Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

Title:      Within A Budding Grove
            (À l'ombre  des jeunes filles en fleurs)
            [Vol. 2 of Remembrance of Things Past—
            (À la Recherche du temps perdu)]
Author:     Marcel Proust
            Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0300401.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted:          March 2003
Date most recently updated: March 2014

Production notes: Words in italics in the book
                  are enclosed by underscores (_) in this eBook

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at


A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Within A Budding Grove
            (À l'ombre  des jeunes filles en fleurs)
            [Vol. 2 of Remembrance of Things Past]
            [Vol. 2 of À la Recherche du temps perdu]
Author:     Marcel Proust
            Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff


Marcel Proust's continuous novel _À la Recherche du Temps
Perdu_ (REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST) was originally published
in eight parts, the titles and dates of which were: I. _Du Coté
de Chez Swann_ (1913); II. _À l'Ombre des Jeunes Filles en
Fleurs_ (1918), awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1919; III. _Le
Côté de Guermantes_ I (1920); IV. _Le Côté de Guermantes_
II, _Sodome et Gomorrhe_ I (1921); V. _Sodome et
Gomorrhe_ II (1922); VI. _La Prisonnière_ (1923); VII.
_Albertine Disparue_ (1925); VIII. _Le Temps Retrouvé_

_Du Côté de Chez Swann_ has been published in English as
SWANN'S WAY; _À l'Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs_ as
WITHIN A BUDDING GROVE; _Le Côté de Guermantes_ as THE
_La Prisonnière_ as THE CAPTIVE; _Albertine Disparue_
as THE SWEET CHEAT GONE: and _Le Temps Retrouvé_ as TIME
REGAINED. The first seven parts were translated by C. K. Scott
Moncrieff; the eighth was first translated for Chatto &
Windus by Stephen Hudson.



[À l'ombre  des jeunes filles en fleurs]

[Vol. 2 of Remembrance of Things Past]
[Vol. 2 of À la Recherche du temps perdu]



_Translated [from the French] by

C. K. Scott Moncrieff_


Part 1

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—First impressions of
M. de Charlus and of Robert de Saint-Loup—Dinner with Bloch and his

Part 2

Place-Names: The Place (continued)
_My first visit to Balbec—First impressions of
M. de Charlus and of Robert de Saint-Loup—Dinner with Bloch and his

Seascape, with Frieze of Girls
_Dinners at Rivebelle—Enter Albertine_.


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 heads, 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 past,
  The men we never can forget_.

C. K. S. M.
Bad Kissingen,
July 31, 1923.




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 housetops 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 father's 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 dominoes.

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

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 Barrés 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 not for 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 been 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,

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
would seem 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 commonplace 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 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 stern, 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's 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
fer 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 then—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 express.

"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

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

"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 instrument!"

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 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 comment.

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

"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 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 riot 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. Petersburgh.'"

"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

"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 acquaintances
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 the 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
Swarm 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 tie 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
(although 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

"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 explained.

"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 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

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

"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

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 expiate after death; let us bear
in mind also the travellers who come home enraptured by the general
beauty of a tour of which, from day to day, they have felt nothing but
the tedious incidents; and let us then declare whether, in the
communal life that is led by our ideas in the enclosure of our minds,
there is a single one of those that make us most happy which has not
first sought, a very parasite, and won from an alien but neighbouring
idea the greater part of the strength that it originally lacked.

My mother appeared none too well pleased that my father no longer
thought of 'the career' for myself. I fancy that, anxious before all
things that a definite rule of life should discipline the eccentricity
of my nervous system, what she regretted was not so much seeing me
abandon diplomacy as the prospect of my devoting myself to literature.
But "Let him alone!" my father protested; "the main thing is that a
man should find pleasure in his work. He is no longer a child. He
knows pretty well now what he likes, it is not at all probable that he
will change, and he is quite capable of deciding for himself what will
make him happy in life." That evening, as I waited for the time to
arrive when, thanks to the freedom of choice which they allowed me, I
should or should not begin to be happy in life, my father's words
caused me great uneasiness. At all times his unexpected kindnesses
had, when they were manifested, prompted in me so keen a desire to
kiss, above where his beard began, his glowing cheeks, that if I did
not yield to that desire, it was simply because I was afraid of
annoying him. And on that day, as an author becomes alarmed when he
sees the fruits of 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

"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 tablecloths;
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 1. 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 forerunners 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

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 clear 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

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
Comb ray. 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 stronger."

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, good-naturedly:

"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 smell.

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

"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 I 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 sea-side, 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 healed.

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 arose.

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 mother's '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

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 Swarms' 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 tune 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 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 alone 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
over-burdened 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 '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

"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'e 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 laws.

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 a 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
further 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 Aisne."

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 La Pérouse, 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 silly.)

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 chat
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

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 she 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 mass.

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, whereas 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 the 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 Vinteuil'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
Vinteuil'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
He 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

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 clear 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 chimney-piece, 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 tearooms. 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

"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 godlike 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
godlike 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 him in the
street thinks 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 illusion 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 I 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, springs 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, 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 poverty.

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 on living even the quietest of lives, those vices did not at 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

"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 Caryatides?" 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 Ceramicus, 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 Phaedra
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 Phaedra
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

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

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
insincere 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 explanation.

"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 clearly, 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 shewn 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

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

"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 than, 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 only apparent, 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 digestion.

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 endure.

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 them-.selves, 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
tenterhooks, 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
hothouse 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 clouted 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
Defiant 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 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 household.

"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

"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 notepaper. 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 it." 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 anxious 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 connection with Odette, and thus deprive Odette 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 seventyfold. 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 heart 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. Goodbye, 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 it 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 the
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 proposal.

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. Yet, 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! 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 commonplace 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 aft 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 fetishes.

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

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 civilisation.

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 sweaters."

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

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

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
that 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
ourselves, 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 set 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
nain 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 as long
as 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

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 Tansonville.

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 was
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, the 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 bower.


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 for one 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 to 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
ourselves, 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 ourselves, did I say; rather
within ourselves, 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 ourselves face to
face with past events as that creature had to face them, suffer afresh
because we are no longer ourselves 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 unobtainable.

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 motorcar,
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

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
timetable, 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 than 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 hands.

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 only.

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
grandmother's 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 glade.

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

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 artist's 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,
gluing 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 oh 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, vying 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, Bourses 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 a 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

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

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

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
station-master 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 darkroom
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 ourselves, 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
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 lapping;
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 part.

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 is
complete, 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, pur
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
ourselves, 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
ourselves, 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 in 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 anywhere 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 bad, 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 up 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 hundredfold, 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 Stermaria.

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 Hyppolyte 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 party.

"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 females."

"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

"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 already."

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

"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 father's 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 pleasantry.

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 hotel-keepers 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 show 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
Franchise'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 everyday life was that
Françoise, who on the day of her arrival, when she still did not know
anypne, 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 earth,
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 young woman. 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 again."

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

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 rhy 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

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 of

"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 Rive-belle are almost wholly invisible.

[END Volume 1.]


_PLACE-NAMES: THE PLACE_ (continued)

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 Bee," 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 one day and another 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 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 so 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 not 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
spellbound 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 over-estimating 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

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 ourselves 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 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

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

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

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
are 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

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 time."

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

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 en 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

"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 everlasting.

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 numbered.

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
whose 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
how 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 anyway falsifying the
most accurate observation of contemporary life, but by choosing for
their sitter appropriate surroundings, a polo ground, golf links, a
racecourse, 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 endures 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 himself.

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 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 foodstuffs 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 anti-Semite. 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 on:

"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 once."

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

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
ourselves, 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 ourselves, 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 ourselves 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 ourselves, 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 society.

"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 Levy 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 commonplace 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 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

"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 Ovid.

"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 Guermantes."

"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'd 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 He 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 columns of pink
marble, 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 Marquise.

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 look-out, 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 commonplace 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 Le Nôtre, 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 Château 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 Le Nôtre'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

I thanked M. de Charlus with some warmth and told him that, on the
contrary, I had been afraid that what 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

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

"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-nots—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-Blaise, 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 cheek,
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 dinner.

"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 title 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 caricaturable 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 him.

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 friendship.

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, 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 misery.

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

But when she appeared in the room, with a large lily in her hand, and
wearing a costume copied from the _Ancilla 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 well-known 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. 'Pon 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

"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 ballroom 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-tracks, 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 by
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 minds.

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 godlike hierophants.

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

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

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 steering.

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

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 repeated:

"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 ourselves, 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 dose 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
gypsy 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'd better keep it: it's not very warm in

"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 a
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 twinging 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, so 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 cliff's 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 the 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 mistress 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 promises.

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

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 snifters 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 sleep; 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 pillow.

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 person.

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

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 meantime 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 difficulty.

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 people's 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

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 _éclair_, 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 hallmarked 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

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 coastline,
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 collectors.

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 neutralized 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 commonplace, 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
Virgin to Saint Thomas to give him a proof of the Resurrection; that
veil, too, which the Virgin tears from her own bosom to cover the
nakedness of her Son, from Whose Side the Church receives in a chalice
the Wine of the Sacrament, while, on His other side the Synagogue,
whose kingdom is at an end, has its eyes bandaged, holds a half-broken
sceptre and lets fall, with the crown that is slipping from its head,
the tables of the old law; and the husband who, on the Day of
Judgment, as he helps his young wife to rise from her grave, lays her
hand against his own heart to reassure her, to prove to her that it is
indeed beating, is that such a trumpery idea, do you think, so stale
and commonplace? And the angel who is taking away the sun and the
moon, henceforth useless, since it is written that the Light of the
Cross shall be seven times brighter than the light of the firmament;
and the one who is dipping his hand in the water of the Child's bath,
to see whether it is warm enough; and the one emerging from the clouds
to place the crown upon the Virgin's brow, and all the angels who are
leaning from the vault of heaven, between the balusters of the New
Jerusalem, and throwing up their arms with terror or joy at the sight
of the torments of the wicked or the bliss of the elect! For it is all
the circles of heaven, a whole gigantic poem full of theology and
symbolism that you have before you there. It is fantastic, mad,
divine, a thousand times better than anything you will see in Italy,
where for that matter this very tympanum has been carefully copied by
sculptors with far less genius. There never was a time when genius
was universal; that is all nonsense; it would be going beyond the age
of gold. The fellow who carved that front, you may make up your mind
that he was every bit as great, that he had just as prof