An afternoon party at the house of the Princesse de Guermantes
The new sanatorium to which I then retired did not cure me any more than the first one and a long time passed before I left it. During my railway-journey back to Paris the conviction of my lack of literary gifts again assailed me. This conviction which I believed I had discovered formerly on the Guermantes side, that I had recognised still more sorrowfully in my daily walks at Tansonville with Gilberte before going back to dinner or far into the night, and which on the eve of departure I had almost identified, after reading some pages of the Mémoires of the Goncourts, as being synonymous with the vanity and lie of literature, a thought less sad perhaps but still more dismal if its reason was not my personal incompetence but the non-existence of an ideal in which I had believed, that conviction which had not for long re-entered my mind, struck me anew and with more lamentable force than ever. It was, I remember, when the train stopped in open country and the sun lit half-way down their stems the line of trees which ran alongside the railway. “Trees,” I thought, “you have nothing more to tell me, my cold heart hears you no more. I am in the midst of Nature, yet it is with boredom that my eyes observe the line which separates your luminous countenance from your shaded trunks. If ever I believed myself a poet I now know that I am not one. Perhaps in this new and barren stage of my life, men may inspire me as Nature no longer can and the years when I might perhaps have been able to sing her beauty will never return.” But in offering myself the consolation that possible observation of humanity might take the place of impossible inspiration, I was conscious that I was but seeking a consolation which I knew was valueless. If really I had the soul of an artist, what pleasure should I not be now experiencing at the sight of that curtain of trees lighted by the setting sun, of those little field-flowers lifting themselves almost to the foot-board of the railway carriage, whose petals I could count and whose colours I should not dare describe as do so many excellent writers, for can one hope to communicate to the reader a pleasure one has not felt? A little later I had observed with the same indifference, the lenses of gold and of orange into which the setting sun had transformed the windows of a house; and then, as the hour advanced, I had seen another house which seemed made of a strange pink substance. But I had made these various observations with the indifference I might have felt if, when walking in a garden with a lady, I had remarked a leaf of glass and further on an object like alabaster the unusual colour of which would not have distracted me from agonising boredom but which I had pointed at out of politeness to the lady and to show her that I had noticed them though they were coloured glass and stucco. In the same way as a matter of conscience I registered within myself as though to a person who was accompanying me and who would have been capable of getting more pleasure than I from them, the fiery reflections in the window-panes and the pink transparence of the house. But that companion whose notice I had drawn to these curious effects was doubtless of a less enthusiastic nature than many well disposed people whom such a sight would have delighted, for he had observed the colours without any sort of joy.
Since my name was on their visiting-lists, my long absence from Paris had not prevented old friends from sending me invitations and when, on getting home, I found together with an invitation for the following day to a supper given by La Berma in honour of her daughter and her son-in-law, another for an afternoon reception at the Prince de Guermantes’, my sad reflections in the train were not the least of the motives which counselled me to go there. I told myself it really was not worth while to deprive myself of society since I was either not equipped for or not up to the precious “work” to which I had for so long been hoping to devote myself “to-morrow” and which, may be, corresponded to no reality. In truth, this reasoning was negative and merely eliminated the value of those which might have kept me away from this society function. But what made me go was that name of Guermantes which had so far gone out of my head that, when I saw it on the invitation card, it awakened a beam of attention and laid hold of a fraction of the past buried in the depths of my memory, a past associated with visions of the forest domain, its rich luxuriance once again assuming the charm and significance of the old Combray days when, before going home, I passed into the Rue de l’Oiseau and saw from outside, like dark lacquer, the painted window of Gilbert le Mauvais, Sire of Guermantes. For a moment the Guermantes seemed once more utterly different from society people, incomparable with them or with any living beings, even with a king, beings issuing from gestation in the austere and virtuous atmosphere of that sombre town of Combray where my childhood was spent, and from the whole past represented by the little street whence I gazed up at the painted window. I longed to go to the Guermantes’ as though it would bring me back my childhood from the deeps of memory where I glimpsed it. And I continued to re-read the invitation until the letters which composed the name, familiar and mysterious as that of Combray itself, rebelliously recaptured their independence and spelled to my tired eyes a name I did not know.
My mother was going to a small tea-party with Mme Sazerat so I had no scruple about attending the Princesse de Guermantes’ reception. I ordered a carriage to take me there for the Prince de Guermantes no longer lived in his former mansion but in a magnificent new one which he had had built in the Avenue du Bois. One of the mistakes of people in society is that they do not realise, if they want us to believe in them, that they must first believe in themselves or at least that they must have some respect for the elements essential to our belief. At a time when I made myself believe even though I knew the contrary, that the Guermantes lived in their palace by virtue of hereditary privilege, to penetrate into the palace of a magician or a fairy, to have those doors open before me which are closed until the magical formula has been uttered seemed to me as difficult as to obtain an interview with the sorcerer and the fairy themselves. Nothing was easier than to convince myself that the old servant engaged the previous day at Potel and Chabot’s was the son or grandson or descendant of those who served the family long before the revolution and I had infinite good will in calling the picture which had been bought the preceding month at Bernheim junior’s the portrait of an ancestor. But the charm must not be decanted, memories cannot be isolated and now that the prince de Guermantes had himself destroyed my illusion by going to live in the Avenue du Bois, there was little of it left. Those ceilings which I had feared would fall at the sound of my name and under which so much of my former awe and fantasy might still have lingered, now sheltered the evening parties of an American woman of no interest to me. Of course things have no power in themselves and since it is we who impart it to them, some middle-class school-boy might at this moment be standing in front of the mansion in the Avenue du Bois and feeling as I did formerly about the earlier one. And this because he would still be at the age of faith which I had left far behind; I had lost that privilege as one loses the child’s power to digest milk which we can only consume in small quantities whilst babies can suck it down indefinitely without taking breath. At least the Guermantes’ change of domicile had the advantage for me that the carriage which had come to take me there and in which I was making these reflections had to pass through the streets which go towards the Champs Elysées. Those streets were at the time very badly paved, yet the moment the carriage entered them I was detached from my thoughts by a sensation of extreme sweetness; it was as though, all at once, the carriage was rolling along easily and noiselessly, like, when the gates of a park are opened, one seems to glide along a drive covered with fine gravel or dead leaves. There was nothing material about it but suddenly I felt emancipated from exterior obstacles as though I need no longer make an effort to adapt my attention as we do almost unconsciously when faced with something new; the streets through which I was then passing were those long forgotten ones which Françoise and I used to take when we were going to the Champs Elysées. The road itself knew where it was going, its resistance was overcome. And like an aviator who rolls painfully along the ground until, abruptly, he breaks away from it, I felt myself being slowly lifted towards the silent peaks of memory. Those particular streets of Paris, will, for me, always be composed of a different substance from others. When I reached the corner of the rue Royale where formerly an open-air street-seller used to display the photographs beloved of Françoise, it seemed to me that the carriage accustomed in the course of years to turning there hundreds of times was compelled to turn of itself. I was not traversing the same streets as those who were passing by, I was gliding through a sweet and melancholy past composed of so many different pasts that it was difficult for me to identify the cause of my melancholy. Was it due to those pacings to and fro awaiting Gilberte and fearing she would not come? Was it that I was close to a house where I had been told that Albertine had gone with Andrée or was it the philosophic significance a street seems to assume when one has used it a thousand times while one was obsessed with a passion which has come to an end and borne no fruit like when after luncheon I made fevered expeditions to gaze at the play-bills of Phèdre and of the Black Domino while they were still moist with the bill-sticker’s paste? Reaching the Champs Elysées and not much wanting to hear the whole of the concert at the Guermantes’, I stopped the carriage and was able to get out of it to walk a few steps, when I noticed a carriage likewise about to stop. A man with glazed eyes and bent body was deposited rather than sitting in the back of it, and was making efforts to hold himself straight such as a child makes when told to behave nicely. An untouched forest of snow-white hair escaped from under his straw hat while a white beard like those snow attaches to statues in public gardens depended from his chin. It was M. de Charlus sitting beside Jupien (prodigal of attentions), convalescing from an attack of apoplexy (of which I was ignorant; all I had heard being that he had lost his eyesight, a passing matter, for he now saw clearly). He seemed, unless until then he had been in the habit of dyeing his hair and that he had been forbidden to do so because of the fatigue it involved, to have been subjected to some sort of chemical precipitation which had the effect of making his hair shine with such a brilliant and metallic lustre that the locks of his hair and beard spouted like so many geysers of pure silver and clad the aged and fallen prince with the Shakespearean majesty of a King Lear. The eyes had not remained unaffected by this total convulsion, this metallurgical alteration of the head; but by an inverse phenomenon they had lost all their lustre. What was most moving was the feeling that the lustre had been lent to them by moral pride and that owing to this having been lost, the physical and even the intellectual life of M. de Charlus survived his aristocratic hauteur which one had supposed to be embodied in it. At that very moment there passed in a victoria, doubtless also going to the Prince de Guermantes’, Mme de Sainte-Euverte whom formerly the Baron did not consider smart enough to be worth knowing. Jupien, who was taking care of him like a child, whispered in his ear that it was a personage he knew, Mme de Sainte-Euverte. Immediately, with infinite trouble and with the concentration of an invalid who wants to appear capable of movements still painful to him, M. de Charlus uncovered, bowed and wished Mme de Sainte-Euverte good-day with the respect he might have shown if she had been the Queen of France. The very difficulty of thus saluting her may have been the reason of it, through realising the poignancy of doing something painful and therefore doubly meritorious on the part of an invalid and doubly flattering to the lady to whom it was addressed. Like kings, invalids exaggerate politeness. Perhaps also there was a lack of co-ordination in the Baron’s movements caused by disease of the marrow and brain and his gestures exceeded his intention. For myself I rather perceived therein a sort of quasi-physical gentleness, a detachment from the realities of life which strikes one in those about to enter the shadows of death. The profuse exposure of his silver-flaked head revealed a change less profound than this unconscious worldly humility which, reversing all social relationships, brought low in the presence of Mme de Sainte-Euverte, would have brought low — showing thereby its debility — in the presence of the least important American woman (who might at last have secured from the Baron a consideration until then withheld) a snobbishness which had seemed the most arrogant. For the Baron still lived, could still think; his intelligence survived. And, more than a chorus of Sophocles on the humbled pride of Oedipus, more even than death itself or any funeral speech, the Baron’s humble and obsequious greeting of Mme de Sainte-Euverte proclaimed the perishable nature of earthly grandeurs and of all human pride. M. de Charlus who, till then, would not have consented to dine with Mme de Sainte-Euverte now bowed down to the ground before her. It may, of course, be that he thus bowed to her through ignorance of her rank (for the rules of the social code can be obliterated by a stroke like any other part of the memory) perhaps by an incoordination which transposed to the plane of apparent humility his uncertainty — which might otherwise have been haughty — regarding the identity of the passing lady. He saluted her, in fact, with the timid politeness of a child told by its mother to say good-morning to grown-up people. And a child he had become, without a child’s pride. For Mme de Sainte-Euverte to receive the homage of M. de Çharlus was a world of gratified snobbery as, formerly, it was a world of snobbery for the Baron to refuse it her. And M. de Charlus had, at one blow, destroyed that precious and inaccessible character which he had succeeded in making Mme de Sainte-Euverte believe was an essential part of himself by the concentrated timidity, the frightened eagerness with which he raised his hat and let loose the foaming torrents of his silver hair as he stood uncovered before her with the eloquent deference of a Bossuet. After Jupien had assisted the Baron to descend, I saluted him and he began speaking to me very fast and so indistinctly that I could not understand him and when, for the third time, I asked him to repeat what he said, it provoked a gesture of impatience which surprised me because of the previous impassiveness of his face which was doubtless due to the effects of paralysis. But when I succeeded in grasping his whispered words I realised that the invalid’s intelligence was completely intact. There were moreover two M. de Charluses without counting others. Of the two the intellectual one spent the whole time complaining that he was approaching amnesia, that he was constantly pronouncing one word or one letter instead of another. But coincidentally, the other M. de Charlus, the subconscious one which wanted to be envied as much as the other to be pitied, stopped, like the leader of an orchestra at the beginning of a passage in which his musicians are floundering, and with infinite ingeniousness attached what followed to the word he had wrongly used but which he wanted one to believe he had deliberately chosen. Even his memory was uninjured; indeed he indulged in the exceedingly fatiguing coquetry of resuscitating some ancient and insignificant recollection in connexion with myself to prove to me that he had preserved or recovered all his mental acuteness. For instance, without moving his head or his eyes and without varying his inflection, he said to me: “Look! There’s a post on which there’s a notice exactly like the one where I was standing the first time I saw you at Avranches — no at Balbec, I mean.” And it was actually an advertisement of the same product. At first I had difficulty in understanding what he said, as at first, one is unable to see in a darkened room, but like eyes which become accustomed to the dusk, my ears soon became accustomed to his pianissimo. I believe too that it got stronger as he went on speaking, whether because the weakness came partly from nervous apprehension which diminished while he was being distracted by someone or whether, on the contrary, the weakness was real and the strength of his voice was temporarily stimulated by excitement which was injurious to him and made strangers say: “He’s getting better, he mustn’t think about his illness,” whereas, on the contrary, it made him worse. Be this as it may, the Baron, at this particular moment, cast up his words with greater vigour like the tide does its waves in bad weather. An effect of his recent stroke was to make his voice sound like stones rolling under his words. And as he went on talking to me of the past, no doubt to show he had not lost his memory, he evoked it funereally, yet without sadness. He kept on enumerating the various members of his family or of his set who were dead, apparently less because he was sorry they had departed than because of his satisfaction at having survived them; in reminding himself of their death, he seemed to become more conscious of his own recovery. He enumerated almost triumphantly but in a monotonous tone accompanied by a slight stammer and with a sort of sepulchral resonance: “Hannibal de Bréauté, dead! Antoine de Mouchy, dead! Charles Swann, dead! Adalbert de Montmorency, dead! Baron de Talleyrand, dead! Sosthène de Doudeauville, dead!” And each time the word “dead” seemed to fall upon the defunct like a shovelful of earth, the heavier for the gravedigger wanting to press them ever deeper into the tomb.
The Duchesse de Létourville, who was not going to the reception of the Princesse de Guermantes because she had been ill for a long time, at that moment passed by us on foot and noticing the Baron whose attack she had not heard about, stopped to say good-day to him. But the illness from which she had been suffering did not make her better understand the illness of others which she bore with an impatience and nervous irritation in which there was perhaps a good deal of pity. Hearing the Baron’s defective pronunciation and the mistakes in some of his words and observing the difficulty with which he moved his arm, she glanced in turn at Jupien and at me as though she were asking the explanation of such a shocking phenomenon. As we did not answer she directed a long, sad, reproachful stare at M. de Charlus himself, apparently vexed at his being seen out with her in a condition as unusual as if he were wearing neither tie nor shoes. When the Baron made another mistake in his pronunciation, the distress and indignation of the Duchesse increased, and she cried at the Baron: “Palamède?” in the interrogatory and exasperated tone of neurasthenic people who cannot bear waiting a moment and who, if one asks them in immediately and apologises for not being completely dressed, remark bitterly, not to excuse themselves but to accuse you: “Oh, I see I’m disturbing you!” as though the person they are disturbing had done something wrong. Finally, she left us with a still more concerned air, saying to the Baron: “You’d better go home.”
M. de Charlus wanted to sit down and rest in a chair while Jupien and I took a few steps together, and painfully extracted a book from his pocket which seemed to me to be a prayer-book. I was not sorry to learn some details about the Baron’s health from Jupien. “I am glad to talk to you, monsieur,” said Jupien, “but we won’t go further than the Rond-Point. Thank God, the Baron is better now, but I don’t dare leave him long alone. He’s always the same, he’s too good-hearted, he’d give everything he has to others and that isn’t all, he remains as much of a coureur as if he were a young man and I’m obliged to keep my eye on him.” “The more so,” I replied, “as he has recovered his own. I was greatly distressed when I was told that he had lost his eye-sight.” “His paralysis did, indeed, have that effect, at first he couldn’t see at all. Just think that during the cure which, as a matter of fact, did him a lot of good, for several months he couldn’t see any more than if he’d been blind from birth.” “At least, that must have made part of your supervision unnecessary.” “Not the least in the world! We had hardly arrived at a hotel than he asked me what such and such a person on the staff was like. I assured him they were all awful, but he knew it couldn’t be as universal as I said and that I must be lying about some of them. There’s that petit polisson again! And then he got a sort of intuition, perhaps from a voice, I don’t know, and managed to send me away on some urgent commission. One day — excuse me for telling you all this, but as you once by chance entered the temple of impurity, I have nothing to hide from you” (for that matter he always got a rather unpleasant satisfaction out of revealing secrets) “I came back from one of those pretended urgent commissions quickly because I thought it had been arranged on purpose, when just as I approached the Baron’s room I heard a voice ask: ‘What?’ and the Baron’s answer: ‘Do you mean to say it’s the first time?’ I entered without knocking and what was my horror! The Baron, misled by the voice which was indeed more mature than is habitual at that age (and at that time he was completely blind) he, who formerly only liked grown men, was with a child not ten years old.”
I was told that at that period he was nearly every day a prey to attacks of mental depression characterised not exactly by divagation but by confessing at the top of his voice — in front of third parties whose presence and censoriousness he had forgotten — opinions he usually hid, such as his Germanophilism. So, long after the end of the war he was bewailing the defeat of the Germans, amongst whom he included himself and said bitterly: “We shall have to be revenged. We have proved the power of our resistance and we were the best organised,” or else his confidences took another form and he exclaimed in a rage: “Don’t let Lord X—— or the Prince of X—— come and tell me again what they said the other day for it was all I could do to prevent myself replying, ‘You know, because you’re one of them, at least, as much as I am.’” Needless to add that when M. de Charlus thus gave vent at times when he was, as they say, not all there, to these Germanophile and other avowals, people in his company such as Jupien or the Duchesse de Guermantes were in the habit of interrupting his imprudent words and giving to the third party who was less intimate and more indiscreet a forced but honourable interpretation of his words. “Oh, my God,” called Jupien, “I had good reason not to want to go far away. There he is starting a conversation with a gardener boy. Good-day, sir, it’s better I should go, I can’t leave my invalid alone a moment; he’s nothing but a great baby.”
I got out of the carriage again a little before reaching the Princesse de Guermantes’ and began thinking again of that lassitude, that weariness with which I had tried the evening before to note the railway line which separated the shadow from the light upon the trees in one of the most beautiful countrysides in France. Certainly such intellectual conclusions as I had drawn from these thoughts did not affect my sensibility so cruelly to-day, but they remained the same, for, as always happened when I succeeded in breaking away from my habits, going out at an unaccustomed hour to some new place, I derived a lively pleasure from it.
To-day, the pleasure of going to a reception at Mme de Guermantes’, seemed to me purely frivolous, but since I now knew that I could expect to have no other than frivolous pleasures, what was the use of my not accepting them? I repeated to myself that in attempting this description I had experienced none of that enthusiasm which I is not the only but the first criterion of talent. I began now to draw on my memory for “snapshots”, notably snapshots it had taken at Venice but the mere mention of the word made Venice as boring to me as a photographic exhibition and I was conscious of no more taste or talent in visualising what I had formerly seen than yesterday in describing what I had observed with a meticulous and mournful eye. In a few minutes so many charming friends I had not seen for so long would doubtless be asking me not to cut myself off and to spend some time with them. I had no reason to refuse them since I now had the proof that I was good for nothing, that literature could no longer give me any joy whether because of my lack of talent or because it was a less real thing than I had believed.
When I remembered what Bergotte had said to me: “You are ill but one cannot be sorry for you because you possess the delights of the mind,” I saw how much he had been mistaken. How little delight I got out of this sterile lucidity. I might have added that if sometimes I had tasted pleasures — not those of the mind — I had always exhausted them with a different woman so that even if destiny were to grant me a hundred years of healthy life it would only be adding successive lengths to an existence already in a straight line which there was no object in lengthening further. As to the “delights of the mind”, could I thus name those cold and sterile reflections which my clear-sighted eye or my logical reasoning joylessly summarised? But sometimes illumination comes to our rescue at the very moment when all seems lost; we have knocked at every door and they open on nothing until, at last, we stumble unconsciously against the only one through which we can enter the kingdom we have sought in vain a hundred years — and it opens.*
* In the French text of Le Temps Retrouvé, vol. I ends here.
Reviewing the painful reflections of which I have just been speaking, I had entered the courtyard of the Guermantes’ mansion and in my distraction I had not noticed an approaching carriage; at the call of the link-man I had barely time to draw quickly to one side, and in stepping backwards I stumbled against some unevenly placed paving stones behind which there was a coach-house. As I recovered myself, one of my feet stepped on a flagstone lower than the one next it. In that instant all my discouragement disappeared and I was possessed by the same felicity which at different moments of my life had given me the view of trees which seemed familiar to me during the drive round Balbec, the view of the belfries of Martinville, the savour of the madeleine dipped in my tea and so many other sensations of which I have spoken and which Vinteuil’s last works had seemed to synthesise. As at the moment when I tasted the madeleine, all my apprehensions about the future, all my intellectual doubts, were dissipated. Those doubts which had assailed me just before, regarding the reality of my literary gifts and even regarding the reality of literature itself were dispersed as though by magic. This time I vowed that I should not resign myself to ignoring why, without any fresh reasoning, without any definite hypothesis, the insoluble difficulties of the previous instant had lost all importance as was the case when I tasted the madeleine. The felicity which I now experienced was undoubtedly the same as that I felt when I ate the madeleine, the cause of which I had then postponed seeking. There was a purely material difference in the images evoked. A deep azure intoxicated my eyes, a feeling of freshness, of dazzling light enveloped me and in my desire to capture the sensation, just as I had not dared to move when I tasted the madeleine because of trying to conjure back that of which it reminded me, I stood, doubtless an object of ridicule to the link-men, repeating the movement of a moment since, one foot upon the higher flagstone, the other on the lower one. Merely repeating the movement was useless; but if, oblivious of the Guermantes’ reception, I succeeded in recapturing the sensation which accompanied the movement, again the intoxicating and elusive vision softly pervaded me as though it said “Grasp me as I float by you, if you can, and try to solve the enigma of happiness I offer you.” And then, all at once, I recognised that Venice which my descriptive efforts and pretended snapshots of memory had failed to recall; the sensation I had once felt on two uneven slabs in the Baptistry of St. Mark had been given back to me and was linked with all the other sensations of that and other days which had lingered expectant in their place among the series of forgotten years from which a sudden chance had imperiously called them forth. So too the taste of the little madeleine had recalled Combray. But how was it that these visions of Combray and of Venice at one and at another moment had caused me a joyous certainty sufficient without other proofs to make death indifferent to me? Asking myself this and resolved to find the answer this very day, I entered the Guermantes’ mansion, because we always allow our inner needs to give way to the part we are apparently called upon to play and that day mine was to be a guest. On reaching the first floor a footman requested me to enter a small boudoir-library adjoining a buffet until the piece then being played had come to an end, the Princesse having given orders that the doors should not be opened during the performance. At that very instant a second premonition occurred to reinforce the one which the uneven paving-stones had given me and to exhort me to persevere in my task. The servant in his ineffectual efforts not to make a noise had knocked a spoon against a plate. The same sort of felicity which the uneven paving-stones had given me invaded my being; this time my sensation was quite different, being that of great heat accompanied by the smell of smoke tempered by the fresh air of a surrounding forest and I realised that what appeared so pleasant was the identical group of trees I had found so tiresome to observe and describe when I was uncorking a bottle of beer in the railway carriage and, in a sort of bewilderment, I believed for the moment, until I had collected myself, so similar was the sound of the spoon against the plate to that of the hammer of a railway employee who was doing something to the wheel of the carriage while the train was at a standstill facing the group of trees, that I was now actually there. One might have said that the portents which that day were to rescue me from my discouragement and give me back faith in literature, were determined to multiply themselves, for a servant, a long time in the service of the Prince de Guermantes, recognised me and, to save me going to the buffet, brought me some cakes and a glass of orangeade into the library. I wiped my mouth with the napkin he had given me and immediately, like the personage in the Thousand and One Nights who unknowingly accomplished the rite which caused the appearance before him of a docile genius, invisible to others, ready to transport him far away, a new azure vision passed before my eyes; but this time it was pure and saline and swelled into shapes like bluish udders. The impression was so strong that the moment I was living seemed to be one with the past and (more bewildered still than I was on the day when I wondered whether I was going to be welcomed by the Princesse de Guermantes or whether everything was going to melt away), I believed that the servant had just opened the window upon the shore and that everything invited me to go downstairs and walk along the sea-wall at high tide; the napkin upon which I was wiping my mouth had exactly the same kind of starchiness as that with which I had attempted with so much difficulty to dry myself before the window the first day of my arrival at Balbec and within the folds of which, now, in that library of the Guermantes mansion, a green-blue ocean spread its plumage like the tail of a peacock. And I did not merely rejoice in those colours, but in that whole instant which produced them, an instant towards which my whole life had doubtless aspired, which a feeling of fatigue or sadness had prevented my ever experiencing at Balbec but which now, pure, disincarnated and freed from the imperfections of exterior perceptions, filled me with joy. The piece they were playing might finish at any moment, and I should be obliged to enter the drawing room. So I forced myself to try to penetrate as quickly as possible into the nature of those identical sensations I had felt three times within a few minutes so as to extract the lesson I might learn from them. I did not stop to consider the extreme difference which there is between the true impression which we have had of a thing and the artificial meaning we give to it when we employ our will to represent it to ourselves, for I remembered with what relative indifference Swann had been able to speak formerly of the i days when he was loved, because beneath the words, he felt something else than them, and the immediate pain Vinteuil’s little phrase had caused him by giving him back those very days themsleves as he had formerly felt them, and I understood but too well that the sensation the uneven paving-stones, the taste of the madeleine, had aroused in me, bore no relation to that which I had so often attempted to reconstruct of Venice, of Balbec and of Combray with the aid of a uniform memory. Moreover, I realised that life can be considered commonplace in spite of its appearing so beautiful at particular moments because in the former case one judges and underrates it on quite other grounds than itself, upon images which have no life in them. At most I noted additionally that the difference there is between each real impression — differences which explain why a uniform pattern of life cannot resemble it — can probably be ascribed to this: that the slightest word we have spoken at a particular period of our life, the most insignificant gesture to which we have given vent, were surrounded, bore upon them the reflection of things which logically were unconnected with them, were indeed isolated from them by the intelligence which did not need them for reasoning purposes but in the midst of which — here, the pink evening-glow upon the floral wall-decoration of a rustic restaurant, a feeling of hunger, sexual desire, enjoyment of luxury — there, curling waves beneath the blue of a morning sky enveloping musical phrases which partly emerge like mermaids’ shoulders — the most simple act or gesture remains enclosed as though in a thousand jars of which each would be filled with things of different colours, odours and temperature; not to mention that those vases placed at intervals during the growing years throughout which we ceaselessly change, if only in dream or in thought, are situated at completely different, levels and produce the impression of strangely varying climates. It is true that these changes have occurred to us without our being aware of them; but the distance between the memory which suddenly returns and our present personality as similarly between two memories of different years and places, is so great that it would suffice, apart from their specific uniqueness, to make comparison between; them impossible. Yes, if a memory, thanks to forgetfulness, has been unable to contract any tie, to forge any link between itself and the present, if it has remained in its own place, of its own date, if it has kept its distance, its isolation in the hollow of a valley or on the peak of a mountain, it makes us suddenly breathe an air new to us just because it is an air we have formerly breathed, an air purer than that the poets have vainly called Paradisiacal, which offers that deep sense of renewal only because it has been breathed before, inasmuch as the true paradises are paradises we have lost. And on the way to it, I noted that there would be great difficulties in creating the work of art I now felt ready to undertake without its being consciously in my mind, for I should have to construct each of its successive parts out of a different sort of material. The material which would be suitable for memories at the side of the sea would be quite different from those of afternoons at Venice which would demand a material of its own, a new one, of a special transparency and sonority, compact, fresh and pink, different again if I wanted to describe evenings at Rivebelle where, in the dining-room open upon the garden, the heat was beginning to disintegrate, to descend and come to rest on the earth, while the rose-covered walls of the restaurant were lighted up by the last ray of the setting sun and the last water-colours of daylight lingered in the sky. I passed rapidly over all these things, being summoned more urgently to seek the cause of that happiness with its peculiar character of insistent certainty, the search for which I had formerly adjourned. And I began to discover the cause by comparing those varying happy impressions which had the common quality of being felt simultaneously at the actual moment and at a distance in time, because of which common quality the noise of the spoon upon the plate, the unevenness of the paving-stones, the taste of the madeleine, imposed the past upon the present and made me hesitate as to which time I was existing in. Of a truth, the being within me which sensed this impression, sensed what it had in common in former days and now, sensed its extra-temporal character, a being which only appeared when through the medium of the identity of present and past, it found itself in the only setting in which it could exist and enjoy the essence of things, that is, outside Time. That explained why my apprehensions on the subject of my death had ceased from the moment when I had unconsciously recognised the taste of the little madeleine because at that moment the being that I then had been was an extra-temporal being and in consequence indifferent to the vicissitudes of the future. That being had never come to me, had never manifested itself except when I was inactive and in a sphere beyond the enjoyment of the moment, that was my prevailing condition every time that analogical miracle had enabled me to escape from the present. Only that being had the power of enabling me to recapture former days, Time Lost, in the face of which all the efforts of my memory and of my intelligence came to nought.
And perhaps, if just now I thought that Bergotte had spoken falsely when he referred to the joys of spiritual life it was because I then gave the name of spiritual life to logical reasonings which had no relation with it, which, had no relation with what now existed in me — just as I found society and life wearisome because I was judging them from memories without Truth while now that a veritable moment of the past had been born again in me three separate times, I had such a desire to live.
Nothing but a moment of the past? Much more perhaps; something which being common to the past and the present, is more essential than both.
How many times in the course of my life reality had disappointed me because at the moment when I perceived it, my imagination, which was my only means of enjoying beauty, could not be applied to it by virtue of the inevitable law which only allows us to imagine that which is absent. And now suddenly the effect of this hard law had become neutralised, held in suspense by a marvellous expedient of nature which had caused a sensation to flash to me — sound of a spoon and of a hammer, uneven paving-stones — simultaneously in the past which permitted my imagination to grasp it and in the present in which the shock to my senses caused by the noise had effected a contact between the dreams of the imagination and that of which they are habitually deprived, namely, the idea of existence — and thanks to that stratagem had permitted that being within me to secure, to isolate and to render static for the duration of a lightning flash that which it can never wholly grasp, a fraction of Time in its pure essence. When, with such a shudder of happiness, I heard the sound common, at once, to the spoon touching the plate, to the hammer striking the wheel, to the unevenness of the paving-stones in the courtyard of the Guermantes’ mansion and the Baptistry of St. Mark’s, it was because that being within me can only be nourished on the essence of things and finds in them alone its subsistence and its delight. It languishes in the observation by the senses of the present sterilised by the intelligence awaiting a future constructed by the will out of fragments of the past and the present from which it removes still more reality, keeping that only which serves the narrow human aim of utilitarian purposes. But let a sound, a scent already heard and breathed in the past be heard and breathed anew, simultaneously in the present and in the past, real without being actual, ideal without being abstract, then instantly the permanent and characteristic essence hidden in things is freed and our true being which has for long seemed dead but was not so in other ways awakes and revives, thanks to this celestial nourishment. An instant liberated from the order of time has recreated in us man liberated from the same order, so that he should be conscious of it. And indeed we understand his faith in his happiness even if the mere taste of a madeleine does not logically seem to justify it; we understand that the name of death is meaningless to him for, placed beyond Time, how can he fear the future? But that illusion which brought near me a moment of the past incongruous to the present, would not last. Certainly we can prolong the visions of memory by willing it which is no more than turning over an illustrated book. Thus formerly, when I was going for the first time to the Princesse de Guermantes’ from the sun-lit court of our house in Paris, I had lazily focused my mind at one moment on the square where the church of Combray stood, at another on the sea shore of Balbec, as I might have amused myself by turning over a folio of water-colours of different places I had visited and cataloguing these mnemonic illustrations with the egotistical pleasure of a collector, I might have said: “After all, I have seen some beautiful things in my life.” Doubtless, in that event, my memory would have been asserting different sensations but it would only have been combining their homogeneous elements. That was a different thing from the three memories I had just experienced which, so far from giving me a more flattering notion of my personality, had, on the contrary, almost made me doubt its very existence. Thus, on the day when I dipped the madeleine in the hot infusion, in the heart of that place where I happened to be (whether that place was, as then, my room in Paris or, as to-day, the Prince de Guermantes’ library) there had been the irradiation of a small zone within and around myself, a sensation (taste of the dipped madeleine, metallic sound, feeling of the uneven steps) common to the place where I then was and also to the other place (my Aunt Léonie’s room, the railway carriage, the Baptistry of St. Mark’s). And, at the very moment when I was thus reasoning, the strident sound of a water-pipe, exactly like those long screeches which one heard on board excursion steamers at Balbec, made me experience (as had happened to me once in a large restaurant in Paris at the sight of a luxurious dining-room half empty, summerlike and hot) something more than a mere sensation like one I had, one late afternoon at Balbec, when, all the tables symmetrically laid with linen and silver, the large bow-windows wide open to the sun slowly setting on the sea with its wandering ships, I had only to step across the window-frame hardly higher than my ankle, to be with Albertine and her friends who were walking on the sea-wall. It was not only the echo, the duplication of a past sensation that the water-conduit had caused me to experience, it was the sensation itself. In that case as in all the preceding ones, the common sensation had sought to recreate the former place around itself whilst the material place in which the sensation occurred, opposed all the resistance of its mass to this immigration into a Paris mansion of a Norman seashore and a railway-embankment. The marine dining-room of Balbec with its damask linen prepared like altar cloths to receive the setting sun had sought to disturb the solidity of the Guermantes’ mansion, to force its doors, and had made the sofas round me quiver an instant as on another occasion the tables of the restaurant in Paris had done. In all those resurrections, the distant place engendered by the sensation common to them all, came to grips for a second with the material place, like a wrestler. The material place was always the conqueror and always the conquered seemed to me the more beautiful, so much so that I remained in a state of ecstasy upon the uneven pavement as I did with my cup of tea, trying to retain with the moment of their appearance, to make reappear as they escaped, that Combray, that Venice, that Balbec, invading, yet repelled, which came before my eyes only immediately to abandon me in the midst of a newer scene which yet was penetrable by the past. And if the material place had not been at once the conqueror I think I should have lost consciousness; for these resurrections of the past, for the second that they last, are so complete that they not only force our eyes to cease seeing the room which is before them in order to see the railway bordered by trees or the rising tide, they force our nostrils to breathe the air of those places which are, nevertheless, so far away, our will to choose between the diverse alternatives it offers us, our whole personality to believe itself surrounded by them, or at least to stumble between them and the material world, in the bewildering uncertainty we experience from an ineffable vision on the threshold of sleep.
So, that which the being within me, three or four times resurrected, had experienced, were perhaps fragments of lives snatched from time which, though viewed from eternity, were fugitive. And yet I felt that the happiness given me at those rare intervals in my life was the only fruitful and authentic one. Does not the sign of unreality in others consist in their inability to satisfy us, as, for instance, in the case of social pleasures which, at best, cause that discomfort which is provoked by unwholesome food, when friendship is almost a pretence, since, for whatever moral reasons he may seek it, the artist who gives up an hour of work to converse for that time with a friend knows that he is sacrificing a reality to an illusion (friends being friends only in the sense of a sweet madness which overcomes us in life and to which we yield, though at the back of our minds we know it to be the error of a lunatic who imagines the furniture to be alive and talks to it) owing to the sadness which follows its satisfaction — like that I felt the day I was first introduced to Albertine when I gave myself the trouble, after all not great, to obtain something — to make the acquaintance of the girl — which only seemed to me unimportant because I had obtained it. Even a deeper pleasure such as that which I might have felt when I loved Albertine was in reality only perceived by contrast with my anguish when she was no longer there, for when I was sure she would return as on the day when she came back from the Trocadéro, I only experienced a vague boredom whereas the deeper I penetrated into the sound of the spoon on the plate or the taste of tea, the more exalted became my delight that my Aunt Léonie’s chamber and later the whole of Combray and both its sides had entered my room. And now I was determined to concentrate my mind on that contemplation of the essence of things, to define it to myself, but how and by what means? Doubtless at the moment when the stiffness of the table-napkin had brought back Balbec to me and, for an instant, caressed my imagination not only with a view of the sea as it was that morning but with the scent of the room, with the swiftness of the wind, with an appetite for breakfast, with wavering between various walks, all those things attached to a sensation of space like winged wheels in their delirious race, doubtless at the moment when the unevenness of the two pavements had prolonged in all directions and dimensions my arid and crude visions of Venice and St. Mark’s, and all the emotions I had then experienced, relating the square to the church, the landing-stage to the square, the canal to the landing-stage, to everything the eye saw, to that whole world of longings which is in reality only perceived by the spirit, I had been tempted to set forth if not to Venice because of the inclement season, at least, to Balbec. But I did not stop an instant at that thought; not only did I realise that countries were not that which their name pictured to me and my imagination represented them but that it was only in my dreams, and hardly then, that a place consisting of pure matter, was spread out before me clear and distinct from those common things one can see and touch. But even in regard to those images of another kind, of the memory, I knew that I had not found any beauty in Balbec when I went there and that the beauty memory had left in me was no longer the same at my second visit. I had too clearly proved the impossibility of expecting from reality that which was within myself. It was not in the Square of St. Mark any more than during my second visit to Balbec or on my return to Tansonville to see Gilberte that I should find Lost Time and the journey which once more tempted me with the illusion that these old impressions existed outside myself and were situated in a certain spot could not be the means I was seeking. I would not allow myself to be lured again; it was necessary for me to know at last, if indeed it were possible to attain that which, disappointed as I had always been by places and people, I had (in spite of a concert-piece by Vinteuil which had seemed to say the contrary) believed unrealisable. I was not, therefore, going to attempt another experience on the road which I had long known to lead nowhere. Impressions such as those which I was attempting to render permanent could only vanish at the contact of a direct enjoyment which was powerless to give birth to them. The only way was to attempt to know them more completely where they existed, that is, within myself and by so doing to illuminate them in their depths. I had never known any pleasure at Balbec any more than I had in living with Albertine except what was perceptible afterwards. And if in recapitulating the disappointments of my life as I had so far lived it, they led me to believe that its reality must reside elsewhere than in action and, if, in following the vicissitudes of my life, I did not summarise them as a matter of pure hazard, I well knew that the disappointment of a journey and the disappointment of love were not different disappointments but varying aspects which, according to the conditions to which they apply, are inflicted upon us by the impotence, difficult for us to realise, of material pleasure and effective action. Again reflecting on that extra-temporal delight caused whether by the sound of the spoon or by the taste of the madeleine, I said to myself: “Was this the happiness suggested by the little phrase of the Sonata, which Swann was deceived into identifying with the pleasure of love and was not endowed to find in artistic creation; that happiness which had made me respond as to a presentiment of something more supraterrestrial still than the little phrase of the Sonata, to the red and mysterious appeal of that septet which Swann did not know, having died like so many others, before the truth, meant for them, had been revealed?” Moreover, it would have done him no good, for that phrase might symbolise an appeal but it could not create the force which would have made of Swann the writer he was not. And yet I reminded myself after a moment and after having thought over those resurrections of memory, that in another way, obscure impressions had sometimes, as far back as Combray and on the Guer-mantes’ side, demanded my thought, in the same way as those mnemonic resurrections, yet they did not contain an earlier experience but a new truth, a precious image which I was trying to discover by efforts of the kind one makes to remember something as though our loveliest ideas were like musical airs which might come to us without our having ever heard them and which we force ourselves to listen to and write down. I reminded myself with satisfaction, (because it proved that I was the same then and that it represented a fundamental quality of my nature) and also with sadness in the thought that since then I had made no progress, that, as far back as at Combray, I was attempting to concentrate my mind on a compelling image, a cloud, a triangle, a belfry, a flower, a pebble, believing that there was perhaps something else under those symbols I ought to try to discover, a thought which these objects were expressing in the manner of hieroglyphic characters which one might imagine only represented material objects. Doubtless such deciphering was difficult, but it alone could yield some part of the truth. For the truths which the intelligence apprehends through direct and clear vision in the daylight world are less profound and less necessary than those which life has communicated to us unconsciously through an intuition which is material only in so far as it reaches us through our senses and the spirit of which we can elicit. In fact, in this case as in the other, whether it was a question of impressions given me by a view of the Martinville belfry or memories like those of the two uneven paving-stones or the taste of the madeleine, it was necessary to attempt to interpret them as symbols of so many laws and ideas, by trying to think, that is, by trying to educe my sensation from its obscurity and convert it into an intellectual equivalent. And what other means were open to me than the creation of a work of art? Already the consequences pressed upon my spirit; for whether it was a question of memories like the sound of the spoon and the taste of the madeleine or of those verities expressed in forms the meaning of which I sought in my brain, where, belfries, wild herbs, what not, they composed a complex illuminated scroll, their first characteristic was that I was not free to choose them, that they had been given to me as they were. And I felt that that must be the seal of their authenticity. I had not gone to seek the two paving-stones in the courtyard against which I had struck. But it was precisely the fortuitousness, the inevitablity of the sensation which safeguarded the truth of the past it revived, of the images it set free, since we feel its effort to rise upwards to the light and the joy of the real recaptured. That fortuitousness is the guardian of the truth of the whole series of contemporary impressions which it brings in its train, with that infallible proportion of light and shade, of emphasis and omission, of memory and forgetfulness, of which the conscious memory or observation are ignorant.
That book of unknown signs within me (signs in relief it seemed, for my concentrated attention, as it explored my unconscious in its search, struck against them, circled round them like a diver sounding) no one could help me read by any rule, for its reading consists in an act of creation in which no one can take our place and in which no one can collaborate. And how many turn away from writing it, how many tasks will one not assume to avoid that one! Every event, whether it was the Dreyfus affair or the war, furnished excuses to writers for not deciphering that book; they wanted to assert the triumph of Justice, to recreate the moral unity of the nation and they had no time to think of literature. But those were only excuses because either they did not possess or had ceased to possess genius, that is, instinct. For it is instinct which dictates duty and intelligence which offers pretexts for avoiding it. But excuses do not exist in art, intentions do not count there, the artist must at all times follow his instinct, which makes art the most real thing, the most austere school in life and the true last judgment. That book which is the most arduous of all to decipher is the only one which reality has dictated, the only one printed within us by reality itself. Whatever idea life has left in us, its material shape, mark of the impression it has made on us, is still the necessary pledge of its truth. The ideas formulated by the intellect have only a logical truth, a possible truth, their selection is arbitrary. Our only book is that one not made by ourselves whose characters are already imaged. It is not that the ideas we formulate may not be logically right but that we do not know if they are true. Intuition alone, however tenuous its consistency, however improbable its shape, is a criterion of truth and, for that reason, deserves to be accepted by the mind because it alone is capable, if the mind can extract that truth, of bringing it to greater perfection and of giving it pleasure without alloy. Intuition for the writer is what experiment is for the learned, with the difference that in the case of the learned the work of the intelligence precedes and in the case of the writer it follows. That which we have not been forced to decipher, to clarify by our own personal effort, that which was made clear before, is not ours. Only that issues from ourselves which we ourselves extract from the darkness within ourselves and which is unknown to others. And as art exactly recomposes life, an atmosphere of poetry surrounds those truths within ourselves to which we attain, the sweetness of a mystery which is but the twilight through which we have passed. An oblique ray from the setting sun brings instantly back to me a time of which I had never thought again, when, in my childhood, my Aunt Léonie had a fever which Dr. Percepied had feared was typhoid and they had made me stop for a week in the little room Eulalie had in the church square, where there was only a matting on the floor and a dimity curtain at the window humming in the sunlight to which I was unaccustomed. And when I think how the memory of that little room of an old servant suddenly added to my past life an extension so different from its other side and so delightful, I remember, as a contrast, the nullity of impressions left on my mind by the most sumptuous parties in the most princely mansions. The only thing that was distressing in Eulalie’s room was that owing to the proximity of the viaduct, one heard the noise of passing trains at night. But as I knew that this roaring proceeded from regulated machines, it did not terrify me as much as the roars of a mammoth, prowling near by in savage freedom, would have done in prehistoric days.
Thus I had already reached the conclusion that we are in no wise free in the presence of a work of art, that we do not create it as we please but that it pre-exists in us and we are compelled as though it were a law of nature to discover it because it is at once hidden from us and necessary. But is not that discovery, which art may enable us to make, most precious to us, a discovery of that which for most of us remains for ever unknown, our true life, reality as we have ourselves felt it and which differs so much from that which we had believed that we are filled with delight when chance brings us an authentic revelation of it? I was sure of this from the very falsity of so-called realistic art which would not be so deceptive if we had not in the course of life, contracted the habit of giving what we feel an expression so different that, after a time, we believe it to be reality itself. I felt that it was not necessary for me to incommode myself with the diverse literary theories which had for a time troubled me — notably those that criticism had developed at the time of the Dreyfus affair and which had again resumed their sway during the war, which tended to “make the artist come out of his ivory tower” and, instead of using frivolous or sentimental subjects as his material, to picture great working-class movements or if not the crowd, at all events rather than insignificant idlers —(“I avow,” said Bloch, “that the portraits of these futile people are indifferent to me”)— noble intellectuals or heroes. Before even considering their logical content, these theories seemed to me to denote amongst those who entertained them, a proof of inferiority like a well brought-up child, who, being sent out to lunch at a friend’s house, hearing someone say: “We speak out, we are frank,” realises that the words signify a moral quality inferior to a pure and simple good act about which nothing is said. Authentic art does not proclaim itself for it is achieved in silence. Moreover, those who thus theorise, use ready-made expressions which singularly resemble those of the imbeciles they castigate. And perhaps it is rather by the quality of the language than by the particular aesthetic that we can judge the level which intellectual and moral work has reached. But inversely this quality of language (and we can study the laws of character equally well in a serious as in a frivolous subject as an anatomist can study the laws of anatomy on the body of an imbecile just as well as on that of a man of talent; the great moral laws as well as those which govern the circulation of the blood or renal elimination making small difference between the intellectual value of individuals) with which theorists think they can dispense, those who admire theorists believe to be of no great intellectual value and in order to discern it, require it to be expressed in direct terms because they are unable to infer it from the beauty of imagery. Hence that vulgar temptation of an author to write intellectual works. A great indelicacy. A work in which there are theories is like an object upon which the price is marked. Further, this last only expresses a value which, in literature, is diminished by logical reasoning. We reason, that is, our mind wanders, each time our courage fails to force us to pursue an intuition through all the successive stages which end in its fixation, in the expression of its own reality. The reality that must be expressed resides, I now realised, not in the appearance of the subject but in the degree of penetration of that intuition to a depth where that appearance matters little, as symbolised by the sound of the spoon upon the plate, the stiffness of the table-napkin, which were more precious for my spiritual renewal than many humanitarian, patriotic, international conversations. More style, I had heard said in those days, more literature of life. One can imagine how many of M. de Norpois’ simple theories “against flute-players” had flowered again since the war. For all those who, lacking artistic sensibility, that is, submission to the reality within, may be equipped with the faculty of reasoning for ever about art, and even were they diplomatists or financiers associated with the “realities” of the present into the bargain, they will readily believe that literature is a sort of intellectual game which is destined to be eliminated more and more in the future. Some of them wanted the novel to be a sort of cinematographic procession. This conception was absurd. Nothing removes us further from the reality we perceive within ourselves than such a cinematographic vision. Just now as I entered this library, I remembered what the Goncourts say about the beautiful original editions it contains and I promised myself to have a look at them whilst I was shut in here. And still following my argument, I took up one after another of the precious volumes without paying much attention to them when, inattentively opening one of them, François le Champi, by George Sand, I felt myself disagreeably affected as by some impression out of harmony with my thoughts, until I suddenly realised with an emotion which nearly brought tears to my eyes how much that impression was in harmony with them. It was as at the moment when in the mortuary vault the undertakers’ men are lowering the coffin of a man who has rendered services to his country and his son pressing the hands of the last friends who file past the tomb, suddenly hearing a flourish of trumpets under the windows, would be horrified by what he supposed a mockery designed to insult his sorrow, while another who had controlled himself until then, would be unable to restrain his tears because he realised that what he heard was the music of a regiment which was sharing his mourning and wanting to render homage to the remains of his father. Such was the painful impression I had experienced in reading the title of a book in the Prince de Guermantes’ library, a title which communicated the idea to me that literature really does offer us that world of mystery I had no longer found in it. And yet, François le Champi was not a very remarkable book but the name, like the name of Guermantes, was unlike those I had known later. The memory of what had seemed incomprehensible when my mother read it to me, was aroused by its title and in the same way that the name of Guermantes (when I had not seen the Guermantes’ for a long time) contained for me the whole of feudalism — so François le Champi contained the whole essence of the novel — dispossessing for an instant the commonplace ideas of which the stuffy novels of George Sand are composed. At a dinner party where thought is always superficial I might no doubt have spoken of François le Champi and the Guermantes’ as though neither were associated with Combray. But when, as at this moment, I was alone, I plunged to a greater depth. At that time the idea that a particular individual whose acquaintance I had made in society was the cousin of Mme de Guermantes, that is to say, the cousin of a personage on a magic lantern slide, seemed to me incomprehensible and just as much, that the finest books I had read should be, I do not even say superior which they nevertheless were but equal to this extraordinary François le Champi. This was an old childish impression with which my memories of childhood and of my family were tenderly associated and which at first I had not recognised. At the first instant I had angrily asked myself who this stranger was who had done me a violence and the stranger was myself, the child I once was whom the book had revived in me, for recognising only the child in me, the book had at once summoned him, wanting only to be seen with his eyes, only to be loved with his heart and only to talk to him. And that book my mother had read aloud to me almost until morning at Combray, retained for me all the charm of that night. Certainly “the pen” of George Sand, to use one of Brichot’s expressions, (he loved to say that a book was written by “a lively pen”) did not appear to me a magical pen as it so long did to my mother before she modelled her literary tastes on mine. But it was a pen I had unconsciously electrified, as schoolboys sometimes amuse themselves by doing, and now a thousand trifles of Combray which I had not for so long seen, leaped lightly and spontaneously forth and came and hung on head over heels to the magnet in an endless chain vibrating with memories. Certain minds which love mystery like to believe that objects preserve something of the eyes which have looked at them, that monuments and pictures are seen by us under an impalpable veil which the contemplative love of so many worshippers has woven about them through the centuries. That chimera would become true if they transposed it into the domain of the only reality there is for us all, into the domain of their own sensibility.
Yes, in that sense and only in that sense; but much more so, for if we see again a thing which we looked at formerly it brings back to us, together with our past vision, all the imagery with which it was instinct. This is because objects — a book bound like others in its red cover — as soon as they have been perceived by us become something immaterial within us, partake of the same nature as our preoccupations or our feelings at that time and combine, indissolubly with them. A name read in a book of former; days contains within its syllables the swift wind and the brilliant sun of the moment when we read it. In the slightest sensation conveyed by the humblest aliment, the smell of coffee and milk, we recover that vague hope of fine weather which enticed us when the day was dawning and the morning sky uncertain; a sun-ray is a vase filled with perfumes, with sounds, with moments, with various humours, with climates. It is that essence which art worthy of the name must express and if it fails, one can yet derive a lesson from its failure (while one can never derive anything from the successes of realism) namely that that essence is in a measure subjective and incommunicable.
More than this, a thing we saw at a certain period, a book we read, does not remain for ever united only with what was then around us; it remains just as faithfully one with us as we then were and can only be recovered by the sensibility restoring the individual as he then was. If, ever in thought, I take up François le Champi in the library, immediately a child rises within me and replaces me, who alone has the right to read that title François le Champi and who reads it as he read it then with the same impression of the weather out in the garden, with the same old dreams about countries and life, the same anguish of the morrow. If I see a thing of another period, another young man will emerge. And my personality of to-day is only an abandoned quarry which believes that all it contains is uniform and monotonous, but from which memory, like a sculptor of ancient Greece, produces innumerable statues. I say, everything we see again, for books, behaving in that respect like things, through the way their cover opens, through the quality of the paper, can preserve within themselves as vivid a memory of how I then imagined Venice or of the wish I had to go there, as the sentences themselves. More vivid even, for the latter are sometimes an impediment like the photograph of a friend whom one recalls less after looking at it than when one contents oneself with thinking of him. Certainly in the case of many books of my youth, even, alas, those by Bergotte himself, when I happened to take them up on an evening I was tired, it was as though I had taken a train in the hope of obtaining repose by seeing different scenes and by breathing the atmosphere of former days. It often happens that the desired evocation is hindered by prolonged reading. There is one of Bergotte’s books (the copy in this library contained a toadying and most platitudinous dedication to the Prince) which I read through one winter day some time ago when I could not see Gilberte, and I failed to discover those pages I formerly so much loved. Certain words made me think they were those pages but they were not. Where was the beauty I then found in them? Yet the snow which covered the Champs Èlysées on the day I read it still covers the volume. I see it still. And for that reason, had I been tempted to become a bibliophile like the Prince de Guermantes, I should only have been one in a way of my own, one who seeks a beauty independent of the value proper to the book and which consists for collectors in knowing the libraries through which it has passed, that it was given when such and such an event occurred to such and such a sovereign, to such and such a celebrity, in following its life from sale to sale; that beauty of a book which is in a sense historical, would not have been lost upon me. But I should extract that beauty with better will from the history of my own life, that is to say, not as a book-fancier; and it would often happen that I attached that beauty, not to the material volume itself but to a work such as this François le Champi contemplated for the first time in my little room at Combray during that night, perhaps the sweetest and the saddest of my life, when, alas, (at a time when the mysterious Guermantes seemed very inaccessible to me) I had wrung from my parents that first abdication from which I was able to date the decline of my health and of my will, my renunciation of a difficult task which every ensuing day made more painful — a task reassumed to-day in the library of those very Guermantes, on the most wonderful day when not only the former gropings of my thought but even the aim of my life and perhaps that of art were illuminated. Moreover, I should have been capable of interesting myself in the copies of books themselves in a living sense. The first edition of a work would have been more precious to me than the others but I should have understood by the first edition the one I read for the first time. I should seek original editions but by that I should mean books from which I got an original impression. For the impressions that follow are no longer original. I should collect the bindings of novels of former days, but they would be the days when I read my first novels, the days when my father repeated so often “Sit up straight”. Like the dress in which we have seen a woman for the first time, they could help me to recover my love of then, the beauty which I had supplanted by so many images, ever less loved; in order to find it again, I who am no longer the self who felt it, must give place to the self I then was in order that he shall recall what he alone knew, what the self of to-day does not know. The library which I should thus collect would have a greater value still, for the books I read formerly at Combray, at Venice, enriched now by memory with spacious illuminations representing the church of Saint-Hilaire, the gondola moored at the foot of San Giorgio Maggiore on the Grand Canal incrusted with flashing sapphires, would have become worthy of those medallioned scrolls and historic bibles which the collector never opens in order to read the text but only to be again enchanted by the colours with which some competitor of Fouquet has embellished them and which constitute all the value of the work. And yet to open those books read formerly only to look at the images which did not then adorn them would seem to me so dangerous that even in that sense, the only one I understand, I should not be tempted to become a bibliophile. I know too well how easily the images left by the mind are effaced by the mind. It replaces the old ones by new which have not the same power of resurrection. And if I still had the François le Champi which my mother selected one day from the parcel of books my grandmother was to give me for my birthday, I would never look at it; I should be too much afraid that, little by little, my impressions of to-day would insert themselves in it and blot out the earlier ones, I should be too fearful of its becoming so much a thing of the present that when I asked it to evoke again the child who spelt out its title in the little room at Combray, that child, unable to recognise its speech, would no longer respond to my appeal and would be for ever buried in oblivion.
The idea of a popular art like that of a patriotic art, even if it were not dangerous, seems to me absurd. If it were a matter of making it accessible to the masses one would have to sacrifice the delicacies of form “suitable for idle people”; and I had frequented people in society enough to know that it is they who are the veritable unlettered not the working electricians. In that respect a popular art-form should rather be intended for members of the Jockey Club than for those of the General Confederation of Labour; as to subjects, popular novels intoxicate the people like books written for children. They seek distraction through reading, and workmen are as inquisitive about princes as princes are about workmen. From the beginning of the war M. Barrés said that the artist (such as Titian) must above all work for the glory of his country. But he could only serve it as an artist, that is to say, on the condition, when he studies the laws of art, serves his apprenticeship and makes discoveries as intricate as those of science, that he must think of nothing — were it even his fatherland — except the truth he has to face. Do not let us imitate the revolutionaries who on account of their civic spirit despised when they did not destroy the works of Watteau and La Tour, painters who did more for the honour of France than all who took part in the Revolution. A soft-hearted person would not, perhaps, of his own accord choose anatomy as a subject of study. It was not the goodness of his virtuous heart, great though that was, which made Choderlos de Laclos write Liaisons dangereuses nor was it Flaubert’s preference for the small or great bourgeoisie which made him select “Madame Bovary” and “L’Education sentimentale“ as subjects. Some people say that the art of a period of speed must be brief like those who said the war would be short before it had taken place. By the same reasoning, the railway should have killed contemplation. Yet it was vain to regret the period of stage-coaches for the automobile, in taking their place, still stops for tourists in front of abandoned churches.
A picture of life brings with it multiple and varied sensations. The sight, for instance, of the cover of a book which has been read spins from the character of its title the moonbeams of a distant summer-night. The taste of our morning coffee brings us that vague hope of a fine day which formerly so often smiled at us in the unsettled dawn from a fluted bowl of porcelain which seemed like hardened milk. An hour is not merely an hour, it is a vase filled with perfumes, with sounds, with projects, with climates. What we call reality is a relation between those sensations and those memories which simultaneously encircle us — a relation which a cinematographic vision destroys because its form separates it from the truth to which it pretends to limit itself — that unique relation which the writer must discover in order that he may link two different states of being together for ever in a phrase. In describing objects one can make those which figure in a particular place succeed each other indefinitely; the truth will only begin to emerge from the moment that the writer takes two different objects, posits their relationship, the analogue in the world of art to the only relationship of causal law in the world of science, and encloses it within the circle of fine style. In this, as in life, he fuses a quality common to two sensations, extracts their essence and in order to withdraw them from the contingencies of time, unites them in a metaphor, thus chaining them together with the indefinable bond of a verbal alliance. Was not nature herself from this point of view, on the track of art, was she not the beginning of art, she who often only permitted me to realise the beauty of an object long afterwards in another, mid-day at Combray only through the sound of its bells, mornings at Doncières only through the groans of our heating apparatus. The relationship may be of little interest, the objects commonplace, the style bad, but unless there is that relationship, there is nothing. A literature which is content with “describing things”, with offering a wretched summary of their lines and surfaces, is, in spite of its prétention to realism, the furthest from reality, the one which impoverishes us and saddens us the most, however much it may talk of glory and grandeur, for it abruptly severs communication between our present self, the past of which objects retain the essence and the future in which they encourage us to search for it again. But there is more. If reality were that sort of waste experience approximately identical in everyone because when we say: “bad weather”, “war”, “cab-stand”, “lighted restaurant”, “flower garden”, everybody knows what we mean — if reality were that, no doubt a sort of cinematographic film of these things would suffice and “style”, “literature” isolating itself from that simple datum would be an artificial hors d’oeuvre. But is it so in reality? If I tried to render conscious to myself what takes place in us at the moment a circumstance or an event makes a certain impression, if, on the day I crossed the Vivonne bridge, the shadow of a cloud on the water made me jump for joy and ejaculate “hullo!” if, listening to a phrase of Bergotte, all I could make of my impression were an expression such as “Admirable!” which did not specially apply to it, if, annoyed by somebody’s bad behaviour, Bloch uttered words with no particular relevance to so sordid an adventure: such as “I consider it fantastic for a man to behave like that”, or if flattered at being well received by the Guermantes and perhaps a little drunk on their wine, I could not help saying to myself in an undertone as I left them: “After all, they’re charming people whom it would be delightful to spend one’s life with,” I perceived that to express those impressions, to write that essential book, which is the only true one, a great writer does not, in the current meaning of the word, invent it, but, since it exists already in each one of us, interprets it. The duty and the task of a writer are those of an interpreter.
And if, where an inaccurate mode of expression inspired by the writer’s self-esteem is concerned, the straightening-out of the oblique inner utterance (which diverges more and more from the original mental impression) until it makes one with the straight line which should have issued from that impression, if that straightening-out is an uneasy process against which our idleness rebels, there are other cases, of love, for instance, where that same straightening-out becomes painful. All our feigned indifferences, all our natural indignation at its inevitable lies, so like our own, in a word, all that we constantly said when we were unhappy or deceived, not only to the being we loved but even to ourselves while awaiting her, sometimes aloud in the silence of our chamber, marked by: “No, really such behaviour is unbearable,” and “I’ve decided to see you for the last time. I can’t deny the pain it causes,” to bring back what was really and truly felt from where it had strayed, is to abolish everything we most clung to, the matter of our passionate self-communion during fevered moments when, face to face with ourselves, we asked what letter we could write, what should be our next step.
Even when we seek artistic delights for the sake of the impression they make on us, we manage quickly to dispense with the impression itself and to fix our attention on that element in it which enables us to experience pleasure without penetrating to its depth, and thinking we can communicate it to others in conversation because we shall be talking to them about something common to them and to us, the personal root impression is eliminated. In the very moments when we are the most disinterested spectators of nature, of society, of love, of art itself — as all impression is two-fold, half-sheathed in the object, prolonged in ourselves by another half which we alone can know — we hasten to neglect the latter, that is to say, the only one on which we should concentrate and fasten merely on the other half which, being unfathomable because it is exterior to ourselves, causes us no fatigue; we consider the effort to perceive the little groove which a musical phrase or the view of a church has hollowed in ourselves too arduous. But we play the symphony over and over again, we go back to look at the church until — in that flight far away from our own life which we have not the courage to face called erudition — we get to know them as well, and in the same way as the most accomplished musical or archaeological amateur. And how many stop at that point, get nothing from their impression, and ageing useless and unsatisfied, remain sterile celibates of art! To them come the same discontents as to virgins and idlers whom the fecundity of labour would cure. They are more exalted when they talk about works of art than real artists, for their enthusiasm, not being an incentive to the hard task of penetrating to the depths, expands outwards, heats their conversation and empurples their faces; they think they are doing something by shrieking at the tops of their voices: “Bravo! Bravo!” after the performance of a composition they like. But these manifestations do not force them to clarify the character of their admiration, so they learn nothing. Nevertheless, this futile admiration overflows in their most ordinary conversation and causes them to make gestures, grimaces and movements of the head when they talk of art: “I was at a concert where they were playing music which I can assure you did not thrill me. Then they began the quartette. Ah! My word! That changed it! (The face of the amateur at that moment expresses anxious apprehension as if he were thinking: ‘I see sparks flying, there’s a smell of burning, there’s a fire!’) Bless my soul! This is maddening! It’s badly composed but it’s flabbergasting! This is no ordinary work.” But laughable as those amateurs may be, they are not altogether to be despised. They are the first attempts of nature to create an artist, as formless and unviable as the antediluvian animals which preceded those of to-day and which were not created to endure. These whimsical and sterile amateurs affect us much as did those first mechanical contrivances which could not leave the earth, in which, though the secret means remained to be discovered, was contained the aspiration of flight. “And, old fellow,” adds the amateur, taking you by the arm, “it’s the eighth time I’ve heard it and I swear to you it won’t be the last.” And in truth since they do not assimilate from art what is really nourishing, they perpetually need artistic stimulus, because they are a prey to a craving which can never be assuaged. So they will go on applauding the same work for a long time to come, believing that their presence is a duty, such as others fulfil at a board-meeting or a funeral. Then come other works whether of literature, of painting or of music which create opposition. For the faculty of starting ideas or systems and above all of assimilating them has always been much more frequent even amongst those who create, than real taste, but has been extended since the reviews, the literary papers, have multiplied (and with them the artificial profession of writers and artists). Thus the best of the young, the most intelligent, the most intense, preferred works of an elevated moral, sociological or religious tendency. They imagined that such considerations constitute the value of a work, thus renewing the error of the Davids, the Chenavards, the Brunetières; they prefer to Bergotte whose lightest phrases really exacted a much deeper return to oneself, writers who seemed more profound only because they wrote less well. The complexity of Bergotte’s writing was only meant for society people, was the comment of these democrats, who thus did society people an honour they did not deserve. But from the moment that works of art are judged by reasoning, nothing is stable or certain, one can prove anything one likes. Whereas the reality of genius is a benefaction, an acquisition for the world at large, the presence of which must first be identified beneath the more obvious modes of thought and style, criticism stops at this point and assesses writers by the form instead of the matter. It consecrates as a prophet a writer who, while expressing in arrogant terms his contempt for the school which preceded him, brings no new message. This constant aberration of criticism has reached a point where a writer would almost prefer to be judged by the general public (were it not that it is incapable of understanding the researches an artist has been attempting in a sphere unknown to it). For there is more analogy between the instinctive life of the public and the genius of a great writer which is itself but instinct, realised and perfected, to be listened to in a religious silence imposed upon all others, than there is in the superficial verbiage and changing criteria of self-constituted judges. Their wrangling renews itself every ten years for the kaleidoscope is not composed only of groups in society but of social, political and religious ideas which obtain a momentary expansion, thanks to their refraction in the masses but survive only so long as their novelty influences minds which exact little in the way of proof. Again, parties and schools succeed each other, always catering to the same mentalities, men of relative intelligence prone to extravagances from which minds more scrupulous and more difficult to convince, abstain. Unhappily, just because the former are only half-minds they require action to complete themselves and as through this they exercise more influence than superior minds, they impose themselves on the mass and create a constituency not merely of unmerited reputations and unjustifiable rancours but also of civil and exterior warfare from which a little self-criticism might have saved them. Now the enjoyment a well-balanced mind, a heart which is really alive, gets from the beautiful thought of a master, is undoubtedly wholesome, but valuable as are those who properly appreciate that thought (how many are there in twenty years?) they are reduced by their very enjoyment to being no more than the enlarged consciousness of another. A man may have done everything in his power to be loved by a woman who would only make him unhappy but has not succeeded, in spite of all his attempts during years, in obtaining an assignation with her. Instead of seeking to express his sufferings and the danger from which he has escaped, he ceaselessly re-reads this thought of Labruyère making it represent a thousand implications and the most moving memories of his own life: “Men often want to love and I do not know how to, they seek defeat without being able to encounter it and, if I may say so, are forced to remain free.” Whether this thought had this meaning or not for him who wrote it (for it to have that meaning he ought to have said “to be loved” instead of “to love” and it would have been more beautiful), it is certain that this sensitive man of letters endows the thought with life, swells it with significance until it bursts within him and he cannot repeat it without a feeling of immense satisfaction, so completely true and beautiful does it seem to him, although, after all, he has added nothing to it and it remains simply a thought of Labruyère.
How can a literature of notations have any value since it is beneath the little things it notes that the reality exists (the grandeur in the distant sound of an aeroplane, in the outline of the belfry of Saint-Hilaire, the past in the savour of a madeleine) these being without significance in themselves if one does not disengage it from them. Accumulated little by little in the memory, the chain of all the obscure impressions where nothing! of what we actually experienced remains, constitutes our thought, our life, reality and it is that lie which a so-called “lived art” would only reproduce, an art as crude as life, without beauty, a reproduction so wearisome and futile of what our eyes have seen and our intelligence has observed, that one asks oneself how he who makes that his aim can find in it the exultant stimulus which gives zest to work. The grandeur of veritable art, to the contrary of what M. de Norpois called “a dilettante’s amusement”, is to recapture, to lay hold of, to make one with ourselves that reality far removed from the one we live in, from which we separate ourselves more and more as the knowledge which we substitute for it acquires a greater solidity and impermeability, a reality we run the risk of never knowing before we die but which is our real, our true life at last revealed and illumined, the only life which is really lived and which in one sense lives at every moment in all men as well as in the artist. But they do not see it because they do not seek to illuminate it. And thus their past is encumbered with innumerable “negatives” which remain useless because the intelligence has not “developed” them. To lay hold of our life; and also the life of others; for a writer’s style and also a painter’s are matters not of technique but of vision. It is the revelation, impossible by direct and conscious means, of the qualitative difference there is in the way in which we look at the world, a difference which, without art, would remain for ever each man’s personal secret. By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds are at our disposal, differing more widely from each other than those which roll round the infinite and which, whether their name be Rembrandt or Ver Meer, send us their unique rays many centuries after the hearth from which they emanate is extinguished. This labour of the artist to discover a means of apprehending beneath matter and experience, beneath words, something different from their appearance, is of an exactly contrary nature to the operation in which pride, passion, intelligence and habit are constantly engaged within us when we spend our lives without self-communion, accumulating as though to hide our true impressions, the terminology for practical ends which we falsely call life. In short, this complex art is precisely the only living art. It alone expresses for others and makes us see, our own life, that life which cannot observe itself, the outer forms of which, when observed, need to be interpreted and often read upside down, in order to be laboriously deciphered. The work of our pride, our passion, our spirit of imitation, our abstract intelligence, our habits must be undone by art which takes the opposite course and returning to the depths where the real has its unknown being, makes us pursue it. It is, of course, a great temptation to recreate true life, to renew impressions. But courage of all kinds is required, even sentimental courage. For it means above all, abrogating our most cherished illusions, ceasing to believe in the objectivity of our own elaborations and, instead of soothing ourselves for the hundredth time with the words “she was very sweet”, reading into them “I liked kissing her”. Of course what I had experienced in hours of love every other man experiences. But what one has experienced is like certain negatives which show black until they are placed under a lamp and they too must be looked at from the back; we do not know what a thing is until we have approached it with our intelligence. Only when the intelligence illuminates it, when it has intellectualised it, we distinguish, and with how much difficulty, the shape of that which we have felt, and I realised also that the suffering I had formerly experienced with Gilberte in realising that our love has nothing to do with the being who inspires it, is salutary as a supplementary aid to knowledge. (For, however short a time our life may last it is only while we are suffering that our thoughts, in a constant state of agitation and change, cause the depths within us to surge as in a tempest to a height where we see that they are subject to laws which, until then, we could not observe, because the calm of happiness left those depths undisturbed. Perhaps only in the case of a few great geniuses is it possible for this movement to be constantly felt without their suffering turmoil and sadness; but again it is not certain, when we contemplate the spacious and uniform development of their serene achievements that we are not too much taking for granted that the buoyancy of the work implies that of its creator, who perhaps, on the contrary, was continuously unhappy.) But principally because if our love is not only for a Gilberte, what gives us so much pain is not that it is also the love of an Albertine but because it is a more durable part of our soul than the various selves which successively die in us, each of which would selfishly retain it, a part of our soul which must, whatever the pain, detach itself from those beings so that we should understand and constitute their generality and impart the meaning of that love to all men, to the universal consciousness and not to one woman, then to another with which first one, then another of our successive selves has desired to unite.
It was, therefore, necessary for me to discover the meaning of the slightest signs that surrounded me (Guermantes, Albertine, Gilberte, Saint-Loup, Balbec, et cetera) which I had lost sight of owing to habit. We have to learn that to preserve and express reality when we have attained it, we must isolate it from everything that our habit of haste accumulates in opposition to it. Above all, I had, therefore to exclude words spoken by the lips but not by the mind; those humorous colloquialisms which after much social intercourse, we get accustomed to using artificially, which fill the mind with lies, those purely physical words uttered with a knowing smile by the writer who lowers himself by transcribing them, that little grimace which, for instance, constantly deforms the spoken phrase of a Sainte-Beuve, whereas real books must be children not of broad daylight and small-talk but of darkness and silence. And since art minutely reconstructs life round the verities one has apprehended in oneself, an atmosphere of poetry will always float round them, the sweetness of a mystery which is only the remains of twilight through which we have had to pass, the indication, like that of a measuring rod, of the depth of a work. (For that depth is not inherent in certain subjects as is believed by materialist-spiritual novelists, since they cannot penetrate beneath the world of appearances and their lofty intentions, like those virtuous tirades habitual to people who are incapable of the smallest kindly effort, must not prevent our observing that they have not even the mental power to throw off the ordinary banalities acquired by imitation.)
As to the verities which the intellect — even of highly endowed minds — gathers in the open road, in full daylight their value can be very great; but those verities have rigid outlines and are flat, they have no depth because no depths have been sounded to reach them — they have not been recreated. It often happens that writers who no longer exhibit these verities, as they grow old, only use their intelligence which has acquired more and more power; and though for this reason, their mature works are more able they have not the velvety quality of their youthful ones.
Nevertheless, I felt that the truths the intellect extracts from immediate reality are not to be despised for they might enshrine, with matter less pure but, nevertheless, vitalised by the mind, intuitions the essence of which, being common to past and present, carries us beyond time, but which are too rare and precious to be the only elements in a work of art. I felt a mass of truths pressing on my notice, relative to passions, characters and habits which could be thus used. We can, perhaps, attach every creature who has caused us unhappiness to a divinity of which she is only the most fragmentary reflection, a divinity the contemplation of whom in the realm of idea will give us immediate happiness instead of our former pain. The whole art of living is to regard people who cause us suffering as, in a degree, enabling us to accept its divine form and thus to populate our daily life with divinities. The perception of these truths gave me joy albeit it reminded me that if I had discovered more than one of them through suffering, I had discovered as many in the course of the most commonplace indulgences. Then a new light arose in me, less brilliant indeed than the one that had made me perceive that a work of art is the only means of regaining lost time. And Ï understood that all the material of a literary work was in my past life, I understood that I had acquired it in the midst of frivolous amusements, in idleness, in tenderness and in pain, stored up by me without my divining its destination or even its survival, as the seed has in reserve all the ingredients which will nourish the plant. Like the seed I might die when the plant had developed and I might find I had lived for it without knowing it, without my life having ever seemed to require contact with the books I wanted to write and for which when I formerly sat down at my table, I could find no subject. Thus all my life up to that day might have been or might not have been summed up under the title: “A vocation?” In one sense, literature had played no active part in my life. But, in another, my life, the memories of its sorrows, of its joys, had been forming a reserve like albumen in the ovule of a plant. It is from this that the plant draws its nourishment in order to transform itself into seed at a time when one does not yet know that the embryo of the plant is developing though chemical phenomena and secret but very active respirations are taking place in it. Thus my life had been lived in constant contact with the elements which would bring about its ripening. And those who would later derive nourishment from it would be as ignorant of the process that supplied it as those who eat the products of grain are unaware of the rich aliments it contains though they have manured the soil in which it was grown and have enabled it to reach maturity. In this connection the comparisons which are false if one starts from them may be true if one ends by them. The writer envies the painter, he would like to make sketches and notes and, if he does so, he is lost. Yet, in writing, there is not a gesture of his characters, a mannerism, an accent, which has not impregnated his memory; there is not a single invented character to whom he could not give sixty names of people he has observed, of whom one poses for a grimace, another for an eyeglass, another for his temper, another for a particular movement of the arms. And the writer discovers that if his aspiration to be a painter could not be consciously realised, he has nevertheless filled his notebook with sketches without being aware of it. For, owing to his instinct, the writer long before he knew he was going to be one, habitually avoided looking at all sorts of things other people noticed, and was, in consequence, accused by others of absent-mindedness and by himself of being incapable of attention and observation, while all the time he was ordering his eyes and his ears to retain for ever what to others seemed puerile, the tone in which a phrase had been uttered, the facial expression and movement of the shoulders of a particular person at a particular moment perhaps years ago, who was otherwise unknown to him, and this because he had heard that tone before or felt he might hear it again, that it was a recurrent and permanent characteristic. It is the feeling for the general in the potential writer, which selects material suitable to a work of art because of its generality. He only pays attention to others, however dull and tiresome, because in repeating what their kind say like parrots, they are for that very reason prophetic birds, spokesmen of a psychological law. He recalls only what is general. Through certain ways of speaking, through a certain play of features and through certain movements of the shoulders even though they had been seen when he was a child, the life of others remains within himself and when later on he begins writing, that life will help to recreate reality, possibly by the use of that movement of the shoulders common to many people. This movement is as true to life as though it had been noted by an anatomist, but the writer expresses thereby a psychological verity by grafting on to the shoulders of one individual the neck of another, both of whom had only posed to him for a moment.
It is uncertain whether in the creation of a literary work the imagination and the sensibility are not interchangeable and whether the second, without disadvantage, cannot be substituted for the first just as people whose stomach is incapable of digesting entrust this function to their intestines. An innately sensitive man who has no imagination could, nevertheless write admirable novels. The suffering caused him by others and the conflict provoked by his efforts to protect himself against them, such experiences interpreted by the intelligence might provide material for a book as beautiful as if it were imagined and invented and as objective, as startling and unexpected as the author’s imaginative fancy would have been, had he been happy and free from persecution. The stupidest people unconsciously express their feelings by their gestures and their remarks and thus demonstrate laws they are unaware of which the artist brings to light. On account of this, the vulgar wrongly believe the writer to be mischievous for the artist sees an engaging generality in an absurd individual and no more imputes blame to him than a surgeon despises his patient for being affected with a chronic ailment of the circulation. Moreover, no one is less inclined to scoff at absurd people than the artist. Unfortunately he is more unhappy than mischievous where his own passions are concerned; though he recognises their generality just as much in his own case, he escapes personal suffering less easily. Obviously, we prefer to be praised rather than insulted and still more when a woman we love deceives us, what would we not give that it should be otherwise. But the resentment of the affront, the pain of the abandonment would in that event have been worlds we should never have known, the discovery of which, painful as it may be for the man, is precious for the artist. In spite of himself and of themselves, the mischievous and the ungrateful must figure in his work. The publicist involuntarily associates the rascals he has castigated with his own celebrity. In every work of art we can recognise the man the artist has most hated, and alas, even the women he has most loved. They were posing for the writer at the very moment when, against his will, they were making him suffer the most. When I was in love with Albertine I fully realised she did not love me and I had to resign myself to her only teaching me the pain of love even at its dawn. And when we try to extract generality from our sorrow so as to write about it we are a little consoled, perhaps for another reason than those I have hitherto given, which is, that thinking in a general way, writing is a sanitary and indispensable function for the writer and gives him satisfaction in the same way that exercise, sweating and baths do a physical man. To tell the truth I revolted somewhat against this. However much I might believe that the supreme truth of life is in art, however little I was capable of the effort of memory needed to feel love for Albertine again as to mourn my grandmother anew, I asked myself whether, nevertheless a work of art of which neither of them was conscious could be for those poor dead the fulfilment of their destiny. My grandmother whom I had watched with so much indifference while she lay near me in her last agony. Ah! could I, when my work is done, wounded beyond remedy, suffer, in expiation, long hours of abandonment by all as I lie dying! Moreover, I had an infinite pity for beings less dear, even indifferent to me and of how many destinies had my thought used the sufferings, even only the absurdities in my attempts to understand them. All those beings who revealed truths to me and who were no longer there, seemed to me to have lived a life from which I alone profited and as though they had died for me. It was sad for me to think that in my book, my love which was once everything to me, would be so detached from a being that various readers would apply it textually to the love they experienced for other women. But why should I be horrified by this posthumous infidelity, that this man or that should offer unknown women as the object of my sentiment, when that infidelity, that division of love between several beings began with my life and long before I began writing? I had indeed suffered successively through Gilberte, through Mme de Guermantes, through Albertine. Successively also I had forgotten them and only my love, dedicated at different times to different beings, had lasted. I had anticipated the profanation of my memories by unknown readers. I was not far from being horrified with myself as, perhaps, some nationalist party might be in whose name hostilities had been provoked and who alone had benefited from a war in which many noble victims had suffered and died without even knowing the issue of the struggle which, for my grandmother, would have been such a complete reward. And the single consolation she never knew, that at last I had set to work, was, such being the fate of the dead, that though she could not rejoice in my progress she had at least been spared consciousness of my long inactivity, of the frustrated life which had been such a pain to her. And certainly there were many others besides my grandmother and Albertine from whom I had assimilated a word, a glance, but of whom as individual beings I remembered nothing; a book is a great cemetery in which, for the most part, the names upon the tombs are effaced. Sometimes, on the other hand, one writes a well remembered name without knowing whether anything else survives of the being who bore it. That young girl with the deep sunken eyes, with the haunting voice, is she there? And if she is, in which part, where are we to look for her under the flowers? But since we live remote from individual lives, since we no longer retain our deepest feelings such as my love for my grandmother and for Albertine, since they are now no more than meaningless words, since we can talk about these dead with people in society to whose houses it still gives us pleasure to go after the death of all we loved, if there is yet a means of learning to understand those forgotten words, should we not use it even though we had first to find a universal language in which to express them so that, thus rendered permanent, they would form the ultimate essence of those who are gone and remain an acquisition in perpetuity of every soul? Indeed, if we could explain that law of change which has made those words of the dead unintelligible to us, might not our inferiority become a new force? Furthermore the work in which our sorrows have collaborated, may perhaps be interpreted as an indication both of atrocious suffering and of happy consolation in the future. Indeed, if we say that the loves, the sorrows of the poet have served him, that they have aided him to construct his work, that the unknown women who least suspected, one with her mischief-making, the other with her raillery, that they were each contributing their stone towards the building of the monument they would never see, one does not sufficiently reflect that the life of the writer is not finished with that work, that the same nature which caused him the sorrow that coloured his work, will remain his after the work is finished, will cause him to love other women in circumstances which would be similar if they were not slightly changed by time which modifies conditions in the subject himself, in his appetite for love and in his resistance to suffering. From this first point of view his work must be considered only as an unhappy love which inevitably presages others and which causes his life to resemble it, so that the poet hardly needs to continue writing, so completely will he discover the semblance of what will happen anticipated in what he has written. Thus my love for Albertine and the degree m which it differed was already engrossed in my love for Gilberte in the midst of those joyous days when for the first time I heard Albertine’s name mentioned by her aunt, without suspecting that that insignificant germ would one day develop and spread over my whole life. But from another point of view, work is an emblem of happiness because it teaches us that in all love the general has its being close beside the particular and passes from the second to the first by a gymnastic which strengthens the writer against sorrow through making him pass over its cause in order to probe to its essence. In fact, as I was to experience thereafter, when I had realised my vocation, even at a time of anguish caused by love, the object of one’s passion becomes so completely merged in the universal during one’s working hours, that for the time being, one forgets her existence and only feels one’s heartache as a physical pain. It is true that it is a question of moments and that the effect seems to be the contrary if work comes afterwards. For when beings, who by their badness, their insignificance, succeed, in spite of ourselves, in destroying our illusions, are themselves reduced to impotence by being separated from the amorous chimera we had forged for ourselves, if we then put ourselves to work, our spirit raises them anew, identifies them, for the needs of self-analysis, with beings we once loved and in this case, literature doing over again the work undone by disillusion bestows a sort of survival on sentiments which have ceased to exist. Certainly we are obliged to relive our particular suffering with the courage of a physician who tries over again upon himself an experiment with a dangerous serum. But we ought to think of it under a general form which enables us to some extent to escape from its control by making all men co-partners in our sorrow and this is not devoid of a certain gratification. Where life closes round us, intelligence pierces an egress, for if there is no remedy for unrequited love, one emerges from the verification of suffering if only by drawing its relevant conclusions. The intellect does not recognise situations in life which have no issue. And I had to resign myself, since nothing can last except by becoming general (unless the mind lies to itself) by accepting the idea that even those beings who were dearest to the writer have ultimately only posed to him as to painters. Sometimes when a painful section has remained at the stage of a sketch, a new tenderness, a new suffering comes which enables us to finish it and fill it out. One has no need to complain of the lack of new and helpful sorrows for plenty are forthcoming and one will not have to wait long for them. All the same, it is necessary to hasten to profit by them for they do not last very long; either we console ourselves or if they are too strong and the heart is not too sound, one dies. In love our successful rival, as well call him our enemy, is our benefactor. He immediately adds to a being who only excited in us an insignificant physical desire, an enormously enhanced value which we confuse with it. If we had no rivals, physical gratification would not be transformed into love, that is to say, if we had no rivals or believed we had none, for they need not actually exist. That illusory life which our suspicion and jealousy give to rivals who have no existence, is sufficient for our good. Happiness is salutary for the body but sorrow develops the powers of the spirit. Moreover, does it not on each occasion reveal to us a law which is no less indispensable for the purpose of bringing us back to truth, of forcing us to take things seriously by pulling up the weeds of habit, scepticism, frivolity and indifference. It is true that that truth which is incompatible with happiness, with health, is not always compatible with life itself. Sorrow ends by killing. At each fresh overmastering sorrow one more vein projects and develops its mortal sinuousness across our brows and under our eyes. Thus, little by little, those terribly ravaged faces of Rembrandt, of Beethoven, are made, at which people once mocked. And those pockets under the eyes and wrinkles in the forehead would not be there if there had not been such suffering in the heart. But since forces can change into other forces, since heat which has duration becomes light and the electricity in a lightning-flash can photograph, since our heavy heartache can with each recurrent sorrow raise above itself like a flag, a visible and permanent symbol, let us accept the physical hurt for the sake of the spiritual knowledge and let our bodies disintegrate, since each fresh fragment which detaches itself now becomes more luminously revealing so that we may complete our task at the cost of suffering not needed by others more gifted, building it up and adding to it in proportion to the emotions that destroy our life. Ideas are substitutes for sorrows; when the latter change into ideas they lose part of their noxious action on our hearts and even at the first instant their very transformation disengages a feeling of joy. Substitutes only in the order of time, however, for it would seem that the first element is idea and that sorrow is only the mode in which certain ideas first enter us. But there are many families in the group of ideas, some are immediately joys. These reflections made me discover a stronger and more accurate sense of the truth of which I had often had a presentiment, notably when Mme de Cambremer was surprised that I could abandon a remarkable man like Elstir for the sake of Albertine. Even from the intellectual point of view I felt she was wrong but I did not know that what she was misunderstanding were the lessons through which one makes one’s apprenticeship as a man of letters. The objective value of the arts has little say in the matter; what it is necessary to extract and bring to light are our sentiments, our passions, which are the sentiments and passions of all men. A woman we need makes us suffer, forces from us a series of sentiments, deeper and more vital than a superior type of man who interests us. It remains to be seen, according to the plane on which we live, whether we shall discover that the pain the infidelity of a woman has caused us is a trifle when compared with the truths thereby revealed to us, truths that the woman delighted at having made us suffer would hardly have grasped. In any case, such infidelities are not rare. A writer need have no fear of undertaking a long labour. Let the intellect get to work; in the course of it there will be more than enough sorrows to enable him to finish it. Happiness serves hardly any other purpose than to make unhappiness possible. When we are happy, we have to form very tender and strong links of confidence and attachment for their rupture to cause us the precious shattering called misery. Without happiness, if only that of hoping, there would be no cruelty and, therefore, no fruit of misfortune. And more than a painter who needs to see many churches in order to paint one church, a writer, to obtain volume, consistency, generality and literary reality, needs many beings in order to express one feeling, for if art is long and life is short one can say on the other hand, that if inspiration is short, the sentiments it has to express are not much longer. Our passions shape our books, repose writes them in the intervals. When inspiration is reborn, when we are able to take up our work again, the woman who posed to us for our sentimental reaction can no longer make us feel it. We must continue to paint her from another model and if that is a treachery to the first, in a literary sense, thanks to the similarity of our sentiments which make a work at one and the same time a memory of our past loves and the starting point of new ones, there is no great disadvantage in the exchange. That is one of the reasons why studies in which an attempt is made to guess whom an author has been writing about, are fatuous. For even a direct confession is at the very least intercalated between different episodes in the life of the author, the early ones which inspired it, the later ones which no less inspired the successive loves whose peculiarities were a tracing of the preceding ones. For we are not as faithful to the being we have most loved as we are to ourselves and sooner or later we forget her — since that is one of our characteristics — so as to start loving another. At the very most, she whom we have so much loved has given a particular form to that love which will make us faithful to her even in our infidelity. We should feel a need to take the same morning walks with her successor and to bring her home in the same fashion in the evening and we should give her also much too much money. (That circulation of money we give to women is curious; because of it, they make us miserable and so help us to write books — one might almost say that works of literature are like artesian wells, the deeper the suffering, the higher they rise.) These substitutions add something disinterested and more general to work, and are also a lesson in austerity; we ought not to attach ourselves to beings, it is not beings who exist in reality and are amenable to description, but ideas. And we must not lose time while we can still dispose of these models. For those who pose for happiness are not, as a rule, able to spare us many sittings. But those who pose to us for sorrow give us plenty of sittings in the studio we only use at those periods. That studio is within ourselves. Those periods are a picture of our life with its divers sufferings. For they contain others and just when we think we are calm, a new one is born, new in all senses of the word; perhaps because unforeseen situations force us to enter into deeper contact with ourselves, the painful dilemmas in which love places us at every instant, instruct us, disclose to us successively the matter of which we are made.
Moreover, even when suffering does not supply by its revelation the raw material of our work, it helps us by stimulating us to it. Imagination, thought, may be admirable mechanisms but they can also be inert. Suffering alone sets them going. Thus when Françoise, noticing that Albertine came in by any door of the house that happened to be open as a dog would, spreading disorder wherever she went, ruining me, causing me infinite unhappiness, she said (for at that time I had already done some articles and translations), “Ah, if only monsieur had engaged a well-educated little secretary who would have put all monsieur’s rolls of paper in order instead of that girl who only wastes his time,” perhaps I was wrong in thinking she was talking good sense. Perhaps Albertine had been more useful to me, even from the literary point of view, in making me lose my time and in causing me sorrow than a secretary who would have arranged my papers. But all the same, when a creature is so badly constituted (perhaps in nature that being is man) that he cannot love unless he suffers and that he must suffer to learn truth, the life of such a being becomes in the end very exhausting. The happy years are those that are wasted; we must wait for suffering to drive us to work. The idea of preliminary suffering is associated with that of work, we dread every fresh undertaking because we are thereby reminded of the pain in store for us before we can conceive it. And, realising that suffering is the best thing life has to offer, we think of death without horror and almost as a deliverance. And yet, if that thought was somewhat repellent to me, we have to be sure we have not played with life and profited by other people’s lives to write books but the exact opposite. The case of the noble Werther was, alas, not mine. Without believing an instant in Albertine’s love, twenty times I wanted to kill myself for her; I had ruined myself and destroyed my health for her. When it is a question of writing, we have to be scrupulous, look close and cast out what is not true. But when it is only a question of our own lives, we ruin ourselves, make ourselves ill, kill ourselves for the sake of lies. Of a truth, it is only out of the matrix of those lies (if one is too old to be a poet) that we can extract a little truth. Sorrows are obscure and hated servitors against whom we contend, under whose sway we fall more and more, sinister servitors whom we cannot replace but who by strange and devious ways lead us to truth and to death. Happy those who have encountered the former before the latter and for whom, closely as one may follow the other, the hour of truth sounds before the hour of death.
Furthermore, I realised that the most trivial episodes of my past life had combined to give me the lesson of idealism from which I was now going to profit. Had not my meetings with M. de Charlus, for instance, even before his Germanophilism had given me the same lesson, and better than my love for Mme de Guermantes or for Albertine, better than the love of Saint-Loup for Rachel, proved to me how little material matters, that everything can be made of it by thought, a verity that the phenomenon of sexual inversion, so little understood, so idly condemned, enhances even more than that of love of women, instructive as that is; the latter shows us beauty flying from the woman we no longer love and residing in a face which others consider extremely ugly, which indeed might have displeased us and probably will later on; but it is still more remarkable to observe such a face under the cap of an omnibus conductor, receiving all the homage of a grand seigneur, who has for that abandoned a beautiful princesse. Did not my astonishment each time that I again saw the face of Gilberte, of Mme de Guermantes, of Albertine in the Champs Elysées, in the street, on the shore, prove that a memory can only be prolonged in a direction which diverges from the impression with which it formerly coincided and from which it separates itself more and more. The writer must not mind if the invert gives his heroines a masculine visage. This peculiar aberration is the only means open to the invert of applying generality to what he reads. If M. de Charlus had not given Morel’s face to the unfaithful one over whom Musset sheds tears in the Nuit d’Octobre or in the Souvenir, he would neither have wept nor understood since it was by that road alone, narrow and tortuous though it might be, that he had access to the verities of love. It is only through a custom which owes its origin to the insincere language of prefaces and dedications that a writer says “my reader”. In reality, every reader, as he reads, is the reader of himself. The work of the writer is only a sort of optic instrument which he offers to the reader so that he may discern in the book what he would probably not have seen in himself. The recognition of himself in the book by the reader is the proof of its truth and vice-versa, at least in a certain measure, the difference between the two texts being often less attributable to the author than to the reader. Further, a book may be too learned, too obscure for the simple reader, and thus be only offering him a blurred glass with which he cannot read. But other peculiarities (like inversion) might make it necessary for the reader to read in a certain way in order to read well; the author must not take offence at that but must, on the contrary, leave the reader the greatest liberty and say to him: “Try whether you see better with this, with that, or with another glass.”
If I have always been so much interested in dreams, is it not because, compensating duration with intensity they help us to understand better what is subjective in love? And this by the simple fact that they render real with prodigious speed what is vulgarly called nous mettre une femme dans la peau to the point of falling passionately in love for a few minutes with an ugly one, which in real life would require years of habit, of union and — as though they had been invented by some miraculous doctor — intravenal injections of love as they can also be of suffering; with equal speed the amorous suggestion is dissipated and sometimes not only the nocturnal beloved has ceased to be such and has again become the familiar ugly one but something more precious is also dissipated, a whole picture of ravishing sentiments, of tenderness, of delight, of regrets, vaguely communicated to the mind, a whole shipload of passion for Cythera of which we should take note against the moment of waking up, shades of a beautiful truth which are effaced like a painting too dim to restore. Well, perhaps it was also because of the extraordinary tricks dreams play with time! that they fascinated me so much. Had I not in a single night, in one minute of a night, seen days of long ago which had been relegated to those great distances where we can distinguish hardly any of the sentiments we then felt, melt suddenly upon me, blinding me with their brightness as though they were giant aeroplanes instead of the pale stars we believed, making me see again all they had once held for me, giving me back the emotion, the shock, the vividness of their immediate nearness, then recede, when I woke, to the distance they had miraculously traversed, so that one believes, mistakenly however, that they are one of the means of recovering lost Time.
I had realised that only grossly erroneous observation places everything in the object while everything is in the mind; I had lost my grandmother in reality many months after I had lost her in fact, I had seen the aspect of people vary according to the idea that I or others formed of them, a single person become many according to the number of people who saw him (the various Swanns at the beginning of this work according to who met him; the Princesse de Luxembourg according to whether she was seen by the first President or by me) even according to a single person over many years (the variations of Guermantes and Swann in my own experience). I had seen love endow another with that which is only in the one who loves. And I had realised all this the more because I had stretched to its extreme limits the distance between objective reality and love; (Rachel from Saint-Loup’s point of view and from mine, Albertine from mine and from Saint-Loup’s, Morel or the omnibus conductor or other people from M. de Charlus’ point of view). Finally, in a certain measure the germanophilism of M. de Charlus, like the gaze of Saint-Loup at the photograph of Albertine, had helped me for a moment to detach myself, if not from my germanophobia at least from my belief in its pure objectivity and to make me think that perhaps it was with hate as with love and that in the terrible sentence which France is now pronouncing on Germany, whom she regards as outside the pale of humanity, there is an objectivity of feeling like that which made Rachel and Albertine seem so precious, the one to Saint-Loup, the other to me. What made it seem possible, in fact, that this wickedness was not entirely intrinsic to Germany was that I myself had experienced successive loves at the end of which the object of each one appeared to have no value and I had also seen my country experience successive hates which had caused to appear as traitors — a thousand times worse than the Germans to whom these traitors were supposed to be betraying France — Dreyfusards like Reinach with whom patriots were now collaborating against a country every member of which was necessarily a liar, a ferocious beast and an imbecile except, of course, those Germans who had espoused the French cause such as the King of Roumania and the Empress of Russia. It is true that the anti-Dreyfusard, would have replied: “It is not the same thing.” But, as a matter of fact, it never is the same thing, any more than it is the same person; were that not so, in the presence of an identical phenomenon he who is its dupe could not believe that qualities or defects are inherent in it and would only blame his own subjective condition.
The intellect has no difficulty, then, in basing a theory upon this difference (the teaching of the congregations according to Radicals, is against nature, it is impossible for the Jewish race to assimilate nationalism, the secular hatred of the Germans for the Latin race, the yellow races being momentarily rehabilitated). That subjective influence was equally marked among neutral Germanophiles who had lost the faculty of understanding or even of listening, the instant the German atrocities in Belgium were spoken of. (And, after all, there were real ones.) I remarked that the subjective nature of hatred as in vision itself, did not prevent the object possessing real qualities or defects and in no way caused reality to disappear in a pure “relativeness”. And if, after so many years and so much lost time, I felt the stirring of this vital pool within humanity even in international relationships, had I not apprehended it at the very beginning of my life when I read one of Bergotte’s novels in the Combray garden and even if to-day I turn those forgotten pages, and see the schemes of a wicked character, I cannot lay down the book until I assure myself, by skipping a hundred pages, that towards the end the villain is duly humiliated and lives long enough to know that his sinister purposes have been foiled. For I could no longer recall what happened to the characters, in that respect not unlike those who will be seen this afternoon at Mme de Guermantes’, the past life of whom, at all events of many of them, is as shadowy as though I had read of them in a half-forgotten novel.
Did the Prince of Agrigente end by marrying Mlle X? Or was it not the brother of Mlle X who was to marry the sister of the Prince of Agrigente, or was I confusing them with something I had once read or dreamed? The dream remained one of the facts of my life which had most impressed me, which had most served to convince me of the purely mental character of reality, a help I should not despise in the composition of my work. When I lived for love in a somewhat more disinterested fashion, a dream would bring my grandmother singularly close to me, making her cover great spaces of lost time, and so with Albertine whom I began to love again because, in my sleep, she had supplied me with an attenuated version of the story of the laundress. I believed that dreams might sometimes in this way be the carriers of truths and impressions that my unaided effort or encounters in the outside world could not bring me, that they would arouse in me that desire or yearning for certain non-existent things which is the condition for work, for abstraction from habit and for detaching oneself from the concrete. I should not disdain this second, this nocturnal muse, who might sometimes replace the other.
I had seen aristocrats become vulgar when their minds (like that of the Duc de Guermantes for instance) were vulgar. “You aren’t shy?” he asked, as Cottard might have done. In medicine, in the Dreyfus affair, during the war, I had seen people believe that truth is a thing owned and possessed by ministers and doctors, a yea or a nay which has no need of interpretation, which enables a radiographie plate to indicate, without interpretation, what is the matter with an invalid, which enables those in power to know that Dreyfus was guilty, to know (without despatching Roques to investigate on the spot) whether Sarrail had the necessary resources to advance at the same time as the Russians. There had not been an hour of my life which might not have thus served to teach me, as I have said, that only crudely erroneous perception places everything in the object; while, to the contrary, everything is in the mind. In short, if I reflected, the matter of my experience came to me from Swann, not simply through what concerned himself and Gilberte. It was he who, ever since the Combray days, had given me the desire to go to Balbec, where, but for him, my parents would never have had the notion of sending me and but for which I should never have known Albertine. True, I associated certain things with her face as I saw her first, gazing towards the sea. In one sense I was right in associating them with her for if I had not walked by the sea that day, if I had not known her, all those ideas would not have developed (unless, at least, they had been developed by another). I was wrong again because that inspiring pleasure we like to identify retrospectively with the beautiful countenance of a woman, comes from our senses and, in any case, it was quite certain that Albertine, the then Albertine, would not have understood the pages I should write. But it was just on that account, (and that is a warning not to live in too intellectual an atmosphere) because she was so different from me that she had made me productive through suffering, and, at first, even through the simple effort required to imagine that which differs from oneself. Had she been able to understand these pages, she would have been unable to inspire them. But without Swann I should not even have known the Guermantes, since my grandmother would not have rediscovered Mme de Villeparisis, I should not have made the acquaintance of Saint-Loup and of M. de Charlus which in turn caused me to know the Duchesse de Guermantes and, through her, her cousin, so that my very presence at this moment at the Prince de Guermantes’ from which suddenly sprang the idea of my work (thus making me owe Swann not only the matter but the decision) also came to me from Swann, a rather flimsy pedestal to support the whole extension of my life. (In that sense, this Guermantes side derived from Swann’s side.) But very often the author of a determining course in our lives is a person much inferior to Swann, in fact, a completely indifferent individual. It would have sufficed for some schoolfellow or other to tell me about a girl it would be nice for me to meet at Balbec (where in all probability I should not have met her) to make me go there. So it often happens that later on one runs across a schoolfellow one does not like and shakes hands with him without realising that the whole subsequent course of one’s life and work has sprung from his chance remark: “You ought to come to Balbec.” We feel no gratitude toward him nor does that prove us ungrateful. For in uttering those words he in no wise foresaw the tremendous consequences they might entail for us. The first impulse having been given, one’s sensibility and intelligence exploited the circumstances which engendered each other without his any more foreseeing my union with Albertine than the masked ball at the Guermantes’. Doubtless, his agency was necessary and, through it, the exterior form of our life, even the raw material of our work sprang from him. Had it not been for Swann, my parents would never have had the idea of sending me to Balbec but that did not make him responsible for the sufferings which he indirectly caused me; these were due to my own weakness as his had been responsible for the pain Odette caused him. But in thus determining the life I was to lead, he had thereby excluded all the lives I might otherwise have lived. If Swann had not told me about Balbec I should never have known Albertine, the hotel dining-room, the Guermantes. I should have gone elsewhere; I should have known other people, my memory like my books would have been filled with quite different pictures, which I cannot even imagine but whose unknowable novelty allures me and makes me sorry I was not drawn that way and that Albertine, the Balbec shore, Rivebelle and the Guermantes did not remain unknown to me for ever.
Jealousy is a good recruiting sergeant who, when there is an empty space in our picture, goes and finds the girl we want in the street. She may not be pretty at first, but she soon fills the blank and becomes so when we get jealous of her.
Once we are dead we shall get no pleasure from our picture being so complete. But this thought is in no way discouraging for we feel that life is rather more complex than is generally supposed, likewise circumstances and and there is a pressing need of proving this complexity. Jealousy is not necessarily born from a look, from something we hear or as the result of reflection; we can find it ready for us between the leaves of a directory — what in Paris is called Tout-Paris and in the country The Annuaire des Châteaux. Absent-mindedly, we had heard that a certain pretty girl we no longer thought about, had gone to pay a visit of some days to her sister in the Pas-de-Calais. With equal indifference it had occurred to us previously that, possibly, this pretty girl had been made love to by M. E. whom she never saw now because she no longer frequented the bar where she used to meet him. Who and what might her sister be, a maid perhaps? From discretion, we had never asked her. And now, lo and behold! Opening by chance the Annuaire des Châteaux we discover that M. E. owns a country house in the Pas-de-Calais near Dunkerque. There is no further room for doubt; to please the pretty girl, he has taken her sister as a maid, and if the pretty girl does not see him any more in the bar it is because he has her come to his house and, though he lives in Paris nearly the whole year round, he cannot dispense with her even while he is in the Pas-de-Calais. The paint-brushes, drunk with rage and love, paint and paint. But supposing, after all, it is not that, supposing that really M. E. did not any longer see the pretty girl and had only recommended her sister to his brother who lives the whole year round in the Pas-de-Calais, so that, by chance, she has gone to see her sister at a time when M. E. is not there, seeing that they had ceased to care for each other. Unless indeed the sister is nota maid in the Château or anywhere else but that her family happens to live in the Pas-de-Calais. Our original distress surrenders to the latest supposition which soothes our jealousy. But what does that matter? Jealousy buried within the pages of the Annuaire des Châteaux has come just at the right moment, for now the empty space in the canvas has been filled and the whole picture has been capitally composed, thanks to jealousy having evoked the apparition of the pretty girl whom we neither care for nor are jealous of.
At that moment the butler came to tell me that the first piece was over and that I could leave the library and enter the drawing-rooms. That reminded me of where I was. But I was in no wise disturbed in my argument by the fact that a fashionable entertainment, a return into society, provided the point of departure towards a new life I had been unable to find the way to in solitude. There was nothing extraordinary about this, an influence which had roused the eternal man in me being no more necessarily linked to solitude than to society (as I had once believed, as perhaps was the case formerly, as perhaps it might still have been, if I had developed harmoniously instead of having suffered that long break which only now seemed to be reaching its end). For, as I only felt that impression of beauty when there was imposed upon the actual sensation however insignificant, another akin to it which, spontaneously reborn in me, expanded the first one simultaneously over several periods and filled my soul, in which my ordinary single sensations left a void, with a generalising essence, there was no reason why I should not just as well receive such sensations from society as from nature, since they occur haphazard, provoked doubtless by a peculiar excitement owing to which, on days when one happens to be outside the normal course of one’s life, even the most simple things begin to cause reactions which habit spares our nervous system. My purpose was to discover the objective reason of its being exactly and only that class of sensations which must lead to a work of art, by pursuing the reflections I had been bent on linking together in the library, for I felt that the emancipation of my spiritual life was now complete enough for me to be able to sustain my thought in the midst of guests in the drawing-room just as well as alone in the library; I should know how to preserve my solitude from that point of view even in the midst of that numerous company. Indeed, for the same reason that great events in the outer world have no influence upon our mental powers and that a mediocre writer living in an epic period will, nevertheless, remain a mediocre writer what was dangerous in society was the worldly disposition one brought to it. But, of itself, it will no more make us mediocre than a war of heroes can make a bad poet sublime. In any case, whether it was theoretically advantageous or not that a work of art should be thus constituted, and awaiting the further examination of that question, it was undeniable so far as I was concerned, that when any really aesthetic intuitions came to me it had always been as a result of sensations of that nature. True, they had been rare enough in my life but they dominated it, and I could recover from the past some of those heights I had mistakenly allowed myself to lose sight of (and I did not mean to do so again). This much I could now say, that if in my case this was an idiosyncrasy due to the exclusive significance it had for me, I was reassured by discovering that it was related to characteristics less marked yet discernible and fundamentally analogous in the case of certain writers. Is not the most beautiful part of the Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe assimilable with my sensations relative to the madeleine: “Yesterday evening I was walking alone. . . . I was drawn from my reflections by the warbling of a thrush perched upon the highest branch of a birch tree. At that instant the magical sound brought my paternal home before my eyes; I forgot the catastrophes of which I had been a witness and, transported suddenly into the past, I saw again that country where I had so often heard the thrush sing.” And is not this, one of the two or three most beautiful passages in the Mémoires: “A delicate and subtle odour of heliotrope was exhaled by a cluster of scarlet runners in flower; that odour was not brought us by a breeze from the homeland but by a wild Newfoundland wind, without relation to the exiled plant, without sympathy with memory and joy. In that perfume which beauty had not breathed nor purified in its breast nor spread abroad upon its path, in that perfume permeated by the light of dawn, of culture and of life, there was all the melancholy of regret, of exile and of youth.” One of the masterpieces of French literature Sylvie by Gérard de Nerval, contains, in regard to Combourg, just like the Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe, a sensation of the same order as the taste of the madeleine and the warbling of the thrush. Finally, in the case of Baudelaire, such reminiscences are still — more numerous, evidently less fortuitous and consequently, in my opinion, decisive. It is the poet himself who with greater variety and leisure seeks consciously in the odour of a woman, of her hair and of her breast, those inspiring analogies which evoke for him “l’azur du ciel immense et rond“ and “un port rempli de flammes et de mâts“. I was seeking to recall those of Baudelaire’s verses which are based upon the transposition of such sensations, so that I might place myself in so noble a company and thus obtain confirmation that the work I no longer had any hesitation in undertaking, merited the effort I intended to consecrate to it, when, reaching the foot of the staircase leading from the library, I found myself all of a sudden in the great salon and in the midst of a fête which seemed to me entirely different from those I had formerly attended and which began to disclose a peculiar aspect and to assume a new significance. From the instant I entered the great salon, in spite of my firmly retaining within myself the point I had reached in the project I had been forming, a startlingly theatrical sensation burst upon my senses which was to raise the gravest obstacles to my enterprise. Obstacles I should, doubtless, surmount but which, while I continued to muse upon the conditions of a work of art, were about to interrupt my reasoning by the repetition a hundred times over of the consideration most calculated to make me hesitate. At the first moment I did not understand why I failed to recognise the master of the house and his guests, why they all appeared to have “made a head”, generally powdered, which completely changed them. The Prince, receiving his guests, still preserved that air of a jolly king of the fairies he suggested to my mind the first time I saw him, but now, having apparently submitted to the disguise he had imposed upon his guests, lie had tricked himself out in a white beard and dragged his feet heavily along as though they were soled with lead. He seemed to be representing one of the ages of man. His moustache was whitened as though the hoar-frost in Tom Thumb’s forest clung to it. It seemed to inconvenience his stiffened mouth and once he had produced his effect, he ought to have taken it off. To tell the truth, I only recognised him by reasoning out his identity with himself from certain familiar features. I could not imagine what that little Lezensac had put on his face, but while others had grown white, some as to half of their beard, some only as to their moustaches, he had found means, without the help of dyes, to cover his face with wrinkles and his eyebrows with bristling hairs; moreover, all this suited him ill, his countenance seemed to have hardened and bronzed and he wore an appearance of solemnity that aged him so much that he could no longer be taken for a young man. At the same moment I was astonished to hear addressed as Duc de Chatellerault a little old man with the silver moustache of an ambassador of whom only the slightest likeness reminded me of the young man whom I had once met calling on Mme de Villeparisis. In the case of the first person whom I succeeded in identifying by abstracting his natural features from his travesty by an effort of memory, my first thought ought to have been and perhaps was, for an instant, to congratulate him on being so marvellously made up that, at first, one had the same sort of hesitation in recognising him as is felt by an audience which, though informed by the programme, remains for a moment dumbfounded and then bursts into applause when some great actor, taking a part in which he looks completely different from himself, walks on to the stage. From that point of view the most extraordinary of all was my personal enemy M. d’Argencourt; he was, verily, the clou of the party. Not only had he replaced a barely silvered beard by one of incredible whiteness, he had so tricked himself out by those little material changes which reconstitute and exaggerate personality and, more than that, apparently modify character, that this man, whose pompous and starchy stiffness still lingered in my memory, had changed into an old beggar who inspired no respect, an aged valetudinarian so authentic that his limbs trembled and the swollen features, once so arrogant, kept on smiling with silly beatitude. Pushed to this degree, the art of disguise becomes something more, it becomes a transformation. Indeed, some trifles might certify that it was actually M. d’Argencourt who offered this indescribable and picturesque spectacle, but how many successive facial states should I not have had to trace if I wanted to reconstruct the physiognomy of M. d’Argencourt whom I had formerly known and who had now succeeded, although he only had the use of his own body, in producing something so entirely different. It was obviously the extreme limit that haughtiest of faces could reach without disintegration, while that stiffest of figures was no more than a boiled rag shaking about from one spot to another. It was only by the most fleeting memory of a particular smile which formerly sometimes tempered for an instant M. d’Argencourt’s arrogant demeanour, that one realised the possibility that this smile of an old, broken-down, second-hand clothes-dealer might represent the punctilious gentleman of former days. But even admitting it was M. d’Argencourt’s intention to use the old meaning smile, the prodigious transformation of his face, the very matter of the eye with which he expressed it had become so different that the expression was that of another. I almost burst into laughter as I looked at this egregious old guy, as emolliated in his comical caricature of himself as M. de Charlus, paralysed and polite, was tragical. M d’Argencourt, in his incarnation of a moribund buffoon by Regnard, exaggerated by Labiche, was as easy of access, as urbane as was the King Lear of M. de Charlus who uncovered himself with deference before the most commonplace acquaintance who saluted him. All the same, I refrained from expressing my admiration for the remarkable performance. It was less my former antipathy which prevented me than his having reached a condition so different from himself that I had the illusion of standing before another as amiable, disarming and inoffensive as the Argencourt of former days was supercilious, hostile and nefarious. So entirely a different personage that, watching this snow-man imitating General Dourakine falling into second childhood, grinning so ineffably comic and white, it seemed to me that a human being could undergo metamorphoses as complete as those of certain insects. I had the impression of observing through the glass of a showcase in a natural history museum what the sharpest and most stable features of an insect had turned into and I could no longer feel the sentiments which M. d’Argencourt had always inspired in me when I stood looking at this soft chrysalis which rather vibrated than moved. So I kept my silence, I did not congratulate M. d’Argencourt on offering a spectacle which seemed to assign the limits within which the transformation of the human body can operate. Certainly, in the wings of a theatre or during a costume ball, politeness inclines one to exaggerate the difficulty, even to go so far as to affirm the impossibility of recognising the person in travesty. Here, on the contrary an instinct warned me that dissimulation was demanded, that these compliments would have been the reverse of flattering because such a transformation was not intended and I realised what I had not dreamed of when I entered this drawing-room, that every entertainment, however simple, when it takes place long after one has ceased to go into society and however few of those one has formerly known it brings together, gives the effect of a costume ball and the most successful one of all, at which one is truly puzzled by others, for the heads have been in the making for a long time without their wishing it and cannot be got rid of by toilet operations when the party is over. Puzzled by others! Alas! We ourselves puzzle them. The difficulty I experienced in putting the required name to the faces around me seemed to be shared by all those who perceived mine, for they paid no more attention to me than if they had never seen me before or were trying to disentangle from my appearance the memory of someone else.
M. d’Argencourt’s success with this astonishing “turn”, certainly the most striking picture in his burlesque I could possibly have of him, was like an actor who makes a last appearance on the stage before the curtain falls amidst roars of laughter. If I no longer felt any antagonism to him, it was because he had returned to the innocence of babyhood and had no recollection of his contemptuous opinion of me, no recollection of having seen M. de Charlus suddenly leave go of my arm, whether because none of those sentiments survived in him or because in order to reach me they would have been so deformed by physical refractions that their meaning would have completely changed on the way, so that M. d’Argencourt appeared to have become amiable because he no longer had the power to express his malevolence and to curb his chronic and irritating hilarity. To compare him with an actor is an overstatement for, having no conscious mind at all, he was like a shaky doll with a woollen beard stuck on his face pottering about the room, like a scientific or philosophical marionette mimicking a part in a funeral ceremony or a lecture at the Sorbonne, simultaneously illustrating the vanity of all things and representing a natural history specimen. A Punch and Judy show of puppets, of which one could only identify those one had known by viewing them simultaneously at several levels graded in the background, which gave them depth and forced one to the mental effort of combining eye and memory as one gazed at these old phantoms. A Punch and Judy show of puppets bathed in the immaterial colours of years, of puppets which exteriorised Time, Time usually invisible, which to attain visibility seeks and fastens on bodies to exhibit wherever it can, with its magic lantern. Immaterial like Golo on the door-handle of my room at Combray, the new and unrecognisable M. d’Argencourt was a revelation of Time by rendering it partially visible. In the new elements composing M. d’Argencourt’s face and personality one could read a sum of years, one could recognise the symbolical figure of life, not permanent as it appears to us, but as it is, a constantly changing atmosphere in which the haughty nobleman caricatures himself in the evening as an old clothes-dealer.
In the case of others these changes, these positive transformations seemed to proceed from the sphere of natural history and it was surprising to hear a name applied to a person, not, as in the case of M. d’Argencourt, with the characteristics of a new and different species but with the exterior features of another person altogether. As in the case of M. d’Argencourt there were unsuspected potentialities which time had elicited from such and such a young girl, and though these potentialities were purely physiognomical or corporeal, they seemed to have moral implications. If the features of a face change, if they unite differently, if they contract slowly but continuously, they assume, with that changed aspect, another significance. Thus, a particular woman who had formerly given one an impression of aridity and shallowness and who had now acquired an enlargement of the cheeks and an unforeseeable bridge on her nose occasioned the same surprise, often an agreeable one, as a sensitive and thoughtful remark, a fine and highminded act which one would never have expected of her. Unhoped for horizons opened around that new nose. Kindness and tenderness, formerly undreamed of became possible with those cheeks. From that chin one might hope for things unimaginable from the preceding one. These new facial features implied altered traits of character; the hard, scraggy girl had become a buxom, generous dowager. It was not in the zoological sense like M. d’Argencourt, but in the social and moral sense that one could say she had become a different person. In all these ways an afternoon party such as this was something much more valuable than a vision of the past for it offered me something better than the successive pictures I had missed of the past separating itself from the present, namely, the relationship between the present and the past; it was like what used to be called a panopticon but a panopticon of years, a view not of a monument but of a person situated in the modifying perspective of Time.
The woman whose lover M. d’Argencourt had been, was not much changed, if one reckoned the time that had passed, that is, her face was not so completely demolished into that of a creature which has continuously disintegrated throughout his journey into the abyss, the direction of which we can only express by equally vain comparisons since we can only borrow them from the world of space and which, whether we estimate them in terms of height or length or depth have only the merit of conveying to us that this inconceivable yet perceptible dimension exists. The need, so as to give a name to a face, of what amounted to climbing up the years, compelled me later to reconstruct retrospectively the years about which I had never thought, so as to give them their proper order. From this point of view and so as not to allow myself to be deceived by the apparent identity of space, the perfectly new aspect of a being like M. d’Argencourt was a striking revelation of the reality of the era which generally seems an abstraction, in the same way as dwarf trees or giant baobabs illustrate a change of latitude. Then life appears to us like a fairyland where one can watch the baby becoming adolescent, man becoming mature and inclining to the grave. And, since it is through perpetual change that one grasps that these beings, observed at considerable intervals, are so different, one realises that one has been obeying the same law as these creatures which are so transformed that they no longer resemble, though they have never ceased to be — just because they have never ceased to be — what we thought them before,
A young woman I had formerly known, now snow-white and reduced to a little malevolent old woman, seemed to prove that, in the final act, it was necessary that characters should be made up to be unrecognisable. But her brother had remained so erect, so exactly as he was, that the whitening of his upturned moustache seemed surprising on so young a face. The snowy whiteness of beards which had been completely black made the human landscape of that afternoon party melancholy as do the first brown leaves of a summer one has hardly begun enjoying when autumn comes. Thus I who from infancy, had lived from day to day, with a sort of fixed idea of myself derived from others as well as myself, perceived for the first time, after witnessing the metamorphosis of all these people, that the time which had gone by for them, had gone by for me also and this revelation threw me into consternation. Indifferent as their ageing was to me, now that theirs heralded the approach of my own, I was disconsolate. This approach was indeed announced by one verbal blow after another at intervals, which sounded to my ears like blasts from the trumpets of Judgment Day. The first was uttered by the Duchesse de Guermantes; I had just seen her pass between a double row of gaping people who, without realising how the marvellous artifice of her dress and aesthetic worked on them, moved by the sight of her scarlet head, her salmon-like flesh strangled with jewels just emerging from its black lace fins, gazed at the hereditary sinuosity of her figure as they might have done at some ancient jewel-bedecked fish in which the protective genius of the Guermantes’ family was incarnated. “Ah!” she exclaimed on seeing me, “what a joy to see you, you my oldest friend!” In my youthful vanity of Combray days which never permitted me to count myself among her friends who actually shared that mysterious Guermantes’ life, one of her accredited friends like M. de Bréauté or M. de Forestille or Swann, like so many who were dead, I might have been flattered but, instead, I was extremely miserable. “Her oldest friend!” I thought, “She’s exaggerating, perhaps one of the oldest but am I really —” At that moment one of the Prince’s nephews came up to me and remarked: “You who are an old Parisian.” An instant later a note was brought me. I had, on my arrival, seen one of the young Létourvilles whose relationship to the Duchesse I could not remember but who knew me a little. He had just left Saint-Cyr and thinking to myself he would be a charming acquaintance like Saint-Loup, who could initiate me into military affairs and their incidental changes, I had told him I would find him later so that we could arrange to dîne together, for which he thanked me effusively. But I had remained dreaming in the library too long and the note he had left was to tell me that he was not able to wait and gave me his address. This coveted comrade ended his letter thus: “With respectful regard, your young friend, Létourville”. “Young friend!” Thus I used formerly to address people thirty years older than myself, Legrandin, for instance. That sub-lieutenant whom I was regarding as a comrade called himself my young friend. So it was not only military methods which had changed since then and from M. de Létourville’s standpoint I was not a comrade but an old gentleman and I was separated from M. de Létourville to whom I imagined that I appeared as I did to myself as though by the opening arms of an invisible compass which placed me at such a distance from that young sub-lieutenant that to him who called himself my young friend I was an elderly gentleman.
Almost immediately afterwards someone spoke of Bloch and I asked if they were talking of young Bloch or his father (of whose death during the war I was unaware). It was said he died of emotion when France was invaded. “I did not know that he had any children, not even that he was married,” said the Duchesse, “but evidently it is the father we’re talking about for there’s nothing young about him.” She added, laughing, “He might have grown-up sons.” Then I realised she was talking about my old friend. As it happened, he came in a few minutes later and I had difficulty in recognising him. He had now adopted the name of Jacques du Rozier, under which it would have needed the nose of my grandfather to scent the sweet valley of Hebron and the bond of Israel which my friend seemed to have finally broken. A modish Englishness had completely changed his appearance and every thing that could be effaced was moulded into the semblance of a plaster cast. His former curly hair was now smoothed out flat, was parted in the middle and shone with cosmetics. His nose was still red and prominent and appeared to be swollen by a sort of permanent catarrh which perhaps explained the nasal accent with which he lazily drawled his phrases, for, he had discovered, in addition to a way of doing his hair to suit his complexion, a voice to the former nasal tone of which he had added an air of peculiar disdain to suit the inflamed contours of his nose. And thanks to hairdressing, to the elimination of his moustache, to his smartness of style and to his will, that Jewish nose had disappeared as a hump can almost be made to look like a straight back by being carefully disguised. But the significance of Bloch’s physiognomy was changed above all by a redoubtable eyeglass. The mechanical effect produced in Bloch’s face by this monocle enabled him to dispense with all those difficult duties to which the human countenance must submit, that of looking amiable, of expressing humour, good nature and effort. Its mere presence in Bloch’s face made it unnecessary to consider whether it was good-looking or not, like when a shop-assistant shows you an English object and says it is “le grand chic”, and you don’t dare consider whether you like it or not. And then he installed himself behind his glass in a haughty, distant and comfortable attitude as though it were an eight-fold mirror, and by making his face suit his flat hair and his eyeglass his features no longer expressed anything whatever. On that face of Bloch’s were super-imposed that vapid and self-opinionated expression, those feeble movements of the head which soon find their point of stasis, and with which I should have identified the out-worn learning of a complacent old gentleman if I had not at last recognised that the man facing me was an old friend, whom my memories had endowed with the continuous vigour of youth which he seemed now completely to lack. I had known him on the threshold of life, he had been my school-fellow and unconsciously, I was regarding him, like myself, as though we were both living in the period of our youth. I heard it said that he looked quite his age and I was surprised to notice some familiar signs of it in his face. Then I realised that, in fact, he was old and that life makes its old men out of adolescents who last many years.
Someone hearing I was not well asked if I was not afraid to catch the “grippe” which was raging at that time while another benevolent individual reassured me by remarking: “Don’t be afraid, it only attacks the young, people of your age don’t run much risk of it.” I noticed that the servants had recognised me and whispered my name, and a lady said she had heard them remark in their vernacular: “There goes old —” (This was followed by my name.)
On hearing the Duchesse de Guermantes say, “Of course! I knew the Marshal? But I knew others who were much more representative, the Duchesse de Galliera, Pauline de Périgord, Mgr. Dupanloup,” I naively regretted not having known those she called relics of the ancien régime. I ought to have remembered that we call ancien regime what we have only known the end of; what is perceived thus on the horizon assumes a mysterious grandeur and seems the last chapter of a world we shall never see again; but as we go on it is soon we ourselves who are on the horizon for the generations behind us, the horizon continues to recede and the world which seemed finished begins again. “When I was a young girl,” added Mme de Guermantes, “I even saw the Duchesse de Dino. I’m no longer twenty-five, you know.” Her last words displeased me; she need not have said that, it would have been all right for an old woman. “As to yourself,” she continued, “you’re always the same, you haven’t, so to speak, changed at all,” and that gave me almost more pain than if she had said the contrary for it proved, by the mere fact of being remarkable, how much time had passed. “You’re astonishing, my dear friend. You’re always young,” a melancholy remark since there is only sense in it when we have, in fact, if not in appearance, become old. And she gave me a final blow by adding: “I’ve always regretted you did not get married. But, who knows! After all, perhaps you’re happier as it is. You would have been old enough to have sons in the war and if they had been killed like poor Robert Saint-Loup (I often think of him) with your sensitiveness, you would not have survived them.” And I could see myself as in the first truth-telling mirror I might encounter in the eyes of old men who had in their own opinion remained young as I believed I had, and who when I offered myself as an example of old age, in order that they should deny it, would by the look they gave me, show not the slightest pretence that they saw me otherwise than they saw themselves. For we do not see ourselves as we are, our age as it is, but each of us sees it in the other as though in a mirror. And, no doubt, many would have been less unhappy than I to realise they were old. At first, some face age as they do death, with indifference, not because they have more courage than others but because they have less imagination. But a man who, since boyhood has had one single idea in his mind, whose idleness and delicate health, just because they cause the postponement of its realisation, annul each wasted day because the disease which hastens the ageing of his body retards that of his spirit, such a man is more overwhelmed when he realises that he has never ceased living in Time than another who, having no inner life, regulates himself by the calendar and does not suddenly discover the aggregate of years he has been daily though unconsciously adding up. But there .was a graver reason for my pain; I discovered that destructive action of Time at the very moment when I wanted to elucidate, to intellectualise extra-temporal realities in a work of art.
In the case of certain people present at this party, the successive substitution of cellules had brought about so complete a change during my absence from society, such an entire metamorphosis, that I could have dined opposite them in a restaurant a hundred times without any more imagining I had formerly known them than I could have guessed the royalty of an incognito sovereign or the vice of a stranger. The comparison is inadequate in the matter of names, for one can imagine an unknown seated in front of you being a criminal or a king whilst those I had known, or rather, the people I had known who bore their name, were so different that I could not believe them the same. Nevertheless, as I would have done in taking the idea of sovereignty or of vice as a starting-point which soon makes us discern in the stranger (whom one might so readily have treated with amiability or the reverse while one was blindfolded) a distinguished or suspicious appearance, I applied myself to introducing into the face of a woman entirely unknown to me the idea that she was Mme Sazerat. And I ended by establishing my former notion of this face which would have remained utterly unknown to me, entirely that of another woman, as it had lost as fully the human attributes I had known as though it were that of a man changed into a monkey, were it not that the name and the statement of her identity put me in the way of solving the problem in spite of its difficulty. Sometimes, however, the old picture came to life with sufficient precision for me to confront the two and like a witness in the presence of an accused person, I had to say: “No, I do not recognise her.”
A young woman asked me: “Shall we go and dine together at a restaurant?” and when I replied: “With pleasure, if you don’t mind dining alone with a young man,” I heard the people round me giggle and I added hastily, “or rather with an old one.” I realised that the words which caused the laughter were of the kind my mother might have used in speaking of me; for my mother I always remained a child and I perceived that I was looking at myself from her point of view. Had I registered, as she did, changes since my childhood, they would have been very old ones for I had stopped at the point where people once used to say, almost before it was true, “Now he really is almost a young man.” That was what I was now thinking but tremendously late. I had not perceived how much I had changed but how did the people who laughed at me know? I had not a grey hair, my moustache was black. I should have liked to ask them how this awful fact revealed itself. And now I understood what old age was — old age, which, of all realities, is perhaps the one of which we retain a purely abstract notion for the longest time, looking at calendars, dating our letters, seeing our friends get married, the children of our friends, without realising its significance, whether through dread or through idleness, until the day when an unknown effigy like M. d’Argencourt teaches us that we are living in a new world; until the when we, who seem to him like his grandfather, treat the grandson of one of our women friends as a comrade and he laughs as though at a joke. And then I understood what is f meant by death, love, joys of the mind, usefulness of sorrow and vocation. For if names had lost their meaning for me, words had unfolded it. The beauty of images is lodged at the back of things, that of ideas in front, so that the first no longer cause us wonder when we reach them and we only understand the second when we have passed beyond them.
The cruel discovery I had now made regarding the lapse of Time could only enrich my ideas and add to the material of my book. Since I had decided that it could not consist only of pure intuitions, namely those beyond Time, amongst the verities with which I intended to frame them, those which are concerned with Time, Time, in which men, societies and nations bathe and change, would have an important place. I should not be mindful only of those alterations to which the aspect of human beings must submit, of which new examples presented themselves at every moment, for still considering my work now begun with decision strong enough to resist temporary distraction, I continued to say, “How do you do?” and talk to people I knew. Age, moreover, had not marked all of them in similar fashion. Someone asked my name and I was told it was M. de Cambremer. To show he had recognised me he inquired: “Do you still suffer from those feelings of suffocation?” On my replying in the affirmative, he went on: “You see that that does not prevent longevity,” as though I were a centenarian. I was speaking to him with my eyes fixed upon two or three features which my thought was reducing to a synthesis of my memories of his personality quite different from what he now represented. He half turned his head for a moment and I then perceived that he had become unrecognisable owing to the adjunction to his cheeks of enormous red pockets which prevented him from opening his mouth and his eyes properly, so much so that I stood stupefied not wanting to show that I noticed this sort of anthrax to which it was more becoming that he should allude first. But since, like a courageous invalid, he made no allusion to it and laughed, I feared to seem lacking in feeling if I did not inquire and in tact if I did. “But don’t they come more rarely as one grows old?” he asked, referring to the suffocated feeling. I told him not. “Well, my sister has them much less now than formerly,” he remarked with an air of contradiction, as though it must be the same in my case, as though age were a remedy which had been good for Mme de Gaucourt and therefore salutary for me. Mme de Cambremer-Legrandin now approached and I felt more and more afraid of seeming insensitive in not deploring what I remarked on her husband’s face and yet I did not dare speak first. “You must be pleased to see him again,” she said. “Is he well?” I answered hesitatingly. “As you see,” she replied. She had never even noticed the growth which offended my vision and which was only another of the masks which Time had attached to the Marquis’ face, but so gradually and progressively that the Marquise had noticed nothing. When M. de Cambremer had finished questioning me about my attacks of suffocation it was my turn to ask someone, in a whisper, if the Marquis’ mother was still alive. She was. In appreciating the passage of time, it is only the first step that counts. At first it is painful to realise that so much time has passed, afterwards one is surprised it is not more. One begins by being unable to realise that the thirteenth century is so far away and afterwards finds difficulty in believing that any churches of that period survive though they are innumerable in France. In a few instants that slower process had taken place in me which happens to those who can scarcely believe a person they know is sixty and fifteen years later are equally incredulous when they hear he is still alive and no more than seventy-five. I asked M. de Cambremer how his mother was. “Splendid as ever,” he answered, using an adjective which to the contrary of those tribes which treat aged parents without pity applies in certain families to old people whose use of the physical faculties, such as hearing, walking to church and bearing bereavement without feeling depressed, endows them with extreme moral beauty in the eyes of their children.
If certain women proclaimed their age by make-up, certain men on whose faces I had never noticed cosmetics accentuated their age by ceasing to use them, now that they were no longer concerned to charm. Amongst these was Legrandin. The disappearance of the pink in his lips and cheeks which I had never suspected of being an artifice, gave his skin a grey hue and his long-drawn and mournful features the sculptured and lapidary precision of an Egyptian God. A God! More like one who had come back from the dead. He had not only lost the courage to paint himself but to smile, to put life into his manner and to talk with animation. It was astonishing to see him so pale, so beaten, only emitting a word now and then which had the insignificance of those uttered by the dead when they are evoked. One wondered what prevented him from being lively, talkative and entertaining, as at a séance, one is struck by the insignificant replies of the spirit of a man who was brilliant when he was alive, to questions susceptible of interesting developments. And one realised that old age had substituted a pale and tenuous phantom for the highly-coloured and alert Legrandin. Certain people’s hair had not gone white. I noticed this when the Prince de Guermantes’ old footman went to speak to his master. The ample whiskers which stood out from his cheeks had like his neck retained that red-pink which he could not be suspected of obtaining by dye like the Duchesse de Guermantes. But he did not seem less old on that account. One only felt that there are species of man like mosses and lichens in the vegetable kingdom which do not change at the approach of winter.
In the case of guests whose faces had remained intact, age showed itself in other ways; they only seemed to be inconvenienced when they had to walk; at first, something seemed wrong with their legs, later only, one grasped that age had attached soles of lead to their feet. Some, like the Prince of Agrigente, had been embellished by age. This tall, thin, dispirited-looking man with hair which seemed to remain eternally red, had, by means of a metamorphosis analogous to that of insects, been succeeded by an old man whose red hair, like a worn-out table-cloth had been replaced by white. His chest had assumed an unheard of and almost warrior-like protuberance which must have necessitated a regular bursting of the frail chrysalis I had known; a self-conscious gravity tinged his eyes which beamed with a newly acquired benevolence towards all and sundry. And as, in spite of the change in him, there was still a certain resemblance between the vigorous prince of now and the portrait my memory preserved, I was filled with admiration of the recreative power of Time which, while respecting the unity of the being and the laws of life, finds means of thus altering appearance and of introducing bold contrasts in two successive aspects of the same individual. Many people could be immediately identified but like rather bad portraits of themselves in which an unconscientious and malevolent artist had hardened the features of one, taken away the freshness of complexion or slightness of figure of another and darkened the look of a third. Comparing these images with those retained by my memory, I liked less those displayed to me now, in the same way as we dislike and refuse the photograph of a friend because we don’t consider it a pleasant likeness. I should have liked to say to each one of them who showed me his portrait: “No, not that one, it doesn’t do you justice, it isn’t you.” I should not have ventured to add: “Instead of your beautiful straight nose you have now got the hooked nose of your father”; it was, in fact, a new familial nose. In short, the artist Time had produced all these models in such a way as to be recognisable without being likenesses, not because he had flattered but because he had aged them. That particular artist works very slowly. Thus the replica of the face of Odette, a barely outlined sketch of which I perceived in that of Gilberte on the day I first saw Bergotte, had been worked by time into the most perfect resemblance (as will be seen shortly) like painters who keep a work a long time and add to it year by year. In several cases I recognised not only the people themselves but themselves as they used to be, like Ski, for instance, who was no more changed than a dried flower or fruit, a type of those amateur “celibates of art” who remain ineffectual and unfulfilled in their old age. Ski had, in thus remaining an incomplete experiment, confirmed my theories about art. Others similarly affected were in no sense amateurs; they were society people interested in nothing, whom age had not ripened and if it had drawn a curve of wrinkles round their faces and given them an arch of white hair, they yet remained chubby and retained the sprightliness of eighteen. They were not old men but extremely faded young men of eighteen. Little would have been needed to efface the withering effects of years, and death would have had no more trouble in giving youth back to their faces than is needed to restore a slightly soiled portrait to its original brightness. I reflected also on the illusion which dupes us into crediting an aged celebrity with virtue, justice and loveliness of soul, my feeling being that such famous people, forty years earlier, had been terrible young men and that there was no reason to suppose that they were not just as vain, cunning, self-sufficient and tricky now.
Yet in complete contrast with these last I was surprised when I conversed with men and women who were formerly unbearable, to discover that they had almost entirely lost their defects, whether because life had disappointed or satisfied their ambitions and thus freed them from presumption or from bitterness. A rich marriage which makes both effort and ostentation unnecessary, perhaps too the influence of a wife, a slowly-acquired sense of values other than those in which light-headed youth exclusively believes had enlarged their characters and brought out their qualities. With age such individuals seemed to have acquired a different personality like trees which seem to assume a new character with their autumnal tints. In their case age manifested itself as a form of morality they used not to possess, in the case of others it was physical in character and so new to me that a particular person such as Mme de Souvré, for instance, seemed simultaneously familiar and a stranger. A stranger for I could not believe it was she and, in responding to her bow, I could not help letting her notice my mental effort to establish which of three or four people (of whom Mme de Souvré was not one) I was bowing to with a warmth which must have astonished her for, in fear of being too distant if she were an intimate friend, I had made up for the uncertainty of my recognition by the warmth of my smiling handshake. On the other hand, her new aspect was familiar to me. It was one I had, in the course of my life, often observed in stout, elderly women without then suspecting that, many years before, they might have resembled Mme de Souvré. So different was this aspect from the one I had known in the past that I might have thought her a character in a fairy story which first appears as a young girl, then as a stout matron and finally, no doubt, turns into a tottering, bowbacked old woman. She looked like an exhausted swimmer far from shore who painfully manages to keep her head above the waves of time which were submerging her. After looking long at her irresolute face, wavering like a treacherous memory which cannot retain former appearances, I succeeded somehow in recovering something by indulging in a little game of eliminating the squares and hexagons which age had affixed to those cheeks. But it was by no means always geometrical figures that it affixed to the faces of the women. In the Duchesse de Guermantes’ cheeks which had remained remarkably unchanged though they now seemed compounded of nougat, I distinguished a trace of verdigris, a tiny bit of crushed shell and a fleshiness difficult to define because it was slighter than a mistletoe-berry and less transparent than a glass bead.
Some men walked lame and one knew it was not on account of a carriage accident but of a stroke and that they had, as people say, one foot in the grave. This was gaping for half-paralysed women like Mme de Franquetot who seemed to be unable to pull away their raiment caught in the stones of the vault, as though they could not recover their footing, with their heads held low, their bodies bent into a curve like the one between life and death they were now descending to their final extinction. Nothing could resist the movement of the parabola which was carrying them off, trying tremblingly to rise, their quivering fingers failed them. Certain faces under the hood of their white hair wore the rigidity, the sealed eyelids of those about to die, their constantly moving lips seemed to be mumbling the prayer of the dying.
If a face retained its linear form, white hair replacing blond or black sufficed to make it look like that of another. Theatrical costumiers know that a powdered wig so dis-guises a person as to make him unrecognisable. The young Marquis de Beausergent whom I had met in Mme de Cambremer’s box when he was a sub-lieutenant on the day when Mme de Guermantes was in her sister’s box, still had perfectly regular features, even more so, because the physiological rigidity of arteriosclerosis exaggerated the impassive physiognomy of the dandy and gave his features the intense and almost grimacing immobility of a study by Mantegna or Michael Angelo. His formerly brick-red skin had become gravely pale; silver hair, slight stoutness, Doge-like dignity and a chronic fatigue which gave him a constant longing for sleep, combined to produce a new and impressive majesty. A rectangle of white beard had replaced a similar rectangle of blond so perfectly that, noticing that my former sub-lieutenant now had five stripes, my first thought was to congratulate him not on having been promoted Colonel but on being one so completely that he seemed to have borrowed not only the uniform but also the solemn and serious appearance of his father the Colonel. In the case of another man, a white beard had succeeded a blond one but as his face had remained gay, smiling and youthful, it made him appear redder and more active and by increasing the brightness of his eyes, gave this worldling who had remained young the inspired appearance of a prophet. The transformation which white hair and other elements had effected, particularly in women, would have claimed my attention less if it had involved a change of colour only, for that may charm the eyes whereas a change of personality troubles the mind. Actually to recognise someone, more still, to identify him you have been unable to recognise, is to think two contradictory things under a single denomination, it is the same as saying that he who was here, the being we recall, is here no longer and that he who is here is one we never knew, that means piercing a mystery almost as troubling as that of death of which it is indeed the preface and the herald. For I knew what these changes meant and what they preluded and so that whitening of the women’s hair in addition to so many other changes deeply moved me. Somebody mentioned a name and I was stupefied to know it applied at one and the same time to my former blonde dance-partner and to the stout elderly lady who moved ponderously past me. Except for a certain pinkness of complexion their name was perhaps the only thing in common between these two women who differed so much — the one in my memory and this one at the Guermantes’ reception — the young ingénue and the theatrical dowager. That my dancer had managed to annex that huge carcass, that she had succeeded in slowing down her cumbersome movements like a metronome, that all she should have preserved of her youth were her cheeks, fuller certainly but freckled as ever, that for the erstwhile dainty blonde there should have been substituted this old pot-bellied Marshal, life must have achieved more destruction and reconstruction than is needed to replace a spire by a dome and when one remembered that the operation had been carried out not upon inert matter but upon flesh which only changes insensibly, the overwhelming contrast between this apparition and the being I remembered removed her into a past which, rather than remote, was almost incredible. It was difficult to reunite the two aspects, to think of the two creatures under the same denomination; for in the same way that one has difficulty in realising that a dead body was alive or that he who was alive is dead to-day, it is almost as difficult, and the difficulty is the same (for the annihilation of youth, the destruction of a personality full of strength and vitality is the beginning of a void), to conceive that she who was young is old, when the aspect of this old woman juxtaposed on that of the young one seems so completely to exclude it that in turn it is the old woman, then the young one, then again the old one which appear to you as in a dream and one cannot believe that this was ever that, that the matter of that one is herself which had not escaped elsewhere, but thanks to the adroit manipulations of time, had become this one, that the same matter has never left the same body — if one did not have the name as an indication as well as the affirmative testimony of friends to which the copperas, erstwhile exiguous between the gold of the wheat ears to-day buried beneath the snow, alone gives an appearance of credibility. One was terrified on considering the periods which must have passed since such a revolution had been accomplished in the geology of the human countenance, to observe the erosions that had taken place beside the nose, the immense deposits on the cheeks which enveloped the face with their opaque and refractory mass. I had always thought of our own individuality at a given moment in time as a polypus whose eye, an independent organism, although associated with it, winks at a scatter of dust without orders from the mind, still more, whose intestines are infected by an obscure parasite without the intelligence being aware of it, and similarly of the soul as a series of selves juxtaposed in the course of life but distinct from each other which would die in turn or take turn about like those different selves which alternately took possession of me at Combray when evening came. But I had also observed that these moral cellules which constitute a being are more durable than itself. I had seen the vices and the bravery of the Guer-mantes return in Saint-Loup, as I had seen the strange and swift defects and then the loyal semitism of Swann. I could see it again in Bloch. After he had lost his father the idea, besides the strong familial sentiment which often exists in Jewish families, that his father was superior to everyone, had given the form of a cult to his love for him. He could not bear losing him and had shut himself up for nearly a year in a sanatorium. He had replied to my condolences in a deeply felt but almost haughty tone, so enviable did he consider me for having been acquainted with that distinguished man whose carriage and pair he would have gladly given to a historical museum. And at his family table (for contrary to what the Duchesse de Guermantes believed, he was married) the same anger which animated M. Bloch senior against M. Nissim Bernard animated Bloch against his father-in-law. He made the same attacks on him. In the same way when I listened to the, talk of Cottard, Brichot and so many others I had felt that by culture and fashion a single undulation propagates identical modes of speech and thought in the whole expanse of space, and in the same way, throughout the duration of time, great fundamental currents raise from the depths of the ages the same angers, the same sorrows, the same boasts, the same manias, throughout superimposed generations, each section accepting the criteria of various levels of the same series and reproducing, like shadows upon successive screens, pictures similar to though often less insignificant than that which brought Bloch and his father-in-law, M. Bloch senior and M. Nissim Bernard and others I never knew, to blows.
There were men I knew there with whose relations I was also acquainted without ever realising that they had a feature-in common; in admiring the white-haired old hermit into whom Legrandin had changed, I suddenly observed, I could say discovered with a zoologist’s satisfaction, in his ironed-out cheeks, the same construction as in those of his young nephew, Léonor de Cambremer, who-however, did not seem to bear any resemblance to him; to this preliminary common feature I added another I had not until now remarked, then others, none of which composed the synthesis his youthfulness ordinarily offered me, so that soon I had a sort of caricature of him, deeper and more lifelike than a literal resemblance would have been; his uncle now seemed to me young Cambremer who, for fun, had assumed the appearance of the old man he would eventually be, so completely indeed that it was not only what youth of the past had become but what youth of to-day would change into that had given me such an intensified sense of Time.
Women tried to keep touch with the particular charm which had most distinguished them but the fresh matter that time had added to their faces would not permit of it. The features moulded by beauty, having disappeared in roost cases, they tried to construct another one with the relics. By displacing the centre of perspective if not of gravity in the face and recomposing its features to accord with the new character, they began building up a new sort of beauty at fifty as a man takes up a new profession late in life or as soil no longer good for the vine is used to produce beetroot. This caused a new youth to flower round the new features. But those who had been too beautiful or too ugly could not accommodate themselves to these transformations. The former modelled like marble on definitive lines which cannot be changed, crumbled away like a statue, the latter who had some facial defect had even an advantage over them. To start with it was only they whom one immediately recognised. One knew there were not two mouths in Paris like theirs which enabled me to distinguish them in the course of a party at which I had recognised nobody. And they did not even appear to have aged. Age is human and being monsters they had no more changed than whales. There were other men and women who did not seem to have aged; their outlines were as slim, their faces as young as ever. But, if one approached them closely so as to talk to them, the face with its smooth skin and delicate contours appeared different and as happens when one examines a vegetable body under a microscope, watery or ensanguined spots exuded. I observed sundry greasy marks on skin I had believed to be smooth which gave me a feeling of disgust. The outline did not resist this enlargement; at a close view that of the nose had been deflected and rounded, had been invaded by the same oily patches as the rest of the face and when it met the eyes, the latter disappeared into pockets which destroyed the resemblance with the former face one thought one had rediscovered. Thus those guests who had an appearance of youth at a distance, became old as one got near to them and could observe the enlargement and distribution of the facial planes. In fact their age seemed to depend upon the spectator so placing himself as to envisage them as young by observing them only at a distance which, deprived of the glass supplied to a long-sighted person by an optician, diminishes the object; their age, like the presence of infusoria in a glass of water, was brought about less by the progress of years than by the scale of enlargement in the observer’s vision.
In general the amount of white hair was an index of depth in time like mountain summits which appear to be on the same level as others until the brilliance of their snowy whiteness reveals their height above them. And even that could not always be said, especially about women. Thus the Princesse de Guermantes’ locks, when they were grey, had the brilliance of silvery silk round her protuberant brow but now having determined to become white seemed to be made of wool and stuffing and resembled soiled snow. It also occurred that blonde dancing girls had not merely annexed, together with their white hair, the friendship of duchesses they had not previously known, but having formerly done nothing but dance, art had touched them with its grace. And, like those illustrious ladies in the eighteenth century who became religious, they lived in flats full of cubist paintings, with a cubist painter working only for them and they living only for him.
Old men whose features had changed attempted to fix on them permanently the fugitive expressions adopted for a pose, thinking they would secure a better appearance or palliate its defects; they seemed to have become unchangeable snapshots of themselves.
All these people had taken so much time to make up their disguises that, as a rule, they escaped the notice of those who lived with them, indeed often a reprieve was granted them and, during the interval, they had been able to remain themselves until quite late in life. But this deferred disguise was then accomplished more quickly and was, in any case, inevitable. Thus I had always known Mme X charming and erect and for long she remained so, too long indeed, for like a person who must not forget to put on her Turkish disguise before dark, she had waited till the last moment and precipitately transformed herself into the old Turkish lady her mother formerly resembled.
At the party I discovered one of my early friends whom I had formerly seen nearly every day during ten years. Someone reintroduced us to each other. As I went near to him, he said with a voice I well remembered: “What a joy for me after so many years!” but what a surprise for me! His voice seemed to be proceeding from a perfected phonograph for though it was that of my friend, it issued from a great greyish man whom I did not know and the voice of my old comrade seemed to have been housed in this fat old fellow by means of a mechanical trick. Yet I knew that it was he, the person who introduced us after all that time not being the kind to play pranks. He declared that I had not changed by which I grasped that he did not think he had. Then I looked at him again and except that he had got so fat, he had kept a good deal of his former personality. Nevertheless, I found it impossible to realise it and I tried to recall him. In his youth he had blue eyes that were always smiling and moving, apparently searching for something I was unaware of, which may have been disinterested truth, perhaps pursued in perpetual doubt with a boy’s fugitive respect for family friends. Having become an influential politician, capable and despotic, those blue eyes which had never succeeded in finding what they were after had become immobilised and this gave them a sharp expression like a frowning-eye-brow, while gaiety, unconsciousness and innocence had changed into design and disingenuousness. Emphatically he had changed into another person — then suddenly, in reply to a word of mine, he burst into laughter, the jolly familiar laugh of former days which suited the perpetual gay mobility of his glance. Musical fanatics hold that Z’s music orchestrated by X becomes something absolutely different. These are shades which ordinary people cannot grasp, but the wild stifled laugh of a child beneath an eye pointed like a well-sharpened blue pencil, though a little on one side, is something more than a difference in orchestration. When his laughter ceased I would have liked to reconstruct my friend, but like Ulysses in the Odyssey, throwing himself upon the body of his dead mother, like a medium vainly trying to obtain from an apparition a reply which shall identify it, like a visitor to an electrical exhibition who cannot accept the voice from a phonograph as the spontaneous utterance of a human being, I ceased to recognise my friend.
It is necessary, however, to make this reserve that the beat of time itself can in certain cases be accelerated or slowed down. Four or five years before, I had by chance, met in the street Vicomtesse de St. Fiacre (daughter-in-law of the Guermantes’ friend). Her sculptured features had seemed to assure her eternal youth and indeed she still was young. But now, in spite of her smiles and greetings, I failed to recognise her in a lady whose features had so gone to pieces that the outline of her face could not be restored. What had happened was that for three years she had been taking cocaine and other drugs. Her eyes deeply and darkly rimmed were haggard, her mouth had a strange twitch. She had, it seems, got up for this reception though she was in the habit of remaining in bed or on a sofa for months. Time has these express and special trains which bring about premature old age but on a parallel line return trains circulate which are almost as rapid. I took M. de Courgivaux for his son; he looked younger and though he must have been past fifty, appeared to be no more than thirty. He had found an intelligent doctor, had avoided alcohol and salt and so had become thirty again, hardly even that because he had had his hair cut that morning.
A curious thing is that the phenomenon of age seemed in its modalities to take note of certain social customs. Great gentlemen who had been in the habit of wearing the plainest alpaca and old straw hats which a bourgeois would not have put on his head, had aged in the same way as the gardeners and peasants in the midst of whom they had lived. Their cheeks were stained brown in patches and their faces had grown yellow and had sunk flat like a book. And I thought, too, of those who were not there because they could not be, of how their secretary, in an attempt to give them the illusion of survival, would excuse them by one of those telegrams the Princess received on occasion from such as had been ill or dying for years, who can rise no more nor even move and, surrounded by frivolous or assiduous visitors, the former attracted like inquisitive tourists, the latter by the faith of pilgrims, lie, with closed eyes clasping their breviary, their bedclothes partly thrown back like a mortuary shroud, chiselled into a skeleton beneath the pale, distended skin like marble on a tomb.
Certainly, some women were recognisable because their faces had remained almost the same and they wore their grey hair to harmonise with the season like autumn leaves. But in others and in some men their identity was so impossible to establish — for instance between the dark voluptuary one remembered and the old monk of now — that their transformation made one think, rather than of the actor’s art, of that of the amazing mimic of whom Fregoli remains the prototype. That old woman yonder is about to weep because she knows that the indefinable and melancholy smile which was formerly her charm cannot even irradiate the surface of the mask old age has affixed to her. Now, discouraged from attempts to please she more adroitly resigns herself to using it as though it were a theatrical mask to make people laugh. But in the case of nearly all the women there was no limit to their efforts to fight against age; they held the mirror of their faces towards beauty, vanishing like a setting sun whose last rays they passionately long to retain. Some sought to smooth out, to extend the white surface, renouncing the piquancy of menaced dimples, quelling the resistance of a smile doomed and disarmed, while others, realising that their beauty had finally departed, took refuge in expression, as one compensates the loss of the voice by the art of diction, and hung on to a pout, to a smirk, to a pensive gaze, or to a smile to which muscular incoordination gave the appearance of weeping.
A stout lady bade me good afternoon during the moment that these varied thoughts were pressing upon my mind. For an instant I hesitated to reply to her, fearing she might be taking me for someone else, then her confidence making me think the contrary and fearing she was someone with whom I might at one time have been intimate, I exaggerated the affability of my smile while my gaze still sought in her features the name I could not find. Thus an uncertain candidate for matriculation searches the face of the examiner for the answer he would be wiser to seek in his own memory. So I smiled and stared at the features of the stout lady. They appeared to be those of Mme de Forcheville and my smile became tinged with respect and my indecision began to cease when a second later, the stout lady said: “You were taking me for mamma, I know I’m getting to look exactly like her,” and I recognised Gilberte.
Moreover, even among men who had been subjected to only a slight change, whose moustaches only had become white, one felt that the change was not purely material. One saw them as through a coloured mist or glass which affected their facial aspect with a sort of fogginess and revealed what they allowed one to observe as if it were life-size though in reality it was far away, not in the sense of space, but, fundamentally, like being on another shore whence they had as much trouble in recognising us as we them. Perhaps Mme de Forcheville who looked to me as though she had been injected with paraffin which swells the skin and prevents it from sagging, was unique in presenting the appearance of a courtesan of an earlier period who had been embalmed for eternity. “You took me for my mother,” Gilberte had said and it was true. For that matter it was a compliment to the daughter. Moreover, it was not only in the last-named that familiar features had reappeared, as invisible till then in her face as the inturned parts of a seed-pod, the eventual opening out of which would never be suspected. Thus the enormous maternal bridge in one as in the other transformed towards the fifties a nose till then inflexibly straight. In the case of another daughter of a banker, her complexion of flower-like freshness had become copper-coloured through the reflection of the gold which the father had so freely manipulated. Some even ended by resembling the quarter where they lived, bearing upon their countenances a sort of reflection of the rue de l’Arcade or the Avenue du Bois or the rue de l’Elysée. But they reproduced more than anything else the features of their parents.
One starts with the idea that people have remained the same and one discovers that they have got old. But if one starts by thinking them old, one does not find them so bad. In Odette’s case it was not merely that; her appearance, when one knew her age and expected her to be an old woman seemed a more miraculous challenge to the laws of chronology than the conservation of radium to those of nature. If I had not recognised her at first, it was not because she had changed but because she had not. Having realised in the course of the last hour what additions time made to people and the subtraction that was needed to rediscover their personalities, I rapidly added to the old Odette the number of years which had passed over her with the result that I found someone before my eyes who could not possibly be her precisely because this someone was the Odette of former days.
Which was the effect of paint and which of dye? With her flat golden hair arranged at the back like the ruffled chignon of a doll surmounting a face with a doll-like expression of surprise and superimposed upon that an equally flat sailor hat of straw of the period of the 1878 Exhibition (in which she certainly had figured and if she had then been as old as now, she would have been one of its choicest features) she looked as though she were a young woman playing a part in a Christmas revue featuring the Exhibition of 1878.
Close to us, a minister of the pre-Boulangist period who had again become a minister, passed by, bowing right and left to ladies with a tremulous and distant smile, as though imprisoned in the past like a little phantom figure manipulated by an unseen hand which had reduced his size and changed his substance so that he looked like a pumice-stone reproduction of himself. This former Prime Minister, now cultivated by the faubourg Saint-Germain, had once been the object of criminal proceedings and had been execrated by society and by the populace. But thanks to the renewal of the social elements in both groupings and the extinction of individual passions, memories disappear, no one remembered and he was honoured. There is no disgrace great enough to make a man lose heart if he bears in mind that at the end of a certain number of years our buried mistakes will be but invisible dust upon which nature’s flowers will smile peacefully. The individual momentarily under a cloud, through the equilibrium brought about by Time between the new and the old social strata, will easily assert his authority over them and be the object of their deference and admiration. Only, this is Time’s business; and at the moment of his troubles, he was inconsolable because the young milk-maid opposite had heard the crowd call him a swindler and shake their fists at him when he was in the soup. The young milk-maid does not see things on the plane of time and is unaware that men to whom the morning paper offers the incense of flattery were yesterday of bad repute and that the man who just now escaped prison, while perhaps, he was thinking of that young milk-maid, and who had not the humility to utter conciliatory words which might have secured him sympathy, will one day be glorified by the press and sought after by duchesses. Time also heals family quarrels. At the Princesse de Guermantes’ there was a couple, each of whom had had an uncle; these two uncles were not content merely to fight a duel but each had sent the other his concierge or his butler as his representative for the occasion, so as to humiliate him by showing he was not fit to be treated as a gentleman. Such tales were asleep in the papers of thirty years ago and nobody knew anything about them. Thus the Princesse de Guermantes’ salon illuminated and forgetful, flowered like a peaceful cemetery. There Time had not only disintegrated those of the past, it had made possible and created new associations.
To return to our politician. In spite of the change in his physical substance, a change as complete as the moral transformation he now roused in the public, in a word, in spite of the many years gone by since he was Prime Minister, he had become a Minister again. The present Prime Minister had given the one of forty years ago a post in the new Cabinet much as theatrical managers entrust a part to one of their earlier women associates who has been long in retirement but whom they consider more capable than younger ones of performing it with delicacy, of whose embarrassed situation they are, moreover, aware and who, at nearly eighty, still shows that age has scarcely impaired an artistic integrity which amazes the public within a few days of her death.
Mme de Forcheville presented an appearance so miraculous that one would have said not that she had grown young, but that, with all her carmine and rouge, she had reflowered. Even more than an incarnation of the Universal Exhibition of 1878, she could have been the chief attraction of a horticultural exhibition to-day. To me, at all events, she did not seem to be saying: “I am the Exhibition of 1878” but “I am the Allée des Acacias of 1892.” To me it was as though she were still part of it. And, because she had not changed, she seemed hardly to be living, she was like a sterilised rose. When I wished her good afternoon, she tried for a moment vainly to put a name to my face. I gave it her and at once, thanks to its evocative magic, I ceased to wear the appearance of Arbousier or of Kangouroo apparently bestowed on me by age, and she began talking to me with that peculiar voice, applauded in the smaller theatres, which enchanted people so much when they were invited to meet her at lunch and discovered that they could have as much as they liked of it with every word she uttered. That voice had retained the same futile cordiality, the same slight English accent. And yet, just as her eyes seemed to be looking at me from a distant shore, her voice was sad, almost appealing like that of the dead in the Odyssey. Odette ought to have gone on acting. I paid her a compliment on her youth. She answered: “You are charming, my dear, thanks.” And as it was difficult for her to express any sentiment, however sincere, without revealing her anxiety to be fashionable, she repeated several times: “Thanks so much, thanks so much.” And I, who had formerly made long journeys only to catch a glimpse of her in the Bois, who, when first I went to her house, had listened to the words that fell from her lips as though they were pearls, found the moments now spent with her interminable; I knew not what to say and I left her. Alas, she was not always to remain thus. Less than three years afterwards, I was to see her at an evening party given by Gilberte, not fallen into second childhood but somewhat decayed, no longer able to hide under a mask-like face what she was thinking — thinking is saying too much — what she was feeling, moving her head about, pursing her lips, shaking her shoulders at everything she felt, like a drunken man or a child or like certain inspired poets who, unconscious of their surroundings, compose their poems when they are in company or at table, and, to the alarm of their astonished hostess, knit their brows and make grimaces. Mme de Forcheville’s feelings — except the one that brought her to Gilberte’s party, tenderness for her beloved child, her pride in so brilliant an entertainment, a pride which could not veil the mother’s melancholy that she no longer counted — these feelings were never happy and were inspired by her perpetual self-defence against rudeness meted out to her, the timid defence of a child. One constantly heard people say: “I don’t know if Mme de Forcheville recognises me, perhaps I ought to be introduced over again.” “You can dispense with that,” (someone replied at the top of his voice neither knowing nor caring that Gilberte’s mother could hear every word) “you won’t get any fun out of it. Leave her alone. She’s a bit daft.” Furtively, Mme de Forcheville cast a glance from her still beautiful eyes at the insulting speakers, then quickly looked away, for fear of seeming to have heard, while, bowing beneath the blow, she restrained her weak resentment with quivering head and heaving breast, and glanced towards another equally ruthless guest. Nor did she seem too greatly overwhelmed for she had been ailing several days and had hinted to her daughter to postpone the party which the latter had refused. Mme de Forcheville did not love her the less; the presence of the Duchesses, the admiration the company manifested for the new mansion, flooded her heart with joy, and when the Marquise de Sebran was announced, this lady representing, with much effort, the highest peak of fashion, Mme de Forcheville felt she had been a good and far-seeing mother and that her maternal task had been accomplished. A fresh lot of contemptuous guests brought on another solitary colloquy if a mute language only expressed by gesticulation can be called talking. Beautiful still, she had become as never previously, an object of infinite sympathy for now the whole world betrayed her who had once betrayed Swann and the rest; now that the rôles were reversed, she had become too weak to defend herself against men. And soon she would be unable to defend herself against death. After that anticipation, let us go back three years, to the reception at the Prince de Guermantes’.
Bloch, having asked me to introduce him to the master of the house I did not make a shadow of difficulty. The embarrassment I had felt the first time at the Prince de Guermantes’ evening party seemed natural enough then but now it seemed as simple a matter to introduce one of his guests to him as to bring someone to his house who had not been invited. Was this because, since those far distant days, I had become an intimate though a long-forgotten intimate, of a society in which I was once a stranger or was it because, not being a true man of the world, what causes that type embarrassment had no existence for me, now my shyness had passed? Or, again, was it because these people had little by little shed their first, their second and their third fictitious aspects in my presence and that I sensed, under the Prince’s disdainful manner, a human longing to know people, to make the acquaintance of those even whom he affected to despise? Finally, was it because the Prince had changed like those others, arrogant in their youth and in their maturity, whom old age had softened (the more so that they had for long known by sight men against whose antecedents they had reacted and whom they now knew to be on good terms with their own acquaintances) especially if old age is assisted by virtues or vices which broaden social relationships or by a social revolution which causes a political conversion such as the Prince’s to Dreyfusism?
Bloch interrogated me as I formerly did others when I first entered society, and as I still did, about people I formerly knew socially and who were now as far away, as isolated, as those Combray folk I had often wanted to place. But Combray was so distinct from and impossible to reconcile with the outer world that it was like a piece of a jig-saw puzzle that could not be fitted into the map of France. “Then I can’t have any idea of what the Prince de Guermantes used to be like from my knowledge of Swann or M. de Charlus?” Bloch asked. For some time I used to borrow his way of putting things and now he often imitated mine. “Not the least.” “But how did they actually differ?” “You would have had to hear them talk together to grasp it. Now Swann is dead and M. de Charlus is not far from it. But the difference was enormous.” And while Bloch’s eye gleamed as he thought of what the conversation of these marvellous people must have been, I was thinking that I had exaggerated my pleasure in their society, having never got any until I was alone and could differentiate them in my imagination. Did Bloch realise this? “Perhaps you’ve coloured it all a bit too much,” he remarked. “Look at our hostess, the Princesse de Guermantes, I know she’s no longer young but, after all, it isn’t so very long ago that you spoke of her incomparable charm and her marvellous beauty. Certainly I admit she has the grand manner and she also has the extraordinary eyes you described to me, but I don’t see that she’s so wonderful as all that. Obviously she’s high-bred but still. . . . ” I had to explain to Bloch that we weren’t alluding to the same person. The Princesse de Guermantes was dead and the Prince, ruined by the German defeat, had married ex-Mme Verdurin whom Bloch had not recognised. “You’re mistaken, I’ve looked up the Gotha of this year,” Bloch naively confessed, “and I found that the Prince de Guermantes was living in this very mansion and had married someone of great importance. Wait a minute, now I’ve got it, Sidonie, Duchesse de Duras, née des Beaux.” This was a fact, for Mme Verdurin, shortly after her husband’s death married the old ruined Duc de Duras, who thus made her the Prince de Guermantes’ cousin and died after they had been married two years. He had supplied a very useful means of transition for Mme Verdurin who by a third marriage had become Princesse de Guermantes and now occupied a great position in the faubourg Saint-Germain which would have much astonished Combray where the ladies of the rue de l’Oiseau, Mme Goupil’s daughter and Mme Sazerat’s daughter-in-law had said with a laugh, years before Mme Verdurin became Princesse de Guermantes: “The Duchesse de Duras!” as though Mme Verdurin were playing a part at the theatre. The caste principle maintained that she should die Mme Verdurin and that the title which, in their eyes, could never confer any new social prestige, merely produced the bad effect of getting herself “talked about”; that expression which in all social categories is applied to a woman who has a lover, was also applied in the faubourg Saint-Germain to people who published books and in the Combray bourgeoisie to those who make marriages which for one reason or another are considered unsuitable. When Mme Verdurin married the Prince de Guermantes they must have said he was a sham Guermantes, a swindler. For myself, the realisation that a Princesse de Guermantes still existed, who had nothing to do with her who had so much charmed me and who was now no more, whom death had left defenceless, was intensely saddening as it was to witness the objects once owned by Princesse Hedwige such as her Château and everything else, pass to another. Succession to a name is sad like all successions and seems like an usurpation; and the uninterrupted stream of new Princesses de Guer-mantes would flow until the millennium, the name held from age to age by different women would always be that of one living Princesse de Guermantes, a name that ignored death, that was indifferent to change and heartaches and which would close over those who had worn it like the sea in its serene and immemorial placidity.
But, in contradiction to that permanence, the former habitués asserted that society had completely changed, that people were now received who in their day would never have been and that, as one says, was “true and not true”. It was not true because they were not taking the curve of time into consideration, the result of which is that the present generation see the new people at their point of arrival whereas those of the past saw them at their point of departure. And when the latter entered society, there were new arrivals whose point of departure was remembered by others. One generation brings about a change while it took the bourgeois name of a Colbert centuries to become noble. On the other hand, it was true, for if the social position of people changes, the most ineradicable ideas and customs (as also fortunes, marriages and national hatreds) change also, amongst them even that of only associating with fashionable people. Not only does snobbishness change its form but it might be forgotten like the! war and Radicals and Jews be admitted to the Jockey Club.
Certainly even the exterior change in faces I had known was only the symbol of an internal change effected day by day. Perhaps these people continued doing the same things every day but the idea they had about these things and about the people they associated with having a little life in it, resulted after some years, in those things and people being different under the same names and it would have been strange if the faces of the latter had not changed.
If in these periods of twenty years, the conglomerates of coteries had been demolished and reconstructed to suit new stars, themselves destined to disappear and to reappear, crystallisations and dispersals followed by new crystallisations had taken place in people’s souls. If the Duchesse de Guermantes had been many people to me, such and such a person had been a favourite of Mme de Guermantes or of Mme Swann at a period preceding the Dreyfus Affair, and a fanatic or imbecile afterwards because the Dreyfus Affair had changed their social valuations and regrouped people round parties which had since been unmade and remade. Time serves us powerfully by adding its influence to purely intellectual affinities; it is the passage of time that causes us to forget our antipathies, our contempts, and the very causes which gave birth to them. If anyone had formerly analysed the modish elegance of young Mme Léonor de Cambremer, he would have discovered that she was the niece of the shopkeeper in our courtyard, to wit, Jupien, and that what had especially added to her prestige was that her father procured men for M. de Charlus. Yet, in combination, all this had produced an effect of brilliance, the now distant causes being unknown to most of the newcomers in society and forgotten by those who had been aware of them and valued to-day’s effulgence more highly than yesterday’s disgrace, for we always take a name at its present-day valuation. So the interest of these social transformations was that they, too, were an effect of lost time and a phenomenon of memory.
Amongst the present company, there was a man of considerable importance who in a recent notorious trial, had given evidence depending for its value on his high moral probity, in deference to which Judge and Counsel had unanimously bowed and the conviction of two people had been brought about. There was a general movement of interest and respect when he entered. It was Morel. I was perhaps the only one present who knew that he had first been kept by M. de Charlus, then by Saint-Loup and simultaneously by a friend of Saint-Loup. In spite of our common recollections, he wished me good day with cordiality though with a certain reserve. He recalled the time when we met at Balbec and those memories represented for him the beauty and melancholy of youth.
But there were people whom I failed to recognise because I had not known them, for time had exercised its chemistry on the composition of society as it had upon people themselves. The milieu, the specific nature of which was defined by affinities which attracted to it the great princely names of Europe and by the repulsion which separated from it any element which was not aristocratic, where I had found a material refuge for that name of Guermantes to which it lent its ultimate reality, had itself been subjected to a profound modification in the essential constitution which I had believed stable. The presence of people whom I had seen in quite other social groupings and who, it had seemed to me, could never penetrate into this one, astonished me less than the intimate familiarity with which they were received and called by their first names; a certain ensemble of aristocratic prejudices, of snobbery which until recently automatically protected the name of Guermantes from everything that did not harmonise with it, had ceased to function.
Certain foreigners of distinction, who, when I made my début in society, gave grand dinner-parties to which they only invited the Princesse de Guermantes, the Duchesse de Guermantes and the Princesse de Parme, and when they went to those ladies’ houses were accorded the place of honour, passing for what was most illustrious in the society of the time, which perhaps they were, had disappeared without leaving a trace. Were they on a diplomatic mission or were they remaining at home? Perhaps a scandal, a suicide, a revolution had prevented their return to society or were they perhaps German? Anyhow, their name only derived its lustre from their former position and was no longer borne by anyone: people did not even know to whom I was alluding and if I tried to spell out their names believed they were “rastaquouères”.
The best friends of those who, according to the old social code, ought not to have been there, were to my great astonishment, extremely well-born people who only bothered to come to the Princesse de Guermantes’ for their new acquaintances’ sake. What most characterised this new society was its prodigious aptitude for breaking up class distinctions.
The springs of a machine which had been strained were bent or broken and no longer worked, a thousand strange bodies penetrated it, deprived it of its homogeneity, its distinction, its colour. The faubourg Saint-Germain, like a senile duchesse, responded with timid smiles to the insolent servants who invaded its drawing-rooms, drank its orangeade and introduced their mistresses to it. Again I had that sense of time having drained away, of the annihilation of part of my vanished past presented to me less vitally by the destruction of this coherent unity (which the Guermantes’ salon had been) of elements whose presence, recurrence and co-ordination were explained by a thousand shades of meaning, by a thousand reasons, than by the fact that the consciousness of those shades and meanings which caused one who was present to be there because he belonged there, because he was there by right while another who elbowed him was a suspicious newcomer, had been itself destroyed. That ignorance was not ‘. only social but political and of every kind. For the memory of individuals is not coincident with their lives and the younger ones who had never experienced what their elders remembered, now being members of society, very legitimately in the nobiliary sense, the beginnings of certain people being unknown or forgotten, took them where they found them, at the point of their elevation or fall, believing it had always been so, that the Princesse de Guermantes and Bloch had always occupied the highest position and that Clemenceau and Viviani had always been Conservatives. And, as certain facts have greater historic duration than others, the execrated memory of the Dreyfus Affair lingered vaguely in their minds owing to what their fathers had told them and if they were informed that Clemenceau had been a Dreyfusard they replied: “It’s not possible; you’re making a mistake, he was on the other side.” Ministers with a shady past and former prostitutes were held to be paragons of virtue. Someone having asked a young man of good family if there had not been something equivocal in the past of Gilberte’s mother, the young aristocrat answered that, as a matter of fact, she had, early in life, married an adventurer called Swann, but afterwards she had married one of the most prominent men in society, the Comte de Forcheville. Doubtless some people in that drawing-room, the Duchesse de Guermantes for instance, would have smiled at this statement (the denial of social qualifications to Swann seeming preposterous to me although formerly at Combray I had believed in common with my great-aunt, that Swann could not possibly know princesses) and so would other women who might have been there, but who now hardly ever went into society, the Duchesses de Montmorency, de Mouchy, de Sagan, who had been Swann’s intimate friends, though they had never caught sight of Forcheville who was unknown in society when they frequented it. But society as it was only existed like faces which have changed and blonde hair now white, in the memory of people whose numbers diminished every day. During the war Bloch gave up going about and frequenting his former haunts where he cut a poor figure. On the other hand, he kept on publishing works, the sophistry of which I made a point of repudiating, so as not to be beguiled by it, but which, nevertheless, gave young men and ladies in society the impression of uncommon intellectual depth, even of a sort of genius. It was only after making a complete break between his earlier and his present worldliness that he had entered on a new phase of his life and presented the appearance of a famous and distinguished man in a reconstructed society. Young men were, of course, unaware of his early beginnings in society and the few names he recalled were those of former friends of Saint-Loup which gave a sort of retrospective and undefined elasticity to his present prestige. In any case, he seemed to them one of those men of talent who at all periods have flourished in good society and no one thought he had ever been otherwise.
After I had finished talking to the Prince de Guermantes, Bloch took possession of me and introduced me to a young woman who had often heard the Duchesse de Guermantes speak of me. If those of the new generation considered the Duchesse de Guermantes nothing particular because she knew actresses and others, the ladies of her family, now old, always regarded her as exceptional, partly because they were familiar with her high birth and heraldic distinction and her intimacies with what Mme de Forcheville would have called in her pseudo-English, “royalties”, but also because she disdained going to family parties, was terribly bored by them and they knew they could never count on her. Her theatrical and political associations, which were completely misunderstood, only increased her preciousness in their eyes and, therefore, her prestige. So that whereas in the political and artistic spheres she was a somewhat indefinable being, a sort of défroquée of the faubourg Saint-Germain who goes about with under-secretaries of State and theatrical stars, if anyone in the faubourg Saint-Germain gave a grand party, they said: “Is it any use inviting Marie Sosthènes? She won’t come. Still, for the sake of appearances — but she won’t turn up.” And if, late in the evening, Marie Sosthènes appeared in a brilliant dress and stood in the doorway with a look of hard contempt for all her relations, if, maybe, she remained an hour, it was a most important party for the dowager who was giving it, in the same way as in early days, when Sarah Bernhardt promised a theatrical manager her assistance upon which he did not count, and not only came but with infinite compliance and simplicity recited twenty pieces instead of one. The presence of Marie Sosthènes, to whom Ministers spoke condescendingly though she, nevertheless, continued to cultivate more and more of them (that being the way of the world) classified the dowager duchess’s evening party attended by only the most exclusive ladies above all the other parties given by all the other dowager duchesses that “season” (as again Mme de Forcheville would have said) at which Marie Sosthènes, one of the most fashionable women of the day, had not taken the trouble to put in an appearance. The name of the young woman to whom Bloch had introduced me was entirely unknown to me and those of the different Guermantes could not be very familiar to her, for she asked an American woman how Mme de Saint-Loup came to be so intimate with the most distinguished people at the reception. This American was married to the Comte de Furcy, an obscure relative of the Forchevilles who to her represented everything that was most brilliant in society. So she answered in a matter-of-course way: “It’s only because she was born a Forcheville, nothing is better than that.” Although Mme de Furcy naïvely believed the name of Forcheville to be superior to that of Saint-Loup, at least she knew who the latter was. But of this, the charming friend of Bloch and of the Duchesse de Guermantes was absolutely ignorant and being somewhat bewildered, when a young girl presently asked her how Mme de Saint-Loup was related to their host, the Prince de Guermantes, she replied in good faith: “Through the Forchevilles”, a piece of information which that young woman passed on, as though she knew all about it, to one of her friends who, having a bad temper and an excitable disposition, got as red as a turkey-cock when a gentleman told her it was not through the Forchevilles that Gilberte belonged to the Guermantes, while he, thinking he had made a mistake, adopted her version and did not hesitate to propagate it. For this American woman, dinner-parties and social functions were a sort of Berlitz school. She repeated names she heard without any knowledge of their significance. Someone was explaining to someone else that Gilberte had not inherited Tansonville from her father, M. de Forcheville, that it was a family property of her husband’s, being close to the Guermantes’ estate and originally in the possession of Mme de Marsantes, but owing to its being heavily mortgaged, had been bought back by Gilberte as a marriage dowry. Finally, a gentleman of the old school reminiscing about Swann being a friend of the Sagans and the Mouchys and Bloch’s American friend asking him how I came to know Swann, Bloch informed her that I had met him at Mme de Guermantes’, not being aware that I had known him through his being our neighbour in the country and through his being known to my grandfather as a boy. Such mistakes, which are considered serious in all conservative societies, have been made by the most famous men. St.-Simon, to prove that Louis XIV’s ignorance was so great that “it caused him sometimes to commit himself in public to the grossest absurdities” only gives two examples of it; the first was that the King being unaware that Rénel belonged to the family of Clermont-Gallerande and that St.-Hérem belonged to that of Montmorin, treated them as men of no standing. So far as St.-Hérem was concerned we are consoled by knowing that the King did not die in error, for he was put right “very late” by M. de la Rochefoucauld. “Moreover,” adds St.-Simon with some pity, “he had to explain (to the King) what these families were whose name conveyed nothing to him.” The oblivion which so quickly buries the recent past combined with general ignorance, result reactively in erudition being attributed to some little knowledge, the more precious for its rarity, concerning people’s genealogies, their real social position, whether such and such a marriage was for love, for money or otherwise; this knowledge is much esteemed in societies where a conservative spirit prevails and my grandfather possessed it to a high degree regarding the bourgeoisdom of Combray and of Paris. St.-Simon esteemed this knowledge so much that, in holding up the Prince de Conti’s remarkable intelligence to admiration, before even mentioning the sciences, or rather as as though it were the most important one, he eulogised him for possessing “a very beautiful mind, luminous, just, exact, comprehensive, infinitely well-stored, which forgot nothing, which was acquainted with genealogy, its chimeras and realities, of distinguished politeness, respecting rank and merit, showing in every way what princes of the blood ought to be and what they no longer are. He even went into details regarding their usurpations and through historical literature and conversations, derived the means of judging what was commendable in their birth and occupation.” In less brilliant fashion but with equal accuracy, my grandfather was familiar with everything concerning the bourgeoisie of Combray and of Paris and savoured it with no less appreciation. Epicures of that kind who knew that Gilberte was not Forcheville nor Mme de Cambremer Méséglise nor the youngest a Valintonais were few in number. Few, and perhaps not even recruited from the highest aristocracy (it is not necessarily the devout or even Catholics who are most learned in the Golden Legend or the stained windows of the thirteenth century) but often forming a secondary aristocracy, keener about that with which it hardly has any contact and which on that account it has the more leisure for studying, its members meeting and making each other’s acquaintance with satisfaction, enjoying succulent repasts at which genealogies are discussed like the Society of Bibliophiles or the Friends of Rheims. Ladies are not asked to such gatherings, but when the husbands go home, they say to their wives: “I have been to a most interesting dinner; M. de la Raspelière was there and charmed us by explaining that that Mme de Saint-Loup with the pretty daughter was not born Forcheville at all. It’s a regular romance.”
The young woman who was a friend of Bloch and of the Duchesse de Guermantes was not only elegant and charming, she was also intelligent and conversation with her was agreeable but was a matter of difficulty to me because not only was the name of my questioner new to me but also those of many to whom she referred and who now apparently formed the basis of society. On the other hand, it was a fact that, in compliance with her wish that I should tell her things, I referred to many who meant nothing to her; they had fallen into oblivion, at all events, those who had shone only with the lustre of their personality and had not the generic permanence of some celebrated aristocratic family the exact title of which the young woman rarely knew, making inaccurate assumptions as to the birth of those whose names she had heard the previous evening at a dinner-party and which, in most cases, she had never heard before, as she only began to go into society some years after I had left it, (partly because she was still young, but also because she had only been living in France a short time and had not got to know people immediately). So, if we had a vocabulary of names in common, the individuals we fitted to them were different. I do not know how the name of Mme Leroi fell from my lips, but by chance, my questioner had heard it mentioned by some old friend of Mme de Guermantes who was making up to her. Not as it should have been, however, as was clear from the disdainful answer of the snobbish young woman: “Oh! I know who Mme Leroi is! She was an old friend of Bergotte’s,” in a tone which implied “A person I should not want at my house.” I knew that Mme de Guermantes’ old friend, as a thorough society man imbued with the Guermantes’ spirit, of which one characteristic was not to seem to attach importance to aristocratic intercourse, had not been so ill-bred and anti-Guermantes as to say: “Mme Leroi who knew all the Highnesses and Duchesses” but had referred to her as “rather an amusing woman. One day she said so and so to Bergotte.” But for people who know nothing about these matters, such conversational information is equivalent to what the press gives to the public which believes, according to its paper, alternatively that M. Loubet or M. Reinach are robbers or honourable citizens. In the eyes of my young questioner Mme Leroi had been a sort of Mme Verdurin during her first period but with less prestige and the little clan limited to Bergotte. By pure chance, this young woman happened to be amongst the last who were likely to hear the name of Mme Leroi. Today nobody knows anything about her which actually is quite as it should be. Her name does not even figure in the index of Mme de Villeparisis’ posthumous memoirs although Mme Leroi had been much in her mind. The Marquise did not omit mentioning Mme Leroi because the latter had not been particularly amiable to her during her life-time but because neither Mme Leroi’s life nor her death were of interest so that the Marquise’s silence was dictated less by social umbrage than by literary tact. My conversation with Bloch’s smart young friend was agreeable but the difference between our two vocabularies made her uneasy though it was instructive to me. In spite of our knowing that the years go by, that old age gives place to youth, that the most solid fortunes and thrones vanish, that celebrity is a passing thing, our way of rendering this knowledge conscious to ourselves and, so to speak, of accepting the impress of this universe whirled along by time upon our mental retina, is static. So that we always see as young those we knew young and those whom we knew as old people we embellish retrospectively with the virtues of old age, so that we unreservedly pin our faith to the credit of a millionaire and to the protection of a king though our reason tells us that both may be powerless fugitives tomorrow. In the more restricted field of society as in a simple problem which leads up to a more complex one of the same order, the unintelligibleness resulting from my conversation with this young woman owing to our having lived in a particular society at an interval of twenty-five years, impressed me with the importance of history and may have strengthened my own sense of it. The truth is that this ignorance of the real situation which every ten years causes the newly-elected to rise and seem as though the past had never existed, which prevents an American who has just landed knowing that M. de Charlus occupied the highest social position in Paris at a period when Bloch had none whatever, and that Swann who put himself about for M. Bontemps had been the Prince of Wales’s familiar friend, that ignorance exists not only among new-comers but also amongst contiguous societies, and, in the case of the last named as in the case of the others is also an effect (now exercised upon the individual instead of on the social curve) of Time. Doubtless we may change our milieu and our manner of life, but our memory retaining the thread of our identical personality attaches to itself, at successive periods, the memory of societies in which we lived, were it forty years earlier. Bloch at the Prince de Guermantes’ perfectly remembered the humble Jewish environment in which he had lived when he was eighteen, and Swann, when he no longer loved Mme Swann but a woman who served tea at Colombin’s which, for a time Mme Swann considered fashionable as she had the Thé de la Rue Royale, perfectly well knew his own social value for he remembered Twickenham and knew why he preferred going to Colombin’s rather than to the Duchesse de Broglie’s and knew equally well, had he been a thousand times less “chic“, that would not have prevented him going to Colombin’s or to the Hotel Ritz since anyone can go there who pays. Doubtless too Bloch’s or Swann’s friends remembered the obscure Jewish society and the invitations to Twickenham and thus friends, like more shadowy selves, of Swann and Bloch did not in their memory separate the elegant Bloch of to-day from the sordid Bloch of formerly or the Swann who went to Colombin’s in his old age from the Swann of Buckingham Palace. But, in life, those friends were, in some measure, Swann’s neighbours, their lives had developed sufficiently near his for their memory to contain him; whereas in the case of others further away from Swann, not exactly socially but in intimacy, who had known him more vaguely and whose meetings with him had been rarer, memories as numerous had given rise to more superficial views of his personality. And, such strangers, after thirty years, remember nothing accurately enough about a particular individual’s past to modify what he represents to their view in the present. I had heard people in society say of Swann in his last years, as though it were his title to celebrity: “Are you talking about the Swann who goes to Colombin’s?” Now, I heard people who ought to have known better, remark in alluding to Bloch, “Do you mean the Guermantes Bloch, the intimate friend of the Guermantes?” These mistakes, which cut a life in two and, isolating him in the present, construct another man, a creation of yesterday, a man who is the mere compendium of his present-day habits (whereas he bears within himself the continuity which links him to his past) these mistakes are also the effect of time, but they are not a social phenomenon, they are a phenomenon of memory. At that instant an example presented itself of a quite different kind, it is true, but on that account the more striking, of those oblivions which modify our conception of people. Mme de Guermantes’ young nephew, the Marquis de Villemandois, had formerly displayed a persistent insolence towards me which had induced me, in a spirit of reprisal, to adopt so offensive an attitude towards him that we had tacitly become enemies. Whilst I was reflecting about time at this afternoon party at the Princesse de Guermantes’ he asked to be introduced to me and then told me he was under the impression that I had been acquainted with his parents, that he had read some of my articles and wanted to make or remake my acquaintance. It is true that with increasing age he, like many overbearing people of a weightier sort, had become less supercilious and, moreover, I was being talked about in his set because of articles (of small importance for that matter) I had been writing. But these grounds for his cordiality and advances were only accessory. The chief one, or at least the one which brought others into play, was that, either because he had a worse memory than I or attached less significance to my reprisals than I to his attacks, owing to my being less important in his eyes than he in mine, he had entirely forgotten our hostility. At most, my name recalled to his mind that he had seen me or somebody belonging to me at one of his aunt’s houses and not being quite certain whether he had met me before or not, he at once started talking about his aunt at whose house he thought he might have met me, remembering he had often heard me spoken of there but not remembering our quarrel. Often a name is all that remains to us of a being, not only when he is dead but even while he is alive. And our memories about him are so vague and peculiar, correspond so little to the reality of the past that though we entirely forget that we nearly fought a duel with him, we remember that, when he was a child, he wore odd-looking yellow gaiters in the Champs Elysées, of which, although we remind him of them, he has no recollection. Bloch had come in, leaping like a hyena. I thought, “He’s coming into a drawing-room which he could never have penetrated twenty years ago.” But he was also twenty years older and he was nearer death, what good will it do him? Looking at him closely, I perceived in the face upon which the light now played, which from further away and when less illumined seemed to reflect youthful gaiety whether because it actually survived there or I evoked it, the almost alarming visage of an old Shylock anxiously awaiting in the wings the moment to appear upon the stage, reciting his first lines under his breath. In ten years he would limp into these drawing-rooms dragging his feet over their heavy piled carpets, a master at last, and would be bored to death by having to go to the La Trémouilles. How would that profit him?
I could the better elicit from these social changes truths sufficiently important to serve as a unifying factor in a portion of my work that they were not, as I might at first have been tempted to believe, peculiar to our period. At the time when I had hardly reached the point of entering the Guermantes’ circle, I was more of a new-comer than Bloch himself to-day and I must then have observed human elements which, though integrated in it, were entirely foreign to it, recently assembled elements which must have seemed strangely new to the older set from whom I did not differentiate them and who, believed by the dukes to have always been members of the faubourg, had either themselves been parvenus or if not they, their fathers or grandfathers. So it was not the quality of its members which made that society brilliant but its power to assimilate more or less completely people who fifty years later would appear just as good as those who now belonged to it. Even in the past with which I associated the name of Guermantes in order to do it honour in the fullest measure, with reason moreover, for under Louis XIV the semi-royal Guermantes were more supreme than to-day, the phenomenon I had studied was equally apparent. For instance, had they not then allied themselves by marriage with the Colbert family, to-day Considered of high degree, since a Rochefoucauld considers a Colbert a good match. But it was not because the Colberts, then plain bourgeois, were noble that the Guermantes formed alliances with them, it was they who became noble by marrying into the Guermantes family. If the riame of Haussonville is extinguished with the death of the present representative of that family, he will perhaps derive his distinction from being descended from Mme de Staël, while, before the Revolution, M. d’Haussonville, one of the first gentlemen in the kingdom, gratified his vanity as towards M. de Broglie by not deigning to know M. de Staël’s father and by no more condescending to introduce him to M. de Broglie than the latter would have done to M. d’Haussonville, never imagining that his own son would marry the daughter, his friend’s son the grand-daughter of the authoress of Corinne. I realised from the way that the Duchesse de Guermantes talked to me that I might have cut a figure in society as an untitled man of fashion who is accepted as having always belonged to the aristocracy like Swann in former days and after him M. Lebrun and M. Ampère, all of them friends of the Duchesse de Broglie who herself at the beginning was, so to speak, hardly in the best society. The first times I had dined at Mme de Guermantes’ how often I must have shocked men like M. de Beaucerfeuil, less by my presence than by remarks showing that I was entirely ignorant of the associations which constituted his past and gave form to his social experience. Bloch would, when very old, preserve memories of the Guermantes’ salon as it appeared to him now ancient enough for him to feel the same surprise and resentment as M. de Beaucerfeuil at certain intrusions and ignorances. And besides, he would have acquired and dispensed amongst those about him qualities of tact and discretion which I had believed to be the particular gift of men like M. de Norpois and which are incarnated in those who seem to us most likely to be deficient in them. Moreover, I had supposed myself exceptional in being admitted into the Guermantes set. But when I got away from myself and my immediate ambient, I observed that this social phenomenon was not as isolated as it first seemed and that from the Combray basin where I was born many jets of water had risen, like myself, above the liquid pool which was their source. Of course, circumstances and individual character have always a share in the matter and it was in quite different ways that Legrandin (by the curious marriage of his nephew) had in his turn penetrated this milieu, that Odette’s daughter had become related to it, that Swann and finally I myself, had entered it. To myself who had been enclosed within my life, seeing it from within, Legrandin’s way appeared to have no relevance to mine and to have gone in another direction, in the same way as one who follows the course of a river through a deep valley does not see that, in spite of its windings, it is the same stream. But, from the bird’s eye view of a statistician who ignores reasons of sentiment and the imprudences which lead to the death of an individual and only counts the number of people who die in a year, one could observe that many people starting from the same environment as that with which the beginning of this narrative has been concerned reach another quite different and it is likely that, just as in every year there are an average number of marriages, any other well-to-do and refined bourgeois milieu would have furnished about the same proportion of people like Swann, like Legrandin, like myself and like Bloch, who would be rediscovered in the ocean of “Society”. Moreover they are recognisable, for if young Comte de Cambremer impressed society with his grace, distinction and modishness, I recognised in those qualities as in his good looks and ardent ambition, the characteristics of his uncle Legrandin, that is to say, an old and very bourgeois friend of my parents, though one who had an aristocratic bearing.
Kindness, which is simply maturity, ends in sweetening natures originally more acid than Bloch’s, and is as prevalent as that sense of justice which, if we are in the right, should make us fear a prejudiced judge as little as one who is our friend. And Bloch’s grand-children would be well-mannered and discreet from birth. Bloch had perhaps not reached that point yet. But I remarked that he who formerly affected to be compelled to take a two hours’ railway-journey to see someone who hardly wanted to see him, now that he received many invitations not only to luncheon and to dinner but to come and spend a fortnight here and there, refused many of them without talking about it or boasting he had received them. Discretion in action and in words had come to him with age and social position, a sort of social old-age, one might say. Undoubtedly Bloch was formerly as indiscreet as he was incapable of kindness and friendly service. But certain defects and certain qualities belong less to one or another individual from the social point of view than to one or another period of his life. They are almost exterior to individuals who pass through the projection of their light as at varying solstices which are pre-existent, universal and inevitable. Doctors who want to find out whether a particular medicine has diminished or increased the acidity of the stomach, whether it quickens or lessens its secretions, obtain results which differ, not according to the stomach from the secretions of which they have extracted a little gastric juice, but according to the effects disclosed at an early or late stage through the action of the medicine upon it.
* * *
Thus at each of the moments of its duration the name of Guermantes considered as a unity of all the names admitted within and about itself suffered some dispersals, recruited new elements like gardens where flowers only just in bud yet about to replace others already faded, are indistinguishable from the mass which seems the same save to those who have not observed the new-comers and keep in their mind’s eye the exact picture of those that have disappeared.
More than one of the persons whom this afternoon party had collected or whose memory it evoked, provided me with the successive appearances he had presented under widely dissimilar circumstances. The individual rose before me again as he had been and, in doing so, called forth the various aspects of my own life, like different perspectives in a countryside where a hill or a castle seems at one moment to be to the right, at another to the left, to dominate a forest or emerge from a valley, thus reminding the traveller of changes of direction and altitude in the road he has been following. As I went further and further back I finally discovered pictures of the same individual, separated by such long intervals, represented by such distinct personalities, with such different meanings that, as a rule, I eliminated them from my field of recollection when I believed I had made contact with them, and often ceased believing they were the same people I had formerly known. Chance illumination was required for me to be able to attach them, like in an etymology, to the original significance they had for me. Mlle Swann throwing some thorny roses to me from the other side of the hedge, with a look I had retrospectively attributed to desire; the lover, according to Combray gossip, of Mme Swann, staring at me from behind that same hedge with a hard look which also did not warrant the interpretation I gave to it then and who had changed so completely since I failed to recognise him at Balbec as the gentleman looking at a notice near the casino, and whom I happened to think of once every ten years, saying to myself: “That was M. de Charlus, how curious!”, Mme de Guermantes at Dr. Percepied’s wedding, Mme Swann in pink at my great-uncle’s, Mme de Cambremer, Legrandin’s sister, who was so smart that he was afraid we should want him to introduce us to her, and so many more pictures of Swann, Saint-Loup, etc. which, when I recalled them, I liked now and then to use as a frontispiece on the threshold of my relations with these different people but which actually seemed to me mere fancies rather than impressions left upon my mind by the individual with whom there was no longer any link. It is not only that certain people have the power of remembering and others not (without living in a state of permanent oblivion like Turkish ambassadors) which always enables the latter to find room — the new precedent having vanished in a week or the following one having exorcised it — for a fresh item of news contradicting the last. Even if memories are equal, two persons do not remember the same things. One would hardly notice an act which another would feel intense remorse about while he will grasp at a word almost unconsciously let fall by the other as though it were a characteristic sign of good-will. Self-interest implicit in not being wrong in our pre-judgment limits the time we shall remember it and encourages us to believe we never indulged in it. Finally, a deeper and more unselfish interest diversifies memories so thoroughly that a poet who has forgotten nearly all the facts of which one reminds him retains a fugitive impression of them. As a result of all this, after twenty years’ absence one discovers involuntary and unconscious forgiveness instead of anticipated resentments and on the other hand, hatreds the cause of which one cannot explain (because one has forgotten the bad impression one had made). One forgets dates as one does the history of people one has known best. And because twenty years had passed since Mme de Guermantes had first seen Bloch, she would have sworn that he was born in her set and had been nursed by the Duchesse de Chartres when he was two years old.
How many times these people had returned to my vision in the course of their lives, the differing circumstances of which seemed to offer identical characteristics under diverse forms and for various ends; and the diversity of my own life at its turning-points through which the thread of each of these lives had passed was compounded of lives seemingly the most distant from my own as if life itself only disposed of a limited number of threads for the execution of the most varied designs. What, for instance, were more separate in my various pasts than my visits to my Uncle Adolphe, than the nephew of Mme de Villeparisis, herself cousin of the Marshal, than Legrandin and his sister, than the former waistcoat maker, Françoise’s friend in the court-yard of our home. And now all these different threads had been united to produce here, the woof of the Saint-Loup ménage, there, that of the young Cambremers, not to mention Morel and so many others the conjunction of which had combined to form circumstances so compact that they seemed to make a unity of which the personages were mere elements. And my life was already long enough for me to have found in more than one case a being to complete another in the conflicting spheres of my memory. To an Elstir whose fame was now assured I could add my earliest memories of the Verdurins, of the Cottards, of conversations in Rivebelle restaurant on the morning when I first met Albertine and many others. In the same way, a collector who is shown the wing of an altar screen, remembers the church or museum or private collection in which the others are dispersed (as also, by following sale-catalogues or searching among dealers in antiques, he finally discovers the twin object to the one he possesses which makes them a pair and thus can mentally reconstitute the predella and the entire altar-piece). As a bucket let down or hauled up a well by a windlass touches the rope or the sides every now and then, there was not a personage, hardly even an event in my life, which had not at one time or another played different parts. If, after years I rediscovered the simplest social relationship or even a material object in my memory, I perceived that life had been ceaselessly weaving threads about it which in the end became a beautiful velvet covering like the emerald sheath of a water-conduit in an ancient park.
It was not only in appearance that these people were like dream-figures, their youth and love had become to themselves a dream. They had forgotten their very resentments and hatreds and, to be sure that this individual was the one they had not spoken to for ten years, they would have needed a register which even then would have had the vagueness of a dream in which an insult has been offered them by one unknown. Such dreams account for those contrasts in political life where people who once accused each other of murder and treason are members of the same Government. And dreams become as opaque as death in the case of old men on days following those of love-making. On such days no one was allowed to ask the President of the Republic any questions; he had forgotten everything. After he had been allowed to rest for some days, the recollection of public affairs returned to him fortuitously as in a dream. Sometimes it was not a single image only that presented itself to my mind of one whom I had since known to be so different. It was during the same years that Bergotte had seemed a sweet, divine old man to me that I had been paralysed at the sight of Swann’s grey hat and his wife’s violet cloak, by the glamour of race which surrounded the Duchesse de Guermantes even in a drawing-room as though I stood gazing at ghosts; almost fabulous origins of relationships subsequently so banal which these charming myths lengthened into the past with the brilliance projected into the heavens by the sparkling tail of a comet. And even relations such as mine with Mme de Souvré, which had not begun in mystery, which were to-day so hard and worldly, revealed themselves at their beginnings in a smile, calm, soft and flatteringly expressed in the fulness of an afternoon by the sea, on a spring evening in Paris in the midst of smart equipages, of clouds of dust, of sunshine moving like water. And perhaps Mme de Souvré would not have been worth while if she had been detached from her frame like those monuments — the Salute for instance — which, without any great beauty of their own are so perfectly adapted to their site, and she had her place in a collection of memories which I estimated at a certain price, taking one with another, without going too closely into the particular value of Mme de Souvré‘s personality.
A thing by which I was more impressed, in the case of people who had undergone physical and social change was the different notion they had of each other. In old days Legrandin despised Bloch and never spoke to him; now he was most amiable to him. It was not in the least owing to Bloch’s more prominent position which in this case was negligible, for social changes inevitably bring about respective changes in position amongst those who have been subjected to them. No. It was that people, that is, people as we see them, do not retain the uniformity of a picture when we look back on them. They evolve in relation to our forgetfulness. Sometimes we even go so far as to confuse them with others. “Bloch, that’s the man who came from Combray,” and when he said Bloch, the person meant me. Inversely Mme Sazerat was convinced that a historical thesis on Philippe II was by me whereas it was by Bloch. Apart from these substitutions one forgets the bad turns people have done us, their unpleasantness, one forgets that last time we parted without shaking hands and, in contrast, we remember an earlier period when we were on good terms. Legrandin’s affability with Bloch was referable to that earlier period, whether because he had forgotten a phase of his past or that he judged it better to ignore it, a mixture, in fact, of forgiveness, forgetfulness and indifference which is also an effect of Time. Moreover, even in love, the memories we have of each other are not the same. I had known Albertine to remind me in the most remarkable way of something I had said to her during the early days of our acquaintance which I had completely forgotten while she had no recollection whatever of another fact implanted in my head like a stone for ever. Our parallel lives resemble paths bordered at intervals by flower-vases placed symmetrically but not facing each other. It is still more comprehensible that one hardly remembers who the people were one knew slightly or one remembers something else about them further back, something suggested by those amongst whom one meets them again who have only just made their acquaintance and endow them with qualities and a position they never had but which the forgetful person wholly accepts.
Doubtless life, in casting these people upon my path on different occasions, had presented them in surrounding circumstances which had shrunk my view of them and prevented my knowing their essential characters. Of those Guermantes even, who had been the subject of such wonderful dreams, at my first approach to them, one had appeared in the guise of an old friend of my grandmother’s, another in that of a gentleman who had stared at me so unpleasantly in the grounds of the casino (for, between us and other beings there is a borderland of contingencies, as, from my readings at Combray, I knew there was one of perceptions which prevent reality and mind being placed in absolute contact). So that it was only after the event, by relating them to a name, that my acquaintance with them had become to me acquaintance with the Guermantes. But perhaps it was that very thing which made life seem more poetic to me when I thought about that mysterious race with the piercing eyes and beaks of birds, that pink, golden, unapproachable race which the force of blind and differing circumstances had presented so naturally to my observation, to my intercourse, even to my intimacy, that when I wanted to know Mlle de Stermaria or to have dresses made for Albertine, I applied to the Guermantes, as to my most helpful friends. Certainly it bored me at times to go and see them as to go and see others I knew in society. The charm of the Duchesse de Guermantes, even, like that of certain of Bergotte’s pages, was only discernible to me at a distance and disappeared when I was near her, for it lay in my memory and in my imagination, and yet, the Guermantes, like Gilberte, were different from other people in society in that their roots were plunged more deeply in my past when I dreamed more and believed more in individuals. That past filled me with weariness while talking to one or the other of them, for it was associated with those imaginings of my childhood which had once seemed the most beautiful and inaccessible and I had to console myself by confusing the value of their possession with the price at which my desire had appraised them like a merchant whose books are in disorder. But my past relations with other beings were magnified by dreams more ardent and hopeless with which my life opened so richly, so entirely dedicated to them that I could hardly understand how it was that what they yielded was this exiguous, narrow, mournful ribbon of a despised and unloved intimacy in which I could discover no trace of what had once been their mystery, their fever and their loveliness.
* * *
“What has become of the Marquise d’Arpajon?” asked Mme de Cambremer. “She’s dead,” answered Bloch. “You’re confusing her with the Comtesse d’Arpajon who died last year,” the Princesse de Malte joined the discussion. The young widow of a very wealthy old husband, the bearer of a great name, she had been much sought in marriage and from that had derived a great deal of self-assurance. “The Marquise d’Arpajon died too about a year ago.” “I can assure you it isn’t a year,” answered Mme de Cambremer. “I was at a musical party at her house less than a year ago.” Bloch could no more take part in the discussion than a society gigolo for all these deaths of aged people were too far away from him, whether owing to the great difference in age or to his recent entry into a different society which he approached, as it were, from the side, at a period of its decline into a twilight in which the memory of an unfamiliar past could not illuminate it. And for those of the same age and of the same society death had lost its strange significance. Moreover every day people were at the point of death of whom some recovered while others succumbed, so that one was not certain whether a particular individual one rarely saw had recovered from his cold on the chest or whether he had passed away. Deaths multiplied and lives became increasingly uncertain in those aged regions. At these crossroads of two generations and two societies which for different reasons were ill-placed for identifying death, it became confused with life, the former had been socialised and become an incident, which qualified a person more or less without the tone in which it was mentioned signifying that this incident ended everything so far as that person was concerned. So people said: “You’ve forgotten. So and so is dead,” as they might have said: “He’s decorated, he’s a member of the Academy,” or — which came to the same thing as it prevented his coming to parties —“he has gone to spend the winter in the south,” or “he’s been ordered to the mountains.” In the case of well-known men, what they left helped people to remember they were dead. But in the case of ordinary members of society, people got muddled about whether they were dead or not, partly because they did not know them well and had forgotten their past but more because they bothered little about the future one way or the other. And the difficulty people had in sorting out marriages, absences, retirements to the country and deaths of old people in society equally illustrated the insignificance of the dead and the indifference of the living.
“But if she’s not dead how is it one doesn’t see her any more nor her husband either?” asked an old maid who liked to be thought witty. “I tell you,” answered her mother who, though fifty years old, never missed a party, “it’s because they’re old and at that age people don’t go out.” It was as though there lay in front of the cemetery a closed city of the aged with lamps always alight in the fog. Mme de Sainte-Euverte closed the debate by saying that the Comtesse d’Arpajon had died the year before after a long illness, but the Marquise d’Arpajon had also died suddenly “from some quite trifling cause,” a death which thus resembled the lives of them all and, in the same fashion, explained that she had passed away without anyone being aware of it and excused those who had made a mistake. Hearing that Mme d’Arpajon was really dead, the old maid cast an alarmed glance at her mother fearing that the news of the death of one of her contemporaries might be a shock to her; she imagined in anticipation people alluding to her own mother’s death by explaining that “she died as the result of a shock through the death of Mme d’Arpajon.” But on the contrary, her mother’s expression was that of having won a competition against formidable rivals whenever anyone of her own age passed away. Their death was her only means of being agreeably conscious of her own existence. The old maid, aware that her mother had not seemed sorry to say that Mme d’Arpajon was a recluse in those dwellings from which the aged and tired seldom emerge, noticed that she was still less upset to hear that the Marquise had entered that ultimate abode from which no one returns. This affirmation of her mother’s indifference aroused the caustic wit of the old maid. And, later on, to amuse her friends, she gave a humorous imitation of the lively fashion with which her mother rubbed her hands as she said: “Goodness me, so that poor Mme d’Arpajon is dead.” She thus pleased even those who did not need death to make them glad they were alive. For every death is a simplification of life for the survivors; it relieves them of being grateful and of being obliged to make visits. Nevertheless, as I have said, M. Verdurin’s death was not thus welcomed by Elstir.
* * *
A lady went out for she had other afternoon receptions to go to and she was to take tea with two queens. She was the society courtesan I formerly knew, the Princesse de Nissau. Apart from her figure having shrunk — which gave her head the appearance of being lower than it was formerly, of having what is called “one foot in the grave”— one would have said that she had hardly aged. She remained, with her Austrian nose and delightful mien a Marie-Antoinette preserved, embalmed, thanks to a thousand cunningly combined cosmetics which gave her face the hue of lilac. Her face wore that regretful soft expression of being compelled to go with a sweet half-promise to return, of inconspicuous withdrawal because of numerous exclusive invitations. Born almost on the steps of a throne, married three times, protected long and luxuriously by great bankers, the confused memories of her innumerable pasts, not to speak of the caprices she had indulged, weighed on her as lightly as her beautiful round eyes, her painted face and her mauve dress. As, taking French leave, she passed me, I bowed and she, taking my hand, fixed her round violet orbs upon me as if to say: “How long since we met, do let us talk of it next time.” She pressed my hand, not quite sure whether there had or had not been a passage between us that evening she drove me from the Duchesse de Guermantes’. She merely took a chance by seeming to suggest something that had never been, which was not difficult for she looked tender over a strawberry-tart and assumed, about her compulsion to leave before the music was over, an attitude of despairing yet reassuring abandonment. Moreover, in her uncertainty about the incident with me, her furtive pressure did not detain her long and she did not say a word. She only looked at me in a way that said: “How long! How long!” as there passed across her vision her husbands, the different men who had kept her, two wars — and her star-like eyes, like astronomic dials carved in opal, registered in quick succession all those solemn hours of a far-away past she conjured back each time she uttered a greeting which was always an excuse. She left me and floated to the door so as not to disturb me, to show me that if she did not stop and talk to me it was because she had to make up the time she had lost pressing my hand so as not to keep the Queen of Spain waiting. She seemed to go through the door at racing-pace. And she was, as a fact, racing to her grave.
Meanwhile, the Princesse de Guermantes kept repeating in an excited way in the metallic voice caused by her false teeth: “That’s it, we’ll form a group. I love the intelligence of youth, it so co-operates! Ah, what a ‘mugician’ you are.” She was talking with her large eyeglass in a round eye which was partly amused and partly excusing itself for not being able to keep it up but till the end she decided to “co-operate” and “form a group”.
* * *
I sat down by the side of Gilberte de Saint-Loup. We talked a great deal about Robert. Gilberte alluded to him deferentially as to a superior being whom she wanted me to know she admired and understood. We reminded each other that many of the ideas he had formerly expressed about the art of war (for he had often exposed the same theses at Tansonville as at Doncières and later) had been verified by the recent one. “I can’t tell you how much the slightest thing he told me at Doncierès strikes me now as it did during the war. The last words I heard him say when we parted never to meet again were that he was expecting of Hindenburg, a Napoleonic General, a type of Napoleonic battle the object of which is to separate two adversaries, perhaps, he said, the English and ourselves. Now scarcely a year after Robert’s death a critic whom he much admired and who obviously exercised great influence on his military ideas, M. Henri Bidou, said that Hindenburg’s offensive in March, 1918 was ‘a battle of separation by one adversary massed against two in line, a manœuvre which the Emperor successfully executed in 1796 on the Apennines and failed with in 1815 in Belgium’. Some time before that Robert was comparing battles with plays in which it is sometimes difficult to know what the author means because he has changed his plot in the course of the action. Now, as to this interpretation of the German offensive of 1918, Robert would certainly not be of M. Bidou’s opinion. But other critics think that Hindenburg’s success in the direction of Amiens, then his forced halt then his success in Flanders, then again the halt, accidentally made Amiens and afterwards Boulogne objectives he had not previously planned. And as everyone can reconstruct a play in his own way, there are those who see in this offensive the threat of a terrific march on Paris, others disordered hammer blows to annihilate the English Army. And even if the General’s orders are opposed to one or the other conception, critics will always be able to say, as Mounet-Sully did to Coquelin who affirmed that the ‘Misanthrope’ was not the depressing drama he made it appear (for Molière’s contemporaries testify that his interpretation was comic and made people laugh): ‘Well, then, Molière made a mistake.’”
“And you remember,” Gilberte replied, “what he said about aeroplanes, he expressed himself so charmingly, every army must be an Argus with a hundred eyes. Alas, he did not live to see the verification of his predictions.” “Oh, yes, he did,” I answered, “he knew very well that, at the battle of the Somme, they were beginning to blind the enemy by piercing his eyes, destroying his aeroplanes and captive balloons.” “Oh yes! So they did.” Since she had taken to living in her mind, she had become somewhat pedantic. “And it was he who foretold a return to the old methods. Do you know that the Mesopotamian expeditions in this war” (she must have read this at the time in Brichot’s articles) “keep reminding one of the retreat of Xenophon; to get from the Tigris to the Euphrates the English Commander made use of canoes, long narrow boats, the gondolas of that country, which the ancient Chaldeans had made use of.” Her words gave me that feeling of stagnation in the past which is immobilised in certain places by a sort of specific gravity to such a degree that one finds it just as it was. I avow that, thinking of my readings at Balbec, not far from Robert, I had been much impressed — as I was when I discovered Mme de Sévigné‘s intrenchment in the French countryside — to observe, in connection with the siege of Kut-el-Amara (Kut-the-Emir just as we say Vaux-le-Vicomte, Boilleau-l’Evêque, as the curé of Combray would have said if his thirst for etymology had extended to Oriental languages) the recurrence, near Bagdad, of that name Bassorah about which we hear so much in the Thousand and One Nights, whence, long before General Townsend, Sinbad the Sailor, in the times of the Caliphs, embarked or disembarked whenever he left or returned to Bagdad.
“There was a side of the war he was beginning to perceive,” I said, “which is that it is human, that it is lived like a love or a hatred, can be recounted like a romance, and consequently if people keep on repeating that strategy is a science, it does not help them to understand it because it is not strategic. The enemy no more knows our plans than we know the motive of a woman we love, and perhaps we do not know ours either. In the offensive of March, 1918 was the object of the Germans to take Amiens? We know nothing about it. Perhaps they did not either and it was their advance westwards towards Amiens which determined their plan. Even admitting that war is scientific it is still necessary to paint it like Elstir painted the sea, by the use of another sense and using imagination and beliefs as a starting-point, to rectify them little by little as Dostoevski narrated a life. Moreover, it is but too obvious that war is rather medical than strategic since it brings in its train unforeseen accidents the clinician hopes to avoid, such as the Russian Revolution.”
Throughout this conversation, Gilberte had spoken of Robert with a deference which seemed rather addressed to my former friend than to her dead husband. She seemed to be saying: “I know how much you admired him, believe me, I knew and understood what a superior creature he was.” And yet the love she certainly no longer felt for his memory may perhaps have been the distant cause of the peculiarities in her present life. For Andrée was now Gilberte’s inseparable friend. Although the former had for some time, chiefly because of her husband’s talent, begun to enter, not, of course, the Guermantes set but an infinitely more fashionable society than that which she formerly frequented, people were astonished that the Marquise de Saint-Loup condescended to become her best friend. That fact seemed to be a sign of Gilberte’s preference for what she believed to be an artistic life and for a positive social forfeiture. That may be the true explanation. Another, however, came to my mind, always convinced that images assembled somewhere are generally the reflection or in some fashion the effect of a former grouping different from though symmetrical with other images extremely distant from the second group. I thought that if Andrée, her husband and Gilberte were seen together every evening it was possibly because many years earlier Andrée’s future husband had lived with Rachel and then left her for Andrée. It is probable that Gilberte lived in a society too far removed from and above theirs to know anything about it. But she must have learned of it later when Andrée went up and she came down enough for them to meet. Then the woman for whom a man had abandoned Rachel although she, Rachel, preferred him to Robert, must have been dowered with much prestige in the eyes of Gilberte.
In the same way, perhaps, the sight of Andrée recalled to Gilberte the youthful romance of her love for Robert and also inspired her respect for Andrée who was still loved by the man so adored by Rachel whom Gilberte knew Saint-Loup had preferred to herself. Perhaps, on the other hand, these memories played no part in Gilberte’s predilection for this artistic couple and it was only the result, as in many other cases, of the development of tastes common amongst society women for acquiring new experience and simultaneously lowering themselves. Perhaps Gilberte had forgotten Robert as completely as I had Albertine and even if she knew it was Rachel whom the artist had left for Andrée she never thought about it because it never played any part in her liking for them. The only way of ascertaining whether my first explanation was either possible or true would have been through the evidence of the interested parties and then only if they proffered their confidence with clarity and sincerity. And the first is rarely met with, the second never.
“But how is it that you are here at this crowded reception?” asked Gilberte. “It’s not like you to come to a massacre like this. I might have expected to meet you anywhere rather than in one of these omnium-gatherums of my aunt; she is my aunt you know,” she added subtly; for having become Mme de Saint-Loup considerably before Mme Verdurin entered the family, she considered herself a Guermantes from the beginning of time and, in consequence, affected by the mésalliance of her uncle with Mme Verdurin whom, it is true, she had heard the family laugh at a thousand times whereas, of course, it was only when she was not there that they alluded to the mesalliance of Saint-Loup and herself. She affected, moreover the greater disdain for this undistinguished aunt because the Princesse de Guermantes, owing to a sort of perversity which impels intelligent people to escape from the bondage of fashion, also owing to the need displayed by ageing people of memories that will form a background to their newly acquired position, would say about Gilberte: “That’s no new relationship for me, I knew the young woman’s mother very well; why, she was my cousin Marsantes’ great friend. It was at my house she met Gilberte’s father. As to poor Saint-Loup, I used to know all his family, his uncle was once an intimate friend of mine at La Raspelière.” “You see, the Verdurins were not Bohemians at all,” people said to me when they heard the Princesse de Guermantes talk in that way, “they were old friends of Mme de Saint-Loup’s family.” I was, perhaps, the only one who knew, through my grandfather, that indeed the Verdurins were not Bohemians, but it was not exactly because they had known Odette. But it is as easy to give accounts of the past which nobody knows anything about as it is of travels in countries where no one has ever been. “Well,” concluded Gilberte, “as you do sometimes emerge from your ivory tower, would not a little intimate party at my house amuse you? I should invite sympathetic souls who would be more to your taste. A big affair like this is not for you. I saw you talking to my Aunt Oriane who may have the best qualities in the world but we shouldn’t be libelling her, should we, if we said she doesn’t belong to the élite of the mind?” I could not impart to Gilberte the thoughts which had occupied me during the last hour but I thought she might provide me with distraction which, however, I should not get from talking literature with the Duchesse de Guermantes nor with her either. Certainly I intended to start afresh from the next day to live in solitude but, this time, with a real object. Even at my own house I should not let people come to see me during my working hours, for my duty to my work was more important than that of being polite or even kind. Doubtless, those who had not seen me for a long time would come, and believing me restored to health, would be insistent. When their day’s work was finished or interrupted, they would insist on coming, having need of me as I once had of Saint-Loup, because, as had happened at Combray when my parents reproached me just when, unknown to them, I was forming the most praiseworthy resolution, the internal timepieces allotted to mankind are not all regulated to the same hour; one strikes the hour of rest when another strikes that of work, one that of a judge’s sentence when the guilty has repented and that of his inner perfectioning has struck long before. But to those who came to see me or sent for me, I should have the courage to answer that I had an urgent appointment about essential matters it was necessary for me to regulate without further delay, an appointment of capital importance with myself. And yet, though indeed there be little relation between our real self and the other — because of their homonymy and their common body, the abnegation which makes us sacrifice easier duties, pleasures even, seems to others egoism. Moreover, was it not to concern myself with them that I was going to live far apart from those who would complain that they never saw me, to concern myself with them more fundamentally than I could have done in their presence, so that I might reveal them to themselves, make them realise themselves. How would it have profited if, for years longer, I had wasted my nights by letting the words they had just uttered fade into an equally vain echo of my own, for the sake of the sterile pleasure of a social contact which excludes all penetrating thought? Would it not be better I should try to describe the curve, to elicit the law that governed their gestures, their words, their lives, their nature? Unhappily, I should be compelled to fight against that habit of putting myself in another’s place which, though it may favour the conception of a work retards its execution. For, through an excess of politeness it makes us sacrifice to others not merely our pleasure but our duty even though putting oneself in the place of others, duty, whatever form it may take, even, were it helpful, that of remaining at the rear when one can render no service at the front, appears contrary to the truth, to be our pleasure. And far from believing myself unhappy because of a life without friends, without conversation, as some of the greatest have believed, I realised that the force and elation spent in friendship are a sort of false passport to an individual intimacy that leads nowhere and turns us back from a truth to which they might have conducted us. But anyhow, should intervals of repose and social intercourse be necessary to me, I felt that instead of the intellectual conversations which society people believe interesting to writers, light loves with young flowering girls would be the nourishment I might, at the most, allow my imagination, like the famous horse which was fed on nothing but roses. All of a sudden I longed again for what I had dreamed of at Balbec, when I saw Albertine and Andrée disporting themselves with their friends on the sea-shore before I knew them. But alas, those I now so much longed for, I could find no more. The years which had transformed all those I had seen to-day including Gilberte herself must, beyond question, have made of the other survivors as, had she not perished, of Albertine, women very different from the girls I remembered. I suffered at the thought of their attaint for time’s changes do not modify the images in our memory. There is nothing more painful than the contrast between the alteration in beings and the fixity of memory, than the realisation that what our memory keeps green has decayed and that there can be no exterior approach to the beauty within us which causes so great a yearning to see it once more. The intense desire for those girls of long ago which my memory excited, could never be quenched unless I sought its satisfaction in another being as young. I had often suspected that what seems unique in a creature we desire does not belong to that individual. But the passage of time gave me completer proof, since after twenty years I now wanted, instead of the girls I had known, those possessing their youth. Moreover, it is not only the awakening of physical desire that corresponds to no reality because it ignores the passing of time. At times I prayed that, by a miracle, my grandmother and Albertine had, in spite of my reason, survived and would come to me. I believed I saw them, my heart leaped towards them. But I forgot that, if they had been alive, Albertine would almost have the appearance of Mme Cottard at Balbec and that my grandmother at ninety-five would not exhibit the beautiful, calm, smiling face I still imagined hers as arbitrarily as we picture God the Father with a beard or as, in the seventeenth century, the heroes of Homer were represented in the company of noblemen with no regard to chronology. I looked at Gilberte and I did not think, “I should like to see you again.” But I told her it would certainly give me pleasure if she invited me to meet young girls, of whom I should ask no more than to evoke reveries and sorrows of former days, perhaps, on some unlikely day, to allow me the privilege of one chaste kiss. As Elstir loved to see incarnated in his wife the Venetian beauty he so often painted in his works, I excused myself for being attracted through a certain aesthetic egoism towards beautiful women who might cause me suffering, and I cultivated a sort of idolatry for future Gilbertes, future Duchesses de Guermantes and Albertines who I thought might inspire me like a sculptor in the midst of magnificent antique marbles. I ought, nevertheless, to have remembered that each experience had been preceded by my sense of the mystery which pervaded them and that, instead of asking Gilberte to introduce me to young girls I should have done better to journey to those shores where nothing binds them to us, where an impassable gulf lies between them and us, where, though they are about to bathe two paces away on the beach, they are separated from us by the impossible. It was thus that my sentiment of mystery had enshrined first Gilberte, then the Duchesse de Guermantes, Albertine, so many others. True, the unknown and almost unknowable had become the common, the familiar, the indifferent or the painful, yet it retained something of its former charm. And, to tell the truth, (as in those calendars the postman brings us when he wants his Christmas box,) there was not one year of my life that did not have the picture of a woman I then desired as its frontispiece or interleaved in its days; a picture sometimes the more arbitrary that I had not even seen her, as for instance, Mme Putbus’ maid, Mlle d’Orgeville or some other girl whose name I had noticed in a society column amongst those of other charming dancers. I imagined her beautiful, I fell in love with her, I created an ideal being, queen of the provincial country-side where, I gleaned from the Annuaire des Châteaux, her family owned an estate. In the case of women I had known, that countryside was at least a double one. Each one of them emerged at a different point of my life, standing like protective local divinities first in the midst of the countryside of my dreams, a setting which patterned my life and to which my imagination clung; then perceived by the memory in the various places where I had known her, places she recalled because of her association with them; for though our life wanders, our memory is sedentary and, project ourselves as we may, our memories riveted to places from which we are detached, remain at home like temporary acquaintances made by a traveller in some city in which he leaves them to live their lives and finish their days as though he were still standing beside the church, in front of the door, beneath the trees in the avenue. Thus the shadow of Gilberte lengthened from the front of a church in l’Ile de France where I had imagined her to the drive of a park on the Méséglise side, that of Mme de Guermantes from the damp path over which red and violet grapes hung in clusters to the morning-gold of a Paris pavement. And this second personality, not born of desire but of memory, was not in either case the only one. I had known each in different circumstances and periods and in each she was another for me or I was another, bathed in dreams of another colour. And the law which had governed the dreams of each year now gathered round them the memories of the woman I had each time known, that which concerned the Duchesse de Guermantes of my childhood was concentrated by magnetic energy round Combray and that which concerned the Duchesse de Guermantes who invited me to luncheon about a sensitive being of a different kind; there were several Duchesses de Guermantes as there had been several Mme Swanns since the lady in pink, separated from each other by the colourless ether of years and I could no more jump from one to the other than I could fly from here to another planet. Not only separated but different, decked out with dreams at different periods as with flora indiscoverable in another planet. So true was this that, having decided not to go to luncheon either with Mme de Forcheville or with Mme de Guermantes, so completely would that have transported me into another world, I could only tell myself that the one was the Duchesse de Guermantes, descendant of Geneviève de Brabant and the other was the lady in pink, because within me an educated man asserted the fact with the same authority as a scientist who stated that a nebulous Milky Way was composed of particles of a single star. In the same way Gilberte, whom I nevertheless, asked absent-mindedly to introduce me to girls like her former self, was now nothing more to me than Mme de Saint-Loup. As I looked at her, I did not start dreaming of the part my admiration of Bergotte, whom she had also forgotten, had formerly played in my love of her for I now only thought of Bergotte as the author of his books, without remembering, except during rare and isolated flashes, my emotion when I was introduced to him, my disappointment, my astonishment at his conversation in the drawing-room with the white rugs, full of violets, where such a number of lamps were brought so early and placed upon so many different tables. All the memories which composed the original Mlle Swann were, in fact, foreshortened by the Gilberte of now, held back by the magnetic attraction of another universe, united to a sentence of Bergotte and bathed in the perfume of hawthorn. The fragmentary Gilberte of to-day listened smilingly to my request and setting herself to think, she became serious and appeared to be searching for something in her head. Of this I was glad as it prevented her from noticing a group seated not far from us, the sight of which would not have been agreeable to her. The Duchesse de Guermantes was engaged in an animated conversation with a horrible old woman whom I stared at without having the slightest idea who she was. “How extraordinary to see Rachel here,” Bloch passing at that moment, whispered in my ear. The magic name instantly broke the spell which had laid the disguise of this unknown and foul old woman upon Saint-Loup’s mistress and I recognised her at once. In this case as in others, as soon as names were supplied to faces I could not recognise, the spell was broken and I knew them. All the same, there was a man there I could not recognise even when I was supplied with his name and I believed it must be a homonym for he bore no sort of likeness to the one I had formerly known and come across afterwards. It was the same man, after all, only greyer and fatter but he had removed his moustache and with it, his personality. It was indeed Rachel, now a celebrated actress, who was to recite verses of Musset and La Fontaine during the reception, with whom Gilberte’s aunt, the Duchesse de Guermantes, was then talking. The sight of Rachel could in no case have been agreeable to Gilberte and I was annoyed to hear she was going to recite because it would demonstrate her intimacy with the Duchesse. The latter, too long conscious of being the leader of fashion, (not realising that a situation of that kind only exists in the minds of those who believe in it and that many newcomers would not believe she had any position at all unless they saw her name in the fashion-columns and knew she went everywhere) nowadays only visited the faubourg Saint-Germain at rare intervals, saying that it bored her to death and went to the other extreme by lunching with this or that actress whose company pleased her.
The Duchesse still hesitated to invite Balthy and Mistinguette, whom she thought adorable, for fear of a scene with M. de Guermantes, but in any case Rachel was her friend. From this the new generation concluded, notwithstanding her name, that the Duchesse de Guermantes must be a demi-castor who had never been the “real thing”. It is true that Mme de Guermantes still took the trouble to ask certain sovereigns for whose friendship two other great ladies were her rivals, to luncheon. But they rarely came to Paris and knew people of no particular position, and as the Duchesse, owing to the Guermantes partiality for old forms (for though well-bred people bored her, she liked good manners) announced, “Her Majesty has commanded the Duchesse de Guermantes, has deigned, et cetera,” the newcomers, ignorant of these formulas, assumed that the Duchesse’s position had diminished. From Mme de Guermantes’ standpoint, her intimacy with Rachel might indicate that we were mistaken in believing her condemnation of fashion to be a hypocritical pose at a time when her refusal to go to Mme de Sainte-Euverte’s seemed to be due to snobbishness rather than to intelligence and her objection to the marquise on the ground of stupidity to be attributable to the latter’s failure to attain her snobbish ambitions. But this intimacy with Rachel might equally signify that the Duchesse’s intelligence was meagre, unsatisfied and desirous, very late, of expressing itself, combined with a total ignorance of intellectual realities and a fanciful spirit which makes ladies of position say, “What fun it will be” and finish their evenings in what actually is the most excruciating boredom, forcing themselves on someone to whom they have nothing to say so as to stand a moment by his bedside in an evening cloak, after which, observing that it is very late, they go off to bed.
It may be added that for some little time, the versatile Duchesse had felt a strong antipathy towards Gilberte which might make her take particular pleasure in receiving Rachel, which moreover enabled her to proclaim one of the Guermantes’ maxims, namely, that they were too numerous to take up a quarrel or to go into mourning among themselves, a sort of “it’s not my business” independence which it had been expedient to adopt in regard to M. de Charlus who, had they espoused his cause, would have made them quarrel with everybody. As to Rachel, if she had actually taken a good deal of trouble to make friends with the Duchesse (trouble which the Duchesse had been unable to detect in the affected disdain and pretentious rudeness which made her believe the actress was not at all a snob) doubtless it came about from the fascination exercised upon society people by hardened bohemians which is parallel to that which bohemians feel about people in society, a double reaction which corresponds, in the political order, to the reciprocal curiosity and desire to be allies displayed by nations who have fought against each other. But Rachel’s wish to be friends with the Duchesse might have a more peculiar reason. It was at the house of Mme de Guermantes and from Mme de Guermantes herself that she once suffered her greatest humiliation. Rachel had not forgotten though, little by little, she had pardoned it but the singular prestige the Duchesse had derived from it in her eyes, would never be effaced. The colloquy from which I wanted to draw Gilberte’s attention was fortunately interrupted, for the mistress of the house came to fetch Rachel, the moment having come for her recitation, so she left the Duchesse and appeared upon the platform.
While these incidents were taking place a spectacle of a very different kind was to be seen at the other end of Paris. La Berma had asked some people to come to tea with her in honour of her daughter and her son-in-law but the guests were apparently in no hurry to arrive. Having learned that Rachel was to recite poems at the Princesse de Guermantes’ (which greatly shocked la Berma, a great artist to whom Rachel was still a courtesan given minor parts, because Saint-Loup paid for her stage-wardrobe, in plays in which la Berma took the principal rôle, more shocked still by the report in town that though the invitations were sent in the name of the Princesse de Guermantes, it was Rachel who was receiving there) la Berma had written insistently to some of her faithful friends not to fail to come to her tea party, knowing they were also friends of the Princesse de Guermantes when she was Mme Verdurin. But the hours passed and no one arrived. When Bloch was asked to go he replied naively: “No, I prefer going to the Princesse de Guermantes’.” And, alas, everyone else had made up his mind to do likewise. La Berma, attacked by a mortal disease which prevented her from going into society except on rare occasions, had become worse, since, in order to satisfy her daughter’s demand for luxuries which her ailing and idle son-in-law could not provide, she had again gone on the stage. She knew she was shortening her life, but only cared to please her daughter to whom she brought the great prestige of her fame as to her son-in-law whom she detested but flattered because, as she knew her daughter adored him, she feared, if she did not conciliate him, he would, out of spite, keep them apart. La Berma’s daughter, who was not entirely cruel and was secretly loved by the doctor who was attending her mother, allowed herself to be persuaded that these performances of Phèdre were not very dangerous to the invalid. In a measure she had forced the doctor to say so and had retained only that out of the many things he forbade and which she ignored; in reality the doctor had said that there was no harm in la Berma’s performances, to please the young woman whom he loved, and perhaps through ignorance as well, knowing that the disease was incurable anyhow, on the principle that one readily accepts the shortening of the sufferings of invalids when in doing so one is the gainer, perhaps also through stupidly supposing it would please la Berma herself and must, therefore, do her good, a foolish notion in which he felt justified when, a box being sent him by la Berma’s children for which he left all his patients in the lurch, he had found her as full of life on the stage as she had appeared moribund in her own house. And our habits do, indeed, in large measure, enable even our organisms to accommodate themselves to an existence which at first seemed impossible. We have all seen an old circus performer with a weak heart accomplish acrobatic tricks which no one would believe his heart could stand. La Berma was in the same degree a stage veteran to whose exactions her organs so much adapted themselves that forfeiting prudence, she could, without the public discerning it, produce the illusion of health only affected by an imaginary nervous ailment. After the scene of Hippolyte’s declaration, though la Berma well knew the terrible night to which she was returning, her admirers applauded her to the echo and declared her more beautiful than ever. She went back in a state of horrible suffering but happy to bring her daughter the bank-notes which, with the playfulness of a former child of the streets, she was in the habit of tucking into her stocking whence she proudly extracted them, hoping for a smile or a kiss. Unhappily, these notes only enabled son-in-law and daughter to add new decorations to their house adjoining that of their mother, in consequence of which, incessant hammering interrupted the sleep which the great tragedian so much needed. To conform to changes of fashion and to the taste of Messrs, de X or de Y, whom they hoped to entertain, they redecorated every room in the house. La Berma, realising that the sleep which alone could have calmed her suffering, had fled, resigned herself to not sleeping any more, not without a secret contempt for elegancies which were hastening her death and making her last days a torture. Doubtless she despised such decrees of fashion owing to a natural resentment of things that injure us which we are powerless to avoid. But it was also because, conscious of the genius within her, she had acquired in her early youth the realisation of their futility and had remained faithful to the tradition she had always reverenced and of which she was the incarnation, which made her judge things and people as she would have done thirty years earlier — Rachel, for instance, not as the fashionable actress she had become but as the little prostitute she had been. In truth, la Berma was no better than her daughter; it was from her heredity and from the contagion of example which admiration had rendered more, effective, that her daughter had derived her egotism, her pitiless raillery, her unconscious cruelty. But, la Berma, in thus saturating her daughter with her own defects, had delivered herself. And even if la Berma’s daughter had not had workmen in her house she would have exhausted her mother through the ruthless and irresponsible force of attraction of youth which infects old age with the madness of trying to assimilate it. Every day there was a luncheon party and they would have considered la Berma selfish to deny them that pleasure, or even not to be there as they counted on the magical presence of the illustrious mother to attract, not without difficulty, new social relationships which had to be hauled in by the ears. They “promised” her to these new acquaintances for some party elsewhere so as to show them “civility”. And the poor mother, engaged in a grave colloquy with death who had taken up his abode in her, had to get up and go out. The more so that, at this period, Réjane, in all the lustre of her talent, was giving performances abroad with enormous success and the son-in-law anxious that la Berma should not be eclipsed, wanted as profuse an effulgence for the family and forced la Berma to make tours during which she had to have injections of morphia which might cause her death at any moment because of the state of her kidneys. The same magnet of fashion and social prestige had on the day of the Princesse de Guermantes’ party, acted as an air-pump and had drawn la Berma’s most faithful habitués there with the power of hydraulic suction, while at her own house there was absolute void and death. One young man had come, being uncertain whether the party at la Berma’s would be equally brilliant or not. When she saw the time pass and realised that everyone had thrown her over, she had tea served and sat down to table as though to a funereal repast. There was nothing left in la Berma’s face to recall her whose photograph had so deeply moved me one mid-Lenten evening long ago; death, as people say, was written in it. At this moment she verily resembled a marble of Erechtheum. Her hardened arteries were half petrified, long sculptural ribbons were traced upon her cheeks with a mineral rigidity. The dying eyes were relatively living in contrast with the terrible ossified mask and shone feebly like a serpent asleep in the midst of stones. Nevertheless, the young man who had sat down to the table out of politeness was continually looking at the time, attracted as he was to the brilliant party at the Guermantes’. La Berma had no word of reproach for the friends who had abandoned her naively hoping she was unaware they had gone to the Guermantes’. She only murmured: “Fancy a Rachel giving a party at the Princesse de Guermantes’; one has to come to Paris to see a thing like that!” and silently and with solemn slowness ate forbidden cakes as though she were observing some funeral rite. The tea-party was the more depressing that the son-in-law was furious that Rachel, whom he and his wife knew well, had not invited them. His despair was the greater that the young man who had been invited, told him he knew Rachel well enough, if he went to the Guermantes’ at once, to ask her to invite the frivolous couple at the last moment. But la Berma’s daughter knew the low level to which her mother relegated Rachel and that, to solicit an invitation from the former prostitute, would have been tantamount to killing her, and she told the young man and her husband that such-a thing was out of the question. But she revenged herself during tea by adopting an air of being deprived of amusement and bored by that tiresome mother of hers. The latter pretended not to notice her daughter’s sulkiness and every now and then addressed an amiable word to the young man, their only guest, in a dying voice. But soon the whirlwind which was blowing everybody to the Guermantes’ and had blown me there prevailed; he got up and left, leaving Phèdre or death, one did not know which, to finish eating the funereal cakes with her daughter and her son-in-law.
The conversation Gilberte and I were having was interrupted by the voice of Rachel who had just stood up. Her performance was intelligent, for it assumed the unity of the poem as pre-existent apart from the recital and that we were only listening to a fragment of it, as though we were for a moment within earshot of an artist walking along a road. But the audience was bewildered at the sight of the woman bending her knees and throwing out her arms as though she were holding some invisible being in them, before she uttered a sound, and then becoming suddenly bandy-legged and starting to recite very familiar lines in a tone of supplication.
The announcement of a poem which nearly everybody knew had given satisfaction. But when they saw Rachel before beginning, peering about like one who is lost, lifting imploring hands and giving vent to sobs with every word everyone felt embarrassed and shocked by the exaggeration. No one had ever supposed that reciting verses was this sort of thing. But, by degrees, one gets accustomed to it and one forgets the first feeling of discomfort; one begins analysing the performance and mentally comparing various forms of recitation so as to say to oneself that one thing or the other is better or worse. It is like when, on seeing a barrister the first time in an ordinary lawsuit stand forward, lift his arm from the folds of his gown and begin in a threatening tone, one does not dare look at one’s neighbours. One feels it is ridiculous, but perhaps, after all, it is magnificent and one waits to see. Everybody looked at each other, not knowing what sort of face to put on; some of the younger ones whose manners were less restrained stifled bursts of laughter. Each person cast a stealthy look at the one next to him, that furtive look one bestows on a guest more knowing than oneself at a fashionable dinner when at the side of one’s plate one observes a strange instrument, a lobster fork or a sugar-sifter one does not know how to wield, hoping to watch him using it so that one can copy him. One behaves similarly when someone quotes a verse one does not know but wants to appear to know and which, like giving way to someone else at a door, one leaves to a better-informed person the pleasure of identifying as though we were doing him a favour. Thus those who were listening waited with bent head and inquisitive eye for others to take the initiative in laughter, criticism, tears or applause. Mme de Forcheville, come expressly from Guermantes whence the Duchesse, as we shall see later on, had been virtually expelled, adopted an attentive and strained appearance which was all but positively disagreeable, either to show she knew all about it and was not present as a mere society woman, or out of hostility to those less versed in literature who might talk to her about something else or because she was trying by complete concentration, to make up her mind whether she liked it or not because though, perhaps, she thought it “interesting”, she did not “approve” the manner in which certain verses were delivered. This attitude might more properly have been adopted one would have thought, by the Princesse de Guermantes. But as it was her own house and she had become as miserly as she had rich she made up her mind to give just five roses to Rachel and see to the claque for her. She excited enthusiasm and created general approval by her loud exclamations of delight. Only in that respect did she become a Verdurin again; she conveyed the impression of listening to the verses for her own pleasure, of really preferring them to be recited to her alone and of its being a matter of chance that five hundred people had come by her permission to share her pleasure in secrecy. I noticed, however, without its affording my vanity any satisfaction since she had become old and ugly, that Rachel gave me a surreptitious wink. Throughout the recital she let me perceive by a subtly conveyed yet expressive smile that she was soliciting my acquiescence in her advances. But certain old ladies, unaccustomed to poetic recitations, remarked sotto voce to their neighbours: “Did you see that?” alluding to the actress’s tragi-comic miming which was too much for them. The Duchesse de Guermantes sensed the wavering of opinion and determining to assure the performer’s triumph, exclaimed “marvellous!” in the very middle of a poem which she believed finished. Upon this several guests emphasised the exclamation with a gesture of appreciation, less with the object of displaying their approval of the recital than the terms they were on with the Duchesse. When the poem was finished, we were close to Rachel who thanked Mme de Guermantes and as I was with the latter, took advantage of the opportunity to address me graciously. I then realised that, unlike the impassioned gaze of M. de Vaugoubert’s son which I had assumed to be a salutation intended for another, Rachel’s significant smile, instead of being meant as an invitation was only intended to provoke my recognition and the bow I now made to her. “I am sure he does not know me,” the actress remarked to the Duchesse in a mincing manner. “On the contrary,” I asserted, “I recognised you immediately.”
If, while that woman was reciting some of La Fontaine’s most beautiful verses, she had only been thinking, whether out of goodwill, stupidity or embarrassment, of the awkwardness of approaching me, during the same time Bloch had only thought of how he could bound, like one who is escaping from a beleaguered city, if not over the bodies at all events on the feet of his neighbours, to congratulate the actress the moment the recital was over, whether from a mistaken sense of obligation or from a desire to show off. “It was beautiful,” he said to her and, having thus relieved himself, he turned his back on her and made such a noise in resuming his seat that Rachel had to wait several minutes before she could begin her second poem. It was the Deux pigeons and when it was over, Mme de Monrieuval went up to Mme de Saint-Loup who, she knew, was well-read but did not remember that she had her father’s subtle and sarcastic wit, and asked her: “It’s one of La Fontaine’s fables, isn’t it?” thinking so but not being sure, for she only knew the fables slightly and believed they were children’s tales unsuitable for recitation in society. Doubtless the good woman supposed that, to have such a success, the artist must have parodied them. Gilbert, till then impassive, confirmed the notion, for as she disliked Rachel and wanted to convey that with such a diction nothing of the fables remained, her answer was given with that tinge of malice which left simple people uncertain what Swann really meant. Though she was Swann’s daughter, she was more modern than he — like a duck hatched by a chicken — and being as a rule rather lakist, would have contented herself with saying: “I thought it most moving, a charming sensibility”, but Gilberte answered Mme de Monrieuval in Swann’s fanciful fashion which people often made the mistake of taking literally: “A quarter is the interpreter’s invention, a quarter crazy, a quarter meaningless, the rest La Fontaine,” which enabled Mme de Monrieuval to assert that what people had been listening to was not the Deux pigeons of La Fontaine, but a composition of which at the most a quarter was La Fontaine, at which nobody was surprised owing to their extraordinary ignorance.
But one of Bloch’s friends having arrived late, the former painted a wonderful picture of Rachel’s performance, getting a peculiar pleasure out of exaggerating its merits and holding forth to someone about modernist diction though it had not given him the slightest satisfaction. Then Bloch again congratulated Rachel with overdone emotion in a squeaky voice, told her she was a genius and introduced his friend who declared he had never admired anyone so much and Rachel, who now knew ladies in the best society and unconsciously copied them, answered: “I am flattered, honoured, by your appreciation.” Bloch’s friend asked Rachel what she thought of la Berma. “Poor woman! It appears she’s in a state of poverty. I will not say she had no talent, though it was not real talent for, at bottom, she only liked horrors, but certainly she was useful, she played in a lively fashion and she was a well-meaning, generous creature and has ruined herself for others. She has made nothing for a long time because the public no longer cares for the things she plays in. To tell the truth,” she added with a laugh, “I must tell you that my age did not enable me to hear her till her last period when I was too young to form an opinion.” “Didn’t she recite poetry well?” Bloch’s friend ventured the question to flatter her: “As to that,” she replied, “she never could recite a single line, it was prose, Chinese, Volapuk, anything you like except verse. Moreover, as I tell you, I hardly heard her and only quite at the last,” to appear youthful, “but I’ve been told she was no better formerly, rather the reverse.”
I realised that the passing of time does not necessarily bring about progress in the arts. And in the same way that a seventeenth century writer who was without knowledge of the French Revolution, scientific discoveries and the war, can be superior to another of this period and that Fagon was, perhaps, as great a physician as du Boulbon (the superiority of genius compensating in this case the inferiority of knowledge) so la Berma was a hundred times greater than Rachel and time, by placing her at the top of the tree together with Elstir, had consecrated her genius.
One must not be surprised that Saint-Loup’s former mistress sneered at la Berma, she would have done so when she was young, so how would she not do so now. Let a society woman of high intelligence and of amiable disposition become an actress, displaying great talent in her new profession and meeting with nothing but success, if one happened to be in her company some time later, one would be surprised at hearing her talk a language which was not hers but that of people of the theatre, assume their peculiar kind of coarse familiarity towards their colleagues and all the rest of the habits acquired by those who have been on the stage for thirty years. Rachel behaved similarly without having been in society.
Mme de Guermantes, in her decline, had felt new curiosities rising within her. Society had nothing more to give her. The fact that she occupied the highest position in it was, as we have seen, as plain to her as the height of the blue sky above the earth. She did not consider that she had to assert a position she regarded as unassailable. On the other hand, she wanted to extend her reading and attend more performances. As in former days, all the choicest and most exclusive spirits gathered familiarly in the little garden to drink orangeade amidst the perfumed breezes and clouds of pollen, to be entertained of an evening by her taste for and understanding of what was best in society, now another sort of appetite made her want to know the reasons of some literary controversy, to make the acquaintance of its protagonists and of actresses. Her tired mind demanded a new stimulant. To know such people, she now made advances to women with whom formerly she would not have exchanged cards, and who made much of their intimacy with the director of some review or other in the hope of getting hold of the Duchesse. The first actress she invited believed herself to be the only one admitted to a wonderful social milieu which seemed less wonderful to the second when the latter saw who had preceded her. The Duchesse believed her position to be unchanged because she received royalties at some of her evening parties. In reality she, the only representative of stainless blood, herself a born Guermantes, who could sign “Guermantes” when she did not sign “Duchesse de Guermantes”, she who represented to her own sisters-in-law something infinitely precious, like a Moses saved from the waters, a Christ escaped into Egypt, a Louis XVII fled from the Temple, purest of pure breeds, now sacrificed it all, doubtless, for the sake of that congenital need of mental nourishment which caused the social desuetude of Mme de Villeparisis and had herself become a sort of Mme de Villeparisis at whose house snobbish women were afraid of meeting this person or that and whom young men, observing the accomplished fact without knowing what had preceded it, believed to be a Guermantes of inferior vintage, of a poor year, a déclassée Guermantes. In her new environment she remained what she had been more than she supposed and went on believing that being bored implied intellectual superiority and expressed this sentiment with a violence that made her voice sound harsh. When I talked about Brichot to her she said: “He bored me enough for twenty years,” and when Mme de Cambremer suggested her re-reading “what Schopenhauer said about music,” she commented on the remark with asperity: “Re-read! That’s a gem! Please not that.” Then old Albon smiled because he recognised one of the forms of the Guermantes’ spirit.
“People can say what they like, it’s admirable, there’s the right note and character in it, it’s an intelligent rendering, nobody ever recited verses like it,” the Duchesse said of Rachel, for fear Gilberte would sneer at her. The latter moved away to another group to avoid conflict with her aunt who, indeed, was extremely dull when she talked about Rachel. But considering the best writers cease to display any talent with increase of age or from excess of production, one can excuse society women for having less sense of humour as they get old. Swann missed the Princesse des Laumes’ delicacy in the hard wit of the Duchesse de Guermantes. Late in life, tired by the slightest effort, Mme de Guermantes gave vent to an immense number of stupid observations. It is true that every now and then, even in the course of this very afternoon, she was again the woman I once knew and talked about society matters with her former verve. But in spite of the sparkling words and the accompanying charm which for so many years had held under their sway the most distinguished men in Paris, her wit scintillated, so to speak, in a vacuum. When she was about to say something funny, she paused the same number of seconds as she used to but when the jest came, there was no point in it. However, few enough people noticed it. The continuity of the proceeding made them think the spirit survived like people who have a fancy for particular kinds of cakes and go to the same shop for them without noticing that they have deteriorated. Even during the war the Duchesse had shown signs of this decay. If anyone used the word culture, she stopped, smiled, her beautiful face lighted up and she ejaculated: “la K K K Kultur” and made her friends, who were fervents of the Guermantes’ spirit, roar with laughter. It was, of course, the same mould, the same intonation, the same smile that had formerly delighted Bergotte, who, for that matter, had he lived, would have kept his pithy phrases, his interjections, his periods of suspense, his epithets, to express nothing. But newcomers were sometimes taken aback and if they happened to turn up on a day when she was neither bright nor in full possession of her faculties, they said, “What a fool she is.” Moreover, the Duchesse so timed her descent into a lower sphere as not to allow it to affect those of her family from whom she drew aristocratic prestige. If, to play her part as protectress of the arts, she invited a minister or a painter to the theatre and he asked her naively whether her sister-in-law or her husband were in the audience, the Duchesse intimidated him by a show of audacity and answered disdainfully: “I don’t know. When I go out I don’t bother about my family. For politicians and artists I’m a widow.” In this way she prevented the too obtrusive parvenu from getting rebuffs — and herself reprimands — from M. de Marsantes and Basin.
I told Mme de Guermantes I had met M. de Charlus. She thought him more deteriorated than he was, it being the habit of people in society to see differences of intelligence in various people in their world amongst whom it is about uniform and also in the same person at different periods of his life. She added: “He was always the very image of my mother-in-law and the likeness is more striking than ever.” There was nothing remarkable in that. We know, as a matter of fact, that certain women are reproduced in certain men with complete fidelity, the only mistake being the sex. We cannot qualify this as felix culpa, for sex reacts upon personality and feminism becomes effeminacy, reserve suceptibility and so on. This does not prevent a man’s face, even though bearded, from being modelled on lines transferable to the portrait of his mother. There was nothing but a ruin of the old M. de Charlus left but under all the layers of fat and rice powder one could recognise the remnants of a beautiful woman in her eternal youth.
“I can’t tell you how much pleasure it gives me to see you,” the Duchesse continued, “goodness, when was it we last met?” “Calling upon Mme d’Agrigente where I often used to see you.” “Ah, of course, I often went there, my dear friend, as Basin was in love with her then. I could always be found with his particular friend of the moment because he used to say: ‘Mind you go and see her.’ I must confess that sort of ‘digestion-call’ he made me pay when he had satisfied his appetite was rather troublesome. I got accustomed to that, but the tiresome part was being obliged to keep these relationships up after he had done with them. That always made me think of Victor Hugo’s verse ‘Emporte le bonheur et laisse-moi l’ennui.’ I accepted it smilingly like poetry but it wasn’t fair. At least he might have let me be fickle about his mistresses; making-up his accounts with the series he had enough of didn’t leave me an afternoon to myself. Well, those days seem sweet compared to the present. I can consider it flattering that he has started being unfaithful to me again because it makes me feel young. But I prefer his earlier manner. I suppose it was so long since he had done that sort of thing that he didn’t know how to set about it. But all the same, we get on quite well together. We talk together and rather like each other.” The Duchesse said this for fear I might think they had completely separated and, just as people say when someone is very ill: “He still likes to talk, I was reading to him for an hour this morning,” she added: “I’ll tell him you’re here, he’d like to see you,” and went up to the Duc who was sitting on a sofa talking to a lady. But when he saw his wife approaching him, he looked so angry that she had no alternative but to retire. “He’s engaged; I don’t know what he is up to, we shall see presently,” Mme de Guermantes said, leaving me to make what I liked of the situation. Bloch approached us and asked us in the name of his American friend who the young Duchesse over there was. I told him she was the niece of M. de Bréauté, about whom Bloch, who had never heard his name, wanted particulars. “Ah, Bréauté!” exclaimed Mme de Guermantes, addressing me, “you remember! Goodness, how long ago it is!” Then turning to Bloch, “He was a snob if you like; his people lived near my mother-in-law. That won’t interest you, it’s amusing for my old friend,” she indicated me, “he used to know all about them in old days as I did.” These words and many things in Mme de Guermantes’ manner showed the time that had passed since then. Her friendships and opinions had so changed since the time she was referring to that she had come to thinking her charming Babel a snob. He, on the other hand, had not only receded in time, but, a thing I had not realised when I entered society and believed him one of those notabilities of Paris which would always be associated with his social history like with that of Colbert in the reign of Louis XIV, he also had a provincial label as a country neighbour of the old Duchesse and it was in that capacity that the Princesse des Laumes had been associated with him. Nevertheless, this Bréauté, barren of his one time wit, relegated to a past which dated him and proved he had since been completely forgotten by the Duchesse and her circle, formed a link between the Duchesse and myself which I could never have believed that first evening at the Opéra Comique when he had appeared to me like a nautical God in his marine cave, because she recalled that I had known him, consequently that I had been her friend, if not of the same social circle as herself, that I had frequented that circle for a far longer time than most of the people present; she recalled him and yet not clearly enough to remember certain details which were then my vital concern, that I was not invited to the Guermantes’ place in the country and was only a small bourgeois of Combray when she came to Mlle Percepied’s marriage mass, that, in spite of all Saint-Loup’s requests, she did not invite me to her house during the year following Bréauté‘s appearance with her at the Opéra Comique. To me that was of capital importance for it was exactly then that the life of the Duchesse de Guermantes seemed to me like a paradise I could not enter, but for her it was the same indifferent existence she was accustomed to, and owing to my having often dined at her house later on, and to my having, even earlier, been her aunt’s and her nephew’s friend, she no longer remembered at what period our intimacy had begun nor realised the anachronism of making it start several years too early. For that made it seem as though I had known the Mme de Guermantes of that marvellous Guermantes name, that I had been received by the name of golden syllables in the faubourg Saint-Germain when I had merely dined with a lady who was even then nothing more to me than a lady like any other and who had invited me not to descend into the submarine kingdom of the nereids but to spend the evening in her cousin’s box. “If you want to know all about Bréauté, who isn’t worth it,” she added to Bloch, “ask my friend who is worth a hundred of him. He has dined fifty times at my house with Bréauté. Wasn’t it at my house that you met him? Anyhow, you met Swann there.” And I was as surprised that she imagined I might have met M. de Bréauté elsewhere than at her house and frequented that circle before I knew her as I was to observe that she imagined I had first known Swann at her house. Less untruthfully than Gilberte when she said that Bréauté was “one of my old neighbours in the country; I like talking to him about Tansonville,” whereas he did not in those days go to the Swann’s at Tansonville, I might have remarked: “He was a country neighbour who often came to see us in the evening,” in reference to Swann, who in truth, recalled something very different from the Guermantes, “It’s rather difficult to explain,” she continued. “He was a man to whom Highnesses meant everything. He told a lot of rather funny stories about Guermantes people and my mother-in-law and Mme de Varambon before she was in attendance on the Princesse de Parme. But who cares about Mme de Varambon now? My friend here knew about all this, but it’s done with now, they’re people whose names are forgotten and, for that matter, they didn’t deserve to survive.” And I realised, in spite of that unified thing society seems to be, where, in fact, social relationships reach their greatest concentration, where everything gets known about everybody, that areas of it remain in which time causes changes that cannot be grasped by those who only enter it when its configuration has changed. “Mme de Varambon was an excellent creature who said unbelievably stupid things,” continued the Duchesse, insensitive to that poetry of the incomprehensible which is an effect of time, and concerned only with extracting human elements assimilable with literature of the Meilhac kind and with the Guermantes spirit, “at one time she had a mania for constantly chewing cough drops called”— she laughed to herself as she recalled the name so familiar formerly, so unknown now to those she was addressing —“Pastilles Géraudel. ‘Mme de Varambon,’ my mother-in-law said to her, “‘if you go on swallowing those Géraudel pastilles, you’ll get a stomach-ache.’ ‘But, Mme la Duchesse,’ answered Mme de Varambon, ‘how can I hurt my stomach since they go into the bronchial tubes?’ It was she who said, ‘The Duchesse has got such a beautiful cow that it looks like a stallion.’” Mme de Guermantes would have gladly gone on telling stories about Mme de Varambon of which we knew hundreds but the name did not evoke in Bloch’s memory any of those associations rekindled in us by the mention of Mme de Varambon, of M. de Bréauté, of the Prince d’Agrigente, who perhaps, on that account, exercised a glamour in his eyes I knew to be exaggerated but understood, though not because I had felt it, since our own weaknesses and absurdities seldom make us more indulgent to those of others even when we have thrust them into the light.
The past had been so transformed in the mind of the Duchesse or the demarcations which existed in my own had always been so absent from hers, that what had been an important event for me had passed unperceived by her and she endowed me with a social past which she made recede too far. For the Duchesse shared that notion of time past which I had just acquired, and contrary to my illusion which shortened it, she lengthened it, notably in not reckoning with that undefined line of demarcation between the period when she represented a name to me, then the object of my love — and the period during which she had become merely a woman in society like any other. Moreover, I only went to her house during that second period when she had become another to me. But these differences escaped her eyes and she would not have thought it more singular that I should have been at her house two years earlier because she did not know that she was then another person to me, her personality not appearing to her, as to me, discontinuous.
I told the Duchesse that Bloch believed it was the former Princesse de Guermantes who was receiving to-day, “That reminds me of the first evening when I went to the Princesse de Guermantes’ and believed I was not invited and that they were going to turn me out, when you wore a red dress and red shoes.” “Gracious, how long ago that is!” she answered, thus emphasising the passage of time. She gazed sadly into the distance but particularly insisted on the red dress. I asked her to describe it to me, which she did with complaisance. “Those dresses aren’t worn nowadays. They were the fashion then.” “But it was pretty, wasn’t it?” She was always afraid of saying anything that might not be to her advantage. “Yes, I thought it very pretty. It isn’t the fashion now but it will be again. All fashions come back, in dress, in music, in painting,” she added with emphasis, imagining something original in this philosophy. But the sadness of growing old gave her a lassitude belied by her smile. “You’re sure they were red shoes; I thought they were gold ones?” I assured her that my memory was exact on the point without detailing the circumstances which enabled me to be so certain. “You’re charming to remember,” she said tenderly, for women call those charming who remember their beauty as artists do those who remember their works. Moreover, however distant the past, so determined a woman as the Duchesse is unlikely to forget it. “Do you remember,” she said, as she thanked me for remembering her dress and her shoes, “Basin and I brought you back that evening and there was a girl coming to see you after midnight. Basin laughed heartily about your having visitors at that time of night.” I did, indeed, remember that Albertine came to see me that night after the evening party at the Princesse de Guermantes’. I remembered it quite as well as the Duchesse, I to whom Albertine was now as indifferent as she would have been to Mme de Guermantes, had the latter known that the young girl on whose account I had not gone to their house, was Albertine. Long after our hearts have forsaken the poor dead, their indifferent dust remains, like an alloy, mingled with events of the past and, though we love them no more, when we evoke a room, a path, a road they lived in or traversed with us, we are compelled, so that the place they occupied may not remain untenanted, to think of them though we neither regret nor name nor identify them. (Mme de Guermantes did not identify the girl who was to come that evening, had never known her name and only referred to her because of the hour and the circumstances.) Those are the final and least enviable forms of survival.
If the opinions the Duchesse subsequently expressed regarding Rachel were indifferent in themselves, they interested me because they, too, marked a new hour on the dial. For the Duchesse had no more forgotten her evening party in which Rachel figured than had the latter and the memory had not undergone the slightest transformation. “I must tell you,” she said, “that I am the more interested to hear her recite and to witness her success that I discovered her, appreciated her, treasured her, imposed her, at a time when she was ignored and laughed at. You may be surprised, my dear friend, to know that the first time she was heard in public was at my house. Yes, while all the would-be advanced people like my new cousin”— she ironically indicated the Princesse de Guermantes who to her was still Mme Verdurin, “would have let her starve without condescending to listen to her. I considered her interesting and gave her the prestige of performing at my house before the smartest audience we could get together. I can say, though it sounds stupid and pretentious, for fundamentally talent doesn’t need protection, that I launched her. Of course she didn’t need me.” I made a gesture of protest and observed that Mme de Guermantes was quite ready to welcome it. “You evidently think talent has need of support? Perhaps, after all, you’re right. You’re repeating what Dumas formerly told me. In this case, I am extremely flattered if I do count for something, however little, not in the talent, of course, but in the reputation of an artist like her.” Mme de Guermantes preferred to abandon her idea that talent bursts like an abscess because it was more flattering for herself, but also because for some time now, she had been receiving new people and being rather worn out, she had practised humility by seeking information and asking others their opinion in order to form one. “It isn’t necessary for me to tell you,” she resumed, “that this intelligent public which is called society saw nothing in it. They objected to her and scoffed at her. I might tell them it was original and curious, something different from what-had been done before, no one believed me, as they never did believe me in anything. It was the same with the thing she recited, a piece by Maeterlinck. Now it’s well known, but then everyone laughed at it though I considered it admirable. It surprises even myself considering I was only a peasant with the education of a country-girl, that I spontaneously admired things of that kind. I could not, of course, have explained why, but it gave me pleasure, it moved me. Why, Basin, who is anything but sensitive, was struck by its effect on me. At that time, he said: ‘I don’t want you to listen to these absurdities any more, they make you ill,’ and it was true. They take me for a hard woman and really I am a bundle of nerves.”
At this moment an unexpected incident occurred. A footman came to tell Rachel that la Berma’s daughter and son-in-law wanted to speak to her. We have seen that the daughter had opposed her husband when he wanted to get an invitation from Rachel. But, after the departure of the young man, the boredom of the young couple left alone with their mother had grown, the thought that others were amusing themselves tormented them; in brief, availing themselves of la Berma’s retirement to her bedroom to spit blood, they had quickly put on their smartest clothes, called a carriage and had arrived at the Princesse de Guermantes’ without being invited. Rachel hardly grasped the situation, but secretly flattered, adopted an arrogant tone and told the footman she could not be disturbed, they must write and explain the object of their unusual proceeding. The footman came back with a card on which la Berma’s daughter had scribbled that she and her husband could not resist the pleasure of hearing Rachel recite and asked her to let them come in. Rachel gloated over the pretext and her own triumph and replied that she was very sorry but that the recitation was over. In the anteroom, the footmen were winking at each other while the couple in vain awaited admission. The shame of their humiliation, the consciousness of the insignificance, the nullity of Rachel in her mother’s eyes, pushed la Berma’s daughter into pursuing to the end the step she had risked simply for amusement. She sent a message to Rachel that she would take it as a favour, even if she could not hear her recite, to be allowed to shake hands with her. Rachel at the moment, was talking to an Italian Prince who was said to be after her large fortune, the source of which her social relationships somewhat concealed. She took stock of the reversal of situations which now placed the children of the illustrious Berma at her feet. After informing everyone about the incident in the most charming fashion, she sent the young couple a message to come in, which they did without being asked twice, ruining la Berma’s social prestige at one blow as they had previously destroyed her health. Rachel had realised that her condescension would result in her being considered kinder and the young couple baser than her refusal. So she received them with open arms and with the affectation of a patroness in the limelight who can put aside her magnificence, said: “But of course, I’m delighted to see you, the Princesse will be charmed”. As she did not know that at the theatre she was supposed to have done the inviting, she may have feared, if she refused entry to la Berma’s children, that they might have doubted not her goodwill for that would have been indifferent to her — but her influence. The Duchesse de Guermantes moved away instinctively, for in proportion to anyone’s appearing to court society, he diminished in her esteem. At the moment she only felt it for Rachel’s kindness and would have turned her back on la Berma’s children if they had been introduced to her. Meanwhile, Rachel was composing the gracious phrases with which she, the following day, would overwhelm la Berma in the wings: “I was harrowed, distressed that your daughter should have been kept waiting in the anteroom. If I had only known! She sent me card after card.” She was enchanted to offer this insult to la Berma. Perhaps, had she known it would be a mortal blow, she might have hesitated. People like to persecute others but without exactly putting themselves in the wrong and without hounding them to death. Moreover, where was she wrong? She might say laughingly a few days later: “That’s pretty thick, I meant to be far nicer to her children than she ever was to me, and now they nearly accuse me of killing her. I take the Duchesse to witness.” It seems as though the children of great actors inherit all the evil and pretence of stage-life without accomplishing the determined work that springs from it as did this mother. Great actresses frequently die the victims of domestic plots which are woven round them, as happens so often at the close of dramas they play in.
Gilberte, as we have seen, wanted to avoid a conflict with her aunt on the subject of Rachel. She did well; it was not an easy matter to undertake the defence of Odette’s daughter in opposition to Mme de Guermantes, so great was her animosity owing to what the Duchesse told me about the new form the Duc’s infidelity had taken, which, extraordinary as it might appear to those who knew her age, was with Mme de Forcheville.
When one remembered Mme de Forcheville’s present age, it did, indeed, seem extraordinary. But Odette had probably begun the life of a courtesan very young. And we encounter women who reincarnate themselves every ten years in new love affairs and sometimes drive some young wife to despair because of her husband’s deserting her for them when one actually thought they were dead.
The life of the Duchesse was a very unhappy one, and one reason for it simultaneously brought about the lowering of M. de Guermantes’ social standard. He, sobered by advancing age though still robust, had long ceased being unfaithful to Mme de Guermantes, but had suddenly become infatuated with Mme de Forcheville without knowing how he had got involved in the liaison.
It had assumed such proportions that the old man, in this last love affair, imitating his own earlier amative proceedings, so secluded his mistress that, if my love for Albertine had been a multiple variation of Swann’s for Odette, M. de Guermantes’ recalled mine for Albertine. She had to take all her meals with him and he was always at her house. She boasted of this to friends who, but for her, would never have known the Duc and who came to her house to make his acquaintance, as people visit a courtesan to get to know the king who is her lover. It is true that Mme de Forcheville had been in society for a long time. But beginning over again, late in life, to be kept by such a haughty old man who played the most important part in her life, she lowered herself by ministering only to his pleasure, buying peignoirs and ordering food he liked, flattering her friends by telling them that she had spoken to him about them, as she told my great-uncle she had spoken about him to the Grand-Duke who then sent him cigarettes, in a word, she once more tended, in spite of the position she had secured in society, to become, owing to force of circumstances, what she had been to me when I was a child, the lady in pink. Of course, my Uncle Adolphe had been dead many years. But does the substitution of new people for old prevent us from beginning the same life over again? Doubtless she adapted herself to the new conditions out of cupidity, but also because, somewhat sought after socially when she had a daughter to marry, she had been left in the background when Gilberte married Saint-Loup. She knew that the Duc would do what she liked, that he would bring her any number of duchesses who would not be reluctant to score off their friend Oriane and, perhaps, was stimulated into the bargain by the prospect of gratifying her feminine sentiment of rivalry at the expense of the outraged Duchesse. The Duc de Guermantes’ exclusive Courvoisier nephews, Mme de Marsantes, the Princesse de Trania, went to Mme de Forcheville’s in the expectation of legacies without troubling whether or no this caused pain to Mme de Guermantes, about whom Odette, stung by Mme de Guermantes’ disdain, said the most evil things. This liaison with Mme de Forcheville, which was only an imitation of his early ones, caused the Duc de Guermantes to miss for the second time being elected President of the Jockey Club and honorary member of the Académie des Beaux Arts just as M. de Charlus’ public association with Jupien was the cause of his failure to be elected President of the Union Club and of the Society of Friends of Old Paris. Thus the two brothers, so different in their tastes, had fallen into disrepute on account of the same indolence and lack of will, more pleasantly observable in the case of their grandfather, a member of the French Academy, which led to the normal proclivities of one and the abnormal habits of the other degrading both.
The old Duc did not go out any more, he spent his days and evenings at Odette’s. But to-day, as she herself had come to the Princesse de Guermantes’ party, he had dropped in to see her for a moment, in spite of the annoyance of meeting his wife. I dare say I should not have recognised him if the Duchesse had not drawn my attention to him. He was now nothing but a ruin, but a splendid one; grander than a ruin, he had the romantic beauty of a rock beaten by a tempest. Scourged from every side by the waves of suffering, by rage at his suffering, his face, slowly crumbling like a block of granite almost submerged by the towering seas, retained the style, the suavity I had always admired. It was defaced like a beautiful antique head we are glad to possess as an ornament in a library. But it seemed to belong to an earlier period than it did, not only because its matter had acquired a rude brokenness in the place of its former grace but also because an involuntary expression caused by failing health, resisting and fighting death, by the arduousness of keeping alive, had replaced the old delicacy of mien and exuberance. The arteries had lost all their suppleness and had imprinted a sculptured hardness on the once expressive features. And, unconsciously, the Duc revealed by the contours of his neck, his cheeks, his brow, a being forced to hold on grimly to every moment and as though tossed by a tragic storm, his sparse white locks dashed their spray over the invaded promontory of his visage. And like the weird and spectral reflection an approaching storm sweeping everything before it, gives to rocks till then of another colour, I knew that the leaden grey of his hard, worn cheeks, the woolly whiteness of his unkempt hair, the wavering light which lingered in his almost unseeing eyes, were the but too real pigment borrowed from a fantastic palette with which was inimitably painted the prophetic shadows of age and the terrifying proximity of death. The Duc only stayed a few moments but long enough for me to see that Odette made fun of him to her younger aspirants. But it was strange that he who used to be almost ridiculous when he assumed the pose of a stage-king, was now endowed with a noble mien, resembling in that his brother whom also old age had relieved of accessories. And like his brother, once so arrogant, though in a different way, he seemed almost respectful. For he had not suffered the eclipse of M. de Charlus, reduced to bowing with a forgetful invalid’s politeness to those he had formerly disdained, but he was very old and when he went through the door and wanted to go down the stairs to go away, old age, that most miserable condition which casts men from their high estate as it did the Kings of Greek tragedy, old age gripped him, forced him to halt on that road of the cross which is the life of an impotent menaced by death, so that he might wipe his streaming brow and tap to find the step which escaped his foothold because he needed help to ensure it, help against his swimming eyes, help he was unknowingly imploring ever so gently and timidly from others. Old age had made him more than august, it had made him a suppliant.
Thus in the faubourg Saint-Germain the apparently impregnable positions of the Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes and of the Baron de Charlus had lost their inviolability as everything changes in this world through the action of an interior principle which had never occurred to them; in the case of M. de Charlus it was the love of Charlie who had enslaved him to the Verdurins and then gradual decay, in the case of Mme de Guermantes a taste for novelty and for art, in the case of M. de Guermantes an exclusive love, as he had had so many in his life, rendered more tyrannical by the feebleness of old age to which the austerity of the Duchesse’s salon where the Duc no longer put in an appearance and which, for that matter, had almost ceased functioning, offered no resistance by its power of rehabilitation. Thus the face of things in life changes, the centre of empires, the register of fortunes, the chart of positions, all that seemed final, are perpetually remoulded and during his life-time a man can witness the completest changes just where those seemed to him least possible.
Unable to do without Odette, always at her house and in the same armchair from which old age and gout made it difficult for him to rise, M. de Guermantes let her receive her friends who were only too pleased to be introduced to the Duc, to give him the lead in conversation, and listen to his talk of former society, of the Marquise de Villeparisis and of the Duc de Chartres.
At moments, beneath the old pictures collected by Swann which, with this Restauration Duc and his beloved courtesan, completed the old-fashioned picture, the lady in pink interrupted him with her chatter and he stopped short, and stared at her with a ferocious glare. Possibly he had discovered that she, as well as the duchesse, occasionally made stupid remarks, perhaps an old man’s fancy made him think that one of Mme de Guermantes’ intemperate passages of humour had interrupted what he was saying and he thought himself back in the Guermantes’ mansion as caged beasts may imagine themselves free in African wilds. Raising his head sharply, he fixed his little yellow eyes, which once had the gleam of a wild animal’s, on her in one of those sustained scowls which made me shiver when Mme de Guermantes told me about them. Thus the Duc glared at the audacious lady in pink, but she held her own, did not remove her eyes from him and at the end of a moment which seemed long to the spectators, the old wild beast, tamed, remembered he was no longer at large in the Sahara of his own home, but in his cage in the Jardin des Plantes at Mme de Forcheville’s and he withdrew his head, from which still depended a thick fringe of blonde-white hair, into his shoulders and resumed his discourse. Apparently he had not understood what Mme de Forcheville said, which as a rule, meant little. He permitted her to ask her friends to dinner with him. A mania which was a relic of his former love affairs and did not surprise Odette, accustomed as she was to the same habit in Swann and which reminded me of my life with Alber-tine, was to insist on people going early so that he could say good-night to Odette last. It is unnecessary to add that the moment he had gone she invited other people. But the Duc had no suspicion of that, or preferred not to seem to suspect it; the vigilance of old men diminishes with their sight and hearing. After a certain age Jupiter inevitably changes into one of Molière’s characters — into the absurd Géronte — not into the Olympian lover of Alcmene. And Odette deceived M. de Guermantes and took care of him with neither charm nor generosity of spirit. She was commonplace in that as in everything else. Life had given her good parts but she could not play them and, meanwhile, she was playing at being a recluse. It was a fact that whenever I wanted to see her, I could not, because M. de Guermantes, desirous of reconciling the exactions of his hygiene with those of his jealousy, only allowed her to have parties in the day time and on the further condition that there was no dancing. She frankly avowed the seclusion in which she lived and this for various reasons. The first was that she imagined, although I had only published a few articles and studies, that I was a well-known author which caused her to remark naively, returning to the past when I went to see her in the Avenue des Acacias and later at her house: “Ah, if I could have then foreseen that that boy would one day be a great writer.” And having heard that writers are glad to be with women in order to document themselves and hear love stories, she readopted her rôle of courtesan to entertain me: “Fancy, once there was a man who was crazy about me and I adored him. We were having a divine time together. He had to go to America and I was to go with him. On the eve of his departure I thought it would be more beautiful not to risk that such a wonderful love should come to an end. We spent our last evening together. He believed I should go with him. It was a delirious night of infinite voluptuousness and despair, for I knew I should never see him again. In the morning I gave my ticket to a traveller I did not know. He wanted to buy it but I answered: ‘No, you are rendering me such service in accepting it that I do not want the money.’” There was another story: “One day I was in the Champs Elysées. M. de Bréauté, whom I had only seen once, looked at me so significantly that I stopped and asked him how he dared look at me like that. He answered: ‘I’m looking at you because you’ve got an absurd hat on.’ It was true. It was a little hat with pansies on it and the fashions of that period were awful. But I was furious and I said to him: ‘I don’t permit you to talk to me like that.’ It began to rain and I said: ‘I might forgive you if you had a carriage.’ ‘Oh, well, that’s all right, I’ve got one and I’ll accompany you home.’ ‘No, I shall be glad to accept your carriage but not you.’ I got into the carriage and he departed in the rain. But that evening he came to my house. We had two years of wild love together. Come and have tea with me,” she went on “and I’ll tell you how I made M. de Forcheville’s acquaintance. Really,” with a melancholy air, “my life has been a cloistered one, for I’ve only had great loves for men who were terribly jealous of me. I don’t speak of M. de Forcheville; he was quite indifferent and I only cared for intelligent men, but, you see, M. Swann was as jealous as this poor Duc for whose sake I sacrifice my life because he is unhappy at home. But it was M. Swann I loved madly, and one can sacrifice dancing and society and everything to please a man one loves or even to spare him anxiety. Poor Charles, he was so intelligent, so seductive, exactly the kind of man I liked.” Perhaps it was true. There was a time when Swann pleased her and it was exactly when she was not “his kind”. To tell the truth, she never had been “his kind”, then or later. And yet he had loved her so long and so painfully. He was surprised afterwards when he realised the contradiction of it. But there would be none if we consider how great a proportion of suffering women who aren’t “their kind” inflict on men. That is probably due to several causes; first because they are not our kind, we let ourselves be loved without loving; through that we adopt a habit we should not acquire with a woman who is our kind. The latter, knowing she was desired, would resist and only accord occasional meetings and thus would not gain such a foothold in our lives that if, later on, we came to love her and then, owing to a quarrel or a journey, we found ourselves alone and without news of her, she would deprive us not of one bond but a thousand. Again this habit is sentimental because there is no great physical desire at its base and if love is born, the brain works better; romance takes the place of a physical urge. We do not suspect women who are not our kind, we allow them to love us and if we afterwards love them we love them a hundred times more than the others, without getting from them the relief of satisfied desire. For these reasons and many others, the fact that we experience our greatest sorrows with women who are not our kind, is not only due to that derisive illusion which permits the realisation of happiness only under the form that pleases us least. A woman who is our kind is rarely dangerous, for she does not care about us, satisfies us, soon abandons us and does not install herself in our lives. What is dangerous and produces suffering in love is not the woman herself, it is her constant presence, the eagerness to know what she is doing every moment; it is not the woman, it is habit. I was coward enough to say that what she told me about Swann was kind, not to say noble on her part, but I knew it was not true and that her frankness was mixed up with lies. I reflected with horror, as little by little she told me her adventures, on all that Swann had been ignorant of and of how much he would have suffered, for he had associated his sensibility with that creature and had guessed to the point of certainty, from nothing but her glance at an unknown man or woman, that they attracted her. Actually she told me all this only to supply what she believed was a subject for novels. She was wrong, not because she could not at any time have furnished my imagination with abundant material but it would have had to be in less intentional fashion and by my agency disengaging, unknown to her, the laws that governed her life.
M. de Guermantes kept his thunders for the Duchesse to whose mixed gatherings Mme de Forcheville did not hesitate to draw the irritated attention of the Duc. Moreover, the Duchesse was very unhappy. It is true that M. de Charlus to whom I had once spoken about it, suggested that the first offence had not been on his brother’s side, that the legend of the Duchesse’s purity was in reality composed of an incalculable number of skilfully dissimulated adventures. I had never heard of them. To nearly everyone Mme de Guermantes was nothing of the sort and the belief that she had always been irreproachable was universal. I could not decide which of the two notions was true for truth is nearly always unknown to three-quarters of the world. I recalled certain azure and fugitive glances of the Duchesse de Guermantes in the nave of the Combray church but, in truth, they refuted neither of these opinions for each could give a different and equally acceptable meaning to them. In the madness of boyhood I had for a moment taken them as messages of love to myself. Later, I realised that they were but the benevolent glances which a suzeraine such as the one in the stained windows of the church bestowed on her vassals. Was I now to believe that my first idea was the right one, and that if the Duchesse never spoke to me of love, it was because she feared to compromise herself with a friend of her aunt and of her nephew rather than with an unknown boy she had met by chance in the church of St. Hilaire de Combray?
The Duchesse might have been pleased for the moment that her past seemed more consistent for my having shared it, but she resumed her attitude of a society woman who despises society in replying to a question I asked her about the provincialism of M. de Bréauté, whom at the earlier period I had placed in the same category as M. de Sagan or M. de Guermantes. As she spoke, the Duchesse took me round the house. In the smaller rooms, the more intimate friends of the hosts were sitting apart to enjoy the music. In one of them, a little Empire salon where one or two frock-coated gentlemen sat upon a sofa listening, there was a couch curved like a cradle placed alongside the wall close to a Psyche leaning upon a Minerva, in the hollow of which a young woman lay extended. Her relaxed and — languid attitude, which the entrance of the Duchesse in no way disturbed, contrasted with the brilliance of her Empire dress of a glittering silk beside which the most scarlet of fuchsias would have paled, encrusted with a pearl tissue in the folds of which the floral design appeared to be embedded. She slightly bent her beautiful brown head to salute the Duchesse. Although it was broad daylight, she had had the heavy curtains drawn to give herself up to the music, and the servants had lighted an urn on a tripod to prevent people stumbling. In answer to my question the Duchesse told me she was Mme de Sainte-Euverte and I wanted to know what relation she was of the Mme de Sainte-Euverte I had known. She was the wife of one of her great-nephews and Mme de Guermantes appeared to suggest that she was born a La Rochefoucauld but emphasised that she herself had never known the Sainte-Euvertes. I recalled to her mind the evening party, of which, it is true, I was only aware by hearsay, when, as Princesse des Laumes, she had renewed her acquaintance with Swann. Mme de Guermantes affirmed she had never been to that party but she had always been rather a liar and had become more so. Madame de Sainte-Euverte’s salon — somewhat faded with time — was one she preferred ignoring and I did not insist. “No,” she said, “the person you may have met at my house because he was amusing, was the husband of the woman you refer to. I never had any social relations with her.” “But she was a widow?” “You thought so because they were separated; he was much nicer than she.” At last I realised that a huge, extremely tall and strong man with snow-white hair, whom I met everywhere but whose name I never knew, was the husband of Mme de Sainte-Euverte and had died the year before. As to the niece, I never discovered whether she lay extended on the sofa listening to the music without moving for anyone because of some stomach trouble or because of her nerves or phlebitis or a coming accouchement or a recent one which had gone wrong. The likely explanation was that she thought she might as well play the part of a Récamier figure on her couch in that shimmering red dress. She little knew that she had: given birth to a new development of that name of Sainte-Euverte which, at so many intervals, marked the distance and continuity of Time. It was Time she was rocking in that cradle where the name of Sainte-Euverte flowered in a fuchsia-red silk in the Empire style. Mme de Guer-mantes declared that she had always detested Empire style; that meant, she detested it now, which was true, because she followed the fashions though not closely. Without complicating the matter by alluding to David of whose work she knew something, when she was a girl she considered Ingres the most boring of draughtsmen, then suddenly the most beguiling of new masters, so much so that she detested Delacroix. By what process she had returned to this creed of reprobation matters little, since such shades of taste are reflected by art-critics ten years before these superior women talk about them. After criticising the Empire style, she excused herself for talking about such insignificant people as the Sainte-Euvertes and of rubbish like Bréauté‘s provincialism for she was as far from realising the interest they had for me as Mme de Sainte-Euverte de la Rochefoucauld looking after her stomach or her Ingres pose, was from suspecting that her name was my joy, her husband’s name, not the far more famous one of her family, and that to me it represented the function of cradling time in that room full of temporal associations. “How can all this nonsense interest you?” the Duchesse remarked. She uttered these words under her breath and nobody could have caught what she said. But a young man (who was to be of interest to me later because of a name much more familiar to me formerly than Sainte-Euverte) rose with an exaggerated air of being disturbed and went further away to listen in greater seclusion. They were playing the Kreutzer Sonata but he, having read the programme wrong, believed it was a piece by Ravel which he had been told was as beautiful as Palestrina but difficult to understand. In his abrupt change of place, he knocked, owing to the half darkness, against a tea-table which made a number of people turn their heads and thus afforded them an agreeable diversion from the suffering they were undergoing in listening religiously to the Kreutzer Sonata. And Mme de Guermantes and I who were the cause of this little scene, hastened into another room. “Yes,” she continued, “how can such nonsense interest a man with your talent? Like just now when I saw you talking to Gilberte de Saint-Loup, it isn’t worthy of you. For me that woman is just nothing, she isn’t even a woman; she’s unimaginably pretentious and bourgeoise,” for the Duchesse mixed up her aristocratic prejudices with her championship of truth. “Indeed, ought you to come to places like this? To-day, after all, it may be worth while because of Rachel’s recitation. But, well as she did it, she doesn’t extend herself before such an audience. You must come and lunch alone with her and then you’ll see what a wonderful creature she is. She’s a hundred times superior to everyone here. And after luncheon she shall recite Verlaine to you and you’ll tell me what you think of it.” She boasted to me specially about these luncheon parties to which X and Y always came. For she had acquired the characteristic that distinguishes the type of woman who has a “Salon” whom she formerly despised (though she denied it to-day), the chief sign of whose superior eclecticism is to have “all the men” at their houses. If I told her that a certain great lady who went in for a “salon” spoke ill of Mme Rowland, the Duchesse burst out laughing at my simplicity and said: “Of course, she had ‘all the men’ at her house and the other tried to take them away from her.” Mme de Guermantes continued: “It passes my comprehension that you can come to this sort of thing — unless it’s for studying character,” she added the last words doubtfully and suspiciously, afraid to go too far because she was not sure what that strange operation consisted of.
“Don’t you think,” I asked her, “it’s painful for Mme de Saint-Loup to have to listen, as she did just now, to her husband’s former mistress?” I observed that oblique expression coming over Mme de Guermantes’ face which connects what someone has said with unpleasant factors. These may remain unspoken but words with serious implications do not always receive verbal or written answers. Only fools solicit twice an answer to a foolish letter which was a gaffe; for such letters are only answered by acts and the correspondent whom the fool thinks careless, will call him Monsieur the next time he meets him instead of by his first name. My allusion to Saint-Loup’s liaison with Rachel was not so serious and could not have displeased Mme de Guermantes more than a second by reminding her that I had been Robert’s friend, perhaps his confidant about the mortification he had been caused when he obtained the Duchesse’s permission to let Rachel appear at her evening party. Mme de Guermantes’ face did not remain clouded and she answered my question about Mme Saint-Loup: “I may tell you that I believe it to be a matter of indifference to her, for Gilberte never loved her husband. She is a horrible little creature. All she wanted was the position, the name, to be my niece, to get out of the slime to which her one idea now is to return. I can assure you all that pained me deeply for poor Robert’s sake because though he may not have been an eagle, he saw it all and a good many things besides. Perhaps I ought not to say so because, after all, she’s my niece and I’ve no proof that she was unfaithful to him, but there were all sorts of stories about her. But supposing I tell you that I know Robert wanted to fight a duel with an officer of Méséglise. And it was on account of all that that Robert joined up. The war was a deliverance from his family troubles and if you care for my opinion, he was not killed, he took care to get himself killed. She feels no sort of sorrow, she even astonishes me by the cynicism with which she displays her indifference, and that greatly pains me because I was very fond of Robert. It may perhaps surprise you because people don’t know me, but I still think of him. I forget no one. He told me nothing but he knew I guessed it all. But, dear me, if she loved her husband ever so little, could she bear with such complete indifference being in the same drawing-room with a woman whose passionate lover he was for years, indeed one might say always, for I know for certain it went on even during the war. Why, she would spring at her throat,” the Duchesse cried, quite forgetting that she herself had acted cruelly by inviting Rachel and staging the scene she regarded as inevitable if Gilberte loved Robert. “No!” she concluded, “that woman is a pig.” Such an expression was possible in the mouth of Mme de Guermantes owing to her easy and gradual descent from the Guermantes environment to the society of actresses and with this she affected an eighteenth century manner she considered refreshing on the part of one who could afford herself any liberty she chose. But the expression was also inspired by her hatred of Gilberte, by the need of striking her in effigy in default of physically. And she thought she was thereby equally justifying her action towards Gilberte or rather against her, in society, in the family, even in connection with her interest in Robert’s inheritance. But sometimes facts of which we are ignorant and which we could not imagine supply an apparent justification of our judgments. Gilberte, who doubtless inherited some of her mother’s traits (and I dare say I had unconsciously surmised this when I asked her to introduce me to girls) after reflecting on my request and so that any profits that might accrue should not go out of the family, a conclusion the effrontery of which was greater than I could have imagined, came up to me presently and said: “If you’ll allow me, I’ll fetch my young daughter, she’s over there with young Mortemart and other youngsters of no importance. I’m sure she’ll be a charming little friend for you.” I asked her if Robert had been pleased to have a daughter. “Oh, he was very proud of her but, of course, it’s my belief, seeing what his tastes were,” Gilberte naïvely added, “he would have preferred a boy.” This girl, whose name and fortune doubtless led her mother to hope she would marry a prince of the blood and thus crown the whole edifice of Swann and of his wife, later on married an obscure man of letters, for she was quite unsnobbish, and caused the family to fall lower in the social scale than the level from which she originated. It was afterwards very difficult to convince the younger generation that the parents of this obscure household had occupied a great social position.
The surprise and pleasure caused me by Gilberte’s words were quickly replaced while Mme de Saint-Loup disappeared into another room, by the idea of past Time which Mlle de Saint-Loup had brought back to me in her particular way without my even having seen her. In common with most human beings, was she not like the centre of cross-roads in a forest, the point where roads converge from many directions? Those which ended in Mlle de Saint-Loup were many and branched out from every side of her. First of all, the two great sides where I had walked so often and dreamt so many dreams, came to an end in her — through her father, Robert de Saint-Loup, the Guermantes side and through Gilberte, her mother, the side of Méséglise which was Swann’s side. One, through the mother of the young girl and the Champs Elysées, led me to Swann, to my evenings at Combray, to the side of Méséglise, the other, through her father, to my afternoons at Balbec where I saw him again near the glistening sea. Transversal roads already linked those two main roads together. For through the real Balbec where I had known Saint-Loup and wanted to go, chiefly because of what Swann had told me about its churches, especially about the Persian church and again through Robert de Saint-Loup, nephew of the Duchesse de Guermantes I reunited Combray to the Guermantes’ side. But Mlle de Saint-Loup led back to many other points of my life, to the lady in pink who was her grandmother and whom I had seen at my great-uncle’s house. Here there was a new cross-road, for my great-uncle’s footman who had announced me that day and who, by the gift of a photograph, had enabled me to identify the lady in pink, was the uncle of the young man whom not only M. de Charlus but also Mlle de Saint-Loup’s father had loved and on whose account her mother had been made unhappy. And was it not the grandfather of Mlle de Saint-Loup, Swann, who first told me about Vinteuil’s music as Gilberte had first told me about Albertine? And it was through speaking to Albertine about Vinteuil’s music that I had discovered who her intimate girl-friend was and had started that life with her which had led to her death and to my bitter sorrows. And it was again Mlle de Saint-Loup’s father who had tried to bring back Albertine to me. And I saw again all my life in society, whether at Paris in the drawing-rooms of the Swanns and the Guermantes’, or in contrast, at the Verdurins’ at Balbec, uniting the two Combray sides with the Champs Elysées and the beautiful terraces of the Raspelière. Moreover, whom of those we have known are we not compelled inevitably to associate with various parts of our lives if we relate our acquaintance with them? The life of Saint-Loup described by myself would be unfolded in every kind of scene and would affect the whole of mine, even those parts of it to which he was a stranger, such as my grandmother or Albertine. Moreover, contrast them as one might, the Verdurins were linked to Odette through her past, with Robert de Saint-Loup through Charlie and how great a part had Vinteuil’s music played in their home! Finally, Swann had loved the sister of Legrandin and the latter had known M. de Charlus whose ward young Cambremer had married. Certainly, if only our hearts were in question, the poet was right when he spoke of the mysterious threads which life breaks. But it is still truer that life is ceaselessly weaving them between beings, between events, that it crosses those threads, that it doubles them to thicken the woof with such industry that between the smallest point in our past and all the rest, the store of memories is so rich that only the choice of communications remains. It is possible to say, if I tried to make conscious use of it and to recall it as it was, that there was not a single thing that served me now which had not been a living thing, living its own personal life in my service though transformed by that use into ordinary industrial matter. And my introduction to Mlle de Saint-Loup was going to take place at Mme Verdurin’s who had become Princesse de Guermantes! How I thought back on the charm of those journeys with Albertine, whose successor I was going to ask Mlle de Saint-Loup to be — in the little tram going towards Doville to call on Mme Verdurin, that same Mme Verdurin who had cemented and broken the love of Mlle de Saint-Loup’s grandfather and grandmother before I loved Albertine. And all round us were the pictures of Elstir who introduced me to Albertine and as though to melt all my pasts into one, Mme Verdurin, like Gilberte, had married a Guermantes.
We should not be able to tell the story of our relations with another, however little we knew him without registering successive movements in our own life. Thus every individual — and I myself am one of those individuals — measured duration by the revolution he had accomplished not only round himself but round others and notably by the positions he had successively occupied with relation to myself.
And, without question, all those different planes, upon which Time, since I had regained it at this reception, had exhibited my life, by reminding me that in a book which gave the history of one, it would be necessary to make use of a sort of spatial psychology as opposed to the usual flat psychology, added a new beauty to the resurrections my memory was operating during my solitary reflections in the library, since memory, by introducing the past into the present without modification, as though it were the present, eliminates precisely that great Time-dimension in accordance with which life is realised.
I saw Gilberte coming towards me. I, to whom Saint-Loup’s marriage and all the concern it then gave me (as it still did) were of yesterday, was astonished to see beside her a young girl whose tall, slight figure marked the lapse of time to which I had, until now, been blind.
Colourless, incomprehensible time materialised itself in her, as it were, so that I could see and touch it, had moulded her into a graven masterpiece while upon me alas, it had but been doing its work. However, Mlle de Saint-Loup stood before me. She had deep cleanly-shaped, prominent and penetrating eyes. I noticed that the line of her nose was on the same pattern as her mother’s and grandmother’s, the base being perfectly straight, and though adorable, was a trifle too long. That peculiar feature would have enabled one to recognise it amongst thousands and I admired Nature for having, like a powerful and original sculptor, effected that decisive stroke of the chisel at exactly the right point as it had in the mother and grandmother. That charming nose, protruding rather like a beak had the Saint-Loup not the Swann curve. The soul of the Guermantes’ had vanished but the charming head with the piercing eyes of a bird on the wing was poised upon her shoulders and threw me, who had known her father, into a dream. She was so beautiful, so promising. Gaily smiling, she was made out of all the years I had lost; she symbolised my youth.
Finally, this idea of Time had the ultimate value of the hand of a clock. It told me it was time to begin if I meant to attain that which I had felt in brief flashes on the Guermantes’ side and during my drives with Mme de Villeparisis, that indefinable something which had made me think life worth living. How much more so now that it seemed possible to illuminate that life lived in darkness, at last to make manifest in a book the truth one ceaselessly falsifies. Happy the man who could write such a book. What labour awaited him. To convey its scope would necessitate comparison with the noblest and most various arts. For the writer, in creating each character, would have to present it from conflicting standpoints so that his book should have solidity, he would have to prepare it with meticulous care, perpetually regrouping his forces as for an offensive, to bear it as a load, to accept it as the object of his life, to build it like a church, to follow it like a régime, to overcome it like an obstacle, to win it like a friendship, to nourish it like a child, to create it like a world, mindful of those mysteries which probably only have their explanation in other worlds, the presentiment of which moves us most in life and in art. Parts of such great books can be no more than sketched for time presses and perhaps they can never be finished because of the very magnitude of the architect’s design. How many great cathedrals remain unfinished? Such a book takes long to germinate, its weaker parts must be strengthened, it has to be watched over, but afterwards it grows of itself, it designates our tomb, protects it from evil report and somewhat against oblivion. But to return to myself. I was thinking more modestly about my book and it would not even be true to say that I was thinking of those who would read it as my readers. For, as I have already shown, they would not be my readers, but the readers of themselves, my book being only a sort of magnifying-glass like those offered by the optician of Combray to a purchaser. So that I should ask neither their praise nor their blame but only that they should tell me if it was right or not, whether the words they were reading within themselves were those I wrote (possible devergencies in this respect might not always arise from my mistake but sometimes because the reader’s eyes would not be those to whom my book was suitable). And, constantly changing as I expressed myself better and got on with the task I had undertaken, I thought of how I should devote myself to it at that plain white table, watched over by Françoise. As all those unpretentious creatures who live near us have a certain intuition of what we are trying to do and as I had so far forgotten Albertine that I forgave Françoise for her hostility to her, I should work near her and almost like her (at least as she used to formerly for now she was so old that she could hardly see), for it would be by pinning supplementary leaves here and there that I should build up my book, so to speak, like a dress rather than like a cathedral. When I could not find all the sheets I wanted, all my “paperoles“ as Françoise called them, when just that one was missing that I needed, Françoise would understand my apprehension, for she always said she could not sew if she had not got the exact thread-number and sort of button she wanted and because, from living with me, she had acquired a sort of instinctive understanding of literary work, more right than that of many intelligent people and still more than that of stupid ones. Thus when I used to write my articles for the Figaro, while the old butler with that exaggerated compassion for the severity of toil which is unfamiliar, which cannot be observed, even for a habit he had not got himself like people who say to you, “How it must tire you to yawn like that,” honestly pitied writers and said: “What a head-breaking business it must be,” Françoise, to the contrary, divined my satisfaction and respected my work. Only she got angry when I told Bloch about my articles before they appeared, fearing he would forestall me and said: “You aren’t suspicious enough of all these people, they’re copyists.” And Bloch, in fact, did offer a prospective alibi by remarking each time that I sketched something he liked: “Fancy! that’s curious, I’ve written something very much like that; I must read it to you.” (He could not then have read it to me because he was going to write it that evening.)
In consequence of sticking one sheet on another, what Françoise called my paperoles got torn here and there. In case of need she would be able to help me mend them in the same way as she patched worn parts of her dresses, or awaiting the glazier as I did the printer, when she stuck a bit of newspaper in a window instead of the glass pane. Holding up my copy-books devoured like worm-eaten wood, she said: “It’s all moth-eaten, look, what a pity, here’s the bottom of a page which is nothing but a bit of lace,” and, examining it like a tailor: “I don’t think I can mend it, it’s done for, what a shame; perhaps those were your most beautiful ideas. As they said at Combray, there are no furriers who know their job as well as moths, they always go for the best materials.”
Moreover, since individualities (human or otherwise) would in this book be constructed out of numerous impressions which, derived from many girls, many churches, many sonatas, would serve to make a single sonata, a single church and a single girl, should I not be making my book as Françoise made that boeuf à la mode, so much savoured by M. de Norpois of which the jelly was enriched by many additional carefully selected bits of meat? And at last I should achieve that for which I had so much longed and believed impossible during my walks on the Guermantes’ side as I had believed it was impossible, when I came home, to go to bed without embracing my mother, or later, that Albertine loved women, an idea I finally accepted unconsciously, for our greatest fears like our greatest hopes are not beyond our capacity and it is possible to end by dominating the first and realising the second. Yes, this newly-formed idea of time warned me that the hour had come to set myself to work. It was high time. The anxiety which had taken possession of me when I entered the drawing-room and the made-up faces gave me the notion of lost time, was justified. Was there still time? The mind has landscapes at which it is only given us to gaze for a time. I had lived like a painter climbing a road which overlooks a lake hidden by a curtain of rocks and trees. Through a breach he perceives it, it lies before him, he seizes his brushes, but already darkness has come and he can paint no longer, night upon which day will never dawn again.
A condition of my work as I had conceived it just now in the library was that I must fathom to their depths impressions which had first to be recreated through memory. And my memory was impaired. Therefore as I had not yet begun, I had reason for apprehension, for even though I thought, in view of my age, that I had some years before me, my hour might strike at any moment. I had, in fact, to regard my body as the point of departure, which meant that I was constantly under the menace of a two-fold danger, without and within. And even when I say this it is only for convenience of expression. For the internal danger as in that of cerebral haemorrhage is also external, being of the body. And the body is the great menace of the mind. We are less justified in saying that the thinking life of humanity is a miraculous perfectioning of animal and physical life than that it is an imperfection in the organisation of spiritual life as rudimentary as the communal existence of protozoa in colonies or the body of the whale etc., so imperfect, indeed, that the body imprisons the spirit in a fortress; soon the fortress is assailed at all points and in the end the spirit has to surrender. But in order to satisfy myself by distinguishing the two sorts of danger which threatened my spirit and beginning by the external one, I remembered that it had often already happened in the course of my life, at moments of intellectual excitement when some circumstance had completely arrested my physical activity, for instance when I was leaving the restaurant of Rivebelle in a half-intoxicated condition in order to go to a neighbouring casino, that I felt the immediate object of my thought with extreme vividness and realised that it was a matter of chance not only that the object had not yet entered my mind but that its survival depended upon my physical existence. I cared little enough then. In my lighthearted gaiety I was neither prudent nor apprehensive. It mattered little to me that this happy thought flew away in a second and disappeared in the void. But now it was no longer so because the joy I experienced was not derived from a subjective nervous tension which isolates us from the past, but, on the contrary, from an extension of the consciousness in which the past, recreated and actualised, gave me, alas but for a moment, a sense of eternity. I wished that I could leave this behind me to enrich others with my treasure. My experience in the library which I wanted to preserve was that of pleasure but not an egoistical pleasure or at all events it was a form of egoism which is useful to others (for all the fruitful altruisms of Nature develop in an egoistical mode; human altruism which is not egoism, is sterile, it is that of a writer who interrupts his work to receive a friend who is unhappy, to accept some public function or to write propaganda articles).
I was no longer indifferent as when I returned from Rivebelle; I felt myself enlarged by this work I bore within me (like something precious and fragile, not belonging to me, which had been confided to my care and which I wanted to hand over intact to those for whom it was destined). And to think that when, presently, I returned home, an accident would suffice to destroy my body and that my lifeless mind would have for ever lost the ideas it now contained and anxiously preserved within its shaky frame before it had time to place them in safety within the covers of a book. Now, knowing myself the bearer of such a work, an accident which might cost my life was more to be dreaded, was indeed (by the measure in which this work seemed to me indispensable and permanent) absurd, when contrasted with my wish, with my vital urge, but not less probable on that account since accidents due to material causes can take place at the very moment when an opposing will, which they unknowingly annihilate, renders them monstrous, like the ordinary accident of knocking over a water-jug placed too near the edge of a table and thus disturbing a sleeping friend one acutely desires not to waken.
I knew very well that my brain was a rich mineral basin where there was an enormous and most varied area of precious deposits. But should I have the time to exploit them? I was the only person capable of doing so, for two reasons. With my death not only would the one miner capable of extracting the minerals disappear, but with him, the mineral itself. And the mere collision of my automobile with another on my way home would suffice to obliterate my body and my spirit would have to abandon my new ideas for ever. And by a strange coincidence, that reasoned fear of danger was born at the very moment when the idea of death had become indifferent to me. The fear of no longer existing had formerly horrified me at each new love I experienced — for Gilberte, for Albertine — because I could not bear the thought that one day the being who loved them might not be there; it was a sort of death. But the very recurrence of this fear led to its changing into calm confidence.
If the idea of death had cast a shadow over love, the memory of love had for long helped me not to fear death. I realised that death is nothing new, ever since my childhood I had been dead numbers of times. To take a recent period, had I not cared more for Albertine than for my life? Could I then have conceived my existence without my love for her? And yet I no longer loved her, I was no longer the being who loved her but a different one who did not love her and I had ceased to love her when I became that other being. And I did not suffer because I had become that other, because I no longer loved Albertine; and certainly it did not seem to me a sadder thing that one day I should have no body than it had formerly seemed not to love Albertine. And yet how indifferent it all was to me now. These successive deaths, so feared by the self they were to destroy, so indifferent, so sweet, were they, once they were accomplished, when he who feared them was no longer there to feel them, had made me realise how foolish it would be to fear death. And now that it had been for a while indifferent to me I began fearing it anew, in another form, it is true, not for myself but for my book for the achievement of which that life, menaced by so many dangers, was, at least, for a period, indispensable. Victor Hugo says: “The grass must grow and children die.” I say that the cruel law of art is that beings die and that we ourselves must die after we have exhausted suffering so that the grass, not of oblivion but of eternal life, should grow, fertilised by works upon which generations to come will gaily picnic without care of those who sleep beneath it. I have spoken of external dangers but there were internal ones also. If I were preserved from an accident without, who knows whether I might not be prevented from profiting from my immunity by an accident within, by some internal disaster, some cerebral catastrophe, before the months necessary for me to write that book, had passed. A cerebral accident was not even necessary. I had already experienced certain symptoms, a curious emptiness in the head and a forgetfulness of things I only found by luck as one does on going through one’s things and finding something one had not been looking for; I was a treasurer from whose broken coffer his riches were slipping away. When presently I went back home by the Champs Elysées who could say that I should not be struck down by the same evil as my grandmother when, one day she came for a walk with me which was to be her last, without her ever dreaming of such a thing, in that ignorance which is our lot when the hand of the clock reaches the moment when the spring is released that strikes the hour. Perhaps the fear of having already almost traversed the minute that precedes the first stroke of the hour, when it is already preparing to strike, perhaps the fear of that blow which was about to crash through my brain was like an obscure foreknowledge of what was coming to pass, a reflection in the consciousness of a precarious state of the brain whose arteries are about to give way, which is no less possible than the sudden acceptance of death by the wounded who, if their lucidity remains and both doctor and will to live deceive them, yet see what is coming and say: “I am going to die, I am ready,” and write their last farewells to their wife.
That obscure premonition of what had to be came to me in a singular form before I began my book. One evening I was at a party and people said I was looking better than ever and were astonished that I showed so little signs of age. But that evening I came near falling three times going downstairs. I had only gone out for a couple of hours but when I got home, my memory and power of thought had gone and I had neither strength nor life in me. If they had come to proclaim me King or arrest me, I should have allowed them to do what they liked with me without saying a word, without even opening my eyes, like those who at the extreme point of sea-sickness, crossing the Caspian Sea, would offer no resistance if they were going to be thrown into the sea. Properly speaking I was not ill but I was as incapable of taking care of myself as old people active the evening before, who have fractured their thigh and enter a phase of existence which is only a preliminary, be it short or long, to inevitable death. One of my selves the one that recently went to one of those barbaric feasts which are called dinners in society attended by white cravated men and plumed, half-nude women whose values are so topsy-turvy that a person who does not go to a dinner to which he has accepted an invitation or only puts in an appearance at the roast commits in their eyes a greater crime than the most immoral acts as lightly discussed in the course of it as illness and death which provide the only excuse for not being there, as long as the hostess has been informed in time to notify the fourteenth guest that someone has died — that self had kept its scruples and lost its memory. On the other hand, the other self, the one who conceived this work, remembered I had received an invitation from Mme Molé and had heard that Mme Sazerat’s son was dead. I had made up my mind to use an hour of respite after which I should not be able to utter a word or swallow a drop of milk, tongue-tied like my grandmother during her death agony, for the purpose of excusing myself to Mme Molé and expressing my condolences to Mme Sazerat. But shortly afterwards, I forgot I had to do it. Happy oblivion! For the memory of my work was on guard and was going to use that hour of survival to lay my first foundations. Unhappily, taking up a copy-book, Mme Molé‘s invitation card slipped out of it. Instantly, the forgetful self which dominates the other in the case of all those scrupulous savages who dine out, put away the copy-book and began writing to Mme Molé (who would doubtless have thought more of me had she known that I had put my reply to her invitation before my architectural work). Suddenly, as I was answering, I remembered that Mme Sazerat had lost her son, so I wrote her too and having thus sacrificed the real duty to the fictitious obligation of proving my politeness and reasonableness, I fell lifeless, closed my eyes and for a whole week was only able to vegetate. Yet, if all my useless duties to which I was prepared to sacrifice the real one, went out of my head in a few minutes, the thought of my edifice never left me for an instant. I did not know whether it would be a church where the faithful would gradually learn truth and discover the harmony of a great unified plan or whether it would remain, like a Druid monument on the heights of a desert island, unknown for ever. But I had made up my mind to consecrate to it the power that was ebbing away, reluctantly almost, as though to leave me time to elaborate the structure before the entrance to the tomb was sealed. I was soon able to show an outline of my project. No one understood it. Even those who sympathised with my perception of the truth I meant later to engrave upon my temple, congratulated me on having discovered it with a microscope when, to the contrary, I had used a telescope to perceive things which were indeed very small because they were far away but every one of them a world. Where I sought universal laws I was accused of burrowing into the “infinitely insignificant”. Moreover, what was the use of it all, I had a good deal of facility when I was young and Bergotte had highly praised my schoolboy efforts. But instead of working I had spent my time in idleness and dissipation, in being laid up and taken care of and in obsessions and I was starting my work on the eve of death without even knowing my craft. I had no longer the strength to face either my human obligations or my intellectual ones, still less both. As to the first, forgetfulness of the letters I had to write somewhat simplified my task. Loss of memory helped to delete social obligations which were replaced by my work. But, at the end of a month, association of ideas suddenly brought back remorseful memories and I was overwhelmed by my feeling of impotence. I was surprised at my own indifference to criticisms of my work but from the time when my legs had given way when I went downstairs I had become indifferent to everything; I only longed for rest until the end came. It was not because I counted on posthumous fame that I was indifferent to the judgments of the eminent to-day. Those who pronounced upon my work after my death could think what they pleased of it. I was no more concerned about the one than the other. Actually, if I thought about my work and not about the letters which I ought to have answered, it had ceased to be because I considered the former so much more important as I did at the time when I was idle and afterwards when I tried to work, up to the day when I had had to hold on to the banisters of the stair-case. The organisation of my memory, of my preoccupations, was linked to my work perhaps because, while the letters I received were forgotten an instant later, the idea of my work was continuously in my mind, in a state of perpetual becoming. But it too had become importunate. My work was like a son whose dying mother must still unceasingly labour in the intervals of inoculations and cuppings. She may love him still but she only realises it through the excess of her care of him. And my powers as a writer were no longer equal to the egoistical exactions of the work. Since the day on the staircase, nothing in the world, no happiness, whether it came from friendships, from the progress of my work or from hope of fame, reached me except as pale sunlight that had lost its power to warm me, to give me life or any desire whatever and yet was too brilliant in its paleness for my weary eyes which closed as I turned towards the wall. As much as I could tell from the movement of my lips, I might have had a very slight smile in the corner of my mouth when a lady wrote me: “I was surprised not to get an answer to my letter,” Nevertheless, that reminded me and I answered it. I wanted to try, so as not to be thought ungrateful, to be as considerate to others as they to me. And I was crushed by imposing these super-human fatigue’s on my dying body.
This idea of death installed itself in me definitively as love does. Not that I loved death, I hated it. But I dare say I had thought of it from time to time as one does of a woman one does not yet love and now the thought of it adhered to the deepest layer of my brain so thoroughly that I could not think of anything without its first traversing the death zone and even if I thought of nothing and remained quite still, the idea of death kept me company as incessantly as the idea of myself. I do not think that the day when I became moribund, it was the accompanying factors such as the impossibility of going downstairs, of remembering a name, of getting up, which had by unconscious reasoning given me the idea that I was already all but dead, but rather that it had all come together, that the great mirror of the spirit reflected a new reality. And yet I did not see how I could pass straight from my present ills to death without some warning. But then I thought of others and how people die every day without it seeming strange to us that there should be no hiatus between their illness and their death. I thought even that it was only because I saw them from the inside (far more than through deceitful hope) that certain ailments did not seem to me necessarily fatal, taken one at a time, although I thought I was going to die, just like those who certain that their time has come, are nevertheless easily persuaded that their not being able to pronounce certain words has nothing to do with apoplexy or heart failure but is due to the tongue being tired, to a nerve condition akin to stammering, owing to the exhaustion consequent on indigestion.
In my case it was not the farewell of a dying man to his wife that I had to write, it was something longer and addressed to more than one person. Long to write! At best I might attempt to sleep during the day-time. If I worked it would only be at night but it would need many nights perhaps a hundred, perhaps a thousand. And I should be harassed by the anxiety of not knowing whether the Master of my destiny, less indulgent than the Sultan Sheriar, would, some morning when I stopped work, grant a reprieve until the next evening. Not that I had the ambition to reproduce in any fashion the Thousand and One Nights, anymore than the Mémoires of Saint-Simon, they too written by night, nor any of the books I had so much loved and which superstitiously attached to them in my childish simplicity as I was to my later loves, I could not, without horror, imagine different from what they were. As Elstir said of Chardin, one can only recreate what one loves by repudiating it. Doubtless my books, like my fleshly being, would, some day, die. But one must resign oneself to death. One accepts the thought that one will die in ten years and one’s books in a hundred. Eternal duration is no more promised to works than to men. It might perhaps be a book as long as the Thousand and One Nights but very different. It is true that when one loves a work one would like to do something like it but one must sacrifice one’s temporal love and not think of one’s taste but of a truth which does not ask what our preferences are and forbids us to think of them. And it is only by obeying truth that one may some day encounter what one has abandoned and having forgotten the Arabian Nights or the Mémoires of Saint-Simon have written their counterpart in another period. But had I still time? Was it not too late?
In any case, if I had still the strength to accomplish my work, the circumstances, which had to-day in the course of the Princesse de Guermantes’ reception simultaneously given me the idea of it and the fear of not being able to carry it out, would specifically indicate its form of which I had a presentiment formerly in Combray church during a period which had so much influence upon me, a form which, normally, is invisible, the form of Time. I should endeavour to render that Time-dimension by transcribing life in a way very different from that conveyed by our lying senses. Certainly, our senses lead us into other errors, many episodes in this narrative had proved to me that they falsify the real aspect of life. But I might, if it were needful, to secure the more accurate interpretation I proposed, be able to leave the locality of sounds unchanged, to refrain from detaching them from the source the intelligence assigns to them, although making the rain patter in one’s room or fall in torrents into the cup from which we are drinking is, in itself, no more disconcerting than when as they often have, artists paint a sail or a peak near to or far away from us, according as the laws of perspective, variation in colour and ocular illusion make them appear, while our reason tells us that these objects are situated at enormous distances from us.
I might, although the error would be more serious, continue the fashion of putting features into the face of a passing woman, when instead of nose and cheeks and chin there was nothing there but an empty space in which our desire was reflected. And, a far more important matter, if I had not the leisure to prepare the hundred masks suitable to a single face, were it only as the eyes see it and in the sense in which they read its features, according as those eyes hope or fear or, on the other hand, as love and habit which conceal changes of age for many years, see them, indeed, even if I did not undertake, in spite of my liaison with Albertine proving that without it everything is fictitious and false, to represent people not from outside but from within ourselves where their smallest acts may entail fatal consequences, and to vary the moral atmosphere according to the different impressions on our sensibility or according to our serene sureness that an object is insignificant whereas the mere shadow of danger multiplies its size in a moment, if I could not introduce these changes and many others (the need for which, if one means to portray the truth has constantly been shown in the course of this narrative) into the transcription of a universe which had to be completely redesigned, at all events I should not fail to depict therein man, as having the extension, not of his body but of his years, as being forced to the cumulatively heavy task which finally crushes him, of dragging them with him wherever he goes. Moreover, everybody feels that we are occupying an unceasingly increasing place in Time, and this universality could only rejoice me since it is the truth, a truth suspected by each one of us which it was my business to try to elucidate. Not only does everyone feel that we occupy a place in Time but the most simple person measures that place approximately as he might measure the place we occupy in space. Doubtless we often make mistakes in this measurement but that one should believe it possible to do it proves that one conceives of age as something measurable.
And often I asked myself not only whether there was still time but whether I was in a condition to accomplish my work. Illness which had rendered me a service by making me die to the world (for if the grain does not die when it is sown, it remains barren but if it dies it will bear much fruit), was now perhaps going to save me from idleness as idleness had preserved me from facility. Illness had undermined my strength and, as I had long noticed, had sapped the power of my memory when I ceased to love Albertine. And was not the recreation of the memory of impressions it was afterwards necessary to fathom, to illuminate, to transform into intellectual equivalents, one of the conditions, almost the essential condition, of a work of art such as I had conceived just now in the library? Ah, if I only still had the powers that were intact on the evening I had evoked when I happened to notice François le Champi. My grandmother’s lingering death and the decline of my will and of my health dated from that evening of my mother’s abdication. It was all settled at the moment when, unable to await the morning to press my lips upon my mother’s face, I had taken my resolution, I had jumped out of bed and had stood in my nightshirt by the window through which the moonlight shone, until I heard M. Swann go away. My parents had accompanied him, I had heard the door open, the sound of bell and closing door. At that very moment, in the Prince de Guermantes’ mansion, I heard the sound of my parents’ footsteps and the metallic, shrill, fresh echo of the little bell which announced M. Swann’s departure and the coming of my mother up the stairs; I heard it now, its very self, though its peal rang out in the far distant past. ‘Then thinking of all the events which intervened between the instant when I had heard it and the Guermantes’ reception I was terrified to think that it was indeed that bell which rang within me still, without my being able to abate its shrill sound, since, no longer remembering how the clanging used to stop, in order to learn, I had to listen to it and I was compelled to close my ears to the conversations of the masks around me. To get to hear it close I had again to plunge into myself. So that ringing must always be there and with it, between it and the present, all that indefinable past unrolled itself which I did not know I had within me. When it rang I already existed and since, in order that I should hear it still, there could be no discontinuity, I could have had no instant of repose or of non-existence, of nonthinking, of non-consciousness, since that former instant clung to me, for I could recover it, return to it, merely by plunging more deeply into myself. It was that notion of the embodiment of Time, the inseparableness from us of the past that I now had the intention of bringing strongly into relief in my work. And it is because they thus contain the past that human bodies can so much hurt those who love them, because they contain so many memories, so many joys and desires effaced within them but so cruel for him who contemplates and prolongs in the order of time the beloved body of which he is jealous, jealous to the point of wishing its destruction. For after death Time leaves the body and memories — indifferent and pale — are obliterated in her who exists no longer and soon will be in him they still torture, memories which perish with the desire of the living body.
I had a feeling of intense fatigue when I realised that all this span of time had not only been lived, thought, secreted by me uninterruptedly, that it was my life, that it was myself, but more still because I had at every moment to keep it attached to myself, that it bore me up, that I was poised on its dizzy summit, that I could not move without taking it with me.
The day on which I heard the distant, far-away sound of the bell in the Combray garden was a land-mark in that enormous dimension which I did not know I possessed. I was giddy at seeing so many years below and in me as though I were leagues high.
I now understood why the Duc de Guermantes, whom I admired when he was seated because he had aged so little although he had so many more years under him than I, had tottered when he got up and wanted to stand erect — like those old Archbishops surrounded by acolytes, whose only solid part is their metal cross — and had moved, trembling like a leaf on the hardly approachable summit of his eighty-three years, as though men were perched upon living stilts which keep on growing, reaching the height of church-towers, until walking becomes difficult and dangerous and, at last, they fall. I was terrified that my own were already so high beneath me and I did not think I was strong enough to retain for long a past that went back so far and that I bore within me so painfully. If at least, time enough were alloted to me to accomplish my work, I would not fail to mark it with the seal of Time, the idea of which imposed itself upon me with so much force to-day, and I would therein describe men, if need be, as monsters occupying a place in Time infinitely more important than the restricted one reserved for them in space, a place, on the, contrary, prolonged immeasurably since, simultaneously touching widely separated years and the distant periods they have lived through — between which so many days have ranged themselves — they stand like giants immersed in Time.
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