Thursday, March 24, 2022

On Confession Albums, The Proust Questionnaire, and Arthur Conan Doyle

On Confession Albums, The Proust Questionnaire, and Arthur Conan Doyle

Confession albums were all the rage in the late 1800s. Books of the like contained a set of formulated questions to be answered and maybe compared against your own other books of similarly formulated questions and answers--and perhaps, also meant to be exchanged amongst partakers in a sort of parlor game atmosphere. To be clear, many published examples exist, made up of different questions. Although for the most part, they seem fairly similar at the least. Too, there are books of a more 'specialty' bent, a la courting.

The most famous of these is perhaps the Proust Questionnaire, named so not because Proust wrote the questions, but on account of the fact that he answered them*. In fact, it would seem all these confessions albums (or books) are called Proust Questionnaires these days, and they are still popular as a form of a celebrity interview, particularly within the pages of Vanity Fair. More interesting to me, however, is another answerer, one Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Below, I will share his Q&A and include some of my thoughts thereafter.

Your favourite virtue?

Your favourite qualities in man?

Your favourite qualities in woman?

Your favourite occupation?

Your chief characteristic?
I really don't know.

Your idea of happiness?
Time well filled

Your idea of misery?
Nothing to do.

Your favorite colour and flower?
Quite impartial

If not yourself, who would you be?
[Illegible crossed-out response] then (hope this is clear)

Where would you like to live?

Your favourite poets?

Your favourite painters and composers?
No strong opinions

Your favourite heroes in real life?
Men who do their duty without fuss.

Your favourite heroines in real life?

Your favourite heroes in fiction?
No strong preference.

Your favourite heroines in fiction?
Margaret in "Cloister + Hearth" [The Cloister and the Hearth]

Your favourite food and drink?
Anything when hungry--nothing when not.

Your favorite names?
'A good horse never had a bad name'

Your pet aversion?

What characters in history do you most dislike?
Very tolerant to them all.

What is your present state of mind?

For what fault have you most toleration?
All of them--except [I cannot make out the rest]

Your favourite motto?
"Hope for the best--prepare for the worst"


As I wrote above, [I cannot make out the rest] of that one response.

... but perhaps you can, as below I indicate where a copy of Doyle's handwritten responses can be viewed. Whilst Doyle does play it as close to the cuff as his taciturn Barker character in Holmesian canon, there could well be a thing of some insight. I took great pains (define 'great,' I know) in including full stops where and how Doyle did so. Note then, that not all of his answers carry a period. My take on this is a more definite/definitive response gets that full stop or period punctuational treatment.

So then perhaps "Jaded." is to be taken more seriously or weightily than "Quite impartial" seeing as jaded is an excellent way to view his overall responses with their aborted manner and, furthermore, an included period would be subconsciously redundant in the latter. Of note too, along those lines is "No strong preference." to the question of Heroes in fiction? The fact he full stops that response could speak to even his own creation of Sherlock Holmes finding little favor in his eyes; as we certainly know to be the case.

Note his answers are marked October 28th 1899 (if I read that correctly) and thus fall during The Great Hiatus, when he refused to write more adventures after killing Holmes off in The Final Problem (1893) and prior to The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901) begrudging return. Particularly note that when held against his answer of "Margaret in "Cloister + Hearth" to the same question in re heroines. Also, his "No strong opinions" response to Your favourite painters and composers? gets no punctuation, because he perhaps unlike in the other similar case--really does not have any opinion.

Really, an interesting way to re-read these responses is to bear their punctuation in mind. Try it, now that you have the opportunity to do so because OF COURSE you read them once already to have arrived here. On a final and less serious note, as if any of these notes are serious, "A good horse never had a bad name" and its lack of full stop is to me an indication of Doyle channeling his inner Nostradamus in foretelling the arrival of the "permanent but inadvertent" misspelling of the 2015 Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup Classic winner American Pharoah, not pharaoh. Will this great man's accomplishments never cease?!

::: very :::

* There are two known Proust confession books. He filled one out in 1886 and the other in 1890. They do differ in terms of questions. The current VF version is different again.

Online sources for this article include: Slate (The Vault) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Wants Nothing To Do With Your Proust Questionaire (you can read his answers there), in turn, The Harry Ransom Center | Wikipedia (Confession album), Wikipedia (American Pharoah), Wikipedia (Proust Questionnaire), Vanity Fair.