If Marcel Proust if famous for anything other than his novels, it’s the “questionnaire” that bears his name. The “Proust Questionnaire” was not, surprise, something Proust himself conceived of — it was, instead, a Parisian parlor game popular during the 1880s. “It is believed to have been popularized by the daughter of the 19th-century French president Felix Faure,” writes Graydon Carter in the introduction to Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire, a collection of such questionnaires collected from the last 16 years of the magazine’s history.
As the story goes, Antoinette Faure would ask friends over for tea and then ask each of them an identical set of questions, such as “What is your favorite virtue? What is your idea of misery?” Her guests would then record the answers in a red leather journal.
Proust did in fact take the questionnaire – twice, first in 1885 (age 14) and again in 1891 (age 20) – and then published those answers as “Salon Confidences written by Marcel” in an 1892 article in La Revue Illustree XV. His name would only become synonymous with the questionnaire after his death as the questionnaire became popular as, asserts Carter, “a form of 20th-century pre-pop psychology.”
TRY: Vanity Fair’s version.
Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire: 101 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life was published in the United States earlier this month by Rodale.