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Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

Part 5 out of 9

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going to play us the pianoforte arrangement."

"No, no, no, not my sonata!" she screamed, "I don't want to be made to cry
until I get a cold in the head, and neuralgia all down my face, like last
time; thanks very much, I don't intend to repeat that performance; you are
all very kind and considerate; it is easy to see that none of you will
have to stay in bed, for a week."

This little scene, which was re-enacted as often as the young pianist sat
down to play, never failed to delight the audience, as though each of them
were witnessing it for the first time, as a proof of the seductive
originality of the 'Mistress' as she was styled, and of the acute
sensitiveness of her musical 'ear.' Those nearest to her would attract the
attention of the rest, who were smoking or playing cards at the other end
of the room, by their cries of 'Hear, hear!' which, as in Parliamentary
debates, shewed that something worth listening to was being said. And next
day they would commiserate with those who had been prevented from coming
that evening, and would assure them that the 'little scene' had never been
so amusingly done.

"Well, all right, then," said M. Verdurin, "he can play just the andante."

"Just the _andante_! How you do go on," cried his wife. "As if it weren't
'just the _andante_' that breaks every bone in my body. The 'Master' is
really too priceless! Just as though, 'in the Ninth,' he said 'we need
only have the _finale_,' or 'just the overture' of the _Meistersinger_."

The Doctor, however, urged Mme. Verdurin to let the pianist play, not
because he supposed her to be malingering when she spoke of the
distressing effects that music always had upon her, for he recognised the
existence of certain neurasthenic states--but from his habit, common to
many doctors, of at once relaxing the strict letter of a prescription as
soon as it appeared to jeopardise, what seemed to him far more important,
the success of some social gathering at which he was present, and of which
the patient whom he had urged for once to forget her dyspepsia or headache
formed an essential factor.

"You won't be ill this time, you'll find," he told her, seeking at the
same time to subdue her mind by the magnetism of his gaze. "And, if you
are ill, we will cure you."

"Will you, really?" Mme. Verdurin spoke as though, with so great a favour
in store for her, there was nothing for it but to capitulate. Perhaps,
too, by dint of saying that she was going to be ill, she had worked
herself into a state in which she forgot, occasionally, that it was all
only a 'little scene,' and regarded things, quite sincerely, from an
invalid's point of view. For it may often be remarked that invalids grow
weary of having the frequency of their attacks depend always on their own
prudence in avoiding them, and like to let themselves think that they are
free to do everything that they most enjoy doing, although they are always
ill after doing it, provided only that they place themselves in the hands
of a higher authority which, without putting them to the least
inconvenience, can and will, by uttering a word or by administering a
tabloid, set them once again upon their feet.

Odette had gone to sit on a tapestry-covered sofa near the piano, saying
to Mme. Verdurin, "I have my own little corner, haven't I?"

And Mme. Verdurin, seeing Swann by himself upon a chair, made him get up.
"You're not at all comfortable there; go along and sit by Odette; you can
make room for M. Swann there, can't you, Odette?"

"What charming Beauvais!" said Swann, stopping to admire the sofa before
he sat down on it, and wishing to be polite.

"I am glad you appreciate my sofa," replied Mme. Verdurin, "and I warn you
that if you expect ever to see another like it you may as well abandon the
idea at once. They never made any more like it. And these little chairs,
too, are perfect marvels. You can look at them in a moment. The emblems
in each of the bronze mouldings correspond to the subject of the tapestry
on the chair; you know, you combine amusement with instruction when you
look at them;--I can promise you a delightful time, I assure you. Just
look at the little border around the edges; here, look, the little vine on
a red background in this one, the Bear and the Grapes. Isn't it well
drawn? What do you say? I think they knew a thing or two about design!
Doesn't it make your mouth water, this vine? My husband makes out that I
am not fond of fruit, because I eat less than he does. But not a bit of
it, I am greedier than any of you, but I have no need to fill my mouth
with them when I can feed on them with my eyes. What are you all laughing
at now, pray? Ask the Doctor; he will tell you that those grapes act on me
like a regular purge. Some people go to Fontainebleau for cures; I take my
own little Beauvais cure here. But, M. Swann, you mustn't run away without
feeling the little bronze mouldings on the backs. Isn't it an exquisite
surface? No, no, not with your whole hand like that; feel them property!"

"If Mme. Verdurin is going to start playing about with her bronzes," said
the painter, "we shan't get any music to-night."

"Be quiet, you wretch! And yet we poor women," she went on, "are forbidden
pleasures far less voluptuous than this. There is no flesh in the world as
soft as these. None. When M. Verdurin did me the honour of being madly
jealous... come, you might at least be polite. Don't say that you never
have been jealous!"

"But, my dear, I have said absolutely nothing. Look here, Doctor, I call
you as a witness; did I utter a word?"

Swann had begun, out of politeness, to finger the bronzes, and did not
like to stop.

"Come along; you can caress them later; now it is you that are going to be
caressed, caressed in the ear; you'll like that, I think. Here's the young
gentleman who will take charge of that."

After the pianist had played, Swann felt and shewed more interest in him
than in any of the other guests, for the following reason:

The year before, at an evening party, he had heard a piece of music played
on the piano and violin. At first he had appreciated only the material
quality of the sounds which those instruments secreted. And it had been a
source of keen pleasure when, below the narrow ribbon of the violin-part,
delicate, unyielding, substantial and governing the whole, he had suddenly
perceived, where it was trying to surge upwards in a flowing tide of
sound, the mass of the piano-part, multiform, coherent, level, and
breaking everywhere in melody like the deep blue tumult of the sea,
silvered and charmed into a minor key by the moonlight. But at a given
moment, without being able to distinguish any clear outline, or to give a
name to what was pleasing him, suddenly enraptured, he had tried to
collect, to treasure in his memory the phrase or harmony--he knew not
which--that had just been played, and had opened and expanded his soul,
just as the fragrance of certain roses, wafted upon the moist air of
evening, has the power of dilating our nostrils. Perhaps it was owing to
his own ignorance of music that he had been able to receive so confused an
impression, one of those that are, notwithstanding, our only purely
musical impressions, limited in their extent, entirely original, and
irreducible into any other kind. An impression of this order, vanishing in
an instant, is, so to speak, an impression _sine materia_. Presumably the
notes which we hear at such moments tend to spread out before our eyes,
over surfaces greater or smaller according to their pitch and volume; to
trace arabesque designs, to give us the sensation of breath or tenuity,
stability or caprice. But the notes themselves have vanished before these
sensations have developed sufficiently to escape submersion under those
which the following, or even simultaneous notes have already begun to
awaken in us. And this indefinite perception would continue to smother in
its molten liquidity the _motifs_ which now and then emerge, barely
discernible, to plunge again and disappear and drown; recognised only by
the particular kind of pleasure which they instil, impossible to describe,
to recollect, to name; ineffable;--if our memory, like a labourer who
toils at the laying down of firm foundations beneath the tumult of the
waves, did not, by fashioning for us facsimiles of those fugitive phrases,
enable us to compare and to contrast them with those that follow. And so,
hardly had the delicious sensation, which Swann had experienced, died
away, before his memory had furnished him with an immediate transcript,
summary, it is true, and provisional, but one on which he had kept his
eyes fixed while the playing continued, so effectively that, when the same
impression suddenly returned, it was no longer uncapturable. He was able
to picture to himself its extent, its symmetrical arrangement, its
notation, the strength of its expression; he had before him that definite
object which was no longer pure music, but rather design, architecture,
thought, and which allowed the actual music to be recalled. This time he
had distinguished, quite clearly, a phrase which emerged for a few moments
from the waves of sound. It had at once held out to him an invitation to
partake of intimate pleasures, of whose existence, before hearing it, he
had never dreamed, into which he felt that nothing but this phrase could
initiate him; and he had been filled with love for it, as with a new and
strange desire.

With a slow and rhythmical movement it led him here, there, everywhere,
towards a state of happiness noble, unintelligible, yet clearly indicated.
And then, suddenly having reached a certain point from which he was
prepared to follow it, after pausing for a moment, abruptly it changed its
direction, and in a fresh movement, more rapid, multiform, melancholy,
incessant, sweet, it bore him off with it towards a vista of joys
unknown. Then it vanished. He hoped, with a passionate longing, that he
might find it again, a third time. And reappear it did, though without
speaking to him more clearly, bringing him, indeed, a pleasure less
profound. But when he was once more at home he needed it, he was like a
man into whose life a woman, whom he has seen for a moment passing by, has
brought a new form of beauty, which strengthens and enlarges his own power
of perception, without his knowing even whether he is ever to see her
again whom he loves already, although he knows nothing of her, not even
her name.

Indeed this passion for a phrase of music seemed, in the first few months,
to be bringing into Swann's life the possibility of a sort of rejuvenation.
He had so long since ceased to direct his course towards any
ideal goal, and had confined himself to the pursuit of ephemeral
satisfactions, that he had come to believe, though without ever formally
stating his belief even to himself, that he would remain all his life in
that condition, which death alone could alter. More than this, since his
mind no longer entertained any lofty ideals, he had ceased to believe in
(although he could not have expressly denied) their reality. He had grown
also into the habit of taking refuge in trivial considerations, which
allowed him to set on one side matters of fundamental importance. Just as
he had never stopped to ask himself whether he would not have done better
by not going into society, knowing very well that if he had accepted an
invitation he must put in an appearance, and that afterwards, if he did
not actually call, he must at least leave cards upon his hostess; so in
his conversation he took care never to express with any warmth a personal
opinion about a thing, but instead would supply facts and details which
had a value of a sort in themselves, and excused him from shewing how much
he really knew. He would be extremely precise about the recipe for a dish,
the dates of a painter's birth and death, and the titles of his works.
Sometimes, in spite of himself, he would let himself go so far as to utter
a criticism of a work of art, or of some one's interpretation of life, but
then he would cloak his words in a tone of irony, as though he did not
altogether associate himself with what he was saying. But now, like a
confirmed invalid whom, all of a sudden, a change of air and surroundings,
or a new course of treatment, or, as sometimes happens, an organic change
in himself, spontaneous and unaccountable, seems to have so far recovered
from his malady that he begins to envisage the possibility, hitherto
beyond all hope, of starting to lead--and better late than never--a wholly
different life, Swann found in himself, in the memory of the phrase that
he had heard, in certain other sonatas which he had made people play over
to him, to see whether he might not, perhaps, discover his phrase among
them, the presence of one of those invisible realities in which he had
ceased to believe, but to which, as though the music had had upon the
moral barrenness from which he was suffering a sort of recreative
influence, he was conscious once again of a desire, almost, indeed, of the
power to consecrate his life. But, never having managed to find out whose
work it was that he had heard played that evening, he had been unable to
procure a copy, and finally had forgotten the quest. He had indeed, in the
course of the next few days, encountered several of the people who had
been at the party with him, and had questioned them; but most of them had
either arrived after or left before the piece was played; some had indeed
been in the house, but had gone into another room to talk, and those who
had stayed to listen had no clearer impression than the rest. As for his
hosts, they knew that it was a recently published work which the musicians
whom they had engaged for the evening had asked to be allowed to play;
but, as these last were now on tour somewhere, Swann could learn nothing
further. He had, of course, a number of musical friends, but, vividly as
he could recall the exquisite and inexpressible pleasure which the little
phrase had given him, and could see, still, before his eyes the forms that
it had traced in outline, he was quite incapable of humming over to them
the air. And so, at last, he ceased to think of it.

But to-night, at Mme. Verdurin's, scarcely had the little pianist begun to
play when, suddenly, after a high note held on through two whole bars,
Swann saw it approaching, stealing forth from underneath that resonance,
which was prolonged and stretched out over it, like a curtain of sound, to
veil the mystery of its birth--and recognised, secret, whispering,
articulate, the airy and fragrant phrase that he had loved. And it was so
peculiarly itself, it had so personal a charm, which nothing else could
have replaced, that Swann felt as though he had met, in a friend's
drawing-room, a woman whom he had seen and admired, once, in the street,
and had despaired of ever seeing her again. Finally the phrase withdrew
and vanished, pointing, directing, diligent among the wandering currents
of its fragrance, leaving upon Swann's features a reflection of its smile.
But now, at last, he could ask the name of his fair unknown (and was told
that it was the _andante_ movement of Vinteuil's sonata for the piano and
violin), he held it safe, could have it again to himself, at home, as
often as he would, could study its language and acquire its secret.

And so, when the pianist had finished, Swann crossed the room and thanked
him with a vivacity which delighted Mme. Verdurin.

"Isn't he charming?" she asked Swann, "doesn't he just understand it, his
sonata, the little wretch? You never dreamed, did you, that a piano could
be made to express all that? Upon my word, there's everything in it except
the piano! I'm caught out every time I hear it; I think I'm listening to
an orchestra. Though it's better, really, than an orchestra, more

The young pianist bent over her as he answered, smiling and underlining
each of his words as though he were making an epigram: "You are most
generous to me."

And while Mme. Verdurin was saying to her husband, "Run and fetch him a
glass of orangeade; it's well earned!" Swann began to tell Odette how he
had fallen in love with that little phrase. When their hostess, who was a
little way off, called out, "Well! It looks to me as though some one was
saying nice things to you, Odette!" she replied, "Yes, very nice," and he
found her simplicity delightful. Then he asked for some information about
this Vinteuil; what else he had done, and at what period in his life he
had composed the sonata;--what meaning the little phrase could have had
for him, that was what Swann wanted most to know.

But none of these people who professed to admire this musician (when Swann
had said that the sonata was really charming Mme. Verdurin had exclaimed,
"I quite believe it! Charming, indeed! But you don't dare to confess that
you don't know Vinteuil's sonata; you have no right not to know it!"--and
the painter had gone on with, "Ah, yes, it's a very fine bit of work,
isn't it? Not, of course, if you want something 'obvious,' something
'popular,' but, I mean to say, it makes a very great impression on us
artists."), none of them seemed ever to have asked himself these
questions, for none of them was able to reply.

Even to one or two particular remarks made by Swann on his favourite
phrase, "D'you know, that's a funny thing; I had never noticed it; I may
as well tell you that I don't much care about peering at things through a
microscope, and pricking myself on pin-points of difference; no; we don't
waste time splitting hairs in this house; why not? well, it's not a habit
of ours, that's all," Mme. Verdurin replied, while Dr. Cottard gazed at
her with open-mouthed admiration, and yearned to be able to follow her as
she skipped lightly from one stepping-stone to another of her stock of
ready-made phrases. Both he, however, and Mme. Cottard, with a kind of
common sense which is shared by many people of humble origin, would always
take care not to express an opinion, or to pretend to admire a piece of
music which they would confess to each other, once they were safely at
home, that they no more understood than they could understand the art of
'Master' Biche. Inasmuch as the public cannot recognise the charm, the
beauty, even the outlines of nature save in the stereotyped impressions of
an art which they have gradually assimilated, while an original artist
starts by rejecting those impressions, so M. and Mme. Cottard, typical,
in this respect, of the public, were incapable of finding, either in
Vinteuil's sonata or in Biche's portraits, what constituted harmony, for
them, in music or beauty in painting. It appeared to them, when the
pianist played his sonata, as though he were striking haphazard from the
piano a medley of notes which bore no relation to the musical forms to
which they themselves were accustomed, and that the painter simply flung
the colours haphazard upon his canvas. When, on one of these, they were
able to distinguish a human form, they always found it coarsened and
vulgarised (that is to say lacking all the elegance of the school of
painting through whose spectacles they themselves were in the habit of
seeing the people--real, living people, who passed them in the streets)
and devoid of truth, as though M. Biche had not known how the human
shoulder was constructed, or that a woman's hair was not, ordinarily,

And yet, when the 'faithful' were scattered out of earshot, the Doctor
felt that the opportunity was too good to be missed, and so (while Mme.
Verdurin was adding a final word of commendation of Vinteuil's sonata)
like a would-be swimmer who jumps into the water, so as to learn, but
chooses a moment when there are not too many people looking on: "Yes,
indeed; he's what they call a musician _di primo cartello_!" he exclaimed,
with a sudden determination.

Swann discovered no more than that the recent publication of Vinteuil's
sonata had caused a great stir among the most advanced school of
musicians, but that it was still unknown to the general public.

"I know some one, quite well, called Vinteuil," said Swann, thinking of
the old music-master at Combray who had taught my grandmother's sisters.

"Perhaps that's the man!" cried Mme. Verdurin.

"Oh, no!" Swann burst out laughing. "If you had ever seen him for a moment
you wouldn't put the question."

"Then to put the question is to solve the problem?" the Doctor suggested.

"But it may well be some relative," Swann went on. "That would be bad
enough; but, after all, there is no reason why a genius shouldn't have a
cousin who is a silly old fool. And if that should be so, I swear there's
no known or unknown form of torture I wouldn't undergo to get the old fool
to introduce me to the man who composed the sonata; starting with the
torture of the old fool's company, which would be ghastly."

The painter understood that Vinteuil was seriously ill at the moment, and
that Dr. Potain despaired of his life.

"What!" cried Mme. Verdurin, "Do people still call in Potain?"

"Ah! Mme. Verdurin," Cottard simpered, "you forget that you are speaking
of one of my colleagues--I should say, one of my masters."

The painter had heard, somewhere, that Vinteuil was threatened with
the loss of his reason. And he insisted that signs of this could be
detected in certain passages in the sonata. This remark did not strike
Swann as ridiculous; rather, it puzzled him. For, since a purely musical
work contains none of those logical sequences, the interruption or
confusion of which, in spoken or written language, is a proof of insanity,
so insanity diagnosed in a sonata seemed to him as mysterious a thing as
the insanity of a dog or a horse, although instances may be observed of

"Don't speak to me about 'your masters'; you know ten times as much as he
does!" Mme. Verdurin answered Dr. Cottard, in the tone of a woman who has
the courage of her convictions, and is quite ready to stand up to anyone
who disagrees with her. "Anyhow, you don't kill your patients!"

"But, Madame, he is in the Academy." The Doctor smiled with bitter irony.
"If a sick person prefers to die at the hands of one of the Princes of
Science... It is far more smart to be able to say, 'Yes, I have Potain.'"

"Oh, indeed! More smart, is it?" said Mme. Verdurin. "So there are
fashions, nowadays, in illness, are there? I didn't know that.... Oh, you
do make me laugh!" she screamed, suddenly, burying her face in her hands.
"And here was I, poor thing, talking quite seriously, and never seeing
that you were pulling my leg."

As for M. Verdurin, finding it rather a strain to start laughing again
over so small a matter, he was content with puffing out a cloud of smoke
from his pipe, while he reflected sadly that he could never again hope to
keep pace with his wife in her Atalanta-flights across the field of mirth.

"D'you know; we like your friend so very much," said Mme. Verdurin, later,
when Odette was bidding her good night. "He is so unaffected, quite
charming. If they're all like that, the friends you want to bring here, by
all means bring them."

M. Verdurin remarked that Swann had failed, all the same, to appreciate
the pianist's aunt.

"I dare say he felt a little strange, poor man," suggested Mme. Verdurin.
"You can't expect him to catch the tone of the house the first time he
comes; like Cottard, who has been one of our little 'clan' now for years.
The first time doesn't count; it's just for looking round and finding out
things. Odette, he understands all right, he's to join us to-morrow at the
Châtelet. Perhaps you might call for him and bring him." "No, he doesn't
want that."

"Oh, very well; just as you like. Provided he doesn't fail us at the last

Greatly to Mme. Verdurin's surprise, he never failed them. He would go to
meet them, no matter where, at restaurants outside Paris (not that they
went there much at first, for the season had not yet begun), and more
frequently at the play, in which Mme. Verdurin delighted. One evening,
when they were dining at home, he heard her complain that she had not one
of those permits which would save her the trouble of waiting at doors and
standing in crowds, and say how useful it would be to them at
first-nights, and gala performances at the Opera, and what a nuisance it
had been, not having one, on the day of Gambetta's funeral. Swann never
spoke of his distinguished friends, but only of such as might be regarded
as detrimental, whom, therefore, he thought it snobbish, and in not very
good taste to conceal; while he frequented the Faubourg Saint-Germain he
had come to include, in the latter class, all his friends in the official
world of the Third Republic, and so broke in, without thinking: "I'll see
to that, all right. You shall have it in time for the _Danicheff_ revival.
I shall be lunching with the Prefect of Police to-morrow, as it happens,
at the Elysée."

"What's that? The Elysée?" Dr. Cottard roared in a voice of thunder.

"Yes, at M. Grévy's," replied Swann, feeling a little awkward at the
effect which his announcement had produced.

"Are you often taken like that?" the painter asked Cottard, with

As a rule, once an explanation had been given, Cottard would say: "Ah,
good, good; that's all right, then," after which he would shew not the
least trace of emotion. But this time Swann's last words, instead of the
usual calming effect, had that of heating, instantly, to boiling-point his
astonishment at the discovery that a man with whom he himself was actually
sitting at table, a man who had no official position, no honours or
distinction of any sort, was on visiting terms with the Head of the State.

"What's that you say? M. Grévy? Do you know M. Grévy?" he demanded of
Swann, in the stupid and incredulous tone of a constable on duty at the
palace, when a stranger has come up and asked to see the President of the
Republic; until, guessing from his words and manner what, as the
newspapers say, 'it is a case of,' he assures the poor lunatic that he
will be admitted at once, and points the way to the reception ward of the
police infirmary.

"I know him slightly; we have some friends in common" (Swann dared not add
that one of these friends was the Prince of Wales). "Anyhow, he is very
free with his invitations, and, I assure you, his luncheon-parties are not
the least bit amusing; they're very simple affairs, too, you know; never
more than eight at table," he went on, trying desperately to cut out
everything that seemed to shew off his relations with the President in a
light too dazzling for the Doctor's eyes.

Whereupon Cottard, at once conforming in his mind to the literal
interpretation of what Swann was saying, decided that invitations from M.
Grévy were very little sought after, were sent out, in fact, into the
highways and hedge-rows. And from that moment he never seemed at all
surprised to hear that Swann, or anyone else, was 'always at the Elysée';
he even felt a little sorry for a man who had to go to luncheon-parties
which, he himself admitted, were a bore.

"Ah, good, good; that's quite all right then," he said, in the tone of a
customs official who has been suspicious up to now, but, after hearing
your explanations, stamps your passport and lets you proceed on your
journey without troubling to examine your luggage.

"I can well believe you don't find them amusing, those parties; indeed,
it's very good of you to go to them!" said Mme. Verdurin, who regarded the
President of the Republic only as a 'bore' to be especially dreaded, since
he had at his disposal means of seduction, and even of compulsion, which,
if employed to captivate her 'faithful,' might easily make them 'fail.'
"It seems, he's as deaf as a post; and eats with his fingers."

"Upon my word! Then it can't be much fun for you, going there." A note of
pity sounded in the Doctor's voice; and then struck by the number--only
eight at table--"Are these luncheons what you would describe as
'intimate'?" he inquired briskly, not so much out of idle curiosity as in
his linguistic zeal.

But so great and glorious a figure was the President of the French
Republic in the eyes of Dr. Cottard that neither the modesty of Swann nor
the spite of Mme. Verdurin could ever wholly efface that first impression,
and he never sat down to dinner with the Verdurins without asking
anxiously, "D'you think we shall see M. Swann here this evening? He is a
personal friend of M. Grévy's. I suppose that means he's what you'd call a
'gentleman'?" He even went to the length of offering Swann a card of
invitation to the Dental Exhibition.

"This will let you in, and anyone you take with you," he explained, "but
dogs are not admitted. I'm just warning you, you understand, because some
friends of mine went there once, who hadn't been told, and there was the
devil to pay."

As for M. Verdurin, he did not fail to observe the distressing effect upon
his wife of the discovery that Swann had influential friends of whom he
had never spoken.

If no arrangement had been made to 'go anywhere,' it was at the Verdurins'
that Swann would find the 'little nucleus' assembled, but he never
appeared there except in the evenings, and would hardly ever accept their
invitations to dinner, in spite of Odette's entreaties.

"I could dine with you alone somewhere, if you'd rather," she suggested.

"But what about Mme. Verdurin?"

"Oh, that's quite simple. I need only say that my dress wasn't ready, or
that my cab came late. There is always some excuse."

"How charming of you."

But Swann said to himself that, if he could make Odette feel (by
consenting to meet her only after dinner) that there were other pleasures
which he preferred to that of her company, then the desire that she felt
for his would be all the longer in reaching the point of satiety. Besides,
as he infinitely preferred to Odette's style of beauty that of a little
working girl, as fresh and plump as a rose, with whom he happened to be
simultaneously in love, he preferred to spend the first part of the
evening with her, knowing that he was sure to see Odette later on. For the
same reason, he would never allow Odette to call for him at his house, to
take him on to the Verdurins'. The little girl used to wait, not far from
his door, at a street corner; Rémi, his coachman, knew where to stop; she
would jump in beside him, and hold him in her arms until the carriage drew
up at the Verdurins'. He would enter the drawing-room; and there, while
Mme. Verdurin, pointing to the roses which he had sent her that morning,
said: "I am furious with you!" and sent him to the place kept for him, by
the side of Odette, the pianist would play to them--for their two selves,
and for no one else--that little phrase by Vinteuil which was, so to
speak, the national anthem of their love. He began, always, with a
sustained tremolo from the violin part, which, for several bars, was
unaccompanied, and filled all the foreground; until suddenly it seemed to
be drawn aside, and--just as in those interiors by Pieter de Hooch, where
the subject is set back a long way through the narrow framework of a
half-opened door--infinitely remote, in colour quite different, velvety
with the radiance of some intervening light, the little phrase appeared,
dancing, pastoral, interpolated, episodic, belonging to another world. It
passed, with simple and immortal movements, scattering on every side the
bounties of its grace, smiling ineffably still; but Swann thought that he
could now discern in it some disenchantment. It seemed to be aware how
vain, how hollow was the happiness to which it shewed the way. In its airy
grace there was, indeed, something definitely achieved, and complete in
itself, like the mood of philosophic detachment which follows an outburst
of vain regret. But little did that matter to him; he looked upon the
sonata less in its own light--as what it might express, had, in fact,
expressed to a certain musician, ignorant that any Swann or Odette,
anywhere in the world, existed, when he composed it, and would express to
all those who should hear it played in centuries to come--than as a
pledge, a token of his love, which made even the Verdurins and their
little pianist think of Odette and, at the same time, of himself--which
bound her to him by a lasting tie; and at that point he had (whimsically
entreated by Odette) abandoned the idea of getting some 'professional' to
play over to him the whole sonata, of which he still knew no more than
this one passage. "Why do you want the rest?" she had asked him. "Our
little bit; that's all we need." He went farther; agonised by the
reflection, at the moment when it passed by him, so near and yet so
infinitely remote, that, while it was addressed to their ears, it knew
them not, he would regret, almost, that it had a meaning of its own, an
intrinsic and unalterable beauty, foreign to themselves, just as in the
jewels given to us, or even in the letters written to us by a woman with
whom we are in love, we find fault with the 'water' of a stone, or with
the words of a sentence because they are not fashioned exclusively from
the spirit of a fleeting intimacy and of a 'lass unparalleled.'

It would happen, as often as not, that he had stayed so long outside, with
his little girl, before going to the Verdurins' that, as soon as the
little phrase had been rendered by the pianist, Swann would discover that
it was almost time for Odette to go home. He used to take her back as far
as the door of her little house in the Rue La Pérouse, behind the Arc de
Triomphe. And it was perhaps on this account, and so as not to demand the
monopoly of her favours, that he sacrificed the pleasure (not so essential
to his well-being) of seeing her earlier in the evening, of arriving with
her at the Verdurins', to the exercise of this other privilege, for which
she was grateful, of their leaving together; a privilege which he valued
all the more because, thanks to it, he had the feeling that no one else
would see her, no one would thrust himself between them, no one could
prevent him from remaining with her in spirit, after he had left her for
the night.

And so, night after night, she would be taken home in Swann's carriage;
and one night, after she had got down, and while he stood at the gate and
murmured "Till to-morrow, then!" she turned impulsively from him, plucked
a last lingering chrysanthemum in the tiny garden which flanked the
pathway from the street to her house, and as he went back to his carriage
thrust it into his hand. He held it pressed to his lips during the drive
home, and when, in due course, the flower withered, locked it away, like
something very precious, in a secret drawer of his desk.

He would escort her to her gate, but no farther. Twice only had he gone
inside to take part in the ceremony--of such vital importance in her life
--of 'afternoon tea.' The loneliness and emptiness of those short streets
(consisting, almost entirely, of low-roofed houses, self-contained but not
detached, their monotony interrupted here and there by the dark intrusion
of some sinister little shop, at once an historical document and a sordid
survival from the days when the district was still one of ill repute), the
snow which had lain on the garden-beds or clung to the branches of the
trees, the careless disarray of the season, the assertion, in this
man-made city, of a state of nature, had all combined to add an element of
mystery to the warmth, the flowers, the luxury which he had found inside.

Passing by (on his left-hand side, and on what, although raised some way
above the street, was the ground floor of the house) Odette's bedroom,
which looked out to the back over another little street running parallel
with her own, he had climbed a staircase that went straight up between
dark painted walls, from which hung Oriental draperies, strings of Turkish
beads, and a huge Japanese lantern, suspended by a silken cord from the
ceiling (which last, however, so that her visitors should not have to
complain of the want of any of the latest comforts of Western
civilisation, was lighted by a gas-jet inside), to the two drawing-rooms,
large and small. These were entered through a narrow lobby, the wall of
which, chequered with the lozenges of a wooden trellis such as you see on
garden walls, only gilded, was lined from end to end by a long rectangular
box in which bloomed, as though in a hothouse, a row of large
chrysanthemums, at that time still uncommon, though by no means so large
as the mammoth blossoms which horticulturists have since succeeded in
making grow. Swann was irritated, as a rule, by the sight of these
flowers, which had then been 'the rage' in Paris for about a year, but it
had pleased him, on this occasion, to see the gloom of the little lobby
shot with rays of pink and gold and white by the fragrant petals of these
ephemeral stars, which kindle their cold fires in the murky atmosphere of
winter afternoons. Odette had received him in a tea-gown of pink silk,
which left her neck and arms bare. She had made him sit down beside her in
one of the many mysterious little retreats which had been contrived in the
various recesses of the room, sheltered by enormous palmtrees growing out
of pots of Chinese porcelain, or by screens upon which were fastened
photographs and fans and bows of ribbon. She had said at once, "You're not
comfortable there; wait a minute, I'll arrange things for you," and with a
titter of laughter, the complacency of which implied that some little
invention of her own was being brought into play, she had installed behind
his head and beneath his feet great cushions of Japanese silk, which she
pummelled and buffeted as though determined to lavish on him all her
riches, and regardless of their value. But when her footman began to come
into the room, bringing, one after another, the innumerable lamps which
(contained, mostly, in porcelain vases) burned singly or in pairs upon the
different pieces of furniture as upon so many altars, rekindling in the
twilight, already almost nocturnal, of this winter afternoon, the glow of
a sunset more lasting, more roseate, more human--filling, perhaps, with
romantic wonder the thoughts of some solitary lover, wandering in the
street below and brought to a standstill before the mystery of the human
presence which those lighted windows at once revealed and screened from
sight--she had kept an eye sharply fixed on the servant, to see whether he
set each of the lamps down in the place appointed it. She felt that, if
he were to put even one of them where it ought not to be, the general
effect of her drawing-room would be destroyed, and that her portrait,
which rested upon a sloping easel draped with plush, would not catch the
light. And so, with feverish impatience, she followed the man's clumsy
movements, scolding him severely when he passed too close to a pair of
beaupots, which she made a point of always tidying herself, in case the
plants should be knocked over--and went across to them now to make sure
that he had not broken off any of the flowers. She found something
'quaint' in the shape of each of her Chinese ornaments, and also in her
orchids, the cattleyas especially (these being, with chrysanthemums, her
favourite flowers), because they had the supreme merit of not looking in
the least like other flowers, but of being made, apparently, out of scraps
of silk or satin. "It looks just as though it had been cut out of the
lining of my cloak," she said to Swann, pointing to an orchid, with a
shade of respect in her voice for so 'smart' a flower, for this
distinguished, unexpected sister whom nature had suddenly bestowed upon
her, so far removed from her in the scale of existence, and yet so
delicate, so refined, so much more worthy than many real women of
admission to her drawing-room. As she drew his attention, now to the
fiery-tongued dragons painted upon a bowl or stitched upon a fire-screen,
now to a fleshy cluster of orchids, now to a dromedary of inlaid
silver-work with ruby eyes, which kept company, upon her mantelpiece, with
a toad carved in jade, she would pretend now to be shrinking from the
ferocity of the monsters or laughing at their absurdity, now blushing at
the indecency of the flowers, now carried away by an irresistible desire
to run across and kiss the toad and dromedary, calling them 'darlings.'
And these affectations were in sharp contrast to the sincerity of some of
her attitudes, notably her devotion to Our Lady of the Laghetto who had
once, when Odette was living at Nice, cured her of a mortal illness, and
whose medal, in gold, she always carried on her person, attributing to it
unlimited powers. She poured out Swann's tea, inquired "Lemon or cream?"
and, on his answering "Cream, please," went on, smiling, "A cloud!" And as
he pronounced it excellent, "You see, I know just how you like it." This
tea had indeed seemed to Swann, just as it seemed to her, something
precious, and love is so far obliged to find some justification for
itself, some guarantee of its duration in pleasures which, on the
contrary, would have no existence apart from love and must cease with its
passing, that when he left her, at seven o'clock, to go and dress for the
evening, all the way home, sitting bolt upright in his brougham, unable to
repress the happiness with which the afternoon's adventure had filled him,
he kept on repeating to himself: "What fun it would be to have a little
woman like that in a place where one could always be certain of finding,
what one never can be certain of finding, a really good cup of tea." An
hour or so later he received a note from Odette, and at once recognised
that florid handwriting, in which an affectation of British stiffness
imposed an apparent discipline upon its shapeless characters, significant,
perhaps, to less intimate eyes than his, of an untidiness of mind, a
fragmentary education, a want of sincerity and decision. Swann had left
his cigarette-case at her house. "Why," she wrote, "did you not forget
your heart also? I should never have let you have that back."

More important, perhaps, was a second visit which he paid her, a little
later. On his way to the house, as always when he knew that they were to
meet, he formed a picture of her in his mind; and the necessity, if he was
to find any beauty in her face, of fixing his eyes on the fresh and rosy
protuberance of her cheekbones, and of shutting out all the rest of those
cheeks which were so often languorous and sallow, except when they were
punctuated with little fiery spots, plunged him in acute depression, as
proving that one's ideal is always unattainable, and one's actual
happiness mediocre. He was taking her an engraving which she had asked to
see. She was not very well; she received him, wearing a wrapper of mauve
_crêpe de Chine_, which draped her bosom, like a mantle, with a richly
embroidered web. As she stood there beside him, brushing his cheek with
the loosened tresses of her hair, bending one knee in what was almost a
dancer's pose, so that she could lean without tiring herself over the
picture, at which she was gazing, with bended head, out of those great
eyes, which seemed so weary and so sullen when there was nothing to
animate her, Swann was struck by her resemblance to the figure of
Zipporah, Jethro's Daughter, which is to be seen in one of the Sixtine
frescoes. He had always found a peculiar fascination in tracing in the
paintings of the Old Masters, not merely the general characteristics of
the people whom he encountered in his daily life, but rather what seems
least susceptible of generalisation, the individual features of men and
women whom he knew, as, for instance, in a bust of the Doge Loredan by
Antonio Rizzo, the prominent cheekbones, the slanting eyebrows, in short,
a speaking likeness to his own coachman Rémi; in the colouring of a
Ghirlandaio, the nose of M. de Palancy; in a portrait by Tintoretto, the
invasion of the plumpness of the cheek by an outcrop of whisker, the
broken nose, the penetrating stare, the swollen eyelids of Dr. du Boulbon.
Perhaps because he had always regretted, in his heart, that he had
confined his attention to the social side of life, had talked, always,
rather than acted, he felt that he might find a sort of indulgence
bestowed upon him by those great artists, in his perception of the fact
that they also had regarded with pleasure and had admitted into the canon
of their works such types of physiognomy as give those works the strongest
possible certificate of reality and trueness to life; a modern, almost a
topical savour; perhaps, also, he had so far succumbed to the prevailing
frivolity of the world of fashion that he felt the necessity of finding in
an old masterpiece some such obvious and refreshing allusion to a person
about whom jokes could be made and repeated and enjoyed to-day. Perhaps,
on the other hand, he had retained enough of the artistic temperament to
be able to find a genuine satisfaction in watching these individual
features take on a more general significance when he saw them, uprooted
and disembodied, in the abstract idea of similarity between an historic
portrait and a modern original, whom it was not intended to represent.
However that might be, and perhaps because the abundance of impressions
which he, for some time past, had been receiving--though, indeed, they had
come to him rather through the channel of his appreciation of music--had
enriched his appetite for painting as well, it was with an unusual
intensity of pleasure, a pleasure destined to have a lasting effect upon
his character and conduct, that Swann remarked Odette's resemblance to the
Zipporah of that Alessandro de Mariano, to whom one shrinks from giving
his more popular surname, now that 'Botticelli' suggests not so much the
actual work of the Master as that false and banal conception of it which
has of late obtained common currency. He no longer based his estimate of
the merit of Odette's face on the more or less good quality of her cheeks,
and the softness and sweetness--as of carnation-petals--which, he
supposed, would greet his lips there, should he ever hazard an embrace,
but regarded it rather as a skein of subtle and lovely silken threads,
which his gazing eyes collected and wound together, following the curving
line from the skein to the ball, where he mingled the cadence of her neck
with the spring of her hair and the droop of her eyelids, as though from a
portrait of herself, in which her type was made clearly intelligible.

He stood gazing at her; traces of the old fresco were apparent in her face
and limbs, and these he tried incessantly, afterwards, to recapture, both
when he was with Odette, and when he was only thinking of her in her
absence; and, albeit his admiration for the Florentine masterpiece was
probably based upon his discovery that it had been reproduced in her, the
similarity enhanced her beauty also, and rendered her more precious in his
sight. Swann reproached himself with his failure, hitherto, to estimate at
her true worth a creature whom the great Sandro would have adored, and
counted himself fortunate that his pleasure in the contemplation of Odette
found a justification in his own system of aesthetic. He told himself
that, in choosing the thought of Odette as the inspiration of his dreams
of ideal happiness, he was not, as he had until then supposed, falling
back, merely, upon an expedient of doubtful and certainly inadequate
value, since she contained in herself what satisfied the utmost refinement
of his taste in art. He failed to observe that this quality would not
naturally avail to bring Odette into the category of women whom he found
desirable, simply because his desires had always run counter to his
aesthetic taste. The words 'Florentine painting' were invaluable to Swann.
They enabled him (gave him, as it were, a legal title) to introduce the
image of Odette into a world of dreams and fancies which, until then, she
had been debarred from entering, and where she assumed a new and nobler
form. And whereas the mere sight of her in the flesh, by perpetually
reviving his misgivings as to the quality of her face, her figure, the
whole of her beauty, used to cool the ardour of his love, those misgivings
were swept away and that love confirmed now that he could re-erect his
estimate of her on the sure foundations of his aesthetic principles; while
the kiss, the bodily surrender which would have seemed natural and but
moderately attractive, had they been granted him by a creature of somewhat
withered flesh and sluggish blood, coming, as now they came, to crown his
adoration of a masterpiece in a gallery, must, it seemed, prove as
exquisite as they would be supernatural.

And when he was tempted to regret that, for months past, he had done
nothing but visit Odette, he would assure himself that he was not
unreasonable in giving up much of his time to the study of an inestimably
precious work of art, cast for once in a new, a different, an especially
charming metal, in an unmatched exemplar which he would contemplate at one
moment with the humble, spiritual, disinterested mind of an artist, at
another with the pride, the selfishness, the sensual thrill of a

On his study table, at which he worked, he had placed, as it were a
photograph of Odette, a reproduction of Jethro's Daughter. He would gaze
in admiration at the large eyes, the delicate features in which the
imperfection of her skin might be surmised, the marvellous locks of hair
that fell along her tired cheeks; and, adapting what he had already felt
to be beautiful, on aesthetic grounds, to the idea of a living woman, he
converted it into a series of physical merits which he congratulated
himself on finding assembled in the person of one whom he might,
ultimately, possess. The vague feeling of sympathy which attracts a
spectator to a work of art, now that he knew the type, in warm flesh and
blood, of Jethro's Daughter, became a desire which more than compensated,
thenceforward, for that with which Odette's physical charms had at first
failed to inspire him. When he had sat for a long time gazing at the
Botticelli, he would think of his own living Botticelli, who seemed all
the lovelier in contrast, and as he drew towards him the photograph of
Zipporah he would imagine that he was holding Odette against his heart.

It was not only Odette's indifference, however, that he must take pains to
circumvent; it was also, not infrequently, his own; feeling that, since
Odette had had every facility for seeing him, she seemed no longer to have
very much to say to him when they did meet, he was afraid lest the
manner--at once trivial, monotonous, and seemingly unalterable--which she
now adopted when they were together should ultimately destroy in him that
romantic hope, that a day might come when she would make avowal of her
passion, by which hope alone he had become and would remain her lover. And
so to alter, to give a fresh moral aspect to that Odette, of whose
unchanging mood he was afraid of growing weary, he wrote, suddenly, a
letter full of hinted discoveries and feigned indignation, which he sent
off so that it should reach her before dinner-time. He knew that she would
be frightened, and that she would reply, and he hoped that, when the fear
of losing him clutched at her heart, it would force from her words such as
he had never yet heard her utter: and he was right--by repeating this
device he had won from her the most affectionate letters that she had, so
far, written him, one of them (which she had sent to him at midday by a
special messenger from the Maison Dorée--it was the day of the
Paris-Murcie Fête given for the victims of the recent floods in Murcia)
beginning "My dear, my hand trembles so that I can scarcely write----";
and these letters he had kept in the same drawer as the withered
chrysanthemum. Or else, if she had not had time to write, when he arrived
at the Verdurins' she would come running up to him with an "I've something
to say to you!" and he would gaze curiously at the revelation in her face
and speech of what she had hitherto kept concealed from him of her heart.

Even as he drew near to the Verdurins' door, and caught sight of the great
lamp-lit spaces of the drawing-room windows, whose shutters were never
closed, he would begin to melt at the thought of the charming creature
whom he would see, as he entered the room, basking in that golden light.
Here and there the figures of the guests stood out, sharp and black,
between lamp and window, shutting off the light, like those little
pictures which one sees sometimes pasted here and there upon a glass
screen, whose other panes are mere transparencies. He would try to make
out Odette. And then, when he was once inside, without thinking, his eyes
sparkled suddenly with such radiant happiness that M. Verdurin said to the
painter: "H'm. Seems to be getting warm." Indeed, her presence gave the
house what none other of the houses that he visited seemed to possess: a
sort of tactual sense, a nervous system which ramified into each of its
rooms and sent a constant stimulus to his heart.

And so the simple and regular manifestations of a social organism, namely
the 'little clan,' were transformed for Swann into a series of daily
encounters with Odette, and enabled him to feign indifference to the
prospect of seeing her, or even a desire not to see her; in doing which he
incurred no very great risk since, even although he had written to her
during the day, he would of necessity see her in the evening and accompany
her home.

But one evening, when, irritated by the thought of that inevitable dark
drive together, he had taken his other 'little girl' all the way to the
Bois, so as to delay as long as possible the moment of his appearance at
the Verdurins', he was so late in reaching them that Odette, supposing
that he did not intend to come, had already left. Seeing the room bare of
her, Swann felt his heart wrung by sudden anguish; he shook with the sense
that he was being deprived of a pleasure whose intensity he began then for
the first time to estimate, having always, hitherto, had that certainty of
finding it whenever he would, which (as in the case of all our pleasures)
reduced, if it did not altogether blind him to its dimensions.

"Did you notice the face he pulled when he saw that she wasn't here?" M.
Verdurin asked his wife. "I think we may say that he's hooked."

"The face he pulled?" exploded Dr. Cottard who, having left the house for
a moment to visit a patient, had just returned to fetch his wife and did
not know whom they were discussing.

"D'you mean to say you didn't meet him on the doorstep--the loveliest of

"No. M. Swann has been here?"

"Just for a moment. We had a glimpse of a Swann tremendously agitated. In
a state of nerves. You see, Odette had left."

"You mean to say that she has gone the 'whole hog' with him; that she has
'burned her boats'?" inquired the Doctor cautiously, testing the meaning
of his phrases.

"Why, of course not; there's absolutely nothing in it; in fact, between
you and me, I think she's making a great mistake, and behaving like a
silly little fool, which she is, incidentally."

"Come, come, come!" said M. Verdurin, "How on earth do you know that
there's 'nothing in it'? We haven't been there to see, have we now?"

"She would have told me," answered Mme. Verdurin with dignity. "I may say
that she tells me everything. As she has no one else at present, I told
her that she ought to live with him. She makes out that she can't; she
admits, she was immensely attracted by him, at first; but he's always shy
with her, and that makes her shy with him. Besides, she doesn't care for
him in that way, she says; it's an ideal love, 'Platonic,' you know; she's
afraid of rubbing the bloom off--oh, I don't know half the things she
says, how should I? And yet he's exactly the sort of man she wants."

"I beg to differ from you," M. Verdurin courteously interrupted. "I am
only half satisfied with the gentleman. I feel that he 'poses.'"

Mme. Verdurin's whole body stiffened, her eyes stared blankly as though
she had suddenly been turned into a statue; a device by means of which she
might be supposed not to have caught the sound of that unutterable word
which seemed to imply that it was possible for people to 'pose' in her
house, and, therefore, that there were people in the world who 'mattered
more' than herself.

"Anyhow, if there is nothing in it, I don't suppose it's because our
friend believes in her virtue. And yet, you never know; he seems to
believe in her intelligence. I don't know whether you heard the way he
lectured her the other evening about Vinteuil's sonata. I am devoted to
Odette, but really--to expound theories of aesthetic to her--the man must
be a prize idiot."

"Look here, I won't have you saying nasty things about Odette," broke in
Mme. Verdurin in her 'spoiled child' manner. "She is charming."

"There's no reason why she shouldn't be charming; we are not saying
anything nasty about her, only that she is not the embodiment of either
virtue or intellect. After all," he turned to the painter, "does it matter
so very much whether she is virtuous or not? You can't tell; she might be
a great deal less charming if she were."

On the landing Swann had run into the Verdurins' butler, who had been
somewhere else a moment earlier, when he arrived, and who had been asked
by Odette to tell Swann (but that was at least an hour ago) that she would
probably stop to drink a cup of chocolate at Prévost's on her way home.
Swann set off at once for Prévost's, but every few yards his carriage was
held up by others, or by people crossing the street, loathsome obstacles
each of which he would gladly have crushed beneath his wheels, were it not
that a policeman fumbling with a note-book would delay him even longer
than the actual passage of the pedestrian. He counted the minutes
feverishly, adding a few seconds to each so as to be quite certain that he
had not given himself short measure, and so, possibly, exaggerated
whatever chance there might actually be of his arriving at Prévost's in
time, and of finding her still there. And then, in a moment of
illumination, like a man in a fever who awakes from sleep and is conscious
of the absurdity of the dream-shapes among which his mind has been
wandering without any clear distinction between himself and them, Swann
suddenly perceived how foreign to his nature were the thoughts which he
had been revolving in his mind ever since he had heard at the Verdurins'
that Odette had left, how novel the heartache from which he was suffering,
but of which he was only now conscious, as though he had just woken up.
What! all this disturbance simply because he would not see Odette, now,
till to-morrow, exactly what he had been hoping, not an hour before, as he
drove toward Mme. Verdurin's. He was obliged to admit also that now, as he
sat in the same carriage and drove to Prévost's, he was no longer the same
man, was no longer alone even--but that a new personality was there beside
him, adhering to him, amalgamated with him, a creature from whom he might,
perhaps, be unable to liberate himself, towards whom he might have to
adopt some such stratagem as one uses to outwit a master or a malady. And
yet, during this last moment in which he had felt that another, a fresh
personality was thus conjoined with his own, life had seemed, somehow,
more interesting.

It was in vain that he assured himself that this possible meeting at
Prévost's (the tension of waiting for which so ravished, stripped so bare
the intervening moments that he could find nothing, not one idea, not one
memory in his mind beneath which his troubled spirit might take shelter
and repose) would probably, after all, should it take place, be much the
same as all their meetings, of no great importance. As on every other
evening, once he was in Odette's company, once he had begun to cast
furtive glances at her changing countenance, and instantly to withdraw his
eyes lest she should read in them the first symbols of desire and believe
no more in his indifference, he would cease to be able even to think of
her, so busy would he be in the search for pretexts which would enable him
not to leave her immediately, and to assure himself, without betraying his
concern, that he would find her again, next evening, at the Verdurins';
pretexts, that is to say, which would enable him to prolong for the time
being, and to renew for one day more the disappointment, the torturing
deception that must always come to him with the vain presence of this
woman, whom he might approach, yet never dared embrace.

She was not at Prevost's; he must search for her, then, in every
restaurant upon the boulevards. To save time, while he went in one
direction, he sent in the other his coachman Rémi (Rizzo's Doge Loredan)
for whom he presently--after a fruitless search--found himself waiting at
the spot where the carriage was to meet him. It did not appear, and Swann
tantalised himself with alternate pictures of the approaching moment, as
one in which Rémi would say to him: "Sir, the lady is there," or as one in
which Rémi would say to him: "Sir, the lady was not in any of the cafés."
And so he saw himself faced by the close of his evening--a thing uniform,
and yet bifurcated by the intervening accident which would either put an
end to his agony by discovering Odette, or would oblige him to abandon any
hope of finding her that night, to accept the necessity of returning home
without having seen her.

The coachman returned; but, as he drew up opposite him, Swann asked, not
"Did you find the lady?" but "Remind me, to-morrow, to order in some more
firewood. I am sure we must be running short." Perhaps he had persuaded
himself that, if Rémi had at last found Odette in some café, where she was
waiting for him still, then his night of misery was already obliterated by
the realisation, begun already in his mind, of a night of joy, and that
there was no need for him to hasten towards the attainment of a happiness
already captured and held in a safe place, which would not escape his
grasp again. But it was also by the force of inertia; there was in his
soul that want of adaptability which can be seen in the bodies of certain
people who, when the moment comes to avoid a collision, to snatch their
clothes out of reach of a flame, or to perform any other such necessary
movement, take their time (as the saying is), begin by remaining for a
moment in their original position, as though seeking to find in it a
starting-point, a source of strength and motion. And probably, if the
coachman had interrupted him with, "I have found the lady," he would have
answered, "Oh, yes, of course; that's what I told you to do. I had quite
forgotten," and would have continued to discuss his supply of firewood, so
as to hide from his servant the emotion that he had felt, and to give
himself time to break away from the thraldom of his anxieties and abandon
himself to pleasure.

The coachman came back, however, with the report that he could not find
her anywhere, and added the advice, as an old and privileged servant, "I
think, sir, that all we can do now is to go home."

But the air of indifference which Swann could so lightly assume when Rémi
uttered his final, unalterable response, fell from him like a cast-off
cloak when he saw Rémi attempt to make him abandon hope and retire from
the quest.

"Certainly not!" he exclaimed. "We must find the lady. It is most
important. She would be extremely put out--it's a business matter--and
vexed with me if she didn't see me."

"But I do not see how the lady can be vexed, sir," answered Rémi, "since
it was she that went away without waiting for you, sir, and said she was
going to Prévost's, and then wasn't there."

Meanwhile the restaurants were closing, and their lights began to go out.
Under the trees of the boulevards there were still a few people strolling
to and fro, barely distinguishable in the gathering darkness. Now and then
the ghost of a woman glided up to Swann, murmured a few words in his ear,
asked him to take her home, and left him shuddering. Anxiously he explored
every one of these vaguely seen shapes, as though among the phantoms of
the dead, in the realms of darkness, he had been searching for a lost

Among all the methods by which love is brought into being, among all the
agents which disseminate that blessed bane, there are few so efficacious
as the great gust of agitation which, now and then, sweeps over the human
spirit. For then the creature in whose company we are seeking amusement at
the moment, her lot is cast, her fate and ours decided, that is the
creature whom we shall henceforward love. It is not necessary that she
should have pleased us, up till then, any more, or even as much as others.
All that is necessary is that our taste for her should become exclusive.
And that condition is fulfilled so soon as--in the moment when she has
failed to meet us--for the pleasure which we were on the point of enjoying
in her charming company is abruptly substituted an anxious torturing
desire, whose object is the creature herself, an irrational, absurd
desire, which the laws of civilised society make it impossible to satisfy
and difficult to assuage--the insensate, agonising desire to possess her.

Swann made Rémi drive him to such restaurants as were still open; it was
the sole hypothesis, now, of that happiness which he had contemplated so
calmly; he no longer concealed his agitation, the price he set upon their
meeting, and promised, in case of success, to reward his coachman, as
though, by inspiring in him a will to triumph which would reinforce his
own, he could bring it to pass, by a miracle, that Odette--assuming that
she had long since gone home to bed,--might yet be found seated in some
restaurant on the boulevards. He pursued the quest as far as the Maison
Dorée, burst twice into Tortoni's and, still without catching sight of
her, was emerging from the Café Anglais, striding with haggard gaze
towards his carriage, which was waiting for him at the corner of the
Boulevard des Italiens, when he collided with a person coming in the
opposite direction; it was Odette; she explained, later, that there had
been no room at Prévost's, that she had gone, instead, to sup at the
Maison Dorée, and had been sitting there in an alcove where he must have
overlooked her, and that she was now looking for her carriage.

She had so little expected to see him that she started back in alarm. As
for him, he had ransacked the streets of Paris, not that he supposed it
possible that he should find her, but because he would have suffered even
more cruelly by abandoning the attempt. But now the joy (which, his reason
had never ceased to assure him, was not, that evening at least, to be
realised) was suddenly apparent, and more real than ever before; for he
himself had contributed nothing to it by anticipating probabilities,--it
remained integral and external to himself; there was no need for him to
draw on his own resources to endow it with truth--'twas from itself that
there emanated, 'twas itself that projected towards him that truth whose
glorious rays melted and scattered like the cloud of a dream the sense of
loneliness which had lowered over him, that truth upon which he had
supported, nay founded, albeit unconsciously, his vision of bliss. So will
a traveller, who has come down, on a day of glorious weather, to the
Mediterranean shore, and is doubtful whether they still exist, those lands
which he has left, let his eyes be dazzled, rather than cast a backward
glance, by the radiance streaming towards him from the luminous and
unfading azure at his feet.

He climbed after her into the carriage which she had kept waiting, and
ordered his own to follow.

She had in her hand a bunch of cattleyas, and Swann could see, beneath the
film of lace that covered her head, more of the same flowers fastened to a
swansdown plume. She was wearing, under her cloak, a flowing gown of black
velvet, caught up on one side so as to reveal a large triangular patch of
her white silk skirt, with an 'insertion,' also of white silk, in the
cleft of her low-necked bodice, in which were fastened a few more
cattleyas. She had scarcely recovered from the shock which the sight of
Swann had given her, when some obstacle made the horse start to one side.
They were thrown forward from their seats; she uttered a cry, and fell
back quivering and breathless.

"It's all right," he assured her, "don't be frightened." And he slipped
his arm round her shoulder, supporting her body against his own; then went
on: "Whatever you do, don't utter a word; just make a sign, yes or no, or
you'll be out of breath again. You won't mind if I put the flowers
straight on your bodice; the jolt has loosened them. I'm afraid of their
dropping out; I'm just going to fasten them a little more securely."

She was not used to being treated with so much formality by men, and
smiled as she answered: "No, not at all; I don't mind in the least."

But he, chilled a little by her answer, perhaps, also, to bear out the
pretence that he had been sincere in adopting the stratagem, or even
because he was already beginning to believe that he had been, exclaimed:
"No, no; you mustn't speak. You will be out of breath again. You can
easily answer in signs; I shall understand. Really and truly now, you
don't mind my doing this? Look, there is a little--I think it must be
pollen, spilt over your dress,--may I brush it off with my hand? That's
not too hard; I'm not hurting you, am I? I'm tickling you, perhaps, a
little; but I don't want to touch the velvet in case I rub it the wrong
way. But, don't you see, I really had to fasten the flowers; they would
have fallen out if I hadn't. Like that, now; if I just push them a little
farther down.... Seriously, I'm not annoying you, am I? And if I just
sniff them to see whether they've really lost all their scent? I don't
believe I ever smelt any before; may I? Tell the truth, now."

Still smiling, she shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly, as who should
say, "You're quite mad; you know very well that I like it."

He slipped his other hand upwards along Odette's cheek; she fixed her eyes
on him with that languishing and solemn air which marks the women of the
old Florentine's paintings, in whose faces he had found the type of hers;
swimming at the brink of her fringed lids, her brilliant eyes, large and
finely drawn as theirs, seemed on the verge of breaking from her face and
rolling down her cheeks like two great tears. She bent her neck, as all
their necks may be seen to bend, in the pagan scenes as well as in the
scriptural. And although her attitude was, doubtless, habitual and
instinctive, one which she knew to be appropriate to such moments, and was
careful not to forget to assume, she seemed to need all her strength to
hold her face back, as though some invisible force were drawing it down
towards Swann's. And Swann it was who, before she allowed her face, as
though despite her efforts, to fall upon his lips, held it back for a
moment longer, at a little distance between his hands. He had intended to
leave time for her mind to overtake her body's movements, to recognise the
dream which she had so long cherished and to assist at its realisation,
like a mother invited as a spectator when a prize is given to the child
whom she has reared and loves. Perhaps, moreover, Swann himself was fixing
upon these features of an Odette not yet possessed, not even kissed by
him, on whom he was looking now for the last time, that comprehensive gaze
with which, on the day of his departure, a traveller strives to bear away
with him in memory the view of a country to which he may never return.

But he was so shy in approaching her that, after this evening which had
begun by his arranging her cattleyas and had ended in her complete
surrender, whether from fear of chilling her, or from reluctance to
appear, even retrospectively, to have lied, or perhaps because he lacked
the audacity to formulate a more urgent requirement than this (which could
always be repeated, since it had not annoyed her on the first occasion),
he resorted to the same pretext on the following days. If she had any
cattleyas pinned to her bodice, he would say: "It is most unfortunate; the
cattleyas don't need tucking in this evening; they've not been disturbed
as they were the other night; I think, though, that this one isn't quite
straight. May I see if they have more scent than the others?" Or else, if
she had none: "Oh! no cattleyas this evening; then there's nothing for me
to arrange." So that for some time there was no change from the procedure
which he had followed on that first evening, when he had started by
touching her throat, with his fingers first and then with his lips, but
their caresses began invariably with this modest exploration. And long
afterwards, when the arrangement (or, rather, the ritual pretence of an
arrangement) of her cattleyas had quite fallen into desuetude, the
metaphor "Do a cattleya," transmuted into a simple verb which they would
employ without a thought of its original meaning when they wished to refer
to the act of physical possession (in which, paradoxically, the possessor
possesses nothing), survived to commemorate in their vocabulary the long
forgotten custom from which it sprang. And yet possibly this particular
manner of saying "to make love" had not the precise significance of its
synonyms. However disillusioned we may be about women, however we may
regard the possession of even the most divergent types as an invariable
and monotonous experience, every detail of which is known and can be
described in advance, it still becomes a fresh and stimulating pleasure if
the women concerned be--or be thought to be--so difficult as to oblige us
to base our attack upon some unrehearsed incident in our relations with
them, as was originally for Swann the arrangement of the cattleyas. He
trembled as he hoped, that evening, (but Odette, he told himself, if she
were deceived by his stratagem, could not guess his intention) that it was
the possession of this woman that would emerge for him from their large
and richly coloured petals; and the pleasure which he already felt, and
which Odette tolerated, he thought, perhaps only because she was not yet
aware of it herself, seemed to him for that reason--as it might have
seemed to the first man when he enjoyed it amid the flowers of the earthly
paradise--a pleasure which had never before existed, which he was striving
now to create, a pleasure--and the special name which he was to give to it
preserved its identity--entirely individual and new.

The ice once broken, every evening, when he had taken her home, he must
follow her into the house; and often she would come out again in her
dressing-gown, and escort him to his carriage, and would kiss him before
the eyes of his coachman, saying: "What on earth does it matter what
people see?" And on evenings when he did not go to the Verdurins' (which
happened occasionally, now that he had opportunities of meeting Odette
elsewhere), when--more and more rarely--he went into society, she would
beg him to come to her on his way home, however late he might be. The
season was spring, the nights clear and frosty. He would come away from an
evening party, jump into his victoria, spread a rug over his knees, tell
the friends who were leaving at the same time, and who insisted on his
going home with them, that he could not, that he was not going in their
direction; then the coachman would start off at a fast trot without
further orders, knowing quite well where he had to go. His friends would
be left marvelling, and, as a matter of fact, Swann was no longer the same
man. No one ever received a letter from him now demanding an introduction
to a woman. He had ceased to pay any attention to women, and kept away
from the places in which they were ordinarily to be met. In a restaurant,
or in the country, his manner was deliberately and directly the opposite
of that by which, only a few days earlier, his friends would have
recognised him, that manner which had seemed permanently and unalterably
his own. To such an extent does passion manifest itself in us as a
temporary and distinct character, which not only takes the place of our
normal character but actually obliterates the signs by which that
character has hitherto been discernible. On the other hand, there was one
thing that was, now, invariable, namely that wherever Swann might be
spending the evening, he never failed to go on afterwards to Odette. The
interval of space separating her from him was one which he must as
inevitably traverse as he must descend, by an irresistible gravitation,
the steep slope of life itself. To be frank, as often as not, when he had
stayed late at a party, he would have preferred to return home at once,
without going so far out of his way, and to postpone their meeting until
the morrow; but the very fact of his putting himself to such inconvenience
at an abnormal hour in order to visit her, while he guessed that his
friends, as he left them, were saying to one another: "He is tied hand and
foot; there must certainly be a woman somewhere who insists on his going
to her at all hours," made him feel that he was leading the life of the
class of men whose existence is coloured by a love-affair, and in whom the
perpetual sacrifice which they are making of their comfort and of their
practical interests has engendered a spiritual charm. Then, though he may
not consciously have taken this into consideration, the certainty that she
was waiting for him, that she was not anywhere or with anyone else, that
he would see her before he went home, drew the sting from that anguish,
forgotten, it is true, but latent and ever ready to be reawakened, which
he had felt on the evening when Odette had left the Verdurins' before his
arrival, an anguish the actual cessation of which was so agreeable that it
might even be called a state of happiness. Perhaps it was to that hour of
anguish that there must be attributed the importance which Odette had
since assumed in his life. Other people are, as a rule, so immaterial to
us that, when we have entrusted to any one of them the power to cause so
much suffering or happiness to ourselves, that person seems at once to
belong to a different universe, is surrounded with poetry, makes of our
lives a vast expanse, quick with sensation, on which that person and
ourselves are ever more or less in contact. Swann could not without
anxiety ask himself what Odette would mean to him in the years that were
to come. Sometimes, as he looked up from his victoria on those fine and
frosty nights of early spring, and saw the dazzling moonbeams fall between
his eyes and the deserted streets, he would think of that other face,
gleaming and faintly roseate like the moon's, which had, one day, risen on
the horizon of his mind and since then had shed upon the world that
mysterious light in which he saw it bathed. If he arrived after the hour
at which Odette sent her servants to bed, before ringing the bell at the
gate of her little garden, he would go round first into the other street,
over which, at the ground-level, among the windows (all exactly alike, but
darkened) of the adjoining houses, shone the solitary lighted window of
her room. He would rap upon the pane, and she would hear the signal, and
answer, before running to meet him at the gate. He would find, lying open
on the piano, some of her favourite music, the _Valse des Roses_, the
_Pauvre Fou_ of Tagliafico (which, according to the instructions embodied
in her will, was to be played at her funeral); but he would ask her,
instead, to give him the little phrase from Vinteuil's sonata. It was true
that Odette played vilely, but often the fairest impression that remains
in our minds of a favourite air is one which has arisen out of a jumble of
wrong notes struck by unskilful fingers upon a tuneless piano. The little
phrase was associated still, in Swann's mind, with his love for Odette. He
felt clearly that this love was something to which there were no
corresponding external signs, whose meaning could not be proved by any but
himself; he realised, too, that Odette's qualities were not such as to
justify his setting so high a value on the hours he spent in her company.
And often, when the cold government of reason stood unchallenged, he would
readily have ceased to sacrifice so many of his intellectual and social
interests to this imaginary pleasure. But the little phrase, as soon as it
struck his ear, had the power to liberate in him the room that was needed
to contain it; the proportions of Swann's soul were altered; a margin was
left for a form of enjoyment which corresponded no more than his love for
Odette to any external object, and yet was not, like his enjoyment of that
love, purely individual, but assumed for him an objective reality superior
to that of other concrete things. This thirst for an untasted charm, the
little phrase would stimulate it anew in him, but without bringing him
any definite gratification to assuage it. With the result that those parts
of Swann's soul in which the little phrase had obliterated all care for
material interests, those human considerations which affect all men alike,
were left bare by it, blank pages on which he was at liberty to inscribe
the name of Odette. Moreover, where Odette's affection might seem ever so
little abrupt and disappointing, the little phrase would come to
supplement it, to amalgamate with it its own mysterious essence. Watching
Swann's face while he listened to the phrase, one would have said that he
was inhaling an anaesthetic which allowed him to breathe more deeply. And
the pleasure which the music gave him, which was shortly to create in him
a real longing, was in fact closely akin, at such moments, to the pleasure
which he would have derived from experimenting with perfumes, from
entering into contract with a world for which we men were not created,
which appears to lack form because our eyes cannot perceive it, to lack
significance because it escapes our intelligence, to which we may attain
by way of one sense only. Deep repose, mysterious refreshment for
Swann,--for him whose eyes, although delicate interpreters of painting,
whose mind, although an acute observer of manners, must bear for ever the
indelible imprint of the barrenness of his life,--to feel himself
transformed into a creature foreign to humanity, blinded, deprived of his
logical faculty, almost a fantastic unicorn, a chimaera-like creature
conscious of the world through his two ears alone. And as,
notwithstanding, he sought in the little phrase for a meaning to which his
intelligence could not descend, with what a strange frenzy of intoxication
must he strip bare his innermost soul of the whole armour of reason, and
make it pass, unattended, through the straining vessel, down into the dark
filter of sound. He began to reckon up how much that was painful, perhaps
even how much secret and unappeased sorrow underlay the sweetness of the
phrase; and yet to him it brought no suffering. What matter though the
phrase repeated that love is frail and fleeting, when his love was so
strong! He played with the melancholy which the phrase diffused, he felt
it stealing over him, but like a caress which only deepened and sweetened
his sense of his own happiness. He would make Odette play him the phrase
again, ten, twenty times on end, insisting that, while she played, she
must never cease to kiss him. Every kiss provokes another. Ah, in those
earliest days of love how naturally the kisses spring into life. How
closely, in their abundance, are they pressed one against another; until
lovers would find it as hard to count the kisses exchanged in an hour, as
to count the flowers in a meadow in May. Then she would pretend to stop,
saying: "How do you expect me to play when you keep on holding me? I can't
do everything at once. Make up your mind what you want; am I to play the
phrase or do you want to play with me?" Then he would become annoyed, and
she would burst out with a laugh which, was transformed, as it left her
lips, and descended upon him in a shower of kisses. Or else she would look
at him sulkily, and he would see once again a face worthy to figure in
Botticelli's 'Life of Moses,' he would place it there, giving to Odette's
neck the necessary inclination; and when he had finished her portrait in
distemper, in the fifteenth century, on the wall of the Sixtine, the idea
that she was, none the less, in the room with him still, by the piano, at
that very moment, ready to be kissed and won, the idea of her material
existence, of her being alive, would sweep over him with so violent an
intoxication that, with eyes starting from his head and jaws that parted
as though to devour her, he would fling himself upon this Botticelli
maiden and kiss and bite her cheeks. And then, as soon as he had left the
house, not without returning to kiss her once again, because he had
forgotten to take away with him, in memory, some detail of her fragrance
or of her features, while he drove home in his victoria, blessing the name
of Odette who allowed him to pay her these daily visits, which, although
they could not, he felt, bring any great happiness to her, still, by
keeping him immune from the fever of jealousy--by removing from him every
possibility of a fresh outbreak of the heart-sickness which had manifested
itself in him that evening, when he had failed to find her at the
Verdurins'--might help him to arrive, without any recurrence of those
crises, of which the first had been so distressing that it must also be
the last, at the termination of this strange series of hours in his life,
hours almost enchanted, in the same manner as these other, following
hours, in which he drove through a deserted Paris by the light of the
moon: noticing as he drove home that the satellite had now changed its
position, relatively to his own, and was almost touching the horizon;
feeling that his love, also, was obedient to these immutable laws of
nature, he asked himself whether this period, upon which he had entered,
was to last much longer, whether presently his mind's eye would cease to
behold that dear countenance, save as occupying a distant and diminished
position, and on the verge of ceasing to shed on him the radiance of its
charm. For Swann was finding in things once more, since he had fallen in
love, the charm that he had found when, in his adolescence, he had fancied
himself an artist; with this difference, that what charm lay in them now
was conferred by Odette alone. He could feel reawakening in himself the
inspirations of his boyhood, which had been dissipated among the
frivolities of his later life, but they all bore, now, the reflection, the
stamp of a particular being; and during the long hours which he now found
a subtle pleasure in spending at home, alone with his convalescent spirit,
he became gradually himself again, but himself in thraldom to another.

He went to her only in the evenings, and knew nothing of how she spent her
time during the day, any more than he knew of her past; so little, indeed,
that he had not even the tiny, initial clue which, by allowing us to
imagine what we do not know, stimulates a desire foreknowledge. And so he
never asked himself what she might be doing, or what her life had been.
Only he smiled sometimes at the thought of how, some years earlier, when
he still did not know her, some one had spoken to him of a woman who, if
he remembered rightly, must certainly have been Odette, as of a 'tart,' a
'kept' woman, one of those women to whom he still attributed (having lived
but little in their company) the entire set of characteristics,
fundamentally perverse, with which they had been, for many years, endowed
by the imagination of certain novelists. He would say to himself that one
has, as often as not, only to take the exact counterpart of the reputation
created by the world in order to judge a person fairly, when with such a
character he contrasted that of Odette, so good, so simple, so
enthusiastic in the pursuit of ideals, so nearly incapable of not telling
the truth that, when he had once begged her, so that they might dine
together alone, to write to Mme. Verdurin, saying that she was unwell, the
next day he had seen her, face to face with Mme. Verdurin, who asked
whether she had recovered, blushing, stammering, and, in spite of herself,
revealing in every feature how painful, what a torture it was to her to
act a lie; and, while in her answer she multiplied the fictitious details
of an imaginary illness, seeming to ask pardon, by her suppliant look and
her stricken accents, for the obvious falsehood of her words.

On certain days, however, though these came seldom, she would call upon
him in the afternoon, to interrupt his musings or the essay on Ver-meer to
which he had latterly returned. His servant would come in to say that Mme.
de Crécy was in the small drawing-room. He would go in search of her, and,
when he opened the door, on Odette's blushing countenance, as soon as she
caught sight of Swann, would appear--changing the curve of her lips, the
look in her eyes, the moulding of her cheeks--an all-absorbing smile. Once
he was left alone he would see again that smile, and her smile of the day
before, another with which she had greeted him sometime else, the smile
which had been her answer, in the carriage that night, when he had asked
her whether she objected to his rearranging her cattleyas; and the life of
Odette at all other times, since he knew nothing of it, appeared to him
upon a neutral and colourless background, like those sheets of sketches by
Watteau upon which one sees, here and there, in every corner and in all
directions, traced in three colours upon the buff paper, innumerable
smiles. But, once in a while, illuminating a chink of that existence which
Swann still saw as a complete blank, even if his mind assured him that it
was not so, because he was unable to imagine anything that might occupy
it, some friend who knew them both, and suspecting that they were in love,
had not dared to tell him anything about her that was of the least
importance, would describe Odette's figure, as he had seen her, that very
morning, going on foot up the Rue Abbattucci, in a cape trimmed with
skunks, wearing a Rembrandt hat, and a bunch of violets in her bosom. This
simple outline reduced Swann to utter confusion by enabling him suddenly
to perceive that Odette had an existence which was not wholly subordinated
to his own; he burned to know whom she had been seeking to fascinate by
this costume in which he had never seen her; he registered a vow to insist
upon her telling him where she had been going at that intercepted moment,
as though, in all the colourless life--a life almost nonexistent, since
she was then invisible to him--of his mistress, there had been but a
single incident apart from all those smiles directed towards himself;
namely, her walking abroad beneath a Rembrandt hat, with a bunch of
violets in her bosom.

Except when he asked her for Vinteuil's little phrase instead of the
_Valse des Roses_, Swann made no effort to induce her to play the things
that he himself preferred, nor, in literature any more than in music, to
correct the manifold errors of her taste. He fully realised that she was
not intelligent. When she said how much she would like him to tell her
about the great poets, she had imagined that she would suddenly get to
know whole pages of romantic and heroic verse, in the style of the Vicomte
de Borelli, only even more moving. As for Vermeer of Delft, she asked
whether he had been made to suffer by a woman, if it was a woman that had
inspired him, and once Swann had told her that no one knew, she had lost
all interest in that painter. She would often say: "I'm sure, poetry;
well, of course, there'd be nothing like it if it was all true, if the
poets really believed the things they said. But as often as not you'll
find there's no one so mean and calculating as those fellows. I know
something about poetry. I had a friend, once, who was in love with a poet
of sorts. In his verses he never spoke of anything but love, and heaven,
and the stars. Oh! she was properly taken in! He had more than three
hundred thousand francs out of her before he'd finished." If, then, Swann
tried to shew her in what artistic beauty consisted, how one ought to
appreciate poetry or painting, after a minute or two she would cease to
listen, saying: "Yes... I never thought it would be like that." And he
felt that her disappointment was so great that he preferred to lie to her,
assuring her that what he had said was nothing, that he had only touched
the surface, that he had not time to go into it all properly, that there
was more in it than that. Then she would interrupt with a brisk, "More in
it? What?... Do tell me!", but he did not tell her, for he realised how
petty it would appear to her, and how different from what she had
expected, less sensational and less touching; he was afraid, too, lest,
disillusioned in the matter of art, she might at the same time be
disillusioned in the greater matter of love.

With the result that she found Swann inferior, intellectually, to what she
had supposed. "You're always so reserved; I can't make you out." She
marvelled increasingly at his indifference to money, at his courtesy to
everyone alike, at the delicacy of his mind. And indeed it happens, often
enough, to a greater man than Swann ever was, to a scientist or artist,
when he is not wholly misunderstood by the people among whom he lives,
that the feeling in them which proves that they have been convinced of the
superiority of his intellect is created not by any admiration for his
ideas--for those are entirely beyond them--but by their respect for what
they term his good qualities. There was also the respect with which Odette
was inspired by the thought of Swann's social position, although she had
no desire that he should attempt to secure invitations for herself.
Perhaps she felt that such attempts would be bound to fail; perhaps,
indeed, she feared lest, merely by speaking of her to his friends, he
should provoke disclosures of an unwelcome kind. The fact remains that she
had consistently held him to his promise never to mention her name. Her
reason for not wishing to go into society was, she had told him, a quarrel
which she had had, long ago, with another girl, who had avenged herself by
saying nasty things about her. "But," Swann objected, "surely, people
don't all know your friend." "Yes, don't you see, it's like a spot of oil;
people are so horrid." Swann was unable, frankly, to appreciate this
point; on the other hand, he knew that such generalisations as "People are
so horrid," and "A word of scandal spreads like a spot of oil," were
generally accepted as true; there must, therefore, be cases to which they
were literally applicable. Could Odette's case be one of these? He teased
himself with the question, though not for long, for he too was subject to
that mental oppression which had so weighed upon his father, whenever he
was faced by a difficult problem. In any event, that world of society
which concealed such terrors for Odette inspired her, probably, with no
very great longing to enter it, since it was too far removed from the
world which she already knew for her to be able to form any clear
conception of it. At the same time, while in certain respects she had
retained a genuine simplicity (she had, for instance, kept up a friendship
with a little dressmaker, now retired from business, up whose steep and
dark and fetid staircase she clambered almost every day), she still
thirsted to be in the fashion, though her idea of it was not altogether
that held by fashionable people. For the latter, fashion is a thing that
emanates from a comparatively small number of leaders, who project it to a
considerable distance--with more or less strength according as one is
nearer to or farther from their intimate centre--over the widening circle
of their friends and the friends of their friends, whose names form a sort
of tabulated index. People 'in society' know this index by heart, they are
gifted in such matters with an erudition from which they have extracted a
sort of taste, of tact, so automatic in its operation that Swann, for
example, without needing to draw upon his knowledge of the world, if he
read in a newspaper the names of the people who had been guests at a
dinner, could tell at once how fashionable the dinner had been, just as a
man of letters, merely by reading a phrase, can estimate exactly the
literary merit of its author. But Odette was one of those persons (an
extremely numerous class, whatever the fashionable world may think, and to
be found in every section of society) who do not share this knowledge, but
imagine fashion to be something of quite another kind, which assumes
different aspects according to the circle to which they themselves belong,
but has the special characteristic--common alike to the fashion of which
Odette used to dream and to that before which Mme. Cottard bowed--of being
directly accessible to all. The other kind, the fashion of 'fashionable
people,' is, it must be admitted, accessible also; but there are
inevitable delays. Odette would say of some one: "He never goes to any
place that isn't really smart."

And if Swann were to ask her what she meant by that, she would answer,
with a touch of contempt, "Smart places! Why, good heavens, just fancy, at
your age, having to be told what the smart places are in Paris! What do
you expect me to say? Well, on Sunday mornings there's the Avenue de
l'Impératrice, and round the lake at five o'clock, and on Thursdays the
Eden-Théâtre, and the Hippodrome on Fridays; then there are the balls..."

"What balls?"

"Why, silly, the balls people give in Paris; the smart ones, I mean. Wait
now, Herbinger, you know who I mean, the fellow who's in one of the
jobbers' offices; yes, of course, you must know him, he's one of the
best-known men in Paris, that great big fair-haired boy who wears such
swagger clothes; he always has a flower in his buttonhole and a
light-coloured overcoat with a fold down the back; he goes about with that
old image, takes her to all the first-nights. Very well! He gave a ball
the other night, and all the smart people in Paris were there. I should
have loved to go! but you had to shew your invitation at the door, and I
couldn't get one anywhere. After all, I'm just as glad, now, that I didn't
go; I should have been killed in the crush, and seen nothing. Still, just
to be able to say one had been to Herbinger's ball. You know how vain I
am! However, you may be quite certain that half the people who tell you
they were there are telling stories.... But I am surprised that you
weren't there, a regular 'tip-topper' like you."

Swann made no attempt, however, to modify this conception of fashion;
feeling that his own came no nearer to the truth, was just as fatuous,
devoid of all importance, he saw no advantage to be gained by imparting it
to his mistress, with the result that, after a few months, she ceased to
take any interest in the people to whose houses he went, except when they
were the means of his obtaining tickets for the paddock at race-meetings
or first-nights at the theatre. She hoped that he would continue to
cultivate such profitable acquaintances, but she had come to regard them
as less smart since the day when she had passed the Marquise de
Villeparisis in the street, wearing a black serge dress and a bonnet with

"But she looks like a pew-opener, like an old charwoman, darling! That a
marquise! Goodness knows I'm not a marquise, but you'd have to pay me a
lot of money before you'd get me to go about Paris rigged out like that!"

Nor could she understand Swann's continuing to live in his house on the
Quai d'Orléans, which, though she dared not tell him so, she considered
unworthy of him.

It was true that she claimed to be fond of 'antiques,' and used to assume
a rapturous and knowing air when she confessed how she loved to spend the
whole day 'rummaging' in second-hand shops, hunting for 'bric-à-brac,' and
things of the 'right date.' Although it was a point of honour, to which
she obstinately clung, as though obeying some old family custom, that she
should never answer any questions, never give any account of what she did
during the daytime, she spoke to Swann once about a friend to whose house
she had been invited, and had found that everything in it was 'of the
period.' Swann could not get her to tell him what 'period' it was. Only
after thinking the matter over she replied that it was 'mediaeval'; by
which she meant that the walls were panelled. Some time later she spoke to
him again of her friend, and added, in the hesitating but confident tone
in which one refers to a person whom one has met somewhere, at dinner, the
night before, of whom one had never heard until then, but whom one's hosts
seemed to regard as some one so celebrated and important that one hopes
that one's listener will know quite well who is meant, and will be duly
impressed: "Her dining-room... is... eighteenth century!" Incidentally,
she had thought it hideous, all bare, as though the house were still
unfinished; women looked frightful in it, and it would never become the
fashion. She mentioned it again, a third time, when she shewed Swann a
card with the name and address of the man who had designed the
dining-room, and whom she wanted to send for, when she had enough money,
to see whether he could not do one for her too; not one like that, of
course, but one of the sort she used to dream of, one which,
unfortunately, her little house would not be large enough to contain, with
tall sideboards, Renaissance furniture and fireplaces like the Château at
Blois. It was on this occasion that she let out to Swann what she really
thought of his abode on the Quai d'Orléans; he having ventured the
criticism that her friend had indulged, not in the Louis XVI style, for,
he went on, although that was not, of course, done, still it might be made
charming, but in the 'Sham-Antique.'

"You wouldn't have her live, like you, among a lot of broken-down chairs
and threadbare carpets!" she exclaimed, the innate respectability of the
middle-class housewife rising impulsively to the surface through the
acquired dilettantism of the 'light woman.'

People who enjoyed 'picking-up' things, who admired poetry, despised
sordid calculations of profit and loss, and nourished ideals of honour and
love, she placed in a class by themselves, superior to the rest of
humanity. There was no need actually to have those tastes, provided one
talked enough about them; when a man had told her at dinner that he loved
to wander about and get his hands all covered with dust in the old
furniture shops, that he would never be really appreciated in this
commercial age, since he was not concerned about the things that
interested it, and that he belonged to another generation altogether, she
would come home saying: "Why, he's an adorable creature; so sensitive! I
had no idea," and she would conceive for him a strong and sudden
friendship. But, on the other hand, men who, like Swann, had these tastes
but did not speak of them, left her cold. She was obliged, of course, to
admit that Swann was most generous with his money, but she would add,
pouting: "It's not the same thing, you see, with him," and, as a matter of
fact, what appealed to her imagination was not the practice of
disinterestedness, but its vocabulary.

Feeling that, often, he could not give her in reality the pleasures of
which she dreamed, he tried at least to ensure that she should be happy in
his company, tried not to contradict those vulgar ideas, that bad taste
which she displayed on every possible occasion, which all the same he
loved, as he could not help loving everything that came from her, which
even fascinated him, for were they not so many more of those
characteristic features, by virtue of which the essential qualities of the
woman emerged, and were made visible? And so, when she was in a happy mood
because she was going to see the _Reine Topaze_, or when her eyes grew
serious, troubled, petulant, if she was afraid of missing the flower-show,
or merely of not being in time for tea, with muffins and toast, at the Rue
Royale tea-rooms, where she believed that regular attendance was
indispensable, and set the seal upon a woman's certificate of 'smartness,'
Swann, enraptured, as all of us are, at times, by the natural behaviour of
a child, or by the likeness of a portrait, which appears to be on the
point of speaking, would feel so distinctly the soul of his mistress
rising to fill the outlines of her face that he could not refrain from
going across and welcoming it with his lips. "Oh, then, so little Odette
wants us to take her to the flower-show, does she? she wants to be
admired, does she? very well, we will take her there, we can but obey her
wishes." As Swann's sight was beginning to fail, he had to resign himself
to a pair of spectacles, which he wore at home, when working, while to
face the world he adopted a single eyeglass, as being less disfiguring.
The first time that she saw it in his eye, she could not contain herself
for joy: "I really do think--for a man, that is to say--it is tremendously
smart! How nice you look with it! Every inch a gentleman. All you want
now is a title!" she concluded, with a tinge of regret in her voice. He
liked Odette to say these things, just as, if he had been in love with a
Breton girl, he would have enjoyed seeing her in her coif and hearing her
say that she believed in ghosts. Always until then, as is common among men
whose taste for the fine arts develops independently of their sensuality,
a grotesque disparity had existed between the satisfactions which he would
accord to either taste simultaneously; yielding to the seduction of works
of art which grew more and more subtle as the women in whose company he
enjoyed them grew more illiterate and common, he would take a little
servant-girl to a screened box in a theatre where there was some decadent
piece which he had wished to see performed, or to an exhibition of
impressionist painting, with the conviction, moreover, that an
educated, 'society' woman would have understood them no better, but would
not have managed to keep quiet about them so prettily. But, now that he
was in love with Odette, all this was changed; to share her sympathies, to
strive to be one with her in spirit was a task so attractive that he tried
to find satisfaction in the things that she liked, and did find a
pleasure, not only in copying her habits but in adopting her opinions,
which was all the deeper because, as those habits and opinions sprang from
no roots in her intelligence, they suggested to him nothing except that
love, for the sake of which he had preferred them to his own. If he went
again to _Serge Panine_, if he looked out for opportunities of going to
watch Olivier Métra conducting, it was for the pleasure of being initiated
into every one of the ideas in Odette's mind, of feeling that he had an
equal share in all her tastes. This charm of drawing him closer to her,
which her favourite plays and pictures and places possessed, struck him as
being more mysterious than the intrinsic charm of more beautiful things
and places, which appealed to him by their beauty, but without recalling
her. Besides, having allowed the intellectual beliefs of his youth to
grow faint, until his scepticism, as a finished 'man of the world,' had
gradually penetrated them unawares, he held (or at least he had held for
so long that he had fallen into the habit of saying) that the objects
which we admire have no absolute value in themselves, that the whole thing
is a matter of dates and castes, and consists in a series of fashions, the
most vulgar of which are worth just as much as those which are regarded as
the most refined. And as he had decided that the importance which Odette
attached to receiving cards tot a private view was not in itself any more
ridiculous than the pleasure which he himself had at one time felt in
going to luncheon with the Prince of Wales, so he did not think that the
admiration which she professed for Monte-Carlo or for the Righi was any
more unreasonable than his own liking for Holland (which she imagined as
ugly) and for Versailles (which bored her to tears). And so he denied
himself the pleasure of visiting those places, consoling himself with the
reflection that it was for her sake that he wished to feel, to like
nothing that was not equally felt and liked by her.

Like everything else that formed part of Odette's environment, and was no
more, in a sense, than the means whereby he might see and talk to her more
often, he enjoyed the society of the Verdurins. With them, since, at the
heart of all their entertainments, dinners, musical evenings, games,
suppers in fancy dress, excursions to the country, theatre parties, even
the infrequent 'big evenings' when they entertained 'bores,' there were
the presence of Odette, the sight of Odette, conversation with Odette, an
inestimable boon which the Verdurins, by inviting him to their house,
bestowed on Swann, he was happier in the little 'nucleus' than anywhere
else, and tried to find some genuine merit in each of its members,
imagining that his tastes would lead him to frequent their society for the
rest of his life. Never daring to whisper to himself, lest he should doubt
the truth of the suggestion, that he would always be in love with Odette,
at least when he tried to suppose that he would always go to the
Verdurins' (a proposition which, a priori, raised fewer fundamental
objections on the part of his intelligence), he saw himself for the future
continuing to meet Odette every evening; that did not, perhaps, come quite
to the same thing as his being permanently in love with her, but for the
moment while he was in love with her, to feel that he would not, one day,
cease to see her was all that he could ask. "What a charming atmosphere!"
he said to himself. "How entirely genuine life is to these people! They
are far more intelligent, far more artistic, surely, than the people one
knows. Mme. Verdurin, in spite of a few trifling exaggerations which are
rather absurd, has a sincere love of painting and music! What a passion
for works of art, what anxiety to give pleasure to artists! Her ideas
about some of the people one knows are not quite right, but then their
ideas about artistic circles are altogether wrong! Possibly I make no
great intellectual demands upon conversation, but I am perfectly happy
talking to Cottard, although he does trot out those idiotic puns. And as
for the painter, if he is rather unpleasantly affected when he tries to be
paradoxical, still he has one of the finest brains that I have ever come
across. Besides, what is most important, one feels quite free there, one
does what one likes without constraint or fuss. What a flow of humour
there is every day in that drawing-room! Certainly, with a few rare
exceptions, I never want to go anywhere else again. It will become more
and more of a habit, and I shall spend the rest of my life among them."

And as the qualities which he supposed to be an intrinsic part of the
Verdurin character were no more, really, than their superficial reflection
of the pleasure which had been enjoyed in their society by his love for
Odette, those qualities became more serious, more profound, more vital, as
that pleasure increased. Since Mme. Verdurin gave Swann, now and then,
what alone could constitute his happiness; since, on an evening when he
felt anxious because Odette had talked rather more to one of the party
than to another, and, in a spasm of irritation, would not take the
initiative by asking her whether she was coming home, Mme. Verdurin
brought peace and joy to his troubled spirit by the spontaneous
exclamation: "Odette! You'll see M. Swann home, won't you?"; since, when
the summer holidays came, and after he had asked himself uneasily whether
Odette might not leave Paris without him, whether he would still be able
to see her every day, Mme. Verdurin was going to invite them both to spend
the summer with her in the country; Swann, unconsciously allowing
gratitude and self-interest to filter into his intelligence and to
influence his ideas, went so far as to proclaim that Mme. Verdurin was "a
great and noble soul." Should any of his old fellow-pupils in the Louvre
school of painting speak to him of some rare or eminent artist, "I'd a
hundred times rather," he would reply, "have the Verdurins." And, with a
solemnity of diction which was new in him: "They are magnanimous
creatures, and magnanimity is, after all, the one thing that matters, the
one thing that gives us distinction here on earth. Look you, there are
only two classes of men, the magnanimous, and the rest; and I have reached
an age when one has to take sides, to decide once and for all whom one is
going to like and dislike, to stick to the people one likes, and, to make
up for the time one has wasted with the others, never to leave them again
as long as one lives. Very well!" he went on, with the slight emotion
which a man feels when, even without being fully aware of what he is
doing, he says something, not because it is true but because he enjoys
saying it, and listens to his own voice uttering the words as though they
came from some one else, "The die is now cast; I have elected to love none
but magnanimous souls, and to live only in an atmosphere of magnanimity.
You ask me whether Mme. Verdurin is really intelligent. I can assure you
that she has given me proofs of a nobility of heart, of a loftiness of
soul, to which no one could possibly attain--how could they?--without a
corresponding loftiness of mind. Without question, she has a profound
understanding of art. But it is not, perhaps, in that that she is most
admirable; every little action, ingeniously, exquisitely kind, which she
has performed for my sake, every friendly attention, simple little things,
quite domestic and yet quite sublime, reveal a more profound comprehension
of existence than all your textbooks of philosophy."

* * *

He might have reminded himself, all the same, that there were various old
friends of his family who were just as simple as the Verdurins, companions
of his early days who were just as fond of art, that he knew other
'great-hearted creatures,' and that, nevertheless, since he had cast his
vote in favour of simplicity, the arts, and magnanimity, he had entirely
ceased to see them. But these people did not know Odette, and, if they had
known her, would never have thought of introducing her to him.

And so there was probably not, in the whole of the Verdurin circle, a
single one of the 'faithful' who loved them, or believed that he loved
them, as dearly as did Swann. And yet, when M. Verdurin said that he was
not satisfied with Swann, he had not only expressed his own sentiments, he
had unwittingly discovered his wife's. Doubtless Swann had too particular
an affection for Odette, as to which he had failed to take Mme. Verdurin
daily into his confidence; doubtless the very discretion with which he
availed himself of the Verdurins' hospitality, refraining, often, from
coming to dine with them for a reason which they never suspected, and in
place of which they saw only an anxiety on his part not to have to decline
an invitation to the house of some 'bore' or other; doubtless, also, and
despite all the precautions which he had taken to keep it from them, the
gradual discovery which they were making of his brilliant position in
society--doubtless all these things contributed to their general annoyance
with Swann. But the real, the fundamental reason was quite different.
What had happened was that they had at once discovered in him a locked
door, a reserved, impenetrable chamber in which he still professed
silently to himself that the Princesse de Sagan was not grotesque, and
that Cottard's jokes were not amusing; in a word (and for all that he
never once abandoned his friendly attitude towards them all, or revolted
from their dogmas), they had discovered an impossibility of imposing those
dogmas upon him, of entirely converting him to their faith, the like of
which they had never come across in anyone before. They would have
forgiven his going to the houses of 'bores' (to whom, as it happened, in
his heart of hearts he infinitely preferred the Verdurins and all their
little 'nucleus') had he consented to set a good example by openly
renouncing those 'bores' in the presence of the 'faithful.' But that was
an abjuration which, as they well knew, they were powerless to extort.

What a difference was there in a 'newcomer' whom Odette had asked them to
invite, although she herself had met him only a few times, and on whom
they were building great hopes--the Comte de Forcheville! (It turned out
that he was nothing more nor less than the brother-in-law of Saniette, a
discovery which filled all the 'faithful' with amazement: the manners of
the old palaeographer were so humble that they had always supposed him to
be of a class inferior, socially, to their own, and had never expected to
learn that he came of a rich and relatively aristocratic family.) Of
course, Forcheville was enormously the 'swell,' which Swann was not or had
quite ceased to be; of course, he would never dream of placing, as Swann
now placed, the Verdurin circle above any other. But he lacked that
natural refinement which prevented Swann from associating himself with the
criticisms (too obviously false to be worth his notice) that Mme. Verdurin
levelled at people whom he knew. As for the vulgar and affected tirades in
which the painter sometimes indulged, the bag-man's pleasantries which
Cottard used to hazard,--whereas Swann, who liked both men sincerely,
could easily find excuses for these without having either the courage or
the hypocrisy to applaud them, Forcheville, on the other hand, was on an
intellectual level which permitted him to be stupified, amazed by the
invective (without in the least understanding what it all was about), and
to be frankly delighted by the wit. And the very first dinner at the
Verdurins' at which Forcheville was present threw a glaring light upon all
the differences between them, made his qualities start into prominence and
precipitated the disgrace of Swann.

There was, at this dinner, besides the usual party, a professor from the
Sorbonne, one Brichot, who had met M. and Mme. Verdurin at a
watering-place somewhere, and, if his duties at the university and his
other works of scholarship had not left him with very little time to
spare, would gladly have come to them more often. For he had that
curiosity, that superstitious outlook on life, which, combined with a
certain amount of scepticism with regard to the object of their studies,
earn for men of intelligence, whatever their profession, for doctors who
do not believe in medicine, for schoolmasters who do not believe in Latin
exercises, the reputation of having broad, brilliant, and indeed superior
minds. He affected, when at Mme. Verdurin's, to choose his illustrations
from among the most topical subjects of the day, when he spoke of
philosophy or history, principally because he regarded those sciences as
no more, really, than a preparation for life itself, and imagined that he
was seeing put into practice by the 'little clan' what hitherto he had
known only from books; and also, perhaps, because, having had drilled into
him as a boy, and having unconsciously preserved, a feeling of reverence
for certain subjects, he thought that he was casting aside the scholar's
gown when he ventured to treat those subjects with a conversational
licence, which seemed so to him only because the folds of the gown still

Early in the course of the dinner, when M. de Forcheville, seated on the
right of Mme. Verdurin, who, in the 'newcomer's' honour, had taken great
pains with her toilet, observed to her: "Quite original, that white
dress," the Doctor, who had never taken his eyes off him, so curious was
he to learn the nature and attributes of what he called a "de," and was on
the look-out for an opportunity of attracting his attention, so as to come
into closer contact with him, caught in its flight the adjective
'_blanche_' and, his eyes still glued to his plate, snapped out,
"_Blanche_? Blanche of Castile?" then, without moving his head, shot a
furtive glance to right and left of him, doubtful, but happy on the whole.
While Swann, by the painful and futile effort which he made to smile,
testified that he thought the pun absurd, Forcheville had shewn at once
that he could appreciate its subtlety, and that he was a man of the world,
by keeping within its proper limits a mirth the spontaneity of which had
charmed Mme. Verdurin.

"What are you to say of a scientist like that?" she asked Forcheville.
"You can't talk seriously to him for two minutes on end. Is that the sort
of thing you tell them at your hospital?" she went on, turning to the
Doctor. "They must have some pretty lively times there, if that's the
case. I can see that I shall have to get taken in as a patient!"

"I think I heard the Doctor speak of that wicked old humbug, Blanche of
Castile, if I may so express myself. Am I not right, Madame?" Brichot
appealed to Mme. Verdurin, who, swooning with merriment, her eyes tightly
closed, had buried her face in her two hands, from between which, now and
then, escaped a muffled scream.

"Good gracious, Madame, I would not dream of shocking the reverent-minded,
if there are any such around this table, _sub rosa_... I recognise,
moreover, that our ineffable and Athenian--oh, how infinitely
Athenian--Republic is capable of honouring, in the person of that
obscurantist old she-Capet, the first of our chiefs of police. Yes,
indeed, my dear host, yes, indeed!" he repeated in his ringing voice,
which sounded a separate note for each syllable, in reply to a protest by
M. Verdurin. "The Chronicle of Saint Denis, and the authenticity of its
information is beyond question, leaves us no room for doubt on that point.
No one could be more fitly chosen as Patron by a secularising proletariat
than that mother of a Saint, who let him see some pretty fishy saints
besides, as Suger says, and other great St. Bernards of the sort; for with
her it was a case of taking just what you pleased."

"Who is that gentleman?" Forcheville asked Mme. Verdurin. "He seems to
speak with great authority."

"What! Do you mean to say you don't know the famous Brichot? Why, he's
celebrated all over Europe."

"Oh, that's Bréchot, is it?" exclaimed Forcheville, who had not quite
caught the name. "You must tell me all about him"; he went on, fastening a
pair of goggle eyes on the celebrity. "It's always interesting to meet
well-known people at dinner. But, I say, you ask us to very select parties
here. No dull evenings in this house, I'm sure."

"Well, you know what it is really," said Mme. Verdurin modestly. "They
feel safe here. They can talk about whatever they like, and the
conversation goes off like fireworks. Now Brichot, this evening, is
nothing. I've seen him, don't you know, when he's been with me, simply
dazzling; you'd want to go on your knees to him. Well, with anyone else
he's not the same man, he's not in the least witty, you have to drag the
words out of him, he's even boring."

"That's strange," remarked Forcheville with fitting astonishment.

A sort of wit like Brichot's would have been regarded as out-and-out
stupidity by the people among whom Swann had spent his early life, for all
that it is quite compatible with real intelligence. And the intelligence
of the Professor's vigorous and well-nourished brain might easily have
been envied by many of the people in society who seemed witty enough to
Swann. But these last had so thoroughly inculcated into him their likes
and dislikes, at least in everything that pertained to their ordinary
social existence, including that annex to social existence which belongs,
strictly speaking, to the domain of intelligence, namely, conversation,
that Swann could not see anything in Brichot's pleasantries; to him they
were merely pedantic, vulgar, and disgustingly coarse. He was shocked,
too, being accustomed to good manners, by the rude, almost barrack-room
tone which this student-in-arms adopted, no matter to whom he was
speaking. Finally, perhaps, he had lost all patience that evening as he
watched Mme. Verdurin welcoming, with such unnecessary warmth, this
Forcheville fellow, whom it had been Odette's unaccountable idea to bring
to the house. Feeling a little awkward, with Swann there also, she had
asked him on her arrival: "What do you think of my guest?"

And he, suddenly realising for the first time that Forcheville, whom he
had known for years, could actually attract a woman, and was quite a good
specimen of a man, had retorted: "Beastly!" He had, certainly, no idea of
being jealous of Odette, but did not feel quite so happy as usual, and
when Brichot, having begun to tell them the story of Blanche of Castile's
mother, who, according to him, "had been with Henry Plantagenet for years
before they were married," tried to prompt Swann to beg him to continue
the story, by interjecting "Isn't that so, M. Swann?" in the martial
accents which one uses in order to get down to the level of an
unintelligent rustic or to put the 'fear of God' into a trooper, Swann cut
his story short, to the intense fury of their hostess, by begging to be
excused for taking so little interest in Blanche of Castile, as he had
something that he wished to ask the painter. He, it appeared, had been
that afternoon to an exhibition of the work of another artist, also a
friend of Mme. Verdurin, who had recently died, and Swann wished to find
out from him (for he valued his discrimination) whether there had really
been anything more in this later work than the virtuosity which had struck
people so forcibly in his earlier exhibitions.

"From that point of view it was extraordinary, but it did not seem to me
to be a form of art which you could call 'elevated,'" said Swann with a

"Elevated... to the height of an Institute!" interrupted Cottard, raising
his arms with mock solemnity. The whole table burst out laughing.

"What did I tell you?" said Mme. Verdurin to Forcheville. "It's simply
impossible to be serious with him. When you least expect it, out he comes
with a joke."

But she observed that Swann, and Swann alone, had not unbent. For one
thing he was none too well pleased with Cottard for having secured a laugh
at his expense in front of Forcheville. But the painter, instead of
replying in a way that might have interested Swann, as he would probably
have done had they been alone together, preferred to win the easy
admiration of the rest by exercising his wit upon the talent of their dead

"I went up to one of them," he began, "just to see how it was done; I
stuck my nose into it. Yes, I don't think! Impossible to say whether it
was done with glue, with soap, with sealing-wax, with sunshine, with
leaven, with excrem..."

"And one make twelve!" shouted the Doctor, wittily, but just too late, for
no one saw the point of his interruption.

"It looks as though it were done with nothing at all," resumed the
painter. "No more chance of discovering the trick than there is in the
'Night Watch,' or the 'Regents,' and it's even bigger work than either
Rembrandt or Hals ever did. It's all there,--and yet, no, I'll take my
oath it isn't."

Then, just as singers who have reached the highest note in their compass,
proceed to hum the rest of the air in falsetto, he had to be satisfied
with murmuring, smiling the while, as if, after all, there had been
something irresistibly amusing in the sheer beauty of the painting: "It

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