Victorian ‘Confessions’: memes without blogs

LJ memes, I discovered today, have a pen-and-paper forerunner from the 19th century. ‘Confessions’ were series of meme-like questions (‘your favourite book?’, ‘your greatest regret?’) — often in book form, so you could inflict the questionnaire on multiple friends and collate the answers.

Sadly, the only online traces I can find are from when Famous People got involved. Marx’s daughters liked them, so we have a set of answers from daddy, and another from an impressively bad-tempered Engels. Vanity Fair doggedly maintains one once answered by Proust, and Mark Twain* was typically caustic about a printed variation on the theme.

All those examples are fairly dull, to be honest. But there must be thousands more buried in obscure archives, and among them presumably some with interesting questions and/or answers. It’d be a nice small project for somebody to dig a few out, transcribe them, and reanimate them for the web. Think of it as the meme equivalent of Jurassic Park.

Also: ‘asking friends a list of questions’ is the kind of fad that must have been tried in lots of different contexts. What other forms did it take, in other times and places?

* Mark Twain:

Nothing could induce me to fill those blanks but the asseveration of my pastor that it will benefit my race by enabling young people to see what I am, and giving them an opportunity to become like somebody else. This overcomes my scruples. I hâve but little character, but what I hâve I am willing to part with for the public good.

[further teleological Victoriana: readthroughs, wargames]

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