Everybody loves a good read. And truly good reads are often recognizable from the very first line in. Here are 20 of the Most Memorable First Lines in Literature.
“It is truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813).
Austen subtly kick starts a wave of feminism in a woman’s right to decide.
“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.”
~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859).
Dickens can’t make his mind up and neither can we in this wonderfully stretched introduction of a brand new era.
“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’.”
~ Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
Lewis Carroll converts the non-believers into a world of rabbit holes and hmmm pictures and conversation?
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
~ Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1878).
Leo Tolstoy demonstrates that deep down nothing much has changed in the last one hundred and fifty years.
“The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”
~ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890).
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so Wilde would have you believe.
“All children, except one, grow up.”
~ J.M. Barrie, Peter and Wendy (1911).
Every reader at that precise moment share the fairy-tale belief that they are indeed that one.
“He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.”
~ Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928).
Virginia Woolf lets us take a peek into her inner circle with gender bending narratives and queer subtext from the get go.
“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”
~ Maraget Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (1936).
From the first written scrawl a southern starlet is born.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
~ J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937).
Years before Harry Potter was a different kind of universe all starting from a tiny little diminutive hole.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13.”
~ George Orwell, 1984 (1949).
Sunny frosty day, check. Spring setting, check. The clock struck 13…ch… Hang on?
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
~ L.P Hartley, The Go Between (1953).
Different customs and cultures may not be all that different for Hartley’s protagonist.
“I am Sam.”
~ Dr Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham (1960).
Who knew Sam would be such a pivotal character in a time of civil unrest with this poetic nonsensical daydream.
“What’s it going to be then, eh?”
~ Anthony Burgess, A Clock Work Orange (1962).
Anger, frustration, hate and misery. A reoccurring question in Burgesses compelling dystopian nightmare.
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
~ Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963).
We didn’t know either but we really wanted to find out.
“In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part.”
~ Terry Pratchett, The Colour of Magic (1983).
And so it begins as Pratchett introduces us to his world of wonders that will go on to entertain the young and the old for years to come.
“A witch is always a woman”
~ Roald Dahl, The Witches (1983).
And a ghoul is always a male. Gender politics at its best in Roald Dahl’s horror for children.
“An abandoned auto cout in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a.45 automatic, and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border-right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootsack his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.”
~ James Ellroy, LA Confidential (1990).
You can almost smell the shady bacon and seedy scent of blackmail in this fast paced neo noir LA thriller.
“Sunday 1st January -129 lbs. (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year’s Day), cigarettes 22, calories 5424.”
~ Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones Diary (1996).
How times have so dramatically changed since Austin’s fight for choice. Fielding showcases a new age for the modern woman.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997).
And with that a whole new life had been created. Thank YOU very much J.K Rowling.
“I’m pretty much fucked.”
~ Andy Weir, The Martian (2011).
Probably exactly what Austen wanted to say when presented with Mr Collins as a future husband. 200 Years later and Andy Weir sums it up perfectly for the beginning of this sci-fi tense thriller.