Catching up with Elstir after avoiding an introduction to the girls, the narrator tells the artist that he would have been "so happy to meet them," to which Elstir replies quite sensibly, "Well, in that case, what did you stand miles away for?" The narrator takes umbrage at the reply, retreating into self-consciousness: "I was sure they must have prevented him from introducing someone they saw as dislikable: otherwise he would have been bound to call me over, after all the questions I had asked about them, and the interest he could see I took in them."
When Elstir offers to give him a sketch "as a memento of our friendship," the narrator tells him what he really wants is a photo of the portrait of "Miss Sacripant," the sexually ambiguous watercolor he had examined earlier. Suddenly the narrator realizes the truth: The woman in the picture is Odette. (The note of sexual ambiguity is not new with Odette: She has admitted to relations with members of her own sex.) And then he's struck by another realization:
the identity of Elstir himself. He had painted a portrait of Odette de Crécy -- could such a brilliant man, a solitary, a philosopher, who had accumulated wisdom, who stood above all things, whose conversation was so enthralling, possibly be the painter, vacuous and devious, adopted long ago by the Verdurins? I asked him if he had known them, and whether they had not nicknamed him "M. Biche." He answered, in a very simple manner, that this was indeed the case, as though speaking of a part of his life that was rather remote, as though not realizing his answer caused me an acute disappointment.
(A question: How does the narrator know so much about the Verdurins' "little set" at this point? Has Swann already unburdened himself of the full story that the narrator recounts in "Swann in Love"? Or have Swann and Odette simply gossiped to him about the old days of the little set? In Swann's Way the painter is seldom mentioned, at least in comparison to the pianist, who plays for Swann the theme from Vinteuil's sonata that figures so much in his wooing of Odette. Or is this just one of Proust's narrative inconsistencies?)
Elstir then goes on to defend himself, claiming that there has never been a man who "has never at some time in his youth uttered words, or even led a life, that he would not prefer to see expunged from memory.... Wisdom cannot be inherited -- one must discover it for oneself, but only after following a course that no one can follow in our stead; no one can spare us that experience, for wisdom is only a point of view on things." Sensible enough, but he goes on for too long about it, leading Grieve to append a footnote in which he comments that Proust himself wrote a marginal note, "This is all badly written." So it is.
The narrator leaves, heartened by the knowledge that he will get his introduction to the girls one day. In the meantime he's engaged in preparations for Saint-Loup's return to the garrison where he is stationed. Things are muddled a bit when Bloch shows up, "to Saint-Loup's great displeasure," and manages to get himself invited to visit him at Doncières, despite Saint-Loup's efforts to discourage the visit.
After a lovely passage in which the narrator describes commonplace things -- "knives lying askew in halted gestures; the tent of a used napkin, within which the sun has secreted its yellow velvet" and so on -- to show how Elstir's art has attuned him to "beauty where I had never thought it might be found, in the most ordinary things," he receives an invitation to a reception where he can meet Albertine. And now the trinity of forces determining his personality -- will, sensibility and mind, which are rough analogues of Freud's triad of id, ego, and superego -- take hold again in the anticipation of "the pleasure of making her acquaintance."
My mind saw this pleasure, now that it was assured, as being worth not very much. But the will in me did not share that illusion for an instant, being the persevering and unwavering servant of our personalities, hidden in the shadows, disdained, forever faithful, working unceasingly, and without heeding the variability of our self, making sure it shall never lack what it needs. ... So my mind and sensibility set up a debate on how much pleasure there might be in making the acquaintance of Albertine, while in front of the mirror I considered the vain and fragile charms that they would have preferred to preserve unused for some better occasion. But my will did not lose sight of the time at which I had to leave; and it was Elstir's address that it gave to the coachman. My mind and sensibility, now that the die was cast, indulged in the luxury of thinking it was a pity. If my will had given a different address, they would have been in a state of panic.
One note: in the previous account of this battle between the will and the other two elements of personality, Grieve's translation was "sensitivity" rather than "sensibility." Again, it would be worth knowing what the French original was.