Ten of My Favorite Opening Lines

I’m in the midst of edits for The Stolen Crown, so I’ve been a bad blogger lately. Anyway, because some time ago, I mentioned some of my favorite closing lines from novels, I thought I’d do the same for opening lines I like. As was the case then, my favorite writers are overrepresented, but I at least did find one historical novel to round off the bunch:

Jane Austen, Persuasion:

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.

Charles Dickens: Bleak House:

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall.

[Yes, I cheated with two lines there.]

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son:

Dombey sat in the corner of the darkened room in the great armchair by the bedside, and Son lay tucked up warm in a little basket bedstead, carefully disposed on a low settee immediately in front of the fire and close to it, as if his constitution were analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown while he was very new.

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations:

My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

Barbara Pym, A Glass of Blessings:

I suppose it must have been the shock of hearing the telephone ring, apparently in the church, that made me turn my head and see Piers Longridge in one of the side aisles behind me.

Anne Tyler, Searching for Caleb:

The fortune teller and her grandfather went to New York City on an Amtrak train, racketing along with their identical, peaky white faces set due north.

P. D. James, Unnatural Causes:

The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast.

Reay Tannahill, The Seventh Son:

“Sapphires for my bride-to-be and a severed head for the king my brother,” said Duke Richard cheerfully.

Just a few: I’m sure I’ll think of some more later that I wish I had included. Got some you want to add?

8 thoughts on “Ten of My Favorite Opening Lines”

  1. One of my absolute favourites is from Mary Renault's The Bull from the Sea: "It was dolphin weather, when I sailed into Piraeus with my comrades of the Cretan bull ring."

  2. Those are great lines, Susan, thanks for sharing. I miss Dickens. Need to dust him off again. And Anne Tyler, I haven't read those thay you quoted from. I do recall checking out the same book of hers from the library in college though, can't think of it off the top of my head now.
    Of course, I love the Sapphires line as well. 🙂

  3. Nan Hawthorne

    "When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis

  4. Justine Kelly

    I have always loved the first few lines of "A Tale of Two Cities" — "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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way–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."

  5. Great list. For me, Dickens always did the best openings, along with Jane Austen. While I know it is not actually the first line, I have always loved "to begin my life with the beginning of my life".

    However, the one, the only, the all time best for me- not only because it is so well written, but because it means I am embarking once again into the world of my most favorite book- is "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

  6. I always liked the opening paragraph to Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, one of my favorites:

    In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

  7. Barbara Martin

    Like Marie Burton I want to read Dickens again, which has to wait until my ARC reviews are done.

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