Remembrance of Things Past

by Marcel Proust

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Characters Discussed

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Marcel

Marcel (mahr-SEHL), the narrator, who tells the story of his life from unsettled childhood to disillusioned middle age. Dealing with time lost and time recalled, Marcel says, as he looks back to a crucial childhood experience when his mother spent the night in his room instead of scolding him for his insomnia, that memory eliminates precisely that great dimension of time that governs the fullest realization of our lives. Through the years, from his memory of that childhood experience to his formulation of this concept of time, Marcel sees the principals of two social sets spurn each other, then intermingle with the change of fortunes. He experiences love in various forms: an innocent affair with a friend’s daughter, an adolescent passion for the friend’s coquettish wife, an intermittent love affair with a lesbian. He develops friendships and animosities among individuals in the different social levels on which he moves. Reminded, by seeing the daughter of his childhood sweetheart, that he is old, he realizes the futility of his life and senses the ravages of time on everyone he has known.

M. Swann

M. Swann, a wealthy broker and aesthete, a friend of Marcel’s parents. Swann, having known the comte de Paris and the prince of Wales, moves from level to level in the social milieu. Having married beneath his station, he knows that wealth sustains his social position and keeps his fickle wife dependent on him. Jealous and unhappy in courtship and marriage, he manipulates social situations by cultivating officers and politicians who will receive his wife. He dies, his life having been as meaningless as Marcel sees his own to be; in fact, Marcel sees in his own life a close parallel to that of his sensitive friend.

Mme Swann

Mme Swann, formerly Odette de Crécy, a courtesan. A woman whose beauty is suggestive of Botticelli’s paintings, she is attractive to both men and women. Stupid and uncomprehending, Odette continues affairs with other men after her comfortable marriage. She introduces Swann to the social set below his own. Despite her beginnings, she moves to higher levels and becomes a celebrated, fashionable hostess when she remarries after Swann’s death.

Gilberte Swann

Gilberte Swann (zheel-BEHR), the Swanns’ daughter and Marcel’s playmate in Paris. Their relationship develops into an innocent love affair, and they remain constant good friends after Gilberte’s marriage to Marcel’s close friend, Robert de Saint-Loup. The sight of Gilberte’s daughter, grown up, reminds Marcel that he himself is aging.

Mme de Villeparisis

Mme de Villeparisis (deh veel-pah-ree-SEE), a society matron and the friend of Marcel’s grandmother. It is said that her father ruined himself for her, a renowned beauty when she was young. She has become a dreadful, blowsy, hunched-up old woman; her physical deterioration is comparable to the decline of her friends’ spiritual selves.

Robert de Saint-Loup

Robert de Saint-Loup (roh-BEHR deh sah[n]-LEW), her nephew, whom she introduces to Marcel. Their meeting is the beginning of a friendship that lasts until Robert’s death in World War I. In his courtship and marriage, Robert suffers from the same insecurity, resulting in jealousy, that plagues Swann and Marcel in their relations with women. He marries Gilberte Swann.

M. de Charlus

M. de Charlus (deh shahr-LEW), another of Mme de Villeparisis’ nephews, a baron. The baron, as he is usually called, is a sexual “invert” who has affairs with men of many different stations in life. In his aberration, the baron is both fascinating and repulsive to Marcel, who makes homosexuality a chief discussion in the volume Cities of...

(This entire section contains 1282 words.)

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the Plain. The baron’s depravity leads to senile old age.

Mme Verdurin

Mme Verdurin (vehr-dew-RA[N]), a vulgar person of the bourgeoisie who, with her husband, pretends to despise the society to which they have no entrée. Odette introduces Swann to the Verdurins. Mme Verdurin crosses social lines as she comes into money and marries into the old aristocracy after her first husband dies. The middle-class Verdurins seem to surround themselves with talented individuals, and many of their guests become outstanding in their professions and arts.

The Prince de Guermantes

The Prince de Guermantes (deh gehr-MAH[N]T) and

The Princess de Guermantes

The Princess de Guermantes, members of the old aristocracy, the family used by Proust in the volume The Guermantes Way to delineate the social classes. The Guermantes represent the aristocratic group, as opposed to the moneyed society described in Swann’s Way. After the princess dies, the prince, ruined by the war, marries widowed Mme Verdurin. Their union is further evidence of social mobility.

The Duke de Guermantes

The Duke de Guermantes and

The Duchess de Guermantes

The Duchess de Guermantes, members of the same family. After Odette’s rise on the social scale, the duchess is received in Odette’s salon. In earlier years, the duchess left parties to avoid meeting the vulgar social climber.

Albertine

Albertine (ahl-behr-TEEN), a lesbian attracted by and to Marcel. Over an extended period of time, their affair takes many turns. Marcel seeks comfort from her when his grandmother dies; he is unhappy with her and wretched without her; his immaturity drives her from him and back to her home in Balbec. A posthumous letter to Marcel, after Albertine is killed in a fall from a horse, tells of her intention to return to him.

Marcel’s grandmother

Marcel’s grandmother, a woman known and revered in both the aristocratic and the merely fashionable social sets. Marcel loves and respects her, and her death brings into focus for him the emptiness in the lives of his smart, wealthy friends.

M. Vinteiul

M. Vinteiul (va[n]-TOY), an old composer in Combray. He dies in shame because of his daughter’s association with a woman of questionable character. Unhappy in his own life, Vinteiul’s music brings pleasure to many. Among those affected is Swann, moved to marry Odette, his mistress, because he associates the charm of Vinteiul’s exquisite sonatas with the beauty of the cocotte. Marcel, also captured by the spirit of Vinteiul’s music, senses its effect on various listeners.

Rachel

Rachel (rah-SHEHL), a young Jewish actress who becomes famous. Although she is Robert de Saint-Loup’s mistress, she despises him because of his simplicity, breeding, and good taste. Rachel likes the aesthetic charlatans she considers superior to her devoted lover.

Dr. Cottard

Dr. Cottard (koh-TAHR), a social boor because of his tiresome punning and other ineptitudes, a guest at the Verdurins’ parties. He becomes a noted surgeon, professionally admired.

Elstir

Elstir (ehl-STEER), a young man Marcel meets at the Verdurins’. He becomes a painter of genius.

Mme de Saint-Euverte

Mme de Saint-Euverte (deh sah[n]-tew-VEHRT), a hostess whose parties attract both the old and new friends of Swann, to his displeasure at times.

The Princess des Launes

The Princess des Launes (day lohn), a longtime friend of Swann and a guest in Mme de Saint-Euverte’s salon. She is distressed at her friend’s unhappiness, caused by lowering himself to Odette’s level.

Morel

Morel (moh-REHL), the musician who, at the Vendurins’ party, plays Vinteiul’s compositions. Morel is a protege of the baron de Charlus.

Jupien

Jupien (zhew-PYAH[N]), a tailor. After becoming the object of de Charlus’ affection, he establishes a house for affairs among men.

M. de Norpoie

M. de Norpoie (deh nohr-PWAH), an ambassador who, as Marcel finally realizes, has been Mme de Villeparisis’ lover for many years.

Aunt Léonie

Aunt Léonie (lay-oh-NEE), Marcel’s aunt. At the end, he likens himself to her as he recalls her from his childhood, when she had become an old hypochondriac.

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