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[Indeed! And do you know anyone at Balbec?]“ 'Indeed! And do you know anyone at Balbec?' inquired my father. 'As it happens, this young man is going to spend a couple of months there with his grandmother, and my wife too, perhaps.'

“Legrandin, taken unawares by this question at a moment when he was looking directly at my father, as unable to avert his eyes, and so fastened them with steadily increasing intensity – smiling mournfully the while – upon the eyes of his questioner, with an air of friendliness and frankness and of not being afraid to look him in the face, until he seemed to have penetrated my father's skull as if it had become transparent, and to be seeing at that moment when he was asked whether he knew anyone at Balbec, he had been thinking of something else and so had not heard the question. As a rule such tactics make the questioner proceed to ask, 'Why, what are you thinking about?' But my father, inquisitive, irritated and cruel, repeated: 'Have you friends, then, in the neighborhood, since you know Balbec so well?”

“In a final and desperate effort, Legrandin's smiling gaze struggled to the extreme limits of tenderness, vagueness, candour and abstraction; but feeling no doubt that there was nothing left for it now but to answer, he said to us: 'I have friends wherever there are clusters of trees, stricken but not defeated, which have come together with touching perseverance to offer a common supplication to an inclement sky which has no mercy upon them.'

“ 'That is not quite what I meant,' interrupted my father, as obstinate as the trees and as merciless as the sky. 'I asked you, in case anything should happen to my mother-in-law and she wanted to feel that she was not all alone there in an out-of-the-way place, whether you knew anyone in the neighbourhood.'

“ 'There, as elsewhere, I know everyone and I know no one,' replied Legrandin, who did not give in so easily.”

Swann's Way, “Combray,” p. 183-185


The ten-page passage about M. Legrandin, who is a terrible snob but cannot admit it even to himself and so weaves an elaborate mythology of his own independent and poetic nature whenever he is asked whether he knows someone, is the funniest thing I have read so far in 2016. It was lucky for me that there was no one in the store when I first read it, so I could just put my head down on the counter until I had partially recovered from the image of Legrandin writhing under the invisible arrows of his own unspeakable self-awareness "like a Saint Sebastian of snobbery."

"My father raised the subject again at our subsequent meetings, torturing him with questions, but it was labour in vain: like that scholarly swindler who devoted to the fabrication of forged palimpsests a wealth of skill and knowledge and industry the hundredth part of which would have sufficed to establish him in a more lucrative but honourable profession, M. Legrandin, had we insisted further, would in the end have constructed a whole system of landscape ethics and a celestial geography of Lower Normandy sooner than admit to us that his own sister was living within a mile or two of Balbec, sooner than find himself obliged to offer us a letter of introduction[. . .]"

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