The Ten Opening Lines That Are Dearest to Me in Prose Fiction

In no particular order:

This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it’s a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. –Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

A trapeze artist–this art, practiced high in the vaulted domes of the great variety theaters, is admittedly one of the most difficult humanity can achieve–had so arranged his life that, as long as he kept working in the same building, he never came down from his trapeze by night or day, at first only from a desire to perfect his skill, but later because custom was too strong for him. –Franz Kafka “The Hunger Artist”

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-Lee-Ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. –Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

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, Finnegans Wake

A head of department, working quietly in his room in Whitehall on a summer afternoon, is not accustomed to being disturbed by the nearby and indubitable sound of a revolver shot. –Iris Murdoch The Nice and the Good

Why is the measure of love loss? –Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

The doctor has just left me. I finally got it out of him! No matter how much he tried to evade the issue, he finally said what he was thinking. Yes, soon, very soon, I shall die. –Ivan Turgenev, Diary of A Superfluous Man

A desperate foolishness. The crops failed. I sold my children. –Caryl Philips Crossing the River

It was love at first sight.

The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him. –Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Mrs. Dalloway said she would by the flowers herself.

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning–fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! –Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Those are mine. What are yours?


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