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  • Jennifer Walker

Famous First Lines



My family has always been rabidly enthusiastic about trivia. Some of my earliest memories are of listening to Jeopardy! during dinner, and our copy of Trivial Pursuit is best described as threadbare. When I married my husband, I was thrilled to join their daily summertime tradition of the Check Your Knowledge trivia competition from the Cape Cod Times. My brother and his wife have been bar trivia hosts for years, with other family members often stopping by to play.


So when covid hit, and no one could go to bars, and no one wanted to kill off their own family members by getting together, my family switched to Zoom trivia. Every Sunday, we "get together," each player presenting five questions for everyone else, at least one of which is on a pre-selected theme. Depending on your time zone, you bring lunch, or snacks, or cocktails.


This week's theme was "Famous first lines from classic novels (non-US authors)." Of course as an avid reader, I was all over this topic. I only get to bring five to Sunday family trivia, but as I was compiling well over that number, I realized it might be a good list to share here. A first line can pull in a reader or push them to reshelve a book. What makes a compelling and memorable first line?


Below are ten famous first lines from non-American novels; if you're struggling, keep scrolling for a list of possible answers to match the lines to. And finally, scroll further still for the answers.


Famous First Lines:


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


2. In 1815, M. Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne. He was an old man of about seventy-five years of age....


3. Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.


4. 3 May, Bistritz – Left Munich at 8:35pm on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46 but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place....


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


6. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.


7. We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.


8.It was a dark and stormy night.


9.The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.


10. Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know.


***


Here are the ten titles:


The Handmaid's Tale


Les Miserables


The Heart of Darkness


Anna Karenina


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


The Stranger


Paul Clifford


1984


Dracula


The Metamorphosis


***


Here are the answers:


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

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy


2. In 1815, M. Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne. He was an old man of about seventy-five years of age....

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo


3. Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by JK Rowling


4. 3 May, Bistritz – Left Munich at 8:35pm on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46 but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth [sic] seems a wonderful place....

Dracula, by Bram Stoker


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

1984, by George Orwell


6. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka


7. We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood


8. It was a dark and stormy night.

Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton


9. The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.

The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad


10. Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know.

The Stranger, by Albert Camus



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