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Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

Part 8 out of 9

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some perjuries which, being so superstitious, she would not commit, and
besides, the fear, which had hitherto restrained his curiosity, of making
Odette angry if he questioned her, of making himself odious, had ceased to
exist now that he had lost all hope of ever being loved by her.

One day he received an anonymous letter which told him that Odette had
been the mistress of countless men (several of whom it named, among them
Forcheville, M. de Bréauté and the painter) and women, and that she
frequented houses of ill-fame. He was tormented by the discovery that
there was to be numbered among his friends a creature capable of sending
him such a letter (for certain details betrayed in the writer a
familiarity with his private life). He wondered who it could be. But he
had never had any suspicion with regard to the unknown actions of other
people, those which had no visible connection with what they said. And
when he wanted to know whether it was rather beneath the apparent
character of M. de Charlus, or of M. des Laumes, or of M. d'Orsan that he
must place the untravelled region in which this ignoble action might have
had its birth; as none of these men had ever, in conversation with Swann,
suggested that he approved of anonymous letters, and as everything that
they had ever said to him implied that they strongly disapproved, he saw
no further reason for associating this infamy with the character of any
one of them more than with the rest. M. de Charlus was somewhat inclined
to eccentricity, but he was fundamentally good and kind; M. des Laumes was
a trifle dry, but wholesome and straight. As for M. d'Orsan, Swann had
never met anyone who, even in the most depressing circumstances, would
come to him with a more heartfelt utterance, would act more properly or
with more discretion. So much so that he was unable to understand the
rather indelicate part commonly attributed to M. d'Orsan in his relations
with a certain wealthy woman, and that whenever he thought of him he was
obliged to set that evil reputation on one side, as irreconcilable with so
many unmistakable proofs of his genuine sincerity and refinement. For a
moment Swann felt that his mind was becoming clouded, and he thought of
something else so as to recover a little light; until he had the courage
to return to those other reflections. But then, after not having been able
to suspect anyone, he was forced to suspect everyone that he knew. After
all, M. de Charlus might be most fond of him, might be most good-natured;
but he was a neuropath; to-morrow, perhaps, he would burst into tears on
hearing that Swann was ill; and to-day, from jealousy, or in anger, or
carried away by some sudden idea, he might have wished to do him a
deliberate injury. Really, that kind of man was the worst of all. The
Prince des Laumes was, certainly, far less devoted to Swann than was M. de
Charlus. But for that very reason he had not the same susceptibility with
regard to him; and besides, his was a nature which, though, no doubt, it
was cold, was as incapable of a base as of a magnanimous action. Swann
regretted that he had formed no attachments in his life except to such
people. Then he reflected that what prevents men from doing harm to their
neighbours is fellow-feeling, that he could not, in the last resort,
answer for any but men whose natures were analogous to his own, as was, so
far as the heart went, that of M. de Charlus. The mere thought of causing
Swann so much distress would have been revolting to him. But with a man
who was insensible, of another order of humanity, as was the Prince des
Laumes, how was one to foresee the actions to which he might be led by the
promptings of a different nature? To have a good heart was everything, and
M. de Charlus had one. But M. d'Orsan was not lacking in that either, and
his relations with Swann--cordial, but scarcely intimate, arising from the
pleasure which, as they held the same views about everything, they found
in talking together--were more quiescent than the enthusiastic affection
of M. de Charlus, who was apt to be led into passionate activity, good or
evil. If there was anyone by whom Swann felt that he had always been
understood, and (with delicacy) loved, it was M. d'Orsan. Yes, but the
life he led; it could hardly be called honourable. Swann regretted that he
had never taken any notice of those rumours, that he himself had admitted,
jestingly, that he had never felt so keen a sense of sympathy, or of
respect, as when he was in thoroughly 'detrimental' society. "It is not
for nothing," he now assured himself, "that when people pass judgment upon
their neighbour, their finding is based upon his actions. It is those
alone that are significant, and not at all what we say or what we think.
Charlus and des Laumes may have this or that fault, but they are men of
honour. Orsan, perhaps, has not the same faults, but he is not a man of
honour. He may have acted dishonourably once again." Then he suspected
Rémi, who, it was true, could only have inspired the letter, but he now
felt himself, for a moment, to be on the right track. To begin with,
Loredan had his own reasons for wishing harm to Odette. And then, how were
we not to suppose that our servants, living in a situation inferior to our
own, adding to our fortunes and to our frailties imaginary riches and
vices for which they at once envied and despised us, should not find
themselves led by fate to act in a manner abhorrent to people of our own
class? He also suspected my grandfather. On every occasion when Swann had
asked him to do him any service, had he not invariably declined? Besides,
with his ideas of middle-class respectability, he might have thought that
he was acting for Swann's good. He suspected, in turn, Bergotte, the
painter, the Verdurins; paused for a moment to admire once again the
wisdom of people in society, who refused to mix in the artistic circles in
which such things were possible, were, perhaps, even openly avowed, as
excellent jokes; but then he recalled the marks of honesty that were to be
observed in those Bohemians, and contrasted them with the life of
expedients, often bordering on fraudulence, to which the want of money,
the craving for luxury, the corrupting influence of their pleasures often
drove members of the aristocracy. In a word, this anonymous letter proved
that he himself knew a human being capable of the most infamous conduct,
but he could see no reason why that infamy should lurk in the
depths--which no strange eye might explore--of the warm heart rather than
the cold, the artist's rather than the business-man's, the noble's rather
than the flunkey's. What criterion ought one to adopt, in order to judge
one's fellows? After all, there was not a single one of the people whom he
knew who might not, in certain circumstances, prove capable of a shameful
action. Must he then cease to see them all? His mind grew clouded; he
passed his hands two or three times across his brow, wiped his glasses
with his handkerchief, and remembering that, after all, men who were as
good as himself frequented the society of M. de Charlus, the Prince des
Laumes and the rest, he persuaded himself that this meant, if not that
they were incapable of shameful actions, at least that it was a necessity
in human life, to which everyone must submit, to frequent the society of
people who were, perhaps, not incapable of such actions. And he continued
to shake hands with all the friends whom he had suspected, with the purely
formal reservation that each one of them had, possibly, been seeking to
drive him to despair. As for the actual contents of the letter, they did
not disturb him; for in not one of the charges which it formulated against
Odette could he see the least vestige of fact. Like many other men, Swann
had a naturally lazy mind, and was slow in invention. He knew quite well
as a general truth, that human life is full of contrasts, but in the case
of any one human being he imagined all that part of his or her life with
which he was not familiar as being identical with the part with which he
was. He imagined what was kept secret from him in the light of what was
revealed. At such times as he spent with Odette, if their conversation
turned upon an indelicate act committed, or an indelicate sentiment
expressed by some third person, she would ruthlessly condemn the culprit
by virtue of the same moral principles which Swann had always heard
expressed by his own parents, and to which he himself had remained loyal;
and then, she would arrange her flowers, would sip her tea, would shew an
interest in his work. So Swann extended those habits to fill the rest of
her life, he reconstructed those actions when he wished to form a picture
of the moments in which he and she were apart. If anyone had portrayed her
to him as she was, or rather as she had been for so long with himself, but
had substituted some other man, he would have been distressed, for such a
portrait would have struck him as lifelike. But to suppose that she went
to bad houses, that she abandoned herself to orgies with other women, that
she led the crapulous existence of the most abject, the most contemptible
of mortals--would be an insane wandering of the mind, for the realisation
of which, thank heaven, the chrysanthemums that he could imagine, the
daily cups of tea, the virtuous indignation left neither time nor place.
Only, now and again, he gave Odette to understand that people maliciously
kept him informed of everything that she did; and making opportune use of
some detail--insignificant but true--which he had accidentally learned, as
though it were the sole fragment which he would allow, in spite of
himself, to pass his lips, out of the numberless other fragments of that
complete reconstruction of her daily life which he carried secretly in his
mind, he led her to suppose that he was perfectly informed upon matters,
which, in reality, he neither knew nor suspected, for if he often adjured
Odette never to swerve from or make alteration of the truth, that was
only, whether he realised it or no, in order that Odette should tell him
everything that she did. No doubt, as he used to assure Odette, he loved
sincerity, but only as he might love a pander who could keep him in touch
with the daily life of his mistress. Moreover, his love of sincerity, not
being disinterested, had not improved his character. The truth which he
cherished was that which Odette would tell him; but he himself, in order
to extract that truth from her, was not afraid to have recourse to
falsehood, that very falsehood which he never ceased to depict to Odette
as leading every human creature down to utter degradation. In a word, he
lied as much as did Odette, because, while more unhappy than she, he was
no less egotistical. And she, when she heard him repeating thus to her the
things that she had done, would stare at him with a look of distrust and,
at all hazards, of indignation, so as not to appear to be humiliated, and
to be blushing for her actions. One day, after the longest period of calm
through which he had yet been able to exist without being overtaken by an
attack of jealousy, he had accepted an invitation to spend the evening at
the theatre with the Princesse des Laumes. Having opened his newspaper to
find out what was being played, the sight of the title--_Les Filles de
Marbre_, by Théodore Barrière,--struck him so cruel a blow that he
recoiled instinctively from it and turned his head away. Illuminated, as
though by a row of footlights, in the new surroundings in which it now
appeared, that word 'marble,' which he had lost the power to distinguish,
so often had it passed, in print, beneath his eyes, had suddenly become
visible once again, and had at once brought back to his mind the story
which Odette had told him, long ago, of a visit which she had paid to the
Salon at the Palais d'Industrie with Mme. Verdurin, who had said to her,
"Take care, now! I know how to melt you, all right. You're not made of
marble." Odette had assured him that it was only a joke, and he had not
attached any importance to it at the time. But he had had more confidence
in her then than he had now. And the anonymous letter referred explicitly
to relations of that sort. Without daring to lift his eyes to the
newspaper, he opened it, turned the page so as not to see again the words,
_Filles de Marbre_, and began to read mechanically the news from the
provinces. There had been a storm in the Channel, and damage was reported
from Dieppe, Cabourg, Beuzeval.... Suddenly he recoiled again in horror.

The name of Beuzeval had suggested to him that of another place in the
same district, Beuzeville, which carried also, bound to it by a hyphen, a
second name, to wit Bréauté, which he had often seen on maps, but without
ever previously remarking that it was the same name as that borne by his
friend M. de Bréauté, whom the anonymous letter accused of having been
Odette's lover. After all, when it came to M. de Bréauté, there was
nothing improbable in the charge; but so far as Mme. Verdurin was
concerned, it was a sheer impossibility. From the fact that Odette did
occasionally tell a lie, it was not fair to conclude that she never, by
any chance, told the truth, and in these bantering conversations with Mme.
Verdurin which she herself had repeated to Swann, he could recognize those
meaningless and dangerous pleasantries which, in their inexperience of
life and ignorance of vice, women often utter (thereby certifying their
own innocence), who--as, for instance, Odette,--would be the last people
in the world to feel any undue affection for one another. Whereas, on the
other hand, the indignation with which she had scattered the suspicions
which she had unintentionally brought into being, for a moment, in his
mind by her story, fitted in with everything that he knew of the tastes,
the temperament of his mistress. But at that moment, by an inspiration of
jealousy, analogous to the inspiration which reveals to a poet or a
philosopher, who has nothing, so far, but an odd pair of rhymes or a
detached observation, the idea or the natural law which will give power,
mastery to his work, Swann recalled for the first time a remark which
Odette had made to him, at least two years before: "Oh, Mme. Verdurin, she
won't hear of anything just now but me. I'm a 'love,' if you please, and
she kisses me, and wants me to go with her everywhere, and call her by her
Christian name." So far from seeing in these expressions any connection
with the absurd insinuations, intended to create an atmosphere of vice,
which Odette had since repeated to him, he had welcomed them as a proof of
Mme. Verdurin's warm-hearted and generous friendship. But now this old
memory of her affection for Odette had coalesced suddenly with his more
recent memory of her unseemly conversation. He could no longer separate
them in his mind, and he saw them blended in reality, the affection
imparting a certain seriousness and importance to the pleasantries which,
in return, spoiled the affection of its innocence. He went to see Odette.
He sat down, keeping at a distance from her. He did not dare to embrace
her, not knowing whether in her, in himself, it would be affection or
anger that a kiss would provoke. He sat there silent, watching their love
expire. Suddenly he made up his mind.

"Odette, my darling," he began, "I know, I am being simply odious, but I
must ask you a few questions. You remember what I once thought about you
and Mme. Verdurin? Tell me, was it true? Have you, with her or anyone
else, ever?"

She shook her head, pursing her lips together; a sign which people
commonly employ to signify that they are not going, because it would bore
them to go, when some one has asked, "Are you coming to watch the
procession go by?", or "Will you be at the review?". But this shake of the
head, which is thus commonly used to decline participation in an event
that has yet to come, imparts for that reason an element of uncertainty to
the denial of participation in an event that is past. Furthermore, it
suggests reasons of personal convenience, rather than any definite
repudiation, any moral impossibility. When he saw Odette thus make him a
sign that the insinuation was false, he realised that it was quite
possibly true.

"I have told you, I never did; you know quite well," she added, seeming
angry and uncomfortable.

"Yes, I know all that; but are you quite sure? Don't say to me, 'You know
quite well'; say, 'I have never done anything of that sort with any

She repeated his words like a lesson learned by rote, and as though she
hoped, thereby, to be rid of him: "I have never done anything of that sort
with any woman."

"Can you swear it to me on your Laghetto medal?"

Swann knew that Odette would never perjure herself on that.

"Oh, you do make me so miserable," she cried, with a jerk of her body as
though to shake herself free of the constraint of his question. "Have you
nearly done? What is the matter with you to-day? You seem to have made up
your mind that I am to be forced to hate you, to curse you! Look, I was
anxious to be friends with you again, for us to have a nice time together,
like the old days; and this is all the thanks I get!"

However, he would not let her go, but sat there like a surgeon who waits
for a spasm to subside that has interrupted his operation but need not
make him abandon it.

"You are quite wrong in supposing that I bear you the least ill-will in
the world, Odette," he began with a persuasive and deceitful gentleness.
"I never speak to you except of what I already know, and I always know a
great deal more than I say. But you alone can mollify by your confession
what makes me hate you so long as it has been reported to me only by other
people. My anger with you is never due to your actions--I can and do
forgive you everything because I love you--but to your untruthfulness, the
ridiculous untruthfulness which makes you persist in denying things which
I know to be true. How can you expect that I shall continue to love you,
when I see you maintain, when I hear you swear to me a thing which I know
to be false? Odette, do not prolong this moment which is torturing us
both. If you are willing to end it at once, you shall be free of it for
ever. Tell me, upon your medal, yes or no, whether you have ever done
those things."

"How on earth can I tell?" she was furious. "Perhaps I have, ever so long
ago, when I didn't know what I was doing, perhaps two or three times."

Swann had prepared himself for all possibilities. Reality must, therefore,
be something which bears no relation to possibilities, any more than the
stab of a knife in one's body bears to the gradual movement of the clouds
overhead, since those words "two or three times" carved, as it were, a
cross upon the living tissues of his heart. A strange thing, indeed, that
those words, "two or three times," nothing more than a few words, words
uttered in the air, at a distance, could so lacerate a man's heart, as if
they had actually pierced it, could sicken a man, like a poison that he
had drunk. Instinctively Swann thought of the remark that he had heard at
Mme. de Saint-Euverte's: "I have never seen anything to beat it since the
table-turning." The agony that he now suffered in no way resembled what he
had supposed. Not only because, in the hours when he most entirely
mistrusted her, he had rarely imagined such a culmination of evil, but
because, even when he did imagine that offence, it remained vague,
uncertain, was not clothed in the particular horror which had escaped with
the words "perhaps two or three times," was not armed with that specific
cruelty, as different from anything that he had known as a new malady by
which one is attacked for the first time. And yet this Odette, from whom
all this evil sprang, was no less dear to him, was, on the contrary, more
precious, as if, in proportion as his sufferings increased, there
increased at the same time the price of the sedative, of the antidote
which this woman alone possessed. He wished to pay her more attention, as
one attends to a disease which one discovers, suddenly, to have grown more
serious. He wished that the horrible thing which, she had told him, she
had done "two or three times" might be prevented from occurring again. To
ensure that, he must watch over Odette. People often say that, by pointing
out to a man the faults of his mistress, you succeed only in strengthening
his attachment to her, because he does not believe you; yet how much more
so if he does! But, Swann asked himself, how could he manage to protect
her? He might perhaps be able to preserve her from the contamination of
any one woman, but there were hundreds of other women; and he realised how
insane had been his ambition when he had begun (on the evening when he had
failed to find Odette at the Verdurins') to desire the possession--as if
that were ever possible--of another person. Happily for Swann, beneath the
mass of suffering which had invaded his soul like a conquering horde of
barbarians, there lay a natural foundation, older, more placid, and
silently laborious, like the cells of an injured organ which at once set
to work to repair the damaged tissues, or the muscles of a paralysed limb
which tend to recover their former movements. These older, these
autochthonous in-dwellers in his soul absorbed all Swann's strength, for a
while, in that obscure task of reparation which gives one an illusory
sense of repose during convalescence, or after an operation. This time it
was not so much--as it ordinarily was--in Swann's brain that the
slackening of tension due to exhaustion took effect, it was rather in his
heart. But all the things in life that have once existed tend to recur,
and, like a dying animal that is once more stirred by the throes of a
convulsion which was, apparently, ended, upon Swann's heart, spared for a
moment only, the same agony returned of its own accord to trace the same
cross again. He remembered those moonlit evenings, when, leaning back in
the victoria that was taking him to the Rue La Pérouse, he would cultivate
with voluptuous enjoyment the emotions of a man in love, ignorant of the
poisoned fruit that such emotions must inevitably bear. But all those
thoughts lasted for no more than a second, the time that it took him to
raise his hand to his heart, to draw breath again and to contrive to
smile, so as to dissemble his torment. Already he had begun to put further
questions. For his jealousy, which had taken an amount of trouble, such as
no enemy would have incurred, to strike him this mortal blow, to make him
forcibly acquainted with the most cruel pain that he had ever known, his
jealousy was not satisfied that he had yet suffered enough, and sought to
expose his bosom to an even deeper wound. Like an evil deity, his jealousy
was inspiring Swann, was thrusting him on towards destruction. It was not
his fault, but Odette's alone, if at first his punishment was not more

"My darling," he began again, "it's all over now; was it with anyone I

"No, I swear it wasn't; besides, I think I exaggerated, I never really
went as far as that."

He smiled, and resumed with: "Just as you like. It doesn't really matter,
but it's unfortunate that you can't give me any name. If I were able to
form an idea of the person that would prevent my ever thinking of her
again. I say it for your own sake, because then I shouldn't bother you any
more about it. It's so soothing to be able to form a clear picture of
things in one's mind. What is really terrible is what one cannot imagine.
But you've been so sweet to me; I don't want to tire you. I do thank you,
with all my heart, for all the good that you have done me. I've quite
finished now. Only one word more: how many times?"

"Oh, Charles! can't you see, you're killing me? It's all ever so long ago.
I've never given it a thought. Anyone would say that you were positively
trying to put those ideas into my head again. And then you'd be a lot
better off!" she concluded, with unconscious stupidity but with
intentional malice.

"I only wished to know whether it had been since I knew you. It's only
natural. Did it happen here, ever? You can't give me any particular
evening, so that I can remind myself what I was doing at the time? You
understand, surely, that it's not possible that you don't remember with
whom, Odette, my love."

"But I don't know; really, I don't. I think it was in the Bois, one
evening when you came to meet us on the Island. You had been dining with
the Princesse des Laumes," she added, happy to be able to furnish him with
an exact detail, which testified to her veracity. "At the next table there
was a woman whom I hadn't seen for ever so long. She said to me, 'Come
along round behind the rock, there, and look at the moonlight on the
water!' At first I just yawned, and said, 'No, I'm too tired, and I'm
quite happy where I am, thank you.' She swore there'd never been anything
like it in the way of moonlight. 'I've heard that tale before,' I said to
her; you see, I knew quite well what she was after." Odette narrated this
episode almost as if it were a joke, either because it appeared to her to
be quite natural, or because she thought that she was thereby minimising
its importance, or else so as not to appear ashamed. But, catching sight
of Swann's face, she changed her tone, and:

"You are a fiend!" she flung at him, "you enjoy tormenting me, making me
tell you lies, just so that you'll leave me in peace."

This second blow struck at Swann was even more excruciating than the
first. Never had he supposed it to have been so recent an affair, hidden
from his eyes that had been too innocent to discern it, not in a past
which he had never known, but in evenings which he so well remembered,
which he had lived through with Odette, of which he had supposed himself
to have such an intimate, such an exhaustive knowledge, and which now
assumed, retrospectively, an aspect of cunning and deceit and cruelty. In
the midst of them parted, suddenly, a gaping chasm, that moment on the
Island in the Bois de Boulogne. Without being intelligent, Odette had the
charm of being natural. She had recounted, she had acted the little scene
with so much simplicity that Swann, as he gasped for breath, could vividly
see it: Odette yawning, the "rock there,"... He could hear her
answer--alas, how lightheartedly--"I've heard that tale before!" He felt
that she would tell him nothing more that evening, that no further
revelation was to be expected for the present. He was silent for a time,
then said to her:

"My poor darling, you must forgive me; I know, I am hurting you
dreadfully, but it's all over now; I shall never think of it again."

But she saw that his eyes remained fixed upon the things that he did not
know, and on that past era of their love, monotonous and soothing in his
memory because it was vague, and now rent, as with a sword-wound, by the
news of that minute on the Island in the Bois, by moonlight, while he was
dining with the Princesse des Laumes. But he had so far acquired the habit
of finding life interesting--of marvelling at the strange discoveries that
there were to be made in it--that even while he was suffering so acutely
that he did not believe it possible to endure such agony for any length of
time, he was saying to himself: "Life is indeed astonishing, and holds
some fine surprises; it appears that vice is far more common than one has
been led to believe. Here is a woman in whom I had absolute confidence,
who looks so simple, so honest, who, in any case, even allowing that her
morals are not strict, seemed quite normal and healthy in her tastes and
inclinations. I receive a most improbable accusation, I question her, and
the little that she admits reveals far more than I could ever have
suspected." But he could not confine himself to these detached
observations. He sought to form an exact estimate of the importance of
what she had just told him, so as to know whether he might conclude that
she had done these things often, and was likely to do them again. He
repeated her words to himself: "I knew quite well what she was after."
"Two or three times." "I've heard that tale before." But they did not
reappear in his memory unarmed; each of them held a knife with which it
stabbed him afresh. For a long time, like a sick man who cannot restrain
himself from attempting, every minute, to make the movement that, he
knows, will hurt him, he kept on murmuring to himself: "I'm quite happy
where I am, thank you," "I've heard that tale before," but the pain was so
intense that he was obliged to stop. He was amazed to find that actions
which he had always, hitherto, judged so lightly, had dismissed, indeed,
with a laugh, should have become as serious to him as a disease which
might easily prove fatal. He knew any number of women whom he could ask to
keep an eye on Odette, but how was he to expect them to adjust themselves
to his new point of view, and not to remain at that which for so long had
been his own, which had always guided him in his voluptuous existence; not
to say to him with a smile: "You jealous monster, wanting to rob other
people of their pleasure!" By what trap-door, suddenly lowered, had he
(who had never found, in the old days, in his love for Odette, any but the
most refined of pleasures) been precipitated into this new circle of hell
from which he could not see how he was ever to escape. Poor Odette! He
wished her no harm. She was but half to blame. Had he not been told that
it was her own mother who had sold her, when she was still little more
than a child, at Nice, to a wealthy Englishman? But what an agonising
truth was now contained for him in those lines of Alfred de Vigny's
_Journal d'un Poète_ which he had previously read without emotion: "When
one feels oneself smitten by love for a woman, one ought to say to
oneself, 'What are 'her surroundings? What has been her life?' All one's
future happiness lies in the answer." Swann was astonished that such
simple phrases, spelt over in his mind as, "I've heard that tale before,"
or "I knew quite well what she was after," could cause him so much pain.
But he realised that what he had mistaken for simple phrases were indeed
parts of the panoply which held and could inflict on him the anguish that
he had felt while Odette was telling her story. For it was the same
anguish that he now was feeling afresh. It was no good, his knowing
now,--indeed, it was no good, as time went on, his having partly forgotten
and altogether forgiven the offence--whenever he repeated her words his
old anguish refashioned him as he had been before Odette began to speak:
ignorant, trustful; his merciless jealousy placed him once again, so that
he might be effectively wounded by Odette's admission, in the position of
a man who does not yet know the truth; and after several months this old
story would still dumbfounder him, like a sudden revelation. He marvelled
at the terrible recreative power of his memory. It was only by the
weakening of that generative force, whose fecundity diminishes as age
creeps over one, that he could hope for a relaxation of his torments. But,
as soon as the power that any one of Odette's sentences had to make Swann
suffer seemed to be nearly exhausted, lo and behold another, one of those
to which he had hitherto paid least attention, almost a new sentence, came
to relieve the first, and to strike at him with undiminished force. The
memory of the evening on which he had dined with the Princesse des Laumes
was painful to him, but it was no more than the centre, the core of his
pain. That radiated vaguely round about it, overflowing into all the
preceding and following days. And on whatever point in it he might intend
his memory to rest, it was the whole of that season, during which the
Verdurins had so often gone to dine upon the Island in the Bois, that
sprang back to hurt him. So violently, that by slow degrees the curiosity
which his jealousy was ever exciting in him was neutralised by his fear of
the fresh tortures which he would be inflicting upon himself were he to
satisfy it. He recognised that all the period of Odette's life which had
elapsed before she first met him, a period of which he had never sought to
form any picture in his mind, was not the featureless abstraction which he
could vaguely see, but had consisted of so many definite, dated years,
each crowded with concrete incidents. But were he to learn more of them,
he feared lest her past, now colourless, fluid and supportable, might
assume a tangible, an obscene form, with individual and diabolical
features. And he continued to refrain from seeking a conception of it, not
any longer now from laziness of mind, but from fear of suffering. He hoped
that, some day, he might be able to hear the Island in the Bois, or the
Princesse des Laumes mentioned without feeling any twinge of that old
rending pain; meanwhile he thought it imprudent to provoke Odette into
furnishing him with fresh sentences, with the names of more places and
people and of different events, which, when his malady was still scarcely
healed, would make it break out again in another form.

But, often enough, the things that he did not know, that he dreaded, now,
to learn, it was Odette herself who, spontaneously and without thought of
what she did, revealed them to him; for the gap which her vices made
between her actual life and the comparatively innocent life which Swann
had believed, and often still believed his mistress to lead, was far wider
than she knew. A vicious person, always affecting the same air of virtue
before people whom he is anxious to keep from having any suspicion of his
vices, has no register, no gauge at hand from which he may ascertain bow
far those vices (their continuous growth being imperceptible by himself)
have gradually segregated him from the normal ways of life. In the course
of their cohabitation, in Odette's mind, with the memory of those of her
actions which she concealed from Swann, her other, her innocuous actions
were gradually coloured, infected by these, without her being able to
detect anything strange in them, without their causing any explosion in
the particular region of herself in which she made them live, but when she
related them to Swann, he was overwhelmed by the revelation of the
duplicity to which they pointed. One day, he was trying--without hurting
Odette--to discover from her whether she had ever had any dealings with
procuresses. He was, as a matter of fact, convinced that she had not; the
anonymous letter had put the idea into his mind, but in a purely
mechanical way; it had been received there with no credulity, but it had,
for all that, remained there, and Swann, wishing to be rid of the
burden--a dead weight, but none the less disturbing--of this suspicion,
hoped that Odette would now extirpate it for ever.

"Oh dear, no! Not that they don't simply persecute me to go to them," her
smile revealed a gratified vanity which she no longer saw that it was
impossible should appear legitimate to Swann. "There was one of them
waited more than two hours for me yesterday, said she would give me any
money I asked. It seems, there's an Ambassador who said to her, 'I'll kill
myself if you don't bring her to me'--meaning me! They told her I'd gone
out, but she waited and waited, and in the end I had to go myself and
speak to her, before she'd go away. I do wish you could have seen the way
I tackled her; my maid was in the next room, listening, and told me I
shouted fit to bring the house down:--'But when you hear me say that I
don't want to! The idea of such a thing, I don't like it at all! I should
hope I'm still free to do as I please and when I please and where I
please! If I needed the money, I could understand...' The porter has
orders not to let her in again; he will tell her that I am out of town.
Oh, I do wish I could have had you hidden somewhere in the room while I
was talking to her. I know, you'd have been pleased, my dear. There's
some good in your little Odette, you see, after all, though people do say
such dreadful things about her."

Besides, her very admissions--when she made any--of faults which she
supposed him to have discovered, rather served Swann as a starting-point
for fresh doubts than they put an end to the old. For her admissions never
exactly coincided with his doubts. In vain might Odette expurgate her
confession of all its essential part, there would remain in the
accessories something which Swann had never yet imagined, which crushed
him anew, and was to enable him to alter the terms of the problem of his
jealousy. And these admissions he could never forget. His spirit carried
them along, cast them aside, then cradled them again in its bosom, like
corpses in a river. And they poisoned it.

She spoke to him once of a visit that Forcheville had paid her on the day
of the Paris-Murcie Fête. "What! you knew him as long ago as that? Oh,
yes, of course you did," he corrected himself, so as not to shew that he
had been ignorant of the fact. And suddenly he began to tremble at the
thought that, on the day of the Paris-Murcie Fête, when he had received
that letter which he had so carefully preserved, she had been having
luncheon, perhaps, with Forcheville at the Maison d'Or. She swore that she
had not. "Still, the Maison d'Or reminds me of something or other which, I
knew at the time, wasn't true," he pursued, hoping to frighten her. "Yes
that I hadn't been there at all that evening when I told you I had just
come from there, and you had been looking for me at Prévost's," she
replied (judging by his manner that he knew) with a firmness that was
based not so much upon cynicism as upon timidity, a fear of crossing
Swann, which her own self-respect made her anxious to conceal, and a
desire to shew him that she could be perfectly frank if she chose. And so
she struck him with all the sharpness and force of a headsman wielding his
axe, and yet could not be charged with cruelty, since she was quite
unconscious of hurting him; she even began to laugh, though this may
perhaps, it is true, have been chiefly to keep him from thinking that she
was ashamed, at all, or confused. "It's quite true, I hadn't been to the
Maison Dorée. I was coming away from Forcheville's. I had, really, been to
Prévost's--that wasn't a story--and he met me there and asked me to come
in and look at his prints. But some one else came to see him. I told you
that I was coming from the Maison d'Or because I was afraid you might be
angry with me. It was rather nice of me, really, don't you see? I admit, I
did wrong, but at least I'm telling you all about it now, a'n't I? What
have I to gain by not telling you, straight, that I lunched with him on
the day of the Paris-Murcie Fête, if it were true? Especially as at that
time we didn't know one another quite so well as we do now, did we, dear?"

He smiled back at her with the sudden, craven weakness of the utterly
spiritless creature which these crushing words had made of him. And so,
even in the months of which he had never dared to think again, because
they had been too happy, in those months when she had loved him, she was
already lying to him! Besides that moment (that first evening on which
they had "done a cattleya") when she had told him that she was coming from
the Maison Dorée, how many others must there have been, each of them
covering a falsehood of which Swann had had no suspicion. He recalled how
she had said to him once: "I need only tell Mme. Verdurin that my dress
wasn't ready, or that my cab came late. There is always some excuse." From
himself too, probably, many times when she had glibly uttered such words
as explain a delay or justify an alteration of the hour fixed for a
meeting, those moments must have hidden, without his having the least
inkling of it at the time, an engagement that she had had with some other
man, some man to whom she had said: "I need only tell Swann that my dress
wasn't ready, or that my cab came late. There is always some excuse." And
beneath all his most pleasant memories, beneath the simplest words that
Odette had ever spoken to him in those old days, words which he had
believed as though they were the words of a Gospel, beneath her daily
actions which she had recounted to him, beneath the most ordinary places,
her dressmaker's flat, the Avenue du Bois, the Hippodrome, he could feel
(dissembled there, by virtue of that temporal superfluity which, after the
most detailed account of how a day has been spent, always leaves something
over, that may serve as a hiding place for certain unconfessed actions),
he could feel the insinuation of a possible undercurrent of falsehood
which debased for him all that had remained most precious, his happiest
evenings, the Rue La Pérouse itself, which Odette must constantly have
been leaving at other hours than those of which she told him; extending
the power of the dark horror that had gripped him when he had heard her
admission with regard to the Maison Dorée, and, like the obscene creatures
in the 'Desolation of Nineveh,' shattering, stone by stone, the whole
edifice of his past.... If, now, he turned aside whenever his memory
repeated the cruel name of the Maison Dorée it was because that name
recalled to him, no longer, as, such a little time since, at Mme. de
Saint-Euverte's party, the good fortune which he long had lost, but a
misfortune of which he was now first aware. Then it befell the Maison
Dorée, as it had befallen the Island in the Bois, that gradually its name
ceased to trouble him. For what we suppose to be our love, our jealousy
are, neither of them, single, continuous and individual passions. They are
composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, each
of which is ephemeral, although by their uninterrupted multitude they give
us the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity. The life of
Swann's love, the fidelity of his jealousy, were formed out of death, of
infidelity, of innumerable desires, innumerable doubts, all of which had
Odette for their object. If he had remained for any length of time without
seeing her, those that died would not have been replaced by others. But
the presence of Odette continued to sow in Swann's heart alternate seeds
of love and suspicion.

On certain evenings she would suddenly resume towards him a kindness of
which she would warn him sternly that he must take immediate advantage,
under penalty of not seeing it repeated for years to come; he must
instantly accompany her home, to "do a cattleya," and the desire which she
pretended to have for him was so sudden, so inexplicable, so imperious,
the kisses which she lavished on him were so demonstrative and so
unfamiliar, that this brutal and unnatural fondness made Swann just as
unhappy as any lie or unkind action. One evening when he had thus, in
obedience to her command, gone home with her, and while she was
interspersing her kisses with passionate words, in strange contrast to her
habitual coldness, he thought suddenly that he heard a sound; he rose,
searched everywhere and found nobody, but he had not the courage to return
to his place by her side; whereupon she, in a towering rage, broke a vase,
with "I never can do anything right with you, you impossible person!" And
he was left uncertain whether she had not actually had some man concealed
in the room, whose jealousy she had wished to wound, or else to inflame
his senses.

Sometimes he repaired to 'gay' houses, hoping to learn something about
Odette, although he dared not mention her name. "I have a little thing
here, you're sure to like," the 'manageress' would greet him, and he would
stay for an hour or so, talking dolefully to some poor girl who sat there
astonished that he went no further. One of them, who was still quite young
and attractive, said to him once, "Of course, what I should like would be
to find a real friend, then he might be quite certain, I should never go
with any other men again." "Indeed, do you think it possible for a woman
really to be touched by a man's being in love with her, and never to be
unfaithful to him?" asked Swann anxiously. "Why, surely! It all depends on
their characters!" Swann could not help making the same remarks to these
girls as would have delighted the Princesse des Laumes. To the one who was
in search of a friend he said, with a smile: "But how nice of you, you've
put on blue eyes, to go with your sash." "And you too, you've got blue
cuffs on." "What a charming conversation we are having, for a place of
this sort! I'm not boring you, am I; or keeping you?" "No, I've nothing to
do, thank you. If you bored me I should say so. But I love hearing you
talk." "I am highly flattered.... Aren't we behaving prettily?" he asked
the 'manageress,' who had just looked in. "Why, yes, that's just what I
was saying to myself, how sensibly they're behaving! But that's how it is!
People come to my house now, just to talk. The Prince was telling me, only
the other day, that he's far more comfortable here than with his wife. It
seems that, nowadays, all the society ladies are like that; a perfect
scandal, I call it. But I'll leave you in peace now, I know when I'm not
wanted," she ended discreetly, and left Swann with the girl who had the
blue eyes. But presently he rose and said good-bye to her. She had ceased
to interest him. She did not know Odette.

The painter having been ill, Dr. Cottard recommended a sea-voyage; several
of the 'faithful' spoke of accompanying him; the Verdurins could not face
the prospect of being left alone in Paris, so first of all hired, and
finally purchased a yacht; thus Odette was constantly going on a cruise.
Whenever she had been away for any length of time, Swann would feel that
he was beginning to detach himself from her, but, as though this moral
distance were proportionate to the physical distance between them,
whenever he heard that Odette had returned to Paris, he could not rest
without seeing her. Once, when they had gone away, as everyone thought,
for a month only, either they succumbed to a series of temptations, or
else M. Verdurin had cunningly arranged everything beforehand, to please
his wife, and disclosed his plans to the 'faithful' only as time went on;
anyhow, from Algiers they flitted to Tunis; then to Italy, Greece,
Constantinople, Asia Minor. They had been absent for nearly a year, and
Swann felt perfectly at ease and almost happy. Albeit M. Verdurin had
endeavoured to persuade the pianist and Dr. Cottard that their respective
aunt and patients had no need of them, and that, in any event, it was most
rash to allow Mme. Cottard to return to Paris, where, Mme. Verdurin
assured him, a revolution had just broken out, he was obliged to grant
them their liberty at Constantinople. And the painter came home with them.
One day, shortly after the return of these four travellers, Swann, seeing
an omnibus approach him, labelled 'Luxembourg,' and having some business
there, had jumped on to it and had found himself sitting opposite Mme.
Cottard, who was paying a round of visits to people whose 'day' it was, in
full review order, with a plume in her hat, a silk dress, a muff, an
umbrella (which do for a parasol if the rain kept off), a card-case, and a
pair of white gloves fresh from the cleaners. Wearing these badges of
rank, she would, in fine weather, go on foot from one house to another in
the same neighbourhood, but when she had to proceed to another district,
would make use of a transfer-ticket on the omnibus. For the first minute
or two, until the natural courtesy of the woman broke through the starched
surface of the doctor's-wife, not being certain, either, whether she ought
to mention the Verdurins before Swann, she produced, quite naturally, in
her slow and awkward, but not unattractive voice, which, every now and
then, was completely drowned by the rattling of the omnibus, topics
selected from those which she had picked up and would repeat in each of
the score of houses up the stairs of which she clambered in the course of
an afternoon.

"I needn't ask you, M. Swann, whether a man so much in the movement as
yourself has been to the Mirlitons, to see the portrait by Machard that
the whole of Paris is running after. Well, and what do you think of it?
Whose camp are you in, those who bless or those who curse? It's the same
in every house in Paris now, no one will speak of anything else but
Machard's portrait; you aren't smart, you aren't really cultured, you
aren't up-to-date unless you give an opinion on Machard's portrait."

Swann having replied that he had not seen this portrait, Mme. Cottard was
afraid that she might have hurt his feelings by obliging him to confess
the omission.

"Oh, that's quite all right! At least you have the courage to be quite
frank about it. You don't consider yourself disgraced because you haven't
seen Machard's portrait. I do think that so nice of you. Well now, I have
seen it; opinion is divided, you know, there are some people who find it
rather laboured, like whipped cream, they say; but I think it's just
ideal. Of course, she's not a bit like the blue and yellow ladies that
our friend Biche paints. That's quite clear. But I must tell you,
perfectly frankly (you'll think me dreadfully old-fashioned, but I always
say just what I think), that I don't understand his work. I can quite see
the good points there are in his portrait of my husband; oh, dear me, yes;
and it's certainly less odd than most of what he does, but even then he
had to give the poor man a blue moustache! But Machard! Just listen to
this now, the husband of my friend, I am on my way to see at this very
moment (which has given me the very great pleasure of your company), has
promised her that, if he is elected to the Academy (he is one of the
Doctor's colleagues), he will get Machard to paint her portrait. So she's
got something to look forward to! I have another friend who insists that
she'd rather have Leloir. I'm only a wretched Philistine, and I've no
doubt Leloir has perhaps more knowledge of painting even than Machard. But
I do think that the most important thing about a portrait, especially when
it's going to cost ten thousand francs, is that it should be like, and a
pleasant likeness, if you know what I mean."

Having exhausted this topic, to which she had been inspired by the
loftiness of her plume, the monogram on her card-case, the little number
inked inside each of her gloves by the cleaner, and the difficulty of
speaking to Swann about the Verdurins, Mme. Cottard, seeing that they had
still a long way to go before they would reach the corner of the Rue
Bonaparte, where the conductor was to set her down, listened to the
promptings of her heart, which counselled other words than these.

"Your ears must have been burning," she ventured, "while we were on the
yacht with Mme. Verdurin. We were talking about you all the time."

Swann was genuinely astonished, for he supposed that his name was never
uttered in the Verdurins' presence.

"You see," Mme. Cottard went on, "Mme. de Crécy was there; need I say
more? When Odette is anywhere it's never long before she begins talking
about you. And you know quite well, it isn't nasty things she says. What!
you don't believe me!" she went on, noticing that Svrann looked sceptical.
And, carried away by the sincerity of her conviction, without putting any
evil meaning into the word, which she used purely in the sense in which
one employs it to speak of the affection that unites a pair of friends:
"Why, she _adores_ you! No, indeed; I'm sure it would never do to say
anything against you when she was about; one would soon be taught one's
place! Whatever we might be doing, if we were looking at a picture, for
instance, she would say, 'If only we had him here, he's the man who could
tell us whether it's genuine or not. There's no one like him for that.'
And all day long she would be saying, 'What can he be doing just now? I
do hope, he's doing a little work! It's too dreadful that a fellow with
such gifts as he has should be so lazy.' (Forgive me, won't you.) 'I can
see him this very moment; he's thinking of us, he's wondering where we
are.' Indeed, she used an expression which I thought very pretty at the
time. M. Verdurin asked her, 'How in the world can you see what he's
doing, when he's a thousand miles away?' And Odette answered, 'Nothing is
impossible to the eye of a friend.'

"No, I assure you, I'm not saying it just to flatter you; you have a true
friend in her, such as one doesn't often find. I can tell you, besides, in
case you don't know it, that you're the only one. Mme. Verdurin told me as
much herself on our last day with them (one talks more freely, don't you
know, before a parting), 'I don't say that Odette isn't fond of us, but
anything that we may say to her counts for very little beside what Swann
might say.' Oh, mercy, there's the conductor stopping for me; here have I
been chatting away to you, and would have gone right past the Rue
Bonaparte, and never noticed... Will you be so very kind as to tell me
whether my plume is straight?"

And Mme. Cottard withdrew from her muff, to offer it to Swann, a
white-gloved hand from which there floated, with a transier-ticket, an
atmosphere of fashionable life that pervaded the omnibus, blended with the
harsher fragrance of newly cleaned kid. And Swann felt himself overflowing
with gratitude to her, as well as to Mme. Verdurin (and almost to Odette,
for the feeling that he now entertained for her was no longer tinged with
pain, was scarcely even to be described, now, as love), while from the
platform of the omnibus he followed her with loving eyes, as she gallantly
threaded her way along the Rue Bonaparte, her plume erect, her skirt held
up in one hand, while in the other she clasped her umbrella and her
card-case, so that its monogram could be seen, her muff dancing in the air
before her as she went.

To compete with and so to stimulate the moribund feelings that Swann had
for Odette, Mme. Cottard, a wiser physician, in this case, than ever her
husband would have been, had grafted among them others more normal,
feelings of gratitude, of friendship, which in Swann's mind were to make
Odette seem again more human (more like other women, since other women
could inspire the same feelings in him), were to hasten her final
transformation back into that Odette, loved with an undisturbed affection,
who had taken him home one evening after a revel at the painter's, to
drink orangeade with Forcheville, that Odette with whom Swann had
calculated that he might live in happiness.

In former times, having often thought with terror that a day must come
when he would cease to be in love with Odette, he had determined to keep a
sharp look-out, and as soon as he felt that love was beginning to escape
him, to cling tightly to it and to hold it back. But now, to the faintness
of his love there corresponded a simultaneous faintness in his desire to
remain her lover. For a man cannot change, that is to say become another
person, while he continues to obey the dictates of the self which he has
ceased to be. Occasionally the name, if it caught his eye in a newspaper,
of one of the men whom he supposed to have been Odette's lovers,
reawakened his jealousy. But it was very slight, and, inasmuch as it
proved to him that he had not completely emerged from that period in which
he had so keenly suffered--though in it he had also known a way of feeling
so intensely happy--and that the accidents of his course might still
enable him to catch an occasional glimpse, stealthily and at a distance,
of its beauties, this jealousy gave him, if anything, an agreeable thrill,
as to the sad Parisian, when he has left Venice behind him and must return
to France, a last mosquito proves that Italy and summer are still not too
remote. But, as a rule, with this particular period of his life from which
he was emerging, when he made an effort, if not to remain in it, at least
to obtain, while still he might, an uninterrupted view of it, he
discovered that already it was too late; he would have looked back to
distinguish, as it might be a landscape that was about to disappear, that
love from which he had departed, but it is so difficult to enter into a
state of complete duality and to present to oneself the lifelike spectacle
of a feeling which one has ceased to possess, that very soon, the clouds
gathering in his brain, he could see nothing, he would abandon the
attempt, would take the glasses from his nose and wipe them; and he told
himself that he would do better to rest for a little, that there would be
time enough later on, and settled back into his corner with as little
curiosity, with as much torpor as the drowsy traveller who pulls his cap
down over his eyes so as to get some sleep in the railway-carriage that is
drawing him, he feels, faster and faster, out of the country in which he
has lived for so long, and which he vowed that he would not allow to slip
away from him without looking out to bid it a last farewell. Indeed, like
the same traveller, if he does not awake until he has crossed the frontier
and is again in France, when Swann happened to alight, close at hand, upon
something which proved that Forcheville had been Odette's lover, he
discovered that it caused him no pain, that love was now utterly remote,
and he regretted that he had had no warning of the moment in which he had
emerged from it for ever. And just as, before kissing Odette for the first
time, he had sought to imprint upon his memory the face that for so long
had been familiar, before it was altered by the additional memory of their
kiss, so he could have wished--in thought at least--to have been in a
position to bid farewell, while she still existed, to that Odette who had
inspired love in him and jealousy, to that Odette who had caused him so to
suffer, and whom now he would never see again. He was mistaken. He was
destined to see her once again, a few weeks later. It was while he was
asleep, in the twilight of a dream. He was walking with Mme. Verdurin, Dr.
Cottard, a young man in a fez whom he failed to identify, the painter,
Odette, Napoleon III and my grandfather, along a path which followed the
line of the coast, and overhung the sea, now at a great height, now by a
few feet only, so that they were continually going up and down; those of
the party who had reached the downward slope were no longer visible to
those who were still climbing; what little daylight yet remained was
failing, and it seemed as though a black night was immediately to fall on
them. Now and then the waves dashed against the cliff, and Swann could
feel on his cheek a shower of freezing spray. Odette told him to wipe this
off, but he could not, and felt confused and helpless in her company, as
well as because he was in his nightshirt. He hoped that, in the darkness,
this might pass unnoticed; Mme. Verdurin, however, fixed her astonished
gaze upon him for an endless moment, in which he saw her face change its
shape, her nose grow longer, while beneath it there sprouted a heavy
moustache. He turned away to examine Odette; her cheeks were pale, with
little fiery spots, her features drawn and ringed with shadows; but she
looked back at him with eyes welling with affection, ready to detach
themselves like tears and to fall upon his face, and he felt that he loved
her so much that he would have liked to carry her off with him at once.
Suddenly Odette turned her wrist, glanced at a tiny watch, and said: "I
must go." She took leave of everyone, in the same formal manner, without
taking Swann aside, without telling him where they were to meet that
evening, or next day. He dared not ask, he would have liked to follow her,
he was obliged, without turning back in her direction, to answer with a
smile some question by Mme. Verdurin; but his heart was frantically
beating, he felt that he now hated Odette, he would gladly have crushed
those eyes which, a moment ago, he had loved so dearly, have torn the
blood into those lifeless cheeks. He continued to climb with Mme.
Verdurin, that is to say that each step took him farther from Odette, who
was going downhill, and in the other direction. A second passed and it was
many hours since she had left him. The painter remarked to Swann that
Napoleon III had eclipsed himself immediately after Odette. "They had
obviously arranged it between them," he added; "they must have agreed to
meet at the foot of the cliff, but they wouldn't say good-bye together; it
might have looked odd. She is his mistress." The strange young man burst
into tears. Swann endeavoured to console him. "After all, she is quite
right," he said to the young man, drying his eyes for him and taking off
the fez to make him feel more at ease. "I've advised her to do that,
myself, a dozen times. Why be so distressed? He was obviously the man to
understand her." So Swann reasoned with himself, for the young man whom he
had failed, at first, to identify, was himself also; like certain
novelists, he had distributed his own personality between two characters,
him who was the 'first person' in the dream, and another whom he saw
before him, capped with a fez.

As for Napoleon III, it was to Forcheville that some vague association of
ideas, then a certain modification of the Baron's usual physiognomy, and
lastly the broad ribbon of the Legion of Honour across his breast, had
made Swann give that name; but actually, and in everything that the person
who appeared in his dream represented and recalled to him, it was indeed
Forcheville. For, from an incomplete and changing set of images, Swann in
his sleep drew false deductions, enjoying, at the same time, such creative
power that he was able to reproduce himself by a simple act of division,
like certain lower organisms; with the warmth that he felt in his own palm
he modelled the hollow of a strange hand which he thought that he was
clasping, and out of feelings and impressions of which he was not yet
conscious, he brought about sudden vicissitudes which, by a chain of
logical sequences, would produce, at definite points in his dream, the
person required to receive his love or to startle him awake. In an instant
night grew black about him; an alarum rang, the inhabitants ran past him,
escaping from their blazing houses; he could hear the thunder of the
surging waves, and also of his own heart, which, with equal violence, was
anxiously beating in his breast. Suddenly the speed of these palpitations
redoubled, he felt a pain, a nausea that were inexplicable; a peasant,
dreadfully burned, flung at him as he passed: "Come and ask Charlus where
Odette spent the night with her friend. He used to go about with her, and
she tells him everything. It was they that started the fire." It was his
valet, come to awaken him, and saying:---

"Sir, it is eight o'clock, and the barber is here. I have told him to call
again in an hour."

But these words, as they dived down through the waves of sleep in which
Swann was submerged, did not reach his consciousness without undergoing
that refraction which turns a ray of light, at the bottom of a bowl of
water, into another sun; just as, a moment earlier, the sound of the
door-bell, swelling in the depths of his abyss of sleep into the clangour
of an alarum, had engendered the episode of the fire. Meanwhile the
scenery of his dream-stage scattered in dust, he opened his eyes, heard
for the last time the boom of a wave in the sea, grown very distant. He
touched his cheek. It was dry. And yet he could feel the sting of the cold
spray, and the taste of salt on his lips. He rose, and dressed himself. He
had made the barber come early because he had written, the day before, to
my grandfather, to say that he was going, that afternoon, to Combray,
having learned that Mme. de Cambremer--Mlle. Legrandin that had been--was
spending a few days there. The association in his memory of her young and
charming face with a place in the country which he had not visited for so
long, offered him a combined attraction which had made him decide at last
to leave Paris for a while. As the different changes and chances that
bring us into the company of certain other people in this life do not
coincide with the periods in which we are in love with those people, but,
overlapping them, may occur before love has begun, and may be repeated
after love is ended, the earliest appearances, in our life, of a creature
who is destined to afford us pleasure later on, assume retrospectively in
our eyes a certain value as an indication, a warning, a presage. It was in
this fashion that Swann had often carried back his mind to the image of
Odette, encountered in the theatre, on that first evening when he had no
thought of ever seeing her again--and that he now recalled the party at
Mme. de Saint-Euverte's, at which he had introduced General de
Frober-ville to Mme. de Cambremer. So manifold are our interests in life
that it is not uncommon that, on a single occasion, the foundations of a
happiness which does not yet exist are laid down simultaneously with
aggravations of a grief from which we are still suffering. And, no doubt,
that might have occurred to Swann elsewhere than at Mme. de
Saint-Euverte's. Who, indeed, can say whether, in the event of his having
gone, that evening, somewhere else, other happinesses, other griefs would
not have come to him, which, later, would have appeared to have been
inevitable? But what did seem to him to have been inevitable was what had
indeed taken place, and he was not far short of seeing something
providential in the fact that he had at last decided to go to Mme. de
Saint-Euverte's that evening, because his mind, anxious to admire the
richness of invention that life shews, and incapable of facing a difficult
problem for any length of time, such as to discover what, actually, had
been most to be wished for, came to the conclusion that the sufferings
through which he had passed that evening, and the pleasures, at that time
unsuspected, which were already being brought to birth,--the exact balance
between which was too difficult to establish--were linked by a sort of
concatenation of necessity.

But while, an hour after his awakening, he was giving instructions to the
barber, so that his stiffly brushed hair should not become disarranged on
the journey, he thought once again of his dream; he saw once again, as he
had felt them close beside him, Odette's pallid complexion, her too thin
cheeks, her drawn features, her tired eyes, all the things which--in the
course of those successive bursts of affection which had made of his
enduring love for Odette a long oblivion of the first impression that he
had formed of her--he had ceased to observe after the first few days of
their intimacy, days to which, doubtless, while he slept, his memory had
returned to seek the exact sensation of those things. And with that old,
intermittent fatuity, which reappeared in him now that he was no longer
unhappy, and lowered, at the same time, the average level of his morality,
he cried out in his heart: "To think that I have wasted years of my life,
that I have longed for death, that the greatest love that I have ever
known has been for a woman who did not please me, who was not in my


Among the rooms which used most commonly to take shape in my mind during
my long nights of sleeplessness, there was none that differed more utterly
from the rooms at Combray, thickly powdered with the motes of an
atmosphere granular, pollenous, edible and instinct with piety, than my
room in the Grand Hôtel de la Plage, at Balbec, the walls of which, washed
with ripolin, contained, like the polished sides of a basin in which the
water glows with a blue, lurking fire, a finer air, pure, azure-tinted,
saline. The Bavarian upholsterer who had been entrusted with the
furnishing of this hotel had varied his scheme of decoration in different
rooms, and in that which I found myself occupying had set against the
walls, on three sides of it, a series of low book-cases with glass fronts,
in which, according to where they stood, by a law of nature which he had,
perhaps, forgotten to take into account, was reflected this or that
section of the ever-changing view of the sea, so that the walls were lined
with a frieze of seascapes, interrupted only by the polished mahogany of
the actual shelves. And so effective was this that the whole room had the
appearance of one of those model bedrooms which you see nowadays in
Housing Exhibitions, decorated with works of art which are calculated by
their designer to refresh the eyes of whoever may ultimately have to sleep
in the rooms, the subjects being kept in some degree of harmony with the
locality and surroundings of the houses for which the rooms are planned.

And yet nothing could have differed more utterly, either, from the real
Balbec than that other Balbec of which I had often dreamed, on stormy
days, when the wind was so strong that Françoise, as she took me to the
Champs-Elysées, would warn me not to walk too near the side of the street,
or I might have my head knocked off by a falling slate, and would recount
to me, with many lamentations, the terrible disasters and shipwrecks that
were reported in the newspaper. I longed for nothing more than to behold a
storm at sea, less as a mighty spectacle than as a momentary revelation of
the true life of nature; or rather there were for me no mighty spectacles
save those which I knew to be not artificially composed for my
entertainment, but necessary and unalterable,--the beauty of landscapes or
of great works of art. I was not curious, I did not thirst to know
anything save what I believed to be more genuine than myself, what had for
me the supreme merit of shewing me a fragment of the mind of a great
genius, or of the force or the grace of nature as she appeared when left
entirely to herself, without human interference. Just as the lovely sound
of her voice, reproduced, all by itself, upon the phonograph, could never
console a man for the loss of his mother, so a mechanical imitation of a
storm would have left me as cold as did the illuminated fountains at the
Exhibition. I required also, if the storm was to be absolutely genuine,
that the shore from which I watched it should be a natural shore, not an
embankment recently constructed by a municipality. Besides, nature, by all
the feelings that she aroused in me, seemed to me the most opposite thing
in the world to the mechanical inventions of mankind The less she bore
their imprint, the more room she offered for the expansion of my heart.
And, as it happened, I had preserved the name of Balbec, which Legrandin
had cited to us, as that of a sea-side place in the very midst of "that
funereal coast, famed for the number of its wrecks, swathed, for six
months in the year, in a shroud of fog and flying foam from the waves.

"You feel, there, below your feet still," he had told me, "far more even
than at Finistère (and even though hotels are now being superimposed upon
it, without power, however, to modify that oldest bone in the earth's
skeleton) you feel there that you are actually at the land's end of
France, of Europe, of the Old World. And it is the ultimate encampment of
the fishermen, precisely like the fishermen who have lived since the
world's beginning, facing the everlasting kingdom of the sea-fogs and
shadows of the night." One day when, at Combray, I had spoken of this
coast, this Balbec, before M. Swann, hoping to learn from him whether it
was the best point to select for seeing the most violent storms, he had
replied: "I should think I did know Balbec! The church at Balbec, built in
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and still half romanesque, is
perhaps the most curious example to be found of our Norman gothic, and so
exceptional that one is tempted to describe it as Persian in its
inspiration." And that region, which, until then, had seemed to me to be
nothing else than a part of immemorial nature, that had remained
contemporaneous with the great phenomena of geology--and as remote from
human history as the Ocean itself, or the Great Bear, with its wild race
of fishermen for whom, no more than for their whales, had there been any
Middle Ages--it had been a great joy to me to see it suddenly take its
place in the order of the centuries, with a stored consciousness of the
romanesque epoch, and to know that the gothic trefoil had come to
diversify those wild rocks also, at the appointed hour, like those frail
but hardy plants which, in the Polar regions, when the spring returns,
scatter their stars about the eternal snows. And if gothic art brought to
those places and people a classification which, otherwise, they lacked,
they too conferred one upon it in return. I tried to form a picture in my
mind of how those fishermen had lived, the timid and unsuspected essay
towards social intercourse which they had attempted there, clustered upon
a promontory of the shores of Hell, at the foot of the cliffs of death;
and gothic art seemed to me a more living thing now that, detaching it
from the towns in which, until then, I had always imagined it, I could see
how, in a particular instance, upon a reef of savage rocks, it had taken
root and grown until it flowered in a tapering spire. I was taken to see
reproductions of the most famous of the statues at Balbec,--shaggy,
blunt-faced Apostles, the Virgin from the porch,--and I could scarcely
breathe for joy at the thought that I might myself, one day, see them take
a solid form against their eternal background of salt fog. Thereafter, on
dear, tempestuous February nights, the wind--- breathing into my heart,
which it shook no less violently than the chimney of my bedroom, the
project of a visit to Balbec--blended in me the desire for gothic
architecture with that for a storm upon the sea.

I should have liked to take, the very next day, the good, the generous
train at one twenty-two, of which never without a palpitating heart could
I read, in the railway company's bills or in advertisements of circular
tours, the hour of departure: it seemed to me to cut, at a precise point
in every afternoon, a most fascinating groove, a mysterious mark, from
which the diverted hours still led one on, of course, towards evening,
towards to-morrow morning, but to an evening and morning which one would
behold, not in Paris but in one of those towns through which the train
passed and among which it allowed one to choose; for it stopped at Bayeux,
at Coutances, at Vitré, at Questambert, at Pontorson, at Balbec, at
Lannion, at Lamballe, at Benodet, at Pont-Aven, at Quimperle, and
progressed magnificently surcharged with names which it offered me, so
that, among them all, I did not know which to choose, so impossible was it
to sacrifice any. But even without waiting for the train next day, I
could, by rising and dressing myself with all speed, leave Paris that very
evening, should my parents permit, and arrive at Balbec as dawn spread
westward over the raging sea, from whose driven foam I would seek shelter
in that church in the Persian manner. But at the approach of the Easter
holidays, when my parents bad promised to let me spend them, for once, in
the North of Italy, lo! in place of those dreams of tempests, by which I
had been entirely possessed, not wishing to see anything but waves dashing
in from all sides, mounting always higher, upon the wildest of coasts,
beside churches as rugged and precipitous as cliffs, in whose towers the
sea-birds would be wailing; suddenly, effacing them, taking away all their
charm, excluding them because they were its opposite and could only have
weakened its effect, was substituted in me the converse dream of the most
variegated of springs, not the spring of Combray, still pricking with all
the needle-points of the winter's frost, but that which already covered
with lilies and anemones the meadows of Fiesole, and gave Florence a
dazzling golden background, like those in Fra Angelico's pictures. From
that moment, only sunlight, perfumes, colours, seemed to me to have any
value; for this alternation of images had effected a change of front in my
desire, and--as abrupt as those that occur sometimes in music,--a complete
change of tone in my sensibility. Thus it came about that a mere
atmospheric variation would be sufficient to provoke in me that
modulation, without there being any need for me to await the return of a
season. For often we find a day, in one, that has strayed from another
season, and makes us live in that other, summons at once into our presence
and makes us long for its peculiar pleasures, and interrupts the dreams
that we were in process of weaving, by inserting, out of its turn, too
early or too late, this leaf, torn from another chapter, in the
interpolated calendar of Happiness. But soon it happened that, like those
natural phenomena from which our comfort or our health can derive but an
accidental and all too modest benefit, until the day when science takes
control of them, and, producing them at will, places in our hands the
power to order their appearance, withdrawn from the tutelage and
independent of the consent of chance; similarly the production of these
dreams of the Atlantic and of Italy ceased to depend entirely upon the
changes of the seasons and of the weather. I need only, to make them
reappear, pronounce the names: Balbec, Venice, Florence, within whose
syllables had gradually accumulated all the longing inspired in me by the
places for which they stood. Even in spring, to come in a book upon the
name of Balbec sufficed to awaken in me the desire for storms at sea and
for the Norman gothic; even on a stormy day the name of Florence or of
Venice would awaken the desire for sunshine, for lilies, for the Palace of
the Doges and for Santa Maria del Fiore.

But if their names thus permanently absorbed the image that I had formed
of these towns, it was only by transforming that image, by subordinating
its reappearance in me to their own special laws; and in consequence of
this they made it more beautiful, but at the same time more different from
anything that the towns of Normandy or Tuscany could in reality be, and,
by increasing the arbitrary delights of my imagination, aggravated the
disenchantment that was in store for me when I set out upon my travels.
They magnified the idea that I formed of certain points on the earth's
surface, making them more special, and in consequence more real. I did not
then represent to myself towns, landscapes, historic buildings, as
pictures more or less attractive, cut out here and there of a substance
that was common to them all, but looked on each of them as on an unknown
thing, different from all the rest, a thing for which my soul was athirst,
by the knowledge of which it would benefit. How much more individual still
was the character that they assumed from being designated by names, names
that were only for themselves, proper names such as people have. Words
present to us little pictures of things, lucid and normal, like the
pictures that are hung on the walls of schoolrooms to give children an
illustration of what is meant by a carpenter's bench, a bird, an ant-hill;
things chosen as typical of everything else of the same sort. But names
present to us--of persons and of towns which they accustom us to regard as
individual, as unique, like persons--a confused picture, which draws from
the names, from the brightness or darkness of their sound, the colour in
which it is uniformly painted, like one of those posters, entirely blue or
entirely red, in which, on account of the limitations imposed by the
process used in their reproduction, or by a whim on the designer's part,
are blue or red not only the sky and the sea, but the ships and the church
and the people in the streets. The name of Parma, one of the towns that I
most longed to visit, after reading the _Chartreuse_, seeming to me
compact and glossy, violet-tinted, soft, if anyone were to speak of such
or such a house in Parma, in which I should be lodged, he would give me
the pleasure of thinking that I was to inhabit a dwelling that was compact
and glossy, violet-tinted, soft, and that bore no relation to the houses
in any other town in Italy, since I could imagine it only by the aid of
that heavy syllable of the name of Parma, in which no breath of air
stirred, and of all that I had made it assume of Stendhalian sweetness and
the reflected hue of violets. And when I thought of Florence, it was of a
town miraculously embalmed, and flower-like, since it was called the City
of the Lilies, and its Cathedral, Our Lady of the Flower. As for Balbec,
it was one of those names in which, as on an old piece of Norman pottery
that still keeps the colour of the earth from which it was fashioned, one
sees depicted still the representation of some long-abolished custom, of
some feudal right, of the former condition of some place, of an obsolete
way of pronouncing the language, which had shaped and wedded its
incongruous syllables and which I never doubted that I should find spoken
there at once, even by the inn-keeper who would pour me out coffee and
milk on my arrival, taking me down to watch the turbulent sea, unchained,
before the church; to whom I lent the aspect, disputatious, solemn and
mediaeval, of some character in one of the old romances.

Had my health definitely improved, had my parents allowed me, if not
actually to go down to stay at Balbec, at least to take, just once, so as
to become acquainted with the architecture and landscapes of Normandy or
of Brittany, that one twenty-two train into which I had so often clambered
in imagination, I should have preferred to stop, and to alight from it, at
the most beautiful of its towns; but in vain might I compare and contrast
them; how was one to choose, any more than between individual people, who
are not interchangeable, between Bayeux, so lofty in its noble coronet of
rusty lace, whose highest point caught the light of the old gold of its
second syllable; Vitré, whose acute accent barred its ancient glass with
wooden lozenges; gentle Lamballe, whose whiteness ranged from egg-shell
yellow to a pearly grey; Coutances, a Norman Cathedral, which its final
consonants, rich and yellowing, crowned with a tower of butter; Lannion
with the rumble and buzz, in the silence of its village street, of the fly
on the wheel of the coach; Questambert, Pontorson, ridiculously silly and
simple, white feathers and yellow beaks strewn along the road to those
well-watered and poetic spots; Benodet, a name scarcely moored that seemed
to be striving to draw the river down into the tangle of its seaweeds;
Pont-Aven, the snowy, rosy flight of the wing of a lightly poised coif,
tremulously reflected in the greenish waters of a canal; Quimperlé, more
firmly attached, this, and since the Middle Ages, among the rivulets with
which it babbled, threading their pearls upon a grey background, like the
pattern made, through the cobwebs upon a window, by rays of sunlight
changed into blunt points of tarnished silver?

These images were false for another reason also; namely, that they were
necessarily much simplified; doubtless the object to which my imagination
aspired, which my senses took in but incompletely and without any
immediate pleasure, I had committed to the safe custody of names;
doubtless because I had accumulated there a store of dreams, those names
now magnetised my desires; but names themselves are not very
comprehensive; the most that I could do was to include in each of them two
or three of the principal curiosities of the town, which would lie there
side by side, without interval or partition; in the name of Balbec, as in
the magnifying glasses set in those penholders which one buys at sea-side
places, I could distinguish waves surging round a church built in the
Persian manner. Perhaps, indeed, the enforced simplicity of these images
was one of the reasons for the hold that they had over me. When my father
had decided, one year, that we should go for the Easter holidays to
Florence and Venice, not finding room to introduce into the name of
Florence the elements that ordinarily constitute a town, I was obliged to
let a supernatural city emerge from the impregnation by certain vernal
scenes of what I supposed to be, in its essentials, the genius of Giotto.
All the more--and because one cannot make a name extend much further in
time than in space--like some of Giotto's paintings themselves which shew
us at two separate moments the same person engaged in different actions,
here lying on his bed, there just about to mount his horse, the name of
Florence was divided into two compartments. In one, beneath an
architectural dais, I gazed upon a fresco over which was partly drawn a
curtain of morning sunlight, dusty, aslant, and gradually spreading; in
the other (for, since I thought of names not as an inaccessible ideal but
as a real and enveloping substance into which I was about to plunge, the
life not yet lived, the life intact and pure which I enclosed in them,
gave to the most material pleasures, to the simplest scenes, the same
attraction that they have in the works of the Primitives), I moved
swiftly--so as to arrive, as soon as might be, at the table that was
spread for me, with fruit and a flask of Chianti--across a Ponte Vecchio
heaped with jonquils, narcissi and anemones. That (for all that I was
still in Paris) was what I saw, and not what was actually round about me.
Even from the simplest, the most realistic point of view, the countries
for which we long occupy, at any given moment, a far larger place in our
true life than the country in which we may happen to be. Doubtless, if, at
that time, I had paid more attention to what was in my mind when I
pronounced the words "going to Florence, to Parma, to Pisa, to Venice," I
should have realised that what I saw was in no sense a town, but something
as different from anything that I knew, something as delicious as might be
for a human race whose whole existence had passed in a series of late
winter afternoons, that inconceivable marvel, a morning in spring. These
images, unreal, fixed, always alike, filling all my nights and days,
differentiated this period in my life from those which had gone before it
(and might easily have been confused with it by an observer who saw things
only from without, that is to say, who saw nothing), as in an opera a
fresh melody introduces a novel atmosphere which one could never have
suspected if one had done no more than read the libretto, still less if
one had remained outside the theatre, counting only the minutes as they
passed. And besides, even from the point of view of mere quantity, in our
life the days are not all equal. To reach the end of a day, natures that
are slightly nervous, as mine was, make use, like motor-cars, of different
'speeds.' There are mountainous, uncomfortable days, up which one takes an
infinite time to pass, and days downward sloping, through which one can go
at full tilt, singing as one goes. During this month--in which I went
laboriously over, as over a tune, though never to my satisfaction, these
visions of Florence, Venice, Pisa, from which the desire that they excited
in me drew and kept something as profoundly personal as if it had been
love, love for another person--I never ceased to believe that they
corresponded to a reality independent of myself, and they made me
conscious of as glorious a hope as could have been cherished by a
Christian in the primitive age of faith, on the eve of his entry into
Paradise. Moreover, without my paying any heed to the contradiction that
there was in my wishing to look at and to touch with my organs of sense
what had been elaborated by the spell of my dreams and not perceived by my
senses at all--though all the more tempting to them, in consequence, more
different from anything that they knew--it was that which recalled to me
the reality of these visions, which inflamed my desire all the more by
seeming to hint a promise that my desire should be satisfied. And for all
that the motive force of my exaltation was a longing for aesthetic
enjoyments, the guide-books ministered even more to it than books on
aesthetics, and, more again than the guide-books, the railway time-tables.
What moved me was the thought that this Florence which I could see, so
near and yet inaccessible, in my imagination, if the tract which separated
it from me, in myself, was not one that I might cross, could yet be
reached by a circuit, by a digression, were I to take the plain,
terrestrial path. When I repeated to myself, giving thus a special value
to what I was going to see, that Venice was the "School of Giorgione, the
home of Titian, the most complete museum of the domestic architecture of
the Middle Ages," I felt happy indeed. As I was even more when, on one of
my walks, as I stepped out briskly on account of the weather, which, after
several days of a precocious spring, had relapsed into winter (like the
weather that we had invariably found awaiting us at Combray, in Holy
Week),--seeing upon the boulevards that the chestnut-trees, though plunged
in a glacial atmosphere that soaked through them like a stream of water,
were none the less beginning, punctual guests, arrayed already for the
party, and admitting no discouragement, to shape and chisel and curve in
its frozen lumps the irrepressible verdure whose steady growth the
abortive power of the cold might hinder but could not succeed in
restraining--I reflected that already the Ponte Vecchio was heaped high
with an abundance of hyacinths and anemones, and that the spring sunshine
was already tinging the waves of the Grand Canal with so dusky an azure,
with emeralds so splendid that when they washed and were broken against
the foot of one of Titian's paintings they could vie with it in the
richness of their colouring. I could no longer contain my joy when my
father, in the intervals of tapping the barometer and complaining of the
cold, began to look out which were the best trains, and when I understood
that by making one's way, after luncheon, into the coal-grimed laboratory,
the wizard's cell that undertook to contrive a complete transmutation of
its surroundings, one could awaken, next morning, in the city of marble
and gold, in which "the building of the wall was of jasper and the
foundation of the wall an emerald." So that it and the City of the Lilies
were not just artificial scenes which I could set up at my pleasure in
front of my imagination, but did actually exist at a certain distance from
Paris which must inevitably be traversed if I wished to see them, at their
appointed place on the earth's surface, and at no other; in a word they
were entirely real. They became even more real to me when my father, by
saying: "Well, you can stay in Venice from the 20th to the 29th, and reach
Florence on Easter morning," made them both emerge, no longer only from
the abstraction of Space, but from that imaginary Time in which we place
not one, merely, but several of our travels at once, which do not greatly
tax us since they are but possibilities,--that Time which reconstructs
itself so effectively that one can spend it again in one town after one
has already spent it in another--and consecrated to them some of those
actual, calendar days which are certificates of the genuineness of what
one does on them, for those unique days are consumed by being used, they
do not return, one cannot live them again here when one has lived them
elsewhere; I felt that it was towards the week that would begin with the
Monday on which the laundress was to bring back the white waistcoat that I
had stained with ink, that they were hastening to busy themselves with the
duty of emerging from that ideal Time in which they did not, as yet,
exist, those two Queen Cities of which I was soon to be able, by the most
absorbing kind of geometry, to inscribe the domes and towers on a page of
my own life. But I was still on the way, only, to the supreme pinnacle of
happiness; I reached it finally (for not until then did the revelation
burst upon me that on the clattering streets, reddened by the light
reflected from Giorgione's frescoes, it was not, as I had, despite so many
promptings, continued to imagine, the men "majestic and terrible as the
sea, bearing armour that gleamed with bronze beneath the folds of their
blood-red cloaks," who would be walking in Venice next week, on the Easter
vigil; but that I myself might be the minute personage whom, in an
enlarged photograph of St. Mark's that had been lent to me, the operator
had portrayed, in a bowler hat, in front of the portico), when I heard my
father say: "It must be pretty cold, still, on the Grand Canal; whatever
you do, don't forget to pack your winter greatcoat and your thick suit."
At these words I was raised to a sort of ecstasy; a thing that I had until
then deemed impossible, I felt myself to be penetrating indeed between
those "rocks of amethyst, like a reef in the Indian Ocean"; by a supreme
muscular effort, a long way in excess of my real strength, stripping
myself, as of a shell that served no purpose, of the air in my own room
which surrounded me, I replaced it by an equal quantity of Venetian air,
that marine atmosphere, indescribable and peculiar as the atmosphere of
the dreams which my imagination had secreted in the name of Venice; I
could feel at work within me a miraculous disincarnation; it was at once
accompanied by that vague desire to vomit which one feels when one has a
very sore throat; and they had to put me to bed with a fever so persistent
that the doctor not only assured my parents that a visit, that spring, to
Florence and Venice was absolutely out of the question, but warned their
that, even when I should have completely recovered, I must, for at least a
year, give up all idea of travelling, and be kept from anything that wa;
liable to excite me.

And, alas, he forbade also, most categorically, my being allowed to go to
the theatre, to hear Berma; the sublime artist, whose genius Bergotte had
proclaimed, might, by introducing me to something else that was, perhaps,
as important and as beautiful, have consoled me for not having been to
Florence and Venice, for not going to Balbec. My parents had to be content
with sending me, every day, to the Champs-Elysées, in the custody of a
person who would see that I did not tire myself; this person was none
other than Françoise, who had entered our service after the death of my
aunt Léonie. Going to the Champs-Elysées I found unendurable. If only
Bergotte had described the place in one of his books, I should, no doubt,
have longed to see and to know it, like so many things else of which a
simulacrum had first found its way into my imagination. That kept things
warm, made them live, gave them personality, and I sought then to find
their counterpart in reality, but in this public garden there was nothing
that attached itself to my dreams.

* * *

One day, as I was weary of our usual place, beside the wooden horses,
Françoise had taken me for an excursion--across the frontier guarded at
regular intervals by the little bastions of the barley-sugar women--into
those neighbouring but foreign regions, where the faces of the passers-by
were strange, where the goat-carriage went past; then she had gone away to
lay down her things on a chair that stood with its back to a shrubbery of
laurels; while I waited for her I was pacing the broad lawn, of meagre
close-cropped grass already faded by the sun, dominated, at its far end,
by a statue rising from a fountain, in front of which a little girl with
reddish hair was playing with a shuttlecock; when, from the path, another
little girl, who was putting on her cloak and covering up her battledore,
called out sharply: "Good-bye, Gilberte, I'm going home now; don't forget,
we're coming to you this evening, after dinner." The name Gilberte passed
close by me, evoking all the more forcibly her whom it labelled in that it
did not merely refer to her, as one speaks of a man in his absence, but
was directly addressed to her; it passed thus close by me, in action, so
to speak, with a force that increased with the curve of its trajectory and
as it drew near to its target;--carrying in its wake, I could feel, the
knowledge, the impression of her to whom it was addressed that belonged
not to me but to the friend who called to her, everything that, while she
uttered the words, she more or less vividly reviewed, possessed in her
memory, of their daily intimacy, of the visits that they paid to each
other, of that unknown existence which was all the more inaccessible, all
the more painful to me from being, conversely, so familiar, so tractable
to this happy girl who let her message brush past me without my being able
to penetrate its surface, who flung it on the air with a light-hearted
cry: letting float in the atmosphere the delicious attar which that
message had distilled, by touching them with precision, from certain
invisible points in Mlle. Swann's life, from the evening to come, as it
would be, after dinner, at her home,--forming, on its celestial passage
through the midst of the children and their nursemaids, a little cloud,
exquisitely coloured, like the cloud that, curling over one of Poussin's
gardens, reflects minutely, like a cloud in the opera, teeming with
chariots and horses, some apparition of the life of the gods; casting,
finally, on that ragged grass, at the spot on which she stood (at once a
scrap of withered lawn and a moment in the afternoon of the fair player,
who continued to beat up and catch her shuttlecock until a governess, with
a blue feather in her hat, had called her away) a marvellous little band
of light, of the colour of heliotrope, spread over the lawn like a carpet
on which I could not tire of treading to and fro with lingering feet,
nostalgic and profane, while Françoise shouted: "Come on, button up your
coat, look, and let's get away!" and I remarked for the first time how
common her speech was, and that she had, alas, no blue feather in her hat.

Only, would _she_ come again to the Champs-Elysées? Next day she was not
there; but I saw her on the following days; I spent all my time revolving
round the spot where she was at play with her friends, to such effect that
once, when, they found, they were not enough to make up a prisoner's base,
she sent one of them to ask me if I cared to complete their side, and from
that day I played with her whenever she came. But this did not happen
every day; there were days when she had been prevented from coming by her
lessons, by her catechism, by a luncheon-party, by the whole of that life,
separated from my own, which twice only, condensed into the name of
Gilberte, I had felt pass so painfully close to me, in the hawthorn lane
near Combray and on the grass of the Champs-Elysées. On such days she
would have told us beforehand that we should not see her; if it were
because of her lessons, she would say: "It is too tiresome, I sha'n't be
able to come to-morrow; you will all be enjoying yourselves here without
me," with an air of regret which to some extent consoled me; if, on the
other hand, she had been invited to a party, and I, not knowing this,
asked her whether she was coming to play with us, she would reply: "Indeed
I hope not! Indeed I hope Mamma will let me go to my friend's." But on
these days I did at least know that I should not see her, whereas on
others, without any warning, her mother would take her for a drive, or
some such thing, and next day she would say: "Oh, yes! I went out with
Mamma," as though it had been the most natural thing in the world, and not
the greatest possible misfortune for some one else. There were also the
days of bad weather on which her governess, afraid, on her own account, of
the rain, would not bring Gilberte to the Champs-Elysées.

And so, if the heavens were doubtful, from early morning I would not cease
to interrogate them, observing all the omens. If I saw the lady opposite,
just inside her window, putting on her hat, I would say to myself: "That
lady is going out; it must, therefore, be weather in which one can go out.
Why should not Gilberte do the same as that lady?" But the day grew dark.
My mother said that it might clear again, that one burst of sunshine would
be enough, but that more probably it would rain; and if it rained, of what
use would it be to go to the Champs-Elysées? And so, from breakfast-time,
my anxious eyes never left the uncertain, clouded sky. It remained dark:
Outside the window, the balcony was grey. Suddenly, on its sullen stone, I
did not indeed see a less negative colour, but I felt as it were an effort
towards a less negative colour, the pulsation of a hesitating ray that
struggled to discharge its light. A moment later the balcony was as pale
and luminous as a standing water at dawn, and a thousand shadows from the
iron-work of its balustrade had come to rest on it. A breath of wind
dispersed them; the stone grew dark again, but, like tamed creatures, they
returned; they began, imperceptibly, to grow lighter, and by one of those
continuous crescendos, such as, in music, at the end of an overture, carry
a single note to the extreme fortissimo, making it pass rapidly through
all the intermediate stages, I saw it attain to that fixed, unalterable
gold of fine days, on which the sharply cut shadows of the wrought iron of
the balustrade were outlined in black like a capricious vegetation, with a
fineness in the delineation of their smallest details which seemed to
indicate a deliberate application, an artist's satisfaction, and with so
much relief, so velvety a bloom in the restfulness of their sombre and
happy mass that in truth those large and leafy shadows which lay reflected
on that lake of sunshine seemed aware that they were pledges of happiness
and peace of mind.

Brief, fading ivy, climbing, fugitive flora, the most colourless, the most
depressing, to many minds, of all that creep on walls or decorate windows;
to me the dearest of them all, from the day when it appeared upon our
balcony, like the very shadow of the presence of Gilberte, who was perhaps
already in the Champs-Elysées, and as soon as I arrived there would greet
me with: "Let's begin at once. You are on my side." Frail, swept away by a
breath, but at the same time in harmony, not with the season, with the
hour; a promise of that immediate pleasure which the day will deny or
fulfil, and thereby of the one paramount immediate pleasure, the pleasure
of loving and of being loved; more soft, more warm upon tie stone than
even moss is; alive, a ray of sunshine sufficing for its birth, and for
the birth of joy, even in the heart of winter.

And on those days when all other vegetation had disappeared, when the fine
jerkins of green leather which covered the trunks of the old trees were
hidden beneath the snow; after the snow had ceased to fall, but when the
sky was still too much overcast for me to hope that Gilberte would venture
out, then suddenly--inspiring my mother to say: "Look, it's quite fine
now; I think you might perhaps try going to the Champs-Elysées after
all."--On the mantle of snow that swathed the balcony, the sun had
appeared and was stitching seams of gold, with embroidered patches of dark
shadow. That day we found no one there, or else a solitary girl, on the
point of departure, who assured me that Gilberte was not coming. The
chairs, deserted by the imposing but uninspiring company of governesses,
stood empty. Only, near the grass, was sitting a lady of uncertain age who
came in all weathers, dressed always in an identical style, splendid and
sombre, to make whose acquaintance I would have, at that period,
sacrificed, had it lain in my power, all the greatest opportunities in my
life to come. For Gilberte went up every day to speak to her; she used to
ask Gilberte for news of her "dearest mother" and it struck me that, if I
had known her, I should have been for Gilberte some one wholly different,
some one who knew people in her parents' world. While her grandchildren
played together at a little distance, she would sit and read the Débats,
which she called "My old _Débats_!" as, with an aristocratic familiarity,
she would say, speaking of the police-sergeant or the woman who let the
chairs, "My old friend the police-sergeant," or "The chair-keeper and I,
who are old friends."

Françoise found it too cold to stand about, so we walked to the Pont de la
Concorde to see the Seine frozen over, on to which everyone, even
children, walked fearlessly, as though upon an enormous whale, stranded,
defenceless, and about to be cut up. We returned to the Champs-Elysées; I
was growing sick with misery between the motionless wooden horses and the
white lawn, caught in a net of black paths from which the snow had been
cleared, while the statue that surmounted it held in its hand a long
pendent icicle which seemed to explain its gesture. The old lady herself,
having folded up her _Débats_, asked a passing nursemaid the time,
thanking her with "How very good of you!" then begged the road-sweeper to
tell her grandchildren to come, as she felt cold, adding "A thousand
thanks. I am sorry to give you so much trouble!" Suddenly the sky was rent
in two: between the punch-and-judy and the horses, against the opening
horizon, I had just seen, like a miraculous sign, Mademoiselle's blue
feather. And now Gilberte was running at full speed towards me, sparkling
and rosy beneath a cap trimmed with fur, enlivened by the cold, by being
late, by her anxiety for a game; shortly before she reached me, she
slipped on a piece of ice and, either to regain her balance, or because it
appeared to her graceful, or else pretending that she was on skates, it
was with outstretched arms that she smilingly advanced, as though to
embrace me. "Bravo! bravo! that's splendid; 'topping,' I should say, like
you--'sporting,' I suppose I ought to say, only I'm a hundred-and-one, a
woman of the old school," exclaimed the lady, uttering, on behalf of the
voiceless Champs-Elysées, their thanks to Gilberte for having come,
without letting herself be frightened away by the weather. "You are like
me, faithful at all costs to our old Champs-Elysées; we are two brave
souls! You wouldn't believe me, I dare say, if I told you that I love
them, even like this. This snow (I know, you'll laugh at me), it makes me
think of ermine!" And the old lady began to laugh herself.

The first of these days--to which the snow, a symbol of the powers that
were able to deprive me of the sight of Gilberte, imparted the sadness of
a day of separation, almost the aspect of a day of departure, because it
changed the outward form and almost forbade the use of the customary scene
of our only encounters, now altered, covered, as it were, in
dust-sheets--that day, none the less, marked a stage in the progress of my
love, for it was, in a sense, the first sorrow that she was to share with
me. There were only our two selves of our little company, and to be thus
alone with her was not merely like a beginning of intimacy, but also on
her part--as though she had come there solely to please me, and in such
weather--it seemed to me as touching as if, on one of those days on which
she had been invited to a party, she had given it up in order to come to
me in the Champs-Elysées; I acquired more confidence in the vitality, in
the future of a friendship which could remain so much alive amid the
torpor, the solitude, the decay of our surroundings; and while she dropped
pellets of snow down my neck, I smiled lovingly at what seemed to me at
once a predilection that she shewed for me in thus tolerating me as her
travelling companion in this new, this wintry land, and a sort of loyalty
to me which she preserved through evil times. Presently, one after
another, like shyly bopping sparrows, her friends arrived, black against
the snow. We got ready to play and, since this day which had begun so
sadly was destined to end in joy, as I went up, before the game started,
to the friend with the sharp voice whom I had heard, that first day,
calling Gilberte by name, she said to me: "No, no, I'm sure you'd much
rather be in Gilberte's camp; besides, look, she's signalling to you." She
was in fact summoning me to cross the snowy lawn to her camp, to 'take the
field,' which the sun, by casting over it a rosy gleam, the metallic
lustre of old and worn brocades, had turned into a Field of the Cloth of

This day, which I had begun with so many misgivings, was, as it happened,
one of the few on which I was not unduly wretched.

For, although I no longer thought, now, of anything save not to let a
single day pass without seeing Gilberte (so much so that once, when my
grandmother had not come home by dinner-time, I could not resist the
instinctive reflection that, if she had been run over in the street and
killed, I should not for some time be allowed to play in the
Champs-Elysées; when one is in love one has no love left for anyone), yet
those moments which I spent in her company, for which I had waited with so
much impatience all night and morning, for which I had quivered with
excitement, to which I would have sacrificed everything else in the world,
were by no means happy moments; well did I know it, for they were the only
moments in my life on which I concentrated a scrupulous, undistracted
attention, and yet I could not discover in them one atom of pleasure. All
the time that I was away from Gilberte, I wanted to see her, because,
having incessantly sought to form a mental picture of her, I was unable,
in the end, to do so, and did not know exactly to what my love
corresponded. Besides, she had never yet told me that she loved me. Far
from it, she had often boasted that she knew other little boys whom she
preferred to myself, that I was a good companion, with whom she was always
willing to play, although I was too absent-minded, not attentive enough to
the game. Moreover, she had often shewn signs of apparent coldness towards
me, which might have shaken my faith that I was for her a creature
different from the rest, had that faith been founded upon a love that
Gilberte had felt for me, and not, as was the case, upon the love that I
felt for her, which strengthened its resistance to the assaults of doubt
by making it depend entirely upon the manner in which I was obliged, by an
internal compulsion, to think of Gilberte. But my feelings with regard to
her I had never yet ventured to express to her in words. Of course, on
every page of my exercise-books, I wrote out, in endless repetition, her
name and address, but at the sight of those vague lines which I might
trace, without her having to think, on that account, of me, I felt
discouraged, because they spoke to me, not of Gilberte, who would never so
much as see them, but of my own desire, which they seemed to shew me in
its true colours, as something purely personal, unreal, tedious and
ineffective. The most important thing was that we should see each other,
Gilberte and I, and should have an opportunity of making a mutual
confession of our love which, until then, would not officially (so to
speak) have begun. Doubtless the various reasons which made me so
impatient to see her would have appeared less urgent to a grown man. As
life goes on, we acquire such adroitness in the culture of our pleasures,
that we content ourselves with that which we derive from thinking of a
woman, as I was thinking of Gilberte, without troubling ourselves to
ascertain whether the image corresponds to the reality,--and with the
pleasure of loving her, without needing to be sure, also, that she loves
us; or again that we renounce the pleasure of confessing our passion for
her, so as to preserve and enhance the passion that she has for us, like
those Japanese gardeners who, to obtain one perfect blossom, will
sacrifice the rest. But at the period when I was in love with Gilberte, I
still believed that Love did really exist, apart from ourselves; that,
allowing us, at the most, to surmount the obstacles in our way, it offered
us its blessings in an order in which we were not free to make the least
alteration; it seemed to me that if I had, on my own initiative,
substituted for the sweetness of a confession a pretence of indifference,
I should not only have been depriving myself of one of the joys of which I
had most often dreamed, I should have been fabricating, of my own free
will, a love that was artificial and without value, that bore no relation
to the truth, whose mysterious and foreordained ways I should thus have
been declining to follow.

But when I arrived at the Champs-Elysées,--and, as at first sight it
appeared, was in a position to confront my love, so as to make it undergo
the necessary modifications, with its living and independent cause--as
soon as I was in the presence of that Gilberte Swann on the sight of whom
I had counted to revive the images that my tired memory had lost and could
not find again, of that Gilberte Swann with whom I had been playing the
day before, and whom I had just been prompted to greet, and then to
recognise, by a blind instinct like that which, when we are walking, sets
one foot before the other, without giving us time to think what we are
doing, then at once it became as though she and the little girl who had
inspired my dreams had been two different people. If, for instance, I had
retained in my memory overnight two fiery eyes above plump and rosy
cheeks, Gilberte's face would now offer me (and with emphasis) something
that I distinctly had not remembered, a certain sharpening and
prolongation of the nose which, instantaneously associating itself with
certain others of her features, assumed the importance of those
characteristics which, in natural history, are used to define a species,
and transformed her into a little girl of the kind that have sharpened
profiles. While I was making myself ready to take advantage of this long
expected moment, and to surrender myself to the impression of Gilberte
which I had prepared beforehand but could no longer find in my head, to an
extent which would enable me, during the long hours which I must spend
alone, to be certain that it was indeed herself whom I had in mind, that
it was indeed my love for her that I was gradually making grow, as a book
grows when one is writing it, she threw me a ball; and, like the idealist
philosopher whose body takes account of the external world in the reality
of which his intellect declines to believe, the same self which had made
me salute her before I had identified her now urged me to catch the ball
that she tossed to me (as though she had been a companion, with whom I had
come to play, and not a sister-soul with whom my soul had come to be
limited), made me, out of politeness, until the time came when she had to
I go, address a thousand polite and trivial remarks to her, and so
prevented me both from keeping a silence in which I might at last have
laid my hand upon the indispensable, escaped idea, and from uttering the
words which might have made that definite progress in the course of our
love on which I was always obliged to count only for the following
afternoon. There was, however, an occasional development. One day, we had
gone with Gilberte to the stall of our own special vendor, who was always
particularly nice to us, since it was to her that M. Swann used to send
for his gingerbread, of which, for reasons of health (he suffered from a
racial eczema, and from the constipation of the prophets), he consumed a
great quantity,--Gilberte pointed out to me with a laugh two little boys
who were like the little artist and the little naturalist in the
children's storybooks. For one of them would not have a red stick of rock
because he preferred the purple, while the other, with tears in his eyes,
refused a plum which his nurse was buying for him, because, as he finally
explained in passionate tones: "I want the other plum; it's got a worm in
it!" I purchased two ha'penny marbles. With admiring eyes I saw, luminous
and imprisoned in a bowl by themselves, the agate marbles which seemed
precious to me because they were as fair and smiling as little girls, and
because they cost five-pence each. Gilberte, who was given a great deal
more pocket money than I ever had, asked me which I thought the prettiest.
They were as transparent, as liquid-seeming as life itself. I would not
have had her sacrifice a single one of them. I should have liked her to be
able to buy them, to liberate them all. Still, I pointed out one that had
the same colour as her eyes. Gilberte took it, turned it about until it
shone with a ray of gold, fondled it, paid its ransom, but at once handed
me her captive, saying: "Take it; it is for you, I give it to you, keep it
to remind yourself of me."

Another time, being still obsessed by the desire to hear Berma in classic
drama, I had asked her whether she had not a copy of a pamphlet in which
Bergotte spoke of Racine, and which was now out of print. She had told me
to let her know the exact title of it, and that evening I had sent her a
little telegram, writing on its envelope the name, Gilberte Swann, which I
had so often, traced in my exercise-books. Next day she brought me in a
parcel tied with pink bows and sealed with white wax, the pamphlet, a copy
of which she had managed to find. "You see, it is what you asked me for,"
she said, taking from her muff the telegram that I had sent her. But in
the address on the pneumatic message--which, only yesterday, was nothing,
was merely a 'little blue' that I had written, and, after a messenger had
delivered it to Gilberte's porter and a servant had taken it to her in her
room, had become a thing without value or distinction, one of the 'little
blues' that she had received in the course of the day--I had difficulty in
recognising the futile, straggling lines of my own handwriting beneath the
circles stamped on it at the post-office, the inscriptions added in pencil
by a postman, signs of effectual realisation, seals of the external world,
violet bands symbolical of life itself, which for the first time came to
espouse, to maintain, to raise, to rejoice my dream.

And there was another day on which she said to me: "You know, you may call
me 'Gilberte'; in any case, I'm going to call you by your first name. It's
too silly not to." Yet she continued for a while to address me by the more
formal '_vous_,' and, when I drew her attention to this, smiled, and
composing, constructing a phrase like those that are put into the
grammar-books of foreign languages with no other object than to teach us
to make use of a new word, ended it with my Christian name. And when I
recalled, later, what I had felt at the time, I could distinguish the
impression of having been held, for a moment, in her mouth, myself, naked,
without, any longer, any of the social qualifications which belonged
equally to her other companions and, when she used my surname, to my
parents, accessories of which her lips--by the effort that she made, a
little after her father's manner, to articulate the words to which she
wished to give a special value--had the air of stripping, of divesting me,
as one peels the skin from a fruit of which one is going to put only the
pulp into one's mouth, while her glance, adapting itself to the same new
degree of intimacy as her speech, fell on me also more directly, not
without testifying to the consciousness, the pleasure, even the gratitude
that it felt, accompanying itself with a smile.

But at that actual moment, I was not able to appreciate the worth of these
new pleasures. They were given, not by the little girl whom I loved, to me
who loved her, but by the other, her with whom I used to play, to my other
self, who possessed neither the memory of the true Gilberte, nor the fixed
heart which alone could have known the value of a happiness for which it
alone had longed. Even after I had returned home I did not taste them,
since, every day, the necessity which made me hope that on the morrow I
should arrive at the clear, calm, happy contemplation of Gilberte, that
she would at last confess her love for me, explaining to me the reasons by
which she had been obliged, hitherto, to conceal it, that same necessity
forced me to regard the past as of no account, to look ahead of me only,
to consider the little advantages that she had given me not in themselves
and as if they were self-sufficient, but like fresh rungs of the ladder on
which I might set my feet, which were going to allow me to advance a step
further and finally to attain the happiness which I had not yet

If, at times, she shewed me these marks of her affection, she troubled me
also by seeming not to be pleased to see me, and this happened often on
the very days on which I had most counted for the realisation of my hopes.
I was sure that Gilberte was coming to the Champs-Elysées, and I felt an
elation which seemed merely the anticipation of a great happiness
when--going into the drawing-room in the morning to kiss Mamma, who was
already dressed to go out, the coils of her black hair elaborately built
up, and her beautiful hands, plump and white, fragrant still with soap--I
had been apprised, by seeing a column of dust standing by itself in the
air above the piano, and by hearing a barrel-organ playing, beneath the
window, _En revenant de la revue_, that the winter had received, until
nightfall, an unexpected, radiant visit from a day of spring. While we sat
at luncheon, by opening her window, the lady opposite had sent packing, in
the twinkling of an eye, from beside my chair--to sweep in a single stride
over the whole width of our dining-room--a sunbeam which had lain down
there for its midday rest and returned to continue it there a moment
later. At school, during the one o'clock lesson, the sun made me sick
with impatience and boredom as it let fall a golden stream that crept to
the edge of my desk, like an invitation to the feast at which I could not
myself arrive before three o'clock, until the moment when Françoise came
to fetch me at the school-gate, and we made our way towards the
Champs-Elysées through streets decorated with sunlight, dense with people,
over which the balconies, detached by the sun and made vaporous, seemed to
float in front of the houses like clouds of gold. Alas! in the
Champs-Elysées I found no Gilberte; she had not yet arrived. Motionless,
on the lawn nurtured by the invisible sun which, here and there, kindled
to a flame the point of a blade of grass, while the pigeons that had
alighted upon it had the appearance of ancient sculptures which the
gardener's pick had heaved to the surface of a hallowed soil, I stood with
my eyes fixed on the horizon, expecting at every moment to see appear the
form of Gilberte following that of her governess, behind the statue that
seemed to be holding out the child, which it had in its arms, and which
glistened in the stream of light, to receive benediction from the sun. The
old lady who read the Débats was sitting on her chair, in her invariable
place, and had just accosted a park-keeper, with a friendly wave of her
hands towards him as she exclaimed "What a lovely day!" And when the
chair-woman came up to collect her penny, with an infinity of smirks and
affectations she folded the ticket away inside her glove, as though it had
been a posy of flowers, for which she had sought, in gratitude to the
donor, the most becoming place upon her person. When she had found it, she
performed a circular movement with her neck, straightened her boa, and
fastened upon the collector, as she shewed her the end of yellow paper
that stuck out over her bare wrist, the bewitching smile with which a
woman says to a young man, pointing to her bosom: "You see, I'm wearing
your roses!"

I dragged Françoise, on the way towards Gilberte, as far as the Arc de
Triomphe; we did not meet her, and I was returning towards the lawn
convinced, now, that she was not coming, when, in front of the wooden
horses, the little girl with the sharp voice flung herself upon me:
"Quick, quick, Gilberte's been here a quarter of an hour. She's just
going. We've been waiting for you, to make up a prisoner's base."

While I had been going up the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Gilberte had
arrived by the Rue Boissy-d'Anglas, Mademoiselle having taken advantage of
the fine weather to go on some errand of her own; and M. Swann was coming
to fetch his daughter. And so it was my fault; I ought not to have strayed
from the lawn; for one never knew for certain from what direction Gilberte
would appear, whether she would be early or late, and this perpetual
tension succeeded in making more impressive not only the Champs-Elysées in
their entirety, and the whole span of the afternoon, like a vast expanse
of space and time, on every point and at every moment of which it was
possible that the form of Gilberte might appear, but also that form
itself, since behind its appearance I felt that there lay concealed the
reason for which it had shot its arrow into my heart at four o'clock
instead of at half-past two; crowned with a smart hat, for paying calls,
instead of the plain cap, for games; in front of the Ambassadeurs and not
between the two puppet-shows; I divined one of those occupations in which
I might not follow Gilberte, occupations that forced her to go out or to
stay at home, I was in contact with the mystery of her unknown life. It
was this mystery, too, which troubled me when, running at the sharp-voiced
girl's bidding, so as to begin our game without more delay, I saw
Gilberte, so quick and informal with us, make a ceremonious bow to the old
lady with the _Débats_ (who acknowledged it with "What a lovely sun!
You'd think there was a fire burning.") speaking to her with a shy smile,
with an air of constraint which called to my mind the other little girl
that Gilberte must be when at home with her parents, or with friends of
her parents, paying visits, in all the rest, that escaped me, of her
existence. But of that existence no one gave me so strong an impression as
did M. Swann, who came a little later to fetch his daughter. That was
because he and Mme. Swann--inasmuch as their daughter lived with them, as
her lessons, her games, her friendships depended upon them--contained for
me, like Gilberte, perhaps even more than Gilberte, as befitted subjects
that had an all-powerful control over her in whom it must have had its
source, an undefined, an inaccessible quality of melancholy charm.
Everything that concerned them was on my part the object of so constant a
preoccupation that the days on which, as on this day, M. Swann (whom I had
seen so often, long ago, without his having aroused my curiosity, when he
was still on good terms with my parents) came for Gilberte to the
Champs-Elysées, once the pulsations to which my heart had been excited by
the appearance of his grey hat and hooded cape had subsided, the sight of
him still impressed me as might that of an historic personage, upon whom
one had just been studying a series of books, and the smallest details of
whose life one learned with enthusiasm. His relations with the Comte de
Paris, which, when I heard them discussed at Combray, seemed to me
unimportant, became now in my eyes something marvellous, as if no one else
had ever known the House of Orleans; they set him in vivid detachment
against the vulgar background of pedestrians of different classes, who
encumbered that particular path in the Champs-Elysées, in the midst of
whom I admired his condescending to figure without claiming any special
deference, which as it happened none of them dreamed of paying him, so
profound was the incognito in which he was wrapped.

He responded politely to the salutations of Gilberte's companions, even to
mine, for all that he was no longer on good terms with my family, but
without appearing to know who I was. (This reminded me that he had
constantly seen me in the country; a memory which I had retained, but kept
out of sight, because, since I had seen Gilberte again, Swann had become
to me pre-eminently her father, and no longer the Combray Swann; as the
ideas which, nowadays, I made his name connote were different from the
ideas in the system of which it was formerly comprised, which I utilised
not at all now when I had occasion to think of him, he had become a new,
another person; still I attached him by an artificial thread, secondary
and transversal, to our former guest; and as nothing had any longer any
value for me save in the extent to which my love might profit by it, it
was with a spasm of shame and of regret at not being able to erase them
from my memory that I recaptured the years in which, in the eyes of this
same Swann who was at this moment before me in the Champs-Elysées, and to
whom, fortunately, Gilberte had perhaps not mentioned my name, I had so
often, in the evenings, made myself ridiculous by sending to ask Mamma to
come upstairs to my room to say good-night to me, while she was drinking
coffee with him and my father and my grandparents at the table in the
garden.) He told Gilberte that she might play one game; he could wait for
a quarter of an hour; and, sitting down, just like anyone else, on an iron
chair, paid for his ticket with that hand which Philippe VII had so often
held in his own, while we began our game upon the lawn, scattering the
pigeons, whose beautiful, iridescent bodies (shaped like hearts and,
surely, the lilacs of the feathered kingdom) took refuge as in so many
sanctuaries, one on the great basin of stone, on which its beak, as it
disappeared below the rim, conferred the part, assigned the purpose of
offering to the bird in abundance the fruit or grain at which it appeared
to be pecking, another on the head of the statue, which it seemed to crown
with one of those enamelled objects whose polychrome varies in certain
classical works the monotony of the stone, and with an attribute which,
when the goddess bears it, entitles her to a particular epithet and makes
of her, as a different Christian name makes of a mortal, a fresh divinity.

On one of these sunny days which had not realised my hopes, I had not the
courage to conceal my disappointment from Gilberte.

"I had ever so many things to ask you," I said to her; "I thought that
to-day was going to mean so much in our friendship. And no sooner have you
come than you go away! Try to come early to-morrow, so that I can talk to

Her face lighted up and she jumped for joy as she answered: "Tomorrow, you
may make up your mind, my dear friend, I sha'n't come!

"First of all I've a big luncheon-party; then in the afternoon I am going
to a friend's house to see King Theodosius arrive from her windows; won't
that be splendid?--and then, next day, I'm going to _Michel Strogoff_, and
after that it will soon be Christmas, and the New Year holidays! Perhaps
they'll take me south, to the Riviera; won't that be nice? Though I should
miss the Christmas-tree here; anyhow, if I do stay in Paris, I sha'n't be
coming here, because I shall be out paying calls with Mamma.
Good-bye--there's Papa calling me."

I returned home with Françoise through streets that were still gay with
sunshine, as on the evening of a holiday when the merriment is over. I
could scarcely drag my legs along.

"I'm not surprised;" said Françoise, "it's not the right weather for the
time of year; it's much too warm. Oh dear, oh dear, to think of all the
poor sick people there must be everywhere; you would think that up there,
too, everything's got out of order."

I repeated to myself, stifling my sobs, the words in which Gilberte had
given utterance to her joy at the prospect of not coming back, for a long
time, to the Champs-Elysées. But already the charm with which, by the mere
act of thinking, my mind was filled as soon as it thought of her, the
privileged position, unique even if it were painful, in which I was
inevitably placed in relation to Gilberte by the contraction of a scar in
my mind, had begun to add to that very mark of her indifference something
romantic, and in the midst of my tears my lips would shape themselves in a
smile which was indeed the timid outline of a kiss. And when the time came
for the postman I said to myself, that evening as on every other: "I am
going to have a letter from Gilberte, she is going to tell me, at last,
that she has never ceased to love me, and to explain to me the mysterious
reason by which she has been forced to conceal her love from me until now,
to put on the appearance of being able to be happy without seeing me; the
reason for which she has assumed the form of the other Gilberte, who is
simply a companion."

Every evening I would beguile myself into imagining this letter, believing
that I was actually reading it, reciting each of its sentences in turn.
Suddenly I would stop, in alarm. I had realised that, if I was to receive
a letter from Gilberte, it could not, in any case, be this letter, since
it was I myself who had just composed it. And from that moment I would
strive to keep my thoughts clear of the words which I should have liked
her to write to me, from fear lest, by first selecting them myself, I
should be excluding just those identical words,--the dearest, the most
desired--from the field of possible events. Even if, by an almost
impossible coincidence, it had been precisely the letter of my invention
that Gilberte had addressed to me of her own accord, recognising my own
work in it I should not have had the impression that I was receiving
something that had not originated in myself, something real, something
new, a happiness external to my mind, independent of my will, a gift
indeed from love.

While I waited I read over again a page which, although it had not been
written to me by Gilberte, came to me, none the less, from her, that page
by Bergotte upon the beauty of the old myths from which Racine drew his
inspiration, which (with the agate marble) I always kept within reach. I
was touched by my friend's kindness in having procured the book for me;
and as everyone is obliged to find some reason for his passion, so much so
that he is glad to find in the creature whom he loves qualities which (he
has learned by reading or in conversation) are worthy to excite a man's
love, that he assimilates them by imitation and makes out of them fresh
reasons for his love, even although these qualities be diametrically
opposed to those for which his love would have sought, so long as it was
spontaneous--as Swann, before my day, had sought to establish the

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