54 great opening lines: 12

Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England:  they lie very thick on the hills;  every parish has one or more of them;  they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good.

Shirley, Charlotte Brontë


Are you imagining it, the shower of curates?

54 great opening lines: 11

There is a French saying which runs:  ‘A dry fisherman and a wet hunter have the same sad look.’

Living Relic, Ivan Turgenev


One of Turgenev’s ‘Sketches from a Hunter’s Album’:  a short story that could be told on canvas, so intimate are the descriptions, so charged the emotions.  The reader is pulled into the wattle hut to sit beside the narrator in an unexpected conversation with a ‘living relic’.

54 great opening lines: 10

My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens


I had to read it at school and liked it then; I still like it now.  There’s enough Gothic darkness and joyful resolution to satisfy me.

54 great opening lines: 9

All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut.

Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë


Agnes Grey is trying to be independent and earn an income, albeit to help her poor parents.  It is the 1840s and she has little choice but to work as a governess.  Although she has no trouble finding a couple of jobs, her charges, the children, are unmanageable and their families unexpectedly scorn her.

I empathised with Agnes as she struggled to tutor pupils in their own homes, who feel free to run around the room or sit under the table or go into the garden and kill innocent chicks in a nest.

The opening line of Agnes Grey is a great piece of Brontë wisdom.


54 great opening lines: 8

My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born.

Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt


I was surprised to find my own family in this book.
This afternoon I was about to list the similarities, but was silently checked by this commandment:  ‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.’
It is enough to say, Read it.

54 great opening lines: 6

The day broke grey and dull.

Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham


It’s a great opening line, and it sets the mood for the book, even to the contrasting last line:

‘Cabs and omnibuses hurried to and fro, and crowds passed, hastening in every direction, and the sun was shining.’,

a line which I assume is supposed to fill the reader with optimism.  I closed this book with a groan, my mood still grey and dull.

54 great opening lines: 5

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.

Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton


This week’s WP Photo Challenge, Kiss, prompted one blogger to tell us that his hometown isn’t a place where public kissing is encouraged.  He compared it with Starkfield in Ethan Frome.

54 great opening lines: 4

I was brought here from Senegal when I was two years old by the chevalier de B., who was then governor there.

Ourika, Claire de Duras, translated by John Fowles


John Fowles was the author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, whose opening line I posted yesterday, as no. 3.

54 great opening lines: 3

An easterly is the most disagreeable wind in Lyme Bay – Lyme Bay being that largest bite from the underside of England’s outstretched south-western leg – and a person of curiosity could at once have deduced several strong probabilities about the pair who began to walk down the quay at Lyme Regis, the small but ancient eponym of the inbite, one incisively sharp and blustery morning in the late March of 1867.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles


If The Hobbit is one of my favourite books but far from my favourite movie, The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a favourite in both forms.  I was once obsessed with the movie, hiring it and playing parts of it over and over.  Before writing this novel, John Fowles had translated a French novel by Claire de Duras, Ourika, based on a true story about a Senegalese girl taken to Paris as a baby and raised separately within the nobility.  As she grew older she was surprised to find she lived in a culture of racial segregation.  Fowles believed that this story affected his telling of Sarah Woodruff’s tale as the fallen and outcast French Lieutenant’s Woman.