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Florilegium > The best first lines in literature...

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message 1: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Reading the opening to Rebecca...

"Last night I dreamt of Manderlay again"

...it got me to thinking how powerful those first words can be.

So...What are the most memorable first lines in literature???


message 2: by Linda2 (last edited Nov 03, 2010 03:53PM) (new)

Linda2 You've opened a can of worms, because I don't think you can compare books to get one MOST memorable. There are whole websites devoted to famous first lines:

http://www.infoplease.com/ipea/A09343...


message 3: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 But I suppose mine would be from MY favorite novel, The Great Gatsby. It sets the tone for Nick, who will always be nonjudgmental throughout the book.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”



message 4: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
My own favourite is from Dodi Smith's I Capture the Castle

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink"

Its usually listed as one of the favourites on those websites referred to by Rochelle but I still find it really sets the tone for what is a truely enchanting, nostalgic and eccentric novel!

...as for opening a can of worms...our personal opinions are always very welcome and illuminating, worms or no worms! - just tell us the ones that have been memorable for YOU, which in itself is a valid form of expression regardless of what the 'accepted' opinion of those website authors is!

Ally


message 5: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments Ally,

I loved that first line. I just wasn't sure that the rest of the book held up. Maybe this is one of those books that you have to read before 21. lol.

It is still sitting on my desk, half-finished.


message 6: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 23 comments gosh. now i want to go home and open every single book i've ever read just to read the opening line...i never thought to commit such a detail to memory. blasted sieve-brain!


message 7: by Bronwyn (new)

Bronwyn (nzfriend) | 651 comments Not exactly literature, but I've always liked the first line of Anansi Boys:
"It begins, as most things begin, with a song."

There's something so pretty about that.

I don't really remember many other good first lines...


message 8: by Heather (new)

Heather | 16 comments My favorite is from The Go-Between - "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."


message 9: by Ivan (last edited Nov 07, 2010 09:03AM) (new)

Ivan | 561 comments I like that one Heather. I have a beautiful copy The Go-Between (Essential.penguin) by L.P. Hartley but have yet to read it.


message 10: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments "I am Myra Breckinridge whom no man shall ever possess."

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal - the blackest of black comedies by a master - still funny, though not as shocking as when published.


message 11: by Gregory (new)

Gregory Conway (Conway) | 2 comments I'm with Rochelle on this one (my absolute love for F. Scott Fitzgerald & The Great Gatsby may have guided my decision...)


message 12: by Amalie (new)

Amalie  | 39 comments Heather wrote: "My favorite is from The Go-Between - "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.""

Heather I love this book and yes i like the opening as well as the closing.

But my favourtie is from 'The Adventures of Peter Pan' by J. M. Barrie.

"All children, except one, grow up."

...They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this...


message 13: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Anyone fancy starting this thread up again? What are the best first lines in literature???


message 14: by Joe (new)

Joe The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten. - Twenty Thousand Legues under the seas. As a sci fi fan, this one is a must!


message 15: by Greg (new)

Greg | 330 comments Ally wrote: "Anyone fancy starting this thread up again? What are the best first lines in literature???"

This is great, Ally. I've just noticed this topic. I'm still getting orientated with BYT.
This has got me looking!


message 16: by Barbara (last edited Aug 16, 2013 09:55PM) (new)

Barbara One of my favorites is the oft-quoted beginning of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina---"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."


message 17: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb I'm with Rochelle....

"In my younger and more venerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.""


message 18: by Nina (new)

Nina (ninarg) As an Austenite, Pride and Prejudice's "It's a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" is certainly the most memorable. I quote it way more than you would think possible.

Though "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" is up there too. I read that sentence on one of those "Best opening lines in literature"-lists, and it made me want to read the rest of the book. Quirky, eccentric and so worth my time.


message 19: by Val (new)

Val I like "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" too, but "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" from "1984" takes some beating and I think last time I was asked this question I said this was my favourite opening: "Granted, I am an inmate of a mental hospital, my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight, there's a peephole in the door, and my keeper's eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue eyed type like me" from "The Tin Drum".


message 20: by Feliks (last edited Aug 16, 2013 09:15PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) I'm not sure ANY 'first line' anywhere in literature matters. If the author can't follow up with his premise, his first line isn't worth a damn. First lines are only memorable when they're followed up with quality content for the next 100 pages.


message 21: by Pat (last edited Aug 17, 2013 12:18PM) (new)

Pat Miller | 1 comments The one that's always stood out for me is from Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

It instantly hooked me in.


message 22: by Greg (last edited Aug 17, 2013 05:39PM) (new)

Greg | 330 comments Feliks wrote: "I'm not sure ANY 'first line' anywhere in literature matters. If the author can't follow up with his premise, his first line isn't worth a damn. First lines are only memorable when they're followed..."

Feliks, I agree with what you're saying, and yes after looking some up, I think with any great book that one's read like For Whom The Bell Tolls, the first line sure is profound knowing the story that follows. I think FWTBT is unique as well with first lines because of the last line in the book. Like as with in music, playing in a key and 'coming home' and ending on the key note. Love that book.

George Orwell's 'Coming Up For Air' (which I haven't read yet) has a great opening line. "THE IDEA REALLY came to me the day I got my new false teeth." Maybe with any great writer, first lines of a book carry some cred whether one's read it or not.

This looks interesting. Novels in Three Lines.
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57...
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1590172302/r...


message 23: by Val (new)

Val I had a look at the list in the link Rochelle posted. Few of the first lines in the list would make me want to read a book I hadn't already, but I have now added Murphy by Samuel Beckett to my to-read list.
'The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.'


message 24: by Mike (new)

Mike Robbins (mikerobbins) | 39 comments I think I'm with Ally on this one. Rebecca has a cracking opening line. It makes you want to know what Manderley was and why the narrator can no longer visit it.

But I also really likes this: “He came in a long prowed boat, sea mist trailing after him like a swirling cloak.” From a historical romance I very much liked, Manannan's Magic.


message 25: by Navied (new)

Navied (naviedsetayesh) | 14 comments Two of my favorites:

The Sun Also Rises
"Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn."

This Side of Paradise
"Amory Blaine inherited from his mother ever trait, except the stray inexpressible few, that made him worth while."


message 26: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Heather wrote: "My favorite is from The Go-Between - "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.""

'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there' is indeed one of the all time great opening lines Heather.

I have just started The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley and, having only read the Prologue, and the first couple of chapters, I can confidently state it would make a superb BYT fiction group read. It's wonderful.

It also shares a lot in common with the wonderful A Month in the Country.

L.P. Hartley's moving exploration of a young boy's loss of innocence would make a wonderful BYT group fiction read. I'm tempted to nominate it for August.


message 27: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Please do nominate it! I've been meaning to read it for ages. Sounds great.


message 28: by Ruth (new)

Ruth One of my favourite first lines is from one of my favourite books!

'I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.' - Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood.

I think this line is important to understanding the whole book and to a certain extent Mr Norris Changes Trains as well, in realising that the main character does not influence events, he merely observes. The events going on at the time the book is set are unstoppable and if the writer sometimes appears detached and uninvolved you can recall those opening words and remember that he is an outsider who has the choice to leave that many of the other characters do not.

Opening lines can set the whole tone of a book as in Rebecca where just reading that sentence 'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again' can conjure up melancholy and that sense of mystery


message 29: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb That Ishwerwood opening is superb - and I agree with everything you say about it too Ruth


message 30: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Nigeyb wrote: "That Isherwood opening is superb - and I agree with everything you say about it too Ruth"

Thanks Nigeyb.


message 31: by Donald (new)

Donald Whiteway | 24 comments Ruth, that was a great observation of Isherwood's narrator being removed from the action. His "I am a camera...." says it all (it was also the name of a play based on the two works you refer to---a non-musical version of 'Cabaret'). I also liked your comparison of the "I" from Rebecca.....


message 32: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Donald wrote: "Ruth, that was a great observation of Isherwood's narrator being removed from the action. His "I am a camera...." says it all (it was also the name of a play based on the two works you refer to---a..."

Thanks Donald. Yes that's true - both books written in the first person by people who are set slightly apart from the action.


message 33: by Ryan (new)

Ryan | 5 comments "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers.


message 34: by Jon (new)

Jon  Blanchard  | 2 comments “The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.” Stella Gibbons Cold Comfort Farm


message 35: by Amalie (new)

Amalie  | 39 comments “On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide—it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills—the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.” The Virgin Suicides

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
The Go-Between

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." The Hobbit

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." Lolita

"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone

"They say trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. " Wide Sargasso Sea

"All children, except one, grow up." Peter Pan


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