_____Mme. Verdurin surprises them with her open indifference to the death of the Princess Sherbatoff, even claiming that the Princess had a bad reputation. Her attitude "had a curiously modern, 'problem-play' sound to it, and also it was gloriously convenient; for want of feeling or immorality, once confessed, simplify life as effectively as loose morals: they remove the need to find excuses for blameworthy actions, and transform them into obligations of sincerity." But Charlus puts his foot in it by saying, "I'm glad the evening wasn't cancelled, because of my own guests."
The narrator notes that Mme. Verdurin has about her a "rather disagreeable smell of nose-drops," which she explains by saying they were prescribed to her because of her tendency to cry while listening to Vinteuil's music. "My nose gets all congested, and two days later I look like an old drunkard and to get my vocal cords working again I have to have days of inhalations." And here we learn that another member the little group has died: Cottard. And Mme. Verdurin's response to his death is similarly callous: "Well, there you are, he's dead, we all die, he'd killed patients enough, it was time to take his own medicine." (This is one of the inconsistencies Carol Clark notes in her preface: Proust has Cottard at the party talking with Mme. Verdurin and Ski only 11 pages earlier, and he is spotted again at the party later.)
The narrator asks her if Vinteuil's daughter and her friend are present. "No, I've just had a telegram, said Mme Verdurin evasively, they've had to stay in the country." When Morel comes over to say hello, he asks him about their absence, but he seems "to know very little about it." And, apropos Charlus's attitude toward Morel, we get another of the narrator's little observations about homosexuality:
The invert who has been able to nourish his passion only with a literature written for men who love women, who thought of men as he read Musset's Nights, feels a need to share, in the same way, all the social roles of the man who is not an invert, to keep someone as the admirer of chorus-girls does, or the old habitué of the Opéra, and also to settle down, to marry or live with a man, to be a father.The narrator continues to establish his heterosexuality by commenting on his eye for the single women at the party, and contrasting it with "the furtive messages" that Charlus and the other gay men at the party -- who include "two dukes, an eminent general, a famous writer, great doctor and distinguished lawyer" -- are exchanging, in which they comment on young men as "she." He also comments on Mme. Verdurin's tolerance of homosexuality, which he refers to as "Charlisme": "Like every ecclesiastical power, she regarded mere human weaknesses as less serious than anything that could weaken the authority principle, damage orthodoxy, alter the ancient creed, in her little church." Unfortunately, Charlus is about to do just that: "What doomed M. de Charlus on that evening was the bad manners -- so common among society people -- of his guests, who were now beginning to arrive." They are determined to snub their hostess, referring to her as "old Mother Verdurin."
And M. de Charlus, as his guests pushed their way through the crowd to come and congratulate him, to thank him as if he had been the host, did not think to ask them to say a word to Mme Verdurin. Only the Queen of Naples, in whose veins ran the same noble blood as in her sisters, the Empress Elizabeth and the Duchesse d'Alençon, began to talk to Mme Verdurin as if she had come to the house for the pleasure of seeing Mme Verdurin, more than for the music or to see M. de Charlus.The rudeness is stilled when the concert begins: "respect for the music -- thanks to the prestige of Palamède -- had suddenly been instilled into a crowd as ill-mannered as it was smart." Mme. Verdurin also assumes her role in the concert, "a divinity presiding over the musical solemnities, a goddess of Wagnerism and migraine, a kind of almost tragic Norn, summoned up by genius in the midst of all these bores."
And here begins one of the narrator's lengthy internal monologues, Proust's attempt to re-create the experience of listening to a concert, with the narrator's thoughts not only about the music but also about the images and feelings it elicits from him. The piece by Vinteuil is unfamiliar to him because it has not previously been performed, but in the midst of it, "more wonderful than any girl, the little phrase, wrapped, caparisoned in silver, streaming with brilliant sonorities light and still as scarves, came towards me, still recognizable under these new ornaments." (The "little phrase," of course, is the one that Swann adopted for him and Odette; here the narrator, in one of those fusions of himself with Swann, has made it his own.) But as caught up as he is in the music, he is distracted enough from it to notice Mme. Verdurin's usual poses as she listens to it. "And I stopped listening to the music to wonder again whether Albertine had seen Mlle Vinteuil in the past few days or not, as one reinvestigates an inward pain from which one has been for a moment distracted. For it was inside me that all Albertine's actions took place." But he returns to the music for an extended impression of its effect on him.