Swann's Way (translated by Lydia Davis), pp. 206-220.
The social satire continues with a delicious analysis of the manners and mannerisms of the Verdurins and their circle, including Dr. Cottard, whose social insecurity is such that he tries to greet every statement or question with an "ironic smile that removed all impropriety from his attitude in advance, since he was proving that if the attitude was not a fashionable one he was well aware of it and that if he had adopted it, it was as a joke." Even when invited to a performance by Sarah Bernhardt, Cottard is so unwilling to express an unfashionable opinion that "he entered the box with a smile that was waiting to become more pronounced or to disappear as soon as some authoritative person informed him as to the quality of the entertainment."
Cottard is the perfect foil for Swann, who is at ease in any social situation, "so that toward people of a social circle inferior to his, like the Verdurins and their friends, he instinctively displayed a marked attention, permitted himself to make advances." He asks to be introduced to everyone, including those to whom the Verdurins condescend, sometimes unwarrantedly, such as "Saniette, whose shyness, simplicity, and good nature had lost him all the esteem he had won by his skill as an archivist, his substantial fortune, and the distinguished family he came from."
But Proust also allows us to see what Swann has in common with Cottard, namely a sense that he has been hollowed out by his attempts to adapt to society's expectations. In Swann's case,
He had for so long given up directing his life toward an ideal goal and limited it to the pursuit of everyday satisfactions that ... since his mind no longer entertained any lofty ideas, he had ceased to believe in their reality, though without being able to deny it altogether.As a result, "in his conversation he endeavored never to express with any warmth a personal opinion about things." Or else, very much like Cottard, "give[s] his remarks an ironic tone, as if he did not entirely subscribe to what he was saying."
But there is one thing that opened "in Swann the possibility of a sort of rejuvenation": the "delicious sensation" provoked in him by a piece of music he hears at a soiree. It rouses in him "the presence of one of those invisible realities in which he had ceased to believe and to which, as if the music had had a sort of sympathetic influence on the moral dryness from which he suffered, he felt in himself once again the desire and almost the strength to devote his life."
He has been unable to find out what the piece of music is or who composed it until he hears it again at the Verdurins': "it was the andante from the Sonata for Piano and Violin by Vinteuil."