Sodom and Gomorrah : In Search of Lost Time, Volume 4 [1 ed.] 9780300185423, 9780300189612

Brought to You by / Email:[email protected] if you want more japanese books, just contact us. Ple

127 90 3MB

English Pages 603 Year 2021

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Sodom and Gomorrah : In Search of Lost Time, Volume 4 [1 ed.]
 9780300185423, 9780300189612

Table of contents :
Part One. Madame Swann at Home
Part Two. Place-Names: The Place

Citation preview

In Search of Lost Time, Volume 2





T I M E ,



In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower M A R C E L


Edited and Annotated by William C. Carter

 New Haven and London

Published with assistance from the foundation established in memory of Henry Weldon Barnes of the Class of 1882, Yale College. Frontispiece: Corrected proofs for À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs. N.R.F., 1917–1918. Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) © BnF, Dist. RMN-­Grand Palais / image BnF © BnF, Dist. RMN-­Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. Contents page illustration: Proust, 1900. Adoc-­photos / Art Resource, NY. Page ix illustration: Proust, ca. 1896. Adoc-­photos / Art Resource, NY. Copyright © 2015 by Yale University. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, ­including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publishers. Yale University Press books may be purchased in quantity for educational, business, or promotional use. For information, please e-­mail [email protected] (U.S. office) or [email protected] (U.K. office). Set in Adobe Garamond with Scala Sans and Didot types by Tseng Information Systems, Inc. Printed in the United States of America. Library of Congress Control Number: 2014959886 ISBN 978-­0 -­300-­18542-­3 (paper: alk. paper) A catalogue record for this book is available from the Brit­ ish Library. This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48­1992 (Permanence of Paper). 10  9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

Contents Acknowledgmentsvii Introductionix

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Part One. Madame Swann at Home Part Two. Place-­Names: The Place

3 239


This page intentionally left blank

Acknowledgments I am deeply grateful to an exceptionally talented and knowledgeable group of scholars, writers, and readers of Proust, all good friends, whose expertise and skills proved invaluable in helping me to revise and annotate Scott Moncrieff ’s translation. They are Elyane Dezon-­ Jones, Evelyne Bloch-­Dano, Robert Bowden, Marie-­Colette Lefort-­ Posty, James Connelly, Hollie Harder, and Fred Renneker. I owe a special debt of gratitude to my wife, Lynn, for her tireless aid and constant support. My sincere thanks go out to everyone at Yale University Press who is involved in the monumental project of creating a new edition of Proust’s novel, especially Sarah Miller and Dan Heaton. I also wish to express my gratitude to my research assistant Nicolas Drogoul for his contributions to this volume.


This page intentionally left blank

Introduction With the publication of Swann’s Way on November 14, 1913, Proust found immediate fame. In the weeks that followed publication, a number of laudatory reviews appeared. Lucien Daudet, in a long front-­page article in Le Figaro, praised Proust’s novel in terms that still hold true. Among his many astute remarks, this one singles out a major aspect of Proust’s achievement: “Never, I believe, has the analysis of everything that constitutes our existence been carried so far.” Daudet called his friend a genius and his book a masterpiece. Robert Dreyfus, in another article in Le Figaro, characterized Swann’s Way as a “strong and beautiful work.” Jean Cocteau, in Excelsior, also called the book a masterpiece, saying that it “resembles nothing I know and reminds me of everything I admire.” With such acclaim and all the tremendous amount of work that remained to complete and publish what Proust assumed would be the two remaining volumes, The Guermantes Way and Time Regained, he had no inkling that a catastrophic, global event was about to alter the world as he knew it and also cause him to greatly enlarge the scope of his novel, already a work of nearly unprecedented length. When World War I began in August 1914, one of its immediate consequences for Proust was that publishing houses closed because all able-­bodied men and all the lead used for setting type were needed in the war effort. Proust found himself without a publisher, a press, or a deadline. No one knew, of course, how long the war would last. Many, as seems always to be the case, naïvely believed that this war would be a short one. The Great War lasted until November 11, 1918. Proust spent the war years anguishing over the fate of his country and the safety of his friends who were at the front, a number of whom perished in battle. And he followed the events by reading seven newspapers a day, as well as letters from acquaintances in the army, by interviewing friends and soldiers on leave, and by listening to high-­ranking officials in the government and military. And he kept on writing. Much


of the novel had had its origin in the draft of a long essay attacking the critic Charles-­Augustin Sainte-­Beuve, an argument that Proust dramatizes in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. In writing the essay “Against Sainte-­Beuve,” Proust had, without knowing it at first, conceived many of the themes and events that he would adapt for the novel. These included the madeleine scene and other episodes that describe the phenomenon that Proust called involuntary memory, and the first and last parts of the novel—that is, the overture to Swann’s Way and, for Time Regained, the concluding section in which the Narrator discovers his vocation as a writer and explains his philosophy and his esthetics. Since Proust had thus fashioned a circular structure for his story—the Narrator at the conclusion is ready to write the book that we have just read—it was relatively easy for him to include the war years in his story, thus giving his book an unanticipated and vital extra dimension. He would show how the Great War and its immediate aftermath changed French society, and he would expand the section known as the Albertine cycle. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower introduces us to Albertine, the most important young woman in that bouquet of seaside beauties who captivate the Narrator at Balbec, where he also becomes acquainted with two of the novel’s principal male characters, both members of the Guermantes family, Robert de Saint-­L oup and Charlus, who is considered by many to be one of the most fascinating characters in all of literature. Before publication, Proust worried, of course, that the restless postwar public would have long since forgotten or ceased to care about the characters in the long, meditative story he had begun five years earlier in Swann’s Way. He needn’t have: on December 10, 1919, À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs won the Goncourt Prize, France’s most distinguished award for a work of fiction. Proust was also delighted to learn that, as a sign of his growing international reputation, readers in various countries, such as Holland, Belgium, and England, had founded Marcel Proust Societies. Proust informed a correspondent that his novel “was commented upon in nearly every country (even in China).” And, unbeknownst to him, in England, Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff, a

x Introduction

Francophile and seasoned translator of some of the masterpieces of French literature, beginning with the oldest, The Song of Roland, and including the two great nineteenth-­century novels by Stendhal, The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma, was so enthralled by Swann’s Way that he had already begun to translate it before securing Proust’s or his publisher’s permission. For all the acclaim Scott Moncrieff ’s translation has deservedly received, it has never been adequately revised and annotated. Since the year 2013 marked the centennial of Swann’s Way, the publication of a revised, annotated edition seemed an appropriate way to celebrate that milestone and to pay tribute to Scott Moncrieff ’s accomplishment. We will continue this enterprise until we have completed this new edition of In Search of Lost Time. For more about Scott Moncrieff as Proust’s translator and my own method of editing and annotating his accomplished work, see my introduction to Swann’s Way (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), ix–­xviii. As stated there, my sole purpose in all the revisions that I have made is to bring Scott Moncrieff ’s excellent translation closer than ever to the spirit and style of Proust’s original text. Although a highly accomplished translator, Scott Moncrieff, like all of us, occasionally errs. Some of these errors escaped the attention of the editors of subsequent revisions of his translation. For example, Scott Moncrieff translates literally the idiom “de cheval,” when it is applied to the rather draconian treatment that Dr. Cottard prescribes for the ill Narrator. The translation “drench him like a horse” for “purge de cheval” should simply be “drastic purging.” In another instance, when the Narrator is traveling by train to the seaside resort of Balbec, he sees from the window a “lavoir,” which Scott Moncrieff translated simply as “pond,” instead of the specific public “washhouse.” In the same scene, the Narrator also notices in the distance a woman who calls her “lévrier,” which Scott Moncrief translates simply as “dog,” whereas Proust wants us to picture the precise outline of an elegant “greyhound.” And later, “pinces-­monseigneurs,” which are crowbars, are rendered as “torture chambers.” In other instances, I have simply restored Proust’s sentences or phrases to their original simplicity. For example, where

Introduction xi

Proust wrote “Il ne me répondit pas,” Scott Moncrieff translated “He vouchsafed no answer,” rather than using the clear and direct “He did not answer me.” I often maintain Scott Moncrieff ’s brief additions that intensify an observation or balance the English sentence’s cadence. He excelled at this. Sometimes a single word accomplishes the task. For example, when Proust creates the lovely phrase “le sourire d’art,” which, if left as such, would give us “the smile of art” or “art’s smile,” Scott Moncrieff added a word: “the revealing smile of art.” His skill and sensitivity as a translator of Proust remain unparalleled. Regarding the time frame of the story, occasional internal references to historical events such as the Dreyfus Affair indicate that the events take place roughly in the years 1897–98. However, from time to time anachronisms occur. I have not annotated these. Although Proust was a stickler for detail when it came to describing objects— and of course his observations about passions and emotions are timeless—he was much less diligent regarding the actual time setting for his narrative. Here is one example, regarding the tango, for which dance contests are held at the Grand Hôtel in “Place-Names: The Place.” The tango first appeared in Paris in the 1909–12 period but did not become popular in France until around 1912, more than a decade after the time period of the narrative as indicated by references to precise historical events. While such chronological misplacements make it difficult to determine the precise time of narration, they do not diminish our pleasure in reading this extraordinary work of fiction. A remark the Narrator makes at the beginning of “Place-Names: The Place” might apply to the author’s attitude regarding real time in a novel: “Often (our life being so careless of chronology, interpolating so many anachronisms in the sequence of our days), I lived still among those days older than yesterday or last week, when I had been in love with Gilberte.” For those interested in the question of the chronology of the entire novel, I highly recommend Gareth H. Steel’s Chronology and Time in À la recherche du temps perdu (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1979).

xii Introduction

Scott Moncrieff chose to render the title of this volume, À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, as Within a Budding Grove, which only hints at the presence of that essential bouquet of young beauties from which will emerge one of the novel’s main characters and its principal flower girl, Albertine. Recent English editions have adopted, as I do, a title that closely matches Proust’s own: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. The first part of the volume, “Madame Swann at Home,” was originally intended as the conclusion to Swann’s Way. Proust and his publisher both realized that including it in the first volume would have made that book too long. It was then that Proust rewrote the concluding pages of Swann’s Way and decided to use “Madame Swann at Home” as the first part of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. Proust had asked permission of the Princesse de Polignac to dedicate the volume to her late husband, but she declined and the book appeared without a dedication. In addition to consulting a number of standard reference works, I have read and am greatly indebted to the annotated French editions of Proust, especially À la recherche du temps perdu, general editor Jean-­Yves Tadié (Paris: Gallimard, 4 vols., 1987–89); À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, general editor Jean Milly, edited and annotated by Danièle Gasiglia-­L aster (Paris: GF Flammarion, 2 vols., 1987); and À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, edited and annotated by Eugène Nicole (Paris: Livre de Poche, 1992). I also made frequent use of specialized dictionaries or works on Proust, such as Citations, références et allusions de Marcel Proust, by Jacques Nathan (Paris: Nizzet, 1969); A Proust Dictionary, by Maxine Arnold Vogely (Troy, N.Y.: Whitson, 1981); Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time, by Eric Karpeles (London: Thames and Hudson, 2008); Le Dictionnaire Marcel Proust (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2004); the Correspondance de Marcel Proust, edited and annotated by Philip Kolb (Paris: Plon, 21 vols., 1970–93); Selected Letters in English, vol. 1, 1880– 1903, edited by Philip Kolb, translated by Ralph Manheim, introduction by J. M. Cocking (New York: Doubleday, 1983); Selected Letters, vol. 2, 1904–1909, edited by Philip Kolb, translated with an introduc-

Introduction xiii

tion by Terence Kilmartin (London: Collins, 1989); Selected Letters, vol. 3, 1910–1917, edited by Philip Kolb, translated with an introduction by Terence Kilmartin (London: Harper-­Collins, 1992); Selected Letters, vol. 4, 1918–1922, edited by Philip Kolb, translated with an in­ troduction by Joanna Kilmartin, foreword by Alain de Botton (Lon­ don: HarperCollins, 2000). If not otherwise specified, all persons referred to in the notes are of French nationality. Occasional idiosyncratic capitalizations of com­ mon nouns, italic emphases, and quotation marks are Proust’s own. All biblical references are to the King James Version. All page references in the notes to Swann’s Way are to the Yale University Press edition cited above. In addition to providing factual information in the notes, I try, when appropriate, to provide pertinent biographical information as well as indicators of key scenes and thematic words that even the most attentive reader may fail to appreciate fully on the first encounter. Because of the rich complexity of this work, we are able to celebrate a fact that Proust constantly reminds us to bear in mind: the chief product of great art is always joy.

xiv Introduction

À la recherche du temps perdu In search of lost time

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

This page intentionally left blank

Part One Madame Swann at Home

My mother, when it was a question of our having M. de Norpois to dinner for the first time, having expressed her regret that Professor Cottard was traveling and that she herself had entirely ceased to see Swann, since the former ambassador would no doubt have found either of these men interesting to meet, my father replied that so eminent a guest, so illustrious a man of science as Cottard, could never be out of place at a dinner table, but that Swann, with his ostentation, his habit of crying aloud from the rooftops the name of everyone that he knew, however slightly, was a vulgar show-­off whom the Marquis de Norpois would no doubt find—to use his own expression—“insufferably conceited.”1 Now my father’s reply requires a few words of explanation, inasmuch as some of us, no doubt, remember a distinctly mediocre Cottard and a Swann by whom modesty and discretion, in all his social relations, were carried to the utmost refinement. But in his case what had happened was that, to the “young Swann” and also to the Swann of the Jockey Club,2 the old friend of my parents had added a new personality (and which was not to be the last), that of Odette’s husband. Adapting to the humble ambitions of that woman the instinct, the desire, the industry that he had always had, Swann had laboriously constructed for himself, a long way beneath the old, a new position more appropriate to the companion who was to occupy it with him. In this he revealed himself a different man. Since (while continuing to go, by himself, to the houses of his own friends, on whom he did not care to impose Odette unless they had offhandedly asked that she be introduced to them) it was a second life that he had begun to lead, in common with his wife, among a new set of people, it would have been quite

1. Proust uses a coarser word, puant, which means putrid and is slang for objectionably conceited. 2. Founded on November 11, 1833, to encourage the improvement of horse breeding, the Jockey Club was one of Paris’s most elegant and exclusive clubs and hence normally closed to Jews like Swann. In Proust’s day, it was located at 1 bis, rue Scribe. Here the model for Swann is Charles Haas (1832–1902), son of a wealthy stockbroker and, apart from the Rothschilds, the only Jewish member of this exclusive aristocratic circle. Proust met Haas in Mme Geneviève Straus’s salon.


In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 3. Twickenham, located about twelve miles southwest of London on the Thames River, was the residence of the Orléans family during its exile in England. Louis-­Philippe-­Albert d’Orléans (1838–94), Comte de Paris and claimant to the French throne under the name of Philippe VII, lived there at York House until 1871. In 1896, Louis-­Philippe-­Robert, Duc d’Orléans (1869–1926), repurchased York House. Buckingham Palace, located in London in Saint James Park, is the residence of the British royal family. 4. Proust often uses atavism to describe how his characters evolve over time and exhibit reversions to ancestral type.

4 Madame Swann at Home

understandable that, in order to estimate the importance of these new friends and consequently the pleasure of the self-­esteem that he could experience by inviting them, he had used, as a standard of comparison, not the brilliant society in which he himself had moved before his marriage, but Odette’s former acquaintances. And yet, even when one knew that it was with unfashionable officials and their tainted wives, the ornaments of ministerial ballrooms, that he now wished to associate, it was astonishing to hear him, who in the old days and even still today would so gracefully refrain from mentioning an invitation to Twickenham or to Buckingham Palace,3 proclaim loudly that the wife of the undersecretary of some minister had returned Mme Swann’s visit. It will perhaps be objected here that this indicated that the simplicity of the fashionable Swann had been only a more refined form of vanity, and that, like certain other Jews, my parents’ former friend had presented in turn the successive stages through which his race had passed,4 from the most naïve snobbery and the crudest boorishness to the most refined politeness. But the main reason, and one applicable to humanity in general, is that our virtues themselves are not something free and floating that we always have at our disposal; they come to be so closely linked in our minds with the actions in conjunction with which we make it our duty to exercise them that if we are suddenly called on to perform an action of a different order, it takes us by surprise and without our supposing for a moment that it might involve bringing into play those very same virtues. Swann, fawning over his new social relations and referring to them proudly, was like those great artists, modest or generous by nature, who, if in their later years they take to cooking or to gardening, display a naïve gratification at the compliments that are paid to their dishes or their flowerbeds, and will not allow any of the criticism that they readily accept when it is applied to their masterpieces; or who, after giving away one of their canvases for nothing, cannot conceal their annoyance if they lose forty sous at dominoes. As for Professor Cottard, we will meet him again, at length,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower much later, with the Mistress at the château de La Raspelière.5 For the present, the following observations must suffice: in the case of Swann the alteration may indeed be surprising, since it had been accomplished and yet was not suspected by me when I used to see Gilberte’s father in the Champs-­Élysées, where, moreover, since he never spoke to me, he could not have flaunted his political relations. (It is true that, if he had done so, I might not at once have discerned his vanity, for the idea that one has long held of a person stops one’s eyes and ears; my mother, for three whole years, had no more noticed the rouge that one of her nieces was putting on her lips than if it had been entirely and invisibly dissolved in some liquid; until one day a supplementary particle, or possibly something else, brought about the phenomenon known as supersaturation; all the rouge hitherto unnoticed crystallized and my mother, in the face of this sudden riot of color, declared, in the best Combray manner, that it was a perfect scandal, and almost severed relations with her niece.) But with Cottard, on the contrary, the epoch in which we saw him present at Swann’s first evenings with the Verdurins was now long past; whereas honors, official titles, come with the passage of years. Second, one may be uncultured, make stupid puns, and yet possess a special gift, which no amount of general culture can replace, such as the gift of a great strategist or physician. And so it was not merely as an obscure practitioner, who had become in the course of time a European celebrity, that his colleagues regarded Cottard. The most intelligent of the younger doctors used to assert—at least for a few years, for fashions change, being themselves born of the desire for change— that if they themselves ever fell ill, Cottard was the only one of the leading physicians to whom they would entrust their lives.6 No doubt they preferred the company of certain chief physicians who were better read, more artistic, with whom they could discuss Nietzsche and Wagner.7 When there was a musical soirée at Mme Cottard’s, on the evenings when she entertained the colleagues and pupils of her husband, in the hope that it might one day make him dean of the faculty, he, instead of listening, pre-

5. Mistress, “Patronne,” in the original, meaning the mistress or the boss, is the nickname used for Mme Verdurin by the “faithful,” the ones who regularly attend her salon. The mention of La Raspelière refers to the Verdurins’ future sojourn in the seaside villa in ­Sodom and Gomorrah. 6. Proust wrote “confier leur peau,” which means to entrust their skin or hide. 7. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher and writer, who became a friend of Richard Wagner’s (1813–83), whose operas he considered the true successors to Greek tragedy. Later, from about 1878, Nietzsche became a strong opponent of Wagner’s views on art and philosophy.

Madame Swann at Home 5

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 8. The Franco-­Prussian War (1870–71), in which France suffered a humiliating defeat. The Second Empire ended on September 1, 1870, when Emperor Napoléon III surrendered unconditionally. 9. This is a reference to the political crisis of May 16, 1877, that posed a threat to the Third Republic. It was provoked by the differences between President Patrice de MacMahon and the Chambre des Députés regarding the powers granted by the Constitution of 1875. The crisis eventually resulted in MacMahon’s resignation in 1879, a date mentioned in connection with Odette de Crécy’s career as a cocotte at the close of Swann’s Way, 477. 10. The debt in question was that owed by Egypt to France and England for the construction of the Suez Canal.

6 Madame Swann at Home

ferred to play cards in an adjoining room. But everybody praised the quickness, the penetration, the confidence with which, at a glance, he could diagnose disease. Third, in considering the general impression that Professor Cottard must have made on a man like my father, we must bear in mind that the character that we exhibit in the latter half of our life is not always, even if it often is, our original character developed or withered, enlarged or attenuated; it is sometimes the exact reverse, like a garment that has been turned inside out. Cottard’s hesitating manner, his excessive timidity and affability, had, in his young days, earned him endless taunts and sneers, except at the Verdurins’, who were infatuated with him. What charitable friend recommended that glacial air? The importance of his professional standing made it easier to adopt it. Wherever he went, except at the Verdurins’, where he instinctively became himself again, he would assume a coldness, remain deliberately silent, be peremptory when he was obliged to speak, and not fail to say disagreeable things. He had every opportunity to rehearse this new attitude before his patients, who, seeing him for the first time, were not in a position to make comparisons and would have been greatly surprised to learn that he was not at all a rude man by nature. Complete impassivity was what he strove to attain, and even while visiting his hospital wards, when he uttered one of those puns that made everyone, from the house physician to the newest medical student, laugh, he would always make it without moving a muscle of his face, which moreover was no longer recognizable now that he had shaved off his beard and mustache. But who, finally, was the Marquis de Norpois? He had been minister plenipotentiary before the War8 and ambassador on the Sixteenth of May,9 and in spite of that, and to the astonishment of many, he had since been several times chosen to represent France as an envoy extraordinary—and even as comptroller of the public debt in Egypt,10 where, thanks to his great capability as a financier, he had rendered important services—by radical cabinets that a mere middle-­class reactionary would have refused to serve, and

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower to which M. de Norpois’s past, his connections and his opinions, should have made him suspect. But these progressive ministers seemed to realize that, in making such an appointment, they were showing how broad their own minds were when the supreme interests of France were at stake, were raising themselves above the general run of politicians by meriting, from the Journal des débats,11 the title of statesmen, and were benefiting at last from the prestige that attaches to an aristocratic name and the dramatic interest always aroused by an unexpected appointment. And they knew also that they could reap these advantages by making an appeal to M. de Norpois, without having to fear any lack of political loyalty on his part, a fault against which his noble12 birth not only need not put them on their guard but offered a positive guarantee. And in this calculation the government of the Republic was not mistaken. In the first place, because an aristocrat of a certain type, brought up from his cradle to consider his name as an integral part of himself of which nothing can deprive him (an asset of whose value his peers, or persons of even nobler birth, can form a fairly exact estimate), knows that he can dispense with the efforts, since they can in no way enhance his position, in which, without any appreciable result, so many public men of the middle class spend themselves to profess only sound opinions and to frequent only right-­minded people. Anxious, on the other hand, to increase his own importance in the eyes of the princely or ducal families that take immediate precedence over his own, such an aristocrat as he knows that he can do so only by giving his name that complement it hitherto has lacked, which will make it prevail over other names heraldically13 its equal: political power, a literary or an artistic reputation, or a large fortune. And so what he saves by avoiding the society of the useless country squires, sought after by those of the middle class and the fruitless friendship of whom a prince would think nothing, he will lavish on the politicians, even if they are Freemasons, who can advance him in diplomacy or support him in an election, and on the artists or scientists whose patronage can help him to “make it” in those branches in which they

11. The Journal des débats was a daily newspaper founded in 1789 at the time of the French Revolution. In Proust’s day, it was slightly left of center and considered France’s most literary newspaper. 12. Proust wrote “la naissance du marquis” (the marquis’s birth). 13. Scott Moncrieff added “heraldically.”

Madame Swann at Home 7

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 14. Ernest Legouvé (1807–1903), novelist and playwright, was elected to the Académie Française in 1855. At the official reception, the new member gives an acceptance speech eulogizing the Académie and his predecessor. 15. Maxime du Camp (1822–94), journalist and novelist, was elected to the Académie in 1880. 16. Alfred Mézières (1826–1915), a political and literary figure, was elected to the Académie Française in 1874. 17. In 1911, Paul Claudel (1868–1955), Catholic poet and dramatist, wrote a eulogy of Nicolas Boileau-­Despréaux (1636–1711) that was published in the Nouvelle Revue Française. 18. Maurice Barrès (1862–1923), a militant nationalist politician and literary figure, was elected to the Académie in 1906. Georges Berry (1852–1915) was a deputy from Paris who served at the same time as Barrès. He supported the monarchists and anti-­Dreyfusards before joining the independent, progressive republicans in 1905. 19. Alexandre Ribot (1842–1923), magistrate and political figure, leader of the liberal Republican Party, was elected to the Académie in 1906. He negotiated the Russian alliance alluded to by Norpois. Paul Deschanel (1855–1922) was a distinguished orator who served as president of France from February to September 1920. He was often a guest in the salons of Madeleine Lemaire and Geneviève Straus that Proust also attended. 20. Charles Maurras (1868–1952), poet, essayist, journalist, and polemic writer, was, like Léon Daudet (1867–1942), was an ardent monarchist and anti-­ Semite. 21. Judging by Norpois’s comments, the Commission is presumably that of Foreign Affairs.

8 Madame Swann at Home

predominate, on everyone, in fact, who is in a position to confer a new distinction or to bring about a rich marriage. But as for M. de Norpois, there was above all the fact that in the course of a long career in diplomacy, he had become imbued with that negative, methodical, conservative spirit called “the government mentality,” which is, in fact, common to all governments and, in particular, under every government, its Foreign Office. He had acquired, during that Career, an aversion, a dread, a contempt for the methods of procedure, more or less revolutionary and in any event quite inappropriate, that are those of an opposition. Save in the case of a few illiterates, high or low, by whom no difference in quality is perceptible, what attracts men one to another is not a common point of view but a consanguinity of minds. An academician of the Legouvé14 type, and therefore an upholder of the classics, would have applauded Maxime du Camp’s15 or Mé­ zières’s16 eulogy of Victor Hugo with more fervor than that of Boileau by Claudel.17 A common nationalism suffices to endear Barrès to his electors, who must scarcely distinguish between him and M. Georges Berry,18 but does not endear him to those of his fellow academicians, who, with the same political opinions but a different type of mind, will prefer to him even such adversaries as M. Ribot and M. Deschanel,19 with whom, in turn, the most loyal monarchists feel themselves more closely allied than with Maurras or Léon Daudet,20 who also desire the return of the king. Stingy with his words, not only from a professional habit of prudence and reserve, but also because words themselves have more value, present more nuances of meaning to men whose efforts, protracted over a decade, to bring two countries to an understanding, are condensed, translated—in a speech or in a protocol—into a single adjective, apparently banal, but in which they see a world of meaning, M. de Norpois was considered very aloof at the Commission,21 where he sat next to my father, whom everyone else congratulated on the friendship shown to him by the former ambassador. This friendliness astonished my father more than anyone. For being, as a rule, disagreeable, he was accustomed to being

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower little sought after outside his own intimate circle and admitted as much candidly. He was aware that these overtures were the result, in the diplomat, of that entirely individual point of view that everyone adopts for himself in choosing his friends, from which all a man’s intellectual qualities, his sensibility will be a far less potent recommendation of him when he bores or irritates one of us than are the straightforwardness and good humor of another person whom most people would regard as vacuous, frivolous, and worthless. “De Norpois has asked me to dinner again; it’s extraordinary; everyone is amazed at the Commission, where he has no personal relations with anyone. I am sure he’s going to tell me something thrilling again about the War of ’70.” My father knew that M. de Norpois had perhaps been alone in warning the emperor of the growing strength and bellicose designs of Prussia and that Bismarck22 rated Norpois’s intelligence most highly. Only the other day, at the Opéra, during the gala performance given for King Theodosius,23 the newspapers had all drawn attention to the long interview that the sovereign had granted M. de Norpois. “I must ask him whether the king’s visit had any real significance,” said my father to us, for he was keenly interested in foreign politics. “I know very well that old Norpois is very buttoned-­up, but with me he opens up quite charmingly.” As for my mother, perhaps the ambassador did not have the type of mind toward which she felt herself most attracted. And I should add that his conversation furnished so exhaustive a glossary of the superannuated forms of speech peculiar to a certain profession, class, and period—a period which for that profession and that class might be said not to have altogether passed away— that I sometimes regret not having kept any literal record purely and simply of the things that I have heard him say. I would thus have obtained an outdated effect at as little expense and by the same process as that actor at the Palais-­Royal24 who, when asked where he managed to find his astounding hats, answered, “I do not find my hats. I keep them.” In a word, I suppose that my mother considered M. de Norpois a trifle “out of date,” which was

22. Prussia was an ancient state in northern Germany whose capital was Berlin. Napoléon I fought Prussia in his campaigns of 1805 and 1806. In 1866, at Sadowa, the Prussians defeated the Austrians, a victory welcomed by many of the French, but one that alarmed the monarchists, who opposed the nationalist politics of Napoléon III. See À la recherche du temps perdu (Paris: Gallimard [Pléiade edition], 1987), 1: 428, n. 4. Otto von Bismarck (1815–98), was a Prussian statesman known as the Iron Chancellor. His dream was to unite all the German states under Prussian control, which led him to provoke war with Napoléon III as part of the plan to achieve his goal. In 1871, he became the first chancellor of the new German Empire and was given the title of prince. 23. This is thought to be an allusion to the state visit of Tsar Nicholas II in October 1896. Nicholas was entertained in a similar fashion, and Adrien Proust, as a leading scientist who had conducted cholera research in Russia, was invited to many of the events. These included Nicholas’s laying the foundation stone of Pont Alexandre III, named in honor of Nicholas’s father, who had concluded the Franco-­Russian alliance in 1892. 24. The Palais-­Royal, in the first arrondissement at the northwest corner, was a small but very popular theater in Proust’s day.

Madame Swann at Home 9

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower by no means a fault in her eyes, so far as manners were concerned, but attracted her less in the domain not, in this instance, of ideas, for those of M. de Norpois were extremely modern but of idiom. She felt, however, that she was paying a delicate compliment to her husband when she spoke admiringly of the diplomat who had shown so rare a predilection for him. By confirming in my father’s mind the good opinion that he already had of M. de Norpois, and so inducing him to form a good opinion of himself also, she knew that she was fulfilling one of her wifely duties that consisted in making life pleasant for her husband, just as when she saw to it that his dinner was perfectly cooked and served in silence. And as she was incapable of lying to my father, she compelled herself to admire the ambassador in order to be able to praise him with sincerity. Incidentally, she naturally appreciated his kindness; his somewhat antiquated courtesy (so ceremonious that when out walking, holding his tall figure erect, he caught sight of my mother driving past, before raising his hat to her, he would fling away the cigar that he had just lighted); his conversation, so measured, in which he spoke of himself as seldom as possible and always considered what might be agreeable to his interlocutor; his promptness in answering a letter, which was so astonishing that whenever my father, just after posting one himself to M. de Norpois, saw his handwriting on an envelope, his first thought was that their letters must unfortunately have crossed: one would have supposed that the Post Office had arranged for him supplementary and costly collections and deliveries. My mother marveled at his being so punctilious although so busy, so amiable although so much in demand, never realizing that “although” with such people is invariably an unrecognized “because,” and that (just as old men are always wonderful for their age, kings extraordinarily simple, and provincials well informed about everything) it was the same system of habits that enabled M. de Norpois to fulfill so many duties and to be so methodical in answering letters, to be liked in fashionable society and to be so friendly toward us. Moreover, my mother’s mistake, which everyone makes who is unduly modest,

10 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower was the result of her putting everything that concerned herself below, and consequently outside the range of other people’s duties and engagements.25 The letter, which it seemed to her so meritorious in my father’s friend to have written us promptly, since in the course of the day he wrote so many letters, she excepted from that great number of letters of which it was only one; in the same way she did not consider that dining with us was for M. de Norpois merely one of the innumerable activities of his social life: she never guessed that the ambassador had accustomed himself long ago to look on dining out as one of his diplomatic functions, and to display at the table an inveterate charm that it would have been too much to have expected him specially to discard when he came to our house. The evening on which M. de Norpois first dined at our table, in a year when I still went to play in the Champs-­Élysées, has remained fixed in my memory because the afternoon of the same day was that on which I at last went to see Berma, at a matinée, in Phèdre,26 and also because in talking to M. de Norpois I realized suddenly, and in a new way, how completely the feelings aroused in me by all that concerned Gilberte Swann and her parents differed from those that the same family inspired in anyone else. It was no doubt the sight of the dejection in which I was plunged by the approach of the New Year holidays during which, as she herself had informed me, I was to see nothing of Gilberte, that prompted my mother one day, in the hope of distracting me, to say to me: “If you still have such a great desire to see Berma, I think that your father would perhaps allow you to go; your grandmother could take you.” But it was because M. de Norpois had told him that he ought to let me see Berma, that it was an experience for a young man to remember in later life, that my father, who had hitherto been so resolutely opposed to my going and wasting my time, with the added risk of my falling ill again, on what he used to shock my grandmother by calling “futilities,” was now not far from regarding this manner of spending an afternoon recommended by

25. Proust has simply “en dehors des autres,” outside of the others. 26. Phèdre (1677) is considered to be Jean Racine’s greatest classical tragedy. Its source was Euripides’ Hippolytus. Sarah Bernhardt, who is the primary model for Berma, scored one of the great triumphs of her career as Phèdre in 1874 at the Comédie-­Française. Bern­ hardt reprised the role at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in 1893 after she bought the theater. Although Proust intended to do so on several occasions, there is no indication that he actually saw Bernhardt perform in Phèdre.

Madame Swann at Home 11

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 27. Presumably, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris. In this passage, Proust appears to be recalling his own quarrels with his father about choosing a career, as we see in the following excerpt from a letter written in 1893, when the author was twenty-­two and about to receive his law degree: “My dearest papa, . . . I shall start studying in earnest with a view to the examination either for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or for the École des Chartes, whichever one you prefer. As for a law office, I should vastly prefer going to work for a stockbroker. And I assure you, I wouldn’t stick it out for three days! I still believe that anything I do outside of literature and philosophy will be just so much time wasted.” The École de Chartes, founded in 1811, trained paleontologists and archivists. Proust, Selected Letters, 1: 57–58 and n. 1. We see in this letter that Proust has unwittingly found the theme and even a portion of his future general title: “temps perdu,” wasted or lost time. 28. See Swann’s Way, 199.

12 Madame Swann at Home

the ambassador as included, in some vague way, on the list of precious formulae for success in a brilliant career. My grandmother, who, in renouncing on my behalf the profit that, according to her, I would have derived from hearing Berma, had made a considerable sacrifice in the interests of my health, was surprised to find that these had become negligible at a mere word from M. de Norpois. Placing the invincible hopes of her rationalist spirit in the regimen of fresh air and early bedtimes that had been prescribed for me, she now deplored, as something disastrous, this infraction that I was to make in my rules, and, in a tone of distress, said: “How fickle you are!” to my father, who, infuriated, replied: “What! So it’s you now who don’t want him to go! That’s really too much, you who kept repeating to us all the time that it would be so good for him.” M. de Norpois had also brought about a change in my father’s plans in a matter of far greater importance to me. My father had always wanted me to become a diplomat, and I could not endure the thought that even if I did have to stay for some time attached to the ministry,27 I would run the risk of being sent one day as ambassador to capitals in which Gilberte did not live. I would have preferred to return to the literary career that I had planned for myself and abandoned years before in the course of my wanderings along the Guermantes way.28 But my father had steadily opposed my devoting myself to a literary career, which he regarded as vastly inferior to diplomacy, refusing even to dignify it with the title of career, until the day when M. de Norpois, who had little love for the more recent generations of diplomats, assured him that it was quite possible, as a writer, to attract as much consideration, to exercise as much influence, and, at the same time, to retain more independence than in the embassies. “Well, well, I would never have believed it. Old Norpois is not at all opposed to the idea of your becoming a writer,” my father had told me. And as he had a certain amount of influence himself, he believed that there was nothing that could not be arranged, that could not find a favorable solution in conversation with important

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower people: “I’ll bring him back to dinner one evening from the Commission. You’ll talk to him a little so that he can see what he thinks of you. Write something good that you can show him; he is a close friend of the editor of La Revue des Deux Mondes;29 he will get you in there; he will arrange it all, the cunning old fox; and, upon my soul, he seems to think that diplomacy, nowadays . . . !” My happiness at the prospect of not being separated from Gilberte made me desirous, but not capable, of writing something good that could be shown to M. de Norpois. After a few preliminary pages, ennui made the pen drop from my fingers; I wept with anger at the thought that I would never have any talent, that I was not gifted, that I could not even take advantage of the chance that M. de Norpois’s coming visit was to offer me of spending the rest of my life in Paris. Only the thought that I was to be allowed to hear Berma distracted me from my sorrow. But just as I did not wish to see any storms except on those coasts where they raged with most violence, so I would not have cared to hear the great actress except in one of those classic parts in which Swann had told me that she touched the sublime. For when it is in the hope of making a priceless discovery that we desire to receive certain impressions from nature or from art, we have certain scruples about allowing our soul to gather, instead of these, other, inferior impressions that are liable to make us form a false estimate of the exact value of Beauty. Berma in Andromaque, in Les Caprices de Marianne,30 in Phèdre, was one of those famous spectacles that my imagination had so desired. I would enjoy the same rapture as on the day when a gondola would take me to the foot of the Titian of the Frari or the Carpaccios of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni31 were I ever to hear Berma recite the lines: On dit qu’un prompt départ vous éloigne de nous, Seigneur, etc.32 I was familiar with them from the simple reproduction in black and white that was given of them in published editions; but my

29. La Revue des Deux Mondes, which still exists, was founded in 1829 by Prosper Maurois and Pierre de Ségur-­ Dupeyron. Politically republican and conservative, this journal favored the Russian alliance. In the beginning, the journal was devoted primarily to domestic and foreign politics, but it later expanded to include literary, philosophical, and scientific articles. 30. Andromaque (1667) is a tragedy by Jean Racine based on the legend of Troy. Les Caprices de Marianne (1833) is a prose comedy in two acts by Alfred de Musset (1810–57). It was first produced at the Comédie-­Française in 1851. 31. The Basilica dei Frari in Venice has The Assumption of the Virgin (1516–18) by Tiziano Vecelli, known as Titian (1488 or 1490–1576), on the altarpiece of the high altar, as well as his painting known as the Pesaro Madonna on the north wall of the nave. John Ruskin considered the Pesaro Madonna to be the finest example of Titian in Venice. The Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni in Venice contains paintings by Carpaccio (c. 1460–1525/26) dating from the early sixteenth century. Carpaccio was commissioned to paint the Stories of the Patron Saints of the Scuola, Saint Jerome, Saint Tryphon, and Saint George, joined by Saint Matthew when the Scuola received a relic of that saint in 1502. Proust knew the paintings from his translations of The Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies by Ruskin and from his 1900 trip to Venice. 32. “They say a prompt departure is to take you away from us, my lord.” This line is from Phèdre, act 2, scene 5, and is addressed by Phèdre to her stepson Hippolyte at the beginning of the famous scene in which Phèdre declares her incestuous love for him.

Madame Swann at Home 13

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 33. Scott Moncrieff added “brought to life.” 34. In “Swann in Love,” Cottard remarks that Sarah Bernhardt was said to have a “Golden Voice.” See Swann’s Way, 230. 35. In 1893 Sarah Bernhardt became the manager of the Théâtre de la Renaissance, and in 1899 she relocated to the former Théâtre des Nations, which she renamed the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt and managed until her death in 1923. 36. Popular in theaters around the end of the nineteenth century, a curtain-­ raiser was a short play, usually of one scene, presented before the main full-­ length drama.

14 Madame Swann at Home

heart beat rapidly at the thought, as at the realization of a long-­ planned voyage, that I would finally see them actually bathed and brought to life33 in the atmosphere and sunshine of the Golden Voice.34 A Carpaccio in Venice, Berma in Phèdre, masterpieces of pictorial or dramatic art that the prestige attached to them made so living to me, that is to say so indivisible, that if I had been taken to see Carpaccios in one of the galleries of the Louvre or Berma in some play of which I had never heard, I would not have experienced the same delicious amazement at finding myself at last with wide-­open eyes before the inconceivable and unique object of so many thousands of my dreams. Then, while I awaited Berma’s performance, revelations about certain aspects of nobility, of sorrow, it would seem to me that whatever greatness, whatever truth there might be in her acting must be enhanced if the actress superimposed it on a work of real value, instead of merely embroidering a pattern of truth and beauty on a mediocre and vulgar web. Finally, if I went to hear Berma in a new play, it would not be easy for me to judge her art, her diction, since I would not be able to differentiate between a text that was not already familiar and what she added to it by her intonations and gestures, an addition that would seem to me to be embodied in the play itself; whereas the old plays, the classics that I knew by heart, presented themselves to me as vast and empty spaces, reserved and made ready for my inspection, on which I would be able to appreciate without restriction the devices by which Berma would cover them, as with frescoes, with the perpetually fresh discoveries of her inspiration. Unfortunately, for some years now, since she had retired from the great stages to make the fortune of one of the boulevard theaters of which she was the star,35 she had ceased to appear in classic parts, and in vain did I scan the bills: they never advertised any but the newest plays, written specially for her by authors in fashion at the moment. When, one morning, as I stood searching the Morris column’s announcements to find the matinées for the week of the New Year holidays, I saw there for the first time—at the foot of the bill, after some probably insignificant curtain-­raiser,36 whose

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower title was opaque to me because it contained all the details of a plot I did not know—two acts of Phèdre with Mme Berma, and, on the following afternoons, Le Demi-­Monde,37 Les Caprices de Marianne, names that, like Phèdre, were for me transparent, filled with light only, so familiar were those works to me, illuminated to their very depths by the revealing smile of art. They seemed to me to invest with a fresh nobility Mme Berma herself when I read in the newspapers, after the program of these performances, that it was she who had decided to show herself once more to the public in some of her early creations. She was aware, then, as an artist, that certain roles have an interest that survives the novelty of their first production or the success of a revival; she regarded them, when interpreted by herself, as museum masterpieces that it might be instructive to set before the eyes of the generation that had admired her in them long ago, or of those who had not yet seen her in them. In thus advertising, in the middle of a column, plays intended only to while away an evening, Phèdre, whose title was no longer than theirs, nor set in different type, she added something like the understatement of a hostess who, while introducing you to her guests before you all go in to dinner, mentions amid the names of guests who are nothing more than guests and without any change of tone: “M. Anatole France.”38 The doctor who was attending me—the same who had forbidden me to travel—advised my parents not to let me go to the theater; I would only be ill again afterward, perhaps for a long time, and would in the long run derive more pain than pleasure from the experience. This fear might have stopped me, if what I had anticipated from such a performance had been only a pleasure for which a subsequent pain could so compensate as to cancel it. But what I demanded from this matinée—just as from the voyage to Balbec, the voyage to Venice for which I had so intensely longed—was something quite different from pleasure: truths belonging to a world more real than this one in which I lived, which, once acquired, could never be taken from me by any of the trivial incidents, even if they were to cause me bodily suffering, of my

37. Le Demi-­Monde (1855) is a comedy by Alexandre Dumas fils (1824–95). Certain of its plot elements are similar to Odette’s situation in her relationship to Swann. The play’s heroine, Suzanne, who like Odette, belongs to the demimonde, hopes to erase the memory of her disreputable past by marrying a rich man. Unlike Odette, her ambitions are not realized. It was Dumas fils, in this play, who coined the word demimonde. 38. Anatole France (1844–1924), novelist, critic, member of the Académie Française, Nobel Prize for literature (1921). In 1890, Proust met France in Mme Arman de Caillavet’s salon and became well acquainted with him. France wrote the preface for Proust’s first book, Les Plaisirs et les jours, published in 1896. Certain of France’s stylistic traits are found in Bergotte. In one of his notebooks containing ideas for Bergotte, Proust stated his admiration of France’s style, especially its “musicality.” And he adds: “there are moments when France’s words become musical.” See À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Paris: GF Flammarion, 1987), 1: 98, n. 27.

Madame Swann at Home 15

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 39. The Holy of Holies (Saint des Saints) was the innermost and most sacred area of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem that enshrined the Ark of the Covenant. 40. See Swann’s Way, 465. 41. These are references to Greek mythology and interpretations of Phèdre used by critics and writers who were Proust’s contemporaries. Christian austerity and Jansenist pallor refer to the religious movement whose center was at the abbey at Port-­Royal, where Racine was educated. Phèdre’s reaction to her sin is said to reflect a longing for the Jansenist ideal of the ascetic life. Her fate was predestined not only because Hippolyte offended Venus by spurning love but also because of the Jansenist belief that only the grace of God can save a person. The play is set in Troezen, the court of Thésée (Theseus), Hippolyte’s father. Bernhardt had Phèdre’s throne built in a style that reflected recent discoveries about ancient Mycenean art. See E. Pronier, Une Vie au théâtre: Sarah Bernhardt (Geneva: Alex. Jullien, n.d.), 205, quoted in À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 550, n. 1. La Princesse de Clèves (1678) by Mme de La Fayette (1634–93) is another famous depiction of passion, unrequited love, and jealousy. Solar myth refers to the vindictive nature of Venus, who punished the sun (Phoebus) for having revealed her illicit love affair with Mars. Venus uses Phèdre’s jealous passion for Hippolyte as a way to punish the chaste young man for spurning love. The destructive force of obsessive jealousy is a major theme in the relationships between Swann and Odette, and later in the novel, between Saint-­Loup and Rachel, the Narrator and Albertine, and Charlus and Morel.

16 Madame Swann at Home

otiose existence. At most, the pleasure that I was to feel during the performance appeared to me as the perhaps necessary form of the perception of these truths; and this was enough for me to hope that the predicted illness would not begin until the performance was finished, so that my pleasure would not be in any way compromised or spoiled. I implored my parents, who, after the doctor’s visit, were no longer inclined to let me go to Phèdre. I recited to myself all day long the speech beginning, On dit qu’un prompt départ vous éloigne de nous . . . seeking out every intonation that could be put into it, so as to be able better to measure my surprise at the one Berma would have found. Concealed like the Holy of Holies39 beneath the veil that hid her from my gaze and behind which I invested her at every moment with a new aspect, according to which of Bergotte’s words— in the pamphlet that Gilberte40 had found for me—came to my mind: “plastic nobility, Christian austerity, Jansenist pallor, Princess of Troezen and of Clèves, Mycenean drama, Delphic symbol, Solar myth,”41 that divine Beauty, that Berma’s acting was to reveal to me, night and day, on an altar perpetually illumined, sat enthroned in the sanctuary of my mind, my mind for which my stern, my fickle parents were to decide whether or not it was to enshrine, and for all time, the perfections of the Deity unveiled, in the same spot where now stood her invisible form. And with my eyes fixed on that inconceivable image, I strove from morning to night to overcome the barriers that my family was putting in my way. But when those had fallen, when my mother—albeit this matinée was to take place on the very same day as the meeting of the Commission from which my father was to bring M. de Norpois home to dinner—had said to me: “Very well, we don’t want you to be unhappy; if you think that you will enjoy it so much, you must go”; when this day of theatergoing, hitherto forbidden, depended now only on myself, then for the first time, being no longer troubled by the wish that it might cease to be im-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower possible, I asked myself whether it was desirable, whether there were not other reasons than my parents’ prohibition that should make me abandon my plan. In the first place, although I had detested their cruelty, their consent made them now so dear to me that the thought of causing them pain stabbed me also with a pain through which life appeared to have as its goal not truth but affection, and life itself seemed good or evil only as my parents were happy or sad. “I would rather not go, if it hurts you,” I told my mother, who, on the contrary, strove hard to expel from my mind any lurking fear that she might regret my going, since that, she said, would spoil the pleasure that I should otherwise derive from Phèdre, and in consideration of which she and my father had reversed their earlier decision. But then this sort of obligation to find a pleasure in the performance seemed to me very burdensome. Besides, if I returned home ill, would I be well again in time to be able to go to the Champs-­Élysées as soon as the holidays were over and Gilberte returned? Against all these arguments I set, in order to decide which one should prevail, the idea, invisible behind its veil, of Berma’s perfection. I placed in one pan of the scales “Making Mamma unhappy, risking not being able to go to the Champs-­Élysées,” in the other, “Jansenist pallor, Solar myth”; but these words themselves finally grew dark and clouded in my mind, no longer meant anything to me, lost all their weight; and little by little my hesitations became so painful that if I had now opted for the theater it would have been only to make them cease and be delivered from them once and for all. It would have been to curtail my sufferings, and no longer in the expectation of an intellectual benefit and by yielding to the attractions of perfection, that I would let myself be taken not to the Wise Goddess but to the implacable Divinity, faceless and nameless, who had been secretly substituted for her behind the veil. But suddenly everything was altered; my desire to go hear Berma received a fresh stimulus that enabled me to await the coming of the matinée with impatience and with joy: having gone to take up, in front of the column with the theater listings, my daily station, as excruciating of late as that

Madame Swann at Home 17

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 42. A stylite is a Christian ascetic living atop a pillar. 43. Apparently, only the Opéra had such a restriction due to the large hats for women that were then the fashion. See À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 436, n. 1. 44. This narrative device, which consists of an undermining or elimination of suspense, was often used by Proust. The Narrator’s great anticipation of a longed-­for experience results in disappointment, and then later he arrives at a true understanding and appreciation of the event. 45. Cold braised beef in aspic. 46. Les Halles was for centuries Paris’s central market in the first arrondissement, where wholesalers, retailers, chefs, and household servants bought an astounding variety of provisions. The buildings that Proust knew were constructed in the 1850s. 47. Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475– 1564), Italian painter, sculptor, architect and poet. His many statues, including those of David and Moses, as well as his paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, are among the most admired and best known in the world. 48. Carrara is a town in Tuscany, Italy, known for the white or blue-­ gray marble quarried there. In 1505, Michelangelo spent months in Carrara selecting the best marble to create the tomb of Pope Julius II (1443–1513, pope 1503–13). A great patron of the arts, he invited Michelangelo to create his mausoleum, which was never finished. The only statue completed was that of Moses, which can be seen in Rome at the church of San Pietro in Vincoli.

18 Madame Swann at Home

of a stylite,42 I had seen there, still moist, the complete bill of Phèdre, which had just been pasted up for the first time (and on which, I must confess, the rest of the cast furnished no additional attraction that could help me to decide). But it gave to one of the goals between which my indecision oscillated a form at once more concrete and—inasmuch as the bill was dated not from the day on which I was reading it but from that on which the performance would take place, and from the very hour at which the curtain would rise—almost imminent, well on the way, already, to its realization, so that I jumped for joy in front of the column at the thought that on that day, precisely at that hour, I would be sitting there in my seat ready to hear Berma; and fearing that my parents might not now be in time to obtain two good seats for my grandmother and me, I raced back to the house, whipped on by the magic words that had replaced in my mind “Jansenist pallor” and “Solar myth”: “Ladies will not be admitted to the orchestra seats in hats.43 The doors will be closed at two o’clock.” Alas! that first matinée was to prove a big disappointment.44 My father offered to drop my grandmother and me at the theater on his way to the Commission. Before leaving the house he said to my mother: “Try to have a good dinner for us tonight; you remember that I’m bringing de Norpois back with me.” My mother had not forgotten. And ever since the day before, Françoise, happy to devote herself to that art of the kitchen, for which she certainly had a gift, stimulated, moreover, by the announcement of a new guest to feed and knowing that she would have to compose, by methods known to her alone, a dish of bœuf à la gelée,45 had been living in the effervescence of creation; since she attached the utmost importance to the intrinsic quality of the materials that were to enter into the fabrication of her work, she had gone herself to Les Halles46 to procure the best cuts of rump steak, shin of beef, calves’ feet, just as Michelangelo47 spent eight months in the mountains of Carrara48 choosing the finest blocks of marble for the monument of Julius II. Françoise expended on these comings and goings so much ardor that Mamma, at the sight of her flaming

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower cheeks, was afraid that our old servant would make herself ill with overwork, like the sculptor of the Tombs of the Medici49 in the quarries of Pietrasanta.50 And overnight Françoise had sent to be cooked in the baker’s oven what she called a “Nev’York ham,” shielded with breadcrumbs, like a block of pink marble packed in sawdust.51 Believing the language to be less rich in words than it is, and her own ears less trustworthy, the first time that she heard anyone mention York ham she had thought, no doubt—feeling it to be hardly conceivable that the vocabulary could be so prodigal as to include at once a York and a New York—that she had misheard and that the ham was really called by the name already familiar to her. And so, ever since, the word York was preceded in her ears, or before her eyes when she read it in an advertisement, by New, which she pronounced Nev. And it was with the best of faith that she would say to her kitchenmaid: “Go and fetch me a ham from Olida’s.52 Madame told me especially to get a Nev’York.” On that particular day, if Françoise was consumed by the burning certainty of creative genius, my lot was the cruel anxiety of the seeker after truth. No doubt, so long as I had not yet heard Berma speak, I still felt some pleasure. I felt it in the little square that lay in front of the theater, in which, in two hours’ time, the bare boughs of the chestnut trees would gleam with a metallic luster as the lighted gas lamps brightened every detail of their branches; in front of the ticket takers, the selection of whom, their promotion, their fate, depended on the great artist—for she alone held the power in this administration at the head of which ephemeral and purely nominal managers followed one after the other in an obscure succession—who took our tickets without even glancing at us, anxious as they were to know whether all of Mme Berma’s instructions had been duly transmitted to the new members of the staff, whether it was clearly understood that the hired applause53 must never sound for her, that the windows must all be kept open so long as she was not on the stage, and every door closed tight the moment she appeared; that a bowl of hot water must be concealed somewhere close to her to make the dust settle: and, for that

49. The Tombs of the Medici is a monument created by Michelangelo in Florence in the Medici chapels adjoining the church of San Lorenzo; especially noteworthy are the likenesses of the Medici dukes. 50. Pietrasanta is a town on the coast of northern Tuscany at the foot of the Apuan Alps, where, in 1518–19, Michelangelo selected marble for the Medici monuments. Pope Leo X (1475–1521, pope 1513–21) insisted that Michelangelo use the marble from the Pietrasanta quarries owned by the Medici, though Michelangelo considered the marble inferior to that of Carrara. 51. Scott Moncrieff added “packed in sawdust.” 52. Olida was known as the Maison du Jambon d’York (the house of York ham). It was founded in 1885 and located at 11, rue Drouot, in the ninth arrondissement. This arrondissement is adjacent to the eighth, where Proust lived almost his entire life. Many of Paris’s fashionable addresses and places of interest mentioned in the novel are not far from Proust’s apartment at 102, boulevard Haussmann, where he wrote most of À la recherche du temps perdu. 53. The “claque,” the word that Proust uses, refers to people who were hired to applaud at a performance or to attend a meeting.

Madame Swann at Home 19

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 54. In a French theatrical tradition that dates from the Middle Ages, three loud knocks (les trois coups) made by the stage manager’s staff, called the “brigadier,” are heard from behind the stage to signal to the audience that the curtain is about to rise for the performance to begin.

20 Madame Swann at Home

matter, at any moment now her carriage, drawn by a pair of horses with flowing manes, would be stopping outside the theater, she would alight from it muffled in furs, and, crossly acknowledging everyone’s salute, would send one of her attendants to find out whether a stage box had been kept for her friends, what the temperature was in the auditorium, who were in the other boxes, if the usherettes were looking smart, theater and public being to her no more than a second, an outermost cloak that she would put on, and the medium, the more or less good conductor through which her talent would have to pass. I was happy, too, in the theater itself; since I had made the discovery that—contrary to what my childish imagination had so long pictured—there was but one stage for everybody, I had supposed that one would be prevented from seeing it properly by the presence of the other spectators, as one is when in the thick of a crowd; now I realized that, on the contrary, thanks to an arrangement that is, so to speak, symbolical of all spectatorship, everyone feels himself to be the center of the theater; which explained to me why, when Françoise had been sent once to see some melodrama from the top gallery, she had assured us on her return that her seat had been the best in the house, and that instead of finding herself too far from the stage she had been frightened by the mysterious and living proximity of the curtain. My pleasure increased further when I began to distinguish behind the lowered curtain such confused rappings as one hears through the shell of an egg when the chick is about to emerge, sounds that speedily grew louder, and suddenly, from that world which, impenetrable by our eyes, yet scrutinized us with its own, addressed themselves indubitably to us in the imperious form of three consecutive knocks,54 as moving as any signals from the planet Mars. And—once this curtain had risen—when on the stage a writing table and a fireplace, rather ordinary ones, moreover, had indicated that the persons who were about to enter would be, not actors come to recite, as I had seen them once at an evening party, but real people, just living their lives at home, on whom I was thus able to intrude without their seeing me—my

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower pleasure still endured; it was broken by a momentary uneasiness; just as I was straining my ears in readiness before the piece began, from the side of the stage, two men entered, who must have been very angry with each other, for they were talking so loud that in the auditorium, where there were more than a thousand people, we could hear every word, whereas in a small café one is obliged to ask the waiter what it is that two people, who appear to be quarrelling, are saying; but at that moment, while I sat astonished to find that the audience was listening to them without protest, submerged as we were in a universal silence upon which broke, presently, a laugh here and there, I understood that these insolent fellows were the actors and that the short play known as the curtain-­raiser had just begun. It was followed by an intermission so long that the members of the audience, who had returned to their places, grew impatient and began to stamp their feet. I was terrified at this; for just as in the report of a criminal trial, when I read that some noble-­minded man was coming, against his own interests, to testify on behalf of an innocent person, I was always afraid that they would not be nice enough to him, would not show enough gratitude, would not recompense him lavishly, and that he, in disgust, would then range himself on the side of injustice; so now attributing to genius, in this respect, the same qualities as to virtue, I was afraid that Berma, annoyed by the bad behavior of so ill-­bred an audience—in which, on the other hand, I would have liked her to recognize, with satisfaction, a few celebrities to whose judgment she would be bound to attach importance— would express her discontent and disdain by acting badly. And I gazed pleadingly around me at these stamping brutes who were about to shatter, in their furor, the rare and fragile impression that I had come to seek. In brief, the last moments of my pleasure were during the opening scenes of Phèdre. Phèdre herself does not appear at the beginning of the second act; and yet, as soon as the curtain rose and a second curtain, of red velvet this time, parted in the middle (a curtain that was used to halve the depth of the stage in all the plays in which the star appeared), an actress entered

Madame Swann at Home 21

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower from the back who had the face and voice which, I had been told, were those of Berma. The cast must have been changed; all the trouble that I had taken in studying the part of the wife of Theseus was wasted. But another actress now responded to the first. I must, then, have been mistaken in supposing that the first was Berma, for the second resembled her even more closely, and, more than the other, had her diction. Both of them, moreover, added to their parts noble gestures—which I could clearly distinguish and whose relation to the text I could understand, while they raised and let fall the lovely folds of their tunics—and also skillful intonations, now passionate, now ironical, which made me realize the significance of lines that I had read to myself at home without paying sufficient attention to what they really meant. But all of a sudden, in the opening of the red curtain of her sanctuary, as in a frame, a woman appeared, and immediately the fear seized me, far more vexing than Berma’s fear could be, that someone might upset her by opening a window, or drown one of her lines by rustling a program, or annoy her by applauding the others and by not applauding her enough; in my own way, still more absolute than Berma’s, of considering from that moment theater, audience, play, and my own body only as an acoustic medium of no importance, except to the degree in which it was favorable to the inflections of that voice, I realized that the two actresses whom I had been admiring for some minutes bore not the least resemblance to her whom I had come to hear. But at the same time all my pleasure had ceased; in vain might I strain toward Berma my eyes, my ears, my mind, in order not to let one morsel escape me of the reasons that she would give me to admire her, I did not succeed in gathering a single one. I could not even, as I could with her companions, distinguish in her diction and in her acting intelligent intonations, beautiful gestures. I listened to her as though I were reading Phèdre, or as though Phèdre herself had at that moment said the things that I was hearing, without its appearing that Berma’s talent had added anything at all to them. I would have wished—in order to be able to explore them fully in my attempt

22 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower to discover what it was in them that was beautiful—to arrest, to immobilize for a long time before my senses every intonation of the artist’s voice, every expression of her features; at least I did attempt, by dint of my mental agility, to have, before a line came, my attention ready and tuned to catch it, not to waste on preparations any morsel of the time that each word, each gesture occupied, and, thanks to the intensity of my attention, to manage to penetrate as far into them as I would have done if I had had long hours to spend on them, by myself. But their duration was so brief! Scarcely had a sound been received by my ear than it was replaced by another. In one scene where Berma stands motionless for a moment, her arm raised to the level of her face bathed, by some piece of stagecraft, in a greenish light, before a piece of scenery painted to represent the sea, the whole house broke out in applause; but already the actress had moved, and the tableau that I would have liked to study no longer existed. I told my grandmother that I could not see very well; she handed me her opera glasses. Only, when one believes in the reality of a thing, making it visible by artificial means is not quite the same as feeling that it is close at hand. I thought now that it was no longer Berma at whom I was looking, but her image in a magnifying glass. I put the glasses down; but then possibly the image that my eye received of her, diminished by distance, was no more exact; which of the two Bermas was the real? As for her declaration speech55 to Hippolyte, I had counted a lot on that piece, since, to judge by the ingenious significance that her companions were revealing to me at every moment in less beautiful parts, she would certainly render it with intonations more surprising than any that, when reading the play at home, I had tried to imagine; but she did not attain the heights that Œnone or Aricie56 would have reached; she planed down into a uniform flow of melody the entire monologue in which there were mingled together contradictions so striking that the least intelligent of tragic actresses, even the students of a high school, could not have missed their effect; besides which, she recited it so rapidly that it was only when she had come to the last

55. See note 32. 56. Œnone is Phèdre’s old nurse and confidante. Aricie is a young princess from a family hostile to Theseus and with whom Hippolyte falls in love, arousing Phèdre’s jealousy.

Madame Swann at Home 23

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower line that my mind became aware of the deliberate monotony that she had imposed on it from the beginning. Then, at last, I felt my first burst of admiration: it was provoked by the frenzied applause of the audience. I mingled my own with theirs, endeavoring to prolong it so that Berma, in her gratitude, would surpass herself, and I would be certain of having heard her on one of her best days. A curious thing, by the way, is that the moment when this storm of public enthusiasm broke loose was, as I afterward learned, that in which Berma has one of her finest inventions. It seems that certain transcendent realities emit all around them a radiance to which the crowd is sensitive. So it is, for example, that when any great event occurs, when at the frontier an army is in danger, or beaten, or victorious, the fairly vague and contradictory reports that we receive, from which an educated man is unable to conclude very much, stimulate in the crowd an emotion that surprises him, and in which, once the experts have informed him of the actual military situation, he recognizes the perception by the common people of the “aura” that surrounds momentous events and that may be visible hundreds of miles away. One learns of a victory either after the war is over, or at once, from the joy of one’s concierge. One discovers the touch of genius in Berma’s acting, a week after having heard her, in a critical review or on the spot from the acclamation of those sitting in the orchestra seats. But this immediate recognition by the crowd being mingled with a hundred others, all quite erroneous, the applause came most often at wrong moments, apart from the fact that it was spontaneously provoked by the force of the preceding applause, just as in a storm, once the sea is sufficiently turbulent, it will continue to swell, even if the wind remains steady. No matter; the more I applauded the better, it seemed to me, did Berma act. “At least,” said a rather common woman sitting next to me, “she really gives it her all, she does; you’d think she’d do herself an injury, as wrought up as she is. That’s what I call acting.” And happy to find these reasons for Berma’s superiority, though all the while doubting they accounted for it any more than would

24 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower for that of the Mona Lisa or of Benvenuto’s Perseus57 a peasant’s exclaiming “That’s a good bit of work. It’s all gold, and how fine! What craftsmanship!” I greedily imbibed the strong wine of this popular enthusiasm. I felt, all the same, when the curtain had fallen, disappointed that the pleasure for which I had so longed had been no greater, but at the same time I felt the need to prolong it, not to leave forever, on coming out of the theater, this life of the stage that had, for a few hours, been my own, from which I would be tearing myself away, as though I were going into exile, by going straight home, had I not hoped there to learn a great deal more about Berma from her admirer, to whom I was indebted for the permission to go to Phèdre, M. de Norpois. I was introduced to him before dinner by my father, who summoned me into his study for the purpose. As I entered, the ambassador rose, held out his hand, bowed his tall figure, and fixed his blue eyes attentively on me. Since the transient foreign visitors who used to be presented to him, in the days when he still represented France abroad, were all more or less—even the famous singers— persons of note and of whom he knew then that he would be able to say later on, when he heard their names mentioned in Paris or in Petersburg, that he remembered perfectly the evening he had spent with them at Munich or Sofia, he had formed the habit of impressing on them, by his affability, how pleased he was to make their acquaintance: but in addition to this, being convinced that in the life of European capitals, in contact at once with all the interesting personalities that passed through them and with the customs of the native populations, one acquired a deeper insight than could be gained from books, into the history, the geography, the mores of different nations, the intellectual movements throughout Europe, he would exercise on each newcomer his keen power of observation, in order to decide at once what manner of man he had to deal with. The government had not for some time now entrusted to him a post abroad, but still, as soon as anyone was introduced to him, his eyes, as though they had not yet been informed of his release from duty, began their fruitful observa-

57. The Mona Lisa, in French La Joconde, painted between 1503 and 1506 by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), is the most famous painting in the Louvre. In Proust’s day, it hung in the Salon Carré. The bronze statue of Perseus (1554) by Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571) depicts the Greek hero holding the head of Medusa, whom he has just decapitated. Commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici (1519–74), Duke of Florence, the statue stands in the Loggia dei Lanzi on the Piazza della Signoria in Florence.

Madame Swann at Home 25

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 58. In the Odyssey, by Homer, and Les Aventures de Télémaque (1699), by François de Salignac de la Mothe-­ Fénelon (1651–1715), Mentor is the teacher whose form Minerva (Athena to the Greeks) assumes to guide Telemachus in his search for his father, Ulysses. Les Voyages du jeune Anacharsis en Grèce (1788), a novel by the Abbot Jean-­Jacques Barthélemy (1716–95), retraces the voyage of a young Scythian, Anacharsis, in the Greece of the time of King Philip II of Macedonia (382–336 b.c.).

26 Madame Swann at Home

tion, while by his whole attitude he sought to convey that the stranger’s name was not unknown to him. And so, while speaking to me kindly and with the air of importance of a man who is conscious of his vast experience, he never ceased to examine me with a sagacious curiosity and to his own profit, as though I had been some exotic custom, some instructive monument, or some star on tour. And in this way he gave proof at once, in his attitude toward me, of the majestic amiability of the sage Mentor and of the studious curiosity of the young Anacharsis.58 He offered me absolutely no opening to La Revue des Deux Mondes, but asked me a number of questions about my life and studies, my tastes, which I heard thus spoken of for the first time as though it might be a reasonable thing to pursue them, whereas hitherto I had always supposed it to be my duty to suppress them. Since they attracted me toward literature, he did not try to turn me away from that course; on the contrary, he spoke of it with deference, as of some venerable and charming person whose select circle, in Rome or at Dresden, one remembers with pleasure, and regrets only that one’s duties in life enable one to revisit it so seldom. He appeared to envy me, as he smiled with an almost licentious air, the delightful hours that, more fortunate than himself and more free, I would be able to spend with such a mistress. But the very terms that he employed showed me Literature as something entirely different from the image that I had formed of it at Combray, and I realized that I had been doubly right in abandoning it. Until now, I had supposed only that I had no gift for writing; now M. de Norpois took from me even the desire. I wanted to express to him what had been my dreams; trembling with emotion, I was painfully apprehensive that all the words I could say would not be the sincerest possible equivalent of what I had felt and that I had never attempted to formulate; that is to say that my words had no clear meaning. Perhaps by a professional habit, perhaps by virtue of the calm that is acquired by every important personage whose advice is commonly sought, and who, knowing that he will keep the control of the conversation in his

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower own hands, allows the interlocutor to fret, to struggle, to take his time as he labors; perhaps also to emphasize the character of his head (Greek, according to himself, in spite of his sweeping sideburns), M. de Norpois, while anything was being explained to him, would preserve a facial immobility as absolute as if you had been addressing some ancient and unhearing bust in a glyptotek.59 Until suddenly, falling on you like an auctioneer’s hammer, or a Delphic60 oracle, the ambassador’s voice, as it replied to you, impressed you all the more in that nothing in his face had allowed you to guess what sort of impression you had made on him, or what opinion he was about to express. “Precisely,” he suddenly said to me, as though the case were now heard and judged, and after having allowed me to stammer in front of his immobile eyes, which never for an instant left my face. “There is the case of the son of one of my friends, which, mutatis mutandis,61 is very much like yours” (and he adopted in order to speak of our common dispositions the same reassuring tone as if they had been dispositions not for literature but for rheumatism, and he had wished to assure me that it would not prove fatal). “And so he has chosen to leave the quai d’Orsay,62 although the way had been paved for him there by his father, and without caring what people might say, he has settled down to write. And certainly, he’s had no reason to regret it. He published two years ago—of course, he’s much older than you, naturally—a book dealing with the Sense of the Infinite on the Western Shore of Victoria Nyanza,63 and this year an opuscule,64 not so important as the other, but very crisp, in places perhaps almost too pointedly written, on the Repeating Rifle in the Bulgarian Army; and these have put him quite in a class by himself. He’s gone pretty far already, and he’s not the sort of man to stop halfway; I happen to know that (without any suggestion, of course, of his standing for election) his name has been mentioned several times, in conversation, and not at all unfavorably, at the Académie des Sciences Morales.65 In short, one can’t say yet, of course, that he has reached the pinnacle of fame; still, he has made his way, by sheer industry,

59. A glyptotek is a museum containing sculpture. 60. The Delphic oracles were pronounced by the Sibyl of Delphi and had great authority among the ancient Greeks, who considered them infallible. 61. Mutatis mutandis is a Latin phrase meaning “the necessary changes having been made” or “with due alteration of details.” 62. The offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are in a palace on the quai d’Orsay, in the seventh arrondissement between the pont de la Concorde and the pont Alexandre III, and thus the location is used as a shorthand for the ministry. 63. Victoria Nyanza, or Lake Victoria, is a great lake in central Africa bordered by Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. 64. An opuscule is a lesser work. 65. The Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, founded in 1795, is one of the five academies of the Institut de France. It is dedicated to the study of philosophy, political economics, law, and general history.

Madame Swann at Home 27

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 66. English consols (or consolidated funds) were and are a form of security issued by the British government without a redemption date and with a fixed annual interest. These securities originated in the eighteenth century as “consolidated annuities.” Russian four percents were investments that eventually proved to be of little value. The Russian stocks available for purchase on the French market beginning in 1888 facilitated the rapprochement between the two countries. Proust clearly wrote this after 1917 when readers would know that Norpois’s confident forecast had proven disastrous for investors, primarily because the Soviet Union refused to acknowledge the loans. We learn in The Fugitive that the stocks recommended by Norpois were among those that had lost the most value. See À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 445, n. 3.

28 Madame Swann at Home

to a very fine position indeed, and success—which doesn’t always come only to agitators and bunglers and mischief-­makers who are usually braggarts—success has crowned his efforts.” My father, seeing me already, in a few years’ time, an academician, was radiating a satisfaction that M. de Norpois raised to the highest pitch when, after a momentary hesitation in which he appeared to be calculating the consequences of his act, he handed me his card and said: “Why not go and see him yourself? Tell him I sent you. He will be able to give you some good advice,” plunging me by these words into as painful a state of anxiety as if he had told me that I was to embark next day as cabin boy on board a sailing ship. My Aunt Léonie had bequeathed to me, together with all sorts of other things and much of her very cumbersome furniture, almost all her liquid assets—revealing thus after her death an affection for me that I had hardly suspected during her life. My father, who was trustee of this estate until I came of age, now consulted M. de Norpois with regard to a certain number of the investments. He recommended certain stocks bearing a low rate of interest, which he considered particularly sound, notably English consols and Russian four percents.66 “With absolutely first-­class securities such as those,” said M. de Norpois, “even if your income from them is not very great, you may be certain of never losing any of your capital.” My father then told him, roughly, what else he had bought. M. de Norpois gave a just perceptible smile of congratulations; like all capitalists, he regarded wealth as an enviable thing, but thought it more delicate to compliment people on their possessions only by a half-­indicated sign of intelligent sympathy; on the one hand, as he was himself colossally rich, he felt that he showed his good taste by seeming to regard as considerable the smaller revenues of his friends, with, however, a joyful and comforting review of the superiority of his own. On the other hand, he did not hesitate to congratulate my father on the “composition” of his portfolio, selected “with so sure, so delicate, so fine a taste.” You would have supposed, on hearing him, that he

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower attributed to the relative values of shares, and even to the shares themselves, something akin to esthetic merit. Of one such share, comparatively recent and still little known, which my father mentioned, M. de Norpois, like the people who have always read the books that you believed you alone had ever heard of, said at once, “Ah, yes, I used to amuse myself for some time with watching it in the share index; it was quite interesting,” with the retrospective smile of a regular subscriber who has read the latest novel already, in monthly installments, in his magazine. “It would not be at all a bad idea to apply for some of this new issue. It is distinctly attractive, because they are offering it at a most tempting discount.” For certain of the older investments, my father, unable to remember their exact names, easy to confuse with others of the same kind, opened a drawer and showed the securities themselves to the ambassador. The sight of them enchanted me; they were ornamented with cathedral spires and allegorical figures, like some of the old, romantic publications that I had leafed through as a child. All the products of one period resemble one another; the artists who illustrate the poetry of an era are the same artists who are employed by the big financial houses. And nothing reminds me so much of certain monthly installments of Notre-­Dame de Paris,67 and of various books by Gérard de Nerval,68 that used to hang outside the grocer’s door at Combray, than does, in its rectangular and flowery border, supported by recumbent river gods, a registered share in the Water Company. The contempt that my father had for my kind of intelligence was so far tempered by his affection for me that, in practice, his attitude toward anything that I might do was one of blind indulgence. And so he had no qualm about sending me to find a little prose poem that I had made up, years before, at Combray, while returning from an excursion.69 I had written it down in a state of exaltation that must, I felt certain, infect everyone who would read it. But it was not destined to captivate M. de Norpois, for he handed it back to me without a word. My mother, who had the most profound respect for all my

67. This novel (1831) by Victor Hugo (1802–85) is known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-­Dame. 68. Gérard de Nerval, pseudonym of Gérard Labrunie (1808–55), one of the early Symbolists, whose Sylvie in Filles du Feu (1854) Proust particularly admired. In Time Regained, the Narrator mentions Nerval, along with poet Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) and writer François-­René de Chateaubriand (1768–1848), as belonging to the “noble lineage” of writers whose style and use of themes had influenced him. When the Narrator states his esthetic and other philosophical beliefs, it is safe to assume that he is the spokesman for Proust. 69. This is presumably the prose poem about the steeples of Martinville that the Narrator wrote in Swann’s Way, 207–8.

Madame Swann at Home 29

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 70. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756– 91), Austrian composer. The piano concerto in which the piano seems to answer the cello has not been identified.

30 Madame Swann at Home

father’s occupations, came in now, timidly, to ask whether dinner might be served. She was afraid to interrupt a conversation in which she herself could have no part. And indeed my father was continually reminding the marquis of some useful suggestion that they had decided to make at the next meeting of the Commission, and he did so, speaking in the peculiar tone always adopted, when in a strange environment, by a pair of colleagues—as exclusive, in this respect, as two young men from the same college—whose professional routine has furnished them with a common fund of memories to which the others present have no access and to which they are unwilling to refer before an audience. But the absolute control over his facial muscles that M. de Norpois had attained allowed him to listen without seeming to hear a word. At last my father became uneasy. “I had thought,” he said, after an endless preamble, “of asking the advice of the Commission . . .” Then from the face of the aristocratic virtuoso, who had maintained the inertia of a player in an orchestra awaiting the moment for him to begin his part, were uttered, with an even delivery, on a sharp note, and as though they were no more than the completion (but scored for a different voice) of the phrase that my father had begun, the words: “of which you will not hesitate, of course, to call a meeting, more especially as the present members are all known to you personally and can easily manage to attend.” This was not in itself a very remarkable ending. But the immobility that had preceded it made it detach itself with the crystal clarity, the almost malicious unexpectedness of those phrases in which the piano, silent until then, answers at the right moment, the cello to which one has just been listening, in a concerto by Mozart.70 “Well, did you enjoy your matinée?” asked my father, as we moved to the dining room; meaning me to shine and with the idea that my enthusiasm would give M. de Norpois a good opinion of me. “He has just been to hear Berma. You remember, we were talking about it the other day,” he went on, turning toward the diplomat, in the same tone of retrospective, technical, mysterious

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower allusiveness as if he had been referring to a meeting of the Commission. “You must have been enchanted, especially if you had never heard her before. Your father was alarmed at the effect that the little escapade might have on your health, which is none too good, I believe, none too robust. But I soon set his mind at rest. Theaters today are not what they were even twenty years ago. You have more or less comfortable seats now, and a certain amount of ventilation, although we have still a long way to go before we catch up with Germany or England, which in that respect, as in many others, are immeasurably ahead of us. I have never seen Mme Berma in Phèdre, but I’ve always heard that she is excellent in the part. You were delighted, of course?” M. de Norpois, a man a thousand times more intelligent than myself, must know the hidden truth that I had failed to extract from Berma’s acting; he would reveal it to me; in answering his question I would implore him to let me know in what that truth consisted; and he would tell me and thereby justify the longing that I had felt to see the actress. I had only a moment, I must make what use I could of it and bring my interrogation to bear on the essential points. But what were they? Fastening my whole attention on my own so confused impressions, with no thought of making M. de Norpois admire me, but only that of learning from him the truth that I had longed to discover, I made no attempt to substitute ready-­made phrases for the words that failed me—I stood there stammering, until finally, in the hope of provoking him into declaring what there was in Berma that was admirable, I admitted to him that I had been disappointed. “What’s that?” cried my father, annoyed at the bad impression that this admission of my failure to appreciate the performance might make on M. de Norpois, “How can you say that you didn’t enjoy it? Your grandmother told us that you didn’t miss a single word that Berma said and that no one else in the theater was as attentive as you.” “Oh, yes, I was listening as hard as I could, trying to find out

Madame Swann at Home 31

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 71. Bernhardt created her own traveling company in 1880 and during the remainder of her career toured frequently throughout Europe as well as in the United States, Canada, South America, and Australia. 72. John Bull is the name of a character typifying the English nation in The History of John Bull (1712) by John Arbuthnot (1667–1735), a Scottish physician and writer. The use of Uncle Sam to personify the government of the United States and the American people is thought to have come into use during the War of 1812. According to one account, Samuel Wilson (1766–1854), a meatpacker from Arlington, Massachusetts (then known as West Cambridge), who supplied rations for the soldiers, wrote U.S. on the barrels to be shipped. Soldiers soon began to read the initials as standing for “Uncle Sam” rather than United States.

32 Madame Swann at Home

what it was that was supposed to be so wonderful about her. Of course, she’s very good.” “If she is very good, what more do you want?” “One of the things that undoubtedly contributes to the success of Mme Berma,” said M. de Norpois, turning with elaborate courtesy toward my mother, in order not to leave her out of the conversation, and in conscientious fulfillment of his duty of politeness to the lady of the house, “is the perfect taste that she shows in selecting her roles; thus she can always be assured of success, and success of the right sort. She hardly ever appears in anything mediocre. Look how she has thrown herself into the part of Phèdre. And then, she brings the same good taste to the choice of her costumes, and to her acting. In spite of her frequent and lucrative tours in England and America,71 the vulgarity—I will not say of John Bull; that would be unjust, at any rate to the England of the Victorian era—but of Uncle Sam,72 has not infected her. No loud colors, no rant. And then that admirable voice, which serves her so well and with which she plays so delightfully—I would almost be tempted to say as a musician!” My interest in Berma’s acting had continued to grow ever since the performance was over, because this interest was then no longer compressed within the limits of reality; but I felt the need to find explanations for it; moreover, it had been fixed with the same intensity, while Berma was performing, on everything that she offered, in the indivisibility of a living whole, to my eyes and ears; there was nothing separate or distinct; such interest welcomed, accordingly, the discovery of a reasonable cause in these tributes paid to the simplicity, to the good taste of the actress; it attracted them to itself by its power of absorption, seized hold of them as the optimism of a drunken man seizes hold of the actions of his neighbor, in each of which he finds an excuse to become emotional. “He is right!” I told myself. “What a beautiful voice, what an absence of shrillness, what simple costumes, what intelligence to have chosen Phèdre. No; I have not been disappointed!” The cold beef, spiced with carrots, made its appearance,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower couched by the Michelangelo of our kitchen on enormous crystals of jelly, like transparent blocks of quartz. “You have a chef of the first order, Madame,” said M. de Norpois, “and that is no small matter. I myself, who have had, when abroad, to maintain a certain style in housekeeping, I know how difficult it often is to find a perfect master cook. But this is a positive banquet that you have set before us!” And indeed Françoise, in the excitement of her ambition to make a success, for so distinguished a guest, of a dinner whose preparation had been obstructed by difficulties worthy of her powers, had given herself such trouble as she no longer took when we were alone, and had recaptured her incomparable Combray manner. “That is a thing you can’t get in a cabaret—in the best of them, I mean; a spiced beef in which the jelly does not taste of glue and the beef has caught the flavor of the carrots; it is admirable!73 Allow me to come again,” he went on, making a sign to show that he wanted more of the jelly. “I would be interested to see how your Vatel74 managed a dish of a very different kind; I would like, for instance, to see him tackle a bœuf Stroganoff.”75 M. de Norpois, in order to add his own contribution to the gaiety of the repast, entertained us with a number of the stories with which he was in the habit of regaling his colleagues in “the career,” quoting now some ridiculous sentence uttered by a politician, an old offender, whose sentences were always long and packed with incoherent images, now some monumental epigram of a diplomat, sparkling with Attic76 salt. But to tell the truth, the criterion that for him distinguished these two kinds of phrases in no way resembled the one that I applied to literature. Most of the finer shades escaped me; the words that he repeated with derision seemed to me not to differ very greatly from those that he found remarkable. He belonged to the class of men who, had we come to discuss the books that I liked, would have said: “So you understand that, do you? I must confess that I do not understand; I am not initiated,” but I could have matched his attitude, for I

73. The model for Françoise in this passage is Proust’s cook, Céline Cottin (b. 1879), to whom he wrote this note on July 12, 1909: “I send you my warmest compliments and thanks for the marvellous bœuf mode. Would that I might bring off as well as you what I am going to do tonight, that my style might be as brilliant, as clear, as firm as your gelée, that my ideas might be as succulent as your carrots and as nourishing and fresh as your meat. Pending the completion of my work, I congratulate you on yours.” Proust, Selected Letters, 2: 439. 74. The fate of François Vatel (1631–71), butler to the Great Condé (Louis II, Prince de Condé, 1621–86), is told in a letter that Mme de Sévigné sent to her daughter on April 26, 1671. Believing himself to be dishonored because the seafood did not arrive at the château de Chantilly in time for a banquet in honor of King Louis XIV, Vatel killed himself with his own sword. 75. This dish of Russian origin consists of beef tenderloin, onions, and mushrooms sautéed and served in a sour cream sauce. Norpois’s request for the dish has been taken as a sign of his Russophilia. The dishes served or requested at this dinner reflect the politics and finances of the conversation. Count Paul Stroganoff was a Russian diplomat and member of a family of important Russian financiers. In paying his compliment to the hostess, Norpois incorrectly assumes that the cook is a man. 76. Attic was a dialect of ancient Greek originally used in Attica and later the literary language of the Greek-­speaking world.

Madame Swann at Home 33

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 77. The origin of this word, whose common meaning is now “edict,” was a proclamation by a Russian tsar having the force of law. 78. Bavaria was a kingdom of the old German federation that became, in 1919, one of the states of the Weimar Republic. Bavaria’s capital since 1806 was Munich.

34 Madame Swann at Home

did not grasp the wit or folly, the eloquence or nonsense that he found in a statement or a speech, and the absence of any perceptible reason for one’s being bad and the other good made that sort of literature seem more mysterious, more obscure to me than any other. I could distinguish only that to repeat what everybody else was thinking was, in politics, the mark not of an inferior but of a superior mind. When M. de Norpois made use of certain trite expressions that were found in the newspapers, and said them with emphasis, one felt that they became an official pronouncement by the mere fact of his having employed them, and a pronouncement that would provoke a string of comments. My mother was counting greatly on the pineapple and truffle salad. But the ambassador, after fastening for a moment on the confection the penetrating gaze of a trained observer, ate it with the inscrutable discretion of a diplomat, and without disclosing to us what he thought of it. My mother insisted on his taking some more, which M. de Norpois did, but saying only, in place of the compliment for which we were hoping: “I obey, Madame, for I can see that it is, on your part, a positive ukase!”77 “We saw in the papers that you had a long talk with King Theodosius,” my father said to him. “Why, yes, the king, who has a wonderful memory for faces, was kind enough to remember, when he noticed me in the orchestra section, that I had had the honor to meet him on several occasions at the Court of Bavaria,78 at a time when he had never dreamed of his Oriental throne (you know that he was summoned to it by a European congress, and indeed had grave doubts about accepting the invitation, regarding that particular sovereignty as rather unworthy of his race, the noblest, heraldically speaking, in the whole of Europe). An aide-­de-­camp came down to bid me pay my respects to his majesty, whose command I hastened, naturally, to obey.” “Are you satisfied with the results of his visit?” “Enchanted! One was justified in feeling some apprehension as to the manner in which a monarch who is still so young

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower would handle a difficult situation requiring tact, particularly at this highly delicate juncture. For my own part, I had complete confidence in the king’s political sense. But I must confess that he far surpassed my expectations. The toast that he made at the Elysée,79 which, according to information that has come to me from a most authoritative source, was composed, from beginning to end, by himself, was fully deserving of the interest that it has aroused in all quarters. It was simply masterly; a trifle daring, I quite admit, but with an audacity that, after all, has been fully justified by the event. Traditional diplomacy is all very well in its way, but in practice it has made his country and ours live in a hermetically sealed atmosphere in which it was no longer possible to breathe. Very well! One method of letting in fresh air, obviously not one of the methods that one could officially recommend, but one that King Theodosius might allow himself to adopt—is to break the windows. Which he accordingly did, with a spontaneous good humor that delighted everyone, and also with an aptness in his choice of words in which one could immediately detect the race of scholarly princes from whom he is descended through his mother. There can be no question that when he spoke of the ‘affinities’ that bound his country to France, the expression, rarely as it may occur in the vocabulary of the chancelleries, was a singularly happy one. You see that literary ability is no drawback, even in diplomacy, even on a throne,” he added, turning for a moment to me. “The community of interests had long been apparent, I quite admit, and the relations of the two powers had become excellent. Still, it needed putting into words. The word was what we were all waiting for, it was chosen with marvelous aptitude; you have seen the effect it had. For my part, I must confess I applauded openly.” “Your friend M. de Vaugoubert must have been pleased, after preparing for the agreement all these years.” “All the more so that his majesty, who is quite incorrigible, really, in some ways, had taken care to spring it on him as a surprise. And it did come as a complete surprise, incidentally, to

79. The Palais de l’Élysée, just off the Champs-­Élysées, has been the official residence of the president of France since 1848.

Madame Swann at Home 35

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 80. The Palazzo della Consulta in Rome housed the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1874 to 1922. 81. The Palazzo Farnese, begun in 1517 by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, one of the most important architects of the Renaissance, and later completed by Michelangelo and other prominent architects, is the residence of the French ambassador to Rome. The Farnese Gallery, also known as the Carracci Gallery, contains frescoes depicting mythological scenes painted between 1597 and 1606 by the brothers Agostino (1557–1602) and Annibale (1560–1609) Carracci. 82. A group of unofficial and often secret and scheming advisers. 83. Wilhelmstrasse is the street in Berlin on which the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located.

36 Madame Swann at Home

everyone concerned, beginning with the minister of foreign affairs himself, who—I have heard—did not find it at all to his liking. It appears that someone spoke to him about it and that he replied, very sharply, and loud enough to be overheard by the people on either side of him: ‘I have been neither consulted nor informed,’ indicating clearly by that that he declined to accept any responsibility for the consequences. One must admit that the incident has caused quite a stir, and I would not go so far as to deny,” he went on with a malicious smile, “that certain of my colleagues, for whom the supreme law appears to be that of inertia, may have been shaken from their habitual repose. As for Vaugoubert, you are aware that he has been bitterly attacked for his policy of bringing that country into closer relations with France, and this must have been more than ordinarily painful to him since he is such a sensitive, refined man. I can amply testify to that, since, for all that he is considerably my junior, I have had many dealings with him; we are friends of long standing, and I know him well. Besides, who could help knowing him? His is a heart of crystal. Indeed, that is the one fault that there is to be found with him; it is not necessary for the heart of a diplomat to be as transparent as is his. Still, that does not prevent their talking of sending him to Rome, which would be a fine promotion for him, but a pretty big plum to swallow. Between ourselves, I believe that Vaugoubert, utterly devoid of ambition as he is, would be very pleased, and would by no means ask for that cup to pass from him. For all we know, he may do wonders down there; he is the chosen candidate of the Consulta,80 and for my part I can see him very well placed, with his artistic leanings, in the setting of the Farnese Palace and the Carracci Gallery.81 You would suppose at least that it was impossible for anyone to hate him; but King Theodosius is surrounded by a whole camarilla,82 which is more or less held in fief by the Wilhelmstrasse,83 whose advice it dutifully follows, and which has done everything in its power to put sticks in his wheels. Not only has Vaugoubert had to face these backstairs intrigues, he also has had to endure the insults of a gang of hired

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower hacks who, later on, being like every corrupt journalist the most arrant cowards, have been the first to cry quits,84 but in the meantime did not shrink from hurling at our representative the most fatuous accusations85 that the wit of irresponsible fools could invent. For a month and more Vaugoubert’s enemies danced around him howling for his scalp,” M. de Norpois detached this word with sharp emphasis. “But forewarned is forearmed; as for their insults, he kicked them back,” he added even more emphatically, and with so fierce a glare in his eye that for a moment we stopped eating. “In the words of a fine Arab proverb, ‘The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on!’” After launching this quotation M. de Norpois paused and examined our faces, to see what effect it had had on us. Its effect was great, the proverb being familiar to us already. It had taken the place, that year, among men of distinction, of “He who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind,” which was sorely in need of a rest, not having the perennial freshness of “Working for the King of Prussia.”86 For the culture of these eminent men was an alternate one, and generally triennial. Of course, the use of quotations such as these, with which M. de Norpois excelled in sprinkling his articles in the Revue, was in no way essential to their appearing solid and well informed. Even without the ornament that the quotations supplied, it sufficed that M. de Norpois should write at the opportune moment (as he never failed to do): “The Court of Saint James87 was not the last to be aware of the peril,” or “Feeling ran high on the Singers’ Bridge, where one followed with anxious eyes the selfish but skillful policy of the Dual Monarchy,”88 or “A cry of alarm sounded from Montecitorio,”89 or yet again, “That eternal double-­dealing which is so characteristic of the Ballplatz.”90 By these expressions the lay reader had at once recognized and paid deference to the career diplomat. But what had made people say that he was something more than that, that he possessed a superior culture, had been his careful use of quotations, of which the perfect example, at that date, was still: “Give me a good policy and I will give you good finances, to quote the favorite words of Baron

84. In the original, “demander l’aman.” In Muslim law “aman” was the granting of life or amnesty to an enemy. The phrase has acquired a lighter meaning: to ask forgiveness or pardon. 85. The camarilla collected around Theodosius may refer to that surrounding German Emperor Wilhelm II (1859–1941), cousin of Nicholas II. It was composed of pacifist homosexuals and Francophiles. 86. This saying, to work for nothing or nearly nothing, is attributed to Voltaire (1694–1778), who complained about being inadequately compensated during the years (1750–53) he spent in Potsdam at the invitation of Frederick II, known as the Great (1712–86, King of Prussia 1740–86). 87. The Court of Saint James here designates the English foreign ministry. The Saint James’s Palace was the residence of the British royal family from the time of Henry VIII (1491–1547, King of England 1509–47) to 1837, when Queen Victoria took up residence in Buckingham Palace. “Saint James’s Palace” continued to designate both the British court and government. 88. The Singers’ Bridge is part of the Palace Square in Saint Petersburg and headquarters of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Dual Monarchy refers to the Austro-­Hungarian monarchy, a constitutional union that lasted from 1867 until the end of World War I. 89. The Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome served as headquarters of the Palace of Justice until 1870, when it became the seat of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian parliament. 90. The Ballplatz, or more correctly Ballhausplatz, is a square in central Vienna on which until 1918 was located the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Austro-­Hungarian Empire.

Madame Swann at Home 37

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 91. The Baron Joseph-­Dominique Louis (1755–1837), minister of finance to Napoléon I and Louis XVIII, uttered these words at a meeting of the cabinet during the turbulent days following the Revolution of 1830. 92. The French baccalauréat is an academic qualification exam that students take at the end of their last year at the lycée (high school). 93. This is apparently another allusion to the highly successful visit to France of Tsar Nicholas II in October 1896. 94. In French, “toast” is a borrowed word.

38 Madame Swann at Home

Louis.”91 (We had not yet imported from the Far East: “Victory belongs to the side that can hold out a quarter of an hour longer than the other, as the Japanese say.”) This reputation for being extremely well read, combined with a positive genius for intrigue, concealed beneath a mask of indifference, had secured the election of M. de Norpois to the Académie des Sciences Morales. And there were some who even thought that he would not be out of place in the Académie Française, on the day when, wishing to indicate that it was only by strengthening the Russian Alliance that we could hope to arrive at an understanding with Great Britain, he had not hesitated to write: “Let it be clearly understood in the quai d’Orsay, let it be taught henceforward in all the manuals of geography, which appear to be incomplete in this respect, let his baccalauréat 92 be remorselessly withheld from every candidate who has not learned to say, ‘If all roads lead to Rome, on the other hand the way from Paris to London runs of necessity through Saint Petersburg.’”93 “In short,” M. de Norpois went on, addressing my father, “Vaugoubert has achieved a great success by this affair, and one that exceeds even his own expectations. He expected, you understand, a conventional toast94 (which, after the storm clouds of recent years, would already have been something very good) but nothing more. Several persons who were present have assured me that it is impossible, when one merely reads the speech, to form any conception of the effect that it produced when articulated with marvelous clearness of diction by the king, who is a master of the art of public speaking and underlined in passing every possible intent, every shade of meaning. I allowed myself, in this connection, to listen to a rather piquant anecdote that brings out once again that frank, boyish charm by which King Theodosius has won so many hearts. I am assured that precisely at that word ‘affinities,’ which was, on the whole, the great innovation of the speech, and one that, you’ll see, will provoke discussion in the chancelleries for years to come, his majesty, anticipating the delight of our ambassador, who was to find in that word the just crowning of all his

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower efforts, of his dreams, one might almost say, and, in a word, his marshal’s baton, made a half turn toward Vaugoubert and fixing on him the arresting gaze so characteristic of the Oettingens,95 fired at him that admirably chosen word ‘affinities,’ a real find, in a tone that made it plain to all that it was employed deliberately and with full knowledge of the situation. It appears that Vaugoubert found it difficult to master his emotion, and I must confess that, to a certain extent, I can well understand it. Indeed, a person worthy of absolute credence even confided to me that the king came up to Vaugoubert after the dinner, when his majesty was holding informal court, and murmured to him, ‘Are you satisfied with your pupil, my dear Marquis?’” “It is certain,” M. de Norpois concluded, “that such a toast has done more than twenty years of negotiations toward bringing the two countries together, uniting their ‘affinities,’ to borrow the picturesque expression of Theodosius II.96 It is no more than a word, if you like, but look what success it has had, how the whole of the European press is repeating it, what interest it has aroused, what a new note it has struck. Besides, it is distinctly in the young sovereign’s style. I will not go so far as to say that he finds a diamond of that water every day. But it is very seldom that, in his prepared speeches, or better still in the spontaneous flow of his conversation, he does not reveal his character—I was on the point of saying ‘does not affix his signature’—by the use of some incisive word. I myself am quite free from any suspicion of partiality in this respect since I am stoutly opposed to all innovations in terminology. Nine times out of ten they are most dangerous.” “Yes, I was thinking only the other day that the recent telegram from the emperor of Germany97 could not be much to your liking,” said my father. M. de Norpois rolled his eyes, as though to say, “Oh, that fellow!” before he replied: “In the first place, it is an act of ingratitude. It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake, and one so stupid that I can describe only as pyramidal!98 Indeed, unless someone puts a stop to his activities, the man who has got rid of Bismarck

95. Proust took this name from that of a town in the former kingdom of Bavaria, in Germany. It was the capital of the principality of the same name until 1906. Norpois met King Theodosius several times at the court of Bavaria, when the king “had never dreamed of his Oriental throne.” 96. This single reference to Theodosius “II” has been taken as evidence that the model for the Oriental king was indeed Nicholas II. 97. Wilhelm II became emperor in 1888 and found himself at odds with the extremely conservative domestic and foreign policies of Bismarck, whose resignation he secured in 1890. This is a reference presumably to a telegram sent on January 1, 1896, by Wilhelm II to congratulate Paul Krüger (1825– 1904), president (1883–1900) of Transvaal, who had recently repulsed an invasion by a hundred or so British soldiers whose mission was to arouse immigrants to revolt. The telegram nearly provoked a war between England and Germany. See À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Paris: GF Flammarion, 1987). 98. Norpois’s empty discourse is filled with quotations, proverbs, and stock phrases. “It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake,” is a comment attributed to Charles-­Maurice de Talleyrand-­Périgord (1754–1838) when he learned that Napoléon I, determined to remove any possible Royalist rival, had ordered the execution of Louis-­Antoine-­Henri de Bourgon, Duc d’Enghien (1772–1804), the last of the House of Condé to bear this title. Scott Moncrieff maintained Proust’s word “pyramidal” to indicate the enormity of the blunder.

Madame Swann at Home 39

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 99. The cathedrals at Reims and Chartres and the Sainte-­Chapelle in Paris are all magnificent examples of Gothic architecture, a style created by the French.

40 Madame Swann at Home

is quite capable of repudiating by degrees the whole of the Bismarckian policy; after which it will be a leap into the unknown.” “My husband tells me, Monsieur, that you will perhaps take him to Spain one summer; I am so happy for him.” “Why, yes; it is an idea that greatly appeals to me, a delightful prospect. I’d like very much to make this journey with you, my dear fellow. And you, Madame; have you decided yet how you are going to spend your holidays?” “I will perhaps go with my son to Balbec, but I am not certain.” “Ah, Balbec is quite charming, I passed through there a few years ago. They are beginning to build some very pretty little villas there; I think you’ll like the place. But may I ask what made you choose Balbec?” “My son is very eager to visit some of the churches in that neighborhood, and Balbec church in particular. I was a little afraid that the tiring journey there and, above all, the discomfort of staying in the place might be too much for his health. But I hear that they have just opened an excellent hotel, where he will be able to get all the comfort that his condition requires.” “Indeed! I must give this information to a certain person who will not turn up her nose at a comfortable hotel.” “The church at Balbec is beautiful, is it not, Monsieur?” I inquired, repressing my sorrow at learning that one of the attractions of Balbec consisted in its pretty little villas. “No, it is not bad; but it cannot be compared for a moment with such veritable jewels in stone as the cathedrals of Reims and Chartres, or with what is to my mind the pearl among them all, the Sainte-­Chapelle99 here in Paris.” “But Balbec church is partly Romanesque, is it not?” “Why, yes, it is in the Romanesque style, which is to say very cold and lifeless and nothing that hints of the elegance, the fantasy of the later Gothic architects, who worked their stone as if it had been so much lace. Balbec church is well worth a visit if you are in those parts; it is rather quaint; if, on a rainy day, you have

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower nothing better to do, you might look inside; you’ll see the tomb of Tourville.”100 “Tell me, were you at the Foreign Ministry dinner last night?” asked my father. “I couldn’t go.” “No,” M. de Norpois smiled, “I must confess that I renounced it for a soirée of a very different sort. I was dining at the home of a lady of whom you may possibly have heard, the beautiful Mme Swann.” My mother repressed a shudder, for, being more rapid in perception than my father, she grew alarmed on his account over things that only began to upset him a moment later. Anything disagreeable that might upset him was discovered first by her, just as bad news of France is always known abroad sooner than among ourselves. But being curious to know what sort of people the Swanns might entertain, she asked M. de Norpois whom he had met there. “Why, my dear lady, it is a house that (or so it struck me) is especially attractive to . . . gentlemen. There were several married men there last night, but their wives were all indisposed and so had not come with them,” replied the ambassador with a perspicacity veiled by good humor, casting on each of us a glance whose gentleness and discretion appeared to be tempering while in reality they deftly intensified its malice. “In all fairness,” he went on, “I must add that women do go to the house, but . . . women who belong rather . . . how should I put it, to the republican world than to Swann’s” (he pronounced it “Svann’s”) “circle. Who knows? Perhaps someday it will turn into a political or a literary salon. Anyhow, they appear to be quite content as they are. Indeed, I feel that Swann advertises his contentment just a little too much. He told us the names of all the people who had asked him and his wife to their houses for the next week, people, however, whose friendship there was no particular reason to be proud of, with a want of reserve, of taste, almost of tact, which astonished me coming from a man so refined. He kept on repeating, ‘We haven’t a free evening!’ as though that had been

100. The tomb of Anne Hilarion de Cotentin, Comte de Tourville (1642–1701), naval hero, is in the church of Saint-­ Eustache in the first arrondissement of Paris.

Madame Swann at Home 41

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 101. We learn in due course that this lady is the Comtesse de Marsantes, by marriage one of the Guermantes. 102. This is an allusion to a famous passage in Pantagruel (book 4, chapters 5–8) by François Rabelais (c. 1494– 1553). During an ocean voyage, Pantagruel’s attendant Panurge avenges himself on a bullying sheep merchant by throwing one of the man’s sheep into the sea, after which, the entire flock jumps in. This has become a figure of speech to indicate those who are quick to imitate others. 103. A Nesselrode pudding, named after Russian diplomat and minister of foreign affairs Count Karl Robert Nesselrode (1780–1862), is a dessert of molded chestnut cream flavored with maraschino liqueur, containing crystallized fruit and decorated with whipped cream and marrons glacés. This is another of the references to Russian cuisine in the course of Norpois’s visit. 104. Carlsbad is a Czech health spa noted for its thermal baths. Lucullus (c. 117–58 or 56 b.c.) was a Roman general who led a life of great luxury; the splendor of his banquets is legendary.

42 Madame Swann at Home

something glorious, like a real parvenu, and he is certainly not that. For Swann has always had plenty of friends, women as well as men, and without seeming to go too far, without the least wish to appear indiscreet, I think I may safely say that not all of them, of course, nor even the majority of them, but one at least, who is a lady of the very highest rank,101 would perhaps not have shown herself inexorably averse to the idea of entering into relations with Mme Swann, in which case it is safe to assume that more than one sheep of the social flock102 would have followed her lead. But it seems that there has been no indication on Swann’s part of any movement in that direction. “What do I see? A Nesselrode pudding!103 As well! I declare, I will need a course of treatment at Carlsbad after such a Lucullus feast as this.104 Possibly Swann felt that there would be too much resistance to overcome. The marriage, so much is certain, was not well received. There has been some talk of his wife’s having money, but that’s the grossest howler. But in any case, the whole affair has been looked on with disfavor. And then, Swann has an aunt who is excessively rich and in an admirable position socially, married to a man who, financially speaking, is a power. Not only did she refuse to meet Mme Swann, she actually led a campaign to force her friends and acquaintances to do the same. I don’t mean to say that any well-­bred Parisian has been disrespectful to Mme Swann . . . No! A hundred times no! Quite apart from her husband’s being eminently a man to take up the gauntlet. In any case, the curious thing is to see the immense importance that Swann, who knows so many of the most select people, attaches to a society of which the best that can be said is that it is extremely mixed. I myself, who knew him in the old days, must admit that I felt more astonished than amused at seeing a man so well bred as he, so much in demand in the most exclusive circles, effusively thanking the chief secretary to the minister of posts for having called on them, and asking him whether Mme Swann might take the liberty of calling on his wife. He must feel something of an exile, don’t you know; obviously, it’s quite a different world. I

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower don’t think, all the same, that Swann is unhappy. It is true that for some years before the marriage she was always trying to blackmail him in a rather disgraceful way; she would take the child away whenever Swann refused her anything. Poor Swann, who is as naïve as he is refined, believed every time that the child’s disappearance was a coincidence, and declined to face the facts. Moreover, she made such continual scenes that everyone expected, from the day she achieved her goal and was safely married, that nothing could possibly restrain her and that their life would be a hell on earth.105 Well! Just the opposite has happened. People are inclined to laugh at the way Swann speaks of his wife; it’s become a standing joke. Of course, one hardly expected that, more or less conscious of being a—(you know Molière’s word)106—he would go and proclaim it urbi et orbi;107 still that does not prevent people from thinking he’s exaggerating when he says that she’s an excellent wife. And yet that is not so far from the truth as people imagine. In her own way—which is not what all husbands would prefer, but then, between you and me, I find it difficult to believe that Swann, who has known her for a long time and is far from being an utter fool, did not know what to expect—there can be no denying that she is fond of him. I don’t say that she is not fickle, and Swann himself has no fault to find with her for that, if one is to believe the charitable tongues that, as you may suppose, continue to wag. But she is distinctly grateful to him for what he has done for her, and, contrary to the fears shared by everyone, her temper seems to have become angelic.” This alteration was perhaps not so extraordinary as M. de Norpois professed to find it. Odette had not believed that Swann would ever consent to marry her; each time she made the tendentious announcement that some man about town had just married his mistress, she had seen him stiffen into a glacial silence, or at the most, if she challenged him directly, asking: “Don’t you think it very nice, a very fine thing that he has done, for a woman who sacrificed all her youth to him?” had heard him answer dryly: “But I don’t say that there’s anything wrong in it; everyone does

105. This explains, to a large degree, Swann’s motivation for marrying a woman who wasn’t his type and with whom he was no longer in love. See Swann’s Way, 435. Swann’s attachment to Gilberte, born out of wedlock, and his determination to create a respectful position for her and her mother in Parisian society will ultimately be linked to the theme of patricide. 106. Jean-­Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière (1622–73), one of the world’s great comic playwrights. Molière’s word is cocu, cuckold, and is a theme in a number of his comedies, notably in Sganarelle, ou Le Cocu imaginaire (1660) and Amphitryon (1668). 107. Urbi et orbi is a Latin phrase meaning “to the city and to the world.” In the pontifical benediction it indicates that the blessing applies universally. It is used popularly to mean “everywhere.”

Madame Swann at Home 43

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 108. Proust will continue to examine the subjective nature of love and its consequences throughout the novel.

44 Madame Swann at Home

as he pleases.” She came very near, indeed, to believing that (as he used to threaten in moments of anger) he would abandon her altogether, for she had heard it said, not long since, by a woman sculptor, that “You can’t be surprised at anything men do, they’re such brutes,” and struck by the profundity of this pessimistic maxim, she had appropriated it for herself and repeated it on every possible occasion with a disheartened air that seemed to imply: “After all, it’s not in any way impossible; it would be just my luck.” And consequently, all the force had been removed from the optimistic maxim that had hitherto guided Odette through life: “You can do anything with men when they’re in love with you, they’re such idiots,” a doctrine that was expressed on her face by the same blinking of her eyes that might have accompanied such words as: “Don’t be frightened; he won’t break anything.” While she waited, Odette was tormented by the thought of what one of her friends, who had been married to a man who had not lived with her for nearly so long as she herself had lived with Swann, and had had no child by him, and who was now relatively esteemed, invited to the balls at the Elysée, must think of Swann’s behavior. A consultant more discerning than M. de Norpois would doubtless have been able to diagnose that it was this feeling of humiliation and shame that had embittered Odette, that the infernal nature that she displayed was no essential part of her, was not an incurable malady, and so would easily have foretold what had indeed come to pass, namely that a new regimen, the matrimonial regimen, would put an end, with almost magic swiftness, to these painful incidents, of daily occurrence, but in no sense organic. Almost everyone was surprised at the marriage, and that in itself is surprising. No doubt very few people understand the purely subjective nature of the phenomenon that we call love, or how it creates a supplementary person, distinct from the person whom the world knows by the same name, a person most of whose constituent elements are derived from ourselves.108 And so there are very few who can regard as natural the enormous proportions that a person comes to assume for us who is not the same as the person that they see.

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Nonetheless, it seems that so far as Odette was concerned people might have taken into account the fact that if, indeed, she had never entirely understood Swann’s mentality, at least she was acquainted with the titles and with all the details of his studies, so much so that the name of Vermeer109 was as familiar to her as that of her own dressmaker; while as for Swann himself, she knew intimately those traits of character of which the rest of the world remains ignorant or merely ridicules, and of which only a mistress or a sister possesses the true and cherished image; and so strongly are we attached to such traits, even to those that we are most eager to correct, that it is because a woman comes in time to acquire of them an indulgent, affectionately mocking familiarity, such as we ourselves or our relatives have, that love affairs of long standing have something of the sweetness and strength of family affection. The bonds that unite us to another person are sanctified when that person adopts the same point of view as ourselves in judging one of our imperfections. And among these special traits there were others, besides, that belonged as much to Swann’s intellect as to his character, which, nevertheless, because they had their roots in the latter, Odette had more easily discerned. She complained that when Swann became an author, when he published his essays, these characteristics were not to be found in them to the degree that they were in his letters or in his conversation where they abounded. She urged him to give them a more prominent place. She would have liked that because it was these things that she herself preferred in him, but since she preferred them because they were the things most typical of him, she was perhaps not wrong in wishing that they might be found in his writings. Perhaps also she thought that his work, if endowed with more vitality, so that it ultimately brought him success, might enable her also to form what at the Verdurins’ she had been taught to value above everything else in the world: a salon. Among the people to whom this sort of marriage appeared ridiculous, people who in their own case would ask themselves, “What will M. de Guermantes think, what will Bréauté say when

109. Swann has evidently finished and published the essay on the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer (1632–75) that we learned he was writing during his love affair with Odette. See Swann’s Way, 226, 274, 340, 403. Since “essays” is in the plural in this passage, the implication is that Swann has published others as well. In a letter written on May 1, 1921, to his friend and art critic Jean-­ Louis Vaudoyer, Proust has this to say about Vermeer: “When I saw A View of Delft at the Museum in The Hague, I knew that I had seen the most beautiful picture in the world. In Du Côté de chez Swann, I couldn’t resist making Swann undertake a study of Vermeer.” Proust, Selected Letters, 4: 216. Proust visited The Hague in October, 1902. In another letter written to Vaudoyer two weeks later, Proust says that “Vermeer has been my favorite painter since I was twenty” and refers to Swann’s work as a “biography” of Vermeer. Proust, Correspondance, 20: 263–64.

Madame Swann at Home 45

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 110. The five academies that make up the Institut de France are the Académie Française, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-­Lettres, the Académie des Sciences, the Académie des Beaux-­ Arts, and the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques. The five academies meet regularly as separate bodies at the Institut, located on the quai de Conti, facing the Pont des Arts, in the sixth arrondissement, and as a corporate body to hold joint sessions.

46 Madame Swann at Home

I marry Mlle de Montmorency?” among the people who cherished that sort of social ideal would have figured, twenty years earlier, Swann himself, the Swann who had taken endless pains to get himself elected to the Jockey Club, and had reckoned at that time on making a brilliant marriage, which, by consolidating his position, would have made him one of the most conspicuous men in Paris. Only, the visions that such a marriage suggests to the mind of the interested party need, like all visions, if they are not to fade away and be altogether lost, to receive sustenance from without. Your most ardent longing is to humiliate the man who has insulted you. But if you never hear of him again, having moved to some other place, your enemy will no longer be of the slightest importance for you. If one has lost sight for a score of years of all the people on whose account one would have liked to be elected to the Jockey Club or the Institute,110 the prospect of becoming a member of one or other of those associations will have ceased to tempt one. Now fully as much as retirement, ill-­health, or religious conversion, a protracted affair with a woman will substitute fresh visions for the old. There was not on Swann’s part, when he married Odette, any renunciation of his social ambitions, for from these ambitions Odette had long ago, in the spiritual sense of the word, detached him. Besides, had he not been so detached, his marriage would have been all the more meritorious. It is because they imply the sacrifice of a more or less advantageous position to a purely private happiness that, as a general rule, disreputable marriages are the most worthy of esteem. (One cannot very well include among the disreputable marriages those that are made for money, there being no example on record of a couple, of whom the wife or even the husband has thus sold himself, who have not sooner or later been admitted into society, if only by tradition, and on the strength of so many precedents, and so as not to have two conflicting standards.) Perhaps, on the other hand, the artistic, if not the perverse side of Swann’s nature would in any event have derived a certain amount of pleasure from coupling with himself, in one of those crossings of species such as Men-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower delians111 practice and mythology records, a creature of a different race, archduchess or prostitute, by contracting a royal alliance or marrying beneath him. There had been but one person in all the world whose opinion he took into consideration whenever he thought of his possible marriage with Odette; that was, and from no snobbish motive, the Duchesse de Guermantes. With whom Odette, on the contrary, was but little concerned, thinking only of those people whose position was immediately above her own, rather than in so vague an empyrean. But when Swann in his daydreams saw Odette as already his wife, he invariably formed a picture of the moment in which he would take her—her, and above all her daughter—to call on the Princesse des Laumes (who was shortly, on the death of her father-­in-­law, to become the Duchesse de Guermantes). He had no desire to introduce them anywhere else, but his heart would soften as he invented—uttering their actual words to himself—all the things that the duchess would say of him to Odette, and Odette to Madame de Guermantes, the affection that she would show for Gilberte, spoiling her, making him proud of his daughter. He enacted to himself the scene of this introduction with the same precision in each of its imaginary details that people show when they consider how they would spend, supposing they were to win it, a lottery prize the amount of which they have arbitrarily determined. Insofar as a mental picture that accompanies one of our resolutions may be said to be its motive, so it might be said that if Swann married Odette it was in order to present her and Gilberte, without anyone else being present, without, if need be, anyone else ever coming to know of it, to the Duchesse de Guermantes. We will see how this sole social ambition that he had entertained for his wife and daughter was precisely that one the realization of which proved to be forbidden him by a veto so absolute that Swann died in the belief that the duchess would never possibly come to know them. We will see also that, on the contrary, the Duchesse de Guermantes did associate with Odette and Gilberte after the death of Swann. And doubtless he would have been wiser—seeing that he could

111. Mendelians are the followers of Gregor Johann Mendel (1822–84), an Austrian abbot known for his experiments with breeding plants in the monastery garden to study variation and heredity. Mendel’s laws of heredity were published by the natural history society of Brünn in 1866. His contribution to genetics was not widely recognized until brought into prominence by Hugo Marie de Vries (1848–1935) and others in 1900.

Madame Swann at Home 47

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 112. Comte de Paris is the title of the pretender to the French throne. In the time of this episode, he was Louis-­ Philippe-­Albert, Duc d’Orléans.

48 Madame Swann at Home

attach so much importance to so small a matter—not to have formed too dark a picture of the future, in this connection, but to have held in store the hope that the desired meeting might indeed take place when he was no longer there to enjoy it. The laborious process of causation that sooner or later will bring about every possible effect, including consequently those that one had believed to be most nearly impossible, is sometimes slow, rendered slower still by our desire—which in seeking to accelerate only hinders it—and by our very existence, and comes to fruition only when we have ceased to desire it and sometimes to live. Was not Swann conscious of this from his own experience, had there not been already, in his life, as it were a prefiguration of what was to happen after his death, a posthumous happiness in this marriage with this Odette whom he had passionately loved—even if she had not been pleasing to him at first sight—and whom he had married when he no longer loved her, when the creature that, in Swann, had so longed to live and had so despaired of living all its life with Odette, when that creature was dead? I began next to speak of the Comte de Paris,112 to ask whether he was not one of Swann’s friends, for I was afraid that the conversation might drift away from him. “Why, yes!” replied M. de Norpois, turning toward me and fixing on my modest person the azure gaze in which floated, as in their vital element, his immense capacity for work and his power of assimilation. “And good heavens,” he added, once more addressing my father, “I do not think that I will be overstepping the bounds of the respect that I have always professed for the prince (although without maintaining any personal relations with him, which would inevitably compromise my position, unofficial as that may be) if I tell you about a rather piquant incident; no more than four years ago, at a small railway station in one of the countries of Central Europe, the prince happened to set eyes on Mme Swann. Naturally, none of his circle ventured to ask his royal highness what he thought of her. That would not have been seemly. But when her name came

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower up by chance in conversation, by certain signs—imperceptible, if you like, but quite unmistakable—the prince appeared willing enough to let it be understood that his impression of her had, in a word, been far from unfavorable.” “But there could have been no possibility, surely, of her being presented to the Comte de Paris?” inquired my father. “Well, we don’t know; with princes one never does know,” replied M. de Norpois. “The most exalted, those who know best how to secure what is due to them, are as often as not the last to let themselves be embarrassed by the decrees of popular opinion, even by those for which there is most justification, especially when it is a question of their rewarding a personal attachment to themselves. Now it is certain that the Comte de Paris has always most graciously recognized the devotion of Swann, who is, for that matter, a witty fellow, if ever there was one.” “And what was your own impression, your Excellency?” my mother asked, from politeness as well as from curiosity. All the energy of the old connoisseur broke through the habitual moderation of his speech as M. de Norpois answered: “Quite excellent!” And knowing that the admission that a strong impression made on one by a woman takes its place, provided that one makes it in a playful tone, in a certain category of the art of conversation that is highly appreciated, he broke into a little laugh that lasted for several seconds, moistening the old diplomat’s blue eyes and making his nostrils, with their network of tiny scarlet veins, quiver. “She is altogether charming!” “Was there a writer named Bergotte at this dinner, Monsieur?” I asked timidly, still trying to keep the conversation to the subject of the Swanns. “Yes, Bergotte was there,” replied M. de Norpois, inclining his head courteously toward me, as though in his desire to be pleasant to my father he attached to everything connected with him a real importance and even to the questions of a boy my age who was

Madame Swann at Home 49

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 113. Anatole France is the model here both for the flute player and flaccid writing (literally: sans muscles). J. Levaillant quotes France as having said in 1890: “There are times when I feel somewhat ashamed for playing the flute, even though I can testify that I have endeavored to give meaning to my little songs.” See “Note sur le personnage de Bergotte,” Revue des sciences humaines, January–­March 1952, 43. Quoted in À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 464, n. 1. In Jean Santeuil, we find this passage on France: “Jean stammered out that he was very fond of Anatole France. ‘Ah, yes, a charming mind, a nimble and elegant pen,’ said Boisard, ‘but for breadth and grasp not in the same class as Boisset: pleasing enough I don’t deny, but when you have said that you have said everything. Besides he lacks virility: there is more of nerves in him than of muscle if you will forgive the phrase.’ Jean said nothing.” Jean Santeuil, with a preface by André Maurois, translated by Gerard Hopkins (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956), 502–3. It is also worth noting that such denigrating remarks were made by critics about Proust’s early works, including Swann’s Way. 114. Art for Art’s sake (“l’Art pour l’Art”) was the nineteenth-­century theory that the achievement of formal beauty was the sole purpose of a work of art, that esthetic value was what mattered. The phrase became the rallying cry for writers such as Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, and Gustave Flaubert, who fought for liberty in art and who opposed the idea that art should serve any utilitarian or utopian or humanitarian purposes.

50 Madame Swann at Home

not accustomed to see such politeness shown to him by persons of his. “Do you know him?” he went on, fastening on me that clear gaze, of which Bismarck admired the penetration. “My son does not know him, but he admires his work immensely,” my mother explained. “Good heavens,” said M. de Norpois, inspiring me with doubts about my own intelligence far more serious than those that ordinarily troubled me, when I saw that what I valued a thousand thousand times more than myself, what I regarded as the most exalted thing in the world, was for him at the very bottom of the scale of admiration. “I do not share your son’s point of view. Bergotte is what I call a flute player: one must admit that he plays on it very agreeably, although with a great deal of mannerism, of affectation. But when all is said, it is no more than that, and that is nothing very great. Nowhere does one find in his flaccid writings113 anything that could be called construction. No action—or very little—but above all no range. His books fail at the foundation, or rather they have no foundation at all. At a time like the present, when the ever increasing complexity of life leaves one scarcely a moment for reading, when the map of Europe has undergone profound alterations, and is on the eve, perhaps, of undergoing others greater still, when so many new and threatening problems are arising on every side, you will allow me to suggest that one is entitled to ask that a writer should be something more than a fine intellect who makes us forget, amid otiose and Byzantine discussions of the merits of pure form, that we may be overwhelmed at any moment by a double tide of barbarians, those from without and those from within our borders. I am aware that this is a blasphemy against the sacrosanct school of what these gentlemen term ‘Art for Art’s sake,’114 but at this period of history there are tasks more urgent than arranging words in a harmonious manner. Bergotte’s manner is now and then quite attractive. I don’t deny that, but taken as a whole, it’s all very precious, very thin, and has very little virility. I can now understand more easily, when I bear in mind your altogether excessive admiration of Bergotte, the few lines that

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower you showed me just now, which it would have been ungracious of me not to overlook, since you yourself told me, in all simplicity, that they were merely a childish scribbling.” (I had, indeed, said so, but I did not think anything of the sort.) “For every sin there is forgiveness, and especially for the sins of youth. After all, others as well as yourself have such sins on their conscience, and you are not the only one who has believed himself to be a poet in his day. But one can see in what you have shown me the bad influence of Bergotte. You will not, of course, be surprised when I say that there was in it none of his good qualities, since he is a past master in the art—incidentally quite superficial—of handling a certain style of which, at your age, you cannot have acquired even the rudiments. But already there is the same fault, that sheer nonsense of stringing together fine-­sounding words and only afterward troubling about what they mean. That is putting the cart before the horse, even in Bergotte’s books. All those Chinese puzzles of form, all these deliquescent mandarin subtleties seem to me to be quite futile. Given a few fireworks, set off prettily enough by a writer, and up goes the shout of masterpiece. Works of genius are not so common as all that! Bergotte cannot place to his credit—does not carry in his baggage, if I may use the expression—a single novel that is at all lofty in its conception, any of those books that one keeps in a special corner of one’s library. I do not see one such in the whole of his work. But that does not exclude the fact that, with him, the work is infinitely superior to the author. Ah! There is a man who justifies the wit who insisted that one ought never to know a writer except through his books.115 It would be impossible to imagine an individual who corresponded less to his—more pretentious, more pompous, less fitted for good company. Vulgar at some moments, at others talking like a book, and not even like one of his own, but like a boring book, which his, to do them justice, are not—such is your Bergotte. He has the most confused mind, alembicated, what our ancestors called a diseur de phébus,116 and he makes the things that he says even more unpleasant by the manner in which he says them. I forget for the moment whether it is Loménie or Sainte-­

115. This is an early and succinct statement of Proust’s quarrel with the critic Sainte-­Beuve, whose misguided ideas about literary criticism will be parodied through comments made by Mme de Villeparisis in part 2 of this volume. 116. Scott Moncrieff did not translate “diseur de phébus,” which means to speak in an obscure and affected language. The origin of the term is Phoebus, an epithet of Apollo, god of the sun and of poetry.

Madame Swann at Home 51

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 117. Alfred de Vigny (1797–1863), poet, novelist, and playwright, based his novel Cinq-­Mars (1826) on the conspiracy by the Marquis de Cinq-­Mars against Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642). “Le Cachet rouge” refers to the title (“Laurette, ou le cachet rouge”) of the first story in Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835). Louis-­Léonard de Loménie (1815–78) was elected to the Académie in 1871. His ten-­volume work Galerie des contemporains illustres par un homme de rien (1840–47) mentions Vigny only in passing. Charles-­Augustin Sainte-­Beuve (1804–69) is generally considered the most distinguished French literary critic of his day, an assessment that Proust opposed. Sainte-­Beuve describes Vigny, in his reception ceremony at the Académie, as annoying the audience by his slow delivery of a very long speech. Proust drafted a long essay, Contre Sainte-­Beuve (Against Sainte-­Beuve), parts of which later evolved into the content of his novel. In the essay, Proust attacked the critic’s insistence that a writer’s life and his work must be judged together. In Proust’s novel, especially in the characters of composer Vinteuil, writer Bergotte, and painter Elstir, he is careful in each to distinguish what he calls the moi social (social self) from the moi profond (creative self). For example, in Swann’s Way, Swann, who has long sought the identity of the composer Vinteuil, refuses to believe that his country neighbor by the same name could have produced such a masterpiece as Vinteuil’s sonata. See Swann’s Way, 244. 118. Viennese Princess Metternich, née Pauline Sandoz (1836–1921), wife of Prince Richard von Metternich-­ Winneburg. He was the Austrian ambassador to France from 1859 to 1870.

52 Madame Swann at Home

Beuve who tells us that Vigny repelled people by the same defect. But Bergotte has never given us a Cinq-­Mars, or a ‘Le Cachet Rouge,’ certain pages of which are veritable anthology pieces.”117 Floored by what M. de Norpois had just said to me about the fragment that I had submitted to him, and remembering at the same time the difficulties that I experienced when I attempted to write an essay or merely to devote myself to serious thought, I felt conscious once again of my intellectual nullity and that I was not born for a literary life. Doubtless in the old days at Combray certain impressions of a very humble order, or a few pages of Bergotte, used to plunge me into a state of reverie that had appeared to me to be of great value. But this state was what my poem in prose reflected; there could be no doubt that M. de Norpois had at once grasped and had seen through the fallacy of what I had discovered to be beautiful simply by a mirage that must be entirely false since the ambassador had not been duped by it. He had shown me, on the other hand, what an infinitely unimportant place was mine when I was judged from outside, objectively, by the best-­disposed and most intelligent of experts. I was filled with consternation, diminished; and my mind, like a fluid that is without dimensions except those of the vessel that is provided for it, just as it had expanded in the past to fill the vast capacity of genius, contracted now, was entirely contained in the straitened mediocrity in which M. de Norpois had of a sudden enclosed and sealed it. “Our first introduction—I speak of Bergotte and myself,” he resumed, turning to my father, “was somewhat beset with thorns (which is, after all, only another way of saying that it was prickly). Bergotte—some years ago, now—traveled to Vienna while I was ambassador there; he was presented to me by Princess Metternich,118 came and registered at the embassy, and let it be known that he wished to be invited. Now, being in a foreign country as the representative of France, to which he has after all done some honor by his writings, to a certain extent (let us say, to be quite accurate, to a very slight extent), I was prepared to set aside the unfavorable opinion that I hold of his private life. But he was not

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower traveling alone, and he actually let it be understood that he was not to be invited without his companion. I trust that I am no more of a prude than most men, and, being a bachelor, I was perhaps in a position to throw open the doors of the embassy a little wider than if I had been married and the father of a family. Nevertheless, I must admit that there are depths of ignominy to which I would not accommodate myself, while these are rendered more repulsive still by the tone, not moral, merely—let’s be frank and say moralizing—that Bergotte adopts in his books, where one finds nothing but perpetual and moreover, between ourselves, somewhat wearisome analyses, torturing scruples, morbid remorse, and all for the merest peccadilloes, veritable sermonizing (one knows what that’s like), while all the time he is showing such an utter lack of conscience and so much cynicism in his private life. To cut a long story short, I avoided answering, the princess returned to the charge, but without success. So that I do not suppose that I appear exactly in the odor of sanctity to the gentleman, and I am not sure how far he appreciated Swann’s kindness in inviting him at the same time as me. Unless of course it was he who asked for the invitation. One can never tell, for basically he’s a sick man. Indeed that’s his sole excuse.” “And was Mme Swann’s daughter at the dinner?” I asked M. de Norpois, taking advantage, to ask this question, of a moment in which, as we all moved toward the drawing room, I could more easily conceal my emotion than would have been possible at the table, where I was held fast in the glare of the lamplight. M. de Norpois appeared to be trying for a moment to ­remember: “Yes, you mean a girl of fourteen or fifteen? Yes, of course, I remember now that she was introduced to me before dinner as the daughter of our Amphitryon.119 I may tell you that I saw but little of her; she retired to bed early. Or else she went out to see some of her girlfriends—I can’t remember exactly. But I can see that you are very well informed about the Swann household.” “I play with Mlle Swann in the Champs-­Élysées, and she is delightful.”

119. In Greek mythology, Amphitryon was a distinguished general and husband of Alcmena, who was visited by Zeus in the guise of her husband, who was away at war. She bore two sons, Hercules from Zeus and Iphicles from Amphitryon. Amphitryon is the title character of Molière’s play (1668). His name has become proverbial to designate a generous host at whose house one dines. Could Norpois intend this as a sly, malicious allusion to Swann’s having been cuckolded? See note 106.

Madame Swann at Home 53

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 120. The Bois de Boulogne, often simply referred to as the Bois, is a vast park in the western section of Paris. In Proust’s day it was the place where fashionable people went to be seen. See Swann’s Way, 474–78. 121. This is another allusion to Mentor in Fénelon’s Télémaque. Minerva was Zeus’s favorite child, Goddess of the City, protector of civilized life, of handicrafts, and of agriculture.

54 Madame Swann at Home

“Oh! So that’s it, is it? But I assure you, I thought her charming. I must confess to you, however, that I do not believe that she will ever be anything like her mother, if I may say as much without hurting your feelings.” “I prefer Mlle Swann’s face, but I admire her mother, too, enormously; I go for walks in the Bois120 simply in the hope of seeing her pass.” “Ah! But I must tell them that; they will be very flattered.” While he was uttering these words, and for a few seconds afterward, M. de Norpois was still in the same position as anyone else who, hearing me speak of Swann as an intelligent man, of his family as respectable stockbrokers, of his house as a fine house, imagined that I would speak just as readily of another man equally intelligent, of other stockbrokers equally respectable, of another house equally fine; it was the moment in which a sane man who is talking to a lunatic has not yet perceived that his companion is mad. M. de Norpois knew that there was nothing unnatural in the pleasure that one derives from looking at pretty women, that it is a social convention, when someone speaks to you of a pretty woman with any fervor, to pretend to think that he is in love with her and to promise to further his designs. But in saying that he would speak of me to Gilberte and her mother (which would enable me, like an Olympian deity who has taken on the fluidity of a breath of wind, or rather the aspect of the old graybeard whose form Minerva121 borrows, to penetrate, myself, invisible, into Mme Swann’s drawing room, to attract her attention, to occupy her thoughts, to arouse her gratitude for my admiration, to appear before her as the friend of an important person, to seem to her worthy to be invited by her and to enter into the intimate life of her family), this important man who was going to make use, in my interests, of the great influence that he must have in Mme Swann’s eye inspired in me suddenly an affection so compelling that I had difficulty in restraining myself from kissing his gentle hands, white and wrinkled, which looked as though they had been left lying too long in water. I nearly sketched in the air

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower an outline of that impulsive movement that I supposed I alone had noticed. For it is difficult for any of us to calculate exactly on what scale our words or our gestures are apparent to others. Partly from the fear of exaggerating our own importance, and also because we enlarge to enormous proportions the field over which the impressions formed by other people in the course of their lives are obliged to extend, we imagine that the accessories of our speech and attitudes scarcely penetrate the consciousness, still less remain in the memory of those with whom we converse. It is, indeed, to a prompting of this sort that criminals yield when they touch up the wording of a statement already made, thinking that the new variant cannot be confronted with any existing version. But it is quite possible that, even in what concerns the millennial existence of the human race, the philosophy of the journalist, according to which everything is destined to oblivion, is less true than a contrary philosophy that would predict the conservation of everything. In the same newspaper in which the moralist of a “Premier Paris”122 says to us of an event, of a masterpiece, all the more so of a singer who has enjoyed her “hour of fame”: “Who will remember this ten years from now?” on page three, does not the report of the Académie des Inscriptions123 speak often of a fact, in itself of smaller importance, of a poem of little merit, which dates from the epoch of the pharaohs124 and is now known again in its entirety? Is it not, perhaps, just the same in our brief life on earth? And yet some years later, in a house in which M. de Norpois, who was also paying a call there, had seemed to me the most solid support that I could hope to find, because he was the friend of my father, indulgent, inclined to wish us all well, and besides, by his profession and upbringing, trained to discretion, when, after the ambassador had gone, I was told that he had alluded to an evening long ago when he had “seen the moment in which I was about to kiss his hands,” not only did I turn as red as a beet but I was stupefied to learn how different from all that I had believed were not only the manner in which M. de Norpois spoke of me but also the constituents of his memory: this piece of gossip enlightened me as

122. “Premier Paris” is a general reference to the editorial pages of Paris newspapers. 123. The Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-­Lettres is one of the five academies of the Institut de France. It was founded in 1663 to compose inscriptions and mottoes for the monuments of Louis XIV. In 1701, its duties were expanded to include the study of history, archaeology, linguistics, and so on. 124. The epoch of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt dates from c. 3,100 b.c., ending when Egypt became a province of Rome under Augustus Caesar in 30 b.c.

Madame Swann at Home 55

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 125. This is a reference to Lectures historiques. Histoire ancienne. Égypte. Assyrie.—Au temps de Ramsès et d’Assourbanipal. Égypte et Assyrie anciennes (Paris: Hachette, 1912), by the Egyptologist Gaston Maspero (1846– 1916). In chapter 15, “La Chasse royale,” Maspero describes the lion hunt of King Assurbanipal of Assyria, who took with him five young men: Oummanigâsh, Oummanappa, Tammaritou, Koudourrou, and Parrou. Assurbanipal was king of the Assyrians c. 668– 626 b.c. His name is also spelled Assourbanipal or Asurbanipal, and he is known in Greek as Sardanapalus. Proust’s friend Marie Nordlinger told Philip Kolb that she sent Proust a copy of Maspero’s book in 1906. See Proust, Correspondance, 6: 308, n. 3. 126. In June 1913, five months before the publication of Swann’s Way, Proust wrote to the novelist Max Daireaux (1884–1954), to consult him about geometrical allusions. In that letter, Proust quotes a version of the sentence involving perspective: “Speaking of a certain kind of vertical, slanting look which one assumes when one tells oneself something that one is concealing from one’s interlocutor (when something he says provokes a thought which one will conceal from him), I say more or less: ‘I had detected in M. de N’s face an expression of displeasure and in his eyes the narrow, vertical slanting look (like, in the drawing of a solid in perspective, one of its surfaces receding from the viewer) which is addressed to the invisible interlocutor one has inside oneself when one tells him something that the living interlocutor to whom one has been speaking until then mustn’t hear.’” Proust underlined twice the parenthetical phrase. Proust, Selected Letters, 3: 183.

56 Madame Swann at Home

to the incalculable proportions of absence and presence of mind, of recollection and forgetfulness that form the human mind; and I was as marvelously surprised as on the day on which I read for the first time, in one of Maspero’s books, that we had an exact list of the sportsmen whom Assurbanipal used to invite to his hunts a thousand years before the birth of Christ.125 “Oh, Monsieur,” I assured M. de Norpois, when he told me that he would tell Gilberte and her mother how much I admired them, “if you would do that, if you would speak of me to Mme Swann, my whole life would not be long enough for me to prove my gratitude, and that life would be all at your service! But I feel bound to point out to you that I do not know Mme Swann and that I have never been introduced to her.” I had added these last words from a scruple of conscience and so as not to appear to be boasting of an acquaintance that I did not possess. But while I was pronouncing them I sensed that they were already superfluous, for from the beginning of my expression of thanks, with its chilling ardor, I had seen flitting across the face of the ambassador an expression of hesitation and dissatisfaction, and in his eyes that vertical, narrow, slanting look (like, in the drawing of a solid body in perspective,126 the receding line of one of its surfaces), the look that one addresses to the invisible interlocutor whom one has within oneself at the moment when one is telling him something that one’s other interlocutor, the person whom one has been addressing until now—myself, in this instance—is not meant to hear. I realized in a flash that these phrases I had pronounced, which, feeble as they were when measured against the flood of gratitude that was coursing through me, had seemed to me bound to touch M. de Norpois and to confirm his decision on an intervention that would have given him so little trouble and me so much joy, were perhaps (out of all those that could have been chosen with diabolical malice by persons eager to do me harm) the only ones that could result in making him abandon his intention. Indeed, on hearing them, just as at the moment when a stranger with whom we have been pleasantly ex-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower changing our impressions, which we might have supposed to be similar, of the passersby whom we have agreed in regarding as vulgar, reveals to us suddenly the pathological abyss that divides him from us by adding carelessly as he runs his hand over his pocket: “It’s a pity I didn’t bring my revolver; I could have picked off every last one,” M. de Norpois, who knew that nothing was less costly or easier than to be commended to Mme Swann and taken to her house, and saw that to me, on the contrary, such favors bore so high a price and were consequently, no doubt, of great difficulty, thought that the desire, apparently normal, which I had expressed must cloak some different thought, some suspect intention, some prior misconduct, on account of which, in the certainty of displeasing Mme Swann, no one hitherto had been willing to accept the responsibility of conveying a message to her from me. And I understood that this service was one that he would never perform, that he might see Mme Swann daily, for years to come, without ever mentioning my name. He did, however, ask her, a few days later, for some information that I desired and charged my father to convey it to me. But he had not thought it his duty to tell her for whom he was inquiring. So she would never discover that I knew M. de Norpois and that I so hoped to be invited to her house; and this was perhaps less of a misfortune than I supposed. For the second of these discoveries would probably not have added much to the efficacy, in any event uncertain, of the first. In Odette the idea of her own life and of her own home awakened no mysterious disturbance; a person who knew her, who came to her house, did not seem to her a fabulous creature such as he seemed to me who would have thrown a stone through the Swanns’ windows if I could have written on it that I knew M. de Norpois; I was convinced that such a message, even when transmitted in so brutal a fashion, would have given me far more prestige in the eyes of the lady of the house than it would have prejudiced her against me. But even if I had been capable of understanding that the mission that M. de Norpois did not perform must have remained futile, even more, that it might even

Madame Swann at Home 57

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower have damaged my credit with the Swanns, I would not have had the courage, had he shown himself willing, to relieve the ambassador of it and to renounce the pleasure—however fatal its consequences might prove—of feeling that my name and my person were thus brought for a moment into Gilberte’s presence, in her unknown life and home. After M. de Norpois had gone, my father glanced at the evening paper; I dreamed once more of Berma. The pleasure I had found in listening to her required all the more to be made complete because it had fallen far short of what I had promised myself; and so it at once assimilated everything that was capable of giving it nourishment, those merits, for example, that M. de Norpois had recognized that Berma possessed, and that my mind had absorbed at one draft, like a dry lawn when water is poured on it. Then my father handed me the newspaper, pointing out to me a paragraph that ran more or less as follows: The performance of Phèdre, given this afternoon before an enthusiastic audience, which included the foremost representatives of the artistic and critical world, was for Mme Berma, who played Phèdre, the occasion of a triumph such as she has rarely known in the course of her phenomenal career. We will discuss more fully in a later issue this performance, which is indeed an event in the history of the stage; for the present we need only say that the best qualified judges are unanimous in declaring that such an interpretation sheds an entirely new light on the role of Phèdre, which is one of the finest and most studied of Racine’s creations, and that it constitutes the purest and most exalted manifestation of dramatic art that it has been the privilege of our generation to witness. As soon as my mind had conceived this new idea of “the purest and most exalted manifestation of dramatic art,” it, the idea, sped to join the imperfect pleasure that I had felt in the theater, added

58 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower to it a little of what was lacking and their combination formed something so exalting that I exclaimed to myself: “What a great artist!” It may doubtless be argued that I was not absolutely sincere. But let us bear in mind, rather, the countless writers who, dissatisfied with the passage they have just written, if they read some eulogy of the genius of Chateaubriand,127 or evoke the spirit of some great artist whose equal they aspire to be, by humming to themselves, for instance, a phrase of Beethoven,128 the melancholy of which they compare with what they have been trying to express in their prose, are so filled with that idea of genius that they add it to their own productions when they think of them once again, see them no longer in the light in which at first they appeared to them, and, hazarding an act of faith in the value of their work, say to themselves: “After all!” without taking into account that, into the total that determines their ultimate satisfaction, they have introduced the memory of marvelous pages of Chateaubriand that they assimilate to their own but which, in fact, they did not write; let us bear in mind the countless men who believe in the love of a mistress on the evidence only of her betrayals; all those, too, who are sustained by the alternative hopes, either of an incomprehensible survival of death, when they think, inconsolable husbands, of the wives whom they have lost but have not ceased to love, or, artists, of the posthumous glory that they may thus enjoy; or else the hope of a reassuring nothingness when their thoughts turn to the misdeeds that otherwise they must expiate after death; let us bear in mind also the tourists who come home enraptured by the general beauty of a voyage of which, from day to day, they have felt nothing but boredom; and let us then declare whether, in the communal life that is led by our ideas in the enclosure of our minds, there is a single one of those that make us most happy which has not first sought, like a veritable parasite, and won from an alien but neighboring idea the greater part of the strength that it originally lacked. My mother appeared none too pleased that my father no longer thought of a diplomatic career for me. I believe that, anxious above

127. Chateaubriand wrote René, first published in Le Génie du christianisme (1802). René, a melancholy youth, is the earliest Romantic hero in French literature. Proust especially admired Chateaubriand’s autobiography, Mémoires d’outre-­tombe, in which, as the Narrator acknowledges in Time Regained, he finds a precedent for involuntary memory, a phenomenon essential to Proust’s own esthetics. 128. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770– 1827) and Richard Wagner were among Proust’s favorite composers. There are many references to Beethoven in the novel and in Proust’s letters. In an April 1907 letter to Reynaldo Hahn, Proust mentions “the Beethoven sonata in which there’s that lively pastoral song that I used to love more than anything in the world.” He is referring to Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Opus 90. Proust, Selected Letters, 2: 275. In early 1916, he wrote to Reynaldo’s sister, Mme de Madrazo, that “you must have heard Reynaldo’s sublime waltzes, to my mind the highest point his art has ever reached, which together with certain Beethoven quartets made on me the most extraordinary impression I have experienced in music.” Proust, Selected Letters, 3: 335. The title of Hahn’s waltzes is Le Ruban dénoué, suite of waltzes for two pianos. The waltzes were composed while Hahn was at the front in World War I. For more on Proust and Beethoven, see note 217.

Madame Swann at Home 59

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower all that a definite rule of life should discipline the eccentricity of my nervous system, what she regretted was not so much seeing me abandon diplomacy as the prospect of my devoting myself to literature. “Let it go,” my father exclaimed; “the main thing is that a man should find pleasure in his work. He is no longer a child. He knows pretty well now what he likes; it is not at all probable that he will change and he is quite capable of deciding for himself what will make him happy in life.” That evening, as I waited for the time to arrive when, thanks to the freedom of choice that they allowed me, I would or would not begin to be happy in life, my father’s words caused me great uneasiness. At all times his unexpected kindnesses had, when they were manifested, prompted in me so keen a desire to kiss, above where his beard began, his glowing cheeks, that if I did not yield to that desire, it was simply because I was afraid of annoying him. And on that day, as an author becomes alarmed when he sees the fruits of his own meditation, which do not appear to him to be of great value since he does not separate them from himself, oblige a publisher to choose a kind of paper, to employ a font type finer, perhaps, than they deserve, I asked myself whether my desire to write was of sufficient importance to justify my father in dispensing so much generosity. But it was especially by speaking of my inclinations as no longer liable to change and of what was destined to make my life a happy one that he awakened in me two terrible suspicions. The first was that (at a time when, every day, I regarded myself as standing on the threshold of a life that was still intact and would not enter on its course until the following morning) my existence was already begun, and that, furthermore, what was yet to follow would not be very different from what had preceded. The second suspicion, which was nothing more, really, than a variant of the first, was that I was not situated somewhere outside the realm of Time, but was subject to its laws, just like the people in novels who, for that reason, used to plunge me into such depression when I read about their lives, down at Combray, in the back of my wicker sentry box. In theory we know that the earth turns, but in fact

60 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower we do not perceive it; the ground on which we tread seems not to move and we live undisturbed. So it is with Time in our life. And to make its flight perceptible novelists are obliged, by wildly accelerating the beat of the pendulum, to transport the reader in a couple of minutes over ten, twenty, or thirty years. At the top of one page we have left a lover full of hope; at the foot of the next we meet him again, an octogenarian, painfully dragging himself on his daily walk about the courtyard of a nursing home, scarcely replying to what is said to him, oblivious of the past. In saying of me, “He is no longer a child; his tastes will not change now, etc.,” my father had suddenly made me see myself in my position in Time, and caused me the same kind of depression as if I had been, not yet the demented old nursing home patient, but one of those heroes of whom the author, in a tone of indifference that is particularly cruel, says to us at the end of a book: “He very seldom comes up now from the country. He has finally decided to end his days there, etc.” Meanwhile, my father, so as to forestall any criticism that we might feel tempted to make of our guest, said to my mother: “I admit that old Norpois was rather ‘trite,’129 as you call it, this evening. When he said that it would not have been ‘seemly’ to ask the Comte de Paris a question, I was afraid you might burst out laughing.” “Not at all!” answered my mother. “I was delighted to see a man of his standing and age keep that sort of simplicity, which is really a sign of straightforwardness and good breeding.” “I should think so, indeed! That does not prevent him from being shrewd and discerning; I know him well and see him at the Commission, where he is very different from what he is here,” exclaimed my father, happy to see that Mamma appreciated M. de Norpois, and eager to persuade her that he was even superior to what she supposed, because a cordial nature exaggerates a friend’s qualities with as much pleasure as a mischievous one finds in depreciating them. “What was it that he said, again . . . ‘With princes one never does know . . .’?”

129. Poncif is a noun for a cliché or trite word or expression. It does not have an adjectival form.

Madame Swann at Home 61

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 130. Jean-­Baptiste Prosper Bressant (1815–86) was a well-­known actor, whose hairstyle Swann imitated in “Swann in Love” (Swann’s Way, 223). See Swann’s Way, 16, note 22, for Bressant. Bressant played the role of Fabrice in the comedy L’Aventurière (1848) by Émile Augier (1820–89) during the play’s revival in 1860. In 1864, Bressant was in the cast of a new version of Augier’s comedy Le Gendre de M. Poirier (1854), written in collaboration with Jules Sandeau (1811–83). Charles-­Jean-­ Joseph Thiron (1830–91) was another famous actor; he played the role of Vatel in Le Gendre de M. Poirier. 131. The Narrator is recalling the scene he witnessed when Françoise killed a chicken at Combray. See Swann’s Way, 139.

62 Madame Swann at Home

“Yes, that’s right. I noticed it at the time; it was very astute. You can see that he has a vast experience of life.” “The astonishing thing is that he has been dining with the Swanns and that he seems to have found quite respectable people there, officials even. How on earth can Mme Swann have managed to fish up a crowd like that?” “Did you notice the malicious way he made this observation: ‘It’s a house that is especially attractive to gentlemen’!” And each of them attempted to reproduce the manner in which M. de Norpois had uttered these words, as they might have attempted to capture some intonation of Bressant’s voice or of Thiron’s in L’Aventurière or in Le Gendre de M. Poirier.130 But of all his sayings there was none so keenly relished as one was by Françoise, who, years afterward, even, could not “keep a straight face” if we reminded her that she had been qualified by the ambassador as “a chef of the first order,” a compliment that my mother had gone in person to transmit to her just as a war minister publishes the congratulations addressed to him by a visiting sovereign after the grand review. I, as it happened, had preceded my mother to the kitchen. For I had extorted from Françoise, who, though opposed to war, was cruel,131 the promise that she would cause no undue suffering to the rabbit that she had to kill, and I had had no report yet of its death. Françoise assured me that it had passed away as peacefully as could be desired, and very swiftly. “I have never seen a beast like it; it died without uttering a word; you would have thought it was mute.” Being but little versed in the language of beasts, I suggested that the rabbit had not, perhaps, a cry like the chicken’s. “Just wait till you see,” said Françoise, filled with contempt for my ignorance, “if rabbits don’t cry every bit as much as chickens. Why, they are far noisier.” Françoise received the compliments of M. de Norpois with the proud simplicity, the joyful and—if but for the moment—intelligent expression of an artist when someone speaks to him of his art. My mother had sent her, when she first came to us, to several of the great restaurants to see how the cooking there was done. I had the same pleasure

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that evening in hearing her dismiss the most famous of them as mere hash houses that I had had long ago when I learned with regard to theatrical artists that the hierarchy of their merits did not at all correspond to that of their reputations. “The ambassador,” my mother told her, “assured me that he knows no place where he can get cold beef and soufflés as good as yours.” Françoise, with an air of modesty and of paying just homage to the truth, agreed, but seemed not at all impressed by the title ambassador; she said of M. de Norpois, with the friendliness due to someone who had taken her for a “chef ”: “He’s a good old soul, like me.” She had indeed hoped to catch sight of him as he arrived, but knowing that Mamma hated anyone standing about behind doors and in windows and thinking that Mamma would find out from the other servants or from the concierges that she had been keeping watch (for Françoise saw everywhere nothing but “jealousies” and “tattletells,”132 which played the same baleful and unending part in her imagination as do for others the intrigues of the Jesuits or the Jews), she had contented herself with watching from the kitchen window, “so as not to have words with Madame,” and beneath the momentary aspect of M. de Norpois had “thought it was M. Legrandin,” because of what she called his agelity133 and in spite of their having not a single point in common. “Well,” inquired my mother, “how do you explain that no one can make an aspic as well as you—when you choose?” “I really couldn’t say how that becomes about,” replied Françoise, who had established no very clear line of demarcation between the verb “to come,” in certain of its meanings at least, and the verb “to become.” She was telling the truth, in part, being scarcely more capable—or desirous—of revealing the mystery that ensured the superiority of her aspics or her creams than a leader of fashion the secrets of her toilettes or a great singer those of her song. Their explanations tell us very little; it was the same with the recipes of our cook. “They do it in too much of a hurry,” she went on, alluding to the great restaurants, “and then it’s not all done together. You want the beef to become like a sponge, then it will drink up all the juice to the

132. Françoise creates a malapropism when she says “racontages” instead of “racontars” for “tattletales.” 133. Another of Françoise’s malapropisms: she means “agilité.” Swift movement is a characteristic of Legrandin and Robert de Saint-­Loup, as well as of all the girls desired and pursued by the Narrator. In the case of the male characters, this trait will be an indication of their sexual orientation.

Madame Swann at Home 63

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 134. Henry was a restaurant on the place Gaillon at the corner of the rue Saint-­Augustin and rue de Port-­Mahon in the second arrondissement. 135. Weber was a restaurant from 1884 to 1961 located at 21, rue Royale in the eighth arrondissement. The rue Royale runs from the place de la Concorde to the place de la Madeleine. Proust, who lived nearby as a young man, often went to Weber, which was a popular spot for men of letters, artists, and journalists, such as Proust’s friend Léon Daudet, who devoted a chapter to Weber in his Souvenirs littéraires. 136. Ciro’s (spelled thus) was the name of a restaurant located at 8, rue Daunou in the second arrondissement. 137. In French, the word “monde” means both world and society. In Proust’s imagery referring to the various salons and their level of prestige, he makes frequent use of this double meaning. Here, Françoise intends to indicate that the cooking is apparently done by prostitutes who lack culinary talent. 138. Under Napoléon I, a louis was a gold coin worth twenty francs. 139. Grands Boulevards generally designate the best of Paris’s boulevards, such as those located on the Right Bank near the Opéra Garnier and in the area in which are located the restaurants described by Françoise. 140. The Café Anglais was a restaurant located at 13, boulevard des Italiens in the second arrondissement from 1844 until just before World War I. Among its clientele were many wealthy foreigners and crowned heads.

last drop. Still, there was one of those cafés where I thought they did know a little bit about cooking. I don’t say it was altogether my aspic, but it was very nicely done, and the soufflés had plenty of cream.” “Do you mean Henry’s?” asked my father (who had now joined us), for he greatly enjoyed that restaurant in the place Gaillon134 where he dined regularly with colleagues. “Oh, dear no!” said Françoise, with a mildness that cloaked her profound disdain. “I meant a little restaurant. At that Henry’s it’s all very good, sure enough, but it’s not a restaurant, it’s more like a—soup kitchen.” “Weber’s, then?” “Oh, no, Monsieur, I meant a good restaurant. Weber’s, that’s in the rue Royale;135 that’s not a restaurant, it’s a brasserie. I don’t know that the food they give you there is properly served. I think they don’t even have any tablecloths; they just shove it down in front of you like that, with a take it or leave it.” “Cirro’s?”136 Françoise smiled: “Oh, there I would say they have the cooking done by ladies of the world!” (“World” meant for Françoise the demimonde.)137 “Lord! They need that to fetch the boys in.” We could see that, with all her air of simplicity, Françoise was for the celebrities of her profession a more disastrous “comrade” than the most jealous, the most infatuated of actresses. We felt, all the same, that she had a proper feeling for her art and a respect for tradition; for she added: “No, I mean a restaurant where they looked as if they kept a very good little family table. It’s still a place of some consequence, too. Plenty of regular customers there. Oh, they raked in the sous there, all right.” Françoise, being economical, reckoned in sous, not in louis138 like reckless gamblers. “Madame knows the place well enough, down there to the right along the Grands Boulevards,139 a little way back.” The restaurant of which she spoke with this equal blend of pride and bonhomie was . . . the Café Anglais.140 When New Year’s Day came, I first of all paid a round of family visits with Mamma, who, so as not to tire me, had planned them beforehand (with the aid of an itinerary drawn up by my father) according to neighborhoods rather than to degrees of kinship. But

64 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower no sooner had we entered the drawing room of a distant cousin whose claim to being visited first was that her house was at no distance from ours, than my mother was horrified to see standing there, his present of marrons glacés or déguisés141 in his hand, the best friend of the most sensitive of all my uncles, to whom he would at once go and report that we had not begun our round with him. This uncle would certainly be hurt; he would have thought it quite natural that we should go from the Madeleine to the Jardin des Plantes, where he lived, before stopping at Saint-­ Augustin, on our way to the rue de l’École de Médecine.142 Our visits ended (my grandmother had dispensed us from the duty of calling on her, since we were to dine there that evening), I ran all the way to the Champs-­Élysées to give to our own special vendor, with instructions to hand it over to the person who came to her several times a week from the Swanns’ to buy spice bread, the letter that, on the day when my friend had caused me so much anxiety, I had decided to send her at the New Year, and in which I told her that our old friendship was vanishing with the old year, that I would forget my old sorrows and disappointments, and that, from this first day of January, it was a new friendship that we were going to cement, one so solid that nothing could destroy it, so wonderful that I hoped that Gilberte would take some pride in preserving it in all its beauty, and to warn me in time, as I promised to warn her, should either of us detect the least sign of a peril that might endanger it. On our way home Françoise made me stop at the corner of the rue Royale, before an open-­air stall from which she selected for her own New Year’s Day presents photographs of Pius IX and Raspail,143 while for myself I purchased one of Berma. The innumerable admirers fascinated by that artist gave an air almost of poverty to this one face that she had to respond with, unalterable and precarious like the garments of people who do not have a change of clothes, this face on which she must continually expose to view only the tiny dimple over her upper lip, the arch of her eyebrows, and a few other physical peculiarities always the same, which, when it came to it, were at the mercy

141. Marrons glacés or déguisés are chestnuts that have been preserved in a sweet syrup. They are eaten as a confection or used to garnish desserts. The French offer them as a traditional gift on New Year’s Day, especially in Paris. 142. That is, the uncle would have thought it quite natural for the Narrator and his mother to zigzag back and forth across the Seine, beginning on the Right Bank at the church of the Madeleine, then over to the Jardin des Plantes (the main botanical garden in France) on the Left Bank, back across the river to the church of Saint-­Augustin, and finally to cross the river yet again to end at the rue de l’École de Médecine on the Left Bank. The churches of the Madeleine and of Saint-­Augustin are located in the eighth arrondissement near where Proust lived with his parents until his mother’s death in 1905. After his mother’s death, Proust remained in the same arrondissement but moved to his late Uncle Louis Weil’s apartment at 102, boulevard Haussmann. The Jardin des Plantes, which dates from the early seventeenth century, exhibits both animals and plants and is located in the fifth arrondissement. 143. Pius IX (1792–1878) was pope from 1846 to 1878, the longest pontificate in history, during which was promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility. François-­Vincent Raspail (1794–1878) was a chemist and political figure who defended republican principles. After serving a long prison sentence in the early years of the Second Empire, he lived in Belgium. He returned to France in 1863 and was elected député (congressman) in 1869. Françoise’s choice of photographs may seem an odd pairing, since the pope was extremely reactionary while Raspail was something of a revolutionary.

Madame Swann at Home 65

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower of a burn or a blow. This face, moreover, could not in itself have seemed to me beautiful, but it gave me the idea, and consequently the desire to kiss it by reason of all the kisses that it must have received, for which, from its page in the album, it seemed still to be appealing with that coquettishly tender gaze and that artificially ingenuous smile. For Berma must indeed have felt for many young men those longings that she confessed under the cover of the personality of Phèdre, longings of which everything, even the prestige of her name, which enhanced her beauty and prolonged her youth, must render the gratification so easy for her. Night was falling; I stopped in front of a Morris column with playbills, on which was posted that of the performance in which she was to appear on January 1. A moist and gentle breeze was blowing. It was a time of day and year that I knew; I suddenly felt a presentiment that New Year’s Day was not a day different from the rest, that it was not the first day of a new world in which I might, by a chance that had never yet occurred, that was still intact, make Gilberte’s acquaintance afresh, as at the Creation of the World, as though the past had no longer any existence, as though there had been obliterated, with the indications I might have preserved for my future guidance, the disappointments she had sometimes brought me; a new world in which nothing would subsist from the old—except one thing, my desire that Gilberte should love me. I realized that if my heart hoped for such a reconstruction around it of a universe that had not satisfied it before, it was because my heart had not altered, and I told myself that there was no reason why Gilberte’s should have altered either; I felt that this new friendship was the same, just as there is no boundary ditch between their forerunners and those new years that our desire for them, without being able to reach and so to modify them, invests, unknown to themselves, with distinctive names. I might dedicate this new year, if I chose, to Gilberte, and as one bases a religious system on the blind laws of nature, endeavor to stamp New Year’s Day with the particular image that I had formed of it; but in vain, I felt that it was not aware that people called it New Year’s Day,

66 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that it was ending in a wintry dusk in a manner that was not new to me; in the gentle breeze that floated about the column of playbills I had recognized, I had felt reappear the eternal, the universal substance, the familiar moisture, the unheeding fluidity of the old days and years. I returned to the house. I had just lived the New Year’s Day of old men, who differ on that day from the young, not because people have ceased to give them presents but because they themselves have ceased to believe in the New Year. Presents I had indeed received, but not the only present that could bring me pleasure, namely a note from Gilberte. I was young still, however, since I had been capable of writing her one by means of which I hoped, in telling her of my solitary dreams of love and longing, to arouse similar dreams in her. The sadness of men who have grown old lies in their no longer even thinking of writing such letters of which their experience has shown the futility. After I was in bed, the noises of the street, unduly prolonged on this festive evening, kept me awake. I thought of all the people who were ending the night in pleasure, of the lover, the band of debauchees who would be going to meet Berma after the performance that I had seen announced for this evening. I was not even able, so as to calm the agitation that this idea engendered in me during my sleepless night, to assure myself that Berma was not, perhaps, thinking about love, since the lines that she was reciting, that she had long and carefully rehearsed, reminded her at every moment that love is an exquisite thing, as of course she already knew so well that she displayed its familiar pangs—only enriched with a new violence and an unsuspected sweetness—to her astonished audience, though each of them felt those pangs himself. I lit my candle again, to look once more at her face. At the thought that it was, no doubt, at that very moment being caressed by those men whom I could not prevent from giving to Berma and receiving from her joys superhuman but vague, I felt an emotion more cruel than voluptuous, a longing that was aggravated presently by the sound of a horn, as one hears it on the nights

Madame Swann at Home 67

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 144. In the early 1890s, it became customary for revelers to celebrate the Thursday midway (mi-­carême) through Lent with festive activities that included throwing confetti and paper streamers. 145. “Le soir au fond des bois” is from the first line of Alfred de Vigny’s poem “Le Cor” (The horn). The poem concludes: “Dieu! que le son du Cor est triste au fond des bois!” (Oh, God! How sad the sound of the Horn is in the depth of the woods!) 146. The first exhibition of the Société des Aquarellistes was held in 1879. Madeleine Lemaire (1845–1928), whose salon Proust frequented as a young man, was a noted watercolorist who illustrated his first book, Les Plaisirs et les jours. 147. Ange-­Jacques Gabriel (1698–1782), royal architect, built or enlarged many palaces, including Versailles, during the reign of Louis XV (1715–74). 148. The Palais de l’Industrie, built for the Exposition of 1855, on the site of the present Petit and Grand Palais, housed the annual exhibitions of painting and sculpture. The Palais du Trocadéro was built for the Exposition of 1878 by the architect Gabriel Davioud (1823–81). It contained a museum of sculpture founded in 1882 by Viollet-­ le-­Duc. The Palais du Trocadéro was replaced in 1937 by the Palais de Chaillot. 149. The porte Saint-­Denis (1672) and the porte Saint-­Martin (1674) are triumphal arches built in the tenth arrondissement to commemorate the victories, in Germany and Franche-­Comté, of Louis XIV. 150. Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) is an 1858 opera bouffe by Jacques Offenbach (1819–80) with a libretto by Hector Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy.

68 Madame Swann at Home

of the Lenten carnival144 and often of other holidays, which, because it then lacks all poetry, is more saddening, coming from a tavern, than “at evening, in the depth of the woods.”145 At that moment, a message from Gilberte would perhaps not have been what I wanted. Our desires cut across one another’s paths, and in this confused existence it is but rarely that a piece of good fortune coincides with the desire that clamored for it. I continued to go to the Champs-­Élysées on fine days, along streets whose elegant pink houses seemed to be washed (because exhibitions of watercolors146 were then at the height of fashion) in a lightly floating atmosphere. It would be untrue to say that in those days the palaces of Gabriel147 struck me as being of greater beauty or even of another epoch than the adjoining mansions. I found more style, and would have supposed more antiquity if not in the Palais de l’Industrie at any rate in the Trocadéro.148 Plunged in a restless sleep, my adolescence embodied in one uniform vision the whole of the quarter through which it might be strolling, and I had never dreamed that there could be an eighteenth-­century building in the rue Royale, just as I would have been astonished to learn that the porte Saint-­Martin and the porte Saint-­Denis, those glories of the age of Louis XIV,149 were not contemporary with the most recently built tenements in the sordid arrondissements that bear their names. Only once did a palace of Gabriel’s make me stop for a long time; that was because, night having fallen, its columns, dematerialized by the moonlight, had the appearance of having been cut out in pasteboard and by recalling to me a stage setting in the operetta Orphée aux Enfers150 gave me for the first time an impression of beauty. Meanwhile Gilberte never came back to the Champs-­Élysées. And yet it was imperative that I should see her, for I could not even remember her face. The questing, anxious, exacting way that we have of looking at the person we love, our eagerness for the word that will give us or take from us the hope of an appointment for the following day, and, until that word is uttered, our alternative if not simultaneous imaginings of joy and of despair, all

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower these make our observation, in the beloved’s presence, too tremulous to be able to obtain a very clear image of her. Perhaps also this activity of all the senses at once that endeavors to discover with the eyes alone what lies beyond them is overindulgent to the thousand forms, to all the savors, to the movements of the living person whom as a rule, when we are not in love, we immobilize. Whereas the beloved model does not stay still; and our mental photographs of her are always blurred. I no longer really knew how Gilberte’s features were composed, except in the divine moments when she disclosed them to me; I could remember nothing but her smile. And not being able to see again that beloved face, despite every effort that I might make to recapture it, I would be disgusted to find, sketched in my memory with a maddening precision of detail, the meaningless, emphatic faces of the man with the wooden horses and of the woman who sold barley sugar; just as those who have lost a loved one whom they never see even while they are asleep, are exasperated at meeting incessantly in their dreams any number of unbearable people whom it is quite enough to have known in the waking world. In their inability to form an image of the object of their grief they are almost led to accuse themselves of feeling no grief. And I was not far from believing that, since I could not recall Gilberte’s features, I had forgotten Gilberte herself and no longer loved her. At last she returned to play there almost every day, setting before me fresh pleasures to desire, to demand of her for the next day, indeed in this sense, making my love for her each day a new love. But an incident was to change once again, and abruptly, the manner in which, at about two o’clock every afternoon, the problem of my love confronted me. Had M. Swann intercepted the letter that I had written to his daughter, or was Gilberte merely confessing to me long after the event, and so that I would be more prudent in the future, a state of things already long established? As I was telling her how greatly I admired her father and mother, she assumed that vague air, full of reticence and secrecy, which she invariably wore when anyone spoke to her of what she was going

Madame Swann at Home 69

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 151. An undine is a water nymph.

70 Madame Swann at Home

to do, her walks, drives, visits—then suddenly said to me: “You know, they can’t stomach you!” and, slipping from me like the undine151 that she was, burst out laughing. Often her laughter, out of harmony with her words, seemed, as music seems, to be tracing an invisible surface on another plane. M. and Mme Swann did not require Gilberte to give up playing with me, but they would have been just as well pleased, she thought, if we had never begun. They did not look on our relations with a kind eye; they believed me to be a young person of low moral standards and imagined that my influence over their daughter could only be a bad one. This type of unscrupulous young man whom the Swanns thought that I resembled, I pictured him to myself as detesting the parents of the girl he loves, flattering them to their faces but, when he was alone with her, making fun of them, urging her to disobey them and, when once he had completed his conquest, not even allowing them to see her. With these characteristics (though they are never those under which the basest of scoundrels recognizes himself ) how vehemently did my heart contrast the sentiments by which it was animated with regard to Swann, so passionate, on the contrary, that I never doubted that, were he to have the least suspicion of them, he must repent of his judgment of me as of a judicial error! All that I felt about him I made bold to express to him in a long letter that I entrusted to Gilberte, with the request that she would deliver it. She consented. Alas! He saw in me an even greater impostor than I had feared; those sentiments that I had supposed myself to be portraying, in sixteen pages, so truthfully, he had suspected them; in short, the letter that I had written him, as ardent and as sincere as the words that I had uttered to M. de Norpois, met with no more success. Gilberte told me the next day, after taking me aside behind a clump of laurels, along a little path where we each sat down on a chair, that as he read my letter, which she had now brought back to me, her father had shrugged his shoulders, with: “All this means nothing; it only goes to prove how right I was.” I, who knew the purity of my intentions, the goodness of my soul, was furious that my words had not even im-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower pinged on the surface of Swann’s ridiculous error. For it was an error; of that I had then no doubt. I felt that I had described with such accuracy certain irrefutable characteristics of my generous sentiments that, if Swann had not at once reconstructed these from my indications, had not come to ask my forgiveness and to admit that he had been mistaken, it must be because he himself had never experienced these noble sentiments, which would make him incapable of understanding their existence in other people. But perhaps it was simply that Swann knew that generosity is often no more than the inner aspect that our egotistical feelings assume when we have not yet named and classified them. Perhaps he had recognized in the sympathy that I expressed for him simply an effect—and the strongest possible proof—of my love for Gilberte, by which, and not by my secondary veneration of himself, my subsequent actions would be inevitably controlled. I was unable to share his point of view, since I had not succeeded in abstracting my love from myself, in forcing it back into the common experience of humanity, and thus suffering, experimentally, its consequences; I was in despair. I was obliged to leave Gilberte for a moment; Françoise had called me. I had to accompany her into a little pavilion covered in a green trellis, not unlike one of the disused tollhouses of old Paris, in which had recently been installed what in England they call a lavatory but in France, by an ill-­ informed piece of Anglomania, “water closets.”152 The old, damp walls at the entrance, where I stood waiting for Françoise, emitted a chill and fusty smell that, relieving me at once of the anxieties that Swann’s words, as reported by Gilberte, had just awakened in me, filled me with a pleasure not at all of the same kind as other pleasures, which leave one more unstable than before, incapable of retaining them, of possessing them, but, on the contrary, with a consistent pleasure on which I could lean for support, delicious, soothing, rich with a truth that was lasting, unexplained and certain. I would have liked, as long ago in my walks along the Guermantes way, to endeavor to penetrate the charm of this impression that had seized hold of me and, remaining there motionless,

152. “Water closets” is in English in the original.

Madame Swann at Home 71

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 153. Scott Moncrieff maintained Proust’s “dame,” and “lady” seems too grand in translation. In colloquial French, a restroom attendant is “dame pipi,” but Proust chose not to complete the title. 154. Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-­ Simon (1675–1755), author of the famous Mémoires, covering the period 1691–1723 and giving a vivid, detailed picture of life at the court of Louis XIV and the Regency of Louis d’Orléans. The “dregs of the people” (la lie du peuple) is from Saint-­Simon’s description (1708) of Jules-­Hardouin Mansart (1646–1708), the architect of Versailles. 155. Gouache was a confectionery founded in 1847; in the 1890s it was located at 17, boulevard de la Madeleine. In the last years of the nineteenth century, it moved to 18, boulevard des Italiens. In its early days, Gouache’s was a supplier to the court of Napoléon III. 156. From the Greek, meaning growing or living beneath the surface of the ground.

72 Madame Swann at Home

to interrogate this antiquated emanation that invited me not to enjoy the pleasure that it was offering me only as an extra, but to descend into the underlying reality that it had not yet disclosed to me. But the keeper of the establishment, an old woman153 with painted cheeks and an auburn wig, began to speak to me. Françoise thought her “very well-­to-­do indeed.” Her demoiselle had married what Françoise called “a young man of family,” which meant that he differed more, in her eyes, from a workman than, in Saint-­Simon’s,154 a duke did from a man “risen from the dregs of the people.” No doubt the keeper, before entering on her tenancy, had suffered setbacks. But Françoise was positive that she was a marquise and belonged to the Saint-­Ferréol family. This marquise warned me not to stand outside in the cold and even opened one of her doors for me, saying: “Won’t you go inside for a minute? Look, here’s a nice, clean one, and I won’t charge you anything.” Perhaps she made this offer simply in the same spirit in which the young ladies at Gouache’s,155 when we went in there to order something, used to offer me one of the bonbons that they kept on the counter under glass bells, and which, alas, Mamma would never allow me to accept; perhaps, too, less innocently, like an old florist whom Mamma used to have in to replenish her jardinières, who rolled languishing eyes at me as she handed me a rose. In any event, if the “marquise” had a weakness for little boys, when she threw open to them the hypogeal156 doors of those cubicles of stone in which men crouch like sphinxes, she must have been moved to that generosity less by the hope of corrupting them than by the pleasure that all of us feel in displaying a needless prodigality to those whom we love, for I never saw her with any other visitor except an old parkkeeper. A moment later I said goodbye to the “marquise,” and went out accompanied by Françoise, whom I left to return to Gilberte. I caught sight of her at once, on a chair, behind the clump of laurels. She was there so as not to be seen by her friends: they were playing hide-­and-­seek. I went and sat down by her side. She had on a flat cap that drooped forward over her eyes, giving her the

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower same “underhand,” dreamy, crafty look that I had remarked in her that first time at Combray. I asked her whether there was not some way for me to have it out with her father, face to face. Gilberte said that she had suggested that to him, but that he had not thought it of any use. “Look,” she went on, “don’t go away without your letter; I must run along to the others, as they haven’t caught me.” Had Swann appeared on the scene then before I had recovered the letter, by the sincerity of which I felt that he had been so unreasonable in not letting himself be convinced, perhaps he would have seen that it was he who had been in the right. For as I approached Gilberte, who, leaning back in her chair, told me to take the letter but did not hold it out to me, I felt myself so irresistibly attracted by her body that I said to her: “Look! You try to stop me from getting it; we’ll see who’s stronger.” She thrust it behind her back; I put my arms around her neck, raising the plaits of hair that she wore over her shoulders, either because she was still of an age for that or because her mother chose to make her look like a child for a little longer so that she herself might still seem young; and we wrestled, locked together. I tried to pull her toward me; she resisted; her cheeks, inflamed by the effort, were as red and round as two cherries; she laughed as though I were tickling her; I held her gripped between my legs like a young tree that I was trying to climb; and, in the middle of my gymnastics, when I was already out of breath from the muscular exercise and the heat of the game, I felt, as it were a few drops of sweat wrung from me by the effort, my pleasure express itself in a form that I could not even pause for a moment to analyze; immediately I snatched the letter from her. Whereupon Gilberte said, good-­naturedly: “You know, if you like, we might go on wrestling for a little longer.” Perhaps she was dimly conscious that my game had had another object than the one that I had avowed, but too dimly to have

Madame Swann at Home 73

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 157. The Narrator frequently makes such postponements and fails to explore what he called in Combray the “sources of my rapture,” and thus makes no progress in his ambition to become a writer. See Swann’s Way, 178.

74 Madame Swann at Home

been able to see that I had attained it. And I, who was afraid that she had seen (and a slight recoil, as of offended modesty that she made and checked a moment later made me think that my fear had not been unfounded), agreed to go on wrestling, for fear she might believe that I had indeed no other object than that one, after which I wished only to sit quietly by her side. On my way home I perceived, I suddenly recalled the impression, concealed from me until then, toward which, without letting me distinguish or recognize it, the cold, almost sooty smell of the trellised pavilion had drawn me. The impression was that of my Uncle Adolphe’s little sitting room at Combray, which had indeed exhaled the same odor of humidity. But I could not understand, and I postponed the attempt to discover why the recollection of so trivial an impression had given me so keen a happiness.157 It struck me, however, that I did truly deserve the contempt of M. de Norpois; I had preferred hitherto to all other writers, one whom he styled a mere “flute player” and a positive rapture had been conveyed to me, not by any important idea, but by a moldy smell. For some time past, in certain households, the name of the Champs-­Élysées, if a visitor mentioned it, would be greeted by the mother of the family with that air of contempt that mothers keep for a physician of established reputation whom they claim to have seen make too many wrong diagnoses to have any faith left in him; people insisted that these gardens were not good for children, that they knew of more than one sore throat, more than one case of measles, and any number of feverish chills for which the Champs-­ Élysées must be held responsible. Without venturing openly to doubt the maternal affection of Mamma, who continued to let me play there, several of her friends deplored her blindness. Neurotics are perhaps less addicted than any, despite the time-­ honored phrase, to “listening to their insides”: they can hear so many things going on inside themselves, by which they realize later that they did wrong to let themselves be alarmed, that they end by paying no attention to any of them. Their nervous systems have so often cried out to them for help, as though from some

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower serious malady, when it was merely because snow was coming or because they had to change apartments, that they have acquired the habit of paying no more heed to these warnings than a soldier who in the heat of battle perceives them so little that he is capable, although dying, of carrying on for a few days still the life of a man in good health. One morning, bearing arranged within me all my regular malaises, from whose constant, internal circulation I kept my mind turned as resolutely away as from the circulation of my blood, I had come running into the dining room where my parents were already at the table, and—having assured myself, as usual, that to feel cold may mean not that one ought to warm oneself but that, for instance, one has received a scolding, and not to feel hungry, that it is going to rain, and not that one ought not to eat anything—had taken my place at the table when, in the act of swallowing the first mouthful of a particularly tempting cutlet, a nausea, a dizziness stopped me, the feverish reaction of a malady that had already begun, the symptoms of which had been masked, retarded by the ice of my indifference, but which obstinately refused the nourishment that I was not in a fit state to absorb. Then, at the same moment, the thought that they would stop me from going out if they saw that I was unwell gave me, as the instinct of self-­preservation gives a wounded man, the strength to drag myself to my room, where I found that I had a temperature of 104, and then to get ready to go to the Champs-­Élysées. Through the languid and vulnerable body that encased them, my eager thoughts were urging me toward, were clamoring for the soothing delight of a game of prisoner’s base with Gilberte, and an hour later, barely able to keep on my feet, but happy in being by her side, I had still the strength to enjoy it. Françoise, on our return, declared that I had been “taken bad,” that I must have caught a “hot and cold,”158 while the doctor, who was called in at once, declared that he “preferred” the “severity,” the “virulence” of the rush of fever that accompanied the congestion of my lungs, and would be no more than “a flash in the pan,” to other forms, more “insidious” and “masked.” For some

158. The Narrator and Scott Moncrieff are quoting Françoise verbatim here. A “chaud et froid” is a chill.

Madame Swann at Home 75

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower time now I had been subject to choking fits, and our doctor, in spite of the disapproval of my grandmother, who could see me already dying a drunkard’s death, had recommended that I take, in addition to the caffeine that had been prescribed to help me to breathe, beer, champagne, or cognac when I felt an attack coming. These attacks would subside, he told me, in the “euphoria” brought about by the alcohol. I was often obliged, so that my grandmother would allow them to give it to me, instead of dissembling, almost to make a display of my state of suffocation. On the other hand, as soon as I felt an attack coming, never being quite certain what proportions it would assume, I would grow distressed at the thought of my grandmother’s anxiety, of which I was far more afraid than of my own sufferings. But at the same time my body, either because it was too weak to keep those sufferings secret, or because it feared that, in their ignorance of the imminent attack, people might demand of me some exertion that it would have found impossible or dangerous, gave me the need to warn my grandmother of my malaises with an exactitude into which I finally put a sort of physiological scruple. If I perceived in myself a disturbing symptom that I had not previously observed, my body was in distress so long as I had not communicated it to my grandmother. If she pretended to pay no attention, it made me insist. Sometimes I went too far; and that beloved face, which was no longer able always to control its emotion as in the past, would allow an expression of pity to appear, a painful contraction. Then my heart was wrung by the sight of her grief; as if my kisses had had power to expel that grief, as if my affection could give my grandmother as much joy as my recovery, I flung myself into her arms. And its scruples being at the same time calmed by the certainty that she now knew the malaise that I felt, my body offered no opposition to my reassuring her. I protested that this malaise had not been painful, that I was in no sense to be pitied, that she might be certain I was now happy; my body had wished to secure exactly the amount of pity that it deserved, and, provided that someone knew that it had a pain in its right side, it could see no

76 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower harm in my declaring that this pain was of no consequence and was not an obstacle to my happiness; for my body did not pride itself on its philosophy; that was outside its province. I passed through these attacks of suffocation almost every day during my convalescence. One evening, after my grandmother had left me comparatively well, she returned to my room very late in the evening and, seeing me struggling for breath, “Oh, my poor boy! You are in dreadful pain,” she exclaimed, her face quivering with sympathy. She left me at once; I heard the porte cochère open, and in a little while she came back with some cognac that she had gone out to buy since there was none in the house. Soon I began to feel better. My grandmother, who was rather flushed, seemed ill at ease, and her eyes had a look of weariness and dejection. “I’ll leave you now and let you take advantage of this improvement,” she said, rising suddenly to go. I detained her, however, for a kiss, and could feel on her cold cheek something moist, but did not know whether it was the dampness of the night air through which she had just passed. The next day, she did not come to my room until the evening, having had, she told me, to go out. I considered that this showed a surprising indifference to my welfare, and I had to restrain myself in order not to reproach her with it. My suffocations having persisted long after any congestion remained that could account for them, my parents had Professor Cottard come for a consultation. It is not enough that a physician who is called in to treat cases of this sort be learned. He must, in the long run, when brought face to face with symptoms that may or may not be those of three or four different maladies, rely on his flair, his art of observing quickly and accurately, to make him decide with which, despite the more or less similar appearance of them all, he has to deal. This mysterious gift does not imply any superiority in the other departments of the intellect, and a creature of the utmost vulgarity, who admires the worst pictures, the worst music, who has no intellectual curiosity, may perfectly well possess it. In my case, what was physically evident might equally well have been caused by nervous spasms, by the initial stages

Madame Swann at Home 77

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 159. Dyspnea is difficult or labored ­respiration. 160. Agrypnia is persistent loss of sleep or insomnia. 161. Cottard is making a word play here on au lait (with milk) and the Spanish exclamation olé, indicating approval or joy. The words are homophones in French.

78 Madame Swann at Home

of tuberculosis, by asthma, by a toxi-­alimentary dyspnea159 with renal insufficiency, by chronic bronchitis, or by a complex state into which several of these factors entered. Now, nervous spasms needed to be treated firmly and discouraged, tuberculosis with infinite care and with a feeding-­up process that would have been bad for an arthritic condition such as asthma and might indeed have been dangerous in a case of toxi-­alimentary dyspnea, this last calling for a strict diet which, in return, would be harmful to a tuberculosis patient. But Cottard’s hesitations were brief and his prescriptions imperious. “Purges; violent and drastic purges; milk for some days, nothing but milk. No meat. No alcohol.” My mother murmured that I needed, all the same, to be built up, that my nerves were already weak, that such drastic purging and restricting my diet would make me worse. I could see in Cottard’s eyes, as anxious as if he were afraid of missing a train, that he was asking himself whether he had not succumbed to his natural gentleness. He was trying to think whether he had remembered to put on his mask of coldness, as one looks for a mirror to see whether one has not forgotten to tie one’s tie. In his uncertainty, and in order to compensate, just in case, he replied brutally: “I am not in the habit of repeating my instructions. Give me a pen. Now remember, milk! Later on, when we have got the suffocations and the agrypnia160 by the throat, I would like you to take a little clear soup, and then a little broth, but always with milk; au lait! You’ll enjoy that, since Spain is all the rage just now; olé, olé!”161 (His students knew this joke well, for he made it at the hospital whenever he had to put a heart or liver patient on a milk diet.) “After that, you will gradually return to your normal life. But whenever there is any coughing or choking—purgatives, enemas, bed, milk!” He listened with icy calm, and without replying, to my mother’s final objections, and as he left us without having condescended to explain the reasons for this course of treatment, my parents concluded that it had no bearing on my case, and would weaken me to no purpose, and so they did not make me try it. Naturally, they sought to conceal their disobedience from

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the professor, and to succeed in this avoided all the houses in which they were likely to encounter him. Then, as my health became worse, they decided to make me follow Cottard’s prescriptions to the letter; in three days my rattle and cough had ceased, I could breathe freely. Whereupon we realized that Cottard, while finding, as he told us later on, that I was distinctly asthmatic, and above all “batty,”162 had discerned that what was really the matter with me at the moment was toxemia, and that by loosening my liver and washing out my kidneys he would get rid of the congestion of my bronchial tubes and thus give me back my breath, my sleep, and my strength. And we realized that this imbecile was a clinical genius. At last I was able to get up. But there was talk of no longer letting me go to the Champs-­Élysées. They said that it was because the air there was bad; but I felt sure that this was only a pretext so that I should no longer see Mlle Swann, and I forced myself to repeat the name of Gilberte all the time, like the native tongue that peoples in captivity endeavor to preserve among themselves in order not to forget the land that they will never see again. Sometimes my mother would stroke my forehead, saying: “So little boys don’t tell Mamma their troubles anymore?” And Françoise used to come up to me every day with: “What a face you have! If you could just see yourself, you look like death!” It is true that, if I had simply had a common cold, Françoise would have assumed the same funereal air. These lamentations pertained rather to her “class” than to the state of my health. I could not at the time discover whether this pessimism was due to Françoise’s sorrow or satisfaction. I decided provisionally that it was social and professional. One day, after the postman had called, my mother laid a letter on my bed. I opened it carelessly, since it could not bear the one signature that would have made me happy, the name of Gilberte, with whom I had no relations outside the Champs-­Élysées. But there, at the foot of the page, embossed with a silver seal representing a helmeted knight, and under him a scroll with the device Per viam rectam,163 beneath a letter written in a large and

162. Toqué is the word that Mme Geneviève Straus used to describe Proust when he was twenty-­one. He considered her use of the word “harsh” and referred to the chagrin it caused him in another letter written thirteen years later. See Proust, Correspondance, 7: 329; 6: 254. 163. Latin for “the right way.”

Madame Swann at Home 79

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 164. The last judgment was one of the most popular scenes depicted on the tympana of French Gothic cathedrals. 165. Cosa mentale is Italian for “a mental thing.” Leonardo da Vinci, one of the giants of the Italian Renaissance, was a sculptor, architect, doctor, engineer, writer, and musician. The phrase is from his treatise on painting, Trattato della pittura (1651). The aim of the treatise was to demonstrate that painting is a science.

80 Madame Swann at Home

flowing hand in which almost every phrase appeared to be underlined, simply because the crosses of the “t”s ran not across but over them, and so drew a line beneath the corresponding letters of the word above, it was indeed Gilberte’s signature that I saw. But because I knew that to be impossible in a letter addressed to me, the sight of it, unaccompanied by any belief in it, caused me no joy. For a moment it merely struck an impression of unreality on everything around me. With vertiginous speed, the improbable signature danced about my bed, the fireplace, the four walls. I saw everything sway, as one does when one falls from a horse, and I asked myself whether there was not an existence altogether different from the one I knew, in direct contradiction of it, but itself the real one, which, being suddenly revealed to me, filled me with the hesitation that sculptors, in representing the Last Judgment,164 have given to the awakening dead who find themselves at the gates of the next World. “My dear friend,” said the letter, “I hear that you have been very ill and have given up going to the Champs-­Élysées. I hardly ever go there either because there has been such an enormous number of sick people. But my girlfriends come to tea here every Monday and Friday. Mamma asks me to tell you that it will be a great pleasure to us all if you will come too as soon as you are well again, and we can have some more nice talks here, just like the Champs-­Élysées. Goodbye, dear friend; I hope that your parents will allow you to come to tea very often. With all my kindest regards. Gilberte.” While I was reading these words, my nervous system was receiving, with admirable promptitude, the news that a great good fortune had befallen me. But my mind, that is to say myself, and in fact the party principally concerned, was still unaware of it. This good fortune, good fortune coming from Gilberte, was a thing of which I had constantly dreamed; a thing wholly in my mind, it was, as Leonardo says of painting, cosa mentale.165 Now, a sheet of paper covered with writing is not a thing that the mind assimilates at once. But as soon as I had finished reading the letter, I thought of it, and it became an object of reverie, it too became

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower cosa mentale, and I loved it so much already that every few minutes I had to read it, kiss it again. Then at last I was conscious of my happiness. Life is strewn with these miracles for which people who are in love can always hope. It is possible that this one had been artificially brought about by my mother, who, seeing that for some time past I had lost all interest in life, may have suggested to Gilberte to write to me, just as, when I first went swimming in the sea, in order to make me enjoy diving, which I detested because it took away my breath, she used secretly to hand to my swimming instructor marvelous boxes made of shells and branches of coral that I believed I myself had discovered lying at the bottom of the sea. However, with every occurrence in life and its contrasted situations regarding love, it is best to make no attempt to understand, since being as inexorable as they are unhoped for, they appear to be governed by magic rather than by rational laws. When a multimillionaire—who for all his millions is a charming man— is sent packing by a poor and unattractive woman with whom he has been living, calls to his aid, in his despair, all the resources of wealth and brings every worldly influence to bear without succeeding in making her take him back, it is wiser for him, in the face of the implacable obstinacy of his mistress, to suppose that Fate intends to crush him and to make him die of a malady of the heart rather than to seek any logical explanation. These obstacles against which lovers have to contend and which their imagination, overexcited by suffering, seeks in vain to analyze, are to be found, as often as not, in some peculiar characteristic of the woman whom they cannot win back, in her stupidity, in the influence acquired over her and the fears suggested to her by people whom the lover does not know, in the kind of pleasures that at the moment she is demanding of life, pleasures that neither her lover nor her lover’s fortune can procure for her. In any event, the lover is not in a good position to discover the nature of these obstacles that the woman’s cunning hides from him and that his own judgment, distorted by love, prevents him from estimating exactly. They

Madame Swann at Home 81

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower are like those tumors that the doctor succeeds in reducing, but without having traced them to their source. Like them these obstacles remain mysterious but are temporary. Only they last, as a rule, longer than love itself. And as the latter is not a disinterested passion, the lover who is no longer in love does not seek to know why the woman, neither rich nor virtuous, with whom he was in love refused obstinately for years to let him continue to keep her. Now the same mystery that often veils from our eyes the reason for a catastrophe envelops just as frequently, when love is in question, the suddenness of certain happy solutions, such as had come to me with Gilberte’s letter. Happy, or at least seemingly happy solutions, for there are few that can really be happy when we are dealing with a sentiment of such a kind that every satisfaction we can give it does no more, as a rule, than dislodge the pain. And yet sometimes a respite is granted us and we have for a little while the illusion of being healed. So far as concerns this letter, at the foot of which Françoise refused to recognize Gilberte’s name, because the elaborate capital “G” leaning against the undotted “i” looked more like an “A,” while the final syllable was indefinitely prolonged by a waving flourish, if we persist in looking for a rational explanation of the sudden reversal of her attitude toward me that it indicated, and that made me so radiantly happy, we may perhaps find that I was to some extent indebted for it to an incident that I would have supposed, on the contrary, to be calculated to ruin me forever in the sight of the Swann family. A short while back, Bloch had come to see me at a time when Professor Cottard, whom, now that I was following his regimen, we were again calling in, happened to be in my room. As his examination of me was over, and Cottard was sitting with me simply as a visitor because my parents had invited him to stay for dinner, Bloch was allowed to come in. While we were all talking, Bloch having mentioned that he had heard it said that Mme Swann was very fond of me, by a lady with whom he had been dining the day before, who was herself a close friend of Mme Swann’s, I would have liked to reply that he was most cer-

82 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower tainly mistaken, and to establish the fact (from the same scruple of conscience that had made me proclaim it to M. de Norpois, and for fear that Mme Swann might take me for a liar) that I did not know her and had never spoken to her. But I did not have the courage to correct Bloch’s mistake, because I realized that it was deliberate, and that, if he invented something that Mme Swann could not possibly have said, it was simply to let us know (what he considered flattering to himself and was not true either) that he had been dining with one of that lady’s friends. And so it happened that, whereas M. de Norpois, on learning that I did not know but would very much like to know Mme Swann, had taken great care to avoid speaking to her about me, Cottard, who was her doctor also, having gathered from what he had heard Bloch say that she knew me quite well and thought highly of me, concluded that to remark, when next he saw her, that I was a charming young fellow and a great friend of his could not be of the smallest use to me and would be an advantage to himself, two reasons that made him decide to speak of me to Odette whenever an opportunity arose. Then I came to know that house from which was wafted even onto the staircase the perfume that Mme Swann used, though it was scented far more sweetly still by the particular, disturbing charm that emanated from the life of Gilberte. The implacable concierge, transformed into a benevolent Eumenide,166 adopted the habit, when I asked him if I might go upstairs, of indicating to me, by raising his cap with a propitious hand, that he granted my prayer. Those windows that, seen from outside, used to interpose between me and the treasures within that were not destined for me, a shining, distant and superficial stare that seemed to me the very stare of the Swanns themselves, it fell to me, when in the warm weather I had spent a whole afternoon with Gilberte in her room, to open them myself in order to let in a little air and even to lean out of them beside her, if it was her mother’s “at home” day, to watch the visitors arrive who would often, raising their heads as they stepped out of their carriages, greet me with

166. In Greek mythology, a Eumenid is one of the Furies (Erinyes) whose mission was to punish the crimes of humans. When Orestes, whom they were pursuing, was willing to accept the guilt for murdering his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, the Erinyes became benign and were thereafter protectors of suppliants and called Eumenides (the good-­tempered ones).

Madame Swann at Home 83

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 167. Proust may have been thinking of Leonardo’s drawings of flowers, of which there are examples in the Bibliothèque de l’Institut in Paris and in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. See À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 494, n. 3. 168. Proust had a similar experience in his vain attempts to acquire a photograph of Jeanne Pouquet, one of the models for Gilberte. He wrote this to her daughter years later: “When I was in love with your Mama I went to fantastic lengths in order to get her photograph. But it didn’t do any good. I still receive New Year cards from some people in Périgord with whom I made friends only in order to get hold of that photograph.” See Proust, Selected Letters, 3: 1. 169. The seven-­branched candelabra (menorah) that Moses had placed in the Tabernacle is one of the principal instruments of the Jewish religion. See Exodus 25:31–37. 170. The Swanns pronounce “Comment allez-­vous?” without making the liaison of the t in comment.

84 Madame Swann at Home

a wave of the hand, taking me for some nephew of their hostess. At such moments Gilberte’s plaits used to brush my cheek. They seemed to me, in the fineness of their grain, at once natural and supernatural, and in the strength of their finely woven tracery, a matchless work of art in the composition of which had been used the very grass of Paradise. To a section of them, however infinitesimal, what celestial herbarium would I not have given as a reliquary? But since I never hoped to obtain an actual fragment of those plaits, if at least I had been able to have their photograph, how far more precious than one of a sheet of flowers drawn by Leonardo!167 To acquire one, I stooped—with friends of the Swanns and even with photographers—to servilities that did not procure for me what I wanted, but tied me for life to a number of extremely boring people.168 Gilberte’s parents, who for so long had prevented me from seeing her, now—when I entered the dark hall in which hovered perpetually, more formidable and more to be desired than, at Versailles of old, the apparition of the King, the possibility of my encountering them, in which too, invariably, after bumping into an enormous hat stand with seven branches like the Candlestick in Holy Writ,169 I would begin bowing before a footman seated among the skirts of his long gray coat on the wooden chest, whom in the dim light I had mistaken for Mme Swann—Gilberte’s parents, if one of them happened to be passing at the moment of my arrival, so far from seeming annoyed would come and shake hands with a smile and say to me: “How d’y do?”170 (They both pronounced it in the same clipped way, which, you may well imagine, once I was back at home, I made an incessant and delightful practice of copying.) “Does Gilberte know you’re here? She does? Then I’ll leave you to her.” Better still, the tea parties themselves to which Gilberte invited her friends, parties that for so long had seemed to me the most insurmountable of the barriers heaped up between her and myself, became now an opportunity for uniting us of which she would inform me in a few lines, written (because I was still a compara-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower tive stranger) on writing paper that was always different. Once it was adorned with a poodle embossed in blue, above a humorous inscription in English with an exclamation mark after it; another time it was stamped with an anchor, or with the monogram G. S. preposterously elongated in a rectangle that ran from top to bottom of the page, or else with the name “Gilberte,” now traced across one corner in letters of gold that imitated my friend’s signature and ended in a flourish, beneath an open umbrella printed in black, now enclosed in a monogram in the shape of a Chinaman’s hat, which contained all the letters of the word in capitals without its being possible to make out a single one of them. Finally, as the series of different writing papers that Gilberte possessed, numerous as they might be, was not unlimited, after a certain number of weeks I saw reappear the sheet that bore (like the first letter she had written me) the motto Per viam rectam, and over it the helmeted knight, set in a medallion of tarnished silver. And each of them was chosen for one day rather than another by virtue of a certain ritual, as I then supposed, but more probably, as I now think, because she tried to remember which of them she had already used, so as never to send the same one twice to any of her correspondents, of those at least whom she took special pains to please, save at the longest possible intervals. As, on account of the different times of their lessons, some of the friends whom Gilberte used to invite to her parties were obliged to leave just as the rest were arriving, while I was still on the stairs I could hear escaping from the hall a murmur of voices that, such was the emotion aroused in me by the imposing ceremony in which I was to take part, long before I had reached the landing, broke all the bonds that still held me to my past life, so that I did not even remember that I was to take off my scarf as soon as I felt too hot and to keep an eye on the clock so as not to be late in getting home. That staircase, incidentally, all of wood, as they were built about that time in certain rental houses, in keeping with the Henri II style171 that had for so long been Odette’s ideal though she was shortly to grow tired of it, and furnished with a placard,

171. This style, Renaissance in nature, named for Henri II (1519–59, king 1547–59), flourished in the second half of the sixteenth century in France. It was heavily influenced by Italian mannerism and classical architecture. Imitations of this style became widespread in France during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Madame Swann at Home 85

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 172. Jean-­Baptiste Berlier (1843–1911) was an engineer who created the Parisian pneumatic message system for delivering telegrams and letters (the bleu). He also invented improvements for the sewage system and conceived the idea of a subway (the Métro). 173. Ernest Renan (1823–92) was a historian, Hebrew scholar, and philosopher. In 1862, he was appointed professor of Hebrew at the Collège de France, but his lectures were suspended for being unorthodox and his chair was suppressed after the publication in 1863 of La Vie de Jésus (Life of Jesus), the first volume of Les Ori­ gines du Christianisme. Renan caused a scandal because he denied the divinity of Jesus and rejected the miracles of the Gospel.

86 Madame Swann at Home

to which there was no equivalent at home, on which one read the words: “notice. Do not use the elevator to go down,” seemed to me a thing so marvelous that I told my parents that it was an antique staircase brought from ever so far away by M. Swann. My regard for the truth was so great that I would not have hesitated to give them this information even if I had known it to be false, for it alone could enable them to feel for the dignity of the Swanns’ staircase the same respect that I felt myself. It was just as, when one is talking to some ignorant person who cannot understand in what the genius of a great physician consists, it is as well not to admit that he does not know how to cure a head cold. But since I had no power of observation, since, as a general rule, I never knew either the name or the nature of things that were before my eyes and could understand only that when they were connected with the Swanns they must be extraordinary, I was by no means certain that in notifying my parents of the artistic value and remote origin of the staircase I was guilty of a falsehood. It did not seem certain; but it must have seemed probable, for I felt myself turn very red when my father interrupted me with: “I know those houses; I have been in one; they are all alike; Swann just has several floors in one; it was Berlier172 who built them all.” He added that he had thought of taking an apartment in one of them, but that he had changed his mind, finding that they were not conveniently arranged, and that the landings were too dark. So he said; but I felt instinctively that my mind must make the sacrifices necessary to the glory of the Swanns and to my own happiness, and by a stroke of internal authority, in spite of what I had just heard, I banished forever from my memory, as a good Catholic banishes Renan’s Vie de Jésus,173 the subversive thought that their house was just an ordinary apartment in which we ourselves might have been living. Meanwhile, on those tea-­party days, pulling myself up the staircase step by step, reason and memory already cast off like outer garments, and myself no more now than the sport of the basest reflexes, I would arrive in the zone in which Mme Swann’s perfume greeted my nostrils. I felt that I could already behold the

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower majesty of the chocolate cake, encircled by plates heaped with petits fours, and by little napkins of gray damask with figures on them, as required by convention but peculiar to the Swanns. But this unalterable and governed ensemble seemed, like Kant’s necessary universe,174 to depend on a supreme act of free will. For when we were all together in Gilberte’s little salon, suddenly she would look at the clock and exclaim: “I say! It’s been a long time since lunch, and we aren’t having dinner until eight. I feel as if I could eat something. What do you say?” And she would make us go into the dining room, as somber as the interior of an Asiatic Temple painted by Rembrandt,175 in which an architectural cake, as debonair and familiar as it was imposing, seemed to sit enthroned there by chance as on any other day, in case the fancy seized Gilberte to discrown it of its chocolate battlements and to hew down the steep brown slopes of its ramparts, baked in the oven like the bastions of the palace of Darius.176 Better still, in proceeding to the demolition of that Ninevite177 pastry, Gilberte did not consider only her own hunger; she inquired also after mine, while she extracted for me from the crumbling monument a whole glazed slab jeweled with scarlet fruits, in the Oriental style. She asked me even at what time my parents were dining, as if I still knew, as if the agitation that overwhelmed me had allowed to persist the sensation of satiety or of hunger, the notion of dinner or the picture of my family in my empty memory and paralyzed stomach. Alas, its paralysis was but momentary. A time would come when I would have to digest the cakes that I took without noticing them. But that time was still remote. Meanwhile Gilberte was making “my tea.” I went on drinking it indefinitely, whereas a single cup would keep me awake for twenty-­four hours. Which explains why my mother used always to say: “What a nuisance it is; this child can never go to the Swanns’ without coming home ill.” But was I even aware, when I was at the Swanns’, that it was tea that I was drinking? Had I known, I would have taken it just the same, for even sup-

174. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), German philosopher and metaphysician, whose writings examine the question of freedom and necessity in the moral order. He published the Critique of Pure Reason (Critik der reinen Vernunft) in 1871. In his philosophical writings, Kant sought to determine the nature and limits of human knowledge, the necessary categories of consciousness, and their ethical and esthetic consequences. Proust first studied philosophy and Kant at the Lycée Condorcet with his favorite teacher, Alphonse Darlu. 175. Rembrandt (1606–69) was a Dutch painter and engraver. Although not Jewish, he lived in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam and painted many Jewish subjects. The reference to the interior of an Asiatic temple is not clear, but Jacques Nathan proposes Rembrandt’s The Presentation in the Temple (1631). Jacques Nathan, Citations, références et allusions de Marcel Proust dans À la recherche du temps perdu (Paris: Nizet, 1969), 72. 176. Darius I, called the Great (550– 486 b.c.), King of Persia 522–486, was the father of Xerxes. He built a palace at Susa whose façade was decorated with friezes of glazed bricks. The Louvre has friezes of the Lions and the Archers, as well as a restoration of the apadâna, which is a large hypostyle hall found in ancient Persian palaces. However, Jacques Nathan believes that Proust confused Darius’s palace at Persepolis with the Assyrian “Ninevite” palace of Sargon at Khorsabad, which has decorative elements “baked in a kiln.” Nathan, Citations, références et allusions, 72. 177. Ninevite is a reference to the capital city of Assyria, which was destroyed in 612 b.c.

Madame Swann at Home 87

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 178. “Cake” is in English in the original. 179. Jean-­Léon Gérôme (1824–1904) was a painter, sculptor, and engraver who exhibited in a number of salons. As a painter, he was considered one of the principal representatives of the academic genre. That he was a sworn enemy of the Impressionists may be why Proust chose him as a favorite painter of society people. The 1889 Grand Salon exhibited his Allégorie de l’Amour, which might be the painting that is such a topic of discussion among Odette’s callers. See À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 498, n. 4.

88 Madame Swann at Home

posing that I had recovered for a moment the sense of the present, that would not have restored to me the memory of the past or the apprehension of the future. My imagination was incapable of reaching to the distant time in which I might have the idea of going to bed and the need to sleep. Gilberte’s girlfriends were not all plunged into that state of intoxication in which it is impossible to make a decision. Some of them refused tea! Then Gilberte would say, using a phrase that was very popular that year: “I’m obviously not having much success with my tea!” And to eliminate more completely any idea of ceremony, she would disarrange the chairs that were drawn up around the table, with: “We look just like a wedding breakfast. Good lord, how stupid servants are!” She nibbled her cake, perched sideways on a cross-­legged seat placed at an angle to the table. And then, just as though she could have had all those petits fours at her disposal without having first asked permission of her mother, when Mme Swann, whose “day” coincided as a rule with Gilberte’s tea parties, having shown one of her visitors to the door, came sweeping in a moment later, sometimes wearing blue velvet, more often a black satin dress draped with white lace, she would say with an air of astonishment: “I say, that looks good, what you’ve got there. It makes me quite hungry to see you all eating cake.”178 “But, Mamma, do! We invite you!” Gilberte would answer. “Thank you, no, my treasure; what would my visitors say? I’ve still got Mme Trombert, Mme Cottard, and Mme Bontemps; you know that dear Mme Bontemps never pays very short visits and she has only just arrived. What would all those good people say if I didn’t go back to them? If no one else calls, I’ll come back and have a chat with you (which will be far more amusing) after they’ve all gone. I really think I’ve earned a little rest; I have had forty-­five visitors today and forty-­two of them told me about Gérôme’s painting!179 But you must come alone one of these days,” she turned to me, “and take your tea with Gilberte. She will make it for you just as you like it, as you have it in your own

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower little ‘studio,’”180 she added, flying off to her visitors, as if it had been something as familiar to me as my own habits (such as the habit that I might have had of taking tea, had I ever taken it; as for my “studio,” I was uncertain whether I had one or not) that I had come to seek in this mysterious world. “When can you come? Tomorrow? We will make you toast181 every bit as good as you get at Colombin’s.182 No? You are horrid!” she said, for, since she also had begun to form a salon, she had borrowed Mme Verdurin’s mannerisms, and notably her tone of simpering despotism. “Toast” being as incomprehensible to me as “Colombin’s,” this further promise could not add to my temptation. It will appear stranger still, now that everyone uses such expressions—and perhaps even at Combray—that I had not at first understood of whom Mme Swann was speaking when I heard her sing the praises of our old “nurse.”183 I did not know any English; I gathered, however, as she went on that the word was intended to designate Françoise. I who, in the Champs-­Élysées, had been so afraid of the bad impression that she must make,184 now learned from Mme Swann that it was all the things that Gilberte had told them about my “nurse” that had attracted her husband and her to me. “One feels that she is so devoted to you; that she must be nice!” (At once I changed my opinion entirely about Françoise. By the same token, to have a governess equipped with a raincoat and a feather in her hat no longer appeared quite so essential.) Finally I learned from some words that Mme Swann let fall with regard to Mme Blatin (whose good nature she recognized but dreaded her visits) that personal relations with that lady would not have been as valuable to me as I had supposed and would not in any way have improved my standing with the Swanns. If I had now begun to explore, with tremors of reverence and joy, the enchanted domain that, against all probability, had opened to me its hitherto locked approaches, this was still only in my capacity as a friend of Gilberte’s. The kingdom into which I was received was itself contained within another, more mysterious still, in which Swann and his wife led their supernatural existence

180. “Studio,” a word borrowed from English, at the time Proust was writing was used to indicate the working place of a painter or sculptor. It only later acquired the larger meaning of small apartment, as Odette uses it here. “Studio” and the uses of other English words in the original are reminders of Odette’s Anglophilia. See Swann’s Way, 218, note 12. 181. Toasts in the plural is in English in the original. 182. Colombin was a salon de thé located at 6, rue Cambon in the first ­arrondissement. 183. “Nurse” is in English in the original. 184. See Swann’s Way, 449.

Madame Swann at Home 89

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 185. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is the national library. Under the terms of the Dépôt légal, from the time of François I (King of France 1515–47), one copy of every book published in France must be deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale.

90 Madame Swann at Home

and toward which they made their way, after taking my hand in theirs, when they crossed the antechamber at the same moment as myself but in the other direction. But soon I was to penetrate also to the heart of the Sanctuary. For instance, Gilberte might be out when I called, but M. or Mme Swann was at home. They would ask who had rung, and on being told that it was me, would send out to ask me to come in for a moment and talk to them, desiring me to use in one way or another, with this or that object in view, my influence over their daughter. I remembered the letter, so complete, so persuasive, that I had written to Swann only the other day, and that he had not deigned even to acknowledge. I marveled at the impotence of the mind, the reason, and the heart to effect the least conversion, to solve a single one of those difficulties that subsequently life, without one’s so much as knowing how it went about it, so easily unravels. My new position as the friend of Gilberte, endowed with an excellent influence over her, entitling me now to enjoy the same favors as if, having had as a companion at some school where they had always put me at the top of my class the son of a king, I had owed to that accident the right of informal entry into the Palace and to audiences in the Throne room; Swann, with an infinite benevolence and as though he were not overburdened with glorious occupations, would take me into his library and there, for an hour on end, let me respond in stammered monosyllables, timid silences broken by brief and incoherent bursts of courage, to remarks of which my emotion prevented me from understanding a single word; he would show me works of art and books that he thought likely to interest me, things as to which I had no doubt, before seeing them, that they infinitely surpassed in beauty anything that the Louvre possessed or the Bibliothèque Nationale,185 but at which I found it impossible to look. At such moments I would have been pleased if Swann’s butler had demanded from me my watch, my tiepin, my boots, and made me sign a deed acknowledging him as my heir: in the admirable words of a fine popular expression of which, as of the most famous epics, we do not know who

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower was the author, although, like those epics, and contrary to Wolf ’s theory,186 it most certainly had an author, one of those inventive, modest souls such as we come across every year, who light on such gems as “putting a name to a face,” though their own names they never tell us, I did not know what I was doing. At the most I was astonished, when my visit was prolonged, at finding to what a nullity of realization, to what an absence of a happy conclusion those hours spent in the enchanted dwelling led me. But my disappointment arose neither from the inadequacy of the works of art that were shown to me nor from the impossibility of fixing on them my distracted gaze. For it was not the intrinsic beauty of the objects themselves that made it miraculous for me to be sitting in Swann’s library, it was the attachment to those objects—which might have been the ugliest in the world—of the particular feeling, melancholy and voluptuous, that I had for so many years located in that room and that still impregnated it; similarly, the multitude of mirrors, of silver-­backed brushes, of altars to Saint Anthony of Padua187 sculpted and painted by the most eminent artists, her friends, counted for nothing in the feeling of my own unworthiness and of her regal benevolence that was aroused in me when Mme Swann received me for a moment in her own room, where three beautiful and impressive creatures, her principal, second, and third maids, smilingly prepared for her the most marvelous toilettes, and toward which, on the order conveyed to me by the footman in knee breeches that Madame wished to say a few words to me, I would go down the sinuous path of a corridor perfumed all along the way by the precious essences that exhaled without ceasing from her dressing room a fragrance exquisitely sweet. When Mme Swann had returned to her visitors, we could still hear her talking and laughing, for even with only two people in the room, and as though she had to cope with all the “good pals” at once, she would raise her voice, project her words, as she had so often in the little clan heard the “Mistress” do, at the moments when she “led the conversation.” The expressions that we have recently borrowed from others being the ones that, for a while at

186. Friedrich August Wolf (1759– 1824), German philologist and classical scholar, was the most prominent adherent of the view that Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were the works of anonymous authors. In Prolegomena ad Homerum (1795), Wolf asserted that they were not the work of a single author but rather a compilation of epic pieces by various bards from different epochs. 187. Anthony of Padua, also known as Anthony of Lisbon, after his birthplace, (c. 1195–1231), died in Padua. He was canonized in 1232 by Pope Gregory IX; his feast day is June 13.

Madame Swann at Home 91

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower least, we are fondest of using, Mme Swann used to select at one time those that she had learned from distinguished people whom her husband had not been able to avoid introducing to her (it was from them that she derived the mannerism that consists in suppressing the article or demonstrative pronoun before an adjective qualifying a person’s name), at another time others more vulgar (such as “It’s a mere nothing!” the favorite expression of one of her friends), and had tried to place them in all the stories that, by a habit formed in the little clan, she loved to tell. She would follow these up automatically with, “I do love that story!” or “Do admit, it’s a very good story!” which came to her, through her husband, from the Guermantes whom she did not know. Mme Swann had left the dining room, but her husband, who had just returned home, would make his appearance among us in turn. “Do you know if your mother is alone, Gilberte?” “No, Papa, she still has some people.” “What, still? At seven o’clock! It’s appalling! The poor woman must be absolutely dead. It’s odious.” (At home I had always heard the first syllable of this word pronounced with a long “o,” like “ode,” but M. and Mme Swann made it short, as in “odd.”) “Just think of it; ever since two o’clock this afternoon!” he went on, turning to me. “And Camille tells me that between four and five he let in at least a dozen people. Did I say a dozen? I believe he told me fourteen. No, a dozen; I don’t remember. When I came home I had quite forgotten it was her ‘day,’ and when I saw all those carriages outside the door I thought there must be a wedding in the house. And just now, since I’ve been in the library for a moment, the bell has never stopped ringing; I swear, it’s given me quite a headache. And are there a lot of them in there still?” “No; only two.” “Who are they, do you know?” “Mme Cottard and Mme Bontemps.” “Oh! the wife of the chief secretary to the minister of public works.” “I know her husband’s an employee in some ministry or other, but I don’t know what he does,” Gilberte would say in a babyish manner. “What’s that? You silly child, you talk as if you were two years old. What do you mean; ‘an employee in some ministry or other’

92 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower indeed! He is nothing less than chief secretary, chief of the whole show, and what’s more—what on earth am I thinking of? Upon my word, I’m becoming as heedless as you; he is not the chief secretary, he’s the permanent secretary.” “I’m sure I don’t know; does that really mean a lot, being permanent secretary?” answered Gilberte, who never let slip an opportunity of displaying her own indifference to anything that gave her parents cause for vanity. (She may, of course, have considered that she only enhanced the brilliance of such an acquaintance by not seeming to attach any undue importance to it.) “Does that ‘mean a lot’!” exclaimed Swann, who preferred to this modesty, which might have left me in doubt, a more explicit mode of speech. “Why it means simply that he’s the first man after the minister. In fact, he’s more important than the minister, because he’s the one who does all the work. Besides, it appears that he has immense capability, a man of the first rank, a most distinguished individual. He’s an officer of the Legion of Honor. A delightful man, and very good-­looking too.” (This man’s wife, incidentally, had married him against everyone’s wishes and advice because he was a “charming creature.” He had, what may be sufficient to constitute a rare and delicate whole, a fair, silky beard, good features, a nasal voice, bad breath, and a glass eye.) “I may tell you,” he added, turning again to me, “that I am greatly amused to see people like that serving in the present government, because they are Bontemps of the Bontemps-­Chenut family, typical old-­ fashioned middle-­ class people, reactionary, clerical, tremendously straitlaced. Your grandfather knew quite well—at least he must have known by name and by sight old Chenut, the father, who never tipped the coachmen more than a sou, though he was a rich man for those days, and the Baron Bréau-­Chenut. All their money went in the Union Générale188 crash—you’re too young to remember that, of course—and, of course, they’ve had to get it back as best they could.” “He’s the uncle of a little girl who used to come to my lessons,

188. The crash of La Société de l’Union Générale, a Catholic-­financed lending bank, occurred in 1882.

Madame Swann at Home 93

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 189. Proust uses the English word fast to characterize Albertine even before we meet her because the word denotes both rapid movement through space and presumed loose morals. All the girls desired by the Narrator or characters whose sexuality is ambiguous will be endowed with such speed. This is an inkling of the theme of “creatures of flight,” of the “fugitive” that gives its name to the title of the penultimate volume. So far as Albertine’s morality is concerned, this will become a preoccupation of the Narrator’s once he has fallen in love with her.

94 Madame Swann at Home

in a class a long way below mine, the famous ‘Albertine.’ She’s certain to be dreadfully ‘fast’189 when she’s older, but just now she’s quite a sight.” “She is amazing, this daughter of mine. She knows everyone.” “I don’t know her. I only used to see her going about, and hear them calling ‘Albertine’ here, and ‘Albertine’ there. But I do know Mme Bontemps, and I don’t like her much either.” “You are quite wrong; she is charming, pretty, intelligent. She’s even quite witty. I’ll go in and say how d’y do to her, and ask her if her husband thinks we’re going to have war, and whether we can rely on King Theodosius. He’s bound to know, don’t you think, since he’s in the counsels of the gods?” It was not thus that Swann used to talk in days gone by; but who among us cannot call to mind some unpretentious royal princess who let herself be carried off by a footman and then, ten years later, tried to get back into society and found that people were not very willing to call on her; have we not found her spontaneously adopting the language of all the old female bores, and, when we referred to some duchess who was at the height of fashion, heard her say: “She came to see me only yesterday,” or “I live a very quiet life”? So that it is superfluous to make a study of social mores, since we can deduce them from psychological laws. The Swanns shared this shortcoming of people who do not have many callers; a visit, an invitation, a mere friendly word from someone even slightly prominent were for them events to which they wished to give full publicity. If bad luck would have it that the Verdurins were in London when Odette gave a rather splendid dinner party, an arrangement was made by which some common friend cabled the news to them across the Channel. The Swanns were incapable even of keeping to themselves the complimentary letters and telegrams received by Odette. They spoke of them to their friends, passed them from hand to hand. Thus the Swanns’ drawing room reminded one of a seaside hotel where telegrams are posted up on a board.

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Moreover, people who had known the old Swann not merely outside society, as I had, but in society, in the Guermantes set that, with certain concessions to highnesses and duchesses, was infinitely exacting in the matter of wit and charm, from which banishment was sternly decreed for men of real eminence whom its members found boring or vulgar—such people might have been astonished to observe that their old Swann had ceased to be not only discreet when he spoke of his acquaintances but difficult when it came to choosing them. How was it that Mme Bontemps, so common, so ill-­natured, failed to exasperate him? How could he possibly describe her as attractive? The memory of the Guermantes set must, one would suppose, have prevented him; as a matter of fact it encouraged him. There was certainly among the Guermantes, as compared with the great majority of groups in society, taste, indeed a refined taste, but also a snobbishness from which there arose the possibility of a momentary interruption in the exercise of that taste. If it were a question of someone who was not indispensable to their circle, of a minister of foreign affairs, a slightly pompous republican, or of an academician who talked too much, their taste would be brought to bear heavily against him, Swann would sympathize with Mme de Guermantes for having had to sit next to such people at a dinner in one of the embassies, and they would a thousand times rather have a man of fashion, that is to say a man of the Guermantes kind, good for nothing, but endowed with the wit of the Guermantes, someone who belonged to the same coterie. Only, a grand duchess, a princess of the blood, should she dine often with Mme de Guermantes, would soon find herself enrolled in that coterie also, without having any right to be there, without being at all so endowed. But with the naïveté of people in society, from the moment they had her in their houses they went out of their way to find her attractive, since they were unable to say that it was because she was attractive that they invited her. Swann, coming to the rescue of Mme de Guermantes, would say to her after the highness had gone: “After all,

Madame Swann at Home 95

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower she’s not such a bad woman; really, she has quite a sense of humor. Good Lord, I don’t suppose for a moment that she has mastered the Critique of Pure Reason; still, she is not unpleasant.” “Oh, I absolutely agree with you!” the duchess would reply. “Besides, she was a little intimidated, but you will see that she can be charming.” “She is certainly a great deal less annoying than Mme X” (the wife of the talkative academician, who was in fact a remarkable woman) “who quotes twenty volumes at you.” “Oh, but there’s no comparison.” The faculty of saying such things as these, and of saying them sincerely, Swann had acquired from the duchess, and had never lost. He made use of it now with reference to the people who came to his house. He forced himself to discern and to admire in them the qualities that every human being will display if we examine him with a prejudice in his favor, and not with the distaste of the nice-­minded; he extolled the merits of Mme Bontemps as he had once extolled those of the Princesse de Parme, who would have had to be excluded from the Guermantes set if there had not been privileged terms of admission for certain highnesses, and if, when they presented themselves for election, no consideration had indeed been paid except to wit and a certain charm. We have seen already, moreover, that Swann had an inclination (which he was now putting into practice, only in a more lasting fashion) to exchange his social position for another that, in certain circumstances, might suit him better. It is only people incapable of analyzing, in their perception, what at first sight appears indivisible, who believe that one’s position and one’s person are the same. One and the same man, taken at successive points in his life, will be found to breathe on different rungs on the social ladder, in atmospheres that do not of necessity become more and more refined; whenever, in any period of our existence, we establish or reestablish links with a certain milieu, and we feel pampered and at ease in it, we begin quite naturally to fasten ourselves to it by putting down human roots. As for Mme Bontemps, I believe also that Swann, in speaking of her with so much emphasis, was not sorry to think that my par-

96 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ents would hear that she had been to see his wife. To tell the truth, in our house the names of the people whom Mme Swann was gradually getting to know pricked our curiosity more than they aroused our admiration. On hearing the name of Mme Trombert, my mother exclaimed: “Ah! That’s a new recruit and one who will bring in others.” And as though she found a similarity between the somewhat summary, rapid, and violent manner in which Mme Swann conquered her friends and a colonial expedition, Mamma went on to observe: “Now that the Tromberts have been subdued, the neighboring tribes will not be long in surrendering.” If she had passed Mme Swann in the street, she would tell us when she came home: “I saw Mme Swann in all her war paint; she must have been embarking on some triumphant offensive against the Mas­ séchutos, or the Sinhalese, or the Tromberts.”190 And so with all the new people whom I told her that I had seen in that somewhat composite and artificial milieu, to which they had often been brought with some difficulty and from widely different worlds, Mamma would at once divine their origin and speak of them as of trophies dearly bought; she would say: “Brought back from an expedition against the so-­and-­so!” As for Mme Cottard, my father was astonished that Mme Swann could find anything to be gained by getting such an undistinguished woman to come to her house, and said: “In spite of the Professor’s position, I must say that I cannot understand it.” My mother, on the other hand, understood quite well; she knew that a great deal of the pleasure that a woman finds in entering a class of society different from that in which she has previously lived would be lacking if she had no means of keeping her old associates informed of those others, relatively more brilliant, with whom she has replaced them. For this, she requires an eyewitness who may be allowed to penetrate this new, delicious world (as a buzzing, browsing insect bores its way into a flower) and will then, as the course of her visits may carry her, spread abroad, or so at least one hopes, with the news, the hidden seed of envy and of wonder. Mme Cottard, who might have been created to play this

190. Masséchutos is apparently a name invented by Proust. The 1888 Baedeker Guide to Paris states that during the summer, various Indian tribes camped in a portion of the Jardin d’Acclimatation. This garden, which opened to the public in 1860, is an enclosed part of the Bois de Boulogne that was established to introduce and acclimatize foreign plants and animals.

Madame Swann at Home 97

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 191. “Stranger, go tell the Spartans” are words attributed to Leonidas I, King of Sparta (490?–­480 b.c.), who died heroically at Thermopylae with his small band of three hundred Spartans, trying to stem the tide of a great Persian invasion led by Xerxes. A Greek inscription on the battle site reads: “Stranger, go tell Sparta that we all lie here in obedience to her laws.” Herodotus, The Histories, book 7: 228. 192. “Opportunist” was the name given to republican députés who, in the National Assembly of 1871, had collaborated with the monarchists in drafting the Constitution. 193. The kaleidoscope is an image favored by Proust to indicate important social changes.

98 Madame Swann at Home

role, belonged to that special category of guests whom Mamma (who inherited certain facets of her father’s turn of mind) used to call the “Go, tell the Spartans”191 people. Besides—apart from another reason that did not come to our knowledge until many years later—Mme Swann, in inviting this good-­natured, reserved, and modest friend, had no need to fear that she might be introducing into her drawing room, on her brilliant “at homes,” a traitor or a rival. She knew what a vast number of bourgeois calyxes that busy worker, armed with her plume and card case, could visit in a single afternoon. She knew the creature’s power of dissemination, and, basing her calculations on the law of probability, was led to believe that almost certainly some habitué of the Verdurins would be bound to hear, within two or three days, how the governor of Paris had left calling cards for her, or that M. Verdurin himself would be told how M. Le Hault de Pressagny, the president of the horse show, had taken them, Swann and herself, to the King Theodosius gala; she imagined the Verdurins as informed of these two events, both so flattering to herself, and of these alone, because the particular materializations in which we envisage and pursue fame are but few in number, through a deficiency of our own minds that are incapable of imagining at one time all the forms that, nonetheless, we hope—on the whole—that fame will not fail simultaneously to assume for our benefit. Mme Swann had, however, met with no success outside what was called the “official world.” Smart women did not go to her house. It was not the presence there of republican notables that frightened them away. In the days of my early childhood, everything that pertained to conservative society was worldly, and no respectable salon would ever have opened its doors to a republican. The people who lived in such an atmosphere imagined that the impossibility of ever inviting an “opportunist”192—still more, a horrible “radical”—to their parties was something that would endure forever like oil lamps and horse-­drawn omnibuses. But, like a kaleidoscope193 that is every now and then given a turn, society arranges successively in different orders elements that one

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower would have supposed to be immutable and composes a new pattern. Before I had made my first Communion, right-­minded ladies had had the stupefaction of meeting, while paying calls, an elegant Jewess. These new arrangements of the kaleidoscope are produced by what a philosopher would call a “change of criterion.” The Dreyfus Affair194 brought about another, at a period a little later than that in which I began to go to Mme Swann’s,195 and the kaleidoscope tumbled once again its little colored lozenges. Everything Jewish, even the elegant lady herself, fell to the bottom, and various obscure nationalists rose to take its place. The most brilliant salon in Paris was that of an ultra-­Catholic Austrian prince. If instead of the Dreyfus Affair there had been a war with Germany, the kaleidoscope would have been turned in another direction. The Jews, having shown to the general astonishment that they were patriots also, would have kept their position and no one would have any longer cared to go or even to admit that he had ever gone to the Austrian prince’s. All this does not, however, prevent the people who live in society from imagining, whenever it is momentarily immobile, that no further change will occur, just as in spite of having witnessed the birth of the telephone they decline to believe in the airplane. Meanwhile the philosophers of journalism are at work, castigating the preceding epoch, and not only the kind of pleasures in which it indulged and that seem to them to be the last word in corruption, but even the works of its artists and philosophers, which no longer have the least value in their eyes, as though they were indissolubly linked to the successive modes of fashionable frivolity. The only thing that does not change is that it seems every time that “something has changed in France.” At the time when I went to Mme Swann’s the Dreyfus Affair had not yet erupted, and certain prominent Jews were extremely powerful. None more so than Sir Rufus Israëls, whose wife, Lady Israëls,196 was Swann’s aunt. She herself did not have any close acquaintances so fashionable as her nephew’s, while he, since he did not care for her, had never much cultivated her society, although he was presumably her heir. But she was the only

194. The Dreyfus Affair was a scandal that for many years split apart French society, including Proust’s own family. Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935) was a Jewish army captain who was falsely accused in 1894 of sending secret documents on artillery design to the German military attaché. Dreyfus was convicted of treason and imprisoned (1896) in solitary confinement on Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guyana. The evidence against Dreyfus was later discovered to be forged. The case became the center of political division in France in which anti-­Semitism played a major part. Dreyfus was eventually pardoned and his original conviction set aside by a civilian court (1906), and he was restored to rank in the army and given the Légion d’honneur. He later rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel during World War I. In the course of the novel, Proust will examine the effects of this scandal on high society. 195. It was toward the end of 1897 that the Dreyfus Affair began igniting partisan passions. 196. Proust uses “sir” and “lady” as the titles for the Israëls, presumably because they immigrated from England.

Madame Swann at Home 99

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 197. Latin meaning “an unknown land.” 198. Charles Havas (1785–1858) was authorized by Napoléon to gather and forward news from armies in the field to Paris. The news distributing agency that he organized (1832) and that was later converted into the company Agence Havas (1879) is the oldest news agency in Europe. 199. La Cousine Bette (1847) is a novel by Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850). Swann’s cousins are making a word play here: Bette (Betty) is a homophone of “bête,” which means stupid or foolish. Here, since the cousin is Charles, the masculine form of the noun is used: “le cousin.” 200. The Rothschilds were a family of Jewish bankers of German origin who were made nobles when Napoléon I accorded the title of baron to the five brothers and their descendants. Proust was personally acquainted with members of this fabulously wealthy family, some of whom attended Mme Geneviève Straus’s salon. On August 16, 1911, Proust met Maurice de Rothschild and his wife on the occasion of a ball given at the Grand Hôtel in Cabourg. See Proust, Correspondance, 10: 333. 201. The Faubourg Saint-­Germain is an elegant residential section on Paris’s Left Bank in the seventh arrondissement; it is named for the church of Saint-­Germain-­des-­Prés. In Proust’s day, it was inhabited mostly by the French aristocracy of the Ancien Régime.

100 Madame Swann at Home

one of Swann’s relatives who had any idea of his social position, the others having always remained, in this regard, in the state of ignorance that had long been our own. When, from a family circle, one of its members emigrates into high society—which to him appears a unique phenomenon until after the lapse of a decade he observes that it has been performed in other ways and for different reasons by more than one of the young men he grew up with—he draws around himself a zone of shadow, a terra incognita,197 which is clearly visible in its minutest nuances to all those who inhabit it with him, but is darkest night and nothingness to those who may not penetrate it but touch its fringe without the least suspicion of its existence in their midst. There being no Agence Havas198 to inform Swann’s cousins about the people with whom he consorted, it was (before his appalling marriage, of course) with smiles of condescension that these women would tell one another, over family dinners, that they had spent a “virtuous” Sunday in going to see “cousin Charles,” whom (regarding him as a poor relation who was inclined to envy their prosperity) they used wittily to name, playing on the title of Balzac’s novel, Le Cousin Bête.199 Lady Israëls, however, knew perfectly well who the people were who lavished on Swann a friendship of which she was jealous. Her husband’s family, who were more or less the equivalent of the Rothschilds,200 had for several generations managed the affairs of the Orléans princes. Lady Israëls, being immensely rich, exercised a wide influence and had employed it to ensure that no one whom she knew would be “at home” to Odette. Only one had disobeyed her, in secret, the Comtesse de Marsantes. And then, as ill luck would have it, Odette having gone to call on Mme de Marsantes, Lady Israëls had entered the room almost at the same moment. Mme de Marsantes was on tenterhooks. With the cowardice of those who are at liberty to act as they choose, she did not address a single word to Odette, who thus found little encouragement to pursue further the incursion into a world that was not at all the one in which she would have liked to be received. In her complete detachment from the Faubourg Saint-­Germain,201

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Odette continued to be regarded as the illiterate cocotte, utterly different from the respectable bourgeois, well-­informed about all the minutest points of genealogy, who endeavor, by reading old memoirs, to quench their thirst for the aristocratic relations with which real life fails to provide them. And Swann, for his part, continued no doubt to be the lover in whose eyes all these peculiarities of an old mistress appear agreeable or at least inoffensive, for I have often heard his wife profess veritable social heresies, without his attempting to correct them, whether from lingering affection for her, loss of esteem, or weariness of the effort to make her perfect. It was perhaps also another form of the simplicity that for so long had misled us at Combray, and which now had the effect that, while he continued to know, on his own account at least, many highly distinguished people, he did not make a point, in conversation in his wife’s drawing room, of our finding them to be of the least importance. They had, indeed, less importance than ever for Swann, the center of gravity of his life having been displaced. In any case, Odette’s ignorance in social matters was such that if the name of the Princesse de Guermantes were mentioned in conversation after that of the duchess, her cousin: “They’re the ones who are princes. Well, they’ve gone up a step,” she would say. Were anyone to say “the prince,” in speaking of the Duc de Chartres,202 she would put him right: “The duke, you mean; he is Duc de Chartres, not prince.” As for the Duc d’Orléans, son of the Comte de Paris: “That’s funny; the son is higher than the father!” she would remark, adding, for she was afflicted with Anglomania, “Those Royalties203 are so dreadfully confusing!”—while to someone who asked her from what province the Guermantes family came she replied, “From the Aisne.”204 But, so far as Odette was concerned, Swann was quite blind, not merely to these deficiencies in her education but to the mediocrity of her intelligence. More than that; whenever Odette repeated a silly story, Swann would sit listening to his wife with a complacency, a merriment, almost an admiration into which some survival of his desire for her must have entered; while in the

202. Robert-­Philippe-­Louis-­Eugène-­ Ferdinand (1840–1910), Duc de Chartres, was the son of the Duc d’Orléans and younger brother to the Comte de Paris, pretender to the French throne. “Odette does not understand that the duke is called prince in his capacity as a member of the royal family.” À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 510, n. 1. 203. “Royalties” is in English in the original. 204. Aisne is a département, whose capital is Laon, in the Picardy region of northern France, where Odette locates the château de Guermantes. The real château de Guermantes, which shares only its name with the one in the novel, is located in the Seine-­et-­Marne département.

Madame Swann at Home 101

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower same conversation, anything subtle, anything profound even that he himself might say would be listened to by Odette with a habitual lack of interest, rather curtly, with impatience, and would at times be sharply contradicted. And we must conclude that this enslavement of refinement by vulgarity is the rule in many households, when we think, conversely, of all the superior women who let themselves be charmed by a boor, merciless in his censure of their most delicate utterances, while they go into ecstasies, with the infinite indulgence of love, over the feeblest of his witticisms. To return to the reasons that prevented Odette, at this period, from making her way into the Faubourg Saint-­Germain, it must be observed that the latest turn of the social kaleidoscope had been caused by a series of scandals. Women to whose houses one had been going with entire confidence had been discovered to be common prostitutes, British spies. One would, therefore, for some time to come expect people (so, at least, one supposed) to be, above all, in a sound position, well established. Odette represented exactly everything with which one had just severed relations, and was incidentally to renew at once (for people, their natures not altering from one day to the next, seek in every new order a continuance of the old) though seeking it under a different form that would allow one to be duped and to believe that it was no longer the same society as before the crisis. However, the “branded” women of that society and Odette were too much alike. Society people are very shortsighted; at the moment in which they cease to have any relations with the Jewish ladies whom they have known, while they are asking themselves how they are to fill the void thus made in their lives, they perceive, thrust into it as by the windfall of a night of storm, a new lady, also Jewish; but by virtue of her novelty she is not associated in their minds with her predecessors, with what they are convinced that they must detest. She does not ask them to respect her God. They take her up. There was no question of anti-­Semitism at the time when I used first to visit Odette. But she was similar to what people wished for a time to avoid.

102 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower As for Swann himself, he was still a frequent visitor of several of his former acquaintances, who, of course, all belonged to the very highest society. And yet when he spoke to us of the people whom he had just been to see I noticed that, among those whom he had known in the old days, the choice that he made was dictated by the same kind of taste, partly artistic, partly historic, that inspired him as a collector. And remarking that it was often some great lady or other of declining social status who interested him because she had been the mistress of Liszt205 or because one of Balzac’s novels had been dedicated to her grandmother (as he would purchase a drawing if Chateaubriand had written about it) I conceived a suspicion that we had, at Combray, replaced one error, that of regarding Swann as a mere rich bourgeois, who did not go into society, by another, when we supposed him to be one of the most fashionable men in Paris. To be a friend of the Comte de Paris meant nothing at all. Is not the world full of such “friends of princes,” who would not be received in any house that was at all exclusive? Princes know themselves to be princes, and are not snobs; besides, they believe themselves to be so far above everything that is not of their blood royal that great nobles and rich bourgeois appear, in the depths beneath them, to be practically on the same level. But Swann was not content with seeking in society, and attaching to the names that the past has inscribed on its roll and that are still to be read there, a simple literary and artistic pleasure; he indulged in the slightly vulgar diversion of arranging, as it were, social bouquets by grouping heterogeneous elements, bringing together people taken from here and there. These amusing (so Swann thought) sociological experiments did not have, with any consistency, an identical repercussion on each of his wife’s friends. “I’m thinking of inviting the Cottards to meet the Duchesse de Vendôme,” he would say, laughing, to Mme Bontemps, with the avid look of a gourmet who has thought of and intends to try substituting in a sauce cayenne pepper for cloves. But this plan, which, in fact, was to appear to the Cottards quite agreeable, in

205. Franz Liszt (1811–86), Hungarian musician and composer, moved to Paris when he was twelve years old.

Madame Swann at Home 103

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 206. Proust’s word is plaisant, which is the equivalent of “pleasant” or “agreeable.” Its archaic meaning is “pleasing.” 207. Don Juan was a legendary figure who led a life of extravagant amorous adventures. His escapades are the subject of many books and plays, including Molière’s Dom Juan ou Le Festin de Pierre (1665) and Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787).

104 Madame Swann at Home

the archaic sense of the word,206 succeeded in exasperating Mme Bontemps. She herself had recently been presented by the Swanns to the Duchesse de Vendôme, and had found this as agreeable as it seemed to her natural. The thought of boasting about it at the Cottards’, when she related to them what had happened, had been by no means the least savory ingredient of her pleasure. But like those persons recently decorated who, once their investiture is accomplished, would like to see the fountain of honor turned off at the main, Mme Bontemps would have preferred that, after herself, no one else in her own circle of friends should be introduced to the princess. She inwardly cursed the depraved taste of Swann, who, in order to gratify a wretched esthetic whim, was making her lose, at one swoop, the dazzling impression she had made on the Cottards when she told them about the Duchesse de Vendôme. How was she even to dare announce to her husband that the professor and his wife were in their turn to partake of this pleasure of which she had boasted to him as unique? If only the Cottards could be made to know that they were being invited not seriously but for the amusement of their host! It is true that the Bontemps had been invited for the same reason, but Swann, having acquired from the aristocracy the eternal Don Juanism207 that, in treating with two women of no importance, makes each of them believe it is she alone who is seriously loved, had spoken to Mme Bontemps of the Duchesse de Vendôme as of a person with whom it was obvious that she must dine. “Yes, we intend to invite the princess with the Cottards,” said Mme Swann a few weeks later. “My husband thinks that this conjunction might produce something quite amusing.” For if she had retained from the “little nucleus” certain habits dear to Mme Verdurin, such as that of shouting things aloud so as to be heard by all the faithful, she made use, at the same time, of certain expressions, such as “conjunction,” that were dear to the Guermantes circle, of which she thus felt unconsciously and at a distance, as the sea is swayed by the moon, the attraction, though without being drawn perceptibly closer to it. “Yes, the Cottards and the Duchesse de Ven-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower dôme. Don’t you think that might be rather fun?” asked Swann. “I think they’ll be exceedingly ill-­matched, and it can only lead to a lot of bother. People shouldn’t play with fire!” snapped Mme Bontemps, furious. All the same, she and her husband, and also the Prince d’Agrigente, were invited to this dinner that Mme Bontemps and Cottard had each two ways of describing, according to whom they were addressing. To one set, Mme Bontemps for her part, and Cottard for his, would say casually when asked who else had been of the party: “Only the Prince d’Agrigente; it was all quite intimate.” But there were others who might, alas, be better informed (once, indeed, someone had challenged Cottard with: “But weren’t the Bontemps there too?” “Oh, I forgot them,” Cottard had blushingly admitted to the tactless questioner, whom he ever afterward classified among the scandalmongers). For these the Bontemps and Cottards had each adopted, without any mutual arrangement, a version whose framework was identical for both parties, their own names alone were interchanged. “Let me see,” Cottard would say, “there were only our host and hostess, the Duc and Duchesse de Vendôme” (with a self-­satisfied smile), “Professor and Mme Cottard, and, upon my soul, heaven only knows how they got there, for they were as completely out of place as a fly in the soup, M. and Mme Bontemps.” Mme Bontemps would recite exactly the same piece, only it was M. and Mme Bontemps who were named with a self-­satisfied emphasis between the Duchesse de Vendôme and the Prince d’Agrigente, while the ragtags whom finally she used to accuse of having invited themselves and who completely spoiled the picture were the Cottards. When he had been paying calls, Swann would often come home with little time to spare before dinner. At that point in the evening, six o’clock, when in the old days he had felt so wretched, he no longer asked himself what Odette might be doing, and was hardly at all concerned to hear that she had people still with her or had gone out. He recalled at times that he had once, years ago, tried to read through its envelope a letter addressed by Odette to Forcheville.208 But this memory was not pleasing to him, and

208. See Swann’s Way, 322.

Madame Swann at Home 105

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 209. Before marrying Swann, Odette lived on the rue La Pérouse, which is located near the Arc de Triomphe in the sixteenth arrondissement.

106 Madame Swann at Home

rather than plumb the depths of the shame that he felt, he preferred to indulge in a little grimace, twisting up the corners of his mouth and adding, if need be, a shake of his head that signified “What do I care?” In truth, he considered now that the hypothesis by which he had often been brought to a standstill in days gone by and according to which it was his jealous imagination alone that blackened what was in reality the innocent life of Odette—that this hypothesis (which after all was beneficial since, so long as his amorous malady had lasted, it had diminished his sufferings by making them seem imaginary) was not true, that it was his jealousy that had seen things in the right light, and that if Odette had loved him more than he supposed, she had deceived him more as well. Formerly, while he suffered so much, he had vowed that, as soon as he had ceased to love Odette and was no longer afraid either of vexing her or of making her believe that he loved her too much, he would give himself the satisfaction of elucidating with her, simply from his love of truth and as a historical detail, whether or not Forcheville had been in bed with her that day when he had rung her bell and tapped on her window without being let in, and she had written to Forcheville that it was an uncle of hers who had called. But this so interesting problem, that he was waiting to clarify once his jealousy ended, had precisely lost all interest in Swann’s eyes when he had ceased to be jealous. Not immediately, however. He felt no other jealousy now with regard to Odette than what the memory of that day, that afternoon spent knocking in vain at the little house on the rue La Pérouse,209 had continued to excite in him. It was as though his jealousy, not dissimilar in that respect from those maladies that appear to have their seat, their source of contagion less in certain persons than in certain places, in certain houses, had had for its object not so much Odette herself as that day, that hour of the irretrievable past when Swann had knocked at every entrance of Odette’s house. You would have said that that day, that hour alone had caught and preserved a few last fragments of the amorous personality that had once been Swann’s, and that he could recapture them only there.

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower For a long time now it had not mattered to him that Odette had deceived him and deceived him still. And yet he had continued for some years to seek out old servants of Odette’s, so strongly in him persisted the painful curiosity to know whether on that day, so long ago, at six o’clock, Odette had been in bed with Forcheville. Then that curiosity itself had disappeared, without, however, his abandoning his investigations. He continued the attempt to discover what no longer interested him, because his former self, though it had become extremely decrepit, still acted mechanically, following the course of preoccupations so utterly abandoned that Swann could not now succeed even in forming an idea of that anguish, once so powerful that he had been unable to foresee his ever being delivered from it, that only the death of the one he loved (death which, as will be shown later on in this story, by a cruel counterexample, in no way diminishes the sufferings caused by jealousy) seemed to him capable of making smooth the road, then entirely blocked, of his life. But to bring to light someday those passages in the life of Odette to which he owed his sufferings had not been Swann’s only ambition; he had in reserve that also of avenging himself for his sufferings when being no longer in love with Odette, he would no longer be afraid of her; and the opportunity of gratifying this second ambition had now presented itself, for Swann was in love with another woman, a woman who gave him no grounds for jealousy but who all the same made him jealous, because he was no longer capable of altering his manner of loving, and it was the manner he had used with Odette that must serve him now for another. To make Swann’s jealousy revive, it was not essential that this woman should be unfaithful; it sufficed that, for some reason or another, she should be away from him, at a party for example, where she had appeared to be enjoying herself. That was enough to reawaken in him the old anguish, that lamentable and contradictory excrescence of his love, and that held Swann at a distance from what she really was, like a yearning to attain the impossible (what this young woman really felt for him, the hidden longing

Madame Swann at Home 107

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that absorbed her days, the secret places of her heart), for between Swann and the one he loved, this anguish interposed an unyielding mass of already existing suspicions, having their cause in Odette, or in some other woman perhaps who had preceded Odette, allowing this now aging lover to know his mistress of today only through the old and collective phantom of the “woman who made him jealous,” in which he had arbitrarily incarnated his new love. Often, however, Swann blamed his jealousy for making him believe in imaginary infidelities; but then he would remember that he had given Odette the benefit of the same argument, and wrongly. And so everything that the young woman whom he loved did in those hours when he was not with her ceased to appear innocent to him. But whereas at that other time he had made a vow that if ever he ceased to love the woman whom he did not then imagine would one day be his wife, he would implacably show her an indifference that would be at last sincere, in order to avenge his pride—which had so long been humiliated—of those reprisals that he might now execute without risk to himself (for what harm could it do him to be taken at his word and deprived of those intimate moments with Odette that had been so necessary to him once?), of those reprisals he no longer thought; with his love had vanished the desire to show that he no longer loved. And he who, when he was suffering at the hands of Odette, had so desired to let her see one day that he had fallen in love with another, now that he was in a position to do so took infinite precautions so that his wife should not suspect the existence of this new love. It was not only in those tea parties, on account of which I had formerly had the sorrow of seeing Gilberte leave me and go home earlier than usual, that I was henceforth to take part, but the outings that she had with her mother, to go for a walk or to some afternoon party, and which by preventing her from coming to the Champs-­Élysées had deprived me of her, on those days when I remained alone on the lawn or stood before the wooden horses, to these outings M. and Mme Swann now admitted me; I had a seat

108 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower in their landau, and indeed it was me whom they asked whether I would rather go to the theater, to a dancing lesson at the house of one of Gilberte’s friends, to some social gathering given by friends of the Swanns’ (what Odette called “a little meeting”),210 or to visit the tombs at Saint-­Denis.211 On days when I was to go out with the Swanns I would arrive at the house in time for what Mme Swann called “le lunch”;212 as one was not expected before half past twelve, while my parents in those days had their meal at a quarter past eleven, it was not until they had risen from the table that I made my way toward that sumptuous quarter, deserted enough at any hour, but more particularly just then, when everyone had gone home. Even on winter days of frost, if the weather was fine, tightening every few minutes the knot of a magnificent necktie from Charvet’s213 and looking to see that my patent leather boots were not getting dirty, I would roam up and down the avenues, waiting until twenty-­seven minutes past twelve. I could see from afar in the Swanns’ small garden the sunlight glittering like hoarfrost from the bare-­boughed trees. It is true that the garden possessed only two of them. The unusual hour presented the scene in a new light. With these pleasures of nature (intensified by the suppression of habit and indeed by my physical hunger) was mingled the thrilling expectation of sitting down to lunch with Mme Swann; this expectation did not diminish them, but dominated and subdued them, made of them social accessories so that if, at this hour when ordinarily I did not perceive them, I seemed now to be discovering the fine weather, the cold, the wintry sunlight; it was all as a sort of preface to the creamed eggs, as a patina, a pink and cool glaze applied to the decoration of that mysterious chapel that was the dwelling of Mme Swann, and in the heart of which there were by contrast so much warmth, so many scents and flowers. At half past twelve I would finally make up my mind to enter that house, which, like an immense Christmas stocking, seemed ready to bestow on me supernatural delights. (The French name “Noël” was, by the way, unknown to Mme Swann and Gilberte,

210. “Meeting” is in English in the original. 211. Saint-­Denis is an abbey a few miles north of Paris. The kings and queens of France were entombed there from the time of Saint Louis (Louis IX, 1214–70), King of France 1226–70. However, most of the tombs were desecrated during the Revolution, and the royal ­remains scattered to places unknown. 212. “Le lunch” mixes French and English thus in the original. 213. Charvet, founded in 1838, and apparently the world’s first shirtmaker, was a haberdasher for high society. In Proust’s day, it was located at place Vendôme and rue des Capucines in the second arrondissement.

Madame Swann at Home 109

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 214. Klingsor is the evil magician in the opera Parsifal (1882), by Richard Wagner.

110 Madame Swann at Home

who had substituted for it the English “Christmas,” and would speak of nothing but “Christmas pudding,” what people had given them as “Christmas presents,” and of going away—the thought of which maddened me with grief—“for Christmas.” At home even, I would have thought it degrading to use the word “Noël,” and always said “Christmas,” which my father considered extremely silly.) I encountered no one at first but a footman, who, after leading me through several large drawing rooms showed me into one that was quite small, empty, its windows beginning to dream already in the blue light of afternoon; I was left alone there in the company of orchids, roses, and violets, which, like people who are waiting beside you but do not know you, preserved a silence that their individuality as living things made all the more impressive, and received coldly the warmth of a glowing fire of coals, preciously displayed behind a screen of crystal, in a basin of white marble over which it spilled from time to time its dangerous rubies. I had sat down but I rose hurriedly on hearing the door open; it was only another footman, and then a third, and the meager result that their vainly alarming entrances and exits achieved was to put a little more coal on the fire or water in the vases. They departed; I found myself alone, once the door was shut that Mme Swann would surely open soon. And certainly, I would have been less ill at ease in a magician’s cave than in this little waiting room where the fire appeared to me to be performing alchemical transmutations as in Klingsor’s laboratory.214 Footsteps sounded afresh, but I did not rise; it was sure to be just another footman; it was M. Swann. “What! All by yourself? What is one to do; that poor wife of mine has never been able to remember what time means! Ten minutes to one. She gets later every day. And you’ll see, she will come sailing in without the least hurry, and imagine she’s ahead of time.” And as he was still subject to neuritis, and as he was becoming a trifle ridiculous, the fact of having so unpunctual a wife, who came in so late from the Bois, forgot everything at her

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower dressmaker’s, and was never on time for lunch made Swann anxious for his digestion but flattered his self-­esteem. He would show me his latest acquisitions and explain their interest to me, but my emotion, added to the unfamiliarity of still having an empty stomach at this hour, agitating my mind left it void, so that while able to speak I was incapable of hearing. Besides, so far as the works of art in Swann’s possession were concerned, it was enough for me that they were contained in his house, formed a part there of the delicious hour that preceded lunch. The Mona Lisa itself might have appeared there without giving me any more pleasure than one of Mme Swann’s tea gowns, or her bottles of smelling salts. I continued to wait, alone or with Swann, and often with Gilberte, who came in to keep us company. The arrival of Mme Swann, prepared for me by all those majestic apparitions, must (so it seemed to me) be something truly immense. I strained my ears to catch the slightest sound. But we never find quite as high as we had hoped a cathedral, a wave in a storm, a dancer’s leap in the air; after those liveried footmen, suggesting the chorus whose processional entry onto the stage leads up to and at the same time diminishes the final appearance of the queen, Mme Swann, entering furtively, in a little otter-­skin coat, her veil lowered to cover a nose reddened by the cold, did not fulfill the promises lavished, while I had been waiting, on my imagination. But if she had stayed at home all morning, when she arrived in the drawing room she would be clad in a dressing gown of crêpe de Chine, brightly colored, that seemed to me more elegant than any of her dresses. Sometimes the Swanns decided to remain in the house all afternoon. And then, as we had had lunch so late, very soon I would see, beyond the garden wall, the sun setting of the day that had seemed to me bound to be different from other days; then in vain might the servants bring in lamps of every size and shape, burning each on the consecrated altar of a console, a guéridon, a corner

Madame Swann at Home 111

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 215. Proust enclosed “encoignure” in quotation marks. The word is used to indicate an armoire or étagère or some other small piece of furniture designed to fit into the corner of a room. 216. See Swann’s Way, 161–62.

112 Madame Swann at Home

table,215 or a little table, as though for the celebration of some strange and secret rite; nothing extraordinary transpired in the conversation, and I went home disappointed, as one often is in one’s childhood after midnight mass. But my disappointment was scarcely more than mental. I was radiant with joy in this house where Gilberte, when she was still not with us, was about to appear and would bestow on me in a moment, and for hours to come, her speech, her smiling and attentive gaze, just as I had caught it, that first time, at Combray.216 At the most I was a trifle jealous when I saw her so often disappear into vast rooms above, reached by a private staircase. Obliged myself to remain in the drawing room, like a man in love with an actress who is confined to his orchestra seat and wonders anxiously what is going on behind the scenes, in the green room, I put to Swann, with regard to this other part of the house, questions artfully veiled, but in a tone from which I could not quite succeed in banishing the note of uneasiness. He explained to me that the room to which Gilberte had gone was the linen pantry, offered himself to show it to me, and promised me that whenever Gilberte had occasion to go there again, he would insist on her taking me with her. By these last words and the relief that they brought me, Swann at once abolished for me one of those terrifying inner perspectives at the end of which a woman with whom we are in love appears so remote. At that moment I felt for him an affection that I believed to be deeper than my affection for Gilberte. For he, being the master of his daughter, was giving her to me, whereas she, she withheld herself at times; I had not the same control directly over her as I had indirectly through Swann. Besides, it was she whom I loved and could not, therefore, see without that anxiety, without the desire for something more that destroys in us, in the presence of the one we love, the sensation of loving. As a rule, however, we did not stay indoors, but went out for a walk. Sometimes, before going to dress, Mme Swann would sit down at the piano. Her lovely hands, escaping from the pink, or white, or, often, vividly colored sleeves of her crêpe de Chine

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower dressing gown, extended over the keys with that same melancholy that was in her eyes but not in her heart. It was on one of those days that she happened to play me the part of Vinteuil’s Sonata that contained the little phrase of which Swann had been so fond. But often one listens and hears nothing, if it is a piece of music at all complicated to which one is listening for the first time. And yet when, later on, this sonata had been played for me two or three times, I found that I knew it perfectly well. And so it is not wrong to speak of “hearing a thing for the first time.” If one had indeed, as one believed, received no impression from the first hearing, the second, the third would be equally first hearings and there would be no reason why one should understand it any better after the tenth. Probably what is wanting, the first time, is not comprehension but memory. For our memory, compared to the complexity of the impressions that it has to face while we are listening, is infinitesimal, as brief as the memory of a man who in his sleep thinks of a thousand things and at once forgets them, or as that of a man in his second childhood who cannot recall, a minute afterward, what one has just been saying to him. Of these multiple impressions our memory is not capable of furnishing us with an immediate picture. But that picture gradually takes shape, and, with regard to works that we have heard more than once, we are like the schoolboy who has read several times over before going to sleep a lesson that he thought he did not know, and finds that he can repeat it by heart next morning. It was only that I had not, until that day, heard a note of this sonata, whereas Swann and his wife could make out a distinct phrase that was as far beyond the range of my clear perception as a name that one tries to recall and in place of which one discovers only a void, a void from which, an hour later, when one is not thinking about them, will spring of their own accord, in a single bound, the syllables that one has solicited in vain. And not only does one not seize at once and retain an impression of works that are truly rare, but even within any such work (as happened to me in the case of Vinteuil’s Sonata), it is the least valuable parts that one at first perceives. Thus I was mistaken not only in thinking

Madame Swann at Home 113

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that this work held nothing further in store for me (so that for a long time I made no effort to hear it again) from the moment Mme Swann had played for me its most famous passage (I was in this respect as stupid as people are who expect to feel no astonishment when they stand in Venice in front of Saint Mark’s, because photography has already acquainted them with the outline of its domes). Far more than that, even when I had heard the sonata played from beginning to end, it remained almost wholly invisible to me, like a monument of whose distance or a haze in the atmosphere allows us to catch but a faint and fragmentary glimpse. Hence the melancholy inseparable from one’s knowledge of such works, as of everything that acquires reality in time. When the least obvious beauties of Vinteuil’s Sonata were revealed to me, already, borne by the force of habit beyond the reach of my sensibility, those that I had from the first distinguished and preferred in it were beginning to escape, to elude me. Since I was able only in successive moments to enjoy all that this sonata gave me, I never possessed it in its entirety: it was like life itself. But, less disappointing than life is, great works of art do not begin by giving us all their best. In Vinteuil’s Sonata the beauties that one discovers at once are those also of which one most soon grows tired, and for the same reason, no doubt, namely that they are less different from what one already knows. But when those have withdrawn, there is left for our enjoyment some passage whose structure, too new and strange to offer anything but confusion to our mind, had made it indistinguishable to us and so preserved intact; and this, in front of which we have been passing every day unaware, which had thus held itself in reserve for us, which by the sheer force of its beauty had become invisible and remained unknown, this comes to us last of all. But we will also relinquish it last. And we will love it longer than the rest because we have taken longer to get to love it. The time, moreover, that a person requires—as I required in the matter of this sonata—to penetrate a work of any depth is merely an epitome, a symbol, one might say, of the years, the centuries even that must elapse before the public can begin to cherish a masterpiece that is

114 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower really new. So that the man of genius, to spare himself the ignorant contempt of the world, may say to himself that, since one’s contemporaries are incapable of the necessary detachment, works written for posterity should be read by posterity alone, like certain paintings that one cannot appreciate when one stands too close to them. But in reality any such cowardly precaution to avoid false judgments is doomed to failure; they are inevitable. The reason why a work of genius is not easily admired from the first is that the man who has created it is extraordinary, that few other men resemble him. It was Beethoven’s quartets themselves (the Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth) that devoted half a century to forming, fashioning, and enlarging a public for Beethoven’s quartets,217 thus marking, like every great work of art, an advance if not in artistic quality at least in the community of minds, largely composed today of what was not to be found when the work first appeared, that is to say of persons capable of appreciating it. What is called posterity is the posterity of the work of art. It is essential that the work (leaving out of account, for simplicity’s sake, the contingency that several men of genius may at the same time be working along parallel lines to create a more instructed public in the future from which other men of genius will benefit) create its own posterity. For if the work were held in reserve, were revealed only to posterity, that audience, for that particular work, would be not posterity but a group of contemporaries who were merely living half a century later in time. And so it is essential that the artist (and this is what Vinteuil had done), if he wants his work to be free to follow its own course, launch it, wherever there is sufficient depth, confidently outbound toward the distant future. And yet this future time, the true perspective in which to behold great works, if not taking it into account is the mistake made by bad judges, taking it into account is sometimes a dangerous precaution of good ones. No doubt it is easy to imagine, by an illusion similar to that which makes everything on the horizon appear equidistant, that all the revolutions that have hitherto occurred in painting or in music did at least respect certain rules, whereas that which im-

217. Proust greatly admired Beethoven’s late quartets and often refers to one or the other of them in his letters as “sublime.” On February 26, 1913, he attended a concert by the Capet String Quartet at the Salle Pleyel; the program included Beethoven’s Late Quartets 15, 16, 17, and the Grosse Fuge. In March 1916, he wrote to an acquaintance: “For several years now Beethoven’s late quartets and the music of [César] Franck have been my principal spiritual nourishment.” Proust, Correspondance, 15: 61. In April 1916, Proust hired the Poulet Quartet to come to his apartment in the late evening hours and perform Beethoven’s Thirteenth Quartet and Franck’s Quartet. In February 1918, he wrote to Robert de Montesquiou, “The most beautiful thing I know in music is the intoxicating finale of the 15th quartet, which is the delirium of a convalescent who in fact died shortly after.” Proust is referring to the Quartet in A minor, Opus 132, which Beethoven composed in 1826, the year before he died. Proust, Correspondance, 17: 109.

Madame Swann at Home 115

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 218. Cubism (the word dates from 1911) and Futurism (1909) were important artistic and literary movements that began to flourish just as Proust was beginning to write his novel. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were the main pioneers in the avant-­garde world of painting. Futurism as an artistic and social movement originated in Italy. Filippo Marinetti’s “Premier Manifeste du Futurisme,” was published in Le Figaro on February 20, 1909. The Futurists glorified the modern world, machines, speed, and violence in what they saw as an effort to free Italy from its oppressive past.

116 Madame Swann at Home

mediately confronts us, be it Impressionism, the pursuit of dissonance, an exclusive use of the Chinese scale, Cubism, Futurism,218 differs outrageously from all that has occurred before. This is because we are apt to regard everything that came before as a whole, forgetting that a long process of assimilation has converted it into a substance, varied of course but, on the whole, homogeneous, in which Hugo stands beside Molière. Let us try to imagine the shocking disparities that we would find, if we did not take into account the future and the changes that it must bring about, in a horoscope of our own riper years, cast for us in our adolescence. Only horoscopes are not always accurate, and the necessity, when judging a work of art, of including the temporal factor in the sum total of its beauty introduces into our judgment something as problematic, and consequently as barren of true interest, as every prophecy whose nonfulfillment will not at all imply any inadequacy on the prophet’s part, for the power to summon possibilities into existence or to exclude them from it is not necessarily within the competence of genius; one may have had genius and yet not have believed in the future of railways or airplanes, or, although a brilliant psychologist, in the infidelity of a mistress or of a friend whose treachery persons far less gifted would have foreseen. If I did not understand the sonata, it enchanted me to hear Mme Swann play. Her touch appeared to me (like her dressing gown, like the scent of her staircase, her cloaks, her chrysanthemums) to form part of an individual and mysterious whole, in a world infinitely superior to that in which the mind is capable of analyzing talent. “Isn’t it beautiful, Vinteuil’s Sonata?” Swann asked me. “The moment when night is darkening among the trees, when the arpeggios of the violin call down a cooling dew upon the earth. You must admit that it’s lovely; it shows all the static side of moonlight, which is the essential part. It is not surprising that a treatment of radiant heat such as my wife is taking, should act on the muscles, since moonlight can prevent the leaves from stirring. This is what he expresses so well in that little phrase, the Bois de Boulogne plunged in a cataleptic trance. By the sea it is even

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower more striking, because you have there the faint response of the waves that, of course, you can hear quite distinctly since nothing else can move. In Paris, it’s the opposite; at the most, you may notice unfamiliar lights on the monuments, the sky brightened as though by a colorless and harmless blaze, that sort of immense news item of which you get a hint here and there. But in Vinteuil’s little phrase, and in the whole sonata for that matter, it is not like that; the scene is laid in the Bois; in the gruppetto219 you can distinctly hear a voice saying: ‘I can almost see to read the newspaper!’” These words from Swann might have falsified, later on, my comprehension of the sonata, music being too little exclusive to dismiss absolutely what other people suggest that we should find in it. But I understood from other remarks of his that this nocturnal foliage was simply that beneath whose shade in many a restaurant on the outskirts of Paris he had listened on many an evening to the little phrase. In place of the profound significance that he had so often sought in it, what it recalled now to Swann were the leafy boughs, arranged, wreathed, painted around about it (which it gave him the desire to see again because it seemed to him to be their inner self, as it were their soul); it was the whole of one spring season that he had not been able to enjoy before, not having had—feverish and sad as he then was—enough strength of body and mind, and that, as one puts by for an invalid the delicious things that he has not been able to eat, the little phrase had kept in store for him. The charm that he had been made to feel by certain evenings in the Bois, a charm of which Vinteuil’s Sonata served to remind him, he could not have recaptured by questioning Odette, although she, as well as the little phrase, had been his companion there. But Odette had been merely by his side, not (as the phrase had been) within him, and so had seen nothing—nor would she have, had she been a thousand times as comprehending—of the vision that for none of us (or at least I believed for a long time that this rule admitted no exception) can be made external. “It is rather charming, don’t you think,” Swann continued, “that sound can give a reflection, like water, like a mirror. And it’s curious, too,

219. A sixteenth-­century musical ornamentation having the character of a trill.

Madame Swann at Home 117

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 220. This is a reference to The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860). Schopenhauer believed that music, due to its indefinite language, expresses or copies the will as a thing in itself, bypassing the realm of Ideas altogether. À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 524, n. 2. 221. The Palmarium in the Jardin d’Acclimatation (1860) was a structure opened in 1893, in which birds were kept and which also housed a café-­ restaurant. The Jardin d’Acclimatation is an amusement park with a zoo and other attractions located in the northern part of the Bois de Boulogne. See also note 190. 222. Le pavillon d’Armenonville was an elegant restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne at the head of the allée des Acacias. 223. “Pushing” is in English in the original.

118 Madame Swann at Home

that Vinteuil’s phrase now shows me only the things to which I paid no attention then. Of my troubles, my loves of those days it recalls nothing, it has changed things around.” “Charles, I don’t think that’s very polite to me, what you’re saying.” “Not polite? Really, you women are superb! I was simply trying to explain to this young man that what the music shows—to me, at least—is not ‘Free will’ or ‘The Synthesis of the Infinite,’220 but, for example, old Verdurin in his frock coat in the palmarium221 at the Jardin d’Acclimatation. Hundreds of times, without my leaving this room, the little phrase has carried me off to dine with it at Armenonville.222 Good Lord, it’s always less boring than having to go there with Mme de Cambremer.” Mme Swann began to laugh: “That’s a lady who is supposed to have been madly in love with Charles,” she explained, in the same tone in which, shortly before, when we were speaking of Vermeer of Delft, of whose existence I had been surprised to find her aware, she had answered me with: “I ought to explain that Monsieur Swann was very much taken up with that painter at the time he was courting me. Isn’t that so, Charles dear?” “You’re not to start saying things about Mme de Cambremer!” Swann checked her, secretly flattered. “But I’m only repeating what I’ve been told. Besides, it seems that she’s an extremely clever woman; I don’t know her myself. I believe she’s very pushing,223 which surprises me rather in a clever woman. But everyone says that she was quite mad about you; there’s no harm in repeating that.” Swann remained as silent as a deaf-­mute, which was in a way a confirmation of what she had said and a proof of his own vanity. “Since what I’m playing reminds you of the Jardin d’Acclimatation,” Mme Swann went on, with a playful semblance of being offended, “we might take him there this afternoon, if it would amuse him. It’s lovely there just now, and you can recapture your fond impressions! Which reminds me, speaking of the Jardin d’Acclimatation, do you know that this young man thought we were very attached to a person whom I ‘cut’ as a matter of fact whenever

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower I possibly can, Mme Blatin! I think it is rather humiliating for us that she should be taken for a friend of ours. Just imagine, dear Dr. Cottard, who never says a harsh word about anyone, declares that she’s positively revolting.” “A frightful woman! The one thing to be said for her is that she strongly resembles Savonarola. She is the very image of that portrait of Savonarola, by Fra Bartolomeo.”224 This mania that Swann had for finding likenesses to people in paintings was defensible, for even what we call individual expression is—as we so painfully discover when we are in love and would like to believe in the unique reality of the individual—something diffused and general that can be found existing in different epochs. But if one had listened to Swann, the processions of the Magi, already so anachronistic when Benozzo Gozzoli225 introduced in their midst various Medici, would have been even more so, since they would have included the portraits of a whole crowd of men, contemporaries not of Gozzoli but of Swann, subsequent, that is to say not only by fifteen centuries to the Nativity but by four more to the painter himself. There was not missing from those processions, according to Swann, a single living Parisian of any note, any more than there was from that act in one of Sardou’s226 plays, in which, out of friendship for the author and for the leading lady, and also because it was the fashion, all the best-­known men in Paris, famous doctors, politicians, lawyers, amused themselves, each on a different evening, by appearing onstage. “But what has she got to do with the Jardin d’Acclimatation?” “Everything!” “What? You don’t suggest that she’s got a sky-­blue behind, like the monkeys?” “Charles, you really are too dreadful! I was thinking of what the Sinhalese said to her. Do tell him, Charles, it really is a gem.” “Oh, it’s too silly. You know Mme Blatin calling out to people, in a tone she thinks friendly, but that is really condescending.” “What our good friends on the Thames call patronizing,”227 interrupted Odette.

224. Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98) was a puritanical and censorious Dominican monk, prior of Saint Mark’s convent in Florence. He was excommunicated and burned at the stake for heresy. In 1498, Fra Bartolomeo (1472– 1517), also a Dominican and a follower of Savonarola, painted his portrait, which now hangs in the Museum of San Marco in Florence. Savonarola is depicted as having a severe profile with a large nose. 225. Benozzo Gozzoli (1420–97), Florentine painter, whose Journey of the Magi (1459) can be seen in the Pa­lazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence. Eric Karpeles writes, “Among the throng of worshippers in Gozzoli’s Renaissance fresco, art historians have identified the Florentine noblemen Pietro and Lorenzo de Medici. In addition to identifying members of the nobility of his own day, Swann had a penchant for seeing people from all walks of life, mixing high-­born and low.” See Karpeles, Paintings in Proust, 95, 334. 226. Victorien Sardou (1831–1908), author of historic plays and comedies. The allusion is undoubtedly to Fédora (1882), in which Sarah Bernhardt played the title role. At the end of act 1, the princess Fédora weeps over the body of the murdered prince, her husband Wladimir. A number of notable Parisians, and also the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII), who had been intimately linked to Bernhardt, amused themselves by playing the role of the dead prince. 227. “Patronizing” is in English in the original.

Madame Swann at Home 119

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 228. At various times from 1883 until the Exposition Universelle of 1889, Indian or African tribes and other ethnic groups re-­created their native villages in different Paris venues such as the Jardin d’Acclimatation and the esplanade des Invalides. 229. The Sinhalese’s word is chameau (camel), which is used figuratively in French as an insult to a woman who is mean or disagreeable. 230. L’allée des Acacias (now allée de Longchamp) was one of the most important avenues of the Bois de Boulogne and the most popular promenades for elegant Parisians until the 1920s. See Swann’s Way, 473–74. 231. Benoît-­Constant Coquelin (1841– 1909) was one of the most famous actors at the Comédie-­Française, known especially for his roles in plays by Molière. He enjoyed great success in the title role of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1897). His mulatto friend has not been identified. 232. A victoria, named for the English queen, was a low four-­wheeled pleasure carriage for two with a folding top and a raised seat in front for the driver.

120 Madame Swann at Home

“Exactly. Well, she went the other day to the Jardin d’Acclimatation, where there are some blacks—Sinhalese, I think I heard my wife say; she is much better at ethnology than I am.”228 “Now, Charles, you’re not to make fun of poor me.” “I’ve no intention of making fun, I assure you. Well, to continue, she went up to one of these black fellows with ‘Good morning, Negro!’” “Oh, it’s too absurd!” “Anyhow, this classification seems to have displeased the black. ‘Me Negro,’ he said angrily to Mme Blatin, ‘you, old cow!’”229 “I do think that’s so funny! I adore that story. Isn’t it a good one? Can’t you see old Blatin standing there, and hearing him: ‘Me Negro; you, old cow’?” I expressed an intense desire to go there and see these Sinhalese, one of whom had called Mme Blatin an old cow. They did not interest me in the least. But I reflected that in going to the Jardin d’Acclimatation, and again on our way home, we would pass along that allée des Acacias230 in which I had loved so, once, to gaze on Mme Swann, and that perhaps Coquelin’s mulatto friend,231 to whom I had never managed to exhibit myself in the act of saluting her, would see me seated by her side in the back of the victoria.232 During those minutes in which Gilberte, having gone to get ready, was not in the drawing room with us, M. and Mme Swann would take delight in revealing to me all the rare virtues of their daughter. And everything that I myself observed seemed to prove the truth of what they said: I noticed that, as her mother had told me, she had not only for her girlfriends but for the servants, for the poor, the most delicate attentions carefully thought out, a desire to give pleasure, a fear of annoying, translated into all sorts of trifling actions over which she often went to a great deal of trouble. She had done a piece of needlework for our stall vendor in the Champs-­Élysées and went out in the snow to give it to her with her own hands, so as not to lose a day. “You have no idea how kindhearted she is, because she won’t let it be seen,” her father assured me. Young as she was, she appeared far more sensible al-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ready than her parents. When Swann boasted of his wife’s grand friends, Gilberte would turn away and remain silent, but without appearing to blame him, for it seemed inconceivable to her that her father could be subjected to the slightest criticism. One day, when I had spoken to her of Mlle Vinteuil, she said to me: “I will never know her, for a very good reason, and that is that she was not nice to her father; from what one hears, she caused him a lot of sorrow. You can’t understand that any more than I, can you? I’m sure you could no more live without your Papa than I could, which is quite natural after all. How can one ever forget a person one has loved all one’s life?”233 And once when she was being particularly affectionate to Swann, as I mentioned this to her when he was out of the room: “Yes, poor Papa, it’s the anniversary of his father’s death, just now. You can understand what he must be feeling; you do understand, don’t you; you and I feel the same about things like that. So I just try to be a little less naughty than usual.” “But he doesn’t ever think you’re naughty. He thinks you’re perfect.” “Poor Papa, that’s because he’s far too good himself.” But her parents were not content with singing the praises of Gilberte—that same Gilberte, who, even before I had set eyes on her, used to appear to me standing in front of a church, in a landscape of the Île-­de-­France,234 and later, awakening in me not dreams now but memories, was embowered always in a hedge of pink hawthorn, in the little lane that I took when I was going the Méséglise way.235 Once when I had asked Mme Swann (and had made an effort to assume the indifferent tone of a friend of the family, curious to know the preferences of a child) which among all her playmates Gilberte liked the best, Mme Swann replied: “But you ought to know a great deal better than I do. You’re in her confidence, the great favorite, the great crack,236 as the English say.” It appears that in coincidences as perfect as these, when reality is folded over and covers the ideal of which we have so long been dreaming, it completely hides that ideal from us, absorbing it in itself, as when two equal geometrical figures are superimposed and

233. These remarks by Gilberte anticipate later episodes, including the deaths of two principal characters, and inadvertently allude to the profanation scene at Montjouvain witnessed by the Narrator. See Swann’s Way, 182–89. 234. The Île-­de-­France is the historical region of north central France of which Paris is the political center. It was made a province in the fifteenth century. It is often referred to now as simply the Paris region. 235. The Méséglise way is another name for Swann’s way, one of the two walks that the young Narrator took with his family while visiting relatives in Combray. See Swann’s Way, 153–68. 236. Apparently, “crack” is an 1854 borrowing from British English that the French use for the favored horse in a race. Its more extended use, which seems to apply here, is for someone who is an ace or a champion.

Madame Swann at Home 121

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 237. Homard à l’américaine is a dish of lobster cooked in a rich sauce that includes butter, white wine, tomatoes, and the lobster coral.

122 Madame Swann at Home

made one, whereas we would rather, in order to give our enjoyment its full significance, preserve for all those separate points of our desire, at the very moment in which we succeed in touching them—and to be quite certain that they are indeed themselves— the distinction of being intangible. And our thoughts cannot even reconstruct the old state in order to compare it with the new, for it has no longer a clear field: the acquaintances that we have made, the memory of those first, unhoped-­for moments, the talk to which we have listened, are there now to block the passage of our consciousness, and as they control the outlets of our memory far more than those of our imagination, they react more forcibly on our past, which we are no longer able to visualize without taking them into account, than on the form, still unshaped, of our future. I had been able to believe, year after year, that the right to visit Mme Swann was a vague chimera that I would never attain; after I had spent a quarter of an hour in her drawing room, it was the time when I did not yet know her that had become chimerical and vague like a possibility that the realization of an alternative possibility has abolished. How was I ever to dream again of her dining room as an inconceivable place, when I could not make the least movement in my mind without crossing the path of that inextinguishable ray cast backward to infinity, even into my own most distant past, by the lobster à l’américaine 237 that I had just been eating? And Swann must have observed in his own case a similar phenomenon; for this house in which he entertained me might be regarded as the place into which had flowed, to merge and coincide, not only the ideal dwelling that my imagination had constructed, but another still, that his jealous love, as inventive as any fantasy of mine, had so often depicted to him, that dwelling common to Odette and himself that had appeared to him so inaccessible once, on evenings when Odette had taken him home with Forcheville to drink orangeade with her; and what had flowed in to be absorbed, for him, in the walls and furniture of the dining room in which we now sat down to lunch was that unhoped-­for paradise in which, in the old days, he could not without a pang

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower imagine that he would one day be saying to their butler those very words, “Is Madame ready?” which I now heard him utter with a touch of impatience mingled with self-­satisfaction. No more than, probably, Swann himself could I succeed in knowing my own happiness, and when Gilberte herself once broke out: “Who would ever have said that the little girl you watched playing prisoner’s base, without daring to speak to her, would one day be your greatest friend, and you would go to her house whenever you liked?” she spoke of a change that I could verify only by observing it from without, finding no trace of it within myself, for it was composed of two separate states on both of which I could not, without their ceasing to be distinct from one another, succeed in keeping my thoughts fixed at one and the same time. And yet this house, because it had been so passionately desired by Swann, must have kept for him some of its attraction, if I was to judge by myself for whom it had not lost all its mystery. That singular charm in which I had for so long supposed the life of the Swanns to be bathed had not been completely driven from their house by my being admitted to it; I had made it recede, daunted as it must be by the sight of the stranger, the pariah that I had been, to whom now Mme Swann graciously pushed forward, for him to sit in, an armchair exquisite, hostile, and scandalized; but all around me in my memory, I can still perceive that charm. Is it because, on those days when M. and Mme Swann invited me to lunch, to go out afterward with them and Gilberte, I imprinted with my gaze—while I sat waiting for them there alone—on the carpet, the sofas, the tables, the screens, the paintings, the idea engraved on my mind that Mme Swann, or her husband, or Gilberte was about to enter the room? Is it because those objects have dwelt ever since in my memory side by side with the Swanns, and have gradually acquired something of themselves? Is it because, knowing that the Swanns passed their existence among all those things, I made of all of them as it were emblems of their private lives, of those habits of the Swanns from which I had too long been excluded for them not to continue to appear strange

Madame Swann at Home 123

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 238. Louis XVI (1754–93), King of France (1774–92), condemned and guillotined by the Convention of the Révolution. The predominant colors in the Louis XVI style, also called neoclassic, were white and gold, and tapestries were typically in pale blues and greens, or rose and violet. The revival of this style around 1900 was influenced by the archaeological discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii (1905) and was characterized by classical symmetry and restraint. 239. Swann’s Way, 162.

124 Madame Swann at Home

to me even when I was allowed the privilege of sharing in them? However it may be, each time I think of that drawing room that Swann (not that the criticism implied on his part any intention to find fault with his wife’s taste) found so disparate—because, while it was still conceived and carried out in the style, half conservatory, half studio, that had been the style of the rooms in which he had first known Odette, she had, nonetheless begun to replace a number of the Chinese ornaments in this jumble that she now felt to be rather “tacky,” very “dowdy,” by a swarm of little chairs and stools and things upholstered in old Louis XVI silks;238 not to mention the fine works of art brought by Swann himself from his house on the quai d’Orléans—that composite, heterogeneous drawing room, on the contrary, has kept in my memory a cohesion, a unity, an individual charm never possessed even by the most complete, the least spoiled of the collections that the past has bequeathed to us, or the most modern, alive and stamped with the imprint of a living personality; for we alone can, by our belief that they have an existence of their own, give to certain things that we see a soul that they then keep and develop in our minds. All the ideas I had formed of the hours, different from those that exist for other men, spent by the Swanns in that house which was to their everyday life what the body is to the soul, and must give expression to its singularity, all those ideas were distributed, amalgamated—equally disturbing and indefinable throughout—in the arrangement of the furniture, the thickness of the carpets, the position of the windows, the service of the domestics. When, after lunch, we went to drink our coffee in the sunshine of the great bay window of the drawing room, while Mme Swann was asking me how many lumps of sugar I took in my coffee, it was not only the silk-­covered stool that she pushed toward me that emitted, with the agonizing charm that I had long ago felt—first among the pink hawthorn and then beside the clump of laurels—in the name of Gilberte,239 the hostility that her parents had shown to me and that this little piece of furniture seemed to have so well understood and shared that I felt myself unworthy and found my-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower self almost reluctant to set my feet on its defenseless cushion; a personality, a soul was latent there that linked it secretly to the light of two o’clock in the afternoon, so different from any other light in the gulf in which there played about our feet its sparkling tide of gold out of which the bluish sofas and vaporous tapestries emerged like enchanted islands; and there was nothing, even to the painting by Rubens240 hung above the mantel, that was not endowed with the same quality and almost the same intensity of charm as the laced boots of M. Swann, and that hooded cape, the like of which I had so dearly longed to wear, whereas now Odette would beg her husband to go and put on another, in order to appear more elegant, whenever I did them the honor of going out with them. She too went away to change her dress—not heeding my protestations that no “outdoor” clothes could be nearly so becoming as the marvelous garment of crêpe de Chine or silk, old rose, cherry-­colored, Tiepolo pink,241 white, mauve, green, red, or yellow, plain or patterned, in which Mme Swann had sat down to lunch and which she was now going to take off. When I told her that she ought to go out dressed as she was, she laughed, either in mockery of my ignorance or from delight in my compliment. She apologized for having so many dressing gowns, explaining that it was only in them that she felt comfortable, and left us to go and array herself in one of those regal toilettes that imposed their majesty on all beholders, and yet among which I was sometimes summoned to decide which I would prefer her to wear. In the Jardin d’Acclimatation, how proud I was when we had left the carriage to be walking by the side of Mme Swann! While she strolled carelessly on, letting her cloak stream on the air behind her, I kept eyeing her with an admiring gaze to which she coquettishly responded in a lingering smile. And now, were we to meet one or other of Gilberte’s friends, boy or girl, who saluted us from afar, I would in my turn be looked on by them as one of those happy creatures whom I had envied, one of those friends of Gilberte’s who knew her family and had a share in that other part of her life, the part that was not spent in the Champs-­Élysées.

240. Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was a Flemish painter renowned for his excellence in coloring. 241. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696– 1770) was a Venetian engraver and painter, known for the remarkable clarity and transparency of his colors. He especially favored blues and pinks.

Madame Swann at Home 125

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 242. Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805– 73) was a German painter who came to Paris in 1834 and became a fashionable portraitist during the Second Empire. One of his most famous models was the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoléon III, whose portraits hang in the Louvre and at Compiègne. 243. Princess Mathilde Laetitia-­ Wilhemina Bonaparte (1820–1904) was the daughter of Jérôme Bonaparte (King of Westphalia) and Catherine of Württemberg, and the niece of Napoléon I. She was born in Trieste. In 1840, she married the Russian Prince Anatoly Demidov de San Donata. She moved in 1846 to Paris, where she established a salon that became one of the most brilliant meeting places of the artistic and literary world, including such figures as Taine, Flaubert, Sainte-­Beuve, and Alexandre Dumas père and fils. When Napoléon III fell in 1870, she moved to Belgium. After returning to France in 1872, she established another important literary salon. Proust, who was invited to attend, described her salon in an article published in Le Figaro on February 25, 1903, under the title “Un Salon historique: Le Salon de S. A. I. La Princesse Mathilde” and included many of the anecdotes told here. This article initiated a series by Proust of Salons parisiens. See Marcel Proust, Contre Sainte-­Beuve (1971), 445–55.

126 Madame Swann at Home

Often on the paths of the Bois or the Jardin d’Acclimatation we passed, we were greeted by, some great lady who was Swann’s friend, whom he happened not to notice and whom his wife pointed out to him with a “Charles! Don’t you see Mme de Montmorency?” And Swann, with that amicable smile, bred of a long and intimate friendship, would doff his hat, but with a slow sweeping gesture, with a grace peculiarly his own. Sometimes the lady would stop, happy to show Mme Swann a courtesy that would involve no tiresome consequences, by which they knew that she would never seek to profit, so thoroughly had Swann trained her in reserve. She had nonetheless acquired all the manners of polite society, and however fashionable, however stately the lady might be, Mme Swann was invariably a match for her; halting for a moment before the friend whom her husband had recognized and was addressing, she would introduce us, Gilberte and myself, with so much ease of manner, would remain so free, so calm in her amiability, that it would have been hard to say, looking at Swann’s wife or the aristocratic passerby, which of the two was the great lady. The day on which we went to see the Sinhalese, on our way home we saw coming in our direction, and followed by two others who seemed to be acting as her escort, an elderly but still attractive lady cloaked in a dark mantle and coiffed with a little bonnet tied beneath her chin with a pair of ribbons. “Ah! Here is someone who will interest you!” said Swann. The old lady, now within a few feet of us, smiled at us with a caressing sweetness. Swann doffed his hat. Mme Swann swept to the ground in a curtsey and made as if to kiss the hand of the lady, who, standing there like a Winterhalter portrait,242 drew her up again and kissed her cheek. “There, there; will you put your hat on, you!” she said to Swann in a thick and almost growling voice, speaking like an old and familiar friend. “I am going to present you to Her Imperial Highness,” Mme Swann whispered. Swann drew me aside for a moment while his wife talked to the princess about the weather and the animals recently added to the Jardin d’Acclimatation. “That is the Princesse Mathilde,”243 he

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower told me; “you know whom I mean, the friend of Flaubert, Sainte-­ Beuve, Dumas.244 Just imagine, she’s the niece of Napoléon I. She had offers of marriage from Napoléon III and the Emperor of Russia.245 Isn’t that interesting? Talk to her a little. But I hope she won’t keep us standing here for an hour! I met Taine246 the other day,” he went on, addressing the princess, “and he told me that Your Highness was vexed with him.” “He’s behaved like a perfect pig!” she said gruffly, pronouncing the word cochon as though she referred to Joan of Arc’s contemporary, Bishop Cauchon.247 “After his article on the Emperor I left my card on him with p. p. c. on it.”248 I felt the surprise that one feels on opening the correspondence of that Duchesse d’Orléans who was by birth a Princesse Palatine.249 And indeed Princesse Mathilde, animated by sentiments so entirely French, expressed them with a straightforward bluntness that recalled the Germany of an older generation and that she had no doubt inherited from her Württemberger mother.250 This somewhat rough and almost masculine frankness she softened, as soon as she began to smile, with an Italian languor. And the whole person was clothed in a toilette so typically Second Empire251 that—for all that the princess wore it simply and solely, no doubt, from an attachment to the fashions that she had loved when she was young—she seemed to have deliberately planned to avoid the slightest discrepancy in historical color and to be satisfying the expectations of those who looked to her to evoke the memory of another age. I whispered to Swann to ask her whether she had known Musset.252 “Very slightly, Monsieur,” was the answer, given in a tone that seemed to feign annoyance at the question, and, of course, it was by way of a joke that she called Swann Monsieur, since they were intimate friends. “I had him to dine once. I had invited him for seven o’clock. At half-­past seven, as he had not appeared, we sat down to dinner.253 He arrived at eight, bowed to me, took his seat, never opened his mouth, went off after dinner without letting me hear the sound of his voice. He was dead drunk. That hardly encouraged me to make another at-

244. Gustave Flaubert (1821–80) and Alexandre Dumas fils were important writers of the generation of Proust’s parents. Proust especially admired Flaubert’s novels and stories, the most famous of which is Madame Bovary (1857). Dumas is best known for his play La Dame aux camélias (1852). 245. When touring Europe seeking a bride, Tsar Alexander II (1818–81) was still the Grand Duke Alexander. 246. Hippolyte Taine (1828–93), philosopher and historian, was one of the most influential intellectuals of his generation. 247. Pierre Cauchon (1371–1442), Bishop of Beauvais, was the intermediary in the delivery of Jeanne d’Arc into the hands of the English. His name is nearly a homophone of cochon, the word for pig. 248. The letters p. p. c. stand for pour prendre congé, to take leave. Proust elsewhere provided a different interpretation: princesse pas contente for “princess not happy.” Taine’s article “Napoléon Bonaparte” appeared in La Revue des Deux Mondes on February 15, 1887. Mathilde was unhappy about Napoléon’s depiction as a condottier. She was also infuriated that Taine had described Laetitia, Napoléon’s mother, as being unclean. 249. Charlotte-­Élisabeth de Bavière (1652–1722) was the daughter of Louis, the Palatine Elector of the Rhine. 250. Catherine de Württemberg, wife of Jérôme Bonaparte. Württemberg was a state in Germany that existed from 1806 to 1918. 251. The reign of Napoléon III, which lasted from 1852 to 1870. 252. Alfred de Musset (1810–57) was a distinguished poet and playwright. 253. Mathilde liked to dine at an hour that was early for the French.

Madame Swann at Home 127

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 254. On October 7, 1896, Tsar Nicho­ las II made a state visit to the Invalides, where Napoléon’s tomb lies in the center of the chapel of Saint Louis. 255. This is one of the anecdotes that Proust relates in “Un Salon historique.”

128 Madame Swann at Home

tempt.” We were standing a little way off, Swann and I. “I hope this little audience is not going to last much longer,” he muttered, “the soles of my feet are hurting. I can’t think why my wife keeps on making conversation. When we get home it will be she who complains of being tired, and she knows I simply cannot go on standing like this.” For Mme Swann, who had had the news from Mme Bontemps, was in the course of telling the princess that the government, having at last begun to realize the extent of its tactlessness, had decided to send her an invitation to be present on the platform in a few days’ time, when the Tsar Nicholas was to visit the Invalides.254 But the princess, who, in spite of appearances, in spite of the character of her entourage, which consisted mainly of artists and literary people, had remained at heart and showed herself, whenever she had to take action, the niece of Napoléon, replied: “Yes, Madame, I received it this morning, and I sent it back to the minister, who must have had it by now. I told him that I had no need of an invitation to go to the Invalides. If the government desires my presence there, it will not be on the platform, it will be in our vault, where the Emperor’s tomb is. I have no need of a card to admit me there. I have my keys. I go in and out when I choose. The government has only to let me know whether it wishes me to be present or not. But if I do go to the Invalides, it will be down below or nowhere at all.”255 At that moment we were saluted, Mme Swann and I, by a young man who greeted her without stopping, and whom I was not aware that she knew; it was Bloch. I asked her about him, and she told me that he had been introduced to her by Mme Bontemps, and that he was employed in the minister’s cabinet, which was news to me. Anyhow, she could not have seen him often— or perhaps she had not cared to utter the name, hardly “chic” enough for her liking, of Bloch, for she told me that he was called M. Moreul. I assured her that she was mistaken, that his name was Bloch. The princess gathered up the train that flowed out behind her, while Mme Swann gazed at it with admiring eyes. “As it happens

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower this is a fur that the Emperor of Russia sent me,” she explained, “and as I have just been to see him I put it on, so as to show him that I’d managed to have it made up as a mantle.” “I hear that Prince Louis256 has joined the Russian army; the princess will be very sad at losing him,” went on Mme Swann, not noticing her husband’s signals of impatience. “That was a fine thing to do! As I said to him: ‘There was no reason to do that just because we had a soldier in the family,’” replied the princess, alluding with this abrupt simplicity to Napoléon the Great. But Swann could hold out no longer. “Madame, it is I who am going to play the prince and ask your permission to retire; but, you see, my wife has been feeling very indisposed, and I don’t want her to remain standing still for much longer.” Mme Swann curtseyed again and the princess conferred on us all a celestial smile that she seemed to have summoned out of the past, from among the graces of her girlhood, from the evenings at Compiègne,257 a smile that glided, sweet and unbroken, over her hitherto so sullen face; then she went on her way, followed by the two ladies-­in-­waiting who had confined themselves, in the manner of interpreters, of children’s nannies, or nurses, to punctuating our conversation with insignificant sentences and superfluous explanations. “You should go and write your name in her book one day this week,” Mme Swann said to me. “One doesn’t leave cards on these royalties, as the English call them, but she will invite you to her house if you put your name down.” Sometimes in those last days of winter we would go, before proceeding on our excursion, into one of the small exhibitions that were being given at that time and where Swann, as a collector of note, was greeted with special deference by the art dealers in whose galleries they were held. And in that still wintry weather my old longings to set out for the Midi258 and Venice would be reawakened in me by those rooms in which a springtime, already well advanced, and a blazing sun cast violet shadows on the roseate Alpilles259 and gave the intense transparency of emeralds to the Grand Canal.260 If the weather was bad, we would go to a concert

256. Louis Napoléon, called Prince Louis (1864–1932), was the son of Prince Jérôme and nephew of Princesse Mathilde. After serving in the Russian army, he became a lieutenant general in the Imperial Guard. 257. Compiègne, located in the département of Oise, is where Napoléon III held his brilliant autumn courts, in a château whose construction was begun under Louis XV and later expanded and decorated by Napoléon I. The Musée de Compiègne houses the famous painting by Franz Winterhalter of the Empress Eugénie and her ladies-­in-­ waiting. 258. Midi is used in French to designate the south of France. 259. The Chaîne des Alpilles is a small range of mountains in Provence, about twelve miles south of Avignon, between the Rhône and Durance rivers. 260. The Grand Canal is the most important and largest of the Venetian canals and forms the main water artery through the city. Its banks are lined with about two hundred marble palaces in the Gothic or Renaissance style dating from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

Madame Swann at Home 129

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower or a theater and afterward to one of the fashionable tea rooms. There, whenever Mme Swann had anything to say to me that she did not wish the people at the next table, or even the waiters who brought our tea, to understand, she would say it to me in English, as though that had been a secret language known to our two selves alone. As it happened everyone in the place knew English— I alone had not yet learned the language, and was obliged to say so to Mme Swann in order that she might cease to make, about the people who were drinking tea or were serving it to us, remarks that I guessed to be uncomplimentary without either my understanding them or the individual referred to missing a single word. Once, regarding an afternoon at the theater, Gilberte astonished me profoundly. It was on the very day, about which she had spoken to me some time back, of the anniversary of her grandfather’s death. She and I were supposed to go, with her governess, to hear selections from an opera, and Gilberte had dressed with a view to attending this performance, keeping the same air of indifference with which she usually treated whatever we might be going to do, saying that it might be anything in the world, no matter what, provided that it amused me and had her parents’ approval. Before lunch, her mother drew us aside to tell us that her father was vexed at the thought of our going to a concert on that day. This seemed to me only natural. Gilberte remained impassive, but grew pale with an anger that she was unable to conceal and did not say a word. When M. Swann joined us, his wife took him to the other end of the drawing room and said something in his ear. He called Gilberte, and they went together into the next room. We could hear their raised voices. And yet I could not bring myself to believe that Gilberte, so submissive, so loving, so thoughtful, would resist her father’s appeal, on such a day and for so trifling a matter. At length Swann reappeared with her, saying: “You heard what I said. Now do as you like.” Gilberte’s features remained contracted in a frown throughout lunch, after which we retired to her room. Then suddenly, without hesitating and as though she had never at any point hesitated over

130 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower her course of action: “Two o’clock!” she exclaimed. “You know the concert begins at half past two.” And she told her governess to make haste. “But,” I reminded her, “won’t your father be cross with you?” “Not the least little bit!” “Surely, he was afraid it would look odd, because of the anniversary.” “What difference can it make to me what people think? I think it’s perfectly absurd to worry about other people in matters of sentiment. We feel things for ourselves, not for the public. Mademoiselle,261 who has very few diversions, has been looking forward to going to this concert. I am not going to deprive her of it just to satisfy public opinion.” And she reached for her hat. “But, Gilberte,” I protested, taking her by the arm, “it’s not to satisfy public opinion, it’s to please your father.” “You are not going to reproach me for my conduct, I hope,” she said sharply, plucking her arm away.

261. Mademoiselle designates the governess. 262. Each woman desired by the Narrator is closely linked to a writer or artist or composer. The Narrator, as we are reminded here, was initially attracted to Gilberte because she knew Bergotte. See Swann’s Way, 113–14. In Swann’s case, he began to fall in love with Odette when he noticed her resemblance to a Botticelli woman. See Swann’s Way, 254–57. Vinteuil’s music is linked to his infatuation with Odette, as ultimately it will be to the Narrator’s desire for Albertine, but with important variations. In many ways, Swann’s temptations or errors will be repeated, with variations, by the Narrator. The theme shows how each of them initially confuses Eros and art. 263. Hansom cab is in English in the original. The vehicle was designed by Joseph Hansom, a British architect, who patented it in 1834.

As a favor still more precious than their taking me with them to the Jardin d’Acclimatation or to a concert, the Swanns did not exclude me even from their friendship with Bergotte,262 which had been at the root of the attraction that I had found in them when, before I had even seen Gilberte, I reflected that her intimacy with that godlike elder would have made her, for me, the most passionately enthralling of friends, if the disdain that I felt I was bound to inspire in her had not forbidden me to hope that she would ever take me, in his company, to visit the towns that he loved. And then, one day, came an invitation from Mme Swann to a big luncheon party. I did not know who were to be the other guests. On my arrival in the vestibule, I was disconcerted by an alarming incident. Mme Swann seldom missed an opportunity of adopting any of those customs that pass as fashionable for a season, and then, failing to catch on, are soon abandoned (as many years before, she had had her own hansom cab,263 or had printed on a luncheon

Madame Swann at Home 131

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 264. To meet is in English in the original. 265. The Narrator is behaving here as did young Proust, who was known for his lavish gifts and tips. The author often sent expensive bouquets of flowers to fashionable women who ­invited him to their drawing rooms. 266. Scott Moncrieff added “with ­misgivings.”

132 Madame Swann at Home

invitation that it was to meet 264 some more or less important personage). Often enough these usages implied nothing mysterious and required no initiation. For instance, a minute innovation of those days, imported from England: Odette had had printed for her husband some visiting cards on which the name Charles Swann was preceded by “Mr.” After the first visit that I paid her, Mme Swann had left at my door one of these “pasteboards,” as she called them. No one had ever left a card for me before; I felt at once so much pride, emotion, gratitude that, scraping together all the money I possessed, I ordered a superb basket of camellias and had it sent to Mme Swann.265 I implored my father to go and leave a card for her, but first, quickly, to have some printed on which his name would bear the prefix “Mr.” He granted neither of my requests; I was in despair for some days, and then asked myself whether he might not after all have been right. But this use of “Mr.,” if it meant nothing, was at least clear. Not so with another that was revealed to me on the occasion of this luncheon party, but revealed without any indication of its meaning. At the moment when I was about to step from the vestibule into the drawing room, the butler handed me a long, thin envelope on which my name was written. In my surprise I thanked him; but I stared at the envelope with misgivings.266 I no more knew what I was expected to do with it than a foreigner knows what to do with one of those little utensils that are laid by his place at a Chinese banquet. I saw that it was gummed down; I was afraid of appearing indiscreet were I to open it then and there, and so I thrust it into my pocket with a knowing air. Mme Swann had written to me a few days before, asking me to come to a “small, intimate lunch.” There were, however, sixteen people, among whom I never suspected for a moment that I was to find Bergotte. Mme Swann, who had already “named” me, as she called it, to several of her guests, suddenly, after my name, in the same tone that she had used in uttering it (and as though we were merely two of the guests at her luncheon party, who ought each to feel equally happy to meet the other), pronounced that of the gentle Bard with white

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower hair. The name Bergotte made me jump like the sound of a revolver fired at me point-­blank, but instinctively, to keep my composure, I bowed; there, straight in front of me, as by one of those prestidigitators whom we see standing whole and unharmed, in their frock coats, in the smoke of a pistol shot out of which a pigeon has just fluttered, my salute was returned by a young man, coarse, small, stocky and myopic, with a red nose, curled like a snail shell, and a black goatee. I was cruelly disappointed, for what had just vanished in the dust of the explosion was not only the languorous old man, of whom no vestige now remained, there was also the beauty of an immense work that I had contrived to enshrine in the frail and hallowed organism that I had constructed, like a temple, expressly for itself, but for which no room was to be found in the squat figure, packed tight with blood vessels, bones, glands, of the little man with the snub nose and black goatee who stood before me. The whole of the Bergotte whom I had slowly and delicately elaborated for myself, drop by drop, like a stalactite, out of the transparent beauty of his books, that Bergotte ceased at once to be of any use, the moment I was obliged to include in him the snail-­shell nose and to utilize the black goatee; just as we must reject as worthless the solution we have found for a problem the terms of which we have not read in full and without observing that the total must amount to a specified figure. The nose and the goatee were elements similarly ineluctable and all the more bothersome in that, while forcing me to reconstruct entirely the personage of Bergotte, they seemed further to imply, to produce, to secrete incessantly a certain quality of mind, alert and self-­satisfied, which was not in the picture, for such a mind had no connection whatever with the sort of intelligence that was diffused throughout those books, so intimately familiar to me, that were permeated by a gentle and godlike wisdom. Starting from them, I would never have arrived at that snail-­shell nose; but starting from this nose, which did not appear to be in the slightest degree ashamed of itself, but stood there alone like a grotesque ornament fastened on his face, I was proceeding in an entirely different direction from

Madame Swann at Home 133

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the work of Bergotte, and must arrive, so it would seem, at the mentality of a busy and preoccupied engineer, of the sort who when you salute them in the street think it correct to say: “Thanks, and you?” before you have actually asked them how they are, or else, if you assure them that you have been delighted to make their acquaintance, respond with an abbreviation that they imagine to be clever, intelligent and up-­to-­date, inasmuch as it avoids any waste of precious time on vain formalities: “Same here.” Names are, no doubt, whimsical draftsmen, giving us of people as well as of places sketches so unlike the reality that we often experience a kind of stupor when we have before our eyes, in place of the imagined world, the visible world (which, for that matter, is not the real world, our senses being little more endowed than our imagination with the art of portraiture, so little, indeed, that the final and approximately lifelike sketches that we manage to obtain of reality are at least as different from the visible world as the latter was from the imagined world). But in Bergotte’s case, my preconceived idea of him from his name troubled me far less than my familiarity with his work, to which I was obliged to attach, as to the string of a balloon, the man with the goatee, without knowing whether it would still have the strength to rise from the ground. It seemed quite clear, however, that it really was he who had written the books that I had so loved, for Mme Swann having thought it incumbent on her to tell him of my admiration for one of these, he showed no surprise that she should have mentioned this to him rather than to any other guest, nor did he seem to regard her action as due to a misapprehension, but, swelling out the frock coat that he had put on in honor of all these distinguished guests with a body avid for the coming meal, while his mind was completely occupied by other, more important realities, it was only as at some finished episode in his early life, as though one had alluded to a costume of the Duc de Guise that he had worn, one season, at a fancy dress ball, that he smiled as he bore his mind back to the idea of his books, which at once began to fall in my estimation (dragging down with them the whole value of Beauty,

134 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower of the universe, of life itself ), until they seemed to have been merely the casual amusement of a man with a goatee. I told myself that he must have taken great pains over them, but that, if he had lived on an island surrounded by beds of pearl oysters, he would instead have devoted himself with the same success to the pearling trade. His work no longer appeared to me so inevitable. And then I asked myself whether originality did indeed prove that great writers are gods, ruling each one over a kingdom that is his alone, or whether all that was not make believe, whether the differences between one man’s works and another’s were not the result of their respective labors rather than the expression of a radical and essential difference between distinct personalities. Meanwhile we had taken our places at the table. By the side of my plate I found a carnation, the stalk of which was wrapped in silver paper. It embarrassed me less than the envelope that had been handed to me in the vestibule and that I had completely forgotten. This custom, strange as it was to me, became more intelligible when I saw all the male guests take up the similar carnations that were lying by their plates and slip them into the buttonholes of their coats. I did as they had done, with the air of spontaneity assumed in church by a freethinker who is not familiar with the mass but rises when everyone else rises and kneels a moment after everyone else is on his knees. Another usage, equally strange to me but less ephemeral, disquieted me more. On the other side of my plate was a smaller plate, on which was heaped a blackish substance that I did not then know to be caviar. I did not know what was to be done with it but firmly resolved not to eat any of it. Bergotte was sitting not far from me and I could hear perfectly everything that he said. I understood then the impression that M. de Norpois had formed of him. He had indeed a peculiar “organ”; there is nothing that so much alters the material qualities of the voice as the presence of thought behind what one is saying; the resonance of one’s diphthongs, the energy of one’s labials are profoundly affected—as is one’s diction. His seemed to me to differ entirely from his way of writing, and even the things

Madame Swann at Home 135

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that he said from those with which he filled his books. But the voice issues from behind a mask through which it is not powerful enough to make us recognize at first sight a face that we have seen uncovered in the speaker’s literary style. At certain points in the conversation when Bergotte, by force of habit, began to talk in a way that no one but M. de Norpois would have thought affected or unpleasant, it was a long time before I discovered an exact correspondence with the parts of his books in which his form became so poetic and so musical. At those points he could see in what he was saying a plastic beauty independent of whatever his sentences might mean, and as human speech reflects the human soul, though without expressing it as does literary style, Bergotte appeared almost to be talking nonsense, intoning certain words and, if he were pursuing beneath them a single image, stringing them together uninterruptedly on one continuous note, with a wearisome monotony. So that a pretentious, bombastic, and monotonous delivery was a sign of the rare esthetic value of what he was saying, and an effect, in his conversation, of the same power that, in his books, produced that harmonious flow of imagery. I had had all the more difficulty in discovering this at first, since what he said at such moments, precisely because it was the authentic utterance of Bergotte, did not appear to be genuine Bergotte. It was an abundance of precise ideas, not included in the “Bergotte manner” that so many chroniclers had appropriated to themselves; and this dissimilarity was probably but another aspect—seen dimly through the stream of conversation, like an image behind a smoked glass—of the fact that when one read a page of Bergotte it was never what would have been written by any of those lifeless imitators who, nevertheless, in newspapers and in books, adorned their prose with so many “Bergottish” images and ideas. This difference in style arose from the fact that what was meant by “Bergottism” was, first and foremost, a priceless element of truth hidden in the heart of everything, whence it was extracted by that great writer by virtue of his genius, an extraction that was the aim of the gentle Bard and not the perpetration

136 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower of “Bergottisms.” Though, to tell the truth, he continued to perpetrate them in spite of himself because he was Bergotte, and so in this sense, every fresh beauty in his work was the little drop of Bergotte buried at the heart of a thing and that he had distilled from it. But if, for that reason, each of those beauties was related to all the rest and recognizable, yet each remained separate and individual, as was the act of discovery that had brought it to the light of day; new, and consequently different from what was known as the Bergotte manner, which was a loose synthesis of all the “Bergottisms” already invented and set down in writing by him, with no indication by which men who lacked genius might predict what would be his next discovery. So it is with all great writers, the beauty of their sentences is as unforeseeable as that of a woman whom we have never seen; it is creative, because it is applied to an external object of which they are thinking, and not of themselves, and to which they have not yet given expression. An author of memoirs of our time, wishing to write without too obviously seeming to be writing like Saint-­Simon, might, at a pinch, give us the first line of his portrait of Villars: “He was a rather tall man, dark . . . with an alert, open, expressive physiognomy,” but what law of determinism could bring him to the discovery of Saint-­Simon’s next line, which begins with “and, to tell the truth, a trifle mad”?267 The true variety is in this abundance of real and unexpected elements, in the branch loaded with blue flowers that shoots up, against all reason, from the spring hedge that seemed already overcharged with blossoms, whereas the purely formal imitation of variety (and one might advance the same argument for all the other qualities of style) is but a barren uniformity, that is to say the very antithesis of variety, and cannot, in the work of imitators, give the illusion or recall the memory of it except to a reader who has not acquired the sense of it from the masters themselves. And so—just as Bergotte’s diction would no doubt have been charming if he himself had been merely an amateur reciting imitations of Bergotte, instead it was attached to Bergotte’s thought, at

267. Claude-­Louis-­Hector, Duc de Villars (1653–1734), was a diplomat and officer who became a maréchal de France. This description of him in Saint-­Simon’s Mémoires comes from an encounter with the duke that took place in 1702. The Mémoires contain other disparaging comments about Villars. It is thought that Saint-­Simon begrudged Villars his elevation to the rank of duke.

Madame Swann at Home 137

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 268. A bottle-­imp is a small demon or wicked spirit released from a sorcerer’s bottle. 269. Brichot is a professor at the Sorbonne. See Swann’s Way, 287.

138 Madame Swann at Home

work and in action, by vital links that the ear did not immediately distinguish—so it was because Bergotte applied that thought with precision to the reality that pleased him, that his way of speaking had in it something authentic, something too rich, that disappointed those who expected to hear him speak only of the “eternal torrent of forms,” and of the “mysterious thrills of beauty.” Moreover the quality, always rare and new, of what he wrote was expressed in his conversation by so subtle a manner of approaching a question, ignoring every aspect of it that was already familiar, that he appeared to be seizing hold of an unimportant detail, to be quite wrong about it, to be speaking in paradox, so that his ideas seemed as often as not confused, for each of us finds clear only those ideas that are in the same state of confusion as his own. Besides, as all novelty depends on the prior elimination of the stereotyped attitude to which we have grown accustomed, and which seemed to us to be reality itself, every new conversation, as well as all original painting and music, must always appear complicated and exhausting. It is based on figures of speech with which we are not familiar, the speaker appears to us to be talking entirely in metaphors; and this wearies us and gives us the impression of a lack of truth. (After all, the old forms of speech must also in their time have been images difficult to follow when the listener did not yet know the universe that they depicted. But for a long time we have taken this to be the real universe and so we rely confidently on it.) So when Bergotte—and his figures appear simple enough today—said of Cottard that he was a bottle-­imp,268 trying to find his balance, and of Brichot269 that “for him even more than for Mme Swann the arrangement of his hair was a matter for anxious deliberation, because, in his twofold preoccupation over his profile and his reputation, he had always to make sure that it was so brushed as to give him the air at once of a lion and of a philosopher,” his listeners immediately felt the strain and sought a foothold on something more concrete, so they said, meaning by that more ordinary. These unrecognizable words issuing from the mask that I had before my eyes must indeed be attributed to the writer

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower whom I admired, and yet they could not have been inserted in his books, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle set in a series of other puzzles, they were on another plane and required a transposition by means of which, one day, when I was repeating to myself certain phrases that I had heard Bergotte use, I discovered in them the whole framework of his written style, the different elements of which I was able to recognize and to name in this spoken discourse that had struck me as being so different. From a less immediate point of view the special way, a little too meticulous and intense, that he had of pronouncing certain words, certain adjectives that often recurred in his conversation and which he never uttered without a certain emphasis, giving to each of their syllables a separate force and intoning the last (as for example the word visage that he always used in preference to figure 270 and enriched with a number of superfluous v’s and s’s and g’s, which seemed all to explode from his outstretched palm at such moments), corresponded exactly to the fine passages where, in his prose, he highlighted those favorite words, preceded by a sort of pause and composed in such a way in the metrical whole of the sentence that the reader was obliged, if he were not to make a false quantity, to give to each of them its full value. And yet one did not find in Bergotte’s way of speaking a certain luminosity that in his books, as in those of some other authors, often modified in the written sentence the appearance of its words. This was doubtless because that light issues from so profound a depth that its rays do not penetrate to our spoken words in the hours in which, thrown open to others by the act of conversation, we are to a certain extent closed to ourselves.271 In this respect, there were more intonations, more accent in his books than in his speech; an accent independent of the beauty of style, which the author himself has possibly not perceived, for it is not separable from his most intimate personality. It was this accent that, at the moments when, in his books, Bergotte was entirely natural, gave a rhythm to the words—often at such times quite insignificant—that he wrote. This accent is not marked on the printed page, there is

270. In French, “visage” and “figure” both mean “face.” 271. This is another example of the distinction that Proust makes between the social self and the profound or authentic self.

Madame Swann at Home 139

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 272. Richard Wagner’s opera in three acts, composed from 1861 to 1867. In act 1, scene 3, when the Meistersingers question Walther von Stolzing about his musical training, he replies that he learned to sing by listening to the birds in the woods.

140 Madame Swann at Home

nothing there to indicate it, and yet it comes of its own accord to his sentences; one cannot pronounce them in any other way; it is what was most ephemeral and at the same time most profound in the writer, and it is what will bear witness to his true nature, that will say whether, despite all the austerity he has expressed, he was gentle, despite all his sensualities, sentimental. Certain peculiarities of elocution, faint traces of which were to be found in Bergotte’s conversation, were not exclusively his own; for when, later on, I came to know his brothers and sisters, I found those peculiarities much more pronounced in them. There was something abrupt and harsh in the closing words of a mirthful sentence, something faint and dying at the end of a sad one. Swann, who had known the Master as a boy, told me that in those days one used to hear on his lips, just as much as on his brothers’ and sisters’, those inflexions, almost familial, shouts of violent merriment interspersed with murmurings of a long-­ drawn melancholy, and that in the room in which they all played together he used to perform his part, better than any of them, in their symphonies, alternately deafening and subdued. However characteristic it may be, the sound that escapes from human lips is fugitive and does not survive them. But it was not so with the pronunciation of the Bergotte family. For if it is difficult ever to understand, even in the Meistersinger,272 how an artist can invent music by listening to the twittering of birds, yet Bergotte had transposed and fixed in his prose that manner of dwelling on words that repeat themselves in shouts of joy or fall drop by drop in melancholy sighs. There are in his books just such closing phrases where the accumulated sounds are prolonged (as in the last chords of the overture of an opera that cannot come to an end, and repeats several times over its final cadence before the conductor finally lays down his baton), in which, later on, I was to find a musical equivalent for those phonetic “brasses” of the Bergotte family. But in his own case, from the moment in which he transferred them to his books, he ceased instinctively to make use of them in his discourse. From the day on which he had begun to

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower write and all the more markedly, later when I first knew him—his voice had lost this orchestration forever. These young Bergottes—the future writer and his brothers and sisters—were doubtless in no way superior, far from it, to other young people, more refined, more intellectual than themselves, who found the Bergottes rather noisy, even a trifle vulgar, irritating in their witticisms that characterized the “genre,” at once pretentious and puerile, of the household. But genius, and even great talent, springs less from seeds of intellect and social refinement superior to those of other people than from the faculty of transforming them, of transposing them. To heat a liquid over an electric lamp one requires not the strongest lamp possible, but one of which the current can cease to illuminate, can be diverted so as to give, instead of light, heat. To mount the skies it is not necessary to have the most powerful automobile, but an automobile that, instead of continuing to run along the earth’s surface, intersects with a vertical the line that it began by following, is capable of converting into ascending force its horizontal speed.273 Similarly, the men who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is the most brilliant or their culture the broadest, but those who have had the power, ceasing suddenly to live only for themselves, to make of their personality a sort of mirror, so that their life, however mediocre it may be socially, and even, in a sense, intellectually speaking, is reflected by it, genius consisting in the reflective power and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected.274 The day on which young Bergotte succeeded in showing to the world of his readers the tasteless household in which he had spent his childhood, and the not very amusing conversations between himself and his brothers, on that day he climbed far above the friends of his family, more intellectual and more distinguished than he: they in their fine Rolls-­ Royces275 might return home expressing due contempt for the vulgarity of the Bergottes; but he, with his modest engine that had at last left the ground,276 he soared above their heads. There were other characteristics of his elocution that he had

273. In Proustian imagery, the horizontal and vertical axes, respectively, represent those things that are earthbound and those that permit ascension, which Proust associates with artistic freedom. We saw an example of this in Swann’s Way in the grandmother’s admiration of the steeple of Saint-­Hilaire (73). In that volume too, the Narrator’s first—and only for the entire course of the novel—literary production was his description of the steeples of Martinville. Obsessions that prevent such freedom function on the horizontal plane and involve images of being tethered or bound. Examples can be found in Aunt Léonie, and later in scenes involving the Narrator and also Charlus. See William C. Carter, The Proustian Quest (New York: New York University Press, 1992). 274. This is essentially the Impressionist doctrine that will be echoed by the painter Elstir, whom we are to meet in part two of this volume. Here the Narrator is speaking in his mature, reflective voice, whereas when he meets Elstir, he will speak in the more naïve voice of a young man engaged in the search for truth. 275. This English automobile company was formed in 1906 by the merger of two car manufacturers, Charles S. Rolls and Sir Frederick Henry Royce. 276. The French word for what an airplane does when it takes off is décoller, which Proust put in quotation marks for two reasons, perhaps: it was a relatively new usage and also one that he employs thematically. To free oneself from the prison of gravity (habit) it is necessary to become unstuck (décoller). Vertical imagery, as is the case here, is associated with the success of the artist who becomes truly free and independent.

Madame Swann at Home 141

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 277. Count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828–1910), George Eliot, pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans (1819–80), Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906), and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–81). The mention of these prominent foreign writers reflects Proust’s own interest in their works. Bergotte’s limited taste in literature is different from Proust’s.

142 Madame Swann at Home

in common not with the members of his family, but with certain contemporary writers. Younger men, who were beginning to repudiate him as a master and claimed to have no intellectual affinity with him, displayed their affinity without knowing it when they made use of the same adverbs, the same prepositions that he incessantly repeated, by constructing their sentences in the same way, speaking in the same quiescent, lingering tone, in reaction against the eloquent, facile language of an earlier generation. Perhaps these young men—we will come across some of whom this may be said—had never known Bergotte. But his way of thinking, inoculated into them, had developed in them those alterations of syntax and accentuation that bear a necessary relation to originality of mind. A relation that, incidentally, requires some explanation. Thus Bergotte, if he owed nothing to anyone for his manner of writing, derived his manner of speaking from one of his old friends, a marvelous talker to whose ascendancy he had succumbed, whom he imitated unconsciously in his conversation, but who himself, being less gifted, had never written any really outstanding books. So that if one had been in quest of originality in speech, Bergotte must have been labeled a disciple, a secondhand writer, whereas, influenced by his friend only in the domain of conversation, he had been original and creative in his writings. Doubtless again to distinguish himself from the previous generation, too fond as it had been of abstractions, of weighty commonplaces, when Bergotte wished to speak favorably of a book, what he would emphasize, what he would quote with approval would always be some scene that furnished the reader with an image, some tableau that had no rational significance. “Ah, yes!” he would exclaim, “it’s quite admirable! There’s a little girl in an orange shawl. It is excellent!” or again, “Oh, yes, there’s a passage in which a regiment is marching along the street; yes, it is excellent!” As for style, he was not altogether of his time (and he remained quite exclusively French; he detested Tolstoy, George Eliot, Ibsen, and Dostoyevsky),277 for the word that always came to his lips when he wished to praise the style of any writer was

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower “mellow.” “Yes, you know I like Chateaubriand better in Atala than in Rancé;278 he seems to me to be mellower.” He said the word like a doctor who, when his patient assures him that milk will give him indigestion, answers, “But, you know, it’s very mellow.” And it is true that there was in Bergotte’s style a kind of harmony similar to that for which the ancients used to praise certain of their orators in terms that we now find hard to understand, accustomed as we are to our own modern languages in which we do not seek those kinds of effects. He would say also, with a shy smile, of pages of his own for which someone had expressed admiration: “I think it’s more or less true, more or less accurate; it may be of some value perhaps,” but he would say this simply from modesty, as a woman to whom one has said that her dress, or her daughter, is beautiful replies, “It’s comfortable,” or “She’s a good girl.” But the instinct of the builder was too deeply implanted in Bergotte for him not to be aware that the sole proof that he had built usefully and truthfully lay in the joy that his work had given to himself first of all and afterward to his readers.279 Only many years later, when he no longer had any talent, whenever he wrote anything with which he was not satisfied, in order not to have to suppress it, as he should have done, and to be able to publish it with a clear conscience, he would repeat, but to himself this time: “After all, it is more or less accurate, it must be of some value to my country.” So that the phrase murmured long ago among his admirers by the insincere voice of modesty came in the end to be whispered in the secrecy of his heart by the uneasy tongue of pride. And the same words that had served Bergotte as a superfluous excuse for the excellence of his early works became as it were an ineffective consolation to him for the mediocrity of the last. A kind of austerity of taste that he had, a kind of determination to write nothing of which he could not say that it was “mellow,” which had made people for so many years regard him as a sterile and precious artist, a chiseler of trifles, was on the contrary the secret of his strength, for habit forms the style of the writer just

278. Chateaubriand’s Atala, ou les Amours de deux sauvages dans le désert (1801) is a novel set in Louisiana in the eighteenth century. Chactas, an elderly American Indian, tells his life story to René, a young French exile. Vie de Rancé (1844) is Chateaubriand’s biography of the Abbé Armand-­Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé (1626–1700), who withdrew from worldly life to a Trappist monastery, reportedly for romantic reasons. 279. The Narrator always associates joy with creativity, as we saw in the steeples of Martinville sequence. However, he himself has experienced joy, as a writer, only on that unique occasion. See Swann’s Way, 207–8.

Madame Swann at Home 143

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 280. Proust believed in what he calls the Eternal Mind or Universal Soul, a theory according to which the work of each artist, composer, or writer is a manifestation of universal harmony, many parts of which remain to be discovered. We remember that Proust’s definition of the artist is broad indeed and includes all those who are altruists or our benefactors. In Swann’s meditation on Vinteuil’s Sonata (Swann’s Way, 401), Swann calls such composers explorers of the invisible who seek to discover “the secret laws that govern an unknown force” and goes on to give as examples the physicist André-­Marie Ampère (1775–1836) and the chemist Antoine-­Laurent de Lavoisier (1743–94). Proust’s search for such unity and harmony is not unlike the Grand Unified Theory proposed by physicists. 281. The law of causality holds that everything has a cause. 282. “Gentleman” is in English in the original.

144 Madame Swann at Home

as much as the character of the man, and the author who has more than once been content to attain, in the expression of his thoughts, a certain kind of attractiveness, in so doing lays down unalterably the boundaries of his talent, just as, in yielding too often to pleasure, to laziness, to the fear of being put to trouble, one finds oneself delineating on a character that eventually it will be impossible to retouch, the forms of one’s own vices and the limits of one’s virtue. If, however, despite all the similarities that I was to perceive later on between the writer and the man, I had not at first sight, in Mme Swann’s drawing room, believed that this could be Bergotte, the author of so many divine books, who stood before me, perhaps I was not altogether wrong, for he himself did not, in the strict sense of the word, “believe” it either. He did not believe it because he showed a great assiduity in the presence of fashionable people (and yet he was not a snob), of literary men and journalists who were vastly inferior to himself. Of course he had long since learned, from the suffrage of others, that he had genius, compared to which social position and official rank are as nothing. He had learned that he had genius, but he did not believe it since he continued to simulate deference toward mediocre writers in order to succeed, shortly, in becoming an academician, whereas the Académie and the Faubourg Saint-­Germain have no more to do with that part of the Eternal Mind280 that is the author of Bergotte’s books than with the law of causality281 or the idea of God. That also he knew, just as a kleptomaniac knows, without profiting by the knowledge, that it is wrong to steal. And the man with the goatee and snail-­shell nose knew and used all the tricks of the gentleman282 who pockets your forks, in his efforts to reach the coveted academic chair, or some duchess or other who could dispose of several votes at the election, but to reach them while trying to make sure that no one who might consider the pursuit of such a goal a vice in him would see what he was doing. He was only half-­successful; one could hear, alternating with the speech

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower of the true Bergotte, that of the other Bergotte, selfish, ambitious, who thought it worth his while to speak only of his powerful friends, noble or rich, in order to enhance his own position, he who in his books, when he was really himself, had so well portrayed the charm, pure as a mountain spring, of the poor. As for those other vices to which M. de Norpois had alluded, to that almost incestuous love, which was made still worse, people said, by a want of delicacy in the matter of money, if they contradicted in a shocking manner the tendency of his latest novels, filled with such a scrupulous, painful concern for what was right and good that the most innocent pleasures of their heroes were poisoned by it and that even for the reader himself it emitted a sense of anguish that made even the quietest of lives seem difficult to bear, those vices did not prove, however, supposing that they were fairly imputed to Bergotte, that his literature was a lie and all his sensitiveness mere playacting. Just as in pathology certain conditions similar in appearance are due, some to an excess, others to an insufficiency of hypertension, of secretion, etc., so there may be vice arising from hypersensitiveness just as much as from the lack of it. Perhaps it is only in really vicious lives that the moral problem can arise in all its disquieting strength. And to this problem the artist offers a solution in the terms not of his own personal life but of what is for him the true life,283 a general, a literary solution. As the great doctors of the Church284 began often, while remaining good, by experiencing the sins of all mankind, out of which they extracted their own personal sanctity, so great artists often, while being thoroughly wicked, make use of their vices in order to arrive at a conception of the moral law that is binding on us all. It is the vices (or merely the weaknesses and follies) of the milieu in which they live, the meaningless conversation, the frivolous or shocking lives of their daughters, the infidelity of their wives or their own misdeeds that writers have most often castigated in their diatribes, without, however, thinking it necessary to change their way of living or to improve the bad tone that reigns

283. The Narrator’s own quest (recherche) is to discover the true life and transpose it into a book. 284. Doctors of the Church were certain early Christian Fathers, and other saints, whose theological writings gained special acceptance and authority.

Madame Swann at Home 145

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower in their households. But this contrast had never before been so striking as it was in Bergotte’s time, because, on the one hand, in proportion as society grew more corrupt, notions of morality became increasingly refined, while on the other hand the public learned far more than it had ever known about the private lives of writers; and on certain evenings in the theater, people would point out the author whom I had so greatly admired at Combray, sitting at the back of a box the mere composition of which seemed a singularly humorous or poignant commentary on, an impudent denial of, the thesis that he had just been maintaining in his latest work. Not that anything this or that casual informant might tell me was of much use in helping me to settle the question of the goodness or wickedness of Bergotte. An intimate friend would furnish proofs of his hard-­heartedness; then a stranger would cite some instance (touching, since he had evidently wished it to remain hidden) of his real depth of feeling. He had behaved cruelly to his wife. But in a village inn, where he had gone to spend the night, he had stayed on to watch over a poor woman who had tried to drown herself, and when he was obliged to depart, he had left a large sum of money with the landlord, so that he would not turn the poor creature out but see that she got proper attention. Perhaps the more the great writer developed in Bergotte at the expense of the man with the goatee, the more his own personal life was drowned in the flood of all the lives that he imagined, until he no longer felt himself obliged to perform certain practical duties, for which he had substituted the duty of imagining those other lives. But at the same time, because he imagined the feelings of others as completely as if they had been his own, whenever the occasion was such that he had to talk to an unfortunate person, at least in a temporary way, he would do so not from his own personal standpoint but from that of the sufferer himself, a standpoint from which he would have been horrified by the speech of those who continue to think of their own petty concerns in the presence of another’s grief. With the result that he gave rise everywhere to justifiable rancor and to undying gratitude.

146 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Above all, he was a man who in his heart of hearts loved nothing really except certain images and (like a miniature set in the bottom of a little chest) composing and painting them in words. For a trifle that someone had sent him, if that trifle gave him the opportunity of weaving around it a few of these images, he would be prodigal in the expression of his gratitude, while showing none whatever for an expensive present. And if he had had to plead before a tribunal, he would inevitably have chosen his words not for the effect that they might have on the judge but with an eye to certain images that the judge would certainly never have perceived. That first day on which I met him with Gilberte’s parents, I mentioned to Bergotte that I had recently been to see Berma in Phèdre; and he told me that in the scene in which she stood with her arm raised to the level of her shoulder—one of those very scenes that had been greeted with such applause—she had managed to suggest with great nobility of art certain classical figures that, quite possibly, she had never even seen, a Hesperid carved in the same attitude on a metope at Olympia, and also the beautiful virgins on the ancient Erechtheum.285 “It may be sheer divination, and yet I imagine that she visits the museums. It would be interesting to ‘establish’ that.” (“Establish” was one of those regular Bergotte expressions, and one that various young men who had never met him had caught from him, speaking like him by some sort of telepathic suggestion.) “Do you mean the Caryatids?” asked Swann. “No, no,” said Bergotte, “except in the scene where she confesses her passion to Œnone, where she moves her hand exactly like Hegeso on the stele in the Ceramic,286 it is a far more ancient art that she revives. I was referring to the Korai287 of the ancient Erechtheum, and I admit that there is perhaps nothing quite so remote from the art of Racine, but there are so many things already in Phèdre . . . that one more . . . Oh, and then, yes, that little sixth-­century Phèdre is really charming, the verticality of the arm, the lock of hair ‘frozen into marble,’ yes, you know, it is wonderful

285. In mythology, a Hesperid is one of the three daughters of Atlas, the Hesperides, whose garden produced golden apples. The eleventh labor of Hercules was to steal the apples. He asked Atlas to get the fruit; Atlas agreed and gave Hercules the world to hold during his absence. The legend is the subject of the Atlas metope on the temple of Zeus at Olympia. Hercules holds the world above his head while Atlas offers him three golden apples; behind Hercules stands a draped woman (thought to be one of the Hesperides) who raises her left hand to ease his burden. The Erechtheum is an Ionic temple of Athena built in the fifth century b.c. by Phidias (under Pericles) on the Acropolis in Athens. It was dedicated to Erectheus, son of the Earth, and to Athena, by whom he was reared. On the south side is the famous Porch of the Maidens, the Caryatids, full-­ length marble female figures that form the columns supporting the roof of the temple. 286. The Hegeso is a monument in the Street of Tombs in the Ceramicus of Athens. It dates from the fourth century b.c. It is decorated with a relief representing a lady at her toilette and a female slave attendant. The lady is seated and is holding up for examination a ring taken from a jewel box. The Ceramicus is the potters’ quarters in Athens, divided into Inner and Outer Ceramicus. The Inner Ceramicus includes the agora and the most beautiful streets. Hegeso’s grave is on the Street of the Tombs. 287. Korai is a Greek word meaning maiden and is sometimes used to designate the Caryatids of the Erechtheum.

Madame Swann at Home 147

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 288. Proust wrote: “ces admirables orantes de l’Acropole,” those admirable orants on the Acropolis. An orant is a funerary statue of a person, usually female, praying with extended arms or a bodily attitude of prayer. The Acropolis of Athens is covered with temples. 289. “Tract” is in English in the original.

148 Madame Swann at Home

of her to have discovered all that. There is a great deal more antiquity in it than in most of the books they are labeling ‘antique’ this year.” Since Bergotte had in one of his books addressed a famous invocation to these archaic statues, the words that he was now uttering were quite intelligible to me and gave me a new reason for taking an interest in Berma’s acting. I tried to picture her again in my mind as she had looked in that scene in which I remembered that she had raised her arm to the level of her shoulder. And I said to myself, “There we have the Hesperid of Olympia; there we have the sister of those adorable suppliants on the Acropolis;288 there is indeed nobility in art!” But in order for these thoughts to enhance for me the beauty of Berma’s gesture, Bergotte would have had to put them into my head before the performance. Then, while that attitude of the actress actually existed in flesh and blood before my eyes, at that moment in which the thing that was happening has still the plenitude of reality, I might have tried to extract from it the idea of archaic sculpture. But all that I retained of Berma in that scene was a memory that was no longer modifiable, as meager as an image devoid of those deep layers of the present where one is free to delve and can truly discover something new, an image on which one cannot retrospectively impose an interpretation that is not subject to verification and objective sanction. At this point Mme Swann joined in the conversation, asking me whether Gilberte had remembered to give me what Bergotte had written about Phèdre, and adding, “My daughter is such a scatterbrain.” Bergotte smiled modestly and protested that they were only a few pages of no importance. “But it is perfectly delightful, that little opuscule, that little tract 289 of yours!” Mme Swann assured him, to show that she was a good hostess, to make the rest of us think that she had read the brochure, and also because she liked not merely to compliment Bergotte, but to make a selection for herself out of what he wrote, to direct him. And it must be admitted that she did inspire him, though not in the way that she supposed. But when all is said there are, between what constituted the ele-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower gance of Mme Swann’s drawing room and a whole side of Bergotte’s work, so many connections that either of them might serve among elderly men today as a commentary on the other. I let myself go in telling him what my impressions had been. Often Bergotte disagreed, but he allowed me to go on talking. I told him I had liked that green lighting effect when Phèdre raised her arm. “Ah! The designer will be glad to hear that; he is a real artist. I will tell him you liked it, because he’s very proud of that effect. I must say, myself, that I don’t like it very much; it drowns everything in a sort of sea-­green vapor; little Phèdre standing there looks too much like a branch of coral on the floor of an aquarium. You will tell me, of course, that it brings out the cosmic aspect290 of the play. That’s quite true. All the same, it would be more appropriate for a play set in the court of Neptune. Oh yes, of course, I know the vengeance of Neptune291 does come into the play. Good Lord, I don’t suggest for a moment that we should think only of Port-­Royal,292 but after all Racine is not telling us the story of love among the sea urchins. Still, it is what my friend wanted and it is very well done, even so, and it’s really quite pretty. Yes, so you liked that, did you; you understood what it meant, of course; we feel the same about it, don’t we, really; it’s a bit insane, what he’s done, you agree with me, but on the whole it’s very clever.” And when Bergotte’s opinion was thus contrary to mine, he in no way reduced me to silence, to the impossibility of framing any reply, as M. de Norpois would have done. This does not prove that Bergotte’s opinions were less valid than the ambassador’s; far from it. A powerful idea communicates some of its strength to the one who contradicts it. Being itself a part of the riches of the universal mind, it makes its way into, grafts itself onto the mind of the one it refutes, among the ideas already there, with the help of which, regaining a little ground, he completes and corrects it; so that the final judgment is to some extent the work of both parties to a discussion. It is to ideas that are not, properly speaking, ideas at all, to ideas that, founded on nothing, can find no support, no kindred spirit in the mind of the adversary, that the latter, grap-

290. For the cosmic aspect of Phèdre, see “solar myth” in note 41. 291. In Roman mythology, Neptune is the god of the sea, whose palace was at the bottom of the sea. In Racine’s Phèdre, Thésée calls on Neptune, whom he considers his protector, to kill his son Hippolyte in order to avenge the alleged violation of the queen. 292. Port-­Royal is the name of the abbey of the sisters of Saint Bernard that became the center of the Jansenist movement. Racine was educated in the schools of Port-­Royal. Some see the influence of his education in his characterization of Phèdre. The abbey was closed by Louis XIV in 1705.

Madame Swann at Home 149

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 293. The French word serin actually means canary, and when used to refer to a person is the equivalent of nitwit. Scott Moncrieff obviously knew this but chose to translate the word as parrot, which is a better fit for the loquacious Norpois.

150 Madame Swann at Home

pling with something that is not there, can find no word to say in answer. The arguments of M. de Norpois (in the matter of art) were unanswerable simply because they were without reality. Since Bergotte did not sweep aside my objections, I confessed to him that they had been treated with scorn by M. de Norpois. “But he’s a silly old parrot!”293 was the answer. “He keeps on pecking you because he imagines all the time that you’re a piece of cake or a slice of cuttlefish.” “What’s that? You know Norpois?” asked Swann. “He’s as dull as ditch water,” interrupted his wife, who had great faith in Bergotte’s judgment, and was no doubt afraid that M. de Norpois might have spoken ill of her to us. “I tried to make him talk after dinner; I don’t know if it’s his age or his indigestion, but I found him too pathetic for words. I really thought we would have to dope him.” “Yes, isn’t he?” Bergotte chimed in. “You see, he has to keep his mouth shut half the time so as not to use up all the stock of inanities that keep his shirtfront starched and his waistcoat white.” “I think that Bergotte and my wife are both very hard on him,” came from Swann, who took the “role,” in his own house, of a plain, sensible man. “I quite see that Norpois cannot interest you very much, but from another point of view” (for Swann liked to collect nuggets of “real life”), “he is quite remarkable, quite a remarkable instance of a ‘lover.’ When he was an attaché at Rome,” he went on, after making sure that Gilberte could not hear him, “he had, here in Paris, a mistress with whom he was madly in love, and he found time to make the double journey twice weekly in order to see her for a couple of hours. She was, as it happens, a most intelligent woman, a ravishing beauty then; she is a dowager now. And he has had any number of others since then. I’m sure I would have gone stark mad if the woman I was in love with lived in Paris and I was tied down in Rome. Highly strung men ought always to love, as the common people say, ‘beneath them,’ so that material interests keep the woman they love at their mercy.” As he spoke, Swann realized that I might be applying this maxim to himself and Odette. And as, even among superior beings, at the moment

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower when you and they seem to be soaring together above the plane of life, their personal pride is still basely human, he was seized by great ill will toward me. But this was made manifest only in the uneasiness of his glance. He said nothing to me at the time. Not that this need surprise us. When Racine (according to a story that is, incidentally, apocryphal, though its substance recurs every day in Parisian life) made an allusion to Scarron294 in front of Louis XIV, the most powerful king on earth said nothing to the poet that evening. It was on the following day that he fell from grace. But since a theory requires to be stated as a whole, Swann, after this momentary irritation, and after wiping the lens of his monocle, completed in these words, words that were to assume later on in my memory the importance of a prophetic warning that I had not the sense to heed: “The danger of that kind of love, however, is that the woman’s subjection calms the man’s jealousy for a time but also makes it more exacting. After a little he will force his mistress to live like one of those prisoners whose cells they keep lighted day and night to prevent their escaping. And that generally ends in tragedy.”295 I reverted to M. de Norpois. “You must never trust him; he has the most wicked tongue,” said Mme Swann in an accent that seemed to me to indicate that M. de Norpois had spoken ill of her, especially as Swann looked across at his wife with an air of rebuke, as though to stop her before she went too far. Meanwhile Gilberte, who had been told twice to go and get ready to go out, remained to listen to our conversation, between her mother and her father, leaning affectionately against his shoulder. Nothing, at first sight, could be in greater contrast to Mme Swann, who was dark, than this child with her red hair and golden skin. But after looking at them both for a moment one saw in Gilberte many of the features—for instance, the nose cut short with a sharp, unfaltering decision by the invisible sculptor whose chisel repeats its work on successive generations—the expression, the movements of her mother; to take a comparison from another form of art, she made one think of a portrait that was not a good

294. Paul Scarron (1610–60), novelist and dramatist, was a burlesque writer. He was married to Françoise d’Aubigné, who, after his death, became Madame de Maintenon and later the undeclared and morganatic wife of Louis XIV. Saint-­Simon tells this story in Mémoires of the year 1699. See À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 553, n. 2. 295. Swann’s observation anticipates the Albertine cycle and especially The Captive and The Fugitive.

Madame Swann at Home 151

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 296. Proust’s expression is “un dîner de têtes,” a dinner or party where people wear makeup to give them “heads” that are disguised.

152 Madame Swann at Home

likeness of Mme Swann, whom the painter, to carry out some whim of a colorist, had posed in a partial disguise, dressed to go out to a costume party296 as a woman of Venice. And since not only was she wearing a blond wig, but every dark atom had been expelled from her flesh that, stripped of its brown veils, seemed more naked, covered simply in rays of light discharged by an internal sun, this makeup was not just superficial but incarnate; Gilberte had the appearance of embodying some fabulous animal or of having assumed a mythological disguise. This reddish skin was so exactly that of her father that nature seemed to have had, when Gilberte was being created, to solve the problem of how to reconstruct Mme Swann piecemeal, without any material at her disposal save the skin of M. Swann. And nature had utilized this to perfection, like a master carver who makes a point of leaving the grain, the knots of his wood in evidence. On Gilberte’s face, at the corner of a perfect reproduction of Odette’s nose, the skin was raised so as to preserve intact M. Swann’s two moles. It was a new variety of Mme Swann that was thus obtained, growing there by her side like a white lilac tree beside a purple. At the same time one should not imagine the line of demarcation between these two likenesses as absolutely clear. Now and then, when Gilberte smiled, one could distinguish the oval of her father’s cheek on her mother’s face, as though they had been mixed together to see what would result from the blend; this oval grew distinct as an embryo forms; it lengthened obliquely, expanded, and a moment later had disappeared. In Gilberte’s eyes there was the frank and honest gaze of her father; this was how she had looked at me when she gave me the agate marble and said, “Keep it as a souvenir of our friendship.” But were one to question Gilberte about what she had been doing, then one saw in those same eyes the embarrassment, the uncertainty, the dissimulation, the misery that Odette used to show in the old days, when Swann asked her where she had been and she gave him one of those lying answers that drove the lover to despair and now made him abruptly change the conversation as an incurious and prudent husband. Often in the Champs-­Élysées,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower I became anxious on seeing this look in Gilberte’s eyes. But as a rule my fears were unfounded. For in her, a purely physical survival of her mother, this look—this one at least—had ceased to have any meaning. It was when she had been to her classes, when she must go home for some lesson, that Gilberte’s pupils executed the movement that, in the past, in Odette’s eyes, had been caused by the fear of disclosing that she had, during the day, opened the door to one of her lovers, or was at that moment in a hurry to get to some tryst. So one could see the two natures of M. and Mme Swann undulate and flow and overlap alternately one upon the other in the body of this Mélusine.297 It is, of course, common knowledge that a child takes after both its father and its mother. And yet the distribution of the merits and defects that it inherits is so oddly done that, of two good qualities that seemed inseparable in one of the parents you will find but one in the child, and allied to the very fault that in the other parent seemed irreconcilable with it. Indeed, the incarnation of a good moral quality in an incompatible physical blemish is often one of the laws of filial resemblance. Of two sisters, one will combine with the proud bearing of her father the mean spirit of her mother; the other, abundantly endowed with the paternal intelligence, will present it to the world in the aspect that her mother has made familiar; her mother’s big nose and lumpy belly and even her voice become the bodily vestment of gifts that you had learned to distinguish beneath a superb presence. With the result that of each of the sisters one can say with equal justification that it is she who takes more after one or other of her parents. It is true that Gilberte was an only child, but there were, at the least, two Gilbertes. The two natures, her father’s and her mother’s, did more than just blend themselves in her; they disputed the possession of her—and yet this would still be inaccurate and lead one to suppose that a third Gilberte was in the meantime suffering by being the prey of the two others. Whereas Gilberte was alternately one and then the other, and at any given moment no more than one of the two, that is to say incapable, when she

297. Mélusine is the most famous fairy in the Poitou legends. She is the water sprite of the fountain of Lusignan in Poitou and the legendary ancestor and tutelary spirit of the house of that name. Having enclosed her father in a high mountain for offending her mother, she was condemned to assume every Saturday a mermaidlike shape from her waist down.

Madame Swann at Home 153

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 298. Les Ménechmes (1705) is a comedy by Jean-­François Regnard (1655–1709), whose theme, inspired by the Menaechmi of Plautus, is based on the complications arising from the close resemblance of two twin brothers. They are mistaken for each other, but are quite different in character—one being unsophisticated, the other an unscrupulous adventurer who sets about securing an inheritance for himself alone as well as the hand of the woman whom his brother is to marry. Another adaptation of Plautus’s play, Les Jumeaux de Brighton (The Brighton twins), was written in 1908 by Tristan Bernard. 299. Proust’s inconsistency in describing Gilberte’s hair as blond was translated by Scott Moncrieff as “bright.” In the earlier descriptions of her hair, Proust says that it was “reddish.” Perhaps he envisioned the range, depending on the light, from red to a kind of strawberry blond.

154 Madame Swann at Home

was not being good, of suffering accordingly, the better Gilberte not being able at the time, due to her momentary absence, to detect the other’s lapse from virtue. And so the less good of the two was free to enjoy pleasures of an ignoble kind. When the other spoke to you from the heart of her father, she held broad views, you would have liked to engage with her on a fine and beneficent enterprise; you told her so, but, just as your arrangements were being completed, her mother’s heart would already have resumed its control; and hers was the voice that answered you; and you were disappointed and irritated—almost intrigued, as though by the substitution of one person for another—by a mean remark, a sly sneer, which delighted Gilberte, for they sprang from what she herself was at that moment. Indeed, the disparity was at times so great between these two Gilbertes that you asked yourself, though without finding an answer, what on earth you could have said or done to her to find her now so different. When she herself had proposed a rendezvous, not only did she fail to appear and offer no excuse afterward, but, whatever the influence might have been that had made her change her mind, she appeared so different when you did meet her that you might have supposed that you were taken in by a resemblance like the one that forms the plot of the Menaechmi,298 that you were no longer facing the person who had so politely expressed her desire to see you, had she not shown signs of an ill-­humor that revealed that she felt herself to be in the wrong and wished to avoid the necessity of an explanation. “Now then, run along and get ready; you’re keeping us waiting,” her mother reminded her. “I’m so happy here with my little Papa; I want to stay just for a minute,” replied Gilberte, burying her head beneath the arm of her father, who passed his fingers lovingly through her blond hair.299 Swann was one of those men who, having lived for a long time amid the illusions of love, have seen the prosperity that they themselves brought to a number of women increase the happiness of those women without exciting in them any gratitude, any

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower tenderness toward their benefactors; but in their child they believe that they can feel an affection that, being incarnate in their own name, will enable them to survive after their death. When there would no longer be any Charles Swann, there would still be a Mlle Swann, or a Mme X, née Swann, who would continue to love her deceased father. Indeed, to love him too much perhaps, Swann may have been thinking, for he replied to Gilberte: “You’re a good daughter” in that tone made tender by the apprehension, when we think of the future, inspired in us by the too passionate affection of a being destined to survive us. To conceal his emotion, he joined in our talk about Berma. He pointed out to me, but in a detached, bored tone, as though he wished to remain somehow distant from what he was saying, with what intelligence, with what an astonishing fitness the actress said to Œnone, “You knew it!”300 He was right. That intonation at least had a validity that was truly intelligible and should thereby have satisfied my desire to find irrefutable reasons for admiring Berma. But it was because of its very clarity that it did not at all satisfy me. Her intonation was so ingenious, so definite in intention and in its meaning, that it seemed to exist by itself, so that any intelligent artist might have acquired it. It was a fine idea; but whoever else might conceive it as fully must possess it equally. It remained to Berma’s credit that she had discovered it, but can one use the word “discover” when the object in question is something that would not be different if one had been given it, something that does not belong essentially to one’s own nature since someone else may afterward reproduce it? “Good Lord, your presence among us does raise the tone of the conversation! ” Swann said to me, as though to excuse himself to Bergotte; for he had formed the habit, in the Guermantes set, of entertaining great artists as if they were just good friends whom one invites simply to eat the dishes or play the games that they like, or, in the country, indulge in whatever form of sport they please. “It seems to me that we’re talking a great deal of art,” he went on. “But it’s so nice, I do love it,” said Mme Swann, throwing me a

300. Phèdre, act 4, scene 6. Phèdre reproaches Œnone for not having told her of Hippolyte’s love for Aricie.

Madame Swann at Home 155

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower look of gratitude, from good nature as well as because she had not abandoned her old aspirations toward more intellectual conversation. After this it was to others of the party, and principally to Gilberte, that Bergotte addressed himself. I had told him everything that I felt with a freedom that had astonished me, and was due to the fact that, having acquired with him, years before (in the course of all those hours of solitary reading, in which he was to me merely the better part of myself ), the habit of sincerity, of frankness, of confidence, I was less intimidated by him than by a person with whom I would have been talking for the first time. And yet, for the same reason, I was extremely uneasy about the impression that I must have been making on him, the contempt that I had supposed he would feel for my ideas dating not from that afternoon but from the already distant time in which I had begun to read his books in our garden at Combray. I ought perhaps nevertheless to have reminded myself that, since it was in all sincerity, abandoning myself to the train of my thoughts, that I had felt on the one hand so intense an affinity with the works of Bergotte and on the other hand, in the theater, a disappointment the reasons for which I did not know, those two instinctive movements that had carried me away could not be so very different from one another, but must obey the same laws; and that the mind of Bergotte that I had loved in his books could not be anything entirely foreign and hostile to my disappointment and to my inability to express it. For my mind must be one, and perhaps indeed there exists but a single mind of which everyone is a cotenant, toward which each of us from the core of his own separate body turns his eyes, as in a theater where, if everyone has his own separate seat, there is on the other hand but a single stage. Of course the ideas that I was tempted to seek to disentangle were probably not those whose depths Bergotte usually explored in his books. But if it was one and the same mind that we had, he and I, at our disposal, he must, on hearing me express those ideas, be reminded of them, cherish them, smile on them, while keeping probably, in spite of what I supposed, before his mind’s eye a part of his mind that was

156 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower entirely different from the one of which an excerpt had passed into his books, an excerpt on which I had based my view of his entire mental universe. Just as priests, having the widest experience of the human heart, are best able to pardon the sins that they do not themselves commit, so genius, having the widest experience of human intelligence, can best understand the ideas most directly in opposition to those that form the foundation of its own works. I ought to have told myself all this (though, for that matter, it is none too consoling a thought, for the benevolence of great minds has as a corollary the incomprehension and hostility of small ones; and one derives far less happiness from the amiability of a great writer that one finds in his books than one suffers from the hostility of a woman whom one did not choose for her intelligence but cannot help loving). I ought to have told myself all this, but I did not; I was convinced that I had appeared a fool to Bergotte, when Gilberte whispered in my ear: “I’m floating on air, because you’ve made a conquest of my great friend Bergotte. He’s been telling Mamma that he found you extremely intelligent.” “Where are we going?” I asked her. “Oh, wherever you like; you know it’s all the same to me.” But since the incident that had occurred on the anniversary of her grandfather’s death, I had begun to ask myself whether Gilberte’s character was not other than I had supposed, whether that indifference to what was to be done, that docility, that calm, that gentle and constant submissiveness did not indeed conceal passionate longings that her pride would not allow her to show and that she revealed only by her sudden resistance whenever by any chance they were thwarted. Since Bergotte lived in the same neighborhood as my parents, we left the house together; in the carriage he spoke to me of my health. “Our friends were telling me that you had been ill. I am very sorry. And yet, after all, I am not too sorry, because I can see quite well that you are able to enjoy the pleasures of the mind, and that is probably what means most to you, as to everyone who has known them.”

Madame Swann at Home 157

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Alas, how little I felt that what he was saying applied to me, whom all reasoning, however exalted it might be, left cold, who was happy only in moments of pure idleness, when I was comfortable and well; I felt how purely material was everything that I desired in life, and how easily I could dispense with the intellect. As I made no distinction among my pleasures between those that came to me from different sources, of varying depth and permanence, I thought, when the moment came to answer him, that I would have liked an existence in which I was on intimate terms with the Duchesse de Guermantes and often came across, as in the old tollhouse in the Champs-­Élysées, a chill and fusty smell that would remind me of Combray. But in this ideal existence that I dared not confide to him, the pleasures of the mind found no place. “No, Monsieur, the pleasures of the mind count for very little with me; it is not them that I seek; indeed I don’t even know that I have ever tasted them.” “You really think not?” he replied. “Well, listen, yes, even so, that must be what you like best. I can see it now clearly; that’s what I believe.” He certainly did not succeed in convincing me; and yet I felt happier, less restricted. After what M. de Norpois had said to me, I had regarded my moments of reverie, of enthusiasm, of self-­ confidence as purely subjective and devoid of truth. But according to Bergotte, who appeared to understand my case, it seemed that it was quite the contrary, that the symptom I ought to disregard was, in fact, my doubts, my disgust with myself. Moreover, what he had said about M. de Norpois took most of the sting out of a sentence from which I had supposed that no appeal was possible. “Are you being properly looked after?” Bergotte asked me. “Who is treating you?” I told him that I had seen, and would no doubt go on seeing, Cottard. “But that’s not at all the sort of man you want!” he told me. “I know nothing about him as a doctor. But I’ve met him at Mme Swann’s. The man’s an imbecile. Even supposing that that doesn’t prevent his being a good doctor, which I find hard to believe, it does prevent his being a good doctor for

158 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower artists, for men of intelligence. People like you must have suitable doctors; I would almost go so far as to say regimens and medicines specially adapted to themselves. Cottard will bore you, and that alone will prevent his treatment from having any effect. Besides, the proper course of treatment cannot possibly be the same for you as for just anybody. Three-­quarters of the ills from which intelligent people suffer spring from their intellect. They need at least a doctor who understands that disease. How do you expect Cottard to be able to treat you? He has made allowances for the difficulty of digesting sauces, for gastric trouble, but he has made no allowance for the effect of reading Shakespeare. So that his calculations are inaccurate in your case, the balance is upset; you see, always the little bottle-­imp bobbing up again. He will find that you have a distended stomach; he has no need to examine you for it, since he has it already in his eye. You can see it there, reflected in his glasses.” This manner of speaking tired me greatly; I said to myself, with the stupidity of common sense: “There is no more any distended stomach reflected in Professor Cottard’s lorgnon301 than there are inanities hidden in the white waistcoat of M. de Norpois.” “I would recommend that instead,” went on Bergotte, “you consult Dr. du Boulbon, who is an extremely intelligent man.” “He is a great admirer of your books,” I replied. I saw that Bergotte knew this, and I decided that kindred spirits soon come together, that one has few really “unknown friends.” What Bergotte had said to me with respect to Cottard impressed me, while running contrary to everything that I myself believed. I was in no way disturbed by finding my doctor boring; I expected of him that, thanks to an art the laws of which escaped me, he should pronounce on the subject of my health an infallible oracle after consultation of my entrails. And I did not at all require that, with the aid of an intelligence in which I might easily surpass him, he should seek to understand mine, which I pictured to myself merely as a means, of no importance in itself, of trying to arrive at certain external verities. I very much doubted that intelligent people required a different form of hygiene than imbeciles, and I

301. Lorgnon, as Proust uses it, may mean a lorgnette or a pince-­nez.

Madame Swann at Home 159

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 302. Scott Moncrieff translated this idiom avaler des couleuvres almost literally (swallow a hundred serpents) and followed this, in the next sentence, with another nearly literal translation of On les voit, elles lui tordent la bouche (you can see them in his mouth, writhing).

160 Madame Swann at Home

was quite prepared to submit myself to the latter kind. “I’ll tell you who does need a good doctor, and that’s our friend Swann,” said Bergotte. And on my asking whether he was ill, “Well, don’t you see, he’s typical of the man who has married a whore and has to swallow dozens of insults302 every day from women who refuse to meet his wife or men who have slept with her. You can see his mouth twist as he absorbs those affronts. Just look, one day when you’re there, at the way he lifts his eyebrows when he comes in, to see who’s in the room.” The malice with which Bergotte spoke thus to a stranger of the friends in whose house he had so long been received as a welcome guest was as new to me as the almost tender tone, when at the Swanns’, he constantly adopted to speak to them. Certainly a person like my great-­aunt, for example, would have been incapable of treating any of us with the politeness that I had heard Bergotte lavishing on Swann. Even to the people whom she liked, she enjoyed saying disagreeable things. But behind their backs she would never have uttered a word to which they might not have listened. There was nothing less like the social world than our society at Combray. The Swanns’ was already a stage on the way toward it, toward its inconstant tide. If they had not yet reached the open sea, they were certainly in the lagoon. “This is all between ourselves,” said Bergotte as he left me outside my door. A few years later I would have answered: “I never repeat things.” That is the ritual phrase of society people, from which the slanderer always derives a false reassurance. It is what I would have said then and there to Bergotte, for one does not invent all one says, especially when one is acting merely as a social person. But I did not yet know the formula. What my great-­aunt, on the other hand, would have said on a similar occasion was: “If you don’t wish it to be repeated, why do you say it?” That is the answer of the unsociable, of the quarrelsome. I was nothing of that sort: I bowed my head in silence. Men of letters who were in my eyes persons of considerable importance had had to intrigue for years before they succeeded in forming with Bergotte relations that always remained obscurely

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower literary and never emerged beyond the four walls of his study, whereas I, I had now been installed among the friends of the great writer, right away and without any effort, like a man who, instead of standing in line with everyone else for hours in order to secure a bad seat in a theater, is shown in at once to the best, having entered by a door that is closed to the public. If Swann had thus opened such a door to me, it was doubtless because, just as a king finds himself naturally inviting his children’s friends into the royal box, or on board the royal yacht, so Gilberte’s parents received their daughter’s friends among all the precious things that they had in their house and the even more precious intimacies that were enshrined there. But at that time I thought, and perhaps was right in thinking, that this amiability on Swann’s part was aimed indirectly at my parents. I seemed to remember having heard once at Combray that he had suggested to them that, in view of my admiration for Bergotte, he should take me to dine with him, and that my parents had declined, saying that I was too young and too highly strung to “go out.” My parents, no doubt, represented to certain other people (precisely those who seemed to me the most marvelous) something quite different from what they were to me, so that, just as when the lady in pink had paid my father a tribute of which he had shown himself so unworthy, I would have wished them to understand what an inestimable present I had just received and to show their gratitude to that generous and courteous Swann who had offered it to me, or to them rather, without seeming any more to be conscious of its value than is, in Luini’s fresco, the charming Mage with the arched nose and blond hair,303 to whom, it appeared, Swann had at one time been thought to bear a striking resemblance. Unfortunately, this favor that Swann had done me and that, on entering the house, before I had even taken off my overcoat, I announced to my parents, in the hope that it would awaken in their hearts an emotion equal to my own and would determine them on some immense and decisive act of “politeness” toward the Swanns, did not appear to be greatly appreciated by them.

303. Bernardino Luini (c. 1480–1532) was an Italian painter of the Lombard school, who excelled in religious and mythological frescoes. In Proust’s day, his painting, The Adoration of the Magi, hung in the Salle Duchâtel of the Louvre. Of the three kings, the one in the center, seen in profile, resembles Swann with his reddish complexion.

Madame Swann at Home 161

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower “Swann introduced you to Bergotte? An excellent acquaintance for you, charming society!” exclaimed my father, sarcastically. “That’s all we needed!” Alas, when I added that Bergotte was by no means inclined to admire M. de Norpois: “Naturally!” retorted my father. “That simply proves that he has a false and malevolent mind. My poor boy, you never had much common sense; I’m sorry to see you fall among a set that will unhinge you altogether.” Already the mere fact of my frequenting the Swanns’ had been far from delighting my parents. This introduction to Bergotte seemed to them a harmful but natural consequence of an original mistake, namely their own weakness in controlling me, which my grandfather would have called a “lack of circumspection.” I felt that I had only, in order to put the finishing touch to their illhumor, to tell them that this perverse man who did not appreciate M. de Norpois had found me extremely intelligent. For I had observed that whenever my father decided that anyone, one of my school friends for instance, was going astray—as I was at that moment—if that person had the approval of somebody whom my father did not respect, he would see in this testimony the confirmation of his own stern judgment. The evil merely seemed to him the greater. I could hear him already exclaiming, “Of course, it all hangs together! ” an expression that terrified me by the vagueness and vastness of the reforms that it threatened to introduce into my quiet life. But since, even if I did not tell them what Bergotte had said about me, nothing could in any case efface the impression my parents had formed, it mattered little that it should be made slightly worse. Besides, they seemed to me so unfair, so completely mistaken, that not only had I no hope, I had scarcely any desire to bring them to a more equitable point of view. However, sensing, at the moment the words came from my lips, how alarmed they would be by the thought that I had found favor in the sight of a person who dismissed intelligent men as fools and had earned the contempt of all decent people, praise from whom, since it seemed to me a thing to be desired, would only

162 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower encourage me in wrongdoing, it was in faltering tones and with a slightly shameful air that, coming to the end of my story, I flung them the bouquet of: “He told the Swanns that he had found me extremely intelligent.” Just as a poisoned dog in a field rushes, without knowing why, straight to the grass that is the precise antidote to the toxin he has swallowed, so I, without in the least suspecting it, had said the one thing in the world that was capable of overcoming in my parents this prejudice with respect to Bergotte, a prejudice that all the best arguments I could have made, all the tributes I could have paid him, would have proved powerless to defeat. Instantly the situation changed. “Oh! He said that he found you intelligent,” repeated my mother. “I am glad to hear that, because he is a man of talent.” “What! He said that, did he?” my father joined in. “I don’t for a moment deny his literary distinction, before which the whole world bows; only it is a pity that he should lead that scarcely reputable existence to which old Norpois made a guarded allusion, when he was here,” he went on, not seeing that against the sovereign virtue of the magic words that I had just pronounced the depravity of Bergotte’s morals was scarcely able to contend any longer than the falsity of his judgment. “But, my dear,” Mamma interrupted, “we’ve no proof that it’s true. People say all sorts of things. Besides M. de Norpois may have the most perfect manners in the world, but he’s not always very benevolent, especially regarding people who are not exactly his sort.” “That’s quite true; I’ve noticed it myself,” my father admitted. “And then, too, a great deal ought to be forgiven Bergotte, since he thinks well of my nice little son,” Mamma went on, stroking my hair with her fingers and fastening on me a long and pensive gaze. My mother had not, incidentally, awaited this verdict from Bergotte before telling me that I might ask Gilberte to tea whenever I had friends coming. But I dared not do so for two reasons. The first was that at Gilberte’s there was never anything else to

Madame Swann at Home 163

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 304. Monseigneur was the honorary title given to princes, bishops, and other men of high rank. At the court of Louis XIV, it was capitalized and became the title of the dauphin, the crown prince. 305. Scott Moncrieff ’s choice of the euphemism “disorderly house” for brothel is a good match for the euphemism in the original: “maison de passe.” Also below, “houses of assignation” for “maisons de rendez-­vous.”

164 Madame Swann at Home

drink but tea. Whereas at home Mamma insisted that next to the tea there be a pot of hot chocolate as well. I was afraid that Gilberte might regard this as common and so conceive a great contempt for us. The other reason was a formal difficulty, a question of protocol that I could never succeed in settling. When I arrived at Mme Swann’s she used to ask me: “And how is your mother?” I had made several overtures to Mamma to find out whether she would do the same when Gilberte came to us, a point that seemed to me more serious than, at the Court of Louis XIV, the use of “Monseigneur.”304 But Mamma would not hear of it for a moment. “Certainly not. I do not know Mme Swann.” “But neither does she know you.” “I never said she did, but we are not obliged to behave in exactly the same way about everything. I will find other ways of being courteous to Gilberte than Mme Swann has with you.” But I was unconvinced and preferred not to invite Gilberte. Leaving my parents, I went upstairs to change my clothes and on emptying my pockets found at once the envelope that the Swanns’ butler had handed me before showing me into the drawing room. I was now alone. I opened it; inside was a card on which I was told the name of the lady whom I ought to have taken in to lunch. It was during this period that Bloch overthrew my conception of the world and opened for me fresh possibilities of happiness (which, for that matter, were to change later on into possibilities of suffering), by assuring me that, in contradiction of all that I had believed at the time of my walks along the Méséglise way, women never asked for anything better than to make love. He added to this service a second, the value of which I was not to appreciate until much later: it was he who took me for the first time into a disorderly house.305 He had indeed told me that there were any number of pretty women whom one might possess. But I could see them only in a vague outline for which those houses of assignation were to enable me to substitute actual human faces. So

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that if I owed to Bloch—for his “good news” that happiness and the possession of beauty were not inaccessible things and that we have made an unnecessary sacrifice in renouncing them forever— a debt of gratitude of the same kind that we owe to an optimistic physician or philosopher who has given us reason to hope for longevity in this world and not to be entirely cut off from it when we will have passed into another, the houses of assignation that I frequented some years later—by furnishing me with samples of happiness, by allowing me to add to the beauty of women the element that we are powerless to invent, which is something more than a mere summary of former beauties, that present indeed divine, the one present that we cannot receive from ourselves, before which expire all the logical creations of our intellect and that we can seek from reality alone: an individual charm—deserved to be ranked by me with those other benefactors more recent in origin but of comparable utility (before finding them we used to imagine without any ardor the seductive charms of Mantegna, of Wagner, of Siena,306 by studying other painters, hearing other composers, visiting other cities): namely illustrated editions of the history of painting, symphonic concerts and guidebooks to “Cities of the Arts.”307 But the house to which Bloch led me (and which he himself, for that matter, had long ceased to visit), was of too inferior a grade and its personnel were too mediocre and too little varied to be able to satisfy my old curiosities or to stimulate new ones. The madam of this house knew none of the women with whom one asked her to negotiate and was always suggesting others whom one did not want. She boasted to me of one in particular, one of whom, with a smile full of promise (as though this had been a great rarity and a special treat), she would say: “She is a Jewess! Doesn’t that make you want to?” (It was doubtless because of this that she called her Rachel.) And with a silly and affected excitement that she hoped would prove contagious, and which ended in a hoarse gurgle, almost of sensual satisfaction: “Think of that, my boy, a Jewess! Wouldn’t that be thrilling? Rrrr!” This Rachel, of whom I caught a glimpse without her seeing me, was dark,

306. Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506), an Italian painter born in Padua, created the frescoes in the Ovetari chapel in the Church of the Eremitani depicting the life and the Martyrdom of Saint James. Proust, but not his intimate friend and composer Reynaldo Hahn, greatly admired the operas of Richard Wagner. Siena is a medieval town in Tuscany. The marble quarried there has a yellow tint. 307. Les Villes d’art célèbres was a series of volumes published in the early 1900s in Paris by Henri Laurens. Proust is known to have consulted these volumes, especially the volumes on Venice (1902) and Florence (1906).

Madame Swann at Home 165

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 308. Scott Moncrieff translated “michés” simply as boys, but the formation of the word from “Michel” is similar to the American coinage of “john” from the proper name. Both words are used for a prostitute’s male client. 309. “Rachel quand du Seigneur” is a line from an aria sung by Éléazar (act 4, scene 5) in the opera La Juive, by Jacques-­François-­Fromenthal-­Élie Halévy (1799–1862), which premiered at the Opéra on February 23, 1835. Proust was closely associated with several members of the Halévy family, especially Geneviève Straus, Halévy’s daughter and widow of Georges Bizet. Mme Straus’s son, Jacques Bizet, was Proust’s classmate at the Lycée Condorcet. Proust was also a close friend of Jacques’s cousin Daniel Halévy, son of Ludovic Halévy, noted playwright and librettist with Henri Meilhac (Carmen), and cousin of Geneviève. See William C. Carter, Marcel Proust: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000). 310. Proust is making a pun of “sous presse,” a publishing term that means “being printed,” literally “under press.”

166 Madame Swann at Home

not pretty, but looked intelligent, and would pass the tip of her tongue over her lips as she smiled with a look of boundless impertinence, at the johns308 who were introduced to her and whom I could hear making conversation with her. Her small and narrow face was framed with curly black hair, irregular as though outlined in pen strokes on a wash drawing in Indian ink. On each occasion I promised the madam who offered her to me with a special insistence, boasting of her superior intelligence and her education, that I would not fail to come some day on purpose to make the acquaintance of Rachel, whom I had nicknamed “Rachel when from the Lord.”309 But the first evening I had heard her, as she was leaving the house, say to the madam: “That’s settled then; I’ll be free tomorrow, if you have anyone you won’t forget to send for me.” And these words had prevented me from recognizing her as a person because they had made me classify her at once in a general category of women whose habit, common to all of them, was to come there in the evening to see whether there might not be a louis or two to be earned. She would simply vary her formula, saying indifferently: “If you need me” or “If you need anybody.” The madam, who was not familiar with Halévy’s opera, did not know why I always called the girl “Rachel when from the Lord.” But failure to understand a joke has never yet made anyone find it less amusing, and it was always with a wholehearted laugh that she would say to me: “Then there’s nothing doing tonight? When am I going to fix you up with ‘Rachel when from the Lord’? Why do you always say that: ‘Rachel when from the Lord’? Oh, that’s very clever, that is. I’m going to make a match of you two. You won’t regret it, you’ll see.” Once I had almost made up my mind, but she was “gone to press,”310 another time in the hands of the “hairdresser,” an elderly gentleman who never did anything to the women except pour oil on their loosened hair and then comb it. And I grew tired of waiting, even though several of the humbler frequenters of the

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower place (so-­called working girls, but always out of work), had come to make tisane for me and to hold long conversations to which, despite the gravity of the subjects discussed, the partial or total nudity of my interlocutors gave a savory simplicity. I ceased moreover to go to this house because, eager to present a token of my goodwill to the woman who kept it and was in need of furniture, I had given her several pieces, notably a big sofa, that I had inherited from my Aunt Léonie. I never used to see them because the lack of space had prevented my parents from taking them in at home and they were stored in a warehouse. But as soon as I saw them again in the house where these women were putting them to their own uses, all the virtues that one had imbibed in the air of my aunt’s room at Combray appeared to me, tortured by the cruel contact to which I had abandoned them in their helplessness!311 Had I violated the dead, I would not have suffered such remorse. I returned no more to the procuress’s, for they seemed to me to be alive and to be appealing to me, like those apparently inanimate objects in a Persian fairy tale, in which imprisoned human souls are undergoing martyrdom and plead for deliverance.312 Moreover, as our memory presents things to us, as a rule, not in their chronological sequence but as it were by a reflection in which the order of the parts is reversed, I remembered only long afterward that it was on that same sofa that, many years before, I had tasted for the first time the pleasures of love with one of my girl cousins, with whom I had not known where to go until she somewhat rashly suggested our taking advantage of a moment in which Aunt Léonie had left her room. Another whole lot of my Aunt Léonie’s things, and notably a magnificent set of old silver plate, I sold, in spite of my parents’ advice to the contrary, in order to have more money to spend and to be able to send more flowers to Mme Swann who would greet me, after receiving an immense basket of orchids, with: “If I were your father, I would have you up before the magistrate for this.”313 How was I to suppose that one day I might especially regret the loss of my silver plate and rank certain other pleasures

311. This is another example of the theme of profanation in the novel. Proust himself gave furniture that he inherited from his parents to Albert Le Cuziat, proprietor of a male brothel frequented by the writer. That furniture must have also suffered similar profanation. See Carter, Marcel Proust, and William C. Carter, Proust in Love (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006). 312. This recalls the Celtic belief mentioned in the madeleine scene and suggests the power of literature, art, and music ultimately to free such prisoners by bringing them back to life, or in the case of music, communicating with them. See Swann’s Way, 50 and notes 84, 85. 313. A “conseil judiciaire” is a kind of legal adviser. The idea here is that such a restraint would protect the family fortune from being squandered.

Madame Swann at Home 167

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower higher than that (which would perhaps have shrunk to absolutely nothing) of bestowing favors on Gilberte’s parents? Similarly, it was with Gilberte in my mind, and in order not to be separated from her, that I had decided not to enter a career of diplomacy abroad. It is always thus, impelled by a state of mind that is destined not to last, that we make our irrevocable decisions. I could scarcely imagine that the strange substance that resided in Gilberte and radiated from her parents and her home, leaving me indifferent to everything else, could be liberated, could migrate into another person. Unquestionably the same substance, and yet one that would have a wholly different effect on me. For the same malady evolves, and a delicious poison can no longer be taken with the same impunity when, with the passing of the years, the heart’s resistance has diminished. My parents meanwhile would have liked to see the intelligence that Bergotte had discerned in me manifest itself in some remarkable piece of work. When I still did not know the Swanns, I thought that I was prevented from working by the state of agitation into which I was thrown by the impossibility of seeing Gilberte when I chose. But now that their door stood open to me, scarcely had I sat down at my desk than I would rise and run to them. And after I had left them and was at home again, my isolation was only apparent, my mind was powerless to swim against the stream of words on which I had allowed myself mechanically to be borne for hours on end. Alone, I continued to fashion remarks such as might have pleased or amused the Swanns, and to make this game more entertaining I myself took the parts of those absent players, I asked myself fictitious questions so chosen that my brilliant witticisms served merely as triumphant repartee. Though conducted in silence, this exercise was nonetheless a conversation and not a meditation, my solitude a mental salon life in which it was not I myself but imaginary interlocutors who controlled my choice of words, and in which as I formulated, in place of the thoughts that I believed to be true, those that came easily to my mind, and involved no introspection from without, I felt

168 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that kind of pleasure, entirely passive, that sitting still affords to anyone who is burdened with a sluggish digestion. Had I been less firmly resolved to set myself definitely to work, I would perhaps have made an effort to begin at once. But since my resolution was absolute, since within twenty-­four hours, in the empty frame of tomorrow in which everything was so well arranged because I myself had not yet entered it, my good intentions would be realized without difficulty, it was better not to select an evening when I was ill disposed for a beginning for which the following days were not, alas, to show themselves any more propitious. But I was reasonable. It would have been puerile, on the part of one who had waited now for years, not to accept a postponement of two or three days. Confident that by the day after tomorrow I would have written several pages, I said not a word more to my parents about my decision; I preferred to remain patient for a few hours and then to bring to a convinced and comforted grandmother a sample of work that was already under way. Unfortunately tomorrow was not that vast, external day that I had looked forward to feverishly. When it drew to a close, my laziness and my painful struggle to overcome certain internal obstacles had simply lasted twenty-­four hours longer. And at the end of several days, my plans not having matured, I had no longer the same hope that they would be realized at once, and therefore no longer the heart to subordinate everything else to their realization: I began again to keep late hours, having no longer, to oblige me to go to bed early on any evening, the certain hope of seeing my work begun the next morning. I needed, before I could recover my creative élan, several days of relaxation, and the only time that my grandmother ventured, in a gentle and disillusioned tone, to frame the reproach: “Well, and that work of yours; aren’t we even to speak of it now?” I resented her intrusion, convinced that in her inability to see that my mind was irrevocably made up, she had further and perhaps for a long time postponed the execution of my task by the shock that her denial of justice to me had given my nerves and under the dominion of which I would not

Madame Swann at Home 169

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 314. “Leader article” (as Proust had it) and “the right man in the right place” are in English in the original.

170 Madame Swann at Home

feel inclined to begin my work. She felt that her skepticism had stumbled blindly on a genuine intention. She apologized, kissing me: “I am sorry; I won’t say another word.” And so that I would not be discouraged, she assured me that, from the day on which I would be quite well again, the work would come of its own accord to boot. Besides, I said to myself, in spending all my time with the Swanns, am I not doing exactly what Bergotte does? To my parents it seemed almost as though, idle as I was, I was leading, since it was spent in the same drawing room as a great writer, the life most favorable to the growth of talent. And yet the assumption that anyone can be dispensed from having to create that talent for himself, from within himself, and can acquire it from someone else, is as impossible as to suppose that a man can keep himself in good health (in spite of neglecting all the rules of hygiene and of indulging in the worst excesses) merely by dining out often in the company of a physician. The person, by the way, who was most completely duped by this illusion, which misled me as well as my parents, was Mme Swann. When I told her that I was unable to come, that I must stay at home and work, she looked as though I were making a great fuss about nothing, that there was something foolish as well as pretentious in what I had said. “But Bergotte is coming, isn’t he? Do you mean that you don’t think what he writes is any good? It will be even better very soon,” she went on, “because he’s more trenchant, more concentrated in newspaper articles than in his books, where he’s apt to pad a bit. I’ve arranged that from now on he’s to do the lead articles in Le Figaro. He’ll definitely be the right man in the right place there.”314 And she added: “Do come; he will tell you better than anyone what you ought to do.” And so, just as one invites a private to meet his colonel, it was in the interests of my career, and as though masterpieces arose out of “getting to know” people, that she told me not to fail to come the next day to dinner with her and Bergotte.

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower And thus no more from the Swanns than from my parents, that is to say from those who, at different times, had seemed bound to place obstacles in my way, was there any further opposition to that pleasant existence in which I might see Gilberte as often as I chose, with enchantment if not with peace of mind. There can be no peace of mind in love, since what one has obtained is never anything but a new starting point for further desires. So long as I had not been able to go to her house, with my eyes fixed on that inaccessible happiness, I could not even imagine the fresh grounds for anxiety that awaited me there. Once the resistance of her parents was broken and the problem solved at last, it began to set itself anew, and each time in different terms. Each evening, on arriving home, I reminded myself that I had things to say to Gilberte of prime importance, things on which our friendship depended, and these things were never the same. But at least I was happy, and no further menace arose to threaten my happiness. One was to appear, alas, from a quarter in which I had never detected any peril, namely from Gilberte and myself. And yet I ought to have been tormented by what, on the contrary, reassured me, by what I mistook for happiness. We are, when we love, in an abnormal state, capable of giving at once to an accident, the most simple in appearance and one that may at any moment occur, a seriousness that the accident by itself would not entail. What makes us so happy is the presence in our heart of an unstable element that we perpetually contrive to maintain and of which we cease almost to be aware so long as it is not displaced. In reality, there is in love a permanent strain of suffering that happiness neutralizes, makes potential only, postpones, but that may at any moment become what it would long since have been had we not obtained what we wanted, sheer agony. On several occasions I sensed that Gilberte was eager to put off my visits. It is true that when I was at all anxious to see her I had only to get myself invited by her parents, who were increasingly persuaded of my excellent influence over her. “Thanks to them,” I thought, “my love is running no risk; the moment I have them on

Madame Swann at Home 171

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower my side, I can set my mind at rest since they have full authority over Gilberte.” Unfortunately, certain signs of impatience that she allowed to escape her when her father had me come to their house, almost against her will, made me wonder whether what I had regarded as a protection for my happiness was not in fact the secret reason why that happiness could not endure. The last time that I came to see Gilberte, it was raining; she had been asked to a dancing lesson in the house of some people whom she knew too slightly to be able to take me there with her. In view of the dampness of the air I had taken rather more caffeine than usual. Perhaps on account of the bad weather, perhaps because she had some objection to the house in which this party was being given, Mme Swann, as her daughter was about to leave, called her back in the sharpest of tones: “Gilberte!” and pointed to me, to indicate that I had come there to see her and that she ought to stay with me. This “Gilberte!” had been uttered, or shouted rather, with the best of intentions toward myself, but from the way in which Gilberte shrugged her shoulders as she took off her outdoor clothes I divined that her mother had unwittingly hastened the evolution, which until then it had perhaps been possible to arrest, that was gradually drawing my friend away from me. “One doesn’t have to go out dancing every day,” Odette told her daughter, with a sagacity acquired no doubt in earlier days from Swann. Then, becoming again Odette, she began speaking to her daughter in English. At once it was as though a wall had sprung up to hide from me a part of the life of Gilberte, as though an evil genius had spirited my friend far away from me. In a language that we know, we have substituted for the opacity of sounds the transparency of ideas. But a language that we do not know is a fortress sealed, within whose walls the one we love is free to betray us, while we, remaining outside and desperately on edge in our impotence, can see, can prevent nothing. So this conversation in English, at which I would have merely smiled a month earlier, interspersed with a few proper names in French, only served to increase and to direct my anxieties, and conducted within a few feet

172 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower of me by two motionless persons, made me suffer as cruelly, left me as much abandoned and alone as the forcible abduction of my companion. At length Mme Swann left us. That day, perhaps from resentment against me, the involuntary cause of her not going out to enjoy herself, perhaps also because, guessing her to be angry with me, I was preemptively colder than usual with her, Gilberte’s face, divested of every sign of joy, bleak, bare, devastated, seemed all afternoon to be devoting a melancholy regret to the pas de quatre315 that my presence prevented her from going to dance, and to be defying every living creature, beginning with myself, to understand the subtle reasons that had produced in her a sentimental attachment to the Boston.316 She confined herself to exchanging with me, now and again, on the weather, the increasing violence of the rain, the fact that the clock was fast, a conversation punctuated with silences and monosyllables, in which I persisted, with a sort of desperate rage, in destroying those moments that we might have devoted to friendship and happiness. And on each of our remarks a sort of supreme harshness was conferred by the paroxysm of their paradoxical insignificance, which at the same time consoled me, for it prevented Gilberte from being taken in by the banality of my observations and the indifference of my tone. In vain did I say: “I thought the other day that the clock was slow, if anything”; she evidently understood me to mean: “How unkind you are!” Obstinately as I might protract, over the whole length of that rainy day, the dull cloud of words through which no fitful ray shone, I knew that my coldness was not so unalterably fixed as I pretended, and that Gilberte must be fully aware that if, after already saying it to her three times, I had hazarded a fourth repetition of the statement that the evenings were drawing in, I would have had difficulty in restraining myself from bursting into tears. When she was like this, when no smile filled her eyes or unveiled her face, I cannot describe the devastating monotony that stamped her melancholy eyes and sullen features. Her face, grown almost livid, reminded me then of those dreary beaches where the sea, ebbing far out, wearies one with its faint shimmering, every-

315. A pas de quatre is a dance for four performers. 316. In the early 1880s, the Boston, also known as the Boston américain, became popular in France. It is also known as the American waltz and has a slow waltz rhythm.

Madame Swann at Home 173

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower where the same, encircled by an immutable and low horizon. At length, seeing no sign in Gilberte of the happy change for which I had been waiting now for some hours, I told her that she was not being nice. “It is you who are not being nice,” was her answer. “Yes, I am!” I asked myself what I could have done, and finding no answer, put the question to her. “Naturally, you think you’re nice!” she said to me with a laugh, and went on laughing. Whereupon I felt all the anguish that there was for me in not being able to reach that other, more elusive perceptible plane of her mind indicated by her laughter. That laughter seemed to mean: “No, no, I’m not going to let myself be taken in by anything that you say, I know you’re mad about me, but that leaves me neither hot nor cold, because I don’t care for you at all.” But I told myself that, after all, laughter was not a language so well defined that I could be certain of understanding what this laugh really meant. And Gilberte’s words were affectionate. “But how am I not being nice?” I asked her. “Tell me; I’ll do anything you want.” “No; that would be useless. I can’t explain.” For a moment I was afraid that she thought that I did not love her, and this was for me a fresh agony, no less acute, but one that required a different dialectic. “If you knew how much you were hurting me, you would tell me.” But this pain that, had she doubted my love for her, ought to have delighted her, seemed instead to irritate her. Then, realizing my mistake, making up my mind to pay no more attention to what she said, letting her (without believing her) assure me: “I really did love you; you’ll see one day” (that day on which the guilty are convinced that their innocence will be made clear, and which, for some mysterious reason, never happens to be the day on which their evidence is taken), I suddenly had the courage to make a resolution not to see her again, and without announcing it to her yet since she would not have believed me. Grief that is caused by a person one loves can be bitter, even when it is introduced into preoccupations, occupations, pleasures in which that person is not involved and from which our attention is diverted only now and again to return to it. But when

174 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower such a grief has its birth—as was now happening—at a moment when the happiness of seeing that person fills us to the exclusion of all else, the sharp depression that then affects our spirits, sunny hitherto, sustained and calm, lets loose in us a raging tempest against which we do not know whether we are capable of struggling to the end. The tempest that was blowing in my heart was so violent that I made my way home shaken, battered, feeling that I could recover my breath only by retracing my steps, by returning, on whatever pretext, into Gilberte’s presence. But she would have said to herself: “Back again! Evidently I can do what I like with him; he will come back every time and the more miserable he is when he leaves me the more docile he’ll be.” Besides, I was irresistibly drawn toward her by thoughts, and those alternative orientations, that mad spinning of my inner compass, persisted after I had reached home and expressed themselves in the mutually contradictory letters that I began to draft to Gilberte. I was about to pass through one of those difficult crises we generally find that we have to face at various stages in life and which, although there has been no change in our character, in our nature—our nature that creates our loves, and almost creates the women we love, and even their faults—we do not face in the same way on each occasion, that is to say at every age. At such moments our life is divided, and so to speak distributed over a pair of scales, in two counterpoised pans that between them contain it all. In one there is our desire not to displease, not to appear too humble to the person we love without being able to understand her, but whom we find it more cunning at times to appear almost to disregard so she will not have the sense of being indispensable that may turn her from us; in the other pan there is a feeling of pain— and one that is not localized and partial only—that cannot be appeased unless, abandoning every thought of pleasing the woman and of making her believe that we can do without her, we go at once to find her. If we withdraw from the pan wherein lies our pride a small quantity of the willpower that we have weakly allowed to exhaust itself with age, if we add to the pan that holds

Madame Swann at Home 175

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower our suffering a physical pain that we have acquired and allowed to worsen, then, instead of the courageous solution that would have carried the day at twenty, it is the other, grown too heavy and insufficiently counterbalanced, that crushes us at fifty. All the more because situations, while repeating themselves, tend to alter, and there is every likelihood that, in middle life or in old age, we will have had the harmful complacency of complicating our love by an element of habit that adolescence, detained by other duties, less master of itself, has never known. I had just written Gilberte a letter in which I allowed my fury to thunder, not, however, without throwing her the life preserver of a few words placed as though by accident on the page, by clinging to which my friend might be brought to a reconciliation; a moment later, the wind having changed, I addressed to her phrases full of love, chosen for the sweetness of certain forlorn expressions, those “nevermores” so touching to those who pen them, so wearisome to the one who will read them, whether she believes them to be false and translates “nevermore” by “this very evening, if you want me,” or believes them to be true and so to be breaking the news to her of one of those final separations that make so little difference in life when the other person is one with whom we are not in love. But since we are incapable while we are in love of acting as fit predecessors of the person whom we will presently have become and who then will be in love no longer, how are we to imagine the actual state of mind of a woman whom, even though we knew that we meant nothing to her, we have perpetually represented in our reveries as uttering, in order to lull us into a happy dream or to console us for a great sorrow, the very words that she would say if she loved us. Faced with the thoughts, the actions of a woman whom we love, we are as completely at a loss as must have been, face to face with the phenomena of nature, the first physicists, before their science had been elaborated and had cast a ray of light over the unknown. Or, worse still, we are like a person in whose mind the law of causality barely exists, a person who would be incapable, therefore, of establishing any connection

176 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower between one phenomenon and another, to whose eyes the spectacle of the world would appear as unstable as a dream. Of course I made efforts to emerge from this incoherence, to find reasons for things. I tried even to be “objective” and, to that end, to bear well in mind the disproportion that existed between the importance Gilberte had in my eyes and the one, not only that I had in hers, but that she herself had in the eyes of other people, a disproportion that, had I failed to remark it, might have made me mistake mere friendliness on my friend’s part for a passionate avowal, and a grotesque and debasing display on my own for the simple and graceful impulse that directs us toward a pretty face. But I was afraid also of falling into the contrary error, in which I would have seen Gilberte’s late arrival for a rendezvous or a burst of bad temper as an irremediable hostility. I tried to discover between these two perspectives, equally distorting, a third that would enable me to see things as they really were; the calculations I was obliged to make to that end helped to take my mind off my sufferings; and whether in obedience to the laws of arithmetic or because I had made them give me the answer that I desired, I decided the following day to go to the Swanns’, happy, but happy in the same way as people who, having long been tormented by the thought of a voyage that they did not wish to take, go no farther than to the train station and then return home to unpack their suitcases. And since, while one is hesitating, the mere idea of a possible resolution (unless one has rendered that idea sterile by deciding that there will be no resolution) develops, like a seed in the ground, the lineaments, every detail of the emotions that will spring from the execution of the action, I told myself that it had been quite absurd of me to make myself suffer so much by planning never to see Gilberte again, as if I had really intended to put that plan into effect, and that since, on the contrary, I was to end by returning to her side, I might have spared myself all those painful velleities and acceptances. But this resumption of friendly relations lasted no longer than it took me to reach the Swanns’; not because their butler, who was really fond of me, told me that

Madame Swann at Home 177

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 317. The first X-­ray was produced by German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen on November 8, 1895.

178 Madame Swann at Home

Gilberte had gone out (a statement the truth of which I learned, as it happened, the same evening, from people who had seen her somewhere), but because of the manner in which he said it. “Monsieur, Mademoiselle is not at home; I can assure you, Monsieur, that I am speaking the truth. If Monsieur wishes to make any inquiries I can send for Mademoiselle’s maid. You know very well, Monsieur, that I would do everything in my power to oblige you, and that if Mademoiselle was at home, I would take you to her at once.” These words being of the only kind that is really important, that is to say spontaneous, the kind that gives us an X-­ray317 showing the main points, at least, of the unimaginable reality that would be wholly concealed beneath a prepared speech, proved that in Gilberte’s entourage there was the impression that she found me importunate; and so, scarcely had the butler uttered them than they had aroused in me a hatred of which I preferred to make him rather than Gilberte the victim; he drew on his own head all the angry feelings that I might have had for my friend; freed from these, thanks to his words, my love subsisted alone; but his words had, at the same time, shown me that I must cease for the present to attempt to see Gilberte. She would be certain to write to me to apologize. In spite of which, I would not return at once to see her, in order to prove to her that I was capable of living without her. Besides, once I had received her letter, Gilberte’s society would be a thing with which I could more easily dispense for a time, since I would be certain of finding her ready to receive me whenever I chose. All that I needed in order to bear with less sorrow a voluntary separation was to feel that my heart was rid of the terrible uncertainty as to whether we were not estranged forever, whether she had not become engaged, left Paris, been taken away by force. The days that followed resembled the first week of that former New Year that I had had to spend without Gilberte. But when that week had ended long ago, for one thing my friend would be coming again to the Champs-­Élysées, I would be seeing her as before; I had been sure of that; and for another thing, I had known with no less certainty that so long as the New Year holidays

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower lasted, there was no point in my going to the Champs-­Élysées, so that during that miserable week, which was already long past, I had endured my sorrow with a quiet mind because it was mixed with neither fear nor hope. Now, on the contrary, it was the latter of these that, almost as much as fear, rendered intolerable the burden of my grief. Not having had a letter from Gilberte that evening, I had attributed this to her negligence, to her other occupations, I did not doubt that I would find something from her in the morning’s mail. This I awaited, every day, with a throbbing heart that subsided, leaving me despondent, when I had found in it only letters from people who were not Gilberte, or else nothing at all, which was no worse, the proofs of another’s friendship making all the more cruel those of her indifference. I transferred my hopes to the afternoon mail.318 Even between the times at which letters were delivered I dared not leave the house, for she might be sending hers by a messenger. Then, the time coming at last when neither the postman nor a footman from the Swanns’ could possibly appear that night, I had to postpone until the following day my hope of being reassured, and thus, because I believed that my sufferings would not last, I was obliged, so to speak, incessantly to renew them. My disappointment was perhaps the same, but instead of just uniformly prolonging, as in former times, an initial emotion, it began again several times daily, starting each time with an emotion so frequently renewed that it ended—it, so purely physical, so instantaneous a state—by becoming stabilized, so that the strain of waiting having hardly time to subside before a new reason for waiting supervened, there was no longer a single minute in the day in which I was not in that state of anxiety too difficult to bear even for an hour. So my suffering was infinitely more cruel than in those New Year holidays long ago, because this time there was in me, instead of the acceptance, pure and simple, of that suffering, the hope, at every moment, of seeing it end. And yet at this state of acceptance I ultimately arrived; then I understood that it must be definitive, and I renounced Gilberte forever, in the interests of my love itself and

318. In the France of Proust’s time, there were two mail deliveries each day.

Madame Swann at Home 179

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower because I hoped above all that she would not retain a disdainful memory of me. Indeed, from that moment, so that she would not be led to suppose any sort of lover’s spite on my part, when she made appointments for me to see her I used often to accept them and then, at the last moment, write to her that I could not come, but with the same protestations of my disappointment that I would have made to anyone whom I had no desire to see. These expressions of regret that we ordinarily reserve for people who do not matter, would do more, I imagined, to persuade Gilberte of my indifference than would the tone of indifference that we affect only toward those whom we love. When, better than by mere words, by a course of action indefinitely repeated, I would have proved to her that I had no appetite for seeing her, perhaps she would discover once again an appetite for seeing me. Alas! I was doomed to failure; to attempt, by ceasing to see her, to reawaken in her that inclination to see me was to lose her forever; first of all because, when it began to revive, if I wanted it to last I must not give way to it at once; besides, the most agonizing hours would then have passed; it was at this very moment that she was indispensable to me and I would have liked to be able to warn her that what presently she would assuage, by seeing me again, would be a grief so far diminished as to be no longer (as it would still be at this very moment), and in order to put an end to it, a motive for surrender, reconciliation, and further meetings. And later on, when I would at last be able safely to confess to Gilberte (so far would her liking for me have regained its strength) my liking for her, not having been able to resist the strain of so long a separation, would have ceased to exist; I would have become indifferent to Gilberte. I knew this, but I could not explain it to her; she would have assumed that if I was claiming that I would cease to love her if I remained for too long without seeing her, that was solely in order that she might summon me back to her at once. In the meantime, what made it easier for me to sentence myself to this separation was the fact that (in order to make it quite clear to her that despite my protestations to the contrary it was my own

180 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower free will and not any conflicting engagement, not the state of my health that prevented me from seeing her), whenever I knew beforehand that Gilberte would not be at home, was going out with a friend and would not return for dinner, I went to see Mme Swann (who had once more become to me what she had been at the time when I had such difficulty in seeing her daughter and on days when the latter was not coming to the Champs-­Élysées, I used to go walk along the allée des Acacias). In this way I would hear about Gilberte and could be certain that she would in due course hear about me, and in terms that would show her that I was not interested in her. And I found, as all those who suffer find, that my melancholy condition might have been worse. For, being free at any time to enter the dwelling in which Gilberte lived, I constantly told myself, although I was firmly resolved not to use that privilege, that if ever my pain grew too sharp I could always make it cease. I was unhappy only for one day at a time. And even that is saying too much. How many times in an hour (but now without that anxious expectancy that had strained my every nerve in the first weeks after our quarrel, before I had gone again to the Swanns’) did I not recite to myself the words of the letter that, one day soon, Gilberte would surely send, would perhaps even bring to me herself! The constant vision of that imagined happiness helped me to endure the destruction of my real happiness. With women who do not love us, as with the “dear departed,” the knowledge that there is no hope left does not prevent us from continuing to wait. We live on the alert, attentive to the slightest sound; the mother whose son has gone to sea on some dangerous voyage of discovery imagines him at every moment, and even though the certainty of his having perished has long been established, striding into the room, saved by a miracle and in the best of health. And this waiting, according to the strength of her memory and the resistance of her bodily organs, either helps her on her journey through the years, at the end of which she will be able to endure the knowledge that her son is no more, to forget gradually and to survive his loss—or else it kills her. On the other

Madame Swann at Home 181

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 319. Choufleury is an allusion to M. Choufleuri restera chez lui le . . . (M. Caulliflower will be at home on . . .), an opera bouffe (1861) by Jacques Offenbach (1819–80) with words by Charles-­Auguste-­Louis-­ Joseph, Duc de Morny (1811–65), who wrote it under the pseudonym M. de St. Rémy. The work is about an unsuccessful attempt by the bourgeois Choufleuri to put on a large elegant reception.

182 Madame Swann at Home

hand, my chagrin found some consolation in the idea that my love must profit by it. Each visit that I paid to Mme Swann without seeing Gilberte was painful to me, but I felt that it correspondingly enhanced the idea that Gilberte had of me. Besides, if I always took care, before going to see Mme Swann, that there would be no risk of her daughter’s appearing, this arose perhaps as much from my determination to break with her as from the hope of reconciliation that overlay my intention to renounce her (very few of such intentions are absolute, at least in a continuous form, in this human soul of ours, one of whose laws, made stronger by the unexpected flood of different memories, is intermittence), and hid from me all that in it was unbearably cruel. As for that hope, I saw clearly that it was chimerical. I was like a pauper who moistens his dry crust with fewer tears if he assures himself that at any moment a total stranger is perhaps going to leave him his entire fortune. We are all of us obliged, if we are to make reality endurable, to nurse a few little follies in ourselves. And my hope remained more intact—while at the same time our separation became more effectual—if I refrained from seeing Gilberte. If I had found myself face to face with her in her mother’s drawing room, we might perhaps have exchanged irrevocable words that would have rendered our breach final, killed my hope and, on the other hand, by creating a new anxiety, reawakened my love and made resignation harder. Long ago and before I had even thought of breaking with her daughter, Mme Swann had said to me: “It’s all very well your coming to see Gilberte, but I would also like you to come sometimes for my sake, not to my ‘Choufleury,’319 which would bore you because there’s such a crowd, but on the other days, when you will always find me at home, if you come fairly late.” So that I might be thought, when I came to see her, to be yielding only after a long resistance to a wish that she had expressed in the past. And very late in the afternoon, when it was already dark, almost at the hour at which my parents would be sitting down to dinner, I would set out to pay Mme Swann a visit during the course of

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower which I knew that I would not see Gilberte and yet would be thinking only of her. In that quarter, then considered remote, of a Paris darker than Paris is today, where even in the center there was no electric light in the public thoroughfares and very little in private houses, the lamps of a drawing room situated on the ground level or a low mezzanine (as were the rooms in which Mme Swann usually received her visitors) sufficed to illuminate the street and make the passerby raise his eyes, connecting with their glow, as with its apparent though hidden cause, the presence outside the door of a string of smart broughams. This passerby was led to believe, not without a certain excitement, that a modification had been effected in this mysterious cause, when he saw one of the carriages begin to move; but it was merely a coachman who, fearing that his horses might catch cold, started them now and again on a brisk walk, all the more impressive because the rubber-­tired wheels gave the sound of their hooves a background of silence from which it stood out more distinct and more explicit. The “winter garden,” of which in those days the passerby generally caught a glimpse, in whatever street he might be walking, if the apartment did not stand too high above the sidewalk, is to be seen today only in photogravures in the gift books of P.-­J. Stahl,320 where, in contrast to the infrequent floral decorations of the Louis XVI drawing rooms now in fashion—a single rose or a Japanese iris in a long-­necked vase of crystal into which it would be impossible to squeeze a second—it seems, because of the profusion of indoor plants that people had then, and of the absolute lack of stylization in their arrangement, as though it must have responded in the ladies whose houses it adorned to some lively and delightful passion for botany rather than to any cold concern for lifeless decoration. It suggested to one, only on a larger scale, in the houses of those days, those minuscule, portable hothouses laid out on New Year’s morning beneath the lighted lamp—for the children were always too impatient to wait for daylight—among all the other New Year’s presents but the loveliest of them all, consoling you with its real plants that you could tend as they grew, for

320. P.-­J. Stahl is the pseudonym of Pierre-­Jules Hetzel (1814–86), author of stories for children, including the series of illustrated books about Mlle Lili, mentioned by the Narrator just below. The Mlle Lili series was very popular beginning in 1862 with La Journée de Mlle Lili. In one of the books, Mademoiselle Lili aux Champs-­Élysées (1891), Lili, like Gilberte, plays games and eats barley sugar with her girlfriends. À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 1: 582, n. 2. Stahl was also an editor and publisher and is best known today for his lavishly illustrated editions of Jules Verne’s stories.

Madame Swann at Home 183

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the bareness of the winter soil; and even more than those little houses themselves, those winter gardens were like the hothouse that the children could see there at the same time, portrayed in a beautiful book, another New Year’s present, and one that, although it was given not to the children but to Mlle Lili, the heroine of the story, enchanted them to such a point that even now, when they are almost old men and women, they ask themselves whether, in those fortunate years, winter was not the loveliest of the seasons. And finally, beyond the winter garden, through the various kinds of arborescence that from the street made the lighted window appear like the glass front of one of those children’s hothouses, pictured or real, the passerby, drawing himself up on tiptoe, would generally observe a man in a frock coat, a gardenia or a carnation in his buttonhole, standing before a seated lady, both vaguely outlined like two intaglios cut in a topaz, in the depths of the drawing room atmosphere cloudily ambered by the samovar—then a recent importation—with steam that may be escaping from it still today, but to which, if it does, we are grown so accustomed now that no one notices it. Mme Swann attached great importance to her “tea”; she thought that she showed her originality and expressed her charm when she said to a man, “You will find me at home any day, fairly late; come to tea,” so that she accompanied with a subtle and delicate smile these words pronounced with a fleeting trace of English accent, and that her interlocutor duly noted, bowing solemnly, as though the invitation had been something important and singular that commanded deference and required attention. There was another reason, apart from those given already, for the flowers’ having more than a merely ornamental significance in Mme Swann’s drawing room, and this reason pertained not to the period but, in some degree, to the former life of Odette. A great courtesan, such as she had been, lives largely for her lovers, that is to say at home, which may lead her to live for her home. The things that one sees in the house of a respectable woman, things that may of course appear to her also to be of importance, are those that are in any case

184 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower of the utmost importance to the courtesan. The culminating point of her day is not the moment in which she dresses herself for all the world to see, but that in which she undresses herself for a man. She must be as elegant in her dressing gown, in her nightgown, as in her outdoor attire. Other women display their jewels, but she lives in the intimacy of her pearls. This kind of existence imposes on her the obligation, and ends by giving her the taste, for a luxury that is secret, that is to say, one that comes close to being disinterested. Mme Swann extended this to include her flowers. There was always beside her armchair an immense crystal bowl filled entirely with Parma violets or with long white daisy petals scattered on the water, that seemed to testify, in the eyes of the arriving guest, to some favorite and interrupted occupation, such as the cup of tea that Mme Swann might have been drinking there alone for her own pleasure; an occupation more intimate still and more mysterious, so much so that one felt impelled to apologize on seeing the flowers exposed there by her side, as one would have apologized for looking at the title of the still open book that would have revealed what she had just been reading—and so, perhaps, what was now in the mind of Odette. And unlike the book, the flowers were living things; one was embarrassed, if one entered the room to pay Mme Swann a visit, to discover that she was not alone, or if one came home with her, not to find the drawing room empty, so enigmatic a place and intimately associated with hours in the life of their mistress of which one knew nothing, did those flowers assume, those flowers that had not been arranged for Odette’s visitors but, as it were, forgotten there by her, had held and would hold with her again private conversations that one was afraid of disturbing, the secret of which one tried in vain to read, fastening one’s eyes on the washed-­out, liquid, mauve, and dissolute color of the Parma violets. By the end of October, Odette would begin to come home with the utmost punctuality for tea, which was still known at that time as five-­o’clock tea,321 having once heard it said (and being fond of repeating) that if Mme Verdurin had been able to form a salon it was because people were always certain of

321. “Five-­o’clock tea” is in English in the original.

Madame Swann at Home 185

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 322. Italian phrase meaning without strictness, freely. 323. Julie-­Jeanne-­Élénore de Lespinasse (1732–76) was a society hostess famous for her wit. In 1754, she became a companion to Marie, Marquise du Deffand (1697–1780), who had become blind and employed her as a reader. Mme du Deffand (1697–1780) was one of the most celebrated women of her century; her salon was frequented by the highest society and by the philo­ sophes. Mlle Lespinasse left her in 1764 and established a rival salon, taking many of Mme du Deffand’s faithful with her, including some of the most illustrious encyclopedists, such as d’Alembert, Turgot, and Condorcet. This defection led to a quarrel between the ladies and caused much perturbation in the literary world. 324. Mousseline de soie is a silk muslin with a crisp finish.

186 Madame Swann at Home

finding her at home at the same hour. She imagined that she herself had one also, of the same kind, but freer, senza rigore,322 as she liked to say. She saw herself figuring thus as a sort of Lespinasse, and believed that she had founded a rival salon by taking, à la du Deffand,323 from the little group several of her most attractive men, notably Swann himself, who had followed her in her secession and her retreat, according to a version that one can understand how she might succeed in making it credible to the newcomers, ignorant of the past, though without convincing herself. But certain favorite roles are played by us so often before the public and rehearsed so carefully when we are alone that we find it easier to refer to their fictitious testimony than to that of a reality we have almost entirely forgotten. On days when Mme Swann had not left the house, one found her in a crêpe de Chine dressing gown, white as the first snows of winter, or, it might be, in one of those long pleated mousseline de soie324 garments, which seemed nothing more than a shower of white or rosy petals, and would be regarded today as hardly suitable for winter, though quite wrongly. For these light fabrics and soft colors gave to a woman—in the stifling warmth of the drawing rooms of those days, with their heavily curtained doors, rooms of which the most elegant thing that the society novelists of the time could find to say was that they were “cozily padded”—the same chilly air they gave to the roses that were able to stay in the room there beside her, despite the winter, in the glowing flesh tints of their nudity, as though it were already spring. Because of the muffling of all sound by the carpets and her withdrawal into an alcove, the lady of the house, not being apprised of your entry as she is today, would continue to read almost until you were standing before her, which enhanced still further that sense of the romantic, that charm of a sort of secret discovery, that we find again today in the memory of those gowns, already out of fashion even then, which Mme Swann was perhaps alone in not having discarded, and which give us the feeling that the woman who wore them must

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower have been the heroine of a novel because most of us have scarcely set eyes on them outside the pages of certain novels by Henry Gréville.325 Odette had now in her drawing room, at the beginning of winter, chrysanthemums of enormous size and a variety of colors such as Swann, in the old days, certainly never saw in her drawing room in the rue La Pérouse. My admiration for them— when I went to pay Mme Swann one of those melancholy visits during which, prompted by my chagrin, I discovered in her all the mysterious poetry of her character as the mother of that Gilberte to whom she would say the following day: “Your friend came to see me,”—sprang, no doubt, from my sense that, pale pink like the Louis XV silk that covered her chairs, snow-­white like her crêpe de Chine dressing gown, or of a metallic red like her samovar, they superimposed on the decoration of the drawing room a supplementary decoration, as rich, as delicate in its coloring, but one that was alive and would last only a few days. But I was touched to find that these chrysanthemums appeared less ephemeral than relatively durable compared with the tones, as pink, as coppery, that the setting sun exalts so sumptuously in the mists of a late November afternoon, and which, after seeing them fading from the sky before I had entered Mme Swann’s house, I found again inside, prolonged, transposed in the flaming palette of the flowers. Like the fires caught and fixed by a great colorist from the impermanence of the atmosphere and the sun, so that they would enter and adorn a human dwelling, they invited me, those chrysanthemums, to put away all my sorrows and to taste with a greedy rapture during that teatime hour the too-­ fleeting pleasures of November, of which they set ablaze all around me the intimate and mysterious splendor. Alas, it was not in the conversations I heard that I could hope to attain such splendor; they had but little in common with it. Even with Mme Cottard, and although it was growing late, Mme Swann would assume her most caressing manner to say: “Oh, no, it’s not late, really; you mustn’t look at the clock; that’s not the right time; it’s stopped; what can you pos-

325. Henry Gréville is the pseudonym of novelist Alice Fleury Durand (1842– 1902). The daughter of a professor, she accompanied her father to Saint Petersburg. She was a prolific writer; many of her novels, such as Dosia and L’Expiation de Savéli (both 1876), depict Russian society.

Madame Swann at Home 187

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 326. For the origin of Vatel as a synonym for chef or cook, see note 74.

188 Madame Swann at Home

sibly have to do now that’s so urgent?” as she pressed a final tartlet on the professor’s wife, who was gripping her card case in readiness for flight. “One simply can’t tear oneself away from this house!” observed Mme Bontemps to Mme Swann, while Mme Cottard, in her astonishment at hearing her own thought put into words, exclaimed: “Why, that’s just what I always say to myself, in my little commonsensible way, in my heart of hearts!” winning the approval of the gentlemen from the Jockey Club, who had been profuse in their salutations, as though astounded at such an honor, when Mme Swann had introduced them to this by no means amiable petite bourgeoise, who, when confronted with Odette’s brilliant friends, remained reserved, if not on what she herself called “the defensive,” for she always used stately language to describe the simplest things. “I would never have suspected it,” said Mme Swann to Mme Cottard, “three Wednesdays running you’ve let me down.” “That’s quite true, Odette; it’s simply ages, it’s an eternity since I saw you last. You see I plead guilty; but I must tell you,” she went on with a vague and prudish air, for although a doctor’s wife, she would never have dared to speak without periphrasis of rheumatism or nephritic colic “that I have had a lot of little troubles. As we all have, I dare say. And besides that I’ve had a crisis among my male domestics. I’m no more imbued with a sense of my own authority than most ladies; still, I’ve been obliged, just to make an example, to give my Vatel326 notice; I believe he was looking anyway for a more lucrative place. But his departure nearly brought about the resignation of my entire ministry. My chambermaid refused to stay in the house a moment longer; oh, we have had some Homeric scenes. However, I held fast to the rudder through thick and thin; the whole affair’s been a veritable lesson that won’t be lost on me, I can tell you. I’m afraid I’m boring you with all these stories about servants, but you know as well as I do what a business it is when one is obliged to set about rearranging one’s personnel. Aren’t we to see anything of your delicious daughter?” she asked. “No, my delicious

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower daughter is dining with a friend,” replied Mme Swann, and then, turning to me: “I believe she’s written to you, asking you to come and see her tomorrow. And your babies?”327 she asked the professor’s wife. I breathed a sigh of relief. Mme Swann’s words, which proved to me that I could see Gilberte whenever I chose, gave me precisely the comfort that I had come to seek and that, at the time, made my visits to Mme Swann so necessary. “No, I’ll write a note to her this evening. Besides, Gilberte and I can no longer see one another,” I added, pretending to attribute our separation to some mysterious agency, which gave me a further illusion of love, sustained as well by the affectionate way in which I spoke of Gilberte and she of me. “You know, she’s simply devoted to you,” said Mme Swann. “Really, you won’t come tomorrow?” Suddenly a feeling of elation ran through me; the thought had just struck me: “After all, why shouldn’t I, since it’s her own mother who suggests it?” But at once I fell back into my sadness. I now feared that on seeing me again, Gilberte might think that my indifference of late had been feigned and I thought it wiser to prolong our separation. During these asides Mme Bontemps had been complaining of the insufferable dullness of politicians’ wives, for she affected to find everyone too deadly or too stupid for words, and to deplore her husband’s official position. “Do you mean to say you can shake hands with fifty doctors’ wives, like that, one after the other?” she said to Mme Cottard, who, unlike her, was full of benevolence toward everyone and determined to do her duty in every respect. “Ah! you’re a brave woman! You see, in my case, at the ministry, of course, I do have my duties, naturally. Well, it’s too much for me, I can tell you; you know what those officials’ wives are like, I can’t help sticking my tongue out at them. And my niece Albertine is just like me. You really wouldn’t believe how insolent that girl is. Last week, during my ‘at home,’ I had the wife of the undersecretary of state for finance, who told us that she knew nothing at all about cooking. ‘But surely, Madame,’ my niece chimed in with her most winning smile, ‘you ought to know everything about it, since your father was a scullion.’” “Oh, I do

327. “Babys” is in English in the original.

Madame Swann at Home 189

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 328. “Home” is in English in the original. Mme Swann is suggesting that Mme Cottard have a private little area in her house to which she can retreat. 329. In mythology, Olympus is the Greek mountain that was the residence of the gods.

190 Madame Swann at Home

love that story; I think it’s simply exquisite!” cried Mme Swann. “But certainly on the doctor’s consultation days you should make a point of having a little home,328 with your flowers and books and all your pretty things,” she urged Mme Cottard. “Straight out like that! Bang! Right in the face; bang! She made no bones about it, I can tell you! And she didn’t give me a word of warning, the little minx; she’s as cunning as a monkey. You are lucky to be able to hold yourself back; I do envy people who can hide what’s in their minds.” “But I’ve no need to do that, Mme Bontemps; I’m not so hard to please,” Mme Cottard gently expostulated. “For one thing, I’m not in such a privileged position as you,” she went on, slightly raising her voice as was her custom, as though she were underlining the point of her remark, whenever she slipped into the conversation any of those delicate courtesies, those skillful flatteries that won her the admiration and assisted the career of her husband. “And besides I’m only too glad to do anything that can be of use to the professor.” “But, Madame, it isn’t what one’s glad to do; it’s what one is able to do! I expect you’re not highly strung. Do you know, whenever I see the war minister’s wife grimacing, I start imitating her at once. It’s a dreadful thing to have a temperament like mine.” “Ah, yes,” said Mme Cottard, “I’ve heard people say that she has a tic; my husband knows someone else who occupies a very high position, and naturally, when gentlemen get talking together . . .” “And then, don’t you know, Madame, it’s just the same with the chief of protocol, who’s a hunchback. Whenever he comes to see me, before he’s been in the room five minutes my fingers are itching to stroke his hump. My husband says I’ll cost him his post. What if I do! To hell with the ministry! Yes, to hell with the ministry! I would like to have that printed as a motto on my notepaper. I can see I’m shocking you, because you’re so good, but I must say there’s nothing that amuses me like a little devilry now and then. Life would be dreadfully monotonous without it.” And she went on talking about the ministry all the time, as though it had been Mount Olympus.329 To change the subject,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Mme Swann turned to Mme Cottard: “But you’re looking very elegant today. Redfern fecit? ”330 “No, you know, I always swear by Raudnitz.331 Besides, it’s only an old thing I’ve had done up.” “Really? Well, it’s very chic!” “Guess how much . . . No, change the first figure!” “Why, but that’s nothing; that’s giving it away. I was told three times that at least.” “That’s how History comes to be written,” concluded the doctor’s wife. And pointing to a neck ribbon that had been a present from Mme Swann: “Look, Odette! Do you recognize this?” Through the gap between a pair of curtains a head peeped with ceremonious deference, making a playful pretense of being afraid of disturbing the party; it was Swann. “Odette, the Prince d’Agrigente, who is with me in my study, wants to know if he may pay his respects to you. What am I to tell him?” “Why, that I’ll be delighted,” Odette replied, secretly flattered, but without losing anything of the composure that came to her all the more easily since she had always, even as a cocotte, been accustomed to entertain men of fashion. Swann disappeared to deliver the message, and would presently return with the prince, unless in the meantime Mme Verdurin had arrived. When he married Odette, Swann had insisted on her ceasing to frequent the little clan. (He had several good reasons for this stipulation, and even if he had had none, he would have made it just the same in obedience to a law of ingratitude that admits of no exception, and proves that every go-­ between is either lacking in foresight or else singularly disinterested.) He had conceded only that Odette and Mme Verdurin might exchange visits once a year, and even this seemed excessive to some of the faithful, indignant at the insult offered to the Mistress who for so many years had treated Odette and even Swann himself as the spoiled children of her house. For if it contained false brethren who failed her332 on certain evenings in order that they might secretly accept an invitation from Odette, ready, in the event of discovery, with the excuse that they were curious to meet Bergotte (although the Mistress assured them that he never

330. “Redfern fecit” combines English and Latin: “Did Redfern make it?” John Redfern (1820–95) was a noted English couturier whose Paris salon was located at 242, rue de Rivoli. 331. Ernest Raudnitz was a couturier whose salon was located at 8, rue Royale. 332. We remember from Swann in Love that Mme Verdurin insists that the members of her salon never miss one of her evenings.

Madame Swann at Home 191

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 333. This is a humorous allusion to either the Great Schism of 1054 between the Eastern and Western Churches or the division in the Western Church by the creation of antipopes (1378–1417). 334. Mme Verdurin is referring to monarchists who oppose the democratic form of government. 335. Ten just men is apparently a reference to Abraham’s question to God about the destruction of Sodom. Abraham persuades God to spare the city if as few as ten righteous men can be found in it. Genesis 18:16–33. “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” Genesis 19:24.

192 Madame Swann at Home

went to the Swanns’ and was totally devoid of talent, in spite of which she was making the most strenuous efforts, to use one of her favorite expressions, to attract him), the little group also had its “ultras.” And these, though ignorant of the particular decorums that often dissuade people from the extreme attitude one would like to see them adopt in order to annoy someone else, would have wished Mme Verdurin but had never managed to prevail on her to sever all connection with Odette, and thus deprive Odette of the satisfaction of saying with a laugh: “We very seldom go to the Mistress’s now, since the Schism.333 It was all very well while my husband was still a bachelor, but when one is married, you know, it isn’t always so easy . . . If you must know, M. Swann can’t abide old Mme Verdurin, and he wouldn’t much like the idea of my going there regularly as I used to. And I, dutiful spouse, don’t you see . . .” Swann would accompany his wife to their annual evening there but would take care not to be in the room when Mme Verdurin came to call on Odette. And so, if the Mistress was in the drawing room, the Prince d’Agrigente would enter it alone. Alone, too, he was presented to her by Odette, who preferred that Mme Verdurin not hear the names of her humbler guests and, by seeing more than one strange face in the room, be led to believe that she was mixing with the cream of the aristocracy, a device that proved so successful that Mme Verdurin said to her husband that evening with profound contempt: “Charming people, her friends! I met all the fine flower of the Reaction!”334 Odette was living, with respect to Mme Verdurin, under the opposite illusion. Not that the latter’s salon had even begun, at that time, to develop into what we will one day see it become. Mme Verdurin had not yet reached the period of incubation in which one dispenses with the big parties where the rare brilliant specimens recently acquired would be swamped by the rabble, and one prefers to wait until the generative force of the ten just men335 whom one has succeeded in attracting will have multiplied those ten seventyfold. As Odette was not to be long now in doing, Mme Verdurin did indeed entertain the idea of “society” as her final objective, but her zone of

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower attack was as yet so restricted, and moreover so remote from that in which Odette had some chance of arriving at an identical goal, of breaking through, that the latter remained absolutely ignorant of the strategic plans that the Mistress was elaborating. And it was with the most perfect sincerity that Odette, when anyone spoke to her of Mme Verdurin as a snob, would answer, laughing, “Oh, no, quite the opposite! For one thing, she never gets a chance of being a snob; she doesn’t know anyone. And then, to do her justice, I must say that she seems quite pleased not to know anyone. No, what she likes are her Wednesdays, and pleasant conversationalists.” And in her heart of hearts she envied Mme Verdurin (although she did not despair of having herself, in so eminent a school, succeeded in acquiring them) those arts to which the Mistress attached such paramount importance, although they do no more than discriminate between shades of the nonexistent, sculpt the void, and were, strictly speaking, the Arts of Nonentity: to wit those, in the lady of a house, of knowing how to “bring people together,” how to “group,” to “draw out,” to “keep in the background,” to act as a “connecting link.”336 In any case, Mme Swann’s friends were impressed when they saw in her house a lady, whom they usually pictured in her own drawing room surrounded by the inseparable cadre of her guests, by the whole of a little group that they were now astonished to see thus evoked, summarized, assembled, packed into a single armchair in the bodily form of the Mistress, the hostess turned visitor, muffled in her cloak with its grebe trimming, as downy as the white furs that carpeted that drawing room embowered in which Mme Verdurin was a salon in herself.337 The more timid among the women thought it prudent to retire, and using the plural, as people do when they mean to hint to the others in the room that it is wiser not to tire a convalescent who is out of bed for the first time, would say: “Odette, we are going to leave you.” They envied Mme Cottard, whom the Mistress called by her given name. “Can I drop you anywhere?” Mme Verdurin asked her, unable to bear the thought that one of the faithful was going to remain behind

336. Proust uses the analogy of a trait d’union, a hyphen, a line or mark of union. 337. We remember that in French salon means both a drawing room and a social and intellectual gathering.

Madame Swann at Home 193

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 338. In Greek mythology, Automedon was Achilles’ charioteer during the Trojan War. 339. This is a biblical reference to the ancient Hebrew laws. See Matthew 5:17. 340. Proust makes this distinction in the name much more efficiently: des chrysanthèmes si belles, ou plutôt si beaux. The noun chrysanthème was first given the feminine gender before the Académie Française changed it to masculine.

194 Madame Swann at Home

instead of following her from the room. “Oh, but this lady has been so very kind as to say she’ll take me,” replied Mme Cottard, not wishing to appear to be forgetting, when approached by a more illustrious personage, that she had accepted the offer that Mme Bontemps had made to drive her home behind her cockaded coachman. “I must say that I am always especially grateful to the friends who are so kind as to take me with them in their vehicles. It is a regular godsend to me, who have no Automedon.”338 “Especially,” broke in the Mistress, who felt that she must say something, since she knew Mme Bontemps slightly and had just invited her to her Wednesdays, “as at Mme de Crécy’s house you’re not very near home. Oh, good heavens, I will never get used to saying Mme Swann!” It was a running joke in the little clan, among those who were not very witty, to pretend that they could never grow used to saying “Mme Swann.” “I have been so accustomed to saying Mme de Crécy that I nearly made the same mistake!” Only Mme Verdurin, when she spoke to Odette, was not content with the nearly, but made the mistake on purpose. “Don’t you feel afraid, Odette, living out in the wilds like this? I’m sure I wouldn’t feel at all comfortable, coming home after dark. Besides, it’s so damp. It can’t be at all good for your husband’s eczema. You don’t have rats in the house, I hope!” “Oh, dear no. What a horrible idea!” “That’s a good thing; I was told you did. I’m glad to know it’s not true, because I’m scared to death of them, and I would never have come to see you again. Goodbye, my dear child, we’ll meet again soon; you know how happy I am to see you. You don’t know how to arrange chrysanthemums,” she said, as she prepared to leave the room, Mme Swann having risen to escort her. “They are Japanese flowers; you must arrange them the same way as the Japanese.” “I do not agree with Mme Verdurin, although she is the Law and the Prophets339 to me in all things! There’s no one like you, Odette, for finding such lovely chrysanthemums, or chrysanthema340 rather, for it seems that’s what we ought to call them now,” declared Mme Cottard as soon as the Mistress had shut the door

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower behind her. “Dear Mme Verdurin is not always very kind about other people’s flowers,” replied Odette sweetly. “Whom do you go to, Odette,” asked Mme Cottard, to forestall any further criticism of the Mistress. “Lemaître?341 I must confess, the other day outside Lemaître’s window I saw a large pink bush that made me do something wildly extravagant.” But modesty forbade her to give any more precise details as to the price of the bush, and she said merely that the professor, “and you know, he’s not at all a quick tempered man,” had “drawn his sword”342 and told her that she “didn’t know the value of money.” “No, no, I’ve no regular florist except Debac.”343 “Nor have I,” said Mme Cottard, “but I confess that I am unfaithful to him now and then with Lachaume.”344 “Oh, you forsake him for Lachaume, do you? I must tell Debac that,” replied Odette, always eager to show her wit, and to lead the conversation in her own house, where she felt more at her ease than in the little clan. “Besides, Lachaume is really becoming too expensive; his prices are quite excessive, you know; I find his prices indecent!” she added, laughing. Meanwhile Mme Bontemps, who had been heard a hundred times to declare that nothing would induce her to go to the Verdurins’, delighted at being asked to the famous Wednesdays, was trying to figure out how she could manage to attend as many of them as possible. She was not aware that Mme Verdurin liked people not to miss a single one; she was also one of those people whose company is but little sought, who, when a hostess invites them to a “series” of parties, do not go to them, like those who know that it is always a pleasure to see them, whenever they have a moment to spare and feel inclined to go out; on the contrary, people of her type deny themselves, for example, the first evening and the third, imagining that their absence will be noticed, and wait for the second and fourth, unless it should happen that, having heard from a trustworthy source that the third is to be a particularly brilliant party, they reverse the original order, assuring their hostess that “most unfortunately, we had another engagement last week.” So Mme Bontemps was calculating how many

341. Lemaître was a florist shop, founded about 1884, located at 128, boulevard Haussmann. 342. Proust uses two colorful expressions here in keeping with Dr. Cottard’s obsessions with idioms: avoir la tête près du bonnet (literally, “have one’s head near one’s bonnet”) and tirer flamberge au vent (literally, to “draw one’s sword into the wind”). This idiom seems to contradict Mme Cottard’s statement that her husband is not quick tempered, since it indicates that he is spoiling for a fight. 343. Debac was a florist shop at 63, boulevard Malesherbes which closed before World War I. 344. Lachaume was an elegant florist shop, founded in 1844, at la Chaussée-­ d’Antin; around 1900, it relocated at 10, rue Royale. Today it is located at 103, rue du Faubourg Saint-­Honoré in the eighth arrondissement.

Madame Swann at Home 195

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 345. Rebattet was a fashionable confectioner, founded in 1820 at 12, rue du Faubourg Saint-­Honoré. 346. Bourbonneux was the name of a confectionery, founded in 1846 at 14, place du Havre. 347. Latin meaning “nothing more beyond,” used to designate something that has not been surpassed.

196 Madame Swann at Home

Wednesdays there could still be left before Easter, and by what means she might manage to secure one extra, and yet not appear to be thrusting herself on her hostess. She relied on Mme Cottard, whom she would have with her in the carriage going home, to give her a few hints. “Oh, Mme Bontemps, I see you getting up to go; it’s very bad of you to give the signal for flight like that. You owe me some compensation for not coming last Thursday . . . Come, sit down again, just for a minute. You can’t possibly pay another visit before dinner. Really, you won’t let yourself be tempted?” went on Mme Swann, and, as she held out a plate of cakes, “You know, they’re not at all bad, these little horrors. They don’t look like very much, but just taste one; I know you’ll like it.” “On the contrary, they look quite delicious,” broke in Mme Cottard. “In your house, Odette, one is never short of victuals. I have no need to ask to see the trademark; I know you get everything from Rebattet.345 I must say that I am more eclectic. For petits fours and all sweets I go, as often as not, to Bourbonneux.346 But I agree that they simply don’t know anything about ice cream. Rebattet for all ice creams, mousses, and sorbets; they’re real artists. As my husband would say, they’re the ne plus ultra.”347 “Oh, but these are homemade. You won’t, really?” “I won’t be able to eat a bite for dinner,” pleaded Mme Bontemps, “but I’ll sit down again for a moment; you know, I adore talking to a clever woman like you.” “You’ll think me highly indiscreet, Odette, but I would so like to know what you thought of the hat Madame Trombert had on. I know, of course, that big hats are the fashion just now. All the same, wasn’t it just the least little bit exaggerated? And compared to the hat she came to see me in the other day, the one she had on just now was microscopic.” “Oh no, I am not at all clever,” said Odette, thinking that this made a good impression. “I am a perfect simpleton, I believe everything people say, and worry myself to death over the least thing.” And she insinuated that she had, at first, suffered terribly from having married a man like Swann, who had a separate life of his own and was unfaithful to her. Meanwhile the Prince d’Agrigente, having caught

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the words “I am not at all clever,” thought it incumbent on himself to protest; unfortunately he did not have the knack of repartee. “Tut, tut, tut, tut!” cried Mme Bontemps, “Not clever, you!” “That’s just what I was saying to myself—‘What do I hear?’” the Prince clutched at this straw, “My ears must have tricked me!” “No, I assure you,” went on Odette, “I am really just a petite bourgeoise, very easily shocked, full of prejudices, living in my own little corner and dreadfully ignorant.” And then, in case he had any news of the Baron de Charlus, “Have you seen our dear baronet?”348 she asked him. “You, ignorant!” cried Mme Bontemps. “Then I wonder what you’d say of the official world, all those wives of Excellencies who can talk of nothing but their frocks. . . . Listen to this, Madame; not more than a week ago I happened to mention Lohengrin349 to the education minister’s wife. She stared at me, and said ‘Lohengrin? Oh, yes, the new review at the Folies Bergère.350 I hear it’s a perfect scream!’ Well, Madame, what can you do? When one hears things like that it makes your blood boil. I wanted to slap her. Because I have a bit of a temper of my own. What do you say, Monsieur”; she said, turning to me, “was I not right?” “Listen,” said Mme Cottard, “people can’t help answering a little off the mark when they’re asked a thing like that point-­blank, without any warning. I know something about it, because Mme Verdurin also has a habit of putting a pistol to your head.” “Speaking of Mme Verdurin,” Mme Bontemps asked Mme Cottard, “do you know who will be there on Wednesday? Oh, I’ve just remembered that we’ve accepted an invitation for next Wednesday. You wouldn’t care to dine with us on Wednesday week? We could go on together to Mme Verdurin’s. I would never dare to go there by myself; I don’t know why it is, that great lady always terrifies me.” “I’ll tell you what it is,” replied Mme Cottard, “what frightens you about Mme Verdurin is her organ.351 But you see everyone can’t have such a charming organ as Mme Swann. But once you’ve found your tongue, as the Mistress says, the ice will soon be broken. She’s a very hospitable person, really. But I can quite understand how you feel; it’s never pleasant to find one-

348. Odette is displaying both her Anglophilia and her ignorance of noble titles. “Baronet” is the holder of a rank of honor below a baron and above a knight. 349. Lohengrin is an opera that Richard Wagner composed in 1848. 350. The Folies Bergère is a music hall that opened on May 2, 1869, at 32, rue Richer. In April 1894 Proust invited Count Robert de Montesquiou and his secretary Yturri to the Folies Bergère, where the star attractions were American-­born dancing sensation Loïe Fuller and the Belle Otero, a lascivious Spanish dancer of remarkable beauty. See the chronology in Proust, Correspondance, 1: 75. 351. According to the Petit Robert: Dictionnaire de la langue française, the first meaning of the word organe is voice. Scott Moncrieff translated it thus, aware that Proust wants us to enjoy the double entendre and Mme Cottard’s naïveté.

Madame Swann at Home 197

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower self for the first time in unknown territory.” “Won’t you dine with us, too?” said Mme Bontemps to Mme Swann. “After dinner we could all go to the Verdurins’ together, ‘do a Verdurin’; and even if it means that the Mistress will glare at me and never invite me again, once we are there we’ll just sit by ourselves and have a quiet talk, I’m sure that’s what I would like best.” But this assertion can hardly have been quite truthful, for Mme Bontemps went on to ask: “Who do you think will be there on Wednesday week? What will be happening? There won’t be too big a crowd, I hope!” “I certainly won’t be there,” said Odette. “We’ll just make a brief appearance on the last Wednesday of all. If you don’t mind waiting till then . . .” But Mme Bontemps did not appear to be tempted by the proposal of postponement. Granted that the intellectual distinction of a salon and its elegance are generally in inverse rather than direct ratio, one must suppose, since Swann found Mme Bontemps agreeable, that any forfeiture of position once accepted has the consequence of making people less particular with regard to those whose company they have resigned themselves to find enjoyable, less particular with regard to their intelligence as to everything else about them. And if this is true, men, like nations, must see their culture and even their language disappear with their independence. One of the effects of this indulgence is to aggravate the tendency that after a certain age we have to find pleasure in words that are an homage to our own turn of mind, to our penchants, an encouragement to us to yield to them; that is the age at which a great artist prefers to the company of original minds that of pupils who have nothing in common with him save the letter of his doctrine, and who praise him to the skies, who listen to him; at which a remarkable man or woman who lives entirely for love, will find that the most intelligent person in a gathering is one perhaps of no distinction, but one who has shown by some utterance that he can understand and approve what is meant by an existence devoted to gallantry, and has thus pleasantly titillated the voluptuous instincts of the lover or mistress; it was the age, too, at which Swann, in his capacity as

198 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Odette’s husband, enjoyed hearing Mme Bontemps say how silly it was to have nobody in one’s house but duchesses (concluding from that, quite the contrary of what he would have decided in the old days at the Verdurins’, that she was a good creature, extremely witty, and not at all a snob) and telling her stories that made her “die laughing” because she had not heard them before, and moreover she always “saw the point” at once, liked flattering her and having fun. “So the doctor is not mad about flowers, like you?” Mme Swann asked Mme Cottard. “Oh, well, you know, my husband is a sage; he practices moderation in all things. Yet, I must admit, he does have one passion.” Her eye aflame with malice, joy, curiosity, “And what is that, Madame?” inquired Mme Bontemps. Quite simply Mme Cottard replied: “Reading.” “Oh, that’s a very restful passion in a husband!” cried Mme Bontemps suppressing a satanic laugh. “When the doctor gets a book in his hands, you know!” “Well, that needn’t alarm you much . . .” “But it does, for his eyesight. I must go now and look after him, Odette, and I’ll come back at the very first opportunity and knock at your door. Speaking of eyesight, have you heard that the new house Mme Verdurin has just bought is to be lighted by electricity? I didn’t get that from my own little secret police, you know, but from quite a different source; it was the electrician himself, Mildé,352 who told me. You see, I quote my sources! Even the bedrooms, he says, are to have electric lamps with shades that will filter the light. It is obviously a charming luxury for those who can afford it. But it seems that our contemporaries must absolutely have the newest thing if it’s the only one of its kind in the world. Just imagine, the sister-­in-­law of a friend of mine has had the telephone installed in her house! She can order things from shops without having to go out of her house! I confess that I’ve shamefully intrigued to get permission to go there one day, just to speak into the apparatus. It’s very tempting, but rather in a friend’s house than at home. I don’t think I would like to have the telephone in my abode. Once the first excitement is over, it must be a real headache.353 Now, Odette, I must be off; you’re not to keep Mme Bontemps any

352. Mildé was a firm that sold electrical equipment, located in the rue des Renaudes in the seventeenth arrondissement, which is adjacent to the eighth. In 1900, it opened a shop at 52, rue du Faubourg Saint-­Honoré in the eighth arrondissement, which was Proust’s own. 353. In 1901, Proust, who was still living in his parents’ apartment, used the telephone to call his friends. In late fall 1914, when he lived at 102, boulevard Haussmann, he had the telephone taken out, presumably because it distracted him from his work. From that time until his death, one of his servants or his housekeeper, Céleste Albaret, would make calls for him from a nearby café. See Proust, Selected Letters, 1: 223, and Correspondance, 13: 360, 361.

Madame Swann at Home 199

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 354. “Good bye” (two words) is in English in the original.

200 Madame Swann at Home

longer, she’s taking charge of me. I must absolutely tear myself away; it’s disgraceful the way you’re making me behave; I will be getting home after my husband!” And for myself also it was time to return home, before I had tasted those wintry delights of which the chrysanthemums had seemed to me to be the brilliant envelope. These pleasures had not appeared, and yet Mme Swann did not look as though she expected anything more. She allowed the servants to carry away the tea things, as though she were announcing “Closing time!” And finally she said to me: “Really, must you go? Very well; goodbye!”354 I felt that I might have stayed there without encountering those unknown pleasures, and that my unhappiness was not the only cause of my having to forgo them. Were they to be found, then, situated not on that beaten track of hours that leads always so quickly to the moment of departure, but rather on some byway unknown to me and that I ought to have taken? At least, the object of my visit had been attained; Gilberte would know that I had come to see her parents when she was not at home, and that I had, as Mme Cottard had repeatedly assured me, “made a complete conquest, at first glance, of Mme Verdurin,” whom, added the doctor’s wife, she had never seen “make so much” of anyone. “You and she must have hooked atoms.” Gilberte would know that I had spoken of her as was fitting, with affection, but that I did not have the incapacity to live without our seeing one another, which I believed to be at the root of the boredom that she had shown at our last meetings. I had told Mme Swann that I could no longer see Gilberte. I had said this as though I had finally decided never to see her again. And the letter that I was going to send Gilberte would be conceived in the same way. Only to myself, to fortify my courage, I proposed no more than a supreme and concentrated effort, lasting but a few days. I said to myself: “This is the last time that I will refuse an invitation to meet her; I will accept the next one.” To make our separation less difficult to achieve, I did not picture it to myself as final. But I knew very well that it would be. The first of January was exceptionally painful to me that year.

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower So, no doubt, is everything that marks a date and an anniversary, when we are unhappy. But if our unhappiness is due to the loss of someone dear to us, our suffering consists merely in an unusually vivid comparison of the present with the past. There was added to this, in my case, the unexpressed hope that Gilberte, having intended to leave to me the initiative of taking the first steps toward a reconciliation, and discovering that I had not taken them, had been waiting only for the excuse of New Year’s Day to write to me, saying: “What is the matter? I am mad about you; come, and let us talk things over frankly; I can’t live without seeing you.” By the last days of the year, such a letter seemed probable. It was, perhaps, nothing of the sort, but to make us believe that such a thing is probable, the desire, the need that we have for it suffices. The soldier is convinced that a certain interval of time, capable of being indefinitely prolonged, will be allowed him before he is killed, the thief before he is caught, men in general before they have to die. That is the amulet that preserves people—and sometimes nations—not from danger but from the fear of danger, in reality from the belief in danger, which in certain cases allows them to brave it without their actually needing to be brave. It is confidence of this sort, and with as little foundation, that sustains the lover who is counting on a reconciliation, on a letter. For me to cease to expect a letter it would have sufficed for me to cease to wish for one. However indifferent to us we know the one whom we still love to be, we attribute to her a series of thoughts (though their sum total be indifference), the intention to express those thoughts, a complication of her inner life in which we are perhaps the object of her antipathy but certainly of her constant attention. But to imagine what was going on in Gilberte’s mind, I would have needed simply the power to anticipate on that New Year’s Day what I would feel on the first day of any of the following years, when the attention or the silence or the affection or the coldness of Gilberte would pass almost unnoticed by me and I would not dream, would not even be able to dream, of seeking a solution to problems that would have ceased to perplex me. When we are in

Madame Swann at Home 201

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 355. In early December 1905, Proust entered Dr. Paul Sollier’s clinic for patients with nervous disorders. The clinic was located just outside Paris in Boulogne-­sur-­Seine. He remained there until near the end of January 1906. Proust received similar instructions, which he ignored, not to write letters or read newspapers. See Carter, Marcel Proust.

202 Madame Swann at Home

love, our love is too big a thing for us to be able altogether to contain it within us. It radiates toward the loved one, finds there a surface that arrests it, forcing it to return to its starting point, and it is this shock of the repercussion of our own affection that we call the other’s feelings, and which charms us more then than on its outward journey because we do not recognize it as having originated in ourselves. New Year’s Day rang out all its hours without the arrival of that letter from Gilberte. And as I received a few others containing greetings tardy or delayed by the overburdening of the mails at that season, on the third and fourth of January I still hoped, but less and less. On the days that followed, I wept a lot. This undoubtedly meant that, having been less sincere than I thought in my renunciation of Gilberte, I had kept the hope alive of a letter from her for the New Year. And seeing that hope exhausted before I had had time to shelter myself behind another, I suffered as would an invalid who had emptied his vial of morphine without having another within his reach. But perhaps also in my case—and these two explanations are not mutually exclusive, for a single feeling is often made up of contrary ones—the hope that I entertained of ultimately receiving a letter had brought to my mind’s eye once again the image of Gilberte, had reawakened the emotions that the expectation of finding myself in her presence, the sight of her, the way she behaved with me, had aroused in me before. The immediate possibility of a reconciliation had suppressed in me that faculty the immense importance of which we are apt to overlook: the faculty of resignation. Neurasthenics find it impossible to believe the friends who assure them that they will gradually recover their peace of mind if they will stay in bed and receive no letters, read no newspapers.355 They imagine that such a regimen will only exacerbate their frayed nerves. And similarly lovers, who consider it from their enclosure in a contrary state of mind, who have not yet begun to put it to the test, are unable to believe in the healing power of renunciation. Because of the violence of my palpitations, my doses of caffeine were reduced; the palpitations ceased. Then I asked myself

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower whether it was not to some extent the drug that had been responsible for the anguish I had felt when I came near to breaking up with Gilberte, an anguish that I had attributed, each time it recurred, to the distressing prospect of never seeing my friend again or of running the risk of seeing her only when she was a prey to the same ill-­humor. But if this drug had been at the root of the sufferings, which my imagination must in that case have interpreted wrongly (not that there would be anything extraordinary in that, seeing that, for lovers, the most acute mental suffering often results from the physical presence of the woman with whom they are living), it had been, in that sense, like the potion that, long after they have absorbed it, continues to bind Tristan to Isolde.356 For the physical improvement that the reduction of caffeine effected almost at once did not arrest the evolution of the chagrin that my absorption of the toxin had perhaps, if not created, at any rate contrived to render more acute. Only, as the middle of the month of January approached, once my hopes of a letter on New Year’s Day had been disappointed, once the additional sorrow that had come with their disappointment had eased, it was my old chagrin, that of “before the holidays,” that began again. What was perhaps the cruelest thing about it was that I myself was its architect, unconscious, willful, merciless, and patient. The one thing that mattered to me, my relationship with Gilberte, it was I who was laboring to make impossible by gradually creating out of this prolonged separation from my friend, not indeed her indifference, but what would come to the same thing in the end, my own. It was to a slow and painful suicide of the self that loved Gilberte that I was goading myself with untiring energy, with a clear sense not only of what I was doing in the present but of what must result from it in the future: I knew not only that after a certain time I would cease to love Gilberte, but also that she herself would regret it and that the attempts she would then make to see me would be as vain as those that she was making now, no longer because I loved her too much but because I would certainly be in love with some other woman whom

356. Tristan and Isolde is a medieval romance in which the two lovers, Tristan and Isolde, the wife of Tristan’s uncle, King Mark, are dominated by irresistible passion as the result of a love potion that they have drunk unawares. This story is the basis of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (1865), which was heard for the first time in Paris in 1900.

Madame Swann at Home 203

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower I would continue to desire, to wait for, through hours of which I would not dare to divert a fraction of a second to Gilberte who would be nothing to me then. And no doubt at that very moment in which (since I was determined not to see her again, unless after a formal request for an explanation or a full declaration of love on her part, neither of which was in the least degree likely to come to me now) I had already lost Gilberte, and loved her more than ever (I could feel all that she was to me better than in the previous year when, spending all my afternoons in her company, or as many as I chose, I believed that no peril threatened our friendship), no doubt at that moment the idea that I would one day entertain identical feelings for another was odious to me, for that idea took away from me not only Gilberte, but also my love and my sufferings: my love, my sufferings, in which through my tears I attempted to grasp precisely what Gilberte was, and was obliged to recognize that they did not pertain exclusively to her but would, sooner or later, be some other woman’s lot. So that— or such, at least, was my way of thinking then—we are always detached from other beings: when we are in love we sense that this love does not bear their name, but may be born again, could have been born already in the past for another and not for her; and during the time when we are not in love, if we accept philosophically love’s contradictions, it is because at that moment we do not feel this love of which we speak so lightheartedly, and therefore do not know it, knowledge in these matters being intermittent and not outlasting the actual presence of the sentiment. There certainly would still have been time to warn Gilberte that the future in which I would no longer love her, which my suffering helped me to divine although my imagination was not yet able to form a clear picture of it, would gradually take shape, that its coming was, if not imminent, at least inevitable, if she herself, Gilberte, did not come to my rescue and nip in the bud my future indifference. How often was I not on the point of writing, or of going to Gilberte to tell her: “Take care. My mind is made up. This is my final entreaty. I am seeing you now for the last time. Soon I will

204 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower no longer love you!” But to what end? By what right could I have reproached Gilberte for an indifference that, without considering myself guilty on that count, I too manifested toward everything that was not herself? The last time! To me, that appeared as something of immense significance, because I loved Gilberte. On her it would doubtless have made just as much impression as those letters in which our friends ask whether they may pay us a visit before they finally leave the country, an offer that, like those made by tiresome women who are in love with us, we decline because we have pleasures of our own in prospect. The time that we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it, and habit fills up what remains. Besides, it would have done no good to speak to Gilberte; she would not have understood me. We imagine always when we speak that it is our own ears, our own mind, that are listening. My words would have come to her only in a distorted form, as though they had had to pass through the moving curtain of a waterfall before they reached my friend, unrecognizable, sounding ridiculous, having no longer any kind of meaning. The truth that one puts into one’s words does not clear a direct path for itself, is not supported by compelling evidence. A considerable time must elapse before a truth of the same order can take shape in them. Then the political opponent who, despite every argument, every proof, took the advocate of the rival doctrine to be a traitor, himself comes to share the hated conviction, in which he who once sought in vain to disseminate it no longer believes. Then the masterpiece of literature, whose proofs of excellence seemed self-­evident to the admirers who read it aloud, while to those who listened it presented only a senseless or commonplace image, will by those too be proclaimed a masterpiece, but too late for the author to learn of their discovery. Similarly in love the barriers, do what he may, cannot be broken down from without by him whom they cause to despair; it is when he no longer cares about them that suddenly, as the result of an effort directed from elsewhere, accomplished

Madame Swann at Home 205

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower within the heart of the one who did not love him, those barriers that he has charged without success will fall to no advantage. If I had come to Gilberte to tell her of my future indifference and the means of preventing it, she would have assumed from my action that my love for her, the need that I had of her, were even greater than she had supposed, and her annoyance on seeing me would thereby have been increased. And it is quite true, moreover, that it was this love for her that helped me, by the disparate states of mind that it successively produced in me, to foresee, more clearly than she herself could, the end of that love. And yet some such warning I might perhaps have addressed, by letter or viva voce, to Gilberte, after a long enough interval, that would render her, it is true, less indispensable to me, but would also have proved to her that she was not so indispensable. Unfortunately, certain well- or ill-­intentioned persons spoke to her of me in a way that must have led her to think they were doing so at my request. Each time I thus learned that Cottard, my own mother, even M. de Norpois had by a few ill-­chosen words rendered useless all the sacrifice that I had just been making, wasted all the advantage of my reserve by wrongly making me appear to have emerged from it, I faced two difficulties. In the first place I could now only date from that day my laborious and fruitful abstention that these tiresome people had, unknown to me, interrupted and so brought to nothing. But in addition I would have less pleasure in seeing Gilberte, who would think of me now no longer as containing myself in dignified resignation, but as plotting in the dark for an interview that she had disdainfully declined. I cursed all this idle chatter of people who so often, without any intention to harm us or to do us a service, for no reason, for talking’s sake, often because we ourselves have not been able to refrain from talking in their presence, and because they are indiscreet (like us), do us, at a crucial moment, so much harm. It is true that in the mournful task of destroying our love they are far from playing a part equal to that played by two persons who are in the habit, one from excess of goodness and the other out of malice, of undoing everything at

206 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the moment when everything is on the point of being settled. But against these two persons we bear no such grudge as against the inopportune Cottards of this world, for the latter of the two is the person whom we love and the former is ourself. Meanwhile, since almost every time I went to see her, Mme Swann would invite me to come to tea with her daughter and tell me to reply directly to the latter, I was constantly writing to Gilberte, and in this correspondence I did not choose the expressions that might, I felt, have won her over, but sought only to carve out the easiest channel for the flow of my tears. For, like desire, regret seeks not to be analyzed but to be satisfied; when one begins to love, one spends one’s time, not in getting to know what one’s love really is, but in making it possible to meet the next day. When one renounces love, one seeks not to know one’s chagrin but to offer to her who is causing it the expression of it that seems most tender. One says the things that one feels the need to say and that the other will not understand; one speaks for oneself alone. I wrote: “I had thought that it would not be possible. Alas, I see now that it is not so difficult.” I said also: “I will probably not see you again.” I said it while continuing to avoid showing a coldness that she might think feigned, and these words, as I wrote them, made me weep because I felt that they expressed not what I would have liked to believe but what was actually going to happen. For at the next request for a meeting that she would convey to me I would have again, as I had now, the courage not to yield, and, with one refusal after another, I would gradually come to the moment when, by virtue of not having seen her again, I would no longer wish to see her. I wept, but I found courage enough to sacrifice; I knew the satisfaction of sacrificing the happiness of being with her to the possibility of seeming attractive to her one day, a day when, alas, seeming attractive to her would be immaterial to me. Even the supposition, though highly improbable, that at this moment, as she had claimed during the last visit that I had paid her, she loved me, that what I took for the boredom that one feels in the company of a person of whom one has grown tired had

Madame Swann at Home 207

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 357. Alphonse Giroux et Compagnie, located until the end of the nineteenth century at 43, boulevard des Capucines in the second arrondissement, sold “fancy goods, paintings, and fans.”

208 Madame Swann at Home

been due only to a jealous susceptibility, to a feigned indifference analogous to my own, only rendered my decision less painful. It seemed to me that in a few years, when we had forgotten one another, when I would be able to look back and tell her that the letter I was now writing to her had not been at all sincere, she would answer, “What, you really did love me, did you? If you had only known how I waited for that letter, how I longed to see you, how I cried when I read it.” The thought, while I was writing to her, immediately on my return from her mother’s house, that I was perhaps consummating that very misunderstanding, that thought, by its very sadness, by the pleasure of imagining that I was loved by Gilberte, gave me the impulse to continue my letter. If, at the moment of leaving Mme Swann, when her tea party ended, I was thinking of what I was going to write to her daughter, Mme Cottard, as she departed, had been filled with thoughts of a wholly different order. On her little “tour of inspection” she had not failed to congratulate Mme Swann on the new furnishings, the recent “acquisitions” that she noticed in the drawing room. She could see among them some, though only a very few, of the things that Odette had had in the old days in the rue La Pérouse, for instance, her animals carved in precious stones, her fetishes. For since Mme Swann had picked up from a friend whose opinion she valued the word “tacky”—which had opened to her new horizons because it denoted precisely those things that a few years earlier she had considered “chic”—all those things had, one after another, followed into retirement the gilded trellis that had served as background to her chrysanthemums, innumerable boxes of candy from Giroux’s,357 and the coroneted notepaper (not to mention the louis coins of gilt pasteboard littered about on the mantelpieces, which, even before she had come to know Swann, a man of taste had advised her to sacrifice). Moreover in the artistic disorder, the atelier-­like pell-­mell of the rooms, whose walls were still painted in somber colors that made them as different as possible from the white drawing rooms that Mme Swann had a little later, the Far East recoiled more and more before the

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower invading forces of the eighteenth century; and the cushions that, to make me “comfortable,”358 Mme Swann heaped up and buffeted into position behind my back were sprinkled with Louis XV garlands and not, as of old, with Chinese dragons. In the room in which she was usually to be found, and of which she would say, “Yes, I like this room; I use it a great deal. I couldn’t live surrounded by a lot of hostile, pompous things; this is where I do my work” (without stating precisely whether it was a painting she was working on or perhaps a book, for the hobby of writing was beginning to become common among women who liked to do something and not to be quite useless); she was surrounded by Dresden pieces (being fond of that kind of porcelain, whose name she pronounced with an English accent, saying in any connection: “How pretty that is; it reminds me of Dresden flowers”), and dreaded for them even more than in the old days for her grotesque figures and her flowerpots the ignorant handling of her servants who were made to expiate the anxiety that they had caused her by submitting to outbursts of rage, which Swann, the most courteous and lenient of masters, witnessed without being shocked. Not that the clear perception of certain weaknesses in those we love in any way diminishes our affection for them; rather that affection makes us find those weaknesses charming. Nowadays it was rarely in Japanese kimonos that Odette received her intimates, but rather in the bright and billowing silk of a Watteau359 gown whose flowering foam she made as though to caress where it covered her bosom, and in which she basked, lolled, frolicked, with such an air of well-­ being, of refreshed skin, with such deep breaths, that she seemed to look on these garments not as something decorative, a mere setting for herself, but as necessary, in the same way as her “tub” or her daily “constitutional,”360 to satisfy the requirements of her physiognomy and the refinements of her hygiene. She used often to say that she would go without bread rather than give up art and cleanliness and that the burning of the Mona Lisa would distress her infinitely more than the destruction, by the same element, of the multitudes361 of people she knew. Theories that seemed para-

358. Odette’s use of the French word confortable for a person, as we use the English cognate, is another indication of her snobbism and affectation; in French the word applies only to things, for example, a comfortable chair. See Swann’s Way, 252. 359. Jean-­Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) is famous for his paintings of fêtes galantes (courtship parties) depicting the games and indulgences of eighteenth-­century French aristocrats. 360. “Tub” and “footing” (constitutional) are both in English in the original. Footing is the word that the French now use for jogging, although the latter word is used as well. 361. Mme Swann creates a word, foultitudes, that combines foule, crowd, and titudes, suggesting multitudes, which is a cognate with English.

Madame Swann at Home 209

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 362. In his descriptions of the various social layers, Proust uses planetary imagery, taking full advantage of the fact that in French, the word monde means both world and society and that high society is the beau monde.

210 Madame Swann at Home

doxical to her friends, but made them regard her as a superior woman, and earned her a weekly visit from the Belgian minister, so that in the little world of which she was the sun,362 everyone would have been greatly astonished to learn that elsewhere—at the Verdurins’, for instance—she was regarded as a fool. It was her vivacity of repartee that made Mme Swann prefer men’s society to women’s. But when she criticized the latter, it was always from the courtesan’s point of view, singling out the blemishes that might lower them in the esteem of men, thick wrists and ankles, a bad complexion, inability to spell, hairy legs, foul breath, penciled eyebrows. But toward a woman who had shown her kindness or indulgence in the past she was more lenient, especially if this woman were now in trouble. She would defend her tactfully, saying: “People are not fair to her. I assure you, she’s quite a nice woman really.” It was not only the furnishings of Odette’s drawing room, it was Odette herself that Mme Cottard and all those who had frequented the society of Mme de Crécy would have found it difficult, if they had not seen her for a long time, to recognize. She seemed to be so much younger! No doubt this was partly because she had put on a little weight, was in better health, seemed at once calmer, refreshed, more relaxed, and also because the new way in which she braided her hair gave more breadth to her face, which was animated by an application of pink powder, and into which her eyes and profile, formerly too prominent, seemed now to have been reabsorbed. But another reason for this change lay in the fact that, having reached the midpoint of life, Odette had at length discovered, or invented, a physiognomy of her own, an unalterable “character,” a “style of beauty,” and on her disjointed features—which for so long, exposed to the hazardous, impuissant whims of the flesh, putting on years for a moment, at the slightest fatigue, in a sort of fleeting old age—had composed for her somehow, according to her mood and her mien, a disheveled, changeable, formless, charming face—had now set this fixed type, as an immortal youthfulness.

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Swann had in his bedroom, instead of the beautiful photographs that were now taken of his wife, in all of which the same enigmatic, victorious expression enabled one to recognize, in whatever dress and hat, her triumphant face and figure, a little old daguerreotype of her, quite plain, taken long before the appearance of this new type, and from which the youthfulness and beauty of Odette, not yet discovered by her, was absent. But no doubt Swann, having remained constant, or having reverted to a different conception of her, enjoyed in the slender young woman with pensive eyes and tired features, caught in a pose between walking and immobility, a more Botticellian grace. For he still liked to see his wife as a Botticelli figure.363 Odette, who on the contrary, sought not to bring out but to compensate for, to cover and conceal the points in her looks that did not please her, what might perhaps to an artist express her “character” but in her woman’s eyes were blemishes, would not have that painter mentioned in her presence. Swann had a wonderful scarf of Oriental silk, blue and pink, that he had bought because it was exactly like the one worn by the Virgin in the Magnificat.364 But Mme Swann refused to wear it. Once only did she allow her husband to order her a dress covered all over with daisies, cornflowers, forget-­me-­nots, and campanulas,365 like that of the Primavera.366 And sometimes in the evening, when she was tired, he would quietly draw my attention to the way in which she was giving, quite unconsciously, to her pensive hands the uncontrolled, almost distraught movement of the Virgin, who dips her pen into the inkwell that the angel holds out to her, before writing on the sacred page on which is already traced the word Magnificat. But he added, “Whatever you do, don’t say anything about it to her; if she knew she was doing it, she would change her pose at once.” Except at these moments of involuntary relaxation, in which Swann tried to recapture the melancholy Botticellian cadence, Odette’s body seemed now to be cut out in a single silhouette, wholly confined within a “line” that, following the contours of the woman, had abandoned the winding paths, the artificial recesses

363. See Swann’s Way, 254, note 53. 364. The Madonna of the Magnificat (1480–81) is a painting by Sandro Botticelli (1444–1510) in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. The Louvre has a copy that in Proust’s day hung in the Salle de Sept Mètres. This painting and its title were inspired by the Virgin Mary’s words in the Gospel of Luke: “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,” which reads in the Latin version: “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (Luke 1:46). 365. Campanula is the Latin name for bellflowers. 366. Botticelli’s Primavera, also known as Allegory of Spring (c. 1482), is in the Uffizi Gallery.

Madame Swann at Home 211

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 367. Proust placed the word effilés, fringes, in quotation marks. 368. The Narrator’s focus on the interplay of these colors (red, orange, and black) highlights the integral importance of color in the novel. See Allan H. Pasco, The Color-­Keys to À la recherche du temps perdu (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1976). 369. The word dépassant is in quotation marks. It is a term used in couture for an edge or a border that extends beyond the part of the garment to which it is adapted. 370. Proust placed the word écossais in quotation marks. It means Scottish and is commonly used in French for plaid.

212 Madame Swann at Home

and bulges, the lacing, the composite dispersions of the fashions of former days, but also, where it was her anatomy that went wrong by straying unnecessarily one way or the other from the ideal traced for it, was able to rectify, by a bold stroke, the errors of nature, to make up, along a whole section of its course, for the deficiencies of the flesh as well as of the fabrics. The pads, the preposterous “bustle” of the dreadful “form,” had disappeared, as well as those tailed bodices that, overlapping the skirt and stiffened by rods of whalebone, had so long amplified Odette with an artificial stomach and had given her the appearance of being composed of several disparate pieces that there was no individuality to bind together. The vertical fall of the fringes,367 the curve of the ruches had made way for the inflexion of a body that made silk palpitate as a siren stirs the waves and gave to percaline a human expression now that it had been liberated, like an organic and living form, from the long chaos and nebulous envelopment of fashions at last dethroned. But Mme Swann had chosen, had contrived to preserve some vestiges of certain of these, in the very midst of those that had supplanted them. When in the evening, finding myself unable to work and feeling certain that Gilberte had gone to the theater with some of her girlfriends, I paid a surprise visit to her parents, I often found Mme Swann in an elegant déshabillé, the skirt of which, in one of those beautiful deep colors, dark red or orange, which seemed to have a special meaning, because they were no longer in fashion, was crossed diagonally, though not concealed, by a broad band of black368 lace that recalled the flounces of an earlier day. When, on a still chilly afternoon in spring, she had taken me (before my break with her daughter) to the Jardin d’Acclimatation, the dog-­toothed border369 of her blouse under the jacket, which she opened or buttoned up according to whether the exercise made her feel warm, suggested a glimpse of the lapel of some nonexistent waistcoat such as she had been accustomed to wearing some years earlier when she had liked their edges to have the same slight indentations; and her scarf—of that same “Scotch tartan”370 to which she had remained faithful,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower but whose tones she had so softened, red becoming pink and blue lilac, that one might almost have taken it for one of those dove-­ colored taffetas that were the latest novelty—was knotted in such a way under her chin, without one’s being able to make out where it was fastened, that one could not help being reminded of those bonnet strings371 that were now no longer worn. She need only “hold out” like this for a little longer and young men attempting to understand her idea of elegance would say: “Mme Swann is quite a period in herself, isn’t she?” As in a fine literary style that superimposes different forms and strengthens a tradition that lies concealed among them, so in Mme Swann’s attire those half-­ hinted memories of waistcoats or ringlets, sometimes a tendency, at once repressed, toward the “all aboard”372 or even a distant and vague allusion to the “follow me, young man”373 kept alive beneath the concrete form the unfinished likeness of other, older forms that you would not have succeeded, now, in finding effectively reproduced by a seamstress or a milliner, but about which your thoughts incessantly hovered, and enveloped Mme Swann in a cloak of nobility—perhaps because the sheer uselessness of these fripperies made them seem to serve some more than utilitarian purpose, perhaps because of the vestiges they preserved of vanished years, or else because of a sort of vestimentary individuality peculiar to this woman, which gave to the most dissimilar of her costumes a distinct family likeness. One felt that she did not dress simply for the comfort or the adornment of her body; she was surrounded by her garments as by the delicate and spiritualized machinery of a whole civilization. When Gilberte, who, as a rule, gave her tea parties on the days when her mother was “at home,” had for some reason to go out, and I was therefore free to attend Mme Swann’s “Choufleury,” I would find her dressed in one of her beautiful gowns, some of which were of taffeta, others of faille, or of velvet, or of crêpe de Chine, or satin or silk, dresses that, not being loose like the déshabillés she usually wore in the house but coordinated as though she were just going out, gave to her stay-­at-­home laziness on those

371. Proust placed the word brides in quotation marks, perhaps because its more common meaning is bridle. 372. A saute-­en-­barque, literally “jump on the boat,” was a small jacket with short sleeves worn by women. 373. A suivez-­moi jeune homme, in the context of fashion, was a ribbon attached to the back of a hat or dress worn by a woman.

Madame Swann at Home 213

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 374. Proust wrote “phalanges of her hands.” Scott Moncrieff translated this as “drooping arches” in keeping with Mme Swann’s gesture when fatigued, as described above, when Proust compares the movement of her hands to that of the Virgin in the Magnificat painting. The melancholy look recalls her resemblance to a Botticelli woman. 375. “Goodday, Philopena” is a game in which a person, on finding a double-­ kerneled almond or nut, may offer the second kernel to another person and demand a playful forfeit from that person to be paid on their next meeting. The forfeit may simply be to exchange the greeting “Goodday, Philopena,” or it may be more elaborate. Philopenas were often played as a form of flirtation.

214 Madame Swann at Home

afternoons something alert and energetic. And no doubt the bold simplicity of their cut was singularly appropriate to her figure and to her movements, which her sleeves appeared to be symbolizing in colors that varied from day to day: one would have said that there was a sudden determination in the blue velvet, an easygoing good humor in the white taffeta, and that a sort of supreme discretion full of dignity in her way of holding out her arm had, in order to become visible, put on the appearance, dazzling with the smile of one who had made great sacrifices, of the black crêpe de Chine. But at the same time to these animated gowns the complication of their “trimmings,” with no practical utility, with no visible purpose, added something detached, pensive, secret, in harmony with the melancholy that Mme Swann still retained, at least in the shadows under her eyes and the drooping arches of her hands.374 Beneath the profusion of sapphire charms, enameled four-­leaf clovers, silver medals, gold medallions, turquoise amulets, ruby chains, and topaz chestnuts there would be on the dress itself some design carried out in color that pursued on an inserted panel its former existence, some row of little satin buttons that buttoned nothing and could not be unbuttoned, a strip of braid that sought to please the eye with the minuteness, the discretion of a delicate reminder; and these, as well as the jewels, seemed—having otherwise no possible justification—to be disclosing a secret intention, being a pledge of affection, keeping a secret, ministering to a superstition, commemorating a recovery from sickness, a granted wish, a love affair, or a philopena.375 And now and then in the blue velvet of the bodice a hint of “slashes,” in the Henri II style, in the gown of black satin a slight swelling which, if it was in the sleeves, just below the shoulders, made one think of the “leg of mutton” sleeves of 1830, or if, on the other hand, it was beneath the skirt, with its Louis XV “paniers,” gave the dress a just perceptible air of being “fancy dress” and by insinuating beneath the life of the present day a vague reminiscence of the past, blended with the person of Mme Swann the charm of certain heroines of history or romance. And if I were to draw

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower her attention to this: “I don’t play golf,” she would answer, “like so many of my friends. So I would have no excuse for going about, as they do, in sweaters.”376 In the confusion of her drawing room, on her way from showing out one visitor, or with a plateful of cakes to tempt another, Mme Swann as she passed by me would take me aside for a moment: “I’ve been especially charged by Gilberte to invite you to lunch the day after tomorrow. As I wasn’t sure of seeing you here, I was going to write to you if you hadn’t come.” I continued to resist. And this resistance was costing me steadily less and less, because, however much we may love the poison that is destroying us, when we have been deprived of it by some necessity for some time past, we cannot help attaching a certain value to the peace of mind that we had ceased to know, to the absence of emotion and suffering. If we are not altogether sincere in telling ourselves that we never want to see again the one we love, we would be no more sincere in saying that we do want to see her. For no doubt we can endure her absence only by promising ourselves that it will not be for long, by thinking of the day when we will see her again, but at the same time we feel how much less painful are these daily dreams of an imminent and constantly postponed meeting than would be an interview that might be followed by a spasm of jealousy, so that the news that we are shortly to see the one we love would cause a shock that would be none too pleasant. What we now postpone from day to day is no longer the end of the intolerable anxiety caused by separation, it is the dreaded renewal of emotions that can lead to nothing. How infinitely we prefer to any such interview the docile memory that we supplement at our pleasure with dreams in which she who in reality does not love us seems, on the contrary, to be making declarations of love to us, when we are all alone! How infinitely we prefer the memory that we can contrive, by blending gradually with it a great deal of what we desire, to make as sweet as we choose, to the postponed interview in which we would have to deal with a person to whom we could no longer dictate at our pleasure the words we long to

376. “Sweaters” is in English in the original. The first known usage of “sweaters” in French was in Le Gaulois on February 14, 1910. Gareth H. Steel reports that it was only around 1914 that golf began to become popular in France. See his Chronology and Time in À la recherche du temps perdu (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1979), 138.

Madame Swann at Home 215

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower hear, but from whom we would meet with new coldness, unforeseen violence! We know, all of us, when we no longer love, that forgetfulness, even a vague memory, do not cause us so much suffering as an ill-­starred love. It was of such an anticipated forgetfulness that I preferred, without admitting it to myself, the reposeful tranquility. Moreover, however painful such a course of psychological detachment and isolation might be, it grows steadily less so for another reason, namely that it weakens while it is in process of healing the fixed obsession that is a state of love. Mine was still strong enough for me to want to recapture my old position in Gilberte’s estimation, which, due to my voluntary abstention must, it seemed to me, be steadily increasing, so that each of those calm and melancholy days on which I did not see her, coming one after the other without interruption, without prescription (unless some busybody were to meddle in my affairs), was a day not lost but gained. Gained to no purpose, perhaps, for soon they would be able to pronounce me cured. Resignation, modulating our habits, allows certain forces of our strength to increase indefinitely. Those forces—so inadequate—that I had had to bear my grief, on the first evening of my rupture with Gilberte, had since multiplied to an incalculable power. Only, the tendency of everything that exists to prolong its own existence is sometimes interrupted by sudden impulses to which we yield with all the fewer scruples about letting ourselves go since we know for how many days, for how many months even, we have been able, and might still be able, to abstain. And often it is when the purse in which we hoard our savings is nearly full that we empty it suddenly; it is without waiting for the result of our medical treatment and when we have already grown accustomed to it that we abandon it. And so, one day, when Mme Swann repeated to me her familiar words about how pleased Gilberte would be to see me, thus putting the happiness of which I had deprived myself for so long as it were within arm’s reach, I was stupefied by the realization that it was still possible for me to enjoy that happiness, and I could hardly wait until

216 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the next day; I had made up my mind to go and surprise Gilberte before her dinner. What helped me to remain patient throughout the long day that followed was a plan that I had made. As soon as everything was forgotten, as soon as I was reconciled with Gilberte, I no longer wished to visit her except as a lover. Every day she would receive from me the most beautiful flowers that grew. And if Mme Swann, albeit she had no right to be too severe a mother, forbade my sending flowers daily, I would find other gifts, more precious and less frequent. My parents did not give me enough money for me to be able to buy expensive things. I thought of a big vase of old Chinese porcelain that had been left to me by Aunt Léonie, and of which Mamma prophesied daily that Françoise would come to her with an “Oh, it’s all come to pieces!” and that that would be the end of it. Would it not be wiser, in that case, to sell it, to sell it in order to be able to give all the pleasure I could to Gilberte? I felt sure that I could easily get a thousand francs for it. I had it wrapped up; I had grown so used to it that I had ceased altogether to notice it; parting with it had at least the advantage of making me realize what it was like. I took it with me as I started for the Swanns’, and, giving the driver their address, told him to go by the Champs-­Élysées, at one end of which was the shop of a big dealer in Oriental things, whom my father knew. Greatly to my surprise he offered me there and then not one thousand but ten thousand francs for the vase. I took the money with delight. Every day, for a whole year, I could smother Gilberte in roses and lilacs. When I left the shop and got back into the carriage the driver (naturally enough, since the Swanns lived out by the Bois) instead of taking the ordinary way began to drive me along the avenue des Champs-­ Élysées. He had just passed the corner of the rue de Berri when, in the failing light, I thought I saw, close to the Swanns’ house but going in the other direction, away from it, Gilberte, who was walking slowly, though with a firm step, by the side of a young man with whom she was conversing, and whose face I could not distinguish. I stood up in the carriage, meaning to tell the driver

Madame Swann at Home 217

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 377. Scott Moncrieff altered the text here and has Odette say, “Must you go? Good-­bye.” 378. Jean de La Bruyère (1645–96) was a moralist who translated Les Caractères de Théophraste from the Greek and then wrote his own Les Caractères ou les mœurs de ce siècle (1688). The quoted line is from book 4, Du cœur (Of the heart), 20: “Il est triste d’aimer sans une grande fortune.”

218 Madame Swann at Home

to stop; then hesitated. The strolling couple was already some distance away and the two faint, parallel lines that their leisurely progress was quietly drawing were on the verge of disappearing in the Elysian twilight. A moment later, I had reached Gilberte’s door. I was received by Mme Swann. “Oh! she will be sorry!” was my greeting, “I can’t think why she isn’t in. She came home just now from a lesson, complaining of the heat, and said she wanted to go out for a little fresh air with another girl.” “I think I saw her on the avenue des Champs-­Élysées.” “Oh, I don’t think it can have been her. Anyhow, don’t mention it to her father; he doesn’t approve of her going out at this time of night. Good evening.”377 I left her, told my driver to go back the same way, but found no trace of the two walkers. Where had they been? What were they saying to one another in the darkness with that confidential air? I returned home, desperately clutching my windfall of ten thousand francs that would have enabled me to arrange so many pleasant surprises for that Gilberte whom now I had decided never to see again. No doubt my call at the dealer in Oriental objects had brought me happiness by allowing me to expect that in the future, whenever I saw my friend, she would be pleased with me and grateful. But if I had not called there, if the carriage had not taken the avenue des Champs-­Élysées, I would not have seen Gilberte with that young man. Thus a single action may have two contradictory effects, and the misfortune that it engenders nullifies the good fortune that it had occasioned. I had experienced the opposite of what happens so frequently. We desire some pleasure, and the material means of obtaining it are lacking. “It is sad,” La Bruyère tells us, “to be in love without an ample fortune.”378 There is nothing for it but to try to eliminate little by little our desire for that pleasure. In my case, however, the material means had been obtained, but at the same moment, if not by a logical effect, at any rate as a fortuitous consequence of that initial success, my pleasure had been snatched from me. As, for that matter, it seems as though it must always be. As a rule, however, not on the same evening on which we have acquired what makes

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower it possible. Usually, we continue to struggle and to hope for a little longer. But the pleasure can never be realized. If we succeed in overcoming the force of circumstances, nature at once shifts the battleground, placing it within ourselves, and effects a gradual change in our heart until it desires something other than what it is about to possess. And if this shift has been so rapid that our heart has not had time to change, nature does not on that account despair of conquering us, in a manner more gradual, it is true, more subtle, but no less efficacious. It is then, at the last moment, that the possession of our happiness is wrested from us, or rather it is that very possession that nature, with diabolical cunning, uses to destroy our happiness. Having failed in every domain of life and action, it is a final impossibility, the psychological impossibility of happiness, that nature creates in us. The phenomenon of happiness either fails to appear or at once gives way to the bitterest reactions. I put my ten thousand francs in a drawer. But they were no longer of any use to me. I spent them, as it happened, even faster than if I had sent flowers every day to Gilberte, for when evening came I was always too miserable to stay in the house and used to go and weep in the arms of women whom I did not love. As for seeking to give any sort of pleasure to Gilberte, I no longer desired to do so; to visit her house again now could only have added to my sufferings. Even the sight of Gilberte, which would have been so delightful only yesterday, would no longer have sufficed me. For I would have been anxious all the time that I was not actually with her. That is how a woman, by every new torture that she inflicts on us, often quite unconsciously, increases her power over us and at the same time our demands on her. With each injury that she does us, she encircles us more and more completely, doubles our chains, but also those that until then we had thought adequate to bind her in order to retain our own peace of mind. Only yesterday, had I not been afraid of annoying Gilberte, I would have been content to ask for no more than occasional meetings, which now would no longer have contented me and for which I would now

Madame Swann at Home 219

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower have substituted quite different terms. For in this respect love is not like war; after each battle we renew the fight with keener ardor, which we never cease to intensify the more thoroughly we are defeated, provided always that we are still in a position to give battle. This was not my case with regard to Gilberte. And so I preferred at first not to return to her mother’s house. I continued, it is true, to tell myself that Gilberte did not love me, that I had known this for some time, that I could see her again if I chose, and, if I chose not to, forget her in the long run. But these ideas, like a remedy that has no effect on certain complaints, had no power whatsoever to obliterate those two parallel lines that I saw from time to time, traced by Gilberte and the young man as they slowly disappeared along the avenue des Champs-­Élysées. This was a new malady, which like the rest would gradually lose its force; it was an image that would one day present itself to my mind’s eye completely purged of every noxious element that it now contained, like those deadly poisons one can handle without danger, or like a bit of dynamite one can use to light one’s cigarette without fear of an explosion. Meanwhile there was in me another force that was striving with all its might to overpower the unwholesome force that still showed me, without alteration, the figure of Gilberte walking in the dusk: to meet and break the shock of the renewed assaults of my memory, I had, toiling effectively in the opposite direction, my imagination. The former force did indeed continue to show me that couple walking along the avenue of the Champs-­ Élysées, and offered me other disagreeable images drawn from the past, for example, Gilberte shrugging her shoulders when her mother asked her to stay and entertain me. But the second force, working on the canvas of my hopes, outlined a future far more attractively developed than this paltry past that, after all, was so restricted. For every minute in which I saw Gilberte’s sullen face, there were so many others in which I imagined all the steps that she would take to bring about our reconciliation, perhaps even our engagement! It is true that this force, which my imagination was directing toward the future, was drawn, after all, from the past. As

220 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower my annoyance that Gilberte had shrugged her shoulders gradually faded, the memory of her charm would diminish as well, a memory that made me wish for her to return to me. But I was still a long way from this death of the past. I was still in love with her whom, it is true, I believed that I detested. But whenever anyone told me that my hair was nicely cut or that I was looking well, I wished that she could have been there to see me. I was irritated by the desire that many people showed during this time to ask me to their houses and refused all their invitations. There was a scene at home because I did not accompany my father to an official dinner at which the Bontemps were to be present with their niece Albertine, a young girl still hardly more than a child. So it is that the different periods of our life overlap one another. We scornfully decline, because of one whom we love and who will someday mean nothing to us, to see another who means nothing today, with whom we will be in love tomorrow, with whom we might perhaps, had we consented to see her now, have fallen in love a little sooner and who would thus have put an end to our present sufferings, only to replace them, it is true, with others. Mine were steadily changing. I was astonished to discover deep within me one sentiment one day, another the next, generally inspired by some hope or some fear relative to Gilberte. To the Gilberte whom I carried within me. I ought to have told myself that the other, the real Gilberte, was perhaps entirely different from mine, knew nothing of the regrets that I ascribed to her, thought probably a lot less about me, not merely than I was thinking about her but than I made her think about me when I was alone tête-­à-­tête with my fictitious Gilberte, wondering what were her real feelings toward me and imagining her thus, her attention constantly directed toward me. During those periods in which our chagrin, though steadily diminishing, still persists, a distinction must be drawn between the chagrin that comes to us from our constantly thinking of the person herself and the one that is revived by certain memories, some cutting remark, some word in a letter that we received from her. While deferring the description of the various forms that our

Madame Swann at Home 221

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower chagrin can assume to the occasion of another love affair, suffice it to say that, of these two kinds, the first is infinitely less cruel than the second. That is because our conception of the person, still living within us, is there embellished with the halo that we hasten to give her, and is imprinted if not with the frequent solace of hope, at any rate with the tranquility of a permanent sorrow. (Moreover, it must be observed that the image of a person who makes us suffer counts for little in those complications that aggravate the chagrin of love, prolong it and prevent our recovery, just as in certain maladies the cause is out of proportion to the fever that follows it and the slowness of our convalescence.) But if the idea of the person we love is reflected in a mind that is on the whole optimistic, it is not so with those particular memories, those cutting words, that hostile letter (I received only one that could be so described from Gilberte); you would say that the person herself resides in those fragments, however limited, and multiplied to a power that she is far from having in the habitual idea that we form of her as a whole. Because the letter has not—as the image of the beloved has—been contemplated by us in the melancholy calm of regret; we have read it, devoured it in the fearful anguish with which we were wrung by an unforeseen misfortune. Sorrows of this sort come to us in another way; they come to us from without; and it is by the path of the cruelest suffering that they have penetrated to our heart. The image of our friend in our mind, which we believe to be old, authentic, has in reality been remade by us many times over. The cruel memory is not itself contemporary with the restored image, it is of another age, it is one of the rare witnesses to a monstrous past. But inasmuch as this past continues to exist, except in ourselves who have been pleased to substitute for it a miraculous golden age, a paradise in which everyone will be reconciled, those memories, those letters carry us back to reality, and cannot but make us feel by the sudden pang they give us, what a long way we have been borne from that reality by the baseless hopes engendered by our daily expectation. Not that this reality is bound always to remain the same, though that does in-

222 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower deed happen at times. There are in our life any number of women whom we have never sought to see again, and who have quite naturally responded to our in no way calculated silence with a silence as profound. Only in their case, since we never loved them, we have never counted the years spent apart from them, and this example, which would invalidate our whole argument, we are inclined to forget when we consider the healing effect of isolation, just as people who believe in presentiments forget all the occasions on which their own have not come true. But, after a time, absence may prove efficacious. The desire, the appetite for seeing us again may finally be reborn in the heart that at present ignores us. Only, it takes time. Now our demands as far as time is concerned are no less exorbitant than those required by a heart in order to change. For one thing, time is the very thing that we are least willing to allow, for our own suffering is cruel and we are eager to see it end. And then, too, the time that the other heart will need in order to change will serve our own in changing itself as well, so that when the goal that we had set ourselves becomes attainable it will have ceased to be our goal. Besides the very idea that it will be attainable, that there is no happiness, when it has ceased to be a happiness for us, that we cannot ultimately attain, this idea contains a part, but a part only of the truth. It falls to us when we have grown indifferent to it. But the very fact of our indifference has made us less exacting and allows us in retrospect to believe that it would have delighted us had it come at a time when, very probably, it would have seemed to us greatly inadequate. People are not very demanding, nor very good judges, about matters that do not concern them. The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures that in our indifference strike us as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender words, that offer of a rendezvous, make us think only of the pleasure they would have given us, and not of all those other words and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, and which our avidity for them would perhaps have prevented from ever happening. So

Madame Swann at Home 223

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 379. Joseph, who would become a Hebrew patriarch, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He became a servant to the Egyptian Potiphar, officer of the pharaoh. Joseph’s dreams are described in Genesis 37. He also interpreted the dreams of the pharaoh, as told in Genesis 41.

224 Madame Swann at Home

that we can never be certain that the happiness that comes to us too late, when we are no longer in love, when we can no longer enjoy it, is altogether the same happiness the lack of which made us at one time so unhappy. There is only one person who could decide that; our self of those days; he is no longer with us, and were he to reappear, no doubt that would suffice to make our happiness—whether identical or not—vanish. While awaiting these belated fulfillments of a dream in which I would, when the time came, no longer be interested, by dint of inventing, as in the days when I hardly knew Gilberte, words or letters in which she implored my forgiveness, swore that she had never loved anyone but me, and asked me to marry her, a series of pleasant images, incessantly renewed, came by degrees to hold a larger place in my mind than the vision of Gilberte and the young man, which had nothing now on which to feed. At this point I should perhaps have resumed my visits to Mme Swann but for a dream I had in which one of my friends, who was not, however, one that I could identify, behaved with the utmost treachery toward me and appeared to believe that I had been treacherous to him. Abruptly awakened by the pain that this dream had caused me and finding that it persisted after I was awake, I turned my thoughts back to the dream, tried to remember who could have been the friend whom I had seen in my sleep, the sound of whose Spanish name was no longer distinct. As both Joseph and the pharaoh,379 I set to work to interpret my dream. I knew that in many dreams it is a mistake to pay too much attention to the appearance of the people, who may be disguised or have exchanged faces, like those mutilated saints in cathedrals that ignorant archaeologists have restored, putting on the body of one the head of another and mixing up their attributes and names. Those that people bear in a dream are apt to mislead us. The person with whom we are in love is to be recognized only by the intensity of the pain that we suffer. From mine I learned that, transformed while I was asleep into a young man, the person whose recent betrayal still hurt me was Gilberte. I remembered then that, the last time I had seen her, on

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the day when her mother had forbidden her to go out to a dancing lesson, she had, whether in sincerity or in pretense, declined, laughing in a strange manner, to believe in the genuineness of my feelings for her. And by association this memory brought back to me another. Long before that, it had been Swann who had refused to believe in my sincerity, or that I was a suitable friend for Gilberte. In vain had I written to him, Gilberte had brought back my letter and had returned it to me with the same incomprehensible laugh. She had not returned it to me at once: I remembered now the whole of that scene behind the clump of laurels. One becomes moral as soon as one is unhappy. Gilberte’s current antipathy for me seemed to me a punishment inflicted on me by life because of my conduct that day. One believes one can escape such punishments because one looks out for carriages when crossing the street and avoids obvious dangers. But there are others that take effect within us. The accident comes from the side to which one was not paying attention, from inside, from the heart. Gilberte’s words: “If you like, we might go on wrestling,” horrified me. I imagined her behaving like that, at home perhaps, in the linen closet, with the young man whom I had seen escorting her along the avenue des Champs-­Élysées. And so, when, a short while ago, I had been foolish enough to believe myself calmly established in a state of happiness, now that I had abandoned all thought of happiness, it was just as foolish to take for granted that at least I had become and was going to remain calm. For, so long as our heart enshrines in a permanent way the image of another person, it is not only our happiness that may at any moment be destroyed; when that happiness has vanished, when we have suffered and, later, when we have succeeded in lulling our sufferings to sleep, the thing then that is as deceptive, as precarious as happiness itself, is our calm. Mine returned to me in the end, for the cloud that has entered our mind in the guise of a dream, modifying our morale, our desires, also dissipates little by little, permanence and stability being assured to nothing in this world, not even to grief. Besides, those whose suffering is due to love are, as we say of certain invalids,

Madame Swann at Home 225

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower their own physicians. Since consolation can come to them only from the person who is the cause of their grief, and since their grief is an emanation from that person, it is in their grief itself that they must in the end find a remedy: which it will disclose to them at a given moment, for as long as they turn it over in their minds, this grief will continue to show another aspect of the loved one, the regretted person, at one moment so hateful that one no longer desires to see her since before finding enjoyment in her company one would have to make her suffer, at another moment so sweet that one gives her credit for the sweetness one has attributed to her and finds in it a reason for hope. But even though the anguish that had reawakened in me did finally subside, I no longer wished—except rarely—to visit Mme Swann. In the first place because, in those who love and have been forsaken, the state of incessant—even if unconfessed—expectancy in which they live undergoes a spontaneous transformation, and, while to all appearance unchanged, substitutes for its original state a second one that is precisely the opposite. The first was the consequence, the reflection of the painful incidents that had upset us. The expectation of what may happen is mingled with fear, all the more since we desire at that moment, if no new message comes to us from her whom we love, to act ourselves, and are none too confident of the success of a step that, once we have taken it, we may find it impossible to initiate another. But presently, without our having noticed any change, our continuing expectation is determined, as we have seen, no longer by the memory of the past that we endured but by the anticipation of an imaginary future. From that moment on it is almost pleasant. Besides, the first state, by continuing for some time, has accustomed us to living in expectation. The suffering that we felt during those last meetings survives in us still, but is already lulled to sleep. We are in no haste to arouse it, especially as we do not see very clearly what to ask for now. The possession of a little more of the woman we love would only make more necessary to us the part we do not possess, which will remain, in spite of everything, our needs being born of our satisfactions, irreducible.

226 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Another, final reason came later on to reinforce this, and to make me discontinue altogether my visits to Mme Swann. This reason, slow in revealing itself, was not that I had now forgotten Gilberte but that I must make every effort to forget her as speedily as possible. No doubt, now that the keen edge of my suffering was dulled, my visits to Mme Swann had become once again, for what sorrow remained in me, the sedative and distraction that had been so precious to me in the beginning. But what made the first efficacious also made a drawback of the second, namely that with these visits the memory of Gilberte was intimately blended. The distraction would be of use to me only if it wielded, to combat a sentiment no longer nourished by Gilberte’s presence, thoughts, interests, passions in which Gilberte had no part. These states of consciousness to which the person whom we love remains a stranger occupy then a place that, however small it may be at first, is always so much reconquered from the love that has been in unchallenged possession of our whole soul. We must seek to encourage these thoughts, to make them grow, while the sentiment that is now no more than a memory dwindles, so that the new elements introduced into our mind contest with that sentiment, wrest from it an ever-­increasing portion of our soul, until finally they possess it all. I realized that this was the only way in which my love could be killed, and I was still young enough, still courageous enough to undertake the attempt, to subject myself to the cruelest grief that springs from the certainty that, however long it may take us, we will succeed. The reason I now gave in my letters to Gilberte for refusing to see her was an allusion to some mysterious misunderstanding, wholly fictitious, that was supposed to have arisen between her and me, and about which I had hoped at first that Gilberte would demand an explanation. But, as a matter of fact, never, even in the most insignificant relations in life, does a request for enlightenment come from a correspondent who knows that an obscure, untruthful, incriminating sentence has been written on purpose, so that he will protest against it, and is only too happy to feel thereby that he possesses—and will keep—the upper hand

Madame Swann at Home 227

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower in the exchange. This is all the more so in our love relationships, in which love has so much eloquence, indifference so little curiosity. Gilberte not having questioned nor sought to learn about this misunderstanding, it became for me a real entity, to which I referred in every letter. And there is in these baseless situations, in the affectation of coldness, a sort of fascination that makes one persevere in them. By dint of writing: “Now that our hearts are sundered,” so that Gilberte might answer: “But they are not. Let’s talk things over,” I had gradually come to believe that they were. By constantly repeating, “Life may have changed for us, it will never destroy the feeling that we had for one another,” in the hope of hearing her say to me at last: “But there has been no change; the feeling is stronger now than ever it was,” I was living with the idea that life had indeed changed, that we would keep only the memory of a feeling that no longer existed, as certain neurotics, from having at first pretended to be ill, end by becoming chronic invalids. Now, whenever I had to write to Gilberte, I brought my mind back to this imagined change, which, being now tacitly admitted by the silence that she preserved with regard to it in her replies, would subsist between us. Then Gilberte ceased to make a point of ignoring it. She too adopted my point of view; and, as in the toasts at official banquets, when the head of state who is being entertained adopts more or less the same expressions as have just been used by the head of state who is entertaining him, whenever I wrote to Gilberte: “Life may have parted us, but the memory of the days when we knew one another will endure,” she never failed to respond: “Life may have parted us, but it cannot make us forget those happy hours that will always be dear to us both” (though we would have found it hard to say why or how “life” had parted us, or what change had occurred). My sufferings were no longer excessive. And yet, one day when I was telling her in a letter that I had heard of the death of our old barley sugar woman in the Champs-­Élysées, as I wrote the words: “I thought that this must have made you grieve; in me it awakened a host of memories,” I could not restrain myself from bursting into tears when I saw that

228 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower I was speaking in the past tense, as though it were of some dead friend, now almost forgotten, of this love of which in spite of myself I had never ceased to think as something still alive, or capable at least of reviving. Nothing could be more tender than this correspondence between friends who did not wish to see one another anymore. Gilberte’s letters to me had all the delicacy of those I used to write to people who did not matter to me, and showed me the same apparent marks of affection, which it was so pleasant for me to receive from her. But, little by little, every refusal to see her grieved me less. And as she became less dear to me, my painful memories were no longer strong enough to destroy by their incessant return the growing pleasure that I found in thinking of Florence, of Venice. I regretted, at such moments, that I had abandoned the idea of diplomacy and had condemned myself to a sedentary existence, in order not to be separated from a girl whom I would not see again and had already almost forgotten. We construct our lives for one person, and when at length we are ready to receive her, that person does not come; presently she is dead to us, and we live on, a prisoner within the walls that were intended only for her. If Venice seemed to my parents to be too far away and its climate treacherous for me, it was at least quite easy for me to go and settle down at Balbec without tiring myself. But to do that I would have had to leave Paris, to forgo those visits thanks to which, infrequent as they were, I might sometimes hear Mme Swann telling me about her daughter. Besides, I was beginning to find in them various pleasures in which Gilberte had no part. When spring arrived, and the days of the Ice Saints380 and the hailstorms of Holy Week brought back the cold weather, as Mme Swann asserted that the house was freezing, I used often to see her entertaining her guests in her furs, her shivering hands and shoulders hidden beneath the gleaming white carpet of an immense rectangular muff and a cape, both of sable, which she had not taken off on coming in from her drive, and which suggested the last patches of the snows of winter, more persistent than the

380. Proust presents the days of the calendar in reverse order, since Easter must always precede the days of the Ice or Frost Saints, also known as the blackthorn winter, the feast days of Saints Mamertus, Pancras, and Servatius, which fall on May 11, 12, and 13. Other sources place the dates as beginning on the twelfth and ending on the fourteenth with the feast day of Saint Boniface.

Madame Swann at Home 229

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 381. Tansonville is the name of Charles Swann’s country estate near Combray. 382. Whistler produced three paintings with the title Symphony in White and numbered them 1, 2, and 3. The first two show a young woman in a white dress. The third shows two young women similarly attired. Proust may have had in mind also “Symphonie en blanc majeur,” a poem (1852) by Théophile Gautier (1811–72), in which the poet celebrates the beauty of Marie Kalergis (1822–74) as one of “implacable blancheur.” 383. The Good Friday music in the opera Parsifal (1882) by Wagner is in act 3, scene 1. This part of the opera was played in Paris at the Concert Colonne on Good Friday, March 28, 1902. The Concerts Colonne were performances of classical music established by Édouard Colonne in 1874 and given at the Théâtre du Châtelet. 384. See Swann’s Way, 157.

230 Madame Swann at Home

rest, which neither the heat of the fire nor the advancing season had succeeded in melting. And the whole truth about these glacial but already flowering weeks was suggested to me in this drawing room, which soon I would be entering no more, by other more intoxicating forms of whiteness, that for example of the guelder roses clustering, at the summits of their tall bare stalks, like the rectilinear trees in Pre-­Raphaelite paintings, their balls of blossom, divided yet composite, white as annunciating angels and encircled in a scent of lemons. For the châtelaine of Tansonville381 knew that April, even an icebound April, is not barren of flowers, that winter, spring, and summer are not held apart by barriers as hermetic as might be supposed by the boulevardier who, until the first hot day, imagines the world as containing nothing but houses that stand naked in the rain. That Mme Swann was content with the consignments furnished by her Combray gardener, that she did not, by the intermediary of her own “regular” florist, fill the gaps left by an insufficient evocation of spring with borrowings from a precocious Mediterranean shore, I do not for a moment suggest, nor did it worry me at the time. It was enough to fill me with longing for country scenes that, overhanging the loose snowdrifts of the muff in which Mme Swann kept her hands, the guelder rose snowballs (which served very possibly in the mind of my hostess no other purpose than to compose, on the advice of Bergotte, a “Symphony in White”382 with her furnishings and her garments) reminded me that the Good Friday music in Parsifal 383 symbolizes a natural miracle that one could see performed every year if one had the sense to look for it, and, assisted by the acid and heady perfume of the corollas of other species whose names were unknown to me and had brought me so often to a standstill to gaze at them on my walks around Combray, made Mme Swann’s drawing room as virginal, as candidly in bloom without the least vestige of greenery, as overladen with genuine scents of flowers as was the little lane at Tansonville.384 But it was still too much for me that the memory of the little path should be recalled to me. There was a risk of its sustaining

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower what little remained of my love for Gilberte. And so, although I no longer felt the least distress during these visits to Mme Swann, I extended the intervals between them and endeavored to see her as seldom as possible. At most, since I continued to remain in Paris, I allowed myself an occasional walk with her. The fine weather had come at last, and with it the heat. As I knew that before lunch Mme Swann would go out for an hour and stroll on the avenue du Bois, near the Étoile385—a spot that was known, at the time—because of the people who used to gather there to look at the rich people whom they knew only by name,—as the “Down-­and-­Outers Club,”386 I persuaded my parents, on Sundays (for on weekdays I was busy all morning), to let me postpone my lunch until long after theirs, until a quarter past one, and go for a walk before it. During that month of May, I never missed a Sunday, Gilberte having gone to stay with friends in the country. I used to arrive at the Arc de Triomphe about noon. I kept watch at the entrance to the avenue, never taking my eyes off the corner of the side street along which Mme Swann, who had only a few yards to walk, would come from her house. Since by this time many of the people who had been strolling there were going home to lunch, those who remained were few in number and, for the most part, fashionably dressed. Suddenly, on the graveled path, unhurrying, cool, and luxuriant as the most beautiful flower and one that opens only at noon, Mme Swann would appear, blossoming out in a toilette that was never twice the same, but which I remember as being typically mauve; then she would hoist and unfurl at the end of its long stalk, just at the moment when her radiance was most complete, the silken banner of a wide parasol of a shade that matched the showering petals of her gown. A whole troop of people escorted her; Swann himself, four or five clubmen, who had been to call on her that morning or whom she had met in the street: and their black or gray agglomeration, obedient to her every gesture, performing the almost mechanical movements of a lifeless setting in which Odette was framed, gave to this woman, in whose eyes alone was there any intensity, the

385. In 1929, the avenue du Bois became the avenue Foch. It is a broad avenue running from the place de l’Étoile to the entrance of the Bois de Boulogne. 386. Panné is slang for someone who is penniless or down and out. The Club des Pannés was founded January 19, 1886, on the avenue du Bois not far from the place de l’Étoile.

Madame Swann at Home 231

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower air of looking out in front of her, from among all those men, as from a window behind which she had taken her stand, and made her emerge there, frail but fearless, in the nudity of her delicate colors, like the apparition of a creature of a different species, of an unknown race, and of almost martial strength, by virtue of which she seemed by herself a match for all her multiple escort. Smiling, rejoicing in the fine weather, in the sunshine that had not yet become trying, with the air of calm assurance of a creator who has accomplished his task and no longer cares about the rest, certain that her clothes—even though the vulgar passersby might fail to appreciate them—were the most elegant, she wore them for herself and for her friends, naturally, without exaggerated attention to them but also without absolute detachment, not preventing the little bows of ribbon on her bodice and skirt from floating buoyantly on the air before her, like creatures of whose presence she was not unaware and whom she indulgently permitted to play their games, keeping their own rhythm, provided that they followed where she led the way, and even on her mauve parasol, which, as often as not, she still held closed when she appeared on the scene, she let fall now and then, as though on a bouquet of Parma violets, a happy gaze and so kindly that, when it was fastened no longer on her friends but on some inanimate object, her eyes still seemed to smile. She thus reserved, she made her toilette occupy that interval of elegance of which the men with whom she was on the most familiar terms respected both the extent and the necessity, not without showing a certain deference, as of profane visitors to a shrine, an admission of their own ignorance, and over which they recognized (as to an invalid over the special precautions that he has to take, or a mother over the upbringing of her children) their friend’s competence and jurisdiction. No less than by the court that encircled her and seemed not to observe the passersby, Mme Swann by the lateness of her appearance, evoked those rooms in which she had spent so long, so leisurely a morning and to which she must presently return for lunch; she seemed to indicate their proximity by the unhurrying

232 Madame Swann at Home

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ease of her promenade, like the little stroll one takes up and down one’s own garden; of those rooms one would have said that she carried about her still the cool, the indoor shade. But for that very reason the sight of her gave me only a stronger sensation of open air and warmth. All the more so because, already persuaded that, by virtue of the liturgy and rituals in which Mme Swann was so profoundly versed, her clothes were connected with the season and the hour by a bond both necessary and unique, the flowers on the flexible straw brim of her hat, the little ribbons on her dress, seemed to me to emerge from the month of May even more naturally than the flowers in the gardens and woods; and to learn what latest change there was in weather or season I raised my eyes no higher than to her parasol, open and outstretched like another nearer sky, clement, mobile, and blue. For these rites, even though sovereign, subjugated their glory (and, consequently, Mme Swann her own) in condescending obedience to the morning, the spring, the sun, none of which struck me as being sufficiently flattered that so elegant a woman had not wished to ignore their existence, and had chosen on their account a dress of a brighter, thinner fabric, suggesting to me, by the opening of its collar and sleeves, the moist warmness of the neck and wrists that they exposed—in a word, had taken for them all the pains that a great lady takes who, having gaily condescended to pay a visit to common folk in the country, and whom everyone, even the most plebeian, knows, yet makes a point of donning, especially for the occasion, attire suitable to an outing in the country. On her arrival, I would greet Mme Swann; she would stop me and say “Good morning,”387 and smile. We would walk a little way together. And I understood then that it was for her own satisfaction that she obeyed these canons according to which she dressed, as though yielding to a superior wisdom of which she herself was the high priestess: for if it should happen that, feeling too warm, she threw open or even took off altogether and gave me to carry the jacket that she had intended to keep buttoned up, I would discover in the blouse beneath it a thousand details of execution that had had every chance

387. “Good morning” is in English in the original.

Madame Swann at Home 233

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 388. Given Proust’s keen interest in and knowledge of fashion, when Yves Saint Laurent decorated his Château Gabriel in Normandy, he paid homage to Proust by naming the rooms after characters in the novel. “Proust is very much part of my life. Every day I learn something from him. When I bought a nineteenth-­century château at Béner­ ville in Normandy, what could be more natural than that Proust should have inspired me to re-­create the ambience of the country houses where his characters spent their summers?” Saint Laurent said that by honoring Proust, he “honors the only great writer to have used fashion as a philosophical ingredient of his work, as yet another manifestation of the element of time that obsessed him.” See John Richardson, “Yves Saint Laurent’s Château Gabriel: A Passion for Style,” Vogue, December 1983, 302 ff. 389. This is a carriage or coach with its horses.

234 Madame Swann at Home

of remaining there unseen, like those parts of an orchestral score to which the composer has devoted infinite labor although they may never reach the ears of the public: or in the sleeves of the jacket that lay folded across my arm I would see, I would gaze at lengthily, for my own pleasure or from affection for its wearer, some exquisite detail, a deliciously tinted strip, a lining of mauve satinette that, ordinarily concealed from every eye, was yet just as delicately fashioned as the outer parts,388 like those Gothic carvings on a cathedral, hidden on the inside of a balustrade eighty feet from the ground, as perfect as are the bas-­reliefs over the main porch, and yet never seen by any living man until, happening to pass that way on his travels, an artist obtains leave to climb up there among them, to stroll in the open air, overlooking the whole town, between the two towers. What enhanced this impression that Mme Swann was walking in the avenue du Bois as though along the paths of her own garden, was—for people ignorant of her habit of taking a “constitutional”—that she had come there on foot, without any carriage following, she whom, once May had begun, they were accustomed to see, behind the finest turnout,389 the most splendid liveries in Paris, nonchalantly and majestically seated, like a goddess, in the balmy open air of an immense victoria on eight springs. On foot Mme Swann had the appearance—especially when her pace began to slacken in the heat of the sun—of having yielded to curiosity, of committing an elegant breach of the rules of protocol, like those sovereigns who, without consulting anyone, accompanied by the slightly scandalized admiration of a suite that dares not venture any criticism, step out of their boxes during a gala performance and visit the lobby of the theater, mingling for a moment or two with the rest of the audience. So between Mme Swann and themselves the crowd felt that there existed those barriers of a certain kind of opulence that seem to them the most insurmountable of all. The Faubourg Saint-­Germain may also have its barriers, but these are less telling to the eyes and imagination of the “down-­and-­outers.” These latter, when in the presence of a

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower great lady, who is simpler, more easily mistaken for a petite bourgeoise, less remote from the people, will not feel the same sense of their own inequality, almost of their unworthiness, as they do before a Mme Swann. Of course women of this sort are not themselves as impressed, as the crowd is, by the glittering world that surrounds them; they have ceased to pay any attention to it, but only because they have grown used to it, that is to say have come to find it all the more and more natural and necessary to judge their fellow creatures according to the degree that they are more or less initiated into these luxurious ways: so that (the grandeur that they allow themselves to display or discover in others being wholly material, easily verified, slowly acquired, the lack of it hard to compensate) if such women place a passerby in the lowest rank, it is by the same process that has made them appear to him as in the highest, that is to say instinctively, at first sight, and without possibility of appeal. Perhaps the particular social class that included in those days women like Lady Israëls, who mixed with the women of the aristocracy, and Mme Swann, who was to get to know them later on, that intermediate class, inferior to the Faubourg Saint-­Germain, since it courted the latter, but superior to everything that was not of the Faubourg Saint-­Germain, possessing this peculiarity that, while already detached from the world of the merely rich, it was riches still that it represented, but riches that had become ductile, obedient to a purpose, to an idea that was artistic, malleable gold, engraved with a poetic design, and taught to smile; perhaps that class—with the same character, at least, and with the same charm—exists no longer. In any event, the women who were its members would not satisfy today what was the primary condition on which they reigned, since with advancing age they have lost—almost all of them—their beauty. Whereas it was (just as much as from the pinnacle of her noble fortune) from the glorious zenith of her ripe and still so fragrant summer that Mme Swann, majestic, smiling, and kind, as she advanced along the avenue du Bois, saw like Hypatia,390 beneath the slow tread of her feet, worlds revolving. Young men as they

390. Hypatia (c. A.D. 370–415) was an Alexandrine Neoplatonist philosopher and mathematician who also taught astronomy. She was killed by a Christian mob, possibly incited by Saint Cyril. Proust is alluding to the last line of Leconte de Lisle’s poem, “Hypatie,” (1847): “Et les mondes encor roulent sous ses pieds blancs” (And worlds still revolve beneath her fair feet).

Madame Swann at Home 235

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 391. Odette gallicizes the English verb drop, making of it dropiez. 392. Prince de Sagan (1832–1910) was the name used by Charles-­Guillaume-­ Frédéric-­Boson de Talleyrand-­Périgord until the death of his father in 1898, when he became the fourth Duc de Talleyrand and Duc de Sagan. He was known for his sumptuous parties and for being the arbiter of Parisian taste and elegance. Proust makes him a friend of Swann’s.

236 Madame Swann at Home

passed looked at her anxiously, not knowing whether their vague acquaintance with her (especially since, having been introduced only once, at the most, to Swann, they were afraid that he might not remember them) was sufficient excuse for their venturing to greet her. And they trembled to think of the consequences as they made up their minds, asking themselves whether their gesture, so audaciously provocative and sacrilegious, disregarding the inviolable supremacy of a caste, would not let loose the catastrophic forces of nature or bring down on them the vengeance of a jealous god. It set in motion only, like the winding of a piece of clockwork, a series of gesticulations from little, bowing figures, who were none other than Odette’s entourage, beginning with Swann himself, who raised his tall hat lined in green leather with a smiling courtesy, acquired in the Faubourg Saint-­Germain, but to which was no longer wedded the indifference that he would at one time have shown. Its place was now taken (as though he had been to some extent permeated by Odette’s prejudices) at once by irritation at having to acknowledge the greeting of a person who was none too well dressed and by satisfaction at his wife’s knowing so many people, a mixed feeling to which he gave expression by saying to the elegant friends who accompanied him: “What, another one! My word, I can’t imagine where my wife finds all these fellows!” Meanwhile, Mme Swann, having responded with a nod to the terrified passerby already out of sight though his heart was still throbbing, turned to me: “Then it’s all over?” she said. “You aren’t ever coming to see Gilberte again? I’m glad you make an exception of me, and are not going to drop391 me straight away. I like seeing you, but I also liked the influence you had over my daughter. I’m sure she’s very sorry about it, too. However, I mustn’t bully you, or you’ll make up your mind at once that you never want to see me again!” “Odette, Sagan’s392 saying hello to you!” Swann pointed out to his wife. And there, indeed, was the prince, as in an apotheosis at the theater, or in a circus, or in an old painting, wheeling his horse around so as to face Odette, in a magnificent heroic pose, and doffing his hat with a sweeping

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower theatrical, and, so to speak, allegorical flourish in which he displayed all the chivalrous courtesy of the great noble bowing in token of his respect for Woman, were she incarnated in a woman whom it was impossible for his mother or his sister to know. And at every moment, recognized in the depths of the liquid transparency and of the luminous glaze of the shadow cast over her by her parasol, Mme Swann received the salutations of the last belated horsemen, who passed as though filmed as they galloped in the blinding glare of the avenue, clubmen, the names of whom, those of celebrities to the public—Antoine de Castellane, Adalbert de Montmorency,393 and so many others—were for Mme Swann the familiar names of friends. And as the average span of life, the relative longevity of our memories of poetical sensations is much greater than that of our memories of what the heart has suffered, now, so long after the sorrows that I once felt on Gilberte’s account have faded and vanished, there has survived them the pleasure that I still derive—whenever I close my eyes and read,394 as it were, on the face of a sundial, the minutes that are recorded between a quarter past twelve and one o’clock in the month of May—from seeing myself once again strolling and talking thus with Mme Swann, beneath her parasol, as though in the colored shade of a bower of wisteria.

393. The Marquis Antoine de Castellane (1844–1917) traced his provincial ancestry back to the eleventh century. He was the father of the Marquis Boniface de Castellane (1867–1932), “Boni,” a friend of Proust’s and the nephew of the Duc de Sagan. Boniface de Castellane’s Mémoires of the era were published posthumously in 1986. See also Swann’s Way, 199, note 147. The title Duc de Montmorency was bestowed on Adalbert de Talleyrand-­Périgord (1837– 1915) by Napoléon III. 394. Scott Moncrieff added “close my eyes and.”

Madame Swann at Home 237

This page intentionally left blank

Part Two Place-­Names: The Place

I had arrived at a state of almost complete indifference to Gilberte when, two years later, I went with my grandmother to Balbec. When I succumbed to the attraction of a new face, when it was with the help of some other girl that I hoped to discover Gothic cathedrals, and the palaces and gardens of Italy, I said to myself sadly that this love of ours, insofar as it is love for one particular creature, is not perhaps a very real thing, since, if the association of pleasant or painful reveries can attach it for a time to a woman to the extent of making us believe that it has been inspired by her in a necessary way, on the other hand if we detach ourselves deliberately or unconsciously from those associations, this love, as though it were indeed a spontaneous thing and sprang from ourselves alone, will revive in order to bestow itself on another woman. At the time, however, of my departure for Balbec, and during the earlier part of my stay there, my indifference was still only intermittent. Often (our life being so careless of chronology, interpolating so many anachronisms in the sequence of our days), I lived still among those days older than yesterday or last week, when I had been in love with Gilberte. And then no longer seeing her became suddenly painful, as it would have been at that time. The self that had loved her, replaced already nearly entirely by another self, rose again in me, and was brought back far more often by a trivial thing than by an important one. For instance, if I may anticipate for a moment my arrival in Normandy, I heard someone who passed me on the esplanade at Balbec refer to “the family of the head of the Ministry of Posts.”1 Now, seeing that as yet I knew nothing of the influence that family was to have on my life, this remark ought to have passed unheeded, but instead it gave me a

1. This is the Bontemps family. See “Madame Swann at Home,” 42.


In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 2. In the madeleine scene, the time of which is set outside the main narrative line, the Narrator has a similar recognition of his goal: “It is clear that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in it [the tea], but in me.” Swann’s Way, 51.

240 Place-Names: The Place

sharp stab of pain, which a self that had for the most part long since been outgrown in me felt at being parted from Gilberte. For I had never given another thought to a conversation that Gilberte had had with her father in my presence, regarding “the family of the head of the Ministry of Posts.” Now the memories of love present no exception to the general laws of memory, which in turn are governed by the still more general laws of Habit. And as Habit weakens everything, what best reminds us of a person is precisely what we had forgotten (because it was of no importance, and we had therefore left it in full possession of its strength). That is why the better part of our memory exists outside ourselves, in a damp breeze, in the odor of an unaired room or in the odor of the first crackling fire in a cold grate: wherever we find again of ourselves what our intellect, having no use for it, had disdained, the last reserve that the past has in store, the richest, that which, when all our tears seem to have dried, can make us weep again. Outside ourselves? Rather within ourselves, but hidden from our own eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged.2 It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the person that we were, place ourselves face to face with past events as that person had to face them, suffer again because we are no longer ourselves but he, and because he loved what now leaves us indifferent. In the broad daylight of our habitual memory the images of the past gradually pale and fade out of sight, nothing remains of them, we will never recapture the past again. Or rather we would never recapture it again had not a few words (such as “secretary to the Ministry of Posts”) been carefully locked away in oblivion, just as is deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale a copy of a book that might otherwise become unobtainable. But this pain and this recrudescence of my love for Gilberte lasted no longer than such things last in a dream, and this time, on the contrary, because at Balbec the old Habit was no longer there to keep them alive. And if these two effects of Habit appear to be incompatible, that is because Habit is bound by a diversity of laws. In Paris I had grown more and more indifferent to Gilberte,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower thanks to Habit. The change of habit, that is to say the temporary cessation of Habit, completed Habit’s work when I left for Balbec. It weakens, but it stabilizes; it leads to disintegration but it makes the scattered elements last indefinitely. Day after day, for years past, I had modeled my state of mind, as best I could, on that of the day before. At Balbec, a strange bed, to the side of which a tray was brought in the morning that differed from my Paris breakfast tray, could no longer sustain the thoughts on which my love for Gilberte had fed: there are cases (fairly rare, it is true) where, one’s days being paralyzed by a sedentary life, the best way to gain time is to change one’s place of residence. My journey to Balbec was like the first outing of a convalescent who needed only that to convince him that he was cured. The journey was one that would now no doubt be made in an automobile, in the belief that it would thereby be rendered more agreeable. We will see too that, accomplished in such a way, it would even be in a sense more real, since one would be following more nearly, in a closer intimacy, the various contours that change the surface of the earth. But after all the special attraction of the journey lies not in our being able to alight at places along the way and to stop altogether when we are tired, but in its making the difference between departure and arrival not as imperceptible but as intense as possible, so that we are conscious of this difference in its totality, intact, as it existed in our mind when our imagination bore us from the place where we were living right to the very heart of a place we longed to see, in a single bound that seemed miraculous to us not so much because it covered a certain distance as because it united two distinct individualities of the world, took us from one name to another name; and this difference is schematized (better than in a form of locomotion in which, since one can disembark where one chooses, there can scarcely be said to be any point of arrival) by the mysterious operation that is performed in those special places, railway stations, which do not constitute, so to speak, a part of the surrounding town but contain the essence of its personality just as on their signboards they bear its name.

Place-Names: The Place 241

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 3. The Gare Saint-­Lazare is in the eighth arrondissement and serves cities and destinations in northern France. It was from here that Proust departed for his summer vacations every year from 1907 to 1914 at the Grand Hôtel in Cabourg, the model for the hotel in the novel. 4. For Mantegna see “Madame Swann at Home,” note 306. Paolo Veronese (1528–88) was a Venetian painter who delighted in the splendor and pageantry of sixteenth-­century Venice. Proust may have been thinking of Veronese’s The Crucifixion, which hangs in the Louvre. The painting has a brilliant sky full of angry streaks with heavy clouds crowding the top of the scene that might suggest billowing smoke from the trains.

242 Place-Names: The Place

But in this respect as in every other, our age is infected with a mania for showing things only in the environment that surrounds them in reality, thereby suppressing the essential thing, the act of the mind that isolated them from that environment. A picture is nowadays “presented” in the midst of furniture, ornaments, hangings of the same period, tasteless settings that the same hostess, who only yesterday was so crassly ignorant, now spending her days in archives and libraries, excels at composing in the houses of today and in the midst of which the masterpiece that we contemplate as we dine does not give us the exhilarating delight that we can expect from it only in a museum gallery, which symbolizes far better by its bareness and by the absence of all irritating detail, those innermost spaces into which the artist withdrew to create it. Unhappily those marvelous places, railway stations, from which one sets out for a remote destination, are tragic places also, for if in them the miracle is accomplished whereby scenes that hitherto have had no existence except in our minds are to become the scenes among which we will be living, for that very reason we must, as we emerge from the waiting room, abandon any thought of soon finding ourselves within the familiar bedroom which, but a moment ago, was still enclosing us. We must lay aside all hope of going home to sleep in our own bed, once we have decided to penetrate into the pestiferous cavern through which we may have access to the mystery, into one of those vast, glass-­roofed sheds, like that of Saint-­L azare,3 into which I must go to find the train for Balbec, and which extended over the disemboweled city one of those bleak and boundless skies, heavy with an accumulation of dramatic menaces, like certain skies painted with an almost Parisian modernity by Mantegna or Veronese,4 beneath which could be accomplished only some terrible and solemn act, such as a departure by train or the erection of the Cross. So long as I had been content to look out from the warmth of my own bed in Paris at the Persian church of Balbec, bathed in foam from the storm-­tossed waves, no sort of objection to this journey had been offered by my body. Its objections began only

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower when it had gathered that it would have itself to take part in the journey, and that on the evening of my arrival I would be shown to “my” room that to my body would be unknown. Its revolt was all the more profound in that on the very eve of my departure I learned that my mother would not be coming with us; my father, who would be kept busy at the Ministry until it was time for him to leave for Spain with M. de Norpois, having preferred to rent a house on the outskirts of Paris. On the other hand, the contemplation of Balbec did not seem to me less desirable because I must purchase it at the cost of a pain that, on the contrary, seemed to me to embody and guarantee the reality of the impression that I was going there to seek, an impression that could not be replaced by any allegedly equivalent spectacle, by any “panorama”5 that I might have gone to see without being thereby precluded from returning home to sleep in my own bed. It was not for the first time that I felt that those who love and those who find pleasure are not the same. I believed myself to be longing fully as much for Balbec as the doctor who was treating me, when he said to me, surprised, on the morning of our departure, to see me look so unhappy, “I don’t mind telling you that if I could only manage a week to go down and get some fresh sea air, I wouldn’t wait to be asked twice. You’ll be having races, regattas; it will be delightful.” But I had already learned the lesson, and even long before going to hear Berma, that, whatever it might be that I loved, it would never be attained except at the end of a long and painful pursuit, in the course of which I would have first to sacrifice my own pleasure to that paramount good instead of seeking it therein. My grandmother, naturally enough, looked on our exodus from a somewhat different point of view, and still as anxious as ever that the presents that were given me should take some artistic form, had planned, in order to offer me, of this journey, a “print” that was in part old, for us to repeat, partly by rail and partly by carriage, the itinerary that Mme de Sévigné had followed when she went from Paris to “L’Orient” by way of Chaulnes and “the Pont-­Audemer.”6 But my grandmother had been obliged to abandon this project at

5. The first panorama was created by Robert Barber (1739–1806) for an exhibition in London in 1787. Panoramas or cycloramas became popular in Europe and the United States in the 1800s and faded around 1900. Cycloramas were rotundas built to house large canvases that surrounded a visitors’ platform and depicted famous battles, foreign places, and the like. 6. The Marquise de Sévigné, née Marie de Rabutin-­Chantal (1626–96), is the grandmother’s favorite author and one greatly admired by Proust. She is famous for her Lettres, most of which were written to her daughter, Françoise-­ Marguerite, the future Comtesse de Grignan. Mme de Sévigné’s letters in which she mentions her passage through Lorient, Chaulnes, and Pont-­ Audemer are dated April 17, May 2, and August 12, 1689. The port of Lorient (spelled L’Orient in Mme de Sévigné’s day) is on the south coast of Brittany in the département of Morbihan.

Place-Names: The Place 243

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 7. This is from her letter to Mme de Grignan dated June 28, 1671. She writes: “You know how sad I am to see agreeable guests depart; but you know what transports I experience at the departure of a coachload of beasts (une chienne de carrossée) who confined and annoyed me.” 8. In Swann’s Way, 28, Céline’s sister was named Flora.

244 Place-Names: The Place

the insistence of my father, who knew, whenever she organized any expedition with a view to extracting from it the utmost intellectual benefit, that it was capable of yielding, what could be prognosticated in missed trains, lost luggage, sore throats, and broken rules. She was free at least to rejoice in the thought that never, when the time came for us to go out on the beach, would we be exposed to the risk of being kept indoors by the sudden appearance of what her beloved Sévigné calls a “coachload of beasts,”7 since we would know not a soul at Balbec, Legrandin having refrained from offering us a letter of introduction to his sister. (This abstention had not been so well appreciated by my aunts Céline and Victoire,8 who, having known that lady as a girl, whom they had always called until then, to commemorate this early intimacy, “Renée de Cambremer,” and still possessing from her a number of those little presents that continue to ornament a room or a conversation but to which the present reality no longer corresponds, imagined that they were avenging the affront made to us by never uttering again, when they called on Mme Legrandin, the name of her daughter, confining themselves to a mutual congratulation, once they were safely out of the house: “I made no reference to you know whom!” “I think she got the message!”) And so we were simply to leave Paris by that one twenty-­two train with which I had too often beguiled myself by looking it up in the railway timetable, where it never failed to give me the emotion, almost the illusion of departure, not to feel that I already knew it. As the delineation in our minds of the features of any form of happiness depends more on the nature of the longings that it inspires in us than on the accuracy of the information that we have about it, I felt that I knew this one in all its details, nor did I doubt that I would feel, sitting in one of its compartments, a special delight as the day began to cool, would contemplate this or that view as the train approached one or another station; so much so that this train, which always brought to my mind’s eye the images of the same towns, which I bathed in the sunlight of those afternoon hours through which it sped, seemed to me to be

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower different from every other train; and I had ended—as we are apt to do with a person whom we have never seen but of whom we like to believe that we have won his friendship—by giving a distinct and unalterable cast of countenance to the fair, artistic traveler, who would thus have taken me with him on his journey, and to whom I would bid farewell beneath the cathedral of Saint-­Lô,9 before he hastened toward the setting sun. As my grandmother could not bring herself to do anything so “stupid” as to go straight to Balbec, she was to break the journey halfway, staying the night with one of her friends, from whose house I was to proceed the same evening, so as not to be in the way there and also in order that I might arrive by daylight and see the church at Balbec, which, we had learned, was at some distance from Balbec-­Plage,10 and which I might not have a chance to visit later on, when I had begun my course of baths. And perhaps it was less painful for me to feel that the admirable goal of my journey stood between me and that cruel first night on which I would have to enter a new habitation and consent to dwell there. But I had had first to leave the old; my mother had arranged to move in that afternoon at Saint-­Cloud,11 and had made, or pretended to make, all the arrangements for going there directly after she had seen us off at the station, without having to go again to our own house, to which she was afraid that I might otherwise feel impelled at the last moment, instead of going to Balbec, to return with her. In fact, on the pretext of having so much to see to in the house that she had just rented and of being pressed for time, but in reality so as to spare me the cruel ordeal of a lengthy parting, she had decided not to wait with us until the moment the train left, when, concealed hitherto among ineffective comings and goings and preparations that lead to nothing, separation is made suddenly manifest, impossible to endure when it is no longer possible to avoid, concentrated in its entirety in one enormous instant of impotent and supreme lucidity. For the first time I began to feel that it was possible that my mother might live without me, otherwise than for me, a sepa-

9. The cathedral of Saint-­Lô, located in the Cotentin, dates from the end of the thirteenth century. John Ruskin considered it a fine example of the flamboyant Gothic style. See The Seven Lamps of Architecture, chapter 3 (“The Lamp of Power”). 10. Balbec Beach, as opposed to Balbec-­le-­Vieux (Old Balbec), also known as Balbec-­en-­Terre, the inland part of the town. 11. Saint-­Cloud is a commune near Versailles. Its beautiful park, designed by André Le Nôtre, contains the ruins of a sixteenth-­century château, formerly the residence of kings.

Place-Names: The Place 245

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 12. Ruskin speaks of the enraptured traveler in a passage that Proust quotes in a note to his translation of The Bible of Amiens. See La Bible d’Amiens (Paris: Mercure de France, 1904), 105, n. 2. Here is the passage: “My most intense happinesses have of course been among mountains. But for cheerful, unalloyed, unwearying pleasure, the getting in sight of Abbeville on a fine summer afternoon, jumping out in the courtyard of the Hôtel de l’Europe, and rushing down the street to see St. Wulfran again before the sun was off the towers, are things to cherish the past for,—to the end.” See Praeterita in The Works of John Ruskin, 39 vols. (London: George Allen, 1903–12), 35: 157. 13. Mon petit loup, literally “my little wolf,” was a term of endearment often used by Mme Proust for Marcel and his younger brother Robert. When she was taking spa treatment at Salies-­ de-­Béarn in September 1889 and had taken Robert but left Marcel in Paris, she began a letter to him: “Cher petit pauvre loup” (Dear poor little wolf). See Proust, Correspondance, 1: 128. 14. See Sévigné’s letter to Mme de Grignan dated February 9, 1671: “I have a map in front of me; I know all the places where you will spend the night.” This is similar to Swann’s use of the Carte du Tendre. See Swann’s Way, 336.

246 Place-Names: The Place

rate life. She was going to stay with my father, whose existence it may have seemed to her that my feeble health, my nervous excitability complicated somewhat and saddened. This separation made me all the more wretched because I told myself that it probably marked for my mother an end of the successive disappointments that I had caused her, of which she had never said a word to me but which had made her realize the difficulty of our taking our vacations together; and perhaps also the first trial of a form of existence to which she was beginning, now, to resign herself for the future, as the years passed by for my father and herself, an existence in which I would see less of her, in which (a thing that not even in my nightmares had yet been revealed to me) she would already have become something of a stranger, a lady who might be seen going home by herself to a house where I would not be, asking the concierge whether there was not a letter from me. I could scarcely answer the man in the station who offered to take my bag. My mother, to comfort me, tried the methods that seemed to her most efficacious. Thinking it to be useless to appear not to notice my unhappiness, she gently teased me about it: “Well, and what would the church at Balbec say if it knew that people pulled long faces like that when they were going to see it? Surely this is not the enraptured traveler Ruskin speaks of.12 Besides, I will know if you rise to the occasion; even when we are miles apart I will still be with my little man.13 You will have a letter tomorrow from Mamma.” “My dear,” said my grandmother, “I picture you like Mme de Sévigné, your eyes glued to the map, and never losing sight of us for an instant.”14 Then Mamma sought to distract me, asked me what I thought of having for dinner, drew my attention to Françoise, complimented her on a hat and coat she did not recognize, in spite of their having horrified her long ago when she first saw them, new, on my great-­aunt, one with an immense bird towering over it, the other decorated with a hideous pattern and jet beads. But the coat having grown too shabby to wear, Françoise had had it turned, ex-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower posing a lining of plain cloth and a fine color. As for the bird, it had long since come to grief and been thrown away. And just as it is disturbing, sometimes, to find the effects that the most conscious artists attain only after great effort occurring in a popular song, or on the wall of some peasant’s cottage where above the door, at precisely the right spot in the composition, blooms a white or yellow rose—so the velvet band, the loop of ribbon that would have delighted one in a portrait by Chardin or Whistler,15 Françoise had set with a simple but unerring taste on the hat, which was now charming. To take a parallel from an earlier age, the modesty and integrity that often gave an air of nobility to the face of our old servant having spread also to the garments that, as a woman reserved but not servile, who knew how to “hold her own and to keep her place,” she had put on for the journey so as to be worthy of being seen in our company without at the same time seeming or wishing to make herself conspicuous, Françoise in the cherry-­ colored cloth, now faded, of her coat, and the discreet nap of her fur collar, brought to mind one of those miniatures of Anne de Bretagne painted in Books of Hours16 by an old master, in which everything is so exactly in the right place, the sense of the whole is so evenly distributed throughout all the parts that the rich and obsolete singularity of the costume expresses the same pious gravity as the eyes, lips, and hands. One could hardly speak of thought in relation to Françoise. She knew nothing, in that absolute sense in which to know nothing means to understand nothing, except the rare truths to which the heart is capable of directly attaining. The vast world of ideas did not exist for her. But when one studied the clearness of her gaze, the delicate lines of nose and lips, all those signs lacking from so many cultivated people in whom they would have signified the supreme distinction, the noble detachment of a superior mind, one was disquieted, as one is by the frank, intelligent eyes of a dog, to which, nevertheless, one knows that all our human conceptions must be alien, and one might be led to ask oneself whether there

15. Jean-­Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699–1779) and James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) are artists who greatly influenced Proust’s own ideas about esthetics in painting. Proust may have been thinking about a painting he saw in the Louvre: Chardin’s Self-­ Portrait Wearing Spectacles, in which the artist is wearing a bright white cap fastened by a blue ribbon. Another possibility is Whistler’s Harmony in Pink and Grey: Valerie, Lady Meaux. See Eric Karpeles, Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time (London: Thames and Hudson, 2008), 107. 16. This is no doubt an allusion to Les Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (Great hours of Anne of Brittany, Queen of France), published in 1508 by the miniaturist Jean Bourdichon (c. 1457–1521). This medieval prayer book, depicting the various offices of the day, is famous for its beautiful illustrations. Anne, who lived from 1477 to 1514, became queen in 1491, when she married King Charles VIII.

Place-Names: The Place 247

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 17. Marcus Atilius Regulus was Consul of Rome, 267–256 b.c. As a Roman general, he showed great courage in the first war against Carthage, and some of his perhaps legendary merits were celebrated by Cicero in De Officiis, books 1 and 3, and by Horace in Odes, III, v. 18. Mme de Sévigné, in the letter of February 9, 1671, wrote to Mme de Grignan: “If you really want to make me happy, take care of your health, sleep well in that pretty little bed, eat soup, and draw on all the courage that I lack.” 19. Montretout is part of the commune of Saint-­Cloud. Its name, literally “see it all,” is no doubt inspired by the famous view from a hill in Saint-­Cloud.

248 Place-Names: The Place

might not be, among those other humble brethren, the peasants, beings who were, like the superior ones of the world of the simpleminded, or rather, condemned by an unjust fate to live among the simpleminded, deprived of enlightenment, but who were yet more naturally, more essentially akin to the chosen spirits than most educated people, are, so to speak, all members, though dispersed, strayed, robbed of their heritage of reason, of the holy family, kinsfolk, left behind in infancy, of the loftiest minds in whom—as is apparent from the unmistakable light in their eyes, although they can concentrate that light on nothing—there has been lacking, to endow them with talent, only knowledge. My mother, seeing that I had difficulty in keeping back my tears, said to me: “‘Regulus was in the habit, when things looked grave . . .’17 Besides, it isn’t nice for your Mamma. To quote Mme de Sévigné, as would your grandmother: ‘I will be obliged to draw on all the courage that you lack.’”18 And remembering that affection for another diverts our attention from selfish griefs, she tried to beguile me by telling me that she expected the drive to Saint-­ Cloud to be a pleasant one, that she liked the carriage, which she had kept waiting, that the driver was polite and the seats comfortable. I made an effort to smile at these details and bowed my head with an air of acquiescence and satisfaction. But they helped me only to picture with more accuracy Mamma’s imminent departure, and it was with a heavy heart that I gazed at her as though she were already torn from me, beneath that round straw hat that she had bought to wear in the country, in a light dress that she had put on in view of the long drive through the sweltering midday heat; hat and dress making her someone else, someone who belonged already to the Villa “Montretout,”19 where I would never see her. To prevent the choking fits that the journey might otherwise give me, the doctor had advised me to take, at the moment of departure, a good stiff dose of beer or cognac, in order to begin the journey in a state of what he called “euphoria,” in which the nervous system is for a time less vulnerable. I had not yet made

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower up my mind whether I would do this, but I wanted at least my grandmother to acknowledge that, if I did so decide, I would have authority and wisdom on my side. I spoke about it therefore as if my hesitation were concerned only with where I would go for my drink, to the buffet on the platform or to the bar car on the train. But immediately, at the air of reproach that my grandmother’s face assumed, an air of refusing even to entertain such an idea for a moment, “What,” I exclaimed, suddenly resolved to go and have a drink, the performance of which became necessary to prove my independence since the verbal announcement of it had not succeeded in passing unchallenged, “What! You know how ill I am, you know what the doctor told me, and yet this is the advice you give me!” When I had explained my malaise to my grandmother, she assumed an air so distressed, so kind on replying: “Run along then, quickly, and get yourself some beer or a liqueur if it will do you any good,” that I flung myself on her and smothered her with kisses. And if after that I went and drank a great deal too much in the bar car of the train, that was because I felt that otherwise I would have a more violent attack than usual, which was just what would upset her the most. When at the first stop I climbed back into our car, I told my grandmother how pleased I was to be going to Balbec, that I felt that everything would go off splendidly, that after all I would soon grow used to being far from Mamma, that the train was most comfortable, the bartender and the employees so charming that I would like to make the journey often in order to have the possibility of seeing them again. My grandmother, however, did not appear to feel the same joy as myself at all these good tidings. She answered, without looking me in the face: “Why don’t you try to get a little sleep?” and turned her gaze to the window, the blind of which, though we had lowered it, did not completely cover the glass, so that the sun could glide over the polished oak of the door and the cloth of the seat (like an advertisement of a life shared with nature far more persuasive than those posted higher on the walls of the car, by the railway com-

Place-Names: The Place 249

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 20. Mme de Beausergent is an invention of Proust’s.

250 Place-Names: The Place

pany, representing landscapes the names of which I could not read from where I sat) the same warm and slumberous light that sleeps in forest glades. But when my grandmother thought that my eyes were shut I could see her, now and again, from behind her spotted veil, steal a glance at me, then withdraw it, and steal back again, like a person trying to force himself, in order to get into the habit, to perform an exercise that he finds painful. Thereupon I spoke to her, but that did not seem to please her. And yet to myself the sound of my own voice was pleasant, as were the most imperceptible, the most internal movements of my body. And so I endeavored to prolong them. I allowed each of my inflexions to linger lazily on the word, I felt each glance from my eyes arrive just at the spot to which it was directed and stay there beyond the normal time. “Now, now, sit still and rest,” said my grandmother. “If you can’t manage to sleep, read something.” And she handed me a volume of Madame de Sévigné, which I opened, while she buried herself in the Mémoires of Madame de Beausergent.20 She never traveled anywhere without a volume of each. They were her two favorite authors. Unwilling to move my head at the moment and feeling a keen pleasure in keeping a position once I had taken it, I remained holding the volume of Madame de Sévigné without even looking at it, without lowering my eyes, which had nothing before them except the blue blind of the window. But the contemplation of this blind appeared to me an admirable thing, and I would not have troubled to answer anyone who might have sought to distract me from contemplating it. The blue color of this blind seemed to me, not perhaps by its beauty but by its intense vividness, to efface so completely all the colors that had passed before my eyes from the day of my birth up to the moment when I had gulped down my drink and it had begun to take effect, that compared with the blue of this blind they were as drab, as null as must be retrospectively the darkness in which he has lived to a man born blind whom a subsequent operation has at last enabled to see and to distinguish colors. An

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower old conductor came to ask for our tickets. The silvery reflections from the metal buttons of his jacket fascinated me. I wanted to ask him to sit down beside us. But he passed on to the next car, and I thought with longing of the life led by railwaymen for whom, since they spent all their time on the line, hardly a day could pass without their seeing this old conductor. The pleasure that I felt in staring at the blind, and in feeling that my mouth was half-­open, began at last to diminish. I became more mobile; I shifted a little; I opened the book that my grandmother had given me and turned its pages casually, reading whatever caught my eye. And as I read I felt my admiration for Madame de Sévigné grow. One must not let oneself be taken in by the purely formal characteristics, idioms of the period, or social conventions, the effect of which is that certain people believe that they have caught the Sévigné manner when they have said: “Inform me, my dear,” or “That count struck me as being very witty,” or “Haymaking is the sweetest thing in the world.” Mme de Simiane21 imagines already that she resembles her grandmother because she can write: “M. de la Boulie22 is bearing up wonderfully, Monsieur, and is in excellent condition to hear the news of his death,” or “Oh, my dear Marquis, how your letter enchanted me! What can I do but answer it?” or “Meseems, Monsieur, that you owe me a letter, and I owe you some bergamot-­scented snuff boxes.23 I discharge my debt to the number of eight; others will follow . . . Never has the soil borne so many. Apparently for your gratification.” And she writes in this same style her letter on bleeding, on lemons, etc., supposing it to be typical of the letters of Madame de Sévigné. But my grandmother, who had approached the latter from within, from love of her family and of nature, had taught me to enjoy the real beauties of her correspondence, which are altogether different. They were soon to strike me all the more forcibly inasmuch as Madame de Sévigné is a great artist of the same family as a painter whom I was to meet at Balbec and who had such a profound influence on my way of seeing things: Elstir.24 I realized at Balbec that it was in the same way as he that she presented things

21. Pauline de Simiane (1674–1737) was the daughter of Mme de Grignan and the granddaughter of Mme de Sévigné. 22. Libéral de la Boulie was the king’s adviser to the parliament of Provence in the eighteenth century. 23. Bergamots are the pear-­shaped oranges that grow on the Mediterranean coast from a tree of the orange family (Citrus bergamia) that grows primarily in southern Italy. An oil with a delicious odor, much prized as a perfume, is extracted from the rind of the fruit. 24. When pronounced by the French, the name Elstir echoes that of Whistler, whom Proust knew and admired. Whistler’s paintings, as we will see, inspired some of the works of the fictional painter Elstir.

Place-Names: The Place 251

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 25. For an example of Proust’s use of the same technique, see the passage on the rain in Swann’s Way, 115. 26. This is an approximate quotation from a letter that Mme de Sévigné wrote to Mme de Grignan on June 12, 1680. The emphasis is Proust’s. 27. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–81) was a Russian novelist. The Narrator will have more to say about Dostoyevsky in The Captive. Here, he is referring to the manner in which the Russian and Mme de Sévigné present phenomena by starting with their effect rather than their cause.

252 Place-Names: The Place

to her readers, in the order of our perception of them, instead of first explaining them by their causes.25 But already that afternoon in the railway car, as I read again the letter in which the moonlight appears: “I cannot resist the temptation: I put on all my coifs and cloaks, though there is no need of them, I walk along this mall, where the air is as sweet as in my chamber; I find a thousand phantasms, monks white and black, several nuns gray and white, linen cast here and there on the ground, men enshrouded upright against the tree-­trunks, etc.”26 I was enraptured by what, a little later, I would have described (for does she not draw landscapes in the same way as he draws characters?) as the Dostoyevsky27 side of the Letters of Madame de Sévigné. When, that evening, after having accompanied my grandmother to her destination and spent some hours in her friend’s house, I had returned by myself to the train, at any rate I found nothing to distress me in the night that followed; this was because I did not have to spend it in a room whose somnolence would have kept me awake; I was surrounded by the soothing activity of all those movements of the train that kept me company, offered to converse with me if I could not sleep, lulled me with their sounds that I linked—as I had often linked the chime of the Combray bells—now to one rhythm, now to another (hearing, as the whim took me, first four equal semiquavers, then one semiquaver furiously dashing against a crotchet); they neutralized the centrifugal force of my insomnia by exerting on it a contrary pressure that kept me in equilibrium and on which my immobility and soon my somnolence felt themselves to be borne with the same sense of refreshment that I would have had, had I been resting under the vigilance of powerful forces in the heart of nature and of life, had I been able for a moment to incarnate myself in a fish that sleeps in the sea, driven in its slumber by the currents and the waves, or in an eagle outstretched on the air, with no support but the winds of the storm. Sunrise is a necessary concomitant of long railway journeys, just as are hard-­boiled eggs, illustrated newspapers, packs of cards,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower rivers on which boats strain but make no progress. At a certain moment—when I was counting over the thoughts that had filled my mind during the preceding minutes in order to discover whether I had just been asleep or not (and when the very uncertainty that made me ask myself the question was furnishing me with an affirmative answer), in the pale square of the window, over a small black woods I saw some ragged clouds whose soft fleecy edges were of a fixed, dead pink, not likely to change, like the color that dyes the feathers of the wing that has assimilated it or the pastel on which it has been deposited by the painter’s whim. But I felt that, unlike them, this color was due neither to inertia nor to caprice but to necessity and life. Soon there gathered behind it reserves of light. It brightened; the sky turned to a crimson that I strove, gluing my eyes to the window, to see more clearly, for I felt that it was related somehow to the most intimate life of nature, but, the course of the railway line altering, the train turned, the morning scene was replaced in the frame of the window by a nocturnal village, its roofs still blue with moonlight, its washhouse encrusted with the opalescent nacre of night, beneath a sky still strewn with all its stars, and I was lamenting the loss of my strip of pink sky when I caught sight of it again, but red this time, in the opposite window, which it abandoned at a second bend in the railway line, so that I spent my time running from one window to the other to reassemble, to collect on a single canvas the intermittent, antipodean fragments of my fine morning, scarlet and ever-­changing, and to obtain a comprehensive view of it and a continuous picture.28 The scenery became hilly, abrupt, and the train stopped at a little station between two mountains. Far down the gorge, on the edge of a hurrying stream, one could see only a solitary guardhouse, sitting deep in the water, which ran past on a level with its windows. If a person can be the product of a soil the particular charm of which one savors in her, more even than the peasant girl whom I had so longed to see appear when I wandered by myself along the Méséglise way, in the woods of Roussainville,29 such

28. The scenery of the train ride from Paris to Balbec is an amalgamation of landscapes that Proust saw during his 1895 trip through Brittany with Reynaldo Hahn and a 1903 vacation at Évian. Proust wrote about the journey to Évian in a letter to Georges de Lauris: “The possibility of sleeping in the train didn’t even occur to me. I saw the sunrise, something I hadn’t done in a long time, it’s beautiful, an inversion, more charming to my taste, of the sunset.” He describes the little towns seen from opposite sides of the train: “those to the west in a dying remnant of moonlight, those to the east full in the rising sun . . .” Proust, Selected Letters, 1: 351. 29. Roussainville is a wood located near Combray. See Swann’s Way, 13, 118, 171, 174.

Place-Names: The Place 253

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower a person must be the tall girl whom I now saw emerge from the house and, climbing a path lighted by the first slanting rays of the sun, come toward the station carrying a jar of milk. In her valley from which these heights hid the rest of the world, she could never see anyone except in these trains that stopped only for a moment. She passed down the line of cars, offering coffee and milk to a few awakened passengers. Purpled with the glow of morning, her face was rosier than the sky. I felt in her presence that desire to live which is reborn in us whenever we become conscious anew of beauty and of happiness. We invariably forget that these are individual qualities, and, substituting for them in our mind a conventional type at which we arrive by striking a sort of mean among the different faces that have taken our fancy, the pleasures we have known, we are left with mere abstract images that are lifeless and dull because they lack precisely that element of novelty, different from anything we have known, that element that is proper to beauty and to happiness. And we deliver on life a pessimistic judgment that we suppose to be fair, for we believed that we were taking happiness and beauty into account, whereas in fact we left them out and replaced them by syntheses, in which there is not a single atom of either. So it is that a well-­read man will at once begin to yawn with boredom when anyone speaks to him of a new “good book,” because he imagines a sort of composite of all the good books that he has read, whereas a good book is something special, something unforeseeable, and is made up not of the sum of all previous masterpieces but of something that the most thorough assimilation of every one of them would not enable him to discover, since it exists not in their sum but beyond it. Once he has become acquainted with this new work, the well-­read man, till then blasé, becomes interested in the reality that it depicts. So, foreign to the models of beauty that my imagination sketched when I was alone, this beautiful girl gave me at once the sensation of a certain happiness (the sole form, always different, in which we may know the sensation of happiness), of a happiness that would be realized by my staying and living there by her side. But in this

254 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower again the temporary cessation of Habit played a great part. I was giving the milkmaid the benefit of the fact that it was my entire being, ready to taste the keenest joys, that now stood before her. As a rule it is with our being reduced to a minimum that we live; most of our faculties lie dormant because they can rely on Habit, which knows what there is to be done and has no need of their services. But on this morning of travel, the interruption of the routine of my existence, the change of place and time, had made their presence indispensable. My habits, which were sedentary and not matutinal, were absent, and all my faculties came hurrying to take their place, vying with one another in their zeal, rising, each of them, like waves, to the same unaccustomed level, from the basest to the most exalted, from breath, appetite, the circulation of my blood to receptivity and imagination. I cannot say whether, in making me believe that this girl was not like other women, the wild beauty of this locality added to her own, but if so she gave it back to them. Life would have seemed an exquisite thing to me if only I had been able to spend it, hour after hour, with her, to go with her to the stream, to the cow, to the train, to be always at her side, to feel that I was known to her, had my place in her thoughts. She would have initiated me into the delights of country life and of the first hours of the day. I signaled to her to bring me some of her café au lait. I felt the need to be noticed by her. She did not see me; I called to her. Above her tall frame, the complexion of her face was so burnished and so ruddy that she appeared almost as though I were looking at her through an illuminated stained-­glass window. She retraced her steps; I could not take my eyes from her face, which grew larger as she approached, like a sun on which it was somehow possible to fix your eyes and that would approach until it came very near to you, letting itself be seen up close, dazzling you with its blaze of red and gold. She fastened on me her penetrating stare, but while the porters were shutting doors, the train had begun to move. I saw her leave the station and return to the path; it was broad daylight now; I was speeding away from the dawn. Whether my exaltation had been produced by this girl

Place-Names: The Place 255

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower or had on the other hand caused most of the pleasure that I had had in being near her, in any case she was so closely associated with it that my desire to see her again was above all a mental desire not to allow this state of excitement to perish entirely, not to be separated forever from the person who, although quite unconsciously, had participated in it. It was not only because this state was a pleasant one. It was above all because (just as increased tension on a string or accelerated vibration of a nerve produces a different sound or color) it gave another tonality to all that I saw, introduced me as an actor in a universe that was unknown and infinitely more interesting; that beautiful girl whom I still could see, as the train gathered speed, was like part of a life other than the life that I knew, separated from it by a clear boundary, and in which the sensations that things produced in me were no longer the same, and from which to depart now would be as though to die to myself. To have the satisfaction of feeling myself at least attached to this new life, it would suffice that I live near enough to the little station to be able to come to it every morning for a cup of café au lait from this country girl. But alas, she must be forever absent from the other life toward which I was being borne with ever increasing speed, a life that I could resign myself to accept only by weaving plans that would enable me one day to take the same train again and to stop at the same station, a project that had the further advantage of providing food for the selfish, active, practical, mechanical, indolent, centrifugal tendency which is that of the human mind, for our mind turns willingly aside from the effort that is required if it is to analyze thoroughly, in a general and disinterested manner, an agreeable impression that we have received. And as, on the other hand, we wish to continue to think of that impression, the mind prefers to imagine it in the future, to prepare carefully the ­circumstances that will make it recur, which reveals nothing to us about its essence, but saves us the fatigue of re-­creating it within ourselves and allows us to hope that we may receive it again from without. Certain names of towns, Vézelay or Chartres, Bourges or Beau-

256 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower vais,30 serve to designate, by abbreviation, their principal church. This partial acceptation, in which we are so accustomed to take the word, comes at length—if the names in question are those of places that we do not yet know—to sculpt the name as a solid whole, which from that time onward, whenever we wish it to convey the idea of the town—of the town that we have never seen—will impose on it, like a mold, the same carved outlines, and in the same style of art, will make of the town a sort of vast cathedral. It was, however, in a railway station, above the buffet, in white letters on a blue panel, that I read the name—almost Persian in style—of Balbec. I strode buoyantly through the station and across the boulevard that led to it; I asked my way to the beach in order to see nothing in the place but the church and the sea; people seemed not to understand what I meant. Balbec-­le-­ Vieux, Balbec-­en-­Terre, at which I had arrived, had neither beach nor harbor. It was, most certainly, in the sea that the fishermen had found, according to the legend, the miraculous Christ,31 of which a stained-­glass window, in the church that stood a few yards from where I now was, recorded the discovery; it was indeed from cliffs battered by the waves that had been quarried the stone of its nave and towers. But this sea, which for those reasons I had imagined as flowing up to die at the foot of the window, was more than twelve miles away, at Balbec-­Plage, and, rising beside its cupola, that steeple, which, because I had read that it was itself a rugged Norman cliff where sea squalls gathered, around which the seabirds wheeled, I had always pictured to myself as receiving at its base the last dying foam of the uplifted waves, rose up from a square where two streetcar lines diverged, opposite a café that bore, written in letters of gold, the word “Billiards”; it stood out against a background of houses whose roofs were blended with no mast. And the church—capturing my attention at the same time as the café, the passing stranger of whom I had had to ask my way, the station to which I was going to return—becoming one with all the rest, seemed an accident, a product of this late afternoon, in which the mellow and distended cupola against the sky was like

30. Proust visited the church of the Madeleine in Vézelay on his way to Évian in 1903. “Vézelay is a fantastic place, in a sort of Switzerland, all alone on a mountain towering over the countryside, visible from all directions for miles around, in the most strikingly harmonious landscape. The church is enormous and resembles a Turkish bath as much as it does Notre-­Dame, built of alternately black and white stones, a delicious Christian mosque.” Proust, Selected Letters, 1: 351–52. The cathedral, Notre-­Dame de Chartres, near Illiers-­Combray, is famous for its beautiful stained-­glass windows and the statues of the kings and queens of Judah that are found on the west portal. See Swann’s Way, 111, note 70. The cathedral at Bourges is famous for the hawthorns that decorate its façade. The Saint-­Pierre cathedral in Beauvais is the tallest Gothic structure in existence. 31. This Christ was no doubt inspired by a statue of Christ that fisherman from Dives-­sur-­Mer caught in their nets in April 1001. On the first haul, they pulled in the Christ figure without the cross, then the cross itself. This catch attracted a large number of pilgrims to Dives-­sur-­Mer until 1562, when the statue was burned by Protestants. The small village is only about a mile from Cabourg and also bears the distinction of being the port where William the Conqueror and his fleet sailed for England in 1066.

Place-Names: The Place 257

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 32. The museum in the Palais du Trocadéro contained an important collection of plaster casts of ancient sculptures and ethnographical curiosities.

258 Place-Names: The Place

a fruit whose skin, pink, glowing, and meltingly soft was ripening in the same light that bathed the chimneys of the houses. But I wished only to consider the eternal significance of the sculptures when I recognized the Apostles, of which I had seen casts in the Trocadéro museum,32 and which on either side of the Virgin, before the deep bay of the porch, were awaiting me as though to do me honor. With their benign, blunt, mild faces and bowed shoulders they seemed to be advancing toward me with an air of welcome, singing the Alleluia of a fine day. But it was evident that their expression was as unchanging as that of a dead man, and could be modified only if one walked around them. I said to myself: “This is it, this is the Church of Balbec. This square, which looks as though it were conscious of its glory, is the only place in the world that possesses Balbec Church. All that I have seen so far have been photographs of this church—and of these famous Apostles, this famous Virgin of the porch, mere casts only. Now it is the church itself, the statue itself; these are they; they, the unique things—this is something far greater.” It was also something less, perhaps. As a young man on the day of an examination or of a duel feels the question that he has been asked, the shot that he has fired, to be a very little thing when he thinks of the reserves of knowledge and of courage that he possesses and would like to have displayed, so my mind, which had exalted the Virgin of the Porch far above the reproductions that I had had before my eyes, inaccessible by the vicissitudes that might threaten them, intact although they were destroyed, ideal, having a universal value, was astonished to see the statue that it had carved a thousand times reduced now to its own apparent form in stone, occupying, in relation to the reach of my arm, a place in which it had for rivals an election poster and the point of my walking stick, fettered to the square, inseparable from the opening of the main street, powerless to hide from the gaze of the café and of the omnibus office, receiving on its face half of the ray of the setting sun—and soon, in a few hours’ time, the light of the street lamp—of which the branch office of the Savings Bank

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower received the other half, tainted at the same time as that branch of the bank by the smells from the pastry cook’s oven, subjected to the tyranny of the Particular to such a point that, if I had chosen to scribble my name on that stone, it was she, the illustrious Virgin whom until then I had endowed with a general existence and an intangible beauty, the Virgin of Balbec, the unique (which meant, alas, the only one) who, on her body coated with the same soot as defiled the neighboring houses, would have displayed— powerless to rid herself of them—to all the admirers come there to gaze at her, the marks of my piece of chalk and the letters of my name; and it was she, finally, the immortal work of art, so long desired, whom I found transformed, as was the church itself, into a little old woman in stone whose height I could measure and whose wrinkles I could count. But time was passing; I must return to the station, where I was to wait for my grandmother and Françoise, for us all to go on together to Balbec-­Plage. I reminded myself of what I had read about Balbec, of Swann’s saying: “It’s delightful; as beautiful as Siena.”33 And casting the blame for my disappointment on various accidental causes, such as the state of my health, my exhaustion after the journey, my incapacity for looking at things properly, I endeavored to console myself with the thought that other towns remained still intact for me, that I might soon, perhaps, be making my way, as into a shower of pearls, into the cool babbling sound that dripped from Quimperlé,34 or crossing that green and rosy glow in which Pont-­Aven was bathed; but as for Balbec, no sooner had I set foot in it than it was as though I had broken open a name that ought to have been kept hermetically closed, and into which, seizing at once the opportunity that I had imprudently given them by expelling all the images that had been living in it until then, a streetcar, a café, people crossing the square, the branch of the Savings Bank, irresistibly propelled by an external pressure and a pneumatic force, had come rushing into the interior of those two syllables which, closing over them, let them now serve as a frame to the porch of the Persian church and would henceforth never cease to contain them.

33. Siena, the capital of Siena province in Tuscany, dates from Etruscan times, although the Romans claimed that it was founded by Senius, Remus’s son. Its thirteenth-­century duomo is an exemplar of Romanesque Gothic. 34. Quimperlé is in the Finistère département in Brittany. The Narrator hears in the name Quimperlé, and certain others of the region, the poetry of flowing water. See Swann’s Way, 442, note 13.

Place-Names: The Place 259

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 35. Nantes lies about 170 miles southwest of Caen in what once was southern Brittany on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Loire River; Bordeaux is about 150 miles farther away, near the mouth of the Garonne River and, like Nantes, on the Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay. 36. To create the fictional Combray, Proust borrowed or modified real names from Illiers and environs. See Swann’s Way, 7, note 4. His treatment of geography around Balbec is similar. Of these names, the ones that can be easily identified are the following: Pont-­ à-­Couleuvre is the name of a medieval bridge in the département of Aisne; Hermonville is a village in the département of Marne near Reims; Mainne­ ville, spelled thus, is a small village in the département of Eure in Haute Normandie, or Maineville may have been inspired by Mainvilliers in Eure-­et-­Loir.

260 Place-Names: The Place

In the little train of the local railway company that was to take us to Balbec-­Plage I found my grandmother, but found her alone—for, imagining that she was sending Françoise on ahead of her so as to have everything ready before we arrived, but having mixed up her instructions, she had succeeded only in packing off Françoise in the wrong direction, who at that moment was being carried down all unsuspectingly, at full speed, to Nantes and would probably wake up next morning at Bordeaux.35 No sooner had I taken my seat in the car, filled with the fleeting light of sunset and with the lingering heat of the afternoon (the former enabling me, alas, to see written clearly on my grandmother’s face how much the latter had tired her), than she began: “Well, and Balbec?” with a smile so brightly illuminated by her expectation of the great pleasure that she supposed me to have been enjoying that I dared not at once confess to her my disappointment. Besides, the impression that my mind had been seeking occupied me steadily less as the place drew nearer to which my body would have to become accustomed. At the end—still more than an hour away—of this journey I was trying to form a picture of the manager of the hotel at Balbec, to whom I, at that moment, did not exist, and I would have liked to be going to present myself to him in more prestigious company than that of my grandmother, who would be certain to ask him for a cheaper rate. I imagined him as being definitely arrogant, but his outward appearance remained vague. Every few minutes the little train brought us to a standstill in one of the stations that came before Balbec-­Plage, stations the mere names of which (Incarville, Marcouville, Doville, Pont-­à-­ Couleuvre, Arambouville, Saint-­Mars-­le-­Vieux, Hermonville, Maineville)36 seemed to me outlandish, whereas if I had come upon them in a book I would at once have been struck by their affinity to the names of certain places in the neighborhood of Combray. But to the ear of a musician two themes, each substantially composed of several of the same notes, may present no similarity whatever if they differ in the color of their harmony and orches-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower tration. So it was that nothing could have reminded me less than these dreary names, made up of sand, of space too airy and empty, and of salt, out of which the word “ville” always escaped as does the “fly” from “butterfly”37—nothing could have reminded me less of those other names, Roussainville or Martinville, which, because I had heard them pronounced so often by my great-­aunt at the table, in the dining room, had acquired a certain somber charm in which were blended perhaps extracts of the flavor of confitures, the smell of the log fire and of the pages of one of Bergotte’s books, the color of the sandstone front of the house opposite, and which, still today when they rise like a gaseous bubble from the depths of my memory, preserve their own specific virtue through all the successive layers of different environments that they have to traverse before reaching the surface.38 There were—overlooking the distant sea from the crests of their dunes or already settling in for the night beneath hills of a crude green color and disagreeable shape, like that of the sofa in one’s bedroom in a hotel at which one has just arrived, each composed of a cluster of villas whose line was extended to include a tennis court and sometimes a casino over which a flag flapped in the freshening, hollow, and anxious wind—a series of little watering places that now showed me for the first time their regular visitors, but showed me only their external features—tennis players in white hats, the stationmaster living there on the spot among his tamarisks and roses, a lady in a straw “boater” who, following the everyday routine of an existence that I would never know, was calling her greyhound, which was lingering behind, before returning to her bungalow, where the lamp was already lighted— and which, with these strangely usual and disdainfully familiar sights, cruelly wounded my stranger’s eyes and stabbed my homesick heart. But how much were my sufferings increased when we had finally landed in the lobby of the Grand Hôtel at Balbec, and I stood there in front of the monumental staircase of imitation marble, while my grandmother, heedless of the growing hostility and contempt of the strangers among whom we would have to

37. Scott Moncrieff found the lexical equivalent of Proust’s Pigeon-­vole, but something is inevitably lost in translation here. Pigeon-­vole is a game played by children in which each player quickly shouts out the verb vole (fly) preceded by the name of something that may or may not fly. The other players raise their hands only if the thing in question actually does fly. 38. This recalls imagery used in the madeleine scene. See Swann’s Way, 52.

Place-Names: The Place 261

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 39. This discharge is not unlike Mme de Sévigné’s “coachload of beasts.” 40. Under Napoléon I, a louis was a gold coin worth twenty francs. 41. Palace, which Proust capitalized, is the word for such a hotel. The Grand Hôtel at Cabourg, the model for the hotel at Balbec, has about two hundred rooms, a large dining room with huge windows, clearly a model for the “aquarium” that looks out on the esplanade, today the Promenade Marcel Proust. The hotel opened shortly before Proust’s first stay there in 1907. See William C. Carter, Marcel Proust: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).

262 Place-Names: The Place

live, discussed “terms” with the manager, a little potbellied man whose face and voice were alike covered with scars (left on the former by the excision of countless pustules, and on the other by the divers accents acquired from an alien ancestry and a cosmopolitan upbringing), who stood there in a smart dinner jacket, with the air of an expert psychologist, generally classifying, whenever the “omnibus” discharged a fresh load, the wealthy nobles as tightfisted hagglers and the hotel crooks as nobility!39 Forgetting, no doubt, that he himself was not making five hundred francs a month, he had a profound contempt for people to whom five hundred francs—or, as he preferred to put it, “twenty-­five louis”40—was “a lot of money,” and regarded them as belonging to a race of pariahs for whom the Grand Hôtel was certainly not intended. It is true that even in this luxury hotel,41 there were people who did not pay very much and yet had not forfeited the manager’s esteem, provided that he was certain that they were watching their expenditure not from poverty so much as from avarice. For this could in no way lower their standing since it is a vice and may consequently be found at every grade of social position. Social position was the one thing by which the manager was impressed, social position, or rather the signs that seemed to him to imply that it was exalted, such as not taking one’s hat off when one came into the lobby, wearing knickerbockers, or an overcoat with a waist, and taking a cigar with a band of purple and gold out of a crushed morocco case (all advantages, alas, that I lacked). He would adorn his business conversation with choice expressions, to which, as a rule, he gave a wrong meaning. While I heard my grandmother, who showed no sign of annoyance at his listening to her with his hat on his head and whistling through his teeth at her, ask him in an artificial voice, “And what are . . . your rates? . . . Oh! far too high for my little budget,” waiting on a banquette, I took refuge in the innermost depths of my being, strove to migrate to a plane of eternal thoughts, to leave nothing of myself, nothing living on the surface of my body, anesthetized as are those of animals which by inhibition feign death

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower when they are wounded—in order not to suffer too keenly in this place, my total unfamiliarity with which was made all the more evident to me when I saw the familiarity that seemed at the same moment to be enjoyed by an elegant lady to whom the manager showed his respect by taking liberties with the little dog that followed her across the lobby, the young dandy with a feather in his hat who asked, as he came in, “Any letters?”—all these people who seemed merely to be returning home42 as they mounted those stairs of imitation marble. And at the same time the triple stare of Minos, Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus43 (a stare into which I plunged my naked soul as into an unknown element where there was nothing now to protect it) was bent sternly on me by a group of gentlemen who, though little versed perhaps in the art of “receiving,” yet bore the title “reception clerks,” while beyond them again, through a closed glass partition, were people sitting in a reading room for the description of which I would have had to borrow from Dante alternately the colors in which he paints Paradise and Hell,44 according to whether I was thinking of the happiness of the elect who had the right to sit and read there undisturbed, or of the terror that my grandmother would have inspired in me if, in her insensibility to this sort of impression, she had asked me to go in there. My sense of loneliness was further increased a moment later. When I had confessed to my grandmother that I did not feel well, that I thought that we would be obliged to return to Paris, she had offered no protest, saying merely that she was going out to buy a few things that would be equally useful whether we left or stayed (and which, I afterward learned, were all intended for me, Françoise having gone off with certain articles that I might need); while I waited for her I paced up and down the streets, packed with a crowd of people who imparted to them a sort of indoor warmth, streets in which were still open the hairdresser’s shop and the pastry cook’s, the latter filled with customers eating ice cream opposite the statue of Duguay-­Trouin.45 It gave me just about as much pleasure as a photograph of it in one of the “illustrateds”

42. Home is in English in the original. 43. Minos was a legendary king and lawmaker of Crete. At his death, he was made the supreme judge of Hades. Aeacus and Rhadamanthus are also Greek mythological figures, like Minos, sons of Zeus who became judges in Hades. They decided whether a soul should be condemned to eternal torment or sent to the Elysian Fields, which is the origin of the name of Paris’s Champs-­Élysées. 44. Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet who wrote the Divine Comedy. Dante depicts “Hell as a place of no light, with inky waters, gray withered cliffs, and black mastiffs, while Paradise abounds in sunlight, topaz waters, verdure and flowers, and, in the ninth Heaven, yellow roses and snowy white robes.” Maxine Arnold Vogely, A Proust Dictionary (Troy, N.Y.: Whitson, 1981), 183. 45. René Duguay-­Trouin (1673–1736) was a sailor and privateer famous during Louis XIV’s wars against the British and Dutch navies. His men adored him for his generosity, because of which he died a poor man. His bust is in the museum of the coastal town of Saint-­Malo, his birthplace. His Mémoires were published posthumously in 1740.

Place-Names: The Place 263

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 46. “Lift” is in English in the original and is the word in British English for elevator. Proust usually uses the French word ascenseur (elevator) for the machine itself and lift and liftman (once) for the young man who operates it. I will use lift or liftboy for the operator and elevator only when Proust uses ascenseur. 47. A lanternon (in French) is a small tower rising from the transept of a cathedral and a feature of Gothic architecture in Normandy. 48. Mammon, the god of this world. Mammon means “riches” in Syriac and, from biblical and other sources, has come to personify the evils of wealth and miserliness.

264 Place-Names: The Place

might give a patient who was turning its pages in the surgeon’s waiting room. I was astonished to find that there were people so different from myself that this stroll through the town had actually been recommended to me by the manager as a distraction, and also that the torture chamber that a new place of residence is could appear to some people a “delightful sojourn,” to quote the hotel prospectus, which might, it was true, exaggerate, but was, for all that, addressed to a whole army of clients to whose tastes it must appeal. True, it invoked, to make them come to the Grand Hôtel at Balbec, not only the “exquisite fare” and the “enchanting view across the casino gardens,” but also the “ordinances of Her Majesty Queen Fashion, which no one may violate with impunity, or without being taken for a philistine, a charge that no well-­bred man would willingly incur.” The need that I now had for my grandmother was enhanced by my fear that I had shattered another of her illusions. She must be feeling discouraged, feeling that if I could not stand the fatigue of this journey there was no hope that any change of air could ever do me good. I decided to return to the hotel and to wait for her there: the manager himself came forward and pressed a button, and a person whose acquaintance I had not yet made, who was called the “lift”46 (and who at that highest point in the hotel, there where the lantern47 would be in a Norman church, was installed like a photographer behind his curtain or an organist in his loft), came rushing down toward me with the agility of a squirrel, domesticated, industrious, and captive. Then, sliding upward again along a steel pillar, he bore me aloft in his train toward the dome of this temple of Mammon.48 On each floor, on either side of narrow communicating stairs, opened out fanwise a range of somber galleries, along which, carrying a bolster, passed a chambermaid. I lent to her face, made indistinct by the twilight, the mask of my most impassioned dreams, but read in her eyes as they turned toward me the horror of my own nonentity. Meanwhile, to dissipate, in the course of this interminable assent, the mortal anguish that I felt in traversing in silence the mystery of

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower this chiaroscuro so devoid of poetry, lighted by a single vertical line of little windows that was made by the solitary water closet on each landing, I addressed a few words to the young organist, artisan of my journey and my partner in captivity, who continued to manipulate the registers of his instrument and to finger the stops. I apologized for taking up so much room, for giving him so much trouble, and asked him whether I was not obstructing him in the practice of an art for which, in order to flatter the virtuoso, I did more than display curiosity, I confessed my predilection. But he did not answer me, whether from astonishment at my words, preoccupation with his work, regard for etiquette, hardness of hearing, respect for holy ground, fear of danger, slowness of understanding, or orders from the manager. There is perhaps nothing that gives us so strong an impression of the reality of the external world as the difference in the position, relative to ourselves, of even a quite unimportant person before we have met him and after. I was the same man who had taken, late that afternoon, the little train from Balbec to the coast; I carried in my body the same consciousness. But on that consciousness, in the place where, at six o’clock, there had been, with the impossibility of forming any idea of the manager, the Grand Hôtel or its personnel, a vague and timorous impatience for the moment at which I would reach my destination, were to be found now the pustules excised from the face of the cosmopolitan manager (he was, in fact, a naturalized Monégasque,49 although—as he himself put it, for he was always using expressions that he thought distinguished without noticing that they were incorrect—“of Romanian originality”), his action in ringing for the lift, the liftboy himself, a whole frieze of puppet show characters issuing from the Pandora’s box50 that was the Grand Hôtel, undeniable, irremovable, and, like everything that is realized, sterilizing. But at least this change, which I had done nothing to bring about, proved to me that something had happened that was external to myself— however devoid of interest that thing might be in itself—and I was like a traveler who, having had the sun in his face when he

49. A native or inhabitant of Monaco. 50. In Greek mythology, Pandora, which means “the gift of all,” was the first woman created. The gods gave her a box in which each had put something evil and sent her to earth to be the wife of the first man. Consumed with curiosity, she lifted the lid and released sorrows and misfortunes for mankind. Pandora’s box has come to signify something that, though beautiful on the outside, may be the source of many calamities.

Place-Names: The Place 265

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 51. Cardinal Jean Balue or La Balue (c. 1421–91), almoner to King Louis XI (1423–83). He was bishop of Évreux, then cardinal in 1467. The king punished him for having secretly negotiated with Charles le Téméraire (the Bold) by imprisoning him for eleven years (1469–80) in the château de Loches. Historians are skeptical that he was kept in an iron cage. 52. Proust may have been thinking of Paul Delaroche’s painting The Assassination of the Duc de Guise (1835) in the Museum of Chantilly, where the isolation of the corpse in the right side of the painting in relation to the conspirators grouped on the left is intensified by the vast dimensions of the room. See À la recherche du temps perdu (Paris: Gallimard [Pléiade edition], 1987), 2: 27, n. 4. Henri I, Duc de Guise (1550–88), was the acknowledged chief of the Catholic league during the French Wars of Religion and played a key role in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre. He became the chief rival of King Henri III, who had Guise assassinated in the château de Blois on December 23, 1588. A 1908 film by Charles Le Bargy, La Mort du duc de Guise, was accompanied throughout by a live orchestra playing music composed by Camille Saint-­Saëns, reputedly cinema’s first score. 53. Thomas Cook and Son was a British travel agency founded in 1841 by Thomas Cook (1808–92).

266 Place-Names: The Place

started, concludes that he has been for so many hours on the road when he sees the sun behind him. I was half-­dead with exhaustion, I was burning with fever; I would gladly have gone to bed, but I had none of the things necessary for that. I would have liked at least to stretch out for a little while on the bed, but what good would that have done me since I would not have been able to find any rest there for this mass of sensations that is for each of us his conscious if not his material body, and since the unfamiliar objects that encircled my body, forcing it to set its perceptions on the permanent footing of a vigilant defensive, would have kept my sight, my hearing, all my senses in a position as cramped and uncomfortable (even if I had stretched out my legs) as that of Cardinal La Balue51 in the cage in which he could neither stand nor sit. It is our noticing them that puts things in a room, and habit that takes them away again and clears a space for us. Space there was none for me in my bedroom (mine in name only) at Balbec; it was full of things that did not know me, that flung back at me the distrustful look that I cast at them, and, without taking any heed of my existence, showed that I was interrupting the humdrum routine of theirs. The clock—whereas at home I heard my clock tick only a few seconds in a week, when I was coming out of some profound meditation—continued without a moment’s interruption to utter, in an unknown tongue, a series of observations that must have been most uncomplimentary to me, for the violet curtains listened to them without replying, but in an attitude such as people adopt who shrug their shoulders to indicate that the sight of a third person irritates them. They gave to this room with its lofty ceiling a quasi-­historical character, which might have made it a suitable place for the assassination of the Duc de Guise,52 and later for parties of tourists personally conducted by a guide from the Thomas Cook Agency,53 but not at all for me to sleep. I was tormented by the presence of some little bookcases with glass fronts that ran along the walls, but especially by a tall dressing mirror that stood across one corner of the room and before the departure of which I felt that there would be no possibility of rest

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower for me. I kept raising my eyes—which the things in my room in Paris disturbed no more than did my eyelids themselves, for they were merely extensions of my organs, an enlargement of myself— toward the high ceiling of this belvedere planted on the summit of the hotel which my grandmother had chosen for me; and in that region more intimate than the one in which we see and hear, in that region in which we experience the quality of odors, almost in the very heart of my inmost self, the scent of vetiver54 next launched its offensive against my last line of trenches, against which I opposed, not without tiring myself still further, the futile and incessant riposte of an alarmed sniffing. Having now no world, no room, no body that was not menaced by the enemies thronging around me, invaded to the very bones by fever, I was utterly alone; I longed to die. Then my grandmother came in, and to the expansion of my ebbing heart there opened at once an infinity of space. She was wearing a percale dressing gown that she put on at home whenever any of us was ill (because she felt more comfortable in it, she used to say, always attributing to her actions a selfish motive), and which was, for tending us, for watching by our beds, her servant’s smock, her nurse’s uniform, her nun’s habit. But whereas the care that servants, nurses, nuns take, their kindness to us, the merits we find in them, and the gratitude we owe them increase the impression we have of being, in their eyes, someone different, of feeling that we are alone, keeping in our own hands the control over our thoughts, our will to live, I knew, when I was with my grandmother, that, however great the misery that there was in me, it would be received by her with a pity still more vast; that everything that was mine, my cares, my wishes, would be, in my grandmother, buttressed by a desire that was altogether stronger than my own to preserve and enhance my life; and my thoughts were continued in her without having to undergo any deflection, since they passed from my mind into hers without change of atmosphere or of personality. And—like a man who tries to fasten his tie in front of a mirror and forgets that the end

54. Vetiver is a grass, native to India, whose fragrant root yields oil used in perfume for its earthy notes. Vetiver root is also used in weaving mats; and it may be to the unfamiliar odor of vetiver matting that the Narrator refers.

Place-Names: The Place 267

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that he sees reflected is not on the side to which he raises his hand, or like a dog that chases along the ground the dancing shadow of an insect in the air—misled by her appearance in the body as we are apt to be in this world where we have no direct perception of people’s souls, I threw myself into the arms of my grandmother and held my lips tightly to her face as though I had access thus to the immense heart that she opened to me. And when I felt my mouth glued to her cheeks, to her brow, I drew from them something so beneficial, so nourishing that I remained as motionless, as solemn, as calmly gluttonous as a baby at the breast. Afterward I gazed tirelessly at her large face, as clear in its outline as a beautiful cloud, glowing and serene, behind which I could discern the radiance of her tender love. And everything that received, in however slight a degree, any share of her sensations, everything that could be said to belong in any way to her was at once thereby so spiritualized, so sanctified, that with outstretched hands I smoothed her beautiful hair, still hardly gray, with as much respect, precaution, and gentleness as if I had actually been caressing her goodness. She found such pleasure in taking any trouble that saved me one, and in a moment of immobility and calm for my weary limbs something so delicious that when, having seen that she wished to help me to undress and remove my boots, I made as though to stop her and began to undress myself, with an imploring gaze she arrested my hands as they fumbled with the top buttons of my coat and boots. “Oh, do let me!” she begged. “It is such a joy for your Grandmother. And be sure you knock on the wall if you want anything in the night. My bed is just on the other side, and the wall is quite thin. Just give a knock now, as soon as you are ready, so that we will know where we are.” And, sure enough, that evening I gave three knocks—a signal that, a week later, when I was ill, I repeated every morning for several days, because my grandmother wanted me to have some milk early. Then, when I thought that I could hear her stirring, so that she would not be kept waiting but might, the moment she had

268 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower brought me the milk, go to sleep again, I would venture three little taps, timidly, faintly, but for all that distinctly, for if I was afraid of disturbing her in case I had been mistaken and she was still asleep, neither did I want her to lie awake listening for a summons that she had not at once caught and that I would not have dared to repeat. And scarcely would I have given my taps than I would hear three others, in a different tone from mine, stamped with a calm authority, repeated twice over so that there would be no mistake, and saying to me plainly: “Don’t get agitated; I heard you; I will be with you in a minute,” and soon afterward my grandmother would arrive. I would tell her that I had been afraid that she would not hear me, or might think that it was someone in the room beyond who was tapping; she would laugh: “Mistake my poor darling’s knocking for anyone else’s! Why, Grandmother would recognize it among a thousand! Do you suppose there’s anyone else in the world who’s so silly, with such feverish little knuckles, so torn between waking me up and not making me understand? Even if he just gave the least scratch, Grandmother could tell her little mouse’s sound at once, especially such a poor miserable mouse as mine is. I could hear it just now, trying to make up its mind, and rustling the bedclothes, and going through all its tricks.” She would open the shutters; where a wing of the hotel jutted out at right angles to my window, the sun was already settled on the roof, like an early-­rising roofer who begins early and works quietly in order not to awaken the sleeping town whose immobility makes him appear more agile. She would tell me the time, what the weather would be, that it was not worthwhile my getting up and coming to the window, that there was a mist over the sea; whether the baker’s shop had already opened; what the vehicle was that I could hear passing: all that trivial curtain-­raiser, that negligible introit55 of a new day that no one attends, a little scrap of life that was only for the two of us, which I would have no hesitation in repeating later in the day to Françoise or even to strangers, speaking of the fog that “you could have cut with a knife” at six

55. An introit is a psalm or antiphon sung or played as the priest approaches the altar for the Eucharist in many Christian denominations. Introitus (“entrance”) is the Latin root.

Place-Names: The Place 269

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 56. Swann is apparently referring to French Polynesia, which was made up of several groups of Polynesian islands, the most famous of which is Tahiti.

270 Place-Names: The Place

o’clock that morning, with the ostentation of one who was boasting not of a piece of knowledge that he had acquired but of a mark of affection shown to himself alone; sweet morning moment, opened like a symphony by the rhythmical dialogue of my three taps, to which the thin wall of my bedroom, steeped in tenderness and joy, grown harmonious, incorporeal, singing like a choir of angels, answered by three other taps, eagerly awaited, repeated once and again, in which it contrived to waft to me the soul of my grandmother, whole and perfect, and the promise of her coming, with the swiftness of an annunciation and musical fidelity. But on this first night after our arrival, when my grandmother had left me, I began again to suffer, as I had suffered in Paris at the moment of leaving home. Perhaps this fear that I had—that so many others have—of sleeping in a strange room, perhaps this fear is only the most humble, obscure, organic, almost unconscious form of that great and desperate resistance that sets in opposition the things that constitute the better part of our present life to our mentally assuming, by accepting it as true, the possibility of a future in which those things are to have no part; a resistance that was at the root of the horror that I had so often been made to feel by the thought that my parents would, one day, die, that the stern necessities of life might oblige me to live far from Gilberte, or simply to settle permanently in a place where I would never see any of my old friends; a resistance that was also at the root of the difficulty that I found in imagining my own death, or a survival such as Bergotte used to promise to mankind in his books, a survival in which I would not be allowed to take with me my memories, my frailties, my character, which did not easily resign themselves to the idea of ceasing to be and desired for me neither annihilation nor an eternity in which they would have no part. When Swann had said to me, in Paris one day when I felt particularly unwell: “You ought to go off to one of those glorious islands in Oceania;56 you’d never come back again if you did.” I would have liked to answer: “But then I will never see your daughter again; I will be living among people and things she has

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower never seen.” And yet my better judgment whispered: “What difference can that make, since you will not be distressed by it? When M. Swann tells you that you will not come back, he means by that that you will not want to come back, and if you don’t want to that is because you will be happy out there.” For my reason was aware that habit—habit that was even now setting to work to make me like this unfamiliar lodging, to change the position of the mirror, the shade of the curtains, to stop the clock—­undertakes as well to make dear to us the companions whom at first we disliked, to give another appearance to their faces, to make attractive the sound of their voices, to modify the inclinations of their hearts. It is true that these new friendships for places and people are based on forgetfulness of the old; but my better judgment was thinking precisely that I could envisage without dread the prospect of a life in which I would be forever separated from people all memory of whom I would lose, and it was by way of consolation that my mind was offering my heart a promise of oblivion that succeeded only in sharpening the edge of its despair. Not that the heart also is not bound in time, when separation is complete, to feel the analgesic effects of habit; but until then it will continue to suffer. And our dread of a future in which we must forgo the sight of faces, the sound of voices that we love, friends from whom we derive today our dearest joy, this dread, far from being dissipated, is intensified, if to the pain of such a privation we believe that there will be added what seems to us now in anticipation more painful still: not to feel it as a pain at all, to remain indifferent; for then our old self would have changed: it would then be not merely the charm of our family, our mistress, our friends who had ceased to surround us, but our affection for them would have been so completely eradicated from our heart, of which today it is an important part, that we would be able to enjoy that life apart from them, the very thought of which today makes us recoil in horror; so that it would be in a real sense our own death, a death followed, it is true, by resurrection but in a different self and the love of which is beyond the reach of those parts of the old self

Place-Names: The Place 271

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that are doomed to die. It is they—even the meanest of them, such as our obscure attachments to the dimensions, to the atmosphere of a bedroom—that take fright and refuse, in acts of rebellion that we must recognize to be a secret, partial, tangible, and true aspect of our resistance to death, of the long, desperate, daily resistance to a fragmentary and continuous death that interpolates itself throughout the whole course of our life, detaching from us at every moment a shred of ourselves, dead matter on which new cells will multiply and grow. And for a highly strung nature such as mine, one, that is to say, in which the intermediaries, the nerves, perform their functions badly, fail to arrest on its way to the consciousness, allow indeed to reach it, distinct, exhausting, innumerable, and dolorous, the plaint of the most humble elements of the self that are about to disappear—the anxious alarm that I felt beneath that strange and too lofty ceiling were but the protest of an affection that survived in me for a ceiling that was familiar and low. Doubtless this affection too would disappear, another having taken its place (when death, and then another life, would, in the guise of Habit, have performed their double task); but until its annihilation, every night it would suffer afresh, and on this first evening especially, confronted with a future already realized in which there would no longer be any place for it, it rose in revolt, it tortured me with the cry of its lamentations whenever my eyes, powerless to turn from what was wounding them, endeavored to fasten their gaze on that inaccessible ceiling. But next morning!—after a servant had come to call me and bring me hot water, and while I was washing and dressing myself and trying in vain to find the things that I wanted in my trunk, from which I extracted, pell-­mell, only a lot of things that were of no use whatever, what a joy it was to me, thinking already of the pleasure of lunch and a walk along the shore, to see in the window, and in all the glass fronts of the bookcases, as in the portholes of a ship’s cabin, the open sea, naked, unshadowed, and yet with half of its expanse in shadow, bounded by a thin and mobile line, and to follow with my eyes the waves that leapt up one be-

272 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower hind another like divers on a springboard. Every other moment, holding in my hand the stiff and starched towel, with the name of the hotel printed on it, with which I was making futile efforts to dry myself, I returned to the window to cast another glance at that vast amphitheater, dazzling and mountainous, and at the snowy crests of its emerald waves, here and there polished and translucent, which, with a placid violence and a leonine frown, let rise and fall their flowing slopes to which the sun added a smile without face or features. Window at which I was from then on to place myself every morning, as at the window of a stagecoach in which one has slept, to see whether, in the night, a longed-­ for mountain chain has come nearer or receded—only here it was those hills of the sea which, before they come dancing back toward us, are apt to withdraw so far that often it was only at the end of a long, sandy plain that I would distinguish, far away, their first undulations in a transparent, vaporous, bluish distance, like the glaciers that one sees in the backgrounds of the Tuscan Primitives.57 On other mornings it was quite close at hand that the sun was laughing on those waters of a green as tender as that preserved in Alpine pastures (among mountains on which the sun spreads itself here and there like a giant who may at any moment come leaping gaily down their craggy sides) less by the moisture of their soil than by the liquid mobility of their light. Moreover, in that breach that the seashore and waves open up in the midst of the rest of the world for the passage, the accumulation there of light, it is light above all, according to the direction from which it comes and along which our eyes follow it, it is light that shifts and fixes the undulations of the sea. Diversity of lighting modifies no less the orientation of a place, erects no less before our eyes new goals that it inspires in us the yearning to attain, than would a distance in space actually traversed in the course of a long journey. When, in the morning, the sun came from behind the hotel, disclosing to me the sands bathed in light as far as the first bastions of the sea, it seemed to be showing me another side of the picture, and to be engaging me to pursue, along the winding path of its rays,

57. Proust may be thinking of the painting Saint John the Baptist Entering the Wilderness (1454), by Giovanni di Paolo (c. 1403–82), a painter from Siena. The painting is in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Place-Names: The Place 273

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 58. “Seated on the jetty” is a line from Charles Baudelaire’s prose poem “Le Port.” The original reads “‘leaning’ on the jetty.” “Boudoir” and the “sun shining on the sea” are from Baudelaire’s poem “Chant d’automne”: “Et rien, ni votre amour, ni le boudoir, ni l’âtre / Ne me vaut le soleil rayonnant sur la mer” (And nothing, neither your love, your boudoir, your hearth / Is worth as much to me as the sun shining on the sea). Baudelaire’s collection Les Fleurs du mal (The flowers of evil, 1857) greatly influenced Proust. “Chant d’automne” was set to music by Gabriel Fauré. As a young man courting Mary Finaly in a villa overlooking the sea near Cabourg, Proust quoted Baudelaire’s hypnotic line from “Chant d’automne,” in which the poet evokes his mistress’s eyes: “J’aime de vos longs yeux la lumière verdâtre” (How I love the greenish light of your long eyes), or hummed to Mary the music that Fauré composed for the poem.

274 Place-Names: The Place

a journey motionless but ever varied amid all the fairest scenes of the undulating landscape of the hours. And on this first morning the sun pointed out to me far off with a jovial finger those blue peaks of the sea, which bear no name on any geographer’s chart, until, dizzy with its sublime excursion over the thundering and chaotic surface of their crests and avalanches, it came back to take shelter from the wind in my bedroom, lolling on the unmade bed and scattering its riches over the splashed surface of the basin stand, and into my open trunk, where by its very splendor and misplaced luxury it added still further to the general effect of disorder. Alas, the wind from the sea, an hour later, in the great dining room—while we were having lunch, and from the leathern gourd of a lemon were sprinkling a few golden drops on two soles that soon left on our plates the plumes of their picked skeletons, curled like stiff feathers and resonant as zithers—it seemed to my grandmother a cruel deprivation not to be able to feel its life-­ giving breath on her cheek, on account of the window, transparent but closed, which, like the front of a glass case in a museum, separated us from the beach while allowing us to look out on its whole extent, and into which the sky entered so completely that its azure had the effect of being the color of the windows and its white clouds only so many flaws in the glass. Imagining that I was “seated on the jetty” or at rest in the “boudoir” of which Baudelaire speaks, I asked myself whether his “sun shining on the sea”58 was not—a very different thing from the evening ray, simple and superficial as a golden, tremulous shaft—just what at that moment was scorching the sea topaz-­brown, fermenting it, turning it pale and milky like beer, foamy like milk, while now and then there hovered over it great blue shadows that some god, for his own amusement, seemed to be shifting to and fro by moving a mirror in the sky. Unfortunately, it was not only in its outlook that this dining room at Balbec differed from our “dining room” at Combray, which gave on to the houses across the street, this dining room at Balbec, bare-­walled, filled with a sunlight green as the water in a pool, while a few yards away from it the high

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower tide and broad daylight erected as though before the gates of the celestial city an indestructible and mobile rampart of emerald and gold. At Combray, since we were known to everyone, I took heed of no one. In life at the seaside one knows only one’s neighbors. I was not yet old enough and I had remained too sensitive to have outgrown the desire to please others and to possess their hearts. Nor had I acquired the more noble indifference that a man of the world would have felt toward the people who were having their lunch in the dining room or to the boys and girls strolling past on the esplanade, with whom I was pained by the thought that I would never be allowed to go on excursions, though not so much pained as if my grandmother, disdainful of social formalities and concerned only with my health, had gone to them with the request, humiliating for me, that they should consent to allow me to accompany them. Whether they were returning to some villa unknown to me, or had emerged from it, racket in hand, on their way to a tennis court, or were mounted on horses whose hooves trampled my heart, I gazed at them with a passionate curiosity, in that blinding light of the beach where social distinctions are altered, I followed all their movements through the transparency of that great bay of glass, which allowed so much light to flood the room. But it intercepted the wind, and this was a defect in the opinion of my grandmother, who, unable to endure the thought that I was losing the benefit of an hour in the open air, surreptitiously opened a pane and at once sent flying the menus, the newspapers, veils and hats of all the people at the other tables; she herself, fortified by the celestial blast, remained calm and smiling like Saint Blandine,59 amid the torrent of invective that, increasing my sense of isolation and misery, those scornful, disheveled, furious tourists combined to pour on us. To a certain extent—and this, at Balbec, gave to the population, as a rule monotonously rich and cosmopolitan, of that sort of luxury hotels, a quite distinctive local character—they were composed of eminent persons from the departmental capitals of that region of France, a leading magistrate from Caen, a president

59. Saint Blandine was a young Christian slave martyred at Lyon in A.D. 177, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Her body was exposed on a grill and given over to the wild beasts.

Place-Names: The Place 275

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 60. Caen is an important city in the département of Calvados in Normandy; Cherbourg is a city in the département of Manche; Le Mans is a large city in the département of Sarthe. 61. The fictional Rivebelle is very similar to the name of Riva-­Bella, located on the Normandy coast near Cabourg.

276 Place-Names: The Place

of the Cherbourg bar, a prominent notary public from Le Mans,60 who at vacation time, starting from the various points over which, throughout the year, they were scattered like snipers or pieces on a checkerboard, concentrated their forces in this hotel. They always reserved the same rooms, and with their wives, who had pretensions to aristocracy, formed a little group, which was joined by a prominent lawyer and a prominent doctor from Paris, who on the day of their departure would say to the others: “Oh, yes, of course; you don’t go by our train. You’re fortunate, you’ll be home in time for lunch.” “Fortunate, you say? You, who live in the capital, in Paris, the great city, while I have to live in a wretched county seat of a hundred thousand souls (it’s true, we had a hundred and two thousand at the last census, but what is that compared to your two and a half million?), going back, too, to asphalt streets and all the glamour of Paris life?” They said this with a rustic burring of their r’s, but without acrimony, for they were leading lights each in his own province, who could like others have gone to Paris had they chosen—the leading magistrate of Caen had several times been offered a seat on the Court of Appeal—but had preferred to stay where they were, from love of their native towns or of obscurity or of fame, or because they were reactionaries, and enjoyed being on friendly terms with the country houses of the neighborhood. Besides, several of them were not going back at once to their county towns. For—inasmuch as the Bay of Balbec was a little world apart in the midst of the great world, a basketful of the seasons in which were clustered in a ring good days and bad, and the successive months, so that not only, on days when one could make out Rivebelle,61 which was a sign of coming storms, could one see the sunlight on the houses there while Balbec was plunged in darkness, but later on, when the cold weather had reached Balbec, one could be certain of finding on that opposite shore two or three supplementary months of warmth—those of the regular visitors to the Grand Hôtel whose vacation began late or lasted long, gave orders,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower when the rain and mists came and autumn was in the air, for their trunks to be packed and loaded on to a boat, and set sail across the bay to find the summer again at Rivebelle or Costedor.62 This little group in the Balbec hotel looked with suspicion at each new arrival, and, while affecting to take not the least interest in him, hastened, all of them, to interrogate their friend the headwaiter about him. For it was the same headwaiter—Aimé—who returned every year for the season, and kept their tables for them; and mesdames their spouses, having heard that his wife was expecting a baby, would sit after meals working each on one of the pieces of the layette, while sizing up through their lorgnettes my grandmother and me, because we were eating hard-­boiled eggs in salad, which was considered common and was not done in the best society of Alençon.63 They affected an attitude of contemptuous irony with regard to a Frenchman who was called “His Majesty” and had indeed proclaimed himself king of a small island in Oceania peopled by a few savages. He was staying in the hotel with his pretty mistress, whom, as she crossed the beach to bathe, the little boys would greet with “Long live the Queen!” because she would reward them with a shower of fifty-­centime coins.64 The leading magistrate and the president of the bar went so far as to pretend not to see her, and if any of their friends happened to look at her, felt bound to warn him that she was only a little shop girl. “But I was told that at Ostend65 they used the royal bathing hut.” “Well, and why not? You can rent it for twenty francs. You can rent it yourself, if you like that sort of thing. Anyhow, I know for a fact that the fellow asked for an audience with the king, who sent back word that he had no interest in meeting any pantomime princes.” “Really, that’s interesting! What strange people there are in the world, to be sure!” And no doubt all this was true: but it was also from resentment of the thought that, to many of their fellow visitors, they were themselves simply good middle-­class people who did not

62. Costedor is apparently an invention of Proust’s. 63. Alençon is a city in the département of Orne on the Sarthe River in northwest France. Alençon became a center for lacemaking in the sixteenth century. 64. This is likely an allusion to Jacques Lebaudy (1888–1919), son of a sugar magnate, who tried to set himself up as Emperor of the Sahara. 65. Ostend, an ancient fishing port on the North Sea in Belgium, had become, by the late nineteenth century, a busy passenger port and one of Europe’s most fashionable summer playgrounds. In 1889, after graduating from the Lycée Condorcet, Proust vacationed in Ostend as the guest of classmate Horace Finaly and his family.

Place-Names: The Place 277

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower know this king and queen so prodigal with their small change, that the notary, the magistrate, the president, when what they called the carnival went by, felt so much annoyance and expressed aloud an indignation that was quite understood by their friend the headwaiter, who, obliged to show proper civility to these sovereigns who were more generous than authentic, would nevertheless, while taking their orders, dart from afar at his old patrons a meaningful glance. Perhaps there was also something of the same resentment at being erroneously supposed to be less “chic” and unable to explain that they were even more so, underlining the “pretty fellow” with which they qualified a young “blood,” the consumptive and carousing son of an industrial magnate, who appeared every day in a new suit of clothes with an orchid in his buttonhole, drank champagne at lunch, and then went off to the casino, pale, impassive, a smile of complete indifference on his lips, to throw away at the baccarat table enormous sums “which he could ill afford to lose,” as the notary said with a resigned air to the leading magistrate, whose wife had it “on good authority” that this “fin-­de-­siècle” young man was sending his long-­suffering parents to an early grave. On the other hand, the president and his friends could not exhaust their flow of sarcasm on the subject of a wealthy old lady of noble title, because she never moved anywhere without taking her whole household with her. Whenever the wives of the notary and the magistrate saw her in the dining room at mealtimes, they put up their lorgnettes and gave her an insolent scrutiny, as meticulous and distrustful as if she had been some dish with a pretentious name but a suspicious appearance which, after the negative result of a systematic study, must be sent away with a lofty wave of the hand and a grimace of disgust. No doubt by this behavior they meant only to show that, if there were things in the world that they themselves lacked—in this instance, certain prerogatives that the old lady enjoyed, and the privilege of her acquaintance—it was not because they could not, but because they did not, choose to acquire them. But they

278 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower had succeeded in convincing themselves that this really was what they felt; and it was the suppression of all desire for, of all curiosity about, ways of life that are unfamiliar, of all hope of pleasing new people for which, in these women, had been substituted a feigned contempt, an artificial elation, that had the awkward result of obliging them to label their discontent satisfaction and to lie everlastingly to themselves, two conditions that made them unhappy. But everyone else in the hotel was no doubt behaving in a similar fashion, though in different forms, and sacrificing, if not to self-­ esteem, at any rate to certain inculcated principles and mental habits, the delightful confusion of being involved in an unfamiliar way of life. No doubt the microcosm in which the old lady isolated herself was not poisoned with virulent bitterness, as was the group in which the wives of the notary and the magistrate sat sneering with rage. It was on the contrary embalmed with a delicate and old-­world fragrance but which was nonetheless artificial. For at heart the old lady would probably have found in attracting, in attaching to herself (and, in renewing herself by so doing) the mysterious sympathy of new friends, a charm that is altogether lacking from the pleasure that is to be derived from mixing only with the people of one’s own world, and reminding oneself that, this being the best of all possible worlds,66 the ill-­informed contempt of others may be disregarded. Perhaps she felt that—if she had arrived incognito at the Grand Hôtel of Balbec, she would, in her black woolen dress and old-­fashioned bonnet, have brought a smile to the lips of some old reveler, who from the depths of his “rocking” chair67 would have glanced up and murmured, “What a scarecrow!” or, still worse, to those of some worthy man who had, like the magistrate, kept between his pepper-­and-­salt whiskers a rosy complexion and a pair of sparkling eyes such as she liked to see, and would at once bring the magnifying lens of the conjugal glasses to bear upon so quaint a phenomenon; and perhaps it was in unconscious apprehension of those first few minutes, which one knows will be brief but which are nonetheless terrifying, like one’s first dive into the water, that this lady sent down in advance

66. An allusion to Voltaire’s most famous philosophical tale, Candide, ou l’optimisme (1759), in which the author satirizes the optimism of Leibniz and Rousseau. 67. “Rocking” is in English in the original.

Place-Names: The Place 279

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower a servant to inform the hotel of her personality and habits, and, cutting short the manager’s greetings with an abruptness in which there was more timidity than pride, went straight to her room, where her own curtains, replacing those that draped the hotel windows, her own screens and photographs, set up so effectively between her and the outside world, to which otherwise she would have had to adapt herself, the barrier of her private life and habits, that it was her home, in the heart of which she had remained, that traveled rather than herself. Thenceforward, having placed, between herself on the one hand and the hotel staff and its suppliers on the other, her servants, who bore instead of her the shock of contact with all this strange humanity, and kept up around their mistress her familiar atmosphere, having set her prejudices between herself and the other bathers, unconcerned about offending people whom her friends would not have had in their houses, it was in her own world that she continued to live by correspondence with her friends, by memories, by her intimate awareness of her own position, the quality of her manners, the competence of her politeness. And every day, when she came downstairs to go for a drive in her own carriage, the lady’s maid who came after her carrying her wraps, the footman who preceded her, seemed like sentries who, at the gate of an embassy, flying the flag of the country to which she belonged, secured for her on foreign soil the privilege of extraterritoriality. She did not leave her room until the middle of the afternoon on the day of our arrival, so that we did not see her in the dining room, into which the manager, since we were newcomers, conducted us at lunchtime, taking us under his wing, as a corporal takes a squad of recruits to the master tailor, to have them fitted; we did, however, see a moment later, a country gentleman and his daughter, of an obscure but very ancient Breton family, M. and Mlle de Stermaria, whose table we had been given in the belief that they had gone out and would not return until the evening. Having come to Balbec only to see various châtelains whom they knew in that neighborhood, they spent in the hotel dining room,

280 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower what with the invitations they accepted and the visits they paid, only such time as was strictly necessary. It was their arrogance that preserved them intact from all human sympathy, from taking any interest at all in the strangers seated around them, among whom M. de Stermaria kept up the glacial, preoccupied, distant, rude, punctilious, and malicious air that we assume in a railway buffet in the midst of travelers whom we have never seen before and will never see again, and with whom we can conceive of no other relations than to defend from their onslaught our portion of cold chicken and our corner seat in the train. No sooner had we begun our lunch than we were asked to leave the table on the instructions of M. de Stermaria, who had just arrived and, without the faintest attempt at an apology to us, told the headwaiter in a loud voice to see that such a mistake did not occur again, for it was repugnant to him that “people whom he did not know” should have taken his table. And certainly into the feeling that impelled a young actress (better known, in fact, for her elegance, her wit, and her beautiful collection of German porcelain than for the occasional parts that she had played at the Odéon),68 her lover, an immensely rich young man for whose sake she had acquired her culture, and two men of the aristocracy at that time much in the public eye, to form a little band apart, to travel only together, to come down to lunch—when at Balbec—very late, after everyone had finished, to spend the whole day in their sitting room playing cards, there entered no sort of malevolence toward the rest of us but simply the requirements of the taste that they had formed for a certain type of witty conversation, for certain refinements of good living, which made them find pleasure in spending their time, in taking their meals together, and would have rendered intolerable a life in common with people who had not been initiated into those mysteries. Even at a dinner table or a card table, each of them had to be certain that in the diner or partner who sat opposite to him there was, latent and not yet made use of, a certain kind of knowledge that would enable him to identify the rubbish that

68. The Odéon is a theater devoted chiefly to the performance of classical drama. Located in Paris in the sixth arrondissement, it dates from the late eighteenth century and was built in the neoclassical style.

Place-Names: The Place 281

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 69. Proust was writing at a time when France had been through nearly a century of revolutions and when the socialist and communist movements were gaining momentum in various parts of Europe.

282 Place-Names: The Place

adorned so many houses in Paris as genuine “Middle Ages” or “Renaissance” pieces and, whatever the subject of discussion, to apply the criteria common to them all whereby they distinguished good work from bad. No doubt, at such moments, it was only by some rare and amusing interjection flung into the general silence of meal or game, or by the new and charming dress that the young actress had put on for lunch or for poker, that was made manifest the special kind of existence in which these four friends desired everywhere to remain plunged. But by engulfing them thus in a system of habits that they knew by heart, it sufficed to protect them from the mystery of the life that was going on all around them. All the long afternoons, the sea was suspended there before their eyes only as a canvas of attractive coloring might hang on the wall of a wealthy bachelor’s apartment, and it was only in the intervals between hands that one of the players, finding nothing better to do, raised his eyes to it to seek from it some indication of the weather or the time, and to remind the others that tea was ready. And at night they did not dine in the hotel, where, hidden springs of electricity flooding with light the great dining room that became as it were an immense and marvelous aquarium against whose glass wall the working population of Balbec, the fishermen and also the tradesmen’s families, clustering invisibly in the outer darkness, pressed their faces to watch the luxurious life of its occupants gently floating on the golden eddies within, a thing as extraordinary to the poor as the life of strange fish or mollusks (an important social question, this: whether the glass wall will always protect the marvelous creatures at their feasting or whether the obscure folk who watch them hungrily out of the night will not break in some day to gather them from their aquarium and devour them).69 Meanwhile, perhaps, among the motionless, confounded crowd there in the dark, there may have been some writer, some student of human ichthyology who, as he watched the jaws of old feminine monstrosities close over a morsel of submerged food, was amusing himself by classifying them by race, by their innate characteristics as well as by those acquired characteristics that bring it

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower about that an old Serbian lady whose buccal appendage is that of a great saltwater fish, because from her infancy she has moved in the fresh waters of the Faubourg Saint-­Germain, eats her salad for all the world like a La Rochefoucauld.70 At that hour one could see the three young men in dinner jackets waiting for the young woman, who was as usual late but soon, wearing a dress that was almost always different and one of a series of scarves chosen to gratify some special taste in her lover, after having, from her landing, rung for the liftboy, would emerge from the elevator like a doll coming out of its toy box. And then all four who found that the international phenomenon of the deluxe hotel implanted at Balbec, had blossomed there in material splendor rather than in food that was fit to eat, bundled into a carriage and went to dine a mile away in a little restaurant of repute, where they held endless discussions with the cook about the composition of the menu and the cooking of its various dishes. During their drive, the road bordered with apple trees that led out of Balbec was no more to them than the distance that must be traversed—barely distinguishable in the darkness from that which separated their homes in Paris from the Café Anglais or the Tour d’Argent71—before they arrived at the fashionable little restaurant where, while the rich young man’s friends envied him because he had such a smartly dressed mistress, the latter’s scarves hung before the little company like a fragrant, flowing veil, but one that kept it apart from the outer world. Alas for my peace of mind, I had none of the detachment that all these people showed. To many of them I gave constant thought; I would have liked not to pass unobserved by a man with a low forehead and eyes that dodged between the blinkers of his prejudices and his upbringing, the great nobleman of the district, who was none other than the brother-­in-­law of Legrandin, and who came every now and then to see somebody at Balbec and on Sundays, by reason of the weekly garden party that his wife and he gave, robbed the hotel of a number of its occupants, because one or two of them were invited to these entertainments and the

70. For the Faubourg Saint-­Germain, see “Madame Swann at Home,” note 201. La Rochefoucauld is the name of a famous aristocratic family whose most distinguished member was François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613–80), a moralist and author of the greatly admired Maximes (1665). 71. For the Café Anglais, see “Madame Swann at Home,” note 140. The Tour d’Argent, one of the most famous restaurants in Paris, is located on the quai de la Tournelle in the fifth arrondissement. Its windows offer a splendid view of the apse of Notre-­Dame Cathedral.

Place-Names: The Place 283

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower others, so as not to appear to have been not invited, chose that day for an excursion to some distant spot. He had had, as it happened, an exceedingly bad reception at the hotel on the first day of the season, when the staff, freshly imported from the Riviera, did not yet know who he was. Not only was he not wearing white flannels, but, with old-­fashioned French courtesy and in his ignorance of the ways of luxury hotels, on coming into the lobby in which there were ladies sitting, he had taken off his hat at the door, the effect of which had been that the manager did not so much as raise a finger to his own in acknowledgment, concluding that this must be someone of the most humble extraction, what he called “sprung from the ordinary.” The notary’s wife, alone, had felt drawn to the stranger, who exhaled all the starched vulgarity of the really respectable, and had declared, with the unerring discernment and the indisputable authority of a person from whom the highest society of Le Mans held no secrets, that one could see at a glance that one was in the presence of a gentleman of great distinction, of perfect breeding, a striking contrast to the sort of people one usually saw at Balbec, whom she condemned as impossible to know so long as she did not know them. This favorable judgment, which she had pronounced on Legrandin’s brother-­ in-­law, was based perhaps on the lackluster appearance of a man about whom there was nothing to intimidate anyone; perhaps also she had recognized in this gentleman farmer with the appearance of a sacristan the Masonic signs of her own inveterate clericalism. Even though I knew that the young men who went past the hotel every day on horseback were the sons of the dishonest proprietor of a notions shop whom my father would never have dreamed of knowing; the glamour of “seaside life” exalted them in my eyes to equestrian statues of demigods, and the best thing that I could hope for was that they would never allow their proud gaze to fall upon the wretched boy who was myself, who left the hotel dining room only to go sit on the sands. I would have been glad to arouse some response even from the adventurer who had been king of a desert island in Oceania, even from the young con-

284 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower sumptive, of whom I liked to think that he was hiding beneath his insolent exterior a shy and tender heart, which might perhaps have lavished on me, and on me alone, the treasures of its affection. Besides (contrary to what is generally said about the people one meets when traveling), since being seen in certain company can invest us, in a seaside resort to which we will return another year, with a coefficient that has no equivalent in real social life, there is nothing that, far from keeping resolutely at a distance, we cultivate with such assiduity after our return to Paris as the friendships that we have formed by the sea. I was anxious about the opinion that might be held of me by all these temporary or local celebrities whom my tendency to put myself in the place of other people and to re-­create their state of mind made me place not in their true rank, the one they would have held in Paris, for instance, and which would have been quite low, but in the one they must imagine to be theirs, and which indeed was their rank at Balbec, where the want of a common denominator gave them a sort of relative superiority and a singular interest. Alas, none of these people’s contempt was so painful to me as that of M. de Stermaria. For I had noticed his daughter, the moment she came into the room, her pretty face, her pallid, almost bluish complexion, what was distinctive in the posture of her tall figure, in her gait, which suggested to me—and rightly—her heredity and her aristocratic upbringing, all the more vividly because I knew her name, like those expressive themes invented by musicians of genius which paint in splendid colors the glow of fire, the rush of water, the peace of fields and woods, to audiences who, having first glanced at the program, have their imaginations trained in the right direction. The label “Centuries of Breeding,” by adding to Mlle de Stermaria’s charms the idea of their origin, made them more intelligible, more complete. It also made them more desirable, advertising their inaccessibility as a high price enhances the value of an object that has already taken our fancy. And its stock of heredity gave to her complexion, in which so many selected juices had been blended, the savor of an exotic fruit or of a famous vintage.

Place-Names: The Place 285

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 72. We do not know which shah Proust had in mind. From 1848 to 1896, the shah was Nasr ed-­Din; from 1896 to 1907, the shah was Muzaffar ed-­Din, who frequently visited Europe and attended the Paris Exposition of 1900. The queen is Ranavalona III (1861–97), the last queen (1883–94) of Madagascar, who was deposed by the French in 1897 and exiled to Réunion Island and ultimately to Algiers.

286 Place-Names: The Place

And then mere chance suddenly put into our hands, my grandmother’s and mine, the means of acquiring an immediate prestige in the eyes of all the other occupants of the hotel. On that first afternoon, at the moment when the old lady came downstairs from her room, producing, thanks to the footman who preceded her and the maid who came running after her with a book and a lap robe that had been left behind, a marked effect on all who beheld her and arousing in each of them curiosity and respect from which it was evident that none was so little immune as M. de Stermaria, the manager leaned across to my grandmother and out of kindness (as one might point out the Shah of Persia or Queen Ranavalona72 to an obscure onlooker who could obviously have no sort of connection with so mighty a sovereign, but might find it interesting, all the same, to know that he had been standing within a few feet of one) whispered in her ear, “The Marquise de Villeparisis,” while at the same moment the old lady, catching sight of my grandmother, could not repress a look of pleased surprise. It may be imagined that the sudden appearance, in the guise of a little old woman, of the most powerful of fairies would not have given me so much pleasure, destitute as I was of any means of access to Mlle de Stermaria, in a strange place where I knew no one. I mean no one for any practical purpose. Esthetically the number of human types is so restricted that we must constantly, wherever we may be, have the pleasure of seeing people we know, even without looking for them in the works of the old masters, like Swann. Thus it happened that in the first few days of our stay in Balbec I had succeeded in finding Legrandin, Swann’s concierge, and Mme Swann herself, transformed into a waiter, a foreign visitor whom I never saw again, and a lifeguard. And a sort of magnetism attracts and retains so inseparably, one beside another, certain characteristics of physiognomy and mentality, that when nature thus introduces a person into a new body she does not mutilate him unduly. Legrandin turned waiter kept intact his stature, the outline of his nose and a part of his chin; Mme Swann,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower in the masculine gender and the calling of a lifeguard, had been accompanied not only by familiar features, but even by a certain way of speaking. Only she could be of little if any more use to me, standing on the beach there wearing the red belt of her office, and hoisting at the first gust of wind the flag that forbids swimming (for lifeguards are prudent, rarely knowing how to swim) than she would have been in that fresco of the Life of Moses in which Swann had long ago identified her in the portrait of Jethro’s Daughter.73 Whereas this Mme de Villeparisis was her real self; she had not been the victim of a magic spell that had deprived her of her power, but was capable, on the contrary, of putting at the disposal of mine a spell that would multiply it a hundredfold, and thanks to which, as though I had been swept through the air on the wings of a fabulous bird, I was to cross in a few moments the infinitely wide social gulf that—at least, at Balbec—separated me from Mlle de Stermaria. Unfortunately, if there was one person in the world who, more than anyone else, lived shut up in a little world of her own, it was my grandmother. She would not even have despised me, she would simply not have understood what I meant had she known that I attached importance to the opinions, that I felt an interest in the persons, of people the very existence of whom she never noticed and of whom, when the time came to leave Balbec, she would not remember the names. I dared not confess to her that if these same people had seen her talking to Mme de Villeparisis, I would have been very pleased, because I felt that the marquise possessed some prestige in the hotel and that her friendship would have given us a position in the eyes of Mlle de Stermaria. Not that my grandmother’s friend represented to me, in any sense of the word, a member of the aristocracy: I was too accustomed to her name, which had been familiar to my ears before my mind had begun to consider it, when as a child I had heard it said in conversation at home: while her title added to it only a touch of quaintness, as some uncommon given name would have done, or as in the names of streets, among which we can see nothing more noble in the rue

73. It was when he identified Odette with Botticelli’s portrait of Jethro’s daughter that Swann began to fall in love with Odette. See Swann’s Way, 254.

Place-Names: The Place 287

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 74. The rue Lord Byron is in the eighth arrondissement and connects the avenue des Champs-­Élysées and the avenue de Friedland. The rue Rochechouart, in the ninth arrondissement, was the location of the auditorium of the Concerts Pleyel and the Théâtre des Folies-­Rochechouart, which became the Théâtre moderne in 1910. The rue de Gramont is in the second arrondissement; the rue Léonce Reynaud is in the sixteenth arrondissement, near the place de l’Alma; the rue Hippolyte-­ Lebas, in the ninth arrondissement, was named for the architect of the nearby church Notre-­Dame-­de-­Lorette. 75. Marshal Marie-­Edme-­Patrice Maurice de MacMahon, Duc de Magenta (1808–93), was in 1873 elected the second president of the Third Republic in spite of being a monarchist. Proust makes him a relative of the Guermantes family. François-­Sadi Carnot (1837–94) was president of France from 1887 to 1894, when he was assassinated.

288 Place-Names: The Place

Lord Byron, in the plebeian and even squalid rue Rochechouart, or in the rue Gramont than in the rue Léonce-Reynaud or the rue Hippolyte-Lebas.74 Mme de Villeparisis no more made me think of a person who belonged to a special social world than did her cousin MacMahon, whom I did not clearly distinguish from M. Carnot, likewise President of the Republic, or from Raspail, whose photograph Françoise had bought with that of Pius IX.75 It was one of my grandmother’s principles that, when away from home, one should cease to have any social intercourse, that one did not go to the seaside to meet people, having plenty of time for that sort of thing in Paris, that they would make one waste in polite exchanges, in pointless conversation, the precious time that ought all to be spent in the open air, beside the waves; and finding it convenient to assume that this view was shared by everyone else, and that it authorized, between old friends whom chance brought face to face in the same hotel, the fiction of a mutual incognito, on hearing her friend’s name from the manager she merely looked the other way, and pretended not to see Mme de Villeparisis, who, realizing that my grandmother did not want to be recognized, also gazed into the void. She went past and I was left in my isolation like a shipwrecked mariner who has seen a vessel apparently approaching, which has then vanished over the horizon. She, too, took her meals in the dining room, but at the other end of it. She knew none of the people who were staying in the hotel or who came there to call, not even M. de Cambremer; in fact, I noticed that he gave her no greeting one day when, with his wife, he had accepted an invitation to lunch with the president, who, drunk with the honor of having the nobleman at his table, avoided his everyday acquaintances and confined himself to a distant wink, so as to draw their attention to this historic event but so discreetly that his signal could not be interpreted as an invitation to join the party. “Well, I hope you’ve got on your best clothes; I hope you feel chic enough,” the magistrate’s wife said to him that evening. “Chic? Why should I?” asked the president, concealing his rap-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ture in an exaggerated astonishment. “Because of my guests, do you mean?” he went on, feeling that it was impossible to keep up the farce any longer. “But what’s chic about having a few friends in to lunch? After all, they must eat somewhere!” “But it is chic! They are the de76 Cambremers, aren’t they? I recognized them at once. She is a marquise. And quite genuine, too. Not through the females.” “Oh, she’s a very simple soul, she is charming, no standoffishness about her. I thought you were coming to join us. I was making signals to you . . . I would have introduced you!” he asserted, tempering with a hint of irony the vast generosity of the offer, like Ahasuerus when he says to Esther:77 Faut-­il de mes États vous donner la moitié?78 “No, no, no, no! We lie hidden, like the humble violet.” “But you were quite wrong, I assure you,” replied the president, emboldened now that the danger point had passed. “They weren’t going to eat you. I say, aren’t we going to have our little game of bezique?”79 “Why, of course! We were afraid to suggest it, now that you go about entertaining marquises!” “Oh, get along with you; there’s nothing so very extraordinary about them. Why, I’m dining there tomorrow evening. Would you care to go instead of me? I mean it. Honestly, I’d just as soon stay here.” “No, no! I would be removed from the bench as a reactionary,” cried the magistrate, laughing till he cried at his own joke. “But you go to Féterne80 too, don’t you?” he went on, turning to the notary. “Oh, I go there on Sundays—in one door and out the other. But I don’t have them here to lunch, like the president.” M. de Stermaria was not at Balbec that day, to the president’s great regret. But he managed to say a word in season to the headwaiter:

76. The use of “de” (a vestige of noble birth) without the given name and the title shows a lack of sophistication (worldly knowledge) on the part of the magistrate’s wife. The Narrator’s father apparently (and surprisingly) made the same error when referring to “de” Norpois. See “Madame Swann at Home,” 9. 77. The story of Esther and Ahasuerus is told in the Old Testament book of Esther and is the subject of the play Esther (1689), by Jean Racine. Ahasuerus, King of Persia, chose for his wife Esther, a Jewish maiden who saved her people from his persecution. See Esther 2:17. In the course of the novel, Proust quotes a number of lines from Racine’s play. 78. “Of all my Kingdom must I give you half?” Ahasuerus speaks this line in Racine’s play Esther, act 2, scene 7. 79. Bezique or bésigue is a nineteenth-­ century French card game. 80. An invention of Proust’s, inspired no doubt by Féternes, spelled thus, a commune in the Haute-­Savoie département in the Rhône-­Alpes region in southeastern France near Évian-­les-­ Bains, where Proust vacationed with his parents in 1899.

Place-Names: The Place 289

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower “Aimé, you can tell M. de Stermaria that he’s not the only nobleman you’ve had in here. You saw the gentleman who had lunch with me today? Eh? A small mustache, looked like a military man. Well, that was the Marquis de Cambremer!” “Was it indeed? I’m not surprised to hear it.” “That will show him that he’s not the only man who’s got a title. That will teach him! It’s not a bad thing to take ’em down a peg or two, those noblemen. I say, Aimé, don’t say anything to him unless you want to: I mean to say, it’s no business of mine; besides, they know each other already.” And the next day M. de Stermaria, who remembered that the president had once represented a friend of his in court, came up and introduced himself. “Our friends in common, the de Cambremers, were eager that we should meet; the days didn’t fit; I don’t know quite what went wrong—” said the president, who, like most liars, imagined that other people do not take the trouble to investigate an unimportant detail which, for all that, may be sufficient (if chance puts you in possession of the humble facts of the case, and they contradict it) to show the liar in his true colors and to inspire a lasting mistrust. As usual, but more easily now that her father had left her to talk to the president, I was gazing at Mlle de Stermaria. No less than the bold and always graceful singularity of her attitudes, as when, leaning her elbows on the table, she raised her glass in both hands over her forearms, the dry flame of a glance at once extinguished, the ingrained, congenital hardness that one could sense, ill concealed by her own personal inflections, in the sound of her voice, and that had shocked my grandmother; a sort of atavistic starting point to which she returned as soon as, by glance or utterance, she had finished expressing a thought of her own; all this brought back the thoughts of the observer to the line of ancestors who had bequeathed to her that inadequacy of human sympathy, those gaps in her sensibility, that short measure of the fabric that was at every moment running out. But from a certain look that

290 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower flooded for a moment the wells—instantly dry again—of her eyes, a look in which one sensed that almost humble docility that the predominance of a taste for sensual pleasures gives to the proudest of women, who will soon come to recognize but one form of personal distinction, namely that which any man enjoys who can make her feel those pleasures, an actor, an acrobat even, for whom, perhaps, she will one day leave her husband; from a certain rosy tint, warm and sensual, that flushed her pallid cheeks, like the tint that stained the hearts of the white water lilies in the Vivonne,81 I thought I could discern that she might readily have allowed me to seek in her the savor of the life of poetry and romance that she led in Brittany, a life to which, whether from overfamiliarity or from innate superiority, or from disgust at the penury or the avarice of her family, she seemed not to attach any great value, but which, for all that, she held enclosed in her body. In the meager stock of willpower that had been transmitted to her, and gave her expression an element of weakness, she would not perhaps have found the strength to resist. And, crowned by a feather that was a trifle old-­fashioned and pretentious, the gray felt hat that she invariably wore at meals made her all the more attractive to me, not because it was in harmony with her silver and rose complexion, but because, by making me suppose her to be poor, it brought her closer to myself. Obliged by her father’s presence to adopt a conventional attitude, but already bringing to the perception and classification of the people who passed before her eyes other principles than his, perhaps she saw in me not my humble rank, but the right sex and age. If one day M. de Stermaria had gone out leaving her behind, if, above all, Mme de Villeparisis, by coming to sit at our table, had given her an opinion of me that might have emboldened me to approach her, perhaps then we might have contrived to exchange a few words, to arrange a meeting, to form a closer tie. And for a whole month during which she would be left alone, without her parents, in her romantic Breton castle, we would perhaps have been able to wander by ourselves at evening, she and I together in the twilight in which the pink flowers

81. The fictional Vivonne River runs through Combray. For the description of its water lilies, see Swann’s Way, 193–94.

Place-Names: The Place 291

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower of the heather would glow more softly above the darkening water, beneath oak trees beaten by the lapping of the waves. Together we would have roamed that island impregnated with so intense a charm for me because it had enclosed the everyday life of Mlle de Stermaria and lay at rest in her remembering eyes. For it seemed to me that I would not really have possessed her except there, when I would have traversed those regions that enveloped her in so many memories—a veil that my desire longed to tear apart, one of those veils that nature interposes between woman and her pursuers (with the same intention as when, for all of us, she places the act of reproduction between ourselves and our keenest pleasure, and for insects, places before the nectar the pollen that they must carry away with them) in order that, tricked by the illusion of possessing her thus more completely, they may be forced to occupy first the landscapes among which she lives, and which, of more service to their imagination than sensual pleasure can be, yet would not without that pleasure have sufficed to attract them. But I was obliged to take my eyes from Mlle de Stermaria, for already, considering no doubt that making the acquaintance of an important person was a brief, inquisitive act that was sufficient in itself and, to bring out all the interest that was latent in it, required only a handshake and a penetrating glance, without either immediate conversation or any subsequent relations, her father had taken leave of the president and returned to sit down facing her, rubbing his hands like a man who has just made a valuable acquisition. As for the president, once the first emotion of this interview had subsided, then, as on other days, he could be heard, from time to time, addressing the headwaiter: “But I am not a king, Aimé; go and attend to the king! I say, Chief, those little trout don’t look at all bad, do they? We must ask Aimé to let us have some. Aimé, that little fish you have over there looks to me highly commendable; will you bring us some, please, Aimé, and don’t be sparing with it?” He would repeat the name “Aimé” all day long, with the result that when he had anyone to dinner the guest would remark:

292 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower “I can see that you are quite at home in this place,” and would feel himself obliged also to keep on saying “Aimé,” from the tendency, combining elements of timidity, vulgarity, and silliness, that many people have to believe that it is witty and refined to imitate to the letter what is said by the company in which they may happen to be. The president repeated the name incessantly, but with a smile, for he wanted to exhibit both his good relations with the headwaiter and his own superior station. And the headwaiter, whenever he caught the sound of his own name, smiled too, as though touched and at the same time proud, showing that he was conscious of the honor and could appreciate the joke. As intimidating as I always found these meals, in that vast restaurant, generally full, of the Grand Hôtel, they became even more so when there arrived for a few days the proprietor (or he may have been the general manager, appointed by a board of directors) not only of this palace but of seven or eight more besides, situated at all the four corners of France, in each of which, shuttling from one to the other, he would spend a week now and again. Then, just after dinner had begun, there appeared every evening at the entrance to the dining room this small man with white hair and a red nose, astonishingly neat and impassive, who was known, it appeared, as well in London as in Monte-­Carlo, as one of the leading hoteliers in Europe. Once when I had gone out for a moment at the beginning of dinner, as I came in again I passed in front of him, and he bowed to me, no doubt to indicate that he was my host, but with a coldness in which I could not distinguish whether it should be attributed to the reserve of a man who never forgets who he is, or to his contempt for a customer of so little importance. To those, on the other hand, whose importance was considerable, the general manager would bow with just as much coldness but more deeply, lowering his eyelids with a sort of modest respect, as though he had found himself confronted, at a funeral, with the father of the deceased or with the Blessed Sacrament. Except for these icy and infrequent salutations, he made not the slightest movement, as if to show that his glittering

Place-Names: The Place 293

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 82. Dinard is a resort town in Brittany on the English Channel near Saint-­Malo, in the département of Ille-­et-­Vilaine. Biarritz is a fashionable seaside resort on the Bay of Biscay in the département of the Pyrénées-­ Atlantiques. Cannes is a resort city on the Côte d’Azur (the Riviera) in the département of Alpes-­Maritimes.

294 Place-Names: The Place

eyes, which appeared to be starting out of his head, saw everything, controlled everything, assured for the “Dinner at the Grand Hôtel” perfection in every detail as well as a general harmony. He felt, evidently, that he was more than the producer of a play, than the conductor of an orchestra, nothing less than the generalissimo. Having decided that a contemplation raised to its maximum intensity would suffice to assure him that everything was in readiness, that no mistake had been made that could lead to disaster, and to invest him at last with full responsibility, he abstained not merely from any gesture but even from moving his eyes, which, petrified by the intensity of their gaze, took in and directed the entire operation. I felt that even the movements of my spoon did not escape him, and were he to vanish after the soup, for the whole of dinner, the inspection he had held would have taken away my appetite. His own was exceedingly good, as one could see at lunch, which he took like an ordinary guest of the hotel at the same hour as everyone else in the dining room. His table had this peculiarity only, that by his side, while he was eating, the other manager, the resident one, remained standing all the time to make conversation. For being subordinate to the general manager, he was anxious to please a man of whom he lived in constant fear. My own fear of him diminished during these lunches, for being then lost in the crowd of guests, he would exercise the discretion of a general sitting in a restaurant where there are also private soldiers, in not seeming to take any notice of them. Nevertheless, when the concierge, surrounded by his bellhops, announced to me: “He leaves tomorrow morning for Dinard. Then he’s going down to Biarritz, and after that to Cannes,”82 I began to breathe more freely. My life in the hotel was rendered not only sad because I had no friends there but uncomfortable because Françoise had made so many. It might be thought that they would have made things easier for us in various respects. Quite the contrary. The proletariat, if they succeeded only with great difficulty in being treated as people she knew by Françoise, and could not succeed at all unless they fulfilled certain conditions of showing the utmost polite-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ness to her, were, on the other hand, once they had reached the position, the only people who mattered to her. Her time-­honored code taught her that she was in no way obliged to the friends of her employers, that she might, if she was busy, shut the door without ceremony in the face of a lady who had come to call on my grandmother. But toward her own acquaintances, that is to say, the select handful of the lower orders whom she admitted to an exacting friendship, the most subtle and most stringent of protocols regulated her actions. Thus Françoise, having made the acquaintance of the man in the coffee shop and of a little chambermaid who did dressmaking for a Belgian lady, no longer came upstairs immediately after lunch to get my grandmother’s things ready, but came an hour later, because the coffee man had wanted to make her a cup of coffee or a tisane in his shop, or the maid had invited her to go and watch her sew, and to refuse either of them would have been impossible and one of those things that are not done. Moreover, particular consideration was due to the little chambermaid, who was an orphan and had been brought up by strangers to whom she still went occasionally to spend a few days. Her situation aroused Françoise’s pity and also a benevolent contempt. She who had a family, a little house that had come to her from her parents, with a field in which her brother kept a few cows, could not regard so uprooted a creature as her equal. And since this girl hoped, on August 15,83 to be allowed to pay her benefactors a visit, Françoise kept on repeating: “She does make me laugh! She says, ‘I hope to be going home for August 15.’ ‘Home!’ says she! It isn’t just that it’s not her own place, they’re people who took her in from nowhere, and the creature says ‘home’ just as if it really was her home. Poor girl! What misery she must be in, not to know what it is to have a home.” Still, if Françoise had associated only with the chambermaids brought to the hotel by other guests, who dined with her in the “service” quarters and, seeing her pretty lace cap and her handsome profile, took her perhaps for some lady of noble birth, whom reduced circumstances or a personal attachment had driven to serve as companion to my

83. Assumption Day is August 15, commemorating the reception of the soul and body of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. It is the principal feast of Mary, observed since the sixth century.

Place-Names: The Place 295

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower grandmother, if, in a word, Françoise had known only people who did not belong to the hotel, no great harm would have been done, since she could not have prevented them from doing us any service, for the simple reason that in no circumstances, even without her knowledge, would it have been possible for them to serve us at all. But she had formed connections also with one of the sommeliers, with a man in the kitchen, and with the head chambermaid of our landing. And the result of this in our everyday life was that Françoise, who on the day of her arrival, when she still did not know anyone, would set all the bells jangling for the slightest thing, at hours when my grandmother and I would never have dared to ring, and if we offered some gentle admonition would answer: “Well, we’re paying enough for it, aren’t we?” as though it were she herself who would have to pay; now that she had made friends with a personage in the kitchen, which had appeared to us to augur well for our future comfort, were my grandmother or I to complain of cold feet, Françoise, even at an hour that was quite normal, dared not ring; she assured us that it would give offense because they would have to light the furnace again, or because it would interrupt the servants’ dinner and they would be annoyed. And she ended with a formula that, in spite of the ambiguous way in which she pronounced it, was nonetheless clear, and put us plainly in the wrong: “The fact is . . .” We did not insist, for fear of bringing upon ourselves another, far more serious: “That’s really too much!” So what it amounted to was that we could no longer have any hot water because Françoise had become a friend of the man who would have to heat it. In the end we too formed a connection, in spite of but through my grandmother, for she and Mme de Villeparisis collided one morning in a doorway and were obliged to accost each other, not without having first exchanged gestures of surprise and hesitation, performed movements of withdrawal and uncertainty, and finally uttered declarations of greetings and joy, as in certain scenes in Molière where two actors who have been delivering long soliloquies each on his own behalf, a few feet apart, are supposed not

296 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower yet to have seen each other, and then suddenly catch sight of each other, cannot believe their eyes, break off what they are saying and finally speak to each other (the chorus having meanwhile kept the dialogue going) and fall into each other’s arms. Mme de Villeparisis tactfully made as if to leave my grandmother to herself after the first greetings, but my grandmother insisted on her staying to talk to her until lunchtime, being eager to discover how her friend managed to get her letters earlier than we got ours and to get such nice grilled things (for Mme de Villeparisis, a great epicure, had the poorest opinion of the hotel kitchen which served us with meals that my grandmother, still quoting Mme de Sévigné, described as “of a magnificence to make you die of hunger”).84 And the marquise formed the habit of coming every day, while waiting to be served, to sit down for a moment at our table in the dining room, insisting that we should not rise from our chairs or in any way put ourselves out. At the most we would often linger, after finishing our lunch, to chat with her, at that sordid moment when the knives are left littering the tablecloth among crumpled napkins. For my own part, in order to preserve (so that I might be able to enjoy Balbec) the idea that I was on the uttermost promontory of the earth, I compelled myself to look farther afield, to notice only the sea, to seek in it the effects described by Baudelaire and to let my gaze fall on our table only on days when there was served on it some gigantic fish, some marine monster, which unlike the knives and forks was contemporary with the primitive epochs in which life first began to teem in the Ocean, at the time of the Cimmerians,85 a fish whose body with its innumerable vertebrae, its blue and pink veins, had been constructed by nature, but according to an architectural plan, like a polychrome cathedral of the sea. As a barber, seeing an officer whom he is accustomed to shave with special deference and care recognize a customer who has just entered the shop and stop for a moment to talk to him, rejoices in the thought that these are two men of the same social order, and cannot help smiling as he goes to fetch the bowl of soap,

84. The phrase “un souper d’une magnificence à mourir de faim” is from a letter that Mme de Sévigné wrote to Mme de Grignan on July 30, 1689. The supper was given by the bishop of Vannes, who served some of the “finest wild game.” À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 2: 54, n. 3. 85. The Cimmerians were an ancient tribe from the north shore of the Black Sea who invaded Lydia in Asia Minor in the seventh century b.c.

Place-Names: The Place 297

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 86. Rudolf, archduke and crown prince of Austria (1858–89), only son of Emperor Francis-­Joseph, was excluded from the government because of his reformist and liberal ideas. Rudolf ’s deep romantic attachment to Baroness Marie Vetsera ended tragically when their bodies were found in his hunting lodge at Mayerling. It was officially announced that the two had committed suicide, but all further investigation and information were suppressed.

298 Place-Names: The Place

for he knows that in his establishment, to the vulgar routine of a mere barbershop, are being added social, not to say aristocratic pleasures, so Aimé, seeing that Mme de Villeparisis had found in us old friends, went to fetch our finger bowls with precisely the smile, proudly modest and knowingly discreet, of a hostess who knows when to leave her guests to themselves. He suggested also a pleased and loving father who looks on, without interfering, at the happy pair who have plighted their troth at his dinner table. Besides, it was enough merely to utter the name of a person of title for Aimé to appear pleased, unlike Françoise, before whom you could not mention Count So-­and-­so without her face darkening and her speech becoming dry and sharp, all of which meant that she cherished the aristocracy not less than Aimé but more. But then Françoise had that quality which in others she condemned as the worst possible fault: she was proud. She was not of that friendly and good-­humored race to which Aimé belonged. They feel, they manifest an intense delight when you tell them a piece of news which may be more or less sensational but is at any rate new, and not to be found in the papers. Françoise declined to appear surprised. You might have announced in her hearing that the Archduke Rudolf 86—not that she had the least suspicion of his having ever existed—was not, as was generally supposed, dead, but alive, and she would have answered only “Yes,” as though she had known it all the time. It may, however, have been that if, even from our own lips, from us whom she so meekly called her masters and who had so nearly succeeded in taming her, she could not hear the name of a nobleman without having to check an impulse of anger, this was because the family from which she had sprung occupied in its own village a comfortable and independent position, and was not to be threatened in the consideration that it enjoyed except by those same nobles in whose households, meanwhile, from his boyhood, an Aimé would have been domiciled as a servant, if not actually brought up by their charity. In Françoise’s eyes, then, Mme de Villeparisis must ask to be pardoned for her nobility. But in France, at any rate, that is precisely the talent,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower in fact the sole occupation, of our great lords and great ladies. Françoise, following the common tendency of servants, who pick up incessantly from the conversation of their masters with other people fragmentary observations from which they are apt to draw erroneous conclusions, as do humans generally with respect to the habits of animals, was constantly discovering that somebody had “failed” us, a conclusion to which she was easily led, not so much, perhaps, by her extravagant love for us as by the delight that she took in being disagreeable to us. But having once established, without possibility of error, the endless little attentions paid to us, and paid to herself also by Mme de Villeparisis, Françoise forgave her for being a marquise, and, as she had never ceased to be proud of her because she was one, preferred her to all our other friends. It must be added that no one else took the trouble to be so continually nice to us. Whenever my grandmother remarked on a book that Mme de Villeparisis was reading, or said she had been admiring the fruit that someone had just sent to our friend, within an hour the footman would come to our rooms with a book or fruit. And the next time we saw her, in response to our thanks, she would say only, seeming to seek some excuse for her present in some special use to which it might be put: “It’s nothing wonderful, but the newspapers come so late here, one must have something to read,” or, “It’s always wiser to have fruit one can be quite certain of, at the seaside.” “But I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you eating oysters,” she said to us, increasing the sense of disgust that I felt at that moment, for the living flesh of oysters revolted me even more than the viscosity of the stranded jellyfish defiled for me the beach at Balbec; “The ones from this coast are delicious! Oh, let me tell my maid to fetch your letters when she goes for mine. What, your daughter writes every day? But what on earth can you find to say to each other?” My grandmother was silent, but it may be assumed that her silence was due to scorn, in her who used to repeat, when she wrote to Mamma, the words of Mme de Sévigné: “As soon as I have received a letter, I want another at once; I cannot breathe

Place-Names: The Place 299

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 87. These quotations are from Mme de Sévigné’s letters to Mme de Grignan of February 11 and 18, 1671. 88. Aimé commits a malapropism here. He uses “frivole,” which has the same meaning as its English cognate, “frivolous,” instead of “friand,” which means “fond of,” thus saying nearly the opposite of what he intends. 89. This is from Mme de Sévigné’s letter to Mme de Grignan on September 9, 1694. 90. Plato (429–347 b.c.) was a Greek philosopher who was the disciple of Socrates (c. 470–399 b.c.) and teacher of Aristotle (384–322 b.c.). Saint John the Evangelist was one of the twelve apostles, described in the Gospel attributed to him as the disciple well loved by Jesus, whom he quotes directly.

300 Place-Names: The Place

until it comes. There are few who are worthy to understand what I feel.”87 And I was afraid she might apply to Mme de Villeparisis the conclusion: “I seek out those who are of the chosen few, and I avoid the rest.” She fell back upon praise of the fruit that Mme de Villeparisis had sent us the day before. And the fruit had been, indeed, so fine that the manager, in spite of the jealousy aroused by our disdain of his bowls of fruit, had said to me: “I am like you; I’m more fickle88 for fruit than any other kind of dessert.” My grandmother told her friend that she had enjoyed them all the more because the fruit that we got in the hotel was generally horrid. “I cannot,” she went on, “say, like Mme de Sévigné, that if we should take a sudden fancy for bad fruit we would be obliged to order it from Paris.”89 “Oh yes, of course, you read Mme de Sévigné. I’ve seen you with her Letters ever since the day you came.” (She forgot that she had never officially seen my grandmother in the hotel until their collision in the doorway.) “Don’t you find it rather exaggerated, her constant anxiety about her daughter? She refers to it too often to be really sincere. She’s not very natural.” My grandmother felt that any discussion would be futile, and, in order to avoid speaking of the things she loved to a person incapable of understanding them, concealed, by laying her bag on them, the Mémoires of Mme de Beausergent. When Mme de Villeparisis encountered Françoise at the moment (which Françoise called “the noon”) when, wearing her fine cap and surrounded with every mark of respect, she was coming downstairs to “feed with the service,” she would stop her to inquire about us. And Françoise, when transmitting to us the marquise’s message: “She said to me, ‘You’ll be sure and bid them good day,’ she said,” would counterfeit the voice of Mme de Villeparisis, whose exact words she imagined herself to be quoting textually, whereas she was distorting them no less than Plato the words of Socrates or Saint John the words of Jesus.90 Françoise was naturally very touched by these attentions. Only she did not believe my grandmother, but supposed that she must be lying in the interest of her class (the rich always supporting one another) when

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower she assured us that Mme de Villeparisis, in her youth, had been ravishing. It was true that of this loveliness only the faintest traces remained, from which no one—unless he happened to be a great deal more of an artist than Françoise—would have been able to restore her ruined beauty. For in order to understand how beautiful an elderly woman can once have been, one must not only study but translate every line of her face. “I must remember, some time, to ask her whether I’m not right, after all, in thinking that she has some family connection with the Guermantes,” said my grandmother, to my great indignation. How could I be expected to believe in a common origin uniting two names that had entered my consciousness, one through the low and shameful gate of experience, the other by the golden gate of imagination? We had several times, in the last few days, seen driving past us in a stately equipage, tall, red-­haired, handsome, with a rather prominent nose, the Princesse de Luxembourg,91 who was staying in the neighborhood for a few weeks. Her carriage had stopped outside the hotel, and a footman had come in and spoken to the manager, had gone back to the carriage, and had reappeared carrying the most marvelous selection of fruit (which combined in a single basket, like the bay itself, different seasons) with a card: “La Princesse de Luxembourg,” on which were written a few words in pencil. For what princely traveler sojourning here incognito, could they be intended, those glaucous plums, luminous and spherical as was at that moment the circumfluent sea, transparent grapes clustering on a shriveled wood, like a fine day in autumn, pears of a heavenly ultramarine? For it could not be on my grandmother’s friend that the princess had meant to pay a call. And yet on the following evening Mme de Villeparisis sent us the bunch of grapes, cool, liquid, golden, and plums and pears that we remembered too, though the plums had changed, like the sea at our dinnertime, to a mauve, and in the ultramarine of the pears there floated the forms of a few rosy clouds. A few days later we met Mme de Villeparisis as we came away from the symphony

91. The Princesse de Luxembourg was probably inspired, at least in part, by the Princesse de Sagan, who spent summers in her Villa Persane in Trouville. She was often seen walking under her sunshade, accompanied by a young African servant. Proust describes her elsewhere as “a former belle of the [Second] Empire.” See the preface that Proust wrote for an article about the painter Jacques-­Émile Blanche in Marcel Proust, Contre Sainte-­Beuve (Paris: Gallimard [Pléiade edition], 1971), 572.

Place-Names: The Place 301

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 92. Lohengrin (1848) and Tannhäuser (1845) are operas composed by Richard Wagner. 93. A croque-­monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

302 Place-Names: The Place

concert given every morning on the beach. Convinced that the music that I heard there (the Prelude to Lohengrin, the Overture to Tannhäuser, etc.)92 expressed the loftiest of truths, I was trying to raise myself in order to reach them, I was extracting from myself in order to understand them, and I was putting back into them, everything in my own nature at that time that was best and most profound. Then, as we came out of the concert, and, on our way back to the hotel, had stopped for a moment on the esplanade, my grandmother and I, to exchange a few words with Mme de Villeparisis, who told us that she had ordered some croque-­monsieurs93 and a dish of creamed eggs for us at the hotel, I saw, in the distance, coming in our direction, the Princesse de Luxembourg, half-­leaning on a parasol in such a way as to impart to her tall and wonderful form that slight inclination, to make it trace that arabesque so dear to the women who had been beautiful during the Empire, and knew how, with drooping shoulders, arched backs, concave hips, and taut legs, to make their body float as softly as a silken scarf around the armature of an inflexible and oblique stem that might be supposed to have been passed through it. She went out every morning for a stroll on the beach almost at the time when everyone else, after bathing, was coming back for lunch, and as hers was not until half past one, she did not return to her villa until long after the hungry bathers had left the deserted and scorching esplanade. Mme de Villeparisis introduced my grandmother and wanted to introduce me, but had first to ask me my name, which she could not remember. She had, perhaps, never known it, or, in any case, had forgotten years ago to whom my grandmother had married her daughter. My name appeared to make a strong impression on Mme de Villeparisis. Meanwhile, the Princesse de Luxembourg had extended her hand to us and from time to time, while she chatted with the marquise, turned to bestow a kindly glance on my grandmother and me, with that embryonic kiss that we put into our smiles when they are addressed to a baby out with its “Nana.” Indeed, in her anxiety not to appear

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower to be a denizen of a higher sphere than ours, she had probably miscalculated the distance, for by an error in adjustment she made her eyes beam with such benevolence that I could see the moment approaching when she would put out her hand and stroke us as if we were two lovable beasts and had poked our heads out at her through the bars of our cage in the Jardin d’Acclimatation. And, immediately, as it happened, this idea of caged animals and the Bois de Boulogne received striking confirmation. It was the time of day when the esplanade is crowded by itinerant and clamorous vendors, selling cakes and sweets and biscuits. Not knowing quite what to do to show her affection for us, the princess hailed the first one that came by; he had nothing left but a loaf of rye bread, of the kind one throws to the ducks. The princess took it and said to me: “For your grandmother.” And yet it was to me that she held it out, saying with a friendly smile, “You will give it to her yourself,” thinking that my pleasure would thus be more complete if there were no intermediary between myself and the animals. Other vendors came up; she stuffed my pockets with everything that they had, tied up in packets, comfits, sponge cakes, sugar sticks. “You will eat some yourself,” she told me, “and give some to your grandmother,” and she had the vendors paid by the little Negro page, dressed in red satin, who followed her everywhere and was a sensation on the beach. Then she said goodbye to Mme de Villeparisis and held out her hand to us with the intention of treating us in the same way as she treated her friend, as people whom she knew, and of bringing herself within our reach. But this time she must have reckoned our level as not quite so low in the scale of creation, for her equality with us was indicated by the princess to my grandmother by the tender and maternal smile that one gives a little boy when one says goodbye to him as though to a grown­up person. By a miraculous stride in evolution, my grandmother was no longer a duck or an antelope, but had already become what Mme Swann would have called a “baby.”94 Finally, having taken leave of the three of us, the princess resumed her stroll along the sunlit esplanade, curving her splendid form, which, like a serpent

94. “Baby” is in English in the original.

Place-Names: The Place 303

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 95. Algeciras is a Spanish port on the straits of Gibraltar. It was the scene of the conference of the European Powers in 1906, the purpose of which was to settle the crisis with Germany over the rule of Morocco. The conference, known as the Act of Algeciras, essentially gave France and Spain control of Morocco. 96. Toledo is a Spanish town on the Tagus River.

304 Place-Names: The Place

coiled about a wand, winding itself around the white parasol patterned in blue that Mme de Luxembourg held unopened in her hand. She was my first Royalty—I say my first, for the Princesse Mathilde was not at all royal in her ways. The second, as we will see in due course, was to astonish me no less by her graciousness. One form of the amiability of great lords, benevolent intermediaries between sovereigns and commoners, was revealed to me the next day when Mme de Villeparisis told us: “She thought you quite charming. She is a woman of the soundest judgment, the warmest heart. Not like so many sovereigns and highnesses! She has real merit.” And Mme de Villeparisis went on in a tone of conviction, and quite thrilled to be able to say it to us: “I believe she would be delighted to see you again.” But on that previous morning, after we had parted from the Princesse de Luxembourg, Mme de Villeparisis said a thing that impressed me far more and was not prompted merely by friendly feeling. “Are you,” she had asked me, “the son of the permanent secretary at the Ministry? Indeed! I’m told your father is a most charming man. He’s having a splendid journey just now.” A few days earlier we had heard, in a letter from Mamma, that my father and his traveling companion M. de Norpois had lost their luggage. “It has been found, or rather, it was never really lost. Here’s what happened,” explained Mme de Villeparisis, who, without our knowing how, seemed to be far better informed than ourselves of the course of my father’s travels. “I think your father is now planning to come home earlier, next week, in fact, as he will probably give up the idea of going to Algeciras.95 But he is eager to devote a day longer to Toledo,96 since he’s an admirer of a pupil of Titian— I forget the name—whose work can only be seen properly there.” I asked myself by what strange accident, in the impartial telescope through which Mme de Villeparisis considered, from afar, the bustling, minuscule, and vague agitation of the crowd of people whom she knew, there had come to be inserted at the

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower spot through which she observed my father a fragment of glass of prodigious magnifying power that made her see in such high relief and in the fullest detail everything that was agreeable about him, the contingencies that were obliging him to return home, his difficulties with the customs, his admiration for El Greco,97 and, altering the scale of her vision, showed her this one man, so large among all the rest quite small, like that Jupiter to whom Gustave Moreau98 gave, when he portrayed him by the side of a weak mortal, a superhuman stature. My grandmother said goodbye to Mme de Villeparisis, so that we might stay and breathe the fresh air for a little while longer outside the hotel, until they signaled to us through the glazed partition that our lunch was ready. There were sounds of tumult. The young mistress of the king of the savages had been down to bathe and was now coming back to the hotel. “Really and truly, it’s a perfect plague: it’s enough to make one decide to emigrate!” cried the president in a towering rage as he crossed her path. Meanwhile the notary’s wife was following the bogus queen with eyes that seemed ready to start from their sockets. “I can’t tell you how angry Mme Blandais makes me when she stares at people like that,” said the president to the magistrate, “I feel I want to slap her. That’s just the way to make the wretches appear important, which is, of course, exactly what they want, that people should take an interest in them. Do ask her husband to tell her what a fool she’s making of herself. I swear I won’t go out with them again if they stop and gape at those masqueraders.” The arrival of the Princesse de Luxembourg, whose carriage, on the day she had left the fruit, had drawn up outside the hotel, had not passed unobserved by the little group of wives, the notary’s, the president’s, and the magistrate’s, who had already for some time been extremely anxious to know whether she was a genuine marquise and not an adventuress, that Mme de Villeparisis, whom everyone treated with so much respect, which all these ladies were burning to hear that she did not deserve. Whenever Mme de

97. Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541–1614) was a painter of Greek origin, known as El Greco, who spent some time in Italy as a pupil of Titian. He later settled in Toledo, where he painted his most famous works. Proust expressed his own admiration for El Greco in a 1907 letter to Georges de Lauris. Proust had recently visited the home of Reynaldo Hahn’s sister Maria, wife of Raymond de Madrazo: “What a museum! A really heavenly El Greco with tones as ravishing in their different style as a Vermeer and an unimpaired freshness under its incomparable glaze.” Proust, Selected Letters, 2: 340. 98. Gustave Moreau (1826–98) was a painter whose subjects are often the products of imagination and fantasy of a symbolic, mythological, or allegorical nature. The painting referred to here, Jupiter et Sémélé (1896), is owned by the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris. Proust evokes the large scale of Moreau’s painting in a 1905 letter to Robert de Montesquiou: “a proportion very well illustrated by the four times’ life-­size Jupiter of Gustave Moreau.” Proust, Selected Letters, 2: 162.

Place-Names: The Place 305

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 99. Proust uses the feminine noun “horizontale,” which was synonymous with prostitute and derived from the position in which such women earned their living. 100. Proust’s word is “patratras,” which is an onomatopoeia for something that falls or crashes. 101. The Baronne d’Ange is the name of the courtesan Suzanne, a character in Le Demi-­monde (1855), by Alexandre Dumas fils. The baronne tries without success to marry into high society. Courtesans of the demimonde often adopted names with noble-­sounding titles. 102. Macette is the title usually given to number 13 of Satires by Mathurin Régnier (1573–1613), a satirical poet who comments on the characters and mores of his era. Macette is a procuress who in her later years weeps the tears of a “saintly sinner” but who actually represents hypocrisy.

306 Place-Names: The Place

Villeparisis passed through the lobby the magistrate’s wife, who scented irregularities everywhere, would raise her eyes from her needlework and stare at her in a way that made her friends die of laughter. “Oh, well, you know,” she proudly explained, “I always begin by believing the worst. I will never admit that a woman is properly married until she has shown me her birth certificate and her marriage license. But never fear; I’m going to proceed with my little investigation.” And so, day after day the ladies would come together and laughingly ask: “Any news?” But on the evening of the Princesse de Luxembourg’s visit the magistrate’s wife laid a finger on her lips. “I’ve discovered something.” “Oh, isn’t Mme Poncin simply wonderful? I never saw anyone . . . But do tell us! What has happened?” “Just listen to this. A woman with yellow hair and six inches of paint on her face and a carriage that smelled like a trollop99 a mile off, and which only a creature like that would dare to have—came here today to see the so-­called marquise.” “Oh, wow! Crash! Bang!100 Did you ever! Why, it must be that woman we saw—you remember, president—we said at the time we didn’t at all like the way she looked, but we didn’t know that she had come to see the ‘marquise.’ A woman with a Negro boy, you mean?” “That’s the one.” “Ah! You don’t say. Do you happen to know her name?” “Yes, I made a mistake on purpose; I picked up her card; she trades under the name of the ‘Princesse de Luxembourg’! Wasn’t I right to have my doubts about her? It’s a nice thing to have to mix promiscuously with a Baronne d’Ange101 like that?” The president quoted Mathurin Régnier’s Macette102 to the magistrate. It must not, however, be supposed that this misunderstanding was merely temporary, like those that occur in the second act of a vaudeville play to be cleared up before the final curtain. Mme de

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Luxembourg, a niece of the King of England and of the Emperor of Austria, and Mme de Villeparisis, when one called to take the other for a drive, did look like nothing but two silly old women of the kind one has always such difficulty in avoiding at a watering place. Three-­fourths of the men of the Faubourg Saint-­Germain appear to the average man of the middle class simply as bankrupt wasters (which, individually, they not infrequently are) whom, therefore, no respectable person would dream of asking to dinner. The middle class fixes its standard in this respect too high, for the failings of these men would never prevent their being received with every mark of esteem in houses that those of the middle class will never enter. And so sincerely do they believe that the middle class knows this that they affect a simplicity in speaking of their own affairs and a tone of disparagement of their friends, especially when they are “hard up,” which make the misunderstanding complete. If, by chance, a man of the fashionable world has dealings with the petty bourgeoisie because, having more money than he knows what to do with, he finds himself elected chairman of all sorts of important financial concerns, the businessman who at last sees a nobleman worthy to be ranked with businessmen, would swear that such a man can have no dealings with the marquis ruined by gambling whom the said businessman supposes to be all the more destitute of friends the more friendly he makes himself. And he cannot get over his surprise when the duke, chairman of the board of directors of the colossal undertaking, arranges a marriage for his son with the daughter of that very marquis, who may be a gambler but who bears the oldest name in France, just as a sovereign would sooner see his son marry the daughter of a dethroned king than that of a president still in office. That is to say that the two worlds have as fantastic a view of one another as the inhabitants of a resort situated at one end of the Bay of Balbec have of the resort at the other end: from Rivebelle you can just see Marcouville l’Orgueilleuse;103 but even that is deceptive, for you imagine that you are seen from Marcouville, where, as a matter of fact, the splendors of Rivebelle are almost wholly invisible.

103. Proust is probably thinking of Bretteville-­l’Orgueilleuse, located on the road from Caen to Bayeux, whose church he had admired during his Ruskin pilgrimages in October 1907. See Proust, Correspondance, 7: 296, n. 5.

Place-Names: The Place 307

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower The Balbec doctor, called in to cope with a sudden bout of fever that I had had, and having given the opinion that I ought not to stay out all day on the beach in the blazing sun during the hot weather, and written various prescriptions for me, my grandmother took the prescriptions with a show of respect in which I could at once discern her firm resolve not to have any of them filled, but she did pay attention to his advice on the matter of hygiene and accepted an offer from Mme de Villeparisis to take us for drives in her carriage. After this I would spend the mornings, until lunchtime, going to and fro between my own room and my grandmother’s. Hers did not look out directly on the sea, as mine did, but was lighted from three of its four sides: from a corner of the esplanade, from a courtyard, and from the country inland, and was furnished differently from mine, with armchairs upholstered in a metallic filigree and pink flowers from which seemed to emanate the cool and pleasant odor that greeted one on entering the room. And at that hour when the sun’s rays, coming from different exposures and, as it were, from different hours of the day, broke the angles of the wall, thrust in a reflection of the beach, made of the chest of drawers a festal altar, variegated as flowers along a lane, attached to the wall the wings, folded, quivering, warm, of a radiance ready at any moment to resume its flight, warmed like a bath a square of provincial carpet in front of the window overlooking the little courtyard which the sun festooned and patterned like a climbing vine, added to the charm and complexity of the room’s furniture by seeming to pluck and scatter the petals of the silken flowers on the chairs, and to make their silver threads stand out from the fabric, this room in which I lingered for a moment before going to get dressed for our drive suggested a prism in which the colors of the light that shone outside were broken up, or a hive in which the sweet juices of the day that I was about to taste were distilled, scattered, intoxicating, and visible, a garden of hope that dissolved in a quivering haze of silver rays and rose petals. But before all this I had opened the curtains, impatient to know what Sea it was that was playing that morning

308 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower by the shore, like a Nereid.104 For none of those Seas ever stayed with us longer than a day. The next day there would be another, which sometimes resembled its predecessor. But I never saw the same one twice. There were some of so rare a beauty that my pleasure on catching sight of them was enhanced by surprise. By what privilege, on one morning rather than another, did the window on being uncurtained disclose to my wondering eyes the nymph Glauconome,105 whose lazy beauty, gently breathing, had the transparency of a vaporous emerald through which I could see teeming the ponderable elements that colored it? She made the sun join in her play, with a smile rendered languorous by an invisible haze, which was merely a space kept vacant about her translucent surface, which, thus curtailed, was rendered more striking, like those goddesses whom the sculptor carves in relief on a block of marble, the rest of which he leaves unchiseled. So, in her matchless color, she invited us out over those rough terrestrial roads, from which, seated beside Mme de Villeparisis in her barouche,106 we would glimpse, all day long and without ever reaching it, the coolness of her soft palpitation. Mme de Villeparisis had her horses harnessed early, so that we would have time to reach Saint-­Mars-­le-­Vêtu, or the rocks of Quetteholme,107 or some other goal that, for a somewhat lumbering vehicle, was far enough off to require the whole day. In my joy at the thought of the long drive we were going to take, I would hum some tune that I had heard recently as I strolled up and down waiting for Mme de Villeparisis to be ready. If it was Sunday hers would not be the only carriage drawn up outside the hotel; several fiacres108 would be waiting there, not only for the people who had been invited to Féterne by Mme de Cambremer, but for those who, rather than stay at home all day, like children being punished, declared that Sundays were always boring at Balbec and started off immediately after lunch to hide themselves at some neighboring resort or to visit one of the sights in the area. And indeed whenever (which was often) anyone asked Mme Blandais if

104. In Greek mythology, a Nereid is a sea nymph, one of the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris. 105. Glauconome (Glaukonomè) is one of the Nereids, who in Leconte de Lisle’s translation of Hesiod’s Theogony is called “la joyeuse Glaukonomè” (the joyous Glaukonomè) and is often depicted as smiling. 106. A barouche is a four-­wheeled carriage with a driver’s seat high in front, two double seats inside facing each other, and a folding top over the back. 107. Saint-­Mars-­le-­Vêtu and Quetteholme are fictional towns near Balbec. 108. A fiacre is a small hackney coach.

Place-Names: The Place 309

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 109. Bec is the name of a stream in the département of Eure in Normandy. 110. The purpose of the narthex, the lobby or entrance of the west nave, in early Christian and Byzantine churches, was to allow those not eligible for admittance into the general congregation (particularly catechumens and penitents) to hear and partake in the service. A catechumen is one being instructed by a catechist in the principles of the Christian religion with a view to baptism. The narthex would often include a baptismal font so that infants or adults could be baptized there before entering the nave, and to remind other believers of their baptisms as they gathered to worship. 111. The allusion here is to Racine’s last two tragedies, Esther (1689) and Athalie (1691), which were written at the request of Mme de Maintenon for the demoiselles of Saint-­Cyr, who performed the chorus in the two plays. In Athalie, Joad is the high priest of the Temple of Jerusalem who protects the boy Joas, destined to become King of Judah. Mme de Maintenon (1635–1719), was the widow of novelist and playwright Paul Scarron. She secretly married Louis XIV in 1684.

310 Place-Names: The Place

she had been to the Cambremers’, she would answer peremptorily: “No; we went to the Falls of the Bec,”109 as though that were the sole reason for her not having spent the day at Féterne. And the president would charitably remark: “I envy you. I wish I had gone there instead; they must be well worth seeing.” Beside the row of carriages, in front of the porch where I stood waiting, was planted, like some shrub of a rare species, a young bellhop who attracted the eye no less by the unusual and harmonious coloring of his hair than by his plantlike epidermis. Inside, in the lobby, corresponding to the narthex or church of the catechumens110 in Romanesque churches, through which persons who were not staying in the hotel were entitled to pass, the comrades of this “exterior” bellhop did not indeed work much harder than he but did at least execute certain movements. It is probable that in the early morning they helped with the cleaning. But in the afternoon they stood there only like a chorus who, even when there is nothing for them to do, remain on the stage in order to strengthen the cast. The general manager, the same who so terrified me, reckoned on increasing their number considerably next year, for he had “big ideas.” And this prospect greatly distressed the manager of the hotel, who found that all these boys about the place only “created a nuisance,” by which he meant that they got in the guests’ way by clogging the passages and were of no use to anyone. But between lunch and dinner at least, between the exits and entrances of the guests, they did fill an otherwise empty stage, like those pupils of Mme de Maintenon who, in the garb of young Israelites, carry on the action whenever Esther or Joad111 goes off. But the exterior bellhop, with his delicate tints, his tall, slender, fragile trunk, in proximity to whom I stood waiting for the marquise to come downstairs, preserved an immobility to which was added a certain melancholy, for his older brothers had left the hotel for more brilliant careers elsewhere, and he felt isolated on this alien soil. At last Mme de Villeparisis appeared. To see to her carriage and help her into it ought perhaps to have been part of

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the bellhop’s duties. But he knew on the other hand that a person who brings her own servants to a hotel expects them to wait on her and is not as a rule lavish with her tips, and that this was true also of the nobility of the old Faubourg Saint-­Germain. Mme de Villeparisis belonged to both these categories. The arborescent page concluded therefore that he need expect nothing from her, and leaving it to the footman112 and her own maid to settle her and her belongings in the carriage, he continued to dream sadly of the enviable fate of his brothers and preserved his vegetable immobility. We would start off; some time after rounding the railway station, we came into a country road that soon became as familiar to me as the roads around Combray, from the bend where it began between charming orchards to the turning where we left it and which had, on either side, tilled fields. Among these we could see here and there an apple tree, stripped, it is true, of its flowers and bearing no more now than a fringe of pistils, but sufficient even so to enchant me since I could imagine, seeing those inimitable leaves, how their broad expanse, like the ceremonial carpet spread for a wedding that was now over, had been but recently swept by the white satin train of their blushing flowers. How often in Paris, during the May of the following year, was I to buy a branch of apple blossom from the florist and to stay all night long before its flowers, in which bloomed the same creamy essence that still powdered with its froth the burgeoning leaves and between whose white corollas it seemed almost as though it had been the florist who had, out of generosity toward me, out of his wealth of invention too and as an ingenious contrast, added on either side the supplement of a becoming pink bud: I sat gazing at them, I placed them in the light of my lamp—for so long that I was often still there when the dawn tinged them with the same red that it must have been tingeing Balbec—and I sought to carry them back in my imagination to that roadside, to multiply them, to spread them out within the frame prepared for them, on the canvas all ready, of those orchards whose outline I knew by heart,

112. Proust inadvertently wrote maître d’hôtel (headwaiter). Scott Moncrieff silently changed this to the more likely footman.

Place-Names: The Place 311

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 113. This is an allusion to Baudelaire’s poem “Chant d’automne.” 114. This is an allusion to the beginning of Les Érinnyes, Leconte de Lisle’s tragedy in Greek classical style that was based on the Oresteia of Aeschylus. It premiered at the Théâtre de l’Odéon on January 6, 1873, and was reprised on March 16, 1889. The quoted verses, “tels qu’un vol d’oiseaux carnassiers dans l’aurore” and “de cent mille avirons battaient le flot sonore,” are spoken by Talthybios. Leconte de Lisle (1818–94) was the leading poet of the Parnassian school, which defended impersonality, impassivity, and formal perfection against Romanticism’s lyrical expression of the self and commitment to the social value of art. 115. Proust is evoking the little Romanesque church of Criquebœuf, which dates from the twelfth century and is located about four miles from Honfleur. In the 1905 letter advising actress Louisa de Mornand, a model for Rachel in the novel, about what to see during her stay in Normandy, Proust wrote: “If you go and see the dear little church of Criquebœuf nestling under its ivy, give it an affectionate greeting from me.” Proust, Selected Letters, 2: 202.

312 Place-Names: The Place

that I so longed to see, that one day I must see again, at the moment when, with the thrilling verve of genius, spring covers their canvas with its colors. Before getting into the carriage, I had composed the seascape that I was going to look for, which I had hoped to see with the “sun shining”113 on the sea, and which at Balbec I could distinguish only in too fragmentary a form, broken by so many vulgar enclaves that had no place in my dream: bathers, beach huts, pleasure yachts. But when, Mme de Villeparisis’s carriage having reached the top of a hill, I caught a glimpse of the sea through the leafy boughs of the trees, then no doubt at such a distance those temporal details that had set the sea, as it were, apart from nature and history disappeared, and I could, as I looked down toward its waves, make myself believe that they were the same as those that Leconte de Lisle describes for us in his Oresteia, where “like a flight of birds of prey in the dawn of day” the long-­haired warriors of heroic Hellas “with oars a hundred thousand beat the resounding deep.”114 But on the other hand I was no longer near enough to the sea, which seemed to me not a living thing now, but frozen; I no longer felt any power beneath its colors, spread like those of a painting between the leaves, through which it appeared as inconsistent as the sky and only of an intenser blue. Mme de Villeparisis, seeing that I liked churches, promised me that we would visit now one and then another, and especially the one at Carqueville, “quite buried in all its old ivy,”115 as she said with a wave of the hand which seemed tastefully to envelop the absent façade in an invisible and delicate screen of foliage. Mme de Villeparisis would often, with this little descriptive gesture, find just the right word to define the charm and the distinctive features of a historic building, always avoiding technical terms, but incapable of concealing her thorough understanding of the things to which she referred. She appeared to seek an excuse for this erudition in the fact that one of her father’s châteaux, the one in which she had been raised, was situated in a region where there were churches in the same style as those around Balbec, so that it

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower would have been shameful if she had not acquired a taste for architecture, this château being, moreover, one of the finest examples of that of the Renaissance. But as it was also a real museum, as moreover Chopin and Liszt had played there, Lamartine116 recited poetry, all the most famous artists for fully a century had written a thought or melody, or made sketches in the family album, Mme de Villeparisis ascribed, whether from delicacy, good breeding, true modesty, or want of a philosophical cast of mind, only this purely material origin to her acquaintance with all the arts, and had come, apparently, to regard painting, music, literature, and philosophy as the appanage of a young lady brought up in the most aristocratic manner in a historic building that was classified and starred. You would have said, listening to her, that there were no pictures other than those one has inherited. She was pleased that my grandmother liked a necklace that she was wearing, and which fell over her dress. It appeared in the portrait of an ancestress of hers by Titian that had never left the family. So that one could be certain of its being genuine. She would not hear a word about paintings bought, who knew where, by a Crœsus;117 she was convinced in advance that they were forgeries and had no desire to see them. We knew that she herself painted flowers in watercolor, and my grandmother, who had heard these praised, spoke to her about them. Mme de Villeparisis modestly changed the subject, but without showing any more surprise or pleasure than would an artist whose reputation was established and to whom compliments mean nothing. She said merely that it was a delightful pastime because, even if the flowers that sprang from the brush were nothing wonderful, at least the work made you live in the company of real flowers, of the beauty of which, especially when you were obliged to study them closely in order to draw them, you could never grow tired. But at Balbec, Mme de Villeparisis was giving herself a vacation in order to rest her eyes. We were astonished, my grandmother and I, to find how much more “liberal” she was than even the majority of the middle class. She did not understand how anyone could be scandalized by the

116. Frédéric Chopin (1810–49) was a Polish composer whose father was French. Chopin settled in Paris in 1831 and was accepted into aristocratic society, where he was much in demand as a piano teacher. For Liszt, see “Madame Swann at Home,” note 205. Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869) was a major Romantic poet and statesman. 117. Crœsus, the last king of Lydia (560–546 b.c.), was renowned for his immense wealth. His name has become proverbial for a very rich man.

Place-Names: The Place 313

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 118. This is apparently a reference to Louis-­Philippe (1773–1850, king of France 1830–48), called the Citizen King. 119. For Chateaubriand, see “Madame Swann at Home,” notes 68, 127, 278. Victor Hugo (1802–85) and Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) are two of the literary giants of nineteenth-­century world literature. Hugo excelled in all the major literary genres. Balzac is famous for his vast collection of novels under the general title La Comédie humaine. He is considered one of the founders of realism for his studies of Parisian and provincial life in mid-­ nineteenth-­century France. Mme de Villeparisis will be somewhat dismissive of these distinguished writers in this passage and favor other less distinguished ones who bear noble titles. She is the stand-­in for the critic Sainte-­ Beuve, whom she is soon to quote as a personal acquaintance and authority in literary judgment.

314 Place-Names: The Place

expulsion of the Jesuits, saying that it had always been done, even under the monarchy, even in Spain. She defended the Republic, which she reproached for its anticlericalism only to this extent: “I would find it just as bad to be prevented from hearing mass when I wanted to as to be forced to go to it when I didn’t!” and even startled us with such remarks as: “Oh! the aristocracy these days, what does it amount to?” “To my mind, a man who doesn’t work doesn’t count!”—perhaps only because she sensed how piquant and savory, how memorable they became on her lips. When we heard these advanced opinions—though never so far advanced as to amount to socialism, which was Mme de Villeparisis’s bête noire—expressed so frequently and with so much frankness precisely by one of those people in consideration of whose intelligence our scrupulous and timid impartiality would refuse to condemn outright the ideas of the conservatives, we came very near, my grandmother and I, to believing that in the pleasant companion of our drives was to be found the measure and the pattern of truth in all things. We took her word for it when she passed judgment on her Titians, the colonnade of her country house, the conversational talent of Louis-­Philippe.118 But—like those erudite people who hold us spellbound when we get them talking about Egyptian paintings or Etruscan inscriptions, and yet speak so banally about modern work that we ask ourselves whether we have not overestimated the interest of the sciences in which they are versed since there is not apparent in their treatment of them the mediocrity of mind which they must have brought to those studies just as much as to their fatuous essays on Baudelaire— Mme de Villeparisis, questioned by me about Chateaubriand, about Balzac, about Victor Hugo,119 each of whom had in his day been the guest of her parents and had been glimpsed by her, laughed at my admiration, told piquant anecdotes about them such as she had just been telling us about dukes and statesmen, and severely criticized those writers precisely because they had been lacking in that modesty, that self-­effacement, that sober art which is satisfied with a single true stroke and lays no stress on it,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower which avoids more than anything else the absurdity of grandiloquence, in that aptness, those qualities of moderation, of judgment, and of simplicity to which she had been taught that real greatness aspires and attains: it was evident that she had no hesitation in placing above them men who might after all, perhaps, by virtue of those qualities, have had the advantage of a Balzac, a Hugo, a Vigny in a drawing room, an academy, a cabinet council, men like Molé, Fontanes, Vitrolles, Bersot, Pasquier, Lebrun, Salvandy, or Daru.120 “Like those novels of Stendhal,121 which you seem to admire. He would have been very surprised, I assure you, if you had spoken to him in that tone. My father, who used to see him at M. Mérimée’s122—now he, at least, was a man of talent—often told me that Beyle (that was his real name) was appallingly vulgar, but quite good company at dinner, and never in the least conceited about his books. Why, you’ve probably seen for yourself how he just shrugged his shoulders at the absurdly extravagant compliments of M. de Balzac.123 There at least he showed that he knew how to behave like a gentleman.” She possessed the autographs of all these great men, and seemed, when she put forward the personal relations that her family had had with them, to think that her judgment of them must be better founded than that of young people who, like me, had had no opportunity of meeting them. “I believe I have a right to speak about them, since they used to come to my father’s house; and as M. Sainte-­Beuve,124 who was a most intelligent man, used to say, in forming an estimate you must take the word of people who saw them close, and were able to judge more exactly of their real worth.” Sometimes as the carriage labored up a steep road through tilled land, making the fields more real, adding to them a mark of authenticity like the precious little flower with which certain of the old masters used to sign their pictures, a few hesitant cornflowers, like those of Combray, would follow in our wake. Presently the horses outdistanced them, but a little way on we would catch sight of another that, while awaiting us, had pricked up, in

120. For Vigny, see “Madame Swann at Home,” note 117. Comte Louis-­Mathieu Molé (1781–1855) was prime minister from 1836 to 1839. Marquis Louis de Fontanes (1757–1821), poet and statesman, was a friend of Chateaubriand. Eugène d’Arnauld, Baron de Vitrolles, (1774–1854), was a minister during the Restoration. Pierre-­Ernest Bersot (1816–80), philosopher and writer, was elected in 1866 to the Académie des sciences morales et politiques. Duc Étienne-­Denis Pasquier (1767–1862) served under Napoléon and as a minister under the Restoration. Pierre-­ Antoine Lebrun (1785–1873), poet and playwright, was elected senator during the Second Empire. Narcisse-­Achille, Comte de Salvandy (1795–1856), politician and writer, was ambassador to Madrid and Savoy. Comte Daru (1767– 1829) was secretary general of the War Ministry under Napoléon I. 121. Stendhal is the pseudonym of Henri Beyle (1783–1842), whose novels Le Rouge et le noir (1830) and La Chartreuse de Parme (1839) are considered to be masterpieces. 122. Prosper Mérimée (1803–70) was a writer known for his exoticism in such works as Carmen. He derided Baudelaire for his style and subject matter. 123. Balzac, who believed that La Chartreuse de Parme had not received the acclaim it deserved, wrote an article praising Stendhal’s book, calling it a “masterpiece of the literature of ideas.” Far from shrugging his shoulders, Stendhal sent Balzac a letter of gratitude. Sainte-­Beuve considered Stendhal’s novels “detestable.” 124. Sainte-­Beuve was known primarily for his literary reviews collected and published as Causeries du Lundi, Nouveaux Lundis, Portraits contemporains, and Portraits littéraires.

Place-Names: The Place 315

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the grass in front of us, its azure star; several made so bold as to come and plant themselves by the side of the road, and the impression left in my mind was the formation of a whole nebula of my distant memories and of wildflowers grown tame. We began to descend the hill; and then we would meet, climbing it on foot, on a bicycle, in a cart or carriage, one of those creatures—flowers of a fine day but unlike the flowers of the field, for each of them holds something that is not to be found in another and that will prevent us from ever satisfying with any of her kind the desire she has engendered in us—a farm girl driving her cow or reclining in the back of a wagon, a shopkeeper’s daughter taking the air, a fashionable young lady erect on the back seat of a landau, facing her parents. Certainly Bloch had opened a new era and had changed the value of life for me on the day when he had told me that the dreams I had entertained on my solitary walks along the Méséglise way, when I hoped that some peasant girl might pass whom I could take in my arms, were not a mere fantasy that corresponded to nothing outside myself but that all the girls one met, whether villagers or young ladies, were alike ready and willing to fulfill such dreams. And even if I were fated, now that I was ill and did not go out by myself, never to be able to make love to them, I was happy all the same, like a child born in a prison or a hospital who, having always believed that the human organism was capable of digesting only dry bread and medicines, has learned suddenly that peaches, apricots, and grapes are not simply part of the decoration of the countryside but delicious and easily assimilated food. Even if his prison guard or his nurse does not allow him to pluck those tempting fruits, still the world seems to him a better place and existence in it more clement. For a desire seems to us more attractive, we repose on it with more confidence, when we know that outside ourselves there is a reality that conforms to it, even if, for us, it is not to be realized. And we think with more joy of a life in which (on condition that we eliminate for a moment from our mind the tiny obstacle, accidental and special, that prevents us personally from doing so) we can imagine

316 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ourselves to be satisfying that desire. As to the pretty girls who went past, from the day on which I had first known that their cheeks could be kissed, I had become curious about their souls. And the universe had appeared to me more interesting. Mme de Villeparisis’s carriage moved fast. Scarcely had I time to see the girl who was coming in our direction; and yet—since the beauty of people is not like the beauty of things, as we feel that it is that of a unique creature, endowed with consciousness and free will—as soon as her individuality, a soul still vague, a will unknown to me, presented a tiny picture of itself, enormously reduced but complete, in the depths of her indifferent eyes, at once, by a mysterious response of the pollen ready in me for the pistils that would receive it, I felt surging through me the embryo, as vague, as minute, of the desire not to let this girl pass with­ out forcing her mind to become conscious of my person, with­out preventing her desires from wandering to someone else, without coming to fix myself in her dreams and taking possession of her heart. Meanwhile our carriage was moving away from her, the beautiful girl was left behind us, and as she had of me none of those notions that constitute a person in one’s mind, her eyes, which had barely seen me, had already forgotten me. Was it because I had caught only a fleeting glimpse of her that I had found her so beautiful? Perhaps. In the first place, the impossibility of stopping when we pass near a woman, the risk of not meeting her again another day, give her at once the same charm as a place derives from the illness or poverty that prevents us from visiting it, or the days so drab through which we have to live until the battle in which we will doubtless fall. So that, if there were no such thing as habit, life would appear delightful to beings who would at every moment be threatened with death—that is to say, to all mankind. Then, if our imagination is set going by the desire for what we may not possess, its flight is not limited by a reality completely perceived in these casual encounters in which the charms of the passing woman are generally in direct ratio to the swiftness of our passage. If only night is falling and the carriage is moving fast,

Place-Names: The Place 317

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 125. This may be an allusion to Baudelaire’s poem “À une passante” (To a woman passing by). In any case, it is another example of the many affinities that the two authors shared. Baudelaire wrote: “Fugitive beauté / Dont le regard m’a fait soudainement renaître, / Ne te verrai-­je plus que dans l’éternité?” (Fleeting beauty, / By whose glance I was suddenly reborn / Will I see you no more until eternity?)

318 Place-Names: The Place

whether in country or in town, there is not a female torso, mutilated like an antique marble by the speed that tears us away and the dusk that drowns it, that does not aim at our heart, from every turning in the road, from the lighted interior of every shop, the arrows of Beauty, that Beauty of which we are sometimes tempted to ask ourselves whether it is, in this world, anything more than the complementary part that is added to a fragmentary and fugitive passerby by our imagination overexcited by regret.125 Had I been able to get out and speak to the girl whom we were passing, might I perhaps have been disillusioned by some blemish on her skin that I had not noticed from the carriage? (After which every effort to penetrate into her life would have seemed suddenly impossible. For beauty is a sequence of hypotheses that ugliness cuts short by barring the way that we could already see opening into the unknown.) Perhaps a single word that she might have said, a smile, would have furnished me with an unexpected key or clue in order to read the expression on her face, to interpret her bearing, which would at once have become banal. It is possible, for I have never in my life met any girls so desirable as on days when I was with some solemn person from whom, despite the myriad pretexts that I invented, I could not tear myself away: some years after the one during which I went for the first time to Balbec, as I was driving through Paris with a friend of my father, and had caught sight of a woman walking quickly along the dark street, I felt that it was unreasonable to forfeit, for a purely conventional scruple, my share of happiness in what may very well be the only life there is, and jumping from the carriage without a word of apology I went in search of the stranger; lost her at the intersection of two streets; found her again in a third, and arrived at last, breathless, beneath a streetlamp, face to face with old Mme Verdurin, whom I had been carefully avoiding for years, and who, in her delight and surprise, exclaimed: “But how very nice of you to have run all this way just to say hello to me!” That year at Balbec, at the moments of such encounters, I would assure my grandmother and Mme de Villeparisis that I had

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower so severe a headache that the best thing for me would be to go home alone on foot. But they would never let me get out of the carriage. And I would add that beautiful girl (far harder to find again than a historic monument, for she was anonymous and mobile) to the collection of all those whom I promised myself that I would examine more closely at a later date. One of them, however, happened to pass more than once before my eyes in circumstances that allowed me to believe that I would be able to get to know her as I wished. This was a milkmaid who came from a farm with an additional supply of cream for the hotel. I thought that she had recognized me also, and she did indeed look at me with an attentiveness that was perhaps due only to the astonishment that my attentiveness caused her. And the next day, a day on which I had been resting all morning, when Françoise came in about noon to open the curtains, she handed me a letter that had been left for me at the hotel. I knew no one at Balbec. I had no doubt that the letter was from the milkmaid. Alas, it was only from Bergotte, who, as he happened to be passing, had tried to see me, but on hearing that I was asleep had left a charming note for which the liftman126 had addressed an envelope that I had supposed to have been written by the milkmaid. I was terribly disappointed, and the thought that it was more difficult and more flattering to have a letter from Bergotte did not in the least console me for its not being from the milkmaid. As for the girl, I never came across her again any more than I came across those whom I had seen only from Mme de Villeparisis’s carriage. Seeing and then losing them all thus increased the state of agitation in which I was living, and I found a certain wisdom in the philosophers who recommend that we set a limit to our desires (if, that is, they refer to our desire for people, for that is the only kind that ends in anxiety, having for its object a being at once unknown and conscious. To suppose that philosophy could be referring to the desire for wealth would be too absurd). At the same time I was inclined to regard this wisdom as incomplete, for I said to myself that these encounters made me find even more beautiful a world that thus caused to grow along

126. “Liftman” is in English in the original.

Place-Names: The Place 319

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 127. An ogival window in Gothic architecture is one with a pointed arch.

320 Place-Names: The Place

all the country roads flowers at once rare and common, fleeting treasures of the day, windfalls of the drive, of which the contingent circumstances that would never, perhaps, recur had alone prevented me from taking advantage, and which gave a new zest to life. But perhaps in hoping that, one day, with greater freedom, I would be able to find on other roads similar girls, I was already beginning to falsify what is exclusively individual in the desire to live in the company of a woman whom one has found attractive, and by the mere fact that I admitted the possibility of making this desire bloom artificially, I had implicitly acknowledged the illusion. The day when Mme de Villeparisis took us to Carqueville, site of that ivy-­covered church of which she had spoken and which, built on rising ground, dominates both the village and the river that flows beneath it and had kept its little medieval bridge, my grandmother, thinking that I would like to be left alone to study the monument at my leisure, suggested to her friend that they go on and wait for me at the pâtisserie, in the village square that was clearly visible from where we were and which, beneath its golden patina, seemed like another part of an object that was entirely ancient. It was agreed that I would join them there later. In the mass of verdure in front of which they left me I was obliged, in order to recognize a church, to make a mental effort, which involved my grasping more intensely the idea of “Church”; in fact, as happens to schoolboys who gather more fully the meaning of a sentence when they are made, by translating or by paraphrasing it, to divest it of the forms to which they are accustomed, this idea of “Church,” which as a rule I scarcely needed when I stood beneath steeples that were recognizable in themselves, I was obliged perpetually to recall in order not to forget, here that the arch in this clump of ivy was that of an ogival window,127 there that the protrusion of the leaves was due to the relief of a capital. But then came a breath of wind, sending a tremor through the mobile porch, which was overrun by eddies spreading and flickering like a flood of light;

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the leaves unfurled one against another; and, quivering, the green façade drew away with it pillars, undulant, caressed, and fugitive. As I came away from the church I saw in front of the old bridge a cluster of girls from the village who, probably because it was Sunday, were standing about in their best clothes, bantering with the young men who went past. Not so well dressed as the others, but seeming to enjoy some ascendancy over them—for she scarcely answered when they spoke to her—with a more serious and more willful air, there was a tall one who, half-­seated on the edge of the bridge with her feet hanging down, was holding on her lap a little jar full of fish that she had presumably just caught. She had a tanned complexion, soft eyes, but with a look of disdain for her surroundings, a small nose, delicately and attractively modeled. My eyes rested on her skin and my lips, had the need arisen, might have believed that they had followed my eyes. But it was not only her body that I would have liked to reach, it was also the person who lived within it, and with whom there is but one sort of contact, which is to attract its attention, but one sort of penetration, to awaken in it an idea. And this inner self of the beautiful fishergirl seemed to be still closed to me; I was doubtful whether I had entered it, even after I had seen my own image furtively reflected in the twin mirrors of her gaze, following an index of refraction that was as unknown to me as if I had been placed in the field of vision of a doe. But just as it would not have sufficed for my lips to find pleasure in hers without giving pleasure to them also, so I would have wished that the idea of me that was to enter this being, that was to fasten itself in her, would bring me not merely her attention but her admiration, her desire, and would compel her to keep me in her memory until the day when I would be able to meet her again. Meanwhile I could see, within a stone’s throw, the square in which Mme de Villeparisis’s carriage must be waiting for me. I had not a moment to lose; and already I could feel that the girls were beginning to laugh at the sight of me thus held suspended before them. I had a five-­franc piece in my pocket. I took it out, and, before explaining

Place-Names: The Place 321

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 128. The Narrator’s observations of the steeples of Martinville and the trees of Hudimesnil are important episodes in his quest to discover his vocation as a writer. At Martinville, he was able to write a fine description of what he saw; at Hudimesnil he is unable to decipher the message the three trees are trying to convey to him and fears that it is of vital importance to his career. See Swann’s Way, 206–8.

322 Place-Names: The Place

to the beautiful girl the errand on which I proposed to send her, in order to have a better chance of her listening to me, I held the coin for a moment before her eyes: “Since you seem to be from here,” I said to the fishergirl, “I wonder if you would be so good as to take a message for me. I want you to go to a pâtisserie—which is apparently in a square, but I don’t know where that is—where there is a carriage waiting for me. One moment! To make quite sure, will you ask if the carriage belongs to the Marquise de Villeparisis? But you can’t miss it; it’s a carriage and pair.” That was what I wanted her to know, so that she would regard me as someone of importance. But when I had pronounced the words “marquise” and “carriage and pair,” suddenly I had a great sense of calm. I felt that the fishergirl would remember me, and I felt vanishing, with my fear of not being able to meet her again, part also of my desire to meet her. It seemed to me that I had succeeded in touching her person with invisible lips, and that I had pleased her. And this forcible capture of her mind, this immaterial possession had taken from her part of her mystery, just as does physical possession. We came down toward Hudimesnil; suddenly I was overwhelmed with a profound happiness that I had not often felt since Combray; a happiness analogous to that which had been given me by—among other things—the steeples of Martinville.128 But this time it remained incomplete. I had just seen, standing a little way back from the cambered road that we were following, three trees, which probably marked the entrance to a shady avenue and formed a pattern that I was not seeing for the first time; I could not succeed in reconstructing the place from which they had been, as it were, detached, but I felt that it had been familiar to me once; so that my mind having wavered between some distant year and the present moment, the environs of Balbec began to dissolve and I asked myself whether the whole of this drive were not a make-­believe, Balbec a place to which I had never gone except in imagination, Mme de Villeparisis a character in a novel and the

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower three old trees the reality that one recaptures on raising one’s eyes from the book one has been reading and that describes an environment into which one has come to believe that one has been bodily transported. I looked at the three trees; I could see them plainly, but my mind felt they were concealing something that it had not grasped, like those objects that are placed out of our reach, so that our fingers, stretched out at arm’s length, can only touch for a moment their outer surface, without managing to take hold of anything. Then we rest for a moment before thrusting out our arm with more momentum and try to reach a little farther. But if my mind was thus to collect itself, to gain momentum, I would have to be alone. What would I not have given to be able to draw aside as I used to do on those walks along the Guermantes way, when I detached myself from my parents! It seemed indeed that I ought to do so now. I recognized the kind of pleasure that requires, it is true, a certain effort on the part of the mind, but in comparison with which the attractions of the nonchalance that inclines us to renounce that pleasure seem very slight. That pleasure, the object of which I could but dimly feel, that I must create myself, I experienced only on rare occasions, but on each of these it seemed to me that the things that had happened in the interval were of but scant importance, and that in attaching myself to the reality of that pleasure alone I could at length begin to lead a true life. I laid my hand for a moment across my eyes in order to close them without Mme de Villeparisis’s noticing. I sat there, thinking of nothing, then with my thoughts collected, compressed, and strengthened I sprang farther forward in the direction of the trees, or rather in that inner direction at the end of which I could see them inside myself. I felt again behind them the same object, known to me and yet vague and that I could not bring nearer. And yet all three of them, as the carriage moved on, I could see coming toward me. Where had I looked at them before? There was no place near Combray where an avenue opened off the road like that. The site that they recalled to me, there was no room for

Place-Names: The Place 323

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 129. This may be a recollection of a trip that Proust took with his mother in July 1895, when he accompanied her to the Oranienhof, a German health resort located on the Nahe River in Kreuznach, an old picturesque town in Rhineland-­Palatinate, known for its mineral springs. 130. In Scandinavian mythology, the Norns are the three Norse goddesses of Destiny who regulate the order of the universe and the lives of men. They correspond to the Parques of Greek mythology. 131. The oracular power of trees is mentioned at several points during the novel. See Swann’s Way, 480–81, 484.

324 Place-Names: The Place

it either in the German countryside129 where I had gone one year with my grandmother to take the waters. Was I to suppose, then, that they came from years already so remote in my life that the landscape surrounding them had been entirely obliterated from my memory, and that, like the pages which, with sudden emotion, we recognize in a book that we imagined we had never read, they alone surged up from the forgotten book of my earliest infancy? Were they not rather to be numbered among those dream landscapes, always the same, at least for me in whom their unfamiliar aspect was but the objectification in my dreams of the effort that I had been making while awake either to penetrate the mystery of a place beneath the outward appearance of which I was dimly conscious of there being something more, as had so often happened to me on the Guermantes way, or to try to reintroduce mystery into a place that I had longed to know and that, from the day when I had come to know it, had seemed to me to be wholly superficial, like Balbec? Or were they but an image freshly extracted from a dream of the night before, but already so worn, so faded that it seemed to me to come from somewhere far more distant? Or had I indeed never seen them before, and did they conceal beneath their surface, like certain trees, a certain tuft of grass that I had seen beside the Guermantes way, a meaning as obscure, as difficult to grasp as is a distant past, so that, whereas they were urging me to probe a new thought, I imagined that I had to identify something in my memory? Or again, were they concealing no hidden thought, and was it simply my visual fatigue that made me see them double in time as one occasionally sees things double in space? I could not tell. Meanwhile they were coming toward me; perhaps some mythical apparition, a ring of witches or of Norns130 who would propound their oracles to me.131 I chose rather to believe that they were phantoms of the past, dear companions of my childhood, vanished friends who recalled our common memories. Like ghosts they seemed to be appealing to me to take them with me, to bring them back to life. In their naïve and passionate gesticulation, I could discern the helpless anguish of a beloved person

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower who has lost the power of speech, and feels that he will never be able to say to us what he wishes to say and we can never guess. Presently, at a crossroads, the carriage left them. It was bearing me away from what alone I believed to be true, what would have made me truly happy; it was like my life. I watched the trees gradually withdraw, waving their despairing arms, seeming to say to me: “What you fail to learn from us today, you will never know. If you allow us to drop back into the hollow of this road from which we sought to raise ourselves up to you, a whole part of yourself that we were bringing to you will fall forever into nothingness.” And indeed if, in the course of time, I did discover once again the kind of pleasure and inquietude that I had just been feeling once again, and if one evening—too late, but then for all time—I fastened myself to it, of those trees themselves, on the other hand, I was never to know what they had been trying to give me nor where else I had seen them. And when, the road having forked and the carriage with it, I turned my back on them and ceased to see them, while Mme de Villeparisis asked me what I was dreaming about, I was as wretched as though I had just lost a friend, had died myself, had broken faith with the dead or had denied a god. It was time to think of returning. Mme de Villeparisis, who had a certain feeling for nature, colder than that of my grandmother but capable of recognizing, even outside museums and noblemen’s dwellings, the simple and majestic beauty of certain ancient things, told her coachman to take us back by the old Balbec road, a road little used but planted with old elms that we thought quite admirable. Once we had got to know this old road, for a change we would return—unless we had not taken it on the outward journey—by another that ran through the woods of Chantereine and Canteloup.132 The invisibility of the innumerable birds that took up one another’s song close beside us in the trees gave me the same sense of being at rest that one has when one shuts one’s eyes. Chained to my jump seat like Prometheus on his rock I listened to my

132. Chantereine is the name of villages in the départements of Seine-­Maritime and Yonne. Canteloup is a commune in the Calvados département in the Lower Normandy region in northwestern France. There is also a hamlet near Dreux called Chanteloup. “Chante” and “Cante” both suggest songs.

Place-Names: The Place 325

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 133. In Greek mythology, the Oceanids are the daughters of Oceanus (a ­Titan) and Thetys. In Aeschylus’s ­Prometheus Bound, they form the chorus whose voices sympathize with Prometheus’s suffering and plaints about the gods.

326 Place-Names: The Place

Oceanids.133 And when, by chance, I caught a glimpse of one of those birds as it passed from one leaf to another, there was so little apparent connection between it and its songs that I could not believe that I was beholding their cause in that little body, hopping, startled, and unseeing. This road was like many others of the same kind that one finds in France, climbing on a fairly steep slope to its summit and then gradually descending over a long expanse. At the time, I found no great attraction in it, I was only glad to be going back. But it became for me later on a source of joy by remaining in my memory as a lure to which all the similar roads that I was to take, on walks or drives or journeys, would at once attach themselves without breach of continuity and would be able, thanks to it, to communicate immediately with my heart. For as soon as the carriage or the automobile turned into one of these roads that seemed to be the continuation of the road along which I had driven with Mme de Villeparisis, the matter to which my present consciousness would immediately apply itself, as though to the most recent event in my past, would be (all the intervening years being quietly obliterated) the impressions that I had had on those late afternoons, driving around near Balbec, when the leaves smelled good, when the mist was rising from the ground, and beyond the nearby village one could see through the trees the sun setting as though it had been merely some locality farther along the road, forested and distant, and that we would not reach that evening. Joined to those that I was experiencing now in another place, on a similar road, surrounded by all the accessory sensations of breathing freely, of curiosity, indolence, appetite, gaiety that were common to them both, and excluding all others, these impressions would be reinforced, would take on the consistency of a particular type of pleasure, and almost of a setting of life which, as it happened, I rarely had occasion to come across, but in which these awakened memories placed, amid the material reality that I perceived, no small part of a reality evoked, dreamed, unseizable, to give me, among those regions through which I was passing, more than an esthetic feeling,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower a fleeting but exalted desire to stay there and to live there always. How often since then, simply because I could smell green leaves, has not being seated on a jump seat opposite Mme de Villeparisis, meeting the Princesse de Luxembourg, who waved a greeting to her from her own carriage, coming back to dinner at the Grand Hôtel, appeared to me as one of those ineffable moments of happiness that neither the present nor the future can restore to us and that we taste once only in a lifetime! Often dusk would have fallen before we reached the hotel. Timidly I would quote to Mme de Villeparisis, pointing to the moon in the sky, some beautiful expression of Chateaubriand or Vigny or Victor Hugo: “She shed all around her that ancient secret of melancholy” or “Weeping like Diana by the side of her fountains” or “The shadows were nuptial, august, and solemn.”134 “And you find that beautiful?” she would ask me, “‘inspired by genius,’135 as you call it? I must confess that I am always surprised to see people taking things seriously nowadays that the friends of those gentlemen, while rendering full justice to their merits, were the first to laugh at. People weren’t so free then with the word ‘genius’ as they are today, when if you say to a writer that he has mere talent he thinks you’re insulting him. You quote me a fine passage from M. de Chateaubriand about moonlight. You will see that I have my own reasons for being refractory. M. de Chateaubriand used to come quite often to see my father. He was quite a pleasant person when you were alone with him, because then he was simple and amusing, but the moment he had an audience he would begin to pose, and then he became ridiculous; when my father was present, he would claim that he had flung his resignation in the king’s face, and that he had controlled the conclave, forgetting that it was my father whom he had asked to beg the king to take him back, and that my father had heard him make the most idiotic forecasts about the election of the pope.136 You ought to have heard M. de Blacas137 on that famous conclave; he was a very different kind of man from M. de Chateaubriand. As to his fine phrases about the moon, they had simply become a joke at our

134. The moon’s melancholy is from Chateaubriand’s novel Atala (1801). Diana weeping by the fountains is from the last lines of the poem “La Maison du berger,” by Alfred de Vigny. The last quotation is from Victor Hugo’s poem “Booz endormi” in La Légende des siècles. This poem, inspired by the Book of Ruth, was one of Proust’s favorites; he quotes from it several times over the course of the novel. 135. Proust uses the adjectival form of genius, génial, a form that we lack in modern English. 136. When Pope Leo XII died in 1829, Chateaubriand was named by King Charles X as plenipotentiary to the papal conclave of March 1829. He approved the election of Cardinal Castiglioni as Pope Pius VIII but disapproved the choice of Cardinal Albani as secretary of state, which led to Chateaubriand’s decision to resign his post a few months later. He describes these events in the Mémoires d’outre-­tombe. 137. Casimir, Duc de Blacas d’Aulps (1771–1839), was representative to Naples at the time of the election of a new pope in 1829. Chateaubriand was ambassador to Rome at that time.

Place-Names: The Place 327

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 138. For Cinq-­Mars, see “Madame Swann at Home,” note 117. 139. Vigny was elected to the Académie Française in 1845. Molé, the presiding officer, received Vigny at the Académie on January 29, 1846. Vigny’s speech contained perfidious praise of Cinq-­ Mars, and he showed little respect for Cardinal Richelieu, founder of the Académie Française. Vigny’s slow, poor delivery made the audience grow impatient, and his comments irritated Molé. 140. This makes the fictional Mme de Villeparisis a member of the distinguished aristocratic family La Tour d’Auvergne. 141. Hugo’s play, Hernani, written in verse, premiered at the Comédie-­ Française on February 25, 1830, and caused a riot between the young Romantics and the partisans of the French classical tradition. The Romantics eventually triumphed. The play was later adapted to opera by Verdi.

328 Place-Names: The Place

house. Whenever there was any moonlight around the château, if there was anyone staying with us for the first time, he would be told to take M. de Chateaubriand for a stroll after dinner. When they came in, my father would invariably take his guest aside and say: ‘Well, and was M. de Chateaubriand very eloquent?’—‘Oh, yes.’ ‘He spoke to you about the moonlight?’—‘Yes, how did you know?’—‘Wait now, didn’t he say—’ and then my father would quote the phrase. ‘He did; but how in the world . . . ?’—‘And he spoke to you of the moonlight on the Roman countryside?’— ‘But you’re a magician.’ My father was no magician, but M. de Chateaubriand had the same little speech about the moon that he was happy to serve up every time.” At the mention of Vigny she began to laugh: “The man who said: ‘I am the Comte Alfred de Vigny!’ One either is a count or one isn’t; it is not of the slightest importance.” And then perhaps she discovered that it was, after all, of some slight importance, for she added: “For one thing I am by no means sure that he was, and in any case he was of very inferior stock, that gentleman who speaks in his verses of his ‘esquire’s crest.’ In such charming taste, is it not, and so interesting to his readers! Like Musset, a plain Paris bourgeois, who laid so much stress on ‘The golden falcon that surmounts my helm.’ As if you would ever hear a real gentleman say a thing like that! At least Musset had some talent as a poet. But except Cinq-­Mars138 I have never been able to read a thing by M. de Vigny. I get so bored that the book falls from my hands. M. Molé, who had all the wit and tact that were wanting in M. de Vigny, put him properly in his place when he welcomed him to the Académie. What, you don’t know the speech? It is a masterpiece of irony and impertinence.”139 She found fault with Balzac, whom she was astonished to see her nephews admire, for having pretended to describe a society “in which he was never received” and of which his descriptions were wildly improbable. As for Victor Hugo, she told us that M. de Bouillon,140 her father, had friends among the young Romantics, thanks to whom he had attended the première of Hernani,141 but

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that he had been unable to sit through it, so ridiculous had he found the verse of that talented but extravagant writer who had acquired the title of great poet only by virtue of having struck a bargain, and as a reward for the not disinterested indulgence that he showed toward the dangerous divagations of the socialists.142 We had now come in sight of the hotel, with its lights, so hostile that first evening, on our arrival, now protecting and kind, speaking to us of home. And when the carriage drew up outside the door, the concierge, the bellhops, the liftboy, attentive, naïve, vaguely uneasy at our lateness, massed on the steps, waiting for us, were, now that they had grown familiar, among those beings who change so many times in the course of our lives, as we ourselves change, but in whom, when they become for a time the mirror of our habits, we find some comfort in the feeling that we are being faithfully and amicably reflected. We prefer them to friends whom we have not seen for some time, for they contain more of what we now are. Only the exterior bellhop,143 exposed to the sun all day, had been taken indoors for protection from the cold night air and swaddled in wool garments, which, combined with the orange effulgence of his hair and the curiously red bloom of his cheeks, made one, seeing him there in the glassed-­in lobby, think of a hothouse plant muffled up for protection from the frost. We got out of the carriage, aided by a great many more servants than necessary, but they were conscious of the importance of the scene and each felt obliged to take some part in it. I was always famished. And so, often, in order not to keep dinner waiting, I would not go upstairs to the room that had become so truly mine that to see again its long violet curtains and low bookcases was to find myself alone again with that self of which things, like people, gave me a reflected image, and we would all wait together in the lobby until the headwaiter came to tell us that our dinner was ready. This gave us another opportunity of listening to Mme de Villeparisis. “But you must be tired of us by now,” my grandmother would say. “Not at all! Why, I am delighted, what could be nicer?” re-

142. Victor Hugo was a staunch republican and was elected senator in 1876. 143. Proust uses “le chasseur” in quotation marks, perhaps to indicate the more literal meaning of the word, hunter. Scott Moncrieff supplied “outside.” Proust uses groom and chasseur interchangeably for bellhop.

Place-Names: The Place 329

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 144. Alexander of Macedon (356– 323 b.c.), the third to bear this name, was known as “the Great.” He became the supreme ruler and incarnation of a demigod; he surrounded himself with myths and special rites. When he died, at age thirty-­three, he was ruler of the Eastern world.

330 Place-Names: The Place

plied her friend with a winning smile, drawing out, intoning her words melodiously in a way that contrasted markedly with her customary simplicity of speech. And indeed at such moments as this she was not natural, her mind reverted to her early training, to the aristocratic manner in which a great lady is supposed to show commoners that she is glad to be with them, that she is not at all arrogant. And her one and only failure in true politeness lay in this excess of politeness; which it was easy to identify as the professional bent of a lady of the Faubourg Saint-­Germain, who, always seeing in certain commoners the latent discontent that she must one day arouse in their bosoms, avidly seizes every possible opportunity, in the ledger in which she keeps her social account with them, to write down in advance a credit balance that will allow her presently to enter as a debit the dinner or reception to which she will not invite them. And so, having long ago taken effect in her once and for all, and ignoring the fact that now the circumstances were altered and the persons concerned were different, that in Paris she would wish to see us often at her house, the spirit of her caste was urging Mme de Villeparisis on with feverish ardor, and as if the time that was allowed her for being amiable to us was short, to multiply, while we were at Balbec, her gifts of roses and melons, loans of books, drives in her carriage, and verbal effusions. And for that reason, quite as much as the dazzling splendor of the beach, the multicolored flamboyance and suboceanic light of the rooms, as much even as the riding lessons by which tradesmen’s sons were deified like Alexander of Macedon,144 the daily kindnesses shown us by Mme de Villeparisis, and also the unaccustomed, estival ease with which my grandmother accepted them, have remained in my memory as typical of life at the seashore. “Give them your coats to take upstairs.” My grandmother handed hers to the manager, and because he had been so nice to me, I was distressed by this want of consideration, which seemed to pain him. “I believe you’ve hurt his feelings,” said the marquise. “He

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower probably thinks he’s too great a gentleman to carry your wraps. I remember so well the Duc de Nemours,145 when I was still very little, coming to see my father, who was living then on the top floor of the Hôtel Bouillon, with a fat parcel under his arm, of letters and newspapers. I can see the prince now, in his blue coat, framed in our doorway, which had such pretty paneling—I think it was Bagard146 who made it—you know those fine laths that they used to cut, so supple that the cabinetmaker would twist them sometimes into little shells and flowers, like the ribbons around a bouquet. ‘Here you are, Cyrus,’ he said to my father, ‘look what your concierge gave me to bring you. He said to me: ‘Since you’re going up to see the count, it’s not worth the trouble my climbing all those stairs; but take care you don’t break the string.’ Now that you have got rid of your things, do sit down; look, here’s a seat,” she said to my grandmother, taking her by the hand. “Oh, if you don’t mind, not that armchair! It’s too small for two, but too big for me by myself; I wouldn’t feel comfortable.” “You remind me, for it was exactly like this one, of an armchair that I had for many years, until at last I couldn’t keep it any longer, because it had been given to my mother by the unfortunate Duchesse de Praslin.147 My mother, though she was the simplest person in the world, really, had ideas that belonged to another time, which even in those days I could scarcely understand; and at first she had not been at all willing to let herself be introduced to Mme de Praslin, who had been plain Mlle Sebastiani, while she, because she was a duchess, felt that it was not for her to be introduced to my mother. And really, you know,” added Mme de Villeparisis, forgetting that she herself did not understand these fine shades of distinction, “even if she had just been Mme de Choiseul, there was a good deal to be said for her claim. The Choiseuls are as grand as you could wish; they spring from a sister of Louis the Fat; they were real sovereigns down in Bassigny.148 I admit that we beat them in marriages and in distinction, but the ancientness is pretty much the same. This little question of precedence gave rise to several amusing incidents, such as a luncheon

145. The Duc de Nemours, also known as Louis-­Charles-­Philippe d’Orléans (1814–96), the second son of future King Louis-­Philippe I. 146. César Bagard (1620–1709), a sculptor from Nancy, who was known as the “Grand César” for his wood panels that decorated certain Paris mansions. Most of his sculptures, located in his native province of Lorraine, disappeared during the Revolution. Proust’s mother gave him a “round box” and a “clock” by Bagard. Proust, Correspondance, 6: 293. 147. Duchesse de Praslin (d. 1847) was the daughter of Horace François, Comte Sebastiani de la Porta (1772– 1851), known as General Sebastiani, maréchal de France. In 1824, she married Charles Duc de Choiseul-­Praslin (1805–47). After seventeen years of marriage and ten children, he left her for the governess. The duchess was found stabbed to death, and later, the duke, after being arrested, poisoned himself. 148. The Choiseuls are an important aristocratic family that produced several maréchals de France. The seigneurs of the Barony of Choiseul in Bassigny date from Hugues, Comte de Bassigny et de Bologne-­sur-­Marne, who was living in 937. The barony did derive from the Comté de Champagne, which may account for the reference to Constance, the sister of Louis le Gros, the Frankish king, who died in 1137. Bassigny is a region southeast of Paris in the Meuse Valley, in which is located Choiseul, a commune of Haute-­Marne and the place of origin of the Choiseul family.

Place-Names: The Place 331

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 149. Proust’s word is importance, which, as in English, can mean dimension or weight.

332 Place-Names: The Place

party that was kept waiting a whole hour or more before one of these ladies could make up her mind to let herself be introduced to the other. In spite of which they became great friends, and she gave my mother an armchair like this one, in which people always refused to sit, as you’ve just done. One day my mother heard a carriage drive into the courtyard. She asked a young servant who it was. ‘The Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld, Madame.’ ‘Very well, say that I am at home.’ A quarter of an hour passed; no one came. ‘What about the Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld?’ my mother asked. ‘Where is she?’ ‘She’s on the stairs, Madame, getting her breath,’ said the young servant, who had not been long up from the country, where my mother had the excellent habit of getting all her servants. Often she had seen them born. That’s the only way to get really good ones. And they’re the rarest of luxuries. And sure enough, the Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld had the greatest difficulty in getting upstairs, for she was an enormous woman, so enormous, indeed, that when she did come into the room, my mother was quite at a loss for a moment to know where to put her. And then the seat that Mme de Praslin had given her caught her eye. ‘Won’t you sit down?’ she said, bringing it forward. And the duchess filled it from side to side. She was quite a pleasant woman, in spite of her dimensions.149 ‘She still creates an effect when she comes in,’ said one of our friends. ‘She certainly creates an effect when she goes out,’ replied my mother, who was rather freer in her speech than would be thought proper nowadays. Even in Mme de La Rochefoucauld’s own drawing room people weren’t afraid to make fun of her to her face (at which she was always the first to laugh) over her ample proportions. ‘But are you all alone?’ my grandmother once asked M. de La Rochefoucauld, when she had come to pay a call on the duchess, and being met at the door by him had not seen his wife who was standing by a bay window at the other end of the room. ‘Is Mme de La Rochefoucauld not at home? I don’t see her.’—‘How charming of you!’ replied the duke, who had about the worst judgment of any man I have ever known, but was not altogether lacking in humor.”

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower After dinner, when I had gone upstairs with my grandmother, I said to her that the qualities that attracted us in Mme de Villeparisis, her tact, her shrewdness, her discretion, her self-­effacement, were not, perhaps, of very great value since those who possessed them in the highest degree were simply people like Molé and Loménie,150 and that if the want of them can make our everyday social relations disagreeable, yet it did not prevent Chateaubriand, Vigny, Hugo, Balzac, from becoming vain fellows who had no judgment, whom it was easy to deride, as did Bloch . . . But at the name of Bloch, my grandmother cried out in protest. And she began to praise Mme de Villeparisis. As we are told that it is the preservation of the species that guides our individual preferences in love, and, so that the child may be constituted in the most normal fashion, sends fat men in pursuit of lean women and lean men in pursuit of fat women, so in some obscure way it was the exigencies of my happiness, threatened by my disordered nerves, by my morbid tendency to melancholy, to solitude, that made her allot the highest place to the qualities of balance and judgment, peculiar not only to Mme de Villeparisis but to a society in which I might find a distraction, an assuagement—a society similar to the one in which our ancestors saw flourish the minds of a Doudan, a M. de Rémusat, not to mention a Beausergent, a Joubert,151 a Sévigné, a type of mind that invests life with more happiness, with greater dignity than the converse refinements that led a Baudelaire, a Poe, a Verlaine, a Rimbaud152 to sufferings, to a disrepute such as my grandmother did not wish for her daughter’s child. I interrupted her with a kiss and asked her if she had noticed a certain phrase Mme de Villeparisis had used and that seemed to point to a woman who thought more of her noble birth than she was prepared to admit. In this way I used to submit my impressions to my grandmother, for I was never certain what degree of respect was due to anyone until she had indicated it to me. Every evening I would come to her with the mental sketches that I had made during the day of all those nonexistent people who were not her. Once I said to her: “I couldn’t live without you.” “But you

150. For Loménie, see “Madame Swann at Home,” note 117. 151. Ximénès Doudan (1800–1872) was a writer and teacher who became the private secretary to the Duc de Broglie (1785–1870). Charles, Comte de Rémusat (1797–1875), writer and political figure, served as minister of the interior under Louis-­Philippe in 1840. Then he took up philosophy and proved to have an eclectic and moderate mind. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1846. In 1871, he served as a minister in foreign affairs for the Thiers government. Joseph Joubert (1754–1824), moralist, was chancellor of the University of Paris. His Pensées, essais et maximes was published posthumously in 1838. He was a friend of Chateaubriand, who said that he was “A Plato with the soul of La Fontaine.” See À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 2: 86, n. 2. We note the presence of the fictional writer Mme de Beausergent among the real ones. 152. Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49), American poet whose works greatly appealed to Baudelaire, who translated and published Poe’s short stories. Paul Verlaine (1844–96), poet whose verse is musical and evocative and was often set to music by composers such as Gabriel Fauré and Reynaldo Hahn. Arthur Rimbaud (1854–91), precocious poet who abandoned his craft at the age of nineteen. Rimbaud’s tumultuous affair with Verlaine has been the subject of many books.

Place-Names: The Place 333

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 153. Saumur is a town in the département of Maine-­et-­Loire and the location of a well-­known school of cavalry. 154. Doncières is a fictional town not far from Balbec and the headquarters of Saint-­Loup’s regiment. Doncières is also the name of a commune in the département of Vosges.

334 Place-Names: The Place

mustn’t speak like that,” she replied in a troubled voice. “We must harden our hearts more than that. Otherwise, what would become of you if I went away on a journey? But I hope that you would be quite sensible and quite happy.” “I could manage to be sensible if you went away for a few days, but I would count the hours.” “But if I were to go away for months . . .” (at the mere idea my heart was wrung) “. . . for years . . . for . . .” We both became silent. We dared not look at one another. And yet I was suffering more keenly from her anguish than from my own. And so I walked across to the window, and said to her distinctly but with averted eyes: “You know what a creature of habit I am. For the first few days after I’ve been separated from the people I love best, I’m miserable. But though I go on loving them just as much, I grow used to their absence, my life becomes calm, pleasant; I could stand being parted from them for months, for years . . .” I had to stop speaking and look straight out of the window. My grandmother went out of the room for a moment. But the next day I began to talk to her about philosophy, and, speaking in a tone of complete indifference but at the same time taking care that my grandmother should pay attention to my words, I remarked how curious it was that, according to the latest scientific discoveries, the materialist position appeared to be crumbling, and what was once again most likely was the survival of souls and their future reunion. Mme de Villeparisis gave us warning that presently she would not be able to see us so often. A young nephew who was preparing for Saumur,153 and was meanwhile stationed in the neighborhood, at Doncières,154 was coming to spend a few weeks’ furlough with her, and she would be devoting most of her time to him. In the course of our drives together she had boasted to us of his high intelligence, and above all of his goodness of heart; already I was imagining that he would like me, that I would be his best friend; and when, before his arrival, his aunt gave my grand-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower mother to understand that he had unfortunately fallen into the clutches of an appalling woman with whom he was infatuated and who would never let him go, since I believed that that sort of love was doomed to end in mental derangement, crime, and suicide, thinking how short a time was reserved for our friendship, already so great in my heart although I had not yet set eyes on him, I wept for that friendship and for the misfortunes that were in store for it, as we weep for a person we love when someone has just told us that he is seriously ill and that his days are numbered. One afternoon of scorching heat I was in the hotel dining room, which they had plunged in semidarkness to shield it from the glare by drawing the sun-gilded curtains, while through the gaps between them flashed the blue of the sea, when along the central gangway leading from the beach to the road I saw, tall, slender, bare-­necked, his head held proudly erect, a young man with penetrating eyes go past, whose skin was as fair and whose hair as golden as if they had absorbed all the rays of the sun. Dressed in a supple, almost white material such as I would never have believed that any man would have the audacity to wear, the thinness of which suggested no less vividly than the coolness of the dining room the heat and the beautiful day outside, he was walking fast.155 His eyes, from one of which a monocle kept dropping, were the color of the sea. Everyone looked at him with interest as he passed, knowing that this young Marquis de Saint-­L oup-­en-­Bray156 was famed for his elegance. All the newspapers had described the suit in which he had recently acted as second to the young Duc d’Uzès157 in a duel. One felt that this so distinctive quality of his hair, his eyes, his skin, his allure, which would have marked him out in a crowd like a precious vein of opal, azure-­shot and luminous, embedded in a mass of coarser substance, must correspond to a life different from that led by other men. So that when, before the liaison that Mme de Villeparisis had been deploring, the prettiest women in fashionable society had disputed the possession of him, his presence, at a seaside resort for instance, in the company of the beauty of the season to whom he was paying court, not only placed her in the

155. Speed will be a characteristic of Saint-­Loup and later Albertine, both of whom are seen for the first time against the background of the sea. Gilberte uses the English word fast to characterize Albertine, suggesting not only her fugitive nature but also her questionable morals. See “Madame Swann at Home,” 94. 156. Numerous localities in France bear the name Saint-­Loup. One of these, Saint-­Loup-­de-­Naud, in the département of Seine-­et-­Marne, is near Guermantes. In 1903, Proust visited Saint-­ Loup-­de-­Naud and its eleventh-­century church while doing research for his translations of works by John Ruskin. 157. The person that Proust has in mind is probably Jacques, the fourteenth Duc d’Uzès. He and his wife are listed in Le Gaulois of July 28, 1898, among the members of the fashionable society at Cabourg. Jacques’s family sent him to the Congo in the early 1900s to separate him from the famous cocotte Émilienne d’Alençon (1869–1946).

Place-Names: The Place 335

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower spotlight, but attracted every eye fully as much to himself as to her. Because of his “chic,” because of his impertinence befitting a young “lion,” above all because of his extraordinary beauty, some people even thought him effeminate, though without reproaching him for it, for everyone knew how virile he was and that he passionately loved women. This was Mme de Villeparisis’s nephew of whom she had spoken to us. I was delighted at the thought that I was going to be acquainted with him for some weeks and sure that he would bestow on me all his affection. He strode rapidly across the whole width of the hotel, seeming to be in pursuit of his monocle, which kept darting away in front of him like a butterfly. He was coming from the beach, and the sea, which filled the lower half of the glass front of the lobby, gave him a background against which he stood out full length, as in certain portraits whose painters attempt, without in anyway falsifying the most accurate observation of contemporary life, but by choosing for their model appropriate surroundings, a polo ground, a golf course, a racetrack, the bridge of a yacht, to furnish a modern equivalent of those canvases on which the old masters used to present the human figure in the foreground of a landscape. A carriage and pair was waiting for him at the door; and, while his monocle resumed its gambolings on the sunlit road, with the elegance and mastery that a great pianist contrives to display in the simplest stroke of execution, where it did not seem possible that he could show himself superior to a second-­rate performer, Mme de Villeparisis’s nephew, taking the reins that were handed him by the coachman, sat down beside him and, while opening a letter that the manager of the hotel handed to him, started up his horses. How disappointed I was on the days that followed, when, each time that I met him outside or in the hotel—his head erect, perpetually balancing the movements of his limbs around the fugitive and dancing monocle, which seemed to be their center of gravity—I was forced to acknowledge that he had evidently no desire to make our acquaintance and saw that he did not bow to us although he must have known that we were friends of his aunt!

336 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower And calling to mind the friendliness that Mme de Villeparisis, and before her M. de Norpois, had shown me, I thought that perhaps they were only bogus nobles, and that a secret article in the laws that govern the aristocracy must allow women, perhaps, and certain diplomats to discard, in their relations with commoners, for a reason that escaped me, the haughtiness that must, on the other hand, be pitilessly maintained by a young marquis. My intelligence might have told me the opposite. But the characteristic feature of the ridiculous age I was going through—an age by no means infertile, indeed highly fecund—is that we do not consult our intelligence and that the most trivial attributes of other people seem to us then to form an inseparable part of their personality. In a world thronged with monsters and with gods, we barely know any peace of mind. There is hardly a single one of our actions performed at that age which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able to abolish. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no longer possess the spontaneity that made us perform them. In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but adolescence is the only time in which we learn anything. This insolence that I surmised in M. de Saint-­L oup, and all that it implied of ingrained hardness, received confirmation from his attitude whenever he passed us, his body as inflexibly erect, his head always held as high, his gaze as impassive, or rather, I should say, as implacable, devoid of that vague respect one has for the rights of other people, even if they do not know one’s aunt, and which meant that I did not act in quite the same way in front of an old lady as in front of a gas lamp. These glacial manners were as far removed from the charming letters that, only a few days earlier, I had still imagined him writing me to express his friendship, as is from the enthusiasm of the Chamber158 and of the populace that he has imagined himself rousing by an unforgettable speech, the mediocre, obscure position of the dreamer who, after having daydreamed it thus all alone, for himself, aloud, finds himself, once the imaginary applause has died away, just the same John Doe

158. Under the Third Republic, from 1875 to 1940, the Chamber of Deputies was the elected legislative body (lower house) of the French government. The Senate was the upper house.

Place-Names: The Place 337

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower as before. When Mme de Villeparisis, doubtless in an attempt to counteract the bad impression that had been made on us by an exterior indicative of an arrogant and disagreeable nature, spoke to us again of the inexhaustible kindness of her great-­nephew (he was the son of one of her nieces and a little older than I), I marveled at how the aristocracy, with an utter disregard of truth, ascribes tenderness of heart to people whose hearts are in reality so hard and dry, provided only that they behave with common courtesy to the brilliant members of their own set. Mme de Villeparisis herself confirmed, though indirectly, my diagnosis, of which I was already certain, of the essential traits of her nephew’s character one day when I met them both coming along a path so narrow that she could not do otherwise than introduce me to him. He seemed not to hear that a person’s name was being said to him; not a muscle of his face moved; his eyes, in which there shone not the faintest gleam of human sympathy, showed merely, in the insensibility, in the inanity of their gaze an exaggeration failing which there would have been nothing to distinguish them from lifeless mirrors. Then, fastening on me those hard eyes, as though he wished to inspect me before returning my salute, by an abrupt release which seemed to be due rather to a reflex action of his muscles than to an exercise of will, keeping between himself and me the greatest possible interval, he stretched his arm out to its full extension and, at the end of it, offered me his hand. I supposed that it must mean, at the very least, a duel when, the next day, he sent me his card. But he spoke to me only of literature, declared after a long talk that he would like immensely to spend several hours with me every day. He had not only, in this encounter, given proof of an ardent zest for the things of the mind; he had shown a regard for me that was little in keeping with his greeting of me the day before. After I had seen him repeat the same process every time someone was introduced to him, I realized that it was simply a social usage peculiar to his branch of the family, to which his mother, who had seen to it that he should be perfectly brought up, had molded his limbs; he went through those motions without thinking, any more than

338 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower he thought about his beautiful clothes or hair; they were a thing devoid of the moral significance that I had at first ascribed to them, a thing purely acquired, like that other habit that he had of at once demanding an introduction to the family of anyone whom he knew, which had become so instinctive in him that, seeing me again the day after our meeting, he rushed up to me and without saying hello, asked to be introduced to my grandmother, who was with me, with the same feverish haste as if the request had been due to some instinct of self-­preservation, like the act of warding off a blow or of shutting one’s eyes to avoid a stream of boiling water, without which precautions it would have been dangerous to remain a moment longer. The first rites of exorcism once performed, as a wicked fairy discards her outer form and assumes all the most enchanting graces, I saw this disdainful creature become the most friendly, the most considerate young man I had ever met. “Good,” I said to myself, “I’ve been mistaken about him once already; I was the victim of a mirage; but I have corrected the first only to fall for a second, for he must be a great lord who is passionate about his nobility and trying to hide it.” As a matter of fact it was not long before all the exquisite breeding, all the friendliness of Saint-­L oup were indeed to let me see another creature, but one very different from what I had suspected. This young man who had the air of a disdainful aristocrat and sportsman159 had in fact no respect or curiosity except for the things of the mind, and especially those modern manifestations of literature and art that seemed so ridiculous to his aunt; he was imbued, moreover, with what she called “socialistic spoutings,” was filled with the most profound contempt for his caste and spent long hours studying Nietzsche and Proudhon.160 He was one of those “intellectuals,”161 easily moved to admiration, who shut themselves up in a book, and are interested only in lofty ideas. Indeed in Saint-­L oup the expression of this highly abstract tendency, which removed him so far from my customary preoccupations, while it seemed to me touching, also annoyed me a little.

159. “Sportsman” is in English in the original. 160. Pierre-­Joseph Proudhon (1809–65) was a libertarian socialist and anarchist who in 1840 published his best-­known work, Qu’est-­ce que la propriété? (What is property?). 161. The word intellectuel appeared in the French language for the first time in the “Manifeste des intellectuels” signed in the autumn of 1898 by dozens of scientists, professors, and writers, including Proust, as a protest of the judicial proceedings taken against Lieutenant Colonel Picquart, who advocated the revision of the conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus as a German spy. Dreyfus’s supporters used the word with pride, while their opponents threw it back at them as an insult. À la recherche du temps perdu (1987), 2: 92, n. 1.

Place-Names: The Place 339

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 162. Richard Wagner enjoyed a surge in popularity in France beginning around 1876. For Offenbach, see “Madame Swann at Home,” note 150. Offenbach wrote the music for many operettas and for the opera The Tales of Hoffmann. 163. François-­Adrien Boieldieu (1775– 1834) was a composer known especially for his light operas, such as La Dame Blanche (1825). He also wrote popular songs that evoked the national music of France. Eugène Labiche (1815–88) wrote farcical comedies mocking the foibles of the French bourgeoisie during the Second Empire, one of the most famous of which is Le Voyage de M. Perrichon (1860).

340 Place-Names: The Place

I may say that when I fully realized who had been his father, on days when I had been reading memoirs rich in anecdotes about that famous Comte de Marsantes, in whom was embodied the special elegance of an epoch already remote, my mind full of speculations, eager to obtain fuller details of the life that M. de Marsantes had led, I was infuriated that Robert de Saint-­L oup, instead of being content to be the son of his father, instead of being able to guide me through the old-­fashioned romance novel that had been his father’s existence, had taught himself to love Nietzsche and Proudhon. His father would not have shared my regret. He had been himself an intelligent man who had transcended the narrow confines of his life as a man of the world. He had hardly had time to know his son, but had hoped that his son would prove a better man than himself. And I really believe that, unlike the rest of the family, he would have admired his son, would have rejoiced at his abandoning what had been his own small diversions for austere meditations, and without saying a word, in his modesty as a great noble endowed with wit, would have read in secret his son’s favorite authors in order to appreciate how far Robert was superior to himself. There was, however, this rather painful consideration: that if M. de Marsantes, with his extremely open mind, would have appreciated a son so different from himself, Robert de Saint-­L oup, because he was one of those who believe that merit is attached only to certain forms of art and life, had an affectionate but slightly contemptuous memory of a father who had spent all his time hunting and racing, who yawned at Wagner and raved over Offenbach.162 Saint-­L oup was not intelligent enough to understand that intellectual worth has nothing to do with adhesion to any one esthetic formula, and had for the “intellectuality” of M. de Marsantes much the same sort of scorn as might have been felt for Boieldieu or Labiche163 by a son of Boieldieu or Labiche who had become adept in the most symbolic literature and the most complicated music. “I scarcely knew my father,” he used to say. “He seems to have been a charming man. His tragedy was the deplor-

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower able age in which he lived. To have been born in the Faubourg Saint-­Germain and to have to live in the days of La Belle Hélène164 would be enough to wreck any existence. Perhaps if he’d been some petty bourgeois mad about the Ring,165 he’d have turned out quite different. Indeed, they tell me that he was fond of literature. But we’ll never know, because literature to him meant such outdated works.” And in my own case, if I found Saint-­L oup a trifle earnest, he could not understand why I was not more earnest still. Never judging anything except by the intellectual weight that it contained, never perceiving the magic appeal to the imagination that I found in certain things that he considered frivolous, he was astonished that I—I, to whom he imagined himself to be so inferior—could take any interest in them. From the first Saint-­L oup made a conquest of my grandmother, not only by the incessant acts of kindness that he went out of his way to show to us both, but by the naturalness that he put into them as into everything. For naturalness—doubtless because through the artifice of man it allows a feeling of nature to permeate—was the quality that my grandmother preferred to all others, whether in gardens, where she did not like there to be, as there had been in our Combray garden, flowerbeds that were too regular, or at the table, where she detested those “pièces montées”166 in which you could hardly detect the foodstuffs that have served to make them, or in piano playing, which she did not like to be too finicky, too polished, having indeed had a special weakness for the discords, the wrong notes of Rubinstein.167 She appreciated this naturalness even in the clothes that Saint-­L oup wore, of a supple elegance, with nothing “swagger,” nothing “formal” about them, no stiffness or starch. She appreciated this rich young man still more highly for the free and careless way he had of living in luxury without “smelling of money,” without giving himself airs; she even discovered the charm of this naturalness in the incapacity Saint-­L oup had kept—though as a rule it is outgrown with childhood, at the same time as certain physiological peculiarities of that age—for preventing his face from at once reflecting every

164. La Belle Hélène is an operetta by Jacques Offenbach with a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy that premiered at the Théâtre des Variétés on December 17, 1864. It enjoyed great success. 165. The Ring refers to the tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen, a sequence of four musical dramas by Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. 166. Proust put these words in quotation marks, the English for which is “set piece,” that is, food that has been decoratively shaped or arranged. 167. Anton Rubinstein (1829–94), Russian pianist and composer, gave his final Paris performance in April 1886, at the Salle Érard, part of his farewell European tour of 1885–87.

Place-Names: The Place 341

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower emotion. Something, for instance, that he wanted to have but had not expected, were it no more than a compliment, released in him a burst of pleasure so quick, so burning, so volatile, so expansive that it was impossible for him to contain and to conceal it; a grin of delight seized irresistible hold of his face; the too delicate skin of his cheeks allowed a vivid blush to shine through them, his eyes sparkled with confusion and joy; and my grandmother was infinitely touched by this charming show of innocence and frankness, which, incidentally, in Saint-­L oup—at any rate at the period of our first friendship—was not misleading. But I have known another person, and there are many such, in whom the physiological sincerity of that fleeting blush in no way excluded moral duplicity; as often as not it proves nothing more than the intensity with which pleasure is felt—so that it disarms them and they are forced publicly to confess it—by natures capable of the vilest treachery. But where my grandmother especially adored Saint-­L oup’s naturalness was in his way of admitting, without any evasion, his affection for me, to give expression to which he found words than which she herself, she told me, could not have thought of any more appropriate, more truly loving, words to which “Sévigné and Beausergent” might have set their signatures. He was not afraid to make fun of my weaknesses—which he had discerned with a shrewdness that made her smile—but as she herself would have done, affectionately, at the same time extolling my good qualities with a warmth, with an abandon that showed no sign of the reserve, the coldness by means of which young men of his age are apt to suppose that they give themselves importance. And he showed in anticipating my every discomfort, however slight, in covering my legs if the day had turned cold without my noticing it, in arranging (without telling me) to stay later with me in the evening if he thought that I was sad or felt unwell, a vigilance that, from the point of view of my health, for which a more hardening discipline would perhaps have been better, my grandmother found almost excessive, though as a proof of his affection for me she was deeply touched by it.

342 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower It was promptly settled between us that he and I were to be great friends forever, and he would say “our friendship” as though he were speaking of some important and delightful thing that had an existence independent of ourselves, and which he soon called—apart from his love for his mistress—the great joy of his life. These words made me rather sad and I was at a loss for an answer, for I felt when I was with him, when I was talking to him—and no doubt it would have been the same with everyone else—none of that happiness that it was, on the other hand, possible for me to experience when I was by myself. Alone, at times, I felt surging from the depths of my being one or other of those impressions that gave me a delicious sense of well-­being. But as soon as I was with someone else, as soon as I began to talk to a friend, my mind did a volte-­face, and it was toward the interlocutor and not myself that it directed its thoughts, and when they followed this outward course they brought me no pleasure. Once I had left Saint-­L oup, I managed, with the help of words, to put more or less in order the confused minutes that I had spent with him; I told myself that I had a good friend, that a good friend is a rare thing, and I savored, when I felt myself surrounded by goods that are difficult to acquire, what was precisely the opposite of the pleasure that was natural to me, the opposite of the pleasure of having extracted from myself and brought to light something that was hidden in my inner darkness. If I had spent two or three hours in conversation with Robert de Saint-­L oup, and he had expressed his admiration of what I had said to him, I felt a sort of remorse, or regret, or weariness at not having remained alone and ready, at last, to begin my work. But I told myself that one is not intelligent for oneself only, that the greatest of men have wanted to be appreciated, that I could not regard as wasted hours in which I had built up a lofty idea of myself in the mind of my friend; I had no difficulty in persuading myself that I ought to be happy in consequence, and I hoped all the more keenly that this happiness might never be taken from me simply because I had not yet been conscious of it. We fear more than the loss of anything else the disap-

Place-Names: The Place 343

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower pearance of the “goods” that have remained beyond our reach, because our heart has not taken possession of them. I felt that I was capable of exemplifying the virtues of friendship better than most people (because I would always place the good of my friends before those personal interests to which other people were devoted but which did not count for me), but not of finding joy in a feeling that, instead of increasing the differences that there were between my nature and those of other people—as there are between all of us—would eliminate them. On the other hand there were moments when my mind distinguished in Saint-­L oup a being more general than his own, that of the “nobleman,” and which like an indwelling spirit moved his limbs, ordered his gestures and his actions; then, at such moments, although in his company, I was alone, as I would have been in front of a landscape the harmony of which I could understand. He was no more then than an object the properties of which, in my musing contemplations, I sought to explore. The perpetual discovery in him of this anterior, this secular being, this aristocrat who was just what Robert aspired not to be, gave me intense joy, but one that was intellectual and not sentimental. In the moral and physical agility that gave so much grace to his kindnesses, in the ease with which he offered my grandmother his carriage and helped her into it, in the alacrity with which he sprang from the box when he was afraid that I might be cold, to spread his own coat over my shoulders, I sensed not only the inherited litheness of the mighty hunters who had been for generations the ancestors of this young man who made no pretense save to intellectuality, their scorn of wealth that, subsisting in him side by side with his enjoyment of it simply because it enabled him to entertain his friends more lavishly, made him so carelessly shower his riches at their feet; I sensed in it above all the certainty or the illusion in the minds of those great lords of being “better than others,” thanks to which they had not been able to hand down to Saint-­L oup that desire to show that one is “just as good as others,” that fear of seeming too assiduous that was truly unknown to him and that mars with so much ugliness and

344 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower awkwardness, the most sincere plebeian courtesy. Sometimes I reproached myself for thus taking pleasure in considering my friend as a work of art, that is to say in regarding the play of all the parts of his being as harmoniously ordered by a general idea on which they depended but of which he was unaware, and which consequently added nothing to his own good qualities, to that personal value, intellectual and moral, to which he attached so high a price. And yet that idea was to a certain extent their determining cause. It was because he was a gentleman that that mental activity, those socialist aspirations, which made him seek the company of young students, arrogant and ill dressed, connoted in him something really pure and disinterested that was not to be found in them. Seeing himself as the heir of an ignorant and selfish caste, he was sincerely anxious that they should forgive in him that aristocratic origin which they, on the contrary, found irresistibly attractive and on account of which they sought to know him while feigning coldness and even insolence toward him. He was thus led to make advances to people from whom my parents, faithful to the sociological theories of Combray, would have been stupefied at his not turning away in disgust. One day when we were sitting on the sands, Saint-­L oup and I, we heard issuing from a canvas tent against which we were leaning a torrent of imprecation against the swarm of Jews that infested Balbec. “You can’t go a yard without meeting them,” said the voice. “I am not in principle irremediably hostile to the Jewish nation, but here there is a plethora of them. You hear nothing but, ‘I thay, Apraham, I’ve chust theen Chacop.’168 You would think you were in the rue d’Aboukir.”169 The man who thus inveighed against Israel emerged at last from the tent; we raised our eyes to behold this anti-­Semite.170 It was my old friend Bloch. Saint-­L oup immediately asked me to remind him that they had met at the concours général, when Bloch had received the prize of honor, and since then at the Université populaire.171 At the most I may have smiled now and then, to discover in Robert the marks of his Jesuit schooling, in the embarrassment

168. The original reads: “Dis donc, Apraham, chai fu Chakop” (j’ai vu Jacob). 169. The rue d’Aboukir, in the second arrondissement, dates from 1807 and was named in honor of one of Napoléon’s victories in Egypt in 1799. There were numerous Jewish shops on the street. 170. In a 1900 letter written from Évian-­ les-­Bains to her son Marcel, Mme Proust comments on the Jewish guests who are present at the hotel: “The Semitic element is here presented, in addition to the Weisweillers by the Paul Helbronners, the Mayers . . . and the Levyliers.” Proust, Correspondance, 2: 407. In a 1908 letter to a friend, Robert de Billy, Proust comments on the lack of any guests “one might know” at the Grand Hôtel in Cabourg and the presence there of Jewish guests: “A few Jewish ‘merchants of goods’ are the only aristocracy—and moreover rather proud—at the place.” Proust, Correspondance, 8: 193. 171. The concours général consisted of competitive public examinations in French composition that dated from 1747 and took place annually between the best students in the upper classes of all the secondary schools (lycées and collèges). There were periods when the competitions were suspended: for example, in Proust’s lifetime, none took place between 1904 and 1922. The Universités populaires were instituted in 1898 by academic associations for the purpose of bringing knowledge and technical instruction to the working classes. They reached their peak in numbers in 1901, after which their popularity began to subside.

Place-Names: The Place 345

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 172. Bloch’s pronunciation of this word is given in the original as “laïft.”

346 Place-Names: The Place

that the fear of hurting people’s feelings at once created in him whenever one of his intellectual friends made a social error, did something silly to which Saint-­L oup himself attached no importance but felt that the other would have blushed if anybody had noticed it. And it was Robert who used to blush as though he were the guilty one, for example on the day when Bloch, after promising to come and see him at the hotel, went on: “As I cannot endure to be kept waiting among all the false splendor of these great caravansarais, and the gypsy band would make me ill, you must tell the ‘lighft’172 boy to make them shut up, and to let you know at once.” Personally, I was not particularly eager for Bloch to come to the hotel. He was at Balbec not by himself, unfortunately, but with his sisters, and they in turn had many relatives and friends staying there. Now this Jewish colony was more picturesque than agreeable. Balbec was in this respect like such countries as Russia or Romania, where the geography books teach us that the Jewish population does not enjoy anything approaching the same esteem and has not reached the same stage of assimilation as, for example, in Paris. Always together, with no mixture of any other element, when the cousins and uncles of Bloch or their coreligionists male or female repaired to the casino, the women to dance, the men branching off toward the baccarat tables, they formed a solid troop, homogeneous within itself, and entirely dissimilar to the people who watched them go past and found them there again every year without ever exchanging a salutation with them, whether these were the Cambremers’ set, or the magistrate’s little group, bourgeois or petit bourgeois, or even simple seed merchants from Paris, whose daughters, beautiful, proud, mocking, and French as the statues at Reims, would not care to mix with that horde of ill-­bred sluts, who carried their zeal for “seaside” fashions so far as to be always apparently on their way home from shrimping or out to dance the tango. As for the men, despite the brilliance of their dinner jackets and patent leather shoes, the exaggeration of their type made one think of that research called

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower “intelligent” of painters who, having to illustrate the Gospels or the Arabian Nights, consider the country in which the scenes are laid, and give to Saint Peter or to Ali Baba the identical features of the heaviest “punter”173 at the Balbec tables. Bloch introduced his sisters, who, though he silenced their chatter with the utmost rudeness, screamed with laughter at the mildest sallies of this brother, their blindly worshiped idol. So that it is probable that this set of people contained, like every other, perhaps more than any other, plenty of attractions, merits, and virtues. But in order to experience these, one had first to penetrate it. Now this set was not popular; it sensed this; it saw in its unpopularity the proof of an anti-­Semitism to which it presented a bold front in a compact and closed phalanx into which, as it happened, no one dreamed of trying to force his way. As to the word “lighft,” I had all the less reason to be surprised in that, a few days before, Bloch having asked me why I had come to Balbec (although it seemed to him perfectly natural that he himself should be there) and whether it had been “in the hope of making grand friends,” when I had explained to him that this visit was a fulfillment of one of my earliest longings, though one not so deep as my longing to see Venice, he had replied: “Yes, of course, to sip sorbets with the pretty ladies, while pretending to read the Stones of Venighce, by Lord John Ruskin,174 a dreary bore, in fact one of the most tiresome old scribblers that you could find.” Thus Bloch evidently thought that in England not only were all the inhabitants of the male sex called “Lord,” but the letter i was invariably pronounced igh. As for Saint-­L oup, this mistake in pronunciation seemed to him all the less serious inasmuch as he saw in it above all a want of those almost “society” notions that my new friend despised as fully as he was versed in them. But the fear that Bloch, discovering one day that one says Venice and that Ruskin was not a lord, might retrospectively imagine that Robert had found him ridiculous, made the latter feel as guilty as if he had been found wanting in the indulgence with which he overflowed, so that the blush that would no doubt one day redden

173. “Punter” is in English in the original. In British English, a punter is a gambler. 174. In the original, Bloch’s mispronunciation of the title is rendered as “Venaïce.” John Ruskin’s Stones of Venice was published in London in 1851 in three volumes. Proust had this work in his hands when he visited Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice in 1900. He was accompanied by his mother, Reynaldo Hahn, and Hahn’s cousin Marie Nordlinger, who assisted Proust in his translations of Ruskin’s The Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies.

Place-Names: The Place 347

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 175. This statement is made to contradict René Descartes (1596–1650), philosopher, mathematician, and author of Le Discours de la méthode (1637). Descartes did indeed write: “Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée . . .” (Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed).

348 Place-Names: The Place

Bloch’s cheeks on the discovery of his error, Robert already, by anticipation and reversibility, could feel mounting to his own. For he fully believed that Bloch attached more importance than he to this mistake. Which Bloch proved some time later, when he heard me pronounce the word “lift,” by breaking in with: “Oh! One says ‘lift.’” And then, in a dry and haughty tone: “Not that it is of the slightest importance.” A phrase that is like a reflex action of the body, the same in all men whose self-­esteem is great, in the gravest circumstances as well as in the most trivial, betraying there as clearly as on this occasion how important the thing in question seems to him who declares that it is of no importance; a tragic phrase at times, the first to escape (and then how heartbreaking) the lips of every man at all proud from whom we have just taken the last hope to which he still clung by refusing to do him a service. “Oh, well! It’s not of the slightest importance; I will make some other arrangement”: the other arrangement, which it is not of the slightest importance that he should be driven to adopt, being sometimes suicide. Then Bloch said the kindest things to me. He was certainly eager to be on the best of terms with me. And yet he asked me: “Is it because you fancy rising to the level of the nobility that you run after de Saint-­L oup-­en-­Bray? A very inferior nobility moreover, but you’ve always been naïve. You must be going through a fine crisis of snobbery. Tell me, are you a snob? You are, aren’t you?” Not that his desire to be friendly had suddenly changed. But what is called, in not too correct language, “ill-­breeding” was his defect, and therefore the defect that he was bound to overlook, especially since it was the defect by which he did not believe that other people could be shocked. In the human race the frequency of the virtues that are identical in us all is not more wonderful than the multiplicity of the defects that are peculiar to each one of us. Undoubtedly, it is not common sense that is “the commonest thing in the world”;175 it is human kindness. In the most distant, the most desolate ends of the earth, we marvel to see it blossom of its own accord, as in a remote valley a poppy like the poppies in the

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower rest of the world, poppies that it has never seen as it has never known anything but the wind that from time to time stirs the folds of its solitary red hood. Even if this human kindness, paralyzed by self-­interest, is not exercised, it exists nonetheless, and whenever there is no selfish motive to restrain its action, for example, during the reading of a novel or a newspaper, it will blossom, even in the heart of one who, a murderer in real life, has retained a tender heart as a lover of feuilletons,176 and turn toward the weak, the just and the persecuted. But the variety of our defects is no less remarkable than the similarity of our virtues. Each of us has his own, so much so that to continue loving a person we are obliged not to take them into account but to ignore them in favor of the rest of his character. The most perfect person in the world has a certain defect that shocks us or makes us angry. One man is of rare intelligence, sees everything from a lofty viewpoint, never speaks evil of anyone, but will pocket and forget letters of supreme importance that he himself asked you to let him post for you, and thus cause you to miss a vital engagement without offering you any excuse, with a smile, because he prides himself on never knowing the time. Another is so refined, so gentle, so delicate in his conduct that he never says anything to you about yourself except what you are glad to hear, but you feel that he refrains from uttering, that he keeps buried in his heart, where they grow bitter, very different opinions, and the pleasure that he derives from seeing you is so dear to him that he will let you faint with exhaustion sooner than leave you to yourself. A third has more sincerity, but carries it so far that he feels bound to let you know, when you have pleaded the state of your health as an excuse for not having been to see him, that you were seen going to the theater and were reported to be looking well, or else that he has not been able to profit entirely by the action that you have taken on his behalf, which, incidentally, three other people had already offered to take, so that he is only slightly indebted to you. In similar circumstances the previous friend would have pretended not to know that you had gone to the theater, or that other people

176. These were excerpts or chapters of a novel that were serialized in a newspaper.

Place-Names: The Place 349

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower could have done him the same service. But this last friend feels himself obliged to repeat or to reveal to somebody the very thing that is most likely to give offense, is delighted with his own frankness and tells you, emphatically: “I am like that.” While others infuriate you by their exaggerated curiosity, or by a want of curiosity so absolute that you can speak to them of the most sensational happenings without their grasping what it is all about; and others again take months to answer you if your letter has to do with something that concerns yourself and not them, or else, if they write that they are coming to ask you for something and you dare not leave the house for fear of missing them, do not appear, but leave you in suspense for weeks because, not having received from you the answer that their letter did not in the least require, they have concluded that you must be cross with them. And others, considering their own wishes and not yours, talk to you without letting you get a word in if they are in good spirits and want to see you, however urgent the work you may have in hand, but if they feel exhausted by the weather or out of humor, you cannot drag a word out of them, they meet your efforts with an inert languor and no more take the trouble to reply, even in monosyllables, to what you say to them than if they had not heard you. Each of our friends has his defects to such an extent that to continue to love him we are obliged to try to console ourselves for them—by thinking of his talent, his goodness, his affection—or rather to take no account of them, and for that we need to deploy all our goodwill. Unfortunately our obliging obstinacy in refusing to see the defect in our friend is surpassed by the obstinacy with which he persists in that defect, from his own blindness to it or the blindness that he attributes to other people. For he does not notice it himself or imagines that it is not noticed. Since the risk of giving offense arises principally from the difficulty of appreciating what does and what does not pass unperceived, we should, at least, from prudence, never speak of ourselves, because that is a subject on which we may be sure that other people’s views are never in accordance with our own. If we find as many surprises as on visiting

350 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower a house with a plain exterior whose interior is full of treasures, crowbars, and cadavers, when we discover the true lives of other people, the real universe beneath the apparent universe, we are no less surprised if, in place of the image that we have made of ourselves thanks to all the things that people have said to us, we learn from the terms in which they speak of us in our absence what an entirely different image they have been carrying in their own minds of us and of our lives. So that whenever we have spoken about ourselves, we may be sure that our inoffensive and prudent words, listened to with apparent politeness and hypocritical approbation, have given rise afterward to the most exasperated or the most mirthful, but in either case the least favorable, comments. The least risk we run is that of irritating people by the disproportion between our idea of ourselves and the words that we use, a disproportion that as a rule makes people’s talk about themselves as ludicrous as the hummings of those self-­styled music lovers who when they feel the need to hum a favorite tune compensate for the inadequacy of their inarticulate murmurings by a strenuous mimicry and an air of admiration that is hardly justified by what they let us hear. And to the bad habit of speaking about oneself and one’s defects there must be added, as part of the same thing, that habit of denouncing in other people defects precisely analogous to one’s own. For it is always of those defects that one speaks, as though it were a way of speaking about oneself, indirectly, and which adds to the pleasure of absolving oneself the pleasure of confession. Moreover, it seems that our attention, always attracted by what characterizes us, notices this more than anything else in others. One shortsighted man says of another: “But he can scarcely open his eyes!”; a consumptive has his doubts as to the pulmonary integrity of the most robust; an unwashed man speaks only of the baths that other people do not take; a malodorous man insists that other people smell; a cuckold sees cuckolds everywhere, a light woman light women, a snob snobs. Then, too, every vice, like every profession, requires and develops a special knowledge that we are never loath to display. The invert de-

Place-Names: The Place 351

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 177. Scott Moncrieff decorously added “and denounces.” Invert is Proust’s preferred term for homosexual. Proust believed that neither sex is complete in itself, that humanity consists of a variety of sexual types, and that one seeks the ideal partner whose sexuality best complements or completes his or her own.

352 Place-Names: The Place

tects177 inverts; the couturier asked out to dine has not even begun to talk to you before he has already appraised the cloth of your garment, whose quality his fingers are itching to feel, and if after a few words of conversation you were to ask a dentist what he really thought of you, he would tell you how many of your teeth wanted filling. To him nothing appears more important, nor more absurd to you who have noticed his own. And it is not only when we speak of ourselves that we imagine other people to be blind; we behave as though they were. For each of us there is a special god in attendance who hides our defect from us or promises its invisibility, just as he closes the eyes and nostrils of people who do not wash to the streaks of dirt they carry in their ears and the smell of sweat that emanates from their armpits, and assures them that they can with impunity carry both of these about in a world that will notice nothing. And those who wear artificial pearls, or give them as presents, imagine that people will take them to be genuine. Bloch was ill bred, neurotic, a snob, and, since he belonged to a family of little repute, had to support, as on the floor of the ocean, the incalculable pressure that was imposed on him not only by the Christians on the surface but by all the intervening layers of Jewish castes superior to his own, each of them crushing with its contempt the one that was immediately beneath it. To pierce his way through to the open air by raising himself from Jewish family to Jewish family would have taken Bloch many thousands of years. It was better worth his while to seek an outlet in another direction. When Bloch spoke to me of the crisis of snobbery through which I must be passing, and asked me to confess that I was a snob, I might well have replied: “If I were, I would not be going about with you.” I said merely that he was not being very polite. Then he tried to apologize, but in the way that is typical of the ill-­bred man who is only too happy, by harking back to his words, to find an opportunity to aggravate his offense. “Forgive me,” he would now say to me whenever we met, “I have distressed you, tormented you; I have been wantonly mischievous. And yet— man in general and your friend in particular is so singular an

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower animal—you cannot imagine the affection that I, I who tease you so cruelly, have for you. When I think of you, it often brings tears to my eyes.” And he gave an audible sob. What astonished me more in Bloch than his bad manners was to find how the quality of his conversation varied. This youth so hard to please that, of authors who were at the height of their fame, he would say: “He’s a prize idiot; he’s a sheer imbecile,” would every now and then tell with immense gusto anecdotes that were simply not funny or would cite as a “really remarkable person” some man who was completely insignificant. This double scale of measuring the wit, the worth, the interest of people continued to puzzle me until the day I met M. Bloch, père. I had not supposed that we would ever be allowed to know him, for Bloch fils had spoken ill of me to Saint-­L oup and of Saint-­L oup to me. In particular, he had said to Robert that I was (still) a frightful snob. “Yes, really, he is overjoyed at knowing M. LLLLegrandin.” This trick of isolating a word was, in Bloch, a sign at once of irony and of literature. Saint-­L oup, who had never heard the name of Legrandin, was bewildered. “But who is he?” “Oh, he’s someone very distinguished,” Bloch replied with a laugh, thrusting his hands into his pockets as though for warmth, convinced that he was at that moment engaged in contemplation of the picturesque aspect of an extraordinary country gentleman compared to whom those of Barbey d’Aurevilly178 were as nothing. He consoled himself for his inability to portray M. Legrandin by giving him a string of capital L’s and by savoring the name as though it were a fine wine. But these subjective enjoyments remained hidden from other people. If he spoke ill of me to Saint-­ Loup he made up for it by speaking no less ill of Saint-­L oup to me. We had each of us learned these slanders in detail the next day, not that we repeated them to each other, a thing that would have seemed to us very wrong but to Bloch appeared so natural and almost inevitable that in his anxiety, in the certainty moreover that he would be telling us only what each of us was bound sooner or later to find out, he preferred to anticipate the disclo-

178. Jules-­Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly (1808–89), poet, novelist, and critic. Proust probably had in mind his portrait of a dandy in Du Dandysme et de G. Brummell (1845), about the En­ glishman known as “Beau Brummell.” George Brummell (1778–1840) was an emblematic figure in Regency England, the arbiter of men’s fashion in London, and a friend of the prince regent, the future King George IV.

Place-Names: The Place 353

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 179. In Greek mythology, Kronos is the father of Zeus. One of the Titans, he ruled over them until overthrown by his son. 180. A Ker is a demon or spirit associated with death. Winged black creatures with long teeth and sharp nails, the Keres play an important role in the Iliad. The Keres of Achilles and Hector are placed in the scales by Zeus. Hector’s pan tilts toward Hades and thus indicates the fate of the Trojan hero. Bloch is quoting Hesiod’s Theogony as translated by Leconte de Lisle.

354 Place-Names: The Place

sure and, taking Saint-­L oup aside, admitted that he had spoken ill of him, on purpose, so that it might be repeated to him, swore to him “by Zeus Kronion, binder of oaths”179 that he loved him dearly, that he would lay down his life for him, and wiped away a tear. The same day, he contrived to see me alone, made his confession, declared that he had acted in my interest, because he felt that a certain kind of social intercourse was harmful to me and that I was “better than that.” Then clasping me by the hand with the sentimentality of a drunkard, albeit his drunkenness was purely nervous: “Believe me,” he said, “and may the black Ker seize me this instant and bear me across the portals of Hades,180 hateful to men, if yesterday, when I thought of you, of Combray, of my boundless affection for you, of afternoon hours in class that you do not even remember, I did not lie awake weeping all night long. Yes, all night long, I swear it, and alas, I know—for I know the human soul—you will not believe me.” I did indeed “not believe” him, and to these words that I felt he was making up on the spur of the moment and expanding as he went on, his swearing “by Ker” added no great weight, the Hellenic cult being in Bloch purely literary. Besides, whenever he began to grow emotional over a falsehood and wanted his hearer to do so as well, he would say: “I swear it,” more for the hysterical pleasure of lying than to make people think that he was speaking the truth. I did not believe what he was saying, but I bore him no ill will because of that, for I had inherited from my mother and grandmother their incapacity for rancor even against far worse offenders, and their habit of never condemning anyone. Besides, he was not altogether a bad youth, this Bloch; he was capable of great kindness. And now that the race of Combray, the race from which sprang creatures absolutely unspoiled like my grandmother and mother, seems almost extinct, as I have hardly any choice now save between decent brutes—insensitive and candid, in whom the mere sound of their voices shows at once that they take absolutely no interest in your life—and another kind of men who so long as they are with you understand you,

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower cherish you, grow sentimental to the point of tears, make up for it a few hours later by making some cruel joke at your expense, but return to you, always just as understanding, as charming, as closely assimilated to you, for the moment, I think that it is of this latter sort that I prefer, if not the moral worth, at any rate the society. “You cannot imagine my grief when I think of you,” Bloch went on. “When you come to think of it, it’s a rather Jewish side of my nature coming out,” he added ironically, contracting his pupils as though he had to measure out for the microscope an infinitesimal quantity of “Jewish blood,” and as might (but never would) have said a great French nobleman who among his ancestors, all Christian, might nevertheless have numbered Samuel Bernard,181 or farther back still, the Blessed Virgin from whom, it is said, the Lévy family claim descent. “I rather like,” he continued, “to find room in my feelings for the share, fairly slight moreover, that may be ascribed to my Jewish origin.” He made this statement because it seemed to him at once clever and courageous to speak the truth about his race, a truth which at the same time he managed to water down to a remarkable extent, like misers who decide to pay their debts but have not the courage to pay more than half. This kind of deceit that consists in having the audacity to proclaim the truth, but only after mixing with it an ample measure of lies that falsify it, is more widespread than people think, and even among those who do not habitually practice it certain crises in life, especially those in which love is at stake, give them occasion to engage in it. All these confidential diatribes by Bloch to Saint-­L oup against me and to me against Saint-­L oup ended in an invitation to dinner. I am by no means sure that he did not first make an attempt to secure Saint-­L oup by himself. It would have been so like Bloch to do so that probably he did; but if so, success did not crown his effort, for it was to Saint-­L oup and me that Bloch said one day: “Dear master, and you, O horseman beloved of Ares,182 de Saint-­ Loup-­en-­Bray, tamer of horses, since I have encountered you by

181. Samuel Bernard (1651–1739) was a financier to whom the public treasury turned for aid several times during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV. Contrary to the assertion of several of his biographers—and to what the Narrator apparently believes—Bernard was not Jewish but Protestant. In 1685, he was among sixty-­three noted businessmen who abjured Protestantism. 182. In Greek mythology, Ares, son of Zeus and Hera, is the god of war. He is the counterpart of the Roman god, Mars, tamer of horses.

Place-Names: The Place 355

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 183. Amphitrite is the mythological goddess of the sea, daughter of Oceanus and wife of Poseidon. In poetry, her name is synonymous with the sea. 184. This is a likely reference to Gaston Menier, whose family had vast cocoa plantations in Nicaragua and had made a fortune producing chocolate. Gaston’s yacht Ariane was famous. In June 1909, he hosted a lunch on board for Kaiser Wilhelm II and Prince de Bülow. 185. Poet José-­Maria de Heredia (1842– 1905) was born in Cuba. An admirer of Leconte de Lisle, he was one of the first Parnassians (see note 114.) His most famous work is Les Trophées (1893), a work that consists of 118 sonnets, considered to be among the most beautiful in French literature. Heredia was elected to the Académie Française in 1894.

356 Place-Names: The Place

the shore of Amphitrite,183 resounding with foam, hard by the tents of the swift-­shipped Meniers,184 will both of you come to dinner any day this week with my illustrious sire, of blameless heart?” He proffered this invitation because he desired to attach himself more closely to Saint-­L oup, who would, he hoped, secure him the right of entry into aristocratic circles. Formed by me for myself, this ambition would have seemed to Bloch the mark of the most hideous snobbishness, quite in keeping with the opinion that he already held of a whole side of my nature that he did not regard—or had not regarded until now at least—as its principal side; but the same ambition in himself seemed to him the proof of a finely developed curiosity in a mind anxious to carry out certain social explorations from which he might perhaps glean some literary benefit. M. Bloch père, when his son had told him that he was going to bring one of his friends in to dinner, and had in a sarcastic but self-­satisfied tone enunciated the name and title of that friend: “The Marquis de Saint-­L oup-­en-­Bray,” had been thrown into great commotion. “The Marquis de Saint-­L oup-­en-­Bray! I’ll be jiggered!” he had exclaimed, using the oath that was with him the strongest indication of social deference. And he cast at a son capable of having formed such an acquaintance an admiring gaze that seemed to say: “He is truly astounding. Can this prodigy be indeed a child of mine?” which gave my friend as much pleasure as if his monthly allowance had been increased by fifty francs. For Bloch was not in his element at home and felt that his father treated him like a black sheep because of his lifelong admiration for Leconte de Lisle and Heredia185 and other “Bohemians.” But to have got to know Saint-­L oup-­en-­Bray, whose father had been chairman of the Suez Canal board (“I’ll be jiggered!”) was an indisputable “score.” What a pity, indeed, that they had left in Paris, for fear of its being broken on the journey, the stereoscope. Alone among men, M. Bloch père had the skill, or at least the right, to use it. He did this, moreover, on rare occasions only, and then to good purpose, on evenings when there was a gala affair, with hired menservants. So that from these stereoscope sessions there

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower emanated, for those who were present, as it were a special distinction, a privileged position, and for the master of the house who gave them, a prestige such as talent confers on a man—which could not have been greater had the photographs been taken by M. Bloch himself and the apparatus his own invention. “You weren’t invited to Salomon’s yesterday?” one of the family would ask another. “No! I wasn’t one of the elect. What was going on?” “Oh, a great to-­do, the stereoscope, the whole box of tricks!” “Indeed! If they had the stereoscope I’m sorry I wasn’t there; they say Salomon is quite amazing when he works it.” “It can’t be helped,” said M. Bloch now to his son, “it would be a mistake to let him have everything at once; this way he’ll have something to look forward to.” He had actually thought, in his paternal affection and in the hope of touching his son’s heart, of sending for the instrument. But there was not time, or rather they had thought there would not be; for we were obliged to put off the dinner because Saint-­L oup could not leave the hotel, where he was waiting for an uncle who was coming to spend a few days with Mme de Villeparisis. Since he was greatly addicted to physical culture, and especially to long walks, it was largely on foot, spending the night in wayside farms, that this uncle was to make the journey from the château in which he was staying, and so the precise date of his arrival at Balbec was by no means certain. And Saint-­L oup, afraid to stir out of doors, even entrusted me with the duty of taking to Incarville, where the nearest telegraph office was, the messages that he sent every day to his mistress. The uncle for whom we were waiting was called Palamède, a name that had come down to him from his ancestors the Princes of Sicily.186 And later on when I found, as I read history, belonging to this or that podesta or Prince of the Church,187 the same given name, a fine Renaissance medal—some said a genuine antique—that had always remained in the family, having passed from generation to generation from the Vatican cabinet to the uncle of my friend, I felt the pleasure that is reserved for those who, unable from lack of means to start a medal collection or a picture gallery, look out for old names

186. The Kingdom of Sicily was founded in the twelfth century by Norman knights, descendants of the Vikings, who in the eleventh century had recaptured Sicily from the Arabs. The kingdom, which lasted until 1816, included the lower half of the Italian peninsula. 187. A podesta (from Latin potestas, power) was a chief magistrate in a medieval Italian municipality. The term Prince of the Church is used almost exclusively for cardinals, although it may be applied to other high-­ranking clergy­men.

Place-Names: The Place 357

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 188. A customary or custumal is a book containing laws and usages or customs. 189. In Greek mythology, the three Graces are minor goddesses who incarnate grace and beauty and bring joy to men. Hesiod mentions three, and in art they are most often represented as a trio.

358 Place-Names: The Place

(names of localities, instructive and picturesque as an old map, a bird’s-­eye view, a signboard or a customary,188 baptismal names, in which rings out and is plainly heard, in their fine French endings, the defect of speech, the intonation of an ethnic vulgarity, the corrupt pronunciation by which our ancestors made Latin and Saxon words undergo lasting mutilations that in due course became the august lawmakers of our grammar books) and, in short, by drawing upon these collections of ancient sonorities, give themselves concerts like the people who acquire violas da gamba and violas d’amour in order to perform the music of bygone days on ancient instruments. Saint-­L oup told me that even in the most exclusive aristocratic society his Uncle Palamède had the further distinction of being particularly difficult to approach, disdainful, obsessed with his nobility, forming with his brother’s wife and a few other chosen persons what was known as the Phoenix Club. Even there his insolence was so dreaded that it had happened more than once that society people who had been eager to meet him and had applied to his own brother for an introduction had met with a refusal: “Really, you mustn’t ask me to introduce you to my brother Palamède. Even if my wife and all of us were to do our best for you, it would do no good. Or else you’d run the risk of his being rude to you, and I wouldn’t like that.” At the Jockey Club he had, with a few of his friends, marked a list of two hundred members whom they would never allow to be introduced to them. And in the Comte de Paris’s circle he was known by the nickname of “The Prince” because of his elegance and his pride. Saint-­L oup told me about his uncle’s early life, now long since past. Every day he used to take women to a bachelor apartment that he shared with two of his friends, as handsome as he, on account of which they were known as “the three Graces.”189 “One day, a man who is now one of the most prominent figures of the Faubourg Saint-­Germain, as Balzac would have said, but who at a rather unfortunate period of his early life displayed bizarre tastes, asked my uncle to let him come to this apartment. But no sooner had he arrived than it was not to the ladies but to

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower my Uncle Palamède that he began to make overtures. My uncle pretended not to understand, then sent for his two friends on some pretext; they appeared on the scene, seized the offender, stripped him, thrashed him till he bled, and then with twenty degrees of frost outside kicked him into the street, where he was found more dead than alive; so much so that the police started an inquiry that the poor devil had the greatest difficulty in getting them to abandon. My uncle would never go in for such cruel methods now and you can’t imagine the number of working-­class men to whom he, who is so haughty with society people, has shown his affection, taken under his wing, even if he is repaid with ingratitude. It may be a servant who has looked after him in a hotel, for whom he will find a place in Paris, or a farm laborer whom he will pay to have taught a trade. That is really the rather nice side of his character, in contrast to his social side.” Saint-­L oup indeed belonged to that type of young men of fashion, situated at an altitude at which it has been possible to cultivate such expressions as: “What is really rather nice about him, his rather nice side,” precious seeds that produce very rapidly a way of looking at things in which one counts oneself as nothing and the “people” as everything; the exact opposite, in a word, of plebeian pride. “It seems that it’s quite impossible to imagine how he set the tone, how he laid down the law for the whole of society when he was a young man. As for himself, in every circumstance he did what seemed most agreeable, what was most convenient to himself, but immediately it was imitated by all the snobs. If he felt thirsty at the theater and had a drink brought to him in his box, a week later the little sitting rooms behind all the boxes would be filled with refreshments. One very rainy summer when he had a touch of rheumatism, he ordered an overcoat of a loose but warm vicuna wool, which is generally used only in traveling blankets, and wore it even though it had blue and orange stripes. The big tailors at once received orders from all their customers for blue overcoats, fringed and shaggy. If for some reason, he wanted to remove every trace of ceremony from a dinner in a château where he was spending the day, and, to under-

Place-Names: The Place 359

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 190. See “Madame Swann at Home,” note 217, Proust, Correspondance, 15: 83–85, and Carter, Marcel Proust.

360 Place-Names: The Place

line this distinction, had come without evening clothes and sat down to table in the jacket he had been wearing that afternoon, it became the fashion, in the country, to dine wearing a jacket. If to eat a cake, he used a fork instead of his spoon, or a special implement of his own invention that he had had made for him by a silversmith, or his fingers, it was no longer permissible to do otherwise. He wanted to hear certain Beethoven quartets again (for with all his preposterous ideas he is far from being stupid and is very talented) and arranged for some musicians to come and play them to him and a few friends once a week.190 The ultrafashionable thing that season was to give small parties where one listened to chamber music. I’m quite sure he hasn’t led a boring life. As handsome as he was, he must have had any number of women! I couldn’t tell you exactly which ones, because he’s very discreet. But I do know that he was very unfaithful to my poor aunt. Not that that prevented his being always perfectly charming to her, and her adoring him; he was in mourning for her for years. When he’s in Paris, he still goes to the cemetery nearly every day.” The morning after Robert had told me all these things about his uncle, while he waited for him (as it happened, in vain), as I was passing the casino alone on my way back to the hotel, I had the sensation of being watched by somebody who was not far off. I turned my head and saw a man of about forty, very tall and rather stout, with a very black mustache, who, nervously slapping the leg of his trousers with a switch, was staring at me, his eyes dilated with attention. At times those eyes were shot through by a look of intense activity such as the sight of a person whom they do not know excites only in men to whom, for whatever reason, it suggests thoughts that would not occur to anyone else—for example, madmen or spies. He gave me a wink that was at once bold, prudent, rapid, and profound, like a last shot that one fires at an enemy when one turns to flee, and, after first looking all around him, suddenly adopting a distracted and haughty air, by an abrupt revolution of his whole body he turned to examine a playbill in the reading of which he became absorbed, while he

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower hummed a tune and fingered the moss rose in his buttonhole.191 He drew from his pocket a notebook in which he appeared to be taking down the title of the performance that was announced, looked two or three times at his watch, pulled down over his eyes a black straw hat the brim of which he extended with his hand held out over it like a visor, as though to see whether someone was at last coming, made the perfunctory gesture of annoyance by which people mean to show that they are tired of waiting, although they never make it when they are really waiting, then pushing back his hat and exposing a scalp cropped close except at the sides, where he allowed a pair of waved “pigeon’s-­wings” to grow quite long, he exhaled the loud panting breath of people who are not too hot but would like it to be thought that they are too hot. He gave me the impression of a hotel crook who had been watching my grandmother and me for some days, and planning to rob us, had just discovered that I had surprised him in the act of spying; to put me off the scent, perhaps he was seeking only, by his new attitude, to express distraction and detachment, but it was with an exaggeration so aggressive that his object appeared to be—at least as much as the dissipating of the suspicions that I must have had of him—to avenge a humiliation that quite unconsciously I must have inflicted on him, to give me the idea not so much that he had not seen me as that I was an object of too little importance to attract his attention. He threw back his shoulders with an air of bravado, pursed his lips, pushed up his mustache, and adjusted his gaze into something that was indifferent, harsh, almost insulting. So effectively that the singularity of his expression made me take him at one moment for a thief and at another for a lunatic. And yet his scrupulously ordered attire was far more sober and far more simple than that of any of the summer visitors I saw at Balbec, and reassured me about my own jacket, so often humiliated by the dazzling and commonplace whiteness of their seaside attire. But my grandmother was coming toward me, we took a turn together, and I was waiting for her, an hour later, in front of the hotel into which she had gone for a moment, when I saw emerge from it

191. This trait belonged to Comte Robert de Montesquiou, one of the principal models for Charlus, and like him an arbiter of fashion. On June 3, 1907, Proust wrote Montesquiou and evoked their first meeting in 1893 in Madeleine Lemaire’s salon on the rue Monceau: “In the now distant era when the first fine evenings of spring brought us together at the rue Monceau, as we took off our overcoats beneath the arborescent lilacs, I remember seeing you with a ravishing flower in your button-­hole, at a time when it wasn’t fashionable to wear one, but became so because of the elegance with which you sported it. You told me then that it was a moss rose.” Proust, Selected Letters, 2: 287.

Place-Names: The Place 361

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower Mme de Villeparisis with Robert de Saint-­L oup and the stranger who had stared at me so intently outside the casino. Swift as a lightning flash his look shot through me, just as at the moment when I first noticed him, and returned, as though he had not seen me, to hover, slightly lowered, before his eyes, dulled, like the neutral look that feigns to see nothing without and is incapable of reporting anything to the mind within, the look that expresses merely the satisfaction of feeling around it the eyelids that it parts with its beatific roundness, the devout and sanctimonious look that we see on the faces of certain hypocrites, the smug look on those of certain fools. I saw that he had changed his clothes. The suit he was wearing was darker even than the other; and no doubt this was because true elegance lies nearer to simplicity than the false; but there was something more; from close at hand one felt that if color was almost entirely absent from these garments it was not because he who had banished it from them was indifferent to it but rather because for some reason he forbade himself the enjoyment of it. And the sobriety they displayed seemed to be of the kind that comes from obedience to a rule of diet rather than from a lack of appetite. A dark green thread harmonized, in the fabric of his trousers with the stripe on his socks, with a refinement that betrayed the vivacity of a taste that was everywhere else subdued, to which this single concession had been made out of tolerance, while a spot of red on his necktie was imperceptible, like a liberty one dares not take. “How are you? Let me introduce my nephew, the Baron de Guermantes,” Mme de Villeparisis said to me, while the stranger without looking at me, muttering a vague “Charmed!” which he followed with a “H’m, h’m, h’m” to make his affability seem somehow forced, and doubling back his little finger, forefinger and thumb, held out to me his middle and ring fingers, destitute of any rings, which I clasped through his suede glove; then, without lifting his eyes to my face, he turned toward Mme de Villeparisis. “Good gracious; I’ll be forgetting my own name next!” she ex-

362 Place-Names: The Place

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower claimed. “Here am I calling you Baron de Guermantes. Let me introduce the Baron de Charlus. After all, it’s not a very serious mistake,” she went on, “for you’re a thorough Guermantes all the same.” By this time my grandmother had reappeared, and we all set out together. Saint-­L oup’s uncle declined to honor me not only with a word but even a look. If he stared strangers out of countenance (and during this short promenade he two or three times hurled his terrible and searching scrutiny like a sounding line at insignificant people of the most humble extraction who happened to pass), on the other hand he never for a moment, if I was to judge by myself, looked at people whom he knew, just as a detective on a secret mission might except his personal friends from his professional surveillance. Leaving my grandmother, Mme de Villeparisis, and him to talk to one another, I fell behind with Saint-­L oup. “Tell me, am I right in thinking I heard Mme de Villeparisis say just now to your uncle that he was a Guermantes?” “Oh yes, naturally, he is Palamède de Guermantes.” “Not the same Guermantes who have a château near Combray, and claim descent from Geneviève de Brabant?”192 “Most certainly: my uncle, who is the very last word in heraldry, would tell you that our cry, our war cry, which was changed afterward to ‘Passavant,’ was originally ‘Combraysis,’”193 he said with a laugh in order not to appear to be priding himself on this prerogative of a cry, which only the quasi-­royal houses, the great chiefs of feudal bands enjoyed. “It’s his brother who is the current owner of the château.” And so she was indeed related, and quite closely, to the Guermantes, this Mme de Villeparisis who had so long been for me the lady who had given me a duck filled with chocolates when I was little, more remote then from the Guermantes way than if she had been shut up somewhere on the Méséglise way,194 less brilliant, less highly placed by me than was the Combray optician, and who now suddenly went through one of those fantastic rises in value,

192. The medieval legend of Geneviève de Brabant was the basis for Jacques Offenbach’s 1859 opera bouffe Geneviève de Brabant. The Guermantes family descends from a branch of the Brabants. See Swann’s Way, 10, note 9. 193. “Passavant” indicates that the Guermantes yield to no one (literally: pass before), “Combraysis” that the family seat is in Combray. In heraldry, the cry or cri d’armes is a motto or slogan, typically displayed on a scroll beneath the shield or escutcheon. 194. In other words, if she had been a commoner and not a Guermantes. The Guermantes way represents that of the landed aristocracy. As noted already, Méséglise is the other name for Swann’s way, that of the bourgeoisie. For the two ways, see Swann’s Way, 153.

Place-Names: The Place 363

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 195. Ovid (43 b.c.–­c. a.d. 18) is a Latin poet who, in the Metamorphoses, treats in a burlesque manner the transformations recorded in legend from the creation of man to the time of Julius Caesar, whose change into a star is the last of the series. 196. Eugène Carrière (1849–1906) painted many portraits and family scenes, sacred or profane. Among Proust’s acquaintances whose portraits Carrière painted are Anatole France and Edmond de Goncourt. For Whistler, see note 15. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599–1660) was a Spanish painter and an especially fine portraitist. In Proust’s day, the Louvre exhibited his portraits of two infantas (daughters of ruling Iberian monarchs), Margarita Maria and Margarita Teresa.

364 Place-Names: The Place

parallel to the depreciations, no less unforeseen, of other objects in our possession, which—rise and fall alike—introduce in our youth and in those periods of our life in which a trace of youth persists changes as numerous as the Metamorphoses of Ovid.195 “Doesn’t that château contain busts of all the former lords of Guermantes?” “Yes, and a lovely sight they are,” Saint-­L oup said ironically. “Between you and me, I look on all that sort of thing as rather a joke. But they do have at Guermantes, which is a little more interesting, a quite touching portrait of my aunt by Carrière. It’s as fine as Whistler or Velázquez,”196 went on Saint-­L oup, who in his neophyte zeal was not always very exact about degrees of greatness. “There are also some moving paintings by Gustave Moreau. My aunt is the niece of your friend Mme de Villeparisis; she was brought up by her, and married her cousin, who is also a nephew of my Aunt Villeparisis, the present Duc de Guermantes.” “And then who is this uncle?” “He bears the title of Baron de Charlus. Normally, when my great-­uncle died, my Uncle Palamède ought to have taken the title of Prince des Laumes, which was that of his brother before he became Duc de Guermantes, for in that family they change their names as you’d change your shirt. But my uncle has peculiar ideas about all that sort of thing. And as he feels that people are rather apt to overdo the Italian duchies and Spanish grandees, etc., business nowadays, and although he had four or five titles of “prince” to choose from, he has remained Baron de Charlus, as a protest and with an apparent simplicity that really covers a good deal of pride. ‘In these days,’ he says, ‘everybody is prince something-­or-­ other; one really must have a title that will distinguish one; I will call myself prince when I wish to travel incognito.’ According to him there is no older title than Baron de Charlus; to prove to you that it’s earlier than the Montmorency title, though they used to claim, quite wrongly, to be the premier barons of France when they were only premier in the Île-­de-­France, where their fief was, my uncle will explain to you for hours on end and enjoy doing

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower so, because, although he’s a most intelligent man, really gifted, he regards that sort of thing as quite a lively topic of conversation,” Saint-­L oup said with a smile. “But as I am not like him, you mustn’t ask me to talk pedigrees; I know nothing more deadly, more outdated; really, life’s too short.” I now recognized in the hard look that had made me turn around a short time ago outside the casino the same that I had seen fixed on me at Tansonville, at the moment when Mme Swann called Gilberte away.197 “But among all those mistresses that you told me your uncle M. de Charlus had had, wasn’t one of them Mme Swann?” “Oh, not at all! That is to say, he’s a great friend of Swann’s, and has always stood up for him. But no one has ever suggested that he was his wife’s lover. You would cause a great sensation in Paris society if people thought you believed that.” I dared not reply that it would have caused an even greater sensation in Combray society if people had thought that I did not believe it. My grandmother was delighted with M. de Charlus. No doubt he attached an extreme importance to all questions of birth and social position, and my grandmother had noticed this, but without any trace of the severity that as a rule embodies a secret envy and irritation at seeing another person enjoy advantages that one would like but cannot oneself possess. Since, on the contrary, my grandmother, content with her lot and never for a moment regretting that she did not live in a more brilliant society, employed only her intellect in observing the eccentricities of M. de Charlus, she spoke of Saint-­L oup’s uncle with that detached, smiling, almost affectionate benevolence with which we reward the object of our disinterested observation for the pleasure that it gives us, all the more so because this time her object was a person whose pretentions, if not legitimate, at any rate picturesque, made him stand out in rather vivid contrast to the people whom she generally had occasion to see. But it was above all in consideration of his intelligence and sensitivity, qualities that it was easy to see

197. See Swann’s Way, 162.

Place-Names: The Place 365

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 198. Raffaelo Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael (1483–1520), Italian painter, sculptor, and architect. François Boucher (1703–70), painter, engraver, and decorator. In 1765, Boucher became the “first painter to the king” and director of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. Among his best-­known portraits is the one of Madame de Pompadour. 199. When used to designate private residences, hôtel originally meant the city residence of a great lord. The closest English equivalent is mansion. 200. “Modern style” is in English in the original: a decorative style, also known as Art Nouveau, that was popular, beginning with the Exposition of 1900, until about 1925. It features stylized flowers, sculptured eff