Thursday , September 24 2020
How would you answer these questions? Revealing truths from a 19th century Paris parlor game.

Book Review: Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire edited by Graydon Carter

How would you answer these questions?

  • What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  • When and where were you happiest?
  • What is your current state of mind?

That’s the task Vanity Fair put to 101 luminaries, in Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire. The responses may surprise you. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter must have had great fun choosing the celebrities to include. Because we know of these people, their responses are especially revealing.

This questionnaire originated as a 19th century parlor game among young Marcel Proust’s contemporaries. While he didn’t develop the questionnaire, Proust did fill it out age 14 and again at age 20. He published his answers in an 1892 article titled” “Salon Confidences written by Marcel.” As Vanity Fair has been asking these questions since 1993, this new collection gives us an inside look at some of the lofty goals and reveals insecurities among today’s celebrities. And it’s a great way to pass the time!

Among my favorites:

  • Author Margaret Atwood regrets not becoming an opera singer.
  • Nora Ephron deplores her inability to resist a questionnaire.
  • Maureen Dowd‘s greatest regret is lipstick traces.
  • Eric Clapton would like to die while fishing.
  • Bette Midler’s most treasured possession is her sanity, although she’d like to have the ability to read a spreadsheet.

The addictive list of questions is printed in the back of Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire for you to fill out. Now in the 21st century, it would be fun to use it with friends, and see how much our focus and values have changed today. Lipstick traces and wishes for a peaceful death, or “an empty house and a good book” as Midler said, would probably still rank high on the list.

Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire is a pop-culture treasure and includes Robert Risko’s amazing full-page color caricatures of these notable celebrities.

About Helen Gallagher

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