Best opening line of a biography

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Best opening line of a biography

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Editado: Out 8, 2007, 12:28 am

Hi everyone, I'm new to LT and to the group. This is one of my first posts. My comment is sparked by a reply I posted to lizzy_bb about Nancy Mitford's Madame de Pompadour. The opening line of the book is so beautiful, it's stuck with me for 20 years -- can anyone top this? "After the death of the great King, beautiful Versailles, fatal for France, lay empty seven years while fresh air blew through its golden rooms, blowing away the sorcery and bigotry which hung about the walls like a miasma, blowing away the old century and blowing in the new."

Out 10, 2007, 10:17 am

What a great topic! It gave me an hour or so of pleasure last night as I searched through some of my favorite biographies.

I cannot find anything to match the beauty of your line from Nancy Mitford (though I will keep trying). Had you extended the search to include first paragraphs, just about any biography by Antonia Fraser would be in the running. But you said opening lines. Would you settle for "arresting" or "intriguing" instead of beautiful opening lines? Here are some in those categories:

"The famous lawyer, Rufus Choate, listening to foreign-language grand opera in New York, had told his daughter to be sure to let him know when to laugh or cry or just sit still and keep cool." Abraham Lincoln: The War Years by Carl Sandburg.

"On 2 November, 1810, His Majesty King George the Third, raving and sometimes violent, was fastened into a straightjacket." The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency by J. B. Priestly.

"The winter of 1542 was marked by tempestuous weather throughout the British Isless; in the north, on the borders of Scotland and England, there were heavy snowfalls in December and frost so savage that by January the ships were frozen in the harbour at Newcastle." Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser.

"Francis Osbert Sachevrall Sitwell was a man whose pride in his aristocratic ancestry coexisted uneasily with his conviction that the artist was the whole truly superior being." Osbert Sitwell by Phillip Ziegler.

"On the late afternoon of Friday, 30 June 1559 a long splinter of wood from a jousting lance pierced the eye and brain of King Henry II of France." Catherine deMedici, Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda.

"On the day he was born, he would say, his white-haired grandfather leaped onto his big black stallion and thundered across the Texas Hill Country, reining in at every farm to shout: 'A United States Senator was born this morning.'" The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A. Caro.

And finally my favorite:

"My family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct and collateral." Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant by U.S. Grant.

Editado: Out 12, 2007, 12:25 am

dwsact, "intriguing" is always good, and you came up with some terrific examples. I've also read Leonie Frieda's book, which I really enjoyed. And I agree with you that Antonia Fraser's opening paragraphs are pure pleasure -- as are the rest of her biographies. One of her poetic phrases in particular that I've never forgotten: In The Wives of Henry VIII, she calls Katherine Howard, "the girl whom the freak wave of the King's desire threw up so cruelly ill-prepared on the exposed shore of history."

Extra points to Robert Caro for so perfectly capturing the larger-than-life persona of LBJ in his opening line.

Fev 4, 2008, 11:52 am

I love Robert Caro's books!

Fev 10, 2008, 4:34 pm

"It is like two potatoes, my life."

(from the masterpiece autobiography Coming Out of the Ice, by Victor Herman)

Fev 10, 2008, 6:32 pm

Wow, I love Robert Caro's books too, and I don't know Victor Herman at all.

Jun 30, 2008, 2:26 pm

"As everybody knows by this time, I don't think the major league baseball players of today can be compared to the old-timers. I think the slider is a nickel curve and I detest hearing the modern sissies moan about how it has ruined batting averages."

--from Frank Frisch: the Fordham Flash an autobiography as told to J. Roy Stockton, published in 1962.

Editado: Jul 29, 2008, 11:05 am

"In 1937, I began, like Lazarus, the impossible return."

Opening line of Witness by Whittaker Chambers