Marcel Proust Fills Out a Questionnaire in 1890: The Manuscript of the ‘Proust Questionnaire’


Mar­cel Proust, the author of the great mod­ernist work À la recherche du temps per­du (Remem­brance of Things Past), was the very def­i­n­i­tion of the sen­si­tive artist. Per­pet­u­al­ly bat­tling bouts of depres­sion and ill health, Proust lived at home with his par­ents until their deaths. Though he became a recluse lat­er in life, sleep­ing by day and writ­ing fever­ish­ly at night, he poured his soul into his epic nov­el, detail­ing his strug­gles in a man­ner that has con­nect­ed deeply with gen­er­a­tions of read­ers. Proust has become over the years an icon of artis­tic sin­cer­i­ty.

In the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, the con­fes­sion book was all the rage in Eng­land. It asked read­ers to answer a series of per­son­al ques­tions designed to reveal their inner char­ac­ters. In 1890, Proust, still a teenag­er, took this ques­tion­naire, answer­ing the ques­tions with frank sin­cer­i­ty. The orig­i­nal man­u­script was uncov­ered in 1924, two years after Proust’s death, and in 2003, it was auc­tioned off for rough­ly $130,000. You can see the orig­i­nal 1890 man­u­script above and, if your French isn’t up to snuff, we have a trans­la­tion below.

Many decades lat­er, French TV host Bernard Piv­ot start­ed using this exact type of ques­tion­naire to inter­view thinkers, lead­ers and celebri­ties. It proved to be a great device for get­ting a glimpse into the inner work­ings of a star’s mind. James Lip­ton adapt­ed the ques­tion­naire for his own show, Inside the Actors Stu­dio (watch above), while mis­at­tribut­ing its ori­gins to Proust. Nonethe­less, the name ‘The Proust Ques­tion­naire” stuck. The quiz is also a reg­u­lar fea­ture in the mag­a­zine Van­i­ty Fair. You can read the respons­es from the likes of Rachel Mad­dow, Har­ri­son Ford and Louis CK, whose answers read like an exten­sion of his stand up rou­tine. And if you’re eager to take the test your­self, you can do so here.

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.

The qual­i­ty that I desire in a man:
Man­ly virtues, and frank­ness in friend­ship.

The qual­i­ty that I desire in a woman:
Fem­i­nine charms.

Your chief char­ac­ter­is­tic:
[Left Blank]

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.

My main fault:
Not know­ing, not being able to “want”.

My favorite occu­pa­tion:

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.

What would be my great­est mis­for­tune?
Not to have known my moth­er or my grand­moth­er.

What I should like to be:
Myself, as the peo­ple whom I admire would like me to be.

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.

My favorite col­or:
The beau­ty is not in the col­ors, but in their har­mo­ny.

My favorite bird:
The swal­low.

My favorite prose authors:
Cur­rent­ly, Ana­tole France and Pierre Loti.

My favorite poets:
Baude­laire and Alfred de Vigny.

My heroes in fic­tion:

My favorite hero­ines in fic­tion.

My favorite com­posers:
Beethoven, Wag­n­er, Schu­mann.

My favorite painters:
Leonar­do da Vin­ci, Rem­brandt.

My heroes in real life:
Mr. Dar­lu, Mr. Boutroux.

My hero­ines in his­to­ry:

My favorite names:
I only have one at a time.

What I hate most of all:
What is bad about me.

His­tor­i­cal fig­ures that I despise the most:
I am not edu­cat­ed enough.

The mil­i­tary event that I admire most:
My mil­i­tary ser­vice!

The gift of nature that I would like to have:
Will-pow­er, and seduc­tive­ness.

How I want to die:
Improved—and loved.

My present state of mind:
Bore­dom from hav­ing thought about myself to answer all these ques­tions.

Faults for which I have the most indul­gence:
Those that I under­stand.

My mot­to:
I should be too afraid that it bring me mis­for­tune.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Supreme Court Jus­tice Stephen Brey­er Dis­cuss­es His Love for Read­ing Proust, and Why “Lit­er­a­ture is Cru­cial to Any Democ­ra­cy”

Watch Mon­ty Python’s “Sum­ma­rize Proust Com­pe­ti­tion” on the 100th Anniver­sary of Swann’s Way

Lis­ten­ing to Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past, (Maybe) the Longest Audio Book Ever Made

Free eBooks: Read All of Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past on the Cen­ten­ni­al of Swann’s Way

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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Comments (6)
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  • sand says:

    proust took this ques­tion­naire twice. i think the one in the pho­to is the first ques­tion­naire (1885–1886), while the trans­lat­ed answers refer to the sec­ond one (1891–1892).

  • Antoine Delval says:

    Hem. There is a huge mis­take with 2 answers. :
    “The qual­i­ty that I desire in a man:
    Man­ly virtues, and frank­ness in friend­ship.”
    “The qual­i­ty that I desire in a woman:
    Fem­i­nine charms.”

    Proust actu­al­ly answered the first ques­tion with “Fem­i­nine charms.”, and the sec­ond one with “Man­ly virtues and frank­ness in friend­ship.”, not the oth­er way round. Please cor­rect that. :)

  • luciledesligneres says:

    Agree with Sand… the pic­ture and its text do not have much in com­mon with the trans­la­tion giv­en!

  • Caution says:

    The author of this arti­cle can­not read French. The text he “trans­lates” is not the text on the pic­ture! What we see here is the ques­tion­naire that Proust answered to in 1885–1886, when he was a teenag­er (14 or 15). His tastes are not per­son­al, they reflect the “bour­geois” cul­ture of his par­ents: Goun­od, Mozart, George Sand, even Meis­sonier (a real­ist painter)!

  • B N Venugopala says:

    Hey all out there! I like all your comments…basically because I don’t know any­thing about Proust…But I can tell you about Tagore..he is an Indi­an.. he wrote our nation­al know? he is a great poet and son­neteer. he is from bengali…and so on

  • Penelope Sky says:

    Where I can I fill out my own ques­tion­naire?

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