In Search of Lost Time Swann in Love

To admit you to the ‘little nucleus,’ the ‘little group,’ the ‘little clan’ at the Verdurins’, one condition sufficed, but that one was indispensable; you must give tacit adherence to a Creed one of whose articles was that the young pianist, whom Mme. Verdurin had taken under her patronage that year, and of whom she said “Really, it oughtn’t to be allowed, to play Wagner as well as that!” left both Planté and Rubinstein ‘sitting’; while Dr. Cottard was a more brilliant diagnostician than Potain. Each ‘new recruit’ whom the Verdurins failed to persuade that the evenings spent by other people, in other houses than theirs, were as dull as ditch-water, saw himself banished forthwith. Women being in this respect more rebellious than men, more reluctant to lay aside all worldly curiosity and the desire to find out for themselves whether other drawing-rooms might not sometimes be as entertaining, and the Verdurins feeling, moreover, that this critical spirit and this demon of frivolity might, by their contagion, prove fatal to the orthodoxy of the little church, they had been obliged to expel, one after another, all those of the ‘faithful’ who were of the female sex.

Apart from the doctor’s young wife, they were reduced almost exclusively that season (for all that Mme. Verdurin herself was a thoroughly ‘good’ woman, and came of a respectable middle-class family, excessively rich and wholly undistinguished, with which she had gradually and of her own accord severed all connection) to a young woman almost of a ‘certain class,’ a Mme. de Crécy, whom Mme. Verdurin called by her Christian name, Odette, and pronounced a ‘love,’ and to the pianist’s aunt, who looked as though she had, at one period, ‘answered the bell’: ladies quite ignorant of the world, who in their social simplicity were so easily led to believe that the Princesse de Sagan and the Duchesse de Guermantes were obliged to pay large sums of money to other poor wretches, in order to have anyone at their dinner-parties, that if somebody had offered to procure them an invitation to the house of either of those great dames, the old doorkeeper and the woman of ‘easy virtue’ would have contemptuously declined.

The Verdurins never invited you to dinner; you had your ‘place laid’ there. There was never any programme for the evening’s entertainment. The young pianist would play, but only if he felt inclined, for no one was forced to do anything, and, as M. Verdurin used to say: “We’re all friends here. Liberty Hall, you know!”

If the pianist suggested playing the Ride of the Valkyries, or the Prelude to Tristan, Mme. Verdurin would protest, not that the music was displeasing to her, but, on the contrary, that it made too violent an impression. “Then you want me to have one of my headaches? You know quite well, it’s the same every time he plays that. I know what I’m in for. Tomorrow, when I want to get up — nothing doing!” If he was not going to play they talked, and one of the friends — usually the painter who was in favour there that year — would “spin,” as M. Verdurin put it, “a damned funny yarn that made ‘em all split with laughter,” and especially Mme. Verdurin, for whom — so strong was her habit of taking literally the figurative accounts of her emotions — Dr. Cottard, who was then just starting in general practice, would “really have to come one day and set her jaw, which she had dislocated with laughing too much.”

Evening dress was barred, because you were all ‘good pals,’ and didn’t want to look like the ‘boring people’ who were to be avoided like the plague, and only asked to the big evenings, which were given as seldom as possible, and then only if it would amuse the painter or make the musician better known. The rest of the time you were quite happy playing charades and having supper in fancy dress, and there was no need to mingle any strange element with the little ‘clan.’

But just as the ‘good pals’ came to take a more and more prominent place in Mme. Verdurin’s life, so the ‘bores,’ the ‘nuisances’ grew to include everybody and everything that kept her friends away from her, that made them sometimes plead ‘previous engagements,’ the mother of one, the professional duties of another, the ‘little place in the country’ of a third. If Dr. Cottard felt bound to say good night as soon as they rose from table, so as to go back to some patient who was seriously ill; “I don’t know,” Mme. Verdurin would say, “I’m sure it will do him far more good if you don’t go disturbing him again this evening; he will have a good night without you; to-morrow morning you can go round early and you will find him cured.” From the beginning of December it would make her quite ill to think that the ‘faithful’ might fail her on Christmas and New Year’s Days. The pianist’s aunt insisted that he must accompany her, on the latter, to a family dinner at her mother’s.