The family has moved to a new apartment in Paris, the Guermantes Hotel. It’s a courtyard apt. with some trade at the ground floor. Francoise flirts with the waistcoat maker Jupien.
Good long section on the role of servants, and Francoise’s relationship to our narrator. He knows he’s a softie and needs their support.
Narrator visits Saint Loup at his barracks in Doncieres and has many thoughts on sleep and prostitutes and the lives of small town folk. Narrator has made an ass of himself trying to get Mme Guermantes to notice him in Paris, and asks Saint Loup (Mme Guermantes’s nephew) to help him get in good with her.
This part contains my favorite bit of writing, and it concerns a group of young seaside girls, and one girl in particular, who takes a running jump over a seated old man, her foot brushing his cap.
The wife of an elderly banker, after hesitating between various possible exposures for her husband, had settled him on a folding chair, facing the ‘front,’ sheltered from wind and sun by the band-stand. Having seen him comfortably installed there, she had gone to buy a newspaper which she would read aloud to him, to distract him — one of her little absences which she never prolonged for more than five minutes, which seemed long enough to him but which she repeated at frequent intervals so that this old husband on whom she lavished an attention that she took care to conceal, should have the impression that he was still quite alive and like other people and was in no need of protection. The platform of the band-stand provided, above his head, a natural and tempting springboard, across which, without a moment’s hesitation, the eldest of the little band began to run; she jumped over the terrified old man, whose yachting cap was brushed by the nimble feet, to the great delight of the other girls, especially of a pair of green eyes in a ‘dashing’ face, which expressed, for that bold act, an admiration and a merriment in which I seemed to discern a trace of timidity, a shamefaced and blustering timidity which did not exist in the others. “Oh, the poor old man; he makes me sick; he looks half dead;” said a girl with a croaking voice, but with more sarcasm than sympathy. They walked on a little way, then stopped for a moment in the middle of the road, with no thought whether they were impeding the passage of other people, and held a council, a solid body of irregular shape, compact, unusual and shrill, like birds that gather on the ground at the moment of flight; then they resumed their leisurely stroll along the ‘front,’ against a background of sea.
Our narrator takes a train trip to the seaside town of Balbec. Lots of great travel insights and worries, as our young man is not fit for adventure:
Sunrise is a necessary concomitant of long railway journeys, just as are hard-boiled eggs, illustrated papers, packs of cards, rivers upon which boats strain but make no progress.
Our narrator is miserable at the seaside hotel, with only Mme Villeparisis to entertain him–the Mme is a pretend society type and a minor windbag–her theories on art are childish and her spontaneous quips are well rehearsed. Narrator makes interesting observations of people he is afraid to know, like the page boy who minds the outside of the hotel, and a fisher girl in a nearby town who doesn’t respond to his eagerness. Lots of deadpan comedy.
Robert de Saint-Loup arrives on the scene–he is nephew to Mme Villeparisis. Our narrator is taken by Saint-Loup as he now finally has a companion with whom he can discuss art and philosophy. Saint-Loup’s uncle, the Baron de Charlus, arrives, and he’s one hell of a dandy, bitter towards young men he desires and kind to old women he can’t help but flatter.