19th-century meme

You know those questionnaires that get circulated through the blogosphere, a list of questions (about likes and dislikes and such) that you're supposed to answer and then pass along to others?

Turns out the idea's been around a lot longer than I thought:

At the end of the nineteenth century, when Proust was still in his teens, he discovered a questionnaire in an English-language album belonging to his friend Antoinette[...], entitled "An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, etc." At that time, it was a fad among wealthy English families to answer such a list of questions that revealed the tastes and aspirations of the taker.

--Wikipedia article on Proust Questionnaire

I should note that the article is entirely unsourced, so I have no idea whether that line about it having been a fad is true or not.

Apparently Vanity Fair regularly runs celebrity answers to a similar questionnaire, and the TV show Inside the Actors Studio asks guests an allegedly related but entirely different set of questions.

Still, I'm intrigued by the idea that a hundred and some years ago, relatively ordinary people were passing around this kind of questionnaire, and now it's happening again online. Is it a continuous tradition? Have people been doing this all along, on paper and in email and such? Or is it a revival? And how far back does the idea go? Did Jane Austen write up her meme answers and send them to friends? Did Shakespeare?

4 Responses to “19th-century meme”

  1. Farah

    I’m fairly sure it turns up in _What Katy Did at School_ and I’ve certainly come across it in 1910s girls’ school stories.

  2. Anonymous

    I found lots of them in J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys, and had the same reaction you did. Looks like Barrie and Proust were roughly contemporary.

  3. Debbie N.

    The comment above (about Barrie) was me; I thought I had signed in.

  4. I Am The Kermix

    Don’t know much about history, but there were variations on the “Slam Book” when I was in high school in the late 1980s/early 1990s, so it’s entirely possible they got the idea passed down from their grandparents’ grandparents.


Join the Conversation