_____The twigs that Françoise tosses on the fire to get it started spark another Proustian moment, a happy one this time. Their "smell, forgotten all through the summer, traced a magic circle around the fireplace in which, seeing myself reading at Combray, now at Doncières, I was as happy, staying in my room in Paris, as if I had been on the point of leaving for a walk toward Méséglise or meeting Saint-Loup and his friends on field exercises.... It was not just the weather outside that had changed, or the smells in my room, but inside me there was a change of age, the replacement of one person by another."
He is still convinced that he doesn't love Albertine, but as in the past, he is in the grip of his fantasy of possession. She "held nothing new for me. Every day I found her less pretty. Only the desire which she excited in others, when I learned of it and began to suffer again, in my desire to keep her from them, could put her back on her pedestal. Suffering alone gave life to my tedious attachment to her." And yet he persists in trying to make her happy by giving her presents, especially buying her expensive clothes. His chief consultant on matters of fashion is the Duchesse de Guermantes, to whom Albertine was indifferent at first, even hostile, out of her "hatred for upper-class people." But "my friend's republican disdain for a Duchess was replaced by an intense interest in a woman of fashion."
And so the narrator visits the Duchesse often, and devotes several pages to further analysis of her character, including her country roots, which reveal themselves in her vocabulary and pronunciation, which he finds not unusual, likening them to those of Françoise. On his latest visit to the Duchesse, he finds the Duc and M. de Bréauté present also. The Duc is still obsessed by the Dreyfus affair, even though it has been over for two years -- "twenty years later people would still be talking about it," the narrator comments. The narrator's comments on a dress the Duchesse once wore, "by an obscure association of ideas" provokes M. de Bréauté to mention the Dreyfus case and the Duc to an anti-Semitic tirade:
"If a Frenchman commits theft or murder, I don't feel I have to say he's innocent, just because he's a Frenchman like me. But the Jews will never admit that one of them could be a traitor, even though they know it's true, and they don't care in the least about the terrible repercussions ... that can result from their friend's crime."The Duchesse quite sensibly replies, "Certainly if Dreyfus had been a Christian the Jews wouldn't have taken such an interest in the case, but they did, because they realize that if he hadn't been Jew, people wouldn't have been so ready to believe him a traitor." The Duc can only bluster that "Women don't understand anything about politics" and "France should expel all the Jews."
The narrator "saw danger ahead and hurriedly began to talk frocks again."