_____From the moment the narrator began obsessing about Mme. de Stermaria it was pretty clear that disillusionment lay ahead. We've seen him in the throes of overactive imagination often enough before, and this time he takes it to ludicrous heights.
He begins today itching for the coming assignation with her, and with his usual fantasy of possession: "What I needed was to possess Mme de Stermaria ... on the island in the Bois de Boulogne where I had asked her to dine with me." Of course, it has to be in this particular setting. He associates the Bois with Odette, although Proust doesn't make the association explicit, and the Île des Cygnes "seemed to be the perfect setting for pleasure." In fact, it is an odd setting at best, given that it is autumn, cold and foggy and windy. Proust emphasizes the antithetical nature of the setting, having the narrator observe "a first red leaf already blooming like a last rose," the rain falling "noiselessly on the ancient water, which, in its divine infancy, still still changes constantly with the conditions of the moment, and continually forgets the reflections of clouds and flowers," and the geraniums which, "by intensifying their brilliant color, have put up a vain struggle against the gathering twilight." And he emphasizes the kinkiness in the narrator's lust for her: "by walking arm in arm with Mme de Stermaria in the dusk of the island, by the water's edge, I should be behaving in the same way as other men who, unable actually to penetrate a convent, do at least, before possessing a woman, dress her up like a nun."
And if that weren't enough, when Albertine stops by to visit, he asks her to go with him to the restaurant on the island to help select the menu. She "seemed to hesitate." Well, duh. But for whatever reason, Albertine agrees to do so. He considers making an "assignation" with Albertine "very late the same evening" as his date with Mme. de Stermaria in case it doesn't work out, "in order to forget during an hour of purely sensual indulgence ... the emotions and possible disappointments of this incipient love for Mme de Stermaria." But he assures himself that "Saint-Loup's letter was sufficient assurance ... that ... Mme de Stermaria would give herself on the very first evening, so I should have no need to summon Albertine to the house as a last resort."
The narrator has often behaved foolishly, but he seems particularly blind this time:
When I found myself alone again at home, reminding myself that I had spent the afternoon on an excursion with Albertine, that I was dining in two days with Mme de Guermantes, and that I needed to answer a letter from Gilberte, three women I had loved, it occurred to me that our social life, like an artist's studio, is filled with abandoned sketches depicting our momentary attempts to capture our need for a great love, but what did not occur to me was that sometimes, if the sketch is not too old, we may return to it and transform it into a completely different work, possibly more important than the one we had originally planned.In fact, his infatuation with Mme. de Stermaria is already waning: He realizes that what he really wants to do is "seek out some of the women I had seen in Rivebelle." Still, when she breaks their date, it's a blow.
What added to my despair at not seeing Mme de Stermaria was that her answer led me to believe that, while I, hour after hour since Sunday, had been living for this dinner alone, she had probably never given it a second thought. I learned later on that she had married, an absurd love match with a young man she must already have been seeing at this time, who had probably made her forget my invitation.And the pain of the memory lingers: "I did not see her again. It was not she that I loved, but it could well have been." The saddest words of tongue or pen.