What’s the most beautiful first sentence ever written? We’ll tell you with which words not only the paper will crackle.
In her seminal essay The Fisherwoman’s Daughter Ursula Le Guin famously wrote that first sentences are ‘doors to worlds’. With the right opening lines writers can grab our attention like a spit fire, entrance and–ideally–entice us to continue reading.
‘Call me Ishmael.’ In the opinion of our editors here at novum publishing no other first sentence comes close to the perfection Hermann Melville managed when opening his Moby Dick. With only three words we are introduced to a character who remains a mystery. ‘Is Ishmael even his name?’, we ask ourselves. The beauty of Melville’s sentence lies in its sparseness. What other authors cram into many paragraphs, Melville manages with just one line–a line which is chilling, claustrophobic and mysterious at the same time.
A sentence of similar magic befell Franz Kafka when he wrote ‘When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.’ Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ from Anna Karenina puts readers under its spell to this day. And who could forget Jane Austen’s ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’ from Pride and Prejudice?
Beauty in all things is subjective. Which sentences lure us in, depends on our own subjective idea of what we consider to be beautiful. That first impressions do in fact matter, we prove with this blog post which includes a sampling of the most beautiful first sentences we here at novum publishing have ever read. To learn whether or not those openers are to your taste, you can simply ask yourself the following question: Would you want to continue reading or not? If your answer is ‘yes’, then the author clearly knows what he or she is doing. And here they are, those sentences where not only the paper crackles:
The most beautiful first sentence: 15 sentences that invite us to continue reading
‘He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.’ORLANDO BY VIRGINIA WOOLF
‘I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.’ON THE ROAD BY JACK KEROUAC
‘Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941.’THE BLUEST EYE BY TONY MORRISON
‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.’ULYSSES BY JAMES JOYCE
‘The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we understood the gravity of our situation.’THE SECRET HISTORY BY DONNA TARTT
‘Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father.’GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN BY JAMES BALDWIN
‘In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers.’THE TIGER’S WIFE BY TÉA OBREHT
‘I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time.’MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN BY SALMAN RUSHDIE
‘Lydia is dead’EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU BY CELESTE NG
‘It was a pleasure to burn.’FAHRENHEIT 451 BY RAY BRADBURY
‘I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.’KINDRED BY OCTAVIA BUTLER
‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.’THE GREAT GATSBY BY FRANCIS SCOTT FITZGERALD
‘It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.’A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD BY JENNIFER EGAN
‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.’THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER BY C. S. LEWIS
‘We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.’THE HANDMAID’S TALE BY MARGARET ATWOOD
Looking for more writing inspiration? In this article you will find five female novel characters that have inspired us.
And which sentences captivated you at first sight? Share your favourite lines with us in the comments.
Let your hands roam freely over your keyboard!