Part II, Chapter I, from "I caught sight of Swann, and wanted..." to "...snatch the fateful palm and march at the head."
The narrator sees Swann greeting the Prince de Guermantes in the garden, but, "with the force of a suction pump," being taken away by the Prince, "certain persons informed me, 'in order to show him the door.'" But as surprised as the reader might be by this incident, the narrator makes no further comment on it at this point, instead turning his characteristically minute attention to "Hubert Robert's celebrated fountain," and to the drenching Mme. d'Arpajon receives when a gust of wind blows it her way.
He is then pulled aside by Charlus, who offers his hand and says, "It's nice to see you here." And then he adds, "but above all it's very comic." His "roars of laughter" draws attention from people who, "knowing both how hard of access he was and how liable to insolent 'outburst,' approached in curiosity and then, with an almost indecent haste, took to their heels."
The narrator leaves the garden and returns to the house, where he is met by the Princesse, who notes that he will be dining with her and the Duchesse at the Queen of Italy's, where there will be all sorts of royalty. She says, "'It'll be most intimidating,' out of sheer silliness, which, among society people, even outweighs their vanity." Then the Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes arrive, but the narrator is prevented from going to see them by the Turkish ambassadress, who had previously assured him that the Duc was gay and who now praises the Princesse after having scorned her at the Duchesse's dinner party. Her hypocrisy annoys the narrator.
Again, he observes the façade of egalitarianism that the Guermantes are capable of assuming:
"But you are our equal, if not better," the Guermantes seemed, by all their actions, to be saying; and they said it in the nicest way imaginable, so as to be liked and admired, but not so as to be believed; to tease out the fictitious nature of this amiability was to have been what they called well brought up; to believe that amiability to be real was to lack breeding.
The narrator proves this point for himself on another occasion when, seeing the Duc beckoning to him across the room, he responds only with a deep bow and doesn't join him. "I might have written a masterpiece, and the Guermantes would have done me less honor than for that low bow," for the Duchesse makes a special point of mentioning to the narrator's mother how impressed the Duc had been by it.
He now overhears M. de Vaugoubert and Charlus in a conversation about which guests might be gay. Not that Vaugoubert is likely to act on the information: "The diplomatic career had had the same effect on his life as if he had taken holy orders." Then the narrator and the Duchesse are approached by Mme. Timoléon d'Amoncourt, who had a sort of literary salon and who now makes her way in society by distributing among its members letters and manuscripts she has been given by famous authors. She tells the Duchesse that she has a letter in which D'Annunzio praises her beauty and that she has some manuscripts by Ibsen she wants to give her. She also claims to have met the narrator at the Princess of Parma's, where he has never been, and that "The Russian Emperor would like your father to be sent to Petersburg." He learns that "She always had a state secret to reveal to you, a potentate whom you must meet, a watercolor by a master to offer you. There was an element of falsehood certainly in all these futile attractions, but they made of her life a comedy of scintillating complexity, and it was a fact that she had secured the appointment of precepts and generals."
The Duchesse's status in society is demonstrated as they walk "between a double hedge of guests who, aware that they would never get to know 'Oriane,' wanted at least, as a curiosity, to point her out to their wives." The narrator notes that the Duchesse's salon included people whom the Princesse would never have been able to invite, because of the Prince's anti-Semitism. The Princesse could not invite Mme. Alphonse de Rothschild or Baron Hirsch, "whom the Prince of Wales had brought to [the Duchesse's] house but not to that of the Princesse." And here we get a hint of what may have happened between the Prince and Swann earlier:
His anti-Semitism ... made no concessions to the fashionable, however highly accredited, and if he received Swann, whose friend he had been from a long way back, ... it was because, knowing that Swann's grandmother, a Protestant married to a Jew, had been the mistress of the Duc de Berry, he tried, from time to time, to believe in the legend that had it that Swann's father was an illegitimate son of the Prince. On this hypothesis, which was, however, false, Swann, the son of a Catholic, who had himself been the son of a Bourbon and a Catholic woman, was Christian through and through.
Next, the Duchesse sights Mme. de Saint-Euverte, who has, through a careful process of elimination, created a celebrated salon. "But the fact was that the pre-eminence of the Saint-Euverte salon existed only for those whose social life consists merely in reading the accounts of matinées and soirées in Le Gaulois or Le Figaro, without ever having been to any of them." Such readers imagined "the Saint-Euverte salon to be the first in Paris, whereas it was one of the last." The Duchesse wonders why the Princesse "should invite us here with all these dregs."