Thursday, 27 June 2013

Favourite First Line: Classics Club

To say that I am unimpressed by the speed with which this year is passing is an understatement. I am thoroughly unimpressed. I mean, really, we're in June already? In fact, we're one week away from July already? How the hell did that happen? I feel like I should be getting motion sickness, the earth must be spinning at speed.

Anyway, as much as it pains me, it is June which means there is a new monthly question from the Classics Club:

What is your favourite opening sentence from a classic novel (and why)?

Now, before I get cracking I have to add a disclaimer: I am going to talk about several opening sentences. Not because I am greedy, just because it was far too hard to chose just one. It is pretty harsh to limit us to just one. I can't even decide on a favourite book let alone a favourite opening line. There are just TOO MANY BOOKS.

I had a whale of time trying to answer this. I sat in front of my two fiction bookshelves and considered my options for some time. Weighing the pros and cons of each sentence. Getting carried away with reading and finding myself at the end of the first chapter and not the first sentence. What can you do? I'm a Lit Nerd through and through.

A long time ago my favourite opening sentence was from Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier:

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

It still does give me spine shivers and I do still love it but it has been bested by four other magnificent openers.

1. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

'This is the saddest story I have ever heard.'

I only have to read this line and the entirety of The Good Solider floods right back. It is simple, decisive, intriguing and completely draws you in.

2. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L Sayers

'"What in the world, Wimsey, are you doing in this morgue?" demanded Captain Fentiman, flinging aside the Evening Banner with the air of a man released from an irksome duty.'

Oh, Dorothy you babe. This was the first time I met the delightful Wimsey and I pretty much fell in love straight away. Bellona will always be my favourite out of the series (I've not quite read them all, mind) because of the whole shell shock issue. I have a fascination will shell shock and spent about half of my MA year writing essays about its representation in literature. I do have a tendency to get quite obsessive...I'm sure you all haven't already guessed that. I really love the way this one sentence is so active, introduces two characters and sets the tone of the entire novel. Winner.

3. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

'This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure and what a Man's resolution can achieve.'

I cannot resist spreading the Wilkie love*. You've just got to love Victorian gender roles, haven't you? I have a strange urge to completely analyse this sentence but I will refrain, for all our sakes. Let's just say it's Wilkie, it's The Woman in White, it's intriguing and it's Victorian. Just how I like it.

4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

'All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.'

This is a newie on me as I only started reading it a couple of weeks ago. I did dip into the first page after the spin number was announced and I think I put something on twitter about this opening. It's famous and well-loved and rightly so. What a line. You've got me, Leo.



Wilkie = babe


*In fact, who would fancy a Wilkie readalong or event of some sort? I'm dying for some of his narrative goodness and it's the sort of thing you just want to share. Unless anyone knows of a planned something or other already? TELL ME NOW.


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8 comments

  1. GREAT first lines! I'm horrible at remembering them, but the longgg first line-paragraph from A Tale of Two Cities sticks out.

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    1. A Tale of Two Cities is like the ultimate in first lines! I only remembered them because I went back through each one...

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  2. Which Wilkies you have in mind? I was planning to start Moonstone some time (soon-ish-ish?) but maybe you have already read it. Love the beginning of Anna K and the first one you have there is very very good as well.

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    1. I was thinking The Moonstone...either that or No Name. Just because they are both on my cc list. But I can be easily persuaded to go with any other!

      I was surprised as I looked through my favourite books how many had really good first lines. It's not something I usually look at too much but I think I may pay a bit more attention now.

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  3. Yay for Rebecca :)

    The last two lines are really good, although both are on my to-read list. Something to look forward to I guess!

    I would love a Wilkie readalong... I read The Moonstone, but not anything else by him yet.

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    1. It seems there are some clear overall favourites...mostly Rebecca!

      You're going to be the difficult one aren't you?! I was thinking of doing The Moonstone...We shall see.

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  4. The opening line for Rebecca is my favourite too!

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    1. So simple yet so spine-tingly!

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