It is the wicked deception of love that it begins by making us dwell not upon a woman in the outside world but upon a doll inside our head, the only woman who is always available in fact, the only one we shall ever possess, whom the arbitrary nature of memory, almost as absolute as that of the imagination, may have made as different from the real woman as the real Balbec had been from the Balbec I imagined -- a dummy creation that little by little to our detriment, we shall force the real woman to resemble.That doesn't bode well for the narrator's coming dinner with Mme. de Stermaria, the invitation to which arrives just after the departure of one woman whom he assures us he is not at all in love with anymore and just before his encounter with another woman whom he also assures us that he doesn't love anymore. For, arriving late at Mme. de Villeparisis's (delayed by the scene with Albertine that we have just witnessed), he finds the guests leaving the room where the play has just taken place. One of them is the Duchesse de Guermantes.
His mother has rebuked him for stalking the Duchesse on his daily walks, and has thereby "woken me up from a dream that had gone on for too long." And so he has come to his senses. "But it had never entered my mind that my recovery, by restoring me to a normal attitude toward Mme. de Guermantes, would effect a similar change in her and open up the possibility of a friendliness, even a friendship, which I no longer cared about." For to his surprise, when the Duchesse enters the room, she asks if she may sit down beside him.
He has heard the rumor that the Duc and the Duchesse are separating, and when Mme. de Villeparisis sees them together, she invites the narrator to dinner there with the Duchesse on Wednesday, "for the good offices of a procuress are among the duties of a hostess," observes the narrator, who has lately, thanks to Charlus, grown disillusioned with Mme. de Villeparisis. He declines because of his invitation to dine with Mme. de Stermaria. And when the Marquise invites him for Saturday instead, he declines because his mother is returning on that day or the next.
When Mme. de Villeparisis moves on, however, it is the Duchesse who invites him to dine with her and the Princess of Parma on Friday. He observes that when several guests see them sitting together, they "though they had been misinformed, and that it was not the Duchesse but the Duc who was seeking a separation, on my account, at which point they lost no time in making the fact known." He reflects that his sudden appeal to the Duchesse may stem from his lack of interest in society: "Society people are so used to being sought after that anyone who shuns them becomes a rare bird and monopolizes their attention."
When she mentions that her nephew, Saint-Loup, has spoken highly of him, he adds that he's also acquainted with her cousin, Charlus, which surprises her. She calls Charlus by his given name, Palamède, and by his nickname, Mémé, both of which Charlus detests. She also observes that Charlus is "a little bit mad at times."
I was particularly struck with the word "mad" used of M. de Charlus, and it occurred to me that this semi-madness might perhaps account for certain things, like his apparent delight at the idea of asking Bloch to beat his own mother.And the reference to Charlus then brings to mind "one of those curious anomalies" regarding both Charlus and Bloch the narrator promises to explain "at the end of this volume" (which the editor notes actually occurs in the first section of Sodom and Gomorrah, because that section was originally appended to the end of The Guermantes Way). Bloch had mentioned to the narrator that Charlus was in the habit of looking at him in a "friendly manner" when they passed on the street. The narrator assumes that Charlus was doing so because he had heard Bloch was his friend. But at the theater, the narrator offers to introduce Bloch to him, and when he brings Bloch to him for the introduction, "the minute M. de Charlus set eye on him, a look of astonishment appeared on his face, where it was instantly repressed to become one of blazing fury." And Charlus's "insolent" behavior at the introduction led Bloch to assume that it was because the narrator had "spoken ill of him" to Charlus, so Bloch "did not speak to me again for six months."