_____The narrator is struck by the "traces of ancient grandeur" in the Duc de Guermantes when he welcomes him to the Duchesse's dinner party. If he and the Duchesse are in fact separating, they give no sign of it. The Duc greets the narrator warmly, and when the latter expresses interest in the Elstirs they possess, he is shown into the room where they hang and left there while the Duc goes to greet other guests. And so, "the moment I was left alone with the Elstirs, I completely forgot about time and dinner," keeping the other guests waiting for forty-five minutes as he reflects on what he's seeing.
He notes that "several of the ones that society people found most absurd interested me more than the rest, because they re-created the optical illusions that make it clear that we should never be able to identify objects if we did not have recourse to some process of reasoning." And in keeping with the novel's treatment of the evanescence of key moments in time, he reflects of a painting:
But precisely because that moment had such a forceful impact, the fixity of the canvas conveyed the impression of something highly elusive: you felt that the lady would soon return home, the boats vanish from the scene, the shadow shift, night begin to fall; that pleasure fades away, that life passes, and that the instant, illuminated by multiple and simultaneous plays of light, cannot be recaptured.When he enters the drawing room, he is embarrassed to discover how long he has kept the other guests waiting for their dinner. But he learns that in this circle, maintaining the appearance of being unperturbed by other people's conduct is important. And soon he's face-to-face with an awkward expression of noblesse oblige, when the Duc conducts him over to "a lady of rather diminutive proportions" who acts as if they are old friends. He can't place her, but her manner toward him makes him feel as if he should, and he even says, "Ah, madame, of course! How happy Mama will be to hear that we've met again!"
They haven't met, of course, but after some awkward moments of searching for some clue to her identity,
I recognized what sort of species of creature I was dealing with. Someone of royal blood. She had never once heard of my family or myself, but, as a daughter of the noblest race and someone with the greatest fortune in the world (she was the daughter of the Prince of Parma and had married an equally princely cousin), she was always anxious, out of gratitude to her Creator, to prove to her neighbor, however poor or humble he might be, that she did not look down on him.The Princess of Parma is not the only guest to treat the narrator this way, or to be "so humbly amiable that it did not take more than a moment to sense the lofty pride from which such amiability stemmed." He also notes that "as the reader will learn, I was later to know highnesses and majesties of a quite different sort, queens who play at being queens and speak not after the conventions of their kind, but like queens in Sardou's plays."
The attention being directed at the narrator attracts the notice of one of the late-arriving guests, the Comte Hannibal de Bréauté-Consalvi, who peers anxiously at the narrator through his monocle. And even when the Duc introduces him. the Comte remains none the wiser, concluding that the narrator must be some kind of celebrity: "It was utterly typical of Oriane, who had the knack of attracting to her salon men who were in the public eye -- one of them to a hundred of her own, of course, otherwise the tone would have been lowered." And so M. de Bréauté continues to treat the narrator with exaggerated respect, like "someone who found himself face-to-face with one of the 'natives' of an undiscovered country on which his raft had landed, from whom, in the hope of gain, he would endeavor, as he observed their customs with interest and made sure he maintained demonstrations of friendship by uttering loud cries of benevolence like themselves, to obtain ostrich eggs and spices in exchange for glass beads."
Finally, they go in to dinner.