Monday, September 10, 2012

The Hook #1: An Analysis of a Favorite First Line

by Jacqueline Fauni

As we count down to the announcement of our First Page Contest winners, we’ll share some of our favorite books’ first lines, why they work, and why we’re compelled to read on.

First up is a classic and -- fun fact! -- inspired the first line of our call for submissions:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Interweaving her astute observations of society with her signature style and wry wit, Jane Austen is renowned for her mastery in the comedy of manners genre. The first line of her most beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice, is a perfect example of how succinctly she makes fun of her characters and their archetypal follies. In just one line, she captures the common plight of Regency era mothers in finding suitable husbands for their daughters, and smoothes the way for the introduction of Mrs. Bennet -- who is, arguably, one of the silliest mothers in all of English literature. By using such absolute terms as “universally” and “must,” Austen embodies the 19th-century mother’s narrow-minded determination and highlights the errors in her rationale.

That being said, Austen’s third-person omniscient narrator is more of an amicable spirit, who tends to poke and tease rather than jab and scorn. By establishing a voice that has a subtle, agreeable tone, Austen’s readers are more inclined to trust its authority and enjoy its censure all in good fun. And though the narrator claims a distance from mothers’ (and daughters’) fixation on acquiring an advantageous marriage, it is worth noting that Austen’s happy-and-successful-marriage endings for the eldest Bennet sisters subscribes to the very thing that the narrator pokes fun at.

The question of what we look for in a marriage is timeless, and however readily we may care to admit it, wealth is a factor we dream of and take into consideration. Perhaps the reason why Austen’s first line is so amusing is that -- to a certain degree -- it really hits home.

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