Franz Kafka once said “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that would stab or wound us…”, and some books do just that. From the very first line, they shove you rudely, and demand your attention. Great art demands a response, and as Susan Sontag once eschewed, “Literature is Dialogue; responsiveness.”
From the soul stirring, to the aghast; from the poetic to the downright hilarious, these are 20 of the greatest opening sentence in Literature.
1. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife
– Jane Austen, Pride And Prejudice
- Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
– Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita.
- Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.
– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.
- The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel –
- Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years, I trusted them, and found them to be trustworthy.
– Helen Opeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird
- “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.”
– Charles Dickens, A Tale Of Two Cities.
- Saunders had been dead for over two weeks now, and so far, he hadn’t enjoyed a minute of it.
– Grant Naylor, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers.
- When I was nine, I hid under the table, and heard my sister kill a king.
– Frances Mary Hendy, Quest For A Maid.
- It was inevitable: the smell of bitter almonds always reminded him of unrequited love.
– Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love In The Midst of Cholera
10. Ships at a distance has every man’s wish on board.
– Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
- Not everybody knows how i killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar.
– Flann O’brien, The Third Policeman.
- it was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen
– George Orwell, Ninety-eighty Four
- The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.
– L. P. Hartley, The Go Between.
- I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, without thinking.
– Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin.
- A green hunting cap squeezed the top of a fleshy balloon of a head.
– John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy Of Dunces
- He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the gulf stream, and he had gone eighty fours days without taking a fish.
– Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man And The Sea.
- When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart out of a fine spring afternoon. – James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss. I
n the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.
— Carson McCullers. The heart is a lonely hunter.
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out of the hills, resting.
— Stephen Crane. The Red badge of Courage.
- High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour.
— David Lodge. Changing places.
“Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.”
— Gertrude Stein. The Making of Americans.
What are your favourite opening sentences?