Last week, Marv and I sat through a stage production of the novel SENSE & SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen. We have front-row season tickets. A group in the rear made up of high school students who obviously had read and studied the play roared with laughter at each opportunity. It woke up the people sitting in the front row.
One explanation for the lack of laughter from the first row was that we could not hear all the words that sailed over our heads. That has happened before in plays loaded for rapid-fire dialog.
With Jane Austen, not hearing all the words is very serious. Unlike a film where dialog is not always necessary because the visuals carry the story, Austen is all about language: about wit and irony and downright charm. Her language is gorgeous. Here is her opening line in PRIDE & PREJUDICE, held up as one of the greatest opening lines in all literature.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
This line refers to the belief of the mother of five eligible daughters.
Although Jane Austen’s most popular novel is PRIDE & PREJUDICE, it it is her writer’s voice itself that keeps the world-wide Jane Austen societies ever faithful and adoring. Typically for good authors, Austen had a rough going finding a publisher. One source claimed that 17 years passed before her brother finally found a publisher for her works.
Leo Tolstoy also wrote one of the greatest openers. In ANNA KARENINA:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Herman Melville wrote at the beginning of “MOBY-DICK”:
“Call me Ishmael.”
But wait, readers. This is my all-time favorite novel. Treat yourself to the entire first paragraph…
“Call me Ismael. 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 a way 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 soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever 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 people's 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, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”
PRESUMPTIVENESS: Do you think that in my own novel THE WAY THEY SEE, the opening paragraph has possibilities? Of course it doesn’t measure up as a universal truth, but I like the voice. Here it is…
“Susannah Lindstrom could not mark the day she fell in love with Sam Geddes because they played together as children and then as teenagers and all through high school. And Sam loved her, too. Then Sam went off to college in 1953, out of their small town. And Susannah waited for his return. And waited.”
ATTENTION: Today I completed my newest book-length work, The full title is as follows:
THE PIANO PLAYER
and Selected Short Stories
The alternate title to the novella “The Piano Player” was “The Young Man Who Lost His Way”.
The original title of the entire work was AFTER TWENTY YEARS.
I will go over the editing one more time, and then send it to my webmaster to create a cover. Brian Vermeire (with a name like that of the great Dutch painter) made the covers for THE ROMANTIC IMPERATIVE and AN INCIDENT IN THE FAMILY. You can see how wide his range is. I will suggest a piano player at the keyboard for the cover. He’ll take it from there.
And like all my other novels and short stories, this latest work deals with a romantic who learns about the real world.