First lines in bestselling books – Part Two

As the title suggests, this is the second part of an article about first lines in popular novels. You’ll probably want to take a look at the first article to check out the first lines we’ll be looking at, and see the general conclusions we’ve drawn so far.

In this article we’re going to look at the first line of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1870), Charles Dickens


The first thing that strikes me about this first line is that it’s so long. These days you would be extremely unlikely to see any sentence that long, let alone a first line. I mean, it’s an entire paragraph. The first phrase is interesting and intriguing, but in my opinion it would be far stronger if it just stopped there. Instead it waffles on repetitively until the reader is bored, and then finally confused.

I’m sure there will be hundreds of people who will throw their hands in the air for me being so sacrilegious as to criticize the great Charles Dickens, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing should be sacred, because that can only lead to blindness. And you can say I’m simply uneducated and don’t ‘get’ it – that’s a valid opinion. Just as mine is valid.

So, I’m going to say that I think while there are strengths in this line – the juxtaposition, the strength of the opposites, something like this would never be acceptable in modern times.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out our novel writing software. Designed by writers for writers.

I would love to hear other people’s opinions on this.