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The Bad Beginning

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The Bad Beginning
The Bad Beginning
Adapted into: The Bad Beginning: Part One, The Bad Beginning: Part Two
Main character(s): Violet, Klaus, Sunny
Baudelaire guardian: Count Olaf
Featuring: Mr. Poe, Justice Strauss
Main enemy: Count Olaf, Olaf's associates
Main setting: Count Olaf's house
Library: Justice Strauss' library (law)
Key crew
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Writer: Lemony Snicket
Illustrator: Brett Helquist
Cover by: Alison Donalty
Release details
Release number: Book the First
Release date: September 30, 1999
Format: 162 pages
←Previous Next→
A Series of Unfortunate Events
none The Reptile Room
Audio clip
Another audio clip
Spine color:
Navy blue (US)
Red (UK)
Border: 50 red and black eyes
Ex Libris:
Letter to the Editor: Typewriter paper
You may be looking for The Bad Beginning: Part One or Part Two.

The Bad Beginning is the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, written by Lemony Snicket.

Publisher's summary

Dear Reader,

I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.

In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.

It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket


To Beatrice—
darling, dearest, dead.


The book opens with the Baudelaire children (Violet, Klaus and Sunny) enjoying a dark, foggy day at Briny Beach, when Mr. Poe, a friend of the family, emerges and approaches them with news of their parents' demise in a fire that destroyed their home. Mr. Poe is the executor of the Baudelaire fortune, whose duty is to stay in control of the fortune until Violet comes of age. The Baudelaire orphans then spend the next few days in the Poe residence, until Mr. Poe announces their relocation to their appropriate guardian's home. The guardian in question is Count Olaf, a distant relative who makes his living as a theatrical actor in the city. At arrival, they encounter the friendly Justice Strauss, who is Olaf's neighbor.

Olaf's house is filthy and covered in disconcerting eye images; it has a tower which the Baudelaires are forbidden from entering. Count Olaf is unpleasant, easily angered and forces the children to perform many laborious chores.

One day, the Baudelaires are set the task of making dinner for Olaf and his theatre troupe. They make puttanesca, but when Olaf arrives he demands roast beef. The children reminded him that he never asked them to make roast beef and Olaf becomes angry, striking Klaus across the face because he gets angry that the children announce to everyone that he has only given them one bed.

Olaf gives the children roles in his new play, The Marvelous Marriage, in which Violet will marry Olaf. The children realize something is amiss and use Justice Strauss' library to research law. Klaus learns that the marriage in the play will be legally binding and that Olaf can inherit their fortune from it. He confronts Olaf, who gets one of his associates to put Sunny in a bird cage, dangling from outside the window of his tower. He threatens to kill her if Klaus and Violet do not follow his plan. Violet constructs a makeshift grappling hook and uses it to climb up the tower. She finds the hook-handed man (a member of Olaf's theatre troupe) waiting to capture her. Klaus is brought up to the tower and they are locked together in the room until the play begins.

After Violet signs the marriage document, Olaf interrupts to tell the audience that their wedding was legally binding. Justice Strauss and Mr. Poe both object, but concede that the law requires them to hand over the Baudelaire fortune to Olaf. Violet interrupts to proclaim that the marriage was not legally binding, as she signed with her left hand despite being right-handed. Justice Strauss agrees that this invalidates the marriage. Before Olaf can be arrested for locking up Sunny, one of his associates turns the lights in the theatre off and he is able to escape. Justice Strauss tells the Baudelaires that she is willing to adopt them; however, Mr. Poe says that this would go against their parents' will and takes them back to his household until he can find another guardian for them.


  • The Bad Beginning contains the first reference to the V.F.D. tattoo, on Count Olaf's left ankle.
  • Al Funcoot is an anagram of Olaf's name, which is one of the codes used by V.F.D.

References to the real world

Main article: References and allusions in Lemony Snicket's works

Name allusions

  • The name "Baudelaire" is a nod to Charles Baudelaire, a poet whose most famous work is The Flowers of Evil, "a cycle of poems that discusses dreadful circumstances and finds beauty in them."[1]
  • Beatrice's name likely came from Charles Baudelaire's poem La Béatrice, and as a reference to Dante Alighieri's unrequited love, Beatrice.
  • Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire share their names with Claus and Sunny von Bülow, who were involved in a famous court case of the 1980s; the district attorney who reopened the Claus von Bülow case was named Arlene Violet.
  • According to Snicket, "There are all sorts of antecedents for those names that people have picked up on, but I also thought it would be interesting to devise a setting for the book that is somewhat ambiguous. Violet is a fairly British name; Klaus is a fairly German name; Sunny is a fairly American name, and Olaf is a fairly Scandinavian name, and that creates a certain amount of confusion."[1]
  • Violet Baudelaire is also possibly a reference to a famous crime; she shares her given name with Violet Sharpe, a suspect of the Lindbergh kidnapping.[source needed]
  • Arthur Poe's name is a reference to American author Edgar Allan Poe.
  • Edgar and Albert Poe may be a reference to American poet Edgar Albert Guest, or may in fact be a continued reference to Edgar Allan Poe, with Albert receiving a slight variation on the name..

Setting allusions

Defined words

  • Rickety: "the word rickety, you probably know, here means unsteady or likely to collapse"
  • Perished: "'Perished', Mr. Poe said, 'means killed'"
  • Blanched: the word "blanched" here means boiled
  • Briskly: the world "briskly" here means "quickly, so as to get the Baudelaire children to leave the house
  • Fallen by the wayside: an expression which hear means "they stopped calling, writing, and stopping by to see if any of the Baudelaires, making them very lonely"
  • Simmered: a culinary term which means "cooked over low heat"
  • Revulsion: a word which here means "an unpleasant mixture of horror and disgust"
  • In Loco Parentis: "In loco parentis means 'acting in the role of a parent,'" Mr. Poe said. "It is a legal term and it applies to Count Olaf. Now that you are in his care, the Count may raise you using any methods he see fit."
  • Posthaste: "Posthaste", Mr. Poe said, "means--" "--means you'll do nothing to help us," Violet finished for him.
  • Standoffish: It means "reluctant to associate with others".
  • Sleeping fitfully: a phrase which here means "with much tossing and turning" on the lumpy bed
  • Smirked: a word which here means "smiled in an unfriendly, phony way"
  • Nuptial: "The word 'nuptial'," Klaus said, "means 'relating to marriage'."
  • Relinquished: a word which here means "gave to Count Olaf even though [Klaus] didn't want to".
  • Casing the joint: "Casing the joint" means observing a particular location in order to formulate a plan.
  • Adroit: the word "adroit" here means skillful
  • Polygamists: "Polygamists are people who marry more than one person," Klaus explained.
  • Pandemonium: a word which here means "actors and stagehands running around attending to last-minute details".
  • Insipid: the word insipid here means "dull and foolish"
  • Testily: a word which here means "in an extremely annoyed tone".
  • Aberrant: the word "aberrant" here means "very, very wrong and causing much grief".


Final picture

In the final picture, Justice Strauss stands in the entrance to the theater which held the showing of The Marvelous Marriage, waving at the Baudelaires as they ride off in Mr. Poe's car. In the bottom left corner, a snake, whose tail is wrapped around a light pole, watches the scene.

Letter to the Editor

To My Kind Editor,

I am writing to you from the London branch of the Herpetological Society, where I am trying to find out what happened to the reptile collection of Dr. Montgomery Montgomery following the tragic events that occurred while the Baudelaire orphans were in his care.

An associate of mine will place a small waterproof box in the phone booth of the Elektra Hotel at 11 p.m. next Tuesday. Please retrieve it before midnight to avoid it falling into the wrong hands. In the box, you will find my description of these terrible events, entitled THE REPTILE ROOM, as well as a map of Lousy Lane, a copy of the film Zombies in the Snow, and Dr. Montgomery's recipe for coconut cream cake. I have also managed to track down one of the few photographs of Dr. Lucafont, in order to help Mr. Helquist with his illustrations.

Remember, you are my last hope that the tales of the Baudelaire orphans can finally be told to the general public.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket

Story notes

Critical reception

Amazon reviewer Karin Snelson cites the Unfortunate Events series as "delightful, funny [and] linguistically playful", and the narrator as “personable” and "occasionally pedantic". "There is no question that young readers will want to read the continuing unlucky adventures of the Baudelaire children [...]."

Other reviewers somewhat share the same general opinion as well. The writing method employed by Hendler was widely complimented and mentioned numerously. "While the misfortunes hover on the edge of being ridiculous, Snicket's energetic blend of humor, dramatic irony, and literary flair makes it all perfectly believable," says Linda Bindner of Library Journal. "[Snicket] uses formal, Latinate language and intrusive commentary to hilarious effect," quotes Publishers Weekly.

Ron Charles calls the narrator "witty and explanatory". Susie Wilde of Children's Literature also speaks, "[The Bad Beginning] has subtle humor, Roald Dahl-like pathos, and lots of action [...]". “Written with old-fashioned flair, this fast-paced book is not the squeamish. [...] Those who enjoy a little poison in their porridge will find it wicked good fun," speaks Kirkus Reviews.

The Bad Beginning was generally favored by the community as well. 1,114 readers agree to a 4/5 rating on Amazon. Likewise, 459 readers also give the novel a 4.5/5 rating on Barnes and Noble.


Book editions

Several editions of The Bad Beginning have been published. Some of these include foreign editions or re-prints such as: The Bad Beginning (UK), The Bad Beginning or, Orphans! and Tout Commence Mal; similarly, "rare," "limited," and "special" versions of the book were released.

The Bad Beginning (UK)

The UK version of The Bad Beginning was pulished on May 12, 2003 by Egmont Books, Ltd. It features a black cover with a red spine. On each of the UK versions, between the coloured spine and the black cover there are narrow images depicting a reference to each books content. The Bad Beginning features a row of eyes. This is repeated on the back cover.

The Bad Beginning (UK Paperback)

This is a paperback version of The Bad Beginning released in the UK by Egmont Books in 2010. It has Lemony Snicket written on the top with A Series of Unfortunate Events written below it in an eye shape.

The Bad Beginning Or, Orphans!

The Bad Beginning Or, Orphans! is a paperback re-release of The Bad Beginning, designed to mimic Victorian penny dreadfuls. It was released on May 8, 2007. The book features a new full-color cover, seven new illustrations, and the first part of a serial supplement entitled The Cornucopian Cavalcade, which in this edition includes the first of 13-part comic entitled The Spoily Brats along with a page of Victorian-era false advertisements, both produced by Michael Kupperman, an advice column written by Lemony Snicket along with a page listing every entry in A Series of Unfortunate Events (some of which are fictional), the first part of a story entitled Q: A Psychic Pstory of the Psupernatural by Stephen Leacock, and a guide by Morley Adams on paper folding.

The Bad Beginning: Rare Edition

Another edition of The Bad Beginning was published by Harper Collins in September 2003; it is known as The Bad Beginning: Rare Edition. This boxed edition comes with a new cover, a portrait of the characters, and an extra chapter filled with author's notes, many of which occasionally foreshadow later events in the series. Each of the notes, particularly the ones relating to The End, proved accurate or were addressed by later books in the series.

The Bad Beginning: Limited Edition and The Bad Beginning: Special Edition

Two more editions of The Bad Beginning were published by Egmont Publishing on Oct 1, 2003; known as The Bad Beginning: Limited Edition, and The Bad Beginning: Special Edition, they come in a larger format and contain three plates of color artwork that are redrawn from the original edition of the book and two plates of new color artwork. The Limited Edition is bound in leather and contained within a box, similar to the Rare Edition, and each copy was signed by Daniel Handler. Contrary to the description on the website, the Limited Edition does not contain any endnotes as the Rare Edition does.

Tout Commence Mal

Tout Commence Mal is the French edition of The Bad Beginning, published by Nathan Poche.


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Jewish Secrets of Lemony Snicket
  2. The Bad Beginning: Rare Edition Author's Notes

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