10 Memorable Opening Lines from the Classics 

1. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” 

The opening line to Daphne du Maurier’s most famous novel, Rebecca is one of the great opening lines in English fiction. In one stroke, du Maurier establishes the voice, the locale, and the dream-like atmosphere of the story.

– The Strand Magazine 

Nothing can beat the dreaminess of the beginning of the book Rebecca. It talks of Manderley, the iconic English countryside property that the writer moves to after marrying the reclusive De Winter. 

Manderley turns out to be mesmerizing and mysterious, just as the eponymous wife, the first Mrs. de Winter. 

2. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

In the political fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, the opening gives the feeling of something amiss through the word ‘thirteen’. And sure enough, it brings us to the manipulation of language under the totalitarian regime of Big Brother. 

3.” All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy starts with a generalization and presents a philosophical view along with the telling if the tale. The family, or families of course are central to his story even though they are all unhappy, of course in their unique ways. 

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 

“It was a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

This sets the tone for this delightful Victorian novel. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is of many things. It is about the society at that time but at its bare bones, the story is told through the Bennett family and is about husband finding for at least three of the five Bennett girls. 

5. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

In One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the opening lines present fire and ice. The first line itself creates the surreal environment that is book presents inuch greater detail while describing the lives of seven generations of the Buendias, the younger ones doomed to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors. 

6. “I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. The time matters, too.”

In Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, the time matters. The stroke of midnight, at which the protagonist is born is portentous of his life, as his fortunes are tied to that of his country and parallels are drawn always between his life and the trajectory of the counyry’s growth. 

7. “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”

The opening lines of The Luck of the Bodkins by PG Wodehouse sound intriguing. For the uninitiated, the pride seems contrived. The furtive look on Minty Bodkins face characterizes much of his actions through the book. Mortally afraid of his muscular fiancée, Gertrude, Monty begs and cajoles her all through the book till the end when he finally finds courage. 

It is a laugh riot all the way, just like Wodehouse. 

8. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

—A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. 

The opening of the book establishes the nature of the time it was set in. The comparisons and the contrasts are endless and that is how much of the book moves, in confusion and conflict. 

9. “She will be here today.” 

In The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach, the first line echoes the anticipation and the hope for his search for a soulmate. 

10. “It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”

Joseph Heller in Catch-22 is satirist. The book is absurd and the opening shows just how twisted things can get during the war. 

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28 Comments

    1. Rebecca has been the book I have loved the most and the best. I still hanker for that dream like quality in the books I read and in the little writing that I do.

      You must share your favourite opening lines from the books that you have loved. I would love to read your post!

      Liked by 2 people

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      1. Couldn’t agree more, the writing in Rebecca is just incredible, to be able to use that style of writing in your own work would be amazing, she’s just such a fantastic writer! Thank you so much, think I will do just that!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Good job! You made me interested in checking out the first book that you described. 🙂
    Check out my blog post today. Would love to have you add your input to the ongoing story. My readers are writing it today, for something different. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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      1. By the way, there are other Charles Dickens books I love. I read Great Expectation last Christmas and read it without knowing why. I grew up watching a Christmas Carol and so far is my favorite Charles Dickens book.

        When the semester ends, planning to read Oliver Twist. I love the classics in literature and love the challenge they present. As a matter of fact, reading the classics in between semesters and attempting to finish them in a limited amount of time gives me the motivation to get through them

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Meg, you have read a lot of the Charles Dickens classics! I started reading him as a child, getting my hands on the abridged versions.

        I have read Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities.

        Your idea of having a limited time to read classics ensures that they are finished. That is wonderful! 🙂

        Like

      3. Sorry about that last post. My blog somewhere has reviews about Don Quixote and Les Misérables. But the problem with Take or Two Cities and Great Expectations is that when I read them and actually loved them, could not figure out why I liked them

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad you liked the collection.

      Jane Austen isn’t really a Victorian writer as you say. Romantic, perhaps? Or as a search points out, ‘Regency’ is the period for her writing career, though that term is not used formally.

      Thanks for the comment. I feel enlightened 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

      1. The first sentence is what stayed in my mind for a long time. I encountered the book in school and somehow I could not wrap my mind around this particular philosophy at that age 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing list. I just love the opening to “A Tale of Two Cities”, very memorable. I also like the opening to Camus’s The Outsider: “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.” It says a lot about the character and the story, e.g., the character’s indifference to such a major event in any person’s life and the judgements which will be passed on it later. Powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

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