Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First Lines

Elmer Gantry is a satirical novel written by Sinclair Lewis in 1926
"Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk."
Sinclair Lewis: Elmer Gantry (1926)
Picture: AP
There is a fun photo feast in the online edition of the UK newspaper The Telegraph. Here, according to culture editor Martin Chilton, are thirty of the great opening lines in literature. Some familiar, some not. The best part is seeing the wonderful photos of the authors paired with the covers of their books.

Of course there are Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice) and Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities), but also Jean Rhys (The Wide Sargasso Sea) and Ken Kesey (One Few Over the Cuckoo's Nest).  I was especially taken with the above black and white photograph of Sinclair Lewis sitting at his typewriter dressed in a suit and tie. I guess the photo was not taken on Casual Friday.

Therefore, not to be outdone by The Telegraph, here is a sampling of first lines from books on my own shelves:

"Those privileged to be present at a family festival of the Forsytes have seen that charming and instructive sight -- an upper middle-class family in full plumage."
    ----The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of Ngong Hills."
    ----Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch."
    ----Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck

"On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology."
    ----The Once and Future King by T.H. White

"Had one been a Prime Minister there would be every reason for talking of one's first tooth and devoting a chapter or two to its effect upon the history of our times."
    ----Twenty-five by Beverley Nichols

"There were several promising-looking letters in the pile laid on Mrs. James Kane's virgin breakfast-plate on Monday morning, but having sorted all the envelopes with the air of one expectant of discovering treasure-trove, she extracted two addressed to her in hands indicative of either illiteracy or of extreme youth."
    ----Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

What first lines are lurking on your shelves?


  1. The book I am reading begins: "Someone once told me that in France alone, a quarter of million letters are delivered every year to the dead" (The second sentence completes Chapter 1: "What she didn't tell me is that sometimes the dead write back."

    Peaches for Tather Francis by Joanne Harris

  2. Love it! Thanks for adding it to the page.

  3. "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed."
    I had the pleasure and privilege of hearings these lines read aloud, while sitting at the top of the Martello Tower in Sandycove Dublin the morning (beautiful as it was) of the 100th anniversary of the setting of Ulysses by James Joyce, Bloomsday June 16th 2004. For decades I was intimidated by the book thinking it was too difficult, now I read all or some of it each year in June and recall with fondness that wonderful morning.

    1. What a great first line and what a delightful memory for you Tullik. The only Joyce I have read is 'Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man'. That was many years ago. I would quote the first line but the book is gone.