|Jane and Paul Bowles|
Her most famous work has a memorable and solid opening three paragraphs:
Christina Goering's father was an American industrialist of German parentage and her mother was a New York lady of a very distinguished family. Christina spent the first half of her life in a very beautiful house (not more than an hour from the city) which she had inherited from her mother. It was in this house that she had been brought up as a child with her sister Sophie.
As a child, Christina had been very much disliked by other children. She had never suffered particularly because of this, having led, even at a very early age, an active inner life that curtailed her observation of whatever went on around her, to such a degree that she never picked up the mannerisms then in vogue, and at the age of ten was called old-fashioned by other little girls. Even then she wore the look of certain fanatics who think of themselves as leaders without once having gained the respect of a single human being.
Christina was troubled horribly by ideas which never would have occurred to her companions, and at the same time took for granted a position in society which any other child would have found unbearable. Every now and then a schoolmate would take pity on her and try to spend some time with her, but far from being grateful for this, Christina would instead try her best to convert her new friend to the cult of whatever she believed in at the time.
What strikes me about this opening passage (I've read these three paragraphs probably fifty times in my life) is the tone and playful use of language which is ironically old-fashioned, as if the writer herself is mimicking how Christina, her character, might have spoken. Yet it's also deadly serious, as well, and Bowles is very deliberate in her use of this tone and its effect on her reader. But more than all that: one just gets such a strong sense of Bowles' protagonist from this opening passage.