The Narrator's household
The Narrator: A sensitive young man who wishes to become a writer, whose identity is kept vague. In volume 5, The Prisoner, he addresses the reader thus: "Now she began to speak; her first words were 'darling' or 'my darling,' followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would produce 'darling Marcel' or 'my darling Marcel.'" (Proust, 64)
The Narrator's father: A diplomat who initially discourages the Narrator from writing.
The Narrator's mother: A supportive woman who worries for her son's career.
Bathilde Amédée: The narrator's grandmother. Her life and death greatly influence her daughter and grandson.
Aunt Leonie: A sickly woman whom the Narrator visits during stays at Combray.
Uncle Adolphe: The Narrator's great-uncle, who has many actress friends.
Françoise: The narrator's faithful, stubborn maid.
Palamède, Baron de Charlus: An aristocratic, decadent aesthete with many antisocial habits. Model is Robert de Montesquiou.
Oriane, Duchesse de Guermantes: The toast of Paris high society. She lives in the fashionable Faubourg St. Germain. Models are Comtesse Greffulhe and Comtesse de Chevigné as well as Hermine de Clermont-Tonnerre [Duchesse de Clermont-Tonnerre].
Robert de Saint-Loup: An army officer and the narrator's best friend. Despite his patrician birth (he is the nephew of M. de Guermantes) and affluent lifestyle, Saint-Loup has no great fortune of his own until he marries Gilberte. Models are Gaston de Cavaillet and Clement de Maugny.
Marquise de Villeparisis: The aunt of the Baron de Charlus. She is an old friend of the Narrator's grandmother.
Basin, Duc de Guermantes: Oriane's husband and Charlus's brother. He is a pompous man with a succession of mistresses.
Prince de Guermantes: The cousin of the Duc and Duchess.
Princesse de Guermantes: Wife of the Prince.
Charles Swann: A friend of the narrator's family (he is modelled on at least two of Proust's friends, Charles Haas and Charles Ephrussi). His political views on the Dreyfus Affair and marriage to Odette ostracize him from much of high society.
Odette de Crécy: A beautiful Parisian courtesan. Odette is also referred to as Mme Swann, the woman in pink/white, and in the final volume, Mme de Forcheville.
Gilberte Swann: The daughter of Swann and Odette. She takes the name of her adopted father, M. de Forcheville, after Swann's death, and then becomes Mme de Saint-Loup following her marriage to Robert de Saint-Loup, which joins Swann's Way and the Guermantes Way.
Elstir: A famous painter whose renditions of sea and sky echo the novel's theme of the mutability of human life. Modeled on James Whistler.
Bergotte: A well-known writer whose works the narrator has admired since childhood. The models are Anatole France and Paul Bourget
Vinteuil: An obscure musician who gains posthumous recognition for composing a beautiful, evocative sonata.
Berma: A famous actress who specializes in roles by Racine.
The Verdurins' "Little Clan"
Madame Verdurin (Sidonie Verdurin): A poseur and a salonnière who rises to the top of society through inheritance, marriage, and sheer single-mindedness. One of the models is Madame Arman de Caillavet.
M. Verdurin: The husband of Mme Verdurin, who is her faithful accomplice.
Cottard: A doctor who is very good at his work.
Brichot: A pompous academic.
Saniette: A palaeographer who is subjected to ridicule by the clan.
M. Biche: A painter who is later revealed to be Elstir.
The "little band" of Balbec girls
Albertine Simonet: A privileged orphan of average beauty and intelligence. The narrator's romance with her is the subject of much of the novel.
Andrée: Albertine's friend, whom the Narrator occasionally feels attracted to.
Gisele: Another member of the little band.
Octave: Also known as "I'm a wash-out", a rich boy who leads an idle existence at Balbec and is involved with several of the girls.
Charles Morel: The son of a former servant of the narrator's uncle and a gifted violinist. He profits greatly from the patronage of the Baron de Charlus and later Robert de Saint-Loup. Model is Lucien Daudet.
Rachel: A prostitute and actress who is the mistress of Robert de Saint-Loup.
Marquis de Norpois: A diplomat and friend of the Narrator's father. He is involved with Mme de Villeparisis.
Albert Bloch: A pretentious Jewish friend of the Narrator.
Jupien: A tailor who has a shop in the courtyard of the Guermantes hotel. He lives with his niece.
Madame Bontemps: Albertine's aunt and guardian.
LeGrandin: A snobbish friend of the Narrator's family.
Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer: Provincial aristocrats who live near Balbec. Mme de Cambremer is LeGrandin's sister.
Mlle Vinteuil: Daughter of the composer Vinteuil. She has a wicked friend who encourages her to lesbianism.
Lea: A notorious lesbian actress in residence at Balbec.