Swann's Way
Marcel Proust

Part 2 out of 9

should be caring about her, perhaps anxious that we should not see her in
tears: Mamma was the first person who had given her the pleasure of
feeling that her peasant existence, with its simple joys and sorrows,
might offer some interest, might be a source of grief or pleasure to some
one other than herself.

My aunt resigned herself to doing without Françoise to some extent during
our visits, knowing how much my mother appreciated the services of so
active and intelligent a maid, one who looked as smart at five o'clock in
the morning in her kitchen, under a cap whose stiff and dazzling frills
seemed to be made of porcelain, as when dressed for churchgoing; who did
everything in the right way, who toiled like a horse, whether she was well
or ill, but without noise, without the appearance of doing anything; the
only one of my aunt's maids who when Mamma asked for hot water or black
coffee would bring them actually boiling; she was one of those servants
who in a household seem least satisfactory, at first, to a stranger,
doubtless because they take no pains to make a conquest of him and shew
him no special attention, knowing very well that they have no real need of
him, that he will cease to be invited to the house sooner than they will
be dismissed from it; who, on the other hand, cling with most fidelity to
those masters and mistresses who have tested and proved their real
capacity, and do not look for that superficial responsiveness, that
slavish affability, which may impress a stranger favourably, but often
conceals an utter barrenness of spirit in which no amount of training can
produce the least trace of individuality.

When Françoise, having seen that my parents had everything they required,
first went upstairs again to give my aunt her pepsin and to find out from
her what she would take for luncheon, very few mornings pased but she was
called upon to give an opinion, or to furnish an explanation, in regard to
some important event.

"Just fancy, Françoise, Mme. Goupil went by more than a quarter of an hour
late to fetch her sister: if she loses any more time on the way I should
not be at all surprised if she got in after the Elevation."

"Well, there'd be nothing wonderful in that," would be the answer. Or:

"Françoise, if you had come in five minutes ago, you would have seen Mme.
Imbert go past with some asparagus twice the size of what mother Callot
has: do try to find out from her cook where she got them. You know you've
been putting asparagus in all your sauces this spring; you might be able
to get some like these for our visitors."

"I shouldn't be surprised if they came from the Curé's," Françoise would
say, and:

"I'm sure you wouldn't, my poor Françoise," my aunt would reply, raising
her shoulders. "From the Curé's, indeed! You know quite well that he can
never grow anything but wretched little twigs of asparagus, not asparagus
at all. I tell you these ones were as thick as my arm. Not your arm, of
course, but my-poor arm, which has grown so much thinner again this year."

"Françoise, didn't you hear that bell just now! It split my head."

"No, Mme. Octave."

"Ah, poor girl, your skull must be very thick; you may thank God for that.
It was Maguelone come to fetch Dr. Piperaud. He came out with her at once
and they went off along the Rue de l'Oiseau. There must be some child

"Oh dear, dear; the poor little creature!" would come with a sigh from
Françoise, who could not hear of any calamity befalling a person unknown
to her, even in some distant part of the world, without beginning to
lament. Or:

"Françoise, for whom did they toll the passing-bell just now? Oh dear, of
course, it would be for Mme. Rousseau. And to think that I had forgotten
that she passed away the other night. Indeed, it is time the Lord called
me home too; I don't know what has become of my head since I lost my poor
Octave. But I am wasting your time, my good girl."

"Indeed no, Mme. Octave, my time is not so precious; whoever made our time
didn't sell it to us. I am just going to see that my fire hasn't gone

In this way Françoise and my aunt made a critical valuation between them,
in the course of these morning sessions, of the earliest happenings of the
day. But sometimes these happenings assumed so mysterious or so alarming
an air that my aunt felt she could not wait until it was time for
Françoise to come upstairs, and then a formidable and quadruple peal would
resound through the house.

"But, Mme. Octave, it is not time for your pepsin," Françoise would begin.
"Are you feeling faint?"

"No, thank you, Françoise," my aunt would reply, "that is to say, yes; for
you know well that there is very seldom a time when I don't feel faint;
one day I shall pass away like Mme. Rousseau, before I know where I am;
but that is not why I rang. Would you believe that I have just seen, as
plainly as I see you, Mme. Goupil with a little girl I didn't know at all.
Run and get a pennyworth of salt from Camus. It's not often that Théodore
can't tell you who a person is."

"But that must be M. Pupin's daughter," Françoise would say, preferring to
stick to an immediate explanation, since she had been perhaps twice
already into Camus's shop that morning.

"M. Pupin's daughter! Oh, that's a likely story, my poor Françoise. Do
you think I should not have recognised M. Pupin's daughter!"

"But I don't mean the big one, Mme. Octave; I mean the little girl, he one
who goes to school at Jouy. I seem to have seen her once already his

"Oh, if that's what it is!" my aunt would say, "she must have come over
for the holidays. Yes, that is it. No need to ask, she will have come over
for the holidays. But then we shall soon see Mme. Sazerat come along and
ring her sister's door-bell, for her luncheon. That will be it! I saw the
boy from Galopin's go by with a tart. You will see that the tart was for
Mme. Goupil."

"Once Mme. Goupil has anyone in the house, Mme. Octave, you won't be long
in seeing all her folk going in to their luncheon there, for it's not so
early as it was," would be the answer, for Françoise, who was anxious to
retire downstairs to look after our own meal, was not sorry to leave my
aunt with the prospect of such a distraction.

"Oh! not before midday!" my aunt would reply in a tone of resignation,
darting an uneasy glance at the clock, but stealthily, so as not to let it
be seen that she, who had renounced all earthly joys, yet found a keen
satisfaction in learning that Mme. Goupil was expecting company to
luncheon, though, alas, she must wait a little more than an hour still
before enjoying the spectacle. "And it will come in the middle of my
luncheon!" she would murmur to herself. Her luncheon was such a
distraction in itself that she did not like any other to come at the same
time. "At least, you will not forget to give me my creamed eggs on one of
the flat plates?" These were the only plates which had pictures on them
and my aunt used to amuse herself at every meal by reading the description
on whichever might have been sent up to her. She would put on her
spectacles and spell out: "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," "Aladdin, or
the Wonderful Lamp," and smile, and say "Very good indeed."

"I may as well go across to Camus..." Françoise would hazard, seeing that
my aunt had no longer any intention of sending her there.

"No, no; it's not worth while now; it's certain to be the Pupin girl. My
poor Françoise, I am sorry to have made you come upstairs for nothing."

But it was not for nothing, as my aunt well knew, that she had rung for
Françoise, since at Combray a person whom one 'didn't know at all' was as
incredible a being as any mythological deity, and it was apt to be
forgotten that after each occasion on which there had appeared in the Rue
du Saint-Esprit or in the Square one of these bewildering phenomena,
careful and exhaustive researches had invariably reduced the fabulous
monster to the proportions of a person whom one 'did know,' either
personally or in the abstract, in his or her civil status as being more or
less closely related to some family in Combray. It would turn out to be
Mme. Sauton's son discharged from the army, or the Abbé Perdreau's niece
come home from her convent, or the Curé's brother, a tax-collector at
Châteaudun, who had just retired on a pension or had come over to Combray
for the holidays. On first noticing them you have been impressed by the
thought that there might be in Combray people whom you 'didn't know at
all,' simply because, you had failed to recognise or identify them at
once. And yet long beforehand Mme. Sauton and the Curé had given warning
that they expected their 'strangers.' In the evening, when I came in and
went upstairs to tell my aunt the incidents of our walk, if I was rash
enough to say to her that we had passed, near the Pont-Vieux, a man whom
my grandfather didn't know:

"A man grandfather didn't know at all!" she would exclaim. "That's a
likely story." None the less, she would be a little disturbed by the news,
she would wish to have the details correctly, and so my grandfather would
be summoned. "Who can it have been that you passed near the Pont-Vieux,
uncle? A man you didn't know at all?"

"Why, of course I did," my grandfather would answer; "it was Prosper, Mme.
Bouilleboeuf's gardener's brother."

"Ah, well!" my aunt would say, calm again but slightly flushed still; "and
the boy told me that you had passed a man you didn't know at all!" After
which I would be warned to be more careful of what I said, and not to
upset my aunt so by thoughtless remarks. Everyone was so well known in
Combray, animals as well as people, that if my aunt had happened to see a
dog go by which she 'didn't know at all' she would think about it
incessantly, devoting to the solution of the incomprehensible problem all
her inductive talent and her leisure hours.

"That will be Mme. Sazerat's dog," Françoise would suggest, without any
real conviction, but in the hope of peace, and so that my aunt should not
'split her head.'

"As if I didn't know Mme. Sazerat's dog!"--for my aunt's critical mind
would not so easily admit any fresh fact.

"Ah, but that will be the new dog M. Galopin has brought her from

"Oh, if that's what it is!"

"It seems, it's a most engaging animal," Françoise would go on, having got
the story from Théodore, "as clever as a Christian, always in a good
temper, always friendly, always everything that's nice. It's not often you
see an animal so well-behaved at that age. Mme. Octave, it's high time I
left you; I can't afford to stay here amusing myself; look, it's nearly
ten o'clock and my fire not lighted yet, and I've still to dress the

"What, Françoise, more asparagus! It's a regular disease of asparagus you
have got this year: you will make our Parisians sick of it."

"No, no, Madame Octave, they like it well enough. They'll be coming back
from church soon as hungry as hunters, and they won't eat it out of the
back of their spoons, you'll see."

"Church! why, they must be there now; you'd better not lose any time. Go
and look after your luncheon."

While my aunt gossiped on in this way with Françoise I would have
accompanied my parents to mass. How I loved it: how clearly I can see it
still, our church at Combray! The old porch by which we went in, black,
and full of holes as a cullender, was worn out of shape and deeply
furrowed at the sides (as also was the holy water stoup to which it led
us) just as if the gentle grazing touch of the cloaks of peasant-women
going into the church, and of their fingers dipping into the water, had
managed by agelong repetition to acquire a destructive force, to impress
itself on the stone, to carve ruts in it like those made by cart-wheels
upon stone gate-posts against which they are driven every day. Its
memorial stones, beneath which the noble dust of the Abbots of Combray,
who were buried there, furnished the choir with a sort of spiritual
pavement, were themselves no longer hard and lifeless matter, for time had
softened and sweetened them, and had made them melt like honey and flow
beyond their proper margins, either surging out in a milky, frothing wave,
washing from its place a florid gothic capital, drowning the white violets
of the marble floor; or else reabsorbed into their limits, contracting
still further a crabbed Latin inscription, bringing a fresh touch of
fantasy into the arrangement of its curtailed characters, closing together
two letters of some word of which the rest were disproportionately
scattered. Its windows were never so brilliant as on days when the sun
scarcely shone, so that if it was dull outside you might be certain of
fine weather in church. One of them was filled from top to bottom by a
solitary figure, like the king on a playing-card, who lived up there
beneath his canopy of stone, between earth and heaven; and in the blue
light of its slanting shadow, on weekdays sometimes, at noon, when there
was no service (at one of those rare moments when the airy, empty church,
more human somehow and more luxurious with the sun shewing off all its
rich furnishings, seemed to have almost a habitable air, like the
hall--all sculptured stone and painted glass--of some mediaeval mansion),
you might see Mme. Sazerat kneel for an instant, laying down on the chair
beside her own a neatly corded parcel of little cakes which she had just
bought at the baker's and was taking home for her luncheon. In another, a
mountain of rosy snow, at whose foot a battle was being fought, seemed to
have frozen the window also, which it swelled and distorted with its
cloudy sleet, like a pane to which snowflakes have drifted and clung, but
flakes illumined by a sunrise--the same, doubtless, which purpled the
reredos of the altar with tints so fresh that they seemed rather to be
thrown on it for a moment by a light shining from outside and shortly to
be extinguished than painted and permanently fastened on the stone. And
all of them were so old that you could see, here and there, their silvery
antiquity sparkling with the dust of centuries and shewing in its
threadbare brilliance the very cords of their lovely tapestry of glass.
There was one among them which was a tall panel composed of a hundred
little rectangular windows, of blue principally, like a great game of
patience of the kind planned to beguile King Charles VI; but, either
because a ray of sunlight had gleamed through it or because my own
shifting vision had drawn across the window, whose colours died away and
were rekindled by turns, a rare and transient fire--the next instant it
had taken on all the iridescence of a peacock's tail, then shook and
wavered in a flaming and fantastic shower, distilled and dropping from the
groin of the dark and rocky vault down the moist walls, as though it were
along the bed of some rainbow grotto of sinuous stalactites that I was
following my parents, who marched before me, their prayer-books clasped in
their hands; a moment later the little lozenge windows had put on the deep
transparence, the unbreakable hardness of sapphires clustered on some
enormous breastplate; but beyond which could be distinguished, dearer than
all such treasures, a fleeting smile from the sun, which could be seen and
felt as well here, in the blue and gentle flood in which it washed the
masonry, as on the pavement of the Square or the straw of the
market-place; and even on our first Sundays, when we came down before
Easter, it would console me for the blackness and bareness of the earth
outside by making burst into blossom, as in some springtime in old history
among the heirs of Saint Louis, this dazzling and gilded carpet of
forget-me-nots in glass.

Two tapestries of high warp represented the coronation of Esther (in which
tradition would have it that the weaver had given to Ahasuerus the
features of one of the kings of France and to Esther those of a lady of
Guermantes whose lover he had been); their colours had melted into one
another, so as to add expression, relief, light to the pictures. A touch
of red over the lips of Esther had strayed beyond their outline; the
yellow on her dress was spread with such unctuous plumpness as to have
acquired a kind of solidity, and stood boldly out from the receding
atmosphere; while the green of the trees, which was still bright in Silk
and wool among the lower parts of the panel, but had quite 'gone' at the
top, separated in a paler scheme, above the dark trunks, the yellowing
upper branches, tanned and half-obliterated by the sharp though sidelong
rays of an invisible sun. All these things and, still more than these, the
treasures which had come to the church from personages who to me were
almost legendary figures (such as the golden cross wrought, it was said,
by Saint Eloi and presented by Dagobert, and the tomb of the sons of Louis
the Germanic in porphyry and enamelled copper), because of which I used to
go forward into the church when we were making our way to our chairs as
into a fairy-haunted valley, where the rustic sees with amazement on a
rock, a tree, a marsh, the tangible proofs of the little people's
supernatural passage--all these things made of the church for me something
entirely different from the rest of the town; a building which occupied,
so to speak, four dimensions of space--the name of the fourth being
Time--which had sailed the centuries with that old nave, where bay after
bay, chapel after chapel, seemed to stretch across and hold down and
conquer not merely a few yards of soil, but each successive epoch from
which the whole building had emerged triumphant, hiding the rugged
barbarities of the eleventh century in the thickness of its walls, through
which nothing could be seen of the heavy arches, long stopped and blinded
with coarse blocks of ashlar, except where, near the porch, a deep groove
was furrowed into one wall by the tower-stair; and even there the
barbarity was veiled by the graceful gothic arcade which pressed
coquettishly upon it, like a row of grown-up sisters who, to hide him from
the eyes of strangers, arrange themselves smilingly in front of a
countrified, unmannerly and ill-dressed younger brother; rearing into the
sky above the Square a tower which had looked down upon Saint Louis, and
seemed to behold him still; and thrusting down with its crypt into the
blackness of a Merovingian night, through which, guiding us with groping
finger-tips beneath the shadowy vault, ribbed strongly as an immense bat's
wing of stone, Théodore or his sister would light up for us with a candle
the tomb of Sigebert's little daughter, in which a deep hole, like the bed
of a fossil, had been bored, or so it was said, "by a crystal lamp which,
on the night when the Frankish princess was murdered, had left, of its own
accord, the golden chains by which it was suspended where the apse is
to-day and with neither the crystal broken nor the light extinguished had
buried itself in the stone, through which it had gently forced its way."

And then the apse of Combray: what am I to say of that? It was so coarse,
so devoid of artistic beauty, even of the religious spirit. From outside,
since the street crossing which it commanded was on a lower level, its
great wall was thrust upwards from a basement of unfaced ashlar, jagged
with flints, in all of which there was nothing particularly
ecclesiastical; the windows seemed to have been pierced at an abnormal
height, and its whole appearance was that of a prison wall rather than of
a church. And certainly in later years, were I to recall all the glorious
apses that I had seen, it would never enter my mind to compare with any
one of them the apse of Combray. Only, one day, turning out of a little
street in some country town, I came upon three alley-ways that converged,
and facing them an old wall, rubbed, worn, crumbling, and unusually high;
with windows pierced in it far overhead and the same asymmetrical
appearance as the apse of Combray. And at that moment I did not say to
myself, as at Chartres I might have done or at Rheims, with what strength
the religious feeling had been expressed in its construction, but
instinctively I exclaimed "The Church!"

The church! A dear, familiar friend; close pressed in the Rue
Saint-Hilaire, upon which its north door opened, by its two neighbours,
Mme. Loiseau's house and the pharmacy of M. Rapin, against which its
walls rested without interspace; a simple citizen of Combray, who might
have had her number in the street had the streets of Combray borne
numbers, and at whose door one felt that the postman ought to stop on his
morning rounds, before going into Mme. Loiseau's and after leaving M.
Rapin's, there existed, for all that, between the church and everything in
Combray that was not the church a clear line of demarcation which I have
never succeeded in eliminating from my mind. In vain might Mme. Loiseau
deck her window-sills with fuchsias, which developed the bad habit of
letting their branches trail at all times and in all directions, head
downwards, and whose flowers had no more important business, when they
were big enough to taste the joys of life, than to go and cool their
purple, congested cheeks against the dark front of the church; to me such
conduct sanctified the fuchsias not at all; between the flowers and the
blackened stones towards which they leaned, if my eyes could discern no
interval, my mind preserved the impression of an abyss.

From a long way off one could distinguish and identify the steeple of
Saint-Hilaire inscribing its unforgettable form upon a horizon beneath
which Combray had not yet appeared; when from the train which brought us
down from Paris at Easter-time my father caught sight of it, as it slipped
into every fold of the sky in turn, its little iron cock veering
continually in all directions, he would say: "Come, get your wraps
together, we are there." And on one of the longest walks we ever took from
Combray there was a spot where the narrow road emerged suddenly on to an
immense plain, closed at the horizon by strips of forest over which rose
and stood alone the fine point of Saint-Hilaire's steeple, but so
sharpened and so pink that it seemed to be no more than sketched on the
sky by the finger-nail of a painter anxious to give to such a landscape,
to so pure a piece of 'nature,' this little sign of art, this single
indication of human existence. As one drew near it and could make out the
remains of the square tower, half in ruins, which still stood by its side,
though without rivalling it in height, one was struck, first of all, by
the tone, reddish and sombre, of its stones; and on a misty morning in
autumn one would have called it, to see it rising above the violet
thunder-cloud of the vineyards, a ruin of purple, almost the colour of the
wild vine.

Often in the Square, as we came home, my grandmother would make me stop to
look up at it. From the tower windows, placed two and two, one pair above
another, with that right and original proportion in their spacing to which
not only human faces owe their beauty and dignity, it released, it let
fall at regular intervals flights of jackdaws which for a little while
would wheel and caw, as though the ancient stones which allowed them to
sport thus and never seemed to see them, becoming of a sudden
uninhabitable and discharging some infinitely disturbing element, had
struck them and driven them forth. Then after patterning everywhere the
violet velvet of the evening air, abruptly soothed, they would return and
be absorbed in the tower, deadly no longer but benignant, some perching
here and there (not seeming to move, but snapping, perhaps, and swallowing
some passing insect) on the points of turrets, as a seagull perches, with
an angler's immobility, on the crest of a wave. Without quite knowing why,
my grandmother found in the steeple of Saint-Hilaire that absence of
vulgarity, pretension, and meanness which made her love--and deem rich in
beneficent influences--nature itself, when the hand of man had not, as did
my great-aunt's gardener, trimmed it, and the works of genius. And
certainly every part one saw of the church served to distinguish the whole
from any other building by a kind of general feeling which pervaded it,
but it was in the steeple that the church seemed to display a
consciousness of itself, to affirm its individual and responsible
existence. It was the steeple which spoke for the church. I think, too,
that in a confused way my grandmother found in the steeple of Combray what
she prized above anything else in the world, namely, a natural air and an
air of distinction. Ignorant of architecture, she would say:

"My dears, laugh at me if you like; it is not conventionally beautiful,
but there is something in its quaint old face which pleases me. If it
could play the piano, I am sure it would really _play_." And when she
gazed on it, when her eyes followed the gentle tension, the fervent
inclination of its stony slopes which drew together as they rose, like
hands joined in prayer, she would absorb herself so utterly in the
outpouring of the spire that her gaze seemed to leap upwards with it; her
lips at the same time curving in a friendly smile for the worn old stones
of which the setting sun now illumined no more than the topmost pinnacles,
which, at the point where they entered that zone of sunlight and were
softened and sweetened by it, seemed to have mounted suddenly far higher,
to have become truly remote, like a song whose singer breaks into
falsetto, an octave above the accompanying air.

It was the steeple of Saint-Hilaire which shaped and crowned and
consecrated every occupation, every hour of the day, every point of view
in the town. From my bedroom window I could discern no more than its base,
which had been freshly covered with slates; but when on Sundays I saw
these, in the hot light of a summer morning, blaze like a black sun I
would say to myself: "Good heavens! nine o'clock! I must get ready for
mass at once if I am to have time to go in and kiss aunt Léonie first,"
and I would know exactly what was the colour of the sunlight upon the
Square, I could feel the heat and dust of the market, the shade behind the
blinds of the shop into which Mamma would perhaps go on her way to mass,
penetrating its odour of unbleached calico, to purchase a handkerchief or
something, of which the draper himself would let her see what he had,
bowing from the waist: who, having made everything ready for shutting up,
had just gone into the back shop to put on his Sunday coat and to wash his
hands, which it was his habit, every few minutes and even on the saddest
occasions, to rub one against the other with an air of enterprise,
cunning, and success.

And again, after mass, when we looked in to tell Théodore to bring a
larger loaf than usual because our cousins had taken advantage of the fine
weather to come over from Thiberzy for luncheon, we had in front of us the
steeple, which, baked and brown itself like a larger loaf still of 'holy
bread,' with flakes and sticky drops on it of sunlight, pricked its sharp
point into the blue sky. And in the evening, as I came in from my walk and
thought of the approaching moment when I must say good night to my mother
and see her no more, the steeple was by contrast so kindly, there at the
close of day, that I would imagine it as being laid, like a brown velvet
cushion, against--as being thrust into the pallid sky which had yielded
beneath its pressure, had sunk slightly so as to make room for it, and had
correspondingly risen on either side; while the cries of the birds
wheeling to and fro about it seemed to intensify its silence, to elongate
its spire still further, and to invest it with some quality beyond the
power of words.

Even when our errands lay in places behind the church, from which it could
not be seen, the view seemed always to have been composed with reference
to the steeple, which would stand up, now here, now there, among the
houses, and was perhaps even more affecting when it appeared thus without
the church. And, indeed, there are many others which look best when seen
in this way, and I can call to mind vignettes of housetops with
surmounting steeples in quite another category of art than those formed by
the dreary streets of Combray. I shall never forget, in a quaint Norman
town not far from Balbec, two charming eighteenth-century houses, dear to
me and venerable for many reasons, between which, when one looks up at
them from a fine garden which descends in terraces to the river, the
gothic spire of a church (itself hidden by the houses) soars into the sky
with the effect of crowning and completing their fronts, but in a material
so different, so precious, so beringed, so rosy, so polished, that it is
at once seen to be no more a part of them than would be a part of two
pretty pebbles lying side by side, between which it had been washed on the
beach, the purple, crinkled spire of some sea-shell spun out into a turret
and gay with glossy colour. Even in Paris, in one of the ugliest parts of
the town, I know a window from which one can see across a first, a second,
and even a third layer of jumbled roofs, street beyond street, a violet
bell, sometimes ruddy, sometimes too, in the finest 'prints' which the
atmosphere makes of it, of an ashy solution of black; which is, in fact,
nothing else than the dome of Saint-Augustin, and which imparts to this
view of Paris the character of some of the Piranesi views of Rome. But
since into none of these little etchings, whatever the taste my memory may
have been able to bring to their execution, was it able to contribute an
element I have long lost, the feeling which makes us not merely regard a
thing as a spectacle, but believe in it as in a creature without parallel,
so none of them keeps in dependence on it a whole section of my inmost
life as does the memory of those aspects of the steeple of Combray from
the streets behind the church. Whether one saw it at five o'clock when
going to call for letters at the post-office, some doors away from one, on
the left, raising abruptly with its isolated peak the ridge of housetops;
or again, when one had to go in and ask for news of Mme. Sazerat, one's
eyes followed the line where it ran low again beyond the farther,
descending slope, and one knew that it would be the second turning after
the steeple; or yet again, if pressing further afield one went to the
station, one saw it obliquely, shewing in profile fresh angles and
surfaces, like a solid body surprised at some unknown point in its
revolution; or, from the banks of the Vivonne, the apse, drawn muscularly
together and heightened in perspective, seemed to spring upwards with the
effort which the steeple made to hurl its spire-point into the heart of
heaven: it was always to the steeple that one must return, always it which
dominated everything else, summing up the houses with an unexpected
pinnacle, raised before me like the Finger of God, Whose Body might have
been concealed below among the crowd of human bodies without fear of my
confounding It, for that reason, with them. And so even to-day in any
large provincial town, or in a quarter of Paris which I do not know well,
if a passer-by who is 'putting me on the right road' shews me from afar,
as a point to aim at, some belfry of a hospital, or a convent steeple
lifting the peak of its ecclesiastical cap at the corner of the street
which I am to take, my memory need only find in it some dim resemblance to
that dear and vanished outline, and the passer-by, should he turn round to
make sure that I have not gone astray, would see me, to his astonishment,
oblivious of the walk that I had planned to take or the place where I was
obliged to call, standing still on the spot, before that steeple, for
hours on end, motionless, trying to remember, feeling deep within myself a
tract of soil reclaimed from the waters of Lethe slowly drying until the
buildings rise on it again; and then no doubt, and then more uneasily than
when, just now, I asked him for a direction, I will seek my way again, I
will turn a corner... but... the goal is in my heart...

On our way home from mass we would often meet M. Legrandin, who, detained
in Paris by his professional duties as an engineer, could only (except in
the regular holiday seasons) visit his home at Combray between Saturday
evenings and Monday mornings. He was one of that class of men who, apart
from a scientific career in which they may well have proved brilliantly
successful, have acquired an entirely different kind of culture, literary
or artistic, of which they make no use in the specialised work of their
profession, but by which their conversation profits. More 'literary' than
many 'men of letters' (we were not aware at this period that M. Legrandin
had a distinct reputation as a writer, and so were greatly astonished to
find that a well-known composer had set some verses of his to music),
endowed with a greater ease in execution than many painters, they imagine
that the life they are obliged to lead is not that for which they are
really fitted, and they bring to their regular occupations either a
fantastic indifference or a sustained and lofty application, scornful,
bitter, and conscientious. Tall, with a good figure, a fine, thoughtful
face, drooping fair moustaches, a look of disillusionment in his blue
eyes, an almost exaggerated refinement of courtesy; a talker such as we
had never heard; he was in the sight of my family, who never ceased to
quote him as an example, the very pattern of a gentleman, who took life in
the noblest and most delicate manner. My grandmother alone found fault
with him for speaking a little too well, a little too much like a book,
for not using a vocabulary as natural as his loosely knotted Lavallière
neckties, his short, straight, almost schoolboyish coat. She was
astonished, too, at the furious invective which he was always launching at
the aristocracy, at fashionable life, and 'snobbishness'--"undoubtedly,"
he would say, "the sin of which Saint Paul is thinking when he speaks of
the sin for which there is no forgiveness."

Worldly ambition was a thing which my grandmother was so little capable of
feeling, or indeed of understanding, that it seemed to her futile to apply
so much heat to its condemnation. Besides, she thought it in not very good
taste that M. Legrandin, whose sister was married to a country gentleman
of Lower Normandy near Balbec, should deliver himself of such violent
attacks upon the nobles, going so far as to blame the Revolution for not
having guillotined them all.

"Well met, my friends!" he would say as he came towards us. "You are lucky
to spend so much time here; to-morrow I have to go back to Paris, to
squeeze back into my niche.

"Oh, I admit," he went on, with his own peculiar smile, gently ironical,
disillusioned and vague, "I have every useless thing in the world in my
house there. The only thing wanting is the necessary thing, a great patch
of open sky like this. Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life,
little boy," he added, turning to me. "You have a soul in you of rare
quality, an artist's nature; never let it starve for lack of what it

When, on our reaching the house, my aunt would send to ask us whether Mme.
Goupil had indeed arrived late for mass, not one of us could inform her.
Instead, we increased her anxiety by telling her that there was a painter
at work in the church copying the window of Gilbert the Bad. Françoise
was at once dispatched to the grocer's, but returned empty-handed owing to
the absence of Théodore, whose dual profession of choirman, with a part in
the maintenance of the fabric, and of grocer's assistant gave him not only
relations with all sections of society, but an encyclopaedic knowledge of
their affairs.

"Ah!" my aunt would sigh, "I wish it were time for Eulalie to come. She
is really the only person who will be able to tell me."

Eulalie was a limping, energetic, deaf spinster who had 'retired' after
the death of Mme. de la Bretonnerie, with whom she had been in service
from her childhood, and had then taken a room beside the church, from
which she would incessantly emerge, either to attend some service, or,
when there was no service, to say a prayer by herself or to give Théodore
a hand; the rest of her time she spent in visiting sick persons like my
aunt Léonie, to whom she would relate everything that had occurred at mass
or vespers. She was not above adding occasional pocket-money to the little
income which was found for her by the family of her old employers by going
from time to time to look after the Curé's linen, or that of some other
person of note in the clerical world of Combray. Above a mantle of black
cloth she wore a little white coif that seemed almost to attach her to
some Order, and an infirmity of the skin had stained part of her cheeks
and her crooked nose the bright red colour of balsam. Her visits were the
one great distraction in the life of my aunt Léonie, who now saw hardly
anyone else, except the reverend Curé. My aunt had by degrees erased every
other visitor's name from her list, because they all committed the fatal
error, in her eyes, of falling into one or other of the two categories of
people she most detested. One group, the worse of the two, and the one of
which she rid herself first, consisted of those who advised her not to
take so much care of herself, and preached (even if only negatively and
with no outward signs beyond an occasional disapproving silence or
doubting smile) the subversive doctrine that a sharp walk in the sun and a
good red beefsteak would do her more good (her, who had had two dreadful
sips of Vichy water on her stomach for fourteen hours!) than all her
medicine bottles and her bed. The other category was composed of people
who appeared to believe that she was more seriously ill than she thought,
in fact that she was as seriously ill as she said. And so none of those
whom she had allowed upstairs to her room, after considerable
hesitation and at Franchise's urgent request, and who in the course of
their visit had shewn how unworthy they were of the honour which had been
done them by venturing a timid: "Don't you think that if you were just to
stir out a little on really fine days...?" or who, on the other hand, when
she said to them: "I am very low, very low; nearing the end, dear
friends!" had replied: "Ah, yes, when one has no strength left! Still, you
may last a while yet"; each party alike might be certain that her doors
would never open to them again. And if Françoise was amused by the look of
consternation on my aunt's face whenever she saw, from her bed, any of
these people in the Rue du Saint-Esprit, who looked as if they were coming
to see her, or heard her own door-bell ring, she would laugh far more
heartily, as at a clever trick, at my aunt's devices (which never failed)
for having them sent away, and at their look of discomfiture when they had
to turn back without having seen her; and would be filled with secret
admiration for her mistress, whom she felt to be superior to all these
other people, inasmuch as she could and did contrive not to see them. In
short, my aunt stipulated, at one and the same time, that whoever came to
see her must approve of her way of life, commiserate with her in her
sufferings, and assure her of an ultimate recovery.

In all this Eulalie excelled. My aunt might say to her twenty times in a
minute: "The end is come at last, my poor Eulalie!", twenty times Eulalie
would retort with: "Knowing your illness as you do, Mme. Octave, you will
live to be a hundred, as Mme. Sazerin said to me only yesterday." For one
of Eulalie's most rooted beliefs, and one that the formidable list of
corrections which her experience must have compiled was powerless to
eradicate, was that Mme. Sazerat's name was really Mme. Sazerin.

"I do not ask to live to a hundred," my aunt would say, for she preferred
to have no definite limit fixed to the number of her days.

And since, besides this, Eulalie knew, as no one else knew, how to
distract my aunt without tiring her, her visits, which took place
regularly every Sunday, unless something unforeseen occurred to prevent
them, were for my aunt a pleasure the prospect of which kept her on those
days in a state of expectation, appetising enough to begin with, but at
once changing to the agony of a hunger too long unsatisfied if Eulalie
were a minute late in coming. For, if unduly prolonged, the rapture of
waiting for Eulalie became a torture, and my aunt would never cease from
looking at the time, and yawning, and complaining of each of her symptoms
in turn. Eulalie's ring, if it sounded from the front door at the very end
of the day, when she was no longer expecting it, would almost make her
ill. For the fact was that on Sundays she thought of nothing else than
this visit, and the moment that our luncheon was ended Françoise would
become impatient for us to leave the dining-room so that she might go
upstairs to 'occupy' my aunt. But--and this more than ever from the day on
which fine weather definitely set in at Combray--the proud hour °f noon,
descending from the steeple of Saint-Hilaire which it blazoned for a
moment with the twelve points of its sonorous crown, would long have
echoed about our table, beside the 'holy bread,' which too had come in,
after church, in its familiar way; and we would still be found seated in
front of our Arabian Nights plates, weighed down by the heat of the day,
and even more by our heavy meal. For upon the permanent foundation of
eggs, cutlets, potatoes, preserves, and biscuits, whose appearance on the
table she no longer announced to us, Françoise would add--as the labour of
fields and orchards, the harvest of the tides, the luck of the markets,
the kindness of neighbours, and her own genius might provide; and so
effectively that our bill of fare, like the quatrefoils that were carved
on the porches of cathedrals in the thirteenth century, reflected to some
extent the march of the seasons and the incidents of human life--a brill,
because the fish-woman had guaranteed its freshness; a turkey, because she
had seen a beauty in the market at Roussainville-le-Pin; cardoons with
marrow, because she had never done them for us in that way before; a roast
leg of mutton, because the fresh air made one hungry and there would be
plenty of time for it to 'settle down' in the seven hours before dinner;
spinach, by way of a change; apricots, because they were still hard to
get; gooseberries, because in another fortnight there would be none left;
raspberries, which M. Swann had brought specially; cherries, the first to
come from the cherry-tree, which had yielded none for the last two years;
a cream cheese, of which in those days I was extremely fond; an almond
cake, because she had ordered one the evening before; a fancy loaf,
because it was our turn to 'offer' the holy bread. And when all these had
been eaten, a work composed expressly for ourselves, but dedicated more
particularly to my father, who had a fondness for such things, a cream of
chocolate, inspired in the mind, created by the hand of Françoise, would
be laid before us, light and fleeting as an 'occasional piece' of music,
into which she had poured the whole of her talent. Anyone who refused to
partake of it, saying: "No, thank you, I have finished; I am not hungry,"
would at once have been lowered to the level of the Philistines who, when
an artist makes them a present of one of his works, examine its weight and
material, whereas what is of value is the creator's intention and his
signature. To have left even the tiniest morsel in the dish would have
shewn as much discourtesy as to rise and leave a concert hall while the
'piece' was still being played, and under the composer's-very eyes.

At length my mother would say to me: "Now, don't stay here all day; you
can go up to your room if you are too hot outside, but get a little fresh
air first; don't start reading immediately after your food."

And I would go and sit down beside the pump and its trough, ornamented
here and there, like a gothic font, with a salamander, which modelled upon
a background of crumbling stone the quick relief of its slender,
allegorical body; on the bench without a back, in the shade of a
lilac-tree, in that little corner of the garden which communicated, by a
service door, with the Rue du Saint-Esprit, and from whose neglected soil
rose, in two stages, an outcrop from the house itself and apparently a
separate building, my aunt's back-kitchen. One could see its red-tiled
floor gleaming like porphyry. It seemed not so much the cave of
Françoise as a little temple of Venus. It would be overflowing with the
offerings of the milkman, the fruiterer, the greengrocer, come sometimes
from distant villages to dedicate here the first-fruits of their fields.
And its roof was always surmounted by the cooing of a dove.

In earlier days I would not have lingered in the sacred grove which
surrounded this temple, for, before going upstairs to read, I would steal
into the little sitting-room which my uncle Adolphe, a brother of my
grandfather and an old soldier who had retired from the service as a
major, used to occupy on the ground floor, a room which, even when its
opened windows let in the heat, if not actually the rays of the sun which
seldom penetrated so far, would never fail to emit that vague and yet
fresh odour, suggesting at once an open-air and an old-fashioned kind of
existence, which sets and keeps the nostrils dreaming when one goes into a
disused gun-room. But for some years now I had not gone into my uncle
Adolphe's room, since he no longer came to Combray on account of a quarrel
which had arisen between him and my family, by my fault, and in the
following circumstances: Once or twice every month, in Paris, I used to be
sent to pay him a. visit, as he was finishing his luncheon, wearing a
plain alpaca coat, and waited upon by his servant in a working-jacket of
striped linen, purple and white. He would complain that I had not been to
see him for a long time; that he was being neglected; he would offer me a
marchpane or a tangerine, and we would cross a room in which no one ever
sat, whose fire was never lighted, whose walls were picked out with gilded
mouldings, its ceiling painted blue in imitation of the sky, and its
furniture upholstered in satin, as at my grandparents', only yellow; then
we would enter what he called his 'study,' a room whose walls were hung
with prints which shewed, against a dark background, a plump and rosy
goddess driving a car, or standing upon a globe, or wearing a star on her
brow; pictures which were popular under the Second Empire because there
was thought to be something about them that suggested Pompeii, which were
then generally despised, and which now people are beginning to collect
again for one single and consistent reason (despite any others which they
may advance), namely, that they suggest the Second Empire. And there I
would stay with my uncle until his man came, with a message from the
coachman, to ask him at what time he would like the carriage. My uncle
would then be lost in meditation, while his astonished servant stood
there, not daring to disturb him by the least movement, wondering and
waiting for his answer, which never varied. For in the end, after a
supreme crisis of hesitation, my uncle would utter, infallibly, the words:
"A quarter past two," which the servant would echo with amazement, but
without disputing them: "A quarter past two! Very good, sir... I will go
and tell him...."

At this date I was a lover of the theatre: a Platonic lover, of necessity,
since my parents had not yet allowed me to enter one, and so incorrect was
the picture I drew for myself of the pleasures to be enjoyed there that I
almost believed that each of the spectators looked, as into a stereoscope,
upon a stage and scenery which existed for himself alone, though closely
resembling the thousand other spectacles presented to the rest of the
audience individually.

Every morning I would hasten to the Moriss column to see what new plays it
announced. Nothing could be more disinterested or happier than the dreams
with which these announcements filled my mind, dreams which took their
form from the inevitable associations of the words forming the title of
the play, and also from the colour of the bills, still damp and wrinkled
with paste, on which those words stood out. Nothing, unless it were such
strange titles as the _Testament de César Girodot, or Oedipe-Roi_,
inscribed not on the green bills of the Opéra-Comique, but on the
wine-coloured bills of the Comédie-Française, nothing seemed to me to
differ more profoundly from the sparkling white plume of the _Diamants de
la Couronne_ than the sleek, mysterious satin of the _Domino Noir_; and
since my parents had told me that, for my first visit to the theatre, I
should have to choose between these two pieces, I would study exhaustively
and in turn the title of one and the title of the other (for those were
all that I knew of either), attempting to snatch from each a foretaste of
the pleasure which it offered me, and to compare this pleasure with that
latent in the other title, until in the end I had shewn myself such vivid,
such compelling pictures of, on the one hand, a play of dazzling
arrogance, and on the other a gentle, velvety play, that I was as little
capable of deciding which play I should prefer to see as if, at the
dinner-table, they had obliged me to choose between _rice à l'Impératrice_
and the famous cream of chocolate.

All my conversations with my playfellows bore upon actors, whose art,
although as yet I had no experience of it, was the first of all its
numberless forms in which Art itself allowed me to anticipate its
enjoyment. Between one actor's tricks of intonation and inflection and
another's, the most trifling differences would strike me as being of an
incalculable importance. And from what I had been told of them I would
arrange them in the order of their talent in lists which I used to murmur
to myself all day long: lists which in the end became petrified in my
brain and were a source of annoyance to it, being irremovable.

And later, in my schooldays, whenever I ventured in class, when the
master's head was turned, to communicate with some new friend, I would
always begin by asking him whether he had begun yet to go to theatres, and
if he agreed that our greatest actor was undoubtedly Got, our second
Delaunay, and so on. And if, in his judgment, Febvre came below Thiron, or
Delaunay below Coquelin, the sudden volatility which the name of Coquelin,
forsaking its stony rigidity, would engender in my mind, in which it moved
upwards to the second place, the rich vitality with which the name of
Delaunay would suddenly be furnished, to enable it to slip down to fourth,
would stimulate and fertilise my brain with a sense of bradding and
blossoming life.

But if the thought of actors weighed so upon me, if the sight of Maubant,
coming out one afternoon from the Théâtre-Français, had plunged me in the
throes and sufferings of hopeless love, how much more did the name of a
'star,' blazing outside the doors of a theatre, how much more, seen
through the window of a brougham which passed me in the street, the hair
over her forehead abloom with roses, did the face of a woman who, I would
think, was perhaps an actress, leave with me a lasting disturbance, a
futile and painful effort to form a picture of her private life.

I classified, in order of talent, the most distinguished: Sarah Bernhardt,
Berma, Bartet, Madeleine Brohan, Jeanne Samary; but I was interested in
them all. Now my uncle knew many of them personally, and also ladies of
another class, not clearly distinguished from actresses in my mind. He
used to entertain them at his house. And if we went to see him on certain
days only, that was because on the other days ladies might come whom his
family could not very well have met. So we at least thought; as for my
uncle, his fatal readiness to pay pretty widows (who had perhaps never
been married) and countesses (whose high-sounding titles were probably no
more than _noms de guerre_) the compliment of presenting them to my
grandmother or even of presenting to them some of our family jewels, had
already embroiled him more than once with my grandfather. Often, if the
name of some actress were mentioned in conversation, I would hear my
father say, with a smile, to my mother: "One of your uncle's friends," and
I would think of the weary novitiate through which, perhaps for years on
end, a grown man, even a man of real importance, might have to pass,
waiting on the doorstep of some such lady, while she refused to answer his
letters and made her hall-porter drive him away; and imagine that my uncle
was able to dispense a little jackanapes like myself from all these
sufferings by introducing me in his own home to the actress,
unapproachable by all the world, but for him an intimate friend.

And so--on the pretext that some lesson, the hour of which had been
altered, now came at such an awkward time that it had already more than
once prevented me, and would continue to prevent me, from seeing my
uncle--one day, not one of the days which he set apart for our visits, I
took advantage of the fact that my parents had had luncheon earlier than
usual; I slipped out and, instead of going to read the playbills on their
column, for which purpose I was allowed to go out unaccompanied, I ran all
the way to his house. I noticed before his door a carriage and pair, with
red carnations on the horses' blinkers and in the coachman's buttonhole.
As I climbed the staircase I could hear laughter and a woman's voice, and,
as soon as I had rung, silence and the sound of shutting doors. The
man-servant who let me in appeared embarrassed, and said that my uncle was
extremely busy and probably could not see me; he went in, however, to
announce my arrival, and the same voice I had heard before said: "Oh, yes!
Do let him come in; just for a moment; it will be so amusing. Is that his
photograph there, on your desk? And his mother (your niece, isn't she?)
beside it? The image of her, isn't he? I should so like to see the little
chap, just for a second."

I could hear my uncle grumbling and growing angry; finally the manservant
told me to come in.

On the table was the same plate of marchpanes that was always there; my
uncle wore the same alpaca coat as on other days; but opposite to him, in
a pink silk dress with a great necklace of pearls about her throat, sat a
young woman who was just finishing a tangerine. My uncertainty whether I
ought to address her as Madame or Mademoiselle made me blush, and not
daring to look too much in her direction, in case I should be obliged to
speak to her, I hurried across to kiss my uncle. She looked at me and
smiled; my uncle said "My nephew!" without telling her my name or telling
me hers, doubtless because, since his difficulties with my grandfather, he
had endeavoured as far as possible to avoid any association of his family
with this other class of acquaintance.

"How like his mother he is," said the lady.

"But you have never seen my niece, except in photographs," my uncle broke
in quickly, with a note of anger.

"I beg your pardon, dear friend, I passed her on the staircase last year
when you were so ill. It is true I only saw her for a moment, and your
staircase is rather dark; but I saw well enough to see how lovely she was.
This young gentleman has her beautiful eyes, and also this," she went on,
tracing a line with one finger across the lower part of her forehead.
"Tell me," she asked my uncle, "is your niece Mme.----; is her name the
same as yours?"

"He takes most after his father," muttered my uncle, who was no more
anxious to effect an introduction by proxy, in repeating Mamma's name
aloud, than to bring the two together in the flesh. "He's his father all
over, and also like my poor mother."

"I have not met his father, dear," said the lady in pink, bowing her head
slightly, "and I never saw your poor mother. You will remember it was just
after your great sorrow that we got to know one another."

I felt somewhat disillusioned, for this young lady was in no way different
from other pretty women whom I had seen from time to time at home,
especially the daughter of one of our cousins, to whose house I went every
New Year's Day. Only better dressed; otherwise my uncle's friend had the
same quick and kindly glance, the same frank and friendly manner. I could
find no trace in her of the theatrical appearance which I admired in
photographs of actresses, nothing of the diabolical expression which would
have been in keeping with the life she must lead. I had difficulty in
believing that this was one of 'those women,' and certainly I should never
have believed her one of the 'smart ones' had I not seen the carriage and
pair, the pink dress, the pearly necklace, had I not been aware, too, that
my uncle knew only the very best of them. But I asked myself how the
millionaire who gave her her carriage and her flat and her jewels could
find any pleasure in flinging his money away upon a woman who had so
simple and respectable an appearance. And yet, when I thought of what her
life must be like, its immorality disturbed me more, perhaps, than if it
had stood before me in some concrete and recognisable form, by its secrecy
and invisibility, like the plot of a novel, the hidden truth of a scandal
which had driven out of the home of her middle-class parents and dedicated
to the service of all mankind which had brought to the flowering-point of
her beauty, had raised to fame or notoriety this woman, the play of whose
features, the intonations of whose voice, like so many others I already
knew, made me regard her, in spite of myself, as a young lady of good
family, her who was no longer of a family at all.

We had gone by this time into the 'study,' and my uncle, who seemed a
trifle embarrassed by my presence, offered her a cigarette.

"No, thank you, dear friend," she said. "You know I only smoke the ones
the Grand Duke sends me. I tell him that they make you jealous." And she
drew from a case cigarettes covered with inscriptions in gold, in a
foreign language. "Why, yes," she began again suddenly. "Of course I have
met this young man's father with you. Isn't he your nephew? How on earth
could I have forgotten? He was so nice, so charming to me," she went on,
modestly and with feeling. But when I thought to myself what must actually
have been the rude greeting (which, she made out, had been so charming),
I, who knew my father's coldness and reserve, was shocked, as though at
some indelicacy on his part, at the contrast between the excessive
recognition bestowed on it and his never adequate geniality. It has since
struck me as one of the most touching aspects of the part played in life
by these idle, painstaking women that they devote all their generosity,
all their talent, their transferable dreams of sentimental beauty (for,
like all artists, they never seek to realise the value of those dreams, or
to enclose them in the four-square frame of everyday life), and their
gold, which counts for little, to the fashioning of a fine and precious
setting for the rubbed and scratched and ill-polished lives of men. And
just as this one filled the smoking-room, where my uncle was entertaining
her in his alpaca coat, with her charming person, her dress of pink silk,
her pearls, and the refinement suggested by intimacy with a Grand Duke,
so, in the same way, she had taken some casual remark by my father, had
worked it up delicately, given it a 'turn,' a precious title, set in it
the gem of a glance from her own eyes, a gem of the first water, blended
of humility and gratitude; and so had given it back transformed into a
jewel, a work of art, into something altogether charming.

"Look here, my boy, it is time you went away," said my uncle.

I rose; I could scarcely resist a desire to kiss the hand of the lady in
pink, but I felt that to do so would require as much audacity as a
forcible abduction of her. My heart beat loud while I counted out to
myself "Shall I do it, shall I not?" and then I ceased to ask myself what
I ought to do so as at least to do something. Blindly, hotly, madly,
flinging aside all the reasons I had just found to support such action, I
seized and raised to my lips the hand she held out to me.

"Isn't he delicious! Quite a ladies' man already; he takes after his
uncle. He'll be a perfect 'gentleman,'" she went on, setting her teeth so
as to give the word a kind of English accentuation. "Couldn't he come to
me some day for 'a cup of tea,' as our friends across the channel say; he
need only send me a 'blue' in the morning?"

I had not the least idea of what a 'blue' might be. I did not understand
half the words which the lady used, but my fear lest there should be
concealed in them some question which it would be impolite in me not to
answer kept me from withdrawing my close attention from them, and I was
beginning to feel extremely tired.

"No, no; it is impossible," said my uncle, shrugging his shoulders. "He is
kept busy at home all day; he has plenty of work to do. He brings back all
the prizes from his school," he added in a lower tone, so that I should
not hear this falsehood and interrupt with a contradiction. "You can't
tell; he may turn out a little Victor Hugo, a kind of Vaulabelle, don't
you know."

"Oh, I love artistic people," replied the lady in pink; "there is no one
like them for understanding women. Them, and really nice men like
yourself. But please forgive my ignorance. Who, what is Vaulabelle? Is it
those gilt books in the little glass case in your drawing-room? You know
you promised to lend them to me; I will take great care of them."

My uncle, who hated lending people books, said nothing, and ushered me out
into the hall. Madly in love with the lady in pink, I covered my old
uncle's tobacco-stained cheeks with passionate kisses, and while he,
awkwardly enough, gave me to understand (without actually saying) that he
would rather I did not tell my parents about this visit, I assured him,
with tears in my eyes, that his kindness had made so strong an impression
upon me that some day I would most certainly find a way of expressing my
gratitude. So strong an impression had it made upon me that two hours
later, after a string of mysterious utterances which did not strike me as
giving my parents a sufficiently clear idea of the new importance with
which I had been invested, I found it simpler to let them have a full
account, omitting no detail, of the visit I had paid that afternoon. In
doing this I had no thought of causing my uncle any unpleasantness. How
could I have thought such a thing, since I did not wish it? And I could
not suppose that my parents would see any harm in a visit in which I
myself saw none. Every day of our lives does not some friend or other ask
us to make his apologies, without fail, to some woman to whom he has been
prevented from writing; and do not we forget to do so, feeling that this
woman cannot attach much importance to a silence which has none for
ourselves? I imagined, like everyone else, that the brains of other people
were lifeless and submissive receptacles with no power of specific
reaction to any stimulus which might be applied to them; and I had not the
least doubt that when I deposited in the minds of my parents the news of
the acquaintance I had made at my uncle's I should at the same time
transmit to them the kindly judgment I myself had based on the
introduction. Unfortunately my parents had recourse to principles entirely
different from those which I suggested they should adopt when they came to
form their estimate of my uncle's conduct. My father and grandfather had
'words' with him of a violent order; as I learned indirectly. A few days
later, passing my uncle in the street as he drove by in an open carriage,
Î felt at once all the grief, the gratitude, the remorse which I should
have liked to convey to him. Beside the immensity of these emotions I
considered that merely to raise my hat to him would be incongruous and
petty, and might make him think that I regarded myself as bound to shew
him no more than the commonest form of courtesy. I decided to abstain from
so inadequate a gesture, and turned my head away. My uncle thought that,
in doing so I was obeying my parents' orders; he never forgave them; and
though he did not die until many years later, not one of us ever set eyes
on him again.

And so I no longer used to go into the little sitting-room (now kept shut)
of my uncle Adolphe; instead, after hanging about on the outskirts of the
back-kitchen until Françoise appeared on its threshold and announced: "I
am going to let the kitchen-maid serve the coffee and take up the hot
water; it is time I went off to Mme. Octave," I would then decide to go
indoors, and would go straight upstairs to my room to read. The
kitchen-maid was an abstract personality, a permanent institution to which
an invariable set of attributes assured a sort of fixity and continuity
and identity throughout the long series of transitory human shapes in
which that personality was incarnate; for we never found the same girl
there two years running. In the year in which we ate such quantities of
asparagus, the kitchen-maid whose duty it was to dress them was a poor
sickly creature, some way 'gone' in pregnancy when we arrived at Combray
for Easter, and it was indeed surprising that Françoise allowed her to run
so many errands in the town and to do so much work in the house, for she
was beginning to find a difficulty in bearing before her the mysterious
casket, fuller and larger every day, whose splendid outline could be
detected through the folds of her ample smocks. These last recalled the
cloaks in which Giotto shrouds some of the allegorical figures in his
paintings, of which M. Swann had given me photographs. He it was who
pointed out the resemblance, and when he inquired after the kitchen-maid
he would say: "Well, how goes it with Giotto's Charity?" And indeed the
poor girl, whose pregnancy had swelled and stoutened every part of her,
even to her face, and the vertical, squared outlines of her cheeks, did
distinctly suggest those virgins, so strong and mannish as to seem matrons
rather, in whom the Virtues are personified in the Arena Chapel. And I can
see now that those Virtues and Vices of Padua resembled her in another
respect as well. For just as the figure of this girl had been enlarged by
the additional symbol which she carried in her body, without appearing to
understand what it meant, without any rendering in her facial expression
of all its beauty and spiritual significance, but carried as if it were an
ordinary and rather heavy burden, so it is without any apparent suspicion
of what she is about that the powerfully built housewife who is portrayed
in the Arena beneath the label 'Caritas,' and a reproduction of whose
portrait hung upon the wall of my schoolroom at Combray, incarnates that
virtue, for it seems impossible, that any thought of charity can ever have
found expression in her vulgar and energetic face. By a fine stroke of the
painter's invention she is tumbling all the treasures of the earth at her
feet, but exactly as if she were treading grapes in a wine-press to
extract their juice, or, still more, as if she had climbed on a heap of
sacks to raise herself higher; and she is holding out her flaming heart to
God, or shall we say 'handing' it to Him, exactly as a cook might hand up
a corkscrew through the skylight of her underground kitchen to some one
who had called down to ask her for it from the ground-level above. The
'Invidia,' again, should have had some look on her face of envy. But in
this fresco, too, the symbol occupies so large a place and is represented
with such realism; the serpent hissing between the lips of Envy is so
huge, and so completely fills her wide-opened mouth that the muscles of
her face are strained and contorted, like a child's who is filling a
balloon with his breath, and that Envy, and we ourselves for that matter,
when we look at her, since all her attention and ours are concentrated on
the action of her lips, have no time, almost, to spare for envious

Despite all the admiration that M. Swann might profess for these figures
of Giotto, it was a long time before I could find any pleasure in seeing
in our schoolroom (where the copies he had brought me were hung) that
Charity devoid of charity, that Envy who looked like nothing so much as a
plate in some medical book, illustrating the compression of the glottis or
uvula by a tumour in the tongue, or by the introduction of the operator's
instrument, a Justice whose greyish and meanly regular features were the
very same as those which adorned the faces of certain good and pious and
slightly withered ladies of Combray whom I used to see at mass, many of
whom had long been enrolled in the reserve forces of Injustice. But in
later years I understood that the arresting strangeness, the special
beauty of these frescoes lay in the great part played in each of them by
its symbols, while the fact that these were depicted, not as symbols (for
the thought symbolised was nowhere expressed), but as real things,
actually felt or materially handled, added something more precise and more
literal to their meaning, something more concrete and more striking to the
lesson they imparted. And even in the case of the poor kitchen-maid, was
not our attention incessantly drawn to her belly by the load which filled
it; and in the same way, again, are not the thoughts of men and women in
the agony of death often turned towards the practical, painful, obscure,
internal, intestinal aspect, towards that 'seamy side' of death which is,
as it happens, the side that death actually presents to them and forces
them to feel, a side which far more closely resembles a crushing burden, a
difficulty in breathing, a destroying thirst, than the abstract idea to
which we are accustomed to give the name of Death?

There must have been a strong element of reality in those Virtues and
Vices of Padua, since they appeared to me to be as much alive as the
pregnant servant-girl, while she herself appeared scarcely less
allegorical than they. And, quite possibly, this lack (or seeming lack) of
participation by a person's soul in the significant marks of its own
special virtue has, apart from its aesthetic meaning, a reality which, if
not strictly psychological, may at least be called physiognomical. Later
on, when, in the course of my life, I have had occasion to meet with, in
convents for instance, literally saintly examples of practical charity,
they have generally had the brisk, decided, undisturbed, and slightly
brutal air of a busy surgeon, the face in which one can discern no
commiseration, no tenderness at the sight of suffering humanity, and no
fear of hurting it, the face devoid of gentleness or sympathy, the sublime
face of true goodness.

Then while the kitchen-maid--who, all unawares, made the superior
qualities of Françoise shine with added lustre, just as Error, by force of
contrast, enhances the triumph of Truth--took in coffee which (according
to Mamma) was nothing more than hot water, and then carried up to our
rooms hot water which was barely tepid, I would be lying stretched out on
my bed, a book in my hand, in my room which trembled with the effort to
defend its frail, transparent coolness against the afternoon sun, behind
its almost closed shutters through which, however, a reflection of the
sunlight had contrived to slip in on its golden wings, remaining
motionless, between glass and woodwork, in a corner, like a butterfly
poised upon a flower. It was hardly light enough for me to read, and my
feeling of the day's brightness and splendour was derived solely from the
blows struck down below, in the Rue de la Curé, by Camus (whom Françoise
had assured that my aunt was not 'resting' and that he might therefore
make a noise), upon some old packing-cases from which nothing would really
be sent flying but the dust, though the din of them, in the resonant
atmosphere that accompanies hot weather, seemed to scatter broadcast a
rain of blood-red stars; and from the flies who performed for my benefit,
in their small concert, as it might be the chamber music of summer;
evoking heat and light quite differently from an air of human music which,
if you happen to have heard it during a fine summer, will always bring
that summer back to your mind, the flies' music is bound to the season by
a closer, a more vital tie--born of sunny days, and not to be reborn but
with them, containing something of their essential nature, it not merely
calls up their image in our memory, but gives us a guarantee that they do
really exist, that they are close around us, immediately accessible.

This dim freshness of my room was to the broad daylight of the street what
the shadow is to the sunbeam, that is to say, equally luminous, and
presented to my imagination the entire panorama of summer, which my
senses, if I had been out walking, could have tasted and enjoyed in
fragments only; and so was quite in harmony with my state of repose, which
(thanks to the adventures related in my books, which had just excited it)
bore, like a hand reposing motionless in a stream of running water, the
shock and animation of a torrent of activity and life.

But my grandmother, even if the weather, after growing too hot, had
broken, and a storm, or just a shower, had burst over us, would come up
and beg me to go outside. And as I did not wish to leave off my book, I
would go on with it in the garden, under the chestnut-tree, in a little
sentry-box of canvas and matting, in the farthest recesses of which I used
to sit and feel that I was hidden from the eyes of anyone who might be
coming to call upon the family.

And then my thoughts, did not they form a similar sort of hiding-hole, in
the depths of which I felt that I could bury myself and remain invisible
even when I was looking at what went on outside? When I saw any external
object, my consciousness that I was seeing it would remain between me and
it, enclosing it in a slender, incorporeal outline which prevented me from
ever coming directly in contact with the material form; for it would
volatilise itself in some way before I could touch it, just as an
incandescent body which is moved towards something wet never actually
touches moisture, since it is always preceded, itself, by a zone of
evaporation. Upon the sort of screen, patterned with different states and
impressions, which my consciousness would quietly unfold while I was
reading, and which ranged from the most deeply hidden aspirations of my
heart to the wholly external view of the horizon spread out before my eyes
at the foot of the garden, what was from the first the most permanent and
the most intimate part of me, the lever whose incessant movements
controlled all the rest, was my belief in the philosophic richness and
beauty of the book I was reading, and my desire to appropriate these to
myself, whatever the book might be. For even if I had purchased it at
Combray, having seen it outside Borange's, whose grocery lay too far from
our house for Françoise to be able to deal there, as she did with Camus,
but who enjoyed better custom as a stationer and bookseller; even if I had
seen it, tied with string to keep it in its place in the mosaic of monthly
parts and pamphlets which adorned either side of his doorway, a doorway
more mysterious, more teeming with suggestion than that of a cathedral, I
should have noticed and bought it there simply because I had recognised it
as a book which had been well spoken of, in my hearing, by the
school-master or the school-friend who, at that particular time, seemed to
me to be entrusted with the secret of Truth and Beauty, things half-felt
by me, half-incomprehensible, the full understanding of which was the
vague but permanent object of my thoughts.

Next to this central belief, which, while I was reading, would be
constantly a motion from my inner self to the outer world, towards the
discovery of Truth, came the emotions aroused in me by the action in which
I would be taking part, for these afternoons were crammed with more
dramatic and sensational events than occur, often, in a whole lifetime.
These were the events which took place in the book I was reading. It is
true that the people concerned in them were not what Françoise would have
called 'real people.' But none of the feelings which the joys or
misfortunes of a 'real' person awaken in us can be awakened except through
a mental picture of those joys or misfortunes; and the ingenuity of the
first novelist lay in his understanding that, as the picture was the one
essential element in the complicated structure of our emotions, so that
simplification of it which consisted in the suppression, pure and simple,
of 'real' people would be a decided improvement. A 'real' person,
profoundly as we may sympathise with him, is in a great measure
perceptible only through our senses, that is to say, he remains opaque,
offers a dead weight which our sensibilities have not the strength to
lift. If some misfortune comes to him, it is only in one small section of
the complete idea we have of him that we are capable of feeling any
emotion; indeed it is only in one small section of the complete idea he
has of himself that he is capable of feeling any emotion either. The
novelist's happy discovery was to think of substituting for those opaque
sections, impenetrable by the human spirit, their equivalent in immaterial
sections, things, that is, which the spirit can assimilate to itself.
After which it matters not that the actions, the feelings of this new
order of creatures appear to us in the guise of truth, since we have made
them our own, since it is in ourselves that they are happening, that they
are holding in thrall, while we turn over, feverishly, the pages of the
book, our quickened breath and staring eyes. And once the novelist has
brought us to that state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every
emotion is multiplied ten-fold, into which his book comes to disturb us as
might a dream, but a dream more lucid, and of a more lasting impression
than those which come to us in sleep; why, then, for the space of an hour
he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of
which, only, we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting
to know, and the keenest, the most intense of which would never have been
revealed to us because the slow course of their development stops our
perception of them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and that is
our worst misfortune; but we learn of it only from reading or by
imagination; for in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural
phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish,
successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual
sensation of change.

Next to, but distinctly less intimate a part of myself than this human
element, would come the view, more or less projected before my eyes, of
the country in which the action of the story was taking place, which made
a far stronger impression on my mind than the other, the actual landscape
which would meet my eyes when I raised them from my book. In this way, for
two consecutive summers I used to sit in the heat of our Combray garden,
sick with a longing inspired by the book I was then reading for a land of
mountains and rivers, where I could see an endless vista of sawmills,
where beneath the limpid currents fragments of wood lay mouldering in beds
of watercress; and nearby, rambling and clustering along low walls, purple
flowers and red. And since there was always lurking in my mind the dream
of a woman who would enrich me with her love, that dream in those two
summers used to be quickened with the freshness and coolness of running
water; and whoever she might be, the woman whose image I called to mind,
purple flowers and red would at once spring up on either side of her like
complementary colours.

This was not only because an image of which we dream remains for ever
distinguished, is adorned and enriched by the association of colours not
its own which may happen to surround it in our mental picture; for the
scenes in the books I read were to me not merely scenery more vividly
portrayed by my imagination than any which Combray could spread before my
eyes but otherwise of the same kind. Because of the selection that the
author had made of them, because of the spirit of faith in which my mind
would exceed and anticipate his printed word, as it might be interpreting
a revelation, these scenes used to give me the impression--one which I
hardly ever derived from any place in which I might happen to be, and
never from our garden, that undistinguished product of the strictly
conventional fantasy of the gardener whom my grandmother so despised--of
their being actually part of Nature herself, and worthy to be studied and

Had my parents allowed me, when I read a book, to pay a visit to the
country it described, I should have felt that I was making an enormous
advance towards the ultimate conquest of truth. For even if we have the
sensation of being always enveloped in, surrounded by our own soul, still
it does not seem a fixed and immovable prison; rather do we seem to be
borne away with it, and perpetually struggling to pass beyond it, to break
out into the world, with a perpetual discouragement as we hear endlessly,
all around us, that unvarying sound which is no echo from without, but the
resonance of a vibration from within. We try to discover in things,
endeared to us on that account, the spiritual glamour which we ourselves
have cast upon them; we are disillusioned, and learn that they are in
themselves barren and devoid of the charm which they owed, in our minds,
to the association of certain ideas; sometimes we mobilise all our
spiritual forces in a glittering array so as to influence and subjugate
other human beings who, as we very well know, are situated outside
ourselves, where we can never reach them. And so, if I always imagined the
woman I loved as in a setting of whatever places I most longed, at the
time, to visit; if in my secret longings it was she who attracted me to
them, who opened to me the gate of an unknown world, that was not by the
mere hazard of a simple association of thoughts; no, it was because my
dreams of travel and of love were only moments--which I isolate
artificially to-day as though I were cutting sections, at different
heights, in a jet of water, rainbow-flashing but seemingly without flow or
motion--were only drops in a single, undeviating, irresistible outrush of
all the forces of my life.

And then, as I continue to trace the outward course of these impressions
from their close-packed intimate source in my consciousness, and before I
come to the horizon of reality which envelops them, I discover pleasures
of another kind, those of being comfortably seated, of tasting the good
scent on the air, of not being disturbed by any visitor; and, when an hour
chimed from the steeple of Saint-Hilaire, of watching what was already
spent of the afternoon fall drop by drop until I heard the last stroke
which enabled me to add up the total sum, after which the silence that
followed seemed to herald the beginning, in the blue sky above me, of that
long part of the day still allowed me for reading, until the good dinner
which Françoise was even now preparing should come to strengthen and
refresh me after the strenuous pursuit of its hero through the pages of my
book. And, as each hour struck, it would seem to me that a few seconds
only had passed since the hour before; the latest would inscribe itself,
close to its predecessor, on the sky's surface, and I would be unable to
believe that sixty minutes could be squeezed into the tiny arc of blue
which was comprised between their two golden figures. Sometimes it would
even happen that this precocious hour would sound two strokes more than
the last; there must then have been an hour which I had not heard strike;
something which had taken place had not taken place for me; the
fascination of my book, a magic as potent as the deepest slumber, had
stopped my enchanted ears and had obliterated the sound of that golden
bell from the azure surface of the enveloping silence. Sweet Sunday
afternoons beneath the chestnut-tree in our Combray garden, from which I
was careful to eliminate every commonplace incident of my actual life,
replacing them by a career of strange adventures and ambitions in a land
watered by living streams, you still recall those adventures and ambitions
to my mind when I think of you, and you embody and preserve them by virtue
of having little by little drawn round and enclosed them (while I went on
with my book and the heat of the day declined) in the gradual
crystallisation, slowly altering in form and dappled with a pattern of
chestnut-leaves, of your silent, sonorous, fragrant, limpid hours.

Sometimes I would be torn from my book, in the middle of the afternoon, by
the gardener's daughter, who came running like a mad thing, overturning an
orange-tree in its tub, cutting a finger, breaking a tooth, and screaming
out "They're coming, they're coming!" so that Françoise and I should run
too and not miss anything of the show. That was on days when the cavalry
stationed in Combray went out for some military exercise, going as a rule
by the Rue Sainte-Hildegarde. While our servants, sitting in a row on
their chairs outside the garden railings, stared at the people of Combray
taking their Sunday walks and were stared at in return, the gardener's
daughter, through the gap which there was between two houses far away in
the Avenue de la Gare, would have spied the glitter of helmets. The
servants then hurried in with their chairs, for when the troopers filed
through the Rue Sainte-Hildegarde they filled it from side to side, and
their jostling horses scraped against the walls of the houses, covering
and drowning the pavements like banks which present too narrow a channel
to a river in flood.

"Poor children," Françoise would exclaim, in tears almost before she had
reached the railings; "poor boys, to be mown down like grass in a meadow.
It's just shocking to think of," she would go on, laying a hand over her
heart, where presumably she had felt the shock.

"A fine sight, isn't it, Mme. Françoise, all these young fellows not
caring two straws for their lives?" the gardener would ask, just to 'draw'
her. And he would not have spoken in vain.

"Not caring for their lives, is it? Why, what in the world is there that
we should care for if it's not our lives, the only gift the Lord never
offers us a second time? Oh dear, oh dear; you're right all the same; it's
quite true, they don't care! I can remember them in '70; in those wretched
wars they've no fear of death left in them; they're nothing more nor less
than madmen; and then they aren't worth the price of a rope to hang them
with; they're not men any more, they're lions." For by her way of
thinking, to compare a man with a lion, which she used to pronounce
'lie-on,' was not at all complimentary to the man.

The Rue Sainte-Hildegarde turned too sharply for us to be able to see
people approaching at any distance, and it was only through the gap
between those two houses in the Avenue de la Gare that we could still make
out fresh helmets racing along towards us, and flashing in the sunlight.
The gardener wanted to know whether there were still many to come, and he
was thirsty besides, with the sun beating down upon his head. So then,
suddenly, his daughter would leap out, as though from a beleaguered city,
would make a sortie, turn the street corner, and, having risked her life a
hundred times over, reappear and bring us, with a jug of liquorice-water,
the news that there were still at least a thousand of them, pouring along
without a break from the direction of Thiberzy and Méséglise. Françoise
and the gardener, having 'made up' their difference, would discuss the
line to be followed in case of war.

"Don't you see, Françoise," he would say. "Revolution would be better,
because then no one would need to join in unless he liked."

"Oh, yes, I can see that, certainly; it's more straightforward."

The gardener believed that, as soon as war was declared, they would stop
all the railways.

"Yes, to be sure; so that we sha'n't get away," said Françoise.

And the gardener would assent, with "Ay, they're the cunning ones," for he
would not allow that war was anything but a kind of trick which the state
attempted to play on the people, or that there was a man in the world who
would not run away from it if he had the chance to do so.

But Françoise would hasten back to my aunt, and I would return to my book,
and the servants would take their places again outside the gate to watch
the dust settle on the pavement, and the excitement caused by the passage
of the soldiers subside. Long after order had been restored, an abnormal
tide of humanity would continue to darken the streets of Corn-bray. And
in front of every house, even of those where it was not, as a rule,
'done,' the servants, and sometimes even the masters would sit and stare,
festooning their doorsteps with a dark, irregular fringe, like the border
of shells and sea-weed which a stronger tide than usual leaves on the
beach, as though trimming it with embroidered crape, when the sea itself
has retreated.

Except on such days as these, however, I would as a rule be left to read
in peace. But the interruption which a visit from Swann once made, and the
commentary which he then supplied to the course of my reading, which had
brought me to the work of an author quite new to me, called Bergotte, had
this definite result that for a long time afterwards it was not against a
wall gay with spikes of purple blossom, but on a wholly different
background, the porch of a gothic cathedral, that I would see outlined the
figure of one of the women of whom I dreamed.

I had heard Bergotte spoken of, for the first time, by a friend older than
myself, for whom I had a strong admiration, a precious youth of the name
of Bloch. Hearing me confess my love of the _Nuit d'Octobre_, he had burst
out in a bray of laughter, like a bugle-call, and told me, by way of
warning: "You must conquer your vile taste for A. de Musset, Esquire. He
is a bad egg, one of the very worst, a pretty detestable specimen. I am
bound to admit, natheless," he added graciously, "that he, and even the
man Racine, did, each of them, once in his life, compose a line which is
not only fairly rhythmical, but has also what is in my eyes the supreme
merit of meaning absolutely nothing. One is

_La blanche Oloossone et la blanche Camire_,

and the other

_La fille de Minos et de Pasiphaë_."

They were submitted to my judgment, as evidence for the defence of the two
runagates, in an article by my very dear master Father Lecomte, who is
found pleasing in the sight of the immortal gods. By which token, here is
a book which I have not the time, just now, to read, a book recommended,
it would seem, by that colossal fellow. He regards, or so they tell me,
its author, one Bergotte, Esquire, as a subtle scribe, more subtle,
indeed, than any beast of the field; and, albeit he exhibits on occasion a
critical pacifism, a tenderness in suffering fools, for which it is
impossible to account, and hard to make allowance, still his word has
weight with me as it were the Delphic Oracle. Read you then this lyrical
prose, and, if the Titanic master-builder of rhythm who composed
_Bhagavat_ and the _Lévrier de Magnus_ speaks not falsely, then, by
Apollo, you may taste, even you, my master, the ambrosial joys of
Olympus." It was in an ostensible vein of sarcasm that he had asked me to
call him, and that he himself called me, "my master." But, as a matter of
fact, we each derived a certain amount of satisfaction from the mannerism,
being still at the age in which one believes that one gives a thing real
existence by giving it a name.

Unfortunately I was not able to set at rest, by further talks with Bloch,
in which I might have insisted upon an explanation, the doubts he had
engendered in me when he told me that fine lines of poetry (from which I,
if you please, expected nothing less than the revelation of truth itself)
were all the finer if they meant absolutely nothing. For, as it happened,
Bloch was not invited to the house again. At first, he had been well
received there. It is true that my grandfather made out that, whenever I
formed a strong attachment to any one of my friends and brought him home
with me, that friend was invariably a Jew; to which he would not have
objected on principle--indeed his own friend Swann was of Jewish
extraction--had he not found that the Jews whom I chose as friends were
not usually of the best type. And so I was hardly ever able to bring a new
friend home without my grandfather's humming the "O, God of our fathers"
from _La Juive_, or else "Israel, break thy chain," singing the tune
alone, of course, to an "um-ti-tum-ti-tum, tra-la"; but I used to be
afraid of my friend's recognising the sound, and so being able to
reconstruct the words.

Before seeing them, merely on hearing their names, about which, as often
as not, there was nothing particularly Hebraic, he would divine not only
the Jewish origin of such of my friends as might indeed be of the chosen
people, but even some dark secret which was hidden in their family.

"And what do they call your friend who is coming this evening?"

"Dumont, grandpapa."

"Dumont! Oh, I'm frightened of Dumont."

And he would sing:

Archers, be on your guard!
Watch without rest, without sound,

and then, after a few adroit questions on points of detail, he would call
out "On guard! on guard," or, if it were the victim himself who had
already arrived, and had been obliged, unconsciously, by my grandfather's
subtle examination, to admit his origin, then my grandfather, to shew us
that he had no longer any doubts, would merely look at us, humming almost
inaudibly the air of

What! do you hither guide the feet
Of this timid Israelite?

or of

Sweet vale of Hebron, dear paternal fields,

or, perhaps, of

Yes, I am of the chosen race.

These little eccentricities on my grandfather's part implied no ill-will
whatsoever towards my friends. But Bloch had displeased my family for
other reasons. He had begun by annoying my father, who, seeing him come in
with wet clothes, had asked him with keen interest:

"Why, M. Bloch, is there a change in the weather; has it been raining? I
can't understand it; the barometer has been 'set fair.'"

Which drew from Bloch nothing more instructive than "Sir, I am absolutely
incapable of telling you whether it has rained. I live so resolutely apart
from physical contingencies that my senses no longer trouble to inform me
of them."

"My poor boy," said my father after Bloch had gone, "your friend is out of
his mind. Why, he couldn't even tell me what the weather was like. As if
there could be anything more interesting! He is an imbecile."

Next, Bloch had displeased my grandmother because, after luncheon, when
she complained of not feeling very well, he had stifled a sob and wiped
the tears from his eyes.

"You cannot imagine that he is sincere," she observed to me. "Why he
doesn't know me. Unless he's mad, of course."

And finally he had upset the whole household when he arrived an hour and a
half late for luncheon and covered with mud from head to foot, and made
not the least apology, saying merely: "I never allow myself to be
influenced in the smallest degree either by atmospheric disturbances or by
the arbitrary divisions of what is known as Time. I would willingly
reintroduce to society the opium pipe of China or the Malayan kriss, but I
am wholly and entirely without instruction in those infinitely more
pernicious (besides being quite bleakly bourgeois) implements, the
umbrella and the watch."

In spite of all this he would still have been received at Combray. He was,
of course, hardly the friend my parents would have chosen for me; they
had, in the end, decided that the tears which he had shed on hearing of my
grandmother's illness were genuine enough; but they knew, either
instinctively or from their own experience, that our early impulsive
emotions have but little influence over our later actions and the conduct
of our lives; and that regard for moral obligations, loyalty to our
friends, patience in finishing our work, obedience to a rule of life, have
a surer foundation in habits solidly formed and blindly followed than in
these momentary transports, ardent but sterile. They would have preferred
to Bloch, as companions for myself, boys who would have given me no more
than it is proper, by all the laws of middle-class morality, for boys to
give one another, who would not unexpectedly send me a basket of fruit
because they happened, that morning, to have thought of me with affection,
but who, since they were incapable of inclining in my favour, by any
single impulse of their imagination and emotions, the exact balance of the
duties and claims of friendship, were as incapable of loading the scales
to my prejudice. Even the injuries we do them will not easily divert from
the path of their duty towards us those conventional natures of which my
great-aunt furnished a type: who, after quarrelling for years with a
niece, to whom she never spoke again, yet made no change in the will in
which she had left that niece the whole of her fortune, because she was
her next-of-kin, and it was the 'proper thing' to do.

But I was fond of Bloch; my parents wished me to be happy; and the
insoluble problems which I set myself on such texts as the 'absolutely
meaningless' beauty of _La fille de Minos et de Pasiphaë_ tired me more
and made me more unwell than I should have been after further talks with
him, unwholesome as those talks might seem to my mother's mind. And he
would still have been received at Combray but for one thing. That same
night, after dinner, having informed me (a piece of news which had a great
influence on my later life, making it happier at one time and then more
unhappy) that no woman ever thought of anything but love, and that there
was not one of them whose resistance a man could not overcome, he had gone
on to assure me that he had heard it said on unimpeachable authority that
my great-aunt herself had led a 'gay' life in her younger days, and had
been notoriously 'kept.' I could not refrain from passing on so important
a piece of information to my parents; the next time Bloch called he was
not admitted, and afterwards, when I met him in the street, he greeted me
with extreme coldness.

But in the matter of Bergotte he had spoken truly.

For the first few days, like a tune which will be running in one's head
and maddening one soon enough, but of which one has not for the moment
'got hold,' the things I was to love so passionately in Bergotte's style
had not yet caught my eye. I could not, it is true, lay down the novel of
his which I was reading, but I fancied that I was interested in the story
alone, as in the first dawn of love, when we go every day to meet a woman
at some party or entertainment by the charm of which we imagine it is that
we are attracted. Then I observed the rare, almost archaic phrases which
he liked to employ at certain points, where a hidden flow of harmony, a
prelude contained and concealed in the work itself would animate and
elevate his style; and it was at such points as these, too, that he would
begin to speak of the "vain dream of life," of the "inexhaustible torrent
of fair forms," of the "sterile, splendid torture of understanding and
loving," of the "moving effigies which ennoble for all time the charming
and venerable fronts of our cathedrals"; that he would express a whole
system of philosophy, new to me, by the use of marvellous imagery, to the
inspiration of which I would naturally have ascribed that sound of harping
which began to chime and echo in my ears, an accompaniment to which that
imagery added something ethereal and sublime. One of these passages of
Bergotte, the third or fourth which I had detached from the rest, filled
me with a joy to which the meagre joy I had tasted in the first passage
bore no comparison, a joy which I felt myself to have experienced in some
innermost chamber of my soul, deep, undivided, vast, from which all
obstructions and partitions seemed to have been swept away. For what
had happened was that, while I recognised in this passage the same taste
for uncommon phrases, the same bursts of music, the same idealist
philosophy which had been present in the earlier passages without my
having taken them into account as the source of my pleasure, I now no
longer had the impression of being confronted by a particular passage in
one of Bergotte's works, which traced a purely bi-dimensional figure in
outline upon the surface of my mind, but rather of the 'ideal passage' of
Bergotte, common to every one of his books, and to which all the earlier,
similar passages, now becoming merged in it, had added a kind of density
and volume, by which my own understanding seemed to be enlarged.

I was by no means Bergotte's sole admirer; he was the favourite writer
also of a friend of my mother's, a highly literary lady; while Dr. du,
Boulbon had kept all his patients waiting until he finished Bergotte's
latest volume; and it was from his consulting room, and from a house in a
park near Combray that some of the first seeds were scattered of that
taste for Bergotte, a rare-growth in those days, but now so universally
acclimatised that one finds it flowering everywhere throughout Europe and
America, and even in the tiniest villages, rare still in its refinement,
but in that alone. What my mother's friend, and, it would seem, what Dr.
du Boulbon liked above all in the writings of Bergotte was just what I
liked, the same flow of melody, the same old-fashioned phrases, and
certain others, quite simple and familiar, but so placed by him, in such
prominence, as to hint at a particular quality of taste on his part; and
also, in the sad parts of his books, a sort of roughness, a tone that was
almost harsh. And he himself, no doubt, realised that these were his
principal attractions. For in his later books, if he had hit upon some
great truth, or upon the name of an historic cathedral, he would break off
his narrative, and in an invocation, an apostrophe, a lengthy prayer,
would give a free outlet to that effluence which, in the earlier volumes,
remained buried beneath the form of his prose, discernible only in a
rippling of its surface, and perhaps even more delightful, more harmonious
when it was thus veiled from the eye, when the reader could give no
precise indication of where the murmur of the current began, or of where
it died away. These passages in which he delighted were our favourites
also. For my own part I knew all of them by heart. I felt even
disappointed when he resumed the thread of his narrative. Whenever he
spoke of something whose beauty had until then remained hidden from me, of
pine-forests or of hailstorms, of _Notre-Dame de Paris_, of _Athalie_, or
of _Phèdre_, by some piece of imagery he would make their beauty explode
and drench me with its essence. And so, dimly realising that the universe
contained innumerable elements which my feeble senses would be powerless
to discern, did he not bring them within my reach, I wished that I might
have his opinion, some metaphor of his, upon everything in the world, and
especially upon such things as I might have an opportunity, some day, of
seeing for myself; and among such things, more particularly still upon
some of the historic buildings of France, upon certain views of the sea,
because the emphasis with which, in his books, he referred to these shewed
that he regarded them as rich in significance and beauty. But, alas, upon
almost everything in the world his opinion was unknown to me. I had no
doubt that it would differ entirely from my own, since his came down from
an unknown sphere towards which I was striving to raise myself; convinced
that my thoughts would have seemed pure foolishness to that perfected
spirit, I had so completely obliterated them all that, if I happened to
find in one of his books something which had already occurred to my own
mind, my heart would swell with gratitude and pride as though some deity
had, in his infinite bounty, restored it to me, had pronounced it to be
beautiful and right. It happened now and then that a page of Bergotte
would express precisely those ideas which I used often at night, when I
was unable to sleep, to write to my grandmother and mother, and so
concisely and well that his page had the appearance of a collection of
mottoes for me to set at the head of my letters. And so too, in later
years, when I began to compose a book of my own, and the quality of some
of my sentences seemed so inadequate that I could not make up my mind to
go on with the undertaking, I would find the equivalent of my sentences in
Bergotte's. But it was only then, when I read them in his pages, that I
could enjoy them; when it was I myself who composed them, in my anxiety
that they should exactly reproduce what I seemed to have detected in my
mind, and in my fear of their not turning out 'true to life,' I had no
time to ask myself whether what I was writing would be pleasant to read!
But indeed there was no kind of language, no kind of ideas which I really
liked, except these. My feverish and unsatisfactory attempts were
themselves a token of my love, a love which brought me no pleasure, but
was, for all that, intense and deep. And so, when I came suddenly upon
similar phrases in the writings of another, that is to say stripped of
their familiar accompaniment of scruples and repressions and
self-tormentings, I was free to indulge to the full my own appetite for
such things, just as a cook who, once in a while, has no dinner to prepare
for other people, can then find time to gormandise himself. And so, when I
had found, one day, in a book by Bergotte, some joke about an old family
servant, to which his solemn and magnificent style added a great deal of
irony, but which was in principle what I had often said to my grandmother
about Françoise, and when, another time, I had discovered that he thought
not unworthy of reflection in one of those mirrors of absolute Truth which
were his writings, a remark similar to one which I had had occasion to
make on our friend M. Legrandin (and, moreover, my remarks on Françoise
and M. Legrandin were among those which I would most resolutely have
sacrificed for Bergotte's sake, in the belief that he would find them
quite without interest); then it was suddenly revealed to me that my own
humble existence and the Realms of Truth were less widely separated than I
had supposed, that at certain points they were actually in contact; and in
my new-found confidence and joy I wept upon his printed page, as in the
arms of a long-lost father.

From his books I had formed an impression of Bergotte as a frail and
disappointed old man, who had lost his children, and had never found any
consolation. And so I would read, or rather sing his sentences in my
brain, with rather more _dolce_, rather more _lento_ than he himself had,
perhaps, intended, and his simplest phrase would strike my ears with
something peculiarly gentle and loving in its intonation. More than
anything else in the world I cherished his philosophy, and had pledged
myself to it in lifelong devotion. It made me impatient to reach the age
when I should be eligible to attend the class at school called
'Philosophy.' I did not wish to learn or do anything else there, but
simply to exist and be guided entirely by the mind of Bergotte, and, if I
had been told then that the metaphysicians whom I was actually to follow
there resembled him in nothing, I should have been struck down by the
despair a young lover feels who has sworn lifelong fidelity, when a friend
speaks to him of the other mistresses he will have in time to come.

One Sunday, while I was reading in the garden, I was interrupted by Swann,
who had come to call upon my parents.

"What are you reading? May I look? Why, it's Bergotte! Who has been
telling you about him?"

I replied that Bloch was responsible.

"Oh, yes, that boy I saw here once, who looks so like the Bellini portrait
of Mahomet II. It's an astonishing likeness; he has the same arched
eyebrows and hooked nose and prominent cheekbones. When his beard comes
he'll be Mahomet himself. Anyhow he has good taste, for Bergotte is a
charming creature." And seeing how much I seemed to admire Bergotte,
Swann, who never spoke at all about the people he knew, made an exception
in my favour and said: "I know him well; if you would like him to write a
few words on the title-page of your book I could ask him for you."

I dared not accept such an offer, but bombarded Swann with questions about
his friend. "Can you tell me, please, who is his favourite actor?"

"Actor? No, I can't say. But I do know this: there's not a man on the
stage whom he thinks equal to Berma; he puts her above everyone. Have you
seen her?"

"No, sir, my parents do not allow me to go to the theatre."

"That is a pity. You should insist. Berma in _Phèdre_, in the _Cid_; well,
she's only an actress, if you like, but you know that I don't believe very
much in the 'hierarchy' of the arts." As he spoke I noticed, what had
often struck me before in his conversations with my grandmother's sisters,
that whenever he spoke of serious matters, whenever he used an expression
which seemed to imply a definite opinion upon some important subject, he
would take care to isolate, to sterilise it by using a special intonation,
mechanical and ironic, as though he had put the phrase or word between
inverted commas, and was anxious to disclaim any personal responsibility
for it; as who should say "the 'hierarchy,' don't you know, as silly
people call it." But then, if it was so absurd, why did he say the
'hierarchy'? A moment later he went on: "Her acting will give you as noble
an inspiration as any masterpiece of art in the world, as--oh, I don't
know--" and he began to laugh, "shall we say the Queens of Chartres?"
Until then I had supposed that his horror of having to give a serious
opinion was something Parisian and refined, in contrast to the provincial
dogmatism of my grandmother's sisters; and I had imagined also that it was
characteristic of the mental attitude towards life of the circle in which
Swann moved, where, by a natural reaction from the 'lyrical' enthusiasms
of earlier generations, an excessive importance was given to small and
precise facts, formerly regarded as vulgar, and anything in the nature of
'phrase-making' was banned. But now I found myself slightly shocked by
this attitude which Swann invariably adopted when face to face with
generalities. He appeared unwilling to risk even having an opinion, and to
be at his ease only when he could furnish, with meticulous accuracy, some
precise but unimportant detail. But in so doing he did not take into
account that even here he was giving an opinion, holding a brief (as they
say) for something, that the accuracy of his details had an importance of
its own. I thought again of the dinner that night, when I had been so
unhappy because Mamma would not be coming up to my room, and when he had
dismissed the balls given by the Princesse de Léon as being of no
importance. And yet it was to just that sort of amusement that he was
devoting his life. For what other kind of existence did he reserve the
duties of saying in all seriousness what he thought about things, of
formulating judgments which he would not put between inverted commas; and
when would he cease to give himself up to occupations of which at the
same, time he made out that they were absurd? I noticed, too, in the
manner in which Swann spoke to me of Bergotte, something which, to do him
justice, was not peculiar to himself, but was shared by all that writer's
admirers at that time, at least by my mother's friend and by Dr. du
Boulbon. Like Swann, they would say of Bergotte: "He has a charming mind,
so individual, he has a way of his own of saying things, which is a little
far-fetched, but so pleasant. You never need to look for his name on the
title-page, you can tell his work at once." But none of them had yet gone
so far as to say "He is a great writer, he has great talent." They did not
even credit him with talent at all. They did not speak, because they were
not aware of it. We are very slow in recognising in the peculiar
physiognomy of a new writer the type which is labelled 'great talent' in
our museum of general ideas. Simply because that physiognomy is new and
strange, we can find in it no resemblance to what we are accustomed to
call talent. We say rather originality, charm, delicacy, strength; and
then one day we add up the sum of these, and find that it amounts simply
to talent.

"Are there any books in which Bergotte has written about Berma?" I asked
M. Swann.

"I think he has, in that little essay on Racine, but it must be out of
print. Still, there has perhaps been a second impression. I will find out.
Anyhow, I can ask Bergotte himself all that you want to know next time he
comes to dine with us. He never misses a week, from one year's end to
another. He is my daughter's greatest friend. They go about together, and
look at old towns and cathedrals and castles."

As I was still completely ignorant of the different grades in the social
hierarchy, the fact that my father found it impossible for us to see
anything of Swann's wife and daughter had, for a long time, had the
contrary effect of making me imagine them as separated from us by an
enormous gulf, which greatly enhanced their dignity and importance in my
eyes. I was sorry that my mother did not dye her hair and redden her lips,
as I had heard our neighbour, Mme. Sazerat, say that Mme. Swann did, to
gratify not her husband but M. de Charlus; and I felt that, to her, we
must be an object of scorn, which distressed me particularly on account of
the daughter, such a pretty little girl, as I had heard, and one of whom I
used often to dream, always imagining her with the same features and
appearance, which I bestowed upon her quite arbitrarily, but with a
charming effect. But from this afternoon, when I had learned that Mile.
Swann was a creature living in such rare and fortunate circumstances,
bathed, as in her natural element, in such a sea of privilege that, if she
should ask her parents whether anyone were coming to dinner, she would be
answered in those two syllables, radiant with celestial light, would hear
the name of that golden guest who was to her no more than an old friend of
her family, Bergotte; that for her the intimate conversation at table,
corresponding to what my great-aunt's conversation was for me, would be
the words of Bergotte upon all those subjects which he had not been able
to take up in his writings, and on which I would fain have heard him utter
oracles; and that, above all, when she went to visit other towns, he would
be walking by her side, unrecognised and glorious, like the gods who came
down, of old, from heaven to dwell among mortal men: then I realised both
the rare worth of a creature such as Mile. Swann, and, at the same time,
how coarse and ignorant I should appear to her; and I felt so keenly how
pleasant and yet how impossible it would be for me to become her friend
that I was filled at once with longing and with despair. And usually, from
this time forth, when I thought of her, I would see her standing before
the porch of a cathedral, explaining to me what each of the statues meant,
and, with a smile which was my highest commendation, presenting me, as her
friend, to Bergotte. And invariably the charm of all the fancies which
the thought of cathedrals used to inspire in me, the charm of the hills
and valleys of the He de France and of the plains of Normandy, would
radiate brightness and beauty over the picture I had formed in my mind of
Mile. Swann; nothing more remained but to know and to love her. Once we
believe that a fellow-creature has a share in some unknown existence to
which that creature's love for ourselves can win us admission, that is, of
all the preliminary conditions which Love exacts, the one to which he
attaches most importance, the one which makes him generous or indifferent
as to the rest. Even those women who pretend that they judge a man by his
exterior only, see in that exterior an emanation from some special way of
life. And that is why they fall in love with a soldier or a fireman, whose
uniform makes them less particular about his face; they kiss and believe
that beneath the crushing breastplate there beats a heart different from
the rest, more gallant, more adventurous, more tender; and so it is that a
young king or a crown prince may travel in foreign countries and make the
most gratifying conquests, and yet lack entirely that regular and classic
profile which would be indispensable, I dare say, in an outside-broker.

While I was reading in the garden, a thing my great-aunt would never have
understood my doing save on a Sunday, that being the day on which it was
unlawful to indulge in any serious occupation, and on which she herself
would lay aside her sewing (on a week-day she would have said, "How you
can go on amusing yourself with a book; it isn't Sunday, you know!"
putting into the word 'amusing' an implication of childishness and waste
of time), my aunt Léonie would be gossiping with Françoise until it was
time for Eulalie to arrive. She would tell her that she had just seen Mme.
Goupil go by "without an umbrella, in the silk dress she had made for her
the other day at Châteaudun. If she has far to go before vespers, she may
get it properly soaked."

"Very likely" (which meant also "very likely not") was the answer, for
Françoise did not wish definitely to exclude the possibility of a happier

"There, now," went on my aunt, beating her brow, "that reminds me that I
never heard if she got to church this morning before the Elevation. I
must remember to ask Eulalie... Françoise, just look at that black cloud
behind the steeple, and how poor the light is on the slates, you may be
certain it will rain before the day is out. It couldn't possibly keep on
like this, it's been too hot. And the sooner the better, for until the
storm breaks my Vichy water won't 'go down,'" she concluded, since, in her
mind, the desire to accelerate the digestion of her Vichy water was of
infinitely greater importance than her fear of seeing Mme. Goupil's new
dress ruined.

"Very likely."

"And you know that when it rains in the Square there's none too much
shelter." Suddenly my aunt turned pale. "What, three o'clock!" she
exclaimed. "But vespers will have begun already, and I've forgotten my
pepsin! Now I know why that Vichy water has been lying on my stomach."
And falling precipitately upon a prayer-book bound in purple velvet, with
gilt clasps, out of which in her haste she let fall a shower of the little
pictures, each in a lace fringe of yellowish paper, which she used to mark
the places of the greater feasts of the church, my aunt, while she
swallowed her drops, began at full speed to mutter the words of the sacred
text, its meaning being slightly clouded in her brain by the uncertainty
whether the pepsin, when taken so long after the Vichy, would still be
able to overtake it and to 'send it down.' "Three o'clock! It's
unbelievable how time flies."

A little tap at the window, as though some missile had struck it, followed
by a plentiful, falling sound, as light, though, as if a shower of sand
were being sprinkled from a window overhead; then the fall spread, took on
an order, a rhythm, became liquid, loud, drumming, musical, innumerable,
universal. It was the rain.

"There, Françoise, what did I tell you? How it's coming down! But I think
I heard the bell at the garden gate: go along and see who can be outside
in this weather."

Françoise went and returned. "It's Mme. Amédée" (my grandmother). "She
said she was going for a walk. It's raining hard, all the same."

"I'm not at all surprised," said my aunt, looking up towards the sky.
"I've always said that she was not in the least like other people. Well,
I'm glad it's she and not myself who's outside in all this."

"Mme. Amédée is always the exact opposite of the rest," said Françoise,
not unkindly, refraining until she should be alone with the other servants
from stating her belief that my grandmother was 'a bit off her head.'

"There's Benediction over! Eulalie will never come now," sighed my aunt.
"It will be the weather that's frightened her away."

"But it's not five o'clock yet, Mme. Octave, it's only half-past four."

"Only half-past four! And here am I, obliged to draw back the small
curtains, just to get a tiny streak of daylight. At half-past four! Only a
week before the Rogation-days. Ah, my poor Françoise, the dear Lord must
be sorely vexed with us. The world is going too far in these days. As my
poor Octave used to say, we have forgotten God too often, and He is taking
vengeance upon us."

A bright flush animated my aunt's cheeks; it was Eulalie. As ill luck
would have it, scarcely had she been admitted to the presence when
Françoise reappeared and, with a smile which was meant to indicate her
full participation in the pleasure which, she had no doubt, her tidings
would give my aunt, articulating each syllable so as to shew that, in
spite of her having to translate them into indirect speech, she was
repeating, as a good servant should, the very words which the new visitor
had condescended to use, said: "His reverence the Curé would be delighted,
enchanted, if Mme. Octave is not resting just now, and could see him. His
reverence does not wish to disturb Mme. Octave. His reverence is
downstairs; I told him to go into the parlour."

Had the truth been known, the Curé's visits gave my aunt no such ecstatic
pleasure as Françoise supposed, and the air of jubilation with which she
felt bound to illuminate her face whenever she had to announce his
arrival, did not altogether correspond to what was felt by her invalid.
The Curé (an excellent man, with whom I am sorry now that I did not
converse more often, for, even if he cared nothing for the arts, he knew a
great many etymologies), being in the habit of shewing distinguished
visitors over his church (he had even planned to compile a history of the
Parish of Com-bray), used to weary her with his endless explanations,
which, incidentally, never varied in the least degree. But when his visit
synchronized exactly with Eulalie's it became frankly distasteful to my
aunt. She would have preferred to make the most of Eulalie, and not to
have had the whole of her circle about her at one time. But she dared not
send the Curé away, and had to content herself with making a sign to
Eulalie not to leave when he did, so that she might have her to herself
for a little after he had gone.

"What is this I have been hearing, Father, that a painter has set up his
easel in your church, and is copying one of the windows? Old as I am, I
can safely say that I have never even heard of such a thing in all my
life! What is the world coming to next, I wonder! And the ugliest thing
in the whole church, too."

"I will not go so far as to say that it is quite the ugliest, for,
although there are certain things in Saint-Hilaire which are well worth a
visit, there are others that are very old now, in my poor basilica, the
only one in all the diocese that has never even been restored. The Lord
knows, our porch is dirty and out of date; still, it is of a majestic
character; take, for instance, the Esther tapestries, though personally I
would not give a brass farthing for the pair of them, but experts put them
next after the ones at Sens. I can quite see, too, that apart from certain
details which are--well, a trifle realistic, they shew features which
testify to a genuine power of observation. But don't talk to me about the
windows. Is it common sense, I ask you, to leave up windows which shut out
all the daylight, and even confuse the eyes by throwing patches of colour,
to which I should be hard put to it to give a name, on a floor in which
there are not two slabs on the same level? And yet they refuse to renew
the floor for me because, if you please, those are the tombstones of the
Abbots of Combray and the Lords of Guermantes, the old Counts, you know,
of Brabant, direct ancestors of the present Duc de Guermantes, and of his
Duchesse also, since she was a lady of the Guermantes family, and married
her cousin." (My grandmother, whose steady refusal to take any interest in
'persons' had ended in her confusing all their names and titles, whenever
anyone mentioned the Duchesse de Guermantes used to make out that she must
be related to Mme. de Villeparisis. The whole family would then burst out
laughing; and she would attempt to justify herself by harking back to some
invitation to a christening or funeral: "I feel sure that there was a
Guermantes in it somewhere." And for once I would side with the others,
and against her, refusing to admit that there could be any connection
between her school-friend and the descendant of Geneviève de Brabant.)

"Look at Roussainville," the Curé went on. "It is nothing more nowadays
than a parish of farmers, though in olden times the place must have had a
considerable importance from its trade in felt hats and clocks. (I am not
certain, by the way, of the etymology of Roussainville. I should dearly
like to think that the name was originally Rouville, from _Radulfi villa_,
analogous, don't you see, to Châteauroux, _Castrum Radulfi_, but we will
talk about that some other time.) Very well; the church there has superb
windows, almost all quite modern, including that most imposing 'Entry of
Louis-Philippe into Combray' which would be more in keeping, surely, at


Back to Full Books