Do You Know These Famous First Lines From Great Novels?


By: Isadora Teich

6 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Think you're well-read? Literature is full of fascinating characters, epic events, subtle symbolism and iconic lines. It covers the whole span of human experience, from the joyful to the tragic, from the fantastical to the mundane. It even contains worlds beyond what most could imagine. Many of these great works are not only remembered for the ideas they convey but also how the language within them was used. Some works are just so quotable that they more than stand the test of time, but become a part of our culture. 

Many people often quote or misquote these works, sometimes without even realizing it, because these iconic lines have become a part of our language. Even if you've never read many of these well-known books, there is a good chance you've heard their famous first lines before. When something resonates with people so much that it sticks around for decades, generations or even centuries, it's bound to pop up again and again and again.   

If you are a well-read literature buff with a handle on some of the biggest and most important books ever written, put your knowledge of their opening lines to the test with this very literary quiz!

"Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."

"Mrs. Dalloway" is a 1925 novel by Virginia Woolf. It is the first-person stream of consciousness account of a single day in the life of a high society woman.


"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect."

This 1915 novella is by Franz Kafka. In it, a man awakes one day to discover he was transformed into a giant bug, which changes his entire family.


"All children, except one, grow up."

J. M. Barrie created the iconic character Peter Pan in a play. Since, Peter has featured in literature, film and more.


"It was a pleasure to burn."

"Fahrenheit 451" is a 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury. In this dystopian novel, books are illegal and burned wherever they are found.


"Mother died today."

"The Stranger" is a 1942 novel by Albert Camus. This philosophical novel tells the story of a man who claims complete and total indifference.


”We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

This is a 1971 novel by Hunter S. Thompson. It is rooted in his personal experiences.


"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

This 1937 fantasy novel was written by J. R. R. Tolkien. It is the prequel of "The Lord of the Rings."


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

"Pride and Prejudice" is an 1813 novel by Jane Austen. This romance novel is one of the most popular English language books ever written.


"I am an invisible man."

"Invisible Man" is a 1952 book by Ralph Ellison. This book is about an African-American man who suddenly becomes invisible and explores early 20th-century African-American social issues.


"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...."

"A Tale of Two Cities" is an 1859 novel by Charles Dickens. This historical novel, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, also contains one of the most famous closing lines: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."


“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”

"Gone with the Wind" is a 1936 historical fiction novel by Margaret Mitchell. In it, charming Scarlett O'Hara survives the Civil War and more due to her wit, charm and self-serving nature.


"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins."

"Lolita" is a controversial 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov. It follows flawed narrator Humbert Humbert, who tells the story of his tragic obsession with a young girl.


"In the town they tell the story of the great pearl--how it was found and how it was lost again."

"The Pearl" is a 1947 novel by John Steinbeck. It tells the story of a Pearl diver named Kino.


"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

"Anna Karenina" is a novel by Leo Tolstoy, that was initially published in installments in a Russian periodical from 1873-1877. It follows a tragic high-society affair.


"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

"1984" is a 1949 dystopian fiction novel by George Orwell. It follows a mild-mannered man who rebels against the crushing totalitarian state he lives in.


"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."

"The Catcher in the Rye" is a 1951 novel by J.D. Salinger. Though a popular read in high school English classes, it was originally written for adults.


"124 was spiteful."

"Beloved" is a 1987 novel by Toni Morrison. This magical realism novel follows an escaped slave who struggles to come to terms with her horrific past.


"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."

"Don Quixote" is a 1605 novel by Miguel de Cervantes. This influential Spanish literary work follows a man so consumed by past tales of knights and chivalry that he starts living his life in that manner.


"All this happened, more or less."

"Slaughterhouse-Five" is a 1969 novel by Kurt Vonnegut. It is a semi-autobiographical novel that moves through time in unusual ways.


"It was love at first sight."

"Catch-22" is a 1961 novel by Joseph Heller. It is a satirical novel known for its unique narration style.


"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since."

"The Great Gatsby" is a 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This novel is a famous exploration of the glitz and empty excess of the Jazz Age.


"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."

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" is a 1967 novel by Gabriel García Márquez. It's a multigenerational magical realism novel.


"I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up."

This 1957 novel is by Beat generation author Jack Kerouac. It is based on the trips he and his friends took throughout the U.S.


"The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new."

"Murphy" is a 1938 avant-garde novel by Samuel Beckett. It follows the schemes, trials and tribulations of a man named Murphy.


"We slept in what had once been the gymnasium."

This novel is a 1985 dystopian fiction novel by Margaret Atwood. In it a woman struggles surviving in America, which has become a totalitarian theocracy where every aspect of women's lives are controlled.


"I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm."

"Kindred" is a sci-fi novel by Octavia Butler, published in 1979. Its African-American protagonist Dana finds herself traveling between modern America and past America, where she is considered a slave.


”It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

"The Bell Jar" is a 1963 novel by Sylvia Plath. It is her first and last novel, and thought to be a semi-autobiographical account of her struggle with mental illness.


”You better not never tell nobody but God.”

This is a 1981 novel by Alice Walker. It follows the life of an African-American woman who survives horrible circumstances in the rural South.


"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 (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously."

This is an 1850 novel by Charles Dickens. It is Dickens' favorite of his own books and considered a veiled autobiography.


"This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it."

This novel by William Goldman was published in 1973. It later was made into a cult film.


"When he was nearly 13, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

Harper Lee wrote this 1960 novel. It follows the children of a lawyer in a sleepy southern town who is trying to defend an African-American man falsely accused of a crime.


“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....”

This is a 1959 novel by William S. Burroughs. It is a series of vignettes which can be read in any order.


“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

Zora Neale Hurston wrote this 1937 novel. It is a coming-of-age tale of a young woman.


"What's it going to be then, eh?"

This is a 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess. It tells the story of Alex DeLarge, a young violent gang leader who undergoes a disturbing forced transformation in prison.


"Call me Ishmael."

"Moby-Dick" is an 1851 novel by Herman Melville. In it, a sea captain seeks obsessive revenge against a whale who harmed him.


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