_____The narrator's attention is turned to "a badly dressed, ugly little woman" who turns out to be an unsuccessful actress, a rival of La Berma's filled with "a deadly hatred" for her. When the performance of the act from Phèdre begins, the woman comments derisively about La Berma until those around her shush her.
This time, in part because he came in with diminished expectations, he finds that "the talent of La Berma, which had escaped me when I had struggled hard to grasp its essence, now, after these years of oblivion, in this hour of indifference, imposed itself forcefully upon my admiration as something self-evident." She becomes "a window opening onto a masterpiece" but also something more: "La Berma's interpretation was, around Racine's work, a second work, it, too, enlivened by genius."
He realizes that he is no longer setting La Berma's performance against some "preconceived, abstract, and false notion of dramatic genius."
Now I could appreciate the merits of a wide-ranging, poetic, and powerful interpretation; or, rather, it was upon this that these words are conventionally conferred, but only in the way that we give the names Mars, Venus, Saturn to planets that have nothing mythological about them. Our feelings belong to one world, our ability to name things and our thoughts belong to another; we can establish a concordance between the two, but not bridge the gap.I think what he's saying here is that the emotional impact of an experience cannot be fully expressed in words, which are abstracts of the experience. And that relying on words -- such as "wide-ranging, poetic, and powerful" -- as a guide to what the one who utters them has experienced is inadequate.
But what's happening on stage isn't the only dramatic or aesthetic experience to be had in the theater: "the Duchesse de Guermantes entered the box, smothered in white chiffon." And a sort of duel ensues between the Duchesse and the Princesse. "It was as if the Duchesse had guessed that her cousin, of whom, rumor had it, she was prone to make fun for what she called her 'exaggerations' ..., would be dressed this evening in a manner that the Duchesse thought of as 'theatrical,' and that she had decided to give her a lesson in good taste." But together, both the Duchesse and the Princesse show up other women in the theater.
As in the play that was now being performed, to understand how much personal poetry La Berma drew from it, one had only to transfer her role, the role she alone knew how to play, to any other actress, so the spectator who looked toward the balcony would have seen, in two of the boxes there, how an "arrangement" that was supposed to resemble that of the Princesse de Guermantes's box merely made the Baronne de Morienval appear eccentric, pretentious, and ill-bred, and how an attempt, both painstaking and costly, to imitate the dress and style of the Duchesse de Guermantes merely made Mme de Cambremer look like some provincial schoolgirl mounted on wires, rigid, desiccated, and crabby, with a plume of feathers from some funeral procession stuck vertically in her hair.The narrator has learned from Elstir not to regard matters of fashion as trivial. In In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, the artist had talked about fashion with respect: "To despise dressmakers was no longer possible, since Elstir had said that the deft and gentle gesture with which they give a final ruffle, a last caress, to the bows and feathers of a just-completed hat was as much a challenge to his artistry as any movement by a jockey." (ITSOYGIF, p. 481)