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Marcel Proust: Smarty-Pants

Do you know what I love? I love the Proust Questionnaire. It is a series of questions intended to be thought-provoking. According to Wikipedia: "The Proust Questionnaire is a questionnaire about one's personality. Its name and modern popularity as a form of interview is owed to the responses given by the French writer Marcel Proust.

At the end of the nineteenth century, when Proust was still in his teens, he answered a questionnaire in an English-language confession album belonging to his friend Antoinette, daughter of future French President Félix Faure, entitled "An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, etc." At that time, it was popular among English families to answer such a list of questions that revealed the tastes and aspirations of the taker.

Proust answered always with enthusiasm. The original manuscript of his answers of 1890, at the time of his volunteer internship or some little time afterwards, titled "by Marcel Proust himself," was found in 1924. It was auctioned on May 27, 2003 for the sum of €102,000."

Assouline Publishing has a faaabuuulous book obviously entitled The Proust Questionnaire. There is the smaller version for $45 that comes in a great array of colors. But, if you’re feeling rather rich, you should buy the $350 version. Both of the books share Proust’s famous answers, answers of other famous people, and blank pages for oneself. Not to be a total nerd, but it’s really fun to have your friends fill out their own answers at a party. It’s also fun to see if your friends are idiots.

The young Marcel was asked to fill out questionnaires at two social events: one when he was 13, another when he was 20. I have included both...

  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
                    To be separated from Mama
  • Where would you like to live?
      In the country of the Ideal, or, rather, of my ideal
  • What is your idea of earthly happiness?
      To live in contact with those I love, with the beauties of nature, with a quantity of books and music, and to have, within easy distance, a French theater
  • To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
      To a life deprived of the works of genius
  • Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
      Those of romance and poetry, those who are the expression of an ideal rather than an imitation of the real
  • Who are your favorite characters in history?
      A mixture of Socrates, Pericles, Mahomet, Pliny the Younger and Augustin Thierry
  • Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
      A woman of genius leading an ordinary life
  • Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
      Those who are more than women without ceasing to be womanly; everything that is tender, poetic, pure and in every way beautiful
  • Your favorite painter?
  • Your favorite musician?
  • The quality you most admire in a man?
      Intelligence, moral sense
  • The quality you most admire in a woman?
      Gentleness, naturalness, intelligence
  • Your favorite virtue?
      All virtues that are not limited to a sect: the universal virtues
  • Your favorite occupation?
      Reading, dreaming, and writing verse
  • Who would you have liked to be?
      Since the question does not arise, I prefer not to answer it. All the same, I should very much have liked to be Pliny the Younger.

I’m just laughing after reading this because I am imagining what Gracie’s responses at age 13 what have been.
Proust was asked seven years later to answer a similar series of questions. It’s interesting to see his character traits at age 20.

  • Your most marked characteristic?
      A craving to be loved, or, to be more precise, to be caressed and spoiled rather than to be admired
  • The quality you most like in a man?
      Feminine charm
  • The quality you most like in a woman?
      A man's virtues, and frankness in friendship
  • What do you most value in your friends?
      Tenderness - provided they possess a physical charm which makes their tenderness worth having
  • What is your principle defect?
      Lack of understanding; weakness of will
  • What is your favorite occupation?
  • What is your dream of happiness?
      Not, I fear, a very elevated one. I really haven't the courage to say what it is, and if I did I should probably destroy it by the mere fact of putting it into words.
  • What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
      Never to have known my mother or my grandmother
  • What would you like to be?
      Myself - as those whom I admire would like me to be
  • In what country would you like to live?
      One where certain things that I want would be realized - and where feelings of tenderness would always be reciprocated. [Proust's underlining]
  • What is your favorite color?
      Beauty lies not in colors but in thier harmony
  • What is your favorite flower?
      Hers - but apart from that, all
  • What is your favorite bird?
      The swallow
  • Who are your favorite prose writers?
      At the moment, Anatole France and Pierre Loti
  • Who are your favoite poets?
      Baudelaire and Alfred de Vigny
  • Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
  • Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
      Phedre (crossed out) Berenice
  • Who are your favorite composers?
      Beethoven, Wagner, Shuhmann
  • Who are your favorite painters?
      Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt
  • Who are your heroes in real life?
      Monsieur Darlu, Monsieur Boutroux (professors)
  • Who are your favorite heroines of history?
  • What are your favorite names?
      I only have one at a time
  • What is it you most dislike?
      My own worst qualities
  • What historical figures do you most despise?
      I am not sufficiently educated to say
  • What event in military history do you most admire?
      My own enlistment as a volunteer!
  • What reform do you most admire?
      (no response)
  • What natural gift would you most like to possess?
      Will power and irresistible charm
  • How would you like to die?
      A better man than I am, and much beloved
  • What is your present state of mind?
      Annoyance at having to think about myself in order to answer these questions
  • To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
      Those that I understand
  • What is your motto?
      I prefer not to say, for fear it might bring me bad luck.

  •  So, in conclusion, I thought it would be fun to present the questionnaire to some of my friends for the blog. Stay tuned.


    1. Fascinating business, Ellie. Like taking a snow globe of a person's thoughts and feelings and seeing where they fall...

    2. I LOVE this post of yours. Thank you!

    3. HOW DID I MISS THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!XOXO

    4. Can't wait!xo xo Of course now I have to buy the book...Thank you

    5. I feel so shallow after reading his answers.