Albertine always alarmed me when she said that I was quite right to protect her reputation by saying that I was not her lover, as she said, "you aren't, are you, not really." Perhaps I was not, in the complete sense, but was I then to think that she did with other men all the things we did together, only to say that she had not been their mistress?The physical nature of the narrator's relations with Albertine continues to perplex readers who can't quite believe that a man who takes pains to dissociate himself from "inverts" could share a bed with a naked woman without actually copulating with her. And continue to be jealous of her. Or that the narrator could claim, "If I did not love Albertine (and I was not sure whether I did or not), her place in my household was not extraordinary: we choose to live only with the thing we do not love, which we have brought to live with us precisely in order to kill off intolerable love, whether the thing in question is a woman, a country, or a woman embodying a country." Certainly, the narrator's endless ruminations about the nature of love -- and of his love for Albertine (or Gilberte, or Mme. de Guermantes) -- come close to exhausting the topic. If not the reader.
He blames it on Albertine, of course:
Her lies were so numerous, because she did not simply lie in the way all human beings do when they believe themselves to be loved, but because she was by nature, quite independently, mendacious and, what is more, so changeable that even if she had told me the truth every time I asked, for example, what she thought of a person, the answer would have been different each time.Meanwhile, he discovers from talking to Andrée on the telephone that she and Albertine are planning to go to the Verdurins, and when he suggests that he'll join them, Andrée sounds alarmed, further fueling his suspicions that something is going on between them. There follows a little cat-and-mouse game between Albertine and the narrator centering on her plans and what he knows about them, in which each lies to the other.
We learn that one of the things the narrator and Albertine like to do together is watch planes take off. His earlier encounter with an airplane had turned aviation into "a kind of image of freedom," so they "conclude our days out with a visit to one of these aerodromes." Those obsessed with biography will read this as an allusion to Proust's affair with Alfred Agostinelli, who took up flying and was killed in a plane crash.
More and more, the narrator is haunted by the feeling that he is coming to resemble his relatives: "sometimes, as I played the wise man to Albertine, I seemed to hear my grandmother speaking." He is also acutely aware of the differences between Albertine and himself: "After all, the coupling of opposites is the law of life, the principle of fertilization and, as we shall see, the cause of much misery. Normally, we detest what is like us, and our own failings, seen in others, exasperate us." And we return once again to the very beginning of the novel, a kind of da capo:
What I experienced with Albertine on these evenings was not the calming effect of my mother's kiss at Combray, but on the contrary, the anguish of the evenings when my mother said good-night to me only hurriedly, or worse, did not come up to my room at all, whether she was cross with me or kept downstairs by guests.... But though I suffered the anguish of my childhood, the changed being who now inspired it, my different feelings about her, the very changes in my own character made it impossible for me to seek peace from Albertine as I had from my mother.... I came near to thinking Françoise more intelligent than Bergotte or Elstir because she had said to me at Balbec, "That girl will bring you nothing but grief."Albertine torments him even when she is unconscious of doing so, as when, one time when she is waking, she calls him "Andrée" by mistake. And when he suggests that she did so because she "had once lain like that next to her," she denies it. "Only, just before making me that answer, she had hidden her face in her hands for a moment."