Swann's Way
Marcel Proust

Part 1 out of 9

This eBook was produced by Eric Eldred





Translated from the French by





For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out
my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say
"I'm going to sleep." And half an hour later the thought that it was time
to go to sleep would awaken me; I would try to put away the book which, I
imagined, was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had been
thinking all the time, while I was asleep, of what I had just been
reading, but my thoughts had run into a channel of their own, until I
myself seemed actually to have become the subject of my book: a church, a
quartet, the rivalry between François I and Charles V. This impression
would persist for some moments after I was awake; it did not disturb my
mind, but it lay like scales upon my eyes and prevented them from
registering the fact that the candle was no longer burning. Then it would
begin to seem unintelligible, as the thoughts of a former existence must
be to a reincarnate spirit; the subject of my book would separate itself
from me, leaving me free to choose whether I would form part of it or no;
and at the same time my sight would return and I would be astonished to
find myself in a state of darkness, pleasant and restful enough for the
eyes, and even more, perhaps, for my mind, to which it appeared
incomprehensible, without a cause, a matter dark indeed.

I would ask myself what o'clock it could be; I could hear the whistling of
trains, which, now nearer and now farther off, punctuating the distance
like the note of a bird in a forest, shewed me in perspective the deserted
countryside through which a traveller would be hurrying towards the
nearest station: the path that he followed being fixed for ever in his
memory by the general excitement due to being in a strange place, to doing
unusual things, to the last words of conversation, to farewells exchanged
beneath an unfamiliar lamp which echoed still in his ears amid the silence
of the night; and to the delightful prospect of being once again at home.

I would lay my cheeks gently against the comfortable cheeks of my pillow,
as plump and blooming as the cheeks of babyhood. Or I would strike a match
to look at my watch. Nearly midnight. The hour when an invalid, who has
been obliged to start on a journey and to sleep in a strange hotel,
awakens in a moment of illness and sees with glad relief a streak of
daylight shewing under his bedroom door. Oh, joy of joys! it is morning.
The servants will be about in a minute: he can ring, and some one will
come to look after him. The thought of being made comfortable gives him
strength to endure his pain. He is certain he heard footsteps: they come
nearer, and then die away. The ray of light beneath his door is
extinguished. It is midnight; some one has turned out the gas; the last
servant has gone to bed, and he must lie all night in agony with no one to
bring him any help.

I would fall asleep, and often I would be awake again for short snatches
only, just long enough to hear the regular creaking of the wainscot, or to
open my eyes to settle the shifting kaleidoscope of the darkness, to
savour, in an instantaneous flash of perception, the sleep which lay heavy
upon the furniture, the room, the whole surroundings of which I formed but
an insignificant part and whose unconsciousness I should very soon return
to share. Or, perhaps, while I was asleep I had returned without the least
effort to an earlier stage in my life, now for ever outgrown; and had come
under the thrall of one of my childish terrors, such as that old terror of
my great-uncle's pulling my curls, which was effectually dispelled on the
day--the dawn of a new era to me--on which they were finally cropped from
my head. I had forgotten that event during my sleep; I remembered it again
immediately I had succeeded in making myself wake up to escape my
great-uncle's fingers; still, as a measure of precaution, I would bury the
whole of my head in the pillow before returning to the world of dreams.

Sometimes, too, just as Eve was created from a rib of Adam, so a woman
would come into existence while I was sleeping, conceived from some strain
in the position of my limbs. Formed by the appetite that I was on the
point of gratifying, she it was, I imagined, who offered me that
gratification. My body, conscious that its own warmth was permeating hers,
would strive to become one with her, and I would awake. The rest of
humanity seemed very remote in comparison with this woman whose company I
had left but a moment ago: my cheek was still warm with her kiss, my body
bent beneath the weight of hers. If, as would sometimes happen, she had
the appearance of some woman whom I had known in waking hours, I would
abandon myself altogether to the sole quest of her, like people who set
out on a journey to see with their own eyes some city that they have
always longed to visit, and imagine that they can taste in reality what
has charmed their fancy. And then, gradually, the memory of her would
dissolve and vanish, until I had forgotten the maiden of my dream.

When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours,
the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host. Instinctively,
when he awakes, he looks to these, and in an instant reads off his own
position on the earth's surface and the amount of time that has elapsed
during his slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused,
and to break its ranks. Suppose that, towards morning, after a night of
insomnia, sleep descends upon him while he is reading, in quite a
different position from that in which he normally goes to sleep, he has
only to lift his arm to arrest the sun and turn it back in its course,
and, at the moment of waking, he will have no idea of the time, but will
conclude that he has just gone to bed. Or suppose that he gets drowsy in
some even more abnormal position; sitting in an armchair, say, after
dinner: then the world will fall topsy-turvy from its orbit, the magic
chair will carry him at full speed through time and space, and when he
opens his eyes again he will imagine that he went to sleep months earlier
and in some far distant country. But for me it was enough if, in my own
bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for
then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when
I awoke at midnight, not knowing where I was, I could not be sure at first
who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may
lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal's consciousness; I was more
destitute of human qualities than the cave-dweller; but then the memory,
not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I
had lived, and might now very possibly be, would come like a rope let down
from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I
could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse and
surmount centuries of civilisation, and out of a half-visualised
succession of oil-lamps, followed by shirts with turned-down collars,
would put together by degrees the component parts of my ego.

Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them
by our conviction that they are themselves, and not anything else, and by
the immobility of our conceptions of them. For it always happened that
when I awoke like this, and my mind struggled in an unsuccessful attempt
to discover where I was, everything would be moving round me through the
darkness: things, places, years. My body, still too heavy with sleep to
move, would make an effort to construe the form which its tiredness took
as an orientation of its various members, so as to induce from that where
the wall lay and the furniture stood, to piece together and to give a name
to the house in which it must be living. Its memory, the composite memory
of its ribs, knees, and shoulder-blades offered it a whole series of rooms
in which it had at one time or another slept; while the unseen walls kept
changing, adapting themselves to the shape of each successive room that it
remembered, whirling madly through the darkness. And even before my brain,
lingering in consideration of when things had happened and of what they
had looked like, had collected sufficient impressions to enable it to
identify the room, it, my body, would recall from each room in succession
what the bed was like, where the doors were, how daylight came in at the
windows, whether there was a passage outside, what I had had in my mind
when I went to sleep, and had found there when I awoke. The stiffened side
underneath my body would, for instance, in trying to fix its position,
imagine itself to be lying, face to the wall, in a big bed with a canopy;
and at once I would say to myself, "Why, I must have gone to sleep after
all, and Mamma never came to say good night!" for I was in the country
with my grandfather, who died years ago; and my body, the side upon which
I was lying, loyally preserving from the past an impression which my mind
should never have forgotten, brought back before my eyes the glimmering
flame of the night-light in its bowl of Bohemian glass, shaped like an urn
and hung by chains from the ceiling, and the chimney-piece of Siena marble
in my bedroom at Combray, in my great-aunt's house, in those far distant
days which, at the moment of waking, seemed present without being clearly
denned, but would become plainer in a little while when I was properly

Then would come up the memory of a fresh position; the wall slid away in
another direction; I was in my room in Mme. de Saint-Loup's house in the
country; good heavens, it must be ten o'clock, they will have finished
dinner! I must have overslept myself, in the little nap which I always
take when I come in from my walk with Mme. de Saint-Loup, before dressing
for the evening. For many years have now elapsed since the Combray days,
when, coming in from the longest and latest walks, I would still be in
time to see the reflection of the sunset glowing in the panes of my
bedroom window. It is a very different kind of existence at Tansonville
now with Mme. de Saint-Loup, and a different kind of pleasure that I now
derive from taking walks only in the evenings, from visiting by moonlight
the roads on which I used to play, as a child, in the sunshine; while the
bedroom, in which I shall presently fall asleep instead of dressing for
dinner, from afar off I can see it, as we return from our walk, with its
lamp shining through the window, a solitary beacon in the night.

These shifting and confused gusts of memory never lasted for more than a
few seconds; it often happened that, in my spell of uncertainty as to
where I was, I did not distinguish the successive theories of which that
uncertainty was composed any more than, when we watch a horse running, we
isolate the successive positions of its body as they appear upon a
bioscope. But I had seen first one and then another of the rooms in which
I had slept during my life, and in the end I would revisit them all in the
long course of my waking dream: rooms in winter, where on going to bed I
would at once bury my head in a nest, built up out of the most diverse
materials, the corner of my pillow, the top of my blankets, a piece of a
shawl, the edge of my bed, and a copy of an evening paper, all of which
things I would contrive, with the infinite patience of birds building
their nests, to cement into one whole; rooms where, in a keen frost, I
would feel the satisfaction of being shut in from the outer world (like
the sea-swallow which builds at the end of a dark tunnel and is kept warm
by the surrounding earth), and where, the fire keeping in all night, I
would sleep wrapped up, as it were, in a great cloak of snug and savoury
air, shot with the glow of the logs which would break out again in flame:
in a sort of alcove without walls, a cave of warmth dug out of the heart
of the room itself, a zone of heat whose boundaries were constantly
shifting and altering in temperature as gusts of air ran across them to
strike freshly upon my face, from the corners of the room, or from parts
near the window or far from the fireplace which had therefore remained
cold--or rooms in summer, where I would delight to feel myself a part of
the warm evening, where the moonlight striking upon the half-opened
shutters would throw down to the foot of my bed its enchanted ladder;
where I would fall asleep, as it might be in the open air, like a titmouse
which the breeze keeps poised in the focus of a sunbeam--or sometimes the
Louis XVI room, so cheerful that I could never feel really unhappy, even
on my first night in it: that room where the slender columns which lightly
supported its ceiling would part, ever so gracefully, to indicate where
the bed was and to keep it separate; sometimes again that little room with
the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate
storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment
my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses,
convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent
indifference of a clock that chattered on at the top of its voice as
though I were not there; while a strange and pitiless mirror with square
feet, which stood across one corner of the room, cleared for itself a site
I had not looked to find tenanted in the quiet surroundings of my normal
field of vision: that room in which my mind, forcing itself for hours on
end to leave its moorings, to elongate itself upwards so as to take on the
exact shape of the room, and to reach to the summit of that monstrous
funnel, had passed so many anxious nights while my body lay stretched out
in bed, my eyes staring upwards, my ears straining, my nostrils sniffing
uneasily, and my heart beating; until custom had changed the colour of the
curtains, made the clock keep quiet, brought an expression of pity to the
cruel, slanting face of the glass, disguised or even completely dispelled
the scent of flowering grasses, and distinctly reduced the apparent
loftiness of the ceiling. Custom! that skilful but unhurrying manager who
begins by torturing the mind for weeks on end with her provisional
arrangements; whom the mind, for all that, is fortunate in discovering,
for without the help of custom it would never contrive, by its own
efforts, to make any room seem habitable.

Certainly I was now well awake; my body had turned about for the last time
and the good angel of certainty had made all the surrounding objects stand
still, had set me down under my bedclothes, in my bedroom, and had fixed,
approximately in their right places in the uncertain light, my chest of
drawers, my writing-table, my fireplace, the window overlooking the
street, and both the doors. But it was no good my knowing that I was not
in any of those houses of which, in the stupid moment of waking, if I had
not caught sight exactly, I could still believe in their possible
presence; for memory was now set in motion; as a rule I did not attempt to
go to sleep again at once, but used to spend the greater part of the night
recalling our life in the old days at Combray with my great-aunt, at
Balbec, Paris, Doncières, Venice, and the rest; remembering again all the
places and people that I had known, what I had actually seen of them, and
what others had told me.

At Combray, as every afternoon ended, long before the time when I should
have to go up to bed, and to lie there, unsleeping, far from my mother and
grandmother, my bedroom became the fixed point on which my melancholy and
anxious thoughts were centred. Some one had had the happy idea of giving
me, to distract me on evenings when I seemed abnormally wretched, a magic
lantern, which used to be set on top of my lamp while we waited for
dinner-time to come: in the manner of the master-builders and
glass-painters of gothic days it substituted for the opaqueness of my
walls an impalpable iridescence, supernatural phenomena of many colours,
in which legends were depicted, as on a shifting and transitory window.
But my sorrows were only increased, because this change of lighting
destroyed, as nothing else could have done, the customary impression I had
formed of my room, thanks to which the room itself, but for the torture of
having to go to bed in it, had become quite endurable. For now I no longer
recognised it, and I became uneasy, as though I were in a room in some
hotel or furnished lodging, in a place where I had just arrived, by train,
for the first time.

Riding at a jerky trot, Golo, his mind filled with an infamous design,
issued from the little three-cornered forest which dyed dark-green the
slope of a convenient hill, and advanced by leaps and bounds towards the
castle of poor Geneviève de Brabant. This castle was cut off short by a
curved line which was in fact the circumference of one of the transparent
ovals in the slides which were pushed into position through a slot in the
lantern. It was only the wing of a castle, and in front of it stretched a
moor on which Geneviève stood, lost in contemplation, wearing a blue
girdle. The castle and the moor were yellow, but I could tell their colour
without waiting to see them, for before the slides made their appearance
the old-gold sonorous name of Brabant had given me an unmistakable clue.
Golo stopped for a moment and listened sadly to the little speech read
aloud by my great-aunt, which he seemed perfectly to understand, for he
modified his attitude with a docility not devoid of a degree of majesty,
so as to conform to the indications given in the text; then he rode away
at the same jerky trot. And nothing could arrest his slow progress. If the
lantern were moved I could still distinguish Golo's horse advancing across
the window-curtains, swelling out with their curves and diving into their
folds. The body of Golo himself, being of the same supernatural substance
as his steed's, overcame all material obstacles--everything that seemed to
bar his way--by taking each as it might be a skeleton and embodying it in
himself: the door-handle, for instance, over which, adapting itself at
once, would float invincibly his red cloak or his pale face, never losing
its nobility or its melancholy, never shewing any sign of trouble at such
a transubstantiation.

And, indeed, I found plenty of charm in these bright projections, which
seemed to have come straight out of a Merovingian past, and to shed around
me the reflections of such ancient history. But I cannot express the
discomfort I felt at such an intrusion of mystery and beauty into a room
which I had succeeded in filling with my own personality until I thought
no more of the room than of myself. The anaesthetic effect of custom being
destroyed, I would begin to think and to feel very melancholy things. The
door-handle of my room, which was different to me from all the other
doorhandles in the world, inasmuch as it seemed to open of its own accord
and without my having to turn it, so unconscious had its manipulation
become; lo and behold, it was now an astral body for Golo. And as soon as
the dinner-bell rang I would run down to the dining-room, where the big
hanging lamp, ignorant of Golo and Bluebeard but well acquainted with my
family and the dish of stewed beef, shed the same light as on every other
evening; and I would fall into the arms of my mother, whom the misfortunes
of Geneviève de Brabant had made all the dearer to me, just as the crimes
of Golo had driven me to a more than ordinarily scrupulous examination of
my own conscience.

But after dinner, alas, I was soon obliged to leave Mamma, who stayed
talking with the others, in the garden if it was fine, or in the little
parlour where everyone took shelter when it was wet. Everyone except my
grandmother, who held that "It is a pity to shut oneself indoors in the
country," and used to carry on endless discussions with my father on the
very wettest days, because he would send me up to my room with a book
instead of letting me stay out of doors. "That is not the way to make him
strong and active," she would say sadly, "especially this little man, who
needs all the strength and character that he can get." My father would
shrug his shoulders and study the barometer, for he took an interest in
meteorology, while my mother, keeping very quiet so as not to disturb him,
looked at him with tender respect, but not too hard, not wishing to
penetrate the mysteries of his superior mind. But my grandmother, in all
weathers, even when the rain was coming down in torrents and Françoise had
rushed indoors with the precious wicker armchairs, so that they should not
get soaked--you would see my grandmother pacing the deserted garden,
lashed by the storm, pushing back her grey hair in disorder so that her
brows might be more free to imbibe the life-giving draughts of wind and
rain. She would say, "At last one can breathe!" and would run up and down
the soaking paths--too straight and symmetrical for her liking, owing to
the want of any feeling for nature in the new gardener, whom my father had
been asking all morning if the weather were going to improve--with her
keen, jerky little step regulated by the various effects wrought upon her
soul by the intoxication of the storm, the force of hygiene, the stupidity
of my education and of symmetry in gardens, rather than by any anxiety
(for that was quite unknown to her) to save her plum-coloured skirt from
the spots of mud under which it would gradually disappear to a depth which
always provided her maid with a fresh problem and filled her with fresh

When these walks of my grandmother's took place after dinner there was one
thing which never failed to bring her back to the house: that was if (at
one of those points when the revolutions of her course brought her,
moth-like, in sight of the lamp in the little parlour where the liqueurs
were set out on the card-table) my great-aunt called out to her:
"Bathilde! Come in and stop your husband from drinking brandy!" For,
simply to tease her (she had brought so foreign a type of mind into my
father's family that everyone made a joke of it), my great-aunt used to
make my grandfather, who was forbidden liqueurs, take just a few drops. My
poor grandmother would come in and beg and implore her husband not to
taste the brandy; and he would become annoyed and swallow his few drops
all the same, and she would go out again sad and discouraged, but still
smiling, for she was so humble and so sweet that her gentleness towards
others, and her continual subordination of herself and of her own
troubles, appeared on her face blended in a smile which, unlike those seen
on the majority of human faces, had no trace in it of irony, save for
herself, while for all of us kisses seemed to spring from her eyes, which
could not look upon those she loved without yearning to bestow upon them
passionate caresses. The torments inflicted on her by my great-aunt, the
sight of my grandmother's vain entreaties, of her in her weakness
conquered before she began, but still making the futile endeavour to wean
my grandfather from his liqueur-glass--all these were things of the sort
to which, in later years, one can grow so well accustomed as to smile at
them, to take the tormentor's side with a. happy determination which
deludes one into the belief that it is not, really, tormenting; but in
those days they filled me with such horror that I longed to strike my
great-aunt. And yet, as soon as I heard her "Bathilde! Come in and stop
your husband from drinking brandy!" in my cowardice I became at once a
man, and did what all we grown men do when face to face with suffering and
injustice; I preferred not to see them; I ran up to the top of the house
to cry by myself in a little room beside the schoolroom and beneath the
roof, which smelt of orris-root, and was scented also by a wild
currant-bush which had climbed up between the stones of the outer wall and
thrust a flowering branch in through the half-opened window. Intended for
a more special and a baser use, this room, from which, in the daytime, I
could see as far as the keep of Roussainville-le-Pin, was for a long time
my place of refuge, doubtless because it was the only room whose door Ï
was allowed to lock, whenever my occupation was such as required an
inviolable solitude; reading or dreaming, secret tears or paroxysms of
desire. Alas! I little knew that my own lack of will-power, my delicate
health, and the consequent uncertainty as to my future weighed far more
heavily on my grandmother's mind than any little breach of the rules by
her husband, during those endless perambulations, afternoon and evening,
in which we used to see passing up and down, obliquely raised towards the
heavens, her handsome face with its brown and wrinkled cheeks, which with
age had acquired almost the purple hue of tilled fields in autumn,
covered, if she were walking abroad, by a half-lifted veil, while upon
them either the cold or some sad reflection invariably left the drying
traces of an involuntary tear.

My sole consolation when I went upstairs for the night was that Mamma
would come in and kiss me after I was in bed. But this good night lasted
for so short a time: she went down again so soon that the moment in which
I heard her climb the stairs, and then caught the sound of her garden
dress of blue muslin, from which hung little tassels of plaited straw,
rustling along the double-doored corridor, was for me a moment of the
keenest sorrow. So much did I love that good night that I reached the
stage of hoping that it would come as late as possible, so as to prolong
the time of respite during which Mamma would not yet have appeared.
Sometimes when, after kissing me, she opened the door to go, I longed to
call her back, to say to her "Kiss me just once again," but I knew that
then she would at once look displeased, for the concession which she made
to my wretchedness and agitation in coming up to me with this kiss of
peace always annoyed my father, who thought such ceremonies absurd, and
she would have liked to try to induce me to outgrow the need, the custom
of having her there at all, which was a very different thing from letting
the custom grow up of my asking her for an additional kiss when she was
already crossing the threshold. And to see her look displeased destroyed
all the sense of tranquillity she had brought me a moment before, when she
bent her loving face down over my bed, and held it out to me like a Host,
for an act of Communion in which my lips might drink deeply the sense of
her real presence, and with it the power to sleep. But those evenings on
which Mamma stayed so short a time in my room were sweet indeed compared
to those on which we had guests to dinner, and therefore she did not come
at all. Our 'guests' were practically limited to M. Swann, who, apart from
a few passing strangers, was almost the only person who ever came to the
house at Combray, sometimes to a neighbourly dinner (but less frequently
since his unfortunate marriage, as my family did not care to receive his
wife) and sometimes after dinner, uninvited. On those evenings when, as we
sat in front of the house beneath the big chestnut-tree and round the iron
table, we heard, from the far end of the garden, not the large and noisy
rattle which heralded and deafened as he approached with its ferruginous,
interminable, frozen sound any member of the household who had put it out
of action by coming in 'without ringing,' but the double peal--timid,
oval, gilded--of the visitors' bell, everyone would at once exclaim "A
visitor! Who in the world can it be?" but they knew quite well that it
could only be M. Swann. My great-aunt, speaking in a loud voice, to set an
example, in a tone which she endeavoured to make sound natural, would tell
the others not to whisper so; that nothing could be more unpleasant for a
stranger coming in, who would be led to think that people were saying
things about him which he was not meant to hear; and then my grandmother
would be sent out as a scout, always happy to find an excuse for an
additional turn in the garden, which she would utilise to remove
surreptitiously, as she passed, the stakes of a rose-tree or two, so as to
make the roses look a little more natural, as a mother might run her hand
through her boy's hair, after the barber had smoothed it down, to make it
stick out properly round his head.

And there we would all stay, hanging on the words which would fall from my
grandmother's lips when she brought us back her report of the enemy, as
though there had been some uncertainty among a vast number of possible
invaders, and then, soon after, my grandfather would say: "I can hear
Swann's voice." And, indeed, one could tell him only by his voice, for it
was difficult to make out his face with its arched nose and green eyes,
under a high forehead fringed with fair, almost red hair, dressed in the
Bressant style, because in the garden we used as little light as possible,
so as not to attract mosquitoes: and I would slip away as though not going
for anything in particular, to tell them to bring out the syrups; for my
grandmother made a great point, thinking it 'nicer/ of their not being
allowed to seem anything out of the ordinary, which we kept for visitors
only. Although a far younger man, M. Swann was very much attached to my
grandfather, who had been an intimate friend, in his time, of Swann's
father, an excellent but an eccentric man in whom the least little thing
would, it seemed, often check the flow of his spirits and divert the
current of his thoughts. Several times in the course of a year I would
hear my grandfather tell at table the story, which never varied, of the
behaviour of M. Swann the elder upon the death of his wife, by whose
bedside he had watched day and night. My grandfather, who had not seen him
for a long time, hastened to join him at the Swanns' family property on
the outskirts of Combray, and managed to entice him for a moment, weeping
profusely, out of the death-chamber, so that he should not be present when
the body was laid in its coffin. They took a turn or two in the park,
where there was a little sunshine. Suddenly M. Swann seized my grandfather
by the arm and cried, "Oh, my dear old friend, how fortunate we are to be
walking here together on such a charming day! Don't you see how pretty
they are, all these trees--my hawthorns, and my new pond, on which you
have never congratulated me? You look as glum as a night-cap. Don't you
feel this little breeze? Ah! whatever you may say, it's good to be alive
all the same, my dear Amédée!" And then, abruptly, the memory of his dead
wife returned to him, and probably thinking it too complicated to inquire
into how, at such a time, he could have allowed himself to be carried away
by an impulse of happiness, he confined himself to a gesture which he
habitually employed whenever any perplexing question came into his mind:
that is, he passed his hand across his forehead, dried his eyes, and wiped
his glasses. And he could never be consoled for the loss of his wife, but
used to say to my grandfather, during the two years for which he survived
her, "It's a funny thing, now; I very often think of my poor wife, but I
cannot think of her very much at any one time." "Often, but a little at a
time, like poor old Swann," became one of my grandfather's favourite
phrases, which he would apply to all kinds of things. And I should have
assumed that this father of Swann's had been a monster if my grandfather,
whom I regarded as a better judge than myself, and whose word was my law
and often led me in the long run to pardon offences which I should have
been inclined to condemn, had not gone on to exclaim, "But, after all, he
had a heart of gold."

For many years, albeit--and especially before his marriage--M. Swann the
younger came often to see them at Combray, my great-aunt and grandparents
never suspected that he had entirely ceased to live in the kind of society
which his family had frequented, or that, under the sort of incognito
which the name of Swann gave him among us, they were harbouring--with the
complete innocence of a family of honest innkeepers who have in their
midst some distinguished highwayman and never know it--one of the smartest
members of the Jockey Club, a particular friend of the Comte de Paris and
of the Prince of Wales, and one of the men most sought after in the
aristocratic world of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

Our utter ignorance of the brilliant part which Swann was playing in the
world of fashion was, of course, due in part to his own reserve and
discretion, but also to the fact that middle-class people in those days
took what was almost a Hindu view of society, which they held to consist
of sharply defined castes, so that everyone at his birth found himself
called to that station in life which his parents already occupied, and
nothing, except the chance of a brilliant career or of a 'good' marriage,
could extract you from that station or admit you to a superior caste. M.
Swann, the father, had been a stockbroker; and so 'young Swann' found
himself immured for life in a caste where one's fortune, as in a list of
taxpayers, varied between such and such limits of income. We knew the
people with whom his father had associated, and so we knew his own
associates, the people with whom he was 'in a position to mix.' If he knew
other people besides, those were youthful acquaintances on whom the old
friends of the family, like my relatives, shut their eyes all the more
good-naturedly that Swann himself, after he was left an orphan, still came
most faithfully to see us; but we would have been ready to wager that the
people outside our acquaintance whom Swann knew were of the sort to whom
he would not have dared to raise his hat, had he met them while he was
walking with ourselves. Had there been such a thing as a determination to
apply to Swann a social coefficient peculiar to himself, as distinct from
all the other sons of other stockbrokers in his father's position, his
coefficient would have been rather lower than theirs, because, leading a
very simple life, and having always had a craze for 'antiques' and
pictures, he now lived and piled up his collections in an old house which
my grandmother longed to visit, but which stood on the Quai d'Orléans, a
neighbourhood in which my great-aunt thought it most degrading to be
quartered. "Are you really a connoisseur, now?" she would say to him; "I
ask for your own sake, as you are likely to have 'fakes' palmed off on you
by the dealers," for she did not, in fact, endow him with any critical
faculty, and had no great opinion of the intelligence of a man who, in
conversation, would avoid serious topics and shewed a very dull
preciseness, not only when he gave us kitchen recipes, going into the most
minute details, but even when my grandmother's sisters were talking to him
about art. When challenged by them to give an opinion, or to express his
admiration for some picture, he would remain almost impolitely silent, and
would then make amends by furnishing (if he could) some fact or other
about the gallery in which the picture was hung, or the date at which it
had been painted. But as a rule he would content himself with trying to
amuse us by telling us the story of his latest adventure--and he would
have a fresh story for us on every occasion--with some one whom we
ourselves knew, such as the Combray chemist, or our cook, or our coachman.
These stories certainly used to make my great-aunt laugh, but she could
never tell whether that was on account of the absurd parts which Swann
invariably made himself play in the adventures, or of the wit that he
shewed in telling us of them. "It is easy to see that you are a regular
'character,' M. Swann!"

As she was the only member of our family who could be described as a
trifle 'common,' she would always take care to remark to strangers, when
Swann was mentioned, that he could easily, if he had wished to, have lived
in the Boulevard Haussmann or the Avenue de l'Opéra, and that he was the
son of old M. Swann who must have left four or five million francs, but
that it was a fad of his. A fad which, moreover, she thought was bound to
amuse other people so much that in Paris, when M. Swann called on New
Year's Day bringing her a little packet of _marrons glacés_, she never
failed, if there were strangers in the room, to say to him: "Well, M.
Swann, and do you still live next door to the Bonded Vaults, so as to be
sure of not missing your train when you go to Lyons?" and she would peep
out of the corner of her eye, over her glasses, at the other visitors.

But if anyone had suggested to my aunt that this Swann, who, in his
capacity as the son of old M. Swann, was 'fully qualified' to be received
by any of the 'upper middle class,' the most respected barristers and
solicitors of Paris (though he was perhaps a trifle inclined to let this
hereditary privilege go into abeyance), had another almost secret
existence of a wholly different kind: that when he left our house in
Paris, saying that he must go home to bed, he would no sooner have turned
the corner than he would stop, retrace his steps, and be off to some
drawing-room on whose like no stockbroker or associate of stockbrokers had
ever set eyes--that would have seemed to my aunt as extraordinary as, to a
woman of wider reading, the thought of being herself on terms of intimacy
with Aristaeus, of knowing that he would, when he had finished his
conversation with her, plunge deep into the realms of Thetis, into an
empire veiled from mortal eyes, in which Virgil depicts him as being
received with open arms; or--to be content with an image more likely to
have occurred to her, for she had seen it painted on the plates we used
for biscuits at Combray--as the thought of having had to dinner Ali Baba,
who, as soon as he found himself alone and unobserved, would make his way
into the cave, resplendent with its unsuspected treasures.

One day when he had come to see us after dinner in Paris, and had begged
pardon for being in evening clothes, Françoise, when he had gone, told us
that she had got it from his coachman that he had been dining "with a
princess." "A pretty sort of princess," drawled my aunt; "I know them,"
and she shrugged her shoulders without raising her eyes from her knitting,
serenely ironical.

Altogether, my aunt used to treat him with scant ceremony. Since she was
of the opinion that he ought to feel flattered by our invitations, she
thought it only right and proper that he should never come to see us in
summer without a basket of peaches or raspberries from his garden, and
that from each of his visits to Italy he should bring back some
photographs of old masters for me.

It seemed quite natural, therefore, to send to him whenever we wanted a
recipe for some special sauce or for a pineapple salad for one of our big
dinner-parties, to which he himself would not be invited, not seeming of
sufficient importance to be served up to new friends who might be in our
house for the first time. If the conversation turned upon the Princes of
the House of France, "Gentlemen, you and I will never know, will we, and
don't want to, do we?" my great-aunt would say tartly to Swann, who had,
perhaps, a letter from Twickenham in his pocket; she would make him play
accompaniments and turn over music on evenings when my grandmother's
sister sang; manipulating this creature, so rare and refined at other
times and in other places, with the rough simplicity of a child who will
play with some curio from the cabinet no more carefully than if it were a
penny toy. Certainly the Swann who was a familiar figure in all the clubs
of those days differed hugely from, the Swann created in my great-aunt's
mind when, of an evening, in our little garden at Combray, after the two
shy peals had sounded from the gate, she would vitalise, by injecting into
it everything she had ever heard about the Swann family, the vague and
unrecognisable shape which began to appear, with my grandmother in its
wake, against a background of shadows, and could at last be identified by
the sound of its voice. But then, even in the most insignificant details
of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole,
which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in
an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created
by the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as
"seeing some one we know" is, to some extent, an intellectual process. We
pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we
have already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we
compose in our minds those ideas have certainly the principal place. In
the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to
follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the
sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent
envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our
own ideas of him which we recognise and to which we listen. And so, no
doubt, from the Swann they had built up for their own purposes my family
had left out, in their ignorance, a whole crowd of the details of his
daily life in the world of fashion, details by means of which other
people, when they met him, saw all the Graces enthroned in his face and
stopping at the line of his arched nose as at a natural frontier; but they
contrived also to put into a face from which its distinction had been
evicted, a face vacant and roomy as an untenanted house, to plant in the
depths of its unvalued eyes a lingering sense, uncertain but not
unpleasing, half-memory and half-oblivion, of idle hours spent together
after our weekly dinners, round the card-table or in the garden, during
our companionable country life. Our friend's bodily frame had been so well
lined with this sense, and with various earlier memories of his family,
that their own special Swann had become to my people a complete and living
creature; so that even now I have the feeling of leaving some one I know
for another quite different person when, going back in memory, I pass from
the Swann whom I knew later and more intimately to this early Swann--this
early Swann in whom I can distinguish the charming mistakes of my
childhood, and who, incidentally, is less like his successor than he is
like the other people I knew at that time, as though one's life were a
series of galleries in which all the portraits of any one period had a
marked family likeness, the same (so to speak) tonality--this early Swann
abounding in leisure, fragrant with the scent of the great chestnut-tree,
of baskets of raspberries and of a sprig of tarragon.

And yet one day, when my grandmother had gone to ask some favour of a lady
whom she had known at the Sacré Coeur (and with whom, because of our caste
theory, she had not cared to keep up any degree of intimacy in spite of
several common interests), the Marquise de Villeparisis, of the famous
house of Bouillon, this lady had said to her:

"I think you know M. Swann very well; he is a great friend of my nephews,
the des Laumes."

My grandmother had returned from the call full of praise for the house,
which overlooked some gardens, and in which Mme. de Villeparisis had
advised her to rent a flat; and also for a repairing tailor and his
daughter, who kept a little shop in the courtyard, into which she had gone
to ask them to put a stitch in her skirt, which she had torn on the
staircase. My grandmother had found these people perfectly charming: the
girl, she said, was a jewel, and the tailor a most distinguished man, the
finest she had ever seen. For in her eyes distinction was a thing wholly
independent of social position. She was in ecstasies over some answer the
tailor had made, saying to Mamma:

"Sévigné would not have said it better!" and, by way of contrast, of a
nephew of Mme. de Villeparisis whom she had met at the house:

"My dear, he is so common!"

Now, the effect of that remark about Swann had been, not to raise him in
my great-aunt's estimation, but to lower Mme. de Villeparisis. It appeared
that the deference which, on my grandmother's authority, we owed to Mme.
de Villeparisis imposed on her the reciprocal obligation to do nothing
that would render her less worthy of our regard, and that she had failed
in her duty in becoming aware of Swann's existence and in allowing members
of her family to associate with him. "How should she know Swann? A lady
who, you always made out, was related to Marshal MacMahon!" This view of
Swann's social atmosphere which prevailed in my family seemed to be
confirmed later on by his marriage with a woman of the worst class, you
might almost say a 'fast' woman, whom, to do him justice, he never
attempted to introduce to us, for he continued to come to us alone, though
he came more and more seldom; but from whom they thought they could
establish, on the assumption that he had found her there, the circle,
unknown to them, in which he ordinarily moved.

But on one occasion my grandfather read in a newspaper that M. Swann was
one of the most faithful attendants at the Sunday luncheons given by the
Duc de X----, whose father and uncle had been among our most prominent
statesmen in the reign of Louis Philippe. Now my grandfather was curious
to learn all the little details which might help him to take a mental
share in the private lives of men like Mole, the Due Pasquier, or the Duc
de Broglie. He was delighted to find that Swann associated with people who
had known them. My great-aunt, however, interpreted this piece of news in
a sense discreditable to Swann; for anyone who chose his associates
outside the caste in which he had been born and bred, outside his 'proper
station,' was condemned to utter degradation in her eyes. It seemed to her
that such a one abdicated all claim to enjoy the fruits of those friendly
relations with people of good position which prudent parents cultivate and
store up for their children's benefit, for my great-aunt had actually
ceased to 'see' the son of a lawyer we had known because he had married a
'Highness' and had thereby stepped down--in her eyes--from the respectable
position of a lawyer's son to that of those adventurers, upstart footmen
or stable-boys mostly, to whom we read that queens have sometimes shewn
their favours. She objected, therefore, to my grandfather's plan of
questioning Swann, when next he came to dine with us, about these people
whose friendship with him we had discovered. On the other hand, my
grandmother's two sisters, elderly spinsters who shared her nobility of
character but lacked her intelligence, declared that they could not
conceive what pleasure their brother-in-law could find in talking about
such trifles. They were ladies of lofty ambition, who for that reason were
incapable of taking the least interest in what might be called the
'pinchbeck' things of life, even when they had an historic value, or,
generally speaking, in anything that was not directly associated with some
object aesthetically precious. So complete was their negation of interest
in anything which seemed directly or indirectly a part of our everyday
life that their sense of hearing--which had gradually come to understand
its own futility when the tone of the conversation, at the dinner-table,
became frivolous or merely mundane, without the two old ladies' being able
to guide it back to the topic dear to themselves--would leave its
receptive channels unemployed, so effectively that they were actually
becoming atrophied. So that if my grandfather wished to attract the
attention of the two sisters, he would have to make use of some such alarm
signals as mad-doctors adopt in dealing with their distracted patients; as
by beating several times on a glass with the blade of a knife, fixing them
at the same time with a sharp word and a compelling glance, violent
methods which the said doctors are apt to bring with them into their
everyday life among the sane, either from force of professional habit or
because they think the whole world a trifle mad.

Their interest grew, however, when, the day before Swann was to dine with
us, and when he had made them a special present of a case of Asti, my
great-aunt, who had in her hand a copy of the _Figaro_ in which to the
name of a picture then on view in a Corot exhibition were added the words,
"from the collection of M. Charles Swann," asked: "Did you see that Swann
is 'mentioned' in the _Figaro_?"

"But I have always told you," said my grandmother, "that he had plenty of

"You would, of course," retorted my great-aunt, "say anything just to seem
different from _us_." For, knowing that my grandmother never agreed with
her, and not being quite confident that it was her own opinion which the
rest of us invariably endorsed, she wished to extort from us a wholesale
condemnation of my grandmother's views, against which she hoped to force
us into solidarity with her own.

But we sat silent. My grandmother's sisters having expressed a desire to
mention to Swann this reference to him in the _Figaro_, my great-aunt
dissuaded them. Whenever she saw in others an advantage, however trivial,
which she herself lacked, she would persuade herself that it was no
advantage at all, but a drawback, and would pity so as not to have to envy

"I don't think that would please him at all; I know very well, I should
hate to see my name printed like that, as large as life, in the paper, and
I shouldn't feel at all flattered if anyone spoke to me about it."

She did not, however, put any very great pressure upon my grandmother's
sisters, for they, in their horror of vulgarity, had brought to such a
fine art the concealment of a personal allusion in a wealth of ingenious
circumlocution, that it would often pass unnoticed even by the person to
whom it was addressed. As for my mother, her only thought was of managing
to induce my father to consent to speak to Swann, not of his wife, but of
his daughter, whom he worshipped, and for whose sake it was understood
that he had ultimately made his unfortunate marriage.

"You need only say a word; just ask him how she is. It must be so very
hard for him."

My father, however, was annoyed: "No, no; you have the most absurd ideas.
It would be utterly ridiculous."

But the only one of us in whom the prospect of Swann's arrival gave rise
to an unhappy foreboding was myself. And that was because on the evenings
when there were visitors, or just M. Swann in the house, Mamma did not
come up to my room. I did not, at that time, have dinner with the family:
I came out to the garden after dinner, and at nine I said good night and
went to bed. But on these evenings I used to dine earlier than the others,
and to come in afterwards and sit at table until eight o'clock, when it
was understood that I must go upstairs; that frail and precious kiss which
Mamma used always to leave upon my lips when I was in bed and just going
to sleep I had to take with me from the dining-room to my own, and to keep
inviolate all the time that it took me to undress, without letting its
sweet charm be broken, without letting its volatile essence diffuse itself
and evaporate; and just on those very evenings when I must needs take most
pains to receive it with due formality, I had to snatch it, to seize it
instantly and in public, without even having the time or being properly
free to apply to what I was doing the punctiliousness which madmen use who
compel themselves to exclude all other thoughts from their minds while
they are shutting a door, so that when the sickness of uncertainty sweeps
over them again they can triumphantly face and overcome it with the
recollection of the precise moment in which the door was shut.

We were all in the garden when the double peal of the gate-bell sounded
shyly. Everyone knew that it must be Swann, and yet they looked at one
another inquiringly and sent my grandmother scouting.

"See that you thank him intelligibly for the wine," my grandfather warned
his two sisters-in-law; "you know how good it is, and it is a huge case."

"Now, don't start whispering!" said my great-aunt. "How would you like to
come into a house and find everyone muttering to themselves?"

"Ah! There's M. Swann," cried my father. "Let's ask him if he thinks it
will be fine to-morrow."

My mother fancied that a word from her would wipe out all the
unpleasantness which my family had contrived to make Swann feel since his
marriage. She found an opportunity to draw him aside for a moment. But I
followed her: I could not bring myself to let her go out of reach of me
while I felt that in a few minutes I should have to leave her in the
dining-room and go up to my bed without the consoling thought, as on
ordinary evenings, that she would come up, later, to kiss me.

"Now, M. Swann," she said, "do tell me about your daughter; I am sure she
shews a taste already for nice things, like her papa."

"Come along and sit down here with us all on the verandah," said my
grandfather, coming up to him. My mother had to abandon the quest, but
managed to extract from the restriction itself a further refinement of
thought, as great poets do when the tyranny of rhyme forces them into the
discovery of their finest lines.

"We can talk about her again when we are by ourselves," she said, or
rather whispered to Swann. "It is only a mother who can understand. I am
sure that hers would agree with me."

And so we all sat down round the iron table. I should have liked not to
think of the hours of anguish which I should have to spend, that
evening, alone in my room, without the possibility of going to sleep: I
tried to convince myself that they were of no importance, really, since
I should have forgotten them next morning, and to fix my mind on
thoughts of the future which would carry me, as on a bridge, across the
terrifying abyss that yawned at my feet. But my mind, strained by this
foreboding, distended like the look which I shot at my mother, would not
allow any other impression to enter. Thoughts did, indeed, enter it, but
only on the condition that they left behind them every element of
beauty, or even of quaintness, by which I might have been distracted or
beguiled. As a surgical patient, by means of a local anaesthetic, can
look on with a clear consciousness while an operation is being performed
upon him and yet feel nothing, I could repeat to myself some favourite
lines, or watch my grandfather attempting to talk to Swann about the Duc
d'Audriffet-Pasquier, without being able to kindle any emotion from one
or amusement from the other. Hardly had my grandfather begun to question
Swann about that orator when one of my grandmother's sisters, in whose
ears the question echoed like a solemn but untimely silence which her
natural politeness bade her interrupt, addressed the other with:

"Just fancy, Flora, I met a young Swedish governess to-day who told me
some most interesting things about the co-operative movement in
Scandinavia. We really must have her to dine here one evening."

"To be sure!" said her sister Flora, "but I haven't wasted my time either.
I met such a clever old gentleman at M. Vinteuil's who knows Maubant quite
well, and Maubant has told him every little thing about how he gets up his
parts. It is the most interesting thing I ever heard. He is a neighbour of
M. Vinteuil's, and I never knew; and he is so nice besides."

"M. Vinteuil is not the only one who has nice neighbours," cried my aunt
Céline in a voice which seemed loud because she was so timid, and seemed
forced because she had been planning the little speech for so long;
darting, as she spoke, what she called a 'significant glance' at Swann.
And my aunt Flora, who realised that this veiled utterance was Céline's
way of thanking Swann intelligibly for the Asti, looked at him with a
blend of congratulation and irony, either just, because she wished to
underline her sister's little epigram, or because she envied Swann his
having inspired it, or merely because she imagined that he was
embarrassed, and could not help having a little fun at his expense.

"I think it would be worth while," Flora went on, "to have this old
gentleman to dinner. When you get him upon Maubant or Mme. Materna he will
talk for hours on end."

"That must be delightful," sighed my grandfather, in whose mind nature had
unfortunately forgotten to include any capacity whatsoever for becoming
passionately interested in the co-operative movement among the ladies of
Sweden or in the methods employed by Maubant to get up his parts, just as
it had forgotten to endow my grandmother's two sisters with a grain of
that precious salt which one has oneself to 'add to taste' in order to
extract any savour from a narrative of the private life of Mole or of the
Comte de Paris.

"I say!" exclaimed Swann to my grandfather, "what I was going to tell you
has more to do than you might think with what you were asking me just now,
for in some respects there has been very little change. I came across a
passage in Saint-Simon this morning which would have amused you. It is in
the volume which covers his mission to Spain; not one of the best, little
more in fact than a journal, but at least it is a journal wonderfully well
written, which fairly distinguishes it from the devastating journalism
that we feel bound to read in these days, morning, noon and night."

"I do not agree with you: there are some days when I find reading the
papers very pleasant indeed!" my aunt Flora broke in, to show Swann that
she had read the note about his Corot in the _Figaro_.

"Yes," aunt Céline went one better. "When they write about things or
people in whom we are interested."

"I don't deny it," answered Swann in some bewilderment. "The fault I
find with our journalism is that it forces us to take an interest in some
fresh triviality or other every day, whereas only three or four books in a
lifetime give us anything that is of real importance. Suppose that, every
morning, when we tore the wrapper off our paper with fevered hands, a
transmutation were to take place, and we were to find inside it--oh! I
don't know; shall we say Pascal's _Pensées_?" He articulated the title with
an ironic emphasis so as not to appear pedantic. "And then, in the gilt and
tooled volumes which we open once in ten years," he went on, shewing that
contempt for the things of this world which some men of the world like to
affect, "we should read that the Queen of the Hellenes had arrived at
Cannes, or that the Princesse de Léon had given a fancy dress ball. In
that way we should arrive at the right proportion between 'information'
and 'publicity.'" But at once regretting that he had allowed himself to
speak, even in jest, of serious matters, he added ironically: "We are
having a most entertaining conversation; I cannot think why we climb to
these lofty summits," and then, turning to my grandfather: "Well,
Saint-Simon tells how Maulevrier had had the audacity to offer his hand to
his sons. You remember how he says of Maulevrier, 'Never did I find in
that coarse bottle anything but ill-humour, boorishness, and folly.'"

"Coarse or not, I know bottles in which there is something very
different!" said Flora briskly, feeling bound to thank Swann as well as
her sister, since the present of Asti had been addressed to them both.
Céline began to laugh.

Swann was puzzled, but went on: "'I cannot say whether it was his
ignorance or a trap,' writes Saint-Simon; 'he wished to give his hand to
my children. I noticed it in time to prevent him.'"

My grandfather was already in ecstasies over "ignorance or a trap," but
Miss Céline--the name of Saint-Simon, a 'man of letters,' having arrested
the complete paralysis of her sense of hearing--had grown angry.

"What! You admire that, do you? Well, it is clever enough! But what is the
point of it? Does he mean that one man isn't as good as another? What
difference can it make whether he is a duke or a groom so long as he is
intelligent and good? He had a fine way of bringing up his children, your
Saint-Simon, if he didn't teach them to shake hands with all honest men.
Really and truly, it's abominable. And you dare to quote it!"

And my grandfather, utterly depressed, realising how futile it would be
for him, against this opposition, to attempt to get Swann to tell him the
stories which would have amused him, murmured to my mother: "Just tell me
again that line of yours which always comforts me so much on these
occasions. Oh, yes:

What virtues, Lord, Thou makest us abhor!

Good, that is, very good."

I never took my eyes off my mother. I knew that when they were at table I
should not be permitted to stay there for the whole of dinner-time, and
that Mamma, for fear of annoying my father, would not allow me to give her
in public the series of kisses that she would have had in my room. And so
I promised myself that in the dining-room, as they began to eat and drink
and as I felt the hour approach, I would put beforehand into this kiss,
which was bound to be so brief and stealthy in execution, everything that
my own efforts could put into it: would look out very carefully first the
exact spot on her cheek where I would imprint it, and would so prepare my
thoughts that I might be able, thanks to these mental preliminaries, to
consecrate the whole of the minute Mamma would allow me to the sensation
of her cheek against my lips, as a painter who can have his subject for
short sittings only prepares his palette, and from what he remembers and
from rough notes does in advance everything which he possibly can do in
the sitter's absence. But to-night, before the dinner-bell had sounded, my
grandfather said with unconscious cruelty: "The little man looks tired;
he'd better go up to bed. Besides, we are dining late to-night."

And my father, who was less scrupulous than my grandmother or mother in
observing the letter of a treaty, went on: "Yes, run along; to bed with

I would have kissed Mamma then and there, but at that moment the
dinner-bell rang.

"No, no, leave your mother alone. You've said good night quite enough.
These exhibitions are absurd. Go on upstairs."

And so I must set forth without viaticum; must climb each step of the
staircase 'against my heart,' as the saying is, climbing in opposition to
my heart's desire, which was to return to my mother, since she had not, by
her kiss, given my heart leave to accompany me forth. That hateful
staircase, up which I always passed with such dismay, gave out a smell of
varnish which had to some extent absorbed, made definite and fixed the
special quality of sorrow that I felt each evening, and made it perhaps
even more cruel to my sensibility because, when it assumed this olfactory
guise, my intellect was powerless to resist it. When we have gone to sleep
with a maddening toothache and are conscious of it only as a little girl
whom we attempt, time after time, to pull out of the water, or as a line
of Molière which we repeat incessantly to ourselves, it is a great relief
to wake up, so that our intelligence can disentangle the idea of toothache
from any artificial semblance of heroism or rhythmic cadence. It was the
precise converse of this relief which I felt when my anguish at having to
go up to my room invaded my consciousness in a manner infinitely more
rapid, instantaneous almost, a manner at once insidious and brutal as I
breathed in--a far more poisonous thing than any moral penetration--the
peculiar smell of the varnish upon that staircase.

Once in my room I had to stop every loophole, to close the shutters, to
dig my own grave as I turned down the bed-clothes, to wrap myself in the
shroud of my nightshirt. But before burying myself in the iron bed which
had been placed there because, on summer nights, I was too hot among the
rep curtains of the four-poster, I was stirred to revolt, and attempted
the desperate stratagem of a condemned prisoner. I wrote to my mother
begging her to come upstairs for an important reason which I could not put
in writing. My fear was that Françoise, my aunt's cook who used to be put
in charge of me when I was at Combray, might refuse to take my note. I had
a suspicion that, in her eyes, to carry a message to my mother when there
was a stranger in the room would appear flatly inconceivable, just as it
would be for the door-keeper of a theatre to hand a letter to an actor
upon the stage. For things which might or might not be done she possessed
a code at once imperious, abundant, subtle, and uncompromising on points
themselves imperceptible or irrelevant, which gave it a resemblance to
those ancient laws which combine such cruel ordinances as the massacre of
infants at the breast with prohibitions, of exaggerated refinement,
against "seething the kid in his mother's milk," or "eating of the sinew
which is upon the hollow of the thigh." This code, if one could judge it
by the sudden obstinacy which she would put into her refusal to carry out
certain of our instructions, seemed to have foreseen such social
complications and refinements of fashion as nothing in Françoise's
surroundings or in her career as a servant in a village household could
have put into her head; and we were obliged to assume that there was
latent in her some past existence in the ancient history of France, noble
and little understood, just as there is in those manufacturing towns where
old mansions still testify to their former courtly days, and chemical
workers toil among delicately sculptured scenes of the Miracle of
Theophilus or the Quatre Fils Aymon.

In this particular instance, the article of her code which made it highly
improbable that--barring an outbreak of fire--Françoise would go down and
disturb Mamma when M. Swann was there for so unimportant a person as
myself was one embodying the respect she shewed not only for the family
(as for the dead, for the clergy, or for royalty), but also for the
stranger within our gates; a respect which I should perhaps have found
touching in a book, but which never failed to irritate me on her lips,
because of the solemn and gentle tones in which she would utter it, and
which irritated me more than usual this evening when the sacred character
in which she invested the dinner-party might have the effect of making her
decline to disturb its ceremonial. But to give myself one chance of
success I lied without hesitation, telling her that it was not in the
least myself who had wanted to write to Mamma, but Mamma who, on saying
good night to me, had begged me not to forget to send her an answer about
something she had asked me to find, and that she would certainly be very
angry if this note were not taken to her. I think that Françoise
disbelieved me, for, like those primitive men whose senses were so much
keener than our own, she could immediately detect, by signs imperceptible
by the rest of us, the truth or falsehood of anything that we might wish
to conceal from her. She studied the envelope for five minutes as though
an examination of the paper itself and the look of my handwriting could
enlighten her as to the nature of the contents, or tell her to which
article of her code she ought to refer the matter. Then she went out with
an air of resignation which seemed to imply: "What a dreadful thing for
parents to have a child like this!"

A moment later she returned to say that they were still at the ice stage
and that it was impossible for the butler to deliver the note at once, in
front of everybody; but that when the finger-bowls were put round he would
find a way of slipping it into Mamma's hand. At once my anxiety subsided;
it was now no longer (as it had been a moment ago) until to-morrow that I
had lost my mother, for my little line was going--to annoy her, no doubt,
and doubly so because this contrivance would make me ridiculous in Swann's
eyes--but was going all the same to admit me, invisibly and by stealth,
into the same room as herself, was going to whisper from me into her ear;
for that forbidden and unfriendly dining-room, where but a moment ago the
ice itself--with burned nuts in it--and the finger-bowls seemed to me to
be concealing pleasures that were mischievous and of a mortal sadness
because Mamma was tasting of them and I was far away, had opened its doors
to me and, like a ripe fruit which bursts through its skin, was going to
pour out into my intoxicated heart the gushing sweetness of Mamma's
attention while she was reading what I had written. Now I was no longer
separated from her; the barriers were down; an exquisite thread was
binding us. Besides, that was not all, for surely Mamma would come.

As for the agony through which I had just passed, I imagined that Swann
would have laughed heartily at it if he had read my letter and had guessed
its purpose; whereas, on the contrary, as I was to learn in due course, a
similar anguish had been the bane of his life for many years, and no one
perhaps could have understood my feelings at that moment so well as
himself; to him, that anguish which lies in knowing that the creature one
adores is in some place of enjoyment where oneself is not and cannot
follow--to him that anguish came through Love, to which it is in a sense
predestined, by which it must be equipped and adapted; but when, as had
befallen me, such an anguish possesses one's soul before Love has yet
entered into one's life, then it must drift, awaiting Love's coming, vague
and free, without precise attachment, at the disposal of one sentiment
to-day, of another to-morrow, of filial piety or affection for a comrade.
And the joy with which I first bound myself apprentice, when Françoise
returned to tell me that my letter would be delivered; Swann, too, had
known well that false joy which a friend can give us, or some relative of
the woman we love, when on his arrival at the house or theatre where she
is to be found, for some ball or party or 'first-night' at which he is to
meet her, he sees us wandering outside, desperately awaiting some
opportunity of communicating with her. He recognises us, greets us
familiarly, and asks what we are doing there. And when we invent a story
of having some urgent message to give to his relative or friend, he
assures us that nothing could be more simple, takes us in at the door, and
promises to send her down to us in five minutes. How much we love him--as
at that moment I loved Françoise--the good-natured intermediary who by a
single word has made supportable, human, almost propitious the
inconceivable, infernal scene of gaiety in the thick of which we had been
imagining swarms of enemies, perverse and seductive, beguiling away from
us, even making laugh at us, the woman whom we love. If we are to judge of
them by him, this relative who has accosted us and who is himself an
initiate in those cruel mysteries, then the other guests cannot be so very
demoniacal. Those inaccessible and torturing hours into which she had gone
to taste of unknown pleasures--behold, a breach in the wall, and we are
through it. Behold, one of the moments whose series will go to make up
their sum, a moment as genuine as the rest, if not actually more important
to ourself because our mistress is more intensely a part of it; we picture
it to ourselves, we possess it, we intervene upon it, almost we have
created it: namely, the moment in which he goes to tell her that we are
waiting there below. And very probably the other moments of the party will
not be essentially different, will contain nothing else so exquisite or so
well able to make us suffer, since this kind friend has assured us that
"Of course, she will be delighted to come down! It will be far more
amusing for her to talk to you than to be bored up there." Alas! Swann had
learned by experience that the good intentions of a third party are
powerless to control a woman who is annoyed to find herself pursued even
into a ball-room by a man whom she does not love. Too often, the kind
friend comes down again alone.

My mother did not appear, but with no attempt to safeguard my self-respect
(which depended upon her keeping up the fiction that she had asked me to
let her know the result of my search for something or other) made
Françoise tell me, in so many words "There is no answer"--words I have so
often, since then, heard the hall-porters in 'mansions' and the flunkeys
in gambling-clubs and the like, repeat to some poor girl, who replies in
bewilderment: "What! he's said nothing? It's not possible. You did give
him my letter, didn't you? Very well, I shall wait a little longer." And
just as she invariably protests that she does not need the extra gas which
the porter offers to light for her, and sits on there, hearing nothing
further, except an occasional remark on the weather which the porter
exchanges with a messenger whom he will send off suddenly, when he notices
the time, to put some customer's wine on the ice; so, having declined
Françoise's offer to make me some tea or to stay beside me, I let her go
off again to the servants' hall, and lay down and shut my eyes, and tried
not to hear the voices of my family who were drinking their coffee in the

But after a few seconds I realised that, by writing that line to Mamma, by
approaching--at the risk of making her angry--so near to her that I felt I
could reach out and grasp the moment in which I should see her again, I
had cut myself off from the possibility of going to sleep until I actually
had seen her, and my heart began to beat more and more painfully as I
increased my agitation by ordering myself to keep calm and to acquiesce in
my ill-fortune. Then, suddenly, my anxiety subsided, a feeling of intense
happiness coursed through me, as when a strong medicine begins to take
effect and one's pain vanishes: I had formed a resolution to abandon all
attempts to go to sleep without seeing Mamma, and had decided to kiss her
at all costs, even with the certainty of being in disgrace with her for
long afterwards, when she herself came up to bed. The tranquillity which
followed my anguish made me extremely alert, no less than my sense of
expectation, my thirst for and my fear of danger.

Noiselessly I opened the window and sat down on the foot of my bed; hardly
daring to move in case they should hear me from below. Things outside
seemed also fixed in mute expectation, so as not to disturb the moonlight
which, duplicating each of them and throwing it back by the extension,
forwards, of a shadow denser and more concrete than its substance, had
made the whole landscape seem at once thinner and longer, like a map
which, after being folded up, is spread out upon the ground. What had to
move--a leaf of the chestnut-tree, for instance--moved. But its minute
shuddering, complete, finished to the least detail and with utmost
delicacy of gesture, made no discord with the rest of the scene, and yet
was not merged in it, remaining clearly outlined. Exposed upon this
surface of silence, which absorbed nothing from them, the most distant
sounds, those which must have come from gardens at the far end of the
town, could be distinguished with such exact 'finish' that the impression
they gave of coming from a distance seemed due only to their 'pianissimo'
execution, like those movements on muted strings so well performed by the
orchestra of the Conservatoire that, although one does not lose a single
note, one thinks all the same that they are being played somewhere
outside, a long way from the concert hall, so that all the old
subscribers, and my grandmother's sisters too, when Swann had given them
his seats, used to strain their ears as if they had caught the distant
approach of an army on the march, which had not yet rounded the corner of
the Rue de Trévise.

I was well aware that I had placed myself in a position than which none
could be counted upon to involve me in graver consequences at my parents'
hands; consequences far graver, indeed, than a stranger would have
imagined, and such as (he would have thought) could follow only some
really shameful fault. But in the system of education which they had given
me faults were not classified in the same order as in that of other
children, and I had been taught to place at the head of the list
(doubtless because there was no other class of faults from which I needed
to be more carefully protected) those in which I can now distinguish the
common feature that one succumbs to them by yielding to a nervous impulse.
But such words as these last had never been uttered in my hearing; no one
had yet accounted for my temptations in a way which might have led me to
believe that there was some excuse for my giving in to them, or that I was
actually incapable of holding out against them. Yet I could easily
recognise this class of transgressions by the anguish of mind which
preceded, as well as by the rigour of the punishment which followed them;
and I knew that what I had just done was in the same category as certain
other sins for which I had been severely chastised, though infinitely more
serious than they. When I went out to meet my mother as she herself came
up to bed, and when she saw that I had remained up so as to say good night
to her again in the passage, I should not be allowed to stay in the house
a day longer, I should be packed off to school next morning; so much was
certain. Very good: had I been obliged, the next moment, to hurl myself
out of the window, I should still have preferred such a fate. For what I
wanted now was Mamma, and to say good night to her. I had gone too far
along the road which led to the realisation of this desire to be able to
retrace my steps.

I could hear my parents' footsteps as they went with Swann; and, when the
rattle of the gate assured me that he had really gone, I crept to the
window. Mamma was asking my father if he had thought the lobster good, and
whether M. Swann had had some of the coffee-and-pistachio ice. "I thought
it rather so-so," she was saying; "next time we shall have to try another

"I can't tell you," said my great-aunt, "what a change I find in Swann.
He is quite antiquated!" She had grown so accustomed to seeing Swann
always in the same stage of adolescence that it was a shock to her to find
him suddenly less young than the age she still attributed to him. And the
others too were beginning to remark in Swann that abnormal, excessive,
scandalous senescence, meet only in a celibate, in one of that class for
whom it seems that the great day which knows no morrow must be longer than
for other men, since for such a one it is void of promise, and from its
dawn the moments steadily accumulate without any subsequent partition
among his offspring.

"I fancy he has a lot of trouble with that wretched wife of his, who
'lives' with a certain Monsieur de Charlus, as all Combray knows. It's the
talk of the town."

My mother observed that, in spite of this, he had looked much less unhappy
of late. "And he doesn't nearly so often do that trick of his, so like his
father, of wiping his eyes and passing his hand across his forehead. I
think myself that in his heart of hearts he doesn't love his wife any

"Why, of course he doesn't," answered my grandfather. "He wrote me a
letter about it, ages ago, to which I took care to pay no attention, but
it left no doubt as to his feelings, let alone his love for his wife.
Hullo! you two; you never thanked him for the Asti!" he went on, turning
to his sisters-in-law.

"What! we never thanked him? I think, between you and me, that I put it to
him quite neatly," replied my aunt Flora.

"Yes, you managed it very well; I admired you for it," said my aunt

"But you did it very prettily, too."

"Yes; I liked my expression about 'nice neighbours.'"

"What! Do you call that thanking him?" shouted my grandfather. "I heard
that all right, but devil take me if I guessed it was meant for Swann.
You may be quite sure he never noticed it."

"Come, come; Swann is not a fool. I am positive he appreciated the
compliment. You didn't expect me to tell him the number of bottles, or to
guess what he paid for them."

My father and mother were left alone and sat down for a moment; then my
father said: "Well, shall we go up to bed?"

"As you wish, dear, though I don't feel in the least like sleeping. I
don't know why; it can't be the coffee-ice--it wasn't strong enough to
keep me awake like this. But I see a light in the servants' hall: poor
Françoise has been sitting up for me, so I will get her to unhook me while
you go and undress."

My mother opened the latticed door which led from the hall to the
staircase. Presently I heard her coming upstairs to close her window. I
went quietly into the passage; my heart was beating so violently that I
could hardly move, but at least it was throbbing no longer with anxiety,
but with terror and with joy. I saw in the well of the stair a light
coming upwards, from Mamma's candle. Then I saw Mamma herself: I threw
myself upon her. For an instant she looked at me in astonishment, not
realising what could have happened. Then her face assumed an expression of
anger. She said not a single word to me; and, for that matter, I used to
go for days on end without being spoken to, for far less offences than
this. A single word from Mamma would have been an admission that further
intercourse with me was within the bounds of possibility, and that might
perhaps have appeared to me more terrible still, as indicating that, with
such a punishment as was in store for me, mere silence, and even anger,
were relatively puerile.

A word from her then would have implied the false calm in which one
converses with a servant to whom one has just decided to give notice; the
kiss one bestows on a son who is being packed off to enlist, which would
have been denied him if it had merely been a matter of being angry with
him for a few days. But she heard my father coming from the dressing-room,
where he had gone to take off his clothes, and, to avoid the 'scene' which
he would make if he saw me, she said, in a voice half-stifled by her
anger: "Run away at once. Don't let your father see you standing there
like a crazy jane!"

But I begged her again to "Come and say good night to me!" terrified as I
saw the light from my father's candle already creeping up the wall, but
also making use of his approach as a means of blackmail, in the hope that
my mother, not wishing him to find me there, as find me he must if she
continued to hold out, would give in to me, and say: "Go back to your
room. I will come."

Too late: my father was upon us. Instinctively I murmured, though no one
heard me, "I am done for!"

I was not, however. My father used constantly to refuse to let me do
things which were quite clearly allowed by the more liberal charters
granted me by my mother and grandmother, because he paid no heed to
'Principles,' and because in his sight there were no such things as
'Rights of Man.' For some quite irrelevant reason, or for no reason at
all, he would at the last moment prevent me from taking some particular
walk, one so regular and so consecrated to my use that to deprive me of it
was a clear breach of faith; or again, as he had done this evening, long
before the appointed hour he would snap out: "Run along up to bed now; no
excuses!" But then again, simply because he was devoid of principles (in
my grandmother's sense), so he could not, properly speaking, be called
inexorable. He looked at me for a moment with an air of annoyance and
surprise, and then when Mamma had told him, not without some
embarrassment, what had happened, said to her: "Go along with him, then;
you said just now that you didn't feel like sleep, so stay in his room for
a little. I don't need anything."

"But dear," my mother answered timidly, "whether or not I feel like sleep
is not the point; we must not make the child accustomed..."

"There's no question of making him accustomed," said my father, with a
shrug of the shoulders; "you can see quite well that the child is unhappy.
After all, we aren't gaolers. You'll end by making him ill, and a lot of
good that will do. There are two beds in his room; tell Françoise to make
up the big one for you, and stay beside him for the rest of the night. I'm
off to bed, anyhow; I'm not nervous like you. Good night."

It was impossible for me to thank my father; what he called my
sentimentality would have exasperated him. I stood there, not daring to
move; he was still confronting us, an immense figure in his white
nightshirt, crowned with the pink and violet scarf of Indian cashmere in
which, since he had begun to suffer from neuralgia, he used to tie up his
head, standing like Abraham in the engraving after Benozzo Gozzoli which
M. Swann had given me, telling Sarah that she must tear herself away from
Isaac. Many years have passed since that night. The wall of the staircase,
up which I had watched the light of his candle gradually climb, was long
ago demolished. And in myself, too, many things have perished which, I
imagined, would last for ever, and new structures have arisen, giving
birth to new sorrows and new joys which in those days I could not have
foreseen, just as now the old are difficult of comprehension. It is a long
time, too, since my father has been able to tell Mamma to "Go with the
child." Never again will such hours be possible for me. But of late I have
been increasingly able to catch, if I listen attentively, the sound of the
sobs which I had the strength to control in my father's presence, and
which broke out only when I found myself alone with Mamma. Actually, their
echo has never ceased: it is only because life is now growing more and
more quiet round about me that I hear them afresh, like those convent
bells which are so effectively drowned during the day by the noises of the
streets that one would suppose them to have been stopped for ever, until
they sound out again through the silent evening air.

Mamma spent that night in my room: when I had just committed a sin so
deadly that I was waiting to be banished from the household, my parents
gave me a far greater concession than I should ever have won as the reward
of a good action. Even at the moment when it manifested itself in this
crowning mercy, my father's conduct towards me was still somewhat
arbitrary, and regardless of my deserts, as was characteristic of him and
due to the fact that his actions were generally dictated by chance
expediencies rather than based on any formal plan. And perhaps even what I
called his strictness, when he sent me off to bed, deserved that title
less, really, than my mother's or grandmother's attitude, for his nature,
which in some respects differed more than theirs from my own, had probably
prevented him from guessing, until then, how wretched I was every evening,
a thing which my mother and grandmother knew well; but they loved me
enough to be unwilling to spare me that suffering, which they hoped to
teach me to overcome, so as to reduce my nervous sensibility and to
strengthen my will. As for my father, whose affection for me was of
another kind, I doubt if he would have shewn so much courage, for as soon
as he had grasped the fact that I was unhappy he had said to my mother:
"Go and comfort him." Mamma stayed all night in my room, and it seemed
that she did not wish to mar by recrimination those hours, so different
from anything that I had had a right to expect; for when Françoise (who
guessed that something extraordinary must have happened when she saw Mamma
sitting by my side, holding my hand and letting me cry unchecked) said to
her: "But, Madame, what is little Master crying for?" she replied: "Why,
Françoise, he doesn't know himself: it is his nerves. Make up the big bed
for me quickly and then go off to your own." And thus for the first time
my unhappiness was regarded no longer as a fault for which I must be
punished, but as an involuntary evil which had been officially recognised
a nervous condition for which I was in no way responsible: I had the
consolation that I need no longer mingle apprehensive scruples with the
bitterness of my tears; I could weep henceforward without sin. I felt no
small degree of pride, either, in Franchise's presence at this return to
humane conditions which, not an hour after Mamma had refused to come up to
my room and had sent the snubbing message that I was to go to sleep,
raised me to the dignity of a grown-up person, brought me of a sudden to a
sort of puberty of sorrow, to emancipation from tears. I ought then to
have been happy; I was not. It struck me that my mother had just made a
first concession which must have been painful to her, that it was a first
step down from the ideal she had formed for me, and that for the first
time she, with all her courage, had to confess herself beaten. It struck
me that if I had just scored a victory it was over her; that I had
succeeded, as sickness or sorrow or age might have succeeded, in relaxing
her will, in altering her judgment; that this evening opened a new era,
must remain a black date in the calendar. And if I had dared now, I
should have said to Mamma: "No, I don't want you; you mustn't sleep here."
But I was conscious of the practical wisdom, of what would be called
nowadays the realism with which she tempered the ardent idealism of my
grandmother's nature, and I knew that now the mischief was done she would
prefer to let me enjoy the soothing pleasure of her company, and not to
disturb my father again. Certainly my mother's beautiful features seemed
to shine again with youth that evening, as she sat gently holding my hands
and trying to check my tears; but, just for that reason, it seemed to me
that this should not have happened; her anger would have been less
difficult to endure than this new kindness which my childhood had not
known; I felt that I had with an impious and secret finger traced a first
wrinkle upon her soul and made the first white hair shew upon her head.
This thought redoubled my sobs, and then I saw that Mamma, who had never
allowed herself to go to any length of tenderness with me, was suddenly
overcome by my tears and had to struggle to keep back her own. Then, as
she saw that I had noticed this, she said to me, with a smile: "Why, my
little buttercup, my little canary-boy, he's going to make Mamma as silly
as himself if this goes on. Look, since you can't sleep, and Mamma can't
either, we mustn't go on in this stupid way; we must do something; I'll
get one of your books." But I had none there. "Would you like me to get
out the books now that your grandmother is going to give you for your
birthday? Just think it over first, and don't be disappointed if there is
nothing new for you then."

I was only too delighted, and Mamma went to find a parcel of books in
which I could not distinguish, through the paper in which it was wrapped,
any more than its squareness and size, but which, even at this first
glimpse, brief and obscure as it was, bade fair to eclipse already the
paint-box of last New Year's Day and the silkworms of the year before. It
contained _La Mare au Diable_, _François le Champi_, _La Petite Fadette_,
and _Les Maîtres Sonneurs_. My grandmother, as I learned afterwards, had
at first chosen Mussel's poems, a volume of Rousseau, and _Indiana_; for
while she considered light reading as unwholesome as sweets and cakes, she
did not reflect that the strong breath of genius must have upon the very
soul of a child an influence at once more dangerous and less quickening
than those of fresh air and country breezes upon his body. But when my
father had seemed almost to regard her as insane on learning the names of
the books she proposed to give me, she had journeyed back by herself to
Jouy-le-Vicomte to the bookseller's, so that there should be no fear of my
not having my present in time (it was a burning hot day, and she had come
home so unwell that the doctor had warned my mother not to allow her again
to tire herself in that way), and had there fallen back upon the four
pastoral novels of George Sand.

"My dear," she had said to Mamma, "I could not allow myself to give the
child anything that was not well written."

The truth was that she could never make up her mind to purchase anything
from which no intellectual profit was to be derived, and, above all, that
profit which good things bestowed on us by teaching us to seek our
pleasures elsewhere than in the barren satisfaction of worldly wealth.
Even when she had to make some one a present of the kind called 'useful,'
when she had to give an armchair or some table-silver or a walking-stick,
she would choose 'antiques,' as though their long desuetude had effaced
from them any semblance of utility and fitted them rather to instruct us
in the lives of the men of other days than to serve the common
requirements of our own. She would have liked me to have in my room
photographs of ancient buildings or of beautiful places. But at the moment
of buying them, and for all that the subject of the picture had an
aesthetic value of its own, she would find that vulgarity and utility had
too prominent a part in them, through the mechanical nature of their
reproduction by photography. She attempted by a subterfuge, if not to
eliminate altogether their commercial banality, at least to minimise it,
to substitute for the bulk of it what was art still, to introduce, as it
might be, several 'thicknesses' of art; instead of photographs of Chartres
Cathedral, of the Fountains of Saint-Cloud, or of Vesuvius she would
inquire of Swann whether some great painter had not made pictures of them,
and preferred to give me photographs of 'Chartres Cathedral' after Corot,
of the 'Fountains of Saint-Cloud' after Hubert Robert, and of 'Vesuvius'
after Turner, which were a stage higher in the scale of art. But although
the photographer had been prevented from reproducing directly the
masterpieces or the beauties of nature, and had there been replaced by a
great artist, he resumed his odious position when it came to reproducing
the artist's interpretation. Accordingly, having to reckon again with
vulgarity, my grandmother would endeavour to postpone the moment of
contact still further. She would ask Swann if the picture had not been
engraved, preferring, when possible, old engravings with some interest of
association apart from themselves, such, for example, as shew us a
masterpiece in a state in which we can no longer see it to-day, as
Morghen's print of the 'Cenacolo' of Leonardo before it was spoiled by
restoration. It must be admitted that the results of this method of
interpreting the art of making presents were not always happy. The idea
which I formed of Venice, from a drawing by Titian which is supposed to
have the lagoon in the background, was certainly far less accurate than
what I have since derived from ordinary photographs. We could no longer
keep count in the family (when my great-aunt tried to frame an indictment
of my grandmother) of all the armchairs she had presented to married
couples, young and old, which on a first attempt to sit down upon them had
at once collapsed beneath the weight of their recipient. But my
grandmother would have thought it sordid to concern herself too closely
with the solidity of any piece of furniture in which could still be
discerned a flourish, a smile, a brave conceit of the past. And even what
in such pieces supplied a material need, since it did so in a manner to
which we are no longer accustomed, was as charming to her as one of those
old forms of speech in which we can still see traces of a metaphor whose
fine point has been worn away by the rough usage of our modern tongue. In
precisely the same way the pastoral novels of George Sand, which she was
giving me for my birthday, were regular lumber-rooms of antique furniture,
full of expressions that have fallen out of use and returned as imagery,
such as one finds now only in country dialects. And my grandmother had
bought them in preference to other books, just as she would have preferred
to take a house that had a gothic dovecot, or some other such piece of
antiquity as would have a pleasant effect on the mind, filling it with a
nostalgic longing for impossible journeys through the realms of time.

Mamma sat down by my bed; she had chosen _François le Champi_, whose
reddish cover and incomprehensible title gave it a distinct personality in
my eyes and a mysterious attraction. I had not then read any real novels.
I had heard it said that George Sand was a typical novelist. That prepared
me in advance to imagine that _François le Champi_ contained something
inexpressibly delicious. The course of the narrative, where it tended to
arouse curiosity or melt to pity, certain modes of expression which
disturb or sadden the reader, and which, with a little experience, he may
recognise as 'common form' in novels, seemed to me then distinctive--for
to me a new book was not one of a number of similar objects, but was like
an individual man, unmatched, and with no cause of existence beyond
himself--an intoxicating whiff of the peculiar essence of _François le
Champi_. Beneath the everyday incidents, the commonplace thoughts and
hackneyed words, I could hear, or overhear, an intonation, a rhythmic
utterance fine and strange. The 'action' began: to me it seemed all the
more obscure because in those days, when I read to myself, I used often,
while I turned the pages, to dream of something quite different. And to
the gaps which this habit made in my knowledge of the story more were
added by the fact that when it was Mamma who was reading to me aloud she
left all the love-scenes out. And so all the odd changes which take place
in the relations between the miller's wife and the boy, changes which only
the birth and growth of love can explain, seemed to me plunged and steeped
in a mystery, the key to which (as I could readily believe) lay in that
strange and pleasant-sounding name of _Champi_, which draped the boy who
bore it, I knew not why, in its own bright colour, purpurate and charming.
If my mother was not a faithful reader, she was, none the less, admirable
when reading a work in which she found the note of true feeling by the
respectful simplicity of her interpretation and by the sound of her sweet
and gentle voice. It was the same in her daily life, when it was not works
of art but men and women whom she was moved to pity or admire: it was
touching to observe with what deference she would banish from her voice,
her gestures, from her whole conversation, now the note of joy which might
have distressed some mother who had long ago lost a child, now the
recollection of an event or anniversary which might have reminded some old
gentleman of the burden of his years, now the household topic which might
have bored some young man of letters. And so, when she read aloud the
prose of George Sand, prose which is everywhere redolent of that
generosity and moral distinction which Mamma had learned from my
grandmother to place above all other qualities in life, and which I was
not to teach her until much later to refrain from placing, in the same
way, above all other qualities in literature; taking pains to banish from
her voice any weakness or affectation which might have blocked its channel
for that powerful stream of language, she supplied all the natural
tenderness, all the lavish sweetness which they demanded to phrases which
seemed to have been composed for her voice, and which were all, so to
speak, within her compass. She came to them with the tone that they
required, with the cordial accent which existed before they were, which
dictated them, but which is not to be found in the words themselves, and
by these means she smoothed away, as she read on, any harshness there
might be or discordance in the tenses of verbs, endowing the imperfect and
the preterite with all the sweetness which there is in generosity, all the
melancholy which there is in love; guided the sentence that was drawing to
an end towards that which was waiting to begin, now hastening, now
slackening the pace of the syllables so as to bring them, despite their
difference of quantity, into a uniform rhythm, and breathed into this
quite ordinary prose a kind of life, continuous and full of feeling.

My agony was soothed; I let myself be borne upon the current of this
gentle night on which I had my mother by my side. I knew that such a night
could not be repeated; that the strongest desire I had in the world,
namely, to keep my mother in my room through the sad hours of darkness,
ran too much counter to general requirements and to the wishes of others
for such a concession as had been granted me this evening to be anything
but a rare and casual exception. To-morrow night I should again be the
victim of anguish and Mamma would not stay by my side. But when these
storms of anguish grew calm I could no longer realise their existence;
besides, tomorrow evening was still a long way off; I reminded myself that
I should still have time to think about things, albeit that remission of
time could bring me no access of power, albeit the coming event was in no
way dependent upon the exercise of my will, and seemed not quite
inevitable only because it was still separated from me by this short

* * *

And so it was that, for a long time afterwards, when I lay awake at night
and revived old memories of Combray, I saw no more of it than this sort of
luminous panel, sharply defined against a vague and shadowy background,
like the panels which a Bengal fire or some electric sign will illuminate
and dissect from the front of a building the other parts of which remain
plunged in darkness: broad enough at its base, the little parlour, the
dining-room, the alluring shadows of the path along which would come M.
Swann, the unconscious author of my sufferings, the hall through which I
would journey to the first step of that staircase, so hard to climb, which
constituted, all by itself, the tapering 'elevation' of an irregular
pyramid; and, at the summit, my bedroom, with the little passage through
whose glazed door Mamma would enter; in a word, seen always at the same
evening hour, isolated from all its possible surroundings, detached and
solitary against its shadowy background, the bare minimum of scenery
necessary (like the setting one sees printed at the head of an old play,
for its performance in the provinces) to the drama of my undressing, as
though all Combray had consisted of but two floors joined by a slender
staircase, and as though there had been no time there but seven o'clock at
night. I must own that I could have assured any questioner that Combray
did include other scenes and did exist at other hours than these. But
since the facts which I should then have recalled would have been prompted
only by an exercise of the will, by my intellectual memory, and since the
pictures which that kind of memory shews us of the past preserve nothing
of the past itself, I should never have had any wish to ponder over this
residue of Combray. To me it was in reality all dead.

Permanently dead? Very possibly.

There is a large element of hazard in these matters, and a second hazard,
that of our own death, often prevents us from awaiting for any length of
time the favours of the first.

I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls
of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an
animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to
us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the
tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then
they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have
recognised their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they
have overcome death and return to share our life.

And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to
recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past
is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in
some material object (in the sensation which that material object will
give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on
chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was
comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any
existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother,
seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily
take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my
mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called
'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the
fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a
dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a
spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner
had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a
shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the
extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had
invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its
origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me,
its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory--this new sensation having
had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence;
or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to
feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this
all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of
tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not,
indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it
signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first,
a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop;
the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my quest,
the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me,
but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a
gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which I, too, cannot
interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call upon the tea for it
again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my
final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine my own mind. It is for
it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever
the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders;
when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go
seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than
that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far
exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone
can bring into the light of day.

And I begin again to ask myself what it could have been, this
unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof of its
existence, but only the sense that it was a happy, that it was a real
state in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished.
I decide to attempt to make it reappear. I retrace my thoughts to the
moment at which I drank the first spoonful of tea. I find again the same
state, illumined by no fresh light. I compel my mind to make one further
effort, to follow and recapture once again the fleeting sensation. And
that nothing may interrupt it in its course I shut out every obstacle,
every extraneous idea, I stop my ears and inhibit all attention to the
sounds which come from the next room. And then, feeling that my mind is
growing fatigued without having any success to report, I compel it for a
change to enjoy that distraction which I have just denied it, to think of
other things, to rest and refresh itself before the supreme attempt. And
then for the second time I clear an empty space in front of it. I place in
position before my mind's eye the still recent taste of that first
mouthful, and I feel something start within me, something that leaves its
resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been embedded like
an anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel
it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of
great spaces traversed.

Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the
image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, has tried to
follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too
much confused; scarcely can I perceive the colourless reflection in which
are blended the uncapturable whirling medley of radiant hues, and I cannot
distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter,
to translate to me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable
paramour, the taste of cake soaked in tea; cannot ask it to inform me what
special circumstance is in question, of what period in my past life.

Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this
memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment
has travelled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the very
depths of my being? I cannot tell. Now that I feel nothing, it has
stopped, has perhaps gone down again into its darkness, from which who can
say whether it will ever rise? Ten times over I must essay the task, must
lean down over the abyss. And each time the natural laziness which deters
us from every difficult enterprise, every work of importance, has urged me
to leave the thing alone, to drink my tea and to think merely of the
worries of to-day and of my hopes for to-morrow, which let themselves be
pondered over without effort or distress of mind.

And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of
madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I
did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in
her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own
cup of real or of lime-flower tea. The sight of the little madeleine had
recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so
often seen such things in the interval, without tasting them, on the trays
in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from
those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps
because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing
now survived, everything was scattered; the forms of things, including
that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its
severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long
dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed
them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a
long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the
things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more
vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell
and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind
us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest;
and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their
essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in
her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I
did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory
made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where
her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to
the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out
behind it for my parents (the isolated panel which until that moment had
been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to
night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before luncheon,
the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took
when it was fine. And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a
porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which
until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet,
stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become
flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment
all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies
on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings
and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings,
taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and
gardens alike, from my cup of tea.


Combray at a distance, from a twenty-mile radius, as we used to see it
from the railway when we arrived there every year in Holy Week, was no
more than a church epitomising the town, representing it, speaking of it
and for it to the horizon, and as one drew near, gathering close about its
long, dark cloak, sheltering from the wind, on the open plain, as a
shepherd gathers his sheep, the woolly grey backs of its flocking houses,
which a fragment of its mediaeval ramparts enclosed, here and there, in an
outline as scrupulously circular as that of a little town in a primitive
painting. To live in, Combray was a trifle depressing, like its streets,
whose houses, built of the blackened stone of the country, fronted with
outside steps, capped with gables which projected long shadows downwards,
were so dark that one had, as soon as the sun began to go down, to draw
back the curtains in the sitting-room windows; streets with the solemn
names of Saints, not a few of whom figured in the history of the early
lords of Combray, such as the Rue Saint-Hilaire, the Rue Saint-Jacques, in
which my aunt's house stood, the Rue Sainte-Hildegarde, which ran past her
railings, and the Rue du Saint-Esprit, on to which the little garden gate
opened; and these Combray streets exist in so remote a quarter of my
memory, painted in colours so different from those in which the world is
decked for me to-day, that in fact one and all of them, and the church
which towered above them in the Square, seem to me now more unsubstantial
than the projections of my magic-lantern; while at times I feel that to be
able to cross the Rue Saint-Hilaire again, to engage a room in the Rue de
l'Oiseau, in the old hostelry of the Oiseau Flesché, from whose windows in
the pavement used to rise a smell of cooking which rises still in my mind,
now and then, in the same warm gusts of comfort, would be to secure a
contact with the unseen world more marvellously supernatural than it would
be to make Golo's acquaintance and to chat with Geneviève de Brabant.

My grandfather's cousin--by courtesy my great-aunt--with whom we used to
stay, was the mother of that aunt Léonie who, since her husband's (my
uncle Octave's) death, had gradually declined to leave, first Combray,
then her house in Combray, then her bedroom, and finally her bed; and who
now never 'came down,' but lay perpetually in an indefinite condition of
grief, physical exhaustion, illness, obsessions, and religious
observances. Her own room looked out over the Rue Saint-Jacques, which
ran a long way further to end in the Grand-Pré (as distinct from the
Petit-Pré, a green space in the centre of the town where three streets
met) and which, monotonous and grey, with the three high steps of stone
before almost every one of its doors, seemed like a deep furrow cut by
some sculptor of gothic images in the very block of stone out of which he
had fashioned a Calvary or a Crib. My aunt's life was now practically
confined to two adjoining rooms, in one of which she would rest in the
afternoon while they, aired the other. They were rooms of that country
order which (just as in certain climes whole tracts of air or ocean are
illuminated or scented by myriads of protozoa which we cannot see)
fascinate our sense of smell with the countless odours springing from
their own special virtues, wisdom, habits, a whole secret system of life,
invisible, superabundant and profoundly moral, which their atmosphere
holds in solution; smells natural enough indeed, and coloured by
circumstances as are those of the neighbouring countryside, but already
humanised, domesticated, confined, an exquisite, skilful, limpid jelly,
blending all the fruits of the season which have left the orchard for the
store-room, smells changing with the year, but plenishing, domestic
smells, which compensate for the sharpness of hoar frost with the sweet
savour of warm bread, smells lazy and punctual as a village clock, roving
smells, pious smells; rejoicing in a peace which brings only an increase
of anxiety, and in a prosiness which serves as a deep source of poetry to
the stranger who passes through their midst without having lived amongst
them. The air of those rooms was saturated with the fine bouquet of a
silence so nourishing, so succulent that I could not enter them without a
sort of greedy enjoyment, particularly on those first mornings, chilly
still, of the Easter holidays, when I could taste it more fully, because I
had just arrived then at Combray: before I went in to wish my aunt good
day I would be kept waiting a little time in the outer room, where the
sun, a wintry sun still, had crept in to warm itself before the fire,
lighted already between its two brick sides and plastering all the room
and everything in it with a smell of soot, making the room like one of
those great open hearths which one finds in the country, or one of the
canopied mantelpieces in old castles under which one sits hoping that in
the world outside it is raining or snowing, hoping almost for a
catastrophic deluge to add the romance of shelter and security to the
comfort of a snug retreat; I would turn to and fro between the prayer-desk
and the stamped velvet armchairs, each one always draped in its crocheted
antimacassar, while the fire, baking like a pie the appetising smells with
which the air of the room, was thickly clotted, which the dewy and sunny
freshness of the morning had already 'raised' and started to 'set,' puffed
them and glazed them and fluted them and swelled them into an invisible
though not impalpable country cake, an immense puff-pastry, in which,
barely waiting to savour the crustier, more delicate, more respectable,
but also drier smells of the cupboard, the chest-of-drawers, and the
patterned wall-paper I always returned with an unconfessed gluttony to
bury myself in the nondescript, resinous, dull, indigestible, and fruity
smell of the flowered quilt.

In the next room I could hear my aunt talking quietly to herself. She
never spoke save in low tones, because she believed that there was
something broken in her head and floating loose there, which she might
displace by talking too loud; but she never remained for long, even when
alone, without saying something, because she believed that it was good for
her throat, and that by keeping the blood there in circulation it would
make less frequent the chokings and other pains to which she was liable;
besides, in the life of complete inertia which she led she attached to the
least of her sensations an extraordinary importance, endowed them with a
Protean ubiquity which made it difficult for her to keep them secret, and,
failing a confidant to whom she might communicate them, she used to
promulgate them to herself in an unceasing monologue which was her sole
form of activity. Unfortunately, having formed the habit of thinking
aloud, she did not always take care to see that there was no one in the
adjoining room, and I would often hear her saying to herself: "I must not
forget that I never slept a wink"--for "never sleeping a wink" was her
great claim to distinction, and one admitted and respected in our
household vocabulary; in the morning Françoise would not 'call' her, but
would simply 'come to' her; during the day, when my aunt wished to take a
nap, we used to say just that she wished to 'be quiet' or to 'rest'; and
when in conversation she so far forgot herself as to say "what made me
wake up," or "I dreamed that," she would flush and at once correct

After waiting a minute, I would go in and kiss her; Françoise would be
making her tea; or, if my aunt were feeling 'upset,' she would ask instead
for her 'tisane,' and it would be my duty to shake out of the chemist's
little package on to a plate the amount of lime-blossom required for
infusion in boiling water. The drying of the stems had twisted them into a
fantastic trellis, in whose intervals the pale flowers opened, as though a
painter had arranged them there, grouping them in the most decorative
poses. The leaves, which had lost or altered their own appearance, assumed
those instead of the most incongruous things imaginable, as though the
transparent wings of flies or the blank sides of labels or the petals of
roses had been collected and pounded, or interwoven as birds weave the
material for their nests. A thousand trifling little details--the charming
prodigality of the chemist--details which would have been eliminated from
an artificial preparation, gave me, like a book in which one is astonished
to read the name of a person whom one knows, the pleasure of finding that
these were indeed real lime-blossoms, like those I had seen, when coming
from the train, in the Avenue de la Gare, altered, but only because they
were not imitations but the very same blossoms, which had grown old. And
as each new character is merely a metamorphosis from something older, in
these little grey balls I recognised green buds plucked before their time;
but beyond all else the rosy, moony, tender glow which lit up the blossoms
among the frail forest of stems from which they hung like little golden
roses--marking, as the radiance upon an old wall still marks the place of
a vanished fresco, the difference between those parts of the tree which
had and those which had not been 'in bloom'--shewed me that these were
petals which, before their flowering-time, the chemist's package had
embalmed on warm evenings of spring. That rosy candlelight was still their
colour, but half-extinguished and deadened in the diminished life which
was now theirs, and which may be called the twilight of a flower.
Presently my aunt was able to dip in the boiling infusion, in which she
would relish the savour of dead or faded blossom, a little madeleine, of
which she would hold out a piece to me when it was sufficiently soft.

At one side of her bed stood a big yellow chest-of-drawers of lemon-wood,
and a table which served at once as pharmacy and as high altar, on which,
beneath a statue of Our Lady and a bottle of Vichy-Célestins, might be
found her service-books and her medical prescriptions, everything that she
needed for the performance, in bed, of her duties to soul and body, to
keep the proper times for pepsin and for vespers. On the other side her
bed was bounded by the window: she had the street beneath her eyes, and
would read in it from morning to night to divert the tedium of her life,
like a Persian prince, the daily but immemorial chronicles of Combray,
which she would discuss in detail afterwards with Françoise.

I would not have been five minutes with my aunt before she would send me
away in case I made her tired. She would hold out for me to kiss her sad
brow, pale and lifeless, on which at this early hour she would not yet
have arranged the false hair and through which the bones shone like the
points of a crown of thorns--or the beads of a rosary, and she would say to
me: "Now, my poor child, you must go away; go and get ready for mass; and
if you see Françoise downstairs, tell her not to stay too long amusing
herself with you; she must come up soon to see if I want anything."

Françoise, who had been for many years in my aunt's service and did not at
that time suspect that she would one day be transferred entirely to ours,
was a little inclined to desert my aunt during the months which we spent
in her house. There had been in my infancy, before we first went to
Combray, and when my aunt Léonie used still to spend the winter in Paris
with her mother, a time when I knew Françoise so little that on New Year's
Day, before going into my great-aunt's house, my mother put a five-franc
piece in my hand and said: "Now, be careful. Don't make any mistake. Wait
until you hear me say 'Good morning, Françoise,' and I touch your arm
before you give it to her." No sooner had we arrived in my aunt's dark
hall than we saw in the gloom, beneath the frills of a snowy cap as stiff
and fragile as if it had been made of spun sugar, the concentric waves of
a smile of anticipatory gratitude. It was Françoise, motionless and erect,
framed in the small doorway of the corridor like the statue of a saint in
its niche. When we had grown more accustomed to this religious darkness we
could discern in her features a disinterested love of all humanity,
blended with a tender respect for the 'upper classes' which raised to the
most honourable quarter of her heart the hope of receiving her due reward.
Mamma pinched my arm sharply and said in a loud voice: "Good morning,
Françoise." At this signal my fingers parted and I let fall the coin,
which found a receptacle in a confused but outstretched hand. But since we
had begun to go to Combray there was no one I knew better than Françoise.
We were her favourites, and in the first years at least, while she shewed
the same consideration for us as for my aunt, she enjoyed us with a keener
relish, because we had, in addition to our dignity as part of 'the family'
(for she had for those invisible bonds by which community of blood unites
the members of a family as much respect as any Greek tragedian), the fresh
charm of not being her customary employers. And so with what joy would
she welcome us, with what sorrow complain that the weather was still so
bad for us, on the day of our arrival, just before Easter, when there was
often an icy wind; while Mamma inquired after her daughter and her
nephews, and if her grandson was good-looking, and what they were going to
make of him, and whether he took after his granny.

Later, when no one else was in the room, Mamma, who knew that Françoise
was still mourning for her parents, who had been dead for years, would
speak of them kindly, asking her endless little questions about them and
their lives.

She had guessed that Françoise was not over-fond of her son-in-law, and
that he spoiled the pleasure she found in visiting her daughter, as the
two could not talk so freely when he was there. And so one day, when
Françoise was going to their house, some miles from Combray, Mamma said to
her, with a smile: "Tell me, Françoise, if Julien has had to go away, and
you have Marguerite to yourself all day, you will be very sorry, but will
make the best of it, won't you?"

And Françoise answered, laughing: "Madame knows everything; Madame is
worse than the X-rays" (she pronounced 'x' with an affectation of
difficulty and with a smile in deprecation of her, an unlettered woman's,
daring to employ a scientific term) "they brought here for Mme. Octave,
which see what is in your heart"--and she went off, disturbed that anyone


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