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Famous First Lines of Novels


The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea

The first lines of novels are often memorable. Just reading the words can be enough to set the tone for the rest of the book. Which of the famous lines in literature is your favorite?

Famous First Lines of Novels

  • "124 was spiteful."
    - Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

  • "A screaming comes across the sky."
    - Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

  • "All this happened, more or less."
    - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

  • "Call me Ishmael."
    - Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)

  • "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
    - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

  • "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."
    - Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

  • "I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man."
    - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (1864; trans. Michael R. Katz)

  • "I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
    - Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

  • "I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story."
    - Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)

  • "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain By the false azure in the windowpane"
    - Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)

  • "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."
    - J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

  • "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
    - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813),

  • "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
    - George Orwell, 1984 (Nineteen Eighty-Four) (1949)

  • "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 house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
    - Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

  • "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."
    - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

  • "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."
    - Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

  • "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
    - Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

  • "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."
    - Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

  • "Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. "Stop!" cried the groaning old man at last, "Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree."
    - Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans (1925)

  • "Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo."
    - James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

  • "One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary."
    - Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)

  • "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."
    - James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)

  • "Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board."
    - Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

  • "Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested."
    - Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925; trans. Breon Mitchell)

  • "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."
    - Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605; trans. Edith Grossman)

  • "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed."
    - James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)

  • "The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble? - Do-you-need-advice? - Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard."
    - Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)

  • "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new."
    - Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938),

  • "There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it."
    - Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country (1948)

  • "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
    - C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

  • "This is the saddest story I have ever heard."
    - Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)

  • "Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting."
    - William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)

  • "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."
    - Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • "When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton."
    - J.R.R. Tolkien (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien), The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955)

  • "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."
    - Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)

  • "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler."
    - Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler (1979; trans. William Weaver)

  • "You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter."
    - Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

  • "Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deep sympathy. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday."
    - Albert Camus, The Stranger, or The Outsider (1942; trans. Stuart Gilbert)

  • "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
    - William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

  • "Where now? Who now? When now?"
    - Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable (1953; trans. Patrick Bowles)

  • "Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature."
    - Anita Brookner, The Debut (1981)

  • "Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex's admonition, against Allen's angry assertion: another African amusement . . . anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa's antipodal ant annexation."
    - Walter Abish, Alphabetical Africa (1974)

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