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Title:      The Captive
            (La Prisonnière)
            [Vol. 5 of Remembrance of Things Past—
            (À la Recherche du temps perdu)]
Author:     Marcel Proust
            Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0300501.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.




[La Prisonnière]

[Vol. 5 of Remembrance of Things Past]
[Vol. 5 of À la Recherche du temps perdu]



_Translated [from the French] by

C. K. Scott Moncrieff_



Part 1

Chapter I
_Life with Albertine_.

Chapter II
_The Verdurins quarrel with M. de Charlus_.

Part 2

Chapter II (continued)

Chapter III
_Flight of Albertine_.



Life with Albertine

AT daybreak, my face still turned to the wall, and before I had seen
above the big inner curtains what tone the first streaks of light
assumed, I could already tell what sort of day it was. The first
sounds from the street had told me, according to whether they came to
my ears dulled and distorted by the moisture of the atmosphere or
quivering like arrows in the resonant and empty area of a spacious,
crisply frozen, pure morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the
first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting
forth into the blue. And perhaps these sounds had themselves been
forestalled by some swifter and more pervasive emanation which,
stealing into my slumber, diffused in it a melancholy that seemed to
presage snow, or gave utterance (through the lips of a little person
who occasionally reappeared there) to so many hymns to the glory of
the sun that, having first of all begun to smile in my sleep, having
prepared my eyes, behind their shut lids, to be dazzled, I awoke
finally amid deafening strains of music. It was, moreover, principally
from my bedroom that I took in the life of the outer world during this
period. I know that Bloch reported that, when he called to see me in
the evenings, he could hear the sound of conversation; as my mother
was at Combray and he never found anybody in my room, he concluded
that I was talking to myself. When, much later, he learned that
Albertine had been staying with me at the time, and realised that I
had concealed her presence from all my friends, he declared that he
saw at last the reason why, during that episode in my life, I had
always refused to go out of doors. He was wrong. His mistake was,
however, quite pardonable, for the truth, even if it is inevitable, is
not always conceivable as a whole. People who learn some accurate
detail of another person's life at once deduce consequences which are
not accurate, and see in the newly discovered fact an explanation of
things that have no connexion with it whatsoever.

When I reflect now that my mistress had come, on our return from
Balbec, to live in Paris under the same roof as myself, that she had
abandoned the idea of going on a cruise, that she was installed in a
bedroom within twenty paces of my own, at the end of the corridor, in
my father's tapestried study, and that late every night, before
leaving me, she used to slide her tongue between my lips like a
portion of daily bread, a nourishing food that had the almost sacred
character of all flesh upon which the sufferings that we have endured
on its account have come in time to confer a sort of spiritual grace,
what I at once call to mind in comparison is not the night that
Captain de Borodino allowed me to spend in barracks, a favour which
cured what was after all only a passing distemper, but the night on
which my father sent Mamma to sleep in the little bed by the side of
my own. So it is that life, if it is once again to deliver us from an
anguish that has seemed inevitable, does so in conditions that are
different, so diametrically opposed at times that it is almost an open
sacrilege to assert the identity of the grace bestowed upon us.

When Albertine had heard from Françoise that, in the darkness of my
still curtained room, I was not asleep, she had no scruple about
making a noise as she took her bath, in her own dressing-room. Then,
frequently, instead of waiting until later in the day, I would repair
to a bathroom adjoining hers, which had a certain charm of its own.
Time was, when a stage manager would spend hundreds of thousands of
francs to begem with real emeralds the throne upon which a great
actress would play the part of an empress. The Russian ballet has
taught us that simple arrangements of light will create, if trained
upon the right spot, jewels as gorgeous and more varied. This
decoration, itself immaterial, is not so graceful, however, as that
which, at eight o'clock in the morning, the sun substitutes for what
we were accustomed to see when we did not arise before noon. The
windows of our respective bathrooms, so that their occupants might not
be visible from without, were not of clear glass but clouded with an
artificial and old-fashioned kind of frost. All of a sudden, the sun
would colour this drapery of glass, gild it, and discovering in myself
an earlier young man whom habit had long concealed, would intoxicate
me with memories, as though I were out in the open country gazing at a
hedge of golden leaves in which even a bird was not lacking. For I
could hear Albertine ceaselessly humming:

  For melancholy
  Is but folly,
  And he who heeds it is a fool.

I loved her so well that I could spare a joyous smile for her bad
taste in music. This song had, as it happened, during the past summer,
delighted Mme. Bontemps, who presently heard people say that it was
silly, with the result that, instead of asking Albertine to sing it,
when she had a party, she would substitute:

  A song of farewell rises from troubled springs,

which in its turn became 'an old jingle of Massenet's, the child is
always dinning into our ears.'

A cloud passed, blotting out the sun; I saw extinguished and replaced
by a grey monochrome the modest, screening foliage of the glass.

The partition that divided our two dressing-rooms (Albertine's,
identical with my own, was a bathroom which Mamma, who had another at
the other end of the flat, had never used for fear of disturbing my
rest) was so slender that we could talk to each other as we washed in
double privacy, carrying on a conversation that was interrupted only
by the sound of the water, in that intimacy which, in hotels, is so.
often permitted by the smallness and proximity of the rooms, but
which, in private houses in Paris, is so rare.

On other mornings, I would remain in bed, drowsing for as long as I
chose, for orders had been given that no one was to enter my room
until I had rung the bell, an act which, owing to the awkward position
in which the electric bulb had been hung above my bed, took such a
time that often, tired of feeling for it and glad to be left alone, I
would lie back for some moments and almost fall asleep again. It was
not that I was wholly indifferent to Albertine's presence in the
house. Her separation from her girl friends had the effect of sparing
my heart any fresh anguish. She kept it in a state of repose, in a
semi-immobility which would help it to recover. But after all, this
calm which my mistress was procuring for me was a release from
suffering rather than a positive joy. Not that it did not permit me to
taste many joys, from which too keen a grief had debarred me, but
these joys, so far from my owing them to Albertine, in whom for that
matter I could no longer see any beauty and who was beginning to bore
me, with whom I was now clearly conscious that I was not in love, I
tasted on the contrary when Albertine was not with me. And so, to
begin the morning, I did not send for her at once, especially if it
was a fine day. For some moments, knowing that he would make me
happier than Albertine, I remained closeted with the little person
inside me, hymning the rising sun, of whom I have already spoken. Of
those elements which compose our personality, it is not the most
obvious that are most essential. In myself, when ill health has
succeeded in uprooting them one after another, there will still remain
two or three, endowed with a hardier constitution than the rest,
notably a certain philosopher who is happy only when he has discovered
in two works of art, in two sensations, a common element. But the last
of all, I have sometimes asked myself whether it would not be this
little mannikin, very similar to another whom the optician at Combray
used to set up in his shop window to forecast the weather, and who,
doffing his hood when the sun shone, would put it on again if it was
going to rain. This little mannikin, I know his egoism; I may be
suffering from a choking fit which the mere threat of rain would calm;
he pays no heed, and, at the first drops so impatiently awaited,
losing his gaiety, sullenly pulls down his hood. Conversely, I dare
say that in my last agony, when all my other 'selves' are dead, if a
ray of sunshine steals into the room, while I am drawing my last
breath, the little fellow of the barometer will feel a great relief,
and will throw back his hood to sing: "Ah! Fine weather at last!"

I rang for Françoise. I opened the _Figaro_. I scanned its columns and
made sure that it did not contain an article, or so-called article,
which I had sent to the editor, and which was no more than a slightly
revised version of the page that had recently come to light, written
long ago in Dr. Percepied's carriage, as I gazed at the spires of
Martinville. Then I read Mamma's letter. She felt it to be odd, in
fact shocking, that a girl should be staying in the house alone with
me. On the first day, at the moment of leaving Balbec, when she saw
how wretched I was, and was distressed by the prospect of leaving me
by myself, my mother had perhaps been glad when she heard that
Albertine was travelling with us, and saw that, side by side with our
own boxes (those boxes among which I had passed a night in tears in
the Balbec hotel), there had been hoisted into the 'Twister'
Albertine's boxes also, narrow and black, which had seemed to me to
have the appearance of coffins, and as to which I knew not whether
they were bringing to my house life or death. But I had never even
asked myself the question, being all overjoyed, in the radiant
morning, after the fear of having to remain at Balbec, that I was
taking Albertine with me. But to this proposal, if at the start my
mother had not been hostile (speaking kindly to my friend like a
mother whose son has been seriously wounded and who is grateful to the
young mistress who is nursing him with loving care), she had acquired
hostility now that it had been too completely realised, and the girl
was prolonging her sojourn in our house, and moreover in the absence
of my parents. I cannot, however, say that my mother ever made this
hostility apparent. As in the past, when she had ceased to dare to
reproach me with my nervous instability, my laziness, now she felt a
hesitation—which I perhaps did not altogether perceive at the moment
or refused to perceive—to run the risk, by offering any criticism of
the girl to whom I had told her that I intended to make an offer of
marriage, of bringing a shadow into my life, making me in time to come
less devoted to my wife, of sowing perhaps for a season when she
herself would no longer be there, the seeds of remorse at having
grieved her by marrying Albertine. Mamma preferred to seem to be
approving a choice which she felt herself powerless to make me
reconsider. But people who came in contact with her at this time have
since told me that in addition to her grief at having lost her mother
she had an air of constant preoccupation. This mental strife, this
inward debate, had the effect of overheating my mother's brow, and she
was always opening the windows to let in the fresh air. But she did
not succeed in coming to any decision, for fear of influencing me in
the wrong direction and so spoiling what she believed to be my
happiness. She could not even bring herself to forbid me to keep
Albertine for the time being in our house. She did not wish to appear
more strict than Mme. Bontemps, who was the person principally
concerned, and who saw no harm in the arrangement, which greatly
surprised my mother. All the same, she regretted that she had been
obliged to leave us together, by departing at that very time for
Combray where she might have to remain (and did in fact remain) for
months on end, during which my great-aunt required her incessant
attention by day and night. Everything was made easy for her down
there, thanks to the kindness, the devotion of Legrandin who, gladly
undertaking any trouble that was required, kept putting off his return
to Paris from week to week, not that he knew my aunt at all well, but
simply, first of all, because she had been his mother's friend, and
also because he knew that the invalid, condemned to die, valued his
attentions and could not get on without him. Snobbishness is a serious
malady of the spirit, but one that is localised and does not taint it
as a whole. I, on the other hand, unlike Mamma, was extremely glad of
her absence at Combray, but for which I should have been afraid (being
unable to warn Albertine not to mention it) of her learning of the
girl's friendship with Mlle. Vinteuil. This would have been to my
mother an insurmountable obstacle, not merely to a marriage as to
which she had, for that matter, begged me to say nothing definite as
yet to Albertine, and the thought of which was becoming more and more
intolerable to myself, but even to the latter's being allowed to stay
for any length of time in the house. Apart from so grave a reason,
which in this case did not apply, Mamma, under the dual influence of
my grandmother's liberating and edifying example, according to whom,
in her admiration of George Sand, virtue consisted in nobility of
heart, and of my own corruption, was now indulgent towards women whose
conduct she would have condemned in the past, or even now, had they
been any of her own middle-class friends in Paris or at Combray, but
whose lofty natures I extolled to her and to whom she pardoned much
because of their affection for myself. But when all is said, and apart
from any question of propriety, I doubt whether Albertine could have
put up with Mamma who had acquired from Combray, from my aunt Léonie,
from all her kindred, habits of punctuality and order of which my
mistress had not the remotest conception.

She would never think of shutting a door and, on the other hand, would
no more hesitate to enter a room if the door stood open than would a
dog or a cat. Her somewhat disturbing charm was, in fact, that of
taking the place in the household not so much of a girl as of a
domestic animal which comes into a room, goes out, is to be found
wherever one does not expect to find it and (in her case)
would—bringing me a profound sense of repose—come and lie down on my
bed by my side, make a place for herself from which she never stirred,
without being in my way as a person would have been. She ended,
however, by conforming to my hours of sleep, and not only never
attempted to enter my room but would take care not to make a sound
until I had rung my bell. It was Françoise who impressed these rules
of conduct upon her.

She was one of those Combray servants, conscious of their master's
place in the world, and that the least that they can do is to see that
he is treated with all the respect to which they consider him
entitled. When a stranger on leaving after a visit gave Françoise a
gratuity to be shared with the kitchenmaid, he had barely slipped his
coin into her hand before Françoise, with an equal display of speed,
discretion and energy, had passed the word to the kitchenmaid who came
forward to thank him, not in a whisper, but openly and aloud, as
Françoise had told her that she must do. The parish priest of Combray
was no genius, but he also knew what was due him. Under his
instruction, the daughter of some Protestant cousins of Mme. Sazerat
had been received into the Church, and her family had been most
grateful to him: it was a question of her marriage to a young nobleman
of Méséglise. The young man's relatives wrote to inquire about her in
a somewhat arrogant letter, in which they expressed their dislike of
her Protestant origin. The Combray priest replied in such a tone that
the Méséglise nobleman, crushed and prostrate, wrote a very different
letter in which he begged as the most precious favour the award of the
girl's hand in marriage.

Françoise deserved no special credit for making Albertine respect my
slumbers. She was imbued with tradition. From her studied silence, or
the peremptory response that she made to a proposal to enter my room,
or to send in some message to me, which Albertine had expressed in all
innocence, the latter realised with astonishment that she was now
living in an alien world, where strange customs prevailed, governed by
rules of conduct which one must never dream of infringing. She had
already had a foreboding of this at Balbec, but, in Paris, made no
attempt to resist, and would wait patiently every morning for the
sound of my bell before venturing to make any noise.

The training that Françoise gave her was of value also to our old
servant herself, for it gradually stilled the lamentations which, ever
since our return from Balbec, she had not ceased to utter. For, just
as we were boarding the tram, she remembered that she had forgotten to
say good-bye to the housekeeper of the Hotel, a whiskered dame who
looked after the bedroom floors, barely knew Françoise by sight, but
had been comparatively civil to her. Françoise positively insisted
upon getting out of the tram, going back to the Hotel, saying good-bye
properly to the housekeeper, and not leaving for Paris until the
following day. Common sense, coupled with my sudden horror of Balbec,
restrained me from granting her this concession, but my refusal had
infected her with a feverish distemper which the change of air had not
sufficed to cure and which lingered on in Paris. For, according to
Françoise's code, as it is illustrated in the carvings of
Saint-André-des-Champs, to wish for the death of an enemy, even to
inflict it is not forbidden, but it is a horrible sin not to do what
is expected of you, not to return a civility, to refrain, like a
regular churl, from saying good-bye to the housekeeper before leaving
a hotel. Throughout the journey, the continually recurring memory of
her not having taken leave of this woman had dyed Françoise's cheeks
with a scarlet flush that was quite alarming. And if she refused to
taste bite or sup until we reached Paris, it was perhaps because this
memory heaped a 'regular load' upon her stomach (every class of
society has a pathology of its own) even more than with the intention
of punishing us.

Among the reasons which led Mamma to write me a daily letter, and a
letter which never failed to include some quotation from Mme. de
Sévigné, there was the memory of my grandmother. Mamma would write to
me: "Mme. Sazerat gave us one of those little luncheons of which she
possesses the secret and which, as your poor grandmother would have
said, quoting Mme. de Sévigné, deprive us of solitude without
affording us company." In one of my own earlier letters I was so inept
as to write to Mamma: "By those quotations, your mother would
recognise you at once." Which brought me, three days later, the
reproof: "My poor boy, if it was only to speak to me of _my mother_,
your reference to Mme. de Sévigné was most inappropriate. She would
have answered you as she answered Mme. de Grignan: 'So she was nothing
to you? I had supposed that you were related.'"

By this time, I could hear my mistress leaving or returning to her
room. I rang the bell, for it was time now for Andrée to arrive with
the chauffeur, Morel's friend, lent me by the Verdurins, to take
Albertine out. I had spoken to the last-named of the remote
possibility of our marriage; but I had never made her any formal
promise; she herself, from discretion, when I said to her: "I can't
tell, but it might perhaps be possible," had shaken her head with a
melancholy sigh, as much as to say: "Oh, no, never," in other words:
"I am too poor." And so, while I continued to say: "It is quite
indefinite," when speaking of future projects, at the moment I was
doing everything in my power to amuse her, to make life pleasant to
her, with perhaps the unconscious design of thereby making her wish to
marry me. She herself laughed at my lavish generosity. "Andrée's
mother would be in a fine state if she saw me turn into a rich lady
like herself, what she calls a lady who has her own 'horses,
carriages, pictures.' What? Did I never tell you that she says that.
Oh, she's a character! What surprises me is that she seems to think
pictures just as important as horses and carriages." We shall see in
due course that, notwithstanding the foolish ways of speaking that she
had not outgrown, Albertine had developed to an astonishing extent,
which left me unmoved, the intellectual superiority of a woman friend
having always interested me so little that if I have ever complimented
any of my friends upon her own, it was purely out of politeness.
Alone, the curious genius of Céleste might perhaps appeal to me. In
spite of myself, I would continue to smile for some moments, when, for
instance, having discovered that Françoise was not in my room, she
accosted me with: "Heavenly deity reclining on a bed!" "But why,
Céleste," I would say, "why deity?" "Oh, if you suppose that you have
anything in common with the mortals who make their pilgrimage on our
vile earth, you are greatly mistaken!" "But why 'reclining' on a bed,
can't you see that I'm lying in bed?" "You never lie. Who ever saw
anybody lie like that? You have just alighted there. With your white
pyjamas, and the way you twist your neck, you look for all the world
like a dove."

Albertine, even in the discussion of the most trivial matters,
expressed herself very differently from the little girl that she had
been only a few years earlier at Balbec. She went so far as to
declare, with regard to a political incident of which she disapproved:
"I consider that ominous." And I am not sure that it was not about
this time that she learned to say, when she meant that she felt a book
to be written in a bad style: "It is interesting, but really, it might
have been written _by a pig_."

The rule that she must not enter my room until I had rung amused her
greatly. As she had adopted our family habit of quotation, and in
following it drew upon the plays in which she had acted at her convent
and for which I had expressed admiration, she always compared me to

  And death is the reward of whoso dares
  To venture in his presence unawares....
  None is exempt; nor is there any whom
  Or rank or sex can save from such a doom;
  Even I myself...
  Like all the rest, I by this law am bound;
  And, to address him, I must first be found
  By him, or he must call me to his side.

Physically, too, she had altered. Her blue, almond-shaped eyes, grown
longer, had not kept their form; they were indeed of the same colour,
but seemed to have passed into a liquid state. So much so that, when
she shut them it was as though a pair of curtains had been drawn to
shut out a view of the sea. It was no doubt this one of her features
that I remembered most vividly each night after we had parted. For, on
the contrary, every morning the ripple of her hair continued to give
me the same surprise, as though it were some novelty that I had never
seen before. And yet, above the smiling eyes of a girl, what could be
more beautiful than that clustering coronet of black violets? The
smile offers greater friendship; but the little gleaming tips of
blossoming hair, more akin to the flesh, of which they seem to be a
transposition into tiny waves, are more provocative of desire.

As soon as she entered my room, she sprang upon my bed and sometimes
would expatiate upon my type of intellect, would vow in a transport of
sincerity that she would sooner die than leave me: this was on
mornings when I had shaved before sending for her. She was one of
those women who can never distinguish the cause of their sensations.
The pleasure that they derive from a smooth cheek they explain to
themselves by the moral qualities of the man who seems to offer them a
possibility of future happiness, which is capable, however, of
diminishing and becoming less necessary the longer he refrains from

I inquired where she was thinking of going.

"I believe Andrée wants to take me to the Buttes-Chaumont; I have
never been there."

Of course it was impossible for me to discern among so many other
words whether beneath these a falsehood lay concealed. Besides, I
could trust Andrée to tell me of all the places that she visited with

At Balbec, when I felt that I was utterly tired of Albertine, I had
made up my mind to say, untruthfully, to Andrée: "My little Andrée, if
only I had met you again sooner! It is you that I would have loved.
But now my heart is pledged in another quarter. All the same, we can
see a great deal of each other, for my love for another is causing me
great anxiety, and you will help me to find consolation." And lo,
these identical lying words had become true within the space of three
weeks. Perhaps, Andrée had believed in Paris that it was indeed a lie
and that I was in love with her, as she would doubtless have believed
at Balbec. For the truth is so variable for each of us, that other
people have difficulty in recognising themselves in it. And as I knew
that she would tell me everything that she and Albertine had done, I
had asked her, and she had agreed to come and call for Albertine
almost every day. In this way I might without anxiety remain at home.

Also, Andrée's privileged position as one of the girls of the little
band gave me confidence that she would obtain everything that I might
require from Albertine. Truly, I could have said to her now in all
sincerity that she would be capable of setting my mind at rest.

At the same time, my choice of Andrée (who happened to be staying in
Paris, having given up her plan of returning to Balbec) as guide and
companion to my mistress was prompted by what Albertine had told me of
the affection that her friend had felt for me at Balbec, at a time
when, on the contrary, I had supposed that I was boring her; indeed,
if I had known this at the time, it is perhaps with Andrée that I
would have fallen in love.

"What, you never knew," said Albertine, "but we were always joking
about it. Do you mean to say you never noticed how she used to copy
all your ways of talking and arguing? When she had just been with you,
it was too obvious. She had no need to tell us whether she had seen
you. As soon as she joined us, we could tell at once. We used to look
at one another, and laugh. She was like a coalheaver who tries to
pretend that he isn't one. He is black all over. A miller has no need
to say that he is a miller, you can see the flour all over his
clothes; and the mark of the sacks he has carried on his shoulder.
Andrée was just the same, she would knit her eyebrows the way you do,
and stretch out her long neck, and I don't know what all. When I take
up a book that has been in your room, even if I'm reading it out of
doors, I can tell at once that it belongs to you because it still
reeks of your beastly fumigations. It's only a trifle, still it's
rather a nice trifle, don't you know. Whenever anybody spoke nicely
about you, seemed to think a lot of you, Andrée was in ecstasies."

Notwithstanding all this, in case there might have been some secret
plan made behind my back, I advised her to give up the Buttes-Chaumont
for that day and to go instead to Saint-Cloud or somewhere else.

It was certainly not, as I was well aware, because I was the least bit
in love with Albertine. Love is nothing more perhaps than the
stimulation of those eddies which, in the wake of an emotion, stir the
soul. Certain such eddies had indeed stirred my soul through and
through when Albertine spoke to me at Balbec about Mlle. Vinteuil, but
these were now stilled. I was no longer in love with Albertine, for I
no longer felt anything of the suffering, now healed, which I had felt
in the tram at Balbec, upon learning how Albertine had spent her
girlhood, with visits perhaps to Montjouvain. All this, I had too
long taken for granted, was healed. But, now and again, certain
expressions used by Albertine made me suppose—why, I cannot say—that
she must in the course of her life, short as it had been, have
received declarations of affection, and have received them with
pleasure, that is to say with sensuality. Thus, she would say, in any
connexion: "Is that true? Is it really true?" Certainly, if she had
said, like an Odette: "Is it really true, that thumping lie?" I should
not have been disturbed, for the absurdity of the formula would have
explained itself as a stupid inanity of feminine wit. But her
questioning air: "Is that true?" gave on the one hand the strange
impression of a creature incapable of judging things by herself, who
appeals to you for your testimony, as though she were not endowed with
the same faculties as yourself (if you said to her: "Why, we've been
out for a whole hour," or "It is raining," she would ask: "Is that
true?"). Unfortunately, on the other hand, this want of facility in
judging external phenomena for herself could not be the real origin of
her "Is that true? Is it really true?" It seemed rather that these
words had been, from the dawn of her precocious adolescence, replies
to: "You know, I never saw anybody as pretty as you." "You know I am
madly in love with you, I am most terribly excited."—affirmations
that were answered, with a coquettishly consenting modesty, by these
repetitions of: "Is that true? Is it really true?" which no longer
served Albertine, when in my company, save to reply by a question to
some such affirmation as: "You have been asleep for more than an
hour." "Is that true?"

Without feeling that I was the least bit in the world in love with
Albertine, without including in the list of my pleasures the moments
that we spent together, I was still preoccupied with the way in which
she disposed of her time; had I not, indeed, fled from Balbec in order
to make certain that she could no longer meet this or that person with
whom I was so afraid of her misbehaving, simply as a joke (a joke at
my expense, perhaps), that I had adroitly planned to sever, at one and
the same time, by my departure, all her dangerous entanglements? And
Albertine was so entirely passive, had so complete a faculty of
forgetting things and submitting to pressure, that these relations had
indeed been severed and I myself relieved of my haunting dread. But
that dread is capable of assuming as many forms as the undefined evil
that is its cause. So long as my jealousy was not reincarnate in fresh
people, I had enjoyed after the passing of my anguish an interval of
calm. But with a chronic malady, the slightest pretext serves to
revive it, as also with the vice of the person who is the cause of our
jealousy the slightest opportunity may serve her to practise it anew
(after a lull of chastity) with different people. I had managed to
separate Albertine from her accomplices, and, by so doing, to exorcise
my hallucinations; even if it was possible to make her forget people,
to cut short her attachments, her sensual inclination was, itself
also, chronic and was perhaps only waiting for an opportunity to
afford itself an outlet. Now Paris provided just as many opportunities
as Balbec.

In any town whatsoever, she had no need to seek, for the evil existed
not in Albertine alone, but in others to whom any opportunity for
enjoyment is good. A glance from one, understood at once by the other,
brings the two famished souls in contact. And it is easy for a clever
woman to appear not to have seen, then five minutes later to join the
person who has read her glance and is waiting for her in a side
street, and, in a few words, to make an appointment. Who will ever
know? And it was so simple for Albertine to tell me, in order that she
might continue these practices, that she was anxious to see again some
place on the outskirts of Paris that she had liked. And so it was
enough that she should return later than usual, that her expedition
should have taken an unaccountable time, although it was perfectly
easy perhaps to account for it without introducing any sensual reason,
for my malady to break out afresh, attached this time to mental
pictures which were not of Balbec, and which I would set to work, as
with their predecessors, to destroy, as though the destruction of an
ephemeral cause could put an end to a congenital malady. I did not
take into account the fact that in these acts of destruction, in which
I had as an accomplice, in Albertine, her faculty of changing, her
ability to forget, almost to hate the recent object of her love, I was
sometimes causing a profound grief to one or other of those persons
unknown with whom in turn she had taken her pleasure, and that this
grief I was causing them in vain, for they would be abandoned,
replaced, and, parallel to the path strewn with all the derelicts of
her light-hearted infidelities, there would open for me another,
pitiless path broken only by an occasional brief respite; so that my
suffering could end only with Albertine's life or with my own. Even in
the first days after our return to Paris, not satisfied by the
information that Andrée and the chauffeur had given me as to their
expeditions with my mistress, I had felt the neighbourhood of Paris to
be as tormenting as that of Balbec, and had gone off for a few days in
the country with Albertine. But everywhere my uncertainty as to what
she might be doing was the same; the possibility that it was something
wrong as abundant, vigilance even more difficult, with the result that
I returned with her to Paris. In leaving Balbec, I had imagined that I
was leaving Gomorrah, plucking Albertine from it; in reality, alas,
Gomorrah was dispersed to all the ends of the earth. And partly out of
jealousy, partly out of ignorance of such joys (a case which is rare
indeed), I had arranged unawares this game of hide and seek in which
Albertine was always to escape me.

I questioned her point-blank: "Oh, by the way, Albertine, am I
dreaming, or did you tell me that you knew Gilberte Swann?" "Yes; that
is to say, she used to talk to me at our classes, because she had a
set of the French history notes, in fact she was very nice about it,
and let me borrow them, and I gave them back the next time I saw her."
"Is she the kind of woman that I object to?" "Oh, not at all, quite
the opposite." But, rather than indulge in this sort of criminal
investigation, I would often devote to imagining Albertine's excursion
the energy that I did not employ in sharing it, and would speak to my
mistress with that ardour which remains intact in our unfulfilled
designs. I expressed so keen a longing to see once again some window
in the Sainte-Chapelle, so keen a regret that I was not able to go
there with her alone, that she said to me lovingly: "Why, my dear boy,
since you seem so keen about it, make a little effort, come with us.
We can start as late as you like, whenever you're ready. And if you'd
rather be alone with me, I have only to send Andrée home, she can come
another time." But these very entreaties to me to go out added to the
calm which allowed me to yield to my desire to remain indoors.

It did not occur to me that the apathy that was indicated by my
delegating thus to Andrée or the chauffeur the task of soothing my
agitation by leaving them to keep watch over Albertine, was paralysing
in me, rendering inert all those imaginative impulses of the mind, all
those inspirations of the will, which enable us to guess, to
forestall, what some one else is about to do; indeed the world of
possibilities has always been more open to me than that of real
events. This helps us to understand the human heart, but we are apt to
be taken in by individuals. My jealousy was born of mental images, a
form of self torment not based upon probability. Now there may occur
in the lives of men and of nations (and there was to occur, one day,
in my own life) a moment when we need to have within us a
superintendent of police, a clear-sighted diplomat, a
master-detective, who instead of pondering over the concealed
possibilities that extend to all the points of the compass, reasons
accurately, says to himself: "If Germany announces this, it means that
she intends to do something else, not just 'something' in the abstract
but precisely this or that or the other, which she may perhaps have
begun already to do." "If So-and-So has fled, it is not in the
direction _a_ or _b_ or _d_, but to the point _c_, and the place to
which we must direct our search for him is _c_." Alas, this faculty
which was not highly developed in me, I allowed to grow slack, to lose
its power, to vanish, by acquiring the habit of growing calm the
moment that other people were engaged in keeping watch on my behalf.

As for the reason for my reluctance to leave the house, I should not
have liked to explain it to Albertine. I told her that the doctor had
ordered me to stay in bed. This was not true. And if it had been true,
his prescription would have been powerless to prevent me from
accompanying my mistress. I asked her to excuse me from going out
with herself and Andrée. I shall mention only one of my reasons, which
was dictated by prudence. Whenever I went out with Albertine, if she
left my side for a moment, I became anxious, began to imagine that she
had spoken to, or simply cast a glance at somebody. If she was not in
the best of tempers, I thought that I was causing her to miss or to
postpone some appointment. Reality is never more than an allurement to
an unknown element in quest of which we can never progress very far.
It is better not to know, to think as little as possible, not to feed
our jealousy with the slightest concrete detail. Unfortunately, even
when we eliminate the outward life, incidents are created by the
inward life also; though I held aloof from Albertine's expeditions,
the random course of my solitary reflexions furnished me at times with
those tiny fragments of the truth which attract to themselves, like a
magnet, an inkling of the unknown, which, from that moment, becomes
painful. Even if we live in a hermetically sealed compartment,
associations of ideas, memories continue to act upon us. But these
internal shocks did not occur immediately; no sooner had Albertine
started on her drive than I was revivified, were it only for a few
moments, by the stimulating virtues of solitude.

I took my share of the pleasures of the new day; the arbitrary
desire—the capricious and purely spontaneous inclination to taste
them would not have sufficed to place them within my reach, had not
the peculiar state of the weather not merely reminded me of their
images in the past but affirmed their reality in the present,
immediately accessible to all men whom a contingent and consequently
negligible circumstance did not compel to remain at home. On certain
fine days the weather was so cold, one was in such full communication
with the street that it seemed as though a breach had been made in the
outer walls of the house, and, whenever a tramcar passed, the sound of
its bell throbbed like that of a silver knife striking a wall of
glass. But it was most of all in myself that I heard, with
intoxication, a new sound rendered by the hidden violin. Its strings
are tightened or relaxed by mere changes of temperature, of light, in
the world outside. In our person, an instrument which the uniformity
of habit has rendered silent, song is born of these digressions, these
variations, the source of all music: the change of climate on certain
days makes us pass at once from one note to another. We recapture the
forgotten air the mathematical inevitability of which we might have
deduced, and which for the first few moments we sing without
recognising it. By themselves these modifications (which, albeit
coming from without, were internal) refashioned for me the world
outside. Communicating doors, long barred, opened themselves in my
brain. The life of certain towns, the gaiety of certain expeditions
resumed their place in my consciousness. All athrob in harmony with
the vibrating string, I would have sacrificed my dull life in the
past, and all my life to come, erased with the india-rubber of habit,
for one of these special, unique moments.

If I had not gone out with Albertine on her long drive, my mind would
stray all the farther afield, and, because I had refused to savour
with my senses this particular morning, I enjoyed in imagination all
the similar mornings, past or possible, or more precisely a certain
type of morning of which all those of the same kind were but the
intermittent apparition which I had at once recognised; for the keen
air blew the book open of its own accord at the right page, and I
found clearly set out before my eyes, so that I might follow it from
my bed, the Gospel for the day. This ideal morning filled my mind full
of a permanent reality, identical with all similar mornings, and
infected me with a cheerfulness which my physical ill-health did not
diminish: for, inasmuch as our sense of well-being is caused not so
much by our sound health as by the unemployed surplus of our strength,
we can attain to it, just as much as by increasing our strength, by
diminishing our activity. The activity with which I was overflowing
and which I kept constantly charged as I lay in bed, made me spring
from side to side, with a leaping heart, like a machine which,
prevented from moving in space, rotates on its own axis.

Françoise came in to light the fire, and to make it draw, threw upon
it a handful of twigs, the scent of which, forgotten for a year past,
traced round the fireplace a magic circle within which, perceiving
myself poring over a book, now at Combray, now at Doncières, I was as
joyful, while remaining in my bedroom in Paris, as if I had been on
the point of starting for a walk along the Méséglise way, or of going
to join Saint-Loup and his friends on the training-ground. It often
happens that the pleasure which everyone takes in turning over the
keepsakes that his memory has collected is keenest in those whom the
tyranny of bodily ill-health and the daily hope of recovery prevent,
on the one hand, from going out to seek in nature scenes that resemble
those memories, and, on the other hand, leave so convinced that they
will shortly be able to do so that they can remain gazing at them in a
state of desire, of appetite, and not regard them merely as memories,
as pictures. But, even if they were never to be anything more than
memories to me, even if I, as I recalled them, saw merely pictures,
immediately they recreated in me, of me as a whole, by virtue of an
identical sensation, the boy, the youth who had first seen them. There
had been not merely a change in the weather outside, or, inside the
room, the introduction of a fresh scent, there had been in myself a
difference of age, the substitution of another person. The scent, in
the frosty air, of the twigs of brushwood, was like a fragment of the
past, an invisible floe broken off from the ice of an old winter that
stole into my room, often variegated moreover with this perfume or
that light, as though with a sequence of different years, in which I
found myself plunged, overwhelmed, even before I had identified them,
by the eagerness of hopes long since abandoned. The sun's rays fell
upon my bed and passed through the transparent shell of my attenuated
body, warmed me, made me as hot as a sheet of scorching crystal.
Whereupon, a famished convalescent who has already begun to batten
upon all the dishes that are still forbidden him, I asked myself
whether marriage with Albertine would not spoil my life, as well by
making me assume the burden, too heavy for my shoulders, of
consecrating myself to another person, as by forcing me to live in
absence from myself because of her continual presence and depriving
me, forever, of the delights of solitude.

And not of these alone. Even when we ask of the day nothing but
desires, there are some—those that are excited not by things but by
people—whose character it is to be unlike any other. If, on rising
from my bed, I went to the window and drew the curtain aside for a
moment, it was not merely, as a pianist for a moment turns back the
lid of his instrument, to ascertain whether, on the balcony and in the
street, the sunlight was tuned to exactly the same pitch as in my
memory, it was also to catch a glimpse of some laundress carrying her
linen-basket, a bread-seller in her blue apron, a dairymaid in her
tucker and sleeves of white linen, carrying the yoke from which her
jugs of milk are suspended, some haughty golden-haired miss escorted
by her governess, a composite image, in short, which the differences
of outline, numerically perhaps insignificant, were enough to make as
different from any other as, in a phrase of music, the difference
between two notes, an image but for the vision of which I should have
impoverished my day of the objects which it might have to offer to my
desires of happiness. But, if the surfeit of joy, brought me by the
spectacle of women whom it was impossible to imagine _a priori_, made
more desirable, more deserving of exploration, the street, the town,
the world, it set me longing, for that very reason, to recover my
health, to go out of doors and, without Albertine, to be a free man.
How often, at the moment when the unknown woman who was to haunt my
dreams passed beneath the window, now on foot, now at the full speed
of her motor-car, was I made wretched that my body could not follow my
gaze which kept pace with her, and falling upon her as though shot
from the embrasure of my window by an arquebus, arrest the flight of
the face that held out for me the offer of a happiness which,
cloistered thus, I should never know.

Of Albertine, on the other hand, I had nothing more to learn. Every
day, she seemed to me less attractive. Only, the desire that she
aroused in other people, when, upon hearing of it, I began to suffer
afresh and was impelled to challenge their possession of her, raised
her in my sight to a lofty pinnacle. Pain, she was capable of causing
me; joy, never. Pain alone kept my tedious attachment alive. As soon
as my pain vanished, and with it the need to soothe it, requiring all
my attention, like some agonising distraction, I felt that she meant
absolutely nothing to me, that I must mean absolutely nothing to her.
It made me wretched that this state should persist, and, at certain
moments, I longed to hear of something terrible that she had done,
something that would be capable of keeping us at arms-length until I
was cured, so that we might then be able to be reconciled, to
refashion in a different and more flexible form the chain that bound

In the meantime, I was employing a thousand circumstances, a thousand
pleasures to procure for her in my society the illusion of that
happiness which I did not feel myself capable of giving her. I should
have liked, as soon as I was cured, to set off for Venice, but how was
I to manage it, if I married Albertine, I, who was so jealous of her
that even in Paris whenever I decided to stir from my room it was to
go out with her? Even when I stayed in the house all the afternoon, my
thoughts accompanied her on her drive, traced a remote, blue horizon,
created round the centre that was myself a fluctuating zone of vague
uncertainty. "How completely," I said to myself, "would Albertine
spare me the anguish of separation if, in the course of one of these
drives, seeing that I no longer say anything to her about marriage,
she decided not to come back, and went off to her aunt's, without my
having to bid her good-bye!" My heart, now that its scar had begun to
heal, was ceasing to adhere to the heart of my mistress; I could by
imagination shift her, separate her from myself without pain. No
doubt, failing myself, some other man would be her husband, and in her
freedom she would meet perhaps with those adventures which filled me
with horror. But the day was so fine, I was so certain that she would
return in the evening, that even if the idea of possible misbehaviour
did enter my mind, I could, by an exercise of free will, imprison it
in a part of my brain in which it had no more importance than would
have had in my real life the vices of an imaginary person; bringing
into play the supple hinges of my thought, I had, with an energy which
I felt in my head to be at once physical and mental, as it were a
muscular movement and a spiritual impulse, broken away from the state
of perpetual preoccupation in which I had until then been confined,
and was beginning to move in a free atmosphere, in which the idea of
sacrificing everything in order to prevent Albertine from marrying
some one else and to put an obstacle in the way of her fondness for
women seemed as unreasonable to my own mind as to that of a person who
had never known her.

However, jealousy is one of those intermittent maladies, the cause of
which is capricious, imperative, always identical in the same patient,
sometimes entirely different in another. There are asthmatic persons
who can soothe their crises only by opening the windows, inhaling the
full blast of the wind, the pure air of the mountains, others by
taking refuge in the heart of the city, in a room heavy with smoke.
Rare indeed is the jealous man whose jealousy does not allow certain
concessions. One will consent to infidelity, provided that he is told
of it, another provided that it is concealed from him, wherein they
appear to be equally absurd, since if the latter is more literally
deceived inasmuch as the truth is not disclosed to him, the other
demands in that truth the food, the extension, the renewal of his

What is more, these two parallel manias of jealousy extend often
beyond words, whether they implore or reject confidences. We see a
jealous lover who is jealous only of the women with whom his mistress
has relations in his absence, but allows her to give herself to
another man, if it is done with his authorisation, near at hand, and,
if not actually before his eyes, under his roof. This case is not at
all uncommon among elderly men who are in love with young women. Such
a man feels the difficulty of winning her favour, sometimes his
inability to satisfy her, and, rather than be betrayed, prefers to
admit to his house, to an adjoining room, some man whom he considers
incapable of giving her bad advice, but not incapable of giving her
pleasure. With another man it is just the opposite; never allowing his
mistress to go out by herself for a single minute in a town that he
knows, he keeps her in a state of bondage, but allows her to go for a
month to a place which he does not know, where he cannot form any
mental picture of what she may be doing. I had with regard to
Albertine both these sorts of sedative mania. I should not have been
jealous if she had enjoyed her pleasures in my company, with my
encouragement, pleasures over the whole of which I could have kept
watch, thus avoiding any fear of falsehood; I might perhaps not have
been jealous either if she had removed to a place so unfamiliar and
remote that I could not imagine nor find any possibility, feel any
temptation to know the manner of her life. In either alternative, my
uncertainty would have been killed by a knowledge or an ignorance
equally complete.

The decline of day plunging me back by an act of memory in a cool
atmosphere of long ago, I breathed it with the same delight with which
Orpheus inhaled the subtle air, unknown upon this earth, of the
Elysian Fields.

But already the day was ending and I was overpowered by the desolation
of the evening. Looking mechanically at the clock to see how many
hours must elapse before Albertine's return, I saw that I had still
time to dress and go downstairs to ask my landlady, Mme. de
Guermantes, for particulars of various becoming garments which I was
anxious to procure for my mistress. Sometimes I met the Duchess in the
courtyard, going out for a walk, even if the weather was bad, in a
close-fitting hat and furs. I knew quite well that, to many people of
intelligence, she was merely a lady like any other, the name Duchesse
de Guermantes signifying nothing, now that there are no longer any
sovereign Duchies or Principalities, but I had adopted a different
point of view in my method of enjoying people and places. All the
castles of the territories of which she was Duchess, Princess,
Viscountess, this lady in furs defying the weather teemed to me to be
carrying them on her person, as a figure carved over the lintel of a
church door holds in his hand the cathedral that he has built or the
city that he has defended. But these castles, these forests, my mind's
eye alone could discern them in the left hand of the lady in furs,
whom the King called cousin. My bodily eyes distinguished in it only,
on days when the sky was threatening, an umbrella with which the
Duchess was not afraid to arm herself. "One can never be certain, it
is wiser, I may find myself miles from home, with a cabman demanding a
fare _beyond my means_." The words 'too dear' and 'beyond my means'
kept recurring all the time in the Duchess's conversation, as did
also: 'I am too poor'—without its being possible to decide whether
she spoke thus because she thought it amusing to say that she was
poor, being so rich, or because she thought it smart, being so
aristocratic, in spite of her affectation of peasant ways, not to
attach to riches the importance that people give them who are merely
rich and nothing else, and who look down upon the poor. Perhaps it
was, rather, a habit contracted at a time in her life when, already
rich, but not rich enough to satisfy her needs, considering the
expense of keeping up all those properties, she felt a certain
shortage of money which she did not wish to appear to be concealing.
The things about which we most often jest are generally, on the
contrary, the things that embarrass us, but we do not wish to appear
to be embarrassed by them, and feel perhaps a secret hope of the
further advantage that the person to whom we are talking, hearing us
treat the matter as a joke, will conclude that it is not true.

But upon most evenings, at this hour, I could count upon finding the
Duchess at home, and I was glad of this, for it was more convenient
for me to ask her in detail for the information that Albertine
required. And down I went almost without thinking how extraordinary it
was that I should be calling upon that mysterious Mme. de Guermantes
of my boyhood, simply in order to make use of her for a practical
purpose, as one makes use of the telephone, a supernatural instrument
before whose miracles we used to stand amazed, and which we now employ
without giving it a thought, to summon our tailor or to order ices for
a party.

Albertine delighted in any sort of finery. I could not deny myself the
pleasure of giving her some new trifle every day. And whenever she had
spoken to me with rapture of a scarf, a stole, a sunshade which, from
the window or as they passed one another in the courtyard, her eyes
that so quickly distinguished anything smart, had seen round the
throat, over the shoulders, in the hand of Mme. de Guermantes, knowing
how the girl's naturally fastidious taste (refined still further by
the lessons in elegance of attire which Elstir's conversation had been
to her) would not be at all satisfied by any mere substitute, even of
a pretty thing, such as fills its place in the eyes of the common
herd, but differs from it entirely, I went in secret to make the
Duchess explain to me where, how, from what model the article had been
created that had taken Albertine's fancy, how I should set about to
obtain one exactly similar, in what the creator's secret, the charm
(what Albertine called the '_chic_' the 'style') of his manner, the
precise name—the beauty of the material being of importance also—and
quality of the stuffs that I was to insist upon their using.

When I mentioned to Albertine, on our return from Balbec, that the
Duchesse de Guermantes lived opposite to us, in the same mansion, she
had assumed, on hearing the proud title and great name, that air more
than indifferent, hostile, contemptuous, which is the sign of an
impotent desire in proud and passionate natures. Splendid as
Albertine's nature might be, the fine qualities which it contained
were free to develop only amid those hindrances which are our personal
tastes, or that lamentation for those of our tastes which we have been
obliged to relinquish—in Albertine's case snobbishness—which is
called antipathy. Albertine's antipathy to people in society occupied,
for that matter, but a very small part in her nature, and appealed to
me as an aspect of the revolutionary spirit—that is to say an
embittered love of the nobility—engraved upon the opposite side of
the French character to that which displays the aristocratic manner of
Mme. de Guermantes. To this aristocratic manner Albertine, in view of
the impossibility of her acquiring it, would perhaps not have given a
thought, but remembering that Elstir had spoken to her of the Duchess
as the best dressed woman in Paris, her republican contempt for a
Duchess gave place in my mistress to a keen interest in a fashionable
woman. She was always asking me to tell her about Mme. de Guermantes,
and was glad that I should go to the Duchess to obtain advice as to
her own attire. No doubt I might have got this from Mme. Swann and
indeed I did once write to her with this intention. But Mme. de
Guermantes seemed to me to carry to an even higher pitch the art of
dressing. If, on going down for a moment to call upon her, after
making sure that she had not gone out and leaving word that I was to
be told as soon as Albertine returned, I found the Duchess swathed in
the mist of a garment of grey crêpe de chine, I accepted this aspect
of her which I felt to be due to complex causes and to be quite
inevitable, I let myself be overpowered by the atmosphere which it
exhaled, like that of certain late afternoons cushioned in pearly grey
by a vaporous fog; if, on the other hand, her indoor gown was Chinese
with red and yellow flames, I gazed at it as at a glowing sunset;
these garments were not a casual decoration alterable at her pleasure,
but a definite and poetical reality like that of the weather, or the
light peculiar to a certain hour of the day.

Of all the outdoor and indoor gowns that Mme. de Guermantes wore,
those which seemed most to respond to a definite intention, to be
endowed with a special significance, were the garments made by Fortuny
from old Venetian models. Is it their historical character, is it
rather the fact that each one of them is unique that gives them so
special a significance that the pose of the woman who is wearing one
while she waits for you to appear or while she talks to you assumes an
exceptional importance, as though the costume had been the fruit of a
long deliberation and your conversation was detached from the current
of everyday life like a scene in a novel? In the novels of Balzac, we
see his heroines purposely put on one or another dress on the day on
which they are expecting some particular visitor. The dresses of
to-day have less character, always excepting the creations of Fortuny.
There is no room for vagueness in the novelist's description, since
the gown does really exist, and the merest sketch of it is as
naturally preordained as a copy of a work of art. Before putting on
one or another of them, the woman has had to make a choice between two
garments, not more or less alike but each one profoundly individual,
and answering to its name. But the dress did not prevent me from
thinking of the woman.

Indeed, Mme. de Guermantes seemed to me at this time more attractive
than in the days when I was still in love with her. Expecting less of
her (whom I no longer went to visit for her own sake), it was almost
with the ease and comfort of a man in a room by himself, with his feet
on the fender, that I listened to her as though I were reading a book
written in the speech of long ago. My mind was sufficiently detached
to enjoy in what she said that pure charm of the French language which
we no longer find either in the speech or in the literature of the
present day. I listened to her conversation as to a folk song
deliciously and purely French, I realised that I would have allowed
her to belittle Maeterlinck (whom for that matter she now admired,
from a feminine weakness of intellect, influenced by those literary
fashions whose rays spread slowly), as I realised that Mérimée had
belittled Baudelaire, Stendhal Balzac, Paul-Louis Courier Victor Hugo,
Meilhac Mallarmé. I realised that the critic had a far more restricted
outlook than his victim, but also a purer vocabulary. That of Mme. de
Guermantes, almost as much as that of Saint-Loup's mother, was
purified to an enchanting degree. It is not in the bloodless formulas
of the writers of to-day, who say: _au fait_ (for 'in reality'),
_singulièrement_ (for 'in particular'), _étonné_ (for 'struck with
amazement'), and the like, that we recapture the old speech and the
true pronunciation of words, but in conversing with a Mme. de
Guermantes or a Françoise; I had learned from the latter, when I was
five years old, that one did not say 'the Tarn' but 'the Tar'; not
'Bearn' but 'Bear.' The effect of which was that at twenty, when I
began to go into society, I had no need to be taught there that one
ought not to say, like Mme. Bontemps: 'Madame de Bearn.'

It would be untrue to pretend that of this territorial and
semi-peasant quality which survived in her the Duchess was not fully
conscious, indeed she displayed a certain affectation in emphasising
it. But, on her part, this was not so much the false simplicity of a
great lady aping the countrywoman or the pride of a Duchess bent upon
snubbing the rich ladies who express contempt for the peasants whom
they do not know as the almost artistic preference of a woman who
knows the charm of what belongs to her, and is not going to spoil it
with a coat of modern varnish. In the same way, everybody will
remember at Dives a Norman innkeeper, landlord of the Guillaume le
Conquérant, who carefully refrained—which is very rare—from giving
his hostelry the modern comforts of an hotel, and, albeit a
millionaire, retained the speech, the blouse of a Norman peasant and
allowed you to enter his kitchen and watch him prepare with his own
hands, as in a farmhouse, a dinner which was nevertheless infinitely
better and even more expensive than are the dinners in the most
luxurious hotels.

All the local sap that survives in the old noble families is not
enough, there must also be born of them a person of sufficient
intelligence not to despise it, not to conceal it beneath the varnish
of society. Mme. de Guermantes, unfortunately clever and Parisian,
who, when I first knew her, retained nothing of her native soil but
its accent, had at least, when she wished to describe her life as a
girl, found for her speech one of those compromises (between what
would have seemed too spontaneously provincial on the one hand or
artificially literary on the other), one of those compromises which
form the attraction of George Sand's _La Petite Fadette_ or of certain
legends preserved by Chateaubriand in his _Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe_.
My chief pleasure was in hearing her tell some anecdote which brought
peasants into the picture with herself. The historic names, the old
customs gave to these blendings of the castle with the village a
distinctly attractive savour. Having remained in contact with the
lands over which it once ruled, a certain class of the nobility has
remained regional, with the result that the simplest remark unrolls
before our eyes a political and physical map of the whole history of

If there was no affectation, no desire to fabricate a special
language, then this manner of pronouncing words was a regular museum
of French history displayed in conversation. 'My great-uncle Fitt-jam'
was not at all surprising, for we know that the Fitz-James family are
proud to boast that they are French nobles, and do not like to hear
their name pronounced in the English fashion. One must, incidentally,
admire the touching docility of the people who had previously supposed
themselves obliged to pronounce certain names phonetically, and who,
all of a sudden, after hearing the Duchesse de Guermantes pronounce
them otherwise, adopted the pronunciation which they could never have
guessed. Thus the Duchess, who had had a great-grandfather in the
suite of the Comte de Chambord, liked to tease her husband for having
turned Orleanist by proclaiming: "We old Frochedorf people...." The
visitor, who had always imagined that he was correct in saying
'Frohsdorf,' at once turned his coat, and ever afterwards might be
heard saying 'Frochedorf.'

On one occasion when I asked Mme. de Guermantes who a young blood was
whom she had introduced to me as her nephew but whose name I had
failed to catch, I was none the wiser when from the back of her throat
the Duchess uttered in a very loud but quite inarticulate voice:
"_C'est l'... i Eon... l... b... frère à Robert_. He makes out that
he has the same shape of skull as the ancient Gauls." Then I realised
that she had said: "_C'est le petit Léon_," and that this was the
Prince de Léon, who was indeed Robert de Saint-Loup's brother-in-law.
"I know nothing about his skull," she went on, "but the way he
dresses, and I must say he does dress quite well, is not at all in the
style of those parts. Once when I was staying at Josselin, with the
Rohans, we all went over to one of the pilgrimages, where there were
peasants from every part of Brittany. A great hulking fellow from one
of the Léon villages stood gaping open-mouthed at Robert's
brother-in-law in his beige breeches! 'What are you staring at me like
that for?' said Léon. 'I bet you don't know who I am?' The peasant
admitted that he did not. 'Very well,' said Léon, 'I'm your Prince.'
'Oh!' said the peasant, taking off his cap and apologising. 'I thought
you were an _Englische_.'"

And if, taking this opportunity, I led Mme. de Guermantes on to talk
about the Rohans (with whom her own family had frequently
intermarried), her conversation would become impregnated with a hint
of the wistful charm of the Pardons, and (as that true poet Pampille
would say) with "the harsh savour of pancakes of black grain fried
over a fire of rushes."

Of the Marquis du Lau (whose tragic decline we all know, when, himself
deaf, he used to be taken to call on Mme. H... who was blind), she
would recall the less tragic years when, after the day's sport, at
Guermantes, he would change into slippers before taking tea with the
Prince of Wales, to whom he would not admit himself inferior, and with
whom, as we see, he stood upon no ceremony. She described all this so
picturesquely that she seemed to invest him with the plumed musketeer
bonnet of the somewhat vainglorious gentlemen of the Périgord.

But even in the mere classification of different people, her care to
distinguish and indicate their native provinces was in Mme. de
Guermantes, when she was her natural self, a great charm which a
Parisian-born woman could never have acquired, and those simple names
Anjou, Poitou, the Périgord, filled her conversation with pictorial

To revert to the pronunciation and vocabulary of Mme. de Guermantes,
it is in this aspect that the nobility shews itself truly
conservative, with everything that the word implies at once somewhat
puerile and somewhat perilous, stubborn in its resistance to evolution
but interesting also to an artist. I was anxious to know the original
spelling of the name Jean. I learned it when I received a letter from
a nephew of Mme. de Villeparisis who signs himself—as he was
christened, as he figures in Gotha—Jehan de Villeparisis, with the
same handsome, superfluous, heraldic h that we admire, illuminated in
vermilion or ultramarine in a Book of Hours or in a window.

Unfortunately, I never had time to prolong these visits indefinitely,
for I was anxious, if possible, not to return home after my mistress.
But it was only in driblets that I was able to obtain from Mme. de
Guermantes that information as to her garments which was of use in
helping me to order garments similar in style, so far as it was
possible for a young girl to wear them, for Albertine. "For instance,
Madame, that evening when you dined with Mme. de Saint-Euverte, and
then went on to the Princesse de Guermantes, you had a dress that was
all red, with red shoes, you were marvellous, you reminded me of a
sort of great blood-red blossom, a blazing ruby—now, what was that
dress? Is it the sort of thing that a girl can wear?"

The Duchess, imparting to her tired features the radiant expression
that the Princesse des Laumes used to assume when Swann, in years
past, paid her compliments, looked, with tears of merriment in her
eyes, quizzingly, questioningly and delightedly at M. de Bréauté who
was always there at that hour and who set beaming from behind his
monocle a smile that seemed to pardon this outburst of intellectual
trash for the sake of the physical excitement of youth which seemed to
him to lie beneath it. The Duchess appeared to be saying: "What is the
matter with him? He must be mad." Then turning to me with a coaxing
air: "I wasn't aware that I looked like a blazing ruby or a blood-red
blossom, but I do remember, as it happens, that I had on a red dress:
it was red satin, which was being worn that season. Yes, a girl can
wear that sort of thing at a pinch, but you told me that your friend
never went out in the evening. That is a full evening dress, not a
thing that she can put on to pay calls."

What is extraordinary is that of the evening in question, which after
all was not so very remote, Mme. de Guermantes should remember nothing
but what she had been wearing, and should have forgotten a certain
incident which nevertheless, as we shall see presently, ought to have
mattered to her greatly. It seems that among men and women of action
(and people in society are men and women of action on a minute, a
microscopic scale, but are nevertheless men and women of action), the
mind, overcharged by the need of attending to what is going to happen
in an hour's time, confides only a very few things to the memory. As
often as not, for instance, it was not with the object of putting his
questioner in the wrong and making himself appear not to have been
mistaken that M. de Norpois, when you reminded him of the prophecies
he had uttered with regard to an alliance with Germany of which
nothing had ever come, would say: "You must be mistaken, I have no
recollection of it whatever, it is not like me, for in that sort of
conversation I am always most laconic, and I would never have
predicted the success of one of those _coups d'éclat_ which are often
nothing more than _coups de tête_ and almost always degenerate into
_coups de force_. It is beyond question that in the remote future a
Franco-German _rapprochement_ might come into being and would be
highly profitable to both countries, nor would France have the worse
of the bargain, I dare say, but I have never spoken of it because the
fruit is not yet ripe, and if you wish to know my opinion, in asking
our late enemies to join with us in solemn wedlock, I consider that we
should be setting out to meet a severe rebuff, and that the attempt
could end only in disaster." In saying this M. de Norpois was not
being untruthful, he had simply forgotten. We quickly forget what we
have not deeply considered, what has been dictated to us by the spirit
of imitation, by the passions of our neighbours. These change, and
with them our memory undergoes alteration. Even more than diplomats,
politicians are unable to remember the point of view which they
adopted at a certain moment, and some of their palinodes are due less
to a surfeit of ambition than to a shortage of memory. As for people
in society, there are very few things that they remember.

Mme. de Guermantes assured me that, at the party to which she had gone
in a red gown, she did not remember Mme. de Chaussepierre's being
present, and that I must be mistaken. And yet, heaven knows, the
Chaussepierres had been present enough in the minds of both Duke and
Duchess since then. For the following reason. M. de Guermantes had
been the senior vice-president of the Jockey, when the president died.
Certain members of the club who were not popular in society and whose
sole pleasure was to blackball the men who did not invite them to
their houses started a campaign against the Duc de Guermantes who,
certain of being elected, and relatively indifferent to the presidency
which was a small matter for a man in his social position, paid no
attention. It was urged against him that the Duchess was a Dreyfusard
(the Dreyfus case had long been concluded, but twenty years later
people were still talking about it, and so far only two years had
elapsed), and entertained the Rothschilds, that so much consideration
had been shewn of late to certain great international magnates like
the Duc de Guermantes, who was half German. The campaign found its
ground well prepared, clubs being always jealous of men who are in the
public eye, and detesting great fortunes.

Chaussepierre's own fortune was no mere pittance, but nobody could
take offence at it; he never spent a penny, the couple lived in a
modest apartment, the wife went about dressed in black serge. A
passionate music-lover, she did indeed give little afternoon parties
to which many more singers were invited than to the Guermantes. But no
one ever mentioned these parties, no refreshments were served, the
husband did not put in an appearance even, and everything went off
quite quietly in the obscurity of the Rue de la Chaise. At the Opera,
Mme. de Chaussepierre passed unnoticed, always among people whose
names recalled the most 'die-hard' element of the intimate circle of
Charles X, but people quite obsolete, who went nowhere. On the day of
the election, to the general surprise, obscurity triumphed over
renown: Chaussepierre, the second vice-president, was elected
president of the Jockey, and the Duc de Guermantes was left
sitting—that is to say, in the senior vice-president's chair. Of
course, being president of the Jockey means little or nothing to
Princes of the highest rank such as the Guermantes. But not to be it
when it is your turn, to see preferred to you a Chaussepierre to whose
wife Oriane, two years earlier, had not merely refused to bow but had
taken offence that an unknown scarecrow like that should bow to her,
this the Duke did find hard to endure. He pretended to be superior to
this rebuff, asserting moreover that it was his long-standing
friendship with Swann that was at the root of it. Actually his anger
never cooled.

One curious thing was that nobody had ever before heard the Duc de
Guermantes make use of the quite commonplace expression 'out and out,'
but ever since the Jockey election, whenever anybody referred to the
Dreyfus case, pat would come 'out and out.'"Dreyfus case, Dreyfus
case, that's soon said, and it's a misuse of the term. It is not a
question of religion, it's _out and out_ a political matter." Five
years might go by without your hearing him say 'out and out' again, if
during that time nobody mentioned the Dreyfus case, but if, at the end
of five years, the name Dreyfus cropped up, 'out and out' would at
once follow automatically. The Duke could not, anyhow, bear to hear
any mention of the case, "which has been responsible," he would say,
"for so many disasters" albeit he was really conscious of one and one
only; his own failure to become president of the Jockey. And so on
the afternoon in question, when I reminded Madame de Guermantes of the
red gown that she had worn at her cousin's party, M. de Bréauté was
none too well received when, determined to say something, by an
association of ideas which remained obscure and which he did not
illuminate, he began, twisting his tongue about between his pursed
lips: "Talking of the Dreyfus case—" (why in the world of the Dreyfus
case, we were talking simply of a red dress, and certainly poor
Bréauté, whose only desire was to make himself agreeable, can have had
no malicious intention). But the mere name of Dreyfus made the Duc de
Guermantes knit his Jupiterian brows. "I was told," Bréauté went on,
"a jolly good thing, damned clever, 'pon my word, that was said by our
friend Cartier" (we must warn the reader that this Cartier, Mme. de
Villefranche's brother, was in no way related to the jeweller of that
name) "not that I'm in the least surprised, for he's got plenty of
brains to spare," "Oh!" broke in Oriane, "he can spare me his brains.
I hardly like to tell you how much your friend Cartier has always
bored me, and I have never been able to understand the boundless charm
that Charles de La Trémoïlle and his wife seem to find in the
creature, for I meet him there every time that I go to their house."
"My dear Dutt-yess," replied Bréauté, who was unable to pronounce the
soft _c_, "I think you are very hard upon Cartier. It is true that he
has perhaps made himself rather too mutt-y-at home at the La
Trémoïlles', but after all he does provide Tyarles with a sort
of—what shall I say?—a sort of _fidus Achates_, which has become a
very rare bird indeed in these days. Anyhow, this is the story as it
was told to me. Cartier appears to have said that if M. Zola had gone
out of his way to stand his trial and to be convicted, it was in order
to enjoy the only sensation he had never yet tried, that of being in
prison." "And so he ran away before they could arrest him," Oriane
broke in. "Your story doesn't hold water. Besides, even if it was
plausible, I think his remark absolutely idiotic. If that's what you
call being witty!" "Good grate-ious, my dear Oriane," replied Bréauté
who, finding himself contradicted, was beginning to lose confidence,
"it's not my remark, I'm telling you it as it was told to me, take it
for what's it worth. Anyhow, it earned M. Cartier a first rate blowing
up from that excellent fellow La Trémoïlle who, and quite rightly,
does not like people to discuss what one might call, so to speak,
current events, in his drawing-room, and was all the more annoyed
because Mme. Alphonse Rothschild was present. Cartier had to listen to
a positive jobation from La Trémoïlle." "I should think so," said the
Duke, in the worst of tempers, "the Alphonse Rothschilds, even if they
have the tact never to speak of that abominable affair, are
Dreyfusards at heart, like all the Jews. Indeed that is an argument
_ad hominem_" (the Duke was a trifle vague in his use of the
expression _ad hominem_) "which is not sufficiently made use of to
prove the dishonesty of the Jews. If a Frenchman robs or murders
somebody, I do not consider myself bound, because he is a Frenchman
like myself, to find him innocent. But the Jews will never admit that
one of their fellow-countrymen is a traitor, although they know it
perfectly well, and never think of the terrible repercussions" (the
Duke was thinking, naturally, of that accursed defeat by
Chaussepierre) "which the crime of one of their people can bring even
to... Come, Oriane, you're not going to pretend that it ain't damning
to the Jews that they all support a traitor. You're not going to tell
me that it ain't because they're Jews." "Of course not," retorted
Oriane (feeling, with a trace of irritation, a certain desire to hold
her own against Jupiter Tonans and also to set 'intellect' above the
Dreyfus case). "Perhaps it is just because they are Jews and know
their own race that they realise that a person can be a Jew and not
necessarily a traitor and anti-French, as M. Drumont seems to
maintain. Certainly, if he'd been a Christian, the Jews wouldn't have
taken any interest in him, but they did so because they knew quite
well that if he hadn't been a Jew people wouldn't have been so ready
to think him a traitor _a priori_, as my nephew Robert would say."
"Women never understand a thing about politics," exclaimed the Duke,
fastening his gaze upon the Duchess. "That shocking crime is not
simply a Jewish cause, but _out and out_ an affair of vast national
importance which may lead to the most appalling consequences for
France, which ought to have driven out all the Jews, whereas I am
sorry to say that the measures taken up to the present have been
directed (in an ignoble fashion, which will have to be overruled) not
against them but against the most eminent of their adversaries,
against men of the highest rank, who have been flung into the gutter,
to the ruin of our unhappy country."

I felt that the conversation had taken a wrong turning and reverted
hurriedly to the topic of clothes.

"Do you remember, Madame," I said, "the first time that you were
friendly with me?" "The first time that I was friendly with him," she
repeated, turning with a smile to M. de Bréauté, the tip of whose nose
grew more pointed, his smile more tender out of politeness to Mme. de
Guermantes, while his voice, like a knife on the grindstone, emitted
various vague and rusty sounds. "You were wearing a yellow gown with
big black flowers." "But, my dear boy, that's the same thing, those
are evening dresses." "And your hat with the cornflowers that I liked
so much! Still, those are all things of the past. I should like to
order for the girl I mentioned to you a fur cloak like the one you had
on yesterday morning. Would it be possible for me to see it?" "Of
course; Hannibal has to be going in a moment. You shall come to my
room and my maid will shew you anything you want to look at. Only, my
dear boy, though I shall be delighted to lend you anything, I must
warn you that if you have things from Callot's or Doucet's or Paquin's
copied by some small dressmaker, the result is never the same." "But I
never dreamed of going to a small dressmaker, I know quite well it
wouldn't be the same thing, but I should be interested to hear you
explain why." "You know quite well I can never explain anything, I am
a perfect fool, I talk like a peasant. It is a question of handiwork,
of style; as far as furs go, I can at least give you a line to my
furrier, so that he shan't rob you. But you realise that even then it
will cost you eight or nine thousand francs." "And that indoor gown
that you were wearing the other evening, with such a curious smell,
dark, fluffy, speckled, streaked with gold like a butterfly's wing?"
"Ah! That is one of Fortuny's. Your young lady can quite well wear
that in the house. I have heaps of them; you shall see them presently,
in fact I can give you one or two if you like. But I should like you
to see one that my cousin Talleyrand has. I must write to her for the
loan of it." "But you had such charming shoes as well, are they
Fortuny's too?" "No, I know the ones you mean, they are made of some
gilded kid we came across in London, when I was shopping with Consuelo
Manchester. It was amazing. I could never make out how they did it, it
was just like a golden skin, simply that with a tiny diamond in front.
The poor Duchess of Manchester is dead, but if it's any help to you I
can write and ask Lady Warwick or the Duchess of Marlborough to try
and get me some more. I wonder, now, if I haven't a piece of the stuff
left. You might be able to have a pair made here. I shall look for it
this evening, and let you know."

As I endeavoured as far as possible to leave the Duchess before
Albertine had returned, it often happened that I met in the courtyard
as I came away from her door M. de Charlus and Morel on their way to
take tea at Jupien's, a supreme favour for the Baron. I did not
encounter them every day but they went there every day. Here we may
perhaps remark that the regularity of a habit is generally in
proportion to its absurdity. The sensational things, we do as a rule
only by fits and starts. But the senseless life, in which the maniac
deprives himself of all pleasure and inflicts the greatest discomforts
upon himself, is the type that alters least. Every ten years, if we
had the curiosity to inquire, we should find the poor wretch still
asleep at the hours when he might be living his life, going out at the
hours when there is nothing to do but let oneself be murdered in the
streets, sipping iced drinks when he is hot, still trying desperately
to cure a cold. A slight impulse of energy, for a single day, would be
sufficient to change these habits for good and all. But the fact is
that this sort of life is almost always the appanage of a person
devoid of energy. Vices are another aspect of these monotonous
existences which the exercise of will power would suffice to render
less painful. These two aspects might be observed simultaneously when
M. de Charlus came every day with Morel to take tea at Jupien's. A
single outburst had marred this daily custom. The tailor's niece
having said one day to Morel: "That's all right then, come to-morrow
and I'll stand you a tea," the Baron had quite justifiably considered
this expression very vulgar on the lips of a person whom he regarded
as almost a prospective daughter-in-law, but as he enjoyed being
offensive and became carried away by his own anger, instead of simply
saying to Morel that he begged him to give her a lesson in polite
manners, the whole of their homeward walk was a succession of violent
scenes. In the most insolent, the most arrogant tone: "So your 'touch'
which, I can see, is not necessarily allied to 'tact,' has hindered
the normal development of your sense of smell, since you could allow
that fetid expression 'stand a tea'—at fifteen centimes, I
suppose—to waft its stench of sewage to my regal nostrils? When you
have come to the end of a violin solo, have you ever seen yourself in
my house rewarded with a fart, instead of frenzied applause, or a
silence more eloquent still, since it is due to exhaustion from the
effort to restrain, not what your young woman lavishes upon you, but
the sob that you have brought to my lips?"

When a public official has had similar reproaches heaped upon him by
his chief, he invariably loses his post next day. Nothing, on the
contrary, could have been more painful to M. de Charlus than to
dismiss Morel, and, fearing indeed that he had gone a little too far,
he began to sing the girl's praises in detailed terms, with an
abundance of good taste mingled with impertinence. "She is charming;
as you are a musician, I suppose that she seduced you by her voice,
which is very beautiful in the high notes, where she seems to await
the accompaniment of your B sharp. Her lower register appeals to me
less, and that must bear some relation to the triple rise of her
strange and slender throat, which when it seems to have come to an end
begins again; but these are trivial details, it is her outline that I
admire. And as she is a dressmaker and must be handy with her
scissors, you must make her give me a charming silhouette of herself
cut out in paper."

Charlie had paid but little attention to this eulogy, the charms which
it extolled in his betrothed having completely escaped his notice. But
he said, in reply to M. de Charlus: "That's all right, my boy, I shall
tell her off properly, and she won't talk like that again." If Morel
addressed M. de Charlus thus as his 'boy,' it was not that the
good-looking violinist was unaware that his own years numbered barely
a third of the Baron's. Nor did he use the expression as Jupien would
have done, but with that simplicity which in certain relations
postulates that a suppression of the difference in age has tacitly
preceded affection. A feigned affection on Morel's part. In others, a
sincere affection. Thus, about this time M. de Charlus received a
letter worded as follows: "My dear Palamède, when am I going to see
thee again? I am longing terribly for thee and always thinking of
thee. PIERRE." M. de Charlus racked his brains to discover which of
his relatives it could be that took the liberty of addressing him so
familiarly, and must consequently know him intimately, although he
failed to recognise the handwriting. All the Princes to whom the
Almanach de Gotha accords a few lines passed in procession for days on
end through his mind. And then, all of a sudden, an address written on
the back of the letter enlightened him: the writer was the page at a
gambling club to which M. de Charlus sometimes went. This page had not
felt that he was being discourteous in writing in this tone to M. de
Charlus, for whom on the contrary he felt the deepest respect. But he
thought that it would not be civil not to address in the second person
singular a gentleman who had many times kissed one, and thereby—he
imagined in his simplicity—bestowed his affection. M. de Charlus was
really delighted by this familiarity. He even brought M. de
Vaugoubert away from an afternoon party in order to shew him the
letter. And yet, heaven knows that M. de Charlus did not care to go
about with M. de Vaugoubert. For the latter, his monocle in his eye,
kept gazing in all directions at every passing youth. What was worse,
emancipating himself when he was with M. de Charlus, he employed a
form of speech which the Baron detested. He gave feminine endings to
all the masculine words and, being intensely stupid, imagined this
pleasantry to be extremely witty, and was continually in fits of
laughter. As at the same time he attached enormous importance to his
position in the diplomatic service, these deplorable outbursts of
merriment in the street were perpetually interrupted by the shock
caused him by the simultaneous appearance of somebody in society, or,
worse still, of a civil servant. "That little telegraph messenger,"
he said, nudging the disgusted Baron with his elbow, "I used to know
her, but she's turned respectable, the wretch! Oh, that messenger from
the Galeries Lafayette, what a dream! Good God, there's the head of
the Commercial Department. I hope he didn't notice anything. He's
quite capable of mentioning it to the Minister, who would put me on
the retired list, all the more as, it appears, he's so himself." M. de
Charlus was speechless with rage. At length, to bring this infuriating
walk to an end, he decided to produce the letter and give it to the
Ambassador to read, but warned him to be discreet, for he liked to
pretend that Charlie was jealous, in order to be able to make people
think that he was enamoured. "And," he added with an indescribable air
of benevolence, "we ought always to try to cause as little trouble as
possible." Before we come back to Jupien's shop, the author would like
to say how deeply he would regret it should any reader be offended by
his portrayal of such unusual characters. On the one hand (and this is
the less important aspect of the matter), it may be felt that the
aristocracy is, in these pages, disproportionately accused of
degeneracy in comparison with the other classes of society. Were this
true, it would be in no way surprising. The oldest families end by
displaying, in a red and bulbous nose, or a deformed chin,
characteristic signs in which everyone admires 'blood.' But among
these persistent and perpetually developing features, there are others
that are not visible, to wit tendencies and tastes. It would be a more
serious objection, were there any foundation for it, to say that all
this is alien to us, and that we ought to extract truth from the
poetry that is close at hand. Art extracted from the most familiar
reality does indeed exist and its domain is perhaps the largest of
any. But it is no less true that a strong interest, not to say beauty,
may be found in actions inspired by a cast of mind so remote from
anything that we feel, from anything that we believe, that we cannot
ever succeed in understanding them, that they are displayed before our
eyes like a spectacle without rhyme or reason. What eould be more
poetic than Xerxes, son of Darius, ordering the sea to be scourged
with rods for having engulfed his fleet?

We may be certain that Morel, relying on the influence which his
personal attractions give him over the girl, communicated to her, as
coming from himself, the Baron's criticism, for the expression 'stand
you a tea' disappeared as completely from the tailor's shop as
disappears from a drawing-room some intimate friend who used to call
daily, and with whom, for one reason or another, we have quarrelled,
or whom we are trying to keep out of sight and meet only outside the
house. M. de Charlus was satisfied by the cessation of 'stand you a
tea.' He saw in it a proof of his own ascendancy over Morel and the
removal of its one little blemish from the girl's perfection. In
short, like everyone of his kind, while genuinely fond of Morel and of
the girl who was all but engaged to him, an ardent advocate of their
marriage, he thoroughly enjoyed his power to create at his pleasure
more or less inoffensive little scenes, aloof from and above which he
himself remained as Olympian as his brother.

Morel had told M. de Charlus that he was in love with Jupien's niece,
and wished to marry her, and the Baron liked to accompany his young
friend upon visits in which he played the part of father-in-law to be,
indulgent and discreet. Nothing pleased him better.

My personal opinion is that 'stand you a tea' had originated with
Morel himself, and that in the blindness of her love the young
seamstress had adopted an expression from her beloved which clashed
horribly with her own pretty way of speaking. This way of speaking,
the charming manners that went with it, the patronage of M. de Charlus
brought it about that many customers for whom she had worked received
her as a friend, invited her to dinner, introduced her to their
friends, though the girl accepted their invitations only with the
Baron's permission and on the evenings that suited him. "A young
seamstress received in society?" the reader will exclaim, "how
improbable!" If you come to think of it, it was no less improbable
that at one time Albertine should have come to see me at midnight, and
that she should now be living in my house. And yet this might perhaps
have been improbable of anyone else, but not of Albertine, a
fatherless and motherless orphan, leading so uncontrolled a life that
at first I had taken her, at Balbec, for the mistress of a bicyclist,
a girl whose next of kin was Mme. Bontemps who in the old days, at
Mme. Swann's, had admired nothing about her niece but her bad manners
and who now shut her eyes, especially if by doing so she might be able
to get rid of her by securing for her a wealthy marriage from which a
little of the wealth would trickle into the aunt's pocket (in the
highest society, a mother who is very well-born and quite penniless,
when she has succeeded in finding a rich bride for her son, allows the
young couple to support her, accepts presents of furs, a motor-car,
money from a daughter-in-law whom she does not like but whom she
introduces to her friends).

The day may come when dressmakers—nor should I find it at all
shocking—will move in society. Jupien's niece being an exception
affords us no base for calculation, for one swallow does not make a
summer. In any case, if the very modest advancement of Jupien's niece
did scandalise some people, Morel was not among them, for, in certain
respects, his stupidity was so intense that not only did he label
'rather a fool' this girl a thousand times cleverer than himself, and
foolish only perhaps in her love for himself, but he actually took to
be adventuresses, dressmakers' assistants in disguise playing at being
ladies, the persons of rank and position who invited her to their
houses and whose invitations she accepted without a trace of vanity.
Naturally these were not Guermantes, nor even people who knew the
Guermantes, but rich and smart women of the middle-class, broad-minded
enough to feel that it is no disgrace to invite a dressmaker to your
house and at the same time servile enough to derive some satisfaction
from patronising a girl whom His Highness the Baron de Charlus was in
the habit—without any suggestion, of course, of impropriety—of
visiting daily.

Nothing could have pleased the Baron more than the idea of this
marriage, for he felt that in this way Morel would not be taken from
him. It appears that Jupien's niece had been, when scarcely more than
a child, 'in trouble.' And M. de Charlus, while he sang her praises to
Morel, would have had no hesitation in revealing this secret to his
friend, who would be furious, and thus sowing the seeds of discord.
For M. de Charlus, although terribly malicious, resembled a great many
good people who sing the praises of some man or woman, as a proof of
their own generosity, but would avoid like poison the soothing words,
so rarely uttered, that would be capable of putting an end to strife.
Notwithstanding this, the Baron refrained from making any insinuation,
and for two reasons. "If I tell him," he said to himself, "that his
ladylove is not spotless, his vanity will be hurt, he will be angry
with me. Besides, how am I to know that he is not in love with her? If
I say nothing, this fire of straw will burn itself out before long, I
shall be able to control their relations as I choose, he will love her
only to the extent that I shall allow. If I tell him of his young
lady's past transgression, who knows that my Charlie is not still
sufficiently enamoured of her to become jealous. Then I shall by my
own doing be converting a harmless and easily controlled flirtation
into a serious passion, which is a difficult thing to manage." For
these reasons, M. de Charlus preserved a silence which had only the
outward appearance of discretion, but was in another respect
meritorious, since it is almost impossible for men of his sort to hold
their tongues.

Anyhow, the girl herself was charming, and M. de Charlus, who found
that she satisfied all the aesthetic interest that he was capable of
feeling in women, would have liked to have hundreds of photographs of
her. Not such a fool as Morel, he was delighted to hear the names of
the ladies who invited her to their houses, and whom his social
instinct was able to place, but he took care (as he wished to retain
his power) not to mention this to Charlie who, a regular idiot in this
respect, continued to believe that, apart from the 'violin class' and
the Verdurins, there existed only the Guermantes, and the few almost
royal houses enumerated by the Baron, all the rest being but 'dregs'
or 'scum.' Charlie interpreted these expressions of M. de Charlus

Among the reasons which made M. de Charlus look forward to the
marriage of the young couple was this, that Jupien's niece would then
be in a sense an extension of Morel's personality, and so of the
Baron's power over and knowledge of him. As for 'betraying' in the
conjugal sense the violinist's future wife, it would never for a
moment have occurred to M. de Charlus to feel the slightest scruple
about that. But to have a 'young couple' to manage, to feel himself
the redoubtable and all-powerful protector of Morel's wife, who if she
regarded the Baron as a god would thereby prove that Morel had
inculcated this idea into her, and would thus contain in herself
something of Morel, added a new variety to the form of M. de Charlus's
domination and brought to light in his 'creature,' Morel, a creature
the more, that is to say gave the Baron something different, new,
curious, to love in him. Perhaps even this domination would be
stronger now than it had ever been. For whereas Morel by himself,
naked so to speak, often resisted the Baron whom he felt certain of
reconquering, once he was married, the thought of his home, his house,
his future would alarm him more quickly, he would offer to M. de
Charlus's desires a wider surface, an easier hold. All this, and even,
failing anything else, on evenings when he was bored, the prospect of
stirring up trouble between husband and wife (the Baron had never
objected to battle-pictures) was pleasing to him. Less pleasing,
however, than the thought of the state of dependence upon himself in
which the young people would live. M. de Charlus's love for Morel
acquired a delicious novelty when he said to himself: "His wife too
will be mine just as much as he is, they will always take care not to
annoy me, they will obey my caprices, and thus she will be a sign
(which hitherto I have failed to observe) of what I had almost
forgotten, what is so very dear to my heart, that to all the world, to
everyone who sees that I protect them, house them, to myself, Morel is
mine." This testimony in the eyes of the world and in his own pleased
M. de Charlus more than anything. For the possession of what we love
is an even greater joy than love itself. Very often those people who
conceal this possession from the world do so only from the fear that
the beloved object may be taken from them. And their happiness is
diminished by this prudent reticence.

The reader may remember that Morel had once told the Baron that his
great ambition was to seduce some young girl, and this girl in
particular, that to succeed in his enterprise he would promise to
marry her, and, the outrage accomplished, would 'cut his hook'; but
this confession, what with the declarations of love for Jupien's niece
which Morel had come and poured out to him, M. de Charlus had
forgotten. What was more, Morel had quite possibly forgotten it
himself. There was perhaps a real gap between Morel's nature—as he
had cynically admitted, perhaps even artfully exaggerated it—and the
moment at which it would regain control of him. As he became better
acquainted with the girl, she had appealed to him, he began to like
her. He knew himself so little that he doubtless imagined that he was
in love with her, perhaps indeed that he would be in love with her
always. To be sure his initial desire, his criminal intention
remained, but glossed over by so many layers of sentiment that there
is nothing to shew that the violinist would not have been sincere in
saying that this vicious desire was not the true motive of his action.
There was, moreover, a brief period during which, without his actually
admitting it to himself, this marriage appeared to him to be
necessary. Morel was suffering at the time from violent cramp in the
hand, and found himself obliged to contemplate the possibility of his
having to give up the violin. As, in everything but his art, he was
astonishingly lazy, the question who was to maintain him loomed before
him, and he preferred that it should be Jupien's niece rather than M.
de Charlus, this arrangement offering him greater freedom and also a
wider choice of several kinds of women, ranging from the apprentices,
perpetually changing, whom he would make Jupien's niece debauch for
him, to the rich and beautiful ladies to whom he would prostitute her.
That his future wife might refuse to lend herself to these
arrangements, that she could be so perverse never entered Morel's
calculations for a moment. However, they passed into the background,
their place being taken by pure love, now that his cramp had ceased.
His violin would suffice, together with his allowance from M. de
Charlus, whose claims upon him would certainly be reduced once he,
Morel, was married to the girl. Marriage was the urgent thing, because
of his love, and in the interest of his freedom. He made a formal
offer of marriage to Jupien, who consulted his niece. This was wholly
unnecessary. The girl's passion for the violinist streamed round about
her, like her hair when she let it down, like the joy in her beaming
eyes. In Morel, almost everything that was agreeable or advantageous
to him awakened moral emotions and words to correspond, sometimes even
melting him to tears. It was therefore sincerely—if such a word can
be applied to him—that he addressed Jupien's niece in speeches as
steeped in sentimentality (sentimental too are the speeches that so
many young noblemen who look forward to a life of complete idleness
address to some charming daughter of a middle-class millionaire) as
had been steeped in unredeemed vileness the speech he had made to M.
de Charlus about the seduction and deflowering of a virgin. Only there
was another side to this virtuous enthusiasm for a person who afforded
him pleasure and the solemn engagement that he made with her. As soon
as the person ceased to afford him pleasure, or indeed if, for
example, the obligation to fulfil the promise that he had made caused
him displeasure, she at once became the object ef an antipathy which
he justified in his own eyes and which, after some neurasthenic
disturbance, enabled him to prove to himself, as soon as the balance
of his nervous system was restored, that he was, even looking at the
matter from a purely virtuous point of view, released from any
obligation. Thus, towards the end of his stay at Balbec, he had
managed somehow to lose all his money and, not daring to mention the
matter to M. de Charlus, looked about for some one to whom he might
appeal. He had learned from his father (who at the same time had
forbidden him ever to become a 'sponger') that in such circumstances
the correct thing is to write to the person whom you intend to ask for
a loan, "that you have to speak to him on business," to "ask him for a
business appointment." This magic formula had so enchanted Morel that
he would, I believe, have been glad to lose his money, simply to have
the pleasure of asking for an appointment 'on business.' In the course
of his life he had found that the formula had not quite the virtue
that he supposed. He had discovered that certain people, to whom
otherwise he would never have written at all, did not reply within
five minutes of receiving his letter asking to speak to them 'on
business.' If the afternoon went by without his receiving an answer,
it never occurred to him that, to put the best interpretation on the
matter, it was quite possible that the gentleman addressed had not yet
come home, or had had other letters to write, if indeed he had not
gone away from home altogether, fallen ill, or something of that sort.
If by an extraordinary stroke of fortune Morel was given an
appointment for the following morning, he would accost his intended
creditor with: "I was quite surprised not to get an answer, I was
wondering if there was anything wrong with you, I'm glad to see you're
quite well," and so forth. Well then, at Balbec, and without telling
me that he wished to talk 'business' to him, he had asked me to
introduce him to that very Bloch to whom he had made himself so
unpleasant a week earlier in the train. Bloch had not hesitated to
lend him—or rather to secure a loan for him, from M. Nissim Bernard,
of five thousand francs. From that moment Morel had worshipped Bloch.
He asked himself with tears in his eyes how he could shew his
indebtedness to a person who had saved his life. Finally, I undertook
to ask on his behalf for a thousand francs monthly from M. de Charlus,
a sum which he would at once forward to Bloch who would thus find
himself repaid within quite a short time. The first month, Morel,
still under the impression of Bloch's generosity, sent him the
thousand francs immediately, but after this he doubtless found that a
different application of the remaining four thousand francs might be
more satisfactory to himself, for he began to say all sorts of
unpleasant things about Bloch. The mere sight of Bloch was enough to
fill his mind with dark thoughts, and Bloch himself having forgotten
the exact amount that he had lent Morel, and having asked him for
3,500 francs instead of 4,000 which would have left the violinist 500
francs to the good, the latter took the line that, in view of so
preposterous a fraud, not only would he not pay another centime but
his creditor might think himself very fortunate if Morel did not bring
an action against him for slander. As he said this his eyes blazed. He
did not content himself with asserting that Bloch and M. Nissim
Bernard had no cause for complaint against him, but was soon saying
that they might consider themselves lucky that he made no complaint
against them. Finally, M. Nissim Bernard having apparently stated that
Thibaut played as well as Morel, the last-named decided that he ought
to take the matter into court, such a remark being calculated to
damage him in his profession, then, as there was no longer any justice
in France, especially against the Jews (anti-semitism being in Morel
the natural effect of a loan of 5,000 francs from an Israelite), took
to never going out without a loaded revolver. A similar nervous
reaction, in the wake of keen affection, was soon to occur in Morel
with regard to the tailor's niece. It is true that M. de Charlus may
have been unconsciously responsible, to some extent, for this change,
for he was in the habit of saying, without meaning what he said for an
instant, and merely to tease them, that, once they were married, he
would never set eyes on them again but would leave them to fly upon
their own wings. This idea was, in itself, quite insufficient to
detach Morel from the girl; but, lurking in his mind, it was ready
when the time came to combine with other analogous ideas, capable,
once the compound was formed, of becoming a powerful disruptive agent.

It was not very often, however, that I was fated to meet M. de Charlus
and Morel. Often they had already passed into Jupien's shop when I
came away from the Duchess, for the pleasure that I found in her
society was such that I was led to forget not merely the anxious
expectation that preceded Albertine's return, but even the hour of
that return.

I shall set apart from the other days on which I lingered at Mme. de
Guermantes's, one that was distinguished by a trivial incident the
cruel significance of which entirely escaped me and did not enter my
mind until long afterwards. On this particular afternoon, Mme. de
Guermantes had given me, knowing that I was fond of them, some
branches of syringa which had been sent to her from the South. When I
left the Duchess and went upstairs to our flat, Albertine had already
returned, and on the staircase I ran into Andrée who seemed to be
distressed by the powerful fragrance of the flowers that I was
bringing home.

"What, are you back already?" I said. "Only this moment, but Albertine
had letters to write, so she sent me away." "You don't think she's up
to any mischief?" "Not at all, she's writing to her aunt, I think, but
you know how she dislikes strong scents, she won't be particularly
pleased to see those syringas." "How stupid of me! I shall tell
Françoise to put them out on the service stair." "Do you imagine
Albertine won't notice the scent of them on you? Next to tuberoses
they've the strongest scent of any flower, I always think; anyhow, I
believe Françoise has gone out shopping." "But in that case, as I
haven't got my latchkey, how am I to get in?" "Oh, you've only got to
ring the bell. Albertine will let you in. Besides, Françoise may have
come back by this time."

I said good-bye to Andrée. I had no sooner pressed the bell than
Albertine came to open the door, which required some doing, as
Françoise had gone out and Albertine did not know where to turn on the
light. At length she was able to let me in, but the scent of the
syringas put her to flight. I took them to the kitchen, with the
result that my mistress, leaving her letter unfinished (why, I did not
understand), had time to go to my room, from which she called to me,
and to lay herself down on my bed. Even then, at the actual moment, I
saw nothing in all this that was not perfectly natural, at the most a
little confused, but in any case unimportant. She had nearly been
caught out with Andrée and had snatched a brief respite for herself by
turning out the lights, going to my room so that I should not see the
disordered state of her own bed, and pretending to be busy writing a
letter. But we shall see all this later on, a situation the truth of
which I never ascertained. In general, and apart from this isolated
incident, everything was quite normal when I returned from my visit to
the Duchess. Since Albertine never knew whether I might not wish to go
out with her before dinner, I usually found in the hall her hat, cloak
and umbrella, which she had left lying there in case they should be
needed. As soon as, on opening the door, I caught sight of them, the
atmosphere of the house became breathable once more. I felt that,
instead of a rarefied air, it was happiness that filled it. I was
rescued from my melancholy, the sight of these trifles gave me
possession of Albertine, I ran to greet her.

On the days when I did not go down to Mme. de Guermantes, to pass the
time somehow, during the hour that preceded the return of my mistress,
I would take up an album of Elstir's work, one of Bergotte's books,
Vinteuil's sonata.

Then, just as those works of art which seem to address themselves to
the eye or ear alone require that, if we are to enjoy them, our
awakened intelligence shall collaborate closely with those organs, I
would unconsciously evoke from myself the dreams that Albertine had
inspired in me long ago, before I knew her, dreams that had been
stifled by the routine of everyday life. I cast them into the
composer's phrase or the painter's image as into a crucible, or used
them to enrich the book that I was reading. And no doubt the book
appeared all the more vivid in consequence. But Albertine herself
profited just as much by being thus transported out of one of the two
worlds to which we have access, and in which we can place alternately
the same object, by escaping thus from the crushing weight of matter
to play freely in the fluid space of mind. I found myself suddenly and
for the instant capable of feeling an ardent desire for this
irritating girl. She had at that moment the appearance of a work by
Elstir or Bergotte, I felt a momentary enthusiasm for her, seeing her
in the perspective of imagination and art.

Presently some one came to tell me that she had returned; though there
was a standing order that her name was not to be mentioned if I was
not alone, if for instance I had in the room with me Bloch, whom I
would compel to remain with me a little longer so that there should be
no risk of his meeting my mistress in the hall. For I concealed the
fact that she was staying in the house, and even that I ever saw her
there, so afraid was I that one of my friends might fall in love with
her, and wait for her outside, or that in a momentary encounter in the
passage or the hall she might make a signal and fix an appointment.
Then I heard the rustle of Albertine's petticoats on her way to her
own room, for out of discretion and also no doubt in that spirit in
which, when we used to go to dinner at la Raspelière, she took care
that I should have no cause for jealousy, she did not come to my room,
knowing that I was not alone. But it was not only for this reason, as
I suddenly realised. I remembered; I had known a different Albertine,
then all at once she had changed into another, the Albertine of
to-day. And for this change I could hold no one responsible but
myself. The admissions that she would have made to me, easily at
first, then deliberately, when we were simply friends, had ceased to
flow from her as soon as she had suspected that I was in love with
her, or, without perhaps naming Love, had divined the existence in me
of an inquisitorial sentiment that desires to know, is pained by the
knowledge, and seeks to learn yet more. Ever since that day, she had
concealed everything from me. She kept away from my room if she
thought that my companion was (rarely as this happened) not male but
female, she whose eyes used at one time to sparkle so brightly
whenever I mentioned a girl: "You must try and get her to come here. I
should like to meet her." "But she has what you call a bad style." "Of
course, that makes it all the more fun." At that moment, I might
perhaps have learned all that there was to know. And indeed when in
the little Casino she had withdrawn her breast from Andrée's, I
believe that this was due not to my presence but to that of Cottard,
who was capable, she doubtless thought, of giving her a bad
reputation. And yet, even then, she had already begun to 'set,' the
confiding speeches no longer issued from her lips, her gestures became
reserved. After this, she had stripped herself of everything that
could stir my emotions. To those parts of her life of which I knew
nothing she ascribed a character the inoffensiveness of which my
ignorance made itself her accomplice in accentuating. And now, the
transformation was completed, she went straight to her room if I was
not alone, not merely from fear of disturbing me, but in order to shew
me that she did not care who was with me. There was one thing alone
which she would never again do for me, which she would have done only
in the days when it would have left me cold, which she would then have
done without hesitation for that very reason, namely make me a
detailed admission. I should always be obliged, like a judge, to draw
indefinite conclusions from imprudences of speech that were perhaps
not really inexplicable without postulating criminality. And always
she would feel that I was jealous, and judging her.

As I listened to Albertine's footsteps with the consoling pleasure of
thinking that she would not be going out again that evening, I thought
how wonderful it was that for this girl, whom at one time I had
supposed that I could never possibly succeed in knowing, the act of
returning home every day was nothing else than that of entering my
home. The pleasure, a blend of mystery and sensuality, which I had
felt, fugitive and fragmentary, at Balbec, on the night when she had
come to sleep at the hotel, was completed, stabilised, filled my
dwelling, hitherto void, with a permanent store of domestic, almost
conjugal bliss (radiating even into the passages) upon which all my
senses, either actively, or, when I was alone, in imagination as I
waited for her to return, quietly battened. When I had heard the door
of Albertine's room shut behind her, if I had a friend with me, I made
haste to get rid of him, not leaving him until I was quite sure that
he was on the staircase, down which I might even escort him for a few
steps. He warned me that I would catch cold, informing me that our
house was indeed icy, a cave of the winds, and that he would not live
in it if he was paid to do so. This cold weather was a source of
complaint because it had just begun, and people were not yet
accustomed to it, but for that very reason it released in me a joy
accompanied by an unconscious memory of the first evenings of winter
when, in past years, returning from the country, in order to
reestablish contact with the forgotten delights of Paris, I used to go
to a café-concert. And so it was with a song on my lips that, after
bidding my friend good-bye, I climbed the stair again and entered the
flat. Summer had flown, carrying the birds with it. But other
musicians, invisible, internal, had taken their place. And the icy
blast against which Bloch had inveighed, which was whistling
delightfully through the ill fitting doors of our apartment was (as
the fine days of summer by the woodland birds) passionately greeted
with snatches, irrepressibly hummed, from Fragson, Mayol or Paulus. In
the passage, Albertine was coming towards me. "I say, while I'm taking
off my things, I shall send you Andrée, she's looked in for a minute
to say how d'ye do." And still swathed in the big grey veil, falling
from her chinchilla toque, which I had given her at Balbec, she turned
from me and went back to her room, as though she had guessed that
Andrée, whom I had charged with the duty of watching over her, would
presently, by relating their day's adventures in full detail,
mentioning their meeting with some person of their acquaintance,
impart a certain clarity of outline to the vague regions in which that
excursion had been made which had taken the whole day and which I had
been incapable of imagining. Andrée's defects had become more evident;
she was no longer as pleasant a companion as when I first knew her.
One noticed now, on the surface, a sort of bitter uneasiness, ready to
gather like a swell on the sea, merely if I happened to mention
something that gave pleasure to Albertine and myself. This did not
prevent Andrée from being kinder to me, liking me better—and I have
had frequent proof of this—than other more sociable people. But the
slightest look of happiness on a person's face, if it was not caused
by herself, gave a shock to her nerves, as unpleasant as that given by
a banging door. She could allow the pains in which she had no part,
but not the pleasures; if she saw that I was unwell, she was
distressed, was sorry for me, would have stayed to nurse me. But if I
displayed a satisfaction as trifling as that of stretching myself with
a blissful expression as I shut a book, saying: "Ah! I have spent a
really happy afternoon with this entertaining book," these words,
which would have given pleasure to my mother, to Albertine, to
Saint-Loup, provoked in Andrée a sort of disapprobation, perhaps
simply a sort of nervous irritation. My satisfactions caused her an
annoyance which she was unable to conceal. These defects were
supplemented by others of a more serious nature; one day when I
mentioned that young man so learned in matters of racing and golf, so
uneducated in all other respects, Andrée said with a sneer: "You know
that his father is a swindler, he only just missed being prosecuted.
They're swaggering now more than ever, but I tell everybody about it.
I should love them to bring an action for slander against me. I should
be wonderful in the witness-box!" Her eyes sparkled. Well, I
discovered that the father had done nothing wrong, and that Andrée
knew this as well as anybody. But she had thought that the son looked
down upon her, had sought for something that would embarrass him, put
him to shame, had invented a long story of evidence which she imagined
herself called upon to give in court, and, by dint of repeating the
details to herself, was perhaps no longer aware that they were not
true. And so, in her present state (and even without her fleeting,
foolish hatreds), I should not have wished to see her, were it merely
on account of that malicious susceptibility which clasped with a harsh
and frigid girdle her warmer and better nature. But the information
which she alone could give me about my mistress was of too great
interest for me to be able to neglect so rare an opportunity of
acquiring it. Andrée came into my room, shutting the door behind her;
they had met a girl they knew, whom Albertine had never mentioned to
me. "What did they talk about?" "I can't tell you; I took the
opportunity, as Albertine wasn't alone, to go and buy some worsted."
"Buy some worsted?" "Yes, it was Albertine asked me to get it." "All
the more reason not to have gone, it was perhaps a plot to get you out
of the way." "But she asked me to go for it before we met her friend."
"Ah!" I replied, drawing breath again. At once my suspicion revived;
she might, for all I knew, have made an appointment beforehand with
her friend and have provided herself with an excuse to be left alone
when the time came. Besides, could I be certain that it was not my
former hypothesis (according to which Andrée did not always tell me
the truth) that was correct? Andrée was perhaps in the plot with
Albertine. Love, I used to say to myself, at Balbec, is what we feel
for a person whose actions seem rather to arouse our jealousy; we feel
that if she were to tell us everything, we might perhaps easily be
cured of our love for her. However skilfully jealousy is concealed by
him who suffers from it, it is at once detected by her who has
inspired it, and who when the time comes is no less skilful. She seeks
to lead us off the trail of what might make us unhappy, and succeeds,
for, to the man who is not forewarned, how should a casual utterance
reveal the falsehoods that lie beneath it? We do not distinguish this
utterance from the rest; spoken in terror, it is received without
attention. Later on, when we are by ourselves, we shall return to this
speech, it will seem to us not altogether adequate to the facts of the
case. But do we remember it correctly? It seems as though there arose
spontaneously in us, with regard to it and to the accuracy of our
memory, an uncertainty of the sort with which, in certain nervous
disorders, we can never remember whether we have bolted the door, no
better after the fiftieth time than after the first, it would seem
that we can repeat the action indefinitely without its ever being
accompanied by a precise and liberating memory. At any rate, we can
shut the door again, for the fifty-first time. Whereas the disturbing
speech exists in the past in an imperfect hearing of it which it does
not lie in our power to repeat. Then we concentrate our attention upon
other speeches which conceal nothing and the sole remedy which we do
not seek is to be ignorant of everything, so as to have no desire for
further knowledge.

As soon as jealousy is discovered, it is regarded by her who is its
object as a challenge which authorises deception. Moreover, in our
endeavour to learn something, it is we who have taken the initiative
in lying and deceit. Andrée, Aimé may promise us that they will say
nothing, but will they keep their promise? Bloch could promise nothing
because he knew nothing, and Albertine has only to talk to any of the
three in order to learn, with the help of what Saint-Loup would have
called cross-references, that we are lying to her when we pretend to
be indifferent to her actions and morally incapable of having her
watched. And so, replacing in this way my habitual boundless
uncertainty as to what Albertine might be doing, an uncertainty too
indeterminate not to remain painless, which was to jealousy what is to
grief that beginning of forgetfulness in which relief is born of
vagueness, the little fragment of response which Andrée had brought me
at once began to raise fresh questions; the only result of my
exploration of one sector of the great zone that extended round me had
been to banish further from me that unknowable thing which, when we
seek to form a definite idea of it, another person's life invariably
is to us. I continued to question Andrée, while Albertine, from
discretion and in order to leave me free (was she conscious of this?)
to question the other, prolonged her toilet in her own room. "I think
that Albertine's uncle and aunt both like me," I stupidly said to
Andrée, forgetting her peculiar nature.

At once I saw her gelatinous features change. Like a syrup that has
turned, her face seemed permanently clouded. Her mouth became bitter.
Nothing remained in Andrée of that juvenile gaiety which, like all the
little band and notwithstanding her feeble health, she had displayed
in the year of my first visit to Balbec and which now (it is true that
Andrée was now several years older) was so speedily eclipsed in her.
But I was to make it reappear involuntarily before Andrée left me that
evening to go home to dinner. "Somebody was singing your praises to me
to-day in the most glowing language," I said to her. Immediately a ray
of joy beamed from her eyes, she looked as though she really loved me.
She avoided my gaze but smiled at the empty air with a pair of eyes
that suddenly became quite round. "Who was it?" she asked, with an
artless, avid interest. I told her, and, whoever it was, she was

Then the time came for us to part, and she left me. Albertine came to
my room; she had undressed, and was wearing one of the charming crêpe
de chine wrappers, or one of the Japanese gowns which I had asked Mme.
de Guermantes to describe to me, and for some of which supplementary
details had been furnished me by Mme. Swann, in a letter that began:
"After your long eclipse, I felt as I read your letter about my
tea-gowns that I was receiving a message from the other world."

Albertine had on her feet a pair of black shoes studded with
brilliants which Françoise indignantly called 'pattens,' modelled upon
the shoes which, from the drawing-room window, she had seen Mme. de
Guermantes wearing in the evening, just as a little later Albertine
took to wearing slippers, some of gilded kid, others of chinchilla,
the sight of which was pleasant to me because they were all of them
signs (which other shoes would not have been) that she was living
under my roof. She had also certain things which had not come to her
from me, including a fine gold ring. I admired upon it the outspread
wings of an eagle. "It was my aunt gave me it," she explained. "She
can be quite nice sometimes after all. It makes me feel terribly old,
because she gave it to me on my twentieth birthday."

Albertine took a far keener interest in all these pretty things than
the Duchess, because, like every obstacle in the way of possession (in
my own case the ill health which made travel so difficult and so
desirable), poverty, more generous than opulence, gives to women what
is better than the garments that they cannot afford to buy, the desire
for those garments which is the genuine, detailed, profound knowledge
of them. She, because she had never been able to afford these things,
I, because in ordering them for her I was seeking to give her
pleasure, we were both of us like students who already know all about
the pictures which they are longing to go to Dresden or Vienna to see.
Whereas rich women, amid the multitude of their hats and gowns, are
like those tourists to whom the visit to a gallery, being preceded by
no desire, gives merely a sensation of bewilderment, boredom and

A particular toque, a particular sable cloak, a particular Doucet
wrapper, its sleeves lined with pink, assumed for Albertine, who had
observed them, coveted them and, thanks to the exclusiveness and
minute nicety that are elements of desire, had at once isolated them
from everything else in a void against which the lining or the scarf
stood out to perfection, and learned them by heart in every
detail—and for myself who had gone to Mme. de Guermantes in quest of
an explanation of what constituted the peculiar merit, the
superiority, the smartness of the garment and the inimitable style of
the great designer—an importance, a charm which they certainly did
not possess for the Duchess, surfeited before she had even acquired an
appetite and would not, indeed, have possessed for myself had I beheld
them a few years earlier while accompanying some lady of fashion on
one of her wearisome tours of the dressmakers' shops.

To be sure, a lady of fashion was what Albertine was gradually
becoming. For, even if each of the things that I ordered for her was
the prettiest of its kind, with all the refinements that had been
added to it by Mme. de Guermantes or Mme. Swann, she was beginning to
possess these things in abundance. But no matter, so long as she
admired them from the first, and each of them separately.

When we have been smitten by one painter, then by another, we may end
by feeling for the whole gallery an admiration that is not frigid, for
it is made up of successive enthusiasms, each one exclusive in its
day, which finally have joined forces and become reconciled in one

She was not, for that matter, frivolous, read a great deal when she
was by herself, and used to read aloud when she was with me. She had
become extremely intelligent. She would say, though she was quite
wrong in saying: "I am appalled when I think that but for you I should
still be quite ignorant. Don't contradict. You have opened up a world
of ideas to me which I never suspected, and whatever I may have become
I owe entirely to you."

It will be remembered that she had spoken in similar terms of my
influence over Andrée. Had either of them a sentimental regard for me?
And, in themselves, what were Albertine and Andrée? To learn the
answer, I should have to immobilise you, to cease to live in that
perpetual expectation, ending always in a different presentment of
you, I should have to cease to love you, in order to fix you, to cease
to know your interminable and ever disconcerting arrival, oh girls, oh
recurrent ray in the swirl wherein we throb with emotion upon seeing
you reappear while barely recognising you, in the dizzy velocity of
light. That velocity, we should perhaps remain unaware of it and
everything would seem to us motionless, did not a sexual attraction
set us in pursuit of you, drops of gold always different, and always
passing our expectation! On each occasion a girl so little resembles
what she was the time before (shattering in fragments as soon as we
catch sight of her the memory that we had retained of her and the
desire that we were proposing to gratify), that the stability of
nature which we ascribe to her is purely fictitious and a convenience
of speech. We have been told that some pretty girl is tender, loving,
full of the most delicate sentiments. Our imagination accepts this
assurance, and when we behold for the first time, within the woven
girdle of her golden hair, the rosy disc of her face, we are almost
afraid that this too virtuous sister may chill our ardour by her very
virtue, that she can never be to us the lover for whom we have been
longing. What secrets, at least, we confide in her from the first
moment, on the strength of that nobility of heart, what plans we
discuss together. But a few days later, we regret that we were so
confiding, for the rose-leaf girl, at our second meeting, addresses us
in the language of a lascivious Fury. As for the successive portraits
which after a pulsation lasting for some days the renewal of the rosy
light presents to us, it is not even certain that a momentum external
to these girls has not modified their aspect, and this might well have
happened with my band of girls at Balbec.

People extol to us the gentleness, the purity of a virgin. But
afterwards they feel that something more seasoned would please us
better, and recommend her to shew more boldness. In herself was she
one more than the other? Perhaps not, but capable of yielding to any
number of different possibilities in the headlong current of life.
With another girl, whose whole attraction lay in something implacable
(which we counted upon subduing to our own will), as, for instance,
with the terrible jumping girl at Balbec who grazed in her spring the
bald pates of startled old gentlemen, what a disappointment when, in
the fresh aspect of her, just as we were addressing her in
affectionate speeches stimulated by our memory of all her cruelty to
other people, we heard her, as her first move in the game, tell us
that she was shy, that she could never say anything intelligent to
anyone at a first introduction, so frightened was she, and that it was
only after a fortnight or so that she would be able to talk to us at
her ease. The steel had turned to cotton, there was nothing left for
us to attempt to break, since she herself had lost all her
consistency. Of her own accord, but by our fault perhaps, for the
tender words which we had addressed to Severity had perhaps, even
without any deliberate calculation on her part, suggested to her that
she ought to be gentle.

Distressing as the change may have been to us, it was not altogether
maladroit, for our gratitude for all her gentleness would exact more
from us perhaps than our delight at overcoming her cruelty. I do not
say that a day will not come when, even to these luminous maidens, we
shall not assign sharply differentiated characters, but that will be
because they have ceased to interest us, because their entry upon the
scene will no longer be to our heart the apparition which it expected
in a different form and which leaves it overwhelmed every time by
fresh incarnations. Their immobility will spring from our indifference
to them, which will hand them over to the judgment of our mind. This
will not, for that matter, be expressed in any more categorical terms,
for after it has decided that some defect which was prominent in one
is fortunately absent from the other, it will see that this defect had
as its counterpart some priceless merit. So that the false judgment of
our intellect, which comes into play only when we have ceased to take
any interest, will define permanent characters of girls, which will
enlighten us no more than the surprising faces that used to appear
every day when, in the dizzy speed of our expectation, our friends
presented themselves daily, weekly, too different to allow us, as they
never halted in their passage, to classify them, to award degrees of
merit. As for our sentiments, we have spoken of them too often to
repeat again now that as often as not love is nothing more than the
association of the face of a girl (whom otherwise we should soon have
found intolerable) with the heartbeats inseparable from an endless,
vain expectation, and from some trick that she has played upon us. All
this is true not merely of imaginative young men brought into contact
with changeable girls. At the stage that our narrative has now
reached, it appears, as I have since heard, that Jupien's niece had
altered her opinion of Morel and M. de Charlus. My motorist,
reinforcing the love that she felt for Morel, had extolled to her, as
existing in the violinist, boundless refinements of delicacy in which
she was all too ready to believe. And at the same time Morel never
ceased to complain to her of the despotic treatment that he received
from M. de Charlus, which she ascribed to malevolence, never imagining
that it could be due to love. She was moreover bound to acknowledge
that M. de Charlus was tyrannically present at all their meetings. In
corroboration of all this, she had heard women in society speak of the
Baron's terrible spite. Now, quite recently, her judgment had been
completely reversed. She had discovered in Morel (without ceasing for
that reason to love him) depths of malevolence and perfidy,
compensated it was true by frequent kindness and genuine feeling, and
in M. de Charlus an unimaginable and immense generosity blended with
asperities of which she knew nothing. And so she had been unable to
arrive at any more definite judgment of what, each in himself, the
violinist and his protector really were, than I was able to form of
Andrée, whom nevertheless I saw every day, or of Albertine who was
living with me. On the evenings when the latter did not read aloud to
me, she would play to me or begin a game of draughts, or a
conversation, either of which I would interrupt with kisses. The
simplicity of our relations made them soothing. The very emptiness of
her life gave Albertine a sort of eagerness to comply with the only
requests that I made of her. Behind this girl, as behind the purple
light that used to filter beneath the curtains of my room at Balbec,
while outside the concert blared, were shining the blue-green
undulations of the sea. Was she not, after all (she in whose heart of
hearts there was now regularly installed an idea of myself so familiar
that, next to her aunt, I was perhaps the person whom she
distinguished least from herself), the girl whom I had seen the first
time at Balbec, in her flat polo-cap, with her insistent laughing
eyes, a stranger still, exiguous as a silhouette projected against the
waves? These effigies preserved intact in our memory, when we
recapture them, we are astonished at their unlikeness to the person
whom we know, and we begin to realise what a task of remodelling is
performed every day by habit. In the charm that Albertine had in
Paris, by my fireside, there still survived the desire that had been
aroused in me by that insolent and blossoming parade along the beach,
and just as Rachel retained in Saint-Loup's eyes, even after he had
made her abandon it, the prestige of her life on the stage, so in this
Albertine cloistered in my house, far from Balbec, from which I had
hurried her away, there persisted the emotion, the social confusion,
the uneasy vanity, the roving desires of life by the seaside. She was
so effectively caged that on certain evenings I did not even ask her
to leave her room for mine, her to whom at one time all the world gave
chase, whom I had found it so hard to overtake as she sped past on her
bicycle, whom the lift-boy himself was unable to capture for me,
leaving me with scarcely a hope of her coming, although I sat up
waiting for her all the night. Had not Albertine been—out there in
front of the Hotel—like a great actress of the blazing beach,
arousing jealousy when she advanced upon that natural stage, not
speaking to anyone, thrusting past its regular frequenters, dominating
the girls, her friends, and was not this so greatly coveted actress
the same who, withdrawn by me from the stage, shut up in my house, was
out of reach now of the desires of all the rest, who might hereafter
seek for her in vain, sitting now in my room, now in her own, and
engaged in tracing or cutting out some pattern?

No doubt, in the first days at Balbec, Albertine seemed to be on a
parallel plane to that upon which I was living, but one that had drawn
closer (after my visit to Elstir) and had finally become merged in it,
as my relations with her, at Balbec, in Paris, then at Balbec again,
grew more intimate. Besides, between the two pictures of Balbec, at
my first visit and at my second, pictures composed of the same villas
from which the same girls walked down to the same sea, what a
difference! In Albertine's friends at the time of my second visit,
whom I knew so well, whose good and bad qualities were so clearly
engraved on their features, how was I to recapture those fresh,
mysterious strangers who at first could not, without making my heart
throb, thrust open the door of their bungalow over the grinding sand
and set the tamarisks shivering as they came down the path! Their huge
eyes had, in the interval, been absorbed into their faces, doubtless
because they had ceased to be children, but also because those
ravishing strangers, those ravishing actresses of the romantic first
year, as to whom I had gone ceaselessly in quest of information, no
longer held any mystery for me. They had become obedient to my
caprices, a mere grove of budding girls, from among whom I was quite
distinctly proud of having plucked, and carried off from them all,
their fairest rose.

Between the two Balbec scenes, so different one from the other, there
was the interval of several years in Paris, the long expanse of which
was dotted with all the visits that Albertine had paid me. I saw her
in successive years of my life occupying, with regard to myself,
different positions, which made me feel the beauty of the interposed
gaps, that long extent of time in which I never set eyes on her and
against the diaphanous background of which the rosy person that I saw
before me was modelled with mysterious shadows and in bold relief.
This was due also to the superimposition not merely of the successive
images which Albertine had been for me, but also of the great
qualities of brain and heart, the defects of character, all alike
unsuspected by me, which Albertine, in a germination, a multiplication
of herself, a carnal efflorescence in sombre colours, had added to a
nature that formerly could scarcely have been said to exist, but was
now deep beyond plumbing. For other people, even those of whom we have
so often dreamed that they have become nothing more than a picture, a
figure by Benozzo Gozzoli standing out upon a background of verdure,
as to whom we were prepared to believe that the only variations
depended upon the point of view from which we looked at them, their
distance from us, the effect of light and shade, these people, while
they change in relation to ourselves, change also in themselves, and
there had been an enrichment, a solidification and an increase of
volume in the figure once so simply outlined against the sea.
Moreover, it was not only the sea at the close of day that came to
life for me in Albertine, but sometimes the drowsy murmur of the sea
upon the shore on moonlit nights.

Sometimes, indeed, when I rose to fetch a book from my father's study,
and had given my mistress permission to lie down while I was out of
the room, she was so tired after her long outing in the morning and
afternoon in the open air that, even if I had been away for a moment
only, when I returned I found Albertine asleep and did not rouse her.

Stretched out at full length upon my bed, in an attitude so natural
that no art could have designed it, she reminded me of a long
blossoming stem that had been laid there, and so indeed she was: the
faculty of dreaming which I possessed only in her absence I recovered
at such moments in her presence, as though by falling asleep she had
become a plant. In this way her sleep did to a certain extent make
love possible. When she was present, I spoke to her, but I was too far
absent from myself to be able to think. When she was asleep, I no
longer needed to talk to her, I knew that she was no longer looking at
me, I had no longer any need to live upon my own outer surface.

By shutting her eyes, by losing consciousness, Albertine had stripped
off, one after another, the different human characters with which she
had deceived me ever since the day when I had first made her
acquaintance. She was animated now only by the unconscious life of
vegetation, of trees, a life more different from my own, more alien,
and yet one that belonged more to me. Her personality did not escape
at every moment, as when we were talking, by the channels of her
unacknowledged thoughts and of her gaze. She had called back into
herself everything of her that lay outside, had taken refuge,
enclosed, reabsorbed, in her body. In keeping her before my eyes, in
my hands, I had that impression of possessing her altogether, which I
never had when she was awake. Her life was submitted to me, exhaled
towards me its gentle breath.

I listened to this murmuring, mysterious emanation, soft as a breeze
from the sea, fairylike as that moonlight which was her sleep. So long
as it lasted, I was free to think about her and at the same time to
look at her, and, when her sleep grew deeper, to touch, to kiss her.
What I felt then was love in the presence of something as pure, as
immaterial in its feelings, as mysterious, as if I had been in the
presence of those inanimate creatures which are the beauties of
nature. And indeed, as soon as her sleep became at all heavy, she
ceased to be merely the plant that she had been; her sleep, on the
margin of which I remained musing, with a fresh delight of which I
never tired, but could have gone on enjoying indefinitely, was to me
an undiscovered country. Her sleep brought within my reach something
as calm, as sensually delicious as those nights of full moon on the
bay of Balbec, turned quiet as a lake over which the branches barely
stir, where stretched out upon the sand one could listen for hours on
end to the waves breaking and receding.

When I entered the room, I remained standing in the doorway, not
venturing to make a sound, and hearing none but that of her breath
rising to expire upon her lips at regular intervals, like the reflux
of the sea, but drowsier and more gentle. And at the moment when my
ear absorbed that divine sound, I felt that there was, condensed in
it, the whole person, the whole life of the charming captive,
outstretched there before my eyes. Carriages went rattling past in
the street, her features remained as motionless, as pure, her breath
as light, reduced to the simplest expulsion of the necessary quantity
of air. Then, seeing that her sleep would not be disturbed, I advanced
cautiously, sat down upon the chair that stood by the bedside, then
upon the bed itself.

I have spent charming evenings talking, playing games with Albertine.
but never any so pleasant as when I was watching her sleep. Granted
that she might have, as she chatted with me, or played cards, that
spontaneity which no actress could have imitated, it was a spontaneity
carried to the second degree that was offered me by her sleep. Her
hair, falling all along her rosy face, was spread out beside her on
the bed, and here and there a separate straight tress gave the same
effect of perspective as those moonlit trees, lank and pale, which one
sees standing erect and stiff in the backgrounds of Elstir's
Raphaelesque pictures. If Albertine's lips were closed, her eyelids,
on the other hand, seen from the point at which I was standing, seemed
so loosely joined that I might almost have questioned whether she
really was asleep. At the same time those drooping lids introduced
into her face that perfect continuity, unbroken by any intrusion of
eyes. There are people whose faces assume a quite unusual beauty and
majesty the moment they cease to look out of their eyes.

I measured with my own Albertine outstretched at my feet. Now and then
a slight, unaccountable tremor ran through her body, as the leaves of
a tree are shaken for a few moments by a sudden breath of wind. She
would touch her hair, then, not having arranged it to her liking,
would raise her hand to it again with motions so consecutive, so
deliberate, that I was convinced that she was about to wake. Not at
all, she grew calm again in the sleep from which she had not emerged.
After this she lay without moving. She had laid her hand on her bosom
with a sinking of the arm so artlessly childlike that I was obliged,
as I gazed at her, to suppress the smile that is provoked in us by the
solemnity, the innocence and the charm of little children.

I, who was acquainted with many Albertines in one person, seemed now
to see many more again, reposing by my side. Her eyebrows, arched as I
had never seen them, enclosed the globes of her eyelids like a
halcyon's downy nest. Races, atavisms, vices reposed upon her face.
Whenever she moved her head, she created a fresh woman, often one
whose existence I had never suspected. I seemed to possess not one,
but innumerable girls. Her breathing, as it became gradually deeper,
was now regularly stirring her bosom and, through it, her folded
hands, her pearls, displaced in a different way by the same movement,
like the boats, the anchor chains that are set swaying by the movement
of the tide. Then, feeling that the tide of her sleep was full, that I
should not ground upon reefs of consciousness covered now by the high
water of profound slumber, deliberately, I crept without a sound upon
the bed, lay down by her side, clasped her waist in one arm, placed my
lips upon her cheek and heart, then upon every part of her body in
turn laid my free hand, which also was raised, like the pearls, by
Albertine's breathing; I myself was gently rocked by its regular
motion: I had embarked upon the tide of Albertine's sleep. Sometimes
it made me taste a pleasure that was less pure. For this I had no need
to make any movement, I allowed my leg to dangle against hers, like an
oar which one allows to trail in the water, imparting to it now and
again a gentle oscillation like the intermittent flap given to its
wing by a bird asleep in the air. I chose, in gazing at her, this
aspect of her face which no one ever saw and which was so pleasing.

It is I suppose comprehensible that the letters which we receive from
a person are more or less similar and combine to trace an image of the
writer so different from the person whom we know as to constitute a
second personality. But how much stranger is it that a woman should be
conjoined, like Rosita and Doodica, with another woman whose different
beauty makes us infer another character, and that in order to behold
one we must look at her in profile, the other in full face. The sound
of her breathing as it grew louder might give the illusion of the
breathless ecstasy of pleasure and, when mine was at its climax, I
could kiss her without having interrupted her sleep. I felt at such
moments that I had been possessing her more completely, like an
unconscious and unresisting object of dumb nature. I was not affected
by the words that she muttered occasionally in her sleep, their
meaning escaped me, and besides, whoever the unknown person to whom
they referred, it was upon my hand, upon my cheek that her hand, as an
occasional tremor recalled it to life, stiffened for an instant. I
relished her sleep with a disinterested, soothing love, just as I
would remain for hours listening to the unfurling of the waves.

Perhaps it is laid down that people must be capable of making us
suffer intensely before, in the hours of respite, they can procure for
us the same soothing calm as Nature. I had not to answer her as when
we were engaged in conversation, and even if I could have remained
silent, as for that matter I did when it was she that was talking,
still while listening to her voice I did not penetrate so far into
herself. As I continued to hear, to gather from moment to moment the
murmur, soothing as a barely perceptible breeze, of her breath, it was
a whole physiological existence that was spread out before me, for me;
as I used to remain for hours lying on the beach, in the moonlight, so
long could I have remained there gazing at her, listening to her.

Sometimes one would have said that the sea was becoming rough, that
the storm was making itself felt even inside the bay, and like the bay
I lay listening to the gathering roar of her breath. Sometimes, when
she was too warm, she would take off, already half asleep, her kimono
which she flung over my armchair. While she was asleep I would tell
myself that all her correspondence was in the inner pocket of this
kimono, into which she always thrust her letters. A signature, a
written appointment would have sufficed to prove a lie or to dispel a
suspicion. When I could see that Albertine was sound asleep, leaving
the foot of the bed where I had been standing motionless in
contemplation of her, I took a step forward, seized by a burning
curiosity, feeling that the secret of this other life lay offering
itself to me, flaccid and defenceless, in that armchair. Perhaps I
took this step forward also because to stand perfectly still and watch
her sleeping became tiring after a while. And so, on tiptoe,
constantly turning round to make sure that Albertine was not waking, I
made my way to the armchair. There I stopped short, stood for a long
time gazing at the kimono, as I had stood for a long time gazing at
Albertine. But (and here perhaps I was wrong) never once did I touch
the kimono, put my hand in the pocket, examine the letters. In the
end, realising that I would never make up my mind, I started back, on
tiptoe, returned to Albertine's bedside and began again to watch her
sleeping, her who would tell me nothing, whereas I could see lying
across an arm of the chair that kimono which would have told me much.
And just as people pay a hundred francs a day for a room at the Hotel
at Balbec in order to breathe the sea air, I felt it to be quite
natural that I should spend more than that upon her since I had her
breath upon my cheek, between her lips which I parted with my own,
through which her life flowed against my tongue.

But this pleasure of seeing her sleep, which was as precious as that
of feeling her live, was cut short by another pleasure, that of seeing
her wake. It was, carried to a more profound and more mysterious
degree, the same pleasure that I felt in having her under my roof. It
was gratifying, of course, in the afternoon, when she alighted from
the carriage, that it should be to my address that she was returning.
It was even more so to me that when from the underworld of sleep she
climbed the last steps of the stair of dreams, it was in my room that
she was reborn to consciousness and life, that she asked herself for
an instant: "Where am I?" and, seeing all the things in the room round
about her, the lamp whose light scarcely made her blink her eyes, was
able to assure herself that she was at home, as soon as she realised
that she was waking in my home. In that first delicious moment of
uncertainty, it seemed to me that once again I took a more complete
possession of her since, whereas after an outing it was to her own
room that she returned, it was now my room that, as soon as Albertine
should have recognised it, was about to enclose, to contain her,
without any sign of misgiving in the eyes of my mistress, which
remained as calm as if she had never slept at all.

The uncertainty of awakening revealed by her silence was not at all
revealed in her eyes. As soon as she was able to speak she said:
"My ——" or "My dearest——" followed by my Christian name, which, if
we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would
be 'My Marcel,' or 'My dearest Marcel.' After this I would never allow
my relatives, by calling me 'dearest,' to rob of their priceless
uniqueness the delicious words that Albertine uttered to me. As she
uttered them, she pursed her lips in a little pout which she herself
transformed into a kiss. As quickly as, earlier in the evening, she
had fallen asleep, so quickly had she awoken. No more than my own
progression in time, no more than the act of gazing at a. girl seated
opposite to me beneath the lamp, which shed upon her a different light
from that of the sun when I used to behold her striding along the
seashore, was this material enrichment, this autonomous progress of
Albertine the determining cause of the difference between my present
view of her and my original impression of her at Balbec. A longer term
of years might have separated the two images without effecting so
complete a change; it had come to pass, essential and sudden, when I
learned that my mistress had been virtually brought up by Mlle.
Vinteuil's friend. If at one time I had been carried away by
excitement when I thought that I saw a trace of mystery in Albertine's
eyes, now I was happy only at the moments when from those eyes, from
her cheeks even, as mirroring as her eyes, so gentle now but quickly
turning sullen, I succeeded in expelling every trace of mystery.

The image for which I sought, upon which I reposed, against which I
would have liked to lean and die, was no longer that of Albertine
leading a hidden life, it was that of an Albertine as familiar to me
as possible (and for this reason my love could not be lasting unless
it was unhappy, for in its nature it did not satisfy my need of
mystery), an Albertine who did not reflect a distant world, but
desired nothing else—there were moments when this did indeed appear
to be the case—than to be with me, a person like myself, an Albertine
the embodiment of what belonged to me and not of the unknown. When it
is in this way, from an hour of anguish caused by another person, when
it is from uncertainty whether we shall be able to keep her or she
will escape, that love is born, such love bears the mark of the
revolution that has created it, it recalls very little of what we had
previously seen when we thought of the person in question. And my
first impressions at the sight of Albertine, against a background of
sea, might to some small extent persist in my love of her: actually,
these earlier impressions occupy but a tiny place in a love of this
sort; in its strength, in its agony, in its need of comfort and its
return to a calm and soothing memory with which we would prefer to
abide and to learn nothing more of her whom we love, even if there be
something horrible that we ought to know—would prefer still more to
consult only these earlier memories—such a love is composed of very
different material!

Sometimes I put out the light before she came in. It was in the
darkness, barely guided by the glow of a smouldering log, that she lay
down by my side. My hands, my cheeks alone identified her without my
eyes beholding her, my eyes that often were afraid of finding her
altered. With the result that by virtue of this unseeing love she may
have felt herself bathed in a warmer affection than usual. On other
evenings, I undressed, I lay down, and, with Albertine perched on the
side of my bed, we resumed our game or our conversation interrupted by
kisses; and, in the desire that alone makes us take an interest in the
existence and character of another person, we remain so true to our
own nature (even if, at the same time, we abandon successively the
different people whom we have loved in turn), that on one occasion,
catching sight of myself in the glass at the moment when I was kissing
Albertine and calling her my little girl, the sorrowful, passionate
expression on my own face, similar to the expression it had assumed
long ago with Gilberte whom I no longer remembered, and would perhaps
assume one day with another girl, if I was fated ever to forget
Albertine, made me think that over and above any personal
considerations (instinct requiring that we consider the person of the
moment as the only true person) I was performing the duties of an
ardent and painful devotion dedicated as an oblation to the youth and
beauty of Woman. And yet with this desire, honouring youth with an _ex
voto_, with my memories also of Balbec, there was blended, in the need
that I felt of keeping Albertine in this way every evening by my side,
something that had hitherto been unknown, at least in my amorous
existence, if it was not entirely novel in my life.

It was a soothing power the like of which I had not known since the
evenings at Combray long ago when my mother, stooping over my bed,
brought me repose in a kiss. To be sure, I should have been greatly
astonished at that time, had anyone told me that I was not wholly
virtuous, and more astonished still to be told that I would ever seek
to deprive some one else of a pleasure. I must have known myself very
slightly, for my pleasure in having Albertine to live with me was much
less a positive pleasure than that of having withdrawn from the world,
where everyone was free to enjoy her in turn, the blossoming damsel
who, if she did not bring me any great joy, was at least withholding
joy from others. Ambition, fame would have left me unmoved. Even more
was I incapable of feeling hatred. And yet to me to love in a carnal
sense was at any rate to enjoy a triumph over countless rivals. I can
never repeat it often enough; it was first and foremost a sedative.

For all that I might, before Albertine returned, have doubted her
loyalty, have imagined her in the room at Montjouvain, once she was in
her dressing-gown and seated facing my chair, or (if, as was more
frequent, I had remained in bed) at the foot of my bed, I would
deposit my doubts in her, hand them over for her to relieve me of
them, with the abnegation of a worshipper uttering his prayer. All the
evening she might have been there, huddled in a provoking ball upon my
bed, playing with me, like a great cat; her little pink nose, the tip
of which she made even tinier with a coquettish glance which gave it
that sharpness which we see in certain people who are inclined to be
stout, might have given her a fiery and rebellious air; she might have
allowed a tress of her long, dark hair to fall over a cheek of rosy
wax and, half shutting her eyes, unfolding her arms, have seemed to be
saying to me: "Do with me what you please!"; when, as the time came
for her to leave me, she drew nearer to say good night, it was a
meekness that had become almost a part of my family life that I kissed
on either side of her firm throat which now never seemed to me brown
or freckled enough, as though these solid qualities had been in
keeping with some loyal generosity in Albertine.

When it was Albertine's turn to bid me good night, kissing me on
either side of my throat, her hair caressed me like a wing of softly
bristling feathers. Incomparable as were those two kisses of peace,
Albertine slipped into my mouth, making me the gift of her tongue,
like a gift of the Holy Spirit, conveyed to me a viaticum, left me
with a provision of tranquillity almost as precious as when my mother
in the evening at Combray used to lay her lips upon my brow.

"Are you coming with us to-morrow, you naughty man?" she asked before
leaving me. "Where are you going?" "That will depend on the weather
and on yourself. But have you written anything to-day, my little
darling? No? Then it was hardly worth your while, not coming with us.
Tell me, by the way, when I came in, you knew my step, you guessed at
once who it was?" "Of course. Could I possibly be mistaken, couldn't I
tell my little sparrow's hop among a thousand? She must let me take
her shoes off, before she goes to bed, it will be such a pleasure to
me. You are so nice and pink in all that white lace."

Such was my answer; among the sensual expressions, we may recognise
others that were peculiar to my grandmother and mother for, little by
little, I was beginning to resemble all my relatives, my father
who—in a very different fashion from myself, no doubt, for if things
do repeat themselves, it is with great variations—took so keen an
interest in the weather; and not my father only, I was becoming more
and more like my aunt Léonie. Otherwise, Albertine could not but have
been a reason for my going out of doors, so as not to leave her by
herself, beyond my control. My aunt Léonie, wrapped up in her
religious observances, with whom I could have sworn that I had not a
single point in common, I so passionately keen on pleasure, apparently
worlds apart from that maniac who had never known any pleasure in her
life and lay mumbling her rosary all day long, I who suffered from my
inability to embark upon a literary career whereas she had been the
one person in the family who could never understand that reading was
anything more than an amusing pastime, which made reading, even at the
paschal season, lawful upon Sunday, when every serious occupation is
forbidden, in order that the day may be hallowed by prayer alone. Now,
albeit every day I found an excuse in some particular indisposition
which made me so often remain in bed, a person (not Albertine, not any
person that I loved, but a person with more power over me than any
beloved) had migrated into me, despotic to the extent of silencing at
times my jealous suspicions or at least of preventing me from going to
find out whether they had any foundation, and this was my aunt Léonie.
It was quite enough that I should bear an exaggerated resemblance to
my father, to the extent of not being satisfied like him with
consulting the barometer, but becoming an animated barometer myself;
it was quite enough that I should allow myself to be ordered by my
aunt Léonie to stay at home and watch the weather, from my bedroom
window or even from my bed; yet here I was talking now to Albertine,
at one moment as the child that I had been at Combray used to talk to
my mother, at another as my grandmother used to talk to me.

When we have passed a certain age, the soul of the child that we were
and the souls of the dead from whom we spring come and bestow upon us
in handfuls their treasures and their calamities, asking to be allowed
to cooperate in the new sentiments which we are feeling and in which,
obliterating their former image, we recast them in an original
creation. Thus my whole past from my earliest years, and earlier still
the past of my parents and relatives, blended with my impure love for
Albertine the charm of an affection at once filial and maternal. We
have to give hospitality, at a certain stage in our life, to all our
relatives who have journeyed so far and gathered round us.

Before Albertine obeyed and allowed me to take off her shoes, I opened
her chemise. Her two little upstanding breasts were so round that they
seemed not so much to be an integral part of her body as to have
ripened there like fruit; and her belly (concealing the place where a
man's is marred as though by an iron clamp left sticking in a statue
that has been taken down from its niche) was closed, at the junction
of her thighs, by two valves of a curve as hushed, as reposeful, as
cloistral as that of the horizon after the sun has set. She took off
her shoes, and lay down by my side.

O mighty attitudes of Man and Woman, in which there seeks to be
reunited, in the innocence of the world's first age and with the
humility of clay, what creation has cloven apart, in which Eve is
astonished and submissive before the Man by whose side she has awoken,
as he himself, alone still, before God Who has fashioned him.
Albertine folded her arms behind her dark hair, her swelling hip, her
leg falling with the inflexion of a swan's neck that stretches upwards
and then curves over towards its starting point. It was only when she
was lying right on her side that one saw a certain aspect of her face
(so good and handsome when one looked at it from in front) which I
could not endure, hook-nosed as in some of Leonardo's caricatures,
seeming to indicate the shiftiness, the greed for profit, the cunning
of a spy whose presence in my house would have filled me with horror
and whom that profile seemed to unmask. At once I took Albertine's
face in my hands and altered its position.

"Be a good boy, promise me that if you don't come out to-morrow you
will work," said my mistress as she slipped into her chemise. "Yes,
but don't put on your dressing-gown yet." Sometimes I ended by falling
asleep by her side. The room had grown cold, more wood was wanted. I
tried to find the bell above my head, but failed to do so, after
fingering all the copper rods in turn save those between which it
hung, and said to Albertine who had sprung from the bed so that
Françoise should not find us lying side by side: "No, come back for a
moment, I can't find the bell."

Comforting moments, gay, innocent to all appearance, and yet moments
in which there accumulates in us the never suspected possibility of
disaster, which makes the amorous life the most precarious of all,
that in which the incalculable rain of sulphur and brimstone falls
after the most radiant moments, after which, without having the
courage to derive its lesson from our mishap, we set to work
immediately to rebuild upon the slopes of the crater from which
nothing but catastrophe can emerge. I was as careless as everyone who
imagines that his happiness will endure.

It is precisely because this comfort has been necessary to bring grief
to birth—and will return moreover at intervals to calm it—that men
can be sincere with each other, and even with themselves, when they
pride themselves upon a woman's kindness to them, although, taking
things all in all, at the heart of their intimacy there lurks
continually in a secret fashion, unavowed to the rest of the world, or
revealed unintentionally by questions, inquiries, a painful
uncertainty. But as this could not have come to birth without the
preliminary comfort, as even afterwards the intermittent comfort is
necessary to make suffering endurable and to prevent ruptures, their
concealment of the secret hell that life can be when shared with the
woman in question, carried to the pitch of an ostentatious display of
an intimacy which, they pretend, is precious, expresses a genuine
point of view, a universal process of cause and effect, one of the
modes in which the production of grief is rendered possible.

It no longer surprised me that Albertine should be in the house, and
would not be going out to-morrow save with myself or in the custody of
Andrée. These habits of a life shared in common, this broad outline
which defined my existence and within which nobody might penetrate but
Albertine, also (in the future plan, of which I was still unaware, of
my life to come, like the plan traced by an architect for monumental
structures which will not be erected until long afterwards) the
remoter lines, parallel to the others but vaster, that sketched in me,
like a lonely hermitage, the somewhat rigid and monotonous formula of
my future loves, had in reality been traced that night at Balbec when,
in the little tram, after Albertine had revealed to me who it was that
had brought her up, I had decided at any cost to remove her from
certain influences and to prevent her from straying out of my sight
for some days to come. Day after day had gone by, these habits had
become mechanical, but, like those primitive rites the meaning of
which historians seek to discover, I might (but would not) have said
to anybody who asked me what I meant by this life of seclusion which I
carried so far as not to go any more to the theatre, that its origin
was the anxiety of a certain evening, and my need to prove to myself,
during the days that followed, that the girl whose unfortunate
childhood I had learned should not find it possible, if she wished, to
expose herself to similar temptations. I no longer thought, save very
rarely, of these possibilities, but they were nevertheless to remain
vaguely present in my consciousness. The fact that I was
destroying—or trying to destroy—them day by day was doubtless the
reason why it comforted me to kiss those cheeks which were no more
beautiful than many others; beneath any carnal attraction which is at
all profound, there is the permanent possibility of danger.

I had promised Albertine that, if I did not go out with her, I would
settle down to work, but in the morning, just as if, taking advantage
of our being asleep, the house had miraculously flown, I awoke in
different weather beneath another clime. We do not begin to work at
the moment of landing in a strange country to the conditions of which
we have to adapt ourself. But each day was for me a different country.
Even my laziness itself, beneath the novel forms that it had assumed,
how was I to recognise it?

Sometimes, on days when the weather was, according to everyone, past
praying for, the mere act of staying in the house, situated in the
midst of a steady and continuous rain, had all the gliding charm, the
soothing silence, the interest of a sea voyage; at another time, on a
bright day, to lie still in bed was to let the lights and shadows play
around me as round a tree-trunk.

Or yet again, in the first strokes of the bell of a neighbouring
convent, rare as the early morning worshippers, barely whitening the
dark sky with their fluttering snowfall, melted and scattered by the
warm breeze, I had discerned one of those tempestuous, disordered,
delightful days, when the roofs soaked by an occasional shower and
dried by a breath of wind or a ray of sunshine let fall a cooing
eavesdrop, and, as they wait for the wind to resume its turn, preen in
the momentary sunlight that has burnished them their pigeon's-breast
of slates, one of those days filled with so many changes of weather,
atmospheric incidents, storms, that the idle man does not feel that he
has wasted them, because he has been taking an interest in the
activity which, in default of himself, the atmosphere, acting in a
sense in his stead, has displayed; days similar to those times of
revolution or war which do not seem empty to the schoolboy who has
played truant from his classroom, because by loitering outside the Law
Courts or by reading the newspapers, he has the illusion of finding,
in the events that have occurred, failing the lesson which he has not
learned, an intellectual profit and an excuse for his idleness; days
to which we may compare those on which there occurs in our life some
exceptional crisis from which the man who has never done anything
imagines that he is going to acquire, if it comes to a happy issue,
laborious habits; for instance, the morning on which he sets out for a
duel which is to be fought under particularly dangerous conditions;
then he is suddenly made aware, at the moment when it is perhaps about
to be taken from him, of the value of a life of which he might have
made use to begin some important work, or merely to enjoy pleasures,
and of which he has failed to make any use at all. "If I can only not
be killed," he says to himself, "how I shall settle down to work this
very minute, and how I shall enjoy myself too."

Life has in fact suddenly acquired, in his eyes, a higher value,
because he puts into life everything that it seems to him capable of
giving, instead of the little that he normally makes it give. He sees
it in the light of his desire, not as his experience has taught him
that he was apt to make it, that is to say so tawdry! It has, at that
moment, become filled with work, travel, mountain-climbing, all the
pleasant things which, he tells himself, the fatal issue of the duel
may render impossible, whereas they were already impossible before
there was any question of a duel, owing to the bad habits which, even
had there been no duel, would have persisted. He returns home without
even a scratch, but he continues to find the same obstacles to
pleasures, excursions, travel, to everything of which he had feared
for a moment to be for ever deprived by death; to deprive him of them
life has been sufficient. As for work—exceptional circumstances
having the effect of intensifying what previously existed in the man,
labour in the laborious, laziness in the lazy—he takes a holiday.

I followed his example, and did as I had always done since my first
resolution to become a writer, which I had made long ago, but which
seemed to me to date from yesterday, because I had regarded each
intervening day as non-existent. I treated this day in a similar
fashion, allowing its showers of rain and bursts of sunshine to pass
without doing anything, and vowing that I would begin to work on the
morrow. But then I was no longer the same man beneath a cloudless sky;
the golden note of the bells did not contain merely (as honey
contains) light, but the sensation of light and also the sickly savour
of preserved fruits (because at Combray it had often loitered like a
wasp over our cleared dinner-table). On this day of dazzling sunshine,
to remain until nightfall with my eyes shut was a thing permitted,
customary, healthgiving, pleasant, seasonable, like keeping the
outside shutters closed against the heat.

It was in such weather as this that at the beginning of my second
visit to Balbec I used to hear the violins of the orchestra amid the
bluish flow of the rising tide. How much more fully did I possess
Albertine to-day. There were days when the sound of a bell striking
the hour bore upon the sphere of its resonance a plate so cool, so
richly loaded with moisture or with light that it was like a
transcription for the blind, or if you prefer a musical interpretation
of the charm of rain or of the charm of the sun. So much so that, at
that moment, as I lay in bed, with my eyes shut, I said to myself that
everything is capable of transposition and that a universe which was
merely audible might be as full of variety as the other. Travelling
lazily upstream from day to day, as in a boat, and seeing appear
before my eyes an endlessly changing succession of enchanted memories,
which I did not select, which a moment earlier had been invisible, and
which my mind presented to me one after another, without my being free
to choose them, I pursued idly over that continuous expanse my stroll
in the sunshine.

Those morning concerts at Balbec were not remote in time. And yet, at
that comparatively recent moment, I had given but little thought to
Albertine. Indeed, on the very first mornings after my arrival, I had
not known that she was at Balbec. From whom then had I learned it? Oh,
yes, from Aimé. It was a fine sunny day like this. He was glad to see
me again. But he does not like Albertine. Not everybody can be in
love with her. Yes, it was he who told me that she was at Balbec. But
how did he know? Ah! he had met her, had thought that she had a bad
style. At that moment, as I regarded Aimé's story from another aspect
than that in which he had told me it, my thoughts, which hitherto had
been sailing blissfully over these untroubled waters, exploded
suddenly, as though they had struck an invisible and perilous mine,
treacherously moored at this point in my memory. He had told me that
he had met her, that he had thought her style bad. What had he meant
by a bad style? I had understood him to mean a vulgar manner, because,
to contradict him in advance, I had declared that she was most
refined. But no, perhaps he had meant the style of Gomorrah. She was
with another girl, perhaps their arms were round one another's waist,
they were staring at other women, they were indeed displaying a
'style' which I had never seen Albertine adopt in my presence. Who
was the other girl, where had Aimé met her, this odious Albertine?

I tried to recall exactly what Aimé had said to me, in order to see
whether it could be made to refer to what I imagined, or he had meant
nothing more than common manners. But in vain might I ask the
question, the person who put it and the person who might supply the
recollection were, alas, one and the same person, myself, who was
momentarily duplicated but without adding anything to my stature.
Question as I might, it was myself who answered, I learned nothing
fresh. I no longer gave a thought to Mlle. Vinteuil. Born of a novel
suspicion, the fit of jealousy from which I was suffering was novel
also, or rather it was only the prolongation, the extension of that
suspicion, it had the same theatre, which was no longer Montjouvain,
but the road upon which Aimé had met Albertine, and for its object the
various friends one or other of whom might be she who had been with
Albertine that day. It was perhaps a certain Elisabeth, or else
perhaps those two girls whom Albertine had watched in the mirror at
the Casino, while appearing not to notice them. She had doubtless been
having relations with them, and also with Esther, Bloch's cousin. Such
relations, had they been revealed to me by a third person, would have
been enough almost to kill me, but as it was myself that was imagining
them, I took care to add sufficient uncertainty to deaden the pain.

We succeed in absorbing daily, under the guise of suspicions, in
enormous doses, this same idea that we are being betrayed, a quite
minute quantity of which might prove fatal, if injected by the needle
of a stabbing word. It is no doubt for that reason, and by a survival
of the instinct of self-preservation, that the same jealous man does
not hesitate to form the most terrible suspicions upon a basis of
innocuous details, provided that, whenever any proof is brought to
him, he may decline to accept its evidence. Anyhow, love is an
incurable malady, like those diathetic states in which rheumatism
affords the sufferer a brief respite only to be replaced by
epileptiform headaches. Was my jealous suspicion calmed, I then felt a
grudge against Albertine for not having been gentle with me, perhaps
for having made fun of me to Andrée. I thought with alarm of the idea
that she must have formed if Andrée had repeated all our
conversations; the future loomed black and menacing. This mood of
depression left me only if a fresh jealous suspicion drove me upon
another quest or if, on the other hand, Albertine's display of
affection made the actual state of my fortunes seem to me immaterial.
Whoever this girl might be, I should have to write to Aimé, to try to
see him, and then I should check his statement by talking to
Albertine, hearing her confession. In the meantime, convinced that it
must be Bloch's cousin, I asked Bloch himself, who had not the
remotest idea of my purpose, simply to let me see her photograph, or,
better still, to arrange if possible for me to meet her.

How many persons, cities, roads does not jealousy make us eager thus
to know? It is a thirst for knowledge thanks to which, with regard to
various isolated points, we end by acquiring every possible notion in
turn except those that we require. We can never tell whether a
suspicion will not arise, for, all of a sudden, we recall a sentence
that was not clear, an alibi that cannot have been given us without a
purpose. And yet, we have not seen the person again, but there is such
a thing as a posthumous jealousy, that is born only after we have left
her, a jealousy of the doorstep. Perhaps the habit that I had formed
of nursing in my bosom several simultaneous desires, a desire for a
young girl of good family such as I used to see pass beneath my window
escorted by her governess, and especially of the girl whom Saint-Loup
had mentioned to me, the one who frequented houses of ill fame, a
desire for handsome lady's-maids, and especially for the maid of Mme.
Putbus, a desire to go to the country in early spring, to see once
again hawthorns, apple trees in blossom, storms at sea, a desire for
Venice, a desire to settle down to work, a desire to live like other
people—perhaps the habit of storing up, without assuaging any of
them, all these desires, contenting myself with the promise, made to
myself, that I would not forget to satisfy them one day, perhaps this
habit, so many years old already, of perpetual postponement, of what
M. de Charlus used to castigate under the name of procrastination, had
become so prevalent in me that it assumed control of my jealous
suspicions also and, while it made me take a mental note that I would
not fail, some day, to have an explanation from Albertine with regard
to the girl, possibly the girls (this part of the story was confused,
rubbed out, that is to say obliterated, in my memory) with whom Aimé
had met her, made me also postpone this explanation. In any case, I
would not mention it this evening to my mistress for fear of making
her think me jealous and so offending her.

And yet when, on the following day, Bloch had sent me the photograph
of his cousin Esther, I made haste to forward it to Aimé. And at the
same moment I remembered that Albertine had that morning refused me a
pleasure which might indeed have tired her. Was that in order to
reserve it for some one else? This afternoon, perhaps? For whom?

Thus it is that jealousy is endless, for even if the beloved object,
by dying for instance, can no longer provoke it by her actions, it so
happens that posthumous memories, of later origin than any event, take
shape suddenly in our minds as though they were events also, memories
which hitherto we have never properly explored, which had seemed to us
unimportant, and to which our own meditation upon them has been
sufficient, without any external action, to give a new and terrible
meaning. We have no need of her company, it is enough to be alone in
our room, thinking, for fresh betrayals of us by our mistress to come
to light, even though she be dead. And so we ought not to fear in
love, as in everyday life, the future alone, but even the past which
often we do not succeed in realising until the future has come and
gone; and we are not speaking only of the past which we discover long
afterwards, but of the past which we have long kept stored up in
ourselves and learn suddenly how to interpret.

No matter, I was very glad, now that afternoon was turning to evening,
that the hour was not far off when I should be able to appeal to
Albertine's company for the consolation of which I stood in need.
Unfortunately, the evening that followed was one of those on which
this consolation was not afforded me, on which the kiss that Albertine
would give me when she left me for the night, very different from her
ordinary kiss, would no more soothe me than my mother's kiss had
soothed me long ago, on days when she was vexed with me and I dared
not send for her, but at the same time knew that I should not be able
to sleep. Such evenings were now those on which Albertine had formed
for the morrow some plan of which she did not wish me to know. Had she
confided in me, I would have employed, to assure its successful
execution, an ardour which none but Albertine could have inspired in
me. But she told me nothing, nor had she any need to tell me anything;
as soon as she came in, before she had even crossed the threshold of
my room, as she was still wearing her hat or toque, I had already
detected the unknown, restive, desperate, indomitable desire. Now,
these were often the evenings when I had awaited her return with the
most loving thoughts, and looked forward to throwing my arms round her
neck with the warmest affection.

Alas, those misunderstandings that I had often had with my parents,
whom I found cold or cross at the moment when I was running to embrace
them, overflowing with love, are nothing in comparison with these that
occur between lovers! The anguish then is far less superficial, far
harder to endure, it has its abode in a deeper stratum of the heart.

This evening, however, Albertine was obliged to mention the plan that
she had in her mind; I gathered at once that she wished to go next day
to pay a call on Mme. Verdurin, a call to which in itself I would have
had no objection. But evidently her object was to meet some one there,
to prepare some future pleasure. Otherwise she would not have attached
so much importance to this call. That is to say, she would not have
kept on assuring me that it was of no importance. I had in the course
of my life developed in the opposite direction to those races which
make use of phonetic writing only after regarding the letters of the
alphabet as a set of symbols; I, who for so many years had sought for
the real life and thought of other people only in the direct
statements with which they furnished me of their own free will,
failing these had come to attach importance, on the contrary, only to
the evidence that is not a rational and analytical expression of the
truth; the words themselves did not enlighten me unless they could be
interpreted in the same way as a sudden rush of blood to the cheeks of
a person who is embarrassed, or, what is even more telling, a sudden

Some subsidiary word (such as that used by M. de Cambremer when he
understood that I was 'literary,' and, not having spoken to me before,
as he was describing a visit that he had paid to the Verdurins, turned
to me with: "_Why_, Boreli was there!") bursting into flames at the
unintended, sometimes perilous contact of two ideas which the speaker
has not expressed, but which, by applying the appropriate methods of
analysis or electrolysis I was able to extract from it, told me more
than a long speech.

Albertine sometimes allowed to appear in her conversation one or other
of these precious amalgams which I made haste to 'treat' so as to
transform them into lucid ideas. It is by the way one of the most
terrible calamities for the lover that if particular details—which
only experiment, espionage, of all the possible realisations, would
ever make him know—are so difficult to discover, the truth on the
other hand is easy to penetrate or merely to feel by instinct.

Often I had seen her, at Balbec, fasten upon some girls who came past
us a sharp and lingering stare, like a physical contact, after which,
if I knew the girls, she would say to me: "Suppose we asked them to
join us? I should so love to be rude to them." And now, for some time
past, doubtless since she had succeeded in reading my character, no
request to me to invite anyone, not a word, never even a sidelong
glance from her eyes, which had become objectless and mute, and as
revealing, with the vague and vacant expression of the rest of her
face, as had been their magnetic swerve before. Now it was impossible
for me to reproach her, or to ply her with questions about things
which she would have declared to be so petty, so trivial, things that
I had stored up in my mind simply for the pleasure of making mountains
out of molehills. It is hard enough to say: "Why did you stare at that
girl who went past?" but a great deal harder to say: "Why did you not
stare at her?" And yet I knew quite well, or at least I should have
known, if I had not chosen to believe Albertine's assertions rather
than all the trivialities contained in a glance, proved by it and by
some contradiction or other in her speech, a contradiction which often
I did not perceive until long after I had left her, which kept me on
tenterhooks all the night long, which I never dared mention to her
again, but which nevertheless continued to honour my memory from time
to time with its periodical visits.

Often, in the case of these furtive or sidelong glances on the beach
at Balbec or in the streets of Paris, I might ask myself whether the
person who provoked them was not merely at the moment when she passed
an object of desire but was an old acquaintance, or else some girl who
had simply been mentioned to her, and of whom, when I heard about it,
I was astonished that anybody could have spoken to her, so utterly
unlike was she to anyone that Albertine could possibly wish to know.
But the Gomorrah of to-day is a dissected puzzle made up of fragments
which are picked up in the places where we least expected to find
them. Thus I once saw at Rivebelle a big dinner-party of ten women,
all of whom I happened to know—at least by name—women as unlike one
another as possible, perfectly united nevertheless, so much so that I
never saw a party so homogeneous, albeit so composite.

To return to the girls whom we passed in the street, never did
Albertine gaze at an old person, man or woman, with such fixity, or on
the other hand with such reserve, and as though she saw nothing. The
cuckolded husbands who know nothing know everything all the same. But
it requires more accurate and abundant evidence to create a scene of
jealousy. Besides, if jealousy helps us to discover a certain tendency
to falsehood in the woman whom we love, it multiplies this tendency an
hundredfold when the woman has discovered that we are jealous. She
lies (to an extent to which she has never lied to us before), whether
from pity, or from fear, or because she instinctively withdraws by a
methodical flight from our investigations. Certainly there are love
affairs in which from the start a light woman has posed as virtue
incarnate in the eyes of the man who is in love with her. But how many
others consist of two diametrically opposite periods? In the first,
the woman speaks almost spontaneously, with slight modifications, of
her zest for sensual pleasure, of the gay life which it has made her
lead, things all of which she will deny later on, with the last breath
in her body, to the same man—when she has felt that he is jealous of
and spying upon her. He begins to think with regret of the days of
those first confidences, the memory of which torments him
nevertheless. If the woman continued to make them, she would furnish
him almost unaided with the secret of her conduct which he has been
vainly pursuing day after day. And besides, what a surrender that
would mean, what trust, what friendship. If she cannot live without
betraying him, at least she would be betraying him as a friend,
telling him of her pleasures, associating him with them. And he thinks
with regret of the sort of life which the early stages of their love
seemed to promise, which the sequel has rendered impossible, making of
that love a thing exquisitely painful, which will render a final
parting, according to circumstances, either inevitable or impossible.

Sometimes the script from which I deciphered Albertine's falsehoods,
without being ideographic needed simply to be read backwards; so this
evening she had flung at me in a careless tone the message, intended
to pass almost unheeded: "It is possible that I may go to-morrow to
the Verdurins', I don't in the least know whether I shall go, I don't
really want to." A childish anagram of the admission: "I shall go
to-morrow to the Verdurins', it is absolutely certain, for I attach
the utmost importance to the visit." This apparent hesitation
indicated a resolute decision and was intended to diminish the
importance of the visit while warning me of it. Albertine always
adopted a tone of uncertainty in speaking of her irrevocable
decisions. Mine was no less irrevocable. I took steps to arrange that
this visit to Mme. Verdurin should not take place. Jealousy is often
only an uneasy need to be tyrannical, applied to matters of love. I
had doubtless inherited from my father this abrupt, arbitrary desire
to threaten the people whom I loved best in the hopes with which they
were lulling themselves with a security that I determined to expose to
them as false; when I saw that Albertine had planned without my
knowledge, behind my back, an expedition which I would have done
everything in the world to make easier and more pleasant for her, had
she taken me into her confidence, I said carelessly, so as to make her
tremble, that I intended to go out the next day myself.

I set to work to suggest to Albertine other expeditions in directions
which would have made this visit to the Verdurins impossible, in words
stamped with a feigned indifference beneath which I strove to conceal
my excitement. But she had detected it. It encountered in her the
electric shock of a contrary will which violently repulsed it; I could
see the sparks flash from her eyes. Of what use, though, was it to pay
attention to what her eyes were saying at that moment? How had I
failed to observe long ago that Albertine's eyes belonged to the class
which even in a quite ordinary person seem to be composed of a number
of fragments, because of all the places which the person wishes to
visit—and to conceal her desire to visit—that day. Those eyes which
their falsehood keeps ever immobile and passive, but dynamic,
measurable in the yards or miles to be traversed before they reach the
determined, the implacably determined meeting-place, eyes that are not
so much smiling at the pleasure which tempts them as they are shadowed
with melancholy and discouragement because there may be a difficulty
in their getting to the meeting-place. Even when you hold them in
your hands, these people are fugitives. To understand the emotions
which they arouse, and which other people, even better looking, do not
arouse, we must take into account that they are not immobile but in
motion, and add to their person a sign corresponding to what in
physics is the sign that indicates velocity. If you upset their plans
for the day, they confess to you the pleasure that they had hidden
from you: "I did so want to go to tea at five o'clock with So-and-So,
my dearest friend." Very well, if, six months later, you come to know
the person in question, you will learn that the girl whose plans you
upset, who, caught in the trap, in order that you might set her free,
confessed to you that she was in the habit of taking tea like this
with a dear friend, every day at the hour at which you did not see
her,—has never once been inside this person's house, that they have
never taken tea together, and that the girl used to explain that her
whole time was take up by none other than yourself. And so the person
with whom she confessed that she had gone to tea, with whom she begged
you to allow her to go to tea, that person, the excuse that necessity
made her plead, was not the real person, there was somebody, something
else! Something else, what? Some one, who?

Alas, the kaleidoscopic eyes starting off into the distance and
shadowed with melancholy might enable us perhaps to measure distance,
but do not indicate direction. The boundless field of possibilities
extends before us, and if by any chance the reality presented itself
to our gaze, it would be so far beyond the bounds of possibility that,
dashing suddenly against the boundary wall, we should fall over
backwards. It is not even essential that we should have proof of her
movement and flight, it is enough that we should guess them. She had
promised us a letter, we were calm, we were no longer in love. The
letter has not come; no messenger appears with it; what can have
happened? anxiety is born afresh, and love. It is such people more
than any others who inspire love in us, for our destruction. For
every fresh anxiety that we feel on their account strips them in our
eyes of some of their personality. We were resigned to suffering,
thinking that we loved outside ourselves, and we perceive that our
love is a function of our sorrow, that our love perhaps is our sorrow,
and that its object is, to a very small extent only, the girl with the
raven tresses. But, when all is said, it is these people more than any
others who inspire love.

Generally speaking, love has not as its object a human body, except
when an emotion, the fear of losing it, the uncertainty of finding it
again have been infused into it. This sort of anxiety has a great
affinity for bodies. It adds to them a quality which surpasses beauty
even; which is one of the reasons why we see men who are indifferent
to the most beautiful women fall passionately in love with others who
appear to us ugly. To these people, these fugitives, their own
nature, our anxiety fastens wings. And even when they are in our
company the look in their eyes seems to warn us that they are about to
take flight. The proof of this beauty, surpassing the beauty added by
the wings, is that very often the same person is, in our eyes,
alternately wingless and winged. Afraid of losing her, we forget all
the others. Sure of keeping her, we compare her with those others whom
at once we prefer to her. And as these emotions and these certainties
may vary from week to week, a person may one week see sacrificed to
her everything that gave us pleasure, in the following week be
sacrificed herself, and so for weeks and months on end. All of which
would be incomprehensible did we not know from the experience, which
every man shares, of having at least once in a lifetime ceased to
love, forgotten a woman, for how very little a person counts in
herself when she is no longer—or is not yet—permeable by our
emotions. And, be it understood, what we say of fugitives is equally
true of those in prison, the captive women, we suppose that we are
never to possess them. And so men detest procuresses, for these
facilitate the flight, enhance the temptation, but if on the other
hand they are in love with a cloistered woman, they willingly have
recourse to a procuress to make her emerge from her prison and bring
her to them. In so far as relations with women whom we abduct are less
permanent than others, the reason is that the fear of not succeeding
in procuring them or the dread of seeing them escape is the whole of
our love for them and that once they have been carried off from their
husbands, torn from their footlights, cured of the temptation to leave
us, dissociated in short from our emotion whatever it may be, they are
only themselves, that is to say almost nothing, and, so long desired,
are soon forsaken by the very man who was so afraid of their forsaking

How, I have asked, did I not guess this? But had I not guessed it from
the first day at Balbec? Had I not detected in Albertine one of those
girls beneath whose envelope of flesh more hidden persons are
stirring, than in... I do not say a pack of cards still in its box, a
cathedral or a theatre before we enter it, but the whole, vast, ever
changing crowd? Not only all these persons, but the desire, the
voluptuous memory, the desperate quest of all these persons. At Balbec
I had not been troubled because I had never even supposed that one day
I should be following a trail, even a false trail. No matter! This had
given Albertine, in my eyes, the plenitude of a person filled to the
brim by the superimposition of all these persons, and desires and
voluptuous memories of persons. And now that she had one day let fall
the words 'Mlle. Vinteuil,' I would have wished not to tear off her
garments so as to see her body but through her body to see and read
that memorandum block of her memories and her future, passionate

How suddenly do the things that are probably the most insignificant
assume an extraordinary value when a person whom we love (or who has
lacked only this duplicity to make us love her) conceals them from us!
In itself, suffering does not of necessity inspire in us sentiments of
love or hatred towards the person who causes it: a surgeon can hurt
our body without arousing any personal emotion. But a woman who has
continued for some time to assure us that we are everything in the
world to her, without being herself everything in the world to us, a
woman whom we enjoy seeing, kissing, taking upon our knee, we are
astonished if we merely feel from a sudden resistance that we are not
free to dispose of her life. Disappointment may then revive in us the
forgotten memory of an old anguish, which we know, all the same, to
have been provoked not by this woman but by others whose betrayals are
milestones in our past life; if it comes to that, how have we the
courage to wish to live, how can we move a finger to preserve
ourselves from death, in a world in which love is provoked only by
falsehood, and consists merely in our need to see our sufferings
appeased by the person who has made us suffer? To restore us from the
collapse which follows our discovery of her falsehood and her
resistance, there is the drastic remedy of endeavouring to act against
her will, with the help of people whom we feel to be more closely
involved than we are in her life, upon her who is resisting us and
lying to us, to play the cheat in turn, to make ourselves loathed. But
the suffering caused by such a love is of the sort which must
inevitably lead the sufferer to seek in a change of posture an
illusory comfort.

These means of action are not wanting, alas! And the horror of the
kind of love which uneasiness alone has engendered lies in the fact
that we turn over and over incessantly in our cage the most trivial
utterances; not to mention that rarely do the people for whom we feel
this love appeal to us physically in a complex fashion, since it is
not our deliberate preference, but the chance of a minute of anguish,
a minute indefinitely prolonged by our weakness of character, which
repeats its experiments every evening until it yields to sedatives,
that chooses for us.

No doubt my love for Albertine was not the most barren of those to
which, through feebleness of will, a man may descend, for it was not
entirely platonic; she did give me carnal satisfaction and, besides,
she was intelligent. But all this was a superfluity. What occupied my
mind was not the intelligent remark that she might have made, but some
chance utterance that had aroused in me a doubt as to her actions; I
tried to remember whether she had said this or that, in what tone, at
what moment, in response to what speech of mine, to reconstruct the
whole scene of her dialogue with me, to recall at what moment she had
expressed a desire to call upon the Verdurins, what words of mine had
brought that look of vexation to her face. The most important matter
might have been in question, without my giving myself so much trouble
to establish the truth, to restore the proper atmosphere and colour.
No doubt, after these anxieties have intensified to a degree which we
find insupportable, we do sometimes manage to soothe them altogether
for an evening. The party to which the mistress whom we love is
engaged to go, the true nature of which our mind has been toiling for
days to discover, we are invited to it also, our mistress has neither
looks nor words for anyone but ourselves, we take her home and then we
enjoy, all our anxieties dispelled, a repose as complete, as healing,
as that which we enjoy at times in the profound sleep that comes after
a long walk. And no doubt such repose deserves that we should pay a
high price for it. But would it not have been more simple not to
purchase for ourselves, deliberately, the preceding anxiety, and at a
higher price still? Besides, we know all too well that however
profound these momentary relaxations may be, anxiety will still be the
stronger. Sometimes indeed it is revived by the words that were
intended to bring us repose. But as a rule, all that we do is to
change our anxiety. One of the words of the sentence that was meant to
calm us sets our suspicions running upon another trail. The demands of
our jealousy and the blindness of our credulity are greater than the
woman whom we love could ever suppose.

When, of her own accord, she swears to us that some man is nothing
more to her than a friend, she appalls us by informing us—a thing we
never suspected—that he has been her friend. While she is telling us,
in proof of her sincerity, how they took tea together, that very
afternoon, at each word that she utters the invisible, the unsuspected
takes shape before our eyes. She admits that he has asked her to be
his mistress, and we suffer agonies at the thought that she can have
listened to his overtures. She refused them, she says. But presently,
when we recall what she told us, we shall ask ourselves whether her
story is really true, for there is wanting, between the different
things that she said to us, that logical and necessary connexion
which, more than the facts related, is a sign of the truth. Besides,
there was that terrible note of scorn in her: "I said to him no,
absolutely," which is to be found in every class of society, when a
woman is lying. We must nevertheless thank her for having refused,
encourage her by our kindness to repeat these cruel confidences in the
future. At the most, we may remark: "But if he had already made
advances to you, why did you accept his invitation to tea?" "So that
he should not be angry with me and say that I hadn't been nice to
him." And we dare not reply that by refusing she would perhaps have
been nicer to us.

Albertine alarmed me further when she said that I was quite right to
say, out of regard for her reputation, that I was not her lover, since
"for that matter," she went on, "it's perfectly true that you aren't."
I was not her lover perhaps in the full sense of the word, but then,
was I to suppose that all the things that we did together she did also
with all the other men whose mistress she swore to me that she had
never been? The desire to know at all costs what Albertine was
thinking, whom she was seeing, with whom she was in love, how strange
it was that I should be sacrificing everything to this need, since I
had felt the same need to know, in the case of Gilberte, names, facts,
which now left me quite indifferent. I was perfectly well aware that
in themselves Albertine's actions were of no greater interest. It is
curious that a first love, if by the frail state in which it leaves
our heart it opens the way to our subsequent loves, does not at least
provide us, in view of the identity of symptoms and sufferings, with
the means of curing them.

After all, is there any need to know a fact? Are we not aware
beforehand, in a general fashion, of the mendacity and even the
discretion of those women who have something to conceal? Is there any
possibility of error? They make a virtue of their silence, when we
would give anything to make them speak. And we feel certain that they
have assured their accomplice: "I never tell anything. It won't be
through me that anybody will hear about it, I never tell anything." A
man may give his fortune, his life for a person, and yet know quite
well that in ten years' time, more or less, he would refuse her the
fortune, prefer to keep his life. For then the person would be
detached from him, alone, that is to say null and void. What attaches
us to people are those thousand roots, those innumerable threads which
are our memories of last night, our hopes for to-morrow morning, those
continuous trammels of habit from which we can never free ourselves.
Just as there are misers who hoard money from generosity, so we are
spendthrifts who spend from avarice, and it is not so much to a person
that we sacrifice our life as to all that the person has been able to
attach to herself of our hours, our days, of the things compared with
which the life not yet lived, the relatively future life, seems to us
more remote, more detached, less practical, less our own. What we
require is to disentangle ourselves from those trammels which are so
much more important than the person, but they have the effect of
creating in us temporary obligations towards her, obligations which
mean that we dare not leave her for fear of being misjudged by her,
whereas later on we would so dare for, detached from us, she would no
longer be ourselves, and because in reality we create for ourselves
obligations (even if, by an apparent contradiction, they should lead
to suicide) towards ourselves alone.

If I was not in love with Albertine (and of this I could not be sure)
then there was nothing extraordinary in the place that she occupied in
my life: we live only with what we do not love, with what we have
brought to live with us only to kill the intolerable love, whether it
be of a woman, of a place, or again of a woman embodying a place.
Indeed we should be sorely afraid to begin to love again if a further
separation were to occur. I had not yet reached this stage with
Albertine. Her falsehoods, her admissions, left me to complete the
task of elucidating the truth: her innumerable falsehoods because she
was not content with merely lying, like everyone who imagines that he
or she is loved, but was by nature, quite apart from this, a liar, and
so inconsistent moreover that, even if she told me the truth every
time, told me what, for instance, she thought of other people, she
would say each time something different; her admissions, because,
being so rare, so quickly cut short, they left between them, in so far
as they concerned the past, huge intervals quite blank over the whole
expanse of which I was obliged to retrace—and for that first of all
to learn—her life.

As for the present, so far as I could interpret the sibylline
utterances of Françoise, it was not only in particular details, it was
as a whole that Albertine was lying to me, and 'one fine day' I would
see what Françoise made a pretence of knowing, what she refused to
tell me, what I dared not ask her. It was no doubt with the same
jealousy that she had felt in the past with regard to Eulalie that
Françoise would speak of the most improbable things, so vague that one
could at the most suppose them to convey the highly improbable
insinuation that the poor captive (who was a lover of women) preferred
marriage with somebody who did not appear altogether to be myself. If
this were so, how, notwithstanding her power of radiotelepathy, could
Françoise have come to hear of it? Certainly, Albertine's statements
could give me no definite enlightenment, for they were as different
day by day as the colours of a spinning-top that has almost come to a
standstill. However, it seemed that it was hatred, more than anything
else, that impelled Françoise to speak. Not a day went by but she said
to me, and I in my mother's absence endured such speeches as:

"To be sure, you yourself are kind, and I shall never forget the debt
of gratitude that I owe to you" (this probably so that I might
establish fresh claims upon her gratitude) "but the house has become a
plague-spot now that kindness has set up knavery in it, now that
cleverness is protecting the stupidest person that ever was seen, now
that refinement, good manners, wit, dignity in everything allow to lay
down the law and rule the roost and put me to shame, who have been
forty years in the family,—vice, everything that is most vulgar and

What Françoise resented most about Albertine was having to take orders
from somebody who was not one of ourselves, and also the strain of the
additional housework which was affecting the health of our old
servant, who would not, for all that, accept any help in the house,
not being a 'good for nothing.' This in itself would have accounted
for her nervous exhaustion, for her furious hatred. Certainly, she
would have liked to see Albertine-Esther banished from the house. This
was Françoise's dearest wish. And, by consoling her, its fulfilment
alone would have given our old servant some repose. But to my mind
there was more in it than this. So violent a hatred could have
originated only in an overstrained body. And, more even than of
consideration, Françoise was in need of sleep.

Albertine went to take off her things and, so as to lose no time in
finding out what I wanted to know, I attempted to telephone to Andrée;
I took hold of the receiver, invoked the implacable deities, but
succeeded only in arousing their fury which expressed itself in the
single word 'Engaged!' Andrée was indeed engaged in talking to some
one else. As I waited for her to finish her conversation, I asked
myself how it was—now that so many of our painters are seeking to
revive the feminine portraits of the eighteenth century, in which the
cleverly devised setting is a pretext for portraying expressions of
expectation, spleen, interest, distraction—how it was that none of
our modern Bouchers or Fragonards had yet painted, instead of 'The
Letter' or 'The Harpsichord,' this scene which might be entitled 'At
the Telephone,' in which there would come spontaneously to the lips of
the listener a smile all the more genuine in that it is conscious of
being unobserved. At length, Andrée was at the other end: "You are
coming to call for Albertine to-morrow?" I asked, and as I uttered
Albertine's name, thought of the envy I had felt for Swann when he
said to me on the day of the Princesse de Guermantes's party: "Come
and see Odette," and I had thought how, when all was said, there must
be something in a Christian name which, in the eyes of the whole world
including Odette herself, had on Swann's lips alone this entirely
possessive sense.

Must not such an act of possession—summed up in a single word—over
the whole existence of another person (I had felt whenever I was in
love) be pleasant indeed! But, as a matter of fact, when we are in a
position to utter it, either we no longer care, or else habit has not
dulled the force of affection, but has changed its pleasure into pain.
Falsehood is a very small matter, we live in the midst of it without
doing anything but smile at it, we practise it without meaning to do
any harm to anyone, but our jealousy is wounded by it, and sees more
than the falsehood conceals (often our mistress refuses to spend the
evening with us and goes to the theatre simply so that we shall not
notice that she is not looking well). How blind it often remains to
what the truth is concealing! But it can extract nothing, for those
women who swear that they are not lying would refuse, on the scaffold,
to confess their true character. I knew that I alone was in a
position to say 'Albertine' in that tone to Andrée. And yet, to
Albertine, to Andrée, and to myself, I felt that I was nothing. And I
realised the impossibility against which love is powerless.

We imagine that love has as its object a person whom we can see lying
down before our eyes, enclosed in a human body. Alas, it is the
extension of that person to all the points in space and time which the
person has occupied and will occupy. If we do not possess its contact
with this or that place, this or that hour, we do not possess it. But
we cannot touch all these points. If only they were indicated to us,
we might perhaps contrive to reach out to them. But we grope for them
without finding them. Hence mistrust, jealousy, persecutions. We
waste precious time upon absurd clues and pass by the truth without
suspecting it.

But already one of the irascible deities, whose servants speed with
the agility of lightning, was annoyed, not because I was speaking, but
because I was saying nothing. "Come along, I've been holding the line
for you all this time; I shall cut you off." However, she did nothing
of the sort but, as she evoked Andrée's presence, enveloped it, like
the great poet that a telephone girl always is, in the atmosphere
peculiar to the home, the district, the very life itself of
Albertine's friend. "Is that you?" asked Andrée, whose voice was
projected towards me with an instantaneous speed by the goddess whose
privilege it is to make sound more swift than light. "Listen," I
replied; "go wherever you like, anywhere, except to Mme. Verdurin's.
Whatever happens, you simply must keep Albertine away from there
to-morrow." "Why, that's where she promised to go to-morrow." "Ah!"

But I was obliged to break off the conversation for a moment and to
make menacing gestures, for if Françoise continued—as though it had
been something as unpleasant as vaccination or as dangerous as the
aeroplane—to refuse to learn to telephone, whereby she would have
spared us the trouble of conversations which she might intercept
without any harm, on the other hand she would at once come into the
room whenever I was engaged in a conversation so private that I was
particularly anxious to keep it from her ears. When she had left the
room, not without lingering to take away various things that had been
lying there since the previous day and might perfectly well have been
left there for an hour longer, and to place in the grate a log that
was quite unnecessary in view of my burning fever at the intruder's
presence and my fear of finding myself 'cut off' by the operator: "I
beg your pardon," I said to Andrée, "I was interrupted. Is it
absolutely certain that she has to go to the Verdurins' tomorrow?"
"Absolutely, but I can tell her that you don't like it." "No, not at
all, but it is possible that I may come with you." "Ah!" said Andrée,
in a tone of extreme annoyance and as though alarmed by my audacity,
which was all the more encouraged by her opposition. "Then I shall say
good night, and please forgive me for disturbing you for nothing."
"Not at all," said Andrée, and (since nowadays, the telephone having
come into general use, a decorative ritual of polite speeches has
grown up round it, as round the tea-tables of the past) added: "It has
been a great pleasure to hear your voice."

I might have said the same, and with greater truth than Andrée, for I
had been deeply touched by the sound of her voice, having never before
noticed that it was so different from the voices of other people.
Then I recalled other voices still, women's voices especially, some of
them rendered slow by the precision of a question and by mental
concentration, others made breathless, even silenced at moments, by
the lyrical flow of what the speakers were relating; I recalled one by
one the voices of all the girls whom I had known at Balbec, then
Gilberte's voice, then my grandmother's, then that of Mme. de
Guermantes, I found them all unlike, moulded in a language peculiar to
each of the speakers, each playing upon a different instrument, and I
said to myself how meagre must be the concert performed in paradise by
the three or four angel musicians of the old painters, when I saw
mount to the Throne of God, by tens, by hundreds, by thousands, the
harmonious and multisonant salutation of all the Voices. I did not
leave the telephone without thanking, in a few propitiatory words, her
who reigns over the swiftness of sounds for having kindly employed on
behalf of my humble words a power which made them a hundred times more
rapid than thunder, by my thanksgiving received no other response than
that of being cut off.

When Albertine returned to my room, she was wearing a garment of black
satin which had the effect of making her seem paler, of turning her
into the pallid, ardent Parisian, etiolated by want of fresh air, by
the atmosphere of crowds and perhaps by vicious habits, whose eyes
seemed more restless because they were not brightened by any colour in
her cheeks.

"Guess," I said to her, "to whom I've just been talking on the
telephone. Andrée!" "Andrée?" exclaimed Albertine in a harsh tone of
astonishment and emotion, which so simple a piece of intelligence
seemed hardly to require. "I hope she remembered to tell you that we
met Mme. Verdurin the other day." "Mme. Verdurin? I don't remember," I
replied, as though I were thinking of something else, so as to appear
indifferent to this meeting and not to betray Andrée who had told me
where Albertine was going on the morrow.

But how could I tell that Andrée was not herself betraying me, and
would not tell Albertine to-morrow that I had asked her to prevent her
at all costs from going to the Verdurins', and had not already
revealed to her that I had many times made similar appeals. She had
assured me that she had never repeated anything, but the value of this
assertion was counterbalanced in my mind by the impression that for
some time past Albertine's face had ceased to shew that confidence
which she had for so long reposed in me.

What is remarkable is that, a few days before this dispute with
Albertine, I had already had a dispute with her, but in Andrée's
presence. Now Andrée, while she gave Albertine good advice, had
always appeared to be insinuating bad. "Come, don't talk like that,
hold your tongue," she said, as though she were at the acme of
happiness. Her face assumed the dry raspberry hue of those pious
housekeepers who made us dismiss each of our servants in turn. While I
was heaping reproaches upon Albertine which I ought never to have
uttered, Andrée looked as though she were sucking a lump of barley
sugar with keen enjoyment. At length she was unable to restrain an
affectionate laugh. "Come, Titine, with me. You know, I'm your dear
little sister." I was not merely exasperated by this rather sickly
exhibition, I asked myself whether Andrée really felt the affection
for Albertine that she pretended to feel. Seeing that Albertine, who
knew Andrée far better than I did, had always shrugged her shoulders
when I asked her whether she was quite certain of Andrée's affection,
and had always answered that nobody in the world cared for her more, I
was still convinced that Andrée's affection was sincere. Possibly, in
her wealthy but provincial family, one might find an equivalent of
some of the shops in the Cathedral square, where certain sweetmeats
are declared to be 'the best quality.' But I do know that, for my own
part, even if I had invariably come to the opposite conclusion, I had
so strong an impression that Andrée was trying to rap Albertine's
knuckles that my mistress at once regained my affection and my anger

Suffering, when we are in love, ceases now and then for a moment, but
only to recur in a different form. We weep to see her whom we love no
longer respond to us with those outbursts of sympathy, the amorous
advances of former days, we suffer more keenly still when, having lost
them with us, she recovers them for the benefit of others; then, from
this suffering, we are distracted by a new and still more piercing
grief, the suspicion that she was lying to us about how she spent the
previous evening, when she doubtless played us false; this suspicion
in turn is dispelled, the kindness that our mistress is shewing us
soothes us, but then a word that we had forgotten comes back to our
mind; some one has told us that she was ardent in moments of pleasure,
whereas we have always found her calm; we try to picture to ourselves
what can have been these frenzies with other people, we feel how very
little we are to her, we observe an air of boredom, longing,
melancholy, while we are talking, we observe like a black sky the
unpretentious clothes which she puts on when she is with us, keeping
for other people the garments with which she used to flatter us at
first. If on the contrary she is affectionate, what joy for a moment;
but when we see that little tongue outstretched as though in
invitation, we think of those people to whom that invitation has so
often been addressed, and that perhaps even here at home, even
although Albertine was not thinking of them, it has remained, by force
of long habit, an automatic signal. Then the feeling that we are bored
with each other returns. But suddenly this pain is reduced to nothing
when we think of the unknown evil element in her life, of the places
impossible to identify where she has been, where she still goes
perhaps at the hours when we are not with her, if indeed she is not
planning to live there altogether, those places in which she is parted
from us, does not belong to us, is happier than when she is with us.
Such are the revolving searchlights of jealousy.

Jealousy is moreover a demon that cannot be exorcised, but always
returns to assume a fresh incarnation. Even if we could succeed in
exterminating them all, in keeping for ever her whom we love, the
Spirit of Evil would then adopt another form, more pathetic still,
despair at having obtained fidelity only by force, despair at not
being loved.

Between Albertine and myself there was often the obstacle of a silence
based no doubt upon grievances which she kept to herself, because she
supposed them to be irremediable. Charming as Albertine was on some
evenings, she no longer shewed those spontaneous impulses which I
remembered at Balbec when she used to say: "How good you are to me all
the same!" and her whole heart seemed to spring towards me without the
reservation of any of those grievances which she now felt and kept to
herself because she supposed them no doubt to be irremediable,
impossible to forget, unconfessed, but which set up nevertheless
between her and myself the significant prudence of her speech or the
interval of an impassable silence.

"And may one be allowed to know why you telephoned to Andrée?" "To ask
whether she had any objection to my joining you to-morrow, so that I
may pay the Verdurins the call I promised them at la Raspelière."
"Just as you like. But I warn you, there is an appalling mist this
evening, and it's sure to last over to-morrow. I mention it, because I
shouldn't like you to make yourself ill. Personally, you can imagine I
would far rather you came with us. However," she added with a
thoughtful air: "I'm not at all sure that I shall go to the
Verdurins'. They've been so kind to me that I ought, really.... Next
to yourself, they have been nicer to me than anybody, but there are
some things about them that I don't quite like. I simply must go to
the Bon Marché and the Trois-Quartiers and get a white scarf to wear
with this dress which is really too black."

Allow Albertine to go by herself into a big shop crowded with people
perpetually rubbing against one, furnished with so many doors that a
woman can always say that when she came out she could not find the
carriage which was waiting farther along the street; I was quite
determined never to consent to such a thing, but the thought of it
made me extremely unhappy. And yet I did not take into account that I
ought long ago to have ceased to see Albertine, for she had entered,
in my life, upon that lamentable period in which a person disseminated
over space and time is no longer a woman, but a series of events upon
which we can throw no light, a series of insoluble problems, a sea
which we absurdly attempt, Xerxes-like, to scourge, in order to punish
it for what it has engulfed. Once this period has begun, we are
perforce vanquished. Happy are they who understand this in time not
to prolong unduly a futile, exhausting struggle, hemmed in on every
side by the limits of the imagination, a struggle in which jealousy
plays so sorry a part that the same man who once upon a time, if the
eyes of the woman who was always by his side rested for an instant
upon another man, imagined an intrigue, suffered endless torments,
resigns himself in time to allowing her to go out by herself,
sometimes with the man whom he knows to be her lover, preferring to
the unknown this torture which at least he does know! It is a question
of the rhythm to be adopted, which afterwards one follows from force
of habit. Neurotics who could never stay away from a dinner-party will
afterwards take rest cures which never seem to them to last long
enough; women who recently were still of easy virtue live for and by
acts of penitence. Jealous lovers who, in order to keep a watch upon
her whom they loved, cut short their own hours of sleep, deprived
themselves of rest, feeling that her own personal desires, the world,
so vast and so secret, time, are stronger than they, allow her to go
out without them, then to travel, and finally separate from her.
Jealousy thus perishes for want of nourishment and has survived so
long only by clamouring incessantly for fresh food. I was still a long
way from this state.

I was now at liberty to go out with Albertine as often as I chose. As
there had recently sprung up all round Paris a number of aerodromes,
which are to aeroplanes what harbours are to ships, and as ever since
the day when, on the way to la Raspelière, that almost mythological
encounter with an airman, at whose passage overhead my horse had
shied, had been to me like a symbol of liberty, I often chose to end
our day's excursion—with the ready approval of Albertine, a
passionate lover of every form of sport—at one of these aerodromes.
We went there, she and I, attracted by that incessant stir of
departure and arrival which gives so much charm to a stroll along the
pier, or merely upon the beach, to those who love the sea, and to
loitering about an 'aviation centre' to those who love the sky. At any
moment, amid the repose of the machines that lay inert and as though
at anchor, we would see one, laboriously pushed by a number of
mechanics, as a boat is pushed down over the sand at the bidding of a
tourist who wishes to go for an hour upon the sea. Then the engine was
started, the machine ran along the ground, gathered speed, until
finally, all of a sudden, at right angles, it rose slowly, in the
awkward, as it were paralysed ecstasy of a horizontal speed suddenly
transformed into a majestic, vertical ascent. Albertine could not
contain her joy, and demanded explanations of the mechanics who, now
that the machine was in the air, were strolling back to the sheds. The
passenger, meanwhile, was covering mile after mile; the huge skiff,
upon which our eyes remained fixed, was nothing more now in the azure
than a barely visible spot, which, however, would gradually recover
its solidity, size, volume, when, as the time allowed for the
excursion drew to an end, the moment came for landing. And we watched
with envy, Albertine and I, as he sprang to earth, the passenger who
had gone up like that to enjoy at large in those solitary expanses the
calm and limpidity of evening. Then, whether from the aerodrome or
from some museum, some church that we had been visiting, we would
return home together for dinner. And yet, I did not return home
calmed, as I used to be at Balbec by less frequent excursions which I
rejoiced to see extend over a whole afternoon, used afterwards to
contemplate standing out like clustering flowers from the rest of
Albertine's life, as against an empty sky, before which we muse
pleasantly, without thinking. Albertine's time did not belong to me
then in such ample quantities as to-day. And yet, it had seemed to me
then to be much more my own, because I took into account only—my love
rejoicing in them as in the bestowal of a favour—the hours that she
spent with me; now—my jealousy searching anxiously among them for the
possibility of a betrayal—only those hours that she spent apart from

Well, on the morrow she was looking forward to some such hours. I must
choose, either to cease from suffering, or to cease from loving. For,
just as in the beginning it is formed by desire, so afterwards love is
kept in existence only by painful anxiety. I felt that part of
Albertine's life was escaping me. Love, in the painful anxiety as in
the blissful desire, is the insistence upon a whole. It is born, it
survives only if some part remains for it to conquer. We love only
what we do not wholly possess. Albertine was lying when she told me
that she probably would not go to the Verdurins', as I was lying when
I said that I wished to go there. She was seeking merely to dissuade
me from accompanying her, and I, by my abrupt announcement of this
plan, which I had no intention of putting into practice, to touch what
I felt to be her most sensitive spot, to track down the desire that
she was concealing and to force her to admit that my company on the
morrow would prevent her from gratifying it. She had virtually made
this admission by ceasing at once to wish to go to see the Verdurins.

"If you don't want to go to the Verdurins'," I told her, "there is a
splendid charity show at the Trocadéro." She listened to my urging her
to attend it with a sorrowful air. I began to be harsh with her as at
Balbec, at the time of my first jealousy. Her face reflected a
disappointment, and I employed, to reproach my mistress, the same
arguments that had been so often advanced against myself by my parents
when I was little, and had appeared unintelligent and cruel to my
misunderstood childhood. "No, for all your melancholy air," I said to
Albertine, "I cannot feel any pity for you; I should feel sorry for
you if you were ill, if you were in trouble, if you had suffered some
bereavement; not that you would mind that in the least, I dare say,
since you pour out false sentiment over every trifle. Anyhow, I have
no opinion of the feelings of people who pretend to be so fond of us
and are quite incapable of doing us the slightest service, and whose
minds wander so that they forget to deliver the letter we have
entrusted to them, on which our whole future depends."

These words—a great part of what we say being no more than a
recitation from memory—I had heard spoken, all of them, by my mother,
who was ever ready to explain to me that we ought not to confuse true
feeling, what (she said) the Germans, whose language she greatly
admired notwithstanding my father's horror of their nation, called
_Empfindung_, and affectation or _Empfindelei_. She had gone so far,
once when I was in tears, as to tell me that Nero probably suffered
from his nerves and was none the better for that. Indeed, like those
plants which bifurcate as they grow, side by side with the sensitive
boy which was all that I had been, there was now a man of the opposite
sort, full of common sense, of severity towards the morbid sensibility
of others, a man resembling what my parents had been to me. No doubt,
as each of us is obliged to continue in himself the life of his
forebears, the balanced, cynical man who did not exist in me at the
start had joined forces with the sensitive one, and it was natural
that I should become in my turn what my parents had been to me.

What is more, at the moment when this new personality took shape in
me, he found his language ready made in the memory of the speeches,
ironical and scolding, that had been addressed to me, that I must now
address to other people, and which came so naturally to my lips,
whether I evoked them by mimicry and association of memories, or
because the delicate and mysterious enchantments of the reproductive
power had traced in me unawares, as upon the leaf of a plant, the same
intonations, the same gestures, the same attitudes as had been adopted
by the people from whom I sprang. For sometimes, as I was playing the
wise counsellor in conversation with Albertine, I seemed to be
listening to my grandmother; had it not, moreover, occurred to my
mother (so many obscure unconscious currents inflected everything in
me down to the tiniest movements of my fingers even, to follow the
same cycles as those of my parents) to imagine that it was my father
at the door, so similar was my knock to his.

On the other hand the coupling of contrary elements is the law of
life, the principle of fertilisation, and, as we shall see, the cause
of many disasters. As a general rule, we detest what resembles
ourself, and our own faults when observed in another person infuriate
us. How much the more does a man who has passed the age at which we
instinctively display them, a man who, for instance, has gone through
the most burning moments with an icy countenance, execrate those same
faults, if it is another man, younger or simpler or stupider, that is
displaying them. There are sensitive people to whom merely to see in
other people's eyes the tears which they themselves have repressed is
infuriating. It is because the similarity is too great that, in spite
of family affection, and sometimes all the more the greater the
affection is, families are divided.

Possibly in myself, and in many others, the second man that I had
become was simply another aspect of the former man, excitable and
sensitive in his own affairs, a sage mentor to other people. Perhaps
it was so also with my parents according to whether they were regarded
in relation to myself or in themselves. In the case of my grandmother
and mother it was as clear as daylight that their severity towards
myself was deliberate on their part and indeed cost them a serious
effort, but perhaps in my father himself his coldness was but an
external aspect of his sensibility. For it was perhaps the human truth
of this twofold aspect: the side of private life, the side of social
relations, that was expressed in a sentence which seemed to me at the
time as false in its matter as it was commonplace in form, when some
one remarked, speaking of my father: "Beneath his icy chill, he
conceals an extraordinary sensibility; what is really wrong with him
is that he is ashamed of his own feelings."

Did it not, after all, conceal incessant secret storms, that calm
(interspersed if need be with sententious reflexions, irony at the
maladroit exhibitions of sensibility) which was his, but which now I
too was affecting in my relations with everybody and never laid aside
in certain circumstances of my relations with Albertine?

I really believe that I came near that day to making up my mind to
break with her and to start for Venice. What bound me afresh in my
chains had to do with Normandy, not that she shewed any inclination to
go to that region where I had been jealous of her (for it was my good
fortune that her plans never impinged upon the painful spots in my
memory), but because when I had said to her: "It is just as though I
were to speak to you of your aunt's friend who lived at Infreville,"
she replied angrily, delighted—like everyone in a discussion, who is
anxious to muster as many arguments as possible on his side—to shew
me that I was in the wrong and herself in the right: "But my aunt
never knew anybody at Infreville, and I have never been near the

She had forgotten the lie that she had told me one afternoon about the
susceptible lady with whom she simply must take tea, even if by going
to visit this lady she were to forfeit my friendship and shorten her
own life. I did not remind her of her lie. But it appalled me. And
once again I postponed our rupture to another day. A person has no
need of sincerity, nor even of skill in lying, in order to be loved. I
here give the name of love to a mutual torment. I saw nothing
reprehensible this evening in speaking to her as my grandmother—that
mirror of perfection—used to speak to me, nor, when I told her that I
would escort her to the Verdurins', in having adopted my father's
abrupt manner, who would never inform us of any decision except in the
manner calculated to cause us the maximum of agitation, out of all
proportion to the decision itself. So that it was easy for him to call
us absurd for appearing so distressed by so small a matter, our
distress corresponding in reality to the emotion that he had aroused
in us. Since—like the inflexible wisdom of my grandmother—these
arbitrary moods of my father had been passed on to myself to complete
the sensitive nature to which they had so long remained alien, and,
throughout my whole childhood, had caused so much suffering, that
sensitive nature informed them very exactly as to the points at which
they must take careful aim: there is no better informer than a
reformed thief, or a subject of the nation we are fighting. In certain
untruthful families, a brother who has come to call upon his brother
without any apparent reason and asks him, quite casually, on the
doorstep, as he is going away, for some information to which he does
not even appear to listen, indicates thereby to his brother that this
information was the main object of his visit, for the brother is quite
familiar with that air of detachment, those words uttered as though in
parentheses and at the last moment, having frequently had recourse to
them himself. Well, there are also pathological families, kindred
sensibilities, fraternal temperaments, initiated into that mute
language which enables people in the family circle to make themselves
understood without speaking. And who can be more nerve-wracking than a
neurotic? Besides, my conduct, in these cases, may have had a more
general, a more profound cause. I mean that in those brief but
inevitable moments, when we detest some one whom we love—moments
which last sometimes for a whole lifetime in the case of people whom
we do not love—we do not wish to appear good, so as not to be pitied,
but at once as wicked and as happy as possible so that our happiness
may be truly hateful and may ulcerate the soul of the occasional or
permanent enemy. To how many people have I not untruthfully slandered
myself, simply in order that my 'successes' might seem to them immoral
and make them all the more angry! The proper thing to do would be to
take the opposite course, to shew without arrogance that we have
generous feelings, instead of taking such pains to hide them. And it
would be easy if we were able never to hate, to love all the time. For
then we should be so glad to say only the things that can make other
people happy, melt their hearts, make them love us.

To be sure, I felt some remorse at being so irritating to Albertine,
and said to myself: "If I did not love her, she would be more grateful
to me, for I should not be nasty to her; but no, it would be the same
in the end, for I should also be less nice." And I might, in order to
justify myself, have told her that I loved her. But the confession of
that love, apart from the fact that it could not have told Albertine
anything new, would perhaps have made her colder to myself than the
harshness and deceit for which love was the sole excuse. To be harsh
and deceitful to the person whom we love is so natural! If the
interest that we shew in other people does not prevent us from being
kind to them and complying with their wishes, then our interest is not
sincere. A stranger leaves us indifferent, and indifference does not
prompt us to unkind actions.

The evening passed. Before Albertine went to bed, there was no time to
lose if we wished to make peace, to renew our embraces. Neither of us
had yet taken the initiative. Feeling that, anyhow, she was angry with
me already, I took advantage of her anger to mention Esther Levy.
"Bloch tells me" (this was untrue) "that you are a great friend of his
cousin Esther." "I shouldn't know her if I saw her," said Albertine
with a vague air. "I have seen her photograph," I continued angrily. I
did not look at Albertine as I said this, so that I did not see her
expression, which would have been her sole reply, for she said

It was no longer the peace of my mother's kiss at Combray that I felt
when I was with Albertine on these evenings, but, on the contrary, the
anguish of those on which my mother scarcely bade me good night, or
even did not come up at all to my room, whether because she was vexed
with me or was kept downstairs by guests. This anguish—not merely its
transposition in terms of love—no, this anguish itself which had at
one time been specialised in love, which had been allocated to love
alone when the division, the distribution of the passions took effect,
seemed now to be extending again to them all, become indivisible again
as in my childhood, as though all my sentiments which trembled at the
thought of my not being able to keep Albertine by my bedside, at once
as a mistress, a sister, a daughter; as a mother too, of whose regular
good-night kiss I was beginning again to feel the childish need, had
begun to coalesce, to unify in the premature evening of my life which
seemed fated to be as short as a day in winter. But if I felt the
anguish of my childhood, the change of person that made me feel it,
the difference of the sentiment that it inspired in me, the very
transformation in my character, made it impossible for me to demand
the soothing of that anguish from Albertine as in the old days from my

I could no longer say: "I am unhappy." I confined myself, with death
at my heart, to speaking of unimportant things which afforded me no
progress towards a happy solution. I waded knee-deep in painful
platitudes. And with that intellectual egoism which, if only some
insignificant fact has a bearing upon our love, makes us pay great
respect to the person who has discovered it, as fortuitously perhaps
as the fortune-teller who has foretold some trivial event which has
afterwards come to pass, I came near to regarding Françoise as more
inspired than Bergotte and Elstir because she had said to me at
Balbec: "That girl will only land you in trouble."

Every minute brought me nearer to Albertine's good night, which at
length she said. But this evening her kiss, from which she herself was
absent, and which did not encounter myself, left me so anxious that,
with a throbbing heart, I watched her make her way to the door,
thinking: "If I am to find a pretext for calling her back, keeping her
here, making peace with her, I must make haste; only a few steps and
she will be out of the room, only two, now one, she is turning the
handle; she is opening the door, it is too late, she has shut it
behind her!" Perhaps it was not too late, all the same. As in the old
days at Combray when my mother had left me without soothing me with
her kiss, I wanted to dart in pursuit of Albertine, I felt that there
would be no peace for me until I had seen her again, that this next
meeting was to be something immense which no such meeting had ever yet
been, and that—if I did not succeed by my own efforts in ridding
myself of this melancholy—I might perhaps acquire the shameful habit
of going to beg from Albertine. I sprang out of bed when she was
already in her room, I paced up and down the corridor, hoping that she
would come out of her room and call me; I stood without breathing
outside her door for fear of failing to hear some faint summons, I
returned for a moment to my own room to see whether my mistress had
not by some lucky chance forgotten her handkerchief, her bag,
something which I might have appeared to be afraid of her wanting
during the night, and which would have given me an excuse for going to
her room. No, there was nothing. I returned to my station outside her
door, but the crack beneath it no longer shewed any light. Albertine
had put out the light, she was in bed, I remained there motionless,
hoping for some lucky accident but none occurred; and long afterwards,
frozen, I returned to bestow myself between my own sheets and cried
all night long.

But there were certain evenings also when I had recourse to a ruse
which won me Albertine's kiss. Knowing how quickly sleep came to her
as soon as she lay down (she knew it also, for, instinctively, before
lying down, she would take off her slippers, which I had given her,
and her ring which she placed by the bedside, as she did in her own
room when she went to bed), knowing how heavy her sleep was, how
affectionate her awakening, I would plead the excuse of going to look
for something and make her lie down upon my bed. When I returned to
the room she was asleep and I saw before me the other woman that she
became whenever one saw her full face. But she very soon changed her
identity, for I lay down by her side and recaptured her profile. I
could place my hand in her hand, on her shoulder, on her cheek.
Albertine continued to sleep.

I might take her head, turn it round, press it to my lips, encircle my
neck in her arms, she continued to sleep like a watch that does not
stop, like an animal that goes on living whatever position you assign
to it, like a climbing plant, a convulvulus which continues to thrust
out its tendrils whatever support you give it. Only her breathing was
altered by every touch of my fingers, as though she had been an
instrument on which I was playing and from which I extracted
modulations by drawing from first one, then another of its strings
different notes. My jealousy grew calm, for I felt that Albertine had
become a creature that breathes, that is nothing else besides, as was
indicated by that regular breathing in which is expressed that pure
physiological function which, wholly fluid, has not the solidity
either of speech or of silence; and, in its ignorance of all evil, her
breath, drawn (it seemed) rather from a hollowed reed than from a
human being, was truly paradisal, was the pure song of the angels to
me who, at these moments, felt Albertine to be withdrawn from
everything, not only materially but morally. And yet in that
breathing, I said to myself of a sudden that perhaps many names of
people borne on the stream of memory must be playing. Sometimes indeed
to that music the human voice was added. Albertine uttered a few
words. How I longed to catch their meaning! It happened that the name
of a person of whom we had been speaking and who had aroused my
jealousy came to her lips, but without making me unhappy, for the
memory that it brought with it seemed to be only that of the
conversations that she had had with me upon the subject. This evening,
however, when with her eyes still shut she was half awake, she said,
addressing myself: "Andrée." I concealed my emotion. "You are
dreaming, I am not Andrée," I said to her, smiling. She smiled also.
"Of course not, I wanted to ask you what Andrée was saying to you." "I
should have supposed that you were used to lying like this by her
side." "Oh no, never," she said. Only, before making this reply, she
had hidden her face for a moment in her hands. So her silences were
merely screens, her surface affection merely kept beneath the surface
a thousand memories which would have rent my heart, her life was full
of those incidents the derisive account, the comic history of which
form our daily gossip at the expense of other people, people who do
not matter, but which, so long as a person remains lost in the dark
forest of our heart, seem to us so precious a revelation of her life
that, for the privilege of exploring that subterranean world, we would
gladly sacrifice our own. Then her sleep appeared to me a marvellous
and magic world in which at certain moments there rises from the
depths of the barely translucent element the confession of a secret
which we shall not understand. But as a rule, when Albertine was
asleep, she seemed to have recovered her innocence. In the attitude
which I had imposed upon her, but which in her sleep she had speedily
made her own, she looked as though she were trusting herself to me!
Her face had lost any expression of cunning or vulgarity, and between
herself and me, towards whom she was raising her arm, upon whom her
hand was resting, there seemed to be an absolute surrender, an
indissoluble attachment. Her sleep moreover did not separate her from
me and allowed her to retain her consciousness of our affection; its
effect was rather to abolish everything else; I embraced her, told her
that I was going to take a turn outside, she half-opened her eyes,
said to me with an air of astonishment—indeed the hour was late: "But
where are you off to, my darling ——" calling me by my Christian
name, and at once fell asleep again. Her sleep was only a sort of
obliteration of the rest of her life, a continuous silence over which
from time to time would pass in their flight words of intimate
affection. By putting these words together, you would have arrived at
the unalloyed conversation, the secret intimacy of a pure love. This
calm slumber delighted me, as a mother is delighted, reckoning it
among his virtues, by the sound sleep of her child. And her sleep was
indeed that of a child. Her waking also, and so natural, so loving,
before she even knew where she was, that I sometimes asked myself with
terror whether she had been in the habit, before coming to live with
me, of not sleeping by herself but of finding, when she opened her
eyes, some one lying by her side. But her childish charm was more
striking. Like a mother again, I marvelled that she should always
awake in so good a humour. After a few moments she recovered
consciousness, uttered charming words, unconnected with one another,
mere bird-pipings. By a sort of 'general post' her throat, which as a
rule passed unnoticed, now almost startlingly beautiful, had acquired
the immense importance which her eyes, by being closed in sleep, had
forfeited, her eyes, my regular informants to which I could no longer
address myself after the lids had closed over them. Just as the closed
lids impart an innocent, grave beauty to the face by suppressing all
that the eyes express only too plainly, there was in the words, not
devoid of meaning, but interrupted by moments of silence, which
Albertine uttered as she awoke, a pure beauty that is not at every
moment polluted, as is conversation, by habits of speech,
commonplaces, traces of blemish. Anyhow, when I had decided to wake
Albertine, I had been able to do so without fear, I knew that her
awakening would bear no relation to the evening that we had passed
together, but would emerge from her sleep as morning emerges from
night. As soon as she had begun to open her eyes with a smile, she had
offered me her lips, and before she had even uttered a word, I had
tasted their fresh savour, as soothing as that of a garden still
silent before the break of day.

On the morrow of that evening when Albertine had told me that she
would perhaps be going, then that she would not be going to see the
Verdurins, I awoke early, and, while I was still half asleep, my joy
informed me that there was, interpolated in the winter, a day of
spring. Outside, popular themes skilfully transposed for various
instruments, from the horn of the mender of porcelain, or the trumpet
of the chair weaver, to the flute of the goat driver who seemed, on a
fine morning, to be a Sicilian goatherd, were lightly orchestrating
the matutinal air, with an 'Overture for a Public Holiday.' Our
hearing, that delicious sense, brings us the company of the street,
every line of which it traces for us, sketches all the figures that
pass along it, shewing us their colours. The iron shutters of the
baker's shop, of the dairy, which had been lowered last night over
every possibility of feminine bliss, were rising now like the canvas
of a ship which is setting sail and about to proceed, crossing the
transparent sea, over a vision of young female assistants. This sound
of the iron curtain being raised would perhaps have been my sole
pleasure in a different part of the town. In this quarter a hundred
other sounds contributed to my joy, of which I would not have lost a
single one by remaining too long asleep. It is the magic charm of the
old aristocratic quarters that they are at the same time plebeian.
Just as, sometimes, cathedrals used to have them within a stone's
throw of their porches (which have even preserved the name, like the
porch of Rouen styled the Booksellers', because these latter used to
expose their merchandise in the open air against its walls), so
various minor trades, but peripatetic, used to pass in front of the
noble Hôtel de Guermantes, and made one think at times of the
ecclesiastical France of long ago. For the appeal which they launched
at the little houses on either side had, with rare exceptions, nothing
of a song. It differed from song as much as the declamation—barely
coloured by imperceptible modulations—of _Boris Godounov_ and
_Pelléas_; but on the other hand recalled the psalmody of a priest
chanting his office of which these street scenes are but the
good-humoured, secular, and yet half liturgical counterpart. Never
had I so delighted in them as since Albertine had come to live with
me; they seemed to me a joyous signal of her awakening, and by
interesting me in the life of the world outside made me all the more
conscious of the soothing virtue of a beloved presence, as constant as
I could wish. Several of the foodstuffs cried in the street, which
personally I detested, were greatly to Albertine's liking, so much so
that Françoise used to send her young footman out to buy them,
slightly humiliated perhaps at finding himself mingled with the
plebeian crowd. Very distinct in this peaceful quarter (where the
noise was no longer a cause of lamentation to Françoise and had become
a source of pleasure to myself), there came to me, each with its
different modulation, recitatives declaimed by those humble folk as
they would be in the music—so entirely popular—of _Boris_, where an
initial intonation is barely altered by the inflexion of one note
which rests upon another, the music of the crowd which is more a
language than a music. It was "_ah! le bigorneau, deux sous le
bigorneau_," which brought people running to the cornets in which were
sold those horrid little shellfish, which, if Albertine had not been
there, would have disgusted me, just as the snails disgusted me which
I heard cried for sale at the same hour. Here again it was of the
barely lyrical declamation of Moussorgsky that the vendor reminded me,
but not of it alone. For after having almost 'spoken': "_Les
escargots, ils sont frais, ils sont beaux_," it was with the vague
melancholy of Maeterlinck, transposed into music by Debussy, that the
snail vendor, in one of those pathetic finales in which the composer
of Pelléas shews his kinship with Rameau: "If vanquished I must be, is
it for thee to be my vanquisher?" added with a singsong melancholy:
"_On les vend six sous la douzaine_...."

I have always found it difficult to understand why these perfectly
simple words were sighed in a tone so far from appropriate,
mysterious, like the secret which makes everyone look sad in the old
palace to which Mélisande has not succeeded in bringing joy, and
profound as one of the thoughts of the aged Arkel who seeks to utter,
in the simplest words, the whole lore of wisdom and destiny. The very
notes upon which rises with an increasing sweetness the voice of the
old King of Allemonde or that of Goland, to say: "We know not what is
happening here, it may seem strange, maybe nought that happens is in
vain," or else: "No cause here for alarm, 'twas a poor little
mysterious creature, like all the world," were those which served the
snail vendor to resume, in an endless cadenza: "_On les vend six sous
la douzaine_...." But this metaphysical lamentation had not time to
expire upon the shore of the infinite, it was interrupted by a shrill
trumpet. This time, it was no question of victuals, the words of the
libretto were: "_Tond les chiens, coupe les chats, les queues et les

It was true that the fantasy, the spirit of each vendor or vendress
frequently introduced variations into the words of all these chants
that I used to hear from my bed. And yet a ritual suspension
interposing a silence in the middle of a word, especially when it was
repeated a second time, constantly reminded me of some old church. In
his little cart drawn by a she-ass which he stopped in front of each
house before entering the courtyard, the old-clothes man, brandishing
a whip, intoned: "_Habits, marchand d'habits, ha... bits_" with the
same pause between the final syllables as if he had been intoning in
plain chant: "_Per omnia saecula saeculo... rum_" or "_requiescat in
pa... ce_" albeit he had no reason to believe in the immortality of
his clothes, nor did he offer them as cerements for the supreme repose
in peace. And similarly, as the motives were beginning, even at this
early hour, to become confused, a vegetable woman, pushing her little
hand-cart, was using for her litany the Gregorian division:

  _A la tendresse, à la verduresse,
  Artichauts tendres et beaux,
  Arti... chauts_.

although she had probably never heard of the antiphonal, or of the
seven tones that symbolise four the sciences of the quadrivium and
three those of the trivium.

Drawing from a penny whistle, from a bagpipe, airs of his own southern
country whose sunlight harmonised well with these fine days, a man in
a blouse, wielding a bull's pizzle in his hand and wearing a basque
béret on his head, stopped before each house in turn. It was the
goatherd with two dogs driving before him his string of goats. As he
came from a distance, he arrived fairly late in our quarter; and the
women came running out with bowls to receive the milk that was to give
strength to their little ones. But with the Pyrenean airs of this
good shepherd was now blended the bell of the grinder, who cried:
"_Couteaux, ciseaux, rasoirs_." With him the saw-setter was unable to
compete, for, lacking an instrument, he had to be content with
calling: "_Avez-vous des scies à repasser, v'là le repasseur_," while
in a gayer mood the tinker, after enumerating the pots, pans and
everything else that he repaired, intoned the refrain:

  _Tam, tam, tam,
  C'est moi qui rétame
  Même le macadam,
  C'est moi qui mets des fonds partout,
  Qui bouche tous les trous, trou, trou_;

and young Italians carrying big iron boxes painted red, upon which the
numbers—winning and losing—were marked, and springing their rattles,
gave the invitation: "_Amusez-vous, mesdames, v'là le plaisir_."

Françoise brought in the _Figaro_. A glance was sufficient to shew me
that my article had not yet appeared. She told me that Albertine had
asked whether she might come to my room and sent word that she had
quite given up the idea of calling upon the Verdurins, and had decided
to go, as I had advised her, to the 'special' matinée at the
Trocadéro—what nowadays would be called, though with considerably
less significance, a 'gala' matinée—after a short ride which she had
promised to take with Andrée. Now that I knew that she had renounced
her desire, possibly evil, to go and see Mme. Verdurin, I said with a
laugh: "Tell her to come in," and told myself that she might go where
she chose and that it was all the same to me. I knew that by the end
of the afternoon, when dusk began to fall, I should probably be a
different man, moping, attaching to every one of Albertine's movements
an importance that they did not possess at this morning hour when the
weather was so fine. For my indifference was accompanied by a clear
notion of its cause, but was in no way modified by it. "Françoise
assured me that you were awake and that I should not be disturbing
you," said Albertine as she entered the room. And since next to making
me catch cold by opening the window at the wrong moment, what
Albertine most dreaded was to come into my room when I was asleep: "I
hope I have not done anything wrong," she went on. "I was afraid you
would say to me: What insolent mortal comes here to meet his doom?"
and she laughed that laugh which I always found so disturbing. I
replied in the same vein of pleasantry: "Was it for you this stern
decree was made?"—and, lest she should ever venture to break it,
added: "Although I should be furious if you did wake me." "I know, I
know, don't be frightened," said Albertine. And, to relieve the
situation, I went on, still enacting the scene from Esther with her,
while in the street below the cries continued, drowned by our
conversation: "I find in you alone a certain grace That charms me and
of which I never tire" (and to myself I thought: "yes, she does tire
me very often"). And remembering what she had said to me overnight, as
I thanked her extravagantly for having given up the Verdurins, so that
another time she would obey me similarly with regard to something
else, I said: "Albertine, you distrust me who love you and you place
your trust in other people who do not love you" (as though it were not
natural to distrust the people who love us and who alone have an
interest in lying to us in order to find out things, to hinder us),
and added these lying words: "You don't really believe that I love
you, which is amusing. As a matter of fact, I don't adore you." She
lied in her turn when she told me that she trusted nobody but myself
and then became sincere when she assured me that she knew very well
that I loved her. But this affirmation did not seem to imply that she
did not believe me to be a liar and a spy. And she seemed to pardon me
as though she had seen these defects to be the agonising consequence
of a strong passion or as though she herself had felt herself to be
less good. "I beg of you, my dearest girl, no more of that haute
voltige you were practising the other day. Just think, Albertine, if
you were to meet with an accident!" Of course I did not wish her any
harm. But what a pleasure it would be if, with her horses, she should
take it into her head to ride off somewhere, wherever she chose, and
never to return again to my house. How it would simplify everything,
that she should go and live happily somewhere else, I did not even
wish to know where. "Oh! I know you wouldn't survive me for more than
a day; you would commit suicide."

So we exchanged lying speeches. But a truth more profound than that
which we would utter were we sincere may sometimes be expressed and
announced by another channel than that of sincerity. "You don't mind
all that noise outside," she asked me; "I love it. But you're such a
light sleeper anyhow." I was on the contrary an extremely heavy
sleeper (as I have already said, but I am obliged to repeat it in view
of what follows), especially when I did not begin to sleep until the
morning. As this kind of sleep is—on an average—four times as
refreshing, it seems to the awakened sleeper to have lasted four times
as long, when it has really been four times as short. A splendid,
sixteenfold error in multiplication which gives so much beauty to our
awakening and makes life begin again on a different scale, like those
great changes of rhythm which, in music, mean that in an andante a
quaver has the same duration as a minim in a prestissimo, and which
are unknown in our waking state. There life is almost always the same,
whence the disappointments of travel. It may seem indeed that our
dreams are composed of the coarsest stuff of life, but that stuff is
treated, kneaded so thoroughly, with a protraction due to the fact
that none of the temporal limitations of the waking state is there to
prevent it from spinning itself out to heights so vast that we fail to
recognise it. On the mornings after this good fortune had befallen me,
after the sponge of sleep had obliterated from my brain the signs of
everyday occupations that are traced upon it as upon a blackboard, I
was obliged to bring my memory back to life; by the exercise of our
will we can recapture what the amnesia of sleep or of a stroke has
made us forget, what gradually returns to us as our eyes open or our
paralysis disappears. I had lived through so many hours in a few
minutes that, wishing to address Françoise, for whom I had rung, in
language that corresponded to the facts of real life and was regulated
by the clock, I was obliged to exert all my power of internal
repression in order not to say: "Well, Françoise, here we are at five
o'clock in the evening and I haven't set eyes on you since yesterday
afternoon." And seeking to dispel my dreams, giving them the lie and
lying to myself as well, I said boldly, compelling myself with all my
might to silence, the direct opposite: "Françoise, it must be at least
ten!" I did not even say ten o'clock in the morning, but simply ten,
so that this incredible hour might appear to be uttered in a more
natural tone. And yet to say these words, instead of those that
continued to run in the mind of the half-awakened sleeper that I still
was, demanded the same effort of equilibrium that a man requires when
he jumps out of a moving train and runs for some yards along the
platform, if he is to avoid falling. He runs for a moment because the
environment that he has just left was one animated by great velocity,
and utterly unlike the inert soil upon which his feet find it
difficult to keep their balance.

Because the dream world is not the waking world, it does not follow
that the waking world is less genuine, far from it. In the world of
sleep, our perceptions are so overcharged, each of them increased by a
counterpart which doubles its bulk and blinds it to no purpose, that
we are not able even to distinguish what is happening in the
bewilderment of awakening; was it Françoise that had come to me, or I
that, tired of waiting, went to her? Silence at that moment was the
only way not to reveal anything, as at the moment when we are brought
before a magistrate cognisant of all the charges against us, when we
have not been informed of them ourselves. Was it Françoise that had
come, was it I that had summoned her? Was it not, indeed, Françoise
that had been asleep and I that had just awoken her; nay more, was not
Françoise enclosed in my breast, for the distinction between persons
and their reaction upon one another barely exists in that murky
obscurity in which reality is as little translucent as in the body of
a porcupine, and our all but non-existent perception may perhaps
furnish an idea of the perception of certain animals. Besides, in the
limpid state of unreason that precedes these heavy slumbers, if
fragments of wisdom float there luminously, if the names of Taine and
George Eliot are not unknown, the waking life does still retain the
superiority, inasmuch as it is possible to continue it every morning,
whereas it is not possible to continue the dream life every night. But
are there perhaps other worlds more real than the waking world? Even
if we have seen transformed by every revolution in the arts, and still
more, at the same time, by the degree of proficiency and culture that
distinguishes an artist from an ignorant fool.

And often an extra hour of sleep is a paralytic stroke after which we
must recover the use of our limbs, learn to speak. Our will would not
be adequate for this task. We have slept too long, we no longer exist.
Our waking is barely felt, mechanically and without consciousness, as
a water pipe might feel the turning off of a tap. A life more
inanimate than that of the jellyfish follows, in which we could
equally well believe that we had been drawn up from the depths of the
sea or released from prison, were we but capable of thinking anything
at all. But then from the highest heaven the goddess Mnemotechnia
bends down and holds out to us in the formula 'the habit of ringing
for our coffee' the hope of resurrection. However, the instantaneous
gift of memory is not always so simple. Often we have before us, in
those first minutes in which we allow ourself to slip into the waking
state, a truth composed of different realities among which we imagine
that we can choose, as among a pack of cards.

It is Friday morning and we have just returned from our walk, or else
it is teatime by the sea. The idea of sleep and that we are lying in
bed and in our nightshirt is often the last that occurs to us.

Our resurrection is not effected at once; we think that we have rung
the bell, we have not done so, we utter senseless remarks. Movement
alone restores our thought, and when we have actually pressed the
electric button we are able to say slowly but distinctly: "It must be
at least ten o'clock, Françoise, bring me my coffee." Oh, the miracle!
Françoise could have had no suspicion of the sea of unreality in which
I was still wholly immersed and through which I had had the energy to
make my strange question pass. Her answer was: "It is ten past ten."
Which made my remark appear quite reasonable, and enabled me not to
let her perceive the fantastic conversations by which I had been
interminably beguiled, on days when it was not a mountain of
non-existence that had crushed all life out of me. By strength of
will, I had reinstated myself in life. I was still enjoying the last
shreds of sleep, that is to say of the only inventiveness, the only
novelty that exists in story-telling, since none of our narrations in
the waking state, even though they be adorned with literary graces,
admit those mysterious differences from which beauty derives. It is
easy to speak of the beauty created by opium. But to a man who is
accustomed to sleeping only with the aid of drugs, an unexpected hour
of natural sleep will reveal the vast, matutinal expanse of a country
as mysterious and more refreshing. By varying the hour, the place at
which we go to sleep, by wooing sleep in an artificial manner, or on
the contrary by returning for once to natural sleep—the strangest
kind of all to whoever is in the habit of putting himself to sleep
with soporifics—we succeed in producing a thousand times as many
varieties of sleep as a gardener could produce of carnations or roses.
Gardeners produce flowers that are delicious dreams, and others too
that are like nightmares. When I fell asleep in a certain way I used
to wake up shivering, thinking that I had caught the measles, or, what
was far more painful, that my grandmother (to whom I never gave a
thought now) was hurt because I had laughed at her that day when, at
Balbec, in the belief that she was about to die, she had wished me to
have a photograph of herself. At once, albeit I was awake, I felt
that I must go and explain to her that she had misunderstood me. But,
already, my bodily warmth was returning. The diagnosis of measles was
set aside, and my grandmother became so remote that she no longer made
my heart throb. Sometimes over these different kinds of sleep there
fell a sudden darkness. Ï was afraid to continue my walk along an
entirely unlighted avenue, where I could hear prowling footsteps.
Suddenly a dispute broke out between a policeman and one of those
women whom one often saw driving hackney carriages, and mistook at a
distance for young men. Upon her box among the shadows I could not see
her, but she spoke, and in her voice I could read the perfections of
her face and the youthfulness of her body. I strode towards her, in
the darkness, to get into her carriage before she drove off. It was a
long way. Fortunately, her dispute with the policeman continued. I
overtook the carriage which was still drawn up. This part of the
avenue was lighted by street lamps. The driver became visible. She was
indeed a woman, but old and corpulent, with white hair tumbling
beneath her hat, and a red birthmark on her face. I walked past her,
thinking: Is this what happens to the youth of women? Those whom we
have met in the past, if suddenly we desire to see them again, have
they become old? Is the young woman whom we desire like a character on
the stage, when, unable to secure the actress who created the part,
the management is obliged to entrust it to a new star? But then it is
no longer the same.

With this a feeling of melancholy invaded me. We have thus in our
sleep a number of Pities, like the 'Pietà' of the Renaissance, but
not, like them, wrought in marble, being, rather, unsubstantial. They
have their purpose, however, which is to make us remember a certain
outlook upon things, more tender, more human, which we are too apt to
forget in the common sense, frigid, sometimes full of hostility, of
the waking state. Thus I was reminded of the vow that I had made at
Balbec that I would always treat Françoise with compassion. And for
the whole of that morning at least I would manage to compel myself not
to be irritated by Françoise's quarrels with the butler, to be gentle
with Françoise to whom the others shewed so little kindness. For that
morning only, and I would have to try to frame a code that was a
little more permanent; for, just as nations are not governed for any
length of time by a policy of pure sentiment, so men are not governed
by the memory of their dreams. Already this dream was beginning to
fade away. In attempting to recall it in order to portray it I made it
fade all the faster. My eyelids were no longer so firmly sealed over
my eyes. If I tried to reconstruct my dream, they opened completely.
At every moment we must choose between health and sanity on the one
hand, and spiritual pleasures on the other. I have always taken the
cowardly part of choosing the former. Moreover, the perilous power
that I was renouncing was even more perilous than we suppose. Pities,
dreams, do not fly away unaccompanied. When we alter thus the
conditions in which we go to sleep, it is not our dreams alone that
fade, but, for days on end, for years it may be, the faculty not
merely of dreaming but of going to sleep. Sleep is divine but by no
means stable; the slightest shock makes it volatile. A lover of
habits, they retain it every night, being more fixed than itself, in
the place set apart for it, they preserve it from all injury, but if
we displace it, if it is no longer subordinated, it melts away like a
vapour. It is like youth and love, never to be recaptured.

In these various forms of sleep, as likewise in music, it was the
lengthening or shortening of the interval that created beauty. I
enjoyed this beauty, but, on the other hand, I had lost in my sleep,
however brief, a good number of the cries which render perceptible to
us the peripatetic life of the tradesmen, the victuallers of Paris.
And so, as a habit (without, alas, foreseeing the drama in which these
late awakenings and the Draconian, Medo-Persian laws of a Racinian
Assuérus were presently to involve me) I made an effort to awaken
early so as to lose none of these cries.

And, more than the pleasure of knowing how fond Albertine was of them
and of being out of doors myself without leaving my bed, I heard in
them as it were the symbol of the atmosphere of the world outside, of
the dangerous stirring life through the veins of which I did not allow
her to move save under my tutelage, from which I withdrew her at the
hour of my choosing to make her return home to my side. And so it was
with the most perfect sincerity that I was able to say in answer to
Albertine: "On the contrary, they give me pleasure because I know that
you like them." "_A la barque, les huîtres, à la barque_." "Oh,
oysters! I've been simply longing for some!" Fortunately Albertine,
partly from inconsistency, partly from docility, quickly forgot the
things for which she had been longing, and before I had time to tell
her that she would find better oysters at Prunier's, she wanted in
succession all the things that she heard cried by the fish hawker: "_A
la crevette, à la bonne crevette, j'ai de la raie toute en vie, toute
en vie." "Merlans à frire, à frire." "Il arrive le maquereau,
maquereau frais, maquereau nouveau." "Voilà le maquereau, mesdames, il
est beau le maquereau." "A la moule fraîche et bonne, à la moule_!" In
spite of myself, the warning: "_Il arrive le maquereau_" made me
shudder. But as this warning could not, I felt, apply to our
chauffeur, I thought only of the fish of that name, which I detested,
and my uneasiness did not last. "Ah! Mussels," said Albertine, "I
should so like some mussels." "My darling! They were all very well at
Balbec, here they're not worth eating; besides, I implore you,
remember what Cottard told you about mussels." But my remark was all
the more ill-chosen in that the vegetable woman who came next
announced a thing that Cottard had forbidden even more strictly:

  _A la romaine, à la romaine!
  On ne le vend pas, on la promène_.

Albertine consented, however, to sacrifice her lettuces, on the
condition that I would promise to buy for her in a few days' time from
the woman who cried: "_J'ai de la belle asperge d'Argenteuil, j'ai de
la belle asperge_." A mysterious voice, from which one would have
expected some stranger utterance, insinuated: "Tonneaux, tonneaux!" We
were obliged to remain under the disappointment that nothing more was
being offered us than barrels, for the word was almost entirely
drowned by the appeal: "_Vitri, vitri-er, carreaux cassés, voilà le
vitrier, vitri-er_," a Gregorian division which reminded me less,
however, of the liturgy than did the appeal of the rag vendor,
reproducing unconsciously one of those abrupt interruptions of sound,
in the middle of a prayer, which are common enough in the ritual of
the church: "_Praeceptis salutaribus moniti et divina institutione
formait audemus dicere_," says the priest, ending sharply upon
'_dicere_.' Without irreverence, as the populace of the middle ages
used to perform plays and farces within the consecrated ground of the
church, it is of that '_dicere_' that this rag vendor makes one think
when, after drawling the other words, he utters the final syllable
with a sharpness befitting the accentuation laid down by the great
Pope of the seventh century: "_Chiffons, ferrailles à vendre_" (all
this chanted slowly, as are the two syllables that follow, whereas the
last concludes more briskly than '_dicere_') "_peaux d'la-pins_." "_La
Valence, la belle Valence, la fraîche orange_." The humble leeks even:
"_Voilà d'beaux poireaux_," the onions: "_Huit sous mon oignon_,"
sounded for me as if it were an echo of the rolling waves in which,
left to herself, Albertine might have perished, and thus assumed the
sweetness of a "_Suave mari magno." "Voilà des carrottes à deux ronds
la botte_." "Oh!" exclaimed Albertine, "cabbages, carrots, oranges.
All the things I want to eat. Do make Françoise go out and buy some.
She shall cook us a dish of creamed carrots. Besides, it will be so
nice to eat all these things together. It will be all the sounds that
we hear, transformed into a good dinner.... Oh, please, ask Françoise
to give us instead a ray with black butter. It is so good!" "My dear
child, of course I will, but don't wait; if you do, you'll be asking
for all the things on the vegetable-barrows." "Very well, I'm off, but
I never want anything again for our dinners except what we've heard
cried in the street. It is such fun. And to think that we shall have
to wait two whole months before we hear: '_Haricots verts et tendres,
haricots, v'la l'haricot vert_.' How true that is: tender haricots;
you know I like them as soft as soft, dripping with vinegar sauce, you
wouldn't think you were eating, they melt in the mouth like drops of
dew. Oh dear, it's the same with the little hearts of cream cheese,
such a long time to wait: '_Bon fromage à la cré, à la cré, bon
fromage_.' And the water-grapes from Fontainebleau: '_J'ai du bon
chasselas_.'" And I thought with dismay of all the time that I should
have to spend with her before the water-grapes were in season.
"Listen, I said that I wanted only the things that we had heard cried,
but of course I make exceptions. And so it's by no means impossible
that I may look in at Rebattet's and order an ice for the two of us.
You will tell me that it's not the season for them, but I do so want
one!" I was disturbed by this plan of going to Rebattet's, rendered
more certain and more suspicious in my eyes by the words 'it's by no
means impossible.' It was the day on which the Verdurins were at home,
and, ever since Swann had informed them that Rebattet's was the best
place, it was there that they ordered their ices and pastry. "I have
no objection to an ice, my darling Albertine, but let me order it for
you, I don't know myself whether it will be from Poiré-Blanche's, or
Rebattet's, or the Ritz, anyhow I shall see." "Then you're going out?"
she said with an air of distrust. She always maintained that she would
be delighted if I went out more often, but if anything that I said
could make her suppose that I would not be staying indoors, her uneasy
air made me think that the joy that she would feel in seeing me go out
every day was perhaps not altogether sincere. "I may perhaps go out,
perhaps not, you know quite well that I never make plans beforehand.
In any case ices are not a thing that is cried, that people hawk in
the streets, why do you want one?" And then she replied in words which
shewed me what a fund of intelligence and latent taste had developed
in her since Balbec, in words akin to those which, she pretended, were
due entirely to my influence, to living continually in my company,
words which, however, I should never have uttered, as though I had
been in some way forbidden by some unknown authority ever to decorate
my conversation with literary forms. Perhaps the future was not
destined to be the same for Albertine as for myself. I had almost a
presentiment of this when I saw her eagerness to employ in speech
images so 'written,' which seemed to me to be reserved for another,
more sacred use, of which I was still ignorant. She said to me (and I
was, in spite of everything, deeply touched, for I thought to myself:
Certainly I would not speak as she does, and yet, all the same, but
for me she would not be speaking like this, she has come profoundly
under my influence, she cannot therefore help loving me, she is my
handiwork): "What I like about these foodstuffs that are cried is that
a thing which we hear like a rhapsody changes its nature when it comes
to our table and addresses itself to my palate. As for ices (for I
hope that you won't order me one that isn't cast in one of those
old-fashioned moulds which have every architectural shape imaginable),
whenever I take one, temples, churches, obelisks, rocks, it is like an
illustrated geography-book which I look at first of all and then
convert its raspberry or vanilla monuments into coolness in my
throat." I thought that this was a little too well expressed, but she
felt that I thought that it was well expressed, and went on, pausing
for a moment when she had brought off her comparison to laugh that
beautiful laugh of hers which was so painful to me because it was so
voluptuous. "Oh dear, at the Ritz I'm afraid you'll find Vendôme
Columns of ice, chocolate ice or raspberry, and then you will need a
lot of them so that they may look like votive pillars or pylons
erected along an avenue to the glory of Coolness. They make raspberry
obelisks too, which will rise up here and there in the burning desert
of my thirst, and I shall make their pink granite crumble and melt
deep down in my throat which they will refresh better than any oasis"
(and here the deep laugh broke out, whether from satisfaction at
talking so well, or in derision of herself for using such hackneyed
images, or, alas, from a physical pleasure at feeling inside herself
something so good, so cool, which was tantamount to a sensual
satisfaction). "Those mountains of ice at the Ritz sometimes suggest
Monte Rosa, and indeed, if it is a lemon ice, I do not object to its
not having a monumental shape, its being irregular, abrupt, like one
of Elstir's mountains. It ought not to be too white then, but slightly
yellowish, with that look of dull, dirty snow that Elstir's mountains
have. The ice need not be at all big, only half an ice if you like,
those lemon ices are still mountains, reduced to a tiny scale, but our
imagination restores their dimensions, like those little Japanese
dwarf trees which, one knows quite well, are still cedars, oaks,
manchineels; so much so that if I arranged a few of them beside a
little trickle of water in my room I should have a vast forest
stretching down to a river, in which children would be lost. In the
same way, at the foot of my yellowish lemon ice, I can see quite
clearly postilions, travellers, post chaises over which my tongue sets
to work to roll down freezing avalanches that will swallow them up"
(the cruel delight with which she said this excited my jealousy);
"just as," she went on, "I set my lips to work to destroy, pillar
after pillar, those Venetian churches of a porphyry that is made with
strawberries, and send what I spare of them crashing down upon the
worshippers. Yes, all those monuments will pass from their stony state
into my inside which throbs already with their melting coolness. But,
you know, even without ices, nothing is so exciting or makes one so
thirsty as the advertisements of mineral springs. At Montjouvain, at
Mlle. Vinteuil's, there was no good confectioner who made ices in the
neighbourhood, but we used to make our own tour of France in the
garden by drinking a different sparkling water every day, like Vichy
water which, as soon as you pour it out, sends up from the bottom of
the glass a white cloud which fades and dissolves if you don't drink
it at once." But to hear her speak of Montjouvain was too painful, I
cut her short. "I am boring you, good-bye, my dear boy." What a change
from Balbec, where I would defy Elstir himself to have been able to
divine in Albertine this wealth of poetry, a poetry less strange, less
personal than that of Céleste Albaret, for instance. Albertine would
never have thought of the things that Céleste used to say to me, but
love, even when it seems to be nearing its end, is partial. I
preferred the illustrated geography-book of her ices, the somewhat
facile charm of which seemed to me a reason for loving Albertine and a
proof that I had an influence over her, that she was in love with me.

As soon as Albertine had gone out, I felt how tiring it was to me,
this perpetual presence, insatiable of movement and life, which
disturbed my sleep with its movements, made me live in a perpetual
chill by that habit of leaving doors open, forced me—in order to find
pretexts that would justify me in not accompanying her, without,
however, appearing too unwell, and at the same time to see that she
was not unaccompanied—to display every day greater ingenuity than
Scheherezade. Unfortunately, if by a similar ingenuity the Persian
story-teller postponed her own death, I was hastening mine. There are
thus in life certain situations which are not all created, as was
this, by amorous jealousy and a precarious state of health which does
not permit us to share the life of a young and active person,
situations in which nevertheless the problem of whether to continue a
life shared with that person or to return to the separate existence of
the past sets itself almost in medical terms; to which of the two
sorts of repose ought we to sacrifice ourselves (by continuing the
daily strain, or by returning to the agonies of separation) to that of
the head or of the heart?

In any event, I was very glad that Andrée was to accompany Albertine
to the Trocadéro, for certain recent and for that matter entirely
trivial incidents had brought it about that while I had still, of
course, the same confidence in the chauffeur's honesty, his vigilance,
or at least the perspicacity of his vigilance did not seem to be quite
what it had once been. It so happened that, only a short while since,
I had sent Albertine alone in his charge to Versailles, and she told
me that she had taken her luncheon at the Réservoirs; as the chauffeur
had mentioned the restaurant Vatel, the day on which I noticed this
contradiction, I found an excuse to go downstairs and speak to him (it
was still the same man, whose acquaintance we had made at Balbec)
while Albertine was dressing. "You told me that you had had your
luncheon at the Vatel. Mlle. Albertine mentions the Réservoirs. What
is the meaning of that?" The driver replied: "Oh, I said that I had
had my luncheon at the Vatel, but I cannot tell where Mademoiselle
took hers. She left me as soon as we reached Versailles to take a
horse cab, which she prefers when it is not a question of time."
Already I was furious at the thought that she had been alone; still,
it was only during the time that she spent at her luncheon. "You might
surely," I suggested mildly (for I did not wish to appear to be
keeping Albertine actually under surveillance, which would have been
humiliating to myself, and doubly so, for it would have shewn that she
concealed her activities from me), "have had your luncheon, I do not
say at her table, but in the same restaurant?" "But all she told me
was to meet her at six o'clock at the Place d'Armes. I had no orders
to call for her after luncheon." "Ah!" I said, making an effort to
conceal my dismay. And I returned upstairs. And so it was for more
than seven hours on end that Albertine had been alone, left to her own
devices. I might assure myself, it is true, that the cab had not been
merely an expedient whereby to escape from the chauffeur's
supervision. In town, Albertine preferred driving in a cab, saying
that one had a better view, that the air was more pleasant.
Nevertheless, she had spent seven hours, as to which I should never
know anything. And I dared not think of the manner in which she must
have employed them. I felt that the driver had been extremely clumsy,
but my confidence in him was now absolute. For if he had been to the
slightest extent in league with Albertine, he would never have
acknowledged that he had left her unguarded from eleven o'clock in the
morning to six in the afternoon. There could be but one other
explanation, and it was absurd, of the chauffeur's admission. This was
that some quarrel between Albertine and himself had prompted him, by
making a minor disclosure to me, to shew my mistress that he was not
the sort of man who could be hushed, and that if, after this first
gentle warning, she did not do exactly as he told her, he would take
the law into his own hands. But this explanation was absurd; I should
have had first of all to assume a non-existent quarrel between him and
Albertine, and then to label as a consummate blackmailer this
good-looking motorist who had always shewn himself so affable and
obliging. Only two days later, as it happened, I saw that he was more
capable than I had for a moment supposed in my frenzy of suspicion of
exercising over Albertine a discreet and far-seeing vigilance. For,
having managed to take him aside and talk to him of what he had told
me about Versailles, I said to him in a careless, friendly tone: "That
drive to Versailles that you told me about the other day was
everything that it should be, you behaved perfectly as you always do.
But, if I may give you just a little hint, I have so much
responsibility now that Mme. Bontemps has placed her niece under my
charge, I am so afraid of accidents, I reproach myself so for not
going with her, that I prefer that it should be yourself, you who are
so safe, so wonderfully skilful, to whom no accident can ever happen,
that shall take Mlle. Albertine everywhere. Then I need fear nothing."
The charming apostolic motorist smiled a subtle smile, his hand
resting upon the consecration-cross of his wheel. Then he uttered
these words which (banishing all the anxiety from my heart where its
place was at once filled by joy) made me want to fling my arms round
his neck: "Don't be afraid," he said to me. "Nothing can happen to
her, for, when my wheel is not guiding her, my eye follows her
everywhere. At Versailles, I went quietly along and visited the town
with her, as you might say. From the Réservoirs she went to the
Château, from the Château to the Trianons, and I following her all the
time without appearing to see her, and the astonishing thing is that
she never saw me. Oh, if she had seen me, the fat would have been in
the fire. It was only natural, as I had the whole day before me with
nothing to do that I should visit the castle too. All the more as
Mademoiselle certainly hasn't failed to notice that I've read a bit
myself and take an interest in all those old curiosities" (this was
true, indeed I should have been surprised if I had learned that he was
a friend of Morel, so far more refined was his taste than the
violinist's). "Anyhow, she didn't see me." "She must have met some of
her own friends, of course, for she knows a great many ladies at
Versailles." "No, she was alone all the time." "Then people must have
stared at her, a girl of such striking appearance, all by herself."
"Why, of course they stared at her, but she knew nothing about it; she
went all the time with her eyes glued to her guide-book, or gazing up
at the pictures." The chauffeur's story seemed to me all the more
accurate in that it was indeed a 'card' with a picture of the Château,
and another of the Trianons, that Albertine had sent me on the day of
her visit. The care with which the obliging chauffeur had followed
every step of her course touched me deeply. How was I to suppose that
this correction—in the form of a generous amplification—of his
account given two days earlier was due to the fact that in those two
days Albertine, alarmed that the chauffeur should have spoken to me,
had surrendered, and made her peace with him. This suspicion never
even occurred to me. It is beyond question that this version of the
driver's story, as it rid me of all fear that Albertine might have
deceived me, quite naturally cooled me towards my mistress and made me
take less interest in the day that she had spent at Versailles. I
think, however, that the chauffeur's explanations, which, by absolving
Albertine, made her even more tedious than before, would not perhaps
have been sufficient to calm me so quickly. Two little pimples which
for some days past my mistress had had upon her brow were perhaps even
more effective in modifying the sentiments of my heart. Finally these
were diverted farther still from her (so far that I was conscious of
her existence only when I set eyes upon her) by the strange confidence
volunteered me by Gilberte's maid, whom I happened to meet. I learned
that, when I used to go every day to see Gilberte, she was in love
with a young man of whom she saw a great deal more than of myself. I
had had an inkling of this for a moment at the time, indeed I had
questioned this very maid. But, as she knew that I was in love with
Gilberte, she had denied, sworn that never had Mlle. Swann set eyes on
the young man. Now, however, knowing that my love had long since died,
that for years past I had left all her letters unanswered—and also
perhaps because she was no longer in Gilberte's service—of her own
accord she gave me a full account of the amorous episode of which I
had known nothing. This seemed to her quite natural. I supposed,
remembering her oaths at the time, that she had not been aware of what
was going on. Far from it, it was she herself who used to go, at Mme.
Swann's orders, to inform the young man whenever the object of my love
was alone. The object then of my love.... But I asked myself whether
my love of those days was as dead as I thought, for this story pained
me. As I do not believe that jealousy can revive a dead love, I
supposed that my painful impression was due, in part at least, to the
injury to my self-esteem, for a number of people whom I did not like
and who at that time and even a little later—their attitude has since
altered—affected a contemptuous attitude towards myself, knew
perfectly well, while I was in love with Gilberte, that I was her
dupe. And this made me ask myself retrospectively whether in my love
for Gilberte there had not been an element of self-love, since it so
pained me now to discover that all the hours of affectionate
intercourse, which had made me so happy, were known to be nothing more
than a deliberate hoodwinking of me by my mistress, by people whom I
did not like. In any case, love or self-love, Gilberte was almost dead
in me but not entirely, and the result of this annoyance was to
prevent me from worrying myself beyond measure about Albertine, who
occupied so small a place in my heart. Nevertheless, to return to her
(after so long a parenthesis) and to her expedition to Versailles, the
postcards of Versailles (is it possible, then, to have one's heart
caught in a noose like this by two simultaneous and interwoven
jealousies, each inspired by a different person?) gave me a slightly
disagreeable impression whenever, as I tidied my papers, my eye fell
upon them. And I thought that if the driver had not been such a worthy
fellow, the harmony of his second narrative with Albertine's 'cards'
would not have amounted to much, for what are the first things that
people send you from Versailles but the Château and the Trianons,
unless that is to say the card has been chosen by some person of
refined taste who adores a certain statue, or by some idiot who
selects as a 'view' of Versailles the station of the horse tramway or
the goods depot. Even then I am wrong in saying an idiot, such
postcards not having always been bought by a person of that sort at
random, for their interest as coming from Versailles. For two whole
years men of intelligence, artists, used to find Siena, Venice,
Granada a 'bore,' and would say of the humblest omnibus, of every
railway-carriage: "There you have true beauty." Then this fancy passed
like the rest. Indeed, I cannot be certain that people did not revert
to the 'sacrilege of destroying the noble relics of the past.' Anyhow,
a first class railway carriage ceased to be regarded as _a priori_
more beautiful than St. Mark's at Venice. People continued to say:
"Here you have real life, the return to the past is artificial," but
without drawing any definite conclusion. To make quite certain,
without forfeiting any of my confidence in the chauffeur, in order
that Albertine might not be able to send him away without his
venturing to refuse for fear of her taking him for a spy, I never
allowed her to go out after this without the reinforcement of Andrée,
whereas for some time past I had found the chauffeur sufficient. I had
even allowed her then (a thing I would never dare do now) to stay away
for three whole days by herself with the chauffeur and to go almost as
far as Balbec, so great was her longing to travel at high speed in an
open car. Three days during which my mind had been quite at rest,
although the rain of postcards that she had showered upon me did not
reach me, owing to the appalling state of the Breton postal system
(good in summer, but disorganised, no doubt, in winter), until a week
after the return of Albertine and the chauffeur, in such health and
vigour that on the very morning of their return they resumed, as
though nothing had happened, their daily outings. I was delighted that
Albertine should be going this afternoon to the Trocadéro, to this
'special' matinée, but still more reassured that she would have a
companion there in the shape of Andrée.

Dismissing these reflexions, now that Albertine had gone out, I went
and took my stand for a moment at the window. There was at first a
silence, amid which the whistle of the tripe vendor and the horn of
the tramcar made the air ring in different octaves, like a blind
piano-tuner. Thea gradually the interwoven motives became distinct,
and others were combined with them. There was also a new whistle, the
call of a vendor the nature of whose wares I have never discovered, a
whistle that was itself exactly like the scream of the tramway, and,
as it was not carried out of earshot by its own velocity, one thought
of a single car, not endowed with motion, or broken down, immobilised,
screaming at short intervals like a dying animal. And I felt that,
should I ever have to leave this aristocratic quarter—unless it were
to move to one that was entirely plebeian—the streets and boulevards
of central Paris (where the fruit, fish and other trades, stabilised
in huge stores, rendered superfluous the cries of the street hawkers,
who for that matter would not have been able to make themselves heard)
would seem to me very dreary, quite uninhabitable, stripped, drained
of all these litanies of the small trades and peripatetic victuals,
deprived of the orchestra that returned every morning to charm me. On
the pavement a woman with no pretence to fashion (or else obedient to
an ugly fashion) came past, too brightly dressed in a sack overcoat of
goatskin; but no, it was not a woman, it was a chauffeur who,
enveloped in his ponyskin, was proceeding on foot to his garage.
Escaped from the big hotels, their winged messengers, of variegated
hue, were speeding towards the termini, bent over their handlebars, to
meet the arrivals by the morning trains. The throb of a violin was due
at one time to the passing of a motor-car, at another to my not having
put enough water in my electric kettle. In the middle of the symphony
there rang out an old-fashioned 'air'; replacing the sweet seller, who
generally accompanied her song with a rattle, the toy seller, to whose
pipe was attached a jumping jack which he sent flying in all
directions, paraded similar puppets for sale, and without heeding the
ritual declamation of Gregory the Great, the reformed declamation of
Palestrina or the lyrical declamation of the modern composers, entoned
at the top of his voice, a belated adherent of pure melody: "_Allons
les papas, allons les mamans, contentez vos petits enfants, c'est moi
qui les fais, c'est moi qui les vends, et c'est moi qui boulotte
l'argent. Tra la la la. Tra la la la laire, tra la la la la la la.
Allons les petits_!" Some Italian boys in felt bérets made no attempt
to compete with this lively aria, and it was without a word that they
offered their little statuettes. Soon, however, a young fifer
compelled the toy merchant to move on and to chant more inaudibly,
though in brisk time: "_Allons les papas, allons les mamans_." This
young fifer, was he one of the dragoons whom I used to hear in the
mornings at Doncières? No, for what followed was: "_Voilà le
réparateur de faïence et de porcelaine. Je répare le verre, le marbre,
le cristal, l'os, l'ivoire et objets d'antiquité. Voilà le
réparateur_." In a butcher's shop, between an aureole of sunshine on
the left and a whole ox suspended from a hook on the right, an
assistant, very tall and slender, with fair hair and a throat that
escaped above his sky-blue collar, was displaying a lightning speed
and a religious conscientiousness in putting on one side the most
exquisite fillets of beef, on the other the coarsest parts of the
rump, placed them upon glittering scales surmounted by a cross, from
which hung down a number of beautiful chains, and—albeit he did
nothing afterwards but arrange in the window a display of kidneys,
steaks, ribs—was really far more suggestive of a handsome angel who,
on the day of the Last Judgment, will prepare for God, according to
their quality, the separation of the good and the evil and the
weighing of souls. And once again the thin crawling music of the fife
rose in the air, herald no longer of the destruction that Françoise
used to dread whenever a regiment of cavalry filed past, but of
'repairs' promised by an 'antiquary,' simpleton or rogue, who, in
either case highly eclectic, instead of specialising, applied his art
to the most diverse materials. The young bread carriers hastened to
stuff into their baskets the long rolls ordered for some luncheon
party, while the milk girls attached the bottles of milk to their
yokes. The sense of longing with which my eyes followed these young
damsels, ought I to consider it quite justified? Would it not have
been different if I had been able to detain for a few moments at close
quarters one of those whom from the height of my window I saw only
inside her shop or in motion. To estimate the loss that I suffered by
my seclusion, that is to say the wealth that the day held in store for
me, I should have had to intercept in the long unrolling of the
animated frieze some girl carrying her linen or her milk, make her
pass for a moment, like a silhouette from some mobile scheme of
decoration, from the wings to the stage, within the proscenium of my
bedroom door, and keep her there under my eye, not without eliciting
some information about her which would enable me to find her again
some day, like the inscribed ring which ornithologists or
ichthyologists attach before setting them free to the legs or bellies
of the birds or fishes whose migrations they are anxious to trace.

And so I asked Françoise, since I had a message that I wished taken,
to be good enough to send up to my room, should any of them call, one
or other of those girls who were always coming to take away the dirty
or bring back the clean linen, or with bread, or bottles of milk, and
whom she herself used often to send on errands. In doing so I was like
Elstir, who, obliged to remain closeted in his studio, on certain days
in spring when the knowledge that the woods were full of violets gave
him a hunger to gaze at them, used to send his porter's wife out to
buy him a bunch; then it was not the table upon which he had posed the
little vegetable model, but the whole carpet of the underwoods where
he had seen in other years, in their thousands, the serpentine stems,
bowed beneath the weight of their blue beaks, that Elstir would fancy
that he had before his eyes, like an imaginary zone defined in his
studio by the limpid odour of the sweet, familiar flower.

Of a laundry girl, on a Sunday, there was not the slightest prospect.
As for the girl who brought the bread, as ill luck would have it, she
had rung the bell when Françoise was not about, had left her rolls in
their basket on the landing, and had made off. The fruit girl would
not call until much later. Once I had gone to order a cheese at the
dairy, and, among the various young assistants, had remarked one girl,
extravagantly fair, tall in stature though still little more than a
child, who, among the other errand girls, seemed to be dreaming, in a
distinctly haughty attitude. I had seen her in the distance only, and
for so brief an instant that I could not have described her
appearance, except to say that she must have grown too fast and that
her head supported a fleece that gave the impression far less of
capillary details than of a sculptor's conventional rendering of the
separate channels of parallel drifts of snow upon a glacier. This was
all that I had been able to make out, apart from a nose sharply
outlined (a rare thing in a child) upon a thin face which recalled the
beaks of baby vultures. Besides, this clustering of her comrades round
about her had not been the only thing that prevented me from seeing
her distinctly, there was also my uncertainty whether the sentiments
which I might, at first sight and subsequently, inspire in her would
be those of injured pride, or of irony, or of a scorn which she would
express later on to her friends. These alternative suppositions which
I had formed, in an instant, with regard to her, had condensed round
about her the troubled atmosphere in which she disappeared, like a
goddess in the cloud that is shaken by thunder. For moral uncertainty
is a greater obstacle to an exact visual perception than any defect of
vision would be. In this too skinny young person, who moreover
attracted undue attention, the excess of what another person would
perhaps have called her charms was precisely what was calculated to
repel me, but had nevertheless had the effect of preventing me from
perceiving even, far more from remembering anything about the other
young dairymaids, whom the hooked nose of this one and her gaze—how
unattractive it was!—pensive, personal, with an air of passing
judgment, had plunged in perpetual night, as a white streak of
lightning darkens the landscape on either side of it. And so, of my
call to order a cheese, at the dairy, I had remembered (if we can say
'remember' in speaking of a face so carelessly observed that we adapt
to the nullity of the face ten different noses in succession), I had
remembered only this girl who had not attracted me. This is sufficient
to engender love. And yet I should have forgotten the extravagantly
fair girl and should never have wished to see her again, had not
Françoise told me that, child as she was, she had all her wits about
her and would shortly be leaving her employer, since she had been
going too fast and owed money among the neighbours. It has been said
that beauty is a promise of happiness. Inversely, the possibility of
pleasure may be a beginning of beauty.

I began to read Mamma's letter. Beneath her quotations from Madame de
Sévigné: "If my thoughts are not entirely black at Combray, they are
at least dark grey, I think of you at every moment; I long for you;
your health, your affairs, your absence, what sort of cloud do you
suppose they make in my sky?" I felt that my mother was vexed to find
Albertine's stay in the house prolonged, and my intention of marriage,
although not yet announced to my mistress, confirmed. She did not
express her annoyance more directly because she was afraid that I
might leave her letters lying about. Even then, veiled as her letters
were, she reproached me with not informing her immediately, after each
of them, that I had received it: "You remember how Mme. de Sévigné
said: 'When we are far apart, we no longer laugh at letters which
begin with _I have received yours_.'" Without referring to what
distressed her most, she said that she was annoyed by my lavish
expenditure: "Where on earth does all your money go? It is distressing
enough that, like Charles de Sévigné, you do not know what you want
and are 'two or three people at once,' but do try at least not to be
like him in spending money so that I may never have to say of you: 'he
has discovered how to spend and have nothing to shew, how to lose
without staking and how to pay without clearing himself of debt.'" I
had just finished Mamma's letter when Françoise returned to tell me
that she had in the house that very same slightly overbold young
dairymaid of whom she had spoken to me. "She can quite well take
Monsieur's note and bring back the answer, if it's not too far.
Monsieur shall see her, she's just like a Little Red Ridinghood."
Françoise withdrew to fetch the girl, and I could hear her leading the
way and saying: "Come along now, you're frightened because there's a
passage, stuff and nonsense, I never thought you would be such a
goose. Have I got to lead you by the hand?" And Françoise, like a good
and honest servant who means to see that her master is respected as
she respects him herself, had draped herself in that majesty with
ennobles the matchmaker in a picture by an old master where, in
comparison with her, the lover and his mistress fade into
insignificance. But Elstir when he gazed at them had no need to
bother about what the violets were doing. The entry of the young
dairymaid at once robbed me of my contemplative calm; I could think
only of how to give plausibility to the fable of the letter that she
was to deliver and I began to write quickly without venturing to cast
more than a furtive glance at her, so that I might not seem to have
brought her into my room to be scrutinised. She was invested for me
with that charm of the unknown which I should not discover in a pretty
girl whom I had found in one of those houses where they come to meet
one. She was neither naked nor in disguise, but a genuine dairymaid,
one of those whom we imagine to be so pretty, when we have not time to
approach them; she possessed something of what constitutes the eternal
desire, the eternal regret of life, the twofold current of which is at
length diverted, directed towards us. Twofold, for if it is a question
of the unknown, of a person who must, we guess, be divine, from her
stature, her proportions, her indifferent glance, her haughty calm, on
the other hand we wish this woman to be thoroughly specialised in her
profession, allowing us to escape from ourselves into that world which
a peculiar costume makes us romantically believe different. If for
that matter we seek to comprise in a formula the law of our amorous
curiosities, we should have to seek it in the maximum of difference
between a woman of whom we have caught sight and one whom we have
approached and caressed. If the women of what used at one time to be
called the closed houses, if prostitutes themselves (provided that we
know them to be prostitutes) attract us so little, it is not because
they are less beautiful than other women, it is because they are ready
and waiting; the very object that we are seeking to attain they offer
us already; it is because they are not conquests. The difference there
is at a minimum. A harlot smiles at us already in the street as she
will smile when she is in our room. We are sculptors. We are anxious
to obtain of a woman a statue entirely different from that which she
has presented to us. We have seen a girl strolling, indifferent,
insolent, along the seashore, we have seen a shop-assistant, serious
and active, behind her counter, who will answer us stiffly, if only so
as to escape the sarcasm of her comrades, a fruit seller who barely
answers us at all. Well, we know no rest until we can discover by
experiment whether the proud girl on the seashore, the shop-assistant
on her high horse of 'What will people say?', the preoccupied fruit
seller cannot be made, by skilful handling on our part, to relax their
rectangular attitude, to throw about our neck their fruit-laden arms,
to direct towards our lips, with a smile of consent, eyes hitherto
frozen or absent—oh, the beauty of stern eyes—in working hours when
the worker was so afraid of the gossip of her companions, eyes that
avoided our beleaguering stare and, now that we have seen her alone
and face to face, make their pupils yield beneath the sunlit burden of
laughter when we speak of making love. Between the shopgirl, the
laundress busy with her iron, the fruit seller, the dairymaid on the
one hand, and the same girl when she is about to become our mistress,
the maximum of difference is attained, stretched indeed to its extreme
limits, and varied by those habitual gestures of her profession which
make a pair of arms, during the hours of toil, something as different
as possible (regarded as an arabesque pattern) from those supple bonds
that already every evening are fastened about our throat while the
mouth shapes itself for a kiss. And so we pass our whole life in
uneasy advances, incessantly renewed, to respectable girls whom their
calling seems to separate from us. Once they are in our arms, they are
no longer anything more than they originally were, the gulf that we
dreamed of crossing has been bridged. But we begin afresh with other
women, we devote to these enterprises all our time, all our money, all
our strength, our blood boils at the too cautious driver who is
perhaps going to make us miss our first assignation, we work ourself
into a fever. That first meeting, we know all the same that it will
mean the vanishing of an illusion. It does not so much matter that the
illusion still persists; we wish to see whether we can convert it into
reality, and then we think of the laundress whose coldness we
remarked. Amorous curiosity is like that which is aroused in us by
the names of places; perpetually disappointed, it revives and remains
for ever insatiable.

Alas! As soon as she stood before me, the fair dairymaid with the
ribbed tresses, stripped of all that I had imagined and of the desire
that had been aroused in me, was reduced to her own proportions. The
throbbing cloud of my suppositions no longer enveloped her in a
shimmering haze. She acquired an almost beggarly air from having (in
place of the ten, the score that I recalled in turn without being able
to fix any of them in my memory) but a single nose, rounder than I had
thought, which made her appear rather a fool and had in any case lost
the faculty of multiplying itself. This flyaway caught on the wing,
inert, crushed, incapable of adding anything to its own paltry
appearance, had no longer my imagination to collaborate with it.
Fallen into the inertia of reality, I sought to rebound; her cheeks,
which I had not seen in the shop, appeared to me so pretty that I
became alarmed, and, to put myself in countenance, said to the young
dairymaid: "Would you be so kind as to pass me the _Figaro_ which is
lying there, I must make sure of the address to which I am going to
send you." Thereupon, as she picked up the newspaper, she disclosed as
far as her elbow the red sleeve of her jersey and handed me the
conservative sheet with a neat and courteous gesture which pleased me
by its intimate rapidity, its pliable contour and its scarlet hue.
While I was opening the _Figaro_, in order to say something and
without raising my eyes, I asked the girl: "What do you call that red
knitted thing you're wearing? It is very becoming." She replied: "It's
my golf." For, by a slight downward tendency common to all fashions,
the garments and styles which, a few years earlier, seemed to belong
to the relatively smart world of Albertine's friends, were now the
portion of working girls. "Are you quite sure it won't be giving you
too much trouble," I said, while I pretended to be searching the
columns of the _Figaro_, "if I send you rather a long way?" As soon as
I myself appeared to find the service at all arduous that she would be
performing by taking a message for me, she began to feel that it would
be a trouble to her. "The only thing is, I have to be going out
presently on my bike. Good lord, you know, Sunday's the only day we've
got." "But won't you catch cold, going bare-headed like that?" "Oh, I
shan't be bare-headed, I shall have my polo, and I could get on
without it with all the hair I have." I raised my eyes to the blaze of
curling tresses and felt myself caught in their swirl and swept away,
with a throbbing heart, amid the lightning and the blasts of a
hurricane of beauty. I continued to study the newspaper, but albeit
this was only to keep myself in countenance and to gain time, while I
merely pretended to read, I took in nevertheless the meaning of the
words that were before my eyes, and my attention was caught by the
following: "To the programme already announced for this afternoon in
the great hall of the Trocadéro must be added the name of Mlle. Lea
who has consented to appear in _Les Fourberies de Nérine_. She will of
course sustain the part of Nérine, in which she is astounding in her
display of spirit and bewitching gaiety." It was as though a hand had
brutally torn from my heart the bandage beneath which its wound had
begun since my return from Balbec to heal. The flood of my anguish
escaped in torrents, Lea, that was the actress friend of the two girls
at Balbec whom Albertine, without appearing to see them, had, one
afternoon at the Casino, watched in the mirror. It was true that at
Balbec Albertine, at the name of Lea, had adopted a special tone of
compunction in order to say to me, almost shocked that anyone could
suspect such a pattern of virtue: "Oh no, she is not in the least that
sort of woman, she is a very respectable person." Unfortunately for
me, when Albertine made a statement of this sort, it was never
anything but the first stage towards other, divergent statements.
Shortly after the first, came this second: "I don't know her." In the
third phase, after Albertine had spoken to me of somebody who was
'above suspicion' and whom (in the second place) she did not know, she
first of all forgot that she had said that she did not know her and
then, in a speech in which she contradicted herself unawares, informed
me that she did know her. This first act of oblivion completed, and
the fresh, statement made, a second oblivion began, to wit that the
person was above suspicion. "Isn't So-and-So," I would ask, "one of
those women?" "Why, of course, everybody knows that!" Immediately the
note of compunction was sounded afresh to utter a statement which was
a vague echo, greatly reduced, of the first statement of all. "I'm
bound to say that she has always behaved perfectly properly with me.
Of course, she knows that I would send her about her business if she
tried it on. Still, that makes no difference. I am obliged to give her
credit for the genuine respect she has always shewn for me. It is easy
to see she knew the sort of person she had to deal with." We remember
the truth because it has a name, is rooted in the past, but a
makeshift lie is quickly forgotten. Albertine forgot this latest lie,
her fourth, and, one day when she was anxious to gain my confidence by
confiding in me, went so far as to tell me, with regard to the same
person who at the outset had been so respectable and whom she did not
know. "She took quite a fancy to me at one time. She asked me, three
or four times, to go home with her and to come upstairs to her room. I
saw no harm in going home with her, where everybody could see us, in
broad daylight, in the open air. But when we reached her front door I
always made some excuse and I never went upstairs." Shortly after
this, Albertine made an allusion to the beautiful things that this
lady had in her room. By proceeding from one approximation to another,
I should no doubt have arrived at making her tell me the truth which
was perhaps less serious than I had been led to believe, for, although
perhaps easy going with women, she preferred a male lover, and now
that she had myself would not have given a thought to Léa. In any
case, with regard to this person, I was still at the first stage of
revelation and was not aware whether Albertine knew her. Already, in
the case of many women at any rate, it would have been enough for me
to collect and present to my mistress, in a synthesis, her
contradictory statements, in order to convict her of her misdeeds
(misdeeds which, like astronomical laws, it is a great deal easier to
deduce by a process of reasoning than to observe, to surprise in the
act). But then she would have preferred to say that one of her
statements had been a lie, the withdrawal of which would thus bring
about the collapse of my whole system of evidence, rather than admit
that everything which she had told me from the start was simply a
tissue of falsehood. There are similar tissues in the _Thousand and
One Nights_, which we find charming. They pain us, coming from a
person whom we love, and thereby enable us to penetrate a little
deeper in our knowledge of human nature instead of being content to
play upon the surface. Grief penetrates into us and forces us out of
painful curiosity to penetrate other people. Whence emerge truths
which we feel that we have no right to keep hidden, so much so that a
dying atheist who has discovered them, certain of his own extinction,
indifferent to fame, will nevertheless devote his last hours on earth
to an attempt to make them known.

Of course, I was still at the first stage of enlightenment with regard
to Léa. I was not even aware whether Albertine knew her. No matter, it
all came to the same thing. I must at all costs prevent her from—at
the Trocadéro—renewing this acquaintance or making the acquaintance
of this stranger. I have said that I did not know whether she knew
Léa; I ought, however, to have learned it at Balbec, from Albertine
herself. For defective memory obliterated from my mind as well as from
Albertine's a great many of the statements that she had made to me.
Memory, instead of being a duplicate always present before our eyes of
the various events of our life, is rather an abyss from which at odd
moments a chance resemblance enables us to draw up, restored to life,
dead impressions; but even then there are innumerable little details
which have not fallen into that potential reservoir of memory, and
which will remain for ever beyond our control. To anything that we do
not know to be related to the real life of the person whom we love we
pay but scant attention, we forget immediately what she has said to us
about some incident or people that we do not know, and her expression
while she was saying it. And so when, in due course, our jealousy is
aroused by these same people, and seeks to make sure that it is not
mistaken, that it is they who are responsible for the haste which our
mistress shews in leaving the house, her annoyance when we have
prevented her from going out by returning earlier than usual; our
jealousy ransacking the past in search of a clue can find nothing;
always retrospective, it is like a historian who has to write the
history of a period for which he has no documents; always belated, it
dashes like a mad bull to the spot where it will not find the proud
and brilliant creature who is infuriating it with his darts and whom
the crowd admire for his splendour and his cunning. Jealousy fights
the empty air, uncertain as we are in those dreams in which we are
distressed because we cannot find in his empty house a person whom we
have known well in life, but who here perhaps is really another person
and has merely borrowed the features of our friend, uncertain as we
are even more after we awake when we seek to identify this or that
detail of our dream. What was our mistress's expression when she told
us this; did she not look happy, was she not actually whistling, a
thing that she never does unless there is some amorous thought in her
mind? In the time of our love, if our presence teased her and
irritated her a little, has she not told us something that is
contradicted by what she now affirms, that she knows or does not know
such and such a person? We do not know, we shall never find out; we
strain after the unsubstantial fragments of a dream, and all the time
our life with our mistress continues, our life indifferent to what we
do not know to be important to us, attentive to what is perhaps of no
importance, hagridden by people who have no real connexion with us,
full of lapses of memory, gaps, vain anxieties, our life as fantastic
as a dream.

I realised that the young dairymaid was still in the room. I told her
that the place was certainly a long way off, that I did not need her.
Whereupon she also decided that it would be too much trouble: "There's
a fine match coming off, I don't want to miss it." I felt that she
must already be devoted to sport and that in a few years' time she
would be talking about 'living her own life.' I told her that I
certainly did not need her any longer, and gave her five francs.
Immediately, having little expected this largesse, and telling herself
that if she earned five francs for doing nothing she would have a
great deal more for taking my message, she began to find that her
match was of no importance. "I could easily have taken your message. I
can always find time." But I thrust her from the room, I needed to be
alone, I must at all costs prevent Albertine from any risk of meeting
Lea's girl friends at the Trocadéro. I must try, and I must succeed;
to tell the truth I did not yet see how, and during these first
moments I opened my hands, gazed at them, cracked my knuckles, whether
because the mind which cannot find what it is seeking, in a fit of
laziness allows itself to halt for an instant at a spot where the most
unimportant things are distinctly visible to it, like the blades of
grass on the embankment which we see from the carriage window
trembling in the wind, when the train halts in the open country—an
immobility that is not always more fertile than that of the captured
animal which, paralysed by fear or fascinated, gazes without moving a
muscle—or that I might hold my body in readiness—with my mind at
work inside it and, in my mind, the means of action against this or
that person—as though it were no more than a weapon from which would
be fired the shot that was to separate Albertine from Léa and her two
friends. It is true that earlier in the morning, when Françoise had
come in to tell me that Albertine was going to the Trocadéro, I had
said to myself: "Albertine is at liberty to do as she pleases" and had
supposed that until evening came, in this radiant weather, her actions
would remain without any perceptible importance to myself; but it was
not only the morning sun, as I had thought, that had made me so
careless; it was because, having obliged Albertine to abandon the
plans that she might perhaps have initiated or even completed at the
Verdurins', and having restricted her to attending a performance which
I myself had chosen, so that she could not have made any preparations,
I knew that whatever she did would of necessity be innocent. Just as,
if Albertine had said a few moments later: "If I kill myself, it's all
the same to me," it would have been because she was certain that she
would not kill herself. Surrounding myself and Albertine there had
been this morning (far more than the sunlight in the air) that
atmosphere which we do not see, but by the translucent and changing
medium of which we do see, I her actions, she the importance of her
own life, that is to say those beliefs which we do not perceive but
which are no more assimilable to a pure vacuum than is the air that
surrounds us; composing round about us a variable atmosphere,
sometimes excellent, often unbreathable, they deserve to be studied
and recorded as carefully as the temperature, the barometric pressure,
the weather, for our days have their own singularity, physical and
moral. My belief, which I had failed to remark this morning, and yet
in which I had been joyously enveloped until the moment when I had
looked a second time at the _Figaro_, that Albertine would do nothing
that was not harmless, this belief had vanished. I was living no
longer in the fine sunny day, but in a day carved out of the other by
my anxiety lest Albertine might renew her acquaintance with Léa and
more easily still with the two girls, should they go, as seemed to me
probable, to applaud the actress at the Trocadéro where it would not
be difficult for them, in one of the intervals, to come upon
Albertine. I no longer thought of Mlle. Vinteuil, the name of Léa had
brought back to my mind, to make me jealous, the image of Albertine in
the Casino watching the two girls. For I possessed in my memory only
series of Albertines, separate from one another, incomplete, outlines,
snapshots; and so my jealousy was restricted to an intermittent
expression, at once fugitive and fixed, and to the people who had
caused that expression to appear upon Albertine's face. I remembered
her when, at Balbec, she received undue attention from the two girls
or from women of that sort; I remembered the distress that I used to
feel when I saw her face subjected to an active scrutiny, like that of
a painter preparing to make a sketch, entirely covered by them, and,
doubtless on account of my presence, submitting to this contact
without appearing to notice it, with a passivity that was perhaps
clandestinely voluptuous. And before she recovered herself and spoke
to me there was an instant during which Albertine did not move, smiled
into the empty air, with the same air of feigned spontaneity and
concealed pleasure as if she were posing for somebody to take her
photograph; or even seeking to assume before the camera a more dashing
pose—that which she had adopted at Doncières when we were walking
with Saint-Loup, and, laughing and passing her tongue over her lips,
she pretended to be teasing a dog. Certainly at such moments she was
not at all the same as when it was she that was interested in little
girls who passed us. Then, on the contrary, her narrow velvety gaze
fastened itself upon, glued itself to the passer-by, so adherent, so
corrosive, that you felt that when she removed it it must tear away
the skin. But at that moment this other expression, which did at least
give her a serious air, almost as though she were in pain, had seemed
to me a pleasant relief after the toneless blissful expression she had
worn in the presence of the two girls, and I should have preferred the
sombre expression of the desire that she did perhaps feel at times to
the laughing expression caused by the desire which she aroused.
However she might attempt to conceal her consciousness of it, it
bathed her, enveloped her, vaporous, voluptuous, made her whole face
appear rosy. But everything that Albertine held at such moments
suspended in herself, that radiated round her and hurt me so acutely,
how could I tell whether, once my back was turned, she would continue
to keep it to herself, whether to the advances of the two girls, now
that I was no longer with her, she would not make some audacious
response. Indeed, these memories caused me intense grief, they were
like a complete admission of Albertine's failings, a general
confession of her infidelity against which were powerless the various
oaths that she swore to me and I wished to believe, the negative
results of my incomplete researches, the assurances, made perhaps in
connivance with her, of Andrée. Albertine might deny specified
betrayals; by words that she let fall, more emphatic than her
declarations to the contrary, by that searching gaze alone, she had
made confession of what she would fain have concealed, far more than
any specified incident, what she would have let herself be killed
sooner than admit: her natural tendency. For there is no one who will
willingly deliver up his soul. Notwithstanding the grief that these
memories were causing me, could I have denied that it was the
programme of the matinée at the Trocadéro that had revived my need of
Albertine? She was one of those women in whom their misdeeds may at a
pinch take the place of absent charms, and no less than their misdeeds
the kindness that follows them and restores to us that sense of
comfort which in their company, like an invalid who is never well for
two days in succession, we are incessantly obliged to recapture. And
then, even more than their misdeeds while we are in love with them,
there are their misdeeds before we made their acquaintance, and first
and foremost: their nature. What makes this sort of love painful is,
in fact, that there preexists a sort of original sin of Woman, a sin
which makes us love them, so that, when we forget it, we feel less
need of them, and to begin to love afresh we must begin to suffer
afresh. At this moment, the thought that she must not meet the two
girls again and the question whether or not she knew Léa were what was
chiefly occupying my mind, in spite of the rule that we ought not to
take an interest in particular facts except in relation to their
general significance, and notwithstanding the childishness, as great
as that of longing to travel or to make friends with women, of
shattering our curiosity against such elements of the invisible
torrent of painful realities which will always remain unknown to us as
have happened to crystallise in our mind. But, even if we should
succeed in destroying that crystallisation, it would at once be
replaced by another. Yesterday I was afraid lest Albertine should go
to see Mme. Verdurin. Now my only thought was of Léa. Jealousy, which
wears a bandage over its eyes, is not merely powerless to discover
anything in the darkness that enshrouds it, it is also one of those
torments where the task must be incessantly repeated, like that of the
Danaids, or of Ixion. Even if her friends were not there, what
impression might she not form of Léa, beautified by her stage attire,
haloed with success, what thoughts would she leave in Albertine's
mind, what desires which, even if she repressed them, would in my
house disgust her with a life in which she was unable to gratify them.

Besides, how could I tell that she was not acquainted with Léa, and
would not pay her a visit in her dressing-room; and, even if Léa did
not know her, who could assure me that, having certainly seen her at
Balbec, she would not recognise her and make a signal to her from the
stage that would entitle Albertine to seek admission behind the
scenes? A danger seems easy to avoid after it has been conjured away.
This one was not yet conjured, I was afraid that it might never be,
and it seemed to me all the more terrible. And yet this love for
Albertine which I felt almost vanish when I attempted to realise it,
seemed in a measure to acquire a proof of its existence from the
intensity of my grief at this moment. I no longer cared about anything
else, I thought only of how I was to prevent her from remaining at the
Trocadéro, I would have offered any sum in the world to Léa to
persuade her not to go there. If then we prove our choice by the
action that we perform rather than by the idea that we form, I must
have been in love with Albertine. But this renewal of my suffering
gave no further consistency to the image that I beheld of Albertine.
She caused my calamities, like a deity that remains invisible. Making
endless conjectures, I sought to shield myself from suffering without
thereby realising my love. First of all, I must make certain that Léa
was really going to perform at the Trocadéro. After dismissing the
dairymaid, I telephoned to Bloch, whom I knew to be on friendly terms
with Léa, in order to ask him. He knew nothing about it and seemed
surprised that the matter could be of any importance to me. I decided
that I must set to work immediately, remembered that Françoise was
ready to go out and that I was not, and as I rose and dressed made her
take a motor-car; she was to go to the Trocadéro, engage a seat, look
high and low for Albertine and give her a note from myself. In this
note I told her that I was greatly upset by a letter which I had just
received from that same lady on whose account she would remember that
I had been so wretched one night at Balbec. I reminded her that, on
the following day, she had reproached me for not having sent for her.
And so I was taking the liberty, I informed her, of asking her to
sacrifice her matinée and to join me at home so that we might take a
little fresh air together, which might help me to recover from the
shock. But as I should be a long time in getting ready, she would
oblige me, seeing that she had Françoise as an escort, by calling at
the Trois-Quartiers (this shop, being smaller, seemed to me less
dangerous than the Bon Marché) to buy the scarf of white tulle that
she required. My note was probably not superfluous. To tell the truth,
I knew nothing that Albertine had done since I had come to know her,
or even before. But in her conversation (she might, had I mentioned it
to her, have replied that I had misunderstood her) there were certain
contradictions, certain embellishments which seemed to me as decisive
as catching her red-handed, but less serviceable against Albertine
who, often caught out in wrongdoing like a child, had invariably, by
dint of sudden, strategic changes of front, stultified my cruel
onslaught and reestablished her own position. Cruel, most of all, to
myself. She employed, not from any refinement of style, but in order
to correct her imprudences, abrupt breaches of syntax not unlike that
figure which the grammarians call anacoluthon or some such name.
Having allowed herself, while discussing women, to say: "I remember,
the other day, I...," she would at once catch her breath, after which
'I' became 'she': it was something that she had witnessed as an
innocent spectator, not a thing that she herself had done. It was not
herself that was the heroine of the anecdote. I should have liked to
recall how, exactly, the sentence began, so as to conclude for myself,
since she had broken off in the middle, how it would have ended. But
as I had heard the end, I found it hard to remember the beginning,
from which perhaps my air of interest had made her deviate, and was
left still anxious to know what she was really thinking, what she
really remembered. The first stages of falsehood on the part of our
mistress are like the first stages of our own love, or of a religious
vocation. They take shape, accumulate, pass, without our paying them
any attention. When we wish to remember in what manner we began to
love a woman, we are already in love with her; when we dreamed about
her before falling in love, we did not say to ourself: This is the
prelude to a love affair, we must pay attention!—and our dreams took
us by surprise, and we barely noticed them. So also, except in cases
that are comparatively rare, it is only for the convenience of my
narrative that I have frequently in these pages confronted one of
Albertine's false statements with her previous assertion upon the same
subject. This previous assertion, as often as not, since I could not
read the future and did not at the time guess what contradictory
affirmation was to form a pendant to it, had slipped past unperceived,
heard it is true by my ears, but without my isolating it from the
continuous flow of Albertine's speech. Later on, faced with the
self-evident lie, or seized by an anxious doubt, I would fain have
recalled it; but in vain; my memory had not been warned in time, and
had thought it unnecessary to preserve a copy.

I urged Françoise, when she had got Albertine out of the hall, to let
me know by telephone, and to bring her home, whether she was willing
or not. "That would be the last straw, that she should not be willing
to come and see Monsieur," replied Françoise. "But I don't know that
she's as fond as all that of seeing me." "Then she must be an
ungrateful wretch," went on Françoise, in whom Albertine was renewing
after all these years the same torment of envy that Eulalie used at
one time to cause her in my aunt's sickroom. Unaware that Albertine's
position in my household was not of her own seeking but had been
decided by myself (a fact which, from motives of self-esteem and to
make Françoise angry, I preferred to conceal from her), she admired
and execrated the girl's dexterity, called her when she spoke of her
to the other servants a 'play-actress,' a wheedler who could twist me
round her little finger. She dared not yet declare open war against
her, shewed her a smiling countenance and sought to acquire merit in
my sight by the services which she performed for her in her relations
with myself, deciding that it was useless to say anything to me and
that she would gain nothing by doing so; but if the opportunity ever
arose, if ever she discovered a crack in Albertine's armour, she was
fully determined to enlarge it, and to part us for good and all.
"Ungrateful? No, Françoise, I think it is I that am ungrateful, you
don't know how good she is to me." (It was so soothing to give the
impression that I was loved.) "Be as quick as you can." "All right,
I'll get a move on." Her daughter's influence was beginning to
contaminate Françoise's vocabulary. So it is that all languages lose
their purity by the admission of new words. For this decadence of
Françoise's speech, which I had known in its golden period, I was
myself indirectly responsible. Françoise's daughter would not have
made her mother's classic language degenerate into the vilest slang,
had she been content to converse with her in dialect. She had never
given up the use of it, and when they were both in my room at once, if
they had anything private to say, instead of shutting themselves up in
the kitchen, they armed themselves, right in the middle of my room,
with a screen more impenetrable than the most carefully shut door, by
conversing in dialect. I supposed merely that the mother and daughter
were not always on the best of terms, if I was to judge by the
frequency with which they employed the only word that I could make
out: _m'esasperate_ (unless it was that the object of their
exasperation was myself). Unfortunately the most unfamiliar tongue
becomes intelligible in time when we are always hearing it spoken. I
was sorry that this should be dialect, for I succeeded in picking it
up, and should have been no less successful had Françoise been in the
habit of expressing herself in Persian. In vain might Françoise, when
she became aware of my progress, accelerate the speed of her
utterance, and her daughter likewise, it was no good. The mother was
greatly put out that I understood their dialect, then delighted to
hear me speak it. I am bound to admit that her delight was a mocking
delight, for albeit I came in time to pronounce the words more or less
as she herself did, she found between our two ways of pronunciation an
abyss of difference which gave her infinite joy, and she began to
regret that she no longer saw people to whom she had not given a
thought for years but who, it appeared, would have rocked with a
laughter which it would have done her good to hear, if they could have
heard me speaking their dialect so badly. In any case, no joy came to
mitigate her sorrow that, however badly I might pronounce it, I
understood well. Keys become useless when the person whom we seek to
prevent from entering can avail himself of a skeleton key or a jemmy.
Dialect having become useless as a means of defence, she took to
conversing with her daughter in a French which rapidly became that of
the most debased epochs.

I was now ready, but Françoise had not yet telephoned; I ought perhaps
to go out without waiting for a message. But how could I tell that she
would find Albertine, that the latter would not have gone behind the
scenes, that even if Françoise did find her, she would allow herself
to be taken away? Half an hour later the telephone bell began to
tinkle and my heart throbbed tumultuously with hope and fear. There
came, at the bidding of an operator, a flying squadron of sounds which
with an instantaneous speed brought me the words of the telephonist,
not those of Françoise whom an inherited timidity and melancholy, when
she was brought face to face with any object unknown to her fathers,
prevented from approaching a telephone receiver, although she would
readily visit a person suffering from a contagious disease. She had
found Albertine in the lobby by herself, and Albertine had simply gone
to warn Andrée that she was not staying any longer and then had
hurried back to Françoise. "She wasn't angry? Oh, I beg your pardon;
will you please ask the person whether the young lady was angry?" "The
lady asks me to say that she wasn't at all angry, quite the contrary,
in fact; anyhow, if she wasn't pleased, she didn't shew it. They are
starting now for the Trois-Quartiers, and will be home by two
o'clock." I gathered that two o'clock meant three, for it was past two
o'clock already. But Françoise suffered from one of those peculiar,
permanent, incurable defects, which we call maladies; she was never
able either to read or to announce the time correctly. I have never
been able to understand what went on in her head. When Françoise,
after consulting her watch, if it was two o'clock, said: "It is one"
or "it is three o'clock," I have never been able to understand whether
the phenomenon that occurred was situated in her vision or in her
thought or in her speech; the one thing certain is that the phenomenon
never failed to occur. Humanity is a very old institution. Heredity,
cross-breeding have given an irresistible force to bad habits, to
vicious reflexes. One person sneezes and gasps because he is passing a
rosebush, another breaks out in an eruption at the smell of wet paint,
has frequent attacks of colic if he has to start on a journey, and
grandchildren of thieves who are themselves millionaires and generous
cannot resist the temptation to rob you of fifty francs. As for
knowing in what consisted Françoise's incapacity to tell the time
correctly, she herself never threw any light upon the problem. For,
notwithstanding the anger that I generally displayed at her inaccurate
replies, Françoise never attempted either to apologise for her mistake
or to explain it. She remained silent, pretending not to hear, and
thereby making me lose my temper altogether. I should have liked to
hear a few words of justification, were it only that I might smite her
hip and thigh; but not a word, an indifferent silence. In any case,
about the timetable for to-day there could be no doubt; Albertine was
coming home with Françoise at three o'clock, Albertine would not be
meeting Léa or her friends. Whereupon the danger of her renewing
relations with them, having been averted, at once began to lose its
importance in my eyes and I was amazed, seeing with what ease it had
been averted, that I should have supposed that I would not succeed in
averting it. I felt a keen impulse of gratitude to Albertine, who, I
could see, had not gone to the Trocadéro to meet Léa's friends, and
shewed me, by leaving the performance and coming home at a word from
myself, that she belonged to me more than I had imagined. My gratitude
was even greater when a bicyclist brought me a line from her bidding
me be patient, and full of the charming expressions that she was in
the habit of using. "My darling, dear Marcel, I return less quickly
than this cyclist, whose machine I would like to borrow in order to be
with you sooner. How could you imagine that I might be angry or that I
could enjoy anything better than to be with you? It will be nice to go
out, just the two of us together; it would be nicer still if we never
went out except together. The ideas you get into your head! What a
Marcel! What a Marcel! Always and ever your Albertine."

The frocks that I bought for her, the yacht of which I had spoken to
her, the wrappers from Fortuny's, all these things having in this
obedience on Albertine's part not their recompense but their
complement, appeared to me now as so many privileges that I was
enjoying; for the duties and expenditure of a master are part of his
dominion, and define it, prove it, fully as much as his rights. And
these rights which she recognised in me were precisely what gave my
expenditure its true character: I had a woman of my own, who, at the
first word that I sent to her unexpectedly, made my messenger
telephone humbly that she was coming, that she was allowing herself to
be brought home immediately. I was more of a master than I had
supposed. More of a master, in other words more of a slave. I no
longer felt the slightest impatience to see Albertine. The certainty
that she was at this moment engaged in shopping with Françoise, or
that she would return with her at an approaching moment which I would
willingly have postponed, illuminated like a calm and radiant star a
period of time which I would now have been far better pleased to spend
alone. My love for Albertine had made me rise and get ready to go out,
but it would prevent me from enjoying my outing. I reflected that on a
Sunday afternoon like this little shopgirls, midinettes, prostitutes
must be strolling in the Bois. And with the words _midinettes, little
shopgirls_ (as had often happened to me with a proper name, the name
of a girl read in the account of a ball), with the image of a white
bodice, a short skirt, since beneath them I placed a stranger who
might perhaps come to love me, I created out of nothing desirable
women, and said to myself: "How charming they must be!" But of what
use would it be to me that they were charming, seeing that I was not
going out alone. Taking advantage of the fact that I still was alone,
and drawing the curtains together so that the sun should not prevent
me from reading the notes, I sat down at the piano, turned over the
pages of Vinteuil's sonata which happened to be lying there, and began
to play; seeing that Albertine's arrival was still a matter of some
time but was on the other hand certain, I had at once time to spare
and tranquillity of mind. Floating in the expectation, big with
security, of her return escorted by Françoise and in my confidence in
her docility as in the blessedness of an inward light as warming as
the light of the sun, I might dispose of my thoughts, detach them for
a moment from Albertine, apply them to the sonata. In the latter,
indeed, I did not take pains to remark how the combinations of the
voluptuous and anxious motives corresponded even more closely now to
my love for Albertine, from which jealousy had been absent for so long
that I had been able to confess to Swann my ignorance of that
sentiment. No, taking the sonata from another point of view, regarding
it in itself as the work of a great artist, I was carried back upon
the tide of sound to the days at Combray—I do not mean at Montjouvain
and along the Méséglise way, but to walks along the Guermantes
way—when I had myself longed to become an artist. In definitely
abandoning that ambition, had I forfeited something real? Could life
console me for the loss of art, was there in art a more profound
reality, in which our true personality finds an expression that is not
afforded it by the activities of life? Every great artist seems indeed
so different from all the rest, and gives us so strongly that
sensation of individuality for which we seek in vain in our everyday
existence. Just as I was thinking thus, I was struck by a passage in
the sonata, a passage with which I was quite familiar, but sometimes
our attention throws a different light upon things which we have long
known, and we remark in them what we have never seen before. As I
played the passage, and for all that in it Vinteuil had been trying to
express a fancy which would have been wholly foreign to Wagner, I
could not help murmuring '_Tristan_,' with the smile of an old friend
of the family discovering a trace of the grandfather in an intonation,
a gesture of the grandson who never set eyes on him. And as the friend
then examines a photograph which enables him to estimate the likeness,
so, in front of Vinteuil's sonata, I set up on the music-rest the
score of _Tristan_, a selection from which was being given that
afternoon, as it happened, at the Lamoureux concert. I had not, in
admiring the Bayreuth master, any of the scruples of those people
whom, like Nietzsche, their sense of duty bids to shun in art as in
life the beauty that tempts them, and who, tearing themselves from
_Tristan_ as they renounce _Parsifal_, and, in their spiritual
asceticism, progressing from one mortification to another, arrive, by
following the most bloody of _viae Crucis_, at exalting themselves to
the pure cognition and perfect adoration of _Le Postillon de
Longjumeau_. I began to perceive how much reality there is in the work
of Wagner, when I saw in my mind's eye those insistent, fleeting
themes which visit an act, withdraw only to return, and, sometimes
distant, drowsy, almost detached, are at other moments, while
remaining vague, so pressing and so near, so internal, so organic, so
visceral, that one would call them the resumption not so much of a
musical motive as of an attack of neuralgia.

Music, very different in this respect from Albertine's society, helped
me to descend into myself, to make there a fresh discovery: that of
the difference that I had sought in vain in life, in travel, a longing
for which was given me, however, by this sonorous tide which sent its
sunlit waves rolling to expire at my feet. A twofold difference. As
the spectrum makes visible to us the composition of light, so the
harmony of a Wagner, the colour of an Elstir enable us to know that
essential quality of another person's sensations into which love for
another person does not allow us to penetrate. Then there is
diversity inside the work itself, by the sole means that it has of
being effectively diverse, to wit combining diverse individualities.
Where a minor composer would pretend that he was portraying a squire,
or a knight, whereas he would make them both sing the same music,
Wagner on the contrary allots to each denomination a different
reality, and whenever a squire appears, it is an individual figure, at
once complicated and simplified, that, with a joyous, feudal clash of
warring sounds, inscribes itself in the vast, sonorous mass. Whence
the completeness of a music that is indeed filled with so many
different musics, each of which is a person. A person or the
impression that is given us by a momentary aspect of nature. Even what
is most independent of the sentiment that it makes us feel preserves
its outward and entirely definite reality; the song of a bird, the
ring of a hunter's horn, the air that a shepherd plays upon his pipe,
cut out against the horizon their silhouette of sound. It is true that
Wagner had still to bring these together, to make use of them, to
introduce them into an orchestral whole, to make them subservient to
the highest musical ideals, but always respecting their original
nature, as a carpenter respects the grain, the peculiar essence of the
wood that he is carving.

But notwithstanding the richness of these works in which the
contemplation of nature has its place by the side of action, by the
side of persons who are something more than proper names, I thought
how markedly, all the same, these works participate in that quality of
being—albeit marvellously—always incomplete, which is the
peculiarity of all the great works of the nineteenth century, with
which the greatest writers of that century have stamped their books,
but, watching themselves at work as though they were at once author
and critic, have derived from this self-contemplation a novel beauty,
exterior and superior to the work itself, imposing upon it
retrospectively a unity, a greatness which it does not possess.
Without pausing to consider him who saw in his novels, after they had
appeared, a _Human Comedy_, nor those who entitled heterogeneous poems
or essays _The Legend of the Ages_ or _The Bible of Humanity_, can we
not say all the same of the last of these that he is so perfect an
incarnation of the nineteenth century that the greatest beauties in
Michelet are to be sought not so much in his work itself as in the
attitudes that he adopts when he is considering his work, not in his
_History of France_ nor in his _History of the Revolution_, but in his
prefaces to his books? _Prefaces_, that is to say pages written after
the books themselves, in which he considers the books, and with which
we must include here and there certain phrases beginning as a rule
with a: "Shall I say?" which is not a scholar's precaution but a
musician's cadence. The other musician, he who was delighting me at
this moment, Wagner, retrieving some exquisite scrap from a drawer of
his writing-table to make it appear as a theme, retrospectively
necessary, in a work of which he had not been thinking at the moment
when he composed it, then having composed a first mythological opera,
and a second, and afterwards others still, and perceiving all of a
sudden that he had written a tetralogy, must have felt something of
the same exhilaration as Balzac, when, casting over his works the eye
at once of a stranger and of a father, finding in one the purity of
Raphael, in another the simplicity of the Gospel, he suddenly decided,
as he shed a retrospective illumination upon them, that they would be
better brought together in a cycle in which the same characters would
reappear, and added to his work, in this act of joining it together, a
stroke of the brush, the last and the most sublime. A unity that was
ulterior, not artificial, otherwise it would have crumbled into dust
like all the other systematisations of mediocre writers who with the
elaborate assistance of titles and sub-titles give themselves the
appearance of having pursued a single and transcendent design. Not
fictitious, perhaps indeed all the more real for being ulterior, for
being born of a moment of enthusiasm when it is discovered to exist
among fragments which need only to be joined together. A unity that
has been unaware of itself, therefore vital and not logical, that has
not banned variety, chilled execution. It emerges (only applying
itself this time to the work as a whole) like a fragment composed
separately, born of an inspiration, not required by the artificial
development of a theme, which comes in to form an integral part of the
rest. Before the great orchestral movement that precedes the return of
Yseult, it is the work itself that has attracted to it the
half-forgotten air of a shepherd's pipe. And, no doubt, just as the
swelling of the orchestra at the approach of the ship, when it takes
hold of these notes on the pipe, transforms them, infects them with
its own intoxication, breaks their rhythm, clarifies their tone,
accelerates their movement, multiplies their instrumentation, so no
doubt Wagner himself was filled with joy when he discovered in his
memory a shepherd's air, incorporated it in his work, gave it its full
wealth of meaning. This joy moreover never forsakes him. In him,
however great the melancholy of the poet, it is consoled,
surpassed—that is to say destroyed, alas, too soon—by the delight of
the craftsman. But then, no less than by the similarity I had remarked
just now between Vinteuil's phrase and Wagner's, I was troubled by the
thought of this Vulcan-like craftsmanship. Could it be this that gave
to great artists the illusory appearance of a fundamental originality,
incommensurable with any other, the reflexion of a more than human
reality, actually the result of industrious toil? If art be no more
than that, it is not more real than life and I had less cause for
regret. I went on playing Tristan. Separated from Wagner by the wall
of sound, I could hear him exult, invite me to share his joy, I could
hear ring out all the louder the immortally youthful laugh and the
hammer-blows of Siegfried, in which, moreover, more marvellously
struck were those phrases, the technical skill of the craftsman
serving merely to make it easier for them to leave the earth, birds
akin not to Lohengrin's swan but to that aeroplane which I had seen at
Balbec convert its energy into vertical motion, float over the sea and
lose itself in the sky. Perhaps, as the birds that soar highest and
fly most swiftly have a stronger wing, one required one of these
frankly material vehicles to explore the infinite, one of these 120
horsepower machines, marked Mystery, in which nevertheless, however
high one flies, one is prevented to some extent from enjoying the
silence of space by the overpowering roar of the engine!

For some reason or other the course of my musings, which hitherto had
wandered among musical memories, turned now to those men who have been
the best performers of music in our day, among whom, slightly
exaggerating his merit, I included Morel. At once my thoughts took a
sharp turn, and it was Morel's character, certain eccentricities of
his nature that I began to consider. As it happened—and this might be
connected though it should not be confused with the neurasthenia to
which he was a prey—Morel was in the habit of talking about his life,
but always presented so shadowy a picture of it that it was difficult
to make anything out. For instance, he placed himself entirely at M.
de Charlus's disposal on the understanding that he must keep his
evenings free, as he wished to be able after dinner to attend a course
of lectures on algebra. M. de Charlus conceded this, but insisted upon
seeing him after the lectures. "Impossible, it's an old Italian
painting" (this witticism means nothing when written down like this;
but M. de Charlus having made Morel read _l'Éducation sentimentale_,
in the penultimate chapter of which Frédéric Moreau uses this
expression, it was Morel's idea of a joke never to say the word
'impossible' without following it up with "it's an old Italian
painting") "the lectures go on very late, and I've already given a lot
of trouble to the lecturer, who naturally would be annoyed if I came
away in the middle." "But there's no need to attend lectures, algebra
is not a thing like swimming, or even English, you can learn it
equally well from a book," replied M. de Charlus, who had guessed from
the first that these algebra lectures were one of those images of
which it was impossible to make out anything. It was perhaps some
affair with a woman, or, if Morel was seeking to earn money in shady
ways and had attached himself to the secret police, a nocturnal
expedition with detectives, or possibly, what was even worse, an
engagement as one of the young men whose services may be required in a
brothel. "A great deal easier, from a book," Morel assured M. de
Charlus, "for it's impossible to make head or tail of the lectures."
"Then why don't you study it in my house, where you would be far more
comfortable?" M. de Charlus might have answered, but took care not to
do so, knowing that at once, preserving only the same essential
element that the evening hours must be set apart, the imaginary
algebra course would change to a compulsory lesson in dancing or in
drawing. In which M. de Charlus might have seen that he was mistaken,
partially at least, for Morel did often spend his time at the Baron's
in solving equations. M. de Charlus did raise the objection that
algebra could be of little use to a violinist. Morel replied that it
was a distraction which helped him to pass the time and to conquer his
neurasthenia. No doubt M. de Charlus might have made inquiries, have
tried to find out what actually were these mysterious and ineluctable
lectures on algebra that were delivered only at night. But M. de
Charlus was not qualified to unravel the tangled skein of Morel's
occupations, being himself too much caught in the toils of social
life. The visits he received or paid, the time he spent at his club,
dinner-parties, evenings at the theatre prevented him from thinking
about the problem, or for that matter about the violent and vindictive
animosity which Morel had (it was reported) indulged and at the same
time sought to conceal in the various environments, the different
towns in which his life had been spent, and where people still spoke
of him with a shudder, with bated breath, never venturing to say
anything definite about him.

It was unfortunately one of the outbursts of this neurotic
irritability that I was privileged to hear that day when, rising from
the piano, I went down to the courtyard to meet Albertine, who still
did not appear. As I passed by Jupien's shop, in which Morel and the
girl who, I supposed, was shortly to become his wife were by
themselves, Morel was screaming at the top of his voice, thereby
revealing an accent that I had never heard in his speech, a rustic
tone, suppressed as a rule, and very strange indeed. His words were
no less strange, faulty from the point of view of the French language,
but his knowledge of everything was imperfect. "Will you get out of
here, _grand pied de grue, grand pied de grue, grand pied de grue_,"
he repeated to the poor girl who at first had certainly not understood
what he meant, and now, trembling and indignant, stood motionless
before him. "Didn't I tell you to get out of here, _grand pied de
grue, grand pied de grue_; go and fetch your uncle till I tell him
what you are, you whore." Just at that moment the voice of Jupien who
was coming home talking to one of his friends was heard in the
courtyard, and as I knew that Morel was an utter coward, I decided
that it was unnecessary to join my forces with those of Jupien and his
friend, who in another moment would have entered the shop, and I
retired upstairs again to escape Morel, who, for all his having
pretended to be so anxious that Jupien should be fetched (probably in
order to frighten and subjugate the girl, an act of blackmail which
rested probably upon no foundation), made haste to depart as soon as
he heard his voice in the courtyard. The words I have set down here
are nothing, they would not explain why my heart throbbed so as I went
upstairs. These scenes of which we are witnesses in real life find an
incalculable element of strength in what soldiers call, in speaking of
a military offensive, the advantage of surprise, and however agreeably
I might be soothed by the knowledge that Albertine, instead of
remaining at the Trocadéro, was coming home to me, I still heard
ringing in my ears the accent of those words ten times repeated:
"_Grand pied de grue, grand pied de grue_," which had so appalled me.

Gradually my agitation subsided. Albertine was on her way home. I
should hear her ring the bell in a moment. I felt that my life was no
longer what it might have become, and that to have a woman in the
house like this with whom quite naturally, when she returned home, I
should have to go out, to the adornment of whose person the strength
and activity of my nature were to be ever more and more diverted, made
me as it were a bough that has blossomed, but is weighed down by the
abundant fruit into which all its reserves of strength have passed. In
contrast to the anxiety that I had been feeling only an hour earlier,
the calm that I now felt at the prospect of Albertine's return was
more ample than that which I had felt in the morning before she left
the house. Anticipating the future, of which my mistress's docility
made me practically master, more resistant, as though it were filled
and stabilised by the imminent, importunate, inevitable, gentle
presence, it was the calm (dispensing us from the obligation to seek
our happiness in ourselves) that is born of family feeling and
domestic bliss. Family and domestic: such was again, no less than the
sentiment that had brought me such great peace while I was waiting for
Albertine, that which I felt later on when I drove out with her. She
took off her glove for a moment, whether to touch my hand, or to
dazzle me by letting me see on her little finger, next to the ring
that Mme. Bontemps had given her, another upon which was displayed the
large and liquid surface of a clear sheet of ruby. "What! Another
ring, Albertine. Your aunt is generous!" "No, I didn't get this from
my aunt," she said with a laugh. "It was I who bought it, now that,
thanks to you, I can save up ever so much money. I don't even know
whose it was before. A visitor who was short of money left it with the
landlord of an hotel where I stayed at Le Mans. He didn't know what to
do with it, and would have let it go for much less than it was worth.
But it was still far too dear for me. Now that, thanks to you, I'm
becoming a smart lady, I wrote to ask him if he still had it. And here
it is." "That makes a great many rings, Albertine. Where will you put
the one that I am going to give you? Anyhow, it is a beautiful ring, I
can't quite make out what that is carved round the ruby, it looks like
a man's head grinning. But my eyes aren't strong enough." "They might
be as strong as you like, you would be no better off. I can't make it
out either." In the past it had often happened, as I read somebody's
memoirs, or a novel, in which a man always goes out driving with a
woman, takes tea with her, that I longed to be able to do likewise. I
had thought sometimes that I was successful, as for instance when I
took Saint-Loup's mistress out with me, or went to dinner with her.
But in vain might I summon to my assistance the idea that I was at
that moment actually impersonating the character that I had envied in
the novel, that idea assured me that I ought to find pleasure in
Rachel's society, and afforded me none. For, whenever we attempt to
imitate something that has really existed, we forget that this
something was brought about not by the desire to imitate but by an
unconscious force which itself also is real; but this particular
impression which I had been unable to derive from all my desire to
taste a delicate pleasure in going out with Rachel, behold I was now
tasting it without having made the slightest effort to procure it, but
for quite different reasons, sincere, profound; to take a single
instance, for the reason that my jealousy prevented me from letting
Albertine go out of my sight, and, the moment that I was able to leave
the house, from letting her go anywhere without me. I tasted it only
now, because our knowledge is not of the external objects which we try
to observe, but of involuntary sensations, because in the past a woman
might be sitting in the same carriage as myself, she was not _really_
by my side, so long as she was not created afresh there at every
moment by a need of her such as I felt of Albertine, so long as the
constant caress of my gaze did not incessantly restore to her those
tints that need to be perpetually refreshed, so long as my senses,
appeased it might be but still endowed with memory, did not place
beneath those colours savour and substance, so long as, combined with
the senses and with the imagination that exalts them, jealousy was not
maintaining the woman in equilibrium by my side by a compensated
attraction as powerful as the law of gravity. Our motor-car passed
swiftly along the boulevards, the avenues whose lines of houses, a
rosy congelation of sunshine and cold, reminded me of calling upon
Mme. Swann in the soft light of her chrysanthemums, before it was time
to ring for the lamps.

I had barely time to make out, being divided from them by the glass of
the motor-car as effectively as I should have been by that of my
bedroom window, a young fruit seller, a dairymaid, standing in the
doorway of her shop, illuminated by the sunshine like a heroine whom
my desire was sufficient to launch upon exquisite adventures, on the
threshold of a romance which I might never know. For I could not ask
Albertine to let me stop, and already the young women were no longer
visible whose features my eyes had barely distinguished, barely
caressed their fresh complexions in the golden vapour in which they
were bathed. The emotion that I felt grip me when I caught sight of a
wine-merchant's girl at her desk or a laundress chatting in the street
was the emotion that we feel on recognising a goddess. Now that
Olympus no longer exists, its inhabitants dwell upon the earth. And
when, in composing a mythological scene, painters have engaged to pose
as Venus or Ceres young women of humble birth, who follow the most
sordid callings, so far from committing sacrilege, they have merely
added, restored to them the quality, the various attributes which they
had forfeited. "What did you think of the Trocadéro, you little
gadabout?" "I'm jolly glad I came away from it to go out with you. As
architecture, it's pretty measly, isn't it? It's by Davioud, I fancy."
"But how learned my little Albertine is becoming! Of course it was
Davioud who built it, but I couldn't have told you offhand." "While
you are asleep, I read your books, you old lazybones." "Listen, child,
you are changing so fast and becoming so intelligent" (this was true,
but even had it not been true I was not sorry that she should have the
satisfaction, failing any other, of saying to herself that at least
the time which she spent in my house was not being entirely wasted)
"that I don't mind telling you things that would generally be regarded
as false and which are all on the way to a truth that I am seeking.
You know what is meant by impressionism?" "Of course!" "Very well
then, this is what I mean: you remember the church at Marcouville
l'Orgueilleuse which Elstir disliked because it was new. Isn't it
rather a denial of his own impressionism when he subtracts such
buildings from the general impression in which they are contained to
bring them out of the light in which they are dissolved and scrutinise
like an archaeologist their intrinsic merit? When he begins to paint,
have not a hospital, a school, a poster upon a hoarding the same value
as a priceless cathedral which stands by their side in a single
indivisible image? Remember how the façade was baked by the sun, how
that carved frieze of saints swam upon the sea of light. What does it
matter that a building is new, if it appears to be old, or even if it
does not. All the poetry that the old quarters contain has been
squeezed out to the last drop, but if you look at some of the houses
that have been built lately for rich tradesmen, in the new districts,
where the stone is all freshly cut and still quite white, don't they
seem to rend the torrid air of noon in July, at the hour when the
shopkeepers go home to luncheon in the suburbs, with a cry as harsh as
the odour of the cherries waiting for the meal to begin in the
darkened dining-room, where the prismatic glass knife-rests project a
multicoloured fire as beautiful as the windows of Chartres?" "How
wonderful you are! If I ever do become clever, it will be entirely
owing to you." "Why on a fine day tear your eyes away from the
Trocadéro, whose giraffe-neck towers remind one of the Charterhouse of
Pavia?" "It reminded me also, standing up like that on its hill, of a
Mantegna that you have, I think it's of Saint Sebastian, where in the
background there's a city like an amphitheatre, and you would swear
you saw the Trocadéro." "There, you see! But how did you come across
my Mantegna? You are amazing!" We had now reached a more plebeian
quarter, and the installation of an ancillary Venus behind each
counter made it as it were a suburban altar at the foot of which I
would gladly have spent the rest of my life.

As one does on the eve of a premature death, I drew up a mental list
of the pleasures of which I was deprived by Albertine's setting a full
stop to my freedom. At Passy it was in the open street, so crowded
were the footways, that a group of girls, their arms encircling one
another's waist, left me marvelling at their smile. I had not time to
see it clearly, but it is hardly probable that I exaggerated it; in
any crowd after all, in any crowd of young people, it is not unusual
to come upon the effigy of a noble profile. So that these assembled
masses on public holidays are to the voluptuary as precious as is to
the archaeologist the congested state of a piece of ground in which
digging will bring to light ancient medals. We arrived at the Bois. I
reflected that, if Albertine had not come out with me, I might at this
moment, in the enclosure of the Champs-Elysées, have been hearing the
Wagnerian tempest set all the rigging of the orchestra ascream, draw
to itself, like a light spindrift, the tune of the shepherd's pipe
which I had just been playing to myself, set it flying, mould it,
deform it, divide it, sweep it away in an ever-increasing whirlwind. I
was determined, at any rate, that our drive should be short, and that
we should return home early, for, without having mentioned it to
Albertine, I had decided to go that evening to the Verdurins'. They
had recently sent me an invitation which I had flung into the
waste-paper basket with all the rest. But I changed my mind for this
evening, for I meant to try to find out who the people were that
Albertine might have been hoping to meet there in the afternoon. To
tell the truth, I had reached that stage in my relations with
Albertine when, if everything remains the same, if things go on
normally, a woman ceases to serve us except as a starting point
towards another woman. She still retains a corner in our heart, but a
very small corner; we hasten out every evening in search of unknown
women, especially unknown women who are known to her and can tell us
about her life. Herself, after all, we have possessed, have exhausted
everything that she has consented to yield to us of herself. Her life
is still herself, but that part of herself which we do not know, the
things as to which we have questioned her in vain and which we shall
be able to gather from fresh lips.

If my life with Albertine was to prevent me from going to Venice, from
travelling, at least I might in the meantime, had I been alone, have
made the acquaintance of the young midinettes scattered about in the
sunlight of this fine Sunday, in the sum total of whose beauty I gave
a considerable place to the unknown life that animated them. The eyes
that we see, are they not shot through by a gaze as to which we do not
know what images, memories, expectations, disdains it carries, a gaze
from which we cannot separate them? The life that the person who
passes by is living, will it not impart, according to what it is, a
different value to the knitting of those brows, to the dilatation of
those nostrils? Albertine's presence debarred me from going to join
them and perhaps also from ceasing to desire them. The man who would
maintain in himself the desire to go on living, and his belief in
something more delicious than the things of daily life, must go out
driving; for the streets, the avenues are full of goddesses. But the
goddesses do not allow us to approach them. Here and there, among the
trees, at the entrance to some café, a waitress was watching like a
nymph on the edge of a sacred grove, while beyond her three girls were
seated by the sweeping arc of their bicycles that were stacked beside
them, like three immortals leaning against the clouds or the fabulous
coursers upon which they perform their mythological journeys. I
remarked that, whenever Albertine looked for a moment at these girls,
with a profound attention, she at once turned to gaze at myself. But I
was not unduly troubled, either by the intensity of this
contemplation, or by its brevity for which its intensity compensated;
as for the latter, it often happened that Albertine, whether from
exhaustion, or because it was an intense person's way of looking at
other people, used to gaze thus in a sort of brown study at my father,
it might be, or at Françoise; and as for the rapidity with which she
turned to look at myself, it might be due to the fact that Albertine,
knowing my suspicions, might prefer, even if they were not justified,
to avoid giving them any foothold. This attention, moreover, which
would have seemed to me criminal on Albertine's part (and quite as
much so if it had been directed at young men), I fastened, without
thinking myself reprehensible for an instant, almost deciding indeed
that Albertine was reprehensible for preventing me, by her presence,
from stopping the car and going to join them, upon all the midinettes.
We consider it innocent to desire a thing and atrocious that the other
person should desire it. And this contrast between what concerns
ourselves on the one hand, and on the other the person with whom we
are in love, is not confined only to desire, but extends also to
falsehood. What is more usual than a lie, whether it is a question of
masking the daily weakness of a constitution which we wish to be
thought strong, of concealing a vice, or of going off, without
offending the other person, to the thing that we prefer? It is the
most necessary instrument of conversation, and the one that is most
widely used. But it is this which we actually propose to banish from
the life of her whom we love; we watch for it, scent it, detest it
everywhere. It appalls us, it is sufficient to bring about a rupture,
it seems to us to be concealing the most serious faults, except when
it does so effectively conceal them that we do not suspect their
existence. A strange state this in which we are so inordinately
sensitive to a pathogenic agent which its universal swarming makes
inoffensive to other people and so serious to the wretch who finds
that he is no longer immune to it.

The life of these pretty girls (because of my long periods of
seclusion, I so rarely met any) appeared to me as to everyone in whom
facility of realisation has not destroyed the faculty of imagination,
a thing as different from anything that I knew, as desirable as the
most marvellous cities that travel holds in store for us.

The disappointment that I had felt with the women whom I had known, in
the cities which I had visited, did not prevent me from letting myself
be caught by the attraction of others or from believing in their
reality; thus, just as seeing Venice—that Venice for which the spring
weather too filled me with longing, and which marriage with Albertine
would prevent me from knowing—seeing Venice in a panorama which Ski
would perhaps have declared to be more beautiful in tone than the
place itself, would to me have been no substitute for the journey to
Venice the length of which, determined without any reference to
myself, seemed to me an indispensable preliminary; similarly, however
pretty she might be, the midinette whom a procuress had artificially
provided for me could not possibly be a substitute for her who with
her awkward figure was strolling at this moment under the trees,
laughing with a friend. The girl that I might find in a house of
assignation, were she even better-looking than this one, could not be
the same thing, because we do not look at the eyes of a girl whom we
do not know as we should look at a pair of little discs of opal or
agate. We know that the little ray which colours them or the diamond
dust that makes them sparkle is all that we can see of a mind, a will,
a memory in which is contained the home life that we do not know, the
intimate friends whom we envy. The enterprise of taking possession of
all this, which is so difficult, so stubborn, is what gives its value
to the gaze far more than its merely physical beauty (which may serve
to explain why the same young man can awaken a whole romance in the
imagination of a woman who has heard somebody say that he is the
Prince of Wales, whereas she pays no more attention to him after
learning that she is mistaken); to find the midinette in the house of
assignation is to find her emptied of that unknown life which
permeates her and which we aspire to possess with her, it is to
approach a pair of eyes that have indeed become mere precious stones,
a nose whose quivering is as devoid of meaning as that of a flower.
No, that unknown midinette who was passing at that moment, it seemed
to me as indispensable, if I wished to continue to believe in her
reality, to test her resistance by adapting my behaviour to it,
challenging a rebuff, returning to the charge, obtaining an
assignation, waiting for her as she came away from her work, getting
to know, episode by episode, all that composed the girl's life,
traversing the space that, for her, enveloped the pleasure which I was
seeking, and the distance which her different habits, her special mode
of life, set between me and the attention, the favour which I wished
to attain and capture, as making a long journey in the train if I
wished to believe in the reality of Venice which I should see and
which would not be merely a panoramic show in a World Exhibition. But
this very parallel between desire and travel made me vow to myself
that one day I would grasp a little more closely the nature of this
force, invisible but as powerful as any faith, or as, in the world of
physics, atmospheric pressure, which exalted to such a height cities
and women so long as I did not know them, and slipped away from
beneath them as soon as I had approached them, made them at once
collapse and fall flat upon the dead level of the most commonplace

Farther along another girl was kneeling beside her bicycle, which she
was putting to rights. The repair finished, the young racer mounted
her machine, but without straddling it as a man would have done. For a
moment the bicycle swerved, and the young body seemed to have added to
itself a sail, a huge wing; and presently we saw dart away at full
speed the young creature half-human, half-winged, angel or peri,
pursuing her course.

This was what a life with Albertine prevented me from enjoying.
Prevented me, did I say? Should I not have thought rather: what it
provided for my enjoyment. If Albertine had not been living with me,
had been free, I should have imagined, and with reason, every woman to
be a possible, a probable object of her desire, of her pleasure. They
would have appeared to me like those dancers who, in a diabolical
ballet, representing the Temptations to one person, plunge their darts
in the heart of another. Midinettes, schoolgirls, actresses, how I
should have hated them all! Objects of horror, I should have excepted
them from the beauty of the universe. My bondage to Albertine, by
permitting me not to suffer any longer on their account, restored them
to the beauty of the world. Inoffensive, having lost the needle that
stabs the heart with jealousy, I was able to admire them, to caress
them with my eyes, another day more intimately perhaps. By secluding
Albertine, I had at the same time restored to the universe all those
rainbow wings which sweep past us in public gardens, ballrooms,
theatres, and which became tempting once more to me because she could
no longer succumb to their temptation. They composed the beauty of the
world. They had at one time composed that of Albertine. It was because
I had beheld her as a mysterious bird, then as a great actress of the
beach, desired, perhaps won, that I had thought her wonderful. As soon
as she was a captive in my house, the bird that I had seen one
afternoon advancing with measured step along the front, surrounded by
the congregation of the other girls like seagulls alighted from who
knows whence, Albertine had lost all her colours, with all the chances
that other people had of securing her for themselves. Gradually she
had lost her beauty. It required excursions like this, in which I
imagined her, but for my presence, accosted by some woman, or by some
young man, to make me see her again amid the splendour of the beach,
albeit my jealousy was on a different plane from the decline of the
pleasures of my imagination. But notwithstanding these abrupt
reversions in which, desired by other people, she once more became
beautiful in my eyes, I might very well divide her visit to me in two
periods, an earlier in which she was still, although less so every
day, the glittering actress of the beach, and a later period in which,
become the grey captive, reduced to her dreary self, I required those
flashes in which I remembered the past to make me see her again in

Sometimes, in the hours in which I felt most indifferent towards her,
there came back to me the memory of a far-off moment when upon the
beach, before I had made her acquaintance, a lady being near her with
whom I was on bad terms and with whom I was almost certain now that
she had had relations, she burst out laughing, staring me in the face
in an insolent fashion. All round her hissed the blue and polished
sea. In the sunshine of the beach, Albertine, in the midst of her
friends, was the most beautiful of them all. She was a splendid girl,
who in her familiar setting of boundless waters, had—precious in the
eyes of the lady who admired her—inflicted upon me this unpardonable
insult. It was unpardonable, for the lady would perhaps return to
Balbec, would notice perhaps, on the luminous and echoing beach, that
Albertine was absent. But she would not know that the girl was living
with me, was wholly mine. The vast expanse of blue water, her
forgetfulness of the fondness that she had felt for this particular
girl and would divert to others, had closed over the outrage that
Albertine had done me, enshrining it in a glittering and unbreakable
casket. Then hatred of that woman gnawed my heart; of Albertine also,
but a hatred mingled with admiration of the beautiful, courted girl,
with her marvellous hair, whose laughter upon the beach had been an
insult. Shame, jealousy, the memory of my earliest desires and of the
brilliant setting had restored to Albertine the beauty, the intrinsic
merit of other days. And thus there alternated with the somewhat
oppressive boredom that I felt in her company a throbbing desire, full
of splendid storms and of regrets; according to whether she was by my
side in my bedroom or I set her at liberty in my memory upon the
front, in her gay seaside frocks, to the sound of the musical
instruments of the sea,—Albertine, now extracted from that
environment, possessed and of no great value, now plunged back into
it, escaping from me into a past which I should never be able to know,
hurting me, in her friend's presence, as much as the splash of the
wave or the heat of the sun,—Albertine restored to the beach or
brought back again to my room, in a sort of amphibious love.

Farther on, a numerous band were playing ball. All these girls had
come out to make the most of the sunshine, for these days in February,
even when they are brilliant, do not last long and the splendour of
their light does not postpone the hour of its decline. Before that
hour drew near, we passed some time in twilight, because after we had
driven as far as the Seine, where Albertine admired, and by her
presence prevented me from admiring the reflexions of red sails upon
the wintry blue of the water, a solitary house in the distance like a
single red poppy against the clear horizon, of which Saint-Cloud
seemed, farther off again, to be the fragmentary, crumbling, rugged
petrification, we left our motor-car and walked a long way together;
indeed for some moments I gave her my arm, and it seemed to me that
the ring which her arm formed round it united our two persons in a
single self and linked our separate destinies together.

At our feet, our parallel shadows, where they approached and joined,
traced an exquisite pattern. No doubt it already seemed to me a
marvellous thing at home that Albertine should be living with me, that
it should be she that came and lay down on my bed. But it was so to
speak the transportation of that marvel out of doors, into the heart
of nature, that by the shore of that lake in the Bois, of which I was
so fond, beneath the trees, it should be her and none but her shadow,
the pure and simplified shadow of her leg, of her bust, that the sun
had to depict in monochrome by the side of mine upon the gravel of the
path. And I found a charm that was more immaterial doubtless, but no
less intimate, than in the drawing together, the fusion of our bodies,
in that of our shadows. Then we returned to our car. And it chose, for
our homeward journey, a succession of little winding lanes along which
the wintry trees, clothed, like ruins, in ivy and brambles, seemed to
be pointing the way to the dwelling of some magician. No sooner had we
emerged from their dusky cover than we found, upon leaving the Bois,
the daylight still so bright that I imagined that I should still have
time to do everything that I wanted to do before dinner, when, only a
few minutes later, at the moment when our car approached the Arc de
Triomphe, it was with a sudden start of surprise and dismay that I
perceived, over Paris, the moon prematurely full, like the face of a
clock that has stopped and makes us think that we are late for an
engagement. We had told the driver to take us home. To Albertine, this
meant also coming to my home. The company of those women, however dear
to us, who are obliged to leave us and return home, does not bestow
that peace which I found in the company of Albertine seated in the car
by my side, a company that was conveying us not to the void in which
lovers have to part but to an even more stable and more sheltered
union in my home, which was also hers, the material symbol of my
possession of her. To be sure, in order to possess, one must first
have desired. We do not possess a line, a surface, a mass unless it is
occupied by our love. But Albertine had not been for me during our
drive, as Rachel had been in the past, a futile dust of flesh and
clothing. The imagination of my eyes, my lips, my hands had at Balbec
so solidly built, so tenderly polished her body that now in this car,
to touch that body, to contain it, I had no need to press my own body
against Albertine, nor even to see her; it was enough to hear her, and
if she was silent to know that she was by my side; my interwoven
senses enveloped her altogether and when, as we arrived at the front
door, she quite naturally alighted, I stopped for a moment to tell the
chauffeur to call for me later on, but my gaze enveloped her still
while she passed ahead of me under the arch, and it was still the same
inert, domestic calm that I felt as I saw her thus, solid, flushed,
opulent and captive, returning home quite naturally with myself, as a
woman who was my own property, and, protected by its walls,
disappearing into our house. Unfortunately, she seemed to feel herself
a prisoner there, and to share the opinion of that Mme. de La
Rochefoucauld who, when somebody asked her whether she was not glad to
live in so beautiful a home as Liancourt, replied: "There is no such
thing as a beautiful prison"; if I was to judge by her miserable,
weary expression that evening as we dined together in my room. I did
not notice it at first; and it was I that was made wretched by the
thought that, if it had not been for Albertine (for with her I should
have suffered too acutely from jealousy in an hotel where all day long
she would have been exposed to contact with a crowd of strangers), I
might at that moment be dining in Venice in one of those little
restaurants, barrel-vaulted like the hold of a ship, from which one
looks out on the Grand Canal through arched windows framed in Moorish

I ought to add that Albertine greatly admired in my room a big bronze
by Barbedienne which with ample justification Bloch considered
extremely ugly. He had perhaps less reason to be surprised at my
having kept it. I had never sought, like him, to furnish for artistic
effect, to compose my surroundings, I was too lazy, too indifferent to
the things that I was in the habit of seeing every day. Since my taste
was not involved, I had a right not to harmonise my interior. I might
perhaps, even without that, have discarded the bronze. But ugly and
expensive things are of great use, for they enjoy, among people who do
not understand us, who have not our taste and with whom we cannot fall
in love, a prestige that would not be shared by some proud object that
does not reveal its beauty. Now the people who do not understand us
are precisely the people with regard to whom alone it may be useful to
us to employ a prestige which our intellect is enough, to assure us
among superior people. Albertine might indeed be beginning to shew
taste, she still felt a certain respect for the bronze, and this
respect was reflected upon myself in a consideration which, coming
from Albertine, mattered infinitely more to me than the question of
keeping a bronze which was a trifle degrading, since I was in love
with Albertine.

But the thought of my bondage ceased of a sudden to weigh upon me and
I looked forward to prolonging it still further, because I seemed to
perceive that Albertine was painfully conscious of her own. True that
whenever I had asked her whether she was not bored in my house, she
had always replied that she did not know where it would be possible to
have a happier time. But often these words were contradicted by an air
of nervous exhaustion, of longing to escape.

Certainly if she had the tastes with which I had credited her, this
inhibition from ever satisfying them must have been as provoking to
her as it was calming to myself, calming to such an extent that I
should have decided that the hypothesis of my having accused her
unjustly was the most probable, had it not been so difficult to fit
into this hypothesis the extraordinary pains that Albertine was taking
never to be alone, never to be disengaged, never to stop for a moment
outside the front door when she came in, to insist upon being
accompanied, whenever she went to the telephone, by some one who would
be able to repeat to me what she had said, by Françoise or Andrée,
always to leave me alone (without appearing to be doing so on purpose)
with the latter, after they had been out together, so that I might
obtain a detailed report of their outing. With this marvellous
docility were contrasted certain quickly repressed starts of
impatience, which made me ask myself whether Albertine was not
planning to cast off her chain. Certain subordinate incidents seemed
to corroborate my supposition. Thus, one day when I had gone out by
myself, in the Passy direction, and had met Gisèle, we began to talk
about one thing and another. Presently, not without pride at being
able to do so, I informed her that I was constantly seeing Albertine.
Gisèle asked me where she could find her, since there was something
that she simply _must_ tell her. "Why, what is it?" "Something to do
with some young friends of hers." "What friends? I may perhaps be able
to tell you, though that need not prevent you from seeing her." "Oh,
girls she knew years ago, I don't remember their names," Gisèle
replied vaguely, and beat a retreat. She left me, supposing herself to
have spoken with such prudence that the whole story must seem to me
perfectly straightforward. But falsehood is so unexacting, needs so
little help to make itself manifest! If it had been a question of
friends of long ago, whose very names she no longer remembered, why
_must_ she speak about them to Albertine? This '_must_,' akin to an
expression dear to Mme. Cottard: 'in the nick of time,' could be
applicable only to something particular, opportune, perhaps urgent,
relating to definite persons. Besides, something about her way of
opening her mouth, as though she were going to yawn, with a vague
expression, as she said to me (almost drawing back her body, as though
she began to reverse her engine at this point in our conversation):
"Oh, I don't know, I don't remember their names," made her face, and
in harmony with it her voice, as clear a picture of falsehood as the
wholly different air, tense, excited, of her previous '_must_' was of
truth. I did not question Gisèle. Of what use would it have been to
me? Certainly, she was not lying in the same fashion as Albertine.
And certainly Albertine's lies pained me more. But they had obviously
a point in common: the fact of the lie itself, which in certain cases
is self-evident. Not evidence of the truth that the lie conceals. We
know that each murderer in turn imagines that he has arranged
everything so cleverly that he will not be caught, and so it is with
liars, particularly the woman with whom we are in love. We do not know
where she has been, what she has been doing. But at the very moment
when she speaks, when she speaks of something else beneath which lies
hidden the thing that she does not mention, the lie is immediately
perceived, and our jealousy increased, since we are conscious of the
lie, and cannot succeed in discovering the truth. With Albertine, the
impression that she was lying was conveyed by many of the
peculiarities which we have already observed in the course of this
narrative, but especially by this, that, when she was lying, her story
broke down either from inadequacy, omission, improbability, or on the
contrary from a surfeit of petty details intended to make it seem
probable. Probability, notwithstanding the idea that the liar has
formed of it, is by no means the same as truth. Whenever, while
listening to something that is true, we hear something that is only
probable, which is perhaps more so than the truth, which is perhaps
too probable, the ear that is at all sensitive feels that it is not
correct, as with a line that does not scan or a word read aloud in
mistake for another. Our ear feels this, and if we are in love our
heart takes alarm. Why do we not reflect at the time, when we change
the whole course of our life because we do not know whether a woman
went along the Rue de Berri or the Rue Washington, why do we not
reflect that these few hundred yards of difference, and the woman
herself, will be reduced to the hundred millionth part of themselves
(that is to say to dimensions far beneath our perception), if we only
have the wisdom to remain for a few years without seeing the woman,
and that she who has out-Gullivered Gulliver in our eyes will shrink
to a Lilliputian whom no microscope—of the heart, at least, for that
of the disinterested memory is more powerful and less fragile—can
ever again perceive! However it may be, if there was a point in
common—the lie itself—between Albertine's lies and Gisèle's, still
Gisèle did not lie in the same fashion as Albertine, nor indeed in the
same fashion as Andrée, but their respective lies dovetailed so neatly
into one another, while presenting a great variety, that the little
band had the impenetrable solidity of certain commercial houses,
booksellers' for example or printing presses, where the wretched
author will never succeed, notwithstanding the diversity of the
persons employed in them, in discovering whether he is being swindled
or not. The editor of the newspaper or review lies with an attitude of
sincerity all the more solemn in that he is frequently obliged to
conceal the fact that he himself does exactly the same things and
indulges in the same commercial practices that he denounced in other
editors or theatrical managers, in other publishers, when he chose as
his battle-cry, when he raised against them the standard of Sincerity.
The fact of a man's having proclaimed (as leader of a political party,
or in any other capacity) that it is wicked to lie, obliges him as a
rule to lie more than other people, without on that account abandoning
the solemn mask, doffing the august tiara of sincerity. The 'sincere'
gentleman's partner lies in a different and more ingenuous fashion. He
deceives his author as he deceives his wife, with tricks from the
vaudeville stage. The secretary of the firm, a blunt and honest man,
lies quite simply, like an architect who promises that your house will
be ready at a date when it will not have been begun. The head reader,
an angelic soul, flutters from one to another of the three, and
without knowing what the matter is, gives them, by a brotherly scruple
and out of affectionate solidarity, the precious support of a word
that is above suspicion. These four persons live in a state of
perpetual dissension to which the arrival of the author puts a stop.
Over and above their private quarrels, each of them remembers the
paramount military duty of rallying to the support of the threatened
'corps.' Without realising it, I had long been playing the part of
this author among the little band. If Gisèle had been thinking, when
she used the word 'must,' of some one of Albertine's friends who was
proposing to go abroad with her as soon as my mistress should have
found some pretext or other for leaving me, and had meant to warn
Albertine that the hour had now come or would shortly strike, she,
Gisèle, would have let herself be torn to pieces rather than tell me
so; it was quite useless therefore to ply her with questions. Meetings
such as this with Gisèle were not alone in accentuating my doubts. For
instance, I admired Albertine's sketches. Albertine's sketches, the
touching distractions of the captive, moved me so that I congratulated
her upon them. "No, they're dreadfully bad, but I've never had a
drawing lesson in my life." "But one evening at Balbec you sent word
to me that you had stayed at home to have a drawing lesson." I
reminded her of the day and told her that I had realised at the time
that people did not have drawing lessons at that hour in the evening.
Albertine blushed. "It is true," she said, "I was not having drawing
lessons, I told you a great many lies at first, that I admit. But I
never lie to you now." I would so much have liked to know what were
the many lies that she had told me at first, but I knew beforehand
that her answers would be fresh lies. And so I contented myself with
kissing her. I asked her to tell me one only of those lies. She
replied: "Oh, well; for instance when I said that the sea air was bad
for me." I ceased to insist in the face of this unwillingness to

To make her chain appear lighter, the best thing was no doubt to make
her believe that I was myself about to break it. In any case, I could
not at that moment confide this mendacious plan to her, she had been
too kind in returning from the Trocadéro that afternoon; what I could
do, far from distressing her with the threat of a rupture, was at the
most to keep to myself those dreams of a perpetual life together which
my grateful heart kept forming. As I looked at her, I found it hard to
restrain myself from pouring them out to her, and she may perhaps have
noticed this. Unfortunately the expression of such dreams is not
contagious. The case of an affected old woman like M. de Charlus who,
by dint of never seeing in his imagination anything but a stalwart
young man, thinks that he has himself become a stalwart young man, all
the more so the more affected and ridiculous he becomes, this case is
more general, and it is the tragedy of an impassioned lover that he
does not take into account the fact that while he sees in front of him
a beautiful face, his mistress is seeing his face which is not made
any more beautiful, far from it, when it is distorted by the pleasure
that is aroused in it by the sight of beauty. Nor indeed does love
exhaust the whole of this case; we do not see our own body, which
other people see, and we 'follow' our own thought, the object
invisible to other people which is before our eyes. This object the
artist does sometimes enable us to see in his work. Whence it arises
that the admirers of his work are disappointed in its author, upon
whose face that internal beauty is imperfectly reflected.

Every person whom we love, indeed to a certain extent every person is
to us like Janus, presenting to us the face that we like if that
person leaves us, the repellent face if we know him or her to be
perpetually at our disposal. In the case of Albertine, the prospect
of her continued society was painful to me in another fashion which I
cannot explain in this narrative. It is terrible to have the life of
another person attached to our own like a bomb which we hold in our
hands, unable to get rid of it without committing a crime. But let us
take as a parallel the ups and downs, the dangers, the anxieties, the
fear of seeing believed in time to come false and probable things
which one will not be able then to explain, feelings that one
experiences if one lives in the intimate society of a madman. For
instance, I pitied M. de Charlus for living with Morel (immediately
the memory of the scene that afternoon made me feel the left side of
my breast heavier than the other); leaving out of account the
relations that may or may not have existed between them, M. de Charlus
must have been unaware at the outset that Morel was mad. Morel's
beauty, his stupidity, his pride must have deterred the Baron from
exploring so deeply, until the days of melancholy when Morel accused
M. de Charlus of responsibility for his sorrows, without being able to
furnish any explanation, abused him for his want of confidence, by the
aid of false but extremely subtle reasoning, threatened him with
desperate resolutions, while throughout all this there persisted the
most cunning regard for his own most immediate interests But all this
is only a comparison. Albertine was not mad.

I learned that a death had occurred during the day which distressed me
greatly, that of Bergotte. It was known that he had been ill for a
long time past. Not, of course, with the illness from which he had
suffered originally and which was natural. Nature hardly seems capable
of giving us any but quite short illnesses. But medicine has annexed
to itself the art of prolonging them. Remedies, the respite that they
procure, the relapses that a temporary cessation of them provokes,
compose a sham illness to which the patient grows so accustomed that
he ends by making it permanent, just as children continue to give way
to fits of coughing long after they have been cured of the whooping
cough. Then remedies begin to have less effect, the doses are
increased, they cease to do any good, but they have begun to do harm
thanks to that lasting indisposition. Nature would not have offered
them so long a tenure. It is a great miracle that medicine can almost
equal nature in forcing a man to remain in bed, to continue on pain of
death the use of some drug. From that moment the illness artificially
grafted has taken root, has become a secondary but a genuine illness,
with this difference only that natural illnesses are cured, but never
those which medicine creates, for it knows not the secret of their

For years past Bergotte had ceased to go out of doors. Anyhow, he had
never cared for society, or had cared for it for a day only, to
despise it as he despised everything else and in the same fashion,
which was his own, namely to despise a thing not because it was beyond
his reach but as soon as he had reached it. He lived so simply that
nobody suspected how rich he was, and anyone who had known would still
have been mistaken, for he would have thought him a miser, whereas no
one was ever more generous. He was generous above all towards
women,—girls, one ought rather to say—who were ashamed to receive so
much in return for so little. He excused himself in his own eyes
because he knew that he could never produce such good work as in an
atmosphere of amorous feelings. Love is too strong a word, pleasure
that is at all deeply rooted in the flesh is helpful to literary work
because it cancels all other pleasures, for instance the pleasures of
society, those which are the same for everyone. And even if this love
leads to disillusionment, it does at least stir, even by so doing, the
surface of the soul which otherwise would be in danger of becoming
stagnant. Desire is therefore not without its value to the writer in
detaching him first of all from his fellow men and from conforming to
their standards, and afterwards in restoring some degree of movement
to a spiritual machine which, after a certain age, tends to become
paralysed. We do not succeed in being happy but we make observation
of the reasons which prevent us from being happy and which would have
remained invisible to us but for these loopholes opened by
disappointment. Dreams are not to be converted into reality, that we
know; we would not form any, perhaps, were it not for desire, and it
is useful to us to form them in order to see them fail and to be
instructed by their failure. And so Bergotte said to himself: "I am
spending more than a multimillionaire would spend upon girls, but the
pleasures or disappointments that they give me make me write a book
which brings me money." Economically, this argument was absurd, but no
doubt he found some charm in thus transmuting gold into caresses and
caresses into gold. We saw, at the time of my grandmother's death, how
a weary old age loves repose. Now in society, there is nothing but
conversation. It may be stupid, but it has the faculty of suppressing
women who are nothing more than questions and answers. Removed from
society, women become once more what is so reposeful to a weary old
man, an object of contemplation. In any case, it was no longer a
question of anything of this sort. I have said that Bergotte never
went out of doors, and when he got out of bed for an hour in his room,
he would be smothered in shawls, plaids, all the things with which a
person covers himself before exposing himself to intense cold or
getting into a railway train. He would apologise to the few friends
whom he allowed to penetrate to his sanctuary, and, pointing to his
tartan plaids, his travelling-rugs, would say merrily: "After all, my
dear fellow, life, as Anaxagoras has said, is a journey." Thus he went
on growing steadily colder, a tiny planet that offered a prophetic
image of the greater, when gradually heat will withdraw from the
earth, then life itself. Then the resurrection will have come to an
end, for if, among future generations, the works of men are to shine,
there must first of all be men. If certain kinds of animals hold out
longer against the invading chill, when there are no longer any men,
and if we suppose Bergotte's fame to have lasted so long, suddenly it
will be extinguished for all time. It will not be the last animals
that will read him, for it is scarcely probable that, like the
Apostles on the Day of Pentecost, they will be able to understand the
speech of the various races of mankind without having learned it.

In the months that preceded his death, Bergotte suffered from
insomnia, and what was worse, whenever he did fall asleep, from
nightmares which, if he awoke, made him reluctant to go to sleep
again. He had long been a lover of dreams, even of bad dreams, because
thanks to them and to the contradiction they present to the reality
which we have before us in our waking state, they give us, at the
moment of waking if not before, the profound sensation of having
slept. But Bergotte's nightmares were not like that. When he spoke of
nightmares, he used in the past to mean unpleasant things that passed
through his brain. Latterly, it was as though proceeding from
somewhere outside himself that he would see a hand armed with a damp
cloth which, passed over his face by an evil woman, kept scrubbing him
awake, an intolerable itching in his thighs, the rage—because
Bergotte had murmured in his sleep that he was driving badly—of a
raving lunatic of a cabman who flung himself upon the writer, biting
and gnawing his fingers. Finally, as soon as in his sleep it had grown
sufficiently dark, nature arranged a sort of undress rehearsal of the
apoplectic stroke that was to carry him off: Bergotte arrived in a
carriage beneath the porch of Swann's new house, and tried to alight.
A stunning giddiness glued him to his seat, the porter came forward to
help him out of the carriage, he remained seated, unable to rise,—to
straighten his legs. He tried to pull himself up with the help of the
stone pillar that was by his side, but did not find sufficient support
in it to enable him to stand.

He consulted doctors who, flattered at being called in by him, saw in
his virtue as an incessant worker (it was twenty years since he had
written anything), in his overstrain, the cause of his ailments. They
advised him not to read thrilling stories (he never read anything), to
benefit more by the sunshine, which was 'indispensable to life' (he
had owed a few years of comparative health only to his rigorous
seclusion indoors), to take nourishment (which made him thinner, and
nourished nothing but his nightmares). One of his doctors was blessed
with the spirit of contradiction, and whenever Bergotte consulted him
in the absence of the others, and, in order not to offend him,
suggested to him as his own ideas what the others had advised, this
doctor, thinking that Bergotte was seeking to have prescribed for him
something that he himself liked, at once forbade it, and often for
reasons invented so hurriedly to meet the case that in face of the
material objections which Bergotte raised, this argumentative doctor
was obliged in the same sentence to contradict himself, but, for fresh
reasons, repeated the original prohibition. Bergotte returned to one
of the first of these doctors, a man who prided himself on his
cleverness, especially in the presence of one of the leading men of
letters, and who, if Bergotte insinuated: "I seem to remember, though,
that Dr. X—— told me—long ago, of course—that that might congest
my kidneys and brain..." would smile sardonically, raise his finger
and enounce: "I said use, I did not say abuse. Naturally every remedy,
if one takes it in excess, becomes a two-edged sword." There is in the
human body a certain instinct for what is beneficial to us, as there
is in the heart for what is our moral duty, an instinct which no
authorisation by a Doctor of Medicine or Divinity can replace. We know
that cold baths are bad for us, we like them, we can always find a
doctor to recommend them, not to prevent them from doing us harm. From
each of these doctors Bergotte took something which, in his own
wisdom, he had forbidden himself for years past. After a few weeks,
his old troubles had reappeared, the new had become worse. Maddened by
an unintermittent pain, to which was added insomnia broken only by
brief spells of nightmare, Bergotte called in no more doctors and
tried with success, but to excess, different narcotics, hopefully
reading the prospectus that accompanied each of them, a prospectus
which proclaimed the necessity of sleep but hinted that all the
preparations which induce it (except that contained in the bottle
round which the prospectus was wrapped, which never produced any toxic
effect) were toxic, and therefore made the remedy worse than the
disease. Bergotte tried them all. Some were of a different family
from those to which we are accustomed, preparations for instance of
amyl and ethyl. When we absorb a new drug, entirely different in
composition, it is always with a delicious expectancy of the unknown.
Our heart beats as at a first assignation. To what unknown forms of
sleep, of dreams, is the newcomer going to lead us? He is inside us
now, he has the control of our thoughts. In what fashion are we going
to fall asleep? And, once we are asleep, by what strange paths, up to
what peaks, into what unfathomed gulfs is he going to lead us? With
what new grouping of sensations are we to become acquainted on this
journey? Will it bring us in the end to illness? To blissful
happiness? To death? Bergotte's death had come to him overnight, when
he had thus entrusted himself to one of these friends (a friend? or an
enemy, rather?) who proved too strong for him. The circumstances of
his death were as follows. An attack of uraemia, by no means serious,
had led to his being ordered to rest. But one of the critics having
written somewhere that in Vermeer's _Street in Delft_ (lent by the
Gallery at The Hague for an Exhibition of Dutch painting), a picture
which he adored and imagined that he knew by heart, a little patch of
yellow wall (which he could not remember) was so well painted that it
was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of
Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself, Bergotte ate a
few potatoes, left the house, and went to the exhibition. At the first
few steps that he had to climb he was overcome by giddiness. He passed
in front of several pictures and was struck by the stiffness and
futility of so artificial a school, nothing of which equalled the
fresh air and sunshine of a Venetian palazzo, or of an ordinary house
by the sea. At last he came to the Vermeer which he remembered as
more striking, more different from anything else that he knew, but in
which, thanks to the critic's article, he remarked for the first time
some small figures in blue, that the ground was pink, and finally the
precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall. His giddiness
increased; he fixed his eyes, like a child upon a yellow butterfly
which it is trying to catch, upon the precious little patch of wall.
"That is how I ought to have written," he said. "My last books are too
dry, I ought to have gone over them with several coats of paint, made
my language exquisite in itself, like this little patch of yellow
wall." Meanwhile he was not unconscious of the gravity of his
condition. In a celestial balance there appeared to him, upon one of
its scales, his own life, while the other contained the little patch
of wall so beautifully painted in yellow. He felt that he had rashly
surrendered the former for the latter. "All the same," he said to
himself, "I have no wish to provide the 'feature' of this exhibition
for the evening papers."

He repeated to himself: "Little patch of yellow wall, with a sloping
roof, little patch of yellow wall." While doing so he sank down upon a
circular divan; and then at once he ceased to think that his life was
in jeopardy and, reverting to his natural optimism, told himself: "It
is just an ordinary indigestion from those potatoes; they weren't
properly cooked; it is nothing." A fresh attack beat him down; he
rolled from the divan to the floor, as visitors and attendants came
hurrying to his assistance. He was dead. Permanently dead? Who shall
say? Certainly our experiments in spiritualism prove no more than the
dogmas of religion that the soul survives death. All that we can say
is that everything is arranged in this life as though we entered it
carrying the burden of obligations contracted in a former life; there
is no reason inherent in the conditions of life on this earth that can
make us consider ourselves obliged to do good, to be fastidious, to be
polite even, nor make the talented artist consider himself obliged to
begin over again a score of times a piece of work the admiration
aroused by which will matter little to his body devoured by worms,
like the patch of yellow wall painted with so much knowledge and skill
by an artist who must for ever remain unknown and is barely identified
under the name Vermeer. All these obligations which have not their
sanction in our present life seem to belong to a different world,
founded upon kindness, scrupulosity, self-sacrifice, a world entirely
different from this, which we leave in order to be born into this
world, before perhaps returning to the other to live once again
beneath the sway of those unknown laws which we have obeyed because we
bore their precepts in our hearts, knowing not whose hand had traced
them there—those laws to which every profound work of the intellect
brings us nearer and which are invisible only—and still!—to fools.
So that the idea that Bergotte was not wholly and permanently dead is
by no means improbable.

They buried him, but all through the night of mourning, in the lighted
windows, his books arranged three by three kept watch like angels with
outspread wings and seemed, for him who was no more, the symbol of his

I learned, I have said, that day that Bergotte was dead. And I
marvelled at the carelessness of the newspapers which—each of them
reproducing the same paragraph—stated that he had died the day
before. For, the day before, Albertine had met him, as she informed me
that very evening, and indeed she had been a little late in coming
home, for she had stopped for some time talking to him. She was
doubtless the last person to whom he had spoken. She knew him through
myself who had long ceased to see him, but, as she had been anxious to
make his acquaintance, I had, a year earlier, written to ask the old
master whether I might bring her to see him. He had granted my
request, a trifle hurt, I fancy, that I should be visiting him only to
give pleasure to another person, which was a proof of my indifference
to himself. These cases are frequent: sometimes the man or woman whom
we implore to receive us not for the pleasure of conversing with them
again, but on behalf of a third person, refuses so obstinately that
our protégée concludes that we have boasted of an influence which we
do not possess; more often the man of genius or the famous beauty
consents, but, humiliated in their glory, wounded in their affection,
feel for us afterwards only a diminished, sorrowful, almost
contemptuous attachment. I discovered long after this that I had
falsely accused the newspapers of inaccuracy, since on the day in
question Albertine had not met Bergotte, but at the time I had never
suspected this for a single instant, so naturally had she told me of
the incident, and it was not until much later that I discovered her
charming skill in lying with simplicity. The things that she said, the
things that she confessed were so stamped with the character of formal
evidence—what we see, what we learn from an unquestionable
source—that she sowed thus in the empty spaces of her life episodes
of another life the falsity of which I did not then suspect and began
to perceive only at a much later date. I have used the word
'confessed,' for the following reason. Sometimes a casual meeting gave
me a jealous suspicion in which by her side there figured in the past,
or alas in the future, another person. In order to appear certain of
my facts, I mentioned the person's name, and Albertine said: "Yes, I
met her, a week ago, just outside the house. I had to be polite and
answer her when she spoke to me. I walked a little way with her. But
there never has been anything between us. There never will be." Now
Albertine had not even met this person, for the simple reason that the
person had not been in Paris for the last ten months. But my mistress
felt that a complete denial would sound hardly probable. Whence this
imaginary brief encounter, related so simply that I could see the lady
stop, bid her good day, walk a little way with her. The evidence of my
senses, if I had been in the street at that moment, would perhaps have
informed me that the lady had not been with Albertine. But if I had
knowledge of the fact, it was by one of those chains of reasoning in
which the words of people in whom we have confidence insert strong
links, and not by the evidence of my senses. To invoke this evidence
of the senses I should have had to be in the street at that particular
moment, and I had not been. We may imagine, however, that such an
hypothesis is not improbable: I might have gone out, and have been
passing along the street at the time at which Albertine was to tell me
in the evening (not having seen me there) that she had gone a little
way with the lady, and I should then have known that Albertine was
lying. But is that quite certain even then? A religious obscurity
would have clouded my mind, I should have begun to doubt whether I had
seen her by herself, I should barely have sought to understand by what
optical illusion I had failed to perceive the lady, and should not
have been greatly surprised to find myself mistaken, for the stellar
universe is not so difficult of comprehension as the real actions of
other people, especially of the people with whom we are in love,
strengthened as they are against our doubts by fables devised for
their protection. For how many years on end can they not allow our
apathetic love to believe that they have in some foreign country a
sister, a brother, a sister-in-law who have never existed!

The evidence of the senses is also an operation of the mind in which
conviction creates the evidence. We have often seen her sense of
hearing convey to Françoise not the word that was uttered but what she
thought to be its correct form, which was enough to prevent her from
hearing the correction implied in a superior pronunciation. Our butler
was cast in a similar mould. M. de Charlus was in the habit of wearing
at this time—for he was constantly changing—very light trousers
which were recognisable a mile off. Now our butler, who thought that
the word _pissotière_ (the word denoting what M. de Rambuteau had been
so annoyed to hear the Duc de Guermantes call a Rambuteau stall) was
really _pistière_, never once in the whole of his life heard a single
person say _pissotière_, albeit the word was frequently pronounced
thus in his hearing. But error is more obstinate than faith and does
not examine the grounds of its belief. Constantly the butler would
say: "I'm sure M. le Baron de Charlus must have caught a disease to
stand about as long as he does in a _pistière_. That's what comes of
running after the girls at his age. You can tell what he is by his
trousers. This morning, Madame sent me with a message to Neuilly. As I
passed the _pistière_ in the Rue de Bourgogne I saw M. le Baron de
Charlus go in. When I came back from Neuilly, quite an hour later, I
saw his yellow trousers in the same _pistière_, in the same place, in
the middle stall where he always goes so that people shan't see him."
I can think of no one more beautiful, more noble or more youthful than
a certain niece of Mme. de Guermantes. But I have heard the porter of
a restaurant where I used sometimes to dine say as she went by: "Just
look at that old trollop, what a style! And she must be eighty, if
she's a day." As far as age went, I find it difficult to believe that
he meant what he said. But the pages clustered round him, who tittered
whenever she went past the hotel on her way to visit, at their house
in the neighbourhood, her charming great-aunts, Mmes. de Fezensac and
de Bellery, saw upon the face of the young beauty the four-score years
with which, seriously or in jest, the porter had endowed the 'old
trollop.' You would have made them shriek with laughter had you told
them that she was more distinguished than one of the two cashiers of
the hotel, who, devoured by eczema, ridiculously stout, seemed to them
a fine-looking woman. Perhaps sexual desire alone would have been
capable of preventing their error from taking form, if it had been
brought to bear upon the passage of the alleged old trollop, and if
the pages had suddenly begun to covet the young goddess. But for
reasons unknown, which were most probably of a social nature, this
desire had not come into play. There is moreover ample room for
discussion. The universe is true for us all and dissimilar to each of
us. If we were not obliged, to preserve the continuity of our story,
to confine ourselves to frivolous reasons, how many more serious
reasons would permit us to demonstrate the falsehood and flimsiness of
the opening pages of this volume in which, from my bed, I hear the
world awake, now to one sort of weather, now to another. Yes, I have
been forced to whittle down the facts, and to be a liar, but it is not
one universe, there are millions, almost as many as the number of
human eyes and brains in existence, that awake every morning.

To return to Albertine, I have never known any woman more amply
endowed than herself with the happy aptitude for a lie that is
animated, coloured with the selfsame tints of life, unless it be one
of her friends—one of my blossoming girls also, rose-pink as
Albertine, but one whose irregular profile, concave in one place, then
convex again, was exactly like certain clusters of pink flowers the
name of which I have forgotten, but which have long and sinuous
concavities. This girl was, from the point of view of story-telling,
superior to Albertine, for she never introduced any of those painful
moments, those furious innuendoes, which were frequent with my
mistress. I have said, however, that she was charming when she
invented a story which left no room for doubt, for one saw then in
front of her the thing—albeit imaginary—which she was saying, using
it as an illustration of her speech. Probability alone inspired
Albertine, never the desire to make me jealous. For Albertine, without
perhaps any material interest, liked people to be polite to her. And
if in the course of this work I have had and shall have many occasions
to shew how jealousy intensifies love, it is the lover's point of view
that I have adopted. But if that lover be only the least bit proud,
and though he were to die of a separation, he will not respond to a
supposed betrayal with a courteous speech, he will turn away, or
without going will order himself to assume a mask of coldness. And so
it is entirely to her own disadvantage that his mistress makes him
suffer so acutely. If, on the contrary, she dispels with a tactful
word, with loving caresses, the suspicions that have been torturing
him for all his show of indifference, no doubt the lover does not feel
that despairing increase of love to which jealousy drives him, but
ceasing in an instant to suffer, happy, affectionate, relieved from
strain as one is after a storm when the rain has ceased and one barely
hears still splash at long intervals from the tall horse-chestnut
trees the clinging drops which already the reappearing sun has dyed
with colour, he does not know how to express his gratitude to her who
has cured him. Albertine knew that I liked to reward her for her
kindnesses, and this perhaps explained why she used to invent, to
exculpate herself, confessions as natural as these stories the truth
of which I never doubted, one of them being that of her meeting with
Bergotte when he was already dead. Previously I had never known any of
Albertine's lies save those that, at Balbec for instance, Françoise
used to report to me, which I have omitted from these pages albeit
they hurt me so sorely: "As she didn't want to come, she said to me:
'Couldn't you say to Monsieur that you didn't find me, that I had gone
out?'" But our 'inferiors,' who love us as Françoise loved me, take
pleasure in wounding us in our self-esteem.


The Verdurins quarrel with M. de Charlus

AFTER dinner, I told Albertine that, since I was out of bed, I might
as well take the opportunity to go and see some of my friends, Mme. de
Villeparisis, Mme. de Guermantes, the Cambremers, anyone in short whom
I might find at home. I omitted to mention only the people whom I did
intend to see, the Verdurins. I asked her if she would not come with
me. She pleaded that she had no suitable clothes. "Besides, my hair is
so awful. Do you really wish me to go on doing it like this?" And by
way of farewell she held out her hand to me in that abrupt fashion,
the arm outstretched, the shoulders thrust back, which she used to
adopt on the beach at Balbec and had since then entirely abandoned.
This forgotten gesture retransformed the body which it animated into
that of the Albertine who as yet scarcely knew me. It restored to
Albertine, ceremonious beneath an air of rudeness, her first novelty,
her strangeness, even her setting. I saw the sea behind this girl whom
I had never seen shake hands with me in this fashion since I was at
the seaside. "My aunt thinks it makes me older," she added with a
sullen air. "Oh that her aunt may be right!" thought I. "That
Albertine by looking like a child should make Mme. Bontemps appear
younger than she is, is all that her aunt would ask, and also that
Albertine shall cost her nothing between now and the day when, by
marrying me, she will repay what has been spent on her." But that
Albertine should appear less young, less pretty, should turn fewer
heads in the street, that is what I, on the contrary, hoped. For the
age of a duenna is less reassuring to a jealous lover than the age of
the woman's face whom he loves. I regretted only that the style in
which I had asked her to do her hair should appear to Albertine an
additional bolt on the door of her prison. And it was henceforward
this new domestic sentiment that never ceased, even when I was parted
from Albertine, to form a bond attaching me to her.

I said to Albertine, who was not dressed, or so she told me, to
accompany me to the Guermantes' or the Cambremers', that I could not
be certain where I should go, and set off for the Verdurins'. At the
moment when the thought of the concert that I was going to hear
brought back to my mind the scene that afternoon: "_Grand pied de
grue, grand pied de grue_,"—a scene of disappointed love, of jealous
love perhaps, but if so as bestial as the scene to which a woman might
be subjected by, so to speak, an orang-outang that was, if one may use
the expression, in love with her—at the moment when, having reached
the street, I was just going to hail a cab, I heard the sound of sobs
which a man who was sitting upon a curbstone was endeavouring to
stifle. I came nearer; the man, who had buried his face in his hands,
appeared to be quite young, and I was surprised to see, from the gleam
of white in the opening of his cloak, that he was wearing evening
clothes and a white tie. As he heard my step he uncovered a face
bathed in tears, but at once, having recognised me, turned away. It
was Morel. He guessed that I had recognised him and, checking his
tears with an effort, told me that he had stopped to rest for a
moment, he was in such pain. "I have grossly insulted, only to-day,"
he said, "a person for whom I had the very highest regard. It was a
cowardly thing to do, for she loves me." "She will forget perhaps, as
time goes on," I replied, without realising that by speaking thus I
made it apparent that I had overheard the scene that afternoon. But he
was so much absorbed in his own grief that it never even occurred to
him that I might know something about the affair. "She may forget,
perhaps," he said. "But I myself can never forget. I am too conscious
of my degradation, I am disgusted with myself! However, what I have
said I have said, and nothing can unsay it. When people make me lose
my temper, I don't know what I am doing. And it is so bad for me, my
nerves are all on edge," for, like all neurasthenics, he was keenly
interested in his own health. If, during the afternoon, I had
witnessed the amorous rage of an infuriated animal, this evening,
within a few hours, centuries had elapsed and a fresh sentiment, a
sentiment of shame, regret, grief, shewed that a great stage had been
passed in the evolution of the beast destined to be transformed into a
human being. Nevertheless, I still heard ringing in my ears his
'_grand pied de grue_' and dreaded an imminent return to the savage
state. I had only a very vague impression, however, of what had been
happening, and this was but natural, for M. de Charlus himself was
totally unaware that for some days past, and especially that day, even
before the shameful episode which was not a direct consequence of the
violinist's condition, Morel had been suffering from a recurrence of
his neurasthenia. As a matter of fact, he had, in the previous month,
proceeded as rapidly as he had been able, a great deal less rapidly
than he would have liked, towards the seduction of Jupien's niece with
whom he was at liberty, now that they were engaged, to go out whenever
he chose. But whenever he had gone a trifle far in his attempts at
violation, and especially when he suggested to his betrothed that she
might make friends with other girls whom she would then procure for
himself, he had met with a resistance that made him furious. All at
once (whether she would have proved too chaste, or on the contrary
would have surrendered herself) his desire had subsided. He had
decided to break with her, but feeling that the Baron, vicious as he
might be, was far more moral than himself, he was afraid lest, in the
event of a rupture, M. de Charlus might turn him out of the house. And
so he had decided, a fortnight ago, that he would not see the girl
again, would leave M. de Charlus and Jupien to clean up the mess (he
employed a more realistic term) by themselves, and, before announcing
the rupture, to 'b—— off' to an unknown destination.

For all that his conduct towards Jupien's niece coincided exactly, in
its minutest details, with the plan of conduct which he had outlined
to the Baron as they were dining together at Saint-Mars le Vêtu, it is
probable that his intention was entirely different, and that
sentiments of a less atrocious nature, which he had not foreseen in
his theory of conduct, had improved, had tinged it with sentiment in
practice. The sole point in which, on the contrary, the practice was
worse than the theory is this, that in theory it had not appeared to
him possible that he could remain in Paris after such an act of
betrayal. Now, on the contrary, actually to 'b—— off' for so small
a matter seemed to him quite unnecessary. It meant leaving the Baron
who would probably be furious, and forfeiting his own position. He
would lose all the money that the Baron was now giving him. The
thought that this was inevitable made his nerves give away altogether,
he cried for hours on end, and in order not to think about it any more
dosed himself cautiously with morphine. Then suddenly he hit upon an
idea which no doubt had gradually been taking shape in his mind and
gaining strength there for some time, and this was that a rupture with
the girl would not inevitably mean a complete break with M. de
Charlus. To lose all the Baron's money was a serious thing in itself.
Morel in his uncertainty remained for some days a prey to dark
thoughts, such as came to him at the sight of Bloch. Then he decided
that Jupien and his niece had been trying to set a trap for him, that
they might consider themselves lucky to be rid of him so cheaply. He
found in short that the girl had been in the wrong in being so clumsy,
in not having managed to keep him attached to her by a sensual
attraction. Not only did the sacrifice of his position with M. de
Charlus seem to him absurd, he even regretted the expensive dinners he
had given the girl since they became engaged, the exact cost of which
he knew by heart, being a true son of the valet who used to bring his
'book' every month for my uncle's inspection. For the word book, in
the singular, which means a printed volume to humanity in general,
loses that meaning among Royal Princes and servants. To the latter it
means their housekeeping book, to the former the register in which we
inscribe our names. (At Balbec one day when the Princesse de
Luxembourg told me that she had not brought a book with her, I was
about to offer her _Le Pêcheur d'Islande_ and _Tartarin de Tarascon_,
when I realised that she had meant not that she would pass the time
less agreeably, but that I should find it more difficult to pay a call
upon her.)

Notwithstanding the change in Morel's point of view with regard to the
consequences of his behaviour, albeit that behaviour would have seemed
to him abominable two months earlier, when he was passionately in love
with Jupien's niece, whereas during the last fortnight he had never
ceased to assure himself that the same behaviour was natural,
praiseworthy, it continued to intensify the state of nervous unrest in
which, finally, he had announced the rupture that afternoon. And he
was quite prepared to vent his anger, if not (save in a momentary
outburst) upon the girl, for whom he still felt that lingering fear,
the last trace of love, at any rate upon the Baron. He took care,
however, not to say anything to him before dinner, for, valuing his
own professional skill above everything, whenever he had any difficult
music to play (as this evening at the Verdurins') he avoided (as far
as possible, and the scene that afternoon was already more than ample)
anything that might impair the flexibility of his wrists. Similarly a
surgeon who is an enthusiastic motorist, does not drive when he has an
operation to perform. This accounts to me for the fact that, while he
was speaking to me, he kept bending his fingers gently one after
another to see whether they had regained their suppleness. A slight
frown seemed to indicate that there was still a trace of nervous
stiffness. But, so as not to increase it, he relaxed his features, as
we forbid ourself to grow irritated at not being able to sleep or to
prevail upon a woman, for fear lest our rage itself may retard the
moment of sleep or of satisfaction. And so, anxious to regain his
serenity so that he might, as was his habit, absorb himself entirely
in what he was going to play at the Verdurins', and anxious, so long
as I was watching him, to let me see how unhappy he was, he decided
that the simplest course was to beg me to leave him immediately. His
request was superfluous, and it was a relief to me to get away from
him. I had trembled lest, as we were due at the same house, within a
few minutes, he might ask me to take him with me, my memory of the
scene that afternoon being too vivid not to give me a certain distaste
for the idea of having Morel by my side during the drive. It is quite
possible that the love, and afterwards the indifference or hatred felt
by Morel for Jupien's niece had been sincere. Unfortunately, it was
not the first time that he had behaved thus, that he had suddenly
'dropped' a girl to whom he had sworn undying love, going so far as to
produce a loaded revolver, telling her that he would blow out his
brains if ever he was mean enough to desert her. He did nevertheless
desert her in time, and felt instead of remorse, a sort of rancour
against her. It was not the first time that he had behaved thus, it
was not to be the last, with the result that the heads of many
girls—girls less forgetful of him than he was of them—suffered—as
Jupien's niece's head continued long afterwards to suffer, still in
love with Morel although she despised him—suffered, ready to burst
with the shooting of an internal pain because in each of them—like a
fragment of a Greek carving—an aspect of Morel's face, hard as marble
and beautiful as an antique sculpture, was embedded in her brain, with
his blossoming hair, his fine eyes, his straight nose, forming a
protuberance in a cranium not shaped to receive it, upon which no
operation was possible. But in the fulness of time these stony
fragments end by slipping into a place where they cause no undue
discomfort, from which they never stir again; we are no longer
conscious of their presence: I mean forgetfulness, or an indifferent

Meanwhile I had gained two things in the course of the day. On the one
hand, thanks to the calm that was produced in me by Albertine's
docility, I found it possible, and therefore made up my mind, to break
with her. There was on the other hand, the fruit of my reflexions
during the interval that I had spent waiting for her, at the piano,
the idea that Art, to which I would try to devote my reconquered
liberty, was not a thing that justified one in making a sacrifice, a
thing above and beyond life, that did not share in its fatuity and
futility; the appearance of real individuality obtained in works of
art being due merely to the illusion created by the artist's technical
skill. If my afternoon had left behind it other deposits, possibly
more profound, they were not to come to my knowledge until much later.
As for the two which I was able thus to weigh, they were not to be
permanent; for, from this very evening my ideas about art were to rise
above the depression to which they had been subjected in the
afternoon, while on the other hand my calm, and consequently the
freedom that would enable me to devote myself to it, was once again to
be withdrawn from me.

As my cab, following the line of the embankment, was coming near the
Verdurins' house, I made the driver pull up. I had just seen Brichot
alighting from the tram at the foot of the Rue Bonaparte, after which
he dusted his shoes with an old newspaper and put on a pair of pearl
grey gloves. I went up to him on foot. For some time past, his sight
having grown steadily weaker, he had been endowed—as richly as an
observatory—with new spectacles of a powerful and complicated kind,
which, like astronomical instruments, seemed to be screwed into his
eyes; he focussed their exaggerated blaze upon myself and recognised
me. They—the spectacles—were in marvellous condition. But behind
them I could see, minute, pallid, convulsive, expiring, a remote gaze
placed under this powerful apparatus, as, in a laboratory equipped out
of all proportion to the work that is done in it, you may watch the
last throes of some insignificant animalcule through the latest and
most perfect type of microscope. I offered him my arm to guide him on
his way. "This time it is not by great Cherbourg that we meet," he
said to me, "but by little Dunkerque," a remark which I found
extremely tiresome, as I failed to understand what he meant; and yet I
dared not ask Brichot, dreading not so much his scorn as his
explanations. I replied that I was longing to see the room in which
Swann used to meet Odette every evening. "What, so you know that old
story, do you?" he said. "And yet from those days to the death of
Swann is what the poet rightly calls: '_Grande spatium mortalis

The death of Swann had been a crushing blow to me at the time. The
death of Swann! Swann, in this phrase, is something more than a noun
in the possessive case. I mean by it his own particular death, the
death allotted by destiny to the service of Swann. For we talk of
'death' for convenience, but there are almost as many different deaths
as there are people. We are not equipped with a sense that would
enable us to see, moving at every speed in every direction, these
deaths, the active deaths aimed by destiny at this person or that.
Often there are deaths that will not be entirely relieved of their
duties until two or even three years later. They come in haste to
plant a tumour in the side of a Swann, then depart to attend to their
other duties, returning only when, the surgeons having performed their
operation, it is necessary to plant the tumour there afresh. Then
comes the moment when we read in the _Gaulois_ that Swann's health has
been causing anxiety but that he is now making an excellent recovery.
Then, a few minutes before the breath leaves our body, death, like a
sister of charity who has come to nurse, rather than to destroy us,
enters to preside over our last moments, crowns with a supreme halo
the cold and stiffening creature whose heart has ceased to beat. And
it is this diversity among deaths, the mystery of their circuits, the
colour of their fatal badge, that makes so impressive a paragraph in
the newspapers such as this:

"We regret to learn that M. Charles Swann passed away yesterday at his
residence in Paris, after a long and painful illness. A Parisian whose
intellectual gifts were widely appreciated, a discriminating but
steadfastly loyal friend, he will be universally regretted, in those
literary and artistic circles where the soundness and refinement of
his taste made him a willing and a welcome guest, as well as at the
Jockey Club of which he was one of the oldest and most respected
members. He belonged also to the Union and Agricole. He had recently
resigned his membership of the Rue Royale. His personal appearance
and eminently distinguished bearing never failed to arouse public
interest at all the great events of the musical and artistic seasons,
especially at private views, at which he was a regular attendant
until, during the last years of his life, he became almost entirely
confined to the house. The funeral will take place, etc."

From this point of view, if one is not 'somebody,' the absence of a
well known title makes the process of decomposition even more rapid.
No doubt it is more or less anonymously, without any personal
identity, that a man still remains Duc d'Uzès. But the ducal coronet
does for some time hold the elements together, as their moulds keep
together those artistically designed ices which Albertine admired,
whereas the names of ultra-fashionable commoners, as soon as they are
dead, dissolve and lose their shape. We have seen M. de Bréauté speak
of Cartier as the most intimate friend of the Duc de La Trémoïlle, as
a man greatly in demand in aristocratic circles. To a later
generation, Cartier has become something so formless that it would
almost be adding to his importance to make him out as related to the
jeweller Cartier, with whom he would have smiled to think that anybody
could be so ignorant as to confuse him! Swann on the contrary was a
remarkable personality, in both the intellectual and the artistic
worlds; and even although he had 'produced' nothing, still he had a
chance of surviving a little longer. And yet, my dear Charles ——,
whom I used to know when I was still so young and you were nearing
your grave, it is because he whom you must have regarded as a little
fool has made you the hero of one of his volumes that people are
beginning to speak of you again and that your name will perhaps live.
If in Tissot's picture representing the balcony of the Rue Royale
club, where you figure with Galliffet, Edmond Polignac and
Saint-Maurice, people are always drawing attention to yourself, it is
because they know that there are some traces of you in the character
of Swann.

To return to more general realities, it was of this foretold and yet
unforeseen death of Swann that I had heard him speak himself to the
Duchesse de Guermantes, on the evening of her cousin's party. It was
the same death whose striking and specific strangeness had recurred to
me one evening when, as I ran my eye over the newspaper, my attention
was suddenly arrested by the announcement of it, as though traced in
mysterious lines interpolated there out of place. They had sufficed to
make of a living man some one who can never again respond to what you
say to him, to reduce him to a mere name, a written name, that has
passed in a moment from the real world to the realm of silence. It was
they that even now made me anxious to make myself familiar with the
house in which the Verdurins had lived, and where Swann, who at that
time was not merely a row of five letters printed in a newspaper, had
dined so often with Odette. I must add also (and this is what for a
long time made Swann's death more painful than any other, albeit these
reasons bore no relation to the individual strangeness of his death)
that I had never gone to see Gilberte, as I promised him at the
Princesse de Guermantes's, that he had never told me what the 'other
reason' was, to which he alluded that evening, for his selecting me as
the recipient of his conversation with the Prince, that a thousand
questions occurred to me (as bubbles rise from the bottom of a pond)
which I longed to ask him about the most different subjects: Vermeer,
M. de Mouchy, Swann himself, a Boucher tapestry, Combray, questions
that doubtless were not very vital since I had put off asking them
from day to day, but which seemed to me of capital importance now
that, his lips being sealed, no answer would ever come.

"No," Brichot went on, "it was not here that Swann met his future
wife, or rather it was here only in the very latest period, after the
disaster that partially destroyed Mme. Verdurin's former home."

Unfortunately, in my fear of displaying before the eyes of Brichot an
extravagance which seemed to me out of place, since the professor had
no share in its enjoyment, I had alighted too hastily from the
carriage and the driver had not understood the words I had flung at
him over my shoulder in order that I might be well clear of the
carriage before Brichot caught sight of me. The consequence was that
the driver followed us and asked me whether he was to call for me
later; I answered hurriedly in the affirmative, and was regarded with
a vastly increased respect by the professor who had come by omnibus.

"Ah! So you were in a carriage," he said in solemn tones. "Only by the
purest accident. I never take one as a rule. I always travel by
omnibus or on foot. However, it may perhaps entitle me to the great
honour of taking you home to-night if you will oblige me by consenting
to enter that rattletrap; we shall be packed rather tight. But you are
always so considerate to me." Alas, in making him this offer, I am
depriving myself of nothing (I reflected) since in any case I shall be
obliged to go home for Albertine's sake. Her presence in my house, at
an hour when nobody could possibly call to see her, allowed me to
dispose as freely of my time as I had that afternoon, when, seated at
the piano, I knew that she was on her way back from the Trocadéro and
that I was in no hurry to see her again. But furthermore, as also in
the afternoon, I felt that I had a woman in the house and that on
returning home I should not taste the fortifying thrill of solitude.
"I accept with great good will," replied Brichot. "At the period to
which you allude, our friends occupied in the Rue Montalivet a
magnificent ground floor apartment with an upper landing, and a garden
behind, less sumptuous of course, and yet to my mind preferable to the
old Venetian Embassy." Brichot informed me that this evening there was
to be at 'Quai Conti' (thus it was that the faithful spoke of the
Verdurin drawing-room since it had been transferred to that address) a
great musical 'tow-row-row' got up by M. de Charlus. He went on to say
that in the old days to which I had referred, the little nucleus had
been different, and its tone not at all the same, not only because the
faithful had then been younger. He told me of elaborate jokes played
by Elstir (what he called 'pure buffooneries'), as for instance one
day when the painter, having pretended to fail at the last moment, had
come disguised as an extra waiter and, as he handed round the dishes,
whispered gallant speeches in the ear of the extremely proper Baroness
Putbus, crimson with anger and alarm; then disappearing before the end
of dinner he had had a hip-bath carried into the drawing-room, out of
which, when the party left the table, he had emerged stark naked
uttering fearful oaths; and also of supper parties to which the guests
came in paper costumes, designed, cut out and coloured by Elstir,
which were masterpieces in themselves, Brichot having worn on one
occasion that of a great nobleman of the court of Charles VII, with
long turned-up points to his shoes, and another time that of Napoleon
I, for which Elstir had fashioned a Grand Cordon of the Legion of
Honour out of sealing-wax. In short Brichot, seeing again with the
eyes of memory the drawing-room of those days with its high windows,
its low sofas devoured by the midday sun which had had to be replaced,
declared that he preferred it to the drawing-room of to-day. Of
course, I quite understood that by 'drawing-room' Brichot meant—as
the word church implies not merely the religious edifice but the
congregation of worshippers—not merely the apartment, but the people
who visited it, the special pleasures that they came to enjoy there,
to which, in his memory, those sofas had imparted their form upon
which, when you called to see Mme. Verdurin in the afternoon, you
waited until she was ready, while the blossom on the horse chestnuts
outside, and on the mantelpiece carnations in vases seemed, with a
charming and kindly thought for the visitor expressed in the smiling
welcome of their rosy hues, to be watching anxiously for the tardy
appearance of the lady of the house. But if the drawing-room seemed to
him superior to what it was now, it was perhaps because our mind is
the old Proteus who cannot remain the slave of any one shape and, even
in the social world, suddenly abandons a house which has slowly and
with difficulty risen to the pitch of perfection to prefer another
which is less brilliant, just as the 'touched-up' photographs which
Odette had had taken at Otto's, in which she queened it in a
'princess' gown, her hair waved by Lenthéric, did not appeal to Swann
so much as a little 'cabinet picture' taken at Nice, in which, in a
cloth cape, her loosely dressed hair protruding beneath a straw hat
trimmed with pansies and a bow of black ribbon, instead of being
twenty years younger (for women as a rule look all the older in a
photograph, the earlier it is), she looked like a little servant girl
twenty years older than she now was. Perhaps too he derived some
pleasure from praising to me what I myself had never known, from
shewing me that he had tasted delights that I could never enjoy. If
so, he was successful, for merely by mentioning the names of two or
three people who were no longer alive and to each of whom he imparted
something mysterious by his way of referring to them, to that
delicious intimacy, he made me ask myself what it could have been
like; I felt that everything that had been told me about the Verdurins
was far too coarse; and indeed, in the case of Swann whom I had known,
I reproached myself with not having paid him sufficient attention,
with not having paid attention to him in a sufficiently disinterested
spirit, with not having listened to him properly when he used to
entertain me while we waited for his wife to come home for luncheon
and he shewed me his treasures, now that I knew that he was to be
classed with the most brilliant talkers of the past. Just as we were
coming to Mme. Verdurin's doorstep, I caught sight of M. de Charlus,
steering towards us the bulk of his huge body, drawing unwillingly in
his wake one of those blackmailers or mendicants who nowadays,
whenever he appeared, sprang up without fail even in what were to all
appearance the most deserted corners, by whom this powerful monster
was, evidently against his will, invariably escorted, although at a
certain distance, as is the shark by its pilot, in short contrasting
so markedly with the haughty stranger of my first visit to Balbec,
with his stern aspect, his affectation of virility, that I seemed to
be discovering, accompanied by its satellite, a planet at a wholly
different period of its revolution, when one begins to see it full, or
a sick man now devoured by the malady which a few years ago was but a
tiny spot which was easily concealed and the gravity of which was
never suspected. Although the operation that Brichot had undergone had
restored a tiny portion of the sight which he had thought to be lost
for ever, I do not think he had observed the ruffian following in the
Baron's steps. Not that this mattered, for, ever since la Raspelière,
and notwithstanding the professor's friendly regard for M. de Charlus,
the sight of the latter always made him feel ill at ease. No doubt to
every man the life of every other extends along shadowy paths which he
does not suspect. Falsehood, however, so often treacherous, upon
which all conversation is based, conceals less perfectly a feeling of
hostility, or of sordid interest, or a visit which we wish to look as
though we had not paid, or an escapade with the mistress of a day
which we are anxious to keep from our wife, than a good reputation
covers up—so as not to let their existence be guessed—evil habits.
They may remain unknown to us for a lifetime; an accidental encounter
upon a pier, at night, will disclose them; even then this accidental
discovery is frequently misunderstood and we require a third person,
who is in the secret, to supply the unimaginable clue of which
everyone is unaware. But, once we know about them, they alarm us
because we feel that that way madness lies, far more than by their
immorality. Mme. de Surgis did not possess the slightest trace of any
moral feeling, and would have admitted anything of her sons that could
be degraded and explained by material interest, which is
comprehensible to all mankind! But she forbade them to go on visiting
M. de Charlus when she learned that, by a sort of internal clockwork,
he was inevitably drawn upon each of their visits, to pinch their
chins and to make each of them pinch his brother's. She felt that
uneasy sense of a physical mystery which makes us ask ourself whether
the neighbour with whom we have been on friendly terms is not tainted
with cannibalism, and to the Baron's repeated inquiry: "When am I
going to see your sons again?" she would reply, conscious of the
thunderbolts that she was attracting to her defenceless head, that
they were very busy working for examinations, preparing to go abroad,
and so forth. Irresponsibility aggravates faults, and even crimes,
whatever anyone may say. Landru (assuming that he really did kill his
wives) if he did so from a financial motive, which it is possible to
resist, may be pardoned, but not if his crime was due to an
irresistible Sadism.

[END Volume 1]

CHAPTER II (_continued_)

The Verdurins quarrel with M. de Charlus

BRICHOT'S coarse pleasantries, in the early days of his friendship
with the Baron, had given place, as soon as it was a question, not of
uttering commonplaces, but of understanding, to an awkward feeling
which concealed a certain merriment. He reassured himself by recalling
pages of Plato, lines of Virgil, because, being mentally as well as
physically blind, he did not understand that in those days to fall in
love with a young man was like, in our day (Socrates's jokes reveal
this more clearly than Plato's theories), keeping a dancing girl
before one marries and settles down. M. de Charlus himself would not
have understood, he who confused his mania with friendship, which does
not resemble it in the least, and the athletes of Praxiteles with
obliging boxers. He refused to see that for the last nineteen hundred
years ("a pious courtier under a pious prince would have been an
atheist under an atheist prince," as La Bruyère reminds us) all
conventional homosexuality—that of Plato's young friends as well as
that of Virgil's shepherds—has disappeared, that what survives and
increases is only the involuntary, the neurotic kind, which we conceal
from other people and disguise to ourselves. And M. de Charlus would
have been wrong in not denying frankly the pagan genealogy. In
exchange for a little plastic beauty, how vast the moral superiority!
The shepherd in Theocritus who sighs for love of a boy, later on will
have no reason to be less hard of heart, less dull of wit than the
other shepherd whose flute sounds for Amaryllis. For the former is
not suffering from a malady, he is conforming to the customs of his
time. It is the homosexuality that survives in spite of obstacles, a
thing of scorn and loathing, that is the only true form, the only form
that can be found conjoined in a person with an enhancement of his
moral qualities. We are appalled at the apparently close relation
between these and our bodily attributes, when we think of the slight
dislocation of a purely physical taste, the slight blemish in one of
the senses, which explain why the world of poets and musicians, so
firmly barred against the Duc de Guermantes, opens its portals to M.
de Charlus. That the latter should shew taste in the furnishing of his
home, which is that of an eclectic housewife, need not surprise us;
but the narrow loophole that opens upon Beethoven and Veronese! This
does not exempt the sane from a feeling of alarm when a madman who has
composed a sublime poem, after explaining to them in the most logical
fashion that he has been shut up by mistake, through his wife's
machinations, imploring them to intercede for him with the governor of
the asylum, complaining of the promiscuous company that is forced upon
him, concludes as follows: "You see that man who is waiting to speak
to me on the lawn, whom I am obliged to put up with; he thinks that he
is Jesus Christ. That alone will shew you the sort of lunatics that I
have to live among; he cannot be Christ, for I am Christ myself!" A
moment earlier, you were on the point of going to assure the governor
that a mistake had been made. At this final speech, even if you bear
in mind the admirable poem at which this same man is working every
day, you shrink from him, as Mme. de Surgis's sons shrank from M. de
Charlus, not that he would have done them any harm, but because of his
ceaseless invitations, the ultimate purpose of which was to pinch
their chins. The poet is to be pitied, who must, with no Virgil to
guide him, pass through the circles of an inferno of sulphur and
brimstone, to cast himself into the fire that falls from heaven, in
order to rescue a few of the inhabitants of Sodom! No charm in his
work; the same severity in his life as in those of the unfrocked
priests who follow the strictest rule of celibacy so that no one may
be able to ascribe to anything but loss of faith their discarding of
the cassock.

Making a pretence of not seeing the seedy individual who was following
in his wake (whenever the Baron ventured into the Boulevards or
crossed the waiting-room in Saint-Lazare station, these followers
might be counted by the dozen who, in the hope of 'touching him for a
dollar,' never let him out of their sight), and afraid at the same
time that the other might have the audacity to accost him, the Baron
had devoutly lowered his darkened eyelids which, in contrast to his
rice-powdered cheeks, gave him the appearance of a Grand Inquisitor
painted by El Greco. But this priestly expression caused alarm, and he
looked like an unfrocked priest, various compromises to which he had
been driven by the need to apologise for his taste and to keep it
secret having had the effect of bringing to the surface of his face
precisely what the Baron sought to conceal, a debauched life indicated
by moral decay. This last, indeed, whatever be its cause, is easily
detected, for it is never slow in taking bodily form and proliferates
upon a face, especially on the cheeks and round the eyes, as
physically as the ochreous yellows accumulate there in a case of
jaundice or repulsive reds in a case of skin disease. Nor was it
merely in the cheeks, or rather the chaps of this painted face, in the
mammiferous chest, the aggressive rump of this body allowed to
deteriorate and invaded by obesity, upon which there now floated
iridescent as a film of oil, the vice at one time so jealously
confined by M. de Charlus in the most secret chamber of his heart. Now
it overflowed in all his speech.

"So this is how you prowl the streets at night, Brichot, with a
good-looking young man," he said as he joined us, while the
disappointed ruffian made off. "A fine example. We must tell your
young pupils at the Sorbonne that this is how you behave. But, I must
say, the society of youth seems to be good for you, Monsieur le
Professeur, you are as fresh as a rosebud. I have interrupted you, you
looked as though you were enjoying yourselves like a pair of giddy
girls, and had no need of an old Granny Killjoy like myself. I shan't
take it to the confessional, since you are almost at your
destination." The Baron's mood was all the more blithe since he knew
nothing whatever about the scene that afternoon, Jupien having decided
that it was better to protect his niece against a repetition of the
onslaught than to inform M. de Charlus. And so the Baron was still
looking forward to the marriage, and delighting in the thought of it.
One would suppose that it is a consolation to these great solitaries
to give their tragic celibacy the relief of a fictitious fatherhood.
"But, upon my word, Brichot," he went on, turning with a laugh to gaze
at us, "I feel quite awkward when I see you in such gallant company.
You were like a pair of lovers. Going along arm in arm, I say,
Brichot, you do go the pace!" Ought one to ascribe this speech to the
senility of a particular state of mind, less capable than in the past
of controlling its reflexes, which in moments of automatism lets out a
secret that has been so carefully hidden for forty years? Or rather to
that contempt for plebeian opinion which all the Guermantes felt in
their hearts, and of which M. de Charlus's brother, the Duke, was
displaying a variant form when, regardless of the fact that my mother
could see him, he used to shave standing by his bedroom window in his
unbuttoned nightshirt. Had M. de Charlus contracted, during the
roasting journeys between Doncières and Douville, the dangerous habit
of making himself at ease, and, just as he would push back his straw
hat in order to cool his huge forehead, of unfastening—at first, for
a few moments only—the mask that for too long had been rigorously
imposed upon his true face? His conjugal attitude towards Morel might
well have astonished anyone who had observed it in its full extent.
But M. de Charlus had reached the stage when the monotony of the
pleasures that his vice has to offer became wearying. He had sought
instinctively for novel displays, and, growing tired of the strangers
whom he picked up, had passed to the opposite pole, to what he used to
imagine that he would always loathe, the imitation of family life, or
of fatherhood. Sometimes even this did not suffice him, he required
novelty, and would go and spend the night with a woman, just as a
normal man may, once in his life, have wished to go to bed with a boy,
from a curiosity similar though inverse, and in either case equally
unhealthy. The Baron's existence as one of the 'faithful,' living, for
Charlie's sake, entirely among the little clan, had had, in
stultifying the efforts that he had been making for years to keep up
lying appearances, the same influence that a voyage of exploration or
residence in the colonies has upon certain Europeans who discard the
ruling principles by which they were guided at home. And yet, the
internal revolution of a mind, ignorant at first of the anomaly
contained in its body, then appalled at it after the discovery, and
finally growing so used to it as to fail to perceive that it is not
safe to confess to other people what the sinner has come in time to
confess without shame to himself, had been even more effective in
liberating M. de Charlus from the last vestiges of social constraint
than the time that he spent at the Verdurins'. No banishment, indeed,
to the South Pole, or to the summit of Mont Blanc, can separate us so
entirely from our fellow creatures as a prolonged residence in the
seclusion of a secret vice, that is to say of a state of mind that is
different from theirs. A vice (so M. de Charlus used at one time to
style it) to which the Baron now gave the genial aspect of a mere
failing, extremely common, attractive on the whole and almost amusing,
like laziness, absent-mindedness or greed. Conscious of the curiosity
that his own striking personality aroused, M. de Charlus derived a
certain pleasure from satisfying, whetting, sustaining it. Just as a
Jewish journalist will come forward day after day as the champion of
Catholicism, not, probably, with any hope of being taken seriously,
but simply in order not to disappoint the good-natured amusement of
his readers, M. de Charlus would genially denounce evil habits among
the little clan, as he would have mimicked a person speaking English
or imitated Mounet-Sully, without waiting to be asked, so as to pay
his scot with a good grace, by displaying an amateur talent in
society; so that M. de Charlus now threatened Brichot that he would
report to the Sorbonne that he was in the habit of walking about with
young men, exactly as the circumcised scribe keeps referring in and
out of season to the 'Eldest Daughter of the Church' and the 'Sacred
Heart of Jesus,' that is to say without the least trace of hypocrisy,
but with a distinctly histrionic effect. It was not only the change
in the words themselves, so different from those that he allowed
himself to use in the past, that seemed to require some explanation,
there was also the change that had occurred in his intonations, his
gestures, all of which now singularly resembled the type M. de Charlus
used most fiercely to castigate; he would now utter unconsciously
almost the same little cries (unconscious in him, and all the more
deep-rooted) as are uttered consciously by the inverts who refer to
one another as 'she'; as though this deliberate 'camping,' against
which M. de Charlus had for so long set his face, were after all
merely a brilliant and faithful imitation of the manner that men of
the Charlus type, whatever they may say, are compelled to adopt when
they have reached a certain stage in their malady, just as sufferers
from general paralysis or locomotor ataxia inevitably end by
displaying certain symptoms. As a matter of fact—and this is what
this purely unconscious 'camping' revealed—the difference between the
stern Charlus, dressed all in black, with his stiffly brushed hair,
whom I had known, and the painted young men, loaded with rings, was no
more than the purely imaginary difference that exists between an
excited person who talks fast, keeps moving all the time, and a
neurotic who talks slowly, preserves a perpetual phlegm, but is
tainted with the same neurasthenia in the eyes of the physician who
knows that each of the two is devoured by the same anguish and marred
by the same defects. At the same time one could tell that M. de
Charlus had aged from wholly different signs, such as the
extraordinary frequency in his conversation of certain expressions
that had taken root in it and used now to crop up at every moment (for
instance: 'the chain of circumstances') upon which the Baron's speech
leaned in sentence after sentence as upon a necessary prop. "Is
Charlie here yet?" Brichot asked M. de Charlus as we came in sight of
the door. "Oh, I don't know," said the Baron, raising his arms and
half-shutting his eyes with the air of a person who does not wish
anyone to accuse him of being indiscreet, all the more so as he had
probably been reproached by Morel for things which he had said and
which the other, as timorous as he was vain, and as ready to deny M.
de Charlus as he was to boast of his friendship, had considered
serious albeit they were quite unimportant. "You know, he never tells
me what he's going to do." If the conversations of two people bound by
a tie of intimacy are full of falsehood, this occurs no less
spontaneously in the conversations that a third person holds with a
lover on the subject of the person with whom the latter is in love,
whatever be the sex of that person.

"Have you seen him lately?" I asked M. de Charlus, with the object of
seeming at once not to be afraid of mentioning Morel to him and not to
believe that they were actually living together. "He came in, as it
happened, for five minutes this morning while I was still half asleep,
and sat down on the side of my bed, as though he wanted to ravish me."
I guessed at once that M. de Charlus had seen Charlie within the last
hour, for if we ask a woman when she last saw the man whom we know to
be—and whom she may perhaps suppose that we suspect of being—her
lover, if she has just taken tea with him, she replies: "I saw him for
an instant before luncheon." Between these two incidents the only
difference is that one is false and the other true, but both are
equally innocent, or, if you prefer it, equally culpable. And so we
should be unable to understand why the mistress (in this case, M. de
Charlus) always chooses the false version, did we not know that such
replies are determined, unknown to the person who utters them, by a
number of factors which appear so out of proportion to the triviality
of the incident that we do not take the trouble to consider them. But
to a physicist the space occupied by the tiniest ball of pith is
explained by the harmony of action, the conflict or equilibrium, of
laws of attraction or repulsion which govern far greater worlds. Just
as many different laws acting in opposite directions dictate the more
general responses with regard to the innocence, the 'platonism,' or on
the contrary the carnal reality of the relations that one has with the
person whom one says one saw in the morning when one has seen him or
her in the evening. Here we need merely record, without pausing to
consider them, the desire to appear natural and fearless, the
instinctive impulse to conceal a secret assignation, a blend of
modesty and ostentation, the need to confess what one finds so
delightful and to shew that one is loved, a divination of what the
other person knows or guesses—but does not say—a divination which,
exceeding or falling short of the other person's, makes one now
exaggerate, now under-estimate it, the spontaneous longing to play
with fire and the determination to rescue something from the blaze. At
the same time, speaking generally, let us say that M. de Charlus,
notwithstanding the aggravation of his malady which perpetually urged
him to reveal, to insinuate, sometimes boldly to invent compromising
details, did intend, during this period in his life, to make it known
that Charlie was not a man of the same sort as himself and that they
were friends and nothing more. This did not prevent him (even though
it may quite possibly have been true) from contradicting himself at
times (as with regard to the hour at which they had last met), whether
he forgot himself at such moments and told the truth, or invented a
lie, boastingly or from a sentimental affectation or because he
thought it amusing to baffle his questioner. "You know that he is to
me," the Baron went on, "the best of comrades, for whom I have the
greatest affection, as I am certain" (was he uncertain of it, then,
that he felt the need to say that he was certain?) "he has for me, but
there is nothing at all between us, nothing of that sort, you
understand, nothing of that sort," said the Baron, as naturally as
though he had been speaking of a woman. "Yes, he came in this morning
to pull me out of bed. Though he knows that I hate anybody to see me
in bed. You don't mind? Oh, it's horrible, it's so disturbing, one
looks so perfectly hideous, of course I'm no longer five-and-twenty,
they won't choose me to be Queen of the May, still one does like to
feel that one is looking one's best."

It is possible that the Baron was in earnest when he spoke of Morel as
a good comrade, and that he was being even more truthful than he
supposed when he said: "I never know what he's doing; he tells me
nothing about his life."

Indeed we may mention (interrupting for a few moments our narrative,
which shall be resumed immediately after the closure of this
parenthesis which opens at the moment when M. de Charlus, Brichot and
myself are arriving at Mme. Verdurin's front door), we may mention
that shortly before this evening the Baron had been plunged in grief
and stupefaction by a letter which he had opened by mistake and which
was addressed to Morel. This letter, which by a repercussion was to
cause intense misery to myself also, was written by the actress Léa,
notorious for her exclusive interest in women. And yet her letter to
Morel (whom M. de Charlus had never suspected of knowing her, even)
was written in the most impassioned tone. Its indelicacy prevents us
from reproducing it here, but we may mention that Léa addressed him
throughout in the feminine gender, with such expressions as: "Go on,
you bad woman!" or "Of course you are so, my pretty, you know you
are." And in this letter reference was made to various other women who
seemed to be no less Morel's friends than Léa's. On the other hand,
Morel's sarcasm at the Baron's expense and Léa's at that of an officer
who was keeping her, and of whom she said: "He keeps writing me
letters begging me to be careful! What do you say to that, my little
white puss," revealed to M. de Charlus a state of things no less
unsuspected by him than were Morel's peculiar and intimate relations
with Léa. What most disturbed the Baron was the word 'so.' Ignorant at
first of its application, he had eventually, at a time already remote
in the past, learned that he himself was 'so.' And now the notion that
he had acquired of this word was again put to the challenge. When he
had discovered that he was 'so,' he had supposed this to mean that his
tastes, as Saint-Simon says, did not lie in the direction of women.
And here was this word 'so' applied to Morel with an extension of
meaning of which M. de Charlus was unaware, so much so that Morel
gave proof, according to this letter, of his being 'so' by having the
same taste as certain women for other women. From that moment the
Baron's jealousy had no longer any reason to confine itself to the men
of Morel's acquaintance, but began to extend to the women also. So
that the people who were 'so' were not merely those that he had
supposed to be 'so,' but a whole and vast section of the inhabitants
of the planet, consisting of women as well as of men, loving not
merely men but women also, and the Baron, in the face of this novel
meaning of a word that was so familiar to him, felt himself tormented
by an anxiety of the mind as well as of the heart, born of this
twofold mystery which combined an extension of the field of his
jealousy with the sudden inadequacy of a definition.

M. de Charlus had never in his life been anything but an amateur. That
is to say, incidents of this sort could never be of any use to him. He
worked off the painful impression that they might make upon him in
violent scenes in which he was a past-master of eloquence, or in
crafty intrigues. But to a person endowed with the qualities of a
Bergotte, for instance, they might have been of inestimable value.
This may indeed explain, to a certain extent (since we have to grope
blindfold, but choose, like the lower animals, the herb that is good
for us), why men like Bergotte have generally lived in the company of
persons who were ordinary, false and malicious. Their beauty is
sufficient for the writer's imagination, enhances his generosity, but
does not in any way alter the nature of his companion, whose life,
situated thousands of feet below the level of his own, her incredible
stories, her lies carried farther, and, what is more, in another
direction than what might have been expected, appear in occasional
flashes. The lie, the perfect lie, about people whom we know, about
the relations that we have had with them, about our motive for some
action, a motive which we express in totally different terms, the lie
as to what we are, whom we love, what we feel with regard to the
person who loves us and believes that she has fashioned us in her own
image because she keeps on kissing us morning, noon and night, that
lie is one of the only things in the world that can open a window for
us upon what is novel, unknown, that can awaken in us sleeping senses
to the contemplation of universes that otherwise we should never have
known. We are bound to say, in so far as M. de Charlus is concerned,
that, if he was stupefied to learn with regard to Morel a certain
number of things which the latter had carefully concealed from him, he
was not justified in concluding from this that it was a mistake to
associate too closely with the lower orders. We shall indeed see, in
the concluding section of this work, M. de Charlus himself engaged in
doing things which would have stupefied the members of his family and
his friends far more than he could possibly have been stupefied by the
revelations of Léa. (The revelation that he had found most painful
had been that of a tour which Morel had made with Léa, whereas at the
time he had assured M. de Charlus that he was studying music in
Germany. He had found support for this falsehood in obliging friends
in Germany to whom he had sent his letters, to be forwarded from there
to M. de Charlus, who, as it happened, was so positive that Morel was
there that he had not even looked at the postmark.) But it is time to
rejoin the Baron as he advances with Brichot and myself towards the
Verdurins' door.

"And what," he went on, turning to myself, "has become of your young
Hebrew friend, whom we met at Douville? It occurred to me that, if you
liked, one might perhaps invite him to the house one evening." For M.
de Charlus, who did not shrink from employing a private detective to
spy upon every word and action of Morel, for all the world like a
husband or a lover, had not ceased to pay attention to other young
men. The vigilance which he made one of his old servants maintain,
through an agency, upon Morel, was so indiscreet that his footmen
thought they were being watched, and one of the housemaids could not
endure the suspense, never ventured into the street, always expecting
to find a policeman at her heels. "She can do whatever she likes! It
would be a waste of time and money to follow her! As if her goings on
mattered to us!" the old servant ironically exclaimed, for he was so
passionately devoted to his master that, albeit he in no way shared
the Baron's tastes, he had come in time, with such ardour did he
employ himself in their service, to speak of them as though they were
his own. "He is the very best of good fellows," M. de Charlus would
say of this old servant, for we never appreciate anyone so much as
those who combine with other great virtues that of placing themselves
unconditionally at the disposal of our vices. It was moreover of men
alone that M. de Charlus was capable of feeling any jealousy so far as
Morel was concerned. Women inspired in him no jealousy whatever. This
is indeed an almost universal rule with the Charlus type. The love of
the man with whom they are in love for women is something different,
which occurs in another animal species (a lion does not interfere with
tigers); does not distress them; if anything, reassures them.
Sometimes, it is true, in the case of those who exalt their inversion
to the level of a priesthood, this love creates disgust. These men
resent their friends' having succumbed to it, not as a betrayal but as
a lapse from virtue. A Charlus, of a different variety from the Baron,
would have been as indignant at the discovery of Morel's relations
with a woman as upon reading in a newspaper that he, the interpreter
of Bach and Handel, was going to play Puccini. It is, by the way, for
this reason that the young men who, with an eye to their own personal
advantage, condescend to the love of men like Charlus, assure them
that women inspire them only with disgust, just as they would tell a
doctor that they never touch alcohol, and care only for spring water.
But M. de Charlus, in this respect, departed to some extent from the
general rule. Since he admired everything about Morel, the latter's
successes with women caused him no annoyance, gave him the same joy as
his successes on the platform, or at écarté. "But do you know, my dear
fellow, he has women," he would say, with an air of disclosure, of
scandal, possibly of envy, above all of admiration. "He is
extraordinary," he would continue. "Everywhere, the most famous whores
can look at nobody but him. They stare at him everywhere, whether,
it's on the underground or in the theatre. It's becoming a nuisance! I
can't go out with him to a restaurant without the waiter bringing him
notes from at least three women. And always pretty women too. Not
that there's anything surprising in that. I was watching him
yesterday, I can quite understand it, he has become so beautiful, he
looks just like a Bronzino, he is really marvellous." But M. de
Charlus liked to shew that he was in love with Morel, to persuade
other people, possibly to persuade himself, that Morel was in love
with him. He applied to the purpose of having Morel always with him
(notwithstanding the harm that the young fellow might do to the
Baron's social position) a sort of self-esteem. For (and this is
frequent among men of good position, who are snobs, and, in their
vanity, sever all their social ties in order to be seen everywhere
with a mistress, a person of doubtful or a lady of tarnished
reputation, whom nobody will invite, and with whom nevertheless it
seems to them flattering to be associated) he had arrived at that
stage at which self-esteem devotes all its energy to destroying the
goals to which it has attained, whether because, under the influence
of love, a man finds a prestige which he is alone in perceiving in
ostentatious relations with the beloved object, or because, by the
waning of social ambitions that have been gratified, and the rising of
a tide of subsidiary curiosities all the more absorbing the more
platonic they are, the latter have not only reached but have passed
the level at which the former found it difficult to remain.

As for young men in general, M. de Charlus found that to his fondness
for them Morel's existence was not an obstacle, and that indeed his
brilliant reputation as a violinist or his growing fame as a composer
and journalist might in certain instances prove an attraction. Did
anyone introduce to the Baron a young composer of an agreeable type,
it was in Morel's talents that he sought an opportunity of doing the
stranger a favour. "You must," he would tell him, "bring me some of
your work so that Morel can play it at a concert or on tour. There is
hardly any decent music written, now, for the violin. It is a godsend
to find anything new. And abroad they appreciate that sort of thing
enormously. Even in the provinces there are little musical societies
where they love music with a fervour and intelligence that are quite
admirable." Without any greater sincerity (for all this could serve
only as a bait and it was seldom that Morel condescended to fulfil
these promises), Bloch having confessed that he was something of a
poet (when he was 'in the mood,' he had added with the sarcastic laugh
with which he would accompany a platitude, when he could think of
nothing original), M. de Charlus said to me: "You must tell your young
Israelite, since he writes verses, that he must really bring me some
for Morel. For a composer, that is always the stumbling block, to
find something decent to set to music. One might even consider a
libretto. It would not be without interest, and would acquire a
certain value from the distinction of the poet, from my patronage,
from a whole chain of auxiliary circumstances, among which Morel's
talent would take the chief place, for he is composing a lot just now,
and writing too, and very pleasantly, I must talk to you about it. As
for his talent as a performer (there, as you know, he is already a
past-master), you shall see this evening how well the lad plays
Vinteuil's music; he overwhelms me; at his age, to have such an
understanding while he is still such a boy, such a kid! Oh, this
evening is only to be a little rehearsal. The big affair is to come
off in two or three days. But it will be much more distinguished this
evening. And so we are delighted that you have come," he went on,
employing the plural pronoun doubtless because a King says: "It is our
wish." "The programme is so magnificent that I have advised Mme.
Verdurin to give two parties. One in a few days' time, at which she
will have all her own friends, the other to-night at which the hostess
is, to use a legal expression, 'disseized.' It is I who have issued
the invitations, and I have collected a few people from another
sphere, who may be useful to Charlie, and whom it will be nice for the
Verdurins to meet. Don't you agree, it is all very well to have the
finest music played by the greatest artists, the effect of the
performance remains muffled in cotton-wool, if the audience is
composed of the milliner from across the way and the grocer from round
the corner. You know what I think of the intellectual level of people
in society, still they can play certain quite important parts, among
others that which in public events devolves upon the press, and which
is that of being an organ of publicity. You know what I mean; I have
for instance invited my sister-in-law Oriane; it is not certain that
she will come, but it is on the other hand certain that, if she does
come, she will understand absolutely nothing. But one does not ask her
to understand, which is beyond her capacity, but to talk, a task which
is admirably suited to her, and which she never fails to perform. What
is the result? To-morrow as ever is, instead of the silence of the
milliner and the grocer, an animated conversation at the Mortemarts'
with Oriane telling everyone that she has heard the most marvellous
music, that a certain Morel, and so forth; unspeakable rage of the
people not invited, who will say: 'Palamède thought, no doubt, that we
were unworthy; anyhow, who are these people who were giving the
party?' a counterblast quite as useful as Oriane's praises, because
Morel's name keeps cropping up all the time and is finally engraved in
the memory like a lesson that one has read over a dozen times. All
this forms a chain of circumstances which may be of value to the
artist, to the hostess, may serve as a sort of megaphone for a
performance which will thus be made audible to a remote public.
Really, it is worth the trouble; you shall see what progress Charlie
has made. And what is more, we have discovered a new talent in him, my
dear fellow, he writes like an angel. Like an angel, I tell you." M.
de Charlus omitted to say that for some time past he had been
employing Morel, like those great noblemen of the seventeenth century
who scorned to sign and even to write their own slanderous attacks, to
compose certain vilely calumnious little paragraphs at the expense of
Comtesse Molé. Their insolence apparent even to those who merely
glanced at them, how much more cruel were they to the young woman
herself, who found in them, so skilfully introduced that nobody but
herself saw the point, certain passages from her own correspondence,
textually quoted, but interpreted in a sense which made them as deadly
as the cruellest revenge. They killed the lady. But there is edited
every day in Paris, Balzac would tell us, a sort of spoken newspaper,
more terrible than its printed rivals. We shall see later on that this
verbal press reduced to nothing the power of a Charlus who had fallen
out of fashion, and exalted far above him a Morel who was not worth
the millionth part of his former patron. Is this intellectual fashion
really so simple, and does it sincerely believe in the nullity of a
Charlus of genius, in the incontestable authority of a crass Morel?
The Baron was not so innocent in his implacable vengeance. Whence, no
doubt, that bitter venom on his tongue, the spreading of which seemed
to dye his cheeks with jaundice when he was in a rage. "You who knew
Bergotte," M. de Charlus went on, "I thought at one time that you
might, perhaps, by refreshing his memory with regard to the
youngster's writings, collaborate in short with myself, help me to
assist a twofold talent, that of a musician and a writer, which may
one day acquire the prestige of that of Berlioz. As you know, the
Illustrious have often other things to think about, they are smothered
in flattery, they take little interest except in themselves. But
Bergotte, who was genuinely unpretentious and obliging, promised me
that he would get into the _Gaulois_, or some such paper, those little
articles, a blend of the humourist and the musician, which he really
does quite charmingly now, and I am really very glad that Charlie
should combine with his violin this little stroke of Ingres's pen. I
know that I am prone to exaggeration, when he is concerned, like all
the old fairy godmothers of the Conservatoire. What, my dear fellow,
didn't you know that? You have never observed my little weakness. I
pace up and down for hours on end outside the examination hall. I'm as
happy as a queen. As for Charlie's prose, Bergotte assured me that it
was really very good indeed."

M. de Charlus, who had long been acquainted with Bergotte through
Swann, had indeed gone to see him a few days before his death, to ask
him to find an opening for Morel in some newspaper for a sort of
commentary, half humorous, upon the music of the day. In doing so, M.
de Charlus had felt some remorse, for, himself a great admirer of
Bergotte, he was conscious that he never went to see him for his own
sake, but in order, thanks to the respect, partly intellectual, partly
social, that Bergotte felt for him, to be able to do a great service
to Morel, or to some other of his friends. That he no longer made use
of people in society for any other purpose did not shock M. de
Charlus, but to treat Bergotte thus had appeared to him more
offensive, for he felt that Bergotte had not the calculating nature of
people in society, and deserved better treatment. Only, his was a busy
life, and he could never find time for anything except when he was
greatly interested in something, when, for instance, it affected
Morel. What was more, as he was himself extremely intelligent, the
conversation of an intelligent man left him comparatively cold,
especially that of Bergotte who was too much the man of letters for
his liking and belonged to another clan, did not share his point of
view. As for Bergotte, he had observed the calculated motive of M. de
Charlus's visits, but had felt no resentment, for he had been
incapable, throughout his life, of any consecutive generosity, but
anxious to give pleasure, broadminded, insensitive to the pleasure of
administering a rebuke. As for M. de Charlus's vice, he had never
partaken of it to the smallest extent, but had found in it rather an
element of colour in the person affected, _fas et nefas_, for an
artist, consisting not in moral examples but in memories of Plato or
of Sodom. "But you, fair youth, we never see you at Quai Conti. You
don't abuse their hospitality!" I explained that I went out as a rule
with my cousin. "Do you hear that! He goes out with his cousin! What a
most particularly pure young man!" said M. de Charlus to Brichot.
Then, turning again to myself: "But we are not asking you to give an
account of your life, my boy. You are free to do anything that amuses
you. We merely regret that we have no share in it. Besides, you shew
very good taste, your cousin is charming, ask Brichot, she quite
turned his head at Douville. We shall regret her absence this evening.
But you did just as well, perhaps, not to bring her with you.
Vinteuil's music is delightful. But I have heard that we are to meet
the composer's daughter and her friend, who have a terrible
reputation. That sort of thing is always awkward for a girl. They are
sure to be there, unless the ladies have been detained in the country,
for they were to have been present without fail all afternoon at a
rehearsal which Mme. Verdurin was giving to-day, to which she had
invited only the bores, her family, the people whom she could not very
well have this evening. But a moment ago, before dinner, Charlie told
us that the sisters Vinteuil, as we call them, for whom they were all
waiting, never came." Notwithstanding the intense pain that I had felt
at the sudden association with its effect, of which alone I had been
aware, of the cause, at length discovered, of Albertine's anxiety to
be there that afternoon, the presence publicly announced (but of which
I had been ignorant) of Mlle. Vinteuil and her friend, my mind was
still sufficiently detached to remark that M. de Charlus, who had told
us, a few minutes earlier, that he had not seen Charlie since the
morning, was now brazenly admitting that he had seen him before
dinner. My pain became visible. "Why, what is the matter with you?"
said the Baron. "You are quite green; come, let us go in, you will
catch cold, you don't look at all well." It was not any doubt as to
Albertine's virtue that M. de Charlus's words had awakened in me. Many
other doubts had penetrated my mind already; at each fresh doubt we
feel that the measure is heaped full, that we cannot cope with it,
then we manage to find room for it all the same, and once it is
introduced into our vital essence it enters into competition there
with so many longings to believe, so many reasons to forget, that we
speedily become accustomed to it, and end by ceasing to pay it any
attention. There remains only, like a partly healed pain, the menace
of possible suffering, which, the counterpart of desire, a feeling of
the same order, and like it become the centre of our thoughts,
radiates through them to an infinite circumference a wistful
melancholy, as desire radiates pleasures whose origin we fail to
perceive, wherever anything may suggest the idea of the person with
whom we are in love. But pain revives as soon as a fresh doubt enters
our mind complete; even if we assure ourself almost immediately: "I
shall deal with this, there must be some method by which I need not
suffer, it cannot be true," nevertheless there has been a first moment
in which we suffered as though we believed it. If we had merely
members, such as legs and arms, life would be endurable; unfortunately
we carry inside us that little organ which we call the heart, which is
subject to certain maladies in the course of which it is infinitely
impressionable by everything that concerns the life of a certain
person, so that a lie—that most harmless of things, in the midst of
which we live so unconcernedly, if the lie be told by ourselves or by
strangers—coming from that person, causes the little heart, which
surgeons ought really to be able to excise from us, intolerable
anguish. Let us not speak of the brain, for our mind may go on
reasoning interminably in the course of this anguish, it does no more
to mitigate it than by taking thought can we soothe an aching tooth.
It is true that this person is to blame for having lied to us, for she
had sworn to us that she would always tell us the truth. But we know
from our own shortcomings, towards other people, how little an oath is
worth. And we have deliberately believed them when they came from her,
the very person to whose interest it has always been to lie to us, and
whom, moreover, we did not select for her virtues. It is true that,
later on, she would almost cease to have any need to lie to us—at the
moment when our heart will have grown indifferent to her
falsehood—because then we shall not feel any interest in her life. We
know this, and, notwithstanding, we deliberately sacrifice our own
lives, either by killing ourselves for her sake, or by letting
ourselves be sentenced to death for having murdered her, or simply by
spending, in the course of a few evenings, our whole fortune upon her,
which will oblige us presently to commit suicide because we have not a
penny in the world. Besides, however calm we may imagine ourselves
when we are in love, we always have love in our heart in a state of
unstable equilibrium. A trifle is sufficient to exalt it to the
position of happiness, we radiate happiness, we smother in our
affection not her whom we love, but those who have given us merit in
her eyes, who have protected her from every evil temptation; we think
that our mind is at ease, and a word is sufficient: 'Gilberte is not
coming,' 'Mademoiselle Vinteuil is expected,' to make all the
preconceived happiness towards which we were rising collapse, to make
the sun hide his face, to open the bag of the winds and let loose the
internal tempest which one day we shall be incapable of resisting.
That day, the day upon which the heart has become so frail, our
friends who respect us are pained that such trifles, that certain
persons, can so affect us, can bring us to death's door. But what are
they to do? If a poet is dying of septic pneumonia, can one imagine
his friends explaining to the pneumococcus that the poet is a man of
talent and that it ought to let him recover? My doubt, in so far as it
referred to Mlle. Vinteuil, was not entirely novel. But to a certain
extent, my jealousy of the afternoon, inspired by Léa and her friends,
had abolished it. Once that peril of the Trocadéro was removed, I had
felt that I had recaptured for all time complete peace of mind. But
what was entirely novel to me was a certain excursion as to which
Andrée had told me: "We went to this place and that, we didn't meet
anyone," and during which, on the contrary, Mlle. Vinteuil had
evidently arranged to meet Albertine at Mme. Verdurin's. At this
moment I would gladly have allowed Albertine to go out by herself, to
go wherever she might choose, provided that I might lock up Mlle.
Vinteuil and her friend somewhere and be certain that Albertine would
not meet them. The fact is that jealousy is, as a rule, partial, of
intermittent application, whether because it is the painful extension
of an anxiety which is provoked now by one person, now by another with
whom our mistress may be in love, or because of the exiguity of our
thought which is able to realise only what it can represent to itself
and leaves everything else in an obscurity which can cause us only a
proportionately modified anguish.

Just as we were about to ring the bell we were overtaken by Saniette
who informed us that Princess Sherbatoff had died at six o'clock, and
added that he had not at first recognised us. "I envisaged you,
however, for some time," he told us in a breathless voice. "Is it
aught but curious that I should have hesitated?" To say "Is it not
curious" would have seemed to him wrong, and he had acquired a
familiarity with obsolete forms of speech that was becoming
exasperating. "Not but what you are people whom one may acknowledge as
friends." His grey complexion seemed to be illuminated by the livid
glow of a storm. His breathlessness, which had been noticeable, as
recently as last summer, only when M. Verdurin 'jumped down his
throat,' was now continuous. "I understand that an unknown work of
Vinteuil is to be performed by excellent artists, and singularly by
Morel." "Why singularly?" inquired the Baron who detected a criticism
in the adverb. "Our friend Saniette," Brichot made haste to exclaim,
acting as interpreter, "is prone to speak, like the excellent scholar
that he is, the language of an age in which 'singularly' was
equivalent to our 'especially.'"

As we entered the Verdurins' hall, M. de Charlus asked me whether I
was engaged upon any work and as I told him that I was not, but that I
was greatly interested at the moment in old dinner-services of plate
and porcelain, he assured me that I could not see any finer than those
that the Verdurins had; that moreover I might have seen them at la
Raspelière, since, on the pretext that one's possessions are also
one's friends, they were so silly as to cart everything down there
with them; it would be less convenient to bring everything out for my
benefit on the evening of a party; still, he would tell them to shew
me anything that I wished to see. I begged him not to do anything of
the sort. M. de Charlus unbuttoned his greatcoat, took off his hat,
and I saw that the top of his head had now turned silver in patches.
But like a precious shrub which is not only coloured with autumn tints
but certain leaves of which are protected by bandages of wadding or
incrustations of plaster, M. de Charlus received from these few white
hairs at his crest only a further variegation added to those of his
face. And yet, even beneath the layers of different expressions, paint
and hypocrisy which formed such a bad 'make-up,' his face continued to
hide from almost everyone the secret that it seemed to me to be crying
aloud. I was almost put to shame by his eyes in which I was afraid of
his surprising me in the act of reading it, as from an open book, by
his voice which seemed to me to be repeating it in every tone, with an
untiring indecency. But secrets are well kept by such people, for
everyone who comes in contact with them is deaf and blind. The people
who learned the truth from some one else, from the Verdurins for
instance, believed it, but only for so long as they had not met M. de
Charlus. His face, so far from spreading, dissipated every scandalous
rumour. For we form so extravagant an idea of certain characters that
we would be incapable of identifying one of them with the familiar
features of a person of our acquaintance. And we find it difficult to
believe in such a person's vices, just as we can never believe in the
genius of a person with whom we went to the Opera last night.

M. de Charlus was engaged in handing over his greatcoat with the
instructions of a familiar guest. But the footman to whom he was
handing it was a newcomer, and quite young. Now M. de Charlus had by
this time begun, as people say, to 'lose his bearings' and did not
always remember what might and what might not be done. The
praiseworthy desire that he had felt at Balbec to shew that certain
topics did not alarm him, that he was not afraid to declare with
regard to some one or other: "He is a nice-looking boy," to utter, in
short, the same words as might have been uttered by somebody who was
not like himself, this desire he had now begun to express by saying on
the contrary things which nobody could ever have said who was not like
him, things upon which his mind was so constantly fixed that he forgot
that they do not form part of the habitual preoccupation of people in
general. And so, as he gazed at the new footman, he raised his
forefinger in the air in a menacing fashion and, thinking that he was
making an excellent joke: "You are not to make eyes at me like that,
do you hear?" said the Baron, and, turning to Brichot: "He has a
quaint little face, that boy, his nose is rather fun," and, completing
his joke, or yielding to a desire, he lowered his forefinger
horizontally, hesitated for an instant, then, unable to control
himself any longer, thrust it irresistibly forwards at the footman and
touched the tip of his nose, saying "Pif!" "That's a rum card," the
footman said to himself, and inquired of his companions whether it was
a joke or what it was. "It is just a way he has," said the butler (who
regarded the Baron as slightly 'touched,' 'a bit balmy'), "but he is
one of Madame's friends for whom I have always had the greatest
respect, he has a good heart."

"Are you coming back this year to Incarville?" Brichot asked me. "I
believe that our hostess has taken la Raspelière again, for all that
she has had a crow to pick with her landlords. But that is nothing, it
is a cloud that passes," he added in the optimistic tone of the
newspapers that say: "Mistakes have been made, it is true, but who
does not make mistakes at times?" But I remembered the state of
anguish in which I had left Balbec, and felt no desire to return
there. I kept putting off to the morrow my plans for Albertine. "Why,
of course he is coming back, we need him, he is indispensable to us,"
declared M. de Charlus with the authoritative and uncomprehending
egoism of friendliness.

At this moment M. Verdurin appeared to welcome us. When we expressed
our sympathy over Princess Sherbatoff, he said: "Yes, I believe she is
rather ill." "No, no, she died at six o'clock," exclaimed Saniette.
"Oh, you exaggerate everything," was M. Verdurin's brutal retort, for,
since he had not cancelled his party, he preferred the hypothesis of
illness, imitating unconsciously the Duc de Guermantes. Saniette, not
without fear of catching cold, for the outer door was continually
being opened, stood waiting resignedly for some one to take his hat
and coat. "What are you hanging about there for, like a whipped dog?"
M. Verdurin asked him. "I am waiting until one of the persons who are
charged with the cloakroom can take my coat and give me a number."
"What is that you say?" demanded M. Verdurin with a stern expression.
"'Charged with the cloakroom?' Are you going off your head? 'In charge
of the cloakroom,' is what we say, if we've got to teach you to speak
your own language, like a man who has had a stroke." "Charged with a
thing is the correct form," murmured Saniette in a stifled tone; "the
abbé Le Batteux...." "You make me tired, you do," cried M. Verdurin in
a voice of thunder. "How you do wheeze! Have you been running upstairs
to an attic?" The effect of M. Verdurin's rudeness was that the
servants in the cloakroom allowed other guests to take precedence of
Saniette and, when he tried to hand over his things, replied: "Wait
for your turn, Sir, don't be in such a hurry." "There's system for
you, competent fellows, that's right, my lads," said M. Verdurin with
an approving smile, in order to encourage them in their tendency to
keep Saniette waiting till the end. "Come along," he said to us, "the
creature wants us all to catch our death hanging about in his beloved
draught. Come and get warm in the drawing-room. 'Charged with the
cloakroom,' indeed, what an idiot!" "He is inclined to be a little
precious, but he's not a bad fellow," said Brichot. "I never said that
he was a bad fellow, I said that he was an idiot," was M. Verdurin's
harsh retort.

Meanwhile Mme. Verdurin was busily engaged with Cottard and Ski.
Morel had just declined (because M. de Charlus could not be present)
an invitation from some friends of hers to whom she had promised the
services of the violinist. The reason for Morel's refusal to perform
at the party which the Verdurins' friends were giving, a reason which
we shall presently see reinforced by others of a far more serious
kind, might have found its justification in a habit common to the
leisured classes in general but specially distinctive of the little
nucleus. To be sure, if Mme. Verdurin intercepted between a newcomer
and one of the faithful a whispered speech which might let it be
supposed that they were already acquainted, or wished to become more
intimate ("On Friday, then, at So-and-So's," or "Come to the studio
any day you like; I am always there until five o'clock, I shall look
forward to seeing you"), agitated, supposing the newcomer to occupy a
'position' which would make him a brilliant recruit to the little
clan, the Mistress, while pretending not to have heard anything, and
preserving in her fine eyes, shadowed by the habit of listening to
Debussy more than they would have been by that of sniffing cocaine,
the extenuated expression that they derived from musical intoxication
alone, revolved nevertheless behind her splendid brow, inflated by all
those quartets and the headaches that were their consequence, thoughts
which were not exclusively polyphonic, and unable to contain herself
any longer, unable to postpone the injection for another instant,
flung herself upon the speakers, drew them apart, and said to the
newcomer, pointing to the 'faithful' one: "You wouldn't care to come
and dine to meet _him_, next Saturday, shall we say, or any day you
like, with some really nice people! Don't speak too loud, as I don't
want to invite all this mob" (a word used to denote for five minutes
the little nucleus, disdained for the moment in favour of the newcomer
in whom so many hopes were placed).

But this infatuated impulse, this need to make friendly overtures, had
its counterpart. Assiduous attendance at their Wednesdays aroused in
the Verdurins an opposite tendency. This was the desire to quarrel, to
hold aloof. It had been strengthened, had almost been wrought to a
frenzy during the months spent at la Raspelière, where they were all
together morning, noon and night. M. Verdurin went out of his way to
prove one of his guests in the wrong, to spin webs in which he might
hand over to his comrade spider some innocent fly. Failing a
grievance, he would invent some absurdity. As soon as one of the
faithful had been out of the house for half an hour, they would make
fun of him in front of the others, would feign surprise that their
guests had not noticed how his teeth were never clean, or how on the
contrary he had a mania for brushing them twenty times a day. If any
one took the liberty of opening a window, this want of breeding would
cause a glance of disgust to pass between host and hostess. A moment
later Mme. Verdurin would ask for a shawl, which gave M. Verdurin an
excuse for saying in a tone of fury: "No, I shall close the window, I
wonder who had the impertinence to open it," in the hearing of the
guilty wretch who blushed to the roots of his hair. You were rebuked
indirectly for the quantity of wine that you had drunk. "It won't do
you any harm. Navvies thrive on it!" If two of the faithful went out
together without first obtaining permission from the Mistress, their
excursions led to endless comments, however innocent they might be.
Those of M. de Charlus with Morel were not innocent. It was only the
fact that M. de Charlus was not staying at la Raspelière (because
Morel was obliged to live near his barracks) that retarded the hour of
satiety, disgust, retching. That hour was, however, about to strike.

Mme. Verdurin was furious and determined to 'enlighten' Morel as to
the ridiculous and detestable part that M. de Charlus was making him
play. "I must add," she went on (Mme. Verdurin, when she felt that she
owed anyone a debt of gratitude which would be a burden to him, and
was unable to rid herself of it by killing him, would discover a
serious defect in him which would honourably dispense her from shewing
her gratitude), "I must add that he gives himself airs in my house
which I do not at all like." The truth was that Mme. Verdurin had
another more serious reason than Morel's refusal to play at her
friends' party for picking a quarrel with M. de Charlus. The latter,
overcome by the honour he was doing the Mistress in bringing to Quai
Conti people who after all would never have come there for her sake,
had, on hearing the first names that Mme. Verdurin had suggested as
those of people who ought to be invited, pronounced the most
categorical ban upon them in a peremptory tone which blended the
rancorous pride of a crotchety nobleman with the dogmatism of the
expert artist in questions of entertainment who would cancel his
programme and withhold his collaboration sooner than agree to
concessions which, in his opinion, would endanger the success of the
whole. M. de Charlus had given his approval, hedging it round with
reservations, to Saintine alone, with whom, in order not to be
bothered with his wife, Mme. de Guermantes had passed, from a daily
intimacy, to a complete severance of relations, but whom M. de
Charlus, finding him intelligent, continued to see. True, it was among
a middle-class set, with a cross-breeding of the minor nobility, where
people are merely very rich and connected with an aristocracy whom the
true aristocracy does not know, that Saintine, at one time the flower
of the Guermantes set, had gone to seek his fortune and, he imagined,
a social foothold. But Mme. Verdurin, knowing the blue-blooded
pretensions of the wife's circle, and failing to take into account the
husband's position (for it is what is immediately over our head that
gives us the impression of altitude and not what is almost invisible
to us, so far is it lost in the clouds), felt that she ought to
justify an invitation of Saintine by pointing out that he knew a great
many people, "having married Mlle. ——." The ignorance which this
assertion, the direct opposite of the truth, revealed in Mme. Verdurin
caused the Baron's painted lips to part in a smile of indulgent scorn
and wide comprehension. He disdained a direct answer, but as he was
always ready to express in social examples theories which shewed the
fertility of his mind and the arrogance of his pride, with the
inherited frivolity of his occupations: "Saintine ought to have come
to me before marrying," he said, "there is such a thing as social as
well as physiological eugenics, and I am perhaps the only specialist
in existence. Saintine's case aroused no discussion, it was clear
that, in making the marriage that he made, he was tying a stone to his
neck, and hiding his light under a bushel. His social career was at an
end. I should have explained this to him, and he would have understood
me, for he is quite intelligent. On the other hand, there was a person
who had everything that he required to make his position exalted,
predominant, world-wide, only a terrible cable bound him to the earth.
I helped him, partly by pressure, partly by force, to break his bonds
and now he has won, with a triumphant joy, the freedom, the
omnipotence that he owes to me; it required, perhaps, a little
determination on his part, but what a reward! Thus a man can himself,
when he has the sense to listen to me, become the midwife of his
destiny." It was only too clear that M. de Charlus had not been able
to influence his own; action is a different thing from speech, even
eloquent speech, and from thought, even the thoughts of genius. "But,
so far as I am concerned, I live the life of a philosopher who looks
on with interest at the social reactions which I have foretold, but
who does not assist them. And so I have continued to visit Saintine,
who has always received me with the whole-hearted deference which is
my due. I have even dined with him in his new abode, where one is
heavily bored, in the midst of the most sumptuous splendour, as one
used to be amused in the old days when, living from hand to mouth, he
used to assemble the best society in a wretched attic. Him, then, you
may invite, I give you leave, but I rule out with my veto all the
other names that you have mentioned. And you will thank me for it,
for, if I am an expert in arranging marriages, I am no less an expert
in arranging parties. I know the rising people who give tone to a
gathering, make it go; and I know also the names that will bring it
down to the ground, make it fall flat." These exclusions were not
always founded upon the Baron's personal resentments nor upon his
artistic refinements, but upon his skill as an actor. When he had
perfected, at the expense of somebody or something, an entirely
successful epigram, he was anxious to let it be heard by the largest
possible audience, but took care not to admit to the second
performance the audience of the first who could have borne witness
that the novelty was not novel. He would then rearrange his
drawing-room, simply because he did not alter his programme, and, when
he had scored a success in conversation, would, if need be, have
organised a tour, and given exhibitions in the provinces. Whatever may
have been the various motives for these exclusions, they did not
merely annoy Mme. Verdurin, who felt her authority as a hostess
impaired, they also did her great damage socially, and for two
reasons. The first was that M. de Charlus, even more susceptible than
Jupien, used to quarrel, without anyone's ever knowing why, with the
people who were most suited to be his friends. Naturally, one of the
first punishments that he could inflict upon them was that of not
allowing them to be invited to a party which he was giving at the
Verdurins'. Now these pariahs were often people who are in the habit
of ruling the roost, as the saying is, but who in M. de Charlus's eyes
had ceased to rule it from the day on which he had quarrelled with
them. For his imagination, in addition to finding people in the wrong
in order to quarrel with them, was no less ingenious in stripping them
of all importance as soon as they ceased to be his friends. If, for
instance, the guilty person came of an extremely old family, whose
dukedom, however, dates only from the nineteenth century, such a
family as the Montesquieu, from that moment all that counted for M. de
Charlus was the precedence of the dukedom, the family becoming
nothing. "They are not even Dukes," he would exclaim. "It is the title
of the abbé de Montesquieu which passed most irregularly to a
collateral, less than eighty years ago. The present Duke, if Duke he
can be called, is the third. You may talk to me if you like of people
like the Uzès, the La Trémoïlle, the Luynes, who are tenth or
fourteenth Dukes, or my brother who is twelfth Duc de Guermantes and
seventeenth Prince of Cordova. The Montesquiou are descended from an
old family, what would that prove, supposing that it were proved? They
have descended so far that they have reached the fourteenth storey
below stairs." Had he on the contrary quarrelled with a gentleman who
possessed an ancient dukedom, who boasted the most magnificent
connexions, was related to ruling princes, but to whose line this
distinction had come quite suddenly without any length of pedigree, a
Luynes for instance, the case was altered, pedigree alone counted. "I
ask you;—M. Alberti, who does not emerge from the mire until Louis
XIII. What can it matter to us that favouritism at court allowed them
to pick up dukedoms to which they have no right?" What was more, with
M. de Charlus, the fall came immediately after the exaltation because
of that tendency peculiar to the Guermantes to expect from
conversation, from friendship, something that these are incapable of
giving, as well as the symptomatic fear of becoming the objects of
slander. And the fall was all the greater, the higher the exaltation
had been. Now nobody had ever found such favour with the Baron as he
had markedly shewn for Comtesse Molé. By what sign of indifference did
she reveal, one fine day, that she had been unworthy of it? The
Comtesse always maintained that she had never been able to solve the
problem. The fact remains that the mere sound of her name aroused in
the Baron the most violent rage, provoked the most eloquent but the
most terrible philippics. Mme. Verdurin, to whom Mme. Molé had been
very kind, and who was founding, as we shall see, great hopes upon her
and had rejoiced in anticipation at the thought that the Comtesse
would meet in her house all the noblest names, as the Mistress said,
"of France and Navarre," at once proposed to invite "Madame de Molé."
"Oh, my God! Everyone has his own taste," M. de Charlus had replied,
"and if you, Madame, feel a desire to converse with Mme. Pipelet, Mme.
Gibout and Mme. Joseph Prudhomme, I ask nothing better, but let it be
on an evening when I am not present. I could see as soon as you opened
your mouth that we do not speak the same language, since I was
mentioning the names of the nobility, and you retort with the most
obscure names of professional and tradespeople, dirty scandalmongering
little bounders, little women who imagine themselves patronesses of
the arts because they repeat, an octave lower, the manners of my
Guermantes sister-in-law, like a jay that thinks it is imitating a
peacock. I must add that it would be positively indecent to admit to a
party which I am pleased to give at Mme. Verdurin's a person whom I
have with good reason excluded from my society, a sheep devoid of
birth, loyalty, intelligence, who is so idiotic as to suppose that she
is capable of playing the Duchesse de Guermantes and the Princesse de
Guermantes, a combination which is in itself idiotic, since the
Duchesse de Guermantes and the Princesse de Guermantes are poles
apart. It is as though a person should pretend to be at once
Reichenberg and Sarah Bernhardt. In any case, even if it were not
impossible, it would be extremely ridiculous. Even though I may,
myself, smile at times at the exaggeration of one and regret the
limitations of the other, that is my right. But that upstart little
frog trying to blow herself out to the magnitude of two great ladies
who, at all events, always reveal the incomparable distinction of
blood, it is enough, as the saying is, to make a cat laugh. The Molé!
That is a name which must not be uttered in my hearing, or else I must
simply withdraw," he concluded with a smile, in the tone of a doctor,
who, thinking of his patient's interests in spite of that same
patient's opposition, lets it be understood that he will not tolerate
the collaboration of a homoeopath. On the other hand, certain persons
whom M. de Charlus regarded as negligible might indeed be so for him
but not for Mme. Verdurin. M. de Charlus, with his exalted birth,
could afford to dispense with people in the height of fashion, the
assemblage of whom would have made Mme. Verdurin's drawing-room one of
the first in Paris. She, at the same time, was beginning to feel that
she had already on more than one occasion missed the coach, not to
mention the enormous retardation that the social error of the Dreyfus
case had inflicted upon her, not without doing her a service all the
same. I forget whether I have mentioned the disapproval with which the
Duchesse de Guermantes had observed certain persons of her world who,
subordinating everything else to the Case, excluded fashionable women
from their drawing-rooms and admitted others who were not fashionable,
because they were for or against the fresh trial, and had then been
criticised in her turn by those same ladies, as lukewarm, unsound in
her views, and guilty of placing social distinctions above the
national interests; may I appeal to the reader, as to a friend with
regard to whom one completely forgets, at the end of a conversation,
whether one has remembered, or had an opportunity to tell him
something important? Whether I have done so or not, the attitude of
the Duchesse de Guermantes can easily be imagined, and indeed if we
look at it in the light of subsequent history may appear, from the
social point of view, perfectly correct. M. de Cambremer regarded the
Dreyfus case as a foreign machination intended to destroy the
Intelligence Service, to undermine discipline, to weaken the army, to
divide the French people, to pave the way for invasion. Literature
being, apart from a few of La Fontaine's fables, a sealed book to the
Marquis, he left it to his wife to prove that the cruelly
introspective writers of the day had, by creating a spirit of
irreverence, arrived by a parallel course at a similar result. "M.
Reinach and M. Hervieu are in the plot," she would say. Nobody will
accuse the Dreyfus case of having premeditated such dark designs upon
society. But there it certainly has broken down the hedges. The social
leaders who refuse to allow politics into society are as foreseeing as
the soldiers who refuse to allow politics to permeate the army.
Society is like the sexual appetite; one does not know at what forms
of perversion it may not arrive, once we have allowed our choice to be
dictated by aesthetic considerations. The reason that they were
Nationalists gave the Faubourg Saint-Germain the habit of entertaining
ladies from another class of society; the reason vanished with
Nationalism, the habit remained. Mme. Verdurin, by the bond of
Dreyfusism, had attracted to her house certain writers of distinction
who for the moment were of no advantage to her socially, because they
were Dreyfusards. But political passions are like all the rest, they
do not last. Fresh generations arise which are incapable of
understanding them. Even the generation that felt them changes, feels
political passions which, not being modelled exactly upon their
predecessors, make it rehabilitate some of the excluded, the reason
for exclusion having altered. Monarchists no longer cared, at the
time of the Dreyfus case, whether a man had been a Republican, that is
to say a Radical, that is to say Anticlerical, provided that he was an
anti-Semite and a Nationalist. Should a war ever come, patriotism
would assume another form and if a writer was chauvinistic nobody
would stop to think whether he had or had not been a Dreyfusard. It
was thus that, at each political crisis, at each artistic revival,
Mme. Verdurin had collected one by one, like a bird building its nest,
the several items, useless for the moment, of what would one day be
her Salon. The Dreyfus case had passed, Anatole France remained. Mme.
Verdurin's strength lay in her genuine love of art, the trouble that
she used to take for her faithful, the marvellous dinners that she
gave for them alone, without inviting anyone from the world of
fashion. Each of the faithful was treated at her table as Bergotte had
been treated at Mme. Swann's. When a boon companion of this sort had
turned into an illustrious man whom everybody was longing to meet, his
presence at Mme. Verdurin's had none of the artificial, composite
effect of a dish at an official or farewell banquet, cooked by Potel
or Chabot, but was merely a delicious 'ordinary' which you would have
found there in the same perfection on a day when there was no party at
all. At Mme. Verdurin's the cast was trained to perfection, the
repertory most select, all that was lacking was an audience. And now
that the public taste had begun to turn from the rational and French
art of a Bergotte, and to go in, above all things, for exotic forms of
music, Mme. Verdurin, a sort of official representative in Paris of
all foreign artists, was not long in making her appearance, by the
side of the exquisite Princess Yourbeletief, an aged Fairy Godmother,
grim but all-powerful, to the Russian dancers. This charming invasion,
against whose seductions only the stupidest of critics protested,
infected Paris, as we know, with a fever of curiosity less burning,
more purely aesthetic, but quite as intense perhaps as that aroused by
the Dreyfus case. There again Mme. Verdurin, but with a very different
result socially, was to take her place in the front row. Just as she
had been seen by the side of Mme. Zola, immediately under the bench,
during the trial in the Assize Court, so when the new generation of
humanity, in their enthusiasm for the Russian ballet, thronged to the
Opera, crowned with the latest novelty in aigrettes, they invariably
saw in a stage box Mme. Verdurin by the side of Princess Yourbeletief.
And just as, after the emotions of the law courts, people used to go
in the evening to Mme. Verdurin's, to meet Picquart or Labori in the
flesh and what was more to hear the latest news of the Case, to learn
what hopes might be placed in Zurlinden, Loubet, Colonel Jouaust, the
Regulations, so now, little inclined for sleep after the enthusiasm
aroused by the _Scheherazade_ or _Prince Igor_, they repaired to Mme.
Verdurin's, where under the auspices of Princess Yourbeletief and
their hostess an exquisite supper brought together every night the
dancers themselves, who had abstained from dinner so as to be more
resilient, their director, their designers, the great composers Igor
Stravinski and Richard Strauss, a permanent little nucleus, around
which, as round the supper-table of M. and Mme. Helvétius, the
greatest ladies in Paris and foreign royalties were not too proud to
gather. Even those people in society who professed to be endowed with
taste and drew unnecessary distinctions between the various Russian
ballets, regarding the setting of the _Sylphides_ as somehow 'purer'
than that of _Scheherazade_, which they were almost prepared to
attribute to Negro inspiration, were enchanted to meet face to face
the great revivers of theatrical taste, who in an art that is perhaps
a little more artificial than that of the easel had created a
revolution as profound as Impressionism itself.

To revert to M. de Charlus, Mme. Verdurin would not have minded so
much if he had placed on his Index only Comtesse Molé and Mme.
Bontemps, whom she had picked out at Odette's on the strength of her
love of the fine arts, and who during the Dreyfus case had come to
dinner occasionally bringing her husband, whom Mme. Verdurin called
'lukewarm,' because he was not making any move for a fresh trial, but
who, being extremely intelligent, and glad to form relations in every
camp, was delighted to shew his independence by dining at the same
table as Labori, to whom he listened without uttering a word that
might compromise himself, but managed to slip in at the right moment a
tribute to the loyalty, recognised by all parties, of Jaurès. But the
Baron had similarly proscribed several ladies of the aristocracy whose
acquaintance Mme. Verdurin, on the occasion of some musical festivity
or a collection for charity, had recently formed and who, whatever M.
de Charlus might think of them, would have been, far more than
himself, essential to the formation of a fresh nucleus at Mme.
Verdurin's, this time aristocratic. Mme. Verdurin had indeed been
reckoning upon this party, to which M. de Charlus would be bringing
her women of the same set, to mix her new friends with them, and had
been relishing in anticipation the surprise that the latter would feel
upon meeting at Quai Conti their own friends or relatives invited
there by the Baron. She was disappointed and furious at his veto. It
remained to be seen whether the evening, in these conditions, would
result in profit or loss to herself. The loss would not be too serious
if only M. de Charlus's guests came with so friendly a feeling for
Mme. Verdurin that they would become her friends in the future. In
this case the mischief would be only half done, these two sections of
the fashionable world, which the Baron had insisted upon keeping
apart, would be united later on, he himself being excluded, of course,
when the time came. And so Mme. Verdurin was awaiting the Baron's
guests with a certain emotion. She would not be slow in discovering
the state of mind in which they came, and the degree of intimacy to
which she might hope to attain. While she waited, Mme. Verdurin took
counsel with the faithful, but, upon seeing M. de Charlus enter the
room with Brichot and myself, stopped short. Greatly to our
astonishment, when Brichot told her how sorry he was to learn that her
dear friend was so seriously ill, Mme. Verdurin replied: "Listen, I am
obliged to confess that I am not at all sorry. It is useless to
pretend to feel what one does not feel." No doubt she spoke thus from
want of energy, because she shrank from the idea of wearing a long
face throughout her party, from pride, in order not to appear to be
seeking excuses for not having cancelled her invitations, from
self-respect also and social aptitude, because the absence of grief
which she displayed was more honourable if it could be attributed to a
peculiar antipathy, suddenly revealed, to the Princess, rather than to
a universal insensibility, and because her hearers could not fail to
be disarmed by a sincerity as to which there could be no doubt. If
Mme. Verdurin had not been genuinely unaffected by the death of the
Princess, would she have gone on to excuse herself for giving the
party, by accusing herself of a far more serious fault? Besides, one
was apt to forget that Mme. Verdurin would thus have admitted, while
confessing her grief, that she had not had the strength of mind to
forego a pleasure; whereas the indifference of the friend was
something more shocking, more immoral, but less humiliating, and
consequently easier to confess than the frivolity of the hostess. In
matters of crime, where the culprit is in danger, it is his material
interest that prompts the confession. Where the fault incurs no
penalty, it is self-esteem. Whether it was that, doubtless feeling the
pretext to be too hackneyed of the people who, so as not to allow a
bereavement to interrupt their life of pleasure, go about saying that
it seems to them useless to display the outward signs of a grief which
they feel in their hearts, Mme. Verdurin preferred to imitate those
intelligent culprits who are revolted by the commonplaces of innocence
and whose defence—a partial admission, though they do not know
it—consists in saying that they would see no harm in doing what they
are accused of doing, although, as it happens, they have had no
occasion to do it; or that, having adopted, to explain her conduct,
the theory of indifference, she found, once she had started upon the
downward slope of her unnatural feeling, that it was distinctly
original to have felt it, that she displayed a rare perspicacity in
having managed to diagnose her own symptoms, and a certain 'nerve' in
proclaiming them; anyhow, Mme. Verdurin kept dwelling upon her want of
grief, not without a certain proud satisfaction, as of a paradoxical
psychologist and daring dramatist. "Yes, it is very funny," she said,
"I hardly felt it. Of course, I don't mean to say that I wouldn't
rather she were still alive, she was not a bad person." "Yes, she
was," put in M. Verdurin. "Ah! He doesn't approve of her because he
thought that I was doing myself harm by having her here, but he is
quite pig-headed about that." "Do me the justice to admit," said M.
Verdurin, "that I never approved of your having her. I always told you
that she had a bad reputation." "But I have never heard a thing
against her," protested Saniette. "What!" exclaimed Mme. Verdurin,
"everybody knew; bad isn't the word, it was scandalous, appalling. No,
it has nothing to do with that. I couldn't explain, myself, what I
felt; I didn't dislike her, but I took so little interest in her that,
when we heard that she was seriously ill, my husband himself was quite
surprised, and said: 'Anyone would think that you didn't mind.' Why,
this evening, he offered to put off the party, and I insisted upon
having it, because I should have thought it a farce to shew a grief
which I do not feel." She said this because she felt that it had a
curious smack of the 'independent theatre,' and was at the same time
singularly convenient; for an admitted insensibility or immorality
simplifies life as much as does easy virtue; it converts reproachable
actions, for which one no longer need seek any excuse, into a duty
imposed by sincerity. And the faithful listened to Mme. Verdurin's
speech with the blend of admiration and misgiving which certain
cruelly realistic plays, that shewed a profound observation, used at
one time to cause, and, while they marvelled to see their beloved
Mistress display a novel aspect of her rectitude and independence,
more than one of them, albeit he assured himself that after all it
would not be the same thing, thought of his own death, and asked
himself whether, on the day when death came to him, they would draw
the blinds or give a party at Quai Conti. "I am very glad that the
party has not been put off, for my guests' sake," said M. de Charlus,
not realising that in expressing himself thus he was offending Mme.
Verdurin. Meanwhile I was struck, as was everybody who approached Mme.
Verdurin that evening, by a far from pleasant odour of rhino-gomenol.
The reason was as follows. We know that Mme. Verdurin never expressed
her artistic feelings in a moral, but always in a physical fashion, so
that they might appear more inevitable and more profound. So, if one
spoke to her of Vinteuil's music, her favourite, she remained unmoved,
as though she expected to derive no emotion from it. But after a few
minutes of a fixed, almost abstracted gaze, in a sharp, matter of
fact, scarcely civil tone (as though she had said to you: "I don't in
the least mind your smoking, it's because of the carpet; it's a very
fine one (not that that matters either), but it's highly inflammable,
I'm dreadfully afraid of fire, and I shouldn't like to see you all
roasted because some one had carelessly dropped a cigarette end on
it"), she replied: "I have no fault to find with Vinteuil; to my mind,
he is the greatest composer of the age, only I can never listen to
that sort of stuff without weeping all the time" (she did not apply
any pathos to the word 'weeping,' she would have used precisely the
same tone for 'sleeping'; certain slandermongers used indeed to insist
that the latter verb would have been more applicable, though no one
could ever be certain, for she listened to the music with her face
buried in her hands, and certain snoring sounds might after all have
been sobs). "I don't mind weeping, not in the least; only I get the
most appalling colds afterwards. It stuffs up my mucous membrane, and
the day after I look like nothing on earth. I have to inhale for days
on end before I can utter. However, one of Cottard's pupils, a
charming person, has been treating me for it. He goes by quite an
original rule: 'Prevention is better than cure.' And he greases my
nose before the music begins. It is radical. I can weep like all the
mothers who ever lost a child, not a trace of a cold. Sometimes a
little conjunctivitis, that's all. It is absolutely efficacious.
Otherwise I could never have gone on listening to Vinteuil. I was just
going from one bronchitis to another." I could not refrain from
alluding to Mlle. Vinteuil. "Isn't the composer's daughter to be
here," I asked Mme. Verdurin, "with one of her friends?" "No, I have
just had a telegram," Mme. Verdurin said evasively, "they have been
obliged to remain in the country." I felt a momentary hope that there
might never have been any question of their leaving it and that Mme.
Verdurin had announced the presence of these representatives of the
composer only in order to make a favourable impression upon the
performers and their audience. "What, didn't they come, then, to the
rehearsal this afternoon?" came with a feigned curiosity from the
Baron who was anxious to let it appear that he had not seen Charlie.
The latter came up to greet me. I whispered a question in his ear
about Mlle. Vinteuil; he seemed to me to know little or nothing about
her. I signalled to him not to let himself be heard and told him that
we should discuss the question later on. He bowed, and assured me that
he would be delighted to place himself entirely at my disposal. I
observed that he was far more polite, more respectful, than he had
been in the past. I spoke warmly of him—who might perhaps be able to
help me to clear up my suspicions—to M. de Charlus who replied: "He
only does what is natural, there would be no point in his living among
respectable people if he didn't learn good manners." These, according
to M. de Charlus, were the old manners of France, untainted by any
British bluntness. Thus when Charlie, returning from a tour in the
provinces or abroad, arrived in his travelling suit at the Baron's,
the latter, if there were not too many people present, would kiss him
without ceremony upon both cheeks, perhaps a little in order to banish
by so ostentatious a display of his affection any idea of its being
criminal, perhaps because he could not deny himself a pleasure, but
still more, doubtless, from a literary sense, as upholding and
illustrating the traditional manners of France, and, just as he would
have countered the Munich or modern style of furniture by keeping in
his rooms old armchairs that had come to him from a great-grandmother,
countering the British phlegm with the affection of a warm-hearted
father of the eighteenth century, unable to conceal his joy at
beholding his son once more. Was there indeed a trace of incest in
this paternal affection? It is more probable that the way in which M.
de Charlus habitually appeased his vicious cravings, as to which we
shall learn something in due course, was not sufficient for the need
of affection, which had remained unsatisfied since the death of his
wife; the fact remains that after having thought more than once of a
second marriage, he was now devoured by a maniacal desire to adopt an
heir. People said that he was going to adopt Morel, and there was
nothing extraordinary in that. The invert who has been unable to feed
his passion save on a literature written for women-loving men, who
used to think of men when he read Mussel's _Nuits_, feels the need to
partake, nevertheless, in all the social activities of the man who is
not an invert, to keep a lover, as the old frequenter of the Opera
keeps ballet-girls, to settle down, to marry or form a permanent tie,
to become a father.

M. de Charlus took Morel aside on the pretext of making him tell him
what was going to be played, but above all finding a great
consolation, while Charlie shewed him his music, in displaying thus
publicly their secret intimacy. In the meantime I myself felt a
certain charm. For albeit the little clan included few girls, on the
other hand girls were abundantly invited on the big evenings. There
were a number present, and very pretty girls too, whom I knew. They
wafted smiles of greeting to me across the room. The air was thus
decorated at every moment with the charming smile of some girl. That
is the manifold, occasional ornament of evening parties, as it is of
days. We remember an atmosphere because girls were smiling in it.

Many people might have been greatly surprised had they overheard the
furtive remarks which M. de Charlus exchanged with a number of
important gentlemen at this party. These were two Dukes, a
distinguished General, a great writer, a great physician, a great
barrister. And the remarks in question were: "By the way, did you
notice the footman, I mean the little fellow they take on the
carriage? At our cousin Guermantes', you don't know of anyone?" "At
the moment, no." "I say, though, outside the door, where the carriages
stop, there used to be a fair little person, in breeches, who seemed
to me most attractive. She called my carriage most charmingly, I would
gladly have prolonged the conversation." "Yes, but I believe she's
altogether against it, besides, she puts on airs, you like to get to
business at once, you would loathe her. Anyhow, I know there's nothing
doing, a friend of mine tried." "That is a pity, I thought the profile
very fine, and the hair superb." "Really, as much as that? I think, if
you had seen a little more of her, you would have been disillusioned.
No, in the supper-room, only two months ago you would have seen a real
marvel, a great fellow six foot six, a perfect skin, and loves it,
too. But he's gone off to Poland." "Ah, that is rather a long way."
"You never know, he may come back, perhaps. One always meets again
somewhere." There is no great social function that does not, if, in
taking a section of it, we contrive to cut sufficiently deep, resemble
those parties to which doctors invite their patients, who utter the
most intelligent remarks, have perfect manners, and would never shew
that they were mad did they not whisper in our ear, pointing to some
old gentleman who goes past: "That's Joan of Arc."

"I feel that it is our duty to enlighten him," Mme. Verdurin said to
Brichot. "Not that I have anything against Charlus, far from it. He is
a pleasant fellow and as for his reputation, I don't mind saying that
it is not of a sort that can do me any harm! As far as I'm concerned,
in our little clan, in our table-talk, as I detest flirts, the men who
talk nonsense to a woman in a corner instead of discussing interesting
topics, I've never had any fear with Charlus of what happened to me
with Swann, and Elstir, and lots of them. With him I was quite safe,
he would come to my dinners, all the women in the world might be
there, you could be certain that the general conversation would not be
disturbed by flirtations and whisperings. Charlus is in a class of
his own, one doesn't worry, he might be a priest. Only, he must not be
allowed to take it upon himself to order about the young men who come
to the house and make a nuisance of himself in our little nucleus, or
he'll be worse than a man who runs after women." And Mme. Verdurin was
sincere in thus proclaiming her indulgence towards Charlism. Like
every ecclesiastical power she regarded human frailties as less
dangerous than anything that might undermine the principle of
authority, impair the orthodoxy, modify the ancient creed of her
little Church. "If he does, then I shall bare my teeth. What do you
say to a gentleman who tried to prevent Charlie from coming to a
rehearsal because he himself was not invited? So he's going to be
taught a lesson, I hope he'll profit by it, otherwise he can simply
take his hat and go. He keeps the boy under lock and key, upon my word
he does." And, using exactly the same expressions that almost anyone
else might have used, for there are certain not in common currency
which some particular subject, some given circumstance recalls almost
inevitably to the mind of the speaker, who imagines that he is giving
free expression to his thought when he is merely repeating
mechanically the universal lesson, she went on: "It's impossible to
see Morel nowadays without that great lout hanging round him, like an
armed escort." M. Verdurin offered to take Charlie out of the room for
a minute to explain things to him, on the pretext of asking him a
question. Mme. Verdurin was afraid that this might upset him, and that
he would play badly in consequence. It would be better to postpone
this performance until after the other. Perhaps even until a later
occasion. For however Mme. Verdurin might look forward to the
delicious emotion that she would feel when she knew that her husband
was engaged in enlightening Charlie in the next room, she was afraid,
if the shot missed fire, that he would lose his temper and would fail
to reappear on the sixteenth.

What ruined M. de Charlus that evening was the ill-breeding—so common
in their class—of the people whom he had invited and who were now
beginning to arrive. Having come there partly out of friendship for M.
de Charlus and also out of curiosity to explore these novel
surroundings, each Duchess made straight for the Baron as though it
were he who was giving the party and said, within a yard of the
Verdurins, who could hear every word: "Shew me which is mother
Verdurin; do you think I really need speak to her? I do hope at least,
that she won't put my name in the paper to-morrow, nobody would ever
speak to me again. What! That woman with the white hair, but she looks
quite presentable." Hearing some mention of Mlle. Vinteuil, who,
however, was not in the room, more than one of them said: "Ah! The
sonata-man's daughter? Shew me her" and, each finding a number of her
friends, they formed a group by themselves, watched, sparkling with
ironical curiosity, the arrival of the faithful, able at the most to
point a finger at the odd way in which a person had done her hair,
who, a few years later, was to make this the fashion in the very best
society, and, in short, regretted that they did not find this house as
different from the houses that they knew, as they had hoped to find
it, feeling the disappointment of people in society who, having gone
to the Boîte à Bruant in the hope that the singer would make a butt of
them, find themselves greeted on their arrival with a polite bow
instead of the expected:

  _Ah! voyez c'te gueule, c'te binette.
  Ah! voyez c'te gueule qu'elle a_.

M. de Charlus had, at Balbec, given me a perspicacious criticism of
Mme. de Vaugoubert who, notwithstanding her keen intellect, had
brought about, after his unexpected prosperity, the irremediable
disgrace of her husband. The rulers to whose Court M. de Vaugoubert
was accredited, King Theodosius and Queen Eudoxia, having returned to
Paris, but this time for a prolonged visit, daily festivities had been
held in their honour, in the course of which the Queen, on the
friendliest terms with Mme. de Vaugoubert, whom she had seen for the
last ten years in her own capital, and knowing neither the wife of the
President of the Republic nor those of his Ministers, had neglected
these ladies and kept entirely aloof with the Ambassadress. This lady,
believing her own position to be unassailable—M. de Vaugoubert
having been responsible for the alliance between King Theodosius and
France—had derived from the preference that the Queen shewed for her
society a proud satisfaction but no anxiety at the peril that
threatened her, which took shape a few months later in the fact,
wrongly considered impossible by the too confident couple, of the
brutal dismissal from the Service of M. de Vaugoubert. M. de Charlus,
remarking in the 'crawler' upon the downfall of his lifelong friend,
expressed his astonishment that an intelligent woman had not, in such
circumstances, brought all her influence with the King and Queen to
bear, so as to secure that she might not seem to possess any
influence, and to make them transfer to the wives of the President and
his Ministers a civility by which those ladies would have been all the
more flattered, that is to say which would have made them more
inclined, in their satisfaction, to be grateful to the Vaugouberts,
inasmuch as they would have supposed that civility to be spontaneous,
and not dictated by them. But the man who can see the mistakes of
others need only be exhilarated by circumstances in order to succumb
to them himself. And M. de Charlus, while his guests fought their way
towards him, to come and congratulate him, thank him, as though he
were the master of the house, never thought of asking them to say a
few words to Mme. Verdurin. Only the Queen of Naples, in whom survived
the same noble blood that had flowed in the veins of her sisters the
Empress Elisabeth and the Duchesse d'Alençon, made a point of talking
to Mme. Verdurin as though she had come for the pleasure of meeting
her rather than for the music and for M. de Charlus, made endless
pretty speeches to her hostess, could not cease from telling her for
how long she had been wishing to make her acquaintance, expressed her
admiration for the house and spoke to her of all manner of subjects as
though she were paying a call. She would so much have liked to bring
her niece Elisabeth, she said (the niece who shortly afterwards was to
marry Prince Albert of Belgium), who would be so sorry. She stopped
talking when she saw the musicians mount the platform, asking which of
them was Morel. She can scarcely have been under any illusion as to
the motives that led M. de Charlus to desire that the young virtuoso
should be surrounded with so much glory. But the venerable wisdom of a
sovereign in whose veins flowed the blood of one of the noblest races
in history, one of the richest in experience, scepticism and pride,
made her merely regard the inevitable defects of the people whom she
loved best, such as her cousin Charlus (whose mother had been, like
herself, a 'Duchess in Bavaria'), as misfortunes that rendered more
precious to them the support that they might find in herself and
consequently made it even more pleasant to her to provide that
support. She knew that M. de Charlus would be doubly touched by her
having taken the trouble to come, in the circumstances. Only, being as
good as she had long ago shewn herself brave, this heroic woman who, a
soldier-queen, had herself fired her musket from the ramparts of
Gaeta, always ready to take her place chivalrously by the weaker side,
seeing Mme. Verdurin alone and abandoned, and unaware (for that
matter) that she ought not to leave the Queen, had sought to pretend
that for her, the Queen of Naples, the centre of this party, the
lodestone that had made her come was Mme. Verdurin. She expressed her
regret that she would not be able to remain until the end, as she had,
although she never went anywhere, to go on to another party, and
begged that on no account, when she had to go, should any fuss be made
for her, thus discharging Mme. Verdurin of the honours which the
latter did not even know that she ought to render.

One must, however, do M. de Charlus the justice of saying that, if he
entirely forgot Mme. Verdurin and allowed her to be ignored, to a
scandalous extent, by the people 'of his own world' whom he had
invited, he did, on the other hand, realise that he must not allow
these people to display, during the 'symphonic recital' itself, the
bad manners which they were exhibiting towards the Mistress. Morel had
already mounted the platform, the musicians were assembling, and one
could still hear conversations, not to say laughter, speeches such as
"it appears, one has to be initiated to understand it." Immediately M.
de Charlus, drawing himself erect, as though he had entered a
different body from that which I had seen, not an hour ago, crawling
towards Mme. Verdurin's door, assumed a prophetic expression and
regarded the assembly with an earnestness which indicated that this
was not the moment for laughter, whereupon one saw a rapid blush tinge
the cheeks of more than one lady thus publicly rebuked, like a
schoolgirl scolded by her teacher in front of the whole class. To my
mind, M. de Charlus's attitude, noble as it was, was somehow slightly
comic; for at one moment he pulverised his guests with a flaming
glare, at another, in order to indicate to them as with a _vade mecum_
the religious silence that ought to be observed, the detachment from
every worldly consideration, he furnished in himself, as he raised to
his fine brow his white-gloved hands, a model (to which they must
conform) of gravity, already almost of ecstasy, without acknowledging
the greetings of late-comers so indelicate as not to understand that
it was now the time for High Art. They were all hypnotised; no one
dared utter a sound, move a chair; respect for music—by virtue of
Palamède's prestige—had been instantaneously inculcated in a crowd as
ill-bred as it was exclusive.

When I saw appear on the little platform, not only Morel and a
pianist, but performers upon other instruments as well, I supposed
that the programme was to begin with works of composers other than
Vinteuil. For I imagined that the only work of his in existence was
his sonata for piano and violin.

Mme. Verdurin sat in a place apart, the twin hemispheres of her pale,
slightly roseate brow magnificently curved, her hair drawn back,
partly in imitation of an eighteenth century portrait, partly from the
desire for coolness of a fever-stricken patient whom modesty forbids
to reveal her condition, aloof, a deity presiding over musical rites,
patron saint of Wagnerism and sick-headaches, a sort of almost tragic
Norn, evoked by the spell of genius in the midst of all these bores,
in whose presence she would more than ordinarily scorn to express her
feelings upon hearing a piece of music which she knew better than
they. The concert began, I did not know what they were playing, I
found myself in a strange land. Where was I to locate it? Into what
composer's country had I come? I should have been glad to know, and,
seeing nobody near me whom I might question, I should have liked to be
a character in those _Arabian Nights_ which I never tired of reading
and in which, in moments of uncertainty, there arose a genie or a
maiden of ravishing beauty, invisible to everyone else but not to the
embarrassed hero to whom she reveals exactly what he wishes to learn.
Well, at this very moment I was favoured with precisely such a magical
apparition. As, in a stretch of country which we suppose to be
strange to us and which as a matter of fact we have approached from a
new angle, when after turning out of one road we find ourself emerging
suddenly upon another every inch of which is familiar only we have not
been in the habit of entering it from that end, we say to ourself
immediately: "Why, this is the lane that leads to the garden gate of
my friends the X——; I shall be there in a minute," and there,
indeed, is their daughter at the gate, come out to greet us as we
pass; so, all of a sudden, I found myself, in the midst of this music
that was novel to me, right in the heart of Vinteuil's sonata; and,
more marvellous than any maiden, the little phrase, enveloped,
harnessed in silver, glittering with brilliant effects of sound, as
light and soft as silken scarves, came towards me, recognisable in
this new guise. My joy at having found it again was enhanced by the
accent, so friendlily familiar, which it adopted in addressing me, so
persuasive, so simple, albeit without dimming the shimmering beauty
with which it was resplendent. Its intention, however, was, this
time, merely to shew me the way, which was not the way of the sonata,
for this was an unpublished work of Vinteuil in which he had merely
amused himself, by an allusion which was explained at this point by a
sentence in the programme which one ought to have been reading
simultaneously, in making the little phrase reappear for a moment. No
sooner was it thus recalled than it vanished, and I found myself once
more in an unknown world, but I knew now, and everything that followed
only confirmed my knowledge, that this world was one of those which I
had never even been capable of imagining that Vinteuil could have
created, for when, weary of the sonata which was to me a universe
thoroughly explored, I tried to imagine others equally beautiful but
different, I was merely doing what those poets do who fill their
artificial paradise with meadows, flowers and streams which duplicate
those existing already upon Earth. What was now before me made me feel
as keen a joy as the sonata would have given me if I had not already
known it, and consequently, while no less beautiful, was different.
Whereas the sonata opened upon a dawn of lilied meadows, parting its
slender whiteness to suspend itself over the frail and yet consistent
mingling of a rustic bower of honeysuckle with white geraniums, it was
upon continuous, level surfaces like those of the sea that, in the
midst of a stormy morning beneath an already lurid sky, there began,
in an eery silence, in an infinite void, this hew masterpiece, and it
was into a roseate dawn that, in order to construct itself
progressively before me, this unknown universe was drawn from silence
and from night. This so novel redness, so absent from the tender,
rustic, pale sonata, tinged all the sky, as dawn does, with a
mysterious hope. And a song already thrilled the air, a song on seven
notes, but the strangest, the most different from any that I had ever
imagined, from any that I could ever have been able to imagine, at
once ineffable and piercing, no longer the cooing of a dove as in the
sonata, but rending the air, as vivid as the scarlet tinge in which
the opening bars had been bathed, something like the mystical crow of
a cock, an ineffable but over-shrill appeal of the eternal morning.
The cold atmosphere, soaked in rain, electric—of a quality so
different, feeling wholly other pressures, in a world so remote from
that, virginal and endowed only with vegetable life, of the
sonata—changed at every moment, obliterating the empurpled promise of
the Dawn. At noon, however, beneath a scorching though transitory sun,
it seemed to fulfil itself in a dull, almost rustic bliss in which the
peal of clanging, racing bells (like those which kindled the blaze of
the square outside the church of Combray, which Vinteuil, who must
often have heard them, had perhaps discovered at that moment in his
memory like a colour which the painter's hand has conveyed to his
palette) seemed to materialise the coarsest joy. To be honest, from
the aesthetic point of view, this joyous motive did not appeal to me,
I found it almost ugly, its rhythm dragged so laboriously along the
ground that one might have succeeded in imitating almost everything
that was essential to it by merely making a noise, sounds, by the
tapping of drumsticks upon a table. It seemed to me that Vinteuil had
been lacking, here, in inspiration, and consequently I was a little
lacking also in the power of attention.

I looked at the Mistress, whose sullen immobility seemed to be
protesting against the noddings—in time with the music—of the empty
heads of the ladies of the Faubourg. She did not say: "You understand
that I know something about this music, and more than a little! If I
had to express all that I feel, you would never hear the end of it!"
She did not say this. But her upright, motionless body, her
expressionless eyes, her straying locks said it for her. They spoke
also of her courage, said that the musicians might go on, need not
spare her nerves, that she would not flinch at the andante, would not
cry out at the allegro. I looked at the musicians. The violoncellist
dominated the instrument which he clutched between his knees, bowing
his head to which its coarse features gave, in moments of mannerism,
an involuntary expression of disgust; he leaned over it, fingered it
with the same domestic patience with which he might have plucked a
cabbage, while by his side the harpist (a mere girl) in a short skirt,
bounded on either side by the lines of her golden quadrilateral like
those which, in the magic chamber of a Sibyl, would arbitrarily denote
the ether, according to the consecrated rules, seemed to be going in
quest, here and there, at the point required, of an exquisite sound,
just as though, a little allegorical deity, placed in front of the
golden trellis of the heavenly vault, she were gathering, one by one,
its stars. As for Morel, a lock, hitherto invisible and lost in the
rest of his hair, had fallen loose and formed a curl upon his brow. I
turned my head slightly towards the audience to discover what M. de
Charlus might be feeling at the sight of this curl. But my eyes
encountered only the face, or rather the hands of Mme. Verdurin, for
the former was entirely buried in the latter.

But very soon, the triumphant motive of the bells having been
banished, dispersed by others, I succumbed once again to the music;
and I began to realise that if, in the body of this septet, different
elements presented themselves in turn, to combine at the close, so
also Vinteuil's sonata, and, as I was to find later on, his other
works as well, had been no more than timid essays, exquisite but very
slight, towards the triumphant and complete masterpiece which was
revealed to me at this moment. And so too, I could not help recalling
how I had thought of the other worlds which Vinteuil might have
created as of so many universes as hermetically sealed as each of my
own love-affairs, whereas in reality I was obliged to admit that in
the volume of my latest love—that is to say, my love for
Albertine—my first inklings of love for her (at Balbec at the very
beginning, then after the game of ferret, then on the night when she
slept at the hotel, then in Paris on the foggy afternoon, then on the
night of the Guermantes' party, then at Balbec again, and finally in
Paris where my life was now closely linked to her own) had been
nothing more than experiments; indeed, if I were to consider, not my
love for Albertine, but my life as a whole, my earlier love-affairs
had themselves been but slight and timid essays, experiments, which
paved the way to this vaster love: my love for Albertine. And I ceased
to follow the music, in order to ask myself once again whether
Albertine had or had not seen Mlle. Vinteuil during the last few days,
as we interrogate afresh an internal pain, from which we have been
distracted for a moment. For it was in myself that Albertine's
possible actions were performed. Of each of the people whom we know we
possess a double, but it is generally situated on the horizon of our
imagination, of our memory; it remains more or less external to
ourselves, and what it has done or may have done has no greater
capacity to cause us pain than an object situated at a certain
distance, which provides us with only the painless sensations of
vision. The things that affect these people we perceive in a
contemplative fashion, we are able to deplore them in appropriate
language which gives other people a sense of our kindness of heart, we
do not feel them; but since the wound inflicted on me at Balbec, it
was in my heart, at a great depth, difficult to extract, that
Albertine's double was lodged. What I saw of her hurt me, as a sick
man would be hurt whose senses were so seriously deranged that the
sight of a colour would be felt by him internally like a knife-thrust
in his living flesh. It was fortunate that I had not already yielded
to the temptation to break with Albertine; the boring thought that I
should have to see her again presently, when I went home, was a
trifling matter compared with the anxiety that I should have felt if
the separation had been permanent at this moment when I felt a doubt
about her before she had had time to become immaterial to me. At the
moment when I pictured her thus to myself waiting for me at home, like
a beloved wife who found the time of waiting long, and had perhaps
fallen asleep for a moment in her room, I was caressed by the passage
of a tender phrase, homely and domestic, of the septet.
Perhaps—everything is so interwoven and superimposed in our inward
life—it had been inspired in Vinteuil by his daughter's sleep—his
daughter, the cause to-day of all my troubles—when it enveloped in
its quiet, on peaceful evenings, the work of the composer, this phrase
which calmed me so, by the same soft background of silence which
pacifies certain of Schumann's reveries, during which, even when 'the
Poet is speaking,' one can tell that 'the child is asleep.' Asleep,
awake, I should find her again this evening, when I chose to return
home, Albertine, my little child. And yet, I said to myself, something
more mysterious than Albertine's love seemed to be promised at the
outset of this work, in those first cries of dawn. I endeavoured to
banish the thought of my mistress, so as to think only of the
composer. Indeed, he seemed to be present. One would have said that,
reincarnate, the composer lived for all time in his music; one could
feel the joy with which he was choosing the colour of some sound,
harmonising it with the rest. For with other and more profound gifts
Vinteuil combined that which few composers, and indeed few painters
have possessed, of using colours not merely so lasting but so personal
that, just as time has been powerless to fade them, so the disciples
who imitate him who discovered them, and even the masters who surpass
him do not pale their originality. The revolution that their
apparition has effected does not live to see its results merge
unacknowledged in the work of subsequent generations; it is liberated,
it breaks out again, and alone, whenever the innovator's works are
performed in all time to come. Each note underlined itself in a colour
which all the rules in the world could not have taught the most
learned composers to imitate, with the result that Vinteuil, albeit he
had appeared at his hour and was fixed in his place in the evolution
of music, would always leave that place to stand in the forefront,
whenever any of his compositions was performed, which would owe its
appearance of having blossomed after the works of other more recent
composers to this quality, apparently paradoxical and actually
deceiving, of permanent novelty. A page of symphonic music by
Vinteuil, familiar already on the piano, when one heard it rendered by
an orchestra, like a ray of summer sunlight which the prism of the
window disintegrates before it enters a dark dining-room, revealed
like an unsuspected, myriad-hued treasure all the jewels of the
_Arabian Nights_. But how can one compare to that motionless brilliance
of light what was life, perpetual and blissful motion? This Vinteuil,
whom I had known so timid and sad, had been capable—when he had to
select a tone, to blend another with it—of audacities, had enjoyed a
good fortune, in the full sense of the word, as to which the hearing
of any of his works left one in no doubt. The joy that such chords had
aroused in him, the increase of strength that it had given him
wherewith to discover others led the listener on also from one
discovery to another, or rather it was the composer himself who guided
him, deriving from the colours that he had invented a wild joy which
gave him the strength to discover, to fling himself upon the others
which they seemed to evoke, enraptured, quivering, as though from the
shock of an electric spark, when the sublime came spontaneously to
life at the clang of the brass, panting, drunken, maddened, dizzy,
while he painted his great musical fresco, like Michelangelo strapped
to his scaffold and dashing, from his supine position, tumultuous
brush-strokes upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Vinteuil had
been dead for many years; but in the sound of these instruments which
he had animated, it had been given him to prolong, for an unlimited
time, a part at least of his life. Of his life as a man merely? If art
was indeed but a prolongation of life, was it worth while to sacrifice
anything to it, was it not as unreal as life itself? If I was to
listen properly to this septet, I could not pause to consider the
question. No doubt the glowing septet differed singularly from the
candid sonata; the timid question to which the little phrase replied,
from the breathless supplication to find the fulfilment of the strange
promise that had resounded, so harsh, so supernatural, so brief,
setting athrob the still inert crimson of the morning sky, above the
sea. And yet these so widely different phrases were composed of the
same elements, for just as there was a certain universe, perceptible
by us in those fragments scattered here and there, in private houses,
in public galleries, which were Elstir's universe, the universe which
he saw, in which he lived, so to the music of Vinteuil extended, note
by note, key by key, the unknown colourings of an inestimable,
unsuspected universe, made fragmentary by the gaps that occurred
between the different occasions of hearing his work performed; those
two so dissimilar questions which commanded the so different movements
of the sonata and the septet, the former breaking into short appeals a
line continuous and pure, the latter welding together into an
indivisible structure a medley of scattered fragments, were
nevertheless, one so calm and timid, almost detached and as though
philosophic, the other so anxious, pressing, imploring, were
nevertheless the same prayer, poured forth before different risings of
the inward sun and merely refracted through the different mediums of
other thoughts, of artistic researches carried on through the years in
which he had tried to create something new. A prayer, a hope which was
at heart the same, distinguishable beneath these disguises in the
various works of Vinteuil, and on the other hand not to be found
elsewhere than in his works. For these phrases historians of music
might indeed find affinities, a pedigree in the works of other great
composers, but merely for subordinate reasons, from external
resemblances, from analogies which were ingeniously discovered by
reasoning rather than felt by a direct impression. The impression that
these phrases of Vinteuil imparted was different from any other, as
though, notwithstanding the conclusions to which science seems to
point, the individual did really exist. And it was precisely when he
was seeking vigorously to be something new that one recognised beneath
the apparent differences the profound similarities; and the deliberate
resemblances that existed in the body of a work, when Vinteuil
repeated once and again a single phrase, diversified it, amused
himself by altering its rhythm, by making it reappear in its original
form, these deliberate resemblances, the work of the intellect,
inevitably superficial, never succeeded in being as striking as those
resemblances, concealed, involuntary, which broke out in different
colours, between the two separate masterpieces; for then Vinteuil,
seeking to do something new, questioned himself, with all the force of
his creative effort, reached his own essential nature at those depths,
where, whatever be the question asked, it is in the same accent, that
is to say its own, that it replies. Such an accent, the accent of
Vinteuil, is separated from the accents of other composers by a
difference far greater than that which we perceive between the voices
of two people, even between the cries of two species of animal: by the
difference that exists between the thoughts of those other composers
and the eternal investigations of Vinteuil, the question that he put
to himself in so many forms, his habitual speculation, but as free
from analytical formulas of reasoning as if it were being carried out
in the world of the angels, so that we can measure its depth, but
without being any more able to translate it into human speech than are
disincarnate spirits when, evoked by a medium, he questions them as to
the mysteries of death. And even when I bore in mind the acquired
originality which had struck me that afternoon, that kinship which
musical critics might discover among them, it is indeed a unique
accent to which rise, and return in spite of themselves those great
singers that original composers are, which is a proof of the
irreducibly individual existence of the soul. Though Vinteuil might
try to make more solemn, more grand, or to make more sprightly and gay
what he saw reflected in the mind of his audience, yet, in spite of
himself, he submerged it all beneath an undercurrent which makes his
song eternal and at once recognisable. This song, different from those
of other singers, similar to all his own, where had Vinteuil learned,
where had he heard it? Each artist seems thus to be the native of an
unknown country, which he himself has forgotten, different from that
from which will emerge, making for the earth, another great artist.
When all is said, Vinteuil, in his latest works, seemed to have drawn
nearer to that unknown country. The atmosphere was no longer the same
as in the sonata, the questioning phrases became more pressing, more
uneasy, the answers more mysterious; the clean-washed air of morning
and evening seemed to influence even the instruments. Morel might be
playing marvellously, the sounds that came from his violin seemed to
me singularly piercing, almost blatant. This harshness was pleasing,
and, as in certain voices, one felt in it a sort of moral virtue and
intellectual superiority. But this might give offence. When his vision
of the universe is modified, purified, becomes more adapted to his
memory of the country of his heart, it is only natural that this
should be expressed by a general alteration of sounds in the musician,
as of colours in the painter. Anyhow, the more intelligent section of
the public is not misled, since people declared later on that
Vinteuil's last compositions were the most profound. Now no programme,
no subject supplied any intellectual basis for judgment. One guessed
therefore that it was a question of transposition, an increasing
profundity of sound.

This lost country composers do not actually remember, but each of them
remains all his life somehow attuned to it; he is wild with joy when
he is singing the airs of his native land, betrays it at times in his
thirst for fame, but then, in seeking fame, turns his back upon it,
and it is only when he despises it that he finds it when he utters,
whatever the subject with which he is dealing, that peculiar strain
the monotony of which—for whatever its subject it remains identical
in itself—proves the permanence of the elements that compose his
soul. But is it not the fact then that from those elements, all the
real residuum which we are obliged to keep to ourselves, which cannot
be transmitted in talk, even by friend to friend, by master to
disciple, by lover to mistress, that ineffable something which makes a
difference in quality between what each of us has felt and what he is
obliged to leave behind at the threshold of the phrases in which he
can communicate with his fellows only by limiting himself to external
points common to us all and of no interest, art, the art of a Vinteuil
like that of an Elstir, makes the man himself apparent, rendering
externally visible in the colours of the spectrum that intimate
composition of those worlds which we call individual persons and
which, without the aid of art, we should never know? A pair of wings,
a different mode of breathing, which would enable us to traverse
infinite space, would in no way help us, for, if we visited Mars or
Venus keeping the same senses, they would clothe in the same aspect as
the things of the earth everything that we should be capable of
seeing. The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of
Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess
other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a
hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them
beholds, that each of them is; and this we can contrive with an
Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from
star to star. The andante had just ended upon a phrase filled with a
tenderness to which I had entirely abandoned myself; there followed,
before the next movement, a short interval during which the performers
laid down their instruments and the audience exchanged impressions. A
Duke, in order to shew that he knew what he was talking about,
declared: "It is a difficult thing to play well." Other more
entertaining people conversed for a moment with myself. But what were
their words, which like every human and external word, left me so
indifferent, compared with the heavenly phrase of music with which I
had just been engaged? I was indeed like an angel who, fallen from the
inebriating bliss of paradise, subsides into the most humdrum reality.
And, just as certain creatures are the last surviving testimony to a
form of life which nature has discarded, I asked myself if music were
not the unique example of what might have been—if there had not come
the invention of language, the formation of words, the analysis of
ideas—the means of communication between one spirit and another. It
is like a possibility which has ended in nothing; humanity has
developed along other lines, those of spoken and written language.
But this return to the unanalysed was so inebriating, that on emerging
from that paradise, contact with people who were more or less
intelligent seemed to me of an extraordinary insignificance. People—I
had been able during the music to remember them, to blend them with
it; or rather I had blended with the music little more than the memory
of one person only, which was Albertine. And the phrase that ended the
andante seemed to me so sublime that I said to myself that it was a
pity that Albertine did not know it, and, had she known it, would not
have understood what an honour it was to be blended with anything so
great as this phrase which brought us together, and the pathetic voice
of which she seemed to have borrowed. But, once the music was
interrupted, the people who were present seemed utterly lifeless.
Refreshments were handed round. M. de Charlus accosted a footman now
and then with: "How are you? Did you get my note? Can you come?" No
doubt there was in these remarks the freedom of the great nobleman who
thinks he is flattering his hearer and is himself more one of the
people than a man of the middle classes; there was also the cunning of
the criminal who imagines that anything which he volunteers is on that
account regarded as innocent. And he added, in the Guermantes tone of
Mme. de Villeparisis: "He's a good young fellow, such a good sort, I
often employ him at home." But his adroitness turned against the
Baron, for people thought his intimate conversation and correspondence
with footmen extraordinary. The footmen themselves were not so much
flattered as embarrassed, in the presence of their comrades. Meanwhile
the septet had begun again and was moving towards its close; again and
again one phrase or another from the sonata recurred, but always
changed, its rhythm and harmony different, the same and yet something
else, as things recur in life; and they were phrases of the sort
which, without our being able to understand what affinity assigns to
them as their sole and necessary home the past life of a certain
composer, are to be found only in his work, and appear constantly in
it, where they are the fairies, the dryads, the household gods; I had
at the start distinguished in the septet two or three which reminded
me of the sonata. Presently—bathed in the violet mist which rose
particularly in Vinteuil's later work, so much so that, even when he
introduced a dance measure, it remained captive in the heart of an
opal—I caught the sound of another phrase from the sonata, still
hovering so remote that I barely recognised it; hesitating, it
approached, vanished as though in alarm, then returned, joined hands
with others, come, as I learned later on, from other works, summoned
yet others which became in their turn attractive and persuasive, as
soon as they were tamed, and took their places in the ring, a ring
divine but permanently invisible to the bulk of the audience, who,
having before their eyes only a thick veil through which they saw
nothing, punctuated arbitrarily with admiring exclamations a
continuous boredom which was becoming deadly. Then they withdrew, save
one which I saw reappear five times or six, without being able to
distinguish its features, but so caressing, so different—as was no
doubt the little phrase in Swann's sonata—from anything that any
woman had ever made me desire, that this phrase which offered me in so
sweet a voice a happiness which would really have been worth the
struggle to obtain it, is perhaps—this invisible creature whose
language I did not know and whom I understood so well—the only
Stranger that it has ever been my good fortune to meet. Then this
phrase broke up, was transformed, like the little phrase in the
sonata, and became the mysterious appeal of the start. A phrase of a
plaintive kind rose in opposition to it, but so profound, so vague, so
internal, almost so organic and visceral that one could not tell at
each of its repetitions whether they were those of a theme or of an
attack of neuralgia. Presently these two motives were wrestling
together in a close fight in which now one disappeared entirely, and
now the listener could catch only a fragment of the other. A wrestling
match of energies only, to tell the truth; for if these creatures
attacked one another, it was rid of their physical bodies, of their
appearance, of their names, and finding in me an inward spectator,
himself indifferent also to their names and to all details, interested
only in their immaterial and dynamic combat and following with passion
its sonorous changes. In the end the joyous motive was left
triumphant; it was no longer an almost anxious appeal addressed to an
empty sky, it was an ineffable joy which seemed to come from paradise,
a joy as different from that of the sonata as from a grave and gentle
angel by Bellini, playing the theorbo, would be some archangel by
Mantegna sounding a trump. I might be sure that this new tone of joy,
this appeal to a super-terrestrial joy, was a thing that I would never
forget. But should I be able, ever, to realise it? This question
seemed to me all the more important, inasmuch as this phrase was what
might have seemed most definitely to characterise—from its sharp
contrast with all the rest of my life, with the visible world—those
impressions which at remote intervals I recaptured in my life as
starting-points, foundation-stones for the construction of a true
life: the impression that I had felt at the sight of the steeples of
Martinville, or of a line of trees near Balbec. In any case, to
return to the particular accent of this phrase, how strange it was
that the presentiment most different from what life assigns to us on
earth, the boldest approximation to the bliss of the world beyond
should have been materialised precisely in the melancholy, respectable
little old man whom we used to meet in the Month of Mary at Combray;
but, stranger still, how did it come about that this revelation, the
strangest that I had yet received, of an unknown type of joy, should
have come to me from him, since, it was understood, when he died he
left nothing behind him but his sonata, all the rest being
non-existent in indecipherable scribbljngs. Indecipherable they may
have been, but they had nevertheless been in the end deciphered, by
dint of patience, intelligence and respect, by the only person who had
lived sufficiently in Vinteuil's company to understand his method of
working, to interpret his orchestral indications: Mlle. Vinteuil's
friend. Even in the lifetime of the great composer, she had acquired
from his daughter the reverence that the latter felt for her father.
It was because of this reverence that, in those moments in which
people run counter to their natural inclinations, the two girls had
been able to find an insane pleasure in the profanations which have
already been narrated. (Her adoration of her father was the primary
condition of his daughter's sacrilege. And no doubt they ought to have
foregone the delight of that sacrilege, but it did not express the
whole of their natures.) And, what is more, the profanations had
become rarefied until they disappeared altogether, in proportion as
their morbid carnal relations, that troubled, smouldering fire, had
given place to the flame of a pure and lofty friendship. Mlle.
Vinteuil's friend was sometimes worried by the importunate thought
that she had perhaps hastened the death of Vinteuil. At any rate, by
spending years in poring over the cryptic scroll left by him, in
establishing the correct reading of those illegible hieroglyphs, Mlle.
Vinteuil's friend had the consolation of assuring the composer whose
grey hairs she had sent in sorrow to the grave an immortal and
compensating glory. Relations which are not consecrated by the laws
establish bonds of kinship as manifold, as complex, even more solid
than those which spring from marriage. Indeed, without pausing to
consider relations of so special a nature, do we not find every day
that adultery, when it is based upon genuine love, does not upset the
family sentiment, the duties of kinship, but rather revivifies them.
Adultery brings the spirit into what marriage would often have left a
dead letter. A good-natured girl who merely from convention will wear
mourning for her mother's second husband has not tears enough to shed
for the man whom her mother has chosen out of all the world as her
lover. Anyhow, Mlle. Vinteuil had acted only in a spirit of Sadism,
which did not excuse her, but it gave me a certain consolation to
think so later on. She must indeed have realised, I told myself, at
the moment when she and her friend profaned her father's photograph,
that what they were doing was merely morbidity, silliness, and not the
true and joyous wickedness which she would have liked to feel. This
idea that it was merely a pretence of wickedness spoiled her pleasure.
But if this idea recurred to her mind later on, as it had spoiled her
pleasure, so it must then have diminished her grief. "It was not I,"
she must have told herself, "I was out of my mind. I myself mean
still to pray for my father's soul, not to despair of his
forgiveness." Only it is possible that this idea, which had certainly
presented itself to her in her pleasure, may not have presented itself
in her grief. I would have liked to be able to put it into her mind. I
am sure that I should have done her good and that I should have been
able to reestablish between her and the memory of her father a
pleasant channel of communication.

As in the illegible note-books in which a chemist of genius, who does
not know that death is at hand, jots down discoveries which will
perhaps remain forever unknown, Mlle. Vinteuil's friend had
disentangled, from papers more illegible than strips of papyrus,
dotted with a cuneiform script, the formula eternally true, forever
fertile, of this unknown joy, the mystic hope of the crimson Angel of
the dawn. And I to whom, albeit not so much perhaps as to Vinteuil,
she had been also, she had been once more this very evening, by
reviving afresh my jealousy of Albertine, she was above all in the
future to be the cause of so many sufferings, it was thanks to her, in
compensation, that there had been able to come to my ears the strange
appeal which I should never for a moment cease to hear, as the promise
and proof that there existed something other, realisable no doubt by
art, than the nullity that I had found in all my pleasures and in love
itself, and that if my life seemed to me so empty, at least there were
still regions unexplored.

What she had enabled us, thanks to her labour, to know of Vinteuil
was, to tell the truth, the whole of Vinteuil's work. Compared with
this septet, certain phrases from the sonata which alone the public
knew appeared so commonplace that one failed to understand how they
could have aroused so much admiration. Similarly we are surprised that
for years past, pieces as trivial as the _Evening Star_ or
_Elisabeth's Prayer_ can have aroused in the concert-hall fanatical
worshippers who wore themselves out in applause and in crying encore
at the end of what after all is poor and trite to us who know
_Tristan_, the _Rheingold_ and the _Meistersinger_. We are left to
suppose that those featureless melodies contained already nevertheless
in infinitesimal, and for that reason, perhaps, more easily
assimilable quantities, something of the originality of the
masterpieces which, in retrospect, are alone of importance to us, but
which their very perfection may perhaps have prevented from being
understood; they have been able to prepare the way for them in our
hearts. Anyhow it is true that, if they gave a confused presentiment
of the beauties to come, they left these in a state of complete
obscurity. It was the same with Vinteuil; if at his death he had left
behind him—excepting certain parts of the sonata—only what he had
been able to complete, what we should have known of him would have
been, in relation to his true greatness, as little as, in the case of,
say, Victor Hugo, if he had died after the _Pas d'Armes du Roi Jean_,
the _Fiancée du Timbalier_ and _Sarah la Baigneuse_, without having
written a line of the _Légende des Siècles_ or the _Contemplations_: what
is to us his real work would have remained purely potential, as
unknown as those universes to which our perception does not attain, of
which we shall never form any idea.

Anyhow, the apparent contrast, that profound union between genius
(talent too and even virtue) and the sheath of vices in which, as had
happened in the case of Vinteuil, it is so frequently contained,
preserved, was legible, as in a popular allegory, in the mere assembly
of the guests among whom I found myself once again when the music had
come to an end. This assembly, albeit limited this time to Mme.
Verdurin's drawing-room, resembled many others, the ingredients of
which are unknown to the general public, and which philosophical
journalists, if they are at all well-informed, call Parisian, or
Panamist, or Dreyfusard, never suspecting that they may equally well
be found in Petersburg, Berlin, Madrid, and at every epoch; if as a
matter of fact the Under Secretary of State for Fine Arts, an artist
to his fingertips, well-bred and smart, several Duchesses and three
Ambassadors with their wives were present this evening at Mme.
Verdurin's, the proximate, immediate cause of their presence lay in
the relations that existed between M. de Charlus and Morel, relations
which made the Baron anxious to give as wide a celebrity as possible
to the artistic triumphs of his young idol, and to obtain for him the
Cross of the Legion of Honour; the remoter cause which had made this
assembly possible was that a girl living with Mlle. Vinteuil in the
same way as the Baron was living with Charlie had brought to light a
whole series of works of genius which had been such a revelation that
before long a subscription was to be opened under the patronage of the
Minister of Education, with the object of erecting a statue of
Vinteuil. Moreover, these works had been assisted, no less than by
Mlle. Vinteuil's relations with her friend, by the Baron's relations
with Charlie, a sort of cross-road, a short cut, thanks to which the
world was enabled to overtake these works without the preliminary
circuit, if not of a want of comprehension which would long persist,
at least of a complete ignorance which might have lasted for years.
Whenever an event occurs which is within the range of the vulgar mind
of the moralising journalist, a political event as a rule, the
moralising journalists are convinced that there has been some great
change in France, that we shall never see such evenings again, that no
one will ever again admire Ibsen, Renan, Dostoievski, D'Annunzio,
Tolstoi, Wagner, Strauss. For moralising journalists take their text
from the equivocal undercurrents of these official manifestations, in
order to find something decadent in the art which is there celebrated
and which as often as not is more austere than any other. But there is
no name among those most revered by these moralising journalists which
has not quite naturally given rise to some such strange gathering,
although its strangeness may have been less flagrant and better
concealed. In the case of this gathering, the impure elements that
associated themselves with it struck me from another aspect; to be
sure, I was as well able as anyone to dissociate them, having learned
to know them separately, but anyhow it came to pass that some of them,
those which concerned Mlle. Vinteuil and her friend, speaking to me of
Combray, spoke to me also of Albertine, that is to say of Balbec,
since it was because I had long ago seen Mlle. Vinteuil at Montjouvain
and had learned of her friend's intimacy with Albertine, that I was
presently, when I returned home, to find, instead of solitude,
Albertine awaiting me, and that the others, those which concerned
Morel and M. de Charlus, speaking to me of Balbec, where I had seen,
on the platform at Doncières, their intimacy begin, spoke to me of
Combray and of its two 'ways,' for M. de Charlus was one of those
Guermantes, Counts of Combray, inhabiting Combray without having any
dwelling there, between earth and heaven, like Gilbert the Bad in his
window: while, after all, Morel was the son of that old valet who had
enabled me to know the lady in pink, and had permitted me, years
after, to identify her with Mme. Swann.

M. de Charlus repeated, when, the music at an end, his guests came, to
say good-bye to him, the same error that he had made when they
arrived. He did not ask them to shake hands with their hostess, to
include her and her husband in the gratitude that was being showered
on himself. There was a long queue waiting, but a queue that led to
the Baron alone, a fact of which he must have been conscious, for as
he said to me a little later: "The form of the artistic celebration
ended in a 'few-words-in-the-vestry' touch that was quite amusing."
The guests even prolonged their expressions of gratitude with
indiscriminate remarks which enabled them to remain for a moment
longer in the Baron's presence, while those who had not yet
congratulated him on the success of his party hung wearily in the
rear. A stray husband or two may have announced his intention of
going; but his wife, a snob as well as a Duchess, protested: "No, no,
even if we are kept waiting an hour, we cannot go away without
thanking Palamède, who has taken so much trouble. There is nobody else
left now who can give entertainments like this." Nobody would have
thought of asking to be introduced to Mme. Verdurin any more than to
the attendant in a theatre to which some great lady has for one
evening brought the whole aristocracy. "Were you at Eliane de
Montmorency's yesterday, cousin?" asked Mme. de Mortemart, seeking an
excuse to prolong their conversation. "Good gracious, no; I like
Eliane, but I never can understand her invitations. I must be very
stupid, I'm afraid," he went on, parting his lips in a broad smile,
while Mme. de Mortemart realised that she was to be made the first
recipient of 'one of Palamède's' as she had often been of 'one of
Oriane's.'"I did indeed receive a card a fortnight ago from the
charming Eliane. Above the questionably authentic name of
'Montmorency' was the following kind invitation: 'My dear cousin, will
you please remember me next Friday at half-past nine.' Beneath were
written two less gratifying words: 'Czech Quartet.' These seemed to me
incomprehensible, and in any case to have no more connexion with the
sentence above than the words 'My dear ——,' which you find on the
back of a letter, with nothing else after them, when the writer has
already begun again on the other side, and has not taken a fresh
sheet, either from carelessness or in order to save paper. I am fond
of Eliane: and so I felt no annoyance, I merely ignored the strange
and inappropriate allusion to a Czech Quartet, and, as I am a
methodical man, I placed on my chimney-piece the invitation to
remember Madame de Montmorency on Friday at half-past nine. Although
renowned for my obedient, punctual and meek nature, as Buffon says of
the camel"—at this, laughter seemed to radiate from M. de Charlus who
knew that on the contrary he was regarded as the most impossible
person to live with—"I was a few minutes late (it took me a few
minutes to change my clothes), and without any undue remorse, thinking
that half-past nine meant ten, at the stroke of ten in a comfortable
dressing-gown, with warm slippers on my feet, I sat down in my chimney
corner to remember Eliane as she had asked me and with a concentration
which began to relax only at half-past ten. Tell her please that I
complied strictly with her audacious request. I am sure she will be
gratified." Mme. de Mortemart was helpless with laughter, in which M.
de Charlus joined. "And to-morrow," she went on, forgetting that she
had already long exceeded the time that might be allotted to her, "are
you going to our La Rochefoucauld cousins?" "Oh, that, now, is quite
impossible, they have invited me, and you too, I see, to a thing it is
utterly impossible to imagine, which is called, if I am to believe
their card of invitation, a 'dancing tea.' I used to be considered
pretty nimble when I was young, but I doubt whether I could ever
decently have drunk a cup of tea while I was dancing. No, I have never
cared for eating or drinking in unnatural positions. You will remind
me that my dancing days are done. But even sitting down comfortably to
drink my tea—of the quality of which I am suspicious since it is
called 'dancing'—I should be afraid lest other guests younger than
myself, and less nimble possibly than I was at their age, might spill
their cups over my clothes which would interfere with my pleasure in
draining my own." Nor indeed was M. de Charlus content with leaving
Mme. Verdurin out of the conversation while he spoke of all manner of
subjects which he seemed to be taking pleasure in developing and
varying, that cruel pleasure which he had always enjoyed of keeping
indefinitely on their feet the friends who were waiting with an
excruciating patience for their turn to come; he even criticised all
that part of the entertainment for which Mme. Verdurin was
responsible. "But, talking about cups, what in the world are those
strange little bowls which remind me of the vessels in which, when I
was a young man, people used to get sorbets from Poiré-Blanche.
Somebody said to me just now that they were for 'iced coffee.' But if
it comes to that, I have seen neither coffee nor ice. What curious
little objects—so very ambiguous." In saying this M. de Charlus had
placed his white-gloved hands vertically over his lips and had
modestly circumscribed his indicative stare as though he were afraid
of being heard, or even seen by his host and hostess. But this was a
mere feint, for in a few minutes he would be offering the same
criticisms to the Mistress herself, and a little later would be
insolently enjoining: "No more iced-coffee cups, remember! Give them
to one of your friends whose house you wish to disfigure. But warn her
not to have them in the drawing-room, or people might think that they
had come into the wrong room, the things are so exactly like
chamberpots." "But, cousin," said the guest, lowering her own voice
also, and casting a questioning glance at M. de Charlus, for she was
afraid of offending not Mme. Verdurin but him, "perhaps she doesn't
quite know yet...." "She shall be taught." "Oh!" laughed the guest,
"she couldn't have a better teacher! She is lucky! If you are in
charge, one can be sure there won't be a false note." "There wasn't
one, if it comes to that, in the music." "Oh! It was sublime. One of
those pleasures which can never be forgotten. Talking of that
marvellous violinist," she went on, imagining in her innocence that M.
de Charlus was interested in the violin 'pure and simple,'"do you
happen to know one whom I heard the other day playing too wonderfully
a sonata by Fauré, his name is Frank...." "Oh, he's a horror," replied
M. de Charlus, overlooking the rudeness of a contradiction which
implied that his cousin was lacking in taste. "As far as violinists
are concerned, I advise you to confine yourself to mine." This paved
the way to a fresh exchange of glances, at once furtive and
scrutinous, between M. de Charlus and his cousin, for, blushing and
seeking by her zeal to atone for her blunder, Mme. de Mortemart went
on to suggest to M. de Charlus that she might give a party, to hear
Morel play. Now, so far as she was concerned, this party had not the
object of bringing an unknown talent into prominence, an object which
she would, however, pretend to have in mind, and which was indeed that
of M. de Charlus. She regarded it only as an opportunity for giving a
particularly smart party and was calculating already whom she would
invite and whom she would reject. This business of selection, the
chief preoccupation of people who give parties (even the people whom
'society' journalists are so impudent or so foolish as to call 'the
élite'), alters at once the expression—and the handwriting—of a
hostess more profoundly than any hypnotic suggestion. Before she had
even thought of what Morel was to play (which she regarded, and
rightly, as a secondary consideration, for even if everybody this
evening, from fear of M. de Charlus, had observed a polite silence
during the music, it would never have occurred to anyone to listen to
it), Mme. de Mortemart, having decided that Mme. de Valcourt was not
to be one of the elect, had automatically assumed that air of
conspiracy, of a secret plotting which so degrades even those women in
society who can most easily afford to ignore what 'people will
say.'"Wouldn't it be possible for me to give a party, for people to
hear your friend play?" murmured Mme. de Mortemart, who, while
addressing herself exclusively to M. de Charlus, could not refrain, as
though under a fascination, from casting a glance at Mme. de Valcourt
(the rejected) in order to make certain that the other was too far
away to hear her. "No she cannot possibly hear what I am saying," Mme.
de Mortemart concluded inwardly, reassured by her own glance which as
a matter of fact had had a totally different effect upon Mme. de
Valcourt from that intended: "Why," Mme. de Valcourt had said to
herself when she caught this glance, "Marie-Thérèse is planning
something with Palamède which I am not to be told." "You mean my
protégé," M. de Charlus corrected, as merciless to his cousin's choice
of words as he was to her musical endowments. Then without paying the
slightest attention to her silent prayers, as she made a smiling
apology: "Why, yes..." he said in a loud tone, audible throughout the
room, "although there is always a risk in that sort of exportation of
a fascinating personality into surroundings that must inevitably
diminish his transcendent gifts and would in any case have to be
adapted to them." Madame de Mortemart told herself that the aside, the
pianissimo of her question had been a waste of trouble, after the
megaphone through which the answer had issued. She was mistaken. Mme.
de Valcourt heard nothing, for the simple reason that she did not
understand a single word. Her anxiety diminished and would rapidly
have been extinguished had not Mme. de Mortemart, afraid that she
might have been given away and afraid of having to invite Mme. de
Valcourt, with whom she was on too intimate terms to be able to leave
her out if the other knew about her party beforehand, raised her
eyelids once again in Edith's direction, as though not to lose sight
of a threatening peril, lowering them again briskly so as not to
commit herself. She intended, on the morning after the party, to write
her one of those letters, the complement of the revealing glance,
letters which people suppose to be subtle and which are tantamount to
a full and signed confession. For instance: "Dear Edith, I am so sorry
about you, I did not really expect you last night" ("How could she
have expected me," Edith would ask herself, "since she never invited
me?") "as I know that you are not very fond of parties of that sort,
which rather bore you. We should have been greatly honoured, all the
same, by your company" (never did Mme. de Mortemart employ the word
'honoured,' except in the letters in which she attempted to cloak a
lie in the semblance of truth). "You know that you are always at home
in our house, however, you were quite right, as it was a complete
failure, like everything that is got up at a moment's notice." But
already the second furtive glance darted at her had enabled Edith to
grasp everything that was concealed by the complicated language of M.
de Charlus. This glance was indeed so violent that, after it had
struck Mme. de Valcourt, the obvious secrecy and mischievous intention
that it embodied rebounded upon a young Peruvian whom Mme. de
Mortemart intended, on the contrary, to invite. But being of a
suspicious nature, seeing all too plainly the mystery that was being
made without realising that it was not intended to mystify him, he at
once conceived a violent hatred of Mme. de Mortemart and determined to
play all sorts of tricks upon her, such as ordering fifty iced coffees
to be sent to her house on a day when she was not giving a party, or,
when she was, inserting a paragraph in the newspapers announcing that
the party was postponed, and publishing false reports of her other
parties, in which would figure the notorious names of all the people
whom, for various reasons, a hostess does not invite or even allow to
be introduced to her. Mme. de Mortemart need not have bothered herself
about Mme. de Valcourt. M. de Charlus was about to spoil, far more
effectively than the other's presence could spoil it, the projected
party. "But, my dear cousin," she said in response to the expression
'adapting the surroundings,' the meaning of which her momentary state
of hyperaesthesia had enabled her to discern, "we shall save you all
the trouble. I undertake to ask Gilbert to arrange everything." "Not
on any account, all the more as he must not be invited to it. Nothing
can be arranged except by myself. The first thing is to exclude all
the people who have ears and hear not." M. de Charlus's cousin, who
had been reckoning upon Morel as an attraction in order to give a
party at which she could say that, unlike so many of her kinswomen,
she had 'had Palamède,' carried her thoughts abruptly, from this
prestige of M. de Charlus, to all sorts of people with whom he would
get her into trouble if he began interfering with the list of her
guests. The thought that the Prince de Guermantes (on whose account,
partly, she was anxious to exclude Mme. de Valcourt, whom he declined
to meet) was not to be invited, alarmed her. Her eyes assumed an
uneasy expression. "Is the light, which is rather too strong, hurting
you?" inquired M. de Charlus with an apparent seriousness the
underlying irony of which she failed to perceive. "No, not at all, I
was thinking of the difficulty, not for myself of course, but for my
family, if Gilbert were to hear that I had given a party without
inviting him, when he never has a cat on his housetop without...."
"Why of course, we must begin by eliminating the cat on the housetop,
which could only miaow; I suppose that the din of talk has prevented
you from realising that it was a question not of doing the civilities
of a hostess but of proceeding to the rites customary at every true
celebration." Then, deciding, not that the next person had been kept
waiting too long, but that it did not do to exaggerate the favours
shewn to one who had in mind not so much Morel as her own
visiting-list, M. de Charlus, like a physician who cuts short a
consultation when he considers that it has lasted long enough, gave
his cousin a signal to withdraw, not by bidding her good night but by
turning to the person immediately behind her. "Good evening, Madame
de Montesquieu, marvellous, wasn't it? I have not seen Hélène, tell
her that every general abstention, even the most noble, that is to say
her own, must include exceptions, if they are brilliant, as has been
the case to-night. To shew that one is rare is all very well, but to
subordinate one's rarity, which is only negative, to what is precious
is better still. In your sister's case, and I value more than anyone
her systematic _absence_ from places where what is in store for her is
not worthy of her, here to-night, on the contrary, her presence at so
memorable an exhibition as this would have been a _présidence_, and
would have given your sister, already so distinguished, an additional
distinction." Then he turned to a third person, M. d'Argencourt. I was
greatly astonished to see in this room, as friendly and flattering
towards M. de Charlus as he was severe with him elsewhere, insisting
upon Morel's being introduced to him and telling him that he hoped he
would come and see him, M. d'Argencourt, that terrible scourge of men
such as M. de Charlus. At the moment he was living in the thick of
them. It was certainly not because he had in any sense become one of
them himself. But for some time past he had practically deserted his
wife for a young woman in society whom he adored. Being intelligent
herself, she made him share her taste for intelligent people, and was
most anxious to have M. de Charlus in her house. But above all M.
d'Argencourt, extremely jealous and not unduly potent, feeling that he
was failing to satisfy his captive and anxious at once to introduce
her to people and to keep her amused, could do so without risk to
himself only by surrounding her with innocuous men, whom he thus cast
for the part of guardians of his seraglio. These men found that he had
become quite pleasant and declared that he was a great deal more
intelligent than they had supposed, a discovery that delighted him and
his mistress.

The remainder of M. de Charlus's guests drifted away fairly rapidly.
Several of them said: "I don't want to call at the vestry" (the little
room in which the Baron, with Charlie by his side, was receiving
congratulations, and to which he himself had given the name), "but I
must let Palamède see me so that he shall know that I stayed to the
end." Nobody paid the slightest attention to Mme. Verdurin. Some
pretended not to know which was she and said good night by mistake to
Mme. Cottard, appealing to me for confirmation with a "That _is_ Mme.
Verdurin, ain't it?" Mme. d'Arpajon asked me, in the hearing of our
hostess: "Tell me, has there ever been a Monsieur Verdurin?" The
Duchesses, finding none of the oddities that they expected in this
place which they had hoped to find more different from anything that
they already knew, made the best of a bad job by going into fits of
laughter in front of Elstir's paintings; for all the rest of the
entertainment, which they found more in keeping than they had expected
with the style with which they were familiar, they gave the credit to
M. de Charlus, saying: "How clever Palamède is at arranging things; if
he were to stage an opera in a stable or a bathroom, it would still be
perfectly charming." The most noble ladies were those who shewed most
fervour in congratulating M. de Charlus upon the success of a party,
of the secret motive of which some of them were by no means unaware,
without, however, being embarrassed by the knowledge, this class of
society—remembering perhaps certain epochs in history when their own
family had already arrived at an identical stage of brazenly conscious
effrontery—carrying their contempt for scruples almost as far as
their respect for etiquette. Several of them engaged Charlie on the
spot for different evenings on which he was to come and play them
Vinteuil's septet, but it never occurred to any of them to invite Mme.
Verdurin. This last was already blind with fury when M. de Charlus
who, his head in the clouds, was incapable of perceiving her
condition, decided that it would be only decent to invite the Mistress
to share his joy. And it was perhaps yielding to his literary
preciosity rather than to an overflow of pride that this specialist in
artistic entertainments said to Mme. Verdurin: "Well, are you
satisfied? I think you have reason to be; you see that when I set to
work to give a party there are no half-measures. I do not know
whether your heraldic knowledge enables you to gauge the precise
importance of the display, the weight that I have lifted, the volume
of air that I have displaced for you. You have had the Queen of
Naples, the brother of the King of Bavaria, the three premier peers.
If Vinteuil is Mahomet, we may say that we have brought to him some of
the least movable of mountains. Bear in mind that to attend your party
the Queen of Naples has come up from Neuilly, which is a great deal
more difficult for her than evacuating the Two Sicilies," he went on,
with a deliberate sneer, notwithstanding his admiration for the Queen.
"It is an historic event. Just think that it is perhaps the first time
she has gone anywhere since the fall of Gaeta. It is probable that the
dictionaries of dates will record as culminating points the day of the
fall of Gaeta and that of the Verdurins' party. The fan that she laid
down, the better to applaud Vinteuil, deserves to become more famous
than the fan that Mme. de Metternich broke because the audience hissed
Wagner." "Why, she has left it here," said Mme. Verdurin, momentarily
appeased by the memory of the Queen's kindness to herself, and she
shewed M. de Charlus the fan which was lying upon a chair. "Oh! What a
touching spectacle!" exclaimed M. de Charlus, approaching the relic
with veneration. "It is all the more touching, it is so hideous; poor
little Violette is incredible!" And spasms of emotion and irony
coursed through him alternately. "Oh dear, I don't know whether you
feel this sort of thing as I do. Swann would positively have died of
convulsions if he had seen it. I am sure, whatever price it fetches, I
shall buy the fan at the Queen's sale. For she is bound to be sold up,
she hasn't a penny," he went on, for he never ceased to intersperse
the cruellest slanders with the most sincere veneration, albeit these
sprang from two opposing natures, which, however, were combined in
himself. They might even be brought to bear alternately upon the same
incident. For M. de Charlus who in his comfortable state as a wealthy
man ridiculed the poverty of the Queen was himself often to be heard
extolling that poverty and, when anyone spoke of Princesse Murat,
Queen of the Two Sicilies, would reply: "I do not know to whom you are
alluding. There is only one Queen of Naples, who is a sublime person
and does not keep a carriage. But from her omnibus she annihilates
every vehicle on the street and one could kneel down in the dust on
seeing her drive past." "I shall bequeath it to a museum. In the
meantime, it must be sent back to her, so that she need not hire a cab
to come and fetch it. The wisest thing, in view of the historical
interest of such an object, would be to steal the fan. But that would
be awkward for her—since it is probable that she does not possess
another!" he added, with a shout of laughter. "Anyhow, you see that
for my sake she came. And that is not the only miracle that I have
performed. I do not believe that anyone at the present day has the
power to move the people whom I have brought here. However, everyone
must be given his due. Charlie and the rest of the musicians played
divinely. And, my dear Mistress," he added condescendingly, "you
yourself have played your part on this occasion. Your name will not
be unrecorded. History has preserved that of the page who armed Joan
of Arc when she set out for battle; indeed you have served as a
connecting link, you have made possible the fusion between Vinteuil's
music and its inspired interpreter, you have had the intelligence to
appreciate the capital importance of the whole chain of circumstances
which would enable the interpreter to benefit by the whole weight of a
considerable—if I were not referring to myself, I would say
providential—personage, whom you were clever enough to ask to ensure
the success of the gathering, to bring before Morel's violin the ears
directly attached to the tongues that have the widest hearing; no, no,
it is not a small matter. There can be no small matter in so complete
a realisation. Everything has its part. The Duras was marvellous. In
fact, everything; that is why," he concluded, for he loved to
administer a rebuke, "I set my face against your inviting those
persons—divisors who, among the overwhelming people whom I brought
you would have played the part of the decimal points in a sum,
reducing the others to a merely fractional value. I have a very exact
appreciation of that sort of thing. You understand, we must avoid
blunders when we are giving a party which ought to be worthy of
Vinteuil, of his inspired interpreter, of yourself, and, I venture to
say, of me. You were prepared to invite the Molé, and everything would
have been spoiled. It would have been the little contrary,
neutralising drop which deprives a potion of its virtue. The electric
lights would have fused, the pastry would not have come in time, the
orangeade would have given everybody a stomach-ache. She was the one
person not to invite. At the mere sound of her name, as in a
fairy-tale, not a note would have issued from the brass; the flute and
the hautboy would have been stricken with a sudden silence. Morel
himself, even if he had succeeded in playing a few bars, would not
have been in tune, and instead of Vinteuil's septet you would have had
a parody of it by Beckmesser, ending amid catcalls. I, who believe
strongly in personal influence, could feel quite plainly in the
expansion of a certain largo, which opened itself right out like a
flower, in the supreme satisfaction of the finale, which was not
merely allegro but incomparably allegro, that the absence of the Molé
was inspiring the musicians and was diffusing joy among the very
instruments themselves. In any case, when one is at home to Queens
one does not invite one's hall-portress." In calling her 'the Molé'
(as for that matter he said quite affectionately 'the Duras') M. de
Charlus was doing the lady justice. For all these women were the
actresses of society and it is true also that, even regarding her from
this point of view, Comtesse Molé did not justify the extraordinary
reputation for intelligence that she had acquired, which made one
think of those mediocre actors or novelists who, at certain periods,
are hailed as men of genius, either because of the mediocrity of their
competitors, among whom there is no artist capable of revealing what
is meant by true talent, or because of the mediocrity of the public,
which, did there exist an extraordinary individuality, would be
incapable of understanding it. In Mme. Molé's case it is preferable,
if not absolutely fair, to stop at the former explanation. The social
world being the realm of nullity, there exist between the merits of
women in society only insignificant degrees, which are at best capable
of rousing to madness the rancours or the imagination of M. de
Charlus. And certainly, if he spoke as he had just been speaking in
this language which was a precious alloy of artistic and social
elements, it was because his old-womanly anger and his culture as a
man of the world furnished the genuine eloquence that he possessed
with none but insignificant themes. Since the world of differences
does not exist on the surface of the earth, among all the countries
which our perception renders uniform, all the more reason why it
should not exist in the social 'world.' Does it exist anywhere else?
Vinteuil's septet had seemed to tell me that it did. But where? As M.
de Charlus also enjoyed repeating what one person had said of another,
seeking to stir up quarrels, to divide and reign, he added: "You have,
by not inviting her, deprived Mme. Molé of the opportunity of saying:
'I can't think why this Mme. Verdurin should invite me. I can't
imagine who these people are, I don't know them.' She was saying a
year ago that you were boring her with your advances. She's a fool,
never invite her again. After all, she's nothing so very wonderful.
She can come to your house without making a fuss about it, seeing that
I come here. In short," he concluded, "it seems to me that you have
every reason to thank me, for, so far as it went, everything has been
perfect. The Duchesse de Guermantes did not come, but one can't tell,
it was better perhaps that she didn't. We shan't bear her any grudge,
and we shall remember her all the same another time, not that one can
help remembering her, her very eyes say to us 'Forget me not!', for
they are a pair of myosotes" (here I thought to myself how strong the
Guermantes spirit—the decision to go to one house and not to
another—must be, to have outweighed in the Duchess's mind her fear of
Palamède). "In the face of so complete a success, one is tempted like
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre to see everywhere the hand of Providence.
The Duchesse de Duras was enchanted. She even asked me to tell you
so," added M. de Charlus, dwelling upon the words as though Mme.
Verdurin must regard this as a sufficient honour. Sufficient and
indeed barely credible, for he found it necessary, if he was to be
believed, to add, completely carried away by the madness of those whom
Jupiter has decided to ruin: "She has engaged Morel to come to her
house, where the same programme will be repeated, and I even think of
asking her for an invitation for M. Verdurin." This civility to the
husband alone was, although no such idea even occurred to M. de
Charlus, the most wounding outrage to the wife who, believing herself
to possess, with regard to the violinist, by virtue of a sort of ukase
which prevailed in the little clan, the right to forbid him to perform
elsewhere without her express authorisation, was fully determined to
forbid his appearance at Mme. de Duras's party.

The Baron's volubility was in itself an irritation to Mme. Verdurin
who did not like people to form independent groups within their little
clan. How often, even at la Raspelière, hearing M. de Charlus talking
incessantly to Charlie instead of being content with taking his part
in the so harmonious chorus of the clan, she had pointed to him and
exclaimed: "What a rattle * he is!
What a rattle! Oh, if it comes to rattles, he's a famous rattle!" But
this time it was far worse. Inebriated with the sound of his own
voice, M. de Charlus failed to realise that by cutting down the part
assigned to Mme. Verdurin and confining it within narrow limits, he
was calling forth that feeling of hatred which was in her only a
special, social form of jealousy. Mme. Verdurin was genuinely fond of
her regular visitors, the faithful of the little clan, but wished them
to be entirely devoted to their Mistress. Willing to make some
sacrifice, like those jealous lovers who will tolerate a betrayal, but
only under their own roof and even before their eyes, that is to say
when there is no betrayal, she would allow the men to have mistresses,
lovers, on condition that the affair had no social consequence outside
her own house, that the tie was formed and perpetuated in the shelter
of her Wednesdays. In the old days, every furtive peal of laughter
that came from Odette when she conversed with Swann had gnawed her
heartstrings, and so of late had every aside exchanged by Morel and
the Baron; she found one consolation alone for her griefs which was to
destroy the happiness of other people. She had not been able to endure
for long that of the Baron. And here was this rash person
precipitating the catastrophe by appearing to be restricting the
Mistress's place in her little clan. Already she could see Morel going
into society, without her, under the Baron's aegis. There was but a
single remedy, to make Morel choose between the Baron and herself,
and, relying upon the ascendancy that she had acquired over Morel by
the display that she made of an extraordinary perspicacity, thanks to
reports which she collected, to falsehoods which she invented, all of
which served to corroborate what he himself was led to believe, and
what would in time be made plain to him, thanks to the pitfalls which
she was preparing, into which her unsuspecting victims would fall,
relying upon this ascendancy, to make him choose herself in preference
to the Baron. As for the society ladies who had been present and had
not even asked to be introduced to her, as soon as she grasped their
hesitations or indifference, she had said: "Ah! I see what they are,
the sort of old good-for-nothings that are not our style, it's the
last time they shall set foot in this house." For she would have died
rather than admit that anyone had been less friendly to her than she
had hoped. "Ah! My dear General," M. de Charlus suddenly exclaimed,
abandoning Mme. Verdurin, as he caught sight of General Deltour,
Secretary to the President of the Republic, who might be of great
value in securing Charlie his Cross, and who, after asking some
question of Cottard, was rapidly withdrawing: "Good evening, my dear,
delightful friend. So this is how you slip away without saying
good-bye to me," said the Baron with a genial, self-satisfied smile,
for he knew quite well that people were always glad to stay behind for
a moment to talk to himself. And as, in his present state of
excitement, he would answer his own questions in a shrill tone: "Well,
did you enjoy it? Wasn't it really fine? The andante, what? It's the
most touching thing that was ever written. I defy anyone to listen to
the end without tears in his eyes. Charming of you to have come.
Listen, I had the most perfect telegram this morning from Froberville,
who tells me that as far as the Grand Chancery goes the difficulties
have been smoothed away, as the saying is." M. de Charlus's voice
continued to soar at this piercing pitch, as different from his normal
voice as is that of a barrister making an emphatic plea from his
ordinary utterance, a phenomenon of vocal amplification by
over-excitement and nervous tension analogous to that which, at her
own dinner-parties, raised to so high a diapason the voice and gaze
alike of Mme. de Guermantes. "I intended to send you a note to-morrow
by a messenger to tell you of my enthusiasm, until I could find an
opportunity of speaking to you, but you have been so surrounded!
Froberville's support is not to be despised, but for my own part, I
have the Minister's promise," said the General. "Ah! Excellent.
Besides, you have seen for yourself that it is only what such talent
deserves. Hoyos was delighted, I didn't manage to see the
Ambassadress, was she pleased? Who would not have been, except those
that have ears and hear not, which does not matter so long as they
have tongues and can speak." Taking advantage of the Baron's having
withdrawn to speak to the General, Mme. Verdurin made a signal to
Brichot. He, not knowing what Mme. Verdurin was going to say, sought
to amuse her, and never suspecting the anguish that he was causing me,
said to the Mistress: "The Baron is delighted that Mlle. Vinteuil and
her friend did not come. They shock him terribly. He declares that
their morals are appalling. You can't imagine how prudish and severe
the Baron is on moral questions." Contrary to Brichot's expectation,
Mme. Verdurin was not amused: "He is obscene," was her answer. "Take
him out of the room to smoke a cigarette with you, so that my husband
can get hold of his Dulcinea without his noticing it and warn him of
the abyss that is yawning at his feet." Brichot seemed to hesitate. "I
don't mind telling you," Mme. Verdurin went on, to remove his final
scruples, "that I do not feel at all safe with a man like that in the
house. I know, there are all sorts of horrible stories about him, and
the police have him under supervision." And, as she possessed a
certain talent of improvisation when inspired by malice, Mme. Verdurin
did not stop at this: "It seems, he has been in prison. Yes, yes, I
have been told by people who knew all about it. I know, too, from a
person who lives in his street, that you can't imagine the ruffians
that go to his house." And as Brichot, who often went to the Baron's,
began to protest, Mme. Verdurin, growing animated, exclaimed: "But I
can assure you! It is I who am telling you," an expression with which
she habitually sought to give weight to an assertion flung out more or
less at random. "He will be found murdered in his bed one of these
days, as those people always are. He may not go quite as far as that
perhaps, because he is in the clutches of that Jupien whom he had the
impudence to send to me, and who is an ex-convict, I know it, you
yourself know it, yes, for certain. He has a hold on him because of
some letters which are perfectly appalling, it seems. I know it from
somebody who has seen them, and told me: 'You would be sick on the
spot if you saw them.' That is how Jupien makes him toe the line and
gets all the money he wants out of him. I would sooner die a thousand
times over than live in a state of terror like Charlus. In any case,
if Morel's family decides to bring an action against him, I have no
desire to be dragged in as an accomplice. If he goes on, it will be at
his own risk, but I shall have done my duty. What is one to do? It's
no joke, I can tell you." And, agreeably warmed already by the thought
of her husband's impending conversation with the violinist, Mme.
Verdurin said to me: "Ask Brichot whether I am not a courageous
friend, and whether I am not capable of sacrificing myself to save my
comrades." (She was alluding to the circumstances in which she had,
just in time, made him quarrel, first of all with his laundress, and
then with Mme. de Cambremer, quarrels as a result of which Brichot had
become almost completely blind, and (people said) had taken to
morphia.) "An incomparable friend, far-sighted and valiant," replied
the Professor with an innocent emotion. "Mme. Verdurin prevented me
from doing something extremely foolish," Brichot told me when she had
left us. "She never hesitates to operate without anaesthetics. She is
an interventionist, as our friend Cottard says. I admit, however, that
the thought that the poor Baron is still unconscious of the blow that
is going to fall upon him distresses me deeply. He is quite mad about
that boy. If Mme. Verdurin should prove successful, there is a man who
is going to be very miserable. However, it is not certain that she
will not fail. I am afraid that she may only succeed in creating a
misunderstanding between them, which, in the end, without parting
them, will only make them quarrel with her." It was often thus with
Mme. Verdurin and her faithful. But it was evident that in her the
need to preserve their friendship was more and more dominated by the
requirement that this friendship should never be challenged by that
which they might feel for one another. Homosexuality did not disgust
her so long as it did not tamper with orthodoxy, but like the Church
she preferred any sacrifice rather than a concession of orthodoxy. I
was beginning to be afraid lest her irritation with myself might be
due to her having heard that I had prevented Albertine from going to
her that afternoon, and that she might presently set to work, if she
had not already begun, upon the same task of separating her from me
which her husband, in the case of Charlus, was now going to attempt
with the musician. "Come along, get hold of Charlus, find some excuse,
there's no time to lose," said Mme. Verdurin, "and whatever you do,
don't let him come back here until I send for you. Oh! What an
evening," Mme. Verdurin went on, revealing thus the true cause of her
anger. "Performing a masterpiece in front of those wooden images. I
don't include the Queen of Naples, she is intelligent, she is a nice
woman" (which meant: "She has been kind to me"). "But the others. Oh!
It's enough to drive anyone mad. What can you expect, I'm no longer a
girl. When I was young, people told me that one must put up with
boredom, I made an effort, but now, oh no, it's too much for me, I am
old enough to please myself, life is too short; bore myself, listen to
idiots, smile, pretend to think them intelligent. No, I can't do it.
Get along, Brichot, there's no time to lose." "I am going, Madame, I
am going," said Brichot, as General Deltour moved away. But first of
all the Professor took me aside for a moment: "Moral Duty," he said,
"is less clearly imperative than our Ethics teach us. Whatever the
Theosophical cafés and the Kantian beer-houses may say, we are
deplorably ignorant of the nature of Good. I myself who, without
wishing to boast, have lectured to my pupils, in all innocence, upon
the philosophy of the said Immanuel Kant, I can see no precise ruling
for the case of social casuistry with which I am now confronted in
that Critique of Practical Reason in which the great renegade of
Protestantism platonised in the German manner for a Germany
prehistorically sentimental and aulic, ringing all the changes of a
Pomeranian mysticism. It is still the Symposium, but held this time at
Königsberg, in the local style, indigestible and reeking of
sauerkraut, and without any good-looking boys. It is obvious on the
one hand that I cannot refuse our excellent hostess the small service
that she asks of me, in a fully orthodox conformity with traditional
morals. One ought to avoid, above all things, for there are few that
involve one in more foolish speeches, letting oneself be lured by
words. But after all, let us not hesitate to admit that if the
mothers of families were entitled to vote, the Baron would run the
risk of being lamentably blackballed for the Chair of Virtue. It is
unfortunately with the temperament of a rake that he pursues the
vocation of a pedagogue; observe that I am not speaking evil of the
Baron; that good man, who can carve a joint like nobody in the world,
combines with a genius for anathema treasures of goodness. He can be
most amusing as a superior sort of wag, whereas with a certain one of
my colleagues, an Academician, if you please, I am bored, as Xenophon
would say, at a hundred drachmae to the hour. But I am afraid that he
is expending upon Morel rather more than a wholesome morality enjoins,
and without knowing to what extent the young penitent shews himself
docile or rebellious to the special exercises which his catechist
imposes upon him by way of mortification, one need not be a learned
clerk to be aware that we should be erring, as the other says, on the
side of clemency with regard to this Rosicrucian who seems to have
come down to us from Petronius, by way of Saint-Simon, if we granted
him with our eyes shut, duly signed and sealed, permission to
satanise. And yet, in keeping the man occupied while Mme. Verdurin,
for the sinner's good and indeed rightly tempted by such a cure of
souls, proceeds—by speaking to the young fool without any
concealment—to remove from him all that he loves, to deal him perhaps
a fatal blow, it seems to me that I am leading him into what one might
call a man-trap, and I recoil as though from a base action." This
said, he did not hesitate to commit it, but, taking him by the arm,
began: "Come, Baron, let us go and smoke a cigarette, this young man
has not yet seen all the marvels of the house." I made the excuse that
I was obliged to go home. "Just wait a moment," said Brichot. "You
remember, you are giving me a lift, and I have not forgotten your
promise." "Wouldn't you like me, really, to make them bring out their
plate, nothing could be simpler," said M. de Charlus. "You promised
me, remember, not a word about Morel's decoration. I mean to give him
the surprise of announcing it presently when people have begun to
leave, although he says that it is of no importance to an artist, but
that his uncle would like him to have it" (I blushed, for, I thought
to myself, the Verdurins would know through my grandfather what
Morel's uncle was). "Then you wouldn't like me to make them bring out
the best pieces," said M. de Charlus. "Of course, you know them
already, you have seen them a dozen times at la Raspelière." I dared
not tell him that what might have interested me was not the mediocrity
of even the most splendid plate in a middle-class household, but some
specimen, were it only reproduced in a fine engraving, of Mme. Du
Barry's. I was far too gravely preoccupied—even if I had not been by
this revelation as to Mlle. Vinteuil's expected presence—always, in
society, far too much distracted and agitated to fasten my attention
upon objects that were more or less beautiful. It could have been
arrested only by the appeal of some reality that addressed itself to
my imagination, as might have been, this evening, a picture of that
Venice of which I had thought so much during the afternoon, or some
general element, common to several forms and more genuine than they,
which, of its own accord, never failed to arouse in me an inward
appreciation, normally lulled in slumber, the rising of which to the
surface of my consciousness filled me with great joy. Well, as I
emerged from the room known as the concert-room, and crossed the other
drawing-rooms with Brichot and M. de Charlus, on discovering,
transposed among others, certain pieces of furniture which I had seen
at la Raspelière and to which I had paid no attention, I perceived,
between the arrangement of the town house and that of the country
house, a certain common air of family life, a permanent identity, and
I understood what Brichot meant when he said to me with a smile:
"There, look at this room, it may perhaps give you an idea of what
things were like in Rue Montalivet, twenty-five years ago." From his
smile, a tribute to the defunct drawing-room which he saw with his
mind's eye, I understood that what Brichot, perhaps without realising
it, preferred in the old room, more than the large windows, more than
the gay youth of his hosts and their faithful, was that unreal part
(which I myself could discern from some similarities between la
Raspelière and Quai Conti) of which, in a drawing-room as in
everything else, the external, actual part, liable to everyone's
control, is but the prolongation, was that part become purely
imaginary, of a colour which no longer existed save for my elderly
guide, which he was incapable of making me see, that part which has
detached itself from the outer world, to take refuge in our soul, to
which it gives a surplus value, in which it is assimilated to its
normal substance, transforming itself—houses that have been pulled
down, people long dead, bowls of fruit at the suppers which we
recall—into that translucent alabaster of our memories, the colour of
which we are incapable of displaying, since we alone see it, which
enables us to say truthfully to other people, speaking of things past,
that they cannot form any idea of them, that they do not resemble
anything that they have seen, while we are unable to think of them
ourselves without a certain emotion, remembering that it is upon the
existence of our thoughts that there depends, for a little time still,
their survival, the brilliance of the lamps that have been
extinguished and the fragrance of the arbours that will never bloom
again. And possibly, for this reason, the drawing-room in Rue
Montalivet disparaged, for Brichot, the Verdurins' present home. But
on the other hand it added to this home, in the Professor's eyes, a
beauty which it could not have in those of a stranger. Those pieces
of the original furniture that had been transported here, and
sometimes arranged in the same groups, and which I myself remembered
from la Raspelière, introduced into the new drawing-room fragments of
the old which, at certain moments, recalled it so vividly as to create
a hallucination and then seemed themselves scarcely real from having
evoked in the midst of the surrounding reality fragments of a vanished
world which seemed to extend round about them. A sofa that had risen
up from dreamland between a pair of new and thoroughly substantial
armchairs, smaller chairs upholstered in pink silk, the cloth surface
of a card-table raised to the dignity of a person since, like a
person, it had a past, a memory, retaining in the chill and gloom of
Quai Conti the tan of its roasting by the sun through the windows of
Rue Montalivet (where it could tell the time of day as accurately as
Mme. Verdurin herself) and through the glass doors at la Raspelière,
where they had taken it and where it used to gaze out all day long
over the flower-beds of the garden at the valley far below, until it
was time for Cottard and the musician to sit down to their game; a
posy of violets and pansies in pastel, the gift of a painter friend,
now dead, the sole fragment that survived of a life that had vanished
without leaving any trace, summarising a great talent and a long
friendship, recalling his keen, gentle eyes, his shapely hand, plump
and melancholy, while he was at work on it; the incoherent, charming
disorder of the offerings of the faithful, which have followed the
lady of the house on all her travels and have come in time to assume
the fixity of a trait of character, of a line of destiny; a profusion
of cut flowers, of chocolate-boxes which here as in the country
systematised their growth in an identical mode of blossoming; the
curious interpolation of those singular and superfluous objects which
still appear to have been just taken from the box in which they were
offered and remain for ever what they were at first, New Year's Day
presents; all those things, in short, which one could not have
isolated from the rest, but which for Brichot, an old frequenter of
the Verdurin parties, had that patina, that velvety bloom of things to
which, giving them a sort of profundity, an astral body has been
added; all these things scattered before him, sounded in his ear like
so many resonant keys which awakened cherished likenesses in his
heart, confused reminiscences which, here in this drawing-room of the
present day that was littered with them, cut out, defined, as on a
fine day a shaft of sunlight cuts a section in the atmosphere, the
furniture and carpets, and pursuing it from a cushion to a
flower-stand, from a footstool to a lingering scent, from the lighting
arrangements to the colour scheme, carved, evoked, spiritualised,
called to life a form which might be called the ideal aspect, immanent
in each of their successive homes, of the Verdurin drawing-room. "We
must try," Brichot whispered in my ear, "to get the Baron upon his
favourite topic. He is astounding." Now on the one hand I was glad of
an opportunity to try to obtain from M. de Charlus information as to
the coming of Mlle. Vinteuil and her friend. On the other hand, I did
not wish to leave Albertine too long by herself, not that she could
(being uncertain of the moment of my return, not to mention that, at
so late an hour, she could not have received a visitor or left the
house herself without arousing comment) make any evil use of my
absence, but simply so that she might not find it too long. And so I
told Brichot and M. de Charlus that I must shortly leave them. "Come
with us all the same," said the Baron, whose social excitement was
beginning to flag, but feeling that need to prolong, to spin out a
conversation, which I had already observed in the Duchesse de
Guermantes as well as in himself, and which, while distinctive of
their family, extends in a more general fashion to all those people
who, offering their minds no other realisation than talk, that is to
say an imperfect realisation, remain unassuaged even after hours spent
in one's company, and attach themselves more and more hungrily to
their exhausted companion, from whom they mistakenly expect a satiety
which social pleasures are incapable of giving. "Come, won't you," he
repeated, "this is the pleasant moment at a party, the moment when all
the guests have gone, the hour of Dona Sol; let us hope that it will
end less tragically. Unfortunately you are in a hurry, in a hurry
probably to go and do things which you would much better leave undone.
People are always in a hurry and leave at the time when they ought to
be arriving. We are here like Couture's philosophers, this is the
moment in which to go over the events of the evening, to make what is
called in military language a criticism of the operations. We might
ask Mme. Verdurin to send us in a little supper to which we should
take care not to invite her, and we might request Charlie—still
_Hernani_—to play for ourselves alone the sublime adagio. Isn't it
fine, that adagio? But where is the young violinist, I would like to
congratulate him, this is the moment for tender words and embraces.
Admit, Brichot, that they played like gods, Morel especially. Did you
notice the moment when that lock of hair came loose? Ah, then, my dear
fellow, you saw nothing at all. There was an F sharp at which Enesco,
Capet and Thibaut might have died of jealousy; I may have appeared
calm enough, I can tell you that at such a sound my heart was so wrung
that I could barely control my tears. The whole room sat breathless;
Brichot, my dear fellow," cried the Baron, gripping the other's arm
which he shook violently, "it was sublime. Only young Charlie
preserved a stony immobility, you could not even see him breathe, he
looked like one of those objects of the inanimate world of which
Théodore Rousseau speaks, which make us think, but do not think
themselves. And then, all of a sudden," cried M. de Charlus with
enthusiasm, making a pantomime gesture, "then... the Lock! And all the
time, the charming little country-dance of the allegro vivace. You
know, that lock was the symbol of the revelation, even to the most
obtuse. The Princess of Taormina, deaf until then, for there are none
so deaf as those that have ears and hear not, the Princess of
Taormina, confronted by the message of the miraculous lock, realised
that it was music that they were playing and not poker. Oh, that was
indeed a solemn moment." "Excuse me, Sir, for interrupting you," I
said to M. de Charlus, hoping to bring him to the subject in which I
was interested, "you told me that the composer's daughter was to be
present. I should have been most interested to meet her. Are you
certain that she was expected?" "Oh, that I can't say." M. de Charlus
thus complied, perhaps unconsciously, with that universal rule by
which people withhold information from a jealous lover, whether in
order to shew an absurd 'comradeship,' as a point of honour, and even
if they detest her, with the woman who has excited his jealousy, or
out of malice towards her, because they guess that jealousy can only
intensify love, or from that need to be disagreeable to other people
which consists in revealing the truth to the rest of the world but
concealing it from the jealous, ignorance increasing their torment, or
so at least the tormentors suppose, who, in their desire to hurt other
people are guided by what they themselves believe, wrongly perhaps, to
be most painful. "You know," he went on, "in this house they are a
trifle prone to exaggerate, they are charming people, still they do
like to catch celebrities of one sort or another. But you are not
looking well, and you will catch cold in this damp room," he said,
pushing a chair towards me. "Since you have not been well, you must
take care of yourself, let me go and find you your coat. No, don't go
for it yourself, you will lose your way and catch cold. How careless
people are; you might be an infant in arms, you want an old nurse like
me to look after you." "Don't trouble, Baron, let me go," said
Brichot, and left us immediately; not being precisely aware perhaps of
the very warm affection that M. de Charlus felt for me and of the
charming lapses into simplicity and devotion that alternated with his
delirious crises of grandeur and persecution, he was afraid that M. de
Charlus, whom Mme. Verdurin had entrusted like a prisoner to his
vigilance, might simply be seeking, under the pretext of asking for my
greatcoat, to return to Morel and might thus upset the Mistress's

[* Mme. Verdurin uses here the word _tapette_, being probably
unaware of its popular meaning. C. K. S. M.]

Meanwhile Ski had sat down, uninvited, at the piano, and
assuming—with a playful knitting of his brows, a remote gaze and a
slight twist of his lips—what he imagined to be an artistic air, was
insisting that Morel should play something by Bizet. "What, you don't
like it, that boyish music of Bizet. Why, my dear fellow," he said,
with that rolling of the letter _r_ which was one of his peculiarities,
"it's rravishing." Morel, who did not like Bizet, said so in
exaggerated terms and (as he had the reputation in the little clan of
being, though it seems incredible, a wit) Ski, pretending to take the
violinist's diatribes as paradoxes, burst out laughing. His laugh was
not, like M. Verdurin's, the stifled gasp of a smoker. Ski first of
all assumed a subtle air, then allowed to escape, as though against
his will, a single note of laughter, like the first clang from a
belfry, followed by a silence in which the subtle gaze seemed to be
making a competent examination of the absurdity of what had been said,
then a second peal of laughter shook the air, followed presently by a
merry angelus.

I expressed to M. de Charlus my regret that M. Brichot should be
taking so much trouble. "Not at all, he is delighted, he is very fond
of you, everyone is fond of you. Somebody was saying only the other
day: 'We never see him now, he is isolating himself!' Besides, he is
such a good fellow, is Brichot," M. de Charlus went on, never
suspecting probably, in view of the affectionate, frank manner in
which the Professor of Moral Philosophy conversed with him, that he
had no hesitation is slandering him behind his back. "He is a man of
great merit, immensely learned, and not a bit spoiled, his learning
hasn't turned him into a bookworm, like so many of them who smell of
ink. He has retained a breadth of outlook, a tolerance, rare in his
kind. Sometimes, when one sees how well he understands life, with what
a natural grace he renders everyone his due, one asks oneself where a
humble little Sorbonne professor, an ex-schoolmaster, can have picked
up such breeding. I am astonished at it myself." I was even more
astonished when I saw the conversation of this Brichot, which the
least refined of Mme. de Guermantes's friends would have found so
dull, so heavy, please the most critical of them all, M. de Charlus.
But to achieve this result there had collaborated, among other
influences, themselves distinct also, those by virtue of which Swann,
on the one hand, had so long found favour with the little clan, when
he was in love with Odette, and on the other hand, after he married,
found an attraction in Mme. Bontemps who, pretending to adore the
Swann couple, came incessantly to call upon the wife and revelled in
all the stories about the husband. Just as a writer gives the palm for
intelligence, not to the most intelligent man, but to the worldling
who utters a bold and tolerant comment upon the passion of a man for a
woman, a comment which makes the writer's bluestocking mistress agree
with him in deciding that of all the people who come to her house the
least stupid is after all this old beau who shews experience in the
things of love, so M. de Charlus found more intelligent than the rest
of his friends Brichot, who was not merely kind to Morel, but would
cull from the Greek philosophers, the Latin poets, the authors of
Oriental tales, appropriate texts which decorated the Baron's
propensity with a strange and charming anthology. M. de Charlus had
reached the age at which a Victor Hugo chooses to surround himself,
above all, with Vacqueries and Meurices. He preferred to all others
those men who tolerated his outlook upon life. "I see a great deal of
him," he went on, in a balanced, sing-song tone, allowing no movement
of his lips to stir his grave, powdered mask over which were purposely
lowered his prelatical eyelids. "I attend his lectures, that
atmosphere of the Latin Quarter refreshes me, there is a studious,
thoughtful adolescence of young bourgeois, more intelligent, better
read than were, in a different sphere, my own contemporaries. It is a
different world, which you know probably better than I, they are young
_bourgeois_," he said, detaching the last word to which he prefixed a
string of _b_s, and emphasising it from a sort of habit of elocution,
corresponding itself to a taste for fine distinctions in past history,
which was peculiar to him, but perhaps also from inability to resist
the pleasure of giving me a flick of his insolence. This did not in
any way diminish the great and affectionate pity that was inspired in
me by M. de Charlus (after Mme. Verdurin had revealed her plan in my
hearing), it merely amused me, and indeed on any other occasion, when
I should not have felt so kindly disposed towards him, would not have
offended me. I derived from my grandmother such an absence of any
self-importance that I might easily be found wanting in dignity.
Doubtless, I was scarcely aware of this, and by dint of having seen
and heard, from my schooldays onwards, my most esteemed companions
take offence if anyone failed to keep an appointment, refuse to
overlook any disloyal behaviour, I had come in time to exhibit in my
speech and actions a second nature which was stamped with pride. I was
indeed considered extremely proud, because, as I had never been timid,
I had been easily led into duels, the moral prestige of which,
however, I diminished by making little of them, which easily persuaded
other people that they were absurd; but the true nature which we
trample underfoot continues nevertheless to abide within us. Thus it
is that at times, if we read the latest masterpiece of a man of
genius, we are delighted to find in it all those of our own reflexions
which we have always despised, joys and sorrows which we have
repressed, a whole world of feelings scorned by us, the value of which
the book in which we discover them afresh at once teaches us. I had
come in time to learn from my experience of life that it was a mistake
to smile a friendly smile when somebody made a fool of me, instead of
feeling annoyed. But this want of self-importance and resentment, if I
had so far ceased to express it as to have become almost entirely
unaware that it existed in me, was nevertheless the primitive, vital
element in which I was steeped. Anger and spite came to me only in a
wholly different manner, in furious crises. What was more, the sense
of justice was so far lacking in me as to amount to an entire want of
moral sense. I was in my heart of hearts entirely won over to the side
of the weaker party, and of anyone who was in trouble. I had no
opinion as to the proportion in which good and evil might be blended
in the relations between Morel and M. de Charlus, but the thought of
the sufferings that were being prepared for M. de Charlus was
intolerable to me. I would have liked to warn him, but did not know
how to do it. "The spectacle of all that laborious little world is
very pleasant to an old stick like myself. I do not know them," he
went on, raising his hand with an air of reserve—so as not to appear
to be boasting of his own conquests, to testify to his own purity and
not to allow any suspicion to rest upon that of the students—"but
they are most civil, they often go so far as to keep a place for me,
since I am a very old gentleman. Yes indeed, my dear boy, do not
protest, I am past forty," said the Baron, who was past sixty. "It is
a trifle stuffy in the hall in which Brichot lectures, but it is
always interesting." Albeit the Baron preferred to mingle with the
youth of the schools, in other words to be jostled by them, sometimes,
to save him a long wait in the lecture-room, Brichot took him in by
his own door. Brichot might well be at home in the Sorbonne, at the
moment when the janitor, loaded with chains of office, stepped out
before him, and the master admired by his young pupils followed, he
could not repress a certain timidity, and much as he desired to profit
by that moment in which he felt himself so important to shew
consideration for Charlus, he was nevertheless slightly embarrassed;
so that the janitor should allow him to pass, he said to him, in an
artificial tone and with a preoccupied air: "Follow me, Baron, they'll
find a place for you," then, without paying any more attention to him,
to make his own entry, he advanced by himself briskly along the
corridor. On either side, a double hedge of young lecturers greeted
him; Brichot, anxious not to appear to be posing in the eyes of these
young men to whom he knew that he was a great pontiff, bestowed on
them a thousand glances, a thousand little nods of connivance, to
which his desire to remain martial, thoroughly French, gave the effect
of a sort of cordial encouragement by an old soldier saying: "Damn it
all, we can face the foe." Then the applause of his pupils broke out.
Brichot sometimes extracted from this attendance by M. de Charlus at
his lectures an opportunity for giving pleasure, almost for returning
hospitality. He would say to some parent, or to one of his
middle-class friends: "If it would interest your wife or daughter, I
may tell you that the Baron de Charlus, Prince de Carency, a scion of
the House of Condé, attends my lectures. It is something to remember,
having seen one of the last descendants of our aristocracy who
preserves the type. If they care to come, they will know him because
he will be sitting next to my chair. Besides he will be alone there, a
stout man, with white hair and black moustaches, wearing the military
medal." "Oh, thank you," said the father. And, albeit his wife had
other engagements, so as not to disoblige Brichot, he made her attend
the lecture, while the daughter, troubled by the heat and the crowd,
nevertheless devoured eagerly with her eyes the descendant of Condé,
marvelling all the same that he was not crowned with strawberry-leaves
and looked just like anybody else of the present day. He meanwhile had
no eyes for her, but more than one student, who did not know who he
was, was amazed at his friendly glances, became self-conscious and
stiff, and the Baron left the room full of dreams and melancholy.
"Forgive me if I return to the subject," I said quickly to M. de
Charlus, for I could hear Brichot returning, "but could you let me
know by wire if you should hear that Mlle. Vinteuil or her friend is
expected in Paris, letting me know exactly how long they will be
staying and without telling anybody that I asked you." I had almost
ceased to believe that she had been expected, but I wished to guard
myself thus for the future. "Yes, I will do that for you, first of
all because I owe you a great debt of gratitude. By not accepting
what, long ago, I had offered you, you rendered me, to your own loss,
an immense service, you left me my liberty. It is true that I have
abdicated it in another fashion," he added in a melancholy tone
beneath which was visible a desire to take me into his confidence;
"that is what I continue to regard as the important fact, a whole
combination of circumstances which you failed to turn to your own
account, possibly because fate warned you at that precise minute not
to cross my Path. For always man proposes and God disposes. Who knows
whether if, on the day when we came away together from Mme. de
Villeparisis's, you had accepted, perhaps many things that have since
happened would never have occurred?" In some embarrassment, I turned
the conversation, seizing hold of the name of Mme. de Villeparisis,
and sought to find out from him, so admirably qualified in every
respect, for what reasons Mme. de Villeparisis seemed to be held
aloof by the aristocratic world. Not only did he not give me the
solution of this little social problem, he did not even appear to me
to be aware of its existence. I then realised that the position of
Mme. de Villeparisis, if it was in later years to appear great to
posterity, and even in the Marquise's lifetime to the ignorant rich,
had appeared no less great at the opposite extremity of society, that
which touched Mme. de Villeparisis, that of the Guermantes. She was
their aunt; they saw first and foremost birth, connexions by marriage,
the opportunity of impressing some sister-in-law with the importance
of their own family. They regarded this less from the social than from
the family point of view. Now this was more brilliant in the case of
Mme. de Villeparisis than I had supposed. I had been impressed when I
heard that the title Villeparisis was falsely assumed. But there are
other examples of great ladies who have made degrading marriages and
preserved a predominant position. M. de Charlus began by informing me
that Mme. de Villeparisis was a niece of the famous Duchesse de ——,
the most celebrated member of the great aristocracy during the July
Monarchy, albeit she had refused to associate with the Citizen King
and his family. I had so longed to hear stories about this Duchess!
And Mme. de Villeparisis, the kind Mme. de Villeparisis, with those
cheeks that to me had been the cheeks of an ordinary woman, Mme. de
Villeparisis who sent me so many presents and whom I could so easily
have seen every day, Mme. de Villeparisis was her niece brought up by
her, in her home, at the Hôtel de ——. "She asked the Duc de
Doudeauville," M. de Charlus told me, "speaking of the three sisters,
'Which of the sisters do you prefer?' And when Doudeauville said:
'Madame de Villeparisis,' the Duchesse de —— replied 'Pig!' For the
Duchess was extremely _witty_," said M. de Charlus, giving the word
the importance and the special pronunciation in use among the
Guermantes. That he should have thought the expression so 'witty' did
not, however, surprise me, for I had on many other occasions remarked
the centrifugal, objective tendency which leads men to abdicate, when
they are relishing the wit of others, the severity with which they
would criticise their own, and to observe, to record faithfully, what
they would have scorned to create. "But what on earth is he doing,
that is my greatcoat he is bringing," he said, on seeing that Brichot
had made so long a search to no better result. "I would have done
better to go for it myself. However, you can put it on now. Are you
aware that it is highly compromising, my dear boy, it is like drinking
out of the same glass, I shall be able to read your thoughts. No, not
like that, come, let me do it," and as he put me into his greatcoat,
he pressed it down on my shoulders, fastened it round my throat, and
brushed my chin with his hand, making the apology: "At his age, he
doesn't know how to put on a coat, one has to titivate him, I have
missed my vocation, Brichot, I was born to be a nursery-maid." I
wanted to go home, but as M. de Charlus had expressed his intention of
going in search of Morel, Brichot detained us both. Moreover, the
certainty that when I went home I should find Albertine there, a
certainty as absolute as that which I had felt in the afternoon that
Albertine would return home from the Trocadéro, made me at this moment
as little impatient to see her as I had been then when I was sitting
at the piano, after Françoise had sent me her telephone message. And
it was this calm that enabled me, whenever, in the course of this
conversation, I attempted to rise, to obey Brichot's injunctions who
was afraid that my departure might prevent Charlus from remaining with
him until the moment when Mme. Verdurin was to come and fetch us.
"Come," he said to the Baron, "stay a little here with us, you shall
give him the accolade presently," Brichot added, fastening upon myself
his almost sightless eyes to which the many operations that he had
undergone had restored some degree of life, but which had not all the
same the mobility necessary to the sidelong expression of malice. "The
accolade, how absurd!" cried the Baron, in a shrill and rapturous
tone. "My boy, I tell you, he imagines he is at a prize-giving, he is
dreaming of his young pupils. I ask myself whether he don't sleep with
them." "You wish to meet Mlle. Vinteuil," said Brichot, who had
overheard the last words of our conversation. "I promise to let you
know if she comes, I shall hear of it from Mme. Verdurin," for he
doubtless foresaw that the Baron was in peril of an immediate
exclusion from the little clan. "I see, so you think that I have less
claim than yourself upon Mme. Verdurin," said M. de Charlus, "to be
informed of the coming of these terribly disreputable persons. You
know that they are quite notorious. Mme. Verdurin is wrong to allow
them to come here, they are all very well for the fast set. They are
friends with a terrible band of women. They meet in the most appalling
places." At each of these words, my suffering was increased by the
addition of a fresh suffering, changing in form. "Certainly not, I
don't suppose that I have any better claim than yourself upon Mme.
Verdurin," Brichot protested, punctuating his words, for he was afraid
that he might have aroused the Baron's suspicions. And as he saw that
I was determined to go, seeking to detain me with the bait of the
promised entertainment: "There is one thing which the Baron seems to
me not to have taken into account when he speaks of the reputation of
these two ladies, namely that a person's reputation may be at the same
time appalling and undeserved. Thus for instance, in the more
notorious group which I shall call parallel, it is certain that the
errors of justice are many and that history has registered convictions
for sodomy against illustrious men who were wholly innocent of the
charge. The recent discovery of Michelangelo's passionate love for a
woman is a fresh fact which should entitle the friend of Leo X to the
benefit of a posthumous retrial. The Michelangelo case seems to me
clearly indicated to excite the snobs and mobilise the Villette, when
another case in which anarchism reared its head and became the
fashionable sin of our worthy dilettantes, but which must not even be
mentioned now for fear of stirring up quarrels, shall have run its
course." From the moment when Brichot began to speak of masculine
reputations, M. de Charlus betrayed on every one of his features that
special sort of impatience which one sees on the face of a medical or
military expert when society people who know nothing about the subject
begin to talk nonsense about points of therapeutics or strategy. "You
know absolutely nothing about the matter," he said at length to
Brichot. "Quote me a single reputation that is undeserved. Mention
names. Oh yes, I know the whole story," was his brutal retort to a
timid interruption by Brichot, "the people who tried it once long ago
out of curiosity, or out of affection for a dead friend, and the man
who, afraid he has gone too far, if you speak to him of the beauty of
a man, replies that that is Chinese to him, that he can no more
distinguish between a beautiful man and an ugly one than between the
engines of two motorcars, mechanics not being in his line. That's all
stuff and nonsense. Mind you, I don't mean to say that a bad (or what
is conventionally so called) and yet undeserved reputation is
absolutely impossible. It is so exceptional, so rare, that for
practical purposes it does not exist. At the same time I, who have a
certain curiosity in ferreting things out, have known cases which were
not mythical. Yes, in the course of my life, I have established
(scientifically speaking, of course, you mustn't take me too
literally) two unjustified reputations. They generally arise from a
similarity of names, or from certain outward signs, a profusion of
rings, for instance, which persons who are not qualified to judge
imagine to be characteristic of what you were mentioning, just as they
think that a peasant never utters a sentence without adding:
'Jarnignié,' or an Englishman: 'Goddam.' Dialogue for the boulevard
theatres. What will surprise you is that the unjustified are those
most firmly established in the eyes of the public. You yourself,
Brichot, who would thrust your hand in the flames to answer for the
virtue of some man or other who comes to this house and whom the
enlightened know to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, you feel obliged to
believe like every Tom, Dick and Harry in what is said about some man
in the public eye who is the incarnation of those propensities to the
common herd, when as a matter of fact, he doesn't care twopence for
that sort of thing. I say twopence, because if we were to offer
five-and-twenty louis, we should see the number of plaster saints
dwindle down to nothing. As things are, the average rate of sanctity,
if you see any sanctity in that sort of thing, is somewhere between
thirty and forty per cent." If Brichot had transferred to the male sex
the question of evil reputations, with me it was, inversely, to the
female sex that, thinking of Albertine, I applied the Baron's words. I
was appalled at his statistics, even when I bore in mind that he was
probably enlarging his figures to reach the total that he would like
to believe true, and had based them moreover upon the reports of
persons who were scandalmongers and possibly liars, and had in any
case been led astray by their own desire, which, coming in addition to
that of M. de Charlus, doubtless falsified the Baron's calculations.
"Thirty per cent!" exclaimed Brichot. "Why, even if the proportions
were reversed I should still have to multiply the guilty a
hundredfold. If it is as you say, Baron, and you are not mistaken,
then we must confess that you are one of those rare visionaries who
discern a truth which nobody round them has ever suspected. Just as
Barrés made discoveries as to parliamentary corruption, the truth of
which was afterwards established, like the existence of Leverrier's
planet. Mme. Verdurin would prefer to cite men whom I would rather not
name who detected in the Intelligence Bureau, in the General Staff,
activities inspired, I am sure, by patriotic zeal, which I had never
imagined. Upon free-masonry, German espionage, morphinomania, Léon
Daudet builds up, day by day, a fantastic fairy-tale which turns out
to be the barest truth. Thirty per cent!" Brichot repeated in
stupefaction. It is only fair to say that M. de Charlus taxed the
great majority of his contemporaries with inversion, always excepting
those men with whom he himself had had relations, their case, provided
that they had introduced the least trace of romance into those
relations, appearing to him more complex. So it is that we see men of
the world, who refuse to believe in women's honour, allow some
remnants of honour only to the woman who has been their mistress, as
to whom they protest sincerely and with an air of mystery: "No, you
are mistaken, she is not that sort of girl." This unlooked-for tribute
is dictated partly by their own self-respect which is flattered by the
supposition that such favours have been reserved for them alone,
partly by their simplicity which has easily swallowed everything that
their mistress has given them to believe, partly from that sense of
the complexity of life which brings it about that, as soon as we
approach other people, other lives, ready-made labels and
classifications appear unduly crude. "Thirty per cent! But have a
care; less fortunate than the historians whose conclusions the future
will justify, Baron, if you were to present to posterity the
statistics that you offer us, it might find them erroneous. Posterity
judges only from documentary evidence, and will insist on being
assured of your facts. But as no document would be forthcoming to
authenticate this sort of collective phenomena which the few persons
who are enlightened are only too ready to leave in obscurity, the best
minds would be moved to indignation, and you would be regarded as
nothing more than a slanderer or a lunatic. After having, in the
social examination, obtained top marks and the primacy upon this
earth, you would taste the sorrows of a blackball beyond the grave.
That is not worth powder and shot, to quote—may God forgive me—our
friend Bossuet." "I am not interested in history," replied M. de
Charlus, "this life is sufficient for me, it is quite interesting
enough, as poor Swann used to say." "What, you knew Swann, Baron, I
was not aware of that. Tell me, was he that way inclined?" Brichot
inquired with an air of misgiving!"What a mind the man has! So you
suppose that I only know men like that. No, I don't think so," said
Charlus, looking to the ground and trying to weigh the pros and cons.
And deciding that, since he was dealing with Swann whose hostility to
that sort of thing had always been notorious, a half-admission could
only be harmless to him who was its object and flattering to him who
allowed it to escape in an insinuation: "I don't deny that long ago in
our schooldays, once by accident," said the Baron, as though
unwillingly and as though he were thinking aloud, then recovering
himself: "But that was centuries ago, how do you expect me to
remember, you are making a fool of me," he concluded with a laugh. "In
any case, he was never what you'd call a beauty!" said Brichot who,
himself hideous, thought himself good-looking and was always ready to
believe that other men were ugly. "Hold your tongue," said the Baron,
"you don't know what you're talking about, in those days he had a
peach-like complexion, and," he added, finding a fresh note for each
syllable, "he was as beautiful as Cupid himself. Besides he was always
charming. The women were madly in love with him." "But did you ever
know his wife?" "Why, it was through me that he came to know her. I
thought her charming in her disguise one evening when she played Miss
Sacripant; I was with some fellows from the club, each of us took a
woman home with him, and, although all that I wanted was to go to
sleep, slanderous tongues alleged, for it is terrible how malicious
people are, that I went to bed with Odette. Only she took advantage of
the slanders to come and worry me, and I thought I might get rid of
her by introducing her to Swann. From that moment she never let me go,
she couldn't spell the simplest word, it was I who wrote all her
letters for her. And it was I who, afterwards, had to take her out.
That, my boy, is what comes of having a good reputation, you see.
Though I only half deserved it. She forced me to help her to betray
him, with five, with six other men." And the lovers whom Odette had
had in succession (she had been with this man, then with that, those
men not one of whose names had ever been guessed by poor Swann,
blinded in turn by jealousy and by love, reckoning the chances and
believing in oaths more affirmative than a contradiction which escapes
from the culprit, a contradiction far more unseizable, and at the same
time far more significant, of which the jealous lover might take
advantage more logically than of the information which he falsely
pretends to have received, in the hope of confusing his mistress),
these lovers M. de Charlus began to enumerate with as absolute a
certainty as if he had been repeating the list of the Kings of France.
And indeed the jealous lover is, like the contemporaries of an
historical event, too close, he knows nothing, and it is in the eyes
of strangers that the comic aspect of adultery assumes the precision
of history, and prolongs itself in lists of names which are, for that
matter, unimportant and become painful only to another jealous lover,
such as myself, who cannot help comparing his own case with that which
he hears mentioned and asks himself whether the woman of whom he is
suspicious cannot boast an equally illustrious list. But he can never
know anything more, it is a sort of universal conspiracy, a
'blindman's buff' in which everyone cruelly participates, and which
consists, while his mistress flits from one to another, in holding
over his eyes a bandage which he is perpetually attempting to tear off
without success, for everyone keeps him blindfold, poor wretch, the
kind out of kindness, the wicked out of malice, the coarse-minded out
of their love of coarse jokes, the well-bred out of politeness and
good-breeding, and all alike respecting one of those conventions which
are called principles. "But did Swann never know that you had enjoyed
her favours?" "What an idea! If you had suggested such a thing to
Charles! It's enough to make one's hair stand up on end. Why, my dear
fellow, he would have killed me on the spot, he was as jealous as a
tiger. Any more than I ever confessed to Odette, not that she would
have minded in the least, that ... but you must not make my tongue run
away with me. And the joke of it is that it was she who fired a
revolver at him, and nearly hit me. Oh! I used to have a fine time
with that couple; and naturally it was I who was obliged to act as his
second against d'Osmond, who never forgave me. D'Osmond had carried
off Odette and Swann, to console himself, had taken as his mistress,
or make-believe mistress, Odette's sister. But really you must not
begin to make me tell you Swann's story, we should be here for ten
years, don't you know, nobody knows more about him than I do. It was
I who used to take Odette out when she did not wish to see Charles.
It was all the more awkward for me as I have a quite near relative who
bears the name Crécy, without of course having any manner of right to
it, but still he was none too well pleased. For she went by the name
of Odette de Crécy, as she very well might, being merely separated
from a Crécy whose wife she still was, and quite an authentic person,
a highly respectable gentleman out of whom she had drained his last
farthing. But why should I have to tell you about this Crécy, I have
seen you with him on the crawler, you used to have him to dinner at
Balbec. He must have needed those dinners, poor fellow, he lived upon
a tiny allowance that Swann made him; I am greatly afraid that, since
my friend's death, that income must have stopped altogether. What I do
not understand," M. de Charlus said to me, "is that, since you used
often to go to Charles's, you did not ask me this evening to present
you to the Queen of Naples. In fact I can see that you are less
interested in people than in curiosities, and that continues to
surprise me in a person who knew Swann, in whom that sort of interest
was so far developed that it is impossible to say whether it was I who
initiated him in these matters or he myself. It surprises me as much
as if I met a person who had known Whistler and remained ignorant of
what is meant by taste. By Jove, it is Morel that ought really to have
been presented to her, he was passionately keen on it too, for he is
the most intelligent fellow you could imagine. It is a nuisance that
she has left. However, I shall effect the conjunction one of these
days. It is indispensable that he should know her. The only possible
obstacle would be if she were to die in the night. Well, we may hope
that it will not happen." All of a sudden Brichot, who was still
suffering from the shock of the proportion 'thirty per cent' which M.
de Charlus had revealed to him, Brichot who had continued all this
time in the pursuit of his idea, with an abruptness which suggested
that of an examining magistrate seeking to make a prisoner confess,
but which was in reality the result of the Professor's desire to
appear perspicacious and of the misgivings that he felt about
launching so grave an accusation, spoke. "Isn't Ski like that?" he
inquired of M. de Charlus with a sombre air. To make us admire his
alleged power of intuition, he had chosen Ski, telling himself that
since there were only three innocent men in every ten, he ran little
risk of being mistaken if he named Ski who seemed to him a trifle odd,
suffered from insomnia, scented himself, in short was not entirely
normal. "_Nothing of the sort_!" exclaimed the Baron with a bitter,
dogmatic, exasperated irony. "What you say is utterly false, absurd,
fantastic. Ski is like that precisely to the people who know nothing
about it; if he was, he would not look so like it, be it said without
any intention to criticise, for he has a certain charm, indeed I find
something very attractive about him." "But give us a few names, then,"
Brichot pursued with insistence. M. de Charlus drew himself up with a
forbidding air. "Ah! my dear Sir, I, as you know, live in a world of
abstraction, all that sort of thing interests me only from a
transcendental point of view," he replied with the touchy
susceptibility peculiar to men of his kind, and the affectation of
grandiloquence that characterised his conversation. "To me, you
understand, it is only general principles that are of any interest, I
speak to you of this as I might of the law of gravitation." But these
moments of irritable reaction in which the Baron sought to conceal his
true life lasted but a short time compared with the hours of continual
progression in which he allowed it to be guessed, displayed it with an
irritating complacency, the need to confide being stronger in him than
the fear of divulging his secret. "What I was trying to say," he went
on, "is that for one evil reputation that is unjustified there are
hundreds of good ones which are no less so. Obviously, the number of
those who do not merit their reputations varies according to whether
you rely upon what is said by men of their sort or by the others. And
it is true that if the malevolence of the latter is limited by the
extreme difficulty which they would find in believing that a vice as
horrible to them as robbery or murder is being practised by men whom
they know to be sensitive and sincere, the malevolence of the former
is stimulated to excess by the desire to regard as—what shall I
say?—accessible, men who appeal to them, upon the strength of
information given them by people who have been led astray by a similar
desire, in fact by the very aloofness with which they are generally
regarded. I have heard a man, viewed with considerable disfavour on
account of these tastes, say that he supposed that a certain man in
society shared them. And his sole reason for believing it was that
this other man had been polite to him! So many reasons for
_optimism_," said the Baron artlessly, "in the computation of the
number. But the true reason of the enormous difference that exists
between the number calculated by the profane, and that calculated by
the initiated, arises from the mystery with which the latter surround
their actions, in order to conceal them from the rest, who, lacking
any source of information, would be literally stupefied if they were
to learn merely a quarter of the truth." "Then in our days, things are
as they were among the Greeks," said Brichot. "What do you mean, among
the Greeks? Do you suppose that it has not been going on ever since?
Take the reign of Louis XIV, you have young Vermandois, Molière,
Prince Louis of Baden, Brunswick, Charolais, Boufflers, the Great
Condé, the Duc de Brissac." "Stop a moment, I knew about Monsieur, I
knew about Brissac from Saint-Simon, Vendôme of course, and many,
others as well. But that old pest Saint-Simon often refers to the
Great Condé and Prince Louis of Baden and never mentions it." "It
seems a pity, I must say, that it should fall to me to teach a
Professor of the Sorbonne his history. But, my dear Master, you are as
ignorant as a carp." "You are harsh, Baron, but just. And, wait a
moment, now this will please you, I remember now a song of the period
composed in macaronic verse about a certain storm which surprised the
Great Condé as he was going down the Rhône in the company of his
friend, the Marquis de La Moussaye. Condé says:

  _Carus Amicus Mussaeus,
  Ah! Quod tempus, bonus Deus,
  Imbre sumus perituri_.

And La Moussaye reassures him with:

  _Securae sunt nostrae vitae
  Sumus enim Sodomitae
  Igne tantum perituri

"I take back what I said," said Charlus in a shrill and mannered tone,
"you are a well of learning, you will write it down for me, won't you,
I must preserve it in my family archives, since my
great-great-great-grandmother was a sister of M. le Prince." "Yes,
but, Baron, with regard to Prince Louis of Baden I can think of
nothing. However, at that period, I suppose that generally speaking
the art of war...." "What nonsense, Vendôme, Villars, Prince Eugène,
the Prince de Conti, and if I were to tell you of all the heroes of
Tonkin, Morocco, and I am thinking of men who are truly sublime, and
pious, and 'new generation,' I should astonish you greatly. Ah! I
should have something to teach the people who are making inquiries
about the new generation which has rejected the futile complications
of its elders, M. Bourget tells us! I have a young friend out there,
who is highly spoken of, who has done great things, however, I am not
going to tell tales out of school, let us return to the seventeenth
century, you know that Saint-Simon says of the Maréchal
d'Huxelles—one among many: 'Voluptuous in Grecian debaucheries which
he made no attempt to conceal, he used to get hold of young officers
whom he trained to his purpose, not to mention stalwart young valets,
and this openly, in the army and at Strasbourg.' You have probably
read Madame's _Letters_, all his men called him 'Putain.' She is quite
outspoken about it." "And she was in a good position to know, with her
husband." "Such an interesting character, Madame," said M. de Charlus.
"One might base upon her the lyrical synthesis of 'Wives of Aunties.'
First of all, the masculine type; generally the wife of an Auntie is a
man, that is what makes it so easy for her to bear him children. Then
Madame does not mention Monsieur's vices, but she does mention
incessantly the same vice in other men, writing as a well-informed
woman, from that tendency which makes us enjoy finding in other
people's families the same defects as afflict us in our own, in order
to prove to ourselves that there is nothing exceptional or degrading
in them. I was saying that things have been much the same in every
age. Nevertheless, our own is quite remarkable in that respect. And
notwithstanding the instances that I have borrowed from the
seventeenth century, if my great ancestor François C. de La
Rochefoucauld were alive in these days, he might say of them with even
more justification than of his own—come, Brichot, help me out: 'Vices
are common to every age; but if certain persons whom everyone knows
had appeared in the first centuries of our era, would anyone speak
to-day of the prostitutions of Heliogabalus?' '_Whom everyone knows_'
appeals to me immensely. I see that my sagacious kinsman understood
the tricks of his most illustrious contemporaries as I understand
those of my own. But men of that sort are not only far more frequent
to-day. They have also special characteristics." I could see that M.
de Charlus was about to tell us in what fashion these habits had
evolved. The insistence with which M. de Charlus kept on reverting to
this topic—into which, moreover, his intellect, constantly trained in
the same direction, had acquired a certain penetration—was, in a
complicated way, distinctly trying. He was as boring as a specialist
who can see nothing outside his own subject, as irritating as a
well-informed man whose vanity is flattered by the secrets which he
possesses and is burning to divulge, as repellent as those people who,
whenever their own defects are mentioned, spread themselves without
noticing that they are giving offence, as obsessed as a maniac and as
uncontrollably imprudent as a criminal. These characteristics which,
at certain moments, became as obvious as those that stamp a madman or
a criminal, brought me, as it happened, a certain consolation. For,
making them undergo the necessary transposition in order to be able to
draw from them deductions with regard to Albertine, and remembering
her attitude towards Saint-Loup, and towards myself, I said to myself,
painful as one of these memories and melancholy as the other was to
me, I said to myself that they seemed to exclude the kind of deformity
so plainly denounced, the kind of specialisation inevitably exclusive,
it appeared, which was so vehemently apparent in the conversation as
in the person of M. de Charlus. But he, as ill luck would have it,
made haste to destroy these grounds for hope in the same way as he had
furnished me with them, that is to say unconsciously. "Yes," he said,
"I am no longer in my teens, and I have already seen many things
change round about me, I no longer recognise either society, in which
the barriers are broken down, in which a mob, devoid of elegance and
decency, dance the tango even in my own family, or fashions, or
politics, or the arts, or religion, or anything. But I must admit that
the thing which has changed most of all is what the Germans call
homosexuality. Good God, in my day, apart from the men who loathed
women, and those who, caring only for women, did the other thing
merely with an eye to profit, the homosexuals were sound family men
and never kept mistresses except to screen themselves. If I had had a
daughter to give away, it is among them that I should have looked for
my son-in-law if I had wished to be certain that she would not be
unhappy. Alas! Things have changed entirely. Nowadays they are
recruited also from the men who are the most insatiable with women. I
thought I possessed a certain instinct, and that when I said to
myself: 'Certainly not,' I could not have been mistaken. Well, I give
it up. One of my friends, who is well-known for that sort of thing,
had a coachman whom my sister-in-law Oriane found for him, a lad from
Combray who was something of a jack of all trades, but particularly in
trading with women, and who, I would have sworn, was as hostile as
possible to anything of that sort. He broke his mistress's heart by
betraying her with two women whom he adored, not to mention the
others, an actress and a girl from a bar. My cousin the Prince de
Guermantes, who has that irritating intelligence of people who are too
ready to believe anything, said to me one day: 'But why in the world
does not X—— have his coachman? It might be a pleasure to Théodore'
(which is the coachman's name) 'and he may be annoyed at finding that
his master does not make advances to him.' I could not help telling
Gilbert to hold his tongue; I was overwrought both by that boasted
perspicacity which, when it is exercised indiscriminately, is a want
of perspicacity, and also by the silver-lined malice of my cousin who
would have liked X—— to risk taking the first steps so that, if the
going was good, he might follow." "Then the Prince de Guermantes is
like that, too?" asked Brichot with a blend of astonishment and
dismay. "Good God," replied M. de Charlus, highly delighted, "it is so
notorious that I don't think I am guilty of an indiscretion if I tell
you that he is. Very well, the year after this, I went to Balbec,
where I heard from a sailor who used to take me out fishing
occasionally, that my Théodore, whose sister, I may mention, is the
maid of a friend of Mme. Verdurin, Baroness Putbus, used to come down
to the harbour to pick up now one sailor, now another, with the most
infernal cheek, to go for a trip on the sea 'with extras.'" It was now
my turn to inquire whether his employer, whom I had identified as the
gentleman who at Balbec used to play cards all day long with his
mistress, and who was the leader of the little group of four boon
companions, was like the Prince of Guermantes. "Why, of course,
everyone knows about him, he makes no attempt to conceal it." "But he
had his mistress there with him." "Well, and what difference does that
make? How innocent these children are," he said to me in a fatherly
tone, little suspecting the grief that I extracted from his words when
I thought of Albertine. "She is charming, his mistress." "But then his
three friends are like himself." "Not at all," he cried, stopping his
ears as though, in playing some instrument, I had struck a wrong note.
"Now he has gone to the other extreme. So a man has no longer the
right to have friends? Ah! Youth, youth; it gets everything wrong. We
shall have to begin your education over again, my boy. Well," he went
on, "I admit that this case, and I know of many others, however open a
mind I may try to keep for every form of audacity, does embarrass me.
I may be very old-fashioned, but I fail to understand," he said in the
tone of an old Gallican speaking of some development of
Ultramontanism, of a Liberal Royalist speaking of the _Action
Française_ or of a disciple of Claude Monet speaking of the Cubists.
"I do not reproach these innovators, I envy them if anything, I try to
understand them, but I do not succeed. If they are so passionately
fond of woman, why, and especially in this workaday world where that
sort of thing is so frowned upon, where they conceal themselves from a
sense of shame, have they any need of what they call 'a bit of brown'?
It is because it represents to them something else. What?" "What else
can a woman represent to Albertine," I thought, and there indeed lay
the cause of my anguish. "Decidedly, Baron," said Brichot, "should the
Board of Studies ever think of founding a Chair of Homosexuality, I
shall see that your name is the first to be submitted. Or rather, no;
an Institute of Psycho-physiology would suit you better. And I can see
you, best of all, provided with a Chair in the Collège de France,
which would enable you to devote yourself to personal researches the
results of which you would deliver, like the Professor of Tamil or
Sanskrit, to the handful of people who are interested in them. You
would have an audience of two, with your assistant, not that I mean to
cast the slightest suspicion upon our corps of janitors, whom I
believe to be above suspicion." "You know nothing about them," the
Baron retorted in a harsh and cutting tone. "Besides you are wrong in
thinking that so few people are interested in the subject. It is just
the opposite." And without stopping to consider the incompatibility
between the invariable trend of his own conversation and the reproach
which he was about to heap upon other people: "It is, on the contrary,
most alarming," said the Baron, with a scandalised and contrite air,
"people are talking about nothing else. It is a scandal, but I am not
exaggerating, my dear fellow! It appears that, the day before
yesterday, at the Duchesse d'Agen's, they talked about nothing else
for two hours on end; you can imagine, if women have taken to
discussing that sort of thing, it is a positive scandal! What is
vilest of all is that they get their information," he went on with an
extraordinary fire and emphasis, "from pests, regular harlots like
young Châtellerault, who has the worst reputation in the world, who
tell them stories about other men. I have been told that he said more
than enough to hang me, but I don't care, I am convinced that the mud
and filth flung by an individual who barely escaped being turned out
of the Jockey for cheating at cards can only fall back upon himself. I
am sure that if I were Jane d'Agen, I should have sufficient respect
for my drawing-room not to allow such subjects to be discussed in it,
nor to allow my own flesh and blood to be dragged through the mire in
my house. But there is no longer any society, any rules, any
conventions, in conversation any more than in dress. Ah, my dear
fellow, it is the end of the world. Everyone has become so malicious.
The prize goes to the man who can speak most evil of his fellows. It
is appalling."

As cowardly still as I had been long ago in my boyhood at Combray when
I used to run away in order not to see my grandfather tempted with
brandy and the vain efforts of my grandmother imploring him not to
drink it, I had but one thought in my mind, which was to leave the
Verdurins' house before the execution of M. de Charlus occurred. "I
simply must go," I said to Brichot. "I am coming with you," he
replied, "but we cannot slip away, English fashion. Come and say
good-bye to Mme. Verdurin," the Professor concluded, as he made his
way to the drawing-room with the air of a man who, in a guessing game,
goes to find out whether he may 'come back.'

While we conversed, M. Verdurin, at a signal from his wife, had taken
Morel aside. Indeed, had Mme. Verdurin decided, after considering the
matter in all its aspects, that it was wiser to postpone Morel's
enlightenment, she was powerless now to prevent it. There are certain
desires, some of them confined to the mouth, which, as soon as we have
allowed them to grow, insist upon being gratified, whatever the
consequences may be; we are unable to resist the temptation to kiss a
bare shoulder at which we have been gazing for too long and at which
our lips strike like a serpent at a bird, to bury our sweet tooth in a
cake that has fascinated and famished it, nor can we forego the
delight of the amazement, anxiety, grief or mirth to which we can move
another person by some unexpected communication. So, in a frenzy of
melodrama, Mme. Verdurin had ordered her husband to take Morel out of
the room and, at all costs, to explain matters to him. The violinist
had begun by deploring the departure of the Queen of Naples before he
had had a chance of being presented to her. M. de Charlus had told
him so often that she was the sister of the Empress Elisabeth and of
the Duchesse d'Alençon that Her Majesty had assumed an extraordinary
importance in his eyes. But the Master explained to him that it was
not to talk about the Queen of Naples that they had withdrawn from the
rest, and then went straight to the root of the matter. "Listen," he
had concluded after a long explanation; "listen; if you like, we can
go and ask my wife what she thinks. I give you my word of honour, I've
said nothing to her about it. We shall see how she looks at it. My
advice is perhaps not the best, but you know how sound her judgment
is; besides, she is extremely attached to yourself, let us go and
submit the case to her." And while Mme. Verdurin, awaiting with
impatience the emotions that she would presently be relishing as she
talked to the musician, and again, after he had gone, when she made
her husband give her a full report of their conversation, continued to
repeat: "But what in the world can they be doing? I do hope that my
husband, in keeping him all this time, has managed to give him his
cue," M. Verdurin reappeared with Morel who seemed greatly moved. "He
would like to ask your advice," M. Verdurin said to his wife, in the
tone of a man who does not know whether his prayer will be heard.
Instead of replying to M. Verdurin, it was to Morel that, in the heat
of her passion, Mme. Verdurin addressed herself. "I agree entirely
with my husband, I consider that you cannot tolerate this sort of
thing for another instant," she exclaimed with violence, discarding as
a useless fiction her agreement with her husband that she was supposed
to know nothing of what he had been saying to the violinist. "How do
you mean? Tolerate what?" stammered M. Verdurin, endeavouring to feign
astonishment and seeking, with an awkwardness that was explained by
his dismay, to defend his falsehood. "I guessed what you were saying
to him," replied Mme. Verdurin, undisturbed by the improbability of
this explanation, and caring little what, when he recalled this scene,
the violinist might think of the Mistress's veracity. "No," Mme.
Verdurin continued, "I feel that you ought not to endure any longer
this degrading promiscuity with a tainted person whom nobody will have
in her house," she went on, regardless of the fact that this was
untrue and forgetting that she herself entertained him almost daily.
"You are the talk of the Conservatoire," she added, feeling that this
was the argument that carried most weight; "another month of this life
and your artistic future is shattered, whereas, without Charlus, you
ought to be making at least a hundred thousand francs a year." "But I
have never heard anyone utter a word, I am astounded, I am very
grateful to you," Morel murmured, the tears starting to his eyes. But,
being obliged at once to feign astonishment and to conceal his shame,
he had turned redder and was perspiring more abundantly than if he had
played all Beethoven's sonatas in succession, and tears welled from
his eyes which the Bonn Master would certainly not have drawn from
him. "If you have never heard anything, you are unique in that
respect. He is a gentleman with a vile reputation and the most
shocking stories are told about him. I know that the police are
watching him and that is perhaps the best thing for him if he is not
to end like all those men, murdered by hooligans," she went on, for as
she thought of Charlus the memory of Mme. de Duras recurred to her,
and in her frenzy of rage she sought to aggravate still further the
wounds that she was inflicting on the unfortunate Charlie, and to
avenge herself for those that she had received in the course of the
evening. "Anyhow, even financially, he can be of no use to you, he is
completely ruined since he has become the prey of people who are
blackmailing him, and who can't even make him fork out the price of
the tune they call, still less can he pay you for your playing, for it
is all heavily mortgaged, town house, country house, everything."
Morel was all the more ready to believe this lie since M. de Charlus
liked to confide in him his relations with hooligans, a race for which
the son of a valet, however debauched he may be, professes a feeling
of horror as strong as his attachment to Bonapartist principles.

Already, in the cunning mind of Morel, a plan was beginning to take
shape similar to what was called in the eighteenth century the
reversal of alliances. Determined never to speak to M. de Charlus
again, he would return on the following evening to Jupien's niece, and
see that everything was made straight with her. Unfortunately for him
this plan was doomed to failure, M. de Charlus having made an
appointment for that very evening with Jupien, which the ex-tailor
dared not fail to keep, in spite of recent events. Other events, as we
shall see, having followed upon Morel's action, when Jupien in tears
told his tale of woe to the Baron, the latter, no less wretched,
assured him that he would adopt the forsaken girl, that she should
assume one of the titles that were at his disposal, probably that of
Mlle. d'Oléron, that he would see that she received a thorough
education, and furnish her with a rich husband. Promises which filled
Jupien with joy and left his niece unmoved, for she was still in love
with Morel, who, from stupidity or cynicism, used to come into the
shop and tease her in Jupien's absence. "What is the matter with you,"
he would say with a laugh, "with those black marks under your eyes? A
broken heart? Gad, the years pass and people change. After all, a man
is free to try on a shoe, all the more a woman, and if she doesn't fit
him...." He lost his temper once only, because she cried, which he
considered cowardly, unworthy of her. People are not always very
tolerant of the tears which they themselves have provoked.

But we have looked too far ahead, for all this did not happen until
after the Verdurins' party which we have interrupted, and we must go
back to the point at which we left off. "I should never have suspected
it," Morel groaned, in answer to Mme. Verdurin. "Naturally people do
not say it to your face, that does not prevent your being the talk of
the Conservatoire," Mme. Verdurin went on wickedly, seeking to make it
plain to Morel that it was not only M. de Charlus that was being
criticised, but himself also. "I can well believe that you know
nothing about it; all the same, people are quite outspoken. Ask Ski
what they were saying the other day at Chevillard's within a foot of
us when you came into my box. I mean to say, people point you out. As
far as I'm concerned, I don't pay the slightest attention, but what I
do feel is that it makes a man supremely ridiculous and that he
becomes a public laughing-stock for the rest of his life." "I don't
know how to thank you," said Charlie in the tone we use to a dentist
who has just caused us terrible pain while we tried not to let him see
it, or to a too bloodthirsty second who has forced us into a duel on
account of some casual remark of which he has said: "You can't swallow
that." "I believe that you have plenty of character, that you are a
man," replied Mme. Verdurin, "and that you will be capable of speaking
out boldly, although he tells everybody that you would never dare,
that he holds you fast." Charlie, seeking a borrowed dignity in which
to cloak the tatters of his own, found in his memory something that he
had read or, more probably, heard quoted, and at once proclaimed: "I
was not brought up to eat that sort of bread. This very evening I will
break with M. de Charlus. The Queen of Naples has gone, hasn't she?
Otherwise, before breaking with him, I should like to ask him...." "It
is not necessary to break with him altogether," said Mme. Verdurin,
anxious to avoid a disruption of the little nucleus. "There is no harm
in your seeing him here, among our little group, where you are
appreciated, where no one speaks any evil of you. But insist upon your
freedom, and do not let him drag you about among all those sheep who
are friendly to your face; I wish you could have heard what they were
saying behind your back. Anyhow, you need feel no regret, not only
are you wiping off a stain which would have marked you for the rest of
your life, from the artistic point of view, even if there had not been
this scandalous presentation by Charlus, I don't mind telling you that
wasting yourself like this in this sham society will make people
suppose that you aren't serious, give you an amateur reputation, as a
little drawing-room performer, which is a terrible thing at your age.
I can understand that to all those fine ladies it is highly convenient
to be able to return their friends' hospitality by making you come and
play for nothing, but it is your future as an artist that would foot
the bill. I don't say that you shouldn't go to one or two of them. You
were speaking of the Queen of Naples—who has left, for she had to go
on to another party—now she is a splendid woman, and I don't mind
saying that I think she has a poor opinion of Charlus and came here
chiefly to please me. Yes, yes, I know she was longing to meet us, M.
Verdurin and myself. That is a house in which you might play. And
then I may tell you that if I take you—because the artists all know
me, you understand, they have always been most obliging to me, and
regard me almost as one of themselves, as their Mistress—that is a
very different matter. But whatever you do, you must never go near
Mme. de Duras! Don't go and make a stupid blunder like that! I know
several artists who have come here and told me all about her. They
know they can trust me," she said, in the sweet and simple tone which
she knew how to adopt in an instant, imparting an appropriate air of
modesty to her features, an appropriate charm to her eyes, "they come
here, just like that, to tell me all their little troubles; the ones
who are said to be most silent, go on chatting to me sometimes for
hours on end and I can't tell you how interesting they are. Poor
Chabrier used always to say: 'There's nobody like Mme. Verdurin for
getting them to talk.' Very well, don't you know, all of them, without
one exception, I have seen them in tears because they had gone to play
for Mme. de Duras. It is not only the way she enjoys making her
servants humiliate them, they could never get an engagement anywhere
else again. The agents would say: 'Oh yes, the fellow who plays at
Mme. de Duras's.' That settled it. There is nothing like that for
ruining a man's future. You know what society people are like, it's
not taken seriously, you may have all the talent in the world, it's a
dreadful thing to have to say, but one Mme. de Duras is enough to
give you the reputation of an amateur. And among artists, don't you
know, well I, you can ask yourself whether I know them, when I have
been moving among them for forty years, launching them, taking an
interest in them; very well, when they say that somebody is an
amateur, that finishes it. And people were beginning to say it of you.
Indeed, at times I have been obliged to take up the cudgels, to assure
them that you would not play in some absurd drawing-room! Do you know
what the answer was: 'But he will be forced to go, Charlus won't even
consult him, he never asks him for his opinion.' Somebody thought he
would pay him a compliment and said: 'We greatly admire your friend
Morel.' Can you guess what answer he made, with that insolent air
which you know? 'But what do you mean by calling him my friend, we are
not of the same class, say rather that he is my creature, my
protégé.'" At this moment there stirred beneath the convex brows of
the musical deity the one thing that certain people cannot keep to
themselves, a saying which it is not merely abject but imprudent to
repeat. But the need to repeat it is stronger than honour, than
prudence. It was to this need that, after a few convulsive movements
of her spherical and sorrowful brows, the Mistress succumbed: "Some
one actually told my husband that he had said 'my servant,' but for
that I cannot vouch," she added. It was a similar need that had
compelled M. de Charlus, shortly after he had sworn to Morel that
nobody should ever know the story of his birth, to say to Mme.
Verdurin: "His father was a flunkey." A similar need again, now that
the story had been started, would make it circulate from one person to
another, each of whom would confide it under the seal of a secrecy
which would be promised and not kept by the hearer, as by the
informant himself. These stories would end, as in the game called
hunt-the-thimble, by being traced back to Mme. Verdurin, bringing down
upon her the wrath of the person concerned, who would at last have
learned the truth. She knew this, but could not repress the words that
were burning her tongue. Anyhow, the word 'servant' was bound to annoy
Morel. She said 'servant' nevertheless, and if she added that she
could not vouch for the word, this was so as at once to appear certain
of the rest, thanks to this hint of uncertainty, and to shew her
impartiality. This impartiality that she shewed, she herself found so
touching that she began to speak affectionately to Charlie: "For,
don't you see," she went on, "I am not blaming him, he is dragging you
down into his abyss, it is true, but it is not his fault, since he
wallows in it himself, since he wallows in it," she repeated in a
louder tone, having been struck by the aptness of the image which had
taken shape so quickly that her attention only now overtook it and was
trying to give it prominence. "No, the fault that I do find with
him," she said in a melting tone—like a woman drunken with her own
success—"is a want of delicacy towards yourself. There are certain
things which one does not say in public. Well, this evening, he was
betting that he would make you blush with joy, by telling you (stuff
and nonsense, of course, for his recommendation would be enough to
prevent your getting it) that you were to have the Cross of the Legion
of Honour. Even that I could overlook, although I have never quite
liked," she went on with a delicate, dignified air, "hearing a person
make a fool of his friends, but, don't you know, there are certain
little things that one does resent. Such as when he told us, with
screams of laughter, that if you want the Cross it's to please your
uncle and that your uncle was a footman." "He told you that!" cried
Charlie, believing, on the strength of this adroitly interpolated
quotation, in the truth of everything that Mme. Verdurin had said!
Mme. Verdurin was overwhelmed with the joy of an old mistress who,
just as her young lover was on the point of deserting her, has
succeeded in breaking off his marriage, and it is possible that she
had not calculated her lie, that she was not even consciously lying. A
sort of sentimental logic, something perhaps more elementary still, a
sort of nervous reflex urging her, in order to brighten her life and
preserve her happiness, to stir up trouble in the little clan, may
have brought impulsively to her lips, without giving her time to check
their veracity, these assertions diabolically effective if not
rigorously exact. "If he had only repeated it to us, it wouldn't
matter," the Mistress went on, "we know better than to listen to what
he says, besides, what does a man's origin matter, you have your own
value, you are what you make yourself, but that he should use it to
make Mme. de Portefin laugh" (Mme. Verdurin named this lady on
purpose because she knew that Charlie admired her) "that is what vexes
us: my husband said to me when he heard him: 'I would sooner he had
struck me in the face.' For he is as fond of you as I am, don't you
know, is Gustave" (from this we learn that M. Verdurin's name was
Gustave). "He is really very sensitive." "But I never told you I was
fond of him," muttered M. Verdurin, acting the kind-hearted
curmudgeon. "It is Charlus that is fond of him." "Oh, no! Now I
realise the difference, I was betrayed by a scoundrel and you, you are
good," Charlie exclaimed in all sincerity. "No, no," murmured Mme.
Verdurin, seeking to retain her victory, for she felt that her
Wednesdays were safe, but not to abuse it: "scoundrel is too strong;
he does harm, a great deal of harm, unconsciously; you know that tale
about the Legion of Honour was the affair of a moment. And it would be
painful to me to repeat all that he said about your family," said Mme.
Verdurin, who would have been greatly embarrassed had she been asked
to do so. "Oh, even if it only took a moment, it proves that he is a
traitor," cried Morel. It was at this moment that we returned to the
drawing-room. "Ah!" exclaimed M. de Charlus when he saw that Morel
was in the room, advancing upon him with the alacrity of the man who
has skilfully organised a whole evening's entertainment with a view
to an assignation with a woman, and in his excitement never imagines
that he has with his own hands set the snare in which he will
presently be caught and publicly thrashed by bravoes stationed in
readiness by her husband. "Well, after all it is none too soon; are
you satisfied, young glory, and presently young knight of the Legion
of Honour? For very soon you will be able to sport your Cross," M. de
Charlus said to Morel with a tender and triumphant air, but by the
very mention of the decoration endorsed Mme. Verdurin's lies, which
appeared to Morel to be indisputable truth. "Leave me alone, I forbid
you to come near me," Morel shouted at the Baron. "You know what I
mean, all right, I'm not the first young man you've tried to corrupt!"
My sole consolation lay in the thought that I was about to see Morel
and the Verdurins pulverised by M. de Charlus. For a thousand times
less an offence I had been visited with his furious rage, no one was
safe from it, a king would not have intimidated him. Instead of which,
an extraordinary thing happened. One saw M. de Charlus dumb,
stupefied, measuring the depths of his misery without understanding
its cause, finding not a word to utter, raising his eyes to stare at
each of the company in turn, with a questioning, outraged, suppliant
air, which seemed to be asking them not so much what had happened as
what answer he ought to make. And yet M. de Charlus possessed all the
resources, not merely of eloquence but of audacity, when, seized by a
rage which had long been simmering against some one, he reduced him to
desperation, with the most outrageous speeches, in front of a
scandalised society which had never imagined that anyone could go so
far. M. de Charlus, on these occasions, burned, convulsed with a sort
of epilepsy, which left everyone trembling. But in these instances he
had the initiative, he launched the attack, he said whatever came into
his mind (just as Bloch was able to make fun of Jews and blushed if
the word Jew was uttered in his hearing). Perhaps what struck him
speechless was—when he saw that M. and Mme. Verdurin turned their
eyes from him and that no one was coming to his rescue—his anguish at
the moment and, still more, his dread of greater anguish to come; or
else that, not having lost his temper in advance, in imagination, and
forged his thunderbolt, not having his rage ready as a weapon in his
hand, he had been seized and dealt a mortal blow at the moment when he
was unarmed (for, sensitive, neurotic, hysterical, his impulses were
genuine, but his courage was a sham; indeed, as I had always thought,
and this was what made me like him, his malice was a sham also: the
people whom he hated, he hated because he thought that they looked
down upon him; had they been civil to him, instead of flying into a
furious rage with them, he would have taken them to his bosom, and he
did not shew the normal reactions of a man of honour who has been
insulted); or else that, in a sphere which was not his own, he felt
himself less at his ease and less courageous than he would have been
in the Faubourg. The fact remains that, in this drawing-room which he
despised, this great nobleman (in whom his sense of superiority to the
middle classes was no less essentially inherent than it had been in
any of his ancestors who had stood in the dock before the
Revolutionary Tribunal) could do nothing, in a paralysis of all his
members, including his tongue, but cast in every direction glances of
terror, outraged by the violence that had been done to him, no less
suppliant than questioning. In a situation so cruelly unforeseen, this
great talker could do no more than stammer: "What does it all mean,
what has happened?" His question was not even heard. And the eternal
pantomime of panic terror has so little altered, that this elderly
gentleman, to whom a disagreeable incident had just occurred in a
Parisian drawing-room, unconsciously repeated the various formal
attitudes in which the Greek sculptors of the earliest times
symbolised the terror of nymphs pursued by the Great Pan.

The ambassador who has been recalled, the under-secretary placed
suddenly on the retired list, the man about town whom people began to
cut, the lover who has been shewn the door examine sometimes for
months on end the event that has shattered their hopes; they turn it
over and over like a projectile fired at them they know not whence or
by whom, almost as though it were a meteorite. They would fain know
the elements that compose this strange engine which has burst upon
them, learn what hostilities may be detected in them. Chemists have at
least the power of analysis; sick men suffering from a malady the
origin of which they do not know can send for the doctor; criminal
mysteries are more or less solved by the examining magistrate. But
when it comes to the disconcerting actions of our fellow-men, we
rarely discover their motives. Thus M. de Charlus, to anticipate the
days that followed this party to which we shall presently return,
could see in Charlie's attitude one thing alone that was self-evident.
Charlie, who had often threatened the Baron that he would tell people
of the passion that he inspired in him, must have seized the
opportunity to do so when he considered that he had now sufficiently
'arrived' to be able to fly unaided. And he must, out of sheer
ingratitude, have told Mme. Verdurin everything. But how had she
allowed herself to be taken in (for the Baron, having made up his mind
to deny the story, had already persuaded himself that the sentiments
for which he was blamed were imaginary)? Some friends of Mme.
Verdurin, who themselves perhaps felt a passion for Charlie, must have
prepared the ground. Accordingly, M. de Charlus during the next few
days wrote terrible letters to a number of the faithful, who were
entirely innocent and concluded that he must be mad; then he went to
Mme. Verdurin with a long and moving tale, which had not at all the
effect that he desired. For in the first place Mme. Verdurin repeated
to the Baron: "All you need do is not to bother about him, treat him
with scorn, he is a mere boy." Now the Baron longed only for a
reconciliation. In the second place, to bring this about, by depriving
Charlie of everything of which he had felt himself assured, he asked
Mme. Verdurin not to invite him again; a request which she met with a
refusal that brought upon her angry and sarcastic letters from M. de
Charlus. Flitting from one supposition to another, the Baron never
arrived at the truth, which was that the blow had not come from Morel.
It is true that he might have learned this by asking him for a few
minutes' conversation. But he felt that this would injure his dignity
and would be against the interests of his love. He had been insulted,
he awaited an explanation. There is, for that matter, almost
invariably, attached to the idea of a conversation which might clear
up a misunderstanding, another idea which, whatever the reason,
prevents us from agreeing to that conversation. The man who is abased
and has shewn his weakness on a score of occasions, will furnish
proofs of pride on the twenty-first, the only occasion on which it
would serve him not to adopt a headstrong and arrogant attitude but to
dispel an error which will take root in his adversary failing a
contradiction. As for the social side of the incident, the rumour
spread abroad that M. de Charlus had been turned out of the
Verdurins' house at the moment when he was attempting to rape a young
musician. The effect of this rumour was that nobody was surprised when
M. de Charlus did not appear again at the Verdurins', and whenever he
happened by chance to meet, anywhere else, one of the faithful whom he
had suspected and insulted, as this person had a grudge against the
Baron who himself abstained from greeting him, people were not
surprised, realising that no member of the little clan would ever wish
to speak to the Baron again.

While M. de Charlus, rendered speechless by Morel's words and by the
attitude of the Mistress, stood there in the pose of the nymph a prey
to Panic terror, M. and Mme. Verdurin had retired to the outer
drawing-room, as a sign of diplomatic rupture, leaving M. de Charlus
by himself, while on the platform Morel was putting his violin in its
case. "Now you must tell us exactly what happened," Mme. Verdurin
appealed avidly to her husband. "I don't know what you can have said
to him, he looked quite upset," said Ski, "there are tears in his
eyes." Pretending not to have understood: "I'm sure, nothing that I
said could make any difference to him," said Mme. Verdurin, employing
one of those stratagems which do not deceive everybody, so as to force
the sculptor to repeat that Charlie was in tears, tears which filled
the Mistress with too much pride for her to be willing to run the risk
that one or other of the faithful, who might not have heard what was
said, remained in ignorance of them. "No, it has made a difference,
for I saw big tears glistening in his eyes," said the sculptor in a
low tone with a smile of malicious connivance, and a sidelong glance
to make sure that Morel was still on the platform and could not
overhear the conversation. But there was somebody who did overhear,
and whose presence, as soon as it was observed, was to restore to
Morel one of the hopes that he had forfeited. This was the Queen of
Naples, who, having left her fan behind, had thought it more polite,
on coming away from another party to which she had gone on, to call
for it in person. She had entered the room quite quietly, as though
she were ashamed of herself, prepared to make apologies for her
presence, and to pay a little call upon her hostess now that all the
other guests had gone. But no one had heard her come in, in the heat
of the incident the meaning of which she had at once gathered, and
which set her ablaze with indignation. "Ski says that he had tears in
his eyes, did you notice that? I did not see any tears. Ah, yes, I
remember now," she corrected herself, in the fear that her denial
might not be believed. "As for Charlus, he's not far off them, he
ought to take a chair, he's tottering on his feet, he'll be on the
floor in another minute," she said with a pitiless laugh. At that
moment Morel hastened towards her: "Isn't that lady the Queen of
Naples?" he asked (albeit he knew quite well that she was), pointing
to Her Majesty who was making her way towards Charlus. "After what has
just happened, I can no longer, I'm afraid, ask the Baron to present
me." "Wait, I shall take you to her myself," said Mme. Verdurin, and,
followed by a few of the faithful, but not by myself and Brichot who
made haste to go and call for our hats and coats, she advanced upon
the Queen who was talking to M. de Charlus. He had imagined that the
realisation of his great desire that Morel should be presented to the
Queen of Naples could be prevented only by the improbable demise of
that lady. But we picture the future as a reflexion of the present
projected into empty space, whereas it is the result, often almost
immediate, of causes which for the most part escape our notice. Not an
hour had passed, and now M. de Charlus would have given everything he
possessed in order that Morel should not be presented to the Queen.
Mme. Verdurin made the Queen a curtsey. Seeing that the other appeared
not to recognise her: "I am Mme. Verdurin. Your Majesty does not
remember me." "Quite well," said the Queen as she continued so
naturally to converse with M. de Charlus and with an air of such
complete indifference that Mme. Verdurin doubted whether it was to
herself that this 'Quite well' had been addressed, uttered with a
marvellously detached intonation, which wrung from M. de Charlus,
despite his broken heart, a smile of expert and delighted appreciation
of the art of impertinence. Morel, who had watched from the distance
the preparations for his presentation, now approached. The Queen
offered her arm to M. de Charlus. With him, too, she was vexed, but
only because he did not make a more energetic stand against vile
detractors. She was crimson with shame for him whom the Verdurins
dared to treat in this fashion. The entirely simple civility which she
had shewn them a few hours earlier, and the arrogant pride with which
she now stood up to face them, had their source in the same region of
her heart. The Queen, as a woman full of good nature, regarded good
nature first and foremost in the form of an unshakable attachment to
the people whom she liked, to her own family, to all the Princes of
her race, among whom was M. de Charlus, and, after them, to all the
people of the middle classes or of the humblest populace who knew how
to respect those whom she liked and felt well-disposed towards them.
It was as to a woman endowed with these sound instincts that she had
shewn kindness to Mme. Verdurin. And, no doubt, this is a narrow
conception, somewhat Tory, and increasingly obsolete, of good nature.
But this does not mean that her good nature was any less genuine or
ardent. The ancients were no less strongly attached to the group of
humanity to which they devoted themselves because it did not exceed
the limits of their city, nor are the men of to-day to their country
than will be those who in the future love the United States of the
World. In my own immediate surroundings, I have had an example of this
in my mother whom Mme. de Cambremer and Mme. de Guermantes could never
persuade to take part in any philanthropic undertaking, to join any
patriotic workroom, to sell or to be a patroness at any bazaar. I do
not go so far as to say that she was right in doing good only when her
heart had first spoken, and in reserving for her own family, for her
servants, for the unfortunate whom chance brought in her way, her
treasures of love and generosity, but I do know that these, like those
of my grandmother, were unbounded and exceeded by far anything that
Mme. de Guermantes or Mme. de Cambremer ever could have done or did.
The case of the Queen of Naples was altogether different, but even
here it must be admitted that her conception of deserving people was
not at all that set forth in those novels of Dostoievski which
Albertine had taken from my shelves and devoured, that is to say in
the guise of wheedling parasites, thieves, drunkards, at one moment
stupid, at another insolent, debauchees, at a pinch murderers.
Extremes, however, meet, since the noble man, the brother, the
outraged kinsman whom the Queen sought to defend, was M. de Charlus,
that is to say, notwithstanding his birth and all the family ties that
bound him to the Queen, a man whose virtue was hedged round by many
vices. "You do not look at all well, my dear cousin," she said to M.
de Charlus. "Léan upon my arm. Be sure that it will still support you.
It is firm enough for that." Then, raising her eyes proudly to face
her adversaries (at that moment, Ski told me, there were in front of
her Mme. Verdurin and Morel), "You know that, in the past, at Gaeta,
it held the mob in defiance. It will be able to serve you as a
rampart." And it was thus, taking the Baron on her arm and without
having allowed Morel to be presented to her, that the splendid sister
of the Empress Elisabeth left the house. It might be supposed, in view
of M. de Charlus's terrible nature, the persecutions with which he
terrorised even his own family, that he would, after the events of
this evening, let loose his fury and practise reprisals upon the
Verdurins. We have seen why nothing of this sort occurred at first.
Then the Baron, having caught cold shortly afterwards, and contracted
the septic pneumonia which was very rife that winter, was for long
regarded by his doctors, and regarded himself, as being at the point
of death, and lay for many months suspended between it and life. Was
there simply a physical change, and the substitution of a different
malady for the neurosis that had previously made him lose all control
of himself in his outbursts of rage? For it is too obvious to suppose
that, having never taken the Verdurins seriously, from the social
point of view, but having come at last to understand the part that
they had played, he was unable to feel the resentment that he would
have felt for any of his equals; too obvious also to remember that
neurotics, irritated on the slightest provocation by imaginary and
inoffensive enemies, become on the contrary inoffensive as soon as
anyone takes the offensive against them, and that we can calm them
more easily by flinging cold water in their faces than by attempting
to prove to them the inanity of their grievances. It is probably not
in a physical change that we ought to seek the explanation of this
absence of rancour, but far more in the malady itself. It exhausted
the Baron so completely that he had little leisure left in which to
think about the Verdurins. He was almost dead. We mentioned
offensives; even those which have only a posthumous effect require, if
we are to 'stage' them properly, the sacrifice of a part of our
strength. M. de Charlus had too little strength left for the activity
of a preparation. We hear often of mortal enemies who open their eyes
to gaze upon one another in the hour of death and close them again,
made happy. This must be a rare occurrence, except when death
surprises us in the midst of life. It is, on the contrary, at the
moment when we have nothing left to lose, that we are not bothered by
the risks which, when full of life, we would lightly have undertaken.
The spirit of vengeance forms part of life, it abandons us as a
rule—notwithstanding certain exceptions which, occurring in the heart
of the same person, are, as we shall see, human contradictions,—on
the threshold of death. After having thought for a moment about the
Verdurins, M. de Charlus felt that he was too weak, turned his face to
the wall, and ceased to think about anything. If he often lay silent
like this, it was not that he had lost his eloquence. It still flowed
from its source, but it had changed. Detached from the violence which
it had so often adorned, it was no more now than an almost mystic
eloquence decorated with words of meekness, words from the Gospel, an
apparent resignation to death. He talked especially on the days when
he thought that he would live. A relapse made him silent. This
Christian meekness into which his splendid violence was transposed (as
is in _Esther_ the so different genius of _Andromaque_) provoked the
admiration of those who came to his bedside. It would have provoked
that of the Verdurins themselves, who could not have helped adoring a
man whom his weakness had made them hate. It is true that thoughts
which were Christian only in appearance rose to the surface. He
implored the Archangel Gabriel to appear and announce to him, as to
the Prophet, at what time the Messiah would come to him. And, breaking
off with a sweet and sorrowful smile, he would add: "But the Archangel
must not ask me, as he asked Daniel, to have patience for 'seven
weeks, and threescore and two weeks,' for I should be dead before
then." The person whom he awaited thus was Morel. And so he asked the
Archangel Raphael to bring him to him, as he had brought the young
Tobias. And, introducing more human methods (like sick Popes who,
while ordering masses to be said, do not neglect to send for their
doctors), he insinuated to his visitors that if Brichot were to bring
him without delay his young Tobias, perhaps the Archangel Raphael
would consent to restore Brichot's sight, as he had done to the father
of Tobias, or as had happened in the sheep-pool of Bethesda. But,
notwithstanding these human lapses, the moral purity of M. de
Charlus's conversation had none the less become alarming. Vanity,
slander, the insanity of malice and pride, had alike disappeared.
Morally M. de Charlus had been raised far above the level at which he
had lived in the past. But this moral perfection, as to the reality of
which his oratorical art was for that matter capable of deceiving more
than one of his compassionate audience, this perfection vanished with
the malady which had laboured on its behalf. M. de Charlus returned
along the downward slope with a rapidity which, as we shall see,
continued steadily to increase. But the Verdurins' attitude towards
him was by that time no more than a somewhat distant memory which more
immediate outbursts prevented from reviving.

To turn back to the Verdurins' party, when the host and hostess were
by themselves, M. Verdurin said to his wife: "You know where Cottard
has gone? He is with Saniette: he has been speculating to put himself
straight and has gone smash. When he got home just now after leaving
us, and learned that he hadn't a penny in the world and nearly a
million francs of debts, Saniette had a stroke." "But then, why did he
gamble, it's idiotic, he was the last person in the world to succeed
at that game. Cleverer men than he get plucked at it, and he was born
to let himself be swindled by every Tom, Dick and Harry." "Why, of
course, we have always known that he was an idiot," said M. Verdurin.
"Anyhow, this is the result. Here you have a man who will be turned
out of house and home to-morrow by his landlord, who is going to find
himself utterly penniless; his family don't like him, Forcheville is
the last man in the world to do anything for him. And so it occurred
to me, I don't wish to do anything that doesn't meet with your
approval, but we might perhaps be able to scrape up a small income for
him so that he shan't be too conscious of his ruin, so that he can
keep a roof over his head." "I entirely agree with you, it is very
good of you to have thought of it. But you say 'a roof; the imbecile
has kept on an apartment beyond his means, he can't remain in it, we
shall have to find him a couple of rooms somewhere. I understand that
at the present moment he is still paying six or seven thousand francs
for his apartment." "Six thousand, five hundred. But he is greatly
attached to his home. In short, he has had his first stroke, he can
scarcely live more than two or three years. Suppose we were to allow
him ten thousand francs for three years. It seems to me that we should
be able to afford that. We might for instance this year, instead of
taking la Raspelière again, get hold of something on a simpler scale.
With our income, it seems to me that to sacrifice ten thousand francs
a year for three years is not out of the question." "Very well,
there's only the nuisance that people will get to know about it, we
shall be expected to do it again for others." "Believe me, I have
thought about that. I shall do it only upon the express condition that
nobody knows anything about it. Thank you, I have no desire that we
should become the benefactors of the human race. No philanthropy!
What we might do is to tell him that the money has been left to him by
Princess Sherbatoff." "But will he believe it? She consulted Cottard
about her will." "If the worse comes to the worst, we might take
Cottard into our confidence, he is used to professional secrecy, he
makes an enormous amount of money, he won't be like one of those
busybodies one is obliged to hush up. He may even be willing to say,
perhaps, that it was himself that the Princess appointed as her agent.
In that way we shouldn't even appear. That would avoid all the
nuisance of scenes, and gratitude, and speeches." M. Verdurin added an
expression which made quite plain the kind of touching scenes and
speeches which they were anxious to avoid. But it cannot have been
reported to me correctly, for it was not a French expression, but one
of those terms that are to be found in certain families to denote
certain things, annoying things especially, probably because people
wish to indicate them in the hearing of the persons concerned without
being understood! An expression of this sort is generally a survival
from an earlier condition of the family. In a Jewish family, for
instance, it will be a ritual term diverted from its true meaning, and
perhaps the only Hebrew word with which the family, now thoroughly
French, is still acquainted. In a family that is strongly provincial,
it will be a term in the local dialect, albeit the family no longer
speaks or even understands that dialect. In a family that has come
from South America and no longer speaks anything but French, it will
be a Spanish word. And, in the next generation, the word will no
longer exist save as a childish memory. They may remember quite well
that their parents at table used to allude to the servants who were
waiting, without being understood by them, by employing some such
word, but the children cannot tell exactly what the word meant,
whether it was Spanish, Hebrew, German, dialect, if indeed it ever
belonged to any language and was not a proper name or a word entirely
forged. The uncertainty can be cleared up only if they have a
great-uncle, a cousin still surviving who must have used the same
expression. As I never knew any relative of the Verdurins, I have
never been able to reconstruct the word. All I know is that it
certainly drew a smile from Mme. Verdurin, for the use of this
language less general, more personal, more secret, than their everyday
speech inspires in those who use it among themselves a sense of
self-importance which is always accompanied by a certain satisfaction.
After this moment of mirth: "But if Cottard talks," Mme. Verdurin
objected. "He will not talk." He did mention it, to myself at least,
for it was from him that I learned of this incident a few years later,
actually at the funeral of Saniette. I was sorry that I had not known
of it earlier. For one thing the knowledge would have brought me more
rapidly to the idea that we ought never to feel resentment towards
other people, ought never to judge them by some memory of an unkind
action, for we do not know all the good that, at other moments, their
hearts may have sincerely desired and realised; no doubt the evil form
which we have established once and for all will recur, but the heart
is far more rich than that, has many other forms that will recur,
also, to these people, whose kindness we refuse to admit because of
the occasion on which they behaved badly. Furthermore, this revelation
by Cottard must inevitably have had an effect upon me, because by
altering my opinion of the Verdurins, this revelation, had it been
made to me earlier, would have dispelled the suspicions that I had
formed as to the part that the Verdurins might be playing between
Albertine and myself, would have dispelled them, wrongly perhaps as it
happened, for if M. Verdurin—whom I supposed, with increasing
certainty, to be the most malicious man alive—had certain virtues, he
was nevertheless tormenting to the point of the most savage
persecution, and so jealous of his domination over the little clan as
not to shrink from the basest falsehoods, from the fomentation of the
most unjustified hatreds, in order to sever any ties between the
faithful which had not as their sole object the strengthening of the
little group. He was a man capable of disinterested action, of
unostentatious generosity, that does not necessarily mean a man of
feeling, nor a pleasant man, nor a scrupulous, nor a truthful, nor
always a good man. A partial goodness, in which there persisted,
perhaps, a trace of the family whom my great-aunt had known, existed
probably in him in view of this action before I discovered it, as
America or the North Pole existed before Columbus or Peary.
Nevertheless, at the moment of my discovery, M. Verdurin's nature
offered me a new and unimagined aspect; and so I am brought up against
the difficulty of presenting a permanent image as well of a character
as of societies and passions. For it changes no less than they, and if
we seek to portray what is relatively unchanging in it, we see it
present in succession different aspects (implying that it cannot
remain still but keeps moving) to the disconcerted artist.


Flight of Albertine

SEEING how late it was, and fearing that Albertine might be growing
impatient, I asked Brichot, as we left the Verdurins' party, to be so
kind as to drop me at my door. My carriage would then take him home.
He congratulated me upon going straight home like this (unaware that a
girl was waiting for me in the house), and upon ending so early, and
so wisely, an evening of which, on the contrary, all that I had done
was to postpone the actual beginning. Then he spoke to me about M. de
Charlus. The latter would doubtless have been stupefied had he heard
the Professor, who was so kind to him, the Professor who always
assured him: "I never repeat anything," speaking of him and of his
life without the slightest reserve. And Brichot's indignant amazement
would perhaps have been no less sincere if M. de Charlus had said to
him: "I am told that you have been speaking evil of me." Brichot did
indeed feel an affection for M. de Charlus and, if he had had to call
to mind some conversation that had turned upon him, would have been
far more likely to remember the friendly feeling that he had shewn for
the Baron, while he said the same things about him that everyone was
saying, than to remember the things that he had said. He would not
have thought that he was lying if he had said: "I who speak of you in
so friendly a spirit," since he did feel a friendly spirit while he
was speaking of M. de Charlus. The Baron had above all for Brichot the
charm which the Professor demanded before everything else in his
social existence, and which was that of furnishing real examples of
what he had long supposed to be an invention of the poets. Brichot,
who had often expounded the second Eclogue of Virgil without really
knowing whether its fiction had any basis in reality, found later on
in conversing with Charlus some of the pleasure which he knew that his
masters, M. Mérimée and M. Renan, his colleague M. Maspéro had felt,
when travelling in Spain, Palestine, and Egypt, upon recognising in
the scenery and the contemporary peoples of Spain, Palestine and
Egypt, the setting and the invariable actors of the ancient scenes
which they themselves had expounded in their books. "Be it said
without offence to that knight of noble lineage," Brichot declared to
me in the carriage that was taking us home, "he is simply prodigious
when he illustrates his satanic catechism with a distinctly Bedlamite
vigour and the persistence, I was going to say the candour, of Spanish
whitewash and of a returned _émigré_. I can assure you, if I dare
express myself like Mgr. d'Hulst, I am by no means bored upon the days
when I receive a visit from that feudal lord who, seeking to defend
Adonis against our age of miscreants, has followed the instincts of
his race, and, in all sodomist innocence, has gone crusading." I
listened to Brichot, and I was not alone with him. As, for that
matter, I had never ceased to feel since I left home that evening, I
felt myself, in however obscure a fashion, tied fast to the girl who
was at that moment in her room. Even when I was talking to some one
or other at the Verdurins', I had felt, confusedly, that she was by my
side, I had that vague impression of her that we have of our own
limbs, and if I happened to think of her it was as we think, with
disgust at being bound to it in complete subjection, of our own body.
"And what a fund of scandal," Brichot went on, "sufficient to supply
all the appendices of the _Causeries du Lundi_, is the conversation of
that apostle. Imagine that I have learned from him that the ethical
treatise which I had always admired as the most splendid moral
composition of our age was inspired in our venerable colleague X by a
young telegraph messenger. Let us not hesitate to admit that my
eminent friend omitted to give us the name of this ephebe in the
course of his demonstrations. He has shewn in so doing more human
respect, or, if you prefer, less gratitude than Phidias who inscribed
the name of the athlete whom he loved upon the ring of his Olympian
Zeus. The Baron had not heard that story. Needless to say, it appealed
to his orthodox mind. You can readily imagine that whenever I have to
discuss with my colleague a candidate's thesis, I shall find in his
dialectic, which for that matter is extremely subtle, the additional
savour which spicy revelations added, for Sainte-Beuve, to the
insufficiently confidential writings of Chateaubriand. From our
colleague, who is a goldmine of wisdom but whose gold is not legal
tender, the telegraph-boy passed into the hands of the Baron, 'all
perfectly proper, of course,' (you ought to hear his voice when he
says it). And as this Satan is the most obliging of men, he has found
his protégé a post in the Colonies, from which the young man, who has
a sense of gratitude, sends him from time to time the most excellent
fruit. The Baron offers these to his distinguished friends; some of
the young man's pineapples appeared quite recently on the table at
Quai Conti, drawing from Mme. Verdurin, who at that moment put no
malice into her words: 'You must have an uncle or a nephew in America,
M. de Charlus, to get pineapples like these!' I admit that if I had
known the truth then I should have eaten them with a certain gaiety,
repeating to myself _in petto_ the opening lines of an Ode of Horace
which Diderot loved to recall. In fact, like my colleague Boissier,
strolling from the Palatine to Tibur, I derive from the Baron's
conversation a singularly more vivid and more savoury idea of the
writers of the Augustan age. Let us not even speak of those of the
Decadence, nor let us hark back to the Greeks, although I have said to
that excellent Baron that in his company I felt like Plato in the
house of Aspasia. To tell the truth, I had considerably enlarged the
scale of the two characters and, as La Fontaine says, my example was
taken 'from lesser animals.' However it be, you do not, I imagine,
suppose that the Baron took offence. Never have I seen him so
ingenuously delighted. A childish excitement made him depart from his
aristocratic phlegm. 'What flatterers all these Sorbonnards are!' he
exclaimed with rapture. 'To think that I should have had to wait until
my age before being compared to Aspasia! An old image like me! Oh, my
youth!' I should like you to have seen him as he said that,
outrageously powdered as he always is, and, at his age, scented like a
young coxcomb. All the same, beneath his genealogical obsessions, the
best fellow in the world. For all these reasons, I should be
distressed were this evening's rupture to prove final. What did
surprise me was the way in which the young man turned upon him. His
manner towards the Baron has been, for some time past, that of a
violent partisan, of a feudal vassal, which scarcely betokened such an
insurrection. I hope that, in any event, even if (_Dii omen
avertant_) the Baron were never to return to Quai Conti, this schism
is not going to involve myself. Each of us derives too much advantage
from the exchange that we make of my feeble stock of learning with his
experience." (We shall see that if M. de Charlus, after having hoped
in vain that Brichot would bring Morel back to him, shewed no violent
rancour against him, at any rate his affection for the Professor
vanished so completely as to allow him to judge him without any
indulgence.) "And I swear to you that the exchange is so much in my
favour that when the Baron yields up to me what his life has taught
him, I am unable to endorse the opinion of Sylvestre Bonnard that a
library is still the best place in which to ponder the dream of life."

We had now reached my door. I got out of the carriage to give the
driver Brichot's address. From the pavement, I could see the window of
Albertine's room, that window, formerly quite black, at night, when
she was not staying in the house, which the electric light inside,
dissected by the slats of the shutters, striped from top to bottom
with parallel bars of gold. This magic scroll, clear as it was to
myself, tracing before my tranquil mind precise images, near at hand,
of which I should presently be taking possession, was completely
invisible to Brichot who had remained in the carriage, almost blind,
and would moreover have been completely incomprehensible to him could
he have seen it, since, like the friends who called upon me before
dinner, when Albertine had returned from her drive, the Professor was
unaware that a girl who was all my own was waiting for me in a bedroom
adjoining mine. The carriage drove on. I remained for a moment alone
upon the pavement. To be sure, these luminous rays which I could see
from below and which to anyone else would have seemed merely
superficial, I endowed with the utmost consistency, plenitude,
solidity, in view of all the significance that I placed behind them,
in a treasure unsuspected by the rest of the world which I had
concealed there and from which those horizontal rays emanated, a
treasure if you like, but a treasure in exchange for which I had
forfeited my freedom, my solitude, my thought. If Albertine had not
been there, and indeed if I had merely been in search of pleasure, I
would have gone to demand it of unknown women, into whose life I
should have attempted to penetrate, at Venice perhaps, or at least in
some corner of nocturnal Paris. But now all that I had to do when the
time came for me to receive caresses, was not to set forth upon a
journey, was not even to leave my own house, but to return there. And
to return there not to find myself alone, and, after taking leave of
the friends who furnished me from outside with food for thought, to
find myself at any rate compelled to seek it in myself, but to be on
the contrary less alone than when I was at the Verdurins', welcomed as
I should be by the person to whom I abdicated, to whom I handed over
most completely my own person, without having for an instant the
leisure to think of myself nor even requiring the effort, since she
would be by my side, to think of her. So that as I raised my eyes to
look for the last time from outside at the window of the room in which
I should presently find myself, I seemed to behold the luminous gates
which were about to close behind me and of which I myself had forged,
for an eternal slavery, the unyielding bars of gold.

Our engagement had assumed the form of a criminal trial and gave
Albertine the timidity of a guilty party. Now she changed the
conversation whenever it turned upon people, men or women, who were
not of mature years. It was when she had not yet suspected that I was
jealous of her that I could have asked her to tell me what I wanted to
know. We ought always to take advantage of that period. It is then
that our mistress tells us of her pleasures and even of the means by
which she conceals them from other people. She would no longer have
admitted to me now as she had admitted at Balbec (partly because it
was true, partly in order to excuse herself for not making her
affection for myself more evident, for I had already begun to weary
her even then, and she had gathered from my kindness to her that she
need not shew it to me as much as to other men in order to obtain more
from me than from them), she would no longer have admitted to me now
as she had admitted then: "I think it stupid to let people see that
one is in love; I'm just the opposite, as soon as a person appeals to
me, I pretend not to take any notice of him. In that way, nobody knows
anything about it."

What, it was the same Albertine of to-day, with her pretensions to
frankness and indifference to all the world who had told me this! She
would never have informed me of such a rule of conduct now! She
contented herself when she was talking to me with applying it, by
saying of somebody or other who might cause me anxiety: "Oh, I don't
know, I never noticed them, they don't count." And from time to time,
to anticipate discoveries which I might make, she would proffer those
confessions which their accent, before one knows the reality which
they are intended to alter, to render innocent, denounces already as
being falsehoods.

Albertine had never told me that she suspected me of being jealous of
her, preoccupied with everything that she did. The only words—and
that, I must add, was long ago—which we had exchanged with regard to
jealousy seemed to prove the opposite. I remembered that, on a fine
moonlight evening, towards the beginning of our intimacy, on one of
the first occasions when I had accompanied her home, and when I would
have been just as glad not to do so and to leave her in order to run
after other girls, I had said to her: "You know, if I am offering to
take you home, it is not from jealousy; if you have anything else to
do, I shall slip discreetly away." And she had replied: "Oh, I know
quite well that you aren't jealous and that it's all the same to you,
but I've nothing else to do except to stay with you." Another occasion
was at la Raspelière, when M. de Charlus, not without casting a covert
glance at Morel, had made a display of friendly gallantry toward
Albertine; I had said to her: "Well, he gave you a good hug, I hope."
And as I had added half ironically: "I suffered all the torments of
jealousy," Albertine, employing the language proper either to the
vulgar class from which she sprang or to that other, more vulgar
still, which she frequented, replied: "What a fusspot you are! I know
quite well you're not jealous. For one thing, you told me so, and
besides, it's perfectly obvious, get along with you!" She had never
told me since then that she had changed her mind; but there must all
the same have developed in her, upon that subject, a number of fresh
ideas, which she concealed from me but which an accident might, in
spite of her, betray, for this evening when, having gone indoors,
after going to fetch her from her own room and taking her to mine, I
had said to her (with a certain awkwardness which I did not myself
understand, for I had indeed told Albertine that I was going to pay a
call, and had said that I did not know where, perhaps upon Mme. de
Villeparisis, perhaps upon Mme. de Guermantes, perhaps upon Mme. de
Cambremer; it is true that I had not actually mentioned the
Verdurins): "Guess where I have been, at the Verdurins'," I had barely
had time to utter the words before Albertine, a look of utter
consternation upon her face, had answered me in words which seemed to
explode of their own accord with a force which she was unable to
contain: "I thought as much." "I didn't know that you would be annoyed
by my going to see the Verdurins." It is true that she did not tell me
that she was annoyed, but that was obvious; it is true also that I had
not said to myself that she would be annoyed. And yet in the face of
the explosion of her wrath, as in the face of those events which a
sort of retrospective second sight makes us imagine that we have
already known in the past, it seemed to me that I could never have
expected anything else. "Annoyed? What do you suppose I care, where
you've been. It's all the same to me. Wasn't Mlle. Vinteuil there?"
Losing all control of myself at these words: "You never told me that
you had met her the other day," I said to her, to shew her that I was
better informed than she knew. Believing that the person whom I
reproached her for having met without telling me was Mme. Verdurin,
and not, as I meant to imply, Mlle. Vinteuil: "Did I meet her?" she
inquired with a pensive air, addressing at once herself as though she
were seeking to collect her fugitive memories and myself as though it
were I that ought to have told her of the meeting; and no doubt in
order that I might say what I knew, perhaps also in order to gain time
before making a difficult response. But I was preoccupied with the
thought of Mlle. Vinteuil, and still more with a dread which had
already entered my mind but which now gripped me in a violent clutch,
the dread that Albertine might be longing for freedom. When I came
home I had supposed that Mme. Verdurin had purely and simply invented,
to enhance her own renown, the story of her having expected Mlle.
Vinteuil and her friend, so that I was quite calm. Albertine, merely
by saying: "Wasn't Mlle. Vinteuil there?" had shewn me that I had not
been mistaken in my original suspicion; but anyhow my mind was set at
rest in that quarter for the future, since by giving up her plan of
visiting the Verdurins' and going instead to the Trocadéro, Albertine
had sacrificed Mlle. Vinteuil. But, at the Trocadéro, from which, for
that matter, she had come away in order to go for a drive with myself,
there had been as a reason to make her leave it the presence of Léa.
As I thought of this I mentioned Léa by name, and Albertine,
distrustful, supposing that I had perhaps heard something more, took
the initiative and exclaimed volubly, not without partly concealing
her face: "I know her quite well; we went last year, some of my
friends and I, to see her act: after the performance we went behind to
her dressing-room, she changed in front of us. It was most
interesting." Then my mind was compelled to relinquish Mlle. Vinteuil
and, in a desperate effort, racing through the abysses of possible
reconstructions, attached itself to the actress, to that evening when
Albertine had gone behind to her dressing-room. On the other hand,
after all the oaths that she had sworn to me, and in so truthful a
tone, after the so complete sacrifice of her freedom, how was I to
suppose that there was any evil in all this affair? And yet, were not
my suspicions feelers pointing in the direction of the truth, since if
she had made me a sacrifice of the Verdurins in order to go to the
Trocadéro, nevertheless at the Verdurins' Mlle. Vinteuil was expected,
and, at the Trocadéro, there had been Léa, who seemed to me to be
disturbing me without cause and whom all the same, in that speech
which I had not demanded of her, she admitted that she had known upon
a larger scale than that of my fears, in circumstances that were
indeed shady? For what could have induced her to go behind like that
to that dressing-room? If I ceased to suffer because of Mlle. Vinteuil
when I suffered because of Léa, those two tormentors of my day, it was
either on account of the inability of my mind to picture too many
scenes at one time, or on account of the interference of my nervous
emotions of which my jealousy was but the echo. I could induce from
them only that she had belonged no more to Léa than to Mlle. Vinteuil
and that I was thinking of Léa only because the thought of her still
caused me pain. But the fact that my twin jealousies were dying
down—to revive now and then, alternately—does not, in any way, mean
that they did not on the contrary correspond each to some truth of
which I had had a foreboding, that of these women I must not say to
myself none, but all. I say a foreboding, for I could not project
myself to all the points of time and space which I should have had to
visit, and besides, what instinct would have given me the coordinate
of one with another necessary to enable me to surprise Albertine,
here, at one moment, with Léa, or with the Balbec girls, or with that
friend of Mme. Bontemps whom she had jostled, or with the girl on the
tennis-court who had nudged her with her elbow, or with Mlle.

I must add that what had appeared to me most serious, and had struck
me as most symptomatic, was that she had forestalled my accusation,
that she had said to me: "Wasn't Mlle. Vinteuil there?" to which I had
replied in the most brutal fashion imaginable: "You never told me that
you had met her." Thus as soon as I found Albertine no longer
obliging, instead of telling her that I was sorry, I became malicious.
There was then a moment in which I felt a sort of hatred of her which
only intensified my need to keep her in captivity.

"Besides," I said to her angrily, "there are plenty of other things
which you hide from me, even the most trivial things, such as for
instance when you went for three days to Balbec, I mention it in
passing." I had added the words "I mention it in passing" as a
complement to "even the most trivial things" so that if Albertine said
to me "What was there wrong about my trip to Balbec?" I might be able
to answer: "Why, I've quite forgotten. I get so confused about the
things people tell me, I attach so little importance to them." And
indeed if I referred to those three days which she had spent in an
excursion with the chauffeur to Balbec, from where her postcards had
reached me after so long an interval, I referred to them purely at
random and regretted that I had chosen so bad an example, for in fact,
as they had barely had time to go there and return, it was certainly
the one excursion in which there had not even been time for the
interpolation of a meeting at all protracted with anybody. But
Albertine supposed, from what I had just said, that I was fully aware
of the real facts, and had merely concealed my knowledge from her; so
she had been convinced, for some time past, that, in one way or
another, I was having her followed, or in short was somehow or other,
as she had said the week before to Andrée, better informed than
herself about her own life. And so she interrupted me with a wholly
futile admission, for certainly I suspected nothing of what she now
told me, and I was on the other hand appalled, so vast can the
disparity be between the truth which a liar has disguised and the idea
which, from her lies, the man who is in love with the said liar has
formed of the truth. Scarcely had I uttered the words: "When you went
for three days to Balbec, I mention it in passing," before Albertine,
cutting me short, declared as a thing that was perfectly natural: "You
mean to say that I never went to Balbec at all? Of course I didn't!
And I have always wondered why you pretended to believe that I had.
All the same, there was no harm in it. The driver had some business of
his own for three days. He didn't like to mention it to you. And so,
out of kindness to him (it was my doing! Besides it is always I that
have to bear the brunt), I invented a trip to Balbec. He simply put me
down at Auteuil, with my friend in the Rue de l'Assomption, where I
spent the three days bored to tears. You see it is not a serious
matter, there's nothing broken. I did indeed begin to suppose that you
perhaps knew all about it, when I saw how you laughed when the
postcards began to arrive, a week late. I quite see that it was
absurd, and that it would have been better not to send any cards. But
that wasn't my fault. I had bought the cards beforehand and given them
to the driver before he dropped me at Auteuil, and then the fathead
put them in his pocket and forgot about them instead of sending them
on in an envelope to a friend of his near Balbec who was to forward
them to you. I kept on supposing that they would turn up. He forgot
all about them for five days, and instead of telling me the idiot sent
them on at once to Balbec. When he did tell me, I fairly broke it over
him, I can tell you! And you go and make a stupid fuss, when it's all
the fault of that great fool, as a reward for my shutting myself up
for three whole days, so that he might go and look after his family
affairs. I didn't even venture to go out into Auteuil for fear of
being seen. The only time that I did go out, I was dressed as a man,
and that was a funny business. And it was just my luck, which follows
me wherever I go, that the first person I came across was your Yid
friend Bloch. But I don't believe it was from him that you learned
that my trip to Balbec never existed except in my imagination, for he
seemed not to recognise me."

I did not know what to say, not wishing to appear astonished, while I
was appalled by all these lies. With a sense of horror, which gave me
no desire to turn Albertine out of the house, far from it, was
combined a strong inclination to burst into tears. This last was
caused not by the lie itself and by the annihilation of everything
that I had so stoutly believed to be true that I felt as though I were
in a town that had been razed to the ground, where not a house
remained standing, where the bare soil was merely heaped with
rubble—but by the melancholy thought that, during those three days
when she had been bored to tears in her friend's house at Auteuil,
Albertine had never once felt any desire, the idea had perhaps never
occurred to her to come and pay me a visit one day on the quiet, or to
send a message asking me to go and see her at Auteuil. But I had not
time to give myself up to these reflexions. Whatever happened, I did
not wish to appear surprised. I smiled with the air of a man who knows
far more than he is going to say: "But that is only one thing out of a
thousand. For instance, you knew that Mlle. Vinteuil was expected at
Mme. Verdurin's, this afternoon when you went to the Trocadéro." She
blushed: "Yes, I knew that." "Can you swear to me that it was not in
order to renew your relations with her that you wanted to go to the
Verdurins'." "Why, of course I can swear. Why do you say renew, I
never had any relations with her, I swear it." I was appalled to hear
Albertine lie to me like this, deny the facts which her blush had made
all too evident. Her mendacity appalled me. And yet, as it contained a
protestation of innocence which, almost unconsciously, I was prepared
to accept, it hurt me less than her sincerity when, after I had asked
her: "Can you at least swear to me that the pleasure of seeing Mlle.
Vinteuil again had nothing to do with your anxiety to go this
afternoon to the Verdurins' party?" she replied: "No, that I cannot
swear. It would have been a great pleasure to see Mlle. Vinteuil
again." A moment earlier, I had been angry with her because she
concealed her relations with Mlle. Vinteuil, and now her admission of
the pleasure that she would have felt in seeing her again turned my
bones to water. For that matter, the mystery in which she had cloaked
her intention of going to see the Verdurins ought to have been a
sufficient proof. But I had not given the matter enough thought.
Although she was now telling me the truth, why did she admit only
half, it was even more stupid than it was wicked and wretched. I was
so crushed that I had not the courage to insist upon this question, as
to which I was not in a strong position, having no damning evidence to
produce, and to recover my ascendancy, I hurriedly turned to a subject
which would enable me to put Albertine to rout: "Listen, only this
evening, at the Verdurins', I learned that what you had told me about
Mlle. Vinteuil...." Albertine gazed at me fixedly with a tormented
air, seeking to read in my eyes how much I knew. Now, what I knew and
what I was about to tell her as to Mlle. Vinteuil's true nature, it
was true that it was not at the Verdurins' that I had learned it, but
at Montjouvain long ago. Only, as I had always refrained,
deliberately, from mentioning it to Albertine, I could now appear to
have learned it only this evening. And I could almost feel a
joy—after having felt, on the little tram, so keen an anguish—at
possessing this memory of Montjouvain, which I postdated, but which
would nevertheless be the unanswerable proof, a crushing blow to
Albertine. This time at least, I had no need to "seem to know" and to
"make Albertine speak"; I did know, I had seen through the lighted
window at Montjouvain. It had been all very well for Albertine to tell
me that her relations with Mlle. Vinteuil and her friend had been
perfectly pure, how could she when I swore to her (and swore without
lying) that I knew the habits of these two women, how could she
maintain any longer that, having lived in a daily intimacy with them,
calling them "my big sisters," she had not been approached by them
with suggestions which would have made her break with them, if on the
contrary she had not complied? But I had no time to tell her what I
knew. Albertine, imagining, as in the case of the pretended excursion
to Balbec, that I had learned the truth, either from Mlle. Vinteuil,
if she had been at the Verdurins', or simply from Mme. Verdurin
herself who might have mentioned her to Mlle. Vinteuil, did not allow
me to speak but made a confession, the exact opposite of what I had
supposed, which nevertheless, by shewing me that she had never ceased
to lie to me, caused me perhaps just as much grief (especially since I
was no longer, as I said a moment ago, jealous of Mlle. Vinteuil); in
short, taking the words out of my mouth, Albertine proceeded to say:
"You mean to tell me that you found out this evening that I lied to
you when I pretended that I had been more or less brought up by Mlle.
Vinteuil's friend. It is true that I did lie to you a little. But I
felt that you despised me so, I saw too that you were so keen upon
that man Vinteuil's music that as one of my school friends—this is
true, I swear to you—had been a friend of Mlle. Vinteuil's friend, I
stupidly thought that I might make myself seem interesting to you by
inventing the story that I had known the girls quite well. I felt that
I was boring you, that you thought me a goose, I thought that if I
told you that those people used to see a lot of me, that I could
easily tell you all sorts of things about Vinteuil's work, I should
acquire a little importance in your eyes, that it would draw us
together. When I lie to you, it is always out of affection for you.
And it needed this fatal Verdurin party to open your eyes to the
truth, which has been a bit exaggerated besides. I bet, Mlle.
Vinteuil's friend told you that she did not know me. She met me at
least twice at my friend's house. But of course, I am not smart enough
for people like that who have become celebrities. They prefer to say
that they have never met me." Poor Albertine, when she imagined that
to tell me that she had been so intimate with Mlle. Vinteuil's friend
would postpone her own dismissal, would draw her nearer to me, she
had, as so often happens, attained the truth by a different road from
that which she had intended to take. Her shewing herself better
informed about music than I had supposed would never have prevented me
from breaking with her that evening, on the little tram; and yet it
was indeed that speech, which she had made with that object, which had
immediately brought about far more than the impossibility of a
rupture. Only she made an error in her interpretation, not of the
effect which that speech was to have, but of the cause by virtue of
which it was to produce that effect, a cause which was my discovery
not of her musical culture, but of her evil associations. What had
abruptly drawn me to her, what was more, merged me in her was not the
expectation of a pleasure—and pleasure is too strong a word, a slight
interest—it was a wringing grief.

Once again I had to be careful not to keep too long a silence which
might have led her to suppose that I was surprised. And so, touched by
the discovery that she was so modest and had thought herself despised
in the Verdurin circle, I said to her tenderly: "But, my darling, I
would gladly give you several hundred francs to let you go and play
the fashionable lady wherever you please and invite M. and Mme.
Verdurin to a grand dinner." Alas! Albertine was several persons in
one. The most mysterious, most simple, most atrocious revealed herself
in the answer which she made me with an air of disgust and the exact
words to tell the truth I could not quite make out (even the opening
words, for she did not finish her sentence). I succeeded in
establishing them only a little later when I had guessed what was in
her mind. We hear things retrospectively when we have understood them.
"Thank you for nothing! Fancy spending a cent upon those old frumps,
I'd a great deal rather you left me alone for once in a way so that I
can go and get some one decent to break my...." As she uttered the
words, her face flushed crimson, a look of terror came to her eyes,
she put her hand over her mouth as though she could have thrust back
the words which she had just uttered and which I had completely failed
to understand. "What did you say, Albertine?" "No, nothing, I was half
asleep and talking to myself." "Not a bit of it, you were wide awake."
"I was thinking about asking the Verdurins to dinner, it is very good
of you." "No, I mean what you said just now." She gave me endless
versions, none of which agreed in the least, I do not say with her
words which, being interrupted, remained vague, but with the
interruption itself and the sudden flush that had accompanied it.
"Come, my darling, that is not what you were going to say, otherwise
why did you stop short." "Because I felt that my request was
indiscreet." "What request?" "To be allowed to give a dinner-party."
"No, it is not that, there is no need of discretion between you and
me." "Indeed there is, we ought never to take advantage of the people
we love. In any case, I swear to you that that was all." On the one
hand it was still impossible for me to doubt her sworn word, on the
other hand her explanations did not satisfy my critical spirit. I
continued to press her. "Anyhow, you might at least have the courage
to finish what you were saying, you stopped short at _break_." "No,
leave me alone!" "But why?" "Because it is dreadfully vulgar, I should
be ashamed to say such a thing in front of you. I don't know what I
was thinking of, the words—I don't even know what they mean, I heard
them used in the street one day by some very low people—just came to
my lips without rhyme or reason. It had nothing to do with me or
anybody else, I was simply dreaming aloud." I felt that I should
extract nothing more from Albertine. She had lied to me when she had
sworn, a moment ago, that what had cut her short had been a social
fear of being indiscreet, since it had now become the shame of letting
me hear her use a vulgar expression. Now this was certainly another
lie. For when we were alone together there was no speech too perverse,
no word too coarse for us to utter among our embraces. Anyhow, it was
useless to insist at that moment. But my memory remained obsessed by
the word "break." Albertine frequently spoke of 'breaking sticks' or
'breaking sugar' over some one, or would simply say: "Ah! I fairly
broke it over him!" meaning "I fairly gave it to him!" But she would
say this quite freely in my presence, and if it was this that she had
meant to say, why had she suddenly stopped short, why had she blushed
so deeply, placed her hands over her mouth, given a fresh turn to her
speech, and, when she saw that I had heard the word 'break,' offered a
false explanation. But as soon as I had abandoned the pursuit of an
interrogation from which I received no response, the only thing to do
was to appear to have lost interest in the matter, and, retracing my
thoughts to Albertine's reproaches of me for having gone to the
Mistress's, I said to her, very awkwardly, making indeed a sort of
stupid excuse for my conduct: "Why, I had been meaning to ask you to
come to the Verdurins' party this evening," a speech that was doubly
maladroit, for if I meant it, since I had been with her all the day,
why should I not have made the suggestion? Furious at my lie and
emboldened by my timidity: "You might have gone on asking me for a
thousand years," she said, "I would never have consented. They are
people who have always been against me, they have done everything they
could to upset me. There was nothing I didn't do for Mme. Verdurin at
Balbec, and I've been finely rewarded. If she summoned me to her
deathbed, I wouldn't go. There are some things which it is impossible
to forgive. As for you, it's the first time you've treated me badly.
When Françoise told me that you had gone out (she enjoyed telling me
that, I don't think), you might have knocked me down with a feather. I
tried not to shew any sign, but never in my life have I been so
insulted." While she was speaking, there continued in myself, in the
thoroughly alive and creative sleep of the unconscious (a sleep in
which the things that barely touch us succeed in carving an
impression, in which our hands take hold of the key that turns the
lock, the key for which we have sought in vain), the quest of what it
was that she had meant by that interrupted speech the end of which I
was so anxious to know. And all of a sudden an appalling word, of
which I had never dreamed, burst upon me: 'pot.' I cannot say that it
came to me in a single flash, as when, in a long passive submission to
an incomplete memory, while we try gently, cautiously, to draw it out,
we remain fastened, glued to it. No, in contrast to the ordinary
process of my memory, there were, I think, two parallel quests; the
first took into account not merely Albertine's words, but her look of
extreme annoyance when I had offered her a sum of money with which to
give a grand dinner, a look which seemed to say: "Thank you, the idea
of spending money upon things that bore me, when without money I could
do things that I enjoy doing!" And it was perhaps the memory of this
look that she had given me which made me alter my method in
discovering the end of her unfinished sentence. Until then I had been
hypnotised by her last word: 'break,' she had meant to say break what?
Break wood? No. Sugar? No. Break, break, break. And all at once the
look that she had given me at the moment of my suggestion that she
should give a dinner-party, turned me back to the words that had
preceded. And immediately I saw that she had not said 'break' but 'get
some one to break.' Horror! It was this that she would have preferred.
Twofold horror! For even the vilest of prostitutes, who consents to
that sort of thing, or desires it, does not employ to the man who
yields to her desires that appalling expression. She would feel the
degradation too great. To a woman alone, if she loves women, she says
this, as an excuse for giving herself presently to a man. Albertine
had not been lying when she told me that she was speaking in a dream.
Distracted, impulsive, not realising that she was with me, she had,
with a shrug of her shoulders, begun to speak as she would have spoken
to one of those women, to one, perhaps, of my young budding girls.
And abruptly recalled to reality, crimson with shame, thrusting back
between her lips what she was going to say, plunged in despair, she
had refused to utter another word. I had not a moment to lose if I was
not to let her see how desperate I was. But already, after my sudden
burst of rage, the tears came to my eyes. As at Balbec, on the night
that followed her revelation of her friendship with the Vinteuil pair,
I must immediately invent a plausible excuse for my grief, and one
that was at the same time capable of creating so profound an effect
upon Albertine as to give me a few days' respite before I came to a
decision. And so, at the moment when she told me that she had never
received such an insult as that which I had inflicted upon her by
going out, that she would rather have died than hear Françoise tell
her of my departure, when, as though irritated by her absurd
susceptibility, I was on the point of telling her that what I had done
was nothing, that there was nothing that could offend her in my going
out—as, during these moments, moving on a parallel course, my
unconscious quest for what she had meant to say after the word 'break'
had proved successful, and the despair into which my discovery flung
me could not be completely hidden, instead of defending, I accused
myself. "My little Albertine," I said to her in a gentle voice which
was drowned in my first tears, "I might tell you that you are
mistaken, that what I did this evening is nothing, but I should be
lying; it is you that are right, you have realised the truth, my poor
child, which is that six months ago, three months ago, when I was
still so fond of you, never would I have done such a thing. It is a
mere nothing, and it is enormous, because of the immense change in my
heart of which it is the sign. And since you have detected this change
which I hoped to conceal from you, that leads me on to tell you this:
My little Albertine" (and here I addressed her with a profound
gentleness and melancholy), "don't you see, the life that you are
leading here is boring to you, it is better that we should part, and
as the best partings are those that are ended at once, I ask you, to
cut short the great sorrow that I am bound to feel, to bid me good-bye
to-night and to leave in the morning without my seeing you again,
while I am asleep." She appeared stupefied, still incredulous and
already disconsolate: "To-morrow? You really mean it?" And
notwithstanding the anguish that I felt in speaking of our parting as
though it were already in the past—partly perhaps because of that
very anguish—I began to give Albertine the most precise instructions
as to certain things which she would have to do after she left the
house. And passing from one request to another, I soon found myself
entering into the minutest details. "Be so kind," I said, with
infinite melancholy, "as to send me back that book of Bergotte's which
is at your aunt's. There is no hurry about it, in three days, in a
week, whenever you like, but remember that I don't want to have to
write and ask you for it, that would be too painful. We have been
happy together, we feel now that we should be unhappy." "Don't say
that we feel that we should be unhappy," Albertine interrupted me,
"don't say 'we,' it is only you who feel that." "Yes, very well, you
or I, as you like, for one reason or another. But it is absurdly late,
you must go to bed—we have decided to part to-night." "Pardon me, you
have decided, and I obey you because I do not wish to cause you any
trouble." "Very well, it is I who have decided, but that makes it none
the less painful for me. I do not say that it will be painful for
long, you know that I have not the faculty of remembering things for
long, but for the first few days I shall be so miserable without you.
And so I feel that it will be useless to revive the memory with
letters, we must end everything at once." "Yes, you are right," she
said to me with a crushed air, which was enhanced by the strain of
fatigue upon her features due to the lateness of the hour; "rather
than have one finger chopped off, then another, I prefer to lay my
head on the block at once." "Heavens, I am appalled when I think how
late I am keeping you out of bed, it is madness. However, it's the
last night! You will have plenty of time to sleep for the rest of
your life." And as I suggested to her thus that it was time to say
good night I sought to postpone the moment when she would have said
it. "Would you like me, as a distraction during the first few days, to
tell Bloch to send his cousin Esther to the place where you will be
staying, he will do that for me." "I don't know why you say that" (I
had said it in an endeavour to wrest a confession from Albertine);
"there is only one person for whom I care, which is yourself,"
Albertine said to me, and her words filled me with comfort. But, the
next moment, what a blow she dealt me!"I remember, of course, that I
did give Esther my photograph because she kept on asking me for it and
I saw that she would like to have it, but as for feeling any liking
for her or wishing ever to see her again...." And yet Albertine was of
so frivolous a nature that she went on: "If she wants to see me, it is
all the same to me, she is very nice, but I don't care in the least
either way." And so when I had spoken to her of the photograph of
Esther which Bloch had sent me (and which I had not even received when
I mentioned it to Albertine) my mistress had gathered that Bloch had
shewn me a photograph of herself, given by her to Esther. In my worst
suppositions, I had never imagined that any such intimacy could have
existed between Albertine and Esther. Albertine had found no words in
which to answer me when I spoke of the photograph. And now, supposing
me, wrongly, to be in the know, she thought it better to confess. I
was appalled. "And, Albertine, let me ask you to do me one more
favour, never attempt to see me again. If at any time, as may happen
in a year, in two years, in three years, we should find ourselves in
the same town, keep away from me." Then, seeing that she did not reply
in the affirmative to my prayer: "My Albertine, never see me again in
this world. It would hurt me too much. For I was really fond of you,
you know. Of course, when I told you the other day that I wanted to
see the friend again whom I mentioned to you at Balbec, you thought
that it was all settled. Not at all, I assure you, it was quite
immaterial to me. You were convinced that I had long made up my mind
to leave you, that my affection was all make-believe." "No indeed, you
are mad, I never thought so," she said sadly. "You are right, you must
never think so, I did genuinely feel for you, not love perhaps, but a
great, a very great affection, more than you can imagine." "I can,
indeed. And do you suppose that I don't love you!" "It hurts me
terribly to have to give you up." "It hurts me a thousand times more,"
replied Albertine. A moment earlier I had felt that I could no longer
restrain the tears that came welling up in my eyes. And these tears
did not spring from at all the same sort of misery which I had felt
long ago when I said to Gilberte: "It is better that we should not see
one another again, life is dividing us." No doubt when I wrote this to
Gilberte, I said to myself that when I should be in love not with her
but with another, the excess of my love would diminish that which I
might perhaps have been able to inspire, as though two people must
inevitably have only a certain quantity of love at their disposal; of
which the surplus taken by one is subtracted from the other, and that
from her too, as from Gilberte, I should be doomed to part. But the
situation was entirely different for several reasons, the first of
which (and it had, in its turn, given rise to the others) was that the
lack of will-power which my grandmother and mother had observed in me
with alarm, at Combray, and before which each of them, so great is the
energy with which a sick man imposes his weakness upon others, had
capitulated in turn, this lack of will-power had gone on increasing at
an ever accelerated pace. When I felt that my company was boring
Gilberte, I had still enough strength left to give her up; I had no
longer the same strength when I had made a similar discovery with
regard to Albertine, and could think only of keeping her at any cost
to myself. With the result that, whereas I wrote to Gilberte that I
would not see her again, meaning quite sincerely not to see her, I
said this to Albertine as a pure falsehood, and in the hope of
bringing about a reconciliation. Thus we presented each to the other
an appearance which was widely different from the reality. And no
doubt it is always so when two people stand face to face, since each
of them is ignorant of a part of what exists in the other (even what
he knows, he can understand only in part) and since both of them
display what is the least personal thing about them, whether because
they have not explored themselves and regard as negligible what is
most important, or because insignificant advantages which have no
place in themselves seem to them more important and more flattering.
But in love this misunderstanding is carried to its supreme pitch
because, except perhaps when we are children, we endeavour to make the
appearance that we assume, rather than reflect exactly what is in our
mind, be what our mind considers best adapted to enable us to obtain
what we desire, which in my case, since my return to the house, was to
be able to keep Albertine as docile as she had been in the past, was
that she should not in her irritation ask me for a greater freedom,
which I intended to give her one day, but which at this moment, when I
was afraid of her cravings for independence, would have made me too
jealous. After a certain age, from self-esteem and from sagacity, it
is to the things which we most desire that we pretend to attach no
importance. But in love, our mere sagacity—which for that matter is
probably not the true wisdom—forces us speedily enough to this genius
for duplicity. All that I had dreamed, as a boy, to be the sweetest
thing in love, what had seemed to me to be the very essence of love,
was to pour out freely, before the feet of her whom I loved, my
affection, my gratitude for her kindness, my longing for a perpetual
life together. But I had become only too well aware, from my own
experience and from that of my friends, that the expression of such
sentiments is far from being contagious. Once we have observed this,
we no longer 'let ourself go'; I had taken good care in the afternoon
not to tell Albertine how grateful I was to her that she had not
remained at the Trocadéro. And to-night, having been afraid that she
might leave me, I had feigned a desire to part from her, a feint which
for that matter was not suggested to me merely by the enlightenment
which I supposed myself to have received from my former loves and was
seeking to bring to the service of this.

The fear that Albertine was perhaps going to say to me: "I wish to be
allowed to go out by myself at certain hours, I wish to be able to
stay away for a night," in fact any request of that sort, which I did
not attempt to define, but which alarmed me, this fear had entered my
mind for a moment before and during the Verdurins' party. But it had
been dispelled, contradicted moreover by the memory of how Albertine
assured me incessantly how happy she was with me. The intention to
leave me, if it existed in Albertine, was made manifest only in an
obscure fashion, in certain sorrowful glances, certain gestures of
impatience, speeches which meant nothing of the sort, but which, if
one analysed them (and there was not even any need of analysis, for we
can immediately detect the language of passion, the lower orders
themselves understand these speeches which can be explained only by
vanity, rancour, jealousy, unexpressed as it happens, but revealing
itself at once to the listener by an intuitive faculty which, like the
'good sense' of which Descartes speaks, is the most widespread thing
in the world), revealed the presence in her of a sentiment which she
concealed and which might lead her to form plans for another life
apart from myself. Just as this intention was not expressed in her
speech in a logical fashion, so the presentiment of this intention,
which I had felt tonight, remained just as vague in myself. I
continued to live by the hypothesis which admitted as true everything
that Albertine told me. But it may be that in myself, during this
time, a wholly contrary hypothesis, of which I refused to think, never
left me; this is all the more probable since, otherwise, I should have
felt no hesitation in telling Albertine that I had been to the
Verdurins', and, indeed, my want of astonishment at her anger would
not have been comprehensible. So that what probably existed in me was
the idea of an Albertine entirely opposite to that which my reason
formed of her, to that also which her own speech portrayed, an
Albertine that all the same was not wholly invented, since she was
like a prophetic mirror of certain impulses that occurred in her, such
as her ill humour at my having gone to the Verdurins'. Besides, for a
long time past, my frequent anguish, my fear of telling Albertine that
I loved her, all this corresponded to another hypothesis which
explained many things besides, and had also this to be said for it,
that, if one adopted the first hypothesis, the second became more
probable, for by allowing myself to give way to effusive tenderness
for Albertine, I obtained from her nothing but irritation (to which
moreover she assigned a different cause).

If I analyse my feelings by this hypothesis, by the invariable system
of retorts expressing the exact opposite of what I was feeling, I can
be quite certain that if, to-night, I told her that I was going to
send her away, it was—at first, quite unconsciously—because I was
afraid that she might desire her freedom (I should have been put to it
to say what this freedom was that made me tremble, but anyhow some
state of freedom in which she would have been able to deceive me, or,
at least, I should no longer have been able to be certain that she was
not) and wished to shew her, from pride, from cunning, that I was very
far from fearing anything of the sort, as I had done already, at
Balbec, when I was anxious that she should have a good opinion of me,
and later on, when I was anxious that she should not have time to feel
bored with me. In short, the objection that might be offered to this
second hypothesis—which I did not formulate,—that everything that
Albertine said to me indicated on the contrary that the life which she
preferred was the life in my house, resting, reading, solitude, a
loathing of Sapphic loves, and so forth, meed not be considered
seriously. For if on her part Albertine had chosen to interpret my
feelings from what I said to her, she would have learned the exact
opposite of the truth, since I never expressed a desire to part from
her except when I was unable to do without her, and at Balbec I had
confessed to her that I was in love with another woman, first Andrée,
then a mysterious stranger, on the two occasions on which jealousy had
revived my love for Albertine. My words, therefore, did not in the
least reflect my sentiments. If the reader has no more than a faint
impression of these, that is because, as narrator, I reveal my
sentiments to him at the same time as I repeat my words. But if I
concealed the former and he were acquainted only with the latter, my
actions, so little in keeping with my speech, would so often give him
the impression of strange revulsions of feeling that he would think me
almost mad. A procedure which would not, for that matter, be much more
false than that which I have adopted, for the images which prompted me
to action, so opposite to those which were portrayed in my speech,
were at that moment extremely obscure; I was but imperfectly aware of
the nature which guided my actions; at present, I have a clear
conception of its subjective truth. As for its objective truth, that
is to say whether the inclinations of that nature grasped more exactly
than my reason Albertine's true intentions, whether I was right to
trust to that nature or on the contrary it did not corrupt Albertine's
intentions instead of making them plain, that I find difficult to say.
That vague fear which I had felt at the Verdurins' that Albertine
might leave me had been at once dispelled. When I returned home, it
had been with the feeling that I myself was a captive, not with that
of finding a captive in the house. But the dispelled fear had gripped
me all the more violently when, at the moment of my informing
Albertine that I had been to the Verdurins', I saw her face veiled
with a look of enigmatic irritation which moreover was not making
itself visible for the first time. I knew quite well that it was only
the crystallisation in the flesh of reasoned complaints, of ideas
clear to the person who forms and does not express them, a synthesis
rendered visible but not therefore rational, which the man who gathers
its precious residue from the face of his beloved, endeavours in his
turn, so that he may understand what is occurring in her, to reduce by
analysis to its intellectual elements. The approximate equation of
that unknown quantity which Albertine's thoughts were to me, had given
me, more or less: "I knew his suspicions, I was sure that he would
attempt to verify them, and so that I might not hinder him, he has
worked out his little plan in secret." But if this was the state of
mind (and she had never expressed it to me) in which Albertine was
living, must she not regard with horror, find the strength fail her to
carry on, might she not at any moment decide to terminate an existence
in which, if she was, in desire at any rate, guilty, she must feel
herself exposed, tracked down, prevented from ever yielding to her
instincts, without thereby disarming my jealousy, and if innocent in
intention and fact, she had had every right, for some time past, to
feel discouraged, seeing that never once, from Balbec, where she had
shewn so much perseverance in avoiding the risk of her ever being left
alone with Andrée, until this very day when she had agreed not to go
to the Verdurins' and not to stay at the Trocadéro, had she succeeded
in regaining my confidence. All the more so as I could not say that
her behaviour was not exemplary. If at Balbec, when anyone mentioned
girls who had a bad style, she used often to copy their laughter,
their wrigglings, their general manner, which was a torture to me
because of what I supposed that it must mean to her girl friends, now
that she knew my opinion on the subject, as soon as anyone made an
allusion to things of that sort, she ceased to take part in the
conversation, not only in speech but with the expression on her face.
Whether it was in order not to contribute her share to the slanders
that were being uttered about some woman or other, or for a quite
different reason, the only thing that was noticeable then, upon those
so mobile features, was that from the moment in which the topic was
broached they had made their inattention evident, while preserving
exactly the same expression that they had worn a moment earlier. And
this immobility of even a light expression was as heavy as a silence;
it would have been impossible to say that she blamed, that she
approved, that she knew or did not know about these things. None of
her features bore any relation to anything save another feature. Her
nose, her mouth, her eyes formed a perfect harmony, isolated from
everything else; she looked like a pastel, and seemed to have no more
heard what had just been said than if it had been uttered in front of
a portrait by Latour.

My serfdom, of which I had already been conscious when, as I gave the
driver Brichot's address, I caught sight of the light in her window,
had ceased to weigh upon me shortly afterwards, when I saw that
Albertine appeared so cruelly conscious of her own. And in order that
it might seem to her less burdensome, that she might not decide to
break her bonds of her own accord, I had felt that the most effective
plan was to give her the impression that it would not be permanent and
that I myself was looking forward to its termination. Seeing that my
feint had proved successful, I might well have thought myself
fortunate, in the first place because what I had so greatly dreaded,
Albertine's determination (as I supposed) to leave me, was shewn to be
non-existent, and secondly, because, quite apart from the object that
I had had in mind, the very success of my feint, by proving that I was
something more to Albertine than a scorned lover, whose jealousy is
flouted, all of his ruses detected in advance, endowed our love afresh
with a sort of virginity, revived for it the days in which she could
still, at Balbec, so readily believe that I was in love with another
woman. For she would probably not have believed that any longer, but
she was taking seriously my feigned determination to part from her now
and for ever. She appeared to suspect that the cause of our parting
might be something that had happened at the Verdurins'. Feeling a need
to soothe the anxiety into which I was worked by my pretence of a
rupture, I said to her: "Albertine, can you swear that you have never
lied to me?" She gazed fixedly into the air before replying: "Yes,
that is to say no. I ought not to have told you that Andrée was
greatly taken with Bloch, we never met him." "Then why did you say
so?" "Because I was afraid that you had believed other stories about
her, that's all." I told her that I had met a dramatist who was a
great friend of Léa, and to whom Léa had told some strange things. I
hoped by telling her this to make her suppose that I knew a great deal
more than I cared to say about Bloch's cousin's friend. She stared
once again into vacancy and then said: "I ought not, when I spoke to
you just now about Léa, to have kept from you a three weeks' trip that
I took with her once. But I knew you so slightly in those days!" "It
was before Balbec?" "Before the second time, yes." And that very
morning, she had told me that she did not know Léa, and, only a moment
ago, that she had met her once only in her dressing-room! I watched a
tongue of flame seize and devour in an instant a romance which I had
spent millions of minutes in writing. To what end? To what end? Of
course I understood that Albertine had revealed these facts to me
because she thought that I had learned them indirectly from Léa; and
that there was no reason why a hundred similar facts should not exist.
I realised thus that Albertine's utterances, when one interrogated
her, did not ever contain an atom of truth, that the truth she allowed
to escape only in spite of herself, as though by a sudden combination
in her mind of the facts which she had previously been determined to
conceal with the belief that I had been informed of them. "But two
things are nothing," I said to Albertine, "let us have as many as
four, so that you may leave me some memories of you. What other
revelations have you got for me?" Once again she stared into vacancy.
To what belief in a future life was she adapting her falsehood, with
what Gods less unstable than she had supposed was she seeking to ally
herself? This cannot have been an easy matter, for her silence and the
fixity of her gaze continued for some time. "No, nothing else," she
said at length. And, notwithstanding my persistence, she adhered,
easily now, to "nothing else." And what a lie! For, from the moment
when she had acquired those tastes until the day when she had been
shut up in my house, how many times, in how many places, on how many
excursions must she have gratified them! The daughters of Gomorrah are
at once so rare and so frequent that, in any crowd of people, one does
not pass unperceived by the other. From that moment a meeting becomes

I remembered with horror an evening which at the time had struck me as
merely absurd. One of my friends had invited me to dine at a
restaurant with his mistress and another of his friends who had also
brought his own. The two women were not long in coming to an
understanding, but were so impatient to enjoy one another that, with
the soup, their feet were searching for one another, often finding
mine. Presently their legs were interlaced. My two friends noticed
nothing; I was on tenterhooks. One of the women, who could contain
herself no longer, stooped under the table, saying that she had
dropped something. Then one of them complained of a headache and asked
to go upstairs to the lavatory. The other discovered that it was time
for her to go and meet a woman friend at the theatre. Finally I was
left alone with my two friends who suspected nothing. The lady with
the headache reappeared, but begged to be allowed to go home by
herself to wait for her lover at his house, so that she might take a
dose of antipyrin. They became great friends, used to go about
together, one of them, dressed as a man, picking up little girls and
taking them to the other, initiating them. One of them had a little
boy who, she pretended, was troublesome, and handed him over for
punishment to her friend, who set to work with a strong arm. One may
say that there was no place, however public, in which they did not do
what is most secret.

"But Léa behaved perfectly properly with me all the time," Albertine
told me. "She was indeed a great deal more reserved than plenty of
society women." "Are there any society women who have shewn a want of
reserve with you, Albertine?" "Never." "Then what do you mean?" "O,
well, she was less free in her speech." "For instance?" "She would
never, like many of the women you meet, have used the expression
'rotten,' or say: 'I don't care a damn for anybody.'" It seemed to me
that a part of the romance which the flames had so far spared was
crumbling at length in ashes.

My discouragement might have persisted. Albertine's words, when I
thought of them, made it give place to a furious rage. This succumbed
to a sort of tender emotion. I also, when I came home and declared
that I wished to break with her, had been lying. And this desire for a
parting, which I had feigned with perseverance, gradually affected me
with some of the misery which I should have felt if I had really
wished to part from Albertine.

Besides, even when I thought in fits and starts, in twinges, as we say
of other bodily pains, of that orgiastic life which Albertine had led
before she met me, I admired all the more the docility of my captive
and ceased to feel any resentment.

No doubt, never, during our life together, had I failed to let
Albertine know that such a life would in all probability be merely
temporary, so that Albertine might continue to find some charm in it.
But to-night I had gone further, having feared that vague threats of
separation were no longer sufficient, contradicted as they would
doubtless be, in Albertine's mind, by her idea of a strong and jealous
love of her, which must have made me, she seemed to imply, go in quest
of information to the Verdurins'.

To-night I thought that, among the other reasons which might have made
me decide of a sudden, without even realising except as I went on what
I was doing, to enact this scene of rupture, there was above all the
fact that, when, in one of those impulses to which my father was
liable, I threatened another person in his security, as I had not,
like him, the courage to carry a threat into practice, in order not to
let it be supposed that it had been but empty words, I would go to a
considerable length in pretending to carry out my threat and would
recoil only when my adversary, having had a genuine illusion of my
sincerity, had begun seriously to tremble. Besides, in these lies, we
feel that there is indeed a grain of truth, that, if life does not
bring any alteration of our loves, it is ourselves who will seek to
bring or to feign one, so strongly do we feel that all love, and
everything else evolves rapidly towards a farewell. We would like to
shed the tears that it will bring long before it comes. No doubt there
had been, on this occasion, in the scene that I had enacted, a
practical value. I had suddenly determined to keep Albertine because I
felt that she was distributed among other people whom I could not
prevent her from joining. But had she renounced them all finally for
myself, I should have been all the more firmly determined never to let
her go, for a parting is, by jealousy, rendered cruel, but, by
gratitude, impossible. I felt that in any case I was fighting the
decisive battle in which I must conquer or fall. I would have offered
Albertine in an hour all that I possessed, because I said to myself:
"Everything depends upon this battle, but such battles are less like
those of old days which lasted for a few hours than a battle of to-day
which does not end on the morrow, nor on the day after, nor in the
following week. We give all our strength, because we steadfastly
believe that we shall never need any strength again. And more than a
year passes without bringing a 'decisive' victory. Perhaps an
unconscious reminiscence of lying scenes enacted by M. de Charlus, in
whose company I was when the fear of Albertine's leaving me had seized
hold of me, was added to the rest. But, later on, I heard my mother
say something of which I was then unaware and which leads me to
believe that I found all the elements of this scene in myself, in
those obscure reserves of heredity which certain emotions, acting in
this respect as, upon the residue of our stored-up strength, drugs
such as alcohol and coffee act, place at our disposal. When my aunt
Léonie learned from Eulalie that Françoise, convinced that her
mistress would never again leave the house, had secretly planned some
outing of which my aunt was to know nothing, she, the day before,
would pretend to have made up her mind that she would attempt an
excursion on the morrow. The incredulous Françoise was ordered not
only to prepare my aunt's clothes beforehand, to give an airing to
those that had been put away for too long, but to order a carriage, to
arrange, to within a quarter of an hour, all the details of the day.
It was only when Françoise, convinced or at any rate shaken, had been
forced to confess to my aunt the plan that she herself had formed,
that my aunt would publicly abandon her own, so as not, she said, to
interfere with Françoise's arrangements. Similarly, so that Albertine
might not believe that I was exaggerating and to make her proceed as
far as possible in the idea that we were to part, drawing myself the
obvious deductions from the proposal that I had advanced, I had begun
to anticipate the time which was to begin on the morrow and was to
last for ever, the time in which we should be parted, addressing to
Albertine the same requests as if we were not to be reconciled almost
immediately. Like a general who considers that if a feint is to
succeed in deceiving the enemy it must be pushed to extremes, I had
employed in this feint almost as much of my store of sensibility as if
it had been genuine. This fictitious parting scene ended by causing me
almost as much grief as if it had been real, possibly because one of
the actors, Albertine, by believing it to be real, had enhanced the
other's illusion. While we were living, from day to day, in a day
which, even if painful, was still endurable, held down to earth by the
ballast of habit and by that certainty that the morrow, should it
prove a day of torment, would contain the presence of the person who
is all in all, here was I stupidly destroying all that oppressive
life. I was destroying it, it is true, only in a fictitious fashion,
but this was enough to make me wretched; perhaps because the sad words
which we utter, even when we are lying, carry in themselves their
sorrow and inject it deeply into us; perhaps because we do not realise
that, by feigning farewells, we evoke by anticipation an hour which
must inevitably come later on; then we cannot be certain that we have
not released the mechanism which will make it strike. In every bluff
there is an element, however small, of uncertainty as to what the
person whom we are deceiving is going to do. If this make-believe of
parting should lead to a parting! We cannot consider the possibility,
however unlikely it may seem, without a clutching of the heart. We
are doubly anxious, because the parting would then occur at the moment
when it would be intolerable, when we had been made to suffer by the
woman who would be leaving us before she had healed, or at least
appeased us. In short, we have no longer the solid ground of habit
upon which we rest, even in our sorrow. We have deliberately deprived
ourselves of it, we have given the present day an exceptional
importance, have detached it from the days before and after it; it
floats without roots like a day of departure; our imagination ceasing
to be paralysed by habit has awakened, we have suddenly added to our
everyday love sentimental dreams which enormously enhance it, make
indispensable to us a presence upon which, as a matter of fact, we are
no longer certain that we can rely. No doubt it is precisely in order
to assure ourselves of that presence for the future that we have
indulged in the make-believe of being able to dispense with it. But
this make-believe, we have ourselves been taken in by it, we have
begun to suffer afresh because we have created something new,
unfamiliar which thus resembles those cures that are destined in time
to heal the malady from which we are suffering, but the first effects
of which are to aggravate it.

I had tears in my eyes, like the people who, alone in their bedrooms,
imagining, in the wayward course of their meditations, the death of
some one whom they love, form so detailed a picture of the grief that
they would feel that they end by feeling it. And so as I multiplied my
advice to Albertine as to the way in which she would have to behave in
relation to myself after we had parted, I seemed to be feeling almost
as keen a distress as though we had not been on the verge of a
reconciliation. Besides, was I so certain that I could bring about
this reconciliation, bring Albertine back to the idea of a life shared
with myself, and, if I succeeded for the time being, that in her, the
state of mind which this scene had dispelled would not revive? I felt
myself, but did not believe myself to be master of the future, because
I realised that this sensation was due merely to the fact that the
future did not yet exist, and that thus I was not crushed by its
inevitability. In short, while I lied, I was perhaps putting into my
words more truth than I supposed. I had just had an example of this,
when I told Albertine that I should quickly forget her; this was what
had indeed happened to me in the case of Gilberte, whom I now
refrained from going to see in order to escape not a grief but an
irksome duty. And certainly I had been grieved when I wrote to
Gilberte that I would not come any more, and I had gone to see her
only occasionally. Whereas the whole of Albertine's time belonged to
me, and in love it is easier to relinquish a sentiment than to lose a
habit. But all these painful words about our parting, if the strength
to utter them had been given me because I knew them to be untrue, were
on the other hand sincere upon Albertine's lips when I heard her
exclaim: "Ah! I promise, I will never see you again. Anything sooner
than see you cry like that, my darling. I do not wish to cause you any
grief. Since it must be, we will never meet again." They were sincere,
as they could not have been coming from me, because, for one thing, as
Albertine felt nothing stronger for me than friendship, the
renunciation that they promised cost her less; because, moreover, in a
scene of parting, it is the person who is not genuinely in love that
makes the tender speeches, since love does not express itself
directly; because, lastly, my tears, which would have been so small a
matter in a great love, seemed to her almost extraordinary and
overwhelmed her, transposed into the region of that state of
friendship in which she dwelt, a friendship greater than mine for her,
to judge by what she had just said, which was perhaps not altogether
inexact, for the thousand kindnesses of love may end by arousing, in
the person who inspires without feeling it, an affection, a gratitude
less selfish than the sentiment that provoked them, which, perhaps,
after years of separation, when nothing of that sentiment remains in
the former lover, will still persist in the beloved.

"My little Albertine," I replied, "it is very good of you to make me
this promise. Anyhow, for the first few years at least, I shall avoid
the places where I might meet you. You don't know whether you will be
going to Balbec this year? Because in that case I should arrange not
to go there myself." But now, if I continued to progress thus,
anticipating time to come in my lying inventions, it was with a view
no less to inspiring fear in Albertine than to making myself wretched.
As a man who at first had no serious reason for losing his temper,
becomes completely intoxicated by the sound of his own voice, and lets
himself be carried away by a fury engendered not by his grievance but
by his anger which itself is steadily growing, so I was falling ever
faster and faster down the slope of my wretchedness, towards an ever
more profound despair, and with the inertia of a man who feels the
cold grip him, makes no effort to resist it and even finds a sort of
pleasure in shivering. And if I had now at length, as I fully
supposed, the strength to control myself, to react and to reverse my
engines, far more than from the grief which Albertine had caused me by
so unfriendly a greeting on my return, it was from that which I had
felt in imagining, so as to pretend to be outlining them, the
formalities of an imaginary separation, in foreseeing its
consequences, that Albertine's kiss, when the time came for her to bid
me good night, would have to console me now. In any case, it must not
be she that said this good night of her own accord, for that would
have made more difficult the revulsion by which I would propose to her
to abandon the idea of our parting. And so I continued to remind her
that the time to say good night had long since come and gone, a method
which, by leaving the initiative to me, enabled me to put it off for a
moment longer. And thus I scattered with allusions to the lateness of
the hour, to our exhaustion, the questions with which I was plying
Albertine. "I don't know where I shall be going," she replied to the
last of these, in a worried tone. "Perhaps I shall go to Touraine, to
my aunt's." And this first plan that she suggested froze me as though
it were beginning to make definitely effective our final separation.
She looked round the room, at the pianola, the blue satin armchairs.
"I still cannot make myself realise that I shall not see all this
again, to-morrow, or the next day, or ever. Poor little room. It seems
to me quite impossible; I cannot get it into my head." "It had to be;
you were unhappy here." "No, indeed, I was not unhappy, it is now that
I shall be unhappy." "No, I assure you, it is better for you." "For
you, perhaps!" I began to stare fixedly into vacancy, as though,
worried by an extreme hesitation, I was debating an idea which had
occurred to my mind. Then, all of a sudden: "Listen, Albertine, you
say that you are happier here, that you are going to be unhappy."
"Why, of course." "That appalls me; would you like us to try to carry
on for a few weeks? Who knows, week by week, we may perhaps go on for
a long time; you know that there are temporary arrangements which end
by becoming permanent." "Oh, how kind you are!" "Only in that case it
is ridiculous of us to have made ourselves wretched like this over
nothing for hours on end, it is like making all the preparations for a
long journey and then staying at home. I am shattered with grief." I
made her sit on my knee, I took Bergotte's manuscript which she so
longed to have and wrote on the cover: "To my little Albertine, in
memory of a new lease of life." "Now," I said to her, "go and sleep
until to-morrow, my darling, for you must be worn out." "I am very
glad, all the same." "Do you love me a little bit?" "A hundred times
more than ever."

I should have been wrong in being delighted with this little piece of
play-acting, had it not been that I had carried it to the pitch of a
real scene on the stage. Had we done no more than quite simply discuss
a separation, even that would have been a serious matter. In
conversations of this sort, we suppose that we are speaking not merely
without sincerity, which is true, but freely. Whereas they are
generally, though we know it not, murmured in spite of us; the first
murmur of a storm which we do not suspect. In reality, what we express
at such times is the opposite of our desire (which is to live for ever
with her whom we love), but there is also that impossibility of living
together which is the cause of our daily suffering, a suffering
preferred by us to that of a parting, which will, however, end, in
spite of ourselves, in parting us. Generally speaking, not, however,
at once. As a rule, it happens—this was not, as we shall see, my case
with Albertine—that, some time after the words in which we did not
believe, we put into action a vague attempt at a deliberate
separation, not painful, temporary. We ask the woman, so that
afterwards she may be happier in our company, so that we on the other
hand may momentarily escape from continual worries and fatigues, to go
without us, or to let us go without her, for a few days elsewhere, the
first days that we have—for a long time past—spent, as would have
seemed to us impossible, away from her. Very soon she returns to take
her place by our fireside. Only this separation, short, but made real,
is not so arbitrarily decided upon, not so certainly the only one that
we have in mind. The same sorrows begin afresh, the same difficulty in
living together becomes accentuated, only a parting is no longer so
difficult as before; we have begun mentioning it, and have then put it
into practice in a friendly fashion. But these are only preliminary
ventures whose nature we have not recognised. Presently, to the
momentary and smiling separation will succeed the terrible and final
separation for which we have, without knowing it, paved the way.

"Come to my room in five minutes and let me see something of you, my
dearest boy. You are full of kindness. But afterwards I shall fall
asleep at once, for I am almost dead." It was indeed a dead woman that
I beheld when, presently, I entered her room. She had gone to sleep
immediately she lay down, the sheets wrapped like a shroud about her
body had assumed, with their stately folds, a stony rigidity. One
would have said that, as in certain Last Judgments of the Middle Ages,
her head alone was emerging from the tomb, awaiting in its sleep the
Archangel's trumpet. This head had been surprised by sleep almost
flung back, its hair bristling. And as I saw the expressionless body
extended there, I asked myself what logarithmic table it constituted
so that all the actions in which it might have been involved, from the
nudge of an elbow to the brushing of a skirt, were able to cause me,
stretched out to the infinity of all the points that it had occupied
in space and time, and from time to time sharply reawakened in my
memory, so intense an anguish, albeit I knew those actions to have
been determined in her by impulses, desires, which in another person,
in herself five years earlier, or five years later, would have left me
quite indifferent. All this was a lie, but a lie for which I had not
the courage to seek any solution other than my own death. And so I
remained, in the fur coat which I had not taken off since my return
from the Verdurins', before that bent body, that figure allegorical of
what? Of my death? Of my love? Presently I began to hear her regular
breathing. I went and sat down on the edge of her bed to take that
soothing cure of fresh air and contemplation. Then I withdrew very
gently so as not to awaken her.

It was so late that, in the morning, I warned Françoise to tread very
softly when she had to pass by the door of Albertine's room. And so
Françoise, convinced that we had spent the night in what she used to
call orgies, ironically warned the other servants not to 'wake the
Princess.' And this was one of the things that I dreaded, that
Françoise might one day be unable to contain herself any longer, might
treat Albertine with insolence, and that this might introduce
complications into our life. Françoise was now no longer, as at the
time when it distressed her to see Eulalie treated generously by my
aunt, of an age to endure her jealousy with courage. It distorted,
paralysed our old servant's face to such an extent that at times I
asked myself whether she had not, after some outburst of rage, had a
slight stroke. Having thus asked that Albertine's sleep should be
respected, I was unable to sleep myself. I endeavoured to understand
the true state of Albertine's mind. By that wretched farce which I had
played, was it a real peril that I had averted, and, notwithstanding
her assurance that she was so happy living with me, had she really
felt at certain moments a longing for freedom, or on the contrary was
I to believe what she said? Which of these two hypotheses was the
truth? If it often befell me, if it was in a special case to befall me
that I must extend an incident in my past life to the dimensions of
history, when I made an attempt to understand some political event;
inversely, this morning, I did not cease to identify, in spite of all
the differences and in an attempt to understand its bearing, our scene
overnight with a diplomatic incident that had just occurred. I had
perhaps the right to reason thus. For it was highly probable that,
without my knowledge, the example of M. de Charlus had guided me in
that lying scene which I had so often seen him enact with such
authority; on the other hand, was it in him anything else than an
unconscious importation into the domain of his private life of the
innate tendency of his Germanic stock, provocative from guile and,
from pride, belligerent at need. Certain persons, among them the
Prince of Monaco, having suggested the idea to the French Government
that, if it did not dispense with M. Delcassé, a menacing Germany
would indeed declare war, the Minister for Foreign Affairs had been
asked to resign. So that the French Government had admitted the
hypothesis of an intention to make war upon us if we did not yield.
But others thought that it was all a mere 'bluff' and that if France
had stood firm Germany would not have drawn the sword. No doubt the
scenario was not merely different but almost opposite, since the
threat of a rupture had not been put forward by Albertine; but a
series of impressions had led me to believe that she was thinking of
it, as France had been led to believe about Germany. On the other
hand, if Germany desired peace, to have provoked in the French
Government the idea that she was anxious for war was a disputable and
dangerous trick. Certainly, my conduct had been skilful enough, if it
was the thought that I would never make up my mind to break with her
that provoked in Albertine sudden longings for independence. And was
it not difficult to believe that she did not feel them, to shut one's
eyes to a whole secret existence, directed towards the satisfaction of
her vice, simply on remarking the anger with which she had learned
that I had gone to see the Verdurins', when she exclaimed: "I thought
as much," and went on to reveal everything by saying: "Wasn't Mlle.
Vinteuil there?" All this was corroborated by Albertine's meeting with
Mme. Verdurin of which Andrée had informed me. But perhaps all the
same these sudden longings for independence (I told myself, when I
tried to go against my own instinct) were caused—supposing them to
exist—or would eventually be caused by the opposite theory, to wit
that I had never had any intention of marrying her, that it was when I
made, as though involuntarily, an allusion to our approaching
separation that I was telling the truth, that I would whatever
happened part from her one day or another, a belief which the scene
that I had made overnight could then only have confirmed and which
might end by engendering in her the resolution: "If this is bound to
happen one day or another, better to end everything at once." The
preparations for war which the most misleading of proverbs lays down
as the best way to secure the triumph of peace, create first of all
the belief in each of the adversaries that the other desires a
rupture, a belief which brings the rupture about, and, when it has
occurred, this further belief in each of them that it is the other
that has sought it. Even if the threat was not sincere, its success
encourages a repetition. But the exact point to which a bluff may
succeed is difficult to determine; if one party goes too far, the
other which has previously yielded, advances in its turn; the first
party, no longer able to change its method, accustomed to the idea
that to seem not to fear a rupture is the best way of avoiding one
(which is what I had done overnight with Albertine), and moreover
driven to prefer, in its pride, to fall rather than yield, perseveres
in its threat until the moment when neither can draw back any longer.
The bluff may also be blended with sincerity, may alternate with it,
and it is possible that what was a game yesterday may become a reality
tomorrow. Finally it may also happen that one of the adversaries is
really determined upon war, it might be that Albertine, for instance,
had the intention of, sooner or later, not continuing this life any
longer, or on the contrary that the idea had never even entered her
mind and that my imagination had invented the whole thing from start
to finish. Such were the different hypotheses which I considered while
she lay asleep that morning. And yet as to the last I can say that I
never, in the period that followed, threatened Albertine with a
rupture unless in response to an idea of an evil freedom on her part,
an idea which she did not express to me, but which seemed to me to be
implied by certain mysterious dissatisfactions, certain words, certain
gestures, of which that idea was the only possible explanation and of
which she refused to give me any other. Even then, quite often, I
remarked them without making any allusion to a possible separation,
hoping that they were due to a fit of ill temper which would end that
same day. But it continued at times without intermission for weeks on
end, during which Albertine seemed anxious to provoke a conflict, as
though there had been at the time, in some region more or less remote,
pleasures of which she knew, of which her seclusion in my house was
depriving her, and which would continue to influence her until they
came to an end, like those atmospheric changes which, even by our own
fireside, affect our nerves, even when they are occurring as far away
as the Balearic islands.

This morning, while Albertine lay asleep and I was trying to guess
what was concealed in her, I received a letter from my mother in which
she expressed her anxiety at having heard nothing of what we had
decided in this phrase of Mme. de Sévigné: "In my own mind I am
convinced that he will not marry; but then, why trouble this girl whom
he will never marry? Why risk making her refuse suitors at whom she
will never look again save with scorn? Why disturb the mind of a
person whom it would be so easy to avoid?" This letter from my mother
brought me back to earth. "What am I doing, seeking a mysterious
soul, interpreting a face and feeling myself overawed by presentiments
which I dare not explore?" I asked myself. "I have been dreaming, the
matter is quite simple. I am an undecided young man, and it is a
question of one of those marriages as to which it takes time to find
out whether they will happen or not. There is nothing in this peculiar
to Albertine." This thought gave me an immense but a short relief.
Very soon I said to myself: "One can after all reduce everything, if
one regards it in its social aspect, to the most commonplace item of
newspaper gossip. From outside, it is perhaps thus that I should look
at it. But I know well that what is true, what at least is also true,
is everything that I have thought, is what I have read in Albertine's
eyes, is the fears that torment me, is the problem that I incessantly
set myself with regard to Albertine. The story of the hesitating
bridegroom and the broken engagement may correspond to this, as the
report of a theatrical performance made by an intelligent reporter may
give us the subject of one of Ibsen's plays. But there is something
beyond those facts which are reported. It is true that this other
thing exists perhaps, were we able to discern it, in all hesitating
bridegrooms and in all the engagements that drag on, because there is
perhaps an element of mystery in our everyday life." It was possible
for me to neglect it in the lives of other people, but Albertine's
life and my own I was living from within.

Albertine no more said to me after this midnight scene than she had
said before it: "I know that you do not trust me, I am going to try to
dispel your suspicions." But this idea, which she never expressed in
words, might have served as an explanation of even her most trivial
actions. Not only did she take care never to be alone for a moment, so
that I might not lack information as to what she had been doing, if I
did not believe her own statements, but even when she had to telephone
to Andrée, or to the garage, or to the livery stable or elsewhere, she
pretended that it was such a bore to stand about by herself waiting to
telephone, what with the time the girls took to give you your number,
and took care that I should be with her at such times, or, failing
myself, Françoise, as though she were afraid that I might imagine
reprehensible conversations by telephone in which she would make
mysterious assignations. Alas, all this did not set my mind at rest. I
had a day of discouragement. Aimé had sent me back Esther's
photograph, with a message that she was not the person. And so
Albertine had other intimate friends as well as this girl to whom,
through her misunderstanding of what I said, I had, when I meant to
refer to something quite different, discovered that she had given her
photograph. I sent this photograph back to Bloch. What I should have
liked to see was the photograph that Albertine had given to Esther.
How was she dressed in it? Perhaps with a bare bosom, for all I knew.
But I dared not mention it to Albertine (for it would then have
appeared that I had not seen the photograph), or to Bloch, since I did
not wish him to think that I was interested in Albertine. And this
life, which anyone who knew of my suspicions and her bondage would
have seen to be agonising to myself and to Albertine, was regarded
from without, by Françoise, as a life of unmerited pleasures of which
full advantage was cunningly taken by that 'trickstress' and (as
Françoise said, using the feminine form far more often than the
masculine, for she was more envious of women) 'charlatante.' Indeed,
as Françoise, by contact with myself, had enriched her vocabulary with
fresh terms, but had adapted them to her own style, she said of
Albertine that she had never known a person of such 'perfidity,' who
was so skilful at 'drawing my money' by play-acting (which Françoise,
who was as prone to mistake the particular for the general as the
general for the particular and who had but a very vague idea of the
various kinds of dramatic art, called 'acting a pantomime'). Perhaps
for this error as to the true nature of the life led by Albertine and
myself, I was myself to some extent responsible owing to the vague
confirmations of it which, when I was talking to Françoise, I
skilfully let fall, from a desire either to tease her or to appear, if
not loved, at any rate happy. And yet my jealousy, the watch that I
kept over Albertine, which I would have given anything for Françoise
not to suspect, she was not long in discovering, guided, like the
thought-reader who, groping blindfold, finds the hidden object, by
that intuition which she possessed for anything that might be painful
to me, which would not allow itself to be turned aside by the lies
that I might tell in the hope of distracting her, and also by that
clairvoyant hatred which urged her—even more than it urged her to
believe her enemies more prosperous, more skilful hypocrites than they
really were—to discover the secret that might prove their undoing and
to precipitate their downfall. Françoise certainly never made any
scenes with Albertine. But I was acquainted with Françoise's art of
insinuation, the advantage that she knew how to derive from a
significant setting, and I cannot believe that she resisted the
temptation to let Albertine know, day by day, what a degraded part she
was playing in the household, to madden her by a description,
cunningly exaggerated, of the confinement to which my mistress was
subjected. On one occasion I found Françoise, armed with a huge pair
of spectacles, rummaging through my papers and replacing among them a
sheet on which I had jotted down a story about Swann and his utter
inability to do without Odette. Had she maliciously left it lying in
Albertine's room? Besides, above all Françoise's innuendoes which had
merely been, in the bass, the muttering and perfidious orchestration,
it is probable that there must have risen, higher, clearer, more
pressing, the accusing and calumnious voice of the Verdurins, annoyed
to see that Albertine was involuntarily keeping me and that I was
voluntarily keeping her away from the little clan. As for the money
that I was spending upon Albertine, it was almost impossible for me to
conceal it from Françoise, since I was unable to conceal any of my
expenditure from her. Françoise had few faults, but those faults had
created in her, for their service, positive talents which she often
lacked apart from the exercise of those faults. Her chief fault was
her curiosity as to all money spent by us upon people other than
herself. If I had a bill to pay, a gratuity to give, it was useless my
going into a corner, she would find a plate to be put in the right
place, a napkin to be picked up, which would give her an excuse for
approaching. And however short a time I allowed her, before dismissing
her with fury, this woman who had almost lost her sight, who could
barely add up a column of figures, guided by the same expert sense
which makes a tailor, on catching sight of you, instinctively
calculate the price of the stuff of which your coat is made, while he
cannot resist fingering it, or makes a painter responsive to a colour
effect, Françoise saw by stealth, calculated instantaneously the
amount that I was giving. And when, so that she might not tell
Albertine that I was corrupting her chauffeur, I took the initiative
and, apologising for the tip, said: "I wanted to be generous to the
chauffeur, I gave him ten francs"; Françoise, pitiless, to whom a
glance, that of an old and almost blind eagle, had been sufficient,
replied: "No indeed, Monsieur gave him a tip of 43 francs. He told
Monsieur that the charge was 45 francs, Monsieur gave him 100 francs,
and he handed back only 12 francs." She had had time to see and to
reckon the amount of the gratuity which I myself did not know. I asked
myself whether Albertine, feeling herself watched, would not herself
put into effect that separation with which I had threatened her, for
life in its changing course makes realities of our fables. Whenever I
heard a door open, I felt myself shudder as my grandmother used to
shudder in her last moments whenever I rang my bell. I did not believe
that she would leave the house without telling me, but it was my
unconscious self that thought so, as it was my grandmother's
unconscious self that throbbed at the sound of the bell, when she was
no longer conscious. One morning indeed, I felt a sudden misgiving
that she not only had left the house but had gone for good: I had just
heard the sound of a door which seemed to me to be that of her room.
On tiptoe I crept towards the room, opened the door, stood upon the
threshold. In the dim light the bedclothes bulged in a semi-circle,
that must be Albertine who, with her body bent, was sleeping with her
feet and face to the wall. Only, overflowing the bed, the hair upon
that head, abundant and dark, made me realise that it was she, that
she had not opened her door, had not stirred, and I felt that this
motionless and living semi-circle, in which a whole human life was
contained and which was the only thing to which I attached any value,
I felt that it was there, in my despotic possession.

If Albertine's object was to restore my peace of mind, she was partly
successful; my reason moreover asked nothing better than to prove to
me that I had been mistaken as to her crafty plans, as I had perhaps
been mistaken as to her vicious instincts. No doubt I added to the
value of the arguments with which my reason furnished me my own desire
to find them sound. But, if I was to be fair and to have a chance of
perceiving the truth, unless we admit that it is never known save by
presentiment, by a telepathic emanation, must I not say to myself that
if my reason, in seeking to bring about my recovery, let itself be
guided by my desire, on the other hand, so far as concerned Mlle.
Vinteuil, Albertine's vices, her intention to lead a different life,
her plan of separation, which were the corollaries of her vices, my
instinct had been capable, in the attempt to make me ill, of being led
astray by my jealousy. Besides, her seclusion, which Albertine herself
contrived so ingeniously to render absolute, by removing my suffering,
removed by degrees my suspicion and I could begin again, when the
night brought back my uneasiness, to find in Albertine's presence the
consolation of earlier days. Seated beside my bed, she spoke to me of
one of those dresses or one of those presents which I never ceased to
give her in the effort to enhance the comfort of her life and the
beauty of her prison. Albertine had at first thought only of dresses
and furniture. Now silver had begun to interest her. And so I had
questioned M. de Charlus about old French silver, and had done so
because, when we had been planning to have a yacht—a plan which
Albertine decided was impracticable, as I did also whenever I had
begun to believe in her virtue, with the result that my jealousy, as
it declined, no longer held in check other desires in which she had no
place and which also needed money for their satisfaction—we had, to
be on the safe side, not that she supposed that we should ever have a
yacht, asked Elstir for his advice. Now, just as in matters of women's
dress, the painter was a refined and sensitive critic of the
furnishing of yachts. He would allow only English furniture and old
silver. This had led Albertine, since our return from Balbec, to read
books upon the silversmith's art, upon the handiwork of the old
chasers. But as our old silver was melted twice over, at the time of
the Treaty of Utrecht when the King himself, setting the example to
his great nobles, sacrificed his plate, and again in 1789, it is now
extremely rare. On the other hand, it is true that modern silversmiths
have managed to copy all this old plate from the drawings of Le
Pont-aux-Choux, Elstir considered this modern antique unworthy to
enter the home of a woman of taste, even a floating home. I knew that
Albertine had read the description of the marvels that Roelliers had
made for Mme. du Barry. If any of these pieces remained, she was dying
to see them, and I to give them to her. She had even begun to form a
neat collection which she installed with charming taste in a glass
case and at which I could not look without emotion and alarm, for the
art with which she arranged them was that born of patience, ingenuity,
home-sickness, the need to forget, in which prisoners excel. In the
matter of dress, what appealed to her most at this time was everything
that was made by Fortuny. These Fortuny gowns, one of which I had seen
Mme. de Guermantes wearing, were those of which Elstir, when he told
us about the magnificent garments of the women of Carpaccio's and
Titian's day, had prophesied the speedy return, rising from their
ashes, sumptuous, for everything must return in time, as it is written
beneath the vaults of Saint Mark's, and proclaimed, where they drink
from the urns of marble and jasper of the byzantine capitals, by the
birds which symbolise at once death and resurrection. As soon as women
had begun to wear them, Albertine had remembered Elstir's prophecy,
she had desired to have one and we were to go and choose it. Now
these gowns, even if they were not those genuine antiques in which
women to-day seem a little too much 'in fancy dress' and which it is
preferable to keep as pieces in a collection (I was in search of these
also, as it happens, for Albertine), could not be said to have the
chilling effect of the artificial, the sham antique. Like the
theatrical designs of Sert, Bakst and Benoist who at that moment were
recreating in the Russian ballet the most cherished periods of
art—with the aid of works of art impregnated with their spirit and
yet original—these Fortuny gowns, faithfully antique but markedly
original, brought before the eye like a stage setting, with an even
greater suggestiveness than a setting, since the setting was left to
the imagination, that Venice loaded with the gorgeous East from which
they had been taken, of which they were, even more than a relic in the
shrine of Saint Mark suggesting the sun and a group of turbaned heads,
the fragmentary, mysterious and complementary colour. Everything of
those days had perished, but everything was born again, evoked to fill
the space between them with the splendour of the scene and the hum of
life, by the reappearance, detailed and surviving, of the fabrics worn
by the Doges' ladies. I had tried once or twice to obtain advice upon
this subject from Mme. de Guermantes. But the Duchess cared little for
garments which form a 'costume.' She herself, though she possessed
several, never looked so well as in black velvet with diamonds. And
with regard to gowns like Fortuny's, her advice was not of any great
value. Besides, I felt a scruple, if I asked for it, lest she might
think that I called upon her only when I happened to need her help,
whereas for a long time past I had been declining several invitations
from her weekly. It was not only from her, moreover, that I received
them in such profusion. Certainly, she and many other women had always
been extremely kind to me. But my seclusion had undoubtedly multiplied
their hospitality tenfold. It seems that in our social life, a minor
echo of what occurs in love, the best way for a man to make himself
sought-after is to withhold himself. A man calculates everything that
he can possibly cite to his credit, in order to find favour with a
woman, changes his clothes all day long, pays attention to his
appearance, she does not pay him a single one of the attentions which
he receives from the other woman to whom, while he betrays her, and in
spite of his appearing before her ill-dressed and without any artifice
to attract, he has endeared himself for ever. Similarly, if a man were
to regret that he was not sufficiently courted in society, I should
not advise him to pay more calls, to keep an even finer carriage, I
should tell him not to accept any invitation, to live shut up in his
room, to admit nobody, and that then there would be a queue outside
his door. Or rather I should not tell him so. For it is a certain road
to success which succeeds only like the road to love, that is to say
if one has not adopted it with that object in view, if, for instance,
you confine yourself to your room because you are seriously ill, or
are supposed to be, or are keeping a mistress shut up with you whom
you prefer to society (or for all these reasons at once), this will
justify another person, who is not aware of the woman's existence, and
simply because you decline to see him, in preferring you to all the
people who offer themselves, and attaching himself to you.

"We shall have to begin to think soon about your Fortuny gowns," I
said to Albertine one evening. Surely, to her who had long desired
them, who chose them deliberately with me, who had a place reserved
for them beforehand not only in her wardrobe but in her imagination,
the possession of these gowns, every detail of which, before deciding
among so many, she carefully examined, was something more than it
would have been to an over-wealthy woman who has more dresses than she
knows what to do with and never even looks at them. And yet,
notwithstanding the smile with which Albertine thanked me, saying:
"You are too kind," I noticed how weary, and even wretched, she was

While we waited for these gowns to be ready, I used to borrow others
of the kind, sometimes indeed merely the stuffs, and would dress
Albertine in them, drape them over her; she walked about my room with
the majesty of a Doge's wife and the grace of a mannequin. Only my
captivity in Paris was made more burdensome by the sight of these
garments which suggested Venice. True, Albertine was far more of a
prisoner than I. And it was curious to remark how, through the walls
of her prison, destiny, which transforms people, had contrived to
pass, to change her in her very essence, and turn the girl I had known
at Balbec into a tedious and docile captive. Yes, the walls of her
prison had not prevented that influence from reaching her; perhaps
indeed it was they that had produced it. It was no longer the same
Albertine, because she was not, as at Balbec, incessantly in flight
upon her bicycle, never to be found owing to the number of little
watering-places where she would go to spend the night with her girl
friends and where moreover her untruths made it more difficult to lay
hands upon her; because confined to my house, docile and alone, she
was no longer even what at Balbec, when I had succeeded in finding
her, she used to be upon the beach, that fugitive, cautious, cunning
creature, whose presence was enlarged by the thought of all those
assignations which she was skilled in concealing, which made one love
her because they made one suffer, in whom, beneath her coldness to
other people and her casual answers, one could feel yesterday's
assignation and to-morrow's, and for myself a contemptuous, deceitful
thought; because the sea breeze no longer buffeted her skirts,
because, above all, I had clipped her wings, she had ceased to be a
Victory, was a burdensome slave of whom I would fain have been rid.

Then, to change the course of my thoughts, rather than begin a game of
cards or draughts with Albertine, I asked her to give me a little
music. I remained in bed, and she went and sat down at the end of the
room before the pianola, between the two bookcases. She chose pieces
which were quite new or which she had played to me only once or twice,
for, as she began to know me better, she had learned that I liked to
fix my thoughts only upon what was still obscure to me, glad to be
able, in the course of these successive renderings, to join together,
thanks to the increasing but, alas, distorting and alien light of my
intellect, the fragmentary and interrupted lines of the structure
which at first had been almost hidden in the mist. She knew and, I
think, understood, the joy that my mind derived, at these first
hearings, from this task of modelling a still shapeless nebula. She
guessed that at the third or fourth repetition my intellect, having
reached, having consequently placed at the same distance, all the
parts, and having no longer any activity to spare for them, had
reciprocally extended and arrested them upon a uniform plane. She did
not, however, proceed at once to a fresh piece, for, without perhaps
having any clear idea of the process that was going on in my mind, she
knew that at the moment when the effort of my intellect had succeeded
in dispelling the mystery of a work, it was very rarely that, in
compensation, it did not, in the course of its task of destruction,
pick up some profitable reflexion. And when in time Albertine said:
"We might give this roll to Françoise and get her to change it for
something else," often there was for me a piece of music less in the
world, perhaps, but a truth the more. While she was playing, of all
Albertine's multiple tresses I could see but a single loop of black
hair in the shape of a heart trained at the side of her ear like the
riband of a Velasquez Infanta. Just as the substance of that Angel
musician was constituted by the multiple journeys between the
different points in past time which the memory of her occupied in
myself, and its different abodes, from my vision to the most inward
sensations of my being, which helped me to descend into the intimacy
of hers, so the music that she played had also a volume, produced by
the inconstant visibility of the different phrases, accordingly as I
had more or less succeeded in throwing a light upon them and in
joining together the lines of a structure which at first had seemed to
me to be almost completely hidden in the fog.

I was so far convinced that it was absurd to be jealous of Mlle.
Vinteuil and her friend, inasmuch as Albertine since her confession
had made no attempt to see them and among all the plans for a holiday
in the country which we had formed had herself rejected Combray, so
near to Montjouvain, that, often, what I would ask Albertine to play
to me, without its causing me any pain, would be some music by
Vinteuil. Once only this music had been an indirect cause of my
jealousy. This was when Albertine, who knew that I had heard it
performed at Mme. Verdurin's by Morel, spoke to me one evening about
him, expressing a keen desire to go and hear him play and to make his
acquaintance. This, as it happened, was shortly after I had learned of
the letter, unintentionally intercepted by M. de Charlus, from Léa to
Morel. I asked myself whether Léa might not have mentioned him to
Albertine. The words: 'You bad woman, you naughty old girl' came to my
horrified mind. But precisely because Vinteuil's music was in this way
painfully associated with Léa—and no longer with Mlle. Vinteuil and
her friend—when the grief that Léa caused me was soothed, I could
then listen to this music without pain; one malady had made me immune
to any possibility of the others. In this music of Vinteuil, phrases
that I had not noticed at Mme. Verdurin's, obscure phantoms that were
then indistinct, turned into dazzling architectural structures; and
some of them became friends, whom I had barely made out at first, who
at best had appeared to me to be ugly, so that I could never have
supposed that they were like those people, unattractive at first
sight, whom we discover to be what they really are only after we have
come to know them well. From one state to the other was a positive
transmutation. On the other hand, phrases that I had distinguished at
once in the music that I had heard at Mme. Verdurin's, but had not
then recognised, I identified now with phrases from other works, such
as that phrase from the Sacred Variation for the Organ which, at Mme.
Verdurin's, had passed unperceived by me in the septet, where
nevertheless, a saint that had stepped down from the sanctuary, it
found itself consorting with the composer's familiar fays. Finally,
the phrase that had seemed to me too little melodious, too mechanical
in its rhythm, of the swinging joy of bells at noon, had now become my
favourite, whether because I had grown accustomed to its ugliness or
because I had discovered its beauty. This reaction from the
disappointment which great works of art cause at first may in fact be
attributed to a weakening of the initial impression or to the effort
necessary to lay bare the truth. Two hypotheses which suggest
themselves in all important questions, questions of the truth of Art,
of the truth of the Immortality of the Soul; we must choose between
them; and, in the case of Vinteuil's music, this choice presented
itself at every moment under a variety of forms. For instance, this
music seemed to me to be something truer than all the books that I
knew. Sometimes I thought that this was due to the fact that what we
feel in life, not being felt in the form of ideas, its literary (that
is to say an intellectual) translation in giving an account of it,
explains it, analyses it, but does not recompose it as does music, in
which the sounds seem to assume the inflexion of the thing itself, to
reproduce that interior and extreme point of our sensation which is
the part that gives us that peculiar exhilaration which we recapture
from time to time and which when we say: "What a fine day! What
glorious sunshine!" we do not in the least communicate to our
neighbour, in whom the same sun and the same weather arouse wholly
different vibrations. In Vinteuil's music, there were thus some of
those visions which it is impossible to express and almost forbidden
to record, since, when at the moment of falling asleep we receive the
caress of their unreal enchantment, at that very moment in which
reason has already deserted us, our eyes are already sealed, and
before we have had time to know not merely the ineffable but the
invisible, we are asleep. It seemed to me indeed when I abandoned
myself to this hypothesis that art might be real, that it was
something even more than the simply nervous joy of a fine day or an
opiate night that music can give; a more real, more fruitful
exhilaration, to judge at least by what I felt. It is not possible
that a piece of sculpture, a piece of music which gives us an emotion
which we feel to be more exalted, more pure, more true, does not
correspond to some definite spiritual reality. It is surely symbolical
of one, since it gives that impression of profundity and truth. Thus
nothing resembled more closely than some such phrase of Vinteuil the
peculiar pleasure which I had felt at certain moments in my life, when
gazing, for instance, at the steeples of Martinville, or at certain
trees along a road near Balbec, or, more simply, in the first part of
this book, when I tasted a certain cup of tea.

Without pressing this comparison farther, I felt that the clear
sounds, the blazing colours which Vinteuil sent to us from the world
in which he composed, paraded before my imagination with insistence
but too rapidly for me to be able to apprehend it, something which I
might compare to the perfumed silkiness of a geranium. Only, whereas,
in memory, this vagueness may be, if not explored, at any rate fixed
precisely, thanks to a guiding line of circumstances which explain why
a certain savour has been able to recall to us luminous sensations,
the vague sensations given by Vinteuil coming not from a memory but
from an impression (like that of the steeples of Martinville), one
would have had to find, for the geranium scent of his music, not a
material explanation, but the profound equivalent, the unknown and
highly coloured festival (of which his works seemed to be the
scattered fragments, the scarlet-flashing rifts), the mode in which he
'heard' the universe and projected it far beyond himself. This unknown
quality of a unique world which no other composer had ever made us
see, perhaps it is in this, I said to Albertine, that the most
authentic proof of genius consists, even more than in the content of
the work itself. "Even in literature?" Albertine inquired. "Even in
literature." And thinking again of the monotony of Vinteuil's works, I
explained to Albertine that the great men of letters have never
created more than a single work, or rather have never done more than
refract through various mediums an identical beauty which they bring
into the world. "If it were not so late, my child," I said to her, "I
would shew you this quality in all the writers whose works you read
while I am asleep, I would shew you the same identity as in Vinteuil.
These typical phrases, which you are beginning to recognise as I do,
my little Albertine, the same in the sonata, in the septet, in the
other works, would be for instance, if you like, in Barbey
d'Aurevilly, a hidden reality revealed by a material trace, the
physiological blush of _l'Ensorcelée_, of _Aimée de Spens_, of _la
Clotte_, the hand of the _Rideau Cramoisi_, the old manners and
customs, the old words, the ancient and peculiar trades behind which
there is the Past, the oral history compiled by the rustics of the
manor, the noble Norman cities redolent of England and charming as a
Scots village, the cause of curses against which one can do nothing,
the Vellini, the Shepherd, a similar sensation of anxiety in a
passage, whether it be the wife seeking her husband in _Une Vieille
Maîtresse_, or the husband in _l'Ensorcelée_ scouring the plain and
the 'Ensorcelée' herself coming out from Mass. There are other typical
phrases in Vinteuil like that stonemason's geometry in the novels of
Thomas Hardy."

Vinteuil's phrases made me think of the 'little phrase' and I told
Albertine that it had been so to speak the national anthem of the love
of Swann and Odette, "the parents of Gilberte whom you know. You told
me that she was not a bad girl. But didn't she attempt to have
relations with you? She has mentioned you to me." "Yes, you see, her
parents used to send a carriage to fetch her from our lessons when the
weather was bad, I believe she took me home once and kissed me," she
said, after a momentary pause, with a laugh, and as though it were an
amusing confession. "She asked me all of a sudden whether I was fond
of women." (But if she only believed that she remembered that Gilberte
had taken her home, how could she say with such precision that
Gilberte had asked her this odd question?) "In fact, I don't know what
absurd idea came into my head to make a fool of her, I told her that I
was." (One would have said that Albertine was afraid that Gilberte had
told me this and did not wish me to come to the conclusion that she
was lying.) "But we did nothing at all." (It was strange, if they had
exchanged confidences, that they should have done nothing, especially
as, before this, they had kissed, according to Albertine.) "She took
me home like that four or five times, perhaps more, and that is all."
It cost me a great effort not to ply her with further questions, but,
mastering myself so as to appear not to be attaching any importance to
all this, I returned to Thomas Hardy. "Do you remember the stonemasons
in _Jude the Obscure_, in _The Well-Beloved_, the blocks of stone
which the father hews out of the island coming in boats to be piled up
in the son's studio where they are turned into statues; in _A Pair of
Blue Eyes_ the parallelism of the tombs, and also the parallel line of
the vessel, and the railway coaches containing the lovers and the dead
woman; the parallelism between _The Well-Beloved_, where the man is in
love with three women, and _A Pair of Blue Eyes_ where the woman is in
love with three men, and in short all those novels which can be laid
one upon another like the vertically piled houses upon the rocky soil
of the island. I cannot summarise the greatest writers like this in a
moment's talk, but you would see in Stendhal a certain sense of
altitude combining with the life of the spirit: the lofty place in
which Julien Sorel is imprisoned, the tower on the summit of which
Fabrice is confined, the belfry in which the Abbé Blanès pores over
his astrology and from which Fabrice has such a magnificent bird's-eye
view. You told me that you had seen some of Vermeer's pictures, you
must have realised that they are fragments of an identical world, that
it is always, however great the genius with which they have been
recreated, the same table, the same carpet, the same woman, the same
novel and unique beauty, an enigma, at that epoch in which nothing
resembles or explains it, if we seek to find similarities in subjects
but to isolate the peculiar impression that is produced by the colour.
Well, then, this novel beauty remains identical in all Dostoievski's
works, the Dostoievski woman (as distinctive as a Rembrandt woman)
with her mysterious face, whose engaging beauty changes abruptly, as
though her apparent good nature had been but make-believe, to a
terrible insolence (although at heart it seems that she is more good
than bad), is she not always the same, whether it be Nastasia
Philipovna writing love letters to Aglaé and telling her that she
hates her, or in a visit which is wholly identical with this—as also
with that in which Nastasia Philipovna insults Vania's
family—Grouchenka, as charming in Katherina Ivanovna's house as the
other had supposed her to be terrible, then suddenly revealing her
malevolence by insulting Katherina Ivanovna (although Grouchenka is
good at heart); Grouchenka, Nastasia, figures as original, as
mysterious not merely as Carpaccio's courtesans but as Rembrandt's
Bathsheba. As, in Vermeer, there is the creation of a certain soul, of
a certain colour of fabrics and places, so there is in Dostoievski
creation not only of people but of their homes, and the house of the
Murder in _Crime and Punishment_ with its dvornik, is it not almost as
marvellous as the masterpiece of the House of Murder in Dostoievski,
that sombre house, so long, and so high, and so huge, of Rogojin in
which he kills Nastasia Philipovna. That novel and terrible beauty of
a house, that novel beauty blended with a woman's face, that is the
unique thing which Dostoievski has given to the world, and the
comparisons that literary critics may make, between him and Gogol, or
between him and Paul de Kock, are of no interest, being external to
this secret beauty. Besides, if I have said to you that it is, from
one novel to another, the same scene, it is in the compass of a single
novel that the same scenes, the same characters reappear if the novel
is at all long. I could illustrate this to you easily in _War and
Peace_, and a certain scene in a carriage...." "I didn't want to
interrupt you, but now that I see that you are leaving Dostoievski, I
am afraid of forgetting. My dear boy, what was it you meant the other
day when you said: 'It is, so to speak, the Dostoievski side of Mme.
de Sévigné.' I must confess that I did not understand. It seems to me
so different." "Come, little girl, let me give you a kiss to thank you
for remembering so well what I say, you shall go back to the pianola
afterwards. And I must admit that what I said was rather stupid. But I
said it for two reasons. The first is a special reason. What I meant
was that Mme. de Sévigné, like Elstir, like ï, instead of
presenting things in their logical sequence, that is to say beginning
with the cause, shews us first of all the effect, the illusion that
strikes us. That is how Dostoievski presents his characters. Their
actions seem to us as misleading as those effects in Elstir's pictures
where the sea appears to be in the sky. We are quite surprised to find
that some sullen person is really the best of men, or vice versa."
"Yes, but give me an example in Mme. de Sévigné." "I admit," I
answered her with a laugh, "that I am splitting hairs very fine, but
still I could find examples.." "But did he ever murder anyone,
Dostoievski? The novels of his that I know might all be called _The
Story of a Crime_. It is an obsession with him, it is not natural that
he should always be talking about it." "I don't think so, dear
Albertine, I know little about his life. It is certain that, like
everyone else, he was acquainted with sin, in one form or another, and
probably in a form which the laws condemn. In that sense he must have
been more or less criminal, like his heroes (not that they are
altogether heroes, for that matter), who are found guilty with
attenuating circumstances. And it is not perhaps necessary that he
himself should have been a criminal. I am not a novelist; it is
possible that creative writers are tempted by certain forms of life of
which they have no personal experience. If I come with you to
Versailles as we arranged, I shall shew you the portrait of the
ultra-respectable man, the best of husbands, Choderlos de Laclos, who
wrote the most appallingly corrupt book, and facing it that of Mme. de
Genlis who wrote moral tales and was not content with betraying the
Duchesse d'Orléans but tormented her by turning her children against
her. I admit all the same that in Dostoievski this preoccupation with
murder is something extraordinary which makes him very alien to me. I
am stupefied enough when I hear Baudelaire say:

  _Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l'incendie
  N'ont pas encor brodé de leurs plaisants dessins
  Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
  C'est que notre âme, hélas! n'est pas assez hardie_.

But I can at least assume that Baudelaire is not sincere. Whereas
Dostoievski.... All that sort of thing seems to me as remote from
myself as possible, unless there are parts of myself of which I know
nothing, for we realise our own nature only in course of time. In
Dostoievski I find the deepest penetration but only into certain
isolated regions of the human soul. But he is a great creator. For one
thing, the world which he describes does really appear to have been
created by him. All those buffoons who keep on reappearing, like
Lebedeff, Karamazoff, Ivolghin, Segreff, that incredible procession,
are a humanity more fantastic than that which peoples Rembrandt's
_Night Watch_. And perhaps it is fantastic only in the same way, by
the effect of lighting and costume, and is quite normal really. In
any case it is at the same time full of profound and unique truths,
which belong only to Dostoievski. They almost suggest, those buffoons,
some trade or calling that no longer exists, like certain characters
in the old drama, and yet how they reveal true aspects of the human
soul! What astonishes me is the solemn manner in which people talk and
write about Dostoievski. Have you ever noticed the part that
self-respect and pride play in his characters? One would say that, to
him, love and the most passionate hatred, goodness and treachery,
timidity and insolence are merely two states of a single nature, their
self-respect, their pride preventing Aglaé, Nastasia, the Captain
whose beard Mitia pulls, Krassotkin, Aliosha's enemy-friend, from
shewing themselves in their true colours. But there are many other
great passages as well. I know very few of his books. But is it not a
sculpturesque and simple theme, worthy of the most classical art, a
frieze interrupted and resumed on which the tale of vengeance and
expiation is unfolded, the crime of old Karamazoff getting the poor
idiot with child, the mysterious, animal, unexplained impulse by which
the mother, herself unconsciously the instrument of an avenging
destiny, obeying also obscurely her maternal instinct, feeling perhaps
a combination of physical resentment and gratitude towards her
seducer, comes to bear her child on old Karamazoff's ground. This is
the first episode, mysterious, grand, august as a Creation of Woman
among the sculptures at Orvieto. And as counterpart, the second
episode more than twenty years later, the murder of old Karamazoff,
the disgrace brought upon the Karamazoff family by this son of the
idiot, Smerdiakoff, followed shortly afterwards by another action, as
mysteriously sculpturesque and unexplained, of a beauty as obscure and
natural as that of the childbirth in old Karamazoff's garden,
Smerdiakoff hanging himself, his crime accomplished. As for
Dostoievski, I was not straying so far from him as you thought when I
mentioned Tolstoi who has imitated him closely. In Dostoievski there
is, concentrated and fretful, a great deal of what was to blossom
later on in Tolstoi. There is, in Dostoievski, that proleptic gloom of
the primitives which their disciples will brighten and dispel." "My
dear boy, what a terrible thing it is that you are so lazy. Just look
at your view of literature, so far more interesting than the way we
were made to study it; the essays that they used to make us write upon
_Esther_: 'Monsieur,' —you remember," she said with a laugh, less from
a desire to make fun of her masters and herself than from the pleasure
of finding in her memory, in our common memory, a relic that was
already almost venerable. But while she was speaking, and I continued
to think of Vinteuil, it was the other, the materialist hypothesis,
that of there being nothing, that in turn presented itself to my mind.
I began to doubt, I said to myself that after all it might be the case
that, if Vinteuil's phrases seemed to be the expression of certain
states of the soul analogous to that which I had experienced when I
tasted the madeleine that had been dipped in a cup of tea, there was
nothing to assure me that the vagueness of such states was a sign of
their profundity rather than of our not having learned yet to analyse
them, so that there need be nothing more real in them than in other
states. And yet that happiness, that sense of certainty in happiness
while I was drinking the cup of tea, or when I smelt in the
Champs-Elysées a smell of mouldering wood, was not an illusion. In any
case, whispered the spirit of doubt, even if these states are more
profound than others that occur in life, and defy analysis for the
very reason that they bring into play too many forces which we have
not yet taken into consideration, the charm of certain phrases of
Vinteuil's music makes us think of them because it too defies
analysis, but this does not prove that it has the same depth; the
beauty of a phrase of pure music can easily appear to be the image of
or at least akin to an intellectual impression which we have received,
but simply because it is unintellectual. And why then do we suppose to
be specially profound those mysterious phrases which haunt certain
works, including this septet by Vinteuil?

It was not, however, his music alone that Albertine played me; the
pianola was to us at times like a scientific magic lantern (historical
and geographical) and on the walls of this room in Paris, supplied
with inventions more modern than that of Combray days, I would see,
accordingly as Albertine played me Rameau or Borodin, extend before me
now an eighteenth century tapestry sprinkled with cupids and roses,
now the Eastern steppe in which sounds are muffled by boundless
distances and the soft carpet of snow. And these fleeting decorations
were as it happened the only ones in my room, for if, at the time of
inheriting my aunt Léonie's fortune, I had vowed that I would become a
collector like Swann, would buy pictures, statues, all my money went
upon securing horses, a motorcar, dresses for Albertine. But did not
my room contain a work of art more precious than all these—Albertine
herself? I looked at her. It was strange to me to think that it was
she, she whom I had for so long thought it impossible even to know,
who now, a wild beast tamed, a rosebush to which I had acted as
trainer, as the framework, the trellis of its life, was seated thus,
day by day, at home, by my side, before the pianola, with her back to
my bookcase. Her shoulders, which I had seen bowed and resentful when
she was carrying her golf-clubs, were leaning against my books. Her
shapely legs, which at first I had quite reasonably imagined as having
trodden throughout her girlhood the pedals of a bicycle, now rose and
fell alternately upon those of the pianola, upon which Albertine who
had acquired a distinction which made me feel her more my own, because
it was from myself that it came, pressed her shoes of cloth of gold.
Her fingers, at one time trained to the handle-bars, now rested upon
the keys like those of a Saint Cecilia. Her throat the curve of which,
seen from my bed, was strong and full, at that distance and in the
lamplight appeared more rosy, less rosy, however, than her face
presented in profile, to which my gaze, issuing from the innermost
depths of myself, charged with memories and burning with desire, added
such a brilliancy, such an intensity of life that its relief seemed to
stand out and turn with almost the same magic power as on the day, in
the hotel at Balbec, when my vision was clouded by my overpowering
desire to kiss her; I prolonged each of its surfaces beyond what I was
able to see and beneath what concealed it from me and made me feel all
the more strongly—eyelids which half hid her eyes, hair that covered
the upper part of her cheeks—the relief of those superimposed planes.
Her eyes shone like, in a matrix in which the opal is still embedded,
the two facets which alone have as yet been polished, which, become
more brilliant than metal, reveal, in the midst of the blind matter
that encumbers them, as it were the mauve, silken wings of a butterfly
placed under glass. Her dark, curling hair, presenting a different
appearance whenever she turned to ask me what she was to play next,
now a splendid wing, sharp at the tip, broad at the base, feathered
and triangular, now weaving the relief of its curls in a strong and
varied chain, a mass of crests, of watersheds, of precipices, with its
incisions so rich and so multiple, seemed to exceed the variety that
nature normally realises and to correspond rather to the desire of a
sculptor who accumulates difficulties in order to bring into greater
prominence the suppleness, the fire, the moulding, the life of his
execution, and brought out more strongly, by interrupting in order to
resume them, the animated curve, and, as it were, the rotation of the
smooth and rosy face, of the polished dulness of a piece of painted
wood. And, in contrast with all this relief, by the harmony also which
united them with her, which had adapted her attitude to their form and
purpose, the pianola which half concealed her like the keyboard of an
organ, the bookcase, the whole of that corner of the room seemed to be
reduced to nothing more than the lighted sanctuary, the shrine of this
angel musician, a work of art which, presently, by a charming magic,
was to detach itself from its niche and offer to my kisses its
precious, rosy substance. But no, Albertine was in no way to me a work
of art. I knew what it meant to admire a woman in an artistic fashion,
I had known Swann. For my own part, moreover, I was, no matter who the
woman might be, incapable of doing so, having no sort of power of
detached observation, never knowing what it was that I beheld, and I
had been amazed when Swann added retrospectively for me an artistic
dignity—by comparing her, as he liked to do with gallantry to her
face, to some portrait by Luini, by finding in her attire the gown or
the jewels of a picture by Giorgione—to a woman who had seemed to me
to be devoid of interest. Nothing of that sort with me. The pleasure
and the pain that I derived from Albertine never took, in order to
reach me, the line of taste and intellect; indeed, to tell the truth,
when I began to regard Albertine as an angel musician glazed with a
marvellous patina whom I congratulated myself upon possessing, it was
not long before I found her uninteresting; I soon became bored in her
company, but these moments were of brief duration; we love only that
in which we pursue something inaccessible, we love only what we do not
possess, and very soon I returned to the conclusion that I did not
possess Albertine. In her eyes I saw pass now the hope, now the
memory, perhaps the regret of joys which I could not guess, which in
that case she preferred to renounce rather than tell me of them, and
which, gathering no more of them than certain flashes in her pupils, I
no more perceived than does the spectator who has been refused
admission to the theatre, and who, his face glued to the glass panes
of the door, can take in nothing of what is happening upon the stage.
I do not know whether this was the case with her, but it is a strange
thing, and so to speak a testimony by the most incredulous to their
belief in good, this perseverance in falsehood shewn by all those who
deceive us. It is no good our telling them that their lie hurts us
more than a confession, it is no good their realising this for
themselves, they will start lying again a moment later, to remain
consistent with their original statement of how much we meant to them.
Similarly an atheist who values his life will let himself be burned
alive rather than allow any contradiction of the popular idea of his
courage. During these hours, I used sometimes to see hover over her
face, in her gaze, in her pout, in her smile, the reflexion of those
inward visions the contemplation of which made her on these evenings
unlike her usual self, remote from me to whom they were denied. "What
are you thinking about, my darling?" "Why, nothing." Sometimes, in
answer to this reproach that she told me nothing, she would at one
moment tell me things which she was not unaware that I knew as well as
anyone (like those statesmen who will never give you the least bit of
news, but speak to you instead of what you could read for yourself in
the papers the day before), at another would describe without the
least precision, in a sort of false confidence, bicycle rides that she
had taken at Balbec, the year before our first meeting. And as though
I had guessed aright long ago, when I inferred from it that she must
be a girl who was allowed a great deal of freedom, who went upon long
jaunts, the mention of those rides insinuated between Albertine's lips
the same mysterious smile that had captivated me in those first days
on the front at Balbec. She spoke to me also of the excursions that
she had made with some girl-friends through the Dutch countryside, of
returning to Amsterdam in the evening, at a late hour, when a dense
and happy crowd of people almost all of whom she knew, thronged the
streets, the canal towpaths, of which I felt that I could see
reflected in Albertine's brilliant eyes as in the glancing windows of
a fast-moving carriage, the innumerable, flickering fires. Since what
is called aesthetic curiosity would deserve rather the name of
indifference in comparison with the painful, unwearying curiosity that
I felt as to the places in which Albertine had stayed, as to what she
might have been doing on a particular evening, her smiles, the
expressions in her eyes, the words that she had uttered, the kisses
that she had received. No, never would the jealousy that I had felt
one day of Saint-Loup, if it had persisted, have caused me this
immense uneasiness. This love of woman for woman was something too
unfamiliar; nothing enabled me to form a certain, an accurate idea of
its pleasures, its quality. How many people, how many places (even
places which did not concern her directly, vague pleasure resorts
where she might have enjoyed some pleasure), how many scenes (wherever
there was a crowd, where people could brush against her)
Albertine—like a person who, shepherding all her escort, a whole
company, past the barrier in front of her, secures their admission to
the theatre—from the threshold of my imagination or of my memory,
where I paid no attention to them, had introduced into my heart! Now
the knowledge that I had of them was internal, immediate, spasmodic,
painful. Love, what is it but space and time rendered perceptible by
the heart.

And yet perhaps, had I myself been entirely faithful, I should have
suffered because of infidelities which I would have been incapable of
conceiving, whereas what it tortured me to imagine in Albertine was my
own perpetual desire to find favour with fresh ladies, to plan fresh
romances, was to suppose her guilty of the glance which I had been
unable to resist casting, the other day, even when I was by her side,
at the young bicyclists seated at tables in the Bois de Boulogne. As
we have no personal knowledge, one might almost say that we can feel
no jealousy save of ourselves. Observation counts for little. It is
only from the pleasure that we ourselves have felt that we can derive
knowledge and grief.

At moments, in Albertine's eyes, in the sudden inflammation of her
cheeks, I felt as it were a gust of warmth pass furtively into regions
more inaccessible to me than the sky, in which Albertine's memories,
unknown to me, lived and moved. Then this beauty which, when I thought
of the various years in which I had known Albertine whether upon the
beach at Balbec or in Paris, I found that I had but recently
discovered in her, and which consisted in the fact that my mistress
was developing upon so many planes and embodied so many past days,
this beauty became almost heartrending. Then beneath that blushing
face I felt that there yawned like a gulf the inexhaustible expanse of
the evenings when I had not known Albertine. I might, if I chose,
take Albertine upon my knee, take her head in my hands; I might caress
her, pass my hands slowly over her, but, just as if I had been
handling a stone which encloses the salt of immemorial oceans or the
light of a star, I felt that I was touching no more than the sealed
envelope of a person who inwardly reached to infinity. How I suffered
from that position to which we are reduced by the carelessness of
nature which, when instituting the division of bodies, never thought
of making possible the interpenetration of souls (for if her body was
in the power of mine, her mind escaped from the grasp of mine). And I
became aware that Albertine was not even for me the marvellous captive
with whom I had thought to enrich my home, while I concealed her
presence there as completely, even from the friends who came to see me
and never suspected that she was at the end of the corridor, in the
room next to my own, as did that man of whom nobody knew that he kept
sealed in a bottle the Princess of China; urging me with a cruel and
fruitless pressure to the remembrance of the past, she resembled, if
anything, a mighty goddess of Time. And if it was necessary that I
should lose for her sake years, my fortune—and provided that I can
say to myself, which is by no means certain, alas, that she herself
lost nothing—I have nothing to regret. No doubt solitude would have
been better, more fruitful, less painful. But if I had led the life of
a collector which Swann counselled (the joys of which M. de Charlus
reproached me with not knowing, when, with a blend of wit, insolence
and good taste, he said to me: "How ugly your rooms are!") what
statues, what pictures long pursued, at length possessed, or even, to
put it in the best light, contemplated with detachment, would, like
the little wound which healed quickly enough, but which the
unconscious clumsiness of Albertine, of people generally, or of my own
thoughts was never long in reopening, have given me access beyond my
own boundaries, upon that avenue which, private though it be,
debouches upon the high road along which passes what we learn to know
only from the day on which it has made us suffer, the life of other

Sometimes the moon was so bright that, an hour after Albertine had
gone to bed, I would go to her bedside to tell her to look at it
through the window. I am certain that it was for this reason that I
went to her room and not to assure myself that she was really there.
What likelihood was there of her being able, had she wished, to
escape? That would have required an improbable collusion with
Françoise. In the dim room, I could see nothing save on the whiteness
of the pillow a slender diadem of dark hair. But I could hear
Albertine's breath. Her slumber was so profound that I hesitated at
first to go as far as the bed. Then I sat down on the edge of it. Her
sleep continued to flow with the same murmur. What I find it
impossible to express is how gay her awakenings were. I embraced her,
shook her. At once she ceased to sleep, but, without even a moment's
interval, broke out in a laugh, saying as she twined her arms about my
neck: "I was just beginning to wonder whether you were coming," and
she laughed a tender, beautiful laugh. You would have said that her
charming head, when she slept, was filled with nothing but gaiety,
affection and laughter. And in waking her I had merely, as when we cut
a fruit, released the gushing juice which quenches our thirst.

Meanwhile winter was at an end; the fine weather returned, and often
when Albertine had just bidden me good night, my room, my curtains,
the wall above the curtains being still quite dark, in the nuns'
garden next door I could hear, rich and precious in the silence like a
harmonium in church, the modulation of an unknown bird which, in the
Lydian mode, was already chanting matins, and into the midst of my
darkness flung the rich dazzling note of the sun that it could see.
Once indeed, we heard all of a sudden the regular cadence of a
plaintive appeal. It was the pigeons beginning to coo. "That proves
that day has come already," said Albertine; and, her brows almost
knitted, as though she missed, by living with me, the joys of the fine
weather, "Spring has begun, if the pigeons have returned." The
resemblance between their cooing and the crow of the cock was as
profound and as obscure as, in Vinteuil's septet, the resemblance
between the theme of the adagio and that of the closing piece, which
is based upon the same key-theme as the other but so transformed by
differences of tonality, of measure, that the profane outsider if he
opens a book upon Vinteuil is astonished to find that they are all
three based upon the same four notes, four notes which for that matter
he may pick out with one finger upon the piano without recapturing
anything of the three fragments. So this melancholy fragment
performed by the pigeons was a sort of cock-crow in the minor, which
did not soar up into the sky, did not rise vertically, but, regular as
the braying of a donkey, enveloped in sweetness, went from one pigeon
to another along a single horizontal line, and never raised itself,
never changed its lateral plaint into that joyous appeal which had
been uttered so often in the allegro of the introduction and in the

Presently the nights grew shorter still and before what had been the
hour of daybreak, I could see already stealing above my
window-curtains the daily increasing whiteness of the dawn. If I
resigned myself to allowing Albertine to continue to lead this life,
in which, notwithstanding her denials, I felt that she had the
impression of being a prisoner, it was only because I was sure that on
the morrow I should be able to set myself, at the same time to work
and to leave my bed, to go out of doors, to prepare our departure for
some property which we should buy and where Albertine would be able to
lead more freely and without anxiety on my account, the life of
country or seaside, of boating or hunting, which appealed to her.
Only, on the morrow, that past which I loved and detested by turns in
Albertine, it would so happen that (as, when it is the present,
between himself and us, everyone, from calculation, or courtesy, or
pity, sets to work to weave a curtain of falsehood which we mistake
for the truth), retrospectively, one of the hours which composed it,
and even those which I had supposed myself to know, offered me all of
a sudden an aspect which some one no longer made any attempt to
conceal from me and which was then quite different from that in which
it had previously appeared to me. Behind some look in her eyes, in
place of the honest thought which I had formerly supposed that I could
read in it, was a desire, unsuspected hitherto, which revealed itself,
alienating from me a fresh region of Albertine's heart which I had
believed to be assimilated to my own. For instance, when Andrée left
Balbec in the month of July, Albertine had never told me that she was
to see her again shortly, and I supposed that she had seen her even
sooner than she expected, since, in view of the great unhappiness that
I had felt at Balbec, on that night of the fourteenth of September,
she had made me the sacrifice of not remaining there and of returning
at once to Paris. When she had arrived there on the fifteenth, I had
asked her to go and see Andrée and had said to her: "Was she pleased
to see you again?" Now one day Mme. Bontemps had called, bringing
something for Albertine; I saw her for a moment and told her that
Albertine had gone out with Andrée: "They have gone for a drive in the
country." "Yes," replied Mme. Bontemps, "Albertine is always ready to
go to the country. Three years ago, for instance, she simply had to
go, every day, to the Buttes-Chaumont." At the name Buttes-Chaumont, a
place where Albertine had told me that she had never been, my breath
stopped for a moment. The truth is the most cunning of enemies. It
launches its attacks upon the points of our heart at which we were not
expecting them, and have prepared no defence. Had Albertine been lying
to her aunt, then, when she said that she went every day to the
Buttes-Chaumont, or to myself, more recently, when she told me that
she did not know the place?  "Fortunately," Mme. Bontemps went on,
"that poor Andrée will soon be leaving for a more bracing country, for
the real country, she needs it badly, she is not looking at all well.
It is true that she did not have an opportunity this summer of getting
the fresh air she requires. Just think, she left Balbec at the end of
July, expecting to go back there in September, and then her brother
put his knee out, and she was unable to go back." So Albertine was
expecting her at Balbec and had concealed this from me. It is true
that it was all the more kind of her to have offered to return to
Paris with me. Unless.... "Yes, I remember Albertine's mentioning it
to me" (this was untrue). "When did the accident occur, again? I am
not very clear about it." "Why, to my mind, it occurred in the very
nick of time, for a day later the lease of the villa began, and
Andrée's grandmother would have had to pay a month's rent for nothing.
He hurt his leg on the fourteenth of September, she was in time to
telegraph to Albertine on the morning of the fifteenth that she was
not coming and Albertine was in time to warn the agent. A day later,
the lease would have run on to the middle of October." And so, no
doubt, when Albertine, changing her mind, had said to me: "Let us go
this evening," what she saw with her mind's eye was an apartment, that
of Andrée's grandmother, where, as soon as we returned, she would be
able to see the friend whom, without my suspecting it, she had
supposed that she would be seeing in a few days at Balbec. Those kind
words which she had used, in offering to return to Paris with me, in
contrast to her headstrong refusal a little earlier, I had sought to
attribute them to a reawakening of her good nature. They were simply
and solely the effect of a change that had occurred in a situation
which we do not know, and which is the whole secret of the variation
of the conduct of the women who are not in love with us. They
obstinately refuse to give us an assignation for the morrow, because
they are tired, because their grandfather insists upon their dining
with him: "But come later," we insist. "He keeps me very late. He may
want to see me home." The whole truth is that they have made an
appointment with some man whom they like. Suddenly it happens that he
is no longer free. And they come to tell us how sorry they are to have
disappointed us, that the grandfather can go and hang himself, that
there is nothing in the world to keep them from remaining with us. I
ought to have recognised these phrases in Albertine's language to me
on the day of my departure from Balbec, but to interpret that language
I should have needed to remember at the time two special features in
Albertine's character which now recurred to my mind, one to console
me, the other to make me wretched, for we find a little of everything
in our memory; it is a sort of pharmacy, of chemical laboratory, in
which our groping hand comes to rest now upon a sedative drug, now
upon a dangerous poison. The first, the consoling feature was that
habit of making a single action serve the pleasure of several persons,
that multiple utilisation of whatever she did, which was typical of
Albertine. It was quite in keeping with her character, when she
returned to Paris (the fact that Andrée was not coming back might make
it inconvenient for her to remain at Balbec, without any implication
that she could not exist apart from Andrée), to derive from that
single journey an opportunity of touching two people each of whom she
genuinely loved, myself, by making me believe that she was coming in
order not to let me be alone, so that I should not be unhappy, out of
devotion to me, Andrée by persuading her that, as soon as there was no
longer any question of her coming to Balbec, she herself did not wish
to remain there a moment longer, that she had prolonged her stay there
only in the hope of seeing Andrée and was now hurrying back to join
her. Now, Albertine's departure with myself was such an immediate
sequel, on the one hand to my grief, my desire to return to Paris, on
the other hand to Andrée's' telegram, that it was quite natural that
Andrée and I, unaware, respectively, she of my grief, I of her
telegram, should have supposed that Albertine's departure from Balbec
was the effect of the one cause that each of us knew, which indeed it
followed at so short an interval and so unexpectedly. And in this
case, I might still believe that the thought of keeping me company had
been Albertine's real object, while she had not chosen to overlook an
opportunity of thereby establishing a claim to Andrée's gratitude.
But unfortunately I remembered almost at once another of Albertine's
characteristics, which was the vivacity with which she was gripped by
the irresistible temptation of a pleasure. And so I recalled how, when
she had decided to leave, she had been so impatient to get to the
tram, how she had pushed past the Manager who, as he tried to detain
us, might have made us miss the omnibus, the shrug of connivance that
she had given me, by which I had been so touched, when, on the
crawler, M. de Cambremer had asked us whether we could not 'postpone
it by a week.' Yes, what she saw before her eyes at that moment, what
made her so feverishly anxious to leave, what she was so impatient to
see again was that emptied apartment which I had once visited, the
home of Andrée's grandmother, left in charge of an old footman, a
luxurious apartment, facing south, but so empty, so silent, that the
sun appeared to have spread dust-sheets over the sofa, the armchairs
of the room in which Albertine and Andrée would ask the respectful
caretaker, perhaps unsuspecting, perhaps an accomplice, to allow them
to rest for a while. I could always see it now, empty, with a bed or a
sofa, that room, to which, whenever Albertine seemed pressed for time
and serious, she set off to meet her friend, who had doubtless arrived
there before her since her time was more her own. I had never before
given a thought to that apartment which now possessed for me a
horrible beauty. The unknown element in the lives of other people is
like that in nature, which each fresh scientific discovery merely
reduces, but does not abolish. A jealous lover exasperates the woman
with whom he is in love by depriving her of a thousand unimportant
pleasures, but those pleasures which are the keystone of her life she
conceals in a place where, in the moments in which he thinks that he
is shewing the most intelligent perspicacity and third parties are
keeping him most closely informed, he never dreams of looking. Anyhow,
Andrée was at least going to leave Paris. But I did not wish that
Albertine should be in a position to despise me as having been the
dupe of herself and Andrée. One of these days, I would tell her. And
thus I should force her perhaps to speak to me more frankly, by
shewing her that I was informed, all the same, of the things that she
concealed from me. But I did not wish to mention it to her for the
moment, first of all because, so soon after her aunt's visit, she
would guess from where my information came, would block that source
and would not dread other, unknown sources. Also because I did not
wish to risk, so long as I was not absolutely certain of keeping
Albertine for as long as I chose, arousing in her too frequent
irritations which might have the effect of making her decide to leave
me. It is true that if I reasoned, sought the truth, prognosticated
the future on the basis of her speech, which always approved of all my
plans, assuring me how much she loved this life, of how little her
seclusion deprived her, I had no doubt that she would remain with me
always. I was indeed greatly annoyed by the thought, I felt that I was
missing life, the universe, which I had never enjoyed, bartered for a
woman in whom I could no longer find anything novel. I could not even
go to Venice, where, while I lay in bed, I should be too keenly
tormented by the fear of the advances that might be made to her by the
gondolier, the people in the hotel, the Venetian women. But if I
reasoned, on the other hand, upon the other hypothesis, that which
rested not upon Albertine's speech, but upon silences, looks, blushes,
sulks, and indeed bursts of anger, which I could quite easily have
shewn her to be unfounded and which I preferred to appear not to
notice, then I said to myself that she was finding this life
insupportable, that all the time she found herself deprived of what
she loved, and that inevitably she must one day leave me. All that I
wished, if she did so, was that I might choose the moment in which it
would not be too painful to me, and also that it might be in a season
when she could not go to any of the places in which I imagined her
debaucheries, either at Amsterdam, or with Andrée whom she would see
again, it was true, a few months later. But in the interval I should
have grown calm and their meeting would leave me unmoved. In any case,
I must wait before I could think of it until I was cured of the slight
relapse that had been caused by my discovery of the reasons by which
Albertine, at an interval of a few hours, had been determined not to
leave, and then to leave Balbec immediately. I must allow time for the
symptoms to disappear which could only go on diminishing if I learned
nothing new, but which were still too acute not to render more
painful, more difficult, an operation of rupture recognised now as
inevitable, but in no sense urgent, and one that would be better
performed in 'cold blood.' Of this choice of the right moment I was
the master, for if she decided to leave me before I had made up my
mind, at the moment when she informed me that she had had enough of
this life, there would always be time for me to think of resisting her
arguments, to offer her a larger freedom, to promise her some great
pleasure in the near future which she herself would be anxious to
await, at worst, if I could find no recourse save to her heart, to
assure her of my grief. I was therefore quite at my ease from this
point of view, without, however, being very logical with myself. For,
in the hypotheses in which I left out of account the things which she
said and announced, I supposed that, when it was a question of her
leaving me, she would give me her reasons beforehand, would allow me
to fight and to conquer them. I felt that my life with Albertine was,
on the one hand, when I was not jealous, mere boredom, and on the
other hand, when I was jealous, constant suffering. Supposing that
there was any happiness in it, it could not last. I possessed the same
spirit of wisdom which had inspired me at Balbec, when, on the evening
when we had been happy together after Mme. de Cambremer's call, I
determined to give her up, because I knew that by prolonging our
intimacy I should gain nothing. Only, even now, I imagined that the
memory which I should preserve of her would be like a sort of
vibration prolonged by a pedal from the last moment of our parting.
And so I intended to choose a pleasant moment, so that it might be it
which continued to vibrate in me. It must not be too difficult, I must
not wait too long, I must be prudent. And yet, having waited so long,
it would be madness not to wait a few days longer, until an acceptable
moment should offer itself, rather than risk seeing her depart with
that same sense of revolt which I had felt in the past when Mamma left
my bedside without bidding me good night, or when she said good-bye to
me at the station. At all costs I multiplied the favours that I was
able to bestow upon her. As for the Fortuny gowns, we had at length
decided upon one in blue and gold lined with pink which was just
ready. And I had ordered, at the same time, the other five which she
had relinquished with regret, out of preference for this last. Yet
with the coming of spring, two months after her aunt's conversation
with me, I allowed myself to be carried away by anger one evening. It
was the very evening on which Albertine had put on for the first time
the indoor gown in gold and blue by Fortuny which, by reminding me of
Venice, made me feel all the more strongly what I was sacrificing for
her, who felt no corresponding gratitude towards me. If I had never
seen Venice, I had dreamed of it incessantly since those Easter
holidays which, when still a boy, I had been going to spend there, and
earlier still, since the Titian prints and Giotto photographs which
Swann had given me long ago at Combray. The Fortuny gown which
Albertine was wearing that evening seemed to me the tempting phantom
of that invisible Venice. It swarmed with Arabic ornaments, like the
Venetian palaces hidden like sultanas behind a screen of pierced
stone, like the bindings in the Ambrosian library, like the columns
from which the Oriental birds that symbolised alternatively life and
death were repeated in the mirror of the fabric, of an intense blue
which, as my gaze extended over it, was changed into a malleable gold,
by those same transmutations which, before the advancing gondolas,
change into flaming metal the azure of the Grand Canal. And the
sleeves were lined with a cherry pink which is so peculiarly Venetian
that it is called Tiepolo pink.

In the course of the day, Françoise had let fall in my hearing that
Albertine was satisfied with nothing, that when I sent word to her
that I would be going out with her, or that I would not be going out,
that the motor-car would come to fetch her, or would not come, she
almost shrugged her shoulders and would barely give a polite answer.
This evening, when I felt that she was in a bad temper, and when the
first heat of summer had wrought upon my nerves, I could not restrain
my anger and reproached her with her ingratitude. "Yes, you can ask
anybody," I shouted at the top of my voice, quite beyond myself, "you
can ask Françoise, it is common knowledge." But immediately I
remembered how Albertine had once told me how terrifying she found me
when I was angry, and had applied to myself the speech of Esther:

  _Jugez combien ce front irrité contre moi
  Dans mon âme troublée a dû jeter d'émoi.
  Hélas sans frissonner quel cœur audacieux
  Soutiendrait les éclairs qui partent de ses yeux_.

I felt ashamed of my violence. And, to make reparation for what I had
done, without, however, acknowledging a defeat, so that my peace might
be an armed and awe-inspiring peace, while at the same time I thought
it as well to shew her once again that I was not afraid of a rupture
so that she might not feel any temptation to break with me: "Forgive
me, my little Albertine, I am ashamed of my violence, I don't know how
to apologise. If we are not able to get on together, if we are to be
obliged to part, it must not be in this fashion, it would not be
worthy of us. We will part, if part we must, but first of all I wish
to beg your pardon most humbly and from the bottom of my heart." I
decided that, to atone for my rudeness and also to make certain of her
intention to remain with me for some time to come, at any rate until
Andrée should have left Paris, which would be in three weeks, it would
be as well, next day, to think of some pleasure greater than any that
she had yet had and fairly slow in its fulfilment; also, since I was
going to wipe out the offence that I had given her, perhaps I should
do well to take advantage of this moment to shew her that I knew more
about her life than she supposed. The resentment that she would feel
would be removed on the morrow by my kindness, but the warning would
remain in her mind. "Yes, my little Albertine, forgive me if I was
violent. I am not quite as much to blame as you think. There are
wicked people in the world who are trying to make us quarrel; I have
always refrained from mentioning this, as I did not wish to torment
you. But sometimes I am driven out of my mind by certain accusations.
For instance," I went on, "they are tormenting me at present, they are
persecuting me with reports of your relations, but with Andrée." "With
Andrée?" she cried, her face ablaze with anger. And astonishment or
the desire to appear astonished made her open her eyes wide. "How
charming! And may one know who has been telling you these pretty
tales, may I be allowed to speak to these persons, to learn from them
upon what they are basing their scandals?" "My little Albertine, I do
not know, the letters are anonymous, but from people whom you would
perhaps have no difficulty in finding" (this to shew her that I did
not believe that she would try) "for they must know you quite well.
The last one, I must admit (and I mention it because it deals with a
trifle, and there is nothing at all unpleasant in it), made me furious
all the same. It informed me that if, on the day when we left Balbec,
you first of all wished to remain there and then decided to go, that
was because in the interval you had received a letter from Andrée
telling you that she was not coming." "I know quite well that Andrée
wrote to tell me that she wasn't coming, in fact she telegraphed; I
can't shew you the telegram because I didn't keep it, but it wasn't
that day; what difference do you suppose it could make to me whether
Andrée came or not?" The words "what difference do you suppose it
could make to me" were a proof of anger and that 'it did make' some
difference, but were not necessarily a proof that Albertine had
returned to Paris solely from a desire to see Andrée. Whenever
Albertine saw one of the real or alleged motives of one of her actions
discovered by a person to whom she had pleaded a different motive, she
became angry, even if the person were he for whose sake she had really
performed the action. That Albertine believed that this information as
to what she had been doing was not furnished me in anonymous letters
against my will but was eagerly demanded by myself, could never have
been deduced from the words which she next uttered, in which she
appeared to accept my story of the anonymous letters, but rather from
her air of anger with myself, an anger which appeared to be merely the
explosion of her previous ill humour, just as the espionage in which,
by this hypothesis, she must suppose that I had been indulging would
have been only the culmination of a supervision of all her actions as
to which she had felt no doubt for a long time past. Her anger
extended even to Andrée herself, and deciding no doubt that from now
onwards I should never be calm again even when she went out with
Andrée: "Besides, Andrée makes me wild. She is a deadly bore. I never
want to go anywhere with her again. You can tell that to the people
who informed you that I came back to Paris for her sake. Suppose I
were to tell you that after all the years I've known Andrée, I
couldn't even describe her face to you, I've hardly ever looked at
it!" Now at Balbec, in that first year, she had said to me: "Andrée is
lovely." It is true that this did not mean that she had had amorous
relations with her, and indeed I had never heard her speak at that
time save with indignation of any relations of that sort. But could
she not have changed even without being aware that she had changed,
never supposing that her amusements with a girl friend were the same
thing as the immoral relations, not clearly defined in her own mind,
which she condemned in other women? Was it not possible also that this
same change, and this same unconsciousness of change, might have
occurred in her relations with myself, whose kisses she had repulsed
at Balbec with such indignation, kisses which afterwards she was to
give me of her own accord every day, which (so, at least, I hoped) she
would give me for a long time to come, and which she was going to give
me in a moment?  "But, my darling, how do you expect me to tell them
when I do not know who they are?" This answer was so forceful that it
ought to have melted the objections and doubts which I saw
crystallised in Albertine's pupils. But it left them intact. I was now
silent, and yet she continued to gaze at me with that persistent
attention which we give to some one who has not finished speaking. I
begged her pardon once more. She replied that she had nothing to
forgive me. She had grown very gentle again. But, beneath her sad and
troubled features, it seemed to me that a secret had taken shape. I
knew quite well that she could not leave me without warning me,
besides she could not either wish to leave me (it was in a week's time
that she was to try on the new Fortuny gowns), nor decently do so, as
my mother was returning to Paris at the end of the week and her aunt
also. Why, since it was impossible for her to depart, did I repeat to
her several times that we should be going out together next day to
look at some Venetian glass which I wished to give her, and why was I
comforted when I heard her say that that was settled? When it was time
for her to bid me good night and I kissed her, she did not behave as
usual, but turned aside—it was barely a minute or two since I had
been thinking how pleasant it was that she now gave me every evening
what she had refused me at Balbec—she did not return my kiss. One
would have said that, having quarrelled with me, she was not prepared
to give me a token of affection which might later on have appeared to
me a treacherous denial of that quarrel. One would have said that she
was attuning her actions to that quarrel, and yet with moderation,
whether so as not to announce it, or because, while breaking off her
carnal relations with me, she wished still to remain my friend. I
embraced her then a second time, pressing to my heart the mirroring
and gilded azure of the Grand Canal and the mating birds, symbols of
death and resurrection. But for the second time she drew away and,
instead of returning my kiss, withdrew with the sort of instinctive
and fatal obstinacy of animals that feel the hand of death. This
presentiment which she seemed to be expressing overpowered me also,
and filled me with so anxious an alarm that when she had reached the
door I had not the courage to let her go, and called her back,
"Albertine," I said to her, "I am not at all sleepy. If you don't want
to go to sleep yourself, you might stay here a little longer, if you
like, but I don't really mind, and I don't on any account want to tire
you." I felt that if I had been able to make her undress, and to have
her there in her white nightgown, in which she seemed more rosy,
warmer, in which she excited my senses more keenly, the reconciliation
would have been more complete. But I hesitated for an instant, for the
blue border of her gown added to her face a beauty, an illumination, a
sky without which she would have seemed to me more harsh. She came
back slowly and said to me very sweetly, and still with the same
downcast, sorrowful expression: "I can stay as long as you like, I am
not sleepy." Her reply calmed me, for, so long as she was in the room,
I felt that I could take thought for the future and that moreover it
implied friendship, obedience, but of a certain sort, which seemed to
me to be bounded by that secret which I felt to exist behind her
sorrowful gaze, her altered manner, partly in spite of herself, partly
no doubt to attune them beforehand to something which I did not know.
I felt that, all the same, I needed only to have her all in white,
with her throat bare, in front of me, as I had seen her at Balbec in
bed, to find the courage which would make her obliged to yield. "Since
you are so kind as to stay here a moment to console me, you ought to
take off your gown, it is too hot, too stiff, I dare not approach you
for fear of crumpling that fine stuff and we have those symbolic birds
between us. Undress, my darling." "No, I couldn't possibly take off
this dress here. I shall undress in my own room presently." "Then you
won't even come and sit down on my bed?" "Why, of course." She
remained, however, a little way from me, by my feet. We talked. I know
that I then uttered the word death, as though Albertine were about to
die. It seems that events are larger than the moment in which they
occur and cannot confine themselves in it. Certainly they overflow
into the future through the memory that we retain of them, but they
demand a place also in the time that precedes them. One may say that
we do not then see them as they are to be, but in memory are they not
modified also?

When I saw that she deliberately refrained from kissing me, realising
that I was merely wasting my time, that it was only after the kiss
that the soothing, the genuine minutes would begin, I said to her:
"Good night, it is too late," because that would make her kiss me and
we could then continue. But after saying: "Good night, see you sleep
well," exactly as she had done twice already, she contented herself
with letting me kiss her on the cheek. This time I dared not call her
back, but my heart beat so violently that I could not lie down again.
Like a bird that flies from one end of its cage to the other, without
stopping I passed from the anxiety lest Albertine should leave the
house to a state of comparative calm. This calm was produced by the
argument which I kept on repeating several times every minute: "She
cannot go without warning me, she never said anything about going,"
and I was more or less calmed. But at once I reminded myself: "And yet
if to-morrow I find that she has gone. My very anxiety must be founded
upon something; why did she not kiss me?" At this my heart ached
horribly. Then it was slightly soothed by the argument which I
advanced once more, but I ended with a headache, so incessant and
monotonous was this movement of my thoughts. There are thus certain
mental states, and especially anxiety, which, as they offer us only
two alternatives, are in a way as atrociously circumscribed as a
merely physical pain. I perpetually repeated the argument which
justified my anxiety and that which proved it false and reassured me,
within as narrow a space as the sick man who explores without ceasing,
by an internal movement, the organ that is causing his suffering, and
withdraws for an instant from the painful spot to return to it a
moment later. Suddenly, in the silence of the night, I was startled by
a sound apparently insignificant which, however, filled me with
terror, the sound of Albertine's window being violently opened. When I
heard no further sound, I asked myself why this had caused me such
alarm. In itself there was nothing so extraordinary; but I probably
gave it two interpretations which appalled me equally. In the first
place it was one of the conventions of our life in common, since I was
afraid of draughts, that nobody must ever open a window at night. This
had been explained to Albertine when she came to stay in the house,
and albeit she was convinced that this was a mania on my part and
thoroughly unhealthy, she had promised me that she would never break
the rule. And she was so timorous about everything that she knew to be
my wish, even if she blamed me for it, that she would have gone to
sleep with the stench of a chimney on fire rather than open her
window, just as, however important the circumstances, she would not
have had me called in the morning. It was only one of the minor
conventions of our life, but from the moment when she violated it
without having said anything to me, did not that mean that she no
longer needed to take precautions, that she would violate them all
just as easily? Besides, the sound had been violent, almost ill-bred,
as though she had flung the window open crimson with rage, and saying:
"This life is stifling me, so that's that, I must have air!" I did not
exactly say all this to myself, but I continued to think, as of a
presage more mysterious and more funereal than the hoot of an owl, of
that sound of the window which Albertine had opened. Filled with an
agitation such as I had not felt perhaps since the evening at Combray
when Swann had been dining downstairs, I paced the corridor for a long
time, hoping, by the noise that I made, to attract Albertine's
attention, hoping that she would take pity upon me and would call me
to her, but I heard no sound come from her room. Gradually I began to
feel that it was too late. She must long have been asleep. I went back
to bed. In the morning, as soon as I awoke, since no one ever came to
my room, whatever might have happened, without a summons, I rang for
Françoise. And at the same time I thought: "I must speak to Albertine
about a yacht which I mean to have built for her." As I took my
letters I said to Françoise without looking at her: "Presently I shall
have something to say to Mlle. Albertine; is she out of bed yet?"
"Yes, she got up early." I felt arise in me, as in a sudden gust of
wind, a thousand anxieties, which I was unable to keep in suspense in
my bosom. The tumult there was so great that I was quite out of
breath as though caught in a tempest. "Ah! But where is she just now?"
"I expect she's in her room." "Ah! Good! Very well, I shall see her
presently." I breathed again, she was still in the house, my agitation
subsided. Albertine was there, it was almost immaterial to me whether
she was or not. Besides, had it not been absurd to suppose that she
could possibly not be there? I fell asleep, but, in spite of my
certainty that she would not leave me, into a light sleep and of a
lightness relative to her alone. For by the sounds that could be
connected only with work in the courtyard, while I heard them vaguely
in my sleep, I remained unmoved, whereas the slightest rustle that
came from her room, when she left it, or noiselessly returned,
pressing the bell so gently, made me start, ran through my whole body,
left me with a throbbing heart, albeit I had heard it in a profound
slumber, just as my grandmother in the last days before her death,
when she was plunged in an immobility which nothing could disturb and
which the doctors called coma, would begin, I was told, to tremble for
a moment like a leaf when she heard the three rings with which I was
in the habit of summoning Françoise, and which, even when I made them
softer, during that week, so as not to disturb the silence of the
death-chamber, nobody, Françoise assured me, could mistake, because of
a way that I had, and was quite unconscious of having, of pressing the
bell, for the ring of anyone else. Had I then entered myself into my
last agony, was this the approach of death?

That day and the next we went out together, since Albertine refused to
go out again with Andrée. I never even mentioned the yacht to her.
These excursions had completely restored my peace of mind. But she had
continued at night to embrace me in the same novel fashion, which left
me furious. I could interpret it now in no other way than as a method
of shewing me that she was cross with me, which seemed to me perfectly
absurd after my incessant kindness to her. And so, no longer deriving
from her even those carnal satisfactions on which I depended, finding
her positively ugly in her ill humour, I felt all the more keenly my
deprivation of all the women and of the travels for which these first
warm days re-awakened my desire. Thanks no doubt to the scattered
memory of the forgotten assignations that I had had, while still a
schoolboy, with women, beneath trees already in full leaf, this
springtime region in which the endless round of our dwelling-place
travelling through the seasons had halted for the last three days,
beneath a clement sky, and from which all the roads pointed towards
picnics in the country, boating parties, pleasure trips, seemed to me
to be the land of women just as much as it was the land of trees, and
the land in which a pleasure that was everywhere offered became
permissible to my convalescent strength. Resigning myself to idleness,
resigning myself to chastity, to tasting pleasure only with a woman
whom I did not love, resigning myself to remaining shut up in my room,
to not travelling, all this was possible in the Old World in which we
had been only the day before, in the empty world of winter, but was no
longer possible in this new universe bursting with green leaves, in
which I had awaked like a young Adam faced for the first time with the
problem of existence, of happiness, who is not bowed down beneath the
weight of the accumulation of previous negative solutions. Albertine's
presence weighed upon me, and so I regarded her sullenly, feeling that
it was a pity that we had not had a rupture. I wanted to go to Venice,
I wanted in the meantime to go to the Louvre to look at Venetian
pictures and to the Luxembourg to see the two Elstirs which, as I had
just heard, the Duchesse de Guermantes had recently sold to that
gallery, those that I had so greatly admired, the _Pleasures oj the
Dance_ and the _Portrait of the X Family_. But I was afraid that, in
the former, certain lascivious poses might give Albertine a desire, a
regretful longing for popular rejoicings, making her say to herself
that perhaps a certain life which she had never led, a life of
fireworks and country taverns, was not so bad. Already, in
anticipation, I was afraid lest, on the Fourteenth of July, she would
ask me to take her to a popular ball and I dreamed of some impossible
event which would cancel the national holiday. And besides, there
were also present, in Elstir's pictures, certain nude female figures
in the leafy landscapes of the South which might make Albertine think
of certain pleasures, albeit Elstir himself (but would she not lower
the standard of his work?) had seen in them nothing more than plastic
beauty, or rather the beauty of snowy monuments which is assumed by
the bodies of women seated among verdure. And so I resigned myself to
abandoning that pleasure and made up my mind to go to Versailles.
Albertine had remained in her room, reading, in her Fortuny gown. I
asked her if she would like to go with me to Versailles. She had the
charming quality of being always ready for anything, perhaps because
she had been accustomed in the past to spend half her time as the
guest of other people, and, just as she had made up her mind to come
to Paris, in two minutes, she said to me: "I can come as I am, we
shan't be getting out of the car." She hesitated for a moment between
two cloaks in which to conceal her indoor dress—as she might have
hesitated between two friends in the choice of an escort—chose one of
dark blue, an admirable choice, thrust a pin into a hat. In a minute,
she was ready, before I had put on my greatcoat, and we went to
Versailles. This very promptitude, this absolute docility left me more
reassured, as though indeed, without having any special reason for
uneasiness, I had been in need of reassurance. "After all I have
nothing to fear, she does everything that I ask, in spite of the noise
she made with her window the other night. The moment I spoke of going
out, she flung that blue cloak over her gown and out she came, that is
not what a rebel would have done, a person who was no longer on
friendly terms with me," I said to myself as we went to Versailles. We
stayed there a long time. The whole sky was formed of that radiant and
almost pale blue which the wayfarer lying down in a field sees at
times above his head, but so consistent, so intense, that he feels
that the blue of which it is composed has been utilised without any
alloy and with such an inexhaustible richness that one might delve
more and more deeply into its substance without encountering an atom
of anything but that same blue. I thought of my grandmother who—in
human art as in nature—loved grandeur, and who used to enjoy watching
the steeple of Saint-Hilaire soar into the same blue. Suddenly I felt
once again a longing for my lost freedom as I heard a sound which I
did not at first identify, a sound which my grandmother would have
loved as well. It was like the buzz of a wasp. "Why," said Albertine,
"there is an aeroplane, it is high up in the sky, so high." I looked
in every direction but could see only, unmarred by any black spot, the
unbroken pallor of the serene azure. I continued nevertheless to hear
the humming of the wings which suddenly eame into my field of vision.
Up there a pair of tiny wings, dark and flashing, punctured the
continuous blue of the unalterable sky. I had at length been able to
attach the buzzing to its cause, to that little insect throbbing up
there in the sky, probably quite five thousand feet above me; I could
see it hum. Perhaps at a time when distances by land had not yet been
habitually shortened by speed as they are to-day, the whistle of a
passing train a mile off was endowed with that beauty which now and
for some time to come will stir our emotions in the hum of an
aeroplane five thousand feet up, with the thought that the distances
traversed in this vertical journey are the same as those on the
ground, and that in this other direction, where the measurements
appeared to us different because it had seemed impossible to make the
attempt, an aeroplane at five thousand feet is no farther away than a
train a mile off, is indeed nearer, the identical trajectory occurring
in a purer medium, with no separation of the traveller from his
starting point, just as on the sea or across the plains, in calm
weather, the wake of a ship that is already far away or the breath of
a single zephyr will furrow the ocean of water or of grain.

"After all neither of us is really hungry, we might have looked in at
the Verdurins'," Albertine said to me, "this is their day and their
hour." "But I thought you were angry with them?" "Oh! There are all
sorts of stories about them, but really they're not so bad as all
that. Madame Verdurin has always been very nice to me. Besides, one
can't keep on quarrelling all the time with everybody. They have their
faults, but who hasn't?" "You are not dressed, you would have to go
home and dress, that would make us very late." I added that I was
hungry. "Yes, you are right, let us eat by ourselves," replied
Albertine with that marvellous docility which continued to stupefy me.
We stopped at a big pastrycook's, situated almost outside the town,
which at that time enjoyed a certain reputation. A lady was leaving
the place, and asked the girl in charge for her things. And after the
lady had gone, Albertine cast repeated glances at the girl as though
she wished to attract her attention while the other was putting away
cups, plates, cakes, for it was getting late. She came near me only if
I asked for something. And what happened then was that as the girl,
who moreover was extremely tall, was standing up while she waited upon
us and Albertine was seated beside me, each time, Albertine, in an
attempt to attract her attention, raised vertically towards her a
sunny gaze which compelled her to elevate her pupils to an even higher
angle since, the girl being directly in front of us, Albertine had not
the remedy of tempering the angle with the obliquity of her gaze. She
was obliged, without raising her head unduly, to make her eyes ascend
to that disproportionate height at which the girl's eyes were
situated. Out of consideration for myself, Albertine lowered her own
at once, and, as the girl had paid her no attention, began again. This
led to a series of vain imploring elevations before an inaccessible
deity. Then the girl had nothing left to do but to put straight a big
table, next to ours. Now Albertine's gaze need only be natural. But
never once did the girl's eyes rest upon my mistress. This did not
surprise me, for I knew that the woman, with whom I was slightly
acquainted, had lovers, although she was married, but managed to
conceal her intrigues completely, which astonished me vastly in view
of her prodigious stupidity. I studied the woman while we finished
eating. Concentrated upon her task, she was almost impolite to
Albertine, in the sense that she had not a glance to spare for her,
not that Albertine's attitude was not perfectly correct. The other
arranged things, went on arranging things, without letting anything
distract her. The counting and putting away of the coffee-spoons, the
fruit-knives, might have been entrusted not to this large and handsome
woman, but, by a 'labour-saving' device, to a mere machine, and you
would not have seen so complete an isolation from Albertine's
attention, and yet she did not lower her eyes, did not let herself
become absorbed, allowed her eyes, her charms to shine in an undivided
attention to her work. It is true that if this woman had not been a
particularly foolish person (not only was this her reputation, but I
knew it by experience), this detachment might have been a supreme
proof of her cunning. And I know very well that the stupidest person,
if his desire or his pocket is involved, can, in that sole instance,
emerging from the nullity of his stupid life, adapt himself
immediately to the workings of the most complicated machinery; all the
same, this would have been too subtle a supposition in the case of a
woman as idiotic as this. Her idiocy even assumed the improbable form
of impoliteness! Never once did she look at Albertine whom, after all,
she could not help seeing. It was not very flattering for my mistress,
but, when all was said, I was delighted that Albertine should receive
this little lesson and should see that frequently women paid no
attention to her. We left the pastry-cook's, got into our carriage and
were already on our way home when I was seized by a sudden regret that
I had not taken the waitress aside and begged her on no account to
tell the lady who had come out of the shop as we were going in my name
and address, which she must know because of the orders I had
constantly left with her. It was indeed undesirable that the lady
should be enabled thus to learn, indirectly, Albertine's address. But
I felt that it would be a waste of time to turn back for so small a
matter, and that I should appear to be attaching too great an
importance to it in the eyes of the idiotic and untruthful waitress. I
decided, finally, that I should have to return there, in a week's
time, to make this request, and that it was a great bore, since one
always forgot half the things that one had to say, to have to do even
the simplest things in instalments. In this connexion, I cannot tell
you how densely, now that I come to think of it, Albertine's life was
covered in a network of alternate, fugitive, often contradictory
desires. No doubt falsehood complicated this still further, for, as
she retained no accurate memory of our conversations, when she had
said to me: "Ah! That's a pretty girl, if you like, and a good
golfer," and I had asked the girl's name, she had answered with that
detached, universal, superior air of which no doubt there is always
enough and to spare, for every liar of this category borrows it for a
moment when he does not wish to answer a question, and it never fails
him: "Ah! That I don't know" (with regret at her inability to
enlighten me). "I never knew her name, I used to see her on the golf
course, but I didn't know what she was called";—if, a month later, I
said to her: "Albertine, you remember that pretty girl you mentioned
to me, who plays golf so well." "Ah, yes," she would answer without
thinking: "Emilie Daltier, I don't know what has become of her." And
the lie, like a line of earthworks, was carried back from the defence
of the name, now captured, to the possibilities of meeting her again.
"Oh, I can't tell you, I never knew her address. I never see anybody
who could tell you. Oh, no! Andrée never knew her. She wasn't one of
our little band, now so scattered." At other times the lie took the
form of a base admission: "Ah! If I had three hundred thousand francs
a year...." She bit her lip. "Well? What would you do then?" "I
should ask you," she said, kissing me as she spoke, "to allow me to
remain with you always. Where else could I be so happy?" But, even
when one took her lies into account, it was incredible how spasmodic
her life was, how fugitive her strongest desires. She would be mad
about a person whom, three days later, she would refuse to see. She
could not wait for an hour while I sent out for canvas and colours,
for she wished to start painting again. For two whole days she was
impatient, almost shed the tears, quickly dried, of an infant that has
just been weaned from its nurse. And this instability of her feelings
with regard to people, things, occupations, arts, places, was in fact
so universal that, if she did love money, which I do not believe, she
cannot have loved it for longer than anything else. When she said:
"Ah! If I had three hundred thousand francs a year!" or even if she
expressed a bad but very transient thought, she could not have
attached herself to it any longer than to the idea of going to Les
Rochers, of which she had seen an engraving in my grandmother's
edition of Mme. de Sévigné, of meeting an old friend from the golf
course, of going up in an aeroplane, of going to spend Christmas with
her aunt, or of taking up painting again.

We returned home very late one evening while, here and there, by the
roadside, a pair of red breeches pressed against a skirt revealed an
amorous couple. Our carriage passed in through the Porte Maillot. For
the monuments of Paris had been substituted, pure, linear, without
depth, a drawing of the monuments of Paris, as though in an attempt to
recall the appearance of a city that had been destroyed. But, round
about this picture, there stood out so delicately the pale-blue
mounting in which it was framed that one's greedy eyes sought
everywhere for a further trace of that delicious shade which was too
sparingly measured out to them: the moon was shining. Albertine
admired the moonlight. I dared not tell her that I would have admired
it more if I had been alone, or in quest of a strange woman. I
repeated to her poetry or passages of prose about moonlight, pointing
out to her how from 'silvery' which it had been at one time, it had
turned 'blue' in Chateaubriand, in the Victor Hugo of _Eviradnus_ and
_La Fête chez Thérèse_, to become in turn yellow and metallic in
Baudelaire and Leconte de Lisle. Then, reminding her of the image that
is used for the crescent moon at the end of _Booz endormi_, I repeated
the whole of that poem to her. And so we came to the house. The fine
weather that night made a leap forwards as the mercury in the
thermometer darts upward. In the early-rising mornings of spring that
followed, I could hear the tram-cars moving, through a cloud of
perfumes, in an air with which the prevailing warmth became more and
more blended until it reached the solidification and density of noon.
When the unctuous air had succeeded in varnishing with it and
isolating in it the scent of the wash-stand, the scent of the
wardrobe, the scent of the sofa, simply by the sharpness with which,
vertical and erect, they stood out in adjacent but distinct slices, in
a pearly chiaroscuro which added a softer glaze to the shimmer of the
curtains and the blue satin armchairs, I saw myself, not by a mere
caprice of my imagination, but because it was physically possible,
following in some new quarter of the suburbs, like that in which
Bloch's house at Balbec was situated, the streets blinded by the sun,
and finding in them not the dull butchers' shops and the white
freestone facings, but the country dining-room which I could reach in
no time, and the scents that I would find there on my arrival, that of
the bowl of cherries and apricots, the scent of cider, that of gruyère
cheese, held in suspense in the luminous congelation of shadow which
they delicately vein like the heart of an agate, while the knife-rests
of prismatic glass scatter rainbows athwart the room or paint the
waxcloth here and there with peacock-eyes. Like a wind that swells in
a regular progression, I heard with joy a motor-car beneath the
window. I smelt its odour of petrol. It may seem regrettable to the
over-sensitive (who are always materialists) for whom it spoils the
country, and to certain thinkers (materialists after their own fashion
also) who, believing in the importance of facts, imagine that man
would be happier, capable of higher flights of poetry, if his eyes
were able to perceive more colours, his nostrils to distinguish more
scents, a philosophical adaptation of the simple thought of those who
believe that life was finer when men wore, instead of the black coats
of to-day, sumptuous costumes. But to me (just as an aroma, unpleasant
perhaps in itself, of naphthaline and flowering grasses would have
thrilled me by giving me back the blue purity of the sea on the day of
my arrival at Balbec), this smell of petrol which, with the smoke from
the exhaust of the car, had so often melted into the pale azure, on
those scorching days when I used to drive from Saint-Jean de la Haise
to Gourville, as it had accompanied me on my excursions during those
summer afternoons when I had left Albertine painting, called into
blossom now on either side of me, for all that I was lying in my
darkened bedroom, cornflowers, poppies and red clover, intoxicated me
like a country scent, not circumscribed and fixed, like that which is
spread before the hawthorns and, retained in its unctuous and dense
elements, floats with a certain stability before the hedge, but like a
scent before which the roads took flight, the sun's face changed,
castles came hurrying to meet me, the sky turned pale, force was
increased tenfold, a scent which was like a symbol of elastic motion
and power, and which revived the desire that I had felt at Balbec, to
enter the cage of steel and crystal, but this time not to go any
longer on visits to familiar houses with a woman whom I knew too well,
but to make love in new places with a woman unknown. A scent that was
accompanied at every moment by the horns of passing motors, which I
set to words like a military call: "Parisian, get up, get up, come out
and picnic in the country, and take a boat on the river, under the
trees, with a pretty girl; get up, get up!" And all these musings were
so agreeable that I congratulated myself upon the 'stern decree' which
prescribed that until I should have rung my bell, no 'timid mortal,'
whether Françoise or Albertine, should dream of coming in to disturb
me 'within this palace' where

  "... a terrible
  Majesty makes me all invisible
  To my subjects."

But all of a sudden the scene changed; it was the memory, no longer of
old impressions, but of an old desire, quite recently reawakened by
the Fortuny gown in blue and gold, that spread itself before me,
another spring, a spring not leafy at all but suddenly stripped, on
the contrary, of its trees and flowers by the name that I had just
uttered to myself: 'Venice,' a decanted spring, which is reduced to
its essential qualities, and expresses the lengthening, the warming,
the gradual maturing of its days by the progressive fermentation, not
(this time) of an impure soil, but of a blue and virgin water,
springlike without bud or blossom, which could answer the call of May
only by gleaming facets, carved by that month, harmonising exactly
with it in the radiant, unaltering nakedness of its dusky sapphire.
And so, no more than the seasons to its unflowering inlets of the sea,
do modern years bring any change to the gothic city; I knew it, I
could not imagine it, but this was what I longed to contemplate with
the same desire which long ago, when I was a boy, in the very ardour
of my departure had shattered the strength necessary for the journey;
I wished to find myself face to face with my Venetian imaginings, to
behold how that divided sea enclosed in its meanderings, like the
streams of Ocean, an urbane and refined civilisation, but one that,
isolated by their azure belt, had developed by itself, had had its own
schools of painting and architecture, to admire that fabulous garden
of fruits and birds in coloured stone, flowering in the midst of the
sea which kept it refreshed, splashed with its tide against the base
of the columns and, on the bold relief of the capitals, like a dark
blue eye watching in the shadows, laid patches, which it kept
perpetually moving, of light. Yes, I must go, the time had come. Now
that Albertine no longer appeared to be cross with me, the possession
of her no longer seemed to me a treasure in exchange for which we are
prepared to sacrifice every other. For we should have done so only to
rid ourselves of a grief, an anxiety which were now appeased. We have
succeeded in jumping through the calico hoop through which we thought
for a moment that we should never be able to pass. We have lightened
the storm, brought back the serenity of the smile. The agonising
mystery of a hatred without any known cause, and perhaps without end,
is dispelled. Henceforward we find ourselves once more face to face
with the problem, momentarily thrust aside, of a happiness which we
know to be impossible. Now that life with Albertine had become
possible once again, I felt that I could derive nothing from it but
misery, since she did not love me; better to part from her in the
pleasant moment of her consent which I should prolong in memory. Yes,
this was the moment; I must make quite certain of the date on which
Andrée was leaving Paris, use all my influence with Mme. Bon temps to
make sure that at that moment Albertine should not be able to go
either to Holland or to Montjouvain. It would fall to our lot, were we
better able to analyse our loves, to see that often women rise in our
estimation only because of the dead weight of men with whom we have to
compete for them, although we can hardly bear the thought of that
competition; the counterpoise removed, the charm of the woman
declines. We have a painful and salutary example of this in the
predilection that men feel for the women who, before coming to know
them, have gone astray, for those women whom they feel to be sinking
in perilous quicksands and whom they must spend the whole period of
their love in rescuing; a posthumous example, on the other hand, and
one that is not at all dramatic, in the man who, conscious of a
decline in his affection for the woman whom he loves, spontaneously
applies the rules that he has deduced, and, to make sure of his not
ceasing to love the woman, places her in a dangerous environment from
which he is obliged to protect her daily. (The opposite of the men who
insist upon a woman's retiring from the stage even when it was because
of her being upon the stage that they fell in love with her.)

When in this way there could be no objection to Albertine's departure,
I should have to choose a fine day like this—and there would be
plenty of them before long—one on which she would have ceased to
matter to me, on which I should be tempted by countless desires, I
should have to let her leave the house without my seeing her, then,
rising from my bed, making all my preparations in haste, leave a note
for her, taking advantage of the fact that as she could not for the
time being go to any place the thought of which would upset me, I
might be spared, during my travels, from imagining the wicked things
that she was perhaps doing—which for that matter seemed to me at the
moment to be quite unimportant—and, without seeing her again, might
leave for Venice.

I rang for Françoise to ask her to buy me a guide-book and a
timetable, as I had done as a boy, when I wished to prepare in advance
a journey to Venice, the realisation of a desire as violent as that
which I felt at this moment; I forgot that, in the interval, there was
a desire which I had attained, without any satisfaction, the desire
for Balbec, and that Venice, being also a visible phenomenon, was
probably no more able than Balbec to realise an ineffable dream, that
of the gothic age, made actual by a springtime sea, and coming at
moments to stir my soul with an enchanted, caressing, unseizable,
mysterious, confused image. Françoise having heard my ring came into
the room, in considerable uneasiness as to how I would receive what
she had to say and what she had done. "It has been most awkward," she
said to me, "that Monsieur is so late in ringing this morning. I
didn't know what I ought to do. This morning at eight o'clock
Mademoiselle Albertine asked me for her trunks, I dared not refuse
her, I was afraid of Monsieur's scolding me if I came and waked him.
It was no use my putting her through her catechism, telling her to
wait an hour because I expected all the time that Monsieur would ring;
she wouldn't have it, she left this letter with me for Monsieur, and
at nine o'clock off she went." Then—so ignorant may we be of what we
have within us, since I was convinced of my own indifference to
Albertine—my breath was cut short, I gripped my heart in my hands
suddenly moistened by a perspiration which I had not known since the
revelation that my mistress had made on the little tram with regard to
Mlle. Vinteuil's friend, without my being able to say anything else
than: "Ah! Very good, you did quite right not to wake me, leave me now
for a little, I shall ring for you presently."


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