Title: Swann's Way

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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook
Title: Swann's Way

(Du côté de chez Swann)

[Vol. 1 of Remembrance of Things Past--

(À la Recherche du temps perdu)]

Author: Marcel Proust

Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff

eBook No.: 0300511.txt

Edition: 1

Language: English

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Date first posted: March 2003

Date most recently updated: March 2003

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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook
Title: Swann's Way

(Du côté de chez Swann)

[Vol. 1 of Remembrance of Things Past--

(À la Recherche du temps perdu)]

Author: Marcel Proust

Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff






For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out

my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say

"I'm going to sleep." And half an hour later the thought that it was time

to go to sleep would awaken me; I would try to put away the book which, I

imagined, was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had been

thinking all the time, while I was asleep, of what I had just been

reading, but my thoughts had run into a channel of their own, until I

myself seemed actually to have become the subject of my book: a church, a

quartet, the rivalry between François I and Charles V. This impression

would persist for some moments after I was awake; it did not disturb my

mind, but it lay like scales upon my eyes and prevented them from

registering the fact that the candle was no longer burning. Then it would

begin to seem unintelligible, as the thoughts of a former existence must

be to a reincarnate spirit; the subject of my book would separate itself

from me, leaving me free to choose whether I would form part of it or no;

and at the same time my sight would return and I would be astonished to

find myself in a state of darkness, pleasant and restful enough for the

eyes, and even more, perhaps, for my mind, to which it appeared

incomprehensible, without a cause, a matter dark indeed.

I would ask myself what o'clock it could be; I could hear the whistling of

trains, which, now nearer and now farther off, punctuating the distance

like the note of a bird in a forest, shewed me in perspective the deserted

countryside through which a traveller would be hurrying towards the

nearest station: the path that he followed being fixed for ever in his

memory by the general excitement due to being in a strange place, to doing

unusual things, to the last words of conversation, to farewells exchanged

beneath an unfamiliar lamp which echoed still in his ears amid the silence

of the night; and to the delightful prospect of being once again at home.
I would lay my cheeks gently against the comfortable cheeks of my pillow,

as plump and blooming as the cheeks of babyhood. Or I would strike a match

to look at my watch. Nearly midnight. The hour when an invalid, who has

been obliged to start on a journey and to sleep in a strange hotel,

awakens in a moment of illness and sees with glad relief a streak of

daylight shewing under his bedroom door. Oh, joy of joys! it is morning.

The servants will be about in a minute: he can ring, and some one will

come to look after him. The thought of being made comfortable gives him

strength to endure his pain. He is certain he heard footsteps: they come

nearer, and then die away. The ray of light beneath his door is

extinguished. It is midnight; some one has turned out the gas; the last

servant has gone to bed, and he must lie all night in agony with no one to

bring him any help.
I would fall asleep, and often I would be awake again for short snatches

only, just long enough to hear the regular creaking of the wainscot, or to

open my eyes to settle the shifting kaleidoscope of the darkness, to

savour, in an instantaneous flash of perception, the sleep which lay heavy

upon the furniture, the room, the whole surroundings of which I formed but

an insignificant part and whose unconsciousness I should very soon return

to share. Or, perhaps, while I was asleep I had returned without the least

effort to an earlier stage in my life, now for ever outgrown; and had come

under the thrall of one of my childish terrors, such as that old terror of

my great-uncle's pulling my curls, which was effectually dispelled on the

day--the dawn of a new era to me--on which they were finally cropped from

my head. I had forgotten that event during my sleep; I remembered it again

immediately I had succeeded in making myself wake up to escape my

great-uncle's fingers; still, as a measure of precaution, I would bury the

whole of my head in the pillow before returning to the world of dreams.
Sometimes, too, just as Eve was created from a rib of Adam, so a woman

would come into existence while I was sleeping, conceived from some strain

in the position of my limbs. Formed by the appetite that I was on the

point of gratifying, she it was, I imagined, who offered me that

gratification. My body, conscious that its own warmth was permeating hers,

would strive to become one with her, and I would awake. The rest of

humanity seemed very remote in comparison with this woman whose company I

had left but a moment ago: my cheek was still warm with her kiss, my body

bent beneath the weight of hers. If, as would sometimes happen, she had

the appearance of some woman whom I had known in waking hours, I would

abandon myself altogether to the sole quest of her, like people who set

out on a journey to see with their own eyes some city that they have

always longed to visit, and imagine that they can taste in reality what

has charmed their fancy. And then, gradually, the memory of her would

dissolve and vanish, until I had forgotten the maiden of my dream.
When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours,

the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host. Instinctively,

when he awakes, he looks to these, and in an instant reads off his own

position on the earth's surface and the amount of time that has elapsed

during his slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused,

and to break its ranks. Suppose that, towards morning, after a night of

insomnia, sleep descends upon him while he is reading, in quite a

different position from that in which he normally goes to sleep, he has

only to lift his arm to arrest the sun and turn it back in its course,

and, at the moment of waking, he will have no idea of the time, but will

conclude that he has just gone to bed. Or suppose that he gets drowsy in

some even more abnormal position; sitting in an armchair, say, after

dinner: then the world will fall topsy-turvy from its orbit, the magic

chair will carry him at full speed through time and space, and when he

opens his eyes again he will imagine that he went to sleep months earlier

and in some far distant country. But for me it was enough if, in my own

bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for

then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when

I awoke at midnight, not knowing where I was, I could not be sure at first

who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may

lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal's consciousness; I was more

destitute of human qualities than the cave-dweller; but then the memory,

not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I

had lived, and might now very possibly be, would come like a rope let down

from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I

could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse and

surmount centuries of civilisation, and out of a half-visualised

succession of oil-lamps, followed by shirts with turned-down collars,

would put together by degrees the component parts of my ego.
Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them

by our conviction that they are themselves, and not anything else, and by

the immobility of our conceptions of them. For it always happened that

when I awoke like this, and my mind struggled in an unsuccessful attempt

to discover where I was, everything would be moving round me through the

darkness: things, places, years. My body, still too heavy with sleep to

move, would make an effort to construe the form which its tiredness took

as an orientation of its various members, so as to induce from that where

the wall lay and the furniture stood, to piece together and to give a name

to the house in which it must be living. Its memory, the composite memory

of its ribs, knees, and shoulder-blades offered it a whole series of rooms

in which it had at one time or another slept; while the unseen walls kept

changing, adapting themselves to the shape of each successive room that it

remembered, whirling madly through the darkness. And even before my brain,

lingering in consideration of when things had happened and of what they

had looked like, had collected sufficient impressions to enable it to

identify the room, it, my body, would recall from each room in succession

what the bed was like, where the doors were, how daylight came in at the

windows, whether there was a passage outside, what I had had in my mind

when I went to sleep, and had found there when I awoke. The stiffened side

underneath my body would, for instance, in trying to fix its position,

imagine itself to be lying, face to the wall, in a big bed with a canopy;

and at once I would say to myself, "Why, I must have gone to sleep after

all, and Mamma never came to say good night!" for I was in the country

with my grandfather, who died years ago; and my body, the side upon which

I was lying, loyally preserving from the past an impression which my mind

should never have forgotten, brought back before my eyes the glimmering

flame of the night-light in its bowl of Bohemian glass, shaped like an urn

and hung by chains from the ceiling, and the chimney-piece of Siena marble

in my bedroom at Com-bray, in my great-aunt's house, in those far distant

days which, at the moment of waking, seemed present without being clearly

denned, but would become plainer in a little while when I was properly

Then would come up the memory of a fresh position; the wall slid away in

another direction; I was in my room in Mme. de Saint-Loup's house in the

country; good heavens, it must be ten o'clock, they will have finished

dinner! I must have overslept myself, in the little nap which I always

take when I come in from my walk with Mme. de Saint-Loup, before dressing

for the evening. For many years have now elapsed since the Combray days,

when, coming in from the longest and latest walks, I would still be in

time to see the reflection of the sunset glowing in the panes of my

bedroom window. It is a very different kind of existence at Tansonville

now with Mme. de Saint-Loup, and a different kind of pleasure that I now

derive from taking walks only in the evenings, from visiting by moonlight

the roads on which I used to play, as a child, in the sunshine; while the

bedroom, in which I shall presently fall asleep instead of dressing for

dinner, from afar off I can see it, as we return from our walk, with its

lamp shining through the window, a solitary beacon in the night.
These shifting and confused gusts of memory never lasted for more than a

few seconds; it often happened that, in my spell of uncertainty as to

where I was, I did not distinguish the successive theories of which that

uncertainty was composed any more than, when we watch a horse running, we

isolate the successive positions of its body as they appear upon a

bioscope. But I had seen first one and then another of the rooms in which

I had slept during my life, and in the end I would revisit them all in the

long course of my waking dream: rooms in winter, where on going to bed I

would at once bury my head in a nest, built up out of the most diverse

materials, the corner of my pillow, the top of my blankets, a piece of a

shawl, the edge of my bed, and a copy of an evening paper, all of which

things I would contrive, with the infinite patience of birds building

their nests, to cement into one whole; rooms where, in a keen frost, I

would feel the satisfaction of being shut in from the outer world (like

the sea-swallow which builds at the end of a dark tunnel and is kept warm

by the surrounding earth), and where, the fire keeping in all night, I

would sleep wrapped up, as it were, in a great cloak of snug and savoury

air, shot with the glow of the logs which would break out again in flame:

in a sort of alcove without walls, a cave of warmth dug out of the heart

of the room itself, a zone of heat whose boundaries were constantly

shifting and altering in temperature as gusts of air ran across them to

strike freshly upon my face, from the corners of the room, or from parts

near the window or far from the fireplace which had therefore remained

cold--or rooms in summer, where I would delight to feel myself a part of

the warm evening, where the moonlight striking upon the half-opened

shutters would throw down to the foot of my bed its enchanted ladder;

where I would fall asleep, as it might be in the open air, like a titmouse

which the breeze keeps poised in the focus of a sunbeam--or sometimes the

Louis XVI room, so cheerful that I could never feel really unhappy, even

on my first night in it: that room where the slender columns which lightly

supported its ceiling would part, ever so gracefully, to indicate where

the bed was and to keep it separate; sometimes again that little room with

the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate

storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment

my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses,

convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent

indifference of a clock that chattered on at the top of its voice as

though I were not there; while a strange and pitiless mirror with square

feet, which stood across one corner of the room, cleared for itself a site

I had not looked to find tenanted in the quiet surroundings of my normal

field of vision: that room in which my mind, forcing itself for hours on

end to leave its moorings, to elongate itself upwards so as to take on the

exact shape of the room, and to reach to the summit of that monstrous

funnel, had passed so many anxious nights while my body lay stretched out

in bed, my eyes staring upwards, my ears straining, my nostrils sniffing

uneasily, and my heart beating; until custom had changed the colour of the

curtains, made the clock keep quiet, brought an expression of pity to the

cruel, slanting face of the glass, disguised or even completely dispelled

the scent of flowering grasses, and distinctly reduced the apparent

loftiness of the ceiling. Custom! that skilful but unhurrying manager who

begins by torturing the mind for weeks on end with her provisional

arrangements; whom the mind, for all that, is fortunate in discovering,

for without the help of custom it would never contrive, by its own

efforts, to make any room seem habitable.

Certainly I was now well awake; my body had turned about for the last time
and the good angel of certainty had made all the surrounding objects stand

still, had set me down under my bedclothes, in my bedroom, and had fixed,

approximately in their right places in the uncertain light, my chest of

drawers, my writing-table, my fireplace, the window overlooking the

street, and both the doors. But it was no good my knowing that I was not

in any of those houses of which, in the stupid moment of waking, if I had

not caught sight exactly, I could still believe in their possible

presence; for memory was now set in motion; as a rule I did not attempt to

go to sleep again at once, but used to spend the greater part of the night

recalling our life in the old days at Combray with my great-aunt, at

Balbec, Paris, Doncières, Venice, and the rest; remembering again all the

places and people that I had known, what I had actually seen of them, and

what others had told me.
At Combray, as every afternoon ended, long before the time when I should

have to go up to bed, and to lie there, unsleeping, far from my mother and

grandmother, my bedroom became the fixed point on which my melancholy and

anxious thoughts were centred. Some one had had the happy idea of giving

me, to distract me on evenings when I seemed abnormally wretched, a magic

lantern, which used to be set on top of my lamp while we waited for

dinner-time to come: in the manner of the master-builders and

glass-painters of gothic days it substituted for the opaqueness of my

walls an impalpable iridescence, supernatural phenomena of many colours,

in which legends were depicted, as on a shifting and transitory window.

But my sorrows were only increased, because this change of lighting

destroyed, as nothing else could have done, the customary impression I had

formed of my room, thanks to which the room itself, but for the torture of

having to go to bed in it, had become quite endurable. For now I no longer

recognised it, and I became uneasy, as though I were in a room in some

hotel or furnished lodging, in a place where I had just arrived, by train,

for the first time.
Riding at a jerky trot, Golo, his mind filled with an infamous design,

issued from the little three-cornered forest which dyed dark-green the

slope of a convenient hill, and advanced by leaps and bounds towards the

castle of poor Geneviève de Brabant. This castle was cut off short by a

curved line which was in fact the circumference of one of the transparent

ovals in the slides which were pushed into position through a slot in the

lantern. It was only the wing of a castle, and in front of it stretched a

moor on which Geneviève stood, lost in contemplation, wearing a blue

girdle. The castle and the moor were yellow, but I could tell their colour

without waiting to see them, for before the slides made their appearance

the old-gold sonorous name of Brabant had given me an unmistakable clue.

Golo stopped for a moment and listened sadly to the little speech read

aloud by my great-aunt, which he seemed perfectly to understand, for he

modified his attitude with a docility not devoid of a degree of majesty,

so as to conform to the indications given in the text; then he rode away

at the same jerky trot. And nothing could arrest his slow progress. If the

lantern were moved I could still distinguish Golo's horse advancing across

the window-curtains, swelling out with their curves and diving into their

folds. The body of Golo himself, being of the same supernatural substance

as his steed's, overcame all material obstacles--everything that seemed to

bar his way--by taking each as it might be a skeleton and embodying it in

himself: the door-handle, for instance, over which, adapting itself at

once, would float invincibly his red cloak or his pale face, never losing

its nobility or its melancholy, never shewing any sign of trouble at such

a transubstantiation.
And, indeed, I found plenty of charm in these bright projections, which

seemed to have come straight out of a Merovingian past, and to shed around

me the reflections of such ancient history. But I cannot express the

discomfort I felt at such an intrusion of mystery and beauty into a room

which I had succeeded in filling with my own personality until I thought

no more of the room than of myself. The anaesthetic effect of custom being

destroyed, I would begin to think and to feel very melancholy things. The

door-handle of my room, which was different to me from all the other

doorhandles in the world, inasmuch as it seemed to open of its own accord

and without my having to turn it, so unconscious had its manipulation

become; lo and behold, it was now an astral body for Golo. And as soon as

the dinner-bell rang I would run down to the dining-room, where the big

hanging lamp, ignorant of Golo and Bluebeard but well acquainted with my

family and the dish of stewed beef, shed the same light as on every other

evening; and I would fall into the arms of my mother, whom the misfortunes

of Geneviève de Brabant had made all the dearer to me, just as the crimes

of Golo had driven me to a more than ordinarily scrupulous examination of

my own conscience.

But after dinner, alas, I was soon obliged to leave Mamma, who stayed

talking with the others, in the garden if it was fine, or in the little

parlour where everyone took shelter when it was wet. Everyone except my

grandmother, who held that "It is a pity to shut oneself indoors in the

country," and used to carry on endless discussions with my father on the

very wettest days, because he would send me up to my room with a book

instead of letting me stay out of doors. "That is not the way to make him

strong and active," she would say sadly, "especially this little man, who

needs all the strength and character that he can get." My father would

shrug his shoulders and study the barometer, for he took an interest in

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