The Proust Questionnaire is now best known as the back page of Vanity Fair, but it originated in the 19th Century. The verbose French author Marcel Proust has become synonymous with what was then known as a Confession Album.
The more literary predecessor of the Slam Book, the Confession Album was all the rage among the English aristocracy in the 1880s. Like the Myers-Briggs personality test today, the Confession Album sought to reveal the hidden desires and character of the taker.
Marcel Proust first unveiled his inner workings while a teenager in an English-language Confession Album belonging to his friend Antoinette––daughter of the future French president Félix Faure––in 1885 or 1886, although his answers were in French. The title of the album is in keeping with the prolific author: “An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, etc.” A few years later, in 1881 or 1882, Proust responded to a French-language Confession Album named Les confidences de salon (“Drawing room confessions”). The later version omitted several questions from the English questionnaire and added others.
The original manuscript of Proust’s French confessions was discovered in 1924, which he had entitled “by Marcel Proust himself,” and was auctioned in 2003 for over 100,000 Euros. In 1975, the French broadcaster Bernard Pivot, host of the long-running and popular talk-show Apostrophes devoted to authors and literatures, began asking his interviewees to answer the Proust Questionnaire. Following Pivot’s lead, James Lipton the host of the US television program Inside the Actor’s Studio adapted the Proust Questionnaire for his guests.
In 2009, Vanity Fair launched an online interactive Proust Questionnaire so that its readers could compare their answers with leading luminaries and intellectuals. Click here to see how your answers compare with top celebrities!
The Madeleine Project is dedicated to bringing readers together with established and up-and-coming authors and publishing professionals through the Proust Questionnaire.