_____Françoise is the narrator's principal source of information about their new home. She tells him
that the Guermantes did not occupy their hôtel because of some immemorial right, but were fairly recent tenants, and that the garden they overlooked on the side that was unknown to me was quite small and no different from all the other neighboring gardens; so I discovered at last that it contained no feudal gallows or fortified mill, no fishpond or pillared dovecote, no communal bakehouse, tithe barn, or fortress, no fixed bridges or drawbridges, not even flying bridges or toll bridges, no pointed towers, wall charters, or commemorative mounds.Nevertheless, he persists in his fascination with the name "Guermantes," and the images it rouses in his imagination, and is further intrigued when a friend of his father's says of the Duchesse: "She has the highest status in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. Hers is the leading house in the Faubourg." He recalls how his glimpse of her in the church at Combray had been disillusioning at first, "like a god or a nymph changed into a swan or a willow and henceforth subjected to natural laws." His frequent sightings of her now as she comes and goes from the hôtel could also be disillusioning:
she played out the role, so unworthy of her, of a fashionable woman; and in this mythological obliviousness of her native grandeur, she checked the position of her veil, smoothed her cuffs, arranged her cape, as the divine swan goes through all the movements of his animal species, keeps his painted eyes on either side of his beak without any sign of movement in them, and then darts suddenly after a button or an umbrella, behaving like a swan and forgetting that he is a god.But he persists in wanting to "know what was really enclosed within the brilliant orange-colored envelope of her name." He is amazed "that this leading salon of the Faubourg Saint-Germain was situated on the Right Bank and the fact that, every morning, from my bedroom, I could hear its carpets being beaten." Nor is he fazed by the arrogance of the Duc de Guermantes, "who stood there on the pavement, a giant, enormous in his light-colored clothes, a cigar between his teeth, his head in the air, his monocle alert," waiting for the horse that would take him to "his mistress in the Champs-Élysées."
Françoise continues to be a conduit for information about the family that she gleans from the servants, including the Duchesse's plans to visit the Duchesse de Guise at Cannes and her attending the Opéra in the box of the Princess of Parma. (Françoise also reports that "there had been a good deal of talk in society about the marriage of the Marquis de Saint-Loup to Mlle d'Ambresac, and that it was virtually settled.")
And then the narrator comes in possession of a ticket to a gala at the Opéra, where La Berma will be doing an act from Phèdre. His disappointment at his first experience of La Berma's performance makes that part of the gala of less interest to him than the opportunity to glimpse society in its element. And as he waits for the gala to begin, he, like others in the orchestra, gawks at the "white deities" in the boxes, imagining them as "water goddesses," as "radiant daughters of the sea ... constantly turning round to smile at the bearded tritons who hung from the anfractuous rocks of the ocean depths, or at some aquatic demigod, whose skull was a polished stone, around which the tide had washed up a smooth deposit of seaweed, and whose gaze was a disc of rock crystal." (In other words, a balding man with a monocle.)
The Princesse de Guermantes, in her parterre box, particularly draws his attention.
The imagination being like a barrel organ that does not work properly and always plays a different tune from the one it should, every time I had heard anyone mention the Princesse de Guermantes-Bavière, a recollection of certain sixteenth-century masterpieces began to sing in my head. I was forced to rid myself of the association now that I saw her there before me, offering crystallized fruit to a stout gentleman in tails.And then the performance of the act from Phèdre begins.