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Strauss's avatar

Do you have a favorite incipit (see details)

Asked by Strauss (23653points) December 28th, 2023

What’s an incipit? It’s the opening line in a book or novel. I recently read an article featuring 8 of the all-time best:

“Call me Ishmael.” Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“All unhappy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina by Leon Tolstoy.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Book of Genesis Ancient Scripture.

“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 by Jane Austen (1813)

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley.

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

“It was a pleasure to burn.” 1984 by Ray Bradbury.

And I would add two of my favorites:

“I was sick—sick unto death with that long agony…” The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe.

“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.” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Add your favorites!

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22 Answers

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

We are humans. Being human is a chronic fatal condition.

elbanditoroso's avatar


@Strauss – the book burning was in Fahrenheit 451 – not 1984.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,” – The Raven – - – Edgar Allan Poe

Strauss's avatar

@elbanditoroso Thanks. That was a copy-paste error!

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

“Lightning sought our mother out, when she was a young girl in Brown County, Indiana.” The Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willet

“A screaming comes across the sky.” Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

I absolutely love incipits. I can spend hours in a book store or library going from book to book only reading these little bits.

LostInParadise's avatar

“My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.”
The Stranger, Albert Camus

ragingloli's avatar

“In the year 3058, the warring factions of the Inner Sphere band together to execute the complete annihilation of Clan Smoke Jaguar.”

chyna's avatar

“It was a dark and stormy night”
Charles Schultz

flutherother's avatar

I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia.
Ficciones Jorge Luis Borges

janbb's avatar

“Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

“When he was nearly 13, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the ankle.”

janbb's avatar

^^ Edit: “elbow” not “ankle”!

elbanditoroso's avatar

Dare I say – most incipits are pretty insipid…

gondwanalon's avatar


filmfann's avatar

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like ‘I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…’ and suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car….”
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Jeruba's avatar

Credit for “It was a dark and stormy night” belongs to Sir Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel Paul Clifford begins with those words. Schultz just borrowed them.

Every year since 1982, San Jose State University has held the Bulwer-Lytton contest for the most awful imaginable opening lines. I tried my worst and didn’t come close. After the contest, you can read the runners-up.

Jeruba's avatar

As for my own nominee, I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, but it’s worth more than a mention, from Vladimir Nabokov’s sensuous masterpiece, Lolita:

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”

smudges's avatar

“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, 1939

kevbo1's avatar

About 25 years ago, I was standing in Elliot Bay Book Company looking for a book about Seattle’s history. The first one I picked up started with statistics like Seattle’s longitude and latitude. The second book, Skid Road, started with “The hills are so steep in downtown Seattle that some of the sidewalks have cleats” and went on to describe how the Seattle Symphony rigged a pulley system to carry their instruments three blocks uphill from the storage space to the practice hall. That paragraph has stayed with me ever since.

Demosthenes's avatar

I’ve always liked the incipit of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, ever since I was assigned to read the novel in 8th grade:

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the dark movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman, and a ride home.

Note that this line also functions as the explicit (the last line of the novel). I can’t at the moment think of any other novels that begin and end with the same line, so it is an interesting case.

Another one I’ve always liked is the incipit of James Joyce’s The Dead:

Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet.

I’m sure the great James Joyce knew this was an incorrect usage of the word “literally” (which apparently people were doing all the way back in 1905), but this is something Lily herself would’ve said, so it is apropos.

ragingloli's avatar

“Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.”

flutherother's avatar

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the river 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?”

Poseidon's avatar

My favourite ‘incipit’ has to be:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,”

As I \m sure many of you know it is the first words in the Charles Dickens classic ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

May I wish your the happiest and healthiest 2024.

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