M. de Charlus during the war, his opinions, his pleasures
On one of the first evenings after my return to Paris in 1916, wanting to hear about the only thing that interested me, the war, I went out after dinner to see Mme Verdurin, for she was, together with Mme Bontemps, one of the queens of that Paris of the war which reminded one of the Directory. As the leavening by a small quantity of yeast appears to be a spontaneous germination, young women were running about all day wearing cylindrical turbans on their heads as though they were contemporaries of Mme Tallien, As a proof of public spirit they wore straight Egyptian tunics, dark and very “warlike” above their short skirts, they were shod in sandals, recalling Talma’s buskin or high leggings like those of our beloved combatants. It was, they said, because they did not forget it was their duty to rejoice the eyes of those combatants that they still adorned themselves not only with flou dresses but also with jewels evoking the armies by their decorative theme if indeed their material did not come from the armies and had not been worked by them. Instead of Egyptian ornaments recalling the campaign of Egypt, they wore rings or bracelets made out of fragments of shell or beltings of the “seventy-fives”, cigarette-lighters consisting of two English half-pennies to which a soldier in his dug-out had succeeded in giving a patina so beautiful that the profile of Queen Victoria might have been traced on it by Pisanello. It was again, they said, because they never ceased thinking of their own people, that they hardly wore mourning when one of them fell, the pretext being that he was proud to die, which enabled them to wear a close bonnet of white English crêpe (graceful of effect and encouraging to aspirants) while the invincible certainty of final triumph enabled them to replace the earlier cashmire by satins and silk muslins and even to wear their pearls “while observing that tact and discretion of which it is unnecessary to remind French women.”
The Louvre and all the museums were closed and when one read at the head of an article “Sensational Exhibition” one might be certain it was not an exhibition of pictures but of dresses destined to quicken “those delicate artistic delights of which Parisian women have been too long deprived.” It was thus that elegance and pleasure had regained their hold; fashion, in default of art, sought to excuse itself, just as artists exhibiting at the revolutionary salon in 1793 proclaimed that it would be a mistake if it were regarded as “inappropriate by austere Republicans that we should be engaged in art when coalesced Europe is besieging the territory of liberty.” The dressmakers acted in the same spirit in 1916 and asserted with the self-conscious conceit of the artist, that “to seek what was new, to avoid banality, to prepare for victory, by disengaging a new formula of beauty for the generations after the war, was their absorbing ambition, the chimera they were pursuing as would be discovered by those who came to visit their salons delightfully situated in such and such a street, where the exclusion of the mournful preoccupations of the moment with the restraint imposed by circumstances and the substitution of cheerfulness and brightness was the order of the day. The sorrows of the hour might, it is true, have got the better of feminine» energy if we had not such lofty examples of courage and endurance to meditate. So, thinking of our combatants in the trenches who dream of more comfort and coquetry for the dear one at home, let us unceasingly labour to introduce into the creation of dresses that novelty which responds to the needs of the moment. Fashion, it must be conceded, is especially associated with the English, consequently with allied firms and this year the really smart thing is the robe-tonneau the charming freedom of which gives to all our young women an amusing and distinguished cachet. ‘It will indeed be one of the happiest consequences of this sad war’ the delightful chronicler added (while awaiting the recapture of the lost provinces and the rekindling of national sentiment)‘to have secured such charming results in the way of dress with so little material and to have created coquetry out of nothing without ill-timed luxury and bad style. At the present time dresses made at home are preferred to those made in several series by great dress-makers, because each one is evidence of the intelligence, taste and individuality of the maker.’” As to charity, when we remember all the unhappiness born of the invasion, of the many wounded and mutilated, obviously it should become “ever more ingenious” and compel the ladies in the high turbans to spend the afternoon taking tea at the bridge-table commenting on the news from the front while their automobiles await them at the door with a handsome soldier on the seat conversing with the chasseur. For that matter it was not only the high cylindrical hats which were new but also the faces they surmounted. The ladies in the new hats were young women come one hardly knew whence, who had become the flower of fashion, some during the last six months, others during the last two years, others again during the last four. These differences were as important for them as, when I made my first appearance in society, were those between two families like the Guer-mantes and the Rochefoucaulds with three or four centuries of ancient lineage. The lady who had known the Guer-mantes since 1914 considered another who had been introduced to them in 1916 a parvenue, gave her the nod of a dowager duchess while inspecting her through her lorgnon, and avowed with a significant gesture that no one in society knew whether the lady was even married. “All this is rather sickening,” concluded the lady of 1914, who would have liked the cycle of the newly-admitted to end with herself. These newcomers whom young men considered decidedly elderly and whom certain old men who had not been exclusively in the best society, seemed to recognise as not being so new as all that, did something more than offer society the diversions of political conversation and music in suitable intimacy; it had to be they who supplied such diversions for, so that things should seem new, whether they are so or not, in art or in medicine as in society, new names are necessary (in certain respects they were very new indeed). Thus Mme Verdurin went to Venice during the war and like those who want at any cost to avoid sorrow and sentiment, when she said it was “épatant”, what she admired was not Venice nor St. Mark’s nor the palaces, all that had given, me delight and which she cheapened, but the effect of the search-lights in the sky, searchlights about which she gave information supported by figures. (Thus from age to age a sort of realism is reborn out of reaction against the art which has been admired till then.)
The Sainte-Euverte salon was a back number and the presence there of the greatest artists or the most influential ministers attracted no one. On the other hand, people rushed to hear a word uttered by the Secretary of one Government, by the Under-Secretary of another, at the houses of the new ladies in turbans whose winged and chattering invasions filled Paris. The ladies of the first Directory had a queen who was young and beautiful called Mme Tallien; those of the second had two who were old and ugly and who were called Mme Verdurin and Mme Bontemps. Who reproached Mme Bontemps because her husband had been bitterly criticised by the Echo de Paris for the part he played in the Dreyfus affair? As the whole Chamber had at an earlier period become revisionist, it was necessarily among the old revisionists and the former socialists that the party of social order, of religious toleration and of military efficiency had to be recruited. M. Bontemps would have been detested in former days because the anti-patriots were then given the name of Dreyfusards, but that name had soon been forgotten and had been replaced by that of the adversary of the three-year law. M. Bontemps on the other hand, was one of the authors of that law, therefore he was a patriot. In society (and this social phenomenon is only the application of a much more general psychological law) whether novelties are reprehensible or not, they only excite consternation until they have been assimilated and defended by reassuring elements. As it had been with Dreyfusism, so it was with the marriage of Saint-Loup and Odette’s daughter, a marriage people protested against at first. Now that people met everyone they knew at the Saint-Loups’, Gilberte might have had the morals of Odette herself, people would have gone there just the same and would have agreed with Gilberte in condemning undigested moral novelties like a dowager-duchess. Dreyfusism was now integrated in a series of highly respectable and customary things. As to asking what it amounted to in itself, people now thought as little about accepting as formerly about condemning it. It no longer shocked anyone and that was all about it. People remembered it as little as they do whether the father of a young girl they know was once a thief or not. At most they might say: “The man you’re talking about is the brother-in-law or somebody of the same name, there was never anything against this one.” In the same way there had been different kinds of Dreyfusism and the man who went to the Duchesse de Montmorency’s and got the Three-Year Law passed could not be a bad sort of man. In any case, let us be merciful to sinners. The oblivion allotted to Dreyfus was a fortiori extended to Dreyfusards. Besides, there was no one else in politics, since everyone had to be Dreyfusards at one time or another if they wanted to be in the Government, even those who represented the contrary of what Dreyfusism had incarnated when it was new and dreadful (at the time that Saint-Loup was considered to be going wrong) namely, anti-patriotism, irreligion, anarchy, etc. Thus M. Bontemps’ Dreyfusism, invisible and contemplative like that of all politicians, was as little observable as the bones under his skin. No one remembered he had been Dreyfusard, for people of fashion are absentminded and forgetful and also because time had passed which they affected to believe longer than it was and it had become fashionable to say that the pre-war period was separated from the war-period by a gulf as deep, implying as much duration, as a geological period; and even Brichot the nationalist in; alluding to the Dreyfus affair spoke of “those pre-historic days”. The truth is that the great change brought about by the war was in inverse ratio to the value of the minds it touched, at all events, up to a certain point; for, quite at the bottom, the utter fools, the voluptuaries, did not bother about whether there was a war or not; while quite at the top, those who create their own world, their own interior life, are little concerned with the importance of events. What profoundly modifies the course of their thought is rather something of no apparent importance which overthrows the order of time and makes them live in another period of their lives. The song of a bird in the Park of Montboissier, or a breeze laden with the scent of mignonette, are obviously matters of less importance than the great events of the Revolution and of the Empire; nevertheless they inspired in Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outre tombe pages of infinitely greater value.
M. Bontemps did not want to hear peace spoken of until Germany had been divided up as it was during the Middle Ages, the doom of the house of Hohenzollern pronounced, and William II sentenced to be shot. In a word, he was what Brichot called a Diehard; this was the finest brevet of citizenship one could give him. Doubtless, for the three first days Mme Bontemps had been somewhat bewildered to find herself among people who asked Mme Verdurin to present her to them, and it was in a slightly acid tone that Mme Verdurin replied: “the Comte, my dear,” when Mme Bontemps said to her, “Was that not the Duc d’Haussonville you just introduced to me?” whether through entire ignorance and failure to associate the name of Haussonville with any sort of tide, or whether, on the contrary, by excess of knowledge and the association of her ideas with the Parti des Ducs of which she had been told M. d’Haussonville was one of the Academic members. After the fourth day she began to be firmly established in the faubourg Saint-Germain. Sometimes she could be observed among the fragments of an obscure society which as little surprised those who knew the egg from which Mme Bontemps had been hatched as the debris of a shell around a chick. But after a fortnight, she shook them off and by the end of the first month, when she said, “I am going to the Lévi’s,” everyone knew, without her being more precise, that she was referring to the Lévis-Mirepoix and not a single duchesse who was there would have gone to bed without having first asked her or Mme Verdurin, at least by telephone, what was in the evening’s communiqué, how things were going with Greece, what offensive was being prepared, in a word, all that the public would only know the following day or later and of which, in this way, they had a sort of dress rehearsal. Mme Verdurin, in conversation, when she communicated news, used “we” in speaking of France: “Now, you see, we exact of the King of Greece that he should retire from the Peloponnesse, etc. We shall send him etc.” And in all her discourses G.H.Q. occurred constantly (“I have telephoned to G.H.Q., etc.”) an abbreviation in which she took as much pleasure as women did formerly who, not knowing the Prince of Agrigente, asked if it was “Grigri” people were speaking of, to show they were au courant, a pleasure known only to society in less troubled times but equally enjoyed by the masses at times of great crisis. Our butler, for instance, when the King of Greece was discussed, was able, thanks to the papers, to allude to him like William II, as “Tino”, while until now his familiarity with kings had been more ordinary and invented by himself when he called the King of Spain “Fonfonse”. One may further observe that the number of people Mme Verdurin named “bores” diminished in direct ratio with the social importance of those who made advances to her. By a sort of magical transformation, every bore who came to pay her a visit and solicited an invitation, suddenly became agreeable and intelligent. In brief, at the end of a year the number of “bores” was reduced to such proportions that “the dread and unendurableness of being bored” which occurred so often in Mme Verdurin’s conversation and had played such an important part in her life, almost entirely disappeared. Of late, one would have said that this unendurableness of boredom (which she had formerly assured me she never felt in her first youth) caused her less pain, like headaches and nervous asthmas, which lose their strength as one grows older; and the fear of being bored would doubtless have entirely abandoned Mme Verdurin owing to lack of bores, if she had not in some measure replaced them by other recruits amongst the old “faithfuls”. Finally, to have done with the duchesses who now frequented Mme Verdurin, they came there, though they were unaware of it, in search of exactly the same thing as during the Dreyfus period, a fashionable amusement so constituted that its enjoyment satisfied political curiosity and the need of commenting privately upon the incidents read in the newspapers. Mme Verdurin would say, “Come in at five o’clock to talk about the war,” as she would have formerly said “to talk about l’affaire and in the interval you shall hear Morel.” Now Morel had no business to be there for he had not been in any way exempted. He had simply not joined up and was a deserter, but nobody knew it. Another star of the Salon, “Dans-les-choux”, had, in spite of his sporting tastes, got himself exempted. He had become for me so exclusively the author of an admirable work about which I was constantly thinking, that it was only when, by chance, I established a transversal current between two series of souvenirs, that I realised it was he who had brought about Albertine’s departure from my house. And again this transversal current ended, so far as those reminiscent relics of Albertine were concerned, in a channel which was dammed in full flow several years back. For I never thought any more about her. It was a channel unfrequented by memories, a line I no longer needed to follow. On the other hand the works of “Dans-les-choux” were recent and that line of souvenirs was constantly frequented and utilised by my mind.
I must add that acquaintance with the husband of Andrée was neither very easy nor very agreeable and that the friendship one offered him was doomed to many disappointments. Indeed he was even then very ill and spared himself fatigues other than those which seemed likely to give him pleasure. He only thus classified meeting people as yet unknown to him whom his vivid imagination represented as being potentially different from the rest. He knew his old friends too well, was aware of what could be expected of them and to him they were no longer worth a dangerous and perhaps fatal fatigue. He was in short a very bad friend. Perhaps, in his taste for new acquaintances, he regained some of the mad daring which he used to display in sport, gambling and the excesses of the table in the old days at Balbec. Each time I saw Mme Verdurin, she wanted to introduce me to Andrée, apparently unable to admit that I had known her long before. As it happened, Andrée rarely came with her husband but she remained my excellent and sincere friend. Faithful to the aesthetic of her husband, who reacted against Russian ballets, she remarked of the Marquis de Polignac, “He has had his house decorated by Bakst. How can one sleep in it? I should prefer Dubufe.”
Moreover the Verdurins, through that inevitable progress of asstheticism which ends in biting one’s own tail, declared that they could not stand the modern style (besides, it came from Munich) nor white walls and they only liked old French furniture in a sombre setting.
It was very surprising at this period when Mme Verdurin could have whom she pleased at her house, to see her making indirect advances to a person she had completely lost sight of, Odette, One thought the latter could add nothing to the brilliant circle which the little group had become. But a prolonged separation, in soothing rancour, sometimes revives friendship. And the phenomenon which makes the dying utter only names formerly familiar to them and causes old people’s complaisance with childish memories, has its social equivalent. To succeed in the enterprise of bringing Odette back to her, it must be understood that Mme Verdurin did not employ the “ultras” but the less faithful habitués who had kept a foot in each salon. To them she said, “I don’t know why she doesn’t come here any more. Perhaps she has quarrelled with me, I haven’t quarrelled with her. What have I ever done to her? It was at my house she met both her husbands. If she wants to come back, let her know that my doors are open to her.” These words, which might have cost the pride of “the patronne“ a good deal if they had not been dictated by her imagination, were passed on but without success. Mme Verdurin awaited Odette but the latter did not come until certain events which will be seen later brought her there for quite other reasons than those which could have been put forward by the embassy of the faithless, zealous as it was; few successes are easy, many checks are decisive.
Things were so much the same, although apparently different, that one came across the former expressions “right thinking” and “ill-thinking” quite naturally. And just as the former communards had been anti-revisionist, so the strongest Dreyfusards wanted everybody to be shot with the full support of the generals just as at the time of the Affaire they had been against Galliffet. Mme Verdurin invited to such parties some rather recent ladies, known for their charitable works, who at first came strikingly dressed, with great pearl necklaces. Odette possessed one as fine as any and formerly had rather overdone exhibiting it but now she was in war dress, and imitating the ladies of the faubourg, she eyed them severely. But women know how to adapt themselves. After wearing them three or four times, these ladies observed that the dresses they considered chic were for that very reason proscribed by the people who were chic and they laid aside their golden gowns and resigned themselves to simplicity.
Mme Verdurin said, “It is deplorable, I shall telephone to Bontemps to do what is necessary to-morrow. They have again ‘censored’ the whole end of Norpois’ article simply because he let it be understood that they had ‘limogé‘ Percin.” For all these women got glory out of using the shibboleth current at the moment and believed they were in the fashion, just as a middle-class woman, when M. de Bréauté or M. de Charlus was mentioned, exclaimed: “Who’s that you’re talking about? Babel de Bréauté, Même de Charlus?” For that matter, duchesses got the same pleasure out of saying “limogé“, for like roturiers un peu poètes in that respect, it is the name that matters but they express themselves in accordance with their mental category in which there is a great deal that is middle-class. Those who have minds have no regard for birth.
All those telephonings of Mme Verdurin were not without ill-effects. We had forgotten to say that the Verdurin salon though continuing in spirit, had been provisionally transferred to one of the largest hotels in Paris, the lack of coal and light having rendered the Verdurin receptions somewhat difficult in the former very damp abode of the Venetian ambassadors. Nevertheless, the new salon was by no means unpleasant. As in Venice the site selected for its water supply dictates the form the palace shall take, as a bit of garden in Paris delights one more than a park in the country, the narrow dining-room which Mme Verdurin had at the hotel was a sort of lozenge with the radiant white of its screen-like walls against which every Wednesday, and indeed every day, the most various and interesting people and the smartest women in Paris stood out, happy to avail themselves of the luxury of the Verdurins, thanks to their fortune increasing at a time when the richest were restricting their expenditure owing to difficulty in getting their incomes. This somewhat modified style of reception enchanted Brichot who, as the social relations of the Verdurins developed, obtained additional satisfaction from their concentration in a small area, like surprises in a Christmas stocking. On certain days guests were so numerous that the dining-room of the private apartment was too small and dinner had to be served in the enormous dining-room of the hotel below where the “faithful”, while hypocritically pretending to miss the intimacy of the upper floor, were in reality delighted (constituting a select group as formerly in the little railway) to be a spectacular object of envy to neighbouring tables. In peace-time a society paragraph, surreptitiously sent to the Figaro or the Gaulois, would doubtless have announced to a larger audience than the dining-room of the Majestic could hold that Brichot had dined with the Duchesse de Duras, but since the war, society reporters having discontinued that sort of news (they got home on funerals, investitures and Franco-American banquets), the only publicity attainable was that primitive and restricted one, worthy of the dark ages prior to the discovery of Gutenberg, of being seen at the table of Mme Verdurin. After dinner, people went up to the Pattonne’s suite and the telephoning began again. Many of the large hotels were at that time full of spies, who daily took note of the news telephoned by M. Bontemps with an indiscretion fortunately counterbalanced by the complete inaccuracy of his information which was always contradicted by the event.
Before the hour when afternoon-teas had finished, at the decline of day, one could see from afar in the still, clear sky, little brown spots which, in the twilight, one might have taken for gnats or birds. Just as, when we see a mountain far away which we might take for a cloud, we are impressed because we know it really to be solid, immense and resistant, so I was moved because the brown spots in the sky were neither gnats nor birds but aeroplanes piloted by men who were keeping watch over Paris. It was not the recollection of the aeroplanes I had seen with Albertine in our last walk near Versailles that affected me for the memory of that walk had become indifferent to me.
At dinner-time the restaurants were full and if, passing in the street, I saw a poor fellow home on leave, freed for six days from the constant risk of death, fix his eyes an instant upon the brilliantly illuminated windows, I suffered as at the hotel at Balbec when the fishermen looked at us while we dined. But I suffered more because I knew that the misery of a soldier is greater than that of the poor for it unites all the miseries and is still more moving because it is more resigned, more noble, and it was with a philosophical nod of his head, without resentment, that he who was ready to return to the trenches, observing the embusqués elbowing each other to reserve their tables, remarked: “One would not say there was a war going on here.”
At half-past nine, before people had time to finish their dinner, the lights were suddenly put out on account — of police regulations and at nine-thirty-five there was a renewed hustling of embusqués seizing their overcoats from the hands of the chasseurs of the restaurant where I had dined with Saint-Loup one evening of his leave, in a mysterious interior twilight like that in which magic lantern slides are shown or films at one of those cinemas towards which men and women diners were now hurrying. But after that hour, for those who, like myself, on the evening of which I am speaking, had remained at home for dinner and went out later to see friends, certain quarters of Paris were darker than the Combray of my youth; visits were like those one made to neighbours in the country. Ah! if Albertine had lived, how sweet it would have been, on the evenings when I dined out, to make an appointment with her under the arcades. At first I should have seen nobody, I should have had the emotion of believing she would not come, when all at once I should have seen one of her dear grey dresses in relief against the black wall, her smiling eyes would have perceived me and we should have been able to walk arm-in-arm without anyone recognising or interfering with us and to have gone home together. Alas, I was alone and it was as though I were making a visit to a neighbour in the country, one of those calls such as Swann used to pay us after dinner, without meeting more passers-by in the obscurity of Tansonville as he walked down that little twisting path to the street of St. Esprit, than I encountered this evening in the alley between the rue Clothilde and the rue Bonaparte, now a sinuous, rustic path. And as sections of countryside played upon by rough weather are unspoiled by a change in their setting, on evenings swept by icy winds, I felt myself more vividly on the shore of an angry sea than when I was at that Balbec of which I so often dreamed. And there were other elements which had not before existed in Paris and made one feel as though one had arrived from the train for a holiday in the open country, such as the contrast of light and shade at one’s feet on moonlit evenings. Moonlight produces effects unknown to towns even in full winter; its rays played on the snow of the Boulevard Haussman unswept by workmen as on an Alpine glacier. The outlines of the trees were sharply reflected against the golden-blue snow as delicately as in certain Japanese pictures or in some backgrounds by Raphael. They lengthened on the ground at the foot of the trees as in nature when the setting sun reflects the trees which rise at regular intervals in the fields. But by a refinement of exquisite delicacy, the meadow upon which these shadows of ethereal trees were cast, was a field of Paradise, not green but of a white so brilliant on account of the moon shedding its rays on the jade-coloured snow, that one would have said it was woven of petals from the blossoms of pear-trees. And in the squares the divinities of the public fountains holding a jet of ice in their hands seemed made of a two-fold substance and, as though the artist had married bronze to crystal to produce it. On such rare days all the houses were black; but in spring, braving the police regulation once in a while, a particular house, perhaps only one floor of a particular house, or even only one room on that floor, did not close its shutters and seemed suspended by itself on impalpable shadows like a luminous projection, like an apparition without consistency. And the woman one’s raised eyes perceived, isolated in the golden penumbra of the night in which oneself seemed lost, in which she too seemed abandoned, was endowed with the veiled, mysterious charm of an Eastern vision. At length one passed on and no living thing interrupted the rhythm of monotonous and hygienic tramping in the darkness.
* * *
I was reflecting that it was a long time since I had seen any of the personages with whom this work has been concerned. In 1914, during the two months I passed in Paris, I had once perceived M. de Charlus and had met Bloch and Saint-Loup, the latter only twice. It was certainly on the second occasion that he seemed to be most himself, and to have overcome that unpleasant lack of sincerity I had noticed at Tansonville to which I referred earlier. On this occasion, I recognised all his lovable qualities of former days. The first time I had seen him was at the beginning of the week that followed the declaration of war and while Bloch displayed extremely chauvinistic sentiments, Saint-Loup alluded to his own failure to join up with an irony that rather shocked me. Saint-Loup was just back from Balbec. “All who don’t go and fight,” he exclaimed with forced gaiety, “whatever reason they give, simply don’t want to be killed, it’s nothing but funk.” And with a more emphatic gesture than when he alluded to others, “And if I don’t rejoin my regiment, it’s for the same reason.” Before that, I had noticed in different people that the affectation of laudable sentiments is not the only disguise of unworthy ones, that a more original way is to exhibit the latter so that, at least, one does not seem to be disguising them. In Saint-Loup this tendency was strengthened by his habit, when he had done something for which he might have been censured, of proclaiming it as though it had been done on purpose, a habit he must have acquired from some professor at the War School with whom he had lived on terms of intimacy and for whom he professed great admiration. So I interpreted this outbreak as the affirmation of sentiments he wanted to exhibit as having inspired his evasion of military service in the war now beginning. “Have you heard,” he asked as he left me, “that my Aunt Oriane is about to sue for divorce? I know nothing about it myself. People have often said it before and I’ve heard it announced so often that I shall wait until the divorce is granted before I believe it. I may add that it isn’t surprising; my uncle is a charming man socially and to his friends and relations and in one way he has more heart than my aunt. She’s a saint, but she takes good care to make him feel it. But he’s an awful husband; he has never ceased being unfaithful to his wife, insulting her, ill-treating her and depriving her of money into the bargain. It would be so natural if she left him that it’s a reason for its being true and also for its not being true just because people keep on saying so. And after all, she has stood it for so long. . . . Of course, I know there are ever so many false reports which are denied and afterwards turn out to be true.” That made me ask him whether, before he married Gilberte, there had ever been any question of his marrying Mlle de Guermantes. He started at this and assured me it was not so, that it was only one of those society rumours born, no one knows how, which disappear as they come, the falsity of which does not make those who believe them more cautious, for no sooner does another rumour of an engagement, of a divorce or of a political nature arise than they give it immediate credence and pass it on. Forty-eight hours had not passed before certain facts proved that my interpretation of Robert’s words was completely wrong when he said, “All those who are not at the front are in a funk.” Saint-Loup had only said this to show off and appear psychologically original while he was uncertain whether his services would be accepted. But at that very moment he was moving heaven and earth to be accepted, showing less originality in the sense he had given to that word, but that he was more profoundly French, more in conformity with all that was best in the French of St. André-des-Champs, gentlemen, bourgeois, respectable servants of gentlemen, or those in revolt against gentlemen, two equally French divisions of the same family, a Françoise offshoot and a Sauton offshoot, from which two arrows flew once more to the same target which was the frontier. Bloch was delighted to hear this avowal of cowardice by a Nationalist (who, in truth, was not much of a Nationalist) and when Saint-Loup asked him if he was going to join up, he made a grimace like a high-priest and replied “shortsighted.” But Bloch had completely changed his opinion about the war when he came to see me in despair some days later for, although he was shortsighted, he had been passed for service. I was taking him back to his house when we met Saint-Loup. The latter had an appointment with a former officer, M. de Cambremer, who was to present him to a colonel at the Ministry of War, he told me. “Cambremer is an old acquaintance of yours, you know Cancan as well as I do.” I replied that, as a fact, I did know him and his wife too, but that I did not greatly appreciate them. Yet I was so accustomed, ever since I first made their acquaintance, to consider his wife an unusual person with a thorough knowledge of Schopenhauer who had access to an intellectual milieu closed to her vulgar husband, that I was at first surprised when Saint-Loup remarked: “His wife is an idiot, you can have her; but he’s an excellent fellow, gifted and extremely agreeable,” By the idiocy of the wife, no doubt Saint-Loup meant her mad longing to get into the best society which that society severely condemned and, by the qualities of the husband, those his niece implied when she called him the best of the family. Anyhow, he did not bother himself about duchesses but that sort of intelligence is as far removed from the kind that characterises thinkers as is the intelligence the public respects because it has enabled a rich man “to make his pile.” But the words of Saint-Loup did not displease me since they recalled that pretentiousness is closely allied to stupidity and that simplicity has a subtle but agreeable flavour. It is true I had no occasion to savour that of M. de Cambremer. But that is exactly why one being is so many different beings apart from differences of opinion. I had only known the shell of M. de Cambre-mer and his charm, attested by others, was unknown to me. Bloch left us in front of his door, overflowing with bitterness against Saint-Loup, telling him that those “beautiful red tabs” parading about at Staff Headquarters run no risk and that he, an ordinary second class private had no wish to “get a bullet through his skin for the sake of William.” “It seems that the Emperor William is seriously ill,” Saint-Loup answered. Bloch, like all those people who have something to do with the Stock Exchange, received any sensational news with peculiar credulity added, “it is said even that he is dead.” On the Stock Exchange every, sovereign who is ill, whether Edward VII or William II, is dead; every city on the point of being besieged, is taken. “It is only kept secret,” Bloch went on, “so that German public opinion should not be depressed. But he died last night. My father has it from ‘the best sources’.” “The best sources” were the only ones of which M. Bloch senior took notice, when, through the luck of possessing certain “influential connections” he received the as yet secret news that the Exterior Debt was going to rise or de Beers fall. Moreover, if at that very moment there was a rise in de Beers or there were offers of Exterior Debt, if the market of the first was “firm and active” and that of the second “hesitating and weak”, “the best sources” remained nevertheless “the best sources.” Bloch too announced the death of the Kaiser with a mysteriously important air, but also with rage. He was particularly exasperated to hear Robert say the “Emperor William.” I believe under the knife of the guillotine Saint-Loup and M. de Guermantes would not have spoken of him otherwise. Two men in society who were the only living souls on a desert island where they would not have to give proof of good breeding to anyone, would recognise each other by those marks of breeding just as two Latinists would recognise each other’s qualifications through correct quotations from Virgil. Saint-Loup would never, even under torture, have said other than “Emperor William”; yet the savoir vivre is all the same a bondage for the mind. He who cannot reject it remains a mere man of society. Yet elegant mediocrity is charming — especially for the generosity and unexpressed heroism that go with it — in comparison with the vulgarity of Bloch, at once braggart and mountebank, who shouted at Saint-Loup: “Can’t you say simply ‘William’? That’s it, you’re in a funk, even here you’re ready to crawl on your stomach to him. Pshaw! they’ll make nice soldiers at the front, they’ll lick the boots of the Boches. You red-tabs are fit to parade in a circus, that’s all.”
“That poor Bloch will have it that I can do nothing but parade,” Saint-Loup remarked with a smile when we left our friend. And I felt that parading was not at all what Robert was after, though I did not then realise his intention as I did later when the cavalry being out of action, he applied to serve as an infantry officer, then as a Chasseur á pied and finally when the sequel came which will be read later. But Bloch had no idea of Robert’s patriotism simply because the latter did not express it. Though Bloch made professions of nefarious anti-militarism once he had been passed for service, he had declared the most chauvinistic opinions when he believed he would be exempted for shortsightedness. Saint-Loup would have been incapable of making such declarations, because of a certain moral delicacy which prevents one from expressing the depth of sentiments which are natural to us. My mother would not have hesitated a second to sacrifice her life for my grandmother’s and would have suffered intensely from being unable to do so. Nevertheless I cannot imagine retrospectively a phrase on her lips such as “I would give my life for my mother.” Robert was equally silent about his love for France and in that he seemed to me much more Saint-Loup (as I imagined his father to have been) than Guermantes. He would also have been incapable of such expressions owing to his mind having a certain moral bias. Men who do their work intelligently and earnestly have an aversion to those who want to make literature out of what they do, to make it important. Saint-Loup and I had not been either at the Lycée or at the Sorbonne together, but each of us had separately attended certain lectures by the same masters and I remember his smile when he alluded to those who, because, undeniably, their lectures were exceptional tried to make themselves out men of genius by giving ambitious names to their theories. Little as we spoke of it, Robert laughed heartily. Our natural predilection was not for the Cottards or Brichots, though we had a certain respect for those who had a thorough knowledge of Greek or medicine and did not for that reason consider they need play the charlatan. Just as all my mother’s actions were based upon the feeling that she would have given her life for her mother, as she had never formulated this sentiment which in any case she would have considered not only useless and ridiculous but indecent and shameful to express to others, so it was impossible to imagine Saint-Loup (speaking to me of his equipment, of the different things he had to attend to, of our chances of victory, of the little value of the Russian army, of what England would do) enunciating one of those eloquent periods to which even the most sympathetic minister is inclined to give vent when he addresses deputies and enthusiasts. I cannot, however, deny, on this negative side which prevented his expressing the beautiful sentiments he felt that there was a certain effect of the “Guermantes spirit” of which so many examples were afforded by Swann. For if I found him a Saint-Loup more than anything else, he remained a Guermantes as well and owing to that, among the many motives which excited his courage there were some dissimilar to those of his Doncières friends, those young men with a passion for their profession with whom I had dined every evening and of whom so many were killed leading their men at the Battle of the Marne or elsewhere. Such young socialists as might have been at Doncières when I was there, whom I did not know because they were not in Saint-Loup’s set, were able to satisfy themselves that the officers in that set were in no way “aristos” in the arrogantly proud and basely pleasure-loving sense which the “populo” officers from the ranks, and the Freemasons, gave to the word. And equally, the aristocratic officer discovered the same patriotism amongst those Socialists whom when I was at Doncières in the midst of the Affair Dreyfus, I heard them accuse of being anti-patriotic. The deep and sincere patriotism of soldiers had taken a definite form which they believed intangible and which it enraged them to see aspersed, whereas the Radical-Socialists who were, in a sense, unconscious patriots, independents, without a defined religion of patriotism, did not realise what a profound reality underlay what they believed to be vain and hateful formulas. Without doubt, Saint-Loup, like them, had grown accustomed to developing as the truest part of himself, the exploration and the conception of better schemes in view of greater strategic and tactical success, so that for him as for them the life of the body was of relatively small importance and could be lightly sacrificed to that inner life, the vital kernel around which personal existence had only the value of a protective epidermis. I told Saint-Loup about his friend, the director of the Balbec Grand Hotel, who, it appeared had, at the outbreak of war, alleged that there had been disaffection in certain French regiments which he called “defectuosity” and had accused what he termed “Prussian militarists” of provoking it, remarking with a laugh, “My brother’s in the trenches. They’re only thirty meters from the Boches” until it was discovered that he was a Boche himself and they put him in a concentration camp. “Apropos of Balbec, do you remember the former lift-boy of the hotel?” Saint-Loup asked me in the tone of one who seems not to know much about the person concerned and was counting upon me for enlightenment. “He’s joining up and wrote me to get him entered in the aviation corps.” Doubtless the lift-boy was tired of going up and down in the closed cage of the lift and the heights of the staircase of the Grand Hotel no longer sufficed for him. He was going to “get his stripes” otherwise than as a concierge, for our destiny is not always what we had believed. “I shall certainly support his application,” Saint-Loup said, “I told Gilberte again this morning, we shall never have enough aeroplanes. It is through them we shall observe what the enemy is up to; they will deprive him of the chief advantage m an attack, surprise; the best army will perhaps be the one that has the best eyes. Has poor Françoise succeeded in getting her nephew exempted?” Françoise who had for a long while done everything in her power to get her nephew exempted, on a recommendation through the Guermantes to General de St. Joseph being proposed to her, had replied despairingly: “Oh! That would be no use there’s nothing to be done with that old fellow, he’s the worst sort of all, he’s patriotic!” From the beginning of the war, Françoise whatever sorrow it had brought her, was of opinion that the “poor Russians” must not be abandoned since we were “allianced”. The butler, persuaded that the war would not last more than ten days and would end by the signal victory of France, would not have dared, for fear of being contradicted by events, to predict a long and indecisive one, nor would he have had enough imagination. But, out of this complete and immediate victory he tried to extract beforehand whatever might cause anxiety to Françoise. “It may turn out pretty rotten; it appears there are many who don’t want to go to the front, boys of sixteen are crying about it.” He also tried to provoke her by saying all sorts of disagreeable things, what he called “pulling her leg” by “pitching an apostrophe at her” or “flinging her a pun.” “Sixteen years old! Sainted Mary!” exclaimed Françoise, and then, with momentary suspicion, “But they said they only took them after they were twenty, they’re only children at sixteen.” “Naturally, the papers are ordered to say that. For that matter, the whole youth of the country will be at the front and not many will come back. In one way that will be a good thing, a good bleeding is useful from time to time, it makes business better. Yes, indeed, if some of these boys are a bit soft and chicken-hearted and hesitate, they shoot them immediately, a dozen bullets through the skin and that’s that. In a way it’s got to be done and what does it matter to the officers? They get their pesetas all the same and that’s all they care about.” Françoise got so pale during these conversations that one might well fear the butler would cause her death from heart disease. But she did not on that account lose her defects. When a girl came to see me, however much the old servant’s legs hurt her, if ever I went out of my room for a moment I saw her on the top of the steps, in the hanging cupboard, in the act, she pretended, of looking for one of my coats to see if the moths had got into it, in reality to spy upon us. In spite of all my remonstrances, she kept up her insidious manner of asking indirect questions and for some time had been making use of the phrase “because doubtless.” Not daring to ask me, “Has that lady a house of her own?” she would say with her eyes lifted timidly like those of a gentle dog, “Because doubtless that lady has a house of her own,” avoiding the flagrant interrogation in order to be polite and not to seem inquisitive. And further, since those servants we most care for — especially if they can no longer render us much service or even do their work — remain, alas, servants and mark more clearly the limits (which we should like to efface) of their caste in proportion to the extent to which they believe they are penetrating ours, Françoise often gave vent to strange comments about my person (in order to tease me, the butler would have said) which people in our own world would not make. For instance, with a delight as dissimulated but also as deep as if it had been a case of serious illness, if I happened to be hot and the perspiration (to which I paid no attention) was trickling down my forehead, she would say, “My word! You’re drenched” as though she were astonished by a strange phenomenon, smiling with that contempt for something indecorous with which she might have remarked, “Why, you’re going out without your collar!” while adopting a concerned tone intended to cause one discomfort. One would have thought I was the only person in the universe who had ever been “drenched”. For, in her humility, in her tender admiration for beings infinitely inferior to her, she adopted their ugly forms of expression. Her daughter complained of her to me, “She’s always got something to say, that I don’t close the doors properly and patatipatali et patatapatala.” Françoise doubtless thought it was only her insufficient education that had deprived her until now of this beautiful expression. And on her lips, on which formerly flowered the purest French, I heard several times a day, “Et patati patall patata patala.” As to that it is curious how little variation there is not only in the expressions but in the thoughts of the same individual. The butler, being accustomed to declare that M. Poincaré had evil motives, not of a venal kind but because he had absolutely willed the war, repeated this seven or eight times a day before the same ever interested audience, without modifying a single word or gesture or intonation. Although it only lasted about two minutes, it was invariable like a performance. His mistakes in French corrupted the language of Françoise quite as much as the mistakes of her daughter.
She hardly slept, she hardly ate, she had the communiqués read to her, though she did not understand them, by the butler who understood them little better and in whom the desire to torment Françoise was often dominated by a superficial sort of patriotism; he remarked with a sympathetic chuckle when speaking of the Germans, “That will stir them up a bit, our old Joffre is planning a comet to fall on them.” Françoise did not understand what comet he was talking about but felt none the less that this phrase was one of those charming and original extravagances to which a well-bred person must reply, so with good humour and urbanity, shrugging her shoulders with the air of saying “He’s always the same,” she tempered her tears with a smile. At all events she was happy that her new butcher boy who in spite of his calling was somewhat timorous, (although he had begun in the slaughter-house) was too young to join up; otherwise, she would have been capable of going to the Minister of War about him. The butler could not believe the communiqués were other than excellent and that the troops were not approaching Berlin, as he had read, “We have repulsed the enemy with heavy losses on their side,” actions that he celebrated as though they were new victories. For my part, I was horrified by the rapidity with which the theatre of these victories approached Paris and I was astonished that even the butler, who had seen in a communiqué that an action had taken place close to Lens, had not been alarmed by reading in the next day’s paper that the result of this action had turned to our advantage at Jouy-le-Vicomte to which we firmly held the approaches. The butler very well knew the name of Jouy-le-Vicomte which was not far from Combray. But one reads the papers as one wants to with a bandage over one’s eyes without trying to understand the facts, listening to the soothing words of the editor as to the words of one’s mistress. We are beaten and happy because we believe ourselves unbeaten and victorious.
I did not stay long in Paris and returned fairly soon to my sanatorium. Though in principle the doctor treated his patients by isolation, I had received on two different occasions letters from Gilberte and from Robert. Gilberte wrote me (about September, 1914) that much as she would have liked to remain in Paris in order to get news from Robert more easily, the perpetual “taube” raids over Paris had given her such a fright, especially on her little girl’s account, that she had fled from Paris by the last train which left for Combray, that the train did not even reach Com-bray and it was only thanks to a peasant’s cart upon which she had made a ten hours journey in atrocious discomfort that she had at last been able to get to Tansonville. “And what do you think awaited your old friend there?” Gilberte closed her letter by saying. “I had left Paris to get away from the German aeroplanes, imagining that at Tansonville I should be sheltered from everything. I had not been there two days when what do you think happened! The Germans were invading the region after beating our troops near La Fere and a German staff, followed by a regiment, presented themselves at the gate of Tansonville and I was obliged to take them in without a chance of escaping, not a train, nothing.” Had the German staff behaved well or was one supposed to read into the letter of Gilberte the contagious effect of the spirit of the Guermantes who were of Bavarian stock and related to the highest aristocracy in Germany, for Gilberte was inexhaustible about the perfect behaviour of the staff and of the soldiers who had only asked “permission to pick one of the forget-me-nots which grew at the side of the lake,” good behaviour she contrasted with the unbridled violence of the French fugitives who had traversed the estate and sacked everything before the arrival of the German generals. Anyhow, if Gilberte’s letter was, in certain respects, impregnated with the “Guermantes spirit,”— others would say it was her Jewish internationalism, which would probably not be true, as we shall see — the letter I received some months later from Robert was much more Saint-Loup than Guermantes for it reflected all the liberal culture he had acquired and was altogether sympathetic. Unhappily he told me nothing about the strategy as he used to in our conversations at Doncières and did not mention to what extent he considered the war had confirmed or disproved the principles which he then exposed to me. The most he told me was that since 1914, several wars had succeeded each other, the lessons of each influencing the conduct of the following one. For instance, the theory of the “break through” had been completed by the thesis that before the “break through” it was necessary to overwhelm the ground occupied by the enemy with artillery. Later it was discovered, on the contrary, that this destruction made the advance of infantry and artillery impossible over ground so pitted with thousands of shell-holes that they became so many obstacles. “War,” he said, “does not escape the laws of our old Hegel. It is a state of perpetual becoming.” This was little enough of all I wanted to know. But what disappointed me more was that he had no right to give me the names of the generals. And indeed, from what little I could glean from the papers, it was not those of whom I was so much concerned to know the value in war, who were conducting this one. Geslin de Bourgogne, Galliffet, Négrier were dead, Pau had retired from active service almost at the beginning of the war. We had never talked about Joffre or Foch or Castlenau or Pétain. “My dear boy,” Robert wrote, “if you saw what these soldiers are like, especially those of the people, the working class, small shopkeepers who little knew the heroism of which they were capable and would have died in their beds without ever being suspected of it, facing the bullets to succour a comrade, to carry off a wounded officer and, themselves struck, smile at the moment they are going to die because the staff surgeon tells them that the trench had been re-captured from the Germans; I can assure you, my dear boy, that it gives one a wonderful idea of what a Frenchman is and makes us understand the historic epochs which seemed rather extraordinary to us when we were at school. The epic is so splendid that, like myself, you would find words useless to describe it. In contact with such grandeur the word “poilu” has become for me something which I can no more regard as implying an allusion or a joke than when we read the word “chouans”. I feel that the word “poilu” is awaiting great poets like such words as “Deluge” or “Christ” or “Barbarians” which were saturated with grandeur before Hugo, Vigny and the rest used them. To my mind, the sons of the people are the best of all but everyone is fine. Poor Vaugoubert, the son of the Ambassador, was wounded seven times before being killed and each time he came back from an expedition without being “scooped,” he seemed to be excusing himself and saying that it was not his fault. He was a charming creature. We had seen a great deal of each other and his poor parents obtained permission to come to his funeral on condition that they didn’t wear mourning nor stop more than five minutes on account of the bombardment. The mother, a great horse of a woman, whom you perhaps know, may have been very unhappy but one would not have thought so. But the father was in such a state, I assure you, that I, who have become almost insensible through getting accustomed to seeing the head of a comrade I was talking to shattered by a bomb or severed from his trunk, could hardly bear it when I saw the collapse of poor Vaugoubert who was reduced to a rag. It was all very well for the general to tell him it was for France that his son died a hero’s death, that only redoubled the sobs of the poor man who could not tear himself away from his son’s body. Well, that is why we can say, ‘they will not get through.’ Such men as these, my poor valet or Vaugoubert, have prevented the Germans from getting through. Perhaps you have thought we do not advance much, but that is not the way to reason; an army feels itself victorious by intuition as a dying man knows he is done for. And we know that we are going to be the victors and we will it so that we may dictate a just peace, not only for ourselves, but a really just peace, just for the French and just for the Germans”. As heroes of mediocre and banal mind, writing poems during their convalescence, placed themselves, in order to describe the war, not on the level of the events which in themselves are nothing, but on the level of the banal aesthetic of which they had until then followed the rules, speaking as they might have done ten years earlier of the “bloody dawn,” of the “shuddering flight of victory,” Saint-Loup, himself much more intelligent and artistic, remained intelligent and artistic and for my benefit noted with taste the landscapes while he was immobilised at the edge of a swampy forest, just as though he had been shooting duck. To make me grasp contrasts of shade and light which had been “the enchantment of the morning,” he referred to certain pictures we both of us loved and alluded to a page of Romain Rolland or of Nietzsche with the independence of those at the front who unlike those at the rear, were not afraid to utter a German name, and with much the same coquetry that caused Colonel du Paty de Clam to declaim in the witnesses’ room during the Zola affair as he passed by Pierre Quillard, a Dreyfusard poet of the extremest violence whom he did not know, verses from the latter’s symbolic drama “La Fille aux Mains coupées,” Saint-Loup, when he spoke to me of a melody of Schumann gave it its German title and made no circumlocution to tell me, when he had heard the first warble at the edge of a forest, that he had been intoxicated as though the bird of that “sublime Siegfried” which he hoped to hear again after the war, had sung to him. And now on my second return to Paris I had received on the day following my arrival another letter from Gilberte who without doubt had forgotten the one she had previously written me, to which I have alluded above, for her departure from Paris at the end of 1914 was represented retrospectively in quite different fashion. “Perhaps you do not realise, my dear friend,” she wrote me, “that I have now been at Tansonville two years. I arrived there at the same time as the Germans. Everybody wanted to prevent me going, I was treated as though I were mad. ‘What,’ they said to me, ‘you are safe in Paris and you want to leave for those invaded regions just as everybody else is trying to get away from them?’ I recognised the justice of this reasoning but what was to be done? I have only one quality, I am not a coward or, if you prefer, I am faithful, and when I knew that my dear Tansonville was menaced I did not want to leave our old steward there to defend it alone; it seemed to me that my place was by his side. And it is, in fact, thanks to that resolution that I was able to save the Château almost completely — when all the others in the neighbourhood, abandoned by their terrified proprietors, were destroyed from roof to cellar — and not only was I able to save the Château but also the precious collections which my dear father so much loved.” In a word, Gilberte was now persuaded that she had not gone to Tansonville, as she wrote me in 1914, to fly from the Germans and to be in safety, but, on the contrary, in order to meet them and to defend her Château from them. As a matter of fact, they (the Germans) had not remained at Tansonville, but she did not cease to have at her house a constant coming and going of officers which much exceeded that which reduced Françoise to tears in the streets of Combray and to live, as she said this time with complete truth, the life of the front. Also she was referred to eulogistically in the papers because of her admirable conduct and there was a proposal to give her a decoration. The end of her letter was perfectly accurate: “You have no idea of what this war is, my dear friend, the importance of a road, a bridge or a height. How many times, during these days in this ravaged countryside, have I thought of you, of our walks you made so delightful, while tremendous fights were going on for the capture of a hillock you loved and where so often we had been together. Probably you, like myself, are unable to imagine that obscure Roussainville and tiresome Méséglise, whence our letters were brought and where one went to fetch the doctor when you were ill, are now celebrated places. Well, my dear friend, they have for ever entered into glory in the same way as Austerlitz or Valmy. The Battle of Méséglise lasted more than eight months, the Germans lost more than one hundred thousand men there, they destroyed Méséglise but they have not taken it. The little road you so loved, the one we called the stiff hawthorn climb, where you professed to be in love with me when you were a child, when all the time I was in love with you, I cannot tell you how important that position is. The great wheatfield in which it ended is the famous ‘slope 307’ the name you have so often seen recorded in the communiqués. The French blew up the little bridge over the Vivonne which, you remember, did not bring back your childhood to you as much as you would have liked. The Germans threw others across; during a year and a half, they held one half of Combray and the French the other.” The day following that on which I received this letter, that is to say the evening before the one when, walking in the darkness, I heard the sound of my foot-steps while reflecting on all these memories, Saint-Loup, back from the front and on the point of returning there, had paid me a visit of a few minutes only, the mere announcement of which had greatly stirred me. Françoise at first was going to throw herself upon him, hoping she would be able to get the butcher boy exempted; his class was going to the front in a year’s time. But she restrained herself, realising the uselessness of the effort, since, for some time the timid animal-killer had changed his butcher-shop and, whether the owner of ours feared she would lose our custom, or whether it was simply in good faith, she declared to Françoise that she did not know where this boy “who for that matter would never make a good butcher” was employed. Françoise had looked everywhere for him, but Paris is big, there are a large number of butchers’ shops and however many she went into she never was able to find the timid and blood-stained young man.
When Saint-Loup entered my room I had approached him with that diffidence, with that sense of the supernatural one felt about those on leave as we feel in approaching a person attacked by a mortal disease, who nevertheless gets up, dresses himself and walks about. It seemed that there was something almost cruel in these leaves granted to combatants, at the beginning especially, for, those who had not like myself lived far from Paris, had acquired the habit which removes from things frequently experienced the root-deep impression which gives them their real significance. The first time one said to oneself, “They will never go back, they will desert”— and indeed they did not come from places which seemed to us unreal merely because it was only through the papers we had heard of them and where we could not realise they had been taking part in Titanic combats and had come back with only a bruise on the shoulder — they came back to us for a moment from the shores of death itself and would return there, incomprehensible to us, filling us with tenderness, horror and a sentiment of mystery like the dead who appear to us for a second and whom, if we dare to question them, at most reply, “You cannot imagine.” For it is extraordinary, in those who have been resurrected from the front, for, among the living that is what men on leave are, or in the case of the dead whom a hypnotised medium evokes, that the only effect of this contact with the mystery is to increase, were that possible, the insignificance of our intercourse with them. Thus, approaching Robert who had a scar on his forehead more august and mysterious to me than a footprint left upon the earth by a giant, I did not dare ask him a question and he only said a few simple words. And those words were little different from what they would have been before the war, as though people, in spite of the war, continued to be what they were; the tone of intercourse remains the same, the matter differs and even then —? I gathered that Robert had found resources at the front which had made him little by little forget that Morel had behaved as badly to him as to his uncle. Nevertheless he had preserved a great friendship for him and now and then had a sudden longing to see him again which he kept on postponing. I thought it more considerate towards Gilberte not to inform Robert, if he wanted to find Morel, he had only to go to Mme Verdurin’s. On my remarking to Robert with a sense of humility how little one felt the war in Paris, he said that even there it was sometimes “rather extraordinary”. He was alluding to a raid of zeppelins there had been the evening before and asked me if I had had a good view of it in the same way as he would formerly have referred to a piece of great aesthetic beauty at the theatre. One can imagine that at the front there is a sort of coquetry in saying, “It’s marvellous! What a pink — and that pale green!” when at that instant one can be killed, but it was not that which moved Saint-Loup about an insignificant raid on Paris. When I spoke to him about the beauty of the aeroplanes rising in the night, he replied, “And perhaps the descending ones are still more beautiful. Of course they are marvellous when they soar upwards, when they’re about to form constellation thus obeying laws as precise as those which govern astral constellations, for what is a spectacle to you is the assemblage of squadrons, orders being given to them, their despatch on scout duty, etc. But don’t you prefer the moment when, mingling with the stars, they detach themselves from them to start on a chase or to return after the maroon sounds, when they ‘loop the loop’, even the stars seem to change their position. And aren’t the sirens rather Wagnerian, as they should be, to salute the arrival of the Germans, very like the national hymn, very ‘Wacht am Rhein’ with the Crown Prince and the Princesses in the Imperial box; one wonders whether aviators or Walkyries are up there.” He seemed to get pleasure out of comparing aviators with Walkyries, and explained them on entirely musical principles. “Dame! the music of sirens is like the prancing of horses; we shall have to await the arrival of the Germans to hear Wagner in Paris.” From certain points of view the comparison was not false. The city seemed a formless and black mass which all of a sudden passed from the depth of night into a blaze of light, and in the sky, where one after another, the aviators rose amidst the shrieking wail of the sirens while, with a slower movement, more insidious and therefore more alarming, for it made one think they were seeking ah object still invisible but perhaps close to us, the searchlights swept unceasingly, scenting the enemy, encircling him with their beams until the instant when the pointed planes flashed like arrows in his wake. And in squadron after squadron the aviators darted from the city into the sky like Walkyries. Yet close to the ground, at the base of the houses, some spots were in high light and I told Saint-Loup, if he had been at home the evening before, he would have been able, while he contemplated the apocalypse in the sky, to see on the earth, as in the burial of the Comte d’Orgaz by Greco, where those contrasting planes are parallel, a regular vaudeville played by personages in night-gowns, whose Well-known names ought to have been sent to some successor of that Ferrari whose fashionable notes it had so often amused him and myself to parody. And we should have done so again that day as though there had been no war, although about a very “war-subject”, the dread of zeppelins realised, the Duchesse de Guermantes superb in her night-dress, the Duc de Guermantes indescribable in his pink pyjamas and bath-gown, etc., etc. “I am sure,” he said, “that in all the large hotels one might have seen American Jewesses in their chemises hugging to their bursting breasts pearl necklaces which would buy them a ‘busted’ duke. On such nights, the Hotel Ritz must resemble an exchange and mart emporium.”
I asked Saint-Loup if this war had confirmed our conclusions at Doncières about war in the past. I reminded him of the proposition which he had forgotten, for instance about the parodies of former battles by generals of the future. “The feint,” I said to him, “is no longer possible in these operations where the advance is prepared with such accumulation of artillery and what you have since told me about reconnaissance by aeroplane which obviously you could not have foreseen, prevents the employment of Napoleonic ruses.” “How mistaken you are,” he answered, “obviously this war is new in relation to former wars for it is itself composed of successive wars of which the last is an innovation on the preceding one. It is necessary to adapt oneself to the enemy’s latest formula so as to defend oneself against him; then he starts a fresh innovation and yet, as in other human things, the old tricks always come off. No later than yesterday evening the most intelligent of our military critics wrote: ‘When the Germans wanted to deliver East Prussia they began the operation by a powerful demonstration in the south against Warsaw, sacrificing ten thousand men to deceive the enemy. When at the beginning of 1915 they created the mass manoeuvre of the Arch-Duke Eugène in order to disengage threatened Hungary, they spread the report that this mass was destined for an operation against Serbia. Thus, in 1800 the army which was about to operate against Italy was definitely indicated as a reserve army which was not to cross the Alps but to support the armies engaged in the northern theatres of war. The ruse of Hindenburg attacking Warsaw to mask the real attack on the Mazurian Lakes, imitates the strategy of Napoleon in 1812.’ You see that M. Bidou repeats almost the exact words of which you remind me and which I had forgotten. And as the war is not yet finished, these ruses will be repeated again and again and will succeed because they are never completely exposed and what has done the trick once will do it again because it was a good trick.” And in fact, for a long time after that conversation with Saint-Loup, while the eyes of the Allies were fixed upon Petrograd against which capital it was believed the Germans were marching, they were preparing a most powerful offensive against Italy. Saint-Loup gave me many other examples of military parodies or, if one believes that there is not a military art but a military science, of the application of permanent laws. “I will not say, there would be contradiction in the words,” added Saint-Loup, “that the art of war is a science. And if there is a science of war there is diversity, dispute and contradiction between its professors, diversity partly projected into the category of Time. That is rather reassuring, for, as far as it goes, it indicates that truth rather than error is evolving.” Later he said to me, “See in this war the ideas on the possibility of the break-through, for instance. First it is believed in, then we come back to the doctrine of invulnerability of the fronts, then again to the possible but risky break-through, to the necessity of not making a step forward until the objective has been first destroyed (the dogmatic journalist will write that to assert the contrary is the greatest foolishness), then, on the contrary, to that of advancing with a very light preparation by artillery, then to the invulnerability of the fronts as a principle in force since the war of 1870, from that the assertion that it is a false principle for this war and therefore only a relative truth. False in this war because of the accumulation of masses and of the perfecting of engines (see Bidou of the 2nd July, 1918), an accumulation which at first made one believe that the next war would be very short, then very long, and finally made one again believe in the possibility of decisive victories. Bidou cites the Allies on the Somme, the Germans marching on Paris in 1918. In the same way, at each victory of the Germans, it is said:‘the ground gained is nothing, the towns are nothing, what is necessary is to destroy the military force of the adversary.’ Then the Germans in their turn adopt this theory in 1918 and Bidou curiously explains (and July, 1918) that the capture of certain vital points, certain essential areas, decides the victory. It is moreover a particular turn of his mind. He has shown how, if Russia were blockaded at sea, she would be defeated and that an army enclosed in a sort of vast prison camp is doomed to perish.”
Nevertheless, if the war did not modify the character of Saint-Loup, his intelligence, developed through an evolution in which heredity played a great part, had reached a degree of brilliancy which I had never seen in him before. How far away was the young golden-haired man formerly courted or who aspired to be, by fashionable ladies and the dialectician, the doctrinaire who was always playing with words. To another generation of another branch of his family, much as an actor taking a part formerly played by Bressant or Delaunay, he, blonde, pink and golden was like a successor to M. de Charlus, once dark, now completely white. However much he failed to agree with his uncle about the war, identified as he was with that part of the aristocracy which was for France first and foremost whereas M. de Charlus was fundamentally a defeatist, to those who had not seen the original “creator of the part” he displayed his powers as a controversialist. “It seems that Hindenburg is a revelation,” I said to him. “An old revelation of tit-for-tat or a future one. They ought, instead of playing with the enemy, to let Mangin have his way, beat Austria and Germany to their knees and Européanise Turkey instead of Montenegrinising France.” “But we shall have the help of the United States,” I suggested. “At present all I see is the spectacle of Divided States. Why not make greater concessions to Italy and frighten them with dechristianising France?” “If your Uncle Charlus could hear you!” I said. “Really you would not be sorry to offend the Pope a bit more and he must be in despair about what may happen to the throne of Francis Joseph. For that matter he’s in the tradition of Talleyrand and the Congress of Vienna.” “The era of the Congress of Vienna has gone full circle;” he answered; “one must substitute concrete for secret diplomacy. My uncle is at bottom an impenitent monarchist who would swallow carps like Mme Molé or scarps like Arthur Meyer as long as his carps and scarps were cooked à la Chambord. Through hatred of the tricolour flag I believe he would rather range himself under the red rag, which he would accept in good faith instead of the white standard.” Of course, these were only words and Saint-Loup was far from having the occasionally basic originality of his uncle. But his disposition was as affable and delightful as the other’s was suspicious and jealous and he remained, as at Balbec, charming and pink under his thick golden hair. The only thing in which his uncle would not have surpassed him was in that mental attitude of the faubourg Saint-Germain with which those who believe themselves the most detached from it are saturated and which simultaneously gives them respect for men of intelligence who are not of noble birth (which only flourishes in the nobility and makes revolution so unjust) and silly self-complacency. It was through this mixture of humility and pride, of acquired curiosity of mind and inborn sense of authority, that M. de Charlus and Saint-Loup by different roads and holding contrary opinions had become to a generation of transition, intellectuals interested in every new idea and talkers whom no interrupter could silence. Thus a rather commonplace individual would, according to his disposition, consider both of them either dazzling or bores.
While recalling Saint-Loup’s visit I had made a long-detour on my way to Mme Verdurin’s and I had nearly reached the bridge of the Invalides. The lamps (few and far between, on account of Gothas) were lighted a little too early, for the change of hours had been prematurely determined for the summer season (like the furnaces which are lighted and extinguished at fixed dates) while night still came quickly and above the partly-illumined city, in one whole part of the sky — a sky which ignored summer and winter and did not deign to observe that half-past eight had become half-past nine — it still continued to be daylight. In all that part of the city, dominated by the towers of the Trocadero, the sky had the appearance of an immense turquoise-tinted sea, which, at low-tide, revealed a thin line of black rocks or perhaps only fishermen’s nets aligned next each other and which were tiny clouds. A sea, now the colour of turquoise which was bearing unknowing man with it in the immense revolution of an earth upon which they are mad enough to continue their own revolutions, their vain wars such as this one now drenching France in blood. In fact one became giddy looking at the lazy, beautiful sky which deigned not to change its time-table and prolonged in its blue tones the lengthened day above the lighted city; it was no longer a spreading sea, but a vertical gradation of blue glaciers. And the towers of the Trocadero seeming so close to those turquoise heights were in reality as far away from them as those twin towers in a town of Switzerland which, from far away, seem to neighbour the mountain-slopes. I retraced my steps but as I left the Bridge of the Invalides behind me there was no more day in the sky, nor scarcely a light in all the city and stumbling here and there against the dust-bins, mistaking my road, I found myself, unexpectedly and after following a labyrinth of obscure streets, upon the Boulevards. There the impression of the East renewed itself and to the evocation of the Paris of the Directoire succeeded that of the Paris of 1815. As then, the disparate procession of uniforms of Allied troops, Africans in baggy red trousers, white-turbaned Hindus, created for me, out of that Paris where I was walking, an exotic imaginary city in an East minutely exact in costume and colour of the skins but arbitrarily chimerical in scenery, just as Carpaccio made of his own city a Jerusalem or a Constantinople by assembling therein a crowd whose marvellous medley of colour was not more varied than this. Walking behind two Zouaves who did not seem to notice him, I perceived a great stout man in a soft, felt hat and a long cloak, to whose mauve coloured face I hesitated to put the name of an actor or of a painter equally well-known for innumerable sodomite scandals. In any case feeling certain I did not know the promenader, I was greatly surprised, when his glance met mine, to notice that he was embarrassed and made as though to stop and speak to me, like one who wants to show you that you are not surprising him in an occupation he would rather have kept secret. For a second I asked myself who was saying good-evening to me. It was M. de Charlus. One could say of him that the evolution of his disease or the revolution of his vice had reached that extreme point where the small primitive personality of the individual, his ancestral qualities, were entirely obscured by the interposition of the defect or generic evil which accompanied them. M. de Charlus had gone as far as it was possible for him to go, or rather, he was so completely marked by what he had become, by habits that were not his alone but also those of many other inverts, that, at first, I had taken him for one of these following the zouaves on the open boulevard; in fact, for another of their kind who was not M. de Charlus, not a grand seigneur, not a man of mind and imagination and who only resembled the baron through that appearance common to them all and to him as well which, until one looked closer, had covered everything. It was thus that, having wanted to go to Mme Verdurin’s, I met M. de Charlus. And certainly I should not have found him as I used to at her house; their quarrel had only become accentuated and Mme Verdurin often made use of present conditions to discredit him further. Having said for a long time that he was used up, finished, more old-fashioned in his pretended audacities than the most pompous nonentities, she now comprised that condemnation in a general indictment by saying that he was “pre-war”. According to the little clan, the war had placed between him and the present, a gulf which relegated him to a past that was completely dead. Moreover — and that concerned rather the political world which was less well-informed — Mme Verdurin represented him as done for, as complete a social as an intellectual outsider. “He sees no one, no one receives him,” she told M. Bontemps, whom she easily convinced. Moreover there was some truth in what she said. The situation of M. de Charlus had changed. Caring less and less about society, having quarrelled with everybody owing to his petulant disposition and, having through conviction of his own social importance, disdained to reconcile himself with most of those who constituted the flower of society, he lived in a relative isolation which, unlike that in which Mme de Villeparisis died, was not caused by the ostracism of the aristocracy but by something which appeared to the eyes of the public worse, for two reasons. M. de Charlus’ bad reputation, now well-known, caused the ill-informed to believe that that accounted for people not frequenting his society, while actually it was he who, of his own accord, refused to frequent them, so that the effect of his own atrabilious humour appeared to be that of the hostility of those upon whom he exercised it. Besides that, Mme de Villeparisis had a great rampart; her family. But M. de Charlus had multiplied the quarrels between himself and his family, which, moreover appeared to him uninteresting, especially the old faubourg side, the Courvoisier set. He who had made so many bold sallies in the field of art, unlike the Courvoisiers, had no notion that what would have most interested a Bergotte was his relationship with that old faubourg, his having the means of describing the almost provincial life lived by his cousins in the rue de la Chaise or in the Place du Palais Bourbon and the rue Garancière. A point of view less transcendent and more practical was represented by Mme Verdurin who affected to believe that he was not French. “What is his exact nationality? Is he not an Austrian?” M. Verdurin innocently inquired. “Oh, no, not at all,” answered the Comtesse Molé, whose first gesture rather obeyed her good sense than her rancour. “Nothing of the sort, he’s a Prussian,” pronounced la Patronne: “I know, I tell you. He told us often enough he was a hereditary peer of Prussia and a ‘Serene Highness’.” “All the same, the Queen of Naples told me —” “As to her, you know she’s an awful spy,” exclaimed Mme Verdurin who had not forgotten the attitude which the fallen sovereign had displayed at her house one evening. “I know it most positively. She only lives by spying. If we had a more energetic Government, all those people would be in a concentration camp. And in any case you would do well not to receive that charming kind of society, for I happen to know that the Minister of the Interior has got his eye on them and your house will be watched. Nothing will convince me that during two years Charlus was not continually spying at my house.” And thinking probably, that there might be some doubt as to the interest the German Government might take, even in the most circumstantial reports on the organisation of the “little clan”, Mme Verdurin, with the soft, confidential manner of a person who knows the value of what she is imparting and that it seems more significant if she does not raise her voice, “I tell you, from the first day I said to my husband,‘the way in which this man has inveigled himself into our house is not to my liking. There’s something suspicious about it.’ Our estate was on a very high point at the back of a bay. I am certain he was entrusted by the Germans to prepare a base there for their submarines. Certain things surprised me and now I understand them. For instance, at first he would not come by train with the other guests. I had offered in the nicest way to give him a room in the château. Well, not a bit of it, he preferred living at Doncières where there were an enormous number of troops. All that stank in one’s nostrils of espionage.” As to the first of these accusations directed against the Baron de Charlus, that of being out of fashion, society people were quite ready to accept Mme Verdurin’s point of view. This was ungrateful of them for M. de Charlus who had been, up to a point their poet, had the art of extracting from social surroundings a sort of poetry into which he wove history, beauty, the picturesque, comedy and frivolous elegance. But fashionable people, incapable of understanding poetry, of which they saw none in their own lives, sought it elsewhere and placed a thousand feet above M. de Charlus men infinitely inferior to him, who affected to despise society and, on the other hand, professed social and political-economic theories. M. de Charlus delighted in an unprofessedly lyrical form of wit with which he described the knowing grace of the Duchesse of X’s dresses and alluded to her as a sublime creature. This caused him to be looked upon as an idiot by those women in society who thought that the Duchesse of X was an uninteresting fool, that dresses are made to be worn without drawing attention to them and who, thinking themselves more intelligent, rushed to the Sorbonne or to the Chamber if Deschanel was going to speak. In short, people in society were disillusioned with M. de Charlus, not because they had got through him but because they had never grasped his rare intellectual value. He was considered pre-war, old-fashioned, just because those least capable of judging merit, most readily accept the edicts of passing fashion; so far from exhausting, they have hardly even skimmed the surface of men of quality in the preceding generation whom they now condemn en bloc because they are offered the label of a new generation they will understand just as little. As to the second accusation against M. de Charlus, that of Germanism, the happy-medium mentality of people in society made them reject it, but they encountered an indefatigable and particularly cruel interpreter in Morel, who, having managed to retain in the press and even in society the position which M. de Charlus had succeeded in getting him by expending twice as much trouble as he would have taken in depriving him of it, pursued the Baron with implacable hatred; this was not only cruel on the part of Morel, but doubly wrong, for whatever his relations with the Baron might have been, Morel had experienced the rare kindness his patron hid from so many people. M. de Charlus had treated the violinist with such generosity, with such delicacy, had shown such scruple about not breaking his word, that the idea of him which Charlie had retained was not at all that of a vicious man (at most he considered the Baron’s vice a disease) but of one with the noblest ideas and the most exquisite sensibility he had ever known, a sort of saint. He denied it so little that though he had quarrelled with him he said sincerely enough to his relations, “You can confide your son to him, he would only have the best influence upon him.” Indeed when he tried to injure him by his articles, in his mind he jeered, not at his vices but, at his virtues. Before the war, certain little broad-sheets, transparent to what are called the “initiates”, had begun to do the greatest harm to M. de Charlus. Of one of these entitled The Misadventure of a pedantic Duchess, the Old Age of the Baroness Mme Verdurin had bought fifty copies, in order to lend them to her acquaintances, and M. Verdurin, declaring that Voltaire himself never wrote anything better, read them aloud to his friends. Since the war it was not the invertion of the Baron alone that was denounced, but also his alleged Germanic nationality. “Frau Bosch”, “Frau von der Bosch” were the customary surnames of M. de Charlus. One effusion of poetic character had borrowed from certain dance melodies in Beethoven, the title “Une Allemande”. Finally, two little novels, Oncle d’Amérique et Tante de Francfort, and Gaillard d’arrière, read in proof by the little clan, had given delight to Brichot himself who remarked, “Take care the most noble and puissant Anastasia doesn’t do us in.” The articles themselves were better done than their ridiculous titles would have led one to suppose. Their style derived from Bergotte but in a way which perhaps only I could recognise, for this reason. The writings of Bergotte had had no influence upon Morel. Fecundation had occurred in so peculiar and exceptional a fashion that I must register it here. I have indicated in its place the special way Bergotte had of selecting his words and pronouncing them when he talked. Morel, who had met him in early days, gave imitations of him at the time in which he mimicked his speech perfectly, using the same words as Bergotte would have used. So now Morel transcribed conversations à la Bergotte but without transmuting them into what would have represented Bergotte’s style of writing. As few people had talked with Bergotte, they did not recognise the tonality which was quite different from his style. That oral fertilisation is so rare that I wanted to mention it here; for that matter, it produces only sterile flowers.
Morel, who was at the Press Bureau and whose irregular situation was unknown, made the pretence, with his French blood boiling in his veins like the juice of the grapes of Combray, that to work in an office during the war was not good enough and that he wanted to join up (which he could have done at any moment he pleased) while Mme Verdurin did everything in her power to persuade him to remain in Paris. Certainly she was indignant that M. de Cambre-mer, in spite of his age, had a staff job, and she remarked about every man who did not come to her house, “Where has he found means of hiding?” And if anyone affirmed that so and so had been in the front line from the first day she answered, lying unscrupulously or from the mere habit of falsehood, “Not a bit of it, he has never stirred from Paris, he is doing something about as dangerous as promenading around the Ministries. I tell you I know what I am talking about because I have got it from someone who has seen him.” But in the case of “the faithful” it was different. She did not want them to go and alluded to the war as a “boring business” that took them away from her; and she took all possible steps to prevent them going which gave her the double pleasure of having them at dinner and, when they did not come or had gone, of abusing them behind their backs for their pusillanimity. The “faithful” had to lend themselves to this embusquage and she was distressed when Morel pretended to be recalcitrant and told him, “By serving in the Press Bureau you are doing your bit, and more so than if you were at the front. What is required is to be useful, really to take part in the war, to be of it. There are those who are of it and embusqués; you are of it and don’t you bother, everyone knows you are and no one can have a word to say against you.” Under different circumstances, when men were not so few and when she was not obliged as now to have chiefly women, if one of them lost his mother she did not hesitate to persuade him that he could unhesitatingly continue to go to her receptions. “Sorrow is felt in the heart. If you were to go to a ball (she never gave any) I should be the first to advise you not to, but here at my little Wednesdays or in a box at the theatre, no one can be shocked. Everybody knows how grieved you are.” Now, however, men were fewer, mourning more frequent, she did not have to prevent them from going into society, the war saw to that. But she wanted to persuade them that they were more useful to France by stopping in Paris, in the same way as she would formerly have persuaded them that the defunct would have been more happy to see them enjoying themselves. All the same she got very few men, and sometimes, perhaps, she regretted having brought about the rupture with M. de Charlus, which could never be repaired.
But if M. de Charlus and Mme Verdurin no longer saw each other, each of them — with certain minor differences — continued as though nothing had changed, Mme Verdurin to receive and M. de Charlus to go about his own pleasures. For example, at Mme Verdurin’s house, Cottard was present at the receptions in the uniform of a Colonel of l’Ile du Rève rather similar to that of a Haitian Admiral, and upon the lapel of which a broad sky-blue ribbon recalled that of the Enfants de Marie; as to M. de Charlus, finding himself in a city where mature men who had up to then been his taste had disappeared, he had, like certain Frenchmen who run after women when they are in France but who live in the Colonies, at first from necessity, then from habit, acquired a taste for little boys.
Furthermore, one of the characteristic features of the Salon Verdurin disappeared soon after, for Cottard died “with his face to the enemy” the papers said, though he had never left Paris; the fact was he had been overworked for his time of life and he was followed shortly afterwards by M. Verdurin, whose death caused sorrow to one person only — would one believe it? — Elstir. I had been able to study his work from a point of view which was in a measure final. But, as he grew older, he associated it superstitiously with the society which had supplied his models and, after the alchemy of his intuitions had transmuted them into works of art, gave him his public. More and more inclined to the belief that a large part of beauty resides in objects as, at first, he had adored in Mme Elstir that rather heavy type of beauty he had studied in tapestries and handled in his pictures, M. Verdurin’s death signified to him the disappearance of one of the last traces of the perishable social framework, falling into limbo as swiftly as the fashions in dress which form part of it — that framework which supports an art and certifies its authenticity like the revolution which, in destroying the elegancies of the eighteenth century, would have distressed a painter of fêtes galantes or afflicted Renoir when Montmartre and the Moulin de la Galette disappeared. But, above all, with M. Verdurin disappeared the eyes, the brain, which had had the most authentic vision of his painting, wherein that painting lived, as it were, in the form of a cherished memory. Without doubt young men had emerged who also loved painting, but another kind of painting, and they had not, like Swann, like M. Verdurin, received lessons in taste from Whistler, lessons in truth from Monet, which enabled them to judge Elstir with justice! Also he felt himself more solitary when M. Verdurin, with whom he had, nevertheless, quarrelled years ago, died and it was as though part of the beauty of his work had disappeared with some of that consciousness of beauty which had until then, existed in the world.
The change which had been effected in M. de Charlus’ pleasures remained intermittent. Keeping up a large correspondence with the front, he did not lack mature men home on leave. Therefore, in a general way, Mme Verdurin continued to receive and M. de Charlus to go about his pleasures as if nothing had happened. And still for two years the immense human entity called France, of which even from a purely material point of view one can only feel the tremendous beauty if one perceives the cohesion of millions of individuals who, like cellules of various forms fill it like so many little interior polygons up to the extreme limit of its perimeter, and if one saw it on the same scale as infusoria or cellules see a human body, that is to say, as big as Mont Blanc, was facing a tremendous collective battle with that other immense conglomerate of individuals which is Germany. At a time when I believed what people told me, I should have been tempted to believe Germany, then Bulgaria, then Greece when they proclaimed their pacific intentions. But since my life with Albertine and with Françoise had accustomed me to suspect those motives they did not express, I did not allow any word, however right in appearance of William II, Ferdinand of Bulgaria or Constantine of Greece to deceive my instinct which divined what each one of them was plotting. Doubtless my quarrels with Françoise and with Albertine had only been little personal quarrels, mattering only to the life of that little spiritual cellule which a human being is. But in the same way as there are bodies of animals, human bodies, that is to say, assemblages of cellules, which, in relation to one of them alone, are as great as a mountain, so there exist enormous organised groupings of individuals which we call nations; their life only repeats and amplifies the life of the composing cellules and he who is not capable of understanding the mystery, the reactions and the laws of those cellules, will only utter empty words when he talks about struggles between nations. But if he is master of the psychology of individuals, then these colossal masses of conglomerate individuals facing one another will assume in his eyes a more formidable beauty than a fight born only of a conflict between two characters, and he will see them on the scale on which the body of a tall man would be seen by infusoria of which it would require more than ten thousand to fill one cubic millimeter. Thus for some time past the great figure of France, filled to its perimeter with millions of little polygons of various shapes and the other figure of Germany filled with even more polygons were having one of those quarrels which, in a smaller measure, individuals have.
But the blows that they were exchanging were regulated by those numberless boxing-matches of which Saint-Loup had explained the principles to me. And because, even in considering them from the point of view of individuals they were gigantic assemblages, the quarrel assumed enormous and magnificent forms like the uprising of an ocean which with its millions of waves seeks to demolish a secular line of cliffs or like giant glaciers which, with their slow and destructive oscillation, attempt to disrupt the frame of the mountain by which they are circumscribed. In spite of this, life continued almost the same for many people who have figured in this narrative, notably for M. de Charlus and for the Verdurins, as though the Germans had not been so near to them; a permanent menace in spite of its being concentrated in one immediate peril leaving us entirely unmoved if we do not realise it. People pursue their pleasures from habit without ever thinking, were etiolating and moderating influences to cease, that the proliferation of the infusoria would attain its maximum, that is to say, making a leap of many millions of leagues in a few days and passing from a cubic millimeter to a mass a million times larger than the sun, at the same time destroying all the oxygen of the substances upon which we live, that there would no longer be any humanity or animals or earth, and, without any notion that an irremediable and quite possible catastrophe might be determined in the ether by the incessant and frantic energy hidden behind the apparent immutability of the sun, they go on with their business, without thinking of these two worlds, one too small, the other too large for them to perceive the cosmic menace which hovers around us. Thus the Verdurins gave their dinners (soon, after the death of M. Verdurin, Mme Verdurin alone) and M. de Charlus went about his pleasures, without realising that the Germans — immobilised, it is true, by a bleeding barrier which was always being renewed — were at an hour’s automobile drive from Paris. One might say the Verdurins did, nevertheless, think about it, since they had a political salon where the situation of the armies and of the fleets was discussed every day. As a matter of fact, they thought about those hecatombs of annihilated regiments, of engulfed seafarers, but an inverse operation multiplies to such a degree what concerns our welfare and divides by such a formidable figure what does not concern it, that the death of millions of unknown people hardly affects us more unpleasantly than a draught. Mme Verdurin, who suffered from headaches on account of being unable to get croissants to dip into her coffee, had obtained an order from Cottard which enabled her to have them made in the restaurant mentioned earlier. It had been almost as difficult to procure this order from the authorities as the nomination of a general. She started her first croissant again on the morning the papers an-announced the wreck of the Lusitania. Dipping it into her coffee, she arranged her newspaper so that it would stay open without her having to deprive her other hand of its function of dipping, and exclaimed with horror, “How awful! It’s more frightful than the most terrible tragedies.” But those drowning people must have seemed to her reduced a thousand-fold, for, while she indulged in these saddening reflections, she was filling her mouth and the expression on her face, induced, one supposes, by the savour of the croissant, precious remedy for her headache, was rather that of placid satisfaction.
M. de Charlus went beyond not passionately desiring the victory of France; without avowing it, he wanted, if not the triumph of Germany, at least that she should not, as everybody desired, be destroyed. The reason of this was that in quarrels the great assemblages of individuals called nations behave, in a certain measure, like individuals. The logic which governs them is within them and is perpetually remoulded by passion like that of people engaged in a love-quarrel or in some domestic dispute, such as that of a son with his father, of a cook with her mistress, of a woman with her husband. He who is in the wrong believes himself in the right, as was the case with Germany, and he who is in the right supports it with arguments which only appear irrefutable to him because they respond to his anger. In these quarrels between individuals, in order to be convinced that one of the parties is in the right — the surest plan is to be that party; no onlooker will ever be so: completely convinced of it. And an individual, if he be an integral part of a nation, is himself merely a cellule of an individual which is the nation. Stuffing people’s heads full of words means nothing. If, at a critical period in the war, a Frenchman had been told that his country was going to be beaten, he would have been desperate as though he were himself about to be killed by the “Berthas”. Really, one fills one’s own head with hope which is a sort of instinct of self-preservation in a nation if one is really an integral member of it. To remain blind to what is false in the claims of the individual called Germany, to see justice in every claim of the individual called France, the surest way was not for a German to lack judgment and for a Frenchman to possess it but for both to be patriotic. M. de Charlus, who had rare moral qualities, who was accessible to pity, generous, capable of affection and of devotion, was in contrast, for various reasons, amongst them that a Bavarian duchess had been his mother, without patriotism. In consequence he belonged as much to the body of Germany as to the body of France. If I had been devoid of patriotism myself, instead of feeling myself one of the cellules in the body of France, I think my way of judging the quarrel would not have been the same as formerly. In my adolescence, when I believed exactly what I was told, doubtless, on hearing the German Government protest its good faith, I should have been inclined to believe it, but now for a long time I had realised that our thoughts do not always correspond with our words.
But actually I can only imagine what I should have done if I had not been a member of the agent, France, as in my quarrels with Albertine, when my sad appearance and my choking throat were, as parts of my being, too passionately interested on my own behalf for me to reach any sort of detachment. That of M. de Charlus was complete. Since he was only a spectator, everything had the inevitable effect of making him Germanophile because, though not really French, he lived in France. He was very keen-witted and in all countries fools outnumber the rest; no doubt, if he had lived in Germany the German fools defending an unjust cause with passionate folly would — have equally irritated him; but living in France, the French fools, defending a just cause with passionate folly, irritated him no less. The logic of passion, even in the service of justice, is never irrefutable by one who remains dispassionate. M. de Charlus acutely noted each false argument of the patriots. The satisfaction a brainless fool gets out of being in the right and out of the certainty of success, is particularly irritating. M. de Charlus was maddened by the triumphant optimism of people who did not know Germany and its power as he did, who every month were confident that she would be crushed the following month, and when a year had passed were just as ready to believe in a new prognostic as if they had not with equal confidence credited the false one they had forgotten, or if they were reminded of it, replied that, “it was not the same thing.” M. de Charlus, whose mind contained some depth, might perhaps not have understood in Art that the “it isn’t the same thing” offered as an argument by the detractors of Monet in opposition to those who contended that “they said the same thing about Delacroix”, corresponded to the same mentality. And then M. de Charlus was merciful, the idea of a vanquished man pained him, he was always for the weak, and could not read the accounts of trials in the papers without feeling in his own flesh the anguish of the prisoner and a longing to assassinate the judge, the executioner and the mob who delighted in “seeing justice done”. In any case, it was now certain that France could not be beaten and he knew that the Germans were famine-stricken and would be obliged sooner or later to surrender at discretion. This idea was also more unpleasant to him owing to his living in France. His memories of Germany were, after all, dimmed by time, whereas the French who unpleasantly gloated in the prospect of crushing Germany, were people whose defects and antipathetic countenances were familiar to him. In such a case we feel more compassionate towards those unknown to us, whom we can only imagine, than towards those whose vulgar daily life is lived close to us, unless we feel completely one of them, one flesh with them; patriotism works this miracle, we stand by our country as we do by ourselves in a love quarrel. The war, too, acted on M. de Charlus as an extraordinarily fruitful culture of those hatreds of his which were born from one instant to another, lasted a very short time, but during it were exceedingly violent. Reading the papers, the triumphant tone of the articles daily representing Germany laid low, “the beast at bay, reduced to impotence”, at a time when the contrary was only too true, drove him mad with rage by their irresponsible and ferocious stupidity. The papers were in part edited at that time by well-known people who thus found a way of “doing their bit”; by the Brichots, the Norpois, by the Legrandins. M. de Charlus longed to meet and pulverise them with his bitterest irony. Always particularly well informed about sexual taints, he recognised them in others who, imagining themselves unsuspected, delighted in denouncing the sovereigns of the “Empires of prey”, Wagner et cetera as culprits in this respect. He yearned to encounter them face to face so that he could rub their noses in their own vices before the world and leave these insulters of a fallen foe demolished and dishonoured. Finally M. de Charlus had a still further reason for being the Germanophile he was. One was that as a man of the world he had lived much amongst people in society, amongst men of honour who will not shake hands with a scamp; he knew their niceties and also their hardness, he knew they were insensible to the tears of a man they expel from a club, with whom they refuse to fight a duel, even if their act of “moral purity” caused the death of the black sheep’s mother. Great as his admiration had been for England, that impeccable England incapable of lies preventing corn and milk from entering Germany was in a way a nation of chartered gentlemen, of licensed witnesses and arbiters of honour, whilst to his mind some of Dostoevsky’s disreputable rascals were better. But I never could understand why he identified such characters with the Germans since the latter do not appear to us to have displayed the goodness of heart which, in the case of the former, lying and deceit failed to prejudice. Finally, a last trait will complete the Germanophilism of M. de Charlus, which he owed through a peculiar reaction to his “Charlisme”. He considered Germans very ugly, perhaps because they were a little too close to his own blood, he was mad about Moroccans but above all about Anglo-Saxons whom he saw as living statues of Phidias. In him sexual gratification was inseparable from the idea of cruelty and (how strong this was I did not then realise) the man who attracted him seemed like a kind of delightful executioner. He would have thought, if he had sided against the Germans, that he was acting as he only did in his hours of self-indulgence, that is, in a sense contrary to his naturally merciful nature, in other words, impassioned; by seductive evil and desiring to crush virtuous ugliness. He was like that at the time of the murder of Rasputine at a supper party a la Dostoevsky, which impressed people by its strong Russian flavour (an impression which would have been much stronger if the public had been aware of all that M. de Charlus knew), because life deceives us so much that we come to believing that literature has no relation with it and we are astonished to observe that the wonderful ideas books have presented to us are gratuitously exhibited in everyday life, without risk of being spoilt by the writer, that for instance, a murder at a supper-party, a Russian incident, should have something Russian about it.
The war continued indefinitely and those who had announced years ago from a reliable source that negotiations for peace had begun, specifying even the clauses of the armistice, did not take the trouble, when they talked with you, to excuse themselves for their false information. They had forgotten it and were ready sincerely to circulate other information which they would forget equally quickly. It was the period when there were continuous raids of Gothas. The air perpetually quivered with the vigilant and sonorous vibration of the French aeroplanes. But sometimes the siren rang forth like a harrowing appeal of the Walkyries, the only German music one had heard since the war — until the hour when the firemen announced that the alarm was finished, while the maroon, like an invisible newsboy, communicated the good news at regular intervals and cast its joyous clamour into the air.
M. de Charlus was astonished to discover that even men like Brichot who, before the war, had been militarist and reproached France for not being sufficiently so, were not satisfied with blaming Germany for the excesses of her militarism, but even condemned her for admiring her army. Doubtless, they changed their view when there was a question of slowing down the war against Germany and rightly denounced the pacifists. Yet Brichot, as an example of inconsistency, having agreed in spite of his failing sight, to give lectures on certain books which had appeared in neutral countries, exalted the novel of a Swiss in which two children, who fell on their knees in admiration of the symbolic vision of a dragoon, are denounced as the seed of militarism. There were other reasons why this denunciation should displease M. de Charlus, who considered that a dragoon can be exceedingly beautiful. But still more he could not understand the admiration of Brichot, if not for the book which the baron had not read, at all events for its spirit which was so different from that which distinguished Brichot before the war. Then everything that was soldier-like was good, whether it was the irregularities of a General de Boisdeffre, the travesties and machinations of a Colonel du Paty de Clam or the falsifications of Colonel Henry. But by that extraordinary volte-face (which was in reality only another face of that most noble passion, patriotism, necessarily militarised when it was fighting against Dreyfusism which then had an anti-militarist tendency and now was almost anti-militarist since it was fighting against Germany, the super-militarist country), Brichot now cried: “Oh! What an admirable exhibition, how seemly, to appeal to youth to continue brutality for a century, to recognise no other culture than that of violence: a dragoon! One can imagine the sort of vile soldiery we can expect of a generation brought up to worship these manifestations of brute force.” “Now, look here,” M. de Charlus said to me, “you know Brichot and Cambremer. Every time I see them, they talk to me about the extraordinary lack of psychology in Germany. Between ourselves, do you believe that until now they have cared much about psychology or that even now they are capable of proving they possess any? But, believe me, I am not exaggerating. Even when the greatest Germans are in question, Nietzsche or Goethe, you will hear Brichot say ‘with that habitual lack of psychology which characterises the Teutonic race’. Obviously there are worse things than that to bear but you must admit that it gets on one’s nerves. Norpois is more intelligent, I admit, though he has never been other than wrong from the beginning. But what is one to say about those articles which excite universal enthusiasm? My dear Sir, you know as well as I do what Brichot’s value is, and I have a liking for him even since the feud which has separated me from his little tabernacle, on account of which I see him much less. Still, I have a certain respect for this college dean, a fine speaker and an erudite, and I avow that it is extremely touching, at his age and in bad health as he is, for he has become sensibly so in these last years, that he should have given himself up to what he calls service. But whatever one may say, good intention is one thing, talent another and Brichot never had talent. I admit that I share his admiration for certain grandeurs of the war. At most, however, it is extraordinary that a blind partisan of antiquity like Brichot, who never could be ironical enough about Zola seeing more beauty in a workman’s home, in a mine than in historic palaces or about Goncourt putting Diderot above Homer and Watteau above Raphael, should repeat incessantly that Thermopylae or Austerlitz were nothing in comparison with Vauquois. This time the public, which resisted the modernists of Art and Literature, follows those of the war, because it’s the fashion to think like that and small minds are not overwhelmed by the beauty but by the enormous scale of the war. They never write Kolossal without a K but at bottom what they bow down to is indeed colossal.”
“It is a curious thing,” added M. de Charlus, with that little high voice he adopted at times, “I hear people who look quite happy all day long and drink plenty of excellent cocktails, say they will never be able to see the war through, that their hearts aren’t strong enough, that they cannot think of anything else and that they will die suddenly, and the extraordinary thing is that it actually happens; how curious! Is it a matter of nourishment, because they only eat things which are badly cooked or because, to prove their zeal, they harness themselves to some futile task which interferes with the diet that preserved them? Anyhow, I have registered a surprising number of these strange premature deaths, premature at all events, so far as the desire of the dead person was concerned. I do not remember exactly what I was saying to you about Brichot and Norpois admiring this war but what a singular way to talk about it. To begin with, have you remarked that pullulation of new idioms used by Norpois which, exhausted by daily use — for really he is indefatigable and I believe the death of my Aunt Villeparisis gave him a second youth — are immediately replaced by others that are in general use. Formerly, I remember you used to be amused by noting these modes of language which appear, are kept going for a time, and then disappear: ‘He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind’, ‘The dog barks, the caravan passes’, ‘Find me a good politic and I shall produce good finance for you, said Baron Louis’. These are symptoms which it would be exaggerated to take too tragically but which must be taken seriously, ‘To work for the King of Prussia’, (for that matter this last has been revived as was inevitable). Well, since, alas, I have seen so many of them die we have had the ‘Scrap of paper’, ‘the Robber Empires’, ‘the famous Kultur which consists in assassinating defenceless women and children’, ‘Victory, as the Japanese say, will be to him who can endure a quarter of an hour longer than the other’, ‘The Germano-Turanians’, ‘Scientific barbarity’, ‘if we want to win the war in accordance with the strong expression of Mr. Lloyd George’, in fact, there are no end of them; the mordant of the troops, and the cran of the troops. Even the sentiments of the excellent Norpois undergo, owing to the war, as complete a modification as the composition of bread or the rapidity of transport. Have you observed that the excellent man, anxious to proclaim his desires as though they were a truth on the point of being realised, does not, all the same, dare to use the future tense which might be contradicted by events, but has adopted instead the verb ‘know’.” I told M. de Charlus that I did not understand what he meant. I must observe here that the Duc de Guermantes did not in the least share the pessimism of his brother. He was, moreover, as Anglophile as M. de Charlus was Anglophobe. For instance, he considered M. Caillaux a traitor who deserved to be shot a thousand times over. When his brother asked him for proofs of this treason, M. de Guermantes answered that if one only condemned people who signed a paper on which they declared “I have betrayed”, one would never punish the crime of treason. But in case I should not have occasion to return to it, I will also remark that two years later the Duc de Guermantes, animated by pure anti-Caillauxism, made the acquaintance of an English military attaché and his wife, a remarkably well-read couple, with whom he made friends as he did with the three charming ladies at the time of the Dreyfus Affair and that from the first day he was astounded, in talking of Caillaux, whose conviction he held to be certain and his crime patent, to hear one of the charming and well-read couple remark, “He will probably be acquitted, there is absolutely nothing against him.” M. de Guermantes tried to allege that M. de Norpois, in his evidence had exclaimed, looking the fallen Caillaux in the face, “You are the Giolitti of France, yes, M. Caillaux, you are the Giolitti of France.” But the charming couple smiled and ridiculed M. de Norpois, giving examples of his senility and concluded that he had thus addressed a M. Caillaux overthrown according to the Figaro, but probably in reality a very sly M. Caillaux. The opinions of the Duc de Guermantes soon changed. To attribute this change to the influence of an English woman is not as extreme as it might have seemed if one had prophesied even in 1919, when the English called the Germans Huns and demanded a ferocious sentence on the guilty, that their opinion was to change and that every decision which could sadden France and help Germany would be supported by them. To return to M. de Charlus. “Yes,” he said, in reply to my not understanding him, “‘to know’ in the articles of Norpois takes the place of the future tense, that is, expresses the wishes of Norpois, all our wishes, for that matter,” he added, perhaps not with complete sincerity. “You understand that if ‘know’ had not replaced the simple future tense one might, if pressed, admit that the subject of this verb could be a country. For instance, every time Brichot said ‘America “would not know” how to remain indifferent to these repeated violations of right,’ ‘the two-headed Monarchy “would not know” how to fail to mend its ways’, it is clear that such phrases express the wishes of Norpois (his and ours) but, anyhow, the word can still keep its original sense in spite of its absurdity, because a country can ‘know’, America can ‘know’, even the two-headed Monarchy itself can ‘know’ (in spite of its eternal lack of psychology) but that sense can no longer be admitted when Brichot writes ‘the systematic devastations “would not know” how to persuade the neutrals’, or ‘the region of the Lakes “would not know” how to avoid shortly falling into the hands of the Allies’, or ‘the results of the elections in the neutral countries “would not know” how to reflect the opinion of the great majority in those countries’. Now it is clear that these devastations, these Lakes and these results of elections are inanimate things which cannot ‘know’. By that formula Norpois is simply addressing his injunctions to the neutrals (who, I regret to observe, do not seem to obey him) to emerge from their neutrality or exhorts the Lakes no longer to belong to the ‘Boches’.” (M. de Charlus put the same sort of arrogance into his tone in pronouncing the word boches as he did formerly in the train to Balbec when he alluded to men whose taste is not for women,) “Moreover, did you observe the tricks Norpois made use of in opening his articles on neutrals ever since 1914? He begins by declaring emphatically that France has no right to mix herself up in the politics of Italy, Roumania, Bulgaria, et cetera. It is ‘for those powers alone to decide with complete independence, consulting only their national interests, whether or not they are to abandon their neutrality.’ But if the preliminary declarations of the article (which would formerly have been called the exordium) are so markedly disinterested, what follows is generally much less so. Anyhow, as he goes on M. de Norpois says substantially, ‘it follows that those powers only who have allied themselves with the side of Right and Justice will secure material advantages from the conflict. It cannot be expected that the Allies will compensate those nations which, following the line of least resistance, have not placed their sword at the service of the Allies, by granting them territories from which, for centuries the cry of their oppressed brethren has been raised in supplication’. Norpois, having taken this first step towards advising intervention, nothing stops him and he now offers advice more and more thinly disguised, not only as to the principle but also as to the appropriate moment for intervention. ‘Naturally,’ he says, playing as he would himself call it, the good apostle, ‘it is for Italy, for Roumania alone to decide the proper hour and the form under which it will suit them to intervene. They cannot, however, be unaware that if they delay too long, they run the risk of missing the crucial moment. Even now Germany trembles at the thud of the Russian cavalry. It is obvious that the nations which have only flown to help in the hour of victory of which the resplendent dawn is already visible, can in no wise have a claim to the rewards they can still secure by hastening, et cetera, et cetera’. It is like at the theatre when they say,‘the last remaining seats will very soon be gone. This is a warning to the dilatory’, an argument which is the more stupid that Norpois serves it up every six months and periodically admonishes Roumania: ‘The Hour has come for Roumania to make up her mind whether she desires or not to realise her national aspirations. If she waits much longer, she will risk being too late’. And though he has repeated the admonition for two years, the ‘too late’ has not yet come to pass and they keep on increasing their offers to Roumania. In the same way he invites France et cetera to intervene in Greece as a protective power because the treaty which bound Greece to Serbia has not been maintained. And, really and truly, if France were not at war and did not desire the assistance of the benevolent neutrality of Greece, would she think of intervening as a protective power and would not the moral sentiment which inspires her reprobation of Greece for not keeping her engagements with Serbia, be silenced the moment the question arose of an equally flagrant violation in the case of Roumania and Italy who, like Greece, I believe with good reason, have not fulfilled their obligations, which were less imperative and extensive than is supposed, as Allies of Germany. The truth is that people see everything through their newspaper and how can they do otherwise, seeing that they themselves know nothing about the peoples or the events in question. At the time of the ‘Affaire’ which stirred all passions during that period from which it is now the right thing to say we are separated by centuries, for the war-philosophers have agreed that all links with the past are broken, I was shocked at seeing members of my own family give their esteem to anti-clericals and former Communists whom their paper represented as anti-Dreyfusards and insult a general of high birth and a Catholic who was a revisionist. I am no less shocked to see the whole French people execrate the Emperor Francis Joseph, whom they used rightly to venerate; I am able to assure you of this, for I used to know him well and he honoured me by treating me as his cousin. Ah! I have not written to him since the war,” he added as though avowing a fault for which he knew he could not be blamed. “Yes, let me see, I did write once, only the first year. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t in the least change my respect for him, but I have many young relatives fighting in our lines and they would, I know, consider that I was acting very badly if I kept up a correspondence with the head of a nation at war with us. Let him who wishes criticise me,” he added, as if he were boldly exposing himself to my reproof; “I did not want a letter signed Charlus to arrive at Vienna in such times as these. The chief criticism that I should direct against the old sovereign is that a Seigneur of his rank, head of one of the most ancient and illustrious houses in Europe, should have allowed himself to be led by the nose by that little upstart of a country squire very intelligent for that matter but a pure parvenu like William of Hohenzollern. That is not the least shocking of the anomalies of this war.” And as, once he adopted the nobiliary point of view which for him overshadowed everything else, M. de Charlus was capable of the most childish extravagances, he told me, in the same serious tone as if he were speaking of the Marne or of Verdun, that there were most interesting and curious things which should not be excluded by any historian of this war. “For instance,” he said, “people are so ignorant that no one has observed this remarkable point: the Grand-Master of the Order of Malta, who is a pure-bred Boche, does not on that account cease living at Rome where, as Grand-Master of our Order he enjoys exterritorial privileges. Isn’t that interesting?” he added with the air of saying, “You see you have not wasted your evening by meeting me.” I thanked him and he assumed the modest air of one who is not asking for payment. “Ah! What was I telling you? Oh, yes, that people now hated Francis Joseph according to their paper. In the cases of the King Constantine of Greece and the Czar of Bulgaria the public has wavered between aversion and sympathy according to reports that they were going to join the Entente or what Norpois calls ‘the Central Empires’. It is like when he keeps on telling us every moment that the hour of Venizelos is going to strike. I do not doubt that Venizelos is a man of much capacity but how do we know that his country wants him so much? He desired, we are informed, that Greece should keep her engagements with Serbia. So we ought to know what those engagements were and if they were more binding than those which Italy and Roumania thought themselves justified in violating. We display an anxiety about the way in which Greece executes her treaties and respects her constitution that we certainly should not have were it not to our interest. If there had been no war, do you believe that the guaranteeing powers would even have paid the slightest attention to the dissolution of the Chamber? I observe that one by one they are withholding their support from the King of Greece so as to be able to throw him out or imprison him the day that he has no army to defend him. I was telling you that the public only judges the King of Greece and the Czar of Bulgaria by the papers, and how could they do otherwise since they do not know them? I used to see a great deal of them and knew them well. When Constantine of Greece was Crown Prince he was a marvel of beauty. I have always believed that the Emperor Nicholas had a great deal of sentiment for him. Honi soit qui mal y pense, of course. Princess Christian spoke of it openly, but she’s a fiend. As to the Czar of the Bulgarians, he’s a sly hussy, a regular show-figure, but very intelligent, a remarkable man. He’s very fond of me.”
M. de Charlus, who could be so pleasant, became odious when he touched on these subjects. His self-complacency irritated one like an invalid who keeps on assuring you how well he is. I have often thought that the “faithful” who so much wanted the avowals withheld by the tortuous personage of Balbec, could not have put up with his ostentatious but uneasy display of his mania and would have felt as uncomfortable as if a morphino-maniac took out his syringe in front of them; probably they would soon have had enough of the confidences they thought they would relish. Besides, one got sick of hearing everybody relegated without proof to a category to which he belonged himself though he denied it. In spite of his intelligence, he had constructed for himself in that connection a narrow little philosophy (at the base of which there was perhaps a touch of that peculiar way of looking at life which characterised Swann) which attributed everything to special causes and, as always happens when a man is conscious of bordering on his own particular defect, he was unworthy of himself and yet unusually self-satisfied. So it came about that so earnest, so noble-minded a man could wear that idiotic smile when he enunciated: “as there are strong presumptions of the same character in regard to Ferdinand of Coburg’s relations with the Emperor William, that might be the reason why Czar Ferdinand placed himself by the side of the Robber-Empires. Dame, after all, that is quite comprehensible. One is generous to one’s sister, one doesn’t refuse her anything. To my mind it would be a very charming explanation of the alliance of Germany and Bulgaria.” And M. de Charlus laughed as long over this stupid explanation as though it had been an ingenious one which, even if there had been any justification for it, was as puerile as the observations he made about the war when he judged it from the feudal point of view of from that of a Knight of the Order of Jerusalem. He finished with a sensible observation: “It is astonishing that the public, though it only judges men and things in the war by the papers, is convinced that it is exercising its own initiative.” M. de Charlus was right about that. I was told that Mme de Forcheville’s silences and hesitations were worth witnessing for the sake of her facial expression when she announced with deep personal conviction: “No, I do not believe that they will take Warsaw”, “I am under the impression that it will not last a second winter.” “What I do not want is a lame peace.” “What alarms me, if you care for my opinion, is the Chamber.” “Yes, I believe, all the same, they can break through.” In enunciating these phrases, Odette’s features assumed a knowing look which was emphasised when she remarked: “I don’t say that the German armies don’t fight well, but they lack that cran as we call it.” In using that expression (or the word mordant in connection with the troops) she made a gesture of kneading with her hand, putting her head on one side and half-closing her eyes like an art-student. Her language bore more traces than ever of her admiration for the English whom she was no longer content to call as she used to “our neighbours across the Channel”, or “our friends the English”, but nothing less than “our loyal allies”. Unnecessary to say that she never neglected to use in all contexts the expression “fair play” in order to show that the English considered the Germans unfair players. “Fair play is what is needed to win the war, as our brave allies say.” And she rather awkwardly associated the name of her son-in-law with everything that concerned the English soldiers and alluded to the pleasure he found in living on intimate terms with the Australians, as also with the Scottish, the New Zealanders and the Canadians. “My son-in-law, Saint-Loup, knows the slang of all those brave ‘tommies’. He knows how to make himself understood by those who came from the far ‘Dominions’ and he would just as soon fraternise with the most humble private as with the general commanding the base.”
Let this digression about Mme de Forcheville, while I am walking along the boulevard side by side with M. de Charlus, justify a longer one, to elucidate the relations of Mme Verdurin with Brichot at this period. If poor Brichot, like Norpois, was judged with little indulgence by M. de Charlus (because the latter was at once extremely acute and, unconsciously, more or less Germanophile) he was actually treated much worse by the Verdurins. The latter were, of course, chauvinist, and they ought to have liked Brichot’s articles which, for that matter, were not inferior to many publications considered delectable by Mme Verdurin. The reader will, perhaps, recall that, even in the days of La Raspelière, Brichot had become, instead of the great man they used to think him, if not a Turk’s head like Saniette, at all events the object of their thinly disguised raillery. Nevertheless, he was still one of the “faithfuls” which assured him some of the advantages tacitly allotted by the statutes to all the foundation and associated members of the little group. But as, gradually, perhaps owing to the war or through the rapid crystallisation of the long-delayed fashionableness with which all the necessary but till then invisible elements had long since saturated the Verdurin Salon, that salon had been opened to a new society and as the “faithfuls”, at first the bait for this new society, had ended by being less and less frequently invited, so a parallel phenomenon was taking place in Brichot’s case. In spite of the Sorbonne, in spite of the Institute, his fame had, until the war, not outgrown the limits of the Verdurin salon. But when almost daily he began writing articles embellished with that false brilliance we have so often seen him lavishly dispensing for the benefit of the “faithful” and as he possessed a real erudition which, as a true Sorbonian, he did not seek to hide under some of the graces he gave to it, society was literally dazzled. For once, moreover, it accorded its favour to a man who was far from being a nonentity and who could claim attention owing to the fertility of his intelligence and the resources of his memory. And while three duchesses went to spend the evening at Mme Verdurin’s, three others contested the honour of having the great man at their table; and when the invitation of one of them was accepted, she felt herself the freer because Mme Verdurin, exasperated by the success of his articles in the faubourg Saint-Germain, had taken care not to have him at her house when there was any likelihood of his encountering there some brilliant personage whom he did not yet know and who would hasten to capture him. Brichot in his old age was satisfied to bestow on journalism in exchange for liberal emoluments, all the distinction he had wasted gratis and unrecognised in the Verdurins’ salon (for his articles gave him no more trouble than his conversation, so good a talker and so learned was he) and this might have brought him unrivalled fame and at one moment seemed on the eve of doing so, had it not been for Mme Verdurin. Certainly Brichot’s articles were far from being as remarkable as society people believed them to be. The vulgarity of the man was manifest at every instant under the pedantry of the scholar. And over and above imagery which meant nothing at all (“the Germans can no longer look the statue of Beethoven in the face”, “Schiller must have turned in his grave”, “the ink which initialled the neutrality of Belgium was hardly dry”, “Lenin’s words mean no more than the wind over the steppes”) there were trivialities such as “Twenty thousand prisoners, that’s something like a figure”. “Our Command will know how to keep its eyes open once for all”. “We mean to win; one point, that’s all”. But mixed up with that nonsense, there were so much knowledge, intelligence and good reasoning. Now Mme Verdurin never began one of Brichot’s articles without the anticipatory satisfaction of expecting to find absurdities in it and read it with concentrated attention so as to be certain not to let any of them escape her. Unfortunately there always were some, one hardly had to wait. The most felicitous quotation from an almost unknown author, unknown at all events, by the writer of the work Brichot referred to, was made use of to prove his unjustifiable pedantry and Mme Verdurin awaited the dinner-hour with impatience so that she could let loose her guests’ shrieks of laughter, “Well! What about our Brichot this evening? I thought of you when I was reading the quotation from Cuvier. Upon my word, I believe he’s going crazy.” “I haven’t read it yet,” said a “faithful”. “What, you haven’t read it yet? You don’t know the delights in store for you. It’s so perfectly idiotic that I nearly died of laughing.” And delighted that someone or other had not yet read the particular article so that she could expose Brichot’s absurdities herself, Mme Verdurin told the butler to bring the Temps and began to read it aloud, emphasising the most simple phrases. After dinner, throughout the evening, the anti-Brichot campaign continued, but with a pretence of reserve. “I’m not reading this too loud because I’m afraid that down there,” she pointed at the Comtesse Molé, “there’s a lingering admiration for this rubbish. Society people are simpler than one would think.” While they wanted Mme Molé to hear what they were saying about her, they pretended the contrary by lowering their voices, and she, in cowardly fashion, disowned Brichot whom in reality she considered the equal of Michelet. She agreed with Mme Verdurin and yet, so as to end on a note which seemed to her incontrovertible, added, “One cannot deny that it is well written.” “You call that well written,” rejoined Mme Verdurin, “I consider that it’s written like a pig,” a sally which raised a society laugh, chiefly because Mme Verdurin, rather abashed by the word “pig”, had uttered it in a whisper, with her hand over her lips. Her vindictiveness towards Brichot increased the more because he naively displayed satisfaction at his success in spite of ill-humour provoked by the censorship each time, as he said, with his habitual use of slang to show he was not too don-like, it had caviardé a part of his article. To his face Mme Verdurin did not let him perceive how poor an opinion she had of his articles except by a sullen demeanour which would have enlightened a more perceptive man. Once only she reproached him with using “I” so often. As a matter of fact he did so, partly from professional habit; expressions like: “I admit that”, “I am aware that the enormous development of the fronts necessitates”, et cetera, et cetera imposed themselves on him but still more because as a former militant anti-Dreyfusard who had surmised the German preparations long before the war, he had grown accustomed to continually writing: “I have denounced them since 1897”, “I pointed it out in 1901”, “I. warned them in my little brochure, very scarce to-day ‘habent sua fata libelli‘” and thus the habit had taken root. He blushed deeply at Mme Verdurin’s bitter observation. “You are right, madame. One who loved the Jesuits as little as M. Combes, before he had been privileged with a preface by our charming master in delightful scepticism, Anatole France, who, unless I err, was my adversary — before the deluge, said that the ‘I’ was always detestable.” From that moment Brichot replaced “I” by “we”, but “we” did not prevent the reader from seeing that the writer was speaking about himself, on the contrary it enabled him never to cease talking about himself, making a running commentary out of his least significant sentences and composing an article simply on a negation, invariably protected by “we”. For instance, Brichot had stated, maybe, in another article that the German armies had lost some of their value, he would then begin as follows: “‘We’ are not going to disguise the truth. ‘We’ have said that these German armies had lost some of their value. ‘We’ have not said that they were not still of great value. Still less shall ‘we’ say that they have no value at all, any more than ‘we’ should say that ground is gained which is not gained, et cetera, et cetera.” In short, Brichot would have been able, merely by enunciating everything he would not say and by recalling everything that he had been saying for years and what Clausewitz, Ovid, Apollonius of Tyana had said so and so many centuries ago, easily to constitute the material of a large volume. It is a pity he did not publish it because those articles crammed with erudition are now difficult to obtain. The faubourg Saint-Germain, instructed by Mme Verdurin, began laughing at Brichot at her house, but, once they got away from the little clan, they continued to admire him. Then laughing at him became the fashion as it had been the fashion to admire him, and even those ladies who continued to be secretly interested in him, had no sooner read one of his articles, than they stopped and laughed at them in company, so as not to appear less intelligent than others. Brichot had never been so much talked about in the little clan as at this period, but with derision. The criterion of the intelligence of every newcomer was his opinion of Brichot’s articles; if he responded unsatisfactorily the first time, they soon taught him how to judge people’s intelligence. “Well, my dear friend,” continued M. de Charlus, “all this is appalling and there’s a good deal more to deplore than tiresome articles. They talk about vandalism, about the destruction of statues, but is not the destruction of so many wonderful young men who were polychrome statues of incomparable beauty also vandalism? Is not a city in which there are no more beautiful men like a city in which all the statuary has been destroyed? What pleasure can I have in going to dinner at a restaurant where I am served by old moss-grown pot-bellies who look like Père Didon, if not by women in mob caps who make me think I am at a Bouillon Duval. Exactly, my dear fellow, and I think I have the right to say so, for the Beautiful is as much the Beautiful in living matter. A fine pleasure to be served by rickety creatures with spectacles the reason of whose exemption can be read in their faces. Nowadays, if one wants to gratify one’s eyes with the sight of a good-looking person in a restaurant, one must no longer seek him among the waiters but among the customers. And one may see a servant again, often as they are changed, but what about that English lieutenant who has been to the restaurant for the first time and will perhaps be killed to-morrow? When Augustus of Poland, as Morand, the delightful author of Clarisse narrates, exchanged one of his regiments against a collection of Chinese pots, in my opinion he did a bad business. To think that all those splendid footmen six feet high, who adorned the monumental staircases of our beautiful lady friends, have all been killed, most of them having joined up because people kept on telling them that the war would only last two months. Ah! little did they know, as I did, the power of Germany, the valour of the Prussian race,” he added, forgetting himself. And then, noticing that he had allowed his point of view to be too clearly seen, he continued: “It is not so much Germany as the war itself that I fear for France. People imagine that the war is only a gigantic boxing-match at which they are gazing from afar, thanks to the papers. But that is completely untrue. It is a disease which, when it seems cured at one spot crops up in another. To-day, Noyon will be relieved, to-morrow we shall have neither bread nor chocolate, the day after, he who believed himself safe and would, if needs must, be ready to die an unimagined death, will be horrified to read in the papers that his class has been called up. As to monuments, the destruction of a unique masterpiece like Rheims is not so terrible to me as to witness the destruction of such numbers of ensembles which made the smallest village of France instructive and charming.” Immediately I began thinking of Combray and how in former days I had thought myself diminished in the eyes of Mme de Guermantes by avowing the modest situation which my family occupied there. I wondered if it had not been revealed to the Guermantes and to M. de Charlus whether by Legrandin or Swann or Saint-Loup or Morel. But that this might have been divulged was less painful to me than retrospective explanations. I only hoped that M. de Charlus would not allude to Combray. “I do not want to speak ill of the Americans, monsieur,” he continued, “it seems they are inexhaustibly generous and, since there has been no orchestral conductor in this war and each entered the dance considerably after the other and the Americans began when we were almost finished, they may have an ardour which four years of war has quenched among us. Even before the war they loved our country and our art and paid high prices for our masterpieces of which they have many now. But it is precisely this deracinated art, as M. Barrés would say, which is the reverse of everything which made the supreme charm of France. The Chateau explained the church which in its turn, because it had been a place of pilgrimage, explained the chanson de geste. As an illustration, I need not elaborate my own origin and my alliances; for that matter we are not concerned with that, but recently I had to settle some family interests and in spite of a certain coolness which exists between myself and the Saint-Loup family, I had to pay a visit to my niece who lives at Combray. Combray was only a little town like so many others, but our ancestors were represented as patrons in many of the painted windows of the church, in others our arms were inscribed. We had our chapel there and our tombs. This church was destroyed by the French and by the English because it served as an observation post for the Germans. All that medley of surviving history and of art which was France is being destroyed and it is not over yet. Of course I am not so ridiculous as to compare for family reasons the destruction of the Church of Combray with that of the Cathedral of Rheims which was a miracle of a Gothic cathedral in its spontaneous purity of unique statuary, or that of Amiens. I do not know if the raised arm of St. Firmin is smashed to atoms to-day. If it is, the the most noble affirmation of faith and of energy has disappeared from this world.” “The symbol of it, monsieur,” I answered, “I love symbols as you do, but it would be absurd to sacrifice to the symbol the reality which it symbolises. The cathedrals must be adored until the day when in order to preserve them, it would be necessary to deny the truths which they teach. The raised arm of St. Firmin, with an almost military gesture, said: ‘Let us be broken if honour demands it. Do not sacrifice men to stones whose beauty arises from having for a moment established human verities.’”. “I understand what you mean,” answered M. de Charlus, “and M. Barrés who alas! has been the cause of our making too many pilgrimages to the statue of Strasbourg and to the tomb of M. Deroulède, was moving and graceful when he wrote that the Cathedral of Rheims itself was less dear to us than the life of one of our infantrymen. This assertion makes the rage of our newspapers against the German general who said that the Cathedral of Rheims was less precious to him than the life of a German soldier, rather ridiculous. And what is so exasperating and harrowing is that every country says the same thing. The reasons given by the industrialist associations of Germany for retaining possession of Belfort as indispensable for the preservation of their country against our ideas of revenge are the same as those of Barrés exacting Mayence to protect us against the velleities of invasion by the Boches. How is it that the restitution of Alsace-Lorraine appeared to France an insufficient motive for a war and yet a sufficient motive for continuing it and for declaring it anew each year? You seem to believe the victory of France certain; I hope so with all my heart, you don’t doubt that, but ever since, rightly or wrongly, the Allies believe that their own victory is assured (for my own part, of course, I should be delighted with such a solution, but I observe a great many paper victories, pyrrhic victories at a cost not revealed to us) and that the Boches are no longer confident of victory, we see Germany seeking peace and France wanting to prolong the war; that just France rightly desiring to make the voice of justice heard should be also France the compassionate, and make words of pity heard, were it only for the sake of her children, so that when spring-days come round and flowers bloom again, they will brighten other things than tombs. Be frank, my dear friend, you yourself exposed the theory to me that things only exist thanks to a perpetually renewed creation. You used to say that the creation of the world did not take place once and for all, but necessarily continues day by day. Well, if you said that in good faith you cannot except the war from that theory. It is all very well for our excellent Norpois to write (trotting out one of those rhetorical accessories he loves, like ‘the dawn of victory’ and ‘General Winter’) ‘now that Germany has wanted war, the die is cast’ the truth is that every day war is declared anew. Therefore he who wants to continue it is as culpable as he who began it, perhaps more, for the latter could not perhaps foresee all its horrors. And there is nothing to show that so prolonged a war, even if it has a victorious issue, will not have perils. It is difficult to talk about things which have no precedent and of repercussions on the organism of an operation which is attempted for the first time. Generally, it is true, we get over these novelties we’re alarmed about quite well. The shrewdest Republican thought it mad to bring about the Disestablishment of the Church and it passed like a letter through the post. Dreyfus was rehabilitated, Picquart was made Minister of War without anybody saying a word. Nevertheless, what may not happen after such an exhaustion as that induced by an uninterrupted war lasting for several years? What will the men do when they come back? Will they be tired out? Will fatigue have broken them or driven them mad? All this may turn out badly, if not for France, at least for the Government and perhaps for the form of Government. Formerly you made me read the admirable Aimée de Coigny by Maurras. I should be much surprised if some Aimée de Coigny did not anticipate from the war which our Republic is making, developments expected by Aimée de Coigny in 1812 from the war the Empire was then making. If that Aimée de Coigny actually does exist, will her hopes be realised? I hope not. To return to the war itself: did the Emperor William begin it? I strongly doubt it and if so, what act has he committed that Napoleon, for instance, did not commit? Acts I, personally, consider abominable but I am astonished they should inspire so much horror in the Napoleonic incense-burners, in those who, on the day of the declaration of war, shrieked like General X: ‘I have been awaiting this day for forty years. It is the greatest day of my life;’ Heaven knows if anyone protested more loudly than I when society gave a disproportionate position to the Nationalists, to soldiers, when every friend of the Arts was accused of doing things which were injurious to the Fatherland, when every unwarlike civilisation was considered deleterious. Hardly an authentic social figure counted in comparison with a general, Some crazy woman or other nearly introduced me to M. Syveton! You will tell me that all I was concerned to uphold were laws of society; but, in spite of their apparent frivolity, they might perhaps have prevented many excesses. I have always honoured those who defend grammar and logic and it is only realised fifty years later that they have averted great dangers. And our Nationalists are the most Germanophobe, the most Die-hard of men, but during the last fifteen years their philosophy has entirely changed. As a fact, they are now urging the continuation of the war but it is only to exterminate a belligerent race and from love of peace. For the warlike civilisation they thought so beautiful fifteen years ago now horrifies them; not only they reproach Prussia with having allowed the military element in her country to predominate, but they consider that at all periods military civilisations were destructive of everything they have now discovered to be precious, including in the Arts that of gallantry. It suffices for one of their critics to be converted to nationalism for him to become at once a friend of peace; he is persuaded that in all warlike civilisations women play a humiliating and lowly part. One does not venture to reply that the ladies of the Knights in the Middle Ages and Dante’s Beatrice were perhaps placed on a throne as elevated as M. Becque’s heroines. I am expecting one of these days to find myself placed at table below a Russian revolutionary or perhaps only below one of our generals who make war because of their horror of war and in order to punish a people for cultivating an ideal which they themselves considered the only invigorating one fifteen years ago. The unhappy Czar was still honoured some months ago because he called the Conference of the Hague, but now that we are saluting free Russia we forget her only title to glory, thus the wheel of the world turns. And yet Germany uses so many of the same expressions as France that one might think that she’s copying her. She never stops saying that she is fighting for her existence. When I read: ‘We are fighting against an implacable and cruel enemy until we have obtained a peace which will guarantee our future against all aggression and in order that the blood of our brave soldiers should not have been shed in vain,’ or ‘who is not with us is against us’, I do not know if this phrase is Emperor William’s or M. Poincaré‘s, for each one has used the same words with variations twenty times, though to tell you the truth I must confess that the Emperor in this case was the imitator of the President of the Republic. France would not perhaps have held to prolonging the war if she had remained weak, but neither would Germany perhaps have been in such a hurry to finish it if she had not ceased to be strong, I mean, to be as strong as she was, for you will see she is still strong enough.” He had got into the habit of talking very loud from nervousness, from seeking relief from impressions which, having never cultivated any art, he felt impelled to cast forth, as an aviator his bombs, into an open field where his words struck no one, and especially in society where they fell haphazard and where he was listened to with attention owing to snobbishness and where he so tyrannised his audience that one could say it was intimidated. On the boulevards this harangue was, moreover, a mark of his scorn for passers-by on whose account he no more lowered his voice than he would have moved aside for them. But there his voice exploded and astounded, and, especially when his remarks were sufficiently intelligible for passers-by to turn round, the latter might have had us arrested as defeatists. I drew M. de Charlus’ attention to this but succeeded only in exciting his hilarity: “Admit that it really would be funny,” he said. “After all, one never knows, anyone of us risks every evening being in the news-column the following day; and, if it comes to that, why shouldn’t I be shot in the ditch of Vincennes? The same thing happened to my great-uncle the Duc d’Enghien, Thirst for noble blood delights the populace which in this respect displays more refinement than lions. As to those animals, you know, if Mme. Verdurin only had a scratch on her nose, she’d say they had sprung upon, what in my youth one would have called her pif.” And he began to laugh with his mouth wide open as though he had been alone in a room. At moments, seeing certain rather suspicious individuals emerging from a gloomy passage near where M. de Charlus was passing and congregating at some distance from him, I wondered whether he would prefer me to leave him alone or stay with him. Thus, one who met an old man subject to epileptic fits whose incoherent behaviour foreshadowed the probable imminence of an attack, would ask himself whether his company is desired as a support or feared as that of a witness from whom he might wish to hide the attack and whose mere presence perhaps might induce it whereas complete quiet might prevent it, while the possible event from which he cannot decide whether to fly or not, is revealed by the zigzag walk of the patient, similar to that of a drunken man. In the present case of M. de Charlus, the various divergent positions, signs of a possible incident of which I was not sure whether he wished it to happen or feared that my presence would prevent it, were, by an ingenious setting, not assumed by the baron himself who was walking straight on, but by a whole company of actors. All the same I think he preferred avoiding the encounter for he drew me into a side street more obscure than the boulevard and where there was a constant stream of soldiers of every army and of every nation, a juvenile influx compensating and consoling M. de Charlus for the reflux of all those men to the frontier which had caused that frightful void in Paris in the first days of the mobilisation. M. de Charlus unceasingly admired the brilliant uniforms passing before us which made Paris as cosmopolitan as a port, as unreal as a painted scene composed of architectural forms making a background for the most varied and seductive costumes. He retained all his respect and affection for certain grandes dames who were accused of defeatism, just as he did for those who had formerly been accused of Dreyfusism. He only regretted that in condescending to be political, they should have given a hold to “the polemics of journalists.” His view was unchanged so far as they were concerned. For his frivolity was so systematic that birth combined with beauty and other glamours was the lasting thing, and the war, like the Dreyfus Affair, a vulgar and fugitive fashion. Had the Duchesse de Guermantes been shot as an overture to a separate peace with Austria, he would have considered it heroic and no more degrading than it seems to-day that Marie Antoinette was sentenced to decapitation. At that moment, M. de Charlus, looking as noble as a St. Vallier or a St. Mégrin, was erect, rigid, solemn, spoke gravely, making none of those gestures and movements which reveal those of his kind. Yet why is it there are none whose voice is just right? At the very moment when he was talking of the most serious things, there was still that false note which needed tuning. And M. de Charlus literally did not know which way to look next, raising his head as though he felt the need of an opera-glass, which, however, would not have been much use to him, for, on account of the zeppelin raid of the previous day having aroused the vigilance of the public authorities, there were soldiers right up to the sky. The aeroplanes I had seen some hours earlier, like insects or brown spots upon the evening blue, continued to pass into the night deepened still more by the partial extinction of the street lamps like luminous faggots. The greatest impression of beauty given us by these flying human stars was perhaps that of making us look at the sky whither one rarely turned one’s eyes in that Paris of which in 1914 I had seen the almost defenceless beauty awaiting the menace of the approaching enemy. Certainly there was now, as then, the ancient unchanged splendour of a moon cruelly, mysteriously serene, which poured upon the still intact monuments the useless loveliness of her light, but, as in 1914, and more than in 1914, there was something else, other lights and intermittent beams which, one realised, whether they came from aeroplanes or from the searchlights of the Eiffel Tower, were directed by an intelligent will, by a protective vigilance which caused that same emotion, inspired that same gratitude and calm I had experienced in Saint-Loup’s room, in the cell of that military cloister where so many fervent and disciplined hearts were being prepared for the day when without a single hesitation they were to consummate their sacrifice in the fullness of youth.
During the raid of the evening before the sky was more agitated than the earth, but when it was over, the sky became comparatively calm but, like the sea after a tempest, not completely so. Aeroplanes rose like rockets into the sky to rejoin the stars and searchlights moved slowly across the sky divided into sections by their pale star dust like wandering Milky Ways. The aeroplanes so mingled with the stars that one could almost imagine oneself in another hemisphere looking at new constellations. M. de Charlus expressed his admiration for these aviators and, as he could no more help giving free play to his Germano-philism than to his other inclinations, although he denied both, said to me: “Moreover, I must add that I admire the Germans in their Gothas just as much. And think of the courage that is needed to go in those zeppelins. They are simply heroes. And if they do throw their bombs upon civilians, don’t our batteries fire upon theirs? Are you afraid of Gothas and cannon?” I avowed that I was not, but perhaps I was wrong. Having got into the habit, through idleness, of postponing my work from day to day, I doubtless supposed death might deal in the same way with me. How could one be afraid of a shell which you are convinced will not strike you that day? Moreover, these isolated ideas of bombs thrown, of possible death, added nothing tragic to the image I had formed of the passing German airships, until, one evening, I might see a bomb thrown towards us from one of them as it was tossed and segmented in the storm-clouds or from an aeroplane which, though I knew its murderous errand, I had till then regarded as celestial. For the ultimate reality of danger is only perceived through something new and irreducible to what one has previously known which we call an impression and which is often, as was the case now, summed up in a line, a line which would disclose a purpose, a line in which there was a latent power of action which modified it; thus upon the Pont de la Concorde around the menacing and pursued aeroplane, as though the fountains of the Champs Elysées, of the Place de la Concorde, of the Tuileries, were reflected in the clouds, searchlights like jets of luminous water pierced the sky like arrows, lines full of purpose, the foreseeing and protective purpose of powerful and wise men towards whom I felt that same gratitude as on the night in quarters at Doncières when their power deigned to watch over us with such splendid precision.
The night was as beautiful as in 1914 when Paris was equally menaced. The moonbeams seemed like soft, continuous magnesium-light offering for the last time nocturnal visions of beautiful sites such as the Place Vendôme and the Place de la Concorde, to which my fear of shells which might destroy them lent a contrasting richness of as yet untouched beauty as though they were offering up their defenceless architecture to the coming blows. “You are not afraid?” repeated M. de Charlus. “Parisians do not seem to realise their danger. I am told that Mme Verdurin gives parties every day. I only know it by hearsay for I know absolutely nothing about them; I have entirely broken with them,” he added, lowering not only his eyes as if a telegraph boy had passed by, but also his head and his shoulders and lifting his arms with a gesture that signified: “I wash my hands of them!” “At least I can tell you nothing about them,” (although I had not asked him). “I know that Morel goes there a great deal” (it was the first, time he had spoken to me about him). “It is suggested that he much regrets the past, that he wants to make it up with me again,” he continued, showing simultaneously the credulity of a suburban who remarks: “It is commonly said that France is negotiating more than ever with Germany, even that pourparlers are taking place” and of the lover whom the worst rebuffs cannot discourage. “In any case, if he wants to, he has only to say so. I am older than he is and it is not for me to take the first step.” And indeed the uselessness of his saying so was abundantly evident. But, besides, he was not even sincere and for that reason one was embarrassed about M. de Charlus because, when he said it was not for him to take the first step, he was, on the contrary, making one and was hoping that I should offer to bring about a reconciliation. Certainly I knew the naïve or assumed credulity of those who care for someone or even who are simply not invited by him, and impute to that person a wish he has never expressed in spite of fulsome importunities.
It must here be noted, that, unhappily, the very next day, M. de Charlus suddenly found himself face to face with Morel in the street. The latter in order to excite his jealousy took him by the arm and told him some tales that were more or less true and when M. de Charlus, bewildered and urgently wanting Morel to stay with him that evening, entreated him not to go away, the other, catching sight of a friend, said good-bye. M. de Charlus, in a fury, hoping that the threat which, as may be imagined, he was never likely to execute, would make Morel remain with him, said to him: “Take care, I shall be revenged,” and Morel turned away with a laugh, smacking his astonished friend on the back and putting his arm round him. From the sudden tremulous intonation with which M. de Charlus, in talking of Morel, had emphasised his words, from the pained expression in the depth of his eyes, I had the impression that there was something more behind his words than ordinary insistence. I was not mistaken and I will relate at once the two incidents which later proved it. (I am anticipating by many years in regard to the second of these incidents, which was after the death of M. de Charlus and that only occurred at a much later period. We shall have occasion to see him again several times, very different from the man we have hitherto known and in particular, when we see him the last time, it will be at a period when he had completely forgotten Morel). The first of these events happened only two years after the evening when I was walking down the boulevards, as I say, with M. de Charlus. I met Morel. Immediately I thought of M. de Charlus, of the pleasure it would give him to see the violinist, and I begged the latter to go and see him, were it only once. “He has been good to you,” I told Morel. “He is now old, he might die, one must liquidate old quarrels and efface their memory.” Morel appeared entirely to share my view as to the desirability of a reconciliation. Nevertheless, he refused categorically to pay a single visit to M. de Charlus. “You are wrong,” I said to him. “Is it obstinacy or indolence or perversity or ill-placed pride or virtue (be sure that won’t be attacked), or is it coquetry?” Then the violinist, distorting his face into an avowal which no doubt cost him dear, answered with a shiver: “No, it is none of those reasons. As to virtue, I don’t care a damn, as to perversity, on the contrary, I’m beginning to pity him, nor is it from coquetry, that would be futile. It is not from idleness, there are days together when I do nothing but twiddle my thumbs. No, it has nothing to do with all that, it is — I beg you tell no one, and it is folly for me to tell you — it’s — it’s because I’m afraid.” He began trembling in all his limbs. I told him I did not understand what he meant. “Don’t ask me; don’t let us say any more about it. You don’t know him as I do. I could tell you things you’ve no idea of.” “But what harm could he do you? Less still if there were no resentment between you. And, besides, you know at bottom he is very kind.” “Yes, indeed, I know it. I know that he is kind and full of delicacy and right feeling. But leave me alone, don’t talk about it, I beg you, I’m ashamed that I’m afraid of him.” The second incident dates from after the death of M. de Charlus. There were brought to me several souvenirs which he had left me and a letter enclosed in three envelopes written at least ten years before his death. But he had at that time been so seriously ill that he had made his will, then he had partially recovered before falling into the condition in which we shall see him later on the day of an afternoon party at the Princesse de Guermantes’. The letter had remained in a casket with objects he had left to certain friends, for seven years; seven years during which he had completely forgotten Morel. The letter written in a very fine yet firm hand was as follows: “My dear friend, the ways of Providence are sometimes inscrutable. It makes use of the sin of an inferior individual to prevent a just man’s fall from virtue. You know Morel, you know where he came from, from what fate I wanted to raise him, so to speak, to my own level. You know that he preferred to return, not merely to the dust and ashes from which every man, for man is veritably a phoenix, can be reborn, but into the slime and mud where the viper has its being. He let himself sink and thus preserved me from falling into the pit. You know that my arms contain the device of Our Lord Himself: ‘Inculcabis super leonem et aspidem‘, with a man represented with a lion and a serpent at his feet as a heraldic support. Now if the lion in me has permitted itself to be trampled on, it is because of the serpent and its prudence which is sometimes too lightly called a defect, because the profound wisdom of the Gospel has made of it a virtue, at least a virtue for others. Our serpent whose hisses were formerly harmoniously modulated when he had a charmer — himself greatly charmed for that matter — was not only a musical reptile but possessed to the point of cowardice that virtue which I now hold for divine, prudence.. It was this divine prudence which made him resist the appeals which I sent him to come and see me. And I shall have neither peace in this world nor hope of forgiveness in the next if I do not make this avowal to you. It is he who in this matter was the instrument of divine wisdom, for I had resolved that he should not leave me alive. It was necessary that one or the other of us should disappear. I had decided to kill him. God himself inspired his prudence to preserve me from a crime. I do not doubt but that the intercession of the Archangel Michael, my patron saint, played a great part in this matter, and I implore him to forgive me for having so much neglected him during many years and for having requited him so ill for the innumerable bounties he has shown me, especially in my fight against evil. I owe to his service, I say it from the fulness of my faith and my intelligence, that the Celestial Father inspired Morel not to come and see me. And now it is I who am dying. Your faithful and devoted Semper idem, P. G. Charlus.” Then I understood Morel’s fear. Certainly there were both pride and literature in that letter, but the avowal was true. And Morel knew better than I did that “almost mad side” which Mme de Guer-mantes recognised in her brother-in-law and which was not limited, as I had supposed until then, to momentary outbursts of superficial and futile passion.
But we must retrace our steps. I am still walking down the boulevards beside M. de Charlus, who is using me as a vague intermediary for overtures of peace between him and Morel. Observing that I did not reply, he thus continued: “As to that, I do not know why he doesn’t play any more. Apparently there is no more music, under the pretext of the war, but they dance and dine out. These fêtes represent what will be perhaps, if the Germans advance further, the last days of our Pompeii. It only needs the lava of some German Vesuvius (their naval guns are not less terrible than a volcano) to surprise them at their toilet and eternalise their gesture by interrupting it; children will later on be educated by illustrations of Mme Molé about to put the last layer of paint on her face before going to dine with her sister-in-law, or Sosthène de Guermantes finishing painting her false eyebrows. It will be lecturing material for the Brichots of the future; the frivolity of a period after ten centuries is worthy of the most serious erudition, especially if it has been preserved intact by a volcanic irruption in which matter akin to lava was thrown by bombardment. What documents for future history! When asphyxiating gases analogous to those emitted by Vesuvius and earthquakes like those which buried Pompeii will preserve intact all the remaining imprudent women who have not fled to Bayonne with their pictures and their statues. Moreover, has it not been Pompeii, a bit at a time every evening, for more than a year? These people flying to their cellars, not to bring out an old bottle of Mouton-Rothschild or of St. Emilion, but to hide themselves and their most precious possessions like the priests of Herculaneum surprised by death at the moment when they were carrying off the sacred vessels. Attachment to an object always brings death to the possessor. Paris was not, like Herculaneum, founded by Hercules. But what similarities force themselves upon one and that lucidity which has come to us is not only of our period, every period possessed it. If we think that to-morrow we may share the fate of the cities of Vesuvius, the women of those days believed they were menaced with the fate of the Cities of the Plain. They have discovered on the walls of one of the houses of Pompeii the inscription: ‘Sodom and Gomorra.’” I do not know if it was this name of Sodom and the ideas which it aroused in him, or whether it was that of the bombardment which made M. de Charlus lift for an instant his eyes to Heaven, but he soon brought them down to earth again. “I admire all the heroes of this war,” he said. “My dear fellow, take all those English soldiers whom I thought of somewhat lightly at the beginning of the war as mere football-players presumptuous enough to measure themselves against professionals — and what professionals! Well, merely aesthetically they are athletes of Greece, yes, of Greece, my dear fellow, these are the youths of Plato or rather of the Spartans. A friend of mine went to their camp at Rouen and saw marvels of which one has no idea. It is no longer Rouen, it is another town. Of course there is still the old Rouen with the emaciated saints of the Cathedral. That is beautiful also, but it is another thing. And our poilus! I cannot tell you what a savour I find in our poilus, in our little ‘parigots.’ There, like that one who is passing so free and easy in that droll, wide-awake manner. I often stop and have a word with them. What quick intelligence, what good sense! And the boys from the Provinces, how nice they are with their rolling r’s and their country jargon. I have always lived a great deal in the country, I have slept in the farms, I know how to talk to these people. But our admiration for the French must not allow us to underestimate our enemies, that diminishes ourselves. And you don’t know what a German soldier is, you’ve never seen them as I have, on parade doing the goose-step in ‘Unter den Linden.’” In returning to the ideal of virility he had touched on at Balbec which in the course of time had taken a philosophic form, he made use of absurd arguments and at moments, even when he showed superiority, these forced one to perceive the limitations of a mere man of fashion, even though he was an intelligent man of fashion; “You see,” he said, “that superb fellow, the German soldier, is a strong, healthy being, who only thinks of the greatness of his country, ‘Deutschland uber Alles’ which isn’t as stupid as it sounds, and while they prepare themselves in virile fashion we are steeped in dilettantism.” That word probably signified to M. de Charlus something analogous to literature, for immediately, recalling without doubt that I loved literature and, for a time, had the intention of devoting myself to it, he tapped me on the shoulder (taking the opportunity of leaning on it until I felt as bad as I used to during my military service from the recoil of a “76”) and remarked, as though to soften the reproach: “Yes, we have ruined ourselves by dilettantism, all of us, you too, remember, you can repeat your mea culpa like me. We have all been too dilettante.” Through surprise at the reproach, lack of the spirit of repartee, deference towards my interlocutor and touched by his friendly kindness, I replied, as though, at his invitation, I ought also to strike my breast. And this was perfectly senseless, for I had not a shadow of dilettantism to reproach myself with. “Well,” he said, “I’ll leave you,” the knot of men which had escorted us some distance having at last disappeared, “I’m going home to bed like an old gentleman, the war seems to have changed all our habits — one of Norpois’ aphorisms.” As to that, I knew that M. de Charlus would not be less surrounded by soldiers because he was at home for he had transformed his mansion into a military hospital, yielding in that less to his obsession than to his good heart.
It was a clear, still night and, in my imagination, the Seine, flowing between its circular bridges, circular through a combination of structure and reflection, resembled the Bosphorus, the moon symbolising, maybe, that invasion which the defeatism of M. de Charlus predicted or the cooperation of our Mussulman brothers with the armies of France, thin and curved like a sequin, seemed to be placing the Parisian sky under the oriental sign of the crescent. For an instant longer M. de Charlus stopped, facing a Senegalese and, in farewell took my hand and crushed it, a German habit, peculiar to people of the baron’s sort, continuing for some minutes to knead it, as Cottard would have said, as though the baron wanted to impart to my joints a suppleness they had not lost. In the case of blind people touch supplements the vision to a certain extent; I hardly know which sense this kneading took the place of. Perhaps he believed he was only pressing my hand, as, no doubt, he also believed he was only glancing at the Senegalese who passed into the shadows and did not deign to notice he was being admired. But in both cases M. de Charlus made a mistake; there was an excess of contact and of staring. “Is not the whole Orient of Decamps, of Fromentin, of Ingres, of Delacroix in all this?” he remarked, still immobilised by the departure of the Senegalese. “You know that I am never interested in things and people except as a painter or as a philosopher. Besides, I’m too old. But what a pity, to complete the picture, that one of us two is not an odalisque.”
It was not the Orient of Decamps or even of Delacroix which began haunting my imagination when the baron left me, but the old Orient of the Thousand and One Nights which I had so much loved. Losing myself more and more in the network of black streets, I was thinking of the Caliph Haroun Al Raschid in quest of adventures in the lost quarters of Bagdad. Moreover, heat, due to the weather and to my walking, had made me thirsty, but all the bars had been closed long since and on account of the shortage of petrol the few taxis I met, driven by Levantines or negroes, did not even trouble to respond to my signs. The only place where I could have obtained something to drink and have regained the strength to return home, would have been a hotel. But in the street, rather far from the centre, I had now reached, all the hotels had been closed since the Gothas began hurling their bombs on Paris. The same applied to nearly all the shops whose proprietors, owing to the dearth of employees or because they themselves had taken fright and had fled to the country, had left upon their doors the usual notice, written by hand, announcing their reopening at a distant and problematical date. Those establishments which survived, announced in the same fashion they they would only open twice a week, and one felt that misery, desolation and fear inhabited the whole quarter. I was the more surprised to observe, amongst these abandoned houses, one where, in contrast, life seemed to have conquered fear and failure and which seemed to be full of activity and opulence. Behind the closed shutters of every window, lights, shaded to conform to police regulations, revealed complete indifference to economy and every few moments the door opened to admit some new visitor. This hotel must have excited the jealousy of the neighbouring shopkeepers (on account of the money which its owners must be making) and my curiosity was aroused on noticing an officer emerge from it at a distance of some fifteen paces which was too far for me to be able to recognise him in the darkness.
Yet something about him struck me. It was not his face for I could not see it nor was it his uniform which was disguised in an ample cloak, it was the extraordinary disproportion between the number of different points past which his body flitted and the minute number of seconds employed in an exit, which resembled an attempted sortie by someone besieged. This made me believe, though I could not formally recognise him — whether by his outline, his slimness or his gait, or — even by his velocity but by a sort of ubiquity peculiar to him — that it was Saint-Loup. Who-ever he was, the officer with this gift of occupying so many different points in space in so short a time, had disappeared, without noticing me, in a cross street, and I stood asking myself whether or not I should enter this hotel the modest appearance of which made me doubt if it was really Saint-Loup who had emerged from it. I now remembered that Saint-Loup had got himself unhappily mixed up in an espionage affair owing to the appearance of his name in some letters seized upon a German officer. Full justice had been rendered him by the military authority but in spite of myself I related that fact to what I now saw. Was that hotel used as a meeting-place by spies? The officer had been gone some moments when I saw several privates of various arms enter and this added to my suspicions; and I was extremely thirsty. “It is probable I can get something to drink here,” I said to myself and I took advantage of that to try and satisfy my curiosity in spite of my apprehensions. I do not think, however, that it was curiosity which decided me to climb up the several steps of the little staircase at the end of which the door of a sort of vestibule was open, no doubt on account of the heat. I believed at first that I should not be able to satisfy it for I saw several people come and ask for rooms, to whom the reply was given that there was not a single one vacant. Soon I grasped that all the people of the place had against them was that they did not belong to that nest of spies, for an ordinary sailor presented himself and they immediately gave him No. 28. I was able, thanks to the darkness, without being seen myself, to observe several soldiers and two men of the working class who were talking quietly in a small, stuffy room showily decorated with coloured portraits of women out of magazines and illustrated reviews. The men were expressing patriotic opinions: “There’s no help for it, one must do like the rest,” said one. “Certainly, I don’t think I’m going to be killed,” another said in answer to a wish I had not heard, and who, I gathered, was leaving the following day for a dangerous post. “Just think of it, at twenty-two! It would be pretty stiff after only doing six months!” he cried in a tone revealing, more even than a desire to live, the justice of his reasoning as though being only twenty-two ought to give him a better chance of not being killed, in fact, that it was impossible he should be. “In Paris it’s wonderful,” said another, “one wouldn’t think there was a war on. Are you joining up, Julot?” “Of course I’m joining up. I want to go and have a smack at those dirty Boches.” “That Joffre! He’s a chap who slept with Minister’s wives, he’s not done anything.” “It’s rotten to hear that sort of stuff,” interrupted an aviator who was somewhat older, turning towards the last speaker, a workman. “I advise you not to talk like that when you get to the front or the poilus will very soon have you out of it.” The banality of this conversation gave me no great desire to hear more and I was about to go up or down when my attention was roused by hearing the following words which made me tremble. “It is extraordinary that the patron has not come back yet, at this time of night. I don’t know where he’ll find those chains.” “But the other is already chained up.” “Yes, of course he’s chained — in a way. If I were chained like that I’d pretty soon free myself.” “But the padlock is locked.” “Oh! It’s locked all right but if one tried, one could force it open. The trouble is the chains aren’t long enough. You aren’t going to explain that sort of thing to me, considering I was beating him the whole night till my hands bled.” “Well, you’ll have to take a turn at it to-night.” “No, it’s not my turn, it’s Maurice’s. It will be my turn on Sunday. The patron promised me.” Now I knew why the sailor’s strong arms were needed. If peaceful citizens had been refused admittance, it was not because the hotel was a nest of spies. An atrocious crime was going to be consummated if someone did not arrive in time to discover it and have the guilty arrested. On this threatened yet peaceful night all this seemed like a dream story and I deliberately entered the hotel with the determination of one who wants to see justice done with the enthusiasm of a poet. I lightly touched my hat and those present, without disturbing themselves, answered my salute more or less politely. “Will you please tell me whom I can ask for a room and for something to drink?” “Wait a minute, the patron has gone out.” “But the chief is upstairs,” suggested one of them. “You know perfectly well you can’t disturb him.” “Do you think they’ll give me a room?” “Yes, I believe so, 43 must be free,” said the young man who was sure of not being killed because he was only twenty-two, making room for me on the sofa beside him. “It would be a good thing to open the window, there’s an awful lot of smoke here,” said the aviator, and indeed each of them had a pipe or a cigarette. “Yes, that’s all right, but shut the shutters first; you know lights are forbidden on account of zeppelins.” “There won’t be any more zeppelins, the papers said that they’d all been shot down.” “They won’t come! They won’t come! What do you know about it? When you’ve been fifteen months at the front as I have, when you’ve shot down your five German aeroplanes, then you’ll be able to talk. It’s absurd to believe the papers. They were over Compiègne yesterday and killed a mother with her two children.” The young man who hoped not to be killed and who had an energetic, open and sympathetic face spoke with ardent eyes and with profound pity. “There’s no news of big Julot. His godmother hasn’t had a letter from him for eight days and it’s the first time he has been so long without giving her any news.” “Who’s his godmother?” “The lady who keeps the place of convenience below Olympia.” “Do they sleep together?” “What are you talking about, she’s a perfectly respectable married woman. She sends him money every week because she’s got a good heart. She’s a jolly good sort.” “So you know big Julot?” “Do I know him?” The young man of twenty-two answered hotly. “He’s one of my most intimate friends. There aren’t many I think as much of as I do of him, he’s a good pal, always ready to do one a turn. It would be a bad look out if anything happened to him.” Someone proposed a game of dice and from the fevered fashion in which the young man cast them and called out the results with his eyes starting out of his head, it was easy to see that he had the temperament of a gambler. I could not quite grasp what someone else said to him just then but he suddenly cried in a tone of deep resentment. “Julot a pimp! He may say he is but he bloody well isn’t. I’ve seen him pay his women. Yes I have. I don’t say that Algerian Jeanne hasn’t ever given him a bit. But never more than five francs, a woman in a house, earning more than fifty francs a day. To think of a man letting a woman give him only five francs. And now she’s at the front, she’s having a pretty hard life, I admit, but she earns what she likes and she never sends him anything. Julot a pimp, indeed there’d be plenty of pimps at that rate. Not only he isn’t a pimp, but I think he’s a fool into the bargain.” The oldest of the party, whom no doubt the patron had entrusted with keeping a certain amount of order, having gone out for a moment, only heard the end of the conversation but he stared at me and seemed visibly annoyed at the effect which it might have produced upon me. Without specially addressing the young man of twenty-two who had been exposing and developing his theory of venal love, he remarked in a general way: “You’re talking too much and too loud The window is open. People are asleep at this hour. You know, if the patron heard you, there would be trouble.” Just at that moment there was a sound of a door, opening, and everybody kept quiet, thinking it was the patron. But it was only a foreign chauffeur, whom everybody welcomed. When the young man of twenty-two, seeing the superb watch-chain extending across the new-comer’s waistcoat, bestowed on him a questioning and laughing glance followed by a frown of his eyebrows at the same time giving me a severe wink, I understood that the first glance meant “Hullo! Where did you steal that? All my congratulations!” and the second “Don’t say anything. We don’t know this chap, so look out.” Suddenly the patron came in sweating, carrying several yards of heavy chains, strong enough to chain up several prisoners and said: “I’ve got a nice load here. If all of you were not so lazy, I shouldn’t be obliged to go myself.” I told him I wanted a room for some hours only, “I could not find a carriage and I am not very well, but I should like to have something taken up to my room to drink.” “Pierrot, go to the cellar and fetch some cassis and tell them to prepare No. 43. There’s No. 7 ringing. They say they’re ill! Nice sort of illness! They’re after cocaine, they look half-doped. They ought to be chucked out. Have a pair of sheets been put in No. 22? There you are, there’s No. 7 ringing again. Run and see. What are you doing there, Maurice? You know very well you’re expected, go up to 14 his, and look sharp!” Maurice went out rapidly, following the patron who was evidently annoyed that I had seen his chains. “How is it you’re so late?” inquired the young man of twenty-two of the chauffeur. “What do you mean, so late, I’m an hour too early. But it’s too hot to walk about, my appointment’s only at midnight.” “But who are you here for?” “For Pamela la Charmeuse,” answered the oriental chauffeur, whose laugh disclosed beautiful white teeth. “Ah!” exclaimed the young man of twenty-two. Soon I was shown up to No. 43 but the atmosphere was so unpleasant and my curiosity so great that, having drunk my cassis, I descended the stairs, then, seized with another idea, I went up again and, without stopping at the floor where my room was, I went right up to the top. All of a sudden, from a room which was isolated at the end of the corridor, I seemed to hear stifled groans. I went rapidly towards them and applied my ear to the door. “I implore you, pity, pity, unloose me, unchain me, do not strike me so hard,” said a voice. “I kiss your feet, I humiliate myself, I won’t do it again, have pity.” “I won’t, you blackguard,” replied another voice, “and as you’re screaming and dragging yourself about on your knees like that, I’ll tie you to the bed. No mercy!” And I heard the crack of a cat-o’-nine-tails, probably loaded with nails for it was followed by cries of pain. Then I perceived that there was a lateral peep-hole in the room, the curtain of which they had forgotten to draw. Creeping softly in that direction, I glided up to the peep-hole and there on the bed, like Prometheus bound to his rock, squirming under the strokes of a cat-o’-nine-tails, which was, as a fact, loaded with nails, wielded by Maurice, already bleeding and covered with bruises which proved he was not submitting to the torture for the first time, I saw before me M. de Charlus. All of a sudden the door opened and someone entered who, happily, did not see me. It was Jupien. He approached the Baron with an air of respect and an intelligent smile. “Well! Do you need me?” The Baron requested Jupien to send Maurice out for a moment. Jupien put him out with the greatest heartiness. “We can’t be heard, I suppose?” asked the Baron. Jupien assured him that they could not. The Baron knew that Jupien, though he was as intelligent as a man of letters, had no sort of practical sense, and talked in front of designing people with hidden meanings that deceived no one, mentioning surnames everyone knew. “One second,” interrupted Jupien who had heard a bell ring in room No. 3. It was a Liberal Deputy who was going away. Jupien did not need to look at the number of the bell, he knew the sound of it, as the deputy came after luncheon every day. That particular day he had been obliged to change his hour because he had to attend his daughter’s marriage at mid-day at St. Pierre de Chaillot So he had come in the evening, but wanted to get away in good time because of his wife who got anxious if he came home late, especially in these times of bombardment. Jupien made a point of accompanying him to the door so as to show deference towards the honourable gentleman without any eye to his own advantage. For while the deputy repudiating the exaggerations of the Action Française (he would for that matter have been incapable of understanding a line of Charles Maurras or of Léon Daudet), was on good terms with Ministers who were flattered at being invited to his shooting parties, Jupien would never have dared to solicit the slightest help from him in his occasional difficulties with the police. He fully understood, if he had risked talking about such matters to the wealthy and timid legislator, he would not have been spared the most harmless raid but would instantly have lost the most generous of his customers. Having accompanied the deputy to the door, the latter pulled his hat over his eyes, raised his collar and gliding rapidly away as he did in his electoral campaigns, believed he was hiding his face. Jupien — going up again to M. de Charlus, said: “It was M. Eugène.” At Jupien’s, as in lunatic asylums, people were only called by their first names, but, to satisfy the curiosity of the habitués and increase the prestige of his house, he took care to add the surnames in a whisper. Sometimes, however, Jupien did not know the identity of his clients, so he invented them and said that this one was a stockbroker, another a man of title or an artist; trifling and amusing mistakes so far as those whom he wrongly named were concerned. He finally quite resigned himself to ignorance as to the identity of M. Victor. Jupien further had the habit of pleasing the Baron by doing the contrary of what is considered the right thing at certain parties: “I am going to introduce M. Lebrun to you” (in his ear: “he calls himself M. Lebrun but in reality he’s a Russian Grand-Duke.)” In another sense, Jupien did not think it interesting enough to introduce a milkman to M. de Charlus, but, with a wink: “He’s a sort of milkman, but over and above that he’s one of the most dangerous apaches in Belleville.” (The rollicking way in which Jupien said “apache“ was worth seeing). And as though this observation were not enough, he added others such as: “He has been sentenced several times for stealing and burgling houses. He was sent to Fresnes for fighting (the same jolly air) with people in the street whom he half crippled and he has been in an African battalion where he killed his sergeant.”
The Baron was slightly annoyed with Jupien because he knew that everybody more or less in that house he had charged his factotum to buy and have run by an underling, owing to the indiscretions of the uncle of Mlle d’Oloran late Mme de Cambremer, was aware of his personality and his name, (fortunately many believed it was a pseudonym and so deformed it that the Baron was protected by their stupidity, not by Jupien’s discretion). Eased by the knowledge that they could not be overheard, the Baron said to him: “I did not want to speak before that little fellow. He’s very nice and does his best but he’s not brutal enough. His face pleases me but he calls me a low debauchee as though he had learnt it by heart.” “Oh dear no! No one has said a word to him,” Jupien answered without realising the unlikelihood of the assertion. “As a matter of fact he was mixed up in the murder of a concierge in La Villette.” “Indeed? That is rather interesting,” said the Baron with a smile. “But I’ve just secured a butcher, a slaughterer, who looks rather like him; by a bit of luck he happened to look in. Would you like to try him?” “Yes, with pleasure.” I watched the man of the slaughter-house enter. He did look a little like “Maurice” but, what was more curious, both of them were of a type that I had never been able to define but which I then realised was also exemplified in Morel; if not in his face as I knew it, at least in a cast of features that the eyes of love, seeing Morel differently from me, might have fitted into his countenance. From the moment that I had made within myself a model with features borrowed from my recollections of what Morel might represent to someone else, I realised that those two young men, of whom one was a jeweller’s boy and the other a hotel-employee, were vaguely his successors. Must one conclude that M. de Charlus, at all events on one side of his love-affairs, was always faithful to the same type and that the lust which caused him to select these two young men was the same which had caused him to stop Morel on the platform of the station of Doncières, that all three resembled a little that youth whose form, engraved in the sapphire eyes of M. de Charlus, gave to his gaze the peculiar something which had frightened me on that first day at Balbec. Or, was it that his love for Morel had modified the type he favoured and he was now seeking men who resembled Morel to console himself for the latter’s desertion? Another supposition was that perhaps in spite of appearances there had never been between Morel and himself any relations but those of friendship and that M. de Charlus had made Jupien procure these young men because they sufficiently resembled Morel for him to have the illusion that Morel was taking pleasure with him. It is true, bearing in mind all that M. de Charlus had done for Morel, that this supposition seems improbable, if one did not know that love forces great sacrifices from us for the being we love and sometimes the sacrifice of our very desire which, moreover, is the less easily exorcised because the being we love feels that we love him the more. What takes away the likelihood of such a supposition was the highly strung and profoundly passionate temperament of M. de Charlus, similar in that respect to Saint-Loup, which might at first have played the same part in his relations with Morel, though a more decent and negative part, as his nephew’s early relations with Rachel. The relations one has with a woman one loves (and that can apply also to love for a youth) can remain platonic for other reasons than the chastity of the woman or the unsensual nature of the love she inspires. The reason may be that the lover is too impatient and by the very excess of his love is unable to await the moment when he will obtain his desires by sufficient pretence of indifference. Continually, he returns to the charge, he never ceases writing to her whom he loves, he is always trying to see her, she refuses herself, he becomes desperate. From that time she knows, if she grants him her company, her friendship, that these benefits will seem so considerable to one who believed he was going to be deprived of them, that she need grant nothing more and that she can take advantage of the moment when he can no longer bear being unable to see her and when, at all costs, he must put an end to the struggle by accepting a truce which will impose upon him a platonic relationship as its preliminary condition. Moreover, during all the time that preceded this truce, the lover, in a constant state of anxiety, ceaselessly hoping for a letter, a glance, has long ceased thinking of the physical desire which at first tormented him but which has been exhausted by waiting and has been replaced by another order of longings more painful still if left unsatisfied. The pleasure formerly anticipated from caresses will later be accorded but transmuted into friendly words and promises of intercourse which brings delicious moments after the strain of uncertainty or after a look impregnated with such coldness that it seemed to remove the loved one beyond hope of his ever seeing her again. Women divine all this and know they can afford the luxury of never yielding to those who, from the first, have betrayed their inextinguishable desire. A woman is enchanted if, without giving anything, she can receive more than she generally gets when she does give herself. On that account highly-strung men believe in the chastity of their idol. And the halo with which they surround her is also a product, but, as we see, an indirect one, of their excessive love. There is in woman something of the unconscious function of drugs which are cunning without knowing it, like morphine. They are not indispensable in the case of those to whom they give the blessings of sleep and real well-being. By such they will not be bought at their weight in gold, taken in exchange for everything the sick man possesses, it is by those other unfortunates (they may, indeed, be the same but altered in the course of years) to whom the drug brings no sleep, gives them no pleasure but who, without it, are a prey to an agitation to which they must at all costs put an end, even though to do so means death. And M. de Charlus, whose case, with the slight difference due to the similarity of sex, can be included in the general laws of love, though he belonged to a family more ancient than the Capets themselves, rich and sought after by the most exclusive society, while Morel was nobody, might say to him as he had said to me: “I am a prince and I desire your welfare,” nevertheless Morel was his master if he did not yield to him. And perhaps, to know he was loved was sufficient to make him determine not to. The disgust of distinguished people for snobs who want to force themselves upon them, the virile man has for the invert, the woman for every man who is too much in love with her. M. de Charlus not only had every advantage, he might perhaps have offered immense bribes to Morel, yet it is likely that they would have been unavailing in opposition to the latter’s will. M. de Charlus had something in common with the Germans to whom he belonged by his origin and who, in the war now proceeding, were, as the Baron too often repeated, conquerors on every front. But what use were their victories since each one left the Allies more resolved than ever to refuse them the peace and reconciliation they wanted. Thus Napoleon invaded Russia and magnanimously invited the authorities to present themselves to him. But no one came.
I went downstairs and entered the little ante-room where Maurice, uncertain whether they would call him back or not and whom Jupien had told to wait, was about to join in a game of cards with one of his friends. They were much excited about a croix-de-guerre which had been found on the floor and did not know who had lost it or to whom to send it back so that the rightful owner should not be worried about it. They then started talking about the bravery of an officer who had been killed trying to save his orderly. “All the same there are good people amongst the rich. I would have got killed with pleasure for such a man as that!” exclaimed Maurice who evidently only managed to inflict his ghastly flagellations on the Baron from mechanical habit, ignorance, need of money and preference for making it without working although, perhaps, it gave him more trouble. And as M. de Charlus had feared, he was possibly a good-hearted fellow, and certainly he seemed plucky. Tears almost came into his eyes when he spoke of the death of the officer and the young man of twenty-two was equally moved. “Ah! They’re fine fellows! Poor devils like us have nothing to lose. But a gentleman who’s got lots of stuff, who can go and take his aperitif every day at six o’clock, it’s really a bit thick. One can jaw as much as one likes, but when one sees chaps like that die, really it’s pretty stiff. God oughtn’t to let rich people like that die, besides, they’re useful to working people. The damned Boches ought to be killed to the last man of them for doing in a man like that. And look what they’ve done at Louvain, cutting off the heads of little children! I don’t know, I am not any better than anyone else but I’d rather have my throat cut than obey savages like that; they aren’t men, they are out and out savages, you can’t deny it.” In fact all these boys were patriots. One, only slightly wounded in the arm, was not on such a high level as the others as he said, having shortly to return to the front: “Damn it, I wish it had been a proper wound” (one which procures exemption) just as Mme Swann formerly used to say, “I’ve succeeded in catching a tiresome influenza.” The door opened again for the chauffeur who had gone to take the air for a moment. “Hullo!” he said, “is it over already? It wasn’t long!” noticing Maurice who, he supposed, was engaged in whipping the man they nick-named after a newspaper of that period, “The man in chains.” “It may not seem long to you who’ve been out for a walk,” answered Maurice, annoyed for it to be known that he had not pleased the customer upstairs, “but if you’d been obliged to keep on whipping like me in this heat! If it weren’t for the fifty francs he gives —!” “Besides, he’s a man who talks well, one feels he’s had an education. Did he say it would soon be over?” “He said we shan’t get them, that it will end without either side winning.” “Bon sang de bon sang! He must be a Boche.” “I told you you were talking too loud,” said a man older than the others, noticing me. “Have you done with your room?” “Shut up, you’re not master here.” “Yes, I’ve finished and I’ve come to pay.” “You’d better pay the patron. Maurice, go and fetch him.” “I don’t want to disturb you.” “It doesn’t disturb me.” Maurice went upstairs and came back. “The patron is coming down,” he said. I gave him two francs for his trouble. He blushed with pleasure: “Thank you very much. I shall send them to my brother who’s a prisoner. No, he’s all right, it depends on the camp.” Meanwhile, two extremely elegant customers in dress coats and white ties under their overcoats, they seemed Russians from their slight accent, were standing in the doorway deliberating if they should enter. It was visibly the first time they had come there. They must have been told where the place was and seemed divided between desire, temptation and extreme fright. One of the two, a handsome young man, kept repeating every minute to the other, with a half-questioning, half-persuasive smile, “After all, we don’t care a damn.” He might say he did not mind the consequences, but he was not so indifferent as his words suggested for his remark did not result in his entering but on the contrary, in another glance at his friend, followed by the same smile and the same, “After all we don’t care a damn.” It was this “we don’t care a damn,” an example among thousands of that expressive language so different from what we generally speak, in which emotion makes us vary what we meant to say and in its place make use of phrases emerging from an unknown lake where live expressions without relation to one’s thought and for that very reason reveal it. I remember that Albertine once, when Françoise noiselessly entered the room just at the moment when my friend was lying beside me nude, exclaimed in spite of herself, to warn me: “Ah! here’s that beauty Françoise.” Françoise, whose sight was not good, and who was crossing the room some distance from us, apparently saw nothing. But the abnormal words “that beauty Françoise” which Albertine had never used in her life, spontaneously revealed their origin; Françoise knew they had escaped Albertine through emotion and understanding without seeing, went off muttering in her patois, the word “poutana“. Much later on, when Bloch having become the father of a family, married one of his daughters to a Catholic, an ill-bred person informed her that he had heard she was the daughter of a Jew and asked her what her name had been. The young woman who had been Miss Bloch since her birth, answered, pronouncing Bloch in the German fashion as the Duc de Guermantes might have done, that is, pronouncing the Ch not like “K” but with the Germanic “ch”.
To go back to the scene of the hotel, (into which the two Russians had finally decided to penetrate —“after all we don’t care a damn”) the patron had not yet come back when Jupien entered and rated them for talking too loud, saying that the neighbours would complain. But he stood dumbfounded on seeing me. “Get out all of you this instant!” he cried. Immediately all of them jumped up, whereupon I said: “It would be better if these young men stayed here and I went outside with you a moment.” He followed me, much troubled, and I explained to him why I had come. One could hear customers asking the patron if he could not introduce them to a footman, a choir boy, a negro chauffeur. All professions interested these old madmen; soldiers of all arms and the allies of all nations. Some especially favoured Canadians, feeling the charm of their accent which was so slight that they did not know whether it was of old France or of England. On account of their kilts and because of the lacustrine dreams associated with such lusts, Scotchmen were at a premium, and as every mania owes its peculiar character, if not its aggravation, to circumstances, an old man, whose prurient cravings had all been sated, demanded with insistence to be made acquainted with a mutilated soldier. Steps were heard on the stairs. With the indiscretion which was natural to him, Jupien could not resist telling me it was the Baron who was coming down, that he must not on any account see me but if I would enter the little room contiguous to the passage where the young men were, he would open the shutter, a trick he had invented for the Baron to see and hear without being seen and which would now operate in my favour against him. “Only don’t make a noise,” he said. And half pushing me into the darkness, he left me. Moreover, he had no other room to offer me, his hotel, in spite of the war, being full. The room I had just left had been taken by the Vicomte de Courvoisier who, having been able to leave the Red Cross at X—— for two days, had come to amuse himself for an hour in Paris before returning to the Chateau de Courvoisier where he would tell the Vicomtesse he had been unable to catch the last train. He had no notion that M. de Charlus was only a few yards away from him and the former had as little, never having encountered his cousin at Jupien’s house, the latter being ignorant of the carefully disguised identity of the Vicomte. The Baron soon came in, walking with some difficulty on account of his bruises which he must, nevertheless, have got used to. Although his debauch was finished and he was only going in to give Maurice the money he owed him, he directed a circular glance upon the young men gathered there which was at once tender and inquisitive and evidently expected to have the pleasure of a quite platonic but amorously prolonged chat with each of them. I noticed in all the lively frivolity he displayed towards the harem by which he seemed almost intimidated, those twistings of the body and tossings of the head, those sensitive glances I had noticed on the evening of his first arrival at La Raspelière, graces inherited from one of his grandmothers whom I had not known and which, masked in ordinary life by more virile expressions, were coquettishly displayed when he wanted to please an inferior audience by appearing a grande dame. Jupien had recommended them to the goodwill of the Baron by telling him they were hooligans of Belleville and that they would go to bed with their own sisters for a louis. In actual fact, Jupien was both lying and telling the truth. Better and more sensitive than he told the Baron they were, they did not belong to a class of miscreants. But those who believed them so talked to them with entire good faith as if these terrible fellows were doing the same. However, much a sadist may believe he is with an assassin, his own pure sadist soul is not on that account changed and he is hypnotised by the lies of these fellows who aren’t in the least assassins but who, wanting to turn an easy penny, wordily bring their father, their mother or their sister to life and kill them again, turn and turn about, because they get interrupted in their conversation with the customer they are trying to please. The customer is bewildered in his simplicity and, in his absurd conception of the guilty gigolo revelling in mass-murders, is astounded at the culprit’s lies and contradictions. All of them seemed to know M. de Charlus who stayed some time talking to each of them in what he thought was his vernacular, from pretentious affectation of local colour and also from the sadistic pleasure of mixing himself up in a crapulous life. “It’s disgusting,” he said, “I saw you in front of Olympia with two street-women, just to get some coppers out of them. That’s a nice way of deceiving me.” Happily for the young man who was thus addressed, he had no time to declare that he had never accepted coppers from a woman which would have diminished the excitement of M. de Charlus and he reserved his protest for the end of the latter’s sentence, replying, “Oh, no! I do not deceive you.” These words caused M. de Charlus a lively pleasure and as, in his own despite, his natural intelligence prevailed over his affectation, he turned to Jupien: “It’s nice of him to say that and he says it so charmingly, one would think it was true. And, after all, what does it matter whether it’s true or not if he makes one believe it. What sweet little eyes he’s got. Come here, boy, I’m going to give you two big kisses for your trouble. You’ll think of me in the trenches, won’t you? Is it very hard?” “Oh, my God. There are days when a shell passes close to you!” and the young man began imitating the noise of a shell, of aeroplanes and so on. “But one must do like the rest and. you can be sure we shall go on to the end.” “Till the end,” replied the pessimistic Baron in a melancholy tone. “Haven’t you read in the papers that Sarah Bernhardt said France would go on till the end. The French will let themselves be killed to the last man.” “I don’t doubt for a single instant that the French will bravely be killed to the last man,” M. de Charlus answered as though it were the most natural thing in the world, in spite of his having no intention of doing anything whatever, but with the intention of correcting any impression of pacifism he might give in moments of forgetfulness, “I don’t doubt it, but I am asking myself to what extent Mme Sarah Bernhardt is qualified to speak in the name of France — Ah, I seem to know this charming young man,” pointing at another whom he had probably never seen. He saluted him as he would have saluted a prince at Versailles and, so as to profit by the opportunity and have a supplementary pleasure gratis, like when I was small and went with my mother to give an order to Boissier or Gouache and one of the ladies offered me a bonbon from one of the glass vases in the midst of which she presided, he took the hand of the charming young man and pressed it for a long time in his Prussian fashion, fixing his eyes upon him and smiling for the interminable time photographers used to take in posing us when the light was bad. “Monsieur, I am charmed, I am enchanted to make your acquaintance. He has such lovely hair,” he said, turning to Jupien. Then he moved over to Maurice to give him his fifty francs and put his arm round his waist. “You never told me you had lined an old Belleville bitch,” M. de Charlus guffawed with ecstasy, sticking his face close to that of Maurice. “Oh, monsieur le Baron,” protested the gigolo whom they had forgotten to warn, “how can you believe such a thing?” Whether it was false or whether the alleged culprit really thought it was an abominable thing he had to deny, the boy went on: “To touch my own kind, even a German as it is war is one thing, but a woman and an old woman at that!” This declaration of virtuous principles had the effect of a cold water douche upon the Baron, who moved coldly away from Maurice, none the less giving him his money, but with the air of one who is “put off”, someone who has been “done” but who doesn’t want to make a fuss, one who pays but is dissatisfied.
The bad impression produced upon the Baron was, moreover, increased by the way in which the beneficiary thanked him: “I am going to send this to my old people and I shall keep a little for my pal at the front.” These touching sentiments disappointed M. de Charlus almost as much as did his rather conventional peasant-like expression. Jupien sometimes warned them that they had to be “more vicious”. Then one of them with the air of confessing something satanic would adventure: “I’ll tell you something, Baron, but you won’t believe me. When I was a boy I looked through the key-hole and saw my parents embracing each other. Isn’t that vicious? You seem to believe that I’m drawing the long bow but I swear I’m not. It’s the exact truth.” This fictitious attempt at perversity which only revealed stupidity and innocence, exasperated M. de Charlus. The most determined burglar, robber or assassin would not have satisfied him for they do not talk about their crimes, and, moreover, there is in the sadist — good as he may be, indeed the better he is — a thirst for evil that malefactors cannot satisfy. The handsome young man, realising his mistake, might say, “he’d let him have it hot and heavy,” and push audacity to the point of telling the Baron to “bloody well make a date” with him, the charm was dissipated. The humbug was as transparent as in books whose authors insist on writing slang. In vain the young man gave him details of all his obscenities with his women, M. de Charlus was only struck by how little they amounted to. For that matter that was not only the result of insincerity, for nothing is more limited than vice. In that sense one can really use a common expression and say that one is always turning in the same vicious circle.
“How simple he is, one would never say he was a Prince,” the habitués commented when M. de Charlus had gone escorted downstairs by Jupien to whom the Baron did not cease complaining about the decency of the young man. From the dissatisfied manner of Jupien, he had been trying to train the young man in advance and one felt that the false assassin would presently get a good dressing down. “He’s quite contrary to what you told me,” added the Baron so that Jupien should profit by the lesson for another time. “He seems to have a nice nature, he expresses sentiments of respect for his family.” “All the same, he doesn’t get on with his father at all,” objected Jupien, “they live together but each goes to a different bar.” Obviously that was rather a feeble crime in comparison with assassination but Jupien found himself taken aback. The Baron said nothing more because, though he wanted his pleasures prepared for him, he also needed the illusion that they were not prepared. “He’s an out-and-out ruffian, he told you all that to take you in, you’re too simple,” Jupien added, to exculpate himself but in so doing only wounded the pride of M. de Charlus the more. While talking of M. de Charlus being a prince the young men in the establishment were deploring the death of someone about whom the gigolos said, “I don’t know his name but it appears he is a baron,” and who was no other than the Prince de Foux (the father of Saint-Loup’s friend). While the Prince’s wife believed he was spending most of his time at the Club, in reality he was spending hours with Jupien chattering and telling stories about society in the presence of blackguards. He was a fine, handsome man like his son. It is extraordinary that M. de Charlus did not know that he shared his tastes; doubtless this was because the, Baron had only seen him in society. People went so far as to say that he had actually gone to the length of practising these tastes upon his son when he was still at College, which was probably false. On the other hand, very well-informed about habits many are ignorant of, he kept a careful watch upon the people his son frequented. One day a man of low extraction followed the young Prince de Foux as far as his father’s mansion and threw a missive through a window which the father had picked up. But though this follower was not, aristocratically speaking, of the same society as M. de Foux, he was from another point of view, and he had no difficulty in finding among their common associates an intermediary who made M. de Foux hold his tongue by proving that it was the young man who had provoked the advance from a man much older than himself. And that was quite credible, the Prince de Foux having succeeded in protecting his son from bad company outside, but not from his heredity. It may be added that young Prince de Foux, like his father, unsuspected in this respect by people in society, went to extreme lengths with another class.
“He’s said to have a million a year to spend,” said the young man of twenty-two to whom this statement did not seem incredible. Soon the sound of M. de Charlus’ carriage was heard. At that moment I perceived someone accompanied by a soldier leaving a neighbouring room with a slow step, a person who looked to me like an old lady in a black dress. I soon saw my mistake, it was a priest; that rare and in France extremely exceptional thing, a bad priest. Apparently the soldier was chaffing his companion about the incompatability of his conduct with his cloth for the priest, holding his finger in front of his hideous face with the grave gesture of a doctor of theology, answered sententiously: “Well, what do you expect of me, I am not” (I was expecting him to say a saint) “an angel.” There was nothing for him to do but go and he took leave of Jupien, who, having returned from escorting the Baron, was going upstairs, but, owing to his bewilderment, the bad priest had forgotten to pay for his room. Jupien, whose presence of mind never abandoned him, rattling the box in which the customers’ contributions were put remarked: “For the expenses of the service, Monsieur l’Abbé.” The repulsive personage apologised, handed over his money and departed. Jupien came and fetched me from the obscure cavern whence I had not dared move. “Go into the vestibule for a moment where the young men are sitting — it’s quite all right as you’re a lodger — while I go and shut up your room.” The patron was there and I paid him. At that moment, a young man in a dinner-jacket entered and with an air of authority demanded of the patron: “Can I have Léon to-morrow morning at a quarter to eleven instead of eleven because I’m lunching out?” “That depends on how long the Abbé keeps him,” the patron answered. This appeared to dissatisfy the young man in the dinner-jacket who seemed about to curse the Abbé but his anger took another form when he perceived me. Going straight up to the patron, he asked in an angry voice: “Who’s that? What does this mean?” The patron, much embarrassed, explained that my presence was of no importance, I was merely a lodger. The young man in the dinner-jacket was by no means appeased by this explanation and kept on repeating: “This is extremely unpleasant; it’s the sort of thing that ought not to happen. You know I hate it and I shan’t put my foot inside this place again.” The execution of the threat did not seem, however, to be imminent for though he went away in a rage, he again expressed the wish that Léon should be free at a quarter to eleven if not at half-past ten. Jupien returned and took me downstairs. “I don’t want you to have a bad opinion of me,” he said, “this house doesn’t bring in as much money as you might think. I’m obliged to have respectable lodgers, though, if I depended only on them, I should lose money. Here to the contrary of the Mount Carmels, it is thanks to vice that virtue can exist. If I’ve taken this house, or rather, if I have had it taken by the patron whom you’ve seen, it’s only to render service to the Baron and to distract his old age.” Jupien did not want to talk only about sadistic performances like those I had seen or about the Baron’s vices. The latter even for conversation, for company or to play cards with, now only liked common people who exploited him. Doubtless, snobbishness about low company is just as comprehensible as the opposite. In the case of M. de Charlus, the two kinds had long been interchangeable; no one in society was smart enough to associate with and in the underworld, no one was base enough. “I hate anything middling,” he said, “the bourgeois comedy is irksome. Give me either princesses of classical tragedy or broad farce, no half-and-half, Phèdre or Les Saltimbanques. But, talk as he might, the equilibrium between these two forms of snobbery had been upset. Whether owing to an old man’s fatigue or the extension of sensuality to the most banal intercourse, the Baron only lived now with inferiors. Thus unconsciously he was accepting succession from such of his great ancestors as the Duc de La Rochefoucauld, the Prince d’Harcourt, the Duc de Berry whom Saint-Simon exhibits as spending their lives with their lackeys who got enormous sums out of them, to such a point that when people went to see these great gentlemen they were shocked to find them familiarly playing cards and drinking with their servants. “It’s chiefly,” added Jupien, “to save him being bored, because, you see, the Baron is a great baby. Even now, when he has got everything here he wants, he must run after adventures and play the villain. And, generous though he is, some time or other this behaviour may lead to trouble. Only the other day the chasseur of a hotel nearly died of fright because of the money the Baron offered him. Fancy! To come to his house, what imprudence! This lad, who only liked women, was very relieved when he understood what the Baron wanted. The Baron’s promises of money made the lad believe he was a spy and he was consoled when he knew that he was not being asked to betray his country but only to surrender his body which is perhaps not any more moral but less dangerous and certainly easier.” Listening to Jupien I said to myself: “What a pity M. de Charlus is not a novelist or a poet, not in order to describe what he sees, but the stage reached by M. de Charlus in relation to desire causes scandals to arise round him, forces him to take life seriously, to emotionalise pleasure, prevents him from becoming static through taking a purely ironical and exterior view of things, reopens in him a constant source of pain. Almost every time he makes overtures, he risks outrage if not prison. Not the education of children but that of poets is accomplished by blows. Had M. de Charlus been a novelist, the protection the house controlled by Jupien afforded him (though a police raid was always on the cards) by reducing the risks he ran from casual street encounters, would have been a misfortune for him. But M. de Charlus was only a dilettante in Art who did not dream of writing and had no gift for it. “Moreover, I’ll admit to you,” continued Jupien, “that I haven’t much scruple about making money out of this sort of job. I can’t disguise from you that I like it, that it’s to my taste. And is it a crime to get a salary for things one doesn’t consider wrong? You are better educated than I am and doubtless you will tell me that Socrates did not consider he was justified in receiving money for his lessons. But in our day professors of philosophy are not like that nor are doctors nor painters nor playwrights nor theatrical managers. Don’t imagine that this business forces one to associate only with low people. It is true that the manager of an establishment of this kind, like a great courtesan, only receives men but he receives men who are important in all sorts of ways and who are generally on equal terms with the most refined, the most sensitive and the most amiable of their kind. This house might easily be transformed, I assure you, into an intellectual bureau and a news agency.” But I was still occupied with thinking of the blows I had seen M. de Charlus receive. And, to tell the truth when one knew M. de Charlus, his pride, his satiation with social amusements, his caprices which changed so readily into passion for men of the worst class and of the lowest kind, one could easily understand that he was glad to possess the large fortune which, when enjoyed by a parvenu, enables him to marry his daughter to a duke and to invite Highnesses to his shooting parties, and permitted him to exercise authority in one, perhaps in several, establishments where there were permanently young men with whom he took his pleasure. Perhaps, indeed, he did not need to be vicious for that. He was the successor of so many great gentlemen and princes of the blood or dukes who, Saint-Simon tells us, never associated with anyone fit to speak to. “Meanwhile,” I said to Jupien: “this house is something very different, it is rather a pandemonium than a mad house, since the madness of the lunatics who are there is placed upon the stage and visually reconstituted. I believed, like the Caliph in the Thousand and One Nights, that I had, at the critical moment, come to the rescue of a man who was being ill-treated and another story of the Thousand and One Nights was realised before my eyes, in which a woman is changed into a dog and allows herself to be beaten in order to regain her former shape.” Jupien, realising that I had seen the Baron being whipped, was much concerned. He remained silent a moment, then, suddenly, with that pretty wit of his own that had so often struck me when he greeted Françoise or myself in the court-yard of our house with such graceful phrases: “You talk of stories in the Thousand and One Nights“ he said. “I know one which is not without relevance to the title of a book which I caught sight of at the Baron’s house” (he was alluding to a translation of Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies which I had sent to M. de Charlus). “If you ever wanted one evening to see, I won’t say forty but ten thieves, you have only to come here; to be sure I’m there, you have only to look up and if my little window is left open and the light is on, it will mean that I am there and that you can come in; that is my Sesame. I only refer to Sesame; as to the Lilies, if you’re seeking for them I advise you to look elsewhere,” and saluting me somewhat cavalierly, for an aristocratic connection and a band of young men whom he controlled like a pirate-chief had given him a certain familiarity, he took leave of me. He had hardly left me when blasts of a siren were immediately followed by violent barrage firing. It was evident that a German aviator was hovering close over our heads and suddenly a violent explosion proved that he had hurled one of his bombs.
Many who had not wanted to run away had collected in the same room at Jupien’s. Though they did not know each other they belonged more or less to the same wealthy and aristocratic society. The aspect of each inspired a repugnance due, doubtless, to their indulging in degrading vices. The face of one of them, an enormous fellow, was covered with red blotches like a drunkard’s. I afterward learnt that, at first, he was not one but enjoyed making youths drink and that, later on, in fear of being mobilised, (though he seemed to be over fifty) as he was very fat, he started to drink without stopping until he exceeded the weight of a hundred kilos, beyond which men were exempted. And now the trick had turned into a passion, and however much people tried to prevent him, he always went back to the liquor-merchant. But the moment he spoke one could see, in spite of his mediocre intelligence, that he was a man of considerable education and culture. Another young society man of remarkably distinguished appearance, came in. In his case, there were as yet no exterior stigmata of vice but, what was worse, there were internal ones. Tall, with an attractive face, his manner of speech indicated a different order of intelligence to that of his alcoholic neighbour, indeed, without exaggeration, a very remarkable one. But whatever he said was accompanied by a facial expression suited to a different remark. Though he owned a complete storehouse of human expressions, he might have lived in another world, for he used them in the wrong order and seemed to scatter smiles and glances haphazard without relation to the remarks he was making or hearing. I hope for his sake if, as seems likely, he is still alive, that he was not the victim of an organic disease but of a passing disorder. Probably, if those men had been ordered to produce their visiting cards one would have been surprised to observe that they all belonged to the upper class of society. But every sort of vice and the greatest vice of all, lack of will which prevents a man from resisting it, brought them together there, in separate rooms, it is true, but every evening, I was told, so that if ladies in society still knew their names, they were gradually forgetting their faces. They still received invitations but habit always brought them back to that composite resort of evil repute. They concealed it but little from themselves, being in this respect different from the little chasseurs, workmen, et cetera, who ministered to their pleasure. And besides many obvious reasons this can be explained by the following one. For a commercial employee or a servant to go there was like a respectable woman going to a place of assignation. Some of them who had been there refused ever again to do so and Jupien himself telling lies to save their reputation or to prevent competition, declared: “Oh, no, he doesn’t come to my place and he wouldn’t want to.” For men in society it is of less importance, in that other people in society do not go to such places and neither know anything about them nor concern themselves with other people’s business.
At the beginning of the alarm I had left Jupien’s house. The streets had become entirely dark. Only now and then an enemy aeroplane which was flying low enough cast a light on the spot where he was going to throw a bomb. I could no longer find my way and thought of that day when going to La Raspelière I had met an aviator like a god reining back his horse. I was thinking that this time the encounter would have a different end, that the God of Evil would kill me. I hurried my steps to escape like a traveller pursued by a water-spout, yet I turned in a circle round dark places from which I could not escape. At last the flames of a fire lighted me and I was able to rediscover my road whilst the cannon boomed unceasingly. But my thought turned elsewhere. I thought of Jupien’s house now reduced perhaps to cinders for a bomb had fallen quite close to me just as I was coming out of that house upon which M. de Charlus might prophetically have written “Sodom” as an unknown inhabitant of Pompeii had done with no less prescience when, possibly, as a prelude to the catastrophe, the volcanic eruption began. But what did sirens or Gothas matter to those who had come there bent on gratifying their lusts? We never think of the framework of nature which surrounds our passion. The tempest rages on the sea, the ship heaves and pitches on every side, avalanches fall from the windswept sky and, at most, we allow ourselves to pause a moment, to ward off an inconvenience caused us by that immense scene, in which both we and the human body we desire, are the tiniest atoms. The premonitory siren of the bombs troubled the inhabitants of Jupien’s house as little as would an iceberg. More than that, the menace of a physical danger freed them from the fear by which they had been so long unhealthily obsessed. It is false to believe that the scale of fears corresponds to that of the dangers which inspire them. One might be frightened of sleeplessness and yet not of a duel, of a rat and not of a lion. For some hours the police would be concerned only for the lives of the population, a matter of small consequence, for it did not threaten to dishonour them.
Some of the habitués, recovering their moral liberty were the more tempted by the sudden darkness in the streets. Some of these Pompeians upon whom the fire of Heaven was already pouring, descended into the Métro passages which were as dark as catacombs. They knew, of course, that they would not be alone there. And the darkness which bathes everything as in a new element had the effect, an irresistibly tempting one for certain people, of eliminating the first phase of lust and enabling them to enter, without further ado the domain of caresses which as a rule, demands preliminaries. Whether the libidinous aim is directed towards a woman or a man, assuming that approach is easy and that the sentimentalities that go on eternally in a drawing-room in the day time can be dispensed with, even in the evening however ill-lit the street, there must, at least, be a preamble when only the eyes can devour the corn within the ear, when the fear of passers-by or even of the one pursued prevents the follower getting further than vision and speech. But in darkness the whole bag of tricks goes by the board, hands, lips, bodies, come into immediate play. Then there is the excuse of the darkness itself and of the mistakes it engenders if a bad reception is met with, but if on the contrary, there is the immediate response of a body which, instead of withdrawing, comes closer, the inference that the woman or the man approached is equally licentious and vicious, adds the additional thrill of being able to bite into the fruit without lusting after it with the eyes and without asking permission. And still the darkness continued. Plunged in this new element Jupien’s habitués imagined themselves travellers witnessing a phenomenon of nature such as a tidal-wave or an eclipse and instead of indulgence in a pre-arranged debauch, were seeking fortuitous adventures in the unknown, and celebrating, to the accompaniment of the volcanic thunder of bombs — as though in a Pompeian brothel — secret rites in the tenebrous shadows of the catacombs. To such events the Pompeian paintings at Jupien’s were appropriate for they recalled the end of the French Revolution at the somewhat similar period of the Directoire which was now beginning. Already in the anticipation of peace, new dances organised in darkness so as not too openly to infringe police regulations, were rioting in the night. And as an accompaniment certain artistic opinions, less anti-German than during the first years of the war, enabled stifled minds to expand though a brevet of civic virtue was needed by him who ventured to express them. A professor wrote a remarkable book on Schiller of which the papers took notice. But before mentioning the author, the publishers inscribed the volume with a statement like a printing licence, to the effect that he had been at the Marne and at Verdun, that he had had five mentions, and two sons killed. Upon that, there was loud praise of the lucidity and depth of the author’s work upon Schiller, who could be qualified as great as long as he was alluded to as a great Boche and not as a great German, and thus the articles were passed by the Censor. As I approached my home I was meditating on how quickly the consciousness ceases to collaborate with our habits, leaving them to develop on their own account without further concerning itself with them and how astonished we are, when we base our judgment of an individual merely on externals as though they comprehended the whole of him, at the actions of a man whose moral or intellectual value may develop independently in a completely different direction. Obviously it was a fault of upbringing or the entire lack of upbringing combined with a preference for earning money in the easiest way (many different kinds of work might be easier as it happens, but does not a sick man fabricate a far more painful existence out of manifold privations and remedies than the often comparatively mild illness against which he thinks he is thus defending himself?) or at all events, in the least laborious way, which had caused these youths, so to speak, in complete innocence and for small pay to do things which gave them no pleasure and must at first have inspired them with the strongest repugnance. Accordingly one might consider them fundamentally rotten but they were not only wonderful soldiers in the war, brave to a degree, but often good-hearted fellows if not decent people in civil life. They no longer realised what was moral or immoral in the life they led because it was that of their surroundings. Thus, in studying certain periods of ancient history we are sometimes amazed to observe that people who were individually good, participated without scruple in mass assassinations and human sacrifices, which probably seemed to them perfectly natural things. For him who reads the history of our period two thousand years hence, it will in the same way seem to have allowed gentle and pure consciences to be plunged in a vital environment to which they adapted themselves though it will then appear just as monstrously pernicious. And what is more, I knew no man more gifted with intelligence and sensibility than Jupien for those charming acquisitions which constituted the intellectual fabric of his discourse, did not come to him from school instruction or from university culture which might have made him remarkable, while so many young men in society got no profit from them whatever. It was his spontaneous, innate sense, his natural taste which enabled him from occasional haphazard and unguided readings in his spare moments to compose his way of speaking so rightly that all the symmetries of language were set off and showed their beauty in it. Yet the business in which he was engaged could with good reason be considered, if one of the most lucrative, one of the lowest imaginable. As to M. de Charlus, disdain as he might “what people say”, how was it that a feeling of personal dignity and self-respect had not forced him to resist sensual indulgences for which the only excuse was complete insanity? It could only be that in his case, as in that of Jupien, the habit of isolating morality from a whole order of actions (which, for that matter, must occur in a function such as that of a judge, sometimes in that of a statesman and others) had been acquired so long ago that, no longer demanding his judgment or moral sentiment, it had become aggravated from day to day until it had reached a point where this consenting Prometheus had allowed himself to be nailed by force to the rock of pure matter. Certainly I realised that therein a new phase declared itself in the disease of M. de Charlus which, ever since I first perceived and judged it as stage by stage it revealed itself to my eyes, had continued to evolve with ever-increasing speed. The poor Baron could not now be far distant from the final term, from death, if indeed that was not preceded, according to the predictions and hopes of Mme Verdurin, by a poisoning which at his age could only hasten his death. Nevertheless, perhaps I used an inaccurate expression in saying rock of pure matter. It is possible that a little mind still survived in that pure matter. This madman knew, in spite of everything, that he was mad, that he was the prey at such moments of insanity .since he knew perfectly well that the man who was beating him was no wickeder than the little boys in battle-games who draw lots to decide which of them is to play the Prussian and upon whom all the others fall in true patriotic ardour and pretended hatred. A prey to insanity into which, nevertheless, some of M. de Charlus’ personality entered; for even in its aberrations, human nature (as in our loves and in our journeys) still betrays the need of faith through the exactions of truth. When I told Françoise about a church in Milan — a city she would probably never see — or about the Cathedral of Rheims — even about that of Arras! — which she would never be able to see since they had been more or less destroyed, she envied the rich people who were able to afford the sight of such treasures and cried with nostalgic regret: “Ah, how wonderful it must be!” Yet she, who had lived in Paris so many years, had never had the curiosity to go and see Notre Dame! It was just because Notre Dame belonged to Paris, to the city where her daily life was spent and where in consequence it was difficult for our old servant (as it would have been for me if the study of architecture had not modified in certain respects Combray instincts) to situate the objects of her dreams. There is imminent in those we love a certain dream which we cannot always discern but which we pursue. It was my belief in Bergotte and in Swann which made me love Gilberte, my belief in Gilbert the Bad which had made me fall in love with Mme de Guermantes. And what a great sweep of ocean had been included in my love, the saddest, the most jealous the most personal ever, for Albertine. In that love of one creature towards whom one’s whole being is urged, there is already something of aberration. Arid are not the very diseases of the body, at least those closely associated with the nervous system, in some measure peculiar tastes or peculiar fears contracted by our organs, by our articulation, which thus discover for themselves a horror of certain climates as inexplicable and as obstinate as the fancy certain men display for a woman who wears an eyeglass, or for circus-riders? Who shall ever say with what lasting and curious dream that desire aroused time after time at the sight of a circus rider, is associated; as unconscious and as mysterious as is, for example, the influence of a certain town, in appearance similar to others but in which a lifelong sufferer from asthma is able, for the first time, to breathe freely.
Aberrations are like passions which a morbid strain has overlaid, yet, in the craziest of them love can still be recognised. M. de Charlus’ insistence that the chains which bound his feet and hands should be of attested strength, his demand to be tried at the bar of justice and, from what Jupien told me, for ferocious accessories there was great difficulty in obtaining even from sailors (the punishment they used to inflict having been abolished even where the discipline is strictest, on ship-board), at the base of all this there was M. de Charlus’ constant dream of virility proved, if need be, by brutal acts and all the illumination the reflections of which within himself though to us invisible, he projected on judicial and feudal tortures which embellished an imagination coloured by the Middle Ages. This sentiment was in his mind each time he said to Jupien: “There won’t be any alarm this evening anyhow, for I can already see myself reduced to ashes by the fire of Heaven like an inhabitant of Sodom,” and he affected to be frightened of the Gothas not because he really had the smallest fear of them but to have a pretext the moment the sirens sounded of dashing into the shelter of the Métropolitain, where he hoped to get a thrill from midnight frictions associated in his mind with vague dreams of prostrations and subterranean dungeons in the Middle Ages. Finally his desire to be chained and beaten revealed, with all its ugliness, a dream as poetic as the desire of others to go to Venice or to keep dancing girls. And M. de Charlus held so much to the illusion of reality which this dream gave him that Jupien was compelled to sell the wooden bed which was in room No. 43, and replace it by one of iron which went better with the chains.
At last the maroon sounded as I arrived home. The noise of approaching firemen was announced by a small boy and I met Françoise coming up from the cellar with the butler. She had thought me dead. She told me that Saint-Loup had excused himself for coming in to see if he had not let his croix de guerre fall when calling that morning. He had only just noticed he had lost it and having to rejoin his regiment the next day had wanted at all costs to see if it was not at my house. He and Françoise had searched everywhere without success. Françoise believed he must have lost it before coming to see me, for, she said, she could almost have sworn he did not have it on when she saw him; in this she was mistaken, which shows the value of witnesses and of recollections. I felt immediately by the unenthusiastic way they spoke of him that Saint-Loup had not produced a good impression on Françoise and the butler. Saint-Loup’s efforts to court danger were the exact opposite of those made by the butler’s son and Françoise’s nephew to get themselves exempted, but judging from their own standpoint, Françoise and the butler could not believe that. They were convinced that rich people are always protected. For that matter had they even known the truth about Robert’s heroic bravery, they would not have been moved by it. He never talked of “Boches”, he praised the bravery of the Germans, he had not attributed our failure to secure victory from the first day, to treason. That was what they wanted to hear and that was what they would have considered a mark of courage. So, while they continued searching for the croix de guerre, I, who had not much doubt as to where that cross had been lost, found them cold on the subject of Robert. Though Saint-Loup had been amusing himself in equivocal fashion that evening, it was only while awaiting news of Morel; he had been seized with longing to see him again, and had made use of all his connections to discover the corps Morel was in, supposing him to have joined up, but, so far, he had received only contradictory answers. I advised Françoise and the butler to go to bed but the latter was never in any hurry to leave Françoise since, thanks to the war, he had found a still more efficacious way of tormenting her than telling her about the expulsion of the nuns and the Dreyfus affair. That evening and whenever I was near them during the time I spent in Paris, I heard the butler say to poor, frightened Françoise: “They’re not in a hurry, of course; they’re waiting for the ripe pear, the day that they take Paris they’ll have no mercy.” “My God! Blessed Virgin Mary!” cried Françoise, “isn’t it enough for them to have conquered poor Belgium. She suffered enough at the time of her ‘invahition’.” “Belgium, Françoise. Why! What they did to Belgium is nothing to what they’ll do here.” The war having thrown upon the people’s conversation-market a number of new expressions which they only knew visually through reading the papers without being able to pronounce them, the butler added, “You’ll see, Françoise they are preparing a new attack of a greater enverjure than ever before.” In protest, if not out of pity for Françoise or from strategic common-sense, at least for grammar’s sake, I told them that the right way to pronounce the word was envergure, but I only succeeded in making Françoise repeat the terrible word every time I entered the kitchen. The butler, much as he enjoyed frightening his fellow-servant, was equally pleased to show his master, though he was only a former gardener of Combray and now a butler, that he was a good Frenchman of the order of St. André dès-Champs and possessed the privilege, since the declaration of the rights of man, to pronounce enverjure, with complete independence and not to accept orders on a matter which had nothing to do with his service and, in regard to which, in consequence of the Revolution, no one had any right to correct him, since he was my equal. I had, therefore, the irritation of hearing Françoise talk about an operation of great enverjure with an insistence which was intended to prove to me that that pronunciation was, in fact, not that of ignorance but of maturely-considered determination. The butler indiscriminately applied a suspicious “they” to the Government and the papers: “They talk of the losses of the Boches, they don’t talk of ours which, it appears, are ten times greater. They tell us that they’re at the last gasp, that they’ve got nothing to eat. I believe they’ve got a hundred times more to eat than we have. It’s all very well but they’ve no right to humbug us like that. If they had nothing to eat they wouldn’t be able to fight like the other day when they killed a hundred thousand youngsters less than twenty years old.” He thus continually exaggerated the triumphs of the Germans as he did formerly those of the Radicals, and told tales of their atrocities so as to make the victories of the enemy still more painful to Françoise who kept on exclaiming: “Sainted Mother of Angels! Sainted Mother of God!” Sometimes he tried being unpleasant to her in another way by saying: “For that matter, we’re no better than they are. What we’re doing in Greece is no nicer than what they did in Belgium. You’ll see, we shall have the whole world against us and we shall have to fight the lot,” while, actually, the exact contrary was the truth. On days when news was good he revenged himself on Françoise by assuring her the war would last thirty-five years and that if, by chance, a possible peace came, it would not last more than a few months and would be succeeded by battles in comparison with which those of to-day were child’s play and that after them nothing would be left of France. The victory of the Allies if not close at hand, seemed at any rate assured, and unfortunately it must be admitted that this displeased the butler. For, having identified the world-war and the rest of it with his campaign against Françoise (whom he liked, all the same, just as one likes a person whom one daily enrages by defeating him at dominoes) victory was represented to him in terms of the first conversation he would have with her thereafter when he would be irritated by hearing her say: “Well, it’s finished at last, and they’ll have to give us a great deal more than we gave them in ‘71.” Really, he always believed this must happen in the end for an unconscious patriotism made him think, like all Frenchmen, who were victims of an illusion similar to my own ever since I had been ill, that victory like my recovery was coming to-morrow. He took the upper hand of Françoise by announcing that though victory might come about, her heart would bleed from it, because a revolution would swiftly follow and then invasion. “Ah! That bloody old war, the Boches will be the ones to recover quick from it! Why, Françoise! They’ve already made hundreds of millions out of it. But don’t you imagine they’re going to give us a penny of it. They may put that in the papers,” he added for prudence sake and to be on the safe side, “to keep people quiet just as they’ve been saying for three years that the war would be finished the next day. I can’t understand how people can be such fools as to believe it.” Françoise was the more worried by his comments because, as a matter of fact, she had believed the optimists in preference to the butler and had seen that the war, which was to end in a fortnight in spite of the “invahition of poor Belgium,” lasted for ever, that there was no advance, a phenomenon of fixation of the fronts the sense of which she could not understand, and that one of her innumerable godsons to whom she gave everything she received from us, had told her that this, that and the other things were concealed from the public. “All that will fall upon the working-class,” the butler remarked in conclusion, “and they’ll take your field from you, Françoise.” “Oh, my God!” But he preferred miseries that were close at hand and devoured the papers, hoping to announce a defeat to Françoise, and awaited news like Easter eggs, which should be bad enough to terrify Françoise without his suffering material disadvantages therefrom. Thus a Zeppelin-raid enchanted him because he could watch Françoise hiding in the cellar while he felt convinced that in so large a city as Paris, bombs would not just fall upon our house. Then Françoise began to get back her Combray pacifism. She even began doubting the “German atrocities”. “At the beginning of the war they told us the Germans were assassins, brigands, regular bandits — bbboches.” (If she put several b’s to Boches it was because it seemed plausible enough to accuse the Germans of being assassins but to call them Boches seemed almost impossible in its enormity). Still, it was rather difficult to grasp what mysteriously horrible sense Françoise gave to the word Boche since she was talking about the beginning of the war and uttered the word so doubtfully. For the doubt that the Germans were criminals might be ill-founded in fact but did not in itself contain a contradiction from a logical point of view but how could anyone doubt that they were Boches since that word in the popular tongue means German and nothing else. Perhaps she was merely repeating violent comments she had heard at the time when a particular emphasis was given to the word Boche. “I used to believe all that,” she said, “but I’m now wondering if we aren’t really just as big rogues as they are.” This blasphemous thought had been cunningly fostered in Françoise by the butler who, observing that his fellow-servant had a certain weakness for King Constantine of Greece, continually represented that we did not allow him to have any food until he surrendered. The abdication of the sovereign had further moved Françoise to declare: “We’re no better than they are. If we were in Germany we should do the same.” I did not see much of her at that time as she often went to stay with cousins of hers about whom my mother one day said to me: “You know, they’re richer than you are.” In that connection a very beautiful thing happened, frequent enough at that period throughout the country, which, had there been historians to perpetuate its memory, would have borne witness to the grandeur of France, to the grandeur of her soul, that grandeur of St. André-des-Champs which was displayed no less by civilians at the rear than by the soldiers who fell at the Marne. A nephew of Françoise had been killed at Berry-au-Bac who was also a nephew of those millionaire cousins of Françoise, former café proprietors long since retired with a fortune. This young man of twenty-five, himself the proprietor of a little café, without other means, was called up and left his young wife to keep the little bar alone, hoping to return in a few months. He was killed and the following happened. These millionaire cousins of Françoise upon whom this young woman, widow of their nephew, had no claim whatever, left their home in the country to which they had retired ten years previously and again took over the café but without taking a penny. Every morning at six o’clock the millionaire wife, a true gentlewoman, dressed herself as did her young lady daughter to assist their niece and cousin by marriage, and for three years they washed glasses and served meals from early morning till half-past-nine at night without a day of rest. In this book in which there is not a single event which is not fictitious, in which there is not a single personage “a clef“, where I have invented everything to suit the requirements of my presentation, I must, in homage to my country, mention as personages who did exist in real life, these millionaire relations of Françoise who left their retirement to help their bereaved niece. And, persuaded that their modesty will not be offended for the excellent reason that they will never read this book, it is with childlike pleasure and deeply moved, that, unable to give the names of so many others who acted similarly and, thanks to whom France has survived, I here transcribe their name, a very French one, Larivière. If there were certain contemptible embusqués like the imperious young man in the dinner-jacket whom I saw at Jupien’s and whose sole preoccupation was to know whether he could have Léon at half-past-ten because he was lunching out, they are more than made up for by the innumerable mass of Frenchmen of St. André-des-Champs, by all those superb soldiers beside whom I place the Larivières. The butler, to quicken the anxieties of Françoise showed her some old Readings for All he had discovered somewhere, on the cover of which (the copies dated from before the war) figured “The Imperial Family of Germany”. “Here is our master of to-morrow,” said the butler to Françoise, showing her “Guillaume”. She opened her eyes wide, then pointing at the feminine personage beside him in the picture, she added, “And there is the Guillaumesse.”
My departure from Paris was retarded by news which, owing to the pain it caused me, rendered me incapable of moving for some time. I had learnt, in fact, of the death of Robert Saint-Loup, killed, protecting the retreat of his men, on the day following his return to the front. No man less than he, felt hatred towards a people (and as to the Emperor, for special reasons which may have been mistaken, he believed that William II had rather sought to prevent war than to unleash it). Nor did he hate Germanism; the last words I heard him utter six days before, were those at the beginning of a Schumann song which he hummed to me in German on my staircase; indeed on account of neighbours I had to ask him to keep quiet. Accustomed by supreme good breeding to refrain from apologies, invective and phrase, in the face of the enemy he had avoided, as he did at the moment of mobilisation, whatever might have preserved his life by a self-effacement in action which his manners symbolised, even to his way of closing my cab-door when he saw me out, standing bare-headed every time I left his house. For several days I remained shut up in my room thinking about him. I recalled his arrival at Balbec that first time when in his white flannels and his greenish eyes moving like water he strolled through the hall adjoining the large dining-room with its windows open to the sea. I recalled the uniqueness of a being whose friendship I had then so greatly desired. That desire had been realised beyond my expectation, yet it had given me hardly a moment’s pleasure, and afterwards I had realised all the qualities as well as other things which were hidden under that elegant appearance. He had bestowed all, good and bad, without stint, day by day, and on the last he stormed a trench with utter generosity, putting all he possessed at the service of others, just as one evening he had run along the sofas of the restaurant so as not to inconvenience me. That I had, after all, seen him so little in so many different places, under so many different circumstances separated by such long intervals, in the hall of Balbec, at the café of Rivebelle, in the Doncières Cavalry barracks and military dinners, at the theatre where he had boxed a journalist’s ears, at the Princesse de Guermantes’, resulted in my retaining more striking and sharper pictures of his life, feeling a keener sorrow at his death than one often does in the case of those one has loved more but of whom one has seen so much that the image we retain of them is but a sort of vague average of an infinite number of pictures hardly different from each other and also that our sated affection has not preserved, as in the case of those we have seen for limited moments in the course of meetings unfulfilled in spite of them and of ourselves, the illusion of greater potential affection of which circumstances alone had deprived us. A few days after the one on which I had seen Saint-Loup tripping along behind his eye-glass and had imagined him so haughty in the hall of Balbec there was another figure I had seen for the first time upon the Balbec beach and who now also existed only as a memory — Albertine — walking along the sand that first evening indifferent to everybody and as akin to the sea as a seagull. I had so soon fallen in love with her that, not to miss being with her every day I never left Balbec to go and see Saint-Loup. And yet the history of my friendship with him bore witness also to my having ceased at one time to love Albertine, since, if I had gone away to stay with Robert at Doncières, it was out of grief that Mme de Guermantes did not return the sentiment I felt for her. His life and that of Albertine so late known to me, both at Bal-bee and both so soon ended, had hardly crossed each other; it was he, I repeated to myself, visualising that the flying shuttle of the years weaves threads between memories which seemed at first to be completely independent of each other, it was he whom I sent to Mme Bontemps when Albertine left me. And then it happened that each of their two lives contained a parallel secret I had not suspected. Saint-Loup’s now caused me more sadness than Albertine’s for her life had become to me that of a stranger. But I could not console myself that hers like that of Saint-Loup had been so short. She and he both often said when they were seeing to my comfort: “You are so ill,” and yet it was they who were dead, they whose last presentment I can visualise, the one facing the trench, the other after her accident, separated by so short an interval from the first, that even Albertine’s was worth no more to me than its association with a sunset on the sea. Françoise received the news of Saint-Loup’s death with more pity than Albertine’s. She immediately adopted her rôle of mourner and bewailed the memory of the dead with lamentations and despairing comments. She manifested her sorrow and turned her face away to dry her eyes only when I let her see my own tears which she pretended not to notice. Like many highly-strung people the agitation of others horrified her, doubtless because it was too like her own. She wanted to draw attention to the slightest stiff-neck or giddiness she had managed to get afflicted with. But if I spoke of one of my own pains she became stoical and grave and made a pretence of not hearing me. “Poor marquis!” she would say, although she could not help thinking he had done everything in his power not to go to the front and once there to escape danger. “Poor lady!” she would say, alluding to Mme de Marsantes, “how she must have wept when she heard of the death of her son! If only she had been able to see him again! But perhaps it was better she was not able to because his nose was cut in two. He was completely disfigured.” And the eyes of Françoise filled with tears through which nevertheless the cruel curiosity of the peasant peered. Without doubt Françoise condoled with Mme de Marsantes with all her heart but she was sorry not to witness the form her grief had taken and that she could not luxuriate in the spectacle of her affliction. And as she liked crying and liked me to see her cry, she worked herself up by saying: “I feel it dreadfully.” And she observed the traces of sorrow in my face with an eagerness which made me pretend to a kind of hardness when I spoke of Robert. In a spirit of imitation and because she had heard others say so, for there are clichés in the servants’ quarters just as in coteries, she repeated, not without the complaisance of the poor: “All his wealth did not prevent his dying like anyone else and it’s no good to him now.” The butler profited by the opportunity to remark to Françoise that it was certainly sad but that it scarcely counted compared with the millions of men who fell every day in spite of all the efforts of the Government to hide it. But this time the butler did not succeed in causing Françoise more pain as he had hoped, for she answered: “It’s true they died for France too, but all of them are unknown and it’s always more interesting when one has known people.” And Françoise who revelled in her tears, added: “Be sure and let me know if the death of the marquis is mentioned in the paper.”
Robert had often said to me with sadness long before the war: “Oh, don’t let us talk about my life, I am doomed in advance.” Was he then alluding to the vice which he had until then succeeded in hiding from the world, the gravity of which he perhaps exaggerated as young people do who make love for the first time or who even earlier seek solitary gratification and imagine themselves like plants which cannot disseminate their pollen without dying? Perhaps in Saint-Loup’s case this exaggeration arose as in that of children from the idea of an unfamiliar sin, a new sensation possessing an almost terrifying power which later on is attenuated. Or had he, owing to his father’s early death, the presentiment of his premature end. Such a presentiment seems irrational and yet death seems subject to certain laws. One would think, for instance, that people born of parents who died very old or very young are almost forced to die at the same age, the former sustaining sorrows and incurable diseases till they are a hundred, the latter carried off, in spite of a happy, healthy existence at the inevitable and premature date by a disease so timely and accidental (however deep its roots in the organism) that it seems to be a formality necessary to the actuality of death. And is it not possible that accidental death itself — like that of Saint-Loup, linked as it was with his character in more ways than I have been able to say — is also determined beforehand, known only to gods invisible to man, but revealed by a special and semi-conscious sadness (and even expressed to others as sincerely as we announce misfortunes which, in our inmost hearts, we believe we shall escape and which nevertheless happen) in him who bears the fatal date and perceives it continuously within himself, like a device.
He must have been very beautiful in those last hours, he who in this life had seemed always, even when he sat or walked about in a drawing-room, to contain within himself the dash of a charge and to disguise smilingly the indomitable will-power centred in his triangle-shaped head when he charged for the last time. Disencumbered of its books, the feudal turret had become warlike again and that Guer-mantes was more himself in death — he was more of his breed, a Guermantes and nothing more and this was symbolised at his funeral in the church of Saint-Hilaire-de-Combray hung with black draperies where the “G” under the closed coronet divested of initials and titles betokened the race of Guermantes which he personified in death. Before going to the funeral which did not take place at once I wrote to Gilberte. Perhaps I ought to have written to the Duchesse de Guermantes but I imagined that she would have accepted the death of Robert with the indifference I had seen her display about so many others who had seemed so closely associated with her life, and perhaps even that, with her Guermantes spirit, she would want to show that j superstition about blood ties meant nothing to her. I was too ill to write to everybody. I had formerly believed that she and Robert liked each other in the society sense, which is the same as saying that they exchanged affectionate expressions when they felt so disposed. But when he was away from her, he did not hesitate to say that she was a fool and if she sometimes found a selfish pleasure in his society, I had noticed that she was incapable of giving herself the smallest trouble, of using her power in the slightest degree to render him a service or even to prevent some misfortune happening to him. The spitefulness she had shown in refusing to recommend him to General Saint-Joseph when Robert was going back to Morocco proved that her goodwill towards him when he married was only a sort of compromise that cost her nothing. So that I was much surprised when I heard that, owing to her being ill when Robert was killed, her people considered it necessary to hide the papers from her for several days (under fallacious pretexts) for fear of the shock that would have been caused her by their announcement of his death. But my surprise was greater when I learnt that after she had been told the truth, the Duchesse de Guermantes wept the whole day, fell ill and took a long time — more than a week, which was long for her — to console herself. When I heard about her grief, I was touched and it enabled everyone to say, as I do, that there was a great friendship between them. But when I remember how many petty slanders, how much ill-will entered into that friendship, I realise how small a value society attaches to it. Moreover somewhat later, under circumstances which were historically more important though they touched my heart less, Mme de Guermantes appeared, in my opinion, in a still more favourable light. It will be remembered that as a girl she had displayed audacious impertinence towards the Imperial family of Russia and after her marriage, spoke about them with a freedom amounting to social tactlessness, yet she was perhaps the only person, after the Russian Revolution, who gave proof of extreme devotion to the Grand-Dukes and Duchesses. The very year which preceded the war she had annoyed the Grande-Duchesse Vladimir by calling the Comtesse of Hohenfelsen, the morganatic wife of the Grand-Duc Paul, the “Grande-Duchesse Paul”. But, no sooner had the Russian Revolution broken out, than our Ambassador at St. Petersburg, M. Paléologue (“Paléo” for diplomatic society which, like the other, has its pseudo-witty abbreviations), was harassed by telegrams from the Duchesse de Guermantes who wanted news of the Grande-Duchesse Maria Pavlovna and for a long time the only marks of sympathy and respect which that Princess received came to her exclusively from Mme de Guermantes.
Saint-Loup caused, if not by his death, at least by what he had done in the weeks that preceded it, troubles greater than those of the Duchesse. What happened was that the day following the evening when I had seen M. de Charlus, the day on which he had said to Morel: “I shall be revenged,” Saint-Loup’s hunt for Morel had ended, by the general, under whose orders Morel ought to have been, discovering that he was a deserter and having him sought out and arrested. To excuse himself to Saint-Loup for the punishment which was going to be inflicted on a person he had been interested in, the general had written to inform Saint-Loup of it. Morel was convinced that his arrest was due to the rancour of M. de Charlus. He remembered the words “I shall be revenged” and, thinking this was the revenge, he demanded to be heard. “It is true,” he declared, “that I deserted but, if I have been influenced to evil courses, is it altogether my fault?” Without compromising himself, he gave accounts of M. de Charlus and of M. d’Argencourt with whom he had also quarrelled, concerning matters which these two, with the twofold exuberance of lovers and of inverts, had told him, which caused the simultaneous arrest of M. de Charlus and M. d’Argencourt. This arrest caused, perhaps, less distress to these two than the knowledge that each had been the unwilling rival of the other and the proceedings disclosed an enormous number of other and more obscure rivals picked up daily in the street. They were, moreover, quickly released as was Morel because the letter written to Saint-Loup by the general was returned to him with the mention: “Dead on the field of honour.” The general, in honour of the dead, decided that Morel should simply be sent to the front; he there behaved bravely, escaped all dangers and, when the war was over, returned with the cross which, earlier, M. de Charlus had vainly solicited for him and which he thus got indirectly through the death of Saint-Loup. I have since often thought, when recalling the croix-de-guerre lost at Jupien’s, that if Saint-Loup had survived he would have been easily able to get elected deputy in the election which followed the war, thanks to the frothy idiocy and to the halo of glory which it left behind it, thanks also to centuries of prejudice being, on that account, abolished and if the loss of a finger procured a brilliant marriage and entrance into an aristocratic family, the croix-de-guerre, though it were won in an office, took the place of a profession of faith and ensured a triumphant election to the Chamber of Deputies, almost to the French Academy. The election of Saint-Loup would, on account of his “sainted” family, have made M. Arthur Meyer pour out floods of tears and ink. But perhaps Saint-Loup loved the people too sincerely to gain their suffrages although they would, doubtless, have forgiven him his democratic ideas for the sake of his noble birth. Saint-Loup would perhaps have exposed the former with success before a chamber composed of aviators and those heroes would have understood him as would have done a few other elevated minds. But owing to the pacifying effect of the Bloc National, a lot of old political rascals had been fished up and were always elected. Those who were unable to enter a Chamber of aviators went about soliciting the votes of Marshals, of a President of the Republic, of a President of the Chamber, etc. in the hope of at least becoming members of the French Academy. They would not have favoured Saint-Loup but they did another of Jupien’s customers, that deputy of Liberal Action, and he was re-elected unopposed. He did not stop wearing his territorial officer’s uniform although the war had been over a long time. His election was joyfully welcomed by all the newspapers who had formed the Coalition on the strength of his name, with the help of rich and noble ladies who wore rags out of conventional sentimentality and fear of taxes, while men on the Stock Exchange ceaselessly bought diamonds, not for their wives but because, having no confidence in the credit of any country, they sought safety in tangible wealth, and incidentally made de Beers go up a thousand francs. Such imbecility was somewhat irritating but one was less indignant with the Bloc National when, suddenly, the Victims of Bolshevism appeared on the scene; Grand-Duchesses in tatters whose husbands and sons had been in turn assassinated. Husbands in wheelbarrows, sons stoned and deprived of food, forced to labour amidst jeers and finally thrown into pits and buried alive because they were said to be sickening of the plague and might infect the community. The few who succeeded in escaping suddenly reappeared and added new and terrifying details to this picture of horror.
Last updated Monday, February 2, 2015 at 15:41