And at night they did not dine in the hotel, where, hidden springs of electricity flooding the great dining-room with light, it became as it were an immense and wonderful aquarium against whose wall of glass the working population of Balbec, the fishermen and also the tradesmen’s families, clustering invisibly in the outer darkness, pressed their faces to watch, gently floating upon the golden eddies within, the luxurious life of its occupants, a thing as extraordinary to the poor as the life of strange fishes or molluscs (an important social question, this: whether the wall of glass will always protect the wonderful creatures at their feasting, whether the obscure folk who watch them hungrily out of the night will not break in some day to gather them from their aquarium and devour them).
--Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove
(tr. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin)
Wonderful. I'm a big WABG fan, although I don't remember ever seeing this before; maybe I pinched my own idea from here without knowing it,.
The issue does inspire some general thoughts about the French and "face," though. Think of the once and future Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the French horror at the notorious "perp walk" (which in hindsight certainly does look like a pretty damn fool idea). Think of all those Simenon mysteries that turn on family secrets buried for a generation or more behind a proud facade.
Or think of Marcella Hazan (I think it is she) on the difference between French and Italian cooking. The French go for display, and some very good cooking does indeed come in some very pompous and flamboyant packages. Italian cooking his home style, which is to say there is almost an inverse relationship between pretension and quality: the fancier the restaurant, the worse the food. Not much point in pressing your window against the glass there.