Is The Great Gatsby Overrated 1

Bernard Mondae

24 masterful beginnings of novels; the famous first movement. How many times has you heard that this should be one of the most important sentences. Without this, the reader would put the book away, not want to buy it, etc. Can you say that in general? No of course not. The beginning of the novel is important, without a doubt, but should not be overrated either.

It is of no use if the famous first movement is excellent and the rest of the novel is of poor quality. Surely every reader knows books with an unflattering first sentence that still sell because the rest of the story is right. (There are many more high quality sentences)

So what is so fascinating about the first sentence of a novel? Let's start a little foray into famous first sentences:

1)    All happy families are equal, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

2)    It is a universally accepted truth that a single man with considerable wealth needs a woman.

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

3)    It was the best and the worst, a century of wisdom and nonsense, an epoch of faith and unbelief, a period of light and darkness: it was the spring of hope and the winter of despair; we had everything, we had nothing in front of us; we all headed towards heaven and also all directly in the opposite direction - in a word, this time was so similar to ours that its noisy representatives only wanted to have the superlative applied to it in good and bad.

Charles Dickens: A Story from Two Cities

Those were the classics, Tolstoy, Austen and Dickens. How do more modern novels begin?

4)    It was a bright, cold April day and the clocks struck thirteen.

George Orwell: 1984

5)    It was a crazy sultry summer, that summer when the Rosenbergs got on the electric chair and I didn't know what I wanted in New York.

Sylvia Plath: The bell jar

6)    They say when trouble approaches, close the ranks. So did the whites.

Jean Rhys: Sargasso Sea

7)    When I was younger and more vulnerable, my father gave me one piece of advice that I haven't gotten out of my head since then. "Whenever you think you have to criticize someone," he said to me, "remember that among all the people in this world no one has enjoyed such privileges as you."

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

8)    The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between

Almost every writing guide rightly says that you shouldn't start a novel with the protagonist waking up from his sleep and starting his day. Other amusing mistakes can be found here, for example. It would be too banal to start a story with the protagonist waking up. This statement is true - with exceptions. Like all tips from guidebooks, they are guidelines that authors can ignore if - yes if - they do not allow this type of novel's beginning to slide into banality.

Below I present a selection of famous novels that begin exactly as one shouldn't, but for which this beginning still fits well:

9)    When Gregor Samsa woke up from troubled dreams one morning, he found himself transformed into a monstrous vermin in his bed.

Franz Kafka: The transformation

10) When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games


Now back to other beginnings of the novel:

11) "Call me Ishmael"

Herman Melville: Moby-Dick

12) Since she had no other choice, the sun shone on the familiar.

Samuel Beckett: Murphy

13) All but one of the children grow up.

J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan

14) In certain circumstances, there are few hours in life more comfortable than the hour devoted to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

Henry James: Portrait of a Young Lady.

15) Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Loo - Lii - Ta: the tip of the tongue goes on a tour, three steps down from the roof of the mouth, and is at three on the teeth. Lo. Lii. Ta.

Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita

15) It was inevitable. The smell of bitter almonds always made him think of the fate of prevented love.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Times of Cholera

16) The cold reluctantly left the earth, the retreating mists uncovered an army, resting and scattered on the hills.

Stephen Crane: The Red Medal of Valor

17) He was an old man and he fished alone in a boat in the Gulf Stream and hadn't caught a fish in eighty-four days.

Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea

18) All of this happened, more or less.

Kurt Vonnegut: Schlachthof 5 or The Children's Crusade

19) Today mom died. Or maybe yesterday. I do not know exactly.

Albert Camus: The Stranger

20) I dreamed last night that I was going to Manderley again.

Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca

21) Mr. and Mrs. Dursley on Privet Drive No. 4 prided themselves on being completely normal, very proud in fact.

J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

22) Most of all, if you really want to hear my story, the main thing you want to know is where I was born and how I had my darned childhood and what my parents did before they got involved with me and what else about David Copperfield stuff to tell, but I don't feel like telling it all.

John D. Salinger: The catcher in the rye

23) Scarlett O’Hara couldn't really be called beautiful.

Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind

Since Jane Austen is quoted as number 2 in this overview, I would like to use a final example to demonstrate that this well-known author not only wrote outstanding novels, but also quite ordinary ones:

24) Emma Woodhouse, beautiful, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition, seemed to have one of the best blessings in life, and there had been very little in the nearly twenty-one years she had been in the world that would have troubled or saddened her.

Jane Austen: Emma

How can you as a self-publisher write an exciting beginning to a novel?

How can you turn the first page into an application for the reader?

How do you prevent drowsy starts that do not convey any desire to read on?

The answer is my writing guide "The first page":

What can the reader expect?

48 novice novices by successful authors with a discussion of the approach and the goals pursued.

4 detailed reviews of the beginnings of novels from the crime and fantasy categories, which are not very successful. Find out why, read tips on how to avoid mistakes.


Image source

  • Cover picture The first page: Copyright by the author
  • Thriller. Fotolia-Lithian: Lithian
Beginnings of novels