Proust: From The Guermantes Way – Chapter One


Mme de Villeparisis à l’Hotel de Balbec – Kees van Dongen (

… our cruellest adversaries are not those who contradict and try to convince us, but those who magnify or invent reports which are liable to distress us, taking care not to give them any appearance of justification which might lessen our pain and perhaps give us some slight regard for an attitude which they make a point of displaying to us, to complete our torment, as being at once terrible and triumphant. (p. 17)

… beauty can be the noblest of signatures …. (p. 38)

… like the instrument of a master violinist in whom, when one says he produces a beautiful sound, one means to praise not a physical peculiarity but a superiority of soul …. (p. 44)

… it is the really beautiful works that, if we listen to them with sincerity, must disappoint us most keenly, because in the storehouse of our ideas there is none that responds to an individual impression. (pp. 44-46)

… preoccupied with … trying to open my mind as wide as possible to receive all that her [artistry] contained, I realized now that that was precisely what admiration meant. (p. 46)

It was from the defects which [others] invariably acquired that I learned what were my own and natural shortcomings; their character offered me a sort of negative of my own. (p. 62)

… it is not only the physical world that differs from the aspect in which we see it; that all reality is perhaps equally dissimilar from what we believe ourselves to be directly perceiving and which we compose with the aid of ideas that do not reveal themselves but are not the less efficacious …. (p. 64)

For when we are in love, we long to be able to divulge to the woman we love all the little privileges we enjoy, as the deprived and the boring do in everyday life (p. 67)

… our perception of the external world … needs only a modification in our habits to make it poetic …. (p. 83)

… one cannot properly describe human life unless one bathes it in the sleep into which it plunges night after ight and which sweeps round it as a promontory is encircled by the sea …. (p. 83)

When all is said, the world in which we live when we are asleep is so different that people who have difficulty in going to sleep seek first of all to escape from the waking world. (p. 84)

Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years. (p. 89)

… the worst sufferings have their place of sanctuary, that one can always, when all else fails, find rest. (p. 90)

… it is very difficult to locate a sound when its position is unknown to us …. (p 96)

Each of us is conditioned by an idea. There are far fewer ideas than men, therefore all men with similar ideas are alike. As there is nothing material in an idea, the people who are only materially connected to the man with an idea in no way modify it. (p. 105)

… the immensely exaggerated scale on which we see the things, however petty they may be, in the midst of which we eat, and talk, and lead our real life …. (p. 107)

If a memory, a sorrow that weigh on us are capable of leaving us, to the extent that we are no longer aware of them, they can also return and sometimes remain with us for a long time. (p. 119)

“I learned this,” … he added with that affirmative energy, that note of enthusiasm which one puts only into convictions that do not originate from oneself. (p. 224)

… psychological laws, like physical laws, have a more or less general application. And if the requisite are the same, an identical expression lights up in the eyes of different human animals, as an identical sunrise lights up places that are a long way apart and that have no connexion with one another. (p. 233)

“In fact, it was drolatic,” put in M. de Guermantes, whose odd vocabulary enabled society people to declare that he was no fool and literary people, at the same time, to regard him as a complete imbecile. (p. 233)

Each of us sees in brighter colours what he sees at a distance, what he sees in other people. For the general laws which govern  perspective in imagination apply just as much to dukes as to ordinary mortals. And not only the laws of imaginatiion, but those of speech…. One of them demands that we should express ourselves like others of our mental category and not of our caste…. But another law of speech is that, from time to time, as diseases appear and then vanish of which nothing more is ever heard, there come into being no one knows how, spontaneously perhaps or by an accident … modes of expression which one hears in the same decade on the lips of people who have not in any way combined together to that end. (pp. 242-243)

“It’s probably because I’ve been a Member of Parliament, where I’ve listened to brilliant speeches that meant absolutely nothing. I learned there to value logic more than anything else. That’s probably why I wasn’t re-elected.” (pp. 246-247)

… the maxims of his political wisdom being applicable only to questions of form, of procedure, of expediency, they were as powerless to tackle questions of fact as, in philosophy, pure logic is powerless to tackle the problems of existence …. (p. 248)

Thus the truth in politics, when one goes to well-informed men and imagines that one is about to grasp it, eludes one. (p. 249)

… that peculiar form of insolence which consists in ascribing to the other person an opinion which one plainly knows that he does not share since he has just expressed one directly its opposite. (p. 254)

… the sort of people who are always trying to seem obscure and don’t even mind making themselves ridiculous to conceal the fact that they haven’t an idea in their heads. (p. 257)

But true beauty is so individual, so novel always, that one does not recognize it as beauty. (p. 260)

“I assure you … she is really quite nice; an excellent woman ….” “I have no doubt she is, but I feel no need to assure myself of it in person.” (p. 261)

… in the scales which ensure that balance of power, European or otherwise, which we call peace, good feeling, fine speeches, earnest entreaties weigh very little; and that the heavy weight, the true determinant consists in something else, in the possibility which the adversary enjoys, if he is strong enough, or does not enjoy, of satisfying a desire in exchange for something in return. (pp. 267-268)

… on what a negation of true taste the judgment of society people is based, so arbitrary that the smallest trifle can make it rush to the wildest absurdities, on the way to which it comes across no genuinely felt impression to arrest it. (p. 284)

… egoists always have the last word; having posited at the start that their resolution is unshakeable, the more susceptible the feeling to which one appeals in them to make them abandon their resolution, the more reprehensible they find, not themselves who resist the appeal, but those who put them under the necessity of resisting it, so that their own harshness may be carried to the utmost degree of cruelty without having any effect in their eyes but to aggravate the culpability of the person who is so indelicate to be hurt, to be in the right, and to cause them thus treacherously the pain of acting against their natural instinct of pity. (p. 290)

… his vast riches, as though they have been smelted in a crucible into a single human ingot, gave an extraordinary density to this man who was worth so much. (p. 294)

The truths and countertruths which fought up above the among the intellectuals … were fast spreading downwards into the subsoil of popular opinion. (p. 306)

When we find that the systems of philosophy which contain the most truths were dictated to their authors, in the last analysis, by reasons of sentiment, how are we to suppose that in a simple affairs of politics … reasons of that sort may not, unbeknownst to the reasoner, have ruled his reason? (p. 307)

It is in sickness that we are compelled to recognise that we do not live alone but are chained to a being from a different realm, from whom we are worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body. (p. 308)

… I remained for a long time … weeping, savouring, accepting, cherishing my grief, now that I knew it had departed from my life, as we like to work ourselves up into a state of exaltation with virtuous plans which circumstances to not permit us to put into execution. (p. 317)

… that strange indifference which we feel towards our relative so long as they are alive, and which makes us put everyone else before them …. (p. 319)

She was not yet dead. But I was already alone. (p. 323)

We may, indeed, say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this we think of that hour as situated in a vague and remote expanse of time; it does not occur to us that it can have any connection with the day that has already dawned and can mean that death—or its first assault and partial possession of us, after which it will never leave hold of us again—may occur this very afternoon, whose time-table, hour by hour, has been settled in advance. (p. 325)

… deranged by the hand of the invisible angel with whom she had wrestled. (p. 326)

But it is rare fro these grave illnesses, such as that which now at last had struck her full in the face, not to take up residence in a sick person a long time before killing him, during period they hasten, like a “sociable” neighbour or tenant, to make themselves known to him. A terrible acquaintance, not so much for the sufferings that it causes as for the strange novelty of the terminal restrictions which it imposes upon life. We see ourselves dying, in these cases, not at the actual moment of death but months, sometimes years before, when death has hideously come to dwell in us. We make the acquaintance of the Stranger whom we hear coming and going in our brain. True, we do not know him by sight, but from the sounds we hear him regularly make we can form an idea of his habits. Is he a malefactor? One morning, we can no longer hear him. He is gone. Ah! if only it were for ever! In the evening he has returned …. The person whom we press for an answer, whom we suspect of being about to play us false, is Life itself, and although we feel her no longer to be the same, we believe in her still, or at least remain undecided until the day on which she finally abandons us. (pp. 326-327)

… I stood on the landing gazing at my grandmother who was doomed. Each of us is indeed alone. We set off homewards. (p. 328)

… [my mother’s] despair which was yet already so resigned that I realised that for many years she had been holding herself quietly in readiness for an indeterminate but inexorable day. (p. 329)

… two characteristics which would seem to be mutually exclusive, but which, when combined, reinforce one another: the lack of restraint common among uneducated people who make no attempt to conceal the impression, indeed the painful alarm aroused in them by the sight of a physical change which it would be more tactful to appear not to notice, and the unfeeling roughness of the peasant who tears the wings off dragonflies until she regrets a chance to wring the necks of chickens, and lacks that sense of shame which would make her conceal the interest that she feels in the sight of suffering flesh. (p. 330)

… the list of those false promises which we swear but are unable to keep …. (p. 330)

The same individual phenomena are reproduced in the mass, in great crises. In a war, the man who does not love his country says nothing against it, but regards it as doomed, pities it, sees everything in the blackest colours. (p. 331)

A dead writer can at least be illustrious without any strain on himself. (p. 337)

… I was led to wonder whether there was any truth in the distinction which we are always making between art, which is no more advanced now than in Homer’s day, and science with its continuous progress. (p. 339)

People foolishly imagine that the broad generalities of social phenomena afford an excellent opportunity to penetrate further into the human soul; they ought, on the contrary, to realise that it is by plumbing the depths of a single personality that they might have a chance of understanding these phenomena. (p. 342)


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