Here’s a short work for anyone’s lockdown. In the spring of 1790, Xavier de Maistre (1763-1852) was placed under house arrest for six weeks.
His crime? Duelling in Turin. The 27-year-old had to think of something to occupy himself, so turned his bedroom into an imaginative playground.
A Journey Around My Room
"In many a deep author of wisdom quite sublime, I've read that too much travelling is an utter waste of time." Vert-Vert
The brilliant Alma Books here in the UK alerted us to this. It’s mightily apt right now as we’ve just had three months of lockdown due to the pandemic.
Things were a tad different in 1790, as the Frenchman de Maistre (from Chambéry) didn’t have the modern luxuries we all now enjoy. Yes, no YouTube. Horror!
And that’s one of the main reasons we bought A Journey Around My Room (1794). With so many adults here complaining of boredom, how did one 27-year-old occupy himself for six weeks without modern entertainment forms?
Well, Voyage Autour de ma Chambre plays out like a fantasy novel. But it’s heavily grounded in the author’s experiences stuck in a dinky bedroom.
The Concept of Room-Travel
He begins by boasting about the cheap nature of his journey, gleefully rubbing it in the noses of those spending a fortune travelling around.
“I could start to sing the praises of my journey by saying that it cost me nothing; and this fact deserves to be pointed out. It means that it will straight away be lauded and fêted by those of middling wealth; and there is another class of men with whom it will be even more popular, for this same reason that is costs nothing. ‘And who can they be?’ Ah, you mean you have to ask? Rich people, of course!”
The writer’s brother, Joseph, qualified the work wasn’t intended to mock the wealthy or brave explorers like Ferdinand Magellan (see Over the Edge of the World).
It was, of course, to point out Xavier de Maistre’s concept of tourism was a fiscally beneficial technique for everyone (except the brave or rich).
All rather tongue-in-cheek. But, regardless, the book did invent the concept of room-travel.
“Thousands of people who, before I came along, had never dared to travel, and others who hadn’t been able to, and yet others who’d never even dreamt of travelling, will be emboldened to do so by my example. Would even the most indolent of men hesitate to set off with me to obtain a pleasure that will cost him neither effort nor money?”
With its youthful hedonism and flights of fancy, the small work showcases an imaginative tour of de Maistre’s:
- Outfits (such as his pyjamas)
- Thoughts, feelings, and machinations
- Whimsical and poetic musings
There’s also de Maistre’s pet dog and his butler (the writer’s cheeky personality appears to come about from some privilege), his only company for six weeks.
Other than that, it was all down to his brain.
We’ve found ourselves at the mercy of another lockdown in similarly confined quarters. We live in a small (if lovely) flat here in Manchester city centre.
But we have blogging, juggling, YouTube, video games, and we can actually leave the flat once a day if we want.
For de Maistre, it was house arrest. And he used the opportunity to poke fun at society, whilst showing off his ready wit.
Tourism From Your Bedroom
As bizarre as it may sound, the book does fit into the travel literature genre.
Sure, de Maistre doesn’t exactly travel very far. His bedroom was small. But his imagination was vast!
Mundanities are no blockade for anyone with a sense of creativity. And with his literary mind and fine prose, he delivered an exquisite piece of writing.
You can sense a type of grand farce to proceedings as well, but it’s subtle and often obscured by de Maistre’s evocative and romantic nature.
There’s also that lingering humour. The writer recommended room-travel to the poor, anyone afraid of storms, robbers, or high cliffs.
But it’s also evocative and full of loving asides to the things he loves about his room. His bed, for example, and the sleep he enjoys in it.
It’s a celebration of your personal space. No matter what it is, even if it’s a dingy 10ft by 10ft bedroom.
It’s yours and you have the joys of solitude there.
Sentiments backed up in another book we read recently. Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector.
“She had for the first time in her life the most precious thing of all: solitude. She had a room all to herself. She could hardly believe that all this space was hers. And not a word was heard. So she danced in an act of absolute courage, since her aunt couldn’t hear her.”
Creativity in Confined Quarters
We’ll conclude by saying A Journey Around My Room is an impressive work.
A telling one, too. The writer’s sense of positivity is infectious. He turned a six-week house arrest sentence into his most famous work (it was a hit when first published).
And we think of 231 years later and some people are annoyed because they’re watched everything available on Netflix.
We know everyone’s circumstances have been different during this last year. Self-isolation isn’t an easy task for everyone.
But for those of us fortuitous enough to have our health and income unaffected, to mope about complaining of boredom merely show a total lack of imagination.
Only boring people get bored! Lockdown may be coming to an end (maybe), but if not then take the next opportunity to do something outstanding.
At the very least, do a bit of room-travel. You never know what lost loves you may rediscover.