Chapter I: Grieving and Forgetting, concluded, from "In certain ailments there are secondary infections...."
_____Proust gives us a nice Proustian definition of "man" in this section: "one of those amphibious creatures plunged simultaneously in the past and in present reality."
The narrator's past with Albertine is receding: "what provoked my astonishment was not, as it had been during the first few days, that the Albertine so alive within me could no longer exist on this earth and could be dead, but that the Albertine who no longer existed on earth, who was dead, could have stayed so alive within me." Yet he begins to feel a sense of release, "the youthful freshness of a bud starting to open and burst through its leaves into flower." He begins to accept "the idea that she was guilty" of relations with other women.
Just as the name of Guermantes had lost the charm and significance of a road bordered with water lilies and of Gilbert le Mauvais's stained-glass window, so Albertine's presence had lost those of the blue valleys of the sea, the names of Swann, the liftboy, the Princesse de Guermantes and so many others, a charm and a significance each entrusted to a single word which they judged mature enough to live on its own, as someone who wants to train a servant will show him the ropes for a couple of weeks and then withdraw, so the painful power of Albertine's guilt would be expelled outside me by habit.He shares with us his "periods of temporary madness that we call dreams," or rather the ones in which Albertine figures. Reading a novel by Bergotte, he realizes that he is moved by the plight of the characters "who only ever existed in Bergotte's imagination," which confuses him about how he should feel about Albertine, who once existed and no longer does. Habit, he realizes, "stultifies us and ... during the whole course of our existence hides more or less the whole universe from us, and under cover of utter darkness, without changing their labels, substitutes for the most dangerous or intoxicating poisons of life something anodyne which procures no delight." We can't completely bury the past: "Our selves are composed of our successive states, superimposed. But this superimposition is not immutable like the stratification of a mountain. A tremor is liable at any moment to throw older layers back up to the surface."
The one thing he still can't purge is his jealousy, which makes us "try out all types and scales of suffering before we settle for the one that seems to suit us." His jealousy of Albertine is particularly painful, he thinks, because of what she did with women, who could "give her sensations that we are unable to give her.... Oh! If only Albertine had been in love with Saint-Loup! How much less I would have suffered, or so it seemed to me!" When Andrée comes to visit him, he believes he can see in her what Albertine did. Andrée admits, when he questions her, that she has her own inclinations toward women, but denies that she ever did anything with Albertine, which he doesn't believe. He also fancies "a certain resemblance between myself and Andrée," which may have attracted Albertine to him. He tries to persuade Andrée to let him watch her with other women, such as the members of the little gang from Balbec, but she denies that any of the others were so inclined. So he takes two laundry-maids to "a house of ill-fame," where he watches them.
He comes to a realization about his desire to possess Albertine: "it is only in our minds that we ever possess anything, and we do not possess a painting because we have it in our dining-room, if we do not understand it, nor a country because we merely reside in it without ever looking at it."
Of course what was starting partially to revive within me was the immense desire that my love for Albertine had been unable to assuage, that immense desire to know life which I used to feel on the roads near Balbec or the streets of Paris, the desire which had so made me suffer when, supposing that it also existed in Albertine's heart, I had attempted to deprive her of the means of satisfying that desire with anyone other than myself.And he concludes that "thoughts tire and memories collapse: the day would come when I would happily give Albertine's room to the first girl who wanted it, as I had given Albertine the agate marble or other gifts of Gilberte's."