Monday, February 01, 2016

In Search of the Novel’s First Sentence: A Secret History

Now we laud this and many other great sentences, but no reviewer at the time thought anything of Brontë’s choice. No one in America was excited, four years later, about Melville’s classic opener to Moby Dick. Nobody had a thing to say about the wonderful beginning to Pride and Prejudice. Nobody was bothered by the pedestrian beginning to The Scarlet Letter, or in love with the beginnings of Middlemarch or A Tale of Two Cities, or unimpressed by that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When we celebrate first sentences today, we do so as though they’re an essential feature of the novel. They’re considered as much a part of its form as an envoi is to a sestina, as a battle is to an epic, as a setup is to a joke. But the beloved first sentence is the product of dramatic changes one hundred and fifty years into the novel’s history. There are ample studies of the rise of the novel, but the move that would become the novel’s calling card has virtually no critical history.

No comments: