Other bookish posts

Some of my favourite first lines from classics

Recently, out of the blue, I started thinking about first lines in classics. I could easily quote a few, and I noticed how beautiful, interesting or strong most of them were. So today I’m going to share some of my favourites, as all of them would make a never-ending blog post. I haven’t read all of the mentioned books, some I don’t have any intention to, however, I still wanted to feature them here. Also, just a quick disclaimer that I’m not an English student, so my reasonings will not be academic or analytic, haha.

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Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Actually, this was what inspired me to write my post. I absolutely adore this first sentence, I could hear a woman saying it out loud, whispering like a secret. It sets the dreamy, uncanny atmosphere so well. I watched the latest movie which I didn’t like. It’s not the adaptation’s fault, but the actual story’s as the actors were amazing. I am just not a big fan of gothic as a genre, I rarely enjoy it, and this was not an exception.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Okay, but I get goosebumps from this first paragraph. So lyrical, long-winded like Dickens usually, but beautiful. It even inspired Taylor Swift’s Getaway Car:

“It was the best of times, the worst of crimes”

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Talk about setting the mood, haha. From this little sentence, you can kind of sense, even if you know nothing about this book, that it’s not going to be a happy one. I love that even Gilmore Girls featured this famous quote (or a butchered version á la Luke):

1984 by George Orwell

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Even though I despised 1984 very much when I read the graphic novel, I can not deny how smart this first line is. The juxtaposition of bright and cold is brilliant. You can sense at once that something fishy is going on from the “the clocks were striking thirteen” part.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Even though Pride and Prejudice is not my favourite Austen novel (that title goes to Emma), I can’t not mention this absolutely iconic line. Everyone who is at least a bit into books knows this. It’s so descriptive of the era it was set in, and what Austen’s novels are mostly about on the surface (of course they are so much more).

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

So poetic! I am fond of how he uses elements in this line: fire and ice. You can see from the get-go that this is a story set in the past, the narrator is telling this like a tale. I haven’t read this book yet, but I really want to, it sounds magical.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

”It was a pleasure to burn.”

This is probably the shortest and most powerful first sentence from this bunch. I mean, are you not intrigued by now? And it’s only the beginning. I really enjoyed this book when I read it aeons ago, and I also recommend the 1966 movie.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

I haven’t read this, and probably won’t ever, but I can not stop thinking about this first sentence. It’s so shocking and violent! It sets up the gloomy tone of the book perfectly.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

”Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”

I’m just as surprised as you are. It’s a really disgusting beginning, especially if you know what the book is about, but I can’t deny the fact that it’s a pretty powerful line. Short and concise, it starts with a name, putting the spotlight on her. Also, using elements, especially the word fire, is a sure-fire way to catch my attention.

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

All children, except one, grow up.”

This is perfection. It sums up the theme of the book so well, and you immediately know that this book is going to be about that one kid who never grows up. It’s short but says a lot.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

I’ve read this book a few years ago, and to be completely frank, I hated it. It didn’t scare me but annoy me to no end, and I was relieved when I finally finished it. That was probably when I realised that gothic isn’t for me. However, this opening line is just phenomenal. I don’t know why but it grabs you and doesn’t want to let go.

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Do you have a favourite first line? Have you read any of these? Do you agree they’re great opening lines?

Morgan

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4 thoughts on “Some of my favourite first lines from classics

  1. The first line of peter pan is one of my all time favourites ever!! It really does sum up the entire book. Another one of my favourites is the hobbit’s opening paragraph – I love the whimsical feel in it!!
    Great post💜

    Liked by 1 person

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