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.