A Parlor Game.
The other day I noticed that Joan Didion had filled out the Proust Questionnaire. Years ago, I’d read about the Proust Questionnaire, a kind of parlor game popular in late 19th c. Europe, where friends compared their answers to a particular set of questions. The questions were said to reveal one’s True Nature.
Two examples of Proust’s answers survive: those from a birthday party, in which Proust, then 13 was asked to answer fifteen questions in Antoinette Felix-Faure’s birthday book; and those from another social event seven years later. The questions are similar, but the answers reflect the different mindset of a twenty-year-old man from a 13-year-old boy.
Vanity Fair has maintained various celebrities’ answers to the “Proust Questionnaire” as a regular feature on its last page, as well as an interactive version for mere mortals to enjoy. You can find Proust’s answers to the questions, as well as join the more than 2000 people who’ve participated in the “The Proust Questionnaire Archive” here.
These are shared, not because I think anyone is much interested in my answers, but because thinking about the questions is worthwhile.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Contentment with what I have.
What is your greatest fear?
Everyday I make an effort at Being Fearless. I’m almost there.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Eleanor Roosevelt. William Faulkner. Boadicea. It depends on the day.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What is your greatest extravagance?
A plethora of dogs
What is your favorite journey?
To the sea.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
What is your favorite way to fill your hours?
Treasure hunting. Reading. Friends. Anything but writing. Okay, writing sometimes.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
That there’s so much of me.
Which living person do you most despise?
All or none. There are many I hold in contempt, but few that I would waste so much emotion on as to despise.
What is your greatest regret?
That I wasted so much time. And continue to.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
On the ground in the winter leaves with a hound, lost 9 days, wiggling with joy in my arms.
Which talent would you most like to have?
What is your current state of mind?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d have more self-discipline.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’ll only know when I reach the end of my life. My son, though, is high on the list.
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I know it when I see it.
Where would you like to live?
I love where I live. I just wish it was closer to the sea.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Willfulness. That’s both a blessing and a curse.
What do you most value in your friends?
Laughter. Love. Loyalty. Not necessarily in that order.
Who are your favorite writers?
Randall Jarrell. James Joyce. Faulkner. And a thousand others.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
The hunter, in Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My husband. My mother. Elizabeth Warren. Al Jenkins, the coroner of Park County, Montana.
Who is your favorite painter?
Edward Hopper. John Singer Sargent. Alex Colville.
Who is your favorite musician?
Beatles. And so many more.
What is your favorite bird?
What is it that you most dislike?
What is the quality you most admire in a man?
What is the quality you most admire in a woman?
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?
Res ipsa loquitur. (“The thing itself speaks.” )