Posted by: oneyearbook | March 12, 2009

First lines

It’s not my intention to share – or throw open to poll – my novel’s first line here on the blog, but all the writing about titles reminded me of the particular pressure that also belongs to the first few words in any book. The other day I was reading a book (I think it was in this one, although I’m not 100 per cent on that and apologize if I’m wrong) that mentioned what the author thought was the most recognizable first line in the English language canon: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Most recognizable? Possibly; the book currently has a good hold in popular consciousness because of the high number of well-liked movie adaptations that have come out in the last decade and a half. Also mentioned as particularly memorable was “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” which, judging by how often my father announces it will be the first line to his never-to-be-written novel, I think actually has a stronger hold on the public consciousness, at least as a first line.

Here’s a quiz about famous first lines. I got 11/13 (question 8 and 11 wrong). Both those above are included.

I don’t know if it’s intentional or not – Wikipedia seems to think so, calling it an allusion – but I think it’s funny that the hugely well-regarded A Wrinkle in Time uses the same opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night,” as Edward Bulwer-Lytton does in Paul Clifford. (Also reference in the above quiz, so, a freebie.) That sentence, and Bulwer-Lytton’s use of it, has gone on to inspire the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest, awarded to the author of a heinously bad sentence.


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