How to Be an Incipit
How can we recognise a first sentence of a novel — aka the incipit? What is special about it that the other sentences do not have? Does it possess its own essence? On the art of love at first sentence. Our paper for Berfrois.
For a long time, the first sentence went to bed early, waiting discreetly under the cover of the book for someone to come and wake it up. Novel opened, first sentence awakened, it stood firmly in the front row to welcome readers with the heavy responsibility of taking them into a new world.
Then the first sentence had a craving for freedom. It took a liking to running away, proclaiming its autonomy, breaking its ties with the book that birthed it. To the point of seceding and flying with its own wings. It was thus found on T-shirts, posters, social media statuses, postcards, memes, animated gifs and other fun jpegs to be shared… And with great success: it became viral, highly Instagrammable, following the destiny of an influencer who collects likes or a K-pop band feeding its fanbase.
Unleashed on social networks, the first sentence becomes a sign of recognition, a knowing wink, a cabalistic sign between insiders. As soon as you say “For a long time I went to bed early“, “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife“, a connivance is established.
Under its Latin name of ‘incipit’, it is also dissected in erudite circles, collected like butterflies in awe of their different shapes, colours or shimmerings […]