_____The second chapter, like the first, begins with a summary, but since the chapter constitutes the remaining 250 pages of the book, it's a rather scanty summary.
It begins with a bit of a surprise, in the narrator's statement, "I had just been reborn." Given his earlier description of his deep attachment to his grandmother, that seems almost callous coming immediately after the account of her death. His mother, he notes, is still in mourning, but she is in Combray with his father, and is not around to disapprove of his plans to visit Mme. Villeparisis's house to see a play that's being performed there.
So he is left alone in Paris, remembering his stay in Doncières with Saint-Loup, and listening to the hiccuping sound of the new furnace boiler, which "was in no way connected to my memories of Doncières, but its prolonged encounter with them inside me that afternoon was to force it into such an affinity with them that, after I thought I had more or less forgotten it, whenever I heard the central heating it would bring them back to me." Another instance of "involuntary memory," or "Proustian moment."
We learn that Saint-Loup and Rachel have broken up, and that Saint-Loup had been angry with him for a while because Rachel, to provoke Saint-Loup's jealousy, had claimed that the narrator tried to have sex with her. But now Saint-Loup has written to say that he had met Mlle. de Stermaria, with whom the narrator was smitten at Balbec, and "had asked for an assignation with the young woman on my behalf." He is now awaiting a response to the letter he has written to Mlle. de Stermaria (now "Mme de Stermaria, given that she had divorced her husband after three months of marriage").
But then Albertine pays him a surprise visit. She has matured so much that "she was hardly recognizable ... she had a real face at last; her body had developed."
As before, the narrator thinks of sexual attraction as a matter of possession. And while he claims that he was "not in the least in love with Albertine," he dreams "both of mingling my flesh with a substance that was different and warm, and of attaching to some point of my recumbent body a divergent body" the way Eve is attached to Adam's body in the medieval sculptures at Balbec.I am not quite sure whether it was the desire for Balbec or for her that took hold of me then; perhaps my desire for her was itself a lazy, cowardly, incomplete way of possessing Balbec, as if to possess a thing materially, to take up residence in a town, were equivalent to possessing it spiritually.
In their conversation, we learn the intriguing fact that the narrator has fought a duel, but no further details. The narrator focuses instead on her manner of speech, which strikes him as more "grown-up" than it had in Balbec, and suspects that she has learned these expressions "from Mme Bontemps, along with a hatred of Jews and a respect for the color black because it is always suitable and never out of place."
And reiterating that he was no longer in love with her, so that he "no longer ran the risk, as I might have done in Balbec, of wrecking her affection for me, since it no longer existed," he begins to seduce her -- at least into letting him kiss her cheek. He is in bed already, so he teases her into lying down next to him by saying "I'm not in the least ticklish. You could tickle me for a whole hour and I wouldn't feel a thing." She responds to this come-on by getting in bed with him, only to be interrupted by the entrance of Françoise with a lamp: "Albertine had just time to regain her chair."
Their game resumes when Françoise leaves (although the narrator suspects her of listening outside the door). He reflects that
women who tend to be resistant and cannot be possessed at once, of whom indeed it is not immediately clear that they can ever be possessed at all, are the only interesting ones. For to know them, to approach them, to conquer them is to make the human image vary in shape, in size, in relief, a lesson in relativity in the appreciation of a woman's body, a joy to see anew when it has regained its slender outline against the backdrop of reality. Women who are first encountered in a brothel are of no interest, because they remain static.His teasing pursuit of Albertine results in a kind of consummation -- on his part at least: "her caresses had satisfied me in a way that she could not have failed to notice, and which I had even feared might provoke her to the slight gesture of revulsion and offended modesty Gilberte had made in similar circumstances behind the laurel bushes in the Champs-Élysées." Albertine does seem "embarrassed by the idea of getting up and going after what had just happened." As for the narrator, he is more concerned about getting her to leave so he can get to the play at Mme. Villeparisis's on time. And he maintains a kind of cold distance from her:
Albertine -- and this was perhaps, with another, which will be clear in due course, one of the reasons that had made me unconsciously desire her -- was one of the incarnations of the charming little French country girl typified in stone in Saint-André-des-Champs. I recognized in her, as I did in Françoise, who was soon nevertheless to become her deadly enemy, a courtesy toward host and stranger, a sense of propriety, a respectful bedside manner.Even without the heavy-handed foreshadowing, it's clear this is not going to work out well.