Jane Austen and the Borrowed Query

July 25, 2007 at 12:01 pm | Posted in books, Bria, Queries, romance, writing | 1 Comment

Let’s play a game, shall we? Opening lines – hooks – grab points. . .whatever you choose to call them. . .they’re often what a book is known by. 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .” (yes, that isn’t the end of the sentence!)

“Call me Ishmael.” (and what about the prologue people?) 

Anyway, one of the things that popped up on our Con-treat this weekend was whether or not Jane Austen would be published now. We talked about the speed life moves out, the amount of time a person has in one sitting to read, attention span, instant gratification, etc.

It wasn’t looking good for our dear friend Jane.  I must admit, this made us all a bit sad.  No matter what era of my life I’ve been in, Jane Austen has consistently been in my top 5 author’s list. 

David Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, decided to find the answer to that very question and queried several well-known publishers. See the eye-opening article here: http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2129738,00.html 

What does this say about our culture?  Asking around, I found a few answers:

  • People don’t seem to have the patience to ‘read through’ a sentence. They want it to be easy to read and not have to dig for a gem
  • While everyone said they love Mr. Darcy (ok, 3 women said they never ‘got’ the Darcy thing and I promptly ended our friendship) those who loved him didn’t understand why he was in so little of the book
  • The misconception that older literature was dry and serious confused people about humorous portions.  Is that supposed to be funny – was often asked.
  • We are more familiar with literature than educated by it.

That last one made me particularly sad.  Literature, to me, is a brilliant love affair, not a passing romance. 

So, getting on to our game, below are first lines of some great books.  How many can you get right?  Page down for the answers. 

1  Mr. Phileas Fogg lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the house in which Sheridan died in 1814.” 

2 “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.” 

3  “I am an old man now, but then I was already past my prime when Arthur was crowned King.” 

4 “’Tom!’” 

5  The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon.” 

6  Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity — Good.” 

7 “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” 

8  “Matchmaking mamas are united in their glee — Colin Bridgerton has returned from Greece.” 






1        Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

2        Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

3        The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

4        The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

5        Lord of the Flies by William Golding

6        Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

7        To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

8        Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn – had to be done! 

How many did you get right? How many would you want to read just from the first line? I must admit, my two favorites are quite typical: 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” 


“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” 

What’s your favorite first line?  Let me know, and then Go Write!



1 Comment »

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  1. […] not typically published under a different name, would we notice? It reminded me a lot of the blog I did last year at Purple Hearts about the Jane Austen experiment (covered by The Guardian) where an author sent a […]

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