The best ever opening lines in literature
Not all the world’s greatest books have memorable opening lines. But a good first sentence makes an instant impression and can often go down in history.
From classics to contemporary works, we take a look at some of the best ever opening lines in literature.
1. ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’
We had to get this one out of the way first. The opening sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice might be literature’s most famous opening line, but it’s also most deserving of the recognition. Some people see materialism in Austen’s words, but avid readers and die-hard fans spy the playful, tongue-in-cheek tone that pervades the rest of her most famous work. Austen sets the fun tone from the off, and the rest of her magnum opus does not disappoint.
2. ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.’
Graham Greene’s output was prolific, and major novels like Our Man in Havana and Travels with My Aunt are 20th century classics. But although he continued to publish books up to the 1980s, he remains best known for his 1938 thriller Brighton Rock – which begins with this stunning opening line. It sets the book’s deeply unsettling tone immediately, fired like a starting gun at the beginning of a murderous race.
3. ‘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.’
It’s a mouthful, isn’t it? For many, JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a love-it-or-hate-it book. And you’ll know from the moment you read this long-winded, revealing, tongue-twister of a sentence whether or not this is the book for you.
4. ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
You don’t have to know anything about George Orwell’s 1984 before you read it: this opening lines sets the tone with clear, eerie precision. On the surface it’s a mundane sentence that starts with a quintessentially British topic of conversation: the weather. But it’s the last word that strikes the jarring note. We’re left with no choice but to read on and discover just what this strange, unexpected world has in store.
5. ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.’
Despite its overwhelming popularity with readers of all ages, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is rarely considered a literary classic purely on the merit of its writing style. Yet this underrated opening line from the first book, The Philosopher’s Stone, shows just how in-tune Rowling is with the workings of language. Rather than starting us off with visions of Hogwarts and incantations of spells, she gives us a classic picture of a suburban, middle-class family – then proceeds to unwind and undermine it as the story of The Boy Who Lived starts to take shape.
So tell us: what are your favourite opening lines in literature?
Rachel - Silversurfers Assistant Editor
Latest posts by Rachel - Silversurfers Assistant Editor (see all)
- Would you feel comfortable going cashless? - March 20, 2019
- A 3-course Mother’s Day Feast - March 20, 2019
- Tatin of Shallots and Port with Creamy Goat’s Cheese - March 19, 2019
- Understanding your carbon footprint - March 18, 2019
- What name would you choose for Prince Harry and Meghan’s first child? - March 17, 2019
Leave a Comment!
Community Terms & Conditions
These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.
You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.
be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.
Contributions must not:
contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.
Nurturing a safe environment
Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.
We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!