_____Bloch turns up again, this time to take the narrator to his first brothel, and to give him "the truly divine gift ... which can be acquired only from reality: the charm of the individual." One individual that a madam thrusts upon him is "a Jewess" whom she calls Rachel, and whom the narrator nicknames "Rachel, when of the Lord," a rather arch allusion to an aria in Halévy's opera La Juive: "Rachel, quand du seigneur."
The madam doesn't get the joke. And the narrator doesn't get the girl -- she is "busy" on later visits, and he stops visiting the brothel, though not before giving the madam several pieces of furniture, including "a large couch," that he has inherited from his Aunt Léonie. "But as soon as I set eyes on them again in that brothel, put to use by those women, I was assailed by all the virtues that had perfumed the air in my aunt's bedroom at Combray, now defiled by the brutal dealings to which I had condemned the dear, defenseless things. I could not have suffered more if it had been the dead woman herself being violated." And here Proust plays an ironic memory trick -- ironic, given that it was the madeleine soaked in tea that caused the memory of Aunt Léonie and of Combray to surface so dramatically earlier in the novel -- by noting that "memory does not usually produce recollections in chronological order, but acts more like a reflection inverting the sequence of parts," so that "it was not until much later that I remembered this was the couch on which, many years before, I had been initiated into the pleasures of love by one of my cousins."
Meanwhile, he is also selling off his aunt's silverware so he can buy flowers for Mme. Swann. However, things are not going so well with Gilberte. He notes that he gave up the idea of becoming a diplomat because the career might have separated him from Gilberte, but his obsession with her and the Swanns has also distracted him from his writing -- to the dismay of his parents and his grandmother. He details the long chain of excuses and rationalizations -- familiar to any procrastinator -- that keep him from sitting down to write.
Moreover, he begins to sense that Gilberte is not quite so enamored of him as he is of her.
In love, happiness is an abnormal state, capable of instantly conferring on the pettiest-seeming incident, which can occur at any moment, a degree of gravity that in other circumstances it would never have. What makes one so happy is the presence of something unstable in the heart, something one contrives constantly to keep in a state of stability, and which one is hardly even aware of as long as it remains like that. In fact, though, love secretes a permanent pain, which joy neutralizes in us, makes virtual, and holds in abeyance; but at any moment, it can turn into torture, which is what would have happened long since if one had not obtained what one desired.The Swanns, "who were more and more convinced I was an improving influence on" Gilberte, don't help when they stop her from going to a dancing class and instead make her stay to entertain the narrator. "Gilberte's face was devoid of all joy, laid waste, a blank, melancholy mask, which for the rest of the afternoon seemed to grieve privately for those foursome reels being danced without her, because of my presence here." And so he finds himself "on the threshold of one of those difficult junctures which most of us encounter several times in our lives," when pride and self-indulgence cause an avoidable pain.