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The Guermantes Way, by Marcel Proust

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Entre la couleur grise et douce d’une campagne matinale et le goût d’une tasse de chocolat, je faisais tenir toute l’originalité de la vie physique, intellectuelle et morale que j’avais apportée une année environ auparavant à Doncières, et qui, blasonnée de la forme oblongue d’une colline pelée — toujours présente même quand elle était invisible — formait en moi une série de plaisirs entièrement distincts de tous autres, indicibles à des amis en ce sens que les impressions richement tissées les unes dans les autres qui les orchestraient les caractérisaient bien plus pour moi et à mon insu que les faits que j’aurais pu raconter. À ce point de vue le monde nouveau dans lequel le brouillard de ce matin m’avait plongé était un monde déjà connu de moi (ce qui ne lui donnait que plus de vérité), et oublié depuis quelque temps (ce qui lui rendait toute sa fraîcheur). Et je pus regarder quelques-uns des tableaux de bruine que ma mémoire avait acquis, notamment des « Matin à Doncières », soit le premier jour au quartier, soit, une autre fois, dans un château voisin où Saint-Loup m’avait emmené passer vingt-quatre heures, de la fenêtre dont j’avais soulevé les rideaux à l’aube, avant de me recoucher, dans le premier un cavalier, dans le second (à la mince lisière d’un étang et d’un bois dont tout le reste était englouti dans la douceur uniforme et liquide de la brume) un cocher en train d’astiquer une courroie, m’étaient apparus comme ces rares personnages, à peine distincts pour l’œil obligé de s’adapter au vague mystérieux des pénombres, qui émergent d’une fresque effacée. Between the soft grey light of a morning landscape and the taste of a cup of chocolate I instated all that was distinctive about the physical, intellectual and moral life I had taken with me to Doncières about a year earlier and which, blazoned with the oblong shape of a bare hillside — always present even when it was invisible — represented a series of pleasures that were utterly distinct from any others, incommunicable to friends in the sense that the impressions, richly interwoven with one another, which orchestrated them were more typical of them for me, in an unconscious way, than any facts about them I could have related to others. From this point of view the new world into which I had been plunged by the morning mist was a world already known to me (which only made it more real) and forgotten for some time (which restored all its freshness). And I was able to study several of the pictures of misty landscapes acquired by my memory, notably a series of 'Mornings in Doncières', including my first morning in the barracks there and another in a nearby country house where I had gone with Saint-Loup to spend the night: from the windows of both, when I had drawn back the curtains at dawn before getting back into bed, in the first a cavalryman, in the second (at the narrow margin of a pond and a wood, all the rest of which was engulfed in the uniform and liquid softness of the mist) a coachman polishing a harness strap, had appeared like those rare figures, scarcely visible to the eye — forced to adapt itself to the mysterious blur of the half-light — which emerge from a worn fresco.
And so Marcel heads back to Paris, to the glittering salons of Duchess this and Princess that, but a society that is also being riven apart by the Dreyfus case. (Which Anne Applebaum chillingly referred to in an article about contemporary European politics last week.) There are two big set-piece dinner parties here, which occupy almost half of a very long book between them, and Proust does rather well at showing both the snobbishness of the upper classes and his own inability to push back against it as he perhaps felt he should, partly because he is agonising over his own love affairs and infatuations (mostly with women - Albertine returns - but inclduing a fairly overt bromance with his friend Saint-Loup). Somewhat lower marks, I’m afraid, for punching down at the comical servants and their funny ways of talking. But this is good solid stuff. I have reached the half-way point, and you know what? I’m a lot less intimidated by it this time round. You can get it here.

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