Xavier de Maistre lived mostly as a military man, fighting in France and Russia around the turn of the 19th century. In 1790 a duel he participated in led him to be put under arrest in Turin; during his confinement in a tiny chamber, he wrote his most famous work, “A Journey Round My Room.”
“Journey” is a short story written as a parody of the grand travelogues popular at the time. He frames his six weeks’ confinement as a long journey across the unknown land of his room, visiting the furniture, the paintings on the wall, and even venturing to the north side. De Maistre didn’t hold the work in very high regard, but after his brother had it published in 1794 it became a fast success, eventually calling for a sequel (“A Night Journey Round My Room”), and warranting allusions in fiction by writers like D. H. Lawrence, Wilkie Collins, W. Somerset Maugham, and Jorge Luis Borges.
The rest of his literary corpus is modest, and consists entirely of short works. “The Leper of the City of Aosta” is a philosophical dialogue on the struggles of a leper whose days are seemingly filled with unending sorrow; “The Prisoners of the Caucasus” is the fictional narrative of a captured general and his faithful servant, set against a rich background of Cossack factions in the Caucasus of Imperial Russia reminiscent of Tolstoy’s Hadji Murád; and “The Young Siberian” is the true story of Prascovia Lopouloff, a poor Russian girl who sets out on a journey to secure an imperial pardon for her exiled father.
De Maistre never set out to have a literary career, but his carefully-considered output made him famous across the continent.