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Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

Part 4 out of 9

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spirit would urge me to attempt to make her angry, and I would avail
myself of the slightest pretext to say to her that I regretted my aunt's
death because she had been a good woman in spite of her absurdities, but
not in the least because she was my aunt; that she might easily have been
my aunt and yet have been so odious that her death would not have caused
me a moment's sorrow; statements which, in a book, would have struck me as
merely fatuous.

And if Françoise then, inspired like a poet with a flood of confused
reflections upon bereavement, grief, and family memories, were to plead
her inability to rebut my theories, saying: "I don't know how to _espress_
myself"--I would triumph over her with an ironical and brutal common sense
worthy of Dr. Percepied; and if she went on: "All the same she was a
_geological_ relation; there is always the respect due to your _geology_,"
I would shrug my shoulders and say: "It is really very good of me to
discuss the matter with an illiterate old woman who cannot speak her own
language," adopting, to deliver judgment on Françoise, the mean and narrow
outlook of the pedant, whom those who are most contemptuous of him in the
impartiality of their own minds are only too prone to copy when they are
obliged to play a part upon the vulgar stage of life.

My walks, that autumn, were all the more delightful because I used to take
them after long hours spent over a book. When I was tired of reading,
after a whole morning in the house, I would throw my plaid across my
shoulders and set out; my body, which in a long spell of enforced
immobility had stored up an accumulation of vital energy, was now obliged,
like a spinning-top wound and let go, to spend this in every direction.
The walls of houses, the Tansonville hedge, the trees of Roussainville
wood, the bushes against which Montjouvain leaned its back, all must bear
the blows of my walking-stick or umbrella, must hear my shouts of
happiness, blows and shouts being indeed no more than expressions of the
confused ideas which exhilarated me, and which, not being developed to the
point at which they might rest exposed to the light of day, rather than
submit to a slow and difficult course of elucidation, found it easier and
more pleasant to drift into an immediate outlet. And so it is that the
bulk of what appear to be the emotional renderings of our inmost
sensations do no more than relieve us of the burden of those sensations by
allowing them to escape from us in an indistinct form which does not teach
us how it should be interpreted. When I attempt to reckon up all that I
owe to the 'Méséglise way,' all the humble discoveries of which it was
either the accidental setting or the direct inspiration and cause, I am
reminded that it was in that same autumn, on one of those walks, near the
bushy precipice which guarded Montjouvain from the rear, that I was struck
for the first time by this lack of harmony between our impressions and
their normal forms of expression. After an hour of rain and wind, against
which I had put up a brisk fight, as I came to the edge of the Montjouvain
pond, and reached a little hut, roofed with tiles, in which M. Vinteuil's
gardener kept his tools, the sun shone out again, and its golden rays,
washed clean by the shower, blazed once more in the sky, on the trees, on
the wall of the hut, and on the still wet tiles of the roof, which had a
chicken perching upon its ridge. The wind pulled out sideways the wild
grass that grew in the wall, and the chicken's downy feathers, both of
which things let themselves float upon the wind's breath to their full
extent, with the unresisting submissiveness of light and lifeless matter.
The tiled roof cast upon the pond, whose reflections were now clear again
in the sunlight, a square of pink marble, the like of which I had never
observed before. And, seeing upon the water, where it reflected the wall,
a pallid smile responding to the smiling sky, I cried aloud in my
enthusiasm, brandishing my furled umbrella: "Damn, damn, damn, damn!" But
at the same time I felt that I was in duty bound not to content myself
with these unilluminating words, but to endeavour to see more clearly into
the sources of my enjoyment.

And it was at that moment, too--thanks to a peasant who went past,
apparently in a bad enough humour already, but more so when he nearly
received my umbrella in his face, and who replied without any cordiality
to my "Fine day, what! good to be out walking!"--that I learned that
identical emotions do not spring up in the hearts of all men
simultaneously, by a pre-established order. Later on I discovered that,
whenever I had read for too long and was in a mood for conversation, the
friend to whom I would be burning to say something would at that moment
have finished indulging himself in the delights of conversation, and
wanted nothing now but to be left to read undisturbed. And if I had been
thinking with affection of my parents, and forming the most sensible and
proper plans for giving them pleasure, they would have been using the same
interval of time to discover some misdeed that I had already forgotten,
and would begin to scold me severely, just as I flung myself upon them
with a kiss.

Sometimes to the exhilaration which I derived from being alone would be
added an alternative feeling, so that I could not be clear in my mind to
which I should give the casting vote; a feeling stimulated by the desire
to see rise up before my eyes a peasant-girl whom I might clasp in my
arms. Coming abruptly, and without giving me time to trace it accurately
to its source among so many ideas of a very different kind, the pleasure
which accompanied this desire seemed only a degree superior to what was
given me by my other thoughts. I found an additional merit in everything
that was in my mind at the moment, in the pink reflection of the tiled
roof, the wild grass in the wall, the village of Roussainville into which
I had long desired to penetrate, the trees of its wood and the steeple of
its church, created in them by this fresh emotion which made them appear
more desirable only because I thought it was they that had provoked it,
and which seemed only to wish to bear me more swiftly towards them when it
filled my sails with a potent, unknown, and propitious breeze. But if this
desire that a woman should appear added for me something more exalting
than the charms of nature, they in their turn enlarged what I might, in
the woman's charm, have found too much restricted. It seemed to me that
the beauty of the trees was hers also, and that, as for the spirit of
those horizons, of the village of Roussainville, of the books which I was
reading that year, it was her kiss which would make me master of them all;
and, my imagination drawing strength from contact with my sensuality, my
sensuality expanding through all the realms of my imagination, my desire
had no longer any bounds. Moreover--just as in moments of musing
contemplation of nature, the normal actions of the mind being suspended,
and our abstract ideas of things set on one side, we believe with the
profoundest faith in the originality, in the individual existence of the
place in which we may happen to be--the passing figure which my desire
evoked seemed to be not any one example of the general type of 'woman,'
but a necessary and natural product of the soil. For at that time
everything which was not myself, the earth and the creatures upon it,
seemed to me more precious, more important, endowed with a more real
existence than they appear to full-grown men. And between the earth and
its creatures I made no distinction. I had a desire for a peasant-girl
from Méséglise or Roussainville, for a fisher-girl from Balbec, just as I
had a desire for Balbec and Méséglise. The pleasure which those girls were
empowered to give me would have seemed less genuine, I should have had no
faith in it any longer, if I had been at liberty to modify its conditions
as I chose. To meet in Paris a fisher-girl from Balbec or a peasant-girl
from Méséglise would have been like receiving the present of a shell which
I had never seen upon the beach, or of a fern which I had never found
among the woods, would have stripped from the pleasure which she was about
to give me all those other pleasures in the thick of which my imagination
had enwrapped her. But to wander thus among the woods of Roussainville
without a peasant-girl to embrace was to see those woods and yet know
nothing of their secret treasure, their deep-hidden beauty. That girl
whom I never saw save dappled with the shadows of their leaves, was to me
herself a plant of local growth, only taller than the rest, and one whose
structure would enable me to approach more closely than in them to the
intimate savour of the land from which she had sprung. I could believe
this all the more readily (and also that the caresses by which she would
bring that savour to my senses were themselves of a particular kind,
yielding a pleasure which I could never derive from any but herself) since
I was still, and must for long remain, in that period of life when one has
not yet separated the fact of this sensual pleasure from the various women
in whose company one has tasted it, when one has not reduced it to a
general idea which makes one regard them thenceforward as the variable
instruments of a pleasure that is always the same. Indeed, that pleasure
does not exist, isolated and formulated in the consciousness, as the
ultimate object with which one seeks a woman's company, or as the cause of
the uneasiness which, in anticipation, one then feels. Hardly even does
one think of oneself, but only how to escape from oneself. Obscurely
awaited, immanent and concealed, it rouses to such a paroxysm, at the
moment when at last it makes itself felt, those other pleasures which we
find in the tender glance, in the kiss of her who is by our side, that it
seems to us, more than anything else, a sort of transport of gratitude for
the kindness of heart of our companion and for her touching predilection
of ourselves, which we measure by the benefits, by the happiness that she
showers upon us.

Alas, it was in vain that I implored the dungeon-keep of Roussainville,
that I begged it to send out to meet me some daughter of its village,
appealing to it as to the sole confidant to whom I had disclosed my
earliest desire when, from the top floor of our house at Combray, from the
little room that smelt of orris-root, I had peered out and seen nothing
but its tower, framed in the square of the half-opened window, while, with
the heroic scruples of a traveller setting forth for unknown climes, or of
a desperate wretch hesitating on the verge of self-destruction, faint with
emotion, I explored, across the bounds of my own experience, an untrodden
path which, I believed, might lead me to my death, even--until passion
spent itself and left me shuddering among the sprays of flowering currant
which, creeping in through the window, tumbled all about my body. In vain
I called upon it now. In vain I compressed the whole landscape into my
field of vision, draining it with an exhaustive gaze which sought to
extract from it a female creature. I might go alone as far as the porch of
Saint-André-des-Champs: never did I find there the girl whom I should
inevitably have met, had I been with my grandfather, and so unable to
engage her in conversation. I would fix my eyes, without limit of time,
upon the trunk of a distant tree, from behind which she must appear and
spring towards me; my closest scrutiny left the horizon barren as before;
night was falling; without any hope now would I concentrate my attention,
as though to force up out of it the creatures which it must conceal, upon
that sterile soil, that stale and outworn land; and it was no longer in
lightness of heart, but with sullen anger that I aimed blows at the trees
of Roussainville wood, from among which no more living creatures made
their appearance than if they had been trees painted on the stretched
canvas background of a panorama, when, unable to resign myself to having
to return home without having held in my arms the woman I so greatly
desired, I was yet obliged to retrace my steps towards Combray, and to
admit to myself that the chance of her appearing in my path grew smaller
every moment. And if she had appeared, would I have dared to speak to her?
I felt that she would have regarded me as mad, for I no longer thought of
those desires which came to me on my walks, but were never realized, as
being shared by others, or as having any existence apart from myself. They
seemed nothing more now than the purely subjective, impotent, illusory
creatures of my temperament. They were in no way connected now with
nature, with the world of real things, which from now onwards lost all its
charm and significance, and meant no more to my life than a purely
conventional framework, just as the action of a novel is framed in the
railway carriage, on a seat of which a traveller is reading it to pass the

And it is perhaps from another impression which I received at
Mont-jouvain, some years later, an impression which at that time was
without meaning, that there arose, long afterwards, my idea of that cruel
side of human passion called 'sadism.' We shall see, in due course, that
for quite another reason the memory of this impression was to play an
important part in my life. It was during a spell of very hot weather; my
parents, who had been obliged to go away for the whole day, had told me
that I might stay out as late as I pleased; and having gone as far as the
Montjouvain pond, where I enjoyed seeing again the reflection of the tiled
roof of the hut, I had lain down in the shade and gone to sleep among the
bushes on the steep slope that rose up behind the house, just where I had
waited for my parents, years before, one day when they had gone to call on
M. Vinteuil. It was almost dark when I awoke, and I wished to rise and go
away, but I saw Mile. Vinteuil (or thought, at least, that I recognised
her, for I had not seen her often at Combray, and then only when she was
still a child, whereas she was now growing into a young woman), who
probably had just come in, standing in front of me, and only a few feet
away from me, in that room in which her father had entertained mine, and
which she had now made into a little sitting-room for herself. The window
was partly open; the lamp was lighted; I could watch her every movement
without her being able to see me; but, had I gone away, I must have made a
rustling sound among the bushes, she would have heard me, and might have
thought that I had been hiding there in order to spy upon her.

She was in deep mourning, for her father had but lately died. We had not
gone to see her; my mother had not cared to go, on account of that virtue
which alone in her fixed any bounds to her benevolence--namely, modesty;
but she pitied the girl from the depths of her heart. My mother had not
forgotten the sad end of M. Vinteuil's life, his complete absorption,
first in having to play both mother and nursery-maid to his daughter, and,
later, in the suffering which she had caused him; she could see the
tortured expression which was never absent from the old man's face in
those terrible last years; she knew that he had definitely abandoned the
task of transcribing in fair copies the whole of his later work, the poor
little pieces, we imagined, of an old music-master, a retired village
organist, which, we assumed, were of little or no value in themselves,
though we did not despise them, because they were of such great value to
him and had been the chief motive of his life before he sacrificed them to
his daughter; pieces which, being mostly not even written down, but
recorded only in his memory, while the rest were scribbled on loose sheets
of paper, and quite illegible, must now remain unknown for ever; my mother
thought, also, of that other and still more cruel renunciation to which M.
Vinteuil had been driven, that of seeing the girl happily settled, with an
honest and respectable future; when she called to mind all this utter and
crushing misery that had come upon my aunts' old music-master, she was
moved to very real grief, and shuddered to think of that other grief, so
different in its bitterness, which Mlle. Vinteuil must now be feeling,
tinged with remorse at having virtually killed her father. "Poor M.
Vinteuil," my mother would say, "he lived for his daughter, and now he has
died for her, without getting his reward. Will he get it now, I wonder,
and in what form? It can only come to him from her."

At the far end of Mlle. Vinteuil's sitting-room, on the mantelpiece, stood
a small photograph of her father which she went briskly to fetch, just as
the sound of carriage wheels was heard from the road outside, then flung
herself down on a sofa and drew close beside her a little table on which
she placed the photograph, just as, long ago, M. Vinteuil had 'placed'
beside him the piece of music which he would have liked to play over to my
parents. And then her friend came in. Mlle. Vinteuil greeted her without
rising, clasping her hands behind her head, and drew her body to one side
of the sofa, as though to 'make room.' But no sooner had she done this
than she appeared to feel that she was perhaps suggesting a particular
position to her friend, with an emphasis which might well be regarded as
importunate. She thought that her friend would prefer, no doubt, to sit
down at some distance from her, upon a chair; she felt that she had been
indiscreet; her sensitive heart took fright; stretching herself out again
over the whole of the sofa, she closed her eyes and began to yawn, so as
to indicate that it was a desire to sleep, and that alone, which had made
her lie down there. Despite the rude and hectoring familiarity with which
she treated her companion I could recognise in her the obsequious and
reticent advances, the abrupt scruples and restraints which had
characterised her father. Presently she rose and came to the window, where
she pretended to be trying to close the shutters and not succeeding.

"Leave them open," said her friend. "I am hot."

"But it's too dreadful! People will see us," Mlle. Vinteuil answered. And
then she guessed, probably, that her friend would think that she had
uttered these words simply in order to provoke a reply in certain other
words, which she seemed, indeed, to wish to hear spoken, but, from
prudence, would let her friend be the first to speak. And so, although I
could not see her face clearly enough, I am sure that the expression must
have appeared on it which my grandmother had once found so delightful,
when she hastily went on: "When I say 'see us' I mean, of course, see us
reading. It's so dreadful to think that in every trivial little thing you
do some one may be overlooking you."

With the instinctive generosity of her nature, a courtesy beyond her
control, she refrained from uttering the studied words which, she had
felt, were indispensable for the full realisation of her desire. And
perpetually, in the depths of her being, a shy and suppliant maiden would
kneel before that other element, the old campaigner, battered but
triumphant, would intercede with him and oblige him to retire.

"Oh, yes, it is so extremely likely that people are looking at us at this
time of night in this densely populated district!" said her friend, with
bitter irony. "And what if they are?" she went on, feeling bound to
annotate with a malicious yet affectionate wink these words which she was
repeating, out of good nature, like a lesson prepared beforehand which,
she knew, it would please Mlle. Vinteuil to hear. "And what if they are?
All the better that they should see us."

Mlle. Vinteuil shuddered and rose to her feet. In her sensitive and
scrupulous heart she was ignorant what words ought to flow, spontaneously,
from her lips, so as to produce the scene for which her eager senses
clamoured. She reached out as far as she could across the limitations of
her true character to find the language appropriate to a vicious young
woman such as she longed to be thought, but the words which, she imagined,
such a young woman might have uttered with sincerity sounded unreal in her
own mouth. And what little she allowed herself to say was said in a
strained tone, in which her ingrained timidity paralysed her tendency to
freedom and audacity of speech; while she kept on interrupting herself
with: "You're sure you aren't cold? You aren't too hot? You don't want to
sit and read by yourself?...

"Your ladyship's thoughts seem to be rather 'warm' this evening," she
concluded, doubtless repeating a phrase which she had heard used, on some
earlier occasion, by her friend.

In the V-shaped opening of her crape bodice Mlle. Vinteuil felt the sting
of her friend's sudden kiss; she gave a little scream and ran away; and
then they began to chase one another about the room, scrambling over the
furniture, their wide sleeves fluttering like wings, clucking and crowing
like a pair of amorous fowls. At last Mlle. Vinteuil fell down exhausted
upon the sofa, where she was screened from me by the stooping body of her
friend. But the latter now had her back turned to the little table on
which the old music-master's portrait had been arranged. Mlle. Vinteuil
realised that her friend would not see it unless her attention were drawn
to it, and so exclaimed, as if she herself had just noticed it for the
first time: "Oh! there's my father's picture looking at us; I can't think
who can have put it there; I'm sure I've told them twenty times, that is
not the proper place for it."

I remembered the words that M. Vinteuil had used to my parents in
apologising for an obtrusive sheet of music. This photograph was, of
course, in common use in their ritual observances, was subjected to daily
profanation, for the friend replied in words which were evidently a
liturgical response: "Let him stay there. He can't trouble us any longer.
D'you think he'd start whining, d'you think he'd pack you out of the house
if he could see you now, with the window open, the ugly old monkey?"

To which Mlle. Vinteuil replied, "Oh, please!"--a gentle reproach which
testified to the genuine goodness of her nature, not that it was prompted
by any resentment at hearing her father spoken of in this fashion (for
that was evidently a feeling which she had trained herself, by a long
course of sophistries, to keep in close subjection at such moments), but
rather because it was the bridle which, so as to avoid all appearance of
egotism, she herself used to curb the gratification which her friend was
attempting to procure for her. It may well have been, too, that the
smiling moderation with which she faced and answered these blasphemies,
that this tender and hypocritical rebuke appeared to her frank and
generous nature as a particularly shameful and seductive form of that
criminal attitude towards life which she was endeavouring to adopt. But
she could not resist the attraction of being treated with affection by a
woman who had just shewn herself so implacable towards the defenceless
dead; she sprang on to the knees of her friend and held out a chaste brow
to be kissed; precisely as a daughter would have done to her mother,
feeling with exquisite joy that they would thus, between them, inflict the
last turn of the screw of cruelty, in robbing M. Vinteuil, as though they
were actually rifling his tomb, of the sacred rights of fatherhood. Her
friend took the girl's head in her hands and placed a kiss on her brow
with a docility prompted by the real affection she had for Mlle. Vinteuil,
as well as by the desire to bring what distraction she could into the dull
and melancholy life of an orphan.

"Do you know what I should like to do to that old horror?" she said,
taking up the photograph. She murmured in Mlle. Vinteuil's ear something
that I could not distinguish.

"Oh! You would never dare."

"Not dare to spit on it? On that?" shouted the friend with deliberate

I heard no more, for Mlle. Vinteuil, who now seemed weary, awkward,
preoccupied, sincere, and rather sad, came back to the window and drew the
shutters close; but I knew now what was the reward that M. Vinteuil, in
return for all the suffering that he had endured in his lifetime, on
account of his daughter, had received from her after his death.

And yet I have since reflected that if M. Vinteuil had been able to be
present at this scene, he might still, and in spite of everything, have
continued to believe in his daughter's soundness of heart, and that he
might even, in so doing, have been not altogether wrong. It was true that
in all Mlle. Vinteuil's actions the appearance of evil was so strong and
so consistent that it would have been hard to find it exhibited in such
completeness save in what is nowadays called a 'sadist'; it is behind the
footlights of a Paris theatre, and not under the homely lamp of an actual
country house, that one expects to see a girl leading her friend on to
spit upon the portrait of a father who has lived and died for nothing and
no one but herself; and when we find in real life a desire for
melodramatic effect, it is generally the 'sadic' instinct that is
responsible for it. It is possible that, without being in the least
inclined towards 'sadism,' a girl might have shewn the same outrageous
cruelty as Mlle. Vinteuil in desecrating the memory and defying the wishes
of her dead father, but she would not have given them deliberate
expression in an act so crude in its symbolism, so lacking in subtlety;
the criminal element in her behaviour would have been less evident to
other people, and even to herself, since she would not have admitted to
herself that she was doing wrong. But, appearances apart, in Mlle.
Vinteuil's soul, at least in the earlier stages, the evil element was
probably not unmixed. A 'sadist' of her kind is an artist in evil, which a
wholly wicked person could not be, for in that case the evil would not
have been external, it would have seemed quite natural to her, and would
not even have been distinguishable from herself; and as for virtue,
respect for the dead, filial obedience, since she would never have
practised the cult of these things, she would take no impious delight in
their profanation. 'Sadists' of Mlle. Vinteuil's sort are creatures so
purely sentimental, so virtuous by nature, that even sensual pleasure
appears to them as something bad, a privilege reserved for the wicked. And
when they allow themselves for a moment to enjoy it they endeavour to
impersonate, to assume all the outward appearance of wicked people, for
themselves and their partners in guilt, so as to gain the momentary
illusion of having escaped beyond the control of their own gentle and
scrupulous natures into the inhuman world of pleasure. And I could
understand how she must have longed for such an escape when I realised
that it was impossible for her to effect it. At the moment when she wished
to be thought the very antithesis of her father, what she at once
suggested to me were the mannerisms, in thought and speech, of the poor
old music-master. Indeed, his photograph was nothing; what she really
desecrated, what she corrupted into ministering to her pleasures, but what
remained between them and her and prevented her from any direct enjoyment
of them, was the likeness between her face and his, his mother's blue eyes
which he had handed down to her, like some trinket to be kept in the
family, those little friendly movements and inclinations which set up
between the viciousness of Mlle. Vinteuil and herself a phraseology, a
mentality not designed for vice, which made her regard it as not in any
way different from the numberless little social duties and courtesies to
which she must devote herself every day. It was not evil that gave her the
idea of pleasure, that seemed to her attractive; it was pleasure, rather,
that seemed evil. And as, every time that she indulged in it, pleasure
came to her attended by evil thoughts such as, ordinarily, had no place in
her virtuous mind, she came at length to see in pleasure itself something
diabolical, to identify it with Evil. Perhaps Mlle. Vinteuil felt that at
heart her friend was not altogether bad, not really sincere when she gave
vent to those blasphemous utterances. At any rate, she had the pleasure
of receiving those kisses on her brow, those smiles, those glances; all
feigned, perhaps, but akin in their base and vicious mode of expression to
those which would have been discernible on the face of a creature formed
not out of kindness and long-suffering, but out of self-indulgence and
cruelty. She was able to delude herself for a moment into believing that
she was indeed amusing herself in the way in which, with so unnatural an
accomplice, a girl might amuse herself who really did experience that
savage antipathy towards her father's memory. Perhaps she would not have
thought of wickedness as a state so rare, so abnormal, so exotic, one
which it was so refreshing to visit, had she been able to distinguish in
herself, as in all her fellow-men and women, that indifference to the
sufferings which they cause which, whatever names else be given it, is the
one true, terrible and lasting form of cruelty.

- - -

If the 'Méséglise way' was so easy, it was a very different matter when we
took the 'Guermantes way,' for that meant a long walk, and we must make
sure, first, of the weather. When we seemed to have entered upon a spell
of fine days, when Françoise, in desperation that not a drop was falling
upon the 'poor crops,' gazing up at the sky and seeing there only a little
white cloud floating here and there upon its calm, azure surface, groaned
aloud and exclaimed: "You would say they were nothing more nor less than a
lot of dogfish swimming about and sticking up their snouts! Ah, they never
think of making it rain a little for the poor labourers! And then when the
corn is all ripe, down it will come, rattling all over the place, and
think no more of where it is falling than if it was on the sea!"--when my
father's appeals to the gardener had met with the same encouraging answer
several times in succession, then some one would say, at dinner:
"To-morrow, if the weather holds, we might go the Guermantes way." And off
we would set, immediately after luncheon, through the little garden gate
which dropped us into the Rue des Perchamps, narrow and bent at a sharp
angle, dotted with grass-plots over which two or three wasps would spend
the day botanising, a street as quaint as its name, from which its odd
characteristics and its personality were, I felt, derived; a street for
which one might search in vain through the Combray of to-day, for the
public school now rises upon its site. But in my dreams of Combray (like
those architects, pupils of Viollet-le-Duc, who, fancying that they can
detect, beneath a Renaissance rood-loft and an eighteenth-century altar,
traces of a Norman choir, restore the whole church to the state in which
it probably was in the twelfth century) I leave not a stone of the modern
edifice standing, I pierce through it and 'restore' the Rue des Perchamps.
And for such reconstruction memory furnishes me with more detailed
guidance than is generally at the disposal of restorers; the pictures
which it has preserved--perhaps the last surviving in the world to-day,
and soon to follow the rest into oblivion--of what Combray looked like in
my childhood's days; pictures which, simply because it was the old Combray
that traced their outlines upon my mind before it vanished, are as
moving--if I may compare a humble landscape with those glorious works,
reproductions of which my grandmother was so fond of bestowing on me--as
those old engravings of the 'Cenacolo,' or that painting by Gentile
Bellini, in which one sees, in a state in which they no longer exist, the
masterpiece of Leonardo and the portico of Saint Mark's.

We would pass, in the Rue de l'Oiseau, before the old hostelry of the
Oiseau Flesché, into whose great courtyard, once upon a time, would rumble
the coaches of the Duchesses de Montpensier, de Guermantes, and de
Montmorency, when they had to come down to Combray for some litigation
with their farmers, or to receive homage from them. We would come at
length to the Mall, among whose treetops I could distinguish the steeple
of Saint-Hilaire. And I should have liked to be able to sit down and spend
the whole day there, reading and listening to the bells, for it was so
charming there and so quiet that, when an hour struck, you would have said
not that it broke in upon the calm of the day, but that it relieved the
day of its superfluity, and that the steeple, with the indolent,
painstaking exactitude of a person who has nothing else to do, had simply,
in order to squeeze out and let fall the few golden drops which had slowly
and naturally accumulated in the hot sunlight, pressed, at a given moment,
the distended surface of the silence.

The great charm of the 'Guermantes' way was that we had beside us, almost
all the time, the course of the Vivonne. We crossed it first, ten minutes
after leaving the house, by a foot-bridge called the Pont-Vieux. And
every year, when we arrived at Combray, on Easter morning, after the
sermon, if the weather was fine, I would run there to see (amid all the
disorder that prevails on the morning of a great festival, the gorgeous
preparations for which make the everyday household utensils that they have
not contrived to banish seem more sordid than ever) the river flowing
past, sky-blue already between banks still black and bare, its only
companions a clump of daffodils, come out before their time, a few
primroses, the first in flower, while here and there burned the blue flame
of a violet, its stem bent beneath the weight of the drop of perfume
stored in its tiny horn. The Pont-Vieux led to a tow-path which, at this
point, would be overhung in summer by the bluish foliage of a hazel, under
which a fisherman in a straw hat seemed to have taken root. At Combray,
where I knew everyone, and could always detect the blacksmith or grocer's
boy through his disguise of a beadle's uniform or chorister's surplice,
this fisherman was the only person whom I was never able to identify. He
must have known my family, for he used to raise his hat when we passed;
and then I would always be just on the point of asking his name, when some
one would make a sign to me to be quiet, or I would frighten the fish. We
would follow the tow-path which ran along the top of a steep bank, several
feet above the stream. The ground on the other side was lower, and
stretched in a series of broad meadows as far as the village and even to
the distant railway-station. Over these were strewn the remains,
half-buried in the long grass, of the castle of the old Counts of Combray,
who, during the Middle Ages, had had on this side the course of the
Vivonne as a barrier and defence against attack from the Lords of
Guermantes and Abbots of Martinville. Nothing was left now but a few
stumps of towers, hummocks upon the broad surface of the fields, hardly
visible, broken battlements over which, in their day, the bowmen had
hurled down stones, the watchmen had gazed out over Novepont,
Clairefontaine, Martinville-le-Sec, Bailleau-l'Exempt, fiefs all of them
of Guermantes, a ring in which Combray was locked; but fallen among the
grass now, levelled with the ground, climbed and commanded by boys from
the Christian Brothers' school, who came there in their playtime, or with
lesson-books to be conned; emblems of a past that had sunk down and
well-nigh vanished under the earth, that lay by the water's edge now, like
an idler taking the air, yet giving me strong food for thought, making the
name of Combray connote to me not the little town of to-day only, but an
historic city vastly different, seizing and holding my imagination by the
remote, incomprehensible features which it half-concealed beneath a
spangled veil of buttercups. For the buttercups grew past numbering on
this spot which they had chosen for their games among the grass, standing
singly, in couples, in whole companies, yellow as the yolk of eggs, and
glowing with an added lustre, I felt, because, being powerless to
consummate with my palate the pleasure which the sight of them never
failed to give me, I would let it accumulate as my eyes ranged over their
gilded expanse, until it had acquired the strength to create in my mind a
fresh example of absolute, unproductive beauty; and so it had been from my
earliest childhood, when from the tow-path I had stretched out my arms
towards them, before even I could pronounce their charming name--a name
fit for the Prince in some French fairy-tale; colonists, perhaps, in some
far distant century from Asia, but naturalised now for ever in the
village, well satisfied with their modest horizon, rejoicing in the
sunshine and the water's edge, faithful to their little glimpse of the
railway-station; yet keeping, none the less, as do some of our old
paintings, in their plebeian simplicity, a poetic scintillation from the
golden East.

I would amuse myself by watching the glass jars which the boys used to
lower into the Vivonne, to catch minnows, and which, filled by the current
of the stream, in which they themselves also were enclosed, at once
'containers' whose transparent sides were like solidified water and
'contents' plunged into a still larger container of liquid, flowing
crystal, suggested an image of coolness more delicious and more provoking
than the same water in the same jars would have done, standing upon a
table laid for dinner, by shewing it as perpetually in flight between the
impalpable water, in which my hands could not arrest it, and the insoluble
glass, in which my palate could not enjoy it. I decided that I would come
there again with a line and catch fish; I begged for and obtained a morsel
of bread from our luncheon basket; and threw into the Vivonne pellets
which had the power, it seemed, to bring about a chemical precipitation,
for the water at once grew solid round about them in oval clusters of
emaciated tadpoles, which until then it had, no doubt, been holding in
solution, invisible, but ready and alert to enter the stage of

Presently the course of the Vivonne became choked with water-plants. At
first they appeared singly, a lily, for instance, which the current,
across whose path it had unfortunately grown, would never leave at rest
for a moment, so that, like a ferry-boat mechanically propelled, it would
drift over to one bank only to return to the other, eternally repeating
its double journey. Thrust towards the bank, its stalk would be
straightened out, lengthened, strained almost to breaking-point until the
current again caught it, its green moorings swung back over their
anchorage and brought the unhappy plant to what might fitly be called its
starting-point, since it was fated not to rest there a moment before
moving off once again. I would still find it there, on one walk after
another, always in the same helpless state, suggesting certain victims of
neurasthenia, among whom my grandfather would have included my aunt
Léonie, who present without modification, year after year, the spectacle
of their odd and unaccountable habits, which they always imagine
themselves to be on the point of shaking off, but which they always retain
to the end; caught in the treadmill of their own maladies and
eccentricities, their futile endeavours to escape serve only to actuate
its mechanism, to keep in motion the clockwork of their strange,
ineluctable, fatal daily round. Such as these was the water-lily, and also
like one of those wretches whose peculiar torments, repeated indefinitely
throughout eternity, aroused the curiosity of Dante, who would have
inquired of them at greater length and in fuller detail from the victims
themselves, had not Virgil, striding on ahead, obliged him to hasten after
him at full speed, as I must hasten after my parents.

But farther on the current slackened, where the stream ran through a
property thrown open to the public by its owner, who had made a hobby of
aquatic gardening, so that the little ponds into which the Vivonne was
here diverted were aflower with water-lilies. As the banks at this point
were thickly wooded, the heavy shade of the trees gave the water a
background which was ordinarily dark green, although sometimes, when we
were coming home on a calm evening after a stormy afternoon, I have seen
in its depths a clear, crude blue that was almost violet, suggesting a
floor of Japanese cloisonné. Here and there, on the surface, floated,
blushing like a strawberry, the scarlet heart of a lily set in a ring of
white petals.

Beyond these the flowers were more frequent, but paler, less glossy, more
thickly seeded, more tightly folded, and disposed, by accident, in
festoons so graceful that I would fancy I saw floating upon the stream, as
though after the dreary stripping of the decorations used in some Watteau
festival, moss-roses in loosened garlands. Elsewhere a corner seemed to be
reserved for the commoner kinds of lily; of a neat pink or white like
rocket-flowers, washed clean like porcelain, with housewifely care; while,
a little farther again, were others, pressed close together in a floating
garden-bed, as though pansies had flown out of a garden like butterflies
and were hovering with blue and burnished wings over the transparent
shadowiness of this watery border; this skiey border also, for it set
beneath the flowers a soil of a colour more precious, more moving than
their own; and both in the afternoon, when it sparkled beneath the lilies
in the kaleidoscope of a happiness silent, restless, and alert, and
towards evening, when it was filled like a distant heaven with the roseate
dreams of the setting sun, incessantly changing and ever remaining in
harmony, about the more permanent colour of the flowers themselves, with
the utmost profundity, evanescence, and mystery--with a quiet suggestion
of infinity; afternoon or evening, it seemed to have set them flowering in
the heart of the sky.

After leaving this park the Vivonne began to flow again more swiftly. How
often have I watched, and longed to imitate, when I should be free to live
as I chose, a rower who had shipped his oars and lay stretched out on his
back, his head down, in the bottom of his boat, letting it drift with the
current, seeing nothing but the sky which slipped quietly above him,
shewing upon his features a foretaste of happiness and peace.

We would sit down among the irises at the water's edge. In the holiday sky
a lazy cloud streamed out to its full length. Now and then, crushed by the
burden of idleness, a carp would heave up out of the water, with an
anxious gasp. It was time for us to feed. Before starting homewards we
would sit for a long time there, eating fruit and bread and chocolate, on
the grass, over which came to our ears, horizontal, faint, but solid still
and metallic, the sound of the bells of Saint-Hilaire, which had melted
not at all in the atmosphere it was so well accustomed to traverse, but,
broken piecemeal by the successive palpitation of all their sonorous
strokes, throbbed as it brushed the flowers at our feet.

Sometimes, at the water's edge and embedded in trees, we would come upon a
house of the kind called 'pleasure houses,' isolated and lost, seeing
nothing of the world, save the river which bathed its feet. A young woman,
whose pensive face and fashionable veils did not suggest a local origin,
and who had doubtless come there, in the popular phrase, 'to bury herself,'
to taste the bitter sweetness of feeling that her name, and still more the
name of him whose heart she had once held, but had been unable to keep,
were unknown there, stood framed in a window from which she had no outlook
beyond the boat that was moored beside her door. She raised her eyes with
an air of distraction when she heard, through the trees that lined the
bank, the voices of passers-by of whom, before they came in sight, she
might be certain that never had they known, nor would they know, the
faithless lover, that nothing in their past lives bore his imprint, which
nothing in their future would have occasion to receive. One felt that in
her renunciation of life she had willingly abandoned those places in which
she would at least have been able to see him whom she loved, for others
where he had never trod. And I watched her, as she returned from some walk
along a road where she had known that he would not appear, drawing from
her submissive fingers long gloves of a precious, useless charm.

Never, in the course of our walks along the 'Guermantes way,' might we
penetrate as far as the source of the Vivonne, of which I had often
thought, which had in my mind so abstract, so ideal an existence, that I
had been as much surprised when some one told me that it was actually to
be found in the same department, and at a given number of miles from
Combray, as I had been on the day when I had learned that there was
another fixed point somewhere on the earth's surface, where, according to
the ancients, opened the jaws of Hell. Nor could we ever reach that other
goal, to which I longed so much to attain, Guermantes itself. I knew that
it was the residence of its proprietors, the Duc and Duchesse de
Guermantes, I knew that they were real personages who did actually exist,
but whenever I thought about them I pictured them to myself either in
tapestry, as was the 'Coronation of Esther' which hung in our church, or
else in changing, rainbow colours, as was Gilbert the Bad in his window,
where he passed from cabbage green, when I was dipping my fingers in the
holy water stoup, to plum blue when I had reached our row of chairs, or
again altogether impalpable, like the image of Geneviève de Brabant,
ancestress of the Guermantes family, which the magic lantern sent
wandering over the curtains of my room or flung aloft upon the ceiling--in
short, always wrapped in the mystery of the Merovingian age, and bathed,
as in a sunset, in the orange light which glowed from the resounding
syllable 'antes.' And if, in spite of that, they were for me, in their
capacity as a duke and a duchess, real people, though of an unfamiliar
kind, this ducal personality was in its turn enormously distended,
immaterialised, so as to encircle and contain that Guermantes of which
they were duke and duchess, all that sunlit 'Guermantes way' of our walks,
the course of the Vivonne, its water-lilies and its overshadowing trees,
and an endless series of hot summer afternoons. And I knew that they bore
not only the titles of Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes, but that since the
fourteenth century, when, after vain attempts to conquer its earlier lords
in battle, they had allied themselves by marriage, and so became Counts of
Combray, the first citizens, consequently, of the place, and yet the only
ones among its citizens who did not reside in it--Comtes de Combray,
possessing Combray, threading it on their string of names and titles,
absorbing it in their personalities, and illustrating, no doubt, in
themselves that strange and pious melancholy which was peculiar to
Combray; proprietors of the town, though not of any particular house
there; dwelling, presumably, out of doors, in the street, between heaven
and earth, like that Gilbert de Guermantes, of whom I could see, in the
stained glass of the apse of Saint-Hilaire, only the 'other side' in dull
black lacquer, if I raised my eyes to look for him, when I was going to
Camus's for a packet of salt.

And then it happened that, going the 'Guermantes way,' I passed
occasionally by a row of well-watered little gardens, over whose hedges
rose clusters of dark blossom. I would stop before them, hoping to gain
some precious addition to my experience, for I seemed to have before my
eyes a fragment of that riverside country which I had longed so much to
see and know since coming upon a description of it by one of my favourite
authors. And it was with that story-book land, with its imagined soil
intersected by a hundred bubbling watercourses, that Guermantes, changing
its form in my mind, became identified, after I heard Dr. Percepied speak
of the flowers and the charming rivulets and fountains that were to be
seen there in the ducal park. I used to dream that Mme. de Guermantes,
taking a sudden capricious fancy for myself, invited me there, that all
day long she stood fishing for trout by my side. And when evening came,
holding my hand in her own, as we passed by the little gardens of her
vassals, she would point out to me the flowers that leaned their red and
purple spikes along the tops of the low walls, and would teach me all
their names. She would make me tell her, too, all about the poems that I
meant to compose. And these dreams reminded me that, since I wished, some
day, to become a writer, it was high time to decide what sort of books I
was going to write. But as soon as I asked myself the question, and tried
to discover some subjects to which I could impart a philosophical
significance of infinite value, my mind would stop like a clock, I would
see before me vacuity, nothing, would feel either that I was wholly devoid
of talent, or that, perhaps, a malady of the brain was hindering its
development. Sometimes I would depend upon my father's arranging
everything for me. He was so powerful, in such favour with the people who
'really counted,' that he made it possible for us to transgress laws which
Françoise had taught me to regard as more ineluctable than the laws of
life and death, as when we were allowed to postpone for a year the
compulsory repainting of the walls of our house, alone among all the
houses in that part of Paris, or when he obtained permission from the
Minister for Mme. Sazerat's son, who had been ordered to some
watering-place, to take his degree two months before the proper time,
among the candidates whose surnames began with 'A,' instead of having to
wait his turn as an 'S.' If I had fallen seriously ill, if I had been
captured by brigands, convinced that my father's understanding with the
supreme powers was too complete, that his letters of introduction to the
Almighty were too irresistible for my illness or captivity to turn out
anything but vain illusions, in which there was no danger actually
threatening me, I should have awaited with perfect composure the
inevitable hour of my return to comfortable realities, of my deliverance
from bondage or restoration to health. Perhaps this want of talent, this
black cavity which gaped in my mind when I ransacked it for the theme of
my future writings, was itself no more, either, than an unsubstantial
illusion, and would be brought to an end by the intervention of my father,
who would arrange with the Government and with Providence that I should be
the first writer of my day. But at other times, while my parents were
growing impatient at seeing me loiter behind instead of following them, my
actual life, instead of seeming an artificial creation by my father, and
one which he could modify as he chose, appeared, on the contrary, to be
comprised in a larger reality which had not been created for my benefit,
from whose judgments there was no appeal, in the heart of which I was
bound, helpless, without friend or ally, and beyond which no further
possibilities lay concealed. It was evident to me then that I existed in
the same manner as all other men, that I must grow old, that I must die
like them, and that among them I was to be distinguished merely as one of
those who have no aptitude for writing. And so, utterly despondent, I
renounced literature for ever, despite the encouragements that had been
given me by Bloch. This intimate, spontaneous feeling, this sense of the
nullity of my intellect, prevailed against all the flattering speeches
that might be lavished upon me, as a wicked man, when everyone is loud in
the praise of his good deeds, is gnawed by the secret remorse of

One day my mother said: "You are always talking about Mme. de Guermantes.
Well, Dr. Percepied did a great deal for her when she was ill, four years
ago, and so she is coming to Combray for his daughter's wedding. You will
be able to see her in church." It was from Dr. Percepied, as it happened,
that I had heard most about Mme. de Guermantes, and he had even shewn us
the number of an illustrated paper in which she was depicted in the
costume which she had worn at a fancy dress ball given by the Princesse de

Suddenly, during the nuptial mass, the beadle, by moving to one side,
enabled me to see, sitting in a chapel, a lady with fair hair and a large
nose, piercing blue eyes, a billowy scarf of mauve silk, glossy and new
and brilliant, and a little spot at the corner of her nose. And because on
the surface of her face, which was red, as though she had been very warm,
I could make out, diluted and barely perceptible, details which resembled
the portrait that had been shewn to me; because, more especially, the
particular features which I remarked in this lady, if I attempted to
catalogue them, formulated themselves in precisely the same terms:--_a
large nose, blue eyes_, as Dr. Percepied had used when describing in my
presence the Duchesse de Guermantes, I said to myself: "This lady is like
the Duchesse de Guermantes." Now the chapel from which she was following
the service was that of Gilbert the Bad; beneath its flat tombstones,
yellowed and bulging like cells of honey in a comb, rested the bones of
the old Counts of Brabant; and I remembered having heard it said that this
chapel was reserved for the Guermantes family, whenever any of its members
came to attend a ceremony at Combray; there was, indeed, but one woman
resembling the portrait of Mme. de Guermantes who on that day, the very
day on which she was expected to come there, could be sitting in that
chapel: it was she! My disappointment was immense. It arose from my not
having borne in mind, when I thought of Mme. de Guermantes, that I was
picturing her to myself in the colours of a tapestry or a painted window,
as living in another century, as being of another substance than the rest
of the human race. Never had I taken into account that she might have a
red face, a mauve scarf like Mme. Sazerat; and the oval curve of her
cheeks reminded me so strongly of people whom I had seen at home that the
suspicion brushed against my mind (though it was immediately banished)
that this lady in her creative principle, in the molecules of her physical
composition, was perhaps not substantially the Duchesse de Guermantes, but
that her body, in ignorance of the name that people had given it, belonged
to a certain type of femininity which included, also, the wives of doctors
and tradesmen. "It is, it must be Mme. de Guermantes, and no one else!"
were the words underlying the attentive and astonished expression with
which I was gazing upon this image, which, naturally enough, bore no
resemblance to those that had so often, under the same title of 'Mme. de
Guermantes,' appeared to me in dreams, since this one had not been, like
the others, formed arbitrarily by myself, but had sprung into sight for
the first time, only a moment ago, here in church; an image which was not
of the same nature, was not colourable at will, like those others that
allowed themselves to imbibe the orange tint of a sonorous syllable, but
which was so real that everything, even to the fiery little spot at the
corner of her nose, gave an assurance of her subjection to the laws of
life, as in a transformation scene on the stage a crease in the dress of a
fairy, a quivering of her tiny finger, indicate the material presence of a
living actress before our eyes, whereas we were uncertain, till then,
whether we were not looking merely at a projection of limelight from a

Meanwhile I was endeavouring to apply to this image, which the prominent
nose, the piercing eyes pinned down and fixed in my field of vision
(perhaps because it was they that had first struck it, that had made the
first impression on its surface, before I had had time to wonder whether
the woman who thus appeared before me might possibly be Mme. de
Guermantes), to this fresh and unchanging image the idea: "It is Mme. de
Guermantes"; but I succeeded only in making the idea pass between me and
the image, as though they were two discs moving in separate planes, with a
space between. But this Mme. de Guermantes of whom I had so often dreamed,
now that I could see that she had a real existence independent of myself,
acquired a fresh increase of power over my imagination, which, paralysed
for a moment by contact with a reality so different from anything that it
had expected, began to react and to say within me: "Great and glorious
before the days of Charlemagne, the Guermantes had the right of life and
death over their vassals; the Duchesse de Guermantes descends from
Geneviève de Brabant. She does not know, nor would she consent to know,
any of the people who are here to-day."

And then--oh, marvellous independence of the human gaze, tied to the human
face by a cord so loose, so long, so elastic that it can stray, alone, as
far as it may choose--while Mme. de Guermantes sat in the chapel above the
tombs of her dead ancestors, her gaze lingered here and wandered there,
rose to the capitals of the pillars, and even rested upon myself, like a
ray of sunlight straying down the nave, but a ray of sunlight which, at
the moment when I received its caress, appeared conscious of where it
fell. As for Mme. de Guermantes herself, since she remained there
motionless, sitting like a mother who affects not to notice the rude or
awkward conduct of her children who, in the course of their play, are
speaking to people whom she does not know, it was impossible for me to
determine whether she approved or condemned the vagrancy of her eyes in
the careless detachment of her heart.

I felt it to be important that she should not leave the church before I
had been able to look long enough upon her, reminding myself that for
years past I had regarded the sight of her as a thing eminently to be
desired, and I kept my eyes fixed on her, as though by gazing at her I
should be able to carry away and incorporate, to store up, for later
reference, in myself the memory of that prominent nose, those red cheeks,
of all those details which struck me as so much precious, authentic,
unparalleled information with regard to her face. And now that, whenever I
brought my mind to bear upon that face--and especially, perhaps, in my
determination, that form of the instinct of self-preservation with which
we guard everything that is best in ourselves, not to admit that I had
been in any way deceived--I found only beauty there; setting her once
again (since they were one and the same person, this lady who sat before
me and that Duchesse de Guermantes whom, until then, I had been used to
conjure into an imagined shape) apart from and above that common run of
humanity with which the sight, pure and simple, of her in the flesh had
made me for a moment confound her, I grew indignant when I heard people
saying, in the congregation round me: "She is better looking than Mme.
Sazerat" or "than Mlle. Vinteuil," as though she had been in any way
comparable with them. And my gaze resting upon her fair hair, her blue
eyes, the lines of her neck, and overlooking the features which might have
reminded me of the faces of other women, I cried out within myself, as I
admired this deliberately unfinished sketch: "How lovely she is! What
true nobility! it is indeed a proud Guermantes, the descendant of
Geneviève de Brabant, that I have before me!" And the care which I took to
focus all my attention upon her face succeeded in isolating it so
completely that to-day, when I call that marriage ceremony to mind, I find
it impossible to visualise any single person who was present except her,
and the beadle who answered me in the affirmative when I inquired whether
the lady was, indeed, Mme. de Guermantes. But her, I can see her still
quite clearly, especially at the moment when the procession filed into the
sacristy, lighted by the intermittent, hot sunshine of a windy and rainy
day, where Mme. de Guermantes found herself in the midst of all those
Combray people whose names, even, she did not know, but whose inferiority
proclaimed her own supremacy so loud that she must, in return, feel for
them a genuine, pitying sympathy, and whom she might count on impressing
even more forcibly by virtue of her simplicity and natural charm. And
then, too, since she could not bring into play the deliberate glances,
charged with a definite meaning, which one directs, in a crowd, towards
people whom one knows, but must allow her vague thoughts to escape
continually from her eyes in a flood of blue light which she was powerless
to control, she was anxious not to distress in any way, not to seem to be
despising those humbler mortals over whom that current flowed, by whom it
was everywhere arrested. I can see again to-day, above her mauve scarf,
silky and buoyant, the gentle astonishment in her eyes, to which she had
added, without daring to address it to anyone in particular, but so that
everyone might enjoy his share of it, the almost timid smile of a
sovereign lady who seems to be making an apology for her presence among
the vassals whom she loves. This smile rested upon myself, who had never
ceased to follow her with my eyes. And I, remembering the glance which she
had let fall upon me during the service, blue as a ray of sunlight that
had penetrated the window of Gilbert the Bad, said to myself, "Of course,
she is thinking about me." I fancied that I had found favour in her sight,
that she would continue to think of me after she had left the church, and
would, perhaps, grow pensive again, that evening, at Guermantes, on my
account. And at once I fell in love with her, for if it is sometimes
enough to make us love a woman that she looks on us with contempt, as I
supposed Mlle. Swann to have done, while we imagine that she cannot ever
be ours, it is enough, also, sometimes that she looks on us kindly, as
Mme. de Guermantes did then, while we think of her as almost ours already.
Her eyes waxed blue as a periwinkle flower, wholly beyond my reach, yet
dedicated by her to me; and the sun, bursting out again from behind a
threatening cloud and darting the full force of its rays on to the Square
and into the sacristy, shed a geranium glow over the red carpet laid down
for the wedding, along which Mme. de Guermantes smilingly advanced, and
covered its woollen texture with a nap of rosy velvet, a bloom of light,
giving it that sort of tenderness, of solemn sweetness in the pomp of a
joyful celebration, which characterises certain pages of _Lohengrin_,
certain paintings by Carpaccio, and makes us understand how Baudelaire was
able to apply to the sound of the trumpet the epithet 'delicious.'

How often, after that day, in the course of my walks along the
'Guermantes way,' and with what an intensified melancholy did I reflect
on my lack of qualification for a literary career, and that I must abandon
all hope of ever becoming a famous author. The regret that I felt for
this, while I lingered alone to dream for a little by myself, made me
suffer so acutely that, in order not to feel it, my mind of its own
accord, by a sort of inhibition in the instant of pain, ceased entirely to
think of verse-making, of fiction, of the poetic future on which my want
of talent precluded me from counting. Then, quite apart from all those
literary preoccupations, and without definite attachment to anything,
suddenly a roof, a gleam of sunlight reflected from a stone, the smell of
a road would make me stop still, to enjoy the special pleasure that each
of them gave me, and also because they appeared to be concealing, beneath
what my eyes could see, something which they invited me to approach and
seize from them, but which, despite all my efforts, I never managed to
discover. As I felt that the mysterious object was to be found in them, I
would stand there in front of them, motionless, gazing, breathing,
endeavouring to penetrate with my mind beyond the thing seen or smelt. And
if I had then to hasten after my grandfather, to proceed on my way, I
would still seek to recover my sense of them by closing my eyes; I would
concentrate upon recalling exactly the line of the roof, the colour of the
stone, which, without my being able to understand why, had seemed to me to
be teeming, ready to open, to yield up to me the secret treasure of which
they were themselves no more than the outer coverings. It was certainly
not any impression of this kind that could or would restore the hope I had
lost of succeeding one day in becoming an author and poet, for each of
them was associated with some material object devoid of any intellectual
value, and suggesting no abstract truth. But at least they gave me an
unreasoning pleasure, the illusion of a sort of fecundity of mind; and in
that way distracted me from the tedium, from the sense of my own impotence
which I had felt whenever I had sought a philosophic theme for some great
literary work. So urgent was the task imposed on my conscience by these
impressions of form or perfume or colour--to strive for a perception of
what lay hidden beneath them, that I was never long in seeking an excuse
which would allow me to relax so strenuous an effort and to spare myself
the fatigue that it involved. As good luck would have it, my parents
called me; I felt that I had not, for the moment, the calm environment
necessary for a successful pursuit of my researches, and that it would be
better to think no more of the matter until I reached home, and not to
exhaust myself in the meantime to no purpose. And so I concerned myself no
longer with the mystery that lay hidden in a form or a perfume, quite at
ease in my mind, since I was taking it home with me, protected by its
visible and tangible covering, beneath which I should find it still alive,
like the fish which, on days when I had been allowed to go out fishing, I
used to carry back in my basket, buried in a couch of grass which kept
them cool and fresh. Once in the house again I would begin to think of
something else, and so my mind would become littered (as my room was with
the flowers that I had gathered on my walks, or the odds and ends that
people had given me) with a stone from the surface of which the sunlight
was reflected, a roof, the sound of a bell, the smell of fallen leaves, a
confused mass of different images, under which must have perished long ago
the reality of which I used to have some foreboding, but which I never had
the energy to discover and bring to light. Once, however, when we had
prolonged our walk far beyond its ordinary limits, and so had been very
glad to encounter, half way home, as afternoon darkened into evening, Dr.
Percepied, who drove past us at full speed in his carriage, saw and
recognised us, stopped, and made us jump in beside him, I received an
impression of this sort which I did not abandon without having first
subjected it to an examination a little more thorough. I had been set on
the box beside the coachman, we were going like the wind because the
Doctor had still, before returning to Combray, to call at
Martinville-le-Sec, at the house of a patient, at whose door he asked us
to wait for him. At a bend in the road I experienced, suddenly, that
special pleasure, which bore no resemblance to any other, when I caught
sight of the twin steeples of Martinville, on which the setting sun was
playing, while the movement of the carriage and the windings of the road
seemed to keep them continually changing their position; and then of a
third steeple, that of Vieuxvicq, which, although separated from them by a
hill and a valley, and rising from rather higher ground in the distance,
appeared none the less to be standing by their side.

In ascertaining and noting the shape of their spires, the changes of
aspect, the sunny warmth of their surfaces, I felt that I was not
penetrating to the full depth of my impression, that something more lay
behind that mobility, that luminosity, something which they seemed at once
to contain and to conceal.

The steeples appeared so distant, and we ourselves seemed to come so
little nearer them, that I was astonished when, a few minutes later, we
drew up outside the church of Martinville. I did not know the reason for
the pleasure which I had found in seeing them upon the horizon, and the
business of trying to find out what that reason was seemed to me irksome;
I wished only to keep in reserve in my brain those converging lines,
moving in the sunshine, and, for the time being, to think of them no more.
And it is probable that, had I done so, those two steeples would have
vanished for ever, in a great medley of trees and roofs and scents and
sounds which I had noticed and set apart on account of the obscure sense
of pleasure which they gave me, but without ever exploring them more
fully. I got down from the box to talk to my parents while we were waiting
for the Doctor to reappear. Then it was time to start; I climbed up again
to my place, turning my head to look back, once more, at my steeples, of
which, a little later, I caught a farewell glimpse at a turn in the road.
The coachman, who seemed little inclined for conversation, having barely
acknowledged my remarks, I was obliged, in default of other society, to
fall back on my own, and to attempt to recapture the vision of my
steeples. And presently their outlines and their sunlit surface, as though
they had been a sort of rind, were stripped apart; a little of what they
had concealed from me became apparent; an idea came into my mind which had
not existed for me a moment earlier, framed itself in words in my head;
and the pleasure with which the first sight of them, just now, had filled
me was so much enhanced that, overpowered by a sort of intoxication, I
could no longer think of anything but them. At this point, although we had
now travelled a long way from Martinville, I turned my head and caught
sight of them again, quite black this time, for the sun had meanwhile set.
Every few minutes a turn in the road would sweep them out of sight; then
they shewed themselves for the last time, and so I saw them no more.

Without admitting to myself that what lay buried within the steeples of
Martinville must be something analogous to a charming phrase, since it was
in the form of words which gave me pleasure that it had appeared to me, I
borrowed a pencil and some paper from the Doctor, and composed, in spite
of the jolting of the carriage, to appease my conscience and to satisfy my
enthusiasm, the following little fragment, which I have since discovered,
and now reproduce, with only a slight revision here and there.

- - -

Alone, rising from the level of the plain, and seemingly lost in that
expanse of open country, climbed to the sky the twin steeples of
Martinville. Presently we saw three: springing into position confronting
them by a daring volt, a third, a dilatory steeple, that of Vieuxvicq, was
come to join them. The minutes passed, we were moving rapidly, and yet the
three steeples were always a long way ahead of us, like three birds
perched upon the plain, motionless and conspicuous in the sunlight. Then
the steeple of Vieuxvicq withdrew, took its proper distance, and the
steeples of Martinville remained alone, gilded by the light of the setting
sun, which, even at that distance, I could see playing and smiling upon
their sloped sides. We had been so long in approaching them that I was
thinking of the time that must still elapse before we could reach them
when, of a sudden, the carriage, having turned a corner, set us down at
their feet; and they had flung themselves so abruptly in our path that we
had barely time to stop before being dashed against the porch of the

We resumed our course; we had left Martinville some little time, and the
village, after accompanying us for a few seconds, had already disappeared,
when, lingering alone on the horizon to watch our flight, its steeples and
that of Vieuxvicq waved once again, in token of farewell, their sun-bathed
pinnacles. Sometimes one would withdraw, so that the other two might
watch us for a moment still; then the road changed direction, they veered
in the light like three golden pivots, and vanished from my gaze. But, a
little later, when we were already close to Combray, the sun having set
meanwhile, I caught sight of them for the last time, far away, and seeming
no more now than three flowers painted upon the sky above the low line of
fields. They made me think, too, of three maidens in a legend, abandoned
in a solitary place over which night had begun to fall; and while we drew
away from them at a gallop, I could see them timidly seeking their way,
and, after some awkward, stumbling movements of their noble silhouettes,
drawing close to one another, slipping one behind another, shewing nothing
more, now, against the still rosy sky than a single dusky form, charming
and resigned, and so vanishing in the night.

- - -

I never thought again of this page, but at the moment when, on my corner
of the box-seat, where the Doctor's coachman was in the habit of placing,
in a hamper, the fowls which he had bought at Martinville market, I had
finished writing it, I found such a sense of happiness, felt that it had
so entirely relieved my mind of the obsession of the steeples, and of the
mystery which they concealed, that, as though I myself were a hen and had
just laid an egg, I began to sing at the top of my voice.

All day long, during these walks, I had been able to muse upon the
pleasure that there would be in the friendship of the Duchesse de
Guermantes, in fishing for trout, in drifting by myself in a boat on the
Vivonne; and, greedy for happiness, I asked nothing more from life, in
such moments, than that it should consist always of a series of joyous
afternoons. But when, on our way home, I had caught sight of a farm, on
the left of the road, at some distance from two other farms which were
themselves close together, and from which, to return to Combray, we need
only turn down an avenue of oaks, bordered on one side by a series of
orchard-closes, each one planted at regular intervals with apple-trees
which cast upon the ground, when they were lighted by the setting sun, the
Japanese stencil of their shadows; then, sharply, my heart would begin to
beat, I would know that in half an hour we should be at home, and that
there, as was the rule on days when we had taken the 'Guermantes way' and
dinner was, in consequence, served later than usual, I should be sent to
bed as soon as I had swallowed my soup, so that my mother, kept at table,
just as though there had been company to dinner, would not come upstairs
to say good night to me in bed. The zone of melancholy which I then
entered was totally distinct from that other zone, in which I had been
bounding for joy a moment earlier, just as sometimes in the sky a band of
pink is separated, as though by a line invisibly ruled, from a band of
green or black. You may see a bird flying across the pink; it draws near
the border-line, touches it, enters and is lost upon the black. The
longings by which I had just now been absorbed, to go to Guermantes, to
travel, to live a life of happiness--I was now so remote from them that
their fulfilment would have afforded me no pleasure. How readily would I
have sacrificed them all, just to be able to cry, all night long, in the
arms of Mamma! Shuddering with emotion, I could not take my agonised eyes
from my mother's face, which was not to appear that evening in the bedroom
where I could see myself already lying, in imagination; and wished only
that I were lying dead. And this state would persist until the morrow,
when, the rays of morning leaning their bars of light, as the gardener
might lean his ladder, against the wall overgrown with nasturtiums, which
clambered up it as far as my window-sill, I would leap out of bed to run
down at once into the garden, with no thought of the fact that evening
must return, and with it the hour when I must leave my mother. And so it
was from the 'Guermantes way' that I learned to distinguish between these
states which reigned alternately in my mind, during certain periods, going
so far as to divide every day between them, each one returning to
dispossess the other with the regularity of a fever and ague: contiguous,
and yet so foreign to one another, so devoid of means of communication,
that I could no longer understand, or even picture to myself, in one state
what I had desired or dreaded or even done in the other.

So the 'Méséglise way' and the 'Guermantes way' remain for me linked with
many of the little incidents of that one of all the divers lives along
whose parallel lines we are moved, which is the most abundant in sudden
reverses of fortune, the richest in episodes; I mean the life of the mind.
Doubtless it makes in us an imperceptible progress, and the truths which
have changed for us its meaning and its aspect, which have opened new
paths before our feet, we had for long been preparing for their discovery;
but that preparation was unconscious; and for us those truths date only
from the day, from the minute when they became apparent. The flowers which
played then among the grass, the water which rippled past in the sunshine,
the whole landscape which served as environment to their apparition
lingers around the memory of them still with its unconscious or unheeding
air; and, certainly, when they were slowly scrutinised by this humble
passer-by, by this dreaming child--as the face of a king is scrutinised by
a petitioner lost in the crowd--that scrap of nature, that corner of a
garden could never suppose that it would be thanks to him that they would
be elected to survive in all their most ephemeral details; and yet the
scent of hawthorn which strays plundering along the hedge from which, in a
little while, the dog-roses will have banished it, a sound of footsteps
followed by no echo, upon a gravel path, a bubble formed at the side of a
waterplant by the current, and formed only to burst--my exaltation of mind
has borne them with it, and has succeeded in making them traverse all
these successive years, while all around them the one-trodden ways have
vanished, while those who thronged those ways, and even the memory of
those who thronged those trodden ways, are dead. Sometimes the fragment of
landscape thus transported into the present will detach itself in such
isolation from all associations that it floats uncertainly upon my mind,
like a flowering isle of Delos, and I am unable to say from what place,
from what time--perhaps, quite simply, from which of my dreams--it comes.
But it is pre-eminently as the deepest layer of my mental soil, as firm
sites on which I still may build, that I regard the Méséglise and
Guermantes 'ways.' It is because I used to think of certain things, of
certain people, while I was roaming along them, that the things, the
people which they taught me to know, and these alone, I still take
seriously, still give me joy. Whether it be that the faith which creates
has ceased to exist in me, or that reality will take shape in the memory
alone, the flowers that people shew me nowadays for the first time never
seem to me to be true flowers. The 'Méséglise way' with its lilacs, its
hawthorns, its cornflowers, its poppies, its apple-trees, the 'Guermantes
way' with its river full of tadpoles, its water-lilies, and its buttercups
have constituted for me for all time the picture of the land in which I
fain would pass my life, in which my only requirements are that I may go
out fishing, drift idly in a boat, see the ruins of a gothic fortress in
the grass, and find hidden among the cornfields--as Saint-André-des-Champs
lay hidden--an old church, monumental, rustic, and yellow like a
mill-stone; and the cornflowers, the hawthorns, the apple-trees which I
may happen, when I go walking, to encounter in the fields, because they
are situated at the same depth, on the level of my past life, at once
establish contact with my heart. And yet, because there is an element of
individuality in places, when I am seized with a desire to see again the
'Guermantes way,' it would not be satisfied were I led to the banks of a
river in which were lilies as fair, or even fairer than those in the
Vivonne, any more than on my return home in the evening, at the hour when
there awakened in me that anguish which, later on in life, transfers
itself to the passion of love, and may even become its inseparable
companion, I should have wished for any strange mother to come in and say
good night to me, though she were far more beautiful and more intelligent
than my own. No: just as the one thing necessary to send me to sleep
contented (in that untroubled peace which no mistress, in later years, has
ever been able to give me, since one has doubts of them at the moment when
one believes in them, and never can possess their hearts as I used to
receive, in her kiss, the heart of my mother, complete, without scruple or
reservation, unburdened by any liability save to myself) was that it
should be my mother who came, that she should incline towards me that face
on which there was, beneath her eye, something that was, it appears, a
blemish, and which I loved as much as all the rest--so what I want to see
again is the 'Guermantes way' as I knew it, with the farm that stood a
little apart from the two neighbouring farms, pressed so close together,
at the entrance to the oak avenue; those meadows upon whose surface, when
it is polished by the sun to the mirroring radiance of a lake, are
outlined the leaves of the apple-trees; that whole landscape whose
individuality sometimes, at night, in my dreams, binds me with a power
that is almost fantastic, of which I can discover no trace when I awake.

No doubt, by virtue of having permanently and indissolubly combined in me
groups of different impressions, for no reason save that they had made me
feel several separate things at the same time, the Méséglise and
Guermantes 'ways' left me exposed, in later life, to much disillusionment,
and even to many mistakes. For often I have wished to see a person again
without realising that it was simply because that person recalled to me a
hedge of hawthorns in blossom; and I have been led to believe, and to make
some one else believe in an aftermath of affection, by what was no more
than an inclination to travel. But by the same qualities, and by their
persistence in those of my impressions, to-day, to which they can find an
attachment, the two 'ways' give to those impressions a foundation, depth,
a dimension lacking from the rest. They invest them, too, with a charm, a
significance which is for me alone. When, on a summer evening, the
resounding sky growls like a tawny lion, and everyone is complaining of
the storm, it is along the 'Méséglise way' that my fancy strays alone in
ecstasy, inhaling, through the noise of falling rain, the odour of
invisible and persistent lilac-trees.

And so I would often lie until morning, dreaming of the old days at
Combray, of my melancholy and wakeful evenings there; of other days
besides, the memory of which had been more lately restored to me by the
taste--by what would have been called at Combray the 'perfume'---of a cup
of tea; and, by an association of memories, of a story which, many years
after I had left the little place, had been told me of a love affair in
which Swann had been involved before I was born; with that accuracy of
detail which it is easier, often, to obtain when we are studying the lives
of people who have been dead for centuries than when we are trying to
chronicle those of our own most intimate friends, an accuracy which it
seems as impossible to attain as it seemed impossible to speak from one
town to another, before we learned of the contrivance by which that
impossibility has been overcome. All these memories, following one after
another, were condensed into a single substance, but had not so far
coalesced that I could not discern between the three strata, between my
oldest, my instinctive memories, those others, inspired more recently by a
taste or 'perfume,' and those which were actually the memories of another,
from whom I had acquired them at second hand--no fissures, indeed, no
geological faults, but at least those veins, those streaks of colour which
in certain rocks, in certain marbles, point to differences of origin, age,
and formation.

It is true that, when morning drew near, I would long have settled the
brief uncertainty of my waking dream, I would know in what room I was
actually lying, would have reconstructed it round about me in the
darkness, and--fixing my orientation by memory alone, or with the
assistance of a feeble glimmer of light at the foot of which I placed the
curtains and the window--would have reconstructed it complete and with its
furniture, as an architect and an upholsterer might do, working upon an
original, discarded plan of the doors and windows; would have replaced the
mirrors and set the chest-of-drawers on its accustomed site. 'But scarcely
had daylight itself--and no longer the gleam from a last, dying ember on a
brass curtain-rod, which I had mistaken for daylight--traced across the
darkness, as with a stroke of chalk across a blackboard, its first white
correcting ray, when the window, with its curtains, would leave the frame
of the doorway, in which I had erroneously placed it, while, to make room
for it, the writing-table, which my memory had clumsily fixed where the
window ought to be, would hurry off at full speed, thrusting before it the
mantelpiece, and sweeping aside the wall of the passage; the well of the
courtyard would be enthroned on the spot where, a moment earlier, my
dressing-room had lain, and the dwelling-place which I had built up for
myself in the darkness would have gone to join all those other dwellings
of which I had caught glimpses from the whirlpool of awakening; put to
flight by that pale sign traced above my window-curtains by the uplifted
forefinger of day.


To admit you to the 'little nucleus,' the 'little group,' the 'little
clan' at the Verdurins', one condition sufficed, but that one was
indispensable; you must give tacit adherence to a Creed one of whose
articles was that the young pianist, whom Mme. Verdurin had taken under
her patronage that year, and of whom she said "Really, it oughtn't to be
allowed, to play Wagner as well as that!" left both Planté and Rubinstein
'sitting'; while Dr. Cottard was a more brilliant diagnostician than
Potain. Each 'new recruit' whom the Verdurins failed to persuade that the
evenings spent by other people, in other houses than theirs, were as dull
as ditch-water, saw himself banished forthwith. Women being in this
respect more rebellious than men, more reluctant to lay aside all worldly
curiosity and the desire to find out for themselves whether other
drawing-rooms might not sometimes be as entertaining, and the Verdurins
feeling, moreover, that this critical spirit and this demon of frivolity
might, by their contagion, prove fatal to the orthodoxy of the little
church, they had been obliged to expel, one after another, all those of
the 'faithful' who were of the female sex.

Apart from the doctor's young wife, they were reduced almost exclusively
that season (for all that Mme. Verdurin herself was a thoroughly 'good'
woman, and came of a respectable middle-class family, excessively rich and
wholly undistinguished, with which she had gradually and of her own accord
severed all connection) to a young woman almost of a 'certain class,' a
Mme. de Crécy, whom Mme. Verdurin called by her Christian name, Odette,
and pronounced a 'love,' and to the pianist's aunt, who looked as though
she had, at one period, 'answered the bell': ladies quite ignorant of the
world, who in their social simplicity were so easily led to believe that
the Princesse de Sagan and the Duchesse de Guermantes were obliged to pay
large sums of money to other poor wretches, in order to have anyone at
their dinner-parties, that if somebody had offered to procure them an
invitation to the house of either of those great dames, the old doorkeeper
and the woman of 'easy virtue' would have contemptuously declined.

The Verdurins never invited you to dinner; you had your 'place laid'
there. There was never any programme for the evening's entertainment. The
young pianist would play, but only if he felt inclined, for no one was
forced to do anything, and, as M. Verdurin used to say: "We're all friends
here. Liberty Hall, you know!"

If the pianist suggested playing the Ride of the Valkyries, or the Prelude
to Tristan, Mme. Verdurin would protest, not that the music was
displeasing to her, but, on the contrary, that it made too violent an
impression. "Then you want me to have one of my headaches? You know quite
well, it's the same every time he plays that. I know what I'm in for.
Tomorrow, when I want to get up--nothing doing!" If he was not going to
play they talked, and one of the friends--usually the painter who was in
favour there that year--would "spin," as M. Verdurin put it, "a damned
funny yarn that made 'em all split with laughter," and especially Mme.
Verdurin, for whom--so strong was her habit of taking literally the
figurative accounts of her emotions--Dr. Cottard, who was then just
starting in general practice, would "really have to come one day and set
her jaw, which she had dislocated with laughing too much."

Evening dress was barred, because you were all 'good pals,' and didn't
want to look like the 'boring people' who were to be avoided like the
plague, and only asked to the big evenings, which were given as seldom as
possible, and then only if it would amuse the painter or make the musician
better known. The rest of the time you were quite happy playing charades
and having supper in fancy dress, and there was no need to mingle any
strange element with the little 'clan.'

But just as the 'good pals' came to take a more and more prominent place
in Mme. Verdurin's life, so the 'bores,' the 'nuisances' grew to include
everybody and everything that kept her friends away from her, that made
them sometimes plead 'previous engagements,' the mother of one, the
professional duties of another, the 'little place in the country' of a
third. If Dr. Cottard felt bound to say good night as soon as they rose
from table, so as to go back to some patient who was seriously ill; "I
don't know," Mme. Verdurin would say, "I'm sure it will do him far more
good if you don't go disturbing him again this evening; he will have a
good night without you; to-morrow morning you can go round early and you
will find him cured." From the beginning of December it would make her
quite ill to think that the 'faithful' might fail her on Christmas and New
Year's Days. The pianist's aunt insisted that he must accompany her, on
the latter, to a family dinner at her mother's.

"You don't suppose she'll die, your mother," exclaimed Mme. Verdurin
bitterly, "if you don't have dinner with her on New Year's Day, like
people in the _provinces_!"

Her uneasiness was kindled again in Holy Week: "Now you, Doctor, you're a
sensible, broad-minded man; you'll come, of course, on Good Friday, just
like any other day?" she said to Cottard in the first year of the little
'nucleus,' in a loud and confident voice, as though there could be no
doubt of his answer. But she trembled as she waited for it, for if he did
not come she might find herself condemned to dine alone.

"I shall come on Good Friday--to say good-bye to you, for we are going to
spend the holidays in Auvergne."

"In Auvergne? To be eaten by fleas and all sorts of creatures! A fine lot
of good that will do you!" And after a solemn pause: "If you had only told
us, we would have tried to get up a party, and all gone there together,

And so, too, if one of the 'faithful' had a friend, or one of the ladies a
young man, who was liable, now and then, to make them miss an evening, the
Verdurins, who were not in the least afraid of a woman's having a lover,
provided that she had him in their company, loved him in their company and
did not prefer him to their company, would say: "Very well, then, bring
your friend along." And he would be put to the test, to see whether he was
willing to have no secrets from Mme. Verdurin, whether he was susceptible
of being enrolled in the 'little clan.' If he failed to pass, the faithful
one who had introduced him would be taken on one side, and would be
tactfully assisted to quarrel with the friend or mistress. But if the test
proved satisfactory, the newcomer would in turn be numbered among the
'faithful.' And so when, in the course of this same year, the courtesan
told M. Verdurin that she had made the acquaintance of such a charming
gentleman, M. Swann, and hinted that he would very much like to be allowed
to come, M. Verdurin carried the request at once to his wife. He never
formed an opinion on any subject until she had formed hers, his special
duty being to carry out her wishes and those of the 'faithful' generally,
which he did with boundless ingenuity.

"My dear, Mme. de Crécy has something to say to you. She would like to
bring one of her friends here, a M. Swann. What do you say?"

"Why, as if anybody could refuse anything to a little piece of perfection
like that. Be quiet; no one asked your opinion. I tell you that you are a
piece of perfection."

"Just as you like," replied Odette, in an affected tone, and then went on:
"You know I'm not fishing for compliments."

"Very well; bring your friend, if he's nice."

Now there was no connection whatsoever between the 'little nucleus' and
the society which Swann frequented, and a purely worldly man would have
thought it hardly worth his while, when occupying so exceptional a
position in the world, to seek an introduction to the Verdurins. But Swann
was so ardent a lover that, once he had got to know almost all the women
of the aristocracy, once they had taught him all that there was to learn,
he had ceased to regard those naturalisation papers, almost a patent of
nobility, which the Faubourg Saint-Germain had bestowed upon him, save as
a sort of negotiable bond, a letter of credit with no intrinsic value,
which allowed him to improvise a status for himself in some little hole in
the country, or in some obscure quarter of Paris, where the good-looking
daughter of a local squire or solicitor had taken his fancy. For at such
times desire, or love itself, would revive in him a feeling of vanity from
which he was now quite free in his everyday life, although it was, no
doubt, the same feeling which had originally prompted him towards that
career as a man of fashion in which he had squandered his intellectual
gifts upon frivolous amusements, and had made use of his erudition in
matters of art only to advise society ladies what pictures to buy and how
to decorate their houses; and this vanity it was which made him eager to
shine, in the sight of any fair unknown who had captivated him for the
moment, with a brilliance which the name of Swann by itself did not emit.
And he was most eager when the fair unknown was in humble circumstances.
Just as it is not by other men of intelligence that an intelligent man is
afraid of being thought a fool, so it is not by the great gentleman but by
boors and 'bounders' that a man of fashion is afraid of finding his social
value underrated. Three-fourths of the mental ingenuity displayed, of the
social falsehoods scattered broadcast ever since the world began by people
whose importance they have served only to diminish, have been aimed at
inferiors. And Swann, who behaved quite simply and was at his ease when
with a duchess, would tremble^ for fear of being despised, and would
instantly begin to pose, were he to meet her grace's maid.

Unlike so many people, who, either from lack of energy or else from a
resigned sense of the obligation laid upon them by their social grandeur
to remain moored like houseboats to a certain point on the bank of the
stream of life, abstain from the pleasures which are offered to them above
and below that point, that degree in life in which they will remain fixed
until the day of their death, and are content, in the end, to describe as
pleasures, for want of any better, those mediocre distractions, that just
not intolerable tedium which is enclosed there with them; Swann would
endeavour not to find charm and beauty in the women with whom he must pass
time, but to pass his time among women whom he had already found to be
beautiful and charming. And these were, as often as not, women whose
beauty was of a distinctly 'common' type, for the physical qualities which
attracted him instinctively, and without reason, were the direct opposite
of those that he admired in the women painted or sculptured by his
favourite masters. Depth of character, or a melancholy expression on a
woman's face would freeze his senses, which would, however, immediately
melt at the sight of healthy, abundant, rosy human flesh.

If on his travels he met a family whom it would have been more correct for
him to make no attempt to know, but among whom a woman caught his eye,
adorned with a special charm that was new to him, to remain on his 'high
horse' and to cheat the desire that she had kindled in him, to substitute
a pleasure different from that which he might have tasted in her company
by writing to invite one of his former mistresses to come and join him,
would have seemed to him as cowardly an abdication in the face of life, as
stupid a renunciation of a new form of happiness as if, instead of
visiting the country where he was, he had shut himself up in his own rooms
and looked at 'views' of Paris. He did not immure himself in the solid
structure of his social relations, but had made of them, so as to be able
to set it up afresh upon new foundations wherever a woman might take his
fancy, one of those collapsible tents which explorers carry about with
them. Any part of it which was not portable or could not be adapted to
some fresh pleasure he would discard as valueless, however enviable it
might appear to others. How often had his credit with a duchess, built up
of the yearly accumulation of her desire to do him some favour for which
she had never found an opportunity, been squandered in a moment by his
calling upon her, in an indiscreetly worded message, for a recommendation
by telegraph which would put him in touch at once with one of her agents
whose daughter he had noticed in the country, just as a starving man might
barter a diamond for a crust of bread. Indeed, when it was too late, he
would laugh at himself for it, for there was in his nature, redeemed by
many rare refinements, an element of clownishness. Then he belonged to
that class of intelligent men who have led a life of idleness, and who
seek consolation and, perhaps, an excuse in the idea, which their idleness
offers to their intelligence, of objects as worthy of their interest as
any that could be attained by art or learning, the idea that 'Life'
contains situations more interesting and more romantic than all the
romances ever written. So, at least, he would assure and had no difficulty
in persuading the more subtle among his friends in the fashionable world,
notably the Baron de Charlus, whom he liked to amuse with stories of the
startling adventures that had befallen him, such as when he had met a
woman in the train, and had taken her home with him, before discovering
that she was the sister of a reigning monarch, in whose hands were
gathered, at that moment, all the threads of European politics, of which
he found himself kept informed in the most delightful fashion, or when, in
the complexity of circumstances, it depended upon the choice which the
Conclave was about to make whether he might or might not become the lover
of somebody's cook.

It was not only the brilliant phalanx of virtuous dowagers, generals and
academicians, to whom he was bound by such close ties, that Swann
compelled with so much cynicism to serve him as panders. All his friends
were accustomed to receive, from time to time, letters which called on
them for a word of recommendation or introduction, with a diplomatic
adroitness which, persisting throughout all his successive 'affairs' and
using different pretexts, revealed more glaringly than the clumsiest
indiscretion, a permanent trait in his character and an unvarying quest. I
used often to recall to myself when, many years later, I began to take an
interest in his character because of the similarities which, in wholly
different respects, it offered to my own, how, when he used to write to my
grandfather (though not at the time we are now considering, for it was
about the date of my own birth that Swann's great 'affair' began, and made
a long interruption in his amatory practices) the latter, recognising his
friend's handwriting on the envelope, would exclaim: "Here is Swann asking
for something; on guard!" And, either from distrust or from the
unconscious spirit of devilry which urges us to offer a thing only to
those who do not want it, my grandparents would meet with an obstinate
refusal the most easily satisfied of his prayers, as when he begged them
for an introduction to a girl who dined with us every Sunday, and whom
they were obliged, whenever Swann mentioned her, to pretend that they no
longer saw, although they would be wondering, all through the week, whom
they could invite to meet her, and often failed, in the end, to find
anyone, sooner than make a sign to him who would so gladly have accepted.

Occasionally a couple of my grandparents' acquaintance, who had been
complaining for some time that they never saw Swann now, would announce
with satisfaction, and perhaps with a slight inclination to make my
grandparents envious of them, that he had suddenly become as charming as
he could possibly be, and was never out of their house. My grandfather
would not care to shatter their pleasant illusion, but would look at my
grandmother, as he hummed the air of:

What is this mystery?
I cannot understand it;

or of:

Vision fugitive...;
In matters such as this
'Tis best to close one's eyes.

A few months later, if my grandfather asked Swann's new friend "What about
Swann? Do you still see as much of him as ever?" the other's face would
lengthen: "Never mention his name to me again!"

"But I thought that you were such friends..."

He had been intimate in this way for several months with some cousins of
my grandmother, dining almost every evening at their house. Suddenly, and
without any warning, he ceased to appear. They supposed him to be ill, and
the lady of the house was going to send to inquire for him when, in her
kitchen, she found a letter in his hand, which her cook had left by
accident in the housekeeping book. In this he announced that he was
leaving Paris and would not be able to come to the house again. The cook
had been his mistress, and at the moment of breaking off relations she was
the only one of the household whom he had thought it necessary to inform.

But when his mistress for the time being was a woman in society, or at
least one whose birth was not so lowly, nor her position so irregular that
he was unable to arrange for her reception in 'society,' then for her sake
he would return to it, but only to the particular orbit in which she moved
or into which he had drawn her. "No good depending on Swann for this
evening," people would say; "don't you remember, it's his American's night
at the Opera?" He would secure invitations for her to the most exclusive
drawing-rooms, to those houses where he himself went regularly, for weekly
dinners or for poker; every evening, after a slight 'wave' imparted to his
stiffly brushed red locks had tempered with a certain softness the ardour
of his bold green eyes, he would select a flower for his buttonhole and
set out to meet his mistress at the house of one or other of the women of
his circle; and then, thinking of the affection and admiration which the
fashionable folk, whom he always treated exactly as he pleased, would,
when he met them there, lavish upon him in the presence of the woman whom
he loved, he would find a fresh charm in that worldly existence of which
he had grown weary, but whose substance, pervaded and warmly coloured by
the flickering light which he had slipped into its midst, seemed to him
beautiful and rare, now that he had incorporated in it a fresh love.

But while each of these attachments, each of these flirtations had been
the realisation, more or less complete, of a dream born of the sight of a
face or a form which Swann had spontaneously, and without effort on his
part, found charming, it was quite another matter when, one day at the
theatre, he was introduced to Odette de Crécy by an old friend of his own,
who had spoken of her to him as a ravishing creature with whom he might
very possibly come to an understanding; but had made her out to be harder
of conquest than she actually was, so as to appear to be conferring a
special favour by the introduction. She had struck Swann not, certainly,
as being devoid of beauty, but as endowed with a style of beauty which
left him indifferent, which aroused in him no desire, which gave him,
indeed, a sort of physical repulsion; as one of those women of whom every
man can name some, and each will name different examples, who are the
converse of the type which our senses demand. To give him any pleasure her
profile was too sharp, her skin too delicate, her cheek-bones too
prominent, her features too tightly drawn. Her eyes were fine, but so
large that they seemed to be bending beneath their own weight, strained
the rest of her face and always made her appear unwell or in an ill
humour. Some time after this introduction at the theatre she had written
to ask Swann whether she might see his collections, which would interest
her so much, she, "an ignorant woman with a taste for beautiful things,"
saying that she would know him better when once she had seen him in his
'home,' where she imagined him to be "so comfortable with his tea and his
books"; although she had not concealed her surprise at his being in that
part of the town, which must be so depressing, and was "not nearly smart
enough for such a very smart man." And when he allowed her to come she had
said to him as she left how sorry she was to have stayed so short a time
in a house into which she was so glad to have found her way at last,
speaking of him as though he had meant something more to her than the rest
of the people she knew, and appearing to unite their two selves with a
kind of romantic bond which had made him smile. But at the time of life,
tinged already with disenchantment, which Swann was approaching, when a
man can content himself with being in love for the pleasure of loving
without expecting too much in return, this linking of hearts, if it is no
longer, as in early youth, the goal towards which love, of necessity,
tends, still is bound to love by so strong an association of ideas that it
may well become the cause of love if it presents itself first. In his
younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he
loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman may be
enough to make him fall in love with her. And 50, at an age when it would
appear--since one seeks in love before everything else a subjective
pleasure--that the taste for feminine beauty must play the larger part in
its procreation, love may come into being, love of the most physical
order, without any foundation in desire. At this time of life a man has
already been wounded more than once by the darts of love; it no longer
evolves by itself, obeying its own incomprehensible and fatal laws, before
his passive and astonished heart. We come to its aid; we falsify it by
memory and by suggestion; recognising one of its symptoms we recall and
recreate the rest. Since we possess its hymn, engraved on our hearts in
its entirety, there is no need of any woman to repeat the opening lines,
potent with the admiration which her beauty inspires, for us to remember
all that follows. And if she begin in the middle, where it sings of our
existing, henceforward, for one another only, we are well enough attuned
to that music to be able to take it up and follow our partner, without
hesitation, at the first pause in her voice.

Odette de Crécy came again to see Swann; her visits grew more frequent,
and doubtless each visit revived the sense of disappointment which he felt
at the sight of a face whose details he had somewhat forgotten in the
interval, not remembering it as either so expressive or, in spite of her
youth, so faded; he used to regret, while she was talking to him, that her
really considerable beauty was not of the kind which he spontaneously
admired. It must be remarked that Odette's face appeared thinner and more
prominent than it actually was, because her forehead and the upper part of
her cheeks, a single and almost plane surface, were covered by the masses
of hair which women wore at that period, drawn forward in a fringe, raised
in crimped waves and falling in stray locks over her ears; while as for
her figure, and she was admirably built, it was impossible to make out its
continuity (on account of the fashion then prevailing, and in spite of her
being one of the best-dressed women in Paris) for the corset, jetting
forwards in an arch, as though over an imaginary stomach, and ending in a
sharp point, beneath which bulged out the balloon of her double skirts,
gave a woman, that year, the appearance of being composed of different
sections badly fitted together; to such an extent did the frills, the
flounces, the inner bodice follow, in complete independence, controlled
only by the fancy of their designer or the rigidity of their material, the
line which led them to the knots of ribbon, falls of lace, fringes of
vertically hanging jet, or carried them along the bust, but nowhere
attached themselves to the living creature, who, according as the
architecture of their fripperies drew them towards or away from her own,
found herself either strait-laced to suffocation or else completely

But, after Odette had left him, Swann would think with a smile of her
telling him how the time would drag until he allowed her to come again; he
remembered the anxious, timid way in which she had once begged him that it
might not be very long, and the way in which she had looked at him then,
fixing upon him her fearful and imploring gaze, which gave her a touching
air beneath the bunches of artificial pansies fastened in the front of her
round bonnet of white straw, tied with strings of black velvet. "And won't
you," she had ventured, "come just once and take tea with me?" He had
pleaded pressure of work, an essay--which, in reality, he had abandoned
years ago--on Vermeer of Delft. "I know that I am quite useless," she had
replied, "a little wild thing like me beside a learned great man like you.
I should be like the frog in the fable! And yet I should so much like to
learn, to know things, to be initiated. What fun it would be to become a
regular bookworm, to bury my nose in a lot of old papers!" she had gone
on, with that self-satisfied air which a smart woman adopts when she
insists that her one desire is to give herself up, without fear of soiling
her fingers, to some unclean task, such as cooking the dinner, with her
"hands right in the dish itself." "You will only laugh at me, but this
painter who stops you from seeing me," she meant Vermeer, "I have never
even heard of him; is he alive still? Can I see any of his things in
Paris, so as to have some idea of what is going on behind that great brow
which works so hard, that head which I feel sure is always puzzling away
about things; just to be able to say 'There, that's what he's thinking
about!' What a dream it would be to be able to help you with your work."

He had sought an excuse in his fear of forming new friendships, which he
gallantly described as his fear of a hopeless passion. "You are afraid of
falling in love? How funny that is, when I go about seeking nothing else,
and would give my soul just to find a little love somewhere!" she had said,
so naturally and with such an air of conviction that he had been genuinely
touched. "Some woman must have made you suffer. And you think that the rest
are all like her. She can't have understood you: you are so utterly
different from ordinary men. That's what I liked about you when I first
saw you; I felt at once that you weren't like everybody else."

"And then, besides, there's yourself----" he had continued, "I know what
women are; you must have a whole heap of things to do, and never any time
to spare."

"I? Why, I have never anything to do. I am always free, and I always will
be free if you want me. At whatever hour of the day or night it may suit
you to see me, just send for me, and I shall be only too delighted to
come. Will you do that? Do you know what I should really like--to
introduce you to Mme. Verdurin, where I go every evening. Just fancy my
finding you there, and thinking that it was a little for my sake that you
had gone."

No doubt, in thus remembering their conversations, in thinking about her
thus when he was alone, he did no more than call her image into being
among those of countless other women in his romantic dreams; but if,
thanks to some accidental circumstance (or even perhaps without that
assistance, for the circumstance which presents itself at the moment when
a mental state, hitherto latent, makes itself felt, may well have had no
influence whatsoever upon that state), the image of Odette de Crécy came
to absorb the whole of his dreams, if from those dreams the memory of her
could no longer be eliminated, then her bodily imperfections would no
longer be of the least importance, nor would the conformity of her body,
more or less than any other, to the requirements of Swann's taste; since,
having become the body of her whom he loved, it must henceforth be the
only one capable of causing him joy or anguish.

It so happened that my grandfather had known--which was more than could be
said of any other actual acquaintance--the family of these Verdurins.
But he had entirely severed his connection with what he called "young
Verdurin," taking a general view of him as one who had fallen--though
without losing hold of his millions--among the riff-raff of Bohemia. One
day he received a letter from Swann asking whether my grandfather could
put him in touch with the Verdurins. "On guard! on guard!" he exclaimed as
he read it, "I am not at all surprised; Swann was bound to finish up like
this. A nice lot of people! I cannot do what he asks, because, in the
first place, I no longer know the gentleman in question. Besides, there
must be a woman in it somewhere, and I don't mix myself up in such
matters. Ah, well, we shall see some fun if Swann begins running after
the little Verdurins."

And on my grandfather's refusal to act as sponsor, it was Odette herself
who had taken Swann to the house.

The Verdurins had had dining with them, on the day when Swann made his
first appearance, Dr. and Mme. Cottard, the young pianist and his aunt,
and the painter then in favour, while these were joined, in the course of
the evening, by several more of the 'faithful.'

Dr. Cottard was never quite certain of the tone in which he ought to reply
to any observation, or whether the speaker was jesting or in earnest. And
so in any event he would embellish all his facial expressions with the
offer of a conditional, a provisional smile whose expectant subtlety would
exonerate him from the charge of being a simpleton, if the remark
addressed to him should turn out to have been facetious. But as he must
also be prepared to face the alternative, he never dared to allow this
smile a definite expression on his features, and you would see there a
perpetually flickering uncertainty, in which you might decipher the
question that he never dared to ask: "Do you really mean that?" He was no
more confident of the manner in which he ought to conduct himself in the
street, or indeed in life generally, than he was in a drawing-room; and he
might be seen greeting passers-by, carriages, and anything that occurred
with a malicious smile which absolved his subsequent behaviour of all
impropriety, since it proved, if it should turn out unsuited to the
occasion, that he was well aware of that, and that if he had assumed a
smile, the jest was a secret of his own.

On all those points, however, where a plain question appeared to him to be
permissible, the Doctor was unsparing in his endeavours to cultivate the
wilderness of his ignorance and uncertainty and so to complete his

So it was that, following the advice given him by a wise mother on his
first coming up to the capital from his provincial home, he would never
let pass either a figure of speech or a proper name that was new to him
without an effort to secure the fullest information upon it.

As regards figures of speech, he was insatiable in his thirst for
knowledge, for often imagining them to have a more definite meaning than
was actually the case, he would want to know what, exactly, was intended
by those which he most frequently heard used: 'devilish pretty,' 'blue
blood,' 'a cat and dog life,' 'a day of reckoning,' 'a queen of
fashion, 'to give a free hand,' 'to be at a deadlock,' and so forth; and
in what particular circumstances he himself might make use of them in
conversation. Failing these, he would adorn it with puns and other 'plays
upon words' which he had learned by rote. As for the names of strangers
which were uttered in his hearing, he used merely to repeat them to
himself in a questioning tone, which, he thought, would suffice to furnish
him with explanations for which he would not ostensibly seek.

As the critical faculty, on the universal application of which he prided
himself, was, in reality, completely lacking, that refinement of good
breeding which consists in assuring some one whom you are obliging in any
way, without expecting to be believed, that it is really yourself that is
obliged to him, was wasted on Cottard, who took everything that he heard
in its literal sense. However blind she may have been to his faults, Mme.
Verdurin was genuinely annoyed, though she still continued to regard him
as brilliantly clever, when, after she had invited him to see and hear
Sarah Bernhardt from a stage box, and had said politely: "It is very good
of you to have come, Doctor, especially as I'm sure you must often have
heard Sarah Bernhardt; and besides, I'm afraid we're rather too near the
stage," the Doctor, who had come into the box with a smile which waited
before settling upon or vanishing from his face until some one in
authority should enlighten him as to the merits of the spectacle, replied:
"To be sure, we are far too near the stage, and one is getting sick of
Sarah Bernhardt. But you expressed a wish that I should come. For me, your
wish is a command. I am only too glad to be able to do you this little
service. What would one not do to please you, you are so good." And he
went on, "Sarah Bernhardt; that's what they call the Voice of God, ain't
it? You see, often, too, that she 'sets the boards on fire.' That's an odd
expression, ain't it?" in the hope of an enlightening commentary, which,
however, was not forthcoming.

"D'you know," Mme. Verdurin had said to her husband, "I believe we are
going the wrong way to work when we depreciate anything we offer the
Doctor. He is a scientist who lives quite apart from our everyday
existence; he knows nothing himself of what things are worth, and he
accepts everything that we say as gospel."

"I never dared to mention it," M. Verdurin had answered, "but I've noticed
the same thing myself." And on the following New Year's Day, instead of
sending Dr. Cottard a ruby that cost three thousand francs, and pretending
that it was a mere trifle, M. Verdurin bought an artificial stone for
three hundred, and let it be understood that it was something almost
impossible to match.

When Mme. Verdurin had announced that they were to see M. Swann that
evening; "Swann!" the Doctor had exclaimed in a tone rendered brutal by
his astonishment, for the smallest piece of news would always take utterly
unawares this man who imagined himself to be perpetually in readiness for
anything. And seeing that no one answered him, "Swann! Who on earth is
Swann?" he shouted, in a frenzy of anxiety which subsided as soon as Mme.
Verdurin had explained, "Why, Odette's friend, whom she told us about."

"Ah, good, good; that's all right, then," answered the Doctor, at once
mollified. As for the painter, he was overjoyed at the prospect of Swann's
appearing at the Verdurins', because he supposed him to be in love with
Odette, and was always ready to assist at lovers' meetings. "Nothing
amuses me more than match-making," he confided to Cottard; "I have been
tremendously successful, even with women!"

In telling the Verdurins that Swann was extremely 'smart,' Odette had
alarmed them with the prospect of another 'bore.' When he arrived,
however, he made an excellent impression, an indirect cause of which,
though they did not know it, was his familiarity with the best society. He
had, indeed, one of those advantages which men who have lived and moved in
the world enjoy over others, even men of intelligence and refinement, who
have never gone into society, namely that they no longer see it
transfigured by the longing or repulsion with which it fills the
imagination, but regard it as quite unimportant. Their good nature, freed
from all taint of snobbishness and from the fear of seeming too friendly,
grown independent, in fact, has the ease, the grace of movement of a
trained gymnast each of whose supple limbs will carry out precisely the
movement that is required without any clumsy participation by the rest of
his body. The simple and elementary gestures used by a man of the world
when he courteously holds out his hand to the unknown youth who is being
introduced to him, and when he bows discreetly before the Ambassador to
whom he is being introduced, had gradually pervaded, without his being
conscious of it, the whole of Swann's social deportment, so that in the
company of people of a lower grade than his own, such as the Verdurins and
their friends, he instinctively shewed an assiduity, and made overtures
with which, by their account, any of their 'bores' would have dispensed.
He chilled, though for a moment only, on meeting Dr. Cottard; for seeing
him close one eye with an ambiguous smile, before they had yet spoken to
one another (a grimace which Cottard styled "letting 'em all come"), Swann
supposed that the Doctor recognised him from having met him already
somewhere, probably in some house of 'ill-fame,' though these he himself
very rarely visited, never having made a habit of indulging in the
mercenary sort of love. Regarding such an allusion as in bad taste,
especially before Odette, whose opinion of himself it might easily alter
for the worse, Swann assumed his most icy manner. But when he learned that
the lady next to the Doctor was Mme. Cottard, he decided that so young a
husband would not deliberately, in his wife's hearing, have made any
allusion to amusements of that order, and so ceased to interpret the
Doctor's expression in the sense which he had at first suspected. The
painter at once invited Swann to visit his studio with Odette, and Swann
found him very pleasant. "Perhaps you will be more highly favoured than I
have been," Mme. Verdurin broke in, with mock resentment of the favour,
"perhaps you will be allowed to see Cottard's portrait" (for which she had
given the painter a commission). "Take care, Master Biche," she reminded
the painter, whom it was a time-honoured pleasantry to address as
'Master,' "to catch that nice look in his eyes, that witty little twinkle.
You know, what I want to have most of all is his smile; that's what I've
asked you to paint--the portrait of his smile." And since the phrase
struck her as noteworthy, she repeated it very loud, so as to make sure
that as many as possible of her guests should hear it, and even made use
of some indefinite pretext to draw the circle closer before she uttered it
again. Swann begged to be introduced to everyone, even to an old friend of
the Verdurins, called Saniette, whose shyness, simplicity and good-nature
had deprived him of all the consideration due to his skill in
palaeography, his large fortune, and the distinguished family to which he
belonged. When he spoke, his words came with a confusion which was
delightful to hear because one felt that it indicated not so much a defect
in his speech as a quality of his soul, as it were a survival from the age
of innocence which he had never wholly outgrown. All the cop-sonants which
he did not manage to pronounce seemed like harsh utterances of which his
gentle lips were incapable. By asking to be made known to M. Saniette,
Swann made M. Verdurin reverse the usual form of introduction (saying, in
fact, with emphasis on the distinction: "M. Swann, pray let me present to
you our friend Saniette") but he aroused in Saniette himself a warmth of
gratitude, which, however, the Verdurins never disclosed to Swann, since
Saniette rather annoyed them, and they did not feel bound to provide him
with friends. On the other hand the Verdurins were extremely touched by
Swann's next request, for he felt that he must ask to be introduced to the
pianist's aunt. She wore a black dress, as was her invariable custom, for
she believed that a woman always looked well in black, and that nothing
could be more distinguished; but her face was exceedingly red, as it
always was for some time after a meal. She bowed to Swann with deference,
but drew herself up again with great dignity. As she was entirely
uneducated, and was afraid of making mistakes in grammar and
pronunciation, she used purposely to speak in an indistinct and garbling
manner, thinking that if she should make a slip it would be so buried in
the surrounding confusion that no one could be certain whether she had
actually made it or not; with the result that her talk was a sort of
continuous, blurred expectoration, out of which would emerge, at rare
intervals, those sounds and syllables of which she felt positive. Swann
supposed himself entitled to poke a little mild fun at her in conversation
with M. Verdurin, who, however, was not at all amused.

"She is such an excellent woman!" he rejoined. "I grant you that she is
not exactly brilliant; but I assure you that she can talk most charmingly
when you are alone with her."

"I am sure she can," Swann hastened to conciliate him. "All I meant was
that she hardly struck me as 'distinguished,'" he went on, isolating the
epithet in the inverted commas of his tone, "and, after all, that is
something of a compliment."

"Wait a moment," said M. Verdurin, "now, this will surprise you; she
writes quite delightfully. You have never heard her nephew play? It is
admirable; eh, Doctor? Would you like me to ask him to play something, M.

"I should count myself most fortunate..." Swann was beginning, a trifle
pompously, when the Doctor broke in derisively. Having once heard it said,
and never having forgotten that in general conversation emphasis and the
use of formal expressions were out of date, whenever he heard a solemn
word used seriously, as the word 'fortunate' had been used just now by
Swann, he at once assumed that the speaker was being deliberately
pedantic. And if, moreover, the same word happened to occur, also, in what
he called an old 'tag' or 'saw,' however common it might still be in
current usage, the Doctor jumped to the conclusion that the whole thing
was a joke, and interrupted with the remaining words of the quotation,
which he seemed to charge the speaker with having intended to introduce at
that point, although in reality it had never entered his mind.

"Most fortunate for France!" he recited wickedly, shooting up both arms
with great vigour. M. Verdurin could not help laughing.

"What are all those good people laughing at over there? There's no sign of
brooding melancholy down in your corner," shouted Mme. Verdurin. "You
don't suppose I find it very amusing to be stuck up here by myself on the
stool of repentance," she went on peevishly, like a spoiled child.

Mme. Verdurin was sitting upon a high Swedish chair of waxed pine-wood,
which a violinist from that country had given her, and which she kept in
her drawing-room, although in appearance it suggested a school 'form,' and
'swore,' as the saying is, at the really good antique furniture which she
had besides; but she made a point of keeping on view the presents which
her 'faithful' were in the habit of making her from time to time, so that
the donors might have the pleasure of seeing them there when they came to
the house. She tried to persuade them to confine their tributes to flowers
and sweets, which had at least the merit of mortality; but she was never
successful, and the house was gradually filled with a collection of
foot-warmers, cushions, clocks, screens, barometers and vases, a constant
repetition and a boundless incongruity of useless but indestructible

From this lofty perch she would take her spirited part in the conversation
of the 'faithful,' and would revel in all their fun; but, since the
accident to her jaw, she had abandoned the effort involved in real
hilarity, and had substituted a kind of symbolical dumb-show which
signified, without endangering or even fatiguing her in any way, that she
was 'laughing until she cried.' At the least witticism aimed by any of the
circle against a 'bore,' or against a former member of the circle who was
now relegated to the limbo of 'bores'--and to the utter despair of M.
Verdurin, who had always made out that he was just as easily amused as his
wife, but who, since his laughter was the 'real thing,' was out of breath
in a moment, and so was overtaken and vanquished by her device of a
feigned but continuous hilarity--she would utter a shrill cry, shut tight
her little bird-like eyes, which were beginning to be clouded over by a
cataract, and quickly, as though she had only just time to avoid some
indecent sight or to parry a mortal blow, burying her face in her hands,
which completely engulfed it, and prevented her from seeing anything at
all, she would appear to be struggling to suppress, to eradicate a laugh
which, were she to give way to it, must inevitably leave her inanimate.
So, stupefied with the gaiety of the 'faithful,' drunken with comradeship,
scandal and asseveration, Mme. Verdurin, perched on her high seat like a
cage-bird whose biscuit has been steeped in mulled wine, would sit aloft
and sob with fellow-feeling.

Meanwhile M. Verdurin, after first asking Swann's permission to light his
pipe ("No ceremony here, you understand; we're all pals!"), went and
begged the young musician to sit down at the piano.

"Leave him alone; don't bother him; he hasn't come here to be tormented,"
cried Mme. Verdurin. "I won't have him tormented."

"But why on earth should it bother him?" rejoined M. Verdurin. "I'm sure
M. Swann has never heard the sonata in F sharp which we discovered; he is

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