78. Journey Round My Room, by Xavier de Maistre
More about Xavier de Maistre and the book
Xavier de Maistre left the Sardinian military service after the annexation of Savoy to France in 1792. He became an officer in the Russian army, eventually rising to the rank of general, marrying a Russian woman, and living most of the rest of his life in St. Petersburg. While he was an accomplished painter of miniatures and wrote a few other books, likewise small in dimension if not in ambition, it is the voyage he undertook while his movements were restricted that has gained him a lasting place on the bookshelves of arm-chair travellers.
Though the manuscript was written in 1790, de Maistre added a chapter (xxxii) in 1794, the year his older brother Joseph arranged for its publication. Voyage autour de ma Chambre was an immediate and sustained success. It takes influence from Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and carries its influence forward to Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet, and even unto the present. Xavier was emboldened to write a sequel, Expédition nocturne, that was published in 1825. A Nocturnal Expedition Round My Room is entertaining; however, we chose to print only his first excursion in this edition.
The translation from the French in the Arion edition draws upon those of Henry Attwell, 1871, and Edmund Goldsmid, 1885.
In The Washington Post, critic Michael Dirda comments, “Confined to his quarters for 42 days as punishment for dueling, de Maistre would thrillingly confront the ordinary objects around him—and really see them for the first time. As he proved to himself, ‘The perceptions of the mind, the sensations of the heart, the very memories of the senses, are inexhaustible sources of pleasure and happiness for man.’”
The portrait etching of Xavier de Maistre shown above appeared in the 1901 Houghton Mifflin edition, printed at the Riverside Press and designed by Bruce Rogers.
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