1. Intriguing opening sentences

Sometimes it pays to zoom in. Today, we focus on some opening sentences which reward close attention. Our guest is Jenny Davidson — an English professor who’s also a novelist herself. She shows us how these carefully-crafted opening sentences can orient, intrigue or even mislead us.

Bonus clip

Click here to listen to Jenny discuss writing (and rewriting!) the opening sentences of her own novels.

Works mentioned

– Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton

– Jane Austen, Emma

– Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

– W. G. Sebald, Rings of Saturn

– Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

– George Eliot, Middlemarch

– Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Further reading

Jenny Davidson at Aeon – Simplicity or style: what makes a sentence a masterpiece?

Joe Fassler at The Atlantic – ‘This Did Something Powerful to Me’: Authors’ Favorite First Lines of Books

The Bulwer-Lytton contest, “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels”

Andrew Heisel at Electric Literature – In Search of the Novel’s First Sentence: A Secret History

Elizabeth Stinson at Wired – Beautiful Literary Star Charts Map Famous First Sentences

Geoff Nunberg at NPR – The Enduring Legacy Of Jane Austen’s ‘Truth Universally Acknowledged’

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