Marcel seems in danger of lulling himself into a state of contentment as summer draws to a close in Balbec. But then a casual conversation with Albertine changes everything. He mentions that he wants to ask Mme Verdurin about a musician he believes Albertine is unaware of, Vinteuil.
We may have revolved every possible idea in our minds, and yet the truth has never occurred to us, and it is from without, when we are least expecting it, that it gives us its cruel stab and wounds us for ever. “You can’t think how you amuse me,” replied Albertine, getting up, for the train was about to stop…”You remember my telling you about a friend, older than me, who had been a mother, a sister to me, with whom I spent the happiest years of my life, at Trieste, and whom in fact I’m expecting to join in a few weeks at Cherbourg, where we shall set out on a cruise together (it sounds a bit weird, but you know how I love the sea)? Well, this friend (oh! not at all the type of woman you might suppose!), isn’t this extraordinary, is the best friend of your Vinteuil’s daughter, and I know Vinteuil’s daughter almost as well as I know her…” (IV,701-702)
The pain is immediate and deep for Marcel. He wonders what he has done to deserve it. Was it
…for my having allowed my grandmother to die; perhaps rising up suddenly from the dark depths in which it seemed for ever buried, and striking like an Avenger, in order to inaugurate for me a new and terrible and only too well-merited existence, perhaps also to make dazzlingly clear to my eyes the fatal consequences which evil actions eternally engender, not only for those who have committed them but for those who have done no more, or thought that they were doing no more, than look on at a curious and entertaining spectacle, as I, alas, had one on that afternoon long ago at Montjouvain, concealed behind a bush where (as when I had complacently listened to the account of Swann’s love affairs) I had perilously allowed to open up within me the fatal and inevitably painful road of Knowledge. (IV,702)
Exactly what Knowledge has he gained? There is the confirmation of Cottard’s suspicion, that Albertine loves women. But why is that so much more shocking than men loving men, something Marcel handles with equanimity, even fascination. The prototype of this pain lies in his childhood.
It was Trieste, it was that unknown world in which I could feel that Albertine took a delight, in which were her memories, her friendships, her childhood loves, that exhaled that hostile, inexplicable atmosphere, like the atmosphere that used to float up to my bedroom at Combray, from the dining room in which I could hear, talking and laughing with strangers amid the clatter of knives and forks. Mamma who would not be coming upstairs to say good-night to me; like the atmosphere that, for Swann, had filled the houses to which Odette went at night in search of inconceivable joys. (IV,710)
He is envious of what is cannot join, a type of snobism.