Part II, Chapter I, from "As for a grief as deep as that of my mother..." to "...falling: it was a day in spring."
The narrator informs us that it "will be seen in due course in this narrative" that he would suffer "a grief as deep as that of my mother." She has arrived in Balbec and, having borne her grief longer than her son, attempts to edge him out of it. But he is still resisting a re-entrance to the world: "I understood for the first time that the fixed, tearless gaze (which meant that Françoise felt little pity for her) that she had had since my grandmother's death had been dwelling on this incomprehensible contradiction between memory and nothingness." He also begins noticing the similarities between his mother and his grandmother.
"Finally, my mother demanded that I go out," he reports, but although he still demonstrates an acute awareness of the details of hotel life, he can think of nothing but "the last days of my grandmother's illness," reliving them in his imagination while aware that "when we believe we are merely re-creating the pain of a beloved being, our compassion exaggerates it; yet perhaps it is the compassion that is right, rather than the awareness that those who are suffering have of their pain, from whom the sadness of their life is hidden, whereas compassion sees it and despairs." Once again, the narrator valorizes the imaginative experience (the witness's compassion) over the actual one (the sufferer's pain). He learns from the hotel manager that his grandmother had had several "suncopies" -- his malapropism for "syncopes" or fainting spells -- during their previous visit. And Françoise reveals that the photograph of the grandmother that Saint-Loup had made during their visit had been taken when she was ill.
He has not yet seen Albertine, about whom his mother and Françoise have very different opinions, and keeps postponing their meeting. Finally, he arranges to meet her, having "longed to hear Albertine's laugh once more, to see her friends again, the young girl, outlined against the waves, who had remained in my memory as the inseparable charm, the characteristic flora of Balbec." But the weather turns bad on the day of their meeting, and Albertine is "in a very bad mood." Leaving her, he sets out for a walk to the apple orchards that, when he saw them on a ride with Mme. Villeparisis, had lost their blossoms.
But the moment I reached the road, what dazzlement. There, where in Augsut, with my grandmother, I had seen only the leaves and as it were the emplacement of the apple trees, they were in full flower for as far as the eye could see, unimaginably luxuriant, their feet in the mud but wearing their ballgowns.
The narrator has just recalled that his grandmother, who loved nature, "could not go two steps without getting mud on her. The beauty of the scene, as the "sky that was changing from minute to minute" clears for a while, overwhelms him:
Beneath this azure, a slight but fresh breeze was causing the reddening bouquets to shiver slightly. Blue tits were coming to settle on the branches and were leaping about among the indulgent flowers, as if it were some lover of exoticism and of colors who had artificially created this living beauty. But it moved one almost to tears, because, however excessive these effects of a fined artifice, you felt that it was natural, that these apple trees were there, in the heart of the countryside, like peasants, on one of the highways of France. Then to the rays of sunlight there suddenly succeeded those of he rain; they striped the entire horizon, drawing their gray mesh tight around the line of apple trees. But these continued to raise aloft their pink, flowering beauty, in a wind now become icy beneath the shower of rain that was falling: it was a day in spring.