Michael Berube teaches literature and cultural studies at Penn State. On his blog, he’s started a l-o-n-g discussion (187 comments and counting) of Great First Lines in Novels. Some place called Center for Book Culture (??) is taking nominations in order to compile a list of the 100 best first lines.

Here are some of my favorites, not necessarily my favorite novels, but favorite first lines:

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

2. 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

3. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

4. There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.

5. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

6. Now, Bix Rivers has disappeared, and who do you think is going to tell his story but me? Maybe his stepfather? Man, that dude does not know Bix deep and now he never will, will he?

7. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor!”

8. Dr. Strauss says I shud rite down what I think and evrey thing that happins to me from now on.

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

10. All children, except one, grow up.

Not too hard. Who will be the first to guess all ten?

10 responses

  1. Paula says:

    I am in agreement with number 2 so obviously I know it. I know #7 and 10. #1 I would guess at.

  2. Carrie K. says:

    1. Pride and Prejudice?
    2. A Tale of Two Cities
    3. Rebecca
    4. ?
    5. ?
    6. ?
    7. Little Women
    8. ?
    9. ?
    10. Peter Pan

    Not a great percentage, I know!

  3. Waterfall says:

    Oh my. It is a temptation to google some of these ..

    1. Pride and Prejudice

    2. A Tale of Two Cities (I remember memorizing that in ninth grade!)

    3. Rebecca (actually I didn’t remember that one but copied from the previous commenter.) 🙂

    4. Something from the Narnia series … Dawn Treader?

    5. David Copperfield?

    6. No idea …

    7. Little Women

    8. Flowers for Algernon?

    9. 1984 … I love that line

    10. Peter Pan

    Aren’t books wonderful?

  4. Yeah well – I’m in agreement with #1. Ha! But I don’t know any single men of large fortune – and even if I did… my husband would probably object to my chasing them down.

  5. Great First Lines
    Michael Bérubé is collecting great first lines from novels. If you’ve got a personal favorite, jump on over and contribute. (Via Semicolon).

  6. S. Lewis says:

    Wait… I don’t believe it…

    I know them all!!!

    #1 Pride and Prejudice
    #2 A Tale of Two Cities
    #3 Rebecca
    #4 The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
    #5 David Copperfield
    #6 The Moves Make The Man
    #7 Little Women
    #8 Flowers for Algernon
    #9 1984
    #10 Peter Pan

    Do I win a prize or something?

  7. First lines
    Sherry…has…ten great first lines from novels… I just did a quick look at some of my favorite books…and find that most…lean toward good first paragraphs or pages, but the first lines themselves aren’t anything to stand up and be noticed. So f…

  8. Marcus Bengtsson says:

    I have never really understood why the opening line of 1984 is so famous and loved… I mean, the book is great, but that line feels clichéd. A bit like a travesty of “It was a dark and stormy night”…
    Ok, so maybe some people react to the fact that the clocks are striking thirteen? I guess that could be the thing, if it isn’t anything else I’ve missed. I guess I never reacted to that since we almost exclusively use 24-hour time in Sweden (well, not on analog clocks though, and that was probably what he was talking about, but still).
    Well, anyway, good list, I just don’t get why that line always gets included 🙂

  9. […] I’ve posted here before about first lines, but not about closing lines. My favorites from the ABR list: […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *