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In Search of Lost Time, Volume II

Within a Budding Grove (A Modern Library E-Book)

In Search of Lost Time, Volume II by Marcel Proust
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Within a Budding Grove received the Prix Goncourt when it was published in 1919 and catapulted its author to overnight fame. It takes the autobiographical narrator of Swann's Way from childhood through adolescence. He loses interest in Gilberte and falls in love with Albertine, the dark girl on her bicycle, with 'that little beauty spot on her cheek, just under the eye.' Albertine, her friends, and the fictional Normandy resort of Balbec become the primary agents of recollection for him.

The final volume of a new, definitive text of A la recherche du temps perdu was published by the Bibliotheque de la Pleiade in 1989. For this authoritative English-language edition, D. J. Enright has revised the late Terence Kilmartin's acclaimed reworking of C. K. Scott Moncrieff's translation to take into account the new French editions.
Random House Publishing Group; November 2000
ISBN 9780679641797
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Title: In Search of Lost Time, Volume II
Author: Marcel Proust
My mother, when it was a question of our having M. de Norpois to dinner for the first time, having expressed her regret that Professor Cottard was away from home and that she herself had quite ceased to see anything of Swann, since either of these might have helped to entertain the ex-ambassador, my father replied that so eminent a guest, so distinguished a man of science as Cottard could never be out of place at a dinner-table, but that Swann, with his ostentation, his habit of crying aloud from the house-tops the name of everyone he knew, however slightly, was a vulgar show-off whom the Marquis de Norpois would be sure to dismiss as--to use his own epithet--a 'pestilent' fellow. Now, this attitude on my father's part may be felt to require a few words of explanation, inasmuch as some of us, no doubt, remember a Cottard of distinct mediocrity and a Swann by whom modesty and discretion, in all his social relations, were carried to the utmost refinement of delicacy. But in his case what had happened was that, to the original 'young Swann' and also to the Swann of the Jockey Club, our old friend had added a new personality (which was not to be his last), that of Odette's husband. Adapting to the humble ambitions of that lady the instinct, the desire, the industry which he had always had, he had laboriously constructed for himself, a long way beneath the old, a new position more appropriate to the companion who was to share it with him. In this new position he revealed himself a different man. Since (while continuing to meet his own personal friends by himself, not wishing to impose Odette on them unless they expressly asked to be introduced to her) it was a second life that he had begun to lead, in common with his wife, among a new set of people, it would have been understandable if, in order to gauge the social importance of these new acquaintances and thereby the degree of self-esteem that might be derived from entertaining them, he had used, as a standard of comparison, not the brilliant society in which he himself had moved before his marriage, but former connections of Odette's. But, even when one knew that it was with uncouth functionaries and tainted women, the ornaments of ministerial ball-rooms, that he now wished to associate, it was still astonishing to hear him, who in the old days, and even still, would so gracefully refrain from mentioning an invitation to Twickenham or to Buckingham Palace, proclaim with quite unnecessary emphasis that the wife of some junior minister had returned Mme Swann's call. It will perhaps be objected here that what this really implied was that the simplicity of the fashionable Swann had been simply a more refined form of vanity, and that, like certain other Jews, my parents' old friend had contrived to illustrate in turn all the successive stages through which those of his race had passed, from the most naive snobbery and the crudest caddishness to the most exquisite good manners. But the chief reason--and one which is applicable to humanity as a whole--was that our virtues themselves are not free and floating qualities over which we retain a permanent control and power of disposal; they come to be so closely linked in our minds with the actions in conjunction with which we have made it our duty to exercise them that if we come to engage in an activity of a different kind, it catches us off guard and without the slightest awareness that it might involve the application of those same virtues. Swann, in his solicitude for these new connections and in the pride with which he referred to them, was like those great artists--modest or generous by nature--who, if in their declining years they take to cooking or to gardening, display a naive gratification at the compliments that are paid to their dishes or their borders, and will not allow any of the criticism which they readily accept when it is applied to their real achievements; or who, while giving away a canvas for nothing, cannot conceal their annoyance if they lose a couple of francs at dominoes.

As for Professor Cottard, we shall meet him again, at length, much later, with the 'Mistress,' Mme Verdurin, in her country house La Raspeliere. For the present, the following observations must suffice: first of all, whereas in the case of Swann the alteration may indeed be surprising, since it had been accomplished and yet was not suspected by me when I used to see Gilberte's father in the Champs-Elysees, where in any case, as he never spoke to me, he could not very well boast to me of his political connections (it is true that if he had done so, I might not at once have discerned his vanity, for the idea that one has long held of a person is apt to stop one's eyes and ears; my mother, for three whole years, had no more noticed the rouge with which one of her nieces used to paint her lips than if it had been invisibly dissolved in some liquid; until one day a streak too much, or else some other cause, brought about the phenomenon known as super-saturation; all the paint that had hitherto passed unperceived now crystallised, and my mother, in the face of this sudden riot of colour, declared, in the best Combray manner, that it was a perfect scandal, and almost severed relations with her niece). In the case of Cottard, on the other hand, the period when we saw him in attendance at Swann's first meetings with the Verdurins was already fairly remote; and honours, offices and titles come with the passage of the years. Secondly, a man may be illiterate, and make stupid puns, and yet have a special gift which no amount of general culture can replace--such as the gift of a great strategist or physician. And so it was not merely as an obscure practitioner, who had attained in course of time to European celebrity, that the rest of his profession regarded Cottard. The most intelligent of the younger doctors used to assert--for a year or two at least, for fashions change, being themselves begotten of the desire for change--that if they themselves ever fell ill Cottard was the only one of the leading men to whom they would entrust their lives. No doubt they preferred the company of certain others who were better read, more artistic, with whom they could discuss Nietzsche and Wagner. When there was a musical party at Mme Cottard's, on the evenings when--in the hope that it might one day make him Dean of the Faculty--she entertained the colleagues and pupils of her husband, the latter, instead of listening, preferred to play cards in another room. But everyone praised the quickness, the penetration, the unerring judgment of his diagnoses. Thirdly, in considering the general impression which Professor Cottard must have made on a man like my father, we must bear in mind that the character which a man exhibits in the latter half of his life is not always, though it often is, his original character developed or withered, attenuated or enlarged; it is sometimes the exact reverse, like a garment that has been turned. Except from the Verdurins, who were infatuated with him, Cottard's hesitating manner, his excessive shyness and affability had, in his young days, called down upon him endless taunts and sneers. What charitable friend counselled that glacial air? The importance of his professional standing made it all the more easy for him to adopt. Wherever he went, save at the Verdurins', where he instinctively became himself again, he would assume a repellent coldness, remain deliberately silent, adopt a peremptory tone when he was obliged to speak, and never fail to say the most disagreeable things. He had every opportunity of rehearsing this new attitude before his patients, who, seeing him for the first time, were not in a position to make comparisons, and would have been greatly surprised to learn that he was not at all a rude man by nature. Impassiveness was what he strove to attain, and even while visiting his hospital wards, when he allowed himself to utter one of those puns which left everyone, from the house physician to the most junior student, helpless with laughter, he would always make it without moving a muscle of his face, which was itself no longer recognisable now that he had shaved off his beard and moustache.

Who, finally, was the Marquis de Norpois? He had been Minister Plenipotentiary before the War, and was actually an ambassador on the Sixteenth of May;1 in spite of which, and to the general astonishment, he had since been several times chosen to represent France on special missions--even, as Controller of Debts, in Egypt, where, thanks to his considerable financial skill, he had rendered important services--by Radical cabinets under which a simple bourgeois reactionary would have declined to serve, and in whose eyes M. de Norpois, in view of his past, his connexions and his opinions, ought presumably to have been suspect. But these advanced ministers seemed to be aware that, in making such an appointment, they were showing how broadminded they were when the higher interests of France were at stake, were raising themselves above the general run of politicians to the extent that the Journal des Debats itself referred to them as 'statesmen,' and were reaping direct advantage from the prestige that attaches to an aristocratic name and the dramatic interest always aroused by an unexpected appointment. And they knew also that, in calling upon M. de Norpois, they could reap these advantages without having to fear any want of political loyalty on his part, a fault against which his noble birth not only need not put them on their guard but offered a positive guarantee. And in this calculation the Government of the Republic was not mistaken. In the first place, because an aristocrat of a certain type, brought up from his cradle to regard his name as an innate asset of which no accident can deprive him (and of whose value his peers, or those of even nobler birth, can form a fairly exact estimate), knows that he can dispense with the efforts (since they can in no way enhance his position) in which, without any appreciable result, so many public men of the middle class spend themselves to profess only orthodox opinions and associate only with right-thinking people. Anxious, on the other hand, to enhance his own importance in the eyes of the princely or ducal families which take immediate precedence of his own, he knows that he can do so only by complementing his name with something that it lacked, something that will give it priority over other names heraldically its equals: such as political influence, a literary or an artistic reputation, or a large fortune. And so what he saves by ignoring the ineffectual squires who are sought after by his bourgeois colleagues, but of his sterile friendship with whom a prince would think nothing, he will lavish on the politicians who (freemasons, or worse, though they be) can advance him in diplomacy or support him in elections, and on the artists or scientists whose patronage can help him to 'break into' the branches in which they are predominant, on anyone, in fact, who is in a position to confer a fresh distinction or to help bring off a rich marriage.

But in the case of M. de Norpois there was above all the fact that, in the course of a long career in diplomacy, he had become imbued with that negative, methodical, conservative spirit, a 'governmental mind,' which is common to all governments and, under every government, particularly inspires its foreign service. He had imbibed, during that career, an aversion, a dread, a contempt for the methods of procedure, more or less revolutionary and at the very least improper, which are those of an Opposition. Save in the case of a few illiterates--high or low, it makes no matter--by whom no difference in quality is perceptible, what brings men together is not a community of views but a consanguinity of minds. An Academician of the Legouve type, an upholder of the classics, would have applauded Maxime Du Camp's or Meziere's eulogy of Victor Hugo with more fervour than that of Boileau by Claudel. A common nationalism suffices to endear Barres to his electors, who scarcely distinguish between him and M. Georges Berry, but not to those of his brother Academicians who, with the same political opinions but a different type of mind, will be more partial even to enemies such as M. Ribot and M. Deschanel, with whom, in turn, the most loyal Monarchists feel themselves more at home than with Maurras or Leon Daudet, who nevertheless also desire the King's return. Sparing of his words, not only from a professional habit of prudence and reserve, but because words themselves have more value, present more subtleties of definition to men whose efforts, protracted over a decade, to bring two countries to an understanding are condensed, translated--in a speech or in a protocol--into a single adjective, colourless in all appearance, but to them pregnant with a world of meaning, M. de Norpois was considered very stiff, on the Commission, where he sat next to my father, whom everyone else congratulated on the astonishing way in which the ex-ambassador unbent to him. My father was himself more astonished than anyone. For, being generally somewhat unsociable, he was not used to being sought after outside the circle of his intimates, and frankly admitted it. He realised that these overtures on the part of the diplomat were a reflection of the completely individual standpoint which each of us adopts for himself in making his choice of friends, and from which all a man's intellectual qualities or his sensibility will be a far less potent recommendation to someone who is bored or irritated by him than the frankness and gaiety of another man whom many would consider vapid, frivolous and null. 'De Norpois has asked me to dinner again; it's quite extraordinary; everyone on the Commission is amazed, as he has no personal relations with anyone else. I'm sure he's going to tell me some more fascinating things about the 'Seventy war.' My father knew that M. de Norpois had warned, had perhaps been alone in warning the Emperor of the growing strength and bellicose designs of Prussia, and that Bismarck rated his intelligence most highly. Only the other day, at the Opera, during the gala performance given for King Theodosius, the newspapers had all drawn attention to the long conversation which that monarch had had with M. de Norpois. 'I must ask him whether the King's visit had any real significance,' my father went on, for he was keenly interested in foreign policy. 'I know old Norpois keeps very close as a rule, but when he's with me he opens out quite charmingly.'