The Exquisite: Far Niente

This post is part of a series called The Exquisite, where I profile entries from the book “Encyclopedia of the Exquisite: An Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights” by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins.

Far Niente

Sweet idleness.

With Sunday morning upon us, the sun shining and spring in the air, I’m definitely in the mood to do nothing at all. The likelihood of that happening is slim  – garden beds need weeding, the house needs cleaning, and I have a final exam on Tuesday. Nevertheless, Far Niente felt appropriate for this week’s excerpt from “Encyclopedia of the Exquisite” by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins.


The languorous sweetness of doing nothing at all – far niente in Italian – is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Few know it better than the strolling French flaneur, “that passionate spectator,” who is a connoisseur of doing nothing, as Charles Baudelair (1821 – 1867) noted. But in decorous loungers throughout history have sung idleness’s praises. The great woman of letters, Madame de Sevigne (1626 – 1696), for one, wrote to her daughter about a motto she’d carved into one of the trees at her country estate. “Only yesterday I had inscribed in honor of lazy people: bella cosa far niente.” It’s beautiful to do nothing.

While the French found lackadaisical bliss at home, others went straight to the source – Italy. where the easygoing ways and the sunny climate lulled visitors into a stupor. “All my activity of mind, all my faculties of thought and feeling and suffering, seemed lost and swallowed up in an indolent delicious reverie, a sort of vague and languid enjoyment, the true ‘dolce far niente.’ ” swooned Irish travel writer Anna Jameson (1794-1860), pondering the sweetness of idling in Naples.

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