When reading Waugh's 'Vile Bodies' I came across the following sentence: "It was the first time that the party was given in an airship". It would seem to me that in the second clause there should have been past perfect. Could anyone possibly elucidate whether such usage is peculiar to the day and age when the sentence was written or such grammatical pattern is also acceptable nowadays?
Past perfect tense is used to denote an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied. In such a context, the earlier action in the past perfect tense and the later one in the simple past tense are expressed to maintain the sequence of tenses. Here there is no earlier or later time reference. At a certain point of time in the past, a party was given in an airship and such an event was for the first time - both the sequence and event occurred at the same time!
The party was given on an airship implicitly refers to multiple parties occurring at different times, so the past perfect would have sounded over-specific (and depending on the context, somewhat strange).
For example, if you start with
- In 1994 the World Cup was hosted by the U.S.A.
- In 1998 it was hosted by France.
- In 2002 it was jointly hosted by Korea and Japan.
You can follow with:
Two thousand and two was the first year that the World Cup was hosted in Asia.
It was the first time that the final was played in such a remote time zone.
However, if your focus moves to a subject where relative time is important, then the precision of the tenses can help in conveying the writer's meaning, e.g.
- Brazil, always a favorite, had been expected to do well going into 2002. They defeated France, which had won in 1998 and still had hopes of victory. It was the first time that Brazil had done so well in an Asian venue.
Novels are not always good examples, since the writer may be using the choice of tenses to bring you psychologically closer to (or further from) the event being decribed.
On the other hand, a more journalistic article, like the Wikipedia article on the World Cup, will use a "nearer" tense to give the reader a sense of being present in the action being described, and then finish that section with a past perfect to indicate that it's time to move on. Sometimes a readable description of familiar history is worth a second look.