The World of Society

   Thinking about all the other beautiful, intelligent, refined women who in vain had tried to find a place in his heart, he had a rebellious impulse and said to himself: I will go and visit them and feel the sort of indulgence for them that I wished Odette felt for me. But all their charms were as nothing to him because of their one shortcoming of not being Odette, and he returned sadder than ever after having left them.
   And yet society to which he returned on the several evenings when he was not able to see Odette, even the simple upkeep of his household, had taken on for him a sort of charm that they had not previously possessed.
   And from that time on whether at home or in society, wherever he was he felt himself separated from the object that was the one interest of his life, and felt himself an exile, from that time on the upkeep of his household and the running of his affairs, outward pleasures and the world of society, all these had become indifferent for him, strange, and he found in that a certain charm that he had not found previously when he was not so detached from them, from that time on for him they were nothing but pictures to be looked at. He took the same sort of pleasure thinking about the running of his house, the menus for his meals, favourable investments for his fortune, that in the past he had found in his studies of the XVIIth century, reading about the care Lulli took in the increase of his revenues, the breakfast and daily activities of Fénelon or Mme de Maintenon, the household of d'Antin as described by Saint-Simon. When he left for a soirée, he experienced a sort of charm at the feeling that he was not leaving alone, in the same way it seemed, but only when he got into the motor car and the memory of her got in with him, like those little dogs that a lady brings along with her that she conceals during dinner and pets without anybody noticing that she has with her, or like a hidden flower that he caught himself constantly inhaling the perfume mixed with tears secretly throughout the journey and even at the soirée unknown to the others, with a langour that gave him a sort of spasm in his neck, as he leaned his head onto his shoulder, that he had not felt until then. And when he arrived to dinner with a few other people, or at a little gathering after dinner at one or other of the few people that he still met, the comtesse de Beauvais, the prince de Hainaut, the marquise de Talbert, especially at the home of the latter where the whole Polish family of Czartoriski, Jagellon, Radziwill spent their evenings when there was nobody for dinner, where in the family there were six ladies to whom one said "Princesse", all this created the effect on him of one of those scenes in society that are full of the charm depicted sympathetically in Tolstoy's novels, emerging from the depths of Anna Karenina or War and Peace, and where for a few hours he was absorbed into its gaiety, its conversations, its comfort, just as he had often wished to be when he was reading them.
   It was perhaps on these evenings of close intimacy that he felt even more the presence of the "world of society" because no pretext of ostentation, no occasion for exhibition masked it and one felt it there, present, implacable, like an all-powerful presence in each room, invisible but arranging everything, the cause of everything. When the princesse de Beauvais went to her sister-in-law's, the vicomtesse de Hainaut's, there was in the ante-chamber this invisible force that kept the footman motionless, with no expression of body or face, and although neither of the two sisters-in-law attached the slightest importance to rank, this force had made it a requirement that the footman be liveried in the Hainaut colours, that the Princesse would say "Madame la comtesse" when referring to her sister-in-law and that he would reply with the same. She said it without thinking, having obeyed the precepts of this force all her life, always having been seen to obey them, with the air of comfortable lassitude of a person who has always followed orders. However the world of society was not letting go its hold, the valet was still motionless, the Princesse had her shoulders bare, diamonds in her hair, because that was the costume that must be worn by the society ballerina, to make her entry at that time and place. And by the precepts of that same world of society her sister-in-law was dressed the same way. After the dinner one stayed for conversation; they had nothing in particular to say to each other to necessitate this reunion. But they performed their roles, and when the Princesse took out her watch to check the time, one felt that what she was checking was whether it was the time appointed by the World of Society for her departure; at which point a brief diversion took place, the Vicomtesse had orangeade served in glasses decorated with coats of arms, according to the precepts of the World of Society, even though neither of them gave any thought to armorial bearings. And one of their old friends addressed her as "Princesse" and was in evening dress and replied with extreme affability to a young man who was there, because he knew him to be a commoner, and because he possessed the affability of the aristocracy...
   At the moment of departure, the departing Princesse had to remain standing for a moment to ask the non-departing Princesse what she planned to do the next day, and to tell her at what hour she would be at home, even though they had nothing to say to one another, and to affectionately place her hand on the other's hip with an air of modelling her figure as if for a fitting and to take note of some new jewel or collar on her dress of which she was about to ask the provenance. Because even though they were sisters-in-law and friends, the importance of the ballet they were performing obliged them to these sorts of private attentions between themselves. Then the Princesse left with her pretty measured step, followed by the host Princesse, and the departing Princesse cast a glance over the drawing room or the lobby, giving it an admiring consideration, to which the other responded with a look over her own domain that seemed to her just as important, and replied: "No, nothing has changed". And both of them looked with close attention over the habitual scenery of their preordained mimicry.

   And indeed, as in her household it pleased him not to be aware, as though it were affixed like a phantom to a lofty bourgeois value, of a reality of luxury, of his household affairs, of positions more ancient than his and of the fortune he would leave, just as it pleased him not to be aware of all the society people other than as simple regulated phantoms, obedient to the World of Society. Above all it was in the life of intimacy and family that he felt it the most, because it, this Society, did not hide itself behind pretexts or the ostentation of a festivity but prowled all around and settled itself in the antechamber, in the empty drawing-room, in the dining room...
   There were in this society two persons of remarkable intelligence, the vicomtesse de Beauvais and the old duc d'Ypres, whose sister had just married the vicomte de Mantes, Mme de Beauvais' brother. But the remarkable intelligence of the Vicomtesse, her unique concern for intellectual matters, her indifference to nobility, to luxury, to convention made it easier to perceive, permitted in some way by her good-nature to better appreciate Society other than in the house of a person of the world, because it not being in her spirit one felt rather - just as it was the very same Society that regulated the Vicomtesse's household, chose for her her dresses and had them changed for different entrances, indicated each mimicry for her etc. - that Society was something outside of her, ever present, invisible yet all-powerful, and that the Vicomtesse's dresses, poses, entrances and exits were of little reality, performed like the steps of a ballet and the thing that was real, anterior, inherent was Society itself. The Vicomtesse had no concern whatsoever for nobility or for luxury. Likewise Swann had the feeing even in the vestibule that it was the Law of Society that had put the footmen's liveries in the de Beauvais colours and kept them as immobile as statues or had them perform like automatons with no appearance of knowing the persons who were arriving and responded to Swann's question with: "Madame la Vicomtesse is receiving". If Swann had noted the Vicomtesse's high-necked dress before she, reading on her small sofa, had seen him, it was because Society had had her change out of her colourful crêpe de Chine dressing-gowns in which she made her appearance for the act of breakfast. And the next moment, when she said: "would you tell Monsieur le Vicomte that M. Swann is here", she said it in her attractive, nonchalant tone of voice, so indifferent to that viscountship that she did not appear to either cling onto or to disregard, neither to make fun of it or to take it seriously, with that attitude of indifference that we take towards the material things that are all around us; because it was in the little scrap of text that Society gave her to say such things, in return leaving a large part to the whim of the interpreter. And with her charm that was wedded to her naturalness, her sincerity, her beauty, the small role from which the World of Society had set the entire pantomime, at the entrance of Swann she had raised her head from her book and executed the pretty role that consisted of her holding out her hand to him with a smile, shaking her head so as to say she could equally well read some other time, putting her head to one side to ask how long he had been waiting outside and looking straight ahead so as to say that she was not expecting anyone, excusing herself a little quickly for Swann's benefit by calling for a servant and asking him to put another log on the fire, to bring some tea and have the door closed to any other walk-on parts: but too late, because three rings on the bell rang out, and at the next moment the door opened to a person in a velvet cloak and hat, the comtesse de Beauvais, whom Society had ordained would enter, be welcomed and sit crosswise on a sofa and chat with Swann and with the Vicomtesse. And Mme de Beauvais having asked if it were not too late, Mme de Mantes, referring back to the orders that Society had given her, the only orders that she obeyed, replied: not at all, I had absolutely nothing to do before going to dine with my brother-in-law d'Arnaud (the duc d'Ypres). Because even though the duc d'Ypres was a close relative and a metaphysician who had no understanding of the outside world, Society had ordained that she was dressed to receive visitors...

Unused fragment from Un amour de Swann, written some time between 1908 and 1913.


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