Opening Lines

For me, the opening line sometimes determines whether or not I will read the entire story; whether it be a novel, a play or even a poem.

As I watched the world series last week with my husband I was reminded of the opening line from Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon (he has always been one of my favorite playwrights). Matthew Broderick played the character of 15-year-old Eugene both on stage and in the movie. The play opens with him calling and imaginary baseball game: “One out, a man on, bottom of the seventh, two balls, no strikes…”

I thought, “Well, heck, there’s an idea for a blog post!” So, here are some of my favorite opening lines.

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

from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’m a little biased with this one because Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book. Jane had a way of making stuffy regency etiquette almost laughable with wit and sensibility. In other words she had no problem making fun of her own peers. The novel also depicts what day-to-day life could be like for the landed gentry of England during the 19th century which is of particular interest for fans of historical fiction.

During her lifetime her novels were published anonymously using the pen name “A Lady,” however in some elite circles she was known to be the author in question. One of her biggest fans was the Prince Regent, whom she detested. She was obligated to dedicate her fourth novel Emma to him. Hey, how do you say no to the future king?

“You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?”

from Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time. She is the Queen of Mysteries! Christie has sold more than one billion copies in the English language alone. The lady definitely has staying power! Her novels and short stories have been adapted for film and the stage. She’s one of my favorites. In this story Belgium detective Hercule Poirot uses his “little gray cells” to solve the murder of the overbearing and fiendish Mrs. Boynton.

“Marley was dead: to begin with.”

from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I think everybody has seen a version of this story; whether it be with an all-star cast or the Muppets (which is actually a really enjoyable rendition). As we all know, books are always better than the movie so, if you are inclined, I encourage you to read the novella. This Christmas ghost story was written in response to social attitudes in England toward poverty, specifically child poverty. “God bless us, every one!” Well said Tiny Tim!

“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by his sun of York.”

from Richard III by William Shakespeare

You didn’t think you’re going to get through this post without me mentioning Shakespeare, did you? There were a couple options here but I picked Richard III because my husband loves it so much. Personally, I would have gone with Hamlet which opens with the line “Who’s there?”

People tend to use this line to highlight a negative situation, but in truth, the title character is making a jubilant declaration. The house of York has retaken the throne of England and the war is over. Good times ahead… Maybe not, though. I mean, it is a tragedy after all.

“He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine – he could see out, but you couldn’t see in.”

from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

This is my all-time favorite opening line! The above sentence is the reason I purchased the book. I found it so inviting I wanted to read on. Back in the day, which seems much longer ago than it actually was, I worked at a bookstore. (Bookstores used to be as common as Dollar Generals. Now we simply download a book and listen to it while fighting traffic on our way to work.) Working there exposed me to works I might not have come across on my own.

What I love most is that this is a work of non-fiction that reads as fiction. It follows the story of an eccentric antique dealer who is on trial for the murder of a male prostitute. Berendt’s writing has a very distinct pictorial quality. This book made me want to go down south and explore Savannah, from the innocent oak trees hanging with moss to the sultry sounds of a smoky jazz club.

What are your favorite first lines? I’d love to hear them.

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