THE FOLLOWING IS the first sentence of the five-volume novel Rosabella: Or, A Mother’s Marriage, written by an anonymous author (rumored to be one Catherine Cuthbertson) and published in London in 1817. It may possibly be the best opening sentence in the history of the modern novel.

It was in such a night as treason might conceive formed for its sanguinary projects, that many deluded individuals of a maritime province in Ireland stole from their straw-roofed cabins, and in the gloom of impenetrable darkness descended with cautious steps the craggy rocks to the seashore; there to meet the subtle agents of sedition, who had, with all the wiles of interested management, too successfully sown the noxious seeds of disaffection in the bosoms of the credulous, the ignorant, the idle, and the bigoted; leading them hoodwinked not only from their allegiance to the existing government, but into the commission of crimes hostile to their eternal welfare.


  1. tom stetz says:

    Sounds more like Wilkie Collins than Catherine Cuthbertson. But perhaps one is the pen name of the other. Or vice versa.

  2. william says:

    After employing Dr. Boli’s own method of graduate studies in literature, it seems to me rather much more as if the real author of the above piece is neither Collins nor Cuthbertson, but instead a community of devotees (of either one or the other) well-formed in their knowledge of the traditional turns of phrase exemplified by our authors and yet with such inescapable idiosyncrasies as–for example–the tendency to open a novel with a run-on sentence of one-hundred and eight words. That neither Cuthbertson nor Collins has ever written a novel with two semicolons in the opening sentence should suffice as proof positive that we deal here, not with either novelist, but with one or more authors which must henceforth be referred to in respectable company only as “pseudo-Cuthbertson/Collins”.

  1. […] sentence in the history of the English novel: that honor still belongs to the first sentence of Rosabella: or, A Mother’s Marriage. It is, however, one of the most striking first sentences ever penned by an American […]

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