19 of literature’s best first lines

Reading others’ words can often bring inspiration to your own writing. One editor shares her favorite opening lines from famous works.

I recently reorganized my books.

As I took the titles off the shelves, dusted and reordered them, I was struck by how much I had loved reading them. It was like spending time with every friend I ever had.

Whenever I find myself struggling with a writing project, I turn to fiction for inspiration. By revisiting all the books I love to read, I found inspiration in their opening lines—enough to get me through any writing project.

Here are several of my favorites:

1. The music-room in the Governor’s House at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli’s C major quartet.
“Master and Commander” by Patrick O’Brian

2. Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.
“The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman

3. “So now get up.”
Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard .
“Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel

4. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
“1984” by George Orwell

5. It was a pleasure to burn.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury

6. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.
“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka

7. All children, except one, grow up.
“Peter Pan” by J.M Barrie

8. The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry.
“Jude the Obscure” by Thomas Hardy

9. It’s good to get in touch with you at last. Could I have one of your
fish postcards?

Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence” by Nick Bantock

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10. No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.
“Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

11. Marley was dead: to begin with.
“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

12. When shall we three meet again/In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

13. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

14. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
“I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith

15. You’ve been here before.
“Needful Things” by Stephen King

16. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

17. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.
“Middlemarch” by George Eliot

18. We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

19. To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.
“A Scandal in Bohemia” from “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

What are some of your favorite opening lines?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks. This article was previously published on PR Daily in December 2016.

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2 Responses to “19 of literature’s best first lines”

    Satish says:

    Your selection does one particular service to the art of writing, namely the Bard’s line. All other lines you cite are ordinary, even trite, some smelly too after writers’ “writing make up”, hence offish, why putting off… Shakespeare wins hands down. Look at those words. It is brilliant sunshine coming on upon a darkly day.
    Yet your view is restricted to English literature.
    I come from the Sanskrit side. If you know that, I rest my case. if you don’t, you have no idea what you are missing. Shakespeare himself would easily and readily beg at that door for a phrase or two.

    CAO says:

    Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy.

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