Dan Sandman

36: A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 05/09/2014 at 12:00 pm

A Sentimental Journey by Laurence SterneLaurence Sterne (1713 – 1768), the son of an army ensign, went to grammar school and received a BA from Jesus College, Cambridge. Always an academically gifted man, Sterne went on to receive an MA and was ordained as a priest. He later wrote a series of nine volumes called The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, which has been celebrated for deliberately breaking formal conventions. A month before he died, in 1768, Sterne published A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, by Mr. Yorick, a book that no doubt would have expanded beyond two volumes, had he lived past his 54th year.

During the 18th century, the definition of the word sentimental changed from meaning ‘moral’ to meaning ’emotional’. Many sentimental novels and travel books were being published at the time, A Sentimental Journey is partly written as a response to these books. It is fun, includes many memorable set-pieces, and a fair amount of innuendo and irony. In other words, it is a quintessentially British piece of humorous  prose, loosely masquerading as a sentimental novel, and mostly concerned with Mr. Yorick’s reaction to the French people he meets on his travels.

I was amused by the erotic suggestiveness of some parts of the novel and found Mr. Yorick’s encounters with French woman particularly entertaining. One is never quite sure whether anything happens – sexually speaking – or not; it is left up to the reader’s imagination. I can also recommend this book for its inclusion of toilet humour, after all, nothing could be more British than poking fun at the French for using a bidet. Pick up this highly successful experiment, turn to a page, and Sterne’s digressive style will jump up to greet the reader with refreshing warmth.

Brilliant and remarkable.

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