Here's the way Joseph Conrad starts one of my favorite novels of all time, Victory. I have the Penguin Books edition published in 1989. The novel was written in 1915. World War I had just broken out.
The story begins on p. 57:
"There is, as every schoolboy knows in this scientific age, a very close chemical relation between coal and diamonds."Huh? What's this got to do with anything?
The note on p. 388 says,
Coal and diamonds are allotropic forms of carbon. Conrad uses this display of some degree of scientific knowledge as part of his characterization of the narrator (see notes 14 and 17)Remember that the narrator, even if never named, is a character in the story through whose experience all the story gets filtered.
Well, in 1915, people were accustomed to this kind of stuff. All that scientific stuff in the first paragraph worked then. And you could get the point that
And I suppose those two considerations, the practical and the mystical, prevented Heyst -- Axel Heyst -- from going away." [p. 57]I've reread this book at least four times and I can't ever get my mind around it. It's intrinsic inscrutability leads to my endless fascination with it.
This first sentence wouldn't work today. Conrad probably would never get published today. But we know about him already as one of the great writers in the English language and are going to go ahead regardless of the first sentence. And when we're done, we'll look back and say, "Of course, what a brilliant first sentence."
And English was his second language. He was actually Polish. Not bad huh? Try becoming one of the great writers in the Polish language.
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