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.