It’s a strange concept. But one that comes up frequently in literature. Man and woman meet for the first time and they are destined to fall in love, instantly hopeless and head-over-heels for one another. When I decided to put a love-at-first-sight moment in my own novel, I went back to some of my favorite books to see how other exceptional writers dealt with the subject. I wanted to understand how to make the sparks fly between my own characters Walt and Vera.
In this post I’ll talk about what I learned from the scene in Anna Karenina when Anna and Vronsky first meet. From Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Vronsky followed the guard to the carriage and had to stop at the entrance of the compartment to let a lady pass out. The trained insight of a Society man enabled Vronsky with a single glance to decide that she belonged to the best Society. He apologized for being in her way and was about to enter the carriage, but felt compelled to have another look at her, not because she was very beautiful nor because of the elegance and modest grace of her whole figure, but because he saw in her sweet face as she passed him something especially tender and kind. When he looked round she too turned her head. Her bright grey eyes which seemed dark because of their black lashes rested for a moment on his face as if recognizing him, and then turned to the passing crowd evidently in search of some one. In that short look Vronsky had time to notice the subdued animation that enlivened her face and seemed to flutter between her bright eyes and a scarcely perceptible smile which curved her rosy lips. It was as if an excess of vitality so filled her whole being that it betrayed itself against her will, now in her smile, now in the light of her eyes.
Several interesting things are happening in this scene. Vronsky is compelled to a second look, almost as if some outside force is pulling them together, making the meeting feel fateful. And his attention was not ignored – she turned and met his gaze, as if she felt the pull of him too.
Another important aspect is the long description of Anna through Vronsky’s eyes. He acknowledges her beauty and position, but it is her sweetness and intense vitality that he is really attracted to, hinting that the attraction is much deeper than the surface of her beauty and thus more important, more fateful.
The feeling of recognition both on the part of Vronsky and Anna add to the fate of the scene. It is as if they are already bound together and know it. Finally, the use of phrases such as “single glance” and “that short look” capture the quickness of the moment but at the same time the hefty description throughout the paragraph makes it feel for the reader as if the moment has lasted much longer than it actually has.
I think what makes this scene so effective is Tolstoy’s ability to play with the reader’s sense of time and fate. While the scene only takes a few seconds, the length of the description makes it heavy and important in one’s mind. Also, the feeling that these two are fated to be together comes up again and again in this one paragraph, emphasizing how important their feelings toward one another are.
In my next love-at-first-sight post I’ll compare a few more modern approaches and see what more we can learn from looking at a love-at-first-sight scene.
What is your favorite love-at-first-sight scene in literature? Do you think fate and timing are important aspects of writing these scenes?