Chapter I: Grieving and Forgetting, from "I had not yet received any news from Aimé...." to "...the last phase of a love affair might not be rather the onset of a cardiac disease."
_____Aimé writes the narrator from Balbec, confirming his suspicions that Albertine was lying when she said she had never had relations with other women. A bath-house attendant recalls her meeting with "a lady in grey" who tipped the attendant generously: "As the latter person said to me, you can guess that if they had spent their time making daisy chains they wouldn't have given me a ten-franc tip." So now for the narrator, it has become "a question of essence: who was she deep down, what were her thoughts, whom did she love, had she lied to me, had my life with her been as lamentable as that of Swann with Odette?" Adding to his pain is the realization that "what Aimé had learned from the bath-house girl was of little importance, since Albertine would for ever be unaware that he had told me about it." The information is of no use in resolving his emotions about her.
I needed to see her by my side and to hear her answering kindly, to see her cheeks fill out, her eyes lose their mischief and fill with sadness, that is, to love her still and forget my jealous rage in the despair of my solitude. The painful mystery of the impossibility of ever letting her know what I had learned and of establishing a new relationship based on the truth which I had only just discovered (and which I might perhaps have been able to discover only because she was dead) substituted its sadness for the more painful mystery of her conduct.But then he begins to doubt this new evidence: "How much credit could I give to what the bath-house girl had told Aimé? Especially since in fact she had never seen anything." So, even though he knows that evidence of Albertine's "guilt" will not satisfy him and will only cause him further pain, he decides he needs further proof of it, and sends Aimé on a further mission: "to Touraine, to spend a few days in the neighbourhood of Mme Bontemps's villa." In short, "during that whole year my life continued to be filled with love, with a real relationship. But the object of that relationship was dead."
Aimé reports from Touraine that he met a "young laundry-maid" who had tales about making out with Albertine. And that he went to bed with the laundry-maid himself: "And I understood Mlle Albertine's enjoyment, for the young wench is really talented." Punished for his curiosity, the narrator likens himself to "a man who has forgotten the enchanted nights he had spent in the woods beneath the moonlight [but] still suffers from the rheumatism which he contracted there." He is aroused by visions of Albertine taking her pleasure with other women, despite urging himself to stop the self-torture.
I wished I could have a great love, or I wanted to find someone to live with me, which seemed to me to be a sign that I was no longer in love with Albertine, when it was a sign that I was still in love with her.... Only when I had forgotten her would I be able to realize that I would be wiser and happier living without love.