Thursday, August 17, 2006

Great Beginnings!

A small exercise to get us all started!

We all know how important it is to write a first line that grabs the reader and draws them in to the story.

All these extracts are taken from the beginning of books written by Jane Austen. Which is your favourite first line or paragraph - and why?

“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 which never failed.”

“A gentleman and a lady travelling from Tonbridge towards that part of the Sussex coast that lies between Hastings and Eastbourne, being induced by business to quit the high road, and attempt a very rough lane, were overturned in toiling up its long ascent, half rock, half sand.”

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

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

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine.”

“About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of baronet’s lady with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and a large income. All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of an equitable claim to it.”

In our first class we will take a look at the way in which Jane Austen starts her books and how she hooks the reader.


Blogger Carolynn Carey said...

I think I would be most intrigued by the introduction telling about Emma Woodhouse's life to date because the reader will infer that Emma's situation is about to change and she will soon be both distressed and vexed, and I would want to know what occurrance is going to bring this about.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

“It is a truth universally acknowledged..."

I love the beginning of Pride & Prejudice because it hooks you in a very short sentence, sets the tone, and lets us know there will be a romance.

8:54 AM  
Blogger francesca said...

I find it very hard to choose between them; I almost must confess to not recognising the second one!
The first line of Pride and Prejudice is so witty and lighthearted, while having a serious social commentary underneath, it is almost a microcosm for the novel as a whole.

The opening lines of Persuasion, about Sir Walter Elliot, are far more dry, but this book is so much a favourite of mine that I immediately want to go back and read it again after reading these lines, to see moral and emotional courage triumph over Sir Walter and his eldest daughter's snobbery all over again.
I love the opening lines to Mansfield Park too. This is a very unforgiving book and the first paragraph mirrors that perfectly. I agree with what carolynn says about Emma too.
Hmmm - I'm not really coming to a conclusion here am?

1:36 PM  
Blogger Anna Campbell said...

I know, I know, it's everyone's favourite. But the Pride and Prejudice opening is just one of the best opening lines ever written, up there with the Anna Karenina one about unhappy families. I think what strikes me re-reading it is the supreme confidence of the writer. She knows what she's doing and she's making no apologies for it. That opening sets the tone superbly for the events to come and has that lovely ironic twist that illuminates JA's writing.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Sue aka MsCreativity said...

I don't think P&P can be beaten either, but I also like the imagery that's conveyed in "A gentleman and a lady... " I'm not sure which book it's from but I'm looking forward to catching up with all my JA reading when this course has finished.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Maureen said...

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine.”

Ah, to be a heroine, what a purpose. Short with so much promise like the infant.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

The "Pride and Prejudice" opening does it for me. I love the rhythmic quality of the sentence, which none of the other openings have. And personally, I find the narrator's statement quite tongue-in-cheek which in itself pulls me into the story.

I'm also quite intrigued by “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine." I don't know which of her books it comes from but this opening sentence certainly makes me want to read the rest of the book.

2:18 AM  
Blogger Nightwriter said...

It's Northanger Abbey for me. Short and sharp it 'hooks'and intrigues me as I want to know how and why Catherine becomes a heroine despite such an unlikely start in life.

Pride and Prejudice is also a favourite beginning, but having not read the book for a while my judgement does tend to be coloured by the Colin Firth wet shirt moment in the TV adaptation!


8:38 AM  
Blogger Nightwriter said...

It's Northanger Abbey for me. I find the opening sentence intriguing as I want to know how and why Catherine becomes a heroine despite such an unpromising start.

The beginning of Pride and Prejudice does come a close second - but I can never think of this book now without a vision of Colin Firth in a wet shirt coming to mind!

8:48 AM  
Blogger Christine Wells said...

I agree, the opening line of Pride and Prejudice is a classic--and notice it's omniscient, which I think is the easiest way to be witty, even if deep point of view is the fashion now.

I also like Emma's opening line, for the reason Carolynn states--the reader becomes certain this complacent female will be knocked off her perch very soon!

6:25 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

There were a few good hook lines in the selection that you put up for us to choose from. And I found it difficult to decide which I liked most. The longer ones gave a lot of detail but did not grab me in the first second. I knew Pride and Prejudice starting sentence too well, so I chose:

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine.”

Its an immediate hook line. Tells us most importantly who the story is about and most of all sets a question making the reader curious. It tells us Catherine's past and her future (being a heroine) setting the stage for us to discover how she transformed from one to the other

11:11 AM  
Blogger ED Denson said...

I think perhaps part of the genius of the opening to Pride and Prejudice is that it is written from a point of view - this is not an all-knowing author speaking. It is rather the community of people who have unmarried daughters for whom this truth is universally acknowleged. Austen uses this technique of speaking from the point of view of one character or another throughout the novel. Now, the 2nd sentence is from the all-knowing author as it states what really is a universal fact.

8:34 PM  

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