Discover: First Lines #5
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So…last week I was a little embarrassed by the covers of two of the R-titled books; this week I’m a little embarrassed about the fact that my one Q-titled book is a regency romance. (If you’re a fan, there’s no shame, it’s just not generally my cup of tea.) I almost decided to pretend that my library was Q-free — who would know? — but decided to brave it, instead.
Why be embarrassed? Stand boldly with your library.
Four First Lines
1. The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer (originally published in 1952):
In the guide-books it figured as Stanyon Castle; on the tongues of the villagers, it was the Castle; the Polite World spoke of it as Stanyon, as it spoke of Woburn, and of Cheveley.
Might as well get it out of the way, right? Here it is — the regency romance novel. I may be embarrassed by the idea of it, I stand by the writing, and it’s not at all what I imagine romance novels to be. A friend’s mom introduced me to Georgette Heyer in high school or college when she found out how much I loved Jane Austen. She told me this lady gets people and sarcastically relishes society and its norms. She was right. The first Heyer book I read, Cotillion, is laugh-out-loud funny. And even this one is noticeably written with the clever nuances of sarcasm just a few pages in.
Of course there are cheesy moments, it is a romance novel after all, but Heyer chooses her words well, and has an Austen-sharp observance of humanity and cleverness of wit. Next time you’re looking for a beach or airplane read, you might consider a Georgette Heyer book. And don’t be surprised when you start laughing out loud.
Any other Heyer fans out there?
2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (originally published in 1891):
The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.
I was actually initially struck by the first line of Wilde’s Preface:
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
It appears to be a list of twenty-four statements about art/beauty. Having never read this book but often heard of it, I was a little surprised to have never heard this preface mentioned, which Wilde apparently added later after having to tame down his novel for publication — interesting.
I was also surprised by the first line of the novel itself. Having only read a few Wilde plays (The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband, and Lady Windermere’s Fan), this line of prose seemed more in line with an L.M. Montgomery novel.
I’m definitely going to have to give this a read.
3. Pearls from Many Seas compiled by Rev. J.B. McClure:
Upon the windows of a publishing house in one of our great American cities the passer-by may read the words “Books are the only things that live for ever.”
– from Intro; by Charles Carroll Albertson
No true work since the world began was ever wasted; no true life since the world began has ever failed.
– from first quote; by F.W. Farrar
Got this beautiful gem from my grandma, which she got from her mother. I think maybe I should read one quote each day.
I wonder what makes a true life, or a true work…
4. Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie (originally published in 1970):
“Fasten your seat belts, please.”
I have a strange fascination for Agatha Christie, though I have yet to read one of her books. #1 – She has a cool name. #2 – She wrote loads of mystery books. #3 – She created two unique detective characters (Poirot and Miss Marple), who have both been repeatedly translated into film. I look forward to finally cracking the spine of one of her novels soon.
Anyone have any favourite Christie novels?
As someone who rarely reads prefaces or intros, this week’s batch of first lines made me want to read more. And though I liked McClure’s intro to Pearls from Many Seas, it was the aphoristic structure of Wilde’s preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray that kept me intrigued.
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.
The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
These philosophical claims, and fourteen more, lead to this conclusion:
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is useless.
Oh, Oscar Wilde. You certainly were a clever one. I’m not sure that I agree with all his claims, but I certainly find them interesting.
I often find that witty people have both a keen understanding of other people and of themselves. I appreciate their thoroughness of observation and honesty. Wilde was such a one. I definitely need to read more of his works.
» Next week: four books whose titles begin with O/N.
» Don’t miss last week’s: four books whose titles began with R.
What is your favourite first line
among your own four Q/P books?
→Kindle-editions available here: The Quiet Gentleman, Cotillion, The Picture of Dorian Gray, An Ideal Husband, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Passenger to Frankfurt.
Hmm, I thought I introduced you to Heyer and that was a book I had in our closet library but perhaps I dug it out after hearing you were reading her :)
It was Marlynn. But yeah, after the first book you mentioned you had one — which was this one.
I just love these first lines posts. Sadly, I am so not keeping up with your letters to compare first lines! I may just have to borrow your idea (if I may) and do a few of my own book or first line (or last line!) posts in the near future.
Dorian Gray is a bit of a creeper! Kinda want to dig it out and read it again.
Ha – there’s no time limit, Lisa. Just tag me when you do post so I can see what you found. :)
My books this week are: Priscilla and Aquila by Lois T Henderson & Harold Ivan Smith; The Peasant Girl’s Dream by George MacDonald; and Frank Peretti’s Piercing the Darkness.
Priscilla & Aquila:
“In the women’s quarters of a public bath in ancient Rome, a door between the tepidarium and the caldarium was pushed open by a slave to enable her young mistress to leave the warm anteroom and enter the area that contained the hot bath.”
Lots of words in one sentence but it really sets the scene, era and character.
The Peasant Girl’s Dream:
“The land was not pretty, unless you knew where to look for its beauty.” The next line pulls you further in: “Neither was it friendly, unless you lived upon it long enough to make it your friend.”
Oh, George, I need to re-read you! Beth, you know well how much I loved his writings. His fiction expanded by view of God as my loving Father and the characters gave practical views of living an authentic Christian life.
Piercing the Darkness:
“It could have begun in any town.”
Not long, but works. I recall reading this to you all in the car on the way to Colorado. Made the time fly by!
I’m beginning to see why these are still on my bookshelf…now to make/find the time to re-read them!
Yeah, I need to read more George MacDonald. That’s a great beginning! I’ve only read his Phantastes and a few short stories myself.
You asked if we had a favorite Agatha Christie book and I couldn’t find it until I was looking for my titles. It is NOT your usual and was written under a pseudonym of Mary Westmacott. It’s title is: Absent in the Spring. Ben gave it to me. Not sure where he got it.
It appears to be a cheap romance novel, but is more a woman’s discovery of herself and her world.
It’s preface is:
“Joan tried to remember how it had all come about. She had taken the path that went up through Haling Wood when she had heard Rodney’s voice and a woman’s voice answering him.
When she finally had caught sight of them, they were sitting on the grass staring down over the pale countryside below…her husband and their neighbor’s wife.
It looked so innocent. But that’s when Joan realized she knew so little about her husband…and even less about her neighbor’s wife…”
Another one I’ll have to find the time to re-read.
interesting. never heard that she wrote under a pseudonym — maybe because it wasn’t her usual genre?