When we first meet someone can we count on our first reaction? Should we give our initial impression any weight? Will it last?
Certainly in literature these first glimpse scenes lead us to believe this moment is immensely important in the life of a relationship for good or for bad.
Look at the fateful first moment Humbert Humbert sees Lolita, in Nabokov’s novel of that name, perhaps one of the most memorable of first glimpses with its complete reversal of Humbert’s feelings from disdain to “awe and delight” in the course of that “sun-shot” moment. Note how the place, the things of the house: the trail Lolita leaves behind her: socks, the stone of a plum, lead Humbert onward inexorably and play an important role in carrying us to the heart of the scene.
“ I was still walking behind Mrs Haze through the dining room when, beyond it , there came a sudden burst of greenery--’the piazza” sang out my leader and then without the least warning, a blue sea wave swelled under my heart and, from the mat in a pool of sun, half-naked, kneeling, turning about on her knees, there was my Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses. ..
“That was my Lo,” she said and these are my lilies.”
“Yes, I said . They are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!”
So, is this entirely a reaction in the moment, does nothing lead us there in life or in literature? Nabokov tells us there has been a precurser, a young girl whom he has loved at the Roches Roses on the Riviera in his childhood. Lolita reminds him of someone from his past. Thus as so often happens in life, this stranger is not entirely strange to us but has something that recalls someone or something from our past. She is both entirely new and yet entirely familiar.
As in a good novel, life leads up to this moment. There is the trail of crumbs as in Hansel and Gretel which leads Humbert Humbert to his love ( the sock, the plum pit etc.) which in life may be various reasons, one of which might simply be that we have not engaged in this type of relationship for a while. We are ready; we are looking for love. Sometimes we are starved.
Look at poor Charles Bovary for example in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary who is wakened in the night from a deep sleep beside his legitimate wife, the first Madame Bovary whom he has married hoping she was rich but has turned out not to be. Instead poor Charles is saddled with a plain and older woman with her cold feet and all that suggests. So Charles, the young doctor, sallies forth into the night on his horse which takes fright and stumbles as well he might. Charles is taken to Emma’s father’s bedside ( he has broken a leg) where Emma sews, and pricks her finger as in a fairy tale and sensually sucks it. Charles is surprised by the whiteness of her nails in a wonderful moment that will ultimately cause him great sorrow.
In my own recent novel, "Dreaming for Freud" there is a reason for Freud's reaction to his young patient, one of which is, of course, that he needs patients: he has six children to feed. He also reacts to her position in society, and above all to the fact that she is only seventeen and a girl, "in the first bloom of youth," someone who will lead him into the dark territory of womanhood.
Whatever the reason, it seems to me, our first physical reaction, that swoon of a first glimpse or on the contrary a moment of disdain, will probably last for good or for bad. We remain attracted physically once that blue sea wave has swelled under our heart. If we are lucky enough to discover that this person is also someone who shares our interests, our concerns, and is capable of loving and will put our good above his/her own, then we are lucky indeed.
Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.