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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, titled "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.
The television host Bernard Pivot, seeing an opportunity for a writer to reveal at the same time aspects of his work and his personality, traditionally subjected his guests to the Proust questionnaire at the end of the French broadcast Apostrophes.
Inspired by Bernard Pivot, James Lipton, the host of the TV program Inside the Actors Studio, gives an adapted version of the Proust Questionnaire to his guests. Lipton has often incorrectly characterized the questionnaire itself as an invention of Pivot.
A similar questionnaire is regularly seen on the back page of Vanity Fair magazine, answered by various celebrities. In October 2009, Vanity Fair launched an interactive version of the questionnaire, that compares individual answers to those of various luminaries.
Another version of the questionnaire, as answered by various Canadian authors, is a regular feature on the radio program The Next Chapter.
There are two surviving sets of answers to the confession album questions by Proust: the first, from 1885 or 1886, is to an English confessions album, although his answers are in French. The second, from 1891 or 1892, is from a French album, Les confidences de salon ("Drawing room confessions"), which contains translations of the original questions, lacking some that were in the English version and adding others.
|Confessions questions||Confidences questions||Proust's answers 1890|
|Your favorite virtue||The principal aspect of my personality||The need to be loved; more precisely, the need to be caressed and spoiled much more than the need to be admired|
|Your favorite qualities in a man.||The quality that I desire in a man.||Feminine charms.|
|Your favorite qualities in a woman.||The quality that I desire in a woman.||Manly virtues, and frankness in friendship.|
|Your chief characteristic||----||----|
|What you appreciate the most in your friends||What I appreciate most about my friends.||To have tenderness for me, if their personage is exquisite enough to render quite high the price of their tenderness|
|Your main fault||My main fault||Not knowing, not being able to "want".|
|Your favourite occupation.||My favorite occupation.||Loving.|
|Your idea of happiness||My dream of happiness.||I am afraid it be not great enough, I dare not speak it, I am afraid of destroying it by speaking it.|
|Your idea of misery.||What would be my greatest misfortune?||Not to have known my mother or my grandmother.|
|If not yourself, who would you be?||What I should like to be.||Myself, as the people whom I admire would like me to be.|
|Where would you like to live?||The country where I should like to live.||A country where certain things that I should like would come true as though by magic, and where tenderness would always be reciprocated|
|Your favourite colour and flower.||My favourite colour.||The beauty is not in the colours, but in their harmony.|
|----||The flower that I like.||Hers/His - and after, all of them.|
|----||My favorite bird.||The swallow.|
|Your favorite prose authors.||My favorite prose authors.||Currently, Anatole France and Pierre Loti.|
|Your favorite poets.||My favorite poets.||Baudelaire and Alfred de Vigny.|
|Your favorite heroes in fiction.||My heroes in fiction.||Hamlet.|
|Your favorite heroines in fiction.||My favorite heroines in fiction.||Bérénice.|
|Your favorite painters and composers.||My favorite composers.||Beethoven, Wagner, Schumann.|
|----||My favorite painters.||Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt.|
|Your heroes in real life.||My heroes in real life.||Mr. Darlu, Mr. Boutroux.|
|Your favorite heroines in real life.||----||----|
|What characters in history do you most dislike.||----||----|
|Your heroines in World history||My heroines in history.||Cleopatra.|
|Your favorite food and drink.||----||----|
|Your favorite names.||My favorite names.||I only have one at a time.|
|What I hate the most.||What I hate most of all.||What is bad about me.|
|World history characters I hate the most||Historical figures that I despise the most.||I am not educated enough.|
|The military event I admire the most||The military event that I admire most.||My military service!|
|The reform I admire the most||The reform which I admire the most.||----|
|The natural talent I'd like to be gifted with||The gift of nature that I would like to have.||Will-power, and seductiveness.|
|How I wish to die||How I want to die.||Improved—and loved.|
|What is your present state of mind.||My present state of mind.||Boredom from having thought about myself to answer all these questions.|
|For what fault have you most toleration?||Faults for which I have the most indulgence.||Those that I understand.|
|Your favorite motto.||My motto.||I should be too afraid that it bring me misfortune.|
- Carter, William C., and Henry-Jean Servat. 2005. The Proust questionnaire. New York: Assouline.
- Carter, Graydon, and Robert Risko. 2009. Vanity Fair's Proust questionnaire: 101 luminaries ponder love, death, happiness, and the meaning of life. [Emmaus, Pa.]: Rodale.
- In French the gender of the possessive is determined, not by the gender of the possessor, but the gender of the possessed object - in this case flower, 'fleur', is feminine, but the context gives no assurance of how to read 'la sienne' meaning 'his/hers'.