This is the first installment of a seven-volume French memoir which has been translated into English and published in various editions. Swann's Way is told by an unnamed narrator presumed to be the author.
He begins by remembering his family home in Combray. Their family friends include a Mr. Charles Swann, a local man of high repute who is Jewish. When he visits, he doesn't get his goodnight kiss from his mother, but she reads to him as a kind of consolation. He mentions the reason for this random recollection of the past—a tea and cookie whose precise flavor sent him back into a vivid flashback.
He leaps to another association of the same flavors, memory of his Aunt Leonie. Aunt Leonie is handicapped, and he explores his associations about bodily ability. He mentions traditional people from his past, including the family help, one miss Françoise. As a servant, she was neglected of her education, but the narrator notices that she is not simple or stupid; instead of learning in school, she became morally mature and competent, he remembers. Then he tells of his passion for writing and theater. He especially likes plays, and he admires actors and actresses, especially one particular actress who has not left his mind since the moment he learned of her, named Berma. He thinks about his impressions of people: When his friend introduces him to a writer named Bergotte, he is immediately thankful about that friendship, although the man, Bloch, was quite awkward and unpleasant.
He tells more about the Swann family. Specifically, he tells about his parents attachment to Charles, and he describes watching Gilberte Swann dealing with the controversy of her love affair with Baron de Charlus. He describes witnessing Gilberte dismissing the opinions of her mother, dressed in white. Another country route he often walked was the path to the Guermantes home, where the narrator tells us he was once stunned by witnessing the powerful family and the wife who lived in their lavish home.
The narrator tells a tale of a hostess named Madame Verdurin. She is an authoritarian who demands total propriety at her hotel. There, Odette de Crecy woos Mr. Swann. The narrator explains the relationships of the guests. Among the table there are a medical expert, an academic expert, an artist, and one Forcheville. After some time, Swann realizes that Odette and Forcheville's behavior signifies that something is happening romantically between them. He never recovers, we learn. The narrator ends this first installment with a story that took place in the Champs-Élysées. He meets Gilberte and learns sees Swann and Odette together after all.