_____The narrator continues with his sociological examination of the people in the hotel dining room, with a remarkable observation about the room at night as "an immense and wonderful aquarium" looked in upon by
the working classes of Balbec, the fishermen, and even middle-class families pressed against the windows, in an attempt to see the luxurious life of these denizens, glowing amid the golden sway of the eddies, all of it as weird and fascinating for the poor as the existence of strange fish and mollusks (but whether the glass barrier will go on protecting forever the feeding of marvelous creatures, or whether the obscure onlookers gloating toward them from the outer dark will break into their aquarium and hook them for the pot, therein lies a great social question).It's a reminder that the France in which Proust lived, a society so layered and stratified that the author can spend page after page analyzing those layers and strata, was born of a bloody revolution. Proust is often thought of as an aesthete, shut off from the world in a cork-lined room, but here he betrays an acute and urgent awareness of the volatility of his society.
Among the visitors to the dining room, he sees "a man with a low forehead and a pair of shifty eyes flitting between the blinkers of his prejudices and breeding, who was the first gentleman of these parts, none other than Legrandin's brother-in-law," the one to whom Legrandin evaded providing the narrator's grandmother with a letter of introduction.
Of course, being "the first gentleman of these parts" means nothing. As the narrator observes, "their proper rank, the one they would have had in Paris, say, ... would have been a very lowly one." But he wants to be admired by them nonetheless, and no one more than the daughter of the arrogant M. de Stermaria, "of an obscure but very old Breton family," who had taken offense when he found the narrator and his grandmother occupying his usual table and had made a little scene over "his table being taken by 'persons unknown to him.'" Mlle. de Stermaria becomes the object of one of the narrator's romantic fantasies.
So when Mme. de Villeparisis appears in the dining room and gives "a start of joy and surprise" at seeing the narrator's grandmother there, the narrator is distressed that his grandmother ignores her. He hopes to use an acquaintance with Mme. de Villeparisis to impress Mlle. de Stermaria, but instead his grandmother considers it "a matter of principle that when you go on vacation, you sever relations with people; you do not go to the seaside to meet people, there is plenty of time for that in Paris; they just make you squander in trite civilities the invaluable time you should be spending exclusively in the open air, communing with the waves."
He continues with his fantasies of spending time with Mlle. de Stermaria "in her romantic Breton château." And here we get one of Proust's more convoluted sentences:
It felt as though I could never properly possess her anywhere else, as though I would have to trespass on the places that surrounded her with so many memories, as though these memories were a veil that my desire for her would have to strip away, one of those that are drawn between a woman and certain men by Nature (with the same purpose that makes it interpose the act of reproduction between all its creatures and their keenest pleasure, setting between the insect and the nectar it desires the pollen it must carry away) so that, misled by the illusion of possessing her more completely in that way, they feel compelled first to take possession of the landscapes among which she lives and which, though much more fruitful for the imagination than the sensual pleasure, would not have sufficed without it to attract them.
I confess that even though I've parsed that sentence several times, dodging around the parenthesis and various subordinate clauses to try to hook pronouns to antecedents, I'm still not sure I understand what it means. Other than, of course, that in matters of the heart the narrator tends to overanalyze things.