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Title:      The Guermantes Way
            (Le Côté de Guermantes)
            [Vol. 3 of Remembrance of Things Past,
            (Vol. 3 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.:  0300411.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

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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.




[Le Côté de Guermantes]

[Vol. 3 of Remembrance of Things Past]
[Vol. 3 of À la Recherche du temps perdu]


_Translated [from the French] by

C. K. Scott Moncrieff_




_A l'auteur

de tant de chefs-d'oeuvre,
A l'incomparable, ami
en témoignage
de reconnaissance et d'admiration_

M. P.


MRS. H———,
_on her Birthday_

OBERON, _in the_ ATHENIAN _glade,
Reduced by deft_ TITANIA'S _power,
Invented arts for_ NATURE'S _aid
And from a snowflake shaped a flower:_
NATURE, _to outdo him, wrought of human clay
A fairy blossom, which we acclaim to-day_.

HEBE, _to high_ OLYMPUS _borne,
Undoomed to death, by age uncurst_,
XERES _and_ PORTO, _night and morn,
Let flow, to appease celestial thirst:
Ev'n so, untouched by years that envious pass_
YOUTH _greets the guests to-night and fills the glass_.

HESIONE, _for monstrous feast,
Against a rock was chained, to die;
Young_ HERCLES _came, he slew the beast,
Nor won the award of chivalry:_
E. S. P. H., _whom monsters hold in awe,
Shield thee from injury, and enforce the law!_

C. K. S. M.


Part I

Chapter One
_Names of People: The Duchesse de Guermantes—Saint-Loup at
Doncières—Mme. de Villeparisis at home—My grandmother's illness_.

Part II

Chapter One
(continued) _My grandmother's illness
(continued)—Bergotte's illness—The Duke and the Doctor—Decline and
death of my grandmother_.

Chapter Two
_A visit from Albertine—Prospect of rich brides for
certain friends of Saint-Loup—The wit of the Guermantes, as
displayed before the Princesse de Parme—A strange visit to M. de
Charlus—His character puzzles me more and more—The red shoes of the


_The French text of_ Le Côté de Guermantes _being extremely inaccurate,
every care has been taken to correct it in the process of translation.
In three places in this volume the sequence of paragraphs has been
altered, as the reader may discover by comparing the French and
English texts_. [C. K. S. M.]




THE twittering of the birds at daybreak sounded insipid to Françoise.
Every word uttered by the maids upstairs made her jump; disturbed by
all their running about, she kept asking herself what they could be
doing. In other words, we had moved. Certainly the servants had made
no less noise in the attics of our old home; but she knew them, she
had made of their comings and goings familiar events. Now she faced
even silence with a strained attention. And as our new neighbourhood
appeared to be as quiet as the boulevard on to which we had hitherto
looked had been noisy, the song (distinct at a distance, when it was
still quite faint, like an orchestral _motif_) of a passer-by brought
tears to the eyes of a Françoise in exile. And so if I had been
tempted to laugh at her in her misery at having to leave a house in
which she was 'so well respected on all sides' and had packed her
trunks with tears, according to the Use of Combray, declaring superior
to all possible houses that which had been ours, on the other hand I,
who found it as hard to assimilate new as I found it easy to abandon
old conditions, I felt myself drawn towards our old servant when I saw
that this installation of herself in a building where she had not
received from the hall-porter, who did not yet know us, the marks of
respect necessary to her moral wellbeing, had brought her positively
to the verge of dissolution. She alone could understand what I was
feeling; certainly her young footman was not the person to do so; for
him, who was as unlike the Combray type as it was possible to
conceive, packing up, moving, living in another district, were all
like taking a holiday in which the novelty of one's surroundings gave
one the same sense of refreshment as if one had actually travelled; he
thought he was in the country; and a cold in the head afforded him, as
though he had been sitting in a draughty railway carriage, the
delicious sensation of having seen the world; at each fresh sneeze he
rejoiced that he had found so smart a place, having always longed to
be with people who travelled a lot. And so, without giving him a
thought, I went straight to Françoise, who, in return for my having
laughed at her tears over a removal which had left me cold, now shewed
an icy indifference to my sorrow, but because she shared it. The
'sensibility' claimed by neurotic people is matched by their egotism;
they cannot abide the flaunting by others of the sufferings to which
they pay an ever increasing attention in themselves. Françoise, who
would not allow the least of her own ailments to pass unnoticed, if I
were in pain would turn her head from me so that I should not have the
satisfaction of seeing my sufferings pitied, or so much as observed.
It was the same as soon as I tried to speak to her about our new
house. Moreover, having been obliged, a day or two later, to return to
the house we had just left, to retrieve some clothes which had been
overlooked in our removal, while I, as a result of it, had still a
'temperature,' and like a boa constrictor that has just swallowed an
ox felt myself painfully distended by the sight of a long trunk which
my eyes had still to digest, Françoise, with true feminine
inconstancy, came back saying that she had really thought she would
stifle on our old boulevard, it was so stuffy, that she had found it
quite a day's journey to get there, that never had she seen such
stairs, that she would not go back to live there for a king's ransom,
not if you were to offer her millions—a pure hypothesis—and that
everything (everything, that is to say, to do with the kitchen and
'usual offices') was much better fitted up in the new house. Which, it
is high time now that the reader should be told—and told also that we
had moved into it because my grandmother, not having been at all well
(though we took care to keep this reason from her), was in need of
better air—was a flat forming part of the Hôtel de Guermantes.

At the age when a Name, offering us an image of the unknowable which
we have poured into its mould, while at the same moment it connotes
for us also an existing place, forces us accordingly to identify one
with the other to such a point that we set out to seek in a city for a
soul which it cannot embody but which we have no longer the power to
expel from the sound of its name, it is not only to towns and rivers
that names give an individuality, as do allegorical paintings, it is
not only the physical universe which they pattern with differences,
people with marvels, there is the social universe also; and so every
historic house, in town or country, has its lady or its fairy, as
every forest has its spirit, as there is a nymph for every stream.
Sometimes, hidden in the heart of its name, the fairy is transformed
to suit the life of our imagination by which she lives; thus it was
that the atmosphere in which Mme. de Guermantes existed in me, after
having been for years no more than the shadow cast by a magic lantern
slide or the light falling through a painted window, began to let its
colours fade when quite other dreams impregnated it with the bubbling
coolness of her flowing streams.

And yet the fairy must perish if we come in contact with the real
person to whom her name corresponds, for that person the name then
begins to reflect, and she has in her nothing of the fairy; the fairy
may revive if we remove ourself from the person, but if we remain in
her presence the fairy definitely dies and with her the name, as
happened to the family of Lusignan, which was fated to become extinct
on the day when the fairy Mélusine should disappear. Then the Name,
beneath our successive 'restorations' of which we may end by finding,
as their original, the beautiful portrait of a strange lady whom we
are never to meet, is nothing more than the mere photograph, for
identification, to which we refer in order to decide whether we know,
whether or not we ought to bow to a person who passes us in the
street. But let a sensation from a bygone year—like those recording
instruments which preserve the sound and the manner of the various
artists who have sung or played into them—enable our memory to make
us hear that name with the particular ring with which it then sounded
in our ears, then, while the name itself has apparently not changed,
we feel the distance that separates the dreams which at different
times its same syllables have meant to us. For a moment, from the
clear echo of its warbling in some distant spring, we can extract, as
from the little tubes which we use in painting, the exact, forgotten,
mysterious, fresh tint of the days which we had believed ourself to be
recalling, when, like a bad painter, we were giving to the whole of
our past, spread out on the same canvas, the tones, conventional and
all alike, of our unprompted memory. Whereas on the contrary, each of
the moments that composed it employed, for an original creation, in a
matchless harmony, the colour of those days which we no longer know,
and which, for that matter, will still suddenly enrapture me if by any
chance the name 'Guermantes,' resuming for a moment, after all these
years, the sound, so different from its sound to-day, which it had for
me on the day of Mile. Percepied's marriage, brings back to me that
mauve—so delicate, almost too bright, too new—with which the billowy
scarf of the young Duchess glowed, and, like two periwinkle flowers,
growing beyond reach and blossoming now again, her two eyes, sunlit
with an azure smile. And the name Guermantes of those days is also
like one of those little balloons which have been filled wilh oxygen,
or some such gas; when I come to explode it, to make it emit what it
contains, I breathe the air of the Combray of that year, of that day,
mingled with a fragrance of hawthorn blossom blown by the wind from
the corner of the square, harbinger of rain, which now sent the sun
packing, now let him spread himself over the red woollen carpet to the
sacristy, steeping it in a bright geranium scarlet, with that, so to
speak, Wagnerian harmony in its gaiety which makes the wedding service
always impressive. But even apart from rare moments such as these, in
which suddenly we feel the original entity quiver and resume its form,
carve itself out of the syllables now soundless, dead; if, in the
giddy rush of daily life, in which they serve only the most practical
purposes, names have lost all their colour, like a prismatic top that
spins too quickly and seems only grey, when, on the other hand, in our
musings we reflect, we seek, so as to return to the past, to slacken,
to suspend the perpetual motion by which we are borne alcng, gradually
we see once more appear, side by side, but entirely distinct from one
another, the tints which in the course of our existence have been
successively presented to us by a single name.

What form was assumed in my mind by this name Guermantes when my first
nurse—knowing no more, probably, than I know to-day in whose honour
it had been composed—sang me to sleep with that old ditty, _Gloire à
la Marquise de Guermantes_, or when, some years later, the veteran
Maréchal de Guermantes, making my nursery-maid's bosom swell with
pride, stopped in the Champs-Elysées to remark: "A fine child that!"
and gave me a chocolate drop from his comfit-box, I cannot, of course,
now say. Those years of my earliest childhood are no longer a part of
myself; they are external to me; I can learn nothing of them save as
we learn things that happened before we were born—from the accounts
given me by other people. But more recently I find in the period of
that name's occupation of me seven or eight different shapes which it
has successively assumed; the earliest were the most beautiful;
gradually my musings, forced by reality to abandon a position that was
no longer tenable, established themselves anew in one slightly less
advanced until they were obliged to retire still farther. And, with
Mme. de Guermantes, was transformed simultaneously her dwelling,
itself also the offspring of that name, fertilised from year to year
by some word or other that came to my ears and modulated the tone of
my musings; that dwelling of hers reflected them in its very stones,
which had turned to mirrors, like the surface of a cloud or of a lake.
A dungeon keep without mass, no more indeed than a band of orange
light from the summit of which the lord and his lady dealt out life
and death to their vassals, had given place—right at the end of that
'Guermantes way' along which, on so many summer afternoons, I retraced
with my parents the course of the Vivonne—to that land of bubbling
streams where the Duchess taught me to fish for trout and to know the
names of the flowers whose red and purple clusters adorned the walls
of the neighbouring gardens; then it had been the ancient heritage,
famous in song and story, from which the proud race of Guermantes,
like a carved and mellow tower that traverses the ages, had risen
already over France when the sky was still empty at those points
where, later, were to rise Notre Dame of Paris and Notre Dame of
Chartres, when on the summit of the hill of Laon the nave of its
cathedral had not yet been poised, like the Ark of the Deluge on the
summit of Mount Ararat, crowded with Patriarchs and Judges anxiously
leaning from its windows to see whether the wrath of God were yet
appeased, carrying with it the types of the vegetation that was to
multiply on the earth, brimming over with animals which have escaped
even by the towers, where oxen grazing calmly upon the roof look down
over the plains of Champagne; when the traveller who left Beauvais at
the close of day did not yet see, following him and turning with his
road, outspread against the gilded screen of the western sky, the
black, ribbed wings of the cathedral. It was, this 'Guermantes,' like
the scene of a novel, an imaginary landscape which I could with
difficulty picture to myself and longed all the more to discover, set
in the midst of real lands and roads which all of a sudden would
become alive with heraldic details, within a few miles of a railway
station; I recalled the names of the places round it as if they had
been situated at the foot of Parnassus or of Helicon, and they seemed
precious to me, as the physical conditions—in the realm of
topographical science—required for the production of an unaccountable
phenomenon. I saw again the escutcheons blazoned beneath the windows
of Combray church; their quarters filled, century after century, with
all the lordships which, by marriage or conquest, this illustrious
house had brought flying to it from all the corners of Germany, Italy
and France; vast territories in the North, strong cities in the South,
assembled there to group themselves in Guermantes, and, losing their
material quality, to inscribe allegorically their dungeon vert, or
castle triple-towered argent upon its azure field. I had heard of the
famous tapestries of Guermantes, I could see them, mediaeval and blue,
a trifle coarse, detach themselves like a floating cloud from the
legendary, amaranthine name at the foot of the ancient forest in which
Childebert went so often hunting; and this delicate, mysterious
background of their lands, this vista of the ages, it seemed to me
that, as effectively as by journeying to see them, I might penetrate
all their secrets simply by coming in contact for a moment in Paris
with Mme. de Guermantes, the princess paramount of the place and lady
of the lake, as if her face, her speech must possess the local charm
of forest groves and streams, and the same secular peculiarities as
the old customs recorded in her archives. But then I had met
Saint-Loup; he had told me that the castle had borne the name of
Guermantes only since the seventeenth century, when that family had
acquired it. They had lived, until then, in the neighbourhood, but
their title was not taken from those parts. The village of Guermantes
had received its name from the castle round which it had been built,
and so that it should not destroy the view from the castle, a
servitude, still in force, traced the line of its streets and limited
the height of its houses. As for the tapestries, they were by Boucher,
bought in the nineteenth century by a Guermantes with a taste for the
arts, and hung, interspersed with a number of sporting pictures of no
merit which he himself had painted, in a hideous drawing-room
upholstered in 'adrianople' and plush. By these revelations Saint-Loup
had introduced into the castle elements foreign to the name of
Guermantes which made it impossible for me to continue to extract
solely from the resonance of the syllables the stone and mortar of its
walls. And so, in the heart of the name, was effaced the castle
mirrored in its lake, and what now became apparent to me, surrounding
Mme. de Guermantes as her dwelling, had been her house in Paris, the
Hôtel de Guermantes, limpid like its name, for no material and opaque
element intervened to interrupt and blind its transparence. As the
word church signifies not only the temple but the assembly of the
faithful also, this Hôtel de Guermantes comprised all those who shared
the life of the Duchess, but these intimates on whom I had never set
eyes were for me only famous and poetic names, and knowing exclusively
persons who themselves also were names only, did but enhance and
protect the mystery of the Duchess by extending all round her a vast
halo which at the most declined in brilliance as its circumference

In the parties which she gave, since I could not imagine the guests as
having any bodies, any moustaches, any boots, as making any utterances
that were commonplace, or even original in a human and rational way,
this whirlpool of names, introducing less material substance than
would a phantom banquet or a spectral ball, round that statuette in
Dresden china which was Madame de Guermantes, kept for her palace of
glass the transparence of a showcase. Then, after Saint-Loup had told
me various anecdotes about his cousin's chaplain, her gardener, and
the rest, the Hôtel de Guermantes had become—as the Louvre might have
been in days gone by—a kind of castle, surrounded, in the very heart
of Paris, by its own domains, acquired by inheritance, by virtue of an
ancient right that had quaintly survived, over which she still
enjoyed feudal privileges. But this last dwelling itself vanished when
we had come to live beside Mme. de Villeparisis in one of the flats
adjoining that occupied by Mme. de Guermantes in a wing of the Hôtel.
It was one of those old town houses, a few of which are perhaps still
to be found, in which the court of honour—whether they were alluvial
deposits washed there by the rising tide of democracy, or a legacy
from a more primitive time when the different trades were clustered
round the overlord—is flanked by little shops and workrooms, a
shoemaker's, for instance, or a tailor's, such as we see nestling
between the buttresses of those cathedrals which the aesthetic zeal of
the restorer has not swept clear of such accretions; a porter who also
does cobbling, keeps hens, grows flowers, and, at the far end, in the
main building, a 'Comtesse' who, when she drives out in her old
carriage and pair, flaunting on her hat a few nasturtiums which seem
to have escaped from the plot by the porter's lodge (with, by the
coachman's side on the box, a footman who gets down to leave cards at
every aristocratic mansion in the neighbourhood), scatters vague
little smiles and waves her hand in greeting to the porter's children
and to such of her respectable fellow-tenants as may happen to be
passing, who, to her contemptuous affability and levelling pride, seem
all the same.

In the house in which we had now come to live, the great lady at the
end of the courtyard was a Duchess, smart and still quite young. She
was, in fact, Mme. de Guermantes and, thanks to Françoise, I soon came
to know all about her household. For the Guermantes (to whom Françoise
regularly alluded as the people 'below,' or 'downstairs') were her
constant preoccupation from the first thing in the morning when, as
she did Mamma's hair, casting a forbidden, irresistible, furtive
glance down into the courtyard, she would say: "Look at that, now; a
pair of holy Sisters; that'll be for downstairs, surely;" or, "Oh!
just look at the fine pheasants in the kitchen window; no need to ask
where they came from, the Duke will have been out with his
gun!"—until the last thing at night when, if her ear, while she was
putting out my night-things, caught a few notes of a song, she would
conclude: "They're having company down below; gay doings, I'll be
bound;" whereupon, in her symmetrical face, beneath the arch of her
now snow-white hair, a smile from her young days, sprightly but
proper, would for a moment set each of her features in its place,
arranging them in an intricate and special order, as though for a

But the moment in the life of the Guermantes which excited the keenest
interest in Françoise, gave her the most complete satisfaction and at
the same time the sharpest annoyance was that at which, the two halves
of the great gate having been thrust apart, the Duchess stepped into
her carriage. It was generally a little while after our servants had
finished the celebration of that sort of solemn passover which none
might disturb, called their midday dinner, during which they were so
far taboo that my father himself was not allowed to ring for them,
knowing moreover that none of them would have paid any more attention
to the fifth peal than to the first, and that the discourtesy would
therefore have been a pure waste of time and trouble, though not
without trouble in store for himself. For Françoise (who, in her old
age, lost no opportunity of standing upon her dignity) would without
fail have presented him, for the rest of the day, with a face covered
with the tiny red cuneiform hieroglyphs by which she made
visible—though by no means legible—to the outer world the long tale
of her griefs and the profound reasons for her dissatisfactions. She
would enlarge upon them, too, in a running 'aside,' but not so that we
could catch her words. She called this practice—which, she imagined,
must be infuriating, 'mortifying' as she herself put it,'vexing' to
us—'saying low masses all the blessed day.'

The last rites accomplished, Françoise, who was at one and the same
time, as in the primitive church, the celebrant and one of the
faithful, helped herself to a final glass, undid the napkin from her
throat, folded it after wiping from her lips a stain of watered wine
and coffee, slipped it into its ring, turned a doleful eye to thank
'her' young footman who, to shew his zeal in her service, was saying:
"Come, ma'am, a drop more of the grape; it's d'licious to-day," and
went straight across to the window, which she flung open, protesting
that it was too hot to breathe in 'this wretched kitchen.' Dexterously
casting, as she turned the latch and let in the fresh air, a glance of
studied indifference into the courtyard below, she furtively elicited
the conclusion that the Duchess was not ready yet to start, brooded
for a moment with contemptuous, impassioned eyes over the waiting
carriage, and, this meed of attention once paid to the things of the
earth, raised them towards the heavens, whose purity she had already
divined from the sweetness of the air and the warmth of the sun; and
let them rest on a corner of the roof, at the place where, every
spring, there came and built, immediately over the chimney of my
bedroom, a pair of pigeons like those she used to hear cooing from her
kitchen at Combray.

"Ah! Combray, Combray!" she cried. And the almost singing tone in
which she declaimed this invocation might, taken with the Arlesian
purity of her features, have made the onlooker suspect her of a
Southern origin and that the lost land which she was lamenting was no
more, really, than a land of adoption. If so, he would have been
wrong, for it seems that there is no province that has not its own
South-country; do we not indeed constantly meet Savoyards and Bretons
in whose speech we find all those pleasing transpositions of longs and
shorts that are characteristic of the Southerner? "Ah, Combray, when
shall I look on thee again, poor land! When shall I pass the blessed
day among thy hawthorns, under our own poor lily-oaks, hearing the
grasshoppers sing, and the Vivonne making a little noise like someone
whispering, instead of that wretched bell from our young master, who
can never stay still for half an hour on end without having me run the
length of that wicked corridor. And even then he makes out I don't
come quick enough; you'd need to hear the bell ring before he has
pulled it, and if you're a minute late, away he flies into the most
towering rage. Alas, poor Combray; maybe I shall see thee only in
death, when they drop me like a stone into the hollow of the tomb. And
so, nevermore shall I smell thy lovely hawthorns, so white and all.
But in the sleep of death I dare say I shall still hear those three
peals of the bell which will have driven me to damnation in this

Her soliloquy was interrupted by the voice of the waistcoat-maker
downstairs, the same who had so delighted my grandmother once, long
ago, when she had gone to pay a call on Mme. de Villeparisis, and now
occupied no less exalted a place in Franchise's affections. Having
raised his head when he heard our window open, he had already been
trying for some time to attract his neighbour's attention, in order to
bid her good day. The coquetry of the young girl that Françoise had
once been softened and refined for M. Jupien the querulous face of our
old cook, dulled by age, ill-temper and the heat of the kitchen fire,
and it was with a charming blend of reserve, familiarity and modesty
that she bestowed a gracious salutation on the waistcoat-maker, but
without making any audible response, for if she did infringe Mamma's
orders by looking into the courtyard, she would never have dared to go
the length of talking from the window, which would have been quite
enough (according to her) to bring down on her 'a whole chapter' from
the Mistress. She pointed to the waiting carriage, as who should say:
"A fine pair, eh!" though what she actually muttered was: "What an old
rattle-trap!" but principally because she knew that he would be bound
to answer, putting his hand to his lips so as to be audible without
having to shout:

"_You_ could have one too if you liked, as good as they have and
better, I dare say, only you don't care for that sort of thing."

And Françoise, after a modest, evasive signal of delight, the meaning
of which was, more or less: "Tastes differ, you know; simplicity's the
rule in this house," shut the window again in case Mamma should come
in. These 'you' who might have had more horses than the Guermantes
were ourselves, but Jupien was right in saying 'you' since, except for
a few purely personal gratifications, such as, when she coughed all
day long without ceasing and everyone in the house was afraid of
catching her cold, that of pretending, with an irritating little
titter, that she had not got a cold, like those plants that an animal
to which they are wholly attached keeps alive with food which it
catches, eats and digests for them and of which it offers them the
ultimate and easily assimilable residue, Françoise lived with us in
full community; it was we who, with our virtues, our wealth, our style
of living, must take on ourselves the task of concocting those little
sops to her vanity out of which was formed—with the addition of the
recognised rights of freely practising the cult of the midday dinner
according to the traditional custom, which included a mouthful of air
at the window when the meal was finished, a certain amount of
loitering in the street when she went out to do her marketing, and a
holiday on Sundays when she paid a visit to her niece—the portion of
happiness indispensable to her existence. And so it can be understood
that Françoise might well have succumbed in those first days of our
migration, a victim, in a house where my father's claims to
distinction were not yet known, to a malady which she herself called
'wearying,' wearying in the active sense in which the word _ennui_ is
employed by Corneille, or in the last letters of soldiers who end by
taking their own lives because they are wearying for their girls or
for their native villages. Françoise's wearying had soon been cured by
none other than Jupien, for he at once procured her a pleasure no less
keen, indeed more refined than she would have felt if we had decided
to keep a carriage. "Very good class, those Juliens," (for Françoise
readily assimilated new names to those with which she was already
familiar) "very worthy people; you can see it written on their
faces." Jupien was in fact able to understand, and to inform the world
that if we did not keep a carriage it was because we had no wish for
one. This new friend of Françoise was very little at home, having
obtained a post in one of the Government offices. A waistcoat-maker
first of all, with the 'chit of a girl' whom my grandmother had taken
for his daughter, he had lost all interest in the exercise of that
calling after his assistant (who, when still little more than a child,
had shewn great skill in darning a torn skirt, that day when my
grandmother had gone to call on Mme. de Villeparisis) had turned to
ladies' fashions and become a seamstress. A prentice hand, to begin
with, in a dressmaker's workroom, set to stitch a seam, to fasten a
flounce, to sew on a button or to press a crease, to fix a waistband
with hooks and eyes, she had quickly risen to be second and then chief
assistant, and having formed a connexion of her own among ladies of
fashion now worked at home, that is to say in our courtyard, generally
with one or two of her young friends from the workroom, whom she had
taken on as apprentices. After this, Jupien's presence in the place
had ceased to matter. No doubt the little girl (a big girl by this
time) had often to cut out waistcoats still. But with her friends to
assist her she needed no one besides. And so Jupien, her uncle, had
sought employment outside. He was free at first to return home at
midday, then, when he had definitely succeeded the man whose
substitute only he had begun by being, not before dinner-time. His
appointment to the 'regular establishment' was, fortunately, not
announced until some weeks after our arrival, so that his courtesy
could be brought to bear on her long enough to help Françoise to pass
through the first, most difficult phase without undue suffering. At
the same time, and without underrating his value to Françoise as, so
to speak, a sedative during the period of transition, I am bound to
say that my first impression of Jupien had been far from favourable.
At a little distance, entirely ruining the effect that his plump
cheeks and vivid colouring would otherwise have produced, his eyes,
brimming with a compassionate, mournful, dreamy gaze, led one to
suppose that he was seriously ill or had just suffered a great
bereavement. Not only was he nothing of the sort, but as soon as he
opened his mouth (and his speech, by the way, was perfect) he was
quite markedly cynical and cold. There resulted from this discord
between eyes and lips a certain falsity which was not attractive, and
by which he had himself the air of being made as uncomfortable as a
guest who arrives in morning dress at a party where everyone else is
in evening dress, or as a commoner who having to speak to a Royal
Personage does not know exactly how he ought to address him and gets
round the difficulty by cutting down his remarks to almost nothing.
Jupien's (here the comparison ends) were, on the contrary, charming.
Indeed, corresponding possibly to this overflowing of his face by his
eyes (which one ceased to notice when one came to know him), I soon
discerned in him a rare intellect, and one of the most spontaneously
literary that it has been my privilege to come across, in the sense
that, probably without education, he possessed or had assimilated,
with the help only of a few books skimmed in early life, the most
ingenious turns of speech. The most gifted people that I had known had
died young. And so I was convinced that Jupien's life would soon be
cut short. Kindness was among his qualities, and pity, the most
delicate and the most generous feelings for others. But his part in
the life of Françoise had soon ceased to be indispensable. She had
learned to put up with understudies.

Indeed, when a tradesman or servant came to our door with a parcel or
message, while seeming to pay no attention and merely pointing vaguely
to an empty chair, Françoise so skilfully put to the best advantage
the few seconds that he spent in the kitchen, while he waited for
Mamma's answer, that it was very seldom that the stranger went away
without having ineradicably engraved upon his memory the conviction
that, if we 'did not have' any particular thing, it was because we had
'no wish' for it. If she made such a point of other people's knowing
that we 'had money' (for she knew nothing of what Saint-Loup used to
call partitive articles, and said simply 'have money,' 'fetch water'),
of their realising that we were rich, it was not because riches with
nothing else besides, riches without virtue, were in her eyes the
supreme good in life; but virtue without riches was not her ideal
either. Riches were for her, so to speak, a necessary condition of
virtue, failing which virtue itself would lack both merit and charm.
She distinguished so little between them that she had come in time to
invest each with the other's attributes, to expect some material
comfort from virtue, to discover something edifying in riches.

As soon as she had shut the window again, which she did
quickly—otherwise Mamma would, it appeared, have heaped on her 'every
conceivable insult'—Françoise began with many groans and sighs to put
straight the kitchen table.

"There are some Guermantes who stay in the Rue de la Chaise," began my
father's valet; "I had a friend who used to be with them; he was their
second coachman. And I know a fellow, not my old pal, but his
brother-in-law, who did his time in the Army with one of the Baron de
Guermantes's stud grooms. Does your mother know you're out?" added the
valet, who was in the habit, just as he used to hum the popular airs
of the season, of peppering his conversation with all the latest

Françoise, with the tired eyes of an ageing woman, eyes which moreover
saw everything from Combray, in a hazy distance, made out not the
witticism that underlay the words, but that there must be something
witty in them since they bore no relation to the rest of his speech
and had been uttered with considerable emphasis by one whom she knew
to be a joker. She smiled at him, therefore, with an air of
benevolent bewilderment, as who should say: "Always the same, that
Victor!" And she was genuinely pleased, knowing that listening to
smart sayings of this sort was akin—if remotely—to those reputable
social pleasures for which, in every class of society, people make
haste to dress themselves in their best and run the risk of catching
cold. Furthermore, she believed the valet to be a friend after her own
heart, for he never left off denouncing, with fierce indignation, the
appalling measures which the Republic was about to enforce against the
clergy. Françoise had not yet learned that our cruellest adversaries
are not those who contradict and try to convince us, but those who
magnify or invent reports which may make us unhappy, taking care not
to include any appearance of justification, which might lessen our
discomfort, and perhaps give us some slight regard for a party which
they make a point of displaying to us, to complete our torment, as
being at once terrible and triumphant.

"The Duchess must be connected with all that lot," said Françoise,
bringing the conversation back to the Guermantes of the Rue de la
Chaise, as one plays a piece over again from the andante. "I can't
recall who it was told me that one of them had married a cousin of the
Duke. It's the same kindred, anyway. Ay, they're a great family, the
Guermantes!" she added, in a tone of respect founding the greatness of
the family at once on the number of its branches and the brilliance of
its connexions, as Pascal founds the truth of Religion on Reason and
on the Authority of the Scriptures. For since there was but the
single word 'great' to express both meanings, it seemed to her that
they formed a single idea, her vocabulary, like cut stones sometimes,
shewing thus on certain of its facets a flaw which projected a ray of
darkness into the recesses of her mind. "I wonder now if it wouldn't
be them that have their castle at Guermantes, not a score of miles
from Combray; then they must be kin to their cousin at Algiers, too."
My mother and I long asked ourselves who this cousin at Algiers could
be until finally we discovered that Françoise meant by the name
'Algiers' the town of Angers. What is far off may be more familiar to
us than what is quite near. Françoise, who knew the name 'Algiers'
from some particularly unpleasant dates that used to be given us at
the New Year, had never heard of Angers. Her language, like the French
language itself, and especially that of place-names, was thickly
strewn with errors. "I meant to talk to their butler about it. What is
it again you call him?" she interrupted herself as though putting a
formal question as to the correct procedure, which she went on to
answer with: "Oh, of course, it's Antoine you call him!" as though
Antoine had been a title. "He's the one who could tell me, but he's
quite the gentleman, he is, a great scholar, you'd say they'd cut his
tongue out, or that he'd forgotten to learn to speak. He makes no
response when you talk to him," went on Françoise, who used 'make
response' in the same sense as Mme. de Sévigné. "But," she added,
quite untruthfully, "so long as I know what's boiling in my pot, I
don't bother my head about what's in other people's. Whatever he is,
he's not a Catholic. Besides, he's not a courageous man." (This
criticism might have led one to suppose that Françoise had changed her
mind about physical bravery which, according to her, in Combray days,
lowered men to the level of wild beasts. But it was not so.
'Courageous' meant simply a hard worker.) "They do say, too, that he's
thievish as a magpie, but it doesn't do to believe all one hears. The
servants never stay long there because of the lodge; the porters are
jealous and set the Duchess against them. But it's safe to say that
he's a real twister, that Antoine, and his Antoinesse is no
better," concluded Françoise, who, in furnishing the name 'Antoine'
with a feminine ending that would designate the butler's wife, was
inspired, no doubt, in her act of word-formation by an unconscious
memory of the words _chanoine_ and _chanoinesse_. If so, she was not
far wrong. There is still a street near Notre-Dame called Rue
Chanoinesse, a name which must have been given to it (since it was
never inhabited by any but male Canons) by those Frenchmen of olden
days of whom Françoise was, properly speaking, the contemporary. She
proceeded, moreover, at once to furnish another example of this way of
forming feminine endings, for she went on: "But one thing sure and
certain is that it's the Duchess that has Guermantes Castle. And it's
she that is the Lady Mayoress down in those parts. That's always

"I can well believe that it is something," came with conviction from
the footman, who had not detected the irony.

"You think so, do you, my boy, you think it's something? Why, for folk
like them to be Mayor and Mayoress, it's just thank you for nothing.
Ah, if it was mine, that Guermantes Castle, you wouldn't see me
setting foot in Paris, I can tell you. I'm sure a family who've got
something to go on with, like Monsieur and Madame here, must have
queer ideas to stay on in this wretched town rather than get away down
to Combray the moment they're free to start, and no one hindering
them. Why do they put off retiring? They've got everything they want.
Why wait till they're dead? Ah, if I had only a crust of dry bread to
eat and a faggot to keep me warm in winter, a fine time I'd have of it
at home in my brother's poor old house at Combray. Down there you do
feel you're alive; you haven't all these houses stuck up in front of
you, there is so little noise at night-time, you can hear the frogs
singing five miles off and more."

"That must indeed be fine!" exclaimed the young footman with
enthusiasm, as though this last attraction had been as peculiar to
Combray as the gondola is to Venice. A more recent arrival in the
household than my father's valet, he used to talk to Françoise about
things which might interest not himself so much as her. And Françoise,
whose face wrinkled up in disgust when she was treated as a mere cook,
had for the young footman, who referred to her always as the
'housekeeper,' that peculiar tenderness which Princes not of the blood
royal feel towards the well-meaning young men who dignify them with a

"At any rate one knows what one's about, there, and what time of year
it is. It isn't like here where you won't find one wretched buttercup
flowering at holy Easter any more than you would at Christmas, and I
can't hear so much as the tiniest angelus ring when I lift my old
bones out of bed in the morning. Down there, you can hear every hour;
there's only the one poor bell, but you say to yourself: 'My brother
will be coming in from the field now,' and you watch the daylight
fade, and the bell rings to bless the fruits of the earth, and you
have time to take a turn before you light the lamp. But here it's
daytime and it's night time, and you go to bed, and you can't say any
more than the dumb beasts what you've been about all day."

"I gather Méséglise is a fine place, too, Madame," broke in the young
footman, who found that the conversation was becoming a little too
abstract for his liking, and happened to remember having heard us, at
table, mention Méséglise.

"Oh! Méséglise, is it?" said Françoise with the broad smile which one
could always bring to her lips by uttering any of those
names—Méséglise, Combray, Tansonville. They were so intimate a part
of her life that she felt, on meeting them outside it, on hearing them
used in conversation, a hilarity more or less akin to that which a
professor excites in his class by making an allusion to some
contemporary personage whose name the students had never supposed
could possibly greet their ears from the height of the academic chair.
Her pleasure arose also from the feeling that these places were
something to her which they were not for the rest of the world, old
companions with whom one has shared many delights; and she smiled at
them as if she found in them something witty, because she did find
there a great part of herself.

"Yes, you may well say so, son, it is a pretty enough place is
Méséglise;" she went on with a tinkling laugh, "but how did you ever
come to hear tell of Méséglise?"

"How did I hear of Méséglise? But it's a well-known place; people have
told me about it—yes, over and over again," he assured her with that
criminal inexactitude of the informer who, whenever we attempt to form
an impartial estimate of the importance that a thing which matters to
us may have for other people, makes it impossible for us to succeed.

"I can tell you, it's better down there, under the cherry trees, than
standing before the fire all day."

She spoke to them even of Eulalie as a good person. For since
Eulalie's death Françoise had completely forgotten that she had loved
her as little in her lifetime as she loved every one whose cupboard
was bare, who was dying of hunger, and after that came, like a good
for nothing, thanks to the bounty of the rich, to 'put on airs.' It no
longer pained her that Eulalie had so skilfully managed, Sunday after
Sunday, to secure her 'trifle' from my aunt. As for the latter,
Françoise never left off singing her praises.

"But it was at Combray, surely, that you used to be, with a cousin of
Madame?" asked the young footman.

"Yes, with Mme. Octave—oh, a dear, good, holy woman, my poor friends,
and a house where there was always enough and to spare, and all of the
very best, a good woman, you may well say, who had no pity on the
partridges, or the pheasants, or anything; you might turn up five to
dinner or six, it was never the meat that was lacking, and of the
first quality too, and white wine, and red wine, and everything you
could wish." (Françoise used the word 'pity' in the sense given it by
Labruyère.) "It was she that paid the damages, always, even if the
family stayed for months and years." (This reflection was not really a
slur upon us, for Françoise belonged to an epoch when the words
'damages' was not restricted to a legal use and meant simply expense.)
"Ah, I can tell you, people didn't go empty away from that house. As
his reverence the Curé has told us, many's the time, if there ever was
a woman who could count on going straight before the Throne of God, it
was she. Poor Madame, I can hear her saying now, in the little voice
she had: 'You know, Françoise, I can eat nothing myself, but I want it
all to be just as nice for the others as if I could.' They weren't for
her, the victuals, you may be quite sure. If you'd only seen her, she
weighed no more than a bag of cherries; there wasn't that much of her.
She would never listen to a word I said, she would never send for the
doctor. Ah, it wasn't in that house that you'd have to gobble down
your dinner. She liked her servants to be fed properly. Here, it's
been just the same again to-day; we haven't had time for so much as to
break a crust of bread; everything goes like ducks and drakes."

What annoyed her more than anything were the rusks of pulled bread
that my father used to eat. She was convinced that he had them simply
to give himself airs and to keep her 'dancing.' "I can tell you
frankly," the young footman assured her, "that I never saw the like."
He said it as if he had seen everything, and as if in him the range of
a millennial experience extended over all countries and their customs,
among which was not anywhere to be found a custom of eating pulled
bread. "Yes, yes," the butler muttered, "but that will all be changed;
the men are going on strike in Canada, and the Minister told Monsieur
the other evening that he's clearing two hundred thousand francs out
of it." There was no note of censure in his tone, not that he was not
himself entirely honest, but since he regarded all politicians as
unsound the crime of peculation seemed to him less serious than the
pettiest larceny. He did not even stop to ask himself whether he had
heard this historic utterance aright, and was not struck by the
improbability that such a thing would have been admitted by the guilty
party himself to my father without my father's immediately turning him
out of the house. But the philosophy of Combray made it impossible for
Françoise to expect that the strikes in Canada could have any
repercussion on the use of pulled bread. "So long as the world goes
round, look, there'll be masters to keep us on the trot, and servants
to do their bidding." In disproof of this theory of perpetual motion,
for the last quarter of an hour my mother (who probably did not employ
the same measures of time as Françoise in reckoning the duration of
the latter's dinner) had been saying:

"What on earth can they be doing? They've been at least two hours at
their dinner."

And she rang timidly three or four times. Françoise, 'her' footman,
the butler, heard the bell ring, not as a summons to themselves, and
with no thought of answering it, but rather like the first sounds of
the instruments being tuned when the next part of a concert is just
going to begin, and one knows that there will be only a few minutes
more of interval. And so, when the peals were repeated and became more
urgent, our servants began to pay attention, and, judging that they
had not much time left and that the resumption of work was at hand, at
a peal somewhat louder than the rest gave a collective sigh and went
their several ways, the footman slipping downstairs to smoke a
cigarette outside the door, Françoise, after a string of reflexions on
ourselves, such as: "They've got the jumps to-day, surely," going up
to put her things tidy in her attic, while the butler, having supplied
himself first with note-paper from my bedroom, polished off the
arrears of his private correspondence.

Despite the apparent stiffness of their butler, Françoise had been in
a position, from the first, to inform me that the Guermantes occupied
their mansion by virtue not of an immemorial right but of a quite
recent tenancy, and that the garden over which it looked on the side
that I did not know was quite small and just like all the gardens
along the street; and I realised at length that there were not to be
seen there pit and gallows or fortified mill, secret chamber, pillared
dovecot, manorial bakehouse or tithe-barn, dungeon or drawbridge, or
fixed bridge either for that matter, any more than toll-houses or
pinnacles, charters, muniments, ramparts or commemorative mounds. But
just as Elstir, when the bay of Balbec, losing its mystery, had become
for me simply a portion, interchangeable with any other, of the total
quantity of salt water distributed over the earth's surface, had
suddenly restored to it a personality of its own by telling me that it
was the gulf of opal, painted by Whistler in his 'Harmonies in Blue
and Silver,' so the name Guermantes had seen perish under the strokes
of Françoise's hammer the last of the dwellings that had issued from
its syllables when one day an old friend of my father said to us,
speaking of the Duchess: "She is the first lady in the Faubourg
Saint-Germain; hers is the leading house in the Faubourg
Saint-Germain." No doubt the most exclusive drawing-room, the leading
house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain was little or nothing after all
those other mansions of which in turn I had dreamed. And yet in this
one too (and it was to be the last of the series), there was
something, however humble, quite apart from its material components, a
secret differentiation.

And it became all the more essential that I should be able to explore
in the drawing-room of Mme. de Guermantes, among her friends, the
mystery of her name, since I did not find it in her person when I saw
her leave the house in the morning on foot, or in the afternoon in her
carriage. Once before, indeed, in the church at Combray, she had
appeared to me in the blinding flash of a transfiguration, with cheeks
irreducible to, impenetrable by, the colour of the name Guermantes and
of afternoons on the banks of the Vivonne, taking the place of my
shattered dream like a swan or willow into which has been changed a
god or nymph, and which henceforward, subjected to natural laws, will
glide over the water or be shaken by the wind. And yet, when that
radiance had vanished, hardly had I lost sight of it before it formed
itself again, like the green and rosy afterglow of sunset after the
sweep of the oar has broken it, and in the solitude of my thoughts the
name had quickly appropriated to itself my impression of the face. But
now, frequently, I saw her at her window, in the courtyard, in the
street, and for myself at least if I did not succeed in integrating in
her the name Guermantes, I cast the blame on the impotence of my mind
to accomplish the whole act that I demanded of it; but she, our
neighbour, she seemed to make the same error, nay more to make it
without discomfiture, without any of my scruples, without even
suspecting that it was an error. Thus Mme. de Guermantes shewed in her
dresses the same anxiety to follow the fashions as if, believing
herself to have become simply a woman like all the rest, she had
aspired to that elegance in her attire in which other ordinary women
might equal and perhaps surpass her; I had seen her in the street gaze
admiringly at a well-dressed actress; and in the morning, before she
sallied forth on foot, as if the opinion of the passers-by, whose
vulgarity she accentuated by parading familiarly through their midst
her inaccessible life, could be a tribunal competent to judge her, I
would see her before the glass playing, with a conviction free from
all pretence or irony, with passion, with ill-humour, with conceit,
like a queen who has consented to appear as a servant-girl in
theatricals at court, this part, so unworthy of her, of a fashionable
woman; and in this mythological oblivion of her natural grandeur, she
looked to see whether her veil was hanging properly, smoothed her
cuffs, straightened her cloak, as the celestial swan performs all the
movements natural to his animal species, keeps his eyes painted on
either side of his beak without putting into them any glint of life,
and darts suddenly after a bud or an umbrella, as a swan would,
without remembering that he is a god. But as the traveller,
disappointed by the first appearance of a strange town, reminds
himself that he will doubtless succeed in penetrating its charm if he
visits its museums and galleries, so I assured myself that, had I been
given the right of entry into Mme. de Guermantes's house, were I one
of her friends, were I to penetrate into her life, I should then know
what, within its glowing orange-tawny envelope, her name did really,
objectively enclose for other people, since, after all, my father's
friend had said that the Guermantes set was something quite by itself
in the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

The life which I supposed them to lead there flowed from a source so
different from anything in my experience, and must, I felt, be so
indissolubly associated with that particular house that I could not
have imagined the presence, at the Duchess's parties, of people in
whose company I myself had already been, of people who really existed.
For not being able suddenly to change their nature, they would have
carried on conversations there of the sort that I knew; their partners
would perhaps have stooped to reply to them in the same human speech;
and, in the course of an evening spent in the leading house in the
Faubourg Saint-Germain, there would have been moments identical with
moments that I had already lived. Which was impossible. It was thus
that my mind was embarrassed by certain difficulties, and the Presence
of Our Lord's Body in the Host seemed to me no more obscure a mystery
than this leading house in the Faubourg, situated here, on the right
bank of the river, and so near that from my bed, in the morning, I
could hear its carpets being beaten. But the line of demarcation that
separated me from the Faubourg Saint-Germain seemed to me all the more
real because it was purely ideal. I felt clearly that it was already
part of the Faubourg, when I saw the Guermantes doormat, spread out
beyond that intangible Equator, of which my mother had made bold to
say, having like myself caught a glimpse of it one day when their door
stood open, that it was a shocking state. For the rest, how could
their dining-room, their dim gallery upholstered in red plush, into
which I could see sometimes from our kitchen window, have failed to
possess in my eyes the mysterious charm of the Faubourg Saint-Germain,
to form part of it in an essential fashion, to be geographically
situated within it, since to have been entertained to dinner in that
room was to have gone into the Faubourg Saint-Germain, to have
breathed its atmosphere, since the people who, before going to table,
sat down by the side of Mme. de Guermantes on the leather-covered sofa
in that gallery were all of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. No doubt
elsewhere than in the Faubourg, at certain parties, one might see now
and then, majestically enthroned amid the vulgar herd of fashion, one
of those men who were mere names and varyingly assumed, when one tried
to form a picture of them, the aspect of a tournament or of a royal
forest. But here, in the leading house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain,
in the drawing-room, in the dim gallery, there were only they. They
were wrought of precious materials, the columns that upheld the
temple. Indeed for quiet family parties it was from among them only
that Mme. de Guermantes might select her guests, and in the dinners
for twelve, gathered around the dazzling napery and plate, they were
like the golden statues of the Apostles in the Sainte-Chapelle,
symbolic, consecrative pillars before the Holy Table. As for the tiny
strip of garden that stretched between high walls at the back of the
house, where on summer evenings Mme. de Guermantes had liqueurs and
orangeade brought out after dinner, how could I not have felt that to
sit there of an evening, between nine and eleven, on its iron
chairs—endowed with a magic as potent as the leathern sofa—without
inhaling the breezes peculiar to the Faubourg Saint-Germain was as
impossible as to take a siesta in the oasis of Figuig without thereby
being necessarily in Africa. Only imagination and belief can
differentiate from the rest certain objects, certain people, and can
create an atmosphere. Alas, those picturesque sites, those natural
accidents, those local curiosities, those works of art of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, never probably should I be permitted to set my feet
among them. And I must content myself with a shiver of excitement as I
sighted, from the deep sea (and without the least hope of ever landing
there) like an outstanding minaret, like the first palm, like the
first signs of some exotic industry or vegetation, the well-trodden
doormat of its shore.

But if the Hôtel de Guermantes began for me at its hall-door, its
dependencies must be regarded as extending a long way farther,
according to the Duke, who, looking on all the other tenants as
farmers, peasants, purchasers of forfeited estates, whose opinion was
of no account, shaved himself every morning in his nightshirt at the
window, came down into the courtyard, according to the warmth or
coldness of the day, in his shirtsleeves, in pyjamas, in a plaid coat
of startling colours, with a shaggy nap, in little light-coloured
coats shorter than the jackets beneath, and made one of his grooms
lead past him at a trot some horse that he had just been buying. More
than once, indeed, the horse broke the window of Jupien's shop,
whereupon Jupien, to the Duke's indignation, demanded compensation.
"If it were only in consideration of all the good that Madame la
Duchesse does in the house, here, and in the parish," said M. de
Guermantes, "it is an outrage on this fellow's part to claim a penny
from us." But Jupien had stuck to his point, apparently not having the
faintest idea what 'good' the Duchess had ever done. And yet she did
do good, but—since one cannot do good to everybody at once—the
memory of the benefits that we have heaped on one person is a valid
reason for our abstaining from helping another, whose discontent we
thereby make all the stronger. From other points of view than that of
charity the quarter appeared to the Duke—and this over a considerable
area—to be only an extension of his courtyard, a longer track for his
horses. After seeing how a new acquisition trotted by itself he would
have it harnessed and taken through all the neighbouring streets, the
groom running beside the carriage holding the reins, making it pass to
and fro before the Duke who stood on the pavement, erect, gigantic,
enormous in his vivid clothes, a cigar between his teeth, his head in
the air, his eyeglass scrutinous, until the moment when he sprang on
the box, drove the horse up and down for a little to try it, then set
off with his new turn-out to pick up his mistress in the
Champs-Elysées. M. de Guermantes bade good day, before leaving the
courtyard, to two couples who belonged more or less to his world; the
first, some cousins of his who, like working-class parents, were never
at home to look after their children, since every morning the wife
went off to the Schola to study counterpoint and fugue, and the
husband to his studio to carve wood and beat leather; and after them
the Baron and Baronne de Norpois, always dressed in black, she like a
pew-opener and he like a mute at a funeral, who emerged several times
daily on their way to church. They were the nephew and niece of the
old Ambassador who was our friend, and whom my father had, in fact,
met at the foot of the staircase without realising from where he came;
for my father supposed that so important a personage, one who had come
in contact with the most eminent men in Europe and was probably quite
indifferent to the empty distinctions of rank, was hardly likely to
frequent the society of these obscure, clerical and narrow-minded
nobles. They had not been long in the place; Jupien, who had come out
into the courtyard to say a word to the husband just as he was
greeting M. de Guermantes, called him 'M. Norpois,' not being certain
of his name.

"Monsieur Norpois, indeed! Oh, that really is good! Just wait a
little! This individual will be calling you Comrade Norpois next!"
exclaimed M. de Guermantes, turning to the Baron. He was at last able
to vent his spleen against Jupien who addressed him as 'Monsieur,'
instead of 'Monsieur le Duc.'

One day when M. de Guermantes required some information upon a matter
of which my father had professional knowledge, he had introduced
himself to him with great courtesy. After that, he had often some
neighbourly service to ask of my father and, as soon as he saw him
begin to come downstairs, his mind occupied with his work and anxious
to avoid any interruption, the Duke, leaving his stable-boys, would
come up to him in the courtyard, straighten the collar of his
great-coat, with the serviceable deftness inherited from a line of
royal body-servants in days gone by, take him by the hand, and,
holding it in his own, patting it even to prove to my father, with a
courtesan's or courtier's shamelessness, that he, the Duc de
Guermantes, made no bargain about my father's right to the privilege
of contact with the ducal flesh, lead him, so to speak, on leash,
extremely annoyed and thinking only how he might escape, through the
carriage entrance out into the street. He had given us a sweeping bow
one day when we had come in just as he was going out in the carriage
with his wife; he was bound to have told her my name; but what
likelihood was there of her remembering it, or my face either? And
besides, what a feeble recommendation to be pointed out simply as
being one of her tenants! Another, more valuable, would have been my
meeting the Duchess in the drawing-room of Mme. de Villeparisis, who,
as it happened, had just sent word by my grandmother that I was to go
and see her, and, remembering that I had been intending to go in for
literature, had added that I should meet several authors there. But my
father felt that I was still a little young to go into society, and as
the state of my health continued to give him uneasiness he did not see
the use of establishing precedents that would do me no good.

As one of Mme. de Guermantes's footmen was in the habit of talking to
Françoise, I picked up the names of several of the houses which she
frequented, but formed no impression of any of them; from the moment
in which they were a part of her life, of that life which I saw only
through the veil of her name, were they not inconceivable?

"To-night there's a big party with a Chinese shadow show at the
Princesse de Parme's," said the footman, "but we shan't be going,
because at five o'clock Madame is taking the train to Chantilly, to
spend a few days with the Duc d'Aumale; but it'll be the lady's maid
and valet that are going with her. I'm to stay here. She won't be at
all pleased, the Princesse de Parme won't, that's four times already
she's written to Madame la Duchesse."

"Then you won't be going down to Guermantes Castle this year?"

"It's the first time we shan't be going there: it's because of the
Duke's rheumatics, the doctor says he's not to go there till the hot
pipes are in, but we've been there every year till now, right on to
January. If the hot pipes aren't ready, perhaps Madame will go for a
few days to Cannes, to the Duchesse de Guise, but nothing's settled

"And to the theatre, do you go, sometimes?"

"We go now and then to the Opéra, usually on the evenings when the
Princesse de Parme has her box, that's once a week; it seems it's a
fine show they give there, plays, operas, everything. Madame refused
to subscribe to it herself, but we go all the same to the boxes
Madame's friends take, one one night, another another, often with the
Princesse de Guermantes, the Duke's cousin's lady. She's sister to the
Duke of Bavaria. And so you've got to run upstairs again now, have
you?" went on the footman, who, albeit identified with the Guermantes,
looked upon masters in general as a political estate, a view which
allowed him to treat Françoise with as much respect as if she too were
in service with a duchess. "You enjoy good health, ma'am."

"Oh, if it wasn't for these cursed legs of mine! On the plain I can
still get along" ('on the plain' meant in the courtyard or in the
streets, where Françoise had no objection to walking, in other words
'on a plane surface') "but it's these stairs that do me in, devil take
them. Good day to you, sir, see you again, perhaps, this evening."

She was all the more anxious to continue her conversations with the
footman after he mentioned to her that the sons of dukes often bore a
princely title which they retained until their fathers were dead.
Evidently the cult of the nobility, blended with and accommodating
itself to a certain spirit of revolt against it, must, springing
hereditarily from the soil of France, be very strongly implanted still
in her people. For Françoise, to whom you might speak of the genius of
Napoleon or of wireless telegraphy without succeeding in attracting
her attention, and without her slackening for an instant the movements
with which she was scraping the ashes from the grate or laying the
table, if she were simply to be told these idiosyncrasies of
nomenclature, and that the younger son of the Duc de Guermantes was
generally called Prince d'Oléron, would at once exclaim: "That's fine,
that is!" and stand there dazed, as though in contemplation of a
stained window in church.

Françoise learned also from the Prince d'Agrigente's valet, who had
become friends with her by coming often to the house with notes for
the Duchess, that he had been hearing a great deal of talk in society
about the marriage of the Marquis de Saint-Loup to Mlle. d'Ambresac,
and that it was practically settled.

That villa, that opera-box, into which Mme. de Guermantes transfused
the current of her life, must, it seemed to me, be places no less
fairylike than her home. The names of Guise, of Parme, of
Guermantes-Bavière, differentiated from all possible others the
holiday places to which the Duchess resorted, the daily festivities
which the track of her bowling wheels bound, as with ribbons, to her
mansion. If they told me that in those holidays, in those festivities,
consisted serially the life of Mme. de Guermantes, they brought no
further light to bear on it. Each of them gave to the life of the
Duchess a different determination, but succeeded only in changing the
mystery of it, without allowing to escape any of its own mystery which
simply floated, protected by a covering, enclosed in a bell, through
the tide of the life of all the world. The Duchess might take her
luncheon on the shore of the Mediterranean at Carnival time, but, in
the villa of Mme. de Guise, where the queen of Parisian society was
nothing more, in her white linen dress, among numberless princesses,
than a guest like any of the rest, and on that account more moving
still to me, more herself by being thus made new, like a star of the
ballet who in the fantastic course of a figure takes the place of each
of her humbler sisters in succession; she might look at Chinese shadow
shows, but at a party given by the Princesse de Parme, listen to
tragedy or opera, but from the box of the Princesse de Guermantes.

As we localise in the body of a person all the potentialities of that
person's life, our recollections of the people he knows and has just
left or is on his way to meet, if, having learned from Françoise that
Mme. de Guermantes was going on foot to luncheon with the Princesse de
Parme, I saw her, about midday, emerge from her house in a gown of
flesh-coloured satin over which her face was of the same shade, like a
cloud that rises above the setting sun, it was all the pleasures of
the Faubourg Saint-Germain that I saw before me, contained in that
small compass, as in a shell, between its twin valves that glowed with
roseate nacre.

My father had a friend at the Ministry, one A. J. Moreau, who, to
distinguish him from the other Moreaus, took care always to prefix
both initials to his name, with the result that people called him, for
short, 'A.J.' Well, somehow or other, this A. J. found himself
entitled to a stall at the Opéra-Comique on a gala night, he sent the
ticket to my father, and as Berma, whom I had not been again to see
since my first disappointment, was to give an act of _Phèdre_, my
grandmother persuaded my father to pass it on to me.

To tell the truth, I attached no importance to this possibility of
hearing Berma which, a few years earlier, had plunged me in such a
state of agitation. And it was not without a sense of melancholy that
I realised the fact of my indifference to what at one time I had put
before health, comfort, everything. It was not that there had been any
slackening of my desire for an opportunity to contemplate close at
hand the precious particles of reality of which my imagination caught
a broken glimpse. But my imagination no longer placed these in the
diction of a great actress; since my visits to Elstir, it was on
certain tapestries, certain modern paintings that I had brought to
bear the inner faith I had once had in this acting, in this tragic art
of Berma; my faith, my desire, no longer coming forward to pay
incessant worship to the diction, the attitudes of Berma, the
counterpart that I possessed of them in my heart had gradually
perished, like those other counterparts of the dead in ancient Egypt
which had to be fed continually in order to maintain their originals
in eternal life. This art had become a feeble, tawdry thing. No
deep-lying soul inhabited it any more.

That evening, as, armed with the ticket my father had received from
his friend, I was climbing the grand staircase of the Opera, I saw in
front of me a man whom I took at first for M. de Charlus, whose
bearing he had; when he turned his head to ask some question of one of
the staff I saw that I had been mistaken, but I had no hesitation in
placing the stranger in the same class of society, from the way not
only in which he was dressed but in which he spoke to the man who took
the tickets and to the box-openers who were keeping him waiting. For,
apart from personal details of similarity, there was still at this
period between any smart and wealthy man of that section of the
nobility and any smart and wealthy man of the world of finance or 'big
business' a strongly marked difference. Where one of the latter would
have thought he was giving proof of his exclusiveness by adopting a
sharp, haughty tone in speaking to an inferior, the great gentleman,
affable, pleasant, smiling, had the air of considering, practising an
affectation of humility and patience, a pretence of being just one of
the audience, as a privilege of his good breeding. It is quite likely
that, on seeing him thus dissemble behind a smile overflowing with
good nature the barred threshold of the little world apart which he
carried in his person, more than one wealthy banker's son, entering
the theatre at that moment, would have taken this great gentleman for
a person of no importance if he had not remarked in him an astonishing
resemblance to the portrait that had recently appeared in the
illustrated papers of a nephew of the Austrian Emperor, the Prince of
Saxony, who happened to be in Paris at the time. I knew him to be a
great friend of the Guermantes. As I reached the attendant I heard the
Prince of Saxony (or his double) say with a smile: "I don't know the
number; it was my cousin who told me I had only to ask for her box."

He may well have been the Prince of Saxony; it was perhaps of the
Duchesse de Guermantes (whom, in that event, I should be able to watch
in the process of living one of those moments of her unimaginable life
in her cousin's box) that his eyes formed a mental picture when he
referred to 'my cousin who told me I had only to ask for her box,' so
much so that that smiling gaze peculiar to himself, those so simple
words caressed my heart (far more gently than would any abstract
meditation) with the alternative feelers of a possible happiness and a
vague distinction. Whatever he was, in uttering this sentence to the
attendant he grafted upon a commonplace evening in my everyday life a
potential outlet into a new world; the passage to which he was
directed after mentioning the word 'box' and along which he now
proceeded was moist and mildewed and seemed to lead to subaqueous
grottoes, to the mythical kingdom of the water-nymphs. I had before me
a gentleman in evening dress who was walking away from me, but I kept
playing upon and round him, as with a badly fitting reflector on a
lamp, and without ever succeeding in making it actually coincide with
him, the idea that he was the Prince of Saxony and was on his way to
join the Duchesse de Guermantes. And, for all that he was alone, that
idea, external to himself, impalpable, immense, unstable as the shadow
projected by a magic lantern, seemed to precede and guide him like
that deity, invisible to the rest of mankind, who stands beside the
Greek warrior in the hour of battle.

I took my seat, striving all the time to recapture a line from _Phèdre_
which I could not quite remember. In the form in which I repeated it
to myself it had not the right number of feet, but as I made no
attempt to count them, between its unwieldiness and a classical line
of poetry it seemed as though no common measure could exist. It would
not have surprised me to learn that I must subtract at least half a
dozen syllables from that portentous phrase to reduce it to
alexandrine dimensions. But suddenly I remembered it, the irremediable
asperities of an inhuman world vanished as if by magic; the syllables
of the line at once filled up the requisite measure, what there was in
excess floated off with the ease, the dexterity of a bubble of air
that rises to burst on the water's brink. And, after all, this
excrescence with which I had been struggling consisted of but a single

A certain number of orchestra stalls had been offered for sale at the
box office and bought, out of snobbishness or curiosity, by such as
wished to study the appearance of people whom they might not have
another opportunity of seeing at close quarters. And it was indeed a
fragment of their true social life, ordinarily kept secret, that one
could examine here in public, for, the Princesse de Parme having
herself distributed among her friends the seats in stalls, balconies
and boxes, the house was like a drawing-room in which everyone changed
his place, went to sit here or there wherever he caught sight of a
woman whom he knew.

Next to me were some common people who, not knowing the regular
subscribers, were anxious to shew that they were capable of
identifying them and named them aloud. They went on to remark that
these subscribers behaved there as though they were in their own
drawing-rooms, meaning that they paid no attention to what was being
played. Which was the exact opposite of what did happen. A budding
genius who had taken a stall in order to hear Berma thinks only of not
soiling his gloves, of not disturbing, of making friends with the
neighbour whom chance has put beside him, of pursuing with an
intermittent smile the fugitive—avoiding with apparent want of
politeness the intercepted gaze of a person of his acquaintance whom
he has discovered in the audience and to whom, after a thousand
indecisions, he makes up his mind to go and talk just as the three
hammer-blows from the stage, sounding before he has had time to reach
his friend, force him to take flight, like the Hebrews in the Red Sea,
through a heaving tide of spectators and spectatresses whom he has
obliged to rise and whose dresses he tears as he passes, or tramples
on their boots. On the other hand it was because the society people
sat in their boxes (behind the general terrace of the balcony, as in
so many little drawing-rooms, the fourth walls of which had been
removed, or in so many little cafés, to which one might go for
refreshment, without letting oneself be intimidated by the mirrors in
gilt frames or the red plush seats, in the Neapolitan style, of the
establishment), it was because they rested an indifferent hand on the
gilded shafts of the columns which upheld this temple of the lyric
art, it was because they remained unmoved by the extravagant honours
which seemed to be being paid them by a pair of carved figures which
held out towards the boxes branches of palm and laurel, that they and
they only would have had minds free to listen to the play, if only
they had had minds.

At first there was nothing visible but vague shadows, in which one
suddenly struck—like the gleam of a precious stone which one cannot
see—the phosphorescence of a pair of famous eyes, or, like a
medallion of Henri IV on a dark background, the bent profile of the
Duc d'Aumale, to whom an invisible lady was exclaiming "Monseigneur
must allow me to take his coat," to which the Prince replied, "Oh,
come, come! Really, Madame d'Ambresac." She took it, in spite of this
vague prohibition, and was envied by all the rest her being thus

But in the other boxes, everywhere almost, the white deities who
inhabited those sombre abodes had flown for shelter against their
shadowy walls and remained invisible. Gradually, however, as the
performance went on, their vaguely human forms detached themselves,
one by one, from the shades of night which they patterned, and,
raising themselves towards the light, allowed their semi-nude bodies
to emerge, and rose, and stopped at the limit of their course, at the
luminous, shaded surface on which their brilliant faces appeared
behind the gaily breaking foam of the feather fans they unfurled and
lightly waved, beneath their hyacinthine locks begemmed with pearls,
which the flow of the tide seemed to have caught and drawn with it;
this side of them, began the orchestra stalls, abode of mortals for
ever separated from the transparent, shadowy realm to which, at points
here and there, served as boundaries, on its brimming surface, the
limpid, mirroring eyes of the water-nymphs. For the folding seats on
its shore, the forms of the monsters in the stalls were painted upon
the surface of those eyes in simple obedience to the laws of optics
and according to their angle of incidence, as happens with those two
sections of external reality to which, knowing that they do not
possess any soul, however rudimentary, that can be considered as
analogous to our own, we should think ourselves mad if we addressed a
smile or a glance of recognition: namely, minerals and people to whom
we have not been introduced. Beyond this boundary, withdrawing from
the limit of their domain, the radiant daughters of the sea kept
turning at every moment to smile up at the bearded tritons who clung
to the anfractuosities of the cliff, or towards some aquatic demi-god,
whose head was a polished stone to which the tides had borne a smooth
covering of seaweed, and his gaze a disc of rock crystal. They leaned
towards these creatures, offering them sweetmeats; sometimes the flood
parted to admit a fresh Nereid who, belated, smiling, apologetic, had
just floated into blossom out of the shadowy depths; then, the act
ended, having no further hope of hearing the melodious sounds of earth
which had drawn them to the surface, plunging back all in a moment the
several sisters vanished into the night. But of all these retreats, to
the thresholds of which their mild desire to behold the works of man
brought the curious goddesses who let none approach them, the most
famous was the cube of semi-darkness known to the world as the stage
box of the Princesse de Guermantes.

Like a mighty goddess who presides from far aloft over the sports of
lesser deities, the Princess had deliberately remained a little way
back on a sofa placed sideways in the box, red as a reef of coral,
beside a big, glassy splash of reflexion which was probably a mirror
and made one think of the section cut by a ray of sunlight, vertical,
clear, liquid, through the flashing crystal of the sea. At once plume
and blossom, like certain subaqueous growths, a great white flower,
downy as the wing of a bird, fell from the brow of the Princess along
one of her cheeks, the curve of which it followed with a pliancy,
coquettish, amorous, alive, and seemed almost to enfold it like a rosy
egg in the softness of a halcyon's nest. Over her hair, reaching in
front to her eyebrows and caught back lower down at the level of her
throat, was spread a net upon which those little white shells which
are gathered on some shore of the South Seas alternated with pearls, a
marine mosaic barely emerging from the waves and at every moment
plunged back again into a darkness in the depths of which even then a
human presence was revealed by the ubiquitous flashing of the
Princess's eyes. The beauty which set her far above all the other
fabulous daughters of the dusk was not altogether materially and
comprehensively inscribed on her neck, her shoulders, her arms, her
figure. But the exquisite, unfinished line of the last was the exact
starting point, the inevitable focus of invisible lines which the eye
could not help prolonging, marvellous lines, springing into life round
the woman like the spectrum of an ideal form projected upon the screen
of darkness.

"That's the Princesse de Guermantes," said my neighbour to the
gentleman beside her, taking care to begin the word 'Princesse' with a
string of 'P's, to shew that a title like that was absurd. "She hasn't
been sparing with her pearls. I'm sure, if I had as many as that, I
wouldn't make such a display of them; it doesn't look at all well, not
to my mind."

And yet, when they caught sight of the Princess, all those who were
looking round to see who was in the audience felt springing up for her
in their hearts the rightful throne of beauty. Indeed, with the
Duchesse de Luxembourg, with Mme. de Morienval, with Mme. de
Saint-Euverte, and any number of others, what enabled one to identify
their faces would be the juxtaposition of a big red nose to a
hare-lip, or of a pair of wrinkled cheeks to a faint moustache. These
features were nevertheless sufficient in themselves to attract the
eye, since having merely the conventional value of a written document
they gave one to read a famous and impressive name; but also they gave
one, cumulatively, the idea that ugliness had about it something
aristocratic, and that it was unnecessary that the face of a great
lady, provided it was distinguished, should be beautiful as well. But
like certain artists who, instead of the letters of their names, set
at the foot of their canvas a form that is beautiful in itself, a
butterfly, a lizard, a flower, so it was the form of a delicious face
and figure that the Princess had put in the corner of her box, thereby
shewing that beauty can be the noblest of signatures; for the presence
there of Mme. de Guermantes-Bavière, who brought to the theatre only
such persons as at other times formed part of her intimate circle, was
in the eyes of specialists in aristocracy the best possible
certificate of the authenticity of the picture which her box
presented, a sort of evocation of a scene in the ordinary private life
of the Princess in her palaces in Munich and in Paris.

Our imagination being like a barrel organ out of order, which always
plays some other tune than that shewn on its card, every time that I
had heard any mention of the Princesse de Guermantes-Bavière, a
recollection of certain sixteenth-century masterpieces had begun
singing in my brain. I was obliged to rid myself quickly of this
association, now that I saw her engaged in offering crystallised fruit
to a stout gentleman in a swallowtail coat. Certainly I was very far
from the conclusion that she and her guests were mere human beings
like the rest of the audience. I understood that what they were doing
there was all only a game, and that as a prelude to the acts of their
real life (of which, presumably, this was not where they spent the
important part) they had arranged, in obedience to a ritual unknown to
me, they were feigning to offer and decline sweetmeats, a gesture
robbed of its ordinary significance and regulated beforehand like the
step of a dancer who alternately raises herself on her toes and
circles about an upheld scarf. For all I knew, perhaps at the moment
of offering him her sweetmeats the goddess was saying, with that note
of irony in her voice (for I saw her smile): "Do have one, won't you?"
What mattered that to me? I should have found a delicious refinement
in the deliberate dryness, in the style of Mérimée or Meilhac, of such
words addressed by a goddess to a demi-god who, conscious himself what
were the sublime thoughts which they both had in their minds, in
reserve, doubtless, until the moment when they would begin again to
live their true life, consenting to join in the game, was answering
with the same mysterious bitterness: "Thanks; I should like a cherry."
And I should have listened to this dialogue with the same avidity as
to a scene from _Le Mari de la Débutante_, where the absence of
poetry, of lofty thoughts, things so familiar to me which, I suppose,
Meilhac could easily, had he chosen, have put into it a thousand times
over, seemed to me in itself a refinement, a conventional refinement
and therefore all the more mysterious and instructive.

"That fat fellow is the Marquis de Ganançay," came in a knowing tone
from the man next to me, who had not quite caught the name whispered
in the row behind.

The Marquis de Palancy, his face bent downwards at the end of his long
neck, his round bulging eye glued to the glass of his monocle, was
moving with a leisurely displacement through the transparent shade and
appeared no more to see the public in the stalls than a fish that
drifts past, unconscious of the press of curious gazers, behind the
glass wall of an aquarium. Now and again he paused, a venerable,
wheezing monument, and the audience could not have told whether he was
in pain, asleep, swimming, about to spawn, or merely taking breath. No
one else aroused in me so much envy as he, on account of his apparent
familiarity with this box and the indifference with which he allowed
the Princess to hold out to him her box of sweetmeats; throwing him,
at the same time, a glance from her fine eyes, cut in a pair of
diamonds which at such moments wit and friendliness seemed to liquefy,
whereas, when they were at rest, reduced to their purely material
beauty, to their mineral brilliance alone, if the least reflected
flash disturbed them ever so slightly, they set the darkness ablaze
with inhuman horizontal splendid fires. But now, because the act of
_Phèdre_ in which Berma was playing was due to start, the Princess
came to the front of the box; whereupon, as if she herself were a
theatrical production, in the zone of light which she traversed, I saw
not only the colour but the material of her adornments change. And in
the box, dry now, emerging, a part no longer of the watery realm, the
Princess, ceasing to be a Nereid, appeared turbanned in white and blue
like some marvellous tragic actress dressed for the part of Zaïre, or
perhaps of Orosmane; finally, when she had taken her place in the
front row I saw that the soft halcyon's nest which tenderly shielded
the rosy nacre of her cheeks was—downy, dazzling, velvety, an immense
bird of paradise.

But now my gaze was diverted from the Princesse de Guermantes's box by
a little woman who came in, ill-dressed, plain, her eyes ablaze with
indignation, followed by two young men, and sat down a few places from
me. At length the curtain went up. I could not help being saddened by
the reflexion that there remained now no trace of my old disposition,
at the period when, so as to miss nothing of the extraordinary
phenomenon which I would have gone to the ends of the earth to see, I
kept my mind prepared, like the sensitive plates which astronomers
take out to Africa, to the West Indies, to make and record an exact
observation of a comet or an eclipse; when I trembled for fear lest
some cloud (a fit of ill humour on the artist's part or an incident in
the audience) should prevent the spectacle from presenting itself with
the maximum of intensity; when I should not have believed that I was
watching it in the most perfect conditions had I not gone to the very
theatre which was consecrated to it like an altar, in which I then
felt to be still a part of it, though an accessory part only, the
officials with their white carnations, appointed by her, the vaulted
balcony covering a pit filled with a shabbily dressed crowd, the women
selling programmes that had her photograph, the chestnut trees in the
square outside, all those companions, those confidants of my
impressions of those days which seemed to me to be inseparable from
them. _Phèdre_, the 'Declaration Scene,' Berma, had had then for me a
sort of absolute existence. Standing aloof from the world of current
experience they existed by themselves, I must go to meet them, I
should penetrate what I could of them, and if I opened my eyes and
soul to their fullest extent I should still absorb but a very little
of them. But how pleasant life seemed to me: the triviality of the
form of it that I myself was leading mattered nothing, no more than
the time we spend on dressing, on getting ready to go out, since,
transcending it, there existed in an absolute form, good and difficult
to approach, impossible to possess in their entirety, those more solid
realities, _Phèdre_ and the way in which Berma spoke her part. Steeped
in these dreams of perfection in the dramatic art (a strong dose of
which anyone who had at that time subjected my mind to analysis at any
moment of the day or even the night would have been able to prepare
from it), I was like a battery that accumulates and stores up
electricity. And a time had come when, ill as I was, even if I had
believed that I should die of it, I should still have been compelled
to go and hear Berma. But now, like a hill which from a distance seems
a patch of azure sky, but, as we draw nearer, returns to its place in
our ordinary field of vision, all this had left the world of the
absolute and was no more than a thing like other things, of which I
took cognisance because I was there, the actors were people of the
same substance as the people I knew, trying to speak in the best
possible way these lines of _Phèdre_, which themselves no longer
formed a sublime and individual essence, distinct from everything
else, but were simply more or less effective lines ready to slip back
into the vast corpus of French poetry, of which they were merely a
part. I felt a discouragement that was all the more profound in that,
if the object of my headstrong and active desire no longer existed,
the same tendencies, on the other hand, to indulge in a perpetual
dream, which varied from year to year but led me always to sudden
impulses, regardless of danger, still persisted. The day on which I
rose from my bed of sickness and set out to see, in some country house
or other, a picture by Elstir or a mediaeval tapestry, was so like the
day on which I ought to have started for Venice, or that on which I
did go to hear Berma, or start for Balbec, that I felt before going
that the immediate object of my sacrifice would, after a little while,
leave me cold, that then I might pass close by the place without
stopping even to look at that picture, those tapestries for which I
would at this moment risk so many sleepless nights, so many hours of
pain. I discerned in the instability of its object the vanity of my
effort, and at the same time its vastness, which I had not before
noticed, like a neurasthenic whose exhaustion we double by pointing
out to him that he is exhausted. In the meantime my musings gave a
distinction to everything that had any connexion with them. And even
in my most carnal desires, magnetised always in a certain direction,
concentrated about a single dream, I might have recognised as their
primary motive an idea, an idea for which I would have laid down my
life, at the innermost core of which, as in my day dreams while I sat
reading all afternoon in the garden at Combray, lay the thought of

I no longer felt the same indulgence as on the former occasion towards
the deliberate expressions of affection or anger which I had then
remarked in the delivery and gestures of Aricie, Ismène and Hippolyte.
It was not that the players—they were the same, by the way—did not
still seek, with the same intelligent application, to impart now a
caressing inflexion, or a calculated ambiguity to their voices, now a
tragic amplitude, or a suppliant meekness to their movements. Their
intonations bade the voice: "Be gentle, sing like a nightingale,
caress and woo"; or else, "now wax furious," and then hurled themselves
upon it, trying to carry it off with them in their frenzied rush. But
it, mutinous, independent of their diction, remained unalterably their
natural voice with its material defects or charms, its everyday
vulgarity or affectation, and thus presented a sum-total of acoustic
or social phenomena which the sentiment contained in the lines they
were repeating was powerless to alter.

Similarly the gestures of the players said to their arms, to their
garments: "Be majestic." But each of these unsubmissive members
allowed to flaunt itself between shoulder and elbow a biceps which
knew nothing of the part; they continued to express the triviality of
everyday life and to bring into prominence, instead of fine shades of
Racinian meaning, mere muscular attachments; and the draperies which
they held up fell back again along vertical lines in which the natural
law that governs falling bodies was challenged only by an insipid
textile pliancy. At this point the little woman who was sitting near
me exclaimed:

"Not a hand! Did you ever see such a get-up? She's too old; she can't
play the part; she ought to have retired ages ago."

Amid a sibilant protest from their neighbours the two young men with
her succeeded in making her keep quiet and her fury raged now only in
her eyes. This fury could, moreover, be prompted only by the thought
of success, of fame, for Berma, who had earned so much money, was
overwhelmed with debts. Since she was always making business or social
appointments which she was prevented from keeping, she had messengers
flying with apologies along every street in Paris, and what with rooms
in hotels which she would never occupy engaged in advance, oceans of
scent to bathe her dogs, heavy penalties for breaches of contract with
all her managers, failing any more serious expense and being not so
voluptuous as Cleopatra, she would have found the means of squandering
on telegrams and jobmasters provinces and kingdoms. But the little
woman was an actress who had never tasted success, and had vowed a
deadly hatred against Berma. The latter had just come on to the
stage. And then—oh, the miracle—like those lessons which we laboured
in vain to learn overnight, and find intact, got by heart, on waking
up next morning, like, too, those faces of dead friends which the
impassioned efforts of our memory pursue without recapturing them, and
which, when we are no longer thinking of them, are there before our
eyes just as they were in life—the talent of Berma, which had evaded
me when I sought so greedily to seize its essential quality, now,
after these years of oblivion, in this hour of indifference, imposed
itself, with all the force of a thing directly seen, on my admiration.
Formerly, in my attempts to isolate the talent, I deducted, so to
speak, from what I heard the part itself, a part common to all the
actresses who appeared as Phèdre, which I had myself studied
beforehand so that I might be capable of subtracting it, of receiving
in the strained residue only the talent of Mme. Berma. But this talent
which I sought to discover outside the part itself was indissolubly
one with it. So with a great musician (it appears that this was the
case with Vinteuil when he played the piano), his playing is that of
so fine a pianist that one cannot even be certain whether the
performer is a pianist at all, since (not interposing all that
mechanism of muscular effort, crowned here and there with brilliant
effects, all that spattering shower of notes in which at least the
listener who does not quite know where he is thinks that he can
discern talent in its material, tangible objectivity) his playing is
become so transparent, so full of what he is interpreting, that
himself one no longer sees and he is nothing now but a window opening
upon a great work of art. The intentions which surrounded, like a
majestic or delicate border, the voice and mimicry of Aricie, Ismène
or Hippolyte I had been able to distinguish, but Phèdre had taken hers
into herself, and my mind had not succeeded in wresting from her
diction and attitudes, in apprehending in the miserly simplicity of
their unbroken surfaces those treasures, those effects of which no
sign emerged, so completely had they been absorbed. Berma's voice, in
which not one atom of lifeless matter refractory to the mind remained
undissolved, did not allow any sign to be discernible around it of
that overflow of tears which one could feel, because they had not been
able to absorb it in themselves, trickling over the marble voice of
Aricie or Ismène, but had been brought to an exquisite perfection in
each of its tiniest cells like the instrument of a master violinist,
in whom one means, when one says that his music has a fine sound, to
praise not a physical peculiarity but a superiority of soul; and, as
in the classical landscape where in the place of a vanished nymph
there is an inanimate waterspring, a clear and concrete intention had
been transformed into a certain quality of tone, strangely,
appropriately, coldly limpid. Berma's arms, which the lines
themselves, by the same dynamic force that made the words issue from
her lips, seemed to raise on to her bosom like leaves disturbed by a
gush of water; her attitude, on the stage, which she had gradually
built up, which she was to modify yet further, and which was based
upon reasonings of a different profundity from those of which traces
might be seen in the gestures of her fellow-actors, but of reasonings
that had lost their original deliberation, and had melted into a sort
of radiance in which they sent throbbing, round the person of the
heroine, elements rich and complex, but which the fascinated spectator
took not as an artistic triumph but as a natural gift; those white
veils themselves, which, tenuous and clinging, seemed to be of a
living substance and to have been woven by the suffering, half-pagan,
half-Jansenist, around which they drew close like a frail, shrinking
chrysalis; all of them, voice, attitude, gestures, veils, were nothing
more, round this embodiment of an idea, which a line of poetry is (an
embodiment that, unlike our human bodies, covers the soul not with an
opaque screen which prevents us from seeing it, but with a purified, a
quickened garment through which the soul is diffused and we discover
it), than additional envelopes which instead of concealing shewed up
in greater splendour the soul that had assimilated them to itself and
had spread itself through them, than layers of different substances,
grown translucent, the interpolation of which has the effect only of
causing a richer refraction of the imprisoned, central ray that
pierces through them, and of making more extensive, more precious and
more fair the matter purified by fire in which it is enshrined. So
Berma's interpretation was, around Racine's work, a second work,
quickened also by the breath of genius.

My own impression, to tell the truth, though more pleasant than on the
earlier occasion, was not really different. Only, I no longer put it
to the test of a pre-existent, abstract and false idea of dramatic
genius, and I understood now that dramatic genius was precisely this.
It had just occurred to me that if I had not derived any pleasure from
my first hearing of Berma, it was because, as earlier still when I
used to meet Gilberte in the Champs-Elysées, I had come to her with
too strong a desire. Between my two disappointments there was perhaps
not only this resemblance, but another more profound. The impression
given us by a person or a work (or a rendering, for that matter) of
marked individuality is peculiar to that person or work. We have
brought to it the ideas of 'beauty,' 'breadth of style,' 'pathos' and
so forth which we might, failing anything better, have had the
illusion of discovering in the commonplace show of a 'correct' face or
talent, but our critical spirit has before it the insistent challenge
of a form of which it possesses no intellectual equivalent, in which
it must detect and isolate the unknown element. It hears a shrill
sound, an oddly interrogative intonation. It asks itself: "Is that
good? Is what I am feeling just now admiration? Is that richness of
colouring, nobility, strength?" And what answers it again is a shrill
voice, a curiously questioning tone, the despotic impression caused by
a person whom one does not know, wholly material, in which there is no
room left for 'breadth of interpretation.' And for this reason it is
the really beautiful works that, if we listen to them with sincerity,
must disappoint us most keenly, because in the storehouse of our ideas
there is none that corresponds to an individual impression.

This was precisely what Berma's acting shewed me. This was what was
meant by nobility, by intelligence of diction. Now I could appreciate
the worth of a broad, poetical, powerful interpretation, or rather it
was to this that those epithets were conventionally applied, but only
as we give the names of Mars, Venus, Saturn to planets which have no
place in classical mythology. We feel in one world, we think, we give
names to things in another; between the two we can establish a certain
correspondence, but not bridge the interval. It was quite narrow, this
interval, this fault that I had had to cross when, that afternoon on
which I went first to bear Berma, having strained my ears to catch
every word, I had found some difficulty in correlating my ideas of
'nobility of interpretation,' of 'originality,' and had broken out in
applause only after a moment of unconsciousness and as if my applause
sprang not from my actual impression but was connected in some way
with my preconceived ideas, with the pleasure that I found in saying
to myself: "At last I am listening to Berma." And the difference that
there is between a person, or a work of art which is markedly
individual and the idea of beauty, exists just as much between what
they make us feel and the idea of love, or of admiration. Wherefore
we fail to recognise them. I had found no pleasure in listening to
Berma (any more than, earlier still, in seeing Gilberte). I had said
to myself: "Well, I do not admire this." But then I was thinking only
of mastering the secret of Berma's acting, I was preoccupied with that
alone, I was trying to open my mind as wide as possible to receive all
that her acting contained. I understood now that all this amounted to
nothing more nor less than admiration.

This genius of which Berma's rendering of the part was only the
revelation, was it indeed the genius of Racine and nothing more?

I thought so at first. I was soon to be undeceived when the curtain
fell on the act from _Phèdre_, amid enthusiastic recalls from the
audience, through which the old actress, beside herself with rage,
drawing her little body up to its full height, turning sideways in her
seat, stiffened the muscles of her face and folded her arms on her
bosom to shew that she was not joining the others in their applause,
and to make more noticeable a protest which to her appeared
sensational though it passed unperceived. The piece that followed was
one of those novelties which at one time I had expected, since they
were not famous, to be inevitably trivial and of no general
application, devoid as they were of any existence outside the
performance that was being given of them at the moment. But I had not
with them as with a classic the disappointment of seeing the infinity
and eternity of a masterpiece occupy no more space or time than the
width of the footlights and the length of a performance which would
finish it as effectively as a piece written for the occasion. Besides,
at every fresh passage which, I felt, had appealed to the audience and
would onc day be famous, in place of the fame which it was prevented
from having won in the past I added that which it would enjoy in the
future, by a mental process the converse of that which consists in
imagining masterpieces on the day of their first thin performance,
when it seemed inconceivable that a title which no one had ever heard
before could one day be set, bathed in the same mellow light, beside
those of the author's other works. And this part would be set one day
in the list of her finest impersonations, next to that of Phèdre. Not
that in itself it was not destitute of all literary merit. But Berma
was as sublime in one as in the other. I realised then that the work
of the playwright was for the actress no more than the material, the
nature of which was comparatively unimportant, for the creation of her
masterpiece of interpretation, just as the great painter whom I had
met at Balbec, Elstir, had found the inspiration for two pictures of
equal merit in a school building without any character and a cathedral
which was in itself a work of art. And as the painter dissolves
houses, carts, people, in some broad effect of light which makes them
all alike, so Berma spread out great sheets of terror or tenderness
over words that were all melted together in a common mould, lowered or
raised to one level, which a lesser artist would have carefully
detached from one another. No doubt each of them had an inflexion of
its own, and Berma's diction did not prevent one from catching the
rhythm of the verse. Is it not already a first element of ordered
complexity, of beauty, when, on hearing a rhyme, that is to say
something which is at once similar to and different from the preceding
rhyme, which was prompted by it, but introduces the variety of a new
idea, one is conscious of two systems overlapping each other, one
intellectual, the other prosodic? But Berma at the same time made her
words, her lines, her whole speeches even, flow into lakes of sound
vaster than themselves, at the margins of which it was a joy to see
them obliged to stop, to break off; thus it is that a poet takes
pleasure in making hesitate for a moment at the rhyming point the word
which is about to spring forth, and a composer in merging the various
words of his libretto in a single rhythm which contradicts, captures
and controls them. Thus into the prose sentences of the modern
playwright as into the poetry of Racine Berma managed to introduce
those vast images of grief, nobility, passion, which were the
masterpieces of her own personal art, and in which she could be
recognised as, in the portraits which he has made of different
sitters, we recognise a painter.

I had no longer any desire, as on the former occasion, to be able to
arrest and perpetuate Berma's attitudes, the fine colour effect which
she gave for a moment only in a beam of limelight which at once faded
never to reappear, nor to make her repeat a single line a hundred
times over. I realised that my original desire had been more exacting
than the intentions of the poet, the actress, the great decorative
artist who supervised her productions, and that that charm which
floated over a line as it was spoken, those unstable poses perpetually
transformed into others, those successive pictures were the transient
result, the momentary object, the changing masterpiece which the art
of the theatre undertook to create and which would perish were an
attempt made to fix it for all time by a too much enraptured listener.
I did not even make a resolution to come back another day and hear
Berma again. I was satisfied with her; it was when I admired too
keenly not to be disappointed by the object of my admiration, whether
that object were Gilberte or Berma, that I demanded in advance, of the
impression to be received on the morrow, the pleasure that yesterday's
impression had refused to afford me. Without seeking to analyse the
joy which I had begun now to feel, and might perhaps have been turning
to some more profitable use, I said to myself, as in the old days I
might have said to one of my schoolfellows: "Certainly, I put Berma
first!" not without a confused feeling that Berma's genius was not,
perhaps, very accurately represented by this affirmation of my
preference, or this award to her of a 'first' place, whatever the
peace of mind that it might incidentally restore to me.

Just as the curtain was rising on this second play I looked up at Mme.
de Guermantes's box. The Princess was in the act—by a movement that
called into being an exquisite line which my mind pursued into the
void—of turning her head towards the back of the box; her party were
all standing, and also turning towards the back, and between the
double hedge which they thus formed, with all the assurance, the
grandeur of the goddess that she was, but with a strange meekness
which so late an arrival, making every one else get up in the middle
of the performance, blended with the white muslin in which she was
attired, just as an adroitly compounded air of simplicity, shyness and
confusion tempered her triumphant smile, the Duchesse de Guermantes,
who had at that moment entered the box, came towards her cousin, made
a profound obeisance to a young man with fair hair who was seated in
the front row, and turning again towards the amphibian monsters who
were floating in the recesses of the cavern, gave to these demi-gods
of the Jockey Club—who at that moment, and among them all M. de
Palancy in particular, were the men whom I should most have liked to
be—the familiar 'good evening' of an old and intimate friend, an
allusion to the daily sequence of her relations with them during the
last fifteen years. I felt the mystery, but could not solve the riddle
of that smiling gaze which she addressed to her friends, in the azure
brilliance with which it glowed while she surrendered her hand to one
and then to another, a gaze which, could I have broken up its prism,
analysed its crystallisation, might perhaps have revealed to me the
essential quality of the unknown form of life which became apparent in
it at that moment. The Duc de Guermantes followed his wife, the flash
of his monocle, the gleam of his teeth, the whiteness of his carnation
or of his pleated shirt-front scattering, to make room for their
light, the darkness of his eyebrows, lips and coat; with a wave of his
outstretched hand which he let drop on to their shoulders, vertically,
without moving his head, he commanded the inferior monsters, who were
making way for him, to resume their seats, and made a profound bow to
the fair young man. One would have said that the Duchess had guessed
that her cousin, of whom, it was rumoured, she was inclined to make
fun for what she called her 'exaggerations' (a name which, from her
own point of view, so typically French and restrained, would naturally
be applied to the poetry and enthusiasm of the Teuton), would be
wearing this evening one of those costumes in which the Duchess
thought of her as 'dressed up,' and that she had decided to give her a
lesson in good taste. Instead of the wonderful downy plumage which,
from the crown of the Princess's head, fell and swept her throat,
instead of her net of shells and pearls, the Duchess wore in her hair
only a simple aigrette, which, rising above her arched nose and level
eyes, reminded one of the crest on the head of a bird. Her neck and
shoulders emerged from a drift of snow-white muslin, against which
fluttered a swansdown fan, but below this her gown, the bodice of
which had for its sole ornament innumerable spangles (either little
sticks and beads of metal, or possibly brilliants), moulded her figure
with a precision that was positively British. But different as their
two costumes were, after the Princess had given her cousin the chair
in which she herself had previously been sitting, they could be seen
turning to gaze at one another in mutual appreciation.

Possibly a smile would curve the lips of Mme. de Guermantes when next
day she referred to the headdress, a little too complicated, which the
Princess had worn, but certainly she would declare that it had been,
all the same, quite lovely, and marvellously arranged; and the
Princess, whose own tastes found something a little cold, a little
austere, a little 'tailor-made' in her cousin's way of dressing, would
discover in this rigid sobriety an exquisite refinement. Moreover the
harmony that existed between them, the universal and pre-established
gravitation exercised by their upbringing, neutralised the contrasts
not only in their apparel but in their attitude. By those invisible
magnetic longitudes which the refinement of their manners traced
between them the expansive nature of the Princess was stopped short,
while on the other side the formal correctness of the Duchess allowed
itself to be attracted and relaxed, turned to sweetness and charm. As,
in the play which was now being performed, to realise how much
personal poetry Berma extracted from it one had only to entrust the
part which she was playing, which she alone could play, to no matter
what other actress, so the spectator who should raise his eyes to the
balcony might see in two smaller boxes there how an 'arrangement'
supposed to suggest that of the Princesse de Guermantes simply made
the Baronne de Morienval appear eccentric, pretentious and ill-bred,
while an effort, as painstaking as it must have been costly, to
imitate the clothes and style of the Duchesse de Guermantes only made
Mme. de Cambremer look like some provincial schoolgirl, mounted on
wires, rigid, erect, dry, angular, with a plume of raven's feathers
stuck vertically in her hair. Perhaps the proper place for this lady
was not a theatre in which it was only with the brightest stars of the
season that the boxes (even those in the highest tier, which from
below seemed like great hampers brimming with human flowers and
fastened to the gallery on which they stood by the red cords of their
plush-covered partitions) composed a panorama which deaths, scandals,
illnesses, quarrels would soon alter, but which this evening was held
motionless by attention, heat, giddiness, dust, smartness or boredom,
in that so to speak everlasting moment of unconscious waiting and calm
torpor which, in retrospect, seems always to have preceded the
explosion of a bomb or the first flicker of a fire.

The explanation of Mme. de Cambremer's presence on this occasion was
that the Princesse de Parme, devoid of snobbishness as are most truly
royal personages, and to make up for this devoured by a pride in and
passion for charity which held an equal place in her heart with her
taste for what she believed to be the Arts, had bestowed a few boxes
here and there upon women like Mme. de Cambremer who were not numbered
among the highest aristocratic society but with whom she was connected
in various charitable undertakings. Mme. de Cambremer never took her
eyes off the Duchesse and Princesse de Guermantes, which was all the
simpler for her since, not being actually acquainted with either, she
could not be suspected of angling for recognition. Inclusion in the
visiting lists of these two great ladies was nevertheless the goal
towards which she had been marching for the last ten years with
untiring patience. She had calculated that she might reach it,
possibly, in five years more. But having been smitten by a relentless
malady, the inexorable character of which—for she prided herself upon
her medical knowledge—she thought she knew, she was afraid that she
might not live so long. This evening she was happy at least in the
thought that all these women whom she barely knew would see in her
company a man who was one of their own set, the young Marquis de
Beausergent, Mme. d'Argencourt's brother, who moved impartially in
both worlds and with whom the women of the second were greatly
delighted to bedizen themselves before the eyes of those of the first.
He was seated behind Mme. de Cambremer on a chair placed at an angle,
so that he might rake the other boxes with his glasses. He knew
everyone in the house, and, to greet his friends, with the
irresistible charm of his beautifully curved figure, and fine fair
head, he half rose from his seat, stiffening his body, a smile
brightening his blue eyes, with a blend of deference and detachment, a
picture delicately engraved, in its rectangular frame, and placed at
an angle to the wall, like one of those old prints which portray a
great nobleman in his courtly pride. He often accepted these
invitations to go with Mme. de Cambremer to the play. In the theatre
itself, and on their way out, in the lobby, he stood gallantly by her
side in the thick of the throng of more brilliant friends whom he saw
about him, and to whom he refrained from speaking, to avoid any
awkwardness, just as though he had been in doubtful company. If at
such moments there swept by him the Princesse de Guermantes, lightfoot
and fair as Diana, letting trail behind her the folds of an
incomparable cloak, turning after her every head and followed by every
eye (and, most of all, by Mme. de Cambremer's), M. de Beausergent
would become absorbed in conversation with his companion,
acknowledging the friendly and dazzling smile of the Princess only
with constraint, under compulsion, and with the well-bred reserve, the
considerate coldness of a person whose friendliness might at the
moment have been inconvenient.

Had not Mme. de Cambremer known already that the box belonged to the
Princess, she could still have told that the Duchesse de Guermantes
was the guest from the air of keener interest with which she was
surveying the spectacle of stage and stalls, out of politeness to her
hostess. But simultaneously with this centrifugal force, an equal and
opposite force generated by the same desire to be sociable drew her
attention back to her own attire, her plume, her necklace, her bodice
and also to that of the Princess, whose subject, whose slave
her cousin seemed thus to proclaim herself, come thither solely to see
her, ready to follow her elsewhere should it have taken the fancy of
the official occupant of the box to rise and leave, and regarding as
composed merely of strangers, worth looking at simply as curiosities,
the rest of the house, in which, nevertheless, she numbered many
friends to whose boxes she regularly repaired on other evenings and
with regard to whom she never failed on those occasions to demonstrate
a similar loyalism, exclusive, conditional and hebdomadary. Mme. de
Cambremer was surprised to see her there that evening. She knew that
the Duchess was staying on very late at Guermantes, and had supposed
her to be there still. But she had been told, also, that sometimes,
when there was some special function in Paris which she considered it
worth her while to attend, Mme. de Guermantes would order one of her
carriages to be brought round as soon as she had taken tea with the
guns, and, as the sun was setting, start out at a spanking pace
through the gathering darkness of the forest, then over the high road,
to join the train at Combray and so be in Paris the same evening.
"Perhaps she has come up from Guermantes on purpose to hear Berma,"
thought Mme. de Cambremer, and marvelled at the thought. And she
remembered having heard Swann say in that ambiguous jargon which he
used in common with M. de Charlus: "The Duchess is one of the noblest
souls in Paris, the cream of the most refined, the choicest society."
For myself, who derived from the names Guermantes, Bavaria and Condé
what I imagined to be the life, the thoughts of the two cousins (I
could no longer so ascribe their faces, having seen them), I would
rather have had their opinion of _Phèdre_ than that of the greatest
critic in the world. For in his I should have found merely intellect,
an intellect superior to my own but similar in kind. But what the
Duchesse and Princesse de Guermantes might think, an opinion which
would have furnished me with an invaluable clue to the nature of these
two poetic creatures, I imagined with the aid of their names, I
endowed with an irrational charm, and, with the thirst, the longing of
a fever-stricken wretch, what I demanded that their opinion of
_Phèdre_ should yield to me was the charm of the summer afternoons
that I had spent in wandering along the Guermantes way.

Mme. de Cambremer was trying to make out how exactly the cousins were
dressed. For my own part, I never doubted that their garments were
peculiar to themselves, not merely in the sense in which the livery
with red collar or blue facings had belonged once exclusively to the
houses of Guermantes and Condé, but rather as is peculiar to a bird
the plumage which, as well as being a heightening of its beauty, is an
extension of its body. The toilet of these two ladies seemed to me
like a materialisation, snow-white or patterned with colour, of their
internal activity, and, like the gestures which I had seen the
Princesse de Guermantes make, with no doubt in my own mind that they
corresponded to some idea latent in hers, the plumes which swept
downward from her brow, and her cousin's glittering spangled bodice
seemed each to have a special meaning, to be to one or the other lady
an attribute which was hers and hers alone, the significance of which
I would eagerly have learned; the bird of paradise seemed inseparable
from its wearer as her peacock is from Juno, and I did not believe
that any other woman could usurp that spangled bodice, any more than
the fringed and flashing aegis of Minerva. And when I turned my eyes
to their box, far more than on the ceiling of the theatre, painted
with cold and lifeless allegories, it was as though I had seen, thanks
to a miraculous rending of the clouds that ordinarily veiled it, the
Assembly of the Gods in the act of contemplating the spectacle of
mankind, beneath a crimson canopy, in a clear lighted space, between
two pillars of Heaven. I gazed on this brief transfiguration with a
disturbance which was partly soothed by the feeling that I myself was
unknown to these Immortals; the Duchess had indeed seen me once with
her husband, but could surely have kept no memory of that, and it gave
me no pain that she found herself, owing to the place that she
occupied in the box, in a position to gaze down upon the nameless,
collective madrepores of the public in the stalls, for I had the happy
sense that my own personality had been dissolved in theirs, when, at
the moment in which, by the force of certain optical laws, there must,
I suppose, have come to paint itself on the impassive current of those
blue eyes the blurred outline of the protozoon, devoid of any
individual existence, which was myself, I saw a ray illumine them; the
Duchess, goddess turned woman, and appearing in that moment a thousand
times more lovely, raised, pointed in my direction the white-gloved
hand which had been resting on the balustrade of the box, waved it at
me in token of friendship; my gaze felt itself trapped in the
spontaneous incandescence of the flashing eyes of the Princess, who
had unconsciously set them ablaze merely by turning her head to see
who it might be that her cousin was thus greeting, while the Duchess,
who had remembered me, showered upon me the sparkling and celestial
torrent of her smile.

And now every morning, long before the hour at which she would appear,
I went by a devious course to post myself at the corner of the street
along which she generally came, and, when the moment of her arrival
seemed imminent, strolled homewards with an air of being absorbed in
something else, looking the other way and raising my eyes to her face
as I drew level with her, but as though I had not in the least
expected to see her. Indeed, for the first few mornings, so as to be
sure of not missing her, I waited opposite the house. And every time
that the carriage gate opened (letting out one after another so many
people who were none of them she for whom I was waiting) its grinding
rattle continued in my heart in a series of oscillations which it took
me a long time to subdue. For never was devotee of a famous actress
whom he did not know, posting himself and patrolling the pavement
outside the stage door, never was angry or idolatrous crowd, gathered
to insult or to carry in triumph through the streets the condemned
assassin or the national hero whom it believes to be on the point of
coming whenever a sound is heard from the inside of the prison or the
palace, never were these so stirred by their emotion as I was,
awaiting the emergence of this great lady who in her simple attire was
able, by the grace of her movements (quite different from the gait she
affected on entering a drawing-room or a box), to make of her morning
walk—and for me there was no one in the world but herself out
walking—a whole poem of elegant refinement and the finest ornament,
the most curious flower of the season. But after the third day, so
that the porter should not discover my stratagem, I betook myself much
farther afield, to some point upon the Duchess's usual route. Often
before that evening at the theatre I had made similar little
excursions before luncheon when the weather was fine; if it had been
raining, at the first gleam of sunshine I would hasten downstairs to
take a turn, and if, suddenly, coming towards me, on the still wet
pavement changed by the sun into a golden lacquer, in the
transformation scene of a crossroads dusty with a grey mist which the
sun tanned and gilded, I caught sight of a schoolgirl followed by her
governess or of a dairy-maid with her white sleeves, I stood
motionless, my hand pressed to my heart which was already leaping
towards an unexplored form of life; I tried to bear in mind the
street, the time, the number of the door through which the girl (whom
I followed sometimes) had vanished and failed to reappear. Fortunately
the fleeting nature of these cherished images, which I promised myself
that I would make an effort to see again, prevented them from fixing
themselves with any vividness in my memory. No matter, I was less sad
now at the thought of my own ill health, of my never having summoned
up courage to set to work, to begin a book, the world appeared to me
now a pleasanter place to live in, life a more interesting experience
now that I had learned that the streets of Paris, like the roads round
Balbec, were aflower with those unknown beauties whom I had so often
sought to evoke from the woods of Méséglise, each one of whom aroused
a sensual longing which she alone appeared capable of assuaging.

On coming home from the Opéra-Comique I had added for next morning to
the list of those which for some days past I had been hoping to meet
again the form of Mme. de Guermantes, tall, with her high-piled crown
of silky, golden hair; with the kindness promised me in the smile
which she had directed at me from her cousin's box. I would follow the
course which Françoise had told me that the Duchess generally took,
and I would try at the same time, in the hope of meeting two girls
whom I had seen a few days earlier, not to miss the break-up of their
respective class and catechism. But in the mean time, ever and again,
the scintillating smile of Mme. de Guermantes, the pleasant sensation
it had given me, returned. And without exactly knowing what I was
doing, I tried to find a place for them (as a woman studies the
possible effect on her dress of some set of jewelled buttons that have
just been given her) beside the romantic ideas which I had long held
and which Albertine's coldness, Gisèle's premature departure, ana
before them my deliberate and too long sustained separation from
Gilberte, had set free (the idea, for instance of being loved by a
woman, of having a life in common with her); next, it had been the
image of one or other of the two girls seen in the street that I
brought into relation with those ideas, to which immediately
afterwards I was trying to adapt my memory of the Duchess. Compared
with those ideas my memory of Mme. de Guermantes at the Opéra-Comique
was a very little thing, a tiny star twinkling beside the long tail of
a blazing comet; moreover I had been quite familiar with the ideas
long before I came to know Mme. de Guermantes; my memory of her, on
the contrary, I possessed but imperfectly; every now and then it
escaped me; it was during the hours when, from floating vaguely in my
mind in the same way as the images of various other pretty women, it
passed gradually into a unique and definite association—exclusive of
every other feminine form—with those romantic ideas of so much longer
standing than itself, it was during those few hours in which I
remembered it most clearly that I ought to have taken steps to find
out exactly what it was; but I did not then know the importance which
it was to assume for me; it was pleasant merely as a first private
meeting with Mme. de Guermantes inside myself, it was the first, the
only accurate sketch, the only one taken from life, the only one that
was really Mme. de Guermantes; during the few hours in which I was
fortunate enough to retain it without having the sense to pay it any
attention, it must all the same have been charming, that memory, since
it was always to it, and quite freely moreover, to that moment,
without haste, without strain, without the slightest compulsion or
anxiety, that my ideas of love returned; then, as gradually those
ideas fixed it more definitely, it acquired from them a
proportionately greater strength but itself became more vague;
presently I could no longer recapture it; and in my dreams I probably
altered it completely, for whenever I saw Mme. de Guermantes I
realised the difference—never twice, as it happened, the
same—between what I had imagined and what I saw. And now every
morning, certainly at the moment when Mme. de Guermantes emerged from
her gateway at the top of the street I saw again her tall figure, her
face with its bright eyes and crown of silken hair—all the things for
which I was there waiting; but, on the other hand, a minute or two
later, when, having first turned my eyes away so as to appear not to
be waiting for this encounter which I had come out to seek, I raised
them to look at the Duchess at the moment in which we converged, what
I saw then were red patches (as to which I knew not whether they were
due to the fresh air or to a faulty complexion) on a sullen face which
with the curtest of nods, a long way removed from the affability of
the _Phèdre_ evening, acknowledged my salute, which I addressed to her
daily with an air of surprise, and which did not seem to please her.
And yet, after a few days, during which the memory of the two girls
fought against heavy odds for the mastery of my amorous feelings
against that of Mme. de Guermantes, it was in the end the latter
which, as though of its own accord, generally prevailed while its
competitors withdrew; it was to it that I finally found myself,
deliberately moreover, and as though by preference and for my own
pleasure, to have transferred all my thoughts of love. I had ceased to
dream of the little girls coming from their catechism, or of a certain
dairy-maid; and yet I had also lost all hope of encountering in the
street what I had come out to seek, either the affection promised to
me, at the theatre, in a smile, or the profile, the bright face
beneath its pile of golden hair which were so only when seen from
afar. Now I should not even have been able to say what Mme. de
Guermantes was like, by what I recognised her, for every day, in the
picture which she presented as a whole, the face was different, as
were the dress and the hat.

Why did I one morning, when I saw bearing down on me beneath a violet
hood a sweet, smooth face whose charms were symmetrically arranged
about a pair of blue eyes, a face in which the curve of the nose
seemed to have been absorbed, gauge from a joyous commotion in my
bosom that I was not going to return home without having caught a
glimpse of Mme. de Guermantes; and on the next feel the same
disturbance, affect the same indifference, turn away my eyes in the
same careless manner as on the day before, on the apparition, seen in
profile as she crossed from a side street and crowned by a navy-blue
toque, of a beak-like nose bounding a flushed cheek chequered with a
piercing eye, like some Egyptian deity? Once it was not merely a
woman with a bird's beak that I saw but almost the bird itself; the
outer garments, even the toque of Mme. de Guermantes were of fur, and
since she thus left no cloth visible, she seemed naturally furred,
like certain vultures whose thick, smooth, dusky, downy plumage
suggests rather the skin of a wild beast. From the midst of this
natural plumage, the tiny head arched out its beak and the two eyes on
its surface were piercing-keen and blue.

One day I had been pacing up and down the street for hours on end
without a vestige of Mme. de Guermantes when suddenly, inside a
pastry-cook's shop tucked in between two of the mansions of this
aristocratic and plebeian quarter, there appeared, took shape the
vague and unfamiliar face of a fashionably dressed woman who was
asking to see some little cakes, and, before I had had time to make
her out, there shot forth at me like a lightning flash, reaching me
sooner than its accompaniment of thunder, the glance of the Duchess;
another time, having failed to meet her and hearing twelve strike, I
realised that it was not worth my while to wait for her any longer, I
Was sorrowfully making my way homewards; and, absorbed in my own
disappointment, looking absently after and not seeing a carriage that
had overtaken me, I realised suddenly that the movement of her head
which I saw a lady make through the carriage window was meant for me,
and that this lady, whose features, relaxed and pale, or it might
equally be tense and vivid, composed, beneath a round hat which
nestled at the foot of a towering plume, the face of a stranger whom I
had supposed that I did not know, was Mme. de Guermantes, by whom I
had let myself be greeted without so much as acknowledging her bow.
And sometimes I came upon her as I entered the gate, standing outside
the lodge where the detestable porter whose scrutinous eye I loathed
and dreaded was in the act of making her a profound obeisance and
also, no doubt, his daily report. For the entire staff of the
Guermantes household, hidden behind the window curtains, were
trembling as they watched a conversation which they were unable to
overhear, but which meant as they very well knew that one or other of
them would certainly have his 'day out' stopped by the Duchess to whom
this Cerberus was betraying him. In view of the whole series of
different faces which Mme. Guermantes displayed thus one after
another, faces that occupied a relative and varying extent, contracted
one day, vast the next, in her person and attire as a whole, my love
was not attached to any one of those changeable and ever-changing
elements of flesh and fabric which replaced one another as day
followed day, and which she could modify, could almost entirely
reconstruct without altering my disturbance because beneath them,
beneath the new collar and the strange cheek, I felt that it was still
Mme. de Guermantes. What I loved was the invisible person who set all
this outward show in motion, her whose hostility so distressed me,
whose approach set me trembling, whose life I would fain have made my
own and driven out of it her friends. She might flaunt a blue feather
or shew a fiery cheek without her actions' losing their importance for

I should not myself have felt that Mme. de Guermantes was tired of
meeting me day after day, had I not learned it indirectly by reading
it on the face, stiff with coldness, disapproval and pity which
Françoise shewed when she was helping me to get ready for these
morning walks. The moment I asked her for my outdoor things I felt a
contrary wind arise in her worn and battered features. I made no
attempt to win her confidence, for I knew that I should not succeed.
She had, for at once discovering any unpleasant thing that might have
happened to my parents or myself, a power the nature of which I have
never been able to fathom. Perhaps it was not supernatural, but was to
be explained by sources of information that were open to her alone: as
it may happen that the news which often reaches a savage tribe several
days before the post has brought it to the European colony has really
been transmitted to them not by telepathy but from hill-top to
hill-top by a chain of beacon fires. So, in the particular instance of
my morning walks, possibly Mme. de Guermantes's servants had heard
their mistress say how tired she was of running into me every day
without fail wherever she went, and had repeated her remarks to
Françoise. My parents might, it is true, have attached some servant
other than Françoise to my person, still I should have been no better
off. Françoise was in a sense less of a servant than the others. In
her way of feeling things, of being kind and pitiful, hard and
distant, superior and narrow, of combining a white skin with red
hands, she was still the village maiden whose parents had had 'a place
of their own' but having come to grief had been obliged to put her
into service. Her presence in our household was the country air, the
social life of a farm of fifty years ago wafted to us by a sort of
reversal of the normal order of travel whereby it is the place that
comes to visit the person. As the glass cases in a local museum are
filled with specimens of the curious handiwork which the peasants
still carve or embroider or whatever it may be in certain parts of the
country, so our flat in Paris was decorated with the words of
Françoise, inspired by a traditional local sentiment and governed by
extremely ancient laws. And she could in Paris find her way back as
though by clues of coloured thread to the songbirds and cherry trees
of her childhood, to her mother's deathbed, which she still vividly
saw. But in spite of all this wealth of background, once she had come
to Paris and had entered our service she had acquired—as, obviously,
anyone else coming there in her place would have acquired—the ideas,
the system of interpretation used by the servants on the other floors,
compensating for the respect which she was obliged to shew to us by
repeating the rude words that the cook on the fourth floor had used to
her mistress, with a servile gratification so intense that, for the
first time in our lives, feeling a sort of solidarity between
ourselves and the detestable occupant of the fourth floor flat, we
said to ourselves that possibly we too were 'employers' after all.
This alteration in Françoise'» character was perhaps inevitable.
Certain forms of existence are so abnormal that they are bound to
produce certain characteristic faults; such was the life led by the
King at Versailles among his courtiers, a life as strange as that of a
Pharaoh or a Doge—and, far more even than his, the life of his
courtiers. The life led by our servants is probably of an even more
monstrous abnormality, which only its familiarity can prevent us from
seeing. But it was actually in details more intimate still that I
should have been obliged, if I had dismissed Françoise, to keep the
same servant. For various others might, in years to come, enter my
service; already furnished with the defects common to all servants,
they underwent nevertheless a rapid transformation with me. As, in the
rules of tactics, an attack in one sector compels a counter-attack in
another, so as not to be hurt by the asperities of my nature, all of
them effected in their own an identical resilience, always at the same
points, and to make up for this took advantage of the gaps in my line
to thrust out advanced posts. Of these gaps I knew nothing, any more
than of the salients to which they gave rise, precisely because they
were gaps. But my servants, by gradually becoming spoiled, taught me
of their existence. It was from the defects which they invariably
acquired that I learned what were my own natural and invariable
shortcomings; their character offered me a sort of negative plate of
my own. We had always laughed, my mother and I, at Mme. Sazerat, who
used, in speaking of her servants, expressions like 'the lower orders'
or 'the servant class.' But I am bound to admit that what made it
useless to think of replacing Françoise by anyone else was that her
successor would inevitably have belonged just as much to the race of
servants in general and to the class of my servants in particular.

To return to Françoise, I never in my life experienced any humiliation
without having seen beforehand on her face a store of condolences
prepared and waiting; and if then in my anger at the thought of being
pitied by her I tried to pretend that on the contrary I had scored a
distinct success, my lies broke feebly on the wall of her respectful
but obvious unbelief and the consciousness that she enjoyed of her own
infallibility. For she knew the truth. She refrained from uttering it,
and made only a slight movement with her lips as if she still had her
mouth full and was finishing a tasty morsel. She refrained from
uttering it, or so at least I long believed, for at that time I still
supposed that it was by means of words that one communicated the truth
to others. Indeed the words that people used to me recorded their
meaning so unalterably on the sensitive plate of my mind that I could
no more believe it to be possible that anyone who had professed to
love me did not love me than Françoise herself could have doubted when
she had read it in a newspaper that some clergyman or gentleman was
prepared, on receipt of a stamped envelope, to furnish us free of
charge with an infallible remedy for every known complaint or with the
means of multiplying our income an hundredfold. (If, on the other
hand, our doctor were to prescribe for her the simplest ointment to
cure a cold in the head, she, so stubborn to endure the keenest
suffering, would complain bitterly of what she had been made to sniff,
insisting that it tickled her nose and that life was not worth
living.) But she was the first person to prove to me by her example
(which I was not to understand until, long afterwards, when it was
given me afresh and to my greater discomfort, as will be found in the
later volumes of this work, by a person who was dearer to me than
Françoise) that the truth has no need to be uttered to be made
apparent, and that one may perhaps gather it with more certainty,
without waiting for words, without even bothering one's head about
them, from a thousand outward signs, even from certain invisible
phenomena, analogous in the sphere of human character to what in
nature are atmospheric changes. I might perhaps have suspected this.
since to myself at that time it frequently occurred that I said things
in which there was no vestige of truth, while I made the real truth
plain by all manner of involuntary confidences expressed by my body
and in my actions (which were at once interpreted by Françoise); I
ought perhaps to have suspected it, but to do so I should first have
had to be conscious that I myself was occasionally untruthful and
dishonest. Now untruthfulness and dishonesty were with me, as with
most people; called into being in so immediate, so contingent a
fashion, and in self-defence, by some particular interest, that my
mind, fixed on some lofty ideal, allowed my character, in the darkness
below, to set about those urgent, sordid tasks, and did net look down
to observe them. When Françoise, in the evening, was polite to me, and
asked my permission before sitting down in my room, it seemed as
though her face became transparent and I could see the goodness and
honesty that lay beneath. But Jupien, who had lapses into indiscretion
of which I learned only later, revealed afterwards that she had told
him that I was not worth the price of a rope to hang me, and that I
had tried to insult her in every possible way. These words of Jupien
set up at once before my eyes, in new and strange colours, a print of
the picture of my relations with Françoise so different from that on
which I used to like letting my eyes rest, and in which, without the
least possibility of doubt, Françoise adored me and lost no
opportunity of singing my praises, that I realised that it is not only
the material world that is different from the aspect in which we see
it; that all reality is perhaps equally dissimilar from what we think
ourselves to be directly perceiving; that the trees, the sun and the
sky would not be the same as what we see if they were apprehended by
creatures having eyes differently constituted from ours, or, better
still, endowed for that purpose with organs other than eyes which
would furnish trees and sky and sun with equivalents, though not
visual. However that might be, this sudden outlet which Jupien threw
open for me upon the real world appalled me. So far it was only
Françoise that was revealed, and of her I barely thought. Was it the
same with all one's social relations? And in what depths of despair
might this not some day plunge me, if it were the same with love? That
was the future's secret. For the present only Françoise was concerned.
Did she sincerely believe what she had said to Jupien? Had she said it
to embroil Jupien with me, possibly so that we should not appoint
Jupien's girl as her successor? At any rate I realised the
impossibility of obtaining any direct and certain knowledge of whether
Françoise loved or lothed me. And thus it was she who first gave me
the idea that a person does not (as I had imagined) stand motionless
and clear before our eyes with his merits, his defects, his plans, his
intentions with regard to ourself exposed on his surface, like a
garden at which, with all its borders spread out before us, we gaze
through a railing, but is a shadow which we can never succeed in
penetrating, of which there can be no such thing as direct knowledge,
with respect to which we form countless beliefs, based upon his words
and sometimes upon his actions, though neither words nor actions can
give us anything but inadequate and as it proves contradictory
information—a shadow behind which we can alternately imagine, with
equal justification, that there burns the flame of hatred and of love.

I was genuinely in love with Mme. de Guermantes. The greatest
happiness that I could have asked of God would have been that He
should overwhelm her under every imaginable calamity, and that ruined,
despised, stripped of all the privileges that divided her from me,
having no longer any home of her own or people who would condescend to
speak to her, she should come to me for refuge. I imagined her doing
so. And indeed on those evenings when some change in the atmosphere or
in my own condition brought to the surface of my consciousness some
forgotten scroll on which were recorded impressions of other days,
instead of profiting by the refreshing strength that had been
generated in me, instead of employing it to decipher in my own mind
thoughts which as a rule escaped me, instead of setting myself at last
to work, I preferred to relate aloud, to plan out in the third person,
with a flow of invention as useless as was my declamation of it, a
whole novel crammed with adventure, in which the Duchess, fallen upon
misfortune, came to implore assistance from me—me who had become, by
a converse change of circumstances, rich and powerful. And when I had
let myself thus for hours on end imagine the circumstances, rehearse
the sentences with which I should welcome the Duchess beneath my roof,
the situation remained unaltered; I had, alas, in reality, chosen to
love the very woman who, in her own person, combined perhaps the
greatest possible number of different advantages; in whose eyes,
accordingly, I could not hope, myself, ever to cut any figure; for she
was as rich as the richest commoner—and noble also; without reckoning
that personal charm which set her at the pinnacle of fashion, made her
among the rest a sort of queen.

I felt that I was annoying her by crossing her path in this way every
morning; but even if I had had the courage to refrain, for two or
three days consecutively, from doing so, perhaps that abstention,
which would have represented so great a sacrifice on my part, Mme. de
Guermantes would not have noticed, or would have set it down to some
obstacle beyond my control. And indeed I could not have succeeded in
making myself cease to track her down except by arranging that it
should be impossible for me to do so, for the need incessantly
reviving in me to meet her, to be for a moment the object of her
attention, the person to whom her bow was addressed, was stronger than
my fear of arousing her displeasure. I should have had to go away for
some time; and for that I had not the heart. I did think of it more
than once. I would then tell Françoise to pack my boxes, and
immediately afterwards to unpack them. And as the spirit of imitation,
the desire not to appear behind the times, alters the most natural and
most positive form of oneself, Françoise, borrowing the expression
from her daughter's vocabulary, used to remark that I was 'dippy.' She
did not approve of this; she said that I was always 'balancing,' for
she made use, when she was not aspiring to rival the moderns, of the
language of Saint-Simon. It is true that she liked it still less when
I spoke to her as master to servant. She knew that this was not
natural to me, and did not suit me, a condition which she rendered in
words as 'where there isn't a will.' I should never have had the heart
to leave Paris except in a direction that would bring me closer to
Mme. de Guermantes. This was by no means an impossibility. Should I
not indeed find myself nearer to her than I was in the morning, in the
street, solitary, abashed, feeling that not a single one of the
thoughts which I should have liked to convey to her ever reached her,
in that weary patrolling up and down of walks which might be
continued, day after day, for ever without the slightest advantage to
myself, if I were to go miles away from Mme. de Guermantes, but go to
some one of her acquaintance, some one whom she knew to be particular
in the choice of his friends and who would appreciate my good
qualities, would be able to speak to her about me, and if not to
obtain it from her at least to make her know what I wanted, some one
by means of whom, in any event, simply because I should discuss with
him whether or not it would be possible for him to convey this or that
message to her, I should give to my solitary and silent meditations a
new form, spoken, active, which would seem an advance, almost a
realisation. What she did during the mysterious daily life of the
'Guermantes' that she was—this was the constant object of my
thoughts; and to break through the mystery, even by indirect means, as
with a lever, by employing the services of a person to whom were not
forbidden the town house of the Duchess, her parties, unrestricted
conversation with her, would not that be a contact more distant but at
the same time more effective than my contemplation of her every
morning in the street?

The friendship, the admiration that Saint-Loup felt for me seemed to
me undeserved and had hitherto left me unmoved. All at once I attached
a value to them, I would have liked him to disclose them to Mme. de
Guermantes, I was quite prepared even to ask him to do so. For when we
are in love, all the trifling little privileges that we enjoy we would
like to be able to divulge to the woman we love, as people who have
been disinherited and bores of other kinds do to us in everyday life.
We are distressed by her ignorance of them; we seek consolation in the
thought that just because they are never visible she has perhaps added
to the opinion which she already had of us this possibility of further
advantages that must remain unknown.

Saint-Loup had not for a long time been able to come to Paris,
whether, as he himself explained, on account of his military duties,
or, as was more likely, on account of the trouble that he was having
with his mistress, with whom he had twice now been on the point of
breaking off relations. He had often told me what a pleasure it would
be to him if I came to visit him at that garrison town, the name of
which, a couple of days after his leaving Balbec, had caused me so
much joy when I had read it on the envelope of the first letter I
received from my friend. It was (not so far from Balbec as its wholly
inland surroundings might have led one to think) one of those little
fortified towns, aristocratic and military, set in a broad expanse of
country over which on fine days there floats so often into the
distance a sort of intermittent haze of sound which—as a screen of
poplars by its sinuosities outlines the course of a river which one
cannot see—indicates the movements of a regiment on parade, so that
the very atmosphere of its streets, avenues and squares has been
gradually tuned to a sort of perpetual vibration, musical and martial,
while the most ordinary note of cartwheel or tramway is prolonged in
vague trumpet calls, indefinitely repeated, to the hallucinated ear,
by the silence. It was not too far away from Paris for me to be able,
if I took the express, to return, join my mother and grandmother and
sleep in my own bed. As soon as I realised this, troubled by a painful
longing, I had too little will power to decide not to return to Paris
but rather to stay in this town; but also too little to prevent a
porter from carrying my luggage to a cab and not to adopt, as I walked
behind him, the unburdened mind of a traveller who is looking after
his luggage and for whom no grandmother is waiting anywhere at home,
to get into the carriage with the complete detachment of a person who,
having ceased to think of what it is that he wants, has the air of
knowing what he wants, and to give the driver the address of the
cavalry barracks. I thought that Saint-Loup might come to sleep that
night at the hotel at which I should be staying, so as to make less
painful for me the first shock of contact with this strange town. One
of the guard went to find him, and I waited at the barrack gate,
before that huge ship of stone, booming with the November wind, out of
which, every moment, for it was now six o'clock, men were emerging in
pairs into the street, staggering as if they were coming ashore in
some foreign port in which they found themselves temporarily anchored.

Saint-Loup appeared, moving like a whirlwind, his eyeglass spinning in
the air before him; I had not given my name, I was eager to enjoy his
surprise and delight. "Oh! What a bore!" he exclaimed, suddenly
catching sight of me, and blushing to the tips of his ears. "I have
just had a week's leave, and I shan't be off duty again for another

And, preoccupied by the thought of my having to spend this first night
alone, for he knew better than anyone my bed-time agonies, which he
had often remarked and soothed at Balbec, he broke off his lamentation
to turn and look at me, coax me with little smiles, with tender though
unsymmetrical glances, half of them coming directly from his eye, the
other half through his eyeglass, but both sorts alike an allusion to
the emotion that he felt on seeing me again, an allusion also to that
important matter which I did not always understand but which concerned
me now vitally, our friendship.

"I say! Where are you going to sleep? Really, I can't recommend the
hotel where we mess; it is next to the Exhibition ground, where
there's a show just starting; you'll find it beastly crowded. No,
you'd better go to the Hôtel de Flandre; it is a little
eighteenth-century palace with old tapestries. It 'makes' quite an
'old-world residence.'"

Saint-Loup employed in every connexion the word 'makes' for 'has the
air of,' because the spoken language, like the written, feels from
time to time the need of these alterations in the meanings of words,
these refinements of expression. And just as journalists often have
not the least idea from what school of literature come the 'turns of
speech' that they borrow, so the vocabulary, the very diction of
Saint-Loup were formed in imitation of three different aesthetes, none
of whom he knew personally but whose way of speaking had been
indirectly instilled into him. "Besides," he concluded, "the hotel I
mean is more or less adapted to your supersensitiveness of hearing.
You will have no neighbours. I quite see that it is a slender
advantage, and as, after all, another visitor may arrive to-morrow, it
would not be worth your while to choose that particular hotel with so
precarious an object in view. No, it is for its appeal to the eye that
I recommend it. The rooms are quite attractive, all the furniture is
old and comfortable; there is something reassuring about that." But to
me, less of an artist than Saint-Loup, the pleasure that an attractive
house could give was superficial, almost non-existent, and could not
calm my growing anguish, as painful as that which I used to feel long
ago at Combray when my mother did not come upstairs to say good night,
or that which I felt on the evening of my arrival at Balbec in the
room with the unnaturally high ceiling, which smelt of flowering
grasses. Saint-Loup read all this in my fixed gaze.

"A lot you care, though, about this charming palace, my poor fellow;
you're quite pale; and here am I like a great brute talking to you
about tapestries which you won't have the heart to look at, even. I
know the room they'll put you in; personally I find it most
enlivening, but I can quite understand that it won't have the same
effect on you with your sensitive nature. You mustn't think I don't
understand; I don't feel the same myself, but I can put myself in your

At that moment a serjeant who was exercising a horse on the square,
entirely absorbed in making the animal jump, disregarding the salutes
of passing troopers, but hurling volleys of oaths at such as got in
his way, turned with a smile to Saint-Loup and, seeing that he had a
friend with him, saluted us. But his horse at once reared. Saint-Loup
flung himself at its head, caught it by the bridle, succeeded in
quieting it and returned to my side.

"Yes," he resumed; "I assure you that I fully understand; I feel for
you as keenly as you do yourself. I am wretched," he went on, laying
his hand lovingly on my shoulder, "when I think that if I could have
stayed with you to-night, I might have been able, if we talked till
morning, to relieve you of a little of your unhappiness. I can lend
you any number of books, but you won't want to read if you're feeling
like that. And I shan't be able to get anyone else to take my duty
here; I've been off now twice running because my girl came down to see

And he knitted his brows partly with vexation and also in the effort
to decide, like a doctor, what remedy he might best apply to my

"Run along and light the fire in my quarters," he called to a trooper
who passed us. "Hurry up; get a move on!"

After which he turned once more to me, and his eyeglass and his
peering, myopic gaze hinted an allusion to our great friendship.

"No! To see you here, in these barracks where I have spent so much
time thinking about you, I can scarcely believe my eyes. I must be
dreaming. And how are you? Better, I hope. You must tell me all about
yourself presently. We'll go up to my room; we mustn't hang about too
long on the square, there's the devil of a draught; I don't feel it
now myself, but you aren't accustomed to it, I'm afraid of your
catching cold. And what about your work; have you started yet? No? You
are a quaint fellow! If I had your talent I'm sure I should be writing
morning, noon and night. It amuses you more to do nothing? What a
pity it is that it's the useless fellows like me who are always ready
to work, and the ones who could if they wanted to, won't. There, and
I've clean forgotten to ask you how your grandmother is. Her Proudhons
are in safe keeping. I never part from them."

An officer, tall, handsome, majestic, emerged with slow and solemn
gait from the foot of a staircase. Saint-Loup saluted him and arrested
the perpetual instability of his body for the moment occupied in
holding his hand against the peak of his cap. But he had flung himself
into the action with so much force, straightening himself with so
sharp a movement, and, the salute ended, let his hand fall with so
abrupt a relaxation, altering all the positions of shoulder, leg, and
eyeglass, that this moment was one not so much of immobility as of a
throbbing tension in which were neutralised the excessive movements
which he had just made and those on which he was about to embark.
Meanwhile the officer, without coming any nearer us, calm, benevolent,
dignified, imperial, representing, in short, the direct opposite of
Saint-Loup, himself also, but without haste, raised his hand to the
peak of his cap.

"I must just say a word to the Captain," whispered Saint-Loup. "Be a
good fellow, and go and wait for me in my room. It's the second on the
right, on the third floor; I'll be with you in a minute."

And setting off at the double, preceded by his eyeglass which
fluttered in every direction, he made straight for the slow and
stately Captain whose horse had just been brought round and who,
before preparing to mount, was giving orders with a studied nobility
of gesture as in some historical painting, and as though he were
setting forth to take part in some battle of the First Empire, whereas
he was simply going to ride home, to the house which he had taken for
the period of his service at Doncières, and which stood in a Square
that was named, as though in an ironical anticipation of the arrival
of this Napoleonid, Place de la République. I started to climb the
staircase, nearly slipping on each of its nail-studded steps, catching
glimpses of barrack-rooms, their bare walls edged with a double line
of beds and kits. I was shewn Saint-Loup's room. I stood for a moment
outside its closed door, for I could hear some one stirring; he moved
something, let fall something else; I felt that the room was not
empty, that there must be somebody there. But it was only the freshly
lighted fire beginning to burn. It could not keep quiet, it kept
shifting its faggots about, and very clumsily. I entered the room; it
let one roll into the fender and set another smoking. And even when it
was not moving, like an ill-bred person it made noises all the time,
which, from the moment I saw the flames rising, revealed themselves to
me as noises made by a fire, although if I had been on the other side
of a wall I should have thought that they came from some one who was
blowing his nose and walking about. I sat down in the room and waited.
Liberty hangings and old German stuffs of the eighteenth century
managed to rid it of the smell that was exhaled by the rest of the
building, a coarse, insipid, mouldy smell like that of stale toast. It
was here, in this banning room, that I could have dined and slept with
a calm and happy mind Saint-Loup seemed almost to be present by reason
of the text-books which littered his table, between his photographs,
among which I could make out my own and that of the Duchesse de
Guermantes, by the light of the fire which had at length grown
accustomed to the grate, and, like an animal crouching in an ardent,
noiseless, faithful watchfulness, let fall only now and then a
smouldering log which crumbled into sparks, or licked with a tongue of
flame the sides of the chimney. I heard the tick of Saint-Loup's
watch, which could not be far away. This tick changed its place every
moment 'for I could not see the watch; it seemed to come from behind,
from in front of me, from my right, from my left, sometimes to die
away as though at a great distance. Suddenly I caught sight of the
watch on the table. Then I heard the tick in a fixed place from which
it did not move again. That is to say, I thought I heard it at this
place; I did not hear it there; I saw it there, for sounds have no
position in space. Or rather we associate them with movements, and in
that way they serve the purpose of warning us of those movements, of
appearing to make them necessary and natural. Certainly it happens
commonly enough that a sick man whose ears have been stopped with
cotton-wool ceases to hear the noise of a fire such as was crackling
at that moment in Saint-Loup's fireplace, labouring at the formation
of brands and cinders, which it then lets fall into the fender, nor
would he hear the passage of the tramway-cars whose music took its
flight, at regular intervals, over the Grand'place of Doncières. Let
the sick man then read a book, and the pages will turn silently before
him, as though they were moved by the fingers of a god. The dull
thunder of a bath which is being filled becomes thin, faint and
distant as the twittering of birds in the sky. The withdrawal of
sound, its dilution, take from it all its power to hurt us; driven mad
a moment ago by hammer-blows which seemed to be shattering the ceiling
above our head, it is with a quiet delight that we now gather in their
sound, light, caressing, distant, like the murmur of leaves playing by
the roadside with the passing breeze. We play games of patience with
cards which we do not hear, until we imagine that we have not touched
them, that they are moving of their own accord, and, anticipating our
desire to play with them, have begun to play with us. And in this
connexion we may ask ourselves whether, in the case of love (to which
indeed we may add the love of life and the love of fame, since there
are, it appears, persons who are acquainted with these latter
sentiments), we ought not to act like those who, when a noise disturbs
them, instead of praying that it may cease, stop their ears; and, with
them for our pattern, bring our attention, our defensive strength to
bear on ourselves, give ourselves as an objective to capture not the
'other person' with whom we are in love but our capacity for suffering
at that person's hands.

To return to the problem of sounds, we have only to thicken the wads
which close the aural passages, and they confine to a pianissimo the
girl who has just been playing a boisterous tune overhead; if we go
farther, and steep the wad in grease, at once the whole household must
obey its despotic rule; its laws extend even beyond our portals.
Pianissimo is not enough; the wad instantly orders the piano to be
shut, and the music lesson is abruptly ended; the gentleman who was
walking up and down in the room above breaks off in the middle of his
beat; the movement of carriages and tramways is interrupted as though
a Sovereign were expected to pass. And indeed this attenuation of
sounds sometimes disturbs our slumbers instead of guarding them. Only
yesterday the incessant noise in our ears, by describing to us in a
continuous narrative all that was happening in the street and in the
house, succeeded at length in making us sleep, like a boring book;
to-night, through the sheet of silence that is spread over our sleep a
shock, louder than the rest, manages to make itself heard, gentle as a
sigh, unrelated to any other sound, mysterious; and the call for an
explanation which it emits is sufficient to awaken us. Take away for a
moment from the sick man the cotton-wool that has been stopping his
ears and in a flash the full daylight, the sun of sound dawns afresh,
dazzling him, is born again in his universe; in all haste returns the
multitude of exiled sounds; we are present, as though it were the
chanting of choirs of angels, at the resurrection of the voice. The
empty streets are filled for a moment with the whirr of the swift,
consecutive wings of the singing tramway-cars. In the bedroom itself,
the sick man has created, not, like Prometheus, fire, but the sound of
fire. And when we increase or reduce the wads of cotton-wool, it is as
though we were pressing alternately one and the other of the two
pedals with which we have extended the resonant compass of the outer

Only there are also suppressions of sound which are not temporary. The
man who has grown completely deaf cannot even heat a pan of milk by
his bedside, but he must keep an eye open to watch, on the tilted lid,
for the white, arctic reflexion, like that of a coming snowstorm,
which is the warning sign which he is wise to obey, by cutting off (as
Our Lord bade the waves be still) the electric current; for already
the swelling, jerkily climbing egg of boiling milk-film is reaching
its climax in a series of sidelong movements, has filled and set
bellying the drooping sails with which the cream has skimmed its
surface, sends in a sudden storm a scud of pearly substance flying
overboard—sails which the cutting off of the current, if the electric
storm is hushed in time, will fold back upon themselves and let fall
with the ebbing tide, changed now to magnolia petals. But if the sick
man should not be quick enough in taking the necessary precautions,
presently, when his drowned books and watch are seen barely emerging
from the milky tide, he will be obliged to call the old nurse who,
though he be himself an eminent statesman or a famous writer, will
tell him that he has no more sense than a child of five. At other
times in the magic chamber, between us and the closed door, a person
who was not there a moment ago makes his appearance; it is a visitor
whom we did not hear coming in, and who merely gesticulates, like a
figure in one of those little puppet theatres, so restful for those
who have taken a dislike to the spoken tongue. And for this totally
deaf man, since the loss of a sense adds as much beauty to the world
as its acquisition, it is with ecstasy that he walks now upon an earth
grown almost an Eden, in which sound has not yet been created. The
highest waterfalls unfold for his eyes alone their ribbons of crystal,
stiller than the glassy sea, like the cascades of Paradise. As sound
was for him before his deafness the perceptible form in which the
cause of a movement was draped, objects moved without sound seemed to
be being moved also without cause; deprived of all resonant quality,
they shew a spontaneous activity, seem to be alive. They move, halt,
become alight of their own accord. Of their own accord they vanish in
the air like the winged monsters of prehistoric days. In the solitary
and unneighboured home of the deaf man the service which, before his
infirmity was complete, was already shewing an increased discretion,
was being carried on in silence, is now assured him with a sort of
surreptitious deftness, by mutes, as at the court of a fairy-tale
king. And, as upon the stage, the building on which the deaf man looks
from his window—be it barracks, church, or town hall—is only so much
scenery. If one day it should fall to the ground, it may emit a cloud
of dust and leave visible ruins; but, less material even than a palace
on the stage, though it has not the same exiguity, it will subside in
the magic universe without letting the fall of its heavy blocks of
stone tarnish, with anything so vulgar as sound, the chastity of the
prevailing silence.

The silence, though only relative, which reigned in the little
barrack-room where I sat waiting was now broken. The door opened and
Saint-Loup, dropping his eyeglass, dashed in.

"Ah, my dear Robert, you make yourself very comfortable here," I said
to him; "how jolly it would be if one were allowed to dine and sleep

And to be sure, had it not been against the regulations, what repose
untinged by sadness I could have tasted there, guarded by that
atmosphere of tranquillity, vigilance and gaiety which was maintained
by a thousand wills controlled and free from care, a thousand heedless
spirits, in that great community called a barracks where, time having
taken the form of action, the sad bell that tolled the hours outside
was replaced by the same joyous clarion of those martial calls, the
ringing memory of which was kept perpetually alive in the paved
streets of the town, like the dust that floats in a sunbeam;—a voice
sure of being heard, and musical because it was the command not only
of authority to obedience but of wisdom to happiness.

"So you'd rather stay with me and sleep here, would you, than to go
the hotel by yourself?" Saint-Loup asked me, smiling.

"Oh, Robert, it is cruel of you to be sarcastic about it," I pleaded;
"you know it's not possible, and you know how wretched I shall be over

"Good! You flatter me!" he replied. "It occurred to me just now that
you would rather stay here to-night. And that is precisely what I
stopped to ask the Captain."

"And he has given you leave?" I cried.

"He hadn't the slightest objection."

"Oh! I adore him!"

"No; that would be going too far. But now, let me just get hold of my
batman and tell him to see about our dinner," he went on, while I
turned away so as to hide my tears.

We were several times interrupted by one or other of Saint-Loup's
friends' coming in. He drove them all out again.

"Get out of here. Buzz off!"

I begged him to let them stay.

"No, really; they would bore you stiff; they are absolutely
uncultured; all they can talk about is racing, or stables shop.
Besides, I don't want them here either; they would spoil these
precious moments I've been looking forward to. But you mustn't think,
when I tell you that these fellows are brainless, that everything
military is devoid of intellectuality. Far from it. We have a major
here who is a splendid chap. He's given us a course in which military
history is treated like a demonstration, like a problem in algebra.
Even from the aesthetic point of view there is a curious beauty,
alternately inductive and deductive, about it which you couldn't fail
to appreciate."

"That's not the officer who's given me leave to stay here to-night?"

"No; thank God! The man you 'adore' for so very trifling a service is
the biggest fool that ever walked the face of the earth. He is perfect
at looking after messing, and at kit inspections; he spends hours with
the serjeant major and the master tailor. There you have his
mentality. Apart from that he has a vast contempt, like everyone here,
for the excellent major I was telling you about. No one will speak to
him because he's a freemason and doesn't go to confession. The Prince
de Borodino would never have an outsider like that in his house. Which
is pretty fair cheek, when all's said and done, from a man whose
great-grandfather was a small farmer, and who would probably be a
small farmer himself if it hadn't been for the Napoleonic wars. Not
that he hasn't a lurking sense of his own rather ambiguous position in
society, where he's neither flesh nor fowl. He hardly ever shews his
face at the Jockey, it makes him feel so deuced awkward, this
so-called Prince," added Robert, who, having been led by the same
spirit of imitation to adopt the social theories of his teachers and
the worldly prejudices of his relatives, had unconsciously wedded the
democratic love of humanity to a contempt for the nobility of the

I was looking at the photograph of his aunt, and the thought that,
since Saint-Loup had this photograph in his possession, he might
perhaps give it to me, made me feel all the fonder of him and hope to
do him a thousand services, which seemed to me a very small exchange
for it. For this photograph was like one encounter more, added to all
those that I had already had, with Mme. de Guermantes; better still, a
prolonged encounter, as if, by some sudden stride forward in our
relations, she had stopped beside me, in a garden hat, and had allowed
me for the first time to gaze at my leisure at that plump cheek, that
arched neck, that tapering eyebrow (veiled from me hitherto by the
swiftness of her passage, the bewilderment of my impressions, the
imperfection of memory); and the contemplation of them, as well as of
the bare bosom and arms of a woman whom I had never seen save in a
high-necked and long-sleeved bodice, was to me a voluptuous discovery,
a priceless favour. Those lines, which had seemed to me almost a
forbidden spectacle, I could study there, as in a text-book of the
only geometry that had any value for me. Later on, when I looked at
Robert, I noticed that he too was a little like the photograph of his
aunt, and by a mysterious process which I found almost as moving,
since, if his face had not been directly created by hers, the two had
nevertheless a common origin. The features of the Duchesse de
Guermantes, which were pinned to my vision of Combray, the nose like a
falcon's beak, the piercing eyes, seemed to have served also as a
pattern for the cutting out—in another copy analogous and slender,
with too delicate a skin—of Robert's face, which might almost be
superimposed upon his aunt's. I saw in him, with a keen longing, those
features characteristic of the Guermantes, of that race which had
remained so individual in the midst of a world with which it was not
confounded, in which it remained isolated in the glory of an
ornithomorphic divinity, for it seemed to have been the issue, in the
age of mythology, of the union of a goddess with a bird.

Robert, without being aware of its cause, was touched by my evident
affection. This was moreover increased by the sense of comfort
inspired in me by the heat of the fire and by the champagne which
bedewed at the same time my brow with beads of sweat and my cheeks
with tears; it washed down the partridges; I ate mine with the dumb
wonder of a profane mortal of any sort when he finds in a form of life
with which he is not familiar what he has supposed that form of life
to exclude—the wonder, for instance, of an atheist who sits down to
an exquisitely cooked dinner in a presbytery. And next morning, when I
awoke, I rose and went to cast from Saint-Loup's window, which being
at a great height overlooked the whole countryside, a curious scrutiny
to make the acquaintance of my new neighbour, the landscape which I
had not been able to distinguish the day before, having arrived too
late, at an hour when it was already sleeping beneath the outspread
cloak of night. And yet, early as it had awoken from its sleep, I
could see the ground, when I opened the window and looked out, only as
one sees it from the window of a country house, overlooking the lake,
shrouded still in its soft white morning gown of mist which scarcely
allowed me to make out anything at all. But I knew that, before the
troopers who were busy with their horses in the square had finished
grooming them, it would have cast its gown aside. In the meantime, I
could see only a meagre hill, rearing close up against the side of the
barracks a back already swept clear of darkness, rough and wrinkled.
Through the transparent curtain of frost I could not take my eyes from
this stranger who, too, was looking at me for the first time. But when
I had formed the habit of coming to the barracks, my consciousness
that the hill was there, more real, consequently, even when I did not
see it, than the hotel at Balbec, than our house in Paris, of which I
thought as of absent—or dead—friends, that is to say without any
strong belief in their existence, brought it about that, even although
I was not aware of it myself, its reflected shape outlined itself on
the slightest impressions that I formed at Doncières, and among them,
to begin with this first morning, on the pleasing impression of warmth
given me by the cup of chocolate prepared by Saint-Loup's batman in
this comfortable room, which had the effect of being an optical centre
from which to look out at the hill—the idea of there being anything
else to do but just gaze at it, the idea of actually climbing it,
being rendered impossible by this same mist. Imbibing the shape of the
hill, associated with the taste of hot chocolate and with the whole
web of my fancies at that particular time, this mist, without my
having thought at all about it, succeeded in moistening all my
subsequent thoughts about that period, just as a massive and unmelting
lump of gold had remained allied to my impressions of Balbec, or as
the proximity of the outside stairs of blackish sandstone gave a grey
background to my impressions of Combray. It did not, however, persist
late into the day; the sun began by hurling at it, in vain, a few
darts which sprinkled it with brilliants before they finally overcame
it. The hill might expose its grizzled rump to the sun's rays, which,
an hour later, when I went down to the town, gave to the russet tints
of the autumn leaves, to the reds and blues of the election posters
pasted on the walls, an exaltation which raised my spirits also and
made me stamp, singing as I went, on the pavements from which I could
hardly keep myself from jumping in the air for joy.

But after that first night I had to sleep at the hotel. And I knew
beforehand that I was doomed to find sorrow there. It was like an
unbreathable aroma which all my life long had been exhaled for me by
every new bedroom, that is to say by every bedroom; in the one which I
usually occupied I was not present, my mind remained elsewhere, and in
its place sent only the sense of familiarity. But I could not employ
this servant, less sensitive than myself, to look after things for me
in a new place, where I preceded him, where I arrived by myself, where
I must bring into contact with its environment that 'Self' which I
rediscovered only at year-long intervals, but always the same, having
not grown at all since Combray, since my first arrival at Balbec,
weeping, without any possibility of consolation, on the edge of an
unpacked trunk.

As it happened, I was mistaken. I had no time to be sad, for I was not
left alone for an instant. The fact of the matter was that there
remained of the old palace a superfluous refinement of structure and
decoration, out of place in a modern hotel, which, released from the
service of any practical purpose, had in its long spell of leisure
acquired a sort of life: passages winding about in all directions,
which one was continually crossing in their aimless wanderings,
lobbies as long as corridors and as ornate as drawing-rooms, which had
the air rather of being dwellers there themselves than of forming part
of a dwelling, which could not be induced to enter and settle down in
any of the rooms but wandered about outside mine and came up at once
to offer me their company—neighbours of a sort, idle but never noisy,
menial ghosts of the past who had been granted the privilege of
staying, provided they kept quiet, by the doors of the rooms which
were let to visitors, and who, every time that I came across them,
greeted me with a silent deference. In short, the idea of a lodging,
of simply a case for our existence from day to day which shields us
only from the cold and from being overlooked by other people, was
absolutely inapplicable to this house, an assembly of rooms as real as
a colony of people, living, it was true, in silence, but things which
one was obliged to meet, to avoid, to appreciate, as one came in. One
tried not to disturb them, and one could not look without respect at
the great drawing-room which had formed, far back in the eighteenth
century, the habit of stretching itself at its ease, among its
hangings of old gold and beneath the clouds of its painted ceiling.
And one was seized with a more personal curiosity as to the smaller
rooms which, without any regard for symmetry, ran all round it,
innumerable, startled, fleeing in disorder as far as the garden, to
which they had so easy an access down three broken steps.

If I wished to go out or to come in without taking the lift or being
seen from the main staircase, a smaller private staircase, no longer
in use, offered me its steps so skilfully arranged, one close above
another, that there seemed to exist in their gradation a perfect
proportion of the same kind as those which, in colours, scents,
savours, often arouse in us a peculiar, sensuous pleasure. But the
pleasure to be found in going up and downstairs I had had to come here
to learn, as once before to a health resort in the Alps to find that
the act—as a rule not noticed—of drawing breath could be a perpetual
delight. I received that dispensation from effort which is granted to
us only by the things to which long use has accustomed us, when I set
my feet for the first time on those steps, familiar before ever I knew
them, as if they possessed, deposited on them, perhaps, embodied in
them by the masters of long ago whom they used to welcome every day,
the prospective charm of habits which I had not yet contracted and
which indeed could only grow weaker once they had become my own. I
looked into a room; the double doors closed themselves behind me, the
hangings let in a silence in which I felt myself invested with a sort
of exhilarating royalty; a marble mantelpiece with ornaments of
wrought brass—of which one would have been wrong to think that its
sole idea was to represent the art of the Directory—offered me a
fire, and a little easy chair on short legs helped me to warm myself
as comfortably as if I had been sitting on the hearthrug. The walls
held the room in à close embrace, separating it from the rest of the
world and, to let in, to enclose what made it complete, parted to make
way for the bookcase, reserved a place for the bed, on either side of
which a column airily upheld the raised ceiling of the alcove. And the
room was prolonged in depth by two closets as large as itself, the
latter of which had hanging from its wall, to scent the occasion on
which one had recourse to it, a voluptuous rosary of orris-roots; the
doors, if I left them open when I withdrew into this innermost
retreat, were not content with tripling its dimensions without its
ceasing to be well-proportioned, and not only allowed my eyes to enjoy
the delights of extension after those of concentration, but added
further to the pleasure of my solitude, which, while still inviolable,
was no longer shut in, the sense of liberty. This closet looked out
upon a courtyard, a fair solitary stranger whom I was glad to have for
a neighbour when next morning my eyes fell on her, a captive between
her high walls in which no other window opened, with nothing but two
yellowing trees which were enough to give a pinkish softness to the
pure sky above.

Before going to bed I decided to leave the room in order to explore
the whole of my fairy kingdom. I walked down a long gallery which did
me homage successively with all that it had to offer me if I could not
sleep, an armchair placed waiting in a corner, a spinet, on a table
against the wall, a bowl of blue crockery filled with cinerarias, and,
in an old frame, the phantom of a lady of long ago whose powdered hair
was starred with blue flowers, holding in her hand a bunch of
carnations. When I came to the end, the bare wall in which no door
opened said to me simply "Now you must turn and go back, but, you see,
you are at home here, the house is yours," while the soft carpet, not
to be left out, added that if I did not sleep that night I could
easily come in barefoot, and' the unshuttered windows, looking out
over the oper, country, assured me that they would hold a sleepless
vigil and that, at whatever hour I chose to come in, I need not be
afraid of disturbing anyone. And behind a hanging curtain I surprised
only a little closet which, stopped by the wall and unable to escape
any farther, had hidden itself there with a guilty conscience and gave
me a frightened stare from its little round window, glowing blue in
the moonlight. I went to bed, but the presence of the eiderdown quilt,
of the pillars, of the neat fireplace, by straining my attention to a
pitch beyond that of Paris, prevented me from letting myself go upon
my habitual train of fancies. And as it is this particular state of
strained attention that enfolds our slumbers, acts upon them, modifies
them, brings them into line with this or that series of past
impressions, the images that filled my dreams that first night were
borrowed from a memory entirely distinct from that on which I was in
the habit of drawing. If I had been tempted while asleep to let myself
be swept back upon my ordinary current of remembrance, the bed to
which I was not accustomed, the comfortable attention which I was
obliged to pay to the position of my various limbs when I turned over,
were sufficient to correct my error, to disentangle and to keep
running the new thread of my dreams. It is the same with sleep as
with our perception of the external world. It needs only a
modification in our habits to make it poetic, it is enough that while
undressing we should have dozed off unconsciously upon the bed, for
the dimensions of our dream-world to be altered and its beauty felt.
We awake, look at our watch, see 'four o'clock'; it is only four
o'clock in the morning, but we imagine that the whole day has gone by,
so vividly does this nap of a few minutes, unsought by us, appear to
have come down to us from the skies, by virtue of some divine right,
full-bodied, vast, like an Emperor's orb of gold. In the morning,
while worrying over the thought that my grandfather was ready, and was
waiting for me to start on our walk along the Méséglise way, I was
awakened by the blare of a regimental band which passed every day
beneath my windows. But on several occasions—and I mention these
because one cannot properly describe human life unless one shews it
soaked in the sleep in which it plunges, which, night after night,
sweeps round it as a promontory is encircled by the sea—the
intervening layer of sleep was strong enough to bear the shock of the
music and I heard nothing. On the other mornings it gave way for a
moment; but, still velvety with the refreshment of having slept, my
consciousness (like those organs by which, after a local anaesthetic,
a cauterisation, not perceived at first, is felt only at the very end
and then as a faint burning smart) was touched only gently by the
shrill points of the fifes which caressed it with a vague, cool,
matutinal warbling; and after this brief interruption in which the
silence had turned to music it relapsed into my slumber before even
the dragoons had finished passing, depriving me of the latest opening
buds of the sparkling clangorous nosegay. And the zone of my
consciousness which its springing stems had brushed was so narrow, so
circumscribed with sleep that later on, when Saint-Loup asked me
whether I had heard the band, I was no longer certain that the sound of
its brasses had not been as imaginary as that which I heard during the
day echo, after the slightest noise, from the paved streets of the
town. Perhaps I had heard it only in a dream, prompted by my fear of
being awakened, or else of not being awakened and so not seeing the
regiment march past. For often, when I was still asleep at the moment
when, on the contrary, I had supposed that the noise would awaken me,
for the next hour I imagined that I was awake, while still drowsing,
and I enacted to myself with tenuous shadow-shapes on the screen of my
slumber the various scenes of which it deprived me but at which I had
the illusion of looking on.

What one has meant to do during the day, as it turns out, sleep
intervening, one accomplishes only in one's dreams, that is to say
after it has been distorted by sleep into following another line than
one would have chosen when awake. The same story branches off and has
a different ending. When all is said, the world in which we live when
we are asleep is so different that people who have difficulty in going
to sleep seek first of all to escape from the waking world. After
having desperately, for hours on end, with shut eyes, revolved in
their minds thoughts similar to those which they would have had with
their eyes open, they take heart again on noticing that the last
minute has been crawling under the weight of an argument in formal
contradiction of the laws of thought, and their realisation of this,
and the brief 'absence' to which it points, indicate that the door is
now open through which they will perhaps be able, presently, to escape
from the perception of the real, to advance to a resting-place more or
less remote on the other side, which will mean their having a more or
less 'good' night. But already a great stride has been made when we
turn our back on the real, when we reach the cave in which
'auto-suggestions' prepare—like witches—the hell-broth of imaginary
maladies or of the recurrence of nervous disorders, and watch for the
hour at which the storm that has been gathering during our unconscious
sleep will break with sufficient force to make sleep cease.

Not far thence is the secret garden in which grow like strange flowers
the kinds of sleep, so different one from another, the sleep induced
by datura, by the multiple extracts of ether, the sleep of belladonna,
of opium, of valerian, flowers whose petals remain shut until the day
when the predestined visitor shall come and, touching them, bid them
open, and for long hours inhale the aroma of their peculiar dreams
into a marvelling and bewildered being. At the end of the garden
stands the convent with open windows through which we hear voices
repeating the lessons learned before we went to sleep, which we shall
know only at the moment of awakening; while, a presage of that moment,
sounds the resonant tick of that inward alarum which our preoccupation
has so effectively regulated that when our housekeeper comes in with
the warning: "It is seven o'clock," she will find us awake and ready.
On the dim walls of that chamber which opens upon our dreams, within
which toils without ceasing that oblivion of the sorrows of love whose
task, interrupted and brought: to nought at times by a nightmare big
with reminiscence, is ever speedily resumed, hang, even after we are
awake, the memories of our dreams, but so overshadowed that often we
catch sight of them for the first time only in the broad light of the
afternoon when the ray of a similar idea happens by chance to strike
them; some of them brilliant and harmonious while we slept, but
already so distorted that, having failed to recognise them, we can but
hasten to lay them in the earth like dead bodies too quickly
decomposed or relics so seriously damaged, so nearly crumbling into
dust that the most skilful restorer could not bring them back to their
true form or make anything of them. Near the gate is the quarry to
which our heavier slumbers repair in search of substances which coat
the brain with so unbreakable a glaze that, to awaken the sleeper, his
own will is obliged, even on a golden morning, to smite him with
mighty blows like a young Siegfried. Beyond this, again, are the
nightmares of which the doctors foolishly assert that they tire us
more than does insomnia, whereas on the contrary they enable the
thinker to escape from the strain of thought; those nightmares with
their fantastic picture-books in which our relatives who are dead are
shewn meeting with a serious accident which at the same time does not
preclude their speedy recovery. Until then we keep them in a little
rat-cage, in which they are smaller than white mice and, covered with
big red spots, out of each of which a feather sprouts, engage us in
Ciceronian dialogues. Next to this picture-book is the revolving disc
of awakening, by virtue of which we submit for a moment to the tedium
of having to return at once to a house which was pulled down fifty
years ago, the memory of which is gradually effaced as sleep grows
more distant by a number of others, until we arrive at that memory
which the disc presents only when it has ceased to revolve and which
coincides with what we shall see with opened eyes.

Sometimes I had heard nothing, being in one of those slumbers into
which we fall as into a pit from which we are heartily glad to be
drawn up a little later, heavy, overfed, digesting all that has been
brought to us (as by the nymphs who fed the infant Hercules) by those
agile, vegetative powers whose activity is doubled while we sleep.

That kind of sleep is called 'sleeping like lead,' and it seems as
though one has become, oneself, and remains for a few moments after
such a sleep is ended, simply a leaden image. One is no longer a
person. How then, seeking for one's mind, one's personality, as one
seeks for a thing that is lost, does one recover one's own self rather
than any other? Why, when one begins again to think, is it not another
personality than yesterday's that is incarnate in one? One fails to
see what can dictate the choice, or why, among the millions of human
beings any one of whom one might be, it is on him who one was
overnight that unerringly one lays one's hand? What is it that guides
us, when there has been an actual interruption—whether it be that our
unconsciousness has been complete or our dreams entirely different
from ourselves? There has indeed been death, as when the heart has
ceased to beat and a rhythmical friction of the tongue revives us. No
doubt the room, even if we have seen it only once before, awakens
memories to which other, older memories cling. Or were some memories
also asleep in us of which we now become conscious? The resurrection
at our awakening—after that healing attack of mental alienation which
is sleep—must after all be similar to what occurs when we recapture a
name, a line, a refrain that we had forgotten. And perhaps the
resurrection of the soul after death is to be conceived as a
phenomenon of memory.

When I had finished sleeping, tempted by the sunlit sky—but
discouraged by the chill—of those last autumn mornings, so luminous
and so cold, in which winter begins, to get up and look at the trees
on which the leaves were indicated now only by a few strokes, golden
or rosy, which seemed to have been left in the air, on an invisible
web, I raised my head from the pillow and stretched my neck, keeping
my body still hidden beneath the bedclothes; like a chrysalis in the
process of change I was a dual creature, with the different parts of
which a single environment did not agree; for my eyes colour was
sufficient, without warmth; my chest on the other hand was anxious for
warmth and not for colour. I rose only after my fire had been lighted,
and studied the picture, so delicate and transparent, of the pink and
golden morning, to which I had now added by artificial means the
element of warmth that it lacked, poking my fire which burned and
smoked like a good pipe and gave me, as a pipe would have given me, a
pleasure at once coarse because it was based upon a material comfort
and delicate because beyond it was printed a pure vision. The walls of
my dressing-room were covered with a paper on which a violent red
background was patterned with black and white flowers, to which it
seemed that I should have some difficulty in growing accustomed. But
they succeeded only in striking me as novel, in forcing me to enter
not into conflict but into contact with them, in modulating the
gaiety, the songs of my morning toilet, they succeeded only in
imprisoning me in the heart of a sort of poppy, out of which to look
at a world which I saw quite differently from in Paris, from the gay
screen which was this new dwelling-place, of a different aspect from
the house of my parents, and into which flowed a purer air. On certain
days, I was agitated by the desire to see my grandmother again, or by
the fear that she might be ill, or else it was the memory of some
undertaking which I had left half-finished in Paris, and which seemed
to have made no progress; sometimes again it was some difficulty in
which, even here, I had managed to become involved. One or other of
these anxieties had kept me from sleeping, and I was without strength
to face my sorrow which in a moment grew to fill the whole of my
existence. Then from the hotel I sent a messenger to the barracks,
with a line to Saint-Loup: I told him that, should it be materially
possible—I knew that it was extremely difficult for him—I should be
most grateful if he would look in for a minute. An hour later he
arrived; and on hearing his ring at the door I felt myself liberated
from my obsessions. I knew that, if they were stronger than I, he was
stronger than they, and my attention was diverted from them and
concentrated on him who would have to settle them. He had come into
the room, and already he had enveloped me in the gust of fresh air in
which from before dawn he had been displaying so much activity, a
vital atmosphere very different from that of my room, to which I at
once adapted myself by appropriate reactions.

"I hope you weren't angry with me for bothering you; there is
something that is worrying me, as you probably guessed."

"Not at all; I just supposed you wanted to see me, and I thought it
very nice of you. I was delighted that you should have sent for me.
But what is the trouble? Things not going well? What can I do to

He listened to my explanations, and gave careful answers; but before
he had uttered a word he had transformed me to his own likeness;
compared with the important occupations which kept him so busy, so
alert, so happy, the worries which, a moment ago, I had been unable to
endure for another instant seemed to me as to him negligible; I was
like a man who, not having been able to open his eyes for some days,
sends for a doctor, who neatly and gently raises his eyelid, removes
from beneath it and shews him a grain of sand; the sufferer is healed
and comforted. All my cares resolved themselves into a telegram which
Saint-Loup undertook to dispatch. Life seemed to me so different, so
delightful; I was flooded with such a surfeit of strength that I
longed for action.

"What are you doing now?" I asked him.

"I must leave you, I'm afraid; we're going on a route march in three
quarters of an hour, and I have to be on parade."

"Then it's been a great bother to you, coming here?"

"No, no bother at all, the Captain was very good about it; he told me
that if it was for you I must go at once; but you understand, I don't
like to seem to be abusing the privilege."

"But if I got up and dressed quickly and went by myself to the place
where you'll be training, it would interest me immensely, and I could
perhaps talk to you during the breaks."

"I shouldn't advise you to do that; you have been lying awake, racking
your brains over a thing which, I assure you, is not of the slightest
importance, but now that it has ceased to worry you, lay your head
down on the pillow and go to sleep, which you will find an excellent
antidote to the demineralisation of your nerve-cells; only you mustn't
go to sleep too soon, because our band-boys will be coming along under
your windows; but as soon as they've passed I think you'll be left in
peace, and we shall meet again this evening, at dinner."

But soon I was constantly going to see the regiment being trained in
field operations, when I began to take an interest in the military
theories which Saint-Loup's friends used to expound over the
dinner-table, and when it had become the chief desire of my life to
see at close quarters their various leaders, just as a person who
makes music his principal study and spends his life in the concert
halls finds pleasure in frequenting the cafés in which one mingles
with the life of the members of the orchestra. To reach the training
ground I used to have to take tremendously long walks. In the evening
after dinner the longing for sleep made my head drop every now and
then as in a swoon. Next morning I realised that I had no more heard
the band than, at Balbec, after the evenings on which Saint-Loup had
taken me to dinner at Rivebelle, I used to hear the concert on the
beach. And at the moment when I wished to rise I had a delicious
feeling of incapacity; I felt myself fastened to a deep, invisible
ground by the articulations (of which my tiredness made me conscious)
of muscular and nutritious roots. I felt myself full of strength; life
seemed to extend more amply before me; this was because I had reverted
to the good tiredness of my childhood at Combray on the mornings
following days on which we had taken the Guermantes walk. Poets make
out that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when
we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth.
But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in
disappointment as in success. The fixed places, contemporary with
different years, it is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find
them. This is where the advantage comes in, to a certain extent, of
great exhaustion followed by a good night's rest. Good nights, to make
us descend into the most subterranean galleries of sleep, where no
reflexion from overnight, no gleam of memory comes to lighten the
inward monologue (if so be that it cease not also), turn so
effectively the soil and break through the surface stone of our body
that we discover there, where our muscles dive down and throw out
their twisted roots and breathe the air of the new life, the garden in
which as a child we used to play. There is no need to travel in order
to see it again; we must dig down inwardly to discover it. What once
covered the earth is no longer upon it but beneath; a mere excursion
does not suffice for a visit to the dead city, excavation is necessary
also. But we shall see how certain impressions, fugitive and
fortuitous, carry us back even more effectively to the past, with a
more delicate precision, with a flight more light-winged, more
immaterial, more headlong, more unerring, more immortal than these
organic dislocations.

Sometimes my exhaustion was greater still; I had, without any
opportunity of going to bed, been following the operations for several
days on end. How blessed then was my return to the hotel! As I got
into bed I seemed to have escaped at last from the hands of
enchanters, sorcerers like those who people the 'romances' beloved of
our forebears in the seventeenth century. My sleep that night and the
lazy morning that followed it were no more than a charming fairy tale.
Charming; beneficent perhaps also. I reminded myself that the keenest
sufferings have their place of sanctuary, that one can always, when
all else fails, find repose. These thoughts carried me far.

On days when, although there was no parade, Saint-Loup had to stay in
barracks, I used often to go and visit him there. It was a long way; I
had to leave the town and cross the viaduct, from either side of which
I had an immense view. A strong breeze blew almost always over this
high ground, and filled all the buildings erected on three sides of
the barrack-square, which howled incessantly like a cave of the winds.
While I waited for Robert—he being engaged on some duty or
other—outside the door of his room or in the mess, talking to some of
his friends to whom he had introduced me (and whom later on I came now
and then to see, even when he was not to be there), looking down from
the window three hundred feet to the country below, bare now except
where recently sown fields, often still soaked with rain and
glittering in the sun, shewed a few stripes of green, of the
brilliance and translucent limpidity of enamel, I could hear him
discussed by the others, and I soon learned what a popular favourite
he was. Among many of the volunteers, belonging to other squadrons,
sons of rich business or professional men who looked at the higher
aristocratic society only from outside and without penetrating its
enclosure, the attraction which they naturally felt towards what they
knew of Saint-Loup's character was reinforced by the distinction that
attached in their eyes to the young man whom, on Saturday evenings,
when they went on pass to Paris, they had seen supping in the Café de
la Paix with the Duc d'Uzès and the Prince d'Orléans. And on that
account, into his handsome face, his casual way of walking and
saluting officers, the perpetual dance of his eyeglass, the
affectation shewn in the cut of his service dress—the caps always too
high, the breeches of too fine a cloth and too pink a shade—they had
introduced the idea of a 'tone' which, they were positive, was lacking
in the best turned-out officers in the regiment, even the majestic
Captain to whom I had been indebted for the privilege of sleeping in
barracks, who seemed, in comparison, too pompous and almost common.

One of them said that the Captain had bought a new horse. "He can buy
as many horses as he likes. I passed Saint-Loup on Sunday morning in
the Allée des Acacias; now he's got some style on a horse!" replied
his companion, and knew what he was talking about, for these young
fellows belonged to a class which, if it does not frequent the same
houses and know the same people, yet, thanks to money and leisure,
does not differ from the nobility in its experience of all those
refinements of life which money can procure. At any rate their
refinement had, in the matter of clothes, for instance, something
about it more studied, more impeccable than that free and easy
negligence which had so delighted my grandmother in Saint-Loup. It
gave quite a thrill to these sons of big stockbrokers or bankers, as
they sat eating oysters after the theatre, to see at an adjoining
table Serjeant Saint-Loup. And what a tale there was to tell in
barracks on Monday night, after a week-end leave, by one of them who
was in Robert's squadron, and to whom he had said how d'ye do 'most
civilly,' while another, who was not in the same squadron, was quite
positive that, in spite of this, Saint-Loup had recognised him, for
two or three times he had put up his eyeglass and stared in the
speaker's direction.

"Yes, my brother saw him at the Paix," said another, who had been
spending the day with his mistress; "my brother says his dress coat
was cut too loose and didn't fit him."

"What was the waistcoat like?"

"He wasn't wearing a white waistcoat; it was purple, with sort of
palms on it; stunning!"

To the 'old soldiers' (sons of the soil who had never heard of the
Jockey Club and simply put Saint-Loup in the category of ultra-rich
non-commissioned officers, in which they included all those who,
whether bankrupt or not, lived in a certain style, whose income or
debts ran into several figures, and who were generous towards their
men), the gait, the eyeglass, the breeches, the caps of Saint-Loup,
even if they saw in them nothing particularly aristocratic, furnished
nevertheless just as much interest and meaning. They recognised in
these peculiarities the character, the style which they had assigned
once and for all time to this most popular of the 'stripes' in the
regiment, manners like no one's else, scornful indifference to what
his superior officers might think, which seemed to them the natural
corollary of his goodness to his subordinates. The morning cup of
coffee in the canteen, the afternoon 'lay-down' in the barrack-room
seemed pleasanter, somehow, when some old soldier fed the hungering,
lazy section with some savoury titbit as to a cap in which Saint-Loup
had appeared on parade.

"It was the height of my pack."

"Come off it, old chap, you don't expect us to believe that; it
couldn't have been the height of your pack," interrupted a young
college graduate who hoped by using these slang terms not to appear a
'learned beggar,' and by venturing on this contradiction to obtain
confirmation of a fact the thought of which enchanted him.

"Oh, so it wasn't the height of my pack, wasn't it? You measured it, I
suppose! I tell you this much, the C. O. glared at it as if he'd have
liked to put him in clink. But you needn't think the great Saint-Loup
felt squashed; no, he went and he came, and down with his head and up
with his head, and that blinking glass screwed in his eye all the
time. We'll see what the 'Capstan' has to say when he hears. Oh, very
likely he'll say nothing, but you may be sure he won't be pleased. But
there's nothing so wonderful about that cap. I hear he's got thirty of
'em and more at home, at his house in town."

"Where did you hear that, old man? From our blasted corporal-dog?"
asked the young graduate, pedantically displaying the new forms of
speech which he had only recently acquired and with which he took a
pride in garnishing his conversation.

"Where did I hear it? From his batman; what d'you think?"

"Ah! Now you're talking. That's a chap who knows when he's well off!"

"I should say so! He's got more in his pocket than I have, certain
sure! And besides he gives him all his own things, and everything. He
wasn't getting his grub properly, he says. Along comes de Saint-Loup,
and gives cooky hell: 'I want him to be properly fed, d'you hear,' he
says, 'and I don't care what it costs.'"

The old soldier made up for the triviality of the words quoted by the
emphasis of his tone, in a feeble imitation of the speaker which had
an immense success.

On leaving the barracks I would take a stroll, and then, to fill up
the time before I went, as I did every evening, to dine with
Saint-Loup at the hotel in which he and his friends had established
their mess, I made for my own, as soon as the sun had set, so as to
have a couple of hours in which to rest and read. In the square, the
evening light bedecked the pepper-pot turrets of the castle with
little pink clouds which matched the colour of the bricks, and
completed the harmony by softening the tone of the latter where it
bathed them. So strong a current of vitality coursed through my nerves
that no amount of movement on my part could exhaust it; each step I
took, after touching a stone of the pavement, rebounded off it. I
seemed to have growing on my heels the wings of Mercury. One of the
fountains was filled with a ruddy glow, while in the other the
moonlight had already begun to turn the water opalescent. Between them
were children at play, uttering shrill cries, wheeling in circles,
obeying some necessity of the hour, like swifts or bats. Next door to
the hotel, the old National Courts and the Louis XVI orangery, in
which were installed now the savings-bank and the Army Corps
headquarters, were lighted from within by the palely gilded globes of
their gas-jets which, seen in the still clear daylight outside, suited
those vast, tall, eighteenth-century windows from which the last rays
of the setting sun had not yet departed, as would have suited a
complexion heightened with rouge a headdress of yellow tortoise-shell,
and persuaded me to seek out my fireside and the lamp which, alone in
the shadowy front of my hotel, was striving to resist the gathering
darkness, and for the sake of which I went indoors before it was quite
dark, for pleasure, as to an appetising meal. I kept, when I was in my
room, the same fulness of sensation that I had felt outside. It gave
such an apparent convexity of surface to things which as a rule seem
flat and empty, to the yellow flame of the fire, the coarse blue paper
on the ceiling, on which the setting sun had scribbled corkscrews and
whirligigs, like a schoolboy with a piece of red chalk, the curiously
patterned cloth on the round table, on which a ream of essay paper and
an inkpot lay in readiness for me, with one of Bergotte's novels, that
ever since then these things have continued to seem to me to be
enriched with a whole form of existence which I feel that I should be
able to extract from them if it were granted me to set eyes on them
again. I thought with joy of the barracks that I had just left and of
their weather-cock turning with every wind that blew. Like a diver
breathing through a pipe which rises above the surface of the water, I
felt that I was in a sense maintaining contact with a healthy,
open-air life when I kept as a baiting-place those barracks, that
towering observatory, dominating a country-side furrowed with canals
of green enamel, into whose various buildings I esteemed as a
priceless privilege, which I hoped would last, my freedom to go
whenever I chose, always certain of a welcome.

At seven o'clock I dressed myself and went out again to dine with
Saint-Loup at the hotel where he took his meals. I liked to go there
on foot. It was by now pitch dark, and after the third day of my visit
there began to blow, as soon as night had fallen, an icy wind which
seemed a harbinger of snow. As I walked, I ought not, strictly
speaking, to have ceased for a moment to think of Mme. de Guermantes;
it was only in the attempt to draw nearer to her that I had come to
visit Robert's garrison. But a memory, a grief, are fleeting things.
There are days when they remove so far that we are barely conscious of
them, we think that they have gone for ever. Then we pay attention to
other things. And the streets of this town had not yet become for me
what streets are in the place where one is accustomed to live, simply
means of communication between one part and another. The life led by
the inhabitants of this unknown world must, it seemed to me, be a
marvellous thing, and often the lighted windows of some dwelling-house
kept me standing for a long while motionless in the darkness by laying
before my eyes the actual and mysterious scenes of an existence into
which I might not penetrate. Here the fire-spirit displayed to me in
purple colouring the booth of a chestnut seller in which a couple of
serjeants, their belts slung over the backs of chairs, were playing
cards, never dreaming that a magician's wand was making them emerge
from the night, like a transparency on the stage, and presenting them
in their true lineaments at that very moment to the eyes of an
arrested passer-by whom they could not see. In a little curiosity shop
a candle, burned almost to its socket, projecting its warm glow over
an engraving reprinted it in sanguine, while, battling against the
darkness, the light of the big lamp tanned a scrap of leather, inlaid
a dagger with fiery spangles, on pictures which were only bad copies
spread a priceless film of gold like the patina of time or the varnish
used by a master, made in fact of the whole hovel, in which there was
nothing but pinchbeck rubbish, a marvellous composition by Rembrandt.
Sometimes I lifted my gaze to some huge old dwelling-house on which
the shutters had not been closed and in which amphibious men and women
floated slowly to and fro in the rich liquid that after nightfall rose
incessantly from the wells of the lamps to fill the rooms to the very
brink of the outer walls of stone and glass, the movement of their
bodies sending through it long unctuous golden ripples. I proceeded on
my way, and often, in the dark alley that ran past the cathedral, as
long ago on the road to Méséglise, the force of my desire caught and
held me; it seemed that a woman must be on the point of appearing, to
satisfy it; if, in the darkness, I felt suddenly brush past me a
skirt, the violence of the pleasure which I then felt made it
impossible for me to believe that the contact was accidental and I
attempted to seize in my arms a terrified stranger. This gothic alley
meant for me something so real that if I had been successful in
raising and enjoying a woman there, it would have been impossible for
me not to believe that it was the ancient charm of the place that was
bringing us together, and even though she were no more than a common
street-walker, stationed there every evening, still the wintry night,
the strange place, the darkness, the mediaeval atmosphere would have
lent her their mysterious glamour. I thought of what might be in store
for me; to try to forget Mme. de Guermantes seemed to me a dreadful
thing, but reasonable, and for the first time possible, easy perhaps
even. In the absolute quiet of this neighbourhood I could hear ahead
of me shouted words and laughter which must come from tipsy revellers
staggering home. I waited to see them, I stood peering in the
direction from which I had heard the sound. But I was obliged to wait
for some time, for the surrounding silence was so intense that it
allowed to travel with the utmost clearness and strength sounds that
were still a long way off. Finally the revellers did appear; not, as
I had supposed, in front of me, but ever so far behind. Whether the
intersection of side-streets, the interposition of buildings had, by
reverberation, brought about this acoustic error, or because it is
very difficult to locate a sound when the place from which it comes is
not known, I had been as far wrong over direction as over distance.

The wind grew stronger. It was thick and bristling with coming snow. I
returned to the main street and jumped on board the little tramway-car
on which, from its platform, an officer, without apparently seeing
them, was acknowledging the salutes of the loutish soldiers who
trudged past along the pavement, their faces daubed crimson by the
cold, reminding me, in this little town which the sudden leap from
autumn into early winter seemed to have transported farther north, of
the rubicund faces which Breughel gives to his merry, junketing,
frostbound peasants.

And sure enough at the hotel where I was to meet Saint-Loup and his
friends and to which the fair now beginning had attracted a number of
people from near and far, I found, as I hurried across the courtyard
with its glimpses of glowing kitchens in which chickens were turning
on spits, pigs were roasting, lobsters being flung, alive, into what
the landlord called the 'everlasting fire,' an influx (worthy of some
_Numbering of the People Before Bethlehem_ such as the old Flemish
masters used to paint) of new arrivals who assembled there in groups,
asking the landlord or one of his staff (who, if he did not like the
look of them, would recommend lodgings elsewhere in the town) whether
they could have dinner and beds, while a scullion hurried past holding
a struggling fowl by the neck. And similarly, in the big dining-room
which I crossed the first day before coming to the smaller room in
which my friend was waiting for me, it was of some feast in the
Gospels portrayed with a mediaeval simplicity and an exaggeration
typically Flemish that one was reminded by the quantity of fish,
pullets, grouse, woodcock, pigeons, brought in dressed and garnished
and piping hot by breathless waiters who slid over the polished floor
to gain speed and set them down on the huge carving table where they
were at once cut up but where—for most of the people had nearly
finished dinner when I arrived—they accumulated untouched, as though
their profusion and the haste of those who brought them in were due
not so much to the requirements of the diners as to respect for the
sacred text, scrupulously followed in the letter but quaintly
illustrated by real details borrowed from local custom, and to an
aesthetic and religious scruple for making evident to the eye the
solemnity of the feast by the profusion of the victuals and the
assiduity of the servers. One of these stood lost in thought at the
far end of the room by a sideboard; and to find out from him, who
alone appeared calm enough to be capable of answering me, in which
room our table had been laid, making my way forward among the
chafing-dishes that had been lighted here and there to keep the late
comers' plates from growing cold (which did not, however, prevent the
dessert, in the centre of the room, from being piled on the
outstretched hands of a huge mannikin, sometimes supported on the
wings of a duck, apparently of crystal, but really of ice, carved
afresh every day with a hot iron by a sculptor-cook, quite in the
Flemish manner), I went straight—at the risk of being knocked down by
his colleagues—towards this servitor, in whom I felt that I
recognised a character who is traditionally present in all these
sacred subjects, for he reproduced with scrupulous accuracy the blunt
features, fatuous and ill-drawn, the musing expression, already half
aware of the miracle of a divine presence which the others have not
yet begun to suspect. I should add that, in view probably of the
coming fair, this presentation was strengthened by a celestial
contingent, recruited in mass, of cherubim and seraphim. A young angel
musician, whose fair hair enclosed a fourteen-year-old face, was not,
it was true, playing on any instrument, but stood musing before a gong
or a pile of plates, while other less infantile angels flew swiftly
across the boundless expanse of the room, beating the air with the
ceaseless fluttering of the napkins which fell along the lines of
their bodies like the wings in 'primitive' paintings, with pointed
ends. Fleeing those ill-defined regions, screened by a hedge of palms
through which the angelic servitors looked, from a distance, as though
they had floated down out of the empyrean, I explored my way to the
smaller room in which Saint-Loup's table was laid. I found there
several of his friends who dined with him regularly, nobles except for
one or two commoners in whom the young nobles had, in their school
days, detected likely friends, and with whom they readily associated,
proving thereby that they were not on principle hostile to the middle
class, even though it were Republican, provided it had clean hands and
went to mass. On the first of these evenings, before we sat down to
dinner, I drew Saint-Loup into a corner and, in front of all the rest
but so that they should not hear me, said to him:

"Robert, this is hardly the time or the place for what I am going to
say, but I shan't be a second. I keep on forgetting to ask you when
I'm in the barracks; isn't that Mme. de Guermantes's photograph that
you have on your table?"

"Why, yes; my good aunt."

"Of course she is; what a fool I am; you told me before that she was;
I'd forgotten all about her being your aunt. I say, your friends will
be getting impatient, we must be quick, they're looking at us; another
time will do; it isn't at all important."

"That's all right; go on as long as you like. They can wait."

"No, no; I do want to be polite to them; they're so nice; besides, it
doesn't really matter in the least, I assure you."

"Do you know that worthy Oriane, then?"

This 'worthy Oriane,' as he might have said, 'that good Oriane,' did
not imply that Saint-Loup regarded Mme. de Guermantes as especially
good. In this instance the words 'good,' 'excellent,' 'worthy' are
mere reinforcements of the demonstrative 'that,' indicating a person
who is known to both parties and of whom the speaker does not quite
know what to say to someone outside the intimate circle. The word
'good' does duty as a stopgap and keeps the conversation going for a
moment until the speaker has hit upon "Do you see much of her?" or "I
haven't set eyes on her for months," or "I shall be seeing her on
Tuesday," or "She must be getting on, now, you know."

"I can't tell you how funny it is that it should be her photograph,
because we're living in her house now, in Paris, and I've been hearing
the most astounding things" (I should have been hard put to it to say
what) "about her, which have made me immensely interested in her, only
from a literary point of view, don't you know, from a—how shall I put
it—from a Balzacian point of view; but you're so clever you can see
what I mean; I don't need to explain things to you; but we must hurry
up; what on earth will your friends think of my manners?"

"They will think absolutely nothing; I have told them that you are
sublime, and they are a great deal more alarmed than you are."

"You are too kind. But listen, what I want to say is this: I suppose
Mme. de Guermantes hasn't any idea that I know you, has she?"

"I can't say; I haven't seen her since the summer, because I haven't
had any leave since she's been in town."

"What I was going to say is this: I've been told that she looks on me
as an absolute idiot."

"That I do not believe; Oriane is not exactly an eagle, but all the
same she's by no means stupid."

"You know that, as a rule, I don't care about your advertising the
good opinion you're kind enough to hold of me; I'm not conceited.
That's why I'm sorry you should have said flattering things about me
to your friends here (we will go back to them in two seconds). But
Mme. de Guermantes is different; if you could let her know—if you
would even exaggerate a trifle—what you think of me, you would give
me great pleasure."

"Why, of course I will, if that's all you want me to do; it's not very
difficult; but what difference can it possibly make to you what she
thinks of you? I suppose you think her no end of a joke, really;
anyhow, if that's all you want we can discuss it in front of the
others or when we are by ourselves; I'm afraid of your tiring yourself
if you stand talking, and it's so inconvenient too, when we have heaps
of opportunities of being alone together."

It was precisely this inconvenience that had given me courage to
approach Robert; the presence of the others was for me a pretext that
justified my giving my remarks a curt and incoherent form, under cover
of which I could more easily dissemble the falsehood of my saying to
my friend that I had forgotten his connexion with the Duchess, and
also did not give him time to frame—with regard to my reasons for
wishing that Mme. de Guermantes should know that I was his friend, was
clever, and so forth—questions which would have been all the more
disturbing in that I should not have been able to answer them.

"Robert, I'm surprised that a man of your intelligence should fail to
understand that one doesn't discuss the things that will give one's
friends pleasure; one does them. Now I, if you were to ask me no
matter what, and indeed I only wish you would ask me to do something
for you, I can assure you I shouldn't want any explanations. I may ask
you for more than I really want; I have no desire to know Mme. de
Guermantes, but just to test you I ought to have said that I was
anxious to dine with Mme. de Guermantes; I am sure you would never
have done it."

"Not only should I have done it, I will do it."


"Next time I'm in Paris, three weeks from now, I expect."

"We shall see; I dare say she won't want to see me, though. I can't
tell you how grateful I am."

"Not at all; it's nothing."

"Don't say that; it's everything in the world, because now I can see
what sort of friend you are; whether what I ask you to do is important
or not, disagreeable or not, whether I am really keen about it or ask
you only as a test, it makes no difference; you say you will do it,
and there you shew the fineness of your mind and heart. A stupid friend
would have started a discussion."

Which was exactly what he had just been doing; but perhaps I wanted to
flatter his self-esteem; perhaps also I was sincere, the sole
touchstone of merit seeming to me to be the extent to which a friend
could be useful in respect of the one thing that seemed to me to have
any importance, namely my love. Then I went on, perhaps from cunning,
possibly from a genuine increase of affection inspired by gratitude,
expectancy, and the copy of Mme. de Guermantes's very features which
nature had made in producing her nephew Robert: "But, I say, we
mustn't keep them waiting any longer, and I've mentioned only one of
the two things I wanted to ask you, the less important; the other is
more important to me, but I'm afraid you will never consent. Would it
bore you if we were to call each other _tu_?"

"Bore me? My dear fellow! Joy! Tears of joy! Undreamed-of happiness!"

"Thank you—_tu_ I mean; you begin first—ever so much. It is such a
pleasure to me that you needn't do anything about Mme. de Guermantes
if you'd rather not, this is quite enough for me."

"I can do both."

"I say, Robert! Listen to me a minute," I said to him later while we
were at dinner. "Oh, it's really too absurd the way our conversation
is always being interrupted, I can't think why—you remember the lady
I was speaking to you about just now."


"You're quite sure you know who' I mean?"

"Why, what do you take me for, a village idiot?"

"You wouldn't care to give me her photograph, I suppose?"

I had meant to ask him only for the loan of it. But when the time came
to speak I felt shy, I decided that the request was indiscreet, and in
order to hide my confusion I put the question more bluntly, and
increased my demand, as if it had been quite natural.

"No; I should have to ask her permission first," was his answer.

He blushed as he spoke. I could see that he had a reservation in his
mind, that he credited me also with one, that he would give only a
partial service to my love, under the restraint of certain moral
principles, and for this I hated him.

At the same time I was touched to see how differently Saint-Loup
behaved towards me now that I was no longer alone with him, and that
his friends formed an audience. His increased affability would have
left me cold had I thought that it was deliberately assumed; but I
could feel that it was spontaneous and consisted only of all that he
had to say about me in my absence and refrained as a rule from saying
when we were together by ourselves. In our private conversations I
might certainly suspect the pleasure that he found in talking to me,
but that pleasure he almost always left unexpressed. Now, at the same
remarks from me which, as a rule, he enjoyed without shewing it, he
watched from the corner of his eye to see whether they produced on his
friends the effect on which he had counted, an effect corresponding to
what he had promised them beforehand. The mother of a girl in her
first season could be no more unrelaxing in her attention to her
daughter's responses and to the attitude of the public. If I had made
some remark at which, alone in my company, he would merely have
smiled, he was afraid that the others might not have seen the point,
and put in a "What's that?" to make me repeat what I had said, to
attract attention, and turning at once to his friends and making
himself automatically, by facing them with a hearty laugh, the
fugleman of their laughter, presented me for the first time with the
opinion that he actually held of me and must often have expressed to
them. So that I caught sight of myself suddenly from without, like a
person who reads his name in a newspaper or sees himself in a mirror.

It occurred to me, one of these evenings, to tell a mildly amusing
story about Mme. Blandais, but I stopped at once, remembering that
Saint-Loup knew it already, and that when I had tried to tell him it
on the day following my arrival he had interrupted me with: "You told
me that before, at Balbec." I was surprised, therefore, to find him
begging me to go on and assuring me that he did not know the story,
and that it would amuse him immensely. "You've forgotten it for the
moment," I said to him, "but you'll remember as I go on." "No, really;
I swear you're mistaken. You've never told me. Do go on." And
throughout the story he fixed a feverish and enraptured gaze
alternately on myself and on his friends. I realised only after I had
finished, amid general laughter, that it had struck him that this
story would give his friends a good idea of my wit, and that it was
for this reason that he had pretended not to know it. Such is the
stuff of friendship.

On the third evening, one of his friends, to whom I had not had an
opportunity before of speaking, conversed with me at great length; and
I overheard him telling Saint-Loup how much he had been enjoying
himself. And indeed we sat talking together almost all evening,
leaving our glasses of sauterne untouched on the table before us,
isolated, sheltered from the others by the sumptuous curtains of one
of those intuitive sympathies between man and man which, when they are
not based upon any physical attraction, are the only kind that is
altogether mysterious. Of such an enigmatic nature had seemed to me,
at Balbec, that feeling which Saint-Loup had for me, which was not to
be confused with the interest of our conversations, a feeling free
from any material association, invisible, intangible, and yet a thing
of the presence of which in himself, like a sort of inflammatory gas,
he had been so far conscious as to refer to it with a smile. And yet
there was perhaps something more surprising still in this sympathy
born here in a single evening, like a flower that had budded and
opened in a few minutes in the warmth of this little room. I could not
help asking Robert when he spoke to me about Balbec whether it were
really settled that he was to marry Mlle. d'Ambresac. He assured me
that not only was it not settled, but there had never been any thought
of such a match, he had never seen her, he did not know who she was.
If at that moment I had happened to see any of the social gossipers
who had told me of this coming event, they would promptly have
announced the betrothal of Mlle. d'Ambresac to some one who was not
Saint-Loup and that of Saint-Loup to some one who was not Mlle.
d'Ambresac. I should have surprised them greatly had I reminded them
of their incompatible and still so recent predictions. In order that
this little game may continue, and multiply false reports by attaching
the greatest possible number to every name in turn, nature has
furnished those who play it with a memory as short as their credulity
is long.

Saint-Loup had spoken to me of another of his friends who was present
also one with whom he was on particularly good terms just then, since
they were the only two advocates in their mess of the retrial of

Just as a brother of this friend of Saint-Loup, who had been trained
at the Schola Cantorum, thought about every new musical work not at
all what his father, his mother, his cousins, his club friends
thought, but exactly what the other students thought at the Schola, so
this non-commissioned nobleman (of whom Bloch formed an extraordinary
opinion when I told him about him, because, touched to hear that he
belonged to the same party as himself, he nevertheless imagined him on
account of his aristocratic birth and religious and military
upbringing to be as different as possible, endowed with the same
romantic attraction as a native of a distant country) had a
'mentality,' as people were now beginning to say, analogous to that of
the whole body of Dreyfusards in general and of Bloch in particular,
on which the traditions of his family and the interests of his career
could retain no hold whatever. Similarly one of Saint-Loup's cousins
had married a young Eastern princess who was said to write poetry
quite as fine as Victor Hugo's or Alfred de Vigny's, and in spite of
this was supposed to have a different type of mind from what one would
naturally expect, the mind of an Eastern princess immured in an
Arabian Nights palace. For the writers who had the privilege of
meeting her was reserved the disappointment or rather the joy of
listening to conversation which gave the impression not of
Scheherazade but of a person of genius of the type of Alfred de Vigny
or Victor Hugo.

"That fellow? Oh, he's not like Saint-Loup, he's a regular devil," my
new friend informed me; "he's not even straight about it. At first, he
used to say: 'Just wait a little, there's a man I know well, a clever,
kind-hearted fellow, General de Boisdeffre; you need have no
hesitation in accepting his decision.' But as soon as he heard that
Boisdeffre had pronounced Dreyfus guilty, Boisdeffre ceased to count:
clericalism, staff prejudices, prevented his forming a candid opinion,
although there is no one in the world (or was, rather, before this
Dreyfus business) half so clerical as our friend. Next he told us that
now we were sure to get the truth, the case had been put in the hands
of Saussier, and he, a soldier of the Republic (our friend coming of
an ultra-monarchist family, if you please), was a man of bronze, a
stern unyielding conscience. But when Saussier pronounced Esterhazy
innocent, he found fresh reasons to account for the decision, reasons
damaging not to Dreyfus but to General Saussier. It was the
militarist spirit that blinded Saussier (and I must explain to you
that our friend is just as much militarist as clerical, or at least he
was; I don't know what to think of him now). His family are all
broken-hearted at seeing him possessed by such ideas."

"Don't you think," I suggested, turning half towards Saint-Loup so as
not to appear to be cutting myself off from him, as well as towards
his friend, and so that we might all three join in the conversation,
"that the influence we ascribe to environment is particularly true of
intellectual environment. One is the man of one's idea. There are far
fewer ideas than men, therefore all men with similar ideas are alike.
As there is nothing material in an idea, so the people who are only
materially neighbours of the man with an idea can do nothing to alter

At this point I was interrupted by Saint-Loup, because another of the
young men had leaned across to him with a smile and, pointing to me,
exclaimed: "Duroc! Duroc all over!" I had no idea what this might
mean, but I felt the expression on the shy young face to be more than
friendly. While I was speaking, the approbation of the party seemed
to Saint-Loup superfluous; he insisted on silence. And just as a
conductor stops his orchestra with a rap from his baton because some
one in the audience has made a noise, so he rebuked the author of this
disturbance: "Gibergue, you must keep your mouth shut when people are
speaking. You can tell us about it afterwards." And to me: "Please go

I gave a sigh of relief, for I had been afraid that he was going to
make me begin all over again.

"And as an idea," I went on, "is a thing that cannot participate in
human interests and would be incapable of deriving any benefit from
them, the men who are governed by an idea are not influenced by
material considerations."

When I had finished, "That's one in the eye for you, my boys,"
exclaimed Saint-Loup, who had been following me with his gaze with the
same anxious solicitude as if I had been walking upon a tight-rope.
"What were you going to say, Gibergue?"

"I was just saying that your friend reminded me of Major Duroc. I
seemed to hear him speaking."

"Why, I've often thought so myself," replied Saint-Loup; "they have
several points in common, but you'll find there are a thousand things
in this fellow that Duroc hasn't got."

Saint-Loup was not satisfied with this comparison. In an ecstasy of
joy, into which there no doubt entered the joy that he felt in making
me shine before his friends, with extreme volubility, stroking me as
though he were rubbing down a horse that had just come first past the
post, he reiterated: "You're the cleverest man I know, do you hear?"
He corrected himself, and added: "You and Elstir.—You don't mind my
bracketing him with you, I hope. You understand—punctiliousness. It's
like this: I say it to you as one might have said to Balzac: 'You are
the greatest novelist of the century—you and Stendhal.' Excessive
punctiliousness, don't you know, and at heart an immense admiration.
No? You don't admit Stendhal?" he went on, with an ingenuous
confidence in my judgment which found expression in a charming,
smiling, almost childish glance of interrogation from his green eyes.
"Oh, good! I see you're on my side; Bloch can't stand Stendhal. I
think it's idiotic of him. The Chartreuse is after all an immense
work, don't you think? I am so glad you agree with me. What is it you
like best in the _Chartreuse_, answer me?" he appealed to me with a
boyish impetuosity. And the menace of his physical strength made the
question almost terrifying. "Mosca? Fabrice?" I answered timidly that
Mosca reminded me a little of M. de Norpois. Whereupon peals of
laughter from the young Siegfried Saint-Loup. And while I was going on
to explain: "But Mosca is far more intelligent, not so pedantic," I
heard Robert cry: "Bravo!" actually clapping his hands, and, helpless
with laughter, gasp: "Oh, perfect! Admirable! You really are

I took a particular pleasure in talking to this young man, as for that
matter to all Robert's friends and to Robert himself, about their
barracks, the officers of the garrison, and the army in general.
Thanks to the immensely enlarged scale on which we see the things,
however petty they may be, in the midst of which we eat, and talk, and
lead our real life; thanks to that formidable enlargement which they
undergo, and the effect of which is that the rest of the world, not
being present, cannot compete with them, and assumes in comparison the
unsubstantiality of a dream, I had begun to take an interest in the
various personalities of the barracks, in the officers whom I saw in
the square when I went to visit Saint-Loup, or, if I was awake then,
when the regiment passed beneath my windows. I should have liked to
know more about the major whom Saint-Loup so greatly admired, and
about the course of military history which would have appealed to me
"even from an aesthetic point of view." I knew that with Robert the
spoken word was, only too often, a trifle hollow, but at other times
implied the assimilation of valuable ideas which he was fully capable
of grasping. Unfortunately, from the military point of view Robert was
exclusively preoccupied at this time with the case of Dreyfus. He
spoke little about it, since he alone of the party at table was a
Dreyfusard; the others were violently opposed to the idea of a fresh
trial, except my other neighbour, my new friend, and his opinions
appeared to be somewhat vague. A firm admirer of the colonel, who was
regarded as an exceptionally competent officer and had denounced the
current agitation against the Army in several of his regimental
orders, which won him the reputation of being an anti-Dreyfusard, my
neighbour had heard that his commanding officer had let fall certain
remarks which had led to the supposition that he had his doubts as to
the guilt of Dreyfus and retained his admiration for Picquart. In the
latter respect, at any rate, the rumour of Dreyfusism as applied to
the colonel was as ill-founded as are all the rumours, springing from
none knows where, which float around any great scandal. For, shortly
afterwards, this colonel having been detailed to interrogate the
former Chief of the Intelligence Branch, had treated him with a
brutality and contempt the like of which had never been known before.
However this might be (and naturally he had not taken the liberty of
going direct to the colonel for his information), my neighbour had
paid Saint-Loup the compliment of telling him—in the tone in which a
Catholic lady might tell a Jewish lady that her parish priest
denounced the pogroms in Russia and might openly admire the generosity
of certain Israelites—that their colonel was not, with regard to
Dreyfusism—to a certain kind of Dreyfusism, at least—the fanatical,
narrow opponent that he had been made out to be.

"I am not surprised," was Saint-Loup's comment; "for he's a sensible
man. But in spite of that he is blinded by the prejudices of his
caste, and above all by his clericalism. Now," he turned to me, "Major
Duroc, the lecturer on military history I was telling you about;
there's a man who is whole-heartedly in support of our views, or so
I'm told. And I should have been surprised to hear that he wasn't, for
he's not only a brilliantly clever man, but a Radical-Socialist and a

Partly out of courtesy to his friends, whom these expressions of
Saint-Loup's faith in Dreyfus made uncomfortable, and also because the
subject was of more interest to myself, I asked my neighbour if it
were true that this major gave a demonstration of military history
which had a genuine aesthetic beauty. "It is absolutely true."

"But what do you mean by that?"

"Well, all that you read, let us say, in the narrative of a military
historian, the smallest facts, the most trivial happenings, are only
the outward signs of an idea which has to be analysed, and which often
brings to light other ideas, like a palimpsest. So that you have a
field for study as intellectual as any science you care to name, or
any art, and one that is satisfying to the mind."

"Give me an example or two, if you don't mind."

"It is not very easy to explain," Saint-Loup broke in. "You read, let
us say, that this or that Corps has tried... but before we go any
further, the serial number of the Corps, its order of battle are not
without their significance. If it is not the first time that the
operation has been attempted, and if for the same operation we find a
different Corps being brought up, it is perhaps a sign that the
previous Corps have been wiped out or have suffered heavy casualties
in the said operation; that they are no longer in a fit state to carry
it through successfully. Next, we must ask ourselves what was this
Corps which is now out of action; if it was composed of shock troops,
held in reserve for big attacks, a fresh Corps of inferior quality
will have little chance of succeeding where the first has failed.
Furthermore, if we are not at the start of a campaign, this fresh
Corps may itself be a composite formation of odds and ends withdrawn
from other Corps, which throws a light on the strength of the forces
the belligerent still has at his disposal and the proximity of the
moment when his forces shall be definitely inferior to the enemy's,
which gives to the operation on which this Corps is about to engage a
different meaning, because, if it is no longer in a condition to make
good its losses, its successes even will only help mathematically to
bring it nearer to its ultimate destruction. And then, the serial
number of the Corps that it has facing it is of no less significance.
If, for instance, it is a much weaker unit, which has already
accounted for several important units of the attacking force, the
whole nature of the operation is changed, since, even if it should end
in the loss of the position which the defending force has been
holding, simply to have held it for any length of time may be a great
success if a very small defending force has been sufficient to disable
highly important forces on the other side. You can understand that if,
in the analysis of the Corps engaged on both sides, there are all
these points of importance, the study of the position itself, of the
roads, of the railways which it commands, of the lines of
communication which it protects, is of the very highest. One must
study what I may call the whole geographical context," he added with a
laugh. And indeed he was so delighted with this expression that, every
time he employed it, even months afterwards, it was always accompanied
by the same laugh. "While the operation is being prepared by one of
the belligerents, if you read that one of his patrols has been wiped
out in the neighbourhood of the position by the other belligerent, one
of the conclusions which you are entitled to draw is that one side was
attempting to reconnoitre the defensive works with which the other
intended to resist his attack. An exceptional burst of activity at a
given point may indicate the desire to capture that point, but equally
well the desire to hold the enemy in check there, not to retaliate at
the point at which he has attacked you; or it may indeed be only a
feint, intended to cover by an increased activity the relief of troops
in that sector. (Which was a classic feint in Napoleon's wars.) On the
other hand, to appreciate the significance of any movement, its
probable object, and, as a corollary, the other movements by which it
will be accompanied or followed, it is not immaterial to consult, not
so much the announcements issued by the Higher Command, which may be
intended to deceive the enemy, to mask a possible check, as the manual
of field operations in use in the country in question. We are always
entitled to assume that the manoeuvre which an army has attempted to
carry out is that prescribed by the rules that are applicable to the
circumstances. If, for instance, the rule lays down that a frontal
attack should be accompanied by a flank attack; if, after the flank
attack has failed, the Higher Command makes out that it had no
connexion with the main attack and was merely a diversion, there is a
strong likelihood that the truth will be found by consulting the rules
and not the reports issued from Headquarters. And there are not only
the regulations governing each army to be considered, but their
traditions, their habits, their doctrines; the study of diplomatic
activities, with their perpetual action or reaction upon military
activities, must not be neglected either. Incidents apparently
insignificant, which at the time are not understood, will explain to
you how the enemy, counting upon a support which these incidents shew
to have been withheld, was able to carry out only a part of his
strategic plan. So that, if you can read between the lines of military
history, what is a confused jumble for the ordinary reader becomes a
chain of reasoning as straightforward as a picture is for the
picture-lover who can see what the person portrayed is wearing and has
in his hands, while the visitor hurrying through the gallery is
bewildered by a blur of colour which gives him a headache. But just as
with certain pictures, in which it is not enough to observe that the
figure is holding a chalice, but one must know why the painter chose
to place a chalice in his hands, what it is intended to symbolise, so
these military operations, apart from their immediate object, are
quite regularly traced, in the mind of the general responsible for the
campaign, from the plans of earlier battles, which we may call the
past experience, the literature, the learning, the etymology, the
aristocracy (whichever you like) of the battles of to-day. Observe
that I am not speaking for the moment of the local, the (what shall I
call it?) spatial identity of battles. That exists also. A
battle-field has never been, and never will be throughout the
centuries, simply the ground upon which a particular battle has been
fought. If it has been a battle-field, that was because it combined
certain conditions of geographical position, of geological formation,
drawbacks even, of a kind that would obstruct the enemy (a river, for
instance, cutting his force in two), which made it a good field of
battle. And so what it has been it will continue to be. A painter
doesn't make a studio out of any old room; so you don't make a
battle-field out of any old piece of ground. There are places set
apart for the purpose. But, once again, this is not what I was telling
you about; it was the type of battle which one follows, in a sort of
strategic tracing, a tactical imitation, if you like. Battles like
Ulm, Lodi, Leipzig, Cannae. I can't say whether there is ever going to
be another war, or what nations are going to fight in it, but, if a
war does come, you may be sure that it will include (and deliberately,
on the commander's part) a Cannae, an Austerlitz, a Rosbach, a
Waterloo. Some of our people say quite openly that Marshal von
Schieffer and General Falkenhausen have prepared a Battle of Cannae
against France, in the Hannibal style, pinning their enemy down along
his whole front, and advancing on both flanks, especially through
Belgium, while Bernhardi prefers the oblique order of Frederick the
Great, Lenthen rather than Cannae. Others expound their views less
crudely, but I can tell you one thing, my boy, that Beauconseil, the
squadron commander I introduced you to the other day, who is an
officer with a very great future before him, has swotted up a little
Pratzen attack of his own; he knows it inside out, he is keeping it up
his sleeve, and if he ever has an opportunity to put it into practice
he will make a clean job of it and let us have it on a big scale. The
break through in the centre at Rivoli, too; that's a thing that will
crop up if there's ever another war. It's no more obsolete than the
_Iliad_. I must add that we are practically condemned to make frontal
attacks, because we can't afford to repeat the mistake we made in
Seventy; we must assume the offensive, and nothing else. The only
thing that troubles me is that if I see only the slower, more
antiquated minds among us opposing this splendid doctrine, still, one
of the youngest of my masters, who is a genius, I mean Mangin, would
like us to leave room, provisionally of course, for the defensive. It
is not very easy to answer him when he cites the example of
Austerlitz, where the defence was merely a prelude to attack and

The enunciation of these theories by Saint-Loup made me happy. They
gave me to hope that perhaps I was not being led astray, in my life at
Doncières, with regard to these officers whom I used to hear being
discussed while I sat sipping a sauterne which bathed them in its
charming golden glint, by the same magnifying power which had swollen
to such enormous proportions in my eyes while I was at Balbec the King
and Queen of the South Sea Island, the little group of the four
epicures, the young gambler, Legrandin's brother-in-law, now shrunken
so in my view as to appear non-existent. What gave me pleasure to-day
would not, perhaps, leave me indifferent to-morrow, as had always
happened hitherto; the creature that I still was at this moment was
not, perhaps, doomed to immediate destruction since to the ardent and
fugitive passion which I had felt on these few evenings for everything
connected with military life, Saint-Loup, by what he had just been
saying to me, touching the art of war, added an intellectual
foundation, of a permanent character, capable of attaching me to
itself so strongly that I might, without any attempt to deceive
myself, feel assured that after I had left Doncières I should continue
to take an interest in the work of my friends there, and should not be
long in coming to pay them another visit. At the same time, so as to
make quite sure that this art of war was indeed an art in the true
sense of the word:

"You interest me—I beg your pardon, _tu_ interest me enormously," I
said to Saint-Loup, "but tell me, there is one point that puzzles me.
I feel that I could be keenly thrilled by the art of strategy, but if
so I must first be sure that it is not so very different from the
other arts, that knowing the rules is not everything. You tell me that
plans of battles are copied. I do find something aesthetic, just as
you said, in seeing beneath a modern battle the plan of an older one,
I can't tell you how attractive it sounds. But then, does the genius
of the commander count for nothing? Does he really do no more than
apply the rules? Or, in point of science, are there great generals as
there are great surgeons, who, when the symptoms exhibited by two
states of ill-health are identical to the outward eye, nevertheless
feel, for some infinitesimal reason, founded perhaps on their
experience, but interpreted afresh, that in one case they ought to do
one thing, in another case another; that in one case it is better to
operate, in another to wait?"

"I should just say so! You will find Napoleon not attacking when all
the rules ordered him to attack, but some obscure divination warned
him not to. For instance, look at Austerlitz, or in 1806 take his
instructions to Lannes. But you will find certain generals slavishly
imitating one of Napoleon's movements and arriving at a diametrically
opposite result. There are a dozen examples of that in 1870. But even
for the interpretation of what the enemy _may_ do, what he actually
does is only a symptom which may mean any number of different things.
Each of them has an equal chance of being the right thing, if one
looks only to reasoning and science, just as in certain difficult
cases all the medical science in the world will be powerless to decide
whether the invisible tumour is malignant or not, whether or not the
operation ought to be performed. It is his instinct, his
divination—like Mme. de Thèbes (you follow me?)—which decides, in
the great general as in the great doctor. Thus I've been telling you,
to take one instance, what might be meant by a reconnaissance on the
eve of a battle. But it may mean a dozen other things also, such as to
make the enemy think you are going to attack him at one point whereas
you intend to attack him at another, to put out a screen which will
prevent him from seeing the preparations for your real operation, to
force him to bring up fresh troops, to hold them, to immobilise them
in a different place from where they are needed, to form an estimate
of the forces at his disposal, to feel him, to force him to shew his
hand. Sometimes, indeed, the fact that you employ an immense number of
troops in an operation is by no means a proof that that is your true
objective; for you may be justified in carrying it out, even if it is
only a feint, so that your feint may have a better chance of deceiving
the enemy. If I had time now to go through the Napoleonic wars from
this point of view, I assure you that these simple classic movements
which we study here, and which you will come and see us practising in
the field, just for the pleasure of a walk, you young rascal—no, I
know you're not well, I apologise!—well, in a war, when you feel
behind you the vigilance, the judgment, the profound study of the
Higher Command, you are as much moved by them as by the simple lamps
of a lighthouse, only a material combustion, but an emanation of the
spirit, sweeping through space to warn ships of danger. I may have
been wrong, perhaps, in speaking to you only of the literature of war.
In reality, as the formation of the soil, the direction of wind and
light tell us which way a tree will grow, so the conditions in which a
campaign is fought, the features of the country through which you
march, prescribe, to a certain extent, and limit the number of the
plans among which the general has to choose. Which means that along a
mountain range, through a system of valleys, over certain plains, it
is almost with the inevitability and the tremendous beauty of an
avalanche that you can forecast the line of an army on the march."

"Now you deny me that freedom of choice in the commander, that power
of divination in the enemy who is trying to discover his plan, which
you allowed me a moment ago."

"Not at all. You remember that book of philosophy we read together at
Balbec, the richness of the world of possibilities compared with the
real world. Very well. It is the same again with the art of strategy.
In a given situation there will be four plans that offer themselves,
one of which the general has to choose, as a disease may pass through
various phases for which the doctor has to watch. And here again the
weakness and greatness of the human elements are fresh causes of
uncertainty. For of these four plans let us assume that contingent
reasons (such as the attainment of minor objects, or time, which may
be pressing, or the smallness of his effective strength and shortage
of rations) lead the general to prefer the first, which is less
perfect, but less costly also to carry out, is more rapid, and has for
its terrain a richer country for feeding his troops. He may, after
having begun with this plan, which the enemy, uncertain at first, will
soon detect, find that success lies beyond his grasp, the difficulties
being too great (that is what I call the element of human weakness),
abandon it and try the second or third or fourth. But it may equally
be that he has tried the first plan (and this is what I call human
greatness) merely as a feint to pin down the enemy, so as to surprise
him later at a point where he has not been expecting an attack. Thus
at Ulm, Mack, who expected the enemy to advance from the west, was
surrounded from the north where he thought he was perfectly safe. My
example is not a very good one, as a matter of fact. And Ulm is a
better type of enveloping battle, which the future will see
reproduced, because it is not only a classic example from which
generals will seek inspiration, but a form that is to some extent
necessary (one of several necessities, which leaves room for choice,
for variety) like a type of crystallisation. But it doesn't much
matter, really, because these conditions are after all artificial. To
go back to our philosophy book; it is like the rules of logic or
scientific laws, reality does conform to it more or less, but bear in
mind that the great mathematician Poincaré is by no means certain that
mathematics are strictly accurate. As to the rules themselves, which I
mentioned to you, they are of secondary importance really, and besides
they are altered from time to time. We cavalrymen, for instance, have
to go by the _Field Service_ of 1895, which, you may say, is out of
date since it is based on the old and obsolete doctrine which
maintains that cavalry warfare has little more than a moral effect, in
the panic that the charge creates in the enemy. Whereas the more
intelligent of our teachers, all the best brains in the cavalry, and
particularly the major I was telling you about, anticipate on the
contrary that the decisive victory will be obtained by a real
hand-to-hand encounter in which our weapons will be sabre and lance
and the side that can hold out longer will win, not simply morally and
by creating panic, but materially."

"Saint-Loup is quite right, and it is probable that the next _Field
Service_ will shew signs of this evolution," put in my other

"I am not ungrateful for your support, for your opinions seem to make
more impression upon my friend than mine," said Saint-Loup with a
smile, whether because the growing attraction between his comrade and
myself annoyed him slightly or because he thought it graceful to
solemnise it with this official confirmation. "Perhaps I may have
underestimated the importance of the rules; I don't know. They do
change, that must be admitted. But in the meantime they control the
military situation, the plans of campaign and concentration. If they
reflect a false conception of strategy they may be the principal cause
of defeat. All this is a little too technical for you," he remarked to
me. "After all, you may say that what does most to accelerate the
evolution of the art of war is wars themselves. In the course of a
campaign, if it is at all long, you will see one belligerent profiting
by the lessons furnished him by the successes and mistakes, perfecting
the methods of the other, who will improve on him in turn. But all
that is a thing of the past. With the terrible advance of artillery,
the wars of the future, if there are to be any more wars, will be so
short that, before we have had time to think of putting our lessons
into practice, peace will have been signed."

"Don't be so touchy," I told Saint-Loup, reverting to the first words
of this speech. "I was listening to you quite eagerly."

"If you will kindly not fly into a passion, and will allow me to
speak," his friend went on, "I shall add to what you have just been
saying that if battles copy and coincide with one another it is not
merely due to the mind of the commander. It may happen that a mistake
on his part (for instance, his failure to appreciate the strength of
the enemy) will lead him to call upon his men for extravagant
sacrifices, sacrifices which certain units will make with an
abnegation so sublime that their part in the battle will be analogous
to that played by some other unit in some other battle, and these will
be quoted in history as interchangeable examples: to stick to 1870, we
have the Prussian Guard at Saint-Privat, and the Turcos at
Frœschviller and Wissembourg."

"Ah! Interchangeable; very neat! Excellent! The lad has brains," was
Saint-Loup's comment.

I was not unmoved by these last examples, as always when, beneath the
particular instance, I was afforded a glimpse of the general law.
Still, the genius of the commander, that was what interested me, I was
anxious to discover in what it consisted, what steps, in given
circumstances, when the commander who lacked genius could not
withstand the enemy, the inspired leader would take to re-establish
his jeopardised position, which, according to Saint-Loup, was quite
possible and had been done by Napoleon more than once. And to
understand what military worth meant I asked for comparisons between
the various generals whom I knew by name, which of them had most
markedly the character of a leader, the gifts of a tactician; at the
risk of boring my new friends, who however shewed no signs of boredom,
but continued to answer me with an inexhaustible good nature.

I felt myself isolated, not only from the great, freezing night which
extended far around us and in which we heard from time to time the
whistle of a train which only rendered more keen the pleasure of being
where we were, or the chime of an hour which, happily, was still a
long way short of that at which these young men would have to buckle
on their sabres and go, but also from all my external obsessions,
almost from the memory of Mme. de Guermantes, by the hospitality of
Saint-Loup, to which that of his friends, reinforcing it, gave, so to
speak, a greater solidity; by the warmth also of this little
dining-room, by the savour of the well-chosen dishes that were set
before us. They gave as much pleasure to my imagination as to my
appetite; sometimes the little piece of still life from which they had
been taken, the rugged holy water stoup of the oyster in which
lingered a few drops of brackish water, or the knotted stem, the
yellow leaves of a bunch of grapes still enveloped them, inedible,
poetic and remote as a landscape, and producing, at different points
in the course of the meal, the impressions of rest in the shade of a
vine and of an excursion out to sea; on other evenings it was the cook
alone who threw into relief these original properties of our food,
which he presented in its natural setting, like a work of art; and a
fish cooked in wine was brought in on a long earthenware dish, on
which, as it stood out in relief on a bed of bluish herbs, unbreakable
now but still contorted from having been dropped alive into boiling
water, surrounded by a circle of satellite creatures in their shells,
crabs, shrimps and mussels, it had the appearance of being part of a
ceramic design by Bernard Palissy.

"I am jealous, furious," Saint-Loup attacked me, half smiling, half in
earnest, alluding to the interminable conversations aside which I had
been having with his friend. "Is it because you find him more
intelligent than me; do you like him better than me? Well, I suppose
he's everything now, and no one else is to have a look in!" Men who
are enormously in love with a woman, who live in the society of
woman-lovers, allow themselves pleasantries on which others, who would
see less innocence in them, would never venture.

When the conversation became general, they avoided any reference to
Dreyfus for fear of offending Saint-Loup. The following week, however,
two of his friends were remarking what a curious thing it was that,
living in so military an atmosphere, he was so keen a Dreyfusard,
almost an anti-militarist. "The reason is," I suggested, not wishing
to enter into details, "that the influence of environment is not so
important as people think..." I intended of course to stop at this
point, and not to reiterate the observations which I had made to
Saint-Loup a few days earlier. Since, however, I had repeated these
words almost textually, I proceeded to excuse myself by adding: "As,
in fact, I was saying the other day..." But I had reckoned without the
reverse side of Robert's polite admiration of myself and certain other
persons. That admiration reached its fulfilment in so entire an
assimilation of their ideas that, in the course of a day or two, he
would have completely forgotten that those ideas were not his own.
And so, in the matter of my modest theory, Saint-Loup, for all the
world as though it had always dwelt in his own brain, and as though I
were merely poaching on his preserves, felt it incumbent upon him to
greet my discovery with warm approval.

"Why, yes; environment is of no importance."

And with as much vehemence as if he were afraid of my interrupting, or
failing to understand him:

"The real influence is that of one's intellectual environment! One is
the man of one's idea!"

He stopped for a moment, with the satisfied smile of one who has
digested his dinner, dropped his eyeglass and, fixing me with a
gimlet-like stare:

"All men with similar ideas are alike," he informed me, with a
challenging air. Probably he had completely forgotten that I myself
had said to him, only a few days earlier, what on the other hand he
remembered so well.

I did not arrive at Saint-Loup's restaurant every evening in the same
state of mind. If a memory, a sorrow that weigh on us are able to
leave us so effectively that we are no longer aware of them, they can
also return and sometimes remain with us for a long time. There were
evenings when, as I passed through the town on my way to the
restaurant, I felt so keen a longing for Mme. de Guermantes that I
could scarcely breathe; you might have said that part of my breast had
been cut open by a skilled anatomist, taken out, and replaced by an
equal part of immaterial suffering, by an equivalent load of longing
and love. And however neatly the wound may have been stitched
together, there is not much comfort in life when regret for the loss
of another person is substituted for one's entrails, it seems to be
occupying more room than they, one feels it perpetually, and besides,
what a contradiction in terms to be obliged to _think_ a part of one's
body. Only it seems that we are worth more, somehow. At the whisper of
a breeze we sigh, from oppression, but from weariness also. I would
look up at the sky. If it were clear, I would say to myself: "Perhaps
she is in the country; she is looking at the same stars; and, for all
I know, when I arrive at the restaurant Robert may say to me: 'Good
news! I have just heard from my aunt; she wants to meet you; she is
coming down here.'" It was not in the firmament alone that I enshrined
the thought of Mme. de Guermantes, A passing breath of air, more
fragrant than the rest, seemed to bring me a message from her, as,
long ago, from Gilberte in the cornfields of Méséglise. We do not
change; we introduce into the feeling with which we regard a person
many slumbering elements which that feeling revives but which are
foreign to it. Besides, with these feelings for particular people,
there is always something in us that is trying to bring them nearer to
the truth, that is to say, to absorb them in a more general feeling,
common to the whole of humanity, with which people and the suffering
that they cause us are merely a means to enable us to communicate.
What brought a certain pleasure into my grief was that I knew it to be
a tiny fragment of the universal love. Simply because I thought that I
recognised sorrows which I had felt on Gilberte's account, or else
when in the evenings at Combray Mamma would not stay in any room, and
also the memory of certain pages of Bergotte, in the agony I now felt,
to which Mme. de Guermantes, her coldness, her absence, were not
clearly linked, as cause is to effect in the mind of a philosopher, I
did not conclude that Mme. de Guermantes was not the cause of that
agony. Is there not such a thing as a diffused bodily pain, extending,
radiating out into other parts, which, however, it leaves, to vanish
altogether, if the practitioner lays his finger on the precise spot
from which it springs? And yet, until that moment, its extension gave
it for us so vague, so fatal a semblance that, powerless to explain or
even to locate it, we imagined that there was no possibility of its
being healed. As I made my way to the restaurant I said to myself: "A
fortnight already since I last saw Mme. de Guermantes." A fortnight
which did not appear so enormous an interval save to me, who, when
Mme. de Guermantes was concerned, reckoned time by minutes. For me it
was no longer the stars and the breeze merely, but the arithmetical
divisions of time that assumed a dolorous and poetic aspect. Each day
now was like the loose crest of a crumbling mountain, down one side of
which I felt that I could descend into oblivion, but down the other
was borne by the necessity of seeing the Duchess again. And I was
continually inclining one way or the other, having no stable
equilibrium. One day I said to myself: "Perhaps there will be a letter
to-night;" and on entering the dining-room I found courage to ask

"You don't happen to have had any news from Paris?"

"Yes," he replied gloomily; "bad news."

I breathed a sigh of relief when I realised that it was only he who
was unhappy, and that the news came from his mistress. But I soon saw
that one of its consequences would be to prevent Robert, for ever so
long, from taking me to see his aunt.

I learned that a quarrel had broken out between him and his mistress,
through the post presumably, unless she had come down to pay him a
flying visit between trains. And the quarrels, even when relatively
slight, which they had previously had, had always seemed as though
they must prove insoluble. For she was a girl of violent temper, who
would stamp her foot and burst into tears for reasons as
incomprehensible as those that make children shut themselves into dark
cupboards, not come out for dinner, refuse to give any explanation,
and only redouble their sobs when, our patience exhausted, we visit
them with a whipping. To say that Saint-Loup suffered terribly from
this estrangement would be an understatement of the truth, which would
give the reader a false impression of his grief. When he found
himself alone, the only picture in his mind being that of his mistress
parting from him with the respect which she had felt for him at the
sight of his energy, the anxieties which he had had at first gave way
before the irreparable, and the cessation of an anxiety is so pleasant
a thing that the rupture, once it was certain, assumed for him
something of the same kind of charm as a reconciliation. What he began
to suffer from, a little later, was a secondary and accidental grief,
the tide of which flowed incessantly from his own heart, at the idea
that perhaps she would be glad to make it up, that it was not
inconceivable that she was waiting for a word from him, that in the
mean time, to be avenged on him, she would perhaps on a certain
evening, in a certain place, do a certain thing, and that he had only
to telegraph to her that he was coming for it not to happen, that
others perhaps were taking advantage of the time which he was letting
slip, and that in a few days it would be too late to recapture her,
for she would be already bespoke. Among all these possibilities he was
certain of nothing; his mistress preserved a silence which wrought him
up to such a frenzy of grief that he began to ask himself whether she
might not be in hiding at Doncières, or have sailed for the Indies.

It has been said that silence is a force; in another and widely
different sense it is a tremendous force in the hands of those who are
loved. It increases the anxiety of the lover who has to wait. Nothing
so tempts us to approach another person as what is keeping us apart;
and what barrier is there so insurmountable as silence? It has been
said also that silence is a torture, capable of goading to madness him
who is condemned to it in a prison cell. But what a torture—keener
than that of having to keep silence—to have to endure the silence of
the person one loves! Robert asked himself: "What can she be doing,
never to send me a single word, like this? She hates me, perhaps, and
will always go on hating me." And he reproached himself. Thus her
silence did indeed drive him mad with jealousy and remorse. Besides,
more cruel than the silence of prisons, that kind of silence is in
itself a prison. An immaterial enclosure, I admit, but impenetrable,
this interposed slice of empty atmosphere through which, despite its
emptiness, the visual rays of the abandoned lover cannot pass. Is
there a more terrible illumination than that of silence which shews us
not one absent love but a thousand, and shews us each of them in the
act of indulging in some fresh betrayal? Sometimes, in an abrupt
relaxation of his strain, Robert would imagine that this period of
silence was just coming to an end, that the long expected letter was
on its way. He saw it, it arrived, he started at every sound, his
thirst was already quenched, he murmured: "The letter! The letter!"
After this glimpse of a phantom oasis of affection, he found himself
once more toiling across the real desert of a silence without end.

He suffered in anticipation, without a single omission, all the griefs
and pains of a rupture which at other moments he fancied he might
somehow contrive to avoid, like people who put all their affairs in
order with a view to a migration abroad which they never make, whose
minds, no longer certain where they will find themselves living next
day, flutter helplessly for the time being, detached from them, like a
heart that is taken out of a dying man and continues to beat, though
disjoined from the rest of his body. Anyhow, this hope that his
mistress would return gave him courage to persevere in the rupture, as
the belief that one will return alive from the battle helps one to
face death. And inasmuch as habit is, of all the plants of human
growth, the one that has least need of nutritious soil in order to
live, and is the first to appear upon what is apparently the most
barren rock, perhaps had he begun by effecting their rupture as a
feint he would in the end have grown genuinely accustomed to it. But
his uncertainty kept him in a state of emotion which, linked with the
memory of the woman herself, was akin to love. He forced himself,
nevertheless, not to write to her, thinking perhaps that it was a less
cruel torment to live without his mistress than with her in certain
conditions, or else that, after the way in which they had parted, it
was necessary to wait for excuses from her, if she was to keep what he
believed her to feel for him in the way, if not of love, at any rate
of esteem and regard. He contented himself with going to the
telephone, which had recently been installed at Doncières, and asking
for news from, or giving instructions to a lady's maid whom he had
procured and placed with his friend. These communications were, as it
turned out, complicated and took up much of his time, since,
influenced by what her literary friends preached to her about the
ugliness of the capital, but principally for the sake of her animals,
her dogs, her monkey, her canaries and her parrokeet, whose incessant
din her Paris landlord had declined to tolerate for another moment,
Robert's mistress had now taken a little house in the neighbourhood of
Versailles. Meanwhile he, down at Doncières, no longer slept a wink
all night. Once, in my room, overcome by exhaustion, he dozed off for
a little. But suddenly he began to talk, tried to get up and run, to
stop something from happening, said: "I hear her; you shan't... you
shan't...." He awoke. He had been dreaming, he explained to me, that
he was in the country with the serjeant-major. His host had tried to
keep him away from a certain part of the house. Saint-Loup had
discovered that the serjeant-major had staying with him a subaltern,
extremely rich and extremely vicious, whom he knew to have a violent
passion for his mistress. And suddenly in his dream he had distinctly
heard the spasmodic, regular cries which his mistress was in the habit
of uttering at the moment of gratification. He had tried to force the
serjeant-major to take him to the room in which she was. And the other
had held him back, to keep him from going there, with an air of
annoyance at such a want of discretion in a guest which, Robert said,
he would never be able to forget.

"It was an idiotic dream," he concluded, still quite breathless.

All the same I could see that, during the hour that followed, he was
more than once on the point of telephoning to his mistress to beg for
a reconciliation. My father had now had the telephone for some time
at home, but I doubt whether that would have been of much use to
Saint-Loup. Besides, it hardly seemed to me quite proper to make my
parents, or even a mechanical instrument installed in their house,
play pander between Saint-Loup and his mistress, ladylike and
high-minded as the latter might be. His bad dream began to fade from
his memory. With a fixed and absent stare, he came to see me on each
of those cruel days which traced in my mind as they followed one after
the other the splendid sweep of a staircase forged in hard metal on
which Robert stood asking himself what decision his friend was going
to take.

At length she wrote to ask whether he would consent to forgive her. As
soon as he realised that a definite rupture had been avoided he saw
all the disadvantages of a reconciliation. Besides, he had already
begun to suffer less acutely, and had almost accepted a grief the
sharp tooth of which he would have, in a few months perhaps, to feel
again if their intimacy were to be resumed. He did not hesitate for
long. And perhaps he hesitated only because he was now certain of
being able to recapture his mistress, of being able to do it and
therefore of doing it. Only she asked him, so that she might have time
to recover her equanimity, not to come to Paris at the New Year. Now
he had not the heart to go to Paris without seeing her. On the other
hand, she had declared her willingness to go abroad with him, bot for
that he would need to make a formal application for leave, which
Captain de Borodino was unwilling to grant.

"I'm sorry about it, because of your meeting with my aunt, which will
have to be put off. I dare say I shall be in Paris at Easter."

"We shan't be able to call on Mme. de Guermantes then, because I shall
have gone to Balbec. But, really, it doesn't matter in the least, I
assure you."

"To Balbec? But you didn't go there till August."

"I know; but next year they're making me go there earlier, for my

All that he feared was that I might form a bad impression of his
mistress, after what he had told me. "She is violent simply because
she is too frank, too thorough in her feelings. But she is a sublime
creature. You can't imagine what exquisite poetry there is in her. She
goes every year to spend all Souls' Day at Bruges. 'Nice' of her,
don't you think? If you ever do meet her you'll see what I mean; she
has a greatness...." And, as he was infected with certain of the
mannerisms used in the literary circles in which the lady moved:
"There is something sidereal about her, in fact something bardic; you
know what I mean, the poet merging into the priest."

I was searching all through dinner for a pretext which would enable
Saint-Loup to ask his aunt to see me without my having to wait until
he came to Paris. Now such a pretext was furnished by the desire that
I had to see some more pictures by Elstir, the famous painter whom
Saint-Loup and I had met at Balbec. A pretext behind which there was,
moreover, an element of truth, for if, on my visits to Elstir, what I
had asked of his painting had been that it should lead me to the
comprehension and love of things better than itself, a real thaw, an
authentic square in a country town, live women on a beach (all the
more would I have commissioned from it the portraits of the realities
which I had not been able to fathom, such as a lane of
hawthorn-blossoms, not so much that it might perpetuate their beauty
for me as that it might reveal that beauty to me), now, on the other
hand, it was the originality, the seductive attraction of those
paintings that aroused my desire, and what I wanted above anything
else was to look at other pictures by Elstir.

It seemed to me, also, that the least of his pictures were something
quite different from the masterpieces even of greater painters than
himself. His work was like a realm apart, whose frontiers were not to
be passed, matchless in substance. Eagerly collecting the infrequent
periodicals in which articles on him and his work had appeared, I had
learned that it was only recently that he had begun to paint
landscapes and still life, and that he had started with mythological
subjects (I had seen photographs of two of these in his studio), and
had then been for long under the influence of Japanese art.

Several of the works most characteristic of his various manners were
scattered about the provinces. A certain house at les Andelys, in
which there was one of his finest landscapes, seemed to me as
precious, gave me as keen a desire to go there and see it as did a
village in the Chartres district, among whose millstone walls was
enshrined a glorious painted window; and towards the possessor of this
treasure, towards the man who, inside his ugly house, on the main
Street, closeted like an astrologer, sat questioning one of those
mirrors of the world which Elstir's pictures were, and who had perhaps
bought it for many thousands of francs, I felt myself borne by that
instinctive sympathy which joins the very hearts, the inmost natures
of those who think alike upon a vital subject. Now three important
works by my favourite painter were described in one of these articles
as belonging to Mme. de Guermantes. So that it was, after all, quite
sincerely that, on the evening on which Saint-Loup told me of his
lady's projected visit to Bruges, I was able, during dinner, in front
of his friends, to let fall, as though on the spur of the moment:

"Listen, if you don't mind. Just one last word on the subject of the
lady we were speaking about. You remember Elstir, the painter I met at

"Why, of course I do."

"You remember how much I admired his work?"

"I do, quite well; and the letter we sent him."

"Very well, one of the reasons—not one of the chief reasons, a
subordinate reason—why I should like to meet the said lady—you do
know who' I mean, don't you?"

"Of course I do. How involved you're getting."

"Is that she has in her house one very fine picture, at least, by

"I say, I never knew that."

"Elstir will probably be at Balbec at Easter; you know he stays down
there now all the year round, practically. I should very much like to
have seen this picture before I leave Paris. I don't know whether
you're on sufficiently intimate terms with your aunt: but couldn't you
manage, somehow, to give her so good an impression of me that she
won't refuse, and then ask her if she'll let me come and see the
picture without you, since you won't be there?"

"That's all right. I'll answer for her; I'll make a special point of

"Oh, Robert, you are an angel; I do love you."

"It's very nice of you to love me, but it would be equally nice if you
were to call me _tu_, as you promised, and as you began to do."

"I hope it's not your departure that you two are plotting together,"
one of Robert's friends said to me. "You know, if Saint-Loup does go
on leave, it needn't make any difference, we shall still be here. It
will be less amusing for you, perhaps, but we'll do all we can to make
you forget his absence." As a matter of fact, just as we had decided
that Robert's mistress would have to go to Bruges by herself, the news
came that Captain de Borodino, obdurate hitherto in his refusal, had
given authority for Serjeant Saint-Loup to proceed on long leave to
Bruges. What had happened was this. The Prince, extremely proud of
his luxuriant head of hair, was an assiduous customer of the principal
hairdresser in the town, who had started life as a boy under Napoleon
III's barber. Captain de Borodino was on the best of terms with the
hairdresser, being, in spite of his air of majesty, quite simple in
his dealings with his inferiors. But the hairdresser, through whose
books the Prince's account had been running without payment for at
least five years, swollen no less by bottles of Portugal and Eau des
Souverains, irons, razors, and strops, than by the ordinary charges
for shampooing, haircutting and the like, had a greater respect for
Saint-Loup, who always paid on the nail and kept several carriages and
saddle-horses. Having learned of Saint-Loup's vexation at not being
able to go with his mistress, he had spoken strongly about it to the
Prince at a moment when he was trussed up in a white surplice with his
head held firmly over the back of the chair and his throat menaced by
a razor. This narrative of a young man's gallant adventures won from
the princely captain a smile of Bonapartish indulgence. It is hardly
probable that he thought of his unpaid bill, but the barber's
recommendation tended to put him in as good a humour as one from a
duke would have put him in a bad. While his chin was still smothered
in soap, the leave was promised, and the warrant was signed that
evening. As for the hairdresser, who was in the habit of boasting all
day long of his own exploits, and in order to do so claimed for
himself, shewing an astonishing faculty for lying, distinctions that
were pure fabrications, having for once rendered this signal service
to Saint-Loup, not only did he refrain from publishing it broadcast,
but, as if vanity were obliged to lie, and when there was no scope for
lying gave place to modesty, he never mentioned the matter to Robert

All his friends assured me that, as long as I stayed at Doncières, or
if I should come there again at any time, even although Robert were
away, their horses, their quarters, their time would be at my
disposal, and I felt that it was with the greatest cordiality that
these young men put their comfort and youth and strength at the
service of my weakness.

"Why on earth," they went on, after insisting that I should stay,
"don't you come down here every year; you see how our quiet life
appeals to you! Besides you're so keen about everything that goes on
in the regiment; quite the old soldier."

For I continued my eager demands that they would classify the
different officers whose names I knew according to the degree of
admiration which they seemed to deserve, just as, in my schooldays, I
used to make the other boys classify the actors of the
Théâtre-Français. If, in the place of one of the generals whom I had
always heard mentioned at the head of the list, such as Galliffet or
Négrier, one of Saint-Loup's friends, with a contemptuous: "But
Négrier is one of the feeblest of our general officers," put the new,
intact, appetising name of Pau or Geslin de Bourgogne, I felt the same
joyful surprise as long ago when the outworn name of Thiron or Febvre
was sent flying by the sudden explosion of the unfamiliar name of
Amaury. "Better even than Négrier? But in what respect; give me an
example?" I should have liked there to exist profound differences even
among the junior officers of the regiment, and I hoped in the reason
for these differences to seize the essential quality of what
constituted military superiority. The one whom I should have been most
interested to hear discussed, because he was the one whom I had most
often seen, was the Prince de Borodino. But neither Saint-Loup nor his
friends, if they did justice to the fine officer who kept his squadron
up to the supreme pitch of efficiency, liked the man. Without speaking
of him, naturally, in the same tone as of certain other officers,
rankers and freemasons, who did not associate much with the rest and
had, in comparison, an uncouth, barrack-room manner, they seemed not
to include M. de Borodino among the officers of noble birth, from
whom, it must be admitted, he differed considerably in his attitude
even towards Saint-Loup. The others, taking advantage of the fact that
Robert was only an N.C.O., and that therefore his influential
relatives might be grateful were he invited to the houses of superior
officers on whom ordinarily they would have looked down, lost no
opportunity of having him to dine when any bigwig was expected who
might be of use to a young cavalry serjeant. Captain de Borodino alone
confined himself to his official relations (which, for that matter,
were always excellent) with Robert. The fact was that the Prince,
whose grandfather had been made a Marshal and a Prince-Duke by the
Emperor, with whose family he had subsequently allied himself by
marriage, while his father had married a cousin of Napoleon III and
had twice been a Minister after the Coup d'Etat, felt that in spite of
all this he did not count for much with Saint-Loup and the Guermantes
connexion, who in turn, since he did not look at things from the same
point of view as they, counted for very little with him. He suspected
that, for Saint-Loup, he himself was—he, a kinsman of the
Hohenzollern—not a true noble but the grandson of a farmer, but at
the same time he regarded Saint-Loup as the son of a man whose
Countship had been confirmed by the Emperor—one of what were known in
the Faubourg Saint-Germain as 'touched-up' Counts—and who had
besought him first for a Prefecture, then for some other post a long
way down the list of subordinates to His Highness the Prince de
Borodino, Minister of State, who was styled on his letters
'Monseigneur' and was a nephew of the Sovereign.

Something more than a nephew, possibly. The first Princesse de
Borodino was reputed to have bestowed her favours on Napoleon I, whom
she followed to the Isle of Elba, and the second hers on Napoleon III.
And if, in the Captain's placid countenance, one caught a trace of
Napoleon I—if not in his natural features, at least in the studied
majesty of the mask—the officer had, particularly in his melancholy
and kindly gaze, in his drooping moustache, something that reminded
one also of Napoleon III; and this in so striking a fashion that,
having asked leave, after Sedan, to join the Emperor in captivity, and
having been sent away by Bismarck, before whom he had been brought,
the latter, happening to look up at the young man who was preparing to
leave the room, was at once impressed by the likeness and,
reconsidering his decision, recalled him and gave him the
authorisation which he, in common with every one else, had just been

If the Prince de Borodino was not prepared to make overtures to
Saint-Loup nor to the other representatives of Faubourg Saint-Germain
society that there were in the regiment (while he frequently invited
two subalterns of plebeian origin who were pleasant companions) it was
because, looking down upon them all from the height of his Imperial
grandeur, he drew between these two classes of inferiors the
distinction that one set consisted of inferiors who knew themselves to
be such and with whom he was delighted to spend his time, being
beneath his outward majesty of a simple, jovial humour, and the other
of inferiors who thought themselves his superiors, a claim which he
could not allow. And so, while all the other officers of the regiment
made much of Saint-Loup, the Prince de Borodino, to whose care the
young man had been recommended by Marshal X——, confined himself to
being obliging with regard to the military duties which Saint-Loup
always performed in the most exemplary fashion, but never had him to
his house except on one special occasion when he found himself
practically compelled to invite him, and when, as this occurred during
my stay at Doncières, he asked him to bring me to dinner also. I had
no difficulty that evening, as I watched Saint-Loup sitting at his
Captain's table, in distinguishing, in their respective manners and
refinements, the difference that existed between the two
aristocracies: the old nobility and that of the Empire. The offspring
of a caste the faults of which, even if he repudiated them with all
the force of his intellect, had been absorbed into his blood, a caste
which, having ceased to exert any real authority for at least a
century, saw nothing more now in the protective affability which
formed part of its regular course of education, than an exercise, like
horsemanship or fencing, cultivated without any serious purpose, as a
sport; on meeting representatives of that middle class on which the
old nobility so far looked down as to believe that they were nattered
by its intimacy and would be honoured by the informality of its tone,
Saint-Loup would take the hand of no matter who might be introduced to
him, though he had failed perhaps to catch the stranger's name, in a
friendly grip, and as he talked to him (crossing and uncrossing his
legs all the time, flinging himself back in his chair in an attitude
of absolute unconstraint, one foot in the palm of his hand) call him
'my dear fellow.' Belonging on the other hand to a nobility whose
titles still preserved their original meaning, provided that their
holders still possessed the splendid emoluments given in reward for
glorious services and bringing to mind the record of high offices in
which one is in command of numberless men and must know how to deal
with men, the Prince de Borodino—not perhaps very distinctly or with
any clear personal sense of superiority, but at any rate in his body,
which revealed it by its attitudes and behaviour generally—regarded
his own rank as a prerogative that was still effective; those same
commoners whom Saint-Loup would have slapped on the shoulder and taken
by the arm he addressed with a majestic affability, in which a reserve
instinct with grandeur tempered the smiling good-fellowship that came
naturally to him, in a tone marked at once by a genuine kindliness and
a stiffness deliberately assumed. This was due, no doubt, to his being
not so far removed from the great Embassies, and the Court itself, at
which his father had held the highest posts, whereas the manners of
Saint-Loup, the elbow on the table, the foot in the hand, would not
have been well received there; but principally it was due to the fact
that he looked down less upon the middle classes because they were the
inexhaustible source from which the first Emperor had chosen his
marshals and his nobles and in which the second had found a Rouher and
a Fould.

Son, doubtless, or grandson of an Emperor, who had nothing more
important to do than to command a squadron, the preoccupations of his
putative father and grandfather could not, for want of an object on
which to fasten themselves, survive in any real sense in the mind of
M. de Borodino. But as the spirit of an artist continues to model,
for many years after he is dead, the statue which he carved, so they
had taken shape in him, were materialised, incarnate in him, it was
they that his face reflected. It was with, in his voice, the vivacity
of the first Emperor that he worded a reprimand to a corporal, with
the dreamy melancholy of the second that he puffed out the smoke of a
cigarette. When he passed in plain clothes through the streets of
Doncières, a certain sparkle in his eyes escaping from under the brim
of the bowler hat sent radiating round this captain of cavalry a regal
incognito; people trembled when he strode into the serjeant-major's
office, followed by the adjutant and the quartermaster, as though by
Berthier and Masséna. When he chose the cloth for his squadron's
breeches, he fastened on the master-tailor a gaze capable of baffling
Talleyrand and deceiving Alexander; and at times, in the middle of an
inspection, he would stop, let his handsome blue eyes cloud with
dreams, twist his moustache, with the air of one building up a new
Prussia and a new Italy. But a moment later, reverting from Napoleon
III to Napoleon I, he would point out that the equipment was not
properly polished, and would insist on tasting the men's rations. And
at home, in his private life, it was for the wives of middle class
officers (provided that their husbands were not freemasons) that he
would bring out not only a dinner service of royal blue Sèvres, fit
for an Ambassador (which had been given to his father by Napoleon, and
appeared even more priceless in the commonplace house on a provincial
street in which he was living, like those rare porcelains which
tourists admire with a special delight in the rustic china-cupboard of
some old manor that has been converted into a comfortable and
prosperous farmhouse), but other gifts of the Emperor also: those
noble and charming manners, which too would have won admiration in
some diplomatic post abroad, if, for some men, it did not mean a
lifelong condemnation to the most unjust form of ostracism, merely to
be well born; his easy gestures, his kindness, his grace, and,
embedding beneath an enamel that was of royal blue, also glorious
images, the mysterious, illuminated, living reliquary of his gaze.
And, in treating of the social relations with the middle classes which
the Prince had at Doncières, it may be as well to add these few words.
The lieutenant-colonel played the piano beautifully; the senior
medical officer's wife sang like a Conservatoire medallist. This
latter couple, as well as the lieutenant-colonel and his wife, used to
dine every week with M. de Borodino. They were flattered,
unquestionably, knowing that when the Prince went to Paris on leave he
dined with Mme. de Pourtalès, and the Murats, and people like that.
"But," they said to themselves, "he's just a captain, after all; he's
only too glad to get us to come. Still, he's a real friend, you know."
But when M. de Borodino, who had long been pulling every possible wire
to secure an appointment for himself nearer Paris, was posted to
Beauvais, he packed up and went, and forgot as completely the two
musical couples as he forgot the Doncières theatre and the little
restaurant to which he used often to send out for his luncheon, and,
to their great indignation, neither the lieutenant-colonel nor the
senior medical officer, who had so often sat at his table, ever had so
much as a single word from him for the rest of their lives. One
morning, Saint-Loup confessed to me that he had written to my
grandmother to give her news of me, with the suggestion that, since
there was telephonic connexion between Paris and Doncières, she might
make use of it to speak to me. In short, that very day she was to give
me a call, and he advised me to be at the post office at about a
quarter to four. The telephone was not yet at that date as commonly in
use as it is to-day. And yet habit requires so short a time to divest
of their mystery the sacred forces with which we are in contact, that,
not having had my call at once, the only thought in my mind was that
it was very slow, and badly managed, and I almost decided to lodge a
complaint. Like all of us nowadays I found not rapid enough for my
liking in its abrupt changes the admirable sorcery for which a few
moments are enough to bring before us, invisible but present, the
person to whom we have been wishing to speak, and who, while still
sitting at his table, in the town in which he lives (in my
grandmother's case, Paris), under another sky than ours, in weather
that is not necessarily the same, in the midst of circumstances and
worries of which we know nothing, but of which he is going to inform
us, finds himself suddenly transported hundreds of miles (he and all
the surroundings in which he remains immured) within reach of our ear,
at the precise moment which our fancy has ordained. And we are like
the person in the fairy-tale to whom a sorceress, on his uttering the
wish, makes appear with supernatural clearness his grandmother or his
betrothed in the act of turning over a book, of shedding tears, of
gathering flowers, quite close to the spectator and yet ever so
remote, in the place in which she actually is at the moment. We need
only, so that the miracle may be accomplished, apply our lips to the
magic orifice and invoke—occasionally for rather longer than seems to
us necessary, I admit—the Vigilant Virgins to whose voices we listen
every day without ever coming to know their faces, and who are our
Guardian Angels in the dizzy realm of darkness whose portals they so
jealously keep; the All Powerful by whose intervention the absent rise
up at our side, without our being permitted to set eyes on them; the
Danaids of the Unseen who without ceasing empty, fill, transmit the
urns of sound; the ironic Furies who, just as we were murmuring a
confidence to a friend, in the hope that no one was listening, cry
brutally: "I hear you!"; the ever infuriated servants of the Mystery,
the umbrageous priestesses of the Invisible, the Young Ladies of the

And, the moment our call has sounded, in the night filled with
phantoms to which our ears alone are unsealed, a tiny sound, an
abstract sound—the sound of distance overcome—and the voice of the
dear one speaks to us.

It is she, it is her voice that is speaking, that is there. But how
remote it is! How often have I been unable to listen without anguish,
as though, confronted by the impossibility of seeing, except after
long hours of journeying, her whose voice has been so close to my ear,
I felt more clearly the sham and illusion of meetings apparently most
pleasant, and at what a distance we may be from the people we love at
the moment when it seems that we have only to stretch out our hand to
seize and hold them. A real presence indeed that voice so near—in
actual separation. But a premonition also of an eternal separation!
Over and again, as I listened in this way, without seeing her who
spoke to me from so far away, it has seemed to me that the voice was
crying to me from depths out of which one does not rise again, and I
have known the anxiety that was one day to wring my heart when a voice
should thus return (alone, and attached no longer to a body which I
was never more to see), to murmur, in my ear, words I would fain have
kissed as they issued from lips for ever turned to dust.

This afternoon, alas, at Doncières, the miracle did not occur. When I
reached the post office, my grandmother's call had already been
received; I stepped into the box; the line was engaged; some one was
talking who probably did not realise that there was nobody to answer
him, for when I raised the receiver to my ear, the lifeless block
began squeaking like Punchinello; I silenced it, as one silences a
puppet, by putting it back on its hook, but, like Punchinello, as soon
as I took it again in my hand, it resumed its gabbling. At length,
giving it up as hopeless, by hanging up the receiver once and for all,
I stifled the convulsions of this vociferous stump which kept up its
chatter until the last moment, and went in search of the operator, who
told me to wait a little; then I spoke, and, after a few seconds of
silence, suddenly I heard that voice which I supposed myself,
mistakenly, to know so well; for always until then, every time that my
grandmother had talked to me, I had been accustomed to follow what she
was saying on the open score of her face, in which the eyes figured so
largely; but her voice itself I was hearing this afternoon for the
first time. And because that voice appeared to me to have altered in
its proportions from the moment that it was a whole, and reached me in
this way alone and without the accompaniment of her face and features,
I discovered for the first time how sweet that voice was; perhaps,
too, it had never oeen so sweet, for my grandmother, knowing me to be
alone and unhappy, felt that she might let herself go in the
outpouring of an affection which, on her principle of education, she
usually restrained and kept hidden. It was sweet, but also how sad it
was, first of all on account of its very sweetness, a sweetness
drained almost—more than any but a few human voices can ever have
been—of every element of resistance to others, of all selfishness;
fragile by reason of its delicacy it seemed at every moment ready to
break, to expire in a pure flow of tears; then, too, having it alone
beside me, seen, without the mask of her face, I noticed for the first
time the sorrows that had scarred it in the course of a lifetime.

Was it, however, solely the voice that, because it was alone, gave me
this new impression which tore my heart? Not at all; it was rather
that this isolation of the voice was like a symbol, a presentation, a
direct consequence of another isolation, that of my grandmother,
separated, for the first time in my life, from myself. The orders or
prohibitions which she addressed to me at every moment in the ordinary
course of my life, the tedium of obedience or the fire of rebellion
which neutralised the affection that I felt for her were at this
moment eliminated, and indeed might be eliminated for ever (since my
grandmother no longer insisted on having me with her under her
control, was in the act of expressing her hope that I would stay at
Doncières altogether, or would at any rate extend my visit for as long
as possible, seeing that both my health and my work seemed likely to
benefit by the change); also, what I held compressed in this little
bell that was ringing in my ear was, freed from the conflicting
pressures which had, every day hitherto, given it a counterpoise, and
from this moment irresistible, carrying me altogether away, our mutual
affection. My grandmother, by telling me to stay, filled me with an
anxious, an insensate longing to return. This freedom of action which
for the future she allowed me and to which I had never dreamed that
she would consent, appeared to me suddenly as sad as might be my
freedom of action after her death (when I should still love her and
she would for ever have abandoned me). "Granny!" I cried to her,
"Granny!" and would fain have kissed her, but I had beside me only
that voice, a phantom, as impalpable as that which would come perhaps
to revisit me when my grandmother was dead. "Speak to me!" but then it
happened that, left more solitary still, I ceased to catch the sound
of her voice. My grandmother could no longer hear me; she was no
longer in communication with me; we had ceased to stand face to face,
to be audible to one another; I continued to call her, sounding the
empty night, in which I felt that her appeals also must be straying.
I was shaken by the same anguish which, in the distant past, I had
felt once before, one day when, a little child, in a crowd, I had lost
her, an anguish due less to my not finding her than to the thought
that she must be searching for me, must be saying to herself that I
was searching for her; an anguish comparable to that which I was to
feel on the day when we speak to those who can no longer reply and
whom we would so love to have hear all the things that we have not
told them, and our assurance that we are not unhappy. It seemed as
though it were already a beloved ghost that I had allowed to lose
herself in the ghostly world, and, standing alone before the
instrument, I went on vainly repeating: "Granny, Granny!" as Orpheus,
left alone, repeats the name of his dead wife, is decided to leave the
post office, to go and find Robert at his restaurant, in order to tell
him that, as I was half expecting a telegram which would oblige me to
return to Paris, I wished at all costs to find out at what times the
trains left. And yet, before reaching this decision, I felt I must
make one attempt more to invoke the Daughters of the Night, the
Messengers of the Word, the Deities without form or feature; but the
capricious Guardians had not deigned once again to unclose the
miraculous portals, or more probably, had not been able; in vain might
they untiringly appeal, as was their custom, to the venerable inventor
of printing and the young prince, collector of impressionist paintings
and driver of motor-cars (who was Captain de Borodino's nephew);
Gutenberg and Wagram left their supplications unanswered, and I came
away, feeling that the Invisible would continue to turn a deaf ear.

When I came among Robert and his friends, I withheld the confession
that my heart was no longer with them, that my departure was now
irrevocably fixed. Saint-Loup appeared to believe me, but I learned
afterwards that he had from the first moment realised that my
uncertainty was feigned and that he would not see me again next day.
And while, letting their plates grow cold, his friends joined him in
searching through the time-table for a train which would take me to
Paris, and while we heard in the cold, starry night the whistling of
the engines on the line, I certainly felt no longer the same peace of
mind which on all these last evenings I had derived from the
friendship of the former and the latter's distant passage. And yet
they did not fail me this evening, performing the same office in a
different way. My departure overpowered me less when I was no longer
obliged to think of it by myself, when I felt that there was
concentrated on what was to be done the more normal, more wholesome
activity of my strenuous friends, Robert's brothers in arms, and of
those other strong creatures, the trains, whose going and coming,
night and morning, between Doncières and Paris, broke up in retrospect
what had been too compact and insupportable in my long isolation from
my grandmother into daily possibilities of return.

"I don't doubt the truth of what you're saying, or that you aren't
thinking of leaving us just yet," said Saint-Loup, smiling; "but
pretend you are going, and come and say good-bye to me to-morrow
morning; early, otherwise there's a risk of my not seeing you; I'm
going out to luncheon, I've got leave from the Captain; I shall have
to be back in barracks by two, as we are to be on the march all
afternoon. I suppose the man to whose house I'm going, a couple of
miles out, will manage to get me back in time."

Scarcely had he uttered these words when a messenger came for me from
my hotel; the telephone operator had sent to find me. I ran to the
post office, for it was nearly closing time. The word 'trunks'
recurred incessantly in the answers given me by the officials. I was
in a fever of anxiety, for it was my grandmother who had asked for me.
The office was closing for the night. Finally I got my connexion. "Is
that you, Granny?" A woman's voice, with a strong English accent,
answered: "Yes, but I don't know your voice." Neither did I recognise
the voice that was speaking to me; besides, my grandmother called me
_tu_, and not _vous_. And then all was explained. The young man for
whom his grandmother had called on the telephone had a name almost
identical with my own, and was staying in an annex of my hotel. This
call coming on the very day on which I had been telephoning to my
grandmother, I had never for a moment doubted that it was she who was
asking for me. Whereas it was by pure coincidence that the post office
and the hotel had combined to make a twofold error.

The following morning I rose late, and failed to catch Saint-Loup, who
had already started for the country house where he was invited to
luncheon. About half past one, I had decided to go in any case to the
barracks, so as to be there before he arrived, when, as I was crossing
one of the avenues on the way there, I noticed, coming behind me in
the same direction as myself, a tilbury which, as it overtook me,
obliged me to jump out of its way; an N.C.O. was driving it, wearing
an eyeglass; it was Saint-Loup. By his side was the friend whose
guest he had been at luncheon, and whom I had met once before at the
hotel where we dined. I did not dare shout to Robert since he was not
alone, but, in the hope that he would stop and pick me up, I attracted
his attention by a sweeping wave of my hat, which might be regarded as
due to the presence of a stranger. I knew that Robert was
short-sighted; still, I should have supposed that, provided he saw me
at all, he could not fail to recognise me; he did indeed see my
salute, and returned it, but without stopping; driving on at full
speed, without a smile, without moving a muscle of his face, he
confined himself to keeping his hand raised for a minute to the peak
of his cap, as though he were acknowledging the salute of a trooper
whom he did not know personally. I ran to the barracks, but it was a
long way; when I arrived, the regiment was parading on the square, on
which I was not allowed to stand, and I was heart-broken at not having
been able to say good-bye to Saint-Loup; I went up to his room, but he
had gone; I was reduced to questioning a group of sick details,
recruits who had been excused route-marches, the young graduate, one
of the 'old soldiers,' who were watching the regiment parade.

"You haven't seen Serjeant Saint-Loup, have you, by any chance?" I

"He's gone on parade, sir," said the old soldier.

"I never saw him," said the graduate.

"You never saw him," exclaimed the old soldier, losing all interest in
me, "you never saw our famous Saint-Loup, the figure he's cutting with
his new breeches! When the Capstan sees that, officer's cloth, my

"Oh, you're a wonder, you are; officer's cloth," replied the young
graduate, who, reported 'sick in quarters,' was excused marching and
tried, not without some misgivings, to be on easy terms with the
veterans. "This officer's cloth you speak of is cloth like that, is

"Sir?" asked the old soldier angrily.

He was indignant that the young graduate should throw doubt on the
breeches' being made of officer's cloth, but, being a Breton, coming
from a village that went by the name of Penguern-Stereden, having
learned French with as much difficulty as if it had been English or
German, whenever he felt himself overcome by emotion he would go on
saying 'Sir?' to give himself time to find words, then, after this
preparation, let loose his eloquence, confining himself to the
repetition of certain words which he knew better than others, but
without haste, taking every precaution to gloss over his unfamiliarity
with the pronunciation.

"Ah! It is cloth like that," he broke out, with a fury the intensity
of which increased as the speed of his utterance diminished. "Ah! It
is cloth like that; when I tell you that it is, officer's cloth,
when-I-tell-you-a-thing, if-I-tell-you-a-thing, it's because I know, I
should think."

"Very well, then;" replied the young graduate, overcome by the force
of this argument. "Keep your hair on, old boy."

"There, look, there's the Capstan coming along. No, but just look at
Saint-Loup; the way he throws his leg out; and his head. Would you
call that a non-com? And his eyeglass; oh, he's hot stuff, he is."

I asked these troopers, who did not seem at all embarrassed by my
presence, whether I too might look out of the window. They neither
objected to my doing so nor moved to make room for me. I saw Captain
de Borodino go majestically by, putting his horse into a trot, and
apparently under the illusion that he was taking part in the Battle of
Austerlitz. A few loiterers had stopped by the gate to see the
regiment file out. Erect on his charger, his face inclined to
plumpness, his cheeks of an Imperial fulness, his eye lucid, the
Prince must have been the victim of some hallucination, as I was
myself whenever, after the tramway-car had passed, the silence that
followed its rumble seemed to me to throb and echo with a vaguely
musical palpitation. I was wretched at not having said good-bye to
Saint-Loup, but I went nevertheless, for my one anxiety was to return
to my grandmother; always until then, in this little country town,
when I thought of what my grandmother must be doing by herself, I had
pictured her as she was when with me, suppressing my own personality
but without taking into account the effects of such a suppression;
now, I had to free myself, at the first possible moment, in her arms,
from the phantom, hitherto unsuspected and suddenly called into being
by her voice, of a grandmother really separated from me, resigned,
having, what I had never yet thought of her as having, a definite age,
who had just received a letter from me in an empty house, as I had
once before imagined Mamma in a house by herself, when I had left her
to go to Balbec.

Alas, this phantom was just what I did see when, entering the
drawing-room before my grandmother had been told of my return, I found
her there, reading. I was in the room, or rather I was not yet in the
room since she was not aware of my presence, and, like a woman whom
one surprises at a piece of work which she will lay aside if anyone
comes in, she had abandoned herself to a train of thoughts which she
had never allowed to be visible by me. Of myself—thanks to that
privilege which does not last but which one enjoys during the brief
moment of return, the faculty of being a spectator, so to speak, of
one's own absence,—there was present only the witness, the observer,
with a hat and travelling coat, the stranger who does not belong to
the house, the photographer who has called to take a photograph of
places which one will never see again. The process that mechanically
occurred in my eyes when I caught sight of my grandmother was indeed a
photograph. We never see the people who are dear to us save in the
animated system, the perpetual motion of our incessant love for them,
which before allowing the images that their faces present to reach us
catches them in its vortex, flings them back upon the idea that we
have always had of them, makes them adhere to it, coincide with it.
How, since into the forehead, the cheeks of my grandmother I had been
accustomed to read all the most delicate, the most permanent qualities
of her mind; how, since every casual glance is an act of necromancy,
each face that we love a mirror of the past, how could I have failed
to overlook what in her had become dulled and changed, seeing that in
the most trivial spectacles of our daily life, our eye, charged with
thought, neglects, as would a classical tragedy, every image that does
not assist the action of the play and retains only those that may help
to make its purpose intelligible. But if, in place of our eye, it
should be a purely material object, a photographic plate, that has
watched the action, then what we shall see, in the courtyard of the
Institute, for example, will be, instead of the dignified emergence of
an Academician who is going to hail a cab, his staggering gait, his
precautions to avoid tumbling upon his back, the parabola of his fall,
as though he were drunk, or the ground frozen over. So is it when some
casual sport of chance prevents our intelligent and pious affection
from coming forward in time to hide from our eyes what they ought
never to behold, when it is forestalled by our eyes, and they, arising
first in the field and having it to themselves, set to work
mechanically, like films, and shew us, in place of the loved friend
who has long ago ceased to exist but whose death our affection has
always hitherto kept concealed from us, the new person whom a hundred
times daily that affection has clothed with a dear and cheating
likeness. And, as a sick man who for long has not looked at his own
reflexion, and has kept his memory of the face that he never sees
refreshed from the ideal image of himself that he carries in his mind,
recoils on catching sight in the glass, in the midst of an arid waste
of cheek, of the sloping red structure of a nose as huge as one of the
pyramids of Egypt, I, for whom my grandmother was still myself, I who
had never seen her save in my own soul, always at the same place in
the past, through the transparent sheets of contiguous, overlapping
memories, suddenly in our drawing-room which formed part of a new
world, that of time, that in which dwell the strangers of whom we say
"He's begun to age a good deal," for the first time and for a moment
only, since she vanished at once, I saw, sitting on the sofa, beneath
the lamp, red-faced, heavy and common, sick, lost in thought,
following the lines of a book with eyes that seemed hardly sane, a
dejected old woman whom I did not know.

My request to be allowed to inspect the Elstirs in Mme. de
Guermantes's collection had been met by Saint-Loup with: "I will
answer for her." And indeed, as ill luck would have it, it was he and
he alone who did answer. We answer readily enough for other people
when, setting our mental stage with the little puppets that represent
them, we manipulate these to suit our fancy. No doubt even then we
take into account the difficulties due to another person's nature
being different from our own, and we do not fail to have recourse to
some plan of action likely to influence that nature, an appeal to his
material interest, persuasion, the rousing of emotion, which will
neutralise contrary tendencies on his part. But these differences from
our own nature, it is still our own nature that is imagining them,
these difficulties, it is we that are raising them; these compelling
motives, it is we that are applying them. And so with the actions
which before our mind's eye we have made the other person rehearse,
and which make him act as we choose; when we wish to see him perform
them in real life, the case is altered, we come up against unseen
resistances which may prove insuperable. One of the strongest is
doubtless that which may be developed in a woman who is not in love
with him by the disgust inspired in her, a fetid, insurmountable
loathing, by the man who is in love with her; during the long weeks in
which Saint-Loup still did not come to Paris, his aunt, to whom I had
no doubt of his having written begging her to do so, never once asked
me to call at her house to see the Elstirs.

I perceived signs of coldness on the part of another occupant of the
building. This was Jupien. Did he consider that I ought to have gone
in and said how d'ye do to him, on my return from Doncières, before
even going upstairs to our own flat? My mother said no, that there was
nothing unusual about it. Françoise had told her that he was like
that, subject to sudden fits of ill humour, without any cause. These
invariably passed off after a little time.

Meanwhile the winter was drawing to an end. One morning, after several
weeks of showers and storms, I heard in my chimney—instead of the
wind, formless, elastic, sombre, which convulsed me with a longing to
go to the sea—the cooing of the pigeons that were nesting in the wall
outside; shimmering, unexpected, like a first hyacinth, gently tearing
open its fostering heart that there might shoot forth, purple and
satin-soft, its flower of sound, letting in like an opened window into
my bedroom still shuttered and dark the heat, the dazzling brightness,
the fatigue of a first fine day. That morning, I was surprised to
find myself humming a music-hall tune which had never entered my head
since the year in which I had been going to Florence and Venice. So
profoundly does the atmosphere, as good days and bad recur, act on our
organism and draw from dim shelves where we had forgotten them, the
melodies written there which our memory could not decipher. Presently
a more conscious dreamer accompanied this musician to whom I was
listening inside myself, without having recognised at first what he
was playing.

I quite realised that it was not for any reason peculiar to Balbec
that on my arrival there I had failed to find in its church the charm
which it had had for me before I knew it; that at Florence or Parma or
Venice my imagination could no more take the place of my eyes when I
looked at the sights there. I realised this. Similarly, one New Year's
afternoon, as night fell, standing before a column of playbills, I had
discovered the illusion that lies in our thinking that certain solemn
holidays differ essentially from the other days in the calendar. And
yet I could not prevent my memory of the time during which I had
looked forward to spending Easter in Florence from continuing to make
that festival the atmosphere, so to speak, of the City of Flowers, to
give at once to Easter Day something Florentine and to Florence
something Paschal. Easter was still a long way off; but in the range
of days that stretched out before me the days of Holy Week stood out
more clearly at the end of those that merely came between. Touched by
a far-flung ray, like certain houses in a village which one sees from
a distance when the rest are in shadow, they had caught and kept all
the sun.

The weather had now become milder. And my parents themselves, by
urging me to take more exercise, gave me an excuse for resuming my
morning walks. I had meant to give them up, since they meant my
meeting Mme. de Guermantes. But it was for this very reason that I
kept thinking all the time of those walks, which led to my finding,
every moment, a fresh reason for taking them, a reason that had no
connexion with Mme. de Guermantes and no difficulty in convincing me
that, had she never existed, I should still have taken a walk, without
fail, at that hour every morning.

Alas, if to me meeting any person other than herself would not have
mattered, I felt that to her meeting anyone in the world except myself
would have been endurable. It happened that, in the course of her
morning walks, she received the salutations of plenty of fools whom
she regarded as such. But the appearance of these in her path seemed
to her, if not to hold out any promise of pleasure, to be at any rate
the result of mere accident. And she stopped them at times, for there
are moments in which one wants to escape from oneself, to accept the
hospitality offered by the soul of another person, provided always
that the other, however modest and plain it may be, is a different
soul, whereas in my heart she was exasperated to feel that what she
would have found was herself. And so, even when I had, for taking the
same way as she, another reason than my desire to see her, I trembled
like a guilty man as she came past; and sometimes, so as to neutralise
anything extravagant that there might seem to have been in my
overtures, I would barely acknowledge her bow, or would fasten my eyes
on her face without raising my hat, and succeed only in making her
angrier than ever, and begin to regard me as insolent and ill-bred

She was now wearing lighter, or at any rate brighter, clothes, and
would come strolling down the street in which already, as though it
were spring, in front of the narrow shops that were squeezed in
between the huge fronts of the old aristocratic mansions, over the
booths of the butter-woman and the fruit-woman and the
vegetable-woman, awnings were spread to protect them from the sun. I
said to myself that the woman whom I could see far off, walking,
opening her sunshade, crossing the street, was, in the opinion of
those best qualified to judge, the greatest living exponent of the art
of performing those movements and of making out of them something
exquisitely lovely. Meanwhile she was advancing towards me,
unconscious of this widespread reputation, her narrow, stubborn body,
which had absorbed none of it, was bent stiffly forward under a scarf
of violet silk; her clear, sullen eyes looked absently in front of
her, and had perhaps caught sight of me; she was biting her lip; I saw
her straighten her muff, give alms to a beggar, buy a bunch of violets
from a flower-seller, with the same curiosity that I should have felt
in watching the strokes of a great painter's brush. And when, as she
reached me, she gave me a bow that was accompanied sometimes by a
faint smile, it was as though she had sketched in colour for me,
adding a personal inscription to myself, a drawing that was a
masterpiece of art. Each of her gowns seemed to me her natural,
necessary surroundings, like the projection around her of a particular
aspect of her soul. On one of these Lenten mornings, when she was on
her way out to luncheon, I met her wearing a gown of bright red
velvet, cut slightly open at the throat. The face of Mme. de
Guermantes appeared to be dreaming, beneath its pile of fair hair. I
was less sad than usual because the melancholy of her expression, the
sort of claustration which the startling hue of her gown set between
her and the rest of the world, made her seem somehow lonely and
unhappy, and this comforted me. The gown struck me as being the
materialisation round about her of the scarlet rays of a heart which I
did not recognise as hers and might have been able, perhaps, to
console; sheltered in the mystical light of the garment with its
gently flowing folds, she made me think of some Saint of the early
ages of Christianity. After which I felt ashamed of afflicting with
the sight of myself this holy martyr. "But, after all, the streets are

The streets are public, I reminded myself, giving a different meaning
to the words, and marvelling that indeed in the crowded thoroughfare
often soaked with rain, which made it beautiful and precious as a
street sometimes is in the old towns of Italy, the Duchesse de
Guermantes mingled with the public life of the world moments of her
own secret life, shewing herself thus to all and sundry, jostled by
every passer-by, with the splendid gratuitousness of the greatest
works of art. As I had been out in the morning, after staying awake
all night, in the afternoon my parents would tell me to lie down for a
little and try to sleep. There is no need, when one is trying to find
sleep, to give much thought to the quest, but habit is very useful,
and even freedom from thought. But in these afternoon hours both were
lacking. Before going to sleep, I devoted so much time to thinking
that I should not be able to sleep, that even after I was asleep a
little of my thought remained. It was no more than a glimmer in the
almost total darkness, but it was bright enough to cast a reflexion in
my sleep, first of the idea that I could not sleep, and then, a
reflexion of this reflexion, that it was in my sleep that I had had
the idea that I was not asleep, then, by a further refraction, my
awakening... to a fresh doze in which I was trying to tell some
friends who had come into my room that, a moment earlier, when I was
asleep, I had imagined that I was not asleep. These shades were barely
distinguishable; it would have required a keen—and quite
useless—delicacy of perception to seize them all. Similarly, in later
years, at Venice, long after the sun had set, when it seemed to be
quite dark, I have seen, thanks to the echo, itself imperceptible, of
a last note of light, held indefinitely on the surface of the canals,
as though some optical pedal were being pressed, the reflexion of the
palaces unfurled, as though for all time, in a darker velvet, on the
crepuscular greyness of the water. One of my dreams was the synthesis
of what my imagination had often sought to depict, in my waking hours,
of a certain seagirt place and its mediaeval past. In my sleep I saw a
gothic fortress rising from a sea whose waves were stilled as in a
painted window. An arm of the sea cut the town in two; the green water
stretched to my feet; it bathed on the opposite shore the foundations
of an oriental church, and beyond it houses which existed already in
the fourteenth century, so that to go across to them would have been
to ascend the stream of time. This dream in which nature had learned
from art, in which the sea had turned gothic, this dream in which I
longed to attain, in which I believed that I was attaining to the
impossible, it seemed to me that I had often dreamed it before. But as
it is the property of what we imagine in our sleep to multiply itself
in the past, and to appear, even when novel, familiar, I supposed that
I was mistaken. I noticed, however, that I did frequently have this

The limitations, too, that are common to all sleep were reflected in
mine, but in a symbolical manner; I could not in the darkness make out
the faces of the friends who were in the room, for we sleep with our
eyes shut. I, who could carry on endless arguments with myself while I
dreamed, as soon as I tried to speak to these friends felt the words
stick in my throat, for we do not speak distinctly in our sleep; I
wanted to go to them, and I could not move my limbs, for we do not
walk when we are asleep either; and suddenly I was ashamed to be seen
by them, for we sleep without our clothes. So, my eyes blinded, my
lips sealed, my limbs fettered, my body naked, the figure of sleep
which my sleep itself projected had the appearance of those great
allegorical figures (in one of which Giotto has portrayed Envy with a
serpent in her mouth) of which Swann had given me photographs.

Saint-Loup came to Paris for a few hours only. He came with assurances
that he had had no opportunity of mentioning me to his aunt. "She's
not being at all nice just now, Oriane isn't," he explained, with
innocent self-betrayal. "She's not my old Oriane any longer, they've
gone and changed her. I assure you, it's not worth while bothering
your head about her. You pay her far too great a compliment. You
wouldn't care to meet my cousin Poictiers?" he went on, without
stopping to reflect that this could not possibly give me any pleasure.
"Quite an intelligent young woman, she is; you'd like her. She's
married to my cousin, the Duc de Poictiers, who is a good fellow, but
a bit slow for her. I've told her about you. She said I was to bring
you to see her. She's much better looking than Oriane, and younger,
too. Really a nice person, don't you know, really a good sort." These
were expressions recently—and all the more ardently—taken up by
Robert, which meant that the person in question had a delicate nature.
"I don't go so far as to say she's a Dreyfusard, you must remember the
sort of people she lives among; still, she did say to me: 'If he is
innocent, how ghastly for him to be shut up on the Devil's Isle.' You
see what I mean, don't you? And then she's the sort of woman who does
a tremendous lot for her old governesses; she's given orders that
they're never to be sent in by the servants' stair, when they come to
the house. She's a very good sort, I assure you. The real reason why
Oriane doesn't like her is that she feels she's the cleverer of the

Although completely absorbed in the pity which she felt for one of the
Guermantes footmen—who had no chance of going to see his girl, even
when the Duchess was out, for it would immediately have been reported
to her from the lodge,—Françoise was heartbroken at not having been
in the house at the moment of Saint-Loup's visit, but this was because
now she herself paid visits also. She never failed to go out on the
days when I most wanted her. It was always to see her brother, her
niece and, more particularly, her own daughter, who had recently come
to live in Paris. The intimate nature of these visits itself
increased the irritation that I felt at being deprived of her
services, for I had a foreboding that she would speak of them as being
among those duties from which there was no dispensation, according to
the laws laid down at Saint-André-des-Champs.
And so I never listened to her excuses without an ill humour which was
highly unjust to her, and was brought to a climax by the way Françoise
had of saying not: "I have been to see my brother," or "I have been to
see my niece," but "I have been to see the brother," "I just looked in
as I passed to bid good day to the niece" (or "to my niece the
butcheress"). As for her daughter, Françoise would have been glad to
see her return to Combray. But this recent Parisian, making use, like
a woman of fashion, of abbreviations, though hers were of a vulgar
kind, protested that the week she was going shortly to spend at
Combray would seem quite long enough without so much as a sight of
"the _Intran_." She was still less willing to go to Franchise's
sister, who lived in a mountainous country, for "mountains," said the
daughter, giving to the adjective a new and terrible meaning, "aren't
really interesting." She could not make Up her mind to go back to
Méséglise, where "the people are so stupid," where in the market the
gossips at their stalls would call cousins with her, and say "Why,
it's never poor Bazireau's daughter?" She would sooner die than go
back and bury herself down there, now that she had "tasted the life of
Paris," and Françoise, traditionalist as she was, smiled complacently
nevertheless at the spirit of innovation that was incarnate in this
new Parisian when she said: "Very well, mother, if you don't get your
day out, you have only to send me a pneu."

The weather had turned chilly again. "Go out? What for? To catch your
death?" said Françoise, who preferred to remain in the house during
the week which her daughter and brother and the butcher-niece had gone
to spend at Combray. Being, moreover, the last surviving adherent of
the sect in whom persisted obscurely the doctrine of my aunt Léonie—a
natural philosopher—Françoise would add, speaking of this
unseasonable weather: "It is the remnant of the wrath of God!" But I
responded to her complaints only in a languid smile; all the more
indifferent to these predictions, in that whatever befell it would be
fine for me; already I could see the morning sun shine on the slope of
Fiesole, I warmed myself in its rays; their strength obliged me to
half open, half shut my eyelids, smiling the while, and my eyelids,
like alabaster lamps, were filled with a rosy glow. It was not only
the bells that came from Italy, Italy had come with them. My faithful
hands would not lack flowers to honour the anniversary of the
pilgrimage which I ought to have made long ago, for since, here in
Paris, the weather had turned cold again as in another year at the
time of our preparations for departure at the end of Lent, in the
liquid, freezing air which bathed the chestnuts and planes on the
boulevards, the tree in the courtyard of our house, there were already
opening their petals, as in a bowl of pure water, the narcissi, the
jonquils, the anemones of the Ponte Vecchio.

My father had informed us that he now knew, from his friend A. J.,
where M. de Norpois was going when he met him about the place.

"It's to see Mme. de Villeparisis, they are great friends; I never
knew anything about it. It seems she's a delightful person, a most
superior woman. You ought to go and call on her," he told me. "Another
thing that surprised me very much. He spoke to me of M. de Guermantes
as quite a distinguished man; I had always taken him for a boor. It
seems, he knows an enormous amount, and has perfect taste, only he's
very proud of his name and his connexions. But for that matter,
according to Norpois, he has a tremendous position, not only here but
all over Europe. It appears, the Austrian Emperor and the Tsar treat
him just like one of themselves. Old Norpois told me that Mme. de
Villeparisis had taken quite a fancy to you, and that you would meet
all sorts of interesting people in her house. He paid a great tribute
to you; you will see him if you go there, and he may have some good
advice for you even if you are going to be a writer. For you're not
likely to do anything else; I can see that. It might turn out quite a
good career; it's not what I should have chosen for you, myself; but
you'll be a man in no time now, we shan't always be here to look after
you, and we mustn't prevent you from following your vocation."

If only I had been able to start writing! But whatever the conditions
in which I approached the task (as, too, alas, the undertakings not to
touch alcohol, to go to bed early, to sleep, to keep fit), whether it
were with enthusiasm, with method, with pleasure, in depriving myself
of a walk, or postponing my walk and keeping it in reserve as a reward
of industry, taking advantage of an hour of good health, utilising the
inactivity forced on me by a day of illness, what always emerged in
the end from all my effort was a virgin page, undefiled by any
writing, ineluctable as that forced card which in certain tricks one
invariably is made to draw, however carefully one may first have
shuffled the pack. I was merely the instrument of habits of not
working, of not going to bed, of not sleeping, which must find
expression somehow, cost what it might; if I offered them no
resistance, if I contented myself with the pretext they seized from
the first opportunity that the day afforded them of acting as they
chose, I escaped without serious injury, I slept for a few hours after
all, towards morning, I read a little, I did not over-exert myself;
but if I attempted to thwart them, if I pretended to go to bed early,
to drink only water, to work, they grew restive, they adopted strong
measures, they made me really ill, I was obliged to double my dose of
alcohol, did not lie down in bed for two days and nights on end, could
not even read, and I vowed that another time I would be more
reasonable, that is to say less wise, like the victim of an assault
who allows himself to be robbed for fear, should he offer resistance,
of being murdered.

My father, in the meantime, had met M. de Guermantes once or twice,
and, now that M. de Norpois had told him that the Duke was a
remarkable man, had begun to pay more attention to what he said. As it
happened, they met in the courtyard and discussed Mme. de
Villeparisis. "He tells me, she's his aunt; 'Viparisi,' he pronounces
it. He tells me, too, she's an extraordinarily able woman. In fact he
said she kept a School of Wit," my father announced to us, impressed
by the vagueness of this expression, which he had indeed come across
now and then in volumes of memoirs, but without attaching to it any
definite meaning. My mother, so great was her respect for him, when
she saw that he did not dismiss as of no importance the fact that Mme.
de Villeparisis kept a School of Wit, decided that this must be of
some consequence. Albeit from my grandmother she had known all the
time the exact amount of the Marquise's intellectual worth, it was
immediately enhanced in her eyes. My grandmother, who was not very
well just then, was not in favour at first of the suggested visit, and
afterwards lost interest in the matter. Since we had moved into our
new flat, Mme. de Villeparisis had several times asked my grandmother
to call upon her. And invariably my grandmother had replied that she
was not going out just at present, in one of those letters which, by a
new habit of hers which we did not understand, she no longer sealed
herself, but employed Françoise to lick the envelopes for her. As for
myself, without any very clear picture in my mind of this School of
Wit, I should not have been greatly surprised to find the old lady
from Balbec installed behind a desk, as, for that matter, I eventually

My father would have been glad to know, into the bargain, whether the
Ambassador's support would be worth many votes to him at the
Institute, for which he had thoughts of standing as an independent
candidate. To tell the truth, while he did not venture to doubt that
he would have M. de Norpois's support, he was by no means certain of
it. He had thought it merely malicious gossip when they assured him at
the Ministry that M. de Norpois, wishing to be himself the only
representative there of the Institute, would put every possible
obstacle in the way of my father's candidature, which besides would be
particularly awkward for him at that moment, since he was supporting
another candidate already. And yet, when M. Leroy-Beaulieu had first
advised him to stand, and had reckoned up his chances, my father had
been struck by the fact that, among the colleagues upon whom he could
count for support, the eminent economist had not mentioned M. de
Norpois. He dared not ask the Ambassador point-blank, but hoped that I
should return from my call on Mme. de Villeparisis with his election
as good as secured. This call was now imminent. That M. de Norpois
would carry on propaganda calculated to assure my father the votes of
at least two thirds of the Academy seemed to him all the more probable
since the Ambassador's willingness to oblige was proverbial, those who
liked him least admitting that no one else took such pleasure in being
of service. And besides, at the Ministry, his protective influence was
extended over my father far more markedly than over any other

My father had also another encounter about this time, but one at which
his extreme surprise ended in equal indignation. In the street one day
he ran into Mme. Sazerat, whose life in Paris her comparative poverty
restricted to occasional visits to a friend. There was no one who
bored my father quite so intensely as did Mme. Sazerat, so much so
that Mamma was obliged, once a year, to intercede with him in sweet
and suppliant tones: "My dear, I really must invite Mme. Sazerat to
the house, just once; she won't stay long;" and even: "Listen, dear, I
am going to ask you to make a great sacrifice; do go and call upon
Mme. Sazerat. You know I hate bothering you, but it would be so nice
of you." He would laugh, raise various objections, and go to pay the
call. And so, for all that Mme. Sazerat did not appeal to him, on
catching sight of her in the street my father went towards her, hat in
hand; but to his profound astonishment Mme. Sazerat confined her
greeting to the frigid bow enforced by politeness towards a person who
is guilty of some disgraceful action or has been condemned to live,
for the future, in another hemisphere. My father had come home
speechless with rage. Next day my mother met Mme. Sazerat in some
one's house. She did not offer my mother her hand, but only smiled at
her with a vague and melancholy air as one smiles at a person with
whom one used to play as a child, but with whom one has since severed
all one's relations because she has led an abandoned life, has married
a convict or (what is worse still) a co-respondent. Now, from all time
my parents had accorded to Mme. Sazerat, and inspired in her, the most
profound respect. But (and of this my mother was ignorant) Mme.
Sazerat, alone of her kind at Combray, was a Dreyfusard. My father, a
friend of M. Méline, was convinced that Dreyfus was guilty. He had
flatly refused to listen to some of his colleagues who had asked him
to sign a petition demanding a fresh trial. He never spoke to me for
a week, after learning that I had chosen to take a different line. His
opinions were well known. He came near to being looked upon as a
Nationalist. As for my grandmother, in whom alone of the family a
generous doubt was likely to be kindled, whenever anyone spoke to her
of the possible innocence of Dreyfus, she gave a shake of her head,
the meaning of which we did not at the time understand, but which was
like the gesture of a person who has been interrupted while thinking
of more serious things. My mother, torn between her love for my father
and her hope that I might turn out to have brains, preserved an
impartiality which she expressed by silence. Finally my grandfather,
who adored the Army (albeit his duties with the National Guard had
been the bugbear of his riper years), could never, at Combray, see a
regiment go by the garden railings without baring his head as the
colonel and the colours passed. All this was quite enough to make Mme.
Sazerat, who knew every incident of the disinterested and honourable
careers of my father and grandfather, regard them as pillars of
Injustice. We pardon the crimes of individuals, but not their
participation in a collective crime. As soon as she knew my father to
be an anti-Dreyfusard she set between him and herself continents and
centuries. Which explains why, across such an interval of time and
space, her bow had been imperceptible to my father, and why it had not
occurred to her to hold out her hand, or to say a few words which
would never have carried across the worlds that lay between.

Saint-Loup, who was coming anyhow to Paris, had promised to take me to
Mme. de Villeparisis's, where I hoped, though I had not said so to
him, that we might meet Mme. de Guermantes. He invited me to luncheon
in a restaurant with his mistress, whom we were afterwards to
accompany to a rehearsal. We were to go out in the morning and call
for her at her home on the outskirts of Paris.

I had asked Saint-Loup that the restaurant to which we went for
luncheon (in the lives of young noblemen with money to spend the
restaurant plays as important a part as do bales of merchandise in
Arabian stories), might, if possible, be that to which Aimé had told
me that he would be going as head waiter until the Balbec season
started. It was a great attraction to me who dreamed of so many
expeditions and made so few to see again some one who formed part not
merely of my memories of Balbec but of Balbec itself, who went there
year after year, who when ill health or my studies compelled me to
stay in Paris would be watching, just the same, through the long July
afternoons while he waited for the guests to come in to dinner, the
sun creep down the sky and set in the sea, through the glass panels of
the great dining-room, behind which, at the hour when the light died,
the motionless wings of vessels, smoky blue in the distance, looked
like exotic and nocturnal moths in a show-case. Himself magnetised by
his contact with the strong lodestone of Balbec, this head waiter
became in turn a magnet attracting me. I hoped by talking to him to
get at once into communication with Balbec, to have realised here in
Paris something of the delights of travel.

I left the house early, with Françoise complaining bitterly because
the footman who was engaged to be married had once again been
prevented, the evening before, from going to see his girl. Françoise
had found him in tears; he had been itching to go and strike the
porter, but had restrained himself, for he valued his place.

Before reaching Saint-Loup's, where he was to be waiting for me at the
door, I ran into Legrandin, of whom we had lost sight since our
Combray days, and who, though now grown quite grey, had preserved his
air of youthful candour. Seeing me, he stopped:

"Ah! So it's you," he exclaimed, "a man of fashion, and in a frock
coat too! That is a livery in which my independent spirit would be ill
at ease. It is true that you are a man of the world, I suppose, and
go out paying calls! To go and dream, as I do, before some half ruined
tomb, my flowing tie and jacket are not out of place. You know how I
admire the charming quality of your soul; that is why I tell you how
deeply I regret that you should go forth and deny it among the
Gentiles. By being capable of remaining for a moment in the nauseating
atmosphere—which I am unable to breathe—of a drawing-room, you
pronounce on your own future the condemnation, the damnation of the
Prophet. I can see it all, you frequent the 'light hearts,' the houses
of the great, that is the vice of our middle class to-day. Ah! Those
aristocrats! The Terror was greatly to blame for not cutting the heads
off every one of them. They are all sinister debauchees, when they are
not simply dreary idiots. Still, my poor boy, if that sort of thing
amuses you! While you are on your way to your tea-party your old
friend will be more fortunate than you, for alone in an outlying
suburb he will be watching the pink moon rise in a violet sky. The
truth is that I scarcely belong to this Earth upon which I feel myself
such an exile; it takes all the force of the law of gravity to hold me
here, to keep me from escaping into another sphere. I belong to a
different planet. Goodbye; do not take amiss the old-time frankness of
the peasant of the Vivonne, who has also remained a peasant of the
Danube. To prove to you that I am your sincere well-wisher, I am going
to send you my last novel. But you will not care for it; it is not
deliquescent enough, not _fin de siècle_ enough for you; it is too
frank, too honest; what you want is Bergotte, you have confessed it,
high game for the jaded palates of pleasure-seeking epicures. I
suppose I am looked upon, in your set, as an old campaigner; I do
wrong to put my heart into what I write, that is no longer done;
besides, the life of the people is not distinguished enough to
interest your little snobbicules. Go, get you gone, try to recall at
times the words of Christ: 'Do this and ye shall live.' Farewell,

It was not with any particular resentment against Legrandin that I
parted from him. Certain memories are like friends in common, they can
bring about reconciliations; set down amid fields starred with
buttercups, upon which were piled the ruins of feudal greatness, the
little wooden bridge still joined us, Legrandin and me, as it joined
the two banks of the Vivonne.

After coming out of a Paris in which, although spring had begun, the
trees on the boulevards had hardly put on their first leaves, it was a
marvel to Saint-Loup and myself, when the circle train had set us down
at the suburban village in which his mistress was living, to see every
cottage garden gay with huge festal altars of fruit trees in blossom.
It was like one of those peculiar, poetical, ephemeral, local
festivals which people travel long distances to attend on certain
fixed occasions, only this one was held by Nature. The bloom of the
cherry tree is stuck so close to its branches, like a white sheath,
that from a distance, among the other trees that shewed as yet
scarcely a flower or leaf, one might have taken it, on this day of
sunshine that was still so cold, for snow, melted everywhere else,
which still clung to the bushes. But the tall pear trees enveloped
each house, each modest courtyard in a whiteness more vast, more
uniform, more dazzling, as if all the dwellings, all the enclosed
spaces in the village were on their way to make, on one solemn date,
their first communion.

It had been a country village, and had kept its old mayor's office
sunburned and brown, in front of which, in the place of maypoles and
streamers, three tall pear trees were, as though for some civic and
local festival, gallantly beflagged with white satin. These villages
in the environs of Paris still have at their gates parks of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which were the 'follies' of the
stewards and favourites of the great. A fruit-grower had utilised one
of these which was sunk below the road for his trees, or had simply,
perhaps, preserved the plan of an immense orchard of former days. Laid
out in quincunxes, these pear trees, less crowded and not so far on as
those that I had seen, formed great quadrilaterals—separated by low
walls—of snowy blossom, on each side of which the light fell
differently, so that all these airy roofless chambers seemed to belong
to a Palace of the Sun, such as one might unearth in Crete or
somewhere; and made one think also of the different ponds of a
reservoir, or of those parts of the sea which man, for some fishery,
or to plant oyster-beds, has subdivided, when one saw, varying with
the orientation of the boughs, the light fall and play upon their
trained arms as upon water warm with spring, and coax into unfolding
here and there, gleaming amid the open, azure-panelled trellis of the
branches, the foaming whiteness of a creamy, sunlit flower.

Never had Robert spoken to me so tenderly of his friend as he did
during this walk. She alone had taken root in his heart; his future
career in the Army, his position in society, his family, he was not,
of course, indifferent altogether to these, but they were of no
account compared with the veriest trifle that concerned his mistress.
That alone had any importance in his eyes, infinitely more importance
than the Guermantes and all the kings of the earth put together. I do
not know whether he had formulated the doctrine that she was of a
superior quality to anyone else, but I do know that he considered,
took trouble only about what affected her. Through her and for her he
was capable of suffering, of being happy, perhaps of doing murder.
There was really nothing that interested, that could excite him except
what his mistress wished, was going to do, what was going on,
discernible at most in fleeting changes of expression, in the narrow
expanse of her face and behind her privileged brow. So nice-minded in
all else, he looked forward to the prospect of a brilliant marriage,
solely in order to be able to continue to maintain her, to keep her
always. If one had asked oneself what was the value that he set on
her, I doubt whether one could ever have imagined a figure high
enough. If he did not marry her, it was because a practical instinct
warned him that as soon as she had nothing more to expect from him she
would leave him, or would at least live as she chose, and that he must
retain his hold on her by keeping her in suspense from day to day. For
he admitted the possibility that she did not love him. No doubt the
general affection called love must have forced him—as it forces all
men—to believe at times that she did. But in his heart of hearts he
felt that this love which she felt for him did not exhaust the
possibility of her remaining with him only on account of his money,
and that on the day when she had nothing more to expect from him she
would make haste (the dupe of her friends and their literary theories,
and loving him all the time, really—he thought) to leave him. "If she
is nice to me to-day," he confided to me, "I am going to give her
something that she'll like. It's a necklace she saw at Boucheron's.
It's rather too much for me just at present—thirty thousand francs.
But, poor puss, she gets so little pleasure out of life. She will be
jolly pleased with it, I know. She mentioned it to me and told me she
knew somebody who would perhaps give it to her. I don't believe that
is true, really, but I wasn't taking any risks, so I've arranged with
Boucheron, who is our family jeweller, to keep it for me. I am glad to
think that you're going to meet her; she's nothing so very wonderful
to look at, you know," (I could see that he thought just the opposite
and had said this only so as to make me, when I did see her, admire
her all the more) "what she has got is a marvellous judgment; she'll
perhaps be afraid to talk much before you, but, by Jove! the things
she'll say to me about you afterwards, you know she says things one
can go on thinking about for hours; there's really something about her
that's quite Pythian."

On our way to her house we passed by a row of little gardens, and I
was obliged to stop, for they were all aflower with pear and cherry
blossoms; as empty, no doubt, and lifeless only yesterday as a house
that no tenant has taken, they were suddenly peopled and adorned by
these newcomers, arrived during the night, whose lovely white garments
we could see through the railings along the garden paths.

"Listen; I can see you'd rather stop and look at that stuff, and grow
poetical about it," said Robert, "so just wait for me here, will you;
my friend's house is quite close, I will go and fetch her."

While I waited I strolled up and down the road, past these modest
gardens. If I raised my head I could see, now and then, girls sitting
in the windows, but outside, in the open air, and at the height of a
half-landing, here and there, light and pliant, in their fresh pink
gowns, hanging among the leaves, young lilac-clusters were letting
themselves be swung by the breeze without heeding the passer-by who
was turning his eyes towards their green mansions. I recognised in
them the platoons in violet uniform posted at the entrance to M.
Swann's park, past the little white fence, in the warm afternoons of
spring, like an enchanting rustic tapestry. I took a path which led me
into a meadow. A cold wind blew keenly along it, as at Combray, but
from the midst of the rich, moist, country soil, which might have been
on the bank of the Vivonne, there had nevertheless arisen, punctual at
the trysting place like all its band of brothers, a great white pear
tree which waved smilingly in the sun's face, like a curtain of light
materialised and made palpable, its flowers shaken by the breeze but
polished and frosted with silver by the sun's rays.

Suddenly Saint-Loup appeared, accompanied by his mistress, and then,
in this woman who was for him all the love, every possible delight in
life, whose personality, mysteriously enshrined in a body as in a
Tabernacle, was the object that still occupied incessantly the toiling
imagination of my friend, whom he felt that he would never really
know, as to whom he was perpetually asking himself what could be her
secret self, behind the veil of eyes and flesh, in this woman I
recognised at once 'Rachel when from the Lord,' her who, but a few
years since—women change their position so rapidly in that world,
when they do change—used to say to the procuress: "To-morrow evening,
then, if you want me for anyone, you will send round, won't you?"

And when they had 'come round' for her, and she found herself alone in
the room with the 'anyone,' she had known so well what was required of
her that after locking the door, as a prudent woman's precaution or a
ritual gesture, she would begin to take off all her things, as one
does before the doctor who is going to sound one's chest, never
stopping in the process unless the 'some one,' not caring for nudity,
told her that she might keep on her shift, as specialists do sometimes
who, having an extremely fine ear and being afraid of their patient's
catching a chill, are satisfied with listening to his breathing and
the beating of his heart through his shirt. On this woman whose whole
life, all her thoughts, all her past, all the men who at one time or
another had had her were to me so utterly unimportant that if she had
begun to tell me about them I should have listened to her only out of
politeness, and should barely have heard what she said, I felt that
the anxiety, the torment, the love of Saint-Loup had been concentrated
in such a way as to make—out of what was for me a mechanical toy,
nothing more—the cause of endless suffering, the very object and
reward of existence. Seeing these two elements separately (because I
had known 'Rachel when from the Lord' in a house of ill fame), I
realised that many women for the sake of whom men live, suffer, take
their lives, may be in themselves or for other people what Rachel was
for me. The idea that any one could be tormented by curiosity with
regard to her life stupefied me. I could have told Robert of any
number of her unchastities, which seemed to me the most uninteresting
things in the world. And how they would have pained him! And what had
he not given to learn them, without avail!

I realised also then all that the human imagination can put behind a
little scrap of face, such as this girl's face was, if it is the
imagination that was the first to know it; and conversely into what
wretched elements, crudely material and utterly without value, might
be decomposed what had been the inspiration of countless dreams if, on
the contrary, it should be so to speak controverted by the slightest
actual acquaintance. I saw that what had appeared to me to be not
worth twenty francs when it had been offered to me for twenty francs
in the house of ill fame, where it was then for me simply a woman
desirous of earning twenty francs, might be worth more than a million,
more than one's family, more than all the most coveted positions in
life if one had begun by imagining her to embody a strange creature,
interesting to know, difficult to seize and to hold. No doubt it was
the same thin and narrow face that we saw, Robert and I. But we had
arrived at it by two opposite ways, between which there was no
communication, and we should never both see it from the same side.
That face, with its stares, its smiles, the movements of its lips, I
had known from outside as being simply that of a woman of the sort who
for twenty francs would do anything that I asked. And so her stares,
her smiles, the movements of her lips had seemed to me significant
merely of the general actions of a class without any distinctive
quality. And beneath them I should not have had the curiosity to look
for a person. But what to me had in a sense been offered at the start,
that consenting face, had been for Robert an ultimate goal towards
which he had made his way through endless hopes and doubts,
suspicions, dreams. He gave more than a million francs in order to
have for himself, in order that there might not be offered to others
what had been offered to me, as to all and sundry, for a score. That
he too should not have enjoyed it at the lower price may have been due
to the chance of a moment, the instant in which she who seemed ready
to yield herself makes off, having perhaps an assignation elsewhere,
some reason which makes her more difficult of access that day. Should
the man be a sentimentalist, then, even if she has not observed it,
but infinitely more if she has, the direst game begins. Unable to
swallow his disappointment, to make himself forget about the woman, he
starts afresh in pursuit, she flies him, until a mere smile for which
he no longer ventured to hope is bought at a thousand times what
should have been the price of the last, the most intimate favours. It
happens even at times in such a case, when one has been led by a
mixture of simplicity in one's judgment and cowardice in the face of
suffering to commit the crowning folly of making an inaccessible idol
of a girl, that these last favours, or even the first kiss one is
fated never to obtain, one no longer even ventures to ask for them for
fear of destroying one's chances of Platonic love. And it is then a
bitter anguish to leave the world without having ever known what were
the embraces of the woman one has most passionately loved. As for
Rachel's favours, however, Saint-Loup had by mere accident succeeded
in winning them all. Certainly if he had now learned that they had
been offered to all the world for a louis, he would have suffered, of
course, acutely, but would still have given a million francs for the
right to keep them, for nothing that he might have learned could have
made him emerge—since that is beyond human control and can be brought
to pass only in spite of it by the action of some great natural
law—from the path he was treading, from which that face could appear
to him only through the web of the dreams that he had already spun.
The immobility of that thin face, like that of a sheet of paper
subjected to the colossal pressure of two atmospheres, seemed to me to
be being maintained by two infinities which abutted on her without
meeting, for she held them apart. And indeed, when Robert and I were
both looking at her we did not both see her from the same side of the

It was not 'Rachel when from the Lord'—who seemed to me a small
matter—it was the power of the human imagination, the illusion on
which were based the pains of love; these I felt to be vast. Robert
noticed that I appeared moved. I turned my eyes to the pear and cherry
trees of the garden opposite, so that he might think that it was their
beauty that had touched me. And it did touch me in somewhat the same
way; it also brought close to me things of the kind which we not only
see with our eyes but feel also in our hearts. These trees that I had
seen in the garden, likening them in my mind to strange deities, had
not my mistake been like the Magdalene's when, in another garden, she
saw a human form and 'thought it was the gardener.' Treasurers of our
memories of the age of gold, keepers of the promise that reality is
not what we suppose, that the splendour of Poetry, the wonderful
radiance of innocence may shine in it and may be the recompense which
we strive to earn, these great white creatures, bowed in a marvellous
fashion above the shade propitious for rest, for angling or for
reading, were they not rather angels? I exchanged a few words with
Saint-Loup's mistress. We cut across the village. Its houses were
sordid. But by each of the most wretched, of those that looked as
though they had been scorched and branded by a rain of brimstone, a
mysterious traveller, halting for a day in the accursed city, a
resplendent angel stood erect, extending broadly over it the dazzling
protection of the wings of flowering innocence: it was a pear tree.
Saint-Loup drew me a little way in front to explain.

"I should have liked it if you and I could have been alone together,
in fact I would much rather have had luncheon just with you, and
stayed with you until it was time to go to my aunt's. But this poor
girl of mine here, it is such a pleasure to her, and she is so decent
to me, don't you know, I hadn't the heart to refuse her. You'll like
her, however, she's literary, you know, a most sensitive nature, and
besides it's such a pleasure to be with her in a restaurant, she is so
charming, so simple, always delighted with everything."

I fancy nevertheless that, on this same morning, and then probably for
the first and last time, Robert did detach himself for a moment from
the woman whom out of successive layers of affection he had gradually
created, and beheld suddenly at some distance from himself another
Rachel, outwardly the double of his but entirely different, who was
nothing more or less than a little light of love. We had left the
blossoming orchard and were making for the train which was to take us
to Paris when, at the station, Rachel, who was walking by herself, was
recognised and accosted by a pair of common little 'tarts' like
herself, who first of all, thinking that she was alone, called out:
"Hello, Rachel, you come with us; Lucienne and Germaine are in the
train, and there's room for one more. Come on. We're all going to the
rink," and were just going to introduce to her two counter-jumpers,
their lovers, who were escorting them, when, noticing that she seemed
a little uneasy, they looked up and beyond her, caught sight of us,
and with apologies bade her a good-bye to which she responded in a
somewhat embarrassed, but still friendly tone. They were two poor
little 'tarts' with collars of sham otter skin, looking more or less
as Rachel must have looked when Saint-Loup first met her. He did not
know them, or their names even, and seeing that they appeared to be
extremely intimate with his mistress he could not help wondering
whether she too might not once have had, had not still perhaps her
place in a life of which he had never dreamed, utterly different from
the life she led with him, a life in which one had women for a louis
apiece, whereas he was giving more than a hundred thousand francs a
year to Rachel, He caught only a fleeting glimpse of that life, but
saw also in the thick of it a Rachel other than her whom he knew, a
Rachel like the two little 'tarts' in the train, a twenty-franc
Rachel. In short, Rachel had for the moment duplicated herself in his
eyes, he had seen, at some distance from his own Rachel, the little
'tart' Rachel, the real Rachel, assuming that Rachel the 'tart' was
more real than the other. It may then have occurred to Robert that
from the hell in which he was living, with the prospect of a rich
marriage, of the sale of his name, to enable him to go on giving
Rachel a hundred thousand francs every year, he might easily perhaps
have escaped, and have enjoyed the favours of his mistress, as the two
counter-jumpers enjoyed those of their girls, for next to nothing. But
how was it to be done? She had done nothing to forfeit his regard.
Less generously rewarded she would be less kind to him, would stop
saying and writing the things that so deeply moved him, things which
he would quote, with a touch of ostentation, to his friends, taking
care to point out how nice it was of her to say them, but omitting to
mention that he was maintaining her in the most lavish fashion, or
even that he ever gave her anything at all, that these inscriptions on
photographs, or greetings at the end of telegrams were but the
conversion into the most exiguous, the most precious of currencies of
a hundred thousand francs. If he took care not to admit that these
rare kindnesses on Rachel's part were handsomely paid for by himself,
it would be wrong to say—and yet, by a crude piece of reasoning, we
do say it, absurdly, of every lover who pays in cash for his pleasure,
and of a great many husbands—that this was from self-esteem or
vanity. Saint-Loup had enough sense to perceive that all the pleasures
which appeal to vanity he could have found easily and without cost to
himself in society, on the strength of his historic name and handsome
face, and that his connexion with Rachel had rather, if anything,
tended to ostracise him, led to his being less sought after. No; this
self-esteem which seeks to appear to be receiving gratuitously the
outward signs of the affection of her whom one loves is simply a
consequence of love, the need to figure in one's own eyes and in other
people's as loved in return by the person whom one loves so well.
Rachel rejoined us, leaving the two 'tarts' to get into their
compartment; but, no less than their sham otter skins and the
self-conscious appearance of their young men, the names Lucienne and
Germaine kept the new Rachel alive for a moment longer. For a moment
Robert imagined a Place Pigalle existence with unknown associates,
sordid love affairs, afternoons spent in simple amusements, excursions
or pleasure-parties, in that Paris in which the sunny brightness of
the streets from the Boulevard de Clichy onwards did not seem the same
as the solar radiance in which he himself strolled with his mistress,
but must be something different, for love, and suffering which is one
with love, have, like intoxication, the power to alter for us
inanimate things. It was almost an unknown Paris in the heart of Paris
itself that he suspected, his connexion appeared to him like the
exploration of a strange form of life, for if when with him Rachel was
somewhat similar to himself, it was nevertheless a part of her real
life that she lived with him, indeed the most precious part, in view
of his reckless expenditure on her, the part that made her so greatly
envied by her friends and would enable her one day to retire to the
country or to establish herself in the leading theatres, when she had
made her pile. Robert longed to ask her who Lucienne and Germaine
were, what they would have said to her if she had joined them in their
compartment, how they would all have spent a day which would have
perhaps ended, as a supreme diversion, after the pleasures of the
rink, at the Olympia Tavern, if Robert and I had not been there. For a
moment the purlieus of the Olympia, which until then had seemed to him
merely deadly dull, aroused curiosity in him and pain, and the
sunshine of this spring day beating upon the Rue Caumartin where,
possibly, if she had not known Robert, Rachel might have gone in the
course of the evening and nave earned a louis, filled him with a vague
longing. But what use was it to ply Rachel with questions when he
already knew that her answer would be merely silence, or a lie, or
something extremely painful for him to hear, which would yet explain
nothing. The porters were shutting the doors; we jumped into a
first-class carriage; Rachel's magnificent pearls reminded Robert that
she was a woman of great price, he caressed her, restored her to her
place in his heart where he could contemplate her, internalised, as he
had always done hitherto—save during this brief instant in which he
had seen her in the Place Pigalle of an impressionist painter—and the
train began to move.

It was, by the way, quite true that she was 'literary.' She never
stopped talking to me about books, new art and Tolstoyism except to
rebuke Saint-Loup for drinking so much wine:

"Ah! If you could live with me for a year, we'd see a fine change. I
should keep you on water and you'd be ever so much better."

"Right you are. Let's begin now."

"But you know quite well I have to work all day!" For she took her art
very seriously. "Besides, what would your people say?"

And she began to abuse his family to me in terms which for that matter
seemed to me highly reasonable, and with which Saint-Loup, while
disobeying her orders in the matter of champagne, entirely concurred.
I, who was so much afraid of the effect of wine on him, and felt the
good influence of his mistress, was quite prepared to advise him to
let his family go hang. Tears sprang to the young woman's eyes; I had
been rash enough to refer to Dreyfus.

"The poor martyr!" she almost sobbed; "it will be the death of him in
that dreadful place."

"Don't upset yourself, Zézette, he will come back, he will be
acquitted all right, they will admit they've made a mistake."

"But long before then he'll be dead! Oh, well at any rate his children
will bear a stainless name. But just think of the agony he must be
going through; that's what makes my heart bleed. And would you believe
that Robert's mother, a pious woman, says that he ought to be left on
the Devil's Isle, even if he is innocent; isn't it appalling?"

"Yes, it's absolutely true, she does say that," Robert assured me.
"She's my mother, I've no fault to find with her, but it's quite clear
she hasn't got a sensitive nature, like Zézette."

As a matter of fact these luncheons which were said to be 'such a
pleasure' always ended in trouble. For as soon as Saint-Loup found
himself in a public place with his mistress, he would imagine that she
was looking at every other man in the room, and his brow would darken;
she would remark his ill-humour, which she may have thought it amusing
to encourage, or, as was more probable, by a foolish piece of conceit
preferred, feeling wounded by his tone, not to appear to be seeking to
disarm; and would make a show of being unable to take her eyes off
some man or other, not that this was always a mere pretence. In fact,
the gentleman who, in theatre or café, happened to sit next to them,
or, to go no farther, the driver of the cab they had engaged need only
have something attractive about him, no matter what, and Robert, his
perception quickened by jealousy, would have noticed it before his
mistress; he would see in him immediately one of those foul creatures
whom he had denounced to me at Balbec, who corrupted and dishonoured
women for their own amusement, would beg his mistress to take her eyes
off the man, thereby drawing her attention to him. And sometimes she
found that Robert had shewn such good judgment in his suspicion that
after a little she even left off teasing him in order that he might
calm down and consent to go off by himself on some errand which would
give her time to begin conversation with the stranger, often to make
an assignation, sometimes even to bring matters quickly to a head. I
could see as soon as we entered the restaurant that Robert was looking
troubled. The fact of the matter was that he had at once remarked,
what had escaped our notice at Balbec, namely that, standing among his
coarser colleagues, Aimé, with a modest brilliance, emitted, quite
unconsciously of course, that air of romance which emanates until a
certain period in life from fine hair and a Grecian nose, features
thanks to which he was distinguishable among the crowd of waiters. The
others, almost all of them well on in years, presented a series of
types, extraordinarily ugly and criminal, of hypocritical priests,
sanctimonious confessors, more numerously of comic actors of the old
school, whose sugar-loaf foreheads are scarcely to be seen nowadays
outside the collections of portraits that hang in the humbly historic
green-rooms of little, out of date theatres, where they are
represented in the parts of servants or high priests, though this
restaurant seemed, thanks to a selective method of recruiting and
perhaps to some system of hereditary nomination, to have preserved
their solemn type in a sort of College of Augurs. As ill luck would
have it, Aimé having recognised us, it was he who came to take our
order, while the procession of operatic high priests swept past us to
other tables. Aimé inquired after my grandmother's health; I asked for
news of his wife and children. He gave it with emotion, being a family
man. He had an intelligent, vigorous, but respectful air. Robert's
mistress began to gaze at him with a strange attentiveness. But Aimé's
sunken eyes, in which a slight short-sightedness gave one the
impression of veiled depths, shewed no sign of consciousness in his
still face. In the provincial hotel in which he had served for many
years before coming to Balbec, the charming sketch, now a trifle
discoloured and faded, which was his face, and which, for all those
years, like some engraved portrait of Prince Eugène, had been visible
always at the same place, at the far end of a dining-room that was
almost always empty, could not have attracted any very curious gaze.
He had thus for long remained, doubtless for want of sympathetic
admirers, in ignorance of the artistic value of his face, and but
little inclined for that matter to draw attention to it, for he was
temperamentally cold. At the most, some passing Parisian, stopping for
some reason in the town, had raised her eyes to his, had asked him
perhaps to bring something to her in her room before she left for the
station, and in the pellucid, Monotonous, deep void of this existence
of a faithful husband and servant in a country town had hidden the
secret of a caprice without sequel which no one would ever bring to
light. And yet Aimé must have been conscious of the insistent emphasis
with which the eyes of the young actress were fastened upon him now.
Anyhow, it did not escape Robert beneath whose skin I saw gathering a
flush, not vivid like that which burned his cheeks when he felt any
sudden emotion, but faint, diffused.

"Anything specially interesting about that waiter, Zézette?" he
inquired, after sharply dismissing Aimé. "One would think you were
studying the part."

"There you are, beginning again; I knew it was coming."

"Beginning what again, my dear girl? I may have been mistaken; I
haven't said anything, I'm sure. But I have at least the right to warn
you against the fellow, seeing that I knew him at Balbec (otherwise I
shouldn't give a damn), and a bigger scoundrel doesn't walk the face
of the earth."

She seemed anxious to pacify Robert and began to engage me in a
literary conversation in which he joined. I found that it did not bore
me to talk to her, for she had a thorough knowledge of the books that
I most admired, and her opinion of them agreed more or less with my
own; but as I had heard Mme. de Villeparisis declare that she had no
talent, I attached but little importance to this evidence of culture.
She discoursed wittily on all manner of topics, and would have been
genuinely entertaining had she not affected to an irritating extent
the jargon of the sets and studios. She applied this, moreover, to
everything under the sun; for instance, having acquired the habit of
saying of a picture, if it were impressionist, or an opera, if
Wagnerian, "Ah! That is _good_!" one day when a young man had kissed
her on the ear, and, touched by her pretence of being thrilled, had
affected modesty, she said: "Yes, as a sensation I call it distinctly
_good_." But what more surprised me was that the expressions peculiar
to Robert (which, moreover, had come to him, perhaps, from literary
men whom she knew) were used by her to him and by him to her as though
they had been a necessary form of speech, and without any conception
of the pointlessness of an originality that is universal.

In eating, she managed her hands so clumsily that one assumed that she
must appear extremely awkward upon the stage. She recovered her
dexterity only when making love, with that touching prescience latent
in women who love the male body so intensely that they immediately
guess what will give most pleasure to that body, which is yet so
different from their own.

I ceased to take part in the conversation when it turned upon the
theatre, for on that topic Rachel was too malicious for my liking. She
did, it was true, take up in a tone of commiseration—against
Saint-Loup, which proved that he was accustomed to hearing Rachel
attack her—the defence of Berma, saying: "Oh, no, she's a wonderful
person, really. Of course, the things she does no longer appeal to us,
they don't correspond quite to what we are looking for, but one must
think of her at the period to which she belongs; we owe her a great
deal. She has done good work, you know. And besides she's such a fine
woman, she has such a good heart; naturally she doesn't care about the
things that interest us, but she has had in her time, with a rather
impressive face, a charming quality of mind." (Our ringers, by the
way, do not play the same accompaniment to all our aesthetic
judgments. If it is a picture that is under discussion, to shew that
it is a fine work with plenty of paint, it is enough to stick out
one's thumb. But the 'charming quality of mind' is more exacting. It
requires two fingers, or rather two fingernails, as though one were
trying to flick off a particle of dust.) But, with this single
exception, Saint-Loup's mistress referred to the best-known actresses
in a tone of ironical superiority which annoyed me because I
believed—quite mistakenly, as it happened—that it was she who was
inferior to them. She was clearly aware that I must regard her as an
indifferent actress, and on the other hand have a great regard for
those she despised. But she shewed no resentment, because there is in
all great talent while it is still, as hers was then, unrecognised,
however sure it may be of itself, a vein of humility, and because we
make the consideration that we expect from others proportionate not to
our latent powers but to the position to which we have attained. (I
was, an hour or so later, at the theatre, to see Saint-Loup's mistress
shew great deference towards those very artists against whom she was
now bringing so harsh a judgment to bear.) And so, in however little
doubt my silence may have left her, she insisted nevertheless on our
dining together that evening, assuring me that never had anyone's
conversation delighted her so much as mine. If we were not yet in the
theatre, to which we were to go after luncheon, we had the sense of
being in a green-room hung with portraits of old members of the
company, so markedly were the waiters' faces those which, one thought,
had perished with a whole generation of obscure actors of the
Palais-Royal; they had a look, also, of Academicians; stopping before
a side table one of them was examining a dish of pears with the
expression of detached curiosity that M. de Jussieu might have worn.
Others, on either side of him, were casting about the room that gaze
instinct with curiosity and coldness which Members of the Institute,
who have arrived early, throw at the public, while they exchange a few
murmured words which one fails to catch. They were faces well known to
all the regular guests. One of them, however, was being pointed out, a
newcomer with distended nostrils and a smug upper lip, who looked like
a cleric; he was entering upon his duties there for the first time,
and everyone gazed with interest at this newly elected candidate. But
presently, perhaps to drive Robert away so that she might be alone
with Aimé, Rachel began to make eyes at a young student, who was
feeding with another man at a neighbouring table.

"Zézette, let me beg you not to look at that young man like that,"
said Saint-Loup, on whose face the hesitating flush of a moment ago
had been gathered now into a scarlet tide which dilated and darkened
his swollen features, "if you must make a scene here, I shall simply
finish eating by myself and join you at the theatre afterwards."

At this point a messenger came up to tell Aimé that he was wanted to
speak to a gentleman in a carriage outside. Saint-Loup, ever uneasy,
and afraid now that it might be some message of an amorous nature that
was to be conveyed to his mistress, looked out of the window and saw
there, sitting up in his brougham, his hands tightly buttoned in white
gloves with black seams, a flower in his buttonhole, M. de Charlus.

"There; you see!" he said to me in a low voice, "my family hunt me
down even here. Will you, please—I can't very well do it myself, but
you can, as you know the head waiter so well and he's certain to give
us away—ask him not to go to the carriage. He can always send some
other waiter who doesn't know me. I know my uncle; if they tell him
that I'm not known here, he'll never come inside to look for me, he
loathes this sort of place. Really, it's pretty disgusting that an
old petticoat-chaser like him, who is still at it, too, should be
perpetually lecturing me and coming to spy on me!"

Aimé on receiving my instructions sent one of his underlings to
explain that he was busy and could not come out at the moment, and
(should the gentleman ask for the Marquis de Saint-Loup) that they did
not know any such person. But Saint-Loup's mistress, who had failed to
catch our whispered conversation and thought that it was still about
the young man at whom Robert had been finding fault with her for
making eyes, broke out in a torrent of rage.

"Oh, indeed! So it's the young man over there, now, is it? Thank you
for telling me; it's a real pleasure to have this sort of thing with
one's meals! Don't listen to him, please; he's rather cross to-day,
and, you know," she went on, turning to me, "he just says it because
he thinks it smart, that it's the gentlemanly thing to appear jealous

And she began with feet and fingers to shew signs of nervous

"But, Zézette, it is I who find it unpleasant. You are making us all
ridiculous before that gentleman, who will begin to imagine you're
making overtures to him, and an impossible bounder he looks, too."

"Oh, no, I think he's charming; for one thing, he's got the most
adorable eyes, and a way of looking at women—you can feel he must
love them."

"You can at least keep quiet until I've left the room, if you have
lost your senses," cried Robert. "Waiter, my things."

I did not know whether I was expected to follow him.

"No, I want to be alone," he told me in the same tone in which he had
just been addressing his mistress, and as if he were quite furious
with me. His anger was like a single musical phrase to which in an
opera several lines are sung which are entirely different from one
another, if one studies the words, in meaning and character, but which
the music assimilates by a common sentiment. When Robert had gone, his
mistress called Aimé and asked him various questions. She then wanted
to know what I thought of him.

"An amusing expression, hasn't he? Do you know what I should like; it
would be to know what he really thinks about things, to have him wait
on me often, to take him travelling. But that would be all. If we were
expected to love all the people who attract us, life would be pretty
ghastly, wouldn't it? It's silly of Robert to get ideas like that. All
that sort of thing, it's only just what comes into my head, that's
all; Robert has nothing to worry about." She was still gazing at Aimé.
"Do look, what dark eyes he has. I should love to know what there is
behind them."

Presently came a message that Robert was waiting for her in a private
room, to which he had gone to finish his luncheon, by another door,
without having to pass through the restaurant again. I thus found
myself alone, until I too was summoned by Robert. I found his mistress
stretched out on a sofa laughing under the kisses and caresses that he
was showering on her. They were drinking champagne. "Hallo, you!" she
cried to him, having recently picked up this formula which seemed to
her the last word in playfulness and wit. I had fed badly, I was
extremely uncomfortable, and albeit Legrandin's words had had no
effect on me I was sorry to think that I was beginning in a back room
of a restaurant and should be finishing in the wings of a theatre this
first afternoon of spring. Looking first at the time to see that she
was not making herself late, she offered me a glass of champagne,
handed me one of her Turkish cigarettes and unpinned a rose for me
from her bodice. Whereupon I said to myself: "I have nothing much to
regret, after all; these hours spent in this young woman's company are
not wasted, since I have had from her, charming gifts which could not
be bought too dear, a rose, a scented cigarette and a glass of
champagne." I told myself this because I felt that it endowed with an
aesthetic character and thereby justified, saved these hours of
boredom. I ought perhaps to have reflected that the very need which I
felt of a reason that would console me for my boredom was sufficient
to prove that I was experiencing no aesthetic sensation. As for Robert
and his mistress, they appeared to have no recollection of the quarrel
which had been raging between them a few minutes earlier, or of my
having been a witness to it. They made no allusion to it, sought no
excuse for it any more than for the contrast with it which their
present conduct formed. By dint of drinking champagne with them, I
began to feel a little of the intoxication that used to come over me
at Rivebelle, though probably not quite the same. Not only every kind
of intoxication, from that which the sun or travelling gives us to
that which we get from exhaustion or wine, but every degree of
intoxication—and each must have a different figure, like the numbers
of fathoms on a chart—lays bare in us exactly at the depth to which
it reaches a different kind of man. The room which Saint-Loup had
taken was small, but the mirror which was its sole ornament was of
such a kind that it seemed to reflect thirty others in an endless
vista; and the electric bulb placed at the top of the frame must at
night, when the light was on, followed by the procession of thirty
flashes similar to its own, give to the drinker, even when alone, the
idea that the surrounding space was multiplying itself simultaneously
with his sensations heightened by intoxication, and that, shut up by
himself in this little cell, he was reigning nevertheless over
something far more extensive in its indefinite luminous curve than a
passage in the Jardin de Paris. Being then myself at this moment the
said drinker, suddenly, looking for him in the glass, I caught sight
of him, hideous, a stranger, who was staring at me. The joy of
intoxication was stronger than my disgust; from gaiety or bravado I
smiled at him, and simultaneously ne smiled back at me. And I felt
myself so much under the ephemeral and Potent sway of the minute in
which our sensations are so strong, that I am not sure whether my sole
regret was not at the thought that this hideous self of whom I had
just caught sight in the glass was perhaps there for the last time on
earth, and that I should never meet the stranger again in the whole
course of my life.

Robert was annoyed only because I was not being more brilliant before
his mistress.

"What about that fellow you met this morning, who combines snobbery
with astronomy; tell her about him, I've forgotten the story," and he
watched her furtively.

"But, my dear boy, there's nothing more than what you've just said."

"What a bore you are. Then tell her about Françoise in the
Champs-Elysées. She'll enjoy that."

"Oh, do! Bobby is always talking about Françoise." And taking
Saint-Loup by the chin, she repeated, for want of anything more
original, drawing the said chin nearer to the light: "Hallo, you!"

Since actors had ceased to be for me exclusively the depositaries, in
their diction and playing, of an artistic truth, they had begun to
interest me in themselves; I amused myself, pretending that what I saw
before me were the characters in some old humorous novel, by watching,
struck by the fresh face of the young man who had just come into the
stalls, the heroine listen distractedly to the declaration of love
which the juvenile lead in the piece was addressing to her, while he,
through the fiery torrent of his impassioned speech, still kept a
burning gaze fixed on an old lady seated in a stage box, whose
magnificent pearls had caught his eye; and thus, thanks especially to
the information that Saint-Loup gave me as to the private lives of the
players, I saw another drama, mute but expressive, enacted beneath the
words of the spoken drama which in itself, although of no merit,
interested me also; for I could feel in it that there were budding and
opening for an hour in the glare of the footlights, created out of the
agglutination on the face of an actor of another face of grease paint
and pasteboard, on his own human soul the words of a part.

These ephemeral vivid personalities which the characters are in a play
that is entertaining also, whom one loves, admires, pities, whom one
would like to see again after one has left the theatre, but who by
that time are already disintegrated into a comedian who is no longer
in the position which he occupied in the play, a text which no longer
shews one the comedian's face, a coloured powder which a handkerchief
wipes off, who have returned in short to elements that contain nothing
of them, since their dissolution, effected so soon after the end of
the show, make us—like the dissolution of a dear friend—begin to
doubt the reality of our ego and meditate on the mystery of death.

One number in the programme I found extremely trying. A young woman
whom Rachel and some of her friends disliked was, with a set of old
songs, to make a first appearance on which she had based all her hopes
for the future of herself and her family. This young woman was blessed
with unduly, almost grotesquely prominent hips and a pretty but too
slight voice, weakened still farther by her excitement and in marked
contrast to her muscular development. Rachel had posted among the
audience a certain number of friends, male and female, whose business
it was by their sarcastic comments to put the novice, who was known to
be timid, out of countenance, to make her lose her head so that her
turn should prove a complete failure, after which the manager would
refuse to give her a contract. At the first notes uttered by the
wretched woman, several of the male audience, recruited for that
purpose, began pointing to her backward profile with jocular comments,
several of the women, also in the plot, laughed out loud, each
flute-like note from the stage increased the deliberate hilarity,
which grew to a public scandal. The unhappy woman, sweating with
anguish through her grease-paint, tried for a little longer to hold
out then stopped and looked round the audience with an appealing gaze
of misery and anger which succeeded only in increasing the uproar. The
instinct to imitate others, the desire to shew their own wit and
daring added to the party several pretty actresses who had not been
forewarned but now threw at the others glances charged with malicious
connivance, and sat convulsed with laughter which rang out in such
violent peals that at the end of the second song, although there were
still five more on the programme, the stage manager rang down the
curtain. I tried to make myself pay no more heed to the incident than
I had paid to my grandmother's sufferings when my great-aunt, to tease
her, used to give my grandfather brandy, the idea of deliberate
wickedness being too painful for me to bear. And yet, just as our pity
for misfortune is perhaps not very exact since in our imagination we
recreate a whole world of grief by which the unfortunate who has to
struggle against it has no time to think of being moved to self-pity,
so wickedness has probably not in the mind of the wicked man that pure
and voluptuous cruelty which it so pains us to imagine. Hatred
inspires him, anger gives him an ardour, an activity in which there is
no great joy; he must be a sadist to extract any pleasure from it;
ordinarily, the wicked man supposes himself to be punishing the
wickedness of his victim; Rachel imagined certainly that the actress
whom she was making suffer was far from being of interest to any one,
and that anyhow, in having her hissed off the stage, she was herself
avenging an outrage on good taste and teaching an unworthy comrade a
lesson. Nevertheless, I preferred not to speak of this incident since
I had had neither the courage nor the power to prevent it, and it
would have been too painful for me, by saying any good of their
victim, to approximate to a gratification of the lust for cruelty the
sentiments which animated the tormentors who had strangled this career
in its infancy.

But the opening scene of this afternoon's performance interested me in
quite another way. It made me realise in part the nature of the
illusion of which Saint-Loup was a victim with regard to Rachel, and
which had set a gulf between the images that he and I respectively had
in mind of his mistress, when we beheld her that morning among the
blossoming pear trees. Rachel was playing a part which involved barely
more than her walking on in the little play. But seen thus, she was
another woman. She had one of those faces to which distance—and not
necessarily that between stalls and stage, the world being in this
respect only a larger theatre—gives form and outline and which, seen
close at hand, dissolve back into dust. Standing beside her one saw
only a nebula, a milky way of freckles, of tiny spots, nothing more.
At a proper distance, all this ceased to be visible and, from cheeks
that withdrew, were reabsorbed into her face, rose like a crescent
moon a nose so fine, so pure that one would have liked to be object of
Rachel's attention, to see her again as often as one chose, to her
close to one, provided that one had not already seen her differently
and at close range. This was not my case but it had been Saint-Loup's
when he first saw her on the stage. Then he had asked himself how he
might approach her, how come to know her, there had opened in him a
whole fairy realm—that in which she lived—from which emanated an
exquisite radiance but into which he might not penetrate. He had left
the theatre telling himself that it would be madness to write to her,
that she would not answer his letter, quite prepared to give his
fortune and his name for the creature who was living in him in a world
so vastly superior to those too familiar realities, a world made
beautiful by desire and dreams of happiness, when at the back of the
theatre, a little old building which had itself the air of being a
piece of scenery, from the stage door he saw debouch the gay and
daintily hatted band of actresses who had just been playing. Young men
who knew them were waiting for them outside. The number of pawns on
the human chessboard being less than the number of combinations that
they are capable of forming, in a theatre from which are absent all
the people we know and might have expected to find, there turns up one
whom we never imagined that we should see again and who appears so
opportunely that the coincidence seems to us providential, although no
doubt some other coincidence would have occurred in its stead had we
been not in that place but in some other, where other desires would
have been aroused and we should have met some other old acquaintance
to help us to satisfy them. The golden portals of the world of dreams
had closed again upon Rachel before Saint-Loup saw her emerge from the
theatre, so that the freckles and spots were of little importance.
They vexed him nevertheless, especially as, being no longer alone, he
had not now the same opportunity to dream as in the theatre. But she,
for all that he could no longer see her, continued to dictate his
actions, like those stars which govern us by their attraction even
during the hours in which they are not visible to our eyes. And so
his desire for the actress with the fine features which had no place
now even in Robert's memory had the result that, dashing towards the
old friend whom chance had brought to the spot, he insisted upon an
introduction to the person with no features and with freckles, since
she was the same person, telling himself that later on he would take
care to find out which of the two this same person really was. She was
in a hurry, she did not on this occasion say a single word to
Saint-Loup, and it was only some days later that he finally contrived,
by inducing her to leave her companions, to escort her home. He loved
her already. The need for dreams, the desire to be made happy by her
of whom one has dreamed, bring it about that not much time is required
before one entrusts all one's chances of happiness to her who a few
days since was but a fortuitous apparition, unknown, unmeaning, upon
the boards of the theatre.

When, the curtain having fallen, we moved on to the stage, alarmed at
finding myself there for the first time, I felt the need to begin a
spirited conversation with Saint-Loup. In this way my attitude, as I
did not know what one ought to adopt in a setting that was strange to
me, would be entirely dominated by our talk, and people would think
that I was so absorbed in it, so unobservant of my surroundings, that
it was quite natural that I should not shew the facial expressions
proper to a place in which, to judge by what I appeared to be saying,
I was barely conscious of standing; and seizing, to make a beginning,
upon the first topic that came to my mind:

"You know," I said, "I did come to say good-bye to you the day I left
Doncières; I've not had an opportunity to mention it. I waved to you
in the street."

"Don't speak about it," he replied, "I was so sorry. I passed you just
outside the barracks, but I couldn't stop because I was late already.
I assure you, I felt quite wretched about it."

So he had recognised me! I saw again in my mind the wholly impersonal
salute which he had given me, raising his hand to his cap, without a
glance to indicate that he knew me, without a gesture to shew that he
was sorry he could not stop. Evidently this fiction, which he had
adopted at that moment, of not knowing me must have simplified matters
for him greatly. But I was amazed to find that he had been able to
compose himself to it so swiftly and without any instinctive movement
to betray his original impression. I had already observed at Balbec
that, side by side with that childlike sincerity of his face, the skin
of which by its transparence rendered visible the sudden tide of
certain emotions, his body had been admirably trained to perform a
certain number of well-bred dissimulations, and that, like a
consummate actor, he could, in his regimental and in his social life,
play alternately quite different parts. In one of his parts he loved
me tenderly, he acted towards me almost as if he had been my brother;
my brother he had been, he was now again, but for a moment that day he
had been another person who did not know me and who, holding the
reins, his glass screwed to his eye, without a look or a smile had
lifted his disengaged hand to the peak of his cap to give me correctly
the military salute.

The stage scenery, still in its place, among which I was passing, seen
thus at close range and without the advantage of any of those effects
of lighting and distance on which the eminent artist whose brush had
painted it had calculated, was a depressing sight, and Rachel, when I
came near her, was subjected to a no less destructive force. The
curves of her charming nose had stood out in perspective, between
stalls and stage, like the relief of the scenery. It was no longer
herself, I recognised her only thanks to her eyes, in which her
identity had taken refuge. The form, the radiance of this young star,
so brilliant a moment ago, had vanished. On the other hand—as though
we came close to the moon and it ceased to present the appearance of a
disk of rosy gold—on this face, so smooth a surface until now, I
could distinguish only protuberances, discolourations, cavities.
Despite the incoherence into which were resolved at close range not
only the feminine features but the painted canvas, I was glad to be
there to wander among the scenery, all that setting which at one time
my love of nature had prompted me to dismiss as tedious and artificial
until the description of it by Goethe in _Wilhelm Meister_ had given it
a sort of beauty in my eyes; and I had already observed with delight,
in the thick of a crowd of journalists or men of friends of the
actresses, who were greeting one another, talking, smoking, as though
in a public thoroughfare, a young man in a black velvet cap and
hortensia coloured skirt, his cheeks chalked in red like a page from a
Watteau album, who with his smiling lips, his eyes raised to the
ceiling, as he sprang lightly into the air, seemed so entirely of
another species than the rational folk in everyday clothes, in the
midst of whom he was pursuing like a madman the course of his ecstatic
dream, so alien to the preoccupations of their life, so anterior to
the habits of their civilisation, so enfranchised from all the laws of
nature, that it was as restful and as fresh a spectacle as watching a
butterfly straying along a crowded street to follow with one's eyes,
between the strips of canvas, the natural arabesques traced by his
winged capricious painted oscillations. But at that moment Saint-Loup
conceived the idea that his mistress was paying undue attention to
this dancer, who was engaged now in practising for the last time the
figure of fun with which he was going to take the stage, and his face

"You might look the other way," he warned her gloomily. "You know that
none of those dancer-fellows is worth the rope they can at least fall
off and break their necks, and they're the sort of people who go about
afterwards boasting that you've taken notice of them. Besides, you
know very well you've been told to go to your dressing-room and
change. You'll be missing your call again."

A group of men—journalists—noticing the look of fury on Saint-Loup's
face, came nearer, amused, to listen to what we were saying. And as
the stage-hands had just set up some scenery on our other side we were
forced into close contact with them.

"Oh, but I know him; he's a friend of mine," cried Saint-Loup's
mistress, her eyes still fixed on the dancer. "Look how well made he
is, do watch those little hands of his dancing away by themselves like
his whole body!"

The dancer turned his head towards her, and his human person appeared
beneath the sylph that he was endeavouring to be, the clear grey jelly
of his eyes trembled and sparkled between eyelids stiff with paint,
and a smile extended the corners of his mouth into cheeks plastered
with rouge; then, to amuse the girl, like a singer who hums to oblige
us the air of the song in which we have told her that we admired her
singing, he began to repeat the movement of his hands, counterfeiting
himself with the fineness of a parodist and the good humour of a

"Oh, that's too lovely, the way he copies himself," she cried,
clapping her hands.

"I implore you, my dearest girl," Saint-Loup broke in, in a tone of
utter misery, "do not make a scene here, I can't stand it; I swear, if
you say another word I won't go with you to your room, I shall walk
straight out; come, don't be so naughty.... You oughtn't to stand
about in the cigar smoke like that, it'll make you ill," he went on,
to me, with the solicitude he had shewn for me in our Balbec days.

"Oh! What a good thing it would be if you did go."

"I warn you, if I do I shan't come back."

"That's more than I should venture to hope."

"Listen; you know, I promised you the necklace if you behaved nicely
to me, but the moment you treat me like this...."

"Ah! Well, that doesn't surprise me in the least. You gave me your
promise; I ought to have known you'd never keep it. You want the whole
world to know you're made of money, but I'm not a money-grubber like
you. You can keep your blasted necklace; I know some one else who'll
give it to me."

"No one else can possibly give it to you; I've told Boucheron he's to
keep it for me, and I have his promise not to let anyone else have

"There you are, trying to blackmail me, you've arranged everything, I
see. That's what they mean by Marsantes, _Mater Semita_, it smells of
the race," retorted Rachel quoting an etymology which was founded on a
wild misinterpretation, for _Semita_ means 'path' and not 'Semite,'
but one which the Nationalists applied to Saint-Loup on account of the
Dreyfusard views for which, so far as that went, he was indebted to
the actress. She was less entitled than anyone to apply the word 'Jew'
to Mme. de Marsantes, in whom the ethnologists of society could
succeed in finding no trace of Judaism apart from her connexion with
the Lévy-Mirepoix family. "But this isn't the last of it, I can tell
you. An agreement like that isn't binding. You have acted
treacherously towards me. Boucheron shall be told of it and he'll be
paid twice as much for his necklace. You'll hear from me before long;
don't you worry."

Robert was in the right a hundred times over. But circumstances are
always so entangled that the man who is in the right a hundred times
may have been once in the wrong. And I could not help recalling that
unpleasant and yet quite innocent expression which he had used at
Balbec: "In that way I keep a hold over her."

"You don't understand what I mean about the necklace. I made no formal
promise: once you start doing everything you possibly can to make me
leave you, it's only natural, surely, that I shouldn't give it to you;
I fail to understand what treachery you can see in that, or what my
ulterior motive is supposed to be. You can't seriously maintain that I
brag about my money, I'm always telling you that I'm only a poor devil
without a cent to my name. It's foolish of you take it in that way, my
dear. What possible interest can I have in hurting you? You know very
well that my one interest in life is yourself."

"Oh, yes, yes, please go on," she retorted ironically, with the
sweeping gesture of a barber wielding his razor. And turning to watch
the dancer:

"Isn't he too wonderful with his hands. A woman like me couldn't do
the things he's doing now." She went closer to him and, pointing to
Robert's furious face: "Look, he's hurt," she murmured, in the
momentary elation of a sadic impulse to cruelty totally out of keeping
with the genuine feelings of affection for Saint-Loup.

"Listen, for the last time, I swear to you it doesn't matter what you
do—in a week you'll be giving anything to get me back—I shan't come;
it's a clean cut, do you hear, it's irrevocable; you will be sorry one
day, when it's too late."

Perhaps he was sincere in saying this, and the torture of leaving his
mistress may have seemed to him less cruel than that of remaining with
her in certain circumstances.

"But, my dear boy," he went on, to me, "you oughtn't to stand about
here, I tell you, it will make you cough."

I pointed to the scenery which barred my way. He touched his hat and
said to one of the journalists:

"Would you mind, sir, throwing away your cigar; the smoke is bad for
my friend."

His mistress had not waited for him to accompany her; on her way to
her dressing-room she turned round and:

"Do they do those tricks with women too, those nice little hands?" she
flung to the dancer from the back of the stage, in an artificially
melodious tone of girlish innocence. "You look just like one yourself,
I'm sure I could have a wonderful time with you and a girl I know."

"There's no rule against smoking that I know of; if people aren't
well, they have only to stay at home," said the journalist.

The dancer smiled mysteriously back at the actress.

"Oh! Do stop! You'll make me quite mad," she cried to him. "Then there
will be trouble."

"In any case, sir, you are not very civil," observed Saint-Loup to the
journalist, still with a courteous suavity, in the deliberate manner
of a man judging retrospectively the rights and wrongs of an incident
that is already closed.

At that moment I saw Saint-Loup raise his arm vertically above his
head as if he had been making a signal to some one whom I could not
see, or like the conductor of an orchestra, and indeed—without any
greater transition than when, at a simple wave of the baton, in a
symphony or a ballet, violent rhythms succeed a graceful
andante—after the courteous words that he had just uttered he brought
down his hand with a resounding smack upon the journalist's cheek.

Now that to the measured conversations of the diplomats, to the
smiling arts of peace had succeeded the furious onthrust of war, since
blows lead to blows, I should not have been surprised to see the
combatants swimming in one another's blood. But what I could not
understand (like people who feel that it is not according to the rules
when a war breaks out between two countries after some question merely
of the rectification of a frontier, or when a sick man dies after
nothing more serious than a swelling of the liver) was how Saint-Loup
had contrived to follow up those words, which implied a distinct shade
of friendliness, with an action which in no way arose out of them,
which they had not, so to speak, announced, that action of an arm
raised in defiance not only of the rights of man but of the law of
cause and effect, that action created _ex nihilo_. Fortunately the
journalist who, staggering back from the violence of the blow, had
turned pale and hesitated for a moment, did not retaliate. As for his
friends, one of them had promptly turned away his head and was looking
fixedly into the wings for some one who evidently was not there; the
second pretended that a speck of dust had got into his eye, and began
rubbing and squeezing his eyelid with every sign of being in pain;
while the third had rushed off, exclaiming: "Good heavens, I believe
the curtain's going up; we shan't get into our seats."

I wanted to speak to Saint-Loup, but he was so full of his indignation
with the dancer that it adhered exactly to the surface of his
eyeballs; like a subcutaneous structure it distended his cheeks with
the result that, his internal agitation expressing itself externally
in an entire immobility, he had not even the power of relaxation, the
'play' necessary to take in a word from me and to answer it. The
journalist's friends, seeing that the incident was at an end, gathered
round him again, still trembling. But, ashamed of having deserted him,
they were absolutely determined that he should be made to suppose that
they had noticed nothing. And so they dilated, one upon the speck of
dust in his eye, one upon his false alarm when he had thought that the
curtain was going up, the third upon the astonishing resemblance
between a man who had just gone by and the speaker's brother. Indeed
they seemed quite to resent their friend's not having shared their
several emotions.

"What, didn't it strike you? You must be going blind."

"What I say is that you're a pack of curs," growled the journalist
whom Saint-Loup had punished.

Forgetting the poses they had adopted, to be consistent with which
they ought—but they did not think of it—to have pretended not to
understand what he meant, they fell back on certain expressions
traditional in the circumstances: "What's all the excitement? Keep
your hair on, old chap. Don't take the bit in your teeth."

I had realised that morning beneath the pear blossom how illusory were
the grounds upon which Robert's love for 'Rachel when from the Lord'
was based; I was bound now to admit how very real were the sufferings
to which that love gave rise. Gradually the feeling that had obsessed
him for the last hour, without a break, began to diminish, receded
into him, an unoccupied pliable zone appeared in his eyes. I had
stopped for a moment at a corner of the Avenue Gabriel from which I
had often in the past seen Gilberte appear. I tried for a few seconds
to recall those distant impressions, and was hurrying at a 'gymnastic'
pace to overtake Saint-Loup when I saw that a gentleman, somewhat
shabbily attired, appeared to be talking to him confidentially. I
concluded that this was a personal friend of Robert; at the same time
they seemed to be drawing even closer to one another; suddenly, as a
meteor flashes through the sky, I saw a number of ovoid bodies assume
with a giddy swiftness all the positions necessary for them to form,
before Saint-Loup's face and body, a flickering constellation. Flung
out like stones from a catapult, they seemed to me to be at the very
least seven in number. They were merely, however, Saint-Loup's pair of
fists, multiplied by the speed with which they were changing their
places in this—to all appearance ideal and decorative—arrangement.
But this elaborate display was nothing more than a pummelling which
Saint-Loup was administering, the true character of which, aggressive
rather than aesthetic, was first revealed to me by the aspect of the
shabbily dressed gentleman who appeared to be losing at once his
self-possession, his lower jaw and a quantity of blood. He gave
fictitious explanations to the people who came up to question him,
turned his head and, seeing that Saint-Loup had made off and was
hastening to rejoin me, stood gazing after him with an offended,
crushed, but by no means furious expression on his face. Saint-Loup,
on the other hand, was furious, although he himself had received no
blow, and his eyes were still blazing with anger when he reached me.
The incident was in no way connected (as I had supposed) with the
assault in the theatre. It was an impassioned loiterer who, seeing the
fine looking young soldier that Saint-Loup was, had made overtures to
him. My friend could not get over the audacity of this 'clique' who no
longer even waited for the shades of night to cover their operations,
and spoke of the suggestion that had been made to him with the same
indignation as the newspapers use in reporting an armed assault and
robbery, in broad daylight, in the centre of Paris. And yet the
recipient of his blow was excusable in one respect, for the trend of
the downward slope brings desire so rapidly to the point of enjoyment
that beauty by itself appears to imply consent. Now, that Saint-Loup
was beautiful was beyond dispute. Castigation such as he had just
administered has this value, for men of the type that had accosted
him, that it makes them think seriously of their conduct, though never
for long enough to enable them to amend their ways and thus escape
correction at the hands of the law. And so, although Saint-Loup's arm
had shot out instinctively, without any preliminary thought, all such
punishments, even when they reinforce the law, are powerless to bring
about any uniformity in morals.

These incidents, particularly the one that was weighing most on his
mind, seemed to have prompted in Robert a desire to be left alone for
a while. After a moment's silence he asked me to leave him, and to go
by myself to call on Mme. de Villeparisis. He would join me there, but
preferred that we should not enter the room together, so that he might
appear to have only just arrived in Paris, instead of having spent
half the day already with me.

As I had supposed before making the acquaintance of Mme. de
Villeparisis at Balbec, there was a vast difference between the world
in which she lived and that of Mme. de Guermantes. Mme. de
Villeparisis was one of those women who, born of a famous house,
entering by marriage into another no less famous, do not for all that
enjoy any great position in the social world, and, apart from a few
duchesses who are their nieces or sisters-in-law, perhaps even a
crowned head or two, old family friends, see their drawing-rooms
filled only by third-rate people, drawn from the middle classes or
from a nobility either provincial or tainted in some way, whose
presence there has long since driven away all such smart and snobbish
folk as are not obliged to come to the house by ties of blood or the
claims of a friendship too old to be ignored. Certainly I had no
difficulty after the first few minutes in understanding how Mme. de
Villeparisis, at Balbec, had come to be so well informed, better than
ourselves even, as to the smallest details of the tour through Spain
which my father was then making with M. de Norpois. Even this,
however, did not make it possible to rest content with the theory that
the intimacy—of more than twenty years' standing—between Mme. de
Villeparisis and the Ambassador could have been responsible for the
lady's loss of caste in a world where the smartest women boasted the
attachment of lovers far less respectable than he not to mention that
it was probably years since he had been anything more to the Marquise
than just an old friend. Had Mme. de Villeparisis then had other
adventures in days gone by? Being then of a more passionate
temperament than now, in a calm and religious old age which
nevertheless owed some of its mellow colouring to those ardent,
vanished years, had she somehow failed, in the country neighbourhood
where she had lived for so long, to avoid certain scandals unknown to
the younger generation who simply took note of their effect in the
unequal and defective composition of a visiting list bound, otherwise,
to have been among the purest of any taint of mediocrity? That 'sharp
tongue' which her nephew ascribed to her, had it in those far-off days
made her enemies? Had it driven her into taking advantage of certain
successes with men so as to avenge herself upon women? All this was
possible; nor could the exquisitely sensitive way in which—giving so
delicate a shade not merely to her words but to her intonation—Mme.
de Villeparisis spoke of modesty or generosity be held to invalidate
this supposition; for the people who not only speak with approval of
certain virtues but actually feel their charm and shew a marvellous
comprehension of them (people in fact who will, when they come to
write their memoirs, present a worthy picture of those virtues) are
often sprung from but not actually part of the silent, simple, artless
generation which practised them. That generation is reflected in them
but is not continued. Instead of the character which it possessed we
find a sensibility, an intelligence which are not conducive to action.
And whether or not there had been in the life of Mme. de Villeparisis
any of those scandals, which (if there had) the lustre of her name
would have blotted out, it was this intellect, resembling rather that
of a writer of the second order than that of a woman of position, that
was undoubtedly the cause of her social degradation.

It is true that they were not specially elevating, the qualities, such
as balance and restraint, which Mme. de Villeparisis chiefly extolled;
but to speak of restraint in a manner that shall be entirely adequate,
the word 'restraint' is not enough, we require some of the qualities
of authorship which presuppose a quite unrestrained exaltation; I had
remarked at Balbec that the genius of certain great artists was
completely unintelligible to Mme. de Villeparisis; and that all she
could do was to make delicate fun of them and to express her
incomprehension in a graceful and witty form. But this wit and grace,
at the point to which she carried them, became themselves—on another
plane, and even although they were employed to belittle the noblest
masterpieces—true artistic qualities. Now the effect of such
qualities on any social position is a morbid activity of the kind
which doctors call elective, and so disintegrating that the most
firmly established pillars of society are hard put to it to hold out
for any length of time. What artists call intellect seems pure
presumption to the fashionable world which, unable to place itself at
the sole point of view from which they, the artists, look at and judge
things, incapable of understanding the particular attraction to which
they yield when they choose an expression or start a friendship, feel
in their company an exhaustion, an irritation, from which antipathy
very shortly springs. And yet in her conversation, and the same may be
said of the _Memoirs_ which she afterwards published, Mme. de
Villeparisis shewed nothing but a sort of grace that was eminently
social. Having passed by great works without mastering sometimes
without even noticing them, she had preserved from the period in which
she had lived and which, moreover, she described with great aptness
and charm, little more than the most frivolous of the gifts that they
had had to offer her. But a narrative of this sort, even when it
treats exclusively of subjects that are not intellectual, is still a
work of the intellect, and to give in a book or in conversation, which
is almost the same thing, a deliberate impression of frivolity, a
serious touch is required which a purely frivolous person would be
incapable of supplying. In a certain book of reminiscences written by
a woman and regarded as a masterpiece, the phrase that people quote as
a model of airy grace has always made me suspect that, in order to
arrive at such a pitch of lightness, the author must originally have
had a rather stodgy education, a boring culture, and that as a girl
she probably appeared to her friends an insufferable prig. And between
certain literary qualities and social failure the connexion is so
inevitable that when we open Mme. de Villeparisis's _Memoirs_ to-day,
on any page a fitting epithet, a sequence of metaphors will suffice to
enable the reader to reconstruct the deep but icy bow which must have
been bestowed on the old Marquise on the staircases of the Embassies
by a snob like Mme. Leroi, who perhaps may have left a card on her
when she went to call on the Guermantes, but never set foot in her
house for fear of losing caste among all the doctors' or solicitors'
wives whom she would find there. A bluestocking Mme. de Villeparisis
had perhaps been in her earliest youth, and, intoxicated with the
ferment of her own knowledge, had perhaps failed to realise the
importance of not applying to people in society, less intelligent and
less educated than herself, those cutting strokes which the injured
party never forgets.

Moreover, talent is not a separate appendage which one artificially
attaches to those qualities which make for social success, in order to
create from the whole what people in society call a 'complete woman.'
It is the living product of a certain moral complexion, from which as
a rule many moral qualities are lacking and in which there
predominates a sensibility of which other manifestations such as we do
not notice in a book may make themselves quite distinctly felt in the
course of a life, certain curiosities for instance, certain whims, the
desire to go to this place or that for one's own amusement and not
with a view to the extension, the maintenance or even the mere
exercise of one's social relations. I had seen at Balbec Mme. de
Villeparisis hemmed in by a bodyguard of her own servants without even
a glance, as she passed, at the people sitting in the hall of the
hotel. But I had had a presentiment that this abstention was due not
to indifference, and it seemed that she had not always confined
herself to it. She would get a sudden craze to know some one or other
because she had seen him and thought him good-looking, or merely
because she had been told that he was amusing, or because he had
struck her as different from the people she knew, who at this period,
when she had not yet begun to appreciate them because she imagined
that they would never fail her, belonged, all of them, to the purest
cream of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. To the bohemian, the humble
middle-class gentleman whom she had marked out with her favour she was
obliged to address invitations the importance of which he was unable
to appreciate, with an insistence which began gradually to depreciate
her in the eyes of the snobs who were in the habit of estimating the
smartness of a house by the people whom its mistress excluded rather
than by those whom she entertained. Certainly, if at a given moment in
her youth Mme. de Villeparisis, surfeited with the satisfaction of
belonging to the fine flower of the aristocracy, had found a sort of
amusement in scandalising the people among whom she lived, and in
deliberately impairing her own position in society, she had begun to
attach its full importance to that position once it was definitely
lost. She had wished to shew the Duchesses that she was better than
they, by saying and doing all the things that they dared not say or
do. But now that they all, save such as were closely related to her,
had ceased to call, she felt herself diminished, and sought once more
to reign, but with another sceptre than that of wit. She would have
liked to attract to her house all those women whom she had taken such
pains to drive away. How many women's lives, lives of which little
enough is known (for we all live in different worlds according to our
ages, and the discretion of their elders prevents the young from
forming any clear idea of the past and so completing the cycle), have
been divided in this way into contrasted periods, the last being
entirely devoted to the reconquest of what in the second has been so
light-heartedly flung on the wind. Flung on the wind in what way? The
young people are all the less capable of imagining it, since they see
before them an elderly and respectable Marquise de Villeparisis and
have no idea that the grave diarist of the present day, so dignified
beneath her pile of snowy hair, can ever have been a gay
midnight-reveller who was perhaps the delight in those days, devoured
the fortunes perhaps of men now sleeping in their graves; that she
should also have set to work, with a persevering and natural industry,
to destroy the position which she owed to her high birth does not in
the least imply that even at that remote period Mme. de Villeparisis
did not attach great importance to her position. In the same way the
web of isolation, of inactivity in which a neurasthenic lives may be
woven by him from morning to night without therefore seeming
endurable, and while he is hastening to add another mesh to the net
which holds him captive, it is possible that he is dreaming only of
dancing, sport and travel. We are at work every moment upon giving its
form to our life, but we do so by copying unintentionally, like the
example in a book, the features of the person that we are and not of
him who we should like to be. The disdainful bow of Mme. Leroi might
to some extent be expressive of the true nature of Mme. de
Villeparisis; it in no way corresponded to her ambition.

No doubt at the same moment at which Mme. Leroi was—to use an
expression beloved of Mme. Swann—'cutting' the Marquise, the latter
could seek consolation in remembering how Queen Marie-Amélie had once
said to her: "You are just like a daughter to me." But such marks of
royal friendship, secret and unknown to the world, existed for the
Marquise alone, dusty as the diploma of an old Conservatoire medalist.
The only true social advantages are those that create life, that can
disappear without the person who has benefited by them needing to try
to keep them or to make them public, because on the same day a hundred
others will take their place. And for all that she could remember the
Queen's using those words to her, she would nevertheless have bartered
them gladly for the permanent faculty of being asked everywhere which
Mme. Leroi possessed as in a restaurant a great but unknown artist
whose genius is written neither in the lines of his bashful face nor
in the antiquated cut of his threadbare coat, would willingly be even
the young stock-jobber, of the lowest grade of society, who is sitting
with a couple of actresses at a neighbouring table to which in an
obsequious and incessant chain come hurrying manager, head waiter,
pages and even the scullions who file out of the kitchen to salute
him, as in the fairy-tales, while the wine waiter advances,
dust-covered like his bottles, limping and dazed, as if on his way up
from the cellar he had twisted his foot before emerging into the light
of day.

It must be remarked, however, that in Mme. de Villeparisis's
drawing-room the absence of Mme. Leroi, if it distressed the lady of
the house, passed unperceived by the majority of her guests. They were
entirely ignorant of the peculiar position which Mme. Leroi occupied,
a position known only to the fashionable world, and never doubted
that Mme. de Villeparisis's receptions were, as the readers of her
_Memoirs_ to-day are convinced that they must have been, the most
brilliant in Paris.

On the occasion of this first call which, after leaving Saint-Loup, I
went to pay on Mme. Villeparisis, following the advice given by M. de
Norpois to my father, I found her in her drawing-room hung with yellow
silk, against which the sofas and the admirable armchairs upholstered
in Beauvais tapestry stood out with the almost purple redness of ripe
raspberries. Side by side with the Guermantes and Villeparisis
portraits one saw those—gifts from the sitters themselves—of Queen
Marie-Amélie, the Queen of the Belgians, the Prince de Joinville and
the Empress of Austria. Mme. de Villeparisis herself, capped with an
old-fashioned bonnet of black lace (which she preserved with the same
instinctive sense of local or historical colour as a Breton inn-keeper
who, however Parisian his customers may have become, feels it more in
keeping to make his maids dress in coifs and wide sleeves), was seated
at a little desk on which in front of her, as well as her brushes, her
palette and an unfinished flower-piece in water-colours, were arranged
in glasses, in saucers, in cups, moss-roses, zinnias, maidenhair
ferns, which on account of the sudden influx of callers she had just
left off painting, and which had the effect of being piled on a
florist's counter in some eighteenth-century mezzotint. In this
drawing-room, which had been slightly heated on purpose because the
Marquise had caught cold on the journey from her house in the country,
there were already when I arrived a librarian with whom Mme. de
Villeparisis had spent the morning in selecting the autograph letters
to herself from various historical personages which were to figure in
facsimile as documentary evidence in the _Memoirs_ which she was
preparing for the press, and a historian, solemn and tongue-tied, who
hearing that she had inherited and still possessed a portrait of the
Duchesse de Montmorency, had come to ask her permission to reproduce
it as a plate in his work on the Fronde; a party strengthened
presently by the addition of my old friend Bloch, now a rising
dramatist, upon whom she counted to secure the gratuitous services of
actors and actresses at her next series of afternoon parties. It was
true that the social kaleidoscope was in the act of turning and that
the Dreyfus case was shortly to hurl the Jews down to the lowest rung
of the social ladder. But, for one thing, the anti-Dreyfus cyclone
might rage as it would, it is not in the first hour of a storm that
the waves are highest. In the second place, Mme. de Villeparisis,
leaving a whole section of her family to fulminate against the Jews,
had hitherto kept herself entirely aloof from the Case and never gave
it a thought. Lastly, a young man like Bloch, whom no one knew, might
pass unperceived, whereas leading Jews, representatives of their
party, were already threatened. He had his chin pointed now by a
goat-beard, wore double glasses and a long frock coat, and carried a
glove like a roll of papyrus in his hand. The Rumanians, the
Egyptians, the Turks may hate the Jews. But in a French drawing-room
the differences between those peoples are not so apparent, and an
Israelite making his entry as though he were emerging from the heart
of the desert, his body crouching like a hyaena's, his neck thrust
obliquely forward, spreading himself in profound 'salaams,' completely
satisfies a certain taste for the oriental. Only it is essential that
the Jew should not be actually 'in' society, otherwise he will readily
assume the aspect of a lord and his manners become so Gallicised that
on his face a rebellious nose, growing like a nasturtium in any but
the right direction, will make one think rather of Mascarille's nose
than of Solomon's. But Bloch, not having been rendered supple by the
gymnastics of the Faubourg, nor ennobled by a crossing with England or
Spain, remained for a lover of the exotic as strange and savoury a
spectacle, in spite of his European costume, as one of Decamps's Jews.
Marvellous racial power which from the dawn of time thrusts to the
surface, even in modern Paris, on the stage of our theatres, behind
the pigeonholes of our public offices, at a funeral, in the street, a
solid phalanx, setting their mark upon our modern ways of
hairdressing, absorbing, making us forget, disciplining the frock coat
which on them remains not at all unlike the garment in which Assyrian
scribes are depicted in ceremonial attire on the frieze of a monument
at Susa before the gates of the Palace of Darius. (Later in the
afternoon Bloch might have imagined that it was out of anti-semitic
malice that M. de Charlus inquired whether his first name was Jewish,
whereas it was simply from aesthetic interest and love of local
colour.) But, to revert for a moment, when we speak of racial
persistence we do not accurately convey the impression we receive from
Jews, Greeks, Persians, all those peoples whom it is better to leave
with their differences. We know from classical paintings the faces of
the ancient Greeks, we have seen Assyrians on the walls of a palace at
Susa. And so we feel, on encountering in a Paris drawing-room
Orientals belonging to one or another group, that we are in the
presence of creatures whom the forces of necromancy must have called
to life. We knew hitherto only a superficial image; behold it has
gained depth, it extends into three dimensions, it moves. The young
Greek lady, daughter of a rich banker and the latest favourite of
society, looks exactly like one of those dancers who in the chorus of
a ballet at once historical and aesthetic symbolise in flesh and blood
the art of Hellas; and yet in the theatre the setting makes these
images somehow trite; the spectacle, on the other hand, to which the
entry into a drawing-room of a Turkish lady or a Jewish gentleman
admits us, by animating their features makes them appear stranger
still, as if they really were creatures evoked by the effort of a
medium. It is the soul (or rather the pigmy thing to which—up to the
present, at any rate—the soul is reduced in this sort of
materialisation), it is the soul of which we have caught glimpses
hitherto in museums alone, the soul of the ancient Greeks, of the
ancient Hebrews, torn from a life at once insignificant and
transcendental, which seems to be enacting before our eyes this
disconcerting pantomime. In the young Greek lady who is leaving the
room what we seek in vain to embrace is the figure admired long ago on
the side of a vase. I felt that if I had in the light of Mme. de
Villeparisis's drawing-room taken photographs of Bloch, they would
have furnished of Israel the same image—so disturbing because it does
not appear to emanate from humanity, so deceiving because all the same
it is so strangely like humanity—which we find in spirit photographs.
There is nothing, to speak more generally, not even the insignificance
of the remarks made by the people among whom we spend our lives, that
does not give us a sense of the supernatural, in our everyday world
where even a man of genius from whom we expect, gathered as though
around a turning-table, to learn the secret of the Infinite utters
only these words—the same that had just issued from the lips of
Bloch: "Take care of my top hat."

"Oh, Ministers, my dear sir," Mme. de Villeparisis was saying,
addressing herself specially to my friend, and picking up the thread
of a conversation which had been broken by my arrival: "nobody ever
wanted to see them. I was only a child at the time, but I can remember
so well the King begging my grandfather to invite M. Decazes to a rout
at which my father was to dance with the Duchesse de Berry. 'It will
give me pleasure, Florimond,' said the King. My grandfather, who was a
little deaf, thought he had said M. de Castries, which seemed a
perfectly natural thing to ask. When he understood that it was M.
Decazes, he was furious at first, but he gave in, and wrote a note the
same evening to M. Decazes, begging him to pay my grandfather the
compliment and give him the honour of his presence at the ball which
he was giving the following week. For we were polite, sir, in those
days, and no hostess would have dreamed of simply sending her card and
writing on it 'Tea' or 'Dancing' or 'Music.' But if we understood
politeness we were not incapable of impertinence either. M. Decazes
accepted, but the day before the ball it was given out that my
grandfather felt indisposed and had cancelled his invitations. He had
obeyed the King, but he had not had M. Decazes at his ball.... Yes,
sir, I remember M. Molé very well, he was a clever man—he shewed that
in his reception of M. de Vigny at the Academy—but he was very
pompous, and I can see him now coming downstairs to dinner in his own
house with his tall hat in his hand."

"Ah! that is typically suggestive of what must have been a pretty
perniciously philistine epoch, for it was no doubt a universal habit
to carry one's hat in one's hand in one's own house," observed Bloch,
anxious to make the most of so rare an opportunity of learning from an
eyewitness details of the aristocratic life of another day, while the
librarian, who was a sort of intermittent secretary to the Marquise,
gazed at her tenderly as though he were saying to the rest of us:
"There, you see what she's like, she knows everything, she has met
everybody, you can ask her anything you like, she's quite amazing."

"Oh, dear, no," replied Mme. de Villeparisis, drawing nearer to her as
she spoke the glass containing the maidenhair which presently she
would begin again to paint, "it was a habit M. Molé had; that was all.
I never saw my father carry his hat in the house, except of course
when the King came, because the King being at home wherever he is the
master of the house is only a visitor then in his own drawing-room."

"Aristotle tells us in the second chapter of..." ventured M. Pierre,
the historian of the Fronde, but so timidly that no one paid any
attention. Having been suffering for some weeks from a nervous
insomnia which resisted every attempt at treatment, he had given up
going to bed, and, half-dead with exhaustion, went out only whenever
his work made it imperative. Incapable of repeating at all often
these expeditions which, simple enough for other people, cost him as
much effort as if, to make them, he was obliged to come down from the
moon, he was surprised to be brought up so frequently against the fact
that other people's lives were not organised on a constant and
permanent basis so as to furnish the maximum utility to the sudden
outbursts of his own. He sometimes found the doors shut of a library
which he had reached only after setting himself artificially on his
feet and in a frock coat like some automaton in a story by Mr. Wells.
Fortunately he had found Mme. de Villeparisis at home and was going to
be shewn the portrait.

Meanwhile he was cut short by Bloch. "Indeed," the latter remarked,
referring to what Mme. de Villeparisis had said as to the etiquette
for royal visits. "Do you know, I never knew that," as though it were
strange that he should not have known it always.

"Talking of that sort of visit, you heard the stupid joke my nephew
Basin played on me yesterday morning?" Mme. de Villeparisis asked the
librarian. "He told my people, instead of announcing him, to say that
it was the Queen of Sweden who had called to see me."

"What! He made them tell you just like that! I say, he must have a
nerve," exclaimed Bloch with a shout of laughter, while the historian
smiled with a stately timidity.

"I was quite surprised, because I had only been back from the country
a few days; I had specially arranged, just to be left in peace for a
little, that no one was to be told that I was in Paris, and I asked
myself how the Queen of Sweden could have heard so soon," went on Mme.
de Villeparisis, leaving her guests amazed to find that a visit from
the Queen of Sweden was in itself nothing out of the common to their

Earlier in the day Mme. de Villeparisis might have been collaborating
with the librarian in arranging the illustrations to her _Memoirs_;
now she was, quite unconsciously, trying their effect on an average
public typical of that from which she would eventually have to enlist
her readers. Hers might be different in many ways from a really
fashionable drawing-room in which you would have been struck by the
absence of a number of middle class ladies to whom Mme. de Villeparisis
was 'at home,' and would have noticed instead such brilliant leaders
of fashion as Mme. Leroi had in course of time managed to secure, but
this distinction is not perceptible in her _Memoirs_, from which
certain unimportant friendships of the author have disappeared because
there is never any occasion to refer to them; while the absence of
those who did not come to see her leaves no gap because, in the
necessarily restricted space at the author's disposal, only a few
persons can appear, and if these persons are royal personages,
historic personalities, then the utmost impression of distinction
which any volume of memoirs can convey to the public is achieved. In
the opinion of Mme. Leroi, Mme. de Villeparisis's parties were
third-rate; and Mme. de Villeparisis felt the sting of Mme. Leroi's
opinion. But hardly anyone to-day remembers who Mme. Leroi was, her
opinions have vanished into thin air, and it is the drawing-room of
Mme. de Villeparisis, frequented as it was by the Queen of Sweden, and
as it had been by the Duc d'Aumale, the Duc de Broglie, Thiers,
Montalembert, Mgr. Dupanloup, which will be looked upon as one of the
most brilliant of the nineteenth century by that posterity which has
not changed since the days of Homer and Pindar, and for which the
enviable things are exalted birth, royal or quasi-royal, and the
friendship of kings, the leaders of the people and other eminent men.

Now of all this Mme. de Villeparisis had her share in the people who
still came to her house and in the memories—sometimes slightly
'touched up'—by means of which she extended her social activity into
the past. And then there was M. de Norpois who, while unable to
restore his friend to any substantial position in society, did indeed
bring to her house such foreign or French statesmen as might have need
of his services and knew that the only effective method of securing
them was to pay court to Mme. de Villeparisis. Possibly Mme. Leroi
also knew these European celebrities. But, as a well-mannered woman
who avoids anything that suggests the bluestocking, she would as
little have thought of mentioning the Eastern question to her Prime
Ministers as of discussing the nature of love with her novelists and
philosophers. "Love?" she had once replied to a pushing lady who had
asked her: "What are your views on love?"—"Love? I make it,
constantly, but I never talk about it." When she had any of these
literary or political lions in her house she contented herself, as did
the Duchesse de Guermantes, with setting them down to play poker. They
often preferred this to the serious conversations on general ideas in
which Mme. de Villeparisis forced them to engage. But these
conversations, ridiculous as in the social sense they may have been,
have furnished the _Memoirs_ of Mme. de Villeparisis with those
admirable passages, those dissertations on politics which read so well
in volumes of autobiography, as they do in Corneille's tragedies.
Furthermore, the parties of the Villeparisis of this world are alone
destined to be handed down to posterity, because the Lerois of this
world cannot write, and, if they could, would not have the time. And
if the literary bent of the Villeparisis is the cause of the Lerois'
disdain, the disdain of the Lerois does, in its turn, a singular
service to the literary bent of the Villeparisis by affording the
bluestockings that leisure which the career of letters requires. God,
Whose Will it is that there should be a few books in the world well
written, breathes with that purpose such disdain into the hearts of
the Lerois, for He knows that if these should invite the Villeparisis
to dinner the latter would at once rise from their writing tables and
order their carriages to be round at eight.

Presently there came into the room, with slow and solemn step, an old
lady of tall stature who, beneath the raised brim of her straw hat,
revealed a monumental pile of snowy hair in the style of
Marie-Antoinette. I did not then know that she was one of three women
who were still to be seen in Parisian society and who, like Mme. de
Villeparisis, while all of the noblest birth, had been reduced, for
reasons which were IKJW lost in the night of time and could have been
told us only by some old gallant of their period, to entertaining only
certain of the dregs of society who were not sought after elsewhere.
Each of these ladies had her own 'Duchesse de Guermantes,' the
brilliant niece who came regularly to pay her respects, but none of
them could have succeeded in attracting to her house the 'Duchesse de
Guermantes' of either of the others. Mme. de Villeparisis was on the
best of terms with these three ladies, but she did not like them.
Perhaps the similarity between their social position and her own gave
her an impression of them which was not pleasing. Besides, soured
bluestockings as they were, seeking by the number and frequency of the
drawing-room comedies which they arranged in their houses to give
themselves the illusion of a regular salon, there had grown up among
them a rivalry which the decay of her fortune in the course of a
somewhat tempestuous existence reduced for each of them, when it was a
question of securing the kind assistance of a professional actor or
actress, into a sort of struggle for life. Furthermore, the lady with
the Mark-Antoinette hair, whenever she set eyes on Mme. de
Villeparisis, could not help being reminded of the fact that the
Duchesse de Guermantes did not come to her Fridays. Her consolation
was that at these same Fridays she could always count on having, blood
being thicker than water, the Princesse de Poix, who was her own
personal Guermantes, and who never went near Mme. de Villeparisis,
albeit Mme. de Poix was an intimate friend of the Duchess.

Nevertheless from the mansion on the Quai Malaquais to the
drawing-rooms of the Rue de Tournon, the Rue de la Chaise and the
Faubourg Saint-Honoré, a bond as compelling as it was hateful united
the three fallen goddesses, as to whom I would fain have learned by
searching in some dictionary of social mythology through what gallant
adventure, what sacrilegious presumption, they had incurred their
punishment. Their common brilliance of origin, the common decay of
their present state entered largely, no doubt, into the necessity
which compelled them, while hating one another, to frequent one
another's society. Besides, each of them found in the others a
convenient way of being polite to her own guests. How should these
fail to suppose that they had scaled the most inaccessible peak of the
Faubourg when they were introduced to a lady with a string of titles
whose sister was married to a Duc de Sagan or a Prince de Ligne?
Especially as there was infinitely more in the newspapers about these
sham salons than about the genuine ones. Indeed these old ladies' 'men
about town' nephews—and Saint-Loup the foremost of them—when asked
by a friend to introduce him to people, would answer at once "I will
take you to see my aunt Villeparisis," (or whichever it was) "you meet
interesting people there." They knew very well that this would mean
less trouble for themselves than trying to get the said friends
invited by the smart nieces or sisters-in-law of these ladies. Certain
very old men and young women who had heard it from those men, told me
that if these ladies were no longer received in society it was because
of the extraordinary irregularity of their conduct, which, when I
objected that irregular conduct was not necessarily a barrier to
social success, was represented to me as having gone far beyond
anything that we know to-day. The misconduct of these solemn dames who
held themselves so erect assumed on the lips of those who hinted at it
something that I was incapable of imagining, proportionate to the
magnitude of prehistoric days, to the age of the mammoth. In a word,
these three Parcae with their white or blue or red locks had spun the
fatal threads of an incalculable number of gentlemen. I felt that the
people of to-day exaggerated the vices of those fabulous times, like
the Greeks who created Icarus, Theseus, Heracles out of men who had
been but little different from those who long afterwards deified them.
But one does not tabulate the sum of a person's vices until he has
almost ceased to be in a fit state to practise them, when from the
magnitude of his social punishment, which is then nearing the
completion of its term and which alone one can estimate, one measures,
one imagines, one exaggerates that of the crime that has been
committed. In that gallery of symbolical figures which is 'society,'
the really light women, the true Messalinas, invariably present the
solemn aspect of a lady of at least seventy, with an air of lofty
distinction, who entertains everyone she can but not everyone she
would like to have, to whose house women will never consent to go
whose own conduct falls in any way short of perfection, to whom the
Pope regularly sends his Golden Rose, and who as often as not has
written—on the early days of Lamartine—an essay that has been
crowned by the French Academy. "How d'ye do, Alix?" Mme. de
Villeparisis greeted the Marie-Antoinette lady, which lady cast a
searching glance round the assembly to see whether there was not in
this drawing-room any item that might be a valuable addition to her
own, in which case she would have to discover it for herself, for Mme.
de Villeparisis, she was sure, would be spiteful enough to try to keep
it from her. Thus Mme. de Villeparisis took good care not to introduce
Bloch to the old lady for fear of his being asked to produce the same
play that he was arranging for her in the drawing-room of the Quai
Malaquais. Besides it was only tit for tat. For, the evening before,
the old lady had had Mme. Ristori, who had recited, and had taken care
that Mme. de Villeparisis, from whom she had filched the Italian
artist, should not hear of this function until it was over. So that
she should not read it first in the newspapers and feel annoyed, the
old lady had come in person to tell her about it, shewing no sense of
guilt. Mme. de Villeparisis, considering that an introduction of
myself was not likely to have the same awkward results as that of
Bloch, made me known to the Marie-Antoinette of the Quai Malaquais.
The latter, who sought, by making the fewest possible movements, to
preserve in her old age those lines, as of a Coysevox goddess, which
had years ago charmed the young men of fashion and which spurious
poets still celebrated in rhymed charades—and had acquired the habit
of a lofty and compensating stiffness common to all those whom a
personal degradation obliges to be continually making advances—just
perceptibly lowered her head with a frigid majesty, and, turning the
other way, took no more notice of me than if I had not existed. By
this crafty attitude she seemed to be assuring Mme. de Villeparisis:
"You see, I'm nowhere near him; please understand that I'm not
interested—in any sense of the word, you old cat—in little boys."
But when, twenty minutes later, she left the room, taking advantage of
the general conversation, she slipped into my ear an invitation to
come to her box the following Friday with another of the three, whose
high-sounding name—she had been born a Choiseul, moreover—had a
prodigious effect on me.

"I understand, sir, that you are thinkin' of writin' somethin' about
Mme. la Duchesse de Montmorency," said Mme. de Villeparisis to the
historian of the Fronde in that grudging tone which she allowed, quite
unconsciously, to spoil the effect of her great and genuine kindness,
a tone due to the shrivelling crossness, the sense of grievance that
is a physiological accompaniment of age, as well as to the affectation
of imitating the almost rustic speech of the old nobility: "I'm goin'
to let you see her portrait, the original of the copy they have in the

She rose, laying down her brushes beside the flowers, and the little
apron which then came into sight at her waist, and which she wore so
as not to stain her dress with paints, added still further to the
impression of an old peasant given by her bonnet and her big
spectacles, and offered a sharp contrast to the luxury of her
appointments, the butler who had brought in the tea and cakes, the
liveried footman for whom she now rang to light up the portrait of the
Duchesse de Montmorency, Abbess of one of the most famous Chapters in
the East of France. Everyone had risen. "What is rather amusin'," said
our hostess, "is that in these Chapters where our great-aunts were so
often made Abbesses, the daughters of the King of France would not
have been admitted. They were very close corporations." "Not admit the
King's daughters," cried Bloch in amazement, "why ever not?" "Why,
because the House of France had not enough quartering after that low
marriage." Bloch's bewilderment increased. "A low marriage? The House
of France? When was that?" "Why, when they married into the Medicis,"
replied Mme. de Villeparisis in the most natural manner. "It's a fine
picture, ain't it, and in a perfect state of preservation," she added.

'My dear," put in the Marie-Antoinette lady, "surely you remember that
when I brought Liszt to see you he said that it was this one that was
the copy."

"I should bow to any opinion of Liszt on music, but not on painting
Besides, he was quite off his head then, and I don't remember his ever
saying anything of the sort. But it wasn't you that brought him here.
I had met him any number of times at dinner at Princess

Alix's shot had missed fire; she stood silent, erect and motionless.
Plastered with layers of powder, her face had the appearance of a face
of stone. And, as the profile was noble, she seemed, on a triangular
and moss-grown pedestal hidden by her cape, the time-worn stucco
goddess of a park.

"Ah, I see another fine portrait," began the historian.

The door opened and the Duchesse de Guermantes entered the room.

"Well, how are you?" Mme. de Villeparisis greeted her without moving
her head, taking from her apron-pocket a hand which she held out to
the newcomer; and then ceasing at once to take any notice of her
niece, in order to return to the historian: "That is the portrait of
the Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld...."

A young servant with a bold manner and a charming face (but so finely
chiselled, to ensure its perfection, that the nose was a little red
and the rest of the skin slightly flushed as though they were still
smarting from the recent and sculptural incision) came in bearing a
card on a salver.

"It is that gentleman who has been several times to see Mme. la

"Did you tell him I was at home?"

"He heard the voices."

"Oh, very well then, shew him in. It's a man who was introduced to
me," she explained. "He told me he was very anxious to come to the
house. I certainly never said he might. But here he's taken the
trouble to call five times now; it doesn't do to hurt people's
feelings. Sir," she went on to me, "and you, Sir," to the historian of
the Fronde, "let me introduce my niece, the Duchesse de Guermantes."

The historian made a low bow, as I did also, and since he seemed to
suppose that some friendly remark ought to follow this salute, his
eyes brightened and he was preparing to open his mouth when he was
once more frozen by the sight of Mme. de Guermantes who had taken
advantage of the independence of her torso to throw it forward with an
exaggerated politeness and bring it neatly back to a position of rest
without letting face or eyes appear to have noticed that anyone was
standing before them; after breathing a gentle sigh she contented
herself with manifesting the nullity of the impression that had been
made on her by the sight of the historian and myself by performing
certain movements of her nostrils with a precision that testified to
the absolute inertia of her unoccupied attention.

The importunate visitor entered the room, making straight for Mme. de
Villeparisis with an ingenuous, fervent air: it was Legrandin.

"Thank you so very much for letting me come and see you," he began,
laying stress on the word 'very.' "It is a pleasure of a quality
altogether rare and subtle that you confer on an old solitary; I
assure you that its repercussion..." He stopped short on catching
sight of me.

"I was just shewing this gentleman a fine portrait of the Duchesse de
La Rochefoucauld, the wife of the author of the _Maxims_; it's a
family picture."

Mme. de Guermantes meanwhile had greeted Alix, with apologies for not
having been able, that year as in every previous year, to go and see
her. "I hear all about you from Madeleine," she added.

"She was at luncheon with me to-day," said the Marquise of the Quai
Malaquais, with the satisfying reflexion that Mme. de Villeparisis
could never say that.

Meanwhile I had been talking to Bloch, and fearing, from what I had
been told of his father's change of attitude towards him, that he
might be envying my life, I said to him that his must be the happier
of the two. My remark was prompted solely by my desire to be
friendly. But such friendliness readily convinces those who cherish a
high opinion of themselves of their own good fortune, or gives them a
desire to convince other people. "Yes, I do lead a delightful
existence," Bloch assured me with a beatified smile. "I have three
great friends; I do not wish for one more; an adorable mistress; I am
infinitely happy. Rare is the mortal to whom Father Zeus accords so
much felicity." I fancy that he was anxious principally to extol
himself and to make me envious. Perhaps too there was some desire to
shew originality in his optimism. It was evident that he did not wish
to reply in the commonplace phraseology that everybody uses: "Oh, it
was nothing, really," and so forth, when, to my question: "Was it a
good show?" put with regard to an afternoon dance at his house to
which I had been prevented from going, he replied in a level, careless
tone, as if the dance had been given by some one else: "Why, yes, it
was quite a good show, couldn't have been better. It was really

"What you have just told us interests me enormously," said Legrandin
to Mme. de Villeparisis, "for I was saying to myself only the other
day that you shewed a marked likeness to him in the clear-cut turn of
your speech, in a quality which I will venture to describe by two
contradictory terms, monumental rapidity and immortal
instantaneousness. I should have liked this afternoon to take down all
the things you say; but I shall remember them. They are, in a phrase
which comes, I think, from Joubert, friends of the memory. You have
never read Joubert? Oh! he would have admired you so! I will take the
liberty this evening of sending you a set of him, it is a privilege to
make you a present of his mind. He had not your strength. But he had a
great deal of charm all the same."

I would have gone up to Legrandin at once and spoken to him, but he
kept as far away from me as he could, no doubt in the hope that I
might not overhear the stream of flattery which, with a remarkable
felicity of expression, he kept pouring out, whatever the topic, to
Mme. de Villeparisis.

She shrugged her shoulders, smiling, as though he had been trying to
make fun of her, and turned to the historian.

"And this is the famous Marie de Rohan, Duchesse de Chevreuse, who was
married first of all to M. de Luynes."

"My dear, speaking of Mme. de Luynes reminds me of Yolande; she came
to me yesterday evening, and if I had known that you weren't engaged
I'd have sent round to ask you to come. Mme. Ristori turned up quite
by chance, and recited some poems by Queen Carmen Sylva in the
author's presence. It was too beautiful!"

"What treachery!" thought Mme. de Villeparisis. "Of course that was
what she was whispering about the other day to Mme. de Beaulaincourt
and Mme. de Chaponay. I had no engagement," she replied, "but I should
not have come. I heard Ristori in her great days, she's a mere wreck
now. Besides I detest Carmen Sylva's poetry. Ristori came here once,
the Duchess of Aosta brought her, to recite a canto of the _Inferno_,
by Dante. In that sort of thing she's incomparable."

Alix bore the blow without flinching. She remained marble. Her gaze
was piercing and blank, her nose proudly arched. But the surface of
one cheek was scaling. A faint, strange vegetation, green and pink,
was invading her chin. Perhaps another winter would level her with the

"Now, sir, if you are fond of painting, look at the portrait of Mme.
de Montmorency," Mme. de Villeparisis said to Legrandin, to stop the
flow of compliments which was beginning again.

Seizing her opportunity, while his back was turned, Mme. de Guermantes
pointed to him, with an ironical, questioning look at her aunt.

"It's M. Legrandin," murmured Mme. de Villeparisis, "he has a sister
called Mme. de Cambremer, not that that conveys any more to you than
it does to me."

"What! Oh, but I know her quite well!" exclaimed Mme. de Guermantes,
and put her hand over her lips. "That is to say, I don't know her, but
for some reason or other Basin, who meets the husband heaven knows
where, took it into his head to tell the wretched woman she might call
on me. And she did. I can't tell you what it was like. She informed me
that she had been to London, and gave me a complete catalogue of all
the things in the British Museum. And this very day, the moment I
leave your house, I'm going, just as you see me now, to drop a card on
the monster. And don't for a moment suppose that it's an easy thing to
do. On the pretence that she's dying of some disease she's always at
home, it doesn't matter whether you arrive at seven at night or nine
in the morning, she's ready for you with a dish of strawberry tarts.

"No, but seriously, you know, she is a monstrosity," Mme. de
Guermantes replied to a questioning glance from her aunt. "She's an
impossible person, she talks about 'plumitives' and things like that."
"What does 'plumitive' mean?" asked Mme. de Villeparisis. "I haven't
the slightest idea!" cried the Duchess in mock indignation. "I don't
want to know. I don't speak that sort of language." And seeing that
her aunt really did not know what a plumitive was, to give herself the
satisfaction of shewing that she was a scholar as well as a purist,
and to make fun of her aunt, now, after making fun of Mme. de
Cambremer: "Why, of course," she said, with a half-laugh which the
last traces of her pretended ill humour kept in check, "everybody
knows what it means; a plumitive is a writer, a person who holds a
pen. But it's a dreadful word. It's enough to make your wisdom teeth
drop out. Nothing will ever make me use words like that.

"And so that's the brother, is it? I hadn't realized that yet. But
after all it's not inconceivable. She has the same doormat docility
and the same mass of information like a circulating library. She's
just as much of a flatterer as he is, and just as boring. Yes, I'm
beginning to see the family likeness now quite plainly."

"Sit down, we're just going to take a dish of tea," said Mme. de
Villeparisis to her niece. "Help yourself; you don't want to look at
the pictures of your great-grandmothers, you know them as well as I

Presently Mme. de Villeparisis sat down again at her desk and went on
with her painting. The rest of the party gathered round her, and I
took the opportunity to go up to Legrandin and, seeing no harm myself
in his presence in Mme. de Villeparisis's drawing-room and never
dreaming how much my words would at once hurt him and make him believe
that I had deliberately intended to hurt him, say: "Well, sir, I am
almost excused for coming to a tea-party when I find you here too." M.
Legrandin concluded from this speech (at least this was the opinion
which he expressed of me a few days later) that I was a thoroughly
spiteful little wretch who delighted only in doing mischief.

"You might at least have the civility to begin by saying how d'ye do
to me," he replied, without offering me his hand and in a coarse and
angry voice which I had never suspected him of possessing, a voice
which bearing no traceable relation to what he ordinarily said did
bear another more immediate and striking relation to something that he
was feeling at the moment. What happens is that since we are
determined always to keep our feelings to ourselves, we have never
given any thought to the manner in which we should express them. And
suddenly there is within us a strange and obscene animal making its
voice heard, the tones of which may inspire as much terror in the
listener who receives the involuntary elliptical irresistible
communication of our defect or vice as would the sudden avowal
indirectly and uncouthly proffered by a criminal who can no longer
refrain from confessing a murder of which one had never imagined him
to be guilty. I knew, of course, that idealism, even subjective
idealism, did not prevent great philosophers from still having hearty
appetites or from presenting themselves with untiring perseverance for
election to the Academy. But really Legrandin had no occasion to
remind people so often that he belonged to another planet when all his
convulsive movements of anger or affability were governed by the
desire to occupy a good position on this.

"Naturally, when people pester me twenty times on end to go anywhere,"
he went on in lower tones, "although I am perfectly free to do what I
choose, still I can't behave like an absolute boor."

Mme. de Guermantes had sat down. Her name, accompanied as it was by
her title, added to her corporeal dimensions the duchy which projected
itself round about her and brought the shadowy, sun-splashed coolness
of the woods of Guermantes into this drawing-room, to surround the
tuffet on which she was sitting. I felt surprised only that the
likeness of those woods was not more discernible on the face of the
Duchess, about which there was nothing suggestive of vegetation, and
at the most the ruddy discolouration of her cheeks—which ought
rather, surely, to have been emblazoned with the name Guermantes—was
the effect, but did not furnish a picture of long gallops in the open
air. Later on, when she had ceased to interest me, I came to know many
of the Duchess's peculiarities, notably (to speak for the moment only
of that one of which I already at this time felt the charm though
without yet being able to discover what it was) her eyes, in which was
held captive as in a picture the blue sky of an afternoon in France,
broadly expansive, bathed in light even when no sun shone; and a voice
which one would have thought, from its first hoarse sounds, to be
almost plebeian, through which there trailed, as over the steps of the
church at Combray or the pastry-cook's in the square, the rich and
lazy gold of a country sun. But on this first day I discerned nothing,
the warmth of my attention volatilised at once the little that I might
otherwise have been able to extract from her, in which I should have
found some indication of the name Guermantes. In any case, I told
myself that it was indeed she who was designated for all the world by
the title Duchesse de Guermantes: the inconceivable life which that
name signified, this body did indeed contain; it had just introduced
that life into a crowd of different creatures, in this room which
enclosed it on every side and on which it produced so violent a
reaction that I thought I could see, where the extent of that
mysterious life ceased, a fringe of effervescence outline its
frontiers: round the circumference of the circle traced on the carpet
by the balloon of her blue pekin skirt, and in the bright eyes of the
Duchess at the point of intersection of the preoccupations, the
memories, the incomprehensible, scornful, amused and curious thoughts
which filled them from within and the outside images that were
reflected on their surface. Perhaps I should have been not quite so
deeply stirred had I met her at Mme. de Villeparisis's at an evening
party, instead of seeing her thus on one of the Marquise's 'days,' at
one of those tea-parties which are for women no more than a brief halt
in the course of their afternoon's outing, when, keeping on the hats
in which they have been driving through the streets, they waft into
the close atmosphere of a drawing-room the quality of the fresh air
outside, and give one a better view of Paris in the late afternoon
than do the tall, open windows through which one can hear the bowling
wheels of their victorias: Mme. de Guermantes wore a boating-hat
trimmed with cornflowers, and what they recalled to me was not, among
the tilled fields round Combray where I had so often gathered those
flowers, on the slope adjoining the Tansonville hedge, the suns of
bygone years; it was the scent and dust of twilight as they had been
an hour ago, when Mme. de Guermantes drove through them, in the Rue de
la Paix. With a smiling, disdainful, vague air, and a grimace on her
pursed lips, with the point of her sunshade, as with the extreme tip
of an antenna of her mysterious life, she was tracing circles on the
carpet; then, with that indifferent attention which begins by
eliminating every point of contact with what one is actually studying,
her gaze fastened upon each of us in turn; then inspected the sofas
and armchairs, but softened this time by that human sympathy which is
aroused by the presence, however insignificant, of a thing one knows,
a thing that is almost a person; these pieces of furniture were not
like us, they belonged vaguely to her world, they were bound up with
the life of her aunt; then from the Beauvais furniture her gaze was
carried back to the person sitting on it, and resumed then the same
air of perspicacity and that same disapproval which the respect that
Mme. de Guermantes felt for her aunt would have prevented her from
expressing in words, but which she would obviously have felt had she
discovered on the chairs, instead of our presence, that of a spot of
grease or a layer of dust.

That admirable writer G—— entered the room; he had come to pay a
call on Mme. de Villeparisis which he regarded as a tiresome duty. The
Duchess, although delighted to see him again, gave him no sign of
welcome, but instinctively he made straight for her, the charm that
she possessed, her tact, her simplicity making him look upon her as a
woman of exceptional intelligence. He was bound, moreover, in common
politeness to go and talk to her, for, since he was a pleasant and a
distinguished man, Mme. de Guermantes frequently invited him to
luncheon even when there were only her husband and herself besides, or
in the autumn to Guermantes, making use of this intimacy to have him
to dinner occasionally with Royalties who were curious to meet him.
For the Duchess liked to entertain certain eminent men, on condition
always that they were bachelors, a condition which, even when married,
they invariably fulfilled for her, for, as their wives, who were bound
to be more or less common, would have been a blot on a drawing-room in
which there were never any but the most fashionable beauties in Paris,
it was always without them that their husbands were invited; and the
Duke, to avoid hurting any possible susceptibility, used to explain to
these involuntary widowers that the Duchess never had women in the
house, could not endure feminine society, almost as though this had
been under doctor's orders, and as he might have said that she could
not stay in a room in which there were smells, or eat salt food, or
travel with her back to the engine, or wear stays. It was true that
these eminent men used to see at the Guermantes' the Princesse de
Parme, the Princesse de Sagan (whom Françoise, hearing her constantly
mentioned, had taken to calling, in the belief that this feminine,
ending was required by the laws of accidence, 'the Sagante'), and
plenty more, but their presence was accounted for by the explanation
that they were relatives, or such very old friends that it was
impossible to exclude them. Whether or not they were convinced by the
explanations which the Duc de Guermantes had given of the singular
malady that made it impossible for the Duchess to associate with other
women, the great men duly transmitted them to their wives. Some of
these thought that this malady was only an excuse to cloak her
jealousy, because the Duchess wished to reign alone over a court of
worshippers. Others more simple still thought that perhaps the Duchess
had some peculiar habit, a scandalous past it might be, that women did
not care to go to her house and that she gave the name of a whim to
what was stern necessity. The better among them, hearing their
husbands expatiate on the Duchess's marvellous brain, assumed that She
must be so far superior to the rest of womankind that she found their
Society boring since they could not talk intelligently about anything.
And it was true that the Duchess was bored by other women, if their
princely rank did not render them specially interesting. But the
excluded wives were mistaken when they imagined that she chose to
entertain men alone in order to be free to discuss with them
literature, science and philosophy. For she never referred to these,
at least with the great intellectuals. If, by virtue of a family
tradition such as makes the daughters of great soldiers preserve, in
the midst of their most frivolous distractions a respect for military
matters, she, the granddaughter of women who had been on terms of
friendship with Thiers, Mérimée and Augier, felt that a place must
always be kept in her drawing-room for men of intellect, she had on
the other hand derived from the manner, at once condescending and
intimate, in which those famous men had been received at Guermantes
the foible of looking on men of talent as family friends whose talent
does not dazzle one, to whom one does not speak of their work, and who
would not be at all interested if one did. Moreover the type of mind
illustrated by Mérimée and Meilhac and Halévy, which was hers also,
led her by reaction from the verbal sentimentality of an earlier
generation to a style in conversation that rejects everything to do
with fine language and the expression of lofty thoughts, so that she
made it a sort of element of good breeding when she was with a poet or
a musician to talk only of the food that they were eating or the game
of cards to which they would afterwards sit down. This abstention had,
on a third person not conversant with her ways, a disturbing effect
which amounted to mystification. Mme. de Guermantes having asked him
whether it would amuse him to come to luncheon to meet this or that
famous poet, devoured by curiosity he would arrive at the appointed
hour. The Duchess was talking to the poet about the weather. They sat
down to luncheon. "Do you like this way of doing eggs?" she asked the
poet. On hearing his approval, which she shared, for everything in her
own house appeared to her exquisite, including a horrible cider which
she imported from Guermantes: "Give Monsieur some more eggs," she
would tell the butler, while the anxious fellow-guest sat waiting for
what must surely have been the object of the party, since they had
arranged to meet, in spite of every sort of difficulty, before the
Duchess, the poet and he himself left Paris. But the meal went on, one
after another the courses were cleared away, not without having first
provided Mme. de Guermantes with opportunities for clever witticisms
or apt stories. Meanwhile the poet went on eating, and neither Duke
nor Duchess shewed any sign of remembering that he was a poet. And
presently the luncheon came to an end and the party broke up, without
a word having been said about the poetry which, for all that, everyone
admired but to which, by a reserve analogous to that of which Swann
had given me a foretaste, no one might refer. This reserve was simply
a matter of good form. But for the fellow-guest, if he thought at all
about the matter, there was something strangely melancholy about it
all, and these meals in the Guermantes household made him think of the
hours which timid lovers often spend together in talking trivialities
until it is time to part, without—whether from shyness, from audacity
or from awkwardness—the great secret which they would have been
happier had they confessed ever succeeding in passing from their
hearts to their lips. It must, however, be added that this silence
with regard to the serious matters which one was always waiting in
vain to see approached, if it might pass as characteristic of the
Duchess, was by no means constant with her. Mme. de Guermantes had
spent her girlhood in a society somewhat different, equally
aristocratic but less brilliant and above all less futile than that in
which she now lived, and one of wide culture. It had left beneath her
present frivolity a sort of bed-rock of greater solidity, invisibly
nutritious, to which indeed the Duchess would repair in search (very
rarely, though, for she detested pedantry) of some quotation from
Victor Hugo or Lamartine which, extremely appropriate, uttered with a
look of true feeling from her fine eyes, never failed to surprise and
charm her audience. Sometimes, even, without any pretence of
authority, pertinently and quite simply, she would give some dramatist
and Academician a piece of sage advice, would make him modify a
situation or alter an ending.

If, in the drawing-room of Mme. de Villeparisis, just as in the church
at Combray, on the day of Mlle. Percepied's wedding, I had difficulty
in discovering, in the handsome, too human face of Mme. de Guermantes
the unknown element of her name, I at least thought that, when she
spoke, her conversation, profound, mysterious, would have a
strangeness as of a mediaeval tapestry or a gothic window. But in
order that I should not be disappointed by the words which I should
hear uttered by a person who called herself Mme. de Guermantes, even
if I had not been in love with her, it would not have sufficed that
those words were fine, beautiful and profound, they would have had to
reflect that amaranthine colour of the closing syllable of her name,
that colour which I had on my first sight of her been disappointed not
to find in her person and had driven to take refuge in her mind. Of
course I had already heard Mme. de Villeparisis, Saint-Loup, people
whose intelligence was in no way extraordinary, pronounce without any
precaution this name Guermantes, simply as that of a person who was
coming to see them or with whom they had promised to dine, without
seeming to feel that there were latent in her name the glow of
yellowing woods in autumn and a whole mysterious tract of country.
But this must have been an affectation on their part, as when the
classic poets give us no warning of the profound purpose which they
had, all the same, in writing, an affectation which I myself also
strove to imitate, saying in the most natural tone: "The Duchesse de
Guermantes," as though it were a name that was just like other names.
And then everybody assured me that she was a highly intelligent woman,
a clever talker, that she was one of a little group of most
interesting people: words which became accomplices of my dream. For
when they spoke of an intelligent group, of clever talk, it was not at
all the sort of intelligence that I knew that I imagined, not even
that of the greatest minds, it was not at all with men like Bergotte
that I peopled this group. No, by intelligence I understood an
ineffable faculty gilded by the sun, impregnated with a sylvan
coolness. Indeed, had she made the most intelligent remarks (in the
sense in which I understood the word when it was used of a philosopher
or critic), Mme. de Guermantes would perhaps have disappointed even
more keenly my expectation of so special a faculty than if, in the
course of a trivial conversation, she had confined herself to
discussing kitchen recipes or the furnishing of a country house, to
mentioning the names of neighbours and relatives of her own, which
would have given me a picture of her life.

"I thought I should find Basin here, he was meaning to come and see
you to-day," said Mme. de Guermantes to her aunt.

"I haven't set eyes on your husband for some days," replied Mme. de
Villeparisis in a somewhat nettled tone. "In fact, I haven't seen
him—well, I have seen him once, perhaps—since that charming joke
he played on me of making my servants announce him as the Queen of

Mme. de Guermantes formed a smile by contracting the corners of her
mouth as though she were biting her veil,

"We met her at dinner last night at Blanche Leroi's. You wouldn't know
her now, she's positively enormous; I'm sure she must have something
the matter with her."

"I was just telling these gentlemen that you said she looked like a

Mme. de Guermantes uttered a sort of raucous sound intended to signify
that she acknowledged the compliment.

"I don't remember making such a charming comparison, but if she was
one before, now she's the frog that has succeeded in swelling to the
size of the ox. Or rather, it isn't quite that, because all her
swelling is concentrated in front of her waist, she's more like a frog
in an interesting condition."

"Ah, that is quite clever," said Mme. de Villeparisis, secretly proud
that her guests should be witnessing this display of her niece's wit.

"It is purely _arbitrary_, though," answered Mme. de Guermantes,
ironically detaching this selected epithet, as Swann would have done,
"for I must admit I never saw a frog in the family way. Anyhow, the
frog in question, who, by the way, is not asking for a king, for I
never saw her so skittish as she's been since her husband died, is
coming to dine with us one day next week. I promised I'd let you know
in good time."

Mme. de Villeparisis gave vent to a confused growl, from which
emerged: "I know she was dining with the Mecklenburgs the night before
last. Hannibal de Bréauté was there. He came and told me about it, and
was quite amusing, I must say."

"There was a man there who's a great deal wittier than Babal," said
Mme. de Guermantes who, in view of her close friendship with M. de
Bréauté-Consalvi, felt that she must advertise their intimacy by the
use of this abbreviation. "I mean M. Bergotte."

I had never imagined that Bergotte could be regarded as witty; in
fact, I thought of him always as mingling with the intellectual
section of humanity, that is to say infinitely remote from that
mysterious realm of which I had caught a glimpse through the purple
hangings of a theatre box, behind which, making the Duchess smile, M.
de Bréauté was holding with her, in the language of the gods, that
unimaginable thing, a conversation between people of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain. I was stupefied to see the balance upset, and Bergotte
rise above M. de Bréauté. But above all I was dismayed to think that I
had avoided Bergotte on the evening of _Phèdre_, that I had not gone
up and spoken to him, when I heard Mme. de Guermantes say to Mme. de

"He is the only person I have any wish to know," went on the Duchess,
in whom one could always, as at the turn of a mental tide, see the
flow of curiosity with regard to well-known intellectuals sweep over
the ebb of her aristocratic snobbishness. "It would be such a

The presence of Bergotte by my side, which it would have been so easy
for we to secure but which I had thought liable to give Mme. de
Guermantes a bad impression of myself, would no doubt, on the
contrary, have had the result that she would have signalled to me to
join her in her box, and would have invited me to bring the eminent
writer, one day, to luncheon.

"I gather that he didn't behave very well, he was presented to M. de
Cobourg, and never uttered a word to him," said Mme. de Guermantes,
dwelling on this odd characteristic as she might have recounted that a
Chinaman had blown his nose on a sheet of paper. "He never once said
'Monseigneur' to him," she added, with an air of amusement at this
detail, as important to her mind as the refusal of a Protestant,
during an audience with the Pope, to go on his knees before his

Interested by these idiosyncrasies of Bergotte, she did not, however,
appear to consider them reprehensible, and seemed rather to find a
certain merit in them, though she would have been put to it to say of
what sort. Despite this unusual mode of appreciating Bergotte's
originality, it was a fact which I was later oh not to regard as
wholly negligible that Mme. de Guermantes, greatly to the surprise of
many of her friends, did consider Bergotte more witty than M. de
Bréauté. Thus it is that such judgments, subversive, isolated, and yet
after all just, are delivered in the world of fashion by those rare
minds that are superior to the rest. And they sketch then the first
rough outlines of the hierarchy of values as the next generation will
establish it, instead of abiding eternally by the old standards.

The Comte d'Argencourt, Chargé d'Affaires at the Belgian Legation and
a remote connexion of Mme. de Villeparisis, came limping in, followed
presently by two young men, the Baron de Guermantes and H. H. the Duc
de Châtellerault, whom Mme. de Guermantes greeted with: "How d'ye do,
young Châtellerault," in a careless tone and without moving from her
tuffet, for she was a great friend of the young Duke's mother, which
had given him a deep and lifelong respect for her. Tall, slender, with
golden hair and sunny complexions, thoroughly of the Guermantes type,
these two young men looked like a condensation of the light of the
spring evening which was flooding the spacious room. Following a
custom which was the fashion at that time they laid their silk hats on
the floor, by their feet. The historian of the Fronde thought that
they were embarrassed, like a peasant coming into the mayor's office
and not knowing what to do with his hat. Feeling that he ought in
charity to come to the rescue of the awkwardness and timidity which he
ascribed to them:

"No, no," he said, "don't leave them on the floor, they'll be trodden

A glance from the Baron de Guermantes, tilting the plane of his
pupils, shot suddenly from them a wave of pure and piercing azure
which froze the well-meaning historian.

"What is that person's name?" I was asked by the Baron, who had just
been introduced to me by Mme. de Villeparisis.

"M. Pierre," I whispered.

"Pierre what?"

"Pierre: it's his name, he's a historian, a most distinguished man."

"Really? You don't say so."

"No, it's a new fashion with these young men to put their hats on the
floor," Mme. de Villeparisis explained. "I'm like you, I can never get
used to it. Still, it's better than my nephew Robert, who always
leaves his in the hall. I tell him when I see him come in that he
looks just like a clock-maker, and I ask him if he's come to wind the

"You were speaking just now, Madame la Marquise, of M. Molé's hat; we
shall soon be able, like Aristotle, to compile a chapter on hats,"
said the historian of the Fronde, somewhat reassured by Mme. de
Villeparisis's intervention, but in so faint a voice that no one but
myself overheard him.

"She really is astonishing, the little Duchess," said M. d'Argencourt,
pointing to Mme. de Guermantes who was talking to G——. "Whenever
there's a famous man in the room you're sure to find him sitting with
her. Evidently that must be the lion of the party over there. It
can't always be M. de Borelli, of course, or M. Schlumberger or M.
d'Avenel. But then it's bound to be M. Pierre Loti or M. Edmond
Rostand. Yesterday evening at the Doudeauvilles', where by the way she
was looking splendid in her emerald tiara and a pink dress with a long
train, she had M. Deschanel on one side and the German Ambassador on
the other: she was holding forth to them about China; the general
public, at a respectful distance where they couldn't hear what was
being said, were wondering whether there wasn't going to be war.
Really, you'd have said she was a Queen, holding her circle."

Everyone had gathered round Mme. de Villeparisis to watch her

"Those flowers are a truly celestial pink," said Legrandin, "I should
say sky-pink. For there is such a thing as sky-pink just as there is
sky-blue. But," he lowered his voice in the hope that he would not be
heard by anyone but the Marquise, "I think I shall still give my vote
to the silky, living flesh tint of your rendering of them. You leave
Pisanello and Van Huysun a long way behind, with their laborious, dead

An artist, however modest, is always willing to hear himself preferred
to his rivals, and tries only to see that justice is done them.

"What makes you think that is that they painted the flowers of their
period, which we don't have now, but they did it with great skill."

"Ah! The flowers of their period! That is a most ingenious theory,"
exclaimed Legrandin.

"I see you're painting some fine cherry blossoms—or are they
may-flowers?" began the historian of the Fronde, not without
hesitation as to the flower, but with a note of confidence in his
voice, for he was beginning to forget the incident of the hats.

"No; they're apple blossom," said the Duchesse de Guermantes,
addressing her aunt.

"Ah! I see you're a good countrywoman like me; you can tell one flower
from another."

"Why yes, so they are! But I thought the season for apple blossom was
over now," said the historian, seeking wildly to cover his mistake.

"Oh dear, no; far from it, it's not out yet; the trees won't be in
blossom for another fortnight, not for three weeks perhaps," said the
librarian who, since he helped with the management of Mme. de
Villeparisis's estates, was better informed upon country matters.

"At least three weeks," put in the Duchess; "even round Paris, where
they're very far forward. Down in Normandy, don't you know, at his
father's place," she went on, pointing to the young Duc de
Châtellerault, "where they have some splendid apple trees close to the
seashore, like a Japanese screen, they're never really pink until
after the twentieth of May."

"I never see them," said the young Duke, "because they give me hay
fever. Such a bore."

"Hay fever? I never heard of that before," said the historian.

"It's the fashionable complaint just now," the librarian informed him.

"That all depends, you won't get it at all, probably, if it's a good
year for apples. You know Le Normand's saying: 'When it's a good year
for apples...'," put in M. d'Argencourt who, not being really French,
was always trying to give himself a Parisian air.

"You're quite right," Mme. de Villeparisis told her niece, "these are
from the South. It was a florist who sent them round and asked me to
accept them as a present. You're surprised, I dare say, Monsieur
Valmère," she turned to the librarian, "that a florist should make me
a present of apple blossom. Well, I may be an old woman, but I'm not
quite on the shelf yet, I have still a few friends," she went on with
a smile that might have been taken as a sign of her simple nature but
meant rather, I could not help feeling, that she thought it effective
to pride herself on the friendship of a mere florist when she moved in
such distinguished circles.

Bloch rose and went over to look at the flowers which Mme. de
Villeparisis was painting.

"Never mind, Marquise," said the historian, sitting down again, "even
though we should have another of those Revolutions which have stained
so many pages of our history with blood—and, upon my soul, in these
days one can never tell," he added, with a circular and circumspect
glance, as though to make sure that there was no 'disaffected' person
in the room, though he had not the least suspicion that there actually
was, "with a talent like yours and your five languages you would be
certain to get on all right." The historian of the Fronde was feeling
quite refreshed, for he had forgotten his insomnia. But he suddenly
remembered that he had not slept for the last six nights, whereupon a
crushing weariness, born of his mind, paralysed his limbs, made him
bow his shoulders, and his melancholy face began to droop like an old

Bloch tried to express his admiration in an appropriate gesture, but
only succeeded in knocking over with his elbow the glass containing
the spray of apple blossom, and all the water was spilled on the

"Really, you have the fingers of a fairy," went on (to the Marquise)
the historian who, having his back turned to me at that moment, had
not noticed Bloch's clumsiness.

But Bloch took this for a sneer at himself, and to cover his shame in
insolence retorted:  "It's not of the slightest importance; I'm not

Mme. de Villeparisis rang the bell and a footman came to wipe the
carpet and pick up the fragments of glass. She invited the two young
men to her theatricals, and also Mme. de Guermantes, with the

"Remember to tell Gisèle and Berthe" (the Duchesses d'Auberjon and de
Portefin) "to be here a little before two to help me," as she might
have told the hired waiters to come early to arrange the tables.

She treated her princely relatives, as she treated M. de Norpois,
without any of the little courtesies which she shewed to the
historian, Cottard, Bloch and myself, and they seemed to have no
interest for her beyond the possibility of serving them up as food for
our social curiosity. This was because she knew that she need not put
herself out to entertain people for whom she was not a more or less
brilliant woman but the touchy old sister—who needed and received
tactful handling—of their father or uncle. There would have been no
object in her trying to shine before them, she could never have
deceived them as to the strength and weakness of her position, for
they knew (none so well) her whole history and respected the
illustrious race from which she sprang. But, above all, they had
ceased to be anything more for her than a dead stock which would not
bear fruit again, they would not let her know their new friends, or
share their pleasures. She could obtain from them only their
occasional presence, or the possibility of speaking of them, at her
five o'clock tea-parties as, later on, in her _Memoirs_, of which
these parties were only a sort of rehearsal, a preliminary reading
aloud of the manuscript before a selected audience. And the society
which all these noble kinsmen and kinswomen served to interest, to
dazzle, to enthral, the society of the Cottards, of the Blochs, of the
dramatists who were in the public eye at the moment, of the historians
of the Fronde and such matters; it was in this society that there
existed for Mme. de Villeparisis—failing that section of the
fashionable world which did not call upon her—the movement, the
novelty, all the entertainment of life, it was from people like these
that she was able to derive social benefits (which made it well worth
her while to let them meet, now and then, though without ever coming
to know her, the Duchesse de Guermantes), dinners with remarkable men
whose work had interested her, a light opera or a pantomime staged
complete by its author in her drawing-room, boxes for interesting
shows. Bloch got up to go. He had said aloud that the incident of the
broken flower-glass was of no importance, but what he said to himself
was different, more different still what he thought: "If people can't
train their servants to put flowers where they won't be knocked over
and wet their guests and probably cut their hands, it's much better
not to go in for such luxuries," he muttered angrily. He was one of
those susceptible, highly strung persons who cannot bear to think of
themselves as having made a blunder which, though they do not admit
even to themselves that they have made it, is enough to spoil their
whole day. In a black rage, he was just making up his mind never to go
into society again. He had reached the point at which some distraction
was imperative. Fortunately in another minute Mme. de Villeparisis was
to press him to stay. Either because she was aware of the general
feeling among her friends, and had noticed the tide of anti-semitism
that was beginning to rise, or simply from carelessness, she had
not introduced him to any of the people in the room. He, however,
being little used to society, felt bound before leaving the room to
take leave of them all, to shew his manners, but without any
friendliness; he lowered his head several times, buried his bearded
chin in his collar, scrutinised each of the party in turn through his
glasses with a cold, dissatisfied glare. But Mme. de Villeparisis
stopped him; she had still to discuss with him the little play which
was to be performed in her house, and also she did not wish him to
leave before he had had the pleasure of meeting M. de Norpois (whose
failure to appear puzzled her), although as an inducement to Bloch
this introduction was quite superfluous, he having already decided to
persuade the two actresses whose names he had mentioned to her to come
and sing for nothing in the Marquise's drawing-room, to enhance their
own reputations, at one of those parties to which all that was best
and noblest in Europe thronged. He had even offered her, in addition,
a tragic actress 'with pure eyes, fair as Hera,' who would recite
lyrical prose with a sense of plastic beauty. But On hearing this
lady's name Mme. de Villeparisis had declined, for it was that of
Saint-Loup's mistress.

"I have better news," she murmured in my ear. "I really believe he's
quite cooled off now, and that before very long they'll be parted—in
spite of an officer who has played an abominable part in the whole
business," she added. For Robert's family were beginning to look with
a deadly hatred on M. de Borodino, who had given him leave, at the
hairdresser's instance, to go to Bruges, and accused him of giving
countenance to an infamous intrigue. "It's really too bad of him,"
said Mme. de Villeparisis with that virtuous accent common to all the
Guermantes, even the most depraved. "Too, too bad," she repeated,
giving the word a trio of 't's. One felt that she had no doubt of the
Prince's being present at all their orgies. But, as kindness of heart
was the old lady's dominant quality, her expression of frowning
severity towards the horrible captain, whose name she articulated with
an ironical emphasis: "The Prince de Borodino!"—speaking as a woman
for whom the Empire simply did not count, melted into a gentle smile
at myself with a mechanical twitch of the eyelid indicating a vague
understanding between us.

"I have a great admiration for de Saint-Loup-en-Bray," said Bloch,
"dirty dog as he is, because he's so extremely well-bred. I have a
great admiration, not for him but for well-bred people, they're so
rare," he went on, without thinking, since he was himself so extremely
ill-bred, what offence his words were giving. "I will give you an
example which I consider most striking of his perfect breeding. I met
him once with a young gentleman just as he was about to spring into
his wheeled chariot, after he himself had buckled their splendid
harness on a pair of steeds, whose mangers were heaped with oats and
barley, who had no need of the flashing whip to urge them on. He
introduced us, but I did not catch the gentleman's name; one never
does catch people's names when one's introduced to them," he explained
with a laugh, this being one of his father's witticisms. "De
Saint-Loup-en-Bray was perfectly calm, made no fuss about the young
gentleman, seemed absolutely at his ease. Well, I found out, by pure
chance, a day or two later, that the young gentleman was the son of
Sir Rufus Israels!"

The end of this story sounded less shocking than its preface, for it
remained quite incomprehensible to everyone in the room. The fact was
that Sir Rufus Israels, who seemed to Bloch and his father an almost
royal personage before whom Saint-Loup ought to tremble, was in the
eyes of the Guermantes world a foreign upstart, tolerated in society,
on whose friendship nobody would ever have dreamed of priding himself,
far from it.

"I learned this," Bloch informed us, "from the person who holds Sir
Rufus's power of attorney; he is a friend of my father, and quite an
extraordinary man. Oh, an absolutely wonderful individual," he assured
us with that affirmative energy, that note of enthusiasm which one
puts only into those convictions that did not originate with oneself.

"Tell me," Bloch went on, lowering his voice, to myself, "how much do
you suppose Saint-Loup has? Not that it matters to me in the least,
you quite understand, don't you. I'm interested from the Balzacian
point of view. You don't happen to know what it's in, French stocks,
foreign stocks, or land or what?"

I could give him no information whatsoever. Suddenly raising his
voice, Bloch asked if he might open the windows, and without waiting
for an answer, went across the room to do so. Mme. de Villeparisis
protested that he must not, that she had a cold. "Of course, if it's
bad for you!" Bloch was downcast. "But you can't say it's not hot in
here." And breaking into a laugh he put into the gaze with which he
swept the room an appeal for support against Mme. de Villeparisis. He
received none, from these well-bred people. His blazing eyes, having
failed to seduce any of the guests from their allegiance, faded with
resignation to their normal gravity of expression; he acknowledged his
defeat with: "What's the temperature? Seventy-two, at least, I should
say. I'm not surprised. I'm simply dripping. And I have not, like the
sage Antenor, son of the river Alpheus, the power to plunge myself in
the paternal wave to stanch my sweat before laying my body in a bath
of polished marble and anointing my limbs with fragrant oils." And
with that need which people feel to outline for the use of others
medical theories the application of which would be beneficial to their
own health: "Well, if you believe it's good for you! I must say, I
think you're quite wrong. It's exactly what gives you your cold."

Bloch was overjoyed at the idea of meeting M. de Norpois. He would
like, he told us, to get him to talk about the Dreyfus case. "There's
a mentality at work there which I don't altogether understand, and it
would be quite sensational to get an interview out of this eminent
diplomat," he said in a tone of sarcasm, so as not to appear to be
rating himself below the Ambassador.

Mme. de Villeparisis was sorry that he had said this so loud, but
minded less when she saw that the librarian, whose strong Nationalist
views kept her, so to speak, on leash, was too far off to have
overheard. She was more shocked to hear Bloch, led on by that demon of
ill-breeding which made him permanently blind to the consequences of
what he said, inquiring, with a laugh at the paternal pleasantry:
"Haven't I read a learned treatise by him in which he sets forth a
string of irrefutable arguments to prove that the Japanese war was
bound to end in a Russian victory and a Japanese defeat? He's fairly
paralytic now, isn't he? I'm sure he's the old boy I've seen taking
aim at his chair before sliding across the room to it, as if he was on

"Oh, dear, no! Not in the least like that! Just wait a minute," the
Marquise went on, "I don't know what he can be doing."

She rang the bell and, when the servant had appeared, as she made no
secret, and indeed liked to advertise the fact that her old friend
spent the greater part of his time in her house: "Go and tell M. de
Norpois to come in" she ordered him, "he is sorting some papers in my
library; he said he would be twenty minutes, and I've been waiting now
for an hour and three-quarters. He will tell you about the Dreyfus
case, anything you want to know," she said gruffly to Bloch. "He
doesn't approve much of the way things are going."

For M. de Norpois was not on good terms with the Government of the
day, and Mme. de Villeparisis, although he had never taken the liberty
of bringing any actual Ministers to her house (she still preserved all
the unapproachable dignity of a great lady, and remained outside and
above the political relations which he was obliged to cultivate), was
kept well informed by him of everything that went on. Then, too, the
politicians of the day would never have dared to ask M. de Norpois to
introduce them to Mme. de Villeparisis. But several of them had gone
down to see him at her house in the country when they needed his
advice or help at critical conjectures. One knew the address. One went
to the house. One did not see its mistress. But at dinner that evening
she would say:

"I hear they've been down here bothering you. I trust things are going

"You are not in a hurry?" she now asked Bloch.

"No, not at all. I wanted to go because I am not very well; in fact
there is some talk of my taking a cure at Vichy for my biliary ducts,"
he explained, articulating the last words with a fiendish irony.

"Why, that's where my nephew Châtellerault's got to go, you must fix
it up together. Is he still in the room? He's a nice boy, you know,"
said Mme. de Villeparisis, and may quite well have meant what she
said, feeling that two people whom she knew had no reason not to be
friends with each other.

"Oh, I dare say he wouldn't care about that—I don't really know
him—at least I barely know him. He is sitting over there," stammered
Bloch in ecstasy of confusion.

The butler could not have delivered his mistress's message properly,
for M. de Norpois, to make believe that he had just come in from the
street, and had not yet seen his hostess, had picked up the first hat
that he had found in the hall, and came forward to kiss Mme. de
Villeparisis's hand with great ceremony, asking after her health with
all the interest that people shew after a long separation. He was not
aware that the Marquise had already destroyed any semblance of reality
in this charade, which she cut short by taking M. de Norpois and Bloch
into an adjoining room. Bloch, who had observed all the courtesy that
was being shewn to a person whom he had not yet discovered to be M. de
Norpois, had said to me, trying to seem at his ease: "Who is that old
idiot?" Perhaps, too, all this bowing and scraping by M. de Norpois
had really shocked the better element in Bloch's nature, the freer and
more straightforward manners of a younger generation, and he was
partly sincere in condemning it as absurd. However that might be, it
ceased to appear absurd, and indeed delighted him the moment it was
himself, Bloch, to whom the salutations were addressed.

"Monsieur l'Ambassadeur," said Mme. de Villeparisis, "I should like
you to know this gentleman. Monsieur Bloch, Monsieur le Marquis de
Norpois." She made a point, despite her casual usage of M. de Norpois,
of addressing him always as "Monsieur l'Ambassadeur," as a social
convention as well as from an exaggerated respect for his
Ambassadorial rank, a respect which the Marquis had inculcated in her,
and also with an instinctive application to him of the special manner,
less familiar and more ceremonious, in relation to one particular
man—which, in the house of a distinguished woman, in contrast to the
liberties that she takes with her other guests, marks that man out
instantly as her lover.

M. de Norpois drowned his azure gaze in his white beard, bent his tall
body deep down as though he were bowing before all the famous and (to
him) imposing connotations of the name Bloch, and murmured: "I am
delighted..." whereat his young listener, moved, but feeling that the
illustrious diplomat was going too far, hastened to correct him,
saying: "Not at all! On the contrary, it is I who am delighted." But
this ceremony, which M. de Norpois, in his friendship for Mme. de
Villeparisis, repeated for the benefit of every fresh person that his
old friend introduced to him, did not seem to her adequate to the
deserts of Bloch, to whom she said:

"Just ask him anything you want to know; take him into the other room
if it's more convenient; he will be delighted to talk to you. I think
you wished to speak to him about the Dreyfus case," she went on, no
more considering whether this would suit M. de Norpois than she would
have thought of asking leave of the Duchesse de Montmorency's portrait
before having it lighted up for the historian, or of the tea before
pouring it into a cup.

"You must speak loud," she warned Bloch, "he's a little deaf, but he
will tell you anything you want to know; he knew Bismarck very well,
and Cavour. That is so, isn't it;" she raised her voice, "you knew
Bismarck well?"

"Have you got anything on the stocks?" M. de Norpois asked me with a
knowing air as he shook my hand warmly. I took the opportunity to
relieve him politely of the hat which he had felt obliged to bring
ceremonially into the room, for I saw that it was my own which he had
inadvertently taken. "You shewed me a somewhat laboured little thing
in which you went in for a good deal of hair-splitting. I gave you my
opinion quite frankly; what you had written was literally not worth
the trouble of putting it on paper. Are you thinking of letting us
have anything else? You were greatly smitten with Bergotte, if I
remember rightly." "You're not to say anything against Bergotte," put
in the Duchess. "I don't dispute his talent as a painter; no one
would, Duchess. He understands all about etching, if not brush-work on
a large scale like M. Cherbuliez. But it seems to me that in these
days we have a tendency to confuse the arts, and forget that the
novelist's business is rather to weave a plot and edify his readers
than to fiddle away at producing a frontispiece or tailpiece in
drypoint. I shall be seeing your father on Sunday at our good friend
A. J.'s," he went on, turning again to myself.

I had hoped for a moment, when I saw him talking to Mme. de
Guermantes, that he would perhaps afford me, for getting myself asked
to her house, the help he had refused me for getting to Mme. Swann's.
"Another of my great favourites," I told him, "is Elstir. It seems the
Duchesse de Guermantes has some wonderful examples of his work,
particularly that admirable _Bunch of Radishes_ which I remember at
the Exhibition and should so much like to see again; what a
masterpiece that is!" And indeed, if I had been a prominent person and
had been asked to state what picture I liked best, I should have named
this _Bunch of Radishes_. "A masterpiece?" cried M. de Norpois with a
surprised and reproachful air. "It makes no pretence of being even a
picture, it is merely a sketch." (He was right.) "If you label a
clever little thing of that sort 'masterpiece,' what have you got to
say about Hébert's _Virgin_ or Dagnan-Bouveret?"

"I heard you refusing to let him bring Robert's woman," said Mme. de
Guermantes to her aunt, after Bloch had taken the Ambassador aside.
"I don't think you'll miss much, she's a perfect horror, as you know,
without a vestige of talent, and besides she's grotesquely ugly."

"Do you mean to say, you know her, Duchess?" asked M. d'Argencourt.

"Yes, didn't you know that she performed in my house before the whole
of Paris, not that that's anything for me to be proud of," explained
Mme. de Guermantes with a laugh, glad nevertheless, since the actress
was under discussion, to let it be known that she herself had had the
first fruits of her foolishness. "Hallo, I suppose I ought to be going
now," she added, without moving.

She had just seen her husband enter the room, and these words were an
allusion to the absurdity of their appearing to be paying a call
together, like a newly married couple, rather than to the often
strained relations that existed between her and the enormous fellow
she had married, who, despite his increasing years, still led the life
of a gay bachelor. Ranging over the considerable party that was
gathered round the tea-table the genial, cynical gaze—dazzled a
little by the brightness of the setting sun—of the little round
pupils lodged in the exact centre of his eyes, like the 'bulls' which
'the excellent marksman that he was could always hit with such perfect
aim and precision, the Duke came forward with a bewildered cautious
slowness as though, alarmed by so brilliant a gathering, he was afraid
of treading on ladies' skirts and interrupting conversations. A
permanent smile—suggesting a 'Good King of Yvetot'—slightly pompous,
a half-open hand floating like a shark's fin by his side, which he
allowed to be vaguely clasped by his old friends and by the strangers
who were introduced to him, enabled him, without his having to make a
single movement, or to interrupt his genial, lazy, royal progress, to
reward the assiduity of them all by simply murmuring: "How do, my boy;
how do, my dear friend; charmed, Monsieur Bloch; how do, Argencourt;"
and, on coming to myself, who was the most highly favoured, when he
had been told my name: "How do, my young neighbour, how's your father?
What a splendid fellow he is!" He made no great demonstration except
to Mme. de Villeparisis, who gave him good-day with a nod of her head,
drawing one hand from a pocket of her little apron.

Being formidably rich in a world where everyone was steadily growing
poorer, and having secured the permanent attachment to his person of
the idea of this enormous fortune, he displayed all the vanity of the
great nobleman reinforced by that of the man of means, the refinement
and breeding of the former just managing to control the latter's
self-sufficiency. One could understand, moreover, that his success
with women, which made his wife so unhappy, was not due merely to his
name and fortune, for he was still extremely good looking, and his
profile retained the purity, the firmness of outline of a Greek god's.

"Do you mean to tell me she performed in your house?" M. d'Argencourt
asked the Duchess.

"Well, don't you see, she came to recite, with a bunch of lilies in
her hand, and more lilies on her _dress_." Mme. de Guermantes shared
her aunt's affectation of pronouncing certain words in an exceedingly
rustic fashion, but never rolled her 'r's like Mme. de Villeparisis.

Before M. de Norpois, under constraint from his hostess, had taken
Bloch into the little recess where they could talk more freely, I went
up to the old diplomat for a moment and put in a word about my
father's Academic chair. He tried first of all to postpone the
conversation to another day. I pointed out that I was going to Balbec.
"What? Going again to Balbec? Why, you're a regular globe-trotter." He
listened to what I had to say. At the name of Leroy-Beaulieu, he
looked at me suspiciously. I conjectured that he had perhaps said
something disparaging to M. Leroy-Beaulieu about my father and was
afraid of the economist's having repeated it to him. All at once he
seemed animated by a positive affection for my father. And after one
of those opening hesitations out of which suddenly a word explodes as
though in spite of the speaker, whose irresistible conviction prevails
over his half-hearted efforts at silence: "No, no," he said to me with
emotion, "your father _must not_ stand. In his own interest he must
not; it is not fair to himself; he owes a certain respect to his own
really great merits, which would be compromised by such an adventure.
He is too big a man for that. If he should be elected, he will have
everything to lose and nothing to gain. He is not an orator, thank
heaven. And that is the one thing that counts with my dear colleagues,
even if you only talk platitudes. Your father has an important goal in
life; he should march straight ahead towards it, and not allow himself
to turn aside to beat bushes, even the bushes (more thorny for that
matter than flowery) of the grove of Academe. Besides, he would not
get many votes. The Academy likes to keep a postulant waiting for some
time before taking him to its bosom. For the present, there is nothing
to be done. Later on, I don't say. But he must wait until the Society
itself comes in quest of him. It makes a practice; not a very
fortunate practice, a fetish rather, of the _farà da sè_ of our friends
across the Alps. Leroy-Beaulieu spoke to me about all this in a way I
did not at all like. I pointed out to him, a little sharply perhaps,
that a man accustomed as he is to dealing with colonial imports and
metals could not be expected to understand the part played by the
imponderables, as Bismarck used to say. But, whatever happens, your
father must on no account put himself forward as a candidate,
_Principis obsta_. His friends would find themselves placed in a
delicate position if he suddenly called upon them for their votes.
Indeed," he broke forth, with an air of candour, fixing his blue eyes
on my face, "I am going to say a thing that you will be surprised to
hear coming from me, who am so fond of your father. Well, simply
because I am fond of him (we are known as the inseparables—_Arcades
ambo_), simply because I know the immense service that he can still
render to his country, the reefs from which he can steer her if he
remains at the helm; out of affection, out of high regard for him, out
of patriotism, I should not vote for him. I fancy, moreover, that I
have given him to understand that I should not." (I seemed to discern
in his eyes the stern Assyrian profile of Leroy-Beaulieu.) "So that to
give him my vote now would be a sort of recantation on my part." M. de
Norpois repeatedly dismissed his brother Academicians as old fossils.
Other reasons apart, every member of a club or academy likes to
ascribe to his fellow members the type of character that is the direct
converse of his own, less for the advantage of being able to say: "Ah!
If it only rested with me!" than for the satisfaction of making the
election which he himself has managed to secure seem more difficult, a
greater distinction. "I may tell you," he concluded, "that in the best
interests of you all, I should prefer to see your father triumphantly
elected in ten or fifteen years' time." Words which I assumed to have
been dictated if not by jealousy, at any rate by an utter lack of any
willingness to oblige, and which later on I was to recall when the
course of events had given them a different meaning.

"You haven't thought of giving the Institute an address on the price
of bread during the Fronde, I suppose," the historian of that movement
timidly inquired of M. de Norpois. "You could make a considerable
success of a subject like that," (which was to say, "you would give me
a colossal advertisement,") he added, smiling at the Ambassador
pusillanimously, but with a warmth of feeling which made him raise his
eyelids and expose a double horizon of eye. I seemed to have seen this
look before, and yet I had met the historian for the first time this
afternoon. Suddenly I remembered having seen the same expression in
the eyes of a Brazilian doctor who claimed to be able to cure choking
fits of the kind from which I suffered by some absurd inhalation of
the essential oils of plants. When, in the hope that he would pay more
attention to my case, I had told him that I knew Professor Cottard, he
had replied, as though speaking in Cottards interest: "Now this
treatment of mine, if you were to tell him about it, would give him
the material for a most sensational paper for the Academy of
Medicine!" He had not ventured to press the matter but had stood
gazing at me with the same air of interrogation, timid, anxious,
appealing, which it had just puzzled me to see on the face of the
historian of the Fronde. Obviously the two men were not acquainted and
had little nothing in common, but psychological like physical laws
have a more or less general application. And the requisite conditions
are the same; an identical expression lights the eyes of different
human animals, as a single sunrise lights different places, a long way
apart, which have no connexion with one another. I did not hear the
Ambassador's reply, for the whole party, with a good deal of noise,
had again gathered round Mme. de Villeparisis to watch her at work.

"You know who' we're talking about, Basin?" the Duchess asked her

"I can make a pretty good guess," said the Duke.

"Ah! As an actress she's not, I'm afraid, in what one would call the
great tradition."

"You can't imagine," went on Mme. de Guermantes to M. d'Argencourt
"anything more ridiculous."

"In fact, it was drolatic," put in M. de Guermantes, whose odd
vocabulary enabled people in society to declare that he was no fool
and literary people, at the same time, to regard him as a complete

"What I fail to understand," resumed the Duchess, "is how in the world
Robert ever came to fall in love with her. Oh, of course I know one
mustn't discuss that sort of thing," she added, with the charming pout
of a philosopher and sentimentalist whose last illusion had long been
shattered. "I know that anybody may fall in love with anybody else.
And," she went on, for, though she might still laugh at modern
literature, it, either by its dissemination through the popular press
or else in the course of conversation, had begun to percolate into her
mind, "that is the really nice thing about love, because it's what
makes it so 'mysterious.'"

"Mysterious! Oh, I must confess, cousin, that's a bit beyond me," said
the Comte d'Argencourt.

"Oh dear, yes, it's a very mysterious thing, love," declared the
Duchess, with the sweet smile of a good-natured woman of the world,
but also with the rooted conviction with which a Wagnerian assures a
bored gentleman from the Club that there is something more than just
noise in the _Walküre_. "After all, one never does know what makes
one person fall in love with another; it may not be at all what we
think," she added with a smile, repudiating at once by this
interpretation the idea she had just suggested. "After all, one never
knows anything, does one?" she concluded with an air of weary
scepticism. "Besides, one understands, doesn't one; one simply can't
explain other people's choices in love."

But having laid down this principle she proceeded at once to abandon
it and to criticise Saint-Loup's choice.

"All the same, don't you know, it is amazing to me that a man can find
any attraction in a person who's simply silly."

Bloch, hearing Saint-Loup's name mentioned and gathering that he was
in Paris, promptly made a remark about him so outrageous that
everybody was shocked. He was beginning to nourish hatreds, and one
felt that he would stop at nothing to gratify them. Once he had
established the principle that he himself was of great moral worth and
that the sort of people who frequented La Boulie (an athletic club
which he supposed to be highly fashionable) deserved penal servitude,
every blow he could get against them seemed to him praiseworthy. He
went so far once as to speak of a lawsuit which he was anxious to
bring against one of his La Boulie friends. In the course of the trial
he proposed to give certain evidence which would be entirely untrue,
though the defendant would be unable to impugn his veracity. In this
way Bloch (who, incidentally, never put his plan into action) counted
on baffling and infuriating his antagonist. What harm could there be
in that, since he whom he sought to injure was a man who thought only
of doing the 'right thing,' a La Boulie man, and against people like
that any weapon was justified, especially in the hands of a Saint,
such as Bloch himself?

"I say, though, what about Swann?" objected M. d'Argencourt, who
having at last succeeded in understanding the point of his cousin's
speech, was impressed by her accuracy of observation, and was racking
his brains for instances of men who had fallen in love with women in
whom he himself had seen no attraction.

"Oh, but Swann's case was quite different," the Duchess protested. "It
was a great surprise, I admit, because she's just a well-meaning
idiot, but she was never silly, and she was at one time good looking."

"Oh, oh!" muttered Mme. de Villeparisis.

"You never thought so? Surely, she had some charming points, very fine
eyes, good hair, she used to dress, and does still dress, wonderfully.
Nowadays, I quite agree, she's horrible, but she has been a lovely
woman in her time. Not that that made me any less sorry when Charles
married her, because it was so unnecessary." The Duchess had not
intended to say anything out of the common, but as M. d'Argencourt
began to laugh she repeated these last words—either because she
thought them amusing or because she thought it nice of him to
laugh—and looked up at him with a coaxing smile, to add the
enchantment of her femininity to that of her wit. She went on: "Yes,
really, it wasn't worth the trouble, was it; still, after all, she did
have some charm and I can quite understand anybody's falling in love
with her, but if you saw Robert's girl, I assure you, you'd simply die
of laughter. Oh, I know somebody's going to quote Augier at me: 'What
matters the bottle so long as one gets drunk?' Well, Robert may have
got drunk, all right, but he certainly hasn't shewn much taste in his
choice of a bottle! First of all, would you believe that she actually
expected me to fit up a staircase right in the middle of my
drawing-room. Oh, a mere nothing—what?—and she announced that she
was going to lie flat on her stomach on the steps. And then, if you'd
heard the things she recited, I only remember one scene, but I'm sure
nobody could imagine anything like it; it was called the _Seven

"_Seven Princesses_! Dear, dear, what a snob she must be!" cried M.
d'Argencourt. "But, wait a minute, why, I know the whole play. The
author sent a copy to the King, who couldn't understand a word of it
and called on me to explain it to him."

"It isn't by any chance, from the Sar Peladan?" asked the historian of
the Fronde, meaning to make a subtle and topical allusion, but in so
low a tone that his question passed unnoticed.

"So you know the _Seven Princesses_, do you?" replied the Duchess, "I
congratulate you! I only know one, but she's quite enough; I have no
wish to make the acquaintance of the other six. If they are all like
the one I've seen!"

"What a goose!" I thought to myself. Irritated by the coldness of her
greeting, I found a sort of bitter satisfaction in this proof of her
complete inability to understand Maeterlinck. "To think that's the
woman I walk miles every morning to see. Really, I'm too kind. Well,
it's my turn now not to want to see her." Thus I reasoned with myself;
but my words ran counter to my thoughts; they were purely
conversational words such as we say to ourselves at those moments
when, too much excited to remain quietly alone, we feel the need, for
want of another listener, to talk to ourselves, without meaning what
we say, as we talk to a stranger.

"I can't tell you what it was like," the Duchess went on; "you simply
couldn't help laughing. Not that anyone tried; rather the other way,
I'm sorry to say, for the young person was not at all pleased and
Robert has never really forgiven me. Though I can't say I'm sorry,
actually, because if it had been a success the lady would perhaps have
come again, and I don't quite see Marie-Aynard approving of that."

This was the name given in the family to Robert's mother, Mme. de
Marsantes, the widow of Aynard de Saint-Loup, to distinguish her from
her cousin, the Princesse de Guermantes-Bavière, also a Marie, to
whose Christian name her nephews and cousins and brothers-in-law
added, to avoid confusion, either that of her husband or another of
her own, making her Marie-Gilbert or Marie-Hedwige.

"To begin with, there was a sort of rehearsal the night before, which
was a wonderful affair!" went on Mme. de Guermantes in ironical
pursuit of her theme. "Just imagine, she uttered a sentence, no, not
so much, not a quarter of a sentence, and then she stopped; she didn't
open her mouth—I'm not exaggerating—for a good five minutes."

"Oh, I say," cried M. d'Argencourt.

"With the utmost politeness I took the liberty of hinting to her that
this might seem a little unusual. And she said—I give you her actual
words—'One ought always to repeat a thing as though one were just
composing it oneself.' When you think of it, that really is

"But I understood she wasn't at all bad at reciting poetry," said one
of the two young men.

"She hasn't the ghost of a notion what poetry is," replied Mme. de
Guermantes. "However, I didn't need to listen to her to tell that. It
was quite enough to see her come in with her lilies. I knew at once
that she couldn't have any talent when I saw those lilies!"

Everybody laughed.

"I hope, my dear aunt, you aren't angry with me, over my little joke
the other day about the Queen of Sweden. I've come to ask your

"Oh, no, I'm not at all angry, I even give you leave to eat at my
table, if you're hungry.—Come along, M. Valmère, you're the daughter
of the house," Mme. de Villeparisis went on to the librarian,
repeating a time-honoured pleasantry.

M de Guermantes sat upright in the armchair in which he had come to
anchor his hat on the carpet by his side, and examined with a
satisfied smile the plate of little cakes that was being held out to

"This gentleman makes you an admirable daughter," commented M.
d'Argencourt, whom the spirit of imitation prompted to keep Mme. de
Villeparisis's little joke in circulation.

The librarian handed the plate of cakes to the historian of the

"You perform your functions admirably," said the latter, startled into
speech, and hoping also to win the sympathy of the crowd. At the same
time he cast a covert glance of connivance at those who had
anticipated him.

"Tell me, my dear aunt," M. de Guermantes inquired of Mme. de
Villeparisis, "who was that rather good-looking man who was going out
just now as I came in? I must know him, because he gave me a sweeping
bow, but I couldn't place him at all; you know I never can remember
names, it's such a nuisance," he added, in a tone of satisfaction.

"M. Legrandin."

"Oh, but Oriane has a cousin whose mother, if I'm not mistaken, was a
Grandin. Yes, I remember quite well, she was a Grandin de

"No," replied Mme. de Villeparisis, "no relation at all. These are
plain Grandins. Grandins of nothing at all. But they'd be only too
glad to be Grandins of anything you chose to name. This one has a
sister called Mme. de Cambremer."

"Why, Basin, you know quite well who' my aunt means," cried the
Duchess indignantly. "He's the brother of that great graminivorous
creature you had the weird idea of sending to call on me the other
day. She stayed a solid hour; I thought I should go mad. But I began
by thinking it was she who was mad when I saw a person I didn't know
come browsing into the room looking exactly like a cow."

"Listen, Oriane; she asked me what afternoon you were at home; I
couldn't very well be rude to her; and besides, you do exaggerate so,
she's not in the least like a cow," he added in a plaintive tone,
though not without a quick smiling glance at the audience.

He knew that his wife's lively wit needed the stimulus of
contradiction, the contradiction of common sense which protests that
one cannot (for instance) mistake a woman seriously for a cow; by this
process Mme. de Guermantes, enlarging upon her original idea, had
been inspired to produce many of her most brilliant sayings. And the
Duke in his innocent fashion helped her, without seeming to do so, to
bring off her effects like, in a railway carriage, the unacknowledged
partner of the three-card player.

"I admit she doesn't look like _a_ cow, she looks like a dozen,"
exclaimed Mme. de Guermantes. "I assure you, I didn't know what to do
when I saw a herd of cattle come marching into my drawing-room in a
hat and heard them ask me how I was. I had half a mind to say:
'Please, herd of cattle, you must be making a mistake, you can't
possibly know me, because you're a herd of cattle,' but after racking
my brains over her I came to the conclusion that your Cambremer woman
must be the Infanta Dorothea who had said she was coming to see me one
day, and is rather bovine also, so that I was just on the point of
saying: 'Your Royal Highness' and using the third person to a herd of
cattle. The cut of her dewlap reminded me rather, too, of the Queen of
Sweden. But this massed attack had been prepared for by long range
artillery fire, according to all the rules of war. For I don't know
how long before, I was bombarded with her cards; I used to find them
lying about all over the house, on all the tables and chairs like
prospectuses. I couldn't think what they were supposed to be
advertising. You saw nothing in the house but 'Marquis et Marquise de
Cambremer' with some address or other which I've forgotten; you may be
quite sure nothing will ever take me there."

"But it's a great distinction to look like a Queen," said the
historian of the Fronde.

"Gad, sir, Kings and Queens, in these days, don't amount to much,"
said M. de Guermantes, partly because he liked to be thought
broad-minded and modern, and also so as not to seem to attach any
importance to his own royal friendships, which he valued highly.

Bloch and M. de Norpois had returned from the other room and came
towards us.

"Well, sir," asked Mme. de Villeparisis, "have you been talking to him
about the Dreyfus case?"

M. de Norpois raised his eyes to the ceiling, but with a smile, as
though calling on heaven to witness the monstrosity of the caprices to
which his Dulcinea compelled him to submit. Nevertheless he spoke to
Bloch with great affability of the terrible, perhaps fatal period
through which France was passing. As this presumably meant that M. de
Norpois (to whom Bloch had confessed his belief in the innocence of
Dreyfus) was an ardent anti-Dreyfusard, the Ambassador's geniality,
his air of tacit admission that his listener was in the right, of
never doubting that they were both of the same opinion, of being
prepared to join forces with him to overthrow the Government,
flattered Bloch's vanity and aroused his curiosity. What were the
important points which M. de Norpois never specified but on which he
seemed implicitly to affirm that he was in agreement with Bloch; what
opinion, then, did he hold of the case, that could bring them
together? Bloch was all the more astonished at the mysterious
unanimity which seemed to exist between him and M. de Norpois, in that
it was not confined to politics, Mme. de Villeparisis having spoken at
some length to M. de Norpois of Bloch's literary work.

"You are not of your age," the former Ambassador told him, "and I
congratulate you upon that. You are not of this age in which
disinterested work no longer exists, in which writers offer the public
nothing but obscenities or ineptitudes. Efforts such as yours ought to
be encouraged, and would be, if we had a Government."

Bloch was flattered by this picture of himself swimming alone amid a
universal shipwreck. But here again he would have been glad of
details, would have liked to know what were the ineptitudes to which
M. de Norpois referred. Bloch had the feeling that he was working
along the same lines as plenty of others; he had never supposed
himself to be so exceptional. He returned to the Dreyfus case, but did
not succeed in elucidating M. de Norpois's own views. He tried to
induce him to speak of the officers whose names were appearing
constantly in the newspapers at that time; they aroused more curiosity
than the politicians who were involved also, because they were not,
like the politicians, well known already, but, wearing a special garb,
emerging from the obscurity of a different kind of life and a
religiously guarded silence, simply stood up and spoke and disappeared
again, like Lohengrin landing from a skiff drawn by a swan. Bloch had
been able, thanks to a Nationalist lawyer of his acquaintance, to
secure admission to several hearings of the Zola trial. He would
arrive there in the morning and stay until the court rose, with a
packet of sandwiches and a flask of coffee, as though for the final
examination for a degree, and this change of routine stimulating a
nervous excitement which the coffee and the emotional interest of the
trial worked up to a climax, he would come out so enamoured of
everything that had happened in court that, in the evening, as he sat
at home, he would long to immerse himself again in that beautiful
dream and would hurry out, to a restaurant frequented by both parties,
in search of friends with whom he would go over interminably the whole
of the day's proceedings, and make up, by a supper ordered in an
imperious tone which gave him the illusion of power, for the hunger
and exhaustion of a day begun so early and unbroken by any interval
for luncheon. The human mind, hovering perpetually between the two
planes of experience and imagination, seeks to fathom the ideal life
of the people it knows and to know the people whose life it has had to
imagine. To Bloch's questions M. de Norpois replied:

"There are two officers involved in the case now being tried of whom I
remember hearing some time ago from a man in whose judgment I felt
great confidence, and who praised them both highly—I mean M. de
Miribel. They are Lieutenant-Colonel Henry and Lieutenant-Colonel

"But," exclaimed Bloch, "the divine Athena, daughter of Zeus, has put
in the mind of one the opposite of what is in the mind of the other.
And they are fighting against one another like two lions. Colonel
Picquart had a splendid position in the Army, but his Moira has led
him to the side that was not rightly his. The sword of the
Nationalists will carve his tender flesh, and he will be cast out as
food for the beasts of prey and the birds that wax fat upon the bodies
of men."

M. de Norpois made no reply.

"What are those two palavering about over there?" M. de Guermantes
asked Mme. de Villeparisis, indicating M. de Norpois and Bloch.

"The Dreyfus case."

"The devil they are. By the way, do you know who is a red-hot
supporter of Dreyfus? I give you a thousand guesses. My nephew Robert!
I can tell you that, at the Jockey, when they heard of his goings on,
there was a fine gathering of the clans, a regular hue and cry. And as
he's coming up for election next week..."

"Of course," broke in the Duchess, "if they're all like Gilbert, who
keeps on saying that all the Jews ought to be sent back to Jerusalem."

"Indeed; then the Prince de Guermantes is quite of my way of
thinking," put in M. d'Argencourt.

The Duke made a show of his wife, but did not love her. Extremely
self-centred, he hated to be interrupted, besides he was in the
habit, at home of treating her brutally. Convulsed with the twofold
rage of a bad husband when his wife speaks to him, and a good talker
when he is not listened to, he stopped short and transfixed the
Duchess with a glare which made everyone feel uncomfortable.

"What makes you think we want to hear about Gilbert and Jerusalem?
It's nothing to do with that. But," he went on in a gentler tone, "you
will agree that if one of our family were to be pilled at the Jockey,
especially Robert, whose father was chairman for ten years, it would
be a pretty serious matter. What can you expect, my dear, it's got 'em
on the raw, those fellows; they're all over it. I don't blame them,
either; personally, you know that I have no racial prejudice, all that
sort of thing seems to me out of date, and I do claim to move with the
times; but damn it all, when one goes by the name of 'Marquis de
Saint-Loup' one isn't a Dreyfusard; what more can I say?"

M. de Guermantes uttered the words: "When one goes by the name of
Marquis de Saint-Loup," with some emphasis. He knew very well that it
was a far greater thing to go by that of Duc de Guermantes. But if his
self-esteem had a tendency to exaggerate if anything the superiority
of the title Duc de Guermantes over all others, it was perhaps not so
much the rules of good taste as the laws of imagination that urged him
thus to attenuate it. Each of us sees in the brightest colours what he
sees at a distance, what he sees in other people. For the general laws
which govern perspective in imagination apply just as much to dukes as
to ordinary mortals. And not only the laws of imagination, but those
of speech. Now, either of two laws of speech may apply here, one being
that which makes us express ourselves like others of our mental
category and not of our caste. Under this law M. de Guermantes might
be, in his choice of expressions, even when he wished to talk about
the nobility, indebted to the humblest little tradesman, who would
have said: "When one goes by the name of Duc de Guermantes," whereas
an educated man, a Swann, a Legrandin would not have said it. A duke
may write novels worthy of a grocer, even about life in high society,
titles and pedigrees being of no help to him there, and the epithet
'aristocratic' be earned by the writings of a plebeian. Who had been,
in this instance, the inferior from whom M. de Guermantes had picked
up 'when one goes by the name,' he had probably not the least idea.
But another law of speech is that, from time to time, as there appear
and then vanish diseases of which nothing more is ever heard, there
come into being, no one knows how, spontaneously perhaps or by an
accident like that which introduced into France a certain weed from
America, the seeds of which, caught in the wool of a travelling rug,
fell on a railway embankment, forms of speech which one hears in the
same decade on the lips of people who have not in any way combined
together to use them. So, just as in a certain year I heard Bloch say,
referring to himself, that "the most charming people, the most
brilliant, the best known, the most exclusive had discovered that
there was only one man in Paris whom they felt to be intelligent,
pleasant, whom they could not do without—namely Bloch," and heard the
same phrase used by countless other young men who did not know him and
varied it only by substituting their own names for his, so I was often
to hear this 'when one goes by the name.'

"What can one expect," the Duke went on, "with the influence he's come
under; it's easy to understand."

"Still it is rather comic," suggested the Duchess, "when you think of
his mother's attitude, how she bores us to tears with her Patrie
Française, morning, noon and night."

"Yes, but there's not only his mother to be thought of, you can't
humbug us like that. There's a damsel, too, a fly-by-night of the
worst type; she has far more influence over him than his mother, and
she happens to be a compatriot of Master Dreyfus. She has passed on
her state of mind to Robert."

"You may not have heard, Duke, that there is a new word to describe
that sort of mind," said the librarian, who was Secretary to the
Anti-revisionist Committee. "They say 'mentality.' It means exactly the
same thing, but it has this advantage that nobody knows what you're
talking about. It is the very latest expression just now, the 'last
word' as people say." Meanwhile, having heard Bloch's name, he was
watching him question M. de Norpois with misgivings which aroused
others as strong though of a different order in the Marquise.
Trembling before the librarian, and always acting the anti-Dreyfusard
in his presence, she dreaded what he would say were he to find out
that she had asked to her house a Jew more or less affiliated to the

"Indeed," said the Duke, "'mentality,' you say; I must make a note of
that; I shall use it some day." This was no figure of speech, the Duke
having a little pocketbook filled with such 'references' which he used
to consult before dinner-parties. "I like 'mentality.' There are a lot
of new words like that which people suddenly start using, but they
never last. I read somewhere the other day that some writer was
'talentuous.' You may perhaps know what it means; I don't. And since
then I've never come across the word again."

"But 'mentality' is more widely used than 'talentuous,'" the historian
of the Fronde made his way into the conversation. "I am on a Committee
at the Ministry of Education at which I have heard it used several
times, as well as at my Club, the Volney, and indeed at dinner at M.
Emile Ollivier's."

"I, who have not the honour to belong to the Ministry of Education,"
replied the Duke with a feigned humility but with a vanity so intense
that his lips could not refrain from curving in a smile, nor his eyes
from casting round his audience a glance sparkling with joy, the
ironical scorn in which made the poor historian blush, "I who have not
the honour to belong to the Ministry of Education," he repeated,
relishing the sound of his words, "nor to the Volney Club (my only
clubs are the Union and the Jockey—you aren't in the Jockey, I think,
sir?" he asked the historian, who, blushing a still deeper red,
scenting an insult and failing to understand it, began to tremble in
every limb), "I, who am not even invited to dine with M. Emile
Ollivier, I must confess that I had never heard 'mentality.' I'm sure
you're in the same boat, Argencourt.

"You know," he went on, "why they can't produce the proofs of
Dreyfus's guilt. Apparently it's because the War Minister's wife was
his mistress, that's what people are saying."

"Ah! I thought it was the Prime Minister's wife," said M.

"I think you're all equally tiresome about this wretched case," said
the Duchesse de Guermantes, who, in the social sphere, was always
anxious to shew that she did not allow herself to be led by anyone.
"It can't make any difference to me, so far as the Jews are concerned,
for the simple reason that I don't know any of them, and I intend to
remain in that state of blissful ignorance. But on the other hand I do
think it perfectly intolerable that just because they're supposed to
hold 'sound' views and don't deal with Jewish tradesmen, or have 'Down
with the Jews' printed on their sunshades, we should have a swarm of
Durands and Dubois and so forth, women we should never have known but
for this business, forced down our throats by Marie-Aynard or
Victurnienne. I went to see Marie-Aynard a couple of days ago. It used
to be so nice there. Nowadays one finds all the people one has spent
one's life trying to avoid, on the pretext that they're against
Dreyfus, and others of whom you have no idea who they can be."

"No; it was the War Minister's wife; at least, that's the bedside
rumour," went on the Duke, who liked to flavour his conversation with
certain expressions which he imagined to be of the old school.
"Personally, of course, as everyone knows, I take just the opposite
view to my cousin Gilbert. I am not feudal like him. I would go about
with a Negro if he was a friend of mine, and I shouldn't care two
straws what anybody thought; still after all you will agree with me
that when one goes by the name of Saint-Loup one doesn't amuse oneself
by running clean against the rails of public opinion, which has more
sense than Voltaire or even my nephew. Nor does one go in for what I
may be allowed to call these acrobatics of conscience a week before
one comes up for a club. It is a bit stiff, really! No, it is probably
that little wench of his that has put him on his high horse. I expect
she told him that he would be classed among the 'intellectuals.' The
intellectuals, they're the very cream of those gentry. It's given
rise, by the way, to a rather amusing pun, though a very naughty one."

And the Duke murmured, lowering his voice, for his wife's and M.
d'Argencourt's benefit, "Mater Semita," which had already made its way
into the Jockey Club, for, of all the flying seeds in the world, that
to which are attached the most solid wings, enabling it to be
disseminated at the greatest distance from its parent branch, is still
a joke.

"We might ask this gentleman, who has a _nerudite_ air, to explain it
to us," he went on, indicating the historian. "But it is better not to
repeat it, especially as there's not a vestige of truth in the
suggestion. I am not so ambitious as my cousin Mirepoix, who claims
that she can trace the descent of her family before Christ to the
Tribe of Levi, and I will undertake to prove that there has never
been a drop of Jewish blood in our family. Still there is no good in
our shutting our eyes to the fact, you may be sure that my dear
nephew's highly original views are liable to make a considerable stir
at Landerneau. Especially as Fezensac is ill just now, and Duras will
be running the election; you know how he likes to make nuisances,"
concluded the Duke, who had never succeeded in learning the exact
meaning of certain phrases, and supposed 'making nuisances' to mean
'making difficulties.'

Bloch tried to pin M. de Norpois down on Colonel Picquart.

"There can be no two opinions;" replied M. de Norpois, "his evidence
had to be taken. I am well aware that, by maintaining this attitude, I
have drawn screams of protest from more than one of my colleagues, but
to my mind the Government were bound to let the Colonel speak. One
can't dance lightly out of a blind alley like that, or if one does
there's always the risk of falling into a ditch. As for the officer
himself, his statement gave one, at the first hearing, a most
excellent impression. When one saw him, looking so well in that smart
Chasseur uniform, come into court and relate in a perfectly simple and
frank tone what he had seen and what he had deduced, and say: 'On my
honour as a soldier'" (here M. de Norpois's voice shook with a faint
patriotic throb) "'such is my conviction,' it is impossible to deny
that the impression he made was profound."

"There; he is a Dreyfusard, there's not the least doubt of it,"
thought Bloch.

"But where he entirely forfeited all the sympathy that he had managed
to attract was when he was confronted with the registrar, Gribelin.
When one heard that old public servant, a man who had only one answer
to make," (here M. de Norpois began to accentuate his words with the
energy of his sincere convictions) "when one listened to him, when one
saw him look his superior officer in the face, not afraid to hold his
head up to him, and say to him in a tone that admitted of no response:
'Colonel, sir, you know very well that I have never told a lie, you
know that at this moment, as always, I am speaking the truth,' the
wind changed; M. Picquart might move heaven and earth at the
subsequent hearings; he made a complete fiasco."

"No; evidently he's an anti-Dreyfusard; it's quite obvious," said
Bloch to himself. "But if he considers Picquart a traitor and a liar,
how can he take his revelations seriously, and quote them as if he
found them charming and believed them to be sincere. And if, on the
other hand, he sees in him an honest man easing his conscience, how
can he suppose him to have been lying when he was confronted with

"In any case, if this man Dreyfus is innocent," the Duchess broke in,
"he hasn't done much to prove it. What idiotic, raving letters he
writes from that island. I don't know whether M. Esterhazy is any
better, but he does shew some skill in his choice of words, a
different tone altogether. That can't be very pleasant for the
supporters of M. Dreyfus. What a pity for them there's no way of
exchanging innocents." Everybody laughed. "You heard what Oriane
said?" the Duc de Guermantes inquired eagerly of e. de Villeparisis.
"Yes; I think it most amusing." This was not enough for the Duke.
"Well, I don't know, I can't say that I thought it amusing; or rather
it doesn't make the slightest difference to me whether a thing is
amusing or not. I don't care about wit." M. d'Argencourt protested.
"It is probably because I've been a Member of Parliament, where I have
listened to brilliant speeches that meant absolutely nothing. I
learned there to value, more than anything, logic. That's probably why
they didn't elect me again. Amusing things leave me cold." "Basin,
don't play the heavy father like that, my child, you know quite well
that no one admires wit more than you do." "Please let me finish. It
is just because I am unmoved by a certain type of humour, that I am
often struck by my wife's wit. For you will find it based, as a rule,
upon sound observation. She reasons like a man; she states her case
like a writer."

Possibly the explanation of M. de Norpois's speaking in this way to
Bloch, as though they had been in agreement, may have lain in the fact
that he himself was so keen an anti-Dreyfusard that, finding the
Government not anti-Dreyfusard enough, he was its enemy just as much
as the Dreyfusards. Perhaps because the object to which he devoted
himself in politics was something more profound, situated on another
plane, from which Dreyfusism appeared as an unimportant modality which
did not deserve the attention of a patriot interested in large
questions of foreign policy. Perhaps, rather, because the maxims of
his political wisdom being applicable only to questions of form, of
procedure, of expediency, they were as powerless to solve questions of
fact as in philosophy pure logic is powerless to tackle the problems
of existence; or else because that very wisdom made him see danger in
handling such subjects and so, in his caution, he preferred to speak
only of minor incidents. But where Bloch made a mistake was in
thinking that M. de Norpois, even had he been less cautious by nature
and of a less exclusively formal cast of mind, could (supposing he
would) have told him the truth as to the part played by Henry,
Picquart or du Paty de Clam, or as to any of the different aspects of
the case. The truth, indeed, as to all these matters Bloch could not
doubt that M. de Norpois knew. How could he fail to know it seeing
that he was a friend of all the Ministers? Naturally, Bloch thought
that the truth in politics could be approximately reconstructed by the
most luminous minds, but he imagined, like the man in the street, that
it resided permanently, beyond the reach of argument and in a material
form, in the secret files of the President of the Republic and the
Prime Minister, who imparted it to their Cabinet. Now, even when a
political truth does take the form of written documents, it is seldom
that these have any more value than a radiographic plate on which the
layman imagines that the patient's disease is inscribed in so many
words, when, as a matter of fact, the plate furnishes simply one piece
of material for study, to be combined with a number of others, which
the doctor's reasoning powers will take into consideration as a whole
and upon them found his diagnosis. So, too, the truth in politics,
when one goes to well-informed men and imagines that one is about to
grasp it, eludes one. Indeed, later on (to confine ourselves to the
Dreyfus case), when so startling an event occurred as Henry's
confession, followed by his suicide, this fact was at once interpreted
in opposite ways by the Dreyfusard Ministers, and by Cavaignac and
Cuignet who had themselves made the discovery of the forgery and
conducted the examination; still more so among the Dreyfusard
Ministers themselves, men of the same shade of Dreyfusism, judging not
only from the same documents but in the same spirit, the part played
by Henry was explained in two entirely different ways, one set seeing
in him an accomplice of Esterhazy, the others assigning that part to
du Paty de Clam, thus rallying in support of a theory of their
opponent Cuignet and in complete opposition to their supporter
Reinach. All that Bloch could elicit from M. de Norpois was that if it
were true that the Chief of Staff, M. de Boisdeffre, had had a secret
communication sent to M. Rochefort, it was evident that a singularly
regrettable irregularity had occurred.

"You may be quite sure that the War Minister must (_in petto_ at any
rate) be consigning his Chief of Staff to the infernal powers. An
official disclaimer would not have been (to my mind) a work of
supererogation. But the War Minister expresses himself very bluntly
on the matter _inter pocula_. There are certain subjects, moreover,
about which it is highly imprudent to create an agitation over which
one cannot retain control afterwards."

"But those documents are obviously forged," put in Bloch.

M. de Norpois made no reply to this, but announced that he did not
approve of the manifestations that were being made by Prince Henri

"Besides, they can only ruffle the calm of the pretorium, and
encourage agitations which, looked at from either point of view, would
be deplorable. Certainly we must put a stop to the anti-militarist
conspiracy, but we cannot possibly tolerate, either, a brawl
encouraged by those elements on the Right who instead of serving the
patriotic ideal themselves are hoping to make it serve them. Heaven be
praised, France is not a South American Republic, and the need has not
yet been felt here for a military pronunciamento."

Bloch could not get him to speak on the question of Dreyfus's guilt,
nor would he utter any forecast as to the judgment in the civil trial
then proceeding. On the other hand, M. de Norpois seemed only too
ready to indicate the consequences of this judgment.

"If it is a conviction," he said, "it will probably be quashed, for it
is seldom that, in a case where there has been such a number of
witnesses, there is not some flaw in the procedure which counsel can
raise on appeal. To return to Prince Henri's outburst, I greatly
doubt whether it has met with his father's approval."

"You think Chartres is for Dreyfus?" asked the Duchess with a smile,
her eyes rounded, her cheeks bright, her nose buried in her plate, her
whole manner deliciously scandalised.

"Not at all; I meant only that there runs through the whole family, on
that side, a political sense which we have seen, in the admirable
Princesse Clémentine, carried to its highest power, and which her son,
Prince Ferdinand, has kept as a priceless inheritance. You would never
have found the Prince of Bulgaria clasping Major Esterhazy to his

"He would have preferred a private soldier," murmured Mme. de
Guermantes, who often met the Bulgarian monarch at dinner at the
Prince de Joinville's, and had said to him once, when he asked if she
was not envious: "Yes, Sir, of your bracelets."

"You aren't going to Mme. de Sagan's ball this evening?" M. de Norpois
asked Mme. de Villeparisis, to cut short his conversation with Bloch.
My friend had not failed to interest the Ambassador, who told us
afterwards, not without a quaint simplicity, thinking no doubt of the
traces that survived in Bloch's speech of the neo-Homeric manner which
he had on the whole outgrown: "He is rather amusing, with that way of
speaking, a trifle old fashioned, a trifle solemn. You expect him to
come out with 'The Learned Sisters,' like Lamartine or Jean-Baptiste
Rousseau. It has become quite uncommon in the youth of the present
day, as it was indeed in the generation before them. We ourselves were
inclined to be romantic." But however exceptional his companion may
have seemed to him, M. de Norpois decided that the conversation had
lasted long enough.

"No, sir, I don't go to balls any more," she replied with a charming
grandmotherly smile. "You're going, all of you, I suppose? You're the
right age for that sort of thing," she added, embracing in a
comprehensive glance M. de Châtellerault, his friend and Bloch.
"Still, I was asked," she went on, pretending, just for fun, to be
flattered by the distinction. "In fact, they came specially to ask
me." ('They' being the Princesse de Sagan.)

"I haven't had a card," said Bloch, thinking that Mme. de Villeparisis
would at once offer to procure him one, and that Mme. de Sagan would
be glad to see at her ball the friend of a woman whom she had called
in person to invite.

The Marquise made no reply, and Bloch did not press the point, for he
had another, more serious matter to discuss with her, and, with that
in view, had already asked her whether he might call again in a couple
of days. Having heard the two young men say that they had both just
resigned from the Rue Royale Club, which was letting in every Tom,
Dick and Harry, he wished to ask Mme. de Villeparisis to arrange for
his election there.

"Aren't they rather bad form, rather stuck-up snobs, these Sagans?" he
inquired in a tone of sarcasm.

"Not at all, they're the best we can do for you in that line," M.
d'Argencourt, who adopted all the catch-words of Parisian society,
assured him.

"Then," said Bloch, still half in irony, "I suppose it's one of the
solemnities, the great social fixtures of the season."

Mme. de Villeparisis turned merrily to Mme. de Guermantes.

"Tell us, is it a great social solemnity, Mme. de Sagan's ball?"

"It's no good asking me," answered the Duchess, "I have never yet
succeeded in finding out what a social solemnity is. Besides, society
isn't my strong point."

"Indeed; I thought it was just the other way," said Bloch, who
supposed Mme. de Guermantes to be speaking seriously.

He continued, to the desperation of M. de Norpois, to ply him with
questions about the Dreyfus case. The Ambassador declared that,
looking at it from outside, he got the impression from du Paty de Clam
of a somewhat cloudy brain, which had perhaps not been very happily
chosen to conduct that delicate operation, which required so much
coolness and discernment, a judicial inquiry.

"I know that the Socialist Party are crying aloud for his head on a
charger, as well as for the immediate release of the prisoner from the
Devil's Isle. But I think that we are not yet reduced to the necessity
of passing the Caudine Forks of MM. Gérault-Richard and Company. So
far, the whole case has been an utter mystery, I don't say that on one
side just as much as on the other there has not been some pretty dirty
work to be hushed up. That certain of your client's more or less
disinterested protectors may have the best intentions I will not
attempt to deny, but you know that heaven is paved with such things,"
he added, with a look of great subtlety. "It is essential that the
Government should give the impression that they are not in the hands
of the factions of the Left, and that they are not going to surrender
themselves, bound hand and foot, at the demand of some pretorian guard
or other, which, believe me, is not the same thing as the Army. It
stands to reason that, should any fresh evidence come to light, a new
trial would be ordered. And what follows from that? Obviously, that to
demand a new trial is to force an open door. When the day comes, the
Government will speak with no uncertain voice or will let fall into
abeyance what is their essential prerogative. Cock and bull stories
will no longer be enough. We must appoint judges to try Dreyfus. And
that will be an easy matter because, although we have acquired the
habit, in our sweet France, where we love to belittle ourselves, of
thinking or letting it be thought that, in order to hear the words
Truth and Justice, it is necessary to cross the Channel, which is very
often only a roundabout way of reaching the Spree, there are judges to
be found outside Berlin. But once the machinery of Government has
been set in motion, will you have ears for the voice of authority?
When it bids you perform your duty as a citizen will you have ears for
its voice, will you take your stand in the ranks of law and order?
When its patriotic appeal sounds, will you have the wisdom not to turn
a deaf ear but to answer: 'Present!'?"

M. de Norpois put these questions to Bloch with a vehemence which,
while it alarmed my friend, flattered him also; for the Ambassador
spoke to him with the air of one addressing a whole party, questioned
him as though he had been in the confidence of that party and might be
held responsible for the decisions which it would adopt. "Should you
fail to disarm," M. de Norpois went on, without waiting for Bloch's
collective answer, "should you, before even the ink had dried on the
decree ordering the fresh trial of the case, obeying it matters not
what insidious word of command, fail, I say, to disarm, and band
yourselves, rather, in a sterile opposition which seems to some minds
the _ultima ratio_ of policy, should you retire to your tents and burn
your boats, you would be doing so to your own, damnation. Are you the
prisoners of those who foment disorder? Have you given them pledges?"
Bloch was in doubt how to answer. M. de Norpois gave him no time. "If
the negative be true, as I should like to think, and if you have a
little of what seems to me to be lamentably lacking in certain of your
leaders and your friends, namely political sense, then, on the day
when the Criminal Court assembles, if you do not allow yourselves to
be dragooned by the fishers in troubled waters, you will have won your
battle. I do not guarantee that the whole of the General Staff is
going to get away unscathed, but it will be so much to the good if
some of them at least can save their faces without setting the heather
on fire.

"It stands to reason, moreover, that it is with the Government that it
rests to pronounce judgment, and to close the list—already too
long—of unpunished crimes, not certainly at the bidding of Socialist
agitators, nor yet of any obscure military mouthpiece," he added,
looking Bloch boldly in the face, perhaps with the instinct that leads
all Conservatives to establish support for themselves in the enemy's
camp. "Government action is not to be dictated by the highest bidder,
from wherever the bid may come. The Government are not, thank heaven,
under the orders of Colonel Driant, nor, at the other end of the
scale, under M. Clemenceau's. We must curb the professional agitators
and prevent them from raising their heads again. France, the vast
majority here in France, desires only to be allowed to work in orderly
conditions. As to that, there can be no question whatever. But we must
not be afraid to enlighten public opinion; and if a few sheep, of the
kind our friend Rabelais knew so well, should dash headlong into the
water, it would be as well to point out to them that the water in
question was troubled, that it had been troubled deliberately by an
agency not within our borders, in order to conceal the dangers lurking
in its depths. And the Government ought not to give the impression
that they are emerging from their passivity in self-defence when they
exercise the right which is essentially their own, I mean that of
setting the wheels of justice in motion. The Government will accept
all your suggestions. If it is proved that there has been a judicial
error, they can be sure of an overwhelming majority which would give
them room to act with freedom."

"You, sir," said Bloch, turning to M. d'Argencourt, to whom he had
been made known, with the rest of the party, on that gentleman's
arrival, "you are a Dreyfusard, of course; they all are, abroad."

"It is a question that concerns only the French themselves, don't you
think?" replied M. d'Argencourt with that peculiar form of insolence
which consists in ascribing to the other person an opinion which one
must, obviously, know that he does not hold since he has just
expressed one directly its opposite.

Bloch coloured; M. d'Argencourt smiled, looking round the room, and if
this smile, so long as it was directed at the rest of the company, was
charged with malice at Bloch's expense, it became tempered with
cordiality when finally it came to rest on the face of my friend, so
as to deprive him of any excuse for annoyance at the words which he
had heard uttered, though those words remained just as cruel. Mme. de
Guermantes murmured something to M. d'Argencourt which I could not
hear, but which must have referred to Bloch's religion, for there
flitted at that moment over the face of the Duchess that expression to
which one's fear of being noticed by the person of whom one is
speaking gives a certain hesitancy and unreality, while there is
blended with it the inquisitive, malicious amusement inspired in one
by a group of human beings to which one feels oneself to be
fundamentally alien. To retrieve himself, Bloch turned to the Duc de
Châtellerault. "You, sir, as a Frenchman, you must be aware that
people abroad are all Dreyfusards, although everyone pretends that in
prance we never know what is going on abroad. Anyhow, I know I can
talk freely to you; Saint-Loup told me so." But the young Duke, who
felt that every one was turning against Bloch, and was a coward as
people often are in society, employing a mordant and precious form of
wit which he seemed, by a sort of collateral atavism, to have
inherited from M. de Charlus, replied: "You must not ask me, sir, to
discuss the Dreyfus case with you; it is a subject which, on
principle, I never mention except to Japhetics." Everyone smiled,
except Bloch, not that he was not himself in the habit of making
scathing references to his Jewish origin, to that side of his ancestry
which came from somewhere near Sinai. But instead of one of these
epigrams (doubtless because he had not one ready) the operation of the
internal machine brought to Bloch's lips something quite different.
And we caught only: "But how on earth did you know? Who told you?" as
though he had been the son of a convict. Whereas, given his name,
which had not exactly a Christian sound, and his face, his surprise
argued a certain simplicity of mind.

What M. de Norpois had said not having completely satisfied him, he
went up to the librarian and asked him whether Mme. de Villeparisis
did not sometimes have in her house M. du Paty de Clam or M. Joseph
Reinach. The librarian made no reply; he was a Nationalist, and never
ceased preaching to the Marquise that the social revolution might
break out at any moment, and that she ought to shew more caution in
the choice of her friends. He asked himself whether Bloch might not be
a secret emissary of the Syndicate, come to collect information, and
went off at once to repeat to Mme. de Villeparisis the questions that
Bloch had put to him. She decided that, at the best, he was ill-bred
and might be in a position to compromise M. de Norpois. Also, she
wished to give satisfaction to the librarian, the only person of whom
she went in fear, by whom she was being indoctrinated, though without
any marked success (every morning he read her M. Judet's article in
the _Petit Journal_). She decided, therefore, to make it plain to
Bloch that he need not come to the house again, and had no difficulty
in finding, among her social repertory, the scene by which a great
lady shows anyone her door, a scene which does not in any way involve
the raised finger and blazing eyes that people imagine. As Bloch came
up to her to say good-bye, buried in her deep armchair, she seemed
only half-awakened from a vague somnolence. Her sunken eyes gleamed
with only the feeble though charming light of a pair of pearls.
Bloch's farewell, barely pencilling on the Marquise's face a languid
smile, drew from her not a word, nor did she offer him her hand. This
scene left Bloch in utter bewilderment, but as he was surrounded by a
circle of spectators he felt that it could not be prolonged without
disadvantage to himself, and, to force the Marquise, the hand which
she had made no effort to take he himself thrust out at her. Mme. de
Villeparisis was startled. But doubtless, while still bent upon giving
an immediate satisfaction to the librarian and the anti-Dreyfusard
clan, she wished at the same time to provide for the future, and so
contented herself with letting her eyelids droop over her closing

"I believe she's asleep," said Bloch to the librarian who, feeling
that he had the support of the Marquise, assumed an indignant air.
"Good-bye madame," snouted Bloch.

The old lady made the slight movement with her lips of a dying woman
who wants to open her mouth but whose eye can no longer recognise
people. Then she turned, overflowing with a restored vitality, to M.
d'Argencourt, while Bloch left the room, convinced that she must be
'soft' in the head. Full of curiosity and anxious to have more light
thrown upon so strange an incident, he came to see her again a few
days later. She received him in the most friendly fashion, because she
was a good-natured woman, because the librarian was not there, because
she had in mind the little play which Bloch was going to produce for
her, and finally because she had acted once and for all the little
scene of the indignant lady that she had wished to act, a scene that
had been universally admired and discussed the same evening in various
drawing-rooms, but in a version which had already ceased to bear any
resemblance to the truth.

"You were speaking just now of the _Seven Princesses_, Duchess; you
know (not that it's anything to be proud of) that the author of
that—what shall I call it?—that production is a compatriot of mine,"
said M. d'Argencourt with a fine scorn blended with satisfaction at
knowing more than anyone else in the room about the author of a work
which had been under discussion. "Yes, he's a Belgian, by
nationality," he went on.

"Indeed! No, we don't accuse you of any responsibility for the _Seven
Princesses_. Fortunately for yourself and your compatriots you are not
like the author of that absurdity. I know several charming Belgians,
yourself, your King, who is inclined to be shy, but full of wit, my
Ligne cousins, and heaps of others, but you, I am thankful to say, do
not speak the same language as the author of the _Seven Princesses_.
Besides, if you want to know, it's not worth talking about, because
really there is absolutely nothing in it. You know the sort of people
who are always trying to seem obscure, and even plan to make
themselves ridiculous to conceal the fact that they have not an idea
in their heads. If there was anything behind it all, I may tell you
that I'm not in the least afraid of a little daring," she added in a
serious tone, "provided that there is some idea in it. I don't know if
you've seen Borelli's piece. Some people seem to have been shocked by
it, but I must say, even if they stone me through the streets for
saying it," she went on, without stopping to think that she ran no
very great risk of such a punishment, "I found it immensely
interesting. But the _Seven Princesses_! It's all very well, one of
them having a fondness for my nephew, I cannot carry family feeling

The Duchess broke off abruptly, for a lady came in who was the
Comtesse de Marsantes, Robert's mother. Mme. de Marsantes was regarded
in the Faubourg Saint-Germain as a superior being, of a goodness, a
resignation that were positively angelic. So I had been told, and had
had no particular reason to feel surprised, not knowing at the same
time that she was the sister of the Duc de Guermantes. Later, I have
always been taken aback, whenever I have learned that such women,
melancholy, pure, victimised, venerated like the ideal forms of saints
in church windows, had flowered from the same genealogical stem as
brothers brutal, debauched and vile. Brothers and sisters, when they
are closely alike in features as were the Duc de Guermantes and Mme.
de Marsantes, ought (I felt) to have a single intellect in common, the
same heart, as a person would have who might vary between good and
evil moods but in whom one could not, for all that, expect to find a
vast breadth of outlook if he had a narrow mind, or a sublime
abnegation if his heart was hard.

Mme. de Marsantes attended Brunetière's lectures. She fascinated the
Faubourg Saint-Germain and, by her saintly life, edified it as well.
But the morphological link of handsome nose and piercing gaze led one,
nevertheless, to classify Mme. de Marsantes in the same intellectual
and moral family as her brother the Duke. I could not believe that the
mere fact of her being a woman, and perhaps those of her having had an
unhappy life and won everyone's sympathy, could make a person be so
different from the rest of her family, as in the old romances, where
all the virtues and graces are combined in the sister of wild and
lawless brothers. It seemed to me that nature, less unconventional
than the old poets, must make use almost exclusively of the elements
common to the family, and I was unable to credit her with enough power
of invention to construct, out of materials analogous to those that
composed a fool and clod, a lofty mind without the least strain of
clownishness, a saint unsoiled by any brutality. Mme. de Marsantes was
wearing a gown of white surah embroidered with large palms, on which
stood out flowers of a different material, these being black. This
was because, three weeks earlier, she had lost her cousin, M. de
Montmorency, a bereavement which did not prevent her from paying calls
or even from going to small dinners, but always in mourning. She was a
great lady. Atavism had filled her with the frivolity of generations
of life at court, with all the superficial, rigorous duties that that
implies. Mme. de Marsantes had not had the strength of character to
regret for any length of time the death of her father and mother, but
she would not for anything in the world have appeared in colours in
the month following that of a cousin. She was more than pleasant to
me, both because I was Robert's friend and because I did not move in
the same world as he. This pleasantness was accompanied by a pretence
of shyness, by that sort of intermittent withdrawal of the voice, the
eyes, the mind which a woman draws back to her like a skirt that has
indiscreetly spread, so as not to take up too much room, to remain
stiff and erect even in her suppleness, as a good upbringing teaches.
A good upbringing which must not, however, be taken too literally,
many of these ladies passing very swiftly into a complete dissolution
of morals without ever losing the almost childlike correctness of
their manners. Mme. de Marsantes was a trifle irritating in
conversation since, whenever she had occasion to speak of a plebeian,
as for instance Bergotte or Elstir, she would say, isolating the word,
giving it its full value, intoning it on two different notes with a
modulation peculiar to the Guermantes: "I have had the _honour_, the
great _hon-_our of meeting Monsieur Bergotte," or "of making the
acquaintance of Monsieur Elstir" whether that her hearers might
marvel at her humility or from the same tendency that Mme. de
Guermantes shewed to revert to the use of obsolete forms, as a protest
against the slovenly usages of the present day, in which people never
professed themselves sufficiently 'honoured.' Whichever Of these was
the true reason, one felt that when Mme. de Marsantes said: "I have
had the _honour_, the great _hon-_our," she felt she was playing an
important part and shewing that she could take in the names of
distinguished men as she would have welcomed the men themselves at her
home in the country, had they happened to be in the neighbourhood. On
the other hand as her family connexion was numerous, as she was
devoted to all her relatives, as, slow in speech and fond of
explaining things at length, she was always trying to make clear the
exact degree of kinship, she found herself (without any desire to
create an effect and without really caring to talk about anyone except
touching peasants and sublime gamekeepers) referring incessantly to
all the mediatised houses in Europe, a failing which people less
brilliantly connected than herself could not forgive, and, if they
were at all intellectual, derided as a sign of stupidity.

In the country, Mme. de Marsantes was adored for the good that she
did, but principally because the purity of a strain of blood into
which for many generations there had flowed only what was greatest in
the history of France had taken from her manner everything that the
lower orders call 'manners,' and had given her a perfect simplicity.
She never shrank from kissing a poor woman who was in trouble, and
would tell her to come up to the castle for a cartload of wood. She
was, people said, the perfect Christian. She was determined to find
an immensely rich wife for Robert. Being a great lady means playing
the great lady, that is to say, to a certain extent, playing at
simplicity. It is a pastime which costs an extremely high price, all
the more because simplicity charms people only on condition that they
know that you are not bound to live simply, that is to say that you
are very rich. Some one said to me afterwards, when I had told him of
my meeting her: "You saw of course that she must have been lovely as a
young woman." But true beauty is so individual, so novel always, that
one does not recognise it as beauty. I said to myself this afternoon
only that she had a tiny nose, very blue eyes, a long neck and a sad

"Listen," said Mme. de Villeparisis to the Duchesse de Guermantes,
"I'm expecting a woman at any moment whom you don't wish to know. I
thought I'd better warn you, to avoid any unpleasantness. But you
needn't be afraid, I shall never have her here again, only I was
obliged to let her come to-day. It's Swann's wife."

Mme. Swann, seeing the dimensions that the Dreyfus case had begun to
assume, and fearing that her husband's racial origin might be used
against herself, had besought him never again to allude to the
prisoner's innocence. When he was not present she went farther and
used to profess the most ardent Nationalism; in doing which she was
only following the example of Mme. Verdurin, in whom a middle-class
anti-semitism, latent hitherto, had awakened and grown to a positive
fury. Mme. Swann had won by this attitude the privilege of membership
in several of the women's leagues that were beginning to be formed in
anti-semitic society, and had succeeded in making friends with various
members of the aristocracy. It may seem strange that, so far from
following their example, the Duchesse de Guermantes, so close a friend
of Swann, had on the contrary always resisted his desire, which he had
not concealed from her, to introduce to her his wife. But we shall
see in due course that this arose from the peculiar nature of the
Duchess, who held that she was not 'bound to' do things, and laid down
with despotic force what had been decided by her social 'free will,'
which was extremely arbitrary.

"Thank you for telling me," said the Duchess. "It would indeed be most
unpleasant. But as I know her by sight I shall be able to get away in

"I assure you, Oriane, she is really quite nice; an excellent woman,"
said Mme. de Marsantes.

"I have no doubt she is, but I feel no need to assure myself of it."

"Have you been invited to Lady Israels's?" Mme. de Villeparisis asked
the Duchess, to change the conversation.

"Why, thank heaven, I don't know the woman," replied Mme. de
Guermantes. "You must ask Marie-Aynard. She knows her. I never could
make out why."

"I did indeed know her at one time," said Mme. de Marsantes. "I
confess my faults. But I have decided not to know her any more. It
seems she's one of the very worst of them, and makes no attempt to
conceal it. Besides, we have all been too trusting, too hospitable. I
shall never go near anyone of that race again. While we had old
friends, country cousins, people of our own flesh and blood on whom we
shut our doors, we threw them open to Jews. And now we see what thanks
we get from them. But I've no right to speak; I have an adorable son,
and, like a young fool, he says and does all the maddest things you
can imagine," she went on, having caught some allusion by M.
d'Argencourt to Robert. "But, talking of Robert, haven't you seen
him?" she asked Mme. de Villeparisis; "being Saturday, I thought he'd
be coming to Paris on leave, and in that case he would be sure to pay
you a visit."

As a matter of fact Mme. de Marsantes thought that her son would not
obtain leave that week; but knowing that, even if he did, he would
never dream of coming to see Mme. de Villeparisis, she hoped, by
making herself appear to have expected to find him in the room, to
procure his forgiveness from her susceptible aunt for all the visits
that he had failed to pay her.

"Robert here! But I have never had a single word from him; I don't
think I've seen him since Balbec."

"He is so busy; he has so much to do," pleaded Mme. de Marsantes.

A faint smile made Mme. de Guermantes's eyelashes quiver as she
studied the circle which, with the point of her sunshade, she was
tracing on the carpet. Whenever the Duke had been too openly
unfaithful to his wife, Mme. de Marsantes had always taken up the
cudgels against her own brother on her sister-in-law's behalf. The
latter had a grateful and bitter memory of this protection, and was
not herself seriously shocked by Robert's pranks. At this point the
door opened again and Robert himself entered the room.

"Well, talk of the Saint!" said Mme. de Guermantes.

Mme. de Marsantes, who had her back to the door, had not seen her son
come in. When she did catch sight of him, her motherly bosom was
convulsed with joy, as by the beating of a wing, her body half rose
her seat, her face quivered and she fastened on Robert eyes big

"What! You've come! How delightful! What a surprise!"

"Ah! _Talk of the Saint_!—I see," cried the Belgian diplomat, with a
shout of laughter.

"Delicious, ain't it?" came tartly from the Duchess, who hated puns
and had ventured on this one only with a pretence of making fun of

"Good afternoon, Robert," she said, "I believe he's forgotten his

They talked for a moment, probably about myself, for as Saint-Loup was
leaving her to join his mother Mme. de Guermantes turned to me:

"Good afternoon; how are you?" was her greeting.

She allowed to rain on me the light of her azure gaze, hesitated for a
moment, unfolded and stretched towards me the stem of her arm, leaned
forward her body which sprang rapidly backwards like a bush that has
been pulled down to the ground and, on being released, returns to its
natural position. Thus she acted under the fire of Saint-Loup's eyes,
which kept her under observation and were making frantic efforts to
obtain some further concession still from his aunt. Fearing that our
conversation might fail altogether, he joined in, to stimulate it, and
answered for me:

"He's not very well just now, he gets rather tired; I think he would
be a great deal better, by the way, if he saw you more often, for I
can't help telling you that he admires you immensely."

"Oh, but that's very nice of him," said Mme. de Guermantes in a
deliberately casual tone, as if I had brought her her cloak. "I am
most flattered."

"Look, I must go and talk to my mother for a minute; take my chair,"
said Saint-Loup, thus forcing me to sit down next to his aunt.

We were both silent.

"I see you sometimes in the morning," she said, as though she were
telling me something that I did not know, and I for my part had never
seen her. "It's so good for one, a walk."

"Oriane," began Mme. de Marsantes in a low tone, "you said you were
going on to Mme. de Saint-Ferréol's; would you be so very kind as to
tell her not to expect me to dinner, I shall stay at home now that
I've got Robert. And one other thing, but I hardly like to ask you, if
you would leave word as you pass to tell them to send out at once for
a box of the cigars Robert likes. 'Corona,' they're called. I've none
in the house."

Robert came up to us; he had caught only the name of Mme. de

"Who in the world is Mme. de Saint-Ferréol?" he inquired, in a
surprised but decisive tone, for he affected a studied ignorance of
everything to do with society.

"But, my dear boy, you know quite well," said his mother. "She's
Vermandois's sister. It was she gave you that nice billiard table you
liked so much."

"What, she's Vermandois's sister, I had no idea of that. Really, my
family are amazing," he went on, turning so as to include me in the
conversation and adopting unconsciously Bloch's intonation just as he
borrowed his ideas, "they know the most unheard-of people, people
called Saint-Ferréol" (emphasising the final consonant of each word)
"and names like that; they go to balls, they drive in victorias, they
lead a fabulous existence. It's prodigious."

Mme. de Guermantes made in her throat a slight, short, sharp sound, as
of an involuntary laugh which one chokes back, meaning thereby to shew
that she paid just as much tribute as the laws of kinship imposed on
her to her nephew's wit. A servant came in to say that the Prince von
Faffenheim-Munsterburg-Weinigen had sent word to M. de Norpois that he
was waiting.

"Bring him in, sir," said Mme. de Villeparisis to the old Ambassador,
who started in quest of the German Minister.

"Stop, sir; do you think I ought to shew him the miniature of the
Empress Charlotte?"

"Why, I'm sure he'll be delighted," said the Ambassador in a tone of
conviction, and as though he were envying the fortunate Minister the
favour that was in store for him.

"Oh, I know he's very _sound_," said Mme. de Marsantes, "and that is
so rare among foreigners. But I've found out all about him. He is
anti-semitism personified."

The Prince's name preserved in the boldness with which its opening
syllables were—to borrow an expression from music—attacked, and in
the stammering repetition that scanned them, the impulse, the mannered
simplicity, the heavy delicacies of the Teutonic race, projected like
green boughs over the 'heim' of dark blue enamel which glowed with the
mystic light of a Rhenish window behind the pale and finely wrought
gildings of the German eighteenth century. This name included, among
the several names of which it was composed, that of a little German
watering-place to which as a child I had gone with my grandmother, at
the foot of a mountain honoured by the feet of Goethe, from the
vineyards of which we used to drink, at the Kurhof, their illustrious
vintages with elaborate and sonorous names, like the epithets which
Homer applies to his heroes. And so, scarcely had I heard the Prince's
name spoken than, before I had recalled the watering-place, the name
itself seemed to shrink, to grow rich with humanity, to find large
enough a little place in my memory to which it clung, familiar, earth
to earth, picturesque, savoury, light, with something about it, too,
that was authorised, prescribed. And then, M. de Guermantes, in
explaining who the Prince was, quoted a number of his titles, and I
recognised the name of a village threaded by the river on which, every
evening, my cure finished for the day, I used to go in a boat amid the
mosquitoes, and that of a forest so far away that the doctor would not
allow me to make the excursion to it. And indeed it was comprehensible
that the suzerainty of the lord extended to the surrounding places and
associated afresh in the enumeration of his titles the names which one
could read, close together, upon a map. Thus beneath the visor of the
Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and Knight of Franconia it was the
face of a dear and smiling land, on which had often lingered for me
the light of the six-o'clock sun, that I saw, at any rate before the
Prince, Rheingraf and Elector Palatine had entered the room. For I
speedily learned that the revenues which he drew from the forest and
river, peopled with gnomes and undines, and from the enchanted
mountain on which rose the ancient Burg that cherished memories of
Luther and Lewis the Germanic, he employed in keeping five Charron
motor-cars, a house in Paris and one in London, a box on Mondays at
the Opera and another for the 'Tuesdays' at the 'Français.' He did not
seem to me, nor did he seem to regard himself as different from other
men of similar fortune and age who had a less poetic origin. He had
their culture, their ideals, he was proud of his rank, but purely on
account of the advantages it conferred on him, and had now only one
ambition in life, to be elected a Corresponding Member of the Academy
of Moral and Political Sciences, which was the reason of his coming to
see Mme. de Villeparisis. If he, whose wife was a leader of the most
exclusive set in Berlin, had begged to be introduced to the Marquise,
it was not the result of any desire on his part for her acquaintance.
Devoured for years past by this ambition to be elected to the
Institute, he had unfortunately never been in a position to reckon
above five the number of Academicians who seemed prepared to vote for
him. He knew that M. de Norpois could by himself dispose of at least
ten others, a number which he was capable, by skilful negotiations, of
increasing still further. And so the Prince, who had known him in
Russia when they were both there as Ambassadors, had gone to see him
and had done everything in his power to win him over. But in vain
might he multiply his friendly overtures, procure for the Marquis
Russian decorations, quote him in articles on foreign politics; he had
had before him an ingrate, a man in whose eyes all these attentions
appeared to count as nothing, who had not advanced the prospects of
his candidature one inch, had not even promised him his own vote. No
doubt M. de Norpois received him with extreme politeness, indeed
begged that he would not put himself out and "take the trouble to come
so far out of his way," went himself to the Prince's residence, and
when the Teutonic Knight had launched his: "I should like immensely to
be your colleague," replied in a tone of deep emotion: "Ah! I should
be most happy!" And no doubt a simpleton, a Dr. Cottard would have
said to himself: "Well, here he is in my house; it was he who insisted
on coming, because he regards me as a more important person than
himself; he tells me that he would be happy to see me in the Academy;
words do have some meaning after all, damn it, probably if he doesn't
offer to vote for me it is because it hasn't occurred to him. He lays
so much stress on my great influence; presumably he imagines that
larks drop into my mouth ready roasted, that I have all the support I
want, and that is why he doesn't offer me his; but I have only got to
get him with his back to the wall, and just say to him quietly: 'Very
well, vote for me, will you?' and he will be obliged to do it."

But Prince von Faffenheim was no simpleton. He was what Dr. Cottard
would have called 'a fine diplomat' and he knew that M. de Norpois was
no less fine a one than himself, nor a man who would have failed to
realise without needing to be told that he could confer a favour on a
candidate by voting for him. The Prince, in his Embassies and as
Foreign Minister, had conducted, on his country's behalf instead of,
as in the present instance, his own, many of those conversations in
which one knows beforehand just bow far one is prepared to go and at
what point one will decline to commit oneself. He was not unaware
that, in this diplomatic language, to talk meant to offer. And it was
for this reason that he had arranged for M. de Norpois to receive the
Cordon of Saint Andrew. But if he had had to report to his Government
the conversation which he had subsequently had with M. de Norpois, he
would have stated in his dispatch: "I realised that I had gone the
wrong way to work." For as soon as he had returned to the subject of
the Institute, M. de Norpois had repeated:

"I should like nothing better; nothing could be better, for my
colleagues. They ought, I consider, to feel genuinely honoured that
you should have thought of them. It is a really interesting
candidature, a little outside our ordinary course. As you know, the
Academy is very conventional, it takes fright at everything which has
at all a novel sound. Personally, I deplore this. How often have I had
occasion to say as much to my colleagues! I cannot be sure, God
forgive me, that I did not even once let the word 'hidebound' escape
me," he added, in an undertone, with a scandalised smile, almost
aside, as in a scene on the stage, casting at the Prince a rapid,
sidelong glance from his blue eyes, like a veteran actor studying the
effect on his audience. "You understand, Prince, that I should not
care to allow a personality so eminent as yourself to embark on a
venture which was hopeless from the start. So long as my colleagues'
ideas linger so far behind the times, I consider that the wiser course
will be to abstain. But you may rest assured that if I were ever to
discern a mind that was a little more modern, a little more alive,
shewing itself in that college, which is tending to become a
mausoleum, if I could reckon upon any possible chance of your success,
I should be the first to inform you of it."

"The Cordon was a mistake," thought the Prince; "the negotiations have
not advanced in the least; that is not what he wanted. I have not yet
laid my hand on the right key."

This was a kind of reasoning of which M. de Norpois, formed in the
same school as the Prince, would also have been capable. One may mock
at the Pedantic silliness with which diplomats of the Norpois type go
into ecstasies over some piece of official wording which is, for all
practical purposes, meaningless. But their childishness has this
compensation; diplomats know that, in the loaded scales which assure
that European or other equilibrium which we call peace, good feeling,
sounding speeches, earnest entreaties weigh very little; and that the
heavy weight, the true determinant consists in something else, in the
possibility which the adversary does (if he is strong enough) or does
not enjoy of satisfying, in exchange for what one oneself wants, a
desire. With this order of truths, which an entirely disinterested
person, such as my grandmother for instance, would not have understood
M. de Norpois and Prince von Faffenheim had frequently had to deal.
Chargé d'Affaires in countries with which we had been within an ace of
going to war, M. de Norpois, in his anxiety as to the turn which
events were about to take, knew very well that it was not by the word
'Peace,' nor by the word 'War' that it would be revealed to him, but
by some other, apparently commonplace word, a word of terror or
blessing, which the diplomat, by the aid of his cipher, would
immediately read and to which, to safeguard the honour of France, he
would respond in another word, quite as commonplace, but one beneath
which the Minister of the enemy nation would at once see written:
'War.' Moreover, in accordance with a time-honoured custom, analogous
to that which gave to the first meeting between two young people
promised to one another in marriage the form of a chance encounter at
a performance in the Théâtre du Gymnase, the dialogue in the course of
which destiny was to dictate the word 'War' or the word 'Peace' was
held, as a rule, not in the ministerial sanctum but on a bench in a
Kurgarten where the Minister and M. de Norpois went independently to a
thermal spring to drink at its source their little tumblers of some
curative water. By a sort of tacit convention they met at the hour
appointed for their cure, began by taking together a short stroll
which, beneath its innocent appearance, each of the speakers knew to
be as tragic as an order for mobilisation. And so, in a private matter
like this nomination for election to the Institute, the Prince had
employed the same system of induction which had served him in his
public career, the same method of reading beneath superimposed

And certainly it would be wrong to pretend that my grandmother and the
few who resembled her would have been alone in their failure to
understand this kind of calculation. For one thing, the average human
being, practising a profession the lines of which have been laid down
for him from the start, comes near, by his want of intuition, to the
ignorance which my grandmother owed to her lofty disinterestedness.
Often one has to come down to 'kept' persons, male or female, before
one finds the hidden spring of actions or words apparently of the most
innocent nature in self-interest, in the bare necessity to keep alive.
What man does not know that when a woman whom he is going to pay says
to him: "Don't let's talk about money," the speech must be regarded as
what is called in music 'a silent beat' and that if, later on, she
declares: "You are far too much trouble; you are always keeping things
from me; I've done with you," he must interpret this as: "Some one
else has been offering me more." And yet this is only the language of
a lady of easy virtue, not so far removed from the ladies in society.
The _apache_ furnishes more striking examples. But M. as Norpois and
the German Prince, if _apaches_ and their ways were unknown to them,
had been accustomed to living on the same plane as nations, which are
also, despite their greatness, creatures of selfishness and cunning,
kept in order only by force, by consideration of their material
interests which may drive them to murder, a murder that is often
symbolic also, since its mere hesitation or refusal to fight may spell
for a nation the word 'Perish. But inasmuch as all this is not set
forth in Yellow and otherwise coloured Books, the people as a whole
are naturally pacific; should they be warlike, it is instinctively,
from hatred, from a sense of injury, not for the reasons which have
made up the mind of their ruler, on the advice of his Norpois.

The following winter the Prince was seriously ill; he recovered, but
his heart was permanently affected.

"The devil!" he said to himself, "I can't afford to lose any time over
the Institute. If I wait too long, I may be dead before they elect me.
That really would be unpleasant."

He composed, on the foreign politics of the last twenty years, an
essay for the _Revue des Deux Mondes_, in which he referred more than
once, and in the most flattering terms, to M. de Norpois. The French
diplomat called upon him to thank him. He added that he did not know
how to express his gratitude. The Prince said to himself, like a man
who has been trying to fit various keys into a stubborn lock: "Still
not the right one!" and, feeling somewhat out of breath as he shewed
M. de Norpois to the door, thought: "Damn it, these fellows will see
me in my grave before letting me in. We must hurry up."

That evening, he met M. de Norpois again at the Opera.

"My dear Ambassador," he began to him, "you told me to-day that you
did not know what you could do to prove your gratitude; it was a great
exaggeration, for you owe me none, but I am going to be so indelicate
as to take you at your word."

M. de Norpois had no less high an esteem for the Prince's tact than
the Prince had for his. He understood at once that it was not a
request that Prince von Faffenheim was about to present to him, but an
offer, and with a radiant affability made ready to hear it.

"Well now, you will think me highly indiscreet. There are two people
to whom I am greatly attached—in quite different ways, as you will
understand in a moment—two people both of whom have recently settled
in Paris, where they intend to remain for the future: my wife, and the
Grand Duchess John. They are thinking of giving a few dinners, chiefly
in honour of the King and Queen of England, and what they would have
liked more than anything in the world would have been to be able to
offer their guests the company of a person for whom, without knowing
her, they both of them feel a great admiration. I confess that I did
not know how I was going to gratify their wish when I learned just
now, by the most extraordinary accident, that you were a friend of
this person. I know that she lives a most retired life, and sees only
a very few people—'happy few,' as Stendhal would say—but if you were
to give me your backing, with the generosity that you have always
shewn me, I am sure that she would allow you to present me to her and
to convey to her the wishes of both the Grand Duchess and the
Princess. Perhaps she would consent to dine with us, when the Queen
of England comes, and then (one never knows) if we don't bore her too
much, to spend the Easter holidays with us at Beaulieu, at the Grand
Duchess John's. The person I allude to is called the Marquise de
Villeparisis. I confess that the hope of becoming one of the
frequenters of such a school of wit would console me, would make me
contemplate without regret the abandoning of my attempt at the
Institute. For in her house, too, I understand, there is a regular
flow of intellect and brilliant talk."

With an inexpressible sense of pleasure the Prince felt that the lock
no longer resisted, and that at last the key was turning.

"Such an alternative is wholly unnecessary, my dear Prince," replied
M. de Norpois; "nothing is more in harmony with the Institute than the
house you speak of, which is a regular hotbed of Academicians. I shall
convey your request to Mme. la Marquise de Villeparisis: she will
undoubtedly be flattered. As for her dining with you, she goes out
very little and that will perhaps be more difficult to arrange. But I
shall present you to her and you can plead your cause in person. You
must on no account give up the Academy; to-morrow fortnight, as it
happens, I shall be having luncheon, before going on with him to an
important meeting, at Leroy-Beaulieu's, without whom nobody can be
elected; I had already allowed myself in conversation with him to let
fall your name, with which, naturally, he was perfectly familiar. He
raised certain objections. But it so happens that he requires the
support of my group at the next election, and I fully intend to return
to the charge; I shall tell him quite openly of the wholly cordial
ties that unite us, I shall not conceal from him that, if you were to
stand, I should ask all my friends to vote for you," (here the Prince
breathed a deep sigh of relief) "and he knows that I have friends. I
consider that if I were to succeed in obtaining his assistance your
chances would become very strong. Come that evening, at six, to Mme.
de Villeparisis's; I will introduce you to her and I can give you an
account then of my conversation with him."

Thus it was that Prince von Faffenheim had been led to call upon Mme.
de Villeparisis. My profound disillusionment occurred when he spoke.
It had never struck me that, if an epoch in history has features both
particular and general which are stronger than those of a nationality,
so that in a biographical dictionary with illustrations, which go so
far as to include an authentic portrait of Minerva, Leibniz with his
wig and ruff differs little from Marivaux or Samuel Bernard, a
nationality has particular features stronger than those of a caste. In
the present instance these were rendered before me not by a discourse
in which I had expected, before I saw him, to hear the rustling of the
elves and the dance of the kobolds, but by a transposition which
certified no less plainly that poetic origin: the fact that, as he
bowed, short, red, corpulent, over the hand of Mme. de Villeparisis,
the Rheingraf said to her: "Aow to you too, Matame la Marquise," in
the accent of an Alsatian porter.

"Won't you let me give you a cup of tea or a little of this cake; it
is so good?" Mme. de Guermantes asked me, anxious to have shewn
herself as friendly as possible. "I do the honours in this house just
as if it was mine," she explained in an ironical tone which gave a
slightly guttural sound to her voice, as though she were trying to
stifle a hoarse laugh.

"Sir," said Mme. de Villeparisis to M. de Norpois, "you won't forget
that you have something to say to the Prince about the Academy?"

Mme. de Guermantes lowered her eyes and gave a semicircular turn to
her wrist to look at the time.

"Gracious! I must fly at once if I'm to get to Mme. de
Saint-Ferréol's, and I'm dining with Mme. Leroi."

And she rose without bidding me good-bye. She had just caught sight of
Mme. Swann, who appeared considerably embarrassed at finding me in the
room. She remembered, doubtless, that she had been the first to assure
me that she was convinced of Dreyfus's innocence.

"I don't want my mother to introduce me to Mme. Swann," Saint-Loup
said to me. "She's an ex-whore. Her husband's a Jew, and she comes
here to pose as a Nationalist. Hallo, here's Uncle Palamède."

The arrival of Mme. Swann had a special interest for me, due to an
incident which had occurred a few days earlier and which I am obliged
to record on account of the consequences which it was to have at a
much later date, as the reader will learn in due course. Well, a few
days before this visit to Mme. de Villeparisis, I had myself received
a visitor whom I little expected, namely Charles Morel, the son
(though I had never heard of his existence) of my great-uncle's old
servant. This great-uncle (he in whose house I had met the lady in
pink) had died the year before. His servant had more than once
expressed his intention of coming to see me; I had no idea of the
object of his visit, but should have been glad to see him for I had
learned from Françoise that he had a genuine veneration for my uncle's
memory and made a pilgrimage regularly to the cemetery in which he was
buried. But, being obliged, for reasons of health, to retire to his
home in the country, where he expected to remain for some time, he
delegated the duty to his son. I was surprised to see come into my
room a handsome young fellow of eighteen, dressed with expensive
rather than good taste, but looking, all the same, like anything in
the world except the son of a gentleman's servant. He made a point,
moreover, at the start of our conversation, of severing all connexion
with the domestic class from which he sprang, by informing me, with a
smile of satisfaction, that he had won the first prize at the
Conservatoire. The object of his visit to me was as follows: his
father, when going through the effects of my uncle Adolphe, had set
aside some which, he felt, could not very well be sent to my parents
but were at the same time of a nature likely to interest a young man
of my age. These were the photographs of the famous actresses, the
notorious courtesans whom my uncle had known, the last fading pictures
of that gay life of a man about town which he divided by a watertight
compartment from his family life. While young Morel was shewing them
to me, I noticed that he addressed me as though he were speaking to an
equal. He derived from saying 'you' to me as often, and 'sir' as
seldom, as possible the pleasure natural in one whose father had never
ventured, when addressing my parents, upon anything but the third
person. Almost all these photographs bore an inscription such as: "To
my best friend." One actress, less grateful and more circumspect than
the rest, had written: "To the best of friends," which enabled her (so
I was assured) to say afterwards that my uncle was in no sense and had
never been her best friend but was merely the friend who had done the
most little services for her, the friend she made use of, a good, kind
man, in other words an old fool. In vain might young Morel seek to
divest himself of his lowly origin, one felt that the shade of my
uncle Adolphe, venerable and gigantic in the eyes of the old servant,
had never ceased to hover, almost a holy vision, over the childhood
and boyhood of the son. While I was turning over the photographs
Charles Morel examined my room. And as I was looking for some place in
which I might keep them, "How is it," he asked me (in a tone in which
the reproach had no need to find expression, so implicit was it in
the words themselves), "that I don't see a single photograph of your
uncle in your room?" I felt the blood rise to my cheeks and stammered:
"Why, I don't believe I have such a thing." "What, you haven't one
photograph of your uncle Adolphe, who was so devoted to you! I—will
send you one of my governor's—he has quantities of them—and I hope
you will set it up in the place of honour above that chest of drawers,
which came to you from your uncle." It is true that, as I had not even
a photograph of my father or mother in my room, there was nothing so
very shocking in there not being one of my uncle Adolphe. But it was
easy enough to see that for old Morel, who had trained his son in the
same way of thinking, my uncle was the important person in the family,
my parents only reflecting a diminished light from his. I was in
higher favour, because my uncle used constantly to say that I was
going to turn out a sort of Racine, or Vaulabelle, and Morel regarded
me almost as an adopted son, as a child by election of my uncle. I
soon discovered that this young man was extremely 'pushing.' Thus at
this first meeting he asked me, being something of a composer as well
and capable of setting short poems to music, whether I knew any poet
who had a good position in society. I mentioned one. He did not know
the work of this poet and had never heard his name, of which he made a
note. Well, I found out that shortly afterwards he wrote to the poet
telling him that, a fanatical admirer of his work, he, Morel, had
composed a musical setting for one of his sonnets and would be
grateful if the author would arrange for its performance at the
Comtesse So-and-So's. This was going a little too fast, and exposing
his hand. The poet, taking offence, made no reply.

For the rest, Charles Morel seemed to have, besides his ambition, a
strong leaning towards more concrete realities. He had noticed, as he
came through the courtyard, Jupien's niece at work upon a waistcoat,
and although he explained to me only that he happened to want a fancy
waistcoat at that very moment, I felt that the girl had made a vivid
impression on him. He had no hesitation about asking me to come
downstairs and introduce him to her, "but not as a connexion of your
family, you follow me, I rely on your discretion not to drag in my
father, say just a distinguished artist of your acquaintance, you know
how important it is to make a good impression on tradespeople." Albeit
he had suggested to me that, not knowing him well enough to call him,
he quite realised,'dear friend,' I might address him, before the girl,
in some such terms as "not dear master, of course,... although...
well, if you like, dear distinguished artist," once in the shop, I
avoided 'qualifying' him, as Saint-Simon would have expressed it, and
contented myself with reiterating his 'you.' He picked out from
several patterns of velvet one of the brightest red imaginable and so
loud that, for all his bad taste, he was never able to wear the
waistcoat when it was made. The girl settled down to work again with
her two 'apprentices,' but it struck me that the impression had been
mutual, and that Charles Morel, whom she regarded as of her own
'station' (only smarter and richer), had proved singularly attractive
to her. As I had been greatly surprised to find among the photographs
which his father had sent me one of the portrait of Miss Sacripant
(otherwise Odette) by Elstir, I said to Charles Morel as I went with
him to the outer gate: "I don't suppose you can tell me, but did my
uncle know this lady well? I don't see at what stage in his life I can
fit her in exactly; and it interests me, because of M. Swann..." "Why,
if I wasn't forgetting to tell you that my father asked me specially
to draw your attention to that lady's picture. As a matter of fact,
she was 'lunching' with your uncle the last time you ever saw him. My
father was in two minds whether to let you in. It seems you made a
great impression on the wench, and she hoped to see more of you. But
just at that time there was some trouble in the family, by what my
father tells me, and you never set eyes on your uncle again." He broke
off with a smile of farewell, across the courtyard, at Jupien's niece.
She was watching him and admiring, no doubt, his thin face and regular
features, his fair hair and sparkling eyes. I, as I gave him my hand,
was thinking of Mme. Swann and saying to myself with amazement, so far
apart, so different were they in my memory, that I should have
henceforth to identify her with the 'Lady in pink.'

M. de Charlus was not long in taking his place by the side of Mme.
Swann. At every social gathering at which he appeared and,
contemptuous towards the men, courted by the women, promptly attached
himself to the smartest of the latter, whose garments he seemed almost
to put on as an ornament to his own, the Baron's frock coat or
swallowtails made one think of a portrait by some great painter of a
man dressed in black but having by his side, thrown over a chair, the
brilliantly coloured cloak which he is about to wear at some costume
ball. This partnership, generally with some royal lady, secured for M.
de Charlus various privileges which he liked to enjoy. For instance,
one result of it was that his hostesses, at theatricals or concerts,
allowed the Baron alone to have a front seat, in a row of ladies,
while the rest of the men were crowded together at the back of the
room. And then besides, completely absorbed, it seemed, in repeating,
at the top of his voice, amusing stories to the enraptured lady, M. de
Charlus was dispensed from the necessity of going to shake hands with
any of the others, was set free, in other words, from all social
duties. Behind the scented barrier in which the beauty of his choice
enclosed him, he was isolated amid a crowded drawing-room, as, in a
crowded theatre or concert-hall, behind the rampart of a box; and when
anyone came up to greet him, through, so to speak, the beauty of his
companion, it was permissible for him to reply quite curtly and
without interrupting his business of conversation with a lady.
Certainly Mme. Swann was scarcely of the rank of the people with whom
he liked thus to flaunt himself. But he professed admiration for her,
friendship for Swann, he knew that she would be flattered by his
attentions and was himself flattered at being compromised by the
prettiest woman in the room.

Mme. de Villeparisis meanwhile was not too well pleased to receive a
visit from M. de Charlus. He, while admitting serious defects in his
aunt's character, was genuinely fond of her. But every now and then,
carried away by anger, by an imaginary grievance, he would sit down
and write to her without making any attempt to resist his impulse,
letters full of the most violent abuse, in which in made the most of
trifling incidents which until then he seemed never even to have
noticed. Among other examples I may instance the following, which my
stay at Balbec brought to my knowledge-Mme. de Villeparisis, fearing
that she had not brought enough money with her to Balbec to enable her
to prolong her holiday there, and not caring since she was of a
thrifty disposition and shrank from unnecessary expenditure, to have
money sent to her from Paris, had borrowed three thousand francs from
M. de Charlus. A month later, annoyed, for some trivial reason, with
his aunt, he asked her to repay him this sum by telegraph. He received
two thousand nine hundred and ninety-odd francs. Meeting his aunt a
few days later in Paris, in the course of a friendly conversation, he
drew her attention, with the utmost politeness, to the mistake that
her banker had made when sending the money. "But there was no
mistake," replied Mme. de Villeparisis, "the money order cost six
francs seventy-five." "Oh, of course, if it was intentional, it is all
right," said M. de Charlus, "I mentioned it only in case you didn't
know, because in that case, if the bank had done the same thing with
anyone who didn't know you as well as I do, it might have led to
unpleasantness." "No, no, there was no mistake." "After all, you were
quite right," M. de Charlus concluded easily, stooping to kiss his
aunt's hand. And in fact he bore no resentment and was only amused at
this little instance of her thrift. But some time afterwards,
imagining that, in a family matter, his aunt had been trying to get
the better of him and had 'worked up a regular conspiracy' against
him, as she took shelter, foolishly enough, behind the lawyers with
whom he suspected her of having plotted to undo him, he had written
her a letter boiling over with insolence and rage. "I shall not be
satisfied with having my revenge," he added as a postscript; "I shall
take care to make you a laughing-stock. Tomorrow I shall tell everyone
the story of the money order and the six francs seventy-five you kept
back from me out of the three thousand I lent you; I shall disgrace
you publicly." Instead of so doing, he had gone to his aunt the next
day to beg her pardon, having already regretted a letter in which he
had used some really terrible language. But apart from this, to whom
could he have told the story of the money order? Seeking no longer
vengeance but a sincere reconciliation, now was the time for him to
keep silence. But already he had repeated the story everywhere, while
still on the best of terms with his aunt; he had told it without any
malice, as a joke, and because he was the soul of indiscretion. He had
repeated the story, but without Mme. de Villeparisis's knowledge. With
the result that, having learned from his letter that he intended to
disgrace her by making public a transaction in which he had told her
with his own lips that she had acted rightly, she concluded that he
had been deceiving her from the first, and had lied when he pretended
to be fond of her. This storm had now died down, but neither of them
knew what opinion exactly the other had of her or him. This sort of
intermittent quarrel is of course somewhat exceptional. Of a
different order were the quarrels of Bloch and his friends. Of a
different order again were those of M. de Charlus, as we shall presently
see, with people wholly unlike Mme. de Villeparisis. In spite of which
we must bear in mind that the opinions which we hold of one another,
our relations with friends and kinsfolk, are in no sense permanent,
save in appearance, but are as eternally fluid as the sea itself.
Whence all the rumours of divorce between couples who have always
seemed so perfectly united and will soon afterwards speak of one
another with affection, hence all the terrible things said by one
friend of another from whom we supposed him to be inseparable and with
whom we shall find him once more reconciled before we have had time to
recover from our surprise; all the ruptures of alliances, after so
short a time, between nations.

"I say, my uncle and Mme. Swann are getting warm over there!" remarked
Saint-Loup. "And look at Mamma in the innocence of her heart going
across to disturb them. To the pure all things are pure, I suppose!"

I studied M. de Charlus. The tuft of his grey hair, his eye, the brow
of which was raised by his monocle to emit a smile, the red flowers in
his buttonhole formed, so to speak, the three mobile apices of a
convulsive and striking triangle. I had not ventured to bow to him,
for he had given me no sign of recognition. And yet, albeit he had not
turned his head in my direction, I was convinced that he had seen me;
while he repeated some story to Mme. Swann, whose sumptuous,
pansy-coloured cloak floated actually over the Baron's knee, his
roving eye, like that of a street hawker who is watching all the time
for the 'tecs' to appear, had certainly explored every corner of the
room and taken note of all the people who were in it. M. de
Châtellerault came up to bid him good day without any indication on M.
de Charlus's face that he had seen the young Duke until he was
actually standing in front of him. In this way, in fairly numerous
gatherings such as this, M. de Charlus kept almost continuously on
show a smile without any definite direction or particular object,
which, pre-existing before the greetings of new arrivals, found
itself, when these entered its zone, devoid of any indication of
friendliness towards them. Nevertheless, it was obviously my duty to
go across and speak to Mme. Swann. But as she was not certain whether
I already knew Mme. de Marsantes and M. de Charlus, she was distinctly
cold, fearing no doubt that I might ask her to introduce me to them. I
then made my way to M. de Charlus, and at once regretted it, for
though he could not have helped seeing me he shewed no sign
whatsoever. As I stood before him and bowed I found standing out from
his body, which it prevented me from approaching by the full length of
his outstretched arm, a finger widowed, one would have said, of an
episcopal ring, of which he appeared to be offering, for the kiss of
the faithful, the consecrated site, and I was made to appear to have
penetrated, without leave from the Baron and by an act of trespass for
which he would hold me permanently responsible, the anonymous and
vacant dispersion of his smile. This coldness was hardly of a kind to
encourage Mme. Swann to melt from hers.

"How tired and worried you look," said Mme. de Marsantes to her son
who had come up to greet M. de Charlus.

And indeed the expression in Robert's eyes seemed every minute to
reach a depth from which it rose at once like a diver who has touched
bottom This bottom which hurt Robert so when he touched it that he
left it at once, to return to it a moment later, was the thought that
he had quarrelled with his mistress.

"Never mind," his mother went on, stroking his cheek, "never mind;
it's good to see my little boy again."

But this show of affection seeming to irritate Robert, Mme. de
Marsantes led her son away to the other end of the room where in an
alcove hung with yellow silk a group of Beauvais armchairs massed
their violet-hued tapestries like purple irises in a field of
buttercups. Mme. Swann, finding herself alone and having realised that
I was a friend of Saint-Loup, beckoned to me to come and sit beside
her. Not having seen her for so long I did not know what to talk to
her about. I was keeping an eye on my hat, among the crowd of hats
that littered the carpet, and I asked myself with a vague curiosity to
whom one of them could belong which was not that of the Duc de
Guermantes and yet in the lining of which a capital 'G' was surmounted
by a ducal coronet. I knew who everyone in the room was, and could not
think of anyone whose hat this could possibly be.

"What a pleasant man M. de Norpois is," I said to Mme. Swann, looking
at the Ambassador. "It is true, Robert de Saint-Loup says he's a pest,

"He is quite right," she replied.

Seeing from her face that she was thinking of something which she was
keeping from me, I plied her with questions. For the satisfaction of
appearing to be greatly taken up by some one in this room where she
knew hardly anyone, she took me into a corner.

"I am sure this is what M. de Saint-Loup meant," she began, "but you
must never tell him I said so, for he would think me indiscreet, and I
value his esteem very highly; I am an 'honest Injun,' don't you know.
The other day, Charlus was dining at the Princesse de Guermantes's; I
don't know how it was, but your name was mentioned. M. de Norpois
seems to have told them—it's all too silly for words, don't go and
worry yourself to death over it, nobody paid any attention, they all
knew only too well the mischievous tongue that said it—that you were
a hypocritical little flatterer."

I have recorded a long way back my stupefaction at the discovery that
a friend of my father, such as M. de Norpois was, could have expressed
himself thus in speaking of me. I was even more astonished to learn
that my emotion on that evening long ago when I had asked him about
Mme. Swann and Gilberte was known to the Princesse de Guermantes,
whom I imagined never to have heard of my existence. Each of our
actions, our words, our attitudes is cut off from the 'world,' from
the people who have not directly perceived it, by a medium the
permeability of which is of infinite variation and remains unknown to
ourselves; having learned by experience that some important utterance
which we eagerly hoped would be disseminated (such as those so
enthusiastic speeches which I used at one time to make to all comers
and on every occasion on the subject of Mme. Swann) has found itself,
often simply on account of our anxiety, immediately hidden under a
bushel, how immeasurably less do we suppose that some tiny word, which
we ourselves have forgotten, or else a word never uttered by us but
formed on its course by the imperfect refraction of a different word,
can be transported without ever halting for any obstacle to infinite
distances—in the present instance to the Princesse de Guermantes—and
succeed in diverting at our expense the banquet of the gods. What we
actually recall of our conduct remains unknown to our nearest
neighbour; what we have forgotten that we ever said, or indeed what we
never did say, flies to provoke hilarity even in another planet, and
the image that other people form of our actions and behaviour is no
more like that which we form of them ourselves, than is like an
original drawing a spoiled copy in which, at one point, for a black
line, we find an empty gap, and for a blank space an unaccountable
contour. It may be, all the same, that what has not been transcribed
is some non-existent feature which we behold merely in our purblind
self-esteem, and that what seems to us added is indeed a part of
ourselves, but so essential a part as to have escaped our notice. So
that this strange print which seems to us to have so little
resemblance to ourselves bears sometimes the same stamp of truth,
scarcely flattering, indeed, but profound and useful, as a photograph
taken by X-rays. Not that that is any reason why we should recognise
ourselves in it. A man who is in the habit of smiling in the glass at
his handsome face and stalwart figure, if you shew him their
radiograph, will have, face to face with that rosary of bones,
labelled as being the image of himself, the same suspicion of error as
the visitor to an art gallery who, on coming to the portrait of a
girl, reads in his catalogue: "Dromedary resting." Later on, this
discrepancy between our portraits, according as it was our own hand
that drew them or another, I was to register in the case of others
than myself, living placidly in the midst of a collection of
photographs which they themselves had taken while round about them
grinned frightful faces, invisible to them as a rule, but plunging
them in stupor if an accident were to reveal them with the warning:
"This is you."

A few years earlier I should have been only too glad to tell Mme.
Swann in what connexion I had fawned upon M. de Norpois, since the
connexion had been my desire to know her. But I no longer felt this
desire, I was no longer in love with Gilberte. On the other hand I had
not succeeded in identifying Mme. Swann with the lady in pink of my
childhood. Accordingly I spoke of the woman who was on my mind at the

"Did you see the Duchesse de Guermantes just now?" I asked Mme.

But since the Duchess did not bow to Mme. Swann when they met, the
latter chose to appear to regard her as a person of no importance,
whose presence in a room one did not even remark.

"I don't know; I didn't _realise_ her," she replied sourly, using an
expression borrowed from England.

I was anxious nevertheless for information with regard not only to
Mme. de Guermantes but to all the people who came in contact with
her, and (for all the world like Bloch), with the tactlessness of
people who seek in their conversation not to give pleasure to others
but to elucidate, from sheer egoism, facts that are interesting to
themselves, in my effort to form an exact idea of the life of Mme. de
Guermantes I questioned Mme de Villeparisis about Mme. Leroi.

"Oh, yes, I know who' you mean," she replied with an affectation of
contempt, "the daughter of those rich timber people. I've heard that
she's begun to go about quite a lot lately, but I must explain to you
that I am rather old now to make new acquaintances. I have known such
interesting such delightful people in my time that really I do not
believe Mme. Lerol would be any addition to what I already have." Mme.
de Marsantes, who was playing lady in waiting to the Marquise,
presented me to the Prince and, while she was still doing so, M. de
Norpois also presented me in the most glowing terms. Perhaps he found
it convenient to do me a courtesy which could in no way damage his
credit since I had just been presented, perhaps it was because he
thought that a foreigner, even so distinguished a foreigner, was
unfamiliar with French society and might think that he was having
introduced to him a young man of fashion, perhaps to exercise one of
his prerogatives, that of adding the weight of his personal
recommendation as an Ambassador, or in his taste for the archaic to
revive in the Prince's honour the old custom, flattering to his rank,
that two sponsors were necessary if one wished to be presented.

Mme. de Villeparisis appealed to M. de Norpois, feeling it imperative
that I should have his assurance that she had nothing to regret in not
knowing Mme. Leroi.

"Am I not right, M. l'Ambassadeur, Mme. Leroi is quite uninteresting,
isn't she, quite out of keeping with the people who come here; I was
quite right not to make friends with her, wasn't I?"

Whether from independence or because he was tired, M. de Norpois
replied merely in a bow full of respect but devoid of meaning.

"Sir," went on Mme. de Villeparisis with a laugh, "there are some
absurd people in the world. Would you believe that I had a visit this
afternoon from a gentleman who tried to persuade me that he found more
pleasure in kissing my hand than a young woman's?"

I guessed at once that this was Legrandin. M. de Norpois smiled with a
slight quiver of the eyelid, as though such a remark had been prompted
by a concupiscence so natural that one could not find fault with the
person who had uttered it, almost as though it were the beginning of a
romance which he was prepared to forgive, if not to encourage, with
the perverse indulgence of a Voisenon or the younger Crébillon.

"Many young women's hands would be incapable of doing what I see
there," said the Prince, pointing to Mme. de Villeparisis's unfinished
water-colours. And he asked her whether she had seen the flower
paintings by Fantin-Latour which had recently been exhibited.

"They are of the first order, and indicate, as people say nowadays, a
fine painter, one of the masters of the palette," declared M. de
Norpois; "I consider, all the same, that they stand no comparison with
these, in which I find it easier to recognise the colouring of the

Even supposing that the partiality of an old lover, the habit of
flattering people, the critical standard admissible in a small circle,
had dictated this speech to the ex-Ambassador, it proved upon what an
absolute vacuum of true taste the judgment of people in society is
based, so arbitrary that the smallest trifle can make it rush to the
wildest absurdities, on the way to which it is stopped, held up by no
genuinely felt impression.

"I claim no credit for knowing about flowers, I've lived all my life
among the fields," replied Mme. de Villeparisis modestly. "But," she
added graciously, turning to the Prince, "if I did, when I was quite a
girl, form a rather more serious idea of them than children generally
do in the country, I owe that to a distinguished fellow-countryman of
yours, Herr von Schlegel. I met him at Broglie, when I was staying
there once with my aunt Cordelia (Marshal de Castellane's wife, don't
you know?). I remember so well M. Lebrun, M. de Salvandy, M. Doudan,
getting him to talk about flowers. I was only a little girl, I wasn't
able to follow all he said. But he liked playing with me, and when he
went back to your country he sent me a beautiful botany book to remind
me of a drive we took together in a phaeton to the Val Richer, when I
fell asleep on his knee. I have got the book still, and it taught me
to observe many things about flowers which I should not have noticed
otherwise. When Mme. de Barante published some of Mme. de Broglie's
letters, charming and affected like herself, I hoped to find among
them some record of those conversations with Herr von Schlegel. But
she was a woman who looked for nothing from nature but arguments in
support of religion."

Robert called me away to the far end of the room where he and his
mother were.

"You have been good to me," I said, "how can I thank you? Can we dine
together to-morrow?"

"To-morrow? Yes, if you like, but it will have to be with Bloch. I met
him just now on the doorstep; he was rather stiff with me at first
because I had quite forgotten to answer his last two letters. (At
least, he didn't tell me that that was what had annoyed him, but I
guessed it.) But after that he was so friendly to me that I simply
can't disappoint him. Between ourselves, on his side at least, I can
feel it's a life and death friendship." Nor do I consider that Robert
was altogether mistaken. Furious detraction was often, with Bloch, the
effect of a keen affection which he had supposed to be unreturned. And
as he had little power of imagining the lives of other people, and
never dreamed that one might have been ill, or away from home, or
otherwise occupied, a week's silence was at once interpreted by him as
meaning a deliberate coldness. And so I have never believed that his
most violent outbursts as a friend, or in later years as a writer,
went very deep. They rose to a paroxysm if one replied to them with
an icy dignity, or by a platitude which encouraged him to redouble his
onslaught, but yielded often to a warmly sympathetic attitude. "As for
being good," went on Saint-Loup, "you say I have been to you, but I
haven't been good at all, my aunt tells me that it's you who avoid
her, that you never said a word to her. She wondered whether you had
anything against her."

Fortunately for myself, if I had been taken in by this speech, our
departure, which I believed to be imminent, for Balbec would have
prevented my making any attempt to see Mme. Guermantes again, to
assure her that I had nothing against her, and so to put her under the
necessity of proving that it was she who had something against me. But
I had only to remind myself that she had not even offered to let me
see her Elstirs. Besides, this was not a disappointment; I had never
expected her to begin talking to me about them; I knew that I did not
appeal to her, that I need have no hope of ever making her like me;
the most that I had been able to look forward to was that, thanks to
her kindness, I might there and then receive, since I should not be
seeing her again before I left Paris, an entirely pleasing impression,
which I could take with me to Balbec indefinitely prolonged, intact,
instead of a memory broken by anxiety and sorrow.

Mme. de Marsantes kept on interrupting her conversation with Robert to
tell me how often he had spoken to her about me, how fond he was of
me; she treated me with a deference which almost hurt me because I
felt it to be prompted by her fear of being embroiled, on my account,
with this son whom she had not seen all day, with whom she was eager
to be alone, and over whom she must accordingly have supposed that the
influence which she wielded was not equal to and must conciliate mine.
Having heard me, earlier in the afternoon, make some reference to
Bloch's uncle, M. Nissim Bernard, Mme. de Marsantes inquired whether
it was he who had at one time lived at Nice.

"In that case, he knew M. de Marsantes there before our marriage," she
told me. "My husband used often to speak of him as an excellent man,
with such a delicate, generous nature."

"To think that for once in his life he wasn't lying! It's incredible,"
would have been Bloch's comment.

All this time I should have liked to explain to Mme. de Marsantes that
Robert felt infinitely more affection for her than for myself, and
that had she shewn any hostility towards me it was not in my nature to
attempt to set him against her, to detach him from her. But now that
Mme. de Guermantes had left the room, I had more leisure to observe
Robert, and I noticed then for the first time that, once again, a sort
of flood of anger seemed to be coursing through him, rising to the
surface of his stern and sombre features. I was afraid lest,
remembering the scene in the theatre that afternoon, he might be
feeling humiliated in my presence at having allowed himself to be
treated so harshly by his mistress without making any rejoinder.

Suddenly he broke away from his mother, who had put her arm round his
neck, and, coming towards me, led me behind the little flower-strewn
counter at which Mme. de Villeparisis had resumed her seat, making a
sign to me to follow him into the smaller room. I was hurrying after
him when M. de Charlus, who must have supposed that I was leaving the
house, turned abruptly from Prince von Faffenheim, to whom he had been
talking, and made a rapid circuit which brought him face to face with
me. I saw with alarm that he had taken the hat in the lining of which
were a capital 'G' and a ducal coronet. In the doorway into the little
room he said, without looking at me:

"As I see that you have taken to going into society, you must do me
the pleasure of coming to see me. But it's a little complicated," he
went on with a distracted, calculating air, as if the pleasure had
been one that he was afraid of not securing again once he had let slip
the opportunity of arranging with me the means by which it might be
realised. "I am very seldom at home; you will have to write to me. But
I should prefer to explain things to you more quietly. I am just
going. Will you walk a short way with me? I shall only keep you a

"You'd better take care, sir," I warned him; "you have picked up the
wrong hat by mistake."

"Do you want to stop me taking my own hat?" I assumed, a similar
mishap having recently occurred to myself, that someone else having
taken his hat he had seized upon one at random, so as not to go home
bare-headed, and that I had placed him in a difficulty by exposing his
stratagem. I told him that I must say a few words to Saint-Loup. "He
is still talking to that idiot the Duc de Guermantes," I added. "That
really is charming; I shall tell my brother." "Oh! you think that
would interest M. de Charlus?" (I imagined that, if he had a brother,
that brother must be called Charlus also. Saint-Loup had indeed
explained his family tree to me at Balbec, but I had forgotten the
details.) "Who has been talking to you about M. de Charlus?" replied
the Baron in an arrogant tone. "Go to Robert."

"I hear," he went on, "that you took part this morning in one of those
orgies that he has with a woman who is disgracing him. You would do
well to use your influence with him to make him realise the pain he is
causing his poor mother, and all of us, by dragging our name in the

I should have liked to reply that at this degrading luncheon the
conversation had been entirely about Emerson, Ibsen and Tolstoy, and
that the young woman had lectured Robert to make him drink nothing but
water. In the hope of bringing some balm to Robert, whose pride had, I
felt, been wounded, I sought to find an excuse for his mistress. I did
not know that at that moment, in spite of his anger with her, it was
on himself that he was heaping reproaches. But it always happens, even
in quarrels between a good man and a worthless woman, and when the
right is all on one side, that some trifle crops up which enables the
woman to appear not to have been in the wrong on one point. And as she
ignores all the other points, the moment the man begins to feel the
need of her company, or is demoralised by separation from her, his
weakness will make his conscience more exacting, he will remember the
absurd reproaches that have been flung at him and will ask himself
whether they have not some foundation in fact.

"I've come to the conclusion I was wrong about that matter of the
necklace," Robert said to me. "Of course, I never meant for a moment
to do anything wrong, but, I know very well, other people don't look
at things in the same way as oneself. She had a very hard time when
she was young. In her eyes, I was bound to appear just the rich man
who thinks he can get anything he wants with his money, and with whom
a poor person cannot compete, whether in trying to influence Boucheron
or in a lawsuit. Of course she has been horribly cruel to me, when I
have never thought of anything but her good. But I do see clearly, she
believes that I wanted to make her feel that one could keep a hold on
her with money, and that's not true. And she's so fond of me; what
must she be thinking of me? Poor darling, if you only knew, she has
such charming ways, I simply can't tell you, she has often done the
most adorable things for me. How wretched she must be feeling now! In
any case, whatever happens in the long run, I don't want to let her
think me a cad; I shall dash off to Boucheron's and get the necklace.
You never know; very likely when she sees me with it, she will admit
that she's been in the wrong. Don't you see, it's the idea that she is
suffering at this moment that I can't bear. What one suffers oneself
one knows; that's nothing. But with her—to say to oneself that she's
suffering and not to be able to form any idea of what she feels—I
think I shall go mad in a minute—I'd much rather never see her again
than let her suffer. She can be happy without me, if she must; that's
all I ask. Listen; you know, to me everything that concerns her is
enormously important, it becomes something cosmic; I shall run to the
jeweller's and then go and ask her to forgive me. But until I get
down there what will she be thinking of me? If she could only know
that I was on my way! What about your going down there and telling
her? For all we know, that might settle the whole business. Perhaps,"
he went on with a smile, as though he hardly ventured to believe in so
idyllic a possibility, "we can all three dine together in the country.
But we can't tell yet. I never know how to handle her. Poor child. I
shall perhaps only hurt her more than ever. Besides, her decision may
be irrevocable."

Robert swept me back to his mother.

"Good-bye," he said to her. "I've got to go now. I don't know when I
shall get leave again. Probably not for a month. I shall write as soon
as I know myself."

Certainly Robert was not in the least of the type of son who, when he
goes out with his mother, feels that an attitude of exasperation
towards her ought to balance the smiles and bows which he bestows on
strangers. Nothing is more common than this odious form of vengeance
on the part of those who appear to believe that rudeness to one's own
family is the natural complement to one's ceremonial behaviour.
Whatever the wretched mother may say, her son, as though he had been
taken to the house against his will and wished to make her pay dearly
for his presence, refutes immediately, with an ironical, precise,
cruel contradiction, the timidly ventured assertion; the mother at
once conforms, though without thereby disarming him, to the opinion of
this superior being of whom she will continue to boast to everyone,
when he is not present, as having a charming nature, and who all the
same spares her none of his keenest thrusts. Saint-Loup was not at all
like this; but the anguish which Rachel's absence provoked in him
brought it about that, for different reasons, he was no less harsh
with his mother than the sons I have been describing are with theirs.
And as she listened to him I saw the same throb, like that of a mighty
wing, which Mme. de Marsantes had been unable to repress when her son
first entered the room, convulse her whole body once again; but this
time it was an anxious face, eyes wide with grief that she fastened on

"What, Robert, you're going away? Seriously? My little son! The one
day I've seen anything of you!"

And then quite softly, in the most natural tone, in a voice from which
she strove to banish all sadness so as not to inspire her son with a
pity which would perhaps have been painful to him, or else useless and
might serve only to irritate him, like an argument prompted by plain
common sense she added:

"You know, it's not at all nice of you."

But to this simplicity she added so much timidity, to shew him that
she was not trespassing on his freedom, so much affection, so that he
should not reproach her with spoiling his pleasures, that Saint-Loup
could not fail to observe in himself as it were the possibility of a
similar wave of affection, that was to say an obstacle to his spending
the evening with his lady. And so he grew angry.

"It's unfortunate, but, nice or not, that's how it is."

And he heaped on his mother the reproaches which no doubt he felt that
he himself perhaps deserved; thus it is that egoists have always the
last word; having laid down at the start that their determination is
unshakeable, the more the sentiment in them to which one appeals to
make them abandon it is touched, the more fault they find, not with
themselves who resist the appeal but with those persons who put them
under the necessity of resisting it, with the result that their own
firmness may be carried to the utmost degree of cruelty, which only
aggravates all the more in their eyes the culpability of the person
who is so indelicate as to be hurt, to be in the right, and to cause
them thus treacherously the pain of acting against their natural
instinct of pity. But of her own accord Mme. de Marsantes ceased to
insist, for she felt that she would not be able to keep him.

"I shall leave you here," he said to me, "but you're not to keep him
long, Mamma, because he's got to go somewhere else in a minute."

I was fully aware that my company could not afford any pleasure to
Mme. de Marsantes, but I preferred, by not going with Robert, not to
let her suppose that I was involved in these pleasures which deprived
her of him. I should have liked to find some excuse for her son's
conduct, less from affection for him than from pity tor her. But it
was she who spoke first.

"Poor boy," she began, "I am sure I must have hurt him dreadfully.
You see, Sir, mothers are such selfish creatures, after all he hasn't
many pleasures, he comes so little to Paris. Oh, dear, if he hadn't
gone already I should have liked to stop him, not to keep him of
course, but just to tell him that I'm not vexed with him, that I think
he was quite right. Will you excuse me if I go and look over the

I accompanied her there.

"Robert! Robert!" she called. "No; he's gone; we are too late."

At that moment I would as gladly have undertaken a mission to make
Robert break with his mistress as, a few hours earlier, to make him go
and live with her altogether. In one case Saint-Loup would have
regarded me as a false friend, in the other his family would have
called me his evil genius. Yet I was the same man, at an interval of a
few hours.

We returned to the drawing-room. Seeing that Saint-Loup was not with
us, Mme. de Villeparisis exchanged with M. de Norpois that dubious,
derisive and not too pitying glance with which people point out to one
another an over-jealous wife or an over-loving mother (spectacles
which to outsiders are amusing), as much as to say: "There now,
there's been trouble."

Robert went to his mistress, taking with him the splendid ornament
which, after what had been said on both sides, he ought not to have
given her. But it came to the same thing, for she would not look at
it, and even after their reconciliation he could never persuade her to
accept it. Certain of Robert's friends thought that these proofs of
disinterestedness which she furnished were deliberately planned to
draw him closer to her. And yet she was not greedy about money, except
perhaps to be able to spend it without thought. I have seen her bestow
recklessly on people whom she believed to be in need the most
insensate charity. "At this moment," Robert's friends would say to
him, seeking to balance by their malicious words a disinterested
action on Rachel's part, "at this moment she will be in the promenade
at the Folies-Bergères. She's an enigma, that girl is, a regular
sphinx." After all, how many women who are not disinterested, since
they are kept by men, have we not seen, with a delicacy that flowers
from their sordid existence, set with their own hands a thousand
little limits to the generosity of their lovers?

Robert knew of scarcely any of the infidelities of his mistress, and
tortured his mind over what were mere nothings compared with the real
life of Rachel, a life which began every day only after he had left
her. He knew of scarcely any of these infidelities. One could have
told him of them without shaking his confidence in Rachel. For it is a
charming law of nature which manifests itself in the heart of the most
complex social organisms, that we live in perfect ignorance of those
we love. On one side of the mirror the lover says to himself: "She is
an angel, she will never yield herself to me, I may as well die—and
yet she does care for me; she cares so much that perhaps—but no, it
can never possibly happen." And in the exaltation of his desire, in
the anguish of waiting, what jewels he flings at the feet of this
woman, how he runs to borrow money to save her from inconvenience;
meanwhile, on the other side of the screen, through which their
conversation will no more carry than that which visitors exchange
outside the glass wall of an aquarium, the public are saying: "You
don't know her? I congratulate you, she has robbed, in fact ruined I
don't know how many men. There isn't a worse girl in Paris. She's a
common swindler. And cunning isn't the word!" And perhaps the public
are not entirely wrong in their use of the last epithet, for indeed
the sceptical man who is not really in love with the woman and whom
she merely attracts says to his friends: "No, no, my dear fellow, she
is not in the least a prostitute; I don't say she hasn't had an
adventure or two in her time, but she's not a woman one pays, she'd be
a damned sight too expensive if she was. With her it's fifty thousand
francs or nothing." Well, he has spent fifty thousand francs on her,
he has had her once, but she (finding, moreover, a willing accomplice
in the man himself) has managed to persuade him that he is one of
those who have had her for nothing. Such is society, in which every
one of us has two aspects, in which the most obvious, the most
notorious faults will never be known by a certain other person save
embedded in, under the protection of a shell, a smooth cocoon, a
delicious curiosity of nature. There were in Paris two thoroughly
respectable men to whom Saint-Loup no longer bowed, and could not
refer without a tremor in his voice, calling them exploiters of women:
this was because they had both been ruined by Rachel.

"I blame myself for one thing only," Mme. de Marsantes murmured in my
ear, "and that was my telling him that he wasn't nice to me. He, such
an adorable, unique son, there's no one else like him in the world,
the only time I see him, to have told him he wasn't nice to me, I
would far rather he'd beaten me, because I am sure that whatever
pleasure he may be having this evening, and he hasn't many, will be
spoiled for him by that unfair word. But, Sir, I mustn't keep you,
since you're in a hurry."

Anxiously, Mme. de Marsantes bade me good-bye. These sentiments bore
upon Robert; she was sincere. But she ceased to be, to become a great
lady once more.

"I have been so _interested_, so _glad_ to have this little talk with
you. Thank you! Thank you!"

And with a humble air she fastened on me a look of gratitude, of
exhilaration, as though my conversation were one of the keenest
pleasures that she had experienced in her life. These charming glances
went very well with the black flowers on her white skirt; they were
those of a great lady who knew her business.

"But I am in no hurry," I replied; "besides, I must wait for M. de
Charlus; I am going with him."

Mme. de Villeparisis overheard these last words. They appeared to vex
her. Had the matter in question not been one which could not possibly
give rise to such a sentiment, it might have struck me that what
seemed to be at that moment alarmed in Mme. de Villeparisis was her
modesty. But this hypothesis never even entered my mind. I was
delighted with Mme. de Guermantes, with Saint-Loup, with Mme. de
Marsantes, with M. de Charlus, with Mme. de Villeparisis; I did not
stop to reflect, and I spoke light-heartedly and at random.

"You're going from here with my nephew Palamède?" she asked me.

Thinking that it might produce a highly favourable impression on Mme.
de Villeparisis if she learned that I was on intimate terms with a
nephew whom she esteemed so greatly, "He has asked me to go home with
him," I answered blithely. "I am so glad. Besides, we are greater
friends than you think, and I've quite made up my mind that we're
going to be better friends still."

From being vexed, Mme. de Villeparisis seemed to have grown anxious.
"Don't wait for him," she said to me, with a preoccupied air. "He is
talking to M. de Faffenheim. He's certain to have forgotten what he
said to you. You'd much better go, now, quickly, while his back is

The first emotion shewn by Mme. de Villeparisis would have suggested,
but for the circumstances, offended modesty. Her insistence, her
opposition might well, if one had studied her face alone, have
appeared to be dictated by virtue. I was not, myself, in any hurry to
join Robert and his mistress. But Mme. de Villeparisis seemed to make
such a point of my going that, thinking perhaps that she had some
important business to discuss with her nephew, I bade her good-bye.
Next to her M. de Guermantes, superb and Olympian, was ponderously
seated. One would have said that the notion omnipresent in all his
members, of his vast riches gave him a particular high density, as
though they had been melted in a crucible into a single human ingot to
form this man whose value was so immense. At the moment of my saying
good-bye to him he rose politely from his seat, and I could feel the
dead weight of thirty millions which his old-fashioned French breeding
set in motion, raised, until it stood before me. I seemed to be
looking at that statue of Olympian Zeus which Pheidias is said to have
cast in solid gold. Such was the power that good breeding had over M.
de Guermantes over the body of M. de Guermantes at least, for it had
not an equal mastery over the ducal mind. M. de Guermantes laughed at
his own jokes, but did not unbend to other people's.

As I went downstairs I heard behind me a voice calling out to me:

"So this is how you wait for me, is it?"

It was M. de Charlus.

"You don't mind if we go a little way on foot?" he asked dryly, when
we were in the courtyard. "We can walk until I find a cab that suits

"You wished to speak to me about something, Sir?"

"Oh yes, as a matter of fact there were some things I wished to say to
you, but I am not so sure now whether I shall. As far as you are
concerned, I am sure that they might be the starting-point which would
lead you to inestimable benefits. But I can see also that they would
bring into my existence, at an age when one begins to value
tranquillity, a great loss of time, great inconvenience. I ask myself
whether you are worth all the pains that I should have to take with
you, and I have not the pleasure of knowing you well enough to be able
to say. Perhaps also to you yourself what I could do for you does not
appear sufficiently attractive for me to give, myself so much trouble,
for I repeat quite frankly that for me it can only be trouble."

I protested that, in that case, he must not dream of it. This summary
end to the discussion did not seem to be to his liking.

"That sort of politeness means nothing," he rebuked me coldly. "There
is nothing so pleasant as to give oneself trouble for a person who is
worth one's while. For the best of us, the study of the arts, a taste
for old things, collections, gardens are all mere ersatz,
succedanea, alibis. In the heart of our tub, like Diogenes, we cry
out for a man. We cultivate begonias, we trim yews, as a last resort,
because yews and begonias submit to treatment. But we should like to
give our time to a plant of human growth, if we were sure that he was
worth the trouble. That is the whole question: you must know something
about yourself. Are you worth my trouble or not?"

"I would not for anything in the world, Sir, be a cause of anxiety to
you," I said to him, "but so far as I am concerned you may be sure
that everything which comes to me from you will be a very great
pleasure to me. I am deeply touched that you should be so kind as to
take notice of me in this way and try to help me."

Greatly to my surprise, it was almost with effusion that he thanked me
for this speech, slipping his arm through mine with that intermittent
familiarity which had already struck me at Balbec, and was in such
contrast to the coldness of his tone.

"With the want of consideration common at your age," he told me, "you
are liable to say things at times which would open an unbridgeable
gulf between us. What you have said just now, on the other hand, is
exactly the sort of thing that touches me, and makes me want to do a
great deal for you."

As he walked arm in arm with me and uttered these words, which, albeit
tinged with contempt, were so affectionate, M. de Charlus now fastened
his gaze on me with that intense fixity which had struck me the first
morning, when I saw him outside the casino at Balbec, and indeed many
years before that, through the pink hawthorns, standing beside Mme.
Swann, whom I supposed then to be his mistress, in the park at
Tansonville; now let it stray around him and examine the cabs which at
this time of the day were passing in considerable numbers on the way
to their stables, looking so determinedly at them that several
stopped, the drivers supposing that he wished to engage them. But M.
de Charlus immediately dismissed them.

"They're not what I want," he explained to me, "it's all a question of
the colour of their lamps, and the direction they're going in. I hope,
Sir," he went on, "that you will not in any way misinterpret the
purely disinterested and charitable nature of the proposal which I am
going to make to you."

I was struck by the similarity of his diction to Swann's, closer now
than at Balbec.

"You have enough intelligence, I suppose, not to imagine that it is
from want of society, from any fear of solitude and boredom that I
have recourse to you. I do not, as a rule, care to talk about myself,
but you may possibly have heard—it was alluded to in a leading
article in _The Times_, which made a considerable impression—that the
Emperor of Austria, who has always honoured me with his friendship,
and is good enough to insist on keeping up terms of cousinship with
me, declared the other day in an interview which was made public that
if the Comte de Chambord had had by his side a man as thoroughly
conversant with the undercurrents of European politics as myself he
would be King of France to-day. I have often thought, Sir, that there
was in me, thanks not to my own humble talents but to circumstances
which you may one day have occasion to learn, a sort of secret record
of incalculable value, of which I have not felt myself at liberty to
make use, personally, but which would be a priceless acquisition to a
young man to whom I would hand over in a few months what it has taken
me more than thirty years to collect, what I am perhaps alone in
possessing. I do not speak of the intellectual enjoyment which you
would find in learning certain secrets which a Michelet of our day
would give years of his life to know, and in the light of which
certain events would assume for him an entirely different aspect. And
I do not speak only of events that have already occurred, but of the
chain of circumstances." (This was a favourite expression with M. de
Charlus, and often, when he used it, he joined his hands as if in
prayer, but with his fingers stiffened, as though to illustrate by
their complexity the said circumstances, which he did not specify, and
the chain that linked them.) "I could give you an explanation that no
one has dreamed of, not only of the past but of the future." M. de
Charlus broke off to question me about Bloch, whom he had heard
discussed, though without appearing to be listening, in his aunt's
drawing-room. And with that ironical accent he so skilfully detached
what he was saying that he seemed to be thinking of something else
altogether and to be speaking mechanically, simply out of politeness.
He asked if my friend was young, good looking and so forth. Bloch, if
he had heard him would have been more puzzled even than with M. de
Norpois, but for very different reasons, to know whether M. de Charlus
was for or against Dreyfus. "It is not a bad idea, if you wish to
learn about life," went on M. de Charlus when he had finished
questioning me, "to include among your friends an occasional
foreigner." I replied that Bloch was French. "Indeed," said M. de
Charlus, "I took him to be a Jew." His assertion of this
incompatibility made me suppose that M. de Charlus was more
anti-Dreyfusard than anyone I had met. He protested, however, against
the charge of treason levelled against Dreyfus. But his protest took
this form: "I understand the newspapers to say that Dreyfus has
committed a crime against his country—so I understand, I pay no
attention to the newspapers, I read them as I wash my hands, without
finding that it is worth my while to take any interest in what I am
doing. In any case, the crime is non-existent, your friend's
compatriot would have committed a crime if he had betrayed Judaea, but
what has he to do with France?" I pointed out that if there should be
a war the Jews would be mobilised just as much as anyone else.
"Perhaps so, and I am not sure that it would not be an imprudence. If
we bring over Senegalese and Malagasies, I hardly suppose that their
hearts will be in the task of defending France, which is only natural.
Your Dreyfus might rather be convicted of a breach of the laws of
hospitality. But we need not discuss that. Perhaps you could ask your
friend to allow me to be present at some great festival in the Temple,
at a circumcision, with Jewish chants. He might perhaps take a hall,
and give me some biblical entertainment, as the young ladies of
Saint-Cyr performed scenes taken from the Psalms by Racine, to amuse
Louis XIV. You might even arrange parties to give us a good laugh. For
instance a battle between your friend and his father, in which he
would smite him as David smote Goliath. That would make quite an
amusing farce. He might even, while he was about it, deal some stout
blows at his hag (or, as my old nurse would say, his 'haggart') of a
mother. That would be an excellent show, and would not be unpleasing
to us, eh, my young friend, since we like exotic spectacles, and to
thrash that non-European creature would be giving a well-earned
punishment to an old camel." As he poured out this terrible, almost
insane language, M. de Charlus squeezed my arm until it ached. I
reminded myself of all that his family had told me of his wonderful
kindness to this old nurse, whose Molièresque vocabulary he had just
quoted, and thought to myself that the connexions, hitherto, I felt,
little studied, between goodness and wickedness in the same heart,
various as they might be, would be an interesting subject for

I warned him that, anyhow, Mme. Bloch no longer existed, while as for
M. Bloch, I questioned to what extent he would enjoy a sport which
might easily result in his being blinded. M. de Charlus seemed
annoyed. "That," he said, "is a woman who made a great mistake in
dying. As for blinding him, surely the Synagogue is blind, it does not
perceive the truth of the Gospel. In any case, think, at this moment,
when all these unhappy Jews are trembling before the stupid fury of
the Christians, what an honour it would be for him to see a man like
myself condescend to be amused by their sports." At this point I
caught sight of M. Bloch senior, who was coming towards us, probably
on his way to meet his son. He did not see us but I offered to
introduce him to M. de Charlus. I had no conception of the torrent of
rage which my words were to let loose. "Introduce him to me! But you
must have singularly little idea of social values! People do not get
to know me as easily as that. In the present instance, the awkwardness
would be twofold, on account of the youth of the introducer and the
unworthiness of the person introduced. At the most, if I am ever
permitted to enjoy the Asiatic spectacle which I suggested to you, I
might address to the horrible creature a few words indicative of
generous feeling. But on condition that he allows himself to be
thoroughly thrashed by his son, I might go so far as to express my
satisfaction." As it happened, M. Bloch paid no attention to us. He
was occupied in greeting Mme. Sazerat with a series of sweeping bows,
which were very favourably received. I was surprised at this, for in
the old days at Combray she had been indignant at my parents for
having young Bloch in the house, so anti-semitic was she then. But
Dreyfusism, like a strong gust of wind, had, a few days before this,
wafted M. Bloch to her feet. My father's friend had found Mme.
Sazerat charming and was particularly gratified by the anti-semitism
of the lady, which he regarded as a proof of the sincerity of her
faith and the soundness of her Dreyfusard opinions, and also as
enhancing the value of the call which she had authorised him to pay
her. He had not even been offended when she had said to him stolidly:
"M. Drumont has the impudence to put the Revisionists in the same bag
as the Protestants and the Jews. A delightful promiscuity!" "Bernard,"
he had said with pride, on reaching home, to M. Nissim Bernard, "you
know, she has that prejudice!" But M. Nissim Bernard had said nothing,
only raising his eyes to heaven in an angelic gaze. Saddened by the
misfortunes of the Jews, remembering his old friendships with
Christians, grown mannered and precious with increasing years, for
reasons which the reader will learn in due course, he had now the air
of a pre-Raphaelite ghost on to which hair had been incongruously
grafted, like threads in the heart of an opal. "All this Dreyfus
business," went on the Baron, still clasping me by the arm, "has only
one drawback. It destroys society (I do not say polite society;
society has long ceased to deserve that laudatory epithet) by the
influx of Mr. and Mrs. Camels and Camelries and Camelyards,
astonishing creatures whom I find even in the houses of my own
cousins, because they belong to the Patrie Française, or the
Anti-Jewish, or some such league, as if a political opinion entitled
one to any social qualification." This frivolity in M. de Charlus
brought out his family likeness to the Duchesse de Guermantes.

I remarked to him on the resemblance. As he appeared to think that I
did not know her, I reminded him of the evening at the Opera when he
had seemed to be trying to avoid me. He assured me with such
insistence that he had never even seen me there that I should have
begun to believe him, if presently a trifling incident had not led me
to think that M. de Charlus, in his excessive pride perhaps, did not
care to be seen with me.

"Let us return to yourself," he said, "and my plans for you. There
exists among certain men, Sir, a freemasonry of which I cannot now say
more than that it numbers in its ranks four of the reigning sovereigns
of Europe Now, the courtiers of one of these are trying to cure him of
his fancy. That is a very serious matter, and may bring us to war.
Yes, Sir, that is a fact You remember the story of the man who
believed that he had the Princess of China shut up in a bottle. It was
a form of insanity. He was cured of it, But as soon as he ceased to be
mad he became merely stupid. There are maladies which we must not seek
to cure because they alone protect us from others that are more
serious. A cousin of mine had trouble with his stomach; he could not
digest anything. The most learned specialists on the stomach treated
him, with no effect. I took him to a certain doctor (another highly
interesting man, by the way, of whom I could tell you a great deal).
He guessed at once that the trouble was nervousness; he persuaded his
patient, ordered him to eat whatever he liked quite boldly and assured
him that his digestion would stand it. But my cousin had nephritis
also. What the stomach can digest perfectly well the kidneys cease,
after a time, to eliminate, and my cousin, instead of living to a good
old age with an imaginary disease of the stomach which obliged him to
keep to a diet, died at forty with his stomach cured but his kidneys
ruined. Given a very considerable advantage over people of your age,
for all one knows, you will perhaps become what some eminent man of
the past might have been if a good angel had revealed to him, in the
midst of a humanity that knew nothing of them, the secrets of steam
and electricity. Do not be foolish, do not refuse from discretion.
Understand that, if I do you a great service, I expect my reward from
you to be no less great. It is many years now since people in society
ceased to interest me. I have but one passion left, to seek to redeem
the mistakes of my life by conferring the benefit of my knowledge on a
soul that is still virgin and capable of being inflamed by virtue. I
have had great sorrows, Sir, of which I may tell you perhaps some day;
I have lost my wife, who was the loveliest, the noblest, the most
perfect creature that one could dream of seeing. I have young
relatives who are not—I do not say worthy, but who are not capable of
accepting the moral heritage of which I have been speaking. For all I
know, you may be he into whose hands it is to pass, he whose life I
shall be able to direct and to raise to so lofty a plane. My own would
gain in return. Perhaps in teaching you the great secrets of diplomacy
I might recover a taste for them myself, and begin at last to do
things of real interest in which you would have an equal share. But
before I can tell I must see you often, very often, every day."

I was thinking of taking advantage of this unexpected kindness on M.
de Charlus's part to ask him whether he could not arrange for me to
meet his sister-in-law when, suddenly, I felt my arm violently jerked,
as though by an electric shock. It was M. de Charlus who had hurriedly
withdrawn his arm from mine. Although as he talked he had allowed his
eyes to wander in all directions he had only just caught sight of M.
d'Argencourt, who was coming towards us from a side street. On seeing
us, M. d'Argencourt appeared worried, cast at me a look of distrust,
almost that look intended for a creature of another race than one's
own with which Mme. de Guermantes had quizzed Bloch, and tried to
avoid us. But one would have said that M. de Charlus was determined to
shew him that he was not at all anxious not to be seen by him, for he
called to him, simply to tell him something that was of no importance.
And fearing perhaps that M. d'Argencourt had not recognised me, M. de
Charlus informed him that I was a great friend of Mme. de
Villeparisis, of the Duchesse de Guermantes, of Robert de Saint-Loup,
and that he himself, Charlus, was an old friend of my grandmother, and
glad to be able to shew her grandson a little of the affection that he
felt for her. Nevertheless I observed that M. d'Argencourt, albeit I
had barely been introduced to him at Mme. de Villeparisis's, and M. de
Charlus had now spoken to him at great length about my family, was
distinctly colder to me than he had been in the afternoon; and for a
long time he shewed the same aloofness whenever we met. He watched me
now with a curiosity in which there was no sign of friendliness, and
seemed even to have to overcome an instinctive repulsion when, on
leaving us, after a moment's hesitation, he held out a hand to me
which he at once withdrew.

"I am sorry about that," said M. de Charlus. "That fellow Argencourt,
well born but ill bred, more than feeble as a diplomat, an impossible
husband, always running after women like a person in a play, is one of
those men who are incapable of understanding but perfectly capable of
destroying the things in life that are really great. I hope that our
friendship will be one of them, if it is ever to be formed, and I hope
also that you will honour me by keeping it—as I shall—well clear of
the heels of any of those donkeys who, from idleness or clumsiness or
deliberate wickedness trample upon what would seem to have been made
to endure. Unfortunately, that is the mould in which most of the men
one meets have been cast."

"The Duchesse de Guermantes seems to be very clever. We were talking
this afternoon about the possibility of war. It appears that she is
specially well informed on that subject."

"She is nothing of the sort," replied M. de Charlus tartly. "Women,
and most men, for that matter, understand nothing of what I was going
to tell you. My sister-in-law is a charming woman who imagines that we
are still living in the days of Balzac's novels, when women had an
influence on Politics. Going to her house could at present have only a
bad effect on you, as for that matter going anywhere. That was one of
the very things I was just going to tell you when that fool
interrupted me. The first sacrifice that you must make for me—I shall
claim them from you in proportion to the gifts I bestow on you—is to
give up going into society. It distressed me this afternoon to see you
at that idiotic tea-party. You may remind me that I Was there myself,
but for me it was not a social gathering, it was simply a family
visit. Later on, when you have established your position, if it
amuses you to step down for a little into that sort of thing, it may
perhaps, do no harm. And then, I need not point out how invaluable I
can be to you. The 'Open Sesame' to the Guermantes house and any
others that it is worth while throwing open the doors of to you, rests
with me I shall be the judge, and intend to remain master of the

I thought I would take advantage of what M. de Charlus had said about
my call on Mme. de Villeparisis to try to find out what position
exactly she occupied in society, but the question took another form on
my lips than I had intended, and I asked him instead what the
Villeparisis family was.

"That is absolutely as though you had asked me what the Nobody family
was," replied M. de Charlus. "My aunt married, for love, a M. Thirion,
who was extremely rich, for that matter, and whose sisters had married
surprisingly well; and from that day onwards he called himself Marquis
de Villeparisis. It did no harm to anyone, at the most a little to
himself, and very little! What his reason was I cannot tell; I suppose
he was actually a 'Monsieur de Villeparisis,' a gentleman born at
Villeparisis, which as you know is the name of a little place outside
Paris. My aunt tried to make out that there was such a Marquisate in
the family, she wanted to put things on a proper footing; I can't tell
you why. When one takes a name to which one has no right it is better
not to copy the regular forms."

Mme. de Villeparisis being merely Mme. Thirion completed the fall
which had begun in my estimation of her when I had seen the composite
nature of her party. I felt it to be unfair that a woman whose title
and name were of quite recent origin should be able thus to impose
upon her contemporaries, with the prospect of similarly imposing upon
posterity, by virtue of her friendships with royal personages. Now
that she had become once again what I had supposed her to be in my
childhood, a person who had nothing aristocratic about her, these
distinguished kinsfolk who gathered round her seemed to remain alien
to her. She did not cease to be charming to us all. I went
occasionally to see her and she sent me little presents from time to
time. But I had never any impression that she belonged to the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, and if I had wanted any information about it she would
have been one of the last people to whom I should have applied.

"At present," went on M. de Charlus, "by going into society, you will
only damage your position, warp your intellect and character. Also,
you must be particularly careful in choosing your friends. Keep
mistresses, if your family have no objection, that doesn't concern me,
indeed I can only advise it, you young rascal, young rascal who will
soon have to start shaving," he rallied me, passing his fingers over
my chin. "But the choice of your men friends is more important. Eight
out of ten young men are little scoundrels, little wretches capable of
doing you an injury which you will never be able to repair. Wait, now,
my nephew Saint-Loup is quite a suitable companion for you, at a
pinch. As far as your future is concerned, he can be of no possible
use to you, but for that I am sufficient. And really when all's said
and done, as a person to go about with, at times when you have had
enough of me, he does not seem to present any serious drawback that I
know of. At any rate he is a man, not one of those effeminate
creatures one sees so many of nowadays, who look like little renters,
and at any moment may bring their innocent victims to the gallows." I
did not know the meaning of this slang word 'renter'; anyone who had
known it would have been as greatly surprised by his use of it as
myself. People in society always like talking slang, and people
against whom certain things may be hinted like to shew that they are
not afraid to mention them. A proof of innocence in their eyes. But
they have lost their sense of proportion, they are no longer capable
of realising the point at which a certain pleasantry will become too
technical, too shocking, will be a proof rather of corruption than of
simplicity. "He is not like the rest of them; he has nice manners; he
is really serious."

I could not help smiling at this epithet 'serious,' to which the
intonation that M. de Charlus gave to it seemed to impart the sense of
'virtuous,' of 'steady,' as one says of a little shop-girl that she is
'serious.' At this moment a cab passed, zigzagging along the street; a
young cabman, who had deserted his box, was driving it from inside,
where he lay sprawling upon the cushions, apparently half drunk. M. de
Charlus instantly stopped him. The driver began to argue.

"Which way are you going?"

"Yours." This surprised me, for M. de Charlus had already refused
several cabs with similarly coloured lamps.

"Well, I don't want to get up on the box. D'you mind if I stay down

"No; but you must put down the hood. Well, think over my proposal,"
said M. de Charlus, preparing to leave me, "I give you a few days to
consider my offer; write to me. I repeat, I shall need to see you
every day, and to receive from you guarantees of loyalty, of
discretion which, for that matter, you do appear, I must say, to
furnish. But in the course of my life I have been so often taken in by
appearances that I never wish to trust them again. Damn it, it's the
least you can expect that before giving up a treasure I should know
into what hands it is going to pass. Very well, bear in mind what I'm
offering you; you are like Hercules' (though, unfortunately for
yourself, you do not appear to me to have quite his muscular
development) at the parting of the ways. Try not to have to regret all
your life not having chosen the way that leads to virtue. Hallo!" he
turned to the cabman, "haven't you put the hood down? I'll do it
myself. I think, too, I'd better drive, seeing the state you appear to
be in."

He jumped in beside the cabman, took the reins, and the horse trotted

As for myself, no sooner had I turned in at our gate than I found the
pendant to the conversation which I had heard exchanged that afternoon
between Bloch and M. de Norpois, but in another form, brief, inverted
and cruel. This was a dispute between our butler, who believed in
Dreyfus, and the Guermantes', who was an anti-Dreyfusard. The truths
and counter-truths which came in conflict above ground, among the
intellectuals of the rival Leagues, the Patrie Française and the
Droits de l'Homme, were fast spreading downwards into the subsoil of
popular opinion. M. Reinach was manipulating, by appeals to sentiment,
people whom he had never seen, while for himself the Dreyfus case
simply presented itself to his reason as an incontrovertible theory
which he proved in the sequel by the most astonishing victory for
rational policy (a victory against France, according to some) that the
world has ever seen. In two years he replaced a Billot by a Clemenceau
Ministry, revolutionised public opinion from top to bottom, took
Picquart from his prison to install him, ungrateful, in the Ministry
of War. Perhaps this rationalist manipulator of crowds was himself the
puppet of his ancestry. When we find that the systems of philosophy
which contain the most truths were dictated to their authors, in the
last analysis, by reasons of sentiment, how are we to suppose that in
a simple affair of politics like the Dreyfus case reasons of this
order may not, unknown to the reasoner, have controlled his reason.
Bloch believed himself to have been led by a logical sequence to
choose Dreyfusism, yet he knew that his nose, skin and hair had been
imposed on him by his race. Doubtless the reason enjoys more freedom;
yet it obeys certain laws which it has not prescribed for itself. The
case of the Guermantes' butler and our own was peculiar. The waves of
the two currents of Dreyfusism and anti-Dreyfusism which now divided
France from end to end were, on the whole, silent, but the occasional
echoes which they emitted were sincere. When you heard anyone in the
middle of a conversation which was being deliberately kept off the
Case announce furtively some piece of political news, generally false,
but always with a hopefulness of its truth, you could induce from the
nature of his predictions where his heart lay. Thus there came into
conflict on certain points, on one side a timid apostolate, on the
other a righteous indignation. The two butlers whom I heard arguing as
I came in furnished an exception to the rule. Ours let it be
understood that Dreyfus was guilty, the Guermantes' butler that he was
innocent. This was done not to conceal their personal convictions, but
from cunning, and in the keenness of their rivalry. Our butler, being
uncertain whether the fresh trial would be ordered, wished beforehand,
in the event of failure, to deprive the Duke's butler of the joy of
seeing a just cause vanquished. The Duke's butler thought that, in the
event of a refusal, ours would be more indignant at the detention on
the Devil's Isle of an innocent man. The porter looked on. I had the
impression that it was not he who was the cause of dissension in the
Guermantes household.

I went upstairs, and found my grandmother not so well. For some time
past, without knowing exactly what was wrong, she had been complaining
of her health. It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to
recognise that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a
different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and
by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body. Say
that we met a brigand by the way; we might yet convince him by an
appeal to his personal interest, if not to our own plight. But to ask
pity of our body is like discoursing before an octopus, for which our
words can have no more meaning than the sound of the tides, and with
which we should be appalled to find ourselves condemned to live. My
grandmother's attacks passed, often enough-unnoticed by the attention
which she kept always diverted to ourselves. When the pain was
severe, in the hope of curing it, she would try in vain to understand
what the trouble was. If the morbid phenomena of which her body was
the theatre remained obscure and beyond the reach of her mind, they
were clear and intelligible to certain creatures belonging to the same
natural kingdom as themselves, creatures to which the human mind has
learned gradually to have recourse in order to understand what the
body is saying to it, as when a foreigner accosts us we try to find
some one belonging to his country who will act as interpreter. These
can talk to our body, and tell us if its anger is serious or will soon
be appeased. Cottard, whom we had called in to see my grandmother, and
who had infuriated us by asking with a dry smile, the moment we told
him that she was ill: "Ill? You're sure it's not what they call a
diplomatic illness?" He tried to soothe his patient's restlessness by
a milk diet. But incessant bowls of milk soup gave her no relief,
because my grandmother sprinkled them liberally with salt (the toxic
effects of which were as yet, Widal not having made his discoveries,
unknown). For, medicine being a compendium of the successive and
contradictory mistakes of medical practitioners, when we summon the
wisest of them to our aid, the chances are that we may be relying on a
scientific truth the error of which will be recognised in a few years'
time. So that to believe in medicine would be the height of folly, if
not to believe in it were not greater folly still, for from this mass
of errors there have emerged in the course of time many truths.
Cottard had told us to take her temperature. A thermometer was
fetched. Throughout almost all its length it was clear of mercury.
Scarcely could one make out, crouching at the foot of the tube, in its
little cell, the silver salamander. It seemed dead. The glass reed
was slipped into my grandmother's mouth. We had no need to leave it
there for long; the little sorceress had not been slow in casting her
horoscope. We found her motionless, perched half-way up her tower, and
declining to move, shewing us with precision the figure that we had
asked of her, a figure with which all the most careful examination
that my grandmother's mind could have devoted to herself would have
been incapable of furnishing her: 101 degrees. For the first time we
felt some anxiety. We shook the thermometer well, to erase the ominous
line, as though we were able thus to reduce the patient's fever
simultaneously with the figure shewn on the scale. Alas, it was only
too clear that the little sibyl, unreasoning as she was, had not
pronounced judgment arbitrarily, for the next day, scarcely had the
thermometer been inserted between my grandmother's lips when almost at
once, as though with a single bound, exulting in her certainty and in
her intuition of a fact that to us was imperceptible, the little
prophetess had come to a halt at the same point, in an implacable
immobility, and pointed once again to that figure 101 with the tip of
her gleaming wand. Nothing more did she tell us; in vain might we
long, seek, pray, she was deaf to our entreaties; it seemed as though
this were her final utterance, a warning and a menace. Then, in an
attempt to constrain her to modify her response, we had recourse to
another creature of the same kingdom, but more potent, which is not
content with questioning the body but can command it, a febrifuge of
the same order as the modern aspirin, which had not then come into
use. We had not shaken the thermometer down below 99.5, and hoped that
it would not have to rise from there. We made my grandmother swallow
this drug and then replaced the thermometer in her mouth. Like an
implacable warder to whom one presents a permit signed by a higher
authority whose protecting influence one has sought and who, finding
it to be in order, replies: "Very well; I have nothing to say; if it's
like that you may pass," this time the watcher in the tower dirt not
move. But sullenly she seemed to be saying: "What use will that be to
you? Since you are friends with quinine, she may give me the order not
to go up, once, ten times, twenty times. And then she will grow tired
of telling me, I know her; get along with you. This won't last for
ever. And then you'll be a lot better off." Thereupon my grandmother
felt the presence within her of a creature which knew the human body
better than herself, the presence of a contemporary of the races that
have vanished from the earth, the presence of earth's first
inhabitant—long anterior to the creation of thinking man—she felt
that aeonial ally who was sounding her, a little roughly even, in the
head, the heart, the elbow; he found out the weak places, organised
everything for the prehistoric combat which began at once to be
fought. In a moment a trampled Python, the fever, was vanquished by
the potent chemical substance to which my grandmother, across the
series of kingdoms, reaching out beyond all animal and vegetable life,
would fain have been able to give thanks. And she remained moved by
this glimpse which she had caught, through the mists of so many
centuries, of a climate anterior to the creation even of plants.
Meanwhile the thermometer, like a Weird Sister momentarily vanquished
by some more ancient god, held motionless her silver spindle. Alas!
other inferior creatures which man has trained to the chase of the
mysterious quarry which he cannot pursue within the pathless forest of
himself, reported cruelly to us every day a certain quantity of
albumen, not large, but constant enough for it also to appear to bear
relation to some persistent malady which we could not detect. Bergotte
had shocked that scrupulous instinct in me which made me subordinate
my intellect when he spoke to me of Dr. du Boulbon as of a physician
who would not bore me, who would discover methods of treatment which,
however strange they might appear, would adapt themselves to the
singularity of my mind. But ideas transform themselves in us, they
overcome the resistance with which we at first meet them, and feed
upon rich intellectual reserves which we did not know to have been
prepared for them. So, as happens whenever anything we have heard said
about some one whom we do not know has had the faculty of awakening in
us the idea of great talent, of a sort of genius, in my inmost mind I
gave Dr. du Boulbon the benefit of that unlimited confidence which he
inspires in us who with an eye more penetrating than other men's
perceives the truth. I knew indeed that he was more of a specialist in
nervous diseases, the man to whom Charcot before his death had
predicted that he would reign supreme in neurology and psychiatry.
"Ah! I don't know about that. It's quite possible," put in Françoise,
who was in the room and heard Charcot's name, as she heard du
Boulbon's, for the first time But this in no way prevented her from
saying "It's possible." Her 'possibles,' her 'perhapses,' her 'I don't
knows' were peculiarly irritating at such a moment. One wanted to say
to her: "Naturally you don't know, since you haven't the faintest idea
of what we are talking about, how can you even say whether it's
possible or not; you know nothing about it. Anyhow, you can't say now
that you don't know what Charcot said to du Boulbon. You do know
because we have just told you, and your 'perhapses' and 'possibles'
don't come in, because it's a fact."

In spite of this more special competence in cerebral and nervous
matters, as I knew that du Boulbon was a great physician, a superior
man, of a profound and inventive intellect, I begged my mother to send
for him, and the hope that, by a clear perception of the malady, he
might perhaps cure it, carried the day finally over the fear that we
had of (if we called in a specialist) alarming my grandmother. What
decided my mother was the fact that, encouraged unconsciously by
Cottard, my grandmother no longer went out of doors, and scarcely rose
from her bed. In vain might she answer us in the words of Mme. de
Sévigné's letter on Mme. de la Fayette: "Everyone said she was mad not
to wish to go out. I said to these persons, so headstrong in their
judgment: 'Mme. de la Fayette is not mad!' and I stuck to that. It has
taken her death to prove that she was quite right not to go out." Du
Boulbon when he came decided against—if not Mme. de Sévigné, whom we
did not quote to him—my grandmother, at any rate. Instead of
sounding her chest, fixing on her steadily his wonderful eyes, in
which there was perhaps the illusion that he was making a profound
scrutiny of his patient, or the desire to give her that illusion,
which seemed spontaneous but must be mechanically produced, or else
not to let her see that he was thinking of something quite different,
or simply to obtain the mastery over her, he began talking about

"I should think so, indeed, he's magnificent, you are quite right to
admire him. But which of his books do you prefer? Indeed! Well,
perhaps that is the best after all. In any case it is the best
composed of his novels. Claire is quite charming in it; of his male
characters which appeals to you most?"

I supposed at first that he was making her talk like this about
literature because he himself found medicine boring, perhaps also to
display his breadth of mind and even, with a more therapeutic aim, to
restore confidence to his patient, to shew her that he was not
alarmed, to take her mind from the state of her health. But afterwards
I realised that, being distinguished particularly as an alienist and
by his work on the brain, he had been seeking to ascertain by these
questions whether my grandmother's memory was in good order. As though
reluctantly he began to inquire about her past life, fixing a stern
and sombre eye on her. Then suddenly, as though catching sight of the
truth and determined to reach it at all costs, with a preliminary
rubbing of his hands, which he seemed to have some difficulty in
wiping dry of the final hesitations which he himself might feel and of
all the objections which we might have raised, looking down at my
grandmother with a lucid eye, boldly and as though he were at last
upon solid ground, punctuating his words in a quiet, impressive tone,
every inflexion of which bore the mark of intellect, he began. (His
voice, for that matter, throughout this visit remained what it
naturally was, caressing. And under his bushy brows his ironical eyes
were full of kindness.)

"You will be quite well, Madame, on the day—when it comes, and it
rests entirely with you whether it comes to-day—on which you realise
that there is nothing wrong with you, and resume your ordinary life.
You tell me that you have not been taking your food, not going out?"

"But, Sir, I have a temperature."

He laid a finger on her wrist.

"Not just now, at any rate. Besides, what an excuse! Don't you know
that we keep out in the open air and overfeed tuberculous patients
with temperatures of 102?"

"But I have a little albumen as well."

"You ought not to know anything about that. You have what I have had
occasion to call 'mental albumen.' We have all of us had, when we have
not been very well, little albuminous phases which our doctor has done
his best to make permanent by calling our attention to them. For one
disorder that doctors cure with drugs (as I am told that they do
occasionally succeed in doing) they produce a dozen others in healthy
subjects by inoculating them with that pathogenic agent a thousand
times more virulent than all the microbes in the world, the idea that
one is ill. A belief of that sort, which has a disturbing effect on
any temperament, acts with special force on neurotic people. Tell them
that a shut window is open behind their back, they will begin to
sneeze; make them believe that you have put magnesia in their soup,
they will be seized with colic; that their coffee is stronger than
usual, they will not sleep a wink all night. Do you imagine, Madame,
that I needed to do any more than look into your eyes, listen to the
way in which you express yourself, look, if I may say so, at this
lady, your daughter, and at your grandson, who takes so much after
you, to learn what was the matter with you?" "Your grandmother might
perhaps go and sit, if the Doctor allows it, in some quiet path in the
Champs-Elysées, near that laurel shrubbery where you used to play when
you were little," said my mother to me, thus indirectly consulting Dr.
du Boulbon, her voice for that reason assuming a tone of timid
deference which it would not have had if she had been addressing me
alone. The Doctor turned to my grandmother and, being apparently as
well-read in literature as in science, adjured her as follows: "Go to
the Champs-Elysées, Madame, to the laurel shrubbery which your
grandson loves. The laurel you will find health-giving. It purifies.
After he had exterminated the serpent Python, it was with a bough of
laurel in his hand that Apollo made his entry into Delphi. He sought
thus to guard himself from the deadly germs of the venomous monster.
So you see that the laurel is the most ancient, the most venerable
and, I will add—what is of therapeutic as well as of prophylactic
value—the most beautiful of antiseptics."

Inasmuch as a great part of what doctors know is taught them by the
sick, they are easily led to believe that this knowledge which
patients exhibit is common to them all, and they pride themselves on
taking the patient of the moment by surprise with some remark picked
up at a previous bedside. Thus it was with the superior smile of a
Parisian who, in conversation with a peasant, might hope to surprise
him by using suddenly a word of the local dialect that Dr. du Boulbon
said to my grandmother: "Probably a windy night will make you sleep
when the strongest soporifics would have no effect." "On the contrary,
Sir, when the wind blows I can never sleep at all." But doctors are
touchy people. "Ach!" muttered du Boulbon, knitting his brows, as if
some one had trodden on his toe, or as if my grandmother's
sleeplessness on stormy nights were a personal insult to himself. He
had not, however, an undue opinion of himself, and since, in his
character as a 'superior' person, he felt himself bound not to put any
faith in medicine, he quickly recovered his philosophic serenity.

My mother, in her passionate longing for reassurance from Bergotte's
friend, added in support of his verdict that a first cousin of my
grandmother, who suffered from a nervous complaint, had lain for seven
years cloistered in her bedroom at Combray, without leaving her bed
more than once or twice a week.

"You see, Madame, I didn't know that, and yet I could have told you."

"But, Sir, I am not in the least like her; on the contrary, my doctor
complains that he cannot get me to stay in bed," said my grandmother,
whether because she was a little annoyed by the doctor's theories, or
was anxious to submit to him any objections that might be raised to
them, in the hope that he would refute these and that, after he had
gone, she would no longer find any doubt lurking in her own mind as to
the accuracy of his encouraging diagnosis.

"Why, naturally, Madame, you cannot have all the forms of—if you'll
excuse my saying so—mania at once; you have others, but not that
particular one. Yesterday I visited a home for neurasthenics. In the
garden, I saw a man standing on a seat, motionless as a fakir, his
neck bent in a position which must have been highly uncomfortable. On
my asking him what he was doing there, he replied, without turning his
head, or moving a muscle: 'You see, Doctor, I am extremely rheumatic
and catch cold very easily; I have just been taking a lot of exercise,
and while I was getting hot, like a fool, my neck was touching my
flannels. If I move it away from my flannels now before letting myself
cool down, I am certain to get a stiff neck, and possibly bronchitis.'
Which he would, in fact, have done. 'You're a fine specimen of
neurasthenia, that's what you are,' I told him. And do you know what
argument he advanced to prove that I was mistaken? It was this; that
while all the other patients in the place had a mania for testing
their weight, so much so that the weighing machine had to be padlocked
so that they should not spend the whole day on it, he had to be lifted
on to it bodily, so little did he care to be weighed. He prided
himself on not sharing the mania of the others without thinking that
he had also one of his own, and that it was this which saved him from
the other. You must not be offended by the comparison, Madame, for the
man who dared not turn his neck for fear of catching a chill is the
greatest poet of our day. That poor maniac is the most lofty intellect
that I know. Submit to being called a neurotic. You belong to that
splendid and pitiable family which is the salt of the earth. All the
greatest things We know have come to us from neurotics. It is they and
they only who have founded religions and created great works of art.
Never will the world be conscious of how much it owes to them, nor
above all of what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on
it. We enjoy fine music, beautiful pictures, a thousand exquisite
things, but we do not know what they cost those who wrought them in
sleeplessness, tears, spasmodic laughter, rashes, asthma, epilepsy a
terror of death which is worse than any of these, and which you
perhaps have felt, Madame," he added with a smile at my grandmother,
"for confess now, when I came into the room, you were not feeling very
confident You thought that you were ill; dangerously ill, perhaps.
Heaven only knows what the disease was of which you thought you had
detected the symptoms. And you were not mistaken; they were there.
Neurosis has an absolute genius for malingering. There is no illness
which it cannot counterfeit perfectly. It will produce life-like
imitations of the dilatations of dyspepsia, the sicknesses of
pregnancy, the broken rhythm of the cardiac, the feverishness of the
consumptive. If it is capable of deceiving the doctor how should it
fail to deceive the patient? No, no; you mustn't think I'm making fun
of your sufferings. I should not undertake to heal them unless I
understood them thoroughly. And, well, they say there's no good
confession unless it's mutual. I have told you that without nervous
trouble there can be no great artist. What is more," he added, raising
a solemn forefinger, "there can be no great scientist either. I will
go further, and say that, unless he himself is subject to nervous
trouble, he is not, I won't say a good doctor, but I do say the right
doctor to treat nervous troubles. In nervous pathology a doctor who
doesn't say too many foolish things is a patient half-cured, just as a
critic is a poet who has stopped writing verse and a policeman a
burglar who has retired from practice. I, Madame, I do not, like you,
fancy myself to be suffering from albuminuria, I have not your nervous
fear of food, nor of fresh air, but I can never go to sleep without
getting out of bed at least twenty times to see if my door is shut.
And in that home where I found the poet yesterday who would not move
his neck, I had gone to secure a room, for—this is between
ourselves—I spend my holidays there looking after myself when I have
increased my own trouble by wearing myself out in the attempt to cure
other people."

"But do you want me to take a cure like that, Sir?" came to a
frightened voice from my grandmother.

"It is not necessary, Madame. The symptoms which you describe will
vanish at my bidding. Besides, you have with you a very efficient
person whom I appoint as your doctor from now onwards. That is your
trouble itself, the super-activity of your nerves. Even if I knew how
to cure you of that, I should take good care not to. All I need do is
to control it. I see on your table there one of Bergotte's books.
Cured of your neurosis you would no longer care for it. Well, I might
feel it my duty to substitute for the joys that it procures for you a
nervous stability which would be quite incapable of giving you those
joys. But those joys themselves are a strong remedy, the strongest of
all perhaps. No; I have nothing to say against your nervous energy.
All I ask is that it should listen to me; I leave you in its charge.
It must reverse its engines. The force which it is now using to
prevent you from getting up, from taking sufficient food, let it
employ in making you eat, in making you read, in making you go out,
and in distracting you in every possible way. You needn't tell me that
you are fatigued. Fatigue is the organic realisation of a preconceived
idea. Begin by not thinking it. And if ever you have a slight
indisposition, which is a thing that may happen to anyone, it will be
just as if you hadn't it, for your nervous energy will have endowed
you with what M. de Talleyrand, in an expression full of meaning,
called 'imaginary health.' See, it has begun to cure you already, you
have been sitting up in bed listening to me without once leaning back
on your pillows; your eye is bright, your complexion is good, I have
been talking to you for half an hour by the clock and you have never
noticed the time. Well, Madame, I shall now bid you good-day."

When, after seeing Dr. du Boulbon to the door, I returned to the room
in which my mother was by herself, the oppression that had been
weighing on me for the last few weeks lifted, I felt that my mother
was going to break out with a cry of joy and would see my joy, I felt
that inability to endure the suspense of the coming moment at which a
person is going to be overcome with emotion in our presence, which in
another category is a little like the thrill of fear that goes through
one when one knows that somebody is going to come in and startle one
by a door that is still closed; I tried to speak to Mamma but my voice
broke, and, bursting into tears, I stayed for a long time, my head on
her shoulder, crying, tasting, accepting, relishing my grief, now that
I knew that it had departed from my life, as we like to exalt
ourselves by forming virtuous plans which circumstances do not permit
us to put into execution. Françoise annoyed me by her refusal to share
in our joy. She was quite overcome because there had just been a
terrible scene between the lovesick footman and the tale-bearing
porter. It had required the Duchess herself, in her unfailing
benevolence, to intervene, restore an apparent calm to the household
and forgive the footman. For she was a good mistress, and that would
have been the ideal 'place' if only she didn't listen to 'stories.'

During the last few days people had begun to hear of my grandmother's
illness and to inquire for news of her. Saint-Loup had written to me:
"I do not wish to take advantage of a time when your dear grandmother
is unwell to convey to you what is far more than mere reproaches, on a
matter with which she has no concern. But I should not be speaking the
truth were I to say to you, even out of politeness, that I shall ever
forget the perfidy of your conduct, or that there can ever be any
forgiveness for so scoundrelly a betrayal." But some other friends,
supposing that my grandmother was not seriously ill (they may not even
have known that she was ill at all), had asked me to meet them next
day in the Champs-Elysées, to go with them from there to pay a call
together, ending up with a dinner in the country, the thought of which
appealed to me. I had no longer any reason to forego these two
pleasures. When my grandmother had been told that it was now
imperative, if she was to obey Dr. du Boulbon's orders, that she
should go out as much as possible, she had herself at once suggested
the Champs-Elysées. It would be easy for me to escort her there; and,
while she sat reading, to arrange with my friends where I should meet
them later; and I should still be in time, if I made haste, to take
the train with them to Ville d'Avray. When the time came, my
grandmother did not want to go out; she felt tired. But my mother,
acting on du Boulbon's instructions, had the strength of mind to be
firm and to insist on obedience. She was almost in tears at the
thought that my grandmother was going to relapse again into her
nervous weakness, which she might never be able to shake off. Never
again would there be such a fine, warm day for an outing. The sun as
it moved through the sky interspersed here and there in the broken
solidity of the balcony its unsubstantial muslins, and gave to the
freestone ledge a warm epidermis, an indefinite halo of gold. As
Françoise had not had time to send a 'tube' to her daughter, she left
us immediately after luncheon. She very kindly consented, however, to
call first at Jupien's, to get a stitch put in the cloak which my
grandmother was going to wear. Returning at that moment from my
morning walk I accompanied her into the shop. "Is it your young master
who brings you here," Jupien asked Françoise, "is it you who are
bringing him to see me or is it some good wind and fortune that bring
you both?" For all his want of education, Jupien respected the laws of
grammar as instinctively as M. de Guermantes, in spite of every
effort, broke them. With Françoise gone and the cloak mended, it was
time for my grandmother to get ready. Having obstinately refused to
let Mamma stay in the room with her, she took, left to herself, an
endless time over her dressing, and now that I knew her to be quite
well, with that strange indifference which we feel towards our
relatives so long as they are alive, which makes us put everyone else
before them, I felt it to be very selfish of her to take so long, to
risk making me late when she knew that I had an appointment with my
friends and was dining at Ville d'Avray. In my impatience I finally
went downstairs without waiting for her, after I had twice been told
that she was just ready. At last she joined me, without apologising
to me, as she generally did, for having kept me waiting, flushed and
bothered like a person who has come to a place in a hurry and has
forgotten half her belongings, just as I was reaching the half-opened
glass door which, without warming them with it in the least, let in
the liquid, throbbing, tepid air from the street (as though the
sluices of a reservoir had been opened) between the frigid walls of
the passage.

"Oh, dear, if you're going to meet your friends I ought to have put on
another cloak. I look rather poverty-stricken in this one."

I was startled to see her so flushed, and supposed that having begun
by making herself late she had had to hurry over her dressing. When we
left the cab at the end of the Avenue Gabriel, in the Champs-Elysées,
I saw my grandmother, without a word to me, turn aside and make her
way to the little old pavilion with its green trellis, at the door of
which I had once waited for Françoise. The same park-keeper who had
been standing there then was still talking to Françoise's 'Marquise'
when, following my grandmother who, doubtless because she was feeling
sick, had her hand in front of her mouth, I climbed the steps of that
little rustic theatre, erected there among the gardens. At the
entrance, as in those circus booths where the clown, dressed for the
ring and smothered in flour, stands at the door and takes the money
himself for the seats, the 'Marquise,' at the receipt of custom, was
still there in her place with her huge, uneven face smeared with a
coarse plaster and her little bonnet of red flowers and black lace
surmounting her auburn wig. But I do not suppose that she recognised
me. The park-keeper, abandoning his watch over the greenery, with the
colour of which his uniform had been designed to harmonise, was
talking to her, on a chair by her side.

"So you're still here?" he was saying. "You don't think of retiring?"

"And what have I to retire for, Sir? Will you kindly tell me where I
shall be better off than here, where I should live more at my ease,
and with every comfort? And then there's all the coming and going,
plenty of distraction; my little Paris, I call it; my customers keep
me in touch with everything that's going on. Just to give you an
example, there's one of them who went out not more than five minutes
ago; he's a magistrate, in the very highest position there is. Very
well, Sir," she cried with ardour, as though prepared to maintain the
truth of this assertion by violence, should the agent of civic
authority shew any sign of challenging its accuracy, "for the last
eight years, do you follow me, every day God has made, regularly on
the stroke of three he's been here, always polite, never saying one
word louder than another, never making any mess; and he stays half an
hour and more to read his papers and do his little jobs. There was one
day he didn't come. I never noticed it at the time, but that evening,
all of a sudden I said to myself: 'Why, that gentleman never came
to-day; perhaps he's dead!' And that gave me a regular turn, you know,
because, of course, I get quite fond of people when they behave
nicely. And so I was very glad when I saw him come in again next day,
and I said to him, I did: 'I hope there was nothing wrong yesterday,
Sir?' Then he told me that it was his wife that had died, and he'd
been so put out, poor gentleman, what with one thing and another, he
hadn't been able to come. He had that really sad look, you know,
people have when they've been married five-and-twenty years, and then
the parting, but he seemed pleased, all the same, to be back here. You
could see that all his little habits had been quite upset. I did what
I could to make him feel at home. I said to him: 'Y' mustn't let go of
things, Sir. Just come here the same as before, it will be a little
distraction for you in your sorrow.'"

The 'Marquise' resumed a gentler tone, for she had observed that the
guardian of groves and lawns was listening to her complacently and
with no thought of contradiction, keeping harmlessly in its scabbard a
sword which looked more like a horticultural implement or some symbol
of a garden-god.

"And besides," she went on, "I choose my customers, I don't let
everyone into my little parlours, as I call them. And doesn't the
place just look like a parlour with all my flowers? Such friendly
customers I have; there's always some one or other brings me a spray
of nice lilac, or jessamine or roses; my favourite flowers, roses

The thought that we were perhaps despised by this lady because we
never brought any sprays of lilac or fine roses to her bower made me
redden, and in the hope of making a bodily escape—or of being
condemned only by default—from an adverse judgment, I moved towards
the exit. But it is not always in this world the people who bring us
fine roses to whom we are most friendly, for the 'Marquise,' thinking
that I was bored, turned to me.

"You wouldn't like me to open a little place for you?"

And, on my declining:

"No? You're sure you won't?" she persisted, smiling. "Well, just as
you please. You're welcome to it, but I know quite well, not having to
pay for a thing won't make you want to do it if you don't want to."

At this moment a shabbily dressed woman hurried into the place who
seemed to be feeling precisely the want in question. But she did not
belong to the 'Marquise's' world, for the latter, with the ferocity of
a snob, flung at her:

"I've nothing disengaged, Ma'am."

"Will they be long?" asked the poor lady, reddening beneath the yellow
flowers in her hat.

"Well, Ma'am, if you'll take my advice, you'll try somewhere else; you
see, there are still these two gentlemen waiting, and I've only one
closet; the others are out of order."

"Not much money there," she explained when the other had gone. "It's
not the sort we want here, either; they're not clean, don't treat the
place with respect, it would be your humble here that would have to
spend the next hour cleaning up after her ladyship. I'm not sorry to
lose her penny."

Finally my grandmother emerged, and feeling that she probably would
not seek to atone by a lavish gratuity for the indiscretion that she
had shewn by remaining so long inside, I beat a retreat, so as not to
have to share in the scorn which the 'Marquise' would no doubt heap on
her, and began strolling along a path, but slowly, so that my
grandmother should not have to hurry to overtake me; as presently she
did. I expected her to begin: "I am afraid I've kept you waiting; I
hope you'll still be in time for your friends," but she did not utter
a single word, so much so that, feeling a little hurt, I was
disinclined to speak first; until looking up at her I noticed that as
she walked beside me she kept her face turned the other way. I was
afraid that her heart might be troubling her again. I studied her more
carefully and was struck by the disjointedness of her gait. Her hat
was crooked, her cloak stained; she had the confused and worried look,
the flushed, slightly dazed face of a person who has just been knocked
down by a carriage or pulled out of a ditch.

"I was afraid you were feeling sick, Grandmamma; are you feeling
better now?" I asked her.

Probably she thought that it would be impossible for her, without
alarming me, not to make some answer.

"I heard the whole of her conversation with the keeper," she told me.
"Could anything have been more typical of the Guermantes, or the
Verdurins and their little circle? Heavens, what fine language she put
it all in!" And she quoted, with deliberate application, this sentence
from her own special Marquise, Mme. de Sévigné: "As I listened to them
I thought that they were preparing for me the pleasures of a

Such was the speech that she made me, a speech into which she had put
all her critical delicacy, her love of quotations, her memory of the
classics more thoroughly even than she would naturally have done, and
as though to prove that she retained possession of all these
faculties. But I guessed rather than heard what she said, so inaudible
was the voice in which she muttered her sentences, clenching her teeth
more than could be accounted for by the fear of being sick again.

"Come!" I said lightly, so as not to seem to be taking her illness too
seriously, "since your heart is bothering you, shall we go home now? I
don't want to trundle a grandmother with indigestion about the

"I didn't like to suggest it, because of your friends," she replied.
"Poor boy! But if you don't mind, I think it would be wiser."

I was afraid of her noticing the strange way in which she uttered
these words.

"Come!" I said to her sharply, "you mustn't tire yourself talking; if
your heart is bad, it's silly; wait till we get home."

She smiled at me sorrowfully and gripped my hand. She had realised
that there was no need to hide from me what I had at once guessed,
that she had had a slight stroke.

[END of Volume I.]





WE MADE our way back along the Avenue Gabriel, through the strolling
crowd. I left my grandmother to rest on a seat and went in search of a
cab. She, in whose heart I always placed myself when I had to form an
opinion of the most unimportant person, she was now closed to me, had
become part of the world outside, and, more than from any casual
passer-by, I was obliged to keep from her what I thought of her
condition, to say no word of my uneasiness. I could not have spoken of
it to her in greater confidence than to a stranger. She had suddenly
handed back to me the thoughts, the griefs which, from the days of my
infancy, I had entrusted for all time to her keeping. She was not yet
dead. I was already alone. And even those allusions which she had made
to the Guermantes, to Mme. de Sévigné, to our conversations about the
little clan, assumed an air of being without point or occasion,
fantastic, because they sprang from the nullity of this very being who
to-morrow possibly would have ceased to exist, for whom they would no
longer have any meaning, from that nullity, incapable of conceiving
them, which my grandmother would shortly be.

"Well, Sir, I don't like to say no, but you have not made an
appointment, you have no time fixed. Besides, this is not my day for
seeing patients. You surely have a doctor of your own. I cannot
interfere with his practice, unless he were to call me in for a
consultation. It's a question of professional etiquette..."

Just as I was signalling to a cabman, I had caught sight of the famous
Professor E——, almost a friend of my father and grandfather,
acquainted at any rate with them both, who lived in the Avenue
Gabriel, and, with a sudden inspiration, had stopped him just as he
was entering his house, thinking that he would perhaps be the very
person to advise my grandmother. But he was evidently in a hurry and,
after calling for his letters, seemed anxious to get rid of me, so
that my only chance of speaking to him lay in going up with him in the
lift, of which he begged me to allow him to work the switches himself,
this being a mania with him.

"But, Sir, I am not asking you to see my grandmother here; you will
realise from what I am trying to tell you that she is not in a fit
state to come; what I am asking is that you should call at our house
in half an hour's time, when I have taken her home."

"Call at your house! Really, Sir, you must not expect me to do that. I
am dining with the Minister of Commerce. I have a call to pay first. I
must change at once, and to make matters worse I have torn my coat and
my' other one has no buttonholes for my. decorations. I beg you,
please, to oblige me by not touching the switches. You don't know how
the lift works; one can't be too careful. Getting that buttonhole made
means more delay. Well, as I am a friend of your people, if your
grandmother comes here at once I will see her. But I warn you that I
shall be able to give her exactly a quarter of an hour, nor a moment

I had started off at once, without even getting out of the lift which
Professor E—— had himself set in motion to take me down again,
casting a suspicious glance at me as he did so.

We may, indeed, say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we
say so we represent that hour to ourselves as situated in a vague and
remote expanse of time, it never occurs to us that it can have any
connexion with the day that has already dawned, or may signify that
death—or its first assault and partial possession of us, after which
it will never leave hold of us again—may occur this very afternoon,
so far from uncertain, this afternoon every hour of which has already
been allotted to some occupation. You make a point of taking your
drive every day so that in a month's time you will have had the full
benefit of the fresh air; you have hesitated over which cloak you will
take, which cabman to call, you are in the cab, the whole day lies
before you, short because you have to be at home early, as a friend is
coming to see you; you hope that it will be as fine again to-morrow;
and you have no suspicion that death, which has been making its way
towards you along another plane, shrouded in an impenetrable darkness,
has chosen precisely this day of all days to make its appearance, in a
few minutes' time, more or less, at the moment when the carriage has
reached the Champs-Elysées. Perhaps those who are haunted as a rule by
the fear of the utter strangeness of death will find something
reassuring in this kind of death—in this kind of first contact with
death—because death thus assumes a known, familiar guise of everyday
life. A good luncheon has preceded it, and the same outing that people
take who are in perfect health. A drive home in an open carriage comes
on top of its first onslaught; ill as my grandmother was, there were,
after all, several people who could testify that at six o'clock, as we
came home from the Champs-Elysées, they had bowed to her as she drove
past in an open carriage, in perfect weather. Legrandin, making his
way towards the Place de la Concorde, raised his hat to us, stopping
to look after us with an air of surprise. I, who was not yet detached
from life, asked my grandmother if she had acknowledged his greeting,
reminding her of his readiness to take offence. My grandmother,
thinking me no doubt very frivolous, raised her hand in the air as
though to say: "What does it matter? It is not of the least

Yes, one might have said that, a few minutes earlier, when I was
looking for a cab, my grandmother was resting on a seat in the Avenue
Gabriel, and that a little later she had driven past in an open
carriage. But would that have been really true? The seat, for
instance, to maintain its position at the side of an avenue—for all
that it may be subjected also to certain conditions of
equilibrium—has no need of energy. But in order that a living person
may be stable, even when supported by a seat or in a carriage, there
is required a tension of forces which we do not ordinarily perceive
any more than we perceive (because its action is universal)
atmospheric pressure. Possibly if we were to be hollowed out and then
left to support the pressure of the air we might feel, in the
moment that preceded our extinction, that terrible weight which there
was nothing left in us to neutralise. Similarly when the abyss of
sickness and death opens within us and we have no longer any
resistance to offer to the tumult with which the world and our own
body rush upon us, then to endure even the tension of our own muscles,
the shudder that freezes us to the marrow, then even to keep ourselves
motionless in what we ordinarily regard as nothing but the simple
negative position of a lifeless thing requires, if we wish our head to
remain erect and our eyes calm, an expense of vital energy and becomes
the object of an exhausting struggle.

And if Legrandin had looked back at us with that astonished air, it
was because to him, as to the other people who passed us then, in the
cab in which my grandmother was apparently seated she had seemed to be
foundering, sliding into the abyss, clinging desperately to the
cushions which could barely arrest the downward plunge of her body,
her hair in disorder, her eye wild, unable any longer to face the
assault of the images which its pupil was not strong enough now to
bear. She had appeared to them, although I was still by her side,
submerged in that unknown world somewhere in which she had already
received the blows, traces of which she still bore when I looked up at
her a few minutes earlier in the Champs-Elysées, her hat, her face,
her cloak left in disorder by the hand of the invisible angel with
whom she had wrestled. I have thought, since, that this moment of her
stroke cannot have altogether surprised my grandmother, that indeed
she had perhaps foreseen it a long time back, had lived in expectation
of it. She had not known, naturally, when this fatal moment would
come, had never been certain, any more than those lovers whom a
similar doubt leads alternately to found unreasonable hopes and
unjustified suspicions on the fidelity of their mistresses. But it is
rarely that these grave maladies, like that which now at last had
struck her full in the face, do not take up their abode in the sick
man for a long time before killing him, during which time they make
haste, like a 'sociable' neighbour or tenant, to introduce themselves
to him. A terrible acquaintance, not so much from the sufferings that
it causes as from the strange novelty of the definite restriction
which it imposes upon life. A woman sees herself dying, in these cases
not at the actual moment of death but months, sometimes years before,
when death has hideously come to dwell in her. The sufferer makes the
acquaintance of the stranger whom she hears coming and going in her
brain. She does not know him by sight, it is true, but from the sounds
which she hears him regularly make she can form an idea of his habits.
Is he a criminal? One morning, she can no longer hear him. He has
gone. Ah! If it were only for ever! In the evening he has returned.
What are his plans? Her specialist, put to the question, like an
adored mistress, replies with avowals that one day are believed,
another day fail to convince her. Or rather it is not the mistress's
part but that of the servants one interrogates that the doctor plays.
They are only third parties. The person whom we press for an answer,
whom we suspect of being about to play us false, is life itself, and
although we feel her to be no longer the same we believe in her still
or at least remain undecided until the day on which she finally
abandons us.

I helped my grandmother into Professor E——'s lift and a moment later
he came to us and took us into his consulting room. But there, busy as
he was, his bombastic manner changed, such is the force of habit; for
his habit was to be friendly, that is to say lively with his patients.
Since he knew that my grandmother was a great reader, and was himself
one also, he devoted the first few minutes to quoting various
favourite passages of poetry appropriate to the glorious summer
weather. He had placed her in an armchair and himself with his back to
the light so as to have a good view of her. His examination was minute
and thorough, even obliging me at one moment to leave the room. He
continued it after my return, then, having finished, went on, although
the quarter of an hour was almost at an end, repeating various
quotations to my grandmother. He even made a few jokes, which were
witty enough, though I should have preferred to hear them on some
other occasion, but which completely reassured me by the tone of
amusement in which he uttered them. I then remembered that M.
Fallières, the President of the Senate, had, many years earlier, had a
false seizure, and that to the consternation of his political rivals
he had returned a few days later to his duties and had begun, it was
said, his preparations for a more or less remote succession to the
Presidency of the Republic. My confidence in my grandmother's prompt
recovery was all the more complete in that, just as I was recalling
the example of M. Fallières, I was distracted from following up the
similarity by a shout of laughter, which served as conclusion to one
of the Professor's jokes. After which he took out his watch, wrinkled
his brows petulantly on seeing that he was five minutes late, and
while he bade us good-bye rang for his other coat to be brought to him
at once. I waited until my grandmother had left the room, closed the
door and asked him to tell me the truth.

"There is not the slightest hope," he informed me. "It is a stroke
brought on by uraemia. In itself, uraemia is not necessarily fatal,
but this case seems to me desperate. I need not tell you that I hope I
am mistaken. Anyhow, you have Cottard, you're in excellent hands.
Excuse me," he broke off as a maid came into the room with his coat
over her arm. "I told you, I'm dining with the Minister of Commerce,
and I have a call to pay first. Ah! Life is not all a bed of roses, as
one is apt to think at your age."

And he graciously offered me his hand. I had shut the door behind me,
and a footman was shewing us into the hall when we heard a loud shout
of rage. The maid had forgotten to cut and hem the buttonhole for the
decorations. This would take another ten minutes. The Professor
continued to storm while I stood on the landing gazing at a
grandmother for whom there was not the slightest hope. Each of us is
indeed alone. We started for home.

The sun was sinking, it burnished an interminable wall along which our
cab had to pass before reaching the street in which we lived, a wall
against which the shadow cast by the setting sun of horse and carriage
stood out in black on a ruddy background, like a funeral car on some
Pompeian terra-cotta. At length we arrived at the house. I made the
invalid sit at the foot of the staircase in the hall, and went up to
warn my mother. I told her that my grandmother had come home feeling
slightly unwell, after an attack of giddiness. As soon as I began to
speak, my mother's face was convulsed by the paroxysm of a despair
which was yet already so resigned that I realised that for many years
she had been holding herself quietly in readiness for an uncalendared
but final day. She asked me no question; it seemed that, just as
malevolence likes to exaggerate the sufferings of other people, so in
her devotion she would not admit that her mother was seriously ill,
especially with a disease which might affect the brain. Mamma
shuddered, her eyes wept without tears, she ran to give orders for the
doctor to be fetched at once; but when Françoise asked who was ill she
could not reply, her voice stuck in her throat. She came running
downstairs with me struggling to banish from her face the sob that
contracted it. My grandmother was waiting below on the sofa in the
hall, but, as soon as she heard us coming, drew herself together,
stood up, and waved her hand cheerfully at Mamma. I had partially
wrapped her head in a white lace shawl, telling her that it was so
that she should not catch cold on the stairs. I had hoped that my
mother would not notice the change in her face, the distortion of her
mouth; my precaution proved unnecessary; my mother went up to my
grandmother, kissed her hand as though it were that of her God, raised
her up, carried her to the lift with infinite precautions in which
there was, with the fear of hurting her by any clumsy movement, the
humility of one who felt herself unworthy to touch the most precious
thing, to her, in the world, but never once did she raise her eyes,
nor look at the sufferer's face. Perhaps this was in order that my
grandmother might not be saddened by the thought that the sight of her
could alarm her daughter. Perhaps from fear of a grief so piercing
that she dared not face it. Perhaps from reverence, because she did
not feel it permissible to herself, without impiety, to remark the
trace of any mental weakening on those venerated features. Perhaps to
be better able to preserve intact in her memory the image of the true
face of my grandmother, radiant with wisdom and goodness. So they went
up side by side, my grandmother half hidden by her shawl, my mother
turning away her eyes.

Meanwhile there was one person who never took hers from what could be
made out of my grandmother's altered features, at which her daughter
dared not look, a person who fastened on them a gaze wondering,
indiscreet and of evil omen: this was Françoise. Not that she was not
sincerely attached to my grandmother (indeed she had been disappointed
and almost scandalised by the coldness shewn by Mamma, whom she would
have liked to see fling herself weeping into her mother's arms), but
she had a certain tendency always to look at the worse side of things,
she had retained from her childhood two peculiarities which would seem
to be mutually exclusive, but which when combined strengthened one
another: the want of restraint common among people of humble origin
who make no attempt to conceal the impression, in other words the
painful alarm, aroused in them by the sight of a physical change which
it would be in better taste to appear not to notice, and the unfeeling
coarseness of the peasant who begins by tearing the wings off
dragon-flies until she is allowed to wring the necks of chickens, and
lacks that modesty which would make her conceal the interest that she
feels in the sight of suffering flesh.

When, thanks to the faultless ministrations of Françoise, my
grandmother had been put to bed, she discovered that she could speak
much more easily, the little rupture or obstruction of a blood-vessel
which had produced the uraemia having apparently been quite slight.
And at once she was anxious not to fail Mamma in her hour of need, to
assist her in the most cruel moments through which she had yet had to

"Well, my child," she began, taking my mother's hand in one of her
own, and keeping the other in front of her lips, so as to account for
the slight difficulty which she still found in uttering certain words.
"So this is all the pity you shew your mother! You look as if you
thought that indigestion was quite a pleasant thing!"

Then for the first time my mother's eyes gazed passionately into those
of my grandmother, not wishing to see the rest of her face, and she
replied, beginning the list of those false promises which we swear but
are unable to fulfil:

"Mamma, you will soon be quite well again, your daughter will see to

And embodying all her dearest love, all her determination that her
mother should recover, in a kiss to which she entrusted them, and
which she followed with her mind, with her whole being until it
flowered upon her lips, she bent down to lay it humbly, reverently
upon the precious brow. My grandmother complained of a sort of
alluvial deposit of bedclothes which kept gathering all the time in
the same place, over her left leg, and from which she could never
manage to free herself. But she did not realise that she was herself
the cause of this (so that day after day she accused Françoise
unjustly of not 'doing' her bed properly). By a convulsive movement
she kept flinging to that side the whole flood of those billowing
blankets of fine wool, which gathered there like the sand in a bay
which is very soon transformed into a beach (unless the inhabitants
construct a breakwater) by the successive deposits of the tide.

My mother and I (whose falsehood was exposed before we spoke by the
obnoxious perspicacity of Françoise) would not even admit that my
grandmother was seriously ill, as though such an admission might give
pleasure to her enemies (not that she had any) and it was more loving
to feel that she was not so bad as all that, in short from the same
instinctive sentiment which had led me to suppose that Andrée was too
sorry for Albertine to be really fond of her. The same individual
phenomena are reproduced in the mass, in great crises. In a war, the
man who does not love his country says nothing against it, but regards
it as lost, commiserates it, sees everything in the darkest colours.

Françoise was of infinite value to us owing to her faculty of doing
without sleep, of performing the most arduous tasks. And if, when she
had gone to bed after several nights spent in the sick-room, we were
obliged to call her a quarter of an hour after she had fallen asleep,
she was so happy to be able to do the most tiring duties as if they
had been the simplest things in the world that, so far from looking
cross, her face would light up with a satisfaction tinged with
modesty. Only when the time came for mass, or for breakfast, then, had
my grandmother been in her death agony, still Françoise would have
quietly slipped away so as not to make herself late. She neither could
nor would let her place be taken by her young footman. It was true
that she had brought from Combray an extremely exalted idea of
everyone's duty towards ourselves; she would not have tolerated that
any of our servants should 'fail' us. This doctrine had made her so
noble, so imperious, so efficient an instructor that there had never
come to our house any servants, however corrupted who had not speedily
modified, purified their conception of life so far as to refuse to
touch the usual commissions from tradesmen and to come
rushing—however little they might previously have sought to
oblige—to take from my hands and not let me tire myself by carrying
the smallest package. But at Combray Françoise had contracted
also—and had brought with her to Paris—the habit of not being able
to put up with any assistance in her work. The sight of anyone coming
to help her seemed to her like receiving a deadly insult, and servants
had remained for weeks in the house without receiving from her any
response to their morning greeting, had even gone off on their
holidays without her bidding them good-bye or their guessing her
reason, which was simply and solely that they had offered to do a
share of her work on some day when she had not been well. And at this
moment when my grandmother was so ill Françoise's duties seemed to her
peculiarly her own. She would not allow herself, she, the official
incumbent, to be done out of her part in the ritual of these festal
days. And so her young footman, sent packing by her, did not know
what to do with himself, and not content with having copied the
butler's example and supplied himself with note-paper from my desk had
begun as well to borrow volumes of poetry from my bookshelves. He sat
reading them for a good half of the day, out of admiration for the
poets who had written them, but also so as, during the rest of his
time, to begem with quotations the letters which he wrote to his
friends in his native village. Naturally he expected these to dazzle
them. But as there was little sequence in his ideas he had formed the
notion that these poems, picked out at random from my shelves, were
matters of common knowledge, to which it was customary to refer. So
much so that in writing to these peasants, whose stupefaction he
discounted, he interspersed his own reflexions with lines from
Lamartine, just as he might have said "Who laughs last, laughs
longest!" or merely "How are you keeping?"

To ease her pain my grandmother was given morphine. Unfortunately, if
this relieved her in other ways, it increased the quantity of albumen.
The blows which we aimed at the wicked ogre who had taken up his abode
in my grandmother were always wide of the mark, and it was she, her
poor interposed body that had to bear them, without her ever uttering
more than a faint groan by way of complaint. And the pain that we
caused her found no compensation in a benefit which we were unable to
give her. The savage ogre whom we were anxious to exterminate we
barely succeeded in touching, and all we did was to enrage him
still further, and possibly hasten the moment at which he would devour
his luckless captive. On certain days when the discharge of albumen
had been excessive Cottard, after some hesitation, stopped the
morphine. In this man, so insignificant, so common, there was, in
these brief moments in which he deliberated, in which the relative
dangers of one and another course of treatment presented themselves
alternately to his mind until he arrived at a decision, the same sort
of greatness as in a general who, vulgar in all the rest of his life,
is a great strategist, and in an hour of peril, after a moment's
reflexion, decides upon what is from the military point of view the
wisest course, and gives the order: "Advance eastwards." Medically,
however little hope there might be of setting any limit to this attack
of uraemia, it did not do to tire the kidneys. But, on the other hand,
when my grandmother did not have morphine, her pain became unbearable;
she perpetually attempted a certain movement which it was difficult
for her to perform without groaning. To a great extent, suffering is
a sort of need felt by the organism to make itself familiar with a new
state, which makes it uneasy, to adapt its sensibility to that state.
We can discern this origin of pain in the case of certain
inconveniences which are not such for everyone. Into a room filled
with a pungent smoke two men of a coarse fibre will come and attend to
their business; a third, more highly strung, will betray an incessant
discomfort. His nostrils will continue to sniff anxiously the odour
he ought, one would say, to try not to notice but will keep on
attempting to attach, by a more exact apprehension of it, to his
troubled sense of smell. One consequence of which may well be that his
intense preoccupation will prevent him from complaining of a
toothache. When my grandmother was in pain the sweat trickled over the
pink expanse of her brow, glueing to it her white locks, and if she
thought that none of us was in the room she would cry out: "Oh, it's
dreadful!" but if she caught sight of my mother, at once she employed
all her energy in banishing from her face every sign of pain, or—an
alternative stratagem—repeated the same plaints, accompanying them
with explanations which gave a different sense, retrospectively, to
those which my mother might have overheard.

"Oh! My dear, it's dreadful to have to stay in bed on a beautiful
sunny day like this when one wants to be out in the air; I am crying
with rage at your orders."

But she could not get rid of the look of anguish in her eyes, the
sweat on her brow, the convulsive start, checked at once, of her

"There is nothing wrong. I'm complaining because I'm not lying very
comfortably. I feel my hair is untidy, my heart is bad, I knocked
myself against the wall."

And my mother, at the foot of the bed, riveted to that suffering form,
as though, by dint of piercing with her gaze that pain-bedewed brow,
that body which hid the evil thing within it, she could have succeeded
in reaching that evil thing and carrying it away, my mother said:

"No, no, Mamma dear, we won't let you suffer like that, we will find
something to take it away, have patience just for a moment; let me
give you a kiss, darling—no, you're not to move."

And stooping over the bed, with bended knees, almost kneeling on the
ground, as though by an exercise of humility she would have a better
chance of making acceptable the impassioned gift of herself, she
lowered towards my grandmother her whole life contained in her face as
in a ciborium which she extended over her, adorned in relief with
dimples and folds so passionate, so sorrowful, so sweet that one knew
not whether they had been carved by the chisel of a kiss, a sob or a
smile. My grandmother also, tried to lift up her face to Mamma's. It
was so altered that probably' had she been strong enough to go out,
she would have been recognised only by the feather in her hat. Her
features, like the clay in a sculptor's hands seemed to be straining,
with an effort which distracted her from everything else, to conform
to some particular model which we failed to identify. This business of
modelling was now almost finished, and if my grandmother's face had
shrunk in the process it had at the same time hardened. The veins that
ran beneath its surface seemed those not of a piece of marble but of
some more rugged stone. Constantly thrust forwards by the difficulty
that she found in breathing and as constantly forced back on to her
pillow by exhaustion, her face, worn, diminished, terribly expressive,
seemed like, in a primitive, almost prehistoric carving, the rude,
flushed, purplish, desperate face of some savage guardian of a tomb.
But the whole task was not yet accomplished. Next, her resistance must
be overcome, and that tomb, the entrance to which she had so painfully
guarded, with that tense contraction, entered.

In one of those moments in which, as the saying goes, one does not
know what saint to invoke, as my grandmother was coughing and sneezing
a good deal, we took the advice of a relative who assured us that if
we sent for the specialist X—— he would get rid of all that in a
couple of days. People say that sort of thing about their own
doctors, and their friends believe them just as Françoise always
believed the advertisements in the newspapers. The specialist came
with his bag packed with all the colds and coughs of his other
patients, like Aeolus's bottle. My grandmother refused point-blank to
let herself be examined. And we, out of consideration for the doctor,
who had had his trouble for nothing, deferred to the desire that he
expressed to inspect each of our noses in turn, albeit there was
nothing the matter with any of them. According to him, however, there
was; everything, whether headache or colic, heart-disease or diabetes,
was a disease of the nose that had been wrongly diagnosed. To each of
us he said: "I should like to have another look at that little cornea.
Don't put it off too long. I can soon get rid of it for you with a hot
needle." We were, of course, thinking of something quite different.
And yet we asked ourselves: "Get rid of what?" In a word, every one of
our noses was diseased; his mistake lay only in his use of the present
tense. For by the following day his examination and provisional
treatment had taken effect. Each of us had his or her catarrh. And
when in the street he ran into my father doubled up with a cough, he
smiled to think that an ignorant layman might suppose the attack to be
due to his intervention. He had examined us at a moment when we were
already ill.

My grandmother's illness gave occasion to various people to manifest
an excess or deficiency of sympathy which surprised us quite as much
as the sort of chance which led one or another of them to reveal to us
connecting links of circumstances, or of friendship for that matter,
which we had never suspected. And the signs of interest shewn by the
people who called incessantly at the house to inquire revealed to us
the gravity of an illness which, until then, we had not sufficiently
detached from the countless painful impressions that we received in my
grandmother's room. Summoned by telegram, her sisters declined to
leave Combray. They had discovered a musician there who gave them
excellent chamber concerts, in listening to which they thought that
they could find, better than by the invalid's bedside, food for
thought, a melancholy exaltation the form of which was, to say the
least of it, unusual. Mme. Sazerat wrote to Mamma, but in the tone of
a person whom the sudden breaking off of a betrothal (the cause of the
rupture being her Dreyfusism) has parted from one for ever. Bergotte,
on the other hand, came every day and spent several hours with me.

He had always made a habit of going regularly for some time to the
same house, where, accordingly, he need not stand on ceremony. But
formerly it had been in order that he might talk without being
interrupted; now it was so that he might sit for as long as he chose
in silence, without being expected to talk. For he was very ill, some
people said with albuminuria, like my grandmother. According to
another version, he had a tumour. He grew steadily weaker; it was
with difficulty that he came up our staircase, with greater difficulty
still that he went down it. Even though he held on to the banisters he
often stumbled, and he would, I believe, have stayed at home had he
not been afraid of losing altogether the habit of going out, the
capacity to go out, he, the 'man with the little beard' whom I had
seen so alert, not very long since. He was now quite blind and even
his speech was frequently obstructed.

But at the same time, by a directly opposite process, the body of his
work, known only to a few literary people at the period when Mme.
Swann used to patronise their timid efforts to disseminate it, now
grown in stature and strength before the eyes of all, had acquired an
extraordinary power of expansion among the general public. The general
rule is, no doubt, that only after his death does a writer become
famous. But it was while he still lived, and during his slow progress
towards a death that he had not yet reached that this writer was able
to watch the progress of his works towards Renown. A dead writer can
at least be illustrious without any strain on himself. The effulgence
of his name is stopped short by the stone upon his grave. In the
deafness of the eternal sleep he is not importuned by Glory. But for
Bergotte the antithesis was still incomplete. He existed still
sufficiently to suffer from the tumult. He was moving still, though
with difficulty, while his books, bounding about him, like daughters
whom one loves but whose impetuous youthfulness and noisy pleasures
tire one, brought day after day, to his very bedside, a crowd of fresh

The visits which he now began to pay us came for me several years too
late, for I had no longer the same admiration for him as of old. Which
is not in any sense incompatible with the growth of his reputation. A
man's work seldom becomes completely understood and successful before
that of another writer, still obscure, has begun in the minds of
certain people more difficult to please to substitute a fresh cult for
one that has almost ceased to command observance. In the books of
Bergotte which I constantly reread, his sentences stood out as clearly
before my eyes as my own thoughts the furniture in my room and the
carriages in the street. All the details were quite easily seen, not
perhaps precisely as one had always seen them but at any rate as one
was accustomed to see them now. But a new writer had recently begun to
publish work in which the relations between things were so different
from those that connected them for me that I could understand hardly
anything of what he wrote. He would say, for instance: "The hose-pipes
admired the smart upkeep of the roads" (and so far it was simple, I
followed him smoothly along those roads) "which started every five
minutes from Briand and Claudel." At that point I ceased to
understand, because I had expected the name of a place and was given
that of a person instead. Only I felt that it was not the sentence
that was badly constructed but I myself that lacked the strength and
ability necessary to reach the end. I would start afresh striving
tooth and nail to climb to the pinnacle from which I would see things
in their novel relations. And each time, after I had got about halfway
through the sentence, I would fall back again, as later on, when I
joined the Army, in my attempts at the exercise known as the
'bridge-ladder.' I felt nevertheless for the new writer the admiration
which an awkward boy who never receives any marks for gymnastics feels
when he watches another more nimble. And from then onwards I felt less
admiration for Bergotte, whose limpidity began to strike me as
insufficient. There was a time at which people recognised things quite
easily in pictures when it was Fromentin who had painted them, and
could not recognise them at all when it was Renoir.

People of taste and refinement tell us nowadays that Renoir is one of
the great painters of the last century. But in so saying they forget
the element of Time, and that it took a great deal of time, well into
the present century, before Renoir was hailed as a great artist. To
succeed thus in gaining recognition, the original painter, the
original writer proceeds on the lines adopted by oculists. The course
of treatment they give us by their painting or by their prose is not
always agreeable to us. When it is at an end the operator says to us:
"Now look!" And, lo and behold, the world around us (which was not
created once and for all, but is created afresh as often as an
original artist is born) appears to us entirely different from the
old world, but perfectly clear. Women pass in the street, different
from what they used to be, because they are Renoirs, those Renoir
types which we persistently refused to see as women. The carriages,
too, are Renoirs, and the water, and the sky: we feel tempted to go
for a walk in the forest which reminds us of that other which when we
first saw it looked like anything in the world except a forest, like
for instance a tapestry of innumerable shades but lacking precisely
the shades proper to forests. Such is the new and perishable universe
which has just been created. It will last until the next geological
catastrophe is precipitated by a new painter or writer of original

This writer who had taken Bergotte's place in my affections wearied me
not by the incoherence but by the novelty of associations—perfectly
coherent—which my mind was not trained to follow. The fact that it
was always at the same point that I felt myself relinquish my grasp
pointed to a common character in the efforts that I had always to
make. Moreover, when once in a thousand times I did succeed in
following the writer to the end of his sentence, what I saw there was
always of a humour, a truth, a charm similar to those which I had
found long ago in reading Bergotte, only more delightful. I reflected
that it was not so many years since a similar reconstruction of the
world, like that which I was waiting now for his successor to produce,
had been wrought for me by Bergotte himself. Until I was led to ask
myself whether there was indeed any truth in the distinction which we
are always making between art, which is no more advanced now than in
Homer's day, and science with its continuous progress. Perhaps, on
the contrary, art was in this respect like science; each new writer
seemed to me to have advanced beyond the stage of his immediate
predecessor; and how was I to know that in twenty years' time, when I
should be able to accompany without strain or effort the newcomer of
to-day, another might not appear at whose approach he in turn would be
packed off to the limbo to which his own coming would have consigned

I spoke to the latter of the new writer. He gave me a distaste for him
not so much when he said that his art was uncouth, easy and vacuous,
as when he told me that he had seen him, and had almost mistaken him
(so strong was the likeness) for Bloch. From that moment my friend's
features outlined themselves on the printed pages, and I no longer
felt any obligation to make the effort necessary to understand them.
If Bergotte had decried him to me it was less, I fancy, out of
jealousy for a success that was yet to come than out of ignorance of
his work. He read scarcely anything. The bulk of his thought had long
since passed from his brain into his books. He had grown thin, as
though they had been extracted from him by surgical operations. His
reproductive instinct no longer impelled him to any activity, now that
he had given an independent existence to almost all his thoughts. He
led the vegetative life of a convalescent, of a woman after
childbirth; his fine eyes remained motionless, vaguely dazed, like the
eyes of a man who lies on the seashore and in a vague daydream sees
only each little breaking wave. However, if it was less interesting to
talk to him now than I should once have found it, I felt no
compunction for that. He was so far a creature of habit that the
simplest habits, like the most elaborate, once he had formed them,
became indispensable to him for a certain length of time. I do not
know what made him come to our house first of all, but after that
every day it was simply because he had been there the day before. He
would come to the house as he might have gone to a café, so that no
one should talk to him, so that he might—very rarely—talk himself;
one might in short have found in his conduct a sign that he was moved
to sympathise with us in our anxiety, or that he enjoyed my company,
had one sought to draw any conclusion from such an assiduity in
calling. It did not fail to impress my mother, sensitive to everything
that might be regarded as an act of homage to her invalid. And every
day she reminded me: "See that you don't forget to thank him nicely."

We had also—a discreet feminine attention like the refreshments that
are brought to us in the studio, between sittings, by a painter's
mistress—a courteous supplement to those which her husband paid us
professionally, a visit from Mme. Cottard. She came to offer us her
'waiting-woman,' or, if we preferred the services of a man, she would
'scour the country' for one, and, best of all, on our declining, said
that she did hope this was not just a 'put-off on our part, a word
which in her world signifies a false pretext for not accepting an
invitation. She assured us that the Professor, who never referred to
his patients when he was at home, was as sad about it as if it had
been she herself who was ill. We shall see in due course that even if
this had been true it would have been at once a very small and a
considerable admission on the part of the most faithless and the most
attentive of husbands.

Offers as helpful and infinitely more touching owing to the form in
which they were couched (which was a blend of the highest
intelligence, the warmest sympathy, and a rare felicity of expression)
were addressed to me by the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. I had
met him at Balbec where he had come on a visit to one of his aunts,
the Princesse de Luxembourg, being himself at that time merely Comte
de Nassau. He had married, some months later, the charming daughter of
another Luxembourg Princess, extremely rich, because she was the only
daughter of a Prince who was the proprietor of an immense flour-mill.
Whereupon the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, who had no children of his own
and was devoted to his nephew Nassau, had obtained the approval of his
Chamber to his declaring the young man his heir. As with all marriages
of this nature, the origin of the bride's fortune was the obstacle as
it was also the deciding factor. I remembered this Comte de Nassau as
one of the most striking young men I had ever met, already devoured,
at that time, by a dark and blazing passion for his betrothed. I was
deeply touched by the letters which he wrote me, day after day, during
my grandmother's illness, and Mamma herself, in her emotion, quoted
sadly one of her mother's expressions: "Sévigné would not have put it

On the sixth day Mamma, yielding to my grandmother's entreaties, left
her for a little and pretended to go and lie down. I should have liked
(so that my grandmother might go to sleep) Françoise to sit quite
still and not disturb her by moving. In spite of my supplications, she
got up and left the room; she was genuinely devoted to my grandmother;
with her uncanny insight and her natural pessimism she regarded her as
doomed. She would therefore have liked to pay her every possible
attention. But word had just come that an electrician was in the
house, one of the oldest servants of his firm, the head of which was
his brother-in-law, highly esteemed throughout the building, where he
had worked for many years, and especially by Jupien. This man had been
ordered to come before my grandmother's illness. It seemed to me that
he might have been sent away again, or told to wait. But Franchise's
code of manners would not permit of this; it would have been a want of
courtesy towards this worthy man; my grandmother's condition ceased at
once to matter. When, after waiting a quarter of an hour, I lost my
patience and went to look for her in the kitchen, I found her talking
to him on the landing of the back staircase, the door of which stood
open, a device which had the advantage, should any of us come on the
scene, of letting it be thought that they were just saying goodbye,
but had also the drawback of sending a terrible draught through the
house. Françoise tore herself from the workman, not without turning to
shout down after him various greetings, forgotten in her haste, to his
wife and brother-in-law. A typical Combray scruple, not to be found
wanting in politeness, which Françoise extended even to foreign
politics. People foolishly imagine that the vast dimensions of social
phenomena afford them an excellent opportunity to penetrate farther
into the human soul; they ought, on the contrary, to realise that it
is by plumbing the depths of a single personality that they might have
a chance of understanding those phenomena. A thousand times over
Françoise told the gardener at Combray that war was the most senseless
of crimes, that life was the only thing that mattered. Yet, when the
Russo-Japanese war broke out, she was quite ashamed, when she thought
of the Tsar, that we had not gone to war also to help the 'poor
Russians,' "since," she reminded us, "we're allianced to them." She
felt this abstention to be not quite polite to Nicholas II, who had
always "said such nice things about us"; it was a corollary of the
same code which would have prevented her from refusing a glass of
brandy from Jupien, knowing that it would 'upset' her digestion, and
which brought it about that now, with my grandmother lying at death's
door, the same meanness of which she considered France guilty in
remaining neutral with regard to Japan she would have had to admit in
herself, had she not gone in person to make her apologies to this good
electrician who had been put to so much trouble.

Luckily for ourselves, we were soon rid of Françoise's daughter, who
was obliged to be away for some weeks. To the regular stock of advice
which people at Combray gave to the family of an invalid: "You haven't
tried taking him away for a little... the change of air, you know...
pick up an appetite... etc?" she had added the almost unique idea,
which she had specially created in her own imagination, and repeated
accordingly whenever we saw her, without fail, as though hoping by
dint of reiteration to force it through the thickness of people's
heads: "She ought to have taken herself in hand _radically_ from the
first." She did not recommend any one cure rather than another,
provided that it were 'radical.' As for Françoise herself, she noticed
that we were not giving my grandmother many medicines. Since,
according to her, they only destroyed the stomach, she was quite glad
of this, but at the same time even more humiliated. She had, in the
South of France, some cousins—relatively well-to-do—whose daughter,
after falling ill just as she was growing up, had died at
twenty-three; for several years the father and mother had ruined
themselves on drugs, on different doctors, on pilgrimages from one
watering-place to another, until her decease. Now all this seemed to
Françoise, for the parents in question, a kind of luxury, as though
they had owned racehorses, or a Place in the country. They themselves,
in the midst of their affliction, derived a certain gratification from
the thought of such lavish expenditure. They had now nothing left,
least of all their most precious possession, their child, but they did
enjoy telling people how they had done as much for her and more than
the richest in the land. The ultra-violet rays to the action of which,
several times a day for months on end, the poor girl had been
subjected, delighted them more than anything. The father, elated in
his grief by the glory of it all, was led to speak of his daughter at
times as of an operatic star for whose sake he had ruined himself.
Françoise was not unmoved by this wealth of scenic effect; that which
framed my grandmother's sickbed seemed to her a trifle meagre, suited
rather to an illness on the stage of a small provincial theatre.

There came a time when her uraemic trouble affected my grandmother's
eyes. For some days she could not see at all. Her eyes were not at all
like those of a blind person, but remained just the same as before.
And I gathered that she could see nothing only from the strangeness of
a certain smile of welcome which she assumed the moment one opened the
door, until one had come up to her and taken her hand, a smile which
began too soon and remained stereotyped on her lips, fixed, but always
full-faced, and endeavouring to be visible from all points, because
she could no longer rely upon her sight to regulate it, to indicate
the right moment, the proper direction, to bring it to the point, to
make it vary according to the change of position or of facial
expression of the person who had come in; because it was left
isolated, without the accompanying smile in her eyes which would have
distracted a little from it the attention of the visitor, it assumed
in its awkwardness an undue importance, giving one the impression of
an exaggerated friendliness. Then her sight was completely restored;
from her eyes the wandering affliction passed to her ears. For several
days my grandmother was deaf. And as she was afraid of being taken by
surprise by the sudden entry of some one whom she would not have heard
come in, all day long, albeit she was lying with her face to the wall,
she kept turning her head sharply towards the door. But the movement
of her neck was clumsy, for one cannot adapt oneself in a few days to
this transposition of faculties, so as, if not actually to see sounds,
to listen with one's eyes. Finally her pain grew less, but the
impediment of her speech increased. We were obliged to ask her to
repeat almost everything that she said.

And now my grandmother, realising that we could no longer understand
her, gave up altogether the attempt to speak and lay perfectly still.
When she caught sight of me she gave a sort of convulsive start like a
person who suddenly finds himself unable to breathe, but could make no
intelligible sound. Then, overcome by her sheer powerlessness, she let
her head drop on to the pillows, stretched herself out flat in her
bed, her face grave, like a face of marble, her hands motionless on
the sheet or occupied in some purely physical action such as that of
wiping her fingers with her handkerchief. She made no effort to
think. Then came a state of perpetual agitation. She was incessantly
trying to get up. But we restrained her so far as we could from doing
so, for fear of her discovering how paralysed she was. One day when
she had been left alone for a moment I found her standing on the floor
in her nightgown trying to open the window.

At Balbec, once, when a widow who had jumped into the sea had been
rescued against her will, my grandmother had told me (moved perhaps by
one of those presentiments which we discern at times in the
mystery—so obscure, for all that—of the organic life around us, in
which nevertheless it seems that our own future is foreshadowed) that
she could think of nothing so cruel as to tear a poor wretch from the
death that she had deliberately sought and restore her to her living

We were just in time to catch my grandmother, she put up an almost
violent resistance to my mother, then, overpowered, seated forcibly in
an armchair, she ceased to wish for death, to regret being alive, her
face resumed its impassivity and she began laboriously to pick off the
hairs that had been left on her nightgown by a fur cloak which
somebody had thrown over her shoulders.

The look in her eyes changed completely; often uneasy, plaintive,
haggard, it was no longer the look we knew, it was the sullen
expression of a doddering old woman....

By dint of repeatedly asking her whether she would not like her hair
done, Françoise managed to persuade herself that the request had come
from my grandmother. She armed herself with brushes, combs, eau de
Cologne, a wrapper. "It can't hurt Madame Amédée," she said to
herself, "if I just comb her; nobody's ever too ill for a good
combing." In other words, one was never too weak for another person to
be able, for her own satisfaction, to comb one. But when I came into
the room I saw between the cruel hands of Françoise, as blissfully
happy as though she were in the act of restoring my grandmother to
health, beneath a thin rain of aged tresses which had not the strength
to resist the action of the comb, a head which, incapable of
maintaining the position into which it had been forced, was rolling to
and fro with a ceaseless swirling motion in which sheer debility
alternated with spasms of pain. I felt that the moment at which
Françoise would have finished her task was approaching, and I dared
not hasten it by suggesting to her: "That is enough," for fear of her
disobeying me. But I did forcibly intervene when, in order that my
grandmother might see whether her hair had been done to her liking,
Françoise, with innocent savagery, brought her a glass. I was glad for
the moment that I had managed to snatch it from her in time, before my
grandmother, whom we had carefully kept without a mirror, could catch
even a stray glimpse of a face unlike anything she could have
imagined. But, alas, when, a moment later, I leaned over her to kiss
that dear forehead which had been so harshly treated, she looked up at
me with a puzzled, distrustful, shocked expression: she did not know

According to our doctor, this was a symptom that the congestion of her
brain was increasing. It must be relieved in some way.

Cottard was in two minds. Françoise hoped at first that they were
going to apply 'clarified cups.' She looked for the effects of this
treatment in my dictionary, but could find no reference to it. Even if
she had said 'scarified' instead of 'clarified' she still would not
have found any reference to this adjective, since she did not look any
more for it under 'S' than under 'C'; she did indeed say 'clarified'
but she wrote (and consequently assumed that the printed word was)
'esclarified.' Cottard, to her disappointment, gave the preference,
though without much hope, to leeches. When, a few hours later, I went
into my grandmother's room, fastened to her neck, her temples, her
ears, the tiny black serpents were writhing among her bloodstained
locks, as on the head of Medusa. But in her pale and peaceful entirely
motionless face I saw wide open, luminous and calm, her own beautiful
eyes, as in days gone by (perhaps even more charged with the light of
intelligence than they had been before her illness, since, as she
could not speak and must not move, it was to her eyes alone that she
entrusted her thought, that thought which at one time occupies an
immense place in us, offering us undreamed-of treasures, at another
time seems reduced to nothing, then may be reborn, as though by
spontaneous generation, by the withdrawal of a few drops of blood),
her eyes, soft and liquid like two pools of oil in which the rekindled
fire that was now burning lighted before the face of the invalid a
reconquered universe. Her calm was no longer the wisdom of despair,
but that of hope. She realised that she was better, wished to be
careful, not to move, and made me the present only of a charming smile
so that I should know that she was feeling better, as she gently
pressed my hand.

I knew the disgust that my grandmother felt at the sight of certain
animals, let alone being touched by them. I knew that it was in
consideration of a higher utility that she was enduring the leeches.
And so it infuriated me to hear Françoise repeating to her with that
laugh which people use to a baby, to make it crow: "Oh, look at the
little beasties running about on Madame." This was, moreover, treating
our patient with a want of respect, as though she were in her second
childhood. But my grandmother, whose face had assumed the calm
fortitude of a stoic, did not seem even to hear her.

Alas! No sooner had the leeches been taken off than the congestion
returned and grew steadily worse. I was surprised to find that at this
stage, when my grandmother was so ill, Françoise was constantly
disappearing. The fact was that she had ordered herself a mourning
dress, and did not wish to keep her dressmaker waiting. In the lives
of most women, everything, even the greatest sorrow, resolves itself
into a question of 'trying-on.'

A few days later, when I was in bed and sleeping, my mother came to
call me in the early hours of the morning. With that tender
consideration which, in great crises, people who are crushed by grief
shew even for the slightest discomfort of others:

"Forgive me for disturbing your sleep," she said to me.

"I was not asleep," I answered as I awoke.

I said this in good faith. The great modification which the act of
awakening effects in us is not so much that of introducing us to the
clear life of consciousness, as that of making us lose all memory of
that other, rather more diffused light in which our mind has been
resting, as in the opaline depths of the sea. The tide of thought,
half veiled from our perception, over which we were drifting still a
moment ago, kept us in a state of motion perfectly sufficient to
enable us to refer to it by the name of wakefulness. But then our
actual awakenings produce an interruption of memory. A little later we
describe these states as sleep because we no longer remember them. And
when shines that bright star which at the moment of waking illuminates
behind the sleeper the whole expanse of his sleep, it makes him
imagine for a few moments that this was not a sleeping but a waking
state; a shooting star, it must be added, which blots out with the
fading of its light not only the false existence but the very
appearance of our dream, and merely enables him who has awoken to say
to himself: "I was asleep."

In a voice so gentle that she seemed to be afraid of hurting me, my
mother asked whether it would tire me too much to get out of bed, and,
stroking my hands, went on:

"My poor boy, you have only your Papa and Mamma to help you now."

We went into the sickroom. Bent in a semicircle on the bed a creature
other than my grandmother, a sort of wild beast which was coated with
her hair and couched amid her bedclothes lay panting, groaning, making
the blankets heave with its convulsions. The eyelids were closed, and
it was because the one nearer me did not shut properly, rather than
because it opened at all that it left visible a chink of eye, misty,
filmed, reflecting the dimness both of an organic sense of vision and
of a hidden, internal pain. All this agitation was not addressed to
us, whom she neither saw nor knew. But if this was only a beast that
was stirring there, where could my grandmother be? Yes, I could
recognise the shape of her nose, which bore no relation now to the
rest of her face, but to the corner of which a beauty spot still
adhered, and the hand that kept thrusting the blankets aside with a
gesture which formerly would have meant that those blankets were
pressing upon her, but now meant nothing.

Mamma asked me to go for a little vinegar and water with which to
sponge my grandmother's forehead. It was the only thing that refreshed
her, thought Mamma, who saw that she was trying to push back her hair.
But now one of the servants was signalling to me from the doorway. The
news that my grandmother was in the last throes had spread like
wildfire through the house. One of those 'extra helps' whom people
engage at exceptional times to relieve the strain on their servants (a
practice which gives deathbeds an air of being social functions) had
just opened the front door to the Duc de Guermantes, who was now
waiting in the hall and had asked for me: I could not escape him.

"I have just, my dear Sir, heard your tragic news. I should like, as a
mark of sympathy, to shake hands with your father." I made the excuse
that I could not very well disturb him at the moment. M. de Guermantes
was like a caller who turns up just as one is about to start on a
journey. But he felt so intensely the importance of the courtesy he
was shewing us that it blinded him to all else, and he insisted upon
being taken into the drawing-room. As a general rule, he made a point
of going resolutely through the formalities with which he had decided
to honour anyone, and took little heed that the trunks were packed or
the coffin ready.

"Have you sent for Dieulafoy? No? That was a great mistake. And if you
had only asked me, I would have got him to come, he never refuses me
anything, although he has refused the Duchesse de Chartres before now.
You see, I set myself above a Princess of the Blood. However, in the
presence of death we are all equal," he added, not that he meant to
suggest that my grandmother was becoming his equal, but probably
because he felt that a prolonged discussion of his power over
Dieulafoy and his pre-eminence over the Duchesse de Chartres would not
be in very good taste.

This advice did not in the least surprise me. I knew that, in the
Guermantes set, the name of Dieulafoy was regularly quoted (only with
slightly more respect) among those of other tradesmen who were 'quite
the best' in their respective lines. And the old Duchesse de Mortemart
_née_ Guermantes (I never could understand, by the way, why, the
moment one speaks of a Duchess, one almost invariably says: "The old
Duchess of So-and-so" or, alternatively, in a delicate Watteau tone,
if she is still young: "The little Duchess of So-and-so,") would
prescribe almost automatically, with a droop of the eyelid, in serious
cases: "Dieulafoy, Dieulafoy!" as, if one wanted a place for ices, she
would advise: 'Poiré Blanche,' or for small pastry 'Rebattet,
Rebattet.' But I was not aware that my father had, as a matter of
fact, just sent for Dieulafoy.

At this point my mother, who was waiting impatiently for some
cylinders of oxygen which would help my grandmother to breathe more
easily, came out herself to the hall where she little expected to find
M. de Guermantes. I should have liked to conceal him, had that been
possible. But convinced in his own mind that nothing was more
essential, could be more gratifying to her or more indispensable to
the maintenance of his reputation as a perfect gentleman, he seized me
violently by the arm and, although I defended myself as against an
assault with repeated protestations of "Sir, Sir, Sir," dragged me
across to Mamma, saying: "Will you do me the great honour of
presenting me to your mother?" letting go a little as he came to the
last word. And it was so plain to him that the honour was hers that he
could not help smiling at her even while he was composing a grave
face. There was nothing for it but to mention his name, the sound of
which at once started him bowing and scraping, and he was just going
to begin the complete ritual of salutation. He apparently proposed to
enter into conversation, but my mother, overwhelmed by her grief, told
me to come at once and did not reply to the speeches of M. de
Guermantes who, expecting to be received as a visitor and finding
himself instead left alone in the hall, would have been obliged to
retire had he not at that moment caught sight of Saint-Loup who had
arrived in Paris that morning and had come to us in haste to inquire
for news. "I say, this is a piece of luck!" cried the Duke joyfully,
catching his nephew by the sleeve, which he nearly tore off,
regardless of the presence of my mother who was again crossing the
hall. Saint-Loup was not sorry, I fancy, despite his genuine sympathy,
at having missed seeing me, considering his attitude towards myself.
He left the house, carried off by his uncle who,—having had something
very important to say to him and having very nearly gone down to
Doncières on purpose to say it, was beside himself with joy at being
able to save himself so much exertion. "Upon my soul, if anybody had
told me I had only to cross the courtyard and I should find you here,
I should have thought it a huge joke; as your friend M. Bloch would
say, it's a regular farce." And as he disappeared down the stairs with
Robert whom he held by the shoulder: "All the same," he went on, "it's
quite clear I must have touched the hangman's rope or something; I do
have the most astounding luck." Not that the Duc de Guermantes was
ill-bred; far from it. But he was one of those men who are incapable
of putting themselves in the place of other people, who resemble in
that respect undertakers and the majority of doctors, and who, after
composing their faces and saying: "This is a very painful occasion,"
after, if need be, embracing you and advising you to rest, cease to
regard a deathbed or a funeral as anything but a social gathering of a
more or less restricted kind at which, with a joviality that has been
checked for a moment only, they scan the room in search of the person
whom they can tell about their own little affairs, or ask to introduce
them to some one else, or offer a 'lift' in their carriage when it is
time to go home. The Duc de Guermantes, while congratulating himself
on the 'good wind' that had blown him into the arms of his nephew, was
still so surprised at the reception—natural as it was—that had been
given him by my mother, that he declared later on that she was as
disagreeable as my father was civil, that she had 'absent fits' during
which she seemed literally not to hear a word you said to her, and
that in his opinion she had no self-possession and perhaps even was
not quite 'all there.' At the same time he had been quite prepared
(according to what I was told) to put this state of mind down, in part
at any rate, to the circumstances, and declared that my mother had
seemed to him greatly 'affected' by the sad event. But he had still
stored up in his limbs all the residue of bows and reverences which he
had been prevented from using up, and had so little idea of the real
nature of Mamma's sorrow that he asked me, the day before the funeral,
if I was not doing anything to distract her.

A half-brother of my grandmother, who was in religion, and whom I had
never seen, had telegraphed to Austria, where the head of his Order
was, and having as a special privilege obtained leave, arrived that
day. Bowed down with grief, he sat by the bedside reading prayers and
meditations from a book, without, however, taking his gimlet eyes from
the invalid's face. At one point, when my grandmother was unconscious,
the sight of this cleric's grief began to upset me, and I looked at
him tenderly. He appeared surprised by my pity, and then an odd thing
happened. He joined his hands in front of his face, like a man
absorbed in painful meditation, but, on the assumption that I would
then cease to watch him, left, as I observed, a tiny chink between his
fingers. And at the moment when my gaze left his face, I saw his sharp
eye, which had been making use of its vantage-point behind his hands
to observe whether my sympathy were sincere. He was hidden there as in
the darkness of a confessional. He saw that I was still looking and at
once shut tight the lattice which he had left ajar. I have met him
again since then, but never has any reference been made by either of
us to that minute. It was tacitly agreed that I had not noticed that
he was spying on me. In the priest as in the alienist, there is always
an element of the examining magistrate. Besides, what friend is there,
however cherished, in whose and our common past there has not been
some such episode which we find it convenient to believe that he must
have forgotten?

The doctor gave my grandmother an injection of morphine, and to make
her breathing less troublesome ordered cylinders of oxygen. My mother,
the doctor, the nursing sister held these in their hands; as soon as
one was exhausted another was put in its place. I had left the room
for a few minutes. When I returned I found myself face to face with a
miracle. Accompanied on a muted instrument by an incessant murmur, my
grandmother seemed to be greeting us with a long and blissful chant,
which filled the room, rapid and musical. I soon realized that this
was scarcely less unconscious, that it was as purely mechanical as the
hoarse rattle that I had heard before leaving the room. Perhaps to a
slight extent it reflected some improvement brought about by the
morphine. Principally it was the result (the air not passing quite in
the same way through the bronchial tubes) of a change in the register
of her breathing. Released by the twofold action of the oxygen and the
morphine, my grandmother's breath no longer laboured, panted, groaned,
but, swift and light, shot like a skater along the delicious stream.
Perhaps with her breath, unconscious like that of the wind in the
hollow stem of a reed, there were blended in this chant some of those
more human sighs which, liberated at the approach of death, make us
imagine impressions of suffering or happiness in minds which already
have ceased to feel, and these sighs came now to add a more melodious
accent, but without changing its rhythm, to that long phrase which
rose, mounted still higher, then declined, to start forth afresh, from
her unburdened bosom in quest of the oxygen. Then, having risen to so
high a pitch, having been sustained with so much vigour, the chant,
mingled with a murmur of supplication from the midst of her ecstasy,
seemed at times to stop altogether like a spring that has ceased to

Françoise, in any great sorrow, felt the need but did not possess the
art—as simple as that need was futile—of giving it expression.
Regarding my grandmother's case as quite hopeless, it was her own
personal impressions that she was impelled to communicate to us. And
all that she could do was to repeat: "It makes me feel all queer," in
the same tone in which she would say, when she had taken too large a
plateful of cabbage broth: "It's like a load on my stomach,"
sensations both of which were more natural than she seemed to think.
Though so feebly expressed, her grief was nevertheless very great, and
was aggravated moreover by her annoyance that her daughter, detained
at Combray (to which this young Parisian now referred as 'the
Cambrousse' and where she felt herself growing '_pétrousse_,' in other
words fossilised), would not, presumably, be able to return in time
for the funeral ceremony, which was certain, Françoise felt, to be a
superb spectacle. Knowing that we were not inclined to be expansive,
she made Jupien promise at all costs to keep every evening in the week
free. She knew that he would be engaged elsewhere at the hour of the
funeral. She was determined at least to 'go over it all' with him on
his return.

For several nights now my father, my grandfather and one of our
cousins had been sitting up, and never left the house during the day.
Their continuous devotion ended by assuming a mask of indifference,
and their interminable leisure round the deathbed made them indulge in
that small talk which is an inseparable accompaniment of prolonged
confinement in a railway carriage. Anyhow this cousin (a nephew of my
great-aunt) aroused in me an antipathy as strong as the esteem which
he deserved and generally enjoyed. He was always 'sent for' in times
of great trouble, and was so assiduous in his attentions to the dying
that their mourning families, on the pretext that he was in delicate
health, despite his robust appearance, his bass voice and bristling
beard, invariably besought him, with the customary euphemisms, not to
come to the cemetery. I could tell already that Mamma, who thought of
others in the midst of the most crushing grief, would soon be saying
to him, in a very different form of words, what he was in the habit of
hearing said on all such occasions:

"Promise me that you won't come 'to-morrow.' Please, for 'her sake.'
At any rate, you won't go 'all the way.' It's what she would have

But there was nothing for it; he was always the first to arrive 'at
the house,' by reason of which he had been given, among another set,
the nickname (unknown to us) of 'No flowers by request.' And before
attending everything he had always 'attended to everything,' which
entitled him to the formula: "We don't know how to thank you."

"What's that?" came in a loud voice from my grandfather, who had grown
rather deaf and had failed to catch something which our cousin had
just said to my father.

"Nothing," answered the cousin. "I was just saying that I'd heard from
Combray this morning. The weather is appalling down there, and here
we've got too much sun."

"Yet the barometer is very low," put in my father.

"Where did you say the weather was bad?" asked my grandfather.

"At Combray."

"Ah! I'm not surprised; whenever it's bad here it's fine at Combray,
and vice versa. Good gracious! Talking of Combray, has anyone
remembered to tell Legrandin?"

"Yes, don't worry about that, it's been done," said my cousin, whose
cheeks, bronzed by an irrepressible growth of beard, dimpled faintly
with the satisfaction of having 'remembered' it.

At this point my father hurried from the room. I supposed that a
sudden change, for better or worse, had occurred. It was simply that
Dr. Dieulafoy had just arrived. My father went to receive him in the
drawing-room, like the actor who is to come next on the stage. We had
sent for him not to cure but to certify, in almost a legal capacity.
Dr. Dieulafoy might indeed be a great physician, a marvellous
professor; to these several parts, in which he excelled, he added a
third, in which he remained for forty years without a rival, a part as
original as that of the arguer, the scaramouch or the noble father,
which consisted in coming to certify an agony or a death. The mere
sound of his name foreshadowed the dignity with which he would sustain
the part, and when the servant announced: "M. Dieulafoy," one imagined
oneself at a play by Molière. To the dignity of his attitude was
added, without being conspicuous, the suppleness of a perfect figure.
A face in itself too good-looking was toned down by the convention due
to distressing circumstances. In the sable majesty of his frock coat
the Professor entered the room, melancholy without affectation,
uttered not the least word of condolence, which might have been
thought insincere, nor was he guilty of the slightest infringement of
the rules of tact. At the foot of a deathbed it was he and not the Duc
de Guermantes who was the great gentleman Having examined my
grandmother, but not so as to tire her, and with ari excess of reserve
which was an act of courtesy to the doctor who was treating the case,
he murmured a few words to my father, bowed respectfully to my mother
to whom I felt that my father had positively to restrain himself from
saying: "Professor Dieulafoy." But already our visitor had turned
away, not wishing to seem to be soliciting an introduction, and left
the room in the most polished manner conceivable, simply taking with
him the sealed envelope that was slipped into his hand. He had not
appeared to see it, and we ourselves were left wondering for a moment
whether we had really given it to him, such a conjurer's nimbleness
had he put into the act of making it vanish without thereby losing
anything of the gravity—which was increased rather—of the great
consultant in his long frock coat with its silken lapels, and his
handsome head full of a noble commiseration. The slowness and
vivacity of his movements shewed that, even if he had a hundred other
visits to pay and patients waiting, he refused to appear hurried. For
he was the embodiment of tact, intelligence and kindness. That eminent
man is no longer with us. Other physicians, other professors may have
rivalled, may indeed have surpassed him. But the 'capacity' in which
his knowledge, his physical endowments, his distinguished manners made
him triumph exists no longer for want of any successor capable of
taking his place. Mamma had not even noticed M. Dieulafoy, everything
that was not my grandmother having no existence for her. I remember
(and here I anticipate) that at the cemetery, where we saw her, like a
supernatural apparition, go up timidly to the grave and seem to be
gazing in the wake of a flying form that was already far away, my
father having remarked to her: "Old Norpois came to the house and to
the church and on here; he gave up a most important committee meeting
to come; you ought really to say a word to him, he'll be so gratified
if you do," my mother, when the Ambassador stood before her and bowed,
could do no more than gently incline a face that shewed no tears. A
couple of days earlier—to anticipate once again before returning to
where we were just now by the bed on which my grandmother lay
dying—while they were watching by the body, Françoise, who, not
disbelieving entirely in ghosts, was terrified by the least sound, had
said: "I believe that's her." But in place of fear it was an ineffable
sweetness that her words aroused in my mother, who would have been so
glad that the dead should return, to have her mother with her
sometimes still.

To return now to those last hours, "You heard about the telegram her
sisters sent us?" my grandfather asked the cousin.

"Yes, Beethoven, they told me about it, it's worth framing; still, I'm
not surprised."

"My poor wife, who was so fond of them, too," said my grandfather,
wiping away a tear. "We mustn't blame them. They're stark mad, both of
them, as I've always said. What's the matter now; aren't you going on
with the oxygen?"

My mother spoke: "Oh, but then Mamma will be having more trouble with
her breathing."

The doctor reassured her: "Oh, no! The effect of the oxygen will last
a good while yet; we can begin it again presently."

It seemed to me that he would not have said this of a dying woman,
that if this good effect were to last it meant that we could still do
something to keep her alive. The hiss of the oxygen ceased for a few
moments, But the happy plaint of her breathing poured out steadily,
light, troubled, unfinished, without end, beginning afresh. Now and
then it seemed that all was over, her breath stopped, whether owing to
one of those transpositions to another octave that occur in the
breathing of a sleeper, or else from a natural interruption, an effect
of unconsciousness, the progress of asphyxia, some failure of the
heart. The doctor stooped to feel my grandmother's pulse, but already,
as if a tributary were pouring its current into the dried river-bed, a
fresh chant broke out from the interrupted measure. And the first was
resumed in another pitch with the same inexhaustible force. Who knows
whether, without indeed my grandmother's being conscious of them, a
countless throng of happy and tender memories compressed by suffering
were not escaping from her now, like those lighter gases which had
long been compressed in the cylinders? One would have said that
everything thai she had to tell us was pouring out, that it was to us
that she was addressing herself with this prolixity, this earnestness,
this effusion. At the foot of the bed, convulsed by every gasp of this
agony, not weeping but now and then drenched with tears, my mother
presented the unreasoning desolation of a leaf which the rain lashes
and the wind twirls on its stem. They made me dry my eyes before I
went up to kiss my grandmother.

"But I thought she couldn't see anything now?" said my father.

"One can never be sure," replied the doctor.

When my lips touched her face, my grandmother's hands quivered, a long
shudder ran through her whole body, reflex perhaps, perhaps because
certain affections have their hyperaesthesia which recognises through
the veil of unconsciousness what they barely need senses to enable
them to love. Suddenly my grandmother half rose, made a violent
effort, as though struggling to resist an attempt on her life.
Françoise could not endure this sight and burst out sobbing.
Remembering what the doctor had just said I tried to make her leave
the room. At that moment my grandmother opened her eyes. I thrust
myself hurriedly in front of Françoise to hide her tears, while my
parents were speaking to the sufferer. The sound of the oxygen had
ceased; the doctor moved away from the bedside. My grandmother was

An hour or two later Françoise was able for the last time, and without
causing them any pain, to comb those beautiful tresses which had only
begun to turn grey and hitherto had seemed not so old as my
grandmother herself. But now on the contrary it was they alone that
set the crown of age on a face grown young again, from which had
vanished the wrinkles, the contractions, the swellings, the strains,
the hollows which in the long course of years had been carved on it by
suffering. As at the far-off time when her parents had chosen for her
a bridegroom, she had the features delicately traced by purity and
submission, the cheeks glowing with a chaste expectation, with a
vision of happiness, with an innocent gaiety even which the years had
gradually destroyed. Life in withdrawing from her had taken with it
the disillusionments of life. A smile seemed to be hovering on my
grandmother's lips. On that funeral couch, death, like a sculptor of
the middle ages, had laid her in the form of a young maiden.



ALBEIT it was simply a Sunday in autumn, I had been born again, life
lay intact before me, for that morning, after a succession of mild
days, there had been a cold mist which had not cleared until nearly
midday. A change in the weather is sufficient to create the world and
oneself anew. Formerly, when the wind howled in my chimney, I would
listen to the blows which it struck on the iron trap with as keen an
emotion as if, like the famous bow-taps with which the C Minor
Symphony opens, they had been the irresistible appeal of a mysterious
destiny. Every change in the aspect of nature offers us a similar
transformation by adapting our desires so as to harmonise with the new
form of things. The mist, from the moment of my awakening, had made of
me, instead of the centrifugal being which one is on fine days, a
self-centred man, longing for the chimney corner and the nuptial
couch, a shivering Adam in quest of a sedentary Eve, in this different

Between the soft grey tint of a morning landscape and the taste of a
cup of chocolate I tried to account for all the originality of the
physical, intellectual and moral life which I had taken with me, about
a year earlier, to Doncières, and which, blazoned with the oblong form
of a bare hillside—always present even when it was invisible—formed
in me a series of pleasures entirely distinct from all others,
incommunicable to my friends, in the sense that the impressions,
richly interwoven with one another, which gave them their orchestral
accompaniment were a great deal more characteristic of them, to my
subconscious mind, than any facts that I might have related. From
this point of view the new world in which the mist of this morning had
immersed me was a world already known to me (which only made it more
real) and forgotten for some time (which restored all its novelty).
And I was able to look at several of the pictures of misty landscapes
which my memory had acquired, notably a series of 'Mornings at
Doncières,' including my first morning there in barracks and another,
in a neighbouring country house, where I had gone with Saint-Loup to
spend the night: in which from the windows, whose curtains I had drawn
back at daybreak, before getting into bed again, in the first a
trooper, in the second (on the thin margin of a pond and a wood all
the rest of which was engulfed in the uniform and liquid softness of
the mist) a coachman busy polishing a strap had appeared to me like
those rare figures, scarcely visible to the eye obliged to adapt
itself to the mysterious vagueness of their half-lights, which emerge
from an obliterated fresco.

It was from my bed that I was looking this afternoon at these
pictorial memories, for I had gone back to bed to wait until the hour
came at which, taking advantage of the absence of my parents, who had
gone for a few days to Combray, I proposed to get up and go to a
little play which was being given that evening in Mme. de
Villeparisis's drawing-room. Had they been at home I should perhaps
not have ventured to go out; my mother in the delicacy of her respect
for my grandmother's memory, wished the tokens of regret that were
paid to it to be freely and sincerely given; she would not have
forbidden me this outing, she would have disapproved of it. From
Combray, on the other hand, had I consulted her wishes, she would not
have replied in a melancholy: "Do just as you like; you are old enough
now to know what is right or wrong," but, reproaching herself for
having left me alone in Paris, and measuring my grief by her own,
would have wished for it distractions of a sort which she would have
refused to herself, and which she persuaded herself that my
grandmother, solicitous above all things for my health and the
preservation of my nervous balance, would have advised me to take.

That morning the furnace of the new steam heater had for the first
time been lighted. Its disagreeable sound—an intermittent
hiccough—had no part whatsoever in my memories of Doncières. But its
prolonged encounter, in me this afternoon, with them was to give it so
lasting an affinity with them that whenever, after succeeding more or
less in forgetting it, I heard the central heater hiccough again it
reminded me of them.

There was no one else in the house but Françoise. The grey light,
falling like a fine rain on the earth, wove without ceasing a
transparent web through which the Sunday holiday-makers appeared in a
silvery sheen. I had flung to the foot of my bed the _Figaro_, for
which I had been sending out religiously every morning, ever since I
had sent in an article which it had not yet printed; despite the
absence of the sun, the intensity of the daylight was an indication
that we were still only half-way through the afternoon. The tulle
window-curtains, vaporous and friable as they would not have been on a
fine day, had that same blend of beauty and fragility that dragon
flies' wings have, and Venetian glass. It depressed me all the more
that I should be spending this Sunday by myself because I had sent a
note that morning to Mlle. de Stermaria. Robert de Saint-Loup, whom
his mother had at length succeeded in parting—after painful and
abortive attempts—from his mistress, and who immediately afterwards
had been sent to Morocco in the hope of his there forgetting one whom
he had already for some little time ceased to love, had sent me a
line, which had reached me the day before, announcing his arrival,
presently, in France for a short spell of leave. As he would only be
passing through Paris (where his family were doubtless afraid of
seeing him renew relations with Rachel), he informed me, to shew me
that he had been thinking of me, that he had met at Tangier Mile, or
rather Mme. (for she had divorced her husband three months after their
marriage) de Stermaria. And Robert, remembering what I had told him at
Balbec, had asked her, on my behalf, to arrange a meeting. She would
be delighted to dine with me, she had told him, on one of the evenings
which, before her return to Brittany, she would be spending in Paris.
He warned me to lose no time in writing to Mme. de Stermaria, for she
would certainly have arrived before I got his letter. This had come
as no surprise to me, even although I had had no news of him since, at
the time of my grandmother's last illness, he had accused me of
perfidy and treachery. It had then been quite easy to see what must
have happened. Rachel, who liked to provoke his jealousy—she had
other reasons also for wishing me harm—had persuaded her lover that I
had made a dastardly attempt to have relations with her in his
absence. It is probable that he continued to believe in the truth of
this allegation, but he had ceased to be in love with her, which meant
that its truth or falsehood had become a matter of complete
indifference to him, and our friendship alone remained. When, on
meeting him again, I attempted to speak to him about his attack on me
his sole answer was a cordial and friendly smile, which gave him the
air of begging my pardon; then he turned the conversation to something
else. All this was not to say that he did not, a little later, see
Rachel occasionally when he was in Paris. The fellow-creatures who
have played a leading part in one's life very rarely disappear from it
suddenly with any finality. They return to take their old place in it
at odd moments (so much so as to lead people to believe in a renewal
of old love) before leaving it for ever. Saint-Loup's breach with
Rachel had very soon become less painful to him, thanks to the
soothing pleasure that was given him by her incessant demands for
money. Jealousy, which prolongs the course of love, is not capable of
containing many more ingredients than are the other forms of
imagination. If one takes with one, when one starts on a journey,
three or four images which incidentally one is sure to lose on the way
(such as the lilies and anemones heaped on the Ponte Vecchio, or the
Persian church shrouded in mist), one's trunk is already pretty full.
When one parts from a mistress one would be just as glad, until one
has begun to forget her, that she should not become the property of
three or four potential protectors whom one has in one's mind's eye,
of whom, that is to say, one is jealous: all those whom one does not
so picture count for nothing. Now frequent demands for money from a
cast-off mistress no more give one a complete idea of her life than
charts shewing a high temperature would of her illness. But the latter
would at any rate be an indication that she was ill, and the former
furnish a presumption, vague enough, it is true, that the forsaken
one, or forsaker (whichever she be) cannot have found anything very
remarkable in the way of rich protectors. And so each demand is
welcomed with the joy which a lull produces in the jealous one's
sufferings, while he responds to it at once by dispatching money, for
naturally he does not like to think of her being in want of anything,
except lovers (one of the three lovers he has in his mind's eye),
until time has enabled him to regain his composure and he can learn
without the slightest emotion the name of his successor. Sometimes
Rachel came in so late at night that she could ask her former lover's
permission to lie down beside him until the morning. This was a great
comfort to Robert, for it refreshed his memory of how they had, after
all, lived in intimacy together merely to see that even if he took the
greater part of the bed for himself it did not in the least interfere
with her sleep. He realised that she was more comfortable, lying close
to his body, than she would have been elsewhere, that she felt
herself, by his side—even in an hotel—to be in a bedroom known of
old, in which the force of habit prevails and one sleeps better. He
felt that his shoulders, his limbs, all of him were for her, even when
he was unduly restless, from sleeplessness or from having to get up in
the night things so entirely usual that they could not disturb her,
and that the perception of them added still further to her sense of

To revert to where we were, I had been all the more disquieted by
Robert's letter in that I could read between the lines what he had not
ventured to write more explicitly. "You can most certainly ask her to
dine in a private room," he told me. "She is a charming young person,
a delightful nature you will get on splendidly with her, and I am sure
you will have a capital evening together." As my parents were
returning at the end of the week on Saturday or Sunday, and as after
that I should be forced to dine every evening at home, I had written
at once to Mme. de Stermaria, proposing any evening that might suit
her, up to Friday. A message was brought back that I should hear from
her in writing the same evening, about eight o'clock. The time would
have passed quickly enough if I had had, during the afternoon that
separated me from her letter, the help of a visit from anyone else.
When the hours pass wrapped in conversation one ceases to count, or
indeed to notice them, they vanish, and suddenly it is a long way
beyond the point at which it escaped you that there reappears the
nimble truant time. But if we are alone, our preoccupation, by
bringing before us the still distant and incessantly awaited moment
with the frequency and uniformity of a ticking pendulum, divides, or
rather multiplies the hours by all the minutes which, had we been with
friends, we should not have counted. And confronted, by the incessant
return of my desire, with the ardent pleasure which I was going to
taste—not for some days though, alas!—in Mme. de Stermaria's
company, this afternoon, which I should have to spend by myself,
seemed to me very empty and very melancholy.

Every now and then I heard the sound of the lift coming up, but it was
followed by a second sound, not that for which I was hoping, namely
the sound of its coming to a halt at our landing, but another very
different sound which the lift made in continuing its progress to the
floors above and which, because it so often meant the desertion of my
floor when I was expecting a visitor, remained for me at other times,
even when I had no wish to see anyone, a sound lugubrious in itself,
in which there echoed, as it were, a sentence of solitary confinement.
Weary, resigned, busy for several hours still over its immemorial
task, the grey day stitched its shimmering needlework of light and
shade, and it saddened me to think that I was to be left alone with a
thing that knew me no more than would a seamstress who, installed by
the window so as to see better while she finished her work, paid no
attention to the person present with her in the room. Suddenly,
although I had heard no bell, Françoise opened the door to let in
Albertine, who came forward smiling, silent, plump, containing in the
fulness of her body, made ready so that I might continue living them,
come in search of me, the days we had spent together at that Balbec to
which I had never since returned. No doubt, whenever we see again a
person with whom our relations—however trivial they may have
been—are altered, it is like a juxtaposition of two different
periods. For this, we do not require that a former mistress should
come to call upon us as a friend, all that we need is the visit to
Paris of a person whom we had known in the daily round of some
particular kind of life, and that this life should have ceased for us,
were it no more than a week ago. On each of Albertine's smiling,
questioning, blushing features I could read the questions: "And Madame
de Villeparisis? And the dancing-master? And the pastry-cook?" When
she sat down her back seemed to be saying: "Gracious! There's no cliff
here; you don't mind if I sit down beside you, all the same, as I used
to do at Balbec?" She was like an enchantress handing me a mirror that
reflected time. In this she was like all the people whom we seldom see
now but with whom at one time we lived on more intimate terms. With
Albertine, however, there was something more than this. Certainly,
even at Balbec, in our daily encounters, I had always been surprised
when she came in sight, so variable was her appearance from day to
day. But now it was difficult to recognise her. Cleared of the pink
vapour that used to bathe them, her features had emerged like those of
a statue. She had another face, or rather she had a face at last; her
body too had grown. There remained scarcely anything now of the shell
in which she had been enclosed and on the surface of which, at Balbec,
her future outline had been barely visible.

This time, Albertine had returned to Paris earlier than usual. As a
rule she came only in the spring, which meant that, already disturbed
for some weeks past by the storms that were beating down the first
flowers, I did not distinguish, in the elements of the pleasure that I
felt, the return of Albertine from that of the fine weather. It was
enough that I should be told that she was in Paris and that she had
called at the house, for me to see her again like a rose flowering by
the sea. I cannot say whether it was the desire for Balbec or for
herself that overcame me at such moments; possibly my desire for her
was itself a lazy, cowardly, and incomplete method of possessing
Balbec, as if to possess a thing materially, to take up one's abode in
a town, were equivalent to possessing it spiritually. Besides, even
materially, when she was no longer posed by my imagination before a
horizon of sea, but sitting still in a room with me, she seemed to me
often a very poor specimen of a rose, so poor, indeed, that I would
gladly have shut my eyes in order not to observe this or that blemish
of its petals, and to imagine instead that I was inhaling the salt air
on the beach.

I must say it at this point, albeit I was not then aware of what was
to happen only later on. Certainly, it is more reasonable to devote
one's life to women than to postage stamps or old snuff-boxes, even to
pictures or statues. Only the example of other collectors should be a
warning to us to make changes, to have not one woman only but several.
Those charming suggestions in which a girl abounds of a sea-beach, of
the braided hair of a statue in church, of an old print, of everything
that makes one see and admire in her, whenever she appears, a charming
composition, those suggestions are not very stable. Live with a woman
altogether and you will soon cease to see any of the things that made
you love her; though I must add that these two sundered elements can
be reunited by jealousy. If, after a long period of life in common, I
was to end by seeing nothing more in Albertine than an ordinary woman,
an intrigue between her and some person whom she had loved at Balbec
would still suffice, perhaps, to reincorporate in her, to amalgamate
the beach and the unrolling of the tide. Only, as these secondary
suggestions no longer captivate our eyes, it is to the heart that they
are perceptible and fatal. We cannot, under so dangerous a form,
regard the repetition of the miracle as a thing to be desired. But I
am anticipating the course of years. And here I need only state my
regret that I did not have the sense simply to have kept my collection
of women as people keep their collections of old quizzing glasses,
never so complete, in their cabinet, that there is not room always for
another and rarer still.

Departing from the customary order of her holiday movements, this year
she had come straight from Balbec, where furthermore she had not
stayed nearly so late as usual. It was a long time since I had seen
her, and as I did not know even by name the people with whom she was
in the habit of mixing in Paris, I could form no impression of her
during the periods in which she abstained from coming to see me. These
lasted often for quite a time. Then, one fine day, in would burst
Albertine whose rosy apparitions and silent visits left me little if
any better informed as to what she might have been doing in an
interval which remained plunged in that darkness of her hidden life
which my eyes felt little anxiety to pierce.

This time, however, certain signs seemed to indicate that some new
experience must have entered into that life. And yet, perhaps, all
that one was entitled to conclude from them was that girls change very
rapidly at the age which Albertine had now reached. For instance, her
intellect was now more in evidence, and on my reminding her of the day
when she had insisted with so much ardour on the superiority of her
idea of making Sophocles write: "My dear Racine," she was the first to
laugh, quite wholeheartedly, at her own stupidity. "Andrée was quite
right; it was stupid of me," she admitted. "Sophocles ought to have
begun: 'Sir.'" I replied that the 'Sir,' and 'Dear Sir,' of Andrée
were no less comic than her own 'My dear Racine,' or Gisèle's 'My dear
Friend,' but that after all the really stupid people were the
Professors who still went on making Sophocles write letters to Racine.
Here, however, Albertine was unable to follow me. She could not see in
what the silliness consisted; her intelligence was dawning, but had
not fully developed. There were other more attractive novelties in
her; I felt, in this same pretty girl who had just sat down by my bed,
something that was different; and in those lines which, in one's eyes
and other features, express one's general attitude towards life, a
change of front, a partial conversion, as though there had now been
shattered those resistances against which I had hurled my strength in
vain at Balbec, one evening, now remote in time, on which we formed a
couple symmetrical with but the converse of our present arrangement,
since then it had been she who was lying down and I who sat by her
bedside. Wishing and not venturing to make certain whether now she
would let herself be kissed, every time that she rose to go I asked
her to stay beside me a little longer. This was a concession not very
easy to obtain, for albeit she had nothing to do (otherwise she would
have rushed from the house) she was a person methodical in her habits
and moreover not very gracious towards me, scarcely to be at ease in
my company, and yet each time, after looking at her watch, she sat
down again at my request until finally she had spent several hours
with me without my having asked her for anything; the things I was
saying to her followed logically those that I had said during the
hours before, and bore no relation to what I was thinking about, what
I desired from her, remained indefinitely parallel. There is nothing
like desire for preventing the thing one says from bearing any
resemblance to what one has in one's mind. Time presses, and yet it
seems as though we were seeking to gain time by speaking of subjects
absolutely alien to that by which we are obsessed. We then arrange
that the sentence which we should like to utter shall be accompanied,
or rather preluded, by a gesture, supposing that is to say that we
have not to give ourselves the pleasure of an immediate demonstration
and to gratify the curiosity we feel as to the reactions which will
follow it, without a word said, without even a 'By your leave,'
already made this gesture. Certainly I was not in the least in love
with Albertine; child of the mists outside, she could merely content
the imaginative desire which the change of weather had awakened in me
and which was midway between the desires that are satisfied by the
arts of the kitchen and of monumental sculpture respectively, for it
made me dream simultaneously of mingling with my flesh a substance
different and warm, and of attaching at some point to my outstretched
body a body divergent, as the body of Eve barely holds by the feet to
the side of Adam, to whose body hers is almost perpendicular, in those
romanesque bas-reliefs on the church at Balbec which represent in so
noble and so reposeful a fashion, still almost like a classical
frieze, the Creation of Woman; God in them is everywhere followed, as
by two ministers, by two little angels in whom the visitor
recognises—like winged, swarming summer creatures which winter has
surprised and spared—cupids from Herculaneum, still surviving well
into the thirteenth century, and winging their last slow flight, weary
but never failing in the grace that might be expected of them, over
the whole front of the porch.

As for this pleasure which by accomplishing my desire would have set
me free from these meditations and which I should have sought quite as
readily from any other pretty woman, had I been asked upon what—in
the course of this endless flow of talk throughout which I took care
to keep from Albertine the one thing that was in my mind—was based my
optimistic hypothesis with regard to her possible complaisances, I
should perhaps have answered that this hypothesis was due (while the
forgotten outlines of Albertine's voice retraced for me the contour of
her personality) to the apparition of certain words which did not form
part of her vocabulary, or at least not in the acceptation which she
now gave them. Thus she said to roe that Elstir was stupid, and, on my

"You don't understand," she replied, smiling, "I mean that it was
stupid of him to behave like that; of course I know he's quite a
distinguished Person, really."

Similarly, wishing to say of the Fontainebleau golf club that it was
smart, she declared: "They are quite a selection."

Speaking of a duel that I had fought, she said of my seconds: "What
very choice seconds," and looking at my face confessed that she would
like to see me 'wear a moustache.' She even went so far (and my chance
appeared then enormous) as to announce, in a phrase of which I would
have sworn that she was ignorant a year earlier, that since she had
last seen Gisèle there had passed a certain 'lapse of time.' This was
not to say that Albertine had not already possessed, when I was at
Balbec, a quite adequate assortment of those expressions which reveal
at once that one's people are in easy circumstances, and which, year
by year, a mother passes on to her daughter just as she bestows on
her, gradually, as the girl grows up, on important occasions, her own
jewels. It was evident that Albertine had ceased to be a little girl
when one day, to express her thanks for a present which a strange lady
had given her, she had said: "I am quite confused." Mme. Bontemps
could not help looking across at her husband whose comment was:

"Gad, she's old for fourteen."

The approach of nubility had been more strongly marked still when
Albertine, speaking of another girl whose tone was bad, said: "One
can't even tell whether she's pretty, she paints her face a foot
thick." Finally, though still a schoolgirl, she already displayed the
manner of a grown woman of her upbringing and station when she said,
of some one whose face twitched: "I can't look at him, because it
makes me want to do the same," or, if some one else were being
imitated: "The absurd thing about it is that when you imitate her
voice you look exactly like her." All these are drawn from the social
treasury. But it did not seem to me possible that Albertine's natural
environment could have supplied her with 'distinguished,' used in the
sense in which my father would say of a colleague whom he had not
actually met, but whose intellectual attainments he had heard praised:
"It appears he's quite a distinguished person." 'Selection,' even when
used of a golf club, seemed to me as incompatible with the Simonet
family as it would be if preceded by the adjective 'Natural,' with a
text published centuries before the researches of Darwin. 'Lapse of
time' struck me as being of better augury still. Finally there
appeared the evidence of certain upheavals, the nature of which was
unknown to me, but sufficient to justify me in all my hopes when
Albertine announced, with the satisfaction of a person whose opinion
is by no means to be despised:

"To my mind, that is the best thing that could possibly happen. I
regard it as the best solution, the stylish way out."

This was so novel, so manifestly an alluvial deposit giving one to
suspect such capricious wanderings over soil hitherto unknown to her,
that on hearing the words 'to my mind' I drew Albertine towards me,
and at 'I regard' made her sit on the side of my bed.

No doubt it does happen that women of moderate culture, on marrying
well-read men, receive such expressions as part of their
paraphernalia. And shortly after the metamorphosis which follows the
wedding night, when they begin to pay calls, and talk shyly to the
friends of their girlhood, one notices with surprise that they have
turned into matrons if, in deciding that some person is intelligent,
they sound both 'l's in the word; but that is precisely the sign of a
change of state, and I could see a difference when I thought of the
vocabulary of the Albertine I had known of old—a vocabulary in which
the most daring flights were to say of any unusual person: 'He's a
type,' or, if you suggested a game of cards to her: 'I've no money to
lose,' or again, if any of her friends were to reproach her, in terms
which she felt to be undeserved: 'That really is magnificent!' an
expression dictated in such cases by a sort of middle-class tradition
almost as old as the _Magnificat_ itself, and one which a girl
slightly out of temper and confident that she is in the right employs,
as the saying is, 'quite naturally,' that is to say because she has
learned the words from her mother, just as she has learned to say her
prayers or to greet a friend. All these expressions Mme. Bontemps had
imparted to her at the same time as her hatred of the Jews and her
feeling for black, which was always suitable and becoming, indeed
without any formal instruction, but as the piping of the parent
goldfinches serves as a model for that of the young ones, recently
hatched, so that they in turn grow into true goldfinches also. But
when all was said, 'selection' appeared to me of alien growth and 'I
regard' encouraging. Albertine was no longer the same; which meant
that she would not perhaps act, would not react in the same way.

Not only did I no longer feel any love for her, but I had no longer to
consider, as I should have had at Balbec, the risk of shattering in
her an affection for myself, which no longer existed. There could be
no doubt that she had long since become quite indifferent to me. I was
well aware that to her I was in no sense a member now of the 'little
band' into which I had at one time so anxiously sought and had then
been so happy to have secured admission. Besides, as she had no longer
even, as in Balbec days, an air of frank good nature, I felt no
serious scruples: still I believe that what made me finally decide was
another philological discovery. As, continuing to add fresh links to
the external chain of talk behind which I hid my intimate desire, I
spoke, having Albertine secure now on the corner of my bed, of one of
the girls of the little band, one smaller than the rest, whom,
nevertheless, I had thought quite pretty, "Yes," answered Albertine,
"she reminds me of a little _mousmé_." There had been nothing in the
world to shew, when I first knew Albertine, that she had ever heard
the word _mousmé_. It was probable that, had things followed their
normal course, she would never have learned it, and for my part I
should have seen no cause for regret in that, for there is no more
horrible word in the language. The mere sound of it makes one's teeth
ache as they do when one has put too large a spoonful of ice in one's
mouth. But coming from Albertine, as she sat there looking so pretty,
not even '_mousmé_' could strike me as unpleasant. On the contrary, I
felt it to be a revelation, if not of an outward initiation, at any
rate of an inward evolution. Unfortunately it was now time for me to
bid her good-bye if I wished her to reach home in time for her dinner,
and myself to be out of bed and dressed in time for my own. It was
Françoise who was getting it ready; she did not like having to keep it
back, and must already have found it an infringement of one of the
articles of her code that Albertine, in the absence of my parents,
should be paying me so prolonged a visit, and one which was going to
make everything late. But before '_mousmé_' all these arguments fell
to the ground and I hastened to say:

"Just fancy; I'm not in the least ticklish; you can go on tickling me
for an hour on end and I won't even feel it."


"I assure you."

She understood, doubtless, that this was the awkward expression of a
desire on my part, for, like a person who offers to give you an
introduction for which you have not ventured to ask him, though what
you have said has shewn him that it would be of great service to you.

"Would you like me to try?" she inquired, with womanly meekness.

"Just as you like, but you would be more comfortable if you lay down
properly on the bed."

"Like that?"

"No; get right on top."

"You're sure I'm not too heavy?"

As she uttered these words the door opened and Françoise, carrying a
lamp, came in. Albertine had just time to fling herself back upon her
chair. Perhaps Françoise had chosen this moment to confound us,
having been listening at the door or even peeping through the keyhole.
But there was no need to suppose anything of the sort; she might have
scorned to assure herself, by the use of her eyes, of what her
instinct must plainly enough have detected, for by dint of living with
me and my parents her fears, her prudence, her alertness, her cunning
had ended by giving her that instinctive and almost prophetic
knowledge of us all that the mariner has of the sea, the quarry of the
hunter, and, of the malady, if not the physician, often at any rate
the patient. The amount of knowledge that she managed to acquire would
have astounded a stranger, and with as good reason as does the
advanced state of certain arts and sciences among the ancients, seeing
that there was practically no source of information open to them. (Her
sources were no larger. They were a few casual remarks forming barely
a twentieth part of our conversation at dinner, caught on the wing by
the butler and inaccurately transmitted to the kitchen.) Again, her
mistakes were due, like theirs, like the fables in which Plato
believed, rather to a false conception of the world and to
preconceived ideas than to the insufficiency of the materials at her
disposal. Only the other day, has it not been possible for the most
important discoveries as to the habits of insects to be made by a
scientist who had access to no laboratory and used no instruments of
any sort? But if the drawbacks arising from her menial position had
not prevented her from acquiring a stock of learning indispensable to
the art which was its ultimate goal—and which consisted in putting us
to confusion by communicating to us the results of her
discoveries—the limitations under which she worked had done more; in
this case the impediment, not content with merely not paralysing the
flight of her imagination, had greatly strengthened it. Of course
Françoise never let slip any artificial device, those for example of
diction and attitude. Since (if she never believed what we said to
her, hoping that she would believe it) she admitted without any shadow
of doubt the truth of anything that any person of her own condition in
life might tell her, however absurd, which might at the same time
prove shocking to our ideas, just as her way of listening to our
assertions bore witness to her incredulity, so the accents in which
she reported (the use of indirect speech enabling her to hurl the most
deadly insults at us with impunity) the narrative of a cook who had
told her how she had threatened her employers, and won from them, by
treating them before all the world like dirt, any number of privileges
and concessions, shewed that the story was to her as gospel. Françoise
went so far as to add: "I'm sure, if I had been the mistress I should
have been quite vexed." In vain might we, despite our scant sympathy
at first with the lady on the fourth floor, shrug our shoulders, as
though at an unlikely fable, at this report of so shocking an example;
in making it the teller was able to speak with the crushing, the
lacerating force of the most unquestionable, most irritating

But above all, just as great writers often attain to a power of
concentration from which they would have been dispensed under a system
of political liberty or literary anarchy, when they are bound by the
tyranny of a monarch or of a school of poetry, by the severity of
prosodic laws or of a state religion, so Françoise, not being able to
reply to us in an explicit fashion, spoke like Tiresias and would have
written like Tacitus. She managed to embody everything that she could
not express directly in a sentence for which we could not find fault
with her without accusing ourselves, indeed in less than a sentence,
in a silence, in the way in which she placed a thing in a room.

Thus when I happened to leave, by accident, on my table, among a pile
of other letters, one which it was imperative that she should not see,
because, let us say, it referred to her with a dislike which afforded
a presumption of the same feeling towards her in the recipient as in
the writer, that evening, if I came home with a troubled conscience
and went straight to my room, there on top of my letters, neatly
arranged in a symmetrical pile, the compromising document caught my
eye as it could not possibly have failed to catch the eye of
Françoise, placed by her right at the top, almost separated from the
rest, in a prominence that was a form of speech, that had an eloquence
all its own, and, as I stood in the doorway, made me shudder like a
cry. She excelled in the preparation of these scenic effects, intended
so to enlighten the spectator, in her absence, that he already knew
that she knew everything when in due course she made her appearance.
She possessed, for thus making an inanimate object speak, the art, at
once inspired and painstaking, of Irving or Frédéric Lemaître. On this
occasion, holding over Albertine and myself the lighted lamp whose
searching beams missed none of the still visible depressions which the
girl's body had hollowed in the counterpane, Françoise made one think
of a picture of 'Justice throwing light upon Crime.' Albertine's face
did not suffer by this illumination. It revealed on her cheeks the
same sunny burnish that had charmed me at Balbec. This face of
Albertine, the general effect of Which sometimes was, out of doors, a
sort of milky pallor, now shewed, according as the lamp shone on them,
surfaces so dazzlingly, so uniformly coloured, so firm, so glowing
that one might have compared them to the sustained flesh tints of
certain flowers. Taken aback meanwhile by the unexpected entry of
Françoise, I exclaimed:

"What? The lamp already? I say, the light is strong!"

My object, as may be imagined, was by the second of these ejaculations
to account for my confusion, by the first to excuse my lateness in
rising. Françoise replied with a cruel ambiguity:

"Do you want me to extinglish it?"

"—guish!" Albertine slipped into my ear, leaving me charmed by the
familiar vivacity with which, taking me at once for teacher and for
accomplice, she insinuated this psychological affirmation as though
asking a grammatical question. When Françoise had left the room and
Albertine was seated once again on my bed:

"Do you know what I'm afraid of?" I asked her. "It is that if we go on
like this I may not be able to resist the temptation to kiss you."

"That would be a fine pity."

I did not respond at once to this invitation, which another man might
even have found superfluous, for Albertine's way of pronouncing her
words was so carnal, so seductive that merely in speaking to you she
seemed to be caressing you. A word from her was a favour, and her
conversation covered you with kisses. And yet it was highly attractive
to me, this invitation. It would have been so, indeed, coming from any
pretty girl of Albertine's age; but that Albertine should be now so
accessible to me gave me more than pleasure, brought before my eyes a
series of images that bore the stamp of beauty. I recalled the
original Albertine standing between me and the beach, almost painted
upon a background of sea, having for me no more real existence than
those figures seen on the stage, when one knows not whether one is
looking at the actress herself who is supposed to appear, at an
understudy who for the moment is taking her principal's part, or at a
mere projection from a lantern. Then the real woman had detached
herself from the luminous mass, had come towards me, with the sole
result that I had been able to see that she had nothing in real life
of that amorous facility which one supposed to be stamped upon her in
the magic pictures. I had learned that it was not possible to touch
her, to embrace her, that one might only talk to her, that' for me she
was no more a woman than the jade grapes, an inedible decoration at
one time in fashion on dinner tables, are really fruit. And now she
was appearing to me in a third plane, real as in the second experience
that I had had of her but facile as in the first; facile, and all the
more deliciously so in that I had so long imagined that she was not.
My surplus knowledge of life (of a life less uniform, less simple than
I had at first supposed it to be) inclined me provisionally towards
agnosticism. What can one positively affirm, when the thing that one
thought probable at first has then shewn itself to be false and in the
third instance turns out true? And alas, I was not yet at the end of
my discoveries with regard to Albertine. In any case, even if there
had not been the romantic attraction of this disclosure of a greater
wealth of planes revealed one after another by life (an attraction the
opposite of that which Saint-Loup had felt during our dinners at
Rivebelle on recognising beneath the mask with which the course of
existence had overlaid them, in a calm face, features to which his
lips had once been pressed), the knowledge that to kiss Albertine's
cheeks was a possible thing was a pleasure perhaps greater even than
that of kissing them. What a difference between possessing a woman to
whom one applies one's body alone, because she is no more than a piece
of flesh, and possessing the girl whom one used to see on the beach
with her friends on certain days without even knowing why one saw her
on those days and not on others, which made one tremble to think that
one might not see her again. Life had obligingly revealed to one in
its whole extent the romance of this little girl, had lent one, for
the study of her, first one optical instrument, then another, and had
added to one's carnal desire an accompaniment which multiplied it an
hundredfold and diversified it with those other desires, more
spiritual and less easily assuaged, which do not emerge from their
torpor, leaving carnal desire to move by itself, when it aims only at
the conquest of a piece of flesh, but which to gain possession of a
whole tract of memories, whence they have felt the wretchedness of
exile, rise in a tempest round about it, enlarge, extend it, are
unable to follow it to the accomplishment, the assimilation,
impossible in the form in which it is looked for, of an immaterial
reality, but wait for this desire halfway and at the moment of
recollection, of return furnish it afresh with their escort; to kiss,
instead of the cheeks of the first comer, however cool and fresh they
might be, but anonymous, with no secret, with no distinction, those of
which I had so long been dreaming, would be to know the taste, the
savour of a colour on which I had endlessly gazed. One has seen a
woman, a mere image in the decorative setting of life, like Albertine,
outlined against the sea, and then one has been able to take that
image, to detach it, to bring it close to oneself, gradually to
discern its solidity, its colours, as though one had placed it behind
the glasses of a stereoscope. It is for this reason that the women who
are a little difficult, whose resistance one does not at once
overcome, of whom one does not indeed know at first whether one ever
will overcome it, are alone interesting. For to know them, to
approach them, to conquer them is to make fluctuate in form, in
dimensions, in relief the human image, is an example of relativity in
the appreciation of an image which it is delightful to see afresh when
it has resumed the slender proportions of a silhouette in the setting
of one's life. The women one meets first of all in a brothel are of no
interest because they remain invariable.

In addition, Albertine preserved, inseparably attached to her, all my
impressions of a series of seascapes of which I was particularly fond.
I felt that it was possible for me, on the girl's two cheeks, to kiss
the whole of the beach at Balbec.

"If you really don't mind my kissing you, I would rather put it off
for a little and choose a good moment. Only you mustn't forget that
you've said I may. I shall want a voucher: 'Valid for one kiss.'"

"Shall I have to sign it?"

"But if I took it now, should I be entitled to another later on?"

"You do make me laugh with your vouchers; I shall issue a new one
every now and then."

"Tell me; just one thing more. You know, at Balbec, before I had been
introduced to you, you used often to have a hard, calculating look;
you can't tell me what you were thinking about when you looked like

"No; I don't remember at all."

"Wait; this may remind you: one day your friend Gisèle put her feet
together and jumped over the chair an old gentleman was sitting in.
Try to remember what was in your mind at that moment."

"Gisèle was the one we saw least of; she did belong to the band, I
suppose, but not properly. I expect I thought that she was very
ill-bred and common."

"Oh, is that all?"

I should certainly have liked, before kissing her, to be able to fill
her afresh with the mystery which she had had for me on the beach
before I knew her, to find latent in her the place in which she had
lived earlier still; for that, at any rate, if I knew nothing of it, I
could substitute all my memories of our life at Balbec, the sound of
the waves rolling up and breaking beneath my window, the shouts of the
children. But when I let my eyes glide over the charming pink globe of
her cheeks, the gently curving surfaces of which ran up to expire
beneath the first foothills of her piled black tresses which ran in
undulating mountain chains, thrust out escarped ramparts and moulded
the hollows of deep valleys, I could not help saying to myself: "Now
at last, after failing at Balbec, I am going to learn the fragrance of
the secret rose that blooms in Albertine's cheeks, and, since the
cycles through which we are able to make things and people pass in the
course of our existence are comparatively few, perhaps I ought now to
regard mine as nearing its end when, having made to emerge from its
remoteness the flowering face that I had chosen from among all others,
I shall have brought it into this new plane in which I shall at last
acquire a tactual experience of it with my lips." I told myself this
because I believed that there was such a thing as knowledge acquired
by the lips; I told myself that I was going to know the taste of this
fleshly rose, because I had never stopped to think that man, a
creature obviously less rudimentary in structure than the sea-urchin
or even the whale, is nevertheless still unprovided with a certain
number of essential organs, and notably possesses none that will serve
for kissing. The place of this absent organ he supplies with his lips,
and thereby arrives perhaps at a slightly more satisfying result than
if he were reduced to caressing the beloved with a horny tusk. But a
pair of lips, designed to convey to the palate the taste of whatever
whets the appetite, must be content, without ever realising their
mistake or admitting their disappointment, with roaming over the
surface and with coming to a halt at the barrier of the impenetrable
but irresistible cheek. Besides, at such moments, at the actual
contact between flesh and flesh, the lips, even supposing them to
become more expert and better endowed, could taste no better probably
the savour which nature prevents their ever actually grasping, for in
that desolate zone in which they are unable to find their proper
nourishment, they are alone; the sense of sight, then that of smell
have long since deserted them. To begin with, as my mouth began
gradually to approach the cheeks which my eyes had suggested to it
that it should kiss, my eyes, changing their position, saw a different
pair of cheeks; the throat, studied at closer range and as though
through a magnifying glass shewed in its coarse grain a robustness
which modified the character of the face.

Apart from the most recent applications of the art of
photography—which set crouching at the foot of a cathedral all the
houses which, time and again, when we stood near them, have appeared
to us to reach almost to the height of the towers, drill and deploy
like a regiment, in file, in open order, in mass, the same famous and
familiar structures, bring into actual contact the two columns on the
Piazzetta which a moment ago were so far apart, thrust away the
adjoining dome of the Salute, and in a pale and toneless background
manage to include a whole immense horizon within the span of a bridge,
in the embrasure of a window, among the leaves of a tree that stands
in the foreground and is portrayed in a more vigorous tone, give
successively as setting to the same church the arched walls of all the
others—I can think of nothing that can so effectively as a kiss evoke
from what we believe to be a thing with one definite aspect, the
hundred other things which it may equally well be since each is
related to a view of it no less legitimate. In short, just as at
Balbec Albertine had often appeared to me different, so now, as if,
wildly accelerating the speed of the changes of aspect and changes of
colouring which a person presents to us in the course of our various
encounters, I had sought to contain them all in the space of a few
seconds so as to reproduce experimentally the phenomenon which
diversifies the individuality of a fellow creature, and to draw out
one from another, like a nest of boxes, all the possibilities that it
contains, in this brief passage of my lips towards her cheek it was
ten Albertines that I saw; this single girl being like a goddess with
several heads, that which I had last seen, if I tried to approach it,
gave place to another. At least so long as I had not touched it, that
head, I could still see it, a faint perfume reached me from it. But
alas—for in this matter of kissing our nostrils and eyes are as ill
placed as our lips are shaped—suddenly my eyes ceased to see; next,
my nose, crushed by the collision, no longer perceived any fragrance,
and, without thereby gaining any clearer idea of the taste of the rose
of my desire, I learned, from these unpleasant signs, that at last I
was in the act of kissing Albertine's cheek.

Was it because we were enacting—as may be illustrated by the rotation
of a solid body—the converse of our scene together at Balbec, because
it was I, now, who was lying in bed and she who sat beside me, capable
of evading any brutal attack and of dictating her pleasure to me, that
she allowed me to take so easily now what she had refused me on the
former occasion with so forbidding a frown? (No doubt from that same
frown the voluptuous expression which her face assumed now at the
approach of my lips differed only by a deviation of its lines
immeasurably minute but one in which may be contained all the
disparity that there is between the gesture of 'finishing off' a
wounded man and that of bringing him relief, between a sublime and a
hideous portrait.) Not knowing whether I had to give the credit, and
to feel grateful for this change of attitude to some unwitting
benefactor who in these last months, in Paris or at Balbec, had been
working on my behalf, I supposed that the respective positions in
which we were now placed might account for it. It was quite another
explanation, however, that Albertine offered me; this, in short: "Oh,
well, you see, that time at Balbec I didn't know you properly. For all
I knew, you might have meant mischief." This argument left me in
perplexity. Albertine was no doubt sincere in advancing it. So
difficult is it for a woman to recognise in the movements of her
limbs, in the sensations felt by her body in the course of an intimate
conversation with a friend, the unknown sin into which she would
tremble to think that a stranger was planning her fall.

In any case, whatever the modifications that had occurred at some
recent time in her life, which might perhaps have explained why it was
that she now readily accorded to my momentary and purely physical
desire what at Balbec she had with horror refused to allow to my love,
another far more surprising manifested itself in Albertine that same
evening as soon as her caresses had procured in me the satisfaction
which she could not have failed to notice, which, indeed, I had been
afraid might provoke in her the instinctive movement of revulsion and
offended modesty which Gilberte had given at a corresponding moment
behind the laurel shrubbery in the Champs-Elysées.

The exact opposite happened. Already, when I had first made her lie on
my bed and had begun to fondle her, Albertine had assumed an air which
I did not remember in her, of docile good will, of an almost childish
simplicity. Obliterating every trace of her customary anxieties and
interests, the moment preceding pleasure, similar in this respect to
the moment after death, had restored to her rejuvenated features what
seemed like the innocence of earliest childhood. And no doubt everyone
whose special talent is suddenly brought into play becomes modest,
devoted, charming; especially if by this talent he knows that he is
giving us a great pleasure, he is himself happy in the display of it,
anxious to present it to us in as complete a form as possible. But in
this new expression on Albertine's face there was more than a mere
profession of disinterestedness, conscience, generosity, a sort of
conventional and unexpected devotion; and it was farther than to her
own childhood, it was to the infancy of the race that she had
reverted. Very different from myself who had looked for nothing more
than a physical alleviation, which I had finally secured, Albertine
seemed to feel that it would indicate a certain coarseness on her part
were she to seem to believe that this material pleasure could be
unaccompanied by a moral sentiment or was to be regarded as
terminating anything. She, who had been in so great a hurry a moment
ago, now, presumably because she felt that kisses implied love and
that love took precedence of all other duties, said when I reminded
her of her dinner:

"Oh, but that doesn't matter in the least; I have plenty of time."

She seemed embarrassed by the idea of getting up and going immediately
after what had happened, embarrassed by good manners, just as
Françoise when, without feeling thirsty, she had felt herself bound to
accept with a seemly gaiety the glass of wine which Jupien offered
her, would never have dared to leave him as soon as the last drops
were drained, however urgent the call of duty. Albertine—and this was
perhaps, with another which the reader will learn in due course, one
of the reasons which had made me unconsciously desire her—was one of
the incarnations of the little French peasant whose type may be seen
in stone at Saint-André-des-Champs. As in Françoise, who presently
nevertheless was to become her deadly enemy, I recognised in her a
courtesy towards friend and stranger, a sense of decency, of respect
for the bedside.

Françoise who, after the death of my aunt, felt obliged to speak only
in a plaintive tone, would, in the months that preceded her daughter's
marriage, have been quite shocked if, when the young couple walked out
together, the girl had not taken her lover's arm. Albertine lying
motionless beside me said:

"What nice hair you have; what nice eyes; you are a dear boy."

When, after pointing out to her that it was getting late, I added:
"You don't believe me?" she replied, what was perhaps true but could
be so only since the minute before and for the next few hours:

"I always believe you."

She spoke to me of myself, my family, my social position. She said:
"Oh, I know your parents know some very nice people. You are a friend
of Robert Forestier and Suzanne Delage." For the moment these names
conveyed absolutely nothing to me. But suddenly I remembered that I
had indeed played as a child in the Champs-Elysées with Robert
Forestier, whom I had never seen since then. As for Suzanne Delage,
she was the great-niece of Mme. Blatin, and I had once been going to a
dancing lesson, and had even promised to take a small part in a play
that was being acted in her mother's drawing-room. But the fear of
being sent into fits of laughter, and of a bleeding nose, had made me
decline, so that I had never set eyes on her. I had at the most a
vague idea that I had once heard that the Swanns' governess with the
feather in her hat had at one time been with the Delages, but perhaps
it was only a sister of this governess, or a friend. I protested to
Albertine that Robert Forestier and Suzanne Delage occupied a very
small place in my life. "That may be; but your mothers are friends, I
can place you by that. I often pass Suzanne Delage in the Avenue de
Messine, I admire her style." Our mothers were acquainted only in the
imagination of Mme. Bontemps, who having heard that I had at one time
played with Robert Forestier, to whom, it appeared, I used to recite
poetry, had concluded from that that we were bound by family ties. She
could never, I gathered, hear my mother's name mentioned without
observing: "Oh, yes, she is in the Delage Forestier set," giving my
parents a good mark which they had done nothing to deserve.

Apart from this, Albertine's social ideas were fatuous in the extreme.
She regarded the Simonnets with a double 'n' as inferior not only to
the Simonets with a single 'n' but to everyone in the world. That some
one else should bear the same name as yourself without belonging to
your family is an excellent reason for despising him. Of course there
are exceptions. It may happen that two Simonnets (introduced to one
another at one of those gatherings where one feels the need to
converse, no matter on what subject, and where moreover one is
instinctively well disposed towards strangers, for instance in a
funeral procession on its way to the cemetery), finding that they have
the same name, will seek with a mutual friendliness though without
success to discover a possible connexion. But that is only an
exception. Plenty of people are of dubious character, but we either
know nothing or care nothing about them. If, however, a similarity of
names brings to our door letters addressed to them, or vice versa, we
at once feel a mistrust, often justified, as to their moral worth. We
are afraid of being confused with them, we forestall the mistake by a
grimace of disgust when anyone refers to them in our hearing. When we
read our own name, as borne by them, in the newspaper, they seem to
have usurped it. The transgressions of other members of the social
organism leave us cold. We lay the burden of them more heavily upon
our namesakes. The hatred which we bear towards the other Simonnets is
all the stronger in that it is not a personal feeling but has been
transmitted by heredity. After the second generation we remember only
the expression of disgust with which our grandparents used to refer to
the other Simonnets, we know nothing of the reason, we should not be
surprised to learn that it had begun with a murder. Until, as is not
uncommon, the time comes when a male and female Simonnet, who are not
related in any way, are joined together in matrimony and so repair the

Not only did Albertine speak to me of Robert Forestier and Suzanne
Delage, but spontaneously, with that impulse to confide which the
approximation of two human bodies creates, that is to say at first,
before it has engendered a special duplicity and reticence in one
person towards the other, she told me a story about her own family and
one of Andrée's uncles, as to which, at Balbec, she had refused to
utter a word; thinking that now she ought not to appear to have any
secrets in which I might not share. From this moment, had her dearest
friend said anything to her against me, she would have made it her
duty to inform me. I insisted upon her going home, and finally she did
go, but so ashamed on my account at my discourtesy that she laughed
almost as though to apologise for me, as a hostess to whose party you
have gone without dressing makes the best of you but is offended

"Are you laughing at me?" I inquired.

"I am not laughing, I am smiling at you," she replied lovingly. "When
am I going to see you again?" she went on, as though declining to
admit that what had just happened between us, since it is generally
the crowning consummation, might not be at least the prelude to a
great friendship, a friendship already existing which we should have
to discover, to confess, and which alone could account for the
surrender we had made of ourselves.

"Since you give me leave, I shall send for you when I can." I dared
not let her know that I was subordinating everything else to the
chance of seeing Mme. de Stermaria. "It will have to be at short
notice, unfortunately," I went on, "I never know beforehand. Would it
be possible for me to send round for you in the evenings, when I am

"It will be quite possible in a little while, I am going to have a
latch-key of my own. But just at present it can't be done. Anyhow I
shall come round to-morrow or next day in the afternoon. You needn't
see me if you're busy."

On reaching the door, surprised that I had not anticipated her, she
offered me her cheek, feeling that there was no need now for any
coarse physical desire to prompt us to kiss one another. The brief
relations in which we had just indulged being of the sort to which an
absolute intimacy and a heartfelt choice often tend, Albertine had
felt it incumbent upon her to improvise and add provisionally to the
kisses which we had exchanged on my bed the sentiment of which those
kisses would have been the symbol for a knight and his lady such as
they might have been conceived in the mind of a gothic minstrel.

When she had left me, this young Picard, who might have been carved on
his porch by the image-maker of Saint-André-des-Champs, Françoise
brought me a letter which filled me with joy, for it was from Mme. de
Stermaria, who accepted my invitation to dinner. From Mme. de
Stermaria, that was to say for me not so much from the real Mme. de
Stermaria as from her of whom I had been thinking all day before
Albertine's arrival. It is the terrible deception of love that it
begins by engaging us in play not with a woman of the external world
but with a puppet fashioned and kept in our brain, the only form of
her moreover that we have always at our disposal, the only one that we
shall ever possess, one which the arbitrary power of memory, almost as
absolute as that of imagination, may have made as different from the
real woman as had been from the real Balbec the Balbec of my dreams;
an artificial creation to which by degrees, and to our own hurt, we
shall force the real woman into resemblance.

Albertine had made me so late that the play had just finished when I
entered Mme. de Villeparisis's drawing-room; and having little desire
to be caught in the stream of guests who were pouring out, discussing
the great piece of news, the separation, said to be already effected,
of the Duc de Guermantes from his wife, I had, until I should have an
opportunity of shaking hands with my hostess, taken my seat on an
empty sofa in the outer room, when from the other, in which she had no
doubt had her chair in the very front row of all, I saw emerging,
majestic, ample and tall in a flowing gown of yellow satin upon which
stood out in relief huge black poppies, the Duchess herself. The sight
of her no longer disturbed me in the least. There had been a day when,
laying her hands on my forehead (as was her habit when she was afraid
of hurting my feelings) and saying: "You really must stop hanging
about trying to meet Mme. de Guermantes. All the neighbours are
talking about you. Besides, look how ill your grandmother is, you
really have something more serious to think about than waylaying a
woman who only laughs at you," in a moment, like a hypnotist who
brings one back from the distant country in which one imagined oneself
to be, and opens one's eyes for one, or like the doctor who, by
recalling one to a sense of duty and reality, cures one of an
imaginary disease in which one has been indulging one's fancy, my
mother had awakened me from an unduly protracted dream. The rest of
the day had been consecrated to a last farewell to this malady which I
was renouncing; I had sung, for hours on end and weeping as I sang,
the sad words of Schubert's _Adieu_:

    Farewell, strange voices call thee
    Away from me, dear sister of the angels.

And then it had finished. I had given up my morning walks, and with so
little difficulty that I thought myself justified in the prophecy
(which we shall see was to prove false later on) that I should easily
grow accustomed in the course of my life to ceasing to see a woman.
And when, shortly afterwards, Françoise had reported to me that
Jupien, anxious to enlarge his business, was looking for a shop in the
neighbourhood, wishing to find one for him (quite happy, moreover,
when strolling along a street which already from my bed I had heard
luminously vociferous like a peopled beach, to see behind the raised
iron shutters of the dairies the young milk-girls with their white
sleeves), I had been able to begin these excursions again. Nor did I
feel the slightest constraint; for I was conscious that I was no
longer going out with the object of seeing Mme. de Guermantes; much as
a married woman who takes endless precautions so long as she has a
lover, from the day on which she has broken with him leaves his
letters lying about, at the risk of disclosing to her husband an
infidelity which ceased to alarm her the moment she ceased to be
guilty of it. What troubled me now was the discovery that almost every
house sheltered some unhappy person. In one the wife was always in
tears because her husband was unfaithful to her. In the next it was
the other way about. In another a hardworking mother, beaten black and
blue by a drunkard son, was endeavouring to conceal her sufferings
from the eyes of the neighbours. Quite half of the human race was in
tears. And when I came to know the people who composed it I saw that
they were so exasperating that I asked myself whether it might not be
the adulterous husband and wife (who were so simply because their
lawful happiness had been withheld from them, and shewed themselves
charming and faithful to everyone but their respective wife and
husband) who were in the right. Presently I ceased to have even the
excuse of being useful to Jupien for continuing my morning wanderings.
For we learned that the cabinet-maker in our courtyard, whose
workrooms were separated from Jupien's shop only by the flimsiest of
partitions, was shortly to be 'given notice' by the Duke's agent
because his hammering made too much noise. Jupien could have hoped for
nothing better; the workrooms had a basement for storing timber, which
communicated with our cellars. He could keep his coal in this, he
could knock down the partition, and would then have a huge shop all in
one room. But even without the amusement of house-hunting on his
behalf I had continued to go out every day before luncheon, just as
Jupien himself, finding the rent that M. de Guermantes was asking him
exorbitant, was allowing the premises to be inspected in the hope
that, discouraged by his failure to find a tenant, the Duke would
resign himself to accepting a lower offer. Françoise, noticing that,
even at an hour when no prospective tenant was likely to call, the
porter left the door of the empty shop on the latch, scented a trap
laid by him to entice the young woman who was engaged to the Guermantes
footman (they would find a lovers' retreat there) and to catch
them red-handed.

However that might be, and for all that I had no longer to find Jupien
a new shop, I still went out before luncheon. Often, on these
excursions, I met M. de Norpois. It would happen that, conversing as
he walked with a colleague, he cast at me a glance which after making
a thorough scrutiny of my person returned to his companion without his
having smiled at me or given me any more sign of recognition than if
he had never set eyes on me before. For, with these eminent diplomats,
looking at you in a certain way is intended to let you know not that
they have seen you but that they have not seen you and that they have
some serious question to discuss with the colleague who is
accompanying them. A tall woman whom I frequently encountered near the
house was less discreet with me. For in spite of the fact that I did
not know her, she would turn round to look at me, would wait for me,
unavailingly, before shop windows, smile at me as though she were
going to kiss me, make gestures indicative of a complete surrender.
She resumed an icy coldness towards me if anyone appeared whom she
knew. For a long time now in these morning walks, thinking only of
what I had to do, were it but the most trivial purchase of a
newspaper, I had chosen the shortest way, with no regret were it
outside the ordinary course which the Duchess followed in her walks,
and if on the other hand it lay along that course, without either
compunction or concealment, because it no longer appeared to me the
forbidden way on which I should snatch from an ungrateful woman the
favour of setting eyes on her against her will. But it had never
occurred to me that my recovery, when it restored me to a normal
attitude towards Mme. de Guermantes, would have a corresponding effect
on her, and so render possible a friendliness, even a friendship in
which I no longer felt any interest. Until then, the efforts of the
entire world banded together to bring me into touch with her would
have been powerless to counteract the evil spell that is cast by an
ill-starred love. Fairies more powerful than mankind have decreed that
in such cases nothing can avail us until the day on which we have
uttered sincerely and from our hearts the formula: "I am no longer in
love." I had been vexed with Saint-Loup for not having taken me to see
his aunt. But he was no more capable than anyone else of breaking an
enchantment. So long as I was in love with Mme. de Guermantes, the
marks of politeness that ï received from others, their compliments
actually distressed me, not only because they did not come from her
but because she would never hear of them. And yet even if she had
known of them it would not have been of the slightest use to me.
Indeed, among the lesser auxiliaries to success in love, an absence,
the declining of an invitation to dinner, an unintentional,
unconscious harshness are of more service than all the cosmetics and
fine clothes in the world. There would be plenty of social success,
were people taught upon these lines the art of succeeding.

As she swept through the room in which I was sitting, her mind filled
with thoughts of friends whom I did not know and whom she would
perhaps be meeting presently at some other party, Mme. de Guermantes
caught sight of me on my sofa, genuinely indifferent and seeking only
to be polite whereas while I was in love I had tried so desperately,
without ever succeeding, to assume an air of indifference; she swerved
aside, came towards me and, reproducing the smile she had worn that
evening at the Opéra-Comique, which the unpleasant feeling of being
cared for by some one for whom she did not care was no longer there to
obliterate: "No, don't move; you don't mind if I sit down beside you
for a moment?" she asked, gracefully gathering in her immense skirt
which otherwise would have covered the entire sofa.

Of less stature than she, who was further expanded by the volume of
her gown, I was almost brushed by her exquisite bare arm round which a
faint, innumerable down rose in perpetual smoke like a golden mist,
and by the fringe of her fair tresses which wafted their fragrance
over me. Having barely room to sit down, she could not turn easily to
face me, and so obliged to look straight before her rather than in my
direction, assumed the sort of dreamy, sweet expression one sees in a

"Have you any news of Robert?" she inquired.

At that moment Mme. de Villeparisis entered the room.

"Well, Sir, you arrive at a fine time, when we do see you here for
once in a way!" And noticing that I was talking to her niece,
concluding, perhaps, that we were more intimate than she had supposed:
"But don't let me interrupt your conversation with Oriane," she went
on, and (for these good offices as pander are part of the duties of
the perfect hostess): "You wouldn't care to dine with her here on

It was the day on which I was to entertain Mme. de Stermaria, so I

"Saturday, then?"

As my mother was returning on Saturday or Sunday, it would never do
for me not to stay at home every evening to dine with her; I therefore
declined this invitation also.

"Ah, you're not an easy person to get hold of."

"Why do you never come to see me?" inquired Mme. de Guermantes when
Mme. de Villeparisis had left us to go and congratulate the performers
and present the leading lady with a bunch of roses upon which the hand
that offered it conferred all its value, for it had cost no more than
twenty francs. (This, incidentally, was as high as she ever went when
an artist had performed only once. Those who gave their services at
all her afternoons and evenings throughout the season received roses
painted by the Marquise.)

"It's such a bore that we never see each other except in other
people's houses. Since you won't meet me at dinner at my aunt's, why
not come and dine with me?" Various people who had stayed to the last
possible moment, upon one pretext or another, but were at length
preparing to leave, seeing that the Duchess had sat down to talk to a
young man on a seat so narrow as just to contain them both, thought
that they must have been misinformed, that it was the Duchess, and not
the Duke, who was seeking a separation, and on my account. Whereupon
they hastened to spread abroad this intelligence. I had better grounds
than anyone to be aware of its falsehood. But I was myself surprised
that at one of those difficult periods in which a separation that is
not yet completed is beginning to take effect, the Duchess, instead of
withdrawing from society should go out of her way to invite a—person
whom she knew so slightly. The suspicion crossed my mind that it had
been the Duke alone who had been opposed to her having me in the
house, and that now that he was leaving her she saw no further
obstacle to her surrounding herself with the people that she liked.

A minute earlier I should have been stupefied had anyone told me that
Mme. de Guermantes was going to ask me to call on her, let alone to
dine with her. I might be perfectly aware that the Guermantes
drawing-room could not furnish those particular refinements which I
had extracted from the name of its occupants, the fact that it had
been forbidden ground to me, by obliging me to give it the same kind
of existence that we give to the drawing-rooms of which we have read
the description in a novel, or seen the image in a dream, made me,
even when I was certain that it was just like any other, imagine it as
quite different. Between myself and it was the barrier at which
reality ends. To dine with the Guermantes was like travelling to a
place I had long wished to see, making a desire emerge from my brain
and take shape before my eyes, forming acquaintance with a dream. At
the most, I might have supposed that it would be one of those dinners
to which one's hosts invite one with: "Do come; there'll be
_absolutely_ nobody but ourselves," pretending to attribute to the
pariah the alarm which they themselves feel at the thought of his
mixing with their other friends, seeking indeed to convert into an
enviable privilege, reserved for their intimates alone, the quarantine
of the outsider, hopelessly uncouth, whom they are befriending. I felt
on the contrary that Mme. de Guermantes was anxious for me to enjoy
the most delightful society that she had to offer me when she went on,
projecting as she spoke before my eyes as it were the violet-hued
loveliness of a visit to Fabrice's aunt with the miracle of an
introduction to Count Mosca:

"On Friday, now, couldn't you? There are just a few people coming; the
Princesse de Parme, who is charming, not that I'd ask you to meet
anyone who wasn't nice."

Discarded in the intermediate social grades which are engaged in a
perpetual upward movement, the family still plays an important part in
certain stationary grades, such as the lower middle class and the
semi-royal aristocracy, which latter cannot seek to raise itself since
above it, from its own special point of view, there exists nothing
higher. The friendship shewn me by her 'aunt Villeparisis' and Robert
had perhaps made me, for Mme. de Guermantes and her friends, living
always upon themselves and in the same little circle, the object of a
curious interest of which I had no suspicion.

She had of those two relatives a familiar, everyday, homely knowledge,
of a sort, utterly different from what we imagine, in which if we
happen to be comprised in it, so far from our actions being at once
ejected, like the grain of dust from the eye or the drop of water from
the windpipe, they are capable of remaining engraved, and will still
be related and discussed years after we ourselves have forgotten them,
in the palace in which we are astonished to find them preserved, like
a letter in our own handwriting among a priceless collection of

People who are merely fashionable may set a guard upon doors which are
too freely invalided. But the Guermantes door was not that. Hardly
ever did a stranger have occasion to pass by it. If, for once in a
way, the Duchess had one pointed out to her, she never dreamed of
troubling herself about the social increment that he would bring,
since this was a thing that she conferred and could not receive. She
thought only of his real merits. Both Mme. de Villeparisis and
Saint-Loup had testified to mine Doubtless she might not have believed
them if she had not at the same time observed that they could never
manage to secure me when they wanted me, and therefore that I attached
no importance to worldly things, which seemed to the Duchess a sign
that the stranger was to be numbered among what she called 'nice

It was worth seeing, when one spoke to her of women for whom she did
not care, how her face changed as soon as one named, in connexion with
one of these, let us say, her sister-in-law. "Oh, she is charming!"
the Duchess would exclaim in a judicious, confident tone. The only
reason that she gave was that this lady had declined to be introduced
to the Marquise de Chaussegros and the Princesse de Silistrie. She did
not add that the lady had declined also an introduction to herself,
the Duchesse de Guermantes. This had, nevertheless, been the case,
and ever since the mind of the Duchess had been at work trying to
unravel the motives of a woman who was so hard to know, she was dying
to be invited to call on her. People in society are so accustomed to
be sought after that the person who shuns them seems to them a phoenix
and at once monopolises their attention. Was the true motive in the
mind of Mme. de Guermantes for thus inviting me (now that I was no
longer in love with her) that I did not run after her relatives,
although apparently run after myself by them? I cannot say. In any
case, having made up her mind to invite me, she was anxious to do me
the honours of the best company at her disposal and to keep away those
of her friends whose presence might have dissuaded me from coming
again, those whom she knew to be boring. I had not known to what to
attribute her change of direction, when I had seen her deviate from
her stellar path, come to sit down beside me and had heard her invite
me to dinner, the effect of causes unknown for want of a special sense
to enlighten us in this respect. We picture to ourselves the people
who know us but slightly—such as, in my case, the Duchesse de
Guermantes—as thinking of us only at the rare moments at which they
set eyes on us. As a matter of fact this ideal oblivion in which we
picture them as holding us is a purely arbitrary conception on our
part. So that while, in our solitary silence, like that of a cloudless
night, we imagine the various queens of society pursuing their course
in the heavens at an infinite distance, we cannot help an involuntary
start of dismay or pleasure if there falls upon us from that starry
height, like a meteorite engraved with our name which we supposed to
be unknown on Venus or Cassiopeia, an invitation to dinner or a piece
of malicious gossip.

Perhaps now and then when, following the example of the Persian
princes who, according to the Book of Esther, made their scribes read
out to them the registers in which were enrolled the names of those of
their subjects who had shewn zeal in their service, Mme. de Guermantes
consulted her list of the well-disposed, she had said to herself, on
coming to my name: "A man we must ask to dine some day." But other
thoughts had distracted her

  (Beset by surging cares, a Prince's mind
  Towards fresh matters ever is inclined)

until the moment when she had caught sight of me sitting alone like
Mordecai at the palace gate; and, the sight of me having refreshed her
memory, sought, like Ahasuerus, to lavish her gifts upon me.

I must at the same time add that a surprise of a totally different
sort was to follow that which I had felt on hearing Mme. de Guermantes
ask me to dine with her. Since I had decided that it would shew
greater modesty, on my part, and gratitude also not to conceal this
initial surprise, but rather to exaggerate my expression of the
delight that it gave me, Mme. de Guermantes, who was getting ready to
go on to another, final party, had said to me, almost as a
justification and for fear of my not being quite certain who she was,
since I appeared so astonished at being invited to dine with her: "You
know I'm the aunt of Robert de Saint-Loup, who is such a friend of
yours; besides we have met before." In replying that I was aware of
this I added that I knew also M. de Charlus, "who had been very good
to me at Balbec and in Paris." Mme. de Guermantes appeared
dumbfoundered, and her eyes seemed to turn, as though for a
verification of this statement, to some page, already filled and
turned, of her internal register of events. "What, so you know
Palamède, do you?" This name assumed on the lips of Mme. de Guermantes
a great charm, due to the instinctive simplicity with which she spoke
of a man who was socially so brilliant a figure, but for her was no
more than her brother-in-law and the cousin with whom she had grown
up. And on the confused greyness which the life of the Duchesse de
Guermantes was for me this name, Palamède, shed as it were the
radiance of long summer days on which she had played with him as a
girl, at Guermantes, in the garden. Moreover, in this long outgrown
period in their lives, Oriane de Guermantes and her cousin Palamède
had been very different from what they had since become; M. de Charlus
in particular, entirely absorbed in the artistic pursuits from which
he had so effectively restrained himself in later life that I was
stupefied to learn that it was he who had painted the huge fan with
black and yellow irises which the Duchess was at this moment
unfurling. She could also have shewn me a little sonatina which he had
once composed for her. I was completely unaware that the Baron
possessed all these talents, of which he never spoke. Let me remark in
passing that M. de Charlus did not at all relish being called
'Palamède' by his family. That the form 'Mémé' might not please him
one could easily understand. These stupid abbreviations are a sign of
the utter inability of the aristocracy to appreciate its own Poetic
beauty (in Jewry, too, we may see the same defect, since a nephew of
Lady Israels, whose name was Moses, was commonly known as 'Momo')
concurrently with its anxiety not to appear to attach any importance
to what is aristocratic. Now M. de Charlus had, in this connexion, a
greater wealth of poetic imagination and a more blatant pride. But the
reason for his distaste for 'Mémé' could not be this, since it
extended also to the fine name Palamède. The truth was that,
considering, knowing himself to come of a princely stock, he would
have liked his brother and sister-in-law to refer to him as 'Charlus,'
just as Queen Marie-Amélie and Duc d'Orléans might have spoken of
their sons and grandsons, brothers and nephews as 'Joinville, Nemours,
Chartres, Paris.'

"What a humbug Mémé is!" she exclaimed. "We talked to him about you
for hours; he told us that he would be delighted to make your
acquaintance, just as if he had never set eyes on you. You must admit
he's odd, and—though it's not very nice of me to say such a thing
about a brother-in-law I'm devoted to, and really do admire
immensely—a trifle mad at times."

I was struck by the application of this last epithet to M. de Charlus,
and said to myself that this half-madness might perhaps account for
certain things, such as his having appeared so delighted by his own
proposal that I should ask Bloch to castigate his mother. I decided
that, by reason not only of the things he said but of the way in which
he said them, M. de Charlus must be a little mad. The first time that
one listens to a barrister or an actor, one is surprised by his tone,
so different from the conversational. But, observing that everyone
else seems to find this quite natural, one says nothing about it to
other people, one says nothing in fact to oneself, one is content with
appreciating the degree of talent shewn. At the most, one may think,
of an actor at the Théâtre-Français: "Why, instead of letting his
raised arm fall naturally, did he make it drop in a series of little
jerks broken by pauses for at least ten minutes?" or of a Labori:
"Why, whenever he opened his mouth, did he utter those tragic,
unexpected sounds to express the simplest things?" But as everybody
admits these actions to be necessary and obvious one is not shocked by
them. So, upon thinking it over, one said to oneself that M. de
Charlus spoke of himself with undue emphasis in a tone which was not
in the least that of ordinary speech. It seemed as though one might
have at any moment interrupted him with: "But why do you shout so? Why
are you so offensive?" only everyone seemed to have tacitly agreed
that it was all right. And one took one's place in the circle which
applauded his outbursts. But certainly, at certain moments, a stranger
might have thought that he was listening to the ravings of a maniac.

"But are you sure you're not thinking of some one else? Do you really
mean my brother-in-law Palamède?" went on the Duchess, a trace of
impertinence grafted upon her natural simplicity.

I replied that I was absolutely sure, and that M. de Charlus must have
failed to catch my name.

"Oh well! I shall leave you now," said Mme. de Guermantes, as though
she regretted the parting. "I must look in for a moment at the
Princesse de Ligne's. You aren't going on there? No? You don't care
for parties? You're very wise, they are too boring for words. If only
I hadn't got to go. But she's my cousin; it wouldn't be polite. I am
sorry, selfishly, for my own sake, because I could have taken you
there, and brought you back afterwards, too. So I shall say good-bye
now, and look forward to Friday."

That M. de Charlus should have blushed to be seen with me by M.
d'Argencourt was all very well. But that to his own sister-in-law, who
had so high an opinion of him besides, he should deny all knowledge of
me, knowledge which was perfectly natural seeing that I was a friend
of both his aunt and his nephew, was a thing that I could not

I shall end my account of this incident with the remark that from one
point of view there was in Mme. de Guermantes a true greatness which
consisted in her entirely obliterating from her memory what other
people would have only partially forgotten. Had she never seen me
waylaying her, following her, tracking her down as she took her
morning walks, had she never responded to my daily salute with an
angry impatience, had she never refused Saint-Loup when he begged her
to invite me to her house, she could not have greeted me now in a
nobler or more gracious manner. Not only did she waste no time in
retrospective explanations, in hints, allusions or ambiguous smiles,
not only was there in her present affability, without any harking back
to the past, without any reticence, something as proudly rectilinear
as her majestic stature, but the resentment which she might have felt
against anyone in the past was so entirely reduced to ashes, the ashes
were themselves cast so utterly from her memory, or at least from her
manner, that on studying her face whenever she had occasion to treat
with the most exquisite simplification what in so many other people
would have been a pretext for reviving stale antipathies and
recriminations one had the impression of an intense purity of mind.

But if I was surprised by the modification that had occurred in her
opinion of me, how much more did it surprise me to find a similar but
ever so much greater change in my feeling for her. Had there not been
a time during which I could regain life and strength only if—always
building new castles in the air!—I had found some one who would
obtain for me an invitation to her house and, after this initial boon,
would procure many others for my increasingly exacting heart? It was
the impossibility of finding any avenue there that had made me leave
Paris for Doncières to visit Robert de Saint-Loup. And now it was
indeed by the consequence of a letter from him that I was agitated,
but on account this time of Mme. de Stermaria, not of Mme. de

Let me add further, to conclude my account of this party, that there
Occurred at it an incident, contradicted a few days later, which
continued to puzzle me, interrupted for some time my friendship with
Bloch, and constitutes in itself one of those curious paradoxes the
explanation of which will be found in the next part of this work. At
this party at Mme. de Villeparisis's, Bloch kept on boasting to me
about the friendly attentions shewn him by M. de Charlus, who, when he
passed him in the street, looked him straight in the face as though he
recognised him, was anxious to know him personally, knew quite well
who he was. I smiled at first, Bloch having expressed so vehemently at
Balbec his contempt for the said M. de Charlus. And I supposed merely
that Bloch, like his father in the Case of Bergotte, knew the Baron
'without actually knowing him,' and that what he took for a friendly
glance was due to absent-mindedness. But finally Bloch became so
precise and appeared so confident that on two or three occasions M. de
Charlus had wished to address him that, remembering that I had spoken
of my friend to the Baron, who had, as we walked away together from
this very house, as it happened, asked me various questions about him,
I came to the conclusion that Bloch was not lying that M. de Charlus
had heard his name, realised that he was my friend' and so forth. And
so, a little later, at the theatre one evening, I asked M. de Charlus
if I might introduce Bloch to him, and, on his assenting, went in
search of my friend. But as soon as M. de Charlus caught sight of him
an expression of astonishment, instantly repressed, appeared on his
face where it gave way to a blazing fury. Not only did he not offer
Bloch his hand but whenever Bloch spoke to him he replied in the most
insolent manner, in an angry and wounding tone. So that Bloch, who,
according to his version, had received nothing until then from the
Baron but smiles, assumed that I had not indeed commended but
disparaged him in the short speech in which, knowing M. de Charlus's
liking for formal procedure, I had told him about my friend before
bringing him up to be introduced. Bloch left us, his spirit broken,
like a man who has been trying to mount a horse which is always ready
to take the bit in its teeth, or to swim against waves which
continually dash him back on the shingle, and did not speak to me
again for six months.

The days that preceded my dinner with Mme. de Stermaria were for me by
no means delightful, in fact it was all I could do to live through
them. For as a general rule, the shorter the interval is that
separates us from our planned objective, the longer it seems to us,
because we apply to it a more minute scale of measurement, or simply
because it occurs to us to measure it at all. The Papacy, we are told,
reckons by centuries, and indeed may not think perhaps of reckoning
time at all, since its goal is in eternity. Mine was no more than
three days off; I counted by seconds, I gave myself up to those
imaginings which are the first movements of caresses, of caresses
which it maddens us not to be able to make the woman herself
reciprocate and complete—those identical caresses, to the exclusion
of all others. And, as a matter of fact, it is true that, generally
speaking, the difficulty of attaining to the object of a desire
enhances that desire (the difficulty, not the impossibility, for that
suppresses it altogether), yet in the case of a desire that is wholly
physical the certainty that it will be realised, at a fixed and not
distant point in time, is scarcely less exciting than uncertainty;
almost as much as an anxious doubt, the absence of doubt makes
intolerable the period of waiting for the pleasure that is bound to
come, because it makes of that suspense an innumerably rehearsed
accomplishment and by the frequency of our proleptic representations
divides time into sections as minute as could be carved by agony. What
I required was to possess Mme. de Stermaria, for during the last few
days, with an incessant activity, my desires had been preparing this
pleasure, in my imagination, and this pleasure alone, for any other
kind (pleasure, that is, taken with another woman) would not have been
ready, pleasure being but the realisation of a previous wish, and of
one which is not always the same, but changes according to the endless
combinations of one's fancies, the accidents of one's memory, the
state of one's temperament, the variability of one's desires, the most
recently granted of which lie dormant until the disappointment of
their satisfaction has been to some extent forgotten; I should not
have been prepared, I had already turned from the main road of general
desires and had ventured along the bridle-path of a particular desire;
I should have had—in order to wish for a different assignation—to
retrace my steps too far before rejoining the main road and taking
another path. To take possession of Mme. de Stermaria on the island in
the Bois de Boulogne where I had asked her to dine with me, this was
the pleasure that I imagined to myself afresh every moment. It would
have automatically perished if I had dined on that island without Mme.
de Stermaria; but perhaps as greatly diminished had I dined, even with
her, somewhere else. Besides, the attitudes in which one pictures a
pleasure to oneself exist previously to the woman, to the type of
woman required to give one that pleasure. They dictate the pleasure,
and the place as well, and on that account bring to the fore
alternatively, in our capricious fancy, this or that woman, this or
that scene, this or that room, which in other weeks we should have
dismissed with contempt. Child of the attitude that produced her, one
woman will not appeal to us without the large bed in which we find
peace by her side, while others, to be caressed with a more secret
intention, require leaves blown by the wind, water rippling in the
night, are as frail and fleeting as they.

No doubt in the past, long before I received Saint-Loup's letter and
when there was as yet no question of Mme. de Stermaria, the island in
the Bois had seemed to me to be specially designed for pleasure,
because I had found myself going there to taste the bitterness of
having no pleasure to enjoy in its shelter. It is to the shores of the
lake from which one goes to that island, and along which, in the last
weeks of summer, those ladies of Paris who have not yet left for the
country take the air, that, not knowing where to look for her, or if
indeed she has not already left Paris, one wanders in the hope of
seeing the girl go by with whom one fell in love at the last ball of
the season, whom one will not have a chance of meeting again in any
drawing-room until the following spring. Feeling it to be at least the
eve, if not the morrow, of the beloved's departure, one follows along
the brink of the shivering water those attractive paths by which
already a first red leaf is blooming like a last rose, one scans that
horizon where, by a device the opposite of that employed in those
panoramas beneath whose domed roofs the wax figures in the foreground
impart to the painted canvas beyond them the illusory appearance of
depth and mass, our eyes, passing without any transition from the
cultivated park to the natural heights of Meudon and the Mont
Valérien, do not know where to set the boundary, and make the natural
country trespass upon the handiwork of the gardener, of which they
project far beyond its own limits the artificial charm; like those
rare birds reared in the open in a botanical garden which every day in
the liberty of their winged excursions sally forth to strike, among
the surrounding woods, an exotic note. Between the last festivity of
summer and one's winter exile, one ranges anxiously that romantic
world of chance encounters and lover's melancholy, and one would be no
more surprised to learn that it was situated outside the mapped
universe than if, at Versailles, looking down from the terrace, an
observatory round which the clouds are massed against a blue sky in
the manner of Van der Meulen, after having thus risen above the bounds
of nature, one were informed that, there where nature begins again at
the end of the great canal, the villages which one just could not make
out, on a horizon as dazzling as the sea, were called Fleurus or

And then, the last carriage having rolled by, when one feels with a
throb of pain that she will not come now, one goes to dine on the
island; above the shivering poplars which suggest endless mysteries of
evening though without response, a pink cloud paints a last touch of
life in the tranquil sky. A few drops of rain fall without noise on
the water, ancient but still in its divine infancy coloured always by
the weather and continually forgetting the reflexions of clouds and
flowers. And after the geraniums have vainly striven, by intensifying
the brilliance of their scarlet, to resist the gathering darkness, a
mist rises to envelop the now slumbering island; one walks in the
moist dimness along the water's edge, where at the most the silent
passage of a swan startles one like, in a bed, at night, the eyes, for
a moment wide open, and the swift smile of a child whom one did not
suppose to be awake. Then one would like to have with one a loving
companion, all the more as one feels oneself to be alone and can
imagine oneself to be far away from the world.

But to this island, where even in summer there was often a mist, how
much more gladly would I have brought Mme. de Stermaria now that the
cold season, the back end of autumn had come. If the weather that had
prevailed since Sunday had not by itself rendered grey and maritime
the scenes in which my imagination was living—as other seasons made
them balmy, luminous, Italian—the hope of, in a few days' time,
making Mme. de Stermaria mine would have been quite enough to raise,
twenty times in an hour, a curtain of mist in my monotonously lovesick
imagination. In any event the mist, which since yesterday had risen
even in Paris, not only made me think incessantly of the native place
of the young woman whom I had invited to dine with me, but, since it
was probable that, far more thickly than in the streets of the town,
it must after sunset be invading the Bois, especially the shores of
the lake, I thought that it would make the Swans' Island, for me,
something like that Breton island the marine and misty atmosphere of
which had always enwrapped in my mind like a garment the pale outline
of Mme. de Stermaria. Of course when we are young, at the age I had
reached at the period of my walks along the Méséglise way, our
desires, our faith bestow on a woman's clothing an individual
personality, an ultimate quintessence. We pursue reality. But by dint
of allowing it to escape we end by noticing that, after all those vain
endeavours which have led to nothing, something solid subsists, which
is what we have been seeking. We begin to separate, to recognise what
we love, we try to procure it for ourselves, be it only by a
stratagem. Then, in the absence of our vanished faith, costume fills
the gap, by means of a deliberate illusion. I knew quite well that
within half an hour of home I should not find myself in Brittany. But
in walking arm in arm with Mme. de Stermaria in the dusk of the
island, by the water's edge, I should be acting like other men who,
unable to penetrate the walls of a convent, do at least, before
enjoying a woman, clothe her in the habit of a nun.

I could even look forward to hearing, as I sat with the lady, the
lapping of waves, for, on the day before our dinner, a storm broke
over Paris. I was beginning to shave myself before going to the island
to engage the room (albeit at this time of year the island was empty
and the restaurant deserted) and order the food for our dinner next
day when Françoise came in to tell me that Albertine had called. I
made her come in at once, indifferent to her finding me disfigured by
a bristling chin, her for whom at Balbec I had never felt smart enough
and who had cost me then as much agitation and distress as Mme. de
Stermaria was costing me now. The latter, I was determined, must go
away with the best possible impression from our evening together.
Accordingly I asked Albertine to come with me there and then to the
island to order the food. She to whom one gives everything is so
quickly replaced by another that one is surprised to find oneself
giving all that one has, afresh, at every moment, without any hope of
future reward. At my suggestion the smiling rosy face beneath
Albertine's flat cap, which came down very low, to her eyebrows,
seemed to hesitate. She had probably other plans; if so she sacrificed
them willingly, to my great satisfaction, for I attached the utmost
importance to my having with me a young housewife who would know a
great deal more than myself about ordering dinner.

It is quite true that she had represented something utterly different
for me at Balbec. But our intimacy, even when we do not consider it
close enough at the time, with a woman with whom we are in love
creates between her and us, in spite of the shortcomings that pain us
while our love lasts, social ties which outlast our love and even the
memory of our love. Then, in her who is nothing more for us than a
means of approach, an avenue towards others, we are just as astonished
and amused to learn from our memory what her name meant originally to
that other creature which we then were as if, after giving a cabman an
address in the Boulevard des Capucines or the Rue du Bac, thinking
only of the person whom we are going to see there, we remind ourself
that the names were once those of, respectively, the Capuchin nuns
whose convent stood on the site and the ferry across the Seine.

At the same time, my Balbec desires had so generously ripened
Albertine's body, had gathered and stored in it savours so fresh and
sweet that, as we drove through the Bois, while the wind like a
careful gardener shook the trees, brought down the fruit, swept up the
fallen leaves, I said to myself that had there been any risk of
Saint-Loup's being mistaken, or of my having misunderstood his letter,
so that my dinner with Mme. de Stermaria might lead to no satisfactory
result, I should have made an appointment for the same evening, later
on, with Albertine, so as to forget, for a purely voluptuous hour, as
I held in my arms a body of which my curiosity had long since
computed, weighed up all the possible charms in which now it abounded,
the emotions and perhaps the regrets of this first phase of love for
Mme. de Stermaria. And certainly if I could have supposed that Mme de
Stermaria would not grant me any of her favours at our first meeting,
I should have formed a slightly depressing picture of my evening with
her. I knew too well from experience how the two stages which occur
in us in the first phase of our love for a woman whom we have desired
without knowing her, loving in her rather the particular kind of
existence in which she is steeped than her still unfamiliar self—how
distorted is the reflexion of those two stages in the world of facts,
that is to say not in ourselves any longer but in our meetings with
her. We have, without ever having talked to her, hesitated, tempted as
we were by the poetic charm which she represented for us. Shall it be
this woman or another? And lo, our dreams become fixed round about
her, cease to have any separate existence from her. The first meeting
with her which will shortly follow should reflect this dawning love.
Nothing of the sort. As if it were necessary that our material life
should have its first period also, in love with her already, we talk
to her in the most trivial fashion: "I asked you to dine on this
island because I thought the surroundings would amuse you. I've
nothing particular to say to you, don't you know. But it's rather
damp, I'm afraid, and you may find it cold—" "Oh, no, not at all!"
"You just say that out of politeness. Very well, Madame, I shall
allow you to battle against the cold for another quarter of an hour,
as I don't want to bother you, but in fifteen minutes I shall carry
you off by force. I don't want to have you catching a chill." And
without another word said we take her home, remembering nothing about
her, at the most a certain look in her eyes, but thinking only of
seeing her again. Well, at our second meeting (when we do not find
even that look, our sole memory of her, but nevertheless have been
thinking only of seeing her again), the first stage is passed. Nothing
has happened in the interval. And yet, instead of talking about the
comfort or want of comfort of the restaurant, we say, without our
words appearing to surprise the new person, who seems to us positively
plain but to whom we should like to think that people were talking
about us at every moment in her life: "We are going to have our work
cut out to overcome all the obstacles in our way. Do you think we
shall be successful? Do you suppose that we can triumph over our
enemies—live happily ever afterwards, and all that sort of thing?"
But these conversational openings, trivial to begin with, then hinting
at love, would not be required; I could trust Saint-Loup's letter for
that. Mme. de Stermaria would yield herself to me from the first, I
should have no need therefore to engage Albertine to come to me, as a
makeshift, later in the evening. It would be superfluous; Robert never
exaggerated, and his letter was explicit.

Albertine spoke hardly at all, conscious that my thoughts were
elsewhere. We went a little way on foot into the greenish, almost
submarine grotto of a dense mass of trees, on the domed tops of which
we heard the wind sweep and the rain pelt. I trod underfoot dead
leaves which, like shells, were trampled into the soil, and poked with
my stick at fallen chestnuts prickly as sea-urchins.

On the boughs the last clinging leaves, shaken by the wind, followed
it only as far as their stems would allow, but sometimes these broke,
and they fell to the ground, along which they coursed to overtake it.
I thought with joy how much more remote still, if this weather lasted,
the island would be on the morrow—and in any case quite deserted. We
returned to our carriage and, as the storm had passed off, Albertine
asked me to take her on to Saint-Cloud. As on the ground the drifting
leaves so up above the clouds were chasing the wind. And a stream of
migrant evenings, of which a sort of conic section cut through the sky
made visible the successive layers, pink, blue and green, were
gathered in readiness for departure to warmer climes. To obtain a
closer view of a marble goddess who had been carved in the act of
leaping from her pedestal and, alone in a great wood which seemed to
be consecrated to her, filled it with the mythological terror, half
animal, half divine, of her frenzied bounding, Albertine climbed a
grassy slope while I waited for her in the road. She herself, seen
thus from below, no longer coarse and plump as, a few days earlier, on
my bed when the grain of her throat became apparent in the lens of my
eye as it approached her person, but chiselled and delicate, seemed a
little statue on which our happy hours together at Balbec had left
their patina. When I found myself alone again at home, and remembered
that I had taken a drive that afternoon with Albertine, that I was to
dine in two days' time with Mme. de Guermantes and that I had to
answer a letter from Gilberte, three women each of whom I had once
loved, I said to myself that our social existence is, like an artist's
studio, filled with abandoned sketches in which we have fancied for a
moment that we could set down in permanent form our need of a great
love, but it did not occur to me that sometimes, if the sketch be not
too old, it may happen that we return to it and make of it a work
wholly different, and possibly more important than what we had
originally planned.

The next day was cold and fine; winter was in the air—indeed the
season was so far advanced that it had seemed miraculous that we
should find in the already pillaged Bois a few domes of gilded green.
When I awoke I saw, as from the window of the barracks at Doncières, a
uniform, dead white mist which hung gaily in the sunlight, consistent
and sweet as a web of spun sugar. Then the sun withdrew, and the mist
thickened still further in the afternoon. Night fell early, I made
ready for dinner, but it was still too soon to start; I decided to
send a carriage for Mme. de Stermaria. I did not like to go for her in
it myself, not wishing to force my company on her, but I gave the
driver a note for her in which I asked whether she would mind my
coming to call for her. While I waited for her answer I lay down on my
bed, shut my eyes for a moment, then opened them again. Over the top
of the curtains there was nothing now but a thin strip of daylight
which grew steadily fainter. I recognised that wasted hour, the large
ante-room of pleasure, the dark, delicious emptiness of which I had
learned at Balbec to know and to enjoy when, alone in my room as I was
now, while all the rest were at dinner, I saw without regret the
daylight fade from above my curtains, knowing that, presently, after a
night of arctic brevity, it was to be resuscitated in a more dazzling
brightness in the lighted rooms of Rivebelle. I sprang from my bed,
tied my black necktie, passed a brush over my hair, final gestures of
a belated tidying carried out at Balbec with my mind not on myself but
on the women whom I should see at Rivebelle while I smiled at them in
anticipation in the mirror that stood across a corner of my room,
gestures which, on that account, had continued to herald a form of
entertainment in which music and lights would be mingled. Like magic
signs they summoned, nay rather presented this entertainment already;
thanks to them I had, of its intoxicating frivolous charm as complete
an enjoyment as I had had at Combray, in the month of July, when I
heard the hammer-blows ring on the packing cases and enjoyed, in the
coolness of my darkened room, a sense of warmth and sunshine.

Also, it was no longer exactly Mme. de Stermaria that I should have
wished most to see. Forced now to spend my evening with her, I should
have preferred, as it was almost the last before the return of my
parents that it should remain free and myself try instead to find some
of the women from Rivebelle. I gave my hands one more final wash and,
my sense of pleasure keeping me on the move, dried them as I walked
through the shuttered dining-room. It appeared to have a door open on
to the lighted hall but what I had taken for the bright chink of the
door, which as a matter of fact was closed, was only the gleaming
reflexion of my towel in a mirror that had been laid against the wall
in readiness to be fixed in its place before Mamma's return. I thought
of all the other illusions of the sort which I had discovered in
different parts of the house, and which were not optical only, for
when we first came there I had supposed that our next-door neighbour
kept a dog on account of the continuous, almost human yapping which
came from a certain pipe in the kitchen whenever the tap was turned
on. And the door on to the outer landing never closed by itself, very
gently, caught by a draught on the staircase, without rendering those
broken, voluptuous, whimpering passages which sound over the chant of
the pilgrims towards the end of Overture to _Tannhäuser_. I had,
moreover, just as I had put my towel back on its rail, an opportunity
of hearing a fresh rendering of this brilliant symphonic fragment, for
at a peal of the bell I hurried out to open the door to the driver who
had come with Mme. de Stermaria's answer. I thought that his message
would be: "The lady is downstairs," or "The lady is waiting." But he
had a letter in his hand. I hesitated for a moment before looking to
see what Mme. de Stermaria had written, who, while she held the pen in
her hand, might have been anything but was now, detached from herself,
an engine of fate, pursuing a course alone, which she was utterly
powerless to alter. I asked the driver to wait downstairs for a
moment, although he was cursing the fog. As soon as he had gone I
opened the envelope. On her card, inscribed _Vicomtesse Alix de.
Stermaria_, my guest had written: "Am so sorry—am unfortunately
prevented from dining with you this evening on the island in the Bois.
Had been so looking forward to it. Will write you a proper letter from
Stermaria. Very sorry. Kindest regards." I stood motionless, stunned
by the shock that I had received. At my feet lay the card and
envelope, fallen like the spent cartridge from a gun when the shot has
been fired. I picked them up, tried to analyse her message. "She says
that she cannot dine with me on the island in the Bois. One might
gather from that that she would dine with me somewhere else. I shall
not be so indiscreet as to go and fetch her, but, after all, that
is quite a reasonable interpretation." And from that island in the
Bois, as for the last few days my thoughts had been installed there
beforehand with Mme. de Stermaria, I could not succeed in bringing
them back to where I was. My desire responded automatically to the
gravitational force which had been pulling it now for so many hours on
end, and in spite of this message, too recent to counteract that
force, I went on instinctively getting ready to start, just as a
student, although ploughed by the examiners, tries to answer one
question more. At last I decided to tell Françoise to go down and pay
the driver. I went along the passage without finding her, I passed
through the dining-room, where suddenly my feet ceased to sound on the
bare boards as they had been doing and were hushed to a silence which,
even before I had realised the explanation of it, gave me a feeling of
suffocation and confinement. It was the carpets which, in view of my
parents' return, the servants had begun to put down again, those
carpets which look so well on bright mornings when amid their disorder
the sun stays and waits for you like a friend come to take you out to
luncheon in the country, and casts over them the dappled light and
shade of the forest, but which now on the contrary were the first
installation of the wintry prison from which, obliged as I should be
to live, to take my meals at home, I should no longer be free now to
escape when I chose.

"Take care you don't slip, Sir; they're not tacked yet," Françoise
called to me. "I ought to have lighted up. Oh, dear, it's the end of
'Sectember' already, the fine days are over." In no time, winter; at
the corner of a window, as in a Gallé glass, a vein of crusted snow;
and even in the Champs-Elysées, instead of the girls one waits to see,
nothing but solitary sparrows.

What added to my distress at not seeing Mme. de Stermaria was that her
answer led me to suppose that whereas, hour by hour, since Sunday, I
had been living for this dinner alone, she had presumably never given
it a second thought. Later on I learned of an absurd love match that
she had suddenly made with a young man whom she must already have been
seeing at this time, and who had presumably made her forget my
invitation. For if she had remembered it she would surely never have
waited for the carriage which I was not, for that matter, supposed to
be sending for her, to inform me that she was otherwise engaged. My
dreams of a young feudal maiden on a misty island had cleared the way
to a still non-existent love. Now my disappointment, my rage, my
desperate desire to recapture her who had just refused me were able,
by bringing my sensibility into play, to make definite the possible
love which until then my imagination alone had—and that more
loosely—offered me.

How many are there in our memories, how many more have we forgotten,
of these faces of girls and young women, all different, to which we
have added a certain charm and a frenzied desire to see them again
only because at the last moment they eluded us? In the case of Mme. de
Stermaria there was a good deal more than this, and it was enough now
to make me love her for me to see her again so that I might refresh
those impressions, so vivid but all too brief, which my memory would
not, without such refreshment, have the strength to keep alive when we
were apart. Circumstances decided against me; I did not see her
again. It was not she that I loved, but it might well have been. And
one of the things that made most cruel, perhaps, the great love which
was presently to come to me was that when I thought of this evening I
used to say to myself that my love might, given a slight modification
of very ordinary circumstances, have been directed elsewhere, to Mme.
de Stermaria; its application to her who inspired it in me so soon
afterwards was not therefore—as I so longed so needed to
believe—absolutely necessary and predestined.

Françoise had left me by myself in the dining-room with the remark
that it was foolish of me to stay there before she had lighted the
fire. She went to get me some dinner, for even before the return of my
parents, from this very evening, my seclusion was to begin. I caught
sight of a huge bundle of carpets, still rolled up, and leaning
against one end of the sideboard, and burying my head in it,
swallowing its dust with my own tears, as the Jews used to cover their
heads with ashes in times of mourning, I began to sob. I shuddered not
only because the room was cold, but because a distinct lowering of
temperature (against the danger and—I should add, perhaps—the by no
means disagreeable sensation of which we make no attempt to react) is
brought about by a certain kind of tears which fall from our eyes,
drop by drop, like a fine, penetrating, icy rain, and seem as though
never would they cease to flow. Suddenly I heard a voice:

"May I come in? Françoise told me you would be in the dining-room. I
looked in to see whether you would care to come out and dine
somewhere, if it isn't bad for your throat—there's a fog outside you
could cut with a knife."

It was—arrived in Paris that morning, when I imagined him to be still
in Morocco or on the sea—Robert de Saint-Loup.

I have already said (as a matter of fact, it was Robert himself who,
at Balbec, had helped me, quite without meaning it, to arrive at this
conclusion) what I think about friendship: to wit that it is so small
a thing that I find it hard to understand how men with some claim to
genius—Nietzsche, for instance—can have been such simpletons as to
ascribe to it a certain intellectual value, and consequently to deny
themselves friendships in which intellectual esteem would have no
part. Yes, it has always been a surprise to me to find a man who
carried sincerity towards himself to so high a pitch as to cut himself
off, by a scruple of conscience, from Wagner's music, imagining that
the truth could ever be attained by the mode of expression, naturally
vague and inadequate, which our actions in general and acts of
friendship in particular furnish, or that there could be any kind of
significance in the fact of one's leaving one's work to go and see a
friend and shed tears with him on hearing the false report that the
Louvre was burned. I had got so far, at Balbec, as to find that the
pleasure of playing with a troop of girls is less destructive of the
spiritual life, to which at least it remains alien, than friendship,
the whole effort of which is directed towards making us sacrifice the
one real and (save by the channel of art) incommunicable part of
ourself to a superficial self which finds—not, like the other, any
joy in itself, but rather a vague, sentimental attraction in the
feeling that it is being supported by external props, hospitably
entertained by a strange personality, through which, happy in the
protection that is afforded it there, it makes its own comfort radiate
in warm approval, and marvels at qualities which it would denounce as
faults and seek to correct in itself. Moreover the scorners of
friendship can, without illusion and not without remorse, be the
finest friends in the world, just as an artist carrying in his brain a
masterpiece and feeling that his duty is rather to live and carry on
his work, nevertheless, so as not to be thought or to run the risk of
actually being selfish, gives his life for a vain cause, and gives it
all the more gallantly in that the reasons for which he would have
preferred not to give it were disinterested. But whatever might be my
opinion of friendship, to mention only the pleasure that it procured
me, of a quality so mediocre as to be like something halfway between
physical exhaustion and mental boredom, there is no brew so deadly
that it cannot at certain moments, become precious and invigorating by
giving us just the stimulus that was necessary, the warmth that we
cannot generate in ourselves.

The thought of course never entered my mind now of asking Saint-Loup
to take me (as, an hour earlier, I had been longing to go) to see some
of the Rivebelle women; the scar left by my disappointment with Mme.
de Stermaria was too recent still to be so easily healed, but at the
moment when I had ceased to feel in my heart any reason for happiness
Saint-Loup's bursting in upon me was like a sudden apparition of
kindness, mirth, life, which were external to me, no doubt, but
offered themselves to me, asked only to be made mine. He did not
himself understand my shout of gratitude, my tears of affection. And
yet is there anything more unaccountably affecting than one of those
friends, be he diplomat, explorer, airman or soldier like Saint-Loup,
who, having to start next day for the country, from where they will go
on heaven knows where, seem to form for themselves, in the evening
which they devote to us, an impression which we are astonished both to
find, so rare and fleeting is it, can be so pleasant to them, and,
since it does so delight them, not to see them prolong farther or
repeat more often. A meal with us, an event so natural in itself,
affords these travellers the same strange and exquisite pleasure as
our boulevards give to an Asiatic. We set off together to dine, and as
I went downstairs I thought of Doncières where every evening I used to
meet Robert at his restaurant, and the little dining-rooms there that
I had forgotten. I remembered one of these to which I had never given
a thought, and which was not in the hotel where Saint-Loup dined but
in another, far humbler, a cross between an inn and a boarding-house,
where the waiting was done by the landlady and one of her servants. I
had been forced to take shelter there once from a snowstorm. Besides,
Robert was not to be dining at the hotel that evening and I had not
cared to go any farther. My food was brought to me, upstairs, in a
little room with bare wooden walls. The lamp went out during dinner
and the servant lighted a couple of candles. I, pretending that I
could not see very well as I held out my plate, while she helped me to
potatoes, took her bare fore-arm in my hand, as though to guide her.
Seeing that she did not withdraw it, I began to fondle it, then,
without saying a word, pulled her bodily to me, blew out the candles
and told her to feel in my pocket for some money. For the next few
days physical pleasure seemed to me to require, to be properly
enjoyed, not only this servant but the timbered dining-room, so remote
and lonely. And yet it was to the other, in which Saint-Loup and his
friends dined, that I returned every evening, from force of habit and
in friendship for them, until I left Doncières. But even of this
hotel, where he took his meals with his friends, I had long ceased to
think; we make little use of our experience, we leave unconsumed in
the summer dusk or precocious nights of winter the hours in which it
had seemed to us that there might nevertheless be contained some
element of tranquillity or pleasure. But those hours are not
altogether wasted. When, in their turn, come and sing to us fresh
moments of pleasure, which by themselves would pass by equally bare in
outline, the others recur, bringing with them the groundwork, the
solid consistency of a rich orchestration. They are in this way
prolonged into one of those types of happiness which we recapture only
now and again but which continue to exist; in the present instance the
type was that of forsaking everything else to dine in comfortable
surroundings, which by the help of memory embody in a scene from
nature suggestions of the rewards of travel, with a friend who is
going to stir our dormant life with all his energy, his affection, to
communicate to us an emotional pleasure, very different from anything
that we could derive from our own efforts or from social distractions;
we are going to exist solely for him, to utter vows of friendship
which, born within the confines of the hour, remaining imprisoned in
it, will perhaps not be kept on the morrow but which I need have no
scruple in taking before Saint-Loup since, with a courage into which
there entered a great deal of common sense and the presentiment that
friendship cannot explore its own depths, on the morrow he would be

If as I came downstairs I lived over again the evenings at Doncières,
when we reached the street, in a moment the darkness, now almost
total, in which the fog seemed to have put out the lamps, which one
could make out, glimmering very faintly, only when close at hand, took
me back to I could not say what arrival, by night, at Combray, when
the streets there were still lighted only at long intervals and one
felt one's way through a darkness moist, warm, consecrated, like that
of a Christmas manger, just visibly starred here and there by a wick
that burned no brighter than a candle. Between that year—to which I
could ascribe no precise date—of my Combray life and the evenings at
Rivebelle which had, an hour earlier, been reflected above my drawn
curtains, what a world of differences! I felt on perceiving them an
enthusiasm which might have borne fruit had I been left alone and
would then have saved me the unnecessary round of many wasted years
through which I was yet to pass before there was revealed to me that
invisible vocation of which these volumes are the history. Had the
revelation come to me this evening, the carriage in which I sat would
have deserved to rank as more memorable with me than Dr. Percepied's,
on the box seat of which I had composed that little sketch—on which,
as it happened, I had recently laid my hands, altered it and sent it
in vain to the _Figaro_—of the spires of Martinville. Is it because
we live over our past years not in their continuous sequence, day by
day, but in a memory that fastens upon the coolness or sun-parched
heat of some morning or afternoon, receives the shadow of some
solitary place, is enclosed, immovable, arrested, lost, remote from
all others, because, therefore, the changes gradually wrought not only
in the world outside but in our dreams and our evolving character
(changes which have imperceptibly carried us through life from one to
another, wholly different time), are of necessity eliminated, that, if
we revive another memory taken from a different year, we find between
the two, thanks to lacunae, to vast stretches of oblivion, as it were
the gulf of a difference in altitude or the incompatibility of two
divers qualities, that of the air we breathe and the colour of the
scene before our eyes? But between one and another of the memories
that had now come to me in turn of Combray, of Doncières and of
Rivebelle, I was conscious at the moment of more than a distance in
time, of the distance that there would be between two separate
universes the material elements in which were not the same. If I had
sought to reproduce the element in which appeared carven my most
trivial memories of Rivebelle, I should have had to streak with rosy
veins, to render at once translucent, compact, refreshing, resonant a
substance hitherto analogous to the coarse dark sandstone walls of
Combray. But Robert having finished giving his instructions to the
driver joined me now in the carriage. The ideas that had appeared
before me took flight. Ideas are goddesses who deign at times to make
themselves visible to a solitary mortal, at a turning in the road,
even in his bedroom while he sleeps, when they, standing framed in the
doorway, bring him the annunciation of their tidings. But as soon as a
companion joins him they vanish, in the society of his fellows no man
has ever beheld them. And I found myself cast back upon friendship.
When he first appeared Robert had indeed warned me that there was a
good deal of fog outside, but while we were indoors, talking, it had
grown steadily thicker. It was no longer merely the light mist which
I had looked forward to seeing rise from the island and envelop Mme.
de Stermaria and myself. A few feet away from us the street lamps were
blotted out and then it was night, as dark as in the open fields, in a
forest, or rather on a mild Breton island whither I would fain have
gone; I lost myself, as on the stark coast of some. Northern sea
where one risks one's life twenty times over before coming to the
solitary inn; ceasing to be a mirage for which one seeks, the fog
became one of those dangers against which one has to fight, so that we
had, in finding our way and reaching a safe haven, the difficulties,
the anxiety and finally the joy which safety, so little perceived by
him who is not threatened with the loss of it, gives to the perplexed
and benighted traveller. One thing only came near to destroying my
pleasure during our adventurous ride, owing to the angry astonishment
into which it flung me for a moment, "You know, I told Bloch,"
Saint-Loup suddenly informed me, "that you didn't really think all
that of him, that you found him rather vulgar at times. I'm like that,
you see, I want people to know where they stand," he wound up with a
satisfied air and in a tone which brooked no reply. I was astounded.
Not only had I the most absolute confidence in Saint-Loup, in the
loyalty of his friendship, and he had betrayed it by what he had said
to Bloch, but it seemed to me that he of all men ought to have been
restrained from doing so, by his defects as well as by his good
qualities, by that astonishing veneer of breeding which was capable of
carrying politeness to what was positively a want of frankness. His
triumphant air, was it what we assume to cloak a certain embarrassment
in admitting a thing which we know that we ought not to have done, or
did it mean complete unconsciousness; stupidity making a virtue out of
a defect which I had not associated with him; a passing fit of ill
humour towards me prompting him to make an end of our friendship, or
the notation in words of a passing fit of ill humour in the company of
Bloch to whom he had felt that he must say something disagreeable,
even although I should be compromised by it? However that might be,
his face was seared, while he uttered this vulgar speech, by a
frightful sinuosity which I saw on it once or twice only in all the
time I knew him, and which, beginning by running more or less down the
middle of his face, when it came to his lips twisted them, gave them a
hideous expression of baseness, almost of bestiality, quite transitory
and no doubt inherited. There must have been at such moments, which
recurred probably not more than once every other year, a partial
eclipse of his true self by the passage across it of the personality
of some ancestor whose shadow fell on him. Fully as much as his
satisfied air, the words: "I want people to know where they stand,"
encouraged the same doubt and should have incurred a similar
condemnation. I felt inclined to say to him that if one wants people
to know where they stand one ought to confine these outbursts of
frankness to one's own affairs and not to acquire a too easy merit at
the expense of others. But by this time the carriage had stopped
outside the restaurant, the huge front of which, glazed and streaming
with light, alone succeeded in piercing the darkness. The fog itself,
beside the comfortable brightness of the lighted interior, seemed to
be waiting outside on the pavement to shew one the way in with the joy
of servants whose faces reflect the hospitable instincts of their
master; shot with the most delicate shades of light, it pointed the
way like the pillar of fire which guided the Children of Israel. Many
of whom, as it happened, were to be found inside. For this was the
place to which Bloch and his friends had long been in the habit,
maddened by a hunger as famishing as the Ritual Fast, which at least
occurs only once a year, for coffee and the satisfaction of political
curiosity, of repairing in the evenings. Every mental excitement
creating a value that overrides others, a quality superior to the rest
of one's habits, there is no taste at all keenly developed that does
not thus gather round it a society which it unites and in which the
esteem of his fellows is what each of its members seeks before
anything else from life. Here, in their café, be it in a little
provincial town, you will find impassioned music-lovers; the greater
part of their time, all their spare cash is spent in chamber-concerts,
in meetings for musical discussion, in cafés where one finds oneself
among musical people and rubs shoulders with the members of the
orchestra. Others, keen upon flying, seek to stand well with the old
waiter in the glazed bar perched on top of the aerodrome; sheltered
from the wind as in the glass cage of a lighthouse, they can follow in
the company of an airman who is not going up that day the evolutions
of a pilot practising loops, while another, invisible a moment ago,
comes suddenly swooping down to land with the great winged roar of an
Arabian roc. The little group which met to try to perpetuate, to
explore the fugitive emotions aroused by the Zola trial attached a
similar importance to this particular café. But they were not viewed
with favour by the young nobles who composed the rest of its patrons
and had taken possession of a second room, separated from the other
only by a flimsy parapet topped with a row of plants. These looked
upon Dreyfus and his supporters as traitors, albeit twenty-five years
later, ideas having had time to classify themselves and Dreyfusism to
acquire, in the light of history, a certain distinction, the sons,
dance-mad Bolshevists, of these same young nobles were to declare to
the 'intellectuals' who questioned them that undoubtedly, had they
been alive at the time, they would have stood up for Dreyfus, without
having any clearer idea of what the great Case had been about than
Comtesse Edmond de Pourtalès or the Marquise de Galliffet, other
luminaries already extinct at the date of their birth. For on the
night of the fog the noblemen of the café, who were in due course to
become the fathers of these young intellectuals, Dreyfusards in
retrospect, were still bachelors. Naturally the idea of a rich
marriage was present in the minds of all their families, but none of
them had yet brought such a marriage off. While still potential, the
only effect of this rich marriage, the simultaneous ambition of
several of them (there were indeed several heiresses in view, but
after all the number of big dowries was considerably below that of the
aspirants to them), was to create among these young men a certain
amount of rivalry.

As ill luck would have it, Saint-Loup remaining outside for a minute
to explain to the driver that he was to call for us again after
dinner, I had to make my way in by myself. In the first place, once I
had involved myself in the spinning door, to which I was not
accustomed, I began to fear that I should never succeed in escaping
from it. (Let me note here for the benefit of lovers of verbal
accuracy that the contrivance in question, despite its peaceful
appearance, is known as a 'revolver,' from the English 'revolving
door.') This evening the proprietor, not venturing either to brave the
elements outside or to desert his customers, remained standing near
the entrance so as to have the pleasure of listening to the joyful
complaints of the new arrivals, all aglow with the satisfaction of
people who have had difficulty in reaching a place and have been
afraid of losing their way. The smiling cordiality of his welcome was,
however, dissipated by the sight of a stranger incapable of
disengaging himself from the rotating sheets of glass. This flagrant
sign of social ignorance made him knit his brows like an examiner who
has a good mind not to utter the formula: _Dignus est intrare_. As a
crowning error I went to look for a seat in the room set apart for the
nobility, from which he at once expelled me, indicating to me, with a
rudeness to which all the waiters at once conformed, a place in the
other room. This was all the less to my liking because the seat was in
the middle of a crowded row and I had opposite me the door reserved
for the Hebrews which, as it did not revolve, opening and shutting at
every moment kept me in a horrible draught. But the proprietor
declined to move me, saying: "No, Sir, I cannot have the whole place
upset for you." Presently, however, he forgot this belated and
troublesome guest, captivated as he was by the arrival of each
newcomer who, before calling for his beer, his wing of cold chicken or
his hot grog (it was by now long past dinner-time), must first, as in
the old romances, pay his scot by relating his adventure at the moment
of his entry into this asylum of warmth and security where the
contrast with the perils just escaped made that gaiety and sense of
comradeship prevail which create a cheerful harmony round the
camp fire.

One reported that his carriage, thinking it had got to the Pont de la
Concorde, had circled three times round the Invalides, another that
his, in trying to make its way down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, had
driven into a clump of trees at the Rond Point, from which it had
taken him three quarters of an hour to get clear. Then followed
lamentations upon the fog, the cold, the deathly stillness of the
streets, uttered and received with the same exceptionally jovial air,
which was accounted for by the pleasant atmosphere of the room which,
except where I sat, was warm, the dazzling light which set blinking
eyes already accustomed to not seeing, and the buzz of talk which
restored their activity to deafened ears.

It was all the newcomers could do to keep silence. The singularity of
the mishaps which each of them thought unique burned their tongues,
and their eyes roved in search of some one to engage in conversation.
The proprietor himself lost all sense of social distinction. "M. le
Prince de Foix lost his way three times coming from the Porte
Saint-Martin," he was not afraid to say with a laugh, actually
pointing out, as though introducing one to the other, the illustrious
nobleman to an Israelite barrister, who, on any evening but this,
would have been divided from him by a barrier far harder to surmount
than the ledge of greenery. "Three times—fancy that!" said the
barrister, touching his hat. This note of personal interest was not at
all to the Prince's liking. He formed one of an aristocratic group for
whom the practice of impertinence, even at the expense of their
fellow-nobles when these were not of the very highest rank, seemed the
sole possible occupation. Not to acknowledge a bow, and, if the polite
stranger repeated the offence, to titter with sneering contempt or
fling back one's head with a look of fury, to pretend not to know some
elderly man who might have done them a service, to reserve their
handclasp for dukes and the really intimate friends of dukes whom the
latter introduced to them, such was the attitude of these young men,
and especially of the Prince de Foix. Such an attitude was encouraged
by the ill-balanced mentality of early manhood (a period in which,
even in the middle class, one appears ungrateful and behaves like a
cad because, having forgotten for months to write to a benefactor
after he has lost his wife, one then ceases to nod to him in the
street so as to simplify matters), but it was inspired above all by an
over-acute caste snobbishness. It is true that, after the fashion of
certain nervous affections the symptoms of which grow less pronounced
in later life, this snobbishness was on the whole to cease to express
itself in so offensive a form in these men who had been so intolerable
when young. Once youth is outgrown, it is seldom that anyone remains
hidebound by insolence. He had supposed it to be the only thing in the
world; suddenly he discovers, for all the Prince that he is, that
there also are such things as music, literature, even standing for
parliament. The scale of human values is correspondingly altered and
he joins in conversation with people whom at one time he would have
slain with a glare of lightning. Which is fortunate for those of the
latter who have had the patience to wait, and whose character is
sufficiently formed—if one may so put it—for them to feel pleasure
in receiving in their forties the civility and welcome that had been
coldly withheld from them at twenty.

As I have mentioned the Prince de Foix, it may not be inconsequent
here to add that he belonged to a set of a dozen or fifteen young men
and to an inner group of four. The dozen or fifteen shared this
characteristic (which the Prince lacked, I fancy) that each of them
faced the world in a dual aspect. Up to their own eyes in debt, they
were of no account in those of their tradesmen, notwithstanding the
pleasure these took in addressing them as 'Monsieur le Comte,'
'Monsieur le Marquis,' 'Monsieur le Duc.' They hoped to retrieve their
fortunes by means of the famous rich marriage ('money-bags' as the
expression still was) and, as the fat dowries which they coveted
numbered at the most four or five, several of them would be silently
training their batteries on the same damsel. And the secret would be
so well kept that when one of them, on arriving at the café,
announced: "My dear fellows, I am too fond of you all not to tell you
of my engagement to Mlle. d'Ambresac," there was a general outburst,
more than one of the others imagining that the marriage was as good as
settled already between Mlle. d'Ambresac and himself, and not having
enough self-control to stifle a spontaneous cry of stupefaction and
rage. "So you like the idea of marriage, do you Bibi?" the Prince de
Châtellerault could not help exclaiming, letting his fork drop in his
surprise and despair, for he had been fully expecting the engagement
of this identical Mlle. d'Ambresac to be announced, but with himself,
Châtellerault, as her bridegroom. And heaven only knew all that his
father had cunningly hinted to the Ambresacs against Bibi's mother.
"So you think it'll be fun, being married, do you?" he was impelled to
repeat his question to Bibi, who, better prepared to meet it, for he
had had plenty of time to decide on the right attitude to adopt since
the engagement had reached the semi-official stage, replied with a
smile: "What pleases me is not the idea of marriage, which never
appealed much to me, but marrying Daisy d'Ambresac, whom I think
charming." In the time taken up by this response M. de Châtellerault
had recovered his composure, but he was thinking that he must at the
earliest possible moment execute a change of front in the direction of
Mlle. de la Canourque or Miss Foster, numbers two and three on the
list of heiresses, pacify somehow the creditors who were expecting the
Ambresac marriage and finally explain to the people to whom he too had
declared that Mlle. d'Ambresac was charming that this marriage was all
very well for Bibi, but that he himself would have had all his family
down on him like a ton of bricks if he had married her. Mme. Soléon
(he decided to say) had actually announced that she would not have
them in her house.

But if in the eyes of tradesmen, proprietors of restaurants and the
like they seemed of little account, conversely, being creatures of
dual personality, the moment they appeared in society they ceased to
be judged by the decay of their fortunes and the sordid occupations by
which they sought to repair them. They became once more M. le Prince
this, M. le Duc that and were reckoned only in terms of their
quarterings. A duke who was practically a multi-millionaire and
seemed to combine in his own person every possible distinction gave
precedence to them because, the heads of their various houses, they
were by descent sovereign princes of minute territories in which they
were entitled to coin money and so forth. Often in this café one of
them lowered his eyes when another came in so as not to oblige the
newcomer to greet him. This was because in his imaginative pursuit of
riches he had invited a banker to dine. Every time that a man about
town enters into relations, on this footing, with a banker, the latter
leaves him the poorer by a hundred thousand francs, which does not
prevent the man about town from at once repeating the process with
another. We continue to burn candles in churches and to consult

But the Prince de Foix, who was rich already, belonged not only to
this fashionable set of fifteen or so young men, but to a more
exclusive and inseparable group of four which included Saint-Loup.
These were never asked anywhere separately, they were known as the
four _gigolos_, they were always to be seen riding together, in
country houses their hostesses gave them communicating bedrooms, with
the result that, especially as they were all four extremely good
looking, rumours were current as to the extent of their intimacy. I
was in a position to give these the lie direct so far as Saint-Loup
was concerned. But the curious thing is that if, later on, one was to
learn that these rumours were true of all four, each of the quartet
had been entirely in the dark as to the other three. And yet each of
them had done his utmost to find out about the others, to gratify a
desire or (more probably) a resentment, to prevent a marriage or to
secure a hold over the friend whose secret he discovered. A fifth (for
in these groups of four there are never four only) had joined this
Platonic party who was more so than any of the others. But religious
scruples restrained him until long after the group had broken up, and
he himself was a married man, the father of a family, fervently
praying at Lourdes that the next baby might be a boy or a girl, and
spending the intervals of procreation in the pursuit of soldiers.

Despite the Prince's code of manners, the fact that the barrister's
comment, though uttered in his hearing, had not been directly
addressed to him made him less angry than he would otherwise have
been. Besides, this evening was somewhat exceptional. Finally, the
barrister had no more prospect of coming to know the Prince de Foix
than the cabman who had driven that noble lord to the restaurant. The
Prince felt, accordingly, that he might allow himself to reply, in an
arrogant tone, as though speaking to some one 'off stage,' to this
stranger who, thanks to the fog, was in the position of a travelling
companion whom one meets at some seaside place at the ends of the
earth, scoured by all the winds of heaven or shrouded in mist: "Losing
your way's nothing; the trouble is, you can't find it again." The
wisdom of this aphorism impressed the proprietor, for he had already
heard it several times in the course of the evening.

He was, in fact, in the habit of always comparing what he heard or
read with an already familiar canon, and felt his admiration aroused
if he could detect no difference. This state of mind is by no means to
be ignored, for, applied to political conversations, to the reading of
newspapers, it forms public opinion and thereby makes possible the
greatest events in history. An aggregation of German landlords,
simply by being impressed by a customer or a newspaper when he or it
said that France, England and Russia were 'out to crush' Germany, made
war, at the time of Agadir, possible, even if no war occurred.
Historians, if they have not been wrong to abandon the practice of
attributing the actions of peoples to the will of kings, ought to
substitute for the latter the psychology of the person of no

In politics the proprietor of this particular café had for some time
now concentrated his pupil-teacher's mind on certain particular
details of the Dreyfus case. If he did not find the terms that were
familiar to him in the conversation of a customer or the columns of a
newspaper he would pronounce the article boring or the speaker
insincere. The Prince de Foix, however, impressed him so forcibly that
he barely gave him time to finish what he was saying. "That's right,
Prince, that's right," (which meant neither more nor less than
'repeated without a mistake') "that's exactly how it is!" he
exclaimed, expanding, like people in the Arabian Nights 'to the limit
of repletion.' But the Prince had by this time vanished into the
smaller room. Then, as life resumes its normal course after even the
most sensational happenings, those who had emerged from the sea of fog
began to order whatever they wanted to eat or drink; among them a
party of young men from the Jockey Club who, in view of the
abnormality of the situation, had no hesitation in taking their places
at a couple of tables in the big room, and were thus quite close to
me. So the cataclysm had established even between the smaller room and
the bigger, among all these people stimulated by the comfort of the
restaurant after their long wanderings across the ocean of fog, a
familiarity from which I alone was excluded, not unlike the spirit
that must have prevailed in Noah's ark. Suddenly I saw the landlord's
body whipped into a series of bows, the head waiters hurrying to
support him in a full muster which drew every eye towards the door.
"Quick, send Cyprien here, lay a table for M. le Marquis de
Saint-Loup," cried the proprietor, for whom Robert was not merely a
great nobleman possessing a real importance even in the eyes of the
Prince de Foix, but a client who drove through life four-in-hand, so
to speak, and spent a great deal of money in this restaurant. The
customers in the big room looked on with interest, those in the small
room shouted simultaneous greetings to their friend as he finished
wiping his shoes. But just as he was about to make his way into the
small room he caught sight of me in the big one. "Good God," he
exclaimed, "what on earth are you doing there? And with the door wide
open too?" he went on, with an angry glance at the proprietor, who ran
to shut it, throwing the blame on his staff: "I'm always telling them
to keep it shut."

I had been obliged to shift my own table and to disturb others which
stood in the way in order to reach him. "Why did you move? Would you
sooner dine here than in the little room? Why, my poor fellow, you're
freezing. You will oblige me by keeping that door locked;" he turned
to the proprietor. "This very instant, M. le Marquis; the gentlemen
will have to go out of this room through the other, that is all." And
the better to shew his zeal he detailed for this operation a head
waiter and several satellites, vociferating the most terrible threats
of punishment were it not properly carried out. He began to shew me
exaggerated marks of respect so as to make me forget that these had
begun not upon my arrival but only after that of Saint-Loup, while,
lest I should think them to have been prompted by the friendliness
shewn me by his rich and noble client he gave me now and again a
surreptitious little smile which seemed to indicate a regard that was
wholly personal.

Something said by one of the diners behind me made me turn my head for
a moment. I had caught, instead of the words: "Wing of chicken,
excellent; and a glass of champagne, only not too dry," the
unexpected: "I should prefer glycerine. Yes, hot, excellent." I wanted
to see who the ascetic was that was inflicting upon himself such a
diet. I turned quickly back to Saint-Loup so as not to be recognised
by the man of strange appetite. It was simply a doctor, whom I
happened to know, and of whom another customer, taking advantage of
the fog to buttonhole him here in the café, was asking his
professional advice. Like stockbrokers, doctors employ the first
person singular.

Meanwhile I was studying Saint-Loup, and my thoughts took a line of
their own. They were in this café, I had myself known at other times,
plenty of foreigners, intellectuals, budding geniuses of all sorts,
resigned to the laughter excited by their pretentious capes, their
1830 neckties and still more by the clumsiness of their movements,
going so far as to provoke that laughter in order to shew that they
paid no heed to it, who yet were men of real intellectual and moral
worth, of an extreme sensibility. They repelled—the Jews among them
principally, the unassimilated Jews, that is to say, for with the
other kind we are not concerned—those who could not endure any oddity
or eccentricity of appearance (as Bloch repelled Albertine).
Generally speaking, one realised afterwards that if they had against
them hair worn too long, noses and eyes that were too big, stilted
theatrical gestures, it was puerile to judge them by these only, they
had plenty of intelligence and spirit and were men to whom, in the
long run, one could become closely attached. Among the Jews especially
there were few whose parents and kinsfolk had not a warmth of heart, a
breadth of mind in comparison with which Saint-Loup's mother and the
Duc de Guermantes cut the poorest of figures by their sereness, their
skin-deep religiosity which denounced only the most open scandals,
their apology for a Christianity which led invariably (by the
unexpected channel of a purely calculating mind) to an enormously
wealthy marriage. But in Saint-Loup, when all was said, however the
faults of his relatives might be combined in a fresh creation of
character, there reigned the most charming openness of mind and heart.
And whenever (it must be frankly admitted, to the undying glory of
France) these qualities are found in a man who is purely French, be he
noble or plebeian, they flower—flourish would be too strong a word,
for a sense of proportion persists and also a certain restraint—with
a grace which the foreign visitor, however estimable he may be, does
not present to us. Of these intellectual and moral qualities others
undoubtedly have their share, and if we have first to overcome what
repels us and what makes us smile they remain no less precious. But it
is all the same a pleasant thing, and one which is perhaps exclusively
French that what is fine from the standpoint of equity, what is of
value to the heart and mind should be first of all attractive to the
eyes, charmingly coloured, consummately chiselled, should express
outwardly as well in substance as in form an inward perfection. I
studied Saint-Loup's features and said to myself that it is a thing to
be glad of when there is no lack of bodily grace to prepare one for
the graces within, and when the winged nostrils are spread as
delicately and with as perfect a design as the wings of the little
butterflies that hover over the field-flowers round Combray; and that
the true _opus francigenum_, the secret of which was not lost in the
thirteenth century, the beauty of which would not be lost with the
destruction of our churches, consists not so much in the stone angels
of Saint-André-des-Champs as in the young sons of France, noble,
citizen or peasant, whose faces are carved with that delicacy and
boldness which have remained as traditional there as on the famous
porch, but are creative still as well.

After leaving us for a moment in order to supervise personally the
barring of the door and the ordering of our dinner (he laid great
stress on our choosing 'butcher's meat,' the fowls being presumably
nothing to boast of) the proprietor came back to inform us that M. le
Prince de Foix would esteem it a favour if M. le Marquis would allow
him to dine at a table next to ours. "But they are all taken,"
objected Robert, casting an eye over the tables which blocked the way
to mine. "That doesn't matter in the least, if M. le Marquis would
like it, I can easily ask these people to move to another table. It is
always a pleasure to do anything for M. le Marquis!" "But you must
decide," said Saint-Loup to me. "Foix is a good fellow, he may bore
you or he may not; anyhow he's not such a fool as most of them." I
told Robert that of course I should like to meet his friend but that
now that I was for once in a way dining with him and was so entirely
happy, I should be just as well pleased to have him all to myself.
"He's got a very fine cloak, the Prince has," the proprietor broke in
upon our deliberation. "Yes, I know," said Saint-Loup. I wanted to
tell Robert that M. de Charlus had disclaimed all knowledge of me to
his sister-in-law, and to ask him what could be the reason of this,
but was prevented by the arrival of M. de Foix. Come to see whether
his request had been favourably received, we caught sight of him
standing beside our table. Robert introduced us, but did not hide from
his friend that as we had things to talk about he would prefer not to
be disturbed. The Prince withdrew, adding to the farewell bow which he
made me a smile which, pointed at Saint-Loup, seemed to transfer to
him the responsibility for the shortness of a meeting which the Prince
himself would have liked to see prolonged. As he turned to go, Robert,
struck, it appeared, by a sudden idea, dashed off after his friend,
with a "Stay where you are and get on with your dinner, I shall be
back in a moment," to me; and vanished into the smaller room. I was
pained to hear the smart young men sitting near me, whom I did not
know, repeat the most absurd and malicious stories about the young
Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg (formerly Comte de Nassau) whom I
had met at Balbec and who had shewn me such delicate marks of sympathy
at the time of my grandmother's illness. According to one of these
young me he had said to the Duchesse de Guermantes: "I expect everyone
to get up when my wife passes," to which the Duchess had retorted
(with as little truth, had she said any such thing, as humour, the
grandmother of the young Princess having always been the very pink of
propriety): "Get up when your wife passes, do they? Well, that's a
change from her grandmother's day. She expected the gentlemen to lie
down." Then some one alleged that, having gone down to see his aunt
the Princesse de Luxembourg at Balbec, and put up at the Grand Hotel,
he had complained to the manager there (my friend) that the royal
standard of Luxembourg was not flown in front of the hotel, over the
sea. And that this flag being less familiar and less generally in use
than the British or Italian, it had taken him several days to procure
one, greatly to the young Grand Duke's annoyance. I did not believe a
word of this story, but made up my mind, as soon as I went to Balbec,
to inquire of the manager, so as to make certain that it was a pure
invention. While waiting for Saint-Loup to return I asked the
proprietor to get me some bread. "Certainly, Monsieur le Baron!" "I am
not a Baron," I told him. "Oh, beg pardon, Monsieur le Comte!" I had
no time to lodge a second protest which would certainly have promoted
me to the rank of marquis; faithful to his promise of an immediate
return, Saint-Loup reappeared in the doorway carrying over his arm the
thick vicuna cloak of the Prince de Foix, from whom I guessed that he
had borrowed it in order to keep me warm. He signed to me not to get
up, and came towards me, but either my table would have to be moved
again or I must change my seat if he was to get to his. Entering the
big room he sprang lightly on to one of the red plush benches which
ran round its walls and on which, apart from myself, there were
sitting only three or four of the young men from the Jockey Club,
friends of his own, who had not managed to find places in the other
room. Between the tables and the wall electric wires were stretched at
a certain height; without the least hesitation Saint-Loup jumped
nimbly over them like a horse in a steeplechase; embarrassed that it
should be done wholly for my benefit and to save me the trouble of a
slight movement, I was at the same time amazed at the precision with
which my friend performed this exercise in levitation; and in this I
was not alone; for, albeit they would probably have had but little
admiration for a similar display on the part of a more humbly born and
less generous client, the proprietor and his staff stood fascinated,
like racegoers in the enclosure; one underling, apparently rooted to
the ground, stood there gaping with a dish in his hand for which a
party close beside him were waiting; and when Saint-Loup, having to
get past his friends, climbed on the narrow ledge behind them and ran
along it, balancing himself with his arms, discreet applause broke
from the body of the room. On coming to where I was sitting he stopped
short in his advance with the precision of a tributary chieftain
before the throne of a sovereign, and, stooping down, handed to me
with an air of courtesy and submission the vicuna cloak which, a
moment later, having taken his place beside me, without my having to
make a single movement he arranged as a light but warm shawl about my

"By the way, while I think of it, my uncle Charlus has something to
say to you. I promised I'd send you round to him to-morrow evening."

"I was just going to speak to you about him. But to-morrow evening I
am dining with your aunt Guermantes."

"Yes there's a regular beanfeast to-morrow at Oriane's. I'm not asked.
But my uncle Palamède doesn't want you to go there. You can't get out
of it, I suppose? Well, anyhow, go on to my uncle's afterwards. I'm
sure he really does want to see you. Look here, you can easily manage
to get there by eleven. Eleven o'clock; don't forget; I'll let him
know. He's very touchy. If you don't turn up he'll never forgive you.
And Oriane's parties are always over quite early. If you are only
going to dine there you can quite easily be at my uncle's by eleven. I
ought really to go and see Oriane, about getting shifted from Morocco;
I want an exchange. She is so nice about all that sort of thing, and
she can get anything she likes out of General de Saint-Joseph, who
runs that branch. But don't say anything about it to her. I've
mentioned it to the Princesse de Parme, everything will be all right.
Interesting place, Morocco. I could tell you all sorts of things. Very
fine lot of men out there. One feels they're on one's own level,

"You don't think the Germans are going to go to war about it?"

"No; they're annoyed with us, as after all they have every right to
be. But the Emperor is out for peace. They are always making us think
they want war, to force us to give in. Pure bluff, you know, like
poker. The Prince of Monaco, one of Wilhelm's agents, comes and tells
us in confidence that Germany will attack us. Then we give way. But if
we didn't give way, there wouldn't be war in any shape or form. You
have only to think what a comic spectacle a war would be in these
days. It'd be a bigger catastrophe than the Flood and the
_Götterdämmerung_ rolled in one. Only it wouldn't last so long."

He spoke to me of friendship, affection, regret, albeit like all
visitors of his sort he was going off the next morning for some
months, which he was to spend in the country, and would only be
staying a couple of nights in Paris on his way back to Morocco (or
elsewhere); but the words which he thus let fall into the heated
furnace which my heart was this evening kindled a pleasant glow there.
Our infrequent meetings, this one in particular, have since formed a
distinct episode in my memories. For him, as for me, this was the
evening of friendship. And yet the friendship that I felt for him at
this moment was scarcely, I feared (and felt therefore some remorse at
the thought), what he would have liked to inspire. Filled still with
the pleasure that I had had in seeing him come bounding towards me and
gracefully pause on arriving at his goal, I felt that this pleasure
lay in my recognising that each of the series of movements which he
had developed against the wall, along the bench, had its meaning, its
cause in Saint-Loup's own personal nature, possibly, but even more in
that which by birth and upbringing he had inherited from his race.

A certainty of taste in the region not of beauty but manners, which
when he was faced by a novel combination of circumstances enabled the
man of breeding to grasp at once—like a musician who has been asked
to play a piece he has never seen—the feeling, the motions that were
required, and to apply the appropriate mechanism and technique; which
then allowed this taste to display itself without the constraint of
any other consideration, by which the average young man of the middle
class would have been paralysed, from fear as well of making himself
ridiculous in the eyes of strangers by his disregard of convention as
of appearing too deferential in the eyes of his friends; the place of
this constraint being taken in Robert by a lofty disdain which
certainly he had never felt in his heart but which he had received by
inheritance in his body, and which had moulded the attitudes of his
ancestors to a familiarity with their inferiors which, they imagined,
could only flatter and enchant those to whom it was displayed; lastly,
a noble liberality which, taking no account of his boundless natural
advantages (lavish expenditure in this restaurant had succeeded in
making him, here as elsewhere, the most fashionable customer and the
general favourite, a position which was underlined by the deference
shewn him throughout the place not only by the waiters but by all its
most exclusive young patrons), led him to trample them underfoot, just
as he had, actually and symbolically, trodden upon those benches
decked with purple, like a triumphal way which pleased my friend only
because it enabled him more gracefully and swiftly to arrive at my
side; such were the qualities, essential to aristocracy, which through
the husk of this body, not opaque and vague as mine would have been,
but significant and limpid, transmitted as through a work of art the
industrious, energetic force which had created it and rendered the
movements of this lightfoot course which Robert had pursued along the
wall intelligible and charming as those of a row of knights upon a
marble frieze. "Alas!" Robert might have thought, "was it worth while
to have grown up despising birth, honouring only justice and
intellect, choosing outside the ranks of the friends provided for me
companions who were awkward and ill-dressed, provided they had the
gift of eloquence, only for the sole personality apparent in me, which
is to remain a treasured memory, to be not that which my will, with
the most praiseworthy effort, has fashioned in my likeness, but one
which is not of my making, which is not even myself, which I have
always disliked and striven to overcome; was it worth while to love my
chosen friend as I have loved him, for the greatest pleasure that he
can find in me to be that of discovering something far more general
than myself, a pleasure which is not in the least (as he says, though
he cannot seriously believe it) one of the pleasures of friendship,
but an intellectual and detached, a sort of artistic pleasure?" This
is what I am now afraid that Saint-Loup may at times have thought. If
so, he was mistaken. If he had not (as he steadfastly had) cherished
something more lofty than the suppleness innate in his body, if he had
not kept aloof for so long from the pride that goes with noble birth,
there would have been something more studied, a certain heaviness in
his very agility, a self-important vulgarity in his manners. As with
Mme. de Villeparisis a strong vein of seriousness had been necessary
for her to give in her conversation and in her Memoirs a sense of the
frivolous, which is intellectual, so, in order that Saint-Loup's body
might be indwelt by so much nobility, the latter had first to desert a
mind that was aiming at higher things, and, reabsorbed into his body,
to be fixed there in unconscious, noble lines. In this way his
distinction of mind was not absent from a bodily distinction which
otherwise would not have been complete. An artist has no need to
express his mind directly in his work for it to express the quality of
that mind; it has indeed been said that the highest praise of God
consists in the denial of Him by the atheist, who finds creation so
perfect that it can dispense with a creator. And I was quite well
aware that it was not merely a work of art that I was admiring in this
young man unfolding along the wall the frieze of his flying course;
the young Prince (a descendant of Catherine de Foix, Queen of Navarre
and grand-daughter of Charles VII) whom he had just left for my sake,
the endowments, by birth and fortune, which he was laying at my feet,
the proud and shapely ancestors who survived in the assurance, the
agility, the courtesy with which he now arranged about my shivering
body the warm woollen cloak, were not all these like friends of longer
standing in his life, by whom I might have expected that we should be
permanently kept apart, and whom, on the contrary, he was sacrificing
to me by a choice which one can make only in the loftiest places of
the mind, with that sovereign liberty of which Robert's movements were
the presentment and in which is realised perfect friendship?

How much familiar intercourse with a Guermantes—in place of the
distinction that it had in Robert, because there the inherited scorn
of humanity was but the outer garment, become an unconscious charm, of
a real moral humility—could disclose of vulgar arrogance I had had an
opportunity of seeing, not in M. de Charlus, in whom certain
characteristic faults, for which I had been unable, so far, to
account, were overlaid upon his aristocratic habits, but in the Duc de
Guermantes. And yet he too, in the general impression of commonness
which had so strongly repelled my grandmother when she had met him
once, years earlier, at Mme. de Villeparisis's, included glimpses of
historic grandeur of which I became conscious when I went to dine in
his house, on the evening following that which I had spent with

They had not been apparent to me either in himself or in the Duchess
when I had met them first in their aunt's drawing-room, any more than
I had discerned, on first seeing her, the differences that set Berma
apart from her fellow-players, all the more that in her the
individuality was infinitely more striking than in any social
celebrity, such distinctions becoming more marked in proportion as the
objects are more real, more conceivable by the intellect. And yet,
however slight the shades of social distinction may be (and so slight
are they that when an accurate portrayer like Sainte-Beuve tries to
indicate the shades of difference between the salons of Mme.
Geoffrin, Mme. Récamier and Mme. de Boigne, they appear so much alike
that the cardinal truth which, unknown to the author, emerges from his
investigations is the vacuity of that form of life), with them, and
for the same reason as with Berma, when the Guermantes had ceased to
impress me and the tiny drop of their originality was no longer
vaporised by my imagination, I was able to distil and analyse it,
imponderable as it was.

The Duchess having made no reference to her husband when she talked to
me at her aunt's party, I wondered whether, in view of the rumours of
a divorce that were current, he would be present at the dinner. But my
doubts were speedily set at rest, for through the crowd of footmen who
stood about in the hall and who (since they must until then have
regarded me much as they regarded the children of the evicted
cabinet-maker, that is to say with more fellow-feeling perhaps than
their master but as a person incapable of being admitted to his house)
must have been asking themselves to what this social revolution could
be due, I saw slip towards me M. de Guermantes himself, who had been
watching for my arrival so as to receive me upon his threshold and
take off my greatcoat with his own hands.

"Mme. de Guermantes will be as pleased as punch," he greeted me in a
glibly persuasive tone. "Let me help you off with your duds." (He felt
it to be at once companionable and comic to employ the speech of the
people.) "My wife was just the least bit afraid you might fail us,
although you had fixed a date. We've been saying to each other all day
long: 'Depend upon it, he'll never turn up.' I am bound to say, Mme.
de Guermantes was a better prophet than I was. You are not an easy man
to get hold of, and I was quite sure you were going to play us false."
And the Duke was so bad a husband, so brutal even (people said), that
one felt grateful to him, as one feels grateful to wicked people for
their occasional kindness of heart, for those words 'Mme. de
Guermantes' with which he appeared to be spreading out over the
Duchess a protecting wing, that she might be but one flesh with him.
Meanwhile, taking me familiarly by the hand, he began to lead the way,
to introduce me into his household. Just as some casual phrase may
delight us coming from the lips of a peasant if it points to the
survival of a local tradition, shews the trace of some historic event
unknown, it may be, to him who thus alludes to it; so this politeness
on the part of M. de Guermantes, which, moreover, he was to continue
to shew me throughout the evening, charmed me as a survival of habits
of many centuries' growth, habits of the seventeenth century in
particular. The people of bygone ages seem to us infinitely remote. We
do not feel justified in ascribing to them any underlying intention
apart from those to which they give formal expression; we are amazed
when we come upon a sentiment more or less akin to what we are feeling
to-day in a Homeric hero, or upon a skilful tactical feint in
Hannibal, during the battle of Cannae, where he let his flank be
driven back in order to take the enemy by surprise and surround him;
it would seem that we imagined the epic poet and the Punic general as
being as remote from ourselves as an animal seen in a zoological
garden. Even in certain personages of the court of Louis XIV, when we
find signs of courtesy in the letters written by them to some man of
inferior rank who could be of no service to them whatever, they leave
us bewildered because they reveal to us suddenly, as existing among
these great gentlemen, a whole world of beliefs to which they never
give any direct expression but which govern their conduct, and
especially the belief that they are bound in politeness to feign
certain sentiments and to carry out with the most scrupulous care
certain obligations of friendship.

This imagined remoteness of the past is perhaps one of the things that
enable us to understand how even great writers have found an inspired
beauty in the works of mediocre mystifiers, such as Macpherson's
_Ossian_. We so little expected to learn that bards long dead could
have modern ideas that we marvel if in what we believe to be an
ancient Gaelic ode we come upon one which we should have thought, at
the most, ingenious in a contemporary. A translator of talent has
simply to add to an ancient writer whom he presents to us more or less
faithfully reproduced fragments which, signed with a contemporary name
and published separately, would seem entertaining only; at once he
imparts a moving grandeur to his poet, who is thus made to play upon
the keyboards of several ages at once. This translator was capable
only of a mediocre book, if that book had been published as his
original work. Given out as a translation, it seems that of a
masterpiece. The past not merely is not fugitive, it remains present.
It is not within a few months only after the outbreak of a war that
laws passed without haste can effectively influence its course, it is
not within fifteen years only after a crime which has remained obscure
that a magistrate can still find the vital evidence which will throw a
light on it; after hundreds and thousands of years the scholar who has
been studying in a distant land the place-names, the customs of the
inhabitants, may still extract from them some legend long anterior to
the Christian era, already unintelligible, if not actually forgotten,
at the time of Herodotus, which in the name given to a rock, in a
religious rite, dwells surrounded by the present, like an emanation of
greater density, immemorial and stable. There was similarly an
emanation, though far less ancient, of the life of the court, if not
in the manners of M. de Guermantes, which were often vulgar, at least
in the mind that controlled them. I was to breathe this again, like
the odour of antiquity, when I joined him a little later in the
drawing-room. For I did not go there at once.

As we left the outer hall, I had mentioned to M. de Guermantes that I
was extremely anxious to see his Elstirs. "I am at your service. Is M.
Elstir a friend of yours, then? If so, it is most vexing, for I know
him slightly; he is a pleasant fellow, what our fathers used to call
an 'honest fellow'; I might have asked him to honour us with his
company, and to dine tonight. I am sure he would have been highly
flattered at being invited to spend the evening in your society." Very
little suggestive of the old order when he tried thus to assume its
manner, the Duke relapsed unconsciously into it. After inquiring
whether I wished him to shew me the pictures, he conducted me to them,
gracefully standing aside for me at each door, apologising when, to
shew me the way, he was obliged to precede me, a little scene which
(since the days when Saint-Simon relates that an ancestor of the
Guermantes did him the honours of his town house with the same
punctilious exactitude in the performance of the frivolous duties of a
gentleman) must, before coming gradually down to us, have been enacted
by many other Guermantes for numberless other visitors. And as I had
said to the Duke that I would like very much to be left alone for a
few minutes with the pictures, he discreetly withdrew, telling me that
I should find him in the drawing-room when I was ready.

Only, once I was face to face with the Elstirs, I completely forgot
about dinner and the time; here again as at Balbec I had before me
fragments of that strangely coloured world which was no more than the
projection, the way of seeing things peculiar to that great painter,
which his speech in no way expressed. The parts of the walls that were
covered by paintings from his brush, all homogeneous with one another,
were like the luminous images of a magic lantern, which would have
been in this instance the brain of the artist, and the strangeness of
which one could never have suspected so long as one had known only the
man, which was like seeing the iron lantern boxing its lamp before any
coloured slide had been slid into its groove. Among these pictures
several of the kind that seemed most absurd to ordinary people
interested me more than the rest because they recreated those optical
illusions which prove to us that we should never succeed in
identifying objects if we did not make some process of reasoning
intervene How often, when driving in the dark, do we not come upon a
long, lighted street which begins a few feet away from us, when what
we have actually before our eyes is nothing but a rectangular patch of
wall with a bright light falling on it, which has given us the mirage
of depth. In view of which is it not logical, not by any artifice of
symbolism but by a sincere return to the very root of the impression,
to represent one thing by that other for which, in the flash of a
first illusion, we mistook it? Surfaces and volumes are in reality
independent of the names of objects which our memory imposes on them
after we have recognised them. Elstir attempted to wrest from what he
had just felt what he already knew, his effort had often been to break
up that aggregate of impressions which we call vision.

The people who detested these 'horrors' were astonished to find that
Elstir admired Chardin, Perroneau, any number of painters whom they,
the ordinary men and women of society, liked. They did not take into
account that Elstir had had to make, for his own part, in striving to
reproduce reality (with the particular index of his taste for certain
lines of approach), the same effort as a Chardin or a Perroneau and
that consequently, when he ceased to work for himself, he admired in
them attempts of the same order, fragments anticipatory so to speak of
works of his own. Nor did these society people include in their
conception of Elstir's work that temporal perspective which enabled
them to like, or at least to look without discomfort at Chardin's
painting. And yet the older among them might have reminded themselves
that in the course of their lives they had seen gradually, as the
years bore them away from it, the unbridgeable gulf between what they
considered a masterpiece by Ingres and what, they had supposed, must
remain for ever a 'horror' (Manet's _Olympia_, for example) shrink
until the two canvases seemed like twins. But we learn nothing from
any lesson because we have not the wisdom to work backwards from the
particular to the general, and imagine ourselves always to be going
through an experience which is without precedents in the past.

I was moved by the discovery in two of the pictures (more realistic,
these, and in an earlier manner) of the same person, in one in evening
dress in his own drawing-room, in the other wearing a frock coat and
tall hat at some popular regatta where he had evidently no business to
be, which proved that for Elstir he was not only a regular sitter but
a friend, perhaps a patron whom it pleased him (just as Carpaccio used
to introduce prominent figures, and in speaking likenesses, from
contemporary life in Venice) to introduce into his pictures, just as
Beethoven, too, found pleasure in inscribing at the top of a favourite
work the beloved name of the Archduke Rudolph. There was something
enchanting about this waterside carnival. The river, the women's
dresses, the sails of the boats, the innumerable reflexions of one
thing and another came crowding into this little square panel of
beauty which Elstir had cut out of a marvellous afternoon. What
delighted one in the dress of a woman who had stopped for a moment in
the dance because it was hot and she was out of breath was
irresistible also in the same way in the canvas of a motionless sail,
in the water of the little harbour, in the wooden bridge, in the
leaves of the trees and in the sky. As in one of the pictures that I
had seen at Balbec, the hospital, as beautiful beneath its sky of
lapis lazuli as the cathedral itself, seemed (more bold than Elstir
the theorician, then Elstir the man of taste, the lover of things
mediaeval) to be intoning: "There is no such thing as gothic, there is
no such thing as a masterpiece; this tasteless hospital is just as
good as the glorious porch," so I now heard: "The slightly vulgar lady
at whom a man of discernment would refrain from glancing as he passed
her by, would except from the poetical composition which nature has
set before him—her dress is receiving the same light as the sail of
that boat, and there are no degrees of value and beauty; the
commonplace dress and the sail, beautiful in itself, are two mirrors
reflecting the same gleam; the value is all in the painter's eye."
This eye had had the skill to arrest for all time the motion of the
hours at this luminous instant, when the lady had felt hot and had
stopped dancing, when the tree was fringed with a belt of shadow, when
the sails seemed to be slipping over a golden glaze. But just because
the depicted moment pressed on one with so much force, this so
permanent canvas gave one the most fleeting impression, one felt that
the lady would presently move out of it, the boats drift away, the
night draw on, that pleasure comes to an end, that life passes and
that the moments illuminated by the convergence, at once, of so many
lights do not recur. I recognised yet another aspect, quite different
it is true, of what the moment means in a series of water-colours of
mythological subjects, dating from Elstir's first period, which also
adorned this room. Society people who held 'advanced' views on art
went 'as far as' this earliest manner, but no further. These were
certainly not the best work that he had done, but already the
sincerity with which the subject had been thought out melted its
natural coldness. Thus the Muses, for instance, were represented as it
might be creatures belonging to a species now fossilised, but
creatures which it would not have been surprising in mythological
times to see pass in the evening, in twos or threes, along some
mountain path. Here and there a poet, of a race that had also a
peculiar interest for the zoologist (characterised by a certain
sexlessness) strolled with a Muse, as one sees in nature creatures of
different but of kindred species consort together. In one of these
water-colours one saw a poet wearied by long wanderings on the
mountains, whom a Centaur, meeting him and moved to pity by his
weakness, had taken on his back and was carrying home. In more than
one other, the vast landscape (in which the mythical scene, the
fabulous heroes, occupied a minute place and were almost lost) was
rendered, from the mountain tops to the sea, with an exactitude which
told one more than the hour, told one to the very minute what time of
day ft was, thanks to the precise angle of the setting sun, to the
fleeting fidelity of the shadows. In this way the artist managed to
give, by making it instantaneous, a sort of historical reality, as of
a thing actually lived, to the symbol of his fable, painted it and set
it at a definite point in the past.

While I was examining Elstir's paintings the bell, rung by arriving
guests had been pealing uninterruptedly, and had lulled me into a
pleasing unconsciousness. But the silence which followed its clangour
and had already lasted for some time succeeded—less rapidly, it is
true—in awakening me from my dream, as the silence that follows
Lindor's music arouses Bartolo from his sleep. I was afraid that I had
been forgotten, that they had sat down to dinner, and hurried to the
drawing-room. At the door of the Elstir gallery I found a servant
waiting for me, white-haired, though whether with age or powder I
cannot say, with the air of a Spanish Minister, but treating me with
the same respect that he would have shewn to a King. I felt from his
manner that he must have been waiting for at least an hour, and I
thought with alarm of the delay I had caused in the service of dinner,
especially as I had promised to be at M. de Charlus's by eleven.

The Spanish Minister (though I also met on the way the footman
persecuted by the porter, who, radiant with delight when I inquired
after his girl, told me that the very next day they were both to be
off duty, so that he would be able to spend the whole day with her,
and extolled the generosity of Madame la Duchesse) conducted me to the
drawing-room, where I was afraid of finding M. de Guermantes in an ill
humour. He welcomed me, on the contrary, with a joy that was evidently
to a certain extent artificial and dictated by politeness, but was
also sincere, prompted both by his stomach which so long a delay had
begun to famish, and his consciousness of a similar impatience in all
his other guests, who completely filled the room. Indeed I heard
afterwards that I had kept them waiting for nearly three-quarters of
an hour. The Duc de Guermantes probably thought that to prolong the
general torment for two minutes more would not intensify it and that,
politeness having driven him to postpone for so long the moment of
moving into the dining-room, this politeness would be more complete
if, by not having dinner announced immediately, he could succeed in
persuading me that I was not late, and that they had not been waiting
for me. And so he asked me, as if we had still an hour before dinner
and some of the party had not yet arrived, what I thought of his
Elstirs. But at the same time, and without letting the cravings of
his stomach become apparent, so as not to lose another moment, he, in
concert with the Duchess, proceeded to the ceremony of introduction.
Then only I perceived that there had occurred round about me, me who
until this evening, save for my novitiate in Mme. Swann's
drawing-room, had been accustomed, in my mother's homes, at Combray
and in Paris, to the manners, either protecting or defensive, of the
grim ladies of our middle-world, who treated me as a child, a change
of surroundings comparable to that which introduces Parsifal suddenly
into the midst of the Flower-Maidens. Those who surrounded me now,
their bosoms entirely bare (the naked flesh appeared on either side of
a sinuous spray of mimosa or behind the broad petals of a rose) could
not murmur a word of greeting without at the same time bathing me in
long, caressing glances, as though shyness alone restrained them from
kissing me. Many of them were nevertheless highly respectable from the
moral standpoint; many, not all, for the most virtuous had not for
those of a lighter vein the same repulsion that my mother would have
felt. The caprices of one's conduct, denied by saintlier friends, in
the face of the evidence, seemed in the Guermantes world to matter far
less than the relations which one had been able to maintain. One
pretended not to know that the body of one's hostess was at the
disposal of all comers, provided that her visiting list showed no
gaps. As the Duke put himself out not at all for his other guests (of
whom he had long known everything that there was to know, and they of
him) but quite markedly for me, whose kind of superiority, being
outside his experience, inspired in him something akin to the respect
which the great nobleman of the court of Louis XIV used to feel for
his plebeian Ministers, he evidently considered that the fact of my
not knowing his other guests mattered not at all—to me at least,
though it might to them—and while I was anxious, on his account, as
to the impression that I was going to make on them he was thinking
only of how his friends would impress me.

At the very outset I found myself completely bewildered. No sooner had
I entered the drawing-room than M. de Guermantes, without even
allowing me time to shake hands with the Duchess, had led me, as
though I were a delightful surprise to the person in question to whom
he seemed to be saying: "Here's your friend! You see, I'm bringing him
to you by the scruff of his neck," towards a lady of smallish stature.
Whereupon, long before, thrust forward by the Duke, I had reached her
chair, the lady had begun to flash at me continuously from her large,
soft, dark eyes the thousand smiles of understanding which we address
to an old friend who perhaps has not recognised us. As this was
precisely my case and I could not succeed in calling to mind who she
was I averted my eyes from her as I approached so as not to have to
respond until our introduction should have released me from my
predicament. Meanwhile the lady continued to maintain in unstable
equilibrium the smile intended for myself. She looked as though she
were anxious to be relieved of it and to hear me say: "Oh, but this is
a pleasure! Mamma will be pleased when I tell her I've met you!" I was
as impatient to learn her name as she was to see that I did finally
greet her, fully aware of what I was doing, so that the smile which
she was holding on indefinitely, like the note of a tuning-fork, might
at length be let go. But M. de Guermantes managed things so badly (to
my mind, at least) that I seemed to have heard only my own name
uttered and was given no clue to the identity of my unknown friend, to
whom it never occurred to tell me herself what her name was, so
obvious did the grounds of our intimacy, which baffled me completely,
seem to her. Indeed, as soon as I had come within reach, she did not
offer me her hand, but took mine in a familiar clasp, and spoke to me
exactly as though I had been equally conscious with herself of the
pleasant memories to which her mind reverted. She told me how sorry
Albert (who, I gathered, was her son) would be to have missed seeing
me. I tried to remember who, among the people I had known as boys, was
called Albert, and could think only of Bloch, but this could not be
Bloch's mother that I saw before me since she had been dead for some
time. In vain I struggled to identify the past experience common to
herself and me to which her thoughts had been carried back. But I
could no more distinguish it through the translucent jet of her large,
soft pupils which allowed only her smile to pierce their surface than
one can distinguish a landscape that lies on the other side of a
smoked glass, even when the sun is blazing on it. She asked me whether
my father was not working too hard, if I would not come to the theatre
some evening with Albert, if I was stronger now, and as my replies,
stumbling through the mental darkness in which I was plunged, became
distinct only to explain that I was not feeling well that evening, she
pushed forward a chair for me herself, going to all sorts of trouble
which I was not accustomed to see taken by my parents' friends. At
length the clue to the riddle was furnished me by the Duke: "She
thinks you're charming," he murmured in my ear, which felt somehow
that it had heard these words before. They were what Mme. de
Villeparisis had said to my grandmother and myself after we had made
the acquaintance of the Princesse de Luxembourg. Everything became
clear; the lady I now saw had nothing in common with Mme. de
Luxembourg, but from the language of him who thus served me with her I
could discern the nature of the animal. It was a Royalty. She had
never before heard of either my family or myself, but, a scion of the
noblest race and endowed with the greatest fortune in the world (for,
a daughter of the Prince de Parme, she had married a cousin of equal
princelihood), she sought always, in gratitude to her Creator, to
testify to her neighbour, however poor or lowly he might be, that she
did not look down upon him. Really, I might have guessed this from her
smile. I had seen the Princesse de Luxembourg buy little rye-cakes on
the beach at Balbec to give to my grandmother, as though to a caged
deer in the zoological garden. But this was only the second Princess
of the Blood Royal to whom I had been presented, and I might be
excused my failure to discern in her the common factors of the
friendliness of the great. Besides, had not they themselves gone out
of their way to warn me not to count too much on this friendliness,
since the Duchesse de Guermantes, who had waved me so effusive a
greeting with her gloved hand at the Opéra-Comique, had appeared
furious when I bowed to her in the street, like people who, having
once given somebody a sovereign, feel that this has set them free from
any further obligation toward him. As for M. de Charlus, his ups and
downs were even more sharply contrasted. While in the sequel I have
known, as the reader will learn, Highnesses and Majesties of another
sort altogether, Queens who play the Queen and speak not after the
conventions of their kind but like the Queens in Sardou's plays.

If M. de Guermantes had been in such haste to present me, it was
because the presence at a party of anyone not personally known to a
Royal Personage is an intolerable state of things which must not be
prolonged for a single instant. It was similar to the haste which
Saint-Loup had shewn in making me introduce him to my grandmother. By
the same token, by a fragmentary survival of the old life of the court
which is called social courtesy and is not superficial, in which,
rather, by a centripetal reversion, it is the surface that becomes
essential and profound, the Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes regarded as
a duty more essential than those (which one at least of the pair
neglected often enough) of charity, chastity, pity and justice, as a
more unalterable law that of never addressing the Princesse de Parme
save in the third person.

Having never yet in my life been to Parma (a pilgrimage I had been
anxious to make ever since certain Easter holidays long ago), to meet
its Princess, who, I knew, owned the finest palace in that matchless
city, where, moreover, everything must be in keeping, isolated as it
was from the rest of the world, within the polished walls, in the
atmosphere, stifling as a breathless summer evening on the Piazza of a
small town in Italy, of its compact and almost cloying name, would
surely have substituted in a flash for what I had so often tried to
imagine all that did really exist at Parma in a sort of partial
arrival there, without my having to stir from Paris, of myself; it was
in the algebraical expression of a journey to the city of Correggio a
simple equation, so to speak, of that unknown quantity. But if I had
for many years past—like a perfumer impregnating a solid mass of
grease with scent—made this name, Princesse de Parme, absorb the
fragrance of thousands of violets, in return, when I set eyes on the
Princess, who, until then I should have sworn, must be the Sanseverina
herself, a second process began which was not, I may say, completed
until several months had passed, and consisted in expelling, by means
of fresh chemical combinations, all the essential oil of violets and
all the Stendhalian fragrance from the name of the Princess, and in
implanting there, in their place, the image of a little dark woman,
taken up with good works, of a friendliness so humble that one felt at
once in how exalted a pride that friendliness had its roots. Moreover,
while, barring a few points of difference, she was exactly like any
other great lady, she was as little Stendhalian as is, for example, in
Paris, in the Europe quarter, the Rue de Parme, which bears far less
resemblance to the name of Parma than to any or all of the
neighbouring streets, and reminds one not nearly so much of the
Charterhouse in which Fabrice ends his days as of the waiting room in
the Saint-Lazare station.

Her friendliness sprang from two causes. The first and more general
was the education which this daughter of Kings had received. Her
mother (not merely allied by blood to all the royal families of Europe
but furthermore—in contrast to the Ducal House of Parma—richer than
any reigning Princess) had instilled into her from her earliest
childhood the arrogantly humble precepts of an evangelical snobbery;
and to-day every line of the daughter's face, the curve of her
shoulders, the movements of her arms seemed to repeat the lesson:
"Remember that if God has caused you to be born on the steps of a
throne you ought not to make that a reason for looking down upon those
to whom Divine Providence has willed (wherefore His Name be praised)
that you should be superior by birth and fortune. On the contrary,
you must suffer the little ones. Your ancestors were Princes of Treves
and Juliers from the year 647: God has decreed in His bounty that you
should hold practically all the shares in the Suez Canal and three
times as many Royal Dutch as Edmond de Rothschild; your pedigree in a
direct line has been established by genealogists from the year 63 of
the Christian Era; you have as sisters-in-law two Empresses. Therefore
never seem, in your speech, to be recalling these great privileges,
not that they are precarious (for nothing can alter antiquity of race,
while the world will always need petrol), but because it is useless to
point out that you are better born than other people or that your
investments are all gilt-edged, since everyone knows these facts
already. Be helpful to the needy. Furnish to all those whom the bounty
of Heaven has done you the favour of placing beneath you as much as
you can give them without forfeiture of your rank, that is to say help
in the form of money, even your personal service by their sickbeds,
but never (bear well in mind) invite them to your parties, which would
do them no possible good and, by weakening your own position, would
diminish the efficacy of your benevolent activities."

And so even at the moments when she could not do good the Princess
endeavoured to shew, or rather to let it be thought, by all the
external signs of dumb language, that she did not consider herself
superior to the people among whom she found herself thrown. She
treated each of them with that charming courtesy with which well-bred
people treat their inferiors and was continually, to make herself
useful, pushing back her chair so as to leave more room, holding my
gloves, offering me all those services which would demean the proud
spirit of a commoner but are very willingly rendered by sovereign
ladies or, instinctively and by force of professional habit, by
retired servants.

But already the Duke, who seemed in a hurry to complete the round of
introduction, had led me off to another of the flower-maidens. On
hearing her name I told her that I had passed by her country house,
not far from Balbec. "Oh, I should have been so pleased to take you
over it," she informed me, almost in a whisper, to enhance her
modesty, but in a tone of deep feeling, steeped in regret for the loss
of an opportunity to enjoy a quite exceptional pleasure; and went on,
with a meaning glance: "I do hope you will come again some day. But I
must say that what would interest you more still would be my aunt
Brancas's place. It was built by Mansard; it is the jewel of the
province." It was not only she herself who would have been glad to
shew me over her house, but her aunt Brancas would have been no less
delighted to do me the honours of hers, or so I was assured by this
lady who thought evidently that, especially at a time when the land
shewed a tendency to pass into the hands of financiers who had no
knowledge of the world, it was important that the great should keep up
the exalted traditions of lordly hospitality, by speeches which
involved them in nothing. It was also because she sought, like
everyone in her world, to say the things which would give most
pleasure to the person she was addressing, to give him the highest
idea of himself, to make him think that he flattered people by writing
to them, that he honoured those who entertained him, that everyone was
burning to know him. The desire to give other people this comforting
idea of themselves does, it must be admitted, exist even among the
middle classes. We find there that kindly disposition, in the form of
an individual merit compensating for some other defect, not alas among
the most trusty male friends but at any rate among the most agreeable
female companions. But there anyhow it blooms only in isolated
patches. In an important section of the aristocracy, on the other
hand, this characteristic has ceased to be individual; cultivated by
education, sustained by the idea of a personal greatness which can
fear no humiliation, which knows no rival, is aware that by being
pleasant it can make people happy and delights in doing so, it has
become the generic feature of a class. And even those whom personal
defects of too incompatible a kind prevent from keeping it in their
hearts bear the unconscious trace of it in their vocabulary or their

"She is a very good creature," said the Duc de Guermantes, of the
Princesse de Parme, "and she can play the 'great lady' when she likes,
better than anyone."

While I was being introduced to