Monday, December 17, 2007
Great first lines
KGMom did a great post listing some of her favorite opening lines in literature, and I just had to steal her idea and give you a few of my own. One of my favorite parts of The Hours is the portrayal of just how freakin' long it takes Virginia Woolf to write the first line of Mrs. Dalloway; I can imagine that the first line of any literary work would probably be the hardest to write.
Her post is well-stocked with some of my favorites (Melville, Kafka, Fitzgerald, Homer, to name a few), so count those among my favorites. You're probably guessing the Melville ("Call me Ishmael") and the Kafka ("As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect"), but you may be wondering about the Homer. As an English major, I read a lot of the classics, and I even taught a course in Early World Literature way back when, and Homer's The Odyssey opens with a line containing a beautiful epithet, "rosy-fingered dawn," which has long been one of my favorite literary phrases. My photo at the top of the post is a decent example of "rosy-fingered dawn," but I've seen better.
Some of my other favorites:
"124 was spiteful." The Great Toni Morrison, Beloved -- one of the best books ever written by an American, period.
"When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun. " Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd -- is there any better description of a smile? Hardy could be rather verbose, but he really nailed it on this one.
"None of them knew the color of the sky." Steven Crane, "The Open Boat" -- not really a novel, more like a very long short story, but a beautiful piece of writing. There are so many phrases that I love in this story: "appropos of nothing" (nope, Sheryl Crow didn't write that one), "It was precisely like the point of a pin," (that's tiny!) and "It was less to him than the breaking of a pencil's point" (ouch!).
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye -- Salinger obviously remembered what it was like to be a teenage boy, full of pepper and sarcasm, and unable to understand the world around him.
"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 -- In high school, when I read this book the first time, I felt incredibly depressed for about two solid weeks. It just killed me knowing that the protagonist in the book got better, but Plath never did. I also have remembered that phrase about electrocuting the Rosenbergs since then.
What are some of your favorite opening lines?