_____The section is headed by the subtitle, "The Intermittences of the Heart," which Sturrock's note informs us was a title that Proust considered for the entire novel.
The narrator returns to Balbec and is treated like royalty by the hotel manager, whose malapropisms may lose something in translation but I suspect were rather tiresomely overdone even in the original.
He is immediately flooded with memories, but the initial ones are of the superficial sort: "The images chosen by memory are as arbitrary, as confined, and as elusive as those that imagination had formed and that reality has destroyed." But he has come to Balbec partly because of the future as well as because of the past: He has learned that Mme. Verdurin has rented one of the Cambremer châteaux, and that Mme. Putbus, whose maid Saint-Loup has inspired him to pursue, will be one of her guests. Saint-Loup has written a letter of introduction to the Cambremers. But the narrator informs us that the "principal object of my journey was neither attained nor even pursued."
Moreover, on his arrival in his hotel room, he is assaulted by "A convulsion of my entire being." He is "suffering from an attack of cardiac fatigue," and when he bends to remove his boots he is flooded by repressed grief:
I had just glimpsed, in my memory, bent over my fatigue, the tender, concerned, disappointed face of my grandmother, such as she had been on that first evening of our arrival; the face of my grandmother, not that of the one whom I had been surprised and self-reproachful at having missed so little, who had nothing of her but her name, but of my true grandmother, the living reality of whom, for the first time since the Champs-Élysées, where she had suffered her stroke, I had recovered in a complete and involuntary memory.In short, he is having another "Proustian moment," one that he explicates in a lengthy discourse that explains the subtitle:
For to the disturbances of memory are linked the intermittences of the hart. It is no doubt the existence of our body, similar for us to a vase in which our spirituality is enclosed, that induces us to suppose that all our inner goods, our past joys, all our sorrows, are perpetually in our possession. Perhaps this is as inaccurate as to believe that they escape or return. At all events, if they do remain inside us, it is for most of the time in an unknown domain where they are of no service to us, and where even the most ordinary of them are repressed by memories of a different order, which exclude all simultaneity with them in our consciousness. But if the framework of sensations in which they are preserved be recaptured, they have in their turn the same capacity to expel all that is incompatible with them, to install in us, on its own, the self that experienced them.Involuntary memory, then, is generated by a "framework of sensations" -- the taste of a madeleine, the bending over to remove a boot -- that can't be voluntarily induced.
The experience also causes the narrator to reflect on the nature of his grief, which consists in large part of guilt: "for, since the dead exist only in us, it is ourselves that we strike unrelentingly when we persist in remembering the blows we have dealt them." He is subsequently troubled by a bad dream in which his father talks to him about her grandmother in her final illness, frustrating his wish to see her, and ending in a string of nonsense: "stags, stags, Francis Jammes, fork," a "sequence of words" that "no longer held the limpid, logical meaning they had expressed so naturally for me only a moment before and which I could no longer recall."
He is so distressed by the experience that he stays in his room and sees no one, even when Albertine, who has just arrived in Balbec, comes to call on him. He also sends word that he is "indisposed" when Mme. de Cambremer leaves her calling card.
With his mother due to arrive the following day, he realizes that her grief for her own mother had been "genuine," the kind of grief that "literally takes away your life for long periods, sometimes forever." His own grief he recognizes as "ephemeral," the kind that "we experience only long after the event because in order to feel it we needed to 'understand' that event."