May 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Best First Lines in Fiction

A Novel Reader.jpg
The Guardian picked their top 10 first lines in fiction on Saturday and the list is still the most-read feature on the culture section of their website.  Who can resist a good list?

Two of my favorites are on there:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife." (Pride and Prejudice)

"There was no possibility of a walk that day."  (Jane Eyre).

The rest of the Guardian's list contains such luminaries as Joyce, Plath, Wodehouse, Twain and Stevenson.  But glaringly absent from the British newspaper's list is that quintessential British author: Charles Dickens.  Is there any writer with more consistently memorable first lines?

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." (A Tale of Two Cities)

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show." (David Copperfield)

"Marley was dead, to begin with." (A Christmas Carol)

But my personal favorite first lines manage to condense, in a single sentence, the style, tone, and subject of the pages that follow:

The looming, Gothic drama of Rebecca:

"Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

The spiritual and stylistic sparseness of A Farewell to Arms:

"In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains."

Or the descent into vengeful madness of A Cask of Amontillado:

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge."

So, what are some of your favorite first lines?

[Art: Van Gogh's A Novel Reader]