The Name Guermantes

   I was looking at the name de Guermantes. All of a sudden it took on once more for me the sound and the meaning that it had had in Combray when, passing through rue St Hilaire on my return for lunch, I saw from outside like a dark lake the stained-glass window of Fulbert the Bad, Lord of Guermantes. The Guermantes seemed to me to be creatures born out of the fertilization of the harsh and virtuous air of Combray, that dark little town where I had spent my childhood and from a past that could be perceived in the little street, to the heights of the stained-glass window. If I had been able to divine their name, penetrate their soul, it seemed to me that it was the fantastic essence that I might have touched, whose dankness I might have possessed... And those that bore that name seemed to me to be made up of a different essence to the rest of humanity, dark and virtuous as the rue de l'Oiseau, ancient as the stained-glass in which Fulbert the Bad carried the mitre and cross, a mysterious race born out of the harsh atmosphere of a gothic street. In my mind to very few names and to no man was there attached such a profound charm that it seemed impossible to exhaust. The very characters with which it was written laid themselves out following a way that I had of reading it and pronouncing it forming a design that was as familiar to me, that seemed to belong to me just as much as my mother's face or her signature, so that the syllables of the word dissolved into something spiritual, familiar and sweet, almost like the name of a town, a street, a house where we live, like a family name, because of all my mother's and my grandmother's tenderness filling my thoughts during the course of our walks along the Guermantes way, which was no more than one walk, one single day, filling the name from the bottom to the very brim with its limpid and tender atmosphere; a mysterious charm too on account of everything I had filled it with and even more perhaps on account of the sensibility of that time that imagined, that I no longer had, and out of which the thoughts rediscovered in the word seemed to me, by remaining mine alone, strange and new in their antiquity, attaching to my idea of my personality an unknown and poetic extension so much so that, the name continuing to promise me secrets that for a long time I knew to exist only in myself, I wanted to visit Mme Guermantes' as if that would bring me closer to the stained-glass window of [...]1 the Bad, as if the window of Charles the Bad, were I to see it again, must itself have brought me closer to the depths of my thoughts in which I could see it, as if I could objectively identify, by dint of voyages, of reading, of familial monographs and manorial archives what constituted the names of Combray and Guermantes, I had acquired the substances that entered into the composition of my heart. Then by dint of looking at the name of Guermantes in which the letters subordinated themselves to the sonority that they enunciate (different word), the rebellious letters recovered their independence the N and the T became the equals of the others, the rhythm that they obeyed, by placing themselves before our eyes, was annulled and the name composed of its single letters seemed unknown to me, with no past, like a name that I was reading for the first time in a dictionary of Volap√ľk.

From Cahier 58, N.A.F. 16698.

1. The name is missing, previously Fulbert, but then Charles.


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