A young soldier, de Maistre engaged in an illegal duel, and as punishment, was placed under house arrest in Turin, seeing only the servant who brought his meals (and dressed him and made his bed—quite decadent.) It was during this confinement to just his own room that de Maistre wrote this love letter to his surroundings. Likely an attempt to thwart boredom and unhappiness at his situation, his writings were a whimsical travel diary of his close quarters, published by his brother in 1794 as Voyage Autour de ma Chambre.
The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives has a beautiful copy of the 2007 Arion Press edition of Journey Round My Room, as a part of the recent gift to the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library from collector Dr. Ronnyjane Goldsmith. The book is bound in pink and white cloth, a nod to the “agreeable” rose-colored surroundings of de Maistre himself. Ross Anderson contributed more than a dozen ghostly photographs of a generic room, using a low-resolution cell phone, and printed in gray tones on translucent paper.
Of particular note for the Smithsonian’s copy is the limited special edition’s housing—a 3-dimensional apartment for the viewer to “journey” through, via portholes along the sides. Similar to a shadowbox, inside is a small white model, and each peephole allows a restricted viewing of the tiniest doors, windows, and walls of de Maistre’s imagined rooms. The cover forms the “ceiling”, made of translucent plexiglass that allows diffused light to make interesting shadows on the halls and doorways. Only 30 of the edition with this special box were created, designed by Anderson, himself an architect. The work adds to the Smithsonian’s collection of American fine press publications and is an amazing example of creativity in bookbinding.
De Maistre’s reflections during a period of solitude provide a timely addition to our own, a strangely prescient reminder to take joy in simple observations, and that there are many ways to travel, not the least of which is through one’s imagination.