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Sterne and Sterneana : Voyage autour de ma chambre

Maistre, Xavier de 1763-1852

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p> This volume, published in 1797 in Paris by Savoyard author and military man Xavier de Maistre (1763-1852), is evidence of the thriving interest in, and popularity of, Sterne and his works in France, following the first translations into French of <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> in 1769 and <i>Tristram Shandy</i> from 1776. <i>Voyage autour de ma chambre</i> was first drafted in 1790, when de Maistre was stationed in Turin as part of a counter-Revolutionary army in the wake of the French Revolution. During this period, de Maistre was placed under house arrest for a period of 42 days for his participation in an illegal duel, and took the opportunity to compose his text which records a journey around the <i>chambre</i>, or room, in which he must spend his imprisonment. The author, however, judged the novella to be of poor merit, and it was not published until several years later when his elder brother Joseph discovered it. With his encouragement and support, plus several additions and edits, the first edition of <i>Voyage</i> was printed in Lausanne in 1795.</p><p>De Maistre's narrative builds upon the 'sentimental journey' mode established by Sterne and imitated in the French trend of 'voyages sentimentaux' (such as Vernes <i>Le voyageur sentimental</i> (Oates.499) or Gorjy's <i>Nouveau voyage sentimental</i> (Oates.493)) which appeared in the wake of Frénais' translation of the <i>Journey</i> into French in 1769. Like Sterne, de Maistre riffs on the eighteenth-century vogue for travel literature to offer us a novel type of journeying based in subjective experience, rather than external observation. As Sterne's Parson Yorick meanders across France, his journey is shaped and enriched by the encounters with people he meets along the way. Yet de Maistre's 'journey' is restricted to the parameters of his thirty-six pace bedroom. Isolated from the outside world, the narrator's journey is instead defined by the objects he comes across as he travels around his room. He revisits objects as ostensibly banal as a table or bedspread with a 'de-familiarising' gaze, which allows him to view them anew. Thus endowed with a new creative and explorative potential, these objects initiate imaginative flights of fancy to past memories and experiences, philosophical musings and fantastical visions. These incursions into the narrator's emotions, thoughts and memories enable a greater familiarity with his interior psychic landscape, alongside his external environment.</p><p> Whilst the text transposes the structural and generic framework of <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>, it also adapts other characteristic stylistic and thematic features from Sterne's oeuvre as a whole. De Maistre admired Sterne as a writer and his text directly references Sterne's works through allusions to Uncle Toby's hobbyhorse (p. 70) and to Tristram's Jenny (p. 65 & p. 98). De Maistre's narrator adopts Tristram's digressive style to 'zig-zag' (p. 14) through his text by practising a Sternean associative logic. The narrator continually disrupts his text with interpolated tales, anecdotal interruptions and metatextual commentary. Yet at the same time as his narration's advancement ostensibly stalls, the narrator's physical journey around his room continues, cleverly literalising Tristram's paradox of being both 'progressive' and 'digressive'. De Maistre also engages in a convivial author-reader dialectic similar to the familiar relationship which Tristram establishes with his imaginary readers. The narrator employs metatextual elements to remind the readers of the processes of reading and writing, whilst playing on the juxtapositions between real, narrated and reading time.</p><p> The narrative is underlaid by the boredom and sexual frustration the narrator feels during his imprisonment. <i>Voyage</i> emulates the erotic tension of Sterne's texts by gesturing towards moments of heightened sexuality, which are never fully realised. The text performs a characteristically Sternean bathos by oscillating between fantasy and reality, freedom and restraint, to a climax in which de Maistre falls backwards off his chair (pp. 83-6). Visually, de Maistre adopts Sterne's liberal use of dashes to link ideas and facilitate progressive movement through his text. But de Maistre also produces a new typographical trick in Chapter XII (p. 38) (a chapter made up of dashes and the two words 'le tertre' [the hillock]) in which dashes simultaneously obstruct, and replace, language to hide and censor a potentially erotic scene between the narrator and his lover, Rosalie. In the printed text of this early edition, the dashes' boldness and proximity simulate a roadblock in our journey through the narrative, an effect lost in later editions which replace these dashes with spaced dots. This particular edition also features a frontispiece with an image of de Maistre's 'jeune bergère' [young shepherdess] (pp. 67-9), evoking the popular imagery of Sterne's Maria and the Bourbonnais Shepherd.</p><p> Beyond Sterne, the novella is contextualised by its contemporary moment and national background. The narrative is framed by the narrator's philosophical conception of the 'âme' and the 'bête', a system of mind bifurcation between a more virtuous and intellectual self (âme), and an earthly and sensual one (bête), both of which are simultaneously independent and intrinsically linked. <i>Voyage</i>'s new philosophical system reveals how the text relates to eighteenth-century 'siècle des Lumières' philosophies, which looked to move beyond Cartesian dualities of mind/body to consider the self in more complex ways. In addition, <i>Voyage</i> reflects de Maistre's personal and political opinions on contemporary concerns, showcasing both a strong anti-Revolutionary and a humanitarian message, rejecting violence (a disjunction perhaps with de Maistre's soldierly role) and advocating charity and kindness.</p><p> De Maistre adopts Sterne as an experimentalist, and re-purposes him into the national and political context of post-Revolutionary France. His travelling metaphor encourages his reader to be imaginative and creative, and to adventure beyond traditional methods of narration, reading and writing. A sequel, <i>Expédition nocturne autour de ma chambre</i>, begun by de Maistre in <i>circa</i> 1800, was eventually published in 1825, and applies much of the same structures and concepts. His texts met widespread acclaim both with his contemporaries and with successive generations and have produced a range of Maistre-ana. De Maistre's success throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century testifies to a continued French interest in Sternean experimentation, and textual and narrative play, through the medium of adaptation and -ana.</p><p>Laura Sadler</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Asfour, Lana, <i>Laurence Sterne in France</i> (London: Continuum, 2008)</p><p>de Maistre, Xavier, <i>Oeuvres Complètes du Comte Xavier de Maistre</i> (Paris: Charpentier, 1858)</p><p>de Maistre, Xavier, <i>Voyage autour de ma chambre</i> (Paris, Éditions Flammarion, 2003)</p><p>Bandry, Anne, 'Romantic to Avant-Garde: Sterne in Nineteenth - and Twentieth-Century France', in <i>The Reception of Laurence Sterne in Europe</i>, ed. by John Neubauer and Peter de Voogd (London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004), pp. 32-67</p><p>Koos, Leonard R., 'The Adventure of Staying Home in Xavier de Maistre's "Voyage Autour de Ma Chambre"', <i>Romance Notes</i>, 41.2 (2001), 291-99</p><p>Pickford, Susan, <i>Le Voyage Excentrique: Jeux Textuels et Paratextuels Dans l'anti-Récit de Voyage, 1760-1850</i> (ENS Éditions, 2018)</p><p>Stiegler, Bernd, <i>Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel</i> (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013)</p><p><b>Some examples of Maistre-ana through the years</b></p><p>Rheims, Marcus, <i>Nouveau Voyage Autour De Ma Chambre</i> (Brunswick: Chez P. F. Fauche et Compagnie, 1797)</p><p>Perin, René, <i>Le voyage autour de ma chambre: vaudeville en un acte</i> (Chez Fagès, 1803)</p><p>Karr, Alphonse, <i>Voyage autour de mon Jardin</i> (Paris: L. Curmer, V. Lecou, 1851)</p><p>Bérard, Antoine, <i>Voyage autour de ma chambre à bulles</i> (Paris: Éditions ARCAM, 1979)</p><p>Pirotte, Jean-Claude, <i>Expédition nocturne autour de ma cave</i> (Éditions Stock, 2006)</p></p>

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