Tuesday, November 03, 2009

First Words (1)

I was going to do a series featuring random remarks about random tomes plucked from my bookshelves here in Antigua, but following on from my earlier post which featured the first paragraph of Los Detectives Salvajes, I have elected to discourse on the different ways that favourite authors find of getting their fiction flowing.

First paragraphs won't always work - in my edition of the El Otoño del Patriarca para one goes from page 9 all the way to page 48...hence the more inclusive name I have selected for this occasional indulgence.

Matthew Lewis was just 19 when he penned his infamous gothic masterpiece The Monk in 1796. This is one of those first paras which establishes both the central location — the sinister Capuchin church in Madrid — and the novel's wry take on the rituals that some use to project a sense of ethical wellbeing...though Lewis's low-key sarcasm in this opening gives us barely a hint of the sensationalistic exploration of human folly and vice which is to follow.

"Scarcely had the Abbey Bell tolled for five minutes, and already was the Church of the Capuchins thronged with Auditors. Do not encourage the idea that the Crowd was assembled either from motives of piety or thirst of information. But very few were influenced by those reasons; and in a city where superstition reigns with such despotic sway as in Madrid, to seek for true devotion would be a fruitless attempt. The Audience now assembled in the Capuchin Church was collected by various causes, but all of them were foreign to the ostensible motive. The Women came to show themselves, the Men to see the Women: Some were attracted by curiosity to hear an Orator so celebrated; Some came because they had no better means of employing their time till the play began; Some, from being assured that it would be impossible to find places in the Church; and one half of Madrid was brought thither by expecting to meet the other half. The only persons truly anxious to hear the Preacher were a few antiquated devotees, and half a dozen rival Orators, determined to find fault with and ridicule the discourse. As to the remainder of the Audience, the Sermon might have been omitted altogether, certainly without their being disappointed, and very probably without their perceiving the omission."

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