25th Trillium Award

The Proust Questionnaire, with Tom Darby

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Tom Darby (photo credit: Chris Wightman)

Ottawa writer and Carleton University professor Tom Darby has just published his first novel, Disorderly Notions, a wide-ranging romp of a tale that shares "the intricate detail and unifying qualities of John Irving, with Pat Conroy?s deep-rooted appreciation for the American South" (Iguana Books). Iguana Books is a new publisher on the scene, dedicated to publishing quality ebooks in all genres.

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Tom Darby tells us about shrimping on the Georgia coast, the owl, Willie Nelson and much more.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.


What is your dream of happiness?
To know ones destiny and to act it out.

What is your idea of misery?
To live an unchallenged and unfulfilled life.

Where would you like to live?
Ottawa is home but Manhattan would be my next choice. After that perhaps Rome or, in better times, Greece. I know Greece well, as I?ve been there many times.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Energy, intelligence, loyalty and courage.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
The same ones that I admire in men.

What is your chief characteristic?
Optimism and steadfastness.

What is your principal fault?

What is your greatest extravagance?

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Doing the wrong things for the right reasons.

What do you value most about your friends?

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Laziness, intolerance, ignorance.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
My inability to efficiently operate my computer.

What is your favourite virtue?

What is your favourite occupation?

What would you like to be?
Well, if I were not myself, which I prefer to remain, it might be nice being a jungle cat — perhaps a lion or maybe a leopard. I do like house cats — I have two fine ones — but they are too tame and eating cat food, mice, birds and frogs lacks challenge. But to make the answer simple, I could enjoy being a shrimper on the Georgia coast, near where I grew up.

What is your favourite colour?

What is your favourite flower?

What is your favourite bird?
The owl, the noble and mysterious night hunter and the ancient symbol of wisdom.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Martin Luther King.

What character in history do you most dislike?
Contest here between Hitler, Stalin and Mao.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Plato, Faulkner, Hemingway, O?Conner, Davies, McCarthy, Banks.

Who are your favourite poets?
Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Blake, Yates, Eliot, Aiken, Tate, Roethke.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Plato?s Socrates, King Lear, Falstaff, Don Quixote, Faust, Huck Finn, Willie Stark, Boy Stanton.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Plato, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Leonardo, Goya, Hegel, Lincoln, Nietzsche, Churchill, F.D.R., M.L.K.

Who is your favourite painter?
Leonardo, Goya and Modigliani.

Who is your favourite musician?
Bach and Willie Nelson.

What is your favourite food?
Anything Italian.

What is your favourite drink?
Red wine.

What are your favourite names?
Solid no-nonsense ones.

What is it you most dislike?
Racial bigotry and other forms of political and religious ignorance and fanaticism.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
To be able to paint.

How do you want to die?

What is your current state of mind?

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Since I can?t take full credit for my wife and children, it would be teaching and writing philosophy for over three decades and writing fiction.

What is your motto?
Since there is no way to improve upon it: "know thyself."


Tom Darby, who has spent most of his adult life in Canada, was born in Vidalia, a town in Southeast Georgia known for its onions. He is a professor at Carleton University and has published extensively in political philosophy and related fields, including the philosophy of technology and architectural theory. An Ontario Arts Grant recipient, Tom currently lives in Ottawa with his wife, dog and two cats. Disorderly Notions is his first novel.

For more information about Disorderly Notions and to buy this book in hardcopy or in its ebook edition, please visit the Iguana Books website.

Check back for more Proust Questionnaires with Canada's literati in this latest series of interviews on Open Book.

1 comment

Darby always liked to remind his students that they were lucky to have lived in a time when they could read Plato and Nietzsche together. While true, they are also profoundly lucky to have been able to read (and, perhaps more importantly, hear) Darby.

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