Human Aquarium


Marcel survives his first night away from home and eagerly observes his new environment. The hotel is a favorite of the rich, whether from the provinces or Paris. One rather reserved old lady, who we will learn is Mme de Villeparisis, attracts the attention of the other ladies.

Whenever the wives of the notary and the judge saw her in the dining-room at the meal-times, they put up their lorgnettes and gave her an insolent scrutiny, as meticulous and distrustful as if she had been some dish with a pretentious name but a suspicious appearance which, after the adverse result of a systematic study, is sent away with a lofty wave of the hand and a grimace of disgust. (II,348)

…the suppression of all desire for, of all curiosity about, ways of life which are unfamiliar, of all hope of endearing oneself to new people, for which, in these women, had been substituted a feigned contempt, a spurious jubilation, had the disagreeable effect of obliging them to label their discontent satisfaction and to lie everlastingly to themselves, two reasons why they were unhappy. (II,349)

Marcel imagines looking into the hotel dining area from the boardwalk.

Meanwhile, perhaps, amid the dumbfounded stationary crowd out there in the dark, there may have been some writer, some student of human ichthyology, who, as he watched the jaws of old feminine monstrosities close over a mouthful of submerged food, was amusing himself by classifying them by race, by innate characteristic, as well as by those acquired characteristics which bring it about that an old Serbian lady whose buccal appendage is that of a great sea-fish, because from her earliest years she has moved in the fresh waters of the Faubourg Saint-
Germain, eats her salad for all the world like a La Rochefoucauld. (II,354)

 

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