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20 of Our Favorite Famous First Lines in Literature

From Melville to Didion, these first sentences created lasting and notable impressions.

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  • Photo Credit: cocoparisienne / Pixabay

"You better not never tell nobody but God."

The Color Purple

The Color Purple

By Alice Walker

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."

Charlotte's Web EB White

Charlotte's Web

By E.B. White

"What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask."

Play It as It Lays

Play It as It Lays

By Joan Didion

"In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together."

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, a book with a famous first line

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

By Carson McCullers

"Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." 

Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway

By Virginia Woolf

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day."

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Brontë

"My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call."

The Prince of Tides

The Prince of Tides

By Pat Conroy

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

The Bell Jar Rejected Books

The Bell Jar

By Sylvia Plath

"Call me Ishmael."

Moby Dick

Moby Dick

By Herman Melville

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

the secret history by donna tartt, a book with a famous first line

The Secret History

By Donna Tartt

"Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable."

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

The Hobbit

The Hobbit

By J.R.R. Tolkien

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

"It was a dark and stormy night."

A Wrinkle in Time fantasy books

A Wrinkle in Time

By Madeleine L'Engle

"It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen."

“Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions..." 

Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities

By Italo Calvino

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."



By William Gibson

"A screaming came across the sky."

gravity's rainbow by thomas pynchon, a book with a famous first line

Gravity's Rainbow

By Thomas Pynchon

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."


Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy