In Search of Lost Time Page 62

Hélas, dans le cercueil ils tombent en poussière

Moins vite qu’en nos coeurs!”

And, while a smile of disillusionment contracted with a graceful undulation her sorrowing lips, the Duchess fastened on Mme. d’Arpajon the dreaming gaze of her charming, clear blue eyes. I was beginning to know them, as well as her voice, with its heavy drawl, its harsh savour. In those eyes and in that voice, I recognised much of the life of nature round Combray. Certainly, in the affectation with which that voice brought into prominence at times a rudeness of the soil there was more than one element: the wholly provincial origin of one branch of the Guermantes family, which had for long remained more localised, more hardy, wilder, more provoking than the rest; and also the usage of really distinguished people, and of witty people who know that distinction does not consist in mincing speech, and the usage of nobles who fraternise more readily with their peasants than with the middle classes; peculiarities all of which the regal position of Mme. de Guermantes enabled her to display more easily to bring out with every sail spread. It appears that the same voice existed also in certain of her sisters whom she detested, and who, less intelligent than herself and almost plebeianly married, if one may coin this adverb to speak of unions with obscure noblemen, entrenched on their provincial estates, or, in Paris, in a Faubourg Saint-Germain of no brilliance, possessed this voice also but had bridled it, corrected it, softened it so far as lay in their power, just as it is very rarely that any of us presumes on his own originality and does not apply himself diligently to copying the most approved models. But Oriane was so much more intelligent, so much richer, above all, so much more in fashion than her sisters, she had so effectively, when Princesse des Laumes, behaved just as she pleased in the company of the Prince of Wales, that she had realised that this discordant voice was an attraction, and had made of it, in the social order, with the courage of originality rewarded by success, what in the theatrical order a Réjane, a Jeanne Granier (which implies no comparison, naturally, between the respective merits and talents of those two actresses) had made of theirs, something admirable and distinctive which possibly certain Réjane and Granier sisters, whom no one has ever known, strove to conceal as a defect.

To all these reasons for displaying her local originality, the favourite writers of Mme. de Guermantes — Mérimée, Meilhac and Halévy — had brought in addition, with the respect for what was natural, a feeling for the prosaic by which she attained to poetry and a spirit purely of society which called up distant landscapes before my eyes. Besides, the Duchess was fully capable, adding to these influences an artistic research of her own, of having chosen for the majority of her words the pronunciation that seemed to her most ‘He de France,’ most ‘Champenoise,’ since, if not quite to the same extent as her sister-in-law Marsantes, she rarely used anything but the pure vocabulary that might have been employed by an old French writer. And when one was tired of the composite patchwork of modern speech, it was, albeit one was aware that she expressed far fewer ideas, a thorough relaxation to listen to the talk of Mme. de Guermantes — almost the same feeling, if one was alone with her and she restrained and clarified still further her flow of words, as one has on hearing an old song. Then, as I looked at, as I listened to Mme. de Guermantes, I could see, a prisoner in the perpetual and quiet afternoon of her eyes, a sky of the He de France or of Champagne spread itself, grey-blue, oblique, with the same angle of inclination as in the eyes of Saint-Loup.

Thus, by these several formations, Mme. de Guermantes expressed at once the most ancient aristocratic France, then, from a far later source, the manner in which the Duchesse de Broglie might have enjoyed and found fault with Victor Hugo under the July Monarchy, and, finally, a keen taste for the literature that sprang from Mérimée and Meilhac. The first of these formations attracted me more than the second, did more to console me for the disappointments of my pilgrimage to and arrival in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, so different from what I had imagined it to be; but even the second I preferred to the last. For, so long as Mme. de Guermantes was being, almost spontaneously, a Guermantes and nothing more, her Pailleronism, her taste for the younger Dumas were reflected and deliberate. As this taste was the opposite of my own, she was productive, to my mind, of literature when she talked to me of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, and never seemed to me so stupidly Faubourg Saint-Germain as when she was talking literature.

Moved by this last quotation, Mme. d’Arpajon exclaimed: “‘Ces reliques du coeur ont aussi leur poussière!’— Sir, you must write that down for me on my fan,” she said to M. de Guermantes. “Poor woman, I feel sorry for her!” said the Princesse de Parme to Mme. de Guermantes. “No, really, Ma’am, you must not be soft-hearted, she has only got what she deserves.” “But — you’ll forgive me for saying this to you — she does really love him all the same!” “Oh, not at all; she isn’t capable of it; she thinks she loves him just as she thought just now she was quoting Victor Hugo, when she repeated a line from Musset. Listen,” the Duchess went on in a tone of melancholy, “nobody would be more touched than myself by any true sentiment. But let me give you an instance. Only yesterday, she made a terrible scene with Basin. Your Highness thinks perhaps that it was because he’s in love with other women, because he no longer loves her; not in the least, it was because he won’t put her sons down for the Jockey. Does Ma’am call that the behaviour of a woman in love? No; I will go farther;” Mme. de Guermantes added with precision, “she is a person of singular insensibility.” Meanwhile it was with an eye sparkling with satisfaction that M. de Guermantes had listened to his wife talking about Victor Hugo ‘point-blank’ and quoting his poetry. The Duchess might frequently annoy him; at moments like this he was proud of her. “Oriane is really extraordinary. She can talk about anything, she has read everything. She could not possibly have guessed that the conversation this evening would turn on Victor Hugo. Whatever subject you take up, she is ready for you, she can hold her own with the most learned scholars. This young man must be quite captivated.”

“Do let us change the conversation,” Mme. de Guermantes went on, “because she’s dreadfully susceptible. You will think me quite old-fashioned,” she began, turning to me. “I know that nowadays it’s considered a weakness to care for ideas in poetry, poetry with some thought in it.” “Old-fashioned?” asked the Princesse de Parme, quivering with the slight thrill sent through her by this new wave which she had not expected, albeit she knew that the conversation of the Duchesse de Guermantes always held in store for her these continuous and delightful shocks, that breath-catching panic, that wholesome exhaustion after which her thoughts instinctively turned to the necessity of taking a footbath in a dressing cabin and a brisk walk to ‘restore her circulation.’

“For my part, no, Oriane,” said Mme. de Brissac, “I don’t in the least object to Victor Hugo’s having ideas, quite the contrary, but I do object to his seeking for them in sheer monstrosities. After all, it was he who accustomed us to ugliness in literature. There are quite enough ugly things already in real life. Why can’t we be allowed at least to forget it while we are reading. A distressing spectacle, from which we should turn away in real life, that is what attracts Victor Hugo.”

“Victor Hugo is not as realistic as Zola though, surely?” asked the Princesse de Parme. The name of Zola did not stir a muscle on the face of M. de Beautreillis. The General’s anti-Dreyfusism was too deep-rooted for him to seek to give expression to it. And his good-natured silence when anyone broached these topics moved the profane heart as a proof of the same delicacy that a priest shews in avoiding any reference to your religious duties, a financier when he takes care not to recommend your investing in the companies which he himself controls, a strong man when he behaves with lamblike gentleness and does not hit you in the jaw. “I know you’re related to Admiral Jurien de la Gravière,” was murmured to me with an air of connivance by Mme. de Varambon, the lady in waiting to the Princesse de Parme, an excellent but limited woman, procured for the Princess in the past by the Duke’s mother. She had not previously uttered a word to me, and I could never afterwards, despite the admonitions of the Princess and my own protestations, get out of her mind the idea that I was in some way connected with the Academician Admiral, who was a complete stranger to me. The obstinate persistence of the Princesse de Parme’s lady in waiting in seeing in me a nephew of Admiral Jurien de la Gravière was in itself quite an ordinary form of silliness. But the mistake she made was only a crowning instance of all the other mistakes, less serious, more elaborate, unconscious or deliberate, which accompany one’s name on the label which society writes out and attaches to one. I remember that a friend of the Guermantes who had expressed a keen desire to meet me gave me as the reason that I was a great friend of his cousin, Mme. de Chaussegros. “She is a charming person, she’s so fond of you.” I scrupulously, though quite vainly, insisted on the fact that there must be some mistake, as I did not know Mme. de Chaussegros. “Then it’s her sister you know; it comes to the same thing. She met you in Scotland.” I had never been in Scotland, and took the futile precaution, in my honesty, of letting my informant know this. It was Mme. de Chaussegros herself who had said that she knew me, and no doubt sincerely believed it, as a result of some initial confusion, for from that time onwards she never failed to hold out her hand to me whenever she saw me. And as, after all, the world in which I moved was precisely that in which Mme. de Chaussegros moved my modesty had neither rhyme nor reason. To say that I was intimate with the Chaussegros was, literally, a mistake, but from the social point of view was to state an equivalent of my position, if one can speak of the social position of so young a man as I then was. It therefore mattered not in the least that this friend of the Guermantes should tell me only things that were false about myself, he neither lowered nor exalted me (from the worldly point of view) in the idea which he continued to hold of me. And when all is said, for those of us who are not professional actors the tedium of living always in the same character is removed for a moment, as if we were to go on the boards, when another person forms a false idea of us, imagines that we are friends with a lady whom we do not know and are reported to have met in the course of a delightful tour of a foreign country which we have never made. Errors that multiply themselves and are harmless when they have not the inflexible rigidity of this one which had been committed, and continued for the rest of her life to be committed, in spite of my denials, by the imbecile lady in waiting to Mme. de Parme, rooted for all time in the belief that I was related to the tiresome Admiral Jurien de la Gravière. “She is not very strong in her head,” the Duke confided to me, “and besides, she ought not to indulge in too many libations. I fancy, she’s slightly under the influence of Bacchus.” As a matter of fact Mme. de Varambon had drunk nothing but water, but the Duke liked to find scope for his favourite figures of speech. “But Zola is not a realist, Ma’am, he’s a poet!” said Mme. de Guermantes, drawing inspiration from the critical essays which she had read in recent years and adapting them to her own personal genius. Agreeably buffeted hitherto, in the course of this bath of wit, a bath stirred for herself, which she was taking this evening and which, she considered, must be particularly good for her health, letting herself be swept away by the waves of paradox which curled and broke one after another, before this, the most enormous of them all, the Princesse de Parme jumped for fear of being knocked over. And it was in a choking voice, as though she were quite out of breath, that she now gasped: “Zola a poet!” “Why, yes,” answered the Duchess with a laugh, entranced by this display of suffocation. “Your Highness must have remarked how he magnifies everything he touches. You will tell me that he touches just what — perish the thought! But he makes it into something colossal. His is the epic dungheap. He is the Homer of the sewers! He has not enough capitals to print Cambronne’s word.” Despite the extreme exhaustion which she was beginning to feel, the Princess was enchanted; never had she felt better. She would not have exchanged for an invitation to Schonbrunn, albeit that was the one thing that really flattered her, these divine dinner-parties at Mme. de Guermantes’s, made invigorating by so liberal a dose of attic salt. “He writes it with a big C,” cried Mme. d’Arpajon. “Surely with a big M, I think, my dear,” replied Mme. de Guermantes, exchanging first with her husband a merry glance which implied: “Did you ever hear such an idiot?” “Wait a minute, now.” Mme. de Guermantes turned to me, fixing on me a tender, smiling gaze, because, as an accomplished hostess, she was anxious to display her own knowledge of the artist who interested me specially, to give me, if I required it, an opportunity for exhibiting mine. “Wait,” she urged me, gently waving her feather fan, so conscious was she at this moment that she was performing in full the duties of hospitality, and, that she might be found wanting in none of them, making a sign also to the servants to help me to more of the asparagus and mousseline sauce: “wait, now, I do believe that Zola has actually written an essay on Elstir, the painter whose things you were looking at just now — the only ones of his, really, that I care for,” she concluded. As a matter of fact she hated Elstir’s work, but found a unique quality in anything that was in her own house. I asked M. de Guermantes if he knew the name of the gentleman in the tall hat who figured in the picture of the crowd and whom I recognised as the same person whose portrait the Guermantes also had and had hung beside the other, both dating more or less from the same early period in which Elstir’s personality was not yet completely established and he derived a certain inspiration from Manet. “Good Lord, yes,” he replied, “I know it’s a fellow who is quite well-known and no fool either in his own line, but I have no head for names. I have it on the tip of my tongue, Monsieur…. Monsieur…. oh, well, it doesn’t matter, I can’t remember it. Swann would be able to tell you, it was he who made Mme. de Guermantes buy all that stuff; she is always too good-natured, afraid of hurting people’s feelings if she refuses to do things; between ourselves, I believe he’s landed us with a lot of rubbish. What I can tell you is that the gentleman you mean has been a sort of Maecenas to M. Elstir, he started him and has often helped him out of tight places by ordering pictures from him. As a compliment to this man — if you can call that sort of thing a compliment — he has painted him standing about among that crowd, where with his Sunday-go-to-meeting look he creates a distinctly odd effect. He may be a big gun in his own way but he is evidently not aware of the proper time and place for a top hat. With that thing on his head, among all those bare-headed girls, he looks like a little country lawyer on the razzle-dazzle. But tell me, you seem quite gone on his pictures. If I had only known, I should have got up the subject properly. Not that there’s any need to rack one’s brains over the meaning of M. Elstir’s work, as one would for Ingres’s Source or the Princes in the Towier by Paul Delaroche. What one appreciates in his work is that it’s shrewdly observed, amusing, Parisian, and then one passes on to the next thing. One doesn’t need to be an expert to look at that sort of thing. I know of course that they’re merely sketches, still, I don’t feel myself that he puts enough work into them. Swann was determined that we should buy aBundle of Asparagus. In fact it was in the house for several days. There was nothing else in the picture, a bundle of asparagus exactly like what you’re eating now. But I must say I declined to swallow M. Elstir’s asparagus. He asked three hundred francs for them. Three hundred francs for a bundle of asparagus. A louis, that’s as much as they’re worth, even if they are out of season. I thought it a bit stiff. When he puts real people into his pictures as well, there’s something rather caddish, something detrimental about him which does not appeal to me. I am surprised to see a delicate mind, a superior brain like yours admire that sort of thing.” “I don’t know why you should say that, Basin,” interrupted the Duchess, who did not like to hear people run down anything that her rooms contained. “I am by no means prepared to admit that there’s nothing distinguished in Elstir’s pictures. You have to take it or leave it. But it’s not always lacking in talent. And you must admit that the ones I bought are singularly beautiful.” “Well, Oriane, in that style of thing I’d a thousand times rather have the little study by M. Vibert we saw at the water-colour exhibition. There’s nothing much in it, if you like, you could take it in the palm of your hand, but you can see the man’s clever through and through: that unwashed scarecrow of a missionary standing before the sleek prelate who is making his little dog do tricks, it’s a perfect little poem of subtlety, and in fact goes really deep.” “I believe you know M. Elstir,” the Duchess went on to me, “as a man, he’s quite pleasant.” “He is intelligent,” said the Duke; “one is surprised, when one talks to him, that his painting should be so vulgar.” “He is more than intelligent, he is really quite clever,” said the Duchess in the confidently critical tone of a person who knew what she was talking about. “Didn’t he once start a portrait of you, Oriane?” asked the Princesse de Parme. “Yes, in shrimp pink,” replied Mme. de Guermantes, “but that’s not going to hand his name down to posterity. It’s a ghastly thing; Basin wanted to have it destroyed.” This last statement was one which Mme. de Guermantes often made. But at other times her appreciation of the picture was different: “I do not care for his painting, but he did once do a good portrait of me.” The former of these judgments was addressed as a rule to people who spoke to the Duchess of her portrait, the other to those who did not refer to it and whom therefore she was anxious to inform of its existence. The former was inspired in her by coquetry, the latter by vanity. “Make a portrait of you look ghastly! Why, then it can’t be a portrait, it’s a falsehood; I don’t know one end of a brush from the other, but I’m sure if I were to paint you, merely putting you down as I see you, I should produce a masterpiece,” said the Princesse de Parme ingenuously. “He sees me probably as I see myself, without any allurements,” said the Duchesse de Guermantes, with the look, melancholy, modest and coaxing, which seemed to her best calculated to make her appear different from what Elstir had portrayed. “That portrait ought to appeal to Mme. de Gallardon,” said the Duke. “Because she knows nothing about pictures?” asked the Princesse de Parme, who knew that Mme. de Guermantes had an infinite contempt for her cousin. “But she’s a very good woman, isn’t she?” The Duke assumed an air of profound astonishment. “Why, Basin, don’t you see the Princess is making fun of you?” (The Princess had never dreamed of doing such a thing.) “She knows as well as you do that Gallardonette is an old poison,” went on Mme. de Guermantes, whose vocabulary, limited as a rule to all these old expressions, was as savoury as those dishes which it is possible to come across in the delicious books of Pampille, but which have in real life become so rare, dishes where the jellies, the butter, the gravy, the quails are all genuine, permit of no alloy, where even the salt is brought specially from the salt-marshes of Brittany; from her accent, her choice of words, one felt that the basis of the Duchess’s conversation came directly from Guermantes. In this way the Duchess differed profoundly from her nephew Saint-Loup, the prey of so many new ideas and expressions; it is difficult, when one’s mind is troubled by the ideas of Kant and the longings of Baudelaire, to write the exquisite French of Henri IV, which meant that the very purity of the Duchess’s language was a sign of limitation, and that, in her, both her intelligence and her sensibility had remained proof against all innovation. Here again, Mme. de Guermantes’s mind attracted me just because of what it excluded was exactly the content of my own thoughts) and by everything which by virtue of that exclusion, it had been able to preserve, that seductive vigour of the supple bodies which no exhausting necessity to think no moral anxiety or nervous trouble has deformed. Her mind, of a formation so anterior to my own, was for me the equivalent of what had been offered me by the procession of the girls of the little band along the seashore Mme. de Guermantes offered me, domesticated and held in subjection by her natural courtesy, by the respect due to another person’s intellectual worth, all the energy and charm of a cruel little girl of one of the noble families round Combray who from her childhood had been brought up in the saddle, tortured cats, gouged out the eyes of rabbits, and; albeit she had remained a pillar of virtue, might equally well have been, a good few years ago now, the most brilliant mistress of the Prince de Sagan. Only she was incapable of realising what I had sought for in her, the charm of her historic name, and the tiny quantity of it that I had found in her, a rustic survival from Guermantes. Were our relations founded upon a misunderstanding which could not fail to become manifest as soon as my homage, instead of being addressed to the relatively superior woman that she believed herself to be, should be diverted to some other woman of equal mediocrity and breathing the same unconscious charm? A misunderstanding so entirely natural, and one that will always exist between a young dreamer like myself and a woman of the world, one however that profoundly disturbs him, so long as he has not yet discovered the nature of his imaginative faculties and has not acquired his share of the inevitable disappointments which he is destined to find in people, as in the theatre, in his travels and indeed in love. M. de Guermantes having declared (following upon Elstir’s asparagus and those that were brought round after the financière chicken) that green asparagus grown in the open air, which, as has been so quaintly said by the charming writer who signs himself E. de Clermont-Tonnerre, “have not the impressive rigidity of their sisters,” ought to be eaten with eggs: “One man’s meat is another man’s poison, as they say,” replied M. de Bréauté. “In the province of Canton, in China, the greatest delicacy that can be set before one is a dish of ortolan’s eggs completely rotten.” M. de Bréauté, the author of an essay on the Mormons which had appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes, moved in none but the most aristocratic circles, but among these visited only such as had a certain reputation for intellect, with the result that from his presence, were it at all regular, in a woman’s house one could tell that she had a ‘salon.’ He pretended to a loathing of society, and assured each of his duchesses in turn that it was for the sake of her wit and beauty that he came to see her. They all believed him. Whenever, with death in his heart, he resigned himself to attending a big party at the Princesse de Parme’s, he summoned them all to accompany him, to keep up his courage, and thus appeared only to be moving in the midst of an intimate group. So that his reputation as an intellectual might survive his worldly success, applying certain maxims of the Guermantes spirit, he would set out with ladies of fashion on long scientific expeditions at the height of the dancing season, and when a woman who was a snob, and consequently still without any definite position, began to go everywhere, he would put a savage obstinacy into his refusal to know her, to allow himself to be introduced to her. His hatred of snobs was a derivative of his snobbishness, but made the simpletons (in other words, everyone) believe that he was immune from snobbishness. “Babal always knows everything,” exclaimed the Duchesse de Guermantes. “I think it must be charming, a country where you can be quite sure that your dairyman will supply you with really rotten eggs, eggs of the year of the comet. I can see myself dipping my bread and butter in them. I must say, you get the same thing at aunt Madeleine’s” (Mme. de Villeparisis’s) “where everything’s served in a state of putrefaction, eggs included.” Then, as Mme. d’Arpajon protested, “But my dear Phili, you know it as well as I do. You can see the chicken in the egg. What I can’t understand is how they manage not to fall out. It’s not an omelette you get there, it’s a poultry-yard. You were so wise not to come to dinner there yesterday, there was a brill cooked in carbolic! I assure you, it wasn’t a dinner-table, it was far more like an operating-table. Really, Norpois carries loyalty to the pitch of heroism. He actually asked for more!” “I believe I saw you at dinner there the time she made that attack on M. Bloch” (M. de Guermantes, perhaps to give to an Israelite name a more foreign sound, pronounced the ‘ch’ in Bloch not like a ‘k’ but as in the German ‘hoch’) “when he said about some poit” (poet) “or other that he was sublime. Châtellerault did his best to break M. Bloch’s shins, the fellow didn’t understand in the least and thought my nephew’s kick was aimed at a young woman sitting opposite him.” (At this point, M. de Guermantes coloured slightly.) “He did not realise that he was annoying our aunt by his ‘sublimes’ chucked about all over the place like that. In short, aunt Madeleine, who doesn’t keep her tongue in her pocket, turned on him with: ‘Indeed, Sir, and what epithet do you keep for M. de Bousset?’” (M. de Guermantes thought that, when one mentioned a famous name, the use of ‘Monsieur’ and a particle was eminently ‘old school.’) “That put him in his place, all right.” “And what answer did this M. Bloch make?” came in a careless tone from Mme. de Guermantes, who, running short for the moment of original ideas, felt that she must copy her husband’s teutonic pronunciation. “Ah! I can assure you, M. Bloch did not wait for any more, he’s still running.” “Yes, I remember quite well seeing you there that evening,” said Mme. de Guermantes with emphasis as though, coming from her, there must be something in this reminiscence highly flattering to myself. “It is always so interesting at my aunt’s. At the last party she gave, which was, of course, when I met you, I meant to ask you whether that old gentleman who went past where we were, sitting wasn’t François Coppée. You must know who everyone is,” she went on, sincerely envious of my relations with poets and poetry, and also out of ‘consideration’ for myself, the wish to establish in a better position in the eyes of her other guests a young man so well versed in literature. I assured the Duchess that I had not observed any celebrities at Mme. de Villeparisis’s party. “What!” she replied with a bewilderment which revealed that her respect for men of letters and her contempt for society were more superficial than she said, perhaps even than she thought, “What! There were no famous authors there! You astonish me! Why, I saw all sorts of quite impossible people!” I remembered the evening in question distinctly owing to an entirely trivial incident that had occurred at the party. Mme. de Villeparisis had introduced Bloch to Mme. Alphonse de Rothschild, but my friend had not caught the name and, thinking he was talking to an old English lady who was a trifle mad had replied only in monosyllables to the garrulous conversation of the historic beauty, when Mme. de Villeparisis in making her known to some one else uttered, quite distinctly this time: “The Baronne Alphonse de Rothschild.” Thereupon there had coursed suddenly and simultaneously through Bloch’s arteries so many ideas of millions and of social importance, which it would have been more prudent to subdivide and separate, that he had undergone, so to speak, a momentary failure of heart and brain alike, and cried aloud in the dear old lady’s presence: “If I’d only known!” an exclamation the silliness of which kept him from sleeping for at least a week afterwards. His remark was of no great interest, but I remembered it as a proof that sometimes in this life, under the stress of an exceptional emotion, people do say what is in their minds. “I fancy Mme. de Villeparisis is not absolutely… moral,” said the Princesse de Parme, who knew that the best people did not visit the Duchess’s aunt, and, from what the Duchess herself had just been saying, that one might speak freely about her. But, Mme. de Guermantes not seeming to approve of this criticism, she hastened to add: “Though, of course, intellect carried to that degree excuses everything.” “But you take the same view of my aunt that everyone else does,” replied the Duchess, “which is, really, quite mistaken. It’s just what Mémé was saying to me only yesterday.” She blushed; a reminiscence unknown to me filmed her eyes. I formed the supposition that M. de Charlus had asked her to cancel my invitation, as he had sent Robert to ask me not to go to her house. I had the impression that the blush — equally incomprehensible to me — which had tinged the Duke’s cheek when he made some reference to his brother could not be attributed to the same cause. “My poor aunt — she will always have the reputation of being a lady of the old school, of sparkling wit and uncontrolled passions. And really there’s no more middle-class, serious, commonplace mind in Paris. She will go down as a patron of the arts, which means to say that she was once the mistress of a great painter, though he was never able to make her understand what a picture was; and as for her private life, so far from being a depraved woman, she was so much made for marriage, so conjugal from her cradle that, not having succeeded in keeping a husband, who incidentally was a cad, she has never had a love-affair which she hasn’t taken just as seriously as if it were holy matrimony, with the same susceptibilities, the same quarrels, the same fidelity. By which token, those relations are often the most sincere; you’ll find, in fact, more inconsolable lovers than husbands.” “Yet, Oriane, if you take the case of your brother-in-law Palamède you were speaking about just now; no mistress in the world could ever dream of being mourned as that poor Mme. de Charlus has been.” “Ah!” replied the Duchess, “Your Highness must permit me to be not altogether of her opinion. People don’t all like to be mourned in the same way, each of us has his preferences.” “Still, he did make a regular cult of her after her death. It is true that people sometimes do for the dead what they would not have done for the living.” “For one thing,” retorted Mme. de Guermantes in a dreamy tone which belied her teasing purpose, “we go to their funerals, which we never do for the living!” M. de Guermantes gave a sly glance at M. de Bréauté as though to provoke him into laughter at the Duchess’s wit. “At the same time I frankly admit,” went on Mme. de Guermantes, “that the manner in which I should like to be mourned by a man I loved would not be that adopted by my brother-in-law.” The Duke’s face darkened. He did not like to hear his wife utter rash judgments, especially about M. de Charlus. “You are very particular. His grief set an example to everyone,” he reproved her stiffly. But the Duchess had in dealing with her husband that sort of boldness which animal tamers shew, or people who live with a madman and are not afraid of making him angry. “Oh, very well, just as you like — he does set an example, I never said he didn’t, he goes every day to the cemetery to tell her how many people he has had to luncheon, he misses her enormously, but — as he’d mourn for a cousin, a grandmother, a sister. It is not the grief of a husband. It is true that they were a pair of saints, which makes it all rather exceptional.” M. de Guermantes, infuriated by his wife’s chatter, fixed on her with a terrible immobility a pair of eyes already loaded. “I don’t wish to say anything against poor Mémé, who, by the way, could not come this evening,” went on the Duchess, “I quite admit there’s no one like him, he’s delightful; he has a delicacy, a warmth of heart that you don’t as a rule find in men. He has a woman’s heart, Mémé has!” “What you say is absurd,” M. de Guermantes broke in sharply. “There’s nothing effeminate about Mémé, I know nobody so manly as he is.” “But I am not suggesting that he’s the least bit in the world effeminate. Do at least take the trouble to understand what I say,” retorted the Duchess. “He’s always like that the moment anyone mentions his brother,” she added, turning to the Princesse de Parme. “It’s very charming, it’s a pleasure to hear him. There’s nothing so nice as two brothers who are fond of each other,” replied the Princess, as many a humbler person might have replied, for it is possible to belong to a princely race by birth and at the same time to be mentally affiliated to a race that is thoroughly plebeian.

“As we’re discussing your family, Oriane,” said the Princess, “I saw your nephew Saint-Loup yesterday; I believe he wants to ask you to do something for him.” The Duc de Guermantes bent his Olympian brow. When he did not himself care to do a service, he preferred his wife not to assume the responsibility for it, knowing that it would come to the same thing in the end and that the people to whom the Duchess would be obliged to apply would put this concession down to the common account of the household, just as much as if it had been asked of them by the husband alone. “Why didn’t he tell me about it himself?” said the Duchess. “He was here yesterday and stayed a couple of hours, and heaven only knows what a bore he managed to make himself. He would be no stupider than anyone else if he had only the sense, like many people we know, to be content with being a fool. It’s his veneer of knowledge that’s so terrible. He wants to preserve an open mind — open to all the things he doesn’t understand. He talks to you about Morocco. It’s appalling.”

“He can’t go back there, because of Rachel,” said the Prince de Foix “Surely, now that they’ve broken it off,” interrupted M. de Bréauté. “So far from breaking it off, I found her a couple of days ago in Robert’s rooms, they didn’t look at all like people who’d quarrelled, I can assure you,” replied the Prince de Foix, who loved to spread abroad every rumour that could damage Robert’s chances of marrying, and might for that matter have been misled by one of the intermittent resumptions of a connexion that was practically at an end.

“That Rachel was speaking to me about you, I see her like that in the mornings, on the way to the Champs-Elysées; she’s a kind of head-in-air, as you say, what you call ‘unlaced,’ a sort of ‘Dame aux Camélias,’ only figuratively speaking, of course.” This speech was addressed to me by Prince Von, who liked always to appear conversant with French literature and Parisian catchwords.

“Why, that’s just what it was — Morocco!” exclaimed the Princess, flinging herself into this opening. “What on earth can he want in Morocco?” asked M. de Guermantes sternly; “Oriane can do absolutely nothing for him there, as he knows perfectly well.” “He thinks he invented strategy,” Mme. de Guermantes pursued the theme, “and then he uses impossible words for the most trivial things, which doesn’t prevent him from making blots all over his letters. The other day he announced that he’d been given some sublime potatoes, and that he’d taken a sublime stage box.” “He speaks Latin,” the Duke went one better. “What! Latin?” the Princesse gasped. “‘Pon my soul he does! Ma’am can ask Oriane if I’m not telling the truth.” “Why, of course, Ma’am; the other day he said to us straight out, without stopping to think: ‘I know of no more touching example of sic transit gloria mundi.’ I can repeat the phrase now to your Highness because, after endless inquiries and by appealing to linguists, we succeeded in reconstructing it, but Robert flung it out without pausing for breath, one could hardly make out that there was Latin in it, he was just like a character in the Malade Imaginaire. And all this referred simply to the death of the Empress of Austria!” “Poor woman!” cried the Princess, “what a delicious creature she was.” “Yes,” replied the Duchess, “a trifle mad, a trifle headstrong, but she was a thoroughly good woman, a nice, kind-hearted lunatic; the only thing I could never make out about her was why she had never managed to get her teeth made to fit her; they always came loose half-way through a sentence and she was obliged to stop short or she’d have swallowed them.” “That Rachel was speaking to me about you, she told me that young Saint-Loup worshipped you, that he was fonder of you than he was of her,” said Prince Von to me, devouring his food like an ogre as he spoke, his face scarlet, his teeth bared by his perpetual grin. “But in that case she must be jealous of me and hate me,” said I. “Not at all, she told me all sorts of nice things about you. The Prince de Foix’s mistress would perhaps be jealous if he preferred you to her. You don’t understand? Come home with me, and I’ll explain it all to you.” “I’m afraid I can’t, I’m going on to M. de Charlus at eleven.” “Why, he sent round to me yesterday to ask me to dine with him this evening, but told me not to come after a quarter to eleven. But if you must go to him, at least come with me as far as the Théâtre Français, you will be in the periphery,” said the Prince, who thought doubtless that this last word meant ‘proximity’ or possibly ‘centre.’

But the bulging eyes in his coarse though handsome red face frightened me and I declined, saying that a friend was coming to call for me. This reply seemed to me in no way offensive. The Prince, however, apparently formed a different impression of it for he did not say another word to me.

“I really must go and see the Queen of Naples; what a grief it must be to her,” said (or at least appeared to me to have said) the Princesse de Parme. For her words had come to me only indistinctly through the intervening screen of those addressed to me, albeit in an undertone, by Prince Von, who had doubtless been afraid, if he spoke louder, of being overheard by the Prince de Foix. “Oh, dear, no!” replied the Duchess, “I don’t believe it has been any grief at all.” “None at all! You do always fly to extremes so, Oriane,” said M. de Guermantes, resuming his part of the cliff which by standing up to the wave forces it to fling higher its crest of foam. “Basin knows even better than I that I’m telling the truth,” replied the Duchess, “but he thinks he’s obliged to look severe because you are present, Ma’am, and he’s afraid of my shocking you.” “Oh, please, no, I beg of you,” cried the Princesse de Parme, dreading the slightest alteration on her account of these delicious Fridays at the Duchesse de Guermantes’s, this forbidden fruit which the Queen of Sweden herself had not yet acquired the right to taste. “Why, it was Basin himself that she told, when he said to her with a duly sorrowful expression: ‘But the Queen is in mourning; for whom, pray, is it a great grief to your Majesty?’—’No, it’s not a deep mourning, it’s a light mourning, quite a light mourning, it’s my sister.’ The truth is, she’s delighted about it, as Basin knows perfectly well, she invited us to a party that very evening, and gave me two pearls. I wish she could lose a sister every day! So far from weeping for her sister’s death, she was in fits of laughter over it. She probably says to herself, like Robert, ‘sic transit ——’ I forget how it goes on,” she added modestly, knowing how it went on perfectly well.

In saying all this Mme. de Guermantes was only being witty, and with complete insincerity, for the Queen of Naples, like the Duchesse d’Alençon, also doomed to a tragic fate, had the warmest heart in the world and mourned quite sincerely for her kinsfolk. Mme. de Guermantes knew those noble Bavarian sisters, her cousins, too well not to be aware of this. “He would like not to go back to Morocco,” said the Princesse de Parme, alighting hurriedly again upon the perch of Robert’s name which had been held out to her, quite unintentionally, by Mme. de Guermantes. “I believe you know General de Monserfeuil.” “Very slightly,” replied the Duchess, who was an intimate friend of the officer in question. The Princess explained what it was that Saint-Loup wanted. “Good gracious, yes, if I see him — it is possible that I may meet him,” the Duchess replied, so as not to appear to be refusing, the occasions of her meeting General de Monserfeuil seeming to extend rapidly farther apart as soon as it became a question of her asking him for anything. This uncertainty did not, however, satisfy the Duke, who interrupted his wife: “You know perfectly well you won’t seeing him, Oriane, and besides you have already asked him for two thing which he hasn’t done. My wife has a passion for doing good turns to people,” he went on, growing more and more furious, in order to force the Princess to withdraw her request, without there being any question made of his wife’s good nature and so that Mme. de Parme should throw the blame back upon his own character, which was essentially obstructive. “Robert could get anything he wanted out of Monserfeuil. Only, as he happens not to know himself what he wants, he gets us to ask for it because he knows there’s no better way of making the whole thing fall through. Oriane has asked too many favours of Monserfeuil. A request from her now would be a reason for him to refuse.” “Oh, in that case, it would be better if the Duchess did nothing,” said Mme. de Parme.

“Obviously!” the Duke closed the discussion. “Poor General, he’s been defeated again at the elections,” said the Princess, so as to turn the conversation from Robert. “Oh, it’s nothing serious, it’s only the seventh time,” said the Duke, who, having been obliged himself to retire from politics, quite enjoyed hearing of other people’s failures at the polls. “He has consoled himself by giving his wife another baby.” “What! Is that poor Mme. de Monserfeuil in an interesting condition again?” cried the Princess.

“Why, of course,” replied the Duke, “that’s the one division where the poor General has never failed to get in.”

In the period that followed I was continually to be invited, were it with a small party only, to these repasts at which I had at one time imagined the guests as seated like the Apostles in the Sainte-Chapelle. They did assemble there indeed, like the early Christians, not to partake merely of a material nourishment, which incidentally was exquisite, but in a sort of social Eucharist; so that in the course of a few dinner-parties I assimilated the acquaintance of all the friends of my hosts, friends to whom they presented me with a shade of benevolent patronage so marked (as a person for whom they had always had a sort of parental affection) that there was not one among them who would not have felt himself to be failing in his duty to the Duke and Duchess if he had given a ball without including my name on his list, and at the same time, while I sipped one of those Yquems which lay concealed in the Guermantes cellars, I tasted ortolans dressed according to each of the different recipes which the Duke himself used to elaborate and modified with prudence. However, for one who had already set his knees more than once beneath the mystic board, the consumption of the latter was not indispensable. Old friends of M. and Mme. de Guermantes came in to see them after dinner, ‘with the tooth-picks,’ as Mme. Swann would have said, without being expected, and took in winter a cup of tilleul in the lighted warmth of the great drawing-room, in summer a glass of orangeade in the darkness of the little rectangular strip of garden outside. There was no record of anything else, among the Guermantes, in these evenings in the garden, but orangeade. It had a sort of ritual meaning. To have added other refreshments would have seemed to be falsifying the tradition, just as a big at-home in the Faubourg Saint-Germain ceases to be an at-home if there is a play also, or music. You must be supposed to have come simply — though there be five hundred of you — to pay a call on, let us say, the Princesse de Guermantes. People marvelled at my influence because I was able to procure the addition to this orangeade of a jug containing the juice of stewed cherries or stewed pears. I took a dislike on this account to the Prince d’Agrigente, who was like all the people who, lacking in imagination but not in covetousness, take a keen interest in what one is drinking and ask if they may taste a little of it themselves. Which meant that, every time, M. d’Agrigente, by diminishing my ration, spoiled my pleasure. For this fruit juice can never be provided in sufficient quantities to quench one’s thirst for it. Nothing is less cloying than these transpositions into flavour of the colour of a fruit which when cooked seems to have travelled backwards to the past season of its blossoming. Blushing like an orchard in spring, or, it may be, colourless and cool like the zephyr beneath the fruit-trees, the juice lets itself be breathed and gazed into one drop by drop, and M. d’Agrigente prevented me, regularly, from taking my fill of it. Despite these distillations the traditional orangeade persisted like the tilleul. In these humble kinds, the social communion was none the less administered. In this respect, doubtless, the friends of M. and Mme. de Guermantes had, after all, as I had originally imagined, remained more different from the rest of humanity than their outward appearance might have misled me into supposing. Numbers of elderly men came to receive from the Duchess, together with the invariable drink, a welcome that was often far from cordial. Now this could not have been due to snobbishness, they themselves being of a rank to which there was none superior; nor to love of splendour; they did love it perhaps, but on less stringent social conditions might have been enjoying a glittering example of it, for on these same evenings the charming wife of a colossally rich financier would have given anything in the world to have them among the brilliant shooting-party she was giving for a couple of days for the King of Spain. They had nevertheless declined her invitation, and had come round without fail to inquire whether Mme. de Guermantes was at home. They were not even certain of finding there opinions that conformed entirely with their own, or sentiments of any great warmth; Mme. de Guermantes let fall now and then, on the Dreyfus case, on the Republic, the Laws against Religion, or even in an undertone on themselves, their weaknesses, the dullness of their conversation, comments which they had to appear not to notice. No doubt, if they kept up their habit of coming there, it was owing to their superfine training as epicures in things worldly, to their clear consciousness of the prime and perfect quality of the social dish, with its familiar, reassuring, sappy savour, free from blend or taint, with the origin and history of which they were as well aware as she who served them with it, remaining more ‘noble’ in this respect than they themselves imagined. Now, on this occasion, among the visitors to whom I was introduced after dinner, it so happened that there was that General de Monserfeuil of whom the Princesse de Parme had been speaking, while Mme. de Guermantes, of whose drawing-room he was one of the regular frequenters, had not known that he was going to be there that evening. He bowed before me, on hearing my name, as though I had been the President of the Supreme War Council. I had supposed it to be simply from some deep-rooted unwillingness to oblige, in which the Duke, as in wit if not in love, was his wife’s accomplice, that the Duchess had practically refused to recommend her nephew to M. de Monserfeuil. And I saw in this an indifference all the more blameworthy in that I seemed to have gathered from a few words let fall by the Princess that Robert was in a post of danger from which it would be prudent to have him removed. But it was by the genuine malice of Mme. de Guermantes that I was revolted when, the Princesse de Parme having timidly suggested that she might say something herself and on her own responsibility to the General, the Duchess did everything in her power to dissuade her. “But Ma’am,” she cried, “Monserfeuil has no sort of standing or influence whatever with the new Government. You would be wasting your breath.” “I think he can hear us,” murmured the Princess, as a hint to the Duchess not to speak so loud. Without lowering her voice: “Your Highness need not be afraid, he’s as deaf as a post,” said the Duchess, every word reaching the General distinctly. “The thing is, I believe M. de Saint-Loup is in a place that is not very safe,” said the Princess. “What is one to do?” replied the Duchess. “He’s in the same boat as everybody else, the only difference being that it was he who originally asked to be sent there. Besides, no, it’s not really dangerous; if it was, you can imagine how anxious I should be to help. I, should have spoken to Saint-Joseph about it during dinner. He has far more influence, and he’s a real worker. But, as you see, he’s gone now. Still, asking him would be less awkward than going to this one, who has; three of his sons in Morocco just now and has refused to apply for them to be exchanged; he might raise that as an objection. Since your Highness insists on it, I shall speak to Saint-Joseph — if I see him again, or to Beautreillis. But if I don’t see either of them, you mustn’t waste your pity on Robert. It was explained to us the other day exactly where he is. I’m sure he couldn’t wish for a better place.”

“What a pretty flower, I’ve never seen one like it; there’s no one like you, Oriane, for having such marvellous things in your house,” said the Princesse de Parme, who, fearing that General de Monserfeuil might have overheard the Duchess, sought now to change the conversation. I looked and recognised a plant of the sort that I had watched Elstir painting. “I am so glad you like them; they are charming, do look at their little purple velvet collars; the only thing against them is — as may happen with people who are very pretty and very nicely dressed — they have a hideous name and a horrid smell. In spite of which I am very fond of them. But what is rather sad is that they are dying.” “But they’re growing in a pot, they aren’t cut flowers,” said the Princess. “No,” answered the Duchess with a smile, “but it comes to the same thing, as they’re all ladies. It’s a kind of plant where the ladies and the gentlemen don’t both grow on the same stalk. I’m like people who keep a lady dog. I have to find a husband for my flowers. Otherwise I shan’t have any young ones!” “How very strange. Do you mean to say that in nature…?” “Yes! There are certain insects whose duty it is to bring about the marriage, as they do with Sovereigns, by proxy, without the bride and bridegroom ever having set eyes on one another. And so, I assure you, I always tell my man to put my plant out in the window as often as possible, on the courtyard side and the garden side turn about, in the hope that the necessary insect will arrive. But the odds are too great. Fancy, he has first to have been seen by a person of the same species and the opposite sex, and he must then have taken it into his head to come and leave cards at the house. He hasn’t appeared so far, I believe my plant can still qualify for the white flower of a blameless life, but I must say a little immodesty would please me better. It’s just the same with that fine tree we have in the courtyard; he will die childless because he belongs to a kind that’s very rare in these latitudes. In his case, it’s the wind that’s responsible for consummating the marriage, but the wall is a trifle high.” “By Jove, yes,” said M. de Bréauté, “you ought to take just a couple of inches off the top, that will be quite enough. There are certain operations one ought to know how to perform. The flavour of vanilla we tasted in the excellent ice you gave us this evening, Duchess, comes from a plant called the vanilla tree. This plant produces flowers which are both male and female, but a sort of solid wall set up between them prevents any communication. And so we could never get any fruit from them until a young Negro, a native of Réunion, by the name of Albins, which by the way is rather an odd name for a black man since it means ‘white,’ had the happy thought of using the point of a needle to bring the separate organs into contact.” “Babal, you’re divine, you know everything,” cried the Duchess. “But you yourself, Oriane, have told me things I had no idea of,” the Princesse de Parme assured her. “I must explain to your Highness that it is Swann who has always talked to me all about botany. Sometimes when we were too bored to go to a tea-party or a concert we would set off for the country, and he would shew me extraordinary marriages between flowers, which was far more amusing than going to human marriages — no wedding-breakfast and no crowd in the sacristy. We never had time to go very far. Now that motor-cars have come in, it Would be delightful. Unfortunately, in the interval he himself has made an even more astonishing marriage, which makes everything very difficult. Oh, Ma’am, life is a dreadful business, we spend our whole time doing things that bore us, and when by mere chance we come across somebody with whom we could go and look at something really interesting, he has to make a marriage like Swann’s. Faced with the alternatives of giving up my botanical expeditions and being obliged to call upon a degrading person, I chose the former calamity. Besides, when it comes to that, there was no need to go quite so far. It seems that here, in my own little bit of garden, more odd things happen in broad daylight than at midnight — in the Bois de Boulogne! Only they attract no attention, because among flowers it’s all done quite simply, you see a little orange shower, or else a very dusty fly coming to wipe its feet or take a bath before crawling into a flower. And that does the trick!” “The cabinet the plant is standing on is splendid, too; it’s Empire, I think,” said the Princess, who, not being familiar with the works of Darwin and his followers, was unable to grasp the point of the Duchess’s pleasantries. “It’s lovely, isn’t it? I’m so glad Ma’am likes it,” replied the Duchess, “it’s a magnificent piece. I must tell you that I’ve always adored the Empire style, even when it wasn’t in fashion. I remember at Guermantes I got into terrible disgrace with my mother-in-law because I told them to bring down from the attics all the splendid Empire furniture Basin had inherited from the Montesquious, and used it to furnish the wing we lived in.” M. de Guermantes smiled. He must nevertheless have remembered that the course of events had been totally different. But, the witticisms of the Princesse des Laumes at the expense of her mother-in-law’s bad taste having been a tradition during the short time in which the Prince was in love with his wife, his love for the latter had been outlasted by a certain contempt for the intellectual inferiority of the former, a contempt which, however, went hand in hand with a considerable attachment and respect. “The Iénas have the same armchair with Wedgwood medallions, it’s a lovely thing, but I prefer my own;” said the Duchess, with the same air of impartiality as if she had been the possessor of neither of the articles under discussion. “I know, of course, that they’ve some marvellous things which I haven’t got.” The Princesse de Parme remained silent. “But it’s quite true; your Highness hasn’t seen their collection. Oh, you ought really to come there one day with me, it’s one of the most magnificent things in Paris. You’d say it was a museum come to life.” And since this suggestion was one of the most ‘Guermantes’ of the Duchess’s audacities, inasmuch as the lénas were for the Princesse de Parme rank usurpers, their son bearing like her own the title of Duc de Guastalla, Mme. de Guermantes in thus launching it could not refrain (so far did the love that she bore for her own originality prevail over the deference due to the Princesse de Parme) from casting at her other guests a smiling glance of amusement. They too made an effort to smile, at once frightened, bewildered, and above all delighted to think that they were being ear-witnesses of Oriane’s very ‘latest’ and could carry it away with them ‘red hot.’ They were only half shocked, knowing that the Duchess had the knack of strewing the ground with all the Courvoisier prejudices to achieve a vital success more thrilling and more enjoyable. Had she not, within the last few years, brought together Princesse Mathilde and that Due d’Aumale who had written to the Princess’s own brother the famous letter: “In my family all the men are brave and the women chaste”? And inasmuch as Princes remain princely even at those moments when they appear anxious to forget that they are, the Due d’Aumale and Princesse Mathilde had enjoyed themselves so greatly at Mme. de Guermantes’s that they had thereafter formed a defensive alliance, with that faculty for forgetting the past which Louis XVIII shewed when he took as his Minister Fouché, who had voted the death of his brother. Mme. de Guermantes was now nourishing a similar project of arranging a meeting between Princesse Murât and the Queen of Naples. In the meantime, the Princesse de Parme appeared as embarrassed as might have been the heirs-apparent to the Thrones of the Netherlands and Belgium, styled respectively Prince of Orange and Duke of Brabant, had one offered to present to them M. de Mailly Nesle, Prince d’Orange, and M. de Charlus, Due de Brabant. But, before anything further could happen, the Duchess, whom Swann and M. de Charlus between them (albeit the latter was resolute in ignoring the lénas’ existence) had with great difficulty succeeded in making admire the Empire style, exclaimed: “Honestly, Ma’am, I can’t tell you how beautiful you will think it! I must confess that the Empire style has always had a fascination for me. But at the lénas’ it is really like a hallucination. That sort of — what shall I say — reflux from the Expedition to Egypt, and also the sweep forward into our own times from Antiquity, all those things that invade our houses, the Sphinxes that come to crouch at the feet of the sofas, the serpents coiled round candelabra, a huge Muse who holds out a little torch for you to play at bouillotte, or has quietly climbed on to the mantelpiece and is leaning against your clock; and then all the Pompeian lamps, the little boat-shaped beds which look as if they had been found floating on the Nile so that you expect to see Moses climb out of them, the classical chariots galloping along the bed tables…” “They’re not very comfortable to sit in, those Empire chairs,” the Princess ventured. “No,” the Duchess agreed, “but,” she at once added, insisting on the point with a smile: “I like being uncomfortable on those mahogany seats covered with ruby velvet or green silk. I like that discomfort of the warrior who understands nothing but the curule chair and in the middle of his principal drawing-room crosses his fasces and piles his laurels. I can assure you that at the Iénas’ one doesn’t stop to think for a moment of how comfortable one is, when one sees in front of one a great strapping wench of a Victory painted in fresco on the wall. My husband is going to say that I’m a very bad Royalist, but I’m terribly disaffected, as you know, I can assure you that in those people’s house one comes to love all the big N’s and all the bees. Good gracious, after all for a good many years under our Kings we weren’t exactly surfeited with glory, and so these warriors who brought home so many crowns that they stuck them even on the arms of the chairs, I must say I think it’s all rather fetching! Your Highness ought really.” “Why, my dear, if you think so,” said the Princess, “but it seems to me that it won’t be easy.” “But Ma’am will find that it will all go quite smoothly. They are very good people, and no fools. We took Mme. de Chevreuse there,” added the Duchess, knowing the force of this example, “she was enchanted. The son is really very pleasant. I’m going to say something that’s not quite proper,” she went on, “but he has a bedroom, and more especially a bed in it, in which I should love to sleep — without him! What is even less proper is that I went to see him once when he was ill and lying in it. By his side on the frame of the bed was moulded a long Siren, stretched out at full length, a lovely thing with a mother-of-pearl tail and some sort of lotus flowers in her hand. I assure you,” went on Mme. de Guermantes, reducing the speed of her utterances to bring into even bolder relief the words which she had the air of modelling with the pout of her fine lips, drawing them out with her long expressive hands, directing on the Princess as she spoke a gentle, steady and searching gaze, “that with the palms and the golden crown at the side, it was most moving, it was just the arrangement of Gustave Moreau’s Death and the Young Man (your Highness must know that great work, of course).” The Princesse de Parme, who did not know so much as the painter’s name, made violent movements with her head and smiled ardently, in order to manifest her admiration for his picture. But the intensity of her mimicry could not fill the place of that light which is absent from our eyes so long as we do not understand what people are trying to tell us. “A good-looking boy, I believe?” she asked. “No for he’s just like a tapir. The eyes are a little those of a Queen Hortense on a screen. But he has probably come to the conclusion that it is rather absurd for a man to develop such a resemblance, and it is lost in the encaustic surface of his cheeks which give him really rather a Mameluke appearance. You feel that the polisher must call round every morning. Swann,” she went on, reverting to the bed of the young Duke, “was struck by the resemblance between this Siren and Gustave Moreau’s Death. But apart from that,” she added, her speech becoming more rapid though still serious, so as to provoke more laughter, “there was nothing really that could strike us, for it was only a cold in the head, and the young man made a marvellous recovery.” “They say he’s a snob?” put in M. de Bréauté, with a malicious twinkle, expecting to be answered with the same precision as though he had said: “They tell me that he has only four fingers on his right hand; is that so?” “G— ood g — racious, n — o,” replied Mme. de Guermantes with a smile of benign indulgence. “Perhaps just the least little bit of a snob in appearance, because he’s extremely young, but I should be surprised to hear that he was really, for he’s intelligent,” she added, as though there were to her mind some absolute incompatibility between snobbishness and intelligence. “He has wit, too, I’ve known him to be quite amusing,” she said again, laughing with the air of an epicure and expert, as though the act of declaring that a person could be amusing demanded a certain expression of merriment from the speaker, or as though the Duc de Guastalla’s sallies were recurring to her mind as she spoke. “Anyway, as he never goes anywhere, he can’t have much field for his snobbishness,” she wound up, forgetting that this was hardly encouraging the Princesse de Parme to make overtures. “I cannot help wondering what the Prince de Guermantes, who calls her Mme. Iéna, will say if he hears that I’ve been to see her.” “What!” cried the Duchess with extraordinary vivacity. “Don’t you know that it was we who gave up to Gilbert” (she bitterly regretted that surrender now) “a complete card-room done in the Empire style which came to us from Quiou-Quiou, and is an absolute marvel! There was no room for it here, though I think it would look better here than it does with him. It’s a thing of sheer beauty, half Etruscan, half Egyptian…” “Egyptian?” queried the Princess, to whom the word Etruscan conveyed little. “Well, really, you know, a little of both. Swann told us that, he explained it all to me, only you know I’m such a dunce. But then, Ma’am, what one has to bear in mind is that the Egypt of the Empire cabinetmakers has nothing to do with the historical Egypt, nor their Roman with the Romans nor their Etruria…” “Indeed,” said the Princess. “No, it’s like what they used to call a Louis XV costume under the Second Empire, when Anna de Monchy and dear Brigode’s mother were girls. Basin was talking to you just now about Beethoven. We heard a thing of his played the other day which was really quite good, though a little stiff, with a Russian theme in it. It’s pathetic to think that he believed it to be Russian. In the same way as the Chinese painters believed they were copying Bellini. Besides, even in the same country, whenever anybody begins to look at things in a way that is slightly novel, nine hundred and ninety-nine people out of a thousand are totally incapable of seeing what he puts before them. It takes at least forty years before they can manage to make it out.” “Forty years!” the Princess cried in alarm. “Why, yes,” went on the Duchess, adding more and more to her words (which were practically my own, for I had just been expressing a similar idea to her), thanks to her way of pronouncing them, the equivalent of what on the printed page is called italics: “it’s like a sort of first isolated individual of a species which does not yet exist but is going to multiply in the future, an individual endowed with a kind of sense which the human race of his generation does not possess. I can hardly give myself as an instance because I, on the contrary, have always loved any interesting production from the very start, however novel it might be. But really, the other day I was with the Grand Duchess in the Louvre and we happened to pass before Manet’s Olympia. Nowadays nobody is in the least surprised by it. It looks just like an Ingres! And yet, heaven only knows how many spears I’ve had to break for that picture, which I don’t altogether like but which is unquestionably the work of somebody.” “And is the Grand Duchess well?” inquired the Princesse de Parme, to whom the Tsar’s aunt was infinitely more familiar than Manet’s model. “Yes; we talked about you. After all,” she resumed, clinging to her idea, “the fact of the matter is, as my brother-in-law Palamède always says, that one has between oneself and the rest of the world the barrier of a strange language. Though I admit that there’s no one it’s quite so true of as Gilbert. If it amuses you to go to the Iénas’, you have far too much sense to let your actions be governed by what that poor fellow may think, who is a dear, innocent creature, but really lives in a different world. I feel myself nearer, more akin to my coachman, my horses even, than to a man who keeps on harking back to what people would have thought under Philip the Bold or Louis the Fat. Just fancy, when he goes for a walk in the country, he takes a stick to drive the peasants out of his way, quite in a friendly spirit, saying: ‘Get on, clowns!’ Really, I’m just as much surprised when he speaks to me as if I heard myself addressed by one of the ‘recumbents’ on the old gothic tombs. It’s all very well that animated gravestone’s being my cousin; he frightens me, and the only idea that comes into my head is to let him stay in his Middle Ages. Apart from that, I quite admit that he’s never assassinated anyone.” “I’ve just been seeing him at dinner at Mme. de Villeparisis’s,” said the General, but without either smiling at or endorsing the Duchess’s pleasantries. “Was M. de Norpois there?” asked Prince Von, whose mind still ran on the Academy of Moral Sciences. “Why, yes;” said the General. “In fact, he was talking about your Emperor.” “It seems, the Emperor William is highly intelligent, but he does not care for Elstir’s painting. Not that I’m saying this against him,” said the Duchess, “I quite share his point of view. Although Elstir has done a fine portrait of me. You don’t know it? It’s not in the least like me, but it’s a remarkable piece of work. He is interesting while one’s sitting to him. He has made me like a little old woman It’s after the style of the Regents of the Hospital, by Hals. I expect you know those sublimities, to borrow my nephew’s favourite expression,” the Duchess turned to myself, gently flapping her fan of black feathers. More than erect on her chair, she flung her head nobly backwards, for, while always a great lady, she was a trifle inclined to play the great lady also. I said that I had been once to Amsterdam and The Hague, but that to avoid confusing my mind, as my time was limited, I had left out Haarlem. “Ah! The Hague! What a gallery!” cried M. de Guermantes. I said to him that he had doubtless admired Vermeer’s Street in Delft. But the Duke was less erudite than arrogant. Accordingly he contented himself with replying in a tone of sufficiency, as was his habit whenever anyone spoke to him of a picture in a gallery, or in the Salon, which he did not remember having seen. “If it’s to be seen, I saw it!” “What? You’ve been to Holland, and you never visited Haarlem!” cried the Duchess. “Why, even if you had only a quarter of an hour to spend in the place, they’re an extraordinary thing to have seen, those Halses. I don’t mind saying that a person who only caught a passing glimpse of them from the top of a tramway-car without stopping, supposing they were hung out to view in the street, would open his eyes pretty wide.” This utterance shocked me as indicating a misconception of the way in which artistic impressions are formed in our minds, and because it seemed to imply that our eye is in that case simply a recording machine which takes instantaneous photographs.

M. de Guermantes, rejoicing that she should be speaking to me with so competent a knowledge of the subjects that interested me, gazed at the illustrious bearing of his wife, listened to what she was saying about Franz Hals, and thought: “She rides rough-shod over everything! Our young friend can go home and say that he’s had before his eyes a great lady of the old school, in the full sense of the word, the like of whom couldn’t be found anywhere to-day.” Thus I beheld the pair of them, withdrawn from that name Guermantes in which long ago I had imagined them leading an unimaginable life, now just like other men and other women, lingering, only, behind their contemporaries a little way, and that not evenly, as in so many households of the Faubourg, where the wife has had the good taste to stop at the golden, the husband the misfortune to come down to the pinchbeck age of history, she remaining still Louis XV while her partner is pompously Louis-Philippe. That Mme. de Guermantes should be like other women had been for me at first a disappointment; it was now, by a natural reaction and with all these good wines to help, almost a miracle. A Don John of Austria, an Isabella d’Esté, situated for us in the world of names, have as little communication with the great pages of history as the Méséglise way had with the Guermantes. Isabella d’Esté was no doubt in reality a very minor Princess, similar to those who under Louis XIV obtained no special place at Court. But seeming to us to be of a unique and therefore incomparable essence, we cannot conceive of her as being any less in greatness, so that a supper-party with Louis XIV would appear to us only to be rather interesting, whereas with Isabella d’Este we should find ourselves, were we to meet her, gazing with our own eyes on a supernatural heroine of romance. Well, after we have, in studying Isabella d’Esté, in transplanting her patiently from this world of fairyland into that of history, established the fact that her life, her thought contained nothing of that mysterious strangeness which had been suggested to us by her name, once this disappointment is complete we feel a boundless gratitude to this Princess for having had, of Mantegna’s paintings, a knowledge almost equal to that, hitherto despised by us and put, as Françoise would have said, lower than the dirt, of M. Lafenestre. After having scaled the inaccessible heights of the name Guermantes, on descending the inner slope of the life of the Duchess, I felt on finding there the names, familiar elsewhere, of Victor Hugo, Franz Hals and, I regret to say, Vibert, the same astonishment that an explorer, after having taken into account, to imagine the singularity of the native customs in some wild valley of Central America or Northern Africa, its geographical remoteness, the strangeness of its flora, feels on discovering, once he has made his way through a hedge of giant aloes or manchineels, inhabitants who (sometimes indeed among the ruins of a Roman theatre and beneath a column dedicated to Venus) are engaged in reading Mérope or Alzire. And similarly, so remote, so distinct from, so far superior to the educated women of the middle classes whom I had known, the similar culture by which Mme. de Guermantes had made herself, with no ulterior motive, to gratify no ambition, descend to the level of people whom she would never know, had the character — meritorious, almost touching by virtue of being wholly useless — of an erudition in Phoenician antiquities in a politician or a doctor. “I might have shewn you a very fine one,” said Mme. de Guermantes, still speaking of Hals, “the finest in existence, some people say, which was left to me by a German cousin. Unfortunately, it turned out to be ‘enfeoffed’ in the castle — you don’t know the expression, nor I either,” she added, with her fondness for making jokes (which made her, she thought, seem modern) at the expense of the old customs to which nevertheless she was unconsciously but keenly attached. “I am glad you have seen my Elstirs, but, I must admit, I should have been a great deal more glad if I could have done you the honours of my Hals, this ‘enfeoffed’ picture.” “I know the one,” said Prince Von, “it’s the Grand Duke of Hesse’s Hals.” “Quite so; his brother married my sister,” said M. de Guermantes, “and his mother and Oriane’s were first cousins as well.” “But so far as M. Elstir is concerned,” the Prince went on, “I shall take the liberty of saying, without having any opinion of his work, which I do not know, that the hatred with which the Emperor pursues him ought not, it seems to me, to be counted against him. The Emperor is a man of marvellous intelligence.” “Yes, I’ve met him at dinner twice, once at my aunt Sagan’s and once at my aunt Radziwill’s, and I must say I found him quite unusual. I didn’t find him at all simple! But there is something amusing about him, something ‘forced,’” she detached the word, “like a green carnation, that is to say a thing that surprises me and docs not please me enormously, a thing it is surprising that anyone should have been able to create but which I feel would have been just as well uncreated. I trust I’m not shocking you.” “The Emperor is a man of astounding intelligence,” resumed the Prince, “he is passionately fond of the arts he has for works of art a taste that is practically infallible, if a thing is good he spots it at once and takes a dislike to it. If he detests anything there can be no more doubt about it, the thing is excellent.”Everyone smiled. “You set my mind at rest,” said the Duchess. “I should be inclined to compare the Emperor,” went on the Prince, who, not knowing how to pronounce the word archaeologist (that is to say, as though it were spelt ‘arkeologist’), never missed an opportunity of using it, “to an old archaeologist” (but the Prince said ‘arsheologist’) “we have in Berlin. If you put him in front of a genuine Assyrian antique, he weeps. But if it is a modern sham, if it is not really old, he does not weep. And so, when they want to know whether an arsheological piece is really old, they take it to the old arsheologist. If he weeps, they buy the piece for the Museum. If his eyes remain dry, they send it back to the dealer, and prosecute him for fraud. Well, every time I dine at Potsdam, if the Emperor says to me, of a play: ‘Prince, you must see that, it’s a work of genius,’ I make a note not to go to it; and when I hear him fulminating against an exhibition, I rush to see it at the first possible opportunity.” “Norpois is in favour of an Anglo-French understanding, isn’t he?” said M. de Guermantes. “What use would that be to you?” asked Prince Von, who could not endure the English, in a tone at once of irritation and cunning. “The English are so schtubid. I know, of course, that it would not be as soldiers that they would help you. But one can judge them, all the same, by the stupidity of their Generals. A friend of mine was talking the other day to Botha, you know, the Boer leader. He said to my friend: ‘It’s terrible, an army like that. I rather like the English, as a matter of fact, but just imagine that I, who am only a peasant, have beaten them in every battle. And in the last, when I gave way before a force twenty times the strength of my own, while I myself surrendered, because I had to, I managed to take two thousand prisoners! That was good enough, because I was only commanding an army of farmers, but if those poor fools ever have to stand up against a European army, one trembles to think what may happen to them!’ Besides, you have only to see how their King, whom you know as well as I do, passes for a great man in England.” I barely listened to these stories, stories of the kind that M. de Norpois used to tell my father; they supplied no food for my favourite train of thought; and besides, even had they possessed the elements which they lacked, they would have had to be of a very exciting quality for my inner life to awaken during those hours in which I dwelt in my skin, my well-brushed hair, my starched shirt-front, in which, that is to say, I could feel nothing of what constituted for me the pleasure of life. “Oh, I don’t agree with you at all,” said Mme. de Guermantes, who felt that the German Prince was wanting in tact, “I find King Edward charming, so simple, and much cleverer than people think. And the Queen is, even now, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in the world.” “But, Madame la Duchesse,” said the Prince, who was losing his temper and did not see that he was giving offence, “you must admit that if the Prince of Wales had been an ordinary person there isn’t a club that wouldn’t have blackballed him, and nobody would have been willing to shake hands with him. The Queen is charming, exceedingly sweet and limited. But after all there is something shocking about a royal couple who are literally kept by their subjects, who get the big Jewish financiers to foot all the bills they ought to pay themselves, and create them Baronets in return. It’s like the Prince of Bulgaria…” “He’s our cousin,” put in the Duchess. “He’s a clever fellow.” “He’s mine, too, but we don’t think him a good fellow on that account. No, it is us you ought to make friends with, it’s the Emperor’s dearest wish, but he insists on its coming from the heart. He says: ‘What I want to see is a hand clasped in mine, not waving a hat in the air.’ With that, you would be invincible. It would be more practical than the Anglo-French friendship M. de Norpois preaches.” “You know him, of course,” the Duchess said, turning to me, so as not to leave me out of the conversation. Remembering that M. de Norpois had said that I had once looked as though I wanted to kiss his hand, thinking that he had no doubt repeated this story to Mme. de Guermantes, and in any event could have spoken of me to her only with malice, since in spite of his friendship with my father he had not hesitated to make me appear so ridiculous, I did not do what a man of the world would have done. He would have said that he detested M. de Norpois, and had let him see it; he would have said this so as to give himself the appearance of being the deliberate cause of the Ambassador’s slanders, which would then have been no more than lying and calculated reprisals. I said, on the other hand, that, to my great regret, I was afraid that M. de Norpois did not like me. “You are quite mistaken,” replied the Duchess, “he likes you very much indeed. You can ask Basin, for if people give me the reputation of only saying nice things, he certainly doesn’t. He will tell you that we have never heard Norpois speak about anyone so kindly as he spoke to us of you. And only the other day he was wanting to give you a fine post at the Ministry. As he knew that you were not very strong and couldn’t accept it, he had the delicacy not to speak of his kind thought to your father, for whom he has an unbounded admiration.” M. de Norpois was quite the last person whom I should have expected to do me any practical service. The truth was that, his being a mocking and indeed somewhat malicious spirit, those people who had let themselves be taken in as I had by his outward appearance of a Saint Louis delivering justice beneath an oak-tree, by the sounds, easily modulated to pity, that emerged from his somewhat too tuneful lips, believed in a deliberate betrayal when they learned of a slander uttered at their expense by a man who had always seemed to put his whole heart into his speech. These slanders were frequent enough with him. But that did not prevent him from feeling attractions, from praising the people he liked and taking pleasure in shewing that he could be of use to them. “Not that I’m in the least surprised at his appreciating you,” said Mme. de Guermantes, “he’s an intelligent man. And I can quite understand,” she added, for the benefit of the rest of the party, making allusion to a purpose of marriage of which I had heard nothing, “that my aunt, who has long ceased to amuse him as an old mistress, may not seem of very much use to him as a young wife. Especially as I understand that even as a mistress she has ceased for years now to serve any practical purpose, she is more wrapped up in her devotions than anything else. Boaz-Norpois can say, in the words of Victor Hugo:

Voilà longtemps que celle avec qui j’ai dormi,

O Seigneur, a quitté ma couche pour la vôtre!

Really, my poor aunt is like the artists of the advanced guard who have stood out all their lives against the Academy, and in the end start a little academy of their own, or the unfrocked priests who get up a little private religion. They should either keep their frocks, or not stick to their profession. And who knows,” went on the Duchess with a meditative air, “it may be in preparation for her widowhood, there’s nothing sadder than the weeds one’s not entitled to wear.” “Ah! If Mme. de Villeparisis were to become Mme. de Norpois, I really believe our cousin Gilbert would take to his bed,” said General de Monserfeuil. “The Prince de Guermantes is a charming man, but he is, really, very much taken up with questions of birth and manners,” said the Princesse de Parme. “I went down to spend a few days with them in the country, when the Princess, unfortunately, was ill in bed. I was accompanied by Petite.” (This was a nickname that was given to Mme. d’Hunolstein because she was enormously stout.) “The Prince came to meet me at the foot of the steps, and pretended not to see Petite. We went up to the first floor, to the door into the reception rooms, and then, stepping back to make way for me, he said: ‘Oh, how d’ye do, Mme. d’Hunolstein?’ (he always calls her that now, since her separation) pretending to have caught sight of Petite for the first time, so as to shew her that he had not come down to receive her at the foot of the steps.” “That doesn’t surprise me in the least. I don’t need to tell you,” said the Duke, who regarded himself as extremely modern, more contemptuous than anyone in the world of mere birth, and in fact a Republican, “that I have not many ideas in common with my cousin. Ma’am can imagine that we are just about as much agreed on most subjects as day and night. But I must say that if my aunt were to marry Norpois, for once I should be of Gilbert’s opinion. To be the daughter of Florimond de Guise, and then to make a marriage like that would be enough, as the saying is, to make a cat laugh; what more can I say?” These last words, which the Duke uttered as a rule in the middle of a sentence, were here quite superfluous. But he felt a perpetual need to be saying them which made him postpone them to the end of a speech if he had found no place for them elsewhere. They were for him, among other things, almost a question of prosody. “Remember, though,” he added, “that the Norpois are gallant gentlemen with a good place, of a good stock.”

“Listen to me, Basin, it’s really not worth your while to poke fun at Gilbert if you’re going to speak the same language as he does,” said Mme. de Guermantes, for whom the ‘goodness’ of a family, no less than that of a wine, consisted in its age. But, less frank than her cousin and more subtle than her husband, she made a point of never in her conversation playing false to the Guermantes spirit, and despised rank in her speech while ready to honour it by her actions. “But aren’t you some sort of cousins?” asked General de Monserfeuil. “I seem to remember that Norpois married a La Rochefoucauld.” “Not in that way at all, she belonged to the branch of the Ducs de La Rochefoucauld, my grandmother came from the Ducs de Doudeauville. She was own grandmother to Edouard Coco, the wisest man in the family,” replied the Duke, whose views of wisdom were somewhat superficial, “and the two branches haven’t intermarried since Louis XIV’s time; the connexion would be rather distant.”

“I say, that’s interesting; I never knew that,” said the General. “However,” went on M. de Guermantes, “his mother, I believe, was the sister of the Duc de Montmorency, and had originally been married to a La Tour d’Auvergne. But as those Montmorencys are barely Montmorencys, while those La Tour d’Auvergnes are not La Tour d’Auvergnes at all, I cannot see that it gives him any very great position. He says — and this should be more to the point — that he’s descended from Saintrailles, and as we ourselves are in a direct line of descent…”

There was at Combray a Rue de Saintrailles, to which I had never given another thought. It led from the Rue de la Bretonnerie to the Rue de l’Oiseau. And as Saintrailles, the companion of Joan of Arc, had, by marrying a Guermantes, brought into that family the County of Combray, his arms were quartered with those of Guermantes at the foot of one of the windows in Saint-Hilaire. I saw again a vision of dark sandstone steps, while a modulation of sound brought to my ears that name, Guermantes, in the forgotten tone in which I used to hear it long ago, so different from that in which it was used to signify the genial hosts with whom I was dining this evening. If the name, Duchesse de Guermantes, was for me a collective name, it was so not merely in history, by the accumulation of all the women who had successively borne it, but also in the course of my own short life, which had already seen, in this single Duchesse de Guermantes, so many different women superimpose themselves, each one vanishing as soon as the next had acquired sufficient consistency. Words do not change their meaning as much in centuries as names do for us in the space of a few years. Our memory and our heart are not large enough to be able to remain faithful. We have not room enough, in our mental field, to keep the dead there as well as the living. We are obliged to build over what has gone before and is brought to light only by a chance excavation, such as the name Saintrailles had just wrought in my mind. I felt that it would be useless to explain all this, and indeed a little while earlier I had lied by implication in not answering when M. de Guermantes said to me: “You don’t know our old wheedler?” Perhaps he was quite well aware that I did know him, and it was only from good breeding that he did not press the question.

Mme. de Guermantes drew me out of my meditation. “Really, I find all that sort of thing too deadly. Listen, it’s not always as boring as this at my parties. I hope that you will soon come and dine again as a compensation, with no pedigrees next time,” she murmured, incapable both of appreciating the kind of charm which I could find in her house and of having sufficient humility to be content to appeal to me only as a herbarium, filled with plants of another day.

What Mme. de Guermantes believed to be disappointing my expectations was on the contrary what in the end — for the Duke and the General went on to discuss pedigrees now without stopping — saved my evening from becoming a complete disappointment. How could I have felt otherwise until now? Each of my fellow-guests at dinner, smothering the mysterious name under which I had only at a distance known and dreamed of them with a body and with a mind similar or inferior to those of all the people I knew, had given me the impression of flat vulgarity which the view on entering the Danish port of Elsinore would give to any passionate admirer of Hamlet. No doubt those geographical regions and that ancient past which put forest glades and gothic belfries into their names had in a certain measure formed their faces, their intellects and their prejudices, but survived in them only as does the cause in the effect, that is to say as a thing possible for the brain to extract but in no way perceptible to the imagination.

And these old-time prejudices restored in a flash to the friends of M. and Mme. de Guermantes their vanished poetry. Assuredly, the motions in the possession of nobles, which make of them the scholars, the etymologists of the language not of words but of names (and this, moreover, relatively only to the ignorant mass of the middle classes, for if at the same level of mediocrity a devout Catholic would be better able to stand questioning upon the details of the Liturgy than a free-thinker, on the other hand an anti-clerical archaeologist can often give points to his parish priest on everything connected even with the latter’s own church), those notions, if we are going to confine ourselves to the truth, that is to say to the spirit, had not for these great gentlemen the charm that they would have had for a man of simple birth. They knew perhaps better than myself that the Duchesse de Guise was Princess of Cleves, of Orleans and of Porcien, and all the rest, but they had known, long before they knew all these names, the face of the Duchesse de Guise which thenceforward the names reflected back to them. I had begun with the fairy — were she fated shortly to perish — they with the woman.

In middle-class families one sometimes sees jealousies spring up if the younger sister is married before the elder. So the aristocratic world, Courvoisiers especially but Guermantes also, reduced its ennobled greatness to simple domestic superiorities, by a system of child’s-play which I had me’ originally (and this gave it for me its sole charm) in books. Is it not just as though Tallemant des Réaux were speaking of the Guermantes, and not of the Rohans, when he relates with evident satisfaction how M. de Guéménée cried to his brother: “You can come in here; this is not the Louvre!” and said of the Chevalier de Rohan (because he was a natural son of the Duc de Clermont): “At any rate, he’s a Prince.” The only thing that distressed me in all this talk was to find that the absurd stories which were being circulated about the charming Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg found as much credence in this drawing-room as they had among Saint-Loup’s friends. Plainly it was an epidemic that would not last longer than perhaps a year or two but had meanwhile infected everyone. People repeated the same old stories, or enriched them with others equally untrue. I gathered that the Princesse de Luxembourg herself, while apparently defending her nephew, supplied weapons for the assault. “You are wrong to stand up for him,” M. de Guermantes told me, as Saint-Loup had told me before. “Why, without taking into consideration the opinion of our family, who are unanimous about him, you have only to talk to his servants, and they, after all, are the people who know him best. M. de Luxembourg gave his little Negro page to his nephew. The Negro came back in tears: ‘Grand Duke beaten me; me no bad boy; Grand Duke naughty man,’ it’s really too much. And I can speak with some knowledge, he’s Oriane’s cousin.” I cannot, by the way, say how many times in the course of this evening I heard the word ‘cousin’ used. On the one hand, M. de Guermantes, almost at every name that was mentioned, exclaimed: “But he’s Oriane’s cousin!” with the sudden joy of a man who, lost in a forest, reads at the ends of a pair of arrows pointing in opposite directions on a metal plate, and followed by quite a low number of kilometres, the words: “Belvédère Casimir-Perier” and “Croix du Grand-Veneur,” and gathers from them that he is on the right road. On the other hand the word cousin was employed in a wholly different connexion (which was here the exception to the prevailing rule) by the Turkish Ambassadress, who had come in after dinner. Devoured by social ambition and endowed with a real power of assimilating knowledge, she would pick up with equal facility the story of the Retreat of the Ten Thousand or the details of sexual perversion among birds. It would have been impossible to ‘stump’ her on any of the most recent German publications, whether they dealt with political economy, mental aberrations, the various forms of onanism, or the philosophy of Epicurus. She was, incidentally, a dangerous person to listen to, for, perpetually in error, she would point out to you as being of the loosest morals women of irreproachable virtue, would put you on your guard against a gentleman whose intentions were perfectly honourable, and would tell you anecdotes of the sort that seem always to have come out of a book, not so much because they are serious as because they are so wildly improbable.

She was at this period little received in society. She had been going for some weeks now to the houses of women of real social brilliance, such as the Duchesse de Guermantes, but as a general rule had confined herself, of necessity, in the noblest families, to obscure scions whom the Guermantes had ceased to know. She hoped to give herself a really fashionable air by quoting the most historic names of the little-known people who were her friends. At once M. de Guermantes, thinking that she was referring to people who frequently dined at his table, quivered with joy at finding himself once more in sight of a landmark and shouted the rallying-cry: “But he’s Oriane’s cousin! I know him as well as I know my own name. He lives in the Rue Vaneau. His mother was Mlle. d’Uzés.” The Ambassadress was obliged to admit that her specimen had been drawn from smaller game. She tried to connect her friends with those of M. de Guermantes by cutting across his track: “I know quite well who’ you mean. No, it’s not those ones, they’re cousins.” But this cross-current launched by the unfortunate Ambassadress ran but a little way. For M. de Guermantes, losing interest, answered: “Oh, then I don’t know who’ you’re talking about.” The Ambassadress offered no reply, for if she never knew anyone nearer than the ‘cousins’ of those whom she ought to have known in person, very often these ‘cousins’ were not even related at all. Then from the lips of M. de Guermantes, would flow a fresh wave of “But she’s Oriane’s cousin!” words which seemed to have for the Duke the same practical value as certain epithets, convenient to the Roman poets because they provided them with dactyls or spondees for their hexameters. At least the explosion of: “But she’s Oriane’s cousin!” appeared to me quite natural when applied to the Princesse de Guermantes, who was indeed very closely related to the Duchess. The Ambassadress did not seem to care for this Princess. She said to me in an undertone: “She is stupid. No, she is not so beautiful as all that. That claim is usurped. Anyhow,” she went on, with an air at once reflective, rejecting and decided, “I find her most uncongenial.” But often the cousinship extended a great deal further than this, Mme. de Guermantes making it a point of honour to address as ‘Aunt’ ladies with whom it would have been impossible to find her an ancestress in common without going back at least to Louis XV; just as, whenever the ‘hardness’ of the times brought it about that a multimillionairess married a prince whose great-great-grandfather had espoused, as had Oriane’s also, a daughter of Louvois, one of the chief joys of the fair American was to be able, after a first visit to the Hôtel de Guermantes, where she was, incidentally, more or less coldly received and hotly cross-examined, to say ‘Aunt’ to Mme. de Guermantes, who allowed her to do so with a maternal smile. But little did it concern me what birth meant for M. de Guermantes and M. de Monserfeuil; in the conversations which they held on the subject I sought only for a poetic pleasure. Without being conscious of it themselves, they procured me this pleasure as might a couple of labourers or sailors speaking of the soil or the tides, realities too little detached from their own lives for them to be capable of enjoying the beauty which personally I proceeded to extract from them.

Sometimes rather than of a race it was of a particular fact, of a date that a name reminded me. Hearing M. de Guermantes recall that M. de Bréauté’s mother had been a Choiseul and his grandmother a Lucinge, I fancied I could see beneath the commonplace shirt with its plain pearl studs, bleeding still in two globes of crystal, those august relics, the hearts of Mme. de Praslin and of the Duc de Berri. Others were more voluptuous: the fine and flowing hair of Mme. de Tallien or Mme. de Sabran.

Better informed than his wife as to what their ancestors had been, M. de Guermantes found himself the possessor of memories which gave to his conversation a fine air of an ancient mansion stripped of its real treasures but still full of pictures, authentic, indifferent and majestic, which taken as a whole look remarkably well. The Prince d’Agrigente having asked why Prince Von had said, in speaking of the Due d’Aumale, ‘my uncle,’ M. de Guermantes had replied: “Because his mother’s brother, the Duke of Wurttemberg, married a daughter of Louis-Philippe.” At once I was lost in contemplation of a casket, such as Carpaccio or Memling used to paint, from its first panel in which the Princess, at the wedding festivities of her brother the Duc d’Orléans, appeared wearing a plain garden dress to indicate her resentment at having seen the return, empty-handed, of the ambassadors who had been sent to sue on her behalf for the hand of the Prince of Syracuse, down to the last, in which she had just given birth to a son, the Duke of Württemberg (the first cousin of the Prince whom I had met at dinner), in that castle called Fantaisie, one of those places which are as aristocratic as certain families. They, moreover, outlasting a single generation of men, see attached to themselves more than one historical personage. In this one, especially, survive side by side memories of the Margravine of Bayreuth, of this other somewhat fantastic Princess (the Duc d’Orléans’s sister), to whom it was said that the name of her husband’s castle made a distinct appeal, of the King of Bavaria, and finally of Prince Von, to whom it was simply his own postal address, at which he had just asked the Duc de Guermantes to write to him, for he had succeeded to it, and let it only during the Wagner festivals, to the Prince de Polignac, another delightful ‘fantasist.’ When M. de Guermantes, to explain how he was related to Mme. d’Arpajon, was obliged, going so far and so simply, to climb the chain formed by the joined hands of three or five ancestresses back to Marie-Louise or Colbert, it was still the same thing in each case; a great historical event appeared only in passing, masked, unnatural, reduced, in the name of a property, in the Christian names of a woman, so selected because she was the granddaughter of Louis-Philippe and Marie-Amélie, considered no longer as King and Queen of the French, but merely in the extent to which in their capacity as grandparents they bequeathed a heritage. (We see for other reasons in a gazetteer of the works of Balzac, where the most illustrious personages figure only according to their connexion with the Comédie Humaine, Napoleon occupy a space considerably less than that allotted to Rastignac, and occupy that space solely because he once spoke to the young ladies of Cinq-Cygne.) Similarly the aristocracy, in its heavy structure, pierced with rare windows, admitting a scanty daylight, shewing the same incapacity to soar but also the same massive and blind force as the architecture of the romanesque age, embodies all our history, immures it, beetles over it.

Thus the empty spaces of my memory were covered by degrees with names which in taking order, in composing themselves with relation to one another, in linking themselves to one another by an increasingly numerous connexion, resembled those finished works of art in which there is not one touch that is isolated, in which every part in turn receives from the rest a justification which it confers on them.

M. de Luxembourg’s name having come up again in the course of the conversation, the Turkish Ambassadress told us how, the young bride’s grandfather (he who had made that immense fortune out of flour and cereals) having invited M. de Luxembourg to luncheon, the latter had written to decline, putting on the envelope: “M. So-and-So, Miller,” to which the grandfather had replied: “I am all the more disappointed that you were not able to come, my dear friend, because I should have been able to enjoy your society quite intimately, for we were quite an intimate party, just ourselves, and there would have been only the Miller, his Son, and you.” This story was not merely utterly distasteful to me, who knew the impossibility of my dear M. de Nassau’s writing to the grandfather of his wife (whose fortune, moreover, he was expecting to inherit) and addressing him as ‘Miller’; but furthermore its stupidity became glaring from the start, the word ‘Miller’ having obviously been dragged in only to lead up to the title of La Fontaine’s fable. But there is in the Faubourg Saint-Germain a silliness so great, when it is aggravated by malice, that they decided that the letter had been sent and that the grandfather, as to whom at once everyone confidently declared that he was a remarkable man, had shewn a prettier wit than his grandson-in-law. The Duc de Châtellerault tried to take advantage of this story to tell the one that I had heard in the café: “Everyone had to lie down!”— but scarcely had he begun, or reported M. de Luxembourg’s pretension that in his wife’s presence M. de Guermantes ought to stand up, when the Duchess stopped him with the protest: “No, he is very absurd, but not as bad as that.” I was privately convinced that all these stories at the expense of M. de Luxembourg were equally untrue, and that whenever I found myself face to face with any of th reputed actors or spectators I should hear the same contradiction. I asked myself, nevertheless, whether the contradiction just uttered by Mme. de Guermantes had been inspired by regard for truth or by self-esteem. In either event the latter quality succumbed to malice, for she went on, with a laugh: “Not that I haven’t had my little fling at him too, for he invited me to luncheon, wishing to make me know the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, which is how he has the good taste to describe his wife when he’s writing to his aunt. I sent a reply expressing my regret, and adding: As for the ‘Grand Duchess of Luxembourg’ (in inverted commas), tell her that if she is coming to see me I am at home every Thursday after five. I have even had another little fling. Happening to be at Luxembourg, I telephoned, asking him to ring me up. His Highness was going to luncheon, had just risen from luncheon, two hours went by and nothing happened; so then I employed another method: ‘Will you tell the Comte de Nassau to come and speak to me?’ Cut to the quick, he was at the instrument that very minute.” Everyone laughed at the Duchess’s story, and at other analogous, that is to say (I am convinced of it) equally untrue stories, for a man more intelligent, better, more refined, in a word more exquisite than this Luxembourg-Nassau I have never met. The sequel will shew that it was I who was in the right. I must admit that, in the midst of her onslaught, Mme. de Guermantes had still a kind word for him. “He was not always like that,” she informed us. “Before he went off his head, like the man in the story-book who thinks he’s become king, he was no fool, and indeed in the early days of his engagement he used to speak of it in really quite a nice way, as something he could never have dreamed of: ‘It’s just like a fairy-tale; I shall have to make my entry into Luxembourg in a fairy coach,’ he said to his uncle d’Ornessan, who answered — for you know it’s not a very big place, Luxembourg: ‘A fairy coach! I’m afraid, my dear fellow, you’d never get it in. I should suggest that you take a goat carriage.’ Not only did this not annoy Nassau, but he was the first to tell us the story, and to laugh at it.” “Ornessan is a witty fellow, and he’s every rea — son to be; his mother was a Montjeu. lie’s in a very bad way now, poor Ornessan.” This name had the magic virtue of interrupting the flow of stale witticisms which otherwise would have gone on for ever. In fact, M. de Guermantes had to explain that M. d’Ornessan’s great-grandmother had been the sister of Marie de Castille Montjeu, the wife of Timoléon de Lorraine, and consequently Oriane’s aunt, with the result that the conversation drifted back to genealogies, while the idiot of a Turkish Ambassadress breathed in my ear: “You appear to be very much in the Duke’s good books; have a care!” and, on my demanding an explanation: “I mean to say, you understand what I mean, he’s a man to whom one could safely entrust one’s daughter, but not one’s son.” Now if ever, on the contrary, a man existed who was passionately and exclusively a lover of women, it was certainly the Duc de Guermantes. The state of error, the falsehood fatuously believed to be the truth, were for the Ambassadress like a vital element out of which she could not move. “His brother Mémé, who is, as it happens, for other reasons altogether” (he did not bow to her) “profoundly uncongenial to me, is genuinely distressed by the Duke’s morals. So is their aunt Villeparisis. Ah, now, her I adore! There is a saint of a woman for you, the true type of the great ladies of the past. It’s not only her actual virtue that’s so wonderful but her restraint. She still says ‘Monsieur’ to the Ambassador Norpois whom she sees every day, and who, by the way, left an excellent impression behind him in Turkey.”

I did not even reply to the Ambassadress, in order to listen to the genealogies. They were not all of them important. There came up indeed in the course of the conversation one of those unexpected alliances, which, M. de Guermantes informed me, was a misalliance, but not without charm, for, uniting under the July Monarchy the Duc de Guermantes and the Duc de Fezensac with the two irresistible daughters of an eminent navigator, it gave the two Duchesses the exciting novelty of a grace exotically middle-class, ‘Louisphilippically’ Indian. Or else, under Louis XIV, a Norpois had married the daughter of the Duc de Mortenart, whose illustrious title struck, in the remoteness of that epoch, the name — which I had found colourless and might have supposed to be modern — of Norpois, carving deeply upon it the beauty of an old medal. And in these cases, moreover, it was not only the less well-known name that benefited by the association; the other, grown commonplace by the fact of its lustre, struck me more forcibly in this novel and more obscure aspect, just as among the portraits painted by a brilliant colourist the most striking is sometimes one that is all in black. The sudden mobility with which all these names seemed to me to have been endowed, as they sprang to take their places by the side of others from which I should have supposed them to be remote, was due not to my ignorance alone; the country-dances which they were performing in my mind they had carried out no less spontaneously at those epochs in which a title, being always attached to a piece of land, used to follow it from one family to another, so much so that, for example, in the fine feudal structure that is the title of Duc de Nemours or Duc de Chevreuse, I was able to discover successively hidden, as in the hospitable abode of a hermit-crab, a Guise, a Prince of Savoy, an Orléans, a Luynes. Sometimes several remained in competition for a single shell: for the Principality of Orange the Royal House of the Netherlands and MM. de Mailly-Nesle for the Duchy of Brabant the Baron de Charlus and the Royal House of Belgium, various others for the titles of Prince of Naples, Duke of Parma Duke of Reggio. Sometimes it was the other way; the shell had been so’ long uninhabited by proprietors long since dead that it had never occurred to me that this or that name of a country house could have been, at an epoch which after all was comparatively recent, the name of a family. And so, when M. de Guermantes replied to a question put to him by M. de Monserfeuil: “No, my cousin was a fanatical Royalist; she was the daughter of the Marquis de Féterne, who played a certain part in the Chouan rising,” on seeing this name Féterne, which had been for me, since my stay at Balbec, the name of a country house, become, what I had never dreamed that it could possibly be, a family name, I felt the same astonishment as in reading a fairy-tale, where turrets and a terrace come to life and turn into men and women. In this sense of the words, we may say that history, even mere family history, gives life to the old stones of a house. There have been in Parisian society men who played as considerable a part in it, who were more sought after for their distinction or for their wit, who were equally well born as the Duc de Guermantes or the Duc de La Trémoïlle. They have now fallen into oblivion because, as they left no descendants, their name which we no longer hear sounds like a name unknown; at most, the name of a thing beneath which we never think to discover the name of any person, it survives in some country house, some remote village. The day is not distant when the traveller who, in the heart of Burgundy, stops in the little village of Charlus to look at its church, if he has not sufficient industry or is in too great a hurry to examine its tombstones, will go away ignorant that this name, Charlus, was that of a man who ranked with the highest in the land. This thought reminded me that it was time to go, and that while I was listening to M. de Guermantes talking pedigrees, the hour was approaching at which I had promised to call upon his brother. “Who knows,” I continued to muse, “whether one day Guermantes itself may not appear nothing more than a place-name, save to the archaeologists who, stopping by chance at Combray and standing beneath the window of Gilbert the Bad, have the patience to listen to the account given them by Theodore’s successor or to read the Cure’s guide?” But so long as a great name is not extinct it keeps in the full light of day those men and women who bear it; and there can be no doubt that, to a certain extent, the interest which the illustriousness of these families gave them in my eyes lay in the fact that one can, starting from to-day, follow their ascending course, step by step, to a point far beyond the fourteenth century, recover the diaries and correspondence of all the forebears of M. de Charlus, of the Prince d’Agrigente, of the Princesse de Parme, in a past in which an impenetrable night would cloak the origins of a middle-class family, and in which we make out, in the luminous backward projection of a name, the origin and persistence of certain nervous characteristics, certain vices, the disorders of one or another Guermantes. Almost identical pathologically with their namesakes of the present day, they excite from century to century the startled interest of their correspondents, whether these be anterior to the Princess Palatine and Mme. de Motteville, or subsequent to the Prince de Ligne.

However, my historical curiosity was faint in comparison with my aesthetic pleasure. The names cited had the effect of disincarnating the Duchess’s guests, whom, for all they might call themselves Prince d’Agrigente or de Cystira, their mask of flesh and of a common intelligence or want of intelligence had transformed into ordinary mortals, so much so that I had made my landing on the ducal door-mat not as upon the threshold (as I had supposed) but as at the farthest confines of the enchanted world of names. The Prince d’Agrigente himself, as soon as I heard that his mother had been a Damas, a granddaughter of the Duke of Modena, was delivered, as from an unstable chemical alloy, from the face and speech that prevented one from recognising him, and went to form with Damas and Modena, which themselves were only titles, a combination infinitely more seductive. Each name displaced by the attractions of another, with which I had never suspected it of having any affinity, left the unalterable position which it had occupied in my brain, where familiarity had dulled it, and, speeding to join the Mortemarts, the Stuarts or the Bourbons, traced with them branches of the most graceful design and an ever-changing colour. The name Guermantes itself received from all the beautiful names — extinct, and so all the more glowingly rekindled — with which I learned only now that it was connected, a new sense and purpose, purely poetical. At the most, at the extremity of each spray that burgeoned from the exalted stem, I could see it flower in some face of a wise king or illustrious princess, like the sire of Henri IV or the Duchesse de Longueville. But as these faces, different in this respect from those of the party around me, were not discoloured for me by any trace of physical experience or fashionable mediocrity, they remained, in their handsome outlines and rainbow iridescence, homogeneous with those names which at regular intervals, each of a different hue, detached themselves from the genealogical tree of Guermantes, and disturbed with no foreign or opaque matter the buds — pellucid, alternate, many-coloured — which (like, in the old Jesse windows, the ancestors of Jesus) blossomed on either side of the tree of glass.

Already I had made several attempts to slip away, on account, more than for any other reason, of the triviality which my presence at it imparted to the gathering, albeit it was one of those which I had long imagined as being so beautiful — as it would doubtless have been had there been no inconvenient witness present. At least my departure would permit the other guests, once the profane intruder was no longer among them, to constitute themselves at length into a secret conclave. They would be free to celebrate the mysteries for the celebration of which they had met together, for it could obviously not have been to talk of Franz Hals or of avarice, and to talk of them in the same way as people talk in middle-class society. They uttered nothing but trivialities, doubtless because I was in the room, and I felt with some compunction, on seeing all these pretty women kept apart, that I was preventing them by my presence from carrying on, in the most precious of its drawing-rooms, the mysterious life of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. But this departure which I was trying at every moment to effect, M. and Mme. de Guermantes carried the spirit of self-sacrifice so far as to postpone, by keeping me in the room. A more curious thing still, several of the ladies who had come hurrying, delighted, beautifully dressed, with constellations of jewels, to be present at a party which, through my fault only, differed in no essential point from those that are given elsewhere than in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, any more than one feels oneself at Balbec to be in a town that differs from what one’s eyes are accustomed to see — several of these ladies retired not at all disappointed, as they had every reason to be, but thanking Mme. de Guermantes most effusively for the delightful evening which they had spent, as though on the other days, those on which I was not present, nothing more used to occur.

Was it really for the sake of dinners such as this that all these people dressed themselves up and refused to allow the penetration of middle-class women into their so exclusive drawing-rooms — for dinners such as this? The same, had I been absent? The suspicion flashed across my mind for a moment, but it was too absurd. Plain commonsense enabled me to brush it aside. And then, if I had adopted it, what would have been left of the name Guermantes, already so degraded since Combray?

It struck me that these flower-maidens were, to a strange extent, either ready to be pleased with another person or anxious to make that person pleased with them, for more than one of them, to whom I had not uttered, during the whole course of the evening, more than two or three casual remarks, the stupidity of which had left me blushing, made a point, before leaving the drawing-room, of coming to tell me, fastening on me her fine caressing eyes, straightening as she spoke the garland of orchids that followed the curve of her bosom, what an intense pleasure it had been to her to make my acquaintance, and to speak to me — a veiled allusion to an invitation to dinner — of her desire to ‘arrange something’ after she had ‘fixed a day’ with Mme. de Guermantes. None of these flower ladies left the room before the Princesse de Parme. The presence of that lady — one must never depart before Royalty — was one of the two reasons, neither of which I had guessed, for which the Duchess had insisted so strongly on my remaining. As soon as Mme. de Parme had risen, it was like a deliverance. Each of the ladies having made a genuflexion before the Princess, who raised her up from the ground, they received from her, in a kiss, and like a benediction which they had craved kneeling, the permission to ask for their cloaks and carriages. With the result that there followed, at the front door, a sort of stentorian recital of great names from the History of France. The Princesse de Parme had forbidden Mme. de Guermantes to accompany her downstairs to the hall for fear of her catching cold, and the Duke had added: “There, Oriane, since Ma’am gives you leave, remember what the doctor told you.”

“I am sure the Princesse de Parme was most pleased to take dinner with you.” I knew the formula. The Duke had come the whole way across the drawing-room in order to utter it before me with an obliging, concerned air, as though he were handing me a diploma or offering me a plateful of biscuits. And I guessed from the pleasure which he appeared to be feeling as he spoke, and which brought so sweet an expression momentarily into his face, that the effort which this represented for him was of the kind which he would continue to make to the very end of his life, like one of those honorific and easy posts which, even when paralytic, one is still allowed to retain.

Just as I was about to leave, the lady in waiting reappeared in the drawing-room, having forgotten to take away some wonderful carnations, sent up from Guermantes, which the Duchess had presented to Mme. de Parme. The lady in waiting was somewhat flushed, one felt that she had just been receiving a scolding, for the Princess, so kind to everyone else, could not contain her impatience at the stupidity of her attendant. And so the latter picked up the flowers and ran quickly, but to preserve her air of ease and independence flung at me as she passed: “The Princess says I’m keeping her waiting; she wants to be gone, and to have the carnations as well. Good lord! I’m not a little bird, I can’t be in two places at once.”

Alas! the rule of not leaving before Royalty was not the only one. I could not depart at once, for there was another: this was that the famous lavishness, unknown to the Courvoisiers, with which the Guermantes, whether opulent or practically ruined, excelled in entertaining their friends, was not only a material lavishness, of the kind that I had often experienced with Robert de Saint-Loup, but also a lavish display of charming words, of courteous actions, a whole system of verbal elegance supplied from a positive treasure-house within. But as this last, in the inactivity of fashionable existence, must remain unemployed, it expanded at times, sought an outlet in a sort of fugitive effusion, all the more intense, which might, in Mme. de Guermantes, have led one to suppose a genuine affection for oneself. Which she did, for that matter, feel at the moment when she let it overflow, for she found then in the society of the friend, man or woman, with whom she happened to be a sort of intoxication, in no way sensual, similar to that which music produces in certain people; she would suddenly detach a flower from her bodice, or a medallion, and present it to someone with whom she would have liked to prolong the evening, with a melancholy feeling the while that such a prolongation could have led to nothing but idle talk, into which nothing could have passed of the nervous pleasure, the fleeting emotion, similar to the first warm days of spring in the impression they leave behind them of exhaustion and regret. As for the friend, it did not do for him to put too implicit a faith in the promises, more exhilarating than anything he had ever heard, tendered by these women who, because they feel with so much more force the sweetness of a moment, make of it, with a delicacy, a nobility of which normally constituted creatures are incapable, a compelling masterpiece of grace and goodness, and have no longer anything of themselves left to give when the next moment has arrived. Their affection does not outlive the exaltation that has dictated it; and the subtlety of mind which had then led them to divine all the things that you wished to hear and to say them to you will permit them just as easily, a few days later, to seize hold of your absurdities and use them to entertain another of their visitors with whom they will then be in the act of enjoying one of those ‘musical moments’ which are so brief.

In the hall where I asked a footman for my snowboots which I had brought as a precaution against the snow, several flakes of which had already fallen, to be converted rapidly into slush, not having realised that they were hardly fashionable, I felt, at the contemptuous smile on all sides, a shame which rose to its highest pitch when I saw that Mme. de Parme had not gone and was watching me put on my American ‘rubbers.’ The Princess came towards me. “Oh! What a good idea,” she exclaimed, “it’s so practical! There’s a sensible man for you. Madame, we shall have to get a pair of those,” she went on to her lady in waiting, while the mockery of the footmen turned to respect and the other guests crowded round me to inquire where I had managed to find these marvels. “With those on, you will have nothing to fear even if it starts snowing again and you have a long way to go. You’re independent of the weather,” said the Princess to me. “Oh! If it comes to that, your Royal Highness can be reassured,” broke in the lady in waiting with a knowing air, “it will not snow again.” “What do you know about it, Madame?” came witheringly from the excellent Princesse de Parme, who alone could succeed in piercing the thick skin of her lady in waiting. “I can assure your Royal Highness, it cannot snow again. It is a physical impossibility.” “But why?” “It cannot snow any more, they have taken the necessary steps to prevent it, they have put down salt in the streets!” The simple-minded lady did not observe either the anger of the Princess or the mirth of the rest of her audience, for instead of remaining silent she said to me with a genial smile, paying no heed to my repeated denials of any connexion with Admiral Jurien de la Gravière: “Not that it matters, after all. This gentleman must have stout sea-legs. What’s bred in the bone!”

Then, having escorted the Princesse de Parme to her carriage, M. de Guermantes said to me, taking hold of my greatcoat: “Let me help you into your skin.” He had ceased even to smile when he employed this expression, for those that were most vulgar had for that very reason, because of the Guermantes affectation of simplicity, become aristocratic.

An exaltation that sank only into melancholy, because it was artificial, was what I also, although quite differently from Mme. de Guermantes, felt once I had finally left her house, in the carriage that was taking me to that of M. de Charlus. We can at pleasure abandon ourselves to one or other of two forces of which one rises in ourselves, emanates from our deepest impressions, the other comes to us from without. The first carries with it naturally a joy, the joy that springs from the life of the creator. The other current, that which endeavours to introduce into us the movement by which persons external to ourselves are stirred, is not accompanied by pleasure; but we can add a pleasure to it, by the shock of reaction, in an intoxication so feigned that it turns swiftly into boredom, into melancholy, whence the gloomy faces of so many men of fashion, and all those nervous conditions which may make them end in suicide. Well, in the carriage which was taking me to M. de Charlus, I was a prey to this second sort of exaltation, widely different from that which is given us by a personal impression, such as I had received in other carriages, once at Combray, in Dr. Percepied’s gig, from which I had seen painted against the setting sun the spires of Martinville, another day at Balbec, in Mme. de Villeparisis’s barouche, when I strove to identify the reminiscence that was suggested to me by an avenue of trees. But in this third carriage, what I had before my mind’s eye were those conversations that had seemed to me so tedious at Mme. de Guermante’s dinner-table, for example Prince Von’s stories about the German Emperor, General Botha and the British Army. I had slipped them into the frame of the internal stereoscope through the lenses of which, once we are no longer ourselves, once, endowed with the spirit of society, we no longer wish to receive our life save from other people, we cast into relief what they have said and done. Like a tipsy man filled with tender feeling for the waiter who has been serving him, I marvelled at my good fortune, a good fortune not realised by me, it is true, at the actual moment, in having dined with a person who knew William II so well, and had told stories about him that were — upon my word — really witty. And, as I repeated to myself, with the Prince’s German accent, the story of General Botha, I laughed out loud, as though this laugh, like certain kinds of applause which increase one’s inward admiration, were necessary to the story as a corroboration of its comic element. Through the magnifying lenses even those of Mme. de Guermantes’s pronouncements which had struck me as being stupid (as for example that on the Hals pictures which one ought to see from the top of a tramway-car) took on a life, a depth that were extraordinary. And I must say that, even if this exaltation was quick to subside, it was not altogether unreasonable. Just as there may always come a day when we are glad to know the person whom we despise more than anyone in the world because he happens to be connected with a girl with whom we are in love, to whom he can introduce us, and thus offers us both utility and gratification, attributes in each of which we should have supposed him to be entirely lacking, so there is no conversation, any more than there are personal relations, from which we can be certain that we shall not one day derive some benefit. What Mme. de Guermantes had said to me about the pictures which it would be interesting to see, even from a tramway-car, was untrue, but it contained a germ of truth which was of value to me later on.

Similarly the lines of Victor Hugo which I had heard her quote were, it must be admitted, of a period earlier than that in which he became something more than a new man, in which he brought to light, in the order of evolution, a literary species till then unknown, endowed with more complex organs than any then in existence. In these first poems, Victor Hugo is still a thinker, instead of contenting himself, like Nature, with supplying food for thought. His ‘thoughts’ he at that time expressed in the most direct form, almost in the sense in which the Duke employed the word when, feeling it to be out of date and a nuisance that the guests at his big parties at Guermantes should, in the visitors’ book, append to their signatures a philosophico-poetical reflexion, he used to warn novices in an appealing tone: “Your name, my dear fellow, but no ‘thoughts’ please!” Well, it was these ‘thoughts’ of Victor Hugo (almost as entirely absent from the Légende des Siècles as ‘airs,’ as ‘melodies’ are from Wagner’s later manner) that Mme. de Guermantes admired in the early Hugo. Nor was she altogether wrong. They were touching, and already round about them, without their form’s having yet the depth which it was to acquire only in later years, the rolling tide of words and of richly articulated rhymes put them beyond comparison with the lines that one might discover in a Corneille, for example, lines in which a Romanticism that is intermittent, restrained and so all the more moving, nevertheless has not at all penetrated to the physical sources of life, modified the unconscious and generalisable organism in which the idea is latent. And so I had been wrong in confining myself, hitherto, to the later volumes of Hugo. Of the earlier, of course, it was only a fractional part that Mme. de Guermantes used to embellish her conversation. But simply by quoting in this way an isolated line one multiplies its power of attraction tenfold. The lines that had entered or returned to my mind during this dinner magnetised in turn, summoned to themselves with such force the poems in the heart of which they were normally embedded, that my magnetised hands could not hold out for longer than forty-eight hours against the force that drew them towards the volume in which were bound up the Orientales and the Chants du Crépuscule. I cursed Franchise’s footman for having made a present to his native village of my copy of the Feuilles d’Automne, and sent him off, with not a moment to be lost, to procure me another. I read these volumes from cover to cover and found peace of mind only when I suddenly came across, awaiting me in the light in which she had bathed them, the lines that I had heard Mme. de Guermantes quote. For all these reasons, conversations with the Duchess resembled the discoveries that we make in the library of a country house, out of date, incomplete, incapable of forming a mind, lacking in almost everything that we value, but offering us now and then some curious scrap of information, for instance the quotation of a fine passage which we did not know and as to which we are glad to remember in after years that we owe our knowledge of it to a stately mansion of the great. We are then, by having found Balzac’s preface to the Chartreuse, or some unpublished letters of Joubert, tempted to exaggerate the value of the life we led there, the sterile frivolity of which, for this windfall of a single evening, we forget.