Chapter II: Mademoiselle de Forcheville, through "...And they left together for Saint-Cloud."
_____And so the narrator moves from grief to acceptance, though not without characteristically overcomplicating the process:
I now realized that before I could forget her completely, and regain my initial indifference, I would need, like some traveller returning down the same route to his point of departure, to experience in reverse order all the emotions which I had felt on the way out towards my great love.This return, he tells us, had "four stages," although at this point it's not clear what the second, third and fourth will be. "The first of these stages set in at the beginning of winter" as he walks through the Bois de Boulogne, conscious that it's the same day of the year as when he called Albertine home from the Trocadéro. He hums phrases from Vinteuil's sonata as he walks: "The thought that Albertine had played it for me so often no longer hurt me too much, for nearly all my memories of her had entered that second phase of their chemical reaction, where instead of oppressing the heart with anxiety, they soothe it." In fact, "I thought I saw my love dispersed or even dissolved in the little phrase."
He starts girl-watching, recalling how Albertine "had seemed to me to stand for all the girls whose sight had so often rooted me to the spot in the street or on the road." And he comes upon a group of three girls, "whose smart and athletic demeanour" reminds him of Albertine and her little gang. Two of them are brunettes and one is blond. He follows them until they get into a carriage and ride away. But then, a few days later, he sees them again, "emerging from under the archway of our house." The blond "cast me a first, furtive look, then, when she had gone past, turned her head back towards me and cast a second that finally set me alight." The concierge tells him that the blond was there to see the Duchesse, and that her name is Mlle. d'Éporcheville.
The narrator thinks that he recognizes the name: Saint-Loup had once told him about meeting a "very well-connected young lady, loosely related to the Guermantes, ... in a house of ill-fame and having been intimate with her." This is all the narrator needs to set him in a frenzy of fantasy. The concierge is uncertain at first whether Mlle. d'Éporcheville was the blond, but the narrator is sure she is because he had "correctly guessed which one of the little gang of girls walking along the sea front was called Albertine Simonet." And the concierge's wife confirms his suspicion.
Of course, he needs confirmation, so he sends off a telegram to Saint-Loup, and starts making preparations to visit the Duchesse at the same time that Mlle. d'Éporcheville makes her return visit. But Saint-Loup replies that the girl he slept with was named De l'Orgeville, that she was "short, dark and dumpy" and that she's now in Switzerland.
Meanwhile, something that distracts the narrator from his latest erotic obsession happens: His article about his epiphany of the three steeples is published in the Figaro. It's been so long since he submitted it that he doesn't recognize it at first: "How tedious! The leading article bore precisely the same title as the one which I had submitted but which had not been published. But not only the same title, here and there were one or two identical words. That was too much. I would write in to complain." Then once he realizes the truth, he goes amusingly through the experiences shared by every first-time published author: imagining the reactions of readers as they pick it up, fearing that they will not notice his name at the end, trying to read it through their eyes, and so on. "I saw Bloch, the Guermantes, Legrandin and Andrée drawing from each sentence the images contained in the article."
Then all my images, all my reflections and all my epithets, taken in themselves and with no memory of the failure of my aims that they represented, charmed me with their brilliance, their novelty, and their profundity.
He goes to see the Duchesse that afternoon, not so much to see Mlle. d'Éporcheville, "who because of Saint-Loup's telegram had lost the better part of her character," as to find out if the Duchesse has read his article. The blond girl is there, and he learns that her name is de Forcheville. She says to him:
"Don't you remember that you used to know me very well, you used to visit my house, I am your friend Gilberte. I realized that you did not recognize me. But I recognized you straight away."He learns that Swann's death has left Odette very rich, that she has married Forcheville, and that he has adopted Gilberte, who came into "an enormous fortune" of her own when one of Swann's uncles died and left it all to her.
As for the Duchesse's reluctance to recognize Odette or Gilberte, all of that is in the past, particularly where Gilberte is concerned. The Duchesse has succumbed to the pressure of society, and when the Duc informs her that a friend of their wanted to invite her to the opera but was uncertain whether she should do so because Gilberte will be there too, the Duchesse replies, "I see no objection to our meeting the girl. You know perfectly well that I have never had anything against her.... Everyone knows that we were great friends of Swann. Everyone will find it perfectly normal."