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To get us through, finding the wisdom of books written in isolation

Constraint, paradoxically, often liberates the imagination. In Josephine Tey’s masterpiece “The Daughter of Time,” Inspector Alan Grant passes a long bed-bound convalescence by reassessing the evidence that Richard III murdered the two sons of Edward IV, the “Princes in the Tower.” Confined to his lodgings after fighting a duel, Xavier de Maistre composed the parodic 1794 guidebook, “A Journey Around My Room,” in which he “visits” his furniture, artworks and library as if they were fashionable tourist attractions on a miniaturized Grand Tour. In J.K. Huysmans’s “Against the Grain,” the ultra-decadent Des Esseintes retreats from crass, bourgeois society to a specially designed house in the country, his own artificial paradise. The imagination, he affirms, can “provide a more-than-adequate substitute for the vulgar reality of actual experience.”

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