Momentuous Begininnings

Beginning, middle and end are relative terms. Even in the midst of this or that, we are always just starting or just finishing something. The hump of the moment, like the raised back of an inchworm slinking along, contains both an ending at its back and a new beginning at its front. When we start something new, we are always just finishing something else. The end of anything is always the start of something else. Even the end of life is the beginning of death. So we can see that the terms beginning, middle and ending are not so different, in that all of them are more or less all wrapped up in each other like twines of ivy curling up some infernally twisted tree, the fits, jags and halts of history, quotidian life and someday. Even the past, about which it is said it no longer exists, was an on the blink shutterbugging of eyeblinking beginnings at the time. So time, which seems smooth as a plane, is really not smooth at all. The smoothness of time is an illusion, like a cartoon, an endless series of small images so raced together that they seem as one seamless whole. Now that we are finished to the preface of this piece, shall we are try our hands at some of the most famous beginnings to the world’s greatest tales? On your mark, get set, go! 1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. 3. It was the day my grandmother exploded. 4. All children, except one, grow up. 5. In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point. 6. The sun rose having no alternative on nothing new. 7. If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog. 8. It was a pleasure to burn. 9. It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. 10. It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me. 11. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. 12. Mother died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. 13. Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. 14. When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. 15. I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho’ not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull; He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call’d me. 16. Marley was dead, to begin with. 17. 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 of 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. 18. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born. 19. I am a sick man…a spiteful man. An unattractive man, I think my liver hurts. 20. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. 21. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since, “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” 22. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. 23. Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me. 24. I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot,” or “That Claudius,” or “Claudius the Stammerer,” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius,” am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become disentangled. 25. A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. I say ‘one chooses’ with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who – when he has been seriously noted at all – has been praised for his technical ability, but do I in fact of my own will choose that black wet January night on the Common, in 1946, the sight of Henry Miles slanting across the wide river of rain, or did these images choose me? It is convenient, it is correct according to the rules of my craft to begin just there, but if I had believed then in a God, I could also believe in a hand, plucking at my elbow, a suggestion, ‘Speak to him: he hasn’t seen you yet.’ 26. It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him. 27. He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. 28. On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. 29. Rage-Sing goddess, the rage of Achilles, Peleus’ son Murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses Hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls Great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion Feast for the dogs and birds And the will of Zeus was moving towards its end. 30. Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. 31. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. 32. I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice-not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. 33. No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. 34. Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. 35. riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. 36. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. 37. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. 38. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. 39. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. 40. When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. 41. “Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. 42. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. 43. The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. 44. See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the sullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him. 45. When August came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake – not a very big one. It had probably just been crawling around looking for shade when it ran into the pigs. They were having a fine tug-of-war with it, and its rattling days were over. The sow had it by the neck, and the shoat had the tail.” By the time I’d finished the entire book, I’d read all night, skipped work, stayed in bed without bath or shave until I closed the last page when Call came back to the ashes of the closed saloon.. 46. Call me Ishmael. Some years ago, never mind how long precisely, having little or no money in my purse and nothing particular to interest me on shore. I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is away I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my sole; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bring up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially when my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking peoples hats off. Then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, sometime or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me. 47. Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. 48. They shoot the white girl first, the rest they can take their time. 49. Lolita, Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. 50. The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it. 51. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 52. Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die. 53. For a long time, I went to bed early. 54. A screaming comes across the sky. 55. One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. 56. He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. 57. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.” 58. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. 59. Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. 60. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing; that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind; and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost: Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly, I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me. 61. We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. 62. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. 63. Three Rings for the Elven Kings under the sky. Seven for the Dwarf lords in their halls of stone. Nine for Mortal men doomed to die. One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne, in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie. One Ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie. 64. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 65. A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. 66. You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. 67. This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast. 68. All this happened, more or less. 69. I’m seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. 70. Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. 71. The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble? “Do-you-need-advice?” Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. 72. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

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21 thoughts on “Momentuous Begininnings”

      1. Yeah man. Sorry, many of my comments are on the fly but to explain my analogy further. All stories are a slice of hell. Who wants to read about heaven? There’s a bible for that (#1), however all the rest are man-made hells, a slice of simultaneous and contiguous Hells. Totally like a Bosch painting. Randomly placed but a unison of images of Hell.

  1. Knew half of them right away, the rest I guessed at and guessed correctly about half the time.
    Hey, that sounds like a good opening sentence to some pretentious novel.

  2. Yes, me too recognised most of them and could guess most of the rest. Very entertaining – you put a lot of work into that. In fact, more entertaining than many of the novels. – well maybe,;certainly as entertaining as Finnegan’s wake.
    If we’re so smart, why ain’t we rich. Too much English literature nearly blew my mind. Wot, not Tolstoy? No Dostoevsky? No Flaubert?
    And how could you miss:
    “I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil-doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A-train…Young, good-looking, crew cut, Ivy League, advertising exec type fruit holds the door back for me. I am evidently his idea of a character. You know the type: comes on with bartenders and cab drivers, talking about right hooks and the Dodgers, calls the counterman in Nedick’s by his first name. A real asshole.And right on time this narcotics dick in a white trenchcoat (imagine trying to tail someone in a white trenchcoat. Trying to pass as a fag I guess) hit the platform.”

    1. I don’t know this opener at all, LS, sorry. Reminds me of Burroughs though.
      Yes I did put a bit of time into it, eh?
      Of course we’re smart. Therefore, we deserve to be rich, n’est pas? Why aren’t we? GODDAMN CAPITALIST FUCKS lol.

        1. Yes, that’s it. There’s a ‘restored text’ definitive edition out now, since 2004 that has about 100 pages of extras – outtakes and lost texts, and stuff from the editors, and further reading… The 50th anniversary editions seem to be identical to restored text editions apart from an introduction from someone.

  3. Answers:
    1. The Holy Bible
    2. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
    3. Iain Banks, The Crow Road
    4. Barry, Peter Pan
    5. John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor
    6. Samuel Beckett, Molloy
    7. Saul Bellow, Herzog
    8. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
    9. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford
    10. Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers
    11. Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
    12. Albert Camus, The Stranger
    13. Cervantes, Don Quixote
    14. James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss
    15. Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
    16. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Story
    17. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
    18. Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
    19. Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground
    20. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
    21. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
    22. William Gibson, Neuromancer
    23. Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum
    24. Robert Graves, I, Claudius
    25. Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
    26. Joseph Heller, Catch-22
    27. Ernest Hemmingway, The Old Man and the Sea
    28. Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker
    29. Homer, The Odyssey
    30. Homer, The Iliad
    31. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
    32. John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany
    33. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
    34. Henry James, The Wings of a Dove
    35. James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake
    36. James Joyce, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man
    37. James Joyce, Ulysses
    38. Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis
    39. Franz Kafka, The Trial
    40. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
    41. Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond
    42. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
    43. Corman McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
    44. Corman McCarthy, Blood Meridian
    45. Larry McMurty, Lonesome Dove
    46. Herman Melville, Moby Dick
    47. Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
    48. Toni Morrison, Paradise
    49. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
    50. V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River
    51. George Orwell, 1984
    52. Chuck Pahluniak, Fight Club
    53. Proust, Swann’s Way
    54. Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
    55. Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
    56. Raphael Sabatini, Scaramouche
    57. J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
    58. Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle
    59. John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
    60. Lawrence Sterne, Tristram Shandy
    61. Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Road to Las Vegas
    62. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
    63. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
    64. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
    65. John Kennedy O’Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
    66. Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
    67. Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
    68. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
    69. David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
    70. David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System
    71. Nathaniel West, Miss Lonelyhearts
    72. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

  4. Oh, you beat me to it. I HAD to google them all – some of these were really nagging me. SORRY!!! Yes of course Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were there. The opening to Anna Karenina was one of the ones that was really screaming at me, because I’ve just been watching a tv series of it. That was fun anyway. A few I’ve never heard of there. I have to admit I only got 26 of them – I thought I knew most of them, but just couldn’t place them. I’ve read about half of the ones I didn’t get.

  5. Lonesome Dove is one of the ones I got. That’s a great read, and the tv series is one of those very rare films that actually captures the book. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones are magnificent.

      1. The Crow Road is another one that was made into an excellent BBC tv series, now on dvd. The author said it’s ” annoyingly better than the book in many places”. I like it amongst other things because it shows Glasgow and West of Scotland people who are recognisably like the people I know and grew up among, not the ridiculous stage-Glaswegian caricatures we usually get. You’d have no problem understanding the accents.

  6. “All children, except one, grow up.”
    Was that in reference to anyone in particular?
    I got the last one. I remember it from The Hours.

        1. Not really, but a girlfriend once accused me of having Peter Pan Syndrome. A guy friend recently said that I never grew up, and a woman friend recently said that I was a boy.

  7. It’s ok, I don’t offend easily, and I did not take that as an offense.
    Not that people should go ahead and open up on me anyway, but if they do, it doesn’t get to me like it used to.

    1. I wonder if that comes with age? I’m the same way.
      Shit just slides off my shoulders now, it’s almost impossible to get under my skin.
      What can, and does, are 1) nagging, 2) being ignored, which I suppose rules out marriage in the foreseeable future until I get my issues under control.

      1. Hmmm, being ignored. Yeah, it’s not very pleasant all right, but I deal with it all the damn time. I’ve only wanted to get married in the past 6 years or so. Before that, I was opposed to it.

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