Monday, February 06, 2006

American Book Review: 100 Best First Lines From Novels

The American Book Review (Illinois State University) published a list of 100 best first lines from novels (The Pantagraph. Feb 3, 2006). C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton made the list:

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

63. 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 (1904)

Happily, my personal favorite first line (though not a Chesterton line) made the list:

70. 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 (1960)


Nick Milne said...

I'm glad to see that the first line from Beckett's Murphy made the list; it's a great book, and an excellent line. Actually, they've really done a good job on this. The Good Soldier is a solid choice, as is Tristram Shandy (the line sets the tone for the whole of the piece).

Too bad they didn't include the opening of Chesterton's Autobiography:

"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 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 church of St. George
opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge."

The line that comes after is even funnier, but can not be included. That would be cheating :0

Joe said...

Yes, the beginning of GKC's Autobiography are great lines to recite from memory (after the guests have drunk a little) at a party.

But besides really needing two lines for the full punch, Autobiography isn't quite a novel.