Chapter III: Staying in Venice, through "...But death, which interrupts it, will cure us of our desire for immortality."
_____The narrator and his mother travel to Venice, where, from the top of St. Mark's, the golden angel "promised me joy half an hour later on the Piazzetta, a promise more reliable than his previous mission to bring tiding of Great Joy to men of good will." He is there because, he assures us, "I had nearly forgotten Albertine." Yet of course the fact that he feels compelled to mention it reveals what he tells us in the same sentence: "I did still remember her a little." He remembers her especially when he cruises the "humble campi and deserted side canals" off the beaten tourist paths where he "found it easier to meet women of the people" and wondered "if anyone could have told me exactly how far, in this passionate perusal of Venetian women, what was due to them, and what to Albertine, or my former desire to travel to Venice." As he stopped "to talk to working girls, as Albertine might have done before me, ... I wished that she were with me." And he realizes that "they could not be the same girls" Albertine had met when she was there, because they would be older -- as he himself is, "for what I now loved, despite the specific qualities of the person, and what escaped me, was youth itself."
With his mother, he explores the more familiar sights of Venice, "where the slightest social call takes on at once both the form and the charm of a visit to a museum and that of a naval maneoevre." They meet Mme. Sazerat there, and one day, in a hotel restaurant he sees an old woman with "a sort of red, leprous eczema covering her face" and recognizes "beneath her bonnet, in her black tunic, created by [Worth], but looking to the uninitiated as if it belonged to an old concierge, the Marquise de Villeparisis," whose death he and Charlus had talked about in The Prisoner. She is joined by "her former lover, M. de Norpois," also showing signs of age, though never previously reported dead. Norpois recognizes a Prince Foggi, with whom he talks at length about diplomatic matters.
Meanwhile, the narrator mentions Mme. de Villeparisis to Mme. Sazerat, who nearly faints because Mme. de Villeparisis, then the Duchesse d'Havré and "the most beautiful woman of the day," had brought ruin to Mme. Sazerat's father in a love affair in which "she acted like a common whore." Mme. Sazerat asks to be taken to see her, but when the narrator points her out is confused to see "only an old gentleman sitting beside a horrid old lady with a red face and a hunchback."
Back at the hotel, the narrator receives a letter from his broker which "opened for an instant the gates of the prison where Albertine lay living within me." He had invested heavily "in order to have more money to spend on her," and after her death ordered the broker to sell everything, leaving him "the owner of barely one-fifth of the wealth that I had inherited from my grandmother." And then he receives a telegram:
DEAR FRIEND YOU BELIEVE ME DEAD, MY APOLOGIES, NEVER MORE ALIVE, WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU TO DISCUSS MARRIAGE, WHEN DO YOU RETURN? AFFECTIONATELY, ALBERTINEHis reaction to this extraordinary message is only to confirm that he is no longer in love with Albertine. He is no longer able even to visualize her: "the memory that recurred was that of a girl already stout and mannish, in whose faded features there sprouted like a see the profile of Mme Bontemps." After telling the hotel porter that it had been delivered by mistake, he puts it in his pocket and tries to "act as if I had never received it."
I had definitively stopped loving Albertine. In such fashion this love, after diverging so much from what I had foreseen, in the light of my love for Gilberte; after causing me to make such a long and painful detour, finally in its turn, after claiming exemption, surrendered, as had my love for Gilberte, to the universal rule of oblivion.