The Answers to the Best Literature Quiz

Earlier this week, we posted 20 fiendish questions in a post we called ‘The Best Literature Quiz’. Below are the answers to the 20 questions, with links providing further details if you’re curious to know more. How did you do? If you managed 20/20, we think you’re some sort of modern-day Thomas Young, a truly ‘omnilegent’ soul. If you got 15-19, we tip our trilby to you. If you got 11-14, you did well to avoid our book-traps. If you got 6-10, good effort but bad luck on slipping up a fair few times. If you got 5 or fewer, then the solution is obvious… You need to read more of our posts! Here are three of our personal favourites to get started, on poets, on words, and on reading.

1. The word ‘trilby’ came from George du Maurier’s 1894 novel of that name, where the female protagonist, Trilby, comes under the spell of the mesmerist Svengali. The novel therefore gave us two words now in common use, both of which began as characters’ names in du Maurier’s novel. However, before ‘trilby’ was applied to the hats worn in the popular stage production of the book, the word was applied, somewhat surprisingly, to feet. Yes, ‘trilby’ was a jocular term for the foot, because Trilby’s feet are admired in the novel and theatre adaptation. The word was also soon applied to footwear, and then, most famously, to the soft felt hat. So, the answer is c) feet.

2. Although Alice Liddell served as the inspiration for the Alice character in Lewis Carroll’s first book for children, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by the time he wrote the second Alice book, Through the Looking-Carroll1Glass, six years later, he had fallen out with the Liddells and instead a young girl named Alice Theodora Raikes was the principal ‘model’ for the follow-up book. So, the answer is b).

3. The earliest ballads about Robin Hood, such as the fifteenth-century Gest of Robyn Hode, situate him in a) Barnsdale Forest in South Yorkshire rather than Sherwood Forest.

4. The first Hamlet on film was b) Sarah Bernhardt in an early cinematic production of 1900. Indeed, as we’ve discussed here, there have been many celebrated female Hamlets over the centuries.

5. Although it was thought Oscar Wilde died of syphilis in 1900, and he certainly suffered from it, Richard Ellmann reports that it was cerebral meningitis that led to Wilde’s demise, shortly after that final (possibly apocryphal) quip about the wallpaper. So if you answered b), give yourself a pat on the back.

6. Nahum Tate is known for making King Lear less tragic in the late seventeenth century, but in the original ‘chronicle’ of ‘Leir’ the twelfth-century Geoffrey of Monmouth tells a story with an altogether happier ending. So the answer is b).

7. It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that the phrase ‘Wars of the Roses’ was invented, by none other than c) novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott.

8. Washington Irving gave New York the sobriquet ‘Gotham City’ in the early nineteenth century. It was later taken
up by Bill Finger for the Batman comic strips. So, the answer was a).

9. ‘George Eliot’ was the pen name of Mary Ann (or Marian) Evans. Evans lived for many years as the common-law wife of G. H. Lewes, who was already married to, but separated from, another woman. However, after Lewes’s death in 1878, after many years of happy cohabitation, Evans did get married – to a man named John Cross. She was Mrs Cross when she died, two years later, in 1880, so ‘Mary Ann Cross’ is the name on her gravestone in Highgate Cemetery. So c) was the correct answer.

10. A bit of a trick question, this (weren’t they all?). Although Karel Čapek gets the credit for introducing the word ‘robot’ into the world, it was actually his brother, Josef Čapek, who suggested the word (from a Slavic word meaning ‘slave’ or ‘drudge’). So, technically, the answer should be b) Josef, not Karel.

11. As we’ve outlined in a previous post, the girls’ name Wendy was in use – as both a girls’ and, amazingly, a boys’ name – before J. M. Barrie created Wendy Darling for Peter Pan in the early twentieth century. ‘Never-Never Land’ is old Australian slang for the outback, but the Scottish author did inspire the name for b) Quality Street chocolates.

12. Although theatre critic Kenneth Tynan is often credited with the ‘achievement’ (if you will) of dropping the first ever F-bomb on British television, in 1965, he was actually pipped to the post nine years earlier by a) Irish playwright George_OrwellBrendan Behan, who uttered the expletive on an edition of Panorama broadcast in June 1956. Stephen Fry, meanwhile, once held the record for saying the F-word the most times in a broadcast on British television.

13. Dorothy Richardson was the first modernist writer to have her work described as ‘stream of consciousness’, as we’ve discussed in this post, though she herself disliked the term. So, a) was the correct answer.

14. Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Siege of Malta was only first published in 2008, over 175 years after his death. So if you answered c), well done – award yourself a point!

15. The answer to this question is not Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, but b) Harry Adam Knight, as we’ve outlined here.

16. ‘Middle-Earth’ is the name of the region in which Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings takes place, but the actual world is called Arda. So, b) is the right answer here.

17. Both ‘thought police’ and ‘thought crime’ (albeit as two words) are found in print from the early 1930s, before Orwell popularised them in Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell did, however, coin the phrase a) ‘Cold War’ – well, sort of.

18. The association of poppies with commemoration of the war dead dates back to a) the Napoleonic wars, when writers noted that they flourished over soldiers’ graves. As The History Press website notes: ‘there are several anonymous documents written during the Napoleonic wars which noted that following battle, poppies became abundant on battlefields where soldiers had fallen. These same sources drew the first documented comparison between the blood-red colour of the poppies and the blood spilt during conflict.’

19. Before Conan Doyle ‘killed off’ Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Final Problem’ (1893), his friend a) J. M. Barrie published a spoof tale in which the famous detective meets his demise. So, the author of Peter Pan was the first writer to kill off Sherlock Holmes.

20. The word ‘muggle’ dates back to the thirteenth century, and had many different meanings before J. K. Rowling made it famous in her Harry Potter novels. The earliest recorded use of the word is in the work of a) medieval poet Layamon, who uses the word to refer to ‘a tail resembling that of a fish’. Thomas Middleton used ‘muggle’ in the early seventeenth century to refer to a young woman or sweetheart.

Image (top): Lewis Carroll, 1863, Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Image (bottom): Picture of George Orwell which appears in an old acreditation for the BNUJ, 1933; Wikimedia Commons; public domain.


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A blog dedicated to rooting out the interesting stuff about classic books and authors.

Posted on December 2, 2015, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I’m wearing my dunce’s cap and standing woefully on the naughty step for not paying attention. You DID warn us they were all potentially trick question. I got 2 right. No Christmas pudding for me, just detention and lines whilst the rest of you go to the top of the class!

    • Don’t feel too bad – nobody has got in touch to say they’ve got the majority right yet! I would recommend having a look through our old posts linked to here (of course!), as they debunk a few of the myths which many of these questions shamelessly exploited :)

  2. Well yes, that’s why I’m wearing the dunce’s cap for not paying attention in class when you debunked those myths. As I read most of the posts on this site, I was clearly not paying proper attention

  3. I only got 4 right. However, I have not been reading their posts assiduously. One of the answers I got correct I only happened to guess correctly!

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