Friday, January 28, 2011
"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist—I really believe he is Antichrist—I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my 'faithful slave,' as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you—sit down and tell me all the news."
I laughed when I re-read this, because it's evident to me that this opening line would scare the crap out of people and may make some readers stop in their tracks. That said, I really enjoy this opening line looking back. It would be better if you had a preliminary understanding of the Napoleonic Wars before you read this, but rest assured that the rest of the book doesn't need more than a cursory history lesson which you can get in 15 minutes on wikipedia.
I really enjoy the use of dialogue in setting the scene, which I believe was a rarer device for an opening line during the time period, which typically focused on a long-run on detailed description of the setting [see Henry James' opening line next week]. I also like the ferocity of emotion and sets the reader up for a customary diplomatist reception.