_____While talking with Mme. de Cambremer, the narrator recalls his conversation with his mother earlier that day in which she revealed that she has heard that Mme. Bontemps has said that a marriage between Albertine and the narrator "would be her aunt's dearest wish." He is inclined to "wait a little ... to try and find out whether I truly loved her," and thinks of bringing her to one of the Verdurins's "Wednesdays." Meanwhile, Mme. de Cambremer says that "everyone's talking about" Saint-Loup's "marriage with the Princesse de Guermantes's niece." The narrator, who knows of no such arrangement, is "seized by a fear of having spoken unsympathetically in front of Robert about a girl whose originality was false and whose mind was as second-rate as her character was violent."
Brichot is still going on about place-name etymologies, dominating the dinner-table conversation, which is a relief to Saniette, who is nervously anticipating some attack from M. and Mme. Verdurin, who use him as a kind of whipping boy. Saniette "had been touched to hear M. Verdurin ... telling the maître d'hôtel to set a jug of water beside M. Saniette, who drank nothing else. (The generals who get the most soldiers killed insist that they be well fed.)" Also at the table is "an illustrious Norwegian philosopher" who speaks French so slowly and carefully that he can barely get a complete sentence out.
The narrator, who has come to the soirée in part to get information about Mme. Putbus and the lady's maid he fears might be a potential seducer of Albertine, learns from Mme. Verdurin that she "tried hard to divert her holidays to Venice, we're rid of her for this year." He also overhears a conversation between Cottard and Ski that reveals they know of the rumors about Charlus's sexual orientation.
Saniette falls into a trap with an innocent remark that allows the Verdurins to make fun of him. "Hardly one of the faithful could forbear from guffawing, and they looked like a band of cannibals whose taste for blood has been reawakened by a wound inflicted on a white man." And even when Saniette tries to redeem himself with a little pun, Verdurin claims to have heard the joke "a hundred times," when in fact he heard it once from Ski, who pretended it was his own invention. (It's worth noting that, throughout this episode at the Verdurins', Proust makes no effort to stick to the narrator's point of view, instead providing information about the characters' thoughts and their past history which would likely have been unavailable to his narrator.)
The narrator mentions some sketches he has seen at Elstir's, which allows Mme. Verdurin to reveal her former acquaintance with the painter they called Tiche, and that she doesn't "like at all, not at all" the paintings he has done since he broke with the "little set." "Basically a second-rater. I can tell you, I sensed that right away. All in all, he never interested me." When Cottard asks why Mme. Verdurin doesn't invite Elstir and his wife,
"No prize tart enters my house, M. le Professeur," said Mme. Verdurin, who had, on the contrary, done her very best to get Elstir to return, even with his wife, but before they got married she had tried to come between them, she had told Elstir that the woman he loved was stupid, dirty, immoral, and had stolen. Instead, Elstir had broken with the Verdurin salon.As they leave the dinner table, there's another moment when, as with Cottard earlier, Charlus wonders if his secret is being alluded to. Verdurin says to him, "'I realized you were one of us from the very first words we exchanged!' M. de Charlus, who had placed a very different interpretation on this expression, gave a sudden start." But it quickly turns out that Verdurin was referring to the preference given to the Marquis de Cambremer because Charlus is "only a baron." This naturally raises Charlus's hackles, and he goes on to inform Verdurin that he is "also Duc de Brabant, Damoiseau de Montargis, and Prince d'Oléron, de Carency, de Viareggio, and des Dunes." But then he reassures Verdurin that he's not offended, while at the same time condescending to him.
While Mme. Verdurin is showing the narrator her painting by Elstir, and proclaiming that "the man was finished" the moment he broke with "the little nucleus," the Cambremers are inspecting the redecorating that the Verdurins have done with the property they are renting from them and pronouncing the Verdurins' taste bad. Charlus and Cambremer do a little one-upping and name-dropping with each other. ("The dukedom of Aumale was in our family for a long time before entering the House of France," M. de Charlus was explaining to M. de Cambremer, in front of an open-mouthed Morel, for whom this whole discourse was, if not addressed to him, intended.") And the narrator finds that his praise of Brichot's etymologizing has made him "appear stupid in the eyes of Mme Verdurin, who could see that I had 'swallowed' Brichot."
The selection ends with Charlus accompanying Morel in Fauré's sonata for piano and violin, and with the narrator's comment about the decadent Baron:
His sadness following the death of his wife did not, thanks to his habit of lying, debar M. de Charlus from a way of life that was out of keeping. Later on, he stooped so low as to let it be understood that, during the funeral ceremony, he had found a means of asking the altar boy for his name and address. And this may have been true.