Chapter I: Grieving and Forgetting, through "...saying to myself, 'I have returned her shot, on the volley.'"
_____The narrator predictably goes through an emotional meltdown on hearing that Albertine has left, beginning with denial, in which "feeling as gentle with myself as my mother had been with my grandmother on her deathbed," he tells himself, "None of this is of any importance." He reads her farewell note and tries to persuade himself that "she does not believe a word of all this" and will be home by evening. "And at the same time I was calculating whether I would have time that morning to go out and buy the yacht and the Rolls-Royce that she desired, and, abandoning all hesitation, did not consider for a moment that I had thought it rather unwise to make her this gift."
He reflects, not for the first time, on the nature of habit:
I suddenly saw Habit in a completely new perspective. Until now I had considered it above all as a negative force suppressing the originality and even our awareness of our perceptions; now I saw it as a fearsome goddess, so attached to us, with her inscrutable face so grafted on to our hearts that if she detaches herself and turns away from us, this deity, whose presence we were barely able to discern, inflicts upon us the most terrible suffering, and then she is as cruel as death.He berates himself for not taking notice of the warning signs, including "the sound of a suddenly opened window," but instead rationalizing away her discontent: "It is life which little by little, case by case, allows us to realize that what is most important for our hearts or our minds is taught us not by reason but by other powers." Even when he had imagined her leaving him, he could not have foreseen "the unimaginable hell that Françoise had allowed me to glimpse when she said, 'Miss Albertine has left.'"
all the worries that I had felt since I was a child ... had been solicited by this new source of anxiety and had rushed to reinforce it, amalgamating themselves with it into one homogeneous mass which suffocated me.The experience is worse than his with his previous infatuations, with Mme. de Guermantes and Gilberte, because he "had never tasted sensual pleasure" with them, and his "love for them lacked the all-powerful element of Habit." But this experience also brings out his pride: "I did want her to return, but did not want to be seen to care."
He now remembers that he had been experiencing panic attacks that he had been trying to deny, and that although he had been able to talk himself out of the idea that she might leave him, "when I found her still there when I rang for her in the morning, I had breathed an enormous sigh of relief." Which made the news of her leaving harder to bear because it was "the one unthinkable event, a departure somehow sensed several days in advance, despite my logical reasons for being reassured." As intricate the narrator's self-analysis here may be, it is nonetheless one of the most acute and finely observed accounts of the emotions and rationalizations surrounding such an experience that can be found in literature.
On the street, he sees a little girl and takes her home with him, where he "rocked her for a while on my knees." But the experience only heightens the pain of Albertine's absence and he sends her home with five hundred francs. Having learned that Albertine has left for Touraine, where her aunt lives, he enlists Saint-Loup in his efforts, sending him to put pressure on Mme. Bontemps, even bribing her, to make Albertine return. Saint-Loup is surprised to learn that Albertine has been living there all this time, and when the narrator shows him her picture, "His face registered a surprise that bordered on stupefaction. 'Is this the girl that you love?' he said finally, in a voice whose astonishment was muted by the fear of offending me." He recalls that he was similarly unimpressed by Rachel:
It is ... likely perhaps that the person whose every move is anxiously anticipated by her lover, with all the awe that would be due to a deity, appears as an inconsequential person, only too pleased to do anything required, in the eyes of a man who does not love her, as did Saint-Loup's mistress for me.The plan is for Saint-Loup to offer Mme. Bontemps "thirty thousand francs for her husband's electoral committee." Saint-Loup protests that if she's that dishonest, "three thousand francs would be enough," but the narrator is not willing to low-ball on anything so important to him. Saint-Loup gives in:
"And although I find it rather odd to set up such a blatant deal, I know well that even in our own circles there are duchesses, even the most strait-laced, who would do more embarrassing things for thirty thousand francs than tell their nieces not to stay in Touraine."