Once upon a Time There Was a Great Opening Line.

Daily Mail (London), October 13, 1997 | Go to article overview

Once upon a Time There Was a Great Opening Line.


THE best writers have always known how to grab a reader's attention with their first words.

Now a list of the best opening lines in literature has been compiled, and it makes classic reading. The list of 40 will start as many arguments among book-lovers for what it leaves out as what it includes.

The chart was revealed yesterday by Oxford University Press on the eve of publication of its latest volume of literary quotations.

Shakespeare manages only two entries, beaten by Keats who gets three into the list.

Dickens's 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' from A Tale of Two Cities is his only entry.

An OUP spokesman said: 'A lot of great writers are among the authors of these 40 quotes. It shows that one of the things that makes them great is the way they start a work so brilliantly.' The compilers used a computer database of quotations to draw up the list, choosing not necessarily the best quotations but those which came up time and again, in works by other people and in speeches.

THE TOP FORTY 1. I sing of arms and the man - Virgil 70-19 BC: Aeneid.

2. Midway along the path of our life Dante 1265-1321: The Divine Comedy, Inferno.

3. Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote - Geoffrey Chaucer 1343-1400: The Canterbury Tales, The General Prologue.

4. Once upon a time - Anonymous: Recorded since 1595.

5. Oh for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention William Shakespeare 1564-1616: Henry V.

6. If music be the food of love, play on William Shakespeare 1564-1616: Twelfth Night.

7. Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more, Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere John Milton 1608-74: Lycidas.

8. 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 - John Milton 1608-74: Paradise Lost.

9. As I walked through the wilderness of this world - John Bunyan 1628-88: The Pilgrim's Progress.

10. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife - Jane Austen 1775-1817: Pride and Prejudice.

11. Much have I travelled in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen - John Keats 1795-1821: On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.

12. Oh, what can ail thee knight at arms Alone and palely loitering? - John Keats 1795-1821: La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

13. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun - John Keats 1795-1821: To Autumn.

14. I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the Mistress of the Earl of Craven - Harriette Wilson 1789-1846: Memoirs.

15. It was a dark and stormy night Edward George Bulwer-Lytton 1803-73: Paul Clifford.

16. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day - Charlotte Bronte 1816-55: Jane Eyre.

17. The boy stood on the burning deck Whence all but he had fled Felicia Hemans 1793-1835: Casabianca.

18. Call me Ishmael - Herman Melville 1819-91: Moby Dick.

19. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times - Charles Dickens 1812-70: A Tale of Two Cities.

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