He remembers being in his room in the family's country home in Combray, while downstairs his parents entertain their friend Charles Swann, an elegant man of Jewish origin with strong ties to society.
Due to Swann's visit, the Narrator is deprived of his mother's goodnight kiss, but he gets her to spend the night reading to him. This memory is the only one he has of Combray, until years later the taste of a madeleine cake dipped in tea inspires a nostalgic incident of involuntary memory. He remembers having a similar snack as a child with his invalid aunt Leonie, and it leads to more memories of Combray. He meets an elegant "lady in pink" while visiting his uncle Adolphe. He develops a love of the theater, especially the actress Berma, and his awkward Jewish friend Bloch introduces him to the works of the writer Bergotte.
He learns Swann made an unsuitable marriage but has social ambitions for his beautiful daughter Gilberte. Legrandin, a snobbish friend of the family, tries to avoid introducing the boy to his well-to-do sister. The Narrator describes two routes for country walks the child and his parents often enjoyed: the way past Swann's home , and the Guermantes way, both containing scenes of natural beauty. Ask Cottard or Brichot or any of them if he was ever treated here as a great man. He would have laughed at it himself.
I taught him how to arrange his flowers; at the beginning he had no idea of it. He never knew how to make a bouquet. He had no natural taste for selection. I had to say to him, "No, do not paint that; it is not worth while, paint this. If he had listened to us for the arrangement of his life as he did for the arrangement of his flowers, and if he had not made that horrible marriage! Upon that she talks to us about the admirable portrait which Elstir made for her, a portrait of the Collard family, a portrait given by her to the Luxembourg when she quarrelled with the painter, confessing that it was she who had given him the idea of painting the man in evening dress in order to obtain that beautiful expanse of linen, and she who chose the velvet dress of the woman, a dress offering support in the midst of all the fluttering of the light shades of the curtains, of the flowers, of the fruit, of the gauze dresses of the little girls like ballet-dancers' skirts.
It was she, too, who gave him the idea of painting her in the act of arranging her hair, an idea for which the artist was afterwards honoured, which consisted, in short, in painting the woman, not as though on show, but surprised in the intimacy of her everyday life. A collection which has not its equal in the world,' he asserts and that I ought to go and see it, a collection inherited by the celebrated Duc who was the favourite nephew of Mme. My brother and I used to be so fond of him in old days when he was a charming boy called Basin, which as a matter of fact, is the first name of the Duc.
Upon that, Doctor Cottard, with that delicacy which reveals the man of distinction, returns to the history of the pearls and informs us that catastrophes of that kind produce in the mind of people distortions similar to those one remarks in organic matter and relates in really more philosophical terms than most physicians can command, how the footman of Mme. Verdurin herself, through the horror of this fire where he nearly perished, had become a different man, his hand-writing having so changed that on seeing the first letter which his masters, then in Normandy, received from him, announcing the event, they believed it was the invention of a practical joker.
And not only was his handwriting different, Cottard asserts that from having been a completely sober man he had become an abominable drunkard whom Mme. Verdurin had been obliged to discharge. This suggestive dissertation continued, on a gracious sign from the mistress of the house, from the dining-room into the Venetian smoking-room where Cottard told me he had witnessed actual duplications of personality, giving as example the case of one of his patients whom he amiably offers to bring to see me, in whose case Cottard has merely to touch his temples to usher him into a second life, a life in which he remembers nothing of the other, so much so that, a very honest man in this one, he had actually been arrested several times for thefts committed in the other during which he had been nothing less than a disgraceful scamp.
Upon which Mme. Verdurin acutely remarks that medicine could furnish subjects truer than a theatre where the humour of an imbroglio is founded upon pathological mistakes, which from thread to needle brought Mme. Cottard to relate that a similar notion had been made use of by an amateur who is the prime favourite at her children's evening parties, the Scotchman Stevenson, a name which forced from Swann the peremptory affirmation: 'But Stevenson is a great writer, I can assure you, M.
For he had a disease of the liver and it is of that he died,' concluded the doctor. I stopped my reading there for I was leaving the following day, moreover, it was an hour when the other master claimed me, he under whose orders we are for half our time. We accomplish the task to which he obliges us with our eyes closed. Every morning he surrenders us to our other master knowing that otherwise we should be unable to yield ourselves to his service.
It would be curious, when our spirit has reopened its eyes, to know what we could have been doing under that master who clouds the minds of his slaves before putting them to his immediate business. The most cunning, before their task is finished, try to peep out surreptitiously. But slumber speedily struggles to efface the traces of what they long to see. And, after all these centuries we know little about it. So I closed the Goncourt journal. Glamour of literature! I wanted to see the Cottards again, to ask them so many details about Elstir, I wanted to go and see if the "Petit Dunkerque" shop still existed, to ask permission to visit that mansion of the Verdurins where I had dined.
But I experienced a vague apprehension. Certainly I did not disguise from myself that I had never known how to listen nor, when I was with others, to observe; to my eyes no old woman exhibited a pearl necklace and my ears heard nothing that was said about it. Nevertheless, I had known these people in my ordinary life, I had often dined with them; whether it was the Verdurins, or the Guermantes, or the Cottards, each had seemed to me as commonplace as did that Basin to my grandmother who little supposed he was the beloved nephew, the charming young hero, of Mme.
All had seemed to me insipid; I remembered the numberless vulgarities of which each one was composed. I resolved to put aside provisionally the objections against literature which these pages of Goncourt had aroused in me. To begin with, in regard to myself, the inability to observe and to listen of which the journal I have quoted had so painfully reminded me was not complete.
There was in me a personage who more or less knew how to observe but he was an intermittent personage who only came to life when some general essence common to many things which are its nourishment and its delight, manifested itself. Then the personage remarked and listened, but only at a certain depth and in such a manner that observation did not profit. Like a geometrician who in divesting things of their material qualities, only sees their linear substratum, what people said escaped me, for that which interested me was not what they wanted to say but the manner in which they said it in so far as it revealed their characters or their absurdities.
Or rather that was an object which had always been my particular aim because I derived specific pleasure from identifying the denominator common to one person and another. It was only when I perceived it that my mind—until then dozing even behind the apparent activity of my conversation the animation of which masked to the outside world a complete mental torpor—started all at once joyously in chase, but that which it then pursued—for example the identity of the Verdurin's salon at diverse places and periods—was situated at half-depth, beyond actual appearance, in a zone somewhat withdrawn.
Also the obvious transferable charm of people escaped me because I no longer retained the faculty of confining myself to it, like the surgeon who, beneath the lustre of a female abdomen, sees the internal disease which is consuming it. It was all very well for me to go out to dinner. I did not see the guests because when I thought I was observing them I was radiographing them. From that it resulted that in collating all the observations I had been able to make about the guests in the course of a dinner, the design of the lines traced by me would form a unity of psychological laws in which the interest pertaining to the discourse of a particular guest occupied no place whatever.
But were my portraits denuded of all merit because I did not compose them merely as portraits?
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If in the domain of painting one portrait represents truths relative to volume, to light, to movement, does that necessarily make it inferior to another quite dissimilar portrait of the same person in which, a thousand details omitted in the first will be minutely related to each other, a second portrait from which it would be concluded that the model was beautiful while that of the first would be considered ugly, which might have a documentary and even historical importance but might not necessarily be an artistic truth.
Again my frivolity the moment when I was with others, made me anxious to please and I desired more to amuse people with my chatter than to learn from listening unless I went out to interrogate someone upon a point of art or unless some jealous suspicion preoccupied me. But I was incapable of seeing a thing unless a desire to do so had been aroused in me by reading; unless it was a thing of which I wanted a previous sketch to confront later with reality.
Even had that page of the Goncourts not enlightened me, I knew how often I had been unable to give my attention to things or to people, whom afterwards, once their image had been presented to me in solitude by an artist, I would have gone leagues and risked death to rediscover. Then my imagination started to work, had begun to paint. And the very thing I had yawned at the year before I desired when I again contemplated it and with anguish said to myself, "Can I never see it again?
What would I not give for it? For perhaps I might have concluded from them that life teaches one to minimise the value of reading and shows us that what the writer exalts for us is not worth much; but I could equally well conclude the contrary, that reading enhances the value of life, a value we have not realised until books make us aware of how great that value is.
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Strictly, we can console ourselves for not having much enjoyed the society of a Vinteuil or of a Bergotte, because the awkward middleclassness of the one, the unbearable defects of the other prove nothing against them, since their genius is manifested by their works; and the same applies to the pretentious vulgarity of an Elstir in early days. Thus the journal of the Goncourts made me discover that Elstir was none other than the "M. Tiche" who had once inflicted upon Swann such exasperating lectures at the Verdurins. But what man of genius has not adopted the irritating conversational manner of artists of his own circle before acquiring as Elstir did, though it happens rarely superior taste.
Are not the letters of Balzac, for instance, smeared with vulgar terms which Swann would rather have died than use? Therefore, whether or no memoirs are wrong to endow with charm a society which has displeased us, is a problem of small importance, since, even if the writer of these memoirs is mistaken, that proves nothing against the value of a society which produces such genius and which existed no less in the works of Vinteuil, of Elstir and of Bergotte.
Quite at the other extremity of experience, when I remarked that the very curious anecdotes which are the inexhaustible material of the journal of the Goncourts and a diversion for solitary evenings, had been related to him by those guests whom in reading his pages we should have envied him knowing, it was not so very difficult to explain why they had left no trace of interesting memory in my mind.
In spite of the ingenuousness of Goncourt, who supposed that the interest of these anecdotes lay in the distinction of the man who told them, it can very well be that mediocre people might have experienced during their lives or heard tell of curious things which they related in their turn. Goncourt knew how to listen as he knew how to observe, and I do not. Moreover, it was necessary to judge all these happenings one by one. One must remember that Basin was at that time seven years old, that the writer was his aunt and that even husbands who are going to divorce their wives a few months later are loud in praise of them.
One of the most charming poems of Sainte-Beuve is consecrated to the apparition beside a fountain of a young child crowned with gifts and graces, the youthful Mlle. What may perhaps be regarded as more disturbing, is something in between, personages in whose case what is said implies more than a memory which is able to retain a curious anecdote yet without one's having, as in the case of the Vinteuils, the Bergottes, the resource of judging them by their work; they have not created, they have only—to our great astonishment, for we found them so mediocre—inspired.
Again it happens that the salon which, in public galleries, gives the greatest impression of elegance in great paintings of the Renaissance and onwards, is that of a little ridiculous bourgeoise whom after seeing the picture, I might, if I had not known her, have yearned to approach in the flesh, hoping to learn from her precious secrets that the painter's art did not reveal to me in his canvas, though her majestic velvet train and laces formed a passage of painting comparable to the most splendid of Titians. The awakening of love of beauty in the artist who can paint everything may be stimulated, the elegance in which he could find such beautiful motifs may be supplied, by people rather richer than himself—at whose houses he would find what he was not accustomed to in his studio of an unknown genius selling his canvases for fifty francs; for instance, a drawing-room upholstered in old silk, many lamps, beautiful flowers and fruit, handsome dresses—relatively modest folk, or who would appear that to people of fashion who are not even aware of the others' existence who for that very reason are more in a position to make the acquaintance of an obscure artist, to appreciate him, to invite him and buy his pictures, than aristocrats who get themselves painted like a Pope or a Prime Minister by academic painters.
Would not the poetry of an elegant interior and of the beautiful dresses of our period be discovered by posterity in the drawing-room of the publisher Charpentier by Renoir rather than in the portrait of the Princesse de Sagan or of the Comtesse de La Rochefoucauld by Cotte or Chaplin?
The artists who have given us the most resplendent visions of elegance have collected the elements at the homes of people who were rarely the leaders of fashion of their period; for the latter are seldom painted by the unknown depositary of a beauty they are unable to distinguish on his canvases, disguised as it is by the interposition of a vulgar burlesque of superannuated grace which floats before the public eye in the same way as the subjective visions which an invalid believes are actually before him.
Perhaps, however, this deceptive side, this artificial illumination, only exists in memoirs when they are too recent, too close to reputations, whether intellectual or fashionable, which will quickly vanish, and if erudition then tries to react against this burial, will it succeed in dispelling one out of a thousand of these oblivions which keep on accumulating?
These ideas tending some to diminish, others to increase my regret that I had no gift for literature, no longer occupied my mind during the long years I spent as an invalid in a sanatorium far from Paris and I had altogether renounced the project of writing until the sanatorium was unable to find a medical staff at the beginning of I then returned, as will be seen, to a very different Paris from the Paris where I returned in August, , when I underwent medical examination, after which I went back to the sanatorium.
On one of the first evenings after my return to Paris in , wanting to hear about the only thing that interested me, the war, I went out after dinner to see Mme. Verdurin, for she was, together with Mme. Bontemps, one of the queens of that Paris of the war which reminded one of the Directory.
As the leavening by a small quantity of yeast appears to be a spontaneous germination, young women were running about all day wearing cylindrical turbans on their heads as though they were contemporaries of Mme. Tallien, As a proof of public spirit they wore straight Egyptian tunics, dark and very "warlike" above their short skirts, they were shod in sandals, recalling Talma's buskin or high leggings like those of our beloved combatants. It was, they said, because they did not forget it was their duty to rejoice the eyes of those combatants that they still adorned themselves not only with flou dresses but also with jewels evoking the armies by their decorative theme if indeed their material did not come from the armies and had not been worked by them.
Instead of Egyptian ornaments recalling the campaign of Egypt, they wore rings or bracelets made out of fragments of shell or beltings of the "seventy-fives", cigarette-lighters consisting of two English half-pennies to which a soldier in his dug-out had succeeded in giving a patina so beautiful that the profile of Queen Victoria might have been traced on it by Pisanello. The Louvre and all the museums were closed and when one read at the head of an article "Sensational Exhibition" one might be certain it was not an exhibition of pictures but of dresses destined to quicken "those delicate artistic delights of which Parisian women have been too long deprived.
So, thinking of our combatants in the trenches who dream of more comfort and coquetry for the dear one at home, let us unceasingly labour to introduce into the creation of dresses that novelty which responds to the needs of the moment. Fashion, it must be conceded, is especially associated with the English, consequently with allied firms and this year the really smart thing is the robe-tonneau the charming freedom of which gives to all our young women an amusing and distinguished cachet.
At the present time dresses made at home are preferred to those made in several series by great dress-makers, because each one is evidence of the intelligence, taste and individuality of the maker. For that matter it was not only the high cylindrical hats which were new but also the faces they surmounted. The ladies in the new hats were young women come one hardly knew whence, who had become the flower of fashion, some during the last six months, others during the last two years, others again during the last four.
These differences were as important for them as, when I made my first appearance in society, were those between two families like the Guermantes and the Rochefoucaulds with three or four centuries of ancient lineage. The lady who had known the Guermantes since considered another who had been introduced to them in a parvenue, gave her the nod of a dowager duchess while inspecting her through her lorgnon , and avowed with a significant gesture that no one in society knew whether the lady was even married. These newcomers whom young men considered decidedly elderly and whom certain old men who had not been exclusively in the best society, seemed to recognise as not being so new as all that, did something more than offer society the diversions of political conversation and music in suitable intimacy; it had to be they who supplied such diversions for, so that things should seem new, whether they are so or not, in art or in medicine as in society, new names are necessary in certain respects they were very new indeed.
Thus Mme. Mark's nor the palaces, all that had given, me delight and which she cheapened, but the effect of the search-lights in the sky, searchlights about which she gave information supported by figures. Thus from age to age a sort of realism is reborn out of reaction against the art which has been admired till then.
The Sainte-Euverte salon was a back number and the presence there of the greatest artists or the most influential ministers attracted no one. On the other hand, people rushed to hear a word uttered by the Secretary of one Government, by the Under-Secretary of another, at the houses of the new ladies in turbans whose winged and chattering invasions filled Paris.
The ladies of the first Directory had a queen who was young and beautiful called Mme. Tallien; those of the second had two who were old and ugly and who were called Mme. Verdurin and Mme. Who reproached Mme. Bontemps because her husband had been bitterly criticised by the Echo de Paris for the part he played in the Dreyfus affair? As the whole Chamber had at an earlier period become revisionist, it was necessarily among the old revisionists and the former socialists that the party of social order, of religious toleration and of military efficiency had to be recruited. Bontemps would have been detested in former days because the anti-patriots were then given the name of Dreyfusards, but that name had soon been forgotten and had been replaced by that of the adversary of the three-year law.
Bontemps on the other hand, was one of the authors of that law, therefore he was a patriot. In society and this social phenomenon is only the application of a much more general psychological law whether novelties are reprehensible or not, they only excite consternation until they have been assimilated and defended by reassuring elements. As it had been with Dreyfusism, so it was with the marriage of Saint-Loup and Odette's daughter, a marriage people protested against at first. Now that people met everyone they knew at the Saint-Loups', Gilberte might have had the morals of Odette herself, people would have gone there just the same and would have agreed with Gilberte in condemning undigested moral novelties like a dowager-duchess.
Dreyfusism was now integrated in a series of highly respectable and customary things. As to asking what it amounted to in itself, people now thought as little about accepting as formerly about condemning it. It no longer shocked anyone and that was all about it. People remembered it as little as they do whether the father of a young girl they know was once a thief or not. At most they might say: "The man you're talking about is the brother-in-law or somebody of the same name, there was never anything against this one.
In any case, let us be merciful to sinners. The oblivion allotted to Dreyfus was a fortiori extended to Dreyfusards. Besides, there was no one else in politics, since everyone had to be Dreyfusards at one time or another if they wanted to be in the Government, even those who represented the contrary of what Dreyfusism had incarnated when it was new and dreadful at the time that Saint-Loup was considered to be going wrong namely, anti-patriotism, irreligion, anarchy, etc.
Thus M. Bontemps' Dreyfusism, invisible and contemplative like that of all politicians, was as little observable as the bones under his skin. No one remembered he had been Dreyfusard, for people of fashion are absentminded and forgetful and also because time had passed which they affected to believe longer than it was and it had become fashionable to say that the pre-war period was separated from the war-period by a gulf as deep, implying as much duration, as a geological period; and even Brichot the nationalist in; alluding to the Dreyfus affair spoke of "those pre-historic days".
The truth is that the great change brought about by the war was in inverse ratio to the value of the minds it touched, at all events, up to a certain point; for, quite at the bottom, the utter fools, the voluptuaries, did not bother about whether there was a war or not; while quite at the top, those who create their own world, their own interior life, are little concerned with the importance of events. What profoundly modifies the course of their thought is rather something of no apparent importance which overthrows the order of time and makes them live in another period of their lives. Bontemps did not want to hear peace spoken of until Germany had been divided up as it was during the Middle Ages, the doom of the house of Hohenzollern pronounced, and William II sentenced to be shot.
In a word, he was what Brichot called a Diehard; this was the finest brevet of citizenship one could give him. Doubtless, for the three first days Mme. Bontemps had been somewhat bewildered to find herself among people who asked Mme. Verdurin to present her to them, and it was in a slightly acid tone that Mme. Verdurin replied: "the Comte, my dear," when Mme. Bontemps said to her, "Was that not the Duc d'Haussonville you just introduced to me?
After the fourth day she began to be firmly established in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. Sometimes she could be observed among the fragments of an obscure society which as little surprised those who knew the egg from which Mme. Bontemps had been hatched as the debris of a shell around a chick. Verdurin, in conversation, when she communicated news, used "we" in speaking of France: "Now, you see, we exact of the King of Greece that he should retire from the Peloponnese, etc. We shall send him etc.
Our butler, for instance, when the King of Greece was discussed, was able, thanks to the papers, to allude to him like William II, as "Tino", while until now his familiarity with kings had been more ordinary and invented by himself when he called the King of Spain "Fonfonse". One may further observe that the number of people Mme.
Verdurin named "bores" diminished in direct ratio with the social importance of those who made advances to her. By a sort of magical transformation, every bore who came to pay her a visit and solicited an invitation, suddenly became agreeable and intelligent.
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In brief, at the end of a year the number of "bores" was reduced to such proportions that "the dread and unendurableness of being bored" which occurred so often in Mme. Verdurin's conversation and had played such an important part in her life, almost entirely disappeared. Of late, one would have said that this unendurableness of boredom which she had formerly assured me she never felt in her first youth caused her less pain, like headaches and nervous asthmas, which lose their strength as one grows older; and the fear of being bored would doubtless have entirely abandoned Mme.
Verdurin owing to lack of bores, if she had not in some measure replaced them by other recruits amongst the old "faithfuls". Finally, to have done with the duchesses who now frequented Mme. Verdurin, they came there, though they were unaware of it, in search of exactly the same thing as during the Dreyfus period, a fashionable amusement so constituted that its enjoyment satisfied political curiosity and the need of commenting privately upon the incidents read in the newspapers. Verdurin would say, "Come in at five o'clock to talk about the war," as she would have formerly said "to talk about l'affaire and in the interval you shall hear Morel.
He had simply not joined up and was a deserter, but nobody knew it. Another star of the Salon, "Dans-les-choux", had, in spite of his sporting tastes, got himself exempted.
He had become for me so exclusively the author of an admirable work about which I was constantly thinking, that it was only when, by chance, I established a transversal current between two series of souvenirs, that I realised it was he who had brought about Albertine's departure from my house. And again this transversal current ended, so far as those reminiscent relics of Albertine were concerned, in a channel which was dammed in full flow several years back. For I never thought any more about her. It was a channel unfrequented by memories, a line I no longer needed to follow.
On the other hand the works of "Dans-les-choux" were recent and that line of souvenirs was constantly frequented and utilised by my mind. Indeed he was even then very ill and spared himself fatigues other than those which seemed likely to give him pleasure. He only thus classified meeting people as yet unknown to him whom his vivid imagination represented as being potentially different from the rest. He knew his old friends too well, was aware of what could be expected of them and to him they were no longer worth a dangerous and perhaps fatal fatigue.
He was in short a very bad friend. Perhaps, in his taste for new acquaintances, he regained some of the mad daring which he used to display in sport, gambling and the excesses of the table in the old days at Balbec. Each time I saw Mme. Faithful to the aesthetic of her husband, who reacted against Russian ballets, she remarked of the Marquis de Polignac, "He has had his house decorated by Bakst. How can one sleep in it? I should prefer Dubufe. Moreover the Verdurins, through that inevitable progress of aestheticism which ends in biting one's own tail, declared that they could not stand the modern style besides, it came from Munich nor white walls and they only liked old French furniture in a sombre setting.
It was very surprising at this period when Mme. Verdurin could have whom she pleased at her house, to see her making indirect advances to a person she had completely lost sight of, Odette, One thought the latter could add nothing to the brilliant circle which the little group had become. But a prolonged separation, in soothing rancour, sometimes revives friendship. And the phenomenon which makes the dying utter only names formerly familiar to them and causes old people's complaisance with childish memories, has its social equivalent. To succeed in the enterprise of bringing Odette back to her, it must be understood that Mme.
To them she said, "I don't know why she doesn't come here any more. Perhaps she has quarrelled with me, I haven't quarrelled with her. What have I ever done to her? It was at my house she met both her husbands. If she wants to come back, let her know that my doors are open to her. Verdurin awaited Odette but the latter did not come until certain events which will be seen later brought her there for quite other reasons than those which could have been put forward by the embassy of the faithless, zealous as it was; few successes are easy, many checks are decisive.
Things were so much the same, although apparently different, that one came across the former expressions "right thinking" and "ill-thinking" quite naturally. And just as the former communards had been anti-revisionist, so the strongest Dreyfusards wanted everybody to be shot with the full support of the generals just as at the time of the Affaire they had been against Galliffet. Verdurin invited to such parties some rather recent ladies, known for their charitable works, who at first came strikingly dressed, with great pearl necklaces.
Odette possessed one as fine as any and formerly had rather overdone exhibiting it but now she was in war dress, and imitating the ladies of the faubourg, she eyed them severely. But women know how to adapt themselves. After wearing them three or four times, these ladies observed that the dresses they considered chic were for that very reason proscribed by the people who were chic and they laid aside their golden gowns and resigned themselves to simplicity.
Verdurin said, "It is deplorable, I shall telephone to Bontemps to do what is necessary to-morrow. Those who have minds have no regard for birth. All those telephonings of Mme. Verdurin were not without ill-effects. We had forgotten to say that the Verdurin salon though continuing in spirit, had been provisionally transferred to one of the largest hotels in Paris, the lack of coal and light having rendered the Verdurin receptions somewhat difficult in the former very damp abode of the Venetian ambassadors. Nevertheless, the new salon was by no means unpleasant. As in Venice the site selected for its water supply dictates the form the palace shall take, as a bit of garden in Paris delights one more than a park in the country, the narrow dining-room which Mme.
Verdurin had at the hotel was a sort of lozenge with the radiant white of its screen-like walls against which every Wednesday, and indeed every day, the most various and interesting people and the smartest women in Paris stood out, happy to avail themselves of the luxury of the Verdurins, thanks to their fortune increasing at a time when the richest were restricting their expenditure owing to difficulty in getting their incomes. This somewhat modified style of reception enchanted Brichot who, as the social relations of the Verdurins developed, obtained additional satisfaction from their concentration in a small area, like surprises in a Christmas stocking.
On certain days guests were so numerous that the dining-room of the private apartment was too small and dinner had to be served in the enormous dining-room of the hotel below where the "faithful", while hypocritically pretending to miss the intimacy of the upper floor, were in reality delighted constituting a select group as formerly in the little railway to be a spectacular object of envy to neighbouring tables.
In peace-time a society paragraph, surreptitiously sent to the Figaro or the Gaulois , would doubtless have announced to a larger audience than the dining-room of the Majestic could hold that Brichot had dined with the Duchesse de Duras, but since the war, society reporters having discontinued that sort of news they got home on funerals, investitures and Franco-American banquets , the only publicity attainable was that primitive and restricted one, worthy of the dark ages prior to the discovery of Gutenberg, of being seen at the table of Mme.
After dinner, people went up to the Pattonne's suite and the telephoning began again. Many of the large hotels were at that time full of spies, who daily took note of the news telephoned by M. Bontemps with an indiscretion fortunately counterbalanced by the complete inaccuracy of his information which was always contradicted by the event. Before the hour when afternoon-teas had finished, at the decline of day, one could see from afar in the still, clear sky, little brown spots which, in the twilight, one might have taken for gnats or birds. Just as, when we see a mountain far away which we might take for a cloud, we are impressed because we know it really to be solid, immense and resistant, so I was moved because the brown spots in the sky were neither gnats nor birds but aeroplanes piloted by men who were keeping watch over Paris.
It was not the recollection of the aeroplanes I had seen with Albertine in our last walk near Versailles that affected me for the memory of that walk had become indifferent to me. At dinner-time the restaurants were full and if, passing in the street, I saw a poor fellow home on leave, freed for six days from the constant risk of death, fix his eyes an instant upon the brilliantly illuminated windows, I suffered as at the hotel at Balbec when the fishermen looked at us while we dined. But after that hour, for those who, like myself, on the evening of which I am speaking, had remained at home for dinner and went out later to see friends, certain quarters of Paris were darker than the Combray of my youth; visits were like those one made to neighbours in the country.
At first I should have seen nobody, I should have had the emotion of believing she would not come, when all at once I should have seen one of her dear grey dresses in relief against the black wall, her smiling eyes would have perceived me and we should have been able to walk arm-in-arm without anyone recognising or interfering with us and to have gone home together. Alas, I was alone and it was as though I were making a visit to a neighbour in the country, one of those calls such as Swann used to pay us after dinner, without meeting more passers-by in the obscurity of Tansonville as he walked down that little twisting path to the street of St.
Esprit, than I encountered this evening in the alley between the Rue Clothilde and the Rue Bonaparte, now a sinuous, rustic path. And as sections of countryside played upon by rough weather are unspoiled by a change in their setting, on evenings swept by icy winds, I felt myself more vividly on the shore of an angry sea than when I was at that Balbec of which I so often dreamed.
And there were other elements which had not before existed in Paris and made one feel as though one had arrived from the train for a holiday in the open country, such as the contrast of light and shade at one's feet on moonlit evenings. Moonlight produces effects unknown to towns even in full winter; its rays played on the snow of the Boulevard Haussman unswept by workmen as on an Alpine glacier. The outlines of the trees were sharply reflected against the golden-blue snow as delicately as in certain Japanese pictures or in some backgrounds by Raphael.
They lengthened on the ground at the foot of the trees as in nature when the setting sun reflects the trees which rise at regular intervals in the fields. But by a refinement of exquisite delicacy, the meadow upon which these shadows of ethereal trees were cast, was a field of Paradise, not green but of a white so brilliant on account of the moon shedding its rays on the jade-coloured snow, that one would have said it was woven of petals from the blossoms of pear-trees. And in the squares the divinities of the public fountains holding a jet of ice in their hands seemed made of a two-fold substance and, as though the artist had married bronze to crystal to produce it.
On such rare days all the houses were black; but in spring, braving the police regulation once in a while, a particular house, perhaps only one floor of a particular house, or even only one room on that floor, did not close its shutters and seemed suspended by itself on impalpable shadows like a luminous projection, like an apparition without consistency.
And the woman one's raised eyes perceived, isolated in the golden penumbra of the night in which oneself seemed lost, in which she too seemed abandoned, was endowed with the veiled, mysterious charm of an Eastern vision. At length one passed on and no living thing interrupted the rhythm of monotonous and hygienic tramping in the darkness. I was reflecting that it was a long time since I had seen any of the personages with whom this work has been concerned.
In , during the two months I passed in Paris, I had once perceived M. It was certainly on the second occasion that he seemed to be most himself, and to have overcome that unpleasant lack of sincerity I had noticed at Tansonville to which I referred earlier. On this occasion, I recognised all his lovable qualities of former days. The first time I had seen him was at the beginning of the week that followed the declaration of war and while Bloch displayed extremely chauvinistic sentiments, Saint-Loup alluded to his own failure to join up with an irony that rather shocked me.
Saint-Loup was just back from Balbec. In Saint-Loup this tendency was strengthened by his habit, when he had done something for which he might have been censured, of proclaiming it as though it had been done on purpose, a habit he must have acquired from some professor at the War School with whom he had lived on terms of intimacy and for whom he professed great admiration. So I interpreted this outbreak as the affirmation of sentiments he wanted to exhibit as having inspired his evasion of military service in the war now beginning.
I know nothing about it myself. People have often said it before and I've heard it announced so often that I shall wait until the divorce is granted before I believe it. I may add that it isn't surprising; my uncle is a charming man socially and to his friends and relations and in one way he has more heart than my aunt. She's a saint, but she takes good care to make him feel it. But he's an awful husband; he has never ceased being unfaithful to his wife, insulting her, ill-treating her and depriving her of money into the bargain.
It would be so natural if she left him that it's a reason for its being true and also for its not being true just because people keep on saying so. And after all, she has stood it for so long. Of course, I know there are ever so many false reports which are denied and afterwards turn out to be true. He started at this and assured me it was not so, that it was only one of those society rumours born, no one knows how, which disappear as they come, the falsity of which does not make those who believe them more cautious, for no sooner does another rumour of an engagement, of a divorce or of a political nature arise than they give it immediate credence and pass it on.
Forty-eight hours had not passed before certain facts proved that my interpretation of Robert's words was completely wrong when he said, "All those who are not at the front are in a funk. But at that very moment he was moving heaven and earth to be accepted, showing less originality in the sense he had given to that word, but that he was more profoundly French, more in conformity with all that was best in the French of St. Bloch was delighted to hear this avowal of cowardice by a Nationalist who, in truth, was not much of a Nationalist and when Saint-Loup asked him if he was going to join up, he made a grimace like a high-priest and replied "shortsighted.
I was taking him back to his house when we met Saint-Loup. The latter had an appointment with a former officer, M. Yet I was so accustomed, ever since I first made their acquaintance, to consider his wife an unusual person with a thorough knowledge of Schopenhauer who had access to an intellectual milieu closed to her vulgar husband, that I was at first surprised when Saint-Loup remarked: "His wife is an idiot, you can have her; but he's an excellent fellow, gifted and extremely agreeable," By the idiocy of the wife, no doubt Saint-Loup meant her mad longing to get into the best society which that society severely condemned and, by the qualities of the husband, those his niece implied when she called him the best of the family.
Anyhow, he did not bother himself about duchesses but that sort of intelligence is as far removed from the kind that characterises thinkers as is the intelligence the public respects because it has enabled a rich man "to make his pile. It is true I had no occasion to savour that of M. But that is exactly why one being is so many different beings apart from differences of opinion. I had only known the shell of M. Bloch left us in front of his door, overflowing with bitterness against Saint-Loup, telling him that those "beautiful red tabs" parading about at Staff Headquarters run no risk and that he, an ordinary second class private had no wish to "get a bullet through his skin for the sake of William.
Bloch, like all those people who have something to do with the Stock Exchange, received any sensational news with peculiar credulity added, "it is said even that he is dead.
Le Temps Retrouve (Collection Folio) (French Edition)
But he died last night. My father has it from 'the best sources'. Bloch senior took notice, when, through the luck of possessing certain "influential connections" he received the as yet secret news that the Exterior Debt was going to rise or de Beers fall. Moreover, if at that very moment there was a rise in de Beers or there were offers of Exterior Debt, if the market of the first was "firm and active" and that of the second "hesitating and weak", "the best sources" remained nevertheless "the best sources.
He was particularly exasperated to hear Robert say the "Emperor William. Two men in society who were the only living souls on a desert island where they would not have to give proof of good breeding to anyone, would recognise each other by those marks of breeding just as two Latinists would recognise each other's qualifications through correct quotations from Virgil.
Saint-Loup would never, even under torture, have said other than "Emperor William"; yet the savoir vivre is all the same a bondage for the mind. He who cannot reject it remains a mere man of society. Yet elegant mediocrity is charming—especially for the generosity and unexpressed heroism that go with it—in comparison with the vulgarity of Bloch, at once braggart and mountebank, who shouted at Saint-Loup: "Can't you say simply 'William'? That's it, you're in a funk, even here you're ready to crawl on your stomach to him.
You red-tabs are fit to parade in a circus, that's all. But Bloch had no idea of Robert's patriotism simply because the latter did not express it. Though Bloch made professions of nefarious anti-militarism once he had been passed for service, he had declared the most chauvinistic opinions when he believed he would be exempted for shortsightedness. Saint-Loup would have been incapable of making such declarations, because of a certain moral delicacy which prevents one from expressing the depth of sentiments which are natural to us.
My mother would not have hesitated a second to sacrifice her life for my grandmother's and would have suffered intensely from being unable to do so. Nevertheless I cannot imagine retrospectively a phrase on her lips such as "I would give my life for my mother. He would also have been incapable of such expressions owing to his mind having a certain moral bias.
Men who do their work intelligently and earnestly have an aversion to those who want to make literature out of what they do, to make it important. Little as we spoke of it, Robert laughed heartily. Our natural predilection was not for the Cottards or Brichots, though we had a certain respect for those who had a thorough knowledge of Greek or medicine and did not for that reason consider they need play the charlatan. Just as all my mother's actions were based upon the feeling that she would have given her life for her mother, as she had never formulated this sentiment which in any case she would have considered not only useless and ridiculous but indecent and shameful to express to others, so it was impossible to imagine Saint-Loup speaking to me of his equipment, of the different things he had to attend to, of our chances of victory, of the little value of the Russian army, of what England would do enunciating one of those eloquent periods to which even the most sympathetic minister is inclined to give vent when he addresses deputies and enthusiasts.
I cannot, however, deny, on this negative side which prevented his expressing the beautiful sentiments he felt that there was a certain effect of the "Guermantes spirit" of which so many examples were afforded by Swann. The deep and sincere patriotism of soldiers had taken a definite form which they believed intangible and which it enraged them to see aspersed, whereas the Radical-Socialists who were, in a sense, unconscious patriots, independents, without a defined religion of patriotism, did not realise what a profound reality underlay what they believed to be vain and hateful formulas.
Without doubt, Saint-Loup, like them, had grown accustomed to developing as the truest part of himself, the exploration and the conception of better schemes in view of greater strategic and tactical success, so that for him as for them the life of the body was of relatively small importance and could be lightly sacrificed to that inner life, the vital kernel around which personal existence had only the value of a protective epidermis.
I told Saint-Loup about his friend, the director of the Balbec Grand Hotel, who, it appeared had, at the outbreak of war, alleged that there had been disaffection in certain French regiments which he called "defectuosity" and had accused what he termed "Prussian militarists" of provoking it, remarking with a laugh, "My brother's in the trenches. They're only thirty meters from the Boches" until it was discovered that he was a Boche himself and they put him in a concentration camp. He was going to "get his stripes" otherwise than as a concierge, for our destiny is not always what we had believed.
It is through them we shall observe what the enemy is up to; they will deprive him of the chief advantage in an attack, surprise; the best army will perhaps be the one that has the best eyes. Joseph being proposed to her, had replied despairingly: "Oh!
That would be no use there's nothing to be done with that old fellow, he's the worst sort of all, he's patriotic! The butler, persuaded that the war would not last more than ten days and would end by the signal victory of France, would not have dared, for fear of being contradicted by events, to predict a long and indecisive one, nor would he have had enough imagination. Sainted Mary! For that matter, the whole youth of the country will be at the front and not many will come back.
In one way that will be a good thing, a good bleeding is useful from time to time, it makes business better. Yes, indeed, if some of these boys are a bit soft and chicken-hearted and hesitate, they shoot them immediately, a dozen bullets through the skin and that's that. In a way it's got to be done and what does it matter to the officers? They get their pesetas all the same and that's all they care about. But she did not on that account lose her defects.
When a girl came to see me, however much the old servant's legs hurt her, if ever I went out of my room for a moment I saw her on the top of the steps, in the hanging cupboard, in the act, she pretended, of looking for one of my coats to see if the moths had got into it, in reality to spy upon us. In spite of all my remonstrances, she kept up her insidious manner of asking indirect questions and for some time had been making use of the phrase "because doubtless.
For instance, with a delight as dissimulated but also as deep as if it had been a case of serious illness, if I happened to be hot and the perspiration to which I paid no attention was trickling down my forehead, she would say, "My word! You're drenched" as though she were astonished by a strange phenomenon, smiling with that contempt for something indecorous with which she might have remarked, "Why, you're going out without your collar!
One would have thought I was the only person in the universe who had ever been "drenched".