The opening line of a book is arguably the most important sentence of all. It’s the author’s initial (and possibly only) opportunity to capture the reader’s interest, to create enough curiosity in people’s minds that they keep reading. I think of A Tale of Two Cities, by Dickens: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. We don’t know exactly what this seemingly contradictory statement means … but we want to, which is the point.
Let’s see how I’m doing with my opening lines.
The Darcys of Pemberley: It is a truth universally acknowledged that even the most ignoble person on the face of the earth appears more praiseworthy after death. What does this line accomplish? First, it rings a bell for Jane Austen fans, reminding them of the famous opening to Pride and Prejudice. Hopefully, it also conveys the idea that this novel will provide more of the same kind of lovely reading experience. And it should pose a question too. Who has died and, consequently, now appears more praiseworthy?
For Myself Alone: Through the first two decades of her existence, Josephine Walker led a singularly uneventful and ordinary life that gave little hint of what was to come. Again, a question is immediately raised. What was to come so surprisingly into Miss Walker’s otherwise ordinary life? You must read on to find out.
First of Second Chances: What would the average guy give to turn back the clock and set his life straight? Here the first line is an actual question, giving the reader hints to both the tone and theme of the story that follows.
I wonder if Jane Austen was aware of the singular importance of an opening line. Did she agonize over them, as her modern counterparts do, or just write down the first thing that popped into her brilliant mind? Some of her first lines are more dazzling than others, with the blue ribbon going to Pride and Prejudice in my humble opinion. But you can judge for yourself, if you can sort them out in the montage below:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the family Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex, where, about thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward knew and envied Emma Woodhouse, who seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence. Contrariwise, no one (not even Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire) who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine.
How did you do? Which JA book gets your vote for the best first line? Do you have any other favorite opening lines?