One of the pleasures of literature is finding a great opening line. As anyone who has attempted to write fiction can attest, crafting that first line is difficult. These are of the greatest first lines in the history of books.
1. 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.
—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Charles’ Dickens first line from A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most well-known – and parodied – openers ever written.
2. I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
Ralph Ellison’s classic novel Invisible Man opens with an intriguing first statement. It puts the reader on notice that this is a very different book. You can’t tell if the first line suggests a story rooted in science fiction or reality. The tension created by opening line builds throughout the novel, as you begin to feel the true weight of the narrator’s plight.
3. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. —Franz Kafka, The Trial
Franz Kafka is the master of surrealist fiction. His opening line is an announcement that Josef K is resolutely innocent. This undeniable fact turns into a horror for Josef K.
4. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. —Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938)
Samuel Beckett is a master of comedy and this first line reveals so much in so few words: the narrator’s total omniscience, his philosophical outlook, and the fact he will be grappling with reality and freedom.
5. This is the saddest story I have ever heard. —Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)
Ford Maddox Ford’s novel has stood the test of time. This line hints at the darkness to come, which involves unraveling of two good marriages.
6. It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. —Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was a popular Victorian novelist famous for his florid prose. His overwrought first line has spawned its very own contest: Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC), which challenges writers to compose the worst opening lines possible. Lytton is also known for coining the phrases “the great unwashed”, “pursuit of the almighty dollar”, and “the pen is mightier than the sword.”
7. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
No opening lines have ever gotten so deeply into the minds of an average teenager. J.D. Salinger’s masterpiece follows a story of teenage alienation that is completely foreshadowed in this opening.
Originally posted 2016-07-18 19:31:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter