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Ah, the Proust Questionnaire: does it reveal everything about one’s personality, or nothing at all? Presumably Marcel Proust, who gave the questionnaire its name by filling it out so wholeheartedly, wouldn’t have cared either way. French interviewer Bernard Pivot must have seen some usefulness in it, since he applied its questions so regularly to guests on his literary television program Apostrophes that it gained the second name of “Pivot Questionnaire.” Open Culture readers know James Lipton also adapted a version on Inside the Actors Studio. (See our previous post here.) And now, thanks to archivists at the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, we have Proust Questionnaire answers from one more luminary: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Not that Conan Doyle responds with quite so much style as does Proust. His favorite qualities in a man? Manliness. In a woman? Why, womanliness. His favorite food and drink? Anything when hungry or thirsty — nothing when not. Favorite activity? Work. This all has a certain utilitarian charm, but if you read the questionnaire itself, you also find the particular flavor of half-hidden wit that Conan Doyle’s readers would expect. But we care about his responses, as we care about Proust’s, because of all the other words they wrote. And lest we get caught up in questionnaires, let us not forget that Swann’s Way, the first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, turns one hundred this year.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.