_____And so the narrator makes a great about-face in the space of a single short chapter.
He announces to his mother, who is leaving Balbec for Combray to stay with her dying aunt, that he has decided not to marry Albertine and will stop seeing her. He plans to tell Albertine that he doesn't love her and to switch his attentions to Andrée. But ... best-laid plans. As they are returning from the evening at Mme. Verdurin's he tells her that he is "beginning to find this life rather stupid" and that he's going to ask the Patronne to have some music played by a musician Albertine probably doesn't know: Vinteuil.
It turns out that Albertine has "a girlfriend, older than me, who was like both a mother and sister to me, whom I spent my best years with in Trieste," whom she's meeting in Cherbourg a few weeks from now, "and isn't this extraordinary, is in actual fact the best friend of this Vinteuil's daughter, and I know Vinteuil's daughter almost as well."
Cue the Proustian moment, "suddenly rising up out of the depths of that darkness where it had seemed to lie forever entombed and striking like an Avenger, in order to inaugurate for me a new life, terrible and deserved, perhaps also to explode before my eyes the fateful consequences to which wicked actions give rise indefinitely." And so on.
Albertine the friend of Mlle Vinteuil and of her friend, a practicing and professional sapphist, this, compared with what I had imagined at my most suspicious, was ... a terrible terra incognita on which I had just set foot, a new phase of unsuspected suffering that was opening.He's so jolted by the news that he asks Albertine to come stay the night at the hotel in Balbec, where, after she goes to her room on another floor, he is racked with sobs. "What I had dreaded, had long vaguely suspected in Albertine, what my instinct had isolated from her whole being, but what my arguments, guided by my desire, had slowly led me to deny, was true! ... For, pretty as Albertine was, how could Mlle Vinteuil, with her proclivities, not have asked her to satisfy them?"
He sends for Albertine and complicates matters more by making up a story about a woman he had left in Paris whom he had been planning to marry, and that he had been thinking of killing himself: "If I was going to die, I'd have liked to say goodbye to you." Albertine falls for this story: "I won't leave you again, I'm going to stay with you." He decides that he must take her to Paris, to prevent her from meeting her old girlfriend in Cherbourg. "True," he reflects, "I might have told myself that in Paris, if Albertine had these proclivities, she would find a great many other people with whom to gratify them." But he asks her anyway, realizing that with his mother in Combray and his father away on "a tour of inspection," they would be alone together in Paris.
He reverts to his old childishness, likening his current emotional torment to "that which used to rise up into my room of old in Combray from the dining room, where I could hear, laughing and talking with strangers, amid the sound of forks, Mamma, who would not be coming up to say good night; like that which, for Swann, had filled the houses where Odette had gone to a soirée in search of unimaginable delights."
Albertine replies that she can't go to Paris now, and urges him to marry the woman there. He replies that he "wouldn't have wanted to make a young woman live with someone so sickly and so tiresome." She protests, of course. But he has revealed a truth about himself: "I was too given to believing that the moment I was in love I could not be loved, and that self-interest alone could attach a woman to me."
After she leaves him, she sends word that "she could, if I wanted, come to Paris that same day." The news reaches the hotel manager, who tries to persuade him to stay. And he has second thoughts on looking around the room:
Unfortunately, he doesn't have the strength of will to stay in this reality. He has a vision of Albertine taking the place of Mlle. Vinteuil's friend in the room in Montjouvain where he had spied on on them. And when his mother comes to see him he falls back into the old childishness, which she perhaps unwittingly encourages: "Remember that your mamma is leaving today and is going to be desolate at leaving her darling in this state. All the more, my poor child, because I hardly have time to console you." She has "the look she had worn in Combray for the first time when she had resigned herself to spending the night beside me, that look which at this moment bore an extraordinary resemblance to that of my grandmother when she allowed me to drink cognac."I two or three times had the idea, momentarily, that the world in which this room and these bookcases were, and in which Albertine counted for so little, was perhaps an intellectual world, which was the sole reality, and my unhappiness something like that which we get from reading a novel, and which a madman alone could make into a lasting and permanent unhappiness, extending into his life.
And so he tells her: "I absolutely must marry Albertine."