_____The Guermantes Way begins charmingly because it begins, for the most part, with Françoise. The family has moved because grandmother is ill and needs cleaner air. This has taken its toll on Françoise, that arch-conservative, and the narrator hasn't made things easier by mocking her tears at leaving the old apartment. But the narrator has "found it as difficult to assimilate new surroundings as [he] found it easy to abandon old ones," and he gets no sympathy from Françoise:
The so-called sensitivity of neurotics develops along with their egotism; they cannot bear it when other people flaunt the suffering with which they are increasingly preoccupied themselves. Françoise, who would not allow the least of her own troubles to pass unobserved, would turn her head away if I was suffering, so that I should not have the satisfaction of seeing my suffering pitied, let alone noticed.They have moved into an apartment next to that of Mme. de Villeparisis in the Hôtel de Guermantes, and the narrator finds his imagination running wild at the magic name of Guermantes. He is also having "Proustian moments":
[S]hould a sensation from the distant past ... enable our memory to make us hear that name with the particular tone it then had for our ears, even if the name seems not to have changed, we can still feel the distance between the various dreams which its unchanging syllables evoked for us in turn. For a second, rehearing the warbling from some distant springtime, we can extract from it, as from the little tubes of color used in painting, the precise tint -- forgotten, mysterious, and fresh -- of the days we thought we remembered when, like bad painters, we were in fact spreading our whole past on a single canvas and painting it with the conventional monochrome of voluntary memory.That distinction between "voluntary memory" and the spontaneous memories evoked by an unsolicited external sensation (like, say, the taste of a madeleine) is central to Proust. And so the narrator goes into a reverie of Combray and the romantic vision of the "proud race of the Guermantes," dating from "a time when the sky was still empty in those places where Notre-Dame de Paris and Notre-Dame de Chartres were later to rise" that filled his childhood. But Saint-Loup, who belongs to the Guermantes lineage, points out that "the house [near Combray] had borne the name only since the seventeenth century" and that the "famous Guermantes tapestries ... were by Boucher, acquired in the nineteenth century by a Guermantes with artistic tastes and hung, along with mediocre hunting scenes that he had painted himself, in a particularly ugly drawing room." Still, to be living now in the Hôtel de Guermantes, where an actual Duchesse de Guermantes also resides, awakens his romanticism.
Françoise, too, makes the adjustment to the new residence. "Françoise, like those plants that are completely attached to a particular animal and nourished by that animal with food it catches, eats, and digests for them, offering it to them in its final and easily assimilable residue, lived with us symbiotically." She makes the rules for the household, and no one, not even the narrator's father, dares to break them. We also meet M. Jupien, the former waistcoat maker whose niece runs a dressmaking shop that he owns, adjacent to the hôtel, and whom Françoise, "always ready to assimilate new names into the ones she already knew," calls "Julien." The section concludes with Françoise in her element belowstairs.