AT FIRST SIGHT by Walter de la Mare

“He detested rags, dirt, and neglect; even the brazen spectacle of ‘potatoes’ in stockings or of leaking welts failed to amuse him.”

“Two large bony hands had been holding his elbows,…”

A novella or novel, but really a long short story? I cannot do justice to it, so I won’t try. There is potential for keeping one’s eyes low, and as you get used to Cecil’s disability, you see everything, when reading it, from under his facial green shade, too painful to raise your eyes, every word sullen, till it slowly pans out into a love story ….and a story as a kindred work to WDLM’s THE RETURN (reviewed here)….

“For a minute or two he stood listening, then raised his face by a painful inch or so to peer in at what was confronting him in the wide mahogany looking-glass. […] ‘You mean,’ said Cecil, speaking out of the turned-up collar of his overcoat, ‘that as I can only see their lower halves, I cannot be any judge of their upper. You don’t seem to realize that a person’s character is scrawled all over him – over his boots even, rough-hew them as he will.’ The reply would have been almost sprightly if it had not sounded so bitter.”

A facial justice. Keeping a slightly perfumed grey glove (with a hole in one of its fingers) that Cecil finds amid the minutiae and litter he keeps his eyes bent on, a young man cowed by his Grummumma, and a woman cousin and a Canon with the bony hands.
And that grey glove he finds on the pavement with a hole in a finger is a link to a draper’s assistant, a woman beneath him as it were, if not visually, but certainly beneath him on the social ladder. And they both ebb and flow against the blind love — in a red jagged thunderstorm — for each other. A painful passionate, poetic, textured work that will play about my mind perhaps forever. Raise your eyes at least once to read it. But it is often difficult and insufferably frustrating.

“…as if this were the first face that as a mortal creature he had ever seen at all – a landscape, a garden, a marvel, before time, lovely, earthly, yet unbelievable, all-pitying, burnt up with pain, never to be forgotten, never to be exhausted, never to be understood.”


Context of this review here:

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