A thing far more important than beauty

When, in the summer of Balbec, Albertine used to wait for me beneath the arcades of Incarville and jump into my carriage, not only had she not yet 'thickened', but, as a result of too much exercise, she had lost weight; thin, made plainer by an ugly hat which left visible only the tip of an ugly nose and, at a side-view, pale cheeks like white slugs, there was very little of her that I recognised, enough, however, to know, when she sprang into the carriage, that it was she, that she had been punctual in keeping our appointment and had not gone somewhere else; and this was enough; what we love is too much in the past, consists too much in the time that we have wasted together for us to require the whole woman; we wish only to be sure that it is she, not to be mistaken as to her identity, a thing far more important than beauty to those who love; her cheeks may grow hollow, her body thin, even to those who were originally proudest, in the eyes of the world, of their domination over a beauty, and yet that little tip of nose, that sign which epitomises the permanent personality of a woman, that algebraical formula, that constant factor, is sufficient to prevent a man who is courted in the highest society, and was once fond of it, from having a single evening free because he spends the time combing and uncombing, until it is time to go to sleep, the hair of the woman he loves, or simply sitting by her side, in order to be with her, or in order that she may be with him, or merely in order that she may not be with other men.

(Marcel Proust, Albertine Gone, ed. & tr. Terence Kilmartin, Chatto & Windus, London, 1989, p. 23)