_____The narrator is still where he was at the end of The Fugitive, staying at Tansonville with Gilberte. Saint-Loup shows up occasionally during his stay, but the narrator finds him changed, and in his description of him repeats verbatim one he had given of Legrandin in The Fugitive. He is "slenderer and swifter," with the "habit of conducting himself like a gust of wind."
A full description of him would also have to take account of his desire, the older he grew, to appear young, as well as of the impatience characteristic of men who are always bored and blasé, being too intelligent for the relatively idle life they lead, in which their faculties are never fully stretched.Toward Gilberte, Saint-Loup affects "a sentimentality ... that bordered on the theatrical.... Robert loved her. But he lied to her all the time." He remarks to the narrator on her resemblance to Rachel, which "one could, at a stretch, now see between them," and the narrator speculates that this caused Saint-Loup to pick her over "other women of comparable fortune" when his family put pressure on him to marry. The narrator also observes in Saint-Loup a "regression to the birdlike elegance of the Guermantes" which brings out in him the effeminate "manners of M. de Charlus," although "Robert never permitted his type of love to come up in conversation," dodging the topic of homosexuality as if he were indifferent to it.
As for the narrator, he has "lost all recollection of the love of Albertine," but he discovers that "there is also an involuntary memory of the limbs" when he wakes up in the night and calls out "Albertine!" It seems that "a recollection suddenly burgeoning within my arm had made me reach behind my back for the bell, as if I had been in my bedroom in Paris." This physical memory causes him to call out for her help in locating the pull.
Morel, he sees, is "treated as the son of the house." Françoise naively regards this as characteristic of the generosity of the Guermantes, having observed that Legrandin similarly served as patron to Théodore, the one-time grocerer's assistant in Combray. The narrator meets Théodore's sister and learns that his surname is Sautton, and that he "must be the person who wrote to me about my Figaro article!"
In conversation with Gilberte, the narrator says, "I once knew a woman who ended up completely shut away by the man who loved her; she was never allowed to see anyone, and could only go out accompanied by trusty servants." Gilberte replies that "someone as good as you must have been horrified by that," and adds that he ought to get married: "A wife would make you healthy again, and you world make her very happy." He claims that he was once engaged but "couldn't make up my mind to marry her" and that she broke it off "because of my fussiness and indecision." This is as close as he can get to confession: "It was, indeed, in this over-simplified form that I regarded my adventure with Albertine, now that I could see it only from the outside."
From his window, he can see the spire of the church at Combray, but he postpones visiting it:
"Never mind, it'll have to wait for another year, if I don't die in the meantime," seeing no obstacle to this other than my death, never envisaging that of the church, which seemed bound to endure long after my death, as it had endured for so long before my birth.More than Albertine, the thing that haunts him now is his "lack of an aptitude for literature." And it is brought home to him when Gilberte gives him a copy of "a recently published volume of the Goncourts' journal," which he reads in bed that night. In this parody "excerpt" Goncourt visits the salon of Mme. Verdurin: "Cottard, the doctor, is there with his wife, and the Polish sculptor Viradobetski, Swann the collector, an aristocratic Russian lady, a princess with a name ending in "-ov" which I don't quite catch." "Brichot, from the University" is there, too, and the talk turns to Elstir, whom, he is told, they called "Monsieur Tiche." The extract is filled with elaborate and minute descriptions of the room and even the china from which they eat, and reports of the conversation. The narrator is stung by "The magic of literature!" and reflects,
Certainly, I had never concealed from myself the fact that I did not know how to listen, nor, as soon as I was not alone, how to observe. My eyes would not notice what kind of pearl necklace an old woman might be wearing, and anything that might be said about it would not penetrate my ears.He rebukes himself for making judgments about people, for later discovering that someone he thought "a society bore, a stuffed shirt, ... was a major figure!" He concludes that "Goncourt knew how to listen, as he knew how to see: I did not." And he regrets that he is "unable to go back and see all the people whom I had failed to appreciate" and that "the progress my illness was making" is forcing him "to break with society, give up travelling and visiting museums, in order to enter a sanatorium and undergo treatment."