The Guermantes Way opens with the Narrator and his family, along with their servant Françoise, from Combray, living in an apartment in the Guermantes's Paris mansion. He is invited to a social event hosted by a member of the Guermantes family and becomes acquainted with its various members, who form the most exclusive aristocratic gatherings in Paris.
At first dazzled by high society, he eventually becomes disillusioned. His beloved grandmother dies. He continues to make no progress in realizing his ambition to become a writer. We learn that Swann is terminally ill, in a famous scene that illustrates the sheer vanity of the duc and duchesse of Guermantes.
The first, nearly 300 pages, of Within a Budding Grove is called Madame Swann at Home and is actually the final section of Swann’s Way, as originally conceived by Proust. Novels of that era were usually fairly short in length and Proust had written one that was easily five or six times the normal number of pages.
Saint-Loup comes to Paris, having promised Marcel to take him to Mme de Villeparisis’s, where Marcel hopes to meet Mme de Guermantes. On the way to meet Saint-Loup, Marcel encounters Legrandin, whom he had not seen since his Combray days. Legrandin launches into a bitter diatribe against the nobles and concludes with a condemnation of Marcel himself for seeking out such company—and since Legrandin himself has literary ambitions—he denounces Marcel for admiring Bergotte’s novels.
Charlus catches up with Marcel on the staircase: I heard a voice calling out to me from behind. “So this is how you wait for me, is it?” It was M. de Charlus. If we look carefully, we can see hints of Charlus’s ulterior motives and his true nature. As the conversation progresses, Charlus says that there is nothing so agreeable as to put oneself out for a person who is worth one’s while. But he will need to determine whether or not Marcel is in that category.
the eye of the artist
Marcel arrives at the Guermantes’s for dinner. It is the duke who shows him in and whose politeness charms him. Marcel realizes that this is a form of noblesse oblige: Even with certain personages of the court of Louis XIV, when we find signs of courtesy in letters written by them to some man of inferior rank who could be of no service to them whatever, these letters leave us astonished because they reveal to us suddenly in these great noblemen a whole world of beliefs which they never directly express but which govern their conduct, and in particular the belief that they are bound in politeness to feign certain sentiments and to exercise with the most scrupulous care certain obligations of civility.