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It's an article in the UK Daily Telegraph from back in October (here if you want to look for yourself):

30 Great Opening Lines

I admit that some of these really pack a punch, one way or another.

It starts with Jane Austen: “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 (1813)

Continues with lines like:

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina (1878)

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York."
Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar (1963)

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”
Franz Kafka: Metamorphosis (1915)

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”
Samuel Beckett: Murphy (1938)

I didn't have any quarrel with any of those, or with most of the others selected, come to that, until I came to this:

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day."

Seriously? A "great" opening line?

For those who don't recognise it (because it's hardly memorable), it's from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Now I admit I am not an admirer of the Brontes. At some point in my life I've had to read just about all their stuff for one class or another and personally, I think they write total tripe.

However, I accept that some people love their stuff, and that's fine.

But surely a "great" opening line has to have more going for it than that it's the first line of a book that someone likes.

How about this, from another 19th century author, for an opening line:

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”
H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

Or this, from a 20th Century author:

" `I have been here before,' I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were creamy with meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; it was a day of peculiar splendour, and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest."
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Or this, from an author of the 21st century:

"My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece."
Annabel Pitcher, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Or even these:

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun."
Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that never was meant to fly, the curling star winds waver and part ..."
Terry Pratchett, The Colour of Magic

"Marley was dead to begin with."
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

"To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman."
Arthur Conan Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia

And if I want to cheat a little the unforgettable and heart-breaking two line prologue of Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front:

"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war."

I'm sure there are a kazillion others that I haven't thought of, and even more that I've never read.

But to me all "great" opening lines have one thing in common - they make you want to read more. They intrigue; they suggest mirth or mystery or excitement or romance; they make you believe that the author has something funny or beautiful or unusual or at least interesting to say, or else that whatever they're saying they will have a funny or beautiful or unusual or interesting way of saying it.

I simply can't believe that something as ... well, as banal as "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." really fits. I don't believe that it belongs anywhere near a galaxy of wonderful lines like those quoted above.

Personally, it does absolutely nothing for me. It lacks the wry humour of Austen, the beauty of Evelyn Waugh, the perceptive insight of Tolstoy. It offers nothing to me that invites me to read further. I don't even care why there was no possibility of taking a walk that day. It sounds like it's a dull wet afternoon and makes me think it's better to stay indoors and find something more interesting to do than read a book with such a dreary opening line.

Sorry, rant over.

I just can't abide the Bronte's at their best and the inclusion of this terribly dreary line alongside some truly amazing ones simply staggered me.


I know I said I'd put the rest under a cut, but while I was looking up the first line of the Colour of Magic I came across this website:

The Colour of Magic Quotes by Terry Pratchett"

If you've never ready the Discworld books, I can only feel regret that you've missed out, alongside envy that you have all that pleasure before you. If you want to start, The Colour of Magic is the first.

Here are a few highlights:

“Rincewind tried to force the memory out of his mind, but it was rather enjoying itself there, terrorizing the other occupants and kicking over the furniture.”


“No, what he didn't like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk.”


“Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying.”


Seriously, the man was a comic genius. Go read his stuff. If you find the thought of all those Discworld books to much to cope with, try Good Omens, the book he wrote with that other genius Neil Gaiman.

And because I can't resist, just one quote from that (seriously, to cover all my favourite lines I'd have to quote just about the whole book):

“IT WASN’T A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. It should have been, but that’s the weather for you. For every mad scientist who’s had a convenient thunderstorm just on the night his Great Work is finished and lying on the slab, there have been dozens who’ve sat around aimlessly under the peaceful stars while Igor clocks up the overtime.”


Date: 27/12/15 01:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] connorblond.livejournal.com

You are my kind of woman! The Bronte's are so totally overrated it's not even funny anymore. I loathe their heroines and the story lines are, indeed, totally trite. And because people want to be cool they quote opening lines from "well read and well known" books. Which is totally trite, too!
There are so many great opening lines! So many, so, so many! The Bronte sisters' books aren't in my mind when it comes to them. Not one.

How about these!?

Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.
—George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

“The war in Zagreb began over a pack of cigarettes.”
—Girl at War by Sara Nović

I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.
- Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
- William Shakespeare, MacBeth

And so on! :)

Date: 27/12/15 02:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wren-kt7oz.livejournal.com
Ah, Connor, it's scary how much we are on the same page when our backgrounds, ages, experiences, everything, are so different.

Love the Middlemarch quote, brings back good memories of the book. The Girl at War quote makes me want to find the book and read it. Bill Bryson I nearly always find amusing, and this line promises that I'd find this book equally entertaining.

This is what good opening lines do. Let alone great ones.

And as for the Macbeth quote - isn't it incredible? I have to admit it's one of my favourite plays. I can quote large chunks of it from memory just because it's so full of incredible imagery.

But your mention of it reminds me of one of my favourite Discworld openings.

I have to admit it's not a single line, it's a paragraph or two, but I find it hilarious.

The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain-lashed hills.

The night was as black as the inside of a cat. It was the kind of night, you could believe, on which gods moved men as though they were pawns on the chessboard of fate. In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel's eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: 'When shall we three meet again?'

There was a pause.

Finally, another voice said in far more ordinary tones: 'Well, I can do next Tuesday.'

Love it.

But you're right ... there are so many, many wonderful opening lines. But to include anything by the Brontes ... maybe they were just afraid of being accused of sexism because there were more male authors than female. But honestly, to include any of the boring Brontes to represent women writers is simply insulting and patronising.


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