Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Verdurin salon (VEHR-duhr-ihn). Gathering place hosted by Madame Verdurin, a rich social climber of no consequence who accumulates a dubious group of people in her expensive home for regular soirées. The Verdurins represent the second-rate society world, on the edge of the smartest Paris hierarchy. Madame Verdurin’s guests are a mixed bag of the newly rich; young gentlemen looking for a good time, often slumming with people of lesser social position; professional men of some repute but socially unimportant; young artists, musicians, and the occasional fashionable prostitute. Marcel occasionally visits the Verdurins, associating below his station. A silly, vindictive, stupid woman, Madame Verdurin represents in her salon the vulgarity of the bourgeoisie. However, she manages in the long run of life to ascend, because of her wealth (after the death of her equally vulgar husband), and marry an aristocrat, with whom she enters the salons of the nobility.
*Champs-Elysees Garden (shahn-zay-leh-ZAY). Park in the center of Paris where Marcel plays as a child and where he becomes a friend of Gilberte, the daughter of Swann and Odette. This relationship, innocent and natural in its beginning, establishes a pattern of conduct in Marcel which is to be repeated over and over in his involvement with women. The edenic surroundings and the unaffected attraction of the children to each other gradually sours as Marcel becomes obsessively possessive and jealous and finally refuses to have anything more to do with Odette. The park is also a common meeting place for the adult lovers in the novel.
Combray. Small French town, based on Illiers, a real town southwest of Paris, near the cathedral city of Chartres. (The real town is now known as Illiers-Combray because of the fame of Proust’s novel.) Swann’s Way, the first volume of Proust’s series of books, begins with Marcel remembering an incident of childish willfulness that occurred while he was still a young child staying with his parents at his great-aunt Leonie’s home in the country, and the ruminative course of the entire novel is set with that story. Combray is a place of childhood pleasure for Marcel, and there is an aura of simple, rural religious belief in the landscape over which the church towers of the town and surrounding villages rise. It is here that Marcel for the first time sees Gilberte, Swann’s daughter, who will later become the first love of his life.
The town also represents two of the major social groups in the novel; the paths in the village lead to two separate aspects of French society: the Guermantes Way passes the château of the Duke of Guermantes, Combray’s ancient aristocratic family, and Swann’s Way passes the great house and park of Swann, a popular Parisian playboy.
Balbec. Fictional version of the summer resorts on France’s Normandy coast–such as Dieppe, Trouville, and Cabourg–where Proust spent his summer months during his teens. Here Marcel first responds to the mysteries of sexual desire and watches at close hand the ways in which high society and the remnants of the aristocracy come into sometimes intimate and sometimes improper contact with one another, and occasionally with members of the servant class–another thematic interest in the work.
Also at Balbec, Marcel begins his personal connections with the aristocracy through his grandmother, a familiar of some of the older nobility. Robert de Saint Loup, an aristocrat, becomes his closest friend and is ultimately to marry Swann’s daughter, an example of the theme of the crossing relations of high society (here at its most questionable, given that Gilberte’s mother was a prostitute and her father a Jew). Two further thematic lines are also developed: Marcel’s relations to women start here with a group of young girls whom he admires; one, Albertine, is to become his first adult love.