy at the thought that I was going to know him and to
see him for several weeks on end, and confident that he would bestow on
me all his affection. He strode rapidly across the hotel, seeming to be
in pursuit of his monocle, which kept darting away in front of him like
a butterfly. He was coming from the beach, and the sea which filled the
lower half of the glass front of the hall gave him a background against
which he was drawn at full length, as in certain portraits whose
painters attempt, without in any way falsifying the most accurate
observation of contemporary life, but by choosing for their sitter
appropriate surroundings, a polo ground, golf links, a race-course, the
bridge of a yacht, to furnish a modern equivalent of those canvases on
which the old masters used to present the human figure in the foreground
of a landscape. A carriage and pair was waiting for him at the door;
and, while his monocle resumed its gambollings in the air of the sunlit
street, with the elegance and mastery which a great pianist contrives to
display in the simplest piece of execution, where it has not appeared
possible that he could shew himself superior to a performer of the
second class, Mme. de Villeparisis's nephew, taking the reins that were
handed him by the groom, jumped on to the box seat by his side and,
while he opened a letter which the manager of the hotel sent out after
him, made his horses start.

What a disappointment was mine on the days that followed, when, each
time that I met him outside or in the hotel--his head erect, perpetually
balancing the movements of his limbs round the fugitive and dancing
monocle which seemed to be their centre of gravity--I was forced to
admit that he had evidently no desire to make our acquaintance, and saw
that he did not bow to us although he must have known that we were
friends of his aunt. And calling to mind the friendliness that Mme. de
Villeparisis, and before her M. de Norpois had shewn me, I thought that
perhaps they were only of a bogus nobility, and that there might be a
secret section in the laws that govern the aristocracy which allowed
women, perhaps, and certain diplomats to discard, in their relations
with plebeians, for a reason which was beyond me, the stiffness which
must, on the other hand, be pitilessly maintained by a young Marquis. My
intelligence might have told me the opposite. But the characteristic
feature of the silly phase through which I was passing--a phase by no
means irresponsive, indeed highly fertile--is that we do not consult our
intelligence and that the most trivial attributes of other people seem
to us then to form an inseparable part of their personality. In a world
thronged with monsters and with gods, we are barely conscious of
tranquillity. There is hardly one of the actions which we performed in
that phase which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able
to erase from our memory. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no
longer possess the spontaneity which made us perform them. In later life
we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the
rest of society, but youth was the only time in which we learned

This insolence which I surmised in M. de Saint-Loup, and all that it
implied of ingrained severity, received confirmation from his attitude
whenever he passed us, his body as inflexibly erect, his head always
held as high, his gaze as impassive, or rather, I should say, as
implacable, devoid of that vague respect which one has for the rights of
other people, even if they do not know one's aunt, one example of which
was that I did not look in quite the same way at an old lady as at a gas
lamp. These frigid manners were as far removed from the charming letters
which, but a few days since, I had still been imagining him as writing
to tell me of his regard for myself, as is removed from the enthusiasm
of the Chamber and of the populace which he has been picturing himself
as rousing by an imperishable speech, the humble, dull, obscure position
of the dreamer who, after pondering it thus by himself, for himself,
aloud, finds himself, once the imaginary applause has died away, just
the same Tom, Dick or Harry as before. When Mme. de Villeparisis,
doubtless in an attempt to counteract the bad impression that had been
made on us by an exterior indicative of an arrogant and evil nature,
spoke to us again of the inexhaustible goodness of her great-nephew (he
was the son of one of her nieces, and a little older than myself), I
marvelled how the world, with an utter disregard of truth, ascribes
tenderness of heart to people whose hearts are in reality so hard and
dry, provided only that they behave with common courtesy to the
brilliant members of their own sets. Mme. de Villeparisis herself
confirmed, though indirectly, my diagnosis, which was already a
conviction, of the essential points of her nephew's character one day
when I met them both coming along a path so narrow that there was
nothing for it but to introduce me to him. He seemed not to hear that a
person's name was being repeated to him, not a muscle of his face moved;
his eyes, in which there shone not the faintest gleam of human sympathy,
shewed merely in the insensibility, in the inanity of their gaze an
exaggeration failing which there would have been nothing to distinguish
them from lifeless mirrors. Then fastening on me those hard eyes, as
though he wished to make sure of me before returning my salute, by an
abrupt release which seemed to be due rather to a reflex action of his
muscles than to an exercise of will, keeping between himself and me the
greatest possible interval, he stretched his arm out to its full
extension and, at the end of it, offered me his hand. I supposed that it
must mean, at the very least, a duel when, next day, he sent me his
card. But he spoke to me only of literature, declared after a long talk
that he would like immensely to spend several hours with me every day.
He had not only, in this encounter, given proof of an ardent zest for
the things of the spirit, he had shewn a regard for myself which was
little in keeping with his greeting of me the day before. After I had
seen him repeat the same process whenever anyone was introduced to him,
I realised that it was simply a social usage peculiar to his branch of
the family, to which his mother, who had seen to it that he should be
perfectly brought up, had moulded his limbs; he went through those
motions without thinking, any more than he thought about his beautiful
clothes or hair; they were a thing devoid of the moral significance
which I had at first ascribed to them, a thing purely acquired like that
other habit that he had of at once demanding an introduction to the
family of anyone whom he knew, which had become so instinctive in him
that, seeing me again the day after our talk, he fell upon me and
without asking how I did begged me to make him known to my grandmother,
who was with me, with the same feverish haste as if the request had been
due to some instinct of self-preservation, like the act of warding off a
blow, or of shutting one's eyes to avoid a stream of boiling water,
without which precautions it would have been dangerous to stay where one
was a moment longer.

The first rites of exorcism once performed, as a wicked fairy discards
her outer form and endues all the most enchanting graces, I saw this
disdainful creature become the most friendly, the most considerate young
man that I had ever met. "Good," I said to myself, "I've been mistaken
about him once already; I was taken in by a mirage; but I have corrected
the first only to fall into a second, for he must be a great gentleman
who has grown sick of his nobility and is trying to hide it." As a
matter of fact it was not long before all the exquisite breeding, all
the friendliness of Saint-Loup were indeed to let me see another
creature but one very different from what I had suspected.

This young man who had the air of a scornful, sporting aristocrat had in
fact no respect, no interest save for and in the things of the spirit,
and especially those modern manifestations of literature and art which
seemed so ridiculous to his aunt; he was imbued, moreover, with what she
called "Socialistic spoutings," was filled with the most profound
contempt for his caste and spent long hours in the study of Nietzsche
and Proudhon. He was one of those intellectuals, quick to admire what is
good, who shut themselves up in a book, and are interested only in pure
thought. Indeed in Saint-Loup the expression of this highly abstract
tendency, which removed him so far from my customary preoccupations,
while it seemed to me touching, also annoyed me not a little. I may say
that when I realised properly who had been his father, on days when I
had been reading memoirs rich in anecdotes of that famous Comte de
Marsantes, in whom were embodied the special graces of a generation
already remote, the mind full of speculation--anxious to obtain fuller
details of the life that M. de Marsantes had led, it used to infuriate
me that Robert de Saint-Loup, instead of being content to be the son of
his father, instead of being able to guide me through the old-fashioned
romance of what had been that father's existence, had trained himself to
enjoy Nietzsche and Proudhon. His father would not have shared my
regret. He had been himself a man of brains, who had transcended the
narrow confines of his life as a man of the world. He had hardly had
time to know his son, but had hoped that his son would prove a better
man than himself. And I really believe that, unlike the rest of the
family, he would have admired his son, would have rejoiced at his
abandoning what had been his own small diversions for austere
meditations, and without saying a word, in his modesty as a great
gentleman endowed with brains, he would have read in secret his son's
favourite authors in order to appreciate how far Robert was superior to

There was, however, this rather painful consideration: that if M. de
Marsantes, with his extremely open mind, would have appreciated a son so
different from himself, Robert de Saint-Loup, because he was one of
those who believe that merit is attached only to certain forms of art
and of life, had an affectionate but slightly contemptuous memory of a
father who had spent all his time hunting and racing, who yawned at
Wagner and raved over Offenbach. Saint-Loup had not the intelligence to
see that intellectual worth has nothing to do with adhesion to any one
aesthetic formula, and had for the intellectuality of M. de Marsantes
much the same sort of scorn as might have been felt for Boieldieu or
Labiche by a son of Boieldieu or Labiche who had become adepts in the
most symbolic literature and the most complex music. "I scarcely knew my
father," he used to say. "He seems to have been a charming person. His
tragedy was the deplorable age in which he lived. To have been born in
the Faubourg Saint-Germain and to have to live in the days of La Belle
Hélène would be enough to wreck any existence. Perhaps if he'd been
some little shopkeeper mad about the Ring he'd have turned out quite
different. Indeed they tell me that he was fond of literature. But that
can never be proved, because literature to him meant such utterly
god-forsaken books." And in my own case, if I found Saint-Loup a trifle
earnest, he could not understand why I was not more earnest still. Never
judging anything except by the weight of the intelligence that it
contained, never perceiving the magic appeal to the imagination that I
found in things which he condemned as frivolous, he was astonished that
I--I, to whom he imagined himself to be so utterly inferior--could take
any interest in them.

From the first Saint-Loup made a conquest of my grandmother, not only by
the incessant acts of kindness which he went out of his way to shew to
us both, but by the naturalness which he put into them as into
everything. For naturalness--doubtless because through the artifice of
man it allows a feeling of nature to permeate--was the quality which my
grandmother preferred to all others, whether in gardens, where she did
not like there to be, as there had been in our Combray garden, too
formal borders, or at table, where she detested those dressed-up dishes
in which you could hardly detect the foodstuff's that had gone to make
them, or in piano-playing, which she did not like to be too finicking,
too laboured, having indeed had a special weakness for the discords, the
wrong notes of Rubinstein. This naturalness she found and enjoyed even
in the clothes that Saint-Loup wore, of a pliant elegance, with nothing
swagger, nothing formal about them, no stiffness or starch. She
appreciated this rich young man still more highly for the free and
careless way that he had of living in luxury without "smelling of
money", without giving himself airs; she even discovered the charm of
this naturalness in the incapacity which Saint-Loup had kept, though as
a rule it is outgrown with childhood, at the same time as certain
physiological peculiarities of that period, for preventing his face from
at once reflecting every emotion. Something, for instance, that he
wanted to have but had not expected, were it no more than a compliment,
reacted in him in a burst of pleasure so quick, so burning, so volatile,
so expansive that it was impossible for him to contain and to conceal
it; a grin of delight seized irresistible hold of his face; the too
delicate skin of his cheeks allowed a vivid glow to shine through them,
his eyes sparkled with confusion and joy; and my grandmother was
infinitely touched by this charming show of innocence and frankness,
which, incidentally, in Saint-Loup--at any rate at the period of our
first friendship--was not misleading. But I have known another person,
and there are many such, in whom the physiological sincerity of that
fleeting blush in no way excluded moral duplicity; as often as not it
proves nothing more than the vivacity with which pleasure is felt--so
that it disarms them and they are forced publicly to confess it--by
natures capable of the vilest treachery. But where my grandmother did
really adore Saint-Loup's naturalness was in his way of admitting,
without any evasion, his affection for me, to give expression to which
he found words than which she herself, she told me, could not have
thought of any more appropriate, more truly loving, words to which
"Sévigné and Beausergent" might have set their signatures. He was not
afraid to make fun of my weaknesses--which he had discerned with an
acuteness that made her smile--but as she herself would have done,
lovingly, at the same time extolling my good qualities with a warmth, an
impulsive freedom that shewed no sign of the reserve, the coldness by
means of which young men of his age are apt to suppose that they give
themselves importance. And he shewed in forestalling every discomfort,
however slight, in covering my legs if the day had turned cold without
my noticing it, in arranging (without telling me) to stay later with me
in the evening if he thought that I was depressed or felt unwell, a
vigilance which, from the point of view of my health, for which a more
hardening discipline would perhaps have been better, my grandmother
found almost excessive, though as a proof of his affection for myself
she was deeply touched by it.

It was promptly settled between us that he and I were to be great
friends for ever, and he would say "our friendship" as though he were
speaking of some important and delightful thing which had an existence
independent of ourselves, and which he soon called--not counting his
love for his mistress--the great joy of his life. These words made me
rather uncomfortable and I was at a loss for an answer, for I did not
feel when I was with him and talked to him--and no doubt it would have
been the same with everyone else--any of that happiness which it was, on
the other hand, possible for me to experience when I was by myself. For
alone, at times, I felt surging from the depths of my being one or other
of those impressions which gave me a delicious sense of comfort. But as
soon as I was with some one else, when I began to talk to a friend, my
mind at once "turned about", it was towards the listener and not myself
that it directed its thoughts, and when they followed this outward
course they brought me no pleasure. Once I had left Saint-Loup, I
managed, with the help of words, to put more or less in order the
confused minutes that I had spent with him; I told myself that I had a
good friend, that a good friend was a rare thing, and I tasted, when I
felt myself surrounded by "goods" that were difficult to acquire, what
was precisely the opposite of the pleasure that was natural to me, the
opposite of the pleasure of having extracted from myself and brought to
light something that was hidden in my inner darkness. If I had spent two
or three hours in conversation with Saint-Loup, and he had expressed his
admiration of what I had said to him, I felt a sort of remorse, or
regret, or weariness at not having been left alone and ready, at last,
to begin my work. But I told myself that one is not given intelligence
for one's own benefit only, that the greatest of men have longed for
appreciation, that I could not regard as wasted hours in which I had
built up an exalted idea of myself in the mind of my friend; I had no
difficulty in persuading myself that I ought to be happy in consequence,
and I hoped all the more anxiously that this happiness might never be
taken from me simply because I had not yet been conscious of it. We fear
more than the loss of everything else the disappearance of the "goods"
that have remained beyond our reach, because our heart has not taken
possession of them. I felt that I was capable of exemplifying the
virtues of friendship better than most people (because I should always
place the good of my friends before those personal interests to which
other people were devoted but which did not count for me), but not of
finding happiness in a feeling which, instead of multiplying the
differences that there were between my nature and those of other
people--as there are among all of us--would cancel them. At the same
time my mind was distinguishing in Saint-Loup a personality more
collective than his own, that of the "noble"; which like an indwelling
spirit moved his limbs, ordered his gestures and his actions; then, at
such moments, although in his company, I was as much alone as I should
have been gazing at a landscape the harmony of which I could understand.
He was no more then than an object the properties of which, in my musing
contemplations, I sought to explore. The perpetual discovery in him of
this pre-existent, this aeonial creature, this aristocrat who was just
what Robert aspired not to be, gave me a keen delight, but one that was
intellectual and not social. In the moral and physical agility which
gave so much grace to his kindnesses, in the ease with which he offered
my grandmother his carriage and made her get into it, in the alacrity
with which he sprang from the box, when he was afraid that I might be
cold, to spread his own cloak over my shoulders, I felt not only the
inherited litheness of the mighty hunters who had been for generations
the ancestors of this young man who made no pretence save to
intellectuality, their scorn of wealth which, subsisting in him side by
side with his enjoyment of it simply because it enabled him to entertain
his friends more lavishly, made him so carelessly shower his riches at
their feet; I felt in him especially the certainty or the illusion in
the minds of those great lords of being "better than other people",
thanks to which they had not been able to hand down to Saint-Loup that
anxiety to shew that one is "just as good", that dread of seeming
inferior, of which he was indeed wholly unconscious, but which mars with
so much ugliness, so much awkwardness, the most sincere overtures of a
plebeian. Sometimes I found fault with myself for thus taking pleasure
in my friend as in a work of art, that is to say in regarding the play
of all the parts of his being as harmoniously ordered by a general idea
from which they depended but which he did not know, so that it added
nothing to his own good qualities, to that personal value, intellectual
and moral, to which he attached so high a price.

And yet that idea was to a certain extent their determining cause. It
was because he was a gentleman that that mental activity, those
socialist aspirations, which made him seek the company of young
students, arrogant and ill-dressed, connoted in him something really
pure and disinterested which was not to be found in them. Looking upon
himself as the heir of an ignorant and selfish caste, he was sincerely
anxious that they should forgive in him that aristocratic origin which
they, on the contrary, found irresistibly attractive and on account of
which they sought to know him, though with a show of coldness and indeed
of insolence towards him. He was thus led to make advances to people
from whom my parents, faithful to the sociological theories of Combray,
would have been stupefied at his not turning away in disgust. One day
when we were sitting on the sands, Saint-Loup and I, we heard issuing
from a canvas tent against which we were leaning a torrent of
imprecation against the swarm of Israelites that infested Balbec. "You
can't go a yard without meeting them," said the voice. "I am not in
principle irremediably hostile to the Jewish nation, but here there is a
plethora of them. You hear nothing but, 'I thay, Apraham, I've chust
theen Chacop.' You would think you were in the Rue d'Aboukir." The man
who thus inveighed against Israel emerged at last from the tent; we
raised our eyes to behold this antisemite. It was my old friend Bloch.
Saint-Loup at once begged me to remind him that they had met before the
Board of Examiners, when Bloch had carried off the prize of honour, and
since then at a popular university course.

At the most I may have smiled now and then, to discover in Robert the
marks of his Jesuit schooling, in the awkwardness which the fear of
hurting people's feelings at once created in him whenever one of his
intellectual friends made a social error, did something silly to which
Saint-Loup himself attached no importance but felt that the other would
have blushed if anybody had noticed it. And it was Robert who used to
blush as though it had been he that was to blame, for instance on the
day when Bloch, after promising to come and see him at the hotel, went

"As I cannot endure to be kept waiting among all the false splendour of
these great caravanserais, and the Hungarian band would make me ill, you
must tell the 'lighft-boy' to make them shut up, and to let you know at

Personally, I was not particularly anxious that Bloch should come to the
hotel. He was at Balbec not by himself, unfortunately, but with his
sisters, and they in turn had innumerable relatives and friends staying
there. Now this Jewish colony was more picturesque than pleasant. Balbec
was in this respect like such countries as Russia or Rumania, where the
geography books teach us that the Israelite population does not enjoy
anything approaching the same esteem and has not reached the same stage
of assimilation as, for instance, in Paris. Always together, with no
blend of any other element, when the cousins and uncles of Bloch or
their coreligionists male or female repaired to the Casino, the ladies
to dance, the gentlemen branching off towards the baccarat-tables, they
formed a solid troop, homogeneous within itself, and utterly dissimilar
to the people who watched them go past and found them there again every
year without ever exchanging a word or a sign with them, whether these
were on the Cambremers' list, or the presiding magistrate's little
group, professional or "business" people, or even simple corn-chandlers
from Paris, whose daughters, handsome, proud, derisive and French as the
statues at Rheims, would not care to mix with that horde of ill-bred
tomboys, who carried their zeal for "seaside fashions" so far as to be
always apparently on their way home from shrimping or out to dance the
tango. As for the men, despite the brilliance of their dinner-jackets
and patent-leather shoes, the exaggeration of their type made one think
of what people call the "intelligent research" of painters who, having
to illustrate the Gospels or the Arabian Nights, consider the country in
which the scenes are laid, and give to Saint Peter or to Ali-Baba the
identical features of the heaviest "punter" at the Balbec tables. Bloch
introduced his sisters, who, though he silenced their chatter with the
utmost rudeness, screamed with laughter at the mildest sallies of this
brother, their blindly worshipped idol. So that it is probable that this
set of people contained, like every other, perhaps more than any other,
plenty of attractions, merits and virtues. But in order to experience
these, one had first to penetrate its enclosure. Now it was not popular;
it could feel this; it saw in its unpopularity the mark of an
anti-semitism to which it presented a bold front in a compact and closed
phalanx into which, as it happened, no one ever dreamed of trying to
make his way.

At his use of the word "lighft" I had all the less reason to be
surprised in that, a few days before, Bloch having asked me why I had
come to Balbec (although it seemed to him perfectly natural that he
himself should be there) and whether it had been "in the hope of making
grand friends", when I had explained to him that this visit was a
fulfilment of one of my earliest longings, though one not so deep as my
longing to see Venice, he had replied: "Yes, of course, to sip iced
drinks with the pretty ladies, while you pretend to be reading the
_Stones of Venighce_, by Lord John Ruskin, a dreary shaver, in fact one
of the most garrulous old barbers that you could find." So that Bloch
evidently thought that in England not only were all the inhabitants of
the male sex called "Lord", but the letter 'i' was invariably pronounced
'igh'. As for Saint-Loup, this mistake in pronunciation seemed to him
all the less serious inasmuch as he saw in it pre-eminently a want of
those almost "society" notions which my new friend despised as fully as
he was versed in them. But the fear lest Bloch, discovering one day that
one says "Venice" and that Ruskin was not a lord, should retrospectively
imagine that Robert had been laughing at him, made the latter feel as
guilty as if he had been found wanting in the indulgence with which, as
we have seen, he overflowed, so that the blush which would no doubt one
day dye the cheek of Bloch on the discovery of his error, Robert
already, by anticipation and reflex action, could feel mounting to his
own. For he fully believed that Bloch attached more importance than he
to this mistake. Which Bloch proved to be true some time later, when he
heard me pronounce the word "lift", by breaking in with:

"Oh, you say 'lift', do you?" And then, in a dry and lofty tone: "Not
that it is of the slightest importance." A phrase that is like a reflex
action of the body, the same in all men whose self-esteem is great, in
the gravest circumstances as well as in the most trivial, betraying
there as clearly as on this occasion how important the thing in question
seems to him who declares that it is of no importance; a tragic phrase
at times, the first to escape (and then how heart-breaking) the lips of
every man at all proud from whom we have just taken the last hope to
which he still clung by refusing to do him a service. "Oh, well, it's
not of the slightest importance; I shall make some other arrangement:"
the other arrangement which it is not of the slightest importance that
he should be driven to adopt being often suicide.

Apart from this, Bloch made me the prettiest speeches. He was certainly
anxious to be on the best of terms with me. And yet he asked me: "Is it
because you've taken a fancy to raise yourself to the peerage that you
run after de Saint-Loup-en-Bray? You must be going through a fine crisis
of snobbery. Tell me, are you a snob? I think so, what?" Not that his
desire to be friendly had suddenly changed. But what is called, in not
too correct language, "ill breeding" was his defect, and therefore the
defect which he was bound to overlook, all the more that by which he did
not believe that other people could be shocked. In the human race the
frequency of the virtues that are identical in us all is not more
wonderful than the multiplicity of the defects that are peculiar to each
one of us. Undoubtedly, it is not common sense that is "the commonest
thing in the world"; but human kindness. In the most distant, the most
desolate ends of the earth, we marvel to see it blossom of its own
accord, as in a remote valley a poppy like the poppies in the world
beyond, poppies which it has never seen as it has never known aught but
the wind that, now and again, stirring the folds of its scarlet cloak,
disturbs its solitude. Even if this human kindness, paralysed by
self-interest, is not exercised, it exists none the less, and whenever
any inconstant egoist does not restrain its action, when, for example,
he is reading a novel or a newspaper, it will bud, blossom, grow, even
in the heart of him who, cold-blooded in real life, has retained a
tender heart, as a lover of fiction, for the weak, the righteous and the
persecuted. But the variety of our defects is no less remarkable than
the similarity of our virtues. Each of us has his own, so much so that
to continue loving him we are obliged not to take them into account but
to ignore them and look only to the rest of his character. The most
perfect person in the world has a certain defect which shocks us or
makes us angry. One man is of rare intelligence, sees everything from an
exalted angle, never speaks evil of anyone, but will pocket and forget
letters of supreme importance which it was he himself who asked you to
let him post for you, and will then miss a vital engagement without
offering you any excuse, with a smile, because he prides himself upon
never knowing the time. Another is so refined, so gentle, so delicate in
his conduct that he never says anything about you before your face
except what you are glad to hear; but you feel that he refrains from
uttering, that he keeps buried in his heart, where they grow bitter,
very different opinions, and the pleasure that he derives from seeing
you is so dear to him that he will let you faint with exhaustion sooner
than leave you to yourself. A third has more sincerity, but carries it
so far that he feels bound to let you know, when you have pleaded the
state of your health as an excuse for not having been to see him, that
you were seen going to the theatre and were reported to be looking well,
or else that he has not been able to profit entirely by the action which
you have taken on his behalf, which, by the way, three other of his
friends had already offered to take, so that he is only moderately
indebted to you. In similar circumstances the previous friend would have
pretended not to know that you had gone to the theatre, or that other
people could have done him the same service. But this last friend feels
himself obliged to repeat or to reveal to somebody the very thing that
is most likely to give offence; is delighted with his own frankness and
tells you, emphatically: "I am like that." While others infuriate you by
their exaggerated curiosity, or by a want of curiosity so absolute that
you can speak to them of the most sensational happenings without their
grasping what it is all about; and others again take months to answer
you if your letter has been about something that concerns yourself and
not them, or else, if they write that they are coming to ask you for
something and you dare not leave the house for fear of missing them, do
not appear, but leave you in suspense for weeks because, not having
received from you the answer which their letter did not in the least
"expect", they have concluded that you must be cross with them. And
others, considering their own wishes and not yours, talk to you without
letting you get a word in if they are in good spirits and want to see
you, however urgent the work you may have in hand, but if they feel
exhausted by the weather or out of humour, you cannot get a word out of
them, they meet your efforts with an inert languor and no more take the
trouble to reply, even in monosyllables, to what you say to them than if
they had not heard you. Each of our friends has his defects so markedly
that to continue to love him we are obliged to seek consolation for
those defects--in the thought of his talent, his goodness, his affection
for ourself--or rather to leave them out of account, and for that we
need to display all our good-will. Unfortunately our obliging obstinacy
in refusing to see the defect in our friend is surpassed by the
obstinacy with which he persists in that defect, from his own blindness
to it or the blindness that he attributes to other people. For he does
not notice it himself, or imagines that it is not noticed. Since the
risk of giving offence arises principally from the difficulty of
appreciating what does and what does not pass unperceived, we ought, at
least, from prudence, never to speak of ourself, because that is a
subject on which we may be sure that other people's views are never in
accordance with our own. If we find as many surprises as on visiting a
house of plain exterior which inside is full of hidden treasures,
torture-chambers, skeletons, when we discover the true lives of other
people, the real beneath the apparent universe, we are no less surprised
if, in place of the image that we have made of ourself with the help of
all the things that people have said to us, we learn from the terms in
which they speak of us in our absence what an entirely different image
they have been carrying in their own minds of us and of our life. So
that whenever we have spoken about ourself, we may be sure that our
inoffensive and prudent words, listened to with apparent politeness and
hypocritical approbation, have given rise afterwards to the most
exasperated or the most mirthful, but in either case the least
favourable criticism. The least risk that we run is that of irritating
people by the disproportion that there is between our idea of ourself
and the words that we use, a disproportion which as a rule makes
people's talk about themselves as ludicrous as the performances of those
self-styled music-lovers who when they feel the need to hum a favourite
melody compensate for the inadequacy of their inarticulate murmurings by
a strenuous mimicry and a look of admiration which is hardly justified
by all that they let us hear. And to the bad habit of speaking about
oneself and one's defects there must be added, as part of the same
thing, that habit of denouncing in other people defects precisely
analogous to one's own. For it is always of those defects that people
speak, as though it were a way of speaking about oneself, indirectly,
which added to the pleasure of absolution that of confession. Besides it
seems that our attention, always attracted by what is characteristic of
ourself, notices that more than anything else in other people. One
short-sighted man says of another: "But he can scarcely open his eyes!";
a consumptive has his doubts as to the pulmonary integrity of the most
robust; an unwashed man speaks only of the baths that other people do
not take; an evil-smelling man insists that other people smell; a
cuckold sees cuckolds everywhere, a light woman light women, a snob
snobs. Then, too, every vice, like every profession, requires and trains
a special knowledge which we are never loath to display. The invert
detects and denounces inverts; the tailor asked out to dine, before he
has begun to talk to you, has passed judgment on the cloth of your coat,
which his fingers are itching to feel, and if after a few words of
conversation you were to ask a dentist what he really thought of you, he
would tell you how many of your teeth wanted filling. To him nothing
appears more important, nor more absurd to you who have noticed his own.
And it is not only when we speak of ourselves that we imagine other
people to be blind; we behave as though they were. On every one of us
there is a special god in attendance who hides from him or promises him
the concealment from other people of his defect, just as he stops the
eyes and nostrils of people who do not wash to the streaks of dirt which
they carry in their ears and the smell of sweat which emanates from
their armpits, and assures them that they can with impunity carry both
of these about a world that will notice nothing. And those who wear
artificial pearls, or give them as presents, imagine that people will
take them to be genuine. Bloch was ill-bred, neurotic, a snob, and,
since he belonged to a family of little repute, had to support, as on
the floor of ocean, the incalculable pressure that was imposed on him
not only by the Christians upon the surface but by all the intervening
layers of Jewish castes superior to his own, each of them crushing with
its contempt the one that was immediately beneath it. To carve his way
through to the open air by raising himself from Jewish family to Jewish
family would have taken Bloch many thousands of years. It was better
worth his while to seek an outlet in another direction.

When Bloch spoke to me of the crisis of snobbery through which I must be
passing, and bade me confess that I was a snob, I might well have
replied: "If I were, I should not be going about with you." I said
merely that he was not being very polite. Then he tried to apologise,
but in the way that is typical of the ill-bred man who is only too glad
to hark back to whatever it was if he can find an opportunity to
aggravate his offence. "Forgive me," he used now to plead, whenever we
met, "I have vexed you, tormented you; I have been wantonly mischievous.
And yet--man in general and your friend in particular is so singular an
animal--you cannot imagine the affection that I, I who tease you so
cruelly, have for you. It carries me often, when I think of you, to
tears." And he gave an audible sob.

What astonished me more in Bloch than his bad manners was to find how
the quality of his conversation varied. This youth, so hard to please
that of authors who were at the height of their fame he would say: "He's
a gloomy idiot; he's a sheer imbecile," would every now and then tell,
with immense gusto, stories that were simply not funny or would instance
as a "really remarkable person" some man who was completely
insignificant. This double scale of measuring the wit, the worth, the
interest of people continued to puzzle me until I was introduced to M.
Bloch, senior.

I had not supposed that we should ever be allowed to know him, for Bloch
junior had spoken ill of me to Saint-Loup and of Saint-Loup to me. In
particular, he had said to Robert that I was (always) a frightful snob.
"Yes, really, he is overjoyed at knowing M. LLLLegrandin." This trick of
isolating a word, was, in Bloch, a sign at once of irony and of
learning. Saint-Loup, who had never heard the name of Legrandin, was
bewildered. "But who is he?" "Oh, he's a bit of all right, he is!" Bloch
laughed, thrusting his hands into his pockets as though for warmth,
convinced that he was at that moment engaged in contemplation of the
picturesque aspect of an extraordinary country gentleman compared to
whom those of Barbey d'Aurevilly were as nothing. He consoled himself
for his inability to portray M. Legrandin by giving him a string of
capital 'L's, smacking his lips over the name as over a wine from the
farthest bin. But these subjective enjoyments remained hidden from other
people. If he spoke ill of me to Saint-Loup he made up for it by
speaking no less ill of Saint-Loup to me. We had each of us learned
these slanders in detail, the next day, not that we repeated them to
each other, a thing which would have seemed to us very wrong, but to
Bloch appeared so natural and almost inevitable that in his natural
anxiety, in the certainty moreover that he would be telling us only what
each of us was bound sooner or later to know, he preferred to anticipate
the disclosure and, taking Saint-Loup aside, admitted that he had spoken
ill of him, on purpose, so that it might be repeated to him, swore to
him "by Zeus Kronion, binder of oaths" that he loved him dearly, that he
would lay down his life for him; and wiped away a tear. The same day, he
contrived to see me alone, made his confession, declared that he had
acted in my interest, because he felt that a certain kind of social
intercourse was fatal to me and that I was "worthy of better things."
Then, clasping me by the hand, with the sentimentality of a drunkard,
albeit his drunkenness was purely nervous: "Believe me," he said, "and
may the black Ker seize me this instant and bear me across the portals
of Hades, hateful to men, if yesterday, when I thought of you, of
Combray, of my boundless affection for you, of afternoon hours in class
which you do not even remember, I did not lie awake weeping all night
long. Yes, all night long, I swear it, and alas, I know--for I know the
human soul--you will not believe me." I did indeed "not believe" him,
and to his words which, I felt, he was making up on the spur of the
moment, and expanding as he went on, his swearing "by Ker" added no
great weight, the Hellenic cult being in Bloch purely literary. Besides,
whenever he began to grow sentimental and wished his hearer to grow
sentimental over a falsehood, he would say: "I swear it", more for the
hysterical satisfaction of lying than to make people think that he was
speaking the truth. I did not believe what he was saying, but I bore him
no ill-will for that, for I had inherited from my mother and grandmother
their incapacity for resentment even of far worse offenders, and their
habit of never condemning anyone.

Besides, he was not altogether a bad youth, this Bloch; he could be, and
was at times quite charming. And now that the race of Combray, the race
from which sprang creatures absolutely unspoiled like my grandmother and
mother, seems almost extinct, as I have hardly any choice now save
between honest brutes, insensible and loyal, in whom the mere sound of
their voices shews at once that they take absolutely no interest in
one's life--and another kind of men who so long as they are with one
understand one, cherish one, grow sentimental even to tears, take their
revenge a few hours later by making some cruel joke at one's expense,
but return to one, always just as comprehending, as charming, as closely
assimilated, for the moment, to oneself, I think that it is of this
latter sort that I prefer if not the moral worth at any rate the

"You cannot imagine my grief when I think of you," Bloch went on. "When
you come to think of it, it is a rather Jewish side of my nature," he
added ironically, contracting his pupils as though he had to prepare for
the microscope an infinitesimal quantity of "Jewish blood", and as might
(but never would) have said a great French noble who among his
ancestors, all Christian, might nevertheless have included Samuel
Bernard, or further still, the Blessed Virgin from whom, it is said, the
Lévy family claim descent, "coming out. I rather like," he continued
"to find room among my feelings for the share (not that it is more than
a very tiny share) which may be ascribed to my Jewish origin." He made
this statement because it seemed to him at once clever and courageous to
speak the truth about his race, a truth which at the same time he
managed to water down to a remarkable extent, like misers who decide to
pay their debts but have not the courage to pay more than half. This
kind of deceit which consists in having the boldness to proclaim the
truth, but only after mixing with it an ample measure of lies which
falsify it, is commoner than people think, and even among those who do
not habitually practise it certain crises in life, especially those in
which love is at stake, give them an opportunity of taking to it.

All these confidential diatribes by Bloch to Saint-Loup against me and
to me against Saint-Loup ended in an invitation to dinner. I am by no
means sure that he did not first make an attempt to secure Saint-Loup by
himself. It would have been so like Bloch to do so that probably he did;
but if so success did not crown his effort, for it was to myself and
Saint-Loup that Bloch said one day: "Dear master, and you, O horseman
beloved of Ares, de Saint-Loup-en-Bray, tamer of horses, since I have
encountered you by the shore of Amphitrite, resounding with foam, hard
by the tents of the swift-shipped Méniers, will both of you come to
dinner any day this week with my illustrious sire, of blameless heart?"
He proffered this invitation because he desired to attach himself more
closely to Saint-Loup who would, he hoped, secure him the right of entry
into aristocratic circles. Formed by me for myself, this ambition would
have seemed to Bloch the mark of the most hideous snobbishness, quite in
keeping with the opinion that he already held of a whole side of my
nature which he did not regard--or at least had not hitherto
regarded--as its most important side; but the same ambition in himself
seemed to him the proof of a finely developed curiosity in a mind
anxious to carry out certain social explorations from which he might
perhaps glean some literary benefit. M. Bloch senior, when his son had
told him that he was going to bring one of his friends in to dinner, and
had in a sarcastic but satisfied tone enunciated the name and title of
that friend: "The Marquis de Saint-Loup-en-Bray", had been thrown into
great commotion. "The Marquis de Saint-Loup-en-Bray! I'll be jiggered!"
he had exclaimed, using the oath which was with him the strongest
indication of social deference. And he cast at a son capable of having
formed such an acquaintance an admiring glance which seemed to say:
"Really, it is astounding. Can this prodigy be indeed a child of mine?"
which gave my friend as much pleasure as if his monthly allowance had
been increased by fifty francs. For Bloch was not in his element at home
and felt that his father treated him like a lost sheep because of his
lifelong admiration for Leconte de Lisle, Heredia and other "Bohemians".
But to have got to know Saint-Loup-en-Bray, whose father had been
chairman of the Suez Canal board ("I'll be jiggered!") was an
indisputable "score". What a pity, indeed, that they had left in Paris,
for fear of its being broken on the journey, the stereoscope. Alone
among men, M. Bloch senior had the art, or at least the right to exhibit
it. He did this, moreover, on rare occasions only, and then to good
purpose, on evenings when there was a full-dress affair, with hired
waiters. So that from these exhibitions of the stereoscope there
emanated, for those who were present, as it were a special distinction,
a privileged position, and for the master of the house who gave them a
reputation such as talent confers on a man--which could not have been
greater had the photographs been taken by M. Bloch himself and the
machine his own invention. "You weren't invited to Solomon's yesterday?"
one of the family would ask another. "No! I was not one of the elect.
What was on?" "Oh, a great how-d'ye-do, the stereoscope, the whole box
of tricks!" "Indeed! If they had the stereoscope I'm sorry I wasn't
there; they say Solomon is quite amazing when he works it."--"It can't
be helped;" said M. Bloch now to his son, "it's a mistake to let him
have everything at once; that would leave him nothing to look forward
to." He had actually thought, in his paternal affection and in the hope
of touching his son's heart, of sending for the instrument. But there
was not time, or rather they had thought there would not be; for we were
obliged to put off the dinner because Saint-Loup could not leave the
hotel, where he was waiting for an uncle who was coming to spend a few
days with Mme. de Villeparisis. Since--for he was greatly addicted to
physical culture, and especially to long walks--it was largely on foot,
spending the night in wayside farms, that this uncle was to make the
journey from the country house in which he was staying, the precise date
of his arrival at Balbec was by no means certain. And Saint-Loup, afraid
to stir out of doors, even entrusted me with the duty of taking to
Incauville, where the nearest telegraph-office was, the messages that he
sent every day to his mistress. The uncle for whom we were waiting was
called Palamède, a name that had come down to him from his ancestors
the Princes of Sicily. And later on when I found, as I read history,
belonging to this or that Podestà or Prince of the Church, the same
Christian name, a fine renaissance medal--some said, a genuine
antique--that had always remained in the family, having passed from
generation to generation, from the Vatican cabinet to the uncle of my
friend, I felt the pleasure that is reserved for those who, unable from
lack of means to start a case of medals, or a picture gallery, look out
for old names (names of localities, instructive and picturesque as an
old map, a bird's eye view, a sign-board or a return of customs;
baptismal names, in which rings out and is plainly heard, in their fine
French endings, the defect of speech, the intonation of a racial
vulgarity, the vicious pronunciation by which our ancestors made Latin
and Saxon words undergo lasting mutilations which in due course became
the august law-givers of our grammar books) and, in short, by drawing
upon their collections of ancient and sonorous words, give themselves
concerts like the people who acquire viols da gamba and viols d'amour so
as to perform the music of days gone by upon old-fashioned instruments.
Saint-Loup told me that even in the most exclusive aristocratic society
his uncle Palamède had the further distinction of being particularly
difficult to approach, contemptuous, double-dyed in his nobility,
forming with his brother's wife and a few other chosen spirits what was
known as the Phoenix Club. There even his insolence was so much dreaded
that it had happened more than once that people of good position who had
been anxious to meet him and had applied to his own brother for an
introduction had met with a refusal: "Really, you mustn't ask me to
introduce you to my brother Palamède. My wife and I, we would all of us
do our best for you, but it would be no good. Besides, there's always
the danger of his being rude to you, and I shouldn't like that." At the
Jockey Club he had, with a few of his friends, marked a list of two
hundred members whom they would never allow to be introduced to them.
And in the Comte de Paris's circle he was known by the nickname of "The
Prince" because of his distinction and his pride.

Saint-Loup told me about his uncle's early life, now a long time ago.
Every day he used to take women to a bachelor establishment which he
shared with two of his friends, as good-looking as himself, on account
of which they were known as "The Three Graces".

"One day, a man who just now is very much in the eye, as Balzac would
say, of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, but who at a rather awkward period
of his early life displayed odd tastes, asked my uncle to let him come
to this place. But no sooner had he arrived than it was not to the
ladies but to my uncle Palamède that he began to make overtures. My
uncle pretended not to understand, made an excuse to send for his two
friends; they appeared on the scene, seized the offender, stripped him,
thrashed him till he bled, and then with twenty degrees of frost outside
kicked him into the street where he was found more dead than alive; so
much so that the police started an inquiry which the poor devil had the
greatest difficulty in getting them to abandon. My uncle would never go
in for such drastic methods now, in fact you can't conceive the number
of men of humble position that he, who is so haughty with people in
society, has shewn his affection, taken under his wing, even if he is
paid for it with ingratitude. It may be a servant who has looked after
him in a hotel, for whom he will find a place in Paris, or a
farm-labourer whom he will pay to have taught a trade. That is really
the rather nice side of his character, in contrast to his social side."
Saint-Loup indeed belonged to that type of young men of fashion,
situated at an altitude at which it has been possible to cultivate such
expressions as: "What is really rather nice about him", "His rather nice
side", precious seeds which produce very rapidly a way of looking at
things in which one counts oneself as nothing and the "people" as
everything; the exact opposite, in a word, of plebeian pride. "It seems,
it is quite impossible to imagine how he set the tone, how he laid down
the law for the whole of society when he was a young man. He acted
entirely for himself; in any circumstances he did what seemed pleasing
to himself, what was most convenient, but at once the snobs would start
copying him. If he felt thirsty at the play, and sent out from his box
for a drink, the little sitting-rooms behind all the boxes would be
filled, a week later, with refreshments. One wet summer, when he had a
touch of rheumatism, he ordered an ulster of a loose but warm vicuna
wool, which is used only for travelling rugs, and kept the blue and
orange stripes shewing. The big tailors at once received orders from all
their customers for blue and orange ulsters of rough wool. If he had
some reason for wishing to keep every trace of ceremony out of a dinner
in a country house where he was spending the day, and to point the
distinction had come without evening clothes and sat down to table in
the suit he had been wearing that afternoon, it became the fashion, when
you were dining in the country, not to dress. If he was eating some
special sweet and instead of taking his spoon used a knife, or a special
implement of his own invention which he had had made for him by a
silversmith, or his fingers, it at once became wrong to eat it in any
other way. He wanted once to hear some Beethoven quartets again (for
with all his preposterous ideas he is no fool, mind, he has great gifts)
and arranged for some musicians to come and play them to him and a few
friends once a week. The ultra-fashionable thing that season was to give
quite small parties, with chamber music. I should say he's not done at
all badly out of life. With his looks, he must have had any number of
women! I can't tell you exactly whom, for he is very discreet. But I do
know that he was thoroughly unfaithful to my poor aunt. Not that that
prevented his being always perfectly charming to her, and her adoring
him; he was in mourning for her for years. When he is in Paris, he still
goes to the cemetery nearly every day."

The morning after Robert had told me all these things about his uncle,
while he waited for him (and waited, as it happened, in vain), as I was
coming by myself past the Casino on my way back to the hotel, I had the
sensation of being watched by somebody who was not far off. I turned my
head and saw a man of about forty, very tall and rather stout, with a
very dark moustache, who, nervously slapping the leg of his trousers
with a switch, kept fastened upon me a pair of eyes dilated with
observation. Every now and then those eyes were shot through by a look
of intense activity such as the sight of a person whom they do not know
excites only in men to whom, for whatever reason, it suggests thoughts
that would not occur to anyone else--madmen, for instance, or spies. He
trained upon me a supreme stare at once bold, prudent, rapid and
profound, like a last shot which one fires at an enemy at the moment
when one turns to flee, and, after first looking all round him, suddenly
adopting an absent and lofty air, by an abrupt revolution of his whole
body turned to examine a playbill on the wall in the reading of which he
became absorbed, while he hummed a tune and fingered the moss-rose in
his buttonhole. He drew from his pocket a note-book in which he appeared
to be taking down the title of the performance that was announced,
looked two or three times at his watch, pulled down over his eyes a
black straw hat the brim of which he extended with his hand held out
over it like a visor, as though to see whether some one were at last
coming, made the perfunctory gesture of annoyance by which people mean
to shew that they have waited long enough, although they never make it
when they are really waiting, then pushing back his hat and exposing a
scalp cropped close except at the sides where he allowed a pair of waved
"pigeon's-wings" to grow quite long, he emitted the loud panting breath
that people give who are not feeling too hot but would like it to be
thought that they were. He gave me the impression of a "hotel crook" who
had been watching my grandmother and myself for some days, and while he
was planning to rob us had just discovered that I had surprised him in
the act of spying; to put me off the scent, perhaps he was seeking only,
by his new attitude, to express boredom and detachment, but it was with
an exaggeration so aggressive that his object appeared to be--at least
as much as the dissipating of the suspicions that I must have had of
him--to avenge a humiliation which quite unconsciously I must have
inflicted on him, to give me the idea not so much that he had not seen
me as that I was an object of too little importance to attract his
attention. He threw back his shoulders with an air of bravado, bit his
lips, pushed up his moustache, and in the lens of his eyes made an
adjustment of something that was indifferent, harsh, almost insulting.
So effectively that the singularity of his expression made me take him
at one moment for a thief and at another for a lunatic. And yet his
scrupulously ordered attire was far more sober and far more simple than
that of any of the summer visitors I saw at Balbec, and gave a
reassurance to my own suit, so often humiliated by the dazzling and
common-place whiteness of their holiday garb. But my grandmother was
coming towards me, we took a turn together, and I was waiting for her,
an hour later, outside the hotel into which she had gone for a moment,
when I saw emerge from it Mme. de Villeparisis with Robert de Saint-Loup
and the stranger who had stared at me so intently outside the Casino.
Swift as a lightning-flash his look shot through me, just as at the
moment when I first noticed him, and returned, as though he had not seen
me, to hover, slightly lowered, before his eyes, dulled, like the
neutral look which feigns to see nothing without and is incapable of
reporting anything to the mind within, the look which expresses merely
the satisfaction of feeling round it the eyelids which it cleaves apart
with its sanctimonious roundness, the devout, the steeped look that we
see on the faces of certain hypocrites, the smug look on those of
certain fools. I saw that he had changed his clothes. The suit he was
wearing was darker even than the other; and no doubt this was because
the true distinction in dress lies nearer to simplicity than the false;
but there was something more; when one came near him one felt that if
colour was almost entirely absent from these garments it was not because
he who had banished it from them was indifferent to it but rather
because for some reason he forbade himself the enjoyment of it. And the
sobriety which they displayed seemed to be of the kind that comes from
obedience to a rule of diet rather than from want of appetite. A dark
green thread harmonised, in the stuff of his trousers, with the clock on
his socks, with a refinement which betrayed the vivacity of a taste that
was everywhere else conquered, to which this single concession had been
made out of tolerance for such a weakness, while a spot of red on his
necktie was imperceptible, like a liberty which one dares not take.

"How are you? Let me introduce my nephew, the Baron de Guermantes," Mme.
de Villeparisis greeted me, while the stranger without looking at me,
muttering a vague "Charmed!" which he followed with a "H'm, h'm, h'm" to
give his affability an air of having been forced, and doubling back his
little finger, forefinger and thumb, held out to me his middle and ring
fingers, the latter bare of any ring, which I clasped through his suede
glove; then, without lifting his eyes to my face, he turned towards Mme.
de Villeparisis.

"Good gracious; I shall be forgetting my own name next!" she exclaimed.
"Here am I calling you Baron de Guermantes. Let me introduce the Baron
de Charlus. After all, it's not a very serious mistake," she went on,
"for you're a thorough Guermantes whatever else you are."

By this time my grandmother had reappeared, and we all set out together.
Saint-Loup's uncle declined to honour me not only with a word, with so
much as a look, even, in my direction. If he stared strangers out of
countenance (and during this short excursion he two or three times
hurled his terrible and searching scrutiny like a sounding lead at
insignificant people of obviously humble extraction who happened to
pass), to make up for that he never for a moment, if I was to judge by
myself, looked at the I people whom he did know, just as a detective on
special duty might except his personal friends from his professional
vigilance. Leaving them, my grandmother, Mme. de Villeparisis and him to
talk to one another, I fell behind with Saint-Loup.

"Tell me, am I right in thinking I heard Mme. de Villeparisis say just
now to your uncle that he was a Guermantes?"

"Of course he is; Palamède de Guermantes."

"Not the same Guermantes who have a place near Combray, and claim
descent from Geneviève de Brabant?"

"Most certainly: my uncle, who is the very last word in heraldry and all
that sort of thing, would tell you that our 'cry', our war-cry, that is
to say, which was changed afterwards to 'Passavant' was originally
'Combraysis'," he said, smiling so as not to appear to be priding
himself on this prerogative of a "cry", which only the semi-royal
houses, the great chiefs of feudal bands enjoyed. "It's his brother who
has the place now."

And so she was indeed related, and quite closely, to the Guermantes,
this Mme. de Villeparisis who had so long been for me the lady who had
given me a duck filled with chocolates, when I was little, more remote
then from the Guermantes way than if she had been shut up somewhere on
the Méséglise, less brilliant, less highly placed by me than was the
Combray optician, and who now suddenly went through one of those
fantastic rises in value, parallel to the depreciations, no less
unforeseen, of other objects in our possession, which--rise and fall
alike--introduce in our youth and in those periods of our life in which
a trace of youth persists changes as numerous as the Metamorphoses of

"Haven't they got, down there, the busts of all the old lords of

"Yes; and a lovely sight they are!" Saint-Loup was ironical. "Between
you and me, I look on all that sort of thing as rather a joke. But they
have got at Guermantes, what is a little more interesting, and that is
quite a touching portrait of my aunt by Carrière. It's as fine as
Whistler or Velasquez," went on Saint-Loup, who in his neophyte zeal was
not always very exact about degrees of greatness. "There are also some
moving pictures by Gustave Moreau. My aunt is the niece of your friend
Mme. de Villeparisis; she was brought up by her, and married her cousin,
who was a nephew, too, of my aunt Villeparisis, the present Duc de

"Then who is this uncle?"

"He bears the title of Baron de Charlus. Properly speaking, when my
great-uncle died, my uncle Palamède ought to have taken the title of
Prince des Laumes, which his brother used before he became Duc de
Guermantes, for in that family they change their names as you'ld change
your shirt. But my uncle has peculiar ideas about all that sort of
thing. And as he feels that people are rather apt to overdo the Italian
Prince and Grandee of Spain business nowadays, though he had
half-a-dozen titles of 'Prince' to choose from, he has remained Baron de
Charlus, as a protest, and with an apparent simplicity which really
covers a good deal of pride. 'In these days', he says, 'everybody is
Prince something-or-other; one really must have a title that will
distinguish one; I shall call myself Prince when I wish to travel
incognito.' According to him there is no older title than the Charlus
barony; to prove to you that it is earlier than the Montmorency title,
though they used to claim, quite wrongly, to be the premier barons of
France when they were only premier in the Ile-de-France, where their
fief was, my uncle will explain to you for hours on end and enjoy doing
it, because, although he's a most intelligent man, really gifted, he
regards that sort of thing as quite a live topic of conversation,"
Saint-Loup smiled again. "But as I am not like him, you mustn't ask me
to talk pedigrees; I know nothing more deadly, more perishing; really,
life is not long enough."

I now recognised in the hard look which had made me turn round that
morning outside the Casino the same that I had seen fixed on me at
Tansonville, at the moment when Mme. Swann called Gilberte away.

"But, I say, all those mistresses that, you told me, your uncle M. de
Charlus had had, wasn't Mme. Swann one of them?"

"Good lord, no! That is to say, my uncle's a great friend of Swann, and
has always stood up for him. But no one has ever suggested that he was
his wife's lover. You would make a great sensation in Paris society if
people thought you believed that."

I dared not reply that it would have caused an even greater sensation in
Combray society if people had thought that I did not believe it.

My grandmother was delighted with M. de Charlus. No doubt he attached an
extreme importance to all questions of birth and social position, and my
grandmother had remarked this, but without any trace of that severity
which as a rule embodies a secret envy and the annoyance of seeing some
one else enjoy an advantage which one would like but cannot oneself
possess. As on the other hand my grandmother, content with her lot and
never for a moment regretting that she did not move in a more brilliant
sphere, employed only her intellect in observing the eccentricities of
M. de Charlus, she spoke of Saint-Loup's uncle with that detached,
smiling, almost affectionate kindness with which we reward the object of
our disinterested study for the pleasure that it has given us, all the
more that this time the object was a person with regard to whom she
found that his if not legitimate, at any rate picturesque pretensions
shewed him in vivid contrast to the people whom she generally had
occasion to see. But it was especially in consideration of his
intelligence and sensibility, qualities which it was easy to see that M.
de Charlus, unlike so many of the people in society whom Saint-Loup
derided, possessed in a marked degree, that my grandmother had so
readily forgiven him his aristocratic prejudice. And yet this had not
been sacrificed by the uncle, as it was by the nephew, to higher
qualities. Rather, M. de Charlus had reconciled it with them.
Possessing, by virtue of his descent from the Ducs de Nemours and
Princes de Lamballe, documents, furniture, tapestries, portraits painted
for his ancestors by Raphael, Velasquez, Boucher, justified in saying
that he was visiting a museum and a matchless library when he was merely
turning over his family relics at home, he placed in the rank from which
his nephew had degraded it the whole heritage of the aristocracy.
Perhaps also, being less metaphysical than Saint-Loup, less satisfied
with words, more of a realist in his study of men, he did not care to
neglect a factor that was essential to his prestige in their eyes and,
if it gave certain disinterested pleasures to his imagination, could
often be a powerfully effective aid to his utilitarian activities. No
agreement can ever be reached between men of his sort and those who obey
the ideal within them which urges them to strip themselves bare of such
advantages so that they may seek only to realise that ideal, similar in
that respect to the painters, the writers who renounce their virtuosity,
the artistic peoples who modernise themselves, warrior peoples who take
the initiative in a move for universal disarmament, absolute governments
which turn democratic and repeal their harsh laws, though as often as
not the sequel fails to reward their noble effort; for the men lose
their talent, the nations their secular predominance; "pacificism" often
multiplies wars and indulgence criminality. If Saint-Loup's efforts
towards sincerity and emancipation were only to be commended as most
noble, to judge by their visible result, one could still be thankful
that they had failed to bear fruit in M. de Charlus, who had transferred
to his own home much of the admirable panelling from the Guermantes
house, instead of substituting, like his nephew, a "modern style" of
decoration, employing Lebourg or Guillaumin. It was none the less true
that M. de Charlus's ideal was highly artificial, and, if the epithet
can be applied to the word ideal, as much social as artistic. In certain
women of great beauty and rare culture whose ancestresses, two centuries
earlier, had shared in all the glory and grace of the old order, he
found a distinction which made him take pleasure only in their society,
and no doubt the admiration for them which he had protested was sincere,
but countless reminiscences, historical and artistic, called forth by
their names, entered into and formed a great part of it, just as
suggestions of classical antiquity are one of the reasons for the
pleasure which a booklover finds in reading an Ode of Horace that is
perhaps inferior to poems of our own day which would leave the same
booklover cold. Any of these women by the side of a pretty commoner was
for him what are, hanging beside a contemporary canvas representing a
procession or a wedding, those old pictures the history of which we
know, from the Pope or King who ordered them, through the hands of
people whose acquisition of them, by gift, purchase, conquest or
inheritance, recalls to us some event or at least some alliance of
historic interest, and consequently some knowledge that we ourselves
have acquired, gives it a fresh utility, increases our sense of the
richness of the possessions of our memory or of our erudition. M. de
Charlus might be thankful that a prejudice similar to his own, by
preventing these several great ladies from mixing with women whose blood
was less pure, presented them for his veneration unspoiled, in their
unaltered nobility, like an eighteenth-century house-front supported on
its flat column of pink marbles, in which the passage of time has
wrought no change.

M. de Charlus praised the true "nobility" of mind and heart which
characterised these women, playing upon the word in a double sense by
which he himself was taken in, and in which lay the falsehood of this
bastard conception, of this medley of aristocracy, generosity and art,
but also its seductiveness, dangerous to people like my grandmother, to
whom the less refined but more innocent prejudice of a nobleman who
cared only about quarterings and took no thought for anything besides
would have appeared too silly for words, whereas she was defenceless as
soon as a thing presented itself under the externals of a mental
superiority, so much so, indeed, that she regarded Princes as enviable
above all other men because they were able to have a Labruyère, a
Fénelon as their tutors. Outside the Grand Hotel the three Guermantes
left us; they were going to luncheon with the Princesse de Luxembourg.
While my grandmother was saying good-bye to Mme. de Villeparisis and
Saint-Loup to my grandmother, M. de Charlus who, so far, had not uttered
a word to me, drew back a little way from the group and, when he reached
my side, said: "I shall be taking tea this evening after dinner in my
aunt Villeparisis's room; I hope that you will give me the pleasure of
seeing you there, and your grandmother." With which he rejoined the

Although it was Sunday there were no more carriages waiting outside the
hotel now than at the beginning of the season. The solicitor's wife, in
particular, had decided that it was not worth the expense of hiring one
every time simply because she was not going to the Cambremers', and
contented herself with staying in her room.

"Is Mme. Blandais not well?" her husband was asked. "We haven't seen her
all day."

"She has a slight headache; it's the heat, there's thunder coming. The
least thing upsets her; but I expect you will see her this evening; I've
told her she ought to come down. It can't do her any harm."

I had supposed that in thus inviting us to take tea with his aunt, whom
I never doubted that he would have warned that we were coming, M. de
Charlus wished to make amends for the impoliteness which he had shewn me
during our walk that morning. But when, on our entering Mme. de
Villeparisis's room, I attempted to greet her nephew, even although I
walked right round him, while in shrill accents he was telling a
somewhat spiteful story about one of his relatives, I did not succeed in
catching his eye; I decided to say "Good evening" to him, and fairly
loud, to warn him of my presence; but I realised that he had observed
it, for before ever a word had passed my lips, just as I began to bow to
him, I saw his two fingers stretched out for me to shake without his
having turned to look at me or paused in his story. He had evidently
seen me, without letting it appear that he had, and I noticed then that
his eyes, which were never fixed on the person to whom he was speaking,
strayed perpetually in all directions, like those of certain animals
when they are frightened, or those of street hawkers who, while they are
bawling their patter and displaying their illicit merchandise, keep a
sharp lookout, though without turning their heads, on the different
points of the horizon, from any of which may appear, suddenly, the
police. At the same time I was a little surprised to find that Mme. de
Villeparisis, while glad to see us, did not seem to have been expecting
us, and I was still more surprised to hear M. de Charlus say to my
grandmother: "Ah! that was a capital idea of yours to come and pay us a
visit; charming of them, is it not, my dear aunt?" No doubt he had
noticed his aunt's surprise at our entry and thought, as a man
accustomed to set the tone, to strike the right note, that it would be
enough to transform that surprise into joy were he to shew that he
himself felt it, that it was indeed the feeling which our arrival there
ought to have prompted. In which he calculated wisely; for Mme. de
Villeparisis, who had a high opinion, of her nephew and knew how
difficult it was to please him, appeared suddenly to have found new
attractions in my grandmother and continued to make much of her. But I
failed to understand how M. de Charlus could, in the space of a few
hours, have forgotten the invitation--so curt but apparently so
intentional, so premeditated--which he had addressed to me that same
morning, or why he called a "capital idea" on my grandmother's part an
idea that had been entirely his own. With a scruple of accuracy which I
retained until I had reached the age at which I realised that it is not
by asking him questions that one learns the truth of what another man
has had in his mind, and that the risk of a misunderstanding which will
probably pass unobserved is less than that which may come from a
purblind insistence: "But, sir," I reminded him, "you remember, surely,
that it was you who asked me if we would come in this evening?" Not a
sound, not a movement betrayed that M. de Charlus had so much as heard
my question. Seeing which I repeated it, like a diplomat, or like young
men after a misunderstanding who endeavour, with untiring and unrewarded
zeal, to obtain an explanation which their adversary is determined not
to give them. Still M. de Charlus answered me not a word. I seemed to
see hovering upon his lips the smile of those who from a great height
pass judgment on the characters and breeding of their inferiors.

Since he refused to give any explanation, I tried to provide one for
myself, but succeeded only in hesitating between several, none of which
could be the right one. Perhaps he did not remember, or perhaps it was I
who had failed to understand what he had said to me that morning. . . .
More probably, in his pride, he did not wish to appear to have sought to
attract people whom he despised, and preferred to cast upon them the
responsibility for their intrusion. But then, if he despised us, why had
he been so anxious that we should come, or rather that my grandmother
should come, for of the two of us it was to her alone that he spoke that
evening, and never once to me. Talking with the utmost animation to her,
as also to Mme. de Villeparisis, hiding, so to speak, behind them, as
though he were seated at the back of a theatre-box, he contented
himself, turning from them every now and then the exploring gaze of his
penetrating eyes, with fastening it on my face, with the same gravity,
the same air of preoccupation as if my face had been a manuscript
difficult to decipher.

No doubt, if he had not had those eyes, the face of M. de Charlus would
have been similar to the faces of many good-looking men. And when
Saint-Loup, speaking to me of various other Guermantes, on a later
occasion, said: "Gad, they've not got that thoroughbred air, of being
gentlemen to their finger-tips, that uncle Palamède has!" confirming my
suspicion that a thoroughbred air and aristocratic distinction were not
anything mysterious and new but consisted in elements which I had
recognised without difficulty and without receiving any particular
impression from them, I was to feel that another of my illusions had
been shattered. But that face, to which a faint layer of powder gave
almost the appearance of a face on the stage, in vain might M. de
Charlus hermetically seal its expression; his eyes were like two
crevices, two loopholes which alone he had failed to stop, and through
which, according to where one stood or sat in relation to him, one felt
suddenly flash across one the glow of some internal engine which seemed
to offer no reassurance even to him who without being altogether master
of it must carry it inside him, at an unstable equilibrium and always on
the point of explosion; and the circumspect and unceasingly restless
expression of those eyes, with all the signs of exhaustion which,
extending from them to a pair of dark rings quite low down upon his
cheeks, were stamped on his face, however carefully he might compose and
regulate it, made one think of some incognito, some disguise assumed by
a powerful man in danger, or merely by a dangerous--but tragic--person.
I should have liked to divine what was this secret which other men did
not carry in their breasts and which had already made M. de Charlus's
gaze so enigmatic to me when I had seen him that morning outside the
Casino. But with what I now knew of his family I could no longer believe
that they were the eyes of a thief, nor, after what I had heard of his
conversation, could I say that they were those of a madman. If he was
cold with me, while making himself agreeable to my grandmother, that
arose perhaps not from a personal antipathy for, generally speaking,
just as he was kindly disposed towards women, of whose faults he used to
speak without, as a rule, any narrowing of the broadest tolerance, so he
shewed with regard to men, and especially young men, a hatred so violent
as to suggest that of certain extreme misogynists for women. Two or
three "carpet-knights", relatives or intimate friends of Saint-Loup who
happened to mention their names, M. de Charlus, with an almost ferocious
expression, in sharp contrast to his usual coldness, called: "Little
cads!" I gathered that the particular fault which he found in the young
men of the period was their extreme effeminacy. "They're absolute
women," he said with scorn. But what life would not have appeared
effeminate beside that which he expected a man to lead, and never found
energetic or virile enough? (He himself, when he walked across country,
after long hours on the road would plunge his heated body into frozen
streams.) He would not even allow a man to wear a single ring. But this
profession of virility did not prevent his having also the most delicate
sensibilities. When Mme. de Villeparisis asked him to describe to my
grandmother some country house in which Mme. de Sévigné had stayed,
adding that she could not help feeling that there was something rather
"literary" about that lady's distress at being parted from "that
tiresome Mme. de Grignan":

"On the contrary," he retorted, "I can think of nothing more true.
Besides, it was a time in which feelings of that sort were thoroughly
understood. The inhabitant of Lafontaine's Monomotapa, running to see
his friend who had appeared to him in a dream, and had looked sad, the
pigeon finding that the greatest of evils is the absence of the other
pigeon, seem to you perhaps, my dear aunt, as exaggerated as Mme. de
Sévigné's impatience for the moment when she will be alone with her
daughter. It is so fine what she says when she leaves her: 'This parting
gives a pain to my soul which I feel like an ache in my body. In absence
one is liberal with the hours. One anticipates a time for which one is
longing.'" My grandmother was in ecstasies at hearing the Letters thus
spoken of, exactly as she would have spoken of them herself. She was
astonished that a man could understand them so thoroughly. She found in
M. de Charlus a delicacy, a sensibility that were quite feminine. We
said to each other afterwards, when we were by ourselves and began to
discuss him together, that he must have come under the strong influence
of a woman, his mother, or in later life his daughter if he had any
children. "A mistress, perhaps," I thought to myself, remembering the
influence that Saint-Loup's seemed to have had over him, which enabled
me to realise the point to which men can be refined by the women with
whom they live.

"Once she was with her daughter, she had probably nothing to say to
her," put in Mme. de Villeparisis.

"Most certainly she had: if it was only what she calls 'things so slight
that nobody else would notice them but you and me.' And anyhow she was
with her. And Labruyère tells us that that is everything. 'To be with
the people one loves, to speak to them, not to speak to them, it is all
the same.' He is right; that is the only form of happiness," added M. de
Charlus in a mournful voice, "and that happiness--alas, life is so ill
arranged that one very rarely tastes it; Mme. de Sévigné was after all
less to be pitied than most of us. She spent a great part of her life
with the person whom she loved."

"You forget that it was not 'love' in her case; the person was her

"But what matters in life is not whom or what one loves," he went on, in
a judicial, peremptory, almost a cutting tone; "it is the fact of
loving. What Mme. de Sévigné felt for her daughter has a far better
claim to rank with the passion that Racine described in _Andromaque_ or
_Phèdre_ than the common-place relations young Sévigné had with his
mistresses. It's the same with a mystic's love for his God. The hard and
fast lines with which we circumscribe love arise solely from our
complete ignorance of life."

"You think all that of _Andromaque_ and _Phèdre_, do you?" Saint-Loup
asked his uncle in a faintly contemptuous tone. "There is more truth in
a single tragedy of Racine than in all the dramatic works of Monsieur
Victor Hugo," replied M. de Charlus. "People really are overwhelming,"
Saint-Loup murmured in my ear. "Preferring Racine to Victor, you may say
what you like, it's epoch-making!" He was genuinely distressed by his
uncle's words, but the satisfaction of saying "you may say what you
like" and, better still, "epoch-making" consoled him.

In these reflexions upon the sadness of having to live apart from the
person whom one loves (which were to lead my grandmother to say to me
that Mme. de Villeparisis's nephew understood certain things quite as
well as his aunt, but in a different way, and moreover had something
about him that set him far above the average club man) M. de Charlus not
only allowed a refinement of feeling to appear such as men rarely shew;
his voice itself, like certain contralto voices which have not been
properly trained to the right pitch, so that when they sing it sounds
like a duet between a young man and a woman, singing alternately,
mounted, when he expressed these delicate sentiments, to its higher
notes, took on an unexpected sweetness and seemed to be embodying choirs
of betrothed maidens, of sisters, who poured out the treasures of their
love. But the bevy of young girls, whom M. de Charlus in his horror of
every kind of effeminacy would have been so distressed to learn that he
gave the impression of sheltering thus within his voice, did not confine
themselves to the interpretation, the modulation of scraps of sentiment.
Often while M. de Charlus was talking one could hear their laughter,
shrill, fresh laughter of school-girls or coquettes quizzing their
partners with all the archness of clever tongues and pretty wits.

He told us how a house that had belonged to his family, in which Marie
Antoinette had slept, with a park laid out by Lenôtre, was now in the
hands of the Israels, the wealthy financiers, who had bought it.
"Israel--at least that is the name these people go by, which seems to me
a generic, a racial term rather than a proper name. One cannot tell;
possibly people of that sort do not have names, and are designated only
by the collective title of the tribe to which they belong. It is of no
importance! But fancy, after being a home of the Guermantes, to belong
to Israels!!!" His voice rose. "It reminds me of a room in the Chateau
of Blois where the caretaker who was shewing me over said: 'This is
where Mary Stuart used to say her prayers; I use it to keep my brooms
in.' Naturally I wish to know nothing more of this house that has let
itself be dishonoured, any more than of my cousin Clara de Chimay after
she left her husband. But I keep a photograph of the house, when it was
still unspoiled, just as I keep one of the Princess before her large
eyes had learned to gaze on anyone but my cousin. A photograph acquires
something of the dignity which it ordinarily lacks when it ceases to be
a reproduction of reality and shews us things that no longer exist. I
could give you a copy, since you are interested in that style of
architecture," he said to my grandmother. At that moment, noticing that
the embroidered handkerchief which he had in his pocket was shewing some
coloured threads, he thrust it sharply down out of sight with the
scandalised air of a prudish but far from innocent lady concealing
attractions which, by an excess of scrupulosity, she regards as
indecent. "Would you believe," he went on, "that the first thing the
creatures did was to destroy Lenôtre's park, which is as bad as
slashing a picture by Poussin? For that alone, these Israels ought to be
in prison. It is true," he added with a smile, after a moment's silence,
"that there are probably plenty of other reasons why they should be
there! In any case, you can imagine the effect, with that architecture
behind it, of an English garden."

"But the house is in the same style as the Petit Trianon," said Mme. de
Villeparisis, "and Marie Antoinette had an English garden laid out

"Which, all the same, ruins Gabriel's front;" replied M. de Charlus.
"Obviously, it would be an act of vandalism now to destroy the Hameau.
But whatever may be the spirit of the age, I doubt, all the same,
whether, in that respect, a whim of Mme. Israel has the same importance
as the memory of the Queen."

Meanwhile my grandmother had been making signs to me to go up to bed, in
spite of the urgent appeals of Saint-Loup who, to my utter confusion,
had alluded in front of M. de Charlus to the depression that used often
to come upon me at night before I went to sleep, which his uncle must
regard as betokening a sad want of virility. I lingered a few moments
still, then went upstairs, and was greatly surprised when, a little
later, having heard a knock at my bedroom door and asked who was there,
I heard the voice of M. de Charlus saying dryly:

"It is Charlus. May I come in, sir? Sir," he began again in the same
tone as soon as he had shut the door, "my nephew was saying just now
that you were apt to be worried at night before going to sleep, and also
that you were an admirer of Bergotte's books. As I had one here in my
luggage which you probably do not know, I have brought it to help you to
while away these moments in which you are not comfortable."

I thanked M. de Charlus with some warmth and told him that, on the
contrary, I had been afraid that what I Saint-Loup had said to him about
my discomfort when night came would have made me appear in his eyes more
stupid even than I was.

"No; why?" he answered, in a gentler voice. "You have not, perhaps, any
personal merit; so few of us have! But for a time at least you have
youth, and that is always a charm. Besides, sir, the greatest folly of
all is to laugh at or to condemn in others what one does not happen
oneself to feel. I love the night, and you tell me that you are afraid
of it. I love the scent of roses, and I have a friend whom it throws
into a fever. Do you suppose that I think, for that reason, that he is
inferior to me? I try to understand everything and I take care to
condemn nothing. After all, you must not be too sorry for yourself; I do
not say that these moods of depression are not painful, I know that one
can be made to suffer by things which the world would not understand.
But at least you have placed your affection wisely, in your grandmother.
You see a great deal of her. And besides, that is a legitimate
affection, I mean one that is repaid. There are so many of which one
cannot say that."

He began walking up and down the room, looking at one thing, taking up
another. I had the impression that he had something to tell me, and
could not find the right words to express it.

"I have another volume of Bergotte here; I will fetch it for you," he
went on, and rang the bell. Presently a page came. "Go and find me your
head waiter. He is the only person here who is capable of obeying an
order intelligently," said M. de Charlus stiffly. "Monsieur Aimé, sir?"
asked the page. "I cannot tell you his name; yes, I remember now, I did
hear him called Aimé. Run along, I am in a hurry." "He won't be a
minute, sir, I saw him downstairs just now," said the page, anxious to
appear efficient. There was an interval of silence. The page returned.
"Sir, M. Aimé has gone to bed. But I can take your message." "No, you
have only to get him out of bed." "But I can't do that, sir; he doesn't
sleep here." "Then you can leave us alone." "But, sir," I said when the
page had gone, "you are too kind; one volume of Bergotte will be quite
enough." "That is just what I was thinking." M. de Charlus walked up and
down the room. Several minutes passed in this way, then after a
prolonged hesitation, and several false starts, he swung sharply round
and, his voice once more stinging, flung at me: "Good night, sir!" and
left the room. After all the lofty sentiments which I had heard him
express that evening, next day, which was the day of his departure, on
the beach, before noon, when I was on my way down to bathe, and M. de
Charlus had come across to tell me that my grandmother was waiting for
me to join her as soon as I left the water, I was greatly surprised to
hear him say, pinching my neck as he spoke, with a familiarity and a
laugh that were frankly vulgar:

"But he doesn't give a damn for his old grandmother, does he, eh? Little

"What, sir! I adore her!"

"Sir," he said, stepping back a pace, and with a glacial air, "you are
still young; you should profit by your youth to learn two things; first,
to refrain from expressing sentiments that are too natural not to be
taken for granted; and secondly not to dash into speech to reply to
things that are said to you before you have penetrated their meaning. If
you had taken this precaution a moment ago you would have saved yourself
the appearance of speaking at cross-purposes like a deaf man, thereby
adding a second absurdity to that of having anchors embroidered on your
bathing-dress. I have lent you a book by Bergotte which I require. See
that it is brought to me within the next hour by that head waiter with
the silly and inappropriate name, who, I suppose, is not in bed at this
time of day. You make me see that I was premature in speaking to you
last night of the charms of youth; I should have done you a better
service had I pointed out to you its thoughtlessness, its inconsequence,
and its want of comprehension. I hope, sir, that this little douche will
be no less salutary to you than your bathe. But don't let me keep you
standing: you may catch cold. Good day, sir."

No doubt he was sorry afterwards for this speech, for some time later I
received--in a morocco binding on the front of which was inlaid a panel
of tooled leather representing in demi-relief a spray of
forget-me-not--the book which he had lent me, and I had sent back to
him, not by Aimé who was apparently "off duty", but by the lift-boy.

M. de Charlus having gone, Robert and I were free at last to dine with
Bloch. And I realised during this little party that the stories too
readily admitted by our friend as funny were favourite stories of M.
Bloch senior, and that the son's "really remarkable person" was always
one of his father's friends whom he had so classified. There are a
certain number of people whom we admire in our boyhood, a father with
better brains than the rest of the family, a teacher who acquires credit
in our eyes from the philosophy he reveals to us, a schoolfellow more
advanced than we are (which was what Bloch had been to me), who despises
the Musset of the _Espoir en Dieu_ when we still admire it, and when we
have reached Leconte or Claudel will be in ecstasies only over:

A Saint-Biaise, à la Zuecca
Vous étiez, vous étiez bien aise:

with which he will include:

Padoue est un fort bel endroit
Où de très grands docteurs en droit. . . .
Mais j'aime mieux la polenta. . . .
Passe dans mon domino noir
La Toppatelle

and of all the _Nuits_ will remember only:

Au Havre, devant l'Atlantique
A Venise, à l'affreux Lido.
Où vient sur l'herbe d'un tombeau
Mourir la pâle Adriatique.

So, whenever we confidently admire anyone, we collect from him, we quote
with admiration sayings vastly inferior to the sort which, left to our
own judgment, we would sternly reject, just as the writer of a novel
puts into it, on the pretext that they are true, things which people
have actually said, which in the living context are like a dead weight,
form the dull part of the work. Saint-Simon's portraits composed by
himself (and very likely without his admiring them himself) are
admirable, whereas what he cites as the charming wit of his clever
friends is frankly dull where it has not become meaningless. He would
have scorned to invent what he reports as so pointed or so coloured when
said by Mme. Cornuel or Louis XIV, a point which is to be remarked also
in many other writers, and is capable of various interpretations, of
which it is enough to note but one for the present: namely, that in the
state of mind in which we "observe" we are a long way below the level to
which we rise when we create.

There was, then, embedded in my friend Bloch a father Bloch who lagged
forty years behind his son, told impossible stories and laughed as
loudly at them from the heart of my friend as did the separate, visible
and authentic father Bloch, since to the laugh which the latter emitted,
not without several times repeating the last word so that his public
might taste the full flavour of the story, was added the braying laugh
with which the son never failed, at table, to greet his father's
anecdotes. Thus it came about that after saying the most intelligent
things young Bloch, to indicate the portion that he had inherited from
his family, would tell us for the thirtieth time some of the gems which
father Bloch brought out only (with his swallow-tail coat) on the solemn
occasions on which young Bloch brought someone to the house on whom it
was worth while making an impression; one of his masters, a "chum" who
had taken all the prizes, or, this evening, Saint-Loup and myself. For
instance: "A military critic of great insight, who had brilliantly
worked out, supporting them with proofs, the reasons for which, in the
Russo-Japanese war, the Japanese must inevitably be beaten and the
Russians victorious," or else: "He is an eminent gentleman who passes
for a great financier in political circles and for a great politician
among financiers." These stories were interchangeable with one about
Baron de Rothschild and one about Sir Rufus Israels, who were brought
into the conversation in an equivocal manner which might let it be
supposed that M. Bloch knew them personally.

I was myself taken in, and from the way in which M. Bloch spoke of
Bergotte I assumed that he too was an old friend. But with him as with
all famous people, M. Bloch knew them only "without actually knowing
them", from having seen them at a distance in the theatre or in the
street. He imagined, moreover, that his appearance, his name, his
personality were not unknown to them, and that when they caught sight of
him they had often to repress a stealthy inclination to bow. People in
society, because they know men of talent, original characters, and have
them to dine in their houses, do not on that account understand them any
better. But when one has lived to some extent in society, the silliness
of its inhabitants makes one too anxious to live, suppose too high a
standard of intelligence in the obscure circles in which people know
only "without actually knowing", I was to discover this when I
introduced the topic of Bergotte. M. Bloch was not the only one who was
a social success at home. My friend was even more so with his sisters,
whom he continually questioned in a hectoring tone, burying his face in
his plate, all of which made them laugh until they cried. They had
adopted their brother's language, and spoke it fluently, as if it had
been obligatory and the only form of speech that people of intelligence
might use. When we arrived, the eldest sister said to one of the younger
ones: "Go, tell our sage father and our venerable mother!" "Puppies,"
said Bloch, "I present to you the cavalier Saint-Loup, hurler of
javelins, who is come for a few days from Doncières to the dwellings of
polished stone, fruitful in horses." And, since he was as vulgar as he
was literary, his speech ended as a rule in some pleasantry of a less
Homeric kind: "See, draw closer your pepla with fair clasps, what is all
that that I see? Does your mother know you're out?" And the misses Bloch
subsided in a tempest of laughter. I told their brother how much
pleasure he had given me by recommending me to read Bergotte, whose
books I had loved.

M. Bloch senior, who knew Bergotte only by sight, and Bergotte's life
only from what was common gossip, had a manner quite as indirect of
making the acquaintance of his books, by the help of criticisms that
were apparently literary. He lived in the world of "very nearlies",
where people salute the empty air and arrive at wrong judgments.
Inexactitude, incompetence do not modify their assurance; quite the
contrary. It is the propitious miracle of self-esteem that, since few of
us are in a position to enjoy the society of distinguished people, or to
form intellectual friendships, those to whom they are denied still
believe themselves to be the best endowed of men, because the optics of
our social perspective make every grade of society seem the best to him
who occupies it, and beholds as less favoured than himself, less
fortunate and therefore to be pitied, the greater men whom he names and
calumniates without knowing, judges and despises without understanding
them. Even in cases where the multiplication of his modest personal
advantages by his self-esteem would not suffice to assure a man the dose
of happiness, superior to that accorded to others, which is essential to
him, envy is always there to make up the balance. It is true that if
envy finds expression in scornful phrases, we must translate "I have no
wish to know him" by "I have no means of knowing him." That is the
intellectual sense. But the emotional sense is indeed, "I have no wish
to know him." The speaker knows that it is not true, but he does not,
all the same, say it simply to deceive; he says it because it is what he
feels, and that is sufficient to bridge the gulf between them, that is
to say to make him happy.

Self-centredness thus enabling every human being to see the universe
spread out in a descending scale beneath himself who is its lord, M.
Bloch afforded himself the luxury of being pitiless when in the morning,
as he drank his chocolate, seeing Bergotte's signature at the foot of an
article in the newspaper which he had scarcely opened, he disdainfully
granted the writer an audience soon cut short, pronounced sentence upon
him, and gave himself the comforting pleasure of repeating after every
mouthful of the scalding brew: "That fellow Bergotte has become
unreadable. My word, what a bore the creature can be. I really must stop
my subscription. How involved it all is, bread and butter nonsense!" And
he helped himself to another slice.

This illusory importance of M. Bloch senior did, moreover, extend some
little way beyond the radius of his own perceptions. In the first place
his children regarded him as a superior person. Children have always a
tendency either to depreciate or to exalt their parents, and to a good
son his father is always the best of fathers, quite apart from any
objective reason there may be for admiring him. Now, such reasons were
not altogether lacking in the case of M. Bloch, who was an educated man,
shrewd, affectionate towards his family. In his most intimate circle
they were all the more proud of him because, if, in "society", people
are judged by a standard (which is incidentally absurd) and according to
false but fixed rules, by comparison with the aggregate of all the other
fashionable people, in the subdivisions of middle class life, on the
other hand, the dinners, the family parties all turn upon certain people
who are pronounced good company, amusing, and who in "society" would not
survive a second evening. Moreover in such an environment where the
artificial values of the aristocracy do not exist, their place is taken
by distinctions even more stupid. Thus it was that in his family circle,
and even among the remotest branches of the tree, an alleged similarity
in his way of wearing his moustache and in the bridge of his nose led to
M. Bloch's being called "the Duc d'Aumale's double". (In the world of
club pages, the one who wears his cap on one side and his jacket tightly
buttoned, so as to give himself the appearance, he imagines, of a
foreign officer, is he not also a personage of a sort to his comrades?)

The resemblance was the faintest, but you would have said that it
conferred a title. When he was mentioned, it would always be: "Bloch?
Which one? The Duc d'Aumale?" as people say "Princesse Murat? Which one?
The Queen (of Naples)?" And there were certain other minute marks which
combined to give him, in the eyes of the cousinhood, an acknowledged
claim to distinction. Not going the length of having a carriage of his
own, M. Bloch used on special occasions to hire an open victoria with a
pair of horses from the Company, and would drive through the Bois de
Boulogne, his body sprawling limply from side to side, two fingers
pressed to his brow, other two supporting his chin, and if people who
did not know him concluded that he was an "old nuisance", they were all
convinced, in the family, that for smartness Uncle Solomon could have
taught Gramont-Caderousse a thing or two. He was one of those people who
when they die, because for years they have shared a table in a
restaurant on the boulevard with its news-editor, are described as "well
known Paris figures" in the social column of the _Radical._ M. Bloch
told Saint-Loup and me that Bergotte knew so well why he, M. Bloch,
always cut him that as soon as he caught sight of him, at the theatre or
in the club, he avoided his eye. Saint-Loup blushed, for it had occurred
to him that this club could not be the Jockey, of which his father had
been chairman. On the other hand it must be a fairly exclusive club, for
M. Bloch had said that Bergotte would never have got into it if he had
come up now. So it was not without the fear that he might be
"underrating his adversary" that Saint-Loup asked whether the club in
question were the Rue Royale, which was considered "lowering" by his own
family, and to which he knew that certain Israelites had been admitted.
"No," replied M. Bloch in a tone at once careless, proud and ashamed,
"it is a small club, but far more pleasant than a big one, the Ganaches.
We're very strict there, don't you know." "Isn't Sir Rufus Israels the
chairman?" Bloch junior asked his father, so as to give him the
opportunity for a glorious lie, never suspecting that the financier had
not the same eminence in Saint-Loup's eyes as in his. The fact of the
matter was that the Ganaches club boasted not Sir Rufus Israels but one
of his staff. But as this man was on the best of terms with his
employer, he had at his disposal a stock of the financier's cards, and
would give one to M. Bloch whenever he wished to travel on a line of
which Sir Rufus was a director, the result of which was that old Bloch
would say: "I'm just going round to the Club to ask Sir Rufus for a line
to the Company." And the card enabled him to dazzle the guards on the
trains. The misses Bloch were more interested in Bergotte and, reverting
to him rather than pursue the subject of the Ganaches, the youngest
asked her brother, in the most serious tone imaginable, for she believed
that there existed in the world, for the designation of men of talent,
no other terms than those which he was in the habit of using: "Is he
really an amazing good egg, this Bergotte? Is he in the category of the
great lads, good eggs like Villiers and Catullus?" "I've met him several
times at dress rehearsals," said M. Nissim Bernard. "He is an uncouth
creature, a sort of Schlemihl." There was nothing very serious in this
allusion to Chamisso's story but the epithet "Schlemihl" formed part of
that dialect, half-German, half-Jewish, the use of which delighted M.
Bloch in the family circle, but struck him as vulgar and out of place
before strangers. And so he cast a reproving glance at his uncle. "He
has talent," said Bloch. "Ah!" His sister sighed gravely, as though to
imply that in that case there was some excuse for me. "All writers have
talent," said M. Bloch scornfully. "In fact it appears," went on his
son, raising his fork, and screwing up his eyes with an air of impish
irony, "that he is going to put up for the Academy." "Go on. He hasn't
enough to shew them," replied his father, who seemed not to have for the
Academy the same contempt as his son and daughters. "He's not big
enough." "Besides, the Academy is a salon, and Bergotte has no polish,"
declared the uncle (whose heiress Mme. Bloch was), a mild and
inoffensive person whose surname, Bernard, might perhaps by itself have
quickened my grandfather's powers of diagnosis, but would have appeared
too little in harmony with a face which looked as if it had been brought
back from Darius's palace and restored by Mme. Dieulafoy, had not
(chosen by some collector desirous of giving a crowning touch of
orientalism to this figure from Susa) his first name, Nissim, stretched
out above it the pinions of an androcephalous bull from Khorsabad. But
M. Bloch never stopped insulting his uncle, whether it was that he was
excited by the unresisting good-humour of his butt, or that the rent of
the villa being paid by M. Nissim Bernard, the beneficiary wished to
shew that he kept his independence, and, more important still, that he
was not seeking by flattery to make sure of the rich inheritance to
come. What most hurt the old man was being treated so rudely in front of
the manservant. He murmured an unintelligible sentence of which all that
could be made out was: "when the meschores are in the room".
"Meschores", in the Bible, means "the servant of God". In the family
circle the Blochs used the word when they referred to their own
servants, and were always exhilarated by it, because their certainty of
not being understood either by Christians or by the servants themselves
enhanced in M. Nissim Bernard and M. Bloch their twofold distinction of
being "masters" and at the same time "Jews". But this latter source of
satisfaction became a source of displeasure when there was "company". At
such times M. Bloch, hearing his uncle say "meschores", felt that he was
making his oriental side too prominent, just as a light-of-love who has
invited some of her sisters to meet her respectable friends is annoyed
if they allude to their profession or use words that do not sound quite
nice. Therefore, so far from his uncle's request's producing any effect
on M. Bloch, he, beside himself with rage, could contain himself no
longer. He let no opportunity pass of scarifying his wretched uncle. "Of
course, when there is a chance of saying anything stupid, one can be
quite certain that you won't miss it. You would be the first to lick his
boots if he were in the room!" shouted M. Bloch, while M. Nissim Bernard
in sorrow lowered over his plate the ringleted beard of King Sargon. My
friend, when he began to grow his beard, which also was blue-black and
crimped, became very like his great-uncle.

"What! Are you the son of the Marquis de Marsantes? Why, I knew him very
well," said M. Nissim Bernard to Saint-Loup. I supposed that he meant
the word "knew" in the sense in which Bloch's father had said that he
knew Bergotte, namely by sight. But he went on: "Your father was one of
my best friends." Meanwhile Bloch had turned very red, his father was
looking intensely cross, the misses Bloch were choking with suppressed
laughter. The fact was that in M. Nissim Bernard the love of ostentation
which in M. Bloch and his children was held in check, had engendered the
habit of perpetual lying. For instance, if he was staying in an hotel,
M. Nissim Bernard, as M. Bloch equally might have done, would have his
newspapers brought to him always by his valet in the dining-room, in the
middle of luncheon, when everybody was there, so that they should see
that he travelled with a valet. But to the people with whom he made
friends in the hotel the uncle used to say what the nephew would never
have said, that he was a Senator. He might know quite well that they
would sooner or later discover that the title was usurped; he could not,
at the critical moment, resist the temptation to assume it. M. Bloch
suffered acutely from his uncle's lies and from all the embarrassments
that they led to. "Don't pay any attention to him, he talks a great deal
of nonsense," he whispered to Saint-Loup, whose interest was all the
more whetted, for he was curious to explore the psychology of liars. "A
greater liar even than the Ithacan Odysseus, albeit Athene called him
the greatest liar among mortals," his son completed the indictment.
"Well, upon my word!" cried M. Nissim Bernard, "If I'd only known that I
was going to sit down to dinner with my old friend's son! Why, I have a
photograph still of your father at home, in Paris, and any number of
letters from him. He used always to call me 'uncle', nobody ever knew
why. He was a charming man, sparkling. I remember so well a dinner I
gave at Nice; there were Sardou, Labiche, Augier," "Molière, Racine,
Corneille," M. Bloch added with sarcasm, while his son completed the
tale of guests with "Plautus, Menander, Kalidasa." M. Nissim Bernard,
cut to the quick, stopped short in his reminiscence, and, ascetically
depriving himself of a great pleasure, remained silent until the end of

"Saint-Loup with helm of bronze," said Bloch, "have a piece more of this
duck with thighs heavy with fat, over which the illustrious sacrificer
of birds has spilled numerous libations of red wine."

As a rule, after bringing out from his store for the entertainment of a
distinguished guest his anecdotes of Sir Rufus Israels and others, M.
Bloch, feeling that he had succeeded in touching and melting his son's
heart, would withdraw, so as not to spoil his effect in the eyes of the
"big pot". If, however, there was an absolutely compelling reason, as
for instance on the night when his son won his fellowship, M. Bloch
would add to the usual string of anecdotes the following ironical
reflexion which he ordinarily reserved for his own personal friends, so
that young Bloch was extremely proud to see it produced for his: "The
Government have acted unpardonably. They have forgotten to consult M.
Coquelin! M. Coquelin has let it be known that he is displeased." (M.
Bloch prided himself on being a reactionary, with a contempt for
theatrical people.)

But the misses Bloch and their brother reddened to the tips of their
ears, so much impressed were they when Bloch senior, to shew that he
could be regal to the last in his entertainment of his son's two
'chums', gave the order for champagne to be served, and announced
casually that, as a treat for us, he had taken three stalls for the
performance which a company from the Opéra-Comique was giving that
evening at the Casino. He was sorry that he had not been able to get a
box. They had all been taken. However, he had often been in the boxes,
and really one saw and heard better down by the orchestra. All very
well, only, if the defect of his son, that is to say the defect which
his son believed to be invisible to other people, was coarseness, the
father's was avarice. And so it was in a decanter that we were served
with, under the name of champagne, a light sparkling wine, while under
that of orchestra stalls he had taken three in the pit, which cost half
as much, miraculously persuaded by the divine intervention of his defect
that neither at table nor in the theatre (where the boxes were all
empty) Would the defect be noticed. When M. Bloch had let us moisten our
lips in the flat glasses which his son dignified with the style and tide
of "craters with deeply hollowed flanks", he made us admire a picture to
which he was so much attached that he had brought it with him to Balbec.
He told us that it was a Rubens. Saint-Loup asked innocently if it was
signed. M. Bloch replied, blushing, that he had had the signature cut
off to make it fit the frame, but that it made no difference, as he had
no intention of selling the picture. Then he hurriedly bade us good
night, in order to bury himself in the _Journal Officiel_, back numbers
of which littered the house, and which, he informed us, he was obliged
to read carefully on account of his "parliamentary position" as to the
precise nature of which, however, he gave us no enlightenment. "I shall
take a muffler," said Bloch, "for Zephyrus and Boreas are disputing to
which of them shall belong the fish-teeming sea, and should we but tarry
a little after the show is over, we shall not be home before the first
flush of Eos, the rosy-fingered. By the way," he asked Saint-Loup when
we were outside, and I trembled, for I realised at once that it was of
M. de Charlus that Bloch was speaking in that tone of irony, "who was
that excellent old card dressed in black that I saw you walking with,
the day before yesterday, on the beach?" "That was my uncle." Saint-Loup
was ruffled. Unfortunately, a "floater" was far from seeming to Bloch a
thing to be avoided. He shook with laughter. "Heartiest congratulations;
I ought to have guessed; he has an excellent style, the most priceless
dial of an old 'gaga' of the highest lineage." "You are absolutely
mistaken; he is an extremely clever man," retorted Saint-Loup, now
furious. "I am sorry about that; it makes him less complete. All the
same, I should like very much to know him, for I flatter myself I could
write some highly adequate pieces about old buffers like that. Just to
see him go by, he's killing. But I should leave out of account the
caricaturale side, which really is hardly worthy of an artist enamoured
of the plastic beauty of phrases, of his mug, which (you'll forgive me)
doubled me up for a moment with joyous laughter, and I should bring into
prominence the aristocratic side of your uncle, who after all has a
distinct bovine effect, and when one has finished laughing does impress
one by his great air of style. But," he went on, addressing myself this
time, "there is also a matter of a very different order about which I
have been meaning to question you, and every time we are together, some
god, blessed denizen of Olympus, makes me completely forget to ask for a
piece of information which might before now have been and is sure some
day to be of the greatest use to me. Tell me, who was the lovely lady I
saw you with in the Jardin d'Acclimatation accompanied by a gentleman
whom I seem to know by sight and a little girl with long hair?" It had
been quite plain to me at the time that Mme. Swann did not remember
Bloch's name, since she had spoken of him by another, and had described
my friend as being on the staff of some Ministry, as to which I had
never since then thought of finding out whether he had joined it. But
how came it that Bloch, who, according to what she then told me, had got
himself introduced to her, was ignorant of her name? I was so much
surprised that I stopped for a moment before answering. "Whoever she
is," he went on, "hearty congratulations; you can't have been bored with
her. I picked her up a few days before that on the Zone railway, where,
speaking of zones, she was so kind, as to undo hers for the benefit of
your humble servant; I have never had such a time in my life, and we
were just going to make arrangements to meet again when somebody she
knew had the bad taste to get in at the last station but one." My
continued silence did not appear to please Bloch. "I was hoping," he
said, "thanks to you, to learn her address, so as to go there several
times a week to taste in her arms the delights of Eros, dear to the
gods; but I do not insist since you seem pledged to discretion with
respect to a professional who gave herself to me three times running,
and in the most refined manner, between Paris and the Point-du-Jour. I
am bound to see her again, some night."

I called upon Bloch after this dinner; he returned my call, but I was
out and he was seen asking for me by Françoise, who, as it happened,
albeit he had visited us at Combray, had never set eyes on him until
then. So that she knew only that one of "the gentlemen" who were friends
of mine had looked in to see me, she did not know "with what object",
dressed in a nondescript way, which had not made any particular
impression upon her. Now though I knew quite well that certain of
Françoise's social ideas must for ever remain impenetrable by me, ideas
based, perhaps, partly upon confusions between words, between names
which she had once and for all time mistaken for one another, I could
not restrain myself, who had long since abandoned the quest for
enlightenment in such cases, from seeking--and seeking, moreover, in
vain--to discover what could be the immense significance that the name
of Bloch had for Françoise. For no sooner had I mentioned to her that
the young man whom she had seen was M. Bloch than she recoiled several
paces, so great were her stupor and disappointment. "What! Is that M.
Bloch?" she cried, thunderstruck, as if so portentous a personage ought
to have been endowed with an appearance which "made you know" as soon as
you saw him that you were in the presence of one of the great ones of
the earth; and, like some one Who has discovered that an historical
character is not "up to" the level of his reputation, she repeated in an
impressed tone, in which I could detect latent, for future growth, the
seeds of a universal scepticism: "What! Is that M. Bloch? Well, really,
you would never think it, to look at him." She seemed also to bear me a
grudge, as if I had always "overdone" the praise of Bloch to her. At the
same time she was kind enough to add: "Well, he may be M. Bloch, and all
that. I'm sure Master can say he's every bit as good."

She had presently, with respect to Saint-Loup, whom she worshipped, a
disillusionment of a different kind and of less severity: she discovered
that he was a Republican. Now for all that, when speaking, for instance,
of the Queen of Portugal, she would say with that disrespect which is,
among the people, the supreme form of respect: "Amélie, Philippe's
sister," Françoise was a Royalist. But when it came to a Marquis; a
Marquis who had dazzled her at first sight, and who was for the
Republic, seemed no longer real. And she shewed the same ill-humour as
if I had given her a box which she had believed to be made of gold, and
had thanked me for it effusively, and then a jeweller had revealed to
her that it was only plated. She at once withdrew her esteem from
Saint-Loup, but soon afterwards restored it to him, having reflected
that he could not, being the Marquis de Saint-Loup, be a Republican,
that he was just pretending, in his own interest, for with such a
Government as we had it might be a great advantage to him. From that
moment her coldness towards him, her resentment towards myself ceased.
And when she spoke of Saint-Loup she said: "He is a hypocrite," with a
broad and friendly smile which made it clear that she "considered" him
again just as much as when she first knew him, and that she had forgiven

As a matter of fact, Saint-Loup was absolutely sincere and
disinterested, and it was this intense moral purity which, not being
able to find entire satisfaction in a selfish sentiment such as love,
nor on the other hand meeting in him the impossibility (which existed in
me, for instance) of finding its spiritual nourishment elsewhere than in
himself, rendered him truly capable (just as I was incapable) of

Françoise was no less mistaken about Saint-Loup when she complained
that he had "that sort of" air, as if he did not look down upon the
people, but that it was all just a pretence, and you had only to see him
when he was in a temper with his groom. It had indeed sometimes happened
that Robert would scold his groom with a certain amount of brutality,
which proved that he had the sense not so much of the difference as of
the equality between classes and masses. "But," he said in answer to my
rebuke of his having treated the man rather harshly, "why should I go
out of my way to speak politely to him? Isn't he my equal? Isn't he just
as near to me as any of my uncles and cousins? You seem to think that I
ought to treat him with respect, as an inferior. You talk: like an
aristocrat!" he added scornfully.

And indeed if there was a class to which he shewed himself prejudiced
and hostile, it was the aristocracy, so much so that he found it as hard
to believe in the superior qualities of a man in society as he found it
easy to believe in those of a man of the people. When I mentioned the
Princesse de Luxembourg, whom I had met with his aunt:

"An old trout," was his comment. "Like all that lot. She's a sort of
cousin of mine, by the way."

Having a strong prejudice against the people who frequented it, he went
rarely into "Society", and the contemptuous or hostile attitude which he
adopted towards it served to increase, among all his near relatives, the
painful impression made by his intimacy with a woman on the stage, a
connexion which, they declared, would be his ruin, blaming it specially
for having bred in him that spirit of denigration, that bad spirit, and
for having led him astray, after which it was only a matter of time
before he would have dropped out altogether. And so, many easy-going men
of the Faubourg Saint-Germain were without compunction when they spoke
of Robert's mistress. "Those girls do their job," they would say, "they
are as good as anybody else. But that one; no, thank you! We cannot
forgive her. She has done too much harm to a fellow we were fond of." Of
course, he was not the first to be caught in that snare. But the others
amused themselves like men of the world, continued to think like men of
the world about politics, about everything. As for him, his family found
him "soured". They did not bear in mind that, for many young men of
fashion who would otherwise remain uncultivated mentally, rough in their
friendships, without gentleness or taste--it is very often their
mistress who is their real master, and connexions of this sort the only
school of morals in which they are initiated into a superior culture,
and learn the value of disinterested relations. Even among the lower
orders (who, when it comes to coarseness, so often remind us of the
world of fashion) the woman, more sensitive, finer, more leisured, is
driven by curiosity to adopt certain refinements, respects certain
beauties of sentiment and of art which, though she may fail to
understand them, she nevertheless places above what has seemed most
desirable to the man, above money or position. Now whether the mistress
be a young blood's (such as Saint-Loup) or a young workman's
(electricians, for instance, must now be included in our truest order of
Chivalry) her lover has too much admiration and respect for her not to
extend them also to what she herself respects and admires; and for him
the scale of values is thereby reversed. Her sex alone makes her weak;
she suffers from nervous troubles, inexplicable things which in a man,
or even in another woman--a woman whose nephew or cousin he was--would
bring a smile to the lips of this stalwart young man. But he cannot bear
to see her suffer whom he loves. The young nobleman who, like
Saint-Loup, has a mistress acquires the habit, when he takes her out to
dine, of carrying in his pocket the valerian "drops" which she may need,
of ordering the waiter, firmly and with no hint of sarcasm, to see that
he shuts the doors quietly and not to put any damp moss on the table, so
as to spare his companion those discomforts which himself he has never
felt, which compose for him an occult world in whose reality she has
taught him to believe, discomforts for which he now feels pity without
in the least needing to understand them, for which he will still feel
pity when other women than she shall be the sufferers. Saint-Loup's
mistress--as the first monks of the middle ages taught Christendom--had
taught him to be kind to animals, for which she had a passion, never
moving without her dog, her canaries, her love-birds; Saint-Loup looked
after them with motherly devotion and treated as brutes the people who
were not good to dumb creatures. On the other hand, an actress, or
so-called actress, like this one who was living with him,--whether she
were intelligent or not, and as to that I had no knowledge--by making
him find the society of fashionable women boring, and look upon having
to go out to a party as a painful duty, had saved him from snobbishness
and cured him of frivolity. If, thanks to her, his social engagements
filled a smaller place in the life of her young lover, at the same time,
whereas if he had been simply a drawing-room man, vanity or
self-interest would have dictated his choice of friends as rudeness
would have characterised his treatment of them, his mistress had taught
him to bring nobility and refinement into his friendship. With her
feminine instinct, with a keener appreciation in men of certain
qualities of sensibility which her lover might perhaps, without her
guidance, have misunderstood and laughed at them, she had always been
swift to distinguish from among the rest of Saint-Loup's friends, the
one who had a real affection for him, and to make that one her
favourite. She knew how to make him feel grateful to such a friend, shew
his gratitude, notice what things gave his friend pleasure and what
pain. And presently Saint-Loup, without any more need of her to prompt
him, began to think of all these things by himself, and at Balbec, where
she was not with him, for me whom she had never seen, whom he had
perhaps not yet so much as mentioned in his letters to her, of his own
accord would pull up the window of a carriage in which I was sitting,
take out of the room the flowers that made me feel unwell, and when he
had to say good-bye to several people at once manage to do so before it
was actually time for him to go, so as to be left alone and last with
me, to make that distinction between them and me, to treat me
differently from the rest. His mistress had opened his mind to the
invisible, had brought a serious element into his life, delicacy into
his heart, but all this escaped his sorrowing family who repeated: "That
creature will be the death of him; meanwhile she's doing what she can to
disgrace him." It is true that he had succeeded in getting out of her
all the good that she was capable of doing him; and that she now caused
him only incessant suffering, for she had taken an intense dislike to
him and tormented him in every possible way. She had begun, one fine
day, to look upon him as stupid and absurd because the friends that she
had among the younger writers and actors had assured her that he was,
and she duly repeated what they had said with that passion, that want of
reserve which we shew whenever we receive from without and adopt as our
own opinions or customs of which we previously knew nothing. She readily
professed, like her actor friends, that between Saint-Loup and herself
there was a great gulf fixed, and not to be crossed, because they were
of different races, because she was an intellectual and he, whatever he
might pretend, the born enemy of the intellect. This view of him seemed
to her profound, and she sought confirmation of it in the most
insignificant words, the most trivial actions of her lover. But when the
same friends had further convinced her that she was destroying, in
company so ill-suited to her, the great hopes which she had, they said,
aroused in them, that her lover would leave a mark on her, that by
living with him she was spoiling her future as an artist; to her
contempt for Saint-Loup was added the same hatred that she would have
felt for him if he had insisted upon inoculating her with a deadly germ.
She saw him as seldom as possible, at the same time postponing the hour
of a definite rupture, which seemed to me a highly improbable event.
Saint-Loup made such sacrifices for her that unless she was ravishingly
beautiful (but he had always refused to shew me her photograph, saying:
"For one thing, she's not a beauty, and besides she always takes badly.
These are only some snapshots that I took myself with my kodak; they
would give you a wrong idea of her.") it would surely be difficult for
her to find another man who would consent to anything of the sort. I
never reflected that a certain obsession to make a name for oneself,
even when one has no talent, that the admiration, no more than the
privately expressed admiration of people who are imposing on one, can
(although it may not perhaps have been the case with Saint-Loup's
mistress) be, even for a little prostitute, motives more determining
than the pleasure of making money. Saint-Loup who, without quite
understanding what was going on in the mind of his mistress, did not
believe her to be completely sincere either in her unfair reproaches or
in her promises of undying love, had all the same at certain moments the
feeling that she would break with him whenever she could, and
accordingly, impelled no doubt by the instinct of self-preservation
which was part of his love, a love more clear-sighted, possibly, than
Saint-Loup himself, making use, too, of a practical capacity for
business which was compatible in him with the loftiest and blindest
flights of the heart, had refused to settle upon her any capital, had
borrowed an enormous sum so that she should want nothing, but made it
over to her only from day to day. And no doubt, assuming that she really
thought of leaving him, she was calmly waiting until she had feathered
her nest, a process which, with the money given her by Saint-Loup, would
not perhaps take very long, but would all the same require a time which
must be conceded to prolong the happiness of my new friend--or his

This dramatic period of their connexion, which had now reached its most
acute stage, the most cruel for Saint-Loup, for she had forbidden him to
remain in Paris, where his presence exasperated her, and had forced him
to spend his leave at Balbec, within easy reach of his regiment--had
begun one evening at the house of one of Saint-Loup's aunts, on whom he
had prevailed to allow his friend to come there, before a large party,
to recite some of the speeches from a symbolical play in which she had
once appeared in an "advanced" theatre, and for which she had made him
share the admiration that she herself professed.

But when she appeared in the room, with a large lily in her hand, and
wearing a costume copied from the _Ancilia Domini_, which she had
persuaded Saint-Loup was an absolute "vision of beauty", her entrance
had been greeted, in that assemblage of club men and duchesses, with
smiles which the monotonous tone of her chantings, the oddity of certain
words and their frequent recurrence had changed into fits of laughter,
stifled at first but presently so uncontrollable that the wretched
reciter had been unable to go on. Next day Saint-Loup's aunt had been
universally censured for having allowed so grotesque an actress to
appear in her drawing-room. A wellknown duke made no bones about telling
her that she had only herself to blame if she found herself criticised.
"Damn it all, people really don't come to see 'turns' like that! If the
woman had talent, even; but she has none and never will have any. Ton my
soul, Paris is not such a fool as people make out. Society does not
consist exclusively of imbeciles. This little lady evidently believed
that she was going to take Paris by surprise. But Paris is not so easily
surprised as all that, and there are still some things that they can't
make us swallow."

As for the actress, she left the house with Saint-Loup, exclaiming:

"What do you mean by letting me in for those geese, those uneducated
bitches, those dirty corner-boys? I don't mind telling you, there wasn't
a man in the room who didn't make eyes at me or squeeze my foot, and it
was because I wouldn't look at them that they were out for revenge."

Words which had changed Robert's antipathy for people in society into a
horror that was at once deep and distressing, and was provoked in him
most of all by those who least deserved it, devoted kinsmen who, on
behalf of the family, had sought to persuade Saint-Loup's lady to break
with him, a move which she represented to him as inspired by their
passion for her. Robert, although he had at once ceased to see them,
used to imagine when he was parted from his mistress as he was now, that
they or others like them were profiting by his absence to return to the
charge and had possibly prevailed over her. And when he spoke of the
sensualists who were disloyal to their friends, who sought to seduce
their friends' wives, tried to make them come to houses of assignation,
his whole face would glow with suffering and hatred.

"I would kill them with less compunction than I would kill a dog, which
is at least a well-behaved beast, and loyal and faithful. There are men
who deserve the guillotine if you like, far more than poor wretches who
have been led into crime by poverty and by the cruelty of the rich."

He spent the greater part of his time in sending letters and telegrams
to his mistress. Every time that, while still preventing him from
returning to Paris, she found an excuse to quarrel with him by post, I
read the news at once in his evident discomposure. Inasmuch as his
mistress never told him what fault she found with him, suspecting that
possibly if she did not tell him it was because she did not know
herself, and simply had had enough of him, he would still have liked an
explanation and used to write to her: "Tell me what I have done wrong; I
am quite ready to acknowledge my faults," the grief that overpowered him
having the effect of persuading him that he had behaved badly.

But she kept him waiting indefinitely for her answers which, when they
did come, were meaningless. And so it was almost always with a furrowed
brow, and often with empty hands that I would see Saint-Loup returning
from the post office, where, alone in all the hotel, he and Françoise
went to fetch or to hand in letters, he from a lover's impatience, she
with a servant's mistrust of others. (His telegrams obliged him to take
a much longer journey.)

When, some days after our dinner with the Blochs, my grandmother told me
with a joyful air that Saint-Loup had just been asking her whether,
before he left Balbec, she would not like him to take a photograph of
her, and when I saw that she had put on her nicest dress on purpose, and
was hesitating between several of her best hats, I felt a little annoyed
by this childishness, which surprised me coming from her. I even went
the length of asking myself whether I had not been mistaken in my
grandmother, whether I did not esteem her too highly, whether she was as
unconcerned as I had always supposed in the adornment of her person,
whether she had not indeed the very weakness that I believed most alien
to her temperament, namely coquetry.

Unfortunately, this displeasure that I derived from the prospect of a
photographic "sitting", and more particularly from the satisfaction with
which my grandmother appeared to be looking forward to it, I made so
apparent that Françoise remarked it and did her best, unintentionally,
to increase it by making me a sentimental, gushing speech, by which I
refused to appear moved.

"Oh, Master; my poor Madame will be so pleased at having her likeness
taken, she is going to wear the hat that her old Françoise has trimmed
for her, you must allow her, Master."

I acquired the conviction that I was not cruel in laughing at
Françoise's sensibility, by reminding myself that my mother and
grandmother, my models in all things, often did the same. But my
grandmother, noticing that I seemed cross, said that if this plan of her
sitting for her photograph offended me in any way she would give it up.
I would not let her; I assured her that I saw no harm in it, and left
her to adorn herself, but, thinking that I shewed my penetration and
strength of mind, I added a few stinging words of sarcasm, intended to
neutralise the pleasure which she seemed to find in being photographed,
so that if I was obliged to see my grandmother's magnificent hat, I
succeeded at least in driving from her face that joyful expression which
ought to have made me glad; but alas, it too often happens, while the
people we love best are still alive, that such expressions appear to us
as the exasperating manifestation of some unworthy freak of fancy rather
than as the precious form of the happiness which we should dearly like
to procure for them. My ill-humour arose more particularly from the fact
that, during the last week, my grandmother had appeared to be avoiding
me, and I had not been able to have her to myself for a moment, either
by night or day. When I came back in the afternoon to be alone with her
for a little I was told that she was not in the hotel; or else she would
shut herself up with Françoise for endless confabulations which I was
not permitted to interrupt. And when, after being out all evening with
Saint-Loup, I had been thinking on the way home of the moment at which I
should be able to go to my grandmother and to kiss her, in vain might I
wait for her to knock on the partition between us the three little taps
which would tell me to go in and say good night to her; I heard nothing;
at length I would go to bed, a little resentful of her for depriving me,
with an indifference so new and strange in her, of a joy on which I had
so much counted, I would lie still for a while, my heart throbbing as in
my childhood, listening to the wall which remained silent, until I cried
myself to sleep.

* *


That day, as for some days past, Saint-Loup had been obliged to go to
Doncières, where, until his leave finally expired, he would be on duty
now until late every afternoon. I was sorry that he was not at Balbec. I
had seen alight from carriages and pass, some into the ball-room of the
Casino, others into the ice-cream shop, young women who at a distance
had seemed to me lovely. I was passing through one of those periods of
our youth, unprovided with any one definite love, vacant, in which at
all times and in all places--as a lover the woman by whose charms he is
smitten--we desire, we seek, we see Beauty. Let but a single real
feature--the little that one distinguishes of a woman seen from afar or
from behind--enable us to project the form of beauty before our eyes, we
imagine that we have seen her before, our heart beats, we hasten in
pursuit, and will always remain half-persuaded that it was she, provided
that the woman has vanished: it is only if we manage to overtake her
that we realise our mistake.

Besides, as I grew more and more delicate, I was inclined to overrate
the simplest pleasures because of the difficulties that sprang up in the
way of my attaining them. Charming women I seemed to see all round me,
because I was too tired, if it was on the beach, too shy if it was in
the Casino or at a pastry-cook's, to go anywhere near them. And yet if I
was soon to die I should have liked first to know the appearance at
close quarters, in reality of the prettiest girls that life had to
offer, even although it should be another than myself or no one at all
who was to take advantage of the offer. (I did not, in fact, appreciate
the desire for possession that underlay my curiosity.) I should have had
the courage to enter the ball-room if Saint-Loup had been with me. Left
by myself, I was simply hanging about in front of the Grand Hotel until
it was time for me to join my grandmother, when, still almost at the far
end of the paved "front" along which they projected in a discordant spot
of colour, I saw coming towards me five or six young girls, as different
in appearance and manner from all the people whom one was accustomed to
see at Balbec as could have been, landed there none knew whence, a
flight of gulls which performed with measured steps upon the sands--the
dawdlers using their wings to overtake the rest--a movement the purpose
of which seems as obscure to the human bathers, whom they do not appear
to see, as it is clearly determined in their own birdish minds.

One of these strangers was pushing as she came, with one hand, her
bicycle; two others carried golf-clubs; and their attire generally was
in contrast to that of the other girls at Balbec, some of whom, it was
true, went in for games, but without adopting any special outfit.

It was the hour at which ladies and gentlemen came out every day for a
turn on the "front", exposed to the merciless fire of the long glasses
fastened upon them, as if they had each borne some disfigurement which
she felt it her duty to inspect in its minutest details, by the chief
magistrate's wife, proudly seated there with her back to the band-stand,
in the middle of that dread line of chairs on which presently they too,
actors turned critics, would come and establish themselves, to
scrutinise in their turn those others who would then be filing past
them. All these people who paced up and down the "front", tacking as
violently as if it had been the deck of a ship (for they could not lift
a leg without at the same time waving their arms, turning their heads
and eyes, settling their shoulders, compensating by a balancing movement
on one side for the movement they had just made on the other, and
puffing out their faces), and who, pretending not to see so as to let it
be thought that they were not interested, but covertly watching, for
fear of running against the people who were walking beside or coming
towards them, did, in fact, butt into them, became entangled with them,
because each was mutually the object of the same secret attention veiled
beneath the same apparent disdain; their love--and consequently their
fear--of the crowd being one of the most powerful motives in all men,
whether they seek to please other people or to astonish them, or to shew
them that they despise them. In the case of the solitary, his seclusion,
even when it is absolute and ends only with life itself, has often as
its primary cause a disordered love of the crowd, which so far overrules
every other feeling that, not being able to win, when he goes out, the
admiration of his hall porter, of the passers-by, of the cabman whom he
hails, he prefers not to be seen by them at all, and with that object
abandons every activity that would oblige him to go out of doors.

Among all these people, some of whom were pursuing a train of thought,
but if so betrayed its instability by spasmodic gestures, a roving gaze
as little in keeping as the circumspect titubation of their neighbours,
the girls whom I had noticed, with that mastery over their limbs which
comes from perfect bodily condition and a sincere contempt for the rest
of humanity, were advancing straight ahead, without hesitation or
stiffness, performing exactly the movements that they wished to perform,
each of their members in full independence of all the rest, the greater
part of their bodies preserving that immobility which is so noticeable
in a good waltzer. They were now quite near me. Although each was a type
absolutely different from the others, they all had beauty; but to tell
the truth I had seen them for so short a time, and without venturing to
look them straight in the face, that I had not yet individualised any of
them. Save one, whom her straight nose, her dark complexion pointed in
contrast among the rest, like (in a renaissance picture of the Epiphany)
a king of Arab cast, they were known to me only, one by a pair of eyes
hard, set and mocking; another by cheeks in which the pink had that
coppery tint which makes one think of geraniums; and even of these
points I had not yet indissolubly attached any one to one of these girls
rather than to another; and when (according to the order in which their
series met the eye, marvellous because the most different aspects came
next one another, because all scales of colours were combined in it, but
confused as a piece of music in which I should not have been able to
isolate and identify at the moment of their passage the successive
phrases, no sooner distinguished than forgotten) I saw emerge a pallid
oval, black eyes, green eyes, I knew not if these were the same that had
already charmed me a moment ago, I could not bring them home to any one
girl whom I might thereby have set apart from the rest and so
identified. And this want, in my vision, of the demarcations which I
should presently establish between them sent flooding over the group a
wave of harmony, the continuous transfusion of a beauty fluid,
collective and mobile.

It was not perhaps, in this life of ours, mere chance that had, in
forming this group of friends, chosen them all of such beauty; perhaps
these girls (whose attitude was enough to reveal their nature, bold,
frivolous and hard), extremely sensitive to everything that was
ludicrous or ugly, incapable of yielding to an intellectual or moral
attraction, had naturally felt themselves, among companions of their own
age, repelled by all those in whom a pensive or sensitive disposition
was betrayed by shyness, awkwardness, constraint, by what, they would
say, "didn't appeal" to them, and from such had held aloof; while they
attached themselves, on the other hand, to others to whom they were
drawn by a certain blend of grace, suppleness, and physical neatness,
the only form in which they were able to picture the frankness of a
seductive character and the promise of pleasant hours in one another's
company. Perhaps, too, the class to which they belonged, a class which I
should not have found it easy to define, was at that point in its
evolution at which, whether thanks to its growing wealth and leisure, or
thanks to new athletic habits, extended now even to certain plebeian
elements, and a habit of physical culture to which had not yet been
added the culture of the mind, a social atmosphere, comparable to that
of smooth and prolific schools of sculpture, which have not yet gone in
for tortured expressions, produces naturally and in abundance fine
bodies with fine legs, fine hips, wholesome and reposeful faces, with an
air of agility and guile. And were they not noble and calm models of
human beauty that I beheld there, outlined against the sea, like statues
exposed to the sunlight upon a Grecian shore?

Just as if, in the heart of their band, which progressed along the
"front" like a luminous comet, they had decided that the surrounding
crowd was composed of creatures of another race whose sufferings even
could not awaken in them any sense of fellowship, they appeared not to
see them, forced those who had stopped to talk to step aside, as though
from the path of a machine that had been set going by itself, so that it
was no good waiting for it to get out of their way, their utmost sign of
consciousness being when, if some old gentleman of whom they did not
admit the existence and thrust from them the contact, had fled with a
frightened or furious, but a headlong or ludicrous motion, they looked
at one another and smiled. They had, for whatever did not form part of
their group, no affectation of contempt; their genuine contempt was
sufficient. But they could not set eyes on an obstacle without amusing
themselves by crossing it, either in a running jump or with both feet
together, because they were all filled to the brim, exuberant with that
youth which we need so urgently to spend that even when we are unhappy
or unwell, obedient rather to the necessities of our age than to the
mood of the day, we can never pass anything that can be jumped over or
slid down without indulging ourselves conscientiously, interrupting,
interspersing our slow progress--as Chopin his most melancholy
phrase--with graceful deviations in which caprice is blended with
virtuosity. The wife of an elderly banker, after hesitating between
various possible exposures for her husband, had settled him on a folding
chair, facing the "front", sheltered from wind and sun by the
band-stand. Having seen him comfortably installed there, she had gone to
buy a newspaper which she would read aloud to him, to distract him, one
of her little absences which she never prolonged for more than five
minutes, which seemed long enough to him but which she repeated at
frequent intervals so that this old husband on whom she lavished an
attention that she took care to conceal, should have the impression that
he was still quite alive and like other people and was in no need of
protection. The platform of the band-stand provided, above his head, a
natural and tempting springboard, across which, without a moment's
hesitation, the eldest of the little band began to run; she jumped over
the terrified old man, whose yachting cap was brushed by the nimble
feet, to the great delight of the other girls, especially of a pair of
green eyes in a "dashing" face, which expressed, for that bold act, an
admiration and a merriment in which I seemed to discern a trace of
timidity, a shamefaced and blustering timidity which did not exist in
the others. "Oh, the poor old man; he makes me sick; he looks half
dead;" said a girl with a croaking voice, but with more sarcasm than
sympathy. They walked on a little way, then stopped for a moment in the
middle of the road, with no thought whether they were impeding the
passage of other people, and held a council, a solid body of irregular
shape, compact, unusual and shrill, like birds that gather on the ground
at the moment of flight; then they resumed their leisurely stroll along
the "front", against a background of sea.

By this time their charming features had ceased to be indistinct and
impersonal. I had dealt them like cards into so many heaps to compose
(failing their names, of which I was still ignorant) the big one who had
jumped over the old banker; the little one who stood out against the
horizon of sea with her plump and rosy cheeks, her green eyes; the one
with the straight nose and dark complexion, in such contrast to all the
rest, another, with a white face like an egg on which a tiny nose
described an arc of a circle like a chicken's beak; yet another, wearing
a hooded cape (which gave her so poverty-stricken an appearance, and so
contradicted the smartness of the figure beneath that the explanation
which suggested itself was that this girl must have parents of high
position who valued their self-esteem so far above the visitors to
Balbec and the sartorial elegance of their own children that it was a
matter of the utmost indifference to them that their daughter should
stroll on the "front" dressed in a way which humbler people would have
considered too modest); a girl with brilliant, laughing eyes and plump,
colourless cheeks, a black polo-cap pulled down over her face, who was
pushing a bicycle with so exaggerated a movement of her hips, with an
air borne out by her language, which was so typically of the gutter and
was being shouted so loud, when I passed her (although among her
expressions I caught that irritating "live my own life") that,
abandoning the hypothesis which her friend's hooded cape had made me
construct, I concluded instead that all these girls belonged to the
population which frequents the racing-cracks, and must be the very
juvenile mistresses of professional bicyclists. In any event, in none of
my suppositions was there any possibility of their being virtuous. At
first sight--in the way in which they looked at one another and smiled,
in the insistent stare of the one with the dull cheeks--I had grasped
that they were not. Besides, my grandmother had always watched over me
with a delicacy too timorous for me not to believe that the sum total of
the things one ought not to do was indivisible or that girls who were
lacking in respect for their elders would suddenly be stopped short by
scruples when there were pleasures at stake more tempting than that of
jumping over an octogenarian.

Though they were now separately identifiable, still the mutual response
which they gave one another with eyes animated my self-sufficiency and
the spirit of comradeship, in which were kindled at every moment now the
interest now the insolent indifference with which each of them sparkled
according as her glance fell on one of her friends or on passing
strangers, that consciousness, moreover, of knowing one another
intimately enough always to go about together, by making them a 'band
apart' established between their independent and separate bodies, as
slowly they advanced, a bond invisible but harmonious, like a single
warm shadow, a single atmosphere making of them a whole as homogeneous
in its parts as it was different from the crowd through which their
procession gradually wound.

For an instant, as I passed the dark one with the fat cheeks who was
wheeling a bicycle, I caught her smiling, sidelong glance, aimed from
the centre of that inhuman world which enclosed the life of this little
tribe, an inaccessible, unknown world to which the idea of what I was
could certainly never attain nor find a place in it. Wholly occupied
with what her companions were saying, this young girl in her polo-cap,
pulled down very low over her brow, had she seen me at the moment in
which the dark ray emanating from her eyes had fallen on me? In the
heart of what universe did she distinguish me? It would have been as
hard for me to say as, when certain peculiarities are made visible,
thanks to the telescope, in a neighbouring planet, it is difficult to
arrive at the conclusion that human beings inhabit it, that they can see
us, or to say what ideas the sight of us can have aroused in their

If we thought that the eyes of a girl like that were merely two
glittering sequins of mica, we should not be athirst to know her and to
unite her life to ours. But we feel that what shines in those reflecting
discs is not due solely to their material composition; that it is,
unknown to us, the dark shadows of the ideas that the creature is
conceiving, relative to the people and places that she knows--the turf
of racecourses, the sand of cycling tracks over which, pedalling on past
fields and woods, she would have drawn me after her, that little peri,
more seductive to me than she of the Persian paradise--the shadows, too,
of the home to which she will presently return, of the plans that she is
forming or that others have formed for her; and above all that it is
she, with her desires, her sympathies, her revulsions, her obscure and
incessant will. I knew that I should never possess this young cyclist if
I did not possess also what there was in her eyes. And it was
consequently her whole life that filled me with desire; a sorrowful
desire because I felt, that it was not to be realised, but exhilarating,
because what had hitherto been my life, having ceased of a sudden to be
my whole life, being no more now than a little part of the space
stretching out before me, which I was burning to cover and which was
composed of the lives of these girls, offered me that prolongation, that
possible multiplication of oneself which is happiness. And no doubt the
fact that we had, these girls and I, not one habit--as we had not one
idea--in common, was to make it more difficult for me to make friends
with them and to please them. But perhaps, also, it was thanks to those
differences, to my consciousness that there did not enter into the
composition of the nature and actions of these girls a single element
that I knew or possessed, that there came in place of my satiety a
thirst--like that with which a dry land burns--for a life which my soul,
because it had never until now received one drop of it, would absorb all
the more greedily in long draughts, with a more perfect imbibition.

I had looked so closely at the dark cyclist with the bright eyes that
she seemed to notice my attention, and said to the biggest of the girls
something that I could not hear. To be honest, this dark one was not the
one that pleased me most, simply because she was dark and because (since
the day on which, from the little path by Tansonville, I had seen
Gilberte) a girl with reddish hair and a golden skin had remained for me
the inaccessible ideal. But Gilberte herself, had I not loved her
principally because she had appeared to me haloed with that aureole of
being the friend of Bergotte, of going with him to look at old
cathedrals? And in the same way could I not rejoice at having seen this
dark girl look at me (which made me hope that it would be easier for me
to get to know her first), for she would introduce me to the others, to
the pitiless one who had jumped over the old man's head, to the cruel
one who had said "He makes me sick, poor old man!" to all of them in
turn, among whom, moreover, she had the distinction of being their
inseparable companion? And yet the supposition that I might some day be
the friend of one or other of these girls, that their eyes, whose
incomprehensible gaze struck me now and again, playing upon me unawares,
like the play of sunlight upon a wall, might ever, by a miraculous
alchemy, allow to interpenetrate among their ineffable particles the
idea of my existence, some affection for my person, that I myself might
some day take my place among them in the evolution of their course by
the sea's edge--that supposition appeared to me to contain within it a
contradiction as insoluble as if, standing before some classical frieze
or a fresco representing a procession, I had believed it possible for
me, the spectator, to take my place, beloved of them, among the god-like

The happiness of knowing these girls was, then, not to be realised.
Certainly it would not have been the first of its kind that I had
renounced. I had only to recall the numberless strangers whom, even at
Balbec, the carriage bowling away from them at full speed had forced me
for ever to abandon. And indeed the pleasure that was given me by the
little band, as noble as if it had been composed of Hellenic virgins,
came from some suggestion that there was in it of the flight of passing
figures along a road. This fleetingness of persons who are not known to
us, who force us to put out from the harbour of life, in which the women
whose society we frequent have all, in course of time, laid bare their
blemishes, urges us into that state of pursuit in which there is no
longer anything to arrest the imagination. But to strip our pleasures of
imagination is to reduce them to their own dimensions, that is to say to
nothing. Offered me by one of those procuresses (whose good offices, all
the same, the reader has seen that I by no means scorned), withdrawn
from the element which gave them so many fine shades and such vagueness,
these girls would have enchanted me less. We must have imagination,
awakened by the uncertainty of being able to attain our object, to
create a goal which hides our other goal from us, and by substituting
for sensual pleasures the idea of penetrating into a life prevents us
from recognising that pleasure, from tasting its true savour, from
restricting it to its own range.

There must be, between us and the fish which, if we saw it for the first
time cooked and served on a table, would not appear worth the endless
trouble, craft and stratagem that are necessary if we are to catch it,
interposed, during our afternoons with the rod, the ripple to whose
surface come wavering, without our quite knowing what we intend to do
with them, the burnished gleam of flesh, the indefiniteness of a form,
in the fluidity of a transparent and flowing azure.

These girls benefited also by that alteration of social values
characteristic of seaside life. All the advantages which, in our
ordinary environment, extend and magnify our importance, we there find
to have become invisible, in fact to be eliminated; while on the other
hand the people whom we suppose, without reason, to enjoy similar
advantages appear to us amplified to artificial dimensions. This made it
easy for strange women generally, and to-day for these girls in
particular, to acquire an enormous importance in my eyes, and impossible
to make them aware of such importance as I might myself possess.

But if there was this to be said for the excursion of the little band,
that it was but an excerpt from the innumerable flight of passing women,
which had always disturbed me, their flight was here reduced to a
movement so slow as to approach immobility. Now, precisely because, in a
phase so far from rapid, faces, no longer swept past me in a whirlwind,
but calm and distinct, still appeared beautiful, I was prevented from
thinking as I had so often thought when Mme. de Villeparisis's carriage
bore me away that, at closer quarters, if I had stopped for a moment,
certain details, a pitted skin, drooping nostrils, a silly gape, a
grimace of a smile, an ugly figure might have been substituted, in the
face and body of the woman, for those that I had doubtless imagined; for
there had sufficed a pretty outline, a glimpse of a fresh complexion,
for me to add, in entire good faith, a fascinating shoulder, a delicious
glance of which I carried in my mind for ever a memory or a preconceived
idea, these rapid decipherings of a person whom we see in motion
exposing us thus to the same errors as those too rapid readings in
which, on a single syllable and without waiting to identify the rest, we
base instead of the word that is in the text a wholly different word
with which our memory supplies us. It could not be so with me now. I had
looked well at them all; each of them I had seen, not from every angle
and rarely in full face, but all the same in two or three aspects
different enough to enable me to make either the correction or the
verification, to take a "proof" of the different possibilities of line
and colour that are hazarded at first sight, and to see persist in them,
through a series of expressions, something unalterably material. I could
say to myself with conviction that neither in Paris nor at Balbec, in
the most favourable hypotheses of what might have happened, even if I
had been able to stop and talk to them, the passing women who had caught
my eye, had there ever been one whose appearance, followed by her
disappearance without my having managed to know her, had left me with
more regret than would these, had given me the idea that her friendship
might be a thing so intoxicating. Never, among actresses nor among
peasants nor among girls from a convent school had I beheld anything so
beautiful, impregnated with so much that was unknown, so inestimably
precious, so apparently inaccessible. They were, of the unknown and
potential happiness of life, an illustration so delicious and in so
perfect a state that it was almost for intellectual reasons that I was
desperate with the fear that I might not be able to make, in unique
conditions which left no room for any possibility of error, proper trial
of what is the most mysterious thing that is offered to us by the beauty
which we desire and console ourselves for never possessing, by demanding
pleasure--as Swann had always refused to do before Odette's day--from
women whom we have not desired, so that, indeed, we die without having
ever known what that other pleasure was. No doubt it was possible that
it was not in reality an unknown pleasure, that on a close inspection
its mystery would dissipate and vanish, that it was no more than a
projection, a mirage of desire. But in that case I could blame only the
compulsion of a law of nature,--which if it applied to these girls would
apply to all--and not the imperfection of the object. For it was that
which I should have chosen above all others, feeling quite certain, with
a botanist's satisfaction, that it was not possible to find collected
anywhere rarer specimens than these young flowers who were interrupting
at this moment before my eyes the line of the sea with their slender
hedge, like a bower of Pennsylvania roses adorning a garden on the brink
of a cliff, between which is contained the whole tract of ocean crossed
by some steamer, so slow in gliding along the blue and horizontal line
that stretches from one stem to the next that an idle butterfly,
dawdling in the cup of a flower which the moving hull has long since
passed, can, if it is to fly and be sure of arriving before the vessel,
wait until nothing but the tiniest slice of blue still separates the
questing prow from the first petal of the flower towards which it is

I went indoors because I was to dine at Rivebelle with Robert, and my
grandmother insisted that on those evenings, before going out, I must
lie down for an hour on my bed, a rest which the Balbec doctor presently
ordered me to extend to the other evenings also.

However, there was no need, when one went indoors, to leave the "front"
and to enter the hotel by the hall, that is to say from behind. By
virtue of an alteration of the clock which reminded me of those
Saturdays when, at Combray, we used to have luncheon an hour earlier,
now with summer at the full the days had become so long that the sun was
still high in the heavens, as though it were only tea-time, when the
tables were being laid for dinner in the Grand Hotel. And so the great
sliding windows were kept open from the ground. I had but to step across
a low wooden sill to find myself in the dining-room, through which I
walked and straight across to the lift.

As I passed the office I addressed a smile to the manager, and with no
shudder of disgust gathered one for myself from his face which, since I
had been at Balbec, my comprehensive study of it was injecting and
transforming, little by little, like a natural history preparation. His
features had become familiar to me, charged with a meaning that was of
no importance but still intelligible, like a script which one can read,
and had ceased in any way to resemble these queer, intolerable
characters which his face had presented to me on that first day, when I
had seen before me a personage now forgotten, or, if I succeeded in
recalling him, unrecognisable, difficult to identify with this
insignificant and polite personality of which the other was but a
caricature, a hideous and rapid sketch. Without either the shyness or
the sadness of the evening of my arrival I rang for the attendant, who
no longer stood in silence while I rose by his side in the lift as in a
mobile thoracic cage propelled upwards along its ascending pillar, but

"There aren't the people now there were a month back. They're beginning
to go now; the days are drawing in." He said this not because there was
any truth in it but because, having an engagement, presently, for a
warmer part of the coast, he would have liked us all to leave, so that
the hotel could be shut up and he have a few days to himself before
"rejoining" in his new place. "Rejoin" and "new" were not, by the way,
incompatible terms, since, for the lift-boy, "rejoin" was the usual form
of the verb "to join". The only thing that surprised me was that he
condescended to say "place", for he belonged to that modern proletariat
which seeks to efface from our language every trace of the rule of
domesticity. A moment later, however, he informed me that in the
"situation" which he was about to "rejoin", he would have a smarter
"tunic" and a better "salary", the words "livery" and "wages" sounding
to him obsolete and unseemly. And as, by an absurd contradiction, the
vocabulary has, through thick and thin, among us "masters", survived the
conception of inequality, I was always failing to understand what the
lift-boy said. For instance, the only thing that interested me was to
know whether my grandmother was in the hotel. Now, forestalling my
questions, the lift-boy would say to me: "That lady has just gone out
from your rooms." I was invariably taken in; I supposed that he meant my
grandmother. "No, that lady; I think she's an employee of yours." As in
the old speech of the middle classes, which ought really to be done away
with, a cook is not called an employee, I thought for a moment: "But he
must be mistaken. We don't own a factory; we haven't any employees."
Suddenly I remembered that the title of "employee" is, like the wearing
of a moustache among waiters, a sop to their self-esteem given to
servants, and realised that this lady who had just gone out must be
Françoise (probably on a visit to the coffee-maker, or to watch the
Belgian lady's little maid at her sewing), though even this sop did not
satisfy the lift-boy, for he would say quite naturally, speaking
pityingly of his own class, "with the working man" or "the small
person", using the same singular form as Racine when he speaks of "the
poor". But as a rule, for my zeal and timidity of the first evening were
now things of the past, I no longer spoke to the lift-boy. It was he now
who stood there and received no answer during the short journey on which
he threaded his way through the hotel, hollowed out inside like a toy,
which extended round about us, floor by floor, the ramifications of its
corridors in the depths of which the light grew velvety, lost its tone,
diminished the communicating doors, the steps of the service stairs
which it transformed into that amber haze, unsubstantial and mysterious
as a twilight, in which Rembrandt picks out here and there a window-sill
or a well-head. And on each landing a golden light reflected from the
carpet indicated the setting sun and the lavatory window.

I asked myself whether the girls I had just seen lived at Balbec, and
who they could be. When our desire is thus concentrated upon a little
tribe of humanity which it singles out from the rest, everything that
can be associated with that tribe becomes a spring of emotion and then
of reflexion. I had heard a lady say on the "front": "She is a friend of
the little Simonet girl" with that self-important air of inside
knowledge, as who should say: "He is the inseparable companion of young
La Rochefoucauld." And immediately she had detected on the face of the
person to whom she gave this information a curiosity to see more of the
favoured person who was "a friend of the little Simonet". A privilege,
obviously, that did not appear to be granted to all the world. For
aristocracy is a relative state. And there are plenty of inexpensive
little holes and corners where the son of an upholsterer is the arbiter
of fashion and reigns over a court like any young Prince of Wales. I
have often since then sought to recall how it first sounded for me there
on the beach, that name of Simonet, still quite indefinite as to its
form, which I had failed to distinguish, and also as to its
significance, to the designation by it of such and such a person, or
perhaps of some one else; imprinted, in fact, with that vagueness, that
novelty which we find so moving in the sequel, when the name whose
letters are every moment engraved more deeply on our hearts by our
incessant thought of them has become (though this was not to happen to
me with the name of the "little Simonet" until several years had passed)
the first coherent sound that comes to our lips, whether on waking from
sleep or on recovering from a swoon, even before the idea of what
o'clock it is or of where we are, almost before the word "I", as though
the person whom it names were more "we" even than we ourself, and as
though after a brief spell of unconsciousness the phase that is the
first of all to dissolve is that in which we were not thinking of her. I
do not know why I said to myself from the first that the name Simonet
must be that of one of the band of girls; from that moment I never
ceased to ask myself how I could get to know the Simonet family, get to
know them, moreover, through people whom they considered superior to
themselves (which ought not to be difficult if the girls were only
common little "bounders") so that they might not form a disdainful idea
of me. For one cannot have a perfect knowledge, one cannot effect the
complete absorption of a person who disdains one, so long as one has not
overcome her disdain. And since, whenever the idea of women who are so
different from us penetrates our senses, unless we are able to forget it
or the competition of other ideas eliminates it, we know no rest until
we have converted those aliens into something that is compatible with
ourself, our heart being in this respect endowed with the same kind of
reaction and activity as our physical organism, which cannot abide the
infusion of any foreign body into its veins without at once striving to
digest and assimilate it: the little Simonet must be the prettiest of
them all--she who, I felt moreover, might yet become my mistress, for
she was the only one who, two or three times half-turning her head, had
appeared to take cognisance of my fixed stare. I asked the lift-boy
whether he knew of any people at Balbec called Simonet. Not liking to
admit that there was anything which he did not know, he replied that he
seemed to have heard the name somewhere. As we reached the highest
landing I told him to have the latest lists of visitors sent up to me.

I stepped out of the lift, but instead of going to my room I made my way
farther along the corridor, for before my arrival the valet in charge of
the landing, despite his horror of draughts, had opened the window at
the end, which instead of looking out to the sea faced the hill and
valley inland, but never allowed them to be seen, for its panes, which
were made of clouded glass, were generally closed. I made a short
"station" in front of it, time enough just to pay my devotions to the
view which for once it revealed over the hill against which the back of
the hotel rested, a view that contained but a solitary house, planted in
the middle distance, though the perspective and the evening light in
which I saw it, while preserving its mass, gave it a sculptural beauty
and a velvet background, as though to one of those architectural works
in miniature, tiny temples or chapels wrought in gold and enamels, which
serve as reliquaries and are exposed only on rare and solemn days for
the veneration of the faithful. But this moment of adoration had already
lasted too long, for the valet, who carried in one hand a bunch of keys
and with the other saluted me by touching his verger's skull-cap, though
without raising it, on account of the pure, cool evening air, came and
drew together, like those of a shrine, the two sides of the window, and
so shut off the minute edifice, the glistening relic from my adoring
gaze. I went into my room. Regularly, as the season advanced, the
picture that I found there in my window changed. At first it was broad
daylight, and dark only if the weather was bad: and then, in the
greenish glass which it distended with the curve of its round waves, the
sea, set among the iron uprights of my window like a piece of stained
glass in its leads, ravelled out over all the deep rocky border of the
bay little plumed triangles of an unmoving spray delineated with the
delicacy of a feather or a downy breast from Pisanello's pencil, and
fixed in that white, unalterable, creamy enamel which is used to depict
fallen snow in Gallé's glass.

Presently the days grew shorter and at the moment when I entered my room
the violet sky seemed branded with the stiff, geometrical, travelling,
effulgent figure of the sun (like the representation of some miraculous
sign, of some mystical apparition) leaning over the sea from the hinge
of the horizon as a sacred picture leans over a high altar, while the
different parts of the western sky exposed in the glass fronts of the
low mahogany bookcases that ran along the walls, which I carried back in
my mind to the marvellous painting from which they had been detached,
seemed like those different scenes which some old master executed long
ago for a confraternity upon a shrine, whose separate panels are now
exhibited side by side upon the wall of a museum gallery, so that the
visitor's imagination alone can restore them to their place on the
predella of the reredos. A few weeks later, when I went upstairs, the
sun had already set. Like the one that I used to see at Combray, behind
the Calvary, when I was coming home from a walk and looking forward to
going down to the kitchen before dinner, a band of red sky over the sea,
compact and clear-cut as a layer of aspic over meat, then, a little
later, over a sea already cold and blue like a grey mullet, a sky of the
same pink as the salmon that we should presently be ordering at
Rivebelle reawakened the pleasure which I was to derive from the act of
dressing to go out to dinner. Over the sea, quite near the shore, were
trying to rise, one beyond another, at wider and wider intervals,
vapours of a pitchy blackness but also of the polish and consistency of
agate, of a visible weight, so much so that the highest among them,
poised at the end of their contorted stem and overreaching the centre of
gravity of the pile that had hitherto supported them, seemed on the
point of bringing down in ruin this lofty structure already half the
height of the sky, and of precipitating it into the sea. The sight of a
ship that was moving away like a nocturnal traveller gave me the same
impression that I had had in the train of being set free from the
necessity of sleep and from confinement in a bedroom. Not that I felt
myself a prisoner in the room in which I now was, since in another hour
I should have left it and be getting into the carriage. I threw myself
down on the bed; and, just as if I had been lying in a berth on board
one of those steamers which I could see quite near to me and which, when
night came, it would be strange to see stealing slowly out into the
darkness, like shadowy and silent but unsleeping swans, I was on all
sides surrounded by pictures of the sea.

But as often as not they were, indeed, only pictures; I forgot that
below their coloured expanse was hollowed the sad desolation of the
beach, travelled by the restless evening breeze whose breath I had so
anxiously felt on my arrival at Balbec; besides, even in my room, being
wholly taken up with thoughts of the girls whom I had seen go past, I
was no longer in a state of mind calm or disinterested enough to allow
the formation of any really deep impression of beauty. The anticipation
of dinner at Rivebelle made my mood more frivolous still, and my mind,
dwelling at such moments upon the surface of the body which I was going
to dress up so as to try to appear as pleasing as possible in the
feminine eyes which would be scrutinising me in the brilliantly lighted
restaurant, was incapable of putting any depth behind the colour of
things. And if, beneath my window, the unwearying, gentle flight of
sea-martins and swallows had not arisen like a playing fountain, like
living fireworks, joining the intervals between their soaring rockets
with the motionless white streaming lines of long horizontal wakes of
foam, without the charming miracle of this natural and local phenomenon,
which brought into touch with reality the scenes that I had before my
eyes, I might easily have believed that they were no more than a
selection, made afresh every day, of paintings which were shewn quite
arbitrarily in the place in which I happened to be and without having
any necessary connexion with that place: At one time it was an
exhibition of Japanese colour-prints: beside the neat disc of sun, red
and round as the moon, a yellow cloud seemed a lake against which black
swords were outlined like the trees upon its shore; a bar of a tender
pink which I had never seen again after my first paint-box swelled out
into a river on either bank of which boats seemed to be waiting high and
dry for some one to push them down and set them afloat. And with the
contemptuous, bored, frivolous glance of an amateur or a woman hurrying
through a picture gallery between two social engagements, I would say to
myself: "Curious sunset, this; it's different from what they usually are
but after all I've seen them just as fine, just as remarkable as this."
I had more pleasure on evenings when a ship, absorbed and liquefied by
the horizon so much the same in colour as herself (an Impressionist
exhibition this time) that it seemed to be also of the same matter,
appeared as if some one had simply cut out with a pair of scissors her
bows and the rigging in which she tapered into a slender filigree from
the vaporous blue of the sky. Sometimes the ocean filled almost the
whole of my window, when it was enlarged and prolonged by a band of sky
edged at the top only by a line that was of the same blue as the sea, so
that I supposed it all to be still sea, and the change in colour due
only to some effect of light and shade. Another day the sea was painted
only in the lower part of the window, all the rest of which was so
filled with innumerable clouds, packed one against another in horizontal
bands, that its panes seemed to be intended, for some special purpose or
to illustrate a special talent of the artist, to present a "Cloud
Study", while the fronts of the various bookcases shewing similar clouds
but in another part of the horizon and differently coloured by the
light, appeared to be offering as it were the repetition--of which
certain of our contemporaries are so fond--of one and the same effect
always observed at different hours but able now in the immobility of art
to be seen all together in a single room, drawn in pastel and mounted
under glass. And sometimes to a sky and sea uniformly grey a rosy touch
would be added with an exquisite delicacy, while a little butterfly that
had gone to sleep at the foot of the window seemed to be attaching with
its wings at the corner of this "Harmony in Grey and Pink" in the
Whistler manner the favourite signature of the Chelsea master. The pink
vanished; there was nothing now left to look at. I rose for a moment and
before lying down again drew close the inner curtains. Above them I
could see from my bed the ray of light that still remained, growing
steadily fainter and thinner, but it was without any feeling of sadness,
without any regret for its passing that I thus allowed to die above the
curtains the hour at which, as a rule, I was seated at table, for I knew
that this day was of another kind than ordinary days, longer, like those
arctic days which night interrupts for a few minutes only; I knew that
from the chrysalis of the dusk was preparing to emerge, by a radiant
metamorphosis, the dazzling light of the Rivebelle restaurant. I said to
myself: "It is time"; I stretched myself on the bed, and rose, and
finished dressing; and I found a charm in these idle moments, lightened
of every material burden, in which while down below the others were
dining I was employing the forces accumulated during the inactivity of
this last hour of the day only in drying my washed body, in putting on a
dinner jacket, in tying my tie, in making all those gestures which were
already dictated by the anticipated pleasure of seeing again some woman
whom I had noticed, last time, at Rivebelle, who had seemed to be
watching me, had perhaps left the table for a moment only in the hope
that I would follow her; it was with joy that I enriched myself with all
these attractions so as to give myself, whole, alert, willing, to a new
life, free, without cares, in which I would lean my hesitations upon the
calm strength of Saint-Loup, and would choose from among the different
species of animated nature and the produce of every land those which,
composing the unfamiliar dishes that my companion would at once order,
might have tempted my appetite or my imagination. And then at the end of
the season came the days when I could no longer pass indoors from the
"front" through the dining-room; its windows stood open no more, for it
was night now outside and the swarm of poor folk and curious idlers,
attracted by the blaze of light which they might not reach, hung in
black clusters chilled by the north wind to the luminous sliding walls
of that buzzing hive of glass.

There was a knock at my door; it was Aimé who had come upstairs in
person with the latest lists of visitors.

Aimé could not go away without telling me that Dreyfus was guilty a
thousand times over. "It will all come out," he assured me, "not this
year, but next. It was a gentleman who's very thick with the General
Staff, told me. I asked him if they wouldn't decide to bring it all to
light at once, before the year is out. He laid down his cigarette,"
Aimé went on, acting the scene for my benefit, and shaking his head and
his forefinger as his informant had done, as much as to say: "We mustn't
expect too much!"--"'Not this year, Aimé,' those were his very words,
putting his hand on my shoulder, 'It isn't possible. But next Easter,
yes!'" And Aimé tapped me gently on my shoulder, saying, "You see, I'm
letting you have it exactly as he told me," whether because he was
flattered at this act of familiarity by a distinguished person or so
that I might better appreciate, with a full knowledge of the facts, the
worth of the arguments and our grounds for hope.

It was not without a slight throb of the heart that on the first page of
the list I caught sight of the words "Simonet and family." I had in me a
store of old dream-memories which dated from my childhood, and in which
all the tenderness (tenderness that existed in my heart, but, when my
heart felt it, was not distinguishable from anything else) was wafted to
me by a person as different as possible from myself. This person, once
again I fashioned her, utilising for the purpose the name Simonet and
the memory of the harmony that had reigned between the young bodies
which I had seen displaying themselves on the beach, in a sportive
procession worthy of Greek art or of Giotto. I knew not which of these
girls was Mlle. Simonet, if indeed any of them were so named, but I did
know that I was loved by Mlle. Simonet and that I was going, with
Saint-Loup's help, to attempt to know her. Unfortunately, having on that
condition only obtained an extension of his leave, he was obliged to
report for duty every day at Doncières: but to make him forsake his
military duty I had felt that I might count, more even than on his
friendship for myself, on that same curiosity, as a human naturalist,
which I myself had so often felt--even without having seen the person
mentioned, and simply on hearing some one say that there was a pretty
cashier at a fruiterer's--to acquaint myself with a new variety of
feminine beauty. But that curiosity I had been wrong in hoping to excite
in Saint-Loup by speaking to him of my band of girls. For it had been
and would long remain paralysed in him by his love for that actress
whose lover he was. And even if he had felt it lightly stirring him he
would have repressed it, from an almost superstitious belief that on his
own fidelity might depend that of his mistress. And so it was without
any promise from him that he would take an active interest in my girls
that we started out to dine at Rivebelle.

At first, when we arrived there, the sun used just to have set, but it
was light still; in the garden outside the restaurant, where the lamps
had not yet been lighted, the heat of the day fell and settled, as
though in a vase along the sides of which the transparent, dusky jelly
of the air seemed of such consistency that a tall rose-tree fastened
against the dim wall which it streaked with pink veins, looked like the
arborescence that one sees at the heart of an onyx. Presently night had
always fallen when we left the carriage, often indeed before we started
from Balbec if the evening was wet and we had put off sending for the
carriage in the hope of the weather's improving. But on those days it
was without any sadness that I listened to the wind howling, I knew that
it did not mean the abandonment of my plans, imprisonment in my bedroom;
I knew that in the great dining-room of the restaurant, which we would
enter to the sound of the music of the gipsy band, the innumerable lamps
would triumph easily over darkness and chill, by applying to them their
broad cauteries of molten gold, and I jumped light-heartedly after
Saint-Loup into the closed carriage which stood waiting for us in the
rain. For some time past the words of Bergotte, when he pronounced
himself positive that, in spite of all I might say, I had been created
to enjoy, pre-eminently, the pleasures of the mind, had restored to me,
with regard to what I might succeed in achieving later on, a hope that
was disappointed afresh every day by the boredom that I felt on setting
myself down before a writing-table to start work on a critical essay or
a novel. "After all," I said to myself, "possibly the pleasure that its
author has found in writing it is not the infallible test of the
literary value of a page; it may be only an accessory, one that is often
to be found superadded to that value, but the want of which can have no
prejudicial effect on it. Perhaps some of the greatest masterpieces were
written yawning." My grandmother set my doubts at rest by telling me
that I should be able to work and should enjoy working as soon as my
health improved. And, our doctor having thought it only prudent to warn
me of the grave risks to which my state of health might expose me, and
having outlined all the hygienic precaution that I ought to take to
avoid any accident--I subordinated all my pleasures to an object which I
judged to be infinitely more important than them, that of becoming
strong enough to be able to bring into being the work which I had,
possibly, within me; I had been exercising over myself, ever since I had
come to Balbec, a scrupulous and constant control. Nothing would have
induced me, there, to touch the cup of coffee which would have robbed me
of the night's sleep that was necessary if I was not to be tired next
day. But as soon as we reached Rivebelle, immediately, what with the
excitement of a new pleasure, and finding myself in that different zone
into which the exception to our rule of life takes us after it has cut
the thread, patiently spun throughout so many days, that was guiding us
towards wisdom--as though there were never to be any such thing as
to-morrow, nor any lofty aims to be realised, vanished all that exact
machinery of prudent hygienic measures which had been working to
safeguard them. A waiter was offering to take my coat, whereupon
Saint-Loup asked: "You're sure you won't be cold? Perhaps you'ld better
keep it: it's not very warm in here."

"No, no," I assured him; and perhaps I did not feel the cold; but
however that might be, I no longer knew the fear of falling ill, the
necessity of not dying, the importance of work. I gave up my coat; we
entered the dining-room to the sound of some warlike march played by the
gipsies, we advanced between two rows of tables laid for dinner as along
an easy path of glory, and, feeling a happy glow imparted to our bodies
by the rhythms of the orchestra which rendered us its military honours,
gave us this unmerited triumph, we concealed it beneath it grave and
frozen mien, beneath a languid, casual gait, so as not to be like those
music-hall "mashers" who, having wedded a ribald verse to a patriotic
air, come running on to the stage with the martial countenance of a
victorious general.

From that moment I was a new man, who was no longer my grandmother's
grandson and would remember her only when it was time to get up and go,
but the brother, for the time being, of the waiters who were going to
bring us our dinner.

The dose of beer--all the more, that of champagne--which at Balbec I
should not have ventured to take in a week, albeit to my calm and lucid
consciousness the flavour of those beverages represented a pleasure
clearly appreciable, since it was also one that could easily be
sacrificed, I now imbibed at a sitting, adding to it a few drops of port
wine, too much distracted to be able to taste it, and I gave the
violinist who had just been playing the two louis which I had been
saving up for the last month with a view to buying something, I could
not, remember what. Several of the waiters, set going among the tables,
were flying along at full speed, each carrying on his outstretched palms
a dish which it seemed to be the object of this kind of race not to let
fall. And in fact the chocolate _soufflés_ arrived at their destination
unspilled, the potatoes _à l'anglaise_, in spite of the pace which
ought to have sent them flying, came arranged as at the start round the
Pauilhac lamb. I noticed one of these servants, very tall, plumed with
superb black locks, his face dyed in a tint that suggested rather
certain species of rare birds than a human being, who, running without
pause (and, one would have said, without purpose) from one end of the
room to the other, made me think of one of those macaws which fill the
big aviaries in zoological gardens with their gorgeous colouring and
incomprehensible agitation. Presently the spectacle assumed an order, in
my eyes at least, growing at once more noble and more calm. All this
dizzy activity became fixed in a quiet harmony. I looked at the round
tables whose innumerable assemblage filled the restaurant like so many
planets, as planets are represented in old allegorical pictures.
Moreover, there seemed to be some irresistibly attractive force at work
among these divers stars, and at each table the diners had eyes only for
the tables at which they were not sitting, except perhaps some wealthy
amphitryon who, having managed to secure a famous author, was
endeavouring to extract from him, thanks to the magic properties of the
turning table, a few unimportant remarks at which the ladies marvelled.
The harmony of these astral tables did not prevent the incessant
revolution of the countless servants who, because instead of being
seated like the diners they were on their feet, performed their
evolutions in a more exalted sphere. No doubt they were running, one to
fetch the _hors d'œuvre_, another to change the wine or with clean
glasses. But despite these special reasons, their perpetual course among
the round tables yielded, after a time, to the observer the law of its
dizzy but ordered circulation. Seated behind a bank of flowers, two
horrible cashiers, busy with endless calculations, seemed two witches
occupied in forecasting by astrological signs the disasters that might
from time to time occur in this celestial vault fashioned according to
the scientific conceptions of the middle ages.

And I rather pitied all the diners because I felt that for them the
round tables were not planets and that they had not cut through the
scheme of things one of those sections which deliver us from the bondage
of appearances and enable us to perceive analogies. They thought that
they were dining with this or that person, that the dinner would cost
roughly so much, and that to-morrow they would begin all over again. And
they appeared absolutely unmoved by the progress through their midst of
a train of young assistants who, having probably at that moment no
urgent duty, advanced processionally bearing rolls of bread in baskets.
Some of them, the youngest, stunned by the cuffs which the head waiters
administered to them as they passed, fixed melancholy eyes upon a
distant dream and were consoled only if some visitor from the Balbec
hotel in which they had once been employed, recognising them, said a few
words to them, telling them in person to take away the champagne which
was not fit to drink, an order that filled them with pride.

I could hear the twingeing of my nerves, in which there was a sense of
comfort independent of the external objects that might have produced it,
a comfort which the least shifting of my body or of my attention was
enough to make me feel, just as to a shut eye a slight pressure gives
the sensation of colour. I had already drunk a good deal of port wine,
and if I now asked for more it was not so much with a view to the
comfort which the additional glasses would bring me as an effect of the
comfort produced by the glasses that had gone before. I allowed the
music itself to guide to each of its notes my pleasure which, meekly
following, rested on each in turn. If, like one of those chemical
industries by means of which are prepared in large quantities bodies
which in a state of nature come together only by accident and very
rarely, this restaurant at Rivebelle united at one and the same moment
more women to tempt me with beckoning vistas of happiness than the
hazard of walks and drives would have made me encounter in a year; on
the other hand, this music that greeted our ears,--arrangements of
waltzes, of German operettas, of music-hall songs, all of them quite new
to me--was itself like an ethereal resort of pleasure superimposed upon
the other and more intoxicating still. For these tunes, each as
individual as a woman, were not keeping, as she would have kept, for
some privileged person, the voluptuous secret which they contained: they
offered me their secrets, ogled me, came up to me with affected or
vulgar movements, accosted me, caressed me as if I had suddenly become
more seductive, more powerful and more rich; I indeed found in these
tunes an element of cruelty; because any such thing as a disinterested
feeling for beauty, a gleam of intelligence was unknown to them; for
them physical pleasures alone existed. And they are the most merciless
of hells, the most gateless and imprisoning for the jealous wretch to
whom they present that pleasure--that pleasure which the woman he loves
is enjoying with another--as the only thing that exists in the world for
her who is all the world to him. But while I was humming softly to
myself the notes of this tune, and returning its kiss, the pleasure
peculiar to itself which it made me feel became so dear to me that I
would have left my father and mother, to follow it through the singular
world which it constructed in the invisible, in lines instinct with
alternate languor and vivacity. Although such a pleasure as this is not
calculated to enhance the value of the person to whom it comes, for it
is perceived by him alone, and although whenever, in the course of our
life, we have failed to attract a woman who has caught sight of us, she
could not tell whether at that moment we possessed this inward and
subjective felicity which, consequently, could in no way have altered
the judgment that she passed on us, I felt myself more powerful, almost
irresistible. It seemed to me that my love was no longer something
unattractive, at which people might smile, but had precisely the
touching beauty, the seductiveness of this music, itself comparable to a
friendly atmosphere in which she whom I loved and I were to meet,
suddenly grown intimate.

This restaurant was the resort not only of light women; it was
frequented also by people in the very best society, who came there for
afternoon tea or gave big dinner-parties. The tea-parties were held in a
long gallery, glazed and narrow, shaped like a funnel, which led from
the entrance hall to the dining-room and was bounded on one side by the
garden, from which it was separated (save for a few stone pillars) only
by its wall of glass, in which panes would be opened here and there. The
result of which, apart from ubiquitous draughts, was sudden and
intermittent bursts of sunshine, a dazzling light that made it almost
impossible to see the tea-drinkers, so that when they were installed
there, at tables crowded pair after pair the whole way along the narrow
gully, as they were shot with colours at every movement they made in
drinking their tea or in greeting one another, you would have called it
a reservoir, a stewpond in which the fisherman has collected all his
glittering catch, and the fish, half out of water and bathed in
sunlight, dazzle the eye as they mirror an ever-changing iridescence.

A few hours later, during dinner, which, naturally, was served in the
dining-room, the lights would be turned on, although it was still quite
light out of doors, so that one saw before one's eyes, in the garden,
among summer-houses glimmering in the twilight, like pale spectres of
evening, alleys whose greyish verdure was pierced by the last rays of
the setting sun and, from the lamp-lit room in which we were dining,
appeared through the glass--no longer, as one would have said of the
ladies who had been drinking tea there in the afternoon, along the blue
and gold corridor, caught in a glittering and dripping net--but like the
vegetation of a pale and green aquarium of gigantic size seen by a
supernatural light. People began to rise from table; and if each party
while their dinner lasted, albeit they spent the whole time examining,
recognising, naming the party at the next table, had been held in
perfect cohesion about their own, the attractive force that had kept
them gravitating round their host of the evening lost its power at the
moment when, for coffee, they repaired to the same corridor that had
been used for the tea-parties; it often happened that in its passage
from place to place some party on the march dropped one or more of its
human corpuscles who, having come under the irresistible attraction of
the rival party, detached themselves for a moment from their own, in
which their places were taken by ladies or gentlemen who had come across
to speak to friends before hurrying off with an "I really must fly: I'm
dining with M. So-and-So." And for the moment you would have been
reminded, looking at them, of two separate nosegays that had exchanged a
few of their flowers. Then the corridor too began to empty. Often, since
even after dinner there was still a little light left outside, they left
this long corridor unlighted, and, skirted by the trees that overhung it
on the other side of the glass, it suggested a pleached alley in a
wooded and shady garden. Here and there, in the gloom, a fair diner
lingered. As I passed through this corridor one evening on my way out I
saw, sitting among a group of strangers, the beautiful Princesse de
Luxembourg. I raised my hat without stopping. She remembered me, and
bowed her head with a smile; in the air, far above her bowed head, but
emanating from the movement, rose melodiously a few words addressed to
myself, which must have been a somewhat amplified good evening, intended
not to stop me but simply to complete the gesture, to make it a spoken
greeting. But her words remained so indistinct and the sound which was
all that I caught was prolonged so sweetly and seemed to me so musical
that it seemed as if among the dim branches of the trees a nightingale
had begun to sing. If it so happened that, to finish the evening with a
party of his friends whom we had met, Saint-Loup decided to go on to the
Casino of a neighbouring village, and, taking them with him, put me in
a carriage by myself, I would urge the driver to go as fast as he
possibly could, so that the minutes might pass less slowly which I must
spend without having anyone at hand to dispense me from the obligation
myself to provide my sensibility--reversing the engine, to speak, and
emerging from the passivity in which I was caught and held as in the
teeth of a machine--with those modifications which, since my arrival at
Rivebelle, I had been receiving from other people. The risk of collision
with a carriage coming the other way along those lanes where there was
barely room for one and it was dark as pitch, the insecurity of the
soil, crumbling in many places, at the cliffs edge, the proximity of its
vertical drop to the sea, none of these things exerted on me the slight
stimulus that would have been required to bring the vision and the fear
of danger within the scope of my reasoning. For just as it is not the
desire to become famous but the habit of being laborious that enables us
to produce a finished work, so it is not the activity of the present
moment but wise reflexions from the past that help us to safeguard the
future. But if already, before this point, on my arrival at Rivebelle, I
had flung irretrievably away from me those crutches of reason and
self-control which help our infirmity to follow the right road, if I now
found myself the victim of a sort of moral ataxy, the alcohol that I had
drunk, by unduly straining my nerves, gave to the minutes as they came a
quality, a charm which did not have the result of leaving me more ready,
or indeed more resolute to inhibit them, prevent their coming; for while
it made me prefer them a thousand times to anything else in my life, my
exaltation made me isolate them from everything else; I was confined to
the present, as heroes are or drunkards; eclipsed for the moment, my
past no longer projected before me that shadow of itself which we call
our future; placing the goal of my life no longer in the realisation of
the dreams of that past, but in die felicity of the present moment, I
could see nothing now of what lay beyond it. So that, by a contradiction
which, however, was only apparent, it was at the very moment in which I
was tasting an unfamiliar pleasure, feeling that my life might yet be
happy, in which it should have become more precious in my sight; it was
at this very moment that, delivered from the anxieties which my life had
hitherto contrived to suggest to me, I unhesitatingly abandoned it to
the chance of an accident. After all, I was doing no more than
concentrate in a single evening the carelessness that, for most men, is
diluted throughout their whole existence, in which every day they face,
unnecessarily, the dangers of a sea-voyage, of a trip in an aeroplane or
motor-car, when there is waiting for them at home the creature whose
life their death would shatter, or when there is still stored in the
fragile receptacle of their brain that book the approaching publication
of which is their one object, now, in life. And so too in the Rivebelle
restaurant, on evenings when we just stayed there after dinner, if
anyone had come in with the intention of killing me, as I no longer saw,
save in a distant prospect too remote to have any reality, my
grandmother, my life to come, the books that I was going to write, as I
clung now, body and mind, wholly to the scent of the lady at the next
table, the politeness of the waiters, the outline of the waltz that the
band was playing, as I was glued to my immediate sensation, with no
extension beyond its limits, nor any object other than not to be
separated from it, I should have died in and with that sensation, I
should have let myself be strangled without offering any resistance,
without a movement, a bee drugged with tobacco smoke that had ceased to
take any thought for preserving the accumulation of its labours and the
hopes of its hive.

I ought here to add that this insignificance into which the most serious
matters subsided, by contrast with the violence of my exaltation, came
in the end to include Mlle. Simonet and her friends. The enterprise of
knowing them seemed to me easy now but hardly worth the trouble, for my
immediate sensation alone, thanks to its extraordinary intensity, to the
joy that its slightest modifications, its mere continuity provoked, had
any importance for me; all the rest, parents, work, pleasures, girls at
Balbec, weighed with me no more than does a flake of foam in a strong
wind that will not let it find a resting place, existed no longer save
in relation to this internal power: intoxication makes real for an hour
or two a subjective idealism, pure phenomenism; nothing is left now but
appearances, nothing exists save as a function of our sublime self. This
is not to say that a genuine love, if we have one, cannot survive in
such conditions. But we feel so unmistakably, as though in a new
atmosphere, that unknown pressures have altered the dimensions of that
sentiment that we can no longer consider it in the old way. It is indeed
still there and we shall find it, but in a different place, no longer
weighing upon us, satisfied by the sensation which the present affords
it, a sensation that is sufficient for us, since for what is not
actually present we take no thought. Unfortunately the coefficient which
thus alters our values alters them only in the hour of intoxication. The
people who had lost all their importance, whom we scattered with our
breath like soap-bubbles, will to-morrow resume their density; we shall
have to try afresh to settle down to work which this evening had ceased
to have any significance. A more serious matter still, these mathematics
of the morrow, the same as those of yesterday, in whose problems we
shall find ourselves inexorably involved, it is they that govern us even
in these hours, and we alone are unconscious of their rule. If there
should happen to be, near us, a woman, virtuous or inimical, that
question so difficult an hour ago--to know whether we should succeed in
finding favour with her--seems to us now a million times easier of
solution without having become easier in any respect, for it is only in
our own sight, in our own inward sight that we have altered. And she is
as much annoyed with us at this moment as we shall be next day at the
thought of our having given a hundred francs to the messenger, and for
the same reason which in our case has merely been delayed in its
operation, namely the absence of intoxication.

I knew none of the women who were at Rivebelle and, because they formed
a part of my intoxication just as its reflexions form part of a mirror,
appeared to me now a thousand times more to be desired than the less and
less existent Mlle. Simonet. One of them, young, fair, by herself, with
a sad expression on a face framed in a straw hat trimmed with
field-flowers, gazed at me for a moment with a dreamy air and struck me
as being attractive. Then it was the turn of another, and of a third;
finally of a dark one with glowing cheeks. Almost all of them were
known, if not to myself, to Saint-Loup.

He had, in fact, before he made the acquaintance of his present
mistress, lived so much in the restricted world of amorous adventure
that all the women who would be dining on these evenings at Rivebelle,
where many of them had appeared quite by chance, having come to the
coast some to join their lovers, others in the hope of finding fresh
lovers there, there was scarcely one that he did not know from having
spent--or if not he, one or other of his friends--at least one night in
their company. He did not bow to them if they were with men, and they,
albeit they looked more at him than at anyone else, for the indifference
which he was known to feel towards every woman who was not his actress
gave him in their eyes an exceptional interest, appeared not to know
him. But you could hear them whispering: "That's young Saint-Loup. It
seems he's still quite gone on that girl of his. Got it bad, he has.
What a dear boy! I think he's just wonderful; and what style! Some girls
do have all the luck, don't they? And he's so nice in every way. I saw a
lot of him when I was with d'Orléans. They were quite inseparable,
those two. He was going the pace, that time. But he's given it all up
now, she can't complain. She's had a good run of luck, that she can say.
And I ask you, what in the world can he see in her? He must be a bit of
a chump, when all's said and done. She's got feet like boats, whiskers
like an American, and her undies are filthy. I can tell you, a little
shop girl would be ashamed to be seen in her knickers. Do just look at
his eyes a moment; you would jump into the fire for a man like that.
Hush, don't say a word; he's seen me; look, he's smiling. Oh, he
remembers me all right. Just you mention my name to him, and see what he
says!" Between these girls and him I surprised a glance of mutual
Understanding. I should have liked him to introduce me to them, so that
I might ask them for assignations and they give them to me, even if I
had been unable to keep them. For otherwise their appearance would
remain for all time devoid, in my memory, of that part of itself--just
as though it had been hidden by a veil which varies in every woman,
which we cannot imagine in any woman until we have actually seen it in
her, and which is apparent only in the glance that she directs at us,
that acquiesces in our desire and promises that it shall be satisfied.
And yet, even when thus reduced, their aspect was for me far more than
that of women whom I should have known to be virtuous, and it seemed to
me not to be, like theirs, flat, with nothing behind it, fashioned in
one piece with no solidity. It was not, of course, for me what it must
be for Saint-Loup who, by an act of memory, beneath the indifference,
transparent to him, of the motionless features which affected not to
know him, or beneath the dull formality of the greeting that might
equally well have been addressed to anyone else, could recall, could
see, through dishevelled locks, a swooning mouth, a pair of half-closed
eyes, a whole silent picture like those that painters, to cheat their
visitors' senses, drape with a decent covering. Undoubtedly, for me who
felt that nothing of my personality had penetrated the surface of this
woman or that, or would be borne by her upon the unknown ways which she
would tread through life, those faces remained sealed. But it was quite
enough to know that they did open, for them to seem to me of a price
which I should not have set on them had they been but precious medals,
instead of lockets within which were hidden memories of love. As for
Robert, scarcely able to keep in his place at table, concealing beneath
a courtier's smile his warrior's thirst for action--when I examined him
I could see how closely the vigorous structure of his triangular face
must have been modelled on that of his ancestors' faces, a face devised
rather for an ardent bowman than for a delicate student. Beneath his
fine skin the bold construction, the feudal architecture were apparent.
His head made one think of those old dungeon keeps on which the disused
battlements are still to be seen, although inside they have been
converted into libraries.

On our way back to Balbec, of those of the fair strangers to whom he had
introduced me I would repeat to myself without a moment's interruption,
and yet almost unconsciously: "What a delightful woman!" as one chimes
in with the refrain of a song. I admit that these words were prompted
rather by the state of my nerves than by any lasting judgment. It was
nevertheless true that if I had had a thousand francs on me and if there
had still been a jeweller's shop open at that hour, I should have bought
the lady a ring. When the successive hours of our life are thus
displayed against too widely dissimilar backgrounds, we find that we
give away too much of ourselves to all sorts of people who next day will
not interest us in the least. But we feel that we are still responsible
for what we said to them overnight, and that we must honour our

As on these evenings I came back later than usual to the hotel, it was
with joy that I recognised, in a room no longer hostile, the bed on
which, on the day of my arrival, I had supposed that it would always be
impossible for me to find any rest, whereas now my weary limbs turned to
it for support; so that, in turn, thighs, hips, shoulders burrowed into,
trying to adhere at every angle to the sheets that covered its mattress,
as if my fatigue, like a sculptor, had wished to take a cast of an
entire human body. But I could not go to sleep; I felt the approach of
morning; peace of mind, health of body were no longer mine. In my
distress it seemed that never should I recapture them. I should have had
to sleep for a long time if I were to overtake them. But then, had I
begun to doze, I must in any event be awakened in a couple of hours by
the symphonic concert on the beach. Suddenly I was asleep, I had fallen
into that deep slumber in which are opened to us a return to childhood,
the recapture of past years, of lost feelings, the disincarnation, the
transmigration of the soul, the evoking of the dead, the illusions of
madness, retrogression towards the most elementary of the natural
kingdoms (for we say that we often see animals in our dreams, but we
forget almost always that we are ourself then an animal deprived of that
reasoning power which projects upon things the light of certainty; we
present on the contrary to the spectacle of life only a dubious vision,
destroyed afresh every moment by oblivion, the former reality fading
before that which follows it as one projection of a magic lantern fades
before the next as we change the slide), all those mysteries which we
imagine ourselves not to know and into which we are in reality initiated
almost every night, as we are into the other great mystery of
annihilation and resurrection. Rendered more vagabond by the difficulty
of digesting my Rivebelle dinner, the successive and flickering
illumination of shadowy zones of my past made of me a being whose
supreme happiness would have been that of meeting Legrandin, with whom I
had just been talking in my dream.

And then, even my own life was entirely hidden from me by a new setting,
like the "drop" lowered right at the front of the stage before which,
while the scene shifters are busy behind, actors appear in a fresh
"turn". The turn in which I was now cast for a part was in the manner of
an Oriental fairy tale; I retained no knowledge of my past or of myself,
on account of the intense proximity of this interpolated scenery; I was
merely a person who received the bastinado and underwent various
punishments for a crime the nature of which I could not distinguish,
though it was actually that of having taken too much port wine. Suddenly
I awoke and discovered that, thanks to a long sleep, I had not heard a
note of the concert. It was already afternoon; I verified this by my
watch after several efforts to sit up in bed, efforts fruitless at first
and interrupted by backward falls on to my pillow, but those short falls
which are a sequel of sleep as of other forms of intoxication, whether
due to wine or to convalescence; besides, before I had so much as looked
at the time, I was certain that it was past midday. Last night I had
been nothing more than an empty vessel, without weight, and (since I
must first have gone to bed to be able to keep still, and have been
asleep to be able to keep silent) had been unable to refrain from moving
about and talking; I had no longer any stability, any centre of gravity,
I was set in motion and it seemed that I might have continued on my
dreary course until I reached the moon. But if, while I slept, my eyes
had not seen the time, my body had nevertheless contrived to calculate
it; had measured the hours; not on a dial superficially marked and
figured, but by the steadily growing weight of all my replenished forces
which, like a powerful clockwork, it had allowed, notch by notch, to
descend from my brain into the rest of my body in which there had risen
now to above my knees the unbroken abundance of their store. If it is
true that the sea was once upon a time our native element, into which we
must plunge our cooling blood if we are to recover our strength, it is
the same with the oblivion, the mental non-existence of we seem then to
absent ourselves for a few hours from Time, but the forces which we have
gathered in that interval without expending them, measure it by their
quantity as accurately as the pendulum of the clock or the crumbling
pyramid of the sandglass. Nor does one emerge more easily from such
sleep than from a prolonged spell of wakefulness, so strongly does
everything tend to persist; and if it is true that certain narcotics
make us sleep, to have slept for any time is an even stronger narcotic,
after which we have great difficulty in making ourselves wake up. Like a
sailor who sees plainly the harbour in which he can moor his vessel,
still tossed by the waves, I had a quite definite idea of looking at the
time and of getting up, but my body was at every moment cast back upon
the tide of sleep; the landing was difficult, and before I attained a
position in which I could reach my watch and confront with its time that
indicated by the wealth of accumulated material which my stiffened limbs
had at their disposal, I fell back two or three times more upon my

At length I could reach and read it: "Two o'clock in the afternoon!" I
rang; but at once I returned to a slumber which, this time, must have
lasted infinitely longer, if I was to judge by the refreshment, the
vision of an immense night overpassed, which I found on awakening. And
yet as my awakening was caused by the entry of Françoise, and as her
entry had been prompted by my ringing the bell, this second sleep which,
it seemed to me, must have been longer than the other, and had brought
me so much comfort and forgetfulness, could not have lasted for more
than half a minute.

My grandmother opened the door of my bedroom; I asked her various
questions about the Legrandin family.

It is not enough to say that I had returned to tranquillity and health,
for it was more than a mere interval of space that had divided them from
me yesterday, I had had all night long to struggle against a contrary
tide, and now I not only found myself again in their presence, they had
once more entered into me. At certain definite and still somewhat
painful points beneath the surface of my empty head which would one day
be broken, letting my ideas escape for all time, those ideas had once
again taken their proper places and resumed that existence by which
hitherto, alas, they had failed to profit.

Once again I had escaped from the impossibility of sleeping, from the
deluge, the shipwreck of my nervous storms. I feared now not at all the
menaces that had loomed over me the evening before, when I was
dismantled of repose. A new life was opening before me; without making a
single movement, for I was still shattered, although quite alert and
well, I savoured my weariness with a light heart; it had isolated and
broken asunder the bones of my legs and arms, which I could feel
assembled before me, ready to cleave together, and which I was to raise
to life merely by singing, like the builder in the fable.

Suddenly I thought of the fair girl with the sad expression whom I had
seen at Rivebelle, where she had looked at me for a moment. Many others,
in the course of the evening, had seemed to me attractive; now she alone
arose from the dark places of my memory. I had felt that she noticed me,
had expected one of the waiters to come to me with a whispered message
from her. Saint-Loup did not know her and fancied that she was
respectable. It would be very difficult to see her, to see her
constantly. But I was prepared to make any sacrifice, I thought now only
of her. Philosophy distinguishes often between free and necessary acts.
Perhaps there is none to the necessity of which we are more completely
subjected than that which, by virtue of an ascending power held in check
during the act itself, makes so unfailingly (once our mind is at rest)
spring up a memory that was levelled with other memories by the
distributed pressure of our indifference, and rush to the surface,
because unknown to us it contained, more than any of the others, a charm
of which we do not become aware until the following day. And perhaps
there is not, either, any act so free, for it is still unprompted by
habit, by that sort of mental hallucination which, when we are in love,
facilitates the invariable reappearance of the image of one particular

This was the day immediately following that on which I had seen file
past me against a background of sea the beautiful procession of young
girls. I put questions about them to a number of the visitors in the
hotel, people who came almost every year to Balbec. They could tell me
nothing. Later on, a photograph shewed me why. Who could ever recognise
now in them, scarcely and yet quite definitely beyond an age in which
one changes so utterly, that amorphous, delicious mass, still wholly
infantine, of little girls who, only a few years back, might have been
seen sitting in a ring on the sand round a tent; a sort of white and
vague constellation in which one would have distinguished a pair of eyes
that sparkled more than the rest, a mischievous face, flaxen hair, only
to lose them again and to confound them almost at once in the indistinct
and milky nebula.

No doubt, in those earlier years that were still so recent, it was not,
as it had been yesterday when they appeared for the first time before
me, one's impression of the group, but the group itself that had been
lacking in clearness. Then those children, mere babies, had been still
at that elementary stage in their formation when personality has not set
its seal on every face. Like those primitive organisms in which the
individual barely exists by itself, consists in the reef rather than in
the coral insects that compose it, they were still pressed one against
another. Sometimes one pushed her neighbour over, and then a wild laugh,
which seemed the sole manifestation of their personal life, convulsed
them all at once, obliterating, confounding those indefinite, grinning
faces in the congealment of a single cluster, scintillating and
tremulous. In an old photograph of themselves, which they were one day
to give me, and which I have kept ever since, their infantile troop
already presents the same number of participants as, later, their
feminine procession; one can see from it that their presence must, even
then, have made on the beach an unusual mark which forced itself on the
attention; but one cannot recognise them individually in it save by a
process of reasoning, leaving a clear field to all the transformations
possible during girlhood, up to the point at which one reconstructed
form would begin to encroach upon another individuality, which must be
identified also, and whose handsome face, owing to the accessories of a
large build and curly hair, may quite possibly have been, once, that
wizened and impish little grin which the photograph album presents to
us; and the distance traversed in a short interval of time by the
physical characteristics of each of these girls making of them a
criterion too vague to be of any use, whereas what they had in common
and, so to speak, collectively, had at that early date been strongly
marked, it sometimes happened that even their most intimate friends
mistook one for another in this photograph, so much so that the question
could in the last resort be settled only by some detail of costume which
one of them could be certain that she herself, and not any of the
others, had worn. Since those days, so different from the day on which I
had just seen them strolling along the "front", so different and yet so
close in time, they still gave way to fits of laughter, as I had
observed that afternoon, but to laughter of a kind that was no longer
the intermittent and almost automatic laughter of childhood, a spasmodic
discharge which, in those days, had continually sent their heads dipping
out of the circle, as the clusters of minnows in the Vivonne used to
scatter and vanish only to gather again a moment later; each countenance
was now mistress of itself, their eyes were fixed on the goal towards
which they were marching; and it had taken, yesterday, the indecision
and tremulousness of my first impression to make me confuse vaguely (as
their childish hilarity and the old photograph had confused) the spores
now individualised and disjoined of the pale madrepore.

Repeatedly, I dare say, when pretty girls went by, I had promised myself
that I would see them again. As a rule, people do not appear a second
time; moreover our memory, which speedily forgets their existence, would
find it difficult to recall their appearance; our eyes would not
recognise them, perhaps, and in the mean time we have seen new girls go
by, whom we shall not see again either. But at other times, and this was
what was to happen with the pert little band at Balbec, chance brings
them back insistently before our eyes. Chance seems to us then a good
and useful thing, for we discern in it as it were rudiments of
organisation, of an attempt to arrange our life; and it makes easy to
us, inevitable, and sometimes--after interruptions that have made us
hope that we may cease to remember--cruel, the retention in our minds of
images to the possession of which we shall come in time to believe that
we were predestined, and which but for chance we should from the very
first have managed to forget, like so many others, with so little

Presently Saint-Loup's visit drew to an end. I had not seen that party
of girls again on the beach. He was too little at Balbec in the
afternoons to have time to bother about them, or to attempt, in my
interest, to make their acquaintance. In the evenings he was more free,
and continued to take me constantly to Rivebelle. There are, in those
restaurants, as there are in public gardens and railway trains, people
embodied in a quite ordinary appearance, whose name astonishes us when,
having happened to ask it, we discover that this is not the mere
inoffensive stranger whom we supposed but nothing less than the Minister
or Duke of whom we have so often heard. Two or three times already, in
the Rivebelle restaurant, we had--Saint-Loup and I--seen come in and sit
down at a table when everyone else was getting ready to go, a man of
large stature, very muscular, with regular features and a grizzled
beard, gazing, with concentrated attention, into the empty air. One
evening, on our asking the landlord who was this obscure, solitary and
belated diner, "What!" he exclaimed, "do you mean to say you don't know
the famous painter Elstir?" Swann had once mentioned his name to me, I
had entirely forgotten in what connexion; but the omission of a
particular memory, like that of part of a sentence when we are reading,
leads sometimes not to uncertainty but to a birth of certainty that is
premature. "He is a friend of Swann, a very well known artist, extremely
good," I told Saint-Loup. Whereupon there passed over us both, like a
wave of emotion, the thought that Elstir was a great artist, a
celebrated man, and that, confounding us with the rest of the diners, he
had no suspicion of the ecstasy into which we were thrown by the idea of
his talent. Doubtless, his unconsciousness of our admiration and of our
acquaintance with Swann would not have troubled us had we not been at
the seaside. But since we were still at an age when enthusiasm cannot
keep silence, and had been transported into a life in which not to be
known is unendurable, we wrote a letter, signed with both our names, in
which we revealed to Elstir in the two diners seated within a few feet
of him two passionate admirers of his talent, two friends of his great
friend Swann, and asked to be allowed to pay our homage to him in
person. A waiter undertook to convey this missive to the celebrity.

A celebrity Elstir was, perhaps, not yet at this period quite to the
extent claimed by the landlord, though he was to reach the height of his
fame within a very few years. But he had been one of the first to
frequent this restaurant when it was still only a sort of farmhouse, and
had brought to it a whole colony of artists (who had all, as it
happened, migrated elsewhere as soon as the farm-yard in which they used
to feed in the open air, under a lean-to roof, had become a fashionable
centre); Elstir himself had returned to Rivebelle this evening only on
account of a temporary absence of his wife, from the house which he had
taken in the neighbourhood. But great talent, even when its existence is
not yet recognised, will inevitably provoke certain phenomena of
admiration, such as the landlord had managed to detect in the questions
asked by more than one English lady visitor, athirst for information as
to the life led by Elstir, or in the number of letters that he received
from abroad. Then the landlord had further remarked that Elstir did not
like to be disturbed when he was working, that he would rise in the
middle of the night and take a little model down to the water's edge to
pose for him, nude, if the moon was shining; and had told himself that
so much labour was not in vain, nor the admiration of the tourists
unjustified when he had, in one of Elstir's pictures, recognised a
wooden cross which stood by the roadside as you came into Rivebelle.

"It's all right!" he would repeat with stupefaction, "there are all the
four beams! Oh, he does take a lot of trouble!"

And he did not know whether a little _Sunrise over the Sea_ which Elstir
had given him might not be worth a fortune.

We watched him read our letter, put it in his pocket, finish his dinner,
begin to ask for his things, get up to go; and we were so convinced that
we had shocked him by our overture that we would now have hoped (as
keenly as at first we had dreaded) to make our escape without his
noticing us. We did not bear in mind for a single instant a
consideration which should, nevertheless, have seemed to us most
important, namely that our enthusiasm for Elstir, on the sincerity of
which we should not have allowed the least doubt to be cast, which we
could indeed have supported with the evidence of our breathing arrested
by expectancy, our desire to do no matter what that was difficult or
heroic for the great man, was not, as we imagined it to be, admiration,
since neither of us had ever seen anything that he had painted; our
feeling might have as its object the hollow idea of a "great artist",
but not a body of work which was unknown to us. It was, at the most,
admiration in the abstract, the nervous envelope, the sentimental
structure of an admiration without content, that is to say a thing as
indissolubly attached to boyhood as are certain organs which have ceased
to exist in the adult man; we were still boys. Elstir meanwhile was
reaching the door when suddenly he turned and came towards us. I was
transported by a delicious thrill of terror such as I could not have
felt a few years later, because, while age diminishes our capacity,
familiarity with the world has meanwhile destroyed in us any inclination
to provoke such strange encounters, to feel that kind of emotion.

In the course of the few words that Elstir had come back to say to us,
sitting down at our table, he never gave any answer on the several
occasions on which I spoke to him of Swann. I began to think that he did
not know him. He asked me, nevertheless, to come and see him at his
Balbec studio, an invitation which he did not extend to Saint-Loup, and
which I had earned (as I might not, perhaps, from Swann's
recommendation, had Elstir been intimate with him, for the part played
by disinterested motives is greater than we are inclined to think in
peopled lives) by a few words which made him think that I was devoted to
the arts. He lavished on me a friendliness which was as far above that
of Saint-Loup as that was above the affability of a mere tradesman.
Compared with that of a great artist, the friendliness of a great
gentleman, charming as it may be, has the effect of an actor's playing a
part, of being feigned. Saint-Loup sought to please; Elstir loved to
give, to give himself. Everything that he possessed, ideas, work, and
the rest which he counted for far less, he would have given gladly to
anyone who could understand him. But, failing society that was
endurable, he lived in an isolation, with a savagery which fashionable
people called pose and ill breeding, public authorities a recalcitrant
spirit, his neighbours madness, his family selfishness and pride.

And no doubt at first he had thought, even in his solitude, with
enjoyment that, thanks to his work, he was addressing, in spite of
distance, he was giving a loftier idea of himself to those who had
misunderstood or hurt him. Perhaps, in those days, he lived alone not
from indifference but from love of his fellows, and, just as I had
renounced Gilberte to appear to her again one day in more attractive
colours, dedicated his work to certain people as a way of approaching
them again, by which without actually seeing him they would be made to
love him, admire him, talk about him; a renunciation is not always
complete from the start, when we decide upon it in our original frame of
mind and before it has reacted upon us, whether it be the renunciation
of an invalid, a monk, an artist or a hero. But if he had wished to
produce with certain people in his mind, in producing he had lived for
himself, remote from the society to which he had become indifferent; the
practice of solitude had given him a love for it, as happens with every
big thing which we have begun by fearing, because we knew it to be
incompatible with smaller things to which we clung, and of which it does
not so much deprive us as it detaches us from them. Before we experience
it, our whole preoccupation is to know to what extent we can reconcile
it with certain pleasures which cease to be pleasures as soon as we have
experienced it.

Elstir did not stay long talking to us. I made up my mind that I would
go to his studio during the next few days, but on the following
afternoon, when I had accompanied my grandmother right to the point at
which the "front" ended, near the cliffs of Canapville, on our way back,
at the foot of one of the little streets which ran down at right angles
to the beach, we came upon a girl who, with lowered head like an animal
that is being driven reluctant to its stall, and carrying golf-clubs,
was walking in front of a person in authority, in all probability her or
her friends' "Miss", who suggested a portrait of Jeffreys by Hogarth,
with a face as red as if her favourite beverage were gin rather than
tea, on which a dried smear of tobacco at the corner of her mouth
prolonged the curve of a moustache that was grizzled but abundant. The
girl who preceded her was like that one of the little band who, beneath
a black polo-cap, had shewn in an inexpressive chubby face a pair of
laughing eyes. Now, the girl who was now passing me had also a black
polo-cap, but she struck me as being even prettier than the other, the
line of her nose was straighter, the curve of nostril at its base fuller
and more fleshy. Besides, the other had seemed a proud, pale girl, this
one a child well-disciplined and of rosy complexion. And yet, as she was
pushing a bicycle just like the other's, and was wearing the same
reindeer gloves, I concluded that the differences arose perhaps from the
angle and circumstances in which I now saw her, for it was hardly likely
that there could be at Balbec a second girl, with a face that, when all
was said, was so similar and with the same details in her accoutrements.
She cast a rapid glance in my direction; for the next few days, when I
saw the little band again on the beach, and indeed long afterwards when
I knew all the girls who composed it, I could never be absolutely
certain that any of them--even she who among them all was most like her,
the girl with the bicycle--was indeed the one that I had seen that
evening at the end of the "front", where a street ran down to the beach,
a girl who differed hardly at all, but was still just perceptibly
different from her whom I had noticed in the procession.

From that moment, whereas for the last few days my mind had been
occupied chiefly by the tall one, it was the one with the golf-clubs,
presumed to be Mlle. Simonet, who began once more to absorb my
attention. When walking with the others she would often stop, forcing
her friends, who seemed greatly to respect her, to stop also. Thus it
is, calling a halt, her eyes sparkling beneath her polo-cap, that I see
her again to-day, outlined against the screen which the sea spreads out
behind her, and separated from me by a transparent, azure space, the
interval of time that has elapsed since then, a first impression, faint
and fine in my memory, desired, pursued, then forgotten, then found
again, of a face which I have many times since projected upon the cloud
of the past to be able to say to myself, of a girl who was actually in
my room: "It is she!"

But it was perhaps yet another, the one with geranium cheeks and green
eyes, whom I should have liked most to know. And yet, whichever of them
it might be, on any given day, that I preferred to see, the others,
without her, were sufficient to excite my desire which, concentrated now
chiefly on one, now on another, continued--as, on the first day, my
confused vision--to combine and blend them, to make of them the little
world apart, animated by a life in common, which for that matter they
doubtless imagined themselves to form; and I should have penetrated, in
becoming a friend of one of them--like a cultivated pagan or a
meticulous Christian going among barbarians--into a rejuvenating society
in which reigned health, unconsciousness of others, sensual pleasures,
cruelty, unintellectuality and joy.

My grandmother, who had been told of my meeting with Elstir, and
rejoiced at the thought of all the intellectual profit that I might
derive from his friendship, considered it absurd and none too polite of
me not to have gone yet to pay him a visit. But I could think only of
the little band, and being uncertain of the hour at which the girls
would be passing along the front, I dared not absent myself. My
grandmother was astonished, too, at the smartness of my attire, for I
had suddenly remembered suits which had been lying all this time at the
bottom of my trunk. I put on a different one every day, and had even
written to Paris ordering new hats and neckties.

It adds a great charm to life in a watering-place like Balbec if the
face of a pretty girl, a vendor of shells, cakes or flowers, painted in
vivid colours in our mind, is regularly, from early morning, the purpose
of each of those leisured, luminous days which we spend upon the beach.
They become then, and for that reason, albeit unoccupied by any
business, as alert as working-days, pointed, magnetised, raised slightly
to meet an approaching moment, that in which, while we purchase
sand-cakes, roses, ammonites, we will delight in seeing upon a feminine
face its colours displayed as purely as on a flower. But at least, with
these little traffickers, first of all we can speak to them, which saves
us from having to construct with our imagination their aspects other
than those with which the mere visual perception of them furnishes us,
and to recreate their life, magnifying its charm, as when we stand
before a portrait; moreover, just because we speak to them, we can learn
where and at what time it will be possible to see them again. Now I had
none of these advantages with respect to the little band. Their habits
were unknown to me; when on certain days I failed to catch a glimpse of
them, not knowing the cause of their absence I sought to discover
whether it was something fixed and regular, if they were to be seen only
every other day, or in certain states of the weather, or if there were
days on which no one ever saw them. I imagined myself already friends
with them, and saying: "But you weren't there the other day?" "Weren't
we? Oh, no, of course not; that was because it was a Saturday. On
Saturdays we don't ever come, because . . ." If it were only as simple
as that, to know that on black Saturday it was useless to torment
oneself, that one might range the beach from end to end, sit down
outside the pastry-cook's and pretend to be nibbling an eclair, poke
into the curiosity shop, wait for bathing time, the concert, high tide,
sunset, night, all without seeing the longed-for little band. But the
fatal day did not, perhaps, come once a week. It did not, perhaps, of
necessity fall on Saturdays. Perhaps certain atmospheric conditions
influenced it or were entirely unconnected with it. How many
observations, patient but not at all serene, must one accumulate of the
movements, to all appearance irregular, of those unknown worlds before
being able to be sure that one has not allowed oneself to be led astray
by mere coincidence, that one's forecasts will not be proved wrong,
before one elucidates the certain laws, acquired at the cost of so much
painful experience, of that passionate astronomy. Remembering that I had
not yet seen them on some particular day of the week, I assured myself
that they would not be coming, that it was useless to wait any longer on
the beach. And at that very moment I caught sight of them. And yet on
another day which, so far as I could suppose that there were laws that
guided the return of those constellations, must, I had calculated, prove
an auspicious day, they did not come. But to this primary uncertainty
whether I should see them or not that day, there was added another, more
disquieting: whether I should ever set eyes on them again, for I had no
reason, after all, to know that they were not about to sail for America,
or to return to Paris. This was enough to make me begin to love them.
One can feel an attraction towards a particular person. But to release
that fount of sorrow, that sense of the irreparable, those agonies which
prepare the way for love, there must be--and this is, perhaps, more than
any person can be, the actual object which our passion seeks so
anxiously to embrace--the risk of an impossibility. Thus there were
acting upon me already those influences which recur in the course of our
successive love-affairs, which can, for that matter, be provoked, (but
then rather in the life of cities) by the thought of little working
girls whose half-holiday is we know not on what day, and whom we are
afraid of having missed as they came out of the factory; or which at
least have recurred in mine. Perhaps they are inseparable from love;
perhaps everything that formed a distinctive feature of our first love
attaches itself to those that come after, by recollection, suggestion,
habit, and through the successive periods of our life gives to its
different aspects a general character.

I seized every pretext for going down to the beach at the hours when I
hoped to succeed in finding them there. Having caught sight of them once
while we were at luncheon, I now invariably came in late for it, waiting
interminably upon the "front" for them to pass; devoting all the short
time that I did spend in the dining-room to interrogating with my eyes
its azure wall of glass; rising long before the dessert, so as not to
miss them should they have gone out at a different hour, and chafing
with irritation at my grandmother, when, with unwitting malevolence, she
made me stay with her past the hour that seemed to me propitious. I
tried to prolong the horizon by setting my chair aslant; if, by chance,
I did catch sight of no matter which of the girls, since they all
partook of the same special essence, it was as if I had seen projected
before my face in a shifting, diabolical hallucination, a little of the
unfriendly and yet passionately coveted dream which, but a moment ago,
had existed only--where it lay stagnant for all time--in my brain.

I was in love with none of them, loving them all, and yet the
possibility of meeting them was in my daily life the sole element of
delight, alone made to burgeon in me those high hopes by which every
obstacle is surmounted, hopes ending often in fury if I had not seen
them. For the moment, these girls eclipsed my grandmother in my
affection; the longest journey would at once have seemed attractive to
me had it been to a place in which they might be found. It was to them
that my thoughts comfortably clung when I supposed myself to be thinking
of something else or of nothing. But when, even without knowing it, I
thought of them, they, more unconsciously still, were for me the
mountainous blue undulations of the sea, a troop seen passing in outline
against the waves. Our most intensive love for a person is always the
love, really, of something else as well.

Meanwhile my grandmother was shewing, because now I was keenly
interested in golf and lawn-tennis and was letting slip an opportunity
of seeing at work and hearing talk an artist whom she knew to be one of
the greatest of his time, a disapproval which seemed to me to be based
on somewhat narrow views. I had guessed long ago in the Champs-Elysées,
and had since established to my own satisfaction, that when we are in
love with a woman we simply project into her a state of our own soul,
that the important thing is, therefore, not the worth of the woman but
the depth of the state; and that the emotions which a young girl of no
kind of distinction arouses in us can enable us to bring to the surface
of our consciousness some of the most intimate parts of our being, more
personal, more remote, more essential than would be reached by the
pleasure that we derive from the conversation of a great man or even
from the admiring contemplation of his work.

I was to end by complying with my grandmother's wishes, all the more
reluctantly in that Elstir lived at some distance from the "front" in
one of the newest of Balbec's avenues. The heat of the day obliged me to
take the tramway which passed along the Rue de la Plage, and I made an
effort (so as still to believe that I was in the ancient realm of the
Cimmerians, in the country it might be, of King Mark, or upon the site
of the Forest of Broceliande) not to see the gimcrack splendour of the
buildings that extended on either hand, among which Elstir's villa was
perhaps the most sumptuously hideous, in spite of which he had taken it,
because, of all that there were to be had at Balbec, it was the only one
that provided him with a really big studio.

It was also with averted eyes that I crossed the garden, which had a
lawn--in miniature, like any little suburban villa round Paris--a
statuette of an amorous gardener, glass balls in which one saw one's
distorted reflexion, beds of begonias and a little arbour, beneath which
rocking chairs were drawn up round an iron table. But after all these
preliminaries hall-marked with philistine ugliness, I took no notice of
the chocolate mouldings on the plinths once I was in the studio; I felt
perfectly happy, for, with the help of all the sketches and studies that
surrounded me, I foresaw the possibility of raising myself to a poetical
understanding, rich in delights, of many forms which I had not,
hitherto, isolated from the general spectacle of reality. And Elstir's
studio appeared to me as the laboratory of a sort of new creation of the
world in which, from the chaos that is all the things we see, he had
extracted, by painting them on various rectangles of canvas that were
hung everywhere about the room, here a wave of the sea crushing angrily
on the sand its lilac foam, there a young man in a suit of white linen,
leaning upon the rail of a vessel. His jacket and the spattering wave
had acquired fresh dignity from the fact that they continued to exist,
even although they were deprived of those qualities in which they might
be supposed to consist, the wave being no longer able to splash nor the
jacket to clothe anyone.

At the moment at which I entered, the creator was just finishing, with
the brush which he had in his hand, the form of the sun at its setting.

The shutters were closed almost everywhere round the studio, which was
fairly cool and, except in one place where daylight laid against the
wall its brilliant but fleeting decoration, dark; there was open only
one little rectangular window embowered in honeysuckle, which, over a
strip of garden, gave on an avenue; so that the atmosphere of the
greater part of the studio was dusky, transparent and compact in the
mass, but liquid and sparkling at the rifts where the golden clasp of
sunlight banded it, like a lump of rock crystal of which one surface,
already cut and polished, here and there, gleams like a mirror with
iridescent rays. While Elstir, at my request, went on painting, I
wandered about in the half-light, stopping to examine first one picture,
then another.

Most of those that covered the walls were not what I should chiefly have
liked to see of his work, paintings in what an English art journal which
lay about on the reading-room table in the Grand Hotel called his first
and second manners, the mythological manner and the manner in which he
shewed signs of Japanese influence, both admirably exemplified, the
article said, in the collection of Mme. de Guermantes. Naturally enough,
what he had in his studio were almost all seascapes done here, at
Balbec. But I was able to discern from these that the charm of each of
them lay in a sort of metamorphosis of the things represented in it,
analogous to what in poetry we call metaphor, and that, if God the
Father had created things by naming them, it was by taking away their
names or giving them other names that Elstir created them anew. The
names which denote things correspond invariably to an intellectual
notion, alien to our true impressions, and compelling us to eliminate
from them everything that is not in keeping with itself.

Sometimes in my window in the hotel at Balbec, in the morning when
Françoise undid the fastenings of the curtains that shut out the light,
in the evening when I was waiting until it should be time to go out with
Saint-Loup, I had been led by some effect of sunlight to mistake what
was only a darker stretch of sea for a distant coast-line, or to gaze at
a belt of liquid azure without knowing whether it belonged to sea or
sky. But presently my reason would re-establish between the elements
that distinction which in my first impression I had overlooked. In the
same way I used, in Paris, in my bedroom, to hear a dispute, almost a
riot, in the street below, until I had referred back to its cause--a
carriage for instance that was rattling towards me--this noise, from
which I now eliminated the shrill and discordant vociferations which my
ear had really heard but which my reason knew that wheels did not
produce. But the rare moments in which we see nature as she is, with
poetic vision, it was from those that Elstir's work was taken. One of
his metaphors that occurred most commonly in the seascapes which he had
round him was precisely that which, comparing land with sea, suppressed
every line of demarcation between them. It was this comparison, tacitly
and untiringly repeated on a single canvas, which gave it that multiform
and powerful unity, the cause (not always clearly perceived by
themselves) of the enthusiasm which Elstir's work aroused in certain

It was, for instance, for a metaphor of this sort--in a picture of the
harbour of Carquethuit, a picture which he had finished a few days
earlier and at which I now stood gazing my fill--that Elstir had
prepared the mind of the spectator by employing, for the little town,
only marine terms, and urban terms for the sea. Whether its houses
concealed a part of the harbour, a dry dock, or perhaps the sea itself
came cranking in among the land, as constantly happened on the Balbec
coast, on the other side of the promontory on which the town was built
the roofs were overtopped (as it had been by mill-chimneys or
church-steeples) by masts which had the effect of making the vessels to
which they belonged appear town-bred, built on land, an impression which
was strengthened by the sight of other boats, moored along the jetty but
in such serried ranks that you could see men talking across from one
deck to another without being able to distinguish the dividing line, the
chink of water between them, so that this fishing fleet seemed less to
belong to the water than, for instance, the churches of Criquebec which,
in the far distance, surrounded by water on every side because you saw
them without seeing the town, in a powdery haze of sunlight and
crumbling waves, seemed to be emerging from the waters, blown in
alabaster or in sea-foam, and, enclosed in the band of a particoloured
rainbow, to form an unreal, a mystical picture. On the beach in the
foreground the painter had arranged that the eye should discover no
fixed boundary, no absolute line of demarcation between earth and ocean.
The men who were pushing down their boats into the sea were running as
much through the waves as along the sand, which, being wet, reflected
their hulls as if they were already in the water. The sea itself did not
come up in an even line but followed the irregularities of the shore,
which the perspective of the picture increased still further, so that a
ship actually at sea, half-hidden by the projecting works of the
arsenal, seemed to be sailing across the middle of the town; women who
were gathering shrimps among the rocks had the appearance, because they
were surrounded by water and because of the depression which, after the
ringlike barrier of rocks, brought the beach (on the side nearest the
land) down to sea-level, of being in a marine grotto overhung by ships
and waves, open yet unharmed in the path of a miraculously averted tide.
If the whole picture gave this impression of harbours in which the sea
entered into the land, in which the land was already subaqueous and the
population amphibian, the strength of the marine element was everywhere
apparent; and round about the rocks, at the mouth of the harbour, where
the sea was rough, you felt from the muscular efforts of the fishermen
and the obliquity of the boats leaning over at an acute angle, compared
with the calm erectness of the warehouse on the harbour, the church, the
houses of the town to which some of the figures were returning while
others were coming out to fish, that they were riding bareback on the
water, as it might be a swift and fiery animal whose rearing, but for
their skill, must have unseated them. A party of holiday makers were
putting gaily out to sea in a boat that tossed like a jaunting-car on a
rough road; their boatman, blithe but attentive, also, to what he was
doing, trimmed the bellying sail, every one kept in his place, so that
the weight should not be all on one side of the boat, which might
capsize, and so they went racing over sunlit fields into shadowy places,
dashing down into the troughs of waves. It was a fine morning in spite
of the recent storm. Indeed, one could still feel the powerful
activities that must first be neutralised in order to attain the easy
balance of the boats that lay motionless, enjoying sunshine and breeze,
in parts where the sea was so calm that its reflexions had almost more
solidity and reality than the floating hulls, vaporised by an effect of
the sunlight, parts which the perspective of the picture dovetailed in
among others. Or rather you would not have called them other parts of
the sea. For between those parts there was as much difference as there
was between one of them and the church rising from the water, or the
ships behind the town. Your reason then set to work and made a single
element of what was here black beneath a gathering storm, a little
farther all of one colour with the sky and as brightly burnished, and
elsewhere so bleached by sunshine, haze and foam, so compact, so
terrestrial, so circumscribed with houses that you thought of some white
stone causeway or of a field of snow, up the surface of which it was
quite frightening to see a ship go climbing high and dry, as a carriage
climbs dripping from a ford, but which a moment later, when you saw on
the raised and broken surface of the solid plain boats drunkenly
heaving, you understood, identical in all these different aspects, to be
still the sea.

Although we are justified in saying that there can be no progress, no
discovery in art, but only in the sciences, and that the artist who
begins afresh upon his own account an individual effort cannot be either
helped or hindered by the efforts of all the others, we must
nevertheless admit that, in so far as art brings into prominence certain
laws, once an industry has taken those laws and vulgarised them, the art
that was first in the field loses, in retrospect, a little of its
originality. Since Elstir began to paint, we have grown familiar with
what are called "admirable" photographs of scenery and towns. If we
press for a definition of what their admirers mean by the epithet, we
shall find that it is generally applied to some unusual picture of a
familiar object, a picture different from those that we are accustomed
to see, unusual and yet true to nature, and for that reason doubly
impressive to us because it startles us, makes us emerge from our habits
and at the same time brings us back to ourselves by recalling to us an
earlier impression. For instance, one of these "magnificent" photographs
will illustrate a law of perspective, will shew us some cathedral which
we are accustomed to see in the middle of a town, taken instead from a
selected point of view from which it will appear to be thirty times the
height of the houses and to be thrusting a spur out from the bank of the
river, from which it is actually a long way off. Now the effort made by
Elstir to reproduce things not as he knew them to be but according to
the optical illusions of which our first sight of them is composed, had
led him exactly to this point; he gave special emphasis to certain of
these laws of perspective, which were thus all the more striking, since
his art had been their first interpreter. A river, because of the
windings of its course, a bay because of the apparent contact of the
cliffs on either side of it, would look as though there had been
hollowed out in the heart of the plain or of the mountains a lake
absolutely landlocked on every side. In a picture of a view from Balbec
painted upon a scorching day in summer an inlet of the sea appeared to
be enclosed in walls of pink granite, not to be the sea, which began
farther out. The continuity of the ocean was suggested only by the gulls
Which, wheeling over what, when one looked at the picture, seemed to be
solid rock, were as a matter of fact inhaling the moist vapour of the
shifting tide. Other laws were discernible in the same canvas, as, at
the foot of immense cliffs, the lilliputian grace of white sails on the
blue mirror on whose surface they looked like butterflies asleep, and
certain contrasts between the depth of the shadows and the pallidity of
the light. This play of light and shade, which also photography has
rendered common-place, had interested Elstir so much that at one time he
had painted what were almost mirages, in which a castle crowned with a
tower appeared as a perfect circle of castle prolonged by a tower at its
summit, and at its foot by an inverted tower, whether because the
exceptional purity of the atmosphere on a fine day gave the shadow
reflected in the water the hardness and brightness of the stone, or
because the morning mists rendered the stone as vaporous as the shadow.
And similarly, beyond the sea, behind a line of woods, began another sea
roseate with the light of the setting sun, which was, in fact, the sky.
The light, as it Were precipitating new solids, thrust back the hull of
the boat on which it fell behind the other hull that was still in
shadow, and rearranged like the steps of a crystal staircase what was
materially a plane surface, but was broken up by the play of light and
shade upon the morning sea. A river running beneath the bridges of a
town was caught from a certain point of view so that it appeared
entirely dislocated, now broadened into a lake, now narrowed into a
rivulet, broken elsewhere by the interruption of a hill crowned with
trees among which the burgher would repair at evening to taste the
refreshing breeze; and the rhythm of this disintegrated town was assured
only by the inflexible uprightness of the steeples which did not rise
but rather, following the plumb line of the pendulum marking its cadence
as in a triumphal march, seemed to hold in suspense beneath them all the
confused mass of houses that rose vaguely in the mist along the banks of
the crushed, disjointed stream. And (since Elstir's earliest work
belonged to the time in which a painter would make his landscape
attractive by inserting a human figure), on the cliff's edge or among
the mountains, the road, that half human part of nature, underwent, like
river or ocean, the eclipses of perspective. And whether a sheer wall of
mountain, or the mist blown from a torrent, or the sea prevented the eye
from following the continuity of the path, visible to the traveller but
not to us, the little human personage in old-fashioned attire seemed
often to be stopped short on the edge of an abyss, the path which he had
been following ending there, while, a thousand feet above him in those
pine-forests, it was with a melting eye and comforted heart that we saw
reappear the threadlike whiteness of its dusty surface, hospitable to
the wayfaring foot, whereas from us the side of the mountain had hidden,
where it turned to avoid waterfall or gully, the intervening bends.

The effort made by Elstir to strip himself, when face to face with
reality, of every intellectual concept, was all the more admirable in
that this man who, before sitting down to paint, made himself
deliberately ignorant, forgot, in his honesty of purpose, everything
that he knew, since what one knows ceases to exist by itself, had in
reality an exceptionally cultivated mind. When I confessed to him the
disappointment that I had felt upon seeing the porch at Balbec: "What!"
he had exclaimed, "you were disappointed by the porch! Why, it's the
finest illustrated Bible that the people have ever had. That Virgin, and
all the bas-reliefs telling the story of her life, they are the most
loving, the most inspired expression of that endless poem of adoration
and praise in which the middle ages extolled the glory of the Madonna.
If you only knew, side by side with the most scrupulous accuracy in
rendering the sacred text, what exquisite ideas the old carver had, what
profound thoughts, what delicious poetry!

"A wonderful idea, that great sheet in which the angels are carrying the
body of the Virgin, too sacred for them to venture to touch it with
their hands"; (I mentioned to him that this theme had been treated also
at Saint-André-des-Champs; he had seen photographs of the porch there,
and agreed, but pointed out that the bustling activity of those little
peasant figures, all hurrying at once towards the Virgin, was not the
same thing as the gravity of those two great angels, almost Italian, so
springing, so gentle) "the angel who is carrying the Virgin's soul, to
reunite it with her body; in the meeting of the Virgin with Elizabeth,
Elizabeth's gesture when she touches the Virgin's Womb and marvels to
feel that it is great with child; and the bandaged arm of the midwife
who had refused, unless she touched, to believe the Immaculate
Conception; and the linen cloth thrown by the Vir