One – first – liners

Minds are mostly dulled by mouse clicks, not delighted.

But there are those clicks which bring you to gems.

At the blog Faith and Theology I saw a great post in which a man and his daughter search their home’s bookshelves for the best opening lines of novels.  “What a great idea”, quoth I.

His favorite first sentence was “Call me Ishmael.”, and indeed that has a lot going for it.   I noted with pleasure that they, in their gleanings, did not omit another truly famous line, you know… the one from Jane Austen.

I was surprised that father/daughter treasure hunt didn’t turn up: “It was the best of times…”.  You know the rest.

I was delighted to see: ‘Marley was dead: to begin with.” Everyone knows that one, and it ain’t about ganja.

Yes, you could look for 100 years and not find a better opening than that first line crafted by Gabriel García Márquez, even though it is usually in translation.  Imagine! It’s even good in Spanish! “Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.”

And it would be Kafkaesque to forget, “Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer verwandelt.”

It isn’t just about the language, it is also about the image, the arresting idea which hauls you in by the eyes.

And it doesn’t have to be a novel.  For example, there is the sheer joy the following inflicts on the imagination of an Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist, to wit: “In ipso limine Theologiae, ejus notionem, partionem et  praestantiam declarare haud ingratum erit.”

How about some of you contribute great first lines of books?  Let them be one sentence, not several and not paragraphs.  Let’s not ever see, “I know this is more than one sentence… but…” … “This isn’t a first sentence, but…”.  Play fair!

Also, I am not talking here are first lines of great books, but rather great first lines from books.

Mediocre books can have great first lines and great books can have first lines that are hardly to be later recalled.

Here are a few from my memory and rapid page flipping.

Magnus est, domine, et laudabilis valde: magna virtus tua, et sapientiae tuae non est numerus.  (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions)

arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram,
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem
inferretque deos Latio; genus unde
Albanique patres atque altae moenia Romae.  (Virgil, Aeneid)

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.  (Dante, Divina Commedia, Inferno.)

Yah, I know, I read a lot of foreign stuff – in foreign!

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.  (James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake)

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke. (Chaucer, Canterbury Tales)

One sentence, graceful, beautiful, telling a tale.

And it is seasonal!

And speaking of seasonal:

“My father said he saw him years later playing in a tenth-rate commercial league in a textile town in Carolina, wearing shoes and an assumed name.”

I could go on, but it is your turn.

One sentence… one great, electrifying, first sentence and it matters not if the rest of the book is good, bad or indifferent.  Tastes will differ, what grabs one may not grab another.  Not just the first sentence of a book you like, but an amazing sentence.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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206 Responses to One – first – liners

  1. Tom in NY says:

    Ανδρα μοι εννεπε Μουσα….
    Odysseia, A.1
    Salutationes omnibus.

  2. Archromanist says:

    The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. (Stephen King, The Gunslinger, Volume 1 of The Dark Tower Heptalogy)

  3. Maltese says:

    Favorite opening line:
    “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

  4. Philangelus says:

    “Life hasn’t been the same since we ate Grandma.” Soup Du Jour, a novel from the 1950s. I never read it. My mom read it when she was a child and she remembered the first line to tell me in the 1980s, and I’ve told my children. This first line will live forever now.

  5. Christina says:

    “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
    Voyage of the Dawn Treader; I always get a bit of a kick out of this one.

  6. Jacob says:

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

  7. benedetta says:

    “In an old house in Paris
    that was covered with vines
    lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”
    (For our young readers)

    “The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.” (Recommended for the young at heart of all ages)

    “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,
    just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well,
    having investigated everything carefully from the beginning,
    to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;
    so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”
    (Personal all-time favorite first line)

  8. terryprest says:

    “ It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”
    Anthony Burgess Earthly Powers

  9. Mike says:

    “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”–A River Runs Through it, by Norman Maclean

    “To bequeath to posterity a record of the deeds and characters of distinguished men is an ancient practice which even the present age, careless as it is of its owns sons, has not abandoned whenever some great and conspicuous excellence has conquered and risen superior to that failing, common to petty and to great states, blindness and hostility to goodness.”–The Life of Cnaeus Julius Agricola, by Tacitus

  10. Mary Pat says:

    “On the surface, it would seem amazing that I ever became a priest.”
    The Shadow of His Wings by Fr. Goldmann

  11. tcn says:

    Midway upon the journey of our life
    I found myself in a dark wilderness,
    for I had wandered from the straight and true.

    Dante’s Inferno, tr. Anthony Esolen

  12. albinus1 says:

    “If Music be the food of love, play on; give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.” — Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

    And from the other end of the spectrum, for sheer directness and conciseness, it’s hard to beat:
    “Who’s there?” — Shakespeare, Hamlet

    And one of my perennial favorites:
    “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” — L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between [Three good ones, especially the Hamlet.]

  13. Richeldis says:

    “Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

    “The Towers of Trebizond” Rose Macaulay

  14. mike cliffson says:

    `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. [hmmm... not the first line of a book....but...]
    Carol’s jabberwocky

  15. tcn says:

    On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology. [The governess was always getting muddled with her astrolabe, and when she got specially muddles she would take it out of the Wart by rapping his knuckles.]

    The Once and Future King by T. H. White

  16. mike cliffson says:

    En un lugar de la mancha , de cuyo nombre no quiero recordarme
    Don Quijote

  17. Clinton says:

    ” ‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her
    return from High Mass.” — from Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond.

  18. Ben Trovato says:

    ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ St John’s Gospel.

    ‘On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.’ Ridley Walker by Russell Hoban

  19. Clinton says:

    Richeldis– great minds think alike? LOL

  20. Andreas says:

    ” When that first Proverb-Maker who has imposed upon all peoples by his epigrams and his fallacious half-truths, his empiricism and his wanton appeals to popular ignorance, I say when this man (for I take it he was a man, and a wicked one) was passing through France he launched among the French one of his pestiferous phrases, ‘Ce n’est que le premier pas qui coûté” \ and this in a rolling-in-the-mouth self-satisfied kind of a manner has been repeated since his day at least seventeen million three hundred and sixty-two thousand five hundred and four times by a great mass of Ushers, Parents, Company Officers, Elder Brothers, Parish Priests, and authorities in general whose office it may be and whose pleasure it certainly is to jog up and disturb that native slumber and inertia of the mind which is the true breeding soil of Revelation.”
    – Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome.

  21. Jana says:

    Quia Catholicae veritatis doctor non solum provectos debet instruere, sed ad eum pertinet etiam incipientes erudire, secundum illud apostoli I ad Corinth. III, tanquam parvulis in Christo, lac vobis potum dedi, non escam; propositum nostrae intentionis in hoc opere est, ea quae ad Christianam religionem pertinent, eo modo tradere, secundum quod congruit ad eruditionem incipientium.
    St. Thomas, Summa Theologica

  22. Arieh says:

    How about the worst opening line: [Review the top entry.] “Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. “

  23. Reginald Pole says:

    The family from which I am derived is not an ignoble one, but has descended all along from the priests; and as nobility among several people is of a different origin, so with us to be of the sacerdotal dignity, is an indication of the splendor of a family. The Life of Flavius Josephus

  24. ray from mn says:

    To write the Life of him who excelled all mankind in writing the lives of others, and who, whether we consider his extraordinary endowments, or his various works, has been equalled [sic] by few in any age, is an arduous, and may be reckoned in me a presumptuous task. The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D by James Boswell

  25. jeffreyquick says:

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

  26. Charles E Flynn says:

    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
    George Orwell, “1984″

    See:

    http://www.thefictiondesk.com/blog/george-orwell-manuscript-for-1984/

  27. Allan S. says:

    The flying ship of Professor Lucifer sang through the skies like a silver arrow; the bleak white steel of it, gleaming in the bleak blue emptiness of the evening.

    - The Ball and the Cross, By G.K. Chesterton

  28. Clinton says:

    “I, Tibarius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble
    you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and
    relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot”, or “That Claudius”, or “Claudius the Stammerer”,
    or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius”, am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach
    the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found
    myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become
    disentangled.”– from Robert Graves’ I, Claudius. Amazingly, that is all only one sentence.

  29. Blog Goliard says:

    I can’t help but [Wow. That's wrong way to start...] smuggle into this discussion … [Nope.]

  30. ivan_the_mad says:

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” [hmmm... Which book could that be? o{];¬) ]

  31. JKnott says:

    Far away in some strange constellation in the skies infinitely remote, there is a small star, which astronomers may someday discover.
    “The Everlasting Man “- G.K. Chesterton [I am not that familiar with Chesterton, but doesn't he also have a first line in which he says something like, "The human race, to which most of you readers belong,..."]

  32. “I never knew the old Vienna before the war, with its Strauss waltzes, its glamour and easy charm — Constantinople suited me better.”

    Yes, it’s a movie; [hmmm] but I believe the novella has the same opening.

  33. Reginald Pole says:

    “In mind he was tired, worn out, by years of hope deferred, of loneliness, of unrewarded toil.” Hadrian VII by Frederick Baron Corvo

  34. albinus1 says:

    I’m surprised that no one has yet cited this classic opening line:

    All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
    – Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (Sorry, I don’t know it in Russian.)

  35. Clinton says:

    “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.” [LOL!]

    P. G. Wodehouse– The Luck of the Bodkins

  36. bravelass says:

    It was the day my grandmother exploded. [LOL!]

    The Crow Road by Iain Banks

  37. Charles E Flynn says:

    My planet fetish began, as best I can recall, in third grade, at age eight—right around the time I learned that Earth has siblings in space, just as I had older brothers in high school and college.

    Dava Sobel, “The Planets”

  38. It was through the Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus came into the world, and it is also through her that he must reign in the world.

    True Devotion to Mary, St Louis de Montfort

  39. Denis Crnkovic says:

    ??? ? ??? ? ???? “?????? ??????”, ? ????? ???????????????, ????????, ??? ?? ?? ??????????? ?????????? ???? ????, ??????, ????????? ?????.

    Shli i shli i peli “Vechnuyu pamjat’,” i kogda ostanavlivalis’, kazalos’, chto ee po zalazhennomu prodolzhajut pet’ nogi, loshadi, dunovenija vetra.

    “On they went, singing ‘Eternal Memory’, and whenever they stopped, the sound of their feet, the horses and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing.”

    B.L. Pasternak Doktor Zhivago

    And the opening line of Hamlet:

    “Who’s there?”

    Anyone who is intrigued by the joy of compiling the best passages of literature must get a copy of Maurice Baring’s Have You Anything to Declare? There is a beautiful section devoted to great opening lines.

  40. Gregory DiPippo says:

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

    Pride and Prejudice [Precisely the line of Austen I mentioned without mentioning at the top!]

  41. hugonis says:

    Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.

    Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away

  42. Charles E Flynn says:

    If only it had never happened like this.

    Euripides, “Medea”, translated by Robin Robertson.

  43. Reginald Pole says:

    Any study of late medieval religion must begin with the liturgy, for within that great seasonal cycle of fast and festival, of ritual observance and symbolic gesture, lay Christians found the paradigms and the stories that shaped perception of the world and their place in it. Within the liturgy birth, copulation, and death, journeying and homecoming, guilt and forgiveness, the blessing of homely things and the call to pass beyond them were all located, tested and sanctioned. In the liturgy and in the sacramental celebrations which were its central moments, medieval people found the key to the meaning and purpose of their lives. [?!?]
    The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy

  44. trespinos says:

    Dear Gina,
    How sad that you are move away, but one good thing is I will now have opportunity to say only the things what count and not waste lot of words what mean nothing. — I Remain, Your Uncle Ambrogio. (Gene Horwitz)

    Warm
    after a while on a rock,
    drunk with sky, her green silk
    shrivels with wind.
    –”The amphibian”, from Polishing the Petoskey Stone, by Luci Shaw

    Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up. —- “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead”, by Flannery O’Connor

    Charme des prunelles, tourment des coeurs, lumiere de l’esprit, je ne baise point la poussiere de vos pieds, parce que vous ne marchez guere, ou que vous marchez sur des tapis d’Iran ou sur des roses. — Zadig, by Voltaire.

  45. JaneC says:

    P.G. Wodehouse was a master of setting the tone with the first line; of course, most of his books have a very similar tone, so I guess he had plenty of practice. Still, when you read the first lines of his books, you have an immediate sense of his unique narrative voice.

    “At the open window of the great library of Blandings Castle, drooping like a wet sock, as was his habit when he had nothing to prop his spine against, the Earl of Emsworth, that amiable and boneheaded peer, stood gazing out over his domain.” –Leave It to Psmith

    “As I sat in the bath-tub, soaping a meditative foot and singing, if I remember correctly, ‘Pale Hands I Loved Beside the Shalimar’, it would be deceiving my public to say that I was feeling boomps-a-daisy.” –Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

  46. tcn says:

    My name is Boffer Bings.

    Ambrose Bierce, Oil of Dog

  47. trespinos says:

    Dayummmm, hugonis, what are the odds that the two of us would choose the same quote????

  48. Charles E Flynn says:

    There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.

    Rachel Carson, “Silent Spring”

  49. BenedictXVIFan says:

    At liftoff, Matt Eversmann said a Hail Mary. – Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden

  50. bourgja says:

    Here is another beautiful first line from Garcia Marquez’ “Love in the Time of Cholera”:

    “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” [Yes, he has a real way with words, this one. Amazing.]

  51. Bos Mutissimus says:

    “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.” De Bello Gallico. Gaius Julius Caesar

    “Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U. S. A. and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?” Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy [Interesting. I had thought of these first two as well.]

    “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.” The Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allan Poe

    “Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.” War and Peace, Tolstoy.

  52. Charles E Flynn says:

    Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.

    Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”

  53. Rich0116 says:

    ????? ????? ??? ????????? ???????
    ?????????, ? ????? ??????? ????? ?????,
    ?????? ?? ???????? ????? ???? ????????
    ?????, ?????? ?? ?????? ????? ????????
    ???????? ?? ????, ???? ?? ????????? ?????,
    ?? ?? ?? ?? ????? ????????? ????????
    ???????? ?? ???? ?????? ??? ???? ????????.
    Iliad, Homer

    “Rage, goddess, sing of the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
    murderous, doomed, that brought myriad woes upon the Achaeans
    and sent many great-hearted shades of heroes to Hades
    and left their bodies as feasts for birds and dogs,
    and the will of Zeus was accomplished,
    sing of where the quarrel first arose between them,
    the son of Atreus, lord of men, and godlike Achilles.”

  54. Bos Mutissimus says:

    “Here love had died between me and the army.” Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh. (Not quite the first line, but, immediately following the opening paragraph, still poignant.) [?!? FIRST LINES. RIGHT? FIRST LINES.]

    “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 [Nice.]

    “April is the cruelest month, breeding
    Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
    Memory and desire, stirring
    Dull roots with spring rain.”
    The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot [Not a book.]

    “It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.” The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Ernest Hemingway

  55. “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?

    A book by the same title.

  56. Charles E Flynn says:

    (first sentence of preface)

    The question of the real content and meaning of the Christian faith is enveloped today in a greater fog of uncertainty than at almost any earlier period in history.

    (first sentence of chapter 1)

    Anyone who tries today to talk about the question of Christian faith in the presence of people who are not thoroughly at home with ecclesiastical language and thought by calling or convention soon comes to sense the alien—and alienating—nature of such an enterprise.

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity”, translated by J.R. Foster

  57. ckdexterhaven says:

    He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine-he could see out, but you couldn’t see in.
    Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil- by John Berendt

  58. Bos Mutissimus says:

    Father: touché. And mea culpa. By way of apology, I offer this opening line:

    “We communicators – vendors of words, to use St. Augustine’s expression – tend to use a lot of waste matter as we go along.” Chronicles of Wasted Time, Chronicle I: The Green Stick. Malcolm Muggeridge

    By way of penance, I offer these:

    “Courtesy and serenity of temper I first learnt to know from my grandfather Verus.” Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

    “I would lay it down at the beginning that the present (!) crisis in our civilization is the gravest affecting that civilization since it first took on its essential character, between 1900 and 1600 years ago.” The Crisis of Civilization (1937), Hilaire Belloc

  59. Thomas G. says:

    What about great closing lines, such as: [Nope. Review the top entry. Really.]

  60. amenamen says:

    “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” [?!? Really?]

    Dr Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

    There is a non-fiction book by the popular novelist, Stephen King, called “Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing”, in which he devotes a chapter to this very topic of memorable first lines. He calls these lines “hookers” and explains why in his essay, “Great Hookers I Have Known.” [LOL!]
    He also admits that his own novels usually do not have memorable first sentences. [Although one of his first lines is included above. A good one too! And from a book I haven't read.]

  61. Thomas G. says:

    “All men by nature desire to know.” – Aristotle’s Metapysics.

  62. bookgetaway says:

    The packstring was about a city block down the side of the peak, rickracking through the drifts, when the strong southwest wind shifted a little farther south and brought me the sound of Al speaking to Willie.

    “Tatoosh” by Martha Hardy. Memoir of a “school ma’am” who spent three months alone in the summer of ’43 as a “lady lookout” for the U. S. Forest Service in the Cascade Mountains. A family favourite.

  63. Jason C. says:

    At the end of daybreak. . .
    Beat it, I said to him, you cop, you lousy pig, beat it,
    I detest the flunkies of order and the cockchafers of hope.

    –Aimé Césaire, “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land”

  64. Charles E Flynn says:

    To persevere in a life of prayer we obviously need to avoid heading down the wrong path at the start.

    The opening sentence shown above is preceded by:

    (Chapter title) 1. Mental prayer is not a technique but a grace

    (Section title) 1. Mental prayer is not a kind of Christian yoga

    Rev. Jacques Philippe, “Time for God”, translated by Helena Scott

  65. “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.”
    –Edward Bulwer-Lytton, _Paul Clifford_ (1830)

    Sorry, I just couldn’t resist . . . [Provocative wag! o{]:¬) ]

  66. medievalist says:

    “Reveille was sounded, as always, at 5 AM – a hammer pounding on a rail outside camp HQ.” Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”. Tolkien, The Hobbit [Which we've seen. A good line.]

    “Quo usque tandem abutere Catilina patientia nostra, quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet, quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?” Cicero, In Catilinam I. [Very good line. Not exactly a book, but it grips you.]

    “In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram.”

  67. “The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of Sunset.” The Man Who Was Thursday GKC.

    Hwæt! We Gardena in gear-dagum,
    þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
    hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

    Beowulf

  68. Charles E Flynn says:

    Dante is an exiled, aggressive, self-righteous, salvation-bent intellectual, humbled only to rise assured and ardent, zealously prophetic, politically messianic, indignant, nervous, muscular, theatrical, energetic—he is at once our brother and our engenderer.

    Introduction to Dante’s “Inferno”, translation and introduction by Allen Mandelbaum

  69. Andy F. says:

    Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word “orthodox.”-Heretics, G.K. Chesterton

  70. “Whilst, O Cæsar, your god-like mind and genius were engaged in acquiring the dominion of the world, your enemies having been all subdued by your unconquerable valour; whilst the citizens were extolling your victories, and the conquered nations were awaiting your nod; whilst the Roman senate and people, freed from alarm, were enjoying the benefit of your opinions and counsel for their governance; I did not presume, at so unfit a period, to trouble you, thus engaged, with my writings on Architecture, lest I should have incurred your displeasure.”

    – Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture

  71. terryprest says:

    Since you have allowed Shakespeare:

    “Twelfth Night”:
    “If music be the food of love, play on;
    Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
    The appetite may sicken, and so die”

    “Macbeth”:
    “When shall we three meet again?”

    Are Papal Encyclicals counted as books ?At least the first two or three words are memorable in Latin) Venerable Pope John Paul II had some great opening lines for his

    “Ut unum sint! ”
    “Evangelium Vitae penitus implicatum insidet in Iesu nuntio”
    “Fides et Ratio binae quasi pennae videntur quibus veritatis ad contemplationem hominis attollitur animus.”

  72. “By the grace of God I am a Christian, by my deeds a great sinner, and by my calling a homeless wanderer of humblest origin, roaming from place to place.”
    - anonymous, The Way of a Pilgrim

  73. nairb says:

    Admittedly two sentences, but two sentences that easily fit into one line:

    “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.”
    (Mother died today. Or mayde yesterday, I can’t be sure.)

    L’Etranger, Albert Camus

  74. ckdexterhaven says:

    Theoretically a good cok should be able to perform under any circumstances, but cooking is much easier, pleasanter, and more efficient if you have the right tools.

    Mastering the Art of French Cooking- Julia Child

  75. Blog Goliard says:

    Sorry, Fr. Z. A peace offering:

    “Era inevitable: el olor de las almendras amargas le recordaba siempre el destino de los amores contrariados.”
    “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” — Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

    “Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister is.” — Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

    “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. ” — Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  76. Eric says:

    Since I’m world famous for my humility at my parish, this one appeals to me.

    I, Bernal Diaz Del Castillo, citizen and governer of the most loyal city of Sntiago de Guatemala, one of the first discoverers and conquerors of New Spain and its provinces, and of Cape Honduras and Higueras, native of the most noble and famous city of Medina del Campo, and son of its former governer Francisco Diaz del Castillo, known as the courteous – and his legal wife Maria Diez Rejon – may their souls rest in Glory! – tell you the story of myself and my comrades; all true conquerors, who served His Majesty in discovery, conquest, pacification, and settlement of the provinces of New Spain; one of the finest regions of the New World yet discovered, this expedition being undertaken by our own efforts, and without His Majesty’s knowledge.

    That’s getting your moneys worth with quantity not quality. Although it’s not completely lacking in that.

    Bernal Diaz, The Conquest of New Spain

    Not bad for someone that only ever wrote one first line.
    He seems to have done a number of things well only once.

  77. Nora says:

    Ecce Eduardus Ursus scalis nunc tump-tump-tump occipite gradus pulsante post Christophorum Robinum descendes.

    Winnie Ille Pu, Milnei.

    …I still remember the thrill of opening that book up in the first week of September 1974 and reveling in the relationship of language to itself as well as to its content. I used the Virgil (arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris) just last week to demonstrate the great openers to my high school freshman

  78. pfhawkins says:

    I have a predilection for science fiction. First up, the first line of the first book of The Book of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe (who isn’t always one for opening lines, but is a master craftsman of prose):

    “It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future.”

    One of those that carries far more weight once you have read the entire book.

    “Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice’s Lenten fast in the desert.”

    A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

  79. Blog Goliard says:

    Oops. Someone already posted the Márquez I offered. So I owe you another:

    “Cuddles Houlihan got clipped by the vodka bottle as it exited the pneumatic tube.” — Thomas Mallon, Bandbox

  80. Marianna says:

    Semper ego auditor tantum?
    Juvenal, Satire 1

    An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money.

    Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling

  81. pfhawkins says:

    ” ‘Do your neighbors burn one another alive?’ was how Fraa Orolo began his conversation with Artisan Flec.”

    Anathem, by Neal Stephenson (It’s got math monks!)

  82. kwooding says:

    Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,
    And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,
    Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore.

    Virgil, Aeneid
    (and if only I knew enough Latin):

    Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
    Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit
    litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
    vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram;

  83. Joseph-Mary says:

    Yes, I like the opening sentence to St. John’s Gospel as well but for a secular book, I recall this sentence:

    Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

  84. annieoakley says:

    “Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs, changed naturally into pity and contempt, as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century – and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest that never failed – this was the page at which the favorite volume always opened: ‘ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH-HALL.” Persuasion – Jane Austen

    “When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.” The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

    “There once lived in a sequestered part of Devonshire, one Mr. Godfrey Nickleby, a worthy gentleman, who taking it into his head rather late in life that he must get married, and not being young enough or rich enough to aspire to the hand of a lady of fortune, had wedded an old flame out of mere attachment, who in her turn had taken him for the same reason: thus two people who cannot afford to play cards for money, sometimes sit down to a quiet game for love.” Nicholas Nickleby – Charles Dickens.

  85. amenamen says:

    “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, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

    “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”
    William Goldman, The Princess Bride: S Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

    “He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89. ”
    Jack Schaefer, Shane

    “Because the Master of Catholic Truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but also to instruct beginners (according to the Apostle: As Unto Little Ones in Christ, I Gave You Milk to Drink, Not Meat – 1 Cor. iii, 1,2), we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian Religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners.”
    Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Prologue

  86. Girgadis says:

    “Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salem village; but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife. ”

    Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    Not a book, but one of my favorite short stories

  87. Lori Pieper says:

    Oh, I’m surprised it took someone so long to come up with that great first line of Gone with the Wind!

    Here’s another neglected classic!

    “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

    Also a real favorite of mine:

    I am old now, and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. (from the best and probably least-read C. S. Lewis book. And the whole first paragraph that follows is also brilliant).

    I did both of those from memory, so I hope I got them right!

    (People have done first line of plays – so if I were allowed to do the first line of a move – it would be)

    Mozart! Mozart!! Forgive your assaaaaasssiiin!

  88. Lori Pieper says:

    Rats! sorry for the italics mania. I did put the closing one in, I swear!

  89. worm says:

    The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.

    Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams

  90. Daniel Latinus says:

    “The modern world began on 29 May 1919 when photographs of a solar eclipse, taken on the island of Principe off West Africa and at Sobral in Brazil, confirmed the truth of a new theory of the universe.”
    - Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties.

  91. bravelass says:

    Glad to have made you laugh. I had to choose the Banks because two someones had already beat me to the punch on the Towers of Trebizond (boy, do I miss A Common Reader’s catalogues!) and I couldn’t decide which Douglas Adams to go with.

  92. gloriainexcelsis says:

    Well, since you already took Chaucer’s Prologue to Canterbury Tales – This is one sentence, though separated by a question mark. The first part is not the whole sentence. [As I said above: "Let’s not ever see, “I know this is more than one sentence… but…” …"] I love the imagery and the rhythm.

    Should you ask me, whence these stories,
    Whence these legends and traditions,
    With the odors of the forest,
    With the dew and damp of meadows,
    With the rushing of great rivers,
    With their frequent repetitions,
    And their wild reverberations,
    As of thunder in the mountains?
    I should answer, I should tell you,
    “From the forests and the prairies,
    From the great lakes of the Northland,
    From the land of the Ojibways,
    From the land of the Dacotahs,
    From the mountains, moors and fen-lands
    Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
    Feeds among the reeds and rushes,
    I repeat them as I heard them
    From the lips of Nawadaha,
    The musician, the sweet singer.”
    Introduction to Song of Hiawatha. I know, it is a poem, but it is prose narrative, after all – and it is sometimes presented as a book in itself.

  93. amenamen says:

    “A purple ocean, vast under the sky and devoid of all visible life apart from two minute ships racing across its immensity.”
    Patrick O’Brian, The Wine Dark Sea

  94. david andrew says:

    “That’s torn it!” said Lord Peter Wimsey (from, “The Nine Tailors” by Dorothy Sayers)

    “The Signora had no business to do it,” said Miss Bartlett, “no business at all. She promised us south rooms with a view close together, instead of which here are north rooms, looking into a courtyard, and a long way apart. Oh. Lucy!” (“A Room With A View” by E. M. Forster)

    “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad ; It wearies me ; you say it wearies you ; But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born, I am to learn ; And such a want-wit sadness makes of me, That I have much ado to know myself.” (“Merchant of Venice” by Shakespeare, Act I, Scene I.)

  95. david andrew says:

    And, although I was afraid to post it, for fear of ridicule because of its source, I offer this first sentence from a book that remains on my nightstand, and from which I derive certain comfort because of it’s wonderful simplicity and charm, and yet also find an adult level of wit within the stories:

    “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.” (“Winnie-The-Pooh” by A. A. Milne, chapter 1).

  96. Deo volente says:

    It was love at first sight.
    —Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
    —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

  97. ladykathryn says:

    This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve
    —Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

    Many years have passed since old John Godfrey, the mysterious lawyer, built his Sanctuary in a great city for the hopeless, the grieving, the despairing, the churchless, the cynical, the defeated, the dying and the bereaved, the betrayers of men and the betrayed, the burdened and the old, the young and the lost.
    —Taylor Caldwell, No One Hears But Him

    The world is full of broken people.
    —Dean Koontz, One Door Away From Heaven

  98. Londiniensis says:

    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. Conrad, Lord Jim

    Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?” Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

    To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. Conan Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia

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

    As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn; And I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept I dreamed a Dream. Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

    In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative. Lovecraft, The Tomb

  99. Katherine says:

    “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice-not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a christian because of Owen Meany.”

    A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving

  100. “Five friends I had, and two of them snakes.”
    Frederick Buechner, Godric

    The whole first paragraph is great, also. But, since a rule-breaker I am not, you’ll have to look it up on your own. [Thanks! Thank you! That is part of the aim here.]

  101. Denis Crnkovic says:

    An outstanding opening is:

    “At night, when I hold conversations with myself, I cannot logically justify my constant preoccupation with human folly.”
    —Miroslav Krleza On the Edge of Reason

    And just for the fun of it, here is another great opening line in the language in which it was written:

    ” — ?h bien, mon prince. Gênes et Lucques ne sont plus que des apanages, des ????????, de la famille Buonaparte.”
    —-L.N. Tolstoy War and Peace [surprise!]

    And I haven’t forgotten, of course,

    “??? ?????????? ????? ?????? ???? ?? ?????, ?????? ???????????? ?????
    ??????????? ??-??????.”
    “All happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
    —L.N. Tolstoy Anna Karenina

  102. Peco says:

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen this one:

    “Who is John Galt? – Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand [Famous. But .. good? Does that really thrill to read?]

  103. Carolan says:

    “Evelyn was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that.”

    from Pontoon
    A Novel of Lake Woebegon by Garrison Keillor

  104. “There was a white horse, on a quiet winter morning when snow covered the streets gently and was not deep, and the sky was swept with vibrant stars, except in the east, where dawn was beginning in a light blue flood.”
    –Mark Helprin “Winter’s Tale”

  105. John V says:

    “Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of the opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington; and baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little curch of St. George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge.”

    G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography

  106. Denis Crnkovic says:

    Rattisbon Anno Dommini Domini mense decembri mclv Cronicle of Baudolino of the family of Aulario
    —Umberto Eco, Baudolino

  107. AnAmericanMother says:

    I’m late to the fair — Ben Trovato grabbed the one I was thinking of.

    Lori, I agree that Til We Have Faces is Lewis’s best book, although . . .

    “I seemed to be standing in a busy queue by the side of a long, mean street.”

    Then there’s this one:

    “My aunt Jenepher, who is so beautiful, and is blind, was sitting on a marble bench in the herb garden, whistling, and I was standing by her.”
    - Donn Byrne, Destiny Bay

  108. Hugh says:

    “We, Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University, being in this the twenty-fourth year of our life, summoned by the wisdom of Almighty God and the unanimous voice of our people to the throne of our ancestors, do hereby proclaim. . .” Seth paused in his dictation and gazed out across the harbour where in the fresh breeze of early morning the last dhow was setting sail for the open sea.

    Evelyn Waugh, “Black Michief”

  109. xavier217 says:

    “Returning to his regiment in the fall of 1862 after a furlough in his home city of York, the chaplain of the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry looked at the ravaged Virginia countryside and noted in his diary that war was very mysterious.”
    -Bruce Catton “Glory Road”

    “I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.”
    -David Foster Wallace “Infinite Jest”

  110. priests wife says:

    “There was a certain country where things used to go rather oddly.”

    The Wise Woman- George MacDonald

  111. wecahill says:

    “He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad; and that was all his patrimony.” Scaramouche – Rafael Sabatini

  112. ceich says:

    A few more from Flannery O’Connor:

    Besides the neutral expression that she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings.
    Good Country People

    All week end the two girls were calling each other Temple One and Temple Two, shaking with laughter and getting so red and hot that they were positively ugly, particularly Joanne who had spots on her face anyway.
    A Temple of the Holy Ghost

    The doctor’s waiting room, which was very small, was almost full when the Turpins entered and Mrs. Turpin, who was very large, made it look even smaller by her presence.
    Revelation

    Calhoun parked his small pod-shaped car in the driveway to his great-aunts’ house and got out cautiously, looking to the right and left as if he expected the profusion of azalea blossoms to have a lethal effect upon him.
    The Partridge Festival

  113. annieoakley says:

    “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

    “This is the story of a man, one who was never at a loss.” The Odyssey – Homer

    “Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine and several other things besides, smoked a pipe and tended the geraniums boxed on the sill of his window above Water Lane in the town of Bridgewater.” Captain Blood – Rafael Sabatini

  114. APX says:

    “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

  115. Thomas in MD says:

    The music-room in the governor’s House at Port Mahon, a tall, triumphant, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli’s C major quartet.

  116. Malateste says:

    Apologies if this has been posted already; 100+ comments and growing makes it easy to overlook things!

    Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
    Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
    Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
    With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
    Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
    Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
    Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
    That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
    In the beginning how the heav’ns and earth
    Rose out of chaos: or if Sion hill
    Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed
    Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
    Invoke thy aid to my advent’rous song,
    That with no middle flight intends to soar
    Above th’Aonian mount, while it pursues
    Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
    (Milton, Paradise Lost )

    Also:
    An Author ought to consider himself, not as a Gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary Treat, but rather as one who keeps a public Ordinary, at which all Persons are welcome for their Money.
    (Fielding, Tom Jones– memorable, imho, for its truth, and also for making use of the utterly delightful eleemosynary, so sadly underutilized in our degenerate modern prose. )

  117. marthawrites says:

    The motto was “Pax”, but the word was set in a circle of thorns.
    In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

  118. TNCath says:

    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.

    –Charles Dickens,

  119. TNCath says:

    –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

  120. Matins says:

    It was a chill, rain-washed afternoon of a late August day, that indefinite season when partridges are still in security or cold storage, and there is nothing to hunt–unless one is bounded on the north by the Bristol Channel, in which case one may lawfully gallop after fat red stags.
    Tobermory-Saki

    The chief disadvantage of knowing more and seeing farther than others, is not to be generally understood.
    Hazlitt

    Egbert came into the large, dimly lit drawing-room with the air of a man who is not certain whether he is entering a dovecote or a bomb factory, and is prepared for either eventuality.

    Reticence of Lady Anne -Saki

  121. Jason C. says:

    “Of all things to be sought, the first is that Wisdom in which the Form of the Perfect Good stands fixed.”
    –The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor

  122. bbmoe says:

    “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. [Charlotte's Web, of course.]

  123. BobP says:

    Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
    The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
    And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
    Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
    Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
    Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
    The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
    Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
    And smale foweles maken melodye,
    That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
    (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
    Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
    And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
    To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
    And specially from every shires ende
    Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
    The hooly blisful martir for to seke
    That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

    – Chaucer, Canterbury Tales Prologue

  124. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
    - Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola

    Who made us? God made us.
    - Baltimore Catechism

    Three from American History:

    When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
    - Declaration of Independence

    We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
    - United States Constitution

    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
    - Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

  125. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Please indulge me one more:

    THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
    - Thomas Paine, The Crisis

  126. Kate says:

    “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, F. Scott Fitzgerald

    “It requires great patience to endure the language of careless livers, breathing atheism itself, and ruinous to devotion; as for instance, ‘A Mass more or less counrs for little.’” – The Hidden Treasure Holy Mass, Saint Leonard

  127. TheRani says:

    “The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

  128. pcstokell says:

    Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace.
    - Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

  129. Nora says:

    Ah, The House of Brede, reminded me of a charmer on the shelf next to it here: West’s The Devil’s Advocate:

    It was his profession to prepare other men for death; it shocked im to be so unready for his own.

  130. Childermass says:

    Now is the winter of our discontent  Made glorious summer by this sun of York;  
      And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house  
      In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

    William Shakespeare, Richard III

  131. momofseven says:

    “Let me begin without ceremony.” – The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon.

    A fabulous book on life, faith and all things culinary.

  132. BigRed says:

    “They call me Mac.”
    Leon Uris. Battle Cry

  133. Maltese says:

    John V:

    “Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of the opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington; and baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little curch of St. George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge.”
    G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography”

    Good one, dude! Probably the best one! God I love Chesterton!

  134. abasham says:

    “Beware thoughts that come in the night. They aren’t turned properly; they come in askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote of source” – William Least Heat-Moon, ‘Blue Highways’

    And though I cannot enter it here, I would like to say that the opening chapter of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘Le Petit Prince’ (The Little Prince) is the best opening to a book ever written.

  135. thymos says:

    O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
    The brightest heaven of invention,
    A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
    And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! –Hank V

    A point is that which has no part. –Euclid

    I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess; and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing. –Plato

  136. wolskerj says:

    “When the course of civilization takes an unexpected turn—when, instead of the continuous progress which we have come to expect, we find ourselves threatened by evils associated by us with past ages of barbarism—we naturally blame anything but ourselves.” — F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

    “Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17—, and go back to the time when my father kept the ‘Admiral Benbow’ inn, and the brown old seaman, with the sabre cut, first took up his lodging under our roof.” — R. L. Stevenson, Treasure Island

  137. wmpetzall says:

    Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
    Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
    Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
    One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie,
    One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
    One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
    J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

  138. holbyj says:

    “Mr. Tench went out to look for his ether cylinder, into the blazing Mexican sun and the bleaching dust” (Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory).

    “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida” (Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find).

    “The first time I ever laid eyes on Rome was more than twenty years and half as many children ago” (Regis Martin, What is the Church? Confessions of a Cradle Catholic).

    “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home” (S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders).

    “Come into my cell” (Walker Percy, Lancelot).

    “The glory of Him who moves all things penetrates the universe and shines in one part more and in another less” (Dante, Paradiso).

  139. Traductora says:

    It’s highly improper, so I won’t quote it, but one of my favorite opening lines is from Anthony Burgess’ 1980 novel Earthly Powers.

    Burgess was the author of A Clockwork Orange and probably one of the best analysts of 20th century morality or the lack thereof. He was a cradle Catholic (very conservative and monarchist) but otherwise was very similar to Graham Greene. He was also a brilliant linguist and musician.

    Like Greene, he led a life that was not exactly something that would have met with the approval of the Donut Ministry (I kid you not, my parish actually has something with this name). But he died estranged from the Church. Looking at what he wrote and said at the time, I think it was because he was scandalized by its intellectual and spiritual weakness and tendency to amorality or bourgeois respectability after Vatican II. There was no place for people like him (or like most artists) in the beige-colored, fully carpeted and air-conditioned VII Church.

  140. Jbuntin says:

    “My family had a high standard to raise children by, and as soon as they could tell that one wasn’t going to be a credit to the family name, they shipped him West–which explains why I left home at such a tender age.”

    Horse Tradin’, by Ben K. Green

  141. wmpetzall says:

    What is the plan of God for man? God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.
    Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

    Let me begin by reminding you of something St Cyprian tells us: “The universal Church is a people which derives its unity from the unity of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” [De oratione dominica, (PL 4, 553)].
    St. Josemaría Escrivá, Supernatural Aim of the Church.

  142. BenB says:

    Hwæt, ic swefna cyst secgan wylle,
    hwæt m? gemætte to midre nihte,
    syðþan reordberend reste wunedon.

    Listen! The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
    which came as a dream in middle-night,
    after voice-bearers lay at rest.
    –The Dream of the Rood, anon.

    Carles li reis, nostre emperere magnes
    Set anz tuz pleins ad estet en Espaigne:
    Tresqu’en la mer cunquist la tere altaigne;
    N’i ad castel ki devant lui remaigne;
    Mur ne citet n’i est remes a fraindre,
    Fors Sarraguce, ki est en une muntaigne.

    Charles the King, our Lord and Sovereign,
    Full seven years hath sojourned in Spain,
    Conquered the land, and won the western main,
    Now no fortress against him doth remain,
    No city walls are left for him to gain,
    Save Sarraguce, that sits on high mountain.
    –Il Chanson de Roland (Song of Roland), anon.

  143. wmpetzall says:

    Cuando Edmund Burke, el gran político y primer crítico de la Revolución Francesa, escribió que “lo único necesario para el triunfo del mal es que los buenos no hagan nada,” sin duda dijo una gran verdad.
    Federico Suárez, Que los buenos no hagan nada
    [Freelance translation follows:]
    When Edmund Burke, the great politician and first critic of the French Revolution, wrote that “the only thing needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” he doubtless stated a great truth.
    F. Suárez, Let good men do nothing.

  144. BaedaBenedictus says:

    “To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.”
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    “My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind.”
    Metamorphoses by Ovid

    “There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.”
    JRR Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien, The Silmarillion

  145. Agnes of Prague says:

    “That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not mean to lay a curse on me.”
    Gail Carlson Levine, “Ella Enchanted”

    “Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild.”
    ‘The Cat that Walked by Himself’ from Kipling’s “Just So Stories”

    I WISH either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me: had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius, and the very cast of his mind, and, for aught they knew to-the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house, might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;—had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly;—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world from that in which the reader is likely to see me.
    “Tristram Shandy”

  146. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    Father here is the Chesterton opening you were referring to earlier:

    THE human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.

    —-G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

    This list, though, needs some pulp:

    No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

    —-H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

    The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.

    —-H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

    —-Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

    I have no shame.

  147. BaedaBenedictus says:

    “Gedaehte mans ze guote niht,
    von dem der werlde guot geschiht,
    sô waere ez allez alse niht,
    swaz guotes in der werlde geschiht.”

    “If we failed in our esteem of those who confer benefits on us, the good that is done among us would be as nothing.”

    Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan und Isolde.

  148. PostCatholic says:

    “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, Plath

    And while it’s technically the dedication, and I don’t even remember for which book, Wodehouse’s “To my critics, these pearls.” certainly sets the tone. I second the other Wodehouse fans who’ve pointed out his mastery of the first line–but it’s genius to advance it!
    Introducing unreliable narrators: “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.” Catcher in the Rye, Salinger; “My legal name is Alexander Perchov, but my friends dub me Alex because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name.” Everything Is Illuminated, Safran Foer.

    Italo Calvino has a very funny first line, “You are about to start reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” And the first line of Nabokov’s Lolita is wonderful too, but I suspect this may not be the right place to repeat.

  149. kkollwitz says:

    “On a misty spring morning in 1703, a dozen Russian horsemen rode across the bleak and barren marshlands wher the Neva river runs into the Baltic sea.”

    Orlando Figes, “Natasha’s Dance”

  150. cothrige says:

    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

    All children, except one, grow up.
    J. M. Barrie, Peter and Wendy

    I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.
    Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

    The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
    H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

  151. PostCatholic says:

    Found it!

    “Turn round, my boy! How ridiculous you look! What sort of a priest’s cassock have you got on? Does everybody at the academy dress like that?” Tarus Bulba, Gogol.

    (I share only to amuse you, not to insult!)

  152. Gwen says:

    The rain had fallen all night, a steady, miserable rain; and when at last the light grew to the point that he could see his troops, George Washington realized that seven of them were lost in the forest, God knew where.
    - Fred Anderson, Crucible of War (about the Seven Years War in North America)

    At liftoff, Matt Eversmann said a Hail Mary.
    - Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down

  153. Clevelander says:

    “Elmer Gantry was drunk.”
    Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry, 1927.

    “The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. [But you have to stick around for the second sentence.] Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.”
    G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908.

    “Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy.”
    Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree, 1964.

  154. MarnieBarcelona says:

    La candente mañana de febrero en que Beatriz Viterbo murió, después de una imperiosa agonía que no se rebajó un solo instante ni al sentimentalismo ni al miedo, noté que las carteleras de fierro de la Plaza Constitución habían renovado no sé qué aviso de cigarrillos rubios; el hecho me dolió, pues comprendí que el incesante y vasto universo ya se apartaba de ella y que ese cambio era el primero de una serie infinita
    Translation:
    (On the burning February morning Beatriz Viterbo died, after braving an agony that never for a single moment gave way to self-pity or fear, I noticed that the sidewalk billboards around Constitution Plaza were advertising some new brand or other of American cigarettes. The fact pained me, for I realised that the wide and ceaseless universe was already slipping away from her and that this slight change was the first of an endless series.)

    El Aleph. Jorge Luis Borges

  155. Robert_H says:

    “It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips.”

    Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

  156. Clevelander says:

    “As I sat by the lake at Gandamack t’other day, sipping my late-afternoon brandy in the sun, damning the great-grandchildren for pestering the ducks, and reflecting on the wigging I’d get from Elspeth when I took them in to tea covered in dirt and toffee, there was a brass band playing on a gramophone up at the house, a distant drowsy thumping that drifted down the lawn and under the trees.”
    George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, 1994.

    This is fun!

  157. Absit invidia says:

    “It was hot.” – The Lonely Men, Louis L’Amour

    “It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been warned. ” – Sackett, Louis L’Amour

    “What I hoped for was a fat beer, and what I came up with was a skinny Indian.” – The Warrior’s Path, Louis L’Amour

  158. Sacristymaiden says:

    Beneath the porch of the country-seat called Tanglewood, one fine autumnal morning, was assembled a merry party of little folks, with a tall youth in the midst of them. — A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys, Nathaniel Hawthorne

    Dear gods, set me free from all the pain,/ the long watch I keep, one whole year awake…/ propped on my arms, crouched o the roofs of Atreus/ like a dog. –The Oresteia, “Agamemnon”, Aeschylus

    Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
    driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
    the hallowed heights of Troy. –The Odyssey, Homer

    There are two things which all treatment of the scriptures is aiming at: a way to discover what needs to be understood, and a way to put across to others what has been understood. –Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), St. Augustine

  159. Melania says:

    “When I was a young boy, if I was sick or in trouble, or had been beaten at school, I used to remember that on the day I was born my father had wanted to kill me.
    “You will say there is nothing out of the way in this.”
    The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault

  160. TC says:

    Maman est mort.

    Camus, The Stranger

  161. De Tribulis says:

    “Once upon a time, when men and women hurtled through the air on metal wings, when they wore webbed feet and walked on the bottom of the sea, learning the speech of whales and the songs of the dolphins, when pearly-fleshed and jewelled apparitions of Texan herdsmen and houris shimmered in the dusk on Nicaraguan hillsides, when folk in Norway and Tasmania in dead of winter could dream of fresh strawberries, dates, guavas and passion fruits and find them spread next morning on their tables, there was a woman who was largely irrelevant, and therefore happy.”

    A. S. Byatt, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye (I hope novellas count?)

  162. Mattiesettlement says:

    “I saw Adam and Eve walking through Paradise for the first time.”

    Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, THE LIFE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST volume 1

  163. ‘He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89, a slim man, dressed in black.’ Shane by Jack Schaefer.

  164. “The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.” Pope Paul VI

  165. bookworm says:

    “The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them…” — Stephen King, “The Body” (also a novella)

    “Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days.” — P.D. James, “The Children of Men”

  166. MarieSiobhanGallagher says:

    “Brother Ass found Father Elijah in the onion garden.”
    from Father Elijah, one of my top 5 favorite books.

  167. motheroften says:

    If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.
    Lemony Snicket- a Series of Unfortunate Events

  168. JARay says:

    Not exactly from a book but from a TV programme (note spelling) is from a Jonathan Creek mystery made by the BBC.
    “There are two sorts of people you should never have dealings with. They are:-
    1) Serial killers and
    2) Women who spell thanks with an “x”

  169. ladykathryn says:

    My daughter wants to add:

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

  170. Art says:

    The Divine Root Conceives and the Spring Breaks Forth
    As the Heart’s Nature Is Cultivated, the Great Way Arises
    Before Chaos was divided, Heaven and Earth were one;
    All was a shapeless blur, and no men had appeared.
    Once Pan Gu destroyed the Great Nothingness
    The separation of clear and impure began.

    Wu Cheng’en, The Journey to the West

    When a story needs to start at the very beginning, you know it’s going to be epic.

  171. Pachomius says:

    “Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on.” – Bleak House.

    “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.” – Brighton Rock.

  172. jade says:

    “As he freewheeled down the long hill, Father Smith remembered with irritation that, as a member of the League of St. Columba, he had promised to say a Pater, an Ave and a Gloria daily for the conversion of Scotland.” Bruce Marshall, The World, the Flesh and Father Smith.

    “A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.” Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward Angel.

    “In that late, cheerless spring of 1945, blood still stained the great rivers of Europe.” Malachi Martin, The Vatican.

    And in a book that is especially appropriate for the present, this first line: “You can go on and on blowing air into a balloon.” E.F. Schumacher, Good Work. See particularly his comments on Qaddaffi and the price of oil.

    I’ve seen the entries on his Inferno and Paradiso, but not his Purgatorio:
    “For better waters now the little bark
    of my indwelling powers raises her sails,
    And leaves behind that sea so cruel and dark.” Dante (apologies if I’ve repeated.)

    “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?” Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

    “St. Paul teaches us that the present world is an immense laboratory where all of nature is in great unrest and in labor until the day when, freed from all bondage and corruption, it will blossom out into a radiant and renewed order.” Father Arminjon, The End of the Present World, and the Mysteries of the Future Life.

  173. mwa says:

    The past is forever with me and I remember it all.
    -Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai

    We met angrily in the dead of winter. [Great opening.]
    -Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

  174. dcs says:

    “There are some events of which each circumstance and surrounding detail seem to be graven on the memory in such fashion that we cannot forget them.” –H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure

    “In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

  175. AnAmericanMother says:

    Can’t resist a couple of great opening sentences in some of Kipling’s late stories:

    “He had suffered from the disease of the century since his early youth,
    and before he was thirty he was heavily marked with it.”

    - “My Son’s Wife”

    “It came without warning, at the very hour his hand was outstretched to crumple the Holz and Gunsberg Combine.”

    -”An Habitation Enforced”

    “The valley was so choked with fog that one could scarcely see a cow’s length across a field.”

    - “Friendly Brook”

    Kipling was a master of the “hook”.

  176. jenne says:

    Everyone drags his own carcass to market.
    Mother angelica’s little book of life’s lessons … by raymond arroyo

  177. jenne says:

    Everyone drags his own carcass to market.
    Mother angelica’s little book of life’s lessons … by raymond arroyo

  178. DT says:

    Not a novel in itself, but quite memorable in its own right.

    “All men by nature desire to know.”
    – Aristotle, “Metaphysics”, Book A, I.980a23 (trans. W. D. Ross)

  179. Teresa-1962 says:

    “Life is difficult.”

    By (the late) M. Scott Peck, M.D. in The Road Less Traveled.

  180. Teresa-1962 says:

    “When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.”

    Ann Patchett in Bel Canto.

  181. Marius2k4 says:

    “The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend.” – Robert Jordan, “The Eye of the World” (Book I in The Wheel of Time)

  182. Imrahil says:

    “Erotskoob rednaeroc darnoc lrac renwo”: This inscription was written on the vitreous door of a little shop, but this way did it, of course, look only if you looked through the pane from the inside of the dusky room at the street outside.

    Michael Ende, The Neverending Story (sorry, but the translation is my own)

  183. bdchatfi says:

    “I awoke one morning with the usual perplexity of mind which accompanies the return of consciousness.” George MacDonald Phantastes

    “I who wrought my studious numbers
    Smoothly once in happier days,
    Now perforce in tears and sadness
    Learn a mournful strain to raise.”
    Boethius The Consolation of Philosophy trans. H. R. James (sorry don’t know the Latin)

    “Quite impossible as you see to start without an introduction,” laughed Ivan. The Idiot Foydor Dostoevky

    “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers.” Matilda by Roald Dahl. He is only good at the second sentence unfortunately, but rules are rules.

  184. BenB says:

    I should not be astonished to hear myself condemned as audacious, foolhardy and presumptuous by any person who will begin to realize (if realized it can be) that I, a simple woman, who is of herself but sheer weakness and ignorance and who is, on account of her sins, most unworthy, has resolved and attempted to write of divine and supernatural things.
    –The Mystical City of God, Ven. Maria de Agreda

  185. Rouxfus says:

    My Dear Reader:—Perhaps this is the first time in your life that you have handled a book in which the doctrines of the Catholic Church are expounded by one of her own sons.
    [James Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers]

    As a professional critic of life and letters, my principal business in the world is that of manufacturing platitudes for tomorrow, which is to say, ideas so novel that they will be instantly rejected as insane and outrageous by all right thinking men, and so apposite and sound that they will eventually conquer that instinctive opposition, and force themselves into the traditional wisdom of the race.
    [H.L. Mencken, In Defense of Women]

    A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.
    [John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces]

    Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.
    [John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

  186. PostCatholic says:

    “All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten..” Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten

    “As suburban children we floated at night in swimming pools the temperature of blood; pools the color of Earth as seen from outer space.” Coupland, 1,000 Years (Life After God) Sets the time and place and themes so well.

    “A tough Scots-Irishman I know, Mr. Hugh G. Flood, a retired house-wrecking contractor, aged ninety-three, often tells people he is dead set and determined to live until the afternoon of July 27, 1965, when he will be a hundred and fifteen years old.” Mitchell, Old Mr. Flood. I sure hope he made it; he was one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever encountered between the covers of a book.
    “One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away.” Cather, O Pioneers!

    I’m surprised no one has yet said “In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum.” Taken solely as a work of literature it has a lot of merit.

  187. asophist says:

    In principio erat verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat verbum. (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.) Thus the opening sentence of the Book of John, used as the Last Gospel in the TLM.

  188. PostCatholic says:

    Good minds apparently think alike, asophist.

  189. Scuffy the Tugboat says:

    The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut.

    ‘The Scarecrow’, by Ronald Hugh Morrieson.

  190. pvmkmyer says:

    And from that greatest of Dickens’ novels, David Copperfield, comes this great opening sentence:

    “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.”

  191. Sid says:

    The most ironic beginning of a book:
    “Mir fällt zu Hitler nichts ein.” — the beginning of a four hundred page work by Karl Kraus, Die dritte Walpurgisnacht, c. 1933

    The best first sentence and best attention-getter in the English language:
    “As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn , 1940

  192. Rouxfus says:

    There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job, and that man was simple and upright, and fearing God, and avoiding evil.
    [Book of Job]

  193. Scuffy the Tugboat says:

    When Guy Crouchback’s grandparents, Gervase and Hermione, came to Italy on their honeymoon, French troops manned the defences of Rome, the Sovereign Pontiff drove out in an open carriage and Cardinals took their exercise side-saddle on the Pincian Hill.

    Evelyn Waugh, the opening lines of ‘Officers and Gentlemen’ from the ‘Sword of Honour’ trilogy.

  194. Paul Stead says:

    “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there”- G.K.Chesterton (The everlasting Man)
    It’s the first line of the introduction.

  195. PaterAugustinus says:

    “Jesu Cryst, crowne of maydenes alle,
    A mayde bare Thee, a mayde gave Thee soke;
    Amongis the lilies that may not fade ne falle
    Thou ledyst these folk, ryth so seyth oure boke. ” -John Capgrave’s “Life of St. Katherine”

    “Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui, et admonitionem pii patris libenter excipe et efficaciter comple, ut ad eum per oboedientiae laborem redeas, a quo per inoboedientiae desidiam recesseras.” -Regula Sancti Benedicti

    Inter florigeras fecundi cespitis herbas,
    Flamine ventorum resonantibus undique ramis,
    Arboris umbriferae maestus sub tegmine solus
    Dum sedi, subito planctu turbatus amaro,
    Carmina prae tristi cecini haec lugubria mente
    Utpote commemorans scelerum commissa meorum,
    Et maculas vitae, mortisque inamabile tempus,
    Judiciique diem herrendo examine magnum,
    Perpetuamque reis districti judicis iram,
    Et genus humanum discretis sedibus omne,
    Gaudia sanctorum necnon poenasque malorum. -St. Bede’s “On Doomsday”

    (I’ll leave it untranslated in case anybody wants to take a stab at it; it’s a poem about the recollection of Doomsday breaking in upon a fellow amidst a pleasant moment in the woods, playing off of a common medieval “dream-allegory” theme).

    I hope the Greek shows up:

    ??? ??? ?????, ? ?????? ????????, ????????? ??? ??? ???? ?????????, ??? ????: ??? ?? ??? ??? ????? ??? ????? ?????? ??????? ??????????, ???? ??????? ??????.

    Plato’s Apology (“How you have been affected by my accusers, O men of Athens, I know not; but even I have almost forgotten my own identity, so persuasively did they speak!” – The Greek has a nice, wry eloquence).

    ????? ??? ??????, ?????, ??????????, ?? ???? ?????
    ???????, ???? ?????? ????? ?????????? ???????:
    ?????? ?? ???????? ???? ????? ??? ???? ????,
    ????? ?? ? ?? ?? ????? ????? ????? ?? ???? ?????,
    5????????? ?? ?? ????? ??? ?????? ???????.

    Homer’s Odyssey

    (This one surely merits a translation! From the Perseus website, with some changes of my own:

    Tell me, O Muse, of the man most cunning, who wandered in sundry ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy. Many were the men whose cities he saw and whose mind he learned, aye, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the sea, seeking to win his own life and the return of his comrades.)

    And just ’cause I can’t resist: Tolkien’s translation of the opening of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

    When the siege and assault had ceased at Troy,
    And the Fortress fell in flame to firebrands and ashes,
    The traitor who the contrivance of treason there fashioned
    Was tried for his treachery, the most true upon earth –
    It was Aeneas the noble and his renowned kindred
    Who then laid under them lands, and lords became
    Of well-nigh all the wealth in the Western Isles.

    The original, Middle English for that was a bit more obscure, but sounds a LOT cooler.

    “SIÞEN þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye,
    Þe bor? brittened and brent to bronde? and askez,
    Þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wro?t
    Watz tried for his tricherie, þe trewest on erthe:
    Hit watz Ennias þe athel, and his highe kynde,
    Þat siþen depreced prouinces, and patrounes bicome
    Welne?e of al þe wele in þe west iles.”

  196. PaterAugustinus says:

    “I hope the Greek shows up:

    ??? ??? ?????, ? ?????? ????????, ????????? ??? ??? ???? ?????????, ??? ????: ??? ?? ??? ??? ????? ??? ????? ?????? ??????? ??????????, ???? ”

    Ha! Sorry, all.

  197. cwillia1 says:

    “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” from The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.

  198. cjcanniff says:

    “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” – The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder

    This line is great because of its matter-of-fact tone in regard to an utterly tragic happenstance which the book ultimately probes. Its incongruity in relation to the mood intended by the author shows great literary tact. The novel is an excellent read, dealing with the sinuous relationships of free will, suffering, and love. It is a sharp and critical response to the heretical Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Read it, and you shall be enlightened.

  199. bookworm says:

    “The primroses were over.” — Richard Adams, “Watership Down”

    “Up until I was fourteen years old, no boy on earth could have been happier.” — Wilson Rawls, “Summer of the Monkeys”

    “These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr. Bucket.” — Roald Dahl, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

  200. Gaz says:

    In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram.

    God.

  201. digdigby says:

    “I do not know how Marianus ever came to leave his native land, nor what turn of fate brought him to flutter the dovecotes of a convent school.”

    Agnes Repplier, IN OUR CONVENT DAYS

    Greatest first sentence? I doubt it, but the next one was as fine and the next. Before I was done I was five volumes into the works of this thoroughly neglected Catholic-American writer full of wit and love of her fellow man. Most of her volumes at Washington University Library were over a hundred years old and NEVER had their pages cut.

  202. The opening line of Sigrid Undset’s debut novel caused some stir and achieved some fame at the time, I believe. It is a line that would perhaps not have boded well at all if it appeared at the beginning of a book by some authors, but as the start of a novel by such an insightful author as Sigrid Undset, with her complex psychological studies, it achieves the haunting effect I imagine it was supposed to have. Of course, she wrote her first book long before she became Catholic but there is in it traces of the longings and views in her that points to her later conversion. So, here goes:

    “Jeg har vært min man utro.” Fru Martha Oulie.

    “I have been unfaithful to my husband.” There is really something about the grammatical construction of the Norwegian original, though, that somehow doesn’t translate very well. It doesn’t achieve that same haunting effect. You’ll all just have to learn Norwegian to appreciate it!

    On a completely different note, you have St. Louis De Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary:
    “It was through the most holy Virgin Mary that Jesus came into the world, and it is also through her that He has to reign in the world.”

  203. WaywardSailor says:

    I am Patrick – a sinner – the most unsophisticated and unworthy among all the faithful of God.

    St. Patrick, Confession

  204. jfm says:

    Your Aeneid quote is missing a word.
    …genus unde Latinum.

    Father, how could you of all people forget the word Latinum?
    Perhaps it was implied ;)

    Love the blog –
    Joe

  205. SK Bill says:

    Another vote for Dante, but in Italian (it just sounds better):
    “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,
    Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
    Che la diritta via era smarrita.”

    I also like the last sentence of The Inferno:
    “Lo duca e io per quel cammino ascoso
    intrammo a ritornar nel chiaro mondo;
    e sanza cura aver d’alcun riposo,
    salimmo sù, el primo e io secondo,
    tanto ch’i’ vidi de le cose belle
    che porta ’l ciel, per un pertugio tondo;
    E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.”

    Has anyone listed the first sentence of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces?
    “A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.”

  206. ASD says:

    This essay completes and surpasses philosophy in the direction, not of nihilism, but of doxology.

    Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy, 1998