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Top 25 Opening Lines (Jane Austen excluded)

February 16, 2013

The sentence with which Jane Austen begins her novel Pride And Prejudice is one of the most memorable opening lines ever written. “It was a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This got me thinking about opening lines in other novels, and in less time than it takes to say “that guy has too much time on his hands,” I had compiled My 25 Favourite Opening Lines Of All Time (Austen Excluded), listed here in reverse order, because it just seemed to flow better that way.

25. “I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.” The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham

24. “The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.” The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

23. “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

22. “It was love at first sight.” Catch 22, Joseph Heller

21. “All this happened, more or less.” Slaughter-house Five, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

20. “For a long time, I went to bed early.” Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust

19. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

18. “We were in the study-hall when the headmaster entered, followed by a new boy not yet in school uniform and by the handyman carrying a large desk.” Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

17. “On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.” Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

16. “He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.” Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad

15. “Elmer Gantry was drunk.” Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis

14. “I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man.” Notes From Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky

13. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

12. “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.” The Catcher In The Rye, J.D. Salinger

11. “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini

10. “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” Ulysses, James Joyce

9. “Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.” The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass

8. “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” The Old Man and The Sea, Ernest Hemingway

7. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

6. “Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.” Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

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

4. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

3. “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, Charles Dickens

2. “Call me Ishmael.” Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

1. “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. Paul Clifford, Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Pride and Prejudice runs from March 6 – 24, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at

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