The OF Blog: More first lines from books I'm reading

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More first lines from books I'm reading

Strether's first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to arrive till evening he was not wholly disconcerted.  A telegram from him bespeaking a room "only if not noisy," reply paid, was produced for the enquirer at the office, so that the understanding they should meet at Chester rather than at Liverpool remained to that extent sound.  The same secret principle, however, that had prompted Strether not absolutely to desire Waymarsh's presence at the dock, that had led him thus to postpone for a few hours his enjoyment of it, now operated to make him feel he could still wait without disappointment.  They would dine together at the worst, and, with all respect to dear old Waymarsh - if not even, for that matter, to himself - there was little fear that in the sequel they shouldn't see enough of each other.  The principle I have just mentioned as operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men, wholly instinctive - the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as it would be to find himself looking, after so much separation, into his comrade's face, his business would be a trifle bungled should he simply arrange for this countenance to present itself to the nearing steamer as the first "note," of Europe.  Mixed with everything was the apprehension, already, on Strether's part, that it would, at best, throughout, prove the note of Europe in quite a sufficient degree.
This is written from memory, unfortunately.  If I could have brought with me the material I so carefully prepared, this would be a very different story.  Whole books full of notes, carefully copied records, first-hand descriptions, and the pictures - that's the worst loss.  We had some bird's-eyes of the cities and parks; a lot of lovely views of streets, of buildings, outside and in, and some of those gorgeous gardens, and, most important of all, of the women themselves.

In the chamber at the top of the tower were six individuals:  three who chose to call themselves "lords" or sometimes "remedials"; a wretched underling who was their prisoner; and two Garrion.  The chamber was dramatic and queer:  of irregular dimension, hung with panels of heavy maroon velvet.  At one end an embrasure admitted a bar of light:  this of a smoky amber quality, as if the pane were clogged with dust - which it was not; in fact, the glass was a subtle sort, producing remarkable effects.  At the opposite end of the room was a low trapezoidal door of black skeel.
I was travelling post from Tiflis.  The only luggage I had on my cart was one small portmanteau half-filled with travel notes on Georgia.  Luckily for you most of them have been lost, but luckily for me the portmanteau and the rest of my things have survived.

The sun was already beginning to hide behind the snowy mountain tops when I entered the valley of Koyshaur.  Roaring songs at the top of his voice, the Ossete driver relentlessly urged on his horses so as to reach the top of Koyshaur by nightfall.  What a glorious place that valley is!  Inaccessible mountains on all sides, red-hued cliffs hung with green ivy and crowned with clumps of plane-trees, yellow precipices streaked with rivulets; high up above lies the golden fringe of the snow, while below the silver thread of the Aragva - linked with some nameless torrent that roars out of a black, mist-filled gorge - stretches glistening like a scaly snake.

When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

I felt that from the moment I woke.  And yet, when I started functioning a little more sharply, I misgave.  After all, the odds were that it was I who was wrong, and not everyone else - thought I did not see how that could be.   I went on waiting, tinged with doubt.  But presently I had my first bit of objective evidence - a distant clock struck what sounded to me just like eight.  I listened hard and suspiciously.  Soon another clock began, on a loud, decisive note.  IN a leisurely fashion it gave an indisputable eight.  Then I knew things were awry.
Tush, never tell me; I take it much unkindly 
That you, Iago, who has had my purse 
As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

What, you may ask, was the origin of this book?

Though the answer to this question may at first seem to border on the absurd, reflection will show that there is a good deal more in it than meets the eye.

Long ago, when the goddess Nü-wa was repairing the sky, she melted down a great quantity of rock and, on the Incredible Crags of the Great Fable Mountains, moulded the amalgam into thirty-six thousand, five hundred and one large building blocks, each measuring seventy-two feet by a hundred and forty-four feet square.  She used thirty-six thousand five hundred of these blocks in the course of her building operations, leaving a single odd block unused, which lay, all on its own, at the foot of Greensickness Peak in the aforementioned mountains.
On this Sunday morning in May, this girl who later was to be the cause of a sensation in New York, awoke much too early for her night before.  One minute she was asleep, the next she was completely awake and dumped into despair.  It was the kind of despair that she had known perhaps two thousand times before, there being 365 mornings in a calendar year.  In general the cause of her despair was remorse, two kinds of it:  remorse because she knew that whatever she was going to do next would not be any good either.  The specific causes of these minutes of terror and loneliness were not always the words or deeds which seemed to be the causes.  Now, this year, she had come pretty far.  She had come far enough to recognize that what she had done or said last night did not stand alone.  Her behavior of a given night before, which she was liable to blame for the despair of any today, frequently was bad, but frequently was not bad enough to account for the extreme depth of her despair.  She recognized, if only vaguely and then only after conquering her habit of being dishonest with herself, that she had got into the habit of despair.  She had come far away from original despair, because she had hardened herself into the habit of ignoring the original, basic cause of all the despair she could have in her lifetime.

There was one cause.

It was just noon that Sunday morning when the sheriff reached the jail with Lucas Beauchamp though the whole town (the whole county too for that matter) had known since the night before that Lucas had killed a white man.

Let me know which ones you know and also which quotes (known and unknown alike) intrigue you the most.  If these aren't in the current reading/reviewing poll, almost certainly they'll be in the next (minus one, which was a choice in an earlier poll).


Aishwarya said...

Recognise Herland, The Day of the Triffids and Othello, of course. I like the feel of the third quote!

Regina Dinter said...

1 is The Ambassadors by Henry James. Othello has already been named.
4 and 7 intrigued me the most. They actually intrigued me so much, that I googled them and ordered Lermontow.

Add to Technorati Favorites