_____La Berma's daughter and son-in-law have left her, "spitting a little blood," and come to the party to see Rachel. A footman brings their note to Rachel who "smiled at the transparency of their pretext and at her own triumph," and sends word that her performance is over. "The footmen in the ante-room, where the couple's wait continued, were already beginning to snigger at the two rejected supplicants." Meanwhile, Rachel makes fun of them before allowing them to enter, "ruining at a stroke La Berma's position in society, as they had destroyed her health." She also plans to taunt La Berma backstage about their crashing the party. "Yet she might have shrunk from delivering it if she had known that it would be fatal."
We learn now that the Duchesse is unhappy because the Duc, having mostly stopped being unfaithful to her, has fallen in love with Odette. He has "sequestrated his mistress to the point that, if my love for Albertine had repeated, with major variations, Swann's love of Odette, M. de Guermantes's love for her had recalled my love for Albertine." Odette has come full circle, becoming "once more, just as she had appeared to me in my childhood, the lady in pink" kept by his Uncle Adolphe.
As for the Duc, the narrator sees him as "little more than a ruin, but a superb one, or perhaps not even a ruin so much as that most romantic of beautiful objects, a rock in a storm." And he watches as the Duc, "tried painfully to pass through the door and descend the staircase on his way out," an image that will haunt the narrator until the closing pages of the novel.
Odette has turned talkative in her old age, and under the impression that the narrator "was a well-known author," tells him stories about her affairs, including one with M. de Bréauté. As for Swann, she says, "Poor Charles, he was so intelligent, so fascinating, exactly the kind of man I liked best." And the narrator thinks, "perhaps this was true." The narrator listens to her stories, which she tells him "simply to give me what she thought were subjects for novels."
She was wrong, not because she had not provided the reserves of my imagination with an abundance of material, but because this had been done in a much more involuntary fashion and by an act that I initiated myself as I drew out from her, without her knowledge, the laws of her life.The Duchesse, too, is forthcoming, in her own way, with the narrator, and they leave the main drawing-room to visit the smaller rooms where people are getting away from the crowd and listening to music. In one room they see a beautiful woman whom the Duchesse identifies as Mme. de Saint-Euverte, the wife of one of the grand-nephews of the Mme. de Saint-Euverte at whose soirée Swann and the Duchesse, then the Princesse des Laumes, had chatted long ago. The Duchesse denies having been at that party. The present Mme. de Saint-Euverte, stretched out in a cradle-like chaise longue, becomes for the narrator a symbol of "both the distance and the continuity of Time. It was Time that she was rocking in that hollow cradle, where the name of Saint-Euverte and Empire style were bursting into flower in red fuchsia silk."
The Duchesse now takes it on herself to denounce Gilberte as "the most artificial, the most bourgeois thing I've ever seen," and to chide the narrator for coming "to great soulless affairs like this. Unless of course you're gathering material...." He points out how hard it must be for Gilberte "to have to listen, as she just has, to her husband's former mistress." But the Duchesse doubts that it affects Gilberte at all, and claims that "there were an awful lot of stories" about how Gilberte was unfaithful to Saint-Loup, including with an officer whom he wanted to challenge to a duel. She calls Gilberte "a slut," which the narrator sees as "the product of the hatred she felt for Gilberte, by a need to hit her, if not physically then in effigy."
Gilberte introduces him to her daughter, and says that Saint-Loup "was very proud of her. Though of course given his tastes, Gilberte went on naïvely, I think he would have preferred a boy." Mlle. de Saint-Loup, he tells us, "later chose to marry an obscure literary figure, for she was devoid of snobbery, and brought her family down to a level below that from which it had started." And she becomes the nexus of the story he is telling us:
They were numerous enough, in my case, the roads leading to Mlle de Saint-Loup and radiating out again from her. Above all it was the two great "ways" which had led to her, along which I had had so many walks and so many dreams -- through her father, Robert de Saint-Loup, the Guermantes way, through her mother, Gilberte, the Méséglise way which was the "way by Swann's". One, through the little girl's mother and the Champs-Élysées, led me to Swann, to my evenings at Combray, to the Méséglise way; the other, through her father, to my afternoons at Balbec, where I could visualize him close in the sunlit sea.But there are other tangling ways: He had first seen Odette as the lady in pink at the house of his great-uncle, whose manservant was the father of Charles Morel, whom both Charlus and Saint-Loup had been in love with. And so on, as the threads draw in Albertine and the Verdurins and Vinteuil's music and Legrandin and the other characters of the novel, so that "between the least significant point in our past and all the others a rich network of memories gives us in fact a choice about which connection to make."
Thus, "in a book whose intention was to tell the story of a life it would be necessary to use, in contrast to the psychology people normally use, a sort of psychology in space." And "memory, by bringing the past into the present without making any changes to is, just as it was at the moment when it was the present, suppresses precisely this great dimension of Time through which a life is given reality." And here he begins the task of writing the book, of restoring the past "from our ceaseless falsification of it," which necessitates
putting up with the work like tiredness, accepting it like a rule, constructing it like a church, following it like a regime, overcoming it like an obstacle, winning it like a friendship, feeding it up like a child, creating it like a world, without ever neglecting its mysteries.He assumes the task at his "big deal table, watched by Françoise," who "through being so close to my life, ... had developed a kind of instinctive understanding of literary work, more accurate than that of many intelligent people, let alone fools." He constructs his book "not as if it were a cathedral, but simply as if it were a dress I was making," assembling his notes and sketches, "pinning a supplementary page in place here and there," a process with which Françoise can sympathize, "as she always used to be saying how she could not sew if she did not have the right number thread and the proper buttons."
Anxieties arise, however: "feeling myself the bearer of a work of literature made the idea of an accident in which I might meet my death seem much more dreadful." And he understands "that since my childhood I had already died a number of times." He also experiences the incomprehension of others, when he shows them his first sketches for the work: "In the places where I was trying to find general laws, I was accused of sifting through endless detail." (The reader, or at least this one, certainly knows what he means here.) He returns to his beloved Arabian Nights for a parallel to his experience: "I would be living with the anxiety of not knowing whether the Master of my destiny, less indulgent than the Sultan Shahriyar, when I broke off my story each evening, would stay my death sentence, and permit me to take up the continuation again the following evening." And he accepts the possibility that the book itself will "eventually die, one day.... Eternal duration is no more promised to books than it is to men."
Yet he remains convinced that he has something to say about his great theme:
the fact that we occupy an ever larger place in Time is something that everybody feels, and this universality could only delight me, since this was the truth, the truth suspected by everybody, that it was my task to elucidate.... It was this notion of embodied time, of past years not being separated from us, that it was now my intention to make such a prominent feature in my work.And then he recalls the Duc de Guermantes, weighed down by years, perched "on the scarcely manageable summit of his eighty-three years, as if all men are perched on top of living stilts which never stop growing, sometimes becoming taller than church steeples, until eventually they make walking difficult and dangerous, and down from which, all of a sudden, they fall." So his first concern is with the people in his novel, describing them, "even at the risk of making them seem colossal and unnatural creatures, as occupying a place far larger than the very limited one reserved for them in space."
That is (to single out the last words of the novel), "in Time."