You know that I like to make you work for your fun, right?
A while ago I responded to V.S. Naipaul’s obnoxious comments about female authors by asking if you could tell which opening lines were by men and which by women – nobody got full marks. Have a go yourself, if you missed it back then (answers here).
This time, in further preparation for A Century of Books (for those not in the know, next year I plan to read a book from every year of the 20th century) I thought I’d test you on decades.
These are opening lines from ten novels, published in 1900, 1910, 1920… all the way to 1990. I’ve scrambled them up – and I want you to have a go and see if you can work out which quotation belongs to which century. Bonus marks if you can guess the author.
Obviously with a sample size this small, and all by different authors, this won’t prove anything conclusively. Or even vaguely. But it might be a bit of fun. Give it a go!
And, of course, I want to know which you’re immediately keen to read…
a.) Mary sometimes heard people say: “I can’t bear to be alone.” She could never understand this.
b.) It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea.
c.) “Get away from here, you dirty swine,” she said.
“There’s a dirty swine in every man,” he said.
d.) One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister.
e.) On a March evening, at eight o’clock, Backhouse, the medium – a fast-rising star in the psychic world – was ushered into the study at ‘Proland,’ the Hampstead residence of Montague Faull.
f.) Jem was a joyful mystery to Alice. She was something to give thanks for.
g.) I have noticed that when someone asks for you on the telephone and, finding you out, leaves a message begging you to call him up the moment you come in, as it’s important, the matter is more often important to him than to you.
h.) A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.
i.) It is highly probable that the tea shop would never have started at all if Commander David Tompkins hadn’t fancied himself at being something of a dab-hand at cooking.
j.) The opening chapter does not concern itself with Love—indeed that antagonist does not certainly appear until the third –