Wednesday 3 January 2024

The Pale Usher's New Year Literary Quiz

To mark the New Year I'm sharing this quiz. It originally featured (in a slightly different form) in one of our live online gatherings back in 2020, which I hosted as 'The Pale Usher' (with acknowledgements to Herman Melville). 

There are 23 questions (plus a warm-up exercise) and 100 points to be earned. Of course you could use the internet to find the answers, but where’s the fun in that? Please resist any temptation to do so because it will be much more satisfying if you tackle this as an analogue exercise. (You could, of course, collaborate with friends, family or bookish others. That would be nice.)

This will take you 15-20 minutes to complete, or to fail to complete. You’ll need a pencil and paper to keep your score. 


To warm up, simply match the title of the novel on the left to its author on the right. One point for each correct match

Cold Comfort Farm Jilly Cooper

Malarky Iris Murdoch

The Young Visiters Claire - Louise Bennett

Some Tame Gazelle Bernardine Evaristo

The Notebook Flannery O’Connor

Riders Stella Gibbons

Girl, Woman, Other Anakana Schofield

A Good Man is Hard to Find Daisy Ashford

Nuns and Soldiers Ágota Kristóf

Pond Barbara Pym

Total 10 points.

Now on to round one.

Round 1


What, apart from their varying degrees of celebrity, connects the following?
    Lord Byron


    Gabriele D'Annunzio

    George Formby

    J. G. Farrell

     Sigmund Freud

    Lilian Gish


    Edna St. Vincent Millay

2 points for the correct answer.

2. Curious deaths of noteworthy writers.

Two points for each correct identification. Which writer gave up the ghost . . .

a) after swallowing a martini olive toothpick on a cruise liner? 

b) after choking on the plastic cap of an inhaler?  

c) after being felled by a tree struck by lightning in the Avenue des Champs-Élysées the day after expressing a fear of meeting precisely such an unlikely end?

d) in 1973, after walking into the sea in Brighton? 

e) after claiming to have drunk 18 straight whiskies? 

f) suddenly, at the age of fifty-two, in digs, while drinking brandy to celebrate a BBC  commission? 

Total 12 points.

3. Man of letters.

Virginia Woolf described him as 'more repulsive than words can express, and malignant into the bargain'; Lytton Strachey called him 'a worm' and F. R. Leavis thought him 'the epitome of all that men mean by the word philistine'. 

Which influential 1920s editor and critic attracted such obloquy? (Two points)

For a bonus point: The editor  and critic in question was also an acknowledged expert on what indigenous dairy product?

Total 3 points.

4. What do poets know?

Which distinguished 19th century poet believed that railway engines ran in grooves and that all cigars, regardless of size or quality, cost the same? 

Total 2 points.

5. A handy coinage.

'Kitchen sink' was the critical term applied to downbeat realist writing of the 1950s, and particularly to dramas such as Look Back in Anger. Where did this useful phrase originate? (Two points for a complete answer)

Total 2 points.

6. Best. Limerick. Ever.

For two points, which eminent historian wrote the following?

Seven ages, first puking and mewling,
Then very pissed off with one's schooling,
Then fucks, and then fights,
Then judging chaps' rights,
Then sitting in slippers, then drooling.

Total 2 points.

7. Alliteration dept.

With acknowledgements to Nemo’s Almanac . . .  Two points for each author you correctly identify:

a) Academics, actors who lecture,
Apostles of architecture,
Ancient gods-of-the-abdomen men,
Angst-pushers, adherents of Zen,
Alastors, Austenites, A-test

b)  We had chaw chaw chops, chairs, chewing gum, the chicken-
        pox and china chambers
Universally provided by this soft-soaping salesman.

c) Lock the door Lariston, lion of Liddisdale,
Lock the door Lariston, Lowther comes on,
The Armstrongs are flying,
Their widows are crying
The Castledown's burning, and Oliver's gone.

d) I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
          dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air.

e) Womanhood, wanton, ye want;
       You're medelying, mastres, is manerles;
Plente of ill, of goodness slant,
         Ye rayll at ryot, recheles.

Total 10 points.

8.  What a camp Jungian chum of mine calls 'a coinkidinky'.

The wildly creative television cartoon series Adventure Time has two lead characters introduced in the credit sequence song of each episode as "Jake the dog and Finn the human".  Here they are:

Jake and Finn share their names with two characters in which debut novel by which twentieth century Dublin-born author? (One point each for the title of the novel and its author.)

Total 2 points.

9. Playing Possum.

Perhaps the performers Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett had T. S. Eliot in mind when they named the gorilla companion of the enigmatic shaman Naboo in their cult telly series The Mighty Boosh. What's the connection? 

(from left)  Barrett, gorilla, Fielding

 (from left) Eliot, Eliot, Eliot

Total 2 points.

10. Handsome tribute (unsolicited).

Which poet said to which man of letters, following the memorial service for which other poet: 'Sir, you formed me!' (Name all three, one point for each)

Total 3 points.

Round 2

11. Ouch.

Which poet wrote to another poet about a third poet on 5th September 1946? Name all three poets, with one point for each.

'I used to think that he knew how to put down good words. And now I have been reading  […], a poetry book. And I find in the words of this book there is a lot of poll  lis sill ab bick fuss sin ness (“the total generosity of original unforewarned fearful trust”),  and a lot of ad dough less scent sew dough Smith oller gee (“Oh, which are the actors,  which the audience?”), and a lot of Europe-falling-about-our ears and Oh-my-dearest and  playing with abstractions […] and your- eyes-are-mineshafts -to-your-heart and  HELPLESS GESTURES  […] because HE CAN’T THINK WHAT TO SAY.'

Total 3 points.

12. Nasty, very.

Which modernist English writer and painter reminded which modernist American writer of 'toe jam'? (One point for each writer, and a third point if you identify the volume in which the unflattering description appears.)

Total 3 points.

13. In praise of . . .

Through who or what is Christopher Smart (1722-1771) expressing his reverence in these lines? (2 points) 
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him. 
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way. 

For a bonus point, what was the category of Smart’s accommodation when he wrote the poetry (A Song to David and Jubilate Agno) by which he is remembered? 

Total 3 points.

14. Book of the film.

In the French novel D'entre des mortes by the writing team of Boileau-Narcejac, a wealthy businessman named Gévigne employs an ex-cop called Flavières to follow his troubled wife around the boulevards of pre-Occupation Paris.

In which film, adapted from the novel, are the two male characters named, respectively, Gavin Elster and 'Scotty' Ferguson (one point) and in which city is the film set (one point)?

Total 2 points.

15. Mind the gap.

Source the following breathless phrases (Two points for each)



I'veneverbeensoinsultedinallmylife (clue - it's in the only novel published by a writer already featured in this quiz)

Total 6 points.

16.  Audience reaction. 

Which modernist author was transfixed by a technical flaw in the projection during a matinee screening of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, later writing about the experience for an American magazine. The flaw caused a large black formless blob to appear briefly, which struck the author as a possible representation of consciousness, or something.

Caligari: A Room of One’s Owner (clue)

Total 2 points.

17.  Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree

Writer/director Armando Iannucci once observed that Milton's opening lines from Paradise Lost can be sung to the theme tune of which popular American cartoon series? 

Total 2 points.

18. A three-pipe problem.

What precise London address was home to Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting detective? 

Holmes' Sweet Home

Total 1 point.

19.  Little known fact.

For two points, which celebrated poem, written in 1935, originally began in an early draft:  
    North, north, north 
    To the country of the Clyde and the Firth of Forth.  

For a bonus point, what’s the next line (which appears as the first line in the published poem)?

Total 3 points.

20.  A link to bygone days of yore.

To date, ten British writers have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The first was Rudyard Kipling in 1907. Name the other nine (with one point for each). 

Total 9 points.

Round 3

21.  Noms des plume.

Which Victorian author published under the pseudonyms George Savage Fitz-Boodle, Michael Angelo Titmarsh, Théophile Wagstaff and C.J. Yellowplush, Esq. ? 

Total 1 point

22. What do the initials stand for? 

Two points for each complete name. (One point if you get only one)

a) W. H. Auden

b)  J. M. Barrie

c)  P. D. James

d) C. S. Lewis

e)  J. K. Rowling

Total 10 points.

23. Dead trims

The following celebrated authors all have interesting hair. 
One point for each one you correctly identify.

(a) Clearly survived a William Tell incident in the roaring ‘20s.

(b) His London landlady thought that her tenant looked like ‘Our Lord’.

(c) A combover beginning just south of his left hip.

(d) The doctor will see you now.

(e) You looking at me?

Total 5 points.

Cumulative total 100 points.


That’s it. Email me for the answers, or wait until I post them on Friday January 5th.


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