The so-called Proust Questionnaire circulates in a number of variably authentic versions. I filled out one of them earlier this year, having forgotten that I filled out a different version a decade earlier. It turns out that most of the questions overlap, so I thought it might be interesting to compare my answers:
What is your most marked characteristic?
• In 2005: curiosity
• In 2015: determination—and, I hope, fairness
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
• In 2005: impatience
• In 2015: the same
What do you most value in your friends?
• In 2005: kindness and warmth
• In 2015: patience
What is the quality you most like in a man?
• In 2005: the ability to argue without becoming angry
• In 2015: kindness
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
• In 2005: a sense of the absurd
• In 2015: kindness
What is it that you most dislike?
• In 2005: smugness. “I detest a man who knows that he knows” (Justice Holmes)
• In 2015: any species of ideology, secular or religious, that issues in mass murder
Which talent would you most like to have?
• In 2005: I wish I could dance like Fred Astaire. (I wish I could walk like Fred Astaire.) Failing that, I wish I could play drums like Dave Tough
• In 2015: I wish that I could play piano like Nat Cole and/or dance like Fred Astaire
What is your favorite occupation?
• In 2005: conversation with a loved one over a good meal
• In 2015: writing—but when I’m engaged in it, I’m not conscious of enjoying myself
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
• In 2005: the same as my favorite occupation, minus the meal and in closer proximity
• In 2015: rehearsing a show
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
• In 2005: Siegfried
• In 2015: sitting through any opera by Philip Glass
Where would you like to live?
• In 2005: America, in the Fifties
• In 2015: Florida’s Sanibel Island
Who are your favorite writers?
• In 2005: Johnson, Trollope, Dostoevsky, James, Conrad, Fitzgerald, Colette, Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, M.F.K. Fisher
• In 2015: Kingsley Amis, the Boswell of the Life of Johnson, Colette, Edwin Denby, M.F.K. Fisher, Justice Holmes, A.J. Liebling, John P. Marquand, Somerset Maugham, Flannery O’Connor, Anthony Powell, Dawn Powell, I.B. Singer, Trollope, Waugh. For entertainment: Patrick O’Brian, Rex Stout, Donald Westlake, P.G. Wodehouse
Who are your favorite poets?
• In 2005: Shakespeare, Dickinson, Hardy, Frost, Yeats, Auden, Larkin
• In 2015: Anna Akhmatova, Dickinson, Frost, Hardy, Larkin, Shakespeare, Yeats
Who is your favorite male character in fiction?
• In 2005: Father Hugh Kennedy, in Edwin O’Connor’s The Edge of Sadness. Runner-up: Lucky Jim Dixon
• In 2015: Hugh Moreland in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time
Who is your favorite female character?
• In 2005: Vicky Haven in Dawn Powell’s A Time to Be Born
• In 2015: the same
What are your favorite names?
• In 2005: Anne, Ali, Erin, Heather, Kate, Laura, Libby, Tanaquil (all accented on the first syllable, for what it’s worth)
• In 2015: Emily, Julia, Laura
What is your present state of mind?
• In 2005: frazzled but expectant
• In 2015: distracted and somewhat anxious
How do you wish to die?
• In 2005: in a state of grace, after having seen my last, best book through the press
• In 2015: with sufficient presence of mind to mutter “So here it is at last, the distinguished thing!”
What is your motto?
• In 2005: “Be generous and delicate and pursue the prize” (Henry James). Alternate motto for especially hectic days: “If there’s no alternative, there’s no problem” (James Burnham)
• In 2015: “If there’s no alternative, there’s no problem”
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Fred Astaire plays drums in A Damsel in Distress, directed by George Stevens in 1937. The song is “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” by George and Ira Gershwin, and the dance was choreographed by Astaire and Hermes Pan. This scene was shot in a single continuous take: