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.
Starts with Swann as Odette’s husband, some time removed from Swann in Love chapter. Narrator is a theater buff, gets to see his favorite actress Berma in a production of Phedre.
Soon we meet de Norpois, a windbag with thoughts and theories about everything, including Bergotte, our narrator’s favorite author. de Norpois is a fan of Mme Swann, and intrigued that our young narrator knows Swann’s daughter Gilberte.
Gilberte throws some teenage tea parties and our narrator attends, fulfilling a partial desire he has to know the Swanns.
Narrator finally meets Bergotte at the Swanns for a party, and the chapter is endless and hilarious, as the narrator is embarrassed by the real Bergotte who does not match up to the image he created of Bergotte the artist.
The scene with Bergotte goes on for a long time and it is hilarious as Bergotte reveals himself to be a gasbag of high order, always ready with an insult or a strange word. The insults are many in this part, and the narrator’s relationship with Gilberte takes second bill to his insights into Odette.
A new tone and setting (a decade before Combray chapter; narrator is a newborn), the salon of Mme. Verdurin, a bohemian setting of artists and slackers and wits. Dr Cottard a terrific gasbag, who has reset Mme. Verdurin’s dislocated jaw–she was injured by laughing too much. Swann is invited to the gathering by Mme. Crecy where he is sized up. Swann is making women left and right, and has established a scandalous reputation.
Lost of adjectives to describe Swann’s pursuit of Odette Crecy–exhilarating, stupid, exhausting, pathetic, immature, sensual. The good Dr and others know Odette’s history but Swann hasn’t figured out what she does when he’s not around. It’s clear that a reader is being set up for a big revelation, but the relationship between the new lovers is how one ought to remember first loves.
Painful to first watch Mme Verdurin turn against Swann, and then, in a jealous fit, to watch Swann come apart knowing the Verdurins don’t want him around anymore. His rage is pure jealousy, and yet he can’t see that Odette isn’t the girl for him. So much heartache.
Finished the chapter and confused by its optimistic ending. One knows that things of course don’t end well for Swann, and yet one is relieved to know Swann himself can be honest with himself, can see and remark on his stupidity and absurd behavior with Odette.
The life of the young narrator in Combray. So far he attends mass and reads, he listens to his old aunt and maid, and reports on the goings of the town residents. Proust frames scenes in an odd way–paragraphs give way to tangents that eventually (but without warning) lead back to the main story. At the midpoint of the Combray chapter and young Marcel has encountered Swann, who visits with him in the garden as he reads books.
None of this is boring or tiresome, and the humor keeps popping up in unexpected places, such as the manners that are adhered to or violated, and in the people themselves. A school chum of Marcel’s is Bloch, a Jewish kid who finds trouble as one finds sunlight.
A very funny family scene as they take to the aunt’s special times of meals and happenings on Saturdays. Everything in the house is moved up one hour on Sat, and the family in-joke is a delightful touch–this is the kind of stuff that kids, like the narrator, love.
More fun with Legrandin, a family friend and social gadfly, a snob who despises snobs. Our narrator notices his blustery manners and physicality, and at a dinner between the two, his mention of the name Guermantes sparks a near-fit of emotion in poor Legrandin. Swann’s way and the Guermantes way are at last explained as differing paths one takes from the narrator’s home–the family is big on long walks.
A strange tone and temperament to this first part of Remembrance of Things Past. Marcel (narrator) is a boy too attached to his mother, and he is a keen observer of the goings on in his grandfather’s country house, where his elder relatives–mostly gasbags–sit around and comment on how one should and should not comment on people. Very interesting idea that this middle class family is like those of Hindu origin, sticking to its born-that-way caste system. Marcel is a strange but keen on M. Swann, a visitor to the house. Swann has married badly (to a prostitute) and has a daughter, and delights in visiting Marcel’s elders. He styles himself an art connoisseur and yet most of his traits are described by others, not Swann himself. He is one who is talked about, and young Marcel’s fascination with him seems to be shared by his parents and grandparents.
Late in the chapter an adult Marcel eats a madeleine cookie and his memory recreates Combray, the country town where the action takes place. It’s the part of Remembrance of Things Past known by people who haven’t read it—like Don Quixote and the windmills. But the entire Overture is a very funny start to this long novel.