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REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST 



rr When to the sessions of sweet silent thought 
I summon up remembrance of things past ..." 



REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST 

IS A TRANSLATION OF THE SEVEN-VOLUME WORK 

A LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU 
BY MARCEL PROUST 

grouped in this two-volume edition as follows: 

I 

I. DU COTE DE CHEZ SWANN SwdHtl's Way 
II. A L'OMBRE DES JEUNES M7'/7 * T> J ]' /^ 

FILLES EN FLEURS Within a Budding Grove 

in. LE COTE DE GUERMANTES The Guemiantes Way 

II 

i. SODOME ET GOMORRHE Cities of the Plain 

II. LA PRISONNIERE Tll CdptlVC 

in. ALBERTINE DispARUE 1 he Sweet Cheat Gone 

iv. LE TEMPS RETROUVE The Past Recaptured 



MARCEL PROUST 



OP > -Xfr > > > -?S-$a-SSm- < < CCfr CCC- 



REMEMBRANCE OF 
THINGS PAST 



Captive 
The Sweet Cheat Gone 

TRANSLATED BY C. K. SCOTT MONCRIEFF 

The Past Recaptured 

TRANSLATED BY FREDERICK A. BLOSSOM 

VOLUME TWO 




RANDOM HOUSE NEW YORK 



Copyright, 1927, 1929, 1930, 1932, by Random Home, Inc. 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY RANDOM HOUSE, INC 
Manufactured in /the United States of America 



Contents: VOLUME TWO 



dim of the Plain 

PAGE 3 

The Captive 

PAGE 383 

The Sweet Cheat Gone 

PAGE 675 

The Past Recaptured 

PAGE 873 



Cities of the flain 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER ONE 



Part I 

PAGE 

Introducing the men-women, de- 
scendants of those of the inhabitants 
of Sodom who were spared by the fire 
from heaven. 3 

M. de Charlus in Society A physi- 
cian Typical physiognomy of Mme. 
de Vaugoubert Mme. d'Arpajon, 
the Hubert Robert fountain and the 
merriment of the Grand Duke Vladi- 
mir Mmcs. d'Amoncourt, de Citri, 
de Saint -Euvcrte, etc. Curious con- 
versation between Swann and the 
Prince de Guermantes Alb er tine on 
the telephone illy social life in the 
interval before my second and final 
visit to Balbec Arrival at Balbec. 27 



The Heart's Intermissions 



CHAPTER Two 



CHAPTER FOUR 



no 



The mysteries of Alb cr tine The girls 
whom she sees reflected in the glass 
The other woman The lift-boy 
Madame de Cambremer. 132 

Part II 

CHAPTER Two (continued) The pleasures of M. Nis- 
sim Bernard (continued) Outline 
of the strange character of Morel 
M. de Charlus dines with the Ver- 
durins. 182 

CHAPTER THREE The sorrows of M. de Charlus His 
sham duel The stations on the 
"Transatlantic" Weary of Alber- 
tine y I decide to break with her. 270 



Sudden revulsion in favour of Alber- 
tine Agony at sunrise / set off at 
once with Alb er tine for Paris. 365 



(Cities of the "Plain 



PART I 

Introducing the men-women, descendants of those of the in- 
habitants of Sodom who were spared by the fire from heaven. 

La femme aura Gomorrhe et I'hotnme aura 
Sodome, Alfred de Vigny. 

THE reader will remember that, long before going that day (on the eve- 
ning of which the Princesse de Guermantes was to give her party) to pay 
the Duke and Duchess the visit which I have just described, I had kept 
watch for their return and had made, in the course of my vigil, a discovery 
which, albeit concerning M. de Charlus in particular, was in itself so 
important that I have until now, until the moment when I could give it the 
prominence and treat it with the fulness that it demanded, postponed 
giving any account of it. I had, as I have said, left the marvellous point 
of vantage, so snugly contrived for me at the top of the house, commanding 
the broken and irregular slopes leading up to the Hotel de Brequigny, and 
gaily decorated in the Italian manner by the rose-pink campanile of the 
Marquis de Frecourt's stables. I had felt it to be more convenient, when I 
thought that the Duke and Duchess were on the point of returning, to 
post myself on the staircase. I regretted somewhat the abandonment of my 
watch-tower. But at that time of clay, namely the hour immediately fol- 
lowing luncheon, I had less cause for regret, for I should not then have 
seen, as in the morning, the footmen of the Brequigny-Tresmes household, 
converted by distance into minute figures in a picture, make their leisurely 
ascent of the abrupt precipice, feather-brush in hand, behind the large, 
transparent flakes of mica which stood out so charmingly upon its ruddy 
bastions. Failing the geologist's field of contemplation, I had at least that 
of the botanist, and was peering through the shutters of the staircase win- 
dow at the Duchess's little tree and at the precious plant, exposed in the 
courtyard with that insistence with which mothers 'bring out 3 their mar- 
riageable offspring, and asking myself whether the unlikely insect would 
come, by a providential hazard, to visit the offered and neglected pistil. 
My curiosity emboldening me by degrees, I went down to the ground- 
floor window, which also stood open with its shutters ajar. I could hear 

3 



4 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

distinctly, as he got ready to go out, Jupien who could not detect me be- 
hind my blind, where I stood perfectly still until the moment when I drew 
quickly aside in order not to be seen by M. de Charlus, who, on his way 
to call upon Mme. de Villeparisis, was slowly crossing the courtyard, a 
pursy figure, aged by the strong light, his hair visibly grey. Nothing short 
of an indisposition of Mme. de Villeparisis (consequent on the illness of 
the Marquis de Fierbois, with whom he personally was at daggers drawn) 
could have made M. de Charlus pay a call, perhaps for the first time in his 
life, at that hour of the day. For with that eccentricity of the Guermantes, 
who, instead of conforming to the ways of society, used to modify them to 
suit their own personal habits (habits not, they thought, social, and de- 
serving in consequence the abasement before them of that thing of no 
value, Society thus it was that Mme. de Marsantes had no regular 'day/ 
but was at home to her friends every morning between ten o'clock and 
noon), the Baron, reserving those hours for reading, hunting for old cu- 
riosities and so forth, paid calls only between four and six in the afternoon. 
At six o'clock he went to the Jockey Club, or took a stroll in the Bois. A 
moment later, I again recoiled, in order not to be seen by Jupien. It was 
nearly time for him to start for the office, from which he would return 
only for dinner, and not even then always during the last week, his niece 
and her apprentices having gone to the country to finish a dress there for 
a customer. Then, realising that no one could see me, I decided not to let 
myself be disturbed again, for fear of missing, should the miracle be fated 
to occur, the arrival, almost beyond the possibility of hope (across so many 
obstacles of distance, of adverse risks, of dangers), of the insect sent from 
so far as ambassador to the virgin who had so long been waiting for him to 
appear. I knew that this expectancy was no more passive than in the male 
flower, whose stamens had spontaneously curved so that the insect might 
more easily receive their offering; similarly the female flower that stood 
here, if the insect came, would coquettishly arch her styles, and, to be more 
effectively penetrated by him, would imperceptibly advance, like a hypo- 
critical but ardent damsel, to meet him half-way. The laws of the vegetable 
kingdom are themselves governed by other laws, increasingly exalted. If 
the visit of an insect, that is to say, the transportation of the seed of one 
flower is generally necessary for the fertilisation of another, that is be- 
cause autofecundation, the fertilisation of a flower by itself, would lead, 
like a succession of intermarriages in the same family, to degeneracy and 
sterility, whereas the crossing effected by the insects gives to the subse- 
quent generations of the same species a vigour unknown to their forebears. 
This invigoration may, however, prove excessive, the species develop out 
of all proportion; then, as an anti-toxin protects us against disease, as the 
thyroid gland regulates our adiposity, as defeat comes to punish pride, 
fatigue, indulgence, and as sleep in turn depends upon fatigue, so an ex- 
ceptional act of autofecundation comes at a given point to apply its turn 
of the screw, its pull on the curb, brings back within normal limits the 
flower that has exaggerated its transgression of them. My reflexions had 
followed a tendency which I shall describe in due course, and I had already 
drawn from the visible stratagems of flowers a conclusion that bore upon 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM 5 

a whole unconscious element of literary work, when I saw M. de Charlus 
coming away from the Marquise. Perhaps he had learned from his elderly 
relative herself, or merely from a servant, the great improvement, or 
rather her complete recovery from what had been nothing more than a 
slight indisposition. At this moment, when he did not suspect that anyone 
was watching him, his eyelids lowered as a screen against the sun, M. de 
Charlus had relaxed that tension in his face, deadened that artificial 
vitality, which the animation of his talk and the force of his will kept in 
evidence there as a rule. Pale as marble, his nose stood out firmly, his fine 
features no longer received from an expression deliberately assumed a 
different meaning which altered the beauty of their modelling; nothing 
more now than a Guermantes, he seemed already carved in stone, he Pala- 
mede the Fifteenth, in their chapel at Combray. These general features 
of a whole family took on, however, in the face of M. de Charlus a fineness 
more spiritualised, above all more gentle. I regretted for his sake that he 
should habitually adulterate with so many acts of violence, offensive oddi- 
ties, tale-bearings, with such harshness, susceptibility and arrogance, that 
he should conceal beneath a false brutality the amenity, the kindness which, 
at the moment of his emerging from Mme. de Villeparisis's, I could see 
displayed so innocently upon his face. Blinking his eyes in the sunlight, he 
seemed almost to be smiling, I found in his face seen thus in repose and, so 
to speak, in its natural state something so affectionate, so disarmed, that 
I could not help thinking how angry M. de Charlus would have been could 
he have known that he was being watched ; for what was suggested to me 
by the sight of this man who was so insistent, who prided himself so upon 
his virility, to whom all other men seemed odiously effeminate, what he 
made me suddenly think of, so far had he momentarily assumed her fea- 
tures, expression, smile, was a woman. 

I was about to change my position again, so that he should not catch 
sight of me; I had neither the time nor the need to do so. What did I see? 
Face to face, in that courtyard where certainly they had never met before 
(M. de Charlus coming to the Hotel de Guermantes only in the afternoon, 
during the time when Jupien was at his office), the Baron, having suddenly 
opened wide his half-shut eyes, was studying with unusual attention the 
ex-tailor poised on the threshold of his shop, while the latter, fastened 
suddenly to the ground before M. de Charlus, taking root in it like a 
plant, was contemplating with a look of amazement the plump form of 
the middle-aged Baron. But, more astounding still, M. de Charlus's atti- 
tude having changed, Jupien's, as though in obedience to the laws of an 
occult art, at once brought itself into harmony with it. The Baron, who 
was now seeking to conceal the impression that had been made on him, 
and yet, in spite of his affectation of indifference, seemed unable to move 
away without regret, went, came, looked vaguely into the distance in the 
way which, he felt, most enhanced the beauty of his eyes, assumed a 
complacent, careless, fatuous air. Meanwhile Jupien, shedding at once the 
humble, honest expression which I had always associated with him, had 
in perfect symmetry with the Baron thrown up his head, given a becom- 
ing tilt to his body, placed his hand with a grotesque impertinence on his 



6 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

hip, stuck out his behind, posed himself with the coquetry that the orchid 
might have adopted on the providential arrival of the bee. I had not sup- 
posed that he could appear so repellent. But I was equally unaware that 
he was capable of improvising his part in this sort of dumb charade, which 
(albeit he found himself for the first time in the presence of M. de Charlus) 
seemed to have been long and carefully rehearsed; one does not arrive 
spontaneously at that pitch of perfection except when one meets in a for- 
eign country a compatriot with whom an understanding then grows up 
of itself, both parties speaking the same language, even though they have 
never seen one another before. 

This scene was not, however, positively comic, it was stamped with a 
strangeness, or if you like a naturalness, the beauty of which steadily 
increased. M. de Charlus might indeed assume a detached air, indifferently 
let his eyelids droop; every now and then he raised them, and at such 
moments turned on Jupien an attentive gaze. But (doubtless because he 
felt that such a scene could not be prolonged indefinitely in this place, 
whether for reasons which we shall learn later on, or possibly from that 
feeling of the brevity of all things which makes us determine that every 
blow must strike home, and renders so moving the spectacle of every kind 
of love), each time that M. de Charlus looked at Jupien, he took care that 
his glance should be accompanied by a spoken word, which made it in- 
finitely unlike the glances we usually direct at a person whom we do or 
do not know; he stared at Jupien with the peculiar fixity of the person 
who is about to say to us: "Excuse my taking the liberty, but you have a 
long white thread hanging down your back," or else: "Surely I can't be 
mistaken, you come from Zurich too; I'm certain I must have seen you 
there often in the curiosity shop." Thus, every other minute, the same 
question seemed to be being intensely put to Jupien in the stare of M. 
de Charlus, like those questioning phrases of Beethoven indefinitely re- 
peated at regular intervals, and intended with an exaggerated lavish- 
ness of preparation to introduce a new theme, a change of tone, a 're- 
entry.' On the other hand, the beauty of the reciprocal glances of M. de 
Charlus and Jupien arose precisely from the fact that they did not, for 
the moment at least, seem to be intended to lead to anything further. This 
beauty, it was the first time that I had seen the Baron and Jupien display 
it. In the eyes of both of them, it was the sky not of Zurich but of some 
Oriental city, the name of which I had not yet divined, that I saw re- 
flected. Whatever the point might be that held M. de Charlus and the 
ex-tailor thus arrested, their pact seemed concluded and these superfluous 
glances to be but ritual preliminaries, like the parties that people give 
before a marriage which has been definitely 'arranged.' Nearer still to 
nature and the multiplicity of these analogies is itself all the more natural 
in that the same man, if we examine him for a few minutes, appears in 
turn as a man, a man-bird or man-insect, and so forth one would have 
called them a pair of birds, the male and the female, the male seeking to 
make advances, the female Jupien no longer giving any sign of response 
to these overtures, but regarding her new friend without surprise, with an 
inattentive fixity of gaze, which she doubtless felt to be more disturbing 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM J 

and the only effective method, once the male had taken the first steps, 
and had fallen back upon preening his feathers. At length Jupien's indif- 
ference seemed to suffice him no longer ; from this certainty of having con- 
quered, to making himself be pursued and desired was but the next stage, 
and Jupien, deciding to go off to his work, passed through the carriage 
gate. It was only, however, after turning his head two or three times that 
he escaped into the street towards which the Baron, trembling lest he 
should lose the trail (boldly humming a tune, not forgetting to fling a 
'Good day' to the porter, who, half-tipsy himself and engaged in treating a 
few friends in his back kitchen, did not even hear him), hurried briskly to 
overtake him. At the same instant, just as M. de Charlus disappeared 
through the gate humming like a great bumble-bee, another, a real bee 
this time, came into the courtyard. For all I knew this might be the one 
so long awaited by the orchid, which was coming to bring it that rare 
pollen without which it must die a virgin. But I was distracted from fol- 
lowing the gyrations of the insect for, a few minutes later, engaging my 
attention afresh, Jupien (perhaps to pick up a parcel which he did take 
away with him eventually and so, presumably, in the emotion aroused by 
the apparition of M. de Charlus, had forgotten, perhaps simply for a 
more natural reason) returned, followed by the Baron. The latter, decid- 
ing to cut short the preliminaries, asked the tailor for a light, but at once 
observed: "I ask you for a light, but I find that I have left my cigars at 
home." The laws of hospitality prevailed over those of coquetry. "Come 
inside, you shall have everything you require," said the tailor, on whose 
features disdain now gave place to joy. The door of the shop closed behind 
them and I could hear no more. I had lost sight of the bee. I did not know 
whether he was the insect that the orchid needed, but I had no longer any 
doubt, in the case of an extremely rare insect and a captive flower, of the 
miraculous possibility of their conjunction when M. de Charlus (this is 
simply a comparison of providential hazards, whatever they may be, with- 
out the slightest scientific claim to establish a relation between certain 
laws and what is sometimes, most ineptly, termed homosexuality), who 
for years past had never come to the house except at hours when Jupien 
was not there, by the mere accident of Mme. de Villeparisis's illness had 
encountered the tailor, and with him the good fortune reserved for men 
of the type of the Baron by one of those fellow-creatures who may indeed 
be, as we shall see, infinitely younger than Jupien and better looking, the 
man predestined to exist in order that they may have their share of sensual 
pleasure on this earth; the man who cares only for elderly gentlemen. 

All that I have just said, however, I was not to understand until several 
minutes had elapsed; so much is reality encumbered by those properties 
of invisibility until a chance occurrence has divested it of them. Anyhow, 
for the moment I was greatly annoyed at not being able to hear any more 
of the conversation between the ex-tailor and the Baron. I then bethought 
myself of the vacant shop, separated from Jupien's only by a partition that 
was extremely slender. I had, in order to get to it, merely to go up to our 
flat, pass through the kitchen, go down by the service stair to the cellars, 
make my way through them across the breadth of the courtyard above, 



8 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

and on coming to the right place underground, where the joiner had, a few 
months ago, still been storing his timber and where Jupien intended to 
keep his coal, climb the flight of steps which led to the interior of the shop. 
Thus the whole of my journey would be made under cover, I should not be 
seen by anyone. This was the most prudent method. It was not the one that 
I adopted, but, keeping close to the walls, I made a circuit in the open 
air of the courtyard, trying not to let myself be seen. If I was not, I owe it 
more, I am sure, to chance than to my own sagacity. And for the fact that 
I took so imprudent a course, when the way through the cellar was so safe, 
I can see three possible reasons, assuming that I had any reason at all. 
First of all, my impatience. Secondly, perhaps, a dim memory of the scene 
at Montjouvain, when I stood concealed outside Mile. VinteuiPs window. 
Certainly, the affairs of this sort of which I have been a spectator have 
always been presented in a setting of the most imprudent and least prob- 
able character, as if such revelations were to be the reward of an action full 
of risk, though in part clandestine. Lastly, I hardly dare, so childish does it 
appear, to confess the third reason, which was, I am quite sure, uncon- 
sciously decisive. Since, in order to follow and see controverted the 
military principles enunciated by Saint-Loup, I had followed in close 
detail the course of the Boer war, I had been led on from that to read 
again old accounts of explorations, narratives of travel. These stories had 
excited me, and I applied them to the events of my daily life to stimulate 
my courage. When attacks of illness had compelled me to remain for sev- 
eral days and nights on end not only without sleep but without lying down, 
without tasting food or drink, at the moment when my pain and exhaus- 
tion became so intense that I felt that I should never escape from them, I 
would think of some traveller cast on the beach, poisoned by noxious herbs, 
shivering with fever in clothes drenched by the salt water, who neverthe- 
less in a day or two felt stronger, rose and went blindly upon his way, in 
search of possible inhabitants who might, when he came to them, prove 
cannibals. His example acted on me as a tonic, restored my hope, and I felt 
ashamed of my momentary discouragement. Thinking of the Boers who, 
with British armies facing them, were not afraid to expose themselves at 
the moment when they had to cross, in order to reach a covered position, a 
tract of open country: "It would be a fine thing/' I thought to myself, 
"if I were to shew less courage when the theatre of operations is simply 
the human heart, and when the only steel that I, who engaged in more than 
one duel without fear at the time of the Dreyfus case, have to fear is that 
of the eyes of the neighbours who have other things to do besides looking 
into the courtyard." 

But when I was inside the shop, taking care not to let any plank in the 
floor make the slightest creak, as I found that the least sound in Jupien's 
shop could be heard from the other, I thought to myself how rash Jupien 
and M. de Charlus had been, and how wonderfully fortune had favoured 
them. 

I did not dare move. The Guermantes groom, taking advantage no doubt 
of his master's absence, had, as it happened, transferred to the shop in 
which I now stood a ladder which hitherto had been kept in the coach- 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM Q 

house, and if I had climbed this I could have opened the ventilator above 
and heard as well as if I had been in Jupien's shop itself. But I was afraid 
of making a noise. Besides, it was unnecessary. I had not even cause to 
regret my not having arrived in the shop until several minutes had elapsed. 
For from what I heard at first in Jupien's shop, .which was only a series of 
inarticulate sounds, I imagine that few words had been exchanged. It is 
true that these sounds were so violent that, if one set had not always been 
taken up an octave higher by a parallel plaint, I might have thought that 
one person was strangling another within a few feet of me, and that subse- 
quently the murderer and his resuscitated victim were taking a bath to 
wash away the traces of the crime. I concluded from this later on that 
there is another thing as vociferous as pain, namely pleasure, especially 
when there is added to it failing the fear of an eventual parturition, 
which could not be present in this case, despite the hardly convincing ex- 
ample in the Golden Legend an immediate afterthought of cleanliness. 
Finally, after about half an hour (during which time I had climbed on 
tip-toe up my ladder so as to peep through the ventilator which I did not 
open), a conversation began. Jupien refused with insistence the money 
that M. de Charlus was pressing upon him. 

"Why do you have your chin shaved like that," he inquired of the Baron 
in a cajoling tone. "It's so becoming, a nice beard." "Ugh! It's disgust- 
ing," the Baron replied. Meanwhile he still lingered upon the threshold 
and plied Jupien with questions about the neighbourhood. "You don't 
know anything about the man who sells chestnuts at the corner, not the 
one on the left, he's a horror, but the other way, a great, dark fellow? And 
the chemist opposite, he has a charming cyclist who delivers his parcels." 
These questions must have ruffled Jupien, for, drawing himself up with 
the scorn of a great courtesan who has been forsaken, he replied: "I can 
see you are completely heartless." Uttered in a pained, frigid, affected 
tone, this reproach must have made its sting felt by M. de Charlus, who, 
to counteract the bad impression made by his curiosity, addressed to 
Jupien, in too low a tone for me to be able to make out his words, a re- 
quest the granting of which would doubtless necessitate their prolonging 
their sojourn in the shop, and which moved the tailor sufficiently to make 
him forget his annoyance, for he studied the Baron's face, plump and 
flushed beneath his grey hair, with the supremely blissful air of a person 
whose self-esteem has just been profoundly flattered, and, deciding to 
grant M. de Charlus the favour that he had just asked of him, after 
various remarks lacking in refinement such as: "Aren't you naughty!" 
said to the Baron with a smiling, emotional, superior and grateful air: "All 
right, you big baby, come along!" 

"If I hark back to the question of the tram conductor," M. de Charlus 
went on imperturbably, "it is because, apart from anything else, he might 
offer me some entertainment on my homeward journey. For it falls to my 
lot, now and then, like the Caliph who used to roam the streets of Bagdad 
in the guise of a common merchant, to condescend to follow some curious 
little person whose profile may have taken my fancy." I made at this 
point the same observation that I had made on Bergotte. If he should 



IO CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

ever have to plead before a bench, he would employ not the sentences cal- 
culated to convince his judges, but such Bergottesque sentences as his 
peculiar literary temperament suggested to him and made him find pleas- 
ure in using. Similarly M. de Charlus, in conversing with the tailor, made 
use of the same language that he would have used to fashionable people 
of his own set, even exaggerating its eccentricities, whether because the 
shyness which he was striving to overcome drove him to an excess of pride 
or, by preventing him from mastering himself (for we are always less at 
our ease in the company of some one who is not of our station), forced 
him to unveil, to lay bare his true nature, which was, in fact, arrogant and 
a trifle mad, as Mme. de Guermantes had remarked. "So as not to lose the 
trail," he went on, "I spring like a little usher, like a young and good- 
looking doctor, into the same car as the little person herself, of whom we 
speak in the feminine gender only so as to conform with the rules of gram- 
mar (as we say, in speaking of a Prince, 'Is His Highness enjoying her 
usual health'). If she changes her car, I take, with possibly the germs of 
the plague, that incredible thing called a 'transfer/ a number, and one 
which, albeit it is presented to me, is not always number one! I change 
'carriages' in this way as many as three or four times, I end up sometimes 
at eleven o'clock at night at the Orleans station and have to come home. 
Still, if it were only the Orleans station! Once, I must tell you, not having 
managed to get into conversation sooner, I went all the way to Orleans 
itself, in one of those frightful compartments where one has, to rest one's 
eyes upon, between triangles of what is known as 'string-work,' photo- 
graphs of the principal architectural features of the line. There was only 
one vacant seat; I had in front of me, as an historic edifice, a 'view' of the 
Cathedral of Orleans, quite the ugliest in France, and as tiring a thing to 
have to stare at in that way against my will as if somebody had forced me 
to focus its towers in the lens of one of those optical penholders which 
give one ophthalmia. I got out of the train at Les Aubrais toge!her with 
my young person, for whom alas his family (when I had imagined him to 
possess every defect except that of having a family) were waiting on the 
platform ! My sole consolation, as I waited for a train to take me back to 
Paris, was the house of Diane de Poitiers. She may indeed have charmed 
one of my royal ancestors, I should have preferred a more living beauty. 
That is why, as an antidote to the boredom of returning home by myself, 
I should rather like to make friends with a sleeping-car attendant or the 
conductor of an omnibus. Now, don't be shocked," the Baron wound up, 
"it is all a question of class. With what you call 'young gentlemen/ for 
instance, I feel no desire actually to have them, but I am never satisfied 
until I have touched them, I don't mean physically, but touched a respon- 
sive chord. As soon as, instead of leaving my letters unanswered, a young 
man starts writing to me incessantly, when he is morally at my disposal, 
I grow calm again, or at least I should grow calm were I not immediately 
caught by the attraction of another. Rather curious, ain't it? Speaking 
of 'young gentlemen/ those that come to the house here, do you know any 
of them?" "No, baby. Oh, yes, I do, a dark one, very tall, with an eye- 
glass, who keeps smiling and turning round." "I don't know who' you 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM II 

mean." Jupien filled in the portrait, but M. de Charlus could not succeed 
in identifying its subject, not knowing that the ex-tailor was one of those 
persons, more common than is generally supposed, who never remember 
the colour of the hair of people they do not know well. But to me, who was 
aware of this infirmity in Jupien and substituted 'fair' for 'dark/ the 
portrait appeared to be an exact description of the Due de Chatellerault. 
"To return to young men not of the lower orders," the Baron went on, "at 
the present moment my head has been turned by a strange little fellow, 
an intelligent little cit who shews with regard to myself a prodigious want 
of civility. He has absolutely no idea of the prodigious personage that I 
am, and of the microscopic animalcule that he is in comparison. After all, 
what does it matter, the little ass may bray his head off before my august 
bishop's mantle." "Bishop!" cried Jupien, who had understood nothing 
of M. de Charlus's concluding remarks, but was completely taken aback 
by the word bishop. "But that sort of thing doesn't go with religion," he 
said. "I have three Popes in my family," replied M. de Charlus, "and 
enjoy the right to mantle in gules by virtue of a cardinalatial title, the 
niece of the Cardinal, my great-uncle, having conveyed to my grandfather 
the title of Duke which was substituted for it. I see, though, that metaphor 
leaves you deaf and French history cold. Besides," he added, less perhaps 
by way of conclusion than as a warning, "this attraction that I feel towards 
the young people who avoid me, from fear of course, for only their natural 
respect stops their mouths from crying out to me that they love me, re- 
quires in them an outstanding social position. And again, their feint of 
indifference may produce, in spite of that, the directly opposite effect. 
Fatuously prolonged, it sickens me. To take an example from a class with 
which you are more familiar, when they were doing up my Hotel, so as 
not to create jealousies among all the duchesses who were vying with one 
another for the honour of being able to say that they had given me a 
lodging, I went for a few days to an 'hotel/ as they call inns nowadays. 
One of the bedroom valets I knew, I pointed out to him an interesting 
little page who used to open and shut the front door, and who remained 
refractory to my proposals. Finally, losing my temper, in order to prove 
to him that my intentions were pure, I made him an offer of a ridiculously 
high sum simply to come upstairs and talk to me for five minutes in my 
room. I waited for him in vain. I then took such a dislike to him that I 
used to go out by the service door so as not to see his villainous little mug 
at the other. I learned afterwards that he had never had any of my notes, 
which had been intercepted, the first by the bedroom valet, who was 
jealous, the next by the day porter, who was virtuous, the third by 
the night porter, who was in love with the little page, and used to couch 
with him at the hour when Dian rose. But my disgust persisted none the 
less, and were they to bring me the page, simply like a dish of venison on 
a silver platter, I should thrust him away with a retching stomach. But 
there's the unfortunate part of it, we have spoken of serious matters, and 
now all is over between us, there can be no more question of what I hoped 
to secure. But you could render me great services, act as my agent; why 



12 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

no, the mere thought of such a thing restores my vigour, and I can see 
that all is by no means over." 

From the beginning of this scene a revolution, in my unsealed eyes, had 
occurred in M. de Charlus, as complete, as immediate as if he had been 
touched by a magician's wand. Until then, because I had not understood, 
I had not seen. The vice (we use the word for convenience only), the vice 
of each of us accompanies him through life after the manner of the familiar 
genius who was invisible to men so long as they were unaware of his pres- 
ence. Our goodness, our meanness, our name, our social relations do not 
disclose themselves to the eye, we carry them hidden within us. Even 
Ulysses did not at once recognise Athena. But the gods are immediately 
perceptible to one another, as quickly like to like, and so too had M. de 
Charlus been to Jupien. Until that moment I had been, in the presence of 
M. de Charlus, in the position of an absent-minded man who, standing 
before a pregnant woman whose distended outline he has failed to remark, 
persists, while she smilingly reiterates: "Yes, I am a little tired just now/ 7 
in asking her indiscreetly: "Why, what is the matter with you?" But let 
some one say to him: "She is expecting a child," suddenly he catches sight 
of her abdomen and ceases to see anything else. It is the explanation that 
opens our eyes; the dispelling of an error gives us an additional sense. 

Those of my readers who do not care to refer, for examples of this law, 
to the Messieurs de Charlus of their acquaintance, whom for long years 
they had never suspected, until the day when, upon the smooth surface of 
the individual just like everyone else, there suddenly appeared, traced in 
an ink hitherto invisible, the characters that compose the word dear to the 
ancient Greeks, have only, in order to convince themselves that the world 
which surrounds them appears to them at first naked, bare of a thousand 
ornaments which it offers to the eyes of others better informed, to remind 
themselves how many times in the course of their lives they have found 
themselves on the point of making a blunder. Nothing upon the blank, un- 
documented face of this man or that could have led them to suppose that 
he was precisely the brother, or the intended husband, or the lover of a 
woman of whom they were just going to remark: "What a cow!" But 
then, fortunately, a word whispered to them by some one standing near 
arrests the fatal expression on their lips. At once there appear, like a Mcne, 
Tekel, Upharsin, the words: "He is engaged to," or, "he is the brother of," 
or "he is the lover of the woman whom we ought not to describe, in his 
hearing, as a cow." And this one new conception will bring about an entire 
regrouping, thrusting some back, others forward, of the fractional con- 
ceptions, henceforward a complete whole, which we possessed of the rest 
of the family. In M. de Charlus another creature might indeed have coupled 
itself with him which made him as different from other men as the horse 
makes the centaur, this creature might indeed have incorporated itself in 
the Baron, I had never caught a glimpse of it. Now the abstraction had 
become materialised, the creature at last discerned had lost its power of 
remaining invisible, and the transformation of M. de Charlus into a new 
person was so complete that not only the contrasts of his face, of his voice, 
but, in retrospect, the very ups and downs of his relations with myself, 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM 13 

everything that hitherto had seemed to my mind incoherent, became intel- 
ligible, brought itself into evidence, just as a sentence which presents no 
meaning so long as it remains broken up in letters scattered at random 
upon a table, expresses, if these letters be rearranged in the proper order, 
a thought which one can never afterwards forget. 

I now understood, moreover, how, earlier in the day, when I had seen 
him coming away from Mme. de Villeparisis's, I had managed to arrive 
at the conclusion that M. de Charlus looked like a woman: he was one! 
He belonged to that race of beings, less paradoxical than they appear, 
whose ideal is manly simply because their temperament is feminine and 
who in their life resemble in appearance only the rest of men ; there where 
each of us carries, inscribed in those eyes through which he beholds every- 
thing in the universe, a human outline engraved on the surface of the 
pupil, for them it is that not of a nymph but of a youth. Race upon which 
a curse weighs and which must live amid falsehood and perjury, because 
it knows the world to regard as a punishable and a scandalous, as an 
inadmissible thing, its desire, that which constitutes for every human 
creature the greatest happiness in life; which must deny its God, since 
even Christians, when at the bar of justice they appear and are arraigned, 
must before Christ and in His Name defend themselves, as from a calumny, 
from the charge of what to them is life itself; sons without a mother, to 
whom they are obliged to lie all her life long and even in the hour when 
they close her dying eyes; friends without friendships, despite all those 
which their charm, frequently recognised, inspires and their hearts, often 
generous, would gladly feel; but can we describe as friendship those rela- 
tions which flourish only by virtue of a lie and from which the first out- 
burst of confidence and sincerity in which they might be tempted to in- 
dulge would make them be expelled with disgust, unless they are dealing 
with an impartial, that is to say a sympathetic mind, which however in 
that case, misled with regard to them by a conventional psychology, will 
suppose to spring from the vice confessed the very affection that is most 
alien to it, just as certain judges assume and are more inclined to pardon 
murder in inverts and treason in Jews for reasons derived from original 
sin and racial predestination. And lastly according at least to the first 
theory which I sketched in outline at the time and which we shall see sub- 
jected to some modification in the sequel, a theory by which this would 
have angered them above all things, had not the paradox been hidden from 
their eyes by the very illusion that made them see and live lovers from 
whom is always precluded the possibility of that love the hope of which 
gives them the strength to endure so many risks and so much loneliness, 
since they fall in love with precisely that type of man who has nothing 
feminine about him, who is not an invert and consequently cannot love 
them in return; with the result that their desire would be for ever insa- 
tiable did not their money procure for them real men, and their imagina- 
tion end by making them take for real men the inverts to whom they had 
prostituted themselves. Their honour precarious, their liberty provisional, 
lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable, like 
that of the poet who one day was feasted at every table, applauded in every 



14 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

theatre in London, and on the next was driven from every lodging, unable 
to find a pillow upon which to lay his head, turning the mill like Samson 
and saying like him: "The two sexes shall die, each in a place apart !"; 
excluded even, save on the days of general disaster when the majority 
rally round the victim as the Jews rallied round Dreyfus, from the sym- 
pathy at times from the society of their fellows, in whom they inspire 
only disgust at seeing themselves as they are, portrayed in a mirror which, 
ceasing to flatter them, accentuates every blemish that they have refused 
to observe in themselves, and makes them understand that what they have 
been calling their love (a thing to which, playing upon the word, they have 
by association annexed all that poetry, painting, music, chivalry, asceti- 
cism have contrived to add to love) springs not from an ideal of beauty 
which they have chosen but from an incurable malady; like the Jews 
again (save some who will associate only with others of their race and 
have always on their lips ritual words and consecrated pleasantries), shun- 
ning one another, seeking out those who are most directly their opposite, 
who do not desire their company, pardoning their rebuffs, moved to ecstasy 
by their condescension; but also brought into the company of their own 
kind by the ostracism that strikes them, the opprobrium under which they 
have fallen, having finally been invested, by a persecution similar to that 
of Israel, with the physical and moral characteristics of a race, sometimes 
beautiful, often hideous, finding (in spite of all the mockery with which 
he who, more closely blended with, better assimilated to the opposing race, 
is relatively, in appearance, the least inverted, heaps upon him who has 
remained more so) a relief in frequenting the society of their kind, and 
even some corroboration of their own life, so much so that, while stead- 
fastly denying that they are a race (the name of which is the vilest of in- 
sults), those who succeed in concealing the fact that they belong to it they 
readily unmask, with a view less to injuring them, though they have no 
scruple about that, than to excusing themselves; and, going in search (as 
a doctor seeks cases of appendicitis) of cases of inversion in history, taking 
pleasure in recalling that Socrates was one of themselves, as the Israelites 
claim that Jesus was one of them, without reflecting that there were no 
abnormals when homosexuality was the norm, no anti-Christians before 
Christ, that the disgrace alone makes the crime because it has allowed to 
survive only those who remained obdurate to every warning, to every 
example, to every punishment, by virtue of an innate disposition so pe- 
culiar that it is more repugnant to other men (even though it may be 
accompanied by exalted moral qualities) than certain other vices which 
exclude those qualities, such as theft, cruelty, breach of faith, vices better 
understood and so more readily excused by the generality of men ; forming 
a freemasonry far more extensive, more powerful and less suspected than 
that of the Lodges, for it rests upon an identity of tastes, needs, habits, 
dangers, apprenticeship, knowledge, traffic, glossary, and one in which 
the members themselves, who intend not to know one another, recognise 
one another immediately by natural or conventional, involuntary or de- 
liberate signs which indicate one of his congeners to the beggar in the 
street, in the great nobleman whose carriage door he is shutting, to the 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM 1$ 

father in the suitor for his daughter's hand, to him who has sought heal- 
ing, absolution, defence, in the doctor, the priest, the barrister to whom he 
has had recourse ; all of them obliged to protect their own secret but hav- 
ing their part in a secret shared with the others, which the rest of humanity 
does not suspect and which means that to them the most wildly improb- 
able tales of adventure seem true, for in this romantic, anachronistic life 
the ambassador is a bosom friend of the felon, the prince, with a certain 
independence of action with which his aristocratic breeding has furnished 
him, and which the trembling little cit would lack, on leaving the duchess's 
party goes off to confer in private with the hooligan; a reprobate part of 
the human whole, but an important part, suspected where it does not exist, 
flaunting itself, insolent and unpunished, where its existence is never 
guessed; numbering its adherents everywhere, among the people, in the 
army, in the church, in the prison, on the throne; living, in short, at least 
to a great extent, in a playful and perilous intimacy with the men of the 
other race, provoking them, playing with them by speaking of its .vice as 
of something alien to it ; a game that is rendered easy by the blindness or 
duplicity of the others, a game that may be kept up for years until the day 
of the scandal, on which these lion-tamers are devoured; until then, obliged 
to make a secret of their lives, to turn away their eyes from the things on 
which they would naturally fasten them, to fasten them upon those from 
v/hich they would naturally turn away, to change the gender of many of 
the words in their vocabulary, a social constraint, slight in comparison 
with the inward constraint which their vice, or what is improperly so 
called, imposes upon them with regard not so much now to others as to 
themselves, and in such a way that to themselves it does not appear a vice. 
But certain among them, more practical, busier men who have not the time 
to go and drive their own bargains, or to dispense with the simplification of 
life and that saving of time which may result from cooperation, have 
formed two societies of which the second is composed exclusively of per- 
sons similar to themselves. 

This is noticeable in those who are poor and have come up from the 
country, without friends, with nothing but their ambition to be some day a 
celebrated doctor or barrister, with a mind still barren of opinions, a person 
unadorned with manners, which they intend, as soon as possible, to deco- 
rate, just as they would buy furniture for their little attic in the Latin 
quarter, copying whatever they had observed in those who had already 
'arrived' in the useful and serious profession in which they also intend to 
establish themselves and to become famous; in these their special taste, 
unconsciously inherited like a weakness for drawing, for music, a weakness 
of vision, is perhaps the only living and despotic originality which on 
certain evenings compels them to miss some meeting, advantageous to 
their career, with people whose ways, in other respect, of speaking, think- 
ing, dressing, parting their hair, they have adopted. In their quarter, where 
otherwise they mix only with their brother students, their teachers or some 
fellow-provincial who has succeeded and can help them on, they have 
speedily discovered other young men whom the same peculiar taste attracts 
to them, as in a small town one sees an intimacy grow up between the 



l6 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

assistant master and the lawyer, who are both interested in chamber music 
or mediaeval ivories; applying to the object of their distraction the same 
utilitarian instinct, the same professional spirit which guides them in their 
career, they meet these young men at gatherings to which no profane out- 
sider is admitted any more than to those that bring together collectors of 
old snuff-boxes, Japanese prints or rare flowers, and at which, what with 
the pleasure of gaining information, the practical value of making ex- 
changes and the fear of competition, there prevail simultaneously, as in a 
saleroom of postage stamps, the close cooperation of the specialists and the 
fierce rivalries of the collectors. No one moreover in the cafe where they 
have their table knows what the gathering is, whether it is that of an 
angling club, of an editorial staff, or of the 'Sons of the Indre/ so correct 
is their attire, so cold and reserved their manner, so modestly do they 
refrain from anything more than the most covert glances at the young 
men of fashion, the young 'lions' who, a few feet away, are making a great 
clamour about their mistresses, and among whom those who are admiring 
them without venturing to raise their eyes will learn only twenty years 
later, when they themselves are on the eve of admission to the Academy, 
and the others are middle-aged gentlemen in club windows, that the most 
seductive among them, now a stout and grizzled Charlus, was in reality 
akin to themselves, but differently, in another world, beneath other ex- 
ternal symbols, with foreign labels, the strangeness of which led them 
into error. But these groups are at varying stages of advancement; and, 
just as the 'Union of the Left' differs from the 'Socialist Federation' or 
some Mendelssohnian musical club from the Schola Cantorum, on certain 
evenings, at another table, there are extremists who allow a bracelet to slip 
down from beneath a cuff, sometimes a necklace to gleam in the gap of a 
collar, who by their persistent stares, their cooings, their laughter, their 
mutual caresses, oblige a band of students to depart in hot haste, and are 
served with a civility beneath which indignation boils by a waiter who, as 
on the evenings when he has to serve Dreyfusards, would find pleasure in 
summoning the police did he not find profit in pocketing their gratuities. 

It is with these professional organisations that the mind contrasts the 
taste of the solitaries, and in one respect without straining the points of 
difference, since it is doing no more than copy the solitaries themselves who 
imagine that nothing differs more widely from organised vice than what 
appears to them to be a misunderstood love, but with some strain never- 
theless, for these different classes correspond, no less than to diverse 
physiological types, to successive stages in a pathological or merely social 
evolution. And it is, in fact, very rarely that, one day or another, it is not 
in some such organisation that the solitaries come to merge themselves, 
sometimes from simple weariness, or for convenience (just as the people 
who have been most strongly opposed to such innovations end by having 
the telephone installed, inviting the lenas to their parties, or dealing with 
Potin). They meet there, for that matter, with none too friendly a recep- 
tion as a rule, for, in their relatively pure lives, their want of experience, 
the saturation in dreams to which they have been reduced, have branded 
more strongly upon them those special marks of effeminacy which the 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM 17 

professionals have sought to efface. And it must be admitted that, among 
certain of these newcomers, the woman is not only inwardly united to the 
man but hideously visible, agitated as one sees them by a hysterical spasm, 
by a shrill laugh which convulses their knees and hands, looking no more 
like the common run of men than those monkeys with melancholy, shadowed 
eyes and prehensile feet who dress up in dinner-jackets and black bow 
ties; so that these new recruits are judged by others, less chaste for all 
that themselves, to be compromising associates, and their admission is 
hedged with difficulties; they are accepted, nevertheless, and they benefit 
then by those facilities by which commerce, great undertakings have 
transformed the lives of individuals, and have brought within their reach 
commodities hitherto too costly to acquire and indeed hard to find, which 
now submerge them beneath the plethora of what by themselves they had 
never succeeded in discovering amid the densest crowds. But, even with 
these innumerable outlets, the burden of social constraint is still too heavy 
for some, recruited principally among those who have not made a practice 
of self-control, and who still take to be rarer than it actually is their way 
of love. Let us leave out of consideration for the moment those who, the 
exceptional character of their inclinations making them regard themselves 
as superior to the other sex, look down upon women, make homosexuality 
the privilege of great genius and of glorious epochs of history, and, when 
they seek to communicate their taste to others, approach not so much 
those who seem to them to be predisposed towards it (as the morphino- 
maniac does with his morphia) as those who seem to them to be worthy of 
it, from apostolic zeal, just as others preach Zionism, conscientious objec- 
tion to military service, Saint-Simonism, vegetarianism or anarchy. Here 
is one who, should we intrude upon him in the morning, still in bed, will 
present to our gaze an admirable female head, so general is its expression 
and typical of the sex as a whole; his very hair affirms this, so feminine is 
its ripple; unbrushed, it falls so naturally in long curls over the cheek 
that one marvels how the young woman, the girl, the Galatea barely 
awakened to life, in the unconscious mass of this male body in which she 
is imprisoned, has contrived so ingeniously by herself, without instruction 
from anyone, to make use of the narrowest apertures in her prison wall 
to find what was necessary to her existence. No doubt the young man who 
sports this delicious head does not say: "I am a woman." Even if for any 
of the countless possible reasons he lives with a woman, he can deny to 
her that he is himself one, can swear to her that he has never had inter- 
course with men. But let her look at him as we have just revealed him, 
lying back in bed, in pyjamas, his arms bare, his throat and neck bare 
also beneath the darkness of his hair. The pyjama jacket becomes a 
woman's shift, the head that of a pretty Spanish girl. The mistress is as- 
tounded by these confidences offered to her gaze, truer than any spoken 
confidence could be, or indeed any action, which his actions, indeed, if they 
have not already done so, cannot fail later on to confirm, for every creature 
follows the line of his own pleasure, and if this creature is not too vicious 
he will seek it in a sex complementary to his own. And for the invert vice 
begins, not when he forms relations (for there are all sorts of reasons that 



18 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

may enjoin these), but when he takes his pleasure with women. The young 
man whom we have been attempting to portray was so evidently a woman 
that the women who looked upon him with longing were doomed (failing 
a special taste on their part) to the same disappointment as those who in 
Shakespeare's comedies are taken in by a girl in disguise who passes as 
a youth. The deception is mutual, the invert is himself aware of it, he 
guesses the disillusionment which, once the mask is removed, the woman 
will experience, and feels to what an extent this mistake as to sex is a 
source of poetical imaginings. Besides, even from his exacting mistress, in 
vain does he keep back the admission (if she, that is to say, be not herself 
a denizen of Gomorrah): "I am a woman!" when all the time with what 
stratagems, what agility, what obstinacy as of a climbing plant the uncon- 
scious but visible woman in him seeks the masculine organ. We have only 
to look at that head of curling hair on the white pillow to understand that 
if, in the evening, this young man slips through his guardians' fingers, 
in spite of anything that they, or he himself can do to restrain him, it 
will not be to go in pursuit of women. His mistress may chastise him, may 
lock him up ; next day, the man-woman will have found some way of attach- 
ing himself to a man, as the convolvulus throws out its tendrils wherever 
it finds a convenient post or rake. Why, when we admire in the face of this 
person a delicacy that touches our hearts, a gracefulness, a spontaneous 
affability such as men do not possess, should we be dismayed to learn that 
this young man runs after boxers? They are different aspects of an identical 
reality. And indeed, what repels us is the most touching thing of all, more 
touching than any refinement of delicacy, for it represents an admirable 
though unconscious effort on the part of nature: the recognition of his sex 
by itself, in spite of the sexual deception, becomes apparent, the uncon- 
fessed attempt to escape from itself towards what an initial error on the 
part of society has segregated from it. Some, those no doubt who have been 
most timid in childhood, are scarcely concerned with the material kind of 
the pleasure they receive, provided that they can associate it with a mascu- 
line face. Whereas others, whose sensuality is doubtless more violent, im- 
periously restrict their material pleasure within certain definite limitations. 
These live perhaps less exclusively beneath the sway of Saturn's outrider, 
since for them women are not entirely barred, as for the former sort, in 
whose eyes women would have no existence apart from conversation, flirta- 
tion, loves not of the heart but of the head. But the second sort seek out 
those women who love other women ; who can procure for them a young 
man, enhance the pleasure which they feel on finding themselves in his 
company; better still, they can, in the same fashion, enjoy with such 
women the same pleasure as with a man. Whence it arises that jealousy is 
kindled in those who love the first sort only by the pleasure which they may 
be enjoying wLh a man, which alone seems to their lovers a betrayal, since 
these do not participate in the love of women, have practised it only as a 
habit, and, so as to reserve for themselves the possibility of eventual mar- 
riage, representing to themselves so little the pleasure that it is capable of 
giving that they cannot be distressed by the thought that he whom they 
love is enjoying that pleasure ; whereas the other sort often inspire jealousy 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM IQ 

by their love-affairs with women. For, in the relations which they have with 
her, they play, for the woman who loves her own sex, the part of another 
woman, and she offers them at the same time more or less what they find 
in other men, so that the jealous friend suffers from the feeling that he 
whom he loves is riveted to her who is to him almost a man, and at the 
same time feels his beloved almost escape him because, to these women, he 
is something which the lover himself cannot conceive, a sort of woman. We 
need not pause here to consider those young fools who by a sort of arrested 
development, to tease their friends or to shock their families, proceed with 
a kind of frenzy to choose clothes that resemble women's dress, to redden 
their lips and blacken their eyelashes; we may leave them out of account, 
for they are those whom we shall find later on, when they have suffered the 
all too cruel penalty of their affectation, spending what remains of their 
lifetime in vain attempts to repair by a sternly protestant demeanour the 
wrong that they did to themselves when they were carried away by the 
same demon that urges young women of the Faubourg Saint-Germain to 
live in a scandalous fashion, to set every convention at defiance, to scoff 
at the entreaties of their relatives, until the day when they set themselves 
with perseverance but without success to reascend the slope down which 
it had seemed to them that it would be so amusing to glide, down which 
they had found it so amusing, or rather had not been able to stop them- 
selves from gliding. Finally, let us leave to a later volume the men who 
have sealed a pact with Gomorrah. We shall deal with them when M. de 
Charlus comes to know them. Let us leave out for the present all those, of 
one sort or another, who will appear each in his turn, and, to conclude 
this first sketch of the subject, let us say a word only of those whom we 
began to mention just now, the solitary class. Supposing their vice to be 
more exceptional than it is, they have retired into solitude from the day on 
which they discovered it, after having carried it within themselves for a 
long time without knowing it, for a longer time only than certain other 
men. For no one can tell at first that he is an invert or a poet or a snob or 
a scoundrel. The boy who has been reading erotic poetry or looking at inde- 
cent pictures, if he then presses his body against a schoolfellow's, imagines 
himself only to be communing with him in an identical desire for a woman. 
How should he suppose that he is not like everybody else when he recog- 
nises the substance of what he feels on reading Mme. de Lafayette, Racine, 
Baudelaire, Walter Scott, at a time when he is still too little capable of 
observing himself to take into account what he has added from his own 
store to the picture, and that if the sentiment be the same the object dif- 
fers, that what he desires is Rob Roy, and not Diana Vernon? With many, 
by a defensive prudence on the part of the instinct that precedes the clearer 
vision of the intellect, the mirror and walls of their bedroom vanish beneath 
a cloud of coloured prints of actresses; they compose poetry such as: 

I love but Chloe in the world, 

For Chloe is divine; 
Her golden hair is sweetly curled, 

For her my heart doth pine. 



2O CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

Must we on that account attribute to the opening phase of such lives a 
taste which we shall never find in them later on, like those flaxen ringlets 
on the heads of children which are destined to change to the darkest 
brown? Who can tell whether the photographs of women are not a first sign 
of hypocrisy, a first sign also of horror at other inverts? But the solitary 
kind are precisely those to whom hypocrisy is painful. Possibly even the 
example of the Jews, of a different type of colony, is not strong enough to 
account for the frail hold that their upbringing has upon them, or for the 
artfulness with which they find their way back (perhaps not to anything 
so sheerly terrible as the suicide to which maniacs, whatever precautions 
one may take with them, return, and, pulled out of the river into which 
they have flung themselves, take poison, procure revolvers, and so forth; 
but) to a life of which the men of the other race not only do not under- 
stand, cannot imagine, abominate the essential pleasures but would be filled 
with horror by the thought of its frequent danger and everlasting shame. 
Perhaps, to form a picture of these, we ought to think, if not of the wild 
animals that never become domesticated, of the lion-cubs said to be tame 
but lions still at heart, then at least of the Negroes whom the comfortable 
existence of the white man renders desperately unhappy and who prefer 
the risks of a life of savagery and its incomprehensible joys. When the 
day has dawned on which they have discovered themselves to be incapable 
at once of lying to others and of lying to themselves, they go away to live 
in the country, shunning the society of their own kind (whom they believe 
to be few in number) from horror of the monstrosity or fear of the tempta- 
tion, and that of the rest of humanity from shame. Never having arrived 
at true maturity, plunged in a constant melancholy, now and again, some 
Sunday evening when there is no moon, they go for a solitary walk as far 
as a crossroads where, although not a word has been said, there has come 
to meet them one of their boyhood's friends who is living in a house in the 
neighbourhood. And they begin again the pastimes of long ago, on the 
grass, in the night, neither uttering a word. During the week, they meet 
in their respective houses, talk of no matter what, without any allusion to 
what has occurred between them, exactly as though they had done nothing 
and were not to do anything again, save, in their relations, a trace of cold- 
ness, of irony, of irritability and rancour, at times of hatred. Then the 
neighbour sets out on a strenuous expedition on horseback, and, on a mule, 
climbs mountain peaks, sleeps in the snow; his friend, who identifies his 
own vice with a weakness of temperament, the cabined and timid life, 
realises that vice can no longer exist in his friend now emancipated, so 
many thousands of feet above sea-level. And, sure enough, the other takes 
a wife. And yet the abandoned one is not cured (in spite of the cases in 
which, as we shall see, inversion is curable). He insists upon going down 
himself every morning to the kitchen to receive the milk from the hands 
of the dairyman's boy, and on the evenings when desire is too strong for 
him will go out of his way to set a drunkard on the right road or to "adjust 
the dress" oi a blind man. No doubt the life of certain inverts appears at 
times to change, their vice (as it is called) is no longer apparent in their 
habits; but nothing is ever lost; a missing jewel turns up again; when the 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM 21 

quantity of a sick man's urine decreases, it is because he is perspiring more 
freely, but the excretion must invariably occur. One day this homosexual 
hears of the death of a young cousin, and from his inconsolable grief we 
learned that it was to this love, chaste possibly and aimed rather at retain- 
ing esteem than at obtaining possession, that his desires have passed by a 
sort of virescence, as, in a budget, without any alteration in the total, cer- 
tain expediture is carried under another head. As is the case with invalids 
in whom a sudden attack of urticaria makes their chronic ailments tem- 
porarily disappear, this pure love for a young relative seems, in the invert, 
to have momentarily replaced, by metastasis, habits that will, one day or 
another, return to fill the place of the vicarious, cured malady. 

Meanwhile the married neighbour of our recluse has returned; before 
the beauty of the young bride and the demonstrative affection of her hus- 
band, on the day when their friend is obliged to invite them to dinner, he 
feels ashamed of the past. Already in an interesting condition, she must 
return home early, leaving her husband behind; he, when the time has 
come for him to go home also, asks his host to accompany him for part of 
the way; at first, no suspicion enters his mind, but at the crossroads he 
finds himself thrown down on the grass, with not a word said, by the 
mountaineer who is shortly to become a father. And their meetings begin 
again, and continue until the day when there comes to live not far off a 
cousin of the young woman, with whom her husband is now constantly to 
be seen. And he, if the twice-abandoned friend calls in the evening and 
endeavours to approach him, is furious, and repulses him with indignation 
that the other has not had the tact to foresee the disgust which he must 
henceforward inspire. Once, however, there appears a stranger, sent to 
him by his faithless friend; but being busy at the time, the abandoned one 
cannot see him, and only afterwards learns with what object his visitor 
came. 

Then the solitary languishes alone. He has no other diversion than to go 
to the neighbouring watering-place to ask for some information or other 
from a certain railwayman there. But the latter has obtained promotion, 
has been transferred to the other end of the country; the solitary will no 
longer be able to go and ask him the times of the trains or the price of a 
first class ticket, and, before retiring to dream, Griselda-like, in his tower, 
loiters upon the beach, a strange Andromeda whom no Argonaut will come 
to free, a sterile Medusa that must perish upon the sand, or else he stands 
idly, until his train starts, upon the platform, casting over the crowd of 
passengers a gaze that will seem indifferent, contemptuous or distracted to 
those of another race, but, like the luminous glow with which certain insects 
bedeck themselves in order to attract others of their species, or like the 
nectar which certain flowers offer to attract the insects that will fertilise 
them, would not deceive the almost undiscoverable sharer of a pleasure 
too singular, too hard to place, which is offered him, the colleague with 
whom our specialist could converse in the half-forgotten tongue; in which 
last, at the most, some seedy loafer upon the platform will put up a show 
of interest, but for pecuniary gain alone, like those people who, at the Col- 
lege de France, in the room in which the Professor oi Sanskrit lectures 



22 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

without an audience, attend his course but only because the room itself 
is heated. Medusa I Orchid! When I followed my instinct only, the medusa 
used to revolt me at Balbec; but if I had the eyes to regard it, like Michelet, 
from the standpoint of natural history, and aesthetic, I saw an exquisite 
wheel of azure flame. Are they not, with the transparent velvet of their 
petals, as it were the mauve orchids of the sea? Like so many creatures of 
the animal and vegetable kingdoms, like the plant which would produce 
vanilla but, because in its structure the male organ is divided by a partition 
from the female, remains sterile unless the humming-birds or certain tiny 
bees convey the pollen from one to the other, or man fertilises them by 
artificial means, M. de Charlus (and here the word fertilise must be 
understood in a moral sense, since in the physical sense the union of male 
with male is and must be sterile, but it is no small matter that a person may 
encounter the sole pleasure which he is capable of enjoying, and that every 
'creature here below 7 can impart to some other 'his music, or his fragrance 
or his flame'), M. de Charlus was one of those men who may be called 
exceptional, because however many they may be, the satisfaction, so easy 
in others, of their sexual requirements depends upon the coincidence of too 
many conditions, and of conditions too difficult to ensure. For men like 
M. de Charlus (leaving out of account the compromises which will appear 
in the course of this story and which the reader may already have foreseen, 
enforced by the need of pleasure which resigns itself to partial accepta- 
tions), mutual love, apart from the difficulties, so great as to be almost 
insurmountable, which it meets in the ordinary man, adds to these others 
so exceptional that what is always extremely rare for everyone becomes in 
their case well nigh impossible, and, if there should befall them an encoun- 
ter which is really fortunate, or which nature makes appear so to them, 
their good fortune, far more than that of the normal lover, has about it 
something extraordinary, selective, profoundly necessary. The feud of 
the Capulets and Montagues was as nothing compared with the obstacles 
of every sort which must have been surmounted, the special eliminations 
which nature has had to submit to the hazards, already far from common, 
which result in love, before a retired tailor, who was intending to set off 
soberly for his office, can stand quivering in ecstasy before a stoutish man 
of fifty; this Romeo and this Juliet may believe with good reason that 
their love is not the caprice of a moment but a true predestination, pre- 
pared by the harmonies of their temperaments, and not only by their own 
personal temperaments but by those of their ancestors, by their most 
distant strains of heredity, so much so that the fellow creature who is con- 
joined with them has belonged to them from before their birth, has attracted 
them by a force comparable to that which governs the worlds on which we 
passed our former lives. M. de Charlus had distracted me from looking to 
see whether the bee was bringing to the orchid the pollen it had so long 
been waiting to receive, and had no chance of receiving save by an accident 
so unlikely that one might call it a sort of miracle. But this was a miracle 
also that I had just witnessed, almost of the same order and no less mar- 
vellous. As soon as I had considered their meeting from this point of view, 
everything about it seemed to me instinct with beauty. The most extraor- 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM 23 

dinary devices that nature has invented to compel insects to ensure the 
fertilisation of flowers which without their intervention could not be fer- 
tilised because the male flower is too far away from the female or when, 
if it is the wind that must provide for the transportation of the pollen, she 
makes that pollen so much more simply detachable from the male, so much 
more easily arrested in its flight by the female flower, by eliminating the 
secretion of nectar which is no longer of any use since there is no insect to 
be attracted, and, that the flower may be kept free for the pollen which it 
needs, which can fructify only in itself, makes it secrete a liquid which ren- 
ders it immune to all other pollens seemed to me no more marvellous than 
the existence of the subvariety of inverts destined to guarantee the pleas- 
ures of love to the invert who is growing old: men who are attracted not 
by all other men, but by a phenomenon of correspondence and harmony 
similar to those that precede the fertilisation of heterostyle trimorphous 
flowers like the lythrum salicoria only by men considerably older than 
themselves. Of this subvariety Jupien had just furnished me with an 
example less striking however than certain others, which every collector 
of a human herbary, every moral botanist can observe in spite of their 
rarity, and which will present to the eye a delicate youth who is waiting for 
the advances of a robust and paunchy quinquagenarian, remaining as indif- 
ferent to those of other young men as the hermaphrodite flowers of the 
short-styled primula veris so long as they are fertilised only by other primu- 
lae veris of short style also, whereas they welcome with joy the pollen of the 
primula veris with the long styles. As for M. de Charlus's part in the trans- 
action, I noticed afterwards that there were for him various kinds of con- 
junction, some of which, by their multiplicity, their almost invisible speed 
and above all the absence of contact between the two actors, recalled still 
more forcibly those flowers that in a garden are fertilised by the pollen of 
a neighbouring flower which they may never touch. There were in fact 
certain persons whom it was sufficient for him to make come to his house, 
hold for an hour or two under the domination of his talk, for his desire, 
quickened by some earlier encounter, to be assuaged. By a simple use of 
words the conjunction was effected, as simply as it can be among the infu- 
soria. Sometimes, as had doubtless been the case with me on the evening 
on which I had been summoned by him after the Guermantes dinner-party, 
the relief was effected by a violent ejaculation which the Baron made in 
his visitor's face, just as certain flowers, furnished with a hidden spring, 
sprinkle from within the unconsciously collaborating and disconcerted 
insect. M. de Charlus, from vanquished turning victor, feeling himself 
purged of his uneasiness and calmed, would send away the visitor who had 
at once ceased to appear to him desirable. Finally, inasmuch as inversion 
itself springs from the fact that the invert is too closely akin to woman to 
be capable of having any effective relations with her, it comes under a 
higher law which ordains that so many hermaphrodite flowers shall remain 
unfertile, that is to say the law of the sterility of autofecundation. It is 
true that inverts, in their search for a male person, will often be found to 
put up with other inverts as effeminate as themselves. But it is enough that 
they do not belong to the female sex, of which they have in them an embryo 



24 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

which they can put to no useful purpose, such as we find in so many her- 
maphrodite flowers, and even in certain hermaphrodite animals, such as the 
snail, which cannot be fertilised by themselves, but can by other hermaph- 
rodites. In this respect the race of inverts, who eagerly connect them- 
selves with Oriental antiquity or the Golden Age in Greece, might be traced 
back farther still, to those experimental epochs in which there existed 
neither dioecious plants nor monosexual animals, to that initial hermaph- 
roditism of which certain rudiments of male organs in the anatomy of 
the woman and of female organs in that of the man seem still to preserve 
the trace. I found the pantomime, incomprehensible to me at first, of Jupien 
and M. de Charlus as curious as those seductive gestures addressed, Dar- 
win tells us, to insects not only by the flowers called composite which erect 
the florets of their capitals so as to be seen from a greater distance, such as 
a certain heterostyle which turns back its stamens and bends them to open 
the way for the insect, or offers him an ablution, or, to take an immediate 
instance, the nectar-fragrance and vivid hue of the corollae that were at 
that moment attracting insects to our courtyard. From this day onwards 
M. de Charlus was to alter the time of his visits to Mme. de Villeparisis, 
not that he could not see Jupien elsewhere and with greater convenience, 
but because to him just as much as to me the afternoon sunshine and the 
blossoming plant were, no doubt, linked together in memory. Apart from 
this, he did not confine himself to recommending the Jupiens to Mme. de 
Villeparisis, to the Duchesse de Guermantes, to a whole brilliant list of 
patrons, who were all the more assiduous in their attentions to the young 
seamstress when they saw that the few ladies who had held out, or had 
merely delayed their submission, were subjected to the direst reprisals by 
the Baron, whether in order that they might serve as an example, or be- 
cause they had aroused his wrath and had stood out against his attempted 
domination; he made Jupien's position more and more lucrative, until he 
definitely engaged him as his secretary and established him in the state in 
which we shall see him later on. "Ah, now! There is a happy man, if you 
like, that Jupien," said Francoise, who had a tendency to minimise or exag- 
gerate people's generosity according as it was bestowed on herself or on 
others. Not that, in this instance, she had any need to exaggerate, nor for 
that matter did she feel any jealousy, being genuinely fond of Jupien. "Oh, 
he's such a good man, the Baron," she went on, "such a well-behaved, re- 
ligious, proper sort of man. If I had a daughter to marry and was one of the 
rich myself, I would give her to the Baron with my eyes shut." "But, Fran- 
<;oise," my mother observed gently, "she'd be well supplied with husbands, 
that daughter of yours. Don't forget you've already promised her to 
Jupien." "Ah! Lordy, now," replied Franqoise, "there's another of them 
that would make a woman happy. It doesn't matter whether you're rich or 
poor, it makes no difference to your nature. The Baron and Jupien, they're 
just the same sort of person." 

However, I greatly exaggerated at the time, on the strength of this first 
revelation, the elective character of so carefully selected a combination. 
Admittedly, every man of the kind of M. de Charlus is an extraordinary 
creature since, if he does not make concessions to the possibilities of life, 



DESCENDANTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF SODOM 2$ 

he seeks out essentially the love of a man of the other race, that is to say 
a man who is a lover of women (and incapable consequently of loving 
him) ; in contradiction of what I had imagined in the courtyard, where I 
had seen Jupien turning towards M. de Charlus like the orchid making 
overtures to the bee, these exceptional creatures whom we commiserate 
are a vast crowd, as we shall see in the course of this work, for a reason 
which will be disclosed only at the end of it, and commiserate themselves 
for being too many rather than too few. For the two angels who were 
posted at the gates of Sodom to learn whether its inhabitants (according 
to Genesis) had indeed done all the things the report of which had ascended 
to the Eternal Throne must have been, and of this one can only be glad, 
exceedingly ill chosen by the Lord, Who ought not to have entrusted the 
task to any but a Sodomite. Such an one the excuses: " Father of six chil- 
dren I keep two mistresses," and so forth could never have persuaded 
benevolently to lower his flaming sword and to mitigate the punishment; 
he would have answered: "Yes, and your wife lives in a torment of jealousy. 
But even when these women have not been chosen by you from Gomorrah, 
you spend your nights with a watcher of flocks upon Hebron." And he 
would at once have made him retrace his steps to the city which the rain 
of fire and brimstone was to destroy. On the contrary, they allowed to es- 
cape all the shame-faced Sodomites, even if these, on catching sight of a 
boy, turned their heads, like Lot's wife, though without being on that 
account changed like her into pillars of salt. With the result that they 
engendered a numerous posterity with whom this gesture has continued to 
be habitual, like that of the dissolute women who, while apparently study- 
ing a row of shoes displayed in a shop window, turn their heads to keep 
track of a passing student. These descendants of the Sodomites, so numer- 
ous that we may apply to them that other verse of Genesis: "If a man can 
number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered," have 
established themselves throughout the entire world; they have had access 
to every profession and pass so easily into the most exclusive clubs that, 
whenever a Sodomite fails to secure election, the blackballs are, for the 
most part, cast by other Sodomites, who are anxious to penalise sodomy, 
having inherited the falsehood that enabled their ancestors to escape from 
the accursed city. It is possible that they may return there one day. Cer- 
tainly they form in every land an Oriental colony, cultured, musical, mali- 
cious, which has certain charming qualities and intolerable defects. We 
shall study them with greater thoroughness in the course of the following 
pages; but I have thought it as well to utter here a provisional warning 
against the lamentable error of proposing (just as people have encouraged 
a Zionist movement) to create a Sodomist movement and to rebuild Sodom. 
For, no sooner had they arrived there than the Sodomites would leave the 
town so as not to have the appearance of belonging to it, would take wives, 
keep mistresses in other cities where they would find, incidentally, every 
diversion that appealed to them. They would repair to Sodom only on days 
of supreme necessity, when their own town was empty, at those seasons 
when hunger drives the wolf from the woods; in other words, everything 



26 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

would go on very much as it does to-day in London, Berlin, Rome, Petro- 
grad or Paris. 

Anyhow, on the day in question, before paying my call on the Duchess, 
I did not look so far ahead, and I was distressed to find that I had, by my 
engrossment in the Jupien-Charlus conjunction, missed perhaps an oppor- 
tunity of witnessing the fertilisation of the blossom by the bee. 



CHAPTER ONE 

M. de Charlus in Society. A physician. Typical physiog- 
nomy of Mme. de Vaugoubert. Mme. d'Arpajon, the Hubert 
Robert fountain and the merriment of the Grand Duke Vladi- 
mir. Mmes. d'AmoncourtJ de Citri, de Saint-Euverte, etc. 
Curious conversation between Swann and the Prince de Guer- 
mantes. Albertine on the telephone. My social life in the 
interval before my second and final visit to Balbec. Arrival at 
Balbec. 



As I was in no haste to arrive at this party at the Guermantes', to which I 
was not certain that I had been invited, I remained sauntering out of doors; 
but the summer day seemed to be in no greater haste than myself to stir. 
Albeit it was after nine o'clock, it was still the light of day that on the 
Place de la Concorde was giving the Luxor obelisk the appearance of being 
made of pink nougat. Then it diluted the tint and changed the surface to a 
metallic substance, so that the obelisk not only became more precious but 
seemed to have grown more slender and almost flexible. You imagined that 
you might have twisted it in your fingers, had perhaps already slightly 
distorted its outline. The moon was now in the sky like a section of orange 
delicately peeled although slightly bruised. But presently she was to be 
fashioned of the most enduring gold. Sheltering alone behind her, a poor 
little star was to serve as sole companion to the lonely moon, while she, 
keeping her friend protected, but bolder and striding ahead, would brandish 
like an irresistible weapon, like an Oriental symbol, her broad and mar- 
vellous crescent of gold. 

Outside the mansion of the Princesse de Guermantes, I met the Due 
de Chatellerault ; I no longer remembered that half an hour earlier I had 
still been persecuted by the fear which, for that matter, was speedily to 
grip me again that I might be entering the house uninvited. We grow 
uneasy, and it is sometimes long after the hour of danger, which a subse- 
quent distraction has made us forget, that we remember our uneasiness. I 
greeted the young Duke and made my way into the house. But here I 
must first of all record a trifling incident, which will enable us to under- 
stand something that was presently to occur. 

There was one person who, on that evening as on the previous evenings, 
had been thinking a great deal about the Due de Chatellerault, without 
however suspecting who he was: this was the usher (styled at that time the 
aboyeur) of Mme. de Guermantes. M. de Chatellerault, so far from being 
one of the Princess's intimate friends, albeit he was one of her cousins, had 
been invited to her house for the first time. His parents, who had not been 
on speaking terms with her for the last ten years, had been reconciled to 

27 



28 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

her within the last fortnight, and, obliged to be out of Paris that evening, 
had requested their son to fill their place. Now, a few days earlier, the 
Princess's usher had met in the Champs-Elysees a young man whom he 
had found charming but whose identity he had been unable to establish. 
Not that the young man had not shewn himself as obliging as he had been 
generous. All the favours that the usher had supposed that he would have 
to bestow upon so young a gentleman, he had on the contrary received. 
But M. de Chatellerault was as reticent as he was rash; he was all the 
more determined not to disclose his incognito since he did not know with 
what sort of person he was dealing ; his fear would have been far greater, 
although quite unfounded, if he had known. He had confined himself to 
posing as an Englishman, and to all the passionate questions with which 
he was plied by the usher, desirous to meet again a person to whom he was 
indebted for so much pleasure and so ample a gratuity, the Duke had merely 
replied, from one end of the Avenue Gabriel to the other: "I do not speak 
French." 

Albeit, in spite of everything remembering his cousin Gilbert's mater- 
nal ancestry the Due de Guermantes pretended to find a touch of Cour- 
voisier in the drawing-room of the Princesse de Guermantes-Baviere, the 
general estimate of that lady's initiative spirit and intellectual superiority 
was based upon an innovation that was to be found nowhere else in her set. 
After dinner, however important the party that was to follow, the chairs, 
at the Princesse de Guermantes's, were arranged in such a way as to form 
little groups, in which people might have to turn their backs upon one 
another. The Princess then displayed her social sense by going to sit down, 
as though by preference, in one of these. Not that she was afraid to pick 
out and attract to herself a member of another group. If, for instance, she 
had remarked to M. Detaille, who naturally agreed with her, on the beauty 
of Mme. de Villemur's neck, of which that lady's position in another group 
made her present a back view, the Princess did not hesitate to raise her 
voice: "Madame de Villemur, M. Detaille, with his wonderful painter's 
eye, has just been admiring your neck." Mme. de Villemur interpreted this 
as a direct invitation to join in the conversation; with the agility of a 
practiced horsewoman, she made her chair rotate slowly through three 
quadrants of a circle, and, without in the least disturbing her neighbours, 
came to rest almost facing the Princess. "You don't know M. Detaille ?" 
exclaimed their hostess, for whom her guest's nimble and modest tergiversa- 
tion was not sufficient. "I do not know him, but I know his work," replied 
Mme. de Villemur, with a respectful, engaging air, and a promptitude 
which many of the onlookers envied her, addressing the while to the cele- 
brated painter whom this invocation had not been sufficient to introduce to 
her in a formal manner, an imperceptible bow. "Come, Monsieur Detaille," 
said the Princess, "let me introduce you to Mme. de Villemur." That lady 
thereupon shewed as great ingenuity in making room for the creator of the 
Dream as she had shewn a moment earlier in wheeling round to face him. 
And the Princess drew forward a chair for herself ; she had indeed invoked 
Mme. de Villemur only to have an excuse for quitting the first group, in 
which she had spent the statutory ten minutes, and bestowing a similar 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 2Q 

allowance of her time upon the second. In three quarters of an hour, all the 
groups had received a visit from her, which seemed to have been determined 
in each instance by impulse and predilection, but had the paramount object 
of making it apparent how naturally "a great lady knows how to enter- 
tain." But now the guests for the party were beginning to arrive, and the 
lady of the house was seated not far from the door erect and proud in her 
semi-regal majesty, her eyes ablaze with their own incandescence between 
two unattractive Royalties and the Spanish Ambassadress. 

I stood waiting behind a number of guests who had arrived before me. 
Facing me was the Princess, whose beauty is probably not the only thing, 
where there were so many beauties, that reminds me of this party. But the 
face of my hostess was so perfect; stamped like so beautiful a medal, that 
it has retained a commemorative force in my mind. The Princess was in 
the habit of saying to her guests when she met them a day or two before 
one of her parties: "You will come, won't you?" as though she felt a great 
desire to talk to them. But as, on the contrary, she had nothing to talk to 
them about, when they entered her presence she contented herself, without 
rising, with breaking off for an instant her vapid conversation with the two 
Royalties and the Ambassadress and thanking them with: "How good of 
you to have come," not that she thought that the guest had shewn his 
goodness by coming, but to enhance her own; then, at once dropping him 
back into the stream, she would add: "You will find M. de Guermantes by 
the garden door," so that the guest proceeded on his way and ceased to 
bother her. To some indeed she said nothing, contenting herself with shew- 
ing them her admirable onyx eyes, as though they had come merely to visit 
an exhibition of precious stones. 

The person immediately in front of me was the Due de Chatellerault. 

Having to respond to all the smiles, all the greetings waved to him from 
inside the drawing-room, he had not noticed the usher. But from the first 
moment the usher had recognised him. The identity of this stranger, which 
he had so ardently desired to learn, in another minute he would know. 
When he asked his 'Englishman' of the other evening what name he was 
to announce, the usher was not merely stirred, he considered that he was 
being indiscreet, indelicate. He felt that he was about to reveal to the whole 
world (which would, however, suspect nothing) a secret which it was crim- 
inal of him to force like this and to proclaim in public. Upon hearing the 
guest's reply: "Le due de Chatellerault," he felt such a burst of pride that 
he remained for a moment speechless. The Duke looked at him, recognised 
him, saw himself ruined, while the servant, who had recovered his com- 
posure and was sufficiently versed in heraldry to complete for himself an 
appellation that was too modest, shouted with a professional vehemence 
softened by an emotional tenderness: "Son Altesse Monseigneur le due de 
Chatellerault!" But it was now my turn to be announced. Absorbed in 
contemplation of my hostess, who had not yet seen me, I had not thought 
of the function terrible to me, although not in the same sense as to M. de 
Chatellerault of this usher garbed in black like a headsman, surrounded 
by a group of lackeys in the most cheerful livery, lusty fellows ready to 
seize hold of an intruder and cast him out of doors. The usher asked me my 



30 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

name, I told him it as mechanically as the condemned man allows himself 
to be strapped to the block. At once he lifted his head majestically and, 
before I could beg him to announce me in a lowered tone so as to spare my 
own feelings if I were not invited and those of the Princesse de Guermantes 
if I were, shouted the disturbing syllables with a force capable of bringing 
down the roof. 

The famous Huxley (whose grandson occupies an unassailable position 
in the English literary world of to-day) relates that one of his patients 
dared not continue to go into society because often, on the actual chair that 
was pointed out to her with a courteous gesture, she saw an old gentleman 
already seated. She could be quite certain that either the gesture of invita- 
tion or the old gentleman's presence was a hallucination, for her hostess 
would not have offered her a chair that was already occupied. And when 
Huxley, to cure her, forced her to reappear in society, she felt a moment of 
painful hesitation when she asked herself whether the friendly sign that 
was being made to her was the real thing, or, in obedience to a non-existent 
vision, she was about to sit down in public upon the knees of a gentleman 
in flesh and blood. Her brief uncertainty was agonising. Less so perhaps 
than mine. From the moment at which I had taken in the sound of my 
name, like the rumble that warns us of a possible cataclysm, I was bound, 
to plead my own good faith in either event, and as though I were not tor- 
mented by any doubt, to advance towards the Princess with a resolute air. 

She caught sight of me when I was still a few feet away and (to leave me 
in no doubt that I was the victim of a conspiracy), instead of remaining 
seated, as she had done for her other guests, rose and came towards me. A 
moment later, I was able to heave the sigh of relief of Huxley's patient, 
when, having made up her mind to sit down on the chair, she found it 
vacant and realised that it was the old gentleman that was a hallucination. 
The Princess had just held out her hand to me with a smile. She remained 
standing for some moments with the kind of charm enshrined in the verse 
of Malherbe which ends: 

"To do them honour all the angels rise." 

She apologised because the Duchess had not yet come, as though I must 
be bored there without her. In order to give me this greeting, she wheeled 
round me, holding me by the hand, in a graceful revolution by the whirl of 
which I felt myself carried off my feet. I almost expected that she would 
next offer me, like the leader of a cotillon, an ivory-headed cane or a watch- 
bracelet. She did not, however, give me anything of the sort, and as though, 
instead of dancing the boston, she had been listening to a sacred quartet by 
Beethoven the sublime strains of which she was afraid of interrupting, she 
cut short the conversation there and then, or rather did not begin it, and, 
still radiant at having seen me come in, merely informed me where the 
Prince was to be found. 

I moved away from her and did not venture to approach her again, feel- 
ing that she had absolutely nothing to say to me and that, in her vast kind- 
ness, this woman marvellously tall and handsome, noble as were so many 
great ladies who stepped so proudly upon the scaffold, could only, short 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 3! 

of offering me a draught of honeydew, repeat what she had already said to 
me twice: "You will find the Prince in the garden." Now, to go in search of 
the Prince was to feel my doubts revive in a fresh form. 

In any case I should have to find somebody tc introduce me. One could 
hear, above all the din of conversation, the interminable chatter of M. de 
Charlus, talking to H. E. the Duke of Sidonia, whose acquaintance he had 
just made. Members of the same profession find one another out, and so 
it is with a common vice. M. de Charlus and M. de Sidonia had each of 
them immediately detected the other's vice, which was in both cases that of 
soliloquising in society, to the extent of not being able to stand any inter- 
ruption. Having decided at once that, in the words of a famous sonnet, 
there was 'no help,' they had made up their minds not to be silent but each 
to go on talking without any regard to what the other might say. This had 
resulted in the confused babble produced in Moliere's comedies by a num- 
ber of people saying different things simultaneously. The Baron, with his 
deafening voice, was moreover certain of keeping the upper hand, of drown- 
ing the feeble voice of M. de Sidonia; without however discouraging him, 
for, whenever M. de Charlus paused for a moment to breathe, the interval 
was filled by the murmurs of the Grandee of Spain who had imperturbably 
continued his discourse. I could easily have asked M. de Charlus to intro- 
duce me to the Prince de Guermantes, but I feared (and with good reason) 
that he might be cross with me. I had treated him in the most ungrateful 
fashion by letting his offer pass unheeded for the second time and by never 
giving him a sign of my existence since the evening when he had so affec- 
tionately escorted me home. And yet I could not plead the excuse of having 
anticipated the scene which I had just witnessed, that very afternoon, 
enacted by himself and Jupien. I suspected nothing of the sort. It is true 
that shortly before this, when my parents reproached me with my laziness 
and with not having taken the trouble to write a line to M. de Charlus, I 
had violently reproached them with wishing me to accept a degrading pro- 
posal. But anger alone, and the desire to hit upon the expression that would 
be most offensive to them had dictated this mendacious retort. In reality, 
I had imagined nothing sensual, nothing sentimental even, underlying the 
Baron's offers. I had said this to my parents with entire irresponsibility. 
But sometimes the future is latent in us without our knowledge, and our 
words which we suppose to be false forecast an imminent reality. 

M. de Charlus would doubtless have forgiven me my want of gratitude. 
But what made him furious was that my presence this evening at the Prin- 
cesse de Guermantes's, as for some time past at her cousin's, seemed to be a 
defiance of his solemn declaration: "There is no admission to those houses 
save through me." A grave fault, a crime that was perhaps inexpiable, I 
had not followed the conventional path. M. de Charlus knew well that the 
thunderbolts which he hurled at those who did not comply with his orders, 
or to whom he had taken a dislike, were beginning to be regarded by many 
people, however furiously he might brandish them, as mere pasteboard, 
and had no longer the force to banish anybody from anywhere. But he be- 
lieved perhaps that his diminished power, still considerable, remained intact 
in the eyes of novices like myself. And so I did not consider it well advised 



32 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

to ask a favour of him at a party at which the mere fact of my presence 
seemed an ironical denial of his pretentions. 

I was buttonholed at that moment by a man of a distinctly common type, 

Professor E . He had been surprised to see me at the Guermantes'. I 

was no less surprised to see him there, for nobody had ever seen before or 
was ever to see again a person of his sort at one of the Princess's parties. He 
had just succeeded in curing the Prince, after the last rites had been admin- 
istered, of a septic pneumonia, and the special gratitude that Mme. de 
Guermantes felt towards him was the reason for her thus departing from 
custom and inviting him to her house. As he knew absolutely nobody in the 
rooms, and could not wander about there indefinitely by himself, like a 
minister of death, having recognised me, he had discovered, for the first 
time in his life, that he had an infinite number of things to say to me, which 
enabled him to assume an air of composure, and this was one of the reasons 
for his advancing upon me. There was also another. He attached great im- 
portance to his never being mistaken in his diagnoses. Now his correspond- 
ence was so numerous that he could not always bear in mind, when he had 
seen a patient once only, whether the disease had really followed the course 
that he had traced for it. The reader may perhaps remember that, immedi- 
ately after my grandmother's stroke, I had taken her to see him, on the 
afternoon when he was having all his decorations stitched to his coat. After 
so long an interval, he no longer remembered the formal announcement 
which had been sent to him at the time. "Your grandmother is dead, isn't 
she?" he said to me in a voice in which a semi-certainty calmed a slight 
apprehension. "Ah! Indeed! Well, from the moment I saw her my prognosis 
was extremely grave, I remember it quite well." 

It was thus that Professor E learned or recalled the death of my 

grandmother, and (I must say this to his credit, which is that of the medical 
profession as a whole), without displaying, without perhaps feeling, any 
satisfaction. The mistakes made by doctors are innumerable. They err 
habitually on the side of optimism as to treatment, of pessimism as to the 
outcome. "Wine? In moderation, it can do you no harm, it is always a 
tonic. . . . Sexual enjoyment? After all it is a natural function. I allow 
you to use, but not to abuse it, you understand. Excess in anything is 
wrong." At once, what a temptation to the patient to renounce those two 
life-givers, water and chastity. If, on the other hand, he has any trouble 
with his heart, albumen, and so forth, it never lasts for long. Disorders that 
are grave but purely functional are at once ascribed to an imaginary cancer. 
It is useless to continue visits which are powerless to eradicate an incurable 
malady. Let the patient, left to his own devices, thereupon subject himself 
to an implacable regime, and in time recover, or merely survive, and the 
doctor, to whom he touches his hat in the Avenue de 1'Opera, when he 
supposed him to have long been lying in Pere Lachaise, will interpret the 
gesture as an act of insolent defiance. An innocent stroll, taken beneath his 
nose and venerable beard, would arouse no greater wrath in the Assize 
Judge who, two years earlier, had sentenced the rascal, now passing him 
with apparent impunity, to death. Doctors (we do not here include them 
all, of course, and make a mental reservation of certain admirable excep- 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 33 

tions), are in general more displeased, more irritated by the quashing of 
their sentence than pleased by its execution. This explains why Professor 

E , despite the intellectual satisfaction that he doubtless felt at finding 

that he had not been mistaken, was able to speak to me only with regret 
of the blow that had fallen upon us. He was in no hurry to cut short the 
conversation, which kept him in countenance and gave him a reason for re- 
maining. He spoke to me of the great heat through which we were passing, 
but, albeit he was a well-read man and capable of expressing himself in 
good French, said to me: "You are none the worse for this hyperthermia?" 
The fact is that medicine has made some slight advance in knowledge since 
Molitre's days, but none in its vocabulary. My companion went on: "The 
great thing is to avoid the sudations that are caused by weather like this, 
especially in superheated rooms. You can remedy them, when you go home 
and feel thirsty, by the application of heat" (by which he apparently 
meant hot drinks). 

Owing to the circumstances of my grandmother's death, the subject 
interested me, and I had recently read in a book by a great specialist that 
perspiration was injurious to the kidneys, by making moisture pass through 
the skin when its proper outlet was elsewhere. I thought with regret of those 
dog-days at the time of my grandmother's death, and was inclined to blame 

them for it. I did not mention this to Dr. E , but of his own accord he 

said to me: "The advantage of this very hot weather in which perspiration 
is abundant is that the kidney is correspondingly relieved." Medicine is 
not an exact science. 

Keeping me engaged in talk, Professor E asked only not to be forced 

to leave me. But I had just seen, making a series of sweeping bows to right 
and left of the Princesse de Guermantes, stepping back a pace first, the 
Marquis de Vaugoubert. M. de Norpois had recently introduced me to him 
and I hoped that I might find in him a person capable of introducing me to 
our host. The proportions of this work do not permit me to explain here in 
consequence of what incidents in his youth M. de Vaugoubert was one of 
the few men (possibly the only man) in society who happened to be in 
what is called at Sodom the "confidence" of M. cle Charlus. But, if our 
Minister to the Court of King Theodosius had certain defects in common 
with the Baron, they were only a very pale reflexion. It was merely in an 
infinitely softened, sentimental and simple form that he displayed those 
alternations of affection and hatred through which the desire to attract, 
and then the fear equally imaginary of being, if not scorned, at any rate 
unmasked, made the Baron pass. Made ridiculous by a chastity, a *pla- 
tonicism' (to which as a man of keen ambition he had, from the moment of 
passing his examination, sacrificed all pleasure), above all by his intellec- 
tual nullity, these alternations M. de Vaugoubert did, nevertheless, display. 
But whereas in M. de Charlus the immoderate praises were proclaimed with 
a positive burst of eloquence, and seasoned with the subtlest, the most mor- 
dant banter which marked a man for ever, by M. de Vaugoubert, on the 
other hand, the affection was expressed with the banality of a man of the 
lowest intelligence, and of a public official, the grievances (worked up gen- 
erally into a complete indictment, as with the Baron) by a malevolence 



34 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

which, though relentless, was at the same time spiritless, and was all the 
more startling inasmuch as it was invariably a direct contradiction of what 
the Minister had said six months earlier and might soon perhaps be saying 
again: a regularity of change which gave an almost astronomic poetry to 
the various phases of M. de Vaugoubert's life, albeit apart from this nobody 
was ever less suggestive of a star. 

The greeting that he gave me had nothing in common with that which I 
should have received from M. de Charlus. To this greeting M. de Vaugou- 
bert, apart from the thousand mannerisms which he supposed to be indica- 
tive of good breeding and diplomacy, imparted a cavalier, brisk, smiling 
air, which should make him seem on the one hand to be rejoicing at being 
alive at a time when he was inwardly chewing the mortification of a 
career with no prospect of advancement and with the threat of enforced 
retirement and on the other hand young, virile and charming, when he 
could see and no longer ventured to go and examine in the glass the lines 
gathering upon a face which he would have wished to keep full of seduction. 
Not that he would have hoped for effective conquests, the mere thought of 
which filled him with terror on account of what people would say, scandals, 
blackmail. Having passed from an almost infantile corruption to an abso- 
lute continence dating from the day on which his thoughts had turned to 
the Quai d'Orsay and he had begun to plan a great career for himself, he 
had the air of a caged animal, casting in every direction glances expressive 
of fear, appetite and stupidity. This last was so dense that he did not reflect 
that the strect-arabs of his adolescence were boys no longer, and when a 
newsvendor bawled in his face: "La Pressel" even more than with longing 
he shuddered with terror, imagining himself recognised and denounced. 

But in default of the pleasures sacrificed to the ingratitude of the Quai 
d'Orsay, M. de Vaugoubert and it was for this that he was anxious still 
to attract was liable to sudden stirrings of the heart. Heaven knows with 
how many letters he would overwhelm the Ministry (what personal ruses 
he would employ, the drafts that he made upon the credit of Mme. de 
Vaugoubert, who, on account of her corpulence, her exalted birth, her mas- 
culine air, and above all the mediocrity of her husband, was reputed to 
be endowed with eminent capacities and to be herself for all practical pur- 
poses the Minister), to introduce without any valid reason a young man 
destitute of all merit into the staff of the Legation. It is true that a few 
months, a few years later, the insignificant attache had only to appear, 
without the least trace of any hostile intention, to have shown signs of 
coldness towards his chief for the latter, supposing himself scorned or 
betrayed, to devote the same hysterical ardour to punishing him with 
which he had showered favours upon him in the past. He would move 
heaven and earth to have him recalled and the Director of Political Affairs 
would receive a letter daily: "Why don't you hurry up and rid me of that 
lascar. Give him a dressing down in his own interest. What he needs is a 
slice of humble pie." The post of attache at the court of King Theodosius 
was on this account far from enjoyable. But in all other respects, thanks 
to his perfect common sense as a man of the world, M. de Vaugoubert 
was one of the best representatives of the French Government abroad. 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 35 

When a man who was reckoned a superior person, a Jacobin, with an expert 
knowledge of all subjects, replaced him later on, it was not long before 
war broke out between France and the country over which that monarch 
reigned. 

M. de Vaugoubert, like M. de Charlus, did not care to be the first to 
give a greeting. Each of them preferred to 'respond/ being constantly afraid 
of the gossip which the person to whom otherwise they might have offered 
their hand might have heard about them since their last meeting. In my 
case, M. de Vaugoubert had no need to ask himself this question, I had 
as a matter of fact gone up of my own accord to greet him, if only because 
of the difference in our ages. He replied with an air of wonder and delight, 
his eyes continuing to stray as though there had been a patch of clover 
on either side of me upon which he was forbidden to graze. I felt that it 
would be more becoming to ask him to introduce me to Mme. de Vau- 
goubert, before effecting that introduction to the Prince which I decided 
not to mention to him until afterwards. The idea of making me acquainted 
with his wife seemed to fill him with joy, for his own sake as well as for 
hers, and he led me at a solemn pace towards the Marquise. Arriving in 
front of her, and indicating me with his hand and eyes, with every con- 
ceivable mark of consideration, he nevertheless remained silent and with- 
drew after a few moments, in a sidelong fashion, leaving me alone with 
his wife. She had at once given me her hand, but without knowing to whom 
this token of friendship was addressed, for I realised that M. de Vaugoubert 
had forgotten my name, perhaps even had failed to recognise me, and 
being unwilling, from politeness, to confess his ignorance had made the 
introduction consist in a mere dumb show. And so I was no further ad- 
vanced; how was I to get myself introduced to my host by a woman who 
did not know my name? Worse still, I found myself obliged to remain for 
some moments talking to Mme. de Vaugoubert. And this annoyed me for 
two reasons. I had no wish to remain all night at this party, for I had ar- 
ranged with Albertine (I had given her a box for Phedre) that she was 
to pay me a visit shortly before midnight. Certainly I was not in the least 
in love with her; I was yielding, in making her come this evening, to a 
wholly sensual desire, albeit we were at that torrid period of the year when 
sensuality, evaporating, visits more readily the organ of taste, seeks above 
all things coolness. More than for the kiss of a girl, it thirsts for orangeade, 
for a cold bath, or even to gaze at that peeled and juicy moon which was 
quenching the thirst of heaven. I counted however upon ridding myself, 
in Albertine's company which, moreover, reminded me of the coolness 
of the sea of the regret that I should not fail to feel for many charming 
faces (for it was a party quite as much for girls as for married women 
that the Princess was giving. On the other hand, the face of the imposing 
Mme. de Vaugoubert, Bourbonian and morose, was in no way attractive). 

People said at the Ministry, without any suggestion of malice, that in 
their household it was the husband who wore the petticoats and the wife 
the trousers. Now there was more truth in this saying than was supposed. 
Mme. de Vaugoubert was really a man. Whether she had always been one, 
or had grown to be as I saw her, matters little, for in either case we have 



36 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

to deal with one of the most touching miracles of nature which, in the latter 
alternative especially, makes the human kingdom resemble the kingdom 
of flowers. On the former hypothesis if the future Mme. de Vaugoubert 
had always been so clumsily manlike nature, by a fiendish and beneficent 
ruse, bestows on the girl the deceiving aspect of a man. And the youth 
who has no love for women and is seeking to be cured greets with joy this 
subterfuge of discovering a bride who figures in his eyes as a market porter. 
In the alternative case, if the woman has not originally these masculine 
characteristics, she adopts them by degrees, to please her husband, and 
even unconsciously, by that sort of mimicry which makes certain flowers 
assume the appearance of the insects which they seek to attract. Her regret 
that she is not loved, that she is not a man, virilises her. Indeed, quite apart 
from the case that we are now considering, who has not remarked how 
often the most normal couples end by resembling each other, at times 
even by an exchange of qualities? A former German Chancellor, Prince 
von Billow, married an Italian. In the course of time, on the Pincio, it was 
remarked how much the Teutonic husband had absorbed of Italian deli- 
cacy, and the Italian Princess of German coarseness. To turn aside to 
a point without the province of the laws which we are now tracing, every- 
one knows an eminent French diplomat, whose origin was at first sug- 
gested only by his name, one of the most illustrious in the East. As he 
matured, as he grew old, there was revealed in him the Oriental whom no 
one had ever suspected, and now when we see him we regret the absence 
of the fez that would complete the picture. 

To revert to habits completely unknown to the ambassador whose profile, 
coarsened by heredity, we have just recalled, Mme. de Vaugoubert realised 
the acquired or predestined type, the immortal example of which is the 
Princess Palatine, never out of a riding habit, who, having borrowed from 
her husband more than his virility, championing the defects of the men 
who do not care for women, reports in her familiar correspondence the 
mutual relations of all the great noblemen of the court of Louis XIV. One 
of the reasons which enhance still farther the masculine air of women like 
Mme. de Vaugoubert is that the neglect which they receive from their 
husbands, the shame that they feel at such neglect, destroy in them by 
degrees everything that is womanly. They end by acquiring both the good 
and the bad qualities which their husbands lack. The more frivolous, 
effeminate, indiscreet their husbands are, the more they grow into the 
effigy, devoid of charm, of the virtues which their husbands ought to 
practise. 

Traces of abasement, boredom, indignation, marred the regular features 
of Mme. de Vaugoubert. Alas, I felt that she was regarding me with in- 
terest and curiosity as one of those young men who appealed to M. de 
Vaugoubert, and one of whom she herself would so much have liked to be, 
now that her husband, growing old, shewed a preference for youth. She 
was gazing at me with the close attention shewn by provincial ladies who 
from an illustrated catalogue copy the tailor-made dress so becoming to 
the charming person in the picture (actually, the same person on every 
page, but deceptively multiplied into different creatures, thanks to the 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 37 

differences of pose and the variety of attire). The instinctive attraction 
which urged Mme. de Vaugoubert towards me was so strong that she went 
the length of seizing my arm, so that I might take her to get a glass of 
orangeade. But I released myself, alleging that I must presently be going, 
and had not yet been introduced to our host. 

This distance between me and the garden door where he stood talking 
to a group of people was not very great. But it alarmed me more than if, 
in order to cross it, I should have to expose myself to a continuous hail 
of fire. 

A number of women from whom I felt that I might be able to secure an 
introduction were in the garden, where, while feigning an ecstatic admira- 
tion, they were at a loss for an occupation. Parties of this sort are as a rule 
premature. They have little reality until the following day, when they 
occupy the attention of the people who were not invited. A real author, 
devoid of the foolish self-esteem of so many literary people, if, when he 
reads an article by a critic who has always expressed the greatest admira- 
tion for his works, he sees the names of various inferior writers mentioned, 
but not his own, has no time to stop and consider what might be to him 
a matter for astonishment: his books are calling him. But a society woman 
has nothing to do and, on seeing in the Figaro: "Last night the Prince and 
Princesse de Guermantes gave a large party," etc., exclaims: "What! Only 
three days ago I talked to Marie-Gilbert for an hour, and she never said 
a word about it!" and racks her brains to discover how she can have of- 
fended the Guermantes. It must be said that, so far as the Princess's 
parties were concerned, the astonishment was sometimes as great among 
those who were invited as among those who were not. For they would burst 
forth at the moment when one least expected them, and summoned in 
people whose existence Mme. de Guermantes had forgotten for years. 
And almost all the people in society are so insignificant that others of their 
sort adopt, in judging them, only the measure of their social success, cherish 
them if they are invited, if they are omitted detest them. As to the latter, 
if it was the fact that the Princess often, even when they were her friends, 
did not invite them, that was often due to her fear of annoying 'Palamede/ 
who had excommunicated them. And so I might be certain that she had not 
spoken of me to M. de Charlus, for otherwise I should not have found my- 
self there. He meanwhile was posted between the house and the garden, by 
the side of the German Ambassador, leaning upon the balustrade of the 
great staircase which led from the garden to the house, so that the other 
guests, in spite of the three or four feminine admirers who were grouped 
round the Baron and almost concealed him, were obliged to greet him 
as they passed. He responded by naming each of them in turn. And one 
heard an incessant: "Good evening, Monsieur du Hazay, good evening, 
Madame de la Tour du Pin-Verclause, good evening, Madame de la Tour 
du Pin-Gouvernet, good evening, Philibert, good evening, my dear Am- 
bassadress," and so on. This created a continuous barking sound, inter- 
spersed with benevolent suggestions or inquiries (to the answers to which 
he paid no attention), which M. de Charlus addressed to them in a tone 
softened, artificial to shew his indifference, and benign: "Take care the 



38 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

child doesn't catch cold, it is always rather damp in the gardens. Good 
evening, Madame de Brantes. Good evening, Madame de Mecklembourg. 
Have you brought your daughter? Is she wearing that delicious pink frock? 
Good evening, Saint-Geran." Certainly there was an element of pride in 
this attitude, for M. de Charlus was aware that he was a Guermantes, and 
that he occupied a supreme place at this party. But there was more in it 
than pride, and the very word jcte suggested, to the man with aesthetic 
gifts, the luxurious, curious sense that it might bear if this party were 
being given not by people in contemporary society but in a painting by 
Carpaccio or Veronese. It is indeed highly probable that the German 
Prince that M. de Charlus was must rather have been picturing to himself 
the reception that occurs in Tannhauscr, and himself as the Margrave, 
standing at the entrance to the Warburg with a kind word of condescension 
for each of his guests, while their procession into the castle or the park 
is greeted by the long phrase, a hundred times renewed, of the famous 
March. 

I must, however, make up my mind. I could distinguish beneath the 
trees various women with whom I was more or less closely acquainted, 
but they seemed transformed because they were at the Princess's and not 
at her cousin's, and because I saw them seated not in front of Dresden 
china plates but beneath the boughs of a chestnut. The refinement of their 
setting mattered nothing. Had it been infinitely less refined than at Oriane's, 
I should have felt the same uneasiness. When the electric light in our 
drawing-room fails, and we are obliged to replace it with oil lamps, every- 
thing seems altered. I was recalled from my uncertainty by Mme. de Souvre. 
"Good evening," she said as she approached me. "Have you seen the 
Duchesse de Guermantes lately?" She excelled in giving to speeches of this 
sort an intonation which proved that she was not uttering them from 
sheer silliness, like people who, not knowing what to talk about, come up 
to you a thousand times over to mention some bond of common acquaint- 
ance, often extremely slight. She had on the contrary a fine conducting 
wire in her glance which signified: "Don't suppose for a moment that I 
haven't recognised you. You are the young man I met at the Duchesse 
de Guermantes. I remember quite well." Unfortunately, this protection, 
extended over me by this phrase, stupid in appearance but delicate in 
intention, was extremely fragile, and vanished as soon as I tried to make 
use of it. Madame de Souvre had the art, if called upon to convey a request 
to some influential person, of appearing at the same time, in the petitioner's 
eyes, to be recommending him, and in those of the influential person not 
to be recommending the petitioner, so that her ambiguous gesture opened 
a credit balance of gratitude to her with the latter without placing her in 
any way in debt to the former. Encouraged by this lady's civilities to ask 
her to introduce me to M. de Guermantes, I found that she took advantage 
of a moment when our host was not looking in our direction, laid a motherly 
hand on my shoulder, and, smiling at the averted face of the Prince who 
was unable to see her, thrust me towards him with a gesture of feigned 
protection, but deliberately ineffective, which left me stranded almost at 
my starting point. Such is the cowardice of people in society. 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 39 

That of a lady who came to greet me, addressing me by my name, was 
greater still. I tried to recall her own name as I talked to her; I remem- 
bered quite well having met her at dinner, I could remember things that 
she had said. But my attention, concentrated upon the inward region in 
which these memories of her lingered, was unable to discover her name 
there. It was there, nevertheless. My thoughts began playing a sort of game 
with it to grasp its outlines, its initial letter, and so finally to bring the 
whole name to light. It was labour in vain, I could more or less estimate 
its mass, its weight, but as for its forms, confronting them with the shadowy 
captive lurking in the inward night, I said to myself: "It is not that." Cer- 
tainly my mind would have been capable of creating the most difficult 
names. Unfortunately, it had not to create but to reproduce. All action 
by the mind is easy, if it is not subjected to the test of reality. Here, I was 
forced to own myself beaten. Finally, in a flash, the name came back to 
me as a whole: 'Madame d'Arpajon.' I am wrong in saying that it came, 
for it did not, I think, appear to me by a spontaneous propulsion. I do not 
think either that the many slight memories which associated me with the 
lady, and to which I did not cease to appeal for help (by such exhortations 
as: "Come now, it is the lady who is a friend of Mme. de Souvre, who feels 
for Victor Hugo so artless an admiration, mingled with so much alarm 
and horror,") I do not believe that all these memories, hovering between 
me and her name, served in any way to bring it to light. In that great game 
of hide and seek which is played in our memory when we seek to recapture 
a name, there is not any series of gradual approximations. We see nothing, 
then suddenly the name appears in its exact form and very different from 
what we thought we could make out. It is not the name that has come to 
us. No, I believe rather that, as we go on living, we pass our time in keep- 
ing away from the zone in which a name is distinct, and it was by an exer- 
cise of my will and attention which increased the acuteness of my inward 
vision that all of a sudden I had pierced the semi-darkness and seen day- 
light. In any case, if there are transitions between oblivion and memory, 
then, these transitions are unconscious. For the intermediate names through 
which we pass, before finding the real name, are themselves false, and bring 
us nowhere nearer to it. They are not even, properly speaking, names at 
all, but often mere consonants which are not to be found in the recaptured 
name. And yet, this operation of the mind passing from a blank to reality 
is so mysterious, that it is possible after all that these false consonants 
are really handles, awkwardly held out to enable us to seize hold of the 
correct name. "All this," the reader will remark, "tells us nothing as to 
the lady's failure to oblige; but since you have made so long a digression, 
allow me, gentle author, to waste another moment of your time in telling 
you that it is a pity that, young as you were (or as your hero was, if he 
be not yourself), you had already so feeble a memory that you could not 
recall the name of a lady whom you knew quite well." It is indeed a pity, 
gentle reader. And sadder than you think when one feels the time approach- 
ing when names and words will vanish from the clear zone of consciousness, 
and when one must for ever cease to name to oneself the people whom one 
has known most intimately. It is indeed a pity that one should require this 



4O CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

effort, when one is still young, to recapture names which one knows quite 
well. But if this infirmity occurred only in the case of names barely known, 
quite naturally forgotten, names which one would not take the trouble 
to remember, the infirmity would not be without its advantages. "And 
what are they, may I ask?" Well, Sir, that the malady alone makes us 
remark and apprehend, and allows us to dissect the mechanism of which 
otherwise we should know nothing. A man who, night after night, falls 
like a lump of lead upon his bed, and ceases to live until the moment 
when he wakes and rises, will such a man ever dream of making, I do not 
say great discoveries, but even minute observations upon sleep? He barely 
knows that he does sleep. A little insomnia is not without its value in mak- 
ing us appreciate sleep, in throwing a ray of light upon that darkness. A 
memory without fault is not a very powerful incentive to studying the 
phenomena of memory. "In a word, did Mme. d'Arpajon introduce you 
to the Prince?" No, but be quiet and let me go on with my story. 

Mme. d'Arpajon was even more cowardly than Mnie. de Souvre, but 
there was more excuse for her cowardice. She knew that she had always 
had very little influence in society. This influence, such as it was, had 
been reduced still farther by her connexion with the Due de Guermantes; 
his desertion of her dealt it the final blow. The resentment which she felt 
at my request that she should introduce me to the Prince produced a silence 
which, she was artless enough to suppose, conveyed the impression that 
she had not heard what I said. She was not even aware that she was knitting 
her brows with anger. Perhaps, on the other hand, she was aware of it, did 
not bother about the inconsistency, and made use of it for the lesson which 
she was thus able to teach me without undue rudeness; I mean a silent 
lesson, but none the less eloquent for that. 

Apart from this, Mme. d'Arpajon was extremely annoyed; many eyes 
were raised in the direction of a renaissance balcony at the corner of which, 
instead of one of those monumental statues which were so often used as 
ornaments at that period, there leaned, no less sculptural than they, the 
magnificent Marquise de Surgis-le-Duc, who had recently succeeded Mme. 
d'Arpajon in the heart of Basin de Guermantes. Beneath the flimsy white 
tulle which protected her from the cool night air, one saw the supple form 
of a winged victory. I had no recourse left save to M. de Charlus, who had 
withdrawn to a room downstairs which opened on the garden. I had plenty 
of time (as he was pretending to be absorbed in a fictitious game of whist 
which enabled him to appear not to notice people) to admire the deliberate, 
artistic simplicity of his evening coat which, by the merest trifles which 
only a tailor's eye could have picked out, had the air of a 'Harmony in 
Black and White' by Whistler; black, white and red, rather, for M. de 
Charlus was wearing, hanging from a broad ribbon pinned to the lapel 
of his coat, the Cross, in white, black and red enamel, of a Knight of the 
religious Order of Malta. At that moment the Baron's game was inter- 
rupted by Mme. de Gallardon, leading her nephew, the Vicomte de Cour- 
voisier, a young man with an attractive face and an impertinent air. 
"Cousin," said Mme. de Gallardon, "allow me to introduce my nephew 
Adalbert. Adalbert, you remember the famous Palamede of whom you 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 41 

have heard so much." "Good evening, Madame de Gallardon," M. de 
Charlus replied. And he added, without so much as a glance at the young 
man: "Good evening, Sir," with a truculent air and in a tone so violently 
discourteous that everyone in the room was stupefied. Perhaps M. de 
Charlus, knowing that Mme. de Gallardon had her doubts as to his morals 
and guessing that she had not been able to resist, for once in a way, the 
temptation to allude to them, was determined to nip in the bud any scandal 
that she might have embroidered upon a friendly reception of her nephew, 
making at the same time a resounding profession of indifference with re- 
gard to young men in general; perhaps he had not considered that the 
said Adalbert had responded to his aunt's speech with a sufficiently re- 
spectful air; perhaps, desirous of making headway in time to come with 
so attractive a cousin, he chose to give himself the advantage of a prelimi- 
nary assault, like those sovereigns who, before engaging upon diplomatic 
action, strengthen it by an act of war. 

It was not so difficult as I supposed to secure M. de Charlus's consent 
to my request that he should introduce me to the Prince de Guermantes. 
For one thing, in the course of the last twenty years, this Don Quixote 
had tilted against so many windmills (often relatives who, he imagined, 
had behaved badly to him), he had so frequently banned people as being 
'impossible to have in the house' from being invited by various male or 
female Guermantes, that these were beginning to be afraid of quarrelling 
with all the people they knew and liked, of condemning themselves to a 
lifelong deprivation of the society of certain newcomers whom they were 
curious to meet, by espousing the thunderous but unexplained rancours 
of a brother-in-law or cousin who expected them to abandon for his sake, 
wife, brother, children. More intelligent than the other Guermantes, M. 
de Charlus realised that people were ceasing to pay any attention, save 
once in a while, to his veto, and, looking to the future, fearing lest one day 
it might be with his society that they would dispense, he had begun to 
make allowances, to reduce, as the saying is, his terms. Furthermore, if he 
had the faculty of ascribing for months, for years on end, an identical life 
to a detested person to such an one he would not have tolerated their 
sending an invitation, and would have fought, rather, like a trooper, against 
a queen, the status of the person who stood in his way ceasing to count 
for anything in his eyes; on the other hand, his explosions of wrath were 
too frequent not to be somewhat fragmentary. "The imbecile, the rascal! 
We shall have to put him in his place, sweep him into the gutter, where 
unfortunately he will not be innocuous to the health of the town," he would 
scream, even when he was alone in his own room, while reading a letter 
that he considered irreverent, or upon recalling some remark that had been 
repeated to him. But a fresh outburst against a second imbecile cancelled 
the first, and the former victim had only to shew due deference for the 
crisis that he had occasioned to be forgotten, it not having lasted long 
enough to establish a foundation of hatred upon which to build. And so> 
I might perhaps despite his ill-humour towards me have been success- 
ful when I asked him to introduce me to the Prince, had I not been so 
ill-inspired as to add, from a scruple of conscience, and so that he might 



42 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

not suppose me guilty of the indelicacy of entering the house at a venture, 
counting upon him to enable me to remain there: "You are aware that I 
know them quite well, the Princess has been very kind to me." "Very well, 
if you know them, why do you need me to introduce you?" he replied in a 
sharp tone, and, turning his back, resumed his make-believe game with the 
Nuncio, the German Ambassador and another personage whom I did not 
know by sight. 

Then, from the depths of those gardens where in days past the Due 
d'Aiguillon used to breed rare animals, there came to my ears, through 
the great, open doors, the sound of a sniffing nose that was savouring all 
those refinements and determined to miss none of them. The sound ap- 
proached, I moved at a venture in its direction, with the result that the 
words good evening were murmured in my ear by M. de Breaute, not like 
the rusty metallic-sound of a knife being sharpened on a grindstone, even 
less like the cry of the wild boar, devastator of tilled fields, but like the 
voice of a possible saviour. 

Less influential than Mme. de Souvre, but less deeply ingrained than 
she with the incapacity to oblige, far more at his ease with the Prince than 
was Mme. d'Arpajon, entertaining some illusion perhaps as to my position 
in the Guermantes set, or perhaps knowing more about it than myself, I 
had nevertheless for the first few moments some difficulty in arresting his 
attention, for, with fluttering, distended nostrils, he was turning in every 
direction, inquisitively protruding his monocle, as though he found him- 
self face to face with five hundred matchless works of art. But, having 
heard my request, he received it with satisfaction, led me towards the 
Prince and presented me to him with a relishing, ceremonious, vulgar air, 
as though he had been handing him, with a word of commendation, a plate 
of cakes. Just as the greeting of the Due de Guermantes was, when he 
chose, friendly, instinct with' good fellowship, cordial and familiar, so I 
found that of the Prince stiff, solemn, haughty. He barely smiled at me, 
addressed me gravely as 'Sir.' I had often heard the Duke make fun of 
his cousin's stiffness. But from the first words that he addressed to me, 
which by their cold and serious tone formed the most entire contrast with 
the language of Basin, I realised at once that the fundamentally disdainful 
man was the Duke, who spoke to you at your first meeting with him as 
'man to man/ and that, of the two cousins, the one who was really simple 
was the Prince. I found in his reserve a stronger feeling, I do not say of 
equality, for that would have been inconceivable to him, but at least of the 
consideration which one may shew for an inferior, such as may be found 
in all strongly hierarchical societies; in the Law Courts, for instance, in 
a Faculty, where a public prosecutor or dean, conscious of their high charge, 
conceal perhaps more genuine simplicity, and, when you come to know 
them better, more kindness, true simplicity, cordiality, beneath their tradi- 
tional aloofness than the more modern brethren beneath their jocular 
affectation of comradeship. "Do you intend to follow the career of Mon- 
sieur, your father?" he said to me with a distant but interested air. I 
answered his question briefly, realising that he had asked it only out of 
politeness, and moved away to allow him to greet the fresh arrivals. 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 43 

I caught sight of Swann, and meant to speak to him, but at that mo- 
ment I saw that the Prince de Guermantes, instead of waiting where he 
was to receive the greeting of Odette's husband, had immediately, with 
the force of a suction pump, carried him off to the farther end of the garden, 
in order, as some said, 'to shew him the door/ 

So entirely absorbed in the company that I did not learn until two days 
later, from the newspapers, that a Czech orchestra had been playing 
throughout the evening, and that Bengal lights had been burning in con- 
stant succession, I recovered some power of attention with the idea of going 
to look at the celebrated fountain of Hubert Robert. 

In a clearing surrounded by fine trees several of which were as old as 
itself, set in a place apart, one could see it in the distance, slender, im- 
mobile, stiffened, allowing the breeze to stir only the lighter fall of its pale 
and quivering plume. The eighteenth century had refined the elegance 
of its lines, but, by fixing the style of the jet, seemed to have arrested its 
life; at this distance one had the impression of a work of art rather than 
the sensation of water. The moist cloud itself that was perpetually gather- 
ing at its crest preserved the character of the period like those that in the 
sky assemble round the palaces of Versailles. But from a closer view one 
realised that, while it respected, like the stones of an ancient palace, the 
design traced for it beforehand, it was a constantly changing stream of 
water that, springing upwards and seeking to obey the architect's tradi- 
tional orders, performed them to the letter only by seeming to infringe 
them, its thousand separate bursts succeeding only at a distance in giving 
the impression of a single flow. This was in reality as often interrupted 
as the scattering of the fall, whereas from a distance it had appeared to 
me unyielding, solid, unbroken in its continuity. From a little nearer, one 
saw that this continuity, apparently complete, was assured, at every point 
in the ascent of the jet, wherever it must otherwise have been broken, by 
the entering into line, by the lateral incorporation of a parallel jet which 
mounted higher than the first and was itself, at an altitude greater but 
already a strain upon its endurance, relieved by a third. Seen close at hand, 
drops without strength fell back from the column of water crossing on 
their way their climbing sisters and, at times, torn, caught in an eddy of 
the night air, disturbed by this ceaseless flow, floated awhile before being 
drowned in the basin. They teased with their hesitations, with their pas- 
sage in the opposite direction, and blurred with their soft vapour the 
vertical tension of that stem, bearing aloft an oblong cloud composed of a 
thousand tiny drops, but apparently painted in an unchanging, golden 
brown which rose, unbreakable, constant, urgent, swift, to mingle with the 
clouds in the sky. Unfortunately, a gust of wind was enough to scatter it 
obliquely on the ground ; at times indeed a single jet, disobeying its orders, 
swerved and, had they not kept a respectful distance, would have drenched 
to their skins the incautious crowd of gazers. 

One of these little accidents, which could scarcely occur save when the 
breeze freshened for a moment, was distinctly unpleasant. Somebody had 
told Mme. d'Arpajon that the Due de Guermantes, who as a matter of 
fact had not yet arrived, was with Mme. de Surgis in one of the galleries 



44 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

of pink marble to which one ascended by the double colonnade, hollowed 
out of the wall, which rose from the brink of the fountain. Now, just as 
Mme. d'Arpajon was making for one of these staircases, a strong gust of 
warm air made the jet of water swerve and inundated the fair lady so 
completely that, the water streaming down from her open bosom inside 
her dress, she was soaked as if she had been plunged into a bath. Where- 
upon, a few feet away, a rhythmical roar resounded, loud enough to be 
heard by a whole army, and at the same time protracted in periods as 
though it were being addressed not to the army as a whole but to each 
unit in turn; it was the Grand Duke Vladimir, who was laughing whole- 
heartedly upon seeing the immersion of Mme. d'Arpajon, one of the funni- 
est sights, as he was never tired of repeating afterwards, that he had ever 
seen in his life. Some charitable persons having suggested to the Muscovite 
that a word of sympathy from himself was perhaps deserved and would 
give pleasure to the lady who, notwithstanding her tale of forty winters 
fully told, wiping herself with her scarf, without appealing to anyone for 
help, was stepping clear in spite of the water that was maliciously spilling 
over the edge of the basin, the Grand Duke, who had a kind heart, felt 
that he must say a word in season, and, before the last military tattoo 
of his laughter had altogether subsided, one heard a fresh roar, more 
vociferous even than the last. "Bravo, old girl!" he cried, clapping his 
hands as though at the theatre. Mme. d'Arpajon was not at all pleased 
that her dexterity should be commended at the expense of her youth. And 
when some one remarked to her, in a voice drowned by the roar of the 
water, over which nevertheless rose the princely thunder: "I think His 
Imperial Highness said something to you." "No! It was to Mme. de 
Souvre," was her reply. 

I passed through the gardens and returned by the stair, upon which 
the absence of the Prince, who had vanished with Swann, enlarged the 
crowd of guests round M. de Charlus, just as, when Louis XIV was not 
at Versailles, there was a more numerous attendance upon Monsieur, his 
brother. I was stopped on my way by the Baron, while behind me two 
ladies and a young man came up to greet him. 

"It is nice to see you here," he said to me, as he held out his hand. "Good 
evening, Madame de la Tremo'ille, good evening, my dear Herminie." But 
doubtless the memory of what he had said to me as to his own supreme 
position in the Hotel Guermantes made him wish to appear to be feeling, 
with regard to a matter which annoyed him but which he had been unable 
to prevent, a satisfaction which his high-and-mighty impertinence and his 
hysterical excitement immediately invested in a cloak of exaggerated irony. 
"It is nice," he repeated, "but it is, really, very odd." And he broke into 
peals of laughter which appeared to be indicative at once of his joy and of 
the inadequacy of human speech to express it. Certain persons, meanwhile, 
who knew both how difficult he was of access and how prone to insolent 
retorts, had been drawn towards us by curiosity, and, with an almost inde- 
cent haste, took to their heels. "Come, now, don't be cross," he said to me, 
patting me gently on the shoulder, "you know that I am your friend. 
Good evening, Antioche, good evening, Louis-Rene. Have you been to 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 45 

look at the fountain?" he asked me in a tone that was affirmative rather 
than questioning. "It is quite pretty, ain't it? It is marvellous. It might 
be made better still, naturally, if certain things were removed, and then 
there would be nothing like it in France. But even as it stands, it is quite 
one of the best things. Breaute will tell you that it was a mistake to put 
lamps round it, to try and make people forget that it was he who was 
responsible for that absurd idea. But after all he has only managed to spoil 
it a very little. It is far more difficult to deface a great work of art than 
to create one. Not that we had not a vague suspicion all the time that 
Breaute was not quite a match for Hubert Robert." 

I drifted back into the stream of guests who were entering the house. 
"Have you seen my delicious cousin Oriane lately?" I was asked by the 
Princess who had now deserted her post by the door and with whom I was 
making my way back to the rooms. "She's sure to be here to-night, I 
saw her this afternoon," my hostess added. "She promised me to come. I 
believe too that you will be dining with us both to meet the Queen of Italy, 
at the Embassy, on Thursday. There are to be all the Royalties imaginable, 
it will be most alarming." They could not in any way alarm the Princesse 
de Guermantes, whose rooms swarmed with them, and who would say: 
'My little Coburgs' as she might have said 'my little dogs.' And so Mme. 
de Guermantes said: "It will be most alarming," out of sheer silliness, 
which, among people in society, overrides*even their vanity. With regard 
to her own pedigree, she knew less than a passman in history. As for the 
people of her circle, she liked to shew that she knew the nicknames with 
which they had been labelled. Having asked me whether I was dining, the 
week after, with the Marquise de la Pommeliere, who was often called 
'la Pomme/ the Princess, having elicited a reply in the negative, remained 
silent for some moments. Then, without any other motive than a deliberate 
display of instinctive erudition, banality, and conformity to the prevailing 
spirit, she added: "She's not a bad sort, the Pomme!" 

While the Princess was talking to me, it so happened that the Due and 
Duchesse de Guermantes made their entrance. But I could not go at once 
to greet them, for I was waylaid by the Turkish Ambassadress, who, point- 
ing to our hostess whom I had just left, exclaimed as she seized me by the 
arm: "Ah! What a delicious woman the Princess is! What a superior being! 
I feel sure that, if I were a man," she went on, with a trace of Oriental 
servility and sensuality, "I would give my life for that heavenly creature." 
I replied that I did indeed find her charming, but that I knew her cousin, 
the Duchess, better. "But there is no comparison," said the Ambassadress. 
"Oriane is a charming society woman who gets her wit from Meme and 
Babal, whereas Marie-Gilbert is somebody." 

I never much like to be told like this, without a chance to reply, what I 
ought to think about people whom I know. And there was no reason why 
the Turkish Ambassadress should be in any way better qualified than my- 
self to judge of the worth of the Duchesse de Guermantes. 

On the other hand (and this explained also my annoyance with the 
Ambassadress), the defects of a mere acquaintance, and even of a friend, 
are to us real poisons, against which we are fortunately 'mithridated.' 



46 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

But, without applying any standard of scientific comparison and talking 
of anaphylaxis, let us say that, at the heart of our friendly or purely social 
relations, there lurks a hostility momentarily cured but recurring by fits 
and starts. As a rule, we suffer little from these poisons, so long as people 
are 'natural/ By saying 'BabaP and 'Meme' to indicate people with whom 
she was not acquainted, the Turkish Ambassadress suspended the effects 
of the 'mithridatism' which, as a rule, made me rind her tolerable. She 
annoyed me, which was all the more unfair, inasmuch as she did not speak 
like this to make me think that she was an intimate friend of 'Meme/ but 
owing to a too rapid education which made her name these noble lords 
according to what she believed to be the custom of the country. She had 
crowded her course into a few months, and had not picked up the rules. 
But, on thinking it over, I found another reason for my disinclination to 
remain in the Ambassadress's company. It was not so very long since, at 
Oriane's, this same diplomatic personage had said to me, with a purposeful 
and serious air, that she found the Princesse de Guermantes frankly anti- 
pathetic. I felt that I need not stop to consider this change of front: the 
invitation to the party this evening had brought it about. The Ambassadress 
was perfectly sincere when she told me that the Princesse de Guermantes 
was a sublime creature. She had always thought so. But, having never 
before been invited to the Princess's house, she had felt herself bound to 
give this non-invitation the appearance of a deliberate abstention on prin- 
ciple. Now that she had been asked, and would presumably continue to 
be asked in the future, she could give free expression to her feelings. There 
is no need, in accounting for three out of four of the opinions that we hold 
about other people, to go so far as crossed love or exclusion from public 
office. Our judgment remains uncertain: the withholding or bestowal of 
an invitation determines it. Anyhow, the Turkish Ambassadress, as the 
Baronne de Guermantes remarked while making a tour of inspection 
through the rooms with me, 'was all right.' She was, above all, extremely 
useful. The real stars of society are tired of appearing there. He who is 
curious to gaze at them must often migrate to another hemisphere, where 
they are more or less alone. But women like the Ottoman Ambassadress, 
of quite recent admission to society, are never weary of shining there, and, 
so to speak, everywhere at once. They are of value at entertainments of 
the sort known as soiree or rout, to which they would let themselves be 
dragged from their deathbeds rather than miss one. They are the supers 
upon whom a hostess can always count, determined never to miss a party. 
And so, the foolish young men, unaware that they are false stars, take 
them for the queens of fashion, whereas it would require a formal lecture 
to explain to them by virtue of what reasons Mme. Standish, who, her 
existence unknown to them, lives remote from the world, painting cushions, 
is at least as great a lady as the Duchesse de Doudeauville. 

In the ordinary course of life, the eyes of the Duchesse de Guermantes 
were absent and slightly melancholy, she made them sparkle with a flame 
of wit only when she had to say how-d'ye-do to a friend; precisely as 
though the said friend had been some witty remark, some charming touch, 
some titbit for delicate palates, the savour of which has set on the face 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 47 

of the connoisseur an expression of refined joy. But upon big evenings, as 
she had too many greetings to bestow, she decided that it would be tiring 
to have to switch off the light after each. Just as an ardent reader, when 
he goes to the theatre to see a new piece by one of the masters of the stage, 
testifies to his certainty that he is not going to spend a dull evening by 
having, while he hands his hat and coat to the attendant, his lip adjusted 
in readiness for a sapient smile, his eye kindled for a sardonic approval; 
similarly it was at the moment of her arrival that the Duchess lighted up 
for the whole evening. And while she was handing over her evening cloak, 
of a magnificent Tiepolo red, exposing a huge collar of rubies round her 
neck, having cast over her gown that final rapid, minute and exhaustive 
dressmaker's glance which is also that of a woman of the world, Oriane 
made sure that her eyes, just as much as her other jewels, were sparkling. 
In vain might sundry 'kind friends' such as M. de Janville fling themselves 
upon the Duke to keep him from entering: "But don't you know that poor 
Mama is at his last gasp? He had had the Sacraments." "I know, I know," 
answered M. de Guermantes, thrusting the tiresome fellow aside in order to 
enter the room. "The viaticum has acted splendidly," he added, with a 
smile of pleasure at the thought of the ball which he was determined not 
to miss after the Prince's party. "We did not want people to know that 
we had come back," the Duchess said to me. She never suspected that 
the Princess had already disproved this statement by telling me that she 
had seen her cousin for a moment, who had promised to come. The Duke, 
after a protracted stare with which he proceeded to crush his wife for the 
space of five minutes, observed: "I told Oriane about your misgivings." 
Now that she saw that they were unfounded, and that she herself need 
take no action in the attempt to dispel them, she pronounced them absurd, 
and continued to chaff me about them. "The idea of supposing that you 
were not invited! Besides, wasn't I there? Do you suppose that I should be 
unable to get you an invitation to my cousin's house?" I must admit that 
frequently, after this, she did things for me that were far more difficult; 
nevertheless, I took care not to interpret her words in the sense that I had 
been too modest. I was beginning to learn the exact value of the language, 
spoken or mute, of aristocratic affability, an affability that is happy to shed 
balm upon the sense of inferiority in those persons towards whom it is 
directed, though not to the point of dispelling that sense, for in that case 
it would no longer have any reason to exist. "But you are our equal, if not 
our superior,'" the Guermantes seemed, in all their actions, to be saying; 
and they said it in the most courteous fashion imaginable, to be loved, 
admired, but not to be believed; that one should discern the fictitious 
character of this affability was what they called being well-bred; to sup- 
pose it to be genuine, a sign of ill-breeding. I was to receive, as it happened, 
shortly after this, a lesson which gave me a full and perfect understanding 
of the extent and limitations of certain forms of aristocratic affability. It 
was at an afternoon party given by the Duchesse de Montmorency to meet 
the Queen of England; there was a sort of royal procession to the buffet, 
at the head of which walked Her Majesty on the arm of the Due de Guer- 
mantes. I happened to arrive at that moment. With his disengaged hand 



48 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

the Duke conveyed to me, from a distance of nearly fifty yards, a thou- 
sand signs of friendly invitation, which appeared to mean that I need not 
be afraid to approach, that I should not be devoured alive instead of the 
sandwiches. But I, who was becoming word-perfect in the language of the 
court, instead of going even one step nearer, keeping my fifty yards' in- 
terval, made a deep how, but without smiling, the sort of bow that I should 
have made to some one whom I scarcely knew, then proceeded in the 
opposite direction. Had I written a masterpiece, the Guermantes would 
have given me less credit for it than I earned by that bow. Not only did it 
not pass unperceived by the Duke, albeit he had that day to acknowledge 
the greetings of more than five hundred people, it caught the eye of the 
Duchess, who, happening to meet my mother, told her of it, and, so far 
from suggesting that I had done wrong, that I ought to have gone up to 
him, said that her husband had been lost in admiration of my bow, that 
it would have been impossible for anyone to put more into it. They never 
ceased to find in that bow every possible merit, without however mention- 
ing that which had seemed the most priceless of all, to wit that it had been 
discreet, nor did they cease either to pay me compliments which I under- 
stood to be even less a reward for the past than a hint for the future, after 
the fashion of the hint delicately conveyed to his pupils by the headmaster 
of a school: "Do not forget, my boys, that these prizes are intended not 
so much for you as for your parents, so that they may send you back next 
term." So it was that Mme. de Marsantes, when some one from a different 
world entered her circle, would praise in his hearing the discreet people 
whom "you find at home when you go to see them, and who at other times 
let you forget their existence," as one warns by an indirect allusion a 
servant who has an unpleasant smell, that the practice of taking a bath 
is beneficial to the health. 

While, before she had even left the entrance hall, I was talking to Mme. 
de Guermantes, I could hear a voice of a sort which, for the future, I was 
to be able to classify without the possibility of error. It was, in this par- 
ticular instance, the voice of M. de Vaugoubert talking to M. de Charlus. 
A skilled physician need not even make his patient unbutton his shirt, nor 
listen to his breathing, the sound of his voice is enough. How often, in time 
to come, was my ear to be caught in a drawing-room by the intonation or 
laughter of some man, who, for all that, was copying exactly the language 
of his profession or the manners of his class, affecting a stern aloofness 
or a coarse familiarity, but whose artificial voice was enough to indicate: 
'He is a Charlus' to my trained ear, like the note of a tuning fork. At that 
moment the entire staff of one of the Embassies went past, pausing to 
greet M. de Charlus. For all that my discovery of the sort of malady in 
question dated only from that afternoon (when I had surprised M. de 
Charlus with Jupien) I should have had no need, before giving a diagnosis, 
to put questions, to auscultate. But M. de Vaugoubert, when talking to 
M. de Charlus, appeared uncertain. And yet he must have known what 
was in the air after the doubts of his adolescence. The invert believes 
himself to be the only one of his kind in the universe; it is only in later 
years that he imagines- another exaggeration that the unique exception 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 4Q 

is the normal man. But, ambitious and timorous, M. de Vaugoubert had 
not for many years past surrendered himself to what would to him have 
meant pleasure. The career of diplomacy had had the same effect upon 
his life as a monastic profession. Combined with his assiduous frequenta- 
tion of the School of Political Sciences, it had vowed him from his twentieth 
year to the chastity of a professing Christian. And so, as each of our senses 
loses its strength and vivacity, becomes atrophied when it is no longer 
exercised, M. de Vaugoubert, just as the civilised man is no longer capable 
of the feats of strength, of the acuteness of hearing of the cave-dweller, 
had lost that special perspicacy which was rarely at fault in M. de Charlus; 
and at official banquets, whether in Paris or abroad, the Minister Pleni- 
potentiary was no longer capable of identifying those who, beneath the 
disguise of their uniform, were at heart his congeners. Certain names 
mentioned by M. de Charlus, indignant if he himself was cited for his 
peculiarities, but always delighted to give away those of other people, 
caused M. de Vaugoubert an exquisite surprise. Not that, after all these 
years, he dreamed of profiting by any windfall. But these rapid revela- 
tions, similar to those which in Racine's tragedies inform Athalie and 
Abner that Joas is of the House of David, that Esther, enthroned in the 
purple, comes of a Yiddish stock, changing the aspect of the X Lega- 
tion, or of one or another department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 
rendered those palaces as mysterious, in retrospect, as the Temple of 
Jerusalem or the Throne-room at Susa. At the sight of the youthful staff 
of this Embassy advancing in a body to shake hands with M. de Charlus, 
M. de Vaugoubert assumed the astonished air of Elise exclaiming, in 
Esther: " Great heavens! What a swarm of innocent beauties issuing from 
all sides presents itself to my gaze! How charming a modesty is depicted 
on their faces! " Then, athirst for more definite information, he cast at 
M. de Charlus a smiling glance fatuously interrogative and concupiscent. 
"Why, of course they are," said M. de Charlus with the knowing air of 
a learned man speaking to an ignoramus. From that instant M. de Vaugou- 
bert (greatly to the annoyance of M. de Charlus) could not tear his eyes 

from these young secretaries whom the X Ambassador to France, an 

old stager, had not chosen blindfold. M. de Vaugoubert remained silent, 
I could only watch his eyes. But, being accustomed from my childhood to 
apply, even to what is voiceless, the language of the classics, I made M. 
de Vaugoubert's eyes repeat the lines in which Esther explains to Elise 
that Mardochee, in his zeal for his religion, has made it a rule that only 
those maidens who profess it shall be employed about the Queen's person. 
"And now his love for our nation has peopled this palace with daughters of 
Sion, young and tender flowers wafted by fate, transplanted like myself 
beneath a foreign sky. In a place set apart from profane eyes, he" (the 
worthy Ambassador) "devotes his skill and labour to shaping them." 

At length M. de Vaugoubert spoke, otherwise than with his eyes. "Who 
knows," he said sadly, "that in the country where I live the same thing 
does not exist also?" "It is probable," replied M. de Charlus, "starting with 
King Theodosius, not that I know anything definite about him." "Oh, 
dear, no! Nothing of that sort!" "Then he has no right to look it so com- 



5O CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

pletely. Besides, he has all the little tricks. He had that 'my dear' manner, 
which I detest more than anything in the world. I should never dare to 
be seen walking in the street with him. Anyhow, you must know what he 
is, they all call him the White Wolf." "You are entirely mistaken about 
him. He is quite charming, all the same. The day on which the agreement 
with France was signed, the King kissed me. I have never been so moved." 
"That was the moment to tell him what you wanted." "Oh, good heavens I 
What an idea! If he were even to suspect such a thing! But I have no fear 
hi that direction." A conversation which I could hear, for I was standing 
close by, and which made me repeat to myself: "The King unto this day 
knows not who I am, and this secret keeps my tongue still enchained." 

This dialogue, half mute, half spoken, had lasted but a few moments, 
and I had barely entered the first of the drawing-rooms with the Duchesse 
de Guermantes when a little dark lady, extremely pretty, stopped her. 

"I've been looking for you everywhere. D'Annunzio saw you from a box 

in the theatre, he has written the Princesse de T a letter in which he 

says that he never saw anything so lovely. He would give his life for ten 
minutes' conversation with you. In any case, even if you can't or won't, 
the letter is in my possession. You must fix a day to come and see me. 
There are some secrets which I cannot tell you here. I see you don't re- 
member me," she added, turning to myself; "I met you at the Princesse 
de Parme's" (where I had never been). "The Emperor of Russia is anxious 
for your father to be sent to Petersburg. If you could come in on Monday, 
Isvolski himself will be there, he will talk to you about it. I have a present 
for you, by dear," she went on, returning to the Duchess, "which I should 
not dream of giving to anyone but you. The manuscripts of three of Ibsen's 
plays, which he sent to me by his old attendant. I shall keep one and give 
you the other two." 

The Due de Guermantes was not overpleased by these offers. Uncer- 
tain whether Ibsen and D'Annunzio were dead or alive, he could see in 
his mind's eye a tribe of authors, playwrights, coming to call upon his 
wife and putting her in their works. People in society are too apt to think 
of a book as a sort of cube one side of which has been removed, so that 
the author can at once 'put in' the people he meets. This is obviously dis- 
loyal, and authors are a pretty low class. Certainly, it would not be a bad 
thing to meet them once in a way, for thanks to them, when one reads a 
book or an article, one can 'read between the lines/ 'unmask' the char- 
acters. After all, though, the wisest thing is to stick to dead authors. M. 
de Guermantes considered 'quite all right' only the gentleman who did 
the funeral notices in the Gaulois. He, at any rate, confined himself to 
including M. de Guermantes among the people 'conspicuous by their 
presence* at funerals at which the Duke had given his name. When he 
preferred that his name should not appear, instead of giving it, he sent a 
letter of condolence to the relatives of the deceased, assuring them of his 
deep and heartfelt sympathy. If, then, the family sent to the paper "among 
the letters received, we may mention one from the Due de Guermantes," 
etc., this was the fault not of the ink-slinger but of the son, brother, father 
of the deceased whom the Duke thereupon described as upstarts, and with 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS $1 

whom he decided for the future to have no further dealings (what he 
called, not being very well up in the meaning of such expressions, 'having 
a crow to pick'). In any event, the names of Ibsen and D'Annunzio, and 
his uncertainty as to their survival, brought a frown to the brows of the 
Duke, who was not far enough away from us to escape hearing the various 
blandishments of Mme. Timoleon d'Amoncourt. This was a charming 
woman, her wit, like her beauty, so entrancing that either of them by itself 
would have made her shine. But, born outside the world in which she now 
lived, having aspired at first merely to a literary salon, the friend succes- 
sively and nothing more than a friend, for her morals were above re- 
proach and exclusively of every great writer, who gave her all his manu- 
scripts, wrote books for her, chance having once introduced her into the 
Faubourg Saint-Germain, these literary privileges were of service to her 
there. She had now an established position, and no longer needed to dis- 
pense other graces than those that were shed by her presence. But, accus- 
tomed in times past to act as go-between, to render services, she persevered 
in them even when they were no longer necessary. She had always a state 
secret to reveal to you, a potentate whom you must meet, a water colour by 
a master to present to you. There was indeed in all these superfluous at- 
tractions a trace of falsehood, but they made her life a comedy that scin- 
tillated with complications, and it was no exaggeration to say that she 
appointed prefects and generals. 

As she strolled by my side, the Duchesse de Guermantes allowed the 
azure light of her eyes to float in front of her, but vaguely, so as to avoid 
the people with whom she did not wish to enter into relations, whose pres- 
ence she discerned at times, like a menacing reef in the distance. We ad- 
vanced between a double hedge of guests, who, conscious that they would 
never come to know 'Oriane/ were anxious at least to point her out, as a 
curiosity, to their wives: "Quick, Ursule, come and look at Madame de 
Guermantes talking to that young man." And one felt that in another mo- 
ment they would be clambering upon the chairs, for a better view, as at the 
Military Review on the i4th of July, or the Grand Prix. Not that the 
Duchesse de Guermantes had a more aristocratic salon than her cousin. The 
former's was frequented by people whom the latter would never have been 
willing to invite, principally on account of her husband. She would never 
have been at home to Mme. Alphonse de Rothschild, who, an intimate 
friend of Mme. de la Tremo'ille and of Mme. de Sagan, as was Oriane her- 
self, was constantly to be seen in the house of the last-named. It was the 
same with Baron Hirsch, whom the Prince of Wales had brought to see 
her, but not to the Princess, who would not have approved of him, and 
also with certain outstandingly notorious Bonapartists or even Repub- 
licans, whom the Duchess found interesting but whom the Prince, a con- 
vinced Royalist, would not have allowed inside his house. His anti-semitism 
also being founded on principle did not yield before any social distinction, 
however strongly accredited, and if he was at home to Swann, whose friend 
he had been since their boyhood, being, however, the only one of the Guer- 
mantes who addressed him as Swann and not as Charles, this was because, 
knowing that Swann's grandmother, a Protestant married to a Jew, had 



52 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

been the Due de Bern's mistress, he endeavoured, from time to time, to 
believe in the legend which made out Swann's father to be a natural son 
of that Prince. By this hypothesis, which incidentally was false, Swann, 
the son of a Catholic father, himself the son of a Bourbon by a Catholic 
mother, was a Christian to his finger-tips. 

"What, you don't know these glories?" said the Duchess, referring to 
the rooms through which we were moving. But, having given its due meed 
of praise to her cousin's 'palace,' she hastened to add that she a thousand 
times preferred her own 'humble den.' "This is an admirable house to 
visit. But I should die of misery if I had to stay behind and sleep in rooms 
that have witnessed so many historic events. It would give me the feeling 
of having been left after closing-time, forgotten, in the Chateau of Blois, 
or Fontainebleau, or even the Louvre, with no antidote to my depression 
except to tell myself that I was in the room in which Monaldeschi was 
murdered. As a sedative, that is not good enough. Why, here comes Mme. 
de Saint-Euverte. We've just been dining with her. As she is giving her 
great annual beanfeast to-morrow, I supposed she would be going straight 
to bed. But she can never miss a party. If this one had been in the country, 
she would have jumped on a lorry rather than not go to it." 

As a matter of fact, Mme. de Saint-Euverte had come this evening, less 
for the pleasure of not missing another person's party than in order to 
ensure the success of her own, recruit the latest additions to her list, and, 
so to speak, hold an eleventh hour review of the troops who were on the 
morrow to perform such brilliant evolutions at her garden party. For, in 
the long course of years, the guests at the Saint-Euverte parties had almost 
entirely changed. The female celebrities of the Guermantes world, formerly 
so sparsely scattered, had loaded with attentions by their hostess 
begun gradually to bring their friends. At the same time, by an enterprise 
equally progressive, but in the opposite direction, Mme. de Saint-Euverte 
had, year by year, reduced the number of persons unknown to the world of 
fashion. You had ceased to see first one of them, then another. For some 
time the 'batch' system was in operation, which enabled her, thanks to 
parties over which a veil of silence was drawn, to summon the ineligibles 
separately to entertain one another, which dispensed her from having to 
invite them with the nice people. What cause had they for complaint? 
Were they not given (panem et cir censes) light refreshments and a select 
musical programme? And so, in a kind of symmetry with the two exiled 
duchesses whom, in years past, when the Saint-Euverte salon was only 
starting, one used to see holding up, like a pair of Caryatides, its unstable 
crest, in these later years one could distinguish, mingling with the fash- 
ionable throng, only two heterogeneous persons, old Mme. de Cambremer 
and the architect's wife with a fine voice who was always having to be 
asked to sing. But, no longer knowing anybody at Mme. de Saint-Euverte's, 
bewailing their lost comrades, feeling that they were in the way, they stood 
about with a frozen-to-death air, like two swallows that have not migrated 
in time. And so, the following year, they were not invited ; Mme. de Fran- 
quetot made an attempt on behalf of her cousin, who was so fond of music. 
But as she could obtain for her no more explicit reply than the words: 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 53 

" Why, people can always come in and listen to music, if they like ; there is 
nothing criminal about that!" Mme. de Cambremer did not find the invi- 
tation sufficiently pressing, and abstained. 

Such a transformation having been effected by Mme. de Saint-Euverte, 
from a leper hospice to a gathering of great ladies (the latest form, ap- 
parently in the height of fashion, that it had assumed), it might seem odd 
that the person who on the following day was to give the most brilliant 
party of the season should need to appear overnight to address a last word 
of command to her troops. But the fact was that the pre-eminence of Mme. 
de Saint-Euverte's drawing-room existed only for those whose social life 
consists entirely in reading the accounts of afternoon and evening parties 
in the Gaidois or Figaro, without ever having been present at one. To 
these worldlings who see the world only as reflected in the newspapers, the 
enumeration of the British, Austrian, etc., Ambassadresses, of the Duch- 
esses d'Uzes, de la Tremoille, etc., etc., was sufficient to make them in- 
stinctively imagine the Saint-Euverte drawing-room to be the first in Paris, 
whereas it was among the last. Not that the reports were mendacious. The 
majority of the persons mentioned had indeed been present. But each of 
them had come in response to entreaties, civilities, services, and with the 
sense of doing infinite honour to Mme. de Saint-Euverte. Such drawing- 
rooms, shunned rather than sought after, to which people are so to speak 
roped in, deceive no one but the fair readers of the 'Society' column. They 
pass over a really fashionable party, the sort at which the hostess, who 
could have had all the duchesses in existence, they being athirst to be 
'numbered among the elect/ invites only two or three and does not send 
any list of her guests to the papers. And so these hostesses, ignorant or 
contemptuous of the power that publicity has acquired to-day, are con- 
sidered fashionable by the Queen of Spain but are overlooked by the 
crowd, because the former knows and the latter does not know who they 
are. 

Mme. de Saint-Euverte was not one of these women, and, with an eye 
to the main chance, had come to gather up for the morrow everyone who 
had been invited. M. de Charlus was not among these, he had always 
refused to go to her house. But he had quarrelled with so many people 
that Mme. de Saint-Euverte might put this down to his peculiar nature. 

Assuredly, if it had been only Oriane, Mme. de Saint-Euverte need not 
have put herself to the trouble, for the invitation had been given by word 
of mouth, and, what was more, accepted with that charming, deceiving 
grace in the exercise of which those Academicians are unsurpassed from 
whose door the candidate emerges with a melting heart, never doubting that 
he can count upon their support. But there were others as well. The 
Prince d'Agrigente, would he come? And Mme. de Durfort? And so, with 
an eye to business, Mme. de Saint-Euverte had thought it expedient to 
appear on the scene in person. Insinuating with some, imperative with 
others, to all alike she hinted in veiled words at inconceivable attractions 
which could never be seen anywhere again, and promised each that he 
should find at her party the person he most wished, or the personage he 
most wanted to meet. And this sort of function with which she was in- 



54 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

vested on one day in the year like certain public offices in the ancient 
world of the person who is to give on the morrow the biggest garden- 
party of the season conferred upon her a momentary authority. Her lists 
were made up and closed, so that while she wandered slowly through the 
Princess's rooms to drop into one ear after another: "You won't forget 
about me to-morrow," she had the ephemeral glory of turning away her 
eyes, while continuing to smile, if she caught sight of some horrid creature 
who was to be avoided or some country squire for whom the bond of a 
schoolboy friendship had secured admission to Gilbert's, and whose pres- 
ence at her garden-party would be no gain. She preferred not to speak to 
him, so as to be able to say later on: "I issued my invitations verbally, 
and unfortunately I didn't see you anywhere." And so she, a mere Saint- 
Euverte, set to work with her gimlet eyes to pick and choose among the 
guests at the Princess's party. And she imagined herself, in so doing, to 
be every inch a Duchesse de Guermantes. 

It must be admitted that the latter lady had not, either, whatever one 
might suppose, the unrestricted use of her greetings and smiles. To some 
extent, no doubt, when she withheld them, it was deliberately. "But the 
woman bores me to tears," she would say, "am I expected to talk to her 
about her party for the next hour?" 

A duchess of swarthy complexion went past, whom her ugliness and 
stupidity, and certain irregularities of behaviour, had exiled not from 
society as a whole but from certain small and fashionable circles. "Ah!" 
murmured Mme. de Guermantes, with the sharp, unerring glance of the 
connoisseur who is shewn a false jewel, "so they have that sort here?" By 
the mere sight of this semi-tarnished lady, whose face was burdened with 
a surfeit of moles from which black hairs sprouted, Mme. de Guer- 
mantes gauged the mediocre importance of this party. They had been 
brought up together, but she had severed all relations with the lady ; and 
responded to her greeting only with the curtest little nod. "I cannot under- 
stand," she said to me, "how Marie-Gilbert can invite us with all that 
scum. You might say there was a deputation of paupers from every parish. 
Melanie Pourtales arranged things far better. She could have the Holy 
Synod and the Oratoire Chapel in her house if she liked, but at least she 
didn't invite us on the same day." But, in many cases, it was from timidity, 
fear of a scene with her husband, who did not like her to entertain artists 
and such like (Marie-Gilbert took a kindly interest in dozens of them, 
you had to take care not to be accosted by some illustrious Ger- 
man diva), from some misgivings, too, with regard to Nationalist feel- 
ing, which, inasmuch as she was endowed, like M. de Charlus, with the 
wit of the Guermantes, she despised from the social point of view (people 
were now, for the greater glory of the General Staff, sending a plebeian 
general in to dinner before certain dukes), but to which, nevertheless, as 
she knew that she was considered unsound in her views, she made liberal 
concessions, even dreading the prospect of having to offer her hand to 
Swann in these anti-semitic surroundings. With regard to this, her mind 
was soon set at rest, for she learned that the Prince had refused to have 
Swann in the house, and had had 'a sort of an altercation' with him. There 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 55 

was no risk of her having to converse in public with 'poor Charles/ whom 
she preferred to cherish in private. 

"And who in the world is that?" Mme. de Guermantes exclaimed, upon 
seeing a little lady with a slightly lost air, in a black gown so simple that 
you would have taken her for a pauper, greet her, as did also the lady's 
husband, with a sweeping bow. She did not recognise the lady and, in her 
insolent way, drew herself up as though offended and stared at her with- 
out responding. "Who is that person, Basin?" she asked with an air of 
astonishment, while M. de Guermantes, to atone for Oriane's impoliteness, 
was bowing to the lady and shaking hands with her husband. "Why, it is 
Mine, de Chaussepierre, you were most impolite." "I have never heard of 
anybody called Chaussepierre." "Old mother Chanlivault's nephew." "I 
haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about. Who is the woman, 
and why does she bow to me?" "But you know her perfectly, she's Mme. 
de Charleval's daughter, Henriette Montmorency." "Oh, but I knew her 
mother quite well, she was charming, extremely intelligent. What made her 
go and marry all these people I never heard of? You say that she calls 
herself Mme. de Chaussepierre?" she said, isolating each syllable of the 
name with a questioning air, and as though she were afraid of making a 
mistake. "It is not so ridiculous as you appear to think, to call oneself 
Chaussepierre ! Old Chaussepierre was the brother of the aforesaid Chan- 
livault, of Mme. de Sennecour and of the Vicomtesse de Merlerault. They're 
a good family." "Oh, do stop," cried the Duchess, who, like a lion-tamer, 
never cared to appear to be allowing herself to be intimidated by the de- 
vouring glare of the animal. "Basin, you are the joy of my life. I can't 
imagine where you picked up those names, but I congratulate you on them. 
If I did not know Chaussepierre, I have at least read Balzac, you are not 
the only one, and I have even read Labiche. I can appreciate Chanlivault, 
I do not object to Charleval, but I must confess that Merlerault is a mas- 
terpiece. However, let us admit that Chaussepierre is not bad either. You 
must have gone about collecting them, it's not possible. You mean to 
write a book," she turned to myself, "you ought to make a note of Char- 
leval and Merlerault. You will find nothing better." "He will find himself 
in the dock, and will go to prison; you are giving him very bad advice, 
Oriane." "I hope, for his own sake, that he has younger people than me at 
his disposal if he wishes to ask for bad advice; especially if he means to 
follow it. But if he means to do nothing worse than write a book!" At 
some distance from us, a wonderful, proud young woman stood out deli- 
cately from the throng in a white dress, all diamonds and tulle. Madame 
de Guermantes watched her talking to a whole group of people fascinated 
by her grace. "Your sister is the belle of the ball, as usual; she is charm- 
ing to-night," she said, as she took a chair, to the Prince de Chimay who 
went past. Colonel de Froberville (the General of that name was his uncle) 
came and sat down beside us, as did M. de Breaute, while M. de Vaugou- 
bert, after hovering about us (by an excess of politeness which h"main- 
tained even when playing tennis when, by dint of asking lezftx of the 
eminent personages present before hitting the ball, he invarikWy lost the 
game for his partner) returned to M. de Charlus (until ftfat moment 



56 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

almost concealed by the huge skirt of the Comtesse Mole, whom he pro- 
fessed to admire above all other women), and, as it happened, at the 
moment when several members of the latest diplomatic mission to Paris 
were greeting the Baron. At the sight of a young secretary with a particu- 
larly intelligent air, M. de Vaugoubert fastened on M. de Charlus a smile 
upon which there bloomed visibly one question only. M. de Charlus would, 
no doubt, readily have compromised some one else, but to feel himself 
compromised by this smile formed on another person's lips, which, more- 
over, could have but one meaning, exasperated him. "I know absolutely 
nothing about the matter, I beg you to keep your curiosity to yourself. It 
leaves me more than cold. Besides, in this instance, you are making a 
mistake of the first order. I believe this young man to be absolutely the 
opposite." Here M. de Charlus, irritated at being thus given away by a 
fool, was not speaking the truth. The secretary would, had the Baron been 
correct, have formed an exception to the rule of his Embassy. It was, as a 
matter of fact, composed of widely different personalities, many of them ex- 
tremely second-rate, so that, if one sought to discover what could have been 
the motive of the selection that had brought them together, the only one pos- 
sible seemed to be inversion. By setting at the head of this little diplo- 
matic Sodom an Ambassador who on the contrary ran after women with the 
comic exaggeration of an old buffer in a revue, who made his battalion of 
male impersonators toe the line, the authorities seemed to have been obey- 
ing the law of contrasts. In spite of what he had beneath his nose, he did 
not believe in inversion. He gave an immediate proof of this by marrying 
his sister to a Charge d'Affaires whom he believed, quite mistakenly, to be 
a womaniser. After this he became rather a nuisance and was soon replaced 
by a fresh Excellency who ensured the homogeneity of the party. Other 
Embassies sought to rival this one, but could never dispute the prize (as in 
the matriculation examinations, where a certain school always heads the 
list), and more than ten years had to pass before, heterogeneous attaches 
having been introduced into this too perfect whole, another might at last 
wrest the grim trophy from it and march at the head. 

Reassured as to her fear of having to talk to Swann, Mme. de Guer- 
mantes felt now merely curious as to the subject of the conversation he 
had had with their host. a Do you know what it was about?" the Duke asked 
M. de Breaute. "I did hear," the other replied, "that it was about a little 
play which the writer Bergotte produced at their house. It was a delight- 
ful show, as it happens. But it seems the actor made up as Gilbert, whom, 
as it happens, Master Bergotte had intended to take off." "Oh, I should 
have loved to see Gilbert taken off," said the Duchess, with a dreamy 
smile. "It was about this little performance," M. de Breaute went on, 
thrusting forward his rodent jaw, "that Gilbert demanded an explanation 
from Swann, who merely replied what everyone thought very witty: 'Why, 
not at all, it wasn't the least bit like you, you are far funnier!' It appears, 
though," M. de Breaute continued, "that the little play was quite delight- 
ful. Mme. Mole was there, she was immensely amused." "What, does Mme. 
Mole go there?" said the Duchess in astonishment. "Ah! That must be 
Meme's doing. That is what always happens, in the end, to that sort of 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 57 

Louse. One fine day everybody begins to flock to it, and I, who have delib- 
erately remained aloof, upon principle, find myself left to mope alone in 
my corner." Already, since M. de Breaute's speech, the Duchesse de Guer- 
mantes (with regard if not to Swann 's house, at least to the hypothesis 
of encountering him at any moment) had, as we see, adopted a fresh point 
of view. "The explanation that you have given us," said Colonel de Fro- 
berville to M. de Breaute, "is entirely unfounded. I have good reason to 
know. The Prince purely and simply gave Swann a dressing down and 
would have him to know, as our forebears used to say, that he was not 
to shew his face in the house again, seeing the opinions he flaunts. And, 
to my mind, my uncle Gilbert was right a thousand times over, not only 
in giving Swann a piece of his mind, he ought to have finished six months 
ago with an out-and-out Dreyfusard." 

Poor M. de Vaugoubert, changed now from a too cautious tennis- 
player to a mere inert tennis ball which is tossed to and fro without com- 
punction, found himself projected towards the Duchesse de 'Guermantes 
to whom he made obeisance. He was none too well received, Oriane living 
in the belief that all the diplomats or politicians of her world were nin- 
compoops. 

M. de Froberville had greatly benefited by the social privileges that had 
of late been accorded to military men. Unfortunately, if the wife of his 
bosom was a quite authentic relative of the Guermantes, she was also an 
extremely poor one, and, as he himself had lost his fortune, they went 
scarcely anywhere, and were the sort of people who were apt to be over- 
looked except on great occasions, when they had the good fortune to bury 
or marry a relative. Then, they did really enter into communion with the 
world of fashion, like those nominal Catholics who approach the holy 
table but once in the year. Their material situation would indeed have 
been deplorable had not Mme. de Saint-Euverte, faithful to her affection 
for the late General de Froberville, done everything to help the household, 
providing frocks and entertainments for the two girls. But the Colonel, 
though generally considered a good fellow, had not the spirit of gratitude. 
He was envious of the splendours of a benefactress who extolled them her- 
self without pause or measure. The annual garden party was for him, his 
wife and children a marvellous pleasure which they would not have missed 
for all the gold in the world, but a pleasure poisoned by the thought of the 
joys of satisfied pride that Mme. de Saint-Euverte derived from it. The 
accounts of this garden party in the newspapers, which, after giving de- 
tailed reports, would add with Machiavellian guile: "We shall refer again 
to this brilliant gathering," the complementary details of the women's 
costume, appearing for several days in succession, all this was so obnoxious 
to the Frobervilles, that they, cut off from most pleasures and knowing 
that they could count upon the pleasure of this one afternoon, were moved 
every year to hope that bad weather would spoil the success of the party, 
to consult the barometer and to anticipate with ecstasy the threatenings of 
a storm that might ruin everything. 

"I shall not discuss politics with you, Froberville," said M. de Guer- 
mantes, "but, so far as Swann is concerned, I can tell you frankly that his 



58 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

conduct towards ourselves has been beyond words. Introduced into society, 
in the past, by ourselves, by the Due de Chartres, they tell me now that he 
is openly a Dreyfusard. I should never have believed it of him, an epicure, 
a man of practical judgment, a collector, who goes in for old books, a 
member of the Jockey, a man who enjoys the respect of all that know him, 
who knows all the good addresses, and used to send us the best port wine 
you could wish to drink, a dilettante, the father of a family. Oh! I have 
been greatly deceived. I do not complain for myself, it is understood that 
I am only an old fool, whose opinion counts for nothing, mere rag tag and 
bobtail, but if only for Oriane's sake, he ought to have openly disavowed 
the Jews and the partisans of the man Dreyfus. 

"Yes, after the friendship my wife has always shewn him," went on the 
Duke, who evidently considered that to denounce Dreyfus as guilty of 
high treason, whatever opinion one might hold in one's own conscience as 
to his guilt, constituted a sort of thank-offering for the manner in which 
one had been received in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, "he ought to have 
disassociated himself. For, you can ask Oriane, she had a real friendship 
for him." The Duchess, thinking that an ingenuous, calm tone would give 
a more dramatic and sincere value to her words, said in a schoolgirl voice, 
as though she were simply letting the truth fall from her lips, merely giving 
a slightly melancholy expression to her eyes: "It is quite true, I have no 
reason to conceal the fact that I did feel a sincere affection for Charles!" 
"There, you see, I don't have to make her say it. And after that, he carries 
his ingratitude to the point of being a Dreyfusard!" 

"Talking of Dreyfusards," I said, "it appears, Prince Von is one." "Ah, 
I am glad you reminded me of him," exclaimed M. de Guermantes, "I was 
forgetting that he had asked me to dine with him on Monday. But whether 
he is a Dreyfusard or not is entirely immaterial, since he is a foreigner. I 
don't give two straws for his opinion. With a Frenchman, it is another 
matter. It is true that Swann is a Jew. But, until to-day forgive me, Fro- 
berville I have always been foolish enough to believe that a Jew can be 
a Frenchman, that is to say, an honourable Jew, a man of the world. Now, 
Swann was that in every sense of the word. Ah, well! He forces me to admit 
that I have been mistaken, since he has taken the side of this Dreyfus (who, 
guilty or not, never moved in his world, he cannot ever have met him) 
against a society that had adopted him, had treated him as one of our- 
selves. It goes without saying, we were all of us prepared to vouch for 
Swann, I would have answered for his patriotism as for my own. Ah! He 
is rewarding us very badly: I must confess that I should never have ex- 
pected such a thing from him. I thought better of him. He was a man of 
intelligence (in his own line, of course). I know that he had already made 
that insane, disgraceful marriage. By which token, shall I tell you some one 
who was really hurt by Swann's marriage: my wife. Oriane often has what 
I might call an affectation of insensibility. But at heart she feels things with 
extraordinary keenness." Mme. de Guermantes, delighted by this analysis 
of her character, listened to it with a modest air but did not utter a word, 
from a scrupulous reluctance to acquiesce in it, but principally from fear 
of cutting it short. M. de Guermantes might have gone on talking for 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 59 

an hour on this subject, she would have sat as still, or even stiller than if 
she had been listening to music. "Very well! I remember, when she heard 
of Swann's marriage, she felt hurt; she considered that it was wrong in a 
person to whom we had given so much friendship. She was very fond of 
Swann; she was deeply grieved. Am I not right, Oriane?" Mme. de Guer- 
mantes felt that she ought to reply to so direct a challenge, upon a point 
of fact, which would allow her, unobtrusively, to confirm the tribute 
which, she felt, had come to an end. In a shy and simple tone, and with an 
air all the more studied in that it sought to shew genuine 'feeling/ she 
said with a meek reserve, "It is true, Basin is quite right." "Still, that was 
not quite the same. After all, love is love, although, in my opinion, it ought 
to confine itself within certain limits. I might excuse a young fellow, a 
mere boy, for letting himself be caught by an infatuation. But Swann, a 
man of intelligence, of proved refinement, a good judge of pictures, an 
intimate friend of the Due de Chartres, of Gilbert himself!" The tone in 
which M. de Guermantes said this was, for that matter, quite inoffensive, 
without a trace of the vulgarity which he too often shewed. He spoke with 
a slightly indignant melancholy, but everything about him was steeped in 
that gentle gravity which constitutes the broad and unctuous charm of 
certain portraits by Rembrandt, that of the Burgomaster Six, for example. 
One felt that the question of the immorality of Swann's conduct with 
regard to 'the Case' never even presented itself to the Duke, so confident 
was he of the answer; it caused him the grief of a father who sees one of 
his sons, for whose education he has made the utmost sacrifices, deliberately 
ruin the magnificent position he has created for him and dishonour, by 
pranks which the principles or prejudices of his family cannot allow, a 
respected name. It is true that M. de Guermantes had not displayed so 
profound and pained an astonishment when he learned that Saint-Loup 
was a Dreyfusard. But, for one thing, he regarded his nephew as a young 
man gone astray, as to whom nothing, until he began to mend his ways, 
could be surprising, whereas Swann was what M. de Guermantes called 
'a man of weight, a man occupying a position in the front rank.' More- 
over and above all, a considerable interval of time had elapsed during 
which, if, from the historical point of view, events had, to some extent, 
seemed to justify the Dreyfusard argument, the anti-Dreyfusard oppo- 
sition had doubled its violence, and, from being purely political, had be- 
come social. It was now a question of militarism, of patriotism, and the 
waves of anger that had been stirred up in society had had time to gather 
the force which they never have at the beginning of a storm. "Don't you 
see," M. de Guermantes went on, "even from the point of view of his be- 
loved Jews, since he is absolutely determined to stand by them, Swann 
has made a blunder of an incalculable magnitude. He has shewn that they 
are to some extent forced to give their support to anyone of their own 
race, even if they do not know him personally. It is a public danger. We 
have evidently been too easy going, and the mistake Swann is making will 
create all the more stir since he was respected, not to say received, and 
was almost the only Jew that anyone knew. People will say: A b uno disce 
omnes." (His satisfaction at having hit, at the right moment, in his mem- 



6O CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

ory, upon so apt a quotation, alone brightened with a proud smile the 
melancholy of the great nobleman conscious of betrayal.) 

I was longing to know what exactly had happened between the Prince 
and Swann, and to catch the latter, if he had not already gone home. "I 
dSn't mind telling you," the Duchess answered me when I spoke to her of 
this desire, "that I for my part am not overanxious to see him, because 
it appears, by what I was told just now at Mme. de Saint-Euverte's, that 
he would like me before he dies to make the acquaintance of his wife and 
daughter. Good heavens, it distresses me terribly that he should be ill, but, 
I must say, I hope it is not so serious as all that. And besides, it is not really 
a reason at all, because if it were it would be so childishly simple. A writer 
with no talent would have only to say: 'Vote for me at the Academy be- 
cause my wife is dying and I wish to give her this last happiness.' There 
would be no more entertaining if one was obliged to make friends with all 
the dying people. My coachman might come to me with: 'My daughter is 
seriously ill, get me an invitation to the Princesse de Panne's.' I adore 
Charles, and I should hate having to refuse him, and so that is why I 
prefer to avoid the risk of his asking me. I hope with all my heart that he 
is not dying, as he says, but really, if it has to happen, it would not be the 
moment for me to make the acquaintance of those two creatures who have 
deprived me of the most amusing of my friends for the last fifteen years, 
with the additional disadvantage that I should not even be able to make 
use of their society to see him, since he would be dead!" 

Meanwhile M. de Breaute had not ceased to ruminate the contradiction 
of his story by Colonel de Froberville. "I do not question the accuracy of 
your version, my dear fellow," he said, "but I had mine from a good 
source. It was the Prince de la Tour d'Auvergne who told me." 

"I am surprised that an educated man like yourself should still say 'Prince 
de la Tour d'Auvergne,' " the Due de Guermantes broke in, "you know 
that he is nothing of the kind. There is only one member of that family 
left. Oriane's uncle, the Due de Bouillon." 

"The brother of Mme. de Villeparisis?" I asked, remembering that 
she had been Mile, de Bouillon. "Precisely. Oriane, Mme. de Lambresac 
is bowing to you." And indeed, one saw at certain moments form and fade 
like a shooting star a faint smile directed by the Duchesse de Lambresac 
at somebody whom she had recognised. But this smile, instead of taking 
definite shape in an active affirmation, in a language mute but clear, was 
drowned almost immediately in a sort of ideal ecstasy which expressed 
nothing, while her head drooped in a gesture of blissful benediction, re- 
calling the inclination towards the crowd of communicants of the head of a 
somewhat senile prelate. There was not the least trace of senility about 
Mme. de Lambresac. But I was acquainted already with this special type 
of old-fashioned distinction. At Combray and in Paris, all my grand- 
mother's friends were in the habit of greeting one another at a social gath- 
ering with as seraphic an air as if they had caught sight of some one of 
their acquaintance in church, at the moment of the Elevation or during a 
funeral, and were casting him a gentle 'Good morning' which ended in 
prayer. At this point a remark made by M. de Guermantes was to complete 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 6l 

the likeness that I was tracing. "But you have seen the Due de Bouillon," 
he said to me. "He was just going out of my library this afternoon as you 
came in, a short person with white hair." It was the person whom I had 
taken for a man of business from Combray, and yet, now that T came to 
think it over, I could see the resemblance to Mme. de Villeparisis. The 
similarity between the evanescent greetings of the Duchesse de Lambresac 
and those of my grandmother's friends had first aroused my interest, by 
shewing me how in all narrow and exclusive societies, be they those of the 
minor gentry or of the great nobility, the old manners persist, allowing us 
to recapture, like an archaeologist, what might have been the standard 
of upbringing, and the side of life which it reflects, in the days of the 
Vicomte d'Arlincourt and Lo'isa Puget. Better still now, the perfect con- 
formity in appearance between a man of business from Combray of his 
generation and the Due de Bouillon reminded me of what had already 
struck me so forcibly when I had seen Saint-Loup's maternal grandfather, 
the Due de La Rochefoucauld, in a daguerreotype in which he was exactly 
similar, in dress, air and manner, to my great-uncle, that social, and even 
individual differences are merged when seen from a distance in the uni- 
formity of an epoch. The truth is that the similarity of dress, and also the 
reflexion, from a person's face, of the spirit of his age occupy so much more 
space than his caste, which bulks largely only in his own self-esteem and 
the imagination of other people, that in order to discover that a great 
nobleman of the time of Louis Philippe differs less from a citizen of the 
time of Louis Philippe than from a great nobleman of the time of Louis 
XV, it is not necessary to visit the galleries of the Louvre. 

At that moment, a Bavarian musician with long hair, whom the Prin- 
cesse de Guermantes had taken under her wing, bowed to Oriane. She 
responded with an inclination of her head, but the Duke, furious at seeing 
his wife bow to a person whom he did not know, who had a curious style, 
and, so far as M. de Guermantes understood, an extremely bad reputa- 
tion, turned upon his wife with a terrible inquisitorial air, as much as to 
say: "Who in the world is that Ostrogoth?" Poor Mme. de Guermantes's 
position was already distinctly complicated, and if the musician had felt 
a little pity for this martyred wife, he would have made off as quickly as 
possible. But, whether from a desire not to remain under the humiliation 
that had just been inflicted on him in public, before the eyes of the Duke's 
oldest and most intimate friends, whose presence there had perhaps been 
responsible to some extent for his silent bow, and to shew that it was on the 
best of grounds and not without knowing her already that he had greeted 
the Duchesse de Guermantes, or else in obedience to the obscure but irre- 
sistible impulse to commit a blunder which drove him at a moment when 
he ought to have trusted to the spirit to apply the whole letter of the 
law, the musician came closer to Mme. de Guermantes and said to her: 
"Madame la Duchesse, I should like to request the honour of being pre- 
sented to the Duke." Mme. de Guermantes was indeed in a quandary. But 
after all, she might well be a forsaken wife, she was still Duchesse de 
Guermantes and could not let herself appear to have forfeited the right 



62 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

to introduce to her husband the people whom she knew. "Basin," she said, 
"allow me to present to you M. d'Herweck." 

"I need not ask whether you are going to Madame de Saint-Euverte's 
to-morrow," Colonel de Froberville said to Mme. de Guermantes, to 
dispel the painful impression produced by M. d'Herweck's ill-timed re- 
quest. "The whole of Paris will be there." Meanwhile, turning with a single 
movement and as though he were carved out of a solid block towards the 
indiscreet musician, the Due de Guermantes, fronting his suppliant, monu- 
mental, mute, wroth, like Jupiter Tonans, remained motionless like this 
for some seconds, his eyes ablaze with anger and astonishment, his waving 
locks seeming to issue from a crater. Then, as though carried away by an 
impulse which alone enabled him to perform the act of politeness that was 
demanded of him, and after appearing by his attitude of defiance to be 
calling the entire company to witness that he did not know the Bavarian 
musician, clasping his white-gloved hands behind his back, he jerked his 
body forward and bestowed upon the musician a bow so profound, 
instinct with such stupefaction and rage, so abrupt, so violent, that 
the trembling artist recoiled, stooping as he went, so as not to re- 
ceive a formidable butt in the stomach. "Well, the fact is, I shall not 
be in Paris," the Duchess answered Colonel de Froberville. "I may as 
well tell you (though I ought to be ashamed to confess such a thing) that 
I have lived all these years without seeing the windows at Montfort- 
TAmaury. It is shocking, but there it is. And so, to make amends for my 
shameful ignorance, I decided that I would go and see them to-morrow." 
M. de Breaute smiled a subtle smile. He quite understood that, if the 
Duchess had been able to live all these years without seeing the windows 
at Montfort-l'Amaury, this artistic excursion did not all of a sudden take 
on the urgent character of an expedition 'hot-foot' and might without 
danger, after having been put off for more than twenty-five years, be 
retarded for twenty-four hours. The plan that the Duchess had formed was 
simply the Guermantes way of issuing the decree that the Saint-Euverte 
establishment was definitely not a 'really nice' house, but a house to which 
you were invited that you might be utilised afterwards in the account in 
the Gaulois, a house that would set the seal of supreme smartness upon 
those, or at any rate upon her (should there be but one) who did not go 
to it. The delicate amusement of M. de Breaute, enhanced by that poetical 
pleasure which people in society felt when they saw Mme. de Guermantes 
do things which their own inferior position did not allow them to imitate, 
but the mere sight of which brought to their lips the smile of the peasant 
thirled to the soil when he sees freer and more fortunate men pass by above 
his head, this delicate pleasure could in no way be compared with the con- 
cealed but frantic ecstasy that was at once felt by M. de Froberville. 

The efforts that this gentleman was making so that people should not 
hear his laughter had made him turn as red as a turkey-cock, in spite of 
which it was only with a running interruption of hiccoughs of joy that he 
exclaimed in a pitying tone: "Oh! Poor Aunt Saint-Euverte, she will take 
to her bed! No! The unhappy woman is not to have her Duchess, what 
a blow, why, it is enough to kill her ! " he went on, convulsed with laughter. 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 63 

And in his exhilaration he could not help stamping his feet and rubbing 
his hands. Smiling out of one eye and with the corner of her lips at M. de 
Froberville, whose amiable intention she appreciated, but found the deadly 
boredom of his society quite intolerable, Mme. de Guermantes decided 
finally to leave him. 

"Listen, I shall be obliged to bid you good night," she said to him as she 
rose with an air of melancholy resignation, and as though it had been a bit- 
ter grief to her. Beneath the magic spell of her blue eyes her gently musical 
voice made one think of the poetical lament of a fairy. "Basin wants me 
to go and talk to Marie for a little. 77 In reality, she was tired of listening 
to Froberville, who did not cease to envy her her going to Montfort- 
TAmaury, when she knew quite well that he had never heard of the win- 
dows before in his life, nor for that matter would he for anything in the 
world have missed going to the Saint-Euverte party. "Good-bye, I've 
barely said a word to you, it is always like that at parties, we never see 
the people, we never say the things we should like to say, but it is the 
-same everywhere in this life. Let us hope that when we are dead things 
will be better arranged. At any rate, we shall not always be having to put 
on low dresses. And yet, one never knows. We may perhaps have to display 
our bones and worms on great occasions. Why not? Look, there goes old 
Rampillon, do you see any great difference between her and a skeleton in 
an open dress? It is true that she has every right to look like that, for she 
must be at least a hundred. She was already one of those sacred monsters 
before whom I refused to bow the knee when I made my first appearance 
in society. I thought she had been dead for years; which for that matter 
would be the only possible explanation of the spectacle she presents. It is 
impressive and liturgical; quite Camposantol" The Duchess had moved 
away from Froberville; he came after her: "Just one word in your ear." 
Slightly annoyed: "Well, what is it now?" she said to him stiffly. And he, 
having been afraid lest, at the last moment, she might change her mind 
about Montfort-l'Amaury: "I did not like to mention it for Mme. de 
Saint-Euverte's sake, so as not to get her into trouble, but since you don't 
intend to be there, I may tell you that I am glad for your sake, for she has 
measles in the house!" "Oh, good gracious!" said Oriane, who had a 
horror of illnesses. "But that wouldn't matter to me, I've had them already. 
You can't get them twice." "So the doctors say; I know people who've had 
them four times. Anyhow, you are warned." As for himself, these fictitious 
measles would have needed to attack him in reality and to chain him to 
his bed before he would have resigned himself to missing the Saint-Euverte 
party to which he had looked forward for so many months. He would have 
the pleasure of seeing so many smart people there! The still greater pleas- 
ure of remarking that certain things had gone wrong, and the supreme 
pleasures of being able for long afterwards to boast that he had mingled 
with the former and, while exaggerating or inventing them, of deploring 
the latter. 

I took advantage of the Duchess's moving to rise also in order to make 
my way to the smoking-room and find out the truth about Swann. "Do not 
believe a word of what Babal told us," she said to me. "Little Mole would 



64 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

never poke her nose into a place like that. They tell us that to draw us. 
Nobody ever goes to them and they are never asked anywhere either. 
He admits it himself: 'We spend the evenings alone by our own fireside/ 
As he always says we, not like royalty, but to include his wife, I do not 
press him. But I know all about it," the Duchess added. We passed two 
young men whose great and dissimilar beauty took its origin from one 
and the same woman. They were the two sons of Mme. de Surgis, the 
latest mistress of the Due de Guermantes. Both were resplendent with 
their mother's perfections, but each in his own way. To one had passed, 
rippling through a virile body, the royal presence of Mme. de Surgis and 
the same pallor, ardent, flushed and sacred, flooded the marble cheeks of 
mother and son; but his brother had received the Grecian brow, the 
perfect nose, the statuesque throat, the eyes of infinite depth; composed 
thus of separate gifts, which the goddess had shared between them, their 
twofold beauty offered one th^ abstract pleasure of thinking that the 
cause of that beauty was something outside themselves; one would have 
said that the principal attributes of their mother were incarnate in two 
different bodies; that one of the young men was his mother's stature and 
her complexion, the other her gaze, like those divine beings who were no 
more than the strength and beauty of Jupiter or Minerva. Full of respect 
for M. de Guermantes, of whom they said: "He is a great friend of our 
parents," the elder nevertheless thought that it would be wiser not to 
come up and greet the Duchess, of whose hostility towards his mother 
he was aware, though without perhaps understanding the reason for it, 
and at the sight of us he slightly averted his head. The younger, who copied 
his brother in everything, because, being stupid and short-sighted to boot, 
he did not venture to own a personal opinion, inclined his head at the same 
angle, and the pair slipped past us towards the card-room, one behind 
the other, like a pair of allegorical figures. 

. Just as I reached this room, I was stopped by the Marquise de Citri r 
still beautiful but almost foaming at the mouth. Of decently noble birth, 
she had sought and made a brilliant match in marrying M. de Citri, whose 
great-grandmother had been an Aumale-Lorraine. But no sooner had she 
tasted this satisfaction than her natural cantankerousness gave her a horror 
of people in society which did not cut her off absolutely from social life. 
Not only, at a party, did she deride everyone present, her derision of them 
was so violent that mere laughter was not sufficiently bitter, and changed 
into a guttural hiss. "Ah!" she said to me, pointing to the Duchesse de 
Guermantes who had now left my side and was already some way off, 
"what defeats me is that she can lead this sort of existence." Was this the 
speech of a righteously indignant Saint, astonished that the Gentiles did 
not come of their own accord to perceive the Truth, or that of an anarchist 
athirst for carnage? In any case there could be no possible justification 
for this apostrophe. In the first place, the 'existence led' by Mme. de 
Guermantes differed hardly perceptibly (except in indignation) from that 
led by Mme. de Citri. Mme. de Citri was stupefied when she saw the Duch- 
ess capable of that mortal sacrifice: attendance at one of Marie-Gilbert's 
parties. It must be said in this particular instance that Mme. de Citri 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 65 

genuinely fond of the Princess, who was indeed the kindest of women, and 
knew that, by attending her party, she was giving her great pleasure. And 
so she had put off, in order to come to the party, a dancer whom she re- 
garded as a genius, and who was to have initiated her into the mysteries 
of Russian choreography. Another reason which to some extent stultified 
the concentrated rage which Mme. de Citri felt on seeing Oriane greet one 
or other of the guests was that Mme. de Guermantes, albeit at a far less 
advanced stage, shewed the symptoms of the malady that was devouring 
Mme. de Citri. We have seen, moreover, that she had carried the germs of 
it from her birth. In fact, being more intelligent than Mme. de Citri, Mme. 
de Guermantes would have had better right than she to this nihilism (which 
was more than merely social), but it is true that certain good qualities help 
us rather to endure the defects of our neighbour than they make us suffer 
from them ; and a man of great talent will normally pay less attention to 
other people's folly than would a fool. We have already described at suffi- 
cient length the nature of the Duchess's wit to convince the reader that, 
if it had nothing in common with great intellect, it was at least wit, a wit 
adroit in making use (like a translator) of different grammatical forms. 
Now nothing of this sort seemed to entitle Mme. de Citri to look down 
upon qualities so closely akin to her own. She found everyone idiotic, but 
in her conversation, in her letters, shewed herself distinctly inferior to the 
people whom she treated with such disdain. She had moreover such a 
thirst for destruction that, when she had almost given up society, the 
pleasures that she then sought were subjected, each in turn, to her ter- 
rible disintegrating force. After she had given up parties for musical eve- 
nings, she used to say: "You like listening to that sort of thing, to music? 
Good gracious, it all depends on what it is. It can be simply deadly! Oh! 
Beethoven! What a bore!" With Wagner, then with Franck, Debussy, she 
did not even take the trouble to say the word bar be, but merely passed 
her hand over her face with a tonsorial gesture. 

Presently, everything became boring. "Beautiful things are such a bore. 
Oh! Pictures! They're enough to drive one mad. How right you are, it is 
such a bore having to write letters!" Finally it was life itself that she 
declared to be rasante, leaving her hearers to wonder where she applied 
the term. 

I do not know whether it was the effect of what the Duchesse de Guer- 
mantes, on the evening when I first dined at her house, had said of this 
interior, but the card- or smoking-room, with its pictorial floor, its tripods, 
its figures of gods and animals that gazed at you, the sphinxes stretched 
out along the arms of the chairs, and most of all the huge table, of marble 
or enamelled mosaic, covered with symbolical signs more or less imitated 
from Etruscan and Egyptian art, gave me the impression of a magician's 
cell. And, on a chair drawn up to the glittering, augural table, M. de 
Charlus, in person, never touching a card, unconscious of what was going 
on round about him, incapable of observing that I had entered the room, 
seemed precisely a magician applying all the force of his will and reason 
to drawing a horoscope. Not only that, but, like the eyes of a Pythian on 
her tripod, his eyes were starting from his head, and that nothing might 



66 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

distract him from labours which required the cessation of the most simple 
movements, he had (like a calculator who will do nothing else until he 
has solved his problem) laid down beside him the cigar which he had pre- 
viously been holding between his lips, but had no longer the necessary 
detachment of mind to think of smoking. Seeing the two crouching deities 
borne upon the arms of the chair that stood facing him, one might have 
thought that the Baron was endeavouring to solve the enigma of the 
Sphinx, had it not been that, rather, of a young and living Oedipus, seated 
in that very armchair, where he had come to join in the game. Now, the 
figure to which M. de Charlus was applying with such concentration all 
his mental powers, and which was not, to tell the truth, one of the sort 
that are commonly studied more geometrico, was that of the proposition 
set him by the lineaments of the young Comte de Surgis; it appeared, so 
profound was M. de Charlus's absorption in front of it, to be some rebus, 
some riddle, some algebraical problem, of which he must try to pene- 
trate the mystery or to work out the formula. In front of him the sibylline 
signs and the figures inscribed upon that Table of the Law seemed the 
gramarye which would enable the old sorcerer to tell in what direction the 
young man's destiny was shaping. Suddenly he became aware that I was 
watching him, raised his head as though he were waking from a dream, 
smiled at me and blushed. At that moment Mme. de Surgis's other son 
came up behind the one who was playing, to look at his cards. When M. de 
Charlus had learned from me that they were brothers, his features could 
not conceal the admiration that he felt for a family which could create 
masterpieces so splendid and so diverse. And what added to the Baron's 
enthusiasm was the discovery that the two sons of Mme. de Surgis-le-Duc 
were sons not only of the same mother but of the same father. The children 
of Jupiter are dissimilar, but that is because he married first Metis, whose 
destiny was to bring into the world wise children, then Themis, and after 
her Eurynome, and Mnemosyne, and Leto, and only as a last resort Juno. 
But to a single father Mme. de Surgis had borne these two sons who had 
each received beauty from her, but a different beauty. 

I had at length the pleasure of seeing Swann come into this room, which 
was very big, so big that he did not at first catch sight of me. A pleasure 
mingled with sorrow, with a sorrow which the other guests did not, per- 
haps, feel, their feeling consisting rather in that sort of fascination which 
is exercised by the strange and unexpected forms of an approaching death, 
a death that a man already has, in the popular saying, written on his face. 
And it was with a stupefaction that was almost offensive, into which en- 
tered indiscreet curiosity, cruelty, a scrutiny at once quiet and anxious 
(a blend of suave man magno and memento quia pidvis y Robert would 
have said), that all eyes were fastened upon that face the cheeks of which 
had been so eaten away by disease, like a waning moon, that, except at a 
certain angle, the angle doubtless at which Swann looked at himself, they 
stopped short like a flimsy piece of scenery to which only an optical illusion 
can add the appearance of solidity. Whether because of the absence of 
those cheeks, no longer there to modify it, or because arteriosclerosis, 
which also is a form of intoxication, had reddened it, as would drunken- 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 67 

ness, or deformed it, as would morphine, Swann's punchinello nose, ab- 
sorbed for long years in an attractive face, seemed now enormous, tumid, 
crimson, the nose of an old Hebrew rather than of a dilettante Valois. 
Perhaps too in him, in these last days, the race was making appear more 
pronounced the physical type that characterises it, at the same time as the 
sentiment of a moral solidarity with the rest of the Jews, a solidarity 
which Swann seemed to have forgotten throughout his life, and which, one 
after another, his mortal illness, the Dreyfus case and the anti-semitic 
propaganda had revived. There are certain Israelites, superior people fon 
all that and refined men of the world, in whom there remain in reserve and 
in the wings, ready to enter at a given moment in their lives, as in a play, a 
bounder and a prophet. Swann had arrived at the age of the prophet. Cer- 
tainly, with his face from which, by the action of his disease, whole seg- 
ments had vanished, as when a block of ice melts and slabs of it fall off 
bodily, he had greatly altered. But I could not help being struck by the 
discovery how far more he had altered in relation to myself. This man, 
excellent, cultivated, whom I was far from annoyed at meeting, I could 
not bring myself to understand how I had been able to invest him long 
ago in a mystery so great that his appearance in the Champs-Elysees used 
to make my heart beat so violently that I was too bashful to approach his 
silk-lined cape, that at the door of the flat in which such a being dwelt I 
could not ring the bell without being overcome by boundless emotion and 
dismay; all this had vanished not only from his home, but from his person, 
and the idea of talking to him might or might not be agreeable to me, but 
had no effect whatever upon my nervous system. 

And besides, how he had altered since that very afternoon, when I had 
met him after all, only a few hours earlier in the Due de Guermantes's 
study. Had he really had a scene with the Prince, and had it left him 
crushed? The supposition was not necessary. The slightest efforts that are 
demanded of a person who is very ill quickly become for him an excessive 
strain. He has only to be exposed, when already tired, to the heat of a 
crowded drawing-room, for his countenance to decompose and turn blue, 
as happens in a few hours with an overripe pear or milk that is ready to 
turn. Besides, Swann's hair was worn thin in patches, and, as Mme. de 
Guermantes remarked, needed attention from the furrier, looked as if it 
had been camphored, and camphored badly. I was just crossing the room 
to speak to Swann when unfortunately a hand fell upon my shoulder. 

"Hallo, old boy, I am in Paris for forty-eight hours. I called at your 
house, they told me you were here, so that it is to you that my aunt is 
indebted for the honour of my company at her party." It was Saint-Loup. 
I told him how greatly I admired the house. "Yes, it makes quite a his- 
toric edifice. Personally, I think it appalling. We mustn't go near my uncle 
Palamede, or we shall be caught. Now that Mme. Mole has gone (for it is 
she that is ruling the roost just now), he is quite at a loose end. It seems it 
was as good as a play, he never let her out of his sight for a moment, and 
only left her when he had put her safely into her carriage. I bear my uncle 
no ill will, only I do think it odd that my family council, which has always 
been so hard on me, should be composed of the very ones who have led 



68 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

giddy lives themselves, beginning with the giddiest of the lot, my uncle 
Charlus, who is my official guardian, has had more women than Don Juan, 
and is still carrying on in spite of his age. There was a talk at one time of 
having me made a ward of court. I bet, when all those gay old dogs met to 
consider the question, and had me up to preach to me and tell me that I was 
breaking my mother's heart, they dared not look one another in the face for 
fear of laughing. Just think of the fellows who formed the council, you 
would think they had deliberately chosen the biggest womanisers." Leav- 
ing out of account M. de Charlus, with regard to whom my friend's aston- 
ishment no longer seemed to me to be justified, but for different reasons, 
and reasons which, moreover, were afterwards to undergo modification in 
my mind, Robert was quite wrong in finding it extraordinary that lessons 
in worldly wisdom should be given to a young man by people who had 
done foolish things, or were still doing them. 

Even if we take into account only atavism, family likenesses, it is in- 
evitable that the uncle who delivers the lecture should have more or less 
the same faults as the nephew whom he has been deputed to scold. Nor is the 
uncle in the least hypocritical in so doing, taken in as he is by the faculty 
that people have of believing, in every fresh experience, that 'this is quite 
different/ a faculty which allows them to adopt artistic, political and other 
errors without perceiving that they are the same errors which they exposed, 
ten years ago, in another school of painters, whom they condemned, an- 
other political affair which, they considered, merited a loathing that they no 
longer feel, and espouse those errors without recognising them in a fresh 
disguise. Besides, even if the faults of the uncle are different from those of 
the nephew, heredity may none the less be responsible, for the effect does 
not always resemble the cause, as a copy resembles its original, and even 
if the uncle's faults are worse, he may easily believe them to be less serious. 

When M. de Charlus made indignant remonstrances to Robert, who 
moreover was unaware of his uncle's true inclinations, at that time, and 
indeed if it had still been the time when the Baron used to scarify his own 
inclinations, he might perfectly well have been sincere in considering, from 
the point of view of a man of the world, that Robert was infinitely more to 
blame than himself. Had not Robert, at the very moment when his uncle 
had been deputed to make him listen to reason, come within an inch of 
getting himself ostracised by society, had he not very nearly been black- 
balled at the Jockey, had he not made himself a public laughing stock by 
the vast sums that he threw away upon a woman of the lowest order, by 
his friendships with people authors, actors, Jews not one of whom 
moved in society, by his opinions, which were indistinguishable from those 
held by traitors, by the grief he was causing to all his relatives? In what 
respect could it be compared, this scandalous existence, with that of M. 
de Charlus who had managed, so far, not only to retain but to enhance 
still further his position as a Guermantes, being in society an absolutely 
privileged person, sought after, adulated in the most exclusive circles, and 
a man who, married to a Bourbon Princess, a woman of eminence, had 
been able to ensure her happiness, had shewn a devotion to her memory 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 69 

more fervent, more scrupulous than is customary in society, and had thus 
been as good a husband as a son ! 

"But are you sure that M. de Charlus has had all those mistresses?'' I 
asked, not, of course, with any diabolical intent of revealing to Robert the 
secret that I had surprised, but irritated, nevertheless, at hearing him 
maintain an erroneous theory with so much certainty and assurance. He 
merely shrugged his shoulders in response to what he took for ingenuous- 
ness on my part. "Not that I blame him in the least, I consider that he is 
perfectly right." And he began to sketch in outline a theory of conduct 
that would have horrified him at Balbec (where he was not content with 
denouncing seducers, death seeming to him then the only punishment ade- 
quate to their crime). Then, however, he had still been in love and jealous. 
He went so far as to sing me the praises of houses of assignation. "They're 
the only places where you can find a shoe to fit you, sheath your weapon, 
as we say in the regiment. " He no longer felt for places of that sort the 
disgust that had inflamed him at Balbec when I made an allusion to them, 
and, hearing what he now said, I told him that Bloch had introduced me 
to one, but Robert replied that the one which Bloch frequented must be 
"extremely mixed, the poor man's paradise! It all depends, though: 
where is it?" I remained vague, for I had just remembered that it was the 
same house at which one used to have for a louis that Rachel whom Robert 
had so passionately loved. "Anyhow, I can take you to some far better 
ones, full of stunning women." Hearing me express the desire that he would 
take me as soon as possible to the ones he knew, which must indeed be far 
superior to the house to which Bloch had taken me, he expressed a sincere 
regret that he could not, on this occasion, as he would have to leave Paris 
next day. "It will have to be my next leave," he said. "You'll see, there 
are young girls there, even," he added with an air of mystery. "There is 
a little Mademoiselle de . . . I think it's d'Orgeville, I can let you have 
the exact name, who is the daughter of quite tip-top people; her mother 
was by way of being a La Croix-l'Eveque, and they're a really decent 
family, in fact they're more or less related, if I'm not mistaken, to my 
aunt Oriane. Anyhow, you have only to see the child, you can tell at once 
that she comes of decent people" (I could detect, hovering for a moment 
over Robert's voice, the shadow of the genius of the Guermantes, which 
passed like a cloud, but at a great height and without stopping). "It seems 
to me to promise marvellous developments. The parents are always ill and 
can't look after her. Gad, the child must have some amusement, and I 
count upon you to provide it!" "Oh! When are you coming back?" "I 
don't know, if you don't absolutely insist upon Duchesses" (Duchess 
being in aristocracy the only title that denotes a particularly brilliant 
rank, as the lower orders talk of 'Princesses'), "in a different class of 
goods, there is Mme. Putbus's maid." 

At this moment, Mme. de Surgis entered the room in search of her sons. 
As soon as he saw her M. de Charlus went up to her with a friendliness by 
which the Marquise was all the more agreeably surprised, in that an icy 
frigidity was what she had expected from the Baron, who had always posed 
as Oriane's protector and alone of the family the rest being too often 



7O CITIES OP THE PLAIN 

inclined to forgive the Duke his irregularities by the glamour of his position 
and their own jealousy of the Duchess kept his brother's mistresses piti- 
lessly at a distance. And so Mme. de Surgis had fully understood the 
motives of the attitude that she dreaded to find in the Baron, but never for 
a moment suspected those of the wholly different welcome that she did 
receive from him. He spoke to her with admiration of the portrait that 
Jacquet had painted of her years before. This admiration waxed indeed 
to an enthusiasm which, if it was partly deliberate, with the object of pre- 
venting the Marquise from going away, of 'hooking' her, as Robert used 
to say of enemy armies when you seek to keep their effective strength 
engaged at one point, might also be sincere. For, if everyone was delighted 
to admire in her sons the regal bearing and eyes of Mme. de Surgis, the 
Baron could taste an inverse but no less keen pleasure in finding those 
charms combined in the mother, as in a portrait which does not by itself 
excite desire, but feeds with the aesthetic admiration that it does excite 
the desires that it revives. These came now to give, in retrospect, a volup- 
tuous charm to Jacquet's portrait itself, and at that moment the Baron 
would gladly have purchased it to study upon its surface the physiognomic 
pedigree of the two young Surgis. 

"You see, I wasn't exaggerating," Robert said in my ear. "Just look at 
the way my uncle is running after Mme. de Surgis. Though I must say, 
that does surprise me. If Oriane knew, she would be furious. Really, there 
are enough women in the world without his having to go and sprawl over 
that one," he went on; like everybody who is not in love, he imagined 
that one chose the person whom one loved after endless deliberations and 
on the strength of various qualities and advantages. Besides, while com- 
pletely mistaken about his uncle, whom he supposed to be devoted to 
women, Robert, in his rancour, spoke too lightly of M. de Charlus. We are 
not always somebody's nephew with impunity. It is often through him 
that a hereditary habit is transmitted to us sooner or later. We might 
indeed arrange a whole gallery of portraits, named like the German com- 
edy: Uncle and Nephew, in which we should see the uncle watching jeal- 
ously, albeit unconsciously, for his nephew to end by becoming like him- 
self. 

I go so far as to say that this gallery would be incomplete were we not 
to include in it the uncles who are not really related by blood, being the 
uncles only of their nephews' wives. The Messieurs de Charlus are indeed 
so convinced that they themselves are the only good husbands, what is 
more the only husbands of whom their wives are not jealous, that generally, 
out of affection for their niece, they make her marry another Charlus. 
Which tangles the skein of family likenesses. And, to affection for the 
niece, is added at times affection for her betrothed as well. Such marriages 
are not uncommon, and are often what are called happy. 

"What were we talking about? Oh yes, that big, fair girl, Mme. Put- 
bus's maid. She goes with women too, but I don't suppose you mind that, I 
can tell you frankly, I have never seen such a gorgeous creature." "I im- 
agine her rather Giorgione?" "Wildly Giorgione! Oh, if I only had a little 
time in Paris, what wonderful things there are to be done! And then, one 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 71 

goes on to the next. For love is all rot, mind you, I've finished with all 
that." I soon discovered, to my surprise, that he had equally finished with 
literature, whereas it was merely with regard to literary men that he had 
struck me as being disillusioned at our last meeting. ("They're practically 
all a pack of scoundrels," he had said to me, a saying that might be ex- 
plained by his justified resentment towards certain of Rachel's friends. 
They had indeed persuaded her that she would never have any talent if 
she allowed ' Robert, scion of an alien race' to acquire an influence over 
her, and with her used to make fun of him, to his face, at the dinners to 
which he entertained them.) But in reality Robert's love of Letters was 
in no sense profound, did not spring from his true nature, was only a 
by-product of his love of Rachel, and he had got rid of it, at the same time 
as of his horror of voluptuaries and his religious respect for the virtue of 
women. 

"There is something very strange about those two young men. Look at 
that curious passion for gambling, Marquise," said M. de Charlus, draw- 
ing Mme. de Surgis's attention to her own sons, as though he were com- 
pletely unaware of their identity. "They must be a pair of Orientals, they 
have certain characteristic features, they are perhaps Turks," he went on, 
so as both to give further support to his feint of innocence and to exhibit a 
vague antipathy, which, when in due course it gave place to affability, 
would prove that the latter was addressed to the young men solely in their 
capacity as sons of Mme. de Surgis, having begun only when the Baron 
discovered who they were. Perhaps too M. de Charlus, whose insolence 
was a natural gift which he delighted in exercising, took advantage of the 
few moments in which he was supposed not to know the name of these 
two young men to have a little fun at Mme. de Surgis's expense, and to 
indulge in his habitual sarcasm, as Scapin takes advantage of his master's 
disguise to give him a sound drubbing. 

"They are my sons," said Mme. de Surgis, with a blush which would not 
have coloured her cheeks had she been more discerning, without necessarily 
being more virtuous. She would then have understood that the air of abso- 
lute indifference or of sarcasm which M. de Charlus displayed towards a 
young man was no more sincere than the wholly superficial admiration 
which he shewed for a woman, did not express his true nature. The woman 
to whom he could go on indefinitely paying the prettiest compliments 
might well be jealous of the look which, while talking to her, he shot at a 
man whom he would pretend afterwards not to have noticed. For that look 
was not of the sort which M. de Charlus kept for women; a special look, 
springing from the depths, which even at a party could not help straying 
innocently in the direction of the young men, like the look in a tailor's eye 
which betrays his profession by immediately fastening upon your attire. 

"Oh, how very strange!" replied M. de Charlus, not without insolence, 
as though his mind had to make a long journey to arrive at a reality so 
different from what he had pretended to suppose. "But I don't know 
them!" he added, fearing lest he might have gone a little too far in the 
expression of his antipathy, and have thus paralysed the Marquise's inten- 
tion to let him make their acquaintance. "Would you allow me to intro- 



72 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

duce them to you?" Mme. de Surgis inquired timidly. "Why, good gra- 
cious, just as you please, I shall be delighted, I am perhaps not very enter- 
taining company for such young people/' M. de Charlus intoned with the 
air of hesitation and coldness of a person who is letting himself be forced 
into an act of politeness. 

"Arnulphe, Victurnien, come here at once," said Mme. de Surgis. Vic- 
turnien rose with decision. Arnulphe, though he could not see where his 
brother was going, followed him meekly. 

"It's the sons' turn, now," muttered Saint-Loup. "It's enough to make 
one die with laughing. He tries to curry favour with every one, down to 
the' dog in the yard. It is all the funnier, as my uncle detests pretty boys. 
And just look how seriously he is listening to them. If it had been I who 
tried to introduce them to him, he would have given me what for. Listen, I 
shall have to go and say how d'ye do to Oriane. I have so little time in 
Paris that I want to try and see all the people here that I ought to leave 
cards on." 

"What a well-bred air they have, what charming manners," M. de Char- 
lus was saying. "You think so?" Mme. de Surgis replied, highly delighted. 

Swann having caught sight of me came over to Saint-Loup and myself. 
His Jewish gaiety was less refined than his witticisms as a man of the 
world. "Good evening," he said to us. "Heavens! All three of us together, 
people will think it is a meeting of the Syndicate. In another minute they'll 
be looking for the safe!" He had not observed that M. de Beaucerfeuil 
was just behind his back and could hear what he said. The General could 
not help wincing. We heard the voice of M. de Charlus close beside us: 
"What, you are called Victurnien, after the Cabinet des Antiques" the 
Baron was saying, to prolong his conversation with the two young men. 
"By Balzac, yes," replied the elder Surgis, who had never read a line of 
that novelist's work, but to whom his tutor had remarked, a few days 
earlier, upon the similarity of his Christian name and d'Esgrignon's. Mme. 
de Surgis was delighted to see her son shine, and at M. de Charlus's ecstasy 
before such a display of learning. 

"It appears that Loubet is entirely on our side, I have it from an abso- 
lutely trustworthy source," Swann informed Saint-Loup, but this time in 
a lower tone so as not to be overheard by the General. Swann had begun 
to find his wife's Republican connexions more interesting now that the 
Dreyfus case had become his chief preoccupation. "I tell you this because 
I know that your heart is with us." 

"Not quite to that extent; you are entirely mistaken," was Robert's 
answer. "It's a bad business, and I'm sorry I ever had a finger in it. It was 
no affair of mine. If it were to begin over again, I should keep well clear of 
it. I am a soldier, and my first duty is to support the Army. If you will stay 
with M. Swann for a moment, I shall be back presently, I must go and talk 
to my aunt." But I saw that it was with Mile. d'Ambresac that he went 
to talk, and was distressed by the thought that he had lied to me about 
the possibility of their engagement. My mind was set at rest when I learned 
that he had been introduced to her half an hour earlier by Mme. de Mar- 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 73 

santes, who was anxious for the marriage, the Ambresacs being extremely 
rich. 

"At last/ 7 said M. de Charlus to Mme. de Surgis, "I find a young man 
with some education, who has read, who knows what is meant by Balzac. 
And it gives me all the more pleasure to meet him where that sort of 
thing has become most rare, in the house of one of my peers, one of our- 
selves," he added, laying stress upon the words. It was all very well for 
the Guermantes to profess to regard all men as equal; on the great occa- 
sions when they found themselves among people who were 'born,' especially 
if they were not quite so well born as themselves, whom they were anxious 
and able to flatter, they did not hesitate to trot out old family memories. 
"At one time," the Baron went on, "the word aristocrat meant the best 
people, in intellect, in heart. Now, here is the first person I find among our- 
selves who has ever heard of Victurnien d'Esgrignon. I am wrong in saying 
the first. There are also a Polignac and a Montesquieu," added M. de 
Charlus, who knew that this twofold association must inevitably thrill the 
Marquise. "However, your sons have every reason to be learned, their 
maternal grandfather had a famous collection of eighteenth century stuff. 
I will shew you mine if you will do me the pleasure of coming to luncheon 
with me one day," he said to the young Victurnien. "I can shew you an 
interesting edition of the Cabinet des Antiques with corrections in Balzac's 
own hand. I shall be charmed to bring the two Victurniens face to face." 

I could not bring myself to leave Swann. He had arrived at that stage 
of exhaustion in which a sick man's body becomes a mere retort in which 
we study chemical reactions. His face was mottled with tiny spots of 
Prussian blue, which seemed not to belong to the world of living things, 
and emitted the sort of odour which, at school, after the 'experiments/ 
makes it so unpleasant to have to remain in a 'science' classroom. I asked 
him whether he had not had a long conversation with the Prince de Guer- 
mantes and if he would tell me what it had been about. "Yes/' he said, 
"but go for a moment first with M. de Charlus and Mme. de Surgis, I shall 
wait for you here." 

Indeed, M. de Charlus, having suggested to Mme. de Surgis that they 
should leave this room which was too hot, and go and sit for a little in 
another, had invited not the two sons to accompany their mother, but 
myself. In this way he made himself appear, after he had successfully 
hooked them, to have lost all interest in the two young men. He was more- 
over paying me an inexpensive compliment, Mme. de Surgis being in dis- 
tinctly bad odour. 

Unfortunately, no sooner had we sat down in an alcove from which there 
was no way of escape than Mme. de Saint-Euverte, a butt for the Baron's 
jibes, came past. She, perhaps to mask or else openly to shew her contempt 
for the ill will which she inspired in M. de Charlus, and above all to shew 
that she was on intimate terms with a woman who was talking so famil- 
iarly to him, gave a disdainfully friendly greeting to the famous beauty, 
who acknowledged it, peeping out of the corner of her eye at M. de Charlus 
with a mocking smile. But the alcove was so narrow that Mme. de Saint- 
Euverte, when she tried to continue, behind our backs, her canvass of her 



74 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

guests for the morrow, found herself a prisoner, and had some difficulty in 
escaping, a precious moment which M. de Charlus, anxious that his inso- 
lent wit should shine before the mother of the two young men, took good 
care not to let slip. A silly question which I had put to him, without malice 
aforethought, gave him the opportunity for a hymn of triumph of which 
the poor Saint-Euverte, almost immobilised behind us, could not have lost 
a word. " Would you believe it, this impertinent young man," he said, indi- 
cating me to Mme. de Surgis, "asked me just now, without any sign of 
that modesty which makes us keep such expeditions private, if I was going 
to Mme. de Saint-Euverte's, which is to say, I suppose, if I was suffering 
from the colic. I should endeavour, in any case, to relieve myself in some 
more comfortable place than the house of a person who, if my memory 
serves me, was celebrating her centenary when I first began to go about 
town, though not, of course, to her house. And yet who could be more 
interesting to listen to? What a host of historic memories, seen and lived 
through in the days of the First Empire and the Restoration, and secret 
history too, which could certainly have nothing of the 'saint' about it, but 
must be decidedly Verdant' if we are to judge by the amount of kick still 
left in the old trot's shanks. What would prevent me from questioning her 
about those passionate times is the acuteness of my olfactory organ. The 
proximity of the lady is enough. I say to myself all at once: oh, good lord, 
some one has broken the lid of my cesspool, when itds simply the Marquise 
opening her mouth to emit some invitation. And you can understand that 
if I had the misfortune to go to her house, the cesspool would be magnified 
into a formidable sewage-cart. She bears a mystic name, though, which has 
always made me think with jubilation, although she has long since passed 
the date of her jubilee, of that stupid line of poetry called deliquescent: 
'Ah, green, how green my soul was on that day. . . .' But I require a 
cleaner sort of verdure. They tell me that the indefatigable old street- 
walker gives 'garden-parties/ I should describe them as 'invitations to 
explore the sewers/ Are you going to wallow there?" he asked Mme. de 
Surgis, who this time was annoyed. Wishing to pretend for the Baron's 
benefit that she was not going, and knowing that she would give days of 
her life rather than miss the Saint-Euverte party, she got out of it by 
taking a middle course, that is to say uncertainty. This uncertainty took 
so clumsily amateurish, so sordidly material a form, that M. de Charlus, 
with no fear of offending Mme. de Surgis, whom nevertheless he was 
anxious to please, began to laugh to shew her that 'it cut no ice with him.' 

"I always admire people who make plans," she said; "I often change 
mine at the last moment. There is a question of a summer frock which 
may alter everything. I shall act upon the inspiration of the moment." 

For my part, I was furious at the abominable little speech that M. de 
Charlus had just made. I would have liked to shower blessings upon the 
giver of garden-parties. Unfortunately, in the social as in the political 
world, the victims are such cowards that one cannot for long remain indig- 
nant with their tormentors. Mme. de Saint-Euverte, who had succeeded 
in escaping from the alcove to which we were barring the entry, brushed 
against the Baron inadvertently as she passed him, and, by a reflex action 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUER MANTES ENTERTAINS 75 

of snobbishness which wiped out all her anger, perhaps even in the hope 
of securing an opening, at which this could not be the first attempt, ex- 
claimed: "Oh! I beg your pardon, Monsieur de Charlus, I hope I did not 
hurt you," as though she were kneeling before her lord and master. The 
latter did not deign to reply save by a broad ironical smile, and conceded 
only a "Good evening," which, uttered as though he were only now made 
aware of the Marquise's presence after she had greeted him, was an insult 
the more. Lastly, with a supreme want of spirit which pained me for her 
sake, Mme. de Saint-Euverte came up to me and, drawing me aside, said 
in my ear: "Tell me, what have I done to offend M. de Charlus? They say 
that he doesn't consider me smart enough for him," she said, laughing 
from ear to ear. I remained serious. For one thing, I thought it stupid of 
her to appear to believe or to wish other people to believe that nobody, 
really, was as smart as herself. For another thing, people who laugh so 
heartily at what they themselves have said, when it is not funny, dispense 
us accordingly, by taking upon themselves the responsibility for the mirth, 
from joining in it. 

"Other people assure me that he is cross because I do not invite him. 
But he does not give me much encouragement. He seems to avoid me." 
(This expression struck me as inadequate.) "Try to find out, and come and 
tell me to-morrow. And if he feels remorseful and wishes to come too, bring 
him. I shall forgive and forget. Indeed, I shall be quite glad to see him, 
because it will annoy Mme. de Surgis. I give you a free hand. You have 
the most perfect judgment in these matters and I do not wish to appear 
to be begging my guests to come. In any case, I count upon you absolutely." 

It occurred to me that Swann must be getting tired of waiting for me. 
I did not wish, moreover, to be too late in returning home, because of Al- 
bertine, and, taking leave of Mme. de Surgis and M. de Charlus, I went in 
search of my sick man in the card-room. I asked him whether what he had 
said to the Prince in their conversation in the garden was really what M. de 
Breaute (whom I did not name) had reported to us, about a little play 
by Bergotte. He burst out laughing: "There is not a word of truth in it, 
not one, it is entirely made up and would have been an utterly stupid thing 
to say. Really, it is unheard of, this spontaneous generation of falsehood. 
I do not ask who it was that told you, but it would be really interesting, in 
a field as limited as this, to work back from one person to another and find 
out how the story arose. Anyhow, what concern can it be of other people, 
what the Prince said to me? People are very inquisitive. I have never been 
inquisitive, except when I was in love, and when I was jealous. And a lot 
I ever learned! Are you jealous?" I told Swann that I had never experienced 
jealousy, that I did not even know what it was. "Indeed! I congratulate 
you. A little jealousy is not at all a bad thing, from two points of view. For 
one thing, because it enables people who are not inquisitive to take an 
interest in the lives of others, or of one other at any rate. And besides, it 
makes one feel the pleasure of possession, of getting into a carriage with 
a woman, of not allowing her to go about by herself. But that occurs only 
in the very first stages of the disease, or when the cure is almost complete. 
In the interval, it is the most agonising torment. However, even th<* 



76 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

pleasures I have mentioned, I must own to you that I have tasted very 
little of them: the first, by the fault of my own nature, which is incapable 
of sustained reflexion; the second, by force of circumstances, by the fault 
of the woman, I should say the women, of whom I have been jealous. But 
that makes no difference. Even when one is no longer interested in things, 
it is still something to have been interested in them; because it was always 
for reasons which other people did not grasp. The memory of those senti- 
ments is, we feel, to be found only in ourselves; we must go back into our- 
selves to study it. You mustn't laugh at this idealistic jargon, what I mean 
to say is that I have been very fond of life and very fond of art. Very well! 
Now that I am a little too weary to live with other people, those old senti- 
ments, so personal and individual, that I felt in the past, seem to me at is 
the mania of all collectors very precious. I open my heart to myself like 
a sort of showcase, and examine one by one ever so many love affairs of 
which the rest of the world can have known nothing. And of this collec- 
tion, to which I am now even more attached than to my others, I say to 
myself, rather as Mazarin said of his library, but still without any keen 
regret, that it will be very tiresome to have to leave it all. But, to come 
back to my conversation with the Prince, I shall repeat it to one person 
only, and that person is going to be yourself." My attention was distracted 
by the conversation that M. de Charlus, who had returned to the card-room, 
was prolonging indefinitely close beside us. "And are you a reader too? 
What do you do?" he asked Comte Arnulphe, who had never heard even 
the name of Balzac. But his short-sightedness, as he saw everything very 
small, gave him the appearance of seeing to great distances, so that, rare 
poetry in a sculptural Greek god, there seemed to be engraved upon his 
pupils remote, mysterious stars. 

"Suppose we took a turn in the garden, Sir," I said to Swann, while 
Comte Arnulphe, in a lisping voice which seemed to indicate that mentally 
at least his development was incomplete, replied to M. de Charlus with an 
artlessly obliging precision: "I, oh, golf chiefly, tennis, football, running, 
polo I'm really keen on." So Minerva, being subdivided, ceased in certain 
cities to be the goddess of wisdom, and incarnated part of herself in a 
purely sporting, horse-loving deity, Athene Hippia. And he went to Saint 
Moritz also to ski, for Pallas Trilogeneia frequents the high peaks and 
outruns swift horsemen. "Ah! " replied M. de Charlus with the transcendent 
smile of the intellectual who does not even take the trouble to conceal his 
derision, but, on the other hand, feels himself so superior to other people 
and so far despises the intelligence of those who are the least stupid, that he 
barely differentiates between them and the most stupid, the moment they 
can be attractive to him in some other way. While talking to Arnulphe, M. 
de Charlus felt that by the mere act of addressing him he was conferring 
upon him a superiority which everyone else must recognise and envy. "No," 
Swann replied, "I am too tired to walk about, let us sit down somewhere 
in a corner, I cannot remain on my feet any longer." This was true, and 
yet the act of beginning to talk had already given him back a certain 
vivacity. This was because, in the most genuine exhaustion, there is, espe- 
cially in neurotic people, an element that depends upon attracting their 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 77 

attention and is kept going only by an act of memory. We at once feel 
tired as soon as we are afraid of feeling tired, and, to throw off our fatigue, 
it suffices us to forget about it. To be sure, Swann was far from being one 
of those indefatigable invalids who, entering a room worn out and ready 
to drop, revive in conversation like a flower in water and are able for 
hours on end to draw from their own words a reserve of strength which 
they do not, alas, communicate to their hearers, who appear more and more 
exhausted the more the talker comes back to life. But Swann belonged to 
that stout Jewish race, in whose vital energy, its resistance to death, its 
individual members seem to share. Stricken severally by their own dis- 
eases, as it is stricken itself by persecution, they continue indefinitely to 
struggle against terrible suffering which may be prolonged beyond every 
apparently possible limit, when already one sees nothing more than a 
prophet's beard surmounted by a huge nose which dilates to inhale its last 
breath, before the hour strikes for the ritual prayers and the punctual 
procession begins of distant relatives advancing with mechanical move- 
ments, as upon an Assyrian frieze. 

We went to sit down, but, before moving away from the group formed 
by M. de Charlus with the two young Surgis and their mother, Swann could 
not resist fastening upon the lady's bosom the slow expansive concupiscent 
gaze of a connoisseur. He put up his monocle, for a better view, and, while 
he talked to me, kept glancing in the direction of the lady. "This is, word 
for word," he said to me when we were seated, "my conversation with the 
Prince, and if you remember what I said to you just now, you will see why 
I choose you as my confidant. There is another reason as well, which you 
shall one day learn. 'My dear Swann/ the Prince de Guermantes said to 
me, 'you must forgive me if I have appeared to be avoiding you for some 
time past.' (I had never even noticed it, having been ill and avoiding so- 
ciety myself.) 'In the first place, I had heard it said that, as I fully expected, 
in the unhappy affair which is splitting the country in two your views were 
diametrically opposed to mine. Now, it would have been extremely painful 
to me to have to hear you express them. So sensitive were my nerves that 
when the Princess, two years ago, heard her brother-in-law, the Grand 
Duke of Hesse, say that Dreyfus was innocent, she was not content with 
promptly denying the assertion but refrained from repeating it to me in 
order not to upset me. About the same time, the Crown Prince of Sweden 
came to Paris and, having probably heard some one say that the Empress 
Eugenie was a Dreyfusist, confused her with the Princess (a strange con- 
fusion, you will admit, between a woman of the rank of my wife and a 
Spaniard, a great deal less well born than people make out, and married 
to a mere Bonaparte), and said to her: Princess, I am doubly glad to meet 
you, for I know that you hold the same view as myself of the Dreyfus case, 
which does not surprise me since Your Highness is Bavarian. Which drew 
down upon the Prince the answer: Sir, I am nothing now but a French 
Princess, and I share the views of all my fellow-countrymen. Now, my dear 
Swann, about eighteen months ago, a conversation I had with General de 
Beaucerfeuil made me suspect that not an error, but grave illegalities had 
been committed in the procedure of the trial.' " 



78 CITIESOFTIIEPLAIN 

We were interrupted (Swarm did not wish people to overhear his story) 
by the voice of M. de Charlus who (without, as it happened, paying us the 
slightest attention) came past escorting Mme. de Surgis, and stopped in 
the hope of detaining her for a moment longer, whether on account of her 
sons or from that reluctance common to all the Guermantes to bring any- 
thing to an end, which kept them plunged in a sort of anxious inertia. 
Swann informed me, in this connexion, a little later, of something that 
stripped the name Surgis-le-Duc, for me, of all the poetry that I had found 
in it. The Marquise de Surgis-le-Duc boasted a far higher social position, 
far finer connexions by marriage than her cousin the Comte de Surgis, who 
had no money and lived on his estate in the country. But the words that 
ended her title "le Due" had not at all the origin which I ascribed to them, 
and which had made me associate it in my imagination with Bourg-l'Abbe, 
Bois-le-Roi, etc. All that had happened was that a Comte de Surgis had 
married, during the Restoration, the daughter of an immensely rich indus- 
trial magnate, M. Leduc, or Le Due, himself the son of a chemical manu- 
facturer, the richest man of his day, and a Peer of France. King Charles X 
had created for the son born of this marriage the Marquisate of Surgis-le- 
Duc, a Marquisate of Surgis existing already in the family. The addition 
of the plebeian surname had not prevented this branch from allying itself, 
on the strength of its enormous fortune, with the first families of the realm. 
And the present Marquise de Surgis-le-Duc, herself of exalted birth, might 
have moved in the very highest circles. A demon of perversity had driven 
her, scorning the position ready made for her, to flee from the conjugal roof, 
to live a life of open scandal. Whereupon the world which she had scorned 
at twenty, when it was at her feet, had cruelly failed her at thirty, when, 
after ten years, everybody, except a few faithful friends, had ceased to 
bow to her, and she set to work to reconquer laboriously, inch by inch, 
what she had possessed as a birthright. (An outward and return journey 
which are not uncommon.) 

As for the great nobles, her kinsmen, whom she had disowned in the past, 
and who in their turn had now disowned her, she found an excuse for the 
joy that she would feel in gathering them again to her bosom in the mem- 
ories of childhood that they would be able to recall. And in so saying, to 
cloak her snobbishness, she was perhaps less untruthful than she supposed. 
"Basin is all my girlhood!" she said on the day on which he came back to 
her. And as a matter of fact there was a grain of truth in the statement. But 
she had miscalculated when she chose him for her lover. For all the women 
friends of the Duchesse de Guermantes were to rally round her, and so 
Mme. de Surgis must descend for the second time that slope up which she 
had so laboriously toiled. "Well!" M. de Charlus was saying to her, in his 
attempt to prolong the conversation. "You will lay my tribute at the feet 
of the beautiful portrait. How is it? What has become of it?" "Why," re- 
plied Mme. de Surgis, "you know I haven't got it now; my husband wasn't 
pleased with it." "Not pleased! With one of the greatest works of art of 
our time, equal to Nattier's Duchesse de Chateauroux, and, moreover, per- 
petuating no less majestic and heart-shattering a goddess. Oh ! That little 
blue collar! I swear, Vermeer himself never painted a fabric more con- 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 79 

summately, but we must not say it too loud or Swann will fall upon us to 
avenge his favourite painter, the Master of Delft." The Marquise, turning 
round, addressed a smile and held out her hand to Swann, who had risen 
to greet her. But almost without concealment, whether in his declining days 
he had lost all wish for concealment, by indifference to opinion, or the 
physical power, by the excitement of his desire and the weakening of the 
control that helps us to conceal it, as soon as Swann, on taking the Mar- 
quise's hand, saw her bosom at close range and from above, he plunged an 
attentive, serious, absorbed, almost anxious gaze into the cavity of her 
bodice, and his nostrils, drugged by the lady's perfume, quivered like the 
wings of a butterfly about to alight upon a half-hidden flower. He checked 
himself abruptly on the edge of the precipice, and Mme. de Surgis herself, 
albeit annoyed, stifled a deep sigh, so contagious can desire prove at times. 
"The painter was cross," she said to M. de Charlus, "and took it back. I 
have heard that it is now at Diane de Saint-Euverte's." "I decline to be- 
lieve," said the Baron, "that a great picture can have such bad taste." 

"He is talking to her about her portrait. I could talk to her about that 
portrait just as well as Charlus," said Swann, affecting a drawling, slangy 
tone as he followed the retreating couple with his gaze. "And I should 
certainly enjoy talking about it more than Charlus," he added. I asked 
him whether the things that were said about M. de Charlus were true, in 
doing which I was lying twice over, for, if I had no proof that anybody ever 
had said anything, I had on the other hand been perfectly aware for some 
hours past that what I was hinting at was true. Swann shrugged his shoul- 
ders, as though I had suggested something quite absurd. "It's quite true that 
he's a charming friend. But, need I add, his friendship is purely platonic. 
He is more sentimental than other men, that is all; on the other hand, as 
he never goes very far with women, that has given a sort of plausibility to 
the idiotic rumours to which you refer. Charlus is perhaps greatly attached 
to his men friends, but you may be quite certain that the attachment is only 
in his head and in his heart. At last, we may perhaps be left in peace for a 
moment. Well, the Prince de Guermantes went on to say: 'I don't mind 
telling you that this idea of a possible illegality in the procedure of the trial 
was extremely painful to me, because I have always, as you know, wor- 
shipped the army; I discussed the matter again with the General, and, 
alas, there could be no two ways of looking at it. I don't mind telling you 
frankly that, all this time, the idea that an innocent man might be under- 
going the most degrading punishment had never even entered my mind. 
But, starting from this idea of illegality, I began to study what I had al- 
ways declined to read, and then the possibility not, this time, of illegal 
procedure but of the prisoner's innocence began to haunt me. I did not 
feel that I could talk about it to the Princess. Heaven knows that she has 
become just as French as myself. You may say what you like, from the 
day of our marriage, I took such pride in shewing her our country in all its 
beauty, and what to me is the most splendid thing in it, our Army, that it 
would have been too painful to me to tell her of my suspicions, which 
involved, it is true, a few officers only. But I come of a family of soldiers, 
I did not like to think that officers could be mistaken. I discussed the case 



80 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

again with Beaucerfeuil, he admitted that there had been culpable in- 
trigues, that the bordereau was possibly not in Dreyfus's writing, but that 
an overwhelming proof of his guilt did exist. This was the Henry document. 
And, a few days later, w r e learned that it was a forgery. After that, without 
letting the Princess see me, I began to read the Siecle and the Aurore every 
day; soon I had no doubt left, it kept me awake all night. I confided my dis- 
tress to our friend, the abbe Poire, who, I was astonished to find, held the 
same conviction, and I got him to say masses for the intention of Dreyfus, 
his unfortunate wife and their children. Meanwhile, one morning as I was 
going to the Princess's room, I saw her maid trying to hide something from 
me that she had in her hand. I asked her, chaffingly, what it was, she 
blushed and refused to tell me. I had the fullest confidence in my wife, but 
this incident disturbed me considerably (and the Princess too, no doubt, 
who must have heard of it from her woman), for my dear Marie barely 
uttered a word to me that day at luncheon. I asked the abbe Poire whether 
he could say my mass for Dreyfus on the following morning. . . .' And so 
much for that!' 7 exclaimed Swann, breaking off his narrative. I looked up, 
and saw the Due de Guermantes bearing down upon us. "Forgive me for 
interrupting you, boys. My lad," he went on, addressing myself, "I am 
instructed to give you a message from Oriane. Marie and Gilbert have 
asked her to stay and have supper at their table with only five or six other 
people: the Princess of Hesse, Mme. de Ligne, Mme. de Tarente, Mme. de 
Chevreuse, the Duchesse d'Arenberg. Unfortunately, we can't wait, we are 
going on to a little ball of sorts." I was listening, but whenever we have 
something definite to do at a given moment, we depute a certain person 
who is accustomed to that sort of duty to keep an eye on the clock and 
warn us in time. This indwelling servant reminded me, as I had asked him 
to remind me a few hours before, that Albertine, who at the moment was 
far from my thoughts, was to come and see me immediately after the 
theatre. And so I declined the invitation to supper. This does not mean that 
I was not enjoying myself at the Princesse de Guermantes's. The truth is 
that men can have several sorts of pleasure. The true pleasure is that for 
which they abandon the other. But the latter, if it is apparent, or rather if 
it alone is apparent, may put people off the scent of the other, reassure or 
mislead the jealous, create a false impression. And yet, all that is needed to 
make us sacrifice it to the other is a little happiness or a little suffering. 
Sometimes a third order of pleasures, more serious but more essential, does 
not yet exist for us, in whom its potential existence is indicated only by its 
arousing regrets, discouragement. And yet it is to these pleasures that we 
shall devote ourselves in time to come. To give an example of quite sec- 
ondary importance, a soldier in time of peace will sacrifice a social exist- 
ence to love, but, once war is declared (and without there being any need 
to introduce the idea of a patriotic duty), will sacrifice love to the passion, 
stronger than love, for fighting. It was all very well Swann's saying that he 
enjoyed telling me his story, I could feel that his conversation with me, be- 
cause of the lateness of the hour, and because he himself was too ill, was one 
of those fatigues at which those who know that they are killing themselves 
by sitting up late, by overexerting themselves, feel when they return home 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 8l 

an angry regret, similar to that felt at the wild extravagance of which they 
have again been guilty by the spendthrifts who will not, for all that, be able 
to restrain themselves to-morrow from throwing money out of the win- 
dows. After we have passed a certain degree of enfeeblement, whether it 
be caused by age or by ill health, all pleasure taken at the expense of sleep, 
in departure from our habits, every breach of the rules becomes a nuisance. 
The talker continues to talk, out of politeness, from excitement, but he 
knows that the hour at which he might still have been able to go to sleep 
has already passed, and he knows also the reproaches that he will heap 
upon himself during the insomnia and fatigue that must ensue. Already, 
moreover, even the momentary pleasure has come to an end, body and 
brain are too far drained of their strength to welcome with any readiness 
what seems to the other person entertaining. They are like a house on the 
morning before a journey or removal, where visitors become a perfect 
plague, to be received sitting upon locked trunks, with our eyes on the 
clock. "At last we are alone," he said; "I quite forget where I was. Oh yes, 
I had just told you, hadn't I, that the Prince asked the abbe Poire if he 
could say his mass next day for Dreyfus. 'No, the abbe informed me' (I 
say me to you," Swann explained to me, "because it is the Prince who is 
speaking, you understand?), 'for I have another mass that I have been 
asked to say for him to-morrow as well. What, I said to him, is there 
another Catholic as well as myself who is convinced of his innocence? It 
appears so. But this other supporter's conviction must be of more recent 
growth than mine. Maybe, but this other was making me say masses 
when you still believed Dreyfus guilty. Ah, I can see that it is not anyone 
in our world. On the contrary! Indeed! There are Dreyfusists among 
us, are there? You intrigue me; I should like to unbosom myself to this 
rare bird, if I know him. You do know him. His name? The Princesse 
de Guermantes. While I was afraid of shocking the Nationalist opinions, 
the French faith of my dear wife, she had been afraid of alarming my re- 
ligious opinions, my patriotic sentiments. But privately she had been think- 
ing as I did, though for longer than I had. And what her maid had been 
hiding as she went into her room, what she went out to buy for her every 
morning, was the Aurore. My dear Swann, from that moment I thought of 
the pleasure that I should give you when I told you how closely akin my 
views upon this matter were to yours; forgive me for not having done so 
sooner. If you bear in mind that I had never said a word to the Princess, 
it will not surprise you to be told that thinking the same as yourself must 
at that time have kept me farther apart from you than thinking differently. 
For it was an extremely painful topic for me to approach. The more I 
believe that an error, that crimes even have been committed, the more my 
heart bleeds for the Army. It had never occurred to me that opinions like 
mine could possibly cause you similar pain, until I was told the other day 
that you were emphatically protesting against the insults to the Army and 
against the Dreyfusists for consenting to ally themselves with those who 
insulted it. That settled it, I admit that it has been most painful for me 
to confess to you what I think of certain officers, few in number fortunately, 
but it is a relief to me not to have to keep at arms' length from you any 



82 CITIESOFT1IEPLAIN 

longer, and especially that you should quite understand that if I was able 
to entertain other sentiments, it was because I had not a shadow of doubt 
as to the soundness of the verdict. As soon as my doubts began, I could 
wish for only one thing, that the mistake should be rectified.' I must tell 
you that this speech of the Prince de Guermantes moved me profoundly. 
If you knew him as I do, if you could realise the distance he has had to 
traverse in order to reach his present position, you would admire him as 
he deserves. Not that his opinion surprises me, his is such a straightforward 
nature! " Swann was forgetting that in the afternoon he had on the contrary 
told me that people's opinions as to the Dreyfus case were dictated by 
atavism. At the most he had made an exception in favour of intelligence, 
because in Saint-Loup it had managed to overcome atavism and had made 
a Dreyfusard of him. Now he had just seen that this victory had been of 
short duration and that Saint-Loup had passed into the opposite camp. 
And so it was to straightforwardness now that he assigned the part which 
had previously devolved upon intelligence. In reality we always discover 
afterwards that our adversaries had a reason for being on the side they 
espoused, which has nothing to do with any element of right that there 
may be on that side, and that those who think as we do do so because their 
intelligence, if their moral nature is too base to be invoked, or their 
straightforwardness, if their penetration is feeble, has compelled them. 

Swann now found equally intelligent anybody who was of his opinion, 
his old friend the Prince de Guermantes and my schoolfellow Bloch, whom 
previously he had avoided and whom he now invited to luncheon. Swann 
interested Bloch greatly by telling him that the Prince de Guermantes was 
a Dreyfusard. "We must ask him to sign our appeal for Picquart; a name 
like his would have a tremendous effect." But Swann, blending with his 
ardent conviction as an Israelite the diplomatic moderation of a man of 
the world, whose habits he had too thoroughly acquired to be able to shed 
them at this late hour, refused to allow Bloch to send the Prince a circular 
to sign, even on his own initiative. "He cannot do such a thing, we must 
not expect the impossible," S\vann repeated. "There you have a charming 
man who has travelled thousands of miles to come over to our side. He can 
be very useful to us. If he were to sign your list, he would simply be com- 
promising himself with his own people, would be made to suffer on our 
account, might even repent of his confidences and not confide in us again." 
Nor was this all, Swann refused his own signature. He felt that his name 
was too Hebraic not to create a bad effect. Besides, even if he approved of 
all the attempts to secure a fresh trial, he did not wish to be mixed up in 
any way in the antimilitarist campaign. He wore, a thing he had never 
done previously, the decoration he had won as a young militiaman, in '70, 
and added a codicil to his will asking that, contrary to his previous disposi- 
tions, he might be buried with the military honours due to his rank as 
Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. A request which assembled round the 
church of Combray a whole squadron of those troopers over whose fate 
Franqoise used to weep in days gone by, when she envisaged the prospect 
of a war. In short, Swann refused to sign Bloch's circular, with the result 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 83 

that, if he passed in the eyes of many people as a fanatical Dreyfusard, my 
friend found him lukewarm, infected with Nationalism, and a militarist. 

Swann left me without shaking hands so as not to be forced into a gen- 
eral leave-taking in this room which swarmed with his friends, but said to 
me: "You ought to come and see your friend Gilberte. She has really grown 
up now and altered, you would not know her. She would be so pleased!" 
I was no longer in love with Gilberte. She was for me like a dead person for 
whom one has long mourned, then forgetfulness has come, and if she were 
to be resuscitated, she could no longer find any place in a life which has 
ceased to be fashioned for her. I had no desire now to see her, not even that 
desire to shew her that I did not wish to see her which, every day, when I 
was in love with her, I vowed to myself that I would flaunt before her, when 
I should be in love with her no longer. 

And so, seeking now only to give myself, in Gilberte's eyes, the air of 
having longed with all my heart to meet her again and of having been pre- 
vented by circumstances of the kind called "beyond our control" albeit 
they only occur, with any certainty at least, when we have done nothing to 
prevent them, so far from accepting Swann's invitation with reserve, I 
would not let him go until he had promised to explain in detail to his daugh- 
ter the mischances that had prevented and would continue to prevent me 
from going to see her. "Anyhow, I am going to write to her as soon as I go 
home," I added. "But be sure you tell her it will be a threatening letter, for 
in a month or two I shall be quite free, and then let her tremble, for I shall 
be coming to your house as regularly as in the old days." 

Before parting from Swann, I said a word to him about his health. "No, 
it is not as bad as all that," he told me. "Still, as I was saying, I am quite 
worn out, and I accept with resignation whatever may be in store for me. 
Only, I must say that it would be most annoying to die before the end of 
the Dreyfus case. Those scoundrels have more than one card up their 
sleeves. I have; no doubt of their being defeated in the end, but still they 
are very powerful, they have supporters everywhere. Just as everything is 
going on splendidly, it all collapses. I should like to live long enough to see 
Dreyfus rehabilitated and Picquart a colonel." 

When Swann had left, I returned to the great drawing-room in which 
was to be found that Princesse de Guermantes with whom I did not then 
know that I was one day to be so intimate. Her passion for M. de Charlus 
did not reveal itself to me at first. I noticed only that the Baron, after a 
certain date, and without having taken one of those sudden dislikes, which 
were not surprising in him, to the Princesse de Guermantes, while continu- 
ing to feel for her just as strong an affection, a stronger affection perhaps 
than ever, appeared worried and annoyed whenever anyone mentioned her 
name to him. He never included it now in his list of the people whom he 
wished to meet at dinner. 

It is true that before this time I had heard an extremely malicious man 
about town say that the Princess had completely changed, that she was 
in love with M. de Charlus, but this slander had appeared to me absurd and 
had made me angry. I had indeed remarked with astonishment that, when 
I was telling her something that concerned myself, if M. de Charlus's name 



84 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

cropped up in the middle, the Princess immediately screwed up her atten- 
tion to the narrower focus of a sick man who, hearing us talk about our- 
selves, and listening, in consequence, in a careless and distracted fashion, 
suddenly realises that a name we have mentioned is that of the disease from 
which he is suffering, which at once interests and delights him. So, if I said 
to her: "Why, M. de Charlus told me . . ." the Princess at once gathered 
up the slackened reins of her attention. And having on one occasion said 
in her hearing that M. de Charlus had at that moment a warm regard for 
a certain person, I was astonished to see appear in the Princess's eyes that 
momentary change of colour, like the line of a fissure in the pupil, which 
is due to a thought which our words have unconsciously aroused in the 
mind of the person to whom we are talking, a secret thought that will not 
find expression in words, but will rise from the depths which we have 
stirred to the surface altered for an instant of his gaze. But if my 
remark had moved the Princess, I did not then suspect in what fashion. 

Anyhow, shortly after this, she began to talk to me about M. de Charlus, 
and almost without ambiguity. If she made any allusion to the rumours 
which a few people here and there were spreading about the Baron, it was 
merely as though to absurd and scandalous inventions. But, on the other 
hand, she said: "I feel that any woman who fell in love with a man of such 
priceless worth as Palamede ought to have sufficient breadth of mind, 
enough devotion, to accept him and understand him as a whole, for what 
he is, to respect his freedom, humour his fancies, seek only to smooth out 
his difficulties and console him in his griefs." Now, by such a speech, vague 
as it was, the Princesse de Guermantes revealed the weakness of the char- 
acter she was seeking to extol, just as M. de Charlus himself did at times. 
Have I not heard him, over and again, say to people who until then had 
been uncertain whether or not he was being slandered: "I, who have 
climbed many hills and crossed many valleys in my life, who have known 
all manner of people, burglars as well as kings, and indeed, I must confess, 
with a slight preference for the burglars, who have pursued beauty in all 
its forms," and so forth; and by these words which he thought adroit, and 
in contradicting rumours the currency of which no one suspected (or to 
introduce, from inclination, moderation, love of accuracy, an element of 
truth which he was alone in regarding as insignificant), he removed the 
last doubts of some of his hearers, inspired others, who had not yet begun 4 
to doubt him, with their first. For the most dangerous of all forms of con- 
cealment is that of the crime itself in the mind of the guilty party. His 
permanent consciousness of it prevents him from imagining how generally 
it is unknown, how readily a complete lie Would be accepted, and on the 
other hand from realising at what degree of truth other people will detect, 
in words which he believes to be innocent, a confession. Not that he would 
not be entirely wrong in seeking to hush it up, for there is no vice that does 
not find ready support in the best society, and one has seen a country 
house turned upside down in order that two sisters might sleep in adjoining 
rooms as soon as their hostess learned that theirs was a more than sisterly 
affection. But what revealed to me all of a sudden the Princess's love was a 
trifling incident upon which I shall not dwell here, for it forms part of 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 85 

quite another story, in which M. de Charlus allowed a Queen to die rather 
than miss an appointment with the hairdresser who was to singe his hair 
for the benefit of an omnibus conductor who filled him with alarm. How- 
ever, to be done with the Princess's love, let us say what the trifle was that 
opened my eyes. I was, on the day in question, alone with her in her car- 
riage. As we were passing a post office she stopped the coachman. She had 
come out without a footman. She half drew a letter from her muff and was 
preparing to step down from the carriage to put it into the box. I tried to 
stop her, she made a show of resistance, and we both realised that our 
instinctive movements had been, hers compromising, in appearing to be 
guarding a secret, mine indiscreet, in attempting to pass that guard. She 
was the first to recover. Suddenly turning very red, she gave me the let- 
ter. I no longer dared not to take it, but, as I slipped it into the box, I 
could not help seeing that it was addressed to M. de Charlus. 

To return to this first evening at the Princesse de Guermantes's, I went 
to bid her good-night, for her cousins, who had promised to take me home, 
were in a hurry to be gone. M. de Guermantes wished, however, to say 
good-bye to his brother, Mme. de Surgis having found time to mention to 
the Duke as she left that M. de Charlus had been charming to her and to 
her sons. This great courtesy on his brother's part, the first moreover that 
he had ever shewn in that line, touched Basin deeply and aroused in him old 
family sentiments which were never asleep for long. At the moment when 
we were saying good-bye to the Princess he was attempting, without actu- 
ally thanking M. de Charlus, to give expression to his fondness for him r 
whether because he really found a difficulty in controlling it or in order that 
the Baron might remember that actions of the sort that he had performed 
this evening did not escape the eyes of a brother, just as, with the object of 
creating a chain of pleasant associations in the future, we give sugar to a 
dog that has done its trick. "Well, little brother! 7 ' said the Duke, stopping 
M. de Charlus and taking him lovingly by the arm, "so this is how one 
walks past one's elders and betters without so much as a word. I never see 
you now, Meme, and you can't think how I miss you. I was turning over 
some old letters just now and came upon some from poor Mamma, which 
are all so full of love for you." "Thank you, Basin,' 7 replied M. de Charlus 
in a broken voice, for he could never speak without emotion of their mother. 
"You must make up your mind to let me fix up bachelor quarters for you 
at Guermantes," the Duke went on. "It is nice to see the two brothers so 
affectionate towards each other," the Princess said to Oriane. "Yes, in- 
deed! I don't suppose you could find many brothers like that. I shall invite 
you to meet him," she promised me. "You've not quarrelled with him? . . . 
But what can they be talking about?" she added in an anxious tone, for she 
could catch only an occasional word of what they were saying. She had 
always felt a certain jealousy of the pleasure that M. de Guermantes found 
in talking to his brother of a past from which he was inclined to keep his 
wife shut out. She felt that, when they were happy at being together like 
this, and she, unable to restrain her impatient curiosity, came and joined 
them, her coming did not add to their pleasure. But this evening, this 
habitual jealousy was reinforced bv another. For if Mme. de Surgis had 



86 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

told M. de Guermantes how kind his brother had been to her so that the 
Duke might thank his brother, at the same time certain devoted female 
friends of the Guermantes couple had felt it their duty to warn the Duchess 
that her husband's mistress had been seen in close conversation with his 
brother. And this information was torture to Mme. de Guermantes. "Think 
of the fun we used to have at Guermantes long ago," the Duke went on. 
"If you came down sometimes in summer we could take up our old life 
again. Do you remember old Father Courveau: 'Why is Pascal vexing? 
Because he is vec . . . vec . . .' " "Said!" put in M. de Charlus as though 
he were still answering his tutor's question. "And why is Pascal vexed; 
because he is vec . . . because he is vec . . . Sing! Very good, you will 
pass, you are certain to be mentioned, and Madame la Duchesse will give 
you a Chinese dictionary." "How it all comes back to me, young Meme, 
and the old china vase Hervey brought you from Saint-Denis, I can see it 
now. You used to threaten us that you would go and spend your life in 
China, you were so fond of the country; even then you used to love wan- 
dering about all night. Ah ! You were a peculiar type, for I can honestly say 
that never in anything did you have the same tastes as other people. . . ." 
But no sooner had he uttered these words than the Duke flamed up, as the 
saying is, for he was aware of his brother's reputation, if not of his actual 
habits. As he never made any allusion to them before his brother, he was 
all the more annoyed at having said something which might be taken to 
refer to them, and more still at having shewn his annoyance. After a mo- 
ment's silence: "Who knows," he said, to cancel the effect of his previous 
speech, "you were perhaps in love with a Chinese girl, before loving so 
many white ones and finding favour with them, if I am to judge by a certain 
lady to whom you have given great pleasure this evening by talking to her. 
She was delighted with you." The Duke had vowed that he would not men- 
tion Mme. de Surgis, but, in the confusion that the blunder he had just made 
had wrought in his ideas, he had fallen upon the first that occurred to him, 
which happened to be precisely the one that ought not to have appeared in 
the conversation, although it had started it. But M. de Charlus had ob- 
served his brother's blush. And, like guilty persons who do not wish to 
appear embarrassed that you should talk in their presence of the crime 
which they are supposed not to have committed, and feel that they ought 
to prolong a dangerous conversation: "I am charmed to hear it," he re- 
plied, "but I should like to go back to what you were saying before, which 
struck me as being profoundly true. You were saying that I never had the 
same ideas as other people, how right you are, you said that I had peculiar 
tastes." "No," protested M. de Guermantes who, as a matter of fact, had 
not used those words, and may not have believed that their meaning was 
applicable to his brother. Besides, what right had he to bully him about 
eccentricities which in any case were vague enough or secret enough to 
have in no way impaired the Baron's tremendous position in society? What 
was more, feeling that the resources of his brother's position were about to 
be placed at the service of his mistresses, the Duke told himself that this 
was well worth a little tolerance in exchange; had he at that moment known 
of some "peculiar" intimacy of his brother, M. de Guermantes would, in 



THE PRINCESSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 87 

the hope of the support that the other was going to give him, have passed 
it over, shutting his eyes to it, and if need be lending a hand. "Come along, 
Basin; good night, Palamede," said the Duchess, who, devoured by rage 
and curiosity, could endure no more, "if you have made up your minds to 
spend the night here, we might just as well have stayed to supper. You have 
been keeping Marie and me standing for the last half-hour." The Duke 
parted from his brother after a significant pressure of his hand, and the 
three of us began to descend the immense staircase of the Princess's house. 

On either side of us, on the topmost steps, were scattered couples who 
were waiting lor their carriages to come to the door. Erect, isolated, flanked 
by her husband and myself, the Duchess kept to the left of the staircase, 
already wrapped in her Tiepolo cloak, her throat clasped in its band of 
rubies, devoured by the eyes of women and men alike, who sought to divine 
the secret of her beauty and distinction. Waiting for her carriage upon the 
same step of the stair as Mme. de Guermantes, but at the opposite side of 
it, Mme. de Gallardon, who had long abandoned all hope of ever receiving 
a visit from her cousin, turned her back so as not to appear to have seen 
her, and, what was more important, so as not to furnish a proof of the fact 
that the other did not greet her. Mme. de Gallardon was in an extremely bad 
temper because some gentlemen in her company had taken it upon them- 
selves to speak to her of Oriane: "I have not the slightest desire to see her," 
she had replied to them, "I did see her, as a matter of fact, just now, she is 
beginning to shew her age; it seems she can't get over it. Basin says so 
himself. And, good lord, I can understand that, for, as she has no brains, is 
as mischievous as a weevil, and has shocking manners, she must know very 
well that, once her looks go, she will have nothing left to fall back upon." 

I had put on my greatcoat, for which M. de Guermantes, who dreaded 
chills, reproached me, as we went down together, because of the heated 
atmosphere indoors. And the generation of noblemen which more or less 
passed through the hands of Mgr. Dupanloup speaks such bad French 
(except the Castellane brothers) that the Duke expressed what was in his 
mind thus: "It is better not to put on your coat before going out of doors, 
at least as a general rule" I can see all that departing crowd now, I can see, 
if I be not mistaken in placing him upon that staircase, a portrait detached 
from its frame, the Prince de Sagan, whose last appearance in society this 
must have been, baring his head to offer his homage to the Duchess, with 
so sweeping a revolution of his tall hat in his white-gloved hand (harmonis- 
ing with the gardenia in his buttonhole), that one felt surprised that it was 
not a plumed felt hat of the old regime, several ancestral faces from which 
were exactly reproduced in the face of this great gentleman. He stopped for 
but a short time in front of her, but even his momentary attitudes were 
sufficient to compose a complete tableau vivant, and, as it were, an his- 
torical scene. Moreover, as he has since then died, and as I never had more 
than a glimpse of him in his lifetime, he has so far become for me a charac- 
ter in history, social history at least, that I am quite astonished when I 
think that a woman and a man whom I know are his sister and nephew. 

While we were going downstairs, there came up, with an air of weariness 
that became her, a woman who appeared to be about forty, but was really 



88 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

older. This was the Princesse d'Orvillers, a natural daughter, it was said, of 
the Duke of Parma, whose pleasant voice rang with a vaguely Austrian 
accent. She advanced, tall, stooping, in a gown of white flowered silk, her 
exquisite, throbbing, cankered bosom heaving beneath a harness of dia- 
monds and sapphires. Tossing her head like a royal palfrey embarrassed by 
its halter of pearls, of an incalculable value but an inconvenient weight, 
she let fall here and there a gentle, charming gaze, of an azure which, as 
time began to fade it, became more caressing than ever, and greeted most 
of the departing guests with a friendly nod. "You choose a nice time to 
arrive, Paulette!" said the Duchess. "Yes, I am so sorry! But really it 
was a physical impossibility/' replied the Princesse d'Orvillers, who had 
acquired this sort of expression from the Duchesse de Guermantes, but 
added to it her own natural sweetness and the air of sincerity conveyed by 
the force of a remotely Teutonic accent in so tender a voice. She appeared 
to be alluding to complications of life too elaborate to be related, and not 
merely to evening parties, although she had just come on from a succession 
of these. But it was not they that obliged her to come so late. As the Prince 
de Guermantes had for many years forbidden his wife to receive Mme, 
d'Orvillers, that lady, when the ban was withdrawn, contented herself with 
replying to the other's invitations, so as not to appear to be thirsting after 
them, by simply leaving cards. After two or three years of this method, she 
came in person, but very late, as though after the theatre. In this way she 
gave herself the appearance of attaching no importance to the party, nor to 
being seen at it, but simply of having come to pay the Prince and Princess 
a visit, for their own sakes, because she liked them, at an hour when, the 
great majority of their guests having already gone, she would "have them 
more to herself." 

"Oriane has really sunk very low," muttered Mme. de Gallardon. "I 
cannot understand Basin's allowing her to speak to Mme. d'Orvillers. I 
am sure M. de Gallardon would never have allowed me." For my part, 
I had recognised in Mme. d'Orvillers the woman who, outside the Hotel 
Guermantes, used to cast languishing glances at me, turn round, stop and 
gaze into shop windows. Mme. de Guermantes introduced me, Mme. d'Or- 
villers was charming, neither too friendly nor annoyed. She gazed at me as 
at everyone else out of her gentle eyes. . . . But I was never again, when 
I met her, to receive from her one of those overtures with which she had 
seemed to be offering herself. There is a special kind of glance, apparently 
of recognition, which a young man never receives from certain women 
nor from certain men after the day on which they have made his ac- 
quaintance and have learned that he is the friend of people with whom they 
too are intimate. 

We were told that the carriage was at the door. Mme. de Guermantes 
gathered up her red skirt as though to go downstairs and get into the 
carriage, but, seized perhaps by remorse, or by the desire to give pleasure, 
and above all to profit by the brevity which the material obstacle to pro- 
longing it imposed upon so boring an action, looked at Mme. de Gallardon; 
then, as though she had only just caught sight of her, acting upon a sudden 
inspiration, before going down tripped across the whole width of the step 



THE PRINCE SSE DE GUERMANTES ENTERTAINS 89 

and, upon reaching her delighted cousin, held out her hand. "Such a long 
time," said the Duchess who then, so as not to have to develop all the 
regrets and legitimate excuses that this formula might be supposed to 
contain, turned with a look of alarm towards the Duke, who as a matter of 
fact, having gone down with me to the carriage, was storming with rage 
when he saw that his wife had gone over to Mme. de Gallardon and was 
holding up the stream of carriages behind. "Oriane is still very good look- 
ing, after all!" said Mme. de Gallardon. "People amuse me when they say 
that we have quarrelled; we may (for reasons which we have no need to 
tell other people) go for years without seeing one another, we have too 
many memories in common ever to be separated, and in her heart she must 
know that she cares far more for me than for all sorts of people whom she 
sees every day and who are not of her rank." Mme. de Gallardon was in 
fact like those scorned lovers who try desperately to make people believe 
that they are better loved than those whom their fair one cherishes. And 
(by the praises which, without heeding their contradiction of what she had 
been saying a moment earlier, she now lavished in speaking of the Duchesse 
de Guermantes) she proved indirectly that the other was thoroughly con- 
versant with the maxims that ought to guide in her career a great lady of 
fashion who, at the selfsame moment when her most marvellous gown is 
exciting an admiration not unmixed with envy, must be able to cross the 
whole width of a staircase to disarm it. "Do at least take care not to wet 
your shoes" (a brief but heavy shower of rain had fallen), said the Duke, 
who was still furious at having been kept waiting. 

On our homeward drive, in the confined space of the coupe, the red shoes 
were of necessity very close to mine, and Mme. de Guermantes, fearing 
that she might actually have touched me, said to the Duke: "This young 
man will have to say to me, like the person in the caricature: 'Madame, tell 
me at once that you love me, but don't tread on my feet like that.' " My 
thoughts, however, were far from Mme. de Guermantes. Ever since Saint- 
Loup had spoken to me of a young girl of good family who frequented a 
house of ill-fame, and of the Baroness Putbus's maid, it was in these two 
persons that were coalesced and embodied the desires inspired in me day 
by day by countless beauties of two classes, on the one hand the plebeian 
and magnificent, the majestic lady's maids of great houses, swollen with 
pride and saying 'we' when they spoke of Duchesses, on the other hand 
those girls of whom it was enough for me sometimes, without even having 
seen them go past in carriages or on foot, to have read the names in the 
account of a ball for me to fall in love with them and, having conscien- 
tiously searched the year-book for the country houses in which they spent 
the summer (as often as not letting myself be led astray by a similarity 
of names) , to dream alternately of going to live amid the plains of the West, 
the sandhills of the North, the pine-forests of the South. But in vain might 
I fuse together all the most exquisite fleshly matter to compose, after the 
ideal outline traced for me by Saint-Loup, the young girl of easy virtue and 
Mme. Putbus's maid, my two possessible beauties still lacked what I should 
never know until I had seen them: individual character. I was to wear my- 
self out in seeking to form a mental picture, during the months in which I 



90 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

would have preferred a lady's maid, of the maid of Mme. Putbus. But what 
peace of mind after having been perpetually troubled by my restless desires, 
for so many fugitive creatures whose very names I often did not know, 
who were in any case so hard to find again, harder still to become acquainted 
with, impossible perhaps to captivate, to have subtracted from all that scat- 
tered, fugitive, anonymous beauty, two choice specimens duly labelled, 
whom I was at least certain of being able to procure when I chose. I kept 
putting off the hour for devoting myself to this twofold pleasure, as I put 
off that for beginning to work, but the certainty of having it whenever I 
chose dispensed me almost from the necessity of taking it, like those 
soporific tablets which one has only to have within reach of one's hand not 
to need them and to fall asleep. In the whole universe I desired only two 
women, of whose faces I could not, it is true, form any picture, but whose 
names Saint-Loup had told me and had guaranteed their consent. So that, 
if he had, by what he had said this evening, set my imagination a heavy 
task, he had at the same time procured an appreciable relaxation, a pro- 
longed rest for my will. 

"Well!" said the Duchess to me, "apart from your balls, can't I be of 
any use to you? Have you found a house where you would like me to intro- 
duce you?" I replied that I was afraid the only one that tempted me was 
hardly fashionable enough for her. "Whose is that?" she asked in a hoarse 
and menacing voice, scarcely opening her lips. "Baroness Putbus." This 
time she pretended to be really angry. "No, not that! I believe you're 
trying to make a fool of me. I don't even know how I come to have heard 
the creature's name. But she is the dregs of society. It's just as though you 
were to ask me for an introduction to my milliner. And worse than that, for 
my milliner is charming. You are a little bit cracked, my poor boy. In any 
case, I beg that you will be polite to the people to whom I have introduced 
you, leave cards on them, and go and see them, and not talk to them about 
Baroness Putbus of whom they have never heard." I asked whether Mme. 
d'Orvillers was not inclined to be flighty. "Oh, not in the least, you are 
thinking of some one else, why, she's rather a prude, if anything. Ain't she. 
Basin?" "Yes, in any case I don't think there has ever been anything to be 
said about her," said the Duke. 

"You won't come with us to the ball?" he asked me. "I can lend you a 
Venetian cloak and I know some one who will be damned glad to see you 
there Oriane for one, that I needn't say but the Princesse de Parme. 
She's never tired of singing your praises, and swears by you alone. It's 
fortunate for you since she is a trifle mature that she is the model of 
virtue. Otherwise she would certainly have chosen you as a sigisbee, as it 
was called in my young days, a sort of cavaliere servente" 

I was interested not in the ball but in my appointment with Albertine. 
And so I refused. The carriage had stopped, the footman was shouting 
for the gate to be opened, the horses pawing the ground until it was flung 
apart and the carriage passed into the courtyard. "Till we meet again," 
said the Duke. "I have sometimes regretted living so close to Marie," the 
Duchess said to me, "because I may be very fond of her, but I am not 
quite so fond of her company. But have never regretted it so much as 



ALBERTINE ON THE TELEPHONE QI 

to-night, since it has allowed me so little of yours." "Come, Oriane, no 
speechmaking." The Duchess would have liked me to come inside for a 
minute. She laughed heartily, as did the Duke, when I said that I could 
not because I was expecting a girl to call at any moment. "You choose a 
funny time to receive visitors," she said to me. 

"Come along, my child, there is no time to waste," said M. de Guer- 
mantes to his wife. "It is a quarter to twelve, and time we were dressed. . . ." 
He came in collision, outside his front door which they were grimly guard- 
ing, with the two ladies of the walking-sticks, who had not been afraid 
to descend at dead of night from their mountain-top to prevent a scandal. 
"Basin, we felt we must warn you, in case you were seen at that ball: poor 
Amanien has just passed away, an hour ago." The Duke felt a momentary 
alarm. He saw the delights of the famous ball snatched from him as soon 
as these accursed mountaineers had informed him of the death of M. 
d'Osmond. But he quickly recovered himself and flung at his cousins a 
retort into which he introduced, with his determination not to forego a 
pleasure, his incapacity to assimilate exactly the niceties of the French 
language: "He is dead! No, no, they exaggerate, they exaggerate!" And 
without giving a further thought to his two relatives who, armed with their 
alpenstocks, were preparing to make their nocturnal ascent, he fired off 
a string of questions at his valet: 

"Are you sure my helmet has come?" "Yes, Monsieur le Due." "You're 
sure there's a hole in it I can breathe through? I don't want to be suffo- 
cated, damn it!" "Yes, Monsieur le Due." "Oh, thunder of heaven, this 
is an unlucky evening. Oriane, I forgot to ask Babal whether the shoes 
with pointed toes were for you!" "But, my dear, the dresser from the 
Opera-Comique is here, he will tell us. I don't see how they could go with 
your spurs." "Let us go and find the dresser," said the Duke. "Good-bye, 
my boy, I should ask you to come in while we are trying on, it would 
amuse you. But we should only waste time talking, it is nearly midnight 
and we must not be late in getting there or we shall spoil the set." 

I too was in a hurry to get away from M. and Mme. de Guermantes as 
quickly as possible. Phedrc finished at about half past eleven. Albertine 
must have arrived by now. I went straight to Frangoise: "Is Mile. Alber- 
tine in the house?" "No one has called." 

Good God, that meant that no one would call! I was in torment, Al- 
bertine's visit seeming to me now all the more desirable, the less certain 
it had become. 

Franqoise was cross too, but for quite a different reason. She had just 
installed her daughter at the table for a succulent repast. But, on hearing 
me come in, and seeing that there was not time to whip away the dishes 
and put out needles and thread as though it were a work party and not 
a supper party: "She has just been taking a spoonful of soup," Frangoise 
explained to me, "I forced her to gnaw a bit of bone," to reduce thus to 
nothing her daughter's supper, as though the crime lay in its abundance. 
Even at luncheon or dinner, if I committed the error of entering the kitchen, 
Franqoise would pretend that they had finished, and would even excuse 
herself with "I just felt I could eat a scrap" or 'a mouthjul! But I was 



Q2 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

speedily reassured on seeing the multitude of the plates that covered the 
table, which Franchise, surprised by my sudden entry, like a thief in the 
night which she was not, had not had time to conjure out of sight. Then 
she added: "Go along to your bed now, you have done enough work to- 
day" (for she wished to make it appear that her daughter not only cost 
us nothing, lived by privations, but was actually working herself to death 
in our service). ".You are only crowding up the kitchen, and disturbing 
Master, who is expecting a visitor. Go on, upstairs," she repeated, as 
though she were obliged to use her authority to send her daughter to bed, 
who, the moment supper was out of the question, remained in the kitchen 
only for appearance's sake, and if I had stayed five minutes longer would 
have withdrawn of her own accord. And turning to me, in that charming 
popular and yet, somehow, personal French which was her spoken lan- 
guage: "Master doesn't see that her face is just cut in two with want of 
sleep. " I remained, delighted at not having to talk to Franqoise's daughter. 

I have said that she came from a small village which was quite close to 
her mother's, and yet different from it in the nature of the soil, its cultiva- 
tion, in dialect; above all in certain characteristics of the inhabitants. 
Thus the 'butcheress' and Franqoise's niece did not get on at all well to- 
gether, but had this point in common, that, when they went out on an 
errand, they would linger for hours at 'the sister's' or 'the cousin's/ being 
themselves incapable of finishing a conversation, in the course of which the 
purpose with which they had set out faded so completely from their minds 
that, if we said to them on their return: 

"Well! Will M. le Marquis de Norpois be at home at a quarter past six?" 
they did not even beat their brows and say: "Oh, I forgot all about it," 
but "Oh! I didn't understand that Master wanted to know that, I thought 
I had just to go and bid him good day." If they 'lost their heads' in this 
manner about a thing that had been said to them an hour earlier, it was 
on the other hand impossible to get out of their heads what they had once 
heard said, by 'the' sister or cousin. Thus, if the butcheress had heard it 
said that the English made war upon us in '70 at the same time as the 
Prussians, and I had explained to her until I was tired that this was not the 
case, every three weeks the butcheress would repeat to me in the course 
of conversation: "It's all because of that war the English made on us in 
'70, with the Prussians." "But I've told you a hundred times that you are 
wrong." She would then answer, implying that her conviction was in 
no way shaken: "In any case, that's no reason for wishing them any harm. 
Plenty of water has run under the bridges since '70," and so forth. On 
another occasion, advocating a war with England which I opposed, she 
said: "To be sure, it's always better not to go to war; but when you must, 
it's best to do it at once. As the sister was explaining just now, ever since 
that war the English made on us in '70, the commercial treaties have ruined 
us. After we've beaten them, we won't allow one Englishman into France, 
unless he pays three hundred francs to come in, as we have to pay now 
to land in England." 

Such was, in addition to great honesty and, when they were speaking, 
an obstinate refusal to allow any interruption, going back twenty times 



ALBERTINE ON THE TELEPHONE 93 

over to the point at which they had been interrupted, which ended by 
giving to their talk the unshakable solidity of a Bach fugue, the character 
of the inhabitants of this tiny village which did not boast five hundred, 
set among its chestnuts, its willows, and its fields of potatoes and beetroot. 

Franchise's daughter, on the other hand, spoke (regarding herself as 
an up-to-date woman who had got out of the old ruts) Parisian slang and 
was well versed in all the jokes of the day. Frangoise having told her that 
I had come from the house of a Princess: "Oh, indeed! The Princess of 
Brazil, I suppose, where the nuts come from." Seeing that I was expecting 
a visitor, she pretended to suppose that my name was Charles. I replied 
innocently that it was not, which enabled her to get in: "Oh, I thought it 
was! And I was just saying to myself, Charles attend (charlatan)." This 
was not in the best of taste. But I was less unmoved when, to console me 
for Albertine's delay, she said to me: "I expect you'll go on waiting till 
doomsday. She's never coming. Oh! Those modern flappers!" 

And so her speech differed from her mother's; but, what is more curious, 
her mother's speech was not the same as that of her grandmother, a native 
of Bailleau-le-Pin, which was so close to Franchise's village. And yet the 
dialects differed slightly, like the scenery. Framboise's mother's village, 
scrambling down a steep bank into a ravine, was overgrown with willows. 
And, miles away from either of them, there was, on the contrary, a small 
district of France where the people spoke almost precisely the same dialect 
as at Meseglise. I made this discovery only to feel its drawbacks. In fact, 
I once came upon Franchise eagerly conversing with a neighbour's house- 
maid, who came from this village and spoke its dialect. They could more 
or less understand one another, I did not understand a word, they knew 
this but did not however cease (excused, they felt, by the joy of being 
fellow-countrywomen although born so far apart) to converse in this 
strange tongue in front of me, like people who do not wish to be understood. 
These picturesque studies in linguistic geography and comradeship be- 
lowstairs were continued weekly in the kitchen, without my deriving any 
pleasure from them. 

Since, whenever the outer gate opened, the doorkeeper pressed an electric 
button which lighted the stairs, and since all the occupants of the building 
had already come in, T left the kitchen immediately and went to sit down 
in the hall, keeping watch, at a point where the curtains did not quite meet 
over the glass panel of the outer door, leaving visible a vertical strip of 
semi-darkness on the stair. If, all of a sudden, this strip turned to a golden 
yellow, that would mean that Albertine had just entered the building and 
would be with me in a minute; nobody else could be coming at that time 
of night. And I sat there, unable to take my eyes from the strip which 
persisted in remaining dark; I bent my whole body forward to make cer- 
tain of noticing any change; but, gaze as I might, the vertical black band, 
despite my impassioned longing, did not give me the intoxicating delight 
that I should have felt had I seen it changed by a sudden and significant 
magic to a luminous bar of gold. This was a great to do to make about that 
Albertine to whom I had not given three minutes' thought during the 
Guermantes party! But, reviving my feelings when in the past I had been 



94 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

kept waiting by other girls, Gilberte especially, when she delayed her 
coming, the prospect of having to forego a simple bodily pleasure caused 
me an intense mental suffering. 

I was obliged to retire to my room. Franchise followed me. She felt that, 
as I had come away from my party, there was no point in my keeping 
the rose that I had in my buttonhole, and approached to take it from me. 
Her action, by reminding me that Albertine was perhaps not coming, and 
by obliging me also to confess that I wished to look smart for her benefit, 
caused an irritation that was increased by the fact that, in tugging myself 
free, I crushed the flower and Franchise said to me: "It would have been 
better to let me take it than to go and spoil it like that." But anything 
that she might say exasperated me. When we are kept waiting, we suffer 
so keenly from the absence of the person for whom we are longing that 
we cannot endure the presence of anyone else. 

When Franchise had left my room, it occurred to me that, if it only 
meant that now I wanted to look my best before Albertine, it was a pity 
that I had so many times let her see me unshaved, with several days' growth 
of beard, on the evenings when I let her come in to renew our caresses. I 
felt that she took no interest in me and was giving me the cold shoulder. 
To make my room look a little brighter, in case Albertine should still come, 
and because it was one of the prettiest things that I possessed, I set out, 
for the first time for years, on the table by my bed, the turquoise-studded 
cover which Gilberte had had made for me to hold Bergotte's pamphlet, 
and which, for so long a time, I had insisted on keeping by me while I 
slept, with the agate marble. Besides, as much perhaps as Albertine herself, 
who still did not come, her presence at that moment in an 'alibi' which she 
had evidently found more attractive, and of which I knew nothing, gave 
me a painful feeling which, in spite of what I had said, barely an hour 
before, to Swann, as to my incapacity for being jealous, might, if I had 
seen my friend at less protracted intervals, have changed into an anxious 
need to know where, with whom, she was spending her time. I dared not 
send round to Albertine's house, it was too late, but in the hope that, hav- 
ing supper perhaps with some other girls, in a cafe, she might take it into 
her head to telephone to me, I turned the switch and, restoring the con- 
nexion to my own room, cut it off between the post office and the porter's 
lodge to which it was generally switched at that hour. A receiver in the 
little passage on which Franchise's room opened would have been simpler, 
less inconvenient, but useless. The advance of civilisation enables each of 
us to display unsuspected merits or fresh defects which make him dearer 
or more insupportable to his friends. Thus Dr. Bell's invention had enabled 
Francoise to acquire an additional defect, which was that of refusing, 
however important, however urgent the occasion might be, to make use 
of the telephone. She would manage to disappear whenever anybody was 
going to teach her how to use it, as people disappear when it is time for 
them to be vaccinated. And so the telephone was installed in my bedroom, 
and, that it might not disturb my parents, a rattle had been substituted for 
the bell. I did not move, for fear of not hearing it sound. So motionless 
did I remain that, for the first time for months, I noticed the tick of the 



ALBERTINE ON THE TELEPHONE Q5 

clock. Frangoise came in to make the room tidy. She began talking to me, 
but I hated her conversation, beneath the uniformly trivial continuity of 
which my feelings were changing from one minute to another, passing 
from fear to anxiety; from anxiety to complete disappointment. Belying 
the words of vague satisfaction which I thought myself obliged to address 
tocher, I could feel that my face was so wretched that I pretended to be 
suffering from rheumatism, to account for the discrepancy between my 
feigned indifference and my woebegone expression; besides, I was afraid 
that her talk, which, for that matter, Frangoise carried on in an undertone 
(not on account of Albertine, for she considered that all possibility of 
her coming was long past), might prevent me from hearing the saving 
call which now would not sound. At length Franchise went off to bed; I 
dismissed her with an abrupt civility, so that the noise she made in leaving 
the room should not drown that of the telephone. And I settled down again 
to listen, to suffer; when we are kept waiting, from the ear which takes in 
sounds to the mind which dissects and analyses them, and from the mind 
to the heart, to which it transmits its results, the double journey is so rapid 
that we cannot even detect its course, and imagine that we have been lis- 
tening directly with our heart. 

I was tortured by the incessant recurrence of my longing, ever more 
anxious and never to be gratified, for the sound of a call; arrived at the 
culminating point of a tortuous ascent through the coils of my lonely an- 
guish, from the heart of the populous, nocturnal Paris that had suddenly 
come close to me, there beside my bookcase, I heard all at once, mechanical 
and sublime, like, in Tristan, the fluttering veil or the shepherd's pipe, the 
purr of the telephone. I sprang to the instrument, it was Albertine. "I'm 
not disturbing you, ringing you up at this hour?" "Not at all . . ." I said, 
restraining my joy, for her remark about the lateness of the hour was 
doubtless meant as an apology for coming, in a moment, so late, and did 
not mean that she was not coming. "Are you coming round?" I asked in 
a tone of indifference. "Why ... no, unless you absolutely must see me." 

Part of me which the other part sought to join was in Albertine. It was 
essential that she come, but I did not tell her so at first; now that we were 
in communication, I said to myself that I could always oblige her at the 
last moment either to come to me or to let me hasten to her. "Yes, I am 
near home," she said, "and miles away from you; I hadn't read your note 
properly. I have just found it again and was afraid you might be waiting 
up for me." I felt sure that she was lying, and it was now, in my fury, from 
a desire not so much to see her as to upset her plans that I determined to 
make her come. But I felt it better to refuse at first what in a few moments 
I should try to obtain from her. But where was she? With the sound of 
her voice were blended other sounds: the braying of a bicyclist's horn, a 
woman's voice singing, a brass band in the distance rang out as distinctly 
as the beloved voice, as though to shew me that it was indeed Albertine in 
her actual surroundings who was beside me at that moment, like a clod of 
earth with which we have carried away all the grass that was growing 
from it. The same sounds that I heard were striking her ear also, and were 
distracting her attention: details of truth, extraneous to the subject under 



96 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

discussion, valueless in themselves, all the more necessary to our perception 
of the miracle for what it was; elements sober and charming, descriptive 
of some street in Paris, elements heart-rending also and cruel of some un- 
known festivity which, after she came away from Phedre, had prevented 
Albertine from coming to me. "I must warn you first of all that I don't in 
the least want you to come, because, at this time of night, it will be a fright- 
ful nuisance ..." I said to her, "I'm dropping with sleep. Besides, oh, 
well, there are endless complications. I am bound to say that there was 
no possibility of your misunderstanding my letter. You answered that it 
was all right. Very well, if you hadn't understood, what did you mean by 
that?" "I said it was all right, only I couldn't quite remember what we 
had arranged. But I see you're cross with me, I'm sorry. I wish now I'd 
never gone to Phedre. If I'd known there was going to be all this fuss 
about it . . ." she went on, as people invariably do when, being in the 
wrong over one thing, they pretend to suppose that they are being blamed 
for another. "I am not in the least annoyed about PhMre, seeing it was I 
that asked you to go to it." "Then you are angry with me; it's a nuisance 
it's so late now, otherwise I should have come to you, but I shall call to- 
morrow or the day after and make it up." "Oh, please, Albertine, I beg of 
you not to, after making me waste an entire evening, the least you can do 
is to leave me in peace for the next few days. I shan't be free for a fortnight 
or three weeks. Listen, if it worries you to think that we seem to be parting 
in anger, and perhaps you are right, after all, then I greatly prefer, all 
things considered, since I have been waiting for you all this time and you 
have not gone home yet, that you should come at once. I shall take a cup 
of coffee to keep myself awake." "Couldn't you possibly put it off till to- 
morrow? Because the trouble is. . . ." As I listened to these words of 
deprecation, uttered as though she did not intend to come, I felt that, with 
the longing to see again the velvet-blooming face which in the past, at 
Balbec, used to point all my days to the moment when, by the mauve Sep- 
tember sea, I should be walking by the side of that roseate flower, a very 
different element was painfully endeavouring to combine. This terrible 
need of a person, at Combray I had learned to know it in the case of my 
mother, and to the pitch of wanting to die if she sent word to me by Fran- 
coise that she could not come upstairs. This effort on the part of the old 
sentiment, to combine and form but a single element with the other, more 
recent, which had for its voluptuous object only the coloured surface, the 
rosy complexion of a flower of the beach^this effort results often only in 
creating (in the chemical sense) a new body, which can last for but a few 
moments. This evening, at any rate, and for long afterwards, the two ele- 
ments remained apart. But already, from the last words that had reached 
me over the telephone, I was beginning to understand that Albertine's life 
was situated (not in a material sense, of course) at so great a distance 
from mine that I should always have to make a strenuous exploration before 
I could lay my hand on her, and, what was more, organised like a system 
of earthworks, and, for greater security, after the fashion which, at a 
later period, we learned to call camouflaged. Albertine, in fact, belonged, 
although at a slightly higher social level, to that class of persons to whom 



ALBERTINE ON THE TELEPHONE 97 

their door-keeper promises your messenger that she will deliver your letter 
when she comes in (until the day when you realise that it is precisely 
she, the person whom you met out of doors, and to whom you have allowed 
yourself to write, who is the door-keeper. So that she does indeed live (but 
in the lodge, only) at the address she has given you, which for that matter 
is that of a private brothel, in which the door-keeper acts as pander), or 
who gives as her address a house where she is known to accomplices who 
will not betray her secret to you, from which your letters will be forwarded 
to her, but in which she does not live, keeps at the most a few articles of 
toilet. Lives entrenched behind five or six lines of defence, so that when 
you try to see the woman, or to find out about her, you invariably arrive 
too far to the right, or to the left, or too early, or too late, and may remain 
for months on end, for years even, knowing nothing. About Albertine, I 
felt that I should never find out anything, that, out of that tangled mass 
of details of fact and falsehood, I should never unravel the truth: and 
that it would always be so, unless I were to shut her up in prison (but 
prisoners escape) until the end. This evening, this conviction gave me 
only a vague uneasiness, in which however I could detect a shuddering 
anticipation of long periods of suffering to come. 

"No," I replied, "I told you a moment ago that I should not be free 
for the next three weeks no more to-morrow than any other day." "Very 
well, in that case ... I shall come this very instant . . . it's a nuisance, 
because I am at a friend's house, and she. ..." I saw that she had not 
believed that I would accept her offer to come, which therefore was not 
sincere, and I decided to force her hand. "What do you suppose I care 
about your friend, either come or don't, it's for you to decide, it wasn't 
I that asked you to come, it was you who suggested it to me." "Don't 
be angry with me, I am going to jump into a cab now and shall be with 
you in ten minutes." And so from that Paris out of whose murky depths 
there had already emanated as far as my room, delimiting the sphere of 
action of an absent person, a voice which was now about to emerge and 
appear, after this preliminary announcement, it was that Albertine whom 
I had known long ago beneath the sky of Balbec, when the waiters of the 
Grand Hotel, as they laid the tables, were blinded by the glow of the set- 
ting sun, when, the glass having been removed from all the windows, every 
faintest murmur of the evening passed freely from the beach where the 
last strolling couples still lingered, into the vast dining-room in which the 
first diners had not yet taken their places, and, across the mirror placed 
behind the cashier's desk, there passed the red reflexion of the hull, and 
lingered long after it the grey reflexion of the smoke of the last steamer 
for Rivebelle. I no longer asked myself what could have made Albertine 
late, and, when Franco! se came into my room to inform me: "Mademoiselle 
Albertine is here," if I answered without even turning my head, that was 
only to conceal my emotion: "What in the world makes Mademoiselle 
Albertine come at this time of night!" But then, raising my eyes to look 
at Frangoise, as though curious to hear her answer which must corroborate 
the apparent sincerity of my question, I perceived, with admiration and 
wrath, that, capable of rivalling Berma herself in the art of endowing 



98 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

with speech inanimate garments and the lines of her face, Franchise had 
taught their part to her bodice, her hair the whitest threads of which 
had been brought to the surface, were displayed there like a birth-certifi- 
cate her neck bowed by weariness and obedience. They commiserated 
her for having been dragged from her sleep and from her warm bed, in 
the middle of the night, at her age, obliged to bundle into her clothes in 
haste, at the risk of catching pneumonia. And so, afraid that I might have 
seemed to be apologising for Albertine's late arrival: "Anyhow, I'm very 
glad she has come, it's just what I wanted," and I gave free vent to my 
profound joy. It did not long remain unclouded, when I had heard Fran- 
Qoise's reply. Without uttering a word of complaint, seeming indeed to be 
doing her best to stifle an irrepressible cough, and simply folding her shawl 
over her bosom as though she were feeling cold, she began by telling me 
everything that she had said to Albertine, whom she had not forgotten to 
ask after her aunt's health. "I was just saying, Monsieur must have been 
afraid that Mademoiselle was not coming, because this is no time to 
pay visits, it's nearly morning. But she must have been in some place 
where she was enjoying herself, because she never even said as much 
as that she was sorry she had- kept Monsieur waiting, she answered me 
with a devil-may-care look, 'Better late than never!' " And Franchise 
added, in words that pierced my heart: "When she spoke like that she 
gave herself away. She would have liked to hide what she was thinking, 
perhaps, but. . . ." 

I had no cause for astonishment. I said, a few pages back, that Fran- 
goise rarely paid attention, when she was sent with a message, if not to 
what she herself had said, which she would willingly relate in detail, at any 
rate to the answer that we were awaiting. But if, making an exception, she 
repeated to us the things that our friends had said, however short they 
might be, she generally arranged, appealing if need be to the expression, 
the tone that, she assured us, had accompanied them, to make them in 
some way or other wounding. At a pinch, she would bow her head beneath 
an insult (probably quite imaginary) which she had received from a trades- 
man to whom we had sent her, provided that, being addressed to her as 
our representative, who was speaking in our name, the insult might indi- 
rectly injure us. The only thing would have been to tell her that she had 
misunderstood the man, that she was suffering from persecution mania and 
that the shopkeepers were not at all in league against her. However, their 
sentiments affected me little. It was a very different matter, what Alber- 
tine's sentiments were. And, as she repeated the ironical words: "Better 
late than never!" Francoise at once made me see the friends in whose 
company Albertine had finished the evening, preferring their company, 
therefore, to mine. "She's a comical sight, she has a little fiat hat on, with 
those big eyes of hers, it does make her look funny, especially with her 
cloak which she did ought to have sent to the amender's, for it's all in 
holes. She amuses me," added, as though laughing at Albertine, Franchise 
who rarely shared my impressions, but felt a need to communicate her 
own. I refused even to appear to understand that this laugh was indicative 
of scorn, but, to give tit for tat, replied, although I had never seen the 



ALBERTINE ON THE TELEPHONE 99 

little hat to which she referred: "What you call a 'little flat hat' is a simply 
charming. . . ." "That is to say, it's just nothing at all," said Frangoise, 
giving expression, frankly this time, to her genuine contempt. Then (in 
a mild and leisurely tone so that my mendacious answer might appear to 
be the expression not of my anger but of the truth), wasting no time, how- 
ever, so as not to keep Albertine waiting, I heaped upon Frangoise these 
cruel words: "You are excellent," I said to her in a honeyed voice, "you 
are kind, you have a thousand merits, but you have never learned a single 
thing since the day when you first came to Paris, either about ladies' 
clothes or about how to pronounce words without making silly blunders." 
And this reproach was particularly stupid, for those French words which 
we are so proud of pronouncing accurately are themselves only blunders 
made by the Gallic lips which mispronounced Latin or Saxon, our language 
being merely a defective pronunciation of several others. 

The genius of language in a living state, the future and past of French, 
that is what ought to have interested me in Franchise's mistakes. Her 
'amender' for 'mender' was not so curious as those animals that survive 
from remote ages, such as the whale or the giraffe, and shew us the states 
through which animal life has passed. "And," I went on, "since you haven't 
managed to learn in all these years, you never will. But don't let that dis- 
tress you, it doesn't prevent you from being a very good soul, and making 
spiced beef with jelly to perfection, and lots of other things as well. The 
hat that you think so simple is copied from a hat belonging to the Princesse 
de Guermantes which cost five hundred francs. However, I mean to give 
Mile. Albertine an even finer one very soon." I knew that what would 
annoy Frangoise more than anything was the thought of my spending 
money upon people whom she disliked. She answered me in a few words 
which were made almost unintelligible by a sudden attack of breathless- 
ness. When I discovered afterwards that she had a weak heart, how re- 
morseful I felt that I had never denied myself the fierce and sterile pleasure 
of making these retorts to her speeches. Frangoise detested Albertine, more- 
over, because, being poor, Albertine could not enhance what Frangoise 
regarded as my superior position. She smiled benevolently whenever I was 
invited by Mme. de Villeparisis. On the other hand, she was indignant 
that Albertine did not practice reciprocity. It came to my being obliged 
to invent fictitious presents which she was supposed to have given me, in 
the existence of which Frangoise never for an instant believed. This want 
of reciprocity shocked her most of all in the matter of food. That Albertine 
should accept dinners from Mamma, when we were not invited to Mme. 
Bontemps's (who for that matter spent half her time out of Paris, her 
husband accepting 'posts' as in the old days when he had had enough of 
the Ministry), seemed to her an indelicacy on the part of my friend which 
she rebuked indirectly by repeating a saying current at Combray: 

"Let's eat my bread." 
"Ay, that's the stuff." 
"Let's eat thy bread." 
"I've had enough." 



100 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

I pretended that I was obliged to write a letter. "To whom were you 
writing?" Albertine asked me as she entered the room. u To a pretty little 
friend of mine, Gilberte Swann. Don't you know her?" "No." I decided 
not to question Albertine as to how she had spent the evening, I felt that 
I should only find fault with her and that we should not have any time 
left, seeing how late it was already, to be reconciled sufficiently to pass to 
kisses and caresses. And so it was with these that I chose to begin from the 
first moment. Besides, if I was a little calmer, I was not feeling happy. 
The loss of all orientation, of all sense of direction that we feel when we 
are kept waiting, still continues, after the coming of the person awaited, 
and, taking the place, inside us, of the calm spirit in which we wer pictur- 
ing her coming as so great a pleasure, prevents us from deriving any from 
it. Albertine was in the room: my unstrung nerves, continuing to flutter, 
were still expecting her. "I want a nice kiss, Albertine." "As many as you 
like," she said to me in her kindest manner. I had never seen her looking 
so pretty. "Another?" "Why, you know it's a great, great pleasure to me." 
"And a thousand times greater to me," she replied. "Oh! What a pretty 
book-cover you have there!" "Take it, I give it to you as a keepsake." 
"You are too kind. . . ." People would be cured for ever of romanticism 
if they could make up their minds, in thinking of the girl they love, to 
try to be the man they will be when they are no longer in love with her. 
Gilberte's book-cover, her agate marble, must have derived their importance 
in the past from some purely inward distinction, since now they were to 
me a book-cover, a marble like any others. 

I asked Albertioe if she would like something to drink. "I seem to see 
oranges over therr. and water," she said. "That will be perfect." I was thus 
able to taste with her kisses that refreshing coolness which had seemed 
to me to be better than they, at the Princesse de Guermantes's. And the 
orange squeezed into the water seemed to yield to me, as I drank, the 
secret life of its ripening growth, its beneficent action upon certain states 
of that human body which belongs to so different a kingdom, its power- 
lessness to make that body live, but on the other hand the process of irri- 
gation by which it was able to benefit it, a hundred mysteries concealed 
by the fruit from my senses, but not from my intellect. 

When Albertine had gone, I remembered that I had promised Swann 
that I would write to Gilberte, and courtesy, I felt, demanded that I should 
do so at once. It was without emotion and as though drawing a line at the 
foot of a boring school essay, that I traced upon the envelope the name 
Gilberte Swann, with which at one time I used to cover my exercise-books 
to give myself the illusion that I was corresponding with her. For if, in the 
past, it had been I who wrote that name, now the task had been deputed 
by Habit to one of the many secretaries whom she employs. He could 
write down Gilberte's name with all the more calm, in that, placed with 
me only recently by Habit, having but recently entered my service, he had 
never known Gilberte, and knew only, without attaching any reality to 
the words, because he had heard me speak of her, that she was a girl with 
whom I had once been in love. 

I could not accuse her of hardness. The person that I now was in relation 



ALBERTINE ON THE TELEPHONE IOI 

to her was the clearest possible proof of what she herself had been: the 
book-cover, the agate marble had simply become for me in relation to 
Albertine what they had been for Gilberte, what they would have been 
to anybody who had not suffused them with the glow of an internal flame. 
But now I felt a fresh disturbance which in its turn destroyed the very 
real power of things and words. And when Albertine said to me, in a further 
outburst of gratitude: "I do love turquoises!" I answered her: "Do not 
let them die," entrusting to them as to some precious jewel the future of 
our friendship which however was no more capable of inspiring a sentiment 
in Albertine than it had been of preserving the sentiment that had bound 
me in the past to Gilberte. 

There appeared about this time a phenomenon which deserves mention 
only because it recurs in every important period of history. At the same 
moment when I was writing to Gilberte, M. de Guermantes, just home 
from his ball, still wearing his helmet, was thinking that next day he would 
be compelled to go into formal mourning, and decided to proceed a week 
earlier to the cure that he had been ordered to take. When he returned 
from it three weeks later (to anticipate for a moment, since I am still fin- 
ishing my letter to Gilberte), those friends of the Duke who had seen him, 
so indifferent at the start, turn into a raving anti-Dreyfusard, were left 
speechless with amazement when they heard him (as though the action 
of the cure had not been confined to his bladder) answer: "Oh, well, 
there'll be a fresh trial and he'll be acquitted; you can't sentence a fellow 
without any evidence against him. Did you ever see anyone so gaga as 
Forcheville? An officer, leading the French people to the shambles, heading 
straight for war. Strange times we live in." The fact was that, in the in- 
terval, the Duke had met, at the spa, three charming ladies (an Italian 
princess and her two sisters-in-law). After hearing them make a few re- 
marks about the books they were reading, a play that was being given 
at the Casino, the Duke had at once understood that he was dealing with 
women of superior intellect, by whom, as he expressed it, he would be 
knocked out in the first round. He was all the more delighted to be asked 
to play bridge by the Princess. But, the moment he entered her sitting 
room, as he began, in the fervour of his double-dyed anti-Dreyfusism: 
"Well, we don't hear very much more of the famous Dreyfus and his ap- 
peal," his stupefaction had been great when he heard the Princess and her 
sisters-in-law say: "It's becoming more certain every day. They can't keep 
a man in prison who has done nothing." "Eh? Eh?" the Duke had gasped 
at first, as at the discovery of a fantastic nickname employed in this house- 
hold to turn to ridicule a person whom he had always regarded as intelli- 
gent. But, after a few days, as, from cowardice and the spirit of imitation, 
we shout 'Hallo, Jojotte' without knowing why at a great artist whom 
we hear so addressed by the rest of the household, the Duke, still greatly 
embarrassed by the novelty of this attitude, began nevertheless to say: 
"After all, if there is no evidence against hirri." The three charming ladies 
decided that he was not progressing rapidly enough and began to bully 
him: "But really, nobody with a grain of intelligence can ever have be- 
lieved for a moment that there was anything." Whenever any revelation 



IO2 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

came out that was 'damning' to Dreyfus, and the Duke, supposing that 
now he was going to convert the three charming ladies, came to inform 
them of it, they burst out laughing and had no difficulty in proving to 
him, with great dialectic subtlety, that his argument was worthless and 
quite absurd. The Duke had returned to Paris a frantic Dreyfusard. And 
certainly we do not suggest that the three charming ladies were not, in this 
instance, messengers of truth. But it is to be observed that, every ten years 
or so, when we have left a man filled with a genuine conviction, it so hap- 
pens that an intelligent couple, or simply a charming lady, come in touch 
with him and after a few months he is won over to the opposite camp. And 
in this respect there are plenty of countries that behave like the sincere 
man, plenty of countries which we have left full of hatred for another race, 
and which, six months later, have changed their attitude and broken off 
all their alliances. 

I ceased for some time to see Albertine, but continued, failing Mine, 
de Guermantes who no longer spoke to my imagination, to visit other 
fairies and their dwellings, as inseparable from themselves as is from the 
mollusc that fashioned it and takes shelter within it the pearly or enamelled 
valve or crenellated turret of its shell. I should not have been able to 
classify these ladies, the difficulty being that the problem was so vague in 
its terms and impossible not merely to solve but to set. Before coming to 
the lady, one had first to approach the faery mansion. Now as one of them 
was always at home after luncheon in the summer months, before I reached 
her house I was obliged to close the hood of my cab, so scorching were 
the sun's rays, the memory of which was, without my realising it, to enter 
into my general impression. I supposed that I was merely being driven 
to the Cours-la-Reine; in reality, before arriving at the gathering which 
a man of wider experience would perhaps have despised, I received, as 
though on a journey through Italy, a delicious, dazzled sensation from 
which the house was never afterwards to be separated in my memory. 
What was more, in view of the heat of the season and the hour, the lady 
had hermetically closed the shutters of the vast rectangular saloons on 
the ground floor in which she entertained her friends. I had difficulty 
at first in recognising my hostess and her guests, even the Duchesse de 
Guermantes, who in her hoarse voice bade me come and sit down next to 
her, in a Beauvais armchair illustrating the Rape of Europa. Then I began 
to make out on the walls the huge eighteenth century tapestries represent- 
ing vessels whose masts were hollyhocks in blossom, beneath which I sat 
as though in the palace not of the Seine but of Neptune, by the brink of 
the river Oceanus, where the Duchesse de Guermantes became a sort of 
goddess of the waters. I should never stop if I began to describe all the 
different types of drawing-room. This example is sufficient to shew that I 
introduced into my social judgments poetical impressions which I never 
included among the items when I came to add up the sum, so that, when 
L was calculating the importance of a drawing-room, my total was never 
correct. 

Certainly, these were by no means the only sources of error, but I have 
no time left now, before my departure for Balbec (where to my sorrow I 



MY SOCIAL LIFE IO3 

am going to make a second stay which will also be my last) , to start upon 
a series of pictures of society which will find their place in due course. I 
need here say only that to this first erroneous reason (my relatively friv- 
olous existence which made people suppose that I was fond of society) 
for my letter to Gilberte, and for that reconciliation with the Swann family 
to which it seemed to point, Odette might very well, and with equal inac- 
curacy, have added a second. I have suggested hitherto the different aspects 
that the social world assumes in the eyes of a single person only by sup- 
posing that, if a woman who, the other day, knew nobody now goes every- 
where, and another who occupied a commanding position is ostracised, 
one is inclined to regard these changes merely as those purely personal 
ups and downs of fortune which from time to time bring about in a given 
section of society, in consequence of speculations on the stock exchange, a 
crashing downfall or enrichment beyond the dreams of avarice. But there 
is more in it than that. To a certain extent social manifestations (vastly 
less important than artistic movements, political crises, the evolution that 
sweeps the public taste in the direction of the theatre of ideas, then of 
impressionist painting, then of music that is German and complicated, 
then of music that is Russian and simple, or of ideas of social service, 
justice, religious reaction, patriotic outbursts) are nevertheless an echo 
of them, remote, broken, uncertain, disturbed, changing. So that even 
drawing-rooms cannot be portrayed in a static immobility which has been 
conventionally employed up to this point for the study of characters, 
though these too must be carried along in an almost historical flow. The 
thirst for novelty that leads men of the world who are more or less sincere 
in their eagerness for information as to intellectual evolution to frequent 
the circles in which they can trace its development makes them prefer as 
a rule some hostess as yet undiscovered, who represents still in their first 
freshness the hopes of a superior culture so faded and tarnished in the 
women who for long years have wielded the social sceptre and who, having 
no secrets from these men, no longer appeal to their imagination. And 
every age finds itself personified thus in fresh women, in a fresh group of 
women, who, closely adhering to whatever may at that moment be the 
latest object of interest, seem, in ihcir attire, to be at that moment making 
their first public appearance, like an unknown species, born of the last 
deluge, irresistible beauties of each new Consulate, each new Directory. 
But very often the new hostess is simply like certain statesmen who may 
be in office for the first time but have for the last forty years been knocking 
at every door without seeing any open, women who were not known in 
society but who nevertheless had been receiving, for years past, and failing 
anything better, a few 'chosen friends' from its ranks. To be sure, this is 
not always the case, and when, with the prodigious flowering of the Rus- 
sian Ballet, revealing one after another Bakst, Nijinski, Benoist, the genius 
of Stravinski, Princess Yourbeletieff, the youthful sponsor of all these new 
great men, appeared bearing on her head an immense, quivering egret, 
unknown to the women of Paris, which they all sought to copy, one might 
have supposed that this marvellous creature had been imported in their 
innumerable baggage, and as their most priceless treasure, by the Russian 



IO4 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

dancers; but when presently, by her side, in her stage box, we see, at every 
performance of the 'Russians/ seated like a true fairy godmother, unknown 
until that moment to the aristocracy, Mme. Verdurin, we shall be able to 
tell the society people who naturally supposed that Mme. Verdurin had 
recently entered the country with Diaghileff s troupe, that this lady had 
already existed in different periods, and had passed through various avatars 
of which this is remarkable only in being the first that is bringing to pass 
at last, assured henceforth, and at an increasingly rapid pace, the success 
so long awaited by the Mistress. In Mme. Swann's case, it is true, the 
novelty she represented had not the same collective character. Her draw- 
ing-room was crystallised round a man, a dying man, who had almost in 
an instant passed, at the moment when his talent was exhausted, from 
obscurity to a blaze of glory. The passion for Bergotte's works was un- 
bounded. He spent the whole day, on show, at Mme. Swann's, who would 
whisper to some influential man: "I shall say a word to him, he will write 
an article for you." He was, for that matter, quite capable of doing so and 
even of writing a little play for Mme. Swann. A stage nearer to death, he 
was not quite so feeble as at the time when he used to come and inquire 
after my grandmother. This was because intense physical suffering had 
enforced a regime on him. Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed: 
to kindness, to knowledge we make promises only; pain we obey. 

It is true that the Verdurins and their little clan had at this time a far 
more vital interest than the drawing-room, faintly nationalist, more 
markedly literary, and pre-eminently Bergottic, of Mme. Swann. The little 
clan was in fact the active centre of a long political crisis which had reached 
its maximum of intensity: Dreyfusism. But society people were for the 
most part so violently opposed to the appeal that a Dreyfusian house 
seemed to them as inconceivable a thing as, at an earlier period, a Com- 
munard house. The Principessa di Caprarola, who had made Mme. Ver- 
durin's acquaintance over a big exhibition which she had organised, had 
indeed been to pay her a long call, in the hope of seducing a few interesting 
specimens of the little clan and incorporating them in her own drawing- 
room, a call in the course of which the Princess (playing the Duchesse de 
Guermantes in miniature) had made a stand against current ideas, declared 
that the people in her world were idiots, all of which, thought Mme. Ver- 
durin, shewed great courage. But this courage was not, in the sequel, to 
go the length of venturing, under fire of the gaze of nationalist ladies, to 
bow to Mme. Verdurin at the Balbec races. With Mme. Swann, on the 
contrary, the anti-Dreyfusards gave her credit for being 'sound/ which, 
in a woman married to a Jew, was doubly meritorious. Nevertheless, the 
people who had never been to her house imagined her as visited only by 
a few obscure Israelites and disciples of Bergotte. In this way we place 
women far more outstanding than Mme. Swann on the lowest rung of the 
social ladder, whether on account of their origin, or because they do not 
care about dinner parties and receptions at which we never see them, and 
suppose this, erroneously, to be due to their not having been invited, or 
because they never speak of their social connexions, but only of literature 
and art, or because people conceal the fact that they go to their houses, 



MY SOCIAL LIFE IOS 

or they, to avoid impoliteness to yet other people, conceal the fact that they 
open their doors to these, in short for a thousand reasons which, added 
together, make of one or other of them in certain people's eyes, the sort of 
woman whom one does not know. So it was with Odette. Mme. d'Epinoy, 
when busy collecting some subscription for the Tatrie Franchise,' having 
been obliged to go and see her, as she would have gone to her dressmaker, 
convinced moreover that she would find only .a lot of faces that were not 
so much impossible as completely unknown, stood rooted to the ground 
when the door opened not upon the drawing-room she imagined but upon 
a magic hall in which, as in the transformation scene of a pantomime, she 
recognised in the dazzling chorus, half reclining upon divans, seated in 
armchairs, addressing their hostess by her Christian name, the royalties, 
the duchesses, whom she, the Princesse d'Epinoy, had the greatest difficulty 
in enticing into her own drawing-room, and to whom at that moment, 
beneath the benevolent eyes of Odette, the Marquis du Lau, Comte Louis 
de Turenne, Prince Borghese, the Due d'Estrees, carrying orangeade and 
cakes, were acting as cupbearers and henchmen. The Princesse d'Epinoy, 
as she instinctively made people's social value inherent in themselves, was 
obliged to disincarnate Mme. Swann and reincarnate her in a fashionable 
woman. Our ignorance of the real existence led by the women who do not 
advertise it in the newspapers draws thus over certain situations (thereby 
helping to differentiate one house from another) a veil of mystery. In 
Odette's case, at the start, a few men of the highest society, anxious to 
meet Bergotte, had gone to dine, quite quietly, at her house. She had had 
the tact, recently acquired, not to advertise their presence, they found 
when they went there, a memory perhaps of the little nucleus, whose tra- 
ditions Odette had preserved in spite of the schism, a place laid for them 
at table, and so forth. Odette took them with Bergotte (whom these ex- 
cursions, incidentally, finished off) to interesting first nights. They spoke 
of her to various women of their own world who were capable of taking 
an interest in such a novelty. These women were convinced that Odette, 
an intimate friend of Bergotte, had more or less collaborated in his works, 
and believed her to be a thousand times more intelligent than the most 
outstanding women of the Faubourg, for the same reason that made them 
pin all their political faith to certain Republicans of the right shade such 
as M. Doumer and M. Deschanel, whereas they saw France doomed 
to destruction were her destinies entrusted to the Monarchy men who 
were in the habit of dining with them, men like Charette or Doudeauville. 
This change in Odette's status was carried out, so far as she was concerned, 
with a discretion that made it more secure and more rapid but allowed 
no suspicion to filter through to the public that is prone to refer to the 
social columns of the Gaulois for evidence as to the advance or decline of 
a house, with the result that one day, at the dress rehearsal of a play by 
Bergotte, given in one of the most fashionable theatres in aid of a charity, 
the really dramatic moment was when people saw enter the box opposite, 
which was that reserved for the author, and sit down by the side of Mme. 
Swann, Mme. de Marsantes and her who, by the gradual self-effacement 
of the Duchesse de Guermantes (glutted with fame, and retiring to save 



106 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

the trouble of going on), was on the way to becoming the lion, the queen 
of the age, Comtesse Mole. "We never even supposed that she had begun 
to climb," people said of Odette as they saw Comtesse Mole enter her box, 
"and look, she has reached the top of the ladder." 

So that Mme. Swann might suppose that it was from snobbishness that 
I was taking up again with her daughter. 

Odette, notwithstanding her brilliant escort, listened with close atten- 
tion to the play, as though she had come there solely to see it performed, 
just as in the past she used to walk across the Bois for her health, as a form 
of exercise. Men who in the past had shewn less interest in her came to 
the edge of the box, disturbing the whole audience, to reach up to her hand 
and so approach the imposing circle that surrounded her. She, with a smile 
that was still more friendly than ironical, replied patiently to their ques- 
tions, affecting greater calm than might have been expected, a calm which 
was, perhaps, sincere, this exhibition being only the belated revelation of 
a habitual and discreetly hidden intimacy. Behind these three ladies to 
whom every eye was drawn was Bergotte flanked by the Prince d'Agrigente, 
Comte Louis de Turenne, and the Marquis de Breaute. And it is easy to 
understand that, to men who were received everywhere and could not 
expect any further advancement save as a reward for original research, 
this demonstration of their merit which they considered that they were 
making in letting themselves succumb to a hostess with a reputation for 
profound intellectuality, in whose house they expected to meet all the 
dramatists and novelists of the day, was more exciting, more lively than 
those evenings at the Princesse de Guermantes's, which, without any change 
of programme or fresh attraction, had been going on year after year, all 
more or less like the one we have described in such detail. In that exalted 
sphere, the sphere of the Guermantes, in which people were beginning 
to lose interest, the latest intellectual fashions were not incarnate in enter- 
tainments fashioned in their image, as in those sketches that Bergotte 
used to write for Mme. Swann, or those positive committees of public safety 
(had society been capable of taking an interest in the Dreyfus case) at 
which, in Mme. Verdurin's drawing-room, used to assemble Picquart, 
Clemenceau, Zola, Reinach and Labori. 

Gilberte, too, helped to strengthen her mother's position, for an uncle 
of Swann had just left nearly twenty-four million francs to the girl, which 
meant that the Faubourg Saint-Germain was beginning to take notice of 
her. The reverse of the medal was that Swann (who, however, was dying) 
held Dreyfusard opinions, though this as a matter of fact did not injure 
his wife, but was actually of service to her. It did not injure her because 
people said: "He is dotty, his mind has quite gone, nobody pays any at- 
tention to him, his wife is the only person who counts and she is charming." 
But even Swann's Dreyfusism was useful to Odette. Left to herself, she 
would quite possibly have allowed herself to make advances to fashionable 
women which would have been her undoing. Whereas on the evenings 
when she dragged her husband out to dine in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, 
Swann, sitting sullenly in his corner, would not hesitate, if he saw Odette 
seeking an introduction to some Nationalist lady, to exclaim aloud: 



ARRIVAL AT BALBEC IOJ 

"Really, Odette, you are mad. Why can't you keep yourself to yourself. 
It is idiotic of you to get yourself introduced to anti-Semites, I forbid you." 
People in society whom everyone else runs after are not accustomed either 
to such pride or to such ill-breeding. For the first time they beheld some 
one who thought himself 'superior' to them. The fame of Swann's mut- 
terings was spread abroad, and cards with turned-down corners rained 
upon Odette. When she came to call upon Mme. d'Arpajon there was a 
brisk movement of friendly curiosity. "You didn't mind my introducing 
her to you," said Mme. d'Arpajon. "She is so nice. It was Marie de Mar- 
santes that told me about her." "No, not at all, I hear she's so wonderfully 
clever, and she is charming. I had been longing to meet her; do tell me 
where she lives." Mme. d'Arpajon told Mme. Swann that she had enjoyed 
herself hugely at the latter's house the other evening, and had joyfully 
forsaken Mme. de Saint-Euverte for her. And it was true, for to prefer 
Mme. Swann was to shew that one was intelligent/ like going to concerts 
instead of to tea-parties. But when Mme. de Saint-Euverte called on Mme. 
d'Arpajon at the same time as Odette, as Mme. de Saint-Euverte was a 
great snob and Mme. d'Arpajon, albeit she treated her without ceremony, 
valued her invitations, she did not introduce Odette, so that Mme. de Saint- 
Euverte should not know who it was. The Marquise imagined that it must 
be some Princess who never went anywhere, since she had never seen her 
before, prolonged her call, replied indirectly to what Odette was saying ; 
but Mme. d'Arpajon remained adamant. And when Mme. Saint-Euverte 
owned herself defeated and took her leave: "I did not introduce you," her 
hostess told Odette, "because people don't much care about going to her 
parties and she is always inviting one; you would never hear the last of 
her." "Oh, that is all right," said Odette with a pang of regret. But she 
retained the idea that people did not care about going to Mme. de Saint- 
Euverte's, which was to a certain extent true, and concluded that she her- 
self held a position in society vastly superior to Mme. de Saint-Euverte's 
albeit that lady held a very high position, and Odette, so far, had none 
at all. 

That made no difference to her, and, albeit all Mine, de Guermantes's 
friends were friends also of Mme. d'Arpajon, whenever the latter invitee 
Mme. Swann, Odette would say with an air of compunction: "I am gohi 
to Mme. d'Arpajon's; you will think me dreadfully old-fashioned, I know 
but I hate going, for Mme. de Guermantes's sake" (whom, as it happened 
she had never met) . The distinguished men thought that the fact that Mme 
Swann knew hardly anyone in good society meant that she must be i 
superior woman, probably a great musician, and that it would be a sor 
of extra distinction, as for a Duke to be a Doctor of Science, to go to hei 
house. The completely unintelligent women were attracted by Odette foi 
a diametrically opposite reason; hearing that she attended the Colonn< 
concerts and professed herself a Wagnerian, they concluded from this tha 
she must be 'rather a lark/ and were greatly excited by the idea of getting 
to know her. But, being themselves none too firmly established, they wen 
afraid of compromising themselves in public if they appeared to be 01 
friendly terms with Odette, and if, at a charity concert, they caught sigh 



108 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

of Mme. Swann, would turn away their heads, deeming it impossible to 
bow, beneath the very nose of Mme. de Rochechouart, to a woman who 
was perfectly capable of having been to Bayreuth, which was as good as 
saying that she would stick at nothing. Everybody becomes different upon 
entering another person's house. Not to speak of the marvellous metamor- 
phoses that were accomplished thus in the faery palaces, in Mme. Swann's 
drawing-room, M. de Breaute, acquiring a sudden importance from the 
absence of the people by whom he was normally surrounded, by his air of 
satisfaction at finding himself there, just as if instead of going out to a 
party he had slipped on his spectacles to shut himself up in his study and 
read the Revue des Deux Mondes, the mystic rite that he appeared to be 
performing in coming to see Odette, M. de Breaute himself seemed an- 
other man. I would have given anything to see what alterations the Duch- 
esse de Montmorency-Luxembourg would undergo in this new environment. 
But she was one of the people who could never be induced to meet Odette. 
Mme. de Montmorency, a great deal kinder to Oriane than Oriane was 
to her, surprised me greatly by saying, with regard to Mme. de Guer- 
mantes: "She knows some quite clever people, everybody likes her, I 
believe that if she had just had a slightly more coherent mind, she would 
have succeeded in forming a salon. The fact is, she never bothered about it, 
she is quite right, she is very well off as she is, with everybody running 
after her." If Mme. de Guermantes had not a 'salon,' what in the world 
could a 'salon' be? The stupefaction in which this speech plunged me was 
no greater than that which I caused Mme. de Guermantes when I told her 
that I should like to be invited to Mme. de Montmorency's. Oriane thought 
her an old idiot. "I go there, 7 ' she said, "because I'm forced to, she's my 
aunt, but you! She doesn't even know how to get nice people to come to her 
house." Mme. de Guermantes did not realise that nice people left me cold, 
that when she spoke to me of the Arpajon drawing-room I saw a yellow 
butterfly, and the Swann drawing-room (Mme. Swann was at home in the 
winter months between 6 and 7 ) a black butterfly, its wings powdered with 
snow. Even this last drawing-room, which was not a 'salon' at all, she con- 
sidered, albeit out of bounds for herself, permissible to me, on account of 
the 'clever people' to be found there. But Mme. de Luxembourg! Had I 
already produced something that had attracted attention, she would have 
concluded that an element of snobbishness may be combined with talent. 
But I put the finishing touch to her disillusionment; I confessed to her 
that I did not go to Mme. de Montmorency's (as she supposed) to 'take 
notes' and 'make a study.' Mme. de Guermantes was in this respect no 
more in error than the social novelists who analyse mercilessly from outside 
the actions of a snob or supposed snob, but never place themselves in his 
position, at the moment when a whole social springtime is bursting into 
blossom in his imagination. I myself, when I sought to discover what was 
the great pleasure that I found in going to Mme. de Montmorency's, was 
somewhat taken aback. She occupied, in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, 
an old mansion ramifying into pavilions which were separated by small 
gardens. In the outer hall a statuette, said to be by Falconnet, represented 
a spring which did, as it happened, exude a perpetual moisture. A little 



ARRIVAL AT BALBEC IOQ 

farther on the doorkeeper, her eyes always red, whether from grief or 
neurasthenia, a headache or a cold in the head, never answered your in- 
quiry, waved her arm vaguely to indicate that the Duchess was at home, 
and let a drop or two trickle from her eyelids into a bowl filled with forget- 
me-nots. The pleasure that I felt on seeing the statuette, because it re- 
minded me of a 'little gardener' in plaster that stood in one of the Combray 
gardens, was nothing to that which was given me by the great staircase, 
damp and resonant, full of echoes, like the stairs in certain old-fashioned 
bathing establishments, with the vases filled with cinerarias blue against 
blue in the entrance hall and most of all the tinkle of the bell, which was 
exactly that of the bell in Eulalie's room. This tinkle raised my enthusiasm 
to a climax, but seemed to me too humble a matter for me to be able to 
explain it to Mme. de Montmorency, with the result that she invariably 
saw me in a state of rapture of which she might never guess the cause. 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 



MY second arrival at Balbec was very different from the other. The man- 
ager had come in person to meet me at Pont-a-Couleuvre, reiterating how 
greatly he valued his titled patrons, which made me afraid that he had 
ennobled me, until I realised that, in the obscurity of his grammatical 
memory, titre meant simply attitre, or accredited. In fact, the more new 
languages he learned the worse he spoke the others. He informed me that 
he had placed me at the very top of the hotel. "I hope," he said, "that you 
will not interpolate this as a want of discourtesy, I was sorry to give you 
a room of which you are unworthy, but I did it in connexion with the noise, 
because in that room you will not have anyone above your head to disturb 
your trapanum (tympanum). Don't be alarmed, I shall have the win- 
dows closed, so that they shan't bang. Upon that point, I am intolerable" 
(the last word expressing not his own thought, which was that he would 
always be found inexorable in that respect, but, quite possibly, the thoughts 
of his underlings). The rooms were, as it proved, those we had had before. 
They were no humbler, but I had risen in the manager's esteem. I could 
light a fire if I liked (for, by the doctors' orders, I had left Paris at Easter), 
but he was afraid there might be 'fixtures' in the ceiling. "See that you 
always wait before alighting a fire until the preceding one is extenuated" 
(extinct). "The important thing is to take care not to avoid setting fire 
to the chimney, especially as, to cheer things up a bit, I have put an old 
china pottage on the mantelpiece which might become insured." 

He informed me with great sorrow of the death of the leader of the 
Cherbourg bar. "He was an old retainer," he said (meaning probably 
'campaigner') and gave me to understand that his end had been hastened 
by the quickness, otherwise the fastness, of his life. "For some time past 
I noticed that after dinner he would take a doss in the reading-room" 
(take a doze, presumably). "The last times, he was so changed that if you 
hadn't known who it was, to look at him, he was barely recognisant" 
(presumably, recognisable). 

A happy compensation: the chief magistrate of Caen had just received 
his 'bags' (badge) as Commander of the Legion of Honour. "Surely to 
goodness, he has capacities, but seems they gave him it principally because 
of his general 'impotence.' " There was a mention of this decoration, as it 
happened, in the previous day's Echo de Paris, of which the manager had 
as yet read only c the first paradox' (meaning paragraph). The paper dealt 
admirably with M. Caillaux's policy. "I consider, they're quite right," he 
said. "He is putting us too much under the thimble of Germany" (under 
the thumb). As the discussion of a subject of this sort with a hotel-keeper 
seemed to me boring, I ceased to listen. I thought of the visual images that 
had made me decide to return to Balbec. They were very different from 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS in 

those of ^ he earlier time, the vision in quest of which I came was as daz- 
zlingly clear as the former had been clouded ; they were to prove deceitful 
nevertheless. The images selected by memory are as arbitrary, as narrow, 
as intangible as those which imagination had formed and reality has de- 
stroyed. There is no reason why, existing outside ourselves, a real place 
should conform to the pictures in our memory rather than to those in our 
dreams. And besides, a fresh reality will perhaps make us forget, detest 
even, the desires that led us forth upon our journey. 

Those that had led me forth to Balbec sprang to some extent from my 
discovery that the Verdurins (whose invitations I had invariably declined, 
and who would certainly be delighted to see me, if I went to call upon them 
in the country with apologies for never having been able to call upon them 
in Paris), knowing that several of the faithful would be spending the holi- 
days upon that part of the coast, and having, for that reason, taken for 
the whole season one of M. de Cambremer's houses (la Raspeliere), had 
invited Mme. Putbus to stay with them. The evening on which I learned 
this (in Paris) I lost my head completely and sent our young footman to 
find out whether the lady would be taking her Abigail to Balbec with her. 
It was eleven o'clock. Her porter was a long time in opening the front door, 
and, for a wonder, did not send my messenger packing, did not call the 
police, merely gave him a dressing down, but with it the information that 
I desired. He said that the head lady's maid would indeed be accompanying 
her mistress, first of all to the waters in Germany, then to Biarritz, and 
at the end of the season to Mme. Verdurin's. From that moment my mind 
had been at rest, and glad to have this iron in the fire, I had been able to 
dispense with those pursuits in the streets, in which I had not that letter 
of introduction to the beauties I encountered which I should have to the 
'Giorgione' in the fact of my having dined that very evening, at the Ver- 
durins', with her mistress. Besides, she might form a still better opinion 
of me perhaps when she learned that I knew not merely the middle class 
tenants of la Raspeliere but its owners, and above all Saint-Loup who, 
prevented from commending me personally to the maid (who did not know 
him by name), had written an enthusiastic letter about me to the Cam- 
bremers. He believed that, quite apart from any service that they might 
be able to render me, Mme. de Cambremer, the Legrandin daughter-in- 
law, would interest me by her conversation. "She is an intelligent woman/' 
he had assured me. "She won't say anything final" (final having taken the 
place of sublime things with Robert, who, every five or six years, would 
modify a few of his favourite expressions, while preserving the more im- 
portant intact), "but it is an interesting nature, she has a personality, 
intuition ; she has the right word for everything. Every now and then she 
is maddening, she says stupid things on purpose, to seem smart, which is 
all the more ridiculous as nobody could be less smart than the Cambremers, 
she is not always in the picture, but, taking her all round, she is one of the 
people it is more or less possible to talk to." 

No sooner had Robert's letter of introduction reached them than the 
Cambremers, whether from a snobbishness that made them anxious to 
oblige Saint-Loup, even indirectly, or from gratitude for what he had done 



112 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

for one of their nephews at Doncieres, or (what was most likely) from 
kindness of heart and traditions of hospitality, had written long letters 
insisting that I should stay with them, or, if I preferred to be more inde- 
pendent, offering to find me lodgings. When Saint-Loup had pointed out 
that I should be staying at the Grand Hotel, Balbec, they replied that at 
least they would expect a call from me as soon as I arrived and, if I did not 
appear, would come without fail to hunt me out and invite me to their 
garden parties. 

No doubt there was no essential connexion between Mme. Putbus's 
maid and the country round Balbec; she would not be for me like the 
peasant girl whom, as I strayed alone along the Meseglise way, I had so 
often sought in vain to evoke, with all the force of my desire. 

But I had long since given up trying to extract from a woman as it might 
be the square root of her unknown quantity, the mystery of which a mere 
introduction was generally enough to dispel. Anyhow at Balbec, where 
I had not been for so long, I should have this advantage, failing the neces- 
sary connexion which did not exist between the place and this particular 
woman, that my sense of reality would not be destroyed by familiarity, 
as in Paris, where, whether in my own home or in a bedroom that I already 
knew, pleasure indulged in with a woman could not give me for one instant, 
amid everyday surroundings, the illusion that it was opening the door for 
me to a new life. (For if habit is a second nature, it prevents us from know- 
ing our original nature, whose cruelties it lacks and also its enchantments.) 
Now this illusion I might perhaps feel in a strange place, where one's 
sensibility is revived by a ray of sunshine, and where my ardour would 
be raised to a climax by the lady's maid whom I desired: we shall see, in 
the course of events, not only that this woman did not come to Balbec, but 
that I dreaded nothing so much as the possibility of her coming, so that 
the principal object of my expedition was neither attained, nor indeed 
pursued. It was true that Mme. Putbus was not to be at the Verdurins' 
so early in the season; but these pleasures which we have chosen before- 
hand may be remote, if their coming is assured, and if, in the interval of 
waiting, we can devote ourselves to the pastime of seeking to attract, while 
powerless to love. Moreover, I was not going to Balbec in the same practical 
frame of mind as before; there is always less egoism in pure imagination 
than in recollection; and I knew that I was going to find myself in one 
of those very places where fair strangers most abound ; a beach presents 
them as numerously as a ball-room, and I looked forward to strolling up 
and down outside the hotel, on the front, with the same sort of pleasure 
that Mme. de Guermantes would have procured me if, instead of making 
other hostesses invite me to brilliant dinner-parties, she had given my name 
more frequently for their lists of partners to those of them who gave dances. 
To make female acquaintances at Balbec would be as easy for me now as 
it had been difficult before, for I was now as well supplied with friends and 
resources there as I had been destitute of them on my former visit. 

I was roused from my meditations by the voice of the manager, to whose 
political dissertations I had not been listening. Changing the subject, he 
told me of the chief magistrate's joy on hearing of my arrival, and that he 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 113 

was coming to pay me a visit in my room, that very evening. The thought 
of this visit so alarmed me (for I was beginning to feel tired) that I begged 
him to prevent it (which he promised to do, and, as a further precaution, 
to post members of his staff on guard, for the first night, on my landing). 
He did not seem overfond of his staff. "I am obliged to keep running after 
them all the time because they are lacking in inertia. If I was not there 
they would never stir. I shall post the lift-boy on sentry outside your door." 
I asked him if the boy had yet become 'head page/ "He is not old enough 
yet in the house," was the answer. "He has comrades more aged than he 
is. It would cause an outcry. We must act with granulation in everything. 
I quite admit that he strikes a good aptitude" (meaning attitude) "at the 
door of his lift. But he is still a trifle young for such positions. With others 
in the place of longer standing, it would make a contrast. He is a little 
wanting in seriousness, which is the primitive quality" (doubtless, the 
primordial, the most important quality). "He needs his leg screwed on a 
bit tighter" (my informant meant to say his head). "Anyhow, he can leave 
it all to me. I know what I'm about. Before I won my stripes as manager 
of the Grand Hotel, I smelt powder under M. Paillard." I was impressed by 
this simile, and thanked the manager for having come in person as far as 
Pont-a-Couleuvre. "Oh, that's nothing! The loss of time has been quite 
infinite" (for infinitesimal). Meanwhile, we had arrived. 

Complete physical collapse. On the first night, as I was suffering from 
cardiac exhaustion, trying to master my pain, I bent down slowly and 
cautiously to take off my boots. But no sooner had I touched the topmost 
button than my bosom swelled, filled with an unknown, a divine presence, 
I shook with sobs, tears streamed from my eyes. The person who came to 
my rescue, who saved me from barrenness of spirit, was the same who, 
years before, in a moment of identical distress and loneliness, in a moment 
when I was no longer in any way myself, had come in, and had restored 
me to myself, for that person was myself and more than myself (the con- 
tainer that is greater than the contents, which it was bringing to me). I 
had just perceived, in my memory, bending over my weariness, the tender, 
preoccupied, dejected face of my grandmother, as she had been on that 
first evening of our arrival, the face not of that grandmother whom I was 
astonished and reproached myself to find that I regretted so little and 
who was no more of her than just her name, but of my own true grand- 
mother, of whom, for the first time since that afternoon in the Champs- 
Ely sees on which she had had her stroke, I now recaptured, by an instinc- 
tive and complete act of recollection, the living reality. That reality has 
no existence for us, so long as it has not been created anew by our mind 
(otherwise the men who have been engaged in a Titanic conflict would all 
of them be great epic poets) ; and so, in my insane desire to fling myself 
into her arms, it was not until this moment, more than a year after her 
burial, because of that anachronism which so often prevents the calendar 
of facts from corresponding to that of our feelings, that I became conscious 
that she was dead. I had often spoken about her in the interval, and thought 
of her also, but behind my words and thoughts, those of an ungrateful, 
selfish, cruel youngster, there had never been anything that resembled my 



114 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

grandmother, because, in my frivolity, my love of pleasure, my familiarity 
with the spectacle of her ill health, I retained only in a potential state the 
memory of what she had been. At whatever moment we estimate it, the 
total value of our spiritual nature is more or less fictitious, notwithstanding 
the long inventory of its treasures, for now one, now Smother of these is 
unrealisable, whether we are considering actual treasures or those of the 
imagination, and, in my own case, fully as much as the ancient name of 
Guermantes, this other, how far more important item, my real memory 
of my grandmother. For with the troubles of memory are closely linked 
the heart's intermissions. It is, no doubt, the existence of our body, which 
we may compare to a jar containing our spiritual nature, that leads us to 
suppose that all our inward wealth, our past joys, all our sorrows, are per- 
petually in our possession. Perhaps it is equally inexact to suppose that they 
escape or return. In any case, if they remain within us, it is, for most of the 
time, in an unknown region where they are of no service to us, and where 
even the most ordinary are crowded out by memories of a different kind, 
which preclude any simultaneous occurrence of them in our consciousness. 
But if the setting of sensations in which they are preserved be recaptured, 
they acquire in turn the same power of expelling everything that is in- 
compatible with them, of installing alone in us the self that originally 
lived them. Now, inasmuch as the self that I had just suddenly become 
once again had not existed since that evening long ago when my grand- 
mother undressed me after my arrival at Balbec, it was quite naturally, not 
at the end of the day that had just passed, of which that self knew nothing, 
but as though there were in time different and parallel series without 
loss of continuity, immediately after the first evening at Balbec long ago, 
that I clung to the minute in which my grandmother had leaned over me. 
The self that I then was, that had so long disappeared, was once again so 
close to me that I seemed still to hear the words that had just been spoken, 
albeit they were nothing more now than illusion, as a man who is half awake 
thinks he can still make out close at hand the sounds of his receding dream. 
I was nothing now but the person who sought a refuge in his grand- 
mother's arms, sought to wipe away the traces of his suffering by giving her 
kisses, that person whom I should have had as great difficulty in imagining 
when I was one or other of those persons which, for some time past, I had 
successively been, as the efforts, doomed in any event to sterility, that I 
should now have had to make to feel the desires and joys of any of those 
which, for a time at least, I no longer was. I reminded myself how, an hour 
before the moment at which my grandmother had stooped down like that, 
in her dressing gown, to unfasten my boots, as I wandered along the 
stifiingly hot street, past the pastry-cook's, I had felt that I could never, in 
my need to feel her arms round me, live through the hour that I had still to 
spend without her. And now that this same need was reviving in me, I 
knew that I might wait hour after hour, that she would never again be by 
my side, I had only just discovered this because I had only just, on feeling 
her for the first time, alive, authentic, making my heart swell to breaking- 
point, on finding her at last, learned that I had lost her for ever. Lost for 
ever; I could not understand and was struggling to bear the anguish of this 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 115 

contradiction: on the one hand an existence, an affection, surviving in me 
as I had known them, that is to say created for me, a love in whose eyes 
everything found in me so entirely its complement, its goal, its constant 
lodestar, that the genius of great men, all the genius that might have ex- 
isted from the beginning of the world would have been less precious to my 
grandmother than a single one of my defects; and on the other hand, as 
soon as I had lived over again that bliss, as though it were present, feeling 
it shot through by the certainty, throbbing like a physical anguish, of an 
annihilation that had effaced my image of that affection, had destroyed 
that existence, abolished in retrospect our interwoven destiny, made of 
my grandmother at the moment when I found her again as in a mirror, a 
mere stranger whom chance had allowed to spend a few years in my com- 
pany, as it might have been in anyone's else, but to whom, before and 
after those years, I was, I could be nothing. 

Instead of the pleasures that I had been experiencing of late, the only 
pleasure that it would have been possible for me to enjoy at that moment 
would have been, by modifying the past, to diminish the sorrows and suf- 
ferings of my grandmother's life. Now, I did not recall her only in that 
dressing-gown, a garment so appropriate as to have become almost their 
symbol to the labours, foolish no doubt but so lovable also, that she per- 
formed for me, gradually I began to remember all the opportunities that 
I had seized, by letting her perceive, by exaggerating if necessary my 
sufferings, to cause her a grief which I imagined as being obliterated im- 
mediately by my kisses, as though my affection had been as capable as 
my happiness of creating hers; and, what was worse, I, who could con- 
ceive no other happiness now than in finding happiness shed in my memory 
over the contours of that face, moulded and bowed by love, had set to 
work with frantic efforts, in the past, to destroy even its most modest pleas- 
ures, as on the day when Saint-Loup had taken my grandmother's photo- 
graph and I, unable to conceal from her what I thought of the ridiculous 
childishness of the coquetry with which she posed for him, with her wide- 
brimmed hat, in a flattering half light, had allowed myself to mutter a few 
impatient, wounding words, which, I had perceived from a contraction of 
her features, had carried, had pierced her; it was I whose heart they were 
rending now that there was no longer possible, ever again, the consolation 
of a thousand kisses. 

But never should I be able to wipe out of my memory that contraction 
of her face, that anguish of her heart, or rather of my own: for as the dead 
exist only in us, it is ourselves that we strike without ceasing when we 
persist in recalling the blows that we have dealt them. To these griefs, 
cruel as they were, I clung with all my might and main, for I realised that 
they were the effect of my memory of my grandmother, the proof that 
this memory which I had of her was really present within me. I felt that 
I did not really recall her save by grief and should have liked to feel driven 
yet deeper into me these nails which fastened the memory of her to my 
consciousness. I did not seek to mitigate my suffering, to set it off, to 
pretend that my grandmother was only somewhere else and momentarily 
invisible, by addressing to her photograph (the one taken by Saint-Loup, 



Il6 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

which I had beside me) words and prayers as to a person who is separated 
from us but, retaining his personality, knows us and remains bound to us 
by an indissoluble harmony. Never did I do this, for I was determined not 
merely to suffer, but to respect the original form of my suffering, as it had 
suddenly come upon me unawares, and I wished to continue to feel it, 
according to its own laws, whenever those strange contradictory impres- 
sions of survival and obliteration crossed one another again in my mind. 
This painful and, at the moment, incomprehensible impression, I knew 
not, forsooth, whether I should one day distil a grain of truth from it but 
that if I ever should succeed in extracting that grain of truth, it could 
only be from it, from so singular, so spontaneous an impression, which 
had been neither traced by my intellect nor attenuated by my pusillanim- 
ity, but which death itself, the sudden revelation of death, had, like a stroke 
of lightning, carved upon me, along a supernatural, inhuman channel, a 
two-fold and mysterious furrow. (As for the state of forgetfulness of my 
grandmother in which I had been living until that moment, I could not 
even think of turning to it to extract truth from it; since in itself it was 
nothing but a negation, a weakening of the mind incapable of recreating 
a real moment of life and obliged to substitute for it conventional and 
neutral images.) Perhaps, however, as the instinct of preservation, the 
ingenuity of the mind in safeguarding us from grief, had begun already to 
build upon still smouldering ruins, to lay the first courses of its serviceable 
and ill-omened structure, I relished too keenly the delight of recalling 
this or that opinion held by my dear one, recalling them as though she 
had been able to hold them still, as though she existed, as though I con- 
tinued to exist for her. But as soon as I had succeeded in falling asleep, at 
that more truthful hour when my eyes closed to the things of the outer 
world, the world of sleep (on whose frontier intellect and will, momentarily 
paralysed, could no longer strive to rescue me from the cruelty of my 
real impressions) reflected, refracted the agonising synthesis of survival 
and annihilation, in the mysteriously lightened darkness of my organs. 
World of sleep in which our inner consciousness, placed in bondage to the 
disturbances of our organs, quickens the rhythm of heart or breath because 
a similar dose of terror, sorrow, remorse acts with a strength magnified 
an hundredfold if it is thus injected into our veins; as soon as, to traverse 
the arteries of the subterranean city, we have embarked upon the dark 
current of our own blood as upon an inward Lethe meandering sixfold, 
huge solemn forms appear to us, approach and glide away, leaving us in 
tears. I sought in vain for my grandmother's form when I had stepped 
ashore beneath the sombre portals; I knew, indeed, that she did still exist, 
but with a diminished vitality, as pale as that of memory; the darkness 
was increasing, and the wind ; my father, who was to take me where she 
was, did not appear. Suddenly my breath failed me, I felt my heart turn 
to stone; I had just remembered that for week after week I had forgotten 
to write to my grandmother. What must she be thinking of me? "Great 
God!" I said to myself, "how wretched she must be in that little room 
which they have taken for her, no bigger than what one would take for 
an old servant, where she is all alone with the nurse they have put there 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 117 

to look after her, from which she cannot stir, for she is still slightly para- 
lysed and has always refused to rise from her bed. She must be thinking 
that I have forgotten her now that she is dead; how lonely she must be 
feeling, how deserted! Oh, I must run to see her, I mustn't lose a minute, 
I mustn't wait for my father to come, even but where is it, how can I 
have forgotten the address, will she know me again, I wonder? How can 
I have forgotten her all these months?" It is so dark, I shall not find her; 
the wind is keeping me back; but look! there is my father walking ahead 
of me; I call out to him: "Where is grandmother? Tell me her address. 
Is she all right? Are you quite sure she has everything she wants?" "Why," 
says my father, "you need not alarm yourself. Her nurse is well trained. 
We send her a trifle, from time to time, so that she can get your grand- 
mother anything she may need. She asks, sometimes, how you are getting 
on. She was told that you were going to write a book. She seemed pleased. 
She wiped away a tear." And then I fancied I could remember that, a little 
time after her death, my grandmother had said to me, crying, with a 
humble expression, like an old servant who has been given notice to leave, 
like a stranger, in fact: "You will let me see something of you occasionally, 
won't you; don't let too many years go by without visiting me. Remember 
that you were my grandson, once, and that grandmothers never forget." 
And seeing again that face, so submissive, so sad, so tender, which was 
hers, I wanted to run to her at once and say to her, as I ought to have said 
to her then: "Why, grandmother, you can see me as often as you like, I 
have only you in the world, I shall never leave you any more." What tears 
my silence must have made her shed through all those months in which I 
have never been to the place where she lies, what can she have been saying 
to herself about me? And it is in a voice choked with tears that I too shout 
to my father: "Quick, quick, her address, take me to her." But he says: 
"Well ... I don't know whether you will be able to see her. Besides, you 
know, she is very frail now, very frail, she is not at all herself, I am afraid 
you would find it rather painful. And I can't be quite certain of the num- 
ber of the avenue." "But tell me, you who know, it is not true that the dead 
have ceased to exist. It can't possibly be true, in spite of what they say, 
because grandmother does exist still." My father smiled a mournful smile: 
"Oh, hardly at all, you know, hardly at all. I think that it would be better 
if you did not go. She has everything that she wants. They come and keep 
the place tidy for her." "But she is often left alone?" "Yes, but that is 
better for her. It is better for her not to think, which could only be bad for 
her. It often hurts her, when she tries to think. Besides, you know, she is 
quite lifeless now. I shall leave a note of the exact address, so that you can 
go to her; but I don't see what good you can do there, and I don't sup- 
pose the nurse will allow you to see her." "You know quite well I shall 
always stay beside her, dear, deer, deer, Francis Jammes, fork." But 
already I had retraced the dark meanderings of the stream, had ascended 
to the surface where the world of living people opens, so that if I still 
repeated: "Francis Jammes, deer, deer," the sequence of these words no 
longer offered me the limpid meaning and logic which they had expressed 
to me so naturally an instant earlier and which I could not now recall. I 



Il8 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

could not even understand why the word 'Alas' which my father had just 
said to me, had immediately signified: "Take care you don't catch cold," 
without any possible doubt. I had forgotten to close the shutters, and so 
probably the daylight had awakened me. But I could not bear to have be- 
fore my eyes those waves of the sea which my grandmother could formerly 
contemplate for hours on end; the fresh image of their heedless beauty 
was at once supplemented by the thought that she did not see them; I 
should have liked to stop my ears against their sound, for now the luminous 
plenitude of the beach carved out an emptiness in my heart; everything 
seemed to be saying to me, like those paths and lawns of a public garden in 
which I had once lost her, long ago, when I was still a child: "We have not 
seen her," and beneath the hemisphere of the pale vault of heaven I felt 
myself crushed as though beneath a huge bell of bluish glass, enclosing 
an horizon within which my grandmother was not. To escape from the 
sight of it, I turned to the wall, but alas what was now facing me was 
that partition which used to serve us as a morning messenger, that parti- 
tion which, as responsive as a violin in rendering every fine shade of sen- 
timent, reported so exactly to my grandmother my fear at once of waking 
her and, if she were already awake, of not being heard by her and so of 
her not coming, then immediately, like a second instrument taking up the 
melody, informed me that she was coming and bade me be calm. I dared 
not put out my hand to that wall, any more than to a piano on which my 
grandmother had played and which still throbbed from her touch. I knew 
that I might knock now, even louder, that I should hear no response, that 
my grandmother would never come again. And I asked nothing better of 
God, if a Paradise exists, than to be able, there, to knock upon that wall 
the three little raps which my grandmother would know among a thousand, 
and to which she would reply with those other raps which said: "Don't be 
alarmed, little mouse, I know you are impatient, but I am just coming," 
and that He would let me remain with her throughout eternity which would 
not be too long for us. 

The manager came in to ask whether I would not like to come down. 
He had most carefully supervised my 'placement' in the dining-room. As 
he had seen no sign of me, he had been afraid that I might have had an- 
other of my choking fits. He hoped that it might be only a little 'sore 
throats' and assured me that he had heard it said that they could be 
soothed with what he called 'calyptus.' 

He brought me a message from Albertine. She was not supposed to be 
coming to Balbec that year but, having changed her plans, had been for the 
last three days not in Balbec itself but ten minutes away by the tram at 
a neighbouring watering-place. Fearing that I might be tired after the 
journey, she had stayed away the first evening, but sent word now to ask 
when I could see her. I inquired whether she had called in person, not that 
I wished to see her, but so that I might arrange not to see her. "Yes," re- 
plied the manager. "But she would like it to be as soon as possible, unless 
you have not some quite necessitous reasons. You see," he concluded, "that 
everybody here desires you, definitively." But for my part, I wished to see 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 119 

And yet the day before, on my arrival, I had felt myself recaptured by 
the indolent charm of a seaside existence. The same taciturn lift-boy, 
silent this time from respect and not from scorn, and glowing with pleasure, 
had set the lift in motion. As I rose upon the ascending column, I had 
passed once again through what had formerly been for me the mystery of 
a strange hotel, in which when you arrive, a tourist without protection or 
position, each old resident returning to his room, each chambermaid pass- 
ing along the eery perspective of a corridor, not to mention the young lady 
from America with her companion, on their way down to dinner, give 
you a look in which you can read nothing that you would have liked to 
see. This time on the contrary 1 had felt the entirely soothing pleasure of 
passing up through an hotel that I knew, where I felt myself at home, 
where I had performed once again that operation which we must always 
start afresh, longer, more difficult than the turning outside in of an eyelid, 
which consists in investing things with the spirit that is familiar to us 
instead of their own which we found alarming. Must I always, I had asked 
myself, little thinking of the sudden change of mood that was in store for 
me, be going to strange hotels where I should be dining for the first time, 
where Habit would not yet have killed upon each landing, outside every 
door, the terrible dragon that seemed to be watching over an enchanted 
life, where I should have to approach those strange women whom fash- 
ionable hotels, casinos, watering-places, seem to draw together and endow 
with a common existence. 

I had found pleasure even in the thought that the boring chief magis- 
trate was so eager to see me, I could see, on that first evening, the waves, 
the azure mountain ranges of the sea, its glaciers and its cataracts, its ele- 
vation and its careless majesty merely upon smelling for the first time 
after so long an interval, as I washed my hands, that peculiar odour of 
the over-scented soaps of the Grand Hotel which, seeming to belong at 
once to the present moment and to my past visit, floated between them 
like the real charm of a particular form of existence to which one returns 
only to change one's necktie. The sheets on my bed, too fine, too light, 
too large, impossible to tuck in, toikeep in position, which billowed out 
from beneath the blankets in moving whorls had distressed me before. 
Now they merely cradled upon the awkward, swelling fulness of their sails 
the glorious sunrise, big with hopes, of my first morning. But that sun had 
not time to appear. In the dead of night, the awful, godlike presence had 
returned to life. I asked the manager to leave me, and to give orders that 
no one was to enter my room. I told him that I should remain in bed and 
rejected his offer to send to the chemist's for the excellent drug. He was 
delighted by my refusal for he was afraid that other visitors might be 
annoyed by the smell of the 'calyptus.' It earned me the compliment: 
"You are in the movement" (he meant: c in the right'), and the warning: 
"take care you don't defile yourself at the door, I've had the lock 'eluci- 
dated' with oil; if any of the servants dares to knock at your door, he'll 
be beaten 'black and white/ And they can mark my words, for I'm not a 
repeater" (this evidently meant that he did not say a thing twice). "But 
wouldn't^ou care for a drop of old wine, just to set you up; I have a 



I2O CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

pig's head of it downstairs" (presumably hogshead). "I shan't bring it 
to you on a silver dish like the head of Jonathan, and I warn you that it 
is not Chateau-Lafite, but it is virtuously equivocal" (virtually equiva- 
lent). "And as it's quite light, they might fry you a little sole." I declined 
everything, but was surprised to hear the name of the fish (sole) pro- 
nounced like that of the King of Israel, Saul, by a man who must have 
ordered so many in his life. 

Despite the manager's promises, they brought me in a little later the 
turned down card of the Marquise de Cambremer. Having come over to 
see me, the old lady had sent to inquire whether I was there and when she 
heard that I had arrived only the day before, and was unwell, had not 
insisted, but (not without stopping, doubtless, at the chemist's or the 
haberdasher's, while the footman jumped down from the box and went in 
to pay a bill or to give an order) had driven back to Feterne, in her old 
barouche upon eight springs, drawn by a pair of horses. Not infrequently 
did one hear the rumble and admire the pomp of this carriage in the streets 
of Balbec and of various other little places along the coast, between Balbec 
and Feterne. Not that these halts outside shops were the object of these 
excursions. It was on the contrary some tea-party or garden-party at the 
house of some squire or functionary, socially quite unworthy of the Mar- 
quise. But she, although completely overshadowing, by her birth and 
wealth, the petty nobility of the district, was in her perfect goodness and 
simplicity of heart so afraid of disappointing anyone who had sent her an 
invitation that she would attend all the most insignificant social gather- 
ings in the neighbourhood. Certainly, rather than travel such a distance to 
listen, in the stifling heat of a tiny drawing-room, to a singer who generally 
had no voice and whom in her capacity as the lady bountiful of the coun- 
tryside and as a famous musician she would afterwards be compelled to 
congratulate with exaggerated warmth, Mme. de Cambremer would have 
preferred to go for a drive or to remain in her marvellous gardens at 
Feterne, at the foot of which the drowsy waters of a little bay float in to 
die amid the flowers. But she knew that the probability of her coming had 
been announced by the host, whether he was a noble or a free burgess of 
Maineville-la Teinturiere or of Chattoncourt-l'Orgueilleux. And if Mme. 
de Cambremer had driven out that afternoon without making a formal 
appearance at the party, any of the guests who had come from one or 
other of the little places that lined the coast might have seen and heard the 
Marquise's barouche, which would deprive her of the excuse that she had 
not been able to get away from Feterne. On the other hand, these hosts 
might have seen Mme. de Cambremer, time and again, appear at concerts 
given in houses which, they considered, were no place for her; the slight 
depreciation caused thereby, in their eyes, to the position of the too oblig- 
ing Marquise vanished as soon as it was they who were entertaining her, 
and it was with feverish anxiety that they kept asking themselves whether 
or not they were going to have her at their 'small party. 7 What an allaying 
of the doubts and fears of days if, after the first song had been sung by the 
daughter of the house or by some amateur on holiday in the neighbour- 
hood, one of the guests announced (an infallible sign that the Marguise was 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 121 

coming to the party) that he had seen the famous barouche and pair drawn 
up outside the watchmaker's or the chemist's! Thereupon Mme. de Cam- 
bremer (who indeed was to enter before long followed by her daughter-in- 
law, the guests who were staying with her at the moment and whom she 
had asked permission, granted with such joy, to bring) shone once more 
with undiminished lustre in the eyes of her host and hostess, to whom the 
hoped-for reward of her coming had perhaps been the determining if 
unavowed cause of the decision they had made a month earlier: to burden 
themselves with the trouble and expense of an afternoon party. Seeing 
the Marquise present at their gathering, they remembered no longer her 
readiness to attend those given by their less deserving neighbours, but the 
antiquity of her family, the splendour of her house, the rudeness of her 
daughter-in-law, born Legrandin, who by her arrogance emphasised the 
slightly insipid good-nature of the dowager. Already they could see in their 
mind's eye, in the social column of the Gaulois, the paragraph which they 
would draft themselves in the family circle, with all the doors shut and 
barred, upon 'the little corner of Brittany which is at present a whirl of 
gaiety, the select party from which the guests could hardly tear them- 
selves away, promising their charming host and hostess that they would 
soon pay them another visit.' Day after day they watched for the news- 
paper to arrive, worried that they had not yet seen any notice in it of 
their party, and afraid lest they should have had Mme. de Cambremer for 
their other guests alone and not for the whole reading public. At length 
the blessed day arrived: "The season is exceptionally brilliant this year at 
Balbec. Small afternoon concerts are the fashion. . . ." Heaven be 
praised, Mme. de Cambremer's name was spelt correctly, and included 
'among others we may mention' but at the head of the list. All that re- 
mained was to appear annoyed at this journalistic indiscretion which 
might get them into difficulties with people whom they had not been able 
to invite, and to ask hypocritically in Mme. de Cambremer's hearing who 
could have been so treacherous as to send the notice, upon which the Mar- 
quise, every inch the lady bountiful, said: "I can understand your being 
annoyed, but I must say I am only too delighted that people should know 
I was at your party." 

On the card that was brought me, Mme. de Cambremer had scribbled 
the message that she was giving an afternoon party 'the day after to- 
morrow.' To be sure, as recently as the day before yesterday, tired as I 
was of the social round, it would have been a real pleasure to me to taste 
it, transplanted amid those gardens in which there grew in the open air, 
thanks to the exposure of Feterne, fig trees, palms, rose bushes extending 
down to a sea as blue and calm often as the Mediterranean, upon which the 
host's little yacht sped across, before the party began, to fetch from the 
places on the other side of the bay the most important guests, served, with 
its awnings spread to shut out the sun, after the party had assembled, as 
an open air refreshment room, and set sail again in the evening to take 
back those whom it had brought. A charming luxury, but so costly that it 
was partly to meet the expenditure that it entailed that Mme. de Cam- 
bremer had sought to increase her income in various ways, and notably 



122 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

by letting, for the first time, one of her properties very different from 
Feterne: la Raspeliere. Yes, two days earlier, how welcome such a party, 
peopled with minor nobles all unknown to me, would have been to me 
as a change from the 'high life' of Paris. But now pleasures had no longer 
any meaning for me. And so I wrote to Mme. de Cambremer to decline, 
just as, an hour ago, I had put off Albertine: grief had destroyed in me 
the possibility of desire as completely as a high fever takes away one's 
appetite. . . . My mother was to arrive on the morrow. I felt that I was 
less unworthy to live in her company, that I should understand her better, 
now that an alien and degrading existence had wholly given place to the 
resurging, heartrending memories that wreathed and ennobled my soul, 
like her own, with their crown of thorns. I thought so: in reality there is a 
world of difference between real griefs, like my mother's, which literally 
crush out our life for years if not for ever, when we have lost the person 
we love and those other griefs, transitory when all is said, as mine was 
to be, which pass as quickly as they have been slow in coming, which we 
do not realise until long after the event, because, in order to feel them, we 
need first to understand them; griefs such as so many people feel, from 
which the grief that was torturing me at this moment differed only in 
assuming the form of unconscious memory. 

That I was one day to experience a grief as profound as that of my 
mother, we shall find in the course of this narrative, but it was neither 
then nor thus that I imagined it. Nevertheless, like a principal actor who 
ought to have learned his part and to have been in his place long before- 
hand but has arrived only at the last moment and, having read over once 
only what he has to say, manages to 'gag' so skilfully when his cue comes 
that nobody notices his unpunctuality, my new-found grief enabled me, 
when my mother came, to talk to her as though it had existed always. She 
supposed merely that the sight of these places which I had visited with 
my grandmother (which was not at all the case) had revived it. For the 
first time then, and because I felt a sorrow which was nothing compared 
with hers, but which opened my eyes, I realised and was appalled to think 
what she must be suffering. For the first time I understood that the fixed 
and tearless gaze (which made Francoise withhold her sympathy) that 
she had worn since my grandmother's death had been arrested by that in- 
comprehensible contradiction of memory and nonexistence. Besides, since 
she was, although still in deep mourning, more fashionably dressed in this 
strange place, I was more struck by the transformation that had occurred 
in her. It is not enough to say that she had lost all her gaiety; melted, 
congealed into a sort of imploring image, she seemed to be afraid of shock- 
ing by too sudden a movement, by too loud a tone, the sorrowful presence 
that never parted from her. But, what struck me most of all, when I saw 
her cloak of crape, was what had never occurred to me in Paris that it 
was no longer my mother that I saw before me, but my grandmother. 
As, in royal and princely families, upon the death of the head of the house 
his son takes his title and, from being Due d'Orleans, Prince de Tarente 
or Prince des Laumes, becomes King of France, Due de la Tremo'ille, Due 
de Guermantes, so by an accession of a different order and more remote 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 123 

origin, the dead man takes possession of the living who becomes his image 
and successor, carries on his interrupted life. Perhaps the great sorrow 
that follows, in a daughter such as Mamma, the death of her mother only 
makes the chrysalis break open a little sooner, hastens the metamorphosis 
and the appearance of a person whom we carry within us and who, but 
for this crisis which annihilates time and space, would have come more 
gradually to the surface. Perhaps, in our regret for her who is no more, 
there is a sort of auto-suggestion which ends by bringing out on our fea- 
tures resemblances which potentially we already bore, and above all a 
cessation of our most characteristically personal activity (in my mother, 
her common sense, the sarcastic gaiety that she inherited from her father) 
which we did not shrink, so long as the beloved was alive, from exercising, 
even at her expense, and which counterbalanced the traits that we derived 
exclusively from her. Once she is dead, we should hesitate to be different, 
we begin to admire only what she was, what we ou; selves already were only 
blended with something else, and what in future we are to be exclusively. It 
is in this sense (and not in that other, so vague, so false, in which the 
phrase is generally used) that we may say that death is not in vain, that 
the dead man continues to react upon us. He reacts even more than a 
living man because, true reality being discoverable only by the mind, being 
the object of a spiritual operation, we acquire a true knowledge only of 
things that we are obliged to create anew by thought, things that are hidden 
from us in everyday life. . . . Lastly, in our mourning for our dead we 
pay an idolatrous worship to the things that they liked. Not only could 
not my mother bear to be parted from my grandmother's bag, become more 
precious than if it had been studded with sapphires and diamonds, from 
her muff, from all those garments which served to enhance their personal 
resemblance, but even from the volumes of Mme. de Sevigne which my 
grandmother took with her everywhere, copies which my mother would 
not have exchanged for the original manuscript of the letters. She had often 
teased my grandmother who could never write to her without quoting some 
phrase of Mme. de Sevigne or Mme. de Beausergent. In each of the three 
letters that I received from Mamma before her arrival at Balbec, she 
quoted Mme. de Sevigne to me, as though those three letters had been 
written not by her to me but by my grandmother and to her. She must at 
once go out upon the front to see that beach of which my grandmother 
had spoken to her every day in her letters. Carrying her mother's sun- 
shade, I saw her from my window advance, a sable figure, with timid, pious 
steps, over the sands that beloved feet had trodden before her, and she 
looked as though she were going down to find a corpse which the waves 
would cast up at her feet. So that she should not have to dine by herself, 
I was to join her downstairs. The chief magistrate and the barrister's widow 
asked to be introduced to her. And everything that was in any way con- 
nected with my grandmother was so precious to her that she was deeply 
touched, remembered ever afterwards with gratitude what the chief mag- 
istrate had said to her, just as she was hurt and indignant that the barris- 
ter's wife had not a word to say in memory of the dead. In reality, the chief 
magistrate was no more concerned about my grandmother than the bar- 



124 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

rister's wife. The heartfelt words of the one and the other's silence, for all 
that my mother imagined so vast a difference between them, were but 
alternative ways of expressing that indifference which we feel towards the 
dead. But I think that my mother found most comfort in the words in 
which, quite involuntarily, I conveyed to her a little of my own anguish. It 
could not but make Mamma happy (notwithstanding all her affection for 
myself), like everything else that guaranteed my grandmother survival in 
our hearts. Daily after this my mother went down and sat upon the beach, 
so as to do exactly what her mother had done, and read her mother's 
two favourite books, the Memoirs of Madame de Beausergent and the 
Letters of Madame de Sevigne. She, like all the rest of us, could not bear 
to hear the latter lady called the 'spirituelle Marquise' any more than to 
hear La Fontaine called 'le Bonhomme.' But when, in reading the Letters, 
she came upon the words: 'My daughter, 7 she seemed to be listening to her 
mother's voice. 

She had the misfortune, upon one of these pilgrimages during which she 
did not like to be disturbed, to meet upon the beach a lady from Combray, 
accompanied by her daughters. Her name was, I think, Madame Poussin. 
But among ourselves we always referred to her as the Tretty Kettle of 
Fish/ for it was by the perpetual repetition of this phrase that she warned 
her daughters of the evils that they were laying up for themselves, saying 
for instance if one of them was rubbing her eyes: "When you go and get 
ophthalmia, that will be a pretty kettle of fish." She greeted my mother 
from afar with slow and melancholy bows, a sign not of condolence but 
of the nature of her social training. We might never have lost my grand- 
mother, or had any reason to be anything but happy. Living in compara- 
tive retirement at Combray within the walls of her large garden, she could 
never find anything soft enough to her liking, and subjected to a softening 
process the words and even the proper names of the French language. She 
felt 'spoon' to be too hard a word to apply to the piece of silver which 
measured out her syrups, and said, in consequence, 'spune'; she would have 
been afraid of hurting the feelings of the sweet singer of Telemaque by 
calling him bluntly Fenelon as I myself said with a clear conscience, 
having had as a friend the dearest and cleverest of men, good and gallant, 
never to be forgotten by any that knew him, Bertrand de Fenelon and 
never said anything but 'Fenelon/ feeling that the acute accent added a 
certain softness. The far from soft son-in-law of this Madame Poussin, 
whose name I have forgotten, having been a lawyer at Combray, ran off 
with the contents of the safe, and relieved my uncle among others of a 
considerable sum of money. But most of the people of Combray were on 
such friendly terms with the rest of the family that no coolness ensued 
and her neighbours said merely that they were sorry for Madame Poussin. 
She never entertained, but whenever people passed by her railings they 
would stop to admire the delicious shade of her trees, which was the only 
thing that could be made out. She gave us no trouble at Balbec, where I 
encountered her only once, at a moment when she was saying to a daughter 
who was biting her nails: "When they begin to fester, that will be a pretty 
kettle of fish." 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 125 

While Mamma sat reading on the beach I remained in my room by 
myself. I recalled the last weeks of my grandmother's life, and everything 
connected with them, the outer door of the flat which had been propped 
open when I went out with her for the last time. In contrast to all this the 
rest of the world seemed scarcely real and my anguish poisoned every- 
thing in it. Finally my mother insisted upon my going out. But at every 
step, some forgotten view of the casino, of the street along which, as I 
waited until she was ready, that first evening, I had walked as far as the 
monument to Duguay-Trouin, prevented me, like a wind against which 
it is hopeless to struggle, from going farther; I lowered my eyes in order 
not to see. And after I had recovered my strength a little I turned back 
towards the hotel, the hotel in which I knew that it was henceforth impos- 
sible that, however long I might wait, I should find my grandmother, whom 
I had found there before, on the evening of our arrival. As it was the first 
time that I had gone out of doors, a number of servants whom I had not 
yet seen were gazing at me curiously. Upon the very threshold of the hotel 
a young page took off his cap to greet me and at once put it on again. I 
supposed that Aime had, to borrow his own expression, c given him the 
office' to treat me with respect. But I saw a moment later that, as some one 
else entered the hotel, he doffed it again. The fact of the matter was that 
this young man had no other occupation in life than to take off and put on 
his cap, and did it to perfection. Having realised that he was incapable of 
doing anything else and that in this art he excelled, he practised it as often 
as was possible daily, which won him a discreet but widespread regard 
from the visitors, coupled with great regard from the hall porter upon 
whom devolved the duty of engaging the boys and who, until this rare bird 
alighted, had never succeeded in finding one who did not receive notice 
within a week, greatly to the astonishment of Aime who used to say: 
"After all, in that job they've only got to be polite, which can't be so very 
difficult." The manager required in addition that they should have what 
he called a good 'presence,' meaning thereby that they should not be absent 
from their posts, or perhaps having heard the word 'presence' used of 
personal appearance. The appearance of the lawn behind the hotel had 
been altered by the creation of several flower-beds and by the removal 
not only of an exotic shrub but of the page who, at the time of my former 
visit, used to provide an external decoration with the supple stem of his 
figure crowned by the curious colouring of his hair. He had gone with a 
Polish countess who had taken him as her secretary, following the example 
of his two elder brothers and their typist sister, torn from the hotel by 
persons of different race and sex who had been attracted by their charm. 
The only one remaining was the youngest, whom nobody wanted, because 
he squinted. He was highly delighted when the Polish countess or the pro- 
tectors of the other two brothers came on a visit to the hotel at Balbec. For, 
albeit he was jealous of his brothers, he was fond of them and could in 
this way cultivate his family affections for a few weeks in the year. Was 
not the Abbess of Fontevrault accustomed, deserting her nuns for the 
occasion, to come and partake of the hospitality which Louis XIV offered 
to that other Mortemart, his mistress, Madame de Montespan? The boy 



126 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

was still in his first year at Balbec; he did not as yet know me, but having 
heard his comrades of longer standing supplement the word 'Monsieur/ 
when they addressed me, with my surname, he copied them from the first 
with an air of satisfaction, whether at shewing his familiarity with a person 
whom he supposed to be well-known, or at conforming with a custom of 
which five minutes earlier he had never heard but which he felt it to be 
indispensable that he should not fail to observe. I could quite well appre- 
ciate the charm that this great 'Palace' might have for certain persons. It 
was arranged like a theatre, and a numerous cast filled it to the doors with 
animation. For all that the visitor was only a sort of spectator, he was 
perpetually taking part in the performance, and that not as in one of those 
theatres where the actors perform a play among the audience, but as 
though the life of the spectator were going on amid the sumptuous fittings 
of the stage. The lawn-tennis player might come in wearing a white flannel 
blazer, the porter would have put on a blue frock coat with silver braid be- 
fore handing him his letters. If this lawn-tennis player did not choose to 
walk upstairs, he was equally involved with the actors in having by his side, 
to propel the lift, its attendant no less richly attired. The corridors on 
each landing engulfed a flying band of nymphlike chambermaids, fair 
visions against the sea, at whose modest chambers the admirers of feminine 
beauty arrived by cunning detours. Downstairs, it was the masculine ele- 
ment that predominated and made this hotel, in view of the extreme and 
effortless youth of the servants, a sort of Judaeo-Christian tragedy given 
bodily form and perpetually in performance. And so I could not help 
repeating to myself, when I saw them, not indeed the lines of Racine that 
had come into my head at the Princesse de Guermantes's while M. de 
Vaugoubert stood watching young secretaries of embassy greet M. de 
Charlus, but other lines of Racine, taken this time not from Esther but 
from At kalic: for in the doorway of the hall, what in the seventeenth cen- 
tury was called the portico, 'a flourishing race' of young pages clustered, 
especially at tea-time, like the young Israelites of Racine's choruses. But 
I do not believe that one of them could have given even the vague answer 
that Joas finds to satisfy Athalie when she inquires of the infant Prince: 
"What is your office, then?" for they had none. At the most, if one had 
asked of any of them, like the new Queen: "But all this race, what do they 
then, imprisoned in this place?" he might have said: "I watch the solemn 
pomp and bear my part." Now and then one of the young supers would 
approach some more important personage, then this young beauty would 
rejoin the chorus, and, unless it were the moment for a spell of contem- 
plative relaxation, they would proceed with their useless, reverent, deco- 
rative, daily evolutions. For, except on their 'day off,' 'reared in seclusion 
from the world' and never crossing the threshold, they led the same ecclesi- 
astical existence as the Levites in Athalie, and as I gazed at that 'young 
and faithful troop' playing at the foot of the steps draped with sumptuous 
carpets, I felt inclined to ask myself whether I were entering the Grand 
Hotel at Balbec or the Temple of Solomon. 

I went straight up to my room. My thoughts kept constantly turning 
to the last days of my grandmother's illness, to her sufferings which I lived 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 127 

over again, intensifying them with that element which is even harder to 
endure than the sufferings of other people, and is added to them by our 
merciless pity; when we think that we are merely reviving the pains of a 
beloved friend, our pity exaggerates them; but perhaps it is our pity that 
is in the right, more than the sufferers' own consciousness of their pains, 
they being blind to that tragedy of their own existence which pity sees and 
deplores. Certainly my pity would have taken fresh strength and far ex- 
ceeded my grandmother's sufferings had I known then what I did not 
know until long afterwards, that my grandmother, on the eve of her death, 
in a moment of consciousness and after making sure that I was not in 
the room, had taken Mamma's hand, and, after pressing her fevered lips 
to it, had said: "Farewell, my child, farewell for ever." And this may per- 
haps have been the memory upon which my mother never ceased to gaze 
so fixedly. Then more pleasant memories returned to me. She was my 
grandmother and I was her grandson. Her facial expressions seemed 
written in a language intended for me alone; she was everything in my 
life, other people existed merely in relation to her, to the judgment that 
she would pass upon them; but no, our relations were too fleeting to have 
been anything but accidental. She no longer knew me, I should never see 
her again. We had not been created solely for one another, she was a 
stranger to me. This stranger was before my eyes at the moment in the 
photograph taken of her by Saint-Loup. Mamma, who had met Albertine, 
insisted upon my seeing her, because of the nice things that she had said 
about my grandmother and myself. I had accordingly made an appoint- 
ment with her. I told the manager that she was coming, and asked him to 
let her wait for me in the drawing-room. He informed me that he had 
known her for years, her and her friends, long before they had attained 'the 
age of purity' but that he was annoyed with them because of certain 
things that they had said about the hotel. "They can't be very 'gentle- 
manly' if they talk like that. Unless people have been slandering them.' 7 
I had no difficulty in guessing that 'purity' here meant 'puberty.' As I waited 
until it should be time to go down and meet Albertine, I was keeping my 
eyes fixed, as upon a picture which one ceases to see by dint of staring at 
it, upon the photograph that Saint-Loup had taken, when all of a sudden 
I thought once again: "It's grandmother, I am her grandson" as a man 
who has lost his memory remembers his name, as a sick man changes his 
personality. Franchise came in to tell me that Albertine was there, and, 
catching sight of the photograph: "Poor Madame; it's the very image of 
her, even the beauty spot on her cheek; that day the Marquis took her 
picture, she was very poorly, she had been taken bad twice. 'Whatever 
happens, Franchise,' she said, 'you must never let my grandson know.' 
And she kept it to herself, she was always bright with other people. When 
she was by herself, though, I used to find that she seemed to be in rather 
monotonous spirits now and then. But that soon passed away. And then 
she said to me, she said: 'If anything were to happen to me, he ought to 
have a picture of me to keep. And I have never had one done in my life.' 
So then she sent me along with a message to the Marquis, and he was never 
to let you know that it was she who had asked him, but could he take her 



128 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

photograph. But when I came back and told her that he would, she had 
changed her mind again, because she was looking so poorly. 'It would be 
even worse/ she said to me, 'than no picture at all.' But she was a clever 
one, she was, and in the end she got herself up so well in that big shady 
hat that it didn't shew at all when she was out of the sun. She was very 
glad to have that photograph, because at that time she didn't think she 
would ever leave Balbec alive. It was no use my saying to her: 'Madame, 
it's wrong to talk like that, I don't like to hear Madame talk like that,' she 
had got it into her head. And, lord, there were plenty days when she 
couldn't eat a thing. That was why she used to make Monsieur go and dine 
away out in the country with M. le Marquis. Then, instead of going in to 
dinner, she would pretend to be reading a book, and as soon as the Mar- 
quis's carriage had started, up she would go to bed. Some days she wanted 
to send word to Madame, to come down and see her in time. And then 
she was afraid of alarming her, as she had said nothing to her about it. 'It 
will be better for her to stay with her husband, don't you see, Franchise.' " 
Looking me in the face, Francoise asked me all of a sudden if I was 'feeling 
indisposed. 7 I said that I was not; whereupon she: "And you make me 
waste my time talking to you. Your visitor has been here all this time. I 
must go down and tell her. She is not the sort of person to have here. Why, 
a fast one like that, she may be gone again by now. She doesn't like to be 
kept waiting. Oh, nowadays, Mademoiselle Albertine, she's somebody !" 
"You are quite wrong, she is a very respectable person, too respectable 
for this place. But go and tell her that I shan't be able to see her to-day." 
What compassionate declamations I should have provoked from Fran- 
goise if she had seen me cry. I carefully hid myself from her. Otherwise I 
should have had her sympathy. But I gave her mine. We do not put our- 
selves sufficiently in the place of these poor maidservants who cannot bear 
to see us cry, as though crying were bad for us; or bad, perhaps, for them, 
for Francoise used to say to me when I was a child: "Don't cry like that, I 
don't like to see you crying like that." We dislike highfalutin language, 
asseverations, we are wrong, we close our hearts to the pathos of the 
countryside, to the legend which the poor servant girl, dismissed, unjustly 
perhaps, for theft, pale as death, grown suddenly more humble than if it 
were a crime merely to be accused, unfolds, invoking her father's honesty, 
her mother's principles, her grandam's counsels. It is true that those same 
servants who cannot bear our tears will have no hesitation in letting us 
catch pneumonia, because the maid downstairs likes draughts and it would 
not be polite to her to shut the windows. For it is necessary that even 
those who are right, like Franqoise, should be wrong also, so that Justice 
may be made an impossible thing. Even the humble pleasures of servants 
provoke either the refusal or the ridicule of their masters. For it is always 
a mere nothing, but foolishly sentimental, unhygienic. And so, they are in 
a position to say: "How is it that I ask for only this one thing in the whole 
year, and am not allowed it." And yet the masters will allow them some- 
thing far more difficult, which was not stupid and dangerous for the serv- 
ants or for themselves. To be sure, the humility of the wretched maid, 
trembling, ready to confess the crime that she has not committed, saying 



THE HEART'S INTERMISSIONS 129 

;< I shall leave to-night if you wish it," is a thing that nobody can resist. 
But we must learn also not to remain unmoved, despite the solemn, men- 
acing fatuity of the things that she says, her maternal heritage and the 
dignity of the family 'kailyard/ before an old cook draped in the honour 
of her life and of her ancestry, wielding her broom like a sceptre, donning 
the tragic buskin, stifling her speech with sobs, drawing herself up with 
majesty. That afternoon, I remembered or imagined scenes of this sort 
which I associated with our old servant, and from then onwards, in spite 
of all the harm that she might do to Albertine, I loved Franchise with an 
affection, intermittent it is true, but of the strongest kind, the kind that is 
founded upon pity. 

To be sure, I suffered agonies all that day, as I sat gazing at my grand- 
mother's photograph. It tortured me. Not so acutely, though, as the visit 
I received that evening from the manager. After I had spoken to him about 
my grandmother, and he had reiterated his condolences, I heard him say 
(for he enjoyed using the words that he pronounced wrongly): "Like the 
day when Madame your grandmother had that sincup, 1 wanted to tell 
you about it, because of the other visitors, don't you know, it might have 
given the place a bad name. She ought really to have left that evening. But 
she begged me to say nothing about it and promised me that she wouldn't 
have another sincup, or the first time she had one, she would go. The 
floor waiter reported to me that she had had another. But, lord, you were 
old friends that we try to please, and so long as nobody made any com- 
plaint." And so my grandmother had had syncopes which she had never 
mentioned to me. Perhaps at the very moment when I was being most 
beastly to her, when she was obliged, amid her pain, to see that she kept 
her temper, so as not to anger me, and her looks, so as not to be turned 
out of the hotel. 'Sincup' was a word which, so pronounced, I should never 
have imagined, which might perhaps, applied to other people, have struck 
me as ridiculous, but which in its strange sonorous novelty, like that of an 
original discord, long retained the faculty of arousing in me the most pain- 
ful sensations. 

Next day I went, at Mamma's request, to lie down for a little on the 
sands, or rather among the dunes, where one is hidden by their folds, and 
I knew that Albertine and her friends would not be able to find me. My 
drooping eyelids allowed but one kind of light to pass, all rosy, the light 
of the inner walls of the eyes. Then they shut altogether. Whereupon my 
grandmother appeared to me, seated in an armchair. So feeble she was, 
she seemed to be less alive than other people. And yet I could hear her 
breathe; now and again she made a sign to shew that she had understood 
what we were saying, my father and I. But in vain might I take her in 
my arms, I failed utterly to kindle a spark of affection in her eyes, a flush 
of colour in her cheeks. Absent from herself, she appeared somehow not 
to love me, not to know me, perhaps not to see me. I could not interpret 
the secret of her indifference, of her dejection, of her silent resentment. I 
drew my father aside. "You can see, all the same," I said to him, "there's 
no doubt about it, she understands everything perfectly. It is a perfect 
imitation of life. If we could have your cousin here, who maintains that the 



130 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

dead don't live. Why, she's been dead for more than a year now, and she's 
still alive. But why won't she give me a kiss?" "Look her poor head is 
drooping again." "But she wants to go, now, to the Champs-Elysees." "It's 
madness!" "You really think it can do her any harm, that she can die 
any further? It isn't possible that she no longer loves me. I keep on 
hugging her, won't she ever smile at me again?" "What can you expect, 
when people are dead they are dead." 

A few days later I was able to look with pleasure at the photograph 
that Saint-Loup had taken of her; it did not revive the memory of what 
Franchise had told me, because that memory had never left me and I was 
growing used to it. But with regard to the idea that I had received of the 
state of her health so grave, so painful on that day, the photograph, 
still profiting by the ruses that my grandmother had adopted, which suc- 
ceeded in taking me in even after they had been disclosed to me, shewed 
rne her so smart, so care-free, beneath the hat which partly hid her face, 
that I saw her looking less unhappy and in better health than I had im- 
agined. And yet, her cheeks having unconsciously assumed an expression 
of their own, livid, haggard, like the expression of an animal that feels 
that it has been marked down for slaughter, my grandmother had an air 
of being under sentence of death, an air involuntarily sombre, unconsciously 
tragic, which passed unperceived by me but prevented Mamma from ever 
looking at that photograph, that photograph which seemed to her a pho- 
tograph not so much of her mother as of her mother's disease, of an insult 
that the disease was offering to the brutally buffeted face of my grand- 
mother. 

Then one day I decided to send word to Albertine that I would see her 
presently. This was because, on a morning of intense and premature heat, 
the myriad cries of children at play, of bathers disporting themselves, of 
newsvendors, had traced for me in lines of fire, in wheeling, interlacing 
flashes, the scorching beach which the little waves came up one after an- 
other to sprinkle with their coolness; then had begun the symphonic con- 
cert mingled with the splashing of the water, through which the violins 
hummed like a swarm of bees that had strayed out over the sea. At once 
I had longed to hear again Albertine's laughter, to see her friends, those 
girls outlined against the waves who had remained in my memory the 
inseparable charm, the typical flora of Balbec; and I had determined to 
send a line by Franchise to Albertine, making an appointment for the 
following week, while, gently rising, the sea as each wave uncurled com- 
pletely buried in layers of crystal the melody whose phrases appeared to 
be separated from one another like those angel lutanists which on the roof 
of the Italian cathedral rise between the peaks of blue porphyry and foam- 
ing jasper. But on the day on which Albertine came, the weather had 
turned dull and cold again, and moreover I had no opportunity of hearing 
her laugh; she was in a very bad temper. "Balbec is deadly dull this year," 
she said to me. "I don't mean to stay any longer than I can help. You know 
I've been here since Easter, that's more than a month. There's not a soul 
here. You can imagine what fun it is." Notwithstanding the recent rain 
and a sky that changed every moment, after escorting Albertine as far as 



THE HEART S INTERMISSIONS 13! 

Epreville, for she was, to borrow her expression, 'on the run' between that 
little watering-place, where Mme. Bontemps had her villa, and Incarville, 
where she had been taken 'en pension' by Rosemonde's family, I went off 
by myself in the direction of the highroad that Mme. de Villeparisis's car- 
riage had taken when we went for a drive with my grandmother; pools of 
water which the sun, now bright again, had not dried made a regular quag- 
mire of the ground, and I thought of my grandmother who, in the old days, 
could not walk a yard without covering herself with mud. But on reaching 
the road I found a dazzling spectacle. Where I had seen with my grand- 
mother in the month of August only the green leaves and, so to speak, the 
disposition of the apple-trees, as far as the eye could reach they were in 
full bloom, marvellous in their splendour, their feet in the mire beneath 
their ball-dresses, taking no precaution not to spoil the most marvellous 
pink satin that was ever seen, which glittered in the sunlight; the distant 
horizon of the sea gave the trees the background of a Japanese print; if 
I raised my head to gaze at the sky through the blossom, which made its 
serene blue appear almost violent, the trees seemed to be drawing apart 
to reveal the immensity of their paradise. Beneath that azure a faint but 
cold breeze set the blushing bouquets gently trembling. Blue tits came and 
perched upon the branches and fluttered among the flowers, indulgent, as 
though it had been an amateur of exotic art and colours who had arti- 
ficially created this living beauty. But it moved one to tears because, to 
whatever lengths the artist went in the refinement of his creation, one felt 
that it was natural, that these apple-trees were there in the heart of the 
country, like peasants, upon one of the highroads of France. Then the rays 
of the sun gave place suddenly to those of the rain; they streaked the 
whole horizon, caught the line of apple-trees in their grey net. But they 
continued to hold aloft their beauty, pink and blooming, in the wind that 
had turned icy beneath the drenching rain: it was a day in spring. 



CHAPTER TWO 

The mysteries of Albertine The girls whom she sees reflected 
in the glassThe other woman The lift-boy Madame de 
Cambremer The pleasures of M. Nissim Bernard Outline of 
the strange character of Morel M. de Charlus dines with the 
Verdurins. 



IN my fear lest the pleasure I found in this solitary excursion might weaken 
my memory of my grandmother, I sought to revive this by thinking of 
some great mental suffering that she had undergone; in response to my 
appeal that suffering tried to build itself in my heart, threw up vast pillars 
there; but my heart was doubtless too small for it, I had not the strength 
to bear so great a grief, my attention was distracted at the moment when 
it was approaching completion, and its arches collapsed before joining as, 
before they have perfected their curve, the waves of the sea totter and 
break. 

And yet, if only from my dreams when I was asleep, I might have 
learned that my grief for my grandmother's death was diminishing, for 
she appeared in them less crushed by the idea that I had formed of her non- 
existence. I saw her an invalid still, but on the road to recovery, I found her 
in better health. And if she made any allusion to what she had suffered, 
I stopped her mouth with my kisses and assured her that she was now 
permanently cured. I should have liked to call the sceptics to witness that 
death is indeed a malady from which one recovers. Only, I no longer found 
in my grandmother the rich spontaneity of old times. Her words were no 
more than a feeble, docile response, almost a mere echo of mine; she was 
nothing more than the reflexion of my own thoughts. 

Incapable as I still was of feeling any fresh physical desire, Albertine 
was beginning nevertheless to inspire in me a desire for happiness. Cer- 
tain dreams of shared affection, always floating on the surface of our 
minds, ally themselves readily by a sort of affinity with the memory (pro- 
vided that this has already become slightly vague) of a woman with whom 
we have taken our pleasure. This sentiment recalled to me aspects of 
Albertine's face, more gentle, less gay, quite different from those that 
would have been evoked by physical desire; and as it was also less press- 
ing than that desire I would gladly have postponed its realisation until the 
following winter, without seeking to see Albertine again at Balbec, before 
her departure. But even in the midst of a grief that is still keen physical 
desire will revive. From my bed, where I was made to spend hours every 
day resting, I longed for Albertine to come and resume our former amuse- 
ments. Do we not see, in the very room in which they have lost a child, its 
parents soon come together again to give the little angel a baby brother? 
I tried to distract my mind from this desire by going to the window to 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 133 

look at that day's sea. As in the former year, the seas, from one day to 
another, were rarely the same. Nor, however, did they at all resemble 
those of that first year, whether because we were now in spring with its 
storms, or because even if I had come down at the same time as before, 
the different, more changeable weather might have discouraged from visit- 
ing this coast certain seas, indolent, vaporous and fragile, which I had 
seen throughout long, scorching days, asleep upon the beach, their bluish 
bosoms, only, faintly stirring, with a soft palpitation, or, as was most 
probable, because my eyes, taught by Elstir to retain precisely those ele- 
ments that before I had deliberately rejected, would now gaze for hours 
at what in the former year they had been incapable of seeing. The con- 
trast that used then to strike me so forcibly between the country drives 
that I took with Mme. de Villeparisis and this proximity, fluid, inacces- 
sible, mythological, of the eternal Ocean, no longer existed for me. And 
there were days now when, on the contrary, the sea itself seemed almost 
rural. On the days, few and far between, of really fine weather, the heat 
had traced upon the waters, as it might be across country, a dusty white 
track, at the end of which the pointed mast of a fishing-boat stood up like 
a village steeple. A tug, of which one could see only the funnel, was smok- 
ing in the distance like a factory amid the fields, while alone against the 
horizon a convex patch of white, sketched there doubtless by a sail but 
apparently a solid plastered surface, made one think of the sunlit wall of 
some isolated building, an hospital or a school. And the clouds and the 
wind, on days when these were added to the sun, completed if not the 
error of judgment, at any rate the illusion of the first glance, the sugges- 
tion that it aroused in the imagination. For the alternation of sharply 
defined patches of colour like those produced in the country by the prox- 
imity of different crops, the rough, yellow, almost muddy irregularities of 
the marine surface, the banks, the slopes that hid from sight a vessel upon 
which a crew of nimble sailors seemed to be reaping a harvest, all this upon 
stormy days made the ocean a thing as varied, as solid, as broken, as 
populous, as civilised as the earth with its carriage roads over which I 
used to travel, and was soon to be travelling again. And dnce, unable any 
longer to hold out against my desire, instead of going back to bed I put 
on my clothes and started off to Incarville, to find Albertine. I would ask 
her to come with me to Douville, where I would pay calls at Feterne upon 
Mme. de Cambremer and at la Raspeliere upon Mme. Verdurin. Albertine 
would wait for me meanwhile upon the beach and we would return together 
after dark. I went to take the train on the local light railway, of which I 
had picked up, the time before, from Albertine and her friends all the nick- 
names current in the district, where it was known as the Twister because 
of its numberless windings, the Crawler because the train never seemed to 
move, the Transatlantic because of a horrible siren which it sounded to 
clear people off the line, the DecauviUe and the Funi, albeit there was noth- 
ing funicular about it but because it climbed the cliff, and, although not, 
strictly speaking, a DecauviUe, had a 60 centimetre gauge, the B. A. G. 
because it ran between Balbec and Grattevast via Angerville, the Tram 
and the T. 5. N. because it was a branch of the Tramways of Southern 



134 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

Normandy. I took my seat in a compartment in which I was alone ; it was 
a day of glorious sunshine, and stiflingly hot ; I drew down the blue blind 
which shut off all but a single ray of sunlight. But immediately I beheld 
my grandmother, as she had appeared sitting in the train, on our leaving 
Paris for Balbec, when, in her sorrow at seeing me drink beer, she had 
preferred not to look, to shut her eyes and pretend to be asleep. I, who in 
my childhood had been unable to endure her anguish when my grand- 
father tasted brandy, I had inflicted this anguish upon her, not merely of 
seeing me accept, at the invitation of another, a drink which she regarded 
as bad for me, I had forced her to leave me free to swill it down to my 
heart's content, worse still, by my bursts of passion, my choking fits, I had 
forced her to help, to advise me to do so, with a supreme resignation of 
which I saw now in my memory the mute, despairing image, her eyes 
closed to shut out the sight. So vivid a memory had, like the stroke of a 
magic wand, restored the mood that I had been gradually outgrowing for 
some time past; what had I to do with Rosemonde when my lips were 
wholly possessed by the desperate longing to kiss a dead woman, what had 
I to say to the Cambremers and Verdurins when my heart was beating so 
violently because at every moment there was being renewed in it the pain 
that my grandmother had suffered. I could not remain in the compartment. 
As soon as the train stopped at Maineville-la-Teinturiere, abandoning all 
my plans, I alighted. Maineville had of late acquired considerable impor- 
tance and a reputation all its own, because a director of various casinos, a 
caterer in pleasure, had set up, just outside it, with a luxurious display of 
bad taste that could vie with that of any smart hotel, an establishment to 
which we shall return anon, and which was, to put it briefly, the first 
brothel for 'exclusive' people that it had occurred to anyone to build upon 
the coast of France. It was the only one. True, every port has its own, but 
intended for sailors only, and for lovers of the picturesque whom it amuses 
to see, next door to the primeval parish church, the bawd, hardly less 
ancient, venerable and moss-grown, standing outside her ill-famed door, 
waiting for the return of the fishing fleet. 

Hurrying past the glittering house of 'pleasure/ insolently erected there 
despite the protests which the heads of families had addressed in vain to 
the mayor, I reached the cliff and followed its winding paths in the direc- 
tion of Balbec. I heard, without responding to it, the appeal of the haw- 
thorns. Neighbours, in humbler circumstances, of the blossoming apple 
trees, they found them very coarse, without denying the fresh complexion 
of the rosy-petalled daughters of those wealthy brewers of cider. They 
knew that, with a lesser dowry, they were more sought after, and were 
attractive enough by themselves in their tattered whiteness. 

On my return, the hotel porter handed me a black-bordered letter in 
which the Marquis and the Marquise de Gonneville, the Vicomte and the 
Vicomtesse d'Amfreville, the Comte and the Comtesse de Berneville, the 
Marquis and the Marquise de Graincourt, the Comte d'Amenoncourt, the 
Comtesse de Maineville, the Comte and the Comtesse de Franquetot, the 
Comtesse de Chaverny nee d'Aigleville, begged to announce, and from which 
I understood at length why it had been sent to me when I caught sight of 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 135 

the names of the Marquise de Cambremer nee du Mesnil la Guichard, the 
Marquis and the Marquise de Cambremer, and saw that the deceased, a 
cousin of the Cambremers, was named Eleonore-Euphrasie-Humbertine 
de Cambremer, Comtesse de Criquetot. In the whole extent of this provin- 
cial family, the enumeration of which filled the closely printed lines, not 
a single commoner, and on the other hand not a single title that one knew, 
but the entire muster-roll of the nobles of the region who made their names 
those of all the interesting spots in the neighbourhood ring out their 
joyous endings in ville, in court, sometimes on a duller note (in tot). 
Garbed in the roof-tiles of their castle or in the roughcast of their parish 
church, their nodding heads barely reaching above the vault of the nave 
or banqueting hall, and then only to cap themselves with the Norman 
lantern or the dovecot of the pepperpot turret, they gave the impression 
of having sounded the rallying call to all the charming villages straggling 
or scattered over a radius of fifty leagues, and to have paraded them in 
massed formation, without one absentee, one intruder, on the compact, 
rectangular draught-board of the aristocratic letter edged with black. 

My mother had gone upstairs to her room, meditating the phrase of 
Madame de Sevigne: "I see nothing of the people who seek to distract me 
from you; the truth of the matter is that they are seeking to prevent me 
from thinking of you, and that annoys me." because the chief magis- 
trate had told her that she ought to find some distraction. To me he 
whispered: "That's the Princesse de Parme!" My fears were dispelled 
when I saw that the woman whom the magistrate pointed out to me bore 
not the slightest resemblance to Her Royal Highness. But as she had 
engaged a room in which to spend the night after paying a visit to Mme. 
de Luxembourg, the report of her coming had the effect upon many people 
of making them take each newcomer for the Princesse de Parme and 
upon me of making me go and shut myself up in my attic. 

I had no wish to remain there by myself. It was barely four o'clock. I 
asked Franqoise to go and find Albertine, so that she might spend the rest 
of the afternoon with me. 

It would be untrue, I think, to say that there were already symptoms 
of that painful and perpetual mistrust which Albertine \vas to inspire in 
me, not to mention the special character, emphatically Gomorrhan, which 
that mistrust was to assume. Certainly, even that afternoon but this was 
not the first time I grew anxious as I was kept waiting. Franqoise, once 
she had started, stayed away so long that I began to despair. I had not 
lighted the lamp. The daylight had almost gone. The wind was making 
the flag over the casino flap. And, fainter still in the silence of the beach 
over which the tide was rising, and like a voice rendering and enhancing 
the troubling emptiness of this restless, unnatural hour, a little barrel organ 
that had stopped outside the hotel was playing Viennese waltzes. At length 
Franchise arrived, but unaccompanied. "I have been as quick as I could 
but she wouldn't come because she didn't think she was looking smart 
enough. If she was five minutes painting herself and powdering herself, 
she was an hour by the clock. You'll be having a regular scentshop in 
here. She's coming, she stayed behind to tidy herself at the glass. I thought 



136 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

I should find her here." There was still a long time to wait before Albertine 
appeared. But the gaiety, the charm that she shewed on this occasion dis- 
pelled my sorrow. She informed me (in contradiction of what she had said 
the other day) that she would be staying for the whole season and asked 
me whether we could not arrange, as in the former year, to meet daily. 
I told her that at the moment I was too melancholy and that I would rather 
send for her from time to time at the last moment, as I did in Paris. "If 
ever you're feeling worried, or feel that you want me, do not hesitate," 
she told me, "to send for me, I shall come immediately, and if you are not 
afraid of its creating a scandal in the hotel, I shall stay as long as you like." 
Franchise, in bringing her to me, had assumed the joyous air she wore 
whenever she had gone out of her way to please me and had been success- 
ful. But Albertine herself contributed nothing to her joy, and the very next 
day Franchise was to greet me with the profound observation: "Monsieur 
ought not to see that young lady. I know quite well the sort she is, she'll 
land you in trouble." As I escorted Albertine to the door I saw in the lighted 
dining-room the Princesse de Parme. I merely gave her a glance, taking 
care not to be seen. But I must say that I found a certain grandeur in the 
royal politeness which had made me smile at the Guermantes'. It is a fun- 
damental rule that sovereign princes are at home wherever they are, and 
this rule is conventionally expressed in obsolete and useless customs such 
as that which requires the host to carry his hat in his hand, in his own 
house, to shew that he is not in his own home but in the Prince's. Now the 
Princesse de Parme may not have formulated this idea to herself, but she 
was so imbued with it that all her actions, spontaneously invented to suit 
the circumstances, pointed to it. When she rose from table she handed a 
lavish tip to Aime, as though he had been there solely for her and she were 
rewarding, before leaving a country house, a footman who had been de- 
tailed to wait upon her. Nor did she stop at the tip, but with a gracious 
smile bestowed on him a few friendly, flattering words, with a store of 
which her mother had provided her. Another moment, and she would have 
told him that, just as the hotel was perfectly managed, so Normandy was 
a garden of roses and that she preferred France to any other country in 
the world. Another coin slipped from the Princess's fingers, for the wine 
waiter, for whom she had sent and to whom she made a point of expressing 
her satisfaction like a general after an inspection. The lift-boy had come up 
at that moment with a message for her; he too received a little speech, a 
smile and a tip, all this interspersed with encouraging and humble words 
intended to prove to them that she was only one of themselves. As Aime, 
the wine waiter, the lift-boy and the rest felt that it would be impolite not 
to grin from ear to ear at a person who smiled at them, she was presently 
surrounded by a cluster of servants with whom she chatted kindly; such 
ways being unfamiliar in smart hotels, the people who passed by, not 
knowing who she was, thought they beheld a permanent resident at Balbec, 
who, because of her humble origin, or for professional reasons (she was 
perhaps the wife of an agent for champagne) was less different from the 
domestics than the really smart visitors. As for me, I thought of the palace 
at Parma, of the counsels, partly religious, partly political, given to this 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 137 

Princess, who behaved towards the lower orders as though she had been 
obliged to conciliate them in order to reign over them one day. All the 
more, as if she were already reigning. 

I went upstairs again to my room, but I was not alone there. I could 
hear some one softly playing Schumann. No doubt it happens at times that 
people, even those whom we love best, become saturated with the melan- 
choly or irritation that emanates from us. There is nevertheless an inani- 
mate object which is capable of a power of exasperation to which no human 
being will ever attain : to wit, a piano. 

Albertine had made me take a note of the dates on which she would be 
going away for a few days to visit various girl friends, and had made me 
write down their addresses as well, in case I should want her on one of 
those evenings, for none of them lived very far away. This meant that 
when I tried to find her, going from one girl to another, she became more 
and more entwined in ropes of flowers. I must confess that many of her 
friends I was not yet in love with her gave me, at one watering-place or 
another, moments of pleasure. These obliging young comrades did not seem 
to me to be very many. But recently I have thought it over, their names 
have recurred to me. I counted that, in that one season, a dozen conferred 
on me their ephemeral favours. A name came back to me later, which made 
thirteen. I then, with almost a child's delight in cruelty, dwelt upon that 
number. Alas, I realised that I had forgotten the first of them all, Albertine 
who no longer existed and who made the fourteenth. 

I had, to resume the thread of my narrative, written down the names and 
addresses of the girls with whom I should find her upon the days when 
she was not to be at Incarville, but privately had decided that I would 
devote those days rather to calling upon Mme. Verdurin. In any case, our 
desire for different women varies in intensity. One evening we cannot bear 
to let one out of our sight who, after that, for the next month or two, will 
never enter our mind. Then there is the law of change, for a study of which 
this is not the place, under which, after an over-exertion of the flesh, the 
woman whose image haunts our momentary senility is one to whom we 
would barely give more than a kiss on the brow. As for Albertine, I saw 
her seldom, and only upon the very infrequent evenings when I felt that I 
could not live without her. If this desire seized me when she was too far 
from Balbec for Francoise to be able to go and fetch her, I used to send 
the lift-boy to Egreville, to La Sogne, to Saint-Frichoux, asking him to 
finish his work a little earlier than usual. He would come into my room, but 
would leave the door open for, albeit he was conscientious at his 'job' 
which was pretty hard, consisting in endless cleanings from five o'clock 
in the morning, he could never bring himself to make the effort to shut a 
door, and, if one were to remark to him that it was open, would turn back 
and, summoning up all his strength, give it a gentle push. With the demo- 
cratic pride that marked him, a pride to which, in more liberal careers, the 
members of a profession that is at all numerous never attain, barristers, 
doctors and men of letters speaking simply of a 'brother' barrister, doctor 
or man of letters, he, employing, and rightly, a term that is confined to close 
corporations like the Academy, would say to me in speaking of a page who 



138 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

was in charge of the lift upon alternate days: "I shall get my colleague to 
take my place." This pride did not prevent him from accepting, with a view 
to increasing what he called his 'salary/ remuneration for his errands, a 
fact which had made Franchise take a dislike to him; "Yes, the first time 
you see him you would give him the sacrament without confession, but 
there are days when his tongue is as smooth as a prison door. It's your 
money he's after." This was the category in which she had so often in- 
cluded Eulalie, and in which, alas (when I think of all the trouble that was 
one day to come of it), she already placed Albertine, because she saw me 
often asking Mamma, on behalf of my impecunious friend, for trinkets 
and other little presents, which Franchise held to be inexcusable because 
Mme. Bontemps had only a general servant. A moment later the lift-boy, 
having removed what I should have called his livery and he called his 
tunic, appeared wearing a straw hat, carrying a cane, holding himself stiffly 
erect, for his mother had warned him never to adopt the 'working-class' or 
'pageboy' style. Just as, thanks to books, all knowledge is open to a work- 
ing man, who ceases to be such when he has finished his work, so, thanks 
to a 'boater' hat and a pair of gloves, elegance became accessible to the 
lift-boy who, having ceased for the evening to take the visitors upstairs, 
imagined himself, like a young surgeon who has taken off his overall, or 
Serjeant Saint-Loup out of uniform, a typical young man about town. He 
was not for that matter lacking in ambition, or in talent either in manipu- 
lating his machine and not bringing you to a standstill between two floors. 
But his vocabulary was defective. I credited him with ambition because 
he said in speaking of the porter, under whom he served: "My porter," in 
the same tone in which a man who owned what the page would have called 
a 'private mansion' in Paris would have referred to his footman. As for the 
lift-boy's vocabulary, it is curious that anybody who heard people, fifty 
times a day, calling for the 'lift/ should never himself call it anything but 
a 'left.' There were certain things about this boy that were extremely an- 
noying: whatever I might be saying to him he would interrupt with a 
phrase: "I should say so!" or "I say!" which seemed either to imply that 
my remark was so obvious that anybody would have thought of it, or else 
to take all the credit for it to himself, as though it were he that was drawing 
my attention to the subject. "I should say so!" or "I say!" exclaimed with 
the utmost emphasis, issued from his lips every other minute, over matters 
to which he had never given a thought, a trick which irritated me so much 
that I immediately began to say the opposite to shew him that he knew 
nothing about it. But to my second assertion, albeit it was incompatible 
with the first, he replied none the less stoutly: "I should say so! " "I say ! " 
as though these words were inevitable. I found it difficult, also, to forgive 
him the trick of employing certain terms proper to his calling, which would 
therefore have sounded perfectly correct in their literal sense, in a figurative 
sense only, which gave them an air of feeble witticism, for instance the verb 
to pedal. He never used it when he had gone anywhere on his bicycle. But 
if, on foot, he had hurried to arrive somewhere in time, then, to indicate 
that he had walked fast, he would exclaim: "I should say I didn't half 
pedal! " The lift-boy was on the small side, clumsily built and by no means 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 139 

good looking. This did not prevent him, whenever one spoke to him of some 
tall, slim, handsome young man, from saying: "Oh, yes, I know, a fellow 
who is just my height. " And one day when I was expecting him to bring 
me the answer to a message, hearing somebody come upstairs, I had in my 
impatience opened the door of my room and caught sight of a page as 
beautiful as Endymion, with incredibly perfect features, who was bring- 
ing a message to a lady whom I did not know. When the lift-boy returned, 
in telling him how impatiently I had waited for the answer, I mentioned 
to him that I had thought I heard him come upstairs but that it had turned 
out to be a page from the Hotel de Normandie. "Oh, yes, I know," he said, 
"they have only the one, a boy about my build. He's so like me in face, 
too, that we're always being mistaken; anybody would think he was my 
brother." Lastly, he always wanted to appear to have understood you per- 
fectly from the first second, which meant that as soon as you asked him to 
do anything he would say: "Yes, yes, yes, yes, I understand all that," with 
a precision and a tone of intelligence which for some time deceived me; but 
other people, as we get to know them, are like a metal dipped in an acid 
bath, and we see them gradually lose their good qualities (and their bad 
qualities too, at times). Before giving him my instructions, I saw that he 
had left the door open; I pointed this out to him, I was afraid that people 
might hear us; he acceded to my request and returned, having reduced the 
gap. "Anything to oblige. But there's nobody on this floor except us two." 
Immediately I heard one, then a second, then a third person go by. This 
annoyed me partly because of the risk of my being overheard, but more 
still because I could see that it did not in the least surprise him and was a 
perfectly normal occurrence. "Yes, that'll be the maid next door going for 
her things. Oh, that's of no importance, it's the bottler putting away his 
keys. No, no, it's nothing, you can say what you want, it's my colleague just 
going on duty." Then, as tne reasons that all these people had for passing 
did not diminish my dislike of the thought that they might overhear me, at 
a formal order from me he went, not to shut the door, which was beyond the 
strength of this bicyclist who longed for a 'motor/ but to push it a little 
closer to. "Now we shall be quite quiet." So quiet were we that an American 
lady burst in and withdrew with apologies for having mistaken the num- 
ber of her room. "You are going to bring this young lady back with you," 
I told him, after firsi going and banging the door with all my might (which 
brought in another page to see whether a window had been left open). 
"You remember the name: Mile. Albertine Simonet. Anyhow, it's on the 
envelope. You neea only say to her that it's from me. She will be delighted 
to come," I added, to encourage him and preserve a scrap of my own self- 
esteem. "I should say so!" "Not at all, there is not the slightest reason to 
suppose that she will be glad to come. It's a great nuisance getting here 
from Berneville." "I understand!" "You will tell her to come with you." 
"Yes, yes, yes, yes, I understand perfectly," he replied, in that sharp, pre- 
cise tone which had long ceased to make a 'good impression' upon me 
because I knew that it was almost mechanical and covered with its ap- 
parent clearness plenty of uncertainty and stupidity. "When will you be 
back?" "Haven't any too much time," said the lift-boy, who, carrying to 



140 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

extremes the grammatical rule that forbids the repetition of personal pro- 
nouns before coordinate verbs, omitted the pronoun altogether. "Can go 
there all right. Leave was stopped this afternoon, because there was a din- 
ner for twenty at luncheon. And it was my turn off duty to-day. So it's all 
right if I go out a bit this evening. Take my bike with me. Get there in no 
time." And an hour later he reappeared and said: "Monsieur's had to wait, 
but the young lady's come with me. She's down below." "Oh, thanks very 
much; the porter won't be cross with me?" "Monsieur Paul? Doesn't even 
know where I've been. The head of the door himself can't say a word." 
But once, after I had told him: "You absolutely must bring her back with 
you," he reported to me with a smile: "You -know, I couldn't find her. She's 
not there. Couldn't wait any longer; was afraid of getting it like my col- 
league who was 'missed from the hotel" (for the lift-boy, who used the 
word 'rejoin' of a profession which one joined for the first time, "I should 
like to rejoin the post-office," to make up for this, or to mitigate the calam- 
ity, were his own career at stake, or to insinuate it more delicately and 
treacherously were the victim some one else, elided the prefix and said: "I 
know he's been 'missed"). It was not with any evil intent that he smiled, 
but from sheer timidity. He thought that he was diminishing the magnitude 
of his crime by making a joke of it. In the same way, if he had said to me: 
"You know, I couldn't find her," this did not mean that he really thought 
that I knew it already. On the contrary, he was all too certain that I did 
not know it, and, what was more, was afraid to tell me. And so he said 
'you know' to ward off the terror which menaced him as he uttered the 
words that were to bring me the knowledge. We ought never to lose our 
tempers with people who, when we find fault with them, begin to titter. 
They do so not because they are laughing at us, but because they are 
trembling lest we should be angry. Let us shew all pity and tenderness to 
those who laugh. For all the world like a stroke, the lift-boy's anxiety had 
wrought in him not merely an apoplectic flush but an alteration in his 
speech which had suddenly become familiar. He wound up by telling me 
that Albertine was not at Egreville, that she would not be coming back there 
before nine o'clock, and that if betimes (which meant, by chance) she 
came back earlier, my message would be given her, and in any case she 
would be with me before one o'clock in the morning. 1 

It was not this evening, however, that my cruel mistrust began to take 
solid form. No, to make no mystery about it, although the incident did not 
occur until some weeks later, it arose out of a remark made by Cottard. 
Albertine and her friends had insisted that day upon dragging me to the 
casino at Incarville where, as luck would have it, I should not have joined 
them (having intended to go and see Mme. Verdurin who had invited me 
again and again), had I not been held up at Incarville itself by a break- 
down of the tram which it would take a considerable time to repair. As I 
strolled up and down waiting for the men to finish working at it, I found 
myself all of a sudden face to face with Doctor Cottard, who had come to 
Incarville to see a patient. I almost hesitated to greet him as he had not 
answered any of my letters. But friendship does not express itself in the 
1 In the French text of Sodome et Gomorrhe, Volume I ends at this point. 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 141 

same way in different people. Not having been brought up to observe the 
same fixed rules of behaviour as well-bred people, Cottard was full of good 
intentions of which one knew nothing, even denying their existence, until 
the day when he had an opportunity of displaying them. He apologised, had 
indeed received my letters, had reported my whereabouts to the Verdurins 
who were most anxious to see me and whom he urged me to go and see. He 
even proposed to take me to them there and then, for he was waiting for the 
little local train to take him back there for dinner. As I hesitated and he 
had still some time before his train (for there was bound to be still a con- 
siderable delay), I made him come with me to the little casino, one of those 
that had struck me as being so gloomy on the evening of my first arrival, 
now filled with the tumult of the girls, who, in the absence of male partners, 
were dancing together. Andree came sliding along the floor towards me; I 
was meaning to go off with Cottard in a moment to the Verdurins', when I 
definitely declined his offer, seized by an irresistible desire to stay with 
Albertine. The fact was, I had just heard her laugh. And her laugh at once 
suggested the rosy flesh, the fragrant portals between which it had just 
made its way, seeming also, as strong, sensual and revealing as the scent 
of geraniums, to carry with it some microscopic particles of their substance, 
irritant and secret. 

One of the girls, a stranger to me, sat down at the piano, and Andree 
invited Albertine to waltz with her. Happy in the thought that I was going 
to "remain in this little casino with these girls, I remarked to Cottard how 
well they danced together. But he, taking the professional point of view of 
a doctor and with an ill-breeding which overlooked the fact that they were 
my friends, although he must have seen me shaking hands with them, re- 
plied: "Yes, but parents are very rash to allow their daughters to form 
such habits. I should certainly never let mine come here. Are they nice- 
looking, though? I can't see their faces. There now, look," he went on, point- 
ing to Albertine and Andree who were waltzing slowly, tightly clasped to- 
gether, "I have left my glasses behind and I don't see very well, but they 
are certainly keenly roused. It is not sufficiently known that women derive 
most excitement from their breasts. And theirs, as you see, are completely 
touching." And indeed the contact had been unbroken between the breasts 
of Andree and of Albertine. I do not know whether they heard or guessed 
Cottard 's observation, but they gently broke the contact while continuing 
to waltz. At that moment Andree said something to Albertine, who laughed, 
the same deep and penetrating laugh that I had heard before. But all that 
it wafted to me this time was a feeling of pain; Albertine appeared to be 
revealing by it, to be making Andree share some exquisite, secret thrill. It 
rang out like the first or the last strains of a ball to which one has not been 
invited. I left the place with Cottard, distracted by his conversation, think- 
ing only at odd moments of the scene I had just witnessed. This does not 
mean that Cottard's conversation was interesting. It had indeed, at that 
moment, become bitter, for we had just seen Doctor du Boulbon go past 
without noticing us. He had come down to spend some time on the other 
side of Balbec bay, where he was greatly in demand. Now, albeit Cottard 
was in the habit of declaring that he did no professional work during the 



142 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

holidays, he had hoped to build up a select practice along the coast, a hope 
which du Boulbon's presence there doomed to disappointment. Certainly ; 
the Balbec doctor could not stand in Cottard's way. He was merely a thor- 
oughly conscientious doctor who knew everything, and to whom you could 
not mention the slightest irritation of the skin without his immediately 
prescribing, in a complicated formula, the ointment, lotion or liniment that 
would put you right. As Marie Gineste used to say, in her charming speech, 
he knew how to 'charm 7 cuts and sores. But he was in no way eminent. He 
had indeed caused Cottard some slight annoyance. The latter, now that he 
was anxious to exchange his Chair for that of Therapeutics, had begun to 
specialise in toxic actions. These, a perilous innovation in medicine, give 
an excuse for changing the labels in the chemists' shops, where every prep- 
aration is declared to be in no way toxic, unlike its substitutes, and indeed 
to be disintoxicant. It is the fashionable cry; at the most there may survive 
below in illegible lettering, like the faint trace of an older fashion, the as- 
surance that the preparation has been carefully disinfected. Toxic actions 
serve also to reassure the patient, who learns with joy that his paralysis is 
merely a toxic disturbance. Now, a Grand Duke who had come for a few 
days to Balbec and whose eye was extremely swollen had sent for Cottard 
who, in return for a wad of hundred-franc notes (the Professor refused to 
see anyone for less), had put down the inflammation to a toxic condition 
and prescribed a disintoxicant treatment. As the swelling did not go down, 
the Grand Duke fell back upon the general practitioner of Balbec, who* in 
five minutes had removed a speck of dust. The following day, the swelling 
had gone. A celebrated specialist in nervous diseases was, however, a more 
dangerous rival. He was a rubicund, jovial person, since, for one thing, the 
constant society of nervous wrecks did not prevent him from enjoying 
excellent health, but also so as to reassure his patients by the hearty merri- 
ment of his 'Good morning' and 'Good-bye,' while quite ready to lend the 
strength of his muscular arms to fastening them in strait-waistcoats later 
on. Nevertheless, whenever you spoke to him at a party, whether of politics 
or of literature, he would listen to you with a kindly attention, as though 
he were saying: "What is it all about?" without at once giving an opinion, 
as though it were a matter for consultation. But anyhow he, whatever his 
talent might be, was a specialist. And so the whole of Cottard's rage was 
heaped upon du Boulbon. But I soon bade good-bye to the Verdurins' pro- 
fessional friend, and returned to Balbec, after promising him that I would 
pay them a visit before long. 

The mischief that his remarks about Albertine and Andree had done me 
was extreme, but its worst effects were not immediately felt by me, as hap- 
pens with those forms of poisoning which begin to act only after a certain 
time. 

Albertine, on the night after the lift-boy had gone in search of her, did 
not appear, notwithstanding his assurances. Certainly, personal charm is 
a less frequent cause of love than a speech such as: "No, this evening I 
shall not be free." We barely notice this speech if we are with friends; we 
are gay all the evening, a certain image never enters our mind; during those 
hours it remains dipped in the necessary solution; when we return home 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 143 

we find the plate developed and perfectly clear. We become aware that life 
is no longer the life which we would have surrendered for a trifle the day 
before, because, even if we continue not to fear death, we no longer dare 
think of a parting. 

From, however, not one o'clock in the morning (the limit fixed by the 
lift-boy), but three o'clock, I no longer felt as in former times the anguish 
of seeing the chance of her coming diminish. The certainty that she would 
not now come brought me a complete, refreshing calm; this night was 
simply a night like all the rest during which I did not see her, such was the 
idea from which I started. After which, the thought that I should see her 
in the morning, or some other day, outlining itself upon the blank which I 
submissively accepted, became pleasant. Sometimes, during these nights of 
waiting, our anguish is due to a drug which we have taken. The sufferer, 
misinterpreting his own symptoms, thinks that he is anxious about the 
woman who fails to appear. Love is engendered in these cases, as are cer- 
tain nervous maladies, by the inaccurate explanation of a state of discom- 
fort. An explanation which it is useless to correct, at any rate so far as 
love is concerned, a sentiment which (whatever its cause) is invariably in 
error. 

Next day, when Albertine wrote to me that she had only just got back 
to Epreville, and so had not received my note in time, and was coming, if 
she might, to see me that evening, behind the words of her letter, as behind 
those that she had said to me once over the telephone, I thought I could 
detect the presence of pleasures, of people whom she had preferred to me. 
Once again, I was stirred from head to foot by the painful longing to know 
what she could have been doing, by the latent love which we always carry 
within us ; I almost thought for a moment that it was going to attach me 
to Albertine, but it confined itself to a stationary throbbing, the last echo 
of which died away without the machine's having been set in motion. 

I had failed during my first visit to Balbec and perhaps, for that matter, 
Anclree had failed equally to understand Albertine's character. I had put 
it down as frivolous, but had not known whether our combined supplications 
might not succeed in keeping her with us and making her forego a garden- 
party, a donkey ride, a picnic. During my second visit to Balbec, I began 
to suspect that this frivolity was only for show, the garden-party a mere 
screen, if not an invention. She shewed herself in various colours in the fol- 
lowing incident (by which I mean the incident as seen by me, from my side 
of the glass which was by no means transparent, and without my having 
any means of determining what reality there was on the other side). 
Albertine was making me the most passionate protestations of affection. 
She looked at the time because she had to go and call upon a lady who was 
at home, it appeared, every afternoon at five o'clock, at Infreville. Tor- 
mented by suspicion, and feeling at the same time far from well, I asked 
Albertine, I implored her to remain with me. It was impossible (and indeed 
she could wait only five minutes longer) because it would annoy the lady 
who was far from hospitable, highly susceptible and, said Albertine, a 
perfect nuisance. "But one can easily cut a call." "No, my aunt has always 
told me that the chief thing is politeness." "But I have so often seen you 



144 CITIESOFTHEPLAIN 

being impolite." "It's not the same thing, the lady would be angry with me 
and would say nasty things about me to my aunt. I'm pretty well in her 
bad books already. She expects me to go and see her." "But if she's at home 
every day?" Here Albertine, feeling that she was caught, changed her line 
of argument. "So she is at home every day. But to-day I've made arrange- 
ments to meet some other girls there. It will be less boring that way." "So 
then, Albertine, you prefer this lady and your friends to me, since, rather 
than miss paying an admittedly boring call, you prefer to leave me here 
alone, sick and wretched?" "I don't care if it is boring. I'm going for their 
sake. I shall bring them home in my trap. Otherwise they won't have any 
way of getting back." I pointed out to Albertine that there were trains 
from Infreville up to ten o'clock at night. "Quite true, but don't you see, it 
is possible that we may be asked to stay to dinner. She is very hospitable." 
"Very well then, you won't." "I should only make my aunt angry." "Be- 
sides, you can dine with her and catch the ten o'clock train." "It's cutting 
it rather fine." "Then I can never go and dine in town and come back by 
train. But listen, Albertine. We are going to do something quite simple, I 
feel that the fresh air will do me good; since you can't give up your lady, 
I am going to come with you to Infreville. Don't be alarmed, I shan't go 
as far as the Tour Elisabeth" (the lady's villa), "I shall see neither the lady 
nor your friends." Albertine started as though she had received a violent 
blow. For a moment, she was unable to speak. She explained that the sea 
bathing was not doing her any good. "If you don't want me to come with 
you?" "How can you say such a thing, you know there's nothing I enjoy 
more than going out with you." A sudden change of tactics had occurred. 
"Since we are going for a drive together," she said to me, "why not go out 
in the other direction, we might dine together. It would be so nice. After 
all, that side of Balbec is much the prettier. I'm getting sick of Infreville 
and all those little spinach-bed places." "But your aunt's friend will be 
annoyed if you don't go and see her." "Very well, let her be." "No, it is 
wrong to annoy people." "But she won't even notice that I'm not there, 
she has people every day; I can go to-morrow, the next day, next week, the 
week after, it's exactly the same." "And what about your friends?" "Oh, 
they've cut me often enough. It's my turn now." "But from the side you 
suggest there's no train back after nine." "Well, what's the matter with 
that? Nine will do perfectly. Besides, one need never think about getting 
back. We can always find a cart, a bike, if the worse comes to the worst, 
we have legs." "We can always find, Albertine, how you go on! Out Infre- 
ville way, where the villages run into one another, well and good. But the 
other way, it's a very different matter." "That way too. I promise to bring 
you back safe and sound." I felt that Albertine was giving up for my sake 
some plan arranged beforehand of which she refused to tell me, and that 
there was some one else who would be as unhappy as I was. Seeing that what 
she had intended to do was out of the question, since I insisted upon accom- 
panying her, she gave it up altogether. She knew that the loss was not 
irremediable. For, like all women who have a number of irons in the fire, 
she had one resource that never failed: suspicion and jealousy. Of course 
she did not seek to arouse them, quite the contrary. But lovers are so sus- 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 145 

picious that they instantly scent out falsehood. With the result that Alber- 
tine, being no better than anyone else, knew by experience (without for a 
moment imagining that she owed her experience to jealousy) that she could 
always be certain of meeting people again after she had failed to keep an 
appointment. The stranger whom she was deserting for me would be hurt, 
would love her all the more for that (though Albertine did not know that 
this was the reason), and, so as not to prolong the agony, would return to 
her of his own accord, as I should have done. But I had no desire either 
to give pain to another, or to tire myself, or to enter upon the terrible 
course of investigation, of multiform, unending vigilance. "No, Albertine, 
I do not wish to spoil your pleasure, go to your lady at Infreville, or rather 
to the person you really mean to see, it is all the same to me. The real rea- 
son why I am not coming with you is that you do not wish it, the outing you 
would be taking with me is not the one you meant to take, which is proved 
by your having contradicted yourself at least five times without noticing 
it." Poor Albertine was afraid that her contradictions, which she had not 
noticed, had been more serious than they were. Not knowing exactly what 
fibs she had told me: "It is quite on the cards that I did contradict myself. 
The sea air makes me lose my head altogether. I'm always calling things 
by the wrong names." And (what proved to me that she would not, now, 
require many tender affirmations to make me believe her) I felt a stab in 
my heart as I listened to this admission of what I had but faintly imagined. 
"Very well, that's settled, I'm off," she said in a tragic tone, not without 
looking at the time to see whether she was making herself late for the other 
person, now that I had provided her with an excuse for not spending the 
evening with myself. "It's too bad of you. I alter all my plans to spend a 
nice, long evening with you, and it's you that won't have it, and you accuse 
me of telling lies. I've never known you to be so cruel. The sea shall be my 
tomb. I will never see you any more." (My heart leaped at these words > 
albeit I was certain that she would come again next day, as she did.) "I 
shall drown myself, I shall throw iflyself into the water." "Like Sappho/' 
"There you go, insulting me again. You suspect not only what I say but 
what I do." "But, my lamb, I didn't mean anything, I swear to you, you 
know Sappho flung herself into the sea." "Yes, yes, you have no faith in 
me." She saw that it was twenty minutes to the hour by the clock ; she was 
afraid of missing her appointment, and choosing the shortest form of fare- 
well (for which as it happened she apologised by coming to see me again 
next day, the other person presumably not being free then), she dashed 
from the room, crying: "Good-bye for ever," in a heartbroken tone. And 
perhaps she was heartbroken. For knowing what she was about at that 
moment better than I, being at the same time more strict and more in- 
dulgent towards herself than I was towards her, she may all the same have 
had a fear that I might refuse to see her again after the way in which she 
had left me. And I believe that she was attached to me, so much so that the 
other person was more jealous than I was. 

Some days later, at Balbec, while we were in the ballroom of the casino, 
there entered Bloch's sister and cousin, who had both turned out quite 
pretty, but whom I refrained from greeting on account of my girl friends, 



146 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

because the younger one, the cousin, was notoriously living with the actress 
whose acquaintance she had made during my first visit. Andree, at a mur- 
mured allusion to this scandal, said to me: "Oh! About that sort of thing 
I'm like Albertine; there's nothing we both loathe so much as that sort 
of thing." As for Albertine, on sitting down to talk to me upon the sofa, 
she had turned her back on the disreputable pair. I had noticed, however, 
that, before she changed her position, at the moment when Mile. Bloch and 
her cousin appeared, my friend's eyes had flashed with that sudden, close 
attention which now and again imparted to the face of this frivolous girl 
a serious, indeed a grave air, and left her pensive afterwards. But Albertine 
had at once turned towards myself a gaze which nevertheless remained 
singularly fixed and meditative. Mile. Bloch and her cousin having finally 
left the room after laughing and shouting in a loud and vulgar manner, I 
asked Albertine whether the little fair one (the one who was so intimate 
with the actress) was not the girl who had won the prize the day before in 
the procession of flowers. "I don't know/' said Albertine, "is one of them 
fair? I must confess they don't interest me particularly, I have never 
looked at them. Is one of them fair?" she asked her three girl friends with 
a detached air of inquiry. When applied to people whom Albertine passed 
every day on the front, this ignorance seemed to me too profound to be 
genuine. "They didn't appear to be looking at us much either," I said to 
Albertine, perhaps (on the assumption, which I did not however con- 
sciously form, that Albertine loved her own sex), to free her from any 
regret by pointing out to her that she had not attracted the attention of 
these girls and that, generally speaking, it is not customary even for the 
most vicious of women to take an interest in girls whom they do not know. 
"They weren't looking at us!" was Albertine's astonished reply. "Why, 
they did nothing else the whole time." "But you can't possibly tell," I 
said to her, "you had your back to them." "Very well, and what about 
that?" she replied, pointing out to me, set in the wall in front of us, a large 
mirror which I had not noticed and ifpon which I now realised that my 
friend, while talking to me, had never ceased to fix her troubled, preoccu- 
pied eyes. 

Ever since the day when Cottard had accompanied me into the little 
casino at Incarville, albeit I did not share the opinion that he had expressed, 
Albertine had seemed to me different ; the sight of her made me lose my 
temper. I myself had changed, quite as much as she had changed in my 
eyes. I had ceased to bear her any good will; to her face, behind her back 
when there was a chance of my words being repeated to her, I spoke of 
her in the most insulting language. There were, however, intervals of calmer 
feeling. One day I learned that Albertine and Andree had both accepted 
an invitation to Elstir's. Feeling certain that this was in order that they 
might, on the return journey, amuse themselves like schoolgirls on holiday 
by imitating the manners of fast young women, and in so doing find an 
unmaidenly pleasure the thought of which wrung my heart, without an- 
nouncing my intention, to embarrass them and to deprive Albertine of the 
pleasure on which she was reckoning, I paid an unexpected call at his 
studio. But I found only Andree there. Albertine had chosen another day 



MADAME DE CAMBREMER 147 

when her aunt was to go there with her. Then I said to myself that Cottard 
must have been mistaken ; the favourable impression that I received from 
Andree's presence there without her friend remained with me and made 
me feel more kindly disposed towards Albertine. But this feeling lasted 
no longer than the healthy moments of delicate people subject to passing 
maladies, who are prostrated again by the merest trifle. Albertine incited 
Andree to actions which, without going very far, were perhaps not alto- 
gether innocent; pained by this suspicion, I managed in the end to repel 
it. No sooner was I healed of it than it revived under another form. I had 
just seen Andree, with one of those graceful gestures that came naturally to 
her, lay her head coaxingly on Albertine's shoulder, kiss her on the throat, 
half shutting her eyes; or else they had exchanged a glance; a remark had 
been made by somebody who had seen them going down together to bathe: 
little trifles such as habitually float in the surrounding atmosphere where 
the majority of people absorb them all day long without injury to their 
health or alteration of their mood, but which have a morbid effect and 
breed fresh sufferings in a nature predisposed to receive them. Sometimes 
even without my having seen Albertine again, without anyone's having 
spoken to me about her, there would flash from my memory some vision of 
her with Gisele in an attitude which had seemed to me innocent at the time; 
it was enough now to destroy the peace of mind that I had managed to re- 
cover, I had no longer any need to go and breathe dangerous germs outside, 
I had, as Cottard would have said, supplied my own toxin. I thought then 
of all that I had been told about Swann's love for Odette, of the way in 
which Swann had been tricked all his life. Indeed, when I come to think of 
it, the hypothesis that made me gradually build up the whole of Albertine's 
character and give a painful interpretation to every moment of a life that I 
could not control in its entirety, was the memory, the rooted idea of Mme. 
Swann's character, as it had been described to me. These accounts helped 
my imagination, in after years, to take the line of supposing that Albertine 
might, instead of being a good girl, have had the same immorality, the same 
faculty of deception as a reformed prostitute, and I thought of all the suf- 
ferings that would in that case have been in store for me had I ever really 
been her lover. 

One day, outside the Grand Hotel, where we were gathered on the front, 
I had just been addressing Albertine in the harshest, most humiliating 
language, and Rosemonde was saying: "Oh, how you have changed your 
mind about her; why, she used to be everything, it was she who ruled the 
roost, and now she isn't even fit to be thrown to the dogs." I was beginning, 
in order to make my attitude towards Albertine still more marked, to say 
all the nicest things I could think of to Andree, who, if she was tainted with 
the same vice, seemed to me to have more excuse for it since she was sickly 
and neurasthenic, when we saw emerging at the steady trot of its pair of 
horses into the street at right angles to the front, at the corner of which we 
were standing, Mme. de Cambremer's barouche. The chief magistrate who, 
at that moment, was advancing towards us, sprang back upon recognising 
the carnage, in order not to be seen in our company; then, when he thought 
that the Marquise's eye might catch his, bowed to her with an immense 



148 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

sweep of his hat. But the carriage, instead of continuing, as might have 
been expected, along the Rue de la Mer, disappeared through the gate of 
the hotel. It was quite ten minutes later when the lift-boy, out of breath, 
came to announce to me: "It's the Marquise de Camembert, she's come 
here to see Monsieur. I've been up to the room, I looked in the reading- 
room, I couldn't find Monsieur anywhere. Luckily I thought of looking on 
the beach." He had barely ended this speech when, followed by her daugh- 
ter-in-law and by an extremely ceremonious gentleman, the Marquise ad- 
vanced towards me, coming on probably from some afternoon tea-party in 
the neighbourhood, and bowed down not so much by age as by the mass of 
costly trinkets with which she felt it more sociable and more befitting her 
rank to cover herself, in order to appear as 'well dressed' as possible to the 
people whom she went to visit. It was in fact that 'landing' of the Cam- 
bremers at the hotel which my grandmother had so greatly dreaded long 
ago when she wanted us not to let Legrandin know that we might perhaps 
be going to Balbec. Then Mamma used to laugh at these fears inspired by 
an event which she considered impossible. And here it was actually hap- 
pening, but by different channels and without Legrandin's having had any 
part in it. "Do you mind my staying here, if I shan't be in your way?" 
asked Albertine (in whose eyes there lingered, brought there by the cruel 
things I had just been saying to her, a pair of tears which I observed with- 
out seeming to see them, but not without rejoicing inwardly at the sight), 
"there is something I want to say to you." A hat with feathers, itself sur- 
mounted by a sapphire pin, was perched haphazard upon Mme. de Cam- 
bremer's wig, like a badge the display of which was necessary but sufficient, 
its place immaterial, its elegance conventional and its stability superfluous. 
Notwithstanding the heat, the good lady had put on a jet cloak, like a 
dalmatic, over which hung an ermine stole the wearing of which seemed to 
depend not upon the temperature and season, but upon the nature of the 
ceremony. And on Mme. de Cambremer's bosom a baronial torse, fastened 
to a chain, dangled like a pectoral cross. The gentleman was an eminent 
lawyer from Paris, of noble family, who had come down to spend a few days 
with the Cambremers. He was one of those men whom their vast profes- 
sional experience inclines to look down upon their profession, and who say, 
for instance: "I know that I am a good pleader, so it no longer amuses 
me to plead," or: "I'm no longer interested in operating, I know that I'm a 
good operator." Men of intelligence, artists, they see themselves in their 
maturity, richly endowed by success, shining with that intellect, that artistic 
nature which their professional brethren recognise in them and which con- 
fer upon them a kind of taste and discernment. They form a passion for the 
paintings not of a great artist, but of an artist who nevertheless is highly 
distinguished, and spend upon the purchase of his work the large sums that 
their career procures for them. Le Sidaner was the artist chosen by the 
Cambremers 7 friend, who incidentally was a delightful person. He talked 
well about books, but not about the books of the true masters, those who 
bave mastered themselves. The only irritating habit that this amateur dis- 
played was his constant use of certain ready made expressions, such as 'for 
the most part/ which gave an air of importance and incompleteness to the 



MADAME DE CAMBREMER 149 

matter of which he was speaking. Madame de Cambremer had taken the 
opportunity, she told me, of a party which some friends of hers had been 
giving that afternoon in the Balbec direction to come and call upon me, 
as she had promised Robert de Saint-Loup. "You know he's coming down 
to these parts quite soon for a few days. His uncle Charlus is staying near 
here with his sister-in-law, the Duchesse de Luxembourg, and M. de Saint- 
Loup means to take the opportunity of paying his aunt a visit and going 
to see his old regiment, where he is very popular, highly respected. We 
often have visits from officers who are never tired of singing his praises. 
How nice it would be if you and he would give us the pleasure of coming 
together to Feterne." I presented Albertine and her friends. Mme. de Cam- 
bremer introduced us all to her daughter-in-law. The latter, so frigid 
towards the petty nobility with whom her seclusion at Feterne forced her 
to associate, so reserved, so afraid of compromising herself, held out her 
hand to me with a radiant smile, safe as she felt herself and delighted at 
seeing a friend of Robert de Saint-Loup, whom he, possessing a sharper 
social intuition than he allowed to appear, had mentioned to her as being 
a great friend of the Guermantes. So, unlike her mother-in-law, Mme. de 
Cambremer employed two vastly different forms of politeness. It was at 
the most the former kind, dry, insupportable, that she would have con- 
ceded me had I met her through her brother Legrandin. But for a friend of 
the Guermantes she had not smiles enough. The most convenient room in 
the hotel for entertaining visitors was the reading-room, that place once 
so terrible into which I now went a dozen times every day, emerging 
freely, my own master, like those mildly afflicted lunatics who have so 
long been inmates of an asylum that the superintendent trusts them with a 
latchkey. And so I offered to take Mme. de Cambremer there. And as this 
room no longer filled me with shyness and no longer held any charm for 
me, since the faces of things change for us like the faces of people, it was 
without the slightest emotion that I made this suggestion. But she de- 
clined it, preferring to remain out of doors, and we sat down in the 
open air, on the terrace of the hotel. I found there and rescued a 
volume of Madame de Sevigne which Mamma had not had time to carry 
off in her precipitate flight, when she heard that visitors had called for me. 
No less than my grandmother, she dreaded these invasions of strangers, 
and, in her fear of being too late to escape if she let herself be seen, would 
fly from the room with a rapidity which always made my father and me 
laugh at her. Madame de Cambremer carried in her hand, with the handle 
of a sunshade, a number of embroidered bags, a hold-all, a gold purse from 
which there dangled strings of garnets, and a lace handkerchief. I could 
not help thinking that it would be more convenient for her to deposit them 
on a chair ; but I felt that it would be unbecoming and useless to ask her 
to lay aside the ornaments of her pastoral visitation and her social priest- 
hood. We gazed at the calm sea upon which, here and there, a few gulls 
floated like white petals. Because of the 'mean leveP to which social con- 
versation reduces us and also of our desire to attract not by means of those 
qualities of which we are ourselves unaware but of those which, we suppose, 
ought to be appreciated by the people who are with us, I began instinctively 



150 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

to talk to Mme. de Cambremer nee Legrandin in the strain in which her 
brother might have talked. "They appear," I said, referring to the gulls, 
"as motionless and as white as water-lilies." And indeed they did appear 
to be offering a lifeless object to the little waves which tossed them about, 
so much so that the waves, by contrast, seemed in their pursuit of them to 
be animated by a deliberate intention, to have acquired life. The dowager 
Marquise could not find words enough to do justice to the superb view of 
the sea that we had from Balbec, or to say how she envied it, she who from 
la Raspeliere (where for that matter she was not living that year) had only 
such a distant glimpse of the waves. She had two remarkable habits, due at 
once to her exalted passion for the arts (especially for the art of music), 
and to her want of teeth. Whenever she talked of aesthetic subjects her 
salivary glands like those of certain animals when in rut became so 
overcharged that the old lady's edentulous mouth allowed to escape from 
the corners of her faintly moustached lips a trickle of moisture for which 
that was not the proper place. Immediately she drew it in again with a deep 
sigh, like a person recovering his breath. Secondly, if her subject were some 
piece of music of surpassing beauty, in her enthusiasm she would raise her 
arms and utter a few decisive opinions, vigorously chewed and at a pinch 
issuing from her nose. Now it had never occurred to me that the vulgar 
beach at Ealbec could indeed offer a 'seascape,' and Mme. de Cambremer's 
simple words changed my ideas in that respect. On the other hand, as I 
told her, I had always heard people praise the matchless view from la 
Raspeliere, perched on the summit of the hill, where, in a great drawing- 
room with two fireplaces, one whole row of windows swept the gardens, 
and, through the branches of the trees, the sea as far as Balbec and beyond 
it, and the other row the valley. "How nice of you to say so, and how well 
you put it: the sea through the branches. It is exquisite, one would say 
... a painted fan." And I gathered from a deep breath intended to catch 
the falling spittle and dry the moustaches, that the compliment was sin- 
cere. But the Marquise nee Legrandin remained cold, to shew her contempt 
not for my words but for those of her mother-in-law. Besides, she not only 
despised the other's intellect but deplored her affability, being always afraid 
that people might not form a sufficiently high idea of the Cambremers. 
"And how charming the name is," said I. "One would like to know the 
origin of all those names." "That one I can tell you," the old lady answered 
modestly. "It is a family place, it came from my grandmother Arrachepel, 
not an illustrious family, but a decent and very old country stock." "Whatl 
Not illustrious!" her daughter-in-law tartly interrupted her. "A whole 
window in Bayeux cathedral is filled with their arms, and the principal 
church at Avranches has their tombs. If these old names interest you," she 
added, "you've come a year too late. We managed to appoint to the living 
of Criquetot, in spite of all the difficulties about changing from one diocese 
to another, the parish priest of a place where I myself have some land, a 
long way from here, Combray, where the worthy cleric felt that he was 
becoming neurasthenic. Unfortunately, the sea air was no good to him at 
his age; his neurasthenia grew worse and he has returned to Combray. But 
he amused himself while he was our neighbour in going about looking up 



MADAME DE CAMBREMER 151 

all the old charters, and he compiled quite an interesting little pamphlet 
on the place names of the district. It has given him a fresh interest, too, for 
it seems he is spending his last years in writing a great work upon Combray 
and its surroundings. I shall send you his pamphlet on the surroundings of 
Feterne. It is worthy of a Benedictine. You will find the most interesting 
things in it about our old Raspeliere, of which my mother-in-law speaks far 
too modestly." "In any case, this year," replied the dowager Mme. de Cam- 
bremer, "la Raspeliere is no longer ours and does not belong to me. But I 
can see that you have a painter's instincts; I am sure you sketch, and I 
should so like to shew you Feterne, which is far finer than la Raspeliere." 
For as soon as the Cambremers had let this latter residence to the Ver- 
durins, its commanding situation had at once ceased to appear to them as 
it had appeared for so many years past, that is to say to offer the advan- 
tage, without parallel in the neighbourhood, of looking out over both sea 
and valley, and had on the other hand, suddenly and retrospectively, pre- 
sented the drawback that one had always to go up or down hill to get to or 
from it. In short, one might have supposed that if Mme. de Cambremer 
had let it, it was not so much to add to her income as to spare her horses. 
And she proclaimed herself delighted at being able at last to have the sea 
always so close at hand, at Feterne, she who for so many years (forgetting 
the two months that she spent there) had seen it only from up above and 
as though in a panorama. "I am discovering it at my age," she said, "and 
how I enjoy it! It does me a world of good. I would let la Raspeliere for 
nothing so as to be obliged to live at Feterne." 

"To return to more interesting topics," went on Legrandin's sister, who 
addressed the old Marquise as 'Mother/ but with the passage of years had 
come to treat her with insolence, "you mentioned water-lilies: I suppose 
you know Claude Monet's pictures of them. What a genius! They interest 
me particularly because near Combray, that place where I told you I had 
some land. . . ." But she preferred not to talk too much about Combray. 
"Why! That must be the series that Elstir told us about, the greatest 
painter of this generation," exclaimed Albertine, who had said nothing so 
far. "Ah! I can see that this young lady loves the arts," cried Mme. de 
Cambremer and, drawing a long breath, recaptured a trail of spittle. "You 
will allow me to put Le Sidaner before him, Mademoiselle," said the law- 
yer, smiling with the air of an expert. And, as he had enjoyed, or seen 
people enjoy, years ago, certain 'daring' work by Elstir, he added: "Elstir 
was gifted, indeed he was one of the advance guard, but for some reason 
or other he never kept up, he has wasted his life." Mme. de Cambremer 
disagreed with the lawyer, so far as Elstir was concerned, but, greatly to 
the annoyance of her guest, bracketed Monet with Le Sidaner. It would be 
untrue to say that she was a fool ; she was overflowing with a kind of intel- 
ligence that meant nothing to me. As the sun was beginning to set, the sea- 
gulls were now yellow, like the water-lilies on another canvas of that series 
by Monet. I said that I knew it, and (continuing to copy the diction of her 
brother, whom I had not yet dared to name) added that it was a pity that 
she had not thought of coming a day earlier, for, at the same hour, there 
would have been a Poussin light for her to admire. Had some Norman 



152 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

squireen, unknown to the Guermantes, told her that she ought to have come 
a day earlier, Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin would doubtless have drawn 
herself up with an offended air. But I might have been far more familiar 
still, and she would have been all smiles and sweetness; I might in the 
warmth of that fine afternoon devour my fill of that rich honey cake which 
Mme. de Cambremer so rarely was and which took the place of the dish of 
pastry that it had not occurred to me to offer my guests. But the name of 
Poussin, without altering the amenity of the society lady, called forth the 
protests of the connoisseur. On hearing that name, she produced six times 
in almost continuous succession that little smack of the tongue against the 
lips which serves to convey to a child who is misbehaving at once a reproach 
for having begun and a warning not to continue. "In heaven's name, after 
a painter like Monet, who is an absolute genius, don't go and mention an 
old hack without a vestige of talent, like Poussin. I don't mind telling you 
frankly that I find him the deadliest bore. I mean to say, you can't really 
call that sort of thing painting. Monet, Degas, Manet, yes, there are paint- 
ers if you like! It is a curious thing," she went on, fixing a scrutinous and 
ecstatic gaze upon a vague point in space where she could see what was in 
her mind, "it is a curious thing, I used at one time to prefer Manet. Nowa- 
days, I still admire Manet, of course, but I believe I like Monet even more. 
Oh! The Cathcdralsl" She was as scrupulous as she was condescending in 
informing me of the evolution of her taste. And one felt that the phases 
through which that taste had evolved were not, in her eyes, any less impor- 
tant than the different manners of Monet himself. Not that I had any rea- 
son to feel flattered by her taking me into her confidence as to her 
preferences, for even in the presence of the narrowest of provincial ladies 
she could not remain for five minutes without feeling the need to confess 
them. When a noble dame of Avranches, who would have been incapable of 
distinguishing between Mozart and Wagner, said in Mme. de Cambremer's 
hearing: "We saw nothing of any interest while we were in Paris, we went 
once to the Opera-Comique, they were doing Pclleas ct Mclisande, it's 
dreadful stuff," Mme. de Cambremer not only boiled with rage but felt 
obliged to exclaim: "Not at all, it's a little gem," and to 'argue the point.' 
It was perhaps a Combray habit which she had picked up from my grand- 
mother's sisters, who called it 'fighting in the good cause,' and loved the 
dinner-parties at which they knew all through the week that they would 
have to defend their idols against the Philistines. Similarly, Mme. de Cam- 
bremer liked to 'fly into a passion' and wrangle about art, as other people 
do about politics. She stood up for Debussy as she would have stood up for 
a woman friend whose conduct had been criticised. She must however have 
known very well that when she said: "Not at all, it's a little gem," she could 
not improvise in the other lady, whom she was putting in her place, the 
whole progressive development of artistic culture on the completion of 
which they would come naturally to an agreement without any need of 
discussion. "I must ask Le Sidaner what he thinks of Poussin," the lawyer 
remarked to me. "He's a regular recluse, never opens his mouth, but I 
know how to get things out of him." 

"Anyhow," Mme. de Cambremer went on, "I have a horror of sunsets, 



MADAME DE CAMBREMER 153 

they're so romantic, so operatic. That is why I can't abide my mother-in- 
law's house, with its tropical plants. You will see it, it's just like a public 
garden at Monte-Carlo. That's why I prefer your coast, here. It is more 
sombre, more sincere; there's a little lane from which one doesn't see the 
sea. On rainy days, there's nothing but mud, it's a little world apart. It's 
just the same at Venice, I detest the Grand Canal and I don't know any- 
thing so touching as the little alleys. But it's all a question of one's sur- 
roundings." "But," I remarked to her, feeling that the only way to rehabili- 
tate Poussin in Mme. de Cambremer's eyes was to inform her that he was 
once more in fashion, "M. Degas assures us that he knows nothing more 
beautiful than the Poussins at Chantilly." "Indeed? I don't know the ones 
at ChantiHy," said Mine, de Cambremer who had no wish to differ from 
Degas, "but I can speak about the ones in the Louvre, which are appalling." 
"He admires them immensely too." "I must look at them again. My impres- 
sions of them are rather distant," she replied after a moment's silence, and 
as though the favourable opinion which she was certain, before very long, 
to form of Poussin would depend, not upon the information that I had just 
communicated to her, but upon the supplementary and, this time, final 
examination that she intended to make of the Poussins in the Louvre in 
order to be in a position to change her mind. Contenting myself with what 
was a first step towards retraction since, if she did not yet admire the Pous- 
sins, she was adjourning the matter for further consideration, in order not 
to keep her on tenterhooks any longer, I told her mother-in-law how much 
I had heard of the wonderful flowers at Feterne. In modest terms she spoke 
of the little presbytery garden that she had behind the house, into which 
in the mornings, by simply pushing open a door, she went in her wrapper to 
feed her peacocks, hunt for new-laid eggs, and gather the zinnias or roses 
which, on the sideboard, framing the creamed eggs or fried fish in a border 
of flowers, reminded her of her garden paths. "It is true, we have a great 
many roses," she told me, "our rose garden is almost too near the house, 
there are days when it makes my head ache. It is nicer on the terrace at la 
Raspeliure where the breeze carries the scent of the roses, but it is not so 
heady." I turned to her daughter-in-law. "It is just like Pellcas" I said to 
her, to gratify her taste for the modern, "that scent of roses wafted up to 
the terraces. It is so strong in the score that, as I suffer from hay-fever and 
rose-fever, it sets me sneezing every time I listen to that scene." 

"What a marvellous thing Pclleas is," cried Mme. de Cambremer, "I'm 
mad about it;" and, drawing closer to me with the gestures of a savage 
woman seeking to captivate me, using her fingers to pick out imaginary 
notes, she began to hum something which, I supposed, represented to her 
the farewells of Pellcas, and continued with a vehement persistence as 
though it had been important that Mme. de Cambremer should at that mo- 
ment remind me of that scene or rather should prove to me that she herself 
remembered it. "I think it is even finer than Parsifal" she added, "because 
in Parsifal the most beautiful things are surrounded with a sort of halo of 
melodious phrases, which are bad simply because they are melodious." "I 
know, you are a great musician, Madame," I said to the dowager. "I should 
so much like to hear you play." Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin gazed at 



154 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

the sea so as not to be drawn into the conversation. Being of the opinion that 
what her mother-in-law liked was not music at all, she regarded the talent, 
a sham talent according to her, though in reality of the very highest order, 
that the other was admitted to possess as a technical accomplishment de- 
void of interest. It was true that Chopin's only surviving pupil declared, 
and with justice, that the Master's style of playing, his 'feeling' had been 
transmitted, through herself, to Mme. de Cambremer alone, but to play 
like Chopin was far from being a recommendation in the eyes of Legran- 
din's sister, who despised nobody so much as the Polish composer. "Oh! 
They are flying away," exclaimed Albertine, pointing to the gulls which, 
casting aside for a moment their flowery incognito, were rising in a body 
towards the sun. "Their giant wings from walking hinder them," quoted 
Mme. de Cambremer, confusing the seagull with the albatross. "I do love 
them; I used to see them at Amsterdam," said Albertine. "They smell of 
the sea, they come and breathe the salt air through the paving stones even." 
"Oh! So you have been in Holland, you know the Vermeers?" Mme. de 
Cambremer asked imperiously, in the tone in which she would have said: 
"You know the Guermantes?" for snobbishness in changing its subject 
does not change its accent. Albertine replied in the negative, thinking that 
they were living people. But her mistake was not apparent. "I should be 
delighted to play to you," Mme. de Cambremer said to me. "But you 
know I only play things that no longer appeal to your generation. I was 
brought up in the worship of Chopin," she said in a lowered tone, for she 
was afraid of her daughter-in-law, and knew that to the latter, who con- 
sidered that Chopin was not music, playing him well or badly were mean- 
ingless terms. She admitted that her mother-in-law had technique, was 
a finished pianist. "Nothing will ever make me say that she is a musician," 
was Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin's conclusion. Because she considered 
herself 'advanced,' because (in matters of art only) "one could never move 
far enough to the Left," she said, she maintained not merely that music 
progressed, but that it progressed along one straight line, and that Debussy 
was in a sense a super- Wagner, slightly more advanced again than Wagner. 
She did not take into account the fact that if Debussy was not as inde- 
pendent of Wagner as she herself was to suppose in a few years' time, 
because we must always make use of the weapons that we have captured 
to free ourselves finally from the foe whom we have for the moment over- 
powered, he was seeking nevertheless, after the feeling of satiety that peo- 
ple were beginning to derive from work that was too complete, in which 
everything was expressed, to satisfy an opposite demand. There were theo- 
ries of course, to support this reaction for the time being, like those theories 
which, in politics, come to the support of the laws against religious com- 
munities, of wars in the East (unnatural teaching, the Yellow Peril, etc., 
etc.). People said that an age of speed required rapidity in art, precisely 
as they might have said that the next war could not last longer than a 
fortnight, or that the coming of railways would kill the little places beloved 
of the coaches, which the motor-car, for all that, was to restore to favour. 
Composers were warned not to strain the attention of their audience, as 
though we had not at our disposal different degrees of attention, among 



MADAME DE CAMBREMER 155 

which it rests precisely with the artist himself to arouse the highest. For 
the people who yawn with boredom after ten lines of a mediocre article 
have journeyed year after year to Bayreuth to listen to the Ring. Besides, 
the day was to come when, for a season ? Debussy would be pronounced 
as trivial as Massenet, and the trills of Melisande degraded to the level 
of Manon's. For theories and schools, like microbes and corpuscles, devour 
one another and by their warfare ensure the continuity of existence. But 
that time was still to come. 

As on the Stock Exchange, when a rise occurs, a whole group of securities 
benefit by it, so a certain number of despised composers were gaining by 
the reaction, either because they did not deserve such scorn, or simply 
which enabled one to be original when one sang their praises because 
they had incurred it. And people even went the length of seeking out, in 
an isolated past, men of independent talent upon whose reputation the 
present movement did not seem calculated to have any influence, but of 
whom one of the new masters was understood to have spoken favourably. 
Often it was because a master, whoever he may be, however exclusive his 
school, judges in the light of his own untutored instincts, does justice to 
talent wherever it be found, or rather not so much to talent as to some 
agreeable inspiration which he has enjoyed in the past, which reminds, 
him of a precious moment in his adolescence. Or, it may be, because cer- 
tain artists of an earlier generation have in some fragment of their work 
realised something that resembles what the master has gradually become 
aware that he himself meant at one time to create. Then he sees the old 
master as a sort of precursor; he values in him, under a wholly different 
form, an effort that is momentarily, partially fraternal. There are bits of 
Turner in the work of Poussin, we find a phrase of Flaubert in Montesquieu. 
Sometimes, again, this rumoured predilection of the Master was due to 
an error, starting heaven knows where and circulated through the school. 
But in that case the name mentioned profited by the auspices under which 
it was introduced in the nick of time, for if there is an element of free 
will, some genuine taste expressed in the master's choice, the schools them- 
selves go only by theory. Thus it is that the mind, following its habitual 
course which advances by digression, inclining first in one direction, then 
in the other, had brought back into the light of day a number of works 
to which the need for justice, or for a renewal of standards, or the taste 
of Debussy, or his caprice, or some remark that he had perhaps never made 
had added the works of Chopin. Commended by the judges in whom one 
had entire confidence, profiting by the admiration that was aroused by 
Pelleas, they had acquired a fresh lustre, and even the people who had 
not heard them again were so anxious to admire them that they did so 
in spite of themselves, albeit preserving the illusion of free will. But Mme. 
de Cambremer-Legrandin spent part of the year in the country. Even in 
Paris, being an invalid, she was largely confined to her own room. It is true 
that the drawbacks of this mode of existence were noticeable chiefly in her 
choice of expressions which she supposed to be fashionable and which 
would have been more appropriate to the written language, a distinction 
that she did not perceive, for she derived them more from reading than 



156 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

from conversation. The latter is not so necessary for an exact knowledge 
of current opinion as of the latest expressions. Unfortunately this revival 
of the Nocturnes had not yet been announced by the critics. The news of 
it had been transmitted only by word of mouth among the 'younger' peo- 
ple. It remained unknown to Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin. I gave my- 
self the pleasure of informing her, but by addressing my remark to her 
mother-in-law, as when at billiards in order to hit a ball one aims at the 
cushion, that Chopin, so far from being out of date, was Debussy's fa- 
vourite composer. "Indeed, that's quaint," said the daughter-in-law with 
a subtle smile as though it had been merely a deliberate paradox on the 
part of the composer of Pcllcas. Nevertheless it was now quite certain that 
in future she would always listen to Chopin with respect and even pleasure. 
Moreover my words which had sounded the hour of deliverance for the 
dowager produced on her face an expression of gratitude to myself and 
above all of joy. Her eyes shone like the eyes of Latude in the play entitled 
Latudc, or Thirty-five Years in Captivity, and her bosom inhaled the sea 
air with that dilatation which Beethoven has so well described in Fidelia, 
at the point where his prisoners at last breathe again 'this life-giving air/ 
As for the dowager, I thought that she was going to press her hirsute lips 
to my cheek. "What, you like Chopin? He likes Chopin, he likes Chopin," 
she cried with a nasal trumpet-tone of passion; she might have been say- 
ing: "What, you know Mme. de Franquetot too?" with this difference, 
that my relations with Mme. de Franquetot would have left her completely 
indifferent, whereas my knowledge of Chopin plunged her in a sort of 
artistic delirium. Her salivary super-secretion no longer sufficed. Not 
having attempted even to understand the part played by Debussy in the 
rediscovery of Chopin, she felt only that my judgment of him was fa- 
vourable. Her musical enthusiasm overpowered her. "Elodie! Elodie! He 
likes Chopin!" her bosom rose and she beat the air with her arms. "Ah! 
I knew at once that you were a musician," she cried. "I can quite under- 
stand an artist such as you are liking him. He's so lovely!" And her voice 
was as pebbly as if, to express her ardour for Chopin, she had copied 
Demosthenes and filled her mouth with all the shingle on the beach. Then 
came the turn of the tide, reaching as far as her veil which she had not 
time to lift out of harm's way and which was flooded; and lastly the Mar- 
quise wiped away with her embroidered handkerchief the tidemark of 
foam in which the memory of Chopin had steeped her moustaches. 

"Good heavens," Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin remarked to me, "I'm 
afraid my mother-in-law's cutting it rather fine, she's forgotten that we've 
got my Uncle de Ch'nouville dining. Besides, Cancan doesn't like to be 
kept waiting." The word 'Cancan' was beyond me, and I supposed that 
she might perhaps be referring to a dog. But as for the Ch'nouville rela- 
tives, the explanation was as follows. With the lapse of time the young 
Marquise had outgrown the pleasure that she had once found in pro- 
nouncing their name in this manner. And yet it was the prospect of enjoy- 
ing that pleasure that had decided her choice of a husband. In other social 
circles, when one referred to the Chenouville family, the custom was 
(whenever, that is to say, the particle was preceded by a word ending in 



MADAME DE CAMBREMER 157 

a vowel sound, for otherwise you were obliged to lay stress upon the de, 
the tongue refusing to utter Madam' d'Ch'nonceaux) that it was the mute 
e of the particle that was sacrificed. One said: "Monsieur d'Chenouville." 
The Cambremer tradition was different, but no less imperious. It was the 
mute e of Chenouville that was suppressed. Whether the name was pre- 
ceded by mon cousin or by ma cousine, it was always de Ch'nouville and 
never de Chenouville. (Of the father of these Chenouvilles, one said 'our 
Uncle' for they were not sufficiently 'smart set' at Feterne to pronounce 
the word c Unk' like the Guermantes, whose deliberate jargon, suppressing 
consonants and naturalising foreign words, was as difficult to understand 
as Old French or a modern dialect.) Every newcomer into the family circle 
at once received, in the matter of the Ch'nouvilles, a lesson which Mme. 
de Cambremer-Legrandm had not required. When, paying a call one day, 
she had heard a girl say: "My Aunt d'Uzai," "My Unk de Rouan," she had 
not at first recognised the illustrious names which she was in the habit of 
pronouncing: Uzes, and Rohan, she had felt the astonishment, embarrass- 
ment and shame of a person who sees before him on the table a recently 
invented implement of which he does not know the proper use and with 
which he dares not begin to eat. But during that night and the next day 
she had rapturously repeated: "My Aunt Uzai," with that suppression of 
the final s, a suppression that had stupefied her the day before, but which 
it now seemed to her so vulgar not to know that, one of her friends having 
spoken to her of a bust of the Duchesse d'Uzes, Mile. Legrandin had an- 
swered her crossly, and in an arrogant tone: "You might at least pronounce 
her name properly: Mme. d'Uzai." From that moment she had realised 
that, by virtue of the transmutation of solid bodies into more and more 
subtle elements, the considerable and so honourably acquired fortune that 
she had inherited from her father, the finished education that she had 
received, her regular attendance at the Sorbonne, whether at Caro's lec- 
tures or at Brunetiere's, and at the Lamoureux concerts, all this was to 
be rendered volatile, to find its utmost sublimation in the pleasure of being 
able one day to say: "My Aunt d'Uzai." This did not exclude the thought 
that she would continue to associate, in the earlier days, at least, of her 
married life, not indeed with certain women friends whom she liked and 
had resigned herself to sacrificing, but with certain others whom she did 
not like and to whom she looked forward to being able to say (since that, 
after all, was why she was marrying) : "I must introduce you to my Aunt 
d'Uzai," and, when she saw that such an alliance was beyond her reach, 
"I must introduce you to my Aunt cle Ch'nouville," and "I shall ask you 
to dine to meet the Uzai." Her marriage to M. de Cambremer had pro- 
cured for Mile. Legrandin the opportunity to use the former of these 
phrases but not the latter, the circle in which her parents-in-law moved 
not being that which she had supposed and of which she continued to 
dream. After saying to me of Saint-Loup (adopting for the occasion one 
of his expressions, for if in talking to her I used those expressions of 
Legrandin, she by a reverse suggestion answered me in Robert's dialect 
which she did not know to be borrowed from Rachel), bringing her thumb 
and forefinger together and half-shutting her eyes as though she were 



158 CI'TIES OF THE PLAIN 

gazing at something infinitely delicate which she had succeeded in cap- 
turing: "He has a charming quality of mind," she began to extol him with 
such warmth that one might have supposed that she was in love with him, 
(it had indeed been alleged that, some time back, when he was at Don- 
cieres, Robert had been her lover), in reality simply that I might repeat 
her words to him, and ended up with: "You are a great friend of the Ducb- 
esse de Guermantes. I am an invalid, I never go anywhere, and I know 
that she sticks to a close circle of chosen friends, which I do think so wise 
of her, and so I know her very slightly, but I know she is a really re- 
markable woman." Aware that Mme. de Cambremer barely knew her, and 
anxious to reduce myself to her level, I avoided the subject and answered 
the Marquise that the person whom I did know well was her brother, M. 
Legrandin. At the sound of his name she assumed the same evasive air 
as myself over the name of Mme. de Guermantes, but combined with it an 
expression of annoyance, for she supposed that I had said this with the 
object of humiliating not myself but her. Was she gnawed by despair at 
having been born a Legrandin? So at least her husband's sisters and sisters- 
in-law asserted, ladies of the provincial nobility who knew nobody and 
nothing, and were jealous of Mme. de Cambremer's intelligence, her edu- 
cation, her fortune, the physical attractions that she had possessed before 
her illness. "She can think of nothing else, that is what is killing her," 
these slanderers would say whenever they spoke of Mine, de Cambremer 
to no matter whom, but preferably to a plebeian, whether, were he con- 
ceited and stupid, to enhance, by this affirmation of the shamefulness of 
a plebeian origin, the value of the affability that they were shewing him, 
of, if he were shy and clever and applied the remark to himself, to give 
themselves the pleasure, while receiving him hospitably, of insulting him 
indirectly. But if these ladies thought that they were speaking the truth 
about their sister-in-law, they were mistaken. She suffered not at all from 
having been born Legrandin, for she had forgotten the fact altogether. 
She was annoyed at my reminding her of it, and remained silent as though 
she had not understood, not thinking it necessary to enlarge upon or even 
to confirm my statement. 

"Our cousins are not the chief reason for our cutting short our visit," 
said the dowager Mme. de Cambremer, who was probably more satiated 
than her daughter-in-law with the pleasure to be derived from saying 
'Ch'nouville.' "But, so as not to bother you with too many people, Mon- 
sieur," she went on, indicating the lawyer, "was afraid to bring his wife 
and son to the hotel. They are waiting for us on the beach, and they will 
be growing impatient." I asked for an exact description of them and has- 
tened in search of them. The wife had a round face like certain flowers 
of the ranunculus family, and a large vegetable growth at the corner of 
her eye. And as the generations of mankind preserve their characteristic 
like a family of plants, just as on the blemished face of his mother, an 
identical mole, which might have helped one in classifying a variety of 
the species, protruded below the eye of the son. The lawyer was touched 
by my civility to his wife and son. He shewed an interest in the subject of 
my stay at Balbec. "You must find yourself rather out of your element,, 



MADAME DE CAMBREMER 159 

for the people here are for the most part foreigners." And he kept his eye 
on me as he spoke, for, not caring for foreigners, albeit he had many foreign 
clients, he wished to make sure that I was not hostile to his xenophobia, 
in which case he would have beaten a retreat saying: "Of course, Mme. 

X may be a charming woman. It's a question of principle." As at 

that time I had no definite opinion about foreigners, I shewed no sign of 
disapproval; he felt himself to be on safe ground. He went so far as to 
invite me to come one day, in Paris, to see his collection of Le Sidaner, 
and to bring with me the Cambremers, with whom he evidently supposed 
me to be on intimate terms. "I shall invite you to meet Le Sidaner," he 
said to me, confident that from that moment I would live only in expecta- 
tion of that happy day. "You shall see what a delightful man he is. And 
his pictures will enchant you. Of course, I can't compete with the great 
collectors, but I do believe that I am the one that possesses the greatest 
number of his favourite canvases. They will interest you all the more, 
coming from BaJbec, since they are marine subjects, for the most part, 
at least." The wife and son, blessed with a vegetable nature, listened com- 
posedly. One felt that their house in Paris was a sort of temple of Le 
Sidaner. Temples of this sort are not without their use. When the god has 
doubts as to his own merits, he can easily stop the cracks in his opinion 
of himself with the irrefutable testimony of people who have devoted their 
lives to his work. 

At a signal from her daughter-in-law, Mme. de Cambremer prepared 
to depart, and said to me: "Since you won't come and stay at Feterne, 
won't you at least come to luncheon, one day this week, to-morrow for 
instance?" And in her bounty, to make the invitation irresistible, she 
added: "You will find the Comte de Crisenoy," whom I had never lost, 
for the simple reason that I did not know him. She was beginning to dazzle 
me with yet further temptations, but stopped short. The chief magistrate 
who, on returning to the hotel, had been told that she was on the premises 
had crept about searching for her everywhere, then waited his opportunity, 
and pretending to have caught sight of her by chance, came up now to 
greet her. I gathered that Mme. de Cambremer did not mean to extend to 
him the invitation to luncheon that she had just addressed to me. And 
yet he had known her far longer than I, having for years past been one 
of the regular guests at the afternoon parties at Feterne whom I used so 
to envy during my former visit to Balbec. But old acquaintance is not 
the only thing that counts in society. And hostesses are more inclined to 
reserve their luncheons for new acquaintances who still whet their curiosity, 
especially when they arrive preceded by a glowing and irresistible recom- 
mendation like Saint-Loup's of me. Mme. de Cambremer decided that 
the chief magistrate could not have heard what she was saying to me, but, 
to calm her guilty conscience, began addressing him in the kindest tone. 
In the sunlight that flooded, on the horizon, the golden coastline, invisible 
as a rule, of Rivebelle, we could just make out, barely distinguishable from 
the luminous azure, rising from the water, rosy, silvery, faint, the little 
bells that were sounding the angelus round about Feterne. "That is rather 
Pelteas, too," I suggested to Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin. "You know 



I6O CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

the scene I mean." "Of course I do!" was what she said; but "I haven't 
the faintest idea" was the message proclaimed by her voice and features 
which did not mould themselves to the shape of any recollection and by 
a smile that floated without support in the air. The dowager could not 
get over her astonishment that the sound of the bells should carry so far, 
and rose, reminded of the time. "But, as a rule," I said, "we never see 
that part of the coast from Balbec, nor hear it either. The weather must 
have changed and enlarged the horizon in more ways than one. Unless, 
that is to say, the bells have come to look for you, since I see that they 
are making you leave; to you they are a dinner bell." The chief magistrate, 
little interested in the bells, glanced furtively along the front, on which he 
was sorry to see so few people that evening. "You are a true poet," said 
Mme. de Cambremer to me. "One feels you are so responsive, so artistic, 
come, I will play you Chopin," she went on, raising her arms with an air 
of ecstasy and pronouncing the words in a raucous voice like the shifting 
of shingle on the beach. Then came the deglutition of spittle, and the old 
lady instinctively wiped the stubble of her moustaches with her handker- 
chief. The chief magistrate did me, unconsciously, a great service by 
offering the Marquise his arm to escort her to her carriage, a certain blend 
of vulgarity, boldness and love of ostentation prompting him to actions 
which other people would have hesitated to risk, and which are by no 
means unsuccessful in society. He was, moreover, and had been for years 
past far more in the habit of these actions than myself. While blessing 
him for what he did I did not venture to copy him, and walked by the side 
of Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin who insisted upon seeing the book that 
I had in my hand. The name of Madame de Sevigne drew a grimace from 
her; and using a word which she had seen in certain newspapers, but which, 
used in speech and given a feminine form, and applied to a seventeenth 
century writer, had an odd effect, she asked me: "Do you think her really 
masterly?" The Marquise gave her footman the address of a pastry-cook 
where she had to call before taking the road, rosy with the evening haze, 
through which loomed one beyond another the dusky walls of cliff. She 
asked her old coachman whether one of the horses which was apt to catch 
cold had been kept warm enough, whether the other's shoe were not hurt- 
ing him. "I shall write to you and make a definite engagement," she mur- 
mured to me. "I heard you talking about literature to my daughter-in-law, 
she's a darling," she went on, not that she really thought so, but she had 
acquired the habit and kept it up in her kindness of heart of saying 
so, in order that her son might not appear to have married for money. 
"Besides," she added with a final enthusiastic gnashing of her teeth, "she's 
so harttissttick! " With this she stepped into her carriage, nodding her head, 
holding the crook of her sunshade aloft like a crozier, and set off through 
the streets of Balbec, overloaded with the ornaments of her priesthood, 
like an old Bishop on a confirmation tour. 

"She has asked you to luncheon," the chief magistrate said to me sternly 
when the carriage had passed out of sight and I came indoors with the 
girls. "We're not on the best of terms just now. She feels that I neglect 
her. Gad, I'm easy enough to get on with. If anybody needs me, I'm al- 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE l6l 

ways there to say: Adsum! But they tried to force my hand. That, now," 
he went on with an air of subtlety, holding up his finger as though making 
and arguing a distinction, "that is a thing I do not allow. It is a threat 
to the liberty of my holidays. I was obliged to say: Stop! You seem to 
be in her good books. When you reach my age you will see that society is 
a very trumpery thing, and you will be sorry you attached so much im- 
portance to these trifles. Well, I am going to take a turn before dinner. 
Good-bye, children," he shouted back at us, as though he were already 
fifty yards away. 

When I had said good-bye to Rosemonde and Gisele, they saw with as- 
tonishment that Albertine was staying behind instead of accompanying 
them. "Why, Albertine, what are you doing, don't you know what time 
it is?" "Go home," she replied in a tone of authority. "I want to talk to 
him," she added, indicating myself with a submissive air. Rosemonde and 
Gisele stared at me, filled with a new and strange respect. I enjoyed the 
feeling that, for a moment at least, in the eyes even of Rosemonde and 
Gisele, I was to Albertine something more important than the time, than 
her friends, and might indeed share solemn secrets with her into which 
it was impossible for them to be admitted. "Shan't we see you again this 
evening?" "I don't know, it will depend on this person. Anyhow, to-mor- 
row." "Let us go up to my room," I said to her, when her friends had gone. 
We took the lift; she remained silent in the boy's presence. The habit of 
being obliged to resort to personal observation and deduction in order to 
find out the business of their masters, those strange beings who converse 
among themselves and do not speak to them, develops in 'employees' (as 
the lift-boy styled servants), a stronger power of divination than the 
'employer' possesses. Our organs become atrophied or grow stronger or 
more subtle, accordingly as our need of them increases or diminishes. Since 
railways came into existence, the necessity of not missing the train has 
taught us to take account of minutes whereas among the ancient Romans, 
who not only had a more cursory science of astronomy but led less hurried 
lives, the notion not of minutes but even of fixed hours barely existed. And 
so the lift-boy had gathered and meant to inform his comrades that Al- 
bertine and I were preoccupied. But he talked to us without ceasing be- 
cause he had no tact. And yet I could see upon his face, in place of the 
customary expression of friendliness and joy at taking me up in his lift, 
an air of extraordinary depression and uneasiness. As I knew nothing of 
the cause of this, in an attempt to distract his thoughts, and albeit I was 
more preoccupied than Albertine, I told him that the lady who had just 
left was called the Marquise de Cambremer and not de Camembert. On 
the landing at which we were pausing at the moment, I saw, carrying a 
pair of pails, a hideous chambermaid who greeted me with respect, hoping 
for a tip when I left. I should have liked to know if she were the one whom 
I had so ardently desired on the evening of my first arrival at Balbec, 
but I could never arrive at any certainty. The lift-boy swore to me with 
the sincerity of most false witnesses, but without shedding his expression 
of despair, that it was indeed by the name of Camembert that the Marquise 
had told him to announce her. And as a matter of fact it was quite natural 



.162 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

that he should have heard her say a name which he already knew. Besides, 
having those very vague ideas of nobility, and of the names of which titles 
are composed, which are shared by many people who are not lift-boys, 
the name Camembert had seemed to him all the more probable inasmuch 
as, that cheese being universally known, it was not in the least surprising 
that people should have acquired a marquisate from so glorious a distinc- 
tion, unless it were the marquisate that had bestowed its renown upon the 
cheese. Nevertheless as he saw that I refused to admit that I might be 
mistaken, and as he knew that masters like to see their most futile whims 
obeyed and their most obvious lies accepted, he promised me like a good 
servant that in future he would say Cambremer. It is true that none of 
the shopkeepers in the town, none of the peasants in the district, where 
the name and persons of the Cambremers were perfectly familiar, could 
ever have made the lift-boy's mistake. But the staff of the 'Grand Hotel 
of Balbec' were none of them natives. They came direct, with the furniture 
and stock, from Biarritz, Nice and Monte-Carlo, one division having been 
transferred to Deauville, another to Dinard and the third reserved for 
Balbec. 

But the lift-boy's pained anxiety continued to grow. That he should 
thus forget to shew his devotion to me by the customary smiles, some 
misfortune must have befallen him. Perhaps he had been ' 'missed.' I made 
up my mind in that case to try to secure his reinstatement, the manager 
having promised to ratify all my wishes with regard to his staff. "You can 
always do just what you like, I rectify everything in advance." Suddenly, 
as I stepped out of the lift, I guessed the meaning of the boy's distress, 
his panic-stricken air. Because Albertine was with me, I had not given 
him the five francs which I was in the habit of slipping into his hand when 
I went up. And the idiot, instead of understanding that I did not wish to 
make a display of generosity in front of a third person, had begun to trem- 
ble, supposing that it was all finished, that I would never give him anything 
again. He imagined that I was 'on the rocks' (as the Due de Guermantes 
would have said), and the supposition inspired him with no pity for myself 
but with a terrible selfish disappointment. I told myself that I was less 
unreasonable than my mother thought when I dared not, one day, refrain 
from giving the extravagant but feverishly awaited sum that I had given 
the day before. But at the same time the meaning that I had until then, 
and without a shadow of doubt, ascribed to his habitual expression of 
joy, in which I had no hesitation in seeing a sign of devotion, seemed to 
me to have become less certain. Seeing the lift-boy ready, in his despair, 
to fling himself down from the fifth floor of the hotel, I asked myself 
whether, if our respective social stations were to be altered, in consequence 
let us say of a revolution, instead of politely working his lift for me, the 
boy, grown independent, would not have flung me down the well, and 
whether there was not, in certain of the lower orders, more duplicity than 
in society, where, no doubt, people reserve their offensive remarks until 
we are out of earshot, but where their attitude towards us would not be 
insulting if we were reduced to poverty. 

One cannot however say that, in the Balbec hotel, the lift-boy was the 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 163 

most commercially minded. From this point of view the staff might be 
divided into two categories; on the one hand, those who drew distinctions 
between the visitors, and were more grateful for the modest tip of an old 
nobleman (who, moreover, was in a position to relieve them from 28 days 
of military service by saying a word for them to General de Beautreillis) 
than for the thoughtless liberalities of a cad who by his very profusion 
revealed a want of practice which only to his face did they call generosity. 
On the other hand, those to whom nobility, intellect, fame, position, man- 
ners were nonexistent, concealed under a cash valuation. For these there 
was but a single standard, the money one has, or rather the money on6 
bestows. Possibly Aime himself, albeit pretending, in view of the great 
number of hotels in which he had served, to a great knowledge of the world, 
belonged to this latter category. At the most he would give a social turn, 
shewing that he knew who was who, to this sort of appreciation, as when 
he said of the Princesse de Luxembourg: "There's a pile of money among 
that lot?" (the question mark at the end being to ascertain the facts or 
to check such information as he had already ascertained, before supplying 
a client with a 'chef for Paris, or promising him a table on the left, by the 
door, with a view of the sea, at Balbec). In spite of this, and albeit not free 
from sordid considerations, he would not have displayed them with the fatu- 
ous despair of the lift-boy. And yet, the latter's artlessness helped perhaps 
to simplify things. It is the convenience of a big hotel, of a house such as 
Rachel used at one time to frequent, that, without any intermediary, the 
face, frozen stiff until that moment, of a servant or a woman, at the sight 
of a hundred-franc note, still more of one of a thousand, even although 
it is being given to some one else, will melt in smiles and offers of service. 
Whereas in the dealings, in the relations between lover and mistress, there 
are too many things interposed between money and docility. So many things 
that the very people upon whose faces money finally evokes a smile are 
often incapable of following the internal process that links them together, 
believe themselves to be, and indeed are more refined. Besides, it rids polite 
conversation of such speeches as: "There's only one thing left for me to do, 
you will find me to-morrow in the mortuary." And so one meets in polite 
society few novelists, or poets, few of all those sublime creatures who speak 
of the things that are not to be mentioned. 

As soon as we were alone and had moved along the corridor, Albertine 
began: "What is it, you have got against me?" Had my harsh treatment 
of her been painful to myself? Had it been merely an unconscious ruse 
on my part, with the object of bringing my mistress to that attitude of 
fear and supplication which would enable me to interrogate her, and per- 
haps to find out which of the alternative hypotheses that I had long since 
formed about her was correct? However that may be, when I heard her 
question, I suddenly felt the joy of one who attains to a long desired goal. 
Before answering her, I escorted her to the door of my room. Opening it, 
I scattered the roseate light that was flooding the room and turning the 
white muslin of the curtains drawn for the night to golden damask. I went 
across to the window; the gulls had settled again upon the waves; but 
this time they were pink. I drew Albertine's attention to them. "Don't 



164 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

change the subject," she said, "be frank with me." I lied. I declared to 
her that she must first listen to a confession, that of my passionate ad- 
miration, for some time past, of Andree, and I made her this confession 
with a simplicity and frankness worthy of the stage, but seldom employed 
in real life except for a love which people do not feel. Harking back to 
the fiction I had employed with Gilberte before my first visit to Balbec, 
but adapting its terms, I went so far (in order to make her more ready to 
believe me when I told her now that I was not in love with her) as to let 
fall the admission that at one time I had been on the point of falling in 
love with her, but that too long an interval had elapsed, that she could 
be nothing more to me now than a good friend and comrade, and that even 
if I wished to feel once again a more ardent sentiment for her it would be 
quite beyond my power. As it happened, in taking my stand thus before 
Albertine on these protestations of coldness towards her, I was merely 
because of a particular circumstance and with a particular object in view 
making more perceptible, accentuating more markedly, that dual rhythm 
which love adopts in all those who have too little confidence in themselves 
to believe that a woman can ever fall in love with them, and also that 
they themselves can genuinely fall in love with her. They know themselves 
well enough to have observed that in the presence of the most divergent 
types of woman they felt the same hopes, the same agonies, invented the 
same romances, uttered the same words, to have deduced therefore that 
their sentiments, their actions bear no close and necessary relation to the 
woman they love, but pass by her, spatter her, surround her, like the waves 
that break round upon the rocks, and their sense of their own instability 
increases still further their misgivings that this woman, by whom they 
would so fain be loved, is not in love with them. Why should chance have 
brought it about, when she is simply an accident placed so as to catch the 
ebullience of our desire, that we should ourselves be the object of the desire 
that is animating her? And so, while we feel the need to pour out before 
her all those sentiments, so different from the merely human sentiments 
that our neighbour inspires in us, those so highly specialised sentiments 
which are a lover's, after we have taken a step forward, in avowing to her 
whom we love our affection for her, our hopes, overcome at once by the 
fear of offending her, ashamed too that the speech we have addressed to 
her was not composed expressly for her, that it has served us already, 
will serve us again for others, that if she does not love us she cannot un- 
derstand us and we have spoken in that case with the want of taste, of 
modesty shewn by the pedant who addresses an ignorant audience in subtle 
phrases which are not for them, this fear, this shame bring into play the 
counter-rhythm, the reflux, the need, even by first drawing back, hotly 
denying the affection we have already confessed, to resume the offensive, 
and to recapture her esteem, to dominate her; the double rhythm is per- 
ceptible in the various periods of a single love affair, in all the correspond- 
ing periods of similar love affairs, in all those people whose self-analysis 
outweighs their self-esteem. If it was however somewhat more vigorously 
accentuated than usual in this speech which I was now preparing to make 
to Albertine, that was simply to allow me to pass more speedily and more 



THE MYSTERIES OP ALBERTINE 165 

emphatically to the alternate rhythm which should sound my affection. 

As though it must be painful to Albertine to believe what I was saying to 
her as to the impossibility of my loving her again, after so long an interval, 
I justified what I called an eccentricity of my nature by examples taken 
from people with whom I had, by their fault or my own, allowed the time 
for loving them to pass, and been unable, however keenly I might have 
desired it, to recapture it. I thus appeared at one and the same time to 
be apologising to her, as for a want of courtesy, for this inability to begin 
loving her again, and to be seeking to make her understand the psycho- 
logical reasons for that incapacity as though they had been peculiar to 
myself. But by explaining myself in this fashion, by dwelling upon the 
case of Gilberte, in regard to whom the argument had indeed been strictly 
true which was becoming so far from true when applied to Albertine, all 
that I did was to render my assertions as plausible as I pretended to be- 
lieve that they were not. Feeling that Albertine appreciated what she called 
my 'frank speech' and recognising in my deductions the clarity of the 
evidence, I apologised for the former by telling her that I knew that the 
truth was always unpleasant and in this instance must seem to her in- 
comprehensible. She, on the contrary, thanked me for my sincerity and 
added that so far from being puzzled she understood perfectly a state of 
mind so frequent and so natural. 

This avowal to Albertine of an imaginary sentiment for Andree, and, 
towards herself, an indifference which, that it might appear altogether 
sincere and without exaggeration, I assured her incidentally, as though 
by a scruple of politeness, must not be taken too literally, enabled me at 
length, without any fear of Albertine's suspecting me of loving her, to 
speak to her with a tenderness which I had so long denied myself and 
which seemed to me exquisite. I almost caressed my confidant; as I spoke 
to her of her friend whom I loved, tears came to my eyes. But, coming at 
last to the point, I said to her that she knew what love meant, its suscep- 
tibilities, its sufferings, and that perhaps, as the old friend that she now 
was, she might feel it in her heart to put a stop to the bitter grief that she 
was causing me, not directly, since it was not herself that I loved, if I might 
venture to repeat that without offending her, but indirectly by wounding 
me in my love for Andree. I broke off to admire and point out to Albertine 
a great bird, solitary and hastening, which far out in front of us, lashing 
the air with the regular beat of its wings, was passing at full speed over 
the beach stained here and there with reflexions like little torn scraps of 
red paper, and crossing it from end to end without slackening its pace, 
without diverting its attention, without deviating from its path, like an 
envoy carrying far afield an urgent and vital message. "He at least goes 
straight to the point!" said Albertine in a tone of reproach. "You say that 
because you don't know what it is I was going to tell you. But it is so 
difficult that I prefer to give it up; I am certain that I should make you 
angry; and then all that will have happened will be this: I shall be in no 
way better off with the girl I really love and I shall have lost a good friend." 
"But when I swear to you that I will not be angry." She had so sweet, so 
wistfully docile an air, as though her whole happiness depended on me, that 



l66 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

I could barely restrain myself from kissing with almost the same kind 
of pleasure that I should have taken in kissing my mother this novel 
face which no longer presented the startled, blushing expression of a re- 
bellious and perverse kitten with its little pink, tip-tilted nose, but seemed, 
in the fulness of its crushing sorrow, moulded in broad, flattened, drooping 
slabs of pure goodness. Making an abstraction of my love as of a chronic 
mania that had no connexion with her, putting myself in her place, I let 
my heart be melted before this honest girl, accustomed to being treated 
in a friendly and loyal fashion, whom the good comrade that she might have 
supposed me had been pursuing for weeks past with persecutions which 
had at last arrived at their culminating point. It was because I placed 
myself at a standpoint that was purely human, external to both of us, at 
which my jealous love dissolved, that I felt for Albertine that profound 
pity, which would have been less profound if I had not loved her. How- 
ever, in that rhythmical oscillation which leads from a declaration to a 
quarrel (the surest, the most certainly perilous way of forming by opposite 
and successive movements a knot which will not be loosed and attaches 
us firmly to a person by the strain of the movement of withdrawal which 
constitutes one of the two elements of the rhythm), of what use is it to 
analyse farther the refinances of human pity, which, the opposite of love, 
though springing perhaps unconsciously from the same cause, produces 
in every case the same effects? When we count up afterwards the total 
amount of all that we have done for a woman, we often discover that the 
actions prompted by the desire to shew that we love her, to make her love 
us, to win her favours, bulk little if any greater than those due to the 
human need to repair the wrongs that we have done to the creature whom 
we love, from a mere sense of moral duty, as though we were not in love 
with her. "But tell me, what on earth have I clone?" Albertine asked me. 
There was a knock at the door; it was the lift-boy; Albertine's aunt, who 
was passing the hotel in a carriage, had stopped on the chance of finding 
her there, to take her home. Albertine sent word that she could not come, 
that they were to begin dinner without her, that she could not say at what 
time she would return. "But won't your aunt be angry?" "What do you 
suppose? She will understand all right." And so, at this moment at least, 
a moment such as might never occur again a conversation with myself 
was proved by this incident to be in Albertine's eyes a thing of such self- 
evident importance that it must be given precedence over everything, a 
thing to which, referring no doubt instinctively to a family code, enumerat- 
ing certain crises in which, when the career of M. Bontemps was at stake, 
a journey had been made without a thought, my friend never doubted 
that her aunt would think it quite natural to see her sacrifice the dinner- 
hour. That remote hour which she passed without my company, among 
her own people, Albertine, having brought it to me, bestowed it on me; 
I might make what use of it I chose. I ended by making bold to tell her 
what had been reported to me about her way of living, and that notwith- 
standing the profound disgust that I felt for women tainted with that vice, 
I had not given it a thought until I had been told the name of her accom- 
plice, and that she could readily understand, loving Andree as I did, the 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 167 

grief that the news had caused me. It would have been more tactful per- 
haps to say that I had been given the names of other women as well, in 
whom I was not interested. But the sudden and terrible revelation that 
Cotlard had made to me had entered my heart to lacerate it, complete in 
itself but without accretions. And just as, before that moment, it would 
never have occurred to me that Albertine was in love with Andree, or at 
any rate could find pleasure in caressing her, if Cottard had not drawn 
my attention to their attitude as they waltzed together, so I had been 
incapable of passing from that idea to the idea, so different for me, that 
Albertine might have, with other women than Andree, relations for which 
affection could not be pleaded in excuse. Albertine, before even swearing 
to me that it was not true, shewed, like everyone upon learning that such 
things are being said about him, anger, concern, and, with regard to the 
unknown slanderer, a fierce curiosity to know who he was and a desire 
to be confronted with him so as to be able to confound him. But she assured 
me that she bore me, at least, no resentment. "If it had been true, I should 
have told you. But Andree and I both loathe that sort of thing. We have 
not lived all these years without seeing women with cropped hair who 
behave like men and do the things you mean, and nothing revolts us more." 
Albertine gave me merely her word, a peremptory word unsupported by 
proof. But this was just what was best calculated to calm me, jealousy 
belonging to that family of sickly doubts which are better purged by the 
energy than by the probability of an affirmation. It is moreover the prop- 
erty of love to make us at once more distrustful and more credulous, to 
make us suspect, more readily than we should suspect anyone else, her 
whom we love, and be convinced more easily by her denials. We must be 
in love before we can care that all women are not virtuous, which is to 
say before we can be aware of the fact, and we must be in love too before 
we can hope, that is to say assure ourselves that some are. It is human to 
seek out what hurts us and then at once to seek to get rid of it. The state- 
ments that are capable of so relieving us seem quite naturally true, we 
are not inclined to cavil at a sedative that acts. Besides, however multiform 
may be the person with whom we are in love, she can in any case offer us 
two essential personalities accordingly as she appears to us as ours, or as 
turning her desires in another direction. The former of these personalities 
possesses the peculiar power which prevents us from believing in the reality 
of the other, the secret remedy to heal the sufferings that this latter has 
caused us. The beloved object is successively the malady and the remedy 
that suspends and aggravates it. No doubt, I had long since been prepared, 
by the strong impression made on my imagination and my faculty for 
emotion by the example of Swann, to believe in the truth of what I feared 
rather than of what I should have wished. And so the comfort brought me 
by Albertine's affirmations came near to being jeopardised for a moment, 
because I was reminded of the story of Odette. But I told myself that, if 
it was only right to allow for the worst, not only when, in order to under- 
stand Swann's sufferings, I had tried to put myself in his place, but now, 
when I myself was concerned, in seeking the truth as though it referred 
to some one else, still I must not, out of cruelty to myself, a soldier who 



168 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

chooses the post not where he can be of most use but where he is most 
exposed, end in the mistake of regarding one supposition as more true 
than the rest, simply because it was more painful. Was there not a vast 
gulf between Albertine, a girl of good, middle-class parentage, and Odette, 
a courtesan bartered by her mother in her childhood? There could be no 
comparison of their respective credibility. Besides, Albertine had in no 
respect the same interest in lying to me that Odette had had in lying to 
Swann. Moreover to him Odette had admitted what Albertine had just 
denied. I should therefore be guilty of an error in reasoning as serious 
though in the opposite direction as that which had inclined me towards 
a certain hypothesis because it had caused me less pain than the rest, were 
I not to take into account these material differences in their positions, but 
to reconstruct the real life of my mistress solely from what I had been told 
about the life of Odette. I had before me a new Albertine, of whom I had 
already, it was true, caught more than one glimpse towards the end of my 
previous visit to Bulbec, frank and honest, an Albertine who had, out of 
affection for myself, forgiven me my suspicions and tried to dispel them. 
She made me sit down by her side upon my bed. I thanked her for what 
she had said to me, assured her that our reconciliation was complete, and 
that I would never be horrid to her again. I suggested to her that she ought, 
at the same time, to go home to dinner. She asked me whether I was not 
glad to have her with me. Drawing my head towards her for a caress which 
she had never before given me and which I owed perhaps to the healing of 
our rupture, she passed her tongue lightly over my lips which she attempted 
to force apart. At first I kept them tight shut. "You are a great bear!" 
she informed me. 

I ought to have left the place that evening and never set eyes on her 
again. I felt even then that in a love which is not reciprocated I might 
as well say, in love, for there are people for whom there is no such thing 
as reciprocated love we can enjoy only that simulacrum of happiness 
which had been given me at one of those unique moments in which a 
woman's good nature, or her caprice, or mere chance, bring to our desires, 
in perfect coincidence, the same words, the same actions as if we were 
really loved. The wiser course would have been to consider with curiosity, 
to possess with delight that little parcel of happiness failing which I should 
have died without ever suspecting what it could mean to hearts less difficult 
to please or more highly favoured ; to suppose that it formed part of a vast 
and enduring happiness of which this fragment only was visible to me, 
and lest the next day should expose this fiction not to attempt to ask 
for any fresh favour after this, which had been due only to the artifice 
of an exceptional moment. I ought to have left Balbec, to have shut myself 
up in solitude, to have remained so in harmony with the last vibrations 
of the voice which I had contrived to render amorous for an instant, and 
of which I should have asked nothing more than that it might never address 
another word to me; for fear lest, by an additional word which now could 
only be different, it might shatter with a discord the sensitive silence in 
which, as though by the pressure of a pedal, there might long have sur- 
vived in me the throbbing chord of happiness. 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 169 

Soothed by my explanation with Albertine, I began once again to live 
in closer intimacy with my mother. She loved to talk to me gently about 
the days in which my grandmother had been younger. Fearing that I might 
reproach myself with the sorrows with which I had perhaps darkened the 
close of my grandmother's life, she preferred to turn back to the years 
when the first signs of my dawning intelligence had given my grandmother 
a satisfaction which until now had always been kept from me. We talked 
of the old days at Combray. My mother reminded me that there at least 
I used to read, and that at Balbec I might well do the same, if I was not 
going to work. I replied that, to surround myself with memories of Com- 
bray and of the charming coloured plates, I should like to read again the 
Thousand and One Nights. As, long ago at Combray, when she gave me 
books for my birthday, so it was in secret, as a surprise for me, that my 
mother now sent for both the Thousand and One Nights of Galland and 
the Thousand Nights and a Night of Mardrus. But, after casting her eye 
over the two translations, my mother would have preferred that I should 
stick to Galland's, albeit hesitating to influence me because of the respect 
that she felt for intellectual liberty, her dread of interfering with my intel- 
lectual life and the feeling that, being a woman, on the one hand she lacked, 
or so she thought, the necessary literary equipment, and on the other hand 
ought not to condemn because she herself was shocked by it the reading of 
a young man. Happening upon certain of the tales, she had been revolted 
by the immorality of the subject and the crudity of the expression. But 
above all, preserving, like precious relics, not only the brooch, the sun- 
shade, the cloak, the volume of Madame de Sevigne, but also the habits 
of thought and speech of her mother, seeking on every occasion the opinion 
that she would have expressed, my mother could have no doubt of the 
horror with which my grandmother would have condemned Mardrus's 
book. She remembered that at Combray while before setting out for a 
walk, Meseglise way, I was reading Augustin Thierry, my grandmother, 
glad that I should be reading, and taking walks, was indignant nevertheless 
at seeing him whose name remained enshrined in the hemistich: 'Then 
reigned Merovee' called Merowig, refused to say 'Carolingians 7 for the 
'Carlovingians' to which she remained loyal. And then I told her what 
my grandmother had thought of the Greek names which Bloch, following 
Leconte de Lisle, gave to the gods of Homer, going so far, in the simplest 
matters, as to make it a religious duty, in which he supposed literary talent 
to consist, to adopt a Greek system of spelling. Having occasion, for in- 
stance, to mention in a letter that the wine which they drank at his home 
was real nectar, he would write 'real nektar/ with a k, which enabled him 
to titter at the mention of Lamartine. And if an Odyssey from which the 
names of Ulysses and Minerva were missing was no longer the Odyssey 
to her, what would she have said upon seeing corrupted even upon the 
cover the title of her Thousand and One Nights, upon no longer finding, 
exactly transcribed as she had all her life been in the habit of pronouncing 
them, the immortally familiar names of Scheherazade, of Dinarzade, in 
which, debaptised themselves (if one may use the expression of Musul- 
man tales), the charming Caliph and the powerful Genies were barely 



170 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

recognisable, being renamed, he the 'Khalifat' and they the 'Gennis.' Still, 
my mother handed over both books to me, and I told her that I would read 
them on the days when I felt too tired to go out. 

These days were not very frequent, however. We used to go out pic- 
nicking as before in a band, Albertine, her friends and myself, on the cliff 
or to the farm called Marie-Antoinette. But there were times when Alber- 
tine bestowed on me this great pleasure. She would say to me: "To-day I 
want to be alone with you for a little, it will be nicer if we are just by 
ourselves." Then she would give out that she was busy, not that she need 
furnish any explanation, and so that the others, if they went all the same, 
without us, for an excursion and picnic, might not be able to find us, we 
would steal away like a pair of lovers, all by ourselves to Bagatelle or the 
Cross of Heulan, while the band, who would never think of looking for 
us there and never went there, waited indefinitely, in the hope of seeing 
us appear, at Marie-Antoinette. I recall the hot weather that we had then, 
when from the brow of each of the farm-labourers toiling in the sun a drop 
of sweat would fall, vertical, regular, intermittent, like the drop of water 
from a cistern, and alternate with the fall of the ripe fruit dropping from 
the tree in the adjoining 'closes'; they have remained, to this day, with 
that mystery of a woman's secret, the most substantial part of every love 
that offers itself to me. A woman who has been mentioned to me and to 
whom I would not give a moment's thought I upset all my week's engage- 
ments to make her acquaintance, if it is a week of similar weather, and I 
am to meet her in some isolated farmhouse. It is no good my knowing that 
this kind of weather, this kind of assignation are not part of her, they are 
still the bait, which I know all too well, by which I allow myself to be 
tempted and which is sufficient to hook me. I know that this woman, in 
cold weather, in a town, I might perhaps have desired, but without the 
accompaniment of a romantic sentiment, without becoming amorous; my 
love for her is none the less keen as soon as, by force of circumstances, 
it has enthralled me it is only the more melancholy, as in the course of 
life our sentiments for other people become, in proportion as we become 
more clearly aware of the ever smaller part that they play in our life and 
that the new love which we would like to be so permanent, cut short in the 
same moment as life itself, will be the last. 

There were still but a few people at Balbec, hardly any girls. Sometimes 
I saw some girl resting upon the beach, devoid of charm, and yet apparently 
identified by various features as one whom I had been in despair at not 
being able to approach at the moment when she emerged with her friends 
from the riding school or gymnasium. If it was the same (and I took care 
not to mention the matter to Albertine), then the girl that I had thought so 
exciting did not exist. But I could not arrive at any certainty, for the face 
of any one of these girls did not fill any space upon the beach, did not offer 
a permanent form, contracted, dilated, transformed as it was by my own 
observation, the uneasiness of my desire or a sense of comfort that was 
self-sufficient, by the different clothes that she was wearing, the rapidity 
of her movements or her immobility. All the same, two or three of them 
seemed to me adorable. Whenever I saw one of these, I longed to take 



THE M Y b T E R I E S OF ALBERTINE 1 7 1 

her away along the Avenue des Tamaris, or among the sandhills, better 
still upon the cliff. But, albeit into desire, as opposed to indifference, there 
enters already that audacity which is a first stage, if Only unilateral, to- 
wards realisation, all the same, between my desire and the action that 
my request to be allowed to kiss her would have been, there was all the 
indefinite blank of hesitation, of timidity. Then I went into the pastry- 
cook's bar, I drank, one after another, seven or eight glasses of port wine. 
At once, instead of the impassable gulf between my desire and action, the 
effect of the alcohol traced a line that joined them together. No longer 
was there any room for hesitation or fear. It seemed to me that the girl 
was about to fly into my arms. I went up to her, the words came spon- 
taneously to my lips: "I should like to go for a walk with you. You wouldn't 
care to go along the cliff, we shan't be disturbed behind the little wood 
that keeps the wind off the wooden bungalow that is empty just now?" 
All the difficulties of life were smoothed away, there was no longer any 
obstacle to the conjunction of our two bodies. No obstacle for me, at least. 
For they had not been volatilised for her, who had not been drinking port 
wine. Had she done so, had the outer world lost some of its reality in her 
eyes, the long cherished dream that would then have appeared to her to 
be suddenly realisable might perhaps have been not at all that of falling 
into my arms. 

Not only were the girls few in number but at this season which was not 
yet 'the season' they stayed but a short time. There is one I remember 
with a reddish skin, green eyes and a pair of ruddy cheeks, whose slight 
symmetrical face resembled the winged seeds of certain trees. I cannot 
say what breeze wafted her to Balbec or what other bore her away. So 
sudden was her removal that for some days afterwards I was haunted by 
a grief which I made bold to confess to Albertine when I realised that the 
girl had gone for ever. 

I should add that several of them were either girls whom I did not know 
at all or whom I had not seen for years. Often, before addressing them, 
I wrote to them. If their answer allowed me to believe in the possibility 
of love, what joy! We cannot, at the outset of our friendship with a woman, 
even if that friendship is destined to come to nothing, bear to part from 
those first letters that we have received from her. We like to have them 
beside us all the time, like a present of rare flowers, still quite fresh, at 
which we cease to gaze only to draw them closer to us and smell them. 
The sentence that we know by heart, it is pleasant to read again, and in 
those that we have committed less accurately to memory we like to verify 
the degree of affection in some expression. Did she write: 'Your dear 
letter'? A slight marring of our bliss, which must be ascribed either to 
our having read too quickly, or to the illegible handwriting of our corre- 
spondent; she did not say: 'Your dear letter' but 'From your letter/ But 
the rest is so tender. Oh, that more such flowers may come to-morrow. 
Then that is no longer enough, we must with the written words compare 
the writer's eyes, her face. We make an appointment, and without her 
having altered, perhaps whereas we expected, from the description given 
us or our personal memory, to meet the fairy Viviane, we encounter Puss- 



172 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

in-Boots. We make an appointment, nevertheless, for the following day, 
for it is, after all, she, and the person we desired is she. And these desires 
for a woman of whom we have been dreaming do not make beauty of 
form and feature essential. These desires are only the desire for a certain 
person; vague as perfumes, as styrax was the desire of Prothyraia, saffron 
the ethereal desire, aromatic scents the desire of Hera, myrrh the perfume 
of the Magi, manna the desire of Nike, incense the perfume of the sea. 
But these perfumes that are sung in the Orphic hymns are far fewer in 
number than the deities they worship. Myrrh is the perfume of the Magi, 
but also of Protogonos, Neptune, Nereus, Leto; incense is the perfume 
of the sea, but also of the fair Dike, of Themis, of Circe, of the Nine 
Muses, of Eos, of Mnemosyne, of the Day, of Dikaiosyne. As for styrax, 
manna and aromatic scents, it would be impossible to name all the deities 
that inhale them, so many are they. Amphietes has all the perfumes except 
incense, and Gaia rejects only beans and aromatic scents. So was it with 
these desires for different girls that I felt. Fewer in number than the girls 
themselves, they changed into disappointments and regrets closely similar 
one to another. I never wished for myrrh. I reserved it for Jupien and for 
the Prince de Guermantes, for it is the desire of Protogonos "of twofold 
sex, who roars like a bull, of countless orgies, memorable, unspeakable, 
descending, joyous, to the sacrifices of the Orgiophants." 

But presently the season was in full swing; every day there was some 
fresh arrival, and for the sudden increase in the frequency of my outings, 
which took the place of the charmed perusal of the Thousand and One 
Nights, there was a reason devoid of pleasure which poisoned them all. 
The beach was now peopled with girls, and, since the idea suggested to me 
by Cottard had not indeed furnished me with fresh suspicions but had 
rendered me sensitive and weak in that quarter and careful not to let any 
suspicion take shape in my mind, as soon as a young woman arrived at 
Balbec, I began to feel ill at ease, I proposed to Albertine the most distant 
excursions, in order that she might not make the newcomer's acquaintance, 
and indeed, if possible, might not set eyes on her. I dreaded naturally 
even more those women whose dubious ways were remarked or their bad 
reputation already known; I tried to persuade my mistress that this bad 
reputation had no foundation, was a slander, perhaps, without admitting 
it to myself, from a fear, still unconscious, that she might seek to make 
friends with the depraved woman or regret her inability to do so, because 
of me, or might conclude from the number of examples that a vice so 
widespread was not to be condemned. In denying the guilt of each of them, 
my intention was nothing less than to pretend that sapphism did not exist. 
Albertine adopted my incredulity as to the viciousness of this one or that. 
"No, I think it's just a pose, she wants to look the part." But then, I re- 
gretted almost that I had pleaded the other's innocence, for it distressed 
me that Albertine, formerly so severe, could believe that this 'part' was 
a thing so flattering, so advantageous, that a woman innocent of such 
tastes could seek to 'look it.' I would have liked to be sure that no more 
women were coming to Balbec; I trembled when I thought that, as it 
was almost time for Mme. Putbus to arrive at the Verdurins', her maid, 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 173 

whose tastes Saint-Loup had not concealed from me, might take it into 
her head to come down to the beach, and, if it were a day on which I 
was not with Albertine, might seek to corrupt her. I went the length of 
asking myself whether, as Cottard had made no secret of the fact that 
the Verdurins thought highly of me and, while not wishing to appear, as 
he put it, to be running after me, would give a great deal to have me come 
to their house, I might not, on the strength of promises to bring all the 
Guermantes in existence to call on them in Paris, induce Mme. Verdurin, 
upon some pretext or other, to inform Mme. Putbus that it was impossible 
to keep her there any longer and make her leave the place at once. Not- 
withstanding these thoughts, and as it was chiefly the presence of Andree 
that was disturbing me, the soothing effect that Albertine's words had 
had upon me still to some extent persisted I knew moreover that presently 
I should have less need of it, as Andree would be leaving the place with 
Rosemonde and Gisele just about the time when the crowd began to arrive 
and would be spending only a few weeks more with Albertine. During 
these weeks, moreover, Albertine seemed to have planned everything that 
she did, everything that she said, with a view to destroying my suspicions 
if any remained, or to prevent them from reviving. She contrived never 
to be left alone with Andree, and insisted, when we came back from an 
excursion, upon my accompanying her to her door, upon my coming to 
fetch her when we were going anywhere. Andree meanwhile took just as 
much trouble on her side, seemed to avoid meeting Albertine. And this 
apparent understanding between them was not the only indication that 
Albertine must have informed her friend of our conversation and have 
asked her to be so kind as to calm my absurd suspicions. 

About this time there occurred at the Grand Hotel a scandal which was 
not calculated to modify the intensity of my torment. Bloch's cousin had 
for some time past been indulging, with a retired actress, in secret relations 
which presently ceased to satisfy them. That they should be seen seemed 
to them to add perversity to their pleasure, they chose to flaunt their 
perilous sport before the eyes of all the world. They began with caresses, 
which might, after all, be set down to a friendly intimacy, in the card- 
room, by the baccarat-table. Then they grew more bold. And finally, one 
evening, in a corner that was not even dark of the big ball-room, on a sofa, 
they made no more attempt to conceal what they were doing than if they 
had been in bed. Two officers who happened to be near, with their wives, 
complained to the manager. It was thought for a moment that their protest 
would be effective. But they had this against them that, having come over 
for the evening from Netteholme, where they were staying, they could 
not be of any use to the manager. Whereas, without her knowing it even, 
and whatever remarks the manager may have made to her, there hovered 
over Mile. Bloch the protection of M. Nissim Bernard. I must explain 
why. M. Nissim Bernard carried to their highest pitch the family virtues. 
Every year he took a magnificent villa at Balbec for his nephew, and no 
invitation would have dissuaded him from going home to dine at his own 
table, which was in reality theirs. But he never took his luncheon at home. 
Every day at noon he was at the Grand Hotel. The fact of the matter 



174 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

was that he was keeping, as other men keep a chorus-girl from the opera, 
an embryo waiter of much the same type as the pages of whom we have 
spoken, and who made us think of the young Israelites in Esther and 
Athalie. It is true that the forty years' difference in age between M. Nis- 
sim Bernard and the young waiter ought to have preserved the latter from 
a contact that was scarcely pleasant. But, as Racine so wisely observes 
in those same choruses: 

Great God, with what uncertain tread 
A budding virtue 'mid such perils goes! 
What stumbling-blocks do lie before a soul 
That seeks Thee and would fain be innocent. 

The young waiter might indeed have been brought up k remote from the 
world' in the Temple-Caravanserai of Balbec, he had not followed the 
advice of Joad: 

In riches and in gold put not thy trust. 

He had perhaps justified himself by saying: "The wicked cover the 
earth." However that might be, and albeit M. Nissim Bernard had not 
expected so rapid a conquest, on the very first day, 

Were't in alarm, or anxious to caress, 

He felt those childish arms about him thrown. 

And by the second day, M. Nissim Bernard having taken the young 
waiter out, 

Th2 dire assault his innocence destroyed. 

From that moment the boy's life was altered. He might indeed carry 
bread and salt, as his superior bade him, his whole face sang: 

From flowers to flowers, from joys to keener joys 

Let our desires now range. 

Uncertain is our tale of fleeting years. 

Haste we then to enjoy this life! 

Honours and fame are the reward 

Of blind and meek obedience. 

For moping innocence 

Who now would raise his voice! 

Since that day, M. Nissim Bernard had never failed to come and occupy 
his seat at the luncheon-table (as a man would occupy his in the stalls who 
was keeping a dancer, a dancer in this case of a distinct and special 
type, which still awaits its Degas). It was M. Nissim Bernard's delight 
to follow over the floor of the restaurant and down the remote vista to 
where beneath her palm the cashier sat enthroned, the evolutions of the 
adolescent hurrying in service, in the service of everyone, and, less than 
anyone, of M. Nissim Bernard, now that the latter was keeping him, 
whether because the young chorister did not think it necessary to display 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 175 

the same friendliness to a person by whom he supposed himself to be suf- 
ficiently well loved, or because that love annoyed him or he feared lest, if 
discovered, it might make him lose other opportunities. But this very cold- 
ness pleased M. Nissim Bernard, because of all that it concealed; whether 
from Hebraic atavism or from profanation of the Christian spirit, he took 
a singular pleasure, were it Jewish or Catholic, in the Racinian ceremony. 
Had it been a real performance of Esther or Athalie, M. Bernard would 
have regretted that the gulf of centuries must prevent him from making 
the acquaintance of the author, Jean Racine, so that he might obtain for 
his protege a more substantial part. But as the luncheon ceremony came 
from no author's pen, he contented himself with being on good terms with 
the manager and Aime, so that the 'young Israelite' might be promoted 
to the coveted post of under-waiter, or even full waiter to a row of tables. 
The post of wine waiter had been offered him. But M. Bernard made him 
decline it, for he would no longer have been able to come every day to 
watch him race about the green dining-room and to be waited upon by 
him like a stranger. Now this pleasure was so keen that every year M. Ber- 
nard returned to Balbec and took his luncheon away from home, habits in 
which M. Bloch saw, in the former a poetical fancy for the bright sun- 
shine, the sunsets of this coast favoured above all others, in the latter the 
inveterate mania of an old bachelor. 

As a matter of fact, the mistake made by M. Nissim Bernard's relatives, 
who never suspected the true reason for his annual return to Balbec and 
for what the pedantic Mme. Bloch called his absentee palate, was really a 
more profound and secondary truth. For M. Nissim Bernard himself was 
unaware how much there was of love for the beach at Balbec, for the view 
one enjoyed from the restaurant over the sea, and of maniacal habits in 
the fancy that he had for keeping, like a dancing girl of another kind which 
still lacks a Degas, one of his servants the rest of whom were still girls. And 
so M. Nissim Bernard maintained, with the director of this theatre which 
was the hotel at Balbec, and with the stage-manager and producer Aime 
whose part in all this affair was anything but simple excellent relations. 
One day they would intrigue to procure an important part, a place perhaps 
as headwaiter. In the meantime M. Nissim Bernard's pleasure, poetical 
and calmly contemplative as it might be, reminded one a little of those 
women-loving men who always know Swann, for example, in the past 
that if they go out to a party they will meet their mistress. No sooner had 
M. Nissim Bernard taken his seat than he would see the object of his affec- 
tions appear on the scene, bearing in his hand fruit or cigars upon a tray. 
And so every morning, after kissing his niece, bothering my friend Bloch 
about his work and feeding his horses with lumps of sugar from the palm 
of his outstretched hand, he would betray a feverish haste to arrive in time 
for luncheon at the Grand Hotel. Had the house been on fire, had his niece 
had a stroke, he would doubtless have started off just the same. So that he 
dreaded like the plague a cold that would confine him to his bed for he 
was a hypochondriac and would oblige him to ask Aime to send his young 
friend across to visit him at home, between luncheon and tea-time. 

He loved moreover all the labyrinth of corridors, private offices, recep- 



176 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

tion-rooms, cloakrooms, larders, galleries which composed the hotel at 
Balbec. With a strain of oriental atavism he loved a seraglio, and when he 
went out at night might be seen furtively exploring its passages. 

While, venturing down to the basement and endeavouring at the same 
time to escape notice and to avoid a scandal, M. Nissim Bernard, in his 
quest of the young Levites, put one in mind of those lines in La Juive: 

O God of our Fathers, come down to us again, 
Our mysteries veil from the eyes of wicked men! 

I on the contrary would go up to the room of two sisters who had come to 
Balbec, as her maids, with an old lady, a foreigner. They were what the 
language of hotels called 'couriers,' and that of Franqoise, who imag- 
ined that a courier was a person who was there to run his course, two 
'coursers.' The hotels have remained, more nobly, in the period when 
people sang: "C'est un courrier dc cabinet." 

Difficult as it was for a visitor to penetrate to the servants' quarters, I 
had very soon formed a mutual bond of friendship, as strong as it was 
pure, with these two young persons, Mademoiselle Marie Gineste and 
Madame Celeste Albaret. Born at the foot of the high mountains in the 
centre of France, on the banks of rivulets and torrents (the water passed 
actually under their old home, turning a millwheel, and the house had 
often been damaged by floods), they seemed to embody the features of 
that region. Marie Gineste was more regularly rapid and abrupt, Celeste 
Albaret softer and more languishing, spread out like a lake, but with ter- 
rible boiling rages in which her fury suggested the peril of spates and 
gales that sweep everything before them. They often came in the morning 
to see me when I was still in bed. I have never known people so deliberately 
ignorant, who had learned absolutely nothing at school, and yet whose 
language was somehow so literary that, but for the almost savage natural- 
ness of their tone, one would have thought their speech affected. With a 
familiarity which I reproduce verbatim, notwithstanding the praises (which 
I set down here in praise not of myself but of the strange genius of Celeste) 
and the criticisms, equally unfounded, in which her remarks seem to in- 
volve me, while I dipped crescent rolls in my milk, Celeste would say to 
me: "Oh! Little black devil with hair of jet, O profound wickedness! I 
don't know what your mother was thinking of when she made you, for you 
are just like a bird. Look, Marie, wouldn't you say he was preening his 
feathers, and turning his head right round, so light he looks, you would say 
he was just learning to fly. Ah! It's fortunate for you that those who bred 
you brought you into the world to rank and riches; what would ever have 
become of you, so wasteful as you are. Look at him throwing away his cres- 
cent because it touched the bed. There he goes, now, look, he's spilling his 
milk, wait till I tie a napkin round you, for you could never do it for your- 
self, never in my life have I seen anyone so helpless and so clumsy as you." 
I would then hear the more regular sound of the torrent of Marie Gineste 
who was furiously reprimanding her sister: "Will you hold your tongue, 
now, Celeste. Are you mad, talking to Monsieur like that?" Celeste merely 
smiled; and as I detested having a napkin tied round my neck: "No, 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 177 

Marie, look at him, bang, he's shot straight up on end like a serpent. A 
proper serpent, I tell you." These were but a few of her zoological similes, 
for, according to her, it was impossible to tell when I slept, I fluttered about 
all night like a butterfly, and in the day time I was as swift as the squir- 
rels. " You know, Marie, the way we see them at home, so nimble that even 
with your eyes you can't follow them." "But, Celeste, you know he doesn't 
like having a napkin when he's eating." "It isn't that he doesn't like it, it's 
so that he can say nobody can make him do anything against his will. He's 
a grand gentleman and he wants to shew that he is. They can change the 
sheets ten times over, if they must, but he won't give way. Yesterday's 
had served their time, but to-day they have only just been put on the bed 
and they'll have to be changed already. Oh, I was right when I said that 
he was never meant to be born among the poor. Look, his hair's standing 
on end, swelling with rage like a bird's feathers. Poor ploumissoul" Here 
it was not only Marie that protested, but myself, for I did not feel in the 
least like a grand gentleman. But Celeste would never believe in the sin- 
cerity of my modesty and cut me short. "Oh! The story-teller! Oh! The 
flatterer! Oh! The false one! The cunning rogue! Oh! Moliere!" (This 
was the only writer's name that she knew, but she applied it to me, mean- 
ing thereby a person who was capable both of writing plays and of acting 
them.) "Celeste!" came the imperious cry from Marie, who, not knowing 
the name of Moliere, was afraid that it might be some fresh insult. Celeste 
continued to smile: "Then you haven't seen the photograph of him in his 
drawer, when he was little. He tried to make us believe that he was always 
dressed quite simply. And there, with his little cane, he's all furs and laces, 
such as no Prince ever wore. But that's nothing compared with his tremen- 
dous majesty and kindness which is even more profound." "So then," 
scolded the torrent Marie, "you go rummaging in his drawers now, do 
you?" To calm Marie's fears I asked her what she thought of M. Nissim 
Bernard's behaviour. . . . "Ah! Monsieur, there are things I wouldn't 
have believed could exist. One has to come here to learn." And, for once 
outrivalling Celeste by an even more profound observation: "Ah! You see, 
Monsieur, one can never tell what there may be in a person's life." Tp 
change the subject, I spoke to her of the life led by my father, who toiled 
night and day. "Ah! Monsieur, there are people who keep nothing of their 
life for themselves, not one minute, not one pleasure, the whole thing is a 
sacrifice for others, they are lives that are given away" "Look, Marie, he 
has only to put his hand on the counterpane and take his crescent, what 
distinction. He can do the most insignificant things, you would say that the 
whole nobility of France, from here to the Pyrenees, was stirring in each 
of his movements." 

Overpowered by this portrait so far from lifelike, I remained silent; 
Celeste interpreted my silence as a further instance of guile: "Oh! Brow 
that looks so pure, and hides so many things, nice, cool cheeks like the 
inside of an almond, little hands of satin all velvety, nails like claws," and 
so forth. "There, Marie, look at him sipping his milk with a devoutness 
that makes me want to say my prayers. What a serious air! They ought 
really to take his portrait as he is just now. He's just like a child. Is it drink- 



178 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

ing milk, like them, that has kept you their bright colour? Oh! Youth! Oh! 
Lovely skin. You will never grow old. You are a lucky one, you will never 
need to raise your hand against anyone, for you have a pair of eyes that 
can make their will be done. Look at him now, he's angry. He shoots up, 
straight as a sign-post.'' 

Frangoise did not at all approve of what she called the two 'tricksters' 
coming to talk to me like this. The manager, who made his staff keep 
watch over everything that went on, even gave me a serious warning that 
it was not proper for a visitor to talk to servants. I, who found the 'trick- 
sters' far better than any visitor in the hotel, merely laughed in his face, 
convinced that he would not understand my explanations. And the sisters 
returned. "Look, Marie, at his delicate lines. Oh, perfect miniature, finer 
than the most precious you could see in a glass case, for he can move, and 
utters words you could listen to for days and nights." 

It was a miracle that a foreign lady could have brought them there, for, 
without knowing anything of history or geography, they heartily detested 
the English, the Germans, the Russians, the Italians, all foreign vermin, 
and cared, with certain exceptions, for French people alone. Their faces 
had so far preserved the moisture of the pliable clay of their native river 
beds, that, as soon as one mentioned a foreigner who was staying in the 
hotel, in order to repeat what he had said, Celeste and Marie imposed 
upon their faces his face, their mouths became his mouth, their eyes his 
eyes, one would have liked to preserve these admirable comic masks. 
Celeste indeed, while pretending merely to be repeating what the manager 
had said, or one of my friends, would insert in her little narrative fictitious 
remarks in which were maliciously portrayed all the defects of Bloch, the 
chief magistrate, etc., while apparently unconscious of doing so. It was, 
under the form of the delivery of a simple message which she had obligingly 
undertaken to convey, an inimitable portrait. They never read anything, 
not even a newspaper. One day, however, they found lying on my bed a 
book. It was a volume of the admirable but obscure poems of Saint-Leger 
Leger. Celeste read a few pages and said to me: "But are you quite sure 
that these are poetry, wouldn't they just be riddles?" Obviously, to a per- 
son who had learned in her childhood a single poem: "Down here the lilacs 
die," there was a gap in evolution. I fancy that their obstinate refusal to 
learn anything was due in part to the unhealthy climate of their early 
home. They had nevertheless all the gifts of a poet with more modesty 
than poets generally shew. For if Celeste had said something noteworthy 
and, unable to remember it correctly, I asked her to repeat it, she would 
assure me that she had forgotten. They will never read any books, but 
neither will they ever write any. 

Franqoise was considerably impressed when she learned that the two 
brothers of these humble women had married, one the niece of the Arch- 
bishop of Tours, the other a relative of the Bishop of Rodez. To the man- 
ager, this would have conveyed nothing. Celeste would sometimes reproach 
her husband with his failure to understand her, and as for me, I was 
astonished that he could endure her. For at certain moments, raging, furi- 
ous, destroying everything, she was detestable. It is said that the salt 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE 179 

liquid which is our blood is only an internal survival of the primitive 
marine element. Similarly, I believe that Celeste, not only in her bursts of 
fury, but also in her hours of depression preserved the rhythm of her native 
streams. When she was exhausted, it was after their fashion; she had liter- 
ally run dry. Nothing could then have revived her. Then all of a sudden 
the circulation was restored in her large body, splendid and light. The 
water flowed in the opaline transparence of her bluish skin. She smiled at 
the sun and became bluer still. At such moments she was truly celestial. 

Bloch 's family might never have suspected the reason which made their 
uncle never take his luncheon at home and have accepted it from the first 
as the mania of an elderly bachelor, due perhaps to the demands of his 
intimacy with some actress; everything that concerned M. Nissim Bernard 
was tabu to the manager of the Balbec hotel. And that was why, without 
even referring to the uncle, he had finally not ventured to find fault with 
the niece, albeit recommending her to be a little more circumspect. And so 
the girl and her friend who, for some days, had pictured themselves as ex- 
cluded from the casino and the Grand Hotel, seeing that everything was 
settled, were delighted to shew those fathers of families who held aloof 
from them that they might with impunity take the utmost liberties. No 
doubt they did not go so far as to repeat the public exhibition which had 
revolted everybody. But gradually they returned to their old ways. And 
one evening as I came out of the casino which was half in darkness with 
Albertine and Bloch whom we had met there, they came towards us, linked 
together, kissing each other incessantly, and, as they passed us, crowed 
and laughed, uttering indecent cries. Bloch lowered his eyes, so as to seem 
not to have recognised his cousin, and as for myself I was tortured by the 
thought that this occult, appalling language was addressed perhaps to 
Albertine. 

Another incident turned my thoughts even more in the direction of 
Gomorrah. I had noticed upon the beach a handsome young woman, erect 
and pale, whose eyes, round their centre, scattered rays so geometrically 
luminous that one was reminded, on meeting her gaze, of some constella- 
tion. I thought how much more beautiful this girl was than Albertine, and 
that it would be wiser to give up the other. Only, the face of this beautiful 
young woman had been smoothed by the invisible plane of an utterly low 
life, of the constant acceptance of vulgar expedients, so much so that her 
eyes, more noble however than the rest of her face, could radiate nothing but 
appetites and desires. Well, on the following day, this young woman being 
seated a long way away from us in the casino, I saw that she never ceased 
to fasten upon Albertine the alternate, circling fires of her gaze. One would 
have said that she was making signals to her from a lighthouse. I dreaded 
my friend's seeing that she was being so closely observed, I was afraid that 
these incessantly rekindled glances might have the conventional meaning 
of an amorous assignation for the morrow. For all I knew, this assignation 
might not be the first. The young woman with the radiant eyes might have 
come another year to Balbec. It was perhaps because Albertine had al- 
ready yielded to her desires, or to those of a friend, that this woman al- 
lowed herself to address to her those flashing signals. If so, they did more 



ISO CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

than demand something for the present, they found a justification in pleas- 
ant hours in the past. 

This assignation, in that case, must be not the first, but the sequel to 
adventures shared in past years. And indeed her glance did not say: "Will 
you?" As soon as the young woman had caught sight of Albertine, she had 
turned her head and beamed upon her glances charged with recollection, 
as though she were terribly afraid that my friend might not remember. Al- 
bertine, who could see her plainly, remained phlegmatically motionless, 
with the result that the other, with the same sort of discretion as a man 
who sees his old mistress with a new lover, ceased to look at her and paid 
no more attention to her than if she had not existed. 

But, a day or two later, I received a proof of this young woman's tend- 
encies, and also of the probability of her having known Albertine in the 
past. Often, in the hall of the casino, when two girls were smitten with 
mutual desire, a luminous phenomenon occurred, a sort of phosphorescent 
train passing from one to the other. Let us note in passing that it is by the 
aid of such materialisations, even if they be imponderable, by these astral 
signs that set fire to a whole section of the atmosphere, that the scattered 
Gomorrah tends, in every town, in every village, to reunite its separated 
members, to reform the biblical city while everywhere the same efforts 
are being made, be it in view of but a momentary reconstruction, by the 
nostalgic, the hypocritical, sometimes by the courageous exiles from 
Sodom. 

Once I saw the stranger whom Albertine had appeared not to recognise, 
just at the moment when Bloch's cousin was approaching her. The young 
woman's eyes flashed, but it was quite evident that she did not know the 
Israelite maiden. She beheld her for the first time, felt a desire, a shadow 
of doubt, by no means the same certainty as in the case of Albertine, 
Albertine upon whose comradeship she must so far have reckoned that, in 
the face of her coldness, she had felt the surprise of a foreigner familiar 
with Paris but not resident there, who, having returned to spend a few 
weeks there, on the site of the little theatre where he was in the habit of 
spending pleasant evenings, sees that they have now built a bank. 

Bloch's cousin went and sat down at a table where she turned the pages 
of a magazine. Presently the young woman came and sat down, with an 
abstracted air, by her side. But under the table one could presently see 
their feet wriggling, then their legs and hands, in a confused heap. Words 
followed, a conversation began, and the young woman's innocent husband, 
who had been looking everywhere for her, was astonished to find her mak- 
ing plans for that very evening with a girl whom he did not know. His wife 
introduced Bloch's cousin to him as a friend of her childhood, by an in- 
audible name, for she had forgotten to ask her what her name was. But the 
husband's presence made their intimacy advance a stage farther, for they 
addressed each other as tu, having known each other at their convent, an 
incident at which they laughed heartily later on, as well as at the hood- 
winked husband, with a gaiety which afforded them an excuse for more 
caresses. 

As for Albertine, I cannot say that anywhere in the casino or on the 



THE MYSTERIES OF ALBERTINE l8l 

beach was her behaviour with any girl unduly free. I found in it indeed an 
excess of coldness and indifference which seemed to be more than good 
breeding, to be a ruse planned to avert suspicion. When questioned by 
some girl, she had a quick, icy, decent way of replying in a very loud voice: 
"Yes, I shall be going to the tennis court about five. I shall bathe to-mor- 
row morning about eight," and of at once turning away from the person 
to whom she had said this all of which had a horrible appearance of being 
meant to put people off the scent, and either to make an assignation, or, 
the assignation already made in a whisper, to utter this speech, harmless 
enough in itself, aloud, so as not to attract attention. And when later on I 
saw her mount her bicycle and scorch away into the distance, I could not 
help thinking that she was hurrying to overtake the girl to whom she had 
barely spoken. 

Only, when some handsome young woman stepped out of a motor-car 
at the end of the beach, Albertine could not help turning round. And she 
at once explained: "I was looking at the new flag they've put up over 
the bathing place. The old one was pretty moth-eaten. But I really think 
this one is mouldier still." 

On one occasion Albertine was not content with cold indifference, and 
this made me all the more wretched. She knew that I was annoyed by the 
possibility of her sometimes meeting a friend of her aunt, who had a 'bad 
style' and came now and again to spend a few days with Mme. Bontemps. 
Albertine had pleased me by telling me that she would not speak to her 
again. And when this woman came to Incarville, Albertine said: "By the 
way, you know she's here. Have they told you?" as though to shew me 
that she was not seeing her in secret. One day, when she told me this, she 
added: "Yes, I ran into her on the beach, and knocked against her as I 
passed, on purpose, to be rude to her." When Albertine told me this, there 
came back to my mind a remark made by Mme. Bontemps, to which I had 
never given a second thought, when she had said to Mme. Swann in my 
presence how brazen her niece Albertine was, as though that were a merit, 
and told her how Albertine had reminded some official's wife that her 
father had been employed in a kitchen. But a thing said by her whom we 
love does not long retain its purity; it withers, it decays. An evening or two 
later, I thought again of Albertine's remark, and it was no longer the ill 
breeding of which she was so proud and which could only make me smile 
that it seemed to me to signify, it was something else, to wit that Al- 
bertine, perhaps even without any definite object, to irritate this woman's 
senses, or wantonly to remind her of former proposals, accepted perhaps 
in the past, had swiftly brushed against her, thought that I had perhaps 
heard of this as it had been done in public, and had wished to forestall an 
unfavourable interpretation. 

However, the jealousy that was caused me by the women whom Alber- 
tine perhaps loved was abruptly to cease. 



PART II 
CHAPTER TWO (continued) 

The pleasures of M. Nissim Bernard (continued) Outline of tne 
strange character of Morel M. de Charlus dines with the Ver- 
durins. 



WE were waiting, Albertine and I, at the Balbec station of the little local 
railway. We had driven there in the hotel omnibus, because it was raining. 
Not far away from us was M. Nissim Bernard, with a black eye. He had 
recently forsaken the chorister from Athalie for the waiter at a much fre- 
quented farmhouse in the neighbourhood, known as the 'Cherry Orchard.' 
This rubicund youth, with his blunt features, appeared for all the world 
to have a tomato instead of a head. A tomato exactly similar served as head 
to his twin brother. To the detached observer there is this attraction about 
these perfect resemblances between pairs of twins, that nature, becoming 
for the moment industrialised, seems to be offering a pattern for sale. Un- 
fortunately M. Nissim Bernard looked at it from another point of view, 
and this resemblance was only external. Tomato II shewed a frenzied 
zeal in furnishing the pleasures exclusively of ladies, Tomato I did not 
mind condescending to meet the wishes of certain gentlemen. Now on each 
occasion when, stirred, as though by a reflex action, by the memory of 
pleasant hours spent with Tomato I, M. Bernard presented himself at the 
Cherry Orchard, being short-sighted (not that one need be short-sighted 
to mistake them), the old Israelite, unconsciously playing Amphitryon, 
would accost the twin brother with: "Will you meet me somewhere this 
evening?" He at once received a resounding smack in the face. It might 
even be repeated in the course of a single meal, when he continued with the 
second brother the conversation he had begun with the first. In the end 
this treatment so disgusted him, by association of ideas, with tomatoes, 
even of the edible variety, that whenever he heard a newcomer order that 
vegetable, at the next table to his own, in the Grand Hotel, he would mur- 
mur to him: "You must excuse me, Sir, for addressing you, without an intro- 
duction. But I heard you order tomatoes. They are stale to-day. I tell you 
in your own interest, for it makes no difference to me, I never touch them 
myself." The stranger would reply with effusive thanks to this philan- 
thropic and disinterested neighbour, call back the waiter, pretend to have 
changed his mind: "No, on second thoughts, certainly not, no tomatoes." 
Aime, who had seen it all before, would laugh to himself, and think: "He's 
an old rascal, that Monsieur Bernard, he's gone and made another of them 
change his order." M. Bernard, as he waited for the already overdue tram, 
shewed no eagerness to speak to Albertine and myself, because of his 
black eye. We were even less eager to speak to him. It would however have 

182 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 183 

been almost inevitable if, at that moment, a bicycle had not come dashing 
towards us; the lift-boy sprang from its saddle, breathless. Madame 
Verdurin had telephoned shortly after we left the hotel, to know whether 
I would dine with her two days later; we shall see presently why. Then, 
having given me the message in detail, the lift-boy left us, and, being one 
of these democratic 'employees 7 who affect independence with regard to 
the middle classes, and among themselves restore the principle of authority, 
explained: "I must be off, because of my chiefs." 

Albertine's girl friends had gone, and wotild be away for some time. I 
was anxious to provide her with distractions. Even supposing that she 
might have found some happiness in spending the afternoons with no com- 
pany but my own, at Balbec, I knew that such happiness is never complete, 
and that Albertine, being still at the age (which some of us never out- 
grow) when we have not yet discovered that this imperfection resides in 
the person who receives the happiness and not in the person who gives it, 
might have been tempted to put her disappointment down to myself. I 
preferred that she should impute it to circumstances which, arranged by 
myself, would not give us an opportunity of being alone together, while 
at the same time preventing her from remaining in the casino and on the 
beach without me. And so I had askqd her that day to come with me 
to Doncieres, where I was going to meet Saint-Loup. With a similar hope 
of occupying her mind, I advised her to take up painting, in which she had 
had lessons in the past. While working she would not ask herself whether 
she was happy or unhappy. I would gladly have taken her also to dine now 
and again with the Verdurins and the Cambremers, who certainly would 
have been delighted to see any friend introduced by myself, but I must 
first make certain that Mme. Putbus was not yet at la Raspeliere. It was 
only by going there in person that I could make sure of this, and, as I knew 
beforehand that on the next day but one Albertine would be going on a 
visit with her aunt, I had seized this opportunity to send Mme. Verdurin a 
telegram asking her whether she would be at home upon Wednesday. If 
Mme. Putbus was there, I would manage to see her maid, ascertain whether 
there was any danger of her coming to Balbec, and if so find out when, so 
as to take Albertine out of reach on the day. The little local railway, mak- 
ing a loop which did not exist at the time when I had taken it with my 
grandmother, now extended to Doncieres-la-Goupil, a big station at which 
important trains stopped, among them the express by which I had come 
down to visit Saint-Loup, from Paris, and the corresponding express by 
which I had returned. And, because of the bad weather, the omnibus from 
the Grand Hotel took Albertine and myself to the station of the little 
tram, Balbec-Plage. 

The little train had not yet arrived, but one could see, lazy and slow, 
the plume of smoke that it had left in its wake, which, confined now to its 
own power of locomotion as an almost stationary cloud, was slowly mount- 
ing the green slope of the cliff of Criquetot. Finally the little tram, which it 
had preceded by taking a vertical course, arrived in its turn, at a leisurely 
crawl. The passengers who were waiting to board it stepped back to make 
way for it, but without hurrying, knowing that they were dealing with a 



184 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

good-natured, almost human traveller, who, guided like the bicycle of a 
beginner, by the obliging signals of the station-master, in the strong hands 
of the engine-driver, was in no danger of running over anybody, and would 
come to a halt at the proper place. 

My telegram explained the Verdurins' telephone message and had been 
all the more opportune since Wednesday (the day I had fixed happened to 
be a Wednesday) was the day set apart for dinner-parties by Mme. Ver- 
durin, at la Raspeliere, as in Paris, a fact of which I was unaware. Mme. 
Verdurin did not give 'dinner?/ but she had 'Wednesdays.' These Wednes- 
days were works of art. While fully conscious that they had not their 
match anywhere, Mme. Verdurin introduced shades of distinction between 
them. "Last Wednesday was not as good as the one before," she would 
say. "But I believe the next will be one of the best I have ever given." 
Sometimes she went so far as to admit: "This Wednesday was not worthy 
of the others. But I have a big surprise for you next week." In the closing 
weeks of the Paris season, before leaving for the country, the Mistress 
would announce the end of the Wednesdays. It gave her an opportunity to 
stimulate the faithful. "There are only three more Wednesdays left, there 
are only two more," she would say, in the same tone as though the world 
were coming to an end. "You aren't going to miss next Wednesday, for the 
finale." But this finale was a sham, for she would announce: "Officially, 
there will be no more Wednesdays. To-day was the last for this year. But 
I shall be at home all the same on Wednesday. We shall have a little 
Wednesday to ourselves; I dare say these little private Wednesdays 
will be the nicest of all." At la Raspeliere, the Wednesdays were of neces- 
sity restricted, and since, if they had discovered a friend who was 
passing that way, they would invite him for one or another evening, almost 
every day of the week became a Wednesday. "I don't remember all the 
guests, but I know there's Madame la Marquise de Camembert," the lift- 
boy had told me ; his memory of our discussion of the name Cambremer 
had not succeeded in definitely supplanting that of the old world, whose 
syllables, familiar and full of meaning, came to the young employee's 
rescue when he was embarrassed by this difficult name, and were imme- 
diately preferred and readopted by him, not by any means from laziness 
or as an old and ineradicable usage, but because of the need for logic and 
clarity which they satisfied. 

We hastened in search of an empty carriage in which I could hold Alber- 
tine in my arms throughout the journey. Having failed to find one, we got 
into a compartment in which there was already installed a lady with a mas- 
sive face, old and ugly, with a masculine expression, very much in her Sun- 
day best, who was reading the Revue des Deux Mondes. Notwithstanding 
her commonness, she was eclectic in her tastes, and I found amusement in 
asking myself to what social category she could belong ; I at once concluded 
that she must be the manager of some large brothel, a procuress on holiday. 
Her face, her manner, proclaimed the fact aloud. Only, I had never yet 
supposed that such ladies read the Revue des Deux Mondes. Albertine 
drew my attention to her with a wink and a smile. The lady wore an air of 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 185 

extreme dignity; and as I, for my part, bore within me the consciousness 
that I was invited, two days later, to the terminal point of the little railway, 
by the famous Mme. Verdurin, that at an intermediate station I was 
awaited by Robert de Saint-Loup, and that a little farther on I had it in my 
power to give great pleasure to Mme. de Cambremer, by going to stay at 
Feterne, my eyes sparkled with irony as I studied this self-important lady 
who seemed to think that, because of her elaborate attire, the feathers in 
her hat, her Revue des Deux Mondes, she was a more considerable per- 
sonage than myself. I hoped that the lady would not remain in the train 
much longer than M. Nissim Bernard, and that she would alight at least at 
Toutainville, but no. The train stopped at Evreville, she remained seated. 
Similarly at Montmartin-sur-Mer, at Parville-la-Bingard, at Incarville, 
so that in despair, when the train had left Saint-Frichoux, which was the 
last station before Doncieres, I began to embrace Albertine without both- 
ering about the lady. At Doncieres, Saint-Loup had come to meet me at 
the station, with the greatest difficulty, he told me, for, as he was staying 
with his aunt, my telegram had only just reached him and he could not, 
having been unable to make any arrangements beforehand, spare me more 
than an hour of his time. This hour seemed to me, alas, far too long, for as 
soon as we had left the train Albertine devoted her whole attention to 
Saint-Loup. She never talked to me, barely answered me if I addressed 
her, repulsed me when I approached her. With Robert, on the other hand, 
she laughed her provoking laugh, talked to him volubly, played with the 
dog he had brought with him, and, as she excited the animal, deliberately 
rubbed against its master. I remembered that, on the day when Albertine 
had allowed me to kiss her for the first time, I had had a smile of gratitude 
for the unknown seducer who had wrought so profound a change in her and 
had so far simplified my task. I thought of him now with horror. Robert 
must have noticed that I was not unconcerned about Albertine, for he 
offered no response to her provocations, which made her extremely an- 
noyed with myself ; then he spoke to me as though I had been alone, which, 
when she realised it, raised me again in her esteem. Robert asked me if I 
would not like to meet those of his friends with whom he used to make me 
dine every evening at Doncieres, when I was staying there, who were still 
in the garrison. And as he himself adopted that irritating manner which 
he rebuked in others: "What is the good of your having worked so hard to 
charm them if you don't want to see them again?" I declined his offer, for 
I did not wish to run any risk of being parted from Albertine, but also 
because now I was detached from them. From them, which is to say from 
myself. We passionately long that there may be another life in which we 
shall be similar to what we are here below. But we do not pause to reflect 
that, even without waiting for that other life, in this life, after a few years 
we are unfaithful to what we have been, to what we wished to remain im- 
mortally. Even without supposing that death is to alter us more completely 
than the changes that occur in the course of a lifetime, if in that other life 
we were to encounter the self that we have been, we should turn away 
from ourselves as from those people with whom we were once on friendly 



186 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

terms but whom we have not seen for years such as Saint-Loup's friends 
whom I used so much to enjoy meeting again every evening at the Faisan 
Dore, and whose conversation would now have seemed to me merely a bor- 
ing importunity. In this respect, and because I preferred not to go there in 
search of what had pleased me there in the past, a stroll through Doncieres 
might have seemed to me a prefiguration of an arrival in Paradise. We 
dream much of Paradise, or rather of a number of successive Paradises, 
but each of them is, long before we die, a Paradise lost, in which we should 
feel ourselves lost also. 

He left us at the station. "But you may have about an hour to wait/' 
he told me. "If you spend it here, you will probably see my uncle Charlus, 
who is going by the train to Paris, ten minutes before yours. I have said 
good-bye to him already, because I have to go back before his train starts. 
I didn't tell him about you, because I hadn't got your telegram." To the 
reproaches which I heaped upon Albertine when Saint-Loup had left us, she 
replied that she had intended, by her coldness towards me, to destroy any 
idea that he might have formed if, at the moment when the train stopped, 
he had seen me leaning against her with my arm round her waist. He had 
indeed noticed this attitude (I had not caught sight of him, otherwise I 
should have adopted one that was more correct), and had had time to 
murmur in my ear: "So that's how it is, one of those priggish little girls you 
told me about, who wouldn't go near Mile, de Stermaria because they 
thought her fast?" I had indeed mentioned to Robert, and in all sincerity, 
when I went down from Paris to visit him at Doncieres, and when we were 
talking about our time at Balbec, that there was nothing to be had 
from Albertine, that she was the embodiment of virtue. And now that I had 
long since discovered for myself that this was false, I was even more 
anxious that Robert should believe it to be true. It would have been suf- 
ficient for me to tell Robert that I was in love with Albertine. He was one 
of those people who are capable of denying themselves a pleasure to spare 
their friend sufferings which they would feel even more keenly if they 
themselves were the victims. "Yes, she is still rather childish. But you don't 
know anything against her?" I added anxiously. "Nothing, except that I 
saw you clinging together like a pair of lovers." 

"Your attitude destroyed absolutely nothing," I told Albertine when 
Saint-Loup had left us. "Quite true," she said to me, "it was stupid of 
me, I hurt your feelings, I'm far more unhappy about it than you are. 
You'll see, I shall never be like that again; forgive me," she pleaded, 
holding out her hand with a sorrowful air. At that moment, from the 
entrance to the waiting-room in which we were sitting, I saw advance 
slowly, followed at a respectful distance by a porter loaded with his bag- 
gage, M. de Charlus. 

In Paris, where I encountered him only in evening dress, immobile, 
straitlaced in a black coat, maintained in a vertical posture by his proud 
aloofness, his thirst for admiration, the soar of his conversation, I had 
never realised how far he had aged. Now, in a light travelling suit which 
made him appear stouter, as he swaggered through the room, balancing a 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 187 

pursy stomach and an almost symbolical behind, the cruel light of day 
broke up into paint, upon his lips, rice-powder fixed by cold cream, on the 
tip of his nose, black upon his dyed moustaches whose ebon tint formed 
a contrast to his grizzled hair, all that by artificial light had seemed the 
animated colouring of a man who was still young. 

While I stood talking to him, though briefly, because of his train, I kept 
my eye on Albertine's carriage to shew her that I was coming. When I 
turned my head towards M. de Charlus, he asked me to be so kind as to 
summon a soldier, a relative of his, who was standing on the other side of 
the platform, as though he were waiting to take our train, but in the 
opposite direction, away from Balbec. "He is in his regimental band/' 
said M. de Charlus. "As you are so fortunate as to be stil! young enough, 
and I unfortunately am old enough for you to save me the trouble of 
going across to him." I took it upon myself to go across to the soldier he 
pointed out to me, and saw from the lyres embroidered on his collar that 
he was a bandsman. But, just as I was preparing to execute my commission, 
what was my surprise, and, I may say, my pleasure, on recognising Morel, 
the son of my uncle's valet, who recalled to me so many memories. They 
made me forget to convey M. de Charlus's message. "What, you are at 
Doncieres?" "Yes, and they've put me in the band attached to the bat- 
teries." But he made this answer in a dry and haughty tone. He had be- 
come an intense 'poseur,' and evidently the sight of myself, reminding him 
of his father's profession, was not pleasing to him. Suddenly I saw M. de 
Charlus descending upon us. My delay had evidently taxed his patience. 
"I should like to listen to a little music this evening," he said to Morel with- 
out any preliminaries, "I pay five hundred francs for the evening, which 
may perhaps be of interest to one of your friends, if you have any in the 
band." Knowing as I did the insolence of M. de Charlus, I was astonished 
at his not even saying how d'ye do to his young friend. The Baron did not 
however give me time to think. Holding out his hand in the friendliest 
manner: "Good-bye, my dear fellow," he said, as a hint that I might now 
leave them. I had, as it happened, left my dear Albertine too long alone. 
"D'you know," I said to her as I climbed into the carriage, "life by the 
sea-side and travelling make me realise that the theatre of the world is 
stocked with fewer settings than actors, and with fewer actors than situa- 
tions." "What makes you say that?" "Because M. de Charlus asked me 
just now to fetch one of his friends, whom, this instant, on the platform 
of this station, I have just discovered to be one of my own." But as I 
uttered these words, I began to wonder how the Baron could have bridged 
the social gulf to which I had not given a thought. It occurred to me first 
of all that it might be through Jupien, whose niece, as the reader may 
remember, had seemed to shew a preference for the violinist. What did 
baffle me completely was that, when due to leave for Paris in five minutes, 
the Baron should have asked for a musical evening. But, visualising Jupien 's 
niece again in my memory, I was beginning to find that t recognitions' did 
indeed play an important part in life, when all of a sudden the truth flashed 
across my mind and I realised that I had been absurdly innocent. M. de 



l88 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

Charlus had never in his life set eyes upon Morel, nor Morel upon M. de 
Charlus, who, dazzled but also terrified by a warrior, albeit he bore no 
weapon but a lyre, had called upon me in his emotion to bring him the 
person whom he never suspected that I already knew. In any case, the 
offer of five hundred francs must have made up to Morel for the absence of 
any previous relations, for I saw that they continued to talk, without re- 
flecting that they were standing close beside our tram. As I recalled the 
manner in which M. de Charlus had come up to Morel and myself, I saw 
at once the resemblance to certain of his relatives, when they picked up a 
woman in the street. Only the desired object had changed its sex. After a 
certain age, and even if different evolutions are occurring in us, the more 
we become ourselves, the more our characteristic features are accentuated. 
For Nature, while harmoniously contributing the design of her tapestry, 
breaks the monotony of the composition thanks to the variety of the inter- 
cepted forms. Besides, the arrogance with which M. de Charlus had ac- 
costed the violinist is relative, and depends upon the point of view one 
adopts. It would have been recognised by three out of four of the men in 
society who nodded their heads to him, not by the prefect of police who, 
a few years later, was to keep him under observation. 

"The Paris train is signalled, Sir," said the porter who was carrying his 
luggage. "But I am not going by the train, put it in the cloakroom, damn 
you!" said M. de Charlus, as he gave twenty francs to the porter, aston- 
ished by the change of plan and charmed by the tip. This generosity at 
once attracted a flower-seller. "Buy these carnations, look, this lovely rose, 
kind gentlemen, it will bring you luck." M. de Charlus, out of patience, 
handed her a couple of francs, in exchange for which the woman gave him 
her blessing, and her flowers as well. "Good God, why can't she leave us 
alone," said M. de Charlus, addressing himself in an ironical and com- 
plaining tone, as of a man distraught, to Morel, to whom he found a certain 
comfort in appealing. "We've quite enough to talk about as it is." Perhaps 
the porter was not yet out of earshot, perhaps M. de Charlus did not care 
to have too numerous an audience, perhaps these incidental remarks en- 
abled his lofty timidity not to approach too directly the request for an 
assignation. The musician, turning with a frank, imperative and decided 
air to the flower-seller, raised a hand which repulsed her and indicated to 
her that they did not want her flowers and that she was to get out of their 
way as quickly as possible. M. de Charlus observed with ecstasy this 
authoritative, virile gesture, made by the graceful hand for which it ought 
still to have been too weighty, too massively brutal, with a precocious firm- 
ness and suppleness which gave to this still beardless adolescent the air of 
a young David capable of waging war against Goliath. The Baron's admira- 
tion was unconsciously blended with the smile with which we observe in a 
child an expression of gravity beyond his years. "This is a person whom I 
should like to accompany me on my travels and help me in my business. 
How he would simplify my life," M. de Charlus said to himself. 

The train for-Paris (which M. de 'Charlus did not take) started. Then 
we took our seats in our own train, Albertine and I, without my knowing 
what had become of M. de Charlus and Morel. "We must never quarrel 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 189 

any more, I beg your pardon again," Albertine repeated, alluding to the 
Saint-Loup incident. "We must always be nice to each other," she said 
tenderly. "As for your friend Saint-Loup, if you think that I am the least 
bit interested in him, you are quite mistaken. All that I like about him is 
that he seems so very fond of you." "He's a very good fellow," I said, 
taking care not to supply Robert with those imaginary excellences which I 
should not have failed to invent, out of friendship for himself, had I been 
with anybody but Albertine. "He's an excellent creature, frank, devoted, 
loyal, a person you can rely on to do anything." In saying this I confined 
myself, held in check by my jealousy, to telling the truth about Saint-Loup, 
but what I said was literally true. It found expression in precisely the same 
terms that Mme. de Villeparisis had employed in speaking to me of him, 
when I did not yet know him, imagined him to be so different, so proud, 
and said to myself: "People think him good because he is a great gentle- 
man." Just as when she had said to me: "He would be so pleased," I 
imagined, after seeing him outside the hotel, preparing to drive away, that 
his aunt's speech had been a mere social banality, intended to flatter me. 
And I had realised afterwards that she had said what she did sincerely, 
thinking of the things that interested me, of my reading, and because she 
knew that that was what Saint-Loup liked, as it was to be my turn to say 
sincerely to somebody who was writing a history of his ancestor La Roche- 
foucauld, the author of the Maximcs, who wished to consult Robert about 
him: "He will be so pleased." It was simply that I had learned to know 
him. But, when I set eyes on him for the first time, I had not supposed that 
an intelligence akin to my own could be enveloped in so much outward ele- 
gance of dress and attitude. By his feathers I had judged him to be a bird 
of another species. It was Albertine now who, perhaps a little because 
Saint-Loup, in his kindness to myself, had been so cold to her, said to me 
what I had already thought: "Ah! He is as devoted as all that! I notice 
that people always find all the virtues in other people, when they belong 
to the Faubourg Saint-Germain." Now that Saint-Loup belonged to the 
Faubourg Saint-Germain was a thing of which I had never once thought 
in the course of all these years in which, stripping himself of his prestige, 
he had displayed to me his virtues. A change in our perspective in looking 
at other people, more striking already in friendship than in merely social 
relations, but how much more striking still in love, where desire on so vast 
a scale increases to such proportions the slightest signs of coolness, that far 
less than the coolness Saint-Loup had shewn me in the beginning had been 
enough to make me suppose at first that Albertine scorned me, imagine her 
friends to be creatures marvellously inhuman, and ascribe merely to the 
indulgence that people feel for beauty and for a certain elegance, Elstir's 
judgment when he said to me of the little band, with just the same senti- 
ment as Mme. de Villeparisis speaking of Saint-Loup: "They are good 
girls." But this was not the opinion that I would instinctively have formed 
when I heard Albertine say: "In any case, whether he's devoted or not, I 
sincerely hope I shall never see him again, since he's made us quarrel. 
We must never quarrel again. It isn't nice." I felt, since she had seemed 
to desire Saint-Loup, almost cured for the time being of the idea that she 



IQO CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

cared for women, which I had supposed to be incurable. And, faced by 
Albertine's mackintosh in which she seemed to have become another per- 
son, the tireless vagrant of rainy days, and which, close-fitting, malleable 
and grey, seemed at that moment not so much intended to protect her gar- 
ments from the rain as to have been soaked by her and to be clinging to 
my mistress's body as though to take the imprint of her form for a sculptor, 
I tore apart that tunic which jealously espoused a longed-for bosom and, 
drawing Albertine towards me: "But won't you, indolent traveller, dream 
upon my shoulder, resting your brow upon it?' 7 I said, taking her head in 
my hands, and shewing her the wide meadows, flooded and silent, which 
extended in the gathering dusk to the horizon closed by the parallel open- 
ings of valleys far and blue. 

Two days later, on the famous Wednesday, in that same little train, 
which I had again taken, at Balbec, to go and dine at la Raspeliere, I was 
taking care not to miss Cottard at Graincourt-Saint-Vast, where a second 
telephone message from Mme. Verdurin had told me that I should find 
him. He was to join my train and would tell me where we had to get out to 
pick up the carriages that would be sent from la Raspeliere to the station. 
And so, as the little train barely stopped for a moment at Graincourt, the 
first station after Doncieres, I was standing in readiness at the open win- 
dow, so afraid was I of not seeing Cottard or of his not seeing me. Vain 
fears! I had not realised to what an extent the little clan had moulded all 
its regular members after the same type, so that they, being moreover in 
full evening dress, as they stood waiting upon the platform, let themselves 
be recognised immediately by a certain air of assurance, fashion and fa- 
miliarity, by a look in their eyes which seemed to sweep, like an empty 
space in which there was nothing to arrest their attention, the serried ranks 
of the common herd, watched for the arrival of some fellow-member who 
had taken the train at an earlier station, and sparkled in anticipation of the 
talk that was to come. This sign of election, with which the habit of din- 
ing together had marked the members of the little group, was not all that 
distinguished them; when numerous, in full strength, they were massed 
together, forming a more brilliant patch in the midst of the troop of pas- 
sengers what Brichot called the pecus upon whose dull countenances 
could be read no conception of what was meant by the name Verdurin, 
no hope of ever dining at la Raspeliere. To be sure, these common travellers 
would have been less interested than myself had anyone quoted in their 
hearing notwithstanding the notoriety that several of them had achieved 
the names of those of the faithful whom I was astonished to see continu- 
ing to dine out, when many of them had already been doing so, according 
to the stories that I had heard, before my birth, at a period at once so 
distant and so vague that I was inclined to exaggerate its remoteness. The 
contrast between the continuance not only of their existence, but of the 
fulness of their powers, and the annihilation of so many friends whom I 
had already seen, in one place or another, pass away, gave me the same 
sentiment that we feel when in the stop-press column of the newspapers we 
read the very announcement that we least expected, for instance that of an 
untimely death, which seems to us fortuitous because the causes that have 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS IQI 

led up to it have remained outside our knowledge. This is the feeling that 
death does not descend upon all men alike, but that a more oncoming wave 
of its tragic tide carries off a life placed at the same level as others which 
the waves that follow will long continue to spare. We shall see later on that 
the diversity of the forms of death that circulate invisibly is the cause of the 
peculiar unexpectedness presented, in the newspapers, by their obituary 
notices. Then I saw that, with the passage of time, not only do the real 
talents that may coexist with the most commonplace conversation reveal 
and impose themselves, but furthermore that mediocre persons arrive at 
those exalted positions, attached in the imagination of our childhood to 
certain famous elders, when it never occurred to us that, after a certain 
number of years, their disciples, become masters, would be famous also, 
and would inspire the respect and awe that once they felt. But if the names 
of the faithful were unknown to the pccus, their aspect still singled them 
out in its eyes. Indeed in the train (when the coincidence of what one or 
another of them might have been doing during the day, assembled them all 
together), having to collect at a subsequent station only an isolated mem- 
ber, the carriage in which they were gathered, ticketed with the elbow of 
the sculptor Ski, flagged with Cottard's Temps, stood out in the distance 
like a special saloon, and rallied at the appointed station the tardy com- 
rade. The only one who might, because of his semi-blindness, have missed 
these welcoming signals, was Brichot. But one of the party would always 
volunteer to keep a look-out for the blind man, and, as soon as his straw 
hat, his green umbrella and blue spectacles caught the eye, he would be 
gently but hastily guided towards the chosen compartment. So that it was 
inconceivable that one of the faithful, without exciting the gravest suspi- 
cions of his being 'on the loose/ or even of his not having come 'by the 
train/ should not pick up the others in the course of the journey. Some- 
times the opposite process occurred: one of the faithful had been obliged 
to go some distance down the line during the afternoon and was obliged in 
consequence to make part of the journey alone before being joined by the 
group; but even when thus isolated, alone of his kind, he did not fail as a 
rule to produce a certain effect. The Future towards which he was travel- 
ling marked him out to the person on the seat opposite, who would say to 
himself: "That must be somebody," would discern, round the soft hat of 
Cottard or of the sculptor Ski, a vague aureole and would be only half- 
astonished when at the next station an elegant crowd, if it were their ter- 
minal point, greeted the faithful one at the carriage door and escorted him 
to one of the waiting carriages, all of them reverently saluted by the fac- 
totum of Douville station, or, if it were an intermediate station, invaded 
the compartment. This was what was done, and with precipitation, for 
some of them had arrived late, just as the train which was already in the 
station was about to start, by the troop which Cottard led at a run towards 
the carriage in the window of which he had seen me signalling. Brichot, 
who was among these faithful, had become more faithful than ever in the 
course of these years which had diminished the assiduity of others. As his 
sight became steadily weaker, he had been obliged, even in Paris, to reduce 
imore and more his working hours after dark. Besides he was out of sym- 



IQ2 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

pathy with the modern Sorbonne, where ideas of scientific exactitude, after 
the German model, were beginning to prevail over humanism. He now 
confined himself exclusively to his lectures and to his duties as an exam- 
iner; and so had a great deal more time to devote to social pursuits. That 
is to say, to evenings at the Verdurins', or to those parties that now and 
again were offered to the Verdurins by one of the faithful, tremulous with 
emotion. It is true that on two occasions love had almost succeeded in 
achieving what his work could no longer do, in detaching Brichot from 
the little clan. But Mme. Verdurin, who kept her eyes open, and moreover, 
having acquired the habit in the interests of her salon, had come to take 
a disinterested pleasure in this sort of drama and execution, had imme- 
diately brought about a coolness between him and the dangerous person, 
being skilled in (as she expressed it) 'putting things in order' and 'apply- 
ing the red hot iron to the wound.' This she had found all the more easy in 
the case of one of the dangerous persons, who was simply Brichot's laun- 
dress, and Mme. Verdurin, having the right of entry into the Professor's 
fifth floor rooms, crimson with rage, when she deigned to climb his stairs, 
had only had to shut the door in the wretched woman's face. "What ! " the 
Mistress had said to Brichot, "a woman like myself does you the honour 
of calling upon you, and you receive a creature like that?" Brichot had 
never forgotten the service that Mme. Verdurin had rendered him by pre- 
venting his old age from foundering in the mire, and became more and 
more strongly attached to her, whereas, in contrast to this revival of affec- 
tion and possibly because of it, the Mistress was beginning to be tired of a 
too docile follower, and of an obedience of which she could be certain be- 
forehand. But Brichot derived from his intimacy with the Verdurins a 
distinction which set him apart from all his colleagues at the Sorbonne. 
They were dazzled by the accounts that he gave them of dinner-parties to 
which they would never be invited, by the mention made of him in the 
reviews, the exhibition of his portrait in the Salon, by some writer or 
painter of repute whose talent the occupants of the other chairs in the 
Faculty of Arts esteemed, but without any prospect of attracting his atten- 
tion, not to mention the elegance of the mundane philosopher's attire, an 
elegance which they had mistaken at first for slackness until their colleague 
kindly explained to them that a tall hat is naturally laid on the floor, when 
one is paying a call, and is not the right thing for dinners in the country, 
however smart, where it should be replaced by a soft hat, which goes quite 
well with a dinner-jacket. For the first few moments after the little group 
had plunged into the carriage, I could not even speak to Cottard, for he was 
suffocated, not so much by having run in order not to miss the train as by 
his astonishment at having caught it so exactly. He felt more than the joy 
inherent in success, almost the hilarity of an excellent joke. "Ah! That 
was a good one!" he said when he had recovered himself. "A minute later! 
Ton my soul, that's what they call arriving in the nick of time! " he added, 
with a wink intended not so much to inquire whether the expression were 
apt, for he was now overflowing with assurance, but to express his satisfac- 
tion. At length he was able to introduce me to the other members of the 
little clan. I was annoyed to see that they were almost all in the dress which 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS IQ3 

in Paris is called smoking. I had forgotten that the Verdurins were begin- 
ning a timid evolution towards fashionable ways, retarded by the Dreyfus 
case, accelerated by the 'new' music, an evolution which for that matter 
they denied, and continued to deny until it was complete, like those mili- 
tary objectives which a general does not announce until he has reached 
them, so as not to appear defeated if he fails. In addition to which, Society 
was quite prepared to go half way to meet them. It went so far as to regard 
them as people to whose house nobody in Society went but who were not 
in the least perturbed by the fact. The Verdurin salon was understood to 
be a Temple of Music. It was there, people assured you, that Vinteuil had 
found inspiration, encouragement. Now, even if Vinteuil's sonata remained 
wholly unappreciated, and almost unknown, his name, quoted as that of 
the greatest of modern composers, had an extraordinary effect. Moreover, 
certain young men of the Faubourg having decided that they ought to be 
more intellectual than the middle classes, there were three of them who 
had studied music, and among these Vinteuil's sonata enjoyed an enor- 
mous vogue. They would speak of it, on returning to their homes, to the 
intelligent mothers who had incited them to acquire culture. And, taking 
an interest in what interested their sons, at a concert these mothers would 
gaze with a certain respect at Mine. Verdurin in her front box, following 
the music in the printed score. So far, this social success latent in the Ver- 
durins was revealed by two facts only. In the first place, Mme. Verdurin 
would say of the Principessa di Caprarola: "Ah! She is intelligent, she is 
a charming woman. What I cannot endure, are the imbeciles, the people 
who bore me, they drive me mad." Which would have made anybody at 
all perspicacious realise that the Principessa di Caprarola, a woman who 
moved in the highest society, had called upon Mme. Verdurin. She had 
even mentioned her name in the course of a visit of condolence which she 
had paid to Mine. Swann after the death of her husband, and had asked 
whether she knew them. "What name did you say?" Odette had asked, 
with a sudden wistfulness. "Verdurin? Oh, yes, of course," she had con- 
tinued in a plaintive tone, "I don't know them, or rather, I know them 
without really knowing them, they are people I used to meet at people's 
houses, years ago, they are quite nice." When the Principessa di Caprarola 
had gone, Odette would fain have spoken the bare truth. But the imme- 
diate falsehood was not the fruit of her calculations, but the revelation of 
her fears, of her desires. She denied not what it would have been adroit to 
deny, but what she would have liked not to have happened, even if the 
other person was bound to hear an hour later that it was a fact. A little 
later she had recovered her* assurance, and would indeed anticipate ques- 
tions by saying, so as not to appear to be afraid of them: "Mme. Verdurin, 
why, I used to know her terribly well!" with an affectation of humility, 
like a great lady who tells you that she has taken the tram. "There has 
been a great deal of talk about the Verdurins lately," said Mme. de Souvre. 
Odette, with the smiling disdain of a Duchess, replied: "Yes, I do seem to 
have heard a lot about them lately. Every now and then there are new 
people who arrive like that in society," without reflecting that she herself 
was among the newest. "The Principessa di Caprarola has dined there," 



194 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

Mme. de Souvre went on. "Ah!" replied Odette, accentuating her smile, 
"that does not surprise me. That sort of thing always begins with the 
Principessa di Caprarola, and then some one else follows suit, like Com- 
tesse Mole." Odette, in saying this, appeared to be filled with a profound 
contempt for the two great ladies who made a habit of 'house-warming' in 
recently established drawing-rooms. One felt from her tone that the impli- 
cation was that she, Odette, was, like Mme. de Souvre, not the sort of 
person to let herself in for that sort of thing. 

After the admission that Mme. Verdurin had made of the Principessa 
di Caprarola's intelligence, the second indication that the Verdurins were 
conscious of their future destiny was that (without, of course, their having 
formally requested it) they became most anxious that people should now 
come to dine with them in evening dress. M. Verdurin could now have been 
greeted without shame by his nephew, the one who was 'in the cart.' 

Among those who entered my carriage at Graincourt was Saniette, who 
long ago had been expelled from the Verdurins' by his cousin Forcheville, 
but had since returned. His faults, from the social point of view, had orig- 
inally been notwithstanding his superior qualities something like Cot- 
tard's, shyness, anxiety to please, fruitless attempts to succeed in doing 
so. But if the course of life, by making Cottard assume, if not at the Ver- 
durins', where he had, because of the influence that past associations exert 
over us when we find ourselves in familiar surroundings, remained more 
or less the same, at least in his practice, in his hospital ward, at the Acad- 
emy of Medicine, a shell of coldness, disdain, gravity, that became more 
accentuated while he rewarded his appreciative students with puns, had 
made a clean cut between the old Cottard and the new, the same defects 
had on the contrary become exaggerated in Saniette, the more he sought to 
correct them. Conscious that he was frequently boring, that people did not 
listen to him, instead of then slackening his pace as Cottard would have 
done, of forcing their attention by an air of authority, not only did he try 
by adopting a humorous tone to make them forgive the unduly serious turn 
of his conversation, he increased his pace, cleared the ground, used abbre- 
viations in order to appear less long-winded, more familiar with the matters 
of which he spoke, and succeeded only, by making them unintelligible, in 
seeming interminable. His self-assurance was not like that of Cottard, 
freezing his patients, who, when other people praised his social graces, 
would reply: "He is a different man when he receives you in his consulting 
room, you with your face to the light, and he with his back to it, and those 
piercing eyes." It failed to create an effect, one felt that it was cloaking 
an excessive shyness, that the merest trifle would be enough to dispel it. 
Saniette, whose friends had always told him that he was wanting in self- 
confidence, and who had indeed seen men whom he rightly considered 
greatly inferior to himself, attain with ease to the success that was denied 
to him, never began telling a story without smiling at its drollery, fearing 
lest a serious air might make his hearers underestimate the value of his 
wares. Sometimes, giving him credit for the comic element which he him- 
self appeared to find in what he was about to say, people would do him the 
honour of a general silence. But the story would fall flat. A fellow-guest 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 19$ 

who was endowed with a kind heart would sometimes convey to Saniette 
the private, almost secret encouragement of a smile of approbation , making 
it reach him furtively, without attracting attention, as one passes a note 
from hand to hand. But nobody went so far as to assume the responsibility, 
to risk the glaring publicity of an honest laugh. Long after the story was 
ended and had fallen flat, Saniette, crestfallen, would remain smiling to 
himself, as though relishing in it and for himself the delectation which he 
pretended to find adequate and which the others had not felt. As for the 
sculptor Ski, so styled on account of the difficulty they found in pronounc- 
ing his Polish surname, and because he himself made an affectation, since 
he had begun to move in a certain social sphere, of not wishing to be con- 
fused with certain relatives, perfectly respectable but slightly boring and 
very numerous, he had, at forty- four and with no pretension to good looks, 
a sort of boyishness, a dreamy wistf ulness which was the result of his having 
been, until the age of ten, the most charming prodigal imaginable, the dar- 
ling of all the ladies. Mme. Verdurin maintained that he was more of an 
artist than Elstir. Any resemblance that there may have been between 
them was, however, purely external. It was enough to make Elstir, who 
had met Ski once, feel for him the profound repulsion that is inspired in 
us less by the people who are our exact opposite than by those who resemble 
us in what is least good, in whom are displayed our worst qualities, the 
faults of which we have cured ourselves, who irritate by reminding us of 
how we may have appeared to certain other people before we became what 
we now are. But Mme. Verdurin thought that Ski had more temperament 
than Elstir because there was no art in which he had not a facility of expres- 
sion, and she was convinced that he would have developed that facility into 
talent if he had not been so lazy. This seemed to the Mistress to be actually 
an additional gift, being the opposite of hard work which she regarded as 
the lot of people devoid of genius. Ski would paint anything you asked, on 
cuff-links or on the panels over doors. He sang with the voice of a composer, 
played from memory, giving the piano the effect of an orchestra, less by 
his virtuosity than by his vamped basses, which suggested the inability of 
the fingers to indicate that at a certain point the cornet entered, which, for 
that matter, he would imitate with his lips. Choosing his words when he 
spoke so as to convey an odd impression, just as he would pause before 
banging out a chord to say Ting! ' so as to let the brasses be heard, he was 
regarded as marvellously intelligent, but as a matter of fact his ideas could 
be boiled down to two or three, extremely limited. Bored with his reputa- 
tion for whimsicality, he had set himself to shew that he was a practical, 
matter-of-fact person, whence a triumphant affectation of false precision, 
of false common sense, aggravated by his having no memory and a fund 
of information that was always inaccurate. The movements of his head, 
neck, limbs, would have been graceful if he had been still nine years old, 
with golden curls, a wide lace collar and little boots of red leather. Having 
reached Graincourt station with Cottard and Brichot, with time to spare, 
he and Cottard had left Brichot in the waiting-room and had gone for a 
stroll. When Cottard proposed to turn back, Ski had replied: "But there 
is no hurry. It isn't the local train to-day, it's the departmental train." 



IQ6 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

Delighted by the effect that this refinement of accuracy produced upon 
Cottard, he added, with reference to himself: "Yes, because Ski loves the 
arts, because he models in clay, people think he's not practical. Nobody 
knows this line better than I do." Nevertheless they had turned back 
towards the station when, all of a sudden, catching sight of the smoke of 
the approaching train, Cottard, with a wild shout, had exclaimed: "We 
shall have to put our best foot foremost." They did as a matter of fact 
arrive with not a moment to spare, the distinction between local and de- 
partmental trains having never existed save in the mind of Ski. "But isn't 
the Princess on the train?" came in ringing tones from Brichot, whose huge 
spectacles, resplendent as the reflectors that laryngologists attach to their 
foreheads to throw a light into the throats of their patients, seemed to have 
taken their life from the Professor's eyes, and possibly because of the 
effort that he was making to adjust his sight to them, seemed themselves, 
even at the most trivial moments, to be gazing at themselves with a sus- 
tained attention and an extraordinary fixity. Brichot's malady, as it grad- 
ually deprived him of his sight, had revealed to him the beauties of that 
sense, just as, frequently, we have to have made up our minds to part with 
some object, to make a present of it for instance, before we can study it, 
regret it, admire it. "No, no, the Princess went over to Maineville with 
some of Mme. Verdurin's guests who were taking the Paris train. It is 
within the bounds of possibility that Mme. Verdurin, who had some busi- 
ness at Saint-Mars, may be with her! In that case, she will be coming with 
us, and we shall all travel together, which will be delightful. We shall have 
to keep our eyes skinned at Maineville and see what we shall see! Oh, but 
that's nothing, you may say that we came very near to missing the bus. 
When I saw the train I was dumbfoundered. That's what is called arriving 
at the psychological moment. Can't you picture us missing the train, Mme. 
Verdurin seeing the carriages come back without us: Tableau!" added the 
doctor, who had not yet recovered from his emotion. "That would be a 
pretty good joke, wouldn't it? Now then, Brichot, what have you to say 
about our little escapade?" inquired the doctor with a note of pride. "Upon 
my soul," replied Brichot, "why, yes, if you had found the train gone, 
that would have been what the late Villemain used to call a wipe in the 
eye!" But I, distracted at first by these people who were strangers to me, 
was suddenly reminded of what Cottard had said to me in the ball-room 
of the little casino, and, just as though there were an invisible link uniting 
an organ to our visual memory, the vision of Albertine leaning her breasts 
against Andree's caused my heart a terrible pain. This pain did not last: 
the idea of Albertine's having relations with women seemed no longer pos- 
sible since the occasion, forty-eight hours earlier, when the advances that 
my mistress had made to Saint-Loup had excited in me a fresh jealousy 
which had made me forget the old. I was simple enough to suppose that 
one taste of necessity excludes another. At Harambouville, as the tram 
was full, a farmer in a blue blouse who had only a third class ticket got 
into our compartment. The doctor, feeling that the Princess must not be 
allowed to travel with such a person, called a porter, shewed his card, 
describing him as medical officer to one of the big railway companies, and 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS IQ7 

obliged the station-master to make the farmer get out. This incident so 
pained and alarmed Saniette's timid spirit that, as soon as he saw it begin- 
ning, fearing already lest, in view of the crowd of peasants on the plat- 
form, it should assume the proportions of a rising, he pretended to be suf- 
fering from a stomach-ache, and, so that he might not be accused of any 
share in the responsibility for the doctor's violence, wandered down the 
corridor, pretending to be looking for what Cottard called the 'water.' 
Failing to find one, he stood and gazed at the scenery from the other end 
of the 'twister.' "If this is your first appearance at Mme. Verdurin's, Sir," 
I was addressed by Brichot, anxious to shew off his talents before a new- 
comer, "you will find that there is no place where one feels more the 
'amenities of life,' to quote one of the inventors of dilettantism, of poco- 
curantism, of all sorts of words in -ism that are in fashion among our little 
snobbesses, I refer to M. le Prince de Talleyrand." For, when he spoke of 
these great noblemen of the past, he thought it clever and 'in the period' 
to prefix a 'M.' to their titles, and said 'M. le Due de La Rochefoucauld/ 
'M. le Cardinal de Retz,' referring to these also as 'That struggle-for-lifer 
de Gondi,' 'that Boulangist de Marcillac.' And he never failed to call 
Montesquieu, with a smile, when he referred to him: "Monsieur le Presi- 
dent Secondat de Montesquieu." An intelligent man of the world would 
have been irritated by a pedantry which reeked so of the lecture-room. 
But in the perfect manners of the man of the world when speaking of a 
Prince, there is a pedantry also, which betrays a different caste, that in 
which one prefixes 'the Emperor' to the name 'William' and addresses a 
Royal Highness in the third person. "Ah, now that is a man," Brichot con- 
tinued, still referring to 'Monsieur le Prince de Talleyrand' "to whom 
we take off our hats. He is an ancestor." "It is a charming house," Cottard 
told me, "you will find a little of everything, for Mme. Verdurin is not 
exclusive, great scholars like Brichot, the high nobility, such as the Prin- 
cess Sherbatoff, a great Russian lady, a friend of the Grand Duchess 
Eudoxie, who even sees her alone at hours when no one else is admitted." 
As a matter of fact the Grand Duchess Eudoxie, not wishing Princess 
Sherbatoff, who for years past had been cut by everyone, to come to her 
house when there might be other people, allowed her to come only in the 
early morning, when Her Imperial Highness was not at home to any of 
those friends to whom it would have been as unpleasant to meet the Prin- 
cess as it would have been awkward for the Princess to meet them. As, for 
the last three years, as soon as she came away, like a manicurist, from 
the Grand Duchess, Mme. Sherbatoff would go on to Mme. Verdurin, who 
had just awoken, and stuck to her for the rest of the day, one might say that 
the Princess's loyalty surpassed even that of Brichot, constant as he was at 
those Wednesdays, both in Paris, where he had the pleasure of fancying 
himself a sort of Chateaubriand at 1'Abbaye-aux-Bois, and in the country, 
where he saw himself becoming the equivalent of what might have been in 
the salon of Mme. de Chatelet the man whom he always named (with an 
erudite sarcasm and satisfaction) : "M. de Voltaire." 

Her want of friends had enabled Princess Sherbatoff to shew for some 
years past to the Verdurins a fidelity which made her more than an ordi- 



igS CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

nary member of the 'faithful/ the type of faithfulness, the ideal which 
Mine. Verdurin had long thought unattainable and which now, in her later 
years, she at length found incarnate in this new feminine recruit. However 
keenly the Mistress might feel the pangs of jealousy, it was without prece- 
dent that the most assiduous of her faithful should not have 'failed' her at 
least once. The most stay-at-home yielded to the temptation to travel ; the 
most continent fell from virtue; the most robust might catch influenza, 
the idlest be caught for his month's soldiering, the most indifferent go to 
close the eyes of a dying mother. And it was in vain that Mme. Verdurin 
told them then, like the Roman Empress, that she was the sole general 
whom her legion must obey, like the Christ or the Kaiser that he who 
loved his father or mother more than her and was not prepared to leave 
them and follow her was not worthy of her, that instead of slacking in bed 
or letting themselves be made fools of by bad women they would do better 
to remain in her company, by her, their sole remedy and sole delight. But 
destiny which is sometimes pleased to brighten the closing years of a life 
that has passed the mortal span had made Mme. Verdurin meet the Princess 
Sherbatoff. Out of touch with her family, an exile from her native land, 
knowing nobody but the Baroness Putbus and the Grand Duchess Eudoxie, 
to whose houses, because she herself had no desire to meet the friends of 
the former, and the latter no desire that her friends should meet the Prin- 
cess, she went only in the early morning hours when Mme. Verdurin was 
still asleep, never once, so far as she could remember, having been confined 
to her room since she was twelve years old, when she had had the measles, 
having on the 3ist of December replied to Mme. Verdurin who, afraid of 
being left alone, had asked her whether she would not 'shake down' there 
for the night, in spite of its being New Year's Eve: "Why, what is there 
to prevent me, any day of the year? Besides, to-morrow is a day when one 
stays at home, and this is my home," living in a boarding-house, and mov- 
ing from it whenever the Verdurins moved, accompanying them upon their 
holidays, the Princess had so completely exemplified to Mme. Verdurin 
the line of Vigny: 

Thou only didst appear that which one seeks always, 

that the Lady President of the little circle, anxious to make sure of one of 
her 'faithful' even after death, had made her promise that whichever of 
them survived the other should be buried by her side. Before strangers 
among whom we must always reckon him to whom we lie most barefacedly 
because he is the person whose scorn we should most dread: ourself 
Princess Sherbatoff took care to represent her only three friendships with 
the Grand Duchess, the Verdurins, and the Baroness Putbus as the only 
ones, not which cataclysms beyond her control had allowed to emerge 
from the destruction of all the rest, but which a free choice had made her 
elect in preference to any other, and to which a certain love of solitude and 
simplicity had made her confine herself. "I see nobody else," she would 
say, insisting upon the inflexible character of what appeared to be rather 
a rule that one imposes upon oneself than a necessity to which one submits. 
She would add: "I visit only three houses," as a dramatist who fears that 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS IQQ 

it may not run to a fourth announces that there will be only three perform- 
ances of his play. Whether or not M. and Mme. Verdurin believed in the 
truth of this fiction, they had helped the Princess to instil it into the minds 
of the faithful. And they in turn were persuaded both that the Princess, 
among the thousands of invitations that were offered her, had chosen the 
Verdurins alone, and that the Verdurins, courted in vain by all the higher 
aristocracy, had consented to make but a single exception, in favour of 
the Princess. 

In their eyes, the Princess, too far superior to her native element not to 
find it boring, among all the people whose society she might have enjoyed, 
found the Verdurins alone entertaining, while they, in return, deaf to 
the overtures with which they were bombarded by the entire aristocracy, 
had consented to make but a single exception, in favour of a great lady of 
more intelligence than the rest of her kind, the Princess Sherbatoff. 

The Princess was very rich; she engaged for every first night a large 
box, to which, with the assent of Mme. Verdurin, she invited the faithful 
and nobody else. People would point to this pale and enigmatic person who 
had grown old without turning white, turning red rather like certain sere 
and shrivelled hedgerow fruits. They admired both her influence and her 
humility, for, having always with her an Academician, Brichot, a famous 
scientist, Cottard, the leading pianist of the day, at a later date M. de 
Charlus, she nevertheless made a point of securing the least prominent box 
in the theatre, remained in the background, paid no attention to the rest 
of the house, lived exclusively for the little group, who, shortly before the 
end of the performance, would withdraw in the wake of this strange sov- 
ereign, who was not without a certain timid, fascinating, faded beauty. 
But if Mme. Sherbatoff did not look at the audience, remained in shadow, 
it was to try to forget that there existed a living world which she passion- 
ately desired and was unable to know: the coterie in a box was to her what 
is to certain animals their almost corpselike immobility in the presence of 
danger. Nevertheless the thirst for novelty and for the curious which pos- 
sesses people in society made them pay even more attention perhaps to this 
mysterious stranger than to the celebrities in the front boxes to whom 
everybody paid a visit. They imagined that she must be different from 
the people whom they knew, that a marvellous intellect combined with a 
discerning bounty retained round about her that little circle of eminent 
men. The Princess was compelled, if you spoke to her about anyone, or 
introduced anyone to her, to feign an intense coldness, in order to keep 
up the fiction of her horror of society. Nevertheless, with the support of 
Cottard or Mine. Verdurin, several newcomers succeeded in making her 
acquaintance and such was her excitement at making a fresh acquaintance 
that she forgot the fable of her deliberate isolation, and went to the wildest 
extremes to please the newcomer. If he was entirely unimportant, the rest 
would be astonished. "How strange that the Princess, who refuses to know 
anyone, should make an exception of such an uninteresting person." But 
these fertilising acquaintances were rare, and the Princess lived narrowly 
confined in the midst of the faithful. 

Cottard said far more often: "I shall see him on Wednesday at the Ver- 



200 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

chirms'," than: "I shall see him on Tuesday at the Academy." He spoke, 
too, of the Wednesdays as of an engagement equally important and in- 
evitable. But Cottard was one of those people, little sought after, who make 
it as imperious a duty to respond to an invitation as if such invitations were 
orders, like a military or judicial summons. It required a call from a very 
important patient to make him "fail" the Verdurins on a Wednesday, the 
importance depending moreover rather upon the rank of the patient than 
upon the gravity of his complaint. For Cottard, excellent fellow as he was, 
would forego the delights of a Wednesday not for a workman who had had 
a stroke, but for a Minister's cold. Even then he would say to his wife: 
"Make my apologies to Mme. Verdurin. Tell her that I shall be coming 
later on. His Excellency might really have chosen some other day to catch 
cold." One Wednesday their old cook having opened a vein in her arm, 
Cottard, already in his dinner-jacket to go to the Verdurins', had shrugged 
his shoulders when his wife had timidly inquired whether he could not 
bandage the cut: "Of course I can't, Leontine," he had groaned; "can't 
you see I've got my white waistcoat on?" So as not to annoy her husband, 
Mme. Cottard had sent post haste for his chief dresser. He, to save time, 
had taken a cab, with the result that, his carriage entering the courtyard 
just as Cottard's was emerging to take him to the Verdurins', five minutes 
had been wasted in backing to let one another pass. Mme. Cottard was 
worried that the dresser should see his master in evening dress. Cottard 
sat cursing the delay, from remorse perhaps, and started off in a villainous 
temper which it took all the Wednesday's pleasures to dispel. 

If one of Cottard's patients were to ask him: "Do you ever see the Guer- 
mantes?" it was with the utmost sincerity that the Professor would reply: 
"Perhaps not actually the Guermantes, I can't be certain. But I meet all 
those people at the house of some friends of mine. You must, of course, 
have heard of the Verdurins. They know everybody. Besides, they cer- 
tainly are not people whoVe come down in the world. They've got the 
goods, all right. It is generally estimated that Mme. Verdurin is worth 
thirty-five million. Gad, thirty-five million, that's a pretty figure. And so 
she doesn't make two bites at a cherry. You mentioned the Duchesse de 
Guermantes. Let me explain the difference. Mme. Verdurin is a great lady, 
the Duchesse de Guermantes is probably a nobody. You see the distinction, 
of course. In any case, whether the Guermantes go to Mme. Verdurin's 
or not, she entertains all the very best people, the d'Sherbatoffs, the 
d'Forchevilles, e tutti quonti, people of the highest flight, all the nobility 
of France and Navarre, with whom you would see me conversing as man 
to man. Of course, those sort of people are only too glad to meet the 
princes of science," he added, with a smile of fatuous conceit, brought to 
his lips by his proud satisfaction not so much that the expression formerly 
reserved for men like Potain and Charcot should now be applicable to him- 
self, as that he knew at last how to employ all these expressions that were 
authorised by custom, and, after a long course of study, had learned them 
by heart. And so, after mentioning to me Princess Sherbatoff as one of the 
people who went to Mme. Verdurin's, Cottard added with a wink: "That 
gives you an idea of the style of the house, if you see what I mean?" He 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 2OI 

meant that it was the very height of fashion. Now, to entertain a Russian 
lady who knew nobody but the Grand Duchess Eudoxie was not fashion- 
able at all. But Princess Sherbatoff might not have known even her, it 
would in no way have diminished Cottard's estimate of the supreme ele- 
gance of the Verdurin salon or his joy at being invited there. The splendour 
that seems to us to invest the people whose houses we visit is no more in- 
trinsic than that of kings and queens on the stage, in dressing whom it is 
useless for a producer to spend hundreds and thousands of francs in 
purchasing authentic costumes and real jewels, when a great designer will 
procure a far more sumptuous impression by focussing a ray of light on a 
doublet of coarse cloth studded with lumps of glass and on a cloak of paper. 
A man may have spent his life among the great ones of the earth, who to 
him have been merely boring relatives or tiresome acquaintances, because 
a familiarity engendered in the cradle had stripped them of all distinction 
in his eyes. The same man, on the other hand, need only have been led by 
some chance to mix with the most obscure people, for innumerable Cot- 
tards to be permanently dazzled by the ladies of title whose drawing- 
rooms they imagined as the centres of aristocratic elegance, ladies who 
were not even what Mme. de Villeparisis and her friends were (great ladies 
fallen from their greatness, whom the aristocracy that had been brought up 
with them no longer visited); no, those whose friendship has been the 
pride of so many men, if these men were to publish their memoirs and to 
give the names of those women and of the other women who came to their 
parties, Mme. de Cambremer would be no more able than Mme. de Guer- 
mantes to identify them. But what of that! A Cottard has thus his Mar- 
quise, who is to him "the Baronne," as in Marivaux, the Baronne whose 
name is never mentioned, so much so that nobody supposes that she ever 
had a name. Cottard is all the more convinced that she embodies the 
aristocracy which has never heard of the lady in that, the more dubious 
titles are, the more prominently coronets are displayed upon wineglasses, 
silver, notepaper, luggage. Many Cottards who have supposed that they 
were living in the heart of the Faubourg Saint-Germain have had their 
imagination perhaps more enchanted by feudal dreams than the men who 
did really live among Princes, just as with the small shopkeeper who, on 
Sundays, goes sometimes to look at "old time" buildings, it is sometimes 
from those buildings every stone of which is of our own time, the vaults 
of which have been, by the pupils of Viollet-le-Duc, painted blue and 
sprinkled with golden stars, that they derive the strongest sensation of the 
middle ages. "The Princess will be at Maineville. She will be coming with 
us. But I shall not introduce you to her at once. It will be better to leave 
that to Mme. Verdurin. Unless I find a loophole. Then you can rely on me 
to take the bull by the horns." "What were you saying?" asked Saniette, as 
he rejoined us, pretending to have gone out to take the air. "I was quoting 
to this gentleman," said Brichot, "a saying, which you will remember, of 
the man who, to my mind, is the first of the fins-de-sidcle (of the eighteenth 
century, that is) , by name Charles Maurice, Abbe de Perigord. He began by 
promising to be an excellent journalist. But he made a bad end, by which I 
mean that he became a Minister! Life has these tragedies. A far from scru- 



2O2 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

pulous politician to boot who, with the lofty contempt of a thoroughbred 
nobleman, did not hesitate to work in his time for the King of Prussia, 
there are no two ways about it, and died in the skin of a 'Left Centre.' " 

At Saint-Pierre-des-Ifs we were joined by a glorious girl who, unfor- 
tunately, was not one of the little group. I could not tear my eyes from 
her magnolia skin, her dark eyes, her bold and admirable outlines. A mo- 
ment later she wanted to open a window, for it was hot in the compartment, 
and not wishing to ask leave of everybody, as I alone was without a great- 
coat, she said to me in a quick, cool, jocular voice: "Do you mind a little 
fresh air, Sir?" I would have liked to say to her: "Come with us to the 
Verdurins?" or "Give me your name and address." I answered: "No, 
fresh air doesn't bother me, Mademoiselle." Whereupon, without stirring 
from her seat: "Do your friends object to smoke?" and she lit a cigarette. 
At the third station she sprang from the carriage. Next day, I inquired of 
Albertine, who could she be. For, stupidly thinking that people could have 
but one sort of love, in my jealousy of Albertine's attitude towards Robert, 
I was reassured so far as other women were concerned. Albertine told me, I 
bel;eve quite sincerely, that she did not know. "I should so much like to 
see her again," I exclaimed. "Don't worry, one always sees people again," 
replied Albertine. In this particular instance, she was wrong; I never saw 
again, nor did I ever identify, the pretty girl with the cigarette. We shall 
see, moreover, why, for a long time, I ceased to look for her. But I have 
not forgotten her. I find myself at times, when I think of her, seized by a 
wild longing. But these recurrences of desire oblige us to reflect that if we 
wish to rediscover these girls with the same pleasure we must also return 
to the year which has since been followed by ten others in the course of 
which her bloom has faded. We can sometimes find a person again, but we 
cannot abolish time. And so on until the unforeseen day, gloomy as a win- 
ter night, when we no longer seek for that girl, or for any other, when to 
find her would actually frighten us. For we no longer feel that we have 
sufficient attraction to appeal to her, or strength to love her. Not, of course, 
that we are, in the strict sense of the word, impotent. And as for loving, 
we should love her more than ever. But we feel that it is too big an under- 
taking for the little strength that we have left. Eternal rest has already 
fixed intervals which we can neither cross nor make our voice be heard 
across them. To set our foot on the right step is an achievement like not 
missing the perilous leap. To be seen in such a state by a girl we love, even 
if we have kept the features and all the golden locks of our youth! We can 
no longer undertake the strain of keeping pace with youth. All the worse if 
our carnal desire increases instead of failing! We procure for it a woman 
whom we need make no effort to attract, who will share our couch for one 
night only and whom we shall never see again. 

"Still no news, I suppose, of the violinist," said Cottard. The event of 
the day in the little clan was, in fact, the failure of Mme. Verdurin's 
favourite violinist. Employed on military service near Doncieres, he came 
three times a week to dine at la Raspeliere, having a midnight pass. But 
two days ago, for the first time, the faithful had been unable to discover 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 2O3 

him on the tram. It was supposed that he had missed it. But albeit Mme. 
Verdurin had sent to meet the next tram, and so on until the last had 
arrived, the carriage had returned empty. "He's certain to have been 
shoved into the guard-room, there's no other explanation of his desertion. 
Gad! In soldiering, you know, with those fellows, it only needs a bad- 
tempered serjeant." "It will be all the more mortifying for Mme. Ver- 
durin," said Brichot, "if he fails again this evening, because our kind 
hostess has invited to dinner for the first time the neighbours from whom 
she has taken la Raspeliere, the Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer." 
"This evening, the Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer! " exclaimed Cot- 
tard. "But I knew absolutely nothing about it. Naturally, I knew like 
everybody else that they would be coming one day, but I had no idea that 
it was to be so soon. Sapristi! " he went on, turning to myself, "what did I 
tell you? The Princess Sherbatoff, the Marquis and Marquise de Cam- 
bremer." And, after repeating these names, lulling himself with their 
melody: "You see that we move in good company," he said to me. "How- 
ever, as it's your first appearance, you'll be one of the crowd. It is going to 
be an exceptionally brilliant gathering." And, turning to Brichot, he went 
on: "The Mistress will be furious. It is time we appeared to lend her a 
hand." Ever since Mme. Verdurin had been at la Raspeliere she had pre- 
tended for the benefit of the faithful to be at once feeling and regretting 
the necessity of inviting her landlords for one evening. By so doing she 
would obtain better terms next year, she explained, and was inviting them 
for business reasons only. But she pretended to regard with such terror, to 
make such a bugbear of the idea of dining with people who did not belong 
to the little group that she kept putting off the evil day. The prospect did 
for that matter alarm her slightly for the reasons which she professed, al- 
beit exaggerating them, if at the same time it enchanted her for reasons of 
snobbishness which she preferred to keep to herself. She was therefore 
partly sincere, she believed the little clan to be something so matchless 
throughout the world, one of those perfect wholes which it takes centuries 
of time to produce, that she trembled at the thought of seeing introduced 
into its midst these provincials, people ignorant of the Ring and the 
Meistersinger, who would be unable to play their part in the concert of 
conversation and were capable, by coming to Mme. Verdurin's, of ruining 
one of those famous Wednesdays, masterpieces of art incomparable and 
frail, like those Venetian glasses which one false note is enough to shatter. 
"Besides, they are bound to be absolutely anti, and militarists," M. Ver- 
durin had said. "Oh, as for that, I don't mind, we've heard quite enough 
about all that business," had replied Mme. Verdurin, who, a sincere Drey- 
fusard, would nevertheless have been glad to discover a social counterpoise 
to the preponderant Dreyfusism of her salon. For Dreyfusism was 
triumphant politically, but not socially. Labori, Reinach, Picquart, Zola 
were still, to people in society, more or less traitors, who could only keep 
them aloof from the little nucleus. And so, after this incursion into politics, 
Mme. Verdurin was determined to return to the world of art. Besides were 
not Indy, Debussy, on the 'wrong' side in the Case? "So far as the Case 
goes, we need only remember Brichot," she said (the Don being the only 



2O4 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

one of the faithful who had sided with the General Staff, which had greatly 
lowered him in the esteem of Madame Verdurin). "There is no need to be 
eternally discussing the Dreyfus case. No, the fact of the matter is that 
the Cambremers bore me." As for the faithful, no less excited by their 
unconfessed desire to make the Cambremers' acquaintance than dupes of 
the affected reluctance which Mme. Verdurin said she felt to invite them, 
they returned, day after day, in conversation with her, to the base argu- 
ments with which she herself supported the invitation, tried to make 
them irresistible. "Make up your mind to it once and for all," Cottard re- 
peated, "and you will have better terms for next year, they will pay the 
gardener, you will have the use of the meadow. That will be well worth a 
boring evening. I am thinking only of yourselves," he added, albeit his 
heart had leaped on one occasion, when, in Mme. Verdurin's carriage, he 
had met the carriage of the old Mme. de Cambremer and, what was more, 
he had been abased in the sight of the railwaymen when, at the station, he 
had found himself standing beside the Marquis. For their part, the Cam- 
bremers, living far too remote from the social movement ever to suspect 
that certain ladies of fashion were speaking with a certain consideration 
of Mme. Verdurin, imagined that she was a person who could know none 
but Bohemians, was perhaps not even legally married, and so far as people 
of birth were concerned would never meet any but themselves. They had 
resigned themselves to the thought of dining with her only to be on good 
terms with a tenant who, they hoped, would return again for many sea- 
sons, especially after they had, in the previous month, learned that she had 
recently inherited all those millions. It was in silence and without any 
vulgar pleasantries that they prepared themselves for the fatal day. The 
faithful had given up hope of its ever coming, so often had Mme. Verdurin 
already fixed in their hearing a date that was invariably postponed. These 
false decisions were intended not merely to make a display of the boredom 
that she felt at the thought of this dinner-party, but to keep in suspense 
those members of the little group who were staying in the neighbourhood 
and were sometimes inclined to fail. Not that the Mistress guessed that the 
"great day" was as delightful a prospect to them as to herself, but in order 
that, having persuaded them that this dinner-party was to her the most 
terrible of social duties, she might make an appeal to their devotion. "You 
are not going to leave me all alone with those Chinese mandarins! We 
must assemble in full force to support the boredom. Naturally, we shan't 
be able to talk about any of the things in which we are interested. It will 
be a Wednesday spoiled, but what is one to do! " 

"Indeed," Brichot explained to me, "I fancy that Mme. Verdurin, who 
is highly intelligent and takes infinite pains in the elaboration of her 
Wednesdays, was by no means anxious to see these bumpkins of ancient 
lineage but scanty brains. She could not bring herself to invite the dowager 
Marquise, but has resigned herself to having the son and daughter-in-law." 
"Ah! We are to see the Marquise de Cambremer?" said Cottard with a 
smile into which he saw fit to introduce a leer of sentimentality, albeit he 
had no idea whether Mme. de Cambremer were good-looking or not. But 
the title Marquise suggested to him fantastic thoughts of gallantry. "Ah I 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 20$ 

I know her," said Ski, who had met her once when he was out with Mme. 
Verdurin. "Not in the biblical sense of the word, I trust," said the doctor, 
darting a sly glance through his eyeglass; this was one of his favourite 
pleasantries. "She is intelligent/' Ski informed me. "Naturally," he went 
on, seeing that I said nothing, and dwelling with a smile upon each word, 
"she is intelligent and at the same time she is not, she lacks education, she 
is frivolous, but she has an instinct for beautiful things. She may say 
nothing, but she will never say anything silly. And besides, her colouring is 
charming. She would be an amusing person to paint," he added, half shut- 
ting his eyes, as though he saw her posing in front of him. As my opinion of 
her was quite the opposite of what Ski was expressing with so many fine 
shades, I observed merely that she was the sister of an extremely dis- 
tinguished engineer, M. Legrandin. "There, you see, you are going to be 
introduced to a pretty woman," Brichot said to me, "and one never knows 
what may come of that. Cleopatra was not even a great lady, she was a 
little woman, the unconscious, terrible little woman of our Meilhac, and 
just think of the consequences, not only to that idiot Antony, but to the 
whole of the ancient world." "I have already been introduced to Mme. de 
Cambremer," I replied. "Ah! In that case, you will find yourself on fa- 
miliar ground." "I shall be all the more delighted to meet her," I answered 
him, "because she has promised me a book by the former cure of Com- 
bray about the place-names of this district, and I shall be able to remind 
her of her promise. I am interested in that priest, and also in etymologies." 
"Don't put any faith in the ones he gives," replied Brichot, "there is a copy 
of the book at la Raspeliere, which I have glanced through, but without 
finding anything of any value; it is a mass of error. Let me give you an 
example. The word Bricq is found in a number of place-names in this 
neighbourhood. The worthy cleric had the distinctly odd idea that it 
comes from Briga, a height, a fortified place. He finds it already in the 
Celtic tribes, Latobriges, Nemetobriges, and so forth, and traces it down 
to such names as Briand, Brion, and so forth. To confine ourselves to the 
region in which we have the pleasure of your company at this moment, 
Bricquebose means the wood on the height, Bricqueville the habitation on 
the height, Bricquebec, where we shall be stopping presently before com- 
ing to Maineville, the height by the stream. Now there is not a word of 
truth in all this, for the simple reason that brlcq is the old Norse word 
which means simply a bridge. Just as fleur, which Mme. de Cambremer's 
protege takes infinite pains to connect, in one place with the Scandinavian 
words floi, flo, in another with the Irish word ae or acr, is, beyond any 
doubt, the fjord of the Danes, and means harbour. So too, the excellent 
priest thinks that the station of Saint-Mars-le-Vetu, which adjoins la 
Raspeliere, means Saint-Martin-le-Vieux (vctus). It is unquestionable 
that the word vieitx has played a great part in the toponymy of this region. 
Vieux comes as a rule from vaditm, and means a passage, as at the place 
called les Vieux. It is what the English call ford (Oxford, Hereford). But, 
in this particular instance, Vetu is derived not from vetus, but from vas- 
tatuSy a place that is devastated and bare. You have, round about here, 
Sottevast, the vast of Setold, Brillevast, the vast of Berold. I am all the 



206 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

more certain of the cure's mistake, in that Saint-Mars-le-Vetu was for- 
merly called Saint-Mars du Cast and even Saint-Mars-de-Terregate. Now 
the v and the g in these words are the same letter. We say devaster, but 
also gdcher. Jdchcres and gatines (from the High German wast'mna) have 
the same meaning: Terregate is therefore terra vasta. As for Saint-Mars, 
formerly (save the mark) Saint-Merd, it is Saint-Medardus, which ap- 
pears variously as Saint-Medard, Saint-Mard, Saint-Marc, Cinq-Mars, 
and even Dammas. Nor must we forget that quite close to here, places 
bearing the name of Mars are proof simply of a pagan origin (the god 
Mars) which has remained alive in this country but which the holy man 
refuses to see. The high places dedicated to the gods are especially fre- 
quent, such as the mount of Jupiter (Jeumont). Your cure declines to 
admit this, but, on the other hand, wherever Christianity has left traces, 
they escape his notice. He has gone so far afield as to Loctudy, a barbarian 
name, according to him, whereas it is simply Locus Sancti Tudeni, nor 
has he in Sammarcoles divined Sanctus Martialis. Your cure," Brichot 
continued, seeing that I was interested, "derives the terminations hon, 
home, holm, from the word holl (hullus), a hill, whereas it comes from 
the Norse holm, an island, with which you are familiar in Stockholm, and 
which is so widespread throughout this district, la Houlme, Engohomme, 
Tahoume, Robehomme, Nehomme, Quettehon, and so forth." These names 
made me think of the day when Albertine had wished to go to Amfreville- 
la-Bigot (from the name of two successive lords of the manor, Brichot told 
me), and had then suggested that we should dine together at Robehomme. 
As for Maineville, we were just coming to it. "Isn't Nehomme," I asked, 
"somewhere near Carquethuit and Clitourps?" "Precisely; Nehomme is 
the holm, the island or peninsula of the famous Viscount Nigel, whose 
name has survived also in Neville. The Carquethuit and Clitourps that you 
mention furnish Mme. de Cambremer's protege with an occasion for 
further blunders. No doubt he has seen that carquc is a church, the Kirche 
of the Germans. You will remember Querqueville, not to mention Dun- 
kerque. For there we should do better to stop and consider the famous 
word Dun, which to the Celts meant high ground. And that you will find 
over the whole of France. Your abbe was hypnotised by Duneville, which 
recurs in the Eure-et-Loir; he would have found Chiteaudun, Dun-le-Roi 
in the Cher, Duneau in the Sarthe, Dun in the Ariege, Dune-les-Places in 
the Nievre, and many others. This word Dun leads him into a curious 
error with regard to Douville where we shall be alighting, and shall find 
Mme. Verdurin's comfortable carriages awaiting us. Douville, in Latin 
donvilla, says he. As a matter of fact, Douville does lie at the foot of high 
hills. Your cure, who knows everything, feels all the same that he has made 
a blunder. He has, indeed, found in an old cartulary, the name Domvilla. 
Whereupon he retracts; Douville, according to him, is a fief belonging to 
the Abbot, Domino Abbati, of Mont Saint-Michel. He is delighted with 
the discovery, which is distinctly odd when one thinks of the scandalous 
life that, according to the Capitulary of Sainte-Claire sur Epte, was led at 
Mont Saint-Michel, though no more extraordinary than to picture the 
King of Denmark as suzerain of all this coast, where he encouraged the 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 2O7 

worship of Odin far more than that of Christ. On the other hand, the sup- 
position that the n has been changed to m does not shock me, and requires 
less alteration than the perfectly correct Lyon, which also is derived from 
Dun (Lugdunum}. But the fact is, the abbe is mistaken. Douville was 
never Donville, but Doville, Eudonis villa, the village of Eudes. Douville 
was formerly called Escalecliff, the steps up the cliff. About the year 1233, 
Eudes le Bouteiller, Lord of Escalecliff, set out for the Holy Land; on the 
eve of his departure he made over the church to the Abbey of Blanche- 
lande. By an exchange of courtesies, the village took his name, whence we 
have Douville to-day. But I must add that toponymy, of which moreover I 
know little or nothing, is not an exact science; had we not this historical 
evidence, Douville might quite well come from Ouville, that is to say the 
Waters. The forms in at (Aigues-Mortes), from aqua, are constantly 
changed to cu or ou. Now there were, quite close to Douville, certain famous 
springs, Carquethuit. You might suppose that the cure was only too ready 
to detect there a Christian origin, especially as this district seems to have 
been pretty hard to convert, since successive attempts were made by Saint 
Ursal, Saint Gofroi, Saint Barsanore, Saint Laurent of Brevedent, who 
finally handed over the task to the monks of Beaubec. But as regards 
thuit the writer is mistaken, he sees in it a form of toft, a building, as in 
Cricquetot, Ectot, Yvetot, whereas it is the thvcit, the clearing, the re- 
claimed land, as in Braquetuit, le Thuit, Regnetuit, and so forth. Similarly, 
if he recognises in Clitourps the Norman thorp which means village, he 
insists that the first syllable of the word must come from clivus, a slope, 
whereas it comes from cliff, a precipice. But his biggest blunders are due 
not so much to his ignorance as to his prejudices. However loyal a French- 
man one is, there is no need to fly in the face of the evidence and take 
Saint-Laurent en Bra> to be the Roman priest, so famous at one time, 
when he is actually Saint Lawrence 'Toot, Archbishop of Dublin. But even 
more than his patriotic sentiments, your friend's religious bigotry leads 
him into strange errors. Thus you have not far from our hosts at la Ras- 
peliere two places called Montmartin, Montmartin-sur-Mer and Mont- 
martin-en-Graignes. In the case of Graignes, the good cure has been quite 
right, he has seen that Graignes, in Latin Crania, in Greek Krene, means 
ponds, marshes; how many instances of Cresmays, Croen, Gremeville, 
Lengronne, might we not adduce? But, when he comes to Montmartin, 
your self-styled linguist positively insists that these must be parishes dedi- 
cated to Saint Martin. He bases his opinion upon the fact that the Saint 
is their patron, but does not realise that he was only adopted subsequently; 
or rather he is blinded by his hatred of paganism; he refuses to see that 
we should say Mont-Saint-Martin as we say Mont-Saint-Michel, if it were 
a question of Saint Martin, whereas the name Montmartin refers in a far 
more pagan fashion to temples consecrated to the god Mars, temples of 
which, it is true, no other vestige remains, but which the undisputed exist- 
ence in the neighbourhood of vast Roman camps would render highly 
probable even without the name Montmartin, which removes all doubt. 
You see that the little pamphlet which you will find at la Raspeliere is far 
from perfect." I protested that at Combray the cure had often told us in- 



208 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

teresting etymologies. "He was probably better on his own ground, the 
move to Normandy must have made him lose his bearings." "Nor did it do 
him any good," I added, "for he came here with neurasthenia and went 
away again with rheumatism." "Ah, his neurasthenia is to blame. He has 
lapsed from neurasthenia to philology, as my worthy master Pocquelin 
would have said. Tell us, Cottard, do you suppose that neurasthenia can 
have a disturbing effect on philology, philology a soothing effect on neuras- 
thenia and the relief from neurasthenia lead to rheumatism?" "Undoubt- 
edly, rheumatism and neurasthenia are subordinate forms of neuro- 
arthritism. You may pass from one to the other by metastasis." "The 
eminent Professor," said Brichot, "expresses himself in a French as highly 
infused with Latin and Greek as M. Purgon himself, of Molieresque 
memory! My uncle, I refer to our national Sarcey. . . ." But he was pre- 
vented from finishing his sentence. The Professor had leaped from his 
seat with a wild shout: "The devil!" he exclaimed on regaining his power 
of articulate speech, "we have passed Maineville (d'you hear?) and 
Renneville too." He had just noticed that the train was stopping at Saint- 
Mars-le-Vetu, where most of the passengers alighted. "They can't have 
run through without stopping. We must have failed to notice it while we 
were talking about the Cambremers. Listen to me, Ski, pay attention, I am 
going to tell you c a good one/ " said Cottard, who had taken a fancy 
to this expression, in common use in certain medical circles. "The Princess 
must be on the train, she can't have seen us, and will have got into another 
compartment. Come along and find her. Let's hope this won't land us in 
trouble!" And he led us all off in search of Princess Sherbatoff. He found 
her in the corner of an empty compartment, reading the Revue des Deux 
Mondes. She had long ago, from fear of rebuffs, acquired the habit of keep- 
ing in her place, or remaining in her corner, in life as on the train, and 
of not offering her hand until the other person had greeted her. She went 
on reading as the faithful trooped into her carriage. I recognised her im- 
mediately; this woman who might have forfeited her position but was 
nevertheless of exalted birth, who in any event was the pearl of a salon 
such as the Verdurins', was the lady whom, en the same train, I had put 
down, two days earlier, as possibly the keeper of a brothel. Her social per- 
sonality, which had been so vague, became clear to me as soon as I learned 
her name, just as when, after racking our brains over a puzzle, we at length 
hit upon the word which clears up all the obscurity, and which, in the case 
of a person, is his name. To discover two days later who the person is with 
whom one has travelled in the train is a far more amusing surprise than 
to read in the next number of a magazine the clue to the problem set in 
the previous number. Big restaurants, casinos, local trains, are the family 
portrait galleries of these social enigmas. "Princess, we must have missed 
you at Maineville! May we come and sit in your compartment?" "Why, 
of course," said the Princess who, upon hearing Cottard address her, but 
only then, raised from her magazine a pair of eyes which, like the eyes of 
M. de Charlus, although gentler, saw perfectly well the people of whose 
presence she pretended to be unaware. Cottard, coming to the conclusion 
that the fact of my having been invited to meet the Cambremers was a 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 2O9 

sufficient recommendation, decided, after a momentary hesitation, to intro- 
duce me to the Princess, who bowed with great courtesy but appeared to 
be hearing my name for the first time. "Cre nom!" cried the doctor, "my 
wife has forgotten to make them change the buttons on my white waist- 
coat. Ah! Those women, they never remember anything. Don't you ever 
marry, my boy," he said to me. And as this was one of the pleasantries 
which he considered appropriate when he had nothing else to say, he 
peeped out of the corner of his eye at the Princess and the rest of the 
faithful, who, because he was a Professor and an Academician, smiled back, 
admiring his good temper and freedom from pride. The Princess informed 
us that the young violinist had been found. He had been confined to bed 
the evening before by a sick headache, but was coming that evening and 
bringing with him a friend of his father whom he had met at Doncieres. 
She had learned this from Mme. Verdurin with whom she had taken 
luncheon that morning, she told us in a rapid voice, rolling her rs, with 
her Russian accent, softly at the back of her throat, as though they were 
not rs but Is. "Ah! You had luncheon with her this morning," Cottard said 
to the Princess; but turned his eyes to myself, the purport of this remark 
being to shew me on what intimate terms the Princess was with the Mis- 
tress. "You are indeed a faithful adherent!" "Yes, I love the little cirlcle, 
so intelligent, so agleeable, neverl spiteful, quite simple, not at all snob- 
bish, and clevel to theirl fmgle-tips." "Nom d'une pipe! I must have lost 
my ticket, I can't find it anywhere," cried Cottard, with an agitation that 
was, in the circumstances, quite unjustified. He knew that at Douville, 
where a couple of landaus would be awaiting us, the collector would let 
him pass without a ticket, and would only bare his head all the more 
humbly, so that the salute might furnish an explanation of his indulgence, 
to wit that he had of course recognised Cottard as one of the Verdurins' 
regular guests. "They won't shove me in the lock-up for that," the doctor 
concluded. "You were saying, Sir," I inquired of Brichot, "that there 
used to be some famous waters near here; how do we know that?" "The 
name of the next station is one of a multitude of proofs. It is called 
Fervaches." "I don't undlestand what he's talking about," mumbled the 
Princess, as though she were saying to me out of politeness: "He's rather 
a bore, ain't he?" "Why, Princess, Fervaches means hot springs. Fervldae 
aquae. But to return to the young violinist," Brichot went on, "I was 
quite forgetting, Cottard, to tell you the great news. Had you heard that 
our poor friend Dechambre, who used to be Mme. Verdurin's favourite 
pianist, has just died? It is terribly sad." "He was quite young," replied 
Cottard, "but he must have had some trouble with his liver, there must 
have been something sadly wrong in that quarter, he had been looking 
very queer indeed for a long time past." "But he was not so young as all 
that," said Brichot; "in the days when Elstir and Swann used to come to 
Mme. Verdurin's, Dechambre had already made himself a reputation in 
Paris, and, what is remarkable, without having first received the baptism 
of success abroad. Ah! He was no follower of the Gospel according to 
Saint Barnum, that fellow." "You are mistaken, he could not have been 
going to Mme. Verdurin's, at that time, he was still in the nursery." "But, 



210 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

unless my old memory plays me false, I was under the impression that 
Dechambre used to play VinteuiPs sonata for Swann, when that clubman, 
who had broken with the aristocracy, had still no idea that he was one day 
to become the embourgeoised Prince Consort of our national Odette." 
"It is impossible, Vinteuil's sonata was played at Mme. Verdurm's long 
after Swann ceased to come there," said the doctor, who, like all people 
who work hard and think that they remember many things which they 
imagine to be of use to them, forget many others, a condition which en- 
ables them to go into ecstasies over the memories of people who have 
nothing else to do. "You are hopelessly muddled, though your brain is as 
sound as ever," said the doctor with a smile. Brichot admitted that he 
was mistaken. The train stopped. We were at la Sogne. The name stirred 
my curiosity. "How I should like to know what all these names mean," I 
said to Cottard. "You must ask M. Brichot, he may know, perhaps." 
"Why, la Sogne is la Cicogne, Siconia" replied Brichot, whom I was burn- 
ing to interrogate about many other names. 

Forgetting her attachment to her 'corner/ Mme. Sherbatoff kindly 
offered to change places with me, so that I might talk more easily with 
Brichot, whom I wanted to ask about other etymologies that interested 
me, and assured me that she did not mind in the least whether she travelled 
with her face or her back to the engine, standing, or seated, or anyhow. 
She remained on the defensive until she had discovered a newcomer's 
intentions, but as soon as she had realised that these were friendly, 
she would do everything in her power to oblige. At length the train stopped 
at the station of Douville-Feterne, which being more or less equidistant 
from the villages of Feterne and Douville, bore for this reason their hyphe- 
nated name. "Saperlipopette!" exclaimed Doctor Cottard, when we came 
to the barrier where the tickets were collected, and, pretending to have only 
just discovered his loss, "I can't find my ticket, I must have lost it." But 
the collector, taking off his cap, assured him that it did not matter and 
smiled respectfully. The Princess (giving instructions to the coachman, 
as though she were a sort of lady in waiting to Mme. Verdurin, who, because 
of the Cambremers, had not been able to come to the station, as, for that 
matter, she rarely did) took me, and also Brichot, with herself in one of 
the carriages. The doctor, Saniette and Ski got into the other. 

The driver, although quite young, was the Verdurins' first coachman, 
the only one who had any right to the title; he took them, in the daytime, 
on all their excursions, for he knew all the roads, and in the evening went 
down to meet the faithful and took them back to the station later on. He 
was accompanied by extra helpers (whom he selected if necessary). He 
was an excellent fellow, sober and capable, but with one of those melan- 
choly faces on which a fixed stare indicates that the merest trifle will make 
the person fly into a passion, not to say nourish dark thoughts. But at the 
moment he was quite happy, for he had managed to secure a place for his 
brother, another excellent type of fellow, with the Verdurins. We began 
by driving through Douville. Grassy knolls ran down from the village to 
the sea, in wide slopes to which their saturation in moisture and salt gave a 
richness, a softness, a vivacity of extreme tones. The islands and indenta- 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 211 

tions of Rivebelle, far nearer now than at Balbec, gave this part of the 
coast the appearance, novel to me, of a relief map. We passed by some 
little bungalows, almost all of which were let to painters; turned into a 
track upon which some loose cattle, as frightened as were our horses, 
barred our way for ten minutes, and emerged upon the cliff road. "But, 
by the immortal gods," Brichot suddenly asked, "let us return to that poor 
Dechambre; do you suppose Mine. Verdurin knows? Has anyone 
told her?" Mme. Verdurin, like most people who move in society, 
simply because she needed the society of other people, never thought 
of them again for a single day, as soon as, being dead, they could no 
longer come to the Wednesdays, nor to the Saturdays, nor dine without 
dressing. And one could not say of the little clan, a type in this respect of 
all salons, that it was composed of more dead than living members, seeing 
that, as soon as one was dead, it was as though one had never existed. But, 
to escape the nuisance of having to speak of the deceased, in other words 
to postpone one of the dinners a thing impossible to the mistress as a 
token of mourning, M. Verdurin used to pretend that the death of the 
faithful had such an effect on his wife that, in the interest of her health, 
it must never be mentioned to her. Moreover, and perhaps just because 
the death of other people seemed to him so conclusive, so vulgar an acci- 
dent, the thought of his own death filled him with horror and he shunned 
any consideration that plight lead to it. As for Brichot, since he was the 
soul of honesty and completely taken in by what M. Verdurin said about 
his wife, he dreaded for his friend's sake the emotions that such a bereave- 
ment must cause her. "Yes, she knew the worst this morning," said the 
Princess, "it was impossible to keep it from her" "Ah! Thousand thunders 
of Zeus!" cried Brichot. "Ah! it must have been a terrible blow, a friend 
of twenty-five years' standing. There was a man who was one of us." "Of 
course, of course, what can you expect? Such incidents are bound to be pain- 
ful; but Madame Verdurin is a brave woman, she is even more cerebral 
than emotive." "I don't altogether agree with the Doctor," said the 
Princess, whose rapid speech, her murmured accents, certainly made her 
appear both sullen and rebellious. "Mme. Verdurin, beneath a cold exterior, 
conceals treasures of sensibility. M. Verdurin told me that he had had 
great difficulty in preventing her from going to Paris for the funeral; he 
was obliged to let her think that it was all to be held in the country." "The 
devil! She wanted to go to Paris, did she? Of course, I know that she has 
a heart, too much heart perhaps. Poor Dechambre! As Madame Verdurin 
remarked not two months ago: 'Compared with him, Plante, Paderewski, 
Risler himself are nowhere!' Ah, he could say with better reason than that 
limelighter Nero, who has managed to take in even German scholarship: 
Qualis artijex pcreo! But he at least, Dechambre, must have died in the 
fulfilment of his priesthood, in the odour of Beethovenian devotion; and 
gallantly, I have no doubt; he had every right, that interpreter of German 
music, to pass away while celebrating the Mass in D. But he was, when all 
is said, the man to greet the unseen with a cheer, for that inspired performer 
would produce at times from the Parisianised Champagne stock of which 
he came, the swagger and smartness of a guardsman." 



212 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

From the height we had now reached, the sea suggested no longer, as at 
Balbec, the undulations of swelling mountains, but on the contrary the 
view, beheld from a mountain-top or from a road winding round its flank, 
of a blue-green glacier or a glittering plain, situated at a lower level. The 
lines of the currents seemed to be fixed upon its surface, and to have traced 
there for ever their concentric circles; the enamelled face of the sea which 
changed imperceptibly in colour, assumed towards the head of the bay, 
where an estuary opened, the blue whiteness of milk, in which little black 
boats that did not move seemed entangled like flies. I felt that from nowhere 
could one discover a vaster prospect. But at each turn in the road a fresh 
expanse was added to it and when we arrived at the Douville toll-house, 
the spur of the cliff which until then had concealed from us half the bay, 
withdrew, and all of a sudden I descried upon my left a gulf as profound 
as that which I had already had before me, but one that changed the pro- 
portions of the other and doubled its beauty. The air at this lofty point 
acquired a keenness and purity that intoxicated me. I adored the Ver- 
durins ; that they should have sent a carriage for us seemed to me a touch- 
ing act of kindness. I should have liked to kiss the Princess. I told her that 
I had never seen anything so beautiful. She professed that she too loved this 
spot more than any other. But I could see that to her as to the Verdurins the 
thing that really mattered was not to gaze at the view like tourists, but to 
partake of good meals there, to entertain people whom they liked, to write 
letters, to read books, in short to live in these surroundings, passively al- 
lowing the beauty of the scene to soak into them rather than making it the 
object of their attention. 

After the toll-house, where the carriage had stopped for a moment at 
such a height above the sea that, as from a mountain-top, the sight of the 
blue gulf beneath almost made one dizzy, I opened the window; the sound, 
distinctly caught, of each wave that broke in turn had something sublime 
in its softness and precision. Was it not like an index of measurement 
which, upsetting all our ordinary impressions, shews us that vertical dis- 
tances may be coordinated with horizontal, in contradiction of the idea 
that our mind generally forms of them; and that, though they bring the 
sky nearer to us in this way, they are not great ; that they are indeed less 
great for a sound which traverses them as did the sound of those little 
waves, the medium through which it has to pass being purer. And in fact 
if one went back but a couple of yards below the toll-house, one could no 
longer distinguish that sound of waves, which six hundred feet of cliff had 
not robbed of its delicate, minute and soft precision. I said to myself that 
my grandmother would have listened to it with the delight that she felt 
in all manifestations of nature or art, in the simplicity of which one dis- 
cerns grandeur. I was now at the highest pitch of exaltation, which raised 
everything round about me accordingly. It melted my heart that the Ver- 
durins should have sent to meet us at the station. I said as much to the 
Princess, who seemed to think that I was greatly exaggerating so simple 
an act of courtesy. I know that she admitted subsequently to Cottard that 
she found me very enthusiastic; he replied that I was too emotional, re- 
quired sedatives and ought to take to knitting. I pointed out to the Princess 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 213 

every tree, every little house smothered in its mantle of roses, I made her 
admire everything, I would have liked to take her in my arms and press 
her to my heart. She told me that she could see that I had a gift for paint- 
ing, that of course I must sketch, that she was surprised that nobody had 
told her about it. And she confessed that the country was indeed pic- 
turesque. We drove through, where it perched upon its height, the little 
village of Englesqueville (Engleberti villa, Brichot informed us). "But 
are you quite sure that there will be a party this evening, in spite of De- 
chambre's death, Princess ?" he went on, without stopping to think that 
the presence at the station of the carriage in which we were sitting was in 
itself an answer to his question. "Yes," said the Princess, "M. Verldulin 
insisted that it should not be put off, simply to keep his wife from thinking. 
And besides, after never failing for all these years to entertain on Wednes- 
days, such a change in her habits would have been bound to upset her. 
Her nerves are velly bad just now. M. Verdurin was particularly pleased 
that you were coming to dine this evening, because he knew that it would 
be a great distraction for Mme. Verdurin," said the Princess, forgetting her 
pretence of having never heard my name before. "I think that it will be 
as well not to say anything in front of Mme. Verdurin," the Princess 
added. "Ah! I am glad you warned me," Brichot artlessly replied. "I shall 
pass on your suggestion to Cottard." The carriage stopped for a moment. 
It moved on again, but the sound that the wheels had been making in the 
village street had ceased. We had turned into the main avenue of la Ras- 
peliere where M. Verdurin stood waiting for us upon the steps. "I did well 
to put on a dinner-jacket," he said, observing with pleasure that the faith- 
ful had put on theirs, "since I have such smart gentlemen in my party." 
And as I apologised for not having changed: "Why, that's quite all right. 
We're all friends here. I should be delighted to offer you one of my own 
dinner-jackets, but it wouldn't fit you." The handclasp throbbing with 
emotion which, as he entered the hall of la Raspeliere, and by way of con- 
dolence at the death of the pianist, Brichot gave our host elicited no 
response from the latter. I told him how greatly I admired the scenery. 
"Ah! All the better, and you've seen nothing, we must take you round. 
Why not come and spend a week or two here, the air is excellent." Brichot 
was afraid that his handclasp had not been understood. "Ah! Poor De- 
chambre!" he said, but in an undertone, in case Mme. Verdurin was within 
earshot. "It is terrible," replied M. Verdurin lightly. "So young," Brichot 
pursued the point. Annoyed at being detained over these futilities, M. 
Verdurin replied in a hasty tone and with an embittered groan, not of 
grief but of irritated impatience: "Why yes, of course, but what's to be 
done about it, it's no use crying over spilt milk, talking about him won't 
bring him back to life, will it?" And, his civility returning with his joviality: 
"Come along, my good Brichot, get your things off quickly. We have a 
bouillabaisse which mustn't be kept waiting. But, in heaven's name, don't 
start talking about Dechambre to Madame Verdurin. You know that she 
always hides her feelings, but she is quite morbidly sensitive. I give you my 
word, when she heard that Dechambre was dead, she almost cried," said 
M. Verdurin in a tone of profound irony. One might have concluded, from 



214 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

hearing him speak, that it implied a form of insanity to regret the death of 
a friend of thirty years' standing, and on the other hand one gathered 
that the perpetual union of M. Verdurin and his wife did not preclude his 
constantly criticising her and her frequently irritating him. "If you men- 
tion it to her, she will go and make herself ill again. It is deplorable, three 
weeks after her bronchitis. When that happens, it is I who have to be sick- 
nurse. You can understand that I have had more than enough of it. Grieve 
for Dechambre's fate in your heart as much as you like. Think of him, but 
do not speak about him. I was very fond of Dechambre, but you cannot 
blame me for being fonder still of my wife. Here's Cottard, now, you can 
ask him." And indeed, he knew that a family doctor can do many little 
services, such as prescribing that one must not give way to grief. 

The docile Cottard had said to the Mistress: "Upset yourself like that, 
and to-morrow you will give me a temperature of 102," as he might have 
said to the cook: "To-morrow you will give me a riz de vcau." Medicine, 
when it fails to cure the sick, busies itself with changing the sense of verbs 
and pronouns. 

M. Verdurin was glad to find that Saniette, notwithstanding the snubs 
that he had had to endure two days earlier, had not deserted the little 
nucleus. And indeed Mme. Verdurin and her husband had acquired, in their 
idleness, cruel instincts for which the great occasions, occurring too rarely, 
no longer sufficed. They had succeeded in effecting a breach between 
Odette and Swann, between Brichot and his mistress. They would try it 
again with some one else, that was understood. But the opportunity did 
not present itself every day. Whereas, thanks to his shuddering sensibility, 
his timorous and quickly aroused shyness, Saniette provided them with a 
whipping-block for every day in the year. And so, for fear of his failing 
them, they took care always to invite him with friendly and persuasive 
words, such as the bigger boys at school, the old soldiers in a regiment, 
address to a recruit whom they are anxious to beguile so that they may 
get him into their clutches, with the sole object of flattering him for the 
moment and bullying him when he can no longer escape. "Whatever you 
do," Brichot reminded Cottard, who had not heard what M. Verdurin 
was saying, "mum's the word before Mme. Verdurin. Have no fear, O Cot- 
tard, you are dealing with a sage, as Theocritus says. Besides, M. Verdurin 
is right, what is the use of lamentations," he went on, for, being capable 
of assimilating forms of speech and the ideas which they suggested to him, 
but having no finer perception, he had admired in M. Verdurin's remarks 
the most courageous stoicism. "All the same, it is a great talent that has 
gone from the world." "What, are you still talking about Dechambre," 
said M. Verdurin, who had gone on ahead of us, and, seeing that we were 
not following him, had turned back. "Listen," he said to Brichot, "nothing 
is gained by exaggeration. The fact of his being dead is no excuse for 
making him out a genius, which he was not. He played well, I admit, and 
what is more, he was in his proper element here; transplanted, he ceased 
to exist. My wife was infatuated with him and made his reputation. You 
know what she is. I will go farther, in the interest of his own reputation he 
has died at the right moment, he is done to a turn, as the demoiselles de 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 215 

Caen, grilled according to the incomparable recipe of Pampilles, are going 
to be, I hope (unless you keep us standing here all night with your jere- 
miads in this Kasbah exposed to all the winds of heaven). You don't seri- 
ously expect us all to die of hunger because Dechambre is dead, when for 
the last year he was obliged to practise scales before giving a concert; to 
recover for the moment, and for the moment only, the suppleness of his 
wrists. Besides, you are going to hear this evening, or at any rate to meet, 
for the rascal is too fond of deserting his art, after dinner, for the card- 
table, somebody who is a far greater artist than Dechambre, a youngster 
whom my wife has discovered" (as she had discovered Dechambre, and 
Paderewski, and everybody else): "Morel. He has not arrived yet, the 
devil. He is coming with an old friend of his family whom he has picked up, 
and who bores him to tears, but otherwise, not to get into trouble with his 
father, he would have been obliged to stay down at Doncieres and keep 
him company: the Baron de Charlus." The faithful entered the drawing- 
room. M. Verdurin, who had remained behind with me while I took off my 
things, took my arm by way of a joke, as one's host does at a dinner-party 
when there is no lady for one to take in. "Did you have a pleasant jour- 
ney?" "Yes, M. Brichot told me things which interested me greatly," said 
I, thinking of the etymologies, and because I had heard that the Verdurins 
greatly admired Brichot. "I am surprised to hear that he told you any- 
thing," said M. Verdurin, "he is such a retiring man, and talks so little 
about the things he knows." This compliment did not strike me as being 
very apt. "He seems charming," I remarked. "Exquisite, delicious, not 
the sort of man you meet every day, such a light, fantastic touch, my wife 
adores him, and so do I!" replied M. Verdurin in an exaggerated tone, as 
though repeating a lesson. Only then did I grasp that what he had said 
to me about Brichot was ironical. And I asked myself whether M. Verdurin, 
since those far-off days of which I had heard reports, had not shaken off 
the yoke of his wife's tutelage. 

The sculptor was greatly astonished to learn that the Verdurins were 
willing to have M. de Charlus in their house. Whereas in the Faubourg 
Saint-Germain, where M. de Charlus was so well known, nobody ever 
referred to his morals (of which most people had no suspicion, others 
remained doubtful, crediting him rather with intense but Platonic friend- 
ships, with behaving imprudently, while the enlightened few strenuously 
denied, shrugging their shoulders, any insinuation upon which some mali- 
cious Gallardon might venture), those morals, the nature of which was 
known perhaps to a few intimate friends, were, on the other hand, being 
denounced daily far from the circle in which he moved, just as, at times, 
the sound of artillery fire is audible only beyond a zone of silence. More- 
over, in those professional and artistic circles where he was regarded as 
the typical instance of inversion, his great position in society, his noble 
origin were completely unknown, by a process analogous to that which, 
among the people of Rumania, has brought it about that the name of Ron- 
sard is known as that of a great nobleman, while his poetical work is 
unknown there. Not only that, the Rumanian estimate of Ronsard's nobil- 
ity is founded upon an error. Similarly, if in the world of painters and 



2l6 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

actors M. de Charlus had such an evil reputation, that was due to their 
confusing him with a certain Comte Leblois de Charlus who was not even 
related to him (or, if so, the connexion was extremely remote), and who 
had been arrested, possibly by mistake, in the course of a police raid which 
had become historic. In short, all the stories related of our M. de Charlus 
referred to the other. Many professionals swore that they had had rela- 
tions with M. de Charlus, and did so in good faith, believing that the false 
M. de Charlus was the true one, the false one possibly encouraging, partly 
from an affectation of nobility, partly to conceal his vice, a confusion which 
to the true one (the Baron whom we already know) was for a long time 
damaging, and afterwards, when he had begun to go down the hill, became 
a convenience, for it enabled him likewise to say: "That is not myself." 
And in the present instance it was not he to whom the rumours referred. 
Finally, what enhanced the falsehood of the reports of an actual fact (the 
Baron's tendencies), he had had an intimate and perfectly pure friend- 
ship with an author who, in the theatrical world, had for some reason ac- 
quired a similar reputation which he in no way deserved. When they were 
seen together at a first night, people would say: "You see," just as it was 
supposed that the Duchesse de Guermantes had immoral relations with 
the Princesse de Parme; an indestructible legend, for it would be dis- 
proved only in the presence of those two great ladies themselves, to which 
the people who repeated it would presumably never come any nearer than 
by staring at them through their glasses in the theatre and slandering them 
to the occupant of the next stall. Given M. de Charlus's morals, the sculptor 
concluded all the more readily that the Baron's social position must be 
equally low, since he had no sort of information whatever as to the family 
to which M. de Charlus belonged, his title or his name. Just as Cottard 
imagined that everybody knew that the degree of Doctor of Medicine 
implied nothing, the title of Consultant to a Hospital meant something, 
so people in society are mistaken when they suppose that everybody has 
the same idea of the social importance of their name as they themselves 
and the other people of their set. 

The Prince d'Agrigente was regarded as a swindler by a club servant to 
whom he owed twenty-five louis, and regained his importance only in the 
Faubourg Saint-Germain where he had three sisters who were Duchesses, 
for it is not among the humble people in whose eyes he is of small account, 
but among the smart people who know what is what, that the great noble- 
man creates an effect. M. de Charlus, for that matter, was to learn in the 
course of the evening that his host had the vaguest ideas about the most 
illustrious ducal families. 

Certain that the Verdurins were making a grave mistake in allowing an 
individual of tarnished reputation to be admitted to so 'select' a house- 
hold as theirs, the sculptor felt it his duty to take the Mistress aside. "You 
are entirely mistaken, besides I never pay any attention to those tales, and 
even if it were true, I may be allowed to point out that it could hardly com- 
promise me\" replied Mme. Verdurin, furious, for Morel being the prin- 
cipal feature of the Wednesdays, the chief thing for her was not to give 
any offence to him. As for Cottard, he could not express an opinion, for 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 217 

he had asked leave to go upstairs for a moment to 'do a little job' in the 
bucn retirOj and after that, in M. Verdurin's bedroom, to write an extremely 
urgent letter for a patient. 

A great publisher from Paris who had come to call, expecting to be in- 
vited to stay to dinner, withdrew abruptly, quickly, realising that he was 
not smart enough for the little clan. He was a tall, stout man, very dark, 
with a studious and somewhat cutting air. He reminded one of an ebony 
paper-knife. 

Mme. Verdurin who, to welcome us in her immense drawing-room, in 
which displays of grasses, poppies, field-flowers, plucked only that morning, 
alternated with a similar theme painted on the walls, two centuries earlier, 
by an artist of exquisite taste, had risen for a moment from a game of cards 
which she was playing with an old friend, begged us to excuse her for just 
one minute while she finished her game, talking to us the while. What I 
told her about my impressions did not, however, seem altogether to please 
her. For one thing I was shocked to observe that she and her husband came 
indoors every day long before the hour of those sunsets which were con- 
sidered so fine when seen from that cliff, and finer still from the terrace of 
la Raspeliere, and which I would have travelled miles to see. "Yes, it's 
incomparable," said Mme. Verdurin carelessly, with a glance at the huge 
windows which gave the room a wall of glass. "Even though we have it 
always in front of us, we never grow tired of it," and she turned her atten- 
tion back to her cards. Now my very enthusiasm made me exacting. I 
expressed my regret that I could not see from the drawing-room the rocks 
of Darnetal, which, Elstir had told me, were quite lovely at that hour, 
when they reflected so many colours. "Ah! You can't see them from here, 
you would have to go to the end of the park, to the 'view of the bay. 7 From 
the seat there, you can take in the whole panorama. But you can't go there 
by yourself, you will lose your way. I can take you there, if you like," 
she added kindly. "No, no, you are not satisfied with the illness you had 
the other day, you want to make yourself ill again. He will come back, he 
can see the view of the bay another time." I did not insist, and understood 
that it was enough for the Verdurins to know that this sunset made its way 
into their drawing-room or dining-room, like a magnificent painting, like a 
priceless Japanese enamel, justifying the high rent that they were paying 
for la Raspeliere, with plate and linen, but a thing to which they rarely 
raised their eyes; the important thing, here, for them was to live com- 
fortably, to take drives, to feed well, to talk, to entertain agreeable friends 
whom they provided with amusing games of billiards, good meals, merry 
tea-parties. I noticed, however, later on, how intelligently they had learned 
to know the district, taking their guests for excursions as 'novel' as the 
music to which they made them listen. The part which the flowers of la 
Raspeliere, the roads by the sea's edge, the old houses, the undiscovered 
churches, played in the life of M. Verdurin was so great that those people 
who saw him only in Paris and who, themselves, substituted for the life 
by the seaside and in the country the refinements of life in town could 
barely understand the idea that he himself formed of his own life, or the 
importance that his pleasures gave him in his own eyes. This importance 



2l8 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

was further enhanced by the fact that the Verdurins were convinced that 
la Raspeliere, which they hoped to purchase, was a property without its 
match in the world. This superiority which their self-esteem made them 
attribute to la Raspeliere justified in their eyes my enthusiasm which, but 
for that, would have annoyed them slightly, because of the disappoint- 
ments which it involved (like my disappointment when long ago I had 
first listened to Berma) and which I frankly admitted to them. 

"I hear the carriage coming back," the Mistress suddenly murmured. 
Let us state briefly that Mme. Verdurin, quite apart from the inevitable 
changes due to increasing years, no longer resembled what she had been at 
the time when Swann and Odette used to listen to the little phrase in her 
house. Even when she heard it played, she was no longer obliged to assume 
the air of attenuated admiration which she used to assume then, for that 
had become her normal expression. Under the influence of the countless 
neuralgias which the music of Bach, Wagner, Vinteuil, Debussy had given 
her, Mme. Verdurin's brow had assumed enormous proportions, like limbs 
that are finally crippled by rheumatism. Her temples, suggestive of a pair 
of beautiful, pain-stricken, milk-white spheres, in which Harmony rolled 
endlessly, flung back upon either side her silvered tresses, and proclaimed, 
on the Mistress's behalf, without any need for her to say a word: "I know 
what is in store for me to-night." Her features no longer took the trouble 
to formulate successively aesthetic impressions of undue violence, for they 
had themselves become their permanent expression on a countenance 
ravaged and superb. This attitude of resignation to the ever impending 
sufferings inflicted by Beauty, and of the courage that was required to make 
her dress for dinner when she had barely recovered from the effects of the 
last sonata, had the result that Mme. Verdurin, even when listening to the 
most heartrending music, preserved a disdainfully impassive countenance, 
and actually withdrew into retirement to swallow her two spoonfuls of 
aspirin. 

"Why, yes, here they are!" M. Verdurin cried with relief when he saw 
the door open to admit Morel, followed by M. de Charlus. The latter, to 
whom dining with the Verdurins meant not so much going into society as 
going into questionable surroundings, was as frightened as a schoolboy 
making his way for the first time into a brothel with the utmost deference 
towards its mistress. Moreover the persistent desire that M. de Charlus 
felt to appear virile and frigid was overcome (when he appeared in the 
open doorway) by those traditional ideas of politeness which are awakened 
as soon as shyness destroys an artificial attitude and makes an appeal to 
the resources of the subconscious. When it is a Charlus, whether he be 
noble or plebeian, that is stirred by such a sentiment of instinctive and 
atavistic politeness to strangers, it is always the spirit of a relative of the 
female sex, attendant like a goddess, or incarnate as a double, that under- 
takes to introduce him into a strange drawing-room and to mould his 
attitude until he comes face to face with his hostess. Thus a young painter, 
brought up by a godly, Protestant, female cousin, will enter a room, his 
head aslant and quivering, his eyes raised to the ceiling, his hands gripping 
an invisible muff, the remembered shape of which and its real and tutelary 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 2 19 

presence will help the frightened artist to cross without agoraphobia the 
yawning abyss between the hall and the inner drawing-room. Thus it was 
that the pious relative, whose memory is helping him to-day, used to enter 
a room years ago, and with so plaintive an air that one was asking oneself 
what calamity she had come to announce, when from her first words one 
realised, as now in the case of the painter, that she had come to pay an 
after-dinner call. By virtue of the same law, which requires that life, in the 
interests of the still unfulfilled act, shall bring into play, utilise, adulterate, 
in a perpetual prostitution, the most respectable, it may be the most sacred, 
sometimes only the most innocent legacies from the past, and albeit in this 
instance it engendered a different aspect, the one of Mme. Cottard's neph- 
ews who distressed his family by his effeminate ways and the company he 
kept would always make a joyous entry as though he had a surprise in store 
for you or were going to inform you that he had been left a fortune, radiant 
with a happiness which it would have been futile to ask him to explain, it 
being due to his unconscious heredity and his misplaced sex. He walked 
upon tiptoe, was no doubt himself astonished that he was not holding a 
cardcase, offered you his hand parting his lips as he had seen his aunt part 
hers, and his uneasy glance was directed at the mirror in which he seemed 
to wish to make certain, albeit he was bare-headed, whether his hat, as 
Mme. Cottard had once inquired of Swann, was not askew. As for M. de 
Charlus, whom the society in which he had lived furnished, at this critical 
moment, with different examples, with other patterns of affability, and 
above all with the maxim that one must, in certain cases, when dealing 
with people of humble rank, bring into play and make use of one's rarest 
graces, which one normally holds in reserve, it was with a flutter, archly, 
and with the same sweep with which a skirt would have enlarged and 
impeded his waddling motion that he advanced upon Mme. Verdurin with 
so flattered and honoured an air that one would have said that to be taken 
to her house was for him a supreme favour. One would have thought that 
it was Mme. de Marsantes who was entering the room, so prominent at 
that moment was the woman whom a mistake on the part of Nature had 
enshrined in the body of M. de Charlus. It was true that the Baron had 
made every effort to obliterate this mistake and to assume a masculine 
appearance. But no sooner had he succeeded than, he having in the mean- 
time kept the same tastes, this habit of looking at things through a woman's 
eyes gave him a fresh feminine appearance, due this time not to heredity 
but to his own way of living. And as he had gradually come to regard even 
social questions from the feminine point of view, and without noticing it, 
for it is not only by dint of lying to other people, but also by lying to one- 
self that one ceases to be aware that one is lying, albeit he had called upon 
his body to manifest (at the moment of his entering the Verdurins' draw- 
ing-room) all the courtesy of a great nobleman, that body which had fully 
understood what M. de Charlus had ceased to apprehend, displayed, to 
such an extent that the Baron would have deserved the epithet 'ladylike/ 
all the attractions of a great lady. Not that there need be any connexion be- 
tween the appearance of M. de Charlus and the fact that sons, who do not 
always take after their fathers, even without being inverts, and though 



22O CITIES OF THE'PLAIN 

they go after women, may consummate upon their faces the profanation 
of their mothers. But we need not consider here a subject that deserves a 
chapter to itself: the Profanation of the Mother. 

Albeit other reasons dictated this transformation of M. de Charlus, and 
purely physical ferments set his material substance 'working' and made 
his body pass gradually into the category of women's bodies, nevertheless 
the change that we record here was of spiritual origin. By dint of supposing 
yourself to be ill you become ill, grow thin, are too weak to rise from your 
bed, suffer from nervous enteritis. By dint of thinking tenderly of men 
you become a woman, and an imaginary spirit hampers your movements. 
The obsession, just as in the other instance it affects your health, may in 
this instance alter your sex. Morel, who accompanied him, came to shake 
hands with me. From that first moment, owing to a twofold change that 
occurred in him I formed (alas, I was not warned in time to act upon it! ) 
a bad impression of him. I have said that Morel, having risen above his 
father's menial status, was generally pleased to indulge in a contemptuous 
familiarity. He had talked to me on the day when he brought me the photo- 
graphs without once addressing me as Monsieur, treating me as an inferior. 
What was my surprise at Mme. Verdurin's to see him bow very low before 
me, and before me alone, and to hear, before he had even uttered a syllable 
to anyone else, words of respect, most respectful such words as I thought 
could not possibly flow from his pen or fall from his lips addressed to 
myself. I at once suspected that he had some favour to ask of me. Taking 
me aside a minute later: "Monsieur would be doing me a very great serv- 
ice," he said to me, going so far this time as to address me in the third 
person, "by keeping from Mme. Verdurin and her guests the nature of the 
profession that my father practised with his uncle. It would be best to say 
that he was, in your family, the agent for estates so considerable as to put 
him almost on a level with your parents." Morel's request annoyed me 
intensely because it obliged me to magnify not his father's position, in 
which I took not the slightest interest, but the wealth the apparent 
wealth of my own, which I felt to be absurd. But he appeared so unhappy, 
so pressing, that I could not refuse him. "No, before dinner," he said in 
an imploring tone, "Monsieur can easily find some excuse for taking Mme. 
Verdurin aside." This was what, in the end, I did, trying to enhance to the 
best of my ability the distinction of Morel's father, without unduly exag- 
gerating the 'style/ the 'worldly goods' of my own family. It went like 
a letter through the post, notwithstanding the astonishment of Mme. Ver- 
durin, who had had a nodding acquaintance with my grandfather. And as 
she had no tact, hated family life (that dissolvent of the little nucleus), 
after telling me that she remembered, long ago, seeing my great-grandfather, 
and after speaking of him as of somebody who was almost an idiot, who 
would have been incapable of understanding the little group, and who, to 
use her expression, "was not one of us," she said to me: "Families are such 
a bore, the only thing is to get right away from them;" and at once pro- 
ceeded to tell me of a trait in my great-grandfather's character of which I 
was unaware, although I might have suspected it at home (I had never 
seen him, but they frequently spoke of him), his remarkable stinginess 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 221 

(in contrast to the somewhat excessive generosity of my great-uncle, the 
friend of the lady in pink and Morel's father's employer): "Why, of 
course, if your grandparents had such a grand agent, that only shews that 
there are all sorts of people in a family. Your grandfather's father was so 
stingy that, at the end of his life, when he was almost half-witted between 
you and me, he was never anything very special, you are worth the whole 
lot of them he could not bring himself to pay a penny for his ride on the 
omnibus. So that they were obliged to have him followed by somebody 
who paid his fare for him, and to let the old miser think that his friend M. 
de Persigny, the Cabinet Minister, had given him a permit to travel free on 
the omnibuses. But I am delighted to hear that our Morel's father heldf 
such a good position. I was under the impression that he had been a school- 
master, but that's nothing, I must have misunderstood. In any case, it 
makes not the slightest difference, for I must tell you that here we appre- 
ciate only true worth, the personal contribution, what I call the participa- 
tion. Provided that a person is artistic, provided in a word that he is one 
of the brotherhood, nothing else matters." The way in which Morel was 
one of the brotherhood was so far as I have been able to discover that he 
was sufficiently fond of both women and men to satisfy either sex with the 
fruits of his experience of the other. But what it is essential to note here is 
that as soon as I had given him my word that I would speak on his behalf 
to Mme. Verdurin, as soon, moreover, as I had actually done so, and with- 
out any possibility of subsequent retractation, Morel's 'respect' for myself 
vanished as though by magic, the formal language of respect melted away, 
and indeed for some time he avoided me, contriving to appear contemptuous 
of me, so that if Mme. Verdurin wanted me to give him a message, to ask 
him to play something, he would continue to talk to one of the faithful, 
then move on to another, changing his seat if I approached him. The others 
were obliged to tell him three or four times that I had spoken to him, after 
which he would reply, with an air of constraint, briefly, that is to say 
unless we were by ourselves. When that happened, he was expansive, 
friendly, for there was a charming side to him. I concluded all the same 
from this first evening that his must be a vile nature, that he would not, at 
a pinch, shrink from any act of meanness, was incapable of gratitude. In 
which he resembled the majority of mankind. But inasmuch as I had inher- 
ited a strain of my grandmother's nature, and enjoyed the diversity of other 
people without expecting anything of them or resenting anything that they 
did, I overlooked his baseness, rejoiced in his gaiety when it was in evi- 
dence, and indeed in what I believe to have been a genuine affection on his 
part when, having gone the whole circuit of his false ideas of human nature, 
he realised (with a jerk, for he shewed strange reversions to a blind and 
primitive savagery) that my kindness to him was disinterested, that my 
indulgence arose not from a want of perception but from what he called 
goodness; and, more important still, I was enraptured by his art which 
indeed was little more than an admirable virtuosity, but which made me 
(without his being in the intellectual sense of the word a real musician) hear 
again or for the first time so much good music. Moreover a manager M. de 
Charlus (whom I had not suspected of such talents, albeit Mme. de Guer- 



222 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

mantes, who had known him a very different person in their younger days, 
asserted that he had composed a sonata for her, painted a fan, and so 
forth), modest in regard to his true merits, but possessing talents of the 
first order, contrived to place this virtuosity at the service of a versatile 
artistic sense which increased it tenfold. Imagine a merely skilful per- 
former in the Russian ballet, formed, educated, developed in all directions 
by M. Diaghileff. 

I had just given Mme. Verdurin the message with which Morel had 
charged me and was talking to M. de Charlus about Saint-Loup, when 
Cottard burst into the room announcing, as though the house were on fire, 
that the Cambremers had arrived. Mme. Verdurin, not wishing to appear 
before strangers such as M. de Charlus (whom Cottard had not seen) and 
myself to attach any great importance to the arrival of the Cambremers, 
did not move, made no response to the announcement of these tidings, and 
merely said to the doctor, fanning herself gracefully, and adopting the 
tone of a Marquise in the Theatre Fran^ais: "The Baron has just been 
telling us. . . ." This was too much for Cottard! Less abruptly than he 
would have done in the old days, for learning and high positions had added 
weight to his utterance, but with the emotion, nevertheless, which he re- 
captured at the Verdurins', he exclaimed: "A Baron! What Baron? Where's 
the Baron?" staring around the room with an astonishment that bordered 
on incredulity. Mme. Verdurin, with the affected indifference of a hostess 
when a servant has, in front of her guests, broken a valuable glass, and 
with the artificial, highfalutin tone of a conservatoire prize-winner acting 
in a play by the younger Dumas, replied, pointing with her fan to Morel's 
patron: "Why, the Baron de Charlus, to whom let me introduce you, M. le 
Professeur Cottard." Mme. Verdurin was, for that matter, by no means 
sorry to have an opportunity of playing the leading lady. M. de Charlus 
proffered two fingers which the Professor clasped with the kindly smile of 
a 'Prince of Science.' But he stopped short upon seeing the Cambremers 
enter the room, while M. de Charlus led me into a corner to tell me some- 
thing, not without feeling my muscles, which is a German habit. M. de 
Cambremer bore no resemblance to the old Marquise. To anyone who had 
only heard of him, or of letters written by him, well and forcibly expressed, 
his personal appearance was startling. No doubt, one would grow accus- 
tomed to it. But his nose had chosen to place itself aslant above his mouth, 
perhaps the only crooked line, among so many, which one would never 
have thought of tracing upon his face, and one that indicated a vulgar 
stupidity, aggravated still further by the proximity of a Norman com- 
plexion on cheeks that were like two ripe apples. It is possible that the eyes 
of M. de Cambremer retained behind their eyelids a trace of the sky of 
the Cotentin, so soft upon sunny days when the wayfarer amuses himself 
In watching, drawn up by the roadside, and counting in their hundreds the 
shadows of the poplars, but those eyelids, heavy, bleared and drooping, 
would have prevented the least flash of intelligence from escaping. And 
so, discouraged by the meagreness of that azure glance, one returned to the 
big crooked nose. By a transposition of the senses, M. de Cambremer looked 
at you with his nose. This nose of his was not ugly, it was if anything too 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 223 

handsome, too bold, too proud of its own importance. Arched, polished, 
gleaming, brand new, it was amply prepared to atone for the inadequacy 
of his eyes. Unfortunately, if the eyes are sometimes the organ through 
which our intelligence is revealed, the nose (to leave out of account the 
intimate solidarity and the unsuspected repercussion of one feature upon 
the rest), the nose is generally the organ in which stupidity is most readily 
displayed. 

The propriety of the dark clothes which M. de Cambremer invariably 
wore, even in the morning, might well reassure those who were dazzled and 
exasperated by the insolent brightness of the seaside attire of people whom 
they did not know; still it was impossible to understand why the chief 
magistrate's wife should have declared with an air of discernment and au- 
thority, as a person who knows far more than you about the high society 
of Alencon, that on seeing M. de Cambremer one immediately felt oneself, 
even before one knew who he was, in the presence of a man of supreme dis- 
tinction, of a man of perfect breeding, a change from the sort of person one 
saw at Balbec, a man in short in whose company one could breathe freely. 
He was to her, stifled by all those Balbec tourists who did not know her 
world, like a bottle of smelling salts. It seemed to me on the contrary that 
he was one of the people whom my grandmother would at once have set 
down as 'all wrong/ and that, as she had no conception of snobbishness, 
she would no doubt have been stupefied that he could have succeeded in 
winning the hand of Mile. Legrandin, who must surely be difficult to 
please, having a brother who was 'so refined. 7 At best one might have said 
of M. de Cambremer's plebeian ugliness that it was redolent of the soil and 
preserved a very ancient local tradition; one was reminded, on examining 
his faulty features, which one would have liked to correct, of those rames 
of little Norman towns as to the etymology of which my friend the cure 
was mistaken because the peasants, mispronouncing the names, or having 
misunderstood the Latin or Norman words that underlay them, have finally 
fixed in a barbarism to be found already in the cartularies, as Brichot 
would have said, a wrong meaning and a fault of pronunciation. Life in 
these old towns may, for all that, be pleasant enough, and M. de Cam- 
bremer must have had his good points, for if it was in a mother's nature 
that the old Marquise should prefer her son to her daughter-in-law, on the 
other hand, she, who had other children, of whom two at least were not 
devoid of merit, was often heard to declare that the Marquis was, in her 
opinion, the best of the family. During the short time he had spent in the 
army, his messmates, rinding Cambremer too long a name to pronounce, 
had given him the nickname Cancan, implying a flow of chatter, which he 
in no way merited. He knew how to brighten a dinner-party to which he 
was invited by saying when the fish (even if it were stale) or the entree 
came in: "I say, that looks a fine animal." And his wife, who had adopted 
upon entering the family everything that she supposed to form part of 
their customs, put herself on the level of her husband's friends and perhaps 
sought to please him, like a mistress, and as though she had been involved 
in his bachelor existence, by saying in a careless tone when she was speak- 
ing of him to officers: "You shall see Cancan presently. Cancan has gone 



224 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

to Balbec, but he will be back this evening." She was furious at having 
compromised herself by coming to the Verdurins' and had done so only 
upon the entreaties of her mother-in-law and husband, in the hope of re- 
newing the lease. But, being less well-bred than they, she made no secret 
of the ulterior motive and for the last fortnight had been making fun of 
this dinner-party to her women friends. "You know we are going to dine 
with our tenants. That will be well worth an increased rent. As a matter of 
fact, I am rather curious to see what they have done to our poor old la 
Raspeliere" (as though she had been born in the house, and would find 
there all her old family associations). "Our old keeper told me only yester- 
day that you wouldn't know the place. I can't bear to think of all that must 
be going on there. I am sure we shall have to have the whole place disin- 
fected before we move in again." She arrived haughty and morose, with the 
air of a great lady whose castle, owing to a state of war, is occupied by the 
enemy, but who nevertheless feels herself at home and makes a point of 
shewing the conquerors that they are intruding. Mme. de Cambremer 
could not see me at first for I was in a bay at the side of the room with M. de 
Charlus, who was telling me that he had heard from Morel that Morel's 
father had been an 'agent' in my family, and that he, Charlus, credited me 
with sufficient intelligence and magnanimity (a term common to himself 
and Swann) to forego the mean and ignoble pleasure which vulgar little 
idiots (I was warned) would not have failed, in my place, to give them- 
selves by revealing to our hosts details which they might regard as derog- 
atory. "The mere fact that I take an interest in him and extend my pro- 
tection over him, gives him a pre-eminence and wipes out the past," the 
Baron concluded. As I listened to him and promised the silence which I 
would have kept even without any hope of being considered in return 
intelligent and magnanimous, I was looking at Mme. de Cambremer. And 
I had difficulty in recognising the melting, savoury morsel which I had had 
beside me the other afternoon at teatime, on the terrace at Balbec, in the 
Norman rock-cake that I now saw, hard as a rock, in which the faithful 
would in vain have tried to set their teeth. Irritated in anticipation by the 
knowledge that her husband inherited his mother's simple kindliness, which 
would make him assume a flattered expression whenever one of the faith- 
ful was presented to him, anxious however to perform her duty as a leader 
of society, when Brichot had been named to her she decided to make him 
and her husband acquainted, as she had seen her more fashionable friends 
do, but, anger or pride prevailing over the desire to shew her knowledge of 
the world, she said, not, as she ought to have said: "Allow me to introduce 
my husband," but: "I introduce you to my husband," holding aloft thus 
the banner of the Cambremers, without avail, for her husband bowed as 
low before Brichot as she had expected. But all Mme. de Cambremer's 
ill humour vanished in an instant when her eye fell on M. de Charlus, whom 
she knew by sight. Never had she succeeded in obtaining an introduction, 
even at the time of her intimacy with Swann. For as M. de Charlus always 
sided with the woman, with his sister-in-law against M. de Guermantes's 
mistresses, with Odette, at that time still unmarried, but an old flame of 
Swann 's, against the new, he had, as a stern defender of morals and faithful 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 225 

protector of homes, given Odette and kept the promise that he would 
never allow himself to be presented to Mme. de Cambremer. She had cer- 
tainly never guessed that it was at the Verdurins' that she was at length to 
meet this unapproachable person. M. de Cambremer knew that this was a 
great joy to her, so great that he himself was moved by it and looked at his 
wife with an air that implied: "You are glad now you decided to come, aren't 
you?" He spoke very little, knowing that he had married a superior woman. 
"I, all unworthy," he would say at every moment, and spontaneously 
quoted a fable of La Fontaine and one of Florian which seemed to him to 
apply to his ignorance, and at the same time enable him, beneath the out- 
ward form of a contemptuous flattery, to shew the men of science who were 
not members of the Jockey that one might be a sportsman and yet have 
read fables. The unfortunate thing was that he knew only two of them. 
And so they kept cropping up. Mme. de Cambremer was no fool, but she 
had a number of extremely irritating habits. With her the corruption of 
names bore absolutely no trace of aristocratic disdain. She was not the per- 
son to say, like the Duchesse de Guer mantes (whom the mere fact of her 
birth ought to have preserved even more than Mine, de Cambremer from 
such an absurdity), with a pretence of not remembering the unfashionable 
name (albeit it is now that of one of the women whom it is most difficult to 
approach) of Julien de Monchateau: "a little Madame . . . Pica della 
Mirandola." No, when Mme. de Cambremer said a name wrong it was out 
of kindness of heart, so as not to appear to know some damaging fact, and 
when, in her sincerity, she admitted it, she tried to conceal it by altering it. 
If, for instance, she was defending a woman, she would try to conceal the 
fact, while determined not to lie to the person who had asked her to tell 
the truth, that Madame So-and-so was at the moment the mistress of M. 
Sylvain Levy, and would say: "No ... I know absolutely nothing about 
her, I fancy that people used to charge her with having inspired a passion 
in a gentleman whose name I don't know, something like Cahn, Kohn, 
Kuhn ; anyhow, I believe the gentleman has been dead for years and that 
there was never anything between them." This is an analogous, but con- 
trary process to that adopted by liars who think that if they alter their 
statement of what they have been doing when they make it to a mistress 
or merely to another man, their listener will not immediately see that the 
expression (like her Cahn, Kohn, Kuhn) is interpolated, is of a different 
texture from the rest of the conversation, has a double meaning. 

Mme. Verdurin whispered in her husband's ear: "Shall I offer my arm 
to the Baron de Charlus? As you will have Mme. de Cambremer on your 
right, we might divide the honours." "No," said M. Verdurin, "since the 
other is higher in rank" (meaning that M. de Cambremer was a Marquis), 
"M. de Charlus is, strictly speaking, his inferior." "Very well, I shall put 
him beside the Princess." And Mme. Verdurin introduced Mme. Sherbatoff 
to M. de Charlus; each of them bowed in silence, with an air of knowing 
all about the other and of promising a mutual secrecy. M. Verdurin intro- 
duced me to M. de Cambremer. Before he had even begun to speak in his 
loud and slightly stammering voice, his tall figure and high complexion 
displayed in their oscillation the martial hesitation of a commanding officer 



226 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

who tries to put you at your ease and says: "I have heard about you, I shall 
see what can be done; your punishment shall be remitted; we don't thirst 
for blood here; it will be all right. " Then, as he shook my hand: "I think 
you know my mother," he said to me. The word 'think' seemed to him 
appropriate to the discretion of a first meeting, but not to imply any un- 
certainty, for he went on: "I have a note for you from her." M. de Cam- 
bremer took a childish pleasure in revisiting a place where he had lived 
for so long. "I am at home again," he said to Mme. Verdurin, while his 
eyes marvelled at recognising the flowers painted on panels over the doors, 
and the marble busts on their high pedestals. He might, all the same, have 
felt himself at sea, for Mme. Verdurin had brought with her a quantity of 
fine old things of her own. In this respect, Mme. Verdurin, while regarded 
by the Cambremers as having turned everything upside down, was not 
revolutionary but intelligently conservative in a sense which they did not 
understand. They were thus wrong in accusing her of hating the old house 
and of degrading it by hanging plain cloth curtains instead of their rich 
plush, like an ignorant parish priest reproaching a diocesan architect with 
putting back in its place the old carved wood which the cleric had thrown 
on the rubbish heap, and had seen fit to replace with ornaments purchased 
in the Place Saint-Sulpice. Furthermore, a herb garden was beginning to 
take the place, in front of the mansion, of the borders that were the pride 
not merely of the Cambremers but of their gardener. The latter, who re- 
garded the Cambremers as his sole masters, and groaned beneath the yoke 
of the Verdurins, as though the place were under occupation for the mo- 
ment by an invading army, went in secret to unburden his griefs to its 
dispossessed mistress, grew irate at the scorn that was heaped upon his 
araucarias, begonias, house-leeks, double dahlias, and at anyone's daring 
in so grand a place to grow such common plants as camomile and maiden- 
hair. Mme. Verdurin felt this silent opposition and had made up her mind, 
if she took a long lease of la Raspeliere or even bought the place, to make 
one of her conditions the dismissal of the gardener, by whom his old 
mistress, on the contrary, set great store. He had worked for her without 
payment, when times were bad, he adored her; but by that odd multi- 
formity of opinion which we find in the lower orders, among whom the 
most profound moral scorn is embedded in the most passionate admiration, 
which in turn overlaps old and undying grudges, he used often to say of 
Mme. de Cambremer who, in '70, in a house that she owned in the p]ast 
of France, surprised by the invasion, had been obliged to endure for a 
month the contact of the Germans: "What many people can't forgive 
Mme. la Marquise is that during the war she took the side of the Prussians 
and even had them to stay in her house. At any other time, I could under- 
stand it; but in war time, she ought not to have done it. It is not right." 
So that he was faithful to her unto death, venerated her for her goodness, 
and firmly believed that she had been guilty of treason. Mme. Verdurin 
was annoyed that M. de Cambremer should pretend to feel so much at 
home at la Raspelijre. "You must notice a good many changes, all the 
same," she replied. "For one thing there were those big bronze Barbedienne 
devils and some horrid little plush, chairs which I packed off at once to 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 227 

the attic, though even that is too good a place for them." After this bitter 
retort to M. de Cambremer, she offered him her arm to go in to dinner. 
He hesitated for a moment, saying to himself: "I can't, really, go in before 
M. de Charlus." But supposing the other to be an old friend of the house, 
seeing that he was not set in the post of honour, he decided to take the arm 
that was offered him and told Mme. Verdurin how proud he felt to be 
admitted into the symposium (so it was that he styled the little nucleus, 
not without a smile of satisfaction at his knowledge of the term) . Cottard, 
who was seated next to M. de Charlus, beamed at him through his glass, 
to make his acquaintance and to break the ice, with a series of winks far 
more insistent than they would have been in the old days, and not inter- 
rupted by fits of shyness. And these engaging glances, enhanced by the 
smile that accompanied them, were no longer dammed by the glass but 
overflowed on all sides. The Baron, who readily imagined people of his 
own kind everywhere, had no doubt that Cottard was one, and was mak- 
ing eyes at him. At once he turned on the Professor the cold shoulder of 
the invert, as contemptuous of those whom he attracts as he is ardent in 
pursuit of such as attract him. No doubt, albeit each one of us speaks 
mendaciously of the pleasure, always refused him by destiny, of being 
loved, it is a general law, the application of which is by no means confined 
to the Charlus type, that the person whom we do not love and who does 
love us seems to us quite intolerable. To such a person, to a woman of 
whom we say not that she loves us but that she bores us, we prefer the 
society of any other, who has neither her charm, nor her looks, nor her 
brains. She will recover these, in our estimation, only when she has ceased 
to love us. In this light, we might see only the transposition, into odd 
terms, of this universal rule in the irritation aroused in an invert by a 
man who displeases him and runs after him. And so, whereas the ordinary 
man seeks to conceal what he feels, the invert is implacable in making it 
felt by the man who provokes it, as he would certainly not make it felt 
by a woman, M. de Charlus for instance by the Princesse de Guermantes, 
whose passion for him bored him, but flattered him. But when they see an- 
other man shew a peculiar liking for them, then, whether because they 
fail to realise that this liking is the same as their own, or because it annoys 
them to be reminded that this liking, which they glorify so long as it is 
they themselves that feel it, is regarded as a vice, or from a desire to re- 
habilitate themselves by a sensational display in circumstances in which 
it costs them nothing, or from a fear of being unmasked which they at 
once recover as soon as desire no longer leads them blindfold from one 
imprudence to another, or from rage at being subjected, by the equivocal 
attitude of another person, to the injury which, by their own attitude, if 
that other person attracted them, they would not be afraid to inflict on 
him, the men who do not in the least mind following a young man for 
miles, never taking their eyes off him in the theatre, even if he is with 
friends, and there is therefore a danger of their compromising him with 
them, may be heard, if a man who does not attract them merely looks at 
them, to say: "Sir, for what do you take me?" (simply because he takes 
them for what they are) "I don't understand, no, don't attempt to explain, 



228 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

you are quite mistaken," pass if need be from words to blows, and, to a 
person who knows the imprudent stranger, wax indignant: "What, you 
know that loathsome creature. He stares at one so! ... A fine way to 
behave!" M. de Charlus did not go quite as far as this, but assumed the 
offended, glacial air adopted, when one appears to be suspecting them, by 
women who are not of easy virtue, even more by women who are. Further- 
more, the invert brought face to face with an invert sees not merely an 
unpleasing image of himself which, being purely inanimate, could at the 
worst only injure his self-esteem, but a second self, living, acting in the 
same sphere, capable therefore of injuring him in his loves. And so it is 
from an instinct of self-preservation that he will speak evil of the possible 
rival, whether to people who are able to do him some injury (nor does in- 
vert the first mind being thought a liar when he thus denounces invert the 
second before people who may know all about his own case), or to the 
young man whom he has 'picked up/ who is perhaps going to be snatched 
away from him and whom it is important to persuade that the very things 
which it is to his advantage to do with the speaker would be the bane of 
his life if he allowed himself to do them with the other person. To M. de 
Charlus, who was thinking perhaps of the wholly imaginary dangers 
in which the presence of this Cottard whose smile he misinterpreted might 
involve Morel, an invert who did not attract him was not merely a carica- 
ture of himself, but was a deliberate rival. A tradesman, practising an un- 
common trade, who, on his arrival in the provincial town where he in- 
tends to settle for life discovers that, in the same square, directly opposite, 
the same trade is being carried on by a competitor, is no more discomfited 
than a Charlus who goes down to a quiet spot to make love unobserved and, 
on the day of his arrival, catches sight of the local squire or the barber, 
whose aspect and manner leave no room for doubt. The tradesman often 
comes to regard his competitor with hatred; this hatred degenerates at 
times into melancholy, and, if there be but a sufficient strain of heredity, 
one has seen in small towns the tradesman begin to shew signs of insanity 
which is cured only by his deciding to sell his stock and goodwill and 
remove to another place. The invert's rage is even more agonising. He 
has realised that from the first moment the squire and the barber have 
desired his young companion. Even though he repeat to him a hundred 
times daily that the barber and the squire are scoundrels whose contact 
would dishonour him, he is obliged, like Harpagon, to watch over his 
treasure, and rises in the night to make sure that it is not being stolen. 
And it is this no doubt that, even more than desire, or the convenience of 
habits shared in common, and almost as much as that experience of oneself 
which is the only true experience, makes one invert detect another with a 
rapidity and certainty that are almost infallible. He may be mistaken 
for a moment, but a rapid divination brings him back to the truth. And 
so M. de Charlus's error was brief. His divine discernment shewed him 
after the first minute that Cottard was not of his kind, and that he need 
not fear his advances either for himself, which would merely have annoyed 
him, or for Morel, which would have seemed to him a more serious matter. 
He recovered his calm, and as he was still beneath the influence of the 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 22Q 

transit of Venus Androgyne, now and again, he smiled a faint smile at 
the Verdurins without taking the trouble to open his mouth, merely curv- 
ing his lips at one corner, and for an instant kindled a coquettish light in 
his eyes, he so obsessed with virility, exactly as his sister-in-law the 
Duchesse de Guermantes might have done. "Do you shoot much, Sir?" 
said M. Verdurin with a note of contempt to M. de Cambremer. "Has Ski 
told you of the near shave we had to-day?" Cottard inquired of the mis- 
tress. "I shoot mostly in the forest of Chantepie," replied M. de Cam- 
bremer. "No, I have told her nothing," said Ski. "Does it deserve its 
name?" Brichot asked M. de Cambremer, after a glance at me from the 
corner of his eye, for he had promised me that he would introduce the 
topic of derivations, begging me at the same time not to let the CanT- 
bremers know the scorn that he felt for those furnished by the Combray 
cure. "I am afraid I must be very stupid, but I don't grasp your ques- 
tion," said M. de Cambremer. "I mean to say: do many pies sing in it?" 
replied Brichot. Cottard meanwhile could not bear Mme. Verdurin's not 
knowing that they had nearly missed the train. "Out with it," Mme. 
Cottard said to her husband encouragingly, "tell us your odyssey." "Well, 
really, it is quite out of the ordinary," said the doctor, and repeated his 
narrative from the beginning. "When I saw that the train was in the sta- 
tion, I stood thunderstruck. It was all Ski's fault. You are somewhat wide 
of the mark in your information, my dear fellow! And there was Brichot 
waiting for us at the station!" "I assumed," said the scholar, casting 
around him what he could still muster of a glance and smiling with his 
thin lips, "that if you had been detained at Graincourt, it would mean 
that you had encountered some peripatetic siren." "Will you hold your 
tongue, if my wife were to hear you!" said the Professor. "This wife of 
mine, it is jealous." "Ah! That Brichot," cried Ski, moved to traditional 
merriment by Brichot's spicy witticism, "he is always the same;" albeit 
he had no reason to suppose that the university don had ever indulged 
in obscenity. And, to embellish this consecrated utterance with the ritual 
gesture, he made as though he could not resist the desire to pinch Brichot's 
leg. "He never changes, the rascal," Ski went on, and without stopping to 
think of the effect, at once tragic and comic, that the don's semi-blindness 
gave to his words: "Always a sharp look-out for the ladies," "You see," 
said M. de Cambremer, "what it is to meet with a scholar. Here have I 
been shooting for fifteen years in the forest of Chantepie, and I've never 
even thought of what the name meant." Mme. de Cambremer cast a stern 
glance at her husband ; she did not like him to humble himself thus before 
Brichot. She was even more annoyed when, at every 'ready-made' expres- 
sion that Cancan employed, Cottard, who knew the ins and outs of them 
all, having himself laboriously acquired them, pointed out to the Marquis, 
who admitted his stupidity, that they meant nothing. "Why 'stupid as a 
cabbage?' Do you suppose cabbages are stupider than anything else? 
You say: 'repeat the same thing thirty-six times.' Why thirty-six? Why 
do you say: 'sleep like a top?' Why 'Thunder of Brest?' Why 'play four 
hundred tricks?' " But at this, the defence of M. de Cambremer was taken 
up by Brichot who explained the origin of each of these expressions. But 



230 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

Mine, de Cambremer was occupied principally in examining the changes 
that the Verdurins had introduced at la Raspeliere, in order that she 
might be able to criticise some, and import others, or possibly the same 
ones, to Feterne. "I keep wondering what that lustre is that's hanging 
all crooked. I can hardly recognise my old Raspeliere," she went on, with 
a familiarly aristocratic air, as she might have spoken of an old servant 
meaning not so much to indicate his age as to say that she had seen him 
in his cradle. And, as she was a trifle bookish in her speech: "All the same," 
she added in an undertone, "I can't help feeling that if I were inhabiting 
another person's house, I should feel some compunction about altering 
everything like this." "It is a pity you didn't come with them," said Mme. 
Verdurin to M. de Charlus and Morel, hoping that M. de Charlus was now 
'enrolled' and would submit to the rule that they must all arrive by the 
same train. "You are sure that Chantepie means the singing magpie, 
Chochotte?" she went on, to shew that, like the great hostess that she 
was, she could join in every conversation at the same time. "Tell me 
something about this violinist," Mme. de Cambremer said to me, "he 
interests me; I adore music, and it seems to me that I have heard of him 
before, complete my education." She had heard that Morel had come 
with M. de Charlus and hoped, by getting the former to come to her 
house, to make friends with the latter. She added, however, so that I 
might not guess her reason for asking, "M. Brichot, too, interests me." For, 
even if she was highly cultivated, just as certain persons inclined to obesity 
eat hardly anything, and take exercise all day long without ceasing to 
grow visibly fatter, so Mme. de Cambremer might in vain master, and 
especially at Feterne, a philosophy that became ever more esoteric, music 
that became ever more subtle, she emerged from these studies only to 
weave plots that would enable her to cut the middle-class friends of her 
girlhood and to form the connexions which she had originally supposed 
to be part of the social life of her 'in laws,' and had then discovered to be 
far more exalted and remote. A philosopher who was not modern enough 
for her, Leibnitz, has said that the way is long from the intellect to the 
heart. This way Mme. de Cambremer had been no more capable than 
her brother of traversing. Abandoning the study of John Stuart Mill only 
for that of Lachelier, the less she believed in the reality of the external 
world, the more desperately she sought to establish herself, before she 
died, in a good position in it. In her passion for realism in art, no object 
seemed to her humble enough to serve as a model to painter or writer. A 
fashionable picture or novel would have made her feel sick; Tolstoi's 
mujiks, or Millet's peasants, were the extreme social boundary beyond 
which she did not allow the artist to pass. But to cross the boundary that 
limited her own social relations, to raise herself to an intimate acquaintance 
with Duchesses, this was the goal of all her efforts, so ineffective had the 
spiritual treatment to which she subjected herself, by the study of great 
masterpieces, proved in overcoming the congenital and morbid snobbish- 
ness that had developed in her. This snobbishness had even succeeded in 
curing certain tendencies to avarice and adultery to which in her younger 
days she had been inclined, just as certain peculiar and permanent patho- 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 2JI 

logical conditions seem to render those who are subject to them immune 
to other maladies. I could not, all the same, refrain, as I listened to her, 
from giving her credit, without deriving any pleasure from them, for the 
refinement of her expressions. They were those that are used, at a given 
date, by all the people of the same intellectual breadth, so that the re- 
fined expression provides us at once, like the arc of a circle, with the means 
to describe and limit the entire circumference. And so the effect of these 
expressions is that the people who employ them bore me immediately, 
because I feel that I already know them, but are generally regarded as 
superior persons, and have often been offered me as delightful and un- 
appreciated companions. "You cannot fail to be aware, Madame, that 
many forest regions take their name from the animals that inhabit them. 
Next to the forest of Chantepie, you have the wood Chantereine." "I 
don't know who the queen may be, but you are not very polite to her," 
said M. de Cambremer. "One for you, Chochotte," said Mme. de Verdurin. 
"And apart from that, did you have a pleasant journey?" "We encountered 
only vague human beings who thronged the train. But I must answer 
M. de Cambremer's question; rcine, in this instance, is not the wife of a 
king, but a frog. It is the name that the frog has long retained in this 
district, as is shewn by the station, Renneville, which ought to be spelt 
Reineville." "I say, that seems a fine animal/' said M. de Cambremer to 
Mme. Verdurin, pointing to a fish. (It was one of the compliments by 
means of which he considered that he paid his scot at a dinner-party, and 
gave an immediate return of hospitality. "There is no need to invite them," 
he would often say, in speaking of one or other couple of their friends to 
his wife. "They were delighted to have us. It was they that thanked me 
for coming.") "I must tell you, all the same, that I have been going every 
day for years to Renneville, and I have never seen any more frogs there 
than anywhere else. Madame de Cambremer brought the cure here from 
a parish where she owns a considerable property, who has very much the 
same turn of mind as yourself, it seems to me. He has written a book." 
"I know, I have read it with immense interest," Brichot replied hypo- 
critically. The satisfaction that his pride received indirectly from this 
answer made M. de Cambremer laugh long and loud. "Ah! well, the author 
of, what shall I say, this geography, this glossary, dwells at great length 
upon the name of a little place of which we were formerly, if I may say 
so, the Lords, and which is called Pont-a-Couleuvre. Of course I am only 
an ignorant rustic compared with such a fountain of learning, but I have 
been to Pont-a-Couleuvre a thousand times if he's been there once, and 
devil take me if I ever saw one of his beastly serpents there, I say beastly, 
in spite of the tribute the worthy La Fontaine pays them." (The Man 
and the Serpent was one of his two fables.) "You have not seen any, and 
you have been quite right," replied Brichot. "Undoubtedly, the writer you 
mention knows his subject through and through, he has written a re- 
markable book." "There!" exclaimed Mme. de Cambremer, "that book, 
there's no other word for it, is a regular Benedictine opus" "No doubt he 
has consulted various polyptychs (by which we mean the lists of benefices 
and cures of each diocese), which may have furnished him with the names 



232 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

of lay patrons and ecclesiastical collators. But there are other sources. 
One of the most learned of my friends has delved into them. He found 
that the place in question was named Pont-a-Quileuvre. This odd name 
encouraged him to carry his researches farther, to a Latin text in which 
the bridge that your friend supposes to be infested with serpents is styled 
Pans cut apcrit: A closed bridge that was opened only upon due payment." 
"You were speaking of frogs. I, when I find myself among such learned 
folk, feel like the frog before the areopagus," (this being his other fable) 
said Cancan who often indulged, with a hearty laugh, in this pleasantry 
thanks to which he imagined himself to be making, at one and the same 
time, out of humility and with aptness, a profession of ignorance and a 
display of learning. As for Cottard, blocked upon one side by M. de 
Charlus's silence, and driven to seek an outlet elsewhere, he turned to me 
with one of those questions which so impressed his patients when it hit 
the mark and shewed them that he could put himself so to speak inside 
their bodies; if on the other hand it missed the mark, it enabled him to 
check certain theories, to widen his previous point of view. "When you 
come to a relatively high altitude, such as this where we now are, do you 
find that the change increases your tendency to choking fits?" he asked 
me with the certainty of either arousing admiration or enlarging his own 
knowledge. M. de Cambremer heard the question and smiled. "I can't 
tell you how amused I am to hear that you have choking fits," he flung at 
me across the table. He did not mean that it made him happy, though as a 
matter of fact it did. For this worthy man could not hear any reference 
to another person's sufferings without a feeling of satisfaction and a spasm 
of hilarity which speedily gave place to the instinctive pity of a kind heart. 
But his words had another meaning which was indicated more precisely 
by the clause that followed. "It amuses me," he explained, "because my 
sister has them too." And indeed it did amuse him, as it would have amused 
him to hear me mention as one of my friends a person who was constantly 
coming to their house. "How small the world is," was the reflexion which 
he formed mentally and which I saw written upon his smiling face when 
Cottard spoke to me of my choking fits. And these began to establish them- 
selves, from the evening of this dinner-party, as a sort of interest in 
common, after which M. de Cambremer never failed to inquire, if only 
to hand on a report to his sister. As I answered the questions with which 
his wife kept plying me about Morel, my thoughts returned to a conversa- 
tion I had had with my mother that afternoon. Having, without any at- 
tempt to dissuade me from going to the Verdurins' if there was a chance 
of my being amused there, suggested that it was a house of which my 
grandfather would not have approved, which would have made him ex- 
claim: "On guard!" my mother had gone on to say: "Listen, Judge 
Toureuil and his wife told me they had been to luncheon with Mme. Bon- 
temps. They asked me no questions. But I seemed to gather from what 
was said that your marriage to Albertine would be the joy of her aunt's 
life. I think the real reason is that they are all extremely fond of you. 
At the same time the style in which they suppose that you would be able 
to keep her, the sort of friends they more or less know that we have, all 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 233 

that is not, I fancy, left out of account, although it may be a minor con- 
sideration. I should not have mentioned it to you myself, because I attach 
no importance to it, but as I imagine that people will mention it to you, 
I prefer to get a word in first." "But you yourself, what do you think of 
her?" I asked my mother. "Well, it's not I that am going to marry her. 
You might certainly clo a thousand times better. But I feel that your 
grandmother would not have liked me to influence you. As a matter of 
fact, I cannot tell you what I think of Albertine; I don't think of her. 
I shall say to you, like Madame de Sevigne: 'She has good qualities, at 
least I suppose so. But at this first stage I can praise her only by negatives. 
One thing she is not, she has not the Rennes accent. In time, I shall per- 
haps say, she is something else. And I shall always think well of her if she 
can make you happy.' " But by these very words which left it to myself to 
decide my own happiness, my mother had plunged me in that state of 
doubt in which I had been plunged long ago when, my father having 
allowed me to go to Phcdre and, what was more, to take to writing, I had 
suddenly felt myself burdened with too great a responsibility, the fear of 
distressing him, and that melancholy which we feel when we cease to obey 
orders which, from one day to another, keep the future hidden, and realise 
that we have at last begun to live in real earnest, as a grown-up person, 
the life, the only life that any of us has at his disposal. 

Perhaps the best thing would be to wait a little longer, to begin by re- 
garding Albertine as in the past, so as to find out whether I really loved 
her. I might take her, as a distraction, to see the Verdurins, and this 
thought reminded me that I had come there myself that evening only to 
learn whether Mme. Putbus was staying there or was expected. In any 
case, she was not dining with them. "Speaking of your friend Saint-Loup," 
said Mme. de Cambremer, using an expression which shewed a closer 
sequence in her ideas than her remarks might have led one to suppose, for 
if she spoke to me about music she was thinking about the Guermantes; 
"you know that everybody is talking about his marriage to the niece of 
the Princesse de Guermantes. I may tell you that, so far as I am concerned, 
all that society gossip leaves me cold." I was seized by a fear that I might 
have spoken unfeelingly to Robert about the girl in question, a girl full 
of sham originality, whose mind was as mediocre as her actions were 
violent. Hardly ever do we hear anything that does not make us regret 
something that we have said. I replied to Mme. de Cambremer, truthfully 
as it happened, that I knew nothing about it, and that anyhow I thought 
that the girl was still too young to be engaged. "That is perhaps why it is 
not yet official, anyhow there is a lot of talk about it." "I ought to warn 
you," Mme. Verdurin observed dryly to Mme. de Cambremer, having 
heard her talking to me about Morel and supposing, when Mme, de Cam- 
bremer lowered her voice to speak of Saint-Loup's engagement, that Morel 
was still under discussion. "You needn't expect any light music here. In 
matters of art, you know, the faithful who come to my Wednesdays, my 
children as I call them, are all fearfully advanced," she added with an air 
of proud terror. "I say to them sometimes: My dear people, you move too 
fast for your Mistress, not that she has ever been said to be afraid of any- 



234 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

thing daring. Every year it goes a little farther; I can see the day coming 
when they will have no more use for Wagner or Indy." "But it is splendid 
to be advanced, one can never be advanced enough/' said Mme. de Cam- 
bremer, scrutinising as she spoke every corner of the dining-room, trying 
to identify the things that her mother-in-law had left there, those that 
Mme. Verdurin had brought with her, and to convict the latter red-handed 
of want of taste. At the same time, she tried to get me to talk of the sub- 
ject that interested her most, M. de Charlus. She thought it touching 
that he should be looking after a violinist. "He seems intelligent." "Why, 
his mind is extremely active for a man of his age/ 7 said I. "Age? But he 
doesn't seem at all old, look, the hair is still young." (For, during the last 
three or four years, the word hair had been used with the article by one 
of those unknown persons who launch the literary fashions, and everybody 
at the same radius from the centre as Mme. de Cambremer would say 'the 
hair/ not without an affected smile. At the present day, people still say 'the 
hair' but, from an excessive use of the article, the pronoun will be born 
again.) "What interests me most about M. de Charlus/' she went on, "is 
that one can feel that he has the gift. I may tell you that I attach little 
importance to knowledge. Things that can be learned do not interest me." 
This speech was not incompatible with Mme. de Cambremer's own dis- 
tinction which was, in the fullest sense, imitated and acquired. But it so 
happened that one of the things which one had to know at that moment 
was that knowledge is nothing, and is not worth a straw when compared 
with originality. Mme. de Cambremer had learned, with everything else, 
that one ought not to learn anything. "That is why," she explained to me, 
"Brichot, who has an interesting side to him, for I am not one to despise 
a certain spicy erudition, interests me far less." But Brichot, at that 
moment, was occupied with one thing only; hearing people talk about 
music, he trembled lest the subject should remind Mme. Verdurin of the 
death of Dechambre. He decided to say something that would avert that 
harrowing memory. M. de Cambremer provided him with an opportunity 
with the question: "You mean to say that wooded places always take their 
names from animals?" "Not at all," replied Brichot, proud to display his 
learning before so many strangers, among whom, I had told him, he would 
be certain to interest one at least. "We have only to consider how often, 
even in the names of people, a tree is preserved, like a fern in a piece of 
coal. One of our Conscript Fathers is called M. de Saulces de Freycinet, 
which means, if I be not mistaken, a spot planted with willows and ashes, 
salix et jraxmctum; his nephew M. de Selves combines more trees still, 
since he is named de Selves, de sylvis." Saniette was delighted to see the 
conversation take so animated a turn. He could, since Brichot was talking 
all the time, preserve a silence which would save him from being the butt 
of M. and Mme. Verdurin's wit. And growing even more sensitive in his 
joy at being set free, he had been touched when he heard M. Verdurin, 
notwithstanding the formality of so grand a dinner-party, tell the butler 
to put a decanter of water in front of M. Saniette who never drank any- 
thing else. (The generals responsible for the death of most soldiers insist 
upon their being well fed.) Moreover, Mme. Verdurin had actually smiled 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 235 

once at Saniette. Decidedly, they were kind people. He was not going to 
be tortured any more. At this moment the meal was interrupted by one 
of the party whom I have forgotten to mention, an eminent Norwegian 
philosopher who spoke French very well but very slowly, for the twofold 
reason that, in the first place, having learned the language only recently 
and not wishing to make mistakes (he did, nevertheless, make some), he 
referred each word to a sort of mental dictionary, and secondly, being a 
metaphysician, he always thought of what he intended to say while he was 
saying it, which, even in a Frenchman, causes slowness of utterance. He 
was, otherwise, a charming person, although similar in appearance to 
many other people, save in one respect. This man so slow in his diction 
(there was an interval of silence after every word) acquired a startling 
rapidity in escaping from the room as soon as he had said good-bye. His 
haste made one suppose, the first time one saw him, that he was suffering 
from colic or some even more urgent need. 

"My dear colleague/ 7 he said to Brichot, after deliberating in his mind 
whether colleague was the correct term, "I have a sort of desire to know 
whether there are other trees in the nomenclature of your beautiful 
French Latin Norman tongue. Madame" (he meant Madame Verdurin, 
although he dared not look at her) "has told me that you know everything. 
Is not this precisely the moment?" "No, it is the moment for eating," in- 
terrupted Mme. Verdurin, who saw the dinner becoming interminable. 
"Very well," the Scandinavian replied, bowing his head over his plate with 
a resigned and sorrowful smile. "But I must point out to Madame that 
if I have permitted myself this questionnaire pardon me, this questation 
it is because I have to return to-morrow to Paris to dine at the Tour 
d'Argent or at the Hotel Meurice. My French brother M. Boutroux is 
to address us there about certain seances of spiritualism pardon me, 
certain spirituous evocations which he has controlled." "The Tour d'Argent 
is not nearly as good as they make out," said Mme. Verdurin sourly. "In 
fact, I have had some disgusting dinners there." "But am I mistaken, is 
not the food that one consumes at Madame's table an example of the finest 
French cookery?" "Well, it is not positively bad," replied Mme. Verdurin, 
sweetening. "And if you come next Wednesday, it will be better." "But I 
am leaving on Monday for Algiers, and from there 1 am going to the Cape. 
And when I am at the Cape of Good Hope, I shall no longer be able to 
meet my illustrious colleague pardon me, I shall no longer be able 
to meet my brother." And he set to work obediently, after offering these 
retrospective apologies, to devour his food at a headlong pace. But Brichot 
was only too delighted to be able to furnish other vegetable etymologies, 
and replied, so greatly interesting the Norwegian that he again stopped 
eating, but with a sign to the servants that they might remove his plate 
and help him to the next course. "One of the Forty," said Brichot, "is 
named Houssaye, or a place planted with hollies; in the name of a brilliant 
diplomat, d'Ormesson, you will find the elm, the ulmus beloved of Virgil, 
which has given its name to the town of Ulm; in the names of his col- 
leagues, M. de la Boulaye, the birch (bouleau), M. d'Aunay, the alder 
(aune)^ M. de Buissiere, the box (buis), M. Albaret, the sapwood 



236 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

(aubier)" (I made a mental note that I must tell this to Celeste), "M. de 
Cholet, the cabbage (chou), and the apple-tree (pommier) in the name 
of M. de la Pommeraye, whose lectures we used to attend, do you remem- 
ber, Saniette, in the days when the worthy Porel had been sent to the 
farthest ends of the earth, as Proconsul in Odeonia?" "You said that 
Cholet was derived from chou" I remarked to Brichot. "Am I to suppose 
that the name of a station I passed before reaching Doncieres, Saint- 
Frichoux, comes from chou also?" "No, Saint-Frichoux is Sanctus Fruc- 
tuosus, as Sanctus Ferreolus gave rise to Saint-Fargeau, but that is not 
Norman in the least." "He knows too much, he's boring us," the Princess 
muttered softly. "There are so many other names that interest me, but I 
can't ask you everything at once." And, turning to Cottard, "Is Madame 
Putbus here?" I asked him. On hearing Brichot utter the name of Saniette, 
M. Verdurin cast at his wife and at Cottard an ironical glance which con- 
founded their timid guest. "No, thank heaven," replied Mme. Verdurin, 
who had overheard my question, "I have managed to turn her thoughts 
in the direction of Venice, we are rid of her for this year." "I shall myself 
be entitled presently to two trees," said M. de Charlus, "for I have more 
or less taken a little house between Saint-Martin-du-Chene and Saint- 
Pierre-des-Ifs." "But that is quite close to here, I hope that you will come 
over often with Charlie Morel. You have only to come to an arrangement 
with our little group about the trains, you are only a step from Doncieres," 
said Mme. Verdurin, who hated people's not coming by the same train and 
not arriving at the hours when she sent carriages to meet them. She knew 
how stiff the climb was to la Raspeliere, even if you took the zigzag path, 
behind Feterne, which was half-an-hour longer; she was afraid that those 
of her guests who kept to themselves might not find carriages to take them, 
or even, having in reality stayed away, might plead the excuse that they 
had not found a carriage at Douville-Feterne, and had not felt strong 
enough to make so stiff a climb on foot. To this invitation M. de Charlus 
responded with a silent bow. "He's not the sort of person you can talk to 
any day of the week, he seems a tough customer," the doctor whispered to 
Ski, for having remained quite simple, notwithstanding a surface-dressing 
of pride, he made no attempt to conceal the fact that Charlus had snubbed 
him. "He is doubtless unaware that at all the watering-places, and even 
in Paris in the wards, the physicians, who naturally regard me as their 
'chief/ make it a point of honour to introduce me to all the noblemen 
present, not that they need to be asked twice. It makes my stay at the 
spas quite enjoyable," he added carelessly. "Indeed at Doncieres the 
medical officer of the regiment, who is the doctor who attends the Colonel, 
invited me to luncheon to meet him, saying that I was fully entitled to 
dine with the General. And that General is a Monsieur de something. I 
don't know whether his title-deeds are more or less ancient than those of 
this Baron." "Don't you worry about him, his is a very humble coronet," 
replied Ski in an undertone, and added some vague statement including 
a word of which I caught only the last syllable, -ast, being engaged in 
listening to what Brichot was saying to M. de Charlus. "No, as for that, 
I am sorry to say, you have probably one tree only, for if Saint-Martin-du- 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 237 

Chene is obviously Sanctus Martinus juxta quercum, on the other hand, 
the word if may be simply the root eve, eve, which means moist, as in 
Aveyron, Lodeve, Yvette, and which you see survive in our kitchen-sinks 
(cvicrs) . It is the word cau which in Breton is represented by ster, Ster- 
maria, Sterlaer, Sterbouest, Ster-en-Dreuchen." 1 heard no more, for what- 
ever the pleasure I might feel on hearing again the name Stermaria, I 
could not help listening to Cottard, next to whom I was seated, as he mur- 
mured to Ski: "Indeed! I was not aware of it. So he is a gentleman who 
has learned to look behind! He is one of the happy band, is he? He hasn't 
got rings of fat round his eyes, all the same. I shall have to keep my 
feet well under me, or he may start squeezing them. But I'm not at all 
surprised. I am used to seeing noblemen in the bath, in their birthday 
suits, they are all more or less degenerates. I don't talk to them, because 
after all I am in an official position and it might do me harm. But they 
know quite well who I am." Saniette, whom Brichot's appeal had fright- 
ened, was beginning to breathe again, like a man who is afraid of the storm 
when he finds that the lightning has not been followed by any sound of 
thunder, when he heard M. Verdurin interrogate him, fastening upon him 
a stare which did not spare the wretch until he had finished speaking, so 
as to put him at once out of countenance and prevent him from recovering 
his composure. "But you never told us that you went to those matinees at 
the Odeon, Saniette?" Trembling like a recruit before a bullying serjeant, 
Saniette replied, making his speech as diminutive as possible, so that it 
might have a better chance of escaping the blow: "Only once, to the 
Chcrchcuse" "What's that Ije says?" shouted M. Verdurin, with an air of 
disgust and fury combined, knitting his brows as though it was all he could 
do to grasp something unintelligible. "It is impossible to understand what 
you say, what have you got in your mouth?" inquired M. Verdurin, grow- 
ing more and more furious, and alluding to Saniette's defective speech. 
"Poor Saniette, I won't have him made unhappy," said Mme. Verdurin in 
a tone of false pity, so as to leave no one in doubt as to her husband's in- 
solent intention. "I was at the Ch . . . Che . ." "Che, che, try to speak 
distinctly," said M. Verdurin, "I can't understand a word you say." Almost 
without exception, the faithful burst out laughing and they suggested a 
band of cannibals in whom the sight of a wound on a white man's skin has 
aroused the thirst for blood. For the instinct of imitation and absence of 
courage govern society and the mob alike. And we all of us laugh at a 
person whom we see being made fun of, which does not prevent us from 
venerating him ten years later in a circle where he is admired. It is in like 
manner that the populace banishes or acclaims its kings. "Come, now, it is 
not his fault," said Mme. Verdurin. "It is not mine either, people ought 
not to dine out if they can't speak properly." "I was at the Chercheuse 
d'Esprit by Favart." "What! It's the Chercheuse d'Esprit that you call 
the Chercheuse? Why, that's marvellous! I might have tried for a hundred 
years without guessing it," cried M. Verdurin, who all the same would have 
decided immediately that you were not literary, were not artistic, were 
not 'one of us/ if he had heard you quote the full title of certain works. 
For instance, one was expected to say the Malade, the Bourgeois] and 



238 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

whoso would have added imaginaire or gentilhomme would have shewn 
that he did not understand 'shop/ just as in a drawing-room a person 
proves that he is not in society by saying 'M. de Montesquiou-Fezensac' 
instead of 'M. de Montesquieu.' "But it is not so extraordinary," said 
Saniette, breathless with emotion but smiling, albeit he was in no smiling 
mood. Mme. Verdurin could not contain herself. "Yes, indeed!" she cried 
with a titter. "'You may be quite sure that nobody would ever have guessed 
that you meant the Chercheuse d'Esprit" M. Verdurin went on in a 
gentler tone, addressing both Saniette and Brichot: "It is quite a pretty 
piece, all the same, the Chercheuse d' Esprit" Uttered in a serious tone, 
this simple phrase, in which one could detect no trace of malice, did 
Saniette as much good and aroused in him as much gratitude as a de- 
liberate compliment. He was unable to utter a single word and preserved 
a happy silence. Brichot was more loquacious. "It is true," he replied to 
M. Verdurin, "and if it could be passed off as the work of some Sarmatian 
or Scandinavian author, we might put forward the Chercheuse d'Esprit 
as a candidate for the vacant post of masterpiece. But, be it said without 
any disrespect to the shade of the gentle Favart, he had not the Ibsenian 
temperament." (Immediately he blushed to the roots of his hair, remem- 
bering the Norwegian philosopher who appeared troubled because he was 
seeking in vain to discover what vegetable the buis might be that Brichot 
had cited a little earlier in connexion with the name Bussiere.) "However, 
now that Porel's satrapy is filled by a functionary who is a Tolstoist of 
rigorous observance, it may come to pass that we shall witness Anna 
Karenina or Resurrection beneath the Odeonian architrave." "I know the 
portrait of Favart to which you allude," said M. de Charlus. "I have seen 
a very fine print of it at Comtesse Mole's." The name of Comtesse Mole 
made a great impression upon Mme. Verdurin. "Oh! So you go to Mme. 
de Mole's!" she exclaimed. She supposed that people said Comtesse Mole, 
Madame Mole, simply as an abbreviation, as she heard people say 'the 
Rohans' or in contempt, as she herself said: 'Madame la Tremoille.' She 
had no doubt that Comtesse Mole, who knew the Queen of Greece and the 
Principessa di Caprarola, had as much right as anybody to the particle, 
and for once in a way had decided to bestow it upon so brilliant a per- 
sonage, and one who had been extremely civil to herself. And so, to make 
it clear that she had spoken thus on purpose and did not grudge the 
Comtesse her 'de,' she went on: "But I had no idea that you knew 
Madame de Mole!" as though it had been doubly extraordinary, both 
that M. de Charlus should know the lady, and that Mme. Verdurin should 
not know that he knew her. Now society, or at least the people to whom 
M. de Charlus gave that name, forms a relatively homogeneous and com- 
pact whole. And so it is comprehensible that, in the incongruous vastness 
of the middle classes, a barrister may say to somebody who knows one 
of his school friends: "But how in the world do you come to know him?" 
whereas to be surprised at a Frenchman's knowing the meaning of the 
word temple or forest would be hardly more extraordinary than to wonder 
at the hazards that might have brought together M. de Charlus and the 
vamtesse Mole. What is more, even if s'.'ch an acquaintance had not been 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 239 

derived quite naturally from the laws that govern society, how could there 
be anything strange in the fact of Mme. Verdurin's not knowing of it, 
since she was meeting M. de Charlus for the first time, and his relations 
with Mme. Mole were far from being the only thing that she did not know 
with regard to him, about whom, to tell the truth, she knew nothing. 
"Who was it that played this Chcrcheuse d y Esprit, my good Saniette?" 
asked M. Verdurin. Albeit he felt that the storm had passed, the old anti- 
quarian hesitated before answering. "There you go," said Mme. Verdurin, 
"you frighten him, you make fun of everything that he says, and then you 
expect him to answer. Come along, tell us who played the part, and you 
shall have some galantine to take home," said Mme. Verdurin, making a 
cruel allusion to the penury into which Saniette had plunged himself by 
trying to rescue the family of a friend. "I can remember only that it was 
Mme. Samary who played the Zerbine," said Saniette. "The Zerbine? 
What in the world is that," M. Verdurin shouted, as though the house were 
on fire. "It is one of the parts in the old repertory, like Captain Fracasse, 
as who should say the Fire-eater, the Pedant." "Ah, the pedant, that's 
yourself. The Zerbine! No, really the man's mad," exclaimed M. Verdurin. 
Mme. Verdurin looked at her guests and laughed as though to apologise 
for Saniette. "The Zerbine, he imagines that everybody will know at once 
what it means. You are like M. de Longepierre, the stupidest man I know, 
who said to us quite calmly the other day 'the Banat.' Nobody had any 
idea what he meant. Finally we were informed that it was a province in 
Serbia." To put an end to Saniette's torture, which hurt me more than 
it hurt him, I asked Brichot if he knew what the word Balbec meant. 
"Balbec is probably a corruption of Dalbec," he told me. "One would have 
to consult the charters of the Kings of England, Overlords of Normandy, 
for Balbec was held of the Barony of Dover, for which reason it was often 
styled Balbec d'Outre-Mer, Balbec-en-Terre. But the Barony of Dover 
was itself held of the Bishopric of Bayeux, and, notwithstanding the rights 
that were temporarily enjoyed in the abbey by the Templars, from the 
time of Louis d Harcourt, Patriarch of Jerusalem and Bishop of Bayeux, it 
was the Bishops of that diocese who collated to the benefice of Balbec. 
So it was explained to me by the incumbent of Douville, a bald person, 
eloquent, fantastic, and a devotee of the table, who lives by the Rule of 
Brillat-Savarin, and who expounded to me in slightly sibylline language 
a loose pedagogy, while he fed me upon some admirable fried potatoes." 
While Brichot smiled to shew how witty it was to combine matters so dis- 
similar and to employ an ironically lofty diction in treating of common- 
place things, Saniette was trying to find a loophole for some clever remark 
which would raise him from the abyss into which he had fallen. The witty 
remark was what was known as a 'comparison,' but had changed its form, 
for there is an evolution in wit as in literary styles, an epidemic that disap- 
pears has its place taken by another, and so forth. ... At one time the 
typical 'comparison' was the 'height of. . . .' But this was out of date, no 
one used it any more, there was only Cottard left to say still, on occasion, 
in the middle of a game of piquet: "Do you know what is the height of 
absent-mindedness, it is to think that the Edict (Vcdit) of Nantes was an 



240 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

Englishwoman." These 'heights' had been replaced by nicknames. In real- 
ity it was still the old 'comparison/ but, as the nickname was in fashion, 
people did not observe the survival. Unfortunately for Saniette, when these 
'comparisons' were not his own, and as a rule were unknown to the little 
nucleus, he produced them so timidly that, notwithstanding the laugh with 
which he followed them up to indicate their humorous nature, nobody saw 
the point. And if on the other hand the joke was his own, as he had gen- 
erally hit upon it in conversation with one of the faithful, and the latter 
had repeated it, appropriating the authorship, the joke was in that case 
known, but not as being Saniette's. And so when he slipped in one of these 
it was recognised, but, because he was its author, he was accused of 
plagiarism. "Very well, then," Brichot continued, "Bee, in Norman, is a 
stream; there is the Abbey of Bee, Mobec, the stream from the marsh 
(Mor or Mer meant a marsh, as in Morville, or in Bricquemar, Alvirnare, 
Cambremer), Bricquebac the stream from the high ground coming from 
Briga, a fortified place, as in Bricqueville, Bricquebose, le Brie, Briand, 
or indeed Brice, bridge, which is the same as bruck in German (Innsbruck) , 
and as the English bridge which ends so many place-names (Cambridge, 
for instance). You have moreover in Normandy many other instances of 
bee: Caudebec, Bolbec, le Robec, le Bec-Hellouin, Becquerel. It is the 
Norman form of the German bach, Offenbach, Anspach. Varaguebec, 
from the old word varaigne, equivalent to warren, preserved woods or 
ponds. As for Dal," Brichot went on, "it is a form of thai, a valley: 
Darnetal, Rosendal, and indeed, close to Louviers, Becdal. The river that 
has given its name to Balbec, is, by the way, charming. Seen from a 
jalaise (jels in German, you have indeed, not far from here, standing on a 
height, the picturesque town of Falaise), it runs close under the spires of 
the church, which is actually a long way from it, and seems to be reflecting 
them." "I should think," said I, "that is an effect that Elstir admires 
greatly. I have seen several sketches of it in his studio." "Elstir! You 
know Tiche," cried Mme. Verdurin. "But do you knew that we used to be 
the dearest friends? Thank heaven, I never see him now. No, but ask 
Cottard, Brichot, he used to have his place laid at my table, he came 
every day. Now, there's a man of whom you can say that it has done 
him no good to leave our little nucleus. I shall shew you presently some 
flowers he painted for me; you shall see the difference from the things 
he is doing now, which I don't care for at all, not at all! Why! I made 
him do me a portrait of Cottard, not to mention all the sketches he has 
made of me." "And he gave the Professor purple hair," said Mme. Cottard, 
forgetting that at the time her husband had not been even a Fellow of the 
College. "I don't know, Sir, whether you find that my husband has purple 
hair." "That doesn't matter," said Mme. Verdurin, raising her chin with 
an air of contempt for Mme. Cottard and of admiration for the man of 
whom she was speaking, "he was a brave colourist, a fine painter. 
Whereas," she added, turning again to myself, "I don't know whether you 
call it painting, all those huge she-devils of composition, those vast struc- 
tures he exhibits now that he has given up coming to me. For my part, I 
t daubing, it's all so hackneyed, and besides, it lacks relief, per- 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 24! 

sonality. It's anybody's work." "He revives the grace of the eighteenth 
century, but in a modern form," Saniette broke out, fortified and reassured 
by my affability. "But I prefer Helleu." "He's not in the least like Helleu," 
said Mme. Verdurin. "Yes, he has the fever of the eighteenth century. 
He's a steam Watteau/' and he began to laugh. "Old, old as the hills, 
I've had that served up to me for years/' said M. Verdurin, to whom in- 
deed Ski had once repeated the remark, but as his own invention. "It's 
unfortunate that when once in a way you say something quite amusing 
and make it intelligible, it is not your own." "I'm sorry about it," Mme. 
Verdurin went on, "because he was really gifted, he has wasted a charm- 
ing temperament for painting. Ah! if he had stayed with us! Why, he 
would have become the greatest landscape painter of our day. And it 
is a woman that has dragged him down so low! Not that that surprises 
me, for he was a pleasant enough man, but common. At bottom, he was 
a mediocrity. I may tell you that I felt it at once. Really, he never in- 
terested me. I was very fond of him, that was all. For one thing, he was 
so dirty. Tell me, do you, now, really like people who never wash?" 
"What is this charmingly coloured thing that we are eating?" asked Ski. 
"It is called strawberry mousse," said Mme. Verdurin. "But it is ex-qui- 
site. You ought to open bottles of Chateau-Margalix, Chateau-Lafite, 
port wine." "I can't tell you how he amuses me, he never drinks any- 
thing but water," said Mme. Verdurin, seeking to cloak with her delight 
at such a flight of fancy her alarm at the thought of so prodigal an 
outlay. "But not to drink," Ski went on, "you shall fill all our glasses, 
they will bring in marvelous peaches, huge nectarines, there against the 
sunset; it will be as gorgeous as a fine Veronese." "It would cost almost 
as much," M. Verdurin murmured. "But take away those cheeses with 
their hideous colour," said Ski, trying to snatch the plate from before 
his host, who defended his gruyere with his might and main. "You can 
realise that I don't regret Elstir," Mme. Verdurin said to me, "that one 
is far more gifted. Elstir is simply hard work, the man who can't make 
himself give up painting when he would like to. He is the good student, 
the slavish competitor. Ski, now, only follows his own fancy. You will 
see him light a cigarette in the middle of dinner." "After all, I can't 
see why you wouldn't invite his wife," said Cottard, "he would be with 
us still." "Will you mind what you're saying, please, I don't open my 
doors to street-walkers, Monsieur le Professeur," said Mme. Verdurin, 
who had, on the contrary, done everything in her power to make Elstir 
return, even with his wife. But before they were married she had tried 
to make them quarrel, had told Elstir that the woman he loved was stupid, 
dirty, immoral, a thief. For once in a way she had failed to effect a breach. 
It was with the Verdurin salon that Eistir had broken; and he was glad 
of it, as converts bless the illness or misfortune that has withdrawn them 
from the world and has made them learn the way of salvation. "He really 
is magnificent, the Professor/' she said. "Why not declare outright thai 
I keep a disorderly house? Anyone would think you didn't know whal 
Madame Elstir was like. I would sooner have the lowest street-walkei 
at my table! Oh no, I don't stand for that sort of thing. Besides I may 



242 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

tell you that it would have been stupid of me to overlook the wife, when 
the husband no longer interests me, he is out of date, he can't even 
draw. 7 ' "That is extraordinary in a man of his intelligence," said Cot- 
tard. "Oh, no!" replied Mme. Verdurin, "even at the time when he 
had talent, for he had it, the wretch, and to spare, what was tiresome 
about him was that he had not a spark of intelligence." Mme. Verdurin, 
in passing this judgment upon Elstir, had not waited for their quarrel, 
or until she had ceased to care for his painting. The fact was that, even 
at the time when he formed part of the little group, it would happen that 
Elstir spent the whole day in the company of some woman whom, rightly 
or wrongly, Mme. Verdurin considered a goose, which, in her opinion, 
was not the conduct of an intelligent man. "No," she observed with an 
air of finality, "I consider that his wife and he are made for one another. 
Heaven knows, there isn't a more boring creature on the face of the 
earth, and I should go mad if I had to spend a couple of hours with 
her. But people say that he finds her very intelligent. There's no use 
denying it, our Tiche was extremely stupid. I have seen him bowled over 
by people you can't conceive, worthy idiots we should nsver have allowed 
into our little clan. Well! He wrote to them, he argued with them, he, 
Elstir! That doesn^t prevent his having charming qualities, oh, charm- 
ing and deliciously absurd, naturally." For Mme. Verdurin was con- 
vinced that men who are truly remarkable are capable of all sorts of follies. 
A false idea in which there is nevertheless a grain of truth. Certainly, 
people's follies are insupportable. But a want of balance which we dis- 
cover only in course of time is the consequence of the entering into a 
human brain of delicacies for which it is not regularly adapted. So that 
the oddities of charming people exasperate us, but there are few if any 
charming people who are not, at the same time, odd. "Look, I shall be able 
to shew you his flowers now," she said to me, seeing that her husband 
was making signals to her to rise. And she took M. de Cambremer's arm 
again. M. Verdurin tried to apologise for this to M. de Charlus, as soon 
as he had got rid of Mme. de Cambremer, and to give him his reasons, 
chiefly for the pleasure of discussing these social refinements with a 
gentleman of title, momentarily the inferior of those who assigned to him 
the place to which they considered him entitled. But first of all he was 
anxious to make it clear to M. de Charlus that intellectually he esteemed 
him too highly to suppose that he could pay any attention to these 
trivialities. "Excuse my mentioning so small a point," he began, "for I 
can understand how little such things mean to you. Middle-class minds 
pay attention to them, but the others, the artists, the people who are really 
of our sort, don't give a rap for them. Now, from the first words we ex- 
changed, I realised that you were one of us!" M. de Charlus, who gave 
a widely different meaning to this expression, drew himself erect. After the 
doctor's oglings, he found his host's insulting frankness suffocating. "Don't 
protest, my dear Sir, you are one of us, it is plain as daylight," replied 
M. Verdurin. "Observe that I have no idea whether you practise any 
of the arts, but that is not necessary. It is not always sufficient. Dechambre, 
who has just died, played exquisitely, with the most vigorous execu- 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 243 

tion, but he was not one of us, you felt at once that he was not one of us, 
Brichot is not one of us. Morel is, my wife is, I can feel that you 
are. . . ." "What were you going to tell me?" interrupted M. de Charlus, 
who was beginning to feel reassured as to M. Verdurin's meaning, but 
preferred that he should not utter these misleading remarks quite so loud. 
"Only that we put you on the left," replied M. Verdurin. M. de Charlus, 
with a comprehending, genial, insolent smile, replied: "Why! That is not 
of the slightest importance, herd" And he gave a little laugh that was 
all his own a laugh that came to him probably from some Bavarian or 
Lorraine grandmother, who herself had inherited it, in identical form, 
from an ancestress, so that it had been sounding now, without change, 
for not a few centuries in little old-fashioned European courts, and one 
could relish its precious quality like that of certain old musical instru- 
ments that have now grown rare. There are times when, to paint a com- 
plete portrait of some one, we should have to add a phonetic imitation 
to our verbal description, and our portrait of the figure that M. de Charlus 
presented is liable to remain incomplete in the absence of that little 
laugh, so delicate, so light, just as certain compositions are never ac- 
curately rendered because our orchestras lack those 'small trumpets/ with 
a sound so entirely their own, for which the composer wrote this or that 
part. "But," M. Verdurin explained, stung by his laugh, "we did it on 
purpose. I attach no importance whatever to title of nobility," he went on, 
with that contemptuous smile which I have seen so many people whom 
I have known, unlike my grandmother and my mother, assume when they 
spoke of anything that they did not possess, before others who thus, they 
supposed, would be prevented from using that particular advantage to 
crow over them. "But, don't you see, since we happened to have M. de 
Cambremer here, and he is a Marquis, while you are only a Baron. . . ." 
"Pardon me," M. de Charlus replied with an arrogant air to the astonished 
Verdurin, "I am also Due de Brabant, Damoiseau de Montargis, Prince 
d'Oloron, de Carency, de Viareggio and des Dunes. However, it is not 
of the slightest importance. Please do not distress yourself," he concluded, 
resuming his subtle smile which spread itself over these final words: "I 
could see at a glance that you were not accustomed to society." 

Mme. Verdurin came across to me to shew me Elstir's flowers. If this 
action, to which I had grown so indifferent, of going out to dinner, had on 
the contrary, taking the form that made it entirely novel, of a journey along 
the coast, followed by an ascent in a carriage to a point six hundred feet 
above the sea, produced in me a sort of intoxication, this feeling had not 
been dispelled at la Raspeliere. "Just look at this, now," said the Mistress, 
shewing me some huge and splendid roses by Elstir, whose unctuous scarlet 
and rich white stood out, however, with almost too creamy a relief from the 
flower-stand upon which they were arranged. "Do you suppose he would 
still have to touch to get that? Don't you call that striking? And besides, 
it's fine as matter, it would be amusing to handle. I can't tell you how amus- 
ing it was to watch him painting them. One could feel that he was interested 
in trying to get just that effect." And the Mistress's gaze rested musingly 
on this present from the artist in which were combined not merely his great 



244 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

talent but their long friendship which survived only in these mementoes of 
it which he had bequeathed to her; behind the flowers which long ago he 
had picked for her, she seemed to see the shapely hand that had painted 
them, in the course of a morning, in their freshness, so -that, they on the 
table, it leaning against the back of a chair, had been able to meet face to 
face at the Mistress's luncheon party, the roses still alive and their almost 
lifelike portrait. Almost only, for Elstir was unable to look at a flower with- 
out first transplanting it to that inner garden in which we are obliged 
always to remain. He had shewn in this water-colour the appearance of the 
roses which he had seen, and which, but for him, no one would ever have 
known; so that one might say that they were a new variety with which 
this painter, like a skilful gardener, had enriched the family of the Roses. 
"From the day he left the little nucleus, he was finished. It seems, my din- 
ners made him waste his time, that I hindered the development of his 
genius" she said in a tone of irony. "As if the society of a woman like 
myself could fail to be beneficial to an artist," she exclaimed with a burst 
of pride. Close beside us, M. de Cambremer, who was already seated, seeing 
that M. de Charlus was standing, made as though to rise and offer him his 
chair. This offer may have arisen, in the Marquis's mind, from nothing 
more than a vague wish to be polite. M. de Charlus preferred to attach to 
it the sense of a duty which the plain gentleman knew that he owed to a 
Prince, and felt that he could not establish his right to this precedence 
better than by declining it. And so he exclaimed: "What are you doing? 
I beg of you! The idea! " The astutely vehement tone of this protest had in 
itself something typically 'Guermantes' which became even more evident 
in the imperative, superfluous and familiar gesture with which he brought 
both his hands down, as though to force him to remain seated, upon the 
shoulders of M. de Cambremer who had not risen. "Come, come, my dear 
fellow," the Baron insisted, "this is too much. There is no reason for it! 
In these days we keep that for Princes of the Blood." I made no more effect 
on the Cambremers than on Mme. Verdurin by my enthusiasm for their 
house. For I remained cold to the beauties which they pointed out to me 
and grew excited over confused reminiscences; at times I even confessed 
my disappointment at not finding something correspond to what its name 
had made me imagine. I enraged Mme. de Cambremer by telling her that 
I had supposed the place to be more in the country. On the other hand I 
broke off in an ecstasy to sniff the fragrance of a breeze that crept in 
through the chink of the door. "I see you like draughts," they said to me. 
My praise of the patch of green lining-cloth that had been pasted over a 
broken pane met with no greater success: "How frightful!" cried the Mar- 
quise. The climax came when I said: "My greatest joy was when I arrived. 
When I heard my step echoing along the gallery, I felt that I had come into 
some village council-office, with a map of the district on the wall." This time, 
Mme. de Cambremer resolutely turned her back on me. "You don't think 
the arrangement too bad?" her husband asked her with the same compas- 
sionate anxiety with which he would have inquired how his wife had stood 
some painful ceremony. "They have some fine things." But, inasmuch a3 
malice, when the hard and fast rules of sure taste do not confine it within 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 245 

fixed limits, finds fault with everything, in the persons or in the houses, of 
the people who have supplanted the critic: "Yes, but they are not in the 
right places. Besides, are they really as fine as all that?" "You noticed," 
said M. de Cambremer, with a melancholy that was controlled by a note 
of firmness, "there are some Jouy hangings that are worn away, some quite 
threadbare things in this drawing-room!" "And that piece of stuff with its 
huge roses, like a peasant woman's quilt," said Mme. de Cambremer whose 
purely artificial culture was confined exclusively to idealist philosophy, 
impressionist painting and Debussy's music. And, so as not to criticise 
merely in the name of smartness but in that of good taste: "And they have 
put up windscreens! Such bad style! What can you expect of such people, 
they don't know, where could they have learned? They must be retired 
tradespeople. It's really not bad for them." "I thought the chandeliers 
good," said the Marquis, though it was not evident why he should make an 
exception of the chandeliers, just as inevitably, whenever anyone spoke 
of a church, whether it was the Cathedral of Chartres, or of Rheims, or of 
Amiens, or the church at Balbec, what he would always make a point of 
mentioning as admirable would be: "the organ-loft, the pulpit and the 
misericords." "As for the garden, don't speak about it," said Mme. de 
Cambremer. "It's a massacre. Those paths running all crooked." I seized 
the opportunity while Mme. Verdurin was pouring out coffee to go and 
glance over the letter which M. de Cambremer had brought me, and in 
which his mother invited me to dinner. With that faint trace of ink, the 
handwriting revealed an individuality which in the future I should be able 
to recognise among a thousand, without any more need to have recourse 
to the hypothesis of special pens, than to suppose that rare and mysteri- 
ously blended colours are necessary to enable a painter to express his 
original vision. Indeed a paralytic, stricken with agraphia after a seizure, 
and compelled to look at the script as at a drawing without being able to 
read it, would have gathered that Mme. de Cambremer belonged to an old 
family in which the zealous cultivation of literature and the arts had sup- 
plied a margin to its artistocratic traditions. He would have guessed also 
the period in which the Marquise had learned simultaneously to write and 
to play Chopin's music. It was the time when well-bred people observed 
the rule of affability and what was called the rule of the three adjectives. 
Mme. de Cambremer combined the two rules in one. A laudatory adjective 
was not enough for her, she followed it (after a little stroke of the pen) 
with a second, then (after another stroke), with a third. But, what was 
peculiar to herself was that, in defiance of the literary and social object at 
which she aimed, the sequence of the three epithets assumed in Mme. de 
Cambremer's notes the aspect not of a progression but of a diminuendo. 
Mme. de Cambremer told me in this first letter that she had seen Saint- 
Loup and had appreciated more than ever his 'unique rare rear quali- 
ties, that he was coming to them again with one of his friends (the one 
who was in love with her daughter-in-law), and that if I cared to come, 
with or without them, to dine at Feterne she would be 'delighted happy 
pleased/ Perhaps it was because her desire to be friendly outran the fer- 
tility of her imagination and the riches of her vocabulary that the lady,, 



246 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

while determined to utter three exclamations, was incapable of making 
the second and third anything more than feeble echoes of the first. Add but 
a fourth adjective, and, of her initial friendliness, there would be nothing 
left. Moreover, with a certain refined simplicity which cannot have failed 
to produce a considerable impression upon her family and indeed in her 
circle of acquaintance, Mme. de Cambremer had acquired the habit of 
substituting for the word (which might in time begin to ring false) 'sincere/ 
the word 'true.' And to shew that it was indeed by sincerity that she was 
impelled, she broke the conventional rule that would have placed the 
adjective 'true' before its noun, and planted it boldly after. Her letters 
ended with: "Croyez a mon amitic vraie" "Croycz a ma sympathie 
male!' Unfortunately, this had become so stereotyped a formula that the 
affectation of frankness was more suggestive of a polite fiction than the 
time-honoured formulas, of the meaning of which people have ceased to 
think. I was, however, hindered from reading her letter by the confused 
sound of conversation over which rang out the louder accents of M. de 
Charlus, who, still on the same topic, was saying to M. de Cambremer: 
"You reminded me, when you offered me your chair, of a gentleman from 
whom I received a letter this morning, addressed: 'To His Highness, the 
Baron de Charlus/ and beginning 'Monseigneur.' " "To be sure, your cor- 
respondent was slightly exaggerating," replied M. de Cambremer, giving 
way to a discreet show of mirth. M. de Charlus had provoked this; he did 
not partake in it. "Well, if it comes to that, my dear fellow/' he said, "I 
may observe that, heraldically speaking, he was entirely in the right. I am 
not regarding it as a personal matter, you understand. I should say the same 
of anyone else. But one has to face the facts, history is history, we can't 
alter it and it is not in our power to rewrite it. I need not cite the case of the 
Emperor William, who at Kiel never ceased to address me as 'Monseigneur.' 
I have heard it said that he gave the same title to all the Dukes of France, 
which was an abuse of the privilege, but was perhaps simply a delicate 
attention aimed over our heads at France herself." "More delicate, perhaps, 
than sincere/' said M. de Cambremer. "Ah! There I must differ from you. 
Observe that, personally, a gentleman of the lowest rank such as that 
Hohenzollern, a Protestant to boot, and one who has usurped the throne of 
my cousin the King of Hanover, can be no favourite of mine," added M. de 
Charlus, with whom the annexation of Hanover seemed to rankle more 
than that of Alsace-Lorraine. "But I believe the feeling that turns the Em- 
peror in our direction to be profoundly sincere. Fools will tell you that he 
is a stage emperor. He is on the contrary marvellously intelligent; it is true 
that he knows nothing about painting, and has forced Herr Tschudi to 
withdraw the Elstirs from the public galleries. But Louis XIV did not ap- 
preciate the Dutch Masters, he had the same fondness for display, and 
yet he was, when all is said, a great Monarch. Besides, William II has 
armed his country from the military and naval point of view in a way that 
Louis XIV failed to do, and I hope that his reign will never know the 
reverses that darkened the closing days of him who is fatuously styled 
the Roi Soleil. The Republic made a great mistake, to my mind, in rejecting 
the overtures of the Hohenzollern, or responding to them only in driblets. 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 247 

He is very well aware of it himself and says, with that gift that he has 
for the right expression: 'What I want is a clasped hand, not a raised hat/ 
As a man, he is vile ; he has abandoned, surrendered, denied his best friends, 
in circumstances in which his silence was as deplorable as theirs was 
grand/' continued M. de Charlus, who was irresistibly drawn by his own 
tendencies to the Eulenburg affair, and remembered what one of the most 
highly placed of the culprits had said to him: "The Emperor must have 
relied upon our delicacy to have dared to allow such a trial. But he was 
not mistaken in trusting to our discretion. We would have gone to the 
scaffold with our lips sealed." "All that, however, has nothing to do with 
what I was trying to explain, which is that, in Germany, mediatised 
Princes like ourselves are Durchlaucht, and in France our rank of High- 
ness was publicly recognised. Saint-Simon tries to make out that this was 
an abuse on our part, in which he is entirely mistaken. The reason that 
he gives, namely that Louis XIV forbade us to style him the Most Chris- 
tian King and ordered us to call him simply the King, proves merely that 
we held our title from him, and not that we had not the rank of Prince. 
Otherwise, it would have to be withheld from the Due de Lorraine and 
ever so many others. Besides, several of our titles come from the House 
of Lorraine through Therese d'Espinay, my great-grandmother, who was 
the daughter of the Damoiseau de Commercy." Observing that Morel 
was listening, M. de Charlus proceeded to develop the reasons for his 
claim. "I have pointed out to my brother that it is not in the third part 
of Gotha, but in the second, not to say the first, that the account of our 
family ought to be included," he said, without stopping to think that 
Morel did not know what 'Gotha' was. "But that is his affair, he is the 
Head of my House, and so long as he raises no objection and allows the 
matter to pass, I have only to shut my eyes." "M. Brichot interests me 
greatly," I said to Mme. Verdurin as she joined me, and I slipped Mme. 
de Cambremer's letter into my pocket. "He has a cultured mind and is 
an excellent man," she replied coldly. "Of course what he lacks is origi- 
nality and taste, he has a terrible memory. They used to say of the 'fore- 
bears' of the people we have here this evening, the emigres, that they had 
forgotten nothing. But they had at least the excuse," she said, borrowing 
one of Swann's epigrams, "that they had learned nothing. Whereas Brichot 
knows everything, and hurls chunks of dictionary at our heads during 
dinner. I'm sure you know everything now about the names of all the 
towns and villages." While Mme. Verdurin was speaking, it occurred to 
me that I had determined to ask her something, but I could not remember 
what it was. I could not at this moment say what Mme. Verdurin was 
wearing that evening. Perhaps even then I was no more able to say, for 
1 have not an observant mind. But feeling that her dress was not unam- 
bitious I said to her something polite and even admiring. She was like 
almost all women, who imagine that a compliment that is paid to them 
is a literal statement of the truth, and is a judgment impartially, irre- 
sistibly pronounced, as though it referred to a work of art that has no 
connexion with a person. And so it was with an earnestness which made 
me blush for my own hypocrisy that she replied with the proud and artless 



248 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

question, habitual in the circumstances: "You like it?" "I know you're 
talking about Brichot. Eh, Chantepie, Freycinet, he spared you nothing. 
I had my eye on you, my little Mistress!" "I saw you, it was all I could 
do not to laugh." "You are talking about Chantepie, I am certain/' said 
M. Verdurin, as he came towards us. I had been alone, as I thought of 
my strip of green cloth and of a scent of wood, in failing to notice that, 
while he discussed etymologies, Brichot had been provoking derision. And 
inasmuch as the expressions which, fcr me, gave their value to things were 
of the sort which other people either do not feel or reject without thinking 
of them, as unimportant, they were entirely useless to me and had the 
additional drawback of making me appear stupid in the eyes of Mme. 
Verdurin who saw that I had 'swallowed' Brichot, as before I had appeared 
stupid to Mme. de Guermantes, because I enjoyed going to see Mme. 
d'Arpajon. With Brichot, however, there was another reason. I was not 
one of the little clan. And in every clan, whether it be social, political, 
literary, one contracts a perverse facility in discovering in a conversation, 
in an official speech, in a story, in a sonnet, everything that the honest 
reader would never have dreamed of finding there. How many times have 
I found myself, after reading with a certain emotion a tale skilfully told 
by a learned and slightly old-fashioned Academician, on the point of say- 
ing to Bloch or to Mme. de Guermantes: "How charming this is!" when 
before I had opened my mouth they exclaimed, each in a different lan- 
guage: "If you want to be really amused, read a tale by So-and-so. Human 
stupidity has never sunk to greater depths." Bloch's scorn was aroused 
principally by the discovery that certain effects of style, pleasant enough 
in themselves, were slightly faded ; that of Mme. de Guermantes because 
the tale seemed to prove the direct opposite of what the author meant, 
for reasons of fact which she had the ingenuity to deduce but which would 
never have occurred to me. I was no less surprised to discover the irony 
that underlay the Verdurins' apparent friendliness for Brichot than to 
hear, some days later, at Feterne, the Cambremers say to me, on hearing 
my enthusiastic praise of la Raspeliere: "It's impossible that you can be 
sincere, after all they've done to it." It is true that they admitted that the 
china was good. Like the shocking windscreens, it had escaped my notice. 
"Anyhow, when you go back to Balbec, you will know what Balbec means," 
said M. Verdurin ironically. It was precisely the things Brichot had told 
me that interested me. As for what they called his mind, it was exactly 
the same mind that had at one time been so highly appreciated by the little 
clan. He talked with the same irritating fluency, but his words no longer 
carried, having to overcome a hostile silence or disagreeable echoes; what 
had altered was not the things that he said but the acoustics of the room 
and the attitude of his audience. "Take care," Mine. Verdurin murmured; 
pointing to Brichot. The latter, whose hearing remained keener than his 
vision, darted at the mistress the hastily withdrawn gaze of a short-sighted 
philosopher. If his bodily eyes were less good, his mind's eye on the con- 
trary had begun to take a larger view of things. He saw how little was 
to be expected of human affection, and resigned himself to it. Undoubtedly 
the discovery pained him. It may happen that even the man who on one 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 24Q 

evening only, in a circle where he is usually greeted with joy, realises that 
the others have found him too frivolous or too pedantic or too loud, or too 
forward, or whatever it may be, returns home miserable. Often it is a 
difference of opinion, or of system, that has made him appear to other 
people absurd or old-fashioned. Often he is perfectly well aware that those 
others are inferior to himself. He could easily dissect the sophistries with 
which he has been tacitly condemned, he is tempted to pay a call, to write 
a letter: on second thoughts, he does nothing, awaits the invitation for 
the following week. Sometimes, too, these discomfitures, instead of ending 
with the evening, last for months. Arising from the instability of social 
judgments, they increase that instability further. For the man who knows 
that Mine. X despises him, feeling that he is respected at Mme. Y's, pro- 
nounces her far superior to the other and emigrates to her house. This 
however is not the proper place to describe those men, superior to the life 
of society but lacking the capacity to realise their own worth outside it, 
glad to be invited, embittered by being disparaged, discovering annually 
the faults of the hostess to whom they have been offering incense and 
the genius of her whom they have never properly appreciated, ready to 
return to the old love when they shall have felt the drawbacks to be found 
equally in the new, and when they have begun to forget those of the old. 
We may judge by these temporary discomfitures the grief that Brichot 
felt at one which he knew to be final. He was not unaware that Mme. Ver- 
durin sometimes laughed at him publicly, even at his infirmities, and know- 
ing how little was to be expected of human affection, submitting himself 
to the facts, he continued nevertheless to regard the Mistress as his best 
friend. But, from the blush that swept over the scholar's face, Mme. Ver- 
durin saw that he had heard her, and made up her mind to be kind to him 
for the rest of the evening. I could not help remarking to her that she had 
not been very kind to Saniette. "What! Not kind to him! Why, he adores 
us, you can't imagine what we are to him. My husband is sometimes a little 
irritated by his stupidity, and you must admit that he has every reason, 
but when that happens why doesn't he rise in revolt, instead of cringing 
like a whipped dog? It is not honest. I don't like it. That doesn't mean 
that I don't always try to calm my husband, because if he went too far, 
all that would happen would be that Saniette would stay away; and I 
don't want that because I may tell you that he hasn't a penny in the world, 
he needs his dinners. But after all, if he does mind, he can stay away, it 
has nothing to do with me, when a person depends on other people he 
should try not to be such an idiot." "The Duchy of Aumale was in our 
family for years before passing to the House of France," M. de Charlus 
was explaining to M. de Cambremer, before a speechless Morel, for whom, 
as a matter of fact, the whole of this dissertation was, if not actually ad- 
dressed to him, intended. "We took precedence over all foreign Princes; 
I could give you a hundred examples. The Princesse de Croy having at- 
tempted, at the burial of Monsieur, to fall on her knees after my great- 
great-grandmother, that lady reminded her sharply that she had not the 
privilege of the hassock, made the officer on duty remove it, and reported 
the matter to the King, who ordered Mme. de Croy to call upon Mme. 



250 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

de Guermantes and offer her apologies. The Due de Bourgogne having 
come to us with ushers with raised wands, we obtained the King's au- 
thority to have them lowered. I know it is not good form to speak of the 
merits of one's own family. But it is well known that our people were always 
to the fore in the hour of danger. Our battle-cry, after we abandoned that 
of the Dukes of Brabant, was Passavantl So that it is fair enough after 
all that this right to be everywhere the first, which we had established 
for so many centuries in war, should afterwards have been confirmed to 
us at Court. And, egad, it has always been admitted there. I may give 
you a further instance, that of the Princess of Baden. As she had so far 
forgotten herself as to attempt to challenge the precedence of that same 
Duchesse de Guermantes of whom I was speaking just now, and had at- 
tempted to go in first to the King's presence, taking advantage of a mo- 
mentary hesitation which my relative may perhaps have shewn (although 
there could be no reason for it), the King called out: 'Come in, cousin, 
come in; Mme. de Baden knows very well what her duty is to you.' And 
it was as Duchesse de Guermantes that she held this rank, albeit she was 
of no mean family herself, since she was through her mother niece to the 
Queen of Poland, the Queen of Hungary, the Elector Palatine, the Prince 
of Savoy-Carignano and the Elector of Hanover, afterwards King of Eng- 
land." "Maecenas atavis edite regibus!" said Brichot, addressing M. de 
Charlus, who acknowledged the compliment with a slight inclination of 
his head. "What did you say?" Mme. Verdurin asked Brichot, anxious 
to make amends to him for her previous speech. "I was referring, Heaven 
forgive me, to a dandy who was the pick of the basket" (Mme. Verdurin 
winced) "about the time of Augustus" (Mme. Verdurin, reassured by 
the remoteness in time of this basket, assumed a more serene expression) ,. 
"of a friend of Vir x gil and Horace who carried their sycophancy to the 
extent of proclaiming to his face his more than aristocratic, his royal 
descent, in a word I was referring to Maecenas, a bookworm who was the 
friend of Horace, Virgil, Augustus. I am sure that M. de Charlus knows 
all about Maecenas." With a gracious, sidelong glance at Mme. Verdurin, 
because he had heard her make an appointment with Morel for the day 
after next and was afraid that she might not invite him also, "I should 
say," said M. de Charlus, "that Maecenas was more or less the Verdurin 
of antiquity." Mme. Verdurin could not altogether suppress a smile of 
satisfaction. She went over to Morel. "He's nice, your father's friend," 
she said to him. "One can see that he's an educated man, and well bred. 
He will get on well in our little nucleus. What is his address in Paris?" 
Morel preserved a haughty silence and merely proposed a game of cards. 
Mme. Verdurin insisted upon a little violin music first. To the general 
astonishment, M. de Charlus, who never referred to his own considerable 
gifts, accompanied, in the purest style, the closing passage (uneasy, tor- 
mented, Schumannesque, but, for all that, earlier than Franck's Sonata) 
of the Sonata for piano and violin by Faure. I felt that he would furnish 
Morel, marvellously endowed as to tone and virtuosity, with just those 
qualities that he lacked, culture and style. But I thought with curiosity 
of this combination in a single person of a physical blemish and a spiritual 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 251 

gift. M. de Charlus was not very different from his brother, the Due de 
Guermantes. Indeed, a moment ago (though this was rare), he had spoken 
as bad French as his brother. He having reproached me (doubtless in 
order that I might speak in glowing terms of Morel to Mme. Verdurin) 
with never coming to see him, and I having pleaded discretion, he had 
replied: "But, since it is I that asks you, there is no one but I who am 
in a position to take offence." This might have been said by the Due 
de Guermantes. M. de Charlus was only a Guermantes when all was said. 
But it had been enough that nature should upset the balance of his nervous 
system sufficiently to make him prefer to the woman that his brother the 
Duke would have chosen one of Virgil's shepherds or Plato's disciples, and 
at once qualities unknown to the Due de Guermantes and often combined 
with this want of balance had made M. de Charlus an exquisite pianist, 
an amateur painter who was not devoid of taste, an eloquent talker. Who 
would ever have detected that the rapid, eager, charming style with which 
M. de Charlus played the Schumannesque passage of Faure's Sonata had 
its equivalent one dares not say its cause in elements entirely physical, 
in the nervous defects of M. de Charlus? We shall explain later on what 
we mean by nervous defects, and why it is that a Greek of the time of 
Socrates, a Roman of the time of Augustus might be what we know them 
to have been and yet remain absolutely normal men, and not men-women 
such as we see around us to-day. Just as he had genuine artistic tendencies, 
which had never come to fruition, so M. de Charlus had, far more than 
the Duke, loved their mother, loved his own wife, and indeed, years after 
her death, if anyone spoke of her to him would shed tears, but superficial 
tears, like the perspiration of an over-stout man, whose brow will glisten 
with sweat at the slightest exertion. With this difference, that to the latter 
we say: "How hot you are," whereas we pretend not to notice other people's 
tears. We, that is to say, people in society; for the humbler sort are as 
distressed by the sight of tears as if a sob were more serious than a hemor- 
rhage. His sorrow after the death of his wife, thanks to the habit of false- 
hood, did not debar M. de Charlus from a life which was not in harmony 
with it. Indeed later on, he sank so low as to let it be known that, during 
the funeral rites, he had found an opportunity of asking the acolyte for 
his name and address. And it may have been true. 

When the piece came to an end, I ventured to ask for some Franck, 
which appeared to cause Mme. de Cambremer such acute pain that I did 
not insist. "You can't admire that sort of thing," she said to me. Instead 
she asked for Debussy's Fetes, which made her exclaim: "Ah! How sub- 
lime!" from the first note. But Morel discovered that he remembered 
the opening bars only, and in a spirit of mischief, without any intention 
to deceive, began a March by Meyerbeer. Unfortunately, as he left little 
interval and made no announcement, everybody supposed that he was 
still playing Debussy, and continued to exclaim 'Sublime!' Morel, by 
revealing that the composer was that not of Pelleas but of Robert le Diable 
created a certain chill. Mme. de Cambremer had scarcely time to feel it, 
for she had just discovered a volume of Scarlatti, and had flung herself 
upon it with an hysterical impulse. "Oh! Play this, look, this piece, it's 



252 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

divine," she cried. And yet, of this composer long despised, recently pro- 
moted to the highest honours, what she had selected in her feverish impa- 
tience was one of those infernal pieces which have so often kept us from 
sleeping, while a merciless pupil repeats them indefinitely on the next floor. 
But Morel had had enough music, and as he insisted upon cards, M. de 
Charlus, to be able to join in, proposed a game of whist. "He was telling 
the Master just now that he is a Prince," said Ski to Mme. Verdurin, "but 
it's not true, they're quite a humble family of architects." "I want to know 
what it was you were saying about Maecenas. It interests me, don't you 
know!" Mme. Verdurin repeated to Brichot, with an affability that car- 
ried him off his feet. And so, in order to shine in the Mistress's eyes, and 
possibly in mine: "Why, to tell you the truth, Madame, Maecenas interests 
me chiefly because he is the earliest apostle of note of that Chinese god 
who numbers more followers in France to-day than Brahma, than Christ 
himself, the all-powerful God Ubedamd." Mme. Verdurin was no longer 
content, upon these occasions, with burying her head in her hands. She 
would descend with the suddenness of the insects called ephemeral upon 
Princess Sherbatoff ; were the latter within reach the Mistress would cling 
to her shoulder, dip; her nails into it, and hide her face against it for a few 
moments like a child playing at hide and seek. Concealed by this protecting 
screen, she was understood to be laughing until she cried and was as well 
able to think of nothing at all as people are who while saying a prayer 
that is rather long take the wise precaution of burying their faces in their 
hands. Mme. Verdurin used to imitate them when she listened to Beethoven 
quartets, so as at the same time to let it be seen that she regarded them 
as a prayer and not to let it be seen that she was asleep. "I am quite serious, 
Madame," said Brichot. "Too numerous, I consider, to-day is become the 
person who spends his time gazing at his navel as though it were the hub 
of the universe. As a matter of doctrine, I have no objection to offer to 
some Nirvana which will dissolve us in the great Whole (which, like 
Munich and Oxford, is considerably nearer to Paris than Asnieres or 
Bois-Colombes), but it is unworthy either of a true Frenchman, or of a 
true European even, when the Japanese are possibly at the gates of our 
Byzantium, that socialised anti-militarists should be gravely discussing 
the cardinal virtues of free verse." Mme. Verdurin felt that she might 
dispense with the Princess's mangled shoulder, and allowed her face to 
become once more visible, not without pretending to wipe her eyes and 
gasping two or three times for breath. But Brichot was determined that I 
should have my share in the entertainment, and having learned, from those 
oral examinations which he conducted so admirably, that the best way 
to flatter the young is to lecture them, to make them feel themselves im- 
portant, to make them regard you as a reactionary: "I have no wish to 
blaspheme against the Gods of Youth," he said, with that furtive glance 
at myself which a speaker turns upon a member of his audience whom he 
has mentioned by name. "I have no wish to be damned as a heretic and 
renegade in the Mallarmean chapel in which our new friend, like all the 
young men of his age, must have served the esoteric mass, at least as an 
acolyte, and have shewn himself deliquescent or Rosicrucian. But, really, 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 253 

we have seen more than enough of these intellectuals worshipping art 
with a big A, who, when they can no longer intoxicate themselves upon 
Zola, inject themselves with Verlaine. Become etheromaniacs out of Baude- 
lairean devotion, they would no longer be capable of the virile effort which 
the country may, one day or another, demand of them, anaesthetised as 
they are by the great literary neurosis in the heated, enervating atmos- 
phere, heavy with unwholesome vapours, of a symbolism of the opium- 
pipe." Feeling incapable of feigning any trace of admiration for Brichot's 
inept and motley tirade, I turned to Ski and assured him that he was 
entirely mistaken as to the family to which M. de Charlus belonged; he 
replied that he was certain of his facts, and added that I myself had said 
that his real name was Ganclin, Le Gandin. "I told you," was my answer, 
"that Mme. de Cambremer was the sister of an engineer, M. Legrandin. 
I never said a word to you about M. de Charlus. There is about as much 
connexion between him and Mme. de Cambremer as between the Great 
Conde and Racine." "Indeed! I thought there was," said Ski lightly, with 
no more apology for his mistake than he had made a few hours earlier 
for the mistake that had nearly made his party miss the train. "Do you 
intend to remain long on this coast?" Mme. Verdurin asked M. de Charlus, 
in whom she foresaw an addition to the faithful and trembled lest he should 
be returning too soon to Paris. "Good Lord, one never knows," replied 
M. de Charlus in a nasal drawl. "I should like to stay here until the end 
of September." "You are quite right," said Mme. Verdurin; "that is the 
time for fine storms at sea." "To tell you the truth, that is not what would 
influence me. I have for some time past unduly neglected the Archangel 
Saint Michael, my patron, and I should like to make amends to him by 
staying for his feast, on the 29th of September, at the Abbey on the 
Mount." "You take an interest in all that sort of thing?" asked Mme. 
Verdurin, who might perhaps have succeeded in hushing the voice of her 
outraged anti-clericalism, had she not been afraid that so long an expedi- 
tion might make the violinist and the Baron 'fail' her for forty-eight hours. 
"You are perhaps afflicted with intermittent deafness," M. de Charlus 
replied insolently. "I have told you that Saint Michael is one of my 
glorious patrons." Then, smiling with a benevolent ecstasy, his eyes gaz- 
ing into the distance, his voice strengthened by an excitement which seemed 
now to be not merely aesthetic but religious: "It is so beautiful at the 
offertory when Michael stands erect by the altar, in a white robe, swinging 
a golden censer heaped so high with perfumes that the fragrance of them 
mounts up to God." "We might go there in a party," suggested Mme. Ver- 
durin, notwithstanding her horror of the clergy. "At that moment, when 
the offertory begins," went on M. de Charlus who, for other reasons but 
in the same manner as good speakers in Parliament, never replied to an 
interruption and would pretend not to have heard it, "it would be won- 
derful to see our young friend Palestrinising, indeed performing an aria 
by Bach. The worthy Abbot, too, would be wild with joy, and that' is the 
greatest homage, at least the greatest public homage that I can pay to my 
Holy Patron. What an edification for the faithful! We must mention it 
presently to the young Angelico of music, a warrior like Saint Michael." 



254 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

Saniette, summoned to make a fourth, declared that he did not know 
how to play whist. And Cottard, seeing that there was not much time 
left before our train, embarked at once on a game of ecarte with Morel. 
M. Verdurin was furious, and bore down with a terrible expression upon 
Saniette. "Is there anything in the world that you can play?" he cried, 
furious at being deprived of the opportunity for a game of whist, and 
delighted to have found one to insult the old registrar. He, in his terror, 
did his best to look clever. "Yes, I can play the piano," he said. Cottard 
and Morel were seated face to face. "Your deal," said Cottard. "Suppose 
we go nearer to the card-table/' M. de Charlus, worried by the sight of 
Morel in Cottard's company, suggested to M. de Cambremer. "It is quite 
as interesting as those questions of etiquette which in these days have 
ceased to count for very much. The only kings that we have left, in France 
at least, are the kings in the pack of cards, who seem to me to be positively 
swarming in the hand of our young virtuoso," he added a moment later, 
from an admiration for Morel which extended to his way of playing cards, 
to flatter him also, and finally to account for his suddenly turning to lean 
over the young violinist's shoulder. "I-ee cut," said (imitating the accent 
of a cardsharper) Cottard, whose children burst out laughing, like his 
students and the chief dresser, whenever the master, even by the bedside 
of a serious case, uttered with the emotionless face of an epileptic one of 
his hackneyed witticisms. "I don't know what to play," said Morel, seek- 
ing advice from M. de Charlus. "Just as you please, you're bound to lose, 
whatever you play, it's all the same (c'est egal)" "Egal . . . Ingalli?" 
said the doctor, with an insinuating, kindly glance at M. de Cambremer. 
"She was what we call a true diva, she was a dream, a Carmen such as 
we shall never see again. She was wedded to the part. I used to enjoy too 
listening to Ingalli married." The Marquis drew himself up with that 
contemptuous vulgarity of well-bred people who do not realise that they 
are insulting their host by appearing uncertain whether they ought to 
associate with his guests, and adopt English manners by way of apology 
for a scornful expression: "Who is that gentleman playing cards, what 
does he do for a living, what does he sell? I rather like to know whom I 
am meeting, so as not to make friends with any Tom, Dick or Harry. But 
I didn't catch his name when you did me the honour of introducing me to 
him." If M. Verdurin, availing himself of this phrase, had indeed intro- 
duced M. de Cambremer to his fellow-guests, the other would have been 
greatly annoyed. But, knowing that it was the opposite procedure that was 
observed, he thought it gracious to assume a genial and modest air, with- 
out risk to himself. The pride that M. Verdurin took in his intimacy with 
Cottard had increased if anything now that the doctor had become an 
eminent professor. But it no longer found expression in the artless lan- 
guage of earlier days. Then, when Cottard was scarcely known to the 
public, if you spoke to M. Verdurin of his wife's facial neuralgia: "There 
is nothing to be done," he would say, with the artless self-satisfaction of 
people who assume that anyone whom they know must be famous, and 
that everybody knows the name of their family singing-master. "If she 
had an ordinary doctor, one might look for a second opinion, but when 



DINNER WITH THE V E R D U R I N S 255 

that doctor is called Cottard" (a name which he pronounced as though 
it were Bouchard or Charcot) "one has simply to bow to the inevitable." 
Adopting a reverse procedure, knowing that M. de Cambremer must cer- 
tainly have heard of the famous Professor Cottard, M. Verdurin adopted 
a tone of simplicity. "He's our family doctor, a worthy soul whom we 
adore and who would let himself be torn in pieces for our sakes ; he is not 
a doctor, he is a friend, I don't suppose you have ever heard of him or 
that his name would convey anything to you, in any case to us it is the 
name of a very good man, of a very dear friend, Cottard." This name, 
murmured in a modest tone, took in M. de Cambremer who supposed that 
his host was referring to some one else. "Cottard? You don't mean Pro- 
fessor Cottard?" At that moment one heard the voice of the said Professor 
who, at an awkward point in the game, was saying as he looked at his 
cards: "This is where Greek meets Greek." "Why, yes, to be sure, he is 
a professor," said M. Verdurin. "What! Professor Cottard! You are not 
making a mistake? You are quite sure it's the same man? The one who 
lives in the Rue du Bac?" "Yes, his address is 43, Rue du Bac. You know 
him?" "But everybody knows Professor Cottard. He's at the top of the 
tree! You might as well ask me if I knew Bouffe de Saint-Blaise or Courtois- 
Suffit. I coyld see when I heard him speak that he was not an ordinary 
person, that is why I took the liberty of asking you." "Come now, what 
shall I play, trumps?" asked Cottard. Then abruptly, with a vulgarity 
which would have been offensive even in heroic circumstances, as when a 
soldier uses a coarse expression to convey his contempt for death, but 
became doubly stupid in the safe pastime of a game of cards, Cottard, 
deciding to play a trump, assumed a sombre, suicidal air, and, borrowing 
the language of people who are risking their skins, played his card as 
though it were his life, with the exclamation: "There it is, and be damned 
to it!" It was not the right card to play, but he had a consolation. In the 
middle of the room, in a deep armchair, Mme. Cottard, yielding to the 
effect, which she always found irresistible, of a good dinner, had succumbed 
after vain efforts to the vast and gentle slumbers that were overpowering 
her. In vain might she sit up now and again, and smile, whether at her 
own absurdity or from fear of leaving unanswered some polite speech that 
might have been addressed to her, she sank back, in spite of herself, into 
the clutches of the implacable and delicious malady. More than the noise, 
what awakened her thus for an instant only, was the glance (which, in her 
wifely affection she could see even when her eyes were shut, and foresaw, 
for the same scene occurred every evening and haunted her dreams like 
the thought of the hour at which one will have to rise), the glance with 
which the Professor drew the attention of those present to his wife's slum- 
bers. To begin with, he merely looked at her and smiled, for if as a doctor 
he disapproved of this habit of falling asleep after dinner (or at least gave 
this scientific reason for growing annoyed later on, but it is not certain 
whether it was a determining reason, so many and diverse were the views 
that he held about it), as an all-powerful and teasing husband, he was 
delighted to be able to make a fool of his wife, to rouse her only partly 



256 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

at first, so that she might fall asleep again and he have the pleasure of 
waking her afresh. 

By this time, Mme. Cottard was sound asleep. "Now then, Leontine, 
you're snoring/' the professor called to her. "I am listening to Mme. 
Swann, my dear," Mme. Cottard replied faintly, and dropped back into 
her lethargy. "It's perfect nonsense," exclaimed Cottard, "she'll be telling 
us presently that she wasn't asleep. She's like the patients who come to 
consult us and insist that they never sleep at all." "They imagine it, per- 
haps," said M. de Cambremer with a laugh. But the doctor enjoyed con- 
tradicting no less than teasing, and would on no account allow a layman 
to talk medicine to him. "People do not imagine that they never sleep," 
he promulgated in a dogmatic tone. "Ah!" replied the Marquis with a 
respectful bow, such as Cottard at one time would have made. "It is easy 
to see," Cottar^ went on, "that you have never administered, as I have, 
as much as two grains of trional without succeeding in provoking som- 
nolescence." "Quite so, quite so," replied the Marquis, laughing with a 
superior air, "I have never taken trional, or any of those drugs which 
soon cease to have any effect but ruin your stomach. When a man has 
been out shooting all night, like me, in the forest of Chantepie, I can assure 
you he doesn't need any trional to make him sleep." "It is only fools who 
say that," replied the Professor. "Trional frequently has a remarkable 
effect on the nervous tone. You mention trional, have you any idea what 
it is?" "Well . . . I've heard people say that it is a drug to make one 
sleep." "You are not answering my question," replied the Professor, who, 
thrice weekly, at the Faculty, sat on the board of examiners. "I don't ask 
you whether it makes you sleep or not, but what it is. Can you tell me 
what percentage it contains of amyl and ethyl?" "No," replied M. de 
Cambremer with embarrassment. "I prefer a good glass of old brandy 
or even 345 Port." "Which are ten times as toxic," the Professor inter- 
rupted. "As for trional," M. de Cambremer ventured, "my wife goes in 
for all that sort of thing, you'd better talk to her about it." "She probably 
knows just as much about it as yourself. In any case, if your wife takes 
trional to make her sleep, you can see that mine has no need of it. Come 
along, Leontine, wake up, you're getting ankylosed, did you ever see me 
fall asleep after dinner? What will you be like when you're sixty, if you 
fall asleep now like an old woman? You'll go and get fat, you're arresting 
the circulation. She doesn't even hear what I'm saying." "They're bad 
for one's health, these little naps after dinner, ain't they, Doctor?" said 
.M. de Cambremer, seeking to rehabilitate himself with Cottard. "After 
a heavy meal one ought to take exercise." "Stuff and nonsense!" replied 
the Doctor. "We have taken identical quantities of food from the stomach 
of a dog that has lain quiet and from the stomach of a dog that has been 
running about and it is in the former that digestion is more advanced." 
"Then it is sleep that stops digestion." "That depends upon whether you 
mean oesophagic digestion, stomachic digestion, intestinal digestion; it is 
useless to give you explanations which you would not understand since 
you have never studied medicine. Now then, Leontine, quick march, it is 
time we were going." This was not true, for the doctor was going merely 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 257 

to continue his game, but he hoped tljus to cut short in a more drastic 
fashion the slumbers of the deaf mute to whom he had been addressing 
without a word of response the most learned exhortations. Whether a 
determination to remain awake survived in Mme. Cottard, even in the 
state of sleep, or because the armchair offered no support to her head, it 
was jerked mechanically from left to right, and up and down, in the empty 
,iir, like a lifeless object, and Mme. Cottard, with her nodding poll, ap- 
peared now to be listening to music, now to be in the last throes of death. 
Where her husband's increasingly vehement admonitions failed of their 
effect, her sense of her own stupidity proved successful. "My bath is nice 
and hot," she murmured, "but the feathers in the dictionary . . ." she 
exclaimed as she sat bolt upright. "Oh! Good lord, what a fool I am. 
Whatever have I been saying, I was thinking about my hat, I'm sure I 
said something silly, in another minute I should have been asleep, it's that 
wretched fire." Everybody began to laugh, for there was no fire in the room. 1 

"You are making fun of me," said Mme. Cottard, herself laughing, 
and raising her hand to her brow to wipe away, with the light touch of a 
hypnotist and the sureness of a woman putting her hair straight, the last 
traces of sleep, "I must offer my humble apologies to dear Mme. Verdurin 
and ask her to tell me the truth." But her smile at once grew sorrow- 
ful, for the Professor who knew that his wife sought to please him and 
trembled lest she should fail, had shouted at her: "Look at yourself 
in the glass, you are as red as if you had an eruption of acne, you look 
just like an old peasant." "You know, he is charming," said Mme. Ver- 
durin, "he has such a delightfully sarcastic side to his character. And then, 
he snatched my husband from the jaws of death when the whole Faculty 
had given him up. He spent three nights by his bedside, without ever 
lying down. And so Cottard to me, you know," she went on, in a grave 
and almost menacing tone, raising her hand to the twin spheres, shrouded 
in white tresses, of her musical temples, and as though we had wished to 
assault the doctor, "is sacred! He could ask me for anything in the world! 
As it is, I don't call him Doctor Cottard, I call him Doctor God! And 
even in saying that I am slandering him, for this God does everything 
in his power to remedy some of the disasters for which the other is respon- 
sible." "Play a trump," M. de Charlus said to Morel with a delighted 
air. "A trump, here goes," said the violinist. "You ought to have declared 
your king first," said M. de Charlus, "you're not paying attention to the 
game, but how well you play!" "I have the king," said Morel. "He's a 
fine man," replied the Professor. "What's all that business up there with 
the sticks?" asked Mme. Verdurin, drawing M. de Cambremer's atten- 
tion to a superb escutcheon carved over the mantelpiece. "Are they 
your arms?" she added with an ironical disdain. "No, they are not ours," 
replied M. de Cambremer. "We bear, barry of five, embattled counter- 
embattled or and gules, as many trefoils countercharged. No, those are the 
arms of the Arrachepels, who were not of our stock, but from whom we 
1 In the French text of Sodome ct Gomorrhe, Volume II ends at this point. 



258 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

inherited the house, and nobody of our line has ever made any changes 
here. The Arrachepels (formerly Pelvilains, we are told) bore or five piles 
couped in base gules. When they allied themselves with the Feterne family, 
their blazon changed, but remained cantoned within twenty cross crosslets 
fitchee in base or, a dexter canton ermine" "That's one for her!" mut- 
tered Mme. de Cambremer. "My great-grandmother was a d'Arrachepel 
or de Rachepel, as you please, for both forms are found in the old charters,' ' 
continued M. de Cambremer, blushing vividly, for only then did the 
idea for which his wife had given him credit occur to him, and he was 
afraid that Mme. Verdurin might have applied to herself a speech which 
had been made without any reference to her. "The history books say that, 
in the eleventh century, the first Arrachepel, Mace, named Pelvilain, 
shewed a special aptitude, in siege warfare, in tearing up piles. Whence 
the name Arrachepel by which he was ennobled, and the piles which you 
see persisting through the centuries in their arms. These are the piles 
which, to render fortifications more impregnable, used to be driven, 
plugged, if you will pardon the expression, into the ground in front of 
them, and fastened together laterally. They are what you quite rightly 
called sticks, though they had nothing to do with the floating sticks 
of our good Lafontaine. For they were supposed to render a strong- 
hold unassailable. Of course, with our modern artillery, they make one 
smile. But you must bear in mind that I am speaking of the eleventh 
century." "It is all rather out of date/' said Mme. Verdurin, "but the 
little campanile has a character." "You have," said Cottard, "the luck 
of ... turlututu," a word which he gladly repeated to avoid using 
Moliere's. "Do you know why the king of diamonds was turned out of 
the army?" "I shouldn't mind being in his shoes," said Morel, who was 
tired of military service. "Oh! What a bad patriot," exclaimed M. de 
Charlus, who could not refrain from pinching the violinist's ear. "No, 
you don't know why the king of diamonds was turned out of the army," 
Cottard pursued, determined to make his joke, "it's because he has only 
one eye." "You are up against it, Doctor," said M. de Cambremer, to 
shew Cottard that he knew who he was. "This young man is astonishing," 
M. de Charlus interrupted innocently. "He plays like a god." This ob- 
servation did not find favour with the doctor, who replied: "Never too 
late to mend. Who laughs last, laughs longest." "Queen, ace," Morel, 
whom fortune was favouring, announced triumphantly. The doctor bowed 
his head as though powerless to deny this good fortune, and admitted, 
spellbound: "That's fine." "We are so pleased to have met M. de Charlus," 
said Mme. de Cambremer to Mme. Verdurin. "Had you never met him 
before? He is quite nice, he is unusual, he is of a period" (she would 
have found it difficult to say which), replied Mme. Verdurin with the 
satisfied smile of a connoisseur, a judge and a hostess. Mme. de Cam- 
bremer asked me if I was coming to Feterne with Saint-Loup. I could not 
suppress a cry of admiration when I saw the moon hanging like an orange 
lantern beneath the vault of oaks that led away from the house. "That's 
nothing, presently, when the moon has risen higher and the valley is 
lighted up, it will be a thousand times better." "Are you staying any 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 259 

time in this neighbourhood, Madame?" M. de Cambremer asked Mme, 
Cottard, a speech that might be interpreted as a vague intention to invite 
and dispensed him for the moment from making any more precise engage- 
ment. "Oh, certainly, Sir, I regard this annual exodus as most important 
for the children. Whatever you may say, they must have fresh air. The 
Faculty wanted to send me to Vichy; but it is too stuffy there, and I 
can look after my stomach when those big boys of mine have grown a 
little bigger. Besides, the Professor, with all the examinations he has 
to hold, has always got his shoulder to the wheel, and the hot weather 
tires him dreadfully. I feel that a man needs a thorough rest after he 
has been on the go all the year like that. Whatever happens we shall 
stay another month at least/' "Ah! In that case we shall meet again." 
"Besides, I shall be all the more obliged to stay here as my husband has 
to go on a visit to Savoy, and won't be finally settled here for another 
fortnight." "I like the view of the valley even more than the sea view," 
Mme. Verdurin went on. "You are going to have a splendid night for 
your journey." "We ought really to find out whether the carriages are 
ready, if you are absolutely determined to go back to Balbec to-night," 
M. Verdurin said to me, "for I see no necessity for it myself. We could 
drive you over to-morrow morning. It is certain to be fine. The roads are 
excellent." I said that it was impossible. "But in any case it is not time 
yet," the Mistress protested. "Leave them alone, they have heaps of 
time. A lot of good it will do them to arrive at the station with an hour 
to wait. They are far happier here. And you, my young Mozart," she said 
to Morel, not venturing to address M. de Charlus directly, "won't you 
stay the night? We have some nice rooms facing the sea." "No, he can't," 
M. de Charlus replied on behalf of the absorbed card-player who had 
not heard. "He has a pass until midnight only. He must go back to bed 
like a good little boy, obedient, and well-behaved," he added in a com- 
plaisant, mannered, insistent voice, as though he derived some sadic 
pleasure from the use of this chaste comparison and also from letting his 
voice dwell, in passing, upon any reference to Morel, from touching 
him with (failing his fingers) words that seemed to explore his person. 

From the sermon that Brichot had addressed to me, M. de Cambremer 
had concluded that I was a Dreyfusard. As he himself was as anti- 
Dreyfusard as possible, out of courtesy to a foe, he began to sing me the 
praises of a Jewish colonel who had always been very decent to a cousin 
of the Chevregny and had secured for him the promotion he deserved. 
"And my cousin's opinions were the exact opposite," said M. de Cam- 
bremer; he omitted to mention what those opinions were, but I felt that 
they were as antiquated and misshapen as his own face, opinions which 
a few families in certain small towns must long have entertained. "Well, 
you know, I call that really fine!" was M. de Cambremer 's conclu- 
sion. It is true that he was hardly employing the word Tine' in the aesthetic 
sense in which it would have suggested to his wife and mother different 
works, but works, anyhow, of art. M. de Cambremer often made use of 
this term, when for instance he was congratulating a delicate person 
who had put on a little flesh. "What, you have gained half-a-stone in 



260 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

two months. I say, that's fine! 7 ' Refreshments were set out on a table, 
Mme. Verdurin invited the gentlemen to go and choose whatever drinks 
they preferred. M. de Charlus went and drank his glass and at once re- 
. turned to a seat by the card-table from which he did not stir. Mme. Ver- 
durin asked him: "Have you tasted my orangeade?" Upon which M. de 
Charlus, with a gracious smile, in a crystalline tone which he rarely 
sounded and with endless motions of his lips and body, replied: "No, I 
preferred its neighbour, it was strawberry-juice, I think, it was delicious." 
It is curious that a certain order of secret actions has the external effect 
of a manner of speaking or gesticulating which reveals them. If a gentle- 
man believes or disbelieves in the Immaculate Conception, or in the inno- 
cence of Dreyfus, or in a plurality of worlds, and wishes to keep his 
opinion to himself, you will find nothing in his voice or in his movements 
that will let you read his thoughts. But on hearing M. de Charlus say in 
that shrill voice and with that smile and waving his arms: "No, I pre- 
ferred its neighbour, the strawberry-juice," one could say: "There, he 
likes the stronger sex," with the same certainty as enables a judge to 
sentence a criminal who has not confessed, a doctor a patient suffering 
from general paralysis who himself is perhaps unaware of his malady but 
has made some mistake in pronunciation from which one can deduce that 
he will be dead in three years. Perhaps the people who conclude from a 
man's way of saying: "No, I preferred its neighbour, the strawberry- 
juice," a love of the kind called unnatural, have no need of any such sci- 
entific knowledge. But that is because there is a more direct relation 
between the revealing sign and the secret. Without saying it in so many 
words to oneself, one feels that it is a gentle, smiling lady who is answer- 
ing and who appears mannered because she is pretending to be a man and 
one is not accustomed to seeing men adopt such mannerisms. And it is 
perhaps more pleasant to think that for long years a certain number of 
angelic women have been included by mistake in the masculine sex where, 
in exile, ineffectually beating their wings towards men in whom they in- 
spire a physical repulsion, they know how to arrange a drawing-room, 
compose 'interiors.' M. de Charlus was not in the least perturbed that 
Mme. Verdurin should be standing, and remained installed in his arm- 
chair so as to be nearer to Morel. "Don't you think it criminal," said 
Mme. Verdurin to the Baron, "that that creature who might be enchant- 
ing us with his violin should be sitting there at a card-table. When any- 
one can play the violin like that!" "He plays cards well, he does every- 
thing well, he is so intelligent," said M. de Charlus, keeping his eye on 
the game, so as to be able to advise Morel. This was not his only rea- 
son, however, for not rising from his chair for Mme. Verdurin. With the sin- 
gular amalgam that he had made of the social conceptions at once of a great 
nobleman and an amateur of art, instead of being polite in the same 
way that a man of his world would be, he would create a sort of tableau- 
vivant for himself after Saint-Simon; and at that moment was amusing 
himself by impersonating the Marechal d'Uxelles, who interested him 
from other aspects also, and of whom it is said that he was so proud as 
to remain seated, with a pretence of laziness, before all the most distin- 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 26l 

guished persons at court. "By the way, Charlus," said Mme. Verdurin, who 
was beginning to grow familiar, "you don't know of any ruined old 
nobleman in your Faubourg who would come to me as porter?" "Why, 
yes . . . why, yes," replied M. de Charlus with a genial smile, "but I 
don't advise it." "Why not?" "I should be afraid for your sake, that your 
smart visitors would call at the lodge and go no farther." This was the 
first skirmish between them. Mme. Verdurin barely noticed it. There 
were to be others, alas, in Paris. M. de Charlus remained glued to his 
chair. He could not, moreover, restrain a faint smile, seeing how his 
favourite maxims as to aristocratic prestige and middle-class cowardice 
were confirmed by the so easily won submission of Mme. Verdurin. The 
Mistress appeared not at all surprised by the Baron's posture, and if 
she left him it was only because she had been perturbed by seeing me 
taken up by M. de Cambremer. But first of all, she wished to clear up 
the mystery of M. de Charlus's relations with Comtesse Mole. "You told 
me that you knew Mme. de Mole. Does that mean, you go there?" she 
asked, giving to the words 'go there' the sense of being received there, 
of having received authority from the lady to go and call upon her. M. de 
Charlus replied with an inflexion of disdain, an affectation of precision and 
in a sing-song tone: "Yes, sometimes." This 'sometimes' inspired doubts 
in Mme. Verdurin, who asked: "Have you ever met the Due de Guer- 
mantes there?" "Ah! That I don't remember." "Oh!" said Mme. Ver- 
durin, "you don't know the Due de Guermantes?" "And how should I not 
know him?" replied M. de Charlus, his lips curving in a smile. This smile 
was ironical; but as the Baron was afraid of letting a gold tooth be seen, he 
stopped it with a reverse movement of his lips, so that the resulting sinu- 
osity was that of a good-natured smile. "Why do you say: 'How should I not 
know him?' " "Because he is my brother," said M. de Charlus carelessly, 
leaving Mme. Verdurin plunged in stupefaction and in the uncertainty 
whether her guest was making fun of her, was a natural son, or a son 
by another marriage. The idea that the brother of the Due de Guermantes 
might be called Baron de Charlus never entered her head. She bore down 
upon me. "I heard M. de Cambremer invite you to dinner just now. It 
has nothing to do with me, you understand. But for your own sake, I 
do hope you won't go. For one thing, the place is infested with bores. Oh! 
If you like dining with provincial Counts and Marquises whom nobody 
knows, you will be supplied to your heart's content." "I think I shall be 
obliged to go there once or twice. I am not altogether free, however, 
for I have a young cousin whom I cannot leave by herself" (I felt that 
this fictitious kinship made it easier for me to take Albertine about). 
"But as for the Cambremers, as I have been introduced to them. . . ." 
"You shall do just as you please. One thing I can tell you: it's extremely 
unhealthy; when you have caught pneumonia, or a nice little chronic 
rheumatism, you'll be a lot better off!" "But isn't the place itself very 
pretty?" "Mmmmyess. ... If you like. For my part, I confess frankly 
that I would a hundred times rather have the view from here over this 
valley. To begin with, if they'd paid us I wouldn't have taken the other 
house because the sea air is fatal to M. Verdurin. If your cousin suffers 



262 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

at all from nerves. . . . But you yourself have bad nerves, I think . . . 
you have choking fits. Very well! You shall see. Go there once, you 
won't sleep for a week after it; but it's not my business." And without 
thinking of the inconsistency with what she had just been saying: "If 
it would amuse you to see the house, which is not bad, pretty is too strong 
a word, still it is amusing with its old moat, and the old drawbridge, 
as I shall have to sacrifice myself and dine there once, very well, come 
that day, I shall try to bring all my little circle, then it will be quite 
nice. The day after to-morrow we are going to Harambouville in the 
carriage. It's a magnificent drive, the cider is delicious. Come with us. 
You, Brichot, you shall come too. And you too, Ski. That will make a 
party which, as a matter of fact, my husband must have arranged already. 
I don't know whom all he has invited, Monsieur de Charlus, are you 
one of them?" The Baron, who had not heard the whole speech, and did 
not know that she was talking of an excursion to Harambouville, gave 
a start. "A strange question," he murmured in a mocking tone by which 
Mme. Verdurin felt hurt. "Anyhow," she said to me, "before you dine 
with the Cambremers, why not bring her here, your cousin? Does she 
like conversation, and clever people? Is she pleasant? Yes, very well 
then. Bring her with you. The Cambremers aren't the only people in 
the world. I can understand their being glad to invite her, they must 
find it difficult to get anyone. Here she will have plenty of fresh air, 
and lots of clever men. In any case, I am counting on you not to fail 
me next Wednesday. I heard you were having a tea-party at Rivebelle 
with your cousin, and M. de Charlus, and I forget who' else. You must 
arrange to bring the whole lot on here, it would be nice if you all came 
in a body. It's the easiest thing in the world to get here, the roads are 
charming; if you like I can send down for you. I can't imagine what you 
find attractive in Rivebelle, it's infested with mosquitoes. You are think- 
ing perhaps of the reputation of the rock-cakes. My cook makes them far 
better. I can let you have them, here, Norman rock-cakes, the real 
article, and shortbread; I need say no more. Ah! If you like the filth 
they give you at Rivebelle, that I won't give you, I don't poison my 
guests, Sir, and even if I wished to, my cook would refuse to make such 
abominations and would leave my service. Those rock-cakes you get 
down there, you can't tell what they are made of. I knew a poor girl who 
got peritonitis from them, which carried her off in three days. She was 
only seventeen. It was sad for her poor mother," added Mme. Verdurin 
with a melancholy air beneath the spheres of her temples charged with 
experience and suffering. "However, go and have tea at Rivebelle, if you 
enjoy being fleeced and flinging money out of the window. But one thing 
I beg of you, it is a confidential mission I am charging you with, on the 
stroke of six, bring all your party here, don't allow them to go straggling 
away by themselves. You can bring whom you please. I wouldn't say that 
to everybody. But I am sure that your friends are nice, I can see at 
once that we understand one another. Apart from the little nucleus, 
there are some very pleasant people coming on Wednesday. You don't 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 263 

know little Madame de Longpont. She is charming, and so witty, not in 
the least a snob, you will find, you'll like her immensely. And she's go- 
ing to bring a whole troop of friends too," Mme. Verdurin added to 
shew me that this was the right thing to do and encourage me by the 
other's example. "We shall see which has most influence and brings most 
people, Barbe de Longpont or you. And then I believe somebody's go- 
ing to bring Bergotte," she added with a vague air, this meeting with a 
celebrity being rendered far from likely by a paragraph which had ap- 
peared in the papers that morning, to the effect that the great writer's 
health was causing grave anxiety. "Anyhow, you will see that it will be 
one of my most successful Wednesdays, I don't want to have any boring 
women. You mustn't judge by this evening, it has been a complete failure. 
Don't try to be polite, you can't have been more bored than I was, 
I thought myself it was deadly. It won't always be like to-night, you 
know! I'm not thinking of the Cambremers, who are impossible, but I 
have known society people who were supposed to be pleasant, well, com- 
pared with my little nucleus, they didn't exist. I heard you say that you 
thought Swann clever. I must say, to my mind, his cleverness was greatly 
exaggerated, but without speaking of the character of the man, which 
I have always found fundamentally antipathetic, sly, underhand, I have 
often had him to dinner on Wednesdays. Well, you can ask the others, 
even compared with Brichot, who is far from being anything wonderful, 
a good assistant master, whom I got into the Institute, Swann was simply 
nowhere. He was so dull!" And, as I expressed a contrary opinion: "It's 
the truth. I don't want to say a word against him to you, since he was 
your friend, indeed he was very fond of you, he has spoken to me about 
you in the most charming way, but ask the others here if he ever said 
anything interesting, at our dinners. That, after all, is the supreme test. 
Well, I don't know why it was, but Swann, in my house, never seemed 
to come off, one got nothing out of him. And yet anything there ever 
was in him he picked up here." I assured her that he was highly in- 
telligent. "No, you only think that, because you haven't known him as 
long as I have. One got to the end of him very soon. I was always bored 
to death by him." (Which may be interpreted: "He went to the La 
Tremoilles and the Guermantes and knew that I didn't.") "And I can 
put up with anything, except being bored. That, I cannot and will not 
stand!" Her horror of boredom was now the reason upon which Mme. 
Verdurin relied to explain the composition of the little group. She did not 
yet entertain duchesses because she was incapable of enduring boredom, 
just as she was unable to go for a cruise, because of sea-sickness. I 
thought to myself that what Mme. Verdurin said was not entirely false, 
and, whereas the Guermantes would have declared Brichot to be the 
stupidest man they had ever met, I remained uncertain whether he were 
not in reality superior, if not to Swann himself, at least to the other 
people endowed with the wit of the Guermantes who would have had the 
good taste to avoid and the modesty to blush at his pedantic pleasantries; 
I asked myself the question as though a fresh light might be thrown on 
the nature of the intellect by the answer that I should make, and with 



264 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

the earnestness of a Christian influenced by Port-Royal when he considers 
the problem of Grace. "You will see," Mme. Verdurin continued, "when 
one has society people together with people of real intelligence, people of 
our set, that's where one has to see them, the society man who is brilliant 
in the kingdom of the blind, is only one-eyed here. Besides, the others 
don't feel at home any longer. So much so that I'm inclined to ask my- 
self whether, instead of attempting mixtures that spoil everything, I 
shan't start special evenings confined to the bores so as to have the full 
benefit of my little nucleus. However: you are coming again with your 
cousin. That's settled. Good. At any rate you will both find something 
to eat here. Feterne is starvation corner. Oh, by the way, if you like rats, 
go there at once, you will get as many as you want. And they will keep 
you there as long as you are prepared to stay. Why, you'll die of hunger. 
I'm sure, when I go there, I shall have my dinner before I start. The 
more the merrier, you must come here first and escort me. We shall have 
high tea, and supper when we get back. Do you like apple-tarts? Yes, 
very well then, our chef makes the best in the world. You see, I was 
quite right when I told you that you were meant to live here. So come 
and stay. You know, there is far more room in the house than people 
think. I don't speak of it, so as not to let myself in for bores. You might 
bring your cousin to stay. She would get a change of air from Balbec. 
With this air here, I maintain I can cure incurables. I have cured them, 
I may tell you, and not only this time. For I have stayed quite close to 
here before, a place I discovered and got for a mere song, a very different 
style of house from their Raspeliere. I can shew you it if we go for a 
drive together. But I admit that even here the air is invigorating. Still, 
I don't want to say too much about it, the whole of Paris would begin 
to take a fancy to my little corner. That has always been my luck. Any- 
how, give your cousin my message. We shall put you in two nice rooms 
looking over the valley, you ought to see it in the morning, with the 
sun shining on the mist! By the way, who is this Robert de Saint-Loup 
of whom you were speaking?" she said with a troubled air, for she had 
heard that I was to pay him a visit at Doncieres, and was afraid that 
he might make me fail her. "Why not bring him here instead, if he's 
not a bore. I have heard of him from Morel; I fancy he's one of his 
greatest friends," said Mme. Verdurin with entire want of truth, for 
Saint-Loup and Morel were not even aware of one another's existence. 
But having heard that Saint-Loup knew M. de Charlus, she supposed 
that it was through the violinist, and wished to appear to know all 
about them. "He's not taking up medicine, by any chance, or literature? 
You know, if you want any help about examinations, Cottard can do 
anything, and I make what use of him I please. As for the Academy 
later on, for I suppose he's not old enough yet, I have several notes in 
my pocket. Your friend would find himself on friendly soil here, and it 
might amuse him perhaps to see over the house. Life's not very excit- 
ing at Doncieres. But you shall do just what you please, then you can 
arrange what you think best," she concluded, without insisting, so as 
not to appear to be trying to know people of noble birth, and because 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 265 

she always maintained that the system by which she governed the faith- 
ful, to wit despotism, was named liberty. "Why, what's the matter with 
you/ 7 she said, at the sight of M. Verdurin who, with gestures of im- 
patience, was making for the wooden terrace that ran along the side 
of the drawing-room above the valley, like a man who is bursting with 
rage and must have fresh air. "Has Saniette been annoying you again? 
But -you know what an idiot he is, you have to resign yourself to him, 
don't work yourself up into such a state. I dislike this sort of thing/' 
she said to me, "because it is bad for him, it sends the blood to his 
head. But I must say that one would need the patience of an angel 
at times to put up with Saniette, and one must always remember that it 
is a charity to have him in the house. For my part I must admit that 
he's so gloriously silly, I can't help enjoying him. I dare say you heard 
what he said after dinner: 'I can't play whist, but I can the piano.' Isn't 
it superb? It is positively colossal, and incidentally quite untrue, for he 
knows nothing at all about either. But my husband, beneath his rough 
exterior, is very sensitive, very kind-hearted, and Saniette's self-centred 
way of always thinking about the effect he is going to make drives him 
crazy. Come, dear, calm yourself, you know Cottard told you that it 
was bad for your liver. And it is I that will have to bear the brunt 
of it all," said Mine. Verdurin. "To-morrow Saniette will come back all 
nerves and tears. Poor man, he is very ill indeed. Still, that is no rea- 
son why he should kill other people. Besides, even at times when he is 
in pain, when one would like to be sorry for him, his silliness hardens 
one's heart. He is really too stupid. You have only to tell him quite 
politely that these scenes make you both ill, and he is not to come again, 
since that's what he's most afraid of, it will have a soothing effect on 
his nerves," Mme. Verdurin whispered to her husband. 

One could barely make out the sea from the windows on the right. 
But those on the other side shewed the valley, now shrouded in a snowy 
cloak of moonlight. Now and again one heard the voices of Morel and 
Cottard. "You have a trump?" "Yes." "Ah! You're in luck, you are," 
said M. de Cambremer to Morel, in answer to his question, for he had 
seen that the doctor's hand was full of trumps. "Here comes the lady of 
diamonds," said the doctor. "That's a trump, you know? My trick. But 
there isn't a Sorbonne any longer," said the doctor to M. de Cam- 
bremer; "there's only the University of Paris." M. de Cambremer con- 
fessed his inability to understand why the doctor made this remark 
to him. "I thought you Were talking about the Sorbonne," replied the 
doctor. "I heard you say: tu nous la sors bonne" he added, with a wink, 
to shew that this was meant for a pun. "Just wait a moment," he said, 
pointing to his adversary, "I have a Trafalgar in store for him." And 
the prospect must have been excellent for the doctor, for in his joy his 
shoulders began to shake rapturously with laughter, which in his family, 
in the 'breed' of the Cottards, was an almost zoological sign of satisfac- 
tion. In the previous generation the gesture of rubbing the hands to- 
gether as though one were soaping them used to accompany this move- 
ment. Cottard himself had originally employed both forms simultaneously, 



266 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

but one fine day, nobody ever knew by whose intervention, wifely, pro 
fessorial perhaps, the rubbing of the hands had disappeared. The doctor 
even at dominoes, when he got his adversary on the run, and made 
him take the double six, which was to him the keenest of pleasures 
contented himself with shaking his shoulders. And when which was as 
seldom as possible he went down to his native village for a few days 
and met his first cousin, who was still at the hand-rubbing stage, he 
would say to Mme. Cottard on his return: "I thought poor Rene ver> 
common." "Have you the little dee-ar?" he said, turning to Morel. "Nor 
Then I play this old David." "Then you have five, you have won!' 
"That's a great victory, Doctor," said the Marquis. "A Pyrrhic victory,' 
said Cottard, turning to face the Marquis and looking at him over his 
glasses to judge the effect of his remark. "If there is still time," he 
said to Morel, "I give you your revenge. It is my deal. Ah! no, here come 
the carriages, it will have to be Friday, and I shall shew you a trick yoi 
don't see every day." M. and Mme. Verdurin accompanied us to the door 
The Mistress was especially coaxing with Saniette so as to make certair 
of his returning next time. "But you don't look to me as if you were 
properly wrapped up, my boy," said M. Verdurin, whose age allowed hirr 
to address me in this paternal tone. "One would say the weather hac 
changed." These words filled me with joy, as though the profoundly 
hidden life, the uprising of different combinations which they implied ir 
nature, hinted at other changes, these occurring in my own life, anc 
created fresh possibilities in it. Merely by opening the door upon the 
park, before leaving, one felt that a different 'weather 7 had, at that mo- 
ment, taken possession of the scene; cooling breezes, one of the joys 
of summer, were rising in the fir plantation (where long ago Mme. de 
Cambremer had dreamed of Chopin) and almost imperceptibly, in caress- 
ing coils, capricious eddies, were beginning their gentle nocturnes. ] 
declined the rug which, on subsequent evenings, I was to accept wher 
Albertine was with me, more to preserve the secrecy of my pleasure than 
to avoid the risk of cold. A vain search was made for the Norwegian 
philosopher. Had he been seized by a colic? Had he been afraid of miss- 
ing the train? Had an aeroplane come to fetch him? Had he been carriec 
aloft in an Assumption? In any case he had vanished without any- 
one's noticing his departure, like a god. "You are unwise," M. de Cam- 
bremer said to me, "it's as cold as chanty." "Why chanty?" the doctor 
inquired. "Beware of choking," the Marquis went on. "My sister never 
goes out at night. However, she is in a pretty bad state at present. In 
any case you oughtn't to stand about bare-headed, put your tile on al 
once." "They are not frigorific chokings," said Cottard sententiously 
"Oh, indeed!" M. de Cambremer bowed. "Of course, if that's your 
opinion. . . ." "Opinions of the press!" said the doctor, smiling round 
his glasses. M. de Cambremer laughed, but, feeling certain that he was 
in the right, insisted: "All the same," he said, "whenever my sister 
goes out after dark, she has an attack." "It's no use quibbling," replied 
the doctor, regardless of his want of manners. "However, I don't practise 
medicine by the seaside, unless I am called in for a consultation. I am here 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 267 

on holiday. 77 He was perhaps even more on holiday than he would have 
liked. M. de Cambremer having said to him as they got into the carriage 
together: "We are fortunate in having quite close to us (not on your 
side of the Day, on the opposite side, but it is quite narrow at that 
point) another medical celebrity, Doctor du Boulbon," Cottard, who, as 
a rule, from 'deontology,' abstained from criticising his colleagues, could 
not help exclaiming, as he had exclaimed to me on the fatal day when 
we had visited the little casino: "But he is not a doctor. He practises 
a literary medicine, it is all fantastic therapeutics, charlatanism. All the 
same, we are on quite good terms. I should take the boat and go over 
and pay him a visit, if I weren't leaving." But, from the air which Cot- 
tard assumed in speaking of du Boulbon to M. de Cambremer, I felt 
that the boat which he would gladly have taken to call upon him would 
have greatly resembled that vessel which, in order to go and ruin the 
waters discovered by another literary doctor, Virgil (who took all their 
patients from them as well), the doctors of Salerno had chartered, but 
which sank with them on the voyage. "Good-bye, my dear Saniette, don't 
forget to come to-morrow, you know how my husband enjoys seeing you. 
He enjoys your wit, your intellect; yes indeed, you know quite well, 
he takes sudden moods, but he can't live without seeing you. It's al- 
ways the first thing he asks me: 'Is Saniette coming? I do so enjoy seeing 
him.' " "I never said anything of the sort," said M. Verdurin to Saniette 
with a feigned frankness which seemed perfectly to reconcile what the 
Mistress had just said with the manner in which he treated Saniette. 
Then looking at his watch, doubtless so as not to prolong the leave- 
taking in the damp night air, he warned the coachmen not to lose any 
time, but to be careful when going down the hill, and assured us that 
we should be in plenty of time for our train. This was to set down the 
faithful, one at one station, another at another, ending with myself, for no 
one else was going as far as Balbec, and beginning with the Cambremers. 
They, so as not to bring their horses all the way up to la Raspeliere at 
night, took the train with us at Douville-Feterne. The station nearest 
to them was indeed not this, which, being already at some distance from 
the Village, was farther still from the mansion, but la Sogne. On arriving 
at the station of Douville-Feterne, M. de Cambremer made a point of 
giving a 'piece,' as Franqoise used to say, to the Verdurins' coachman 
(the nice, sensitive coachman, with melancholy thoughts), for M. de 
Cambremer was generous, and in that respect took, rather, 'after his 
mamma.' But, possibly because his 'papa's' strain intervened at this 
point, he felt a scruple, or else that there might be a mistake either on 
his part, if, for instance, in the dark, he were to give a sou instead of a 
franc, or on the recipient's who might not perceive the importance of 
the present that was being given him. And so he drew attention to it: 
"It is a franc I'm giving you, isn't it?" he said to the coachman, turning 
the coin until it gleamed in the lamplight, and so that the faithful might 
report his action to Mme. Verdurin. "Isn't it? Twenty sous is right, as 
it's only a short drive." He and Mme. de Cambremer left us at la Sogne. 
"I shall tell my sister," he repeated to me r "that you have choking fits, 



268 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

I am sure she will be interested." I understood that he meant: 'will be 
pleased. 7 As for his wife, she employed, in saying good-bye to me, two 
abbreviations which, even in writing, used to shock me at that time in a 
letter, although one has grown accustomed to them since, but which, 
when spoken, seem to me to-day even to contain in their deliberate care- 
lessness, in their acquired familiarity, something insufferably pedantic: 
"Pleased to have met you," she said to me; "greetings to Saint-Loup, if 
you see him." In making this speech, Mme. de Cambremer pronounced 
the name 'Saint-Loupe.' I have never discovered who had pronounced 
it thus in her hearing, or what had led her to suppose that it ought to 
be so pronounced. However it may be, for some weeks afterwards, she 
continued to say 'Saint-Loupe' and a man who had a great admiration 
for her and echoed her in every way did the same. If other people said 
'Saint-Lou,' they would insist, would say emphatically 'Saint-Loupe/ 
whether to teach the others an indirect lesson or to be different from 
them. But, no doubt, women of greater brilliance than Mme. de Cam- 
bremer told her, or gave her indirectly to understand that this was not 
the correct pronunciation, and that what she regarded as a sign of origi- 
nality was a mistake which would make people think her little conversant 
with the usages of society, for shortly afterwards Mme. de Cambremer 
was again saying 'Saint-Lou,' and her admirer similarly ceased to hold 
out, whether because she had lectured him, or because he had noticed 
that she no longer sounded the final consonant, and had said to him- 
self that if a woman of such distinction, energy and ambition had yielded, 
it must have been on good grounds. The worst of her admirers was her 
husband. Mme. de Cambremer loved to tease other people in a way that 
was often highly impertinent. As soon as she began to attack me, or any- 
one else, in this fashion, M. de Cambremer would start watching her victim, 
laughing the while. As the Marquis had a squint a blemish which gives an 
effect of wit to the mirth even of imbeciles the effect of this laughter 
was to bring a segment of pupil into the otherwise complete whiteness of 
his eye. So a sudden rift brings a patch of blue into an otherwise clouded 
sky. His monocle moreover protected, like the glass over a valuable pic- 
ture, this delicate operation. As for the actual intention of his laughter, 
it was hard to say whether it was friendly: "Ah! You rascal! You're in 
an enviable position, aren't you. You have won the favour of a lady who 
has a pretty wit!" Or coarse: "Well, Sir, I hope you'll learn your lesson, 
you've got to eat a slice of humble pie." Or obliging: "I'm here, you 
know, I take it with a laugh because it's all pure fun, but I shan't let 
you be ill-treated." Or cruelly accessory: "I don't need to add my little 
pinch of salt, but you can see, I'm revelling in all the insults she is 
showering on you. I'm wriggling like a hunchback, therefore I approve, I, 
the husband. And so, if you should take it into your head to answer 
back, you would have me to deal with, my young Sir. I should first of 
all give you a pair of resounding smacks, well aimed, then we should 
go and cross swords in the forest of Chantepie." 

Whatever the correct interpretation of the husband's merriment, the 
wife's whimsies soon came to an end. Whereupon M. de Cambremer ceased 



DINNER WITH THE VERDURINS 269 

to laugh, the temporary pupil vanished and as one had forgotten for a 
minute or two to expect an entirely white eyeball, it gave this ruddy 
Norman an air at once anaemic and ecstatic, as though the Marquis had 
just undergone an operation, or were imploring heaven, through his 
monocle, for the palms of martyrdom. 



CHAPTER THREE 

The sorrows of M. de Charlus. His sham duel. The stations 
on the 'Transatlantic.' Weary of Albertine I decide to break 
with her. 



I WAS dropping with sleep. I was taken up to my floor not by the lift- 
boy, but by the squinting page, who to make conversation informed me 
that his sister was still with the gentleman who was so rich, and that, 
on one occasion, when she had made up her mind to return home instead 
of sticking to her business, her gentleman friend had paid a visit to the 
mother of the squinting page and of the other more fortunate children, 
who had very soon made the silly creature return to her protector. "You 
know, Sir, she's a fine lady, my sister is. She plays the piano, she talks 
Spanish. And you would never take her for the sister of the humble em- 
ployee who brings you up in the lift, she denies herself nothing; Madame 
has a maid to herself, I shouldn't be surprised if one day she keeps her 
carriage. She is very pretty, if you could see her, a little too high and 
mighty, but, good lord, you can understand that. She's full of fun. She 
never leaves a hotel without doing something first in a wardrobe or a 
drawer, just to leave a little keepsake with the chambermaid who will have 
to wipe it up. Sometimes she does it in a cab, and after she's paid her 
fare, she'll hide behind a tree, and she doesn't half laugh when the cabby 
finds he's got to clean his cab after her. My father had another stroke 
of luck when he found my young brother that Indian Prince he used to 
know long ago. It's not the same style of thing, of course. But it's a superb 
position. The travelling by itself would be a dream. I'm the only one still 
on the shelf. But you never know. We're a lucky family; perhaps one 
day I shall be President of the Republic. But I'm keeping you talking' 7 
(I had not uttered a single word and was beginning to fall asleep as I 
listened to the flow of his). "Good-night, Sir. Oh! Thank you, Sir. If 
everybody had as kind a heart as you, there wouldn't be any poor people 
left. But, as my sister says, 'there will always have to be the poor so that 
now I'm rich I can s t on them.' You'll pardon the expression. Good- 
night, Sir." 

Perhaps every night we accept the risk of facing, while we are asleep, 
sufferings which we regard as unreal and unimportant because they will 
be felt in the course of a sleep which we suppose to be unconscious. And 
indeed on these evenings when I came back late from la Raspeliere 
I was very sleepy. But after the weather turned cold I could not get to 
sleep at once, for the fire lighted up the room as though there were a 
lamp burning in it. Only it was nothing more than a blazing log, and 
like a lamp too, for that matter, like the day when night gathers its 

270 



THE SORROWS OF M. DE CHARLUS 271 

too bright light was not long in fading; and I entered a state of slumber 
which is like a second room that we take, into which, leaving our own 
room, we go when we want to sleep. It has noises of its own and we are 
sometimes violently awakened by the sound of a bell, perfectly heard by 
our ears, although nobody has rung. It has its servants, its special visitors 
who call to take us out so that we are ready to get up when we are com- 
pelled to realise, by our almost immediate transmigration into the other 
room, the room of overnight, that it is empty, that nobody has called. 
The race that inhabits it is, like that of our first human ancestors, androg- 
ynous. A man in it appears a moment later in the form of a woman. 
Things in it shew a tendency to turn into men, men into friends and 
enemies. The time that elapses for the sleeper, during these spells of 
slumber, is absolutely different from the time in which the life of the 
waking man is passed. Sometimes its course is far more rapid, a quarter 
of an hour seems a day, at other times far longer, we think we have taken 
only a short nap, when we have slept through the day. Then, in the 
chariot of sleep, we descend into depths in which memory can no longer 
overtake it, and on the brink of which the mind has been obliged to re- 
trace its steps. The horses of sleep, like those of the sun, move at so 
steady a pace, in an atmosphere in which there is no longer any resistance, 
that it requires some little aerolith extraneous to ourselves (hurled from 
the azure by some Unknown) to strike our regular sleep (which other- 
wise would have no reason to stop, and would continue with a similar 
motion world without end) and to make it swing sharply round, return 
towards reality, travel without pause, traverse the regions bordering on 
life in which presently the sleeper will hear the sounds that come from 
life, quite vague still, but already perceptible, albeit corrupted and come 
to earth suddenly and awake. Then from those profound slumbers we 
awake in a dawn, not knowing who we are, being nobody, newly born, 
ready for anything, our brain being emptied of that past which was 
previously our life. And perhaps it is more pleasant still when our land- 
ing at the waking-point is abrupt and the thoughts of our sleep, hidden 
by a cloak of oblivion, have not time to return to us in order, before 
sleep ceases. Then, from the black tempest through which we seem to 
have passed (but we do not even say we), we emerge prostrate, without 
a thought, a we that is void of content. What hammer-blow has the per- 
son or thing that is lying there received to make it unconscious of any- 
thing, stupefied until the moment when memory, flooding back, restores 
to it consciousness or personality? Moreover, for both these kinds of 
awakening, we must avoid falling asleep, even into deep slumber, under 
the law of habit. For everything that habit ensnares in her nets, she 
watches closely, we must escape her, take our sleep at a moment when we 
thought we were doing anything else than sleeping, take, in a word, 
a sleep that does not dwell under the tutelage of foresight, in the com- 
pany, albeit latent, of reflexion. At least, in these awakenings which I 
have just described, and which I experienced as a rule when I had been 
dining overnight at la Raspeliere, everything occurred as though by this 
process, and I can testify to it, I the strange human being who, while he 



272 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

waits for death to release him, lives behind closed shutters, knows nothing 
of the world, sits motionless as an owl, and like that bird begins to 
see things a little plainly only when darkness falls. Everything occurs as 
though by this process, but perhaps only a layer of wadding has prevented 
the sleeper from taking in the internal dialogue of memories and the 
incessant verbiage of sleep. For (and this may be equally manifest in 
the other system, vaster, more mysterious, more astral) at the moment of 
his entering the waking state, the sleeper hears a voice inside him saying: 
"Will you come to this dinner to-night, my dear friend, it would be 
such fun? 77 and thinks: "Yes, what fun it will be, I shall go 77 ; then, 
growing wider awake, he suddenly remembers: "My grandmother has 
only a few weeks to live, the Doctor assures us. 7 ' He rings, he weeps at 
the thought that it will not be, as in the past, his grandmother, his dying 
grandmother, but an indifferent waiter that will come in answer to his 
summons. Moreover, when sleep bore him so far away from the world 
inhabited by memory and thought, through an ether in which he was 
alone, more than alone ; not having that companion in whom we perceive 
things, ourself, he was outside the range of time and its measures. 
But now the footman is in the room, and he dares not ask him the time, 
for he does not know whether he has slept, for how many hours he has 
slept (he asks himself whether it should not be how many days, return- 
ing thus with weary body and mind refreshed, his heart sick for home, 
as from a journey too distant not to have taken a long time). We may 
of course insist that there is but one time, for the futile reason that 
it is by looking at the clock that we have discovered to have been merely 
a quarter of an hour what we had supposed a day. But at the moment 
when we make this discovery we are a man awake, plunged in the time 
of waking men, we have deserted the other time. Perhaps indeed more 
than another time: another life. The pleasures that we enjoy in sleep, 
we do not include them in the list of the pleasures that we have felt in the 
course of our existence. To allude only to the most grossly sensual of 
them all, which of us, on waking, has not felt a certain irritation at hav- 
ing experienced in his sleep a pleasure which, if he is anxious not to tire 
himself, he is not, once he is awake, at liberty to repeat indefinitely dur- 
ing the day. It seems a positive waste. We have had pleasure, in an- 
other life, which is not ours. Sufferings and pleasures of the dream-world 
(which generally vanish soon enough after our waking), if we make them 
figure in a budget, it is not in the current account of our life. 

Two times, I have said; perhaps there is only one after all, not that 
the time of the waking man has any validity for the sleeper, but perhaps 
because the other life, the life in which he sleeps, is not in its profounder 
part included in the category of time. I came to this conclusion when 
on the mornings after dinners at la Raspeliere I used to lie so completely 
asleep. For this reason. I was beginning to despair, on waking, when 
I found that, after I had rung the bell ten times, the waiter did not 
appear. At the eleventh ring he came. It was only the first after all. 
The other ten had been mere suggestions in my sleep which still hung 
about me, of the peal that I had been meaning to sound. My numbed 



THE SORROWS OF M. DE CHARLUS 273 

hands had never even moved. Well, on those mornings (and this is 
what makes me say that sleep is perhaps unconscious of the law of time) 
my effort to awaken consisted chiefly in an effort to make the obscure, 
undefined mass of the sleep in which I had just been living enter into the 
scale of time. It is no easy task; sleep, which does not know whether we 
have slept for two hours or two days, cannot provide any indication. 
And if we do not find one outside, not being able to re-enter time, we 
fall asleep again, for five minutes which seem to us three hours. 

I have always said and have proved by experiment that the most 
powerful soporific is sleep itself. After having slept profoundly for two 
hours, having fought against so many giants, and formed so many life- 
long friendships, it is far more difficult to awake than after taking several 
grammes of veronal. And so, reasoning from one thing to the other, I 
was surprised to hear from the Norwegian philosopher, who had it from M. 
Boutroux, "my eminent colleague pardon me, my brother," what M. 
Bergson thought of the peculiar effects upon the memory of soporific drugs. 
"Naturally," M. Bergson had said to M. Boutroux, if one was to believe 
the Norwegian philosopher, "soporifics, taken from time to time in moder- 
ate doses, have no effect upon that solid memory of our everyday life 
which is so firmly established within us. But there are other forms of 
memory, loftier, but also more unstable. One of my colleagues lectures 
upon ancient history. He tells me that if, overnight, he has taken a tablet 
to make him sleep, he has great difficulty, during his lecture, in recalling 
the Greek quotations that he requires. The doctor who recommended these 
tablets assured him that they had no effect upon the memory. 'That is 
perhaps because you do not have to quote Greek,' the historian answered, 
not without a note of derisive pride." 

I cannot say whether this conversation between M. Bergson and M. 
Boutroux is accurately reported. The Norwegian philosopher, albeit so 
profound and so lucid, so passionately attentive, may have misunderstood. 
Personally, in my own experience I have found the opposite result. The 
moments of oblivion that come to us in the morning after we have taken 
certain narcotics have a resemblance that is only partial, ^though disturb- 
ing, to the oblivion that reigns during a night of natural and profound 
sleep. Now what I find myself forgetting in either case is not some line 
of Baudelaire, which on the other hand keeps sounding in my ear, it is 
not some concept of one of the philosophers above-named, it is the 
actual reality of the ordinary things that surround me if I am asleep 
my non-perception of which makes me an idiot; it is, if I am awakened 
and proceed to emerge from an artificial slumber, not the system of 
Porphyry or Plotinus, which I can discuss as fluently as at any other 
time, but the answer that I have promised to give to an invitation, the 
memory of which is replaced by a universal blank. The lofty thought re- 
mains in its place; what the soporific has put out of action is the power 
to act in little things, in everything that demands activity in order to 
seize at the right moment, to grasp some memory of everyday life. In 
spite of all that may be said about survival after the destruction of 
the brain, I observe that each alteration of the brain is a partial death. We 



274 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

possess all our memories, but not the faculty of recalling them, said, 
echoing M. Bergson, the eminent Norwegian philosopher whose language 
I have made no attempt to imitate in order not to prolong my story 
unduly. But not the faculty of recalling them. But what, then, is a memory 
which we do not recall? Or, indeed, let us go farther. We do not recall 
our memories of the last thirty years; but we are wholly steeped in them; 
why then stop short at thirty years, why not prolong back to before 
out birth this anterior life? The moment that I do not know a whole 
section of the memories that are behind me, the moment that they are 
invisible to me, that I have not the faculty of calling them to me, who 
can assure me that in that mass unknown to me there are not some that 
extend back much farther than my human life. If I can have in me and 
round me so many memories which I do not remember, this oblivion (a 
de facto oblivion, at least, since I have not the faculty of seeing anything) 
may extend over a life which I have lived in the body of another man, 
even upon another planet. A common oblivion effaces all. But what, in 
that case, signifies that immortality of the soul the reality of which the 
Norwegian philosopher affirmed? The person that I shall be after death 
has no more reason to remember the man whom I have been since my 
birth than the latter to remember what I was before it. 

The waiter came in. I did not mention to him that I had rung several 
times, for I was beginning to realise that hitherto I had only dreamed that 
I was ringing. I was alarmed nevertheless by the thought that this dream 
had had the clear precision of experience. Experience would, reciprocally, 
have the irreality of a dream. 

Instead I asked him who it was that had been ringing so often during 
the night. He told me: "Nobody," and could prove his statement, for 
the bell-board would have registered any ring. And yet I could hear the 
repeated, almost furious peals which were still echoing in my ears and 
were to remain perceptible for several days. It is however seldom that sleep 
thus projects into our waking life memories that do not perish with it. We 
can count these aeroliths. If it is an idea that sleep has forged, it soon 
breaks up into slender, irrecoverable fragments. But, in this instance, sleep 
had fashioned sounds. More material and simpler, they lasted longer. I 
was astonished by the relative earliness of the hour, as told me by the 
waiter. I was none the less refreshed. It is the light sleeps that have a long 
duration, because, being an intermediate state between waking and sleep- 
ing, preserving a somewhat faded but permanent impression of the former, 
they require infinitely more time to refresh us than a profound sleep, 
which may be short. I felt quite comfortable for another reason. If remem- 
bering that we are tired is enough to make us feel our tiredness, saying to 
oneself: "I am refreshed," is enough to create refreshment. Now I had 
been dreaming that M. de Charlus was a hundred and ten years old, and 
had just boxed the ears of his own mother, Madame Verdurin, because 
she had paid five thousand millions for a bunch of violets; I was therefore 
assured that I had slept profoundly, had dreamed the reverse of what had 
been in my thoughts overnight and of all the possibilities of life at the 
moment; this was enough to make me feel entirely refreshed. 



THE SORROWS OF M. DE CHARLUS 2?S 

I should greatly have astonished my mother, who could not understand 
M. de Charlus's assiduity in visiting the Verdurins, had I told her whom 
(on the very day on which Albertine's toque had been ordered, without 
a word about it to her, in order that it might come as a surprise) M. de 
Charlus had brought to dine in a private room at the Grand Hotel, Balbec. 
His guest was none other than the footman of a lady who was a cousin 
of the Cambremers. This footman was very smartly dressed, and, asjie 
crossed the hall, with the Baron, 'did the man of fashion' as Saint-Loup 
would have said in the eyes of the visitors. Indeed, the young page-boys, 
the Levites who were swarming down the temple steps at that moment 
because it was the time when they came on duty, paid no attention to the 
two strangers, one of whom, M. de Charlus, kept his eyes lowered to shew 
that he was paying little if any to them. He appeared to be trying to carve 
his way through their midst. "Prosper, dear hope of a sacred nation," he 
said, recalling a passage from Racine, and applying to it a wholly different 
meaning. "Pardon?" asked the footman, who was not well up in the classics. 
M. de Charlus made no reply, for he took a certain pride in never answering 
questions and in marching straight ahead as though there were no other 
visitors in the hotel, or no one existed in the world except himself, Baron 
de Charlus. But, having continued to quote the speech of Josabeth: "Come, 
come, my children," he felt a revulsion and did not, like her, add: "Bid 
them approach," for these young people had not yet reached the age at 
which sex is completely developed, and which appealed to M. de Charlus. 
Moreover, if he had written to Madame de Chevregny's footman, because 
he had had no doubt of his docility, he had hoped to meet some one more 
virile. On seeing him, he found him more effeminate than he would have 
liked. He told him that he had been expecting some one else, for he knew 
by sight another of Madame de Chevregny's footmen, whom he had noticed 
upon the box of her carriage. This was an extremely rustic type of peasant, 
the very opposite of him who had come, who, on the other hand, regarding 
his own effeminate ways as adding to his attractiveness, and never doubt- 
ing that it was this man-of- the- world air that had captivated M. de Charlus, 
could not even guess whom the Baron meant. "But there is no one else 
in the house, except one that you can't have given the eye to, he is hideous, 
just like a great peasant." And at the thought that it was perhaps this 
rustic whom the Baron had seen, he felt his self-esteem wounded. The 
Baron guessed this, and, widening his quest: "But I have not taken a vow 
that I will know only Mme. de Chevregny's men," he said. "Surely there 
are plenty of fellows in one house or another here or in Paris, since you 
are leaving soon, that you could introduce to me?" "Oh, no!" replied the 
footman, "I never go with anyone of my own class. I only speak to them 
on duty. But there is one very nice person I can make you know." "Who?" 
asked the Baron. "The Prince de Guermantes." M. de Guermantes was 
vexed at being offered only a man so advanced in years, one, moreover, 
to whom he had no need to apply to a footman for an introduction. And 
so he declined the offer in a dry tone and, not letting himself be discouraged 
by the menial's social pretensions, began to explain to him again what he 
wanted, the style, the type, a jockey, for instance, and so on. ... Fearing 



276 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

lest the solicitor, who went past at that moment, might have heard them, 
he thought it cunning to shew that he was speaking of anything in the 
worM rather than what his hearer might suspect, and said with emphasis 
and in ringing tones, but as though he were simply continuing his con- 
versation : "Yes, in spite of my age, I still keep up a passion for collecting, 
a passion for pretty things, I will do anything to secure an old bronze, 
an jearly lustre. I adore the Beautiful." But to make the footman under- 
stand the change of subject he had so rapidly executed, M. de Charlus 
laid such stress upon each word, and what was more, to be heard by the 
solicitor, he shouted his words so loud that this charade should in itself 
have been enough to reveal what it concealed from ears more alert than 
those of the officer of the court. He suspected nothing, any more than 
any of the other residents in the hotel, all of whom saw a fashionable 
foreigner in the footman so smartly attired. On the other hand, if the gen- 
tlemen were deceived and took him for a distinguished American, no sooner 
did he appear before the servants than he was spotted by them, as one 
convict recognises another, indeed scented afar off, as certain animals 
scent one another. The head waiters raised their eyebrows. Aime cast a 
suspicious glance. The wine waiter, shrugging his shoulders, uttered behind 
his hand (because he thought it polite) an offensive expression which 
everybody heard. And even our old Frangoise, whose sight was failing 
and who went past at that moment at the foot of the staircase to dine with 
the courriers, raised her head, recognised a servant where the hotel guests 
never suspected one as the old nurse Euryclea recognises Ulysses long 
before the suitors seated at the banquet and seeing, arm in arm with 
him, M. de Charlus, assumed an appalled expression, as though all of a 
sudden slanders which she had heard repeated and had not believed had 
acquired a heartrending probability in her eyes. She never spoke to me, 
nor to anyone else, of this incident, but it must have caused a considerable 
commotion in her brain, for afterwards, whenever in Paris she happened 
to see 'Julien/ to whom until then she had been so greatly attached, she 
still treated him with politeness, but with a politeness that had cooled 
and was always tempered with a strong dose of reserve. This same incident 
led some one else to confide in me: this was Aime. When I encountered 
M. de Charlus, he, not having expected to meet me, raised his hand and 
called out "Good evening" with the indifference outwardly, at least 
of a great nobleman who believes that everything is allowed him and thinks 
it better not to appear to be hiding anything. Aime, who at that moment 
was watching him with a suspicious eye and saw that I greeted the com- 
panion of the person in whom he was certain that he detected a servant, 
asked me that same evening who he was. For, for some time past, Aime 
had shewn a fondness for talking, or rather, as he himself put it, doubtless 
in order to emphasise the character philosophical, according to him 
of these talks, 'discussing' with me. And as I often said to him that it 
distressed me that he should have to stand beside the table while I ate 
instead of being able to sit down and share my meal, he declared that he 
had never seen a guest shew such 'sound reasoning.' He was talking at that 
moment to two waiters. They had bowed to me, I did not know why their 



THE SORROWS OF M. DE CHARLUS 277 

faces were unfamiliar, albeit their conversation sounded a note which 
seemed to me not to be novel. Aime was scolding them both because of 
their matrimonial engagements, of which he disapproved. He appealed to 
me, I said that I could not have any opinion on the matter since I did 
not know them. They told me their names, reminded me that they had 
often waited upon me at Rivebelle. But one had let his moustache grow, 
the other had shaved his off and had had his head cropped ; and for this 
reason, albeit it was the same head as before that rested upon the shoul- 
ders of each of them (and not a different head as in the faulty restorations 
of Notre-Dame), it had remained almost as invisible to me as those objects 
which escape the most minute search and are actually staring everybody 
in the face where nobody notices them, on the mantelpiece. As soon as I 
knew their names, I recognised exactly the uncertain music of their voices 
because I saw once more the old face which made it clear. "They want to 
get married and they haven't even learned English!" Aime said to me, 
without reflecting that I was little versed in the ways of hotel service, 
and could not be aware that a person who does not know foreign languages 
cannot be certain of getting a situation. I, who supposed that he would 
have no difficulty in finding out that the newcomer was M. de Charlus, 
and indeed imagined that he must remember him, having waited upon him 
in the dining-room when the Baron came, during my former visit to Balbec, 
to see Mme. de Villeparisis, I told him his name. Not only did Aime not 
remember the Baron de Charlus, but the name appeared to make a pro- 
found impression upon him. He told me that he would look for a letter 
next day in his room which I might perhaps be able to explain to him. 
I was all the more astonished in that M. de Charlus, when he had wished 
to give me one of Bergotte's books, at Balbec, the other year, had specially 
asked for Aime, whom he must have recognised later on in that Paris 
restaurant where I had taken luncheon with Saint-Loup and his mistress 
and where M. de Charlus had come to spy upon us. It is t r ue that Aime 
had not been able to execute these commissions in person, being on the 
former occasion in bed, and on the latter engaged in waiting. I had never- 
theless grave doubts as to his sincerity, when he pretended not to know 
M. de Charlus. For one thing, he must have appealed to the Baron. Like 
all the upstairs waiters of the Balbec Hotel, like several of the Prince de 
Guermantes's footmen, Aime belonged to a race more ancient than that 
of the Prince, therefore more noble. When you asked for a sitting-room, 
you thought at first that you were alone. But presently, in the service- 
room you caught sight of a sculptural waiter, of that ruddy Etruscan kind 
of which Aime was typical, slightly aged by excessive consumption of 
champagne and seeing the inevitable hour approach for Contrexeville 
water. Not all the visitors asked them merely to wait upon them. The 
underlings who were young, conscientious, busy, who had mistresses wait- 
ing for them outside, made off. Whereupon Aime reproached them with 
not being serious. He had every right to do so. He himself was serious. 
He had a wife and children, and was ambitious on their behalf. And so 
the advances made to him by a strange lady or gentleman he never re- 
pulsed, though it meant his staying all night. For business must come be- 



278 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

fore everything. He was so much of the type that attracted M. de Charlus 
that I suspected him of falsehood when he told me that he did not know 
him. I was wrong. The page had been perfectly truthful when he told the 
Baron that Aime (who had given him a dressing-down for it next day) 
had gone to bed (or gone out), and on the other occasion was busy waiting. 
But imagination outreaches reality. And the page-boy's embarrassment 
had probably aroused in M. de Charlus doubts as to the sincerity of his 
excuses that had wounded sentiments of which Aime had no suspicion. 
We have seen moreover that Saint-Loup had prevented Aime from going 
out to the carriage in which M. de Charlus, who had managed somehow 
or other to discover the waiter's new address, received a further disappoint- 
ment. Aime, who had not noticed him, felt an astonishment that may be 
imagined when, on the evening of that very day on which I had taken 
luncheon with Saint-Loup and his mistress, he received a letter sealed 
with the Guermantes arms, from which I shall quote a few passages here 
as an example of unilateral insanity in an intelligent man addressing an 
imbecile endowed with sense. "Sir, I have been unsuccessful, notwith- 
standing efforts that would astonish many people who have sought in vain 
to be greeted and welcomed by myself, in persuading you to listen to cer- 
tain explanations which you have not asked of me but which I have felt 
it to be incumbent upon my dignity and your own to offer you. I am going 
therefore to write down here what it would have been more easy to say to 
you in person. I shall not conceal from you that, the first time that I set 
eyes upon you at Balbec, I found your face frankly antipathetic." Here 
followed reflexions upon the resemblance remarked only on the follow- 
ing day to a deceased friend to whom M. de Charlus had been deeply 
attached. "The thought then suddenly occurred to me that you might, 
without in any way encroaching upon the demands of your profession, 
come to see me and, by joining me in the card games with which his mirth 
used to dispel my gloom, give me the illusion that he was not dead. What- 
ever the nature of the more or less fatuous suppositions which you probably 
formed, suppositions more within the mental range of a servant (who does 
not even deserve the name of servant since he has declined to serve) than 
the comprehension of so lofty a sentiment, you probably thought that you 
were giving yourself importance, knowing not who I was nor what I was, 
by sending word to me, when I asked you to fetch me a book, that you were 
in bed; but it is a mistake to imagine that impolite behaviour ever adds 
to charm, in which you moreover are entirely lacking. I should have ended 
matters there had I not, by chance, the following morning, found an op- 
portunity of speaking to you. Your resemblance to my poor friend was so 
accentuated, banishing even the intolerable protuberance of your too 
prominent chin, that I realised that it was the deceased who at that mo- 
ment was lending you his own kindly expression so as to permit you to 
regain your hold over me and to prevent you from missing the unique 
opportunity that was being offered you. Indeed, although I have no wish, 
since there is no longer any object and it is unlikely that I shall meet you 
again in this life, to introduce coarse questions of material interest, I should 
have been only too glad to obey the prayer of my dead friend (for I believe 



THE SORROWS OF M. DE CHARLUS 

in the Communion of Saints and in their deliberate intervention in the 
destiny of the living), that I should treat you as I used to treat him, who 
had his carriage, his servants, and to whom it was quite natural that I 
should consecrate the greater part of my fortune since I loved him as a 
father loves his son. You have decided otherwise. To my request that you 
should fetch me a book you sent the reply that you were obliged to go out. 
And this morning when I sent to ask you to come to my carriage, you 
then, if I may so speak without blasphemy, denied me for the third time. 
You will excuse my not enclosing in this envelope the lavish gratuity which 
I intended to give you at Balbec and to which it would be too painful to 
me to restrict myself in dealing with a person with whom I had thought 
for a moment of sharing all that I possess. At least you might spare me 
the trouble of making a fourth vain attempt to find you at your restaurant, 
to which my patience will not extend." (Here M. de Charlus gave his ad- 
dress, stated the hours at which he would be at home, etc.) "Farewell, Sir. 
Since I assume that, resembling so strongly the friend whom I have lost, 
you cannot be entirely stupid, otherwise physiognomy would be a false 
science, I am convinced that if, one day, you think of this incident again, 
it will not be without feeling some regret and some remorse. For my part, 
believe that I am quite sincere in saying that I retain no bitterness. I should 
have preferred that we should part with a less unpleasant memory than 
this third futile endeavour. It will soon be forgotten. We are like those 
vessels which you must often have seen at Balbec, which have crossed one 
another's course for a moment; it might have been to the advantage of 
each of them to stop; but one of them has decided otherwise; presently 
they will no longer even see one another on the horizon and their meeting 
is a thing out of mind; but, before this final parting, each of them salutes 
the other, and so at this point, Sir, wishing you all good fortune, does 

THE BARON DE CHARLUS." 

Aime had not even read this letter through, being able to make nothing 
of it and suspecting a hoax. When I had explained to him who the Baron 
was, he appeared to be lost in thought and to be feeling the regret that 
M. de Charlus had anticipated. I would not be prepared to swear that he 
would not at that moment have written a letter of apology to a man who 
gave carriages to his friends. But in the interval M. de Charlus had made 
Morel's acquaintance. It was true that, his relations with Morel being 
possibly Platonic, M. de Charlus occasionally sought to spend an evening 
in company such as that in which I had just met him in the hall. But he 
was no longer able to divert from Morel the violent sentiment which, at 
liberty a few years earlier, had asked nothing better than to fasten itself 
upon Aime and had dictated the letter which had distressed me, for its 
writer's sake, when the head waiter shewed me it. It was, in view of the 
anti-social nature of M. de Charlus's love, a more striking example of the 
insensible, sweeping force of these currents of passion by which the lover, 
like a swimmer, is very soon carried out of sight of land. No doubt the 
love of a normal man may also, when the lover, by the successive invention 
of his desires, regrets, disappointments, plans, constructs a whole romance 



280 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

about a woman whom he does not know, allow the two legs of the compass 
to gape at a quite remarkably wide angle. All the same, such an angle was 
singularly enlarged by the character of a passion which is not generally 
shared and by the difference in social position between M. de Charlus 
and Aime. 

Every day I went out with Albertine. She had decided to take up paint- 
ing again and had chosen as the subject of her first attempts the church 
of Saint- Jean de la Raise which nobody ever visited and very few had 
even heard of, a spot difficult to describe, impossible to discover without 
a guide, slow of access in its isolation, more than half an hour from the 
Epreville station, after one had long left behind one the last houses of the 
village of Quetteholme. As to the name Epreville I found that the cure's 
book and Brichot's information were at variance. According to one, Epre- 
ville was the ancient Sprevilla; the other derived the name from Aprivilla. 
On our first visit we took a little train in the opposite direction from 
Feterne, that is to say towards Grattevast. But we were in the dog days 
and it had been a terrible strain simply to go out of doors immediately 
after luncheon. I should have preferred not to start so soon ; the luminous 
and burning air provoked thoughts of indolence and cool retreats. It filled 
my mother's room and mine, according to their exposure, at varying tem- 
peratures, like rooms in a Turkish bath. Mamma's dressing-room, festooned 
by the sun with a dazzling, Moorish whiteness, appeared to be sunk at the 
bottom of a well, because of the four plastered walls on which it looked 
out, while far above, in the empty space, the sky, whose fleecy white waves 
one saw slip past, one behind another, seemed (because of the longing 
that one felt), whether built upon a terrace or seen reversed in a mirror 
hung above the window, a tank filled with blue water, reserved for bathers. 
Notwithstanding this scorching temperature, we had taken the one o'clock 
train. But Albertine had been very hot in the carriage, hotter still in the 
long walk across country, and I was afraid of her catching cold when she 
proceeded to sit still in that damp hollow where the sun's rays did not 
penetrate. Having, on the other hand, as long ago as our first visits to 
Elstir, made up my mind that she would appreciate not merely luxury but 
even a certain degree of comfort of which her want of money deprived her, 
I had made arrangements with a Balbec jobmaster that a carriage was to 
be sent every day to take us out. To escape from the heat we took the 
road through the forest of Chantepie. The invisibility of the innumerable 
birds, some of them almost sea-birds, that conversed with one another 
from the trees on either side of us, gave the same impression of repose 
that one has when one shuts one's eyes. By Albertine's side, enchained by 
her arms within the carriage, I listened to these Oceanides. And when by 
chance I caught sight of one of these musicians as he flitted from one leaf 
to the shelter of another, there was so little apparent connexion between 
him and his songs that I could not believe that I beheld their cause in the 
little body, fluttering, humble, startled and unseeing. The carriage could 
not take us all the way to the church. I stopped it when we had passed 
through Quetteholme and bade Albertine good-bye. For she had alarmed 
me by saying to me of this church as of other buildings, of certain pictures: 



THE SORROWS OF M. DE CHARLUS 28l 

"What a pleasure it would be to see that with you!" This pleasure was 
one that I did not feel myself capable of giving her. I felt it myself in front 
of beautiful things only if I was alone or pretended to be alone and did 
not speak. But since she supposed that she might, thanks to me, feel sensa- 
tions of art which are not communicated thus I thought it more prudent 
to say that I must leave her, would come back to fetch her at the end of 
the day, but that in the meantime I must go back with the carriage to pay 
a call on Mme. Verdurin or on the Cambremers, or even spend an hour 
with Mamma at Balbec, but never farther afield. To begin with, that is to 
say. For, Albertine having once said to me petulantly: "It's a bore that 
Nature has arranged things so badly and put Saint- Jean de la Haise in 
one direction, la Raspeliere in another, so that you're imprisoned for the 
whole day in the part of the country you've chosen;" as soon as the toque 
and veil had come I ordered, to my eventual undoing, a motor-car from 
Saint-Fargeau (Sanctus Ferreolus, according to the cure's book). Alber- 
tine, whom I had kept in ignorance and who had come to call for me, was 
surprised when she heard in front of the hotel the purr of the engine, de- 
lighted when she learned that this motor was for ourselves. I made her 
come upstairs for a moment to my room. She jumped for joy. "We are 
going to pay a call on the Verdurins." "Yes, but you'd better not go dressed 
like that since you are going to have your motor. There, you will look 
better in these." And I brought out the toque and veil which I had hidden. 
"They're for me? Oh! You are an angel," she cried, throwing her arms 
round my neck. Aime who met us on the stairs, proud of Albertine's smart 
attire and of our means of transport, for these vehicles were still com- 
paratively rare at Balbec, gave himself the pleasure of coming downstairs 
behind us. Albertine, anxious to display herself in her new garments, asked 
me to have the car opened, as we could shut it later on when we wished 
to be more private. "Now then," said Aime to the driver, with whom he 
was not acquainted and who had not stirred, "don't you (tu) hear, you're 
to open your roof?" For Aime, sophisticated by hotel life, in which more- 
over he had won his way to exalted rank, was not as shy as the cab driver 
to whom Franqoise was a 'lady'; notwithstanding the want of any formal 
introduction, plebeians whom he had never seen before he addressed as 
tu y though it was hard to say whether this was aristocratic disdain on his 
part or democratic fraternity. "I am engaged," replied the chauffeur, who 
did not know me by sight. "I am ordered for Mile. Simonet. I can't take 
this gentleman." Aime burst out laughing: "Why, you great pumpkin," 
he said to the driver, whom he at once convinced, "this is Mademoiselle 
Simonet, and Monsieur, who tells you to open the roof of your car, is the 
person who has engaged you." And as Aime, although personally he had 
no feeling for Albertine, was for my sake proud of the garments she was 
wearing, he whispered to the chauffeur: "Don't get the chance of driving 
a Princess like that every day, do you?" On this first occasion it was not 
I alone that was able to go to la Raspeliere as I did on other days, while 
Albertine painted ; she decided to go there with me. She did indeed think 
that we might stop here and there on our way, but supposed it to be im- 
possible to start by going to Saint- Jean de la Raise. That is to say in an- 



282 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

other direction, and to make an excursion which seemed to be reserved 
for a different day. She learned on the contrary from the driver that nothing 
could be easier than to go to Saint- Jean, which he could do in twenty min- 
utes, and that we might stay there if we chose for hours, or go on much 
farther, for from Quetteholme to la Raspeliere would not take more than 
thirty-five minutes. We realised this as soon as the vehicle, starting off, 
covered in one bound twenty paces of an excellent horse. Distances are 
only the relation of space to time and vary with that relation. We express 
the difficulty that we have in getting to a place in a system of miles or 
kilometres which becomes false as soon as that difficulty decreases. Art is 
modified by it also, when a village which seemed to be in a different world 
from some other village becomes its neighbour in a landscape whose di- 
mensions are altered. In any case the information that there may perhaps 
exist a universe in which two and two make five and the straight line is 
not the shortest way between two points would have astonished Albertine 
far less than to hear the driver say that it was easy to go in a single after- 
noon to Saint- Jean and la Raspeliere, Douville and Quetteholme, Saint- 
Mars le Vieux and Saint-Mars le Vetu, Gourville and Old Balbec, Tourville 
and Feterne, prisoners hitherto as hermetically confined in the cells of 
distinct days as long ago were Meseglise and Guermantes, upon which the 
same eyes could not gaze in the course of one afternoon, delivered now 
by the giant with the seven-league boots, came and clustered about our 
tea-time their towers and steeples, their old gardens which the encroaching 
wood sprang back to reveal. 

Coming to the foot of the cliff road, the car took it in its stride, with 
a continuous sound like that of a knife being ground, while the sea falling 
away grew broader beneath us. The old rustic houses of Montsurvent ran 
towards us, clasping to their bosoms vine or rose-bush ; the firs of la Ras- 
peliere, more agitated than when the evening breeze was rising, ran in 
every direction to escape from us and a new servant whom I had never 
seen before came to open the door for us on the terrace, while the gar- 
dener's son, betraying a precocious bent, devoured the machine with his 
gaze. As it was not a Monday we did not know whether we should find 
Mme. Verdurin, for except upon that day, when she was at home, it was 
unsafe to call upon her without warning. No doubt she was 'principally' 
at home, but this expression, which Mme. Swann employed at the time 
when she too was seeking to form her little clan, and to draw visitors to 
herself without moving towards them, an expression which she interpreted 
as meaning 'on principle/ meant no more than 'as a general rule/ that is 
to say with frequent exceptions. For not only did Mme. Verdurin like going 
out, but she carried her duties as a hostess to extreme lengths, and when 
she had had people to luncheon, immediately after the coffee, liqueurs and 
cigarettes (notwithstanding the first somnolent effects of the heat and of 
digestion in which they would have preferred to watch through the leafy 
boughs of the terrace the Jersey packet passing over the enamelled sea), 
the programme included a series of excursions in the course of which her 
guests, installed by force in carriages, were conveyed, willy-nilly, to look 
at one or other of the views that abound in the neighbourhood of Douville. 



THE SORROWS OF M. DE CHARLUS 283 

This second part of the entertainment was, as it happened (once the effort 
to rise and enter the carriage had been made), no less satisfactory than 
the other to the guests, already prepared by the succulent dishes, the 
vintage wines or sparkling cider to let themselves be easily intoxicated by 
the purity of the breeze and the magnificence of the views. Mme. Verdurin 
used to make strangers visit these rather as though they were portions 
(more or less detached) of her property, which you could not help going 
to see the moment you came to luncheon with her and which conversely 
you would never have known had you not been entertained by the Mistress. 
This claim to arrogate to herself the exclusive right over walks and drives, 
as over Morel's and formerly Dechambre's playing, and to compel the 
landscapes to form part of the little clan, was not for that matter so absurd 
as it appears at first sight. Mme. Verdurin deplored the want of taste which, 
according to her, the Cambremers shewed in the furnishing of la Raspeliere 
and the arrangement of the garden, but still more their want of initiative 
in the excursions that they took or made their guests take in the surround- 
ing country. Just as, according to her, la Raspeliere was only beginning 
to become what it should always have been now that it was the asylum 
of the little clan, so she insisted that the Cambremers, perpetually explor- 
ing in their barouche, along the railway line, by the shore, the one ugly 
road that there was in the district, had been living in the place all their 
lives but did not know it. There was a grain of truth in this assertion. 
From force of habit, lack of imagination, want of interest in a country 
which seemed hackneyed because it was so near, the Cambremers when 
they left their home went always to the same places and by the same roads. 
To be sure they laughed heartily at the Verdurins' offer to shew them 
their native country. But when it came to that, they and even their coach- 
man would have been incapable of taking us to the splendid, more or less 
secret places, to which M. Verdurin brought us, now forcing the barrier 
of a private but deserted property upon which other people would not 
have thought it possible to venture, now leaving the carriage to follow a 
path which was not wide enough for wheeled traffic, but in either case with 
the certain recompense of a marvellous view. Let us say in passing that 
the garden at la Raspeliere was in a sense a compendium of all the ex- 
cursions to be made in a radius of many miles. For one thing because of 
its commanding position, overlooking on one side the valley, on the other 
the sea, and also because, on one and the same side, the seaward side for 
instance, clearings had been made through the trees in such a way that 
from one point you embraced one horizon, from another another. There 
was at each of these points of view a bench; you went and sat down in turn 
upon the bench from which there was the view of Balbec, or Parville, or 
Douville. Even to command a single view one bench would have been 
placed more or less on the edge of the cliff, another farther back. From 
the latter you had a foreground of verdure and a horizon which seemed 
already the vastest imaginable, but which became infinitely larger if, 
continuing along a little path, you went to the next bench from which you 
scanned the whole amphitheatre of the sea. There you could make out 
exactly the sound of the waves which did not penetrate to the more secluded 



284 CITIES OF THE PI^AIN 

parts of the garden, where the sea was still visible but no longer audible. 
These resting-places bore at la Raspeliere among the occupants of the 
house the name of 'views.' And indeed they assembled round the mansion 
the finest views of the neighbouring places, coastline or forest, seen greatly 
diminished by distance, as Hadrian collected in his villa reduced models 
of the most famous monuments of different countries. The name that fol- 
lowed the word View' was not necessarily that of a place on the coast, 
but often that of the opposite shore of the bay which you could make out, 
standing out in a certain relief notwithstanding the extent of the panorama. 
Just as you took a book from M. Verdurin's library to go and read for 
an hour at the 'view of Balbec,' so if the sky was clear the liqueurs would 
be served at the 'view of Rivebelle,' on condition however that the wind 
was not too strong, for, in spite of the trees planted on either side, the air 
up there was keen. To come back to the carriage parties that Mme. 
Verdurin used to organise for the afternoons, the Mistress, if on her return 
she found the cards of some social butterfly 'on a flying visit to the coast/ 
would pretend to be overjoyed, but was actually broken-hearted at having 
missed his visit and (albeit people at this date came only to 'see the house' 
or to make the acquaintance for a day of a woman whose artistic salon 
was famous, but outside the pale in Paris) would at once make M. Ver- 
durin invite him to dine on the following Wednesday. As the tourist was 
often obliged to leave before that day, or was afraid to be out late, Mme. 
Verdurin had arranged that on Mondays she was always to be found at 
teatime. These tea-parties were not at all large, and I had known more 
brilliant gatherings of the sort in Paris, at the Princesse de Guermantes's, 
at Mme. de Gallifet's or Mme. d'Arpajon's. But this was not Paris, and 
the charm of the setting enhanced, in my eyes, not merely the pleasantness 
of the party but the merits of the visitors. A meeting with some social 
celebrity, which in Paris would have given me no pleasure, but which at 
la Raspeliere, whither he had come from a distance by Feterne or the 
forest of Chantepie, changed in character, in importance, became an agree- 
able incident. Sometimes it was a person whom I knew quite well and 
would not have gone a yard to meet at the Swanns'. But his name sounded 
differently upon this cliff, like the name of an actor whom one has con- 
stantly heard in a theatre, printed upon the announcement, in a different 
colour, of an extraordinary gala performance, where his notoriety is 
suddenly multiplied by the unexpectedness of the rest. As in the country 
people behave without ceremony, the social celebrity often took it upon 
him to bring the friends with whom he was staying, murmuring the excuse 
in Mme. Verdurin's ear that he could not leave them behind as he was 
living in their house; to his hosts on the other hand he pretended to offer, 
as a sort of courtesy, the distraction, in a monotonous seaside life, of being 
taken to a centre of wit and intellect, of visiting a magnificent mansion 
and of making an excellent tea. This composed at once an assembly of 
several persons of semi-distinction; and if a little slice of garden with a 
few trees, which would seem shabby in the country, acquires an extraor- 
dinary charm in the Avenue Gabriel or let us say the Rue de Monceau, 
where only multi-millionaires can afford such a luxury, inversely gentle- 



THE SORROWS OF M. DE CHARLUS 285 

men who are of secondary importance at a Parisian party stood out at 
their full value on a Monday afternoon at la Raspeliere. No sooner did 
they sit down at the table covered with a cloth embroidered in red, beneath 
the painted panels, to partake of the rock cakes, Norman puff pastry, 
tartlets shaped like boats filled with cherries like beads of coral, 'diplo- 
matic' cakes, than these guests were subjected, by the proximity of the 
great bowl of azure upon which the window opened, and which you could 
not help seeing when you looked at them, to a profound alteration, a trans- 
mutation which changed them into something more precious than before. 
What was more, even before you set eyes on them, when you came on a 
Monday to Mme. Verdurin's, people who in Paris would scarcely turn 
their heads to look, so familiar was the sight of a string of smart carriages 
waiting outside a great house, felt their hearts throb at the sight of the 
two or three broken-down dog-carts drawn up in front of la Raspeliere, 
beneath the tall firs. No doubt this was because the rustic setting was 
different, and social impressions thanks to this transposition regained a 
kind of novelty. It was also because the broken-down carriage that one 
hired to pay a call upon Mme. Verdurin called to mind a pleasant drive 
and a costly bargain struck with a coachman who had demanded 'so much 7 
for the whole day. But the slight stir of curiosity with regard to fresh ar- 
rivals, whom it was still impossible to distinguish, made everybody ask 
himself: "Who can this be?" a question which it was difficult to answer, 
when one did not know who might have come down to spend a week with 
the Cambremers or elsewhere, but which people always enjoy putting to 
themselves in rustic, solitary lives where a meeting with a human creature 
Vhom one has not seen for a long time ceases to be the tiresome affair that 
it is in the life of Paris, and forms a delicious break in the empty monotony 
of lives that are too lonely, in which even the postman's knock becomes 
a pleasure. And on the day on which we arrived in a motor-car at la Ras- 
peliere, as it was not Monday, M. and Mme. Verdurin must have been 
devoured by that craving to see people which attacks men and women 
and inspires a longing to throw himself out of the window in the patient 
who has been shut up away from his family and friends, for a cure of 
strict isolation. For the new and more swift-footed servant, who had al- 
ready made himself familiar with these expressions, having replied that 
"if Madame has not gone out she must be at the view of Douville," and 
that he would go and look for her, came back immediately to tell us that 
she was coming to welcome us. We found her slightly dishevelled, for she 
came from the flower beds, farmyard and kitchen garden, where she had 
gone to feed her peacocks and poultry, to hunt for eggs, to gather fruit 
and flowers to 'make her table-centre/ which would suggest her park in 
miniature; but on the table it conferred the distinction of making it sup- 
port the burden of only such things as were useful and good to eat; for 
round those other presents from the garden which were the pears, the 
whipped eggs, rose the tall stems of bugloss, carnations, roses and coreopsis, 
between which one saw, as between blossoming boundary posts, move 
from one to another beyond the glazed windows, the ships at sea. From 
the astonishment which M. and Mme. Verdurin, interrupted while ar- 



286 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

ranging their flowers to receive the visitors that had been announced, 
shewed upon finding that these visitors were merely Albertine and my- 
self, it was easy to see that the new servant, full of zeal but not yet familiar 
with my name, had repeated it wrongly and that Mme. Verdurin, hearing 
the names of guests whom she did not know, had nevertheless bidden him 
let them in, in her need of seeing somebody, no matter whom. And the 
new servant stood contemplating this spectacle from the door in order to 
learn what part we played in the household. Then he made off at a run, 
taking long strides, for he had entered upon his duties only the day before. 
When Albertine had quite finished displaying her toque and veil to the 
Verdurins, she gave me a warning look to remind me that we had not too 
much time left for what we meant to do. Mme. Verdurin begged us to stay 
to tea, but we refused, when all of a sudden a suggestion was mooted 
which would have made an end of all the pleasures that I promised myself 
from my drive with Albertine: the Mistress, unable to face the thought of 
tearing herself from us, or perhaps of allowing a novel distraction to escape, 
decided to accompany us. Accustomed for years past to the experience 
that similar offers on her part were not well received, and being probably 
dubious whether this offer would find favour with us, she concealed be- 
neath an excessive assurance the timidity that she felt when addressing us 
and, without even appearing to suppose that there could be any doubt as 
to our answer, asked us no question, but said to her husband, speaking 
of Albertine and myself, as though she were conferring a favour on us: 
"I shall see them home, myself." At the same time there hovered over her 
lips a smile that did not belong to them, a smile which I had already seen 
on the faces of certain people when they said to Bergotte with a knowl-" 
edgeable air: "I have bought your book, it's not bad," one of those collec- 
tive, universal smiles which, when they feel the need of them as we make 
use of railways and removal vans individuals borrow, except a few who 
are extremely refined, like Swann or M. de Charlus on whose lips I have 
never seen that smile settle. From that moment my visit was poisoned. I 
pretended not to have understood. A moment later it became evident that 
M. Verdurin was to be one of the party. "But it will be too far for M. 
Verdurin," I objected. "Not at all," replied Mme. Verdurin with a con- 
descending, cheerful air, "he says it will amuse him immensely to go with 
you young people over a road he has travelled so many times; if necessary, 
he will sit beside the engineer, that doesn't frighten him, and we shall 
come back quietly by the train like a good married couple. Look at him, 
he's quite delighted." She seemed to be speaking of an aged and famous 
painter full of friendliness, who, younger than the youngest, takes a delight 
in scribbling figures on paper to make his grandchildren laugh. What added 
to my sorrow was that Albertine seemed not to share it and to find some 
amusement in the thought of dashing all over the countryside like this with 
the Verdurins. As for myself, the pleasure that I had vowed that I would 
take with her was so imperious that I refused to allow the Mistress to 
spoil it; I invented falsehoods which the irritating threats of Mme. Ver- 
durin made excusable, but which Albertine, alas, contradicted. "But we 
have a call to pay," I said. "What call?" asked Albertine. "You shall hear 



THE SORROWS OF M. DE CHARLUS 287 

about it later, there's no getting out of it." "Very well, we can wait outside," 
said Mme. Verdurin, resigned to anything. At the last minute my anguish 
at seeing wrested from me a happiness for which I had so longed gave me 
the courage to be impolite. I refused point blank, alleging in Mme. Ver- 
durin's ear that because of some trouble which had befallen Albertine and 
about which she wished to consult me, it was absolutely necessary that I 
should be alone with her. The Mistress appeared vexed: "All right, we 
shan't come," she said to me in a voice tremulous with rage. I felt her to 
be so angry that, so as to appear to be giving way a little: "But we might 
perhaps ..." I began. "No," she replied, more furious than ever, "when 
I say no, I mean no." I supposed that I was out of favour with her, but she 
called us back at the door to urge us not to 'fail' on the following Wednes- 
day, and not to come with that contraption, which was dangerous at night, 
but by the train with the little group, and she made me stop the car, 
which was moving down hill across the park, because the footman had for- 
gotten to put in the hood the slice of tart and the shortbread which she had 
had made into a parcel for us. We started off, escorted for a moment by the 
little houses that came running to meet us with their flowers. The face of 
the countryside seemed to us entirely changed, so far, in the topographical 
image that we form in our minds of separate places, is the notion of space 
from being the most important factor. We have said that the notion of 
time segregates them even farther. It is not the only factor either. Certain 
places which we see always in isolation seem to us to have no common 
measure with the rest, to be almost outside the world, like those people 
whom we have known in exceptional periods of our life, during our mili- 
tary service, in our childhood, and whom we associate with nothing. In 
my first year at Balbec there was a piece of high ground to which Mme. de 
Villeparisis liked to take us because from it you saw only the water and 
the woods, and which was called Beaumont. As the road that she took to 
approach it, and preferred to other routes because of its old trees, went up 
hill all the way, her carriage was obliged to go at a crawling pace and 
took a very long time. When we reached the top we used to alight, stroll 
about for a little, get into the carriage again, return by the same road, 
without seeing a single village, a single country house. I knew that Beau- 
mont was something very special, very remote, very high, I had no idea of 
the direction in which it was to be found, having never taken the Beaumont 
road to go anywhere else; besides, it took a very long time to get there in a 
carriage. It was obviously in the same Department (or in the same Province) 
as Balbec, but was situated for me on another plane, enjoyed a special 
privilege of extra- territoriality. But the motor-car respects no mystery, 
and, having passed beyond Incarville, whose houses still danced before my 
eyes, as we were going down the cross road that leads to Parville (Paterni 
villa), catching sight of the sea from a natural terrace over which we were 
passing, I asked the name of the place, and before the chauffeur had time 
to reply recognised Beaumont, close by which I passed thus unconsciously 
whenever I took the little train, for it was within two minutes of Parville. 
Like an officer of my regiment who might have seemed to me a creature 
apart, too kindly and simple to be of a great family, too remote already 



288 CITIES OF THE PLAIN 

and mysterious to be simply of a great family, and of whom I was after- 
wards to learn that he was the brother-in-law, the cousin of people with 
whom I was dining, so Beaumont, suddenly brought in contact with places 
from which I supposed it to be so distinct, lost its mystery and took its 
place in the district, making me think with terror that Madame Bovary 
and the Sanseverina might perhaps have seemed to me to be like ordinary 
people, had I met them elsewhere than in the close atmosphere of a novel. 
It may be thought that my love of magic journeys by train ought to have 
prevented .me from sharing Albertine's wonder at the motor-car which 
takes even the invalid wherever he wishes to go and destroys our concep- 
tion which I had held hitherto of position in space as the individual 
mark, the irreplaceable essence of irremovable beauties. And no doubt this 
position in space was not to the motor-car, as it had been to the railway 
train, when I came from Paris to Balbec, a goal exempt from the contingen- 
cies of ordinary life, almost ideal at the moment of departure, and, as it 
remains so at that of arrival, at our arrival in that great dwelling where 
no one dwells and which bears only the name of the town, the station, 
seeming to promise at last the accessibility of the town, as though the station 
were its materialisation. No, the motor-car did not convey us thus by 
magic into a town which we saw at first in the whole that is summarised 
by its name, and with the