Page 1. " For a long time I would go to bed early. "

The name of the first-person narrator in Swann's Way is never revealed. The closest Proust comes is in volume five, The Captive, where he writes "if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book..." then calls him Marcel. Although the novel is loosely autobiographical, most critics are wary of calling 'I' 'Marcel', like Proust, in case it causes the reader some confusion between the fictional character of the narrator of In Search of Lost Time and the author. Therefore most people refer to this 'I' as 'the narrator', although this does seem a little clumsy.

Page 1. " the rivalry between François I and Charles V "
Charles V, attrib. Lambert Sustris
Public DomainCharles V, attrib. Lambert Sustris


Francis I by Jean Clouet
Public DomainFrancis I by Jean Clouet
François I (1494-1547), known in English as Francis I, was the first Renaissance king of France. He frequently clashed with Charles V (1500-1558), the Holy Roman Emperor. After defeat at the Battle of Pavia, Francis was captured by Charles and forced to make humiliating concessions to his bitterest rival; he immediately repudiated them upon his release.


Page 8. " at Combray with my great-aunt, at Balbec, Paris, Doncières, Venice "

This is a complete list of all the locations which will appear in the Search. Considering the length of the novel, Proust restricts the action to only a few settings, of which Paris, Balbec and Combray are the most important. By listing these places here Proust is literally 'setting the scene' for what is to come.

Page 9. " the castle of poor Geneviève de Brabant "

In the medieval story of Geneviève de Brabant, the chaste Geneviève is falsely accused of infidelity by a rejected suitor, Golo. She is sentenced to death and escapes to the forest, spending six years hiding in a cave, cared for by a roe. Meanwhile, her husband Siegfried discovers Golo's treachery; after six years he finds her by following the roe to the cave where is she lives. The story was made into an operetta by Offenbach in 1859.

Page 9. " from a Merovingian past "
The Merovingians by Evariste-Vital Luminais
Public DomainThe Merovingians by Evariste-Vital Luminais

The Merovingians were a dynasty of French kings founded in 481 by Clovis I, and lasting until 768. Proust was fascinated by them, and they had the same sort of romantic associations for him as the mythical Arthurian times had for contemporary Victorians in England.

Sixth Century Merovingian coin (233 * 240)
Public DomainSixth Century Merovingian coin
Page 12. " Mamma would come in and kiss me after I was in bed "

The narrator's childhood fixation with his mother has been read in Freudian terms as an Oedipal complex (a sexual fixation with the mother and a corresponding desire to murder the father). However, Freud had no direct influence on Proust's work, although they were interested in similar ideas: the influence of childhood, involuntary memory, and the role of the unconscious.

Page 14. " fair, almost red hair, done in the Bressant style "
Charles Haas, one of Proust's models for Swann
Public DomainCharles Haas, one of Proust's models for Swann
Jean Baptiste Prosper Bressant (1815–1886) was a famous actor who played in Paris and St Petersburg. He introduced a hairstyle which was short at the front and longer at the back, seemingly an unfortunate forerunner of the modern mullet.

Several of Proust's friends are considered the models for Charles Swann, including Charles Haas and Charles Ephrussi.

Page 16. " one of the most distinguished members of the Jockey Club "

The Jockey-Club de Paris was a gathering place for the most celebrated members of nineteenth century Parisian society. It was above the terribly fashionable Grand Café, now the site of the Hotel Scribe at 1 Rue Scribe in Paris.

Page 16. " the aristocratic world of the Faubourg Saint-Germain "
Élisabeth, comtesse Greffulhe, one of Proust's models for the Duchess de Guermantes
Public DomainÉlisabeth, Comtesse Greffulhe, one of Proust's models for the Duchesse de Guermantes

The Faubourg Saint-Germain was not simply an address in nineteenth century Paris; the phrase also referred to the aristocratic social class, a society of the elite with which Proust was fascinated. The height of this world is represented in Swann's Way by the character of the Duchesse de Guermantes and by the 'Guermantes Way', the walk around Combray. 

Page 18. " on terms of intimacy with Aristaeus "

Aristaeus by François-Joseph Bosio
Public DomainAristaeus by François-Joseph Bosio
Aristaeus, son of Apollo, was a minor god in Greek mythology who was credited with the knowledge of bee-keeping, cheese-making, and cultivating olives.

Page 18. " the realms of Thetis "

In Greek mythology, a sea-nymph with shape-shifting abilities. She was also worshipped as a God in some parts of Greece. She is known as the mother of Achilles, who dipped him into the waters of the Styx, making him immortal but for the heel with which she held him.

Page 19. " a nice sort of princess "

In French, 'princesse' does not necessarily mean the daughter of a king or queen, but also of a duke or marquis. There were therefore a lot of princesses floating around Parisian high society at this time.

Page 21. " Sévigné would not have put it better "
Sévigné by Claude Lefebvre
Public DomainSévigné by Claude Lefebvre

Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné (1626-1696) was a celebrated letter-writer. Many of her letters were addressed to her daughter. Proust's mother and grandmother were fans, and would often quote her work to each other.

Page 22. " related to Marshal MacMahon "
Official portrait of MacMahon
Public DomainOfficial portrait of MacMahon

Patrice de MacMahon (1808-93) was the first president of the Third Republic from 1875-79. He commanded the army during the Franco-Prussian War (which France lost) and led the brutal suppression of the Paris Commune. His presidency of France was not considered a success.

He was known for making unfortunate gaffes, such as saying "typhoid fever is a terrible sickness. Either you die from it or you become an idiot. And I know what I'm talking about, I had it."