Sunday, April 15, 2012

"A Sentimental Journey" by Laurence Sterne

The book ends in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a dirty joke that has a long setup. This is, of course, classic Sterne behavior.

Oh, maybe I should say more about SJ than how it ends. Did that count as a spoiler? Gosh, I hope not.

A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy is a novella written by Laurence Sterne, author of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Sterne wrote it late in life, when he was not only a famous author, but also dying of consumption. It is based on an actual couple of trips he made to the Continent in the 1760s, and some of the characters in the novel are based on real people Sterne met or simply disliked enough to satirize. It's more-or-less a picaresque tale, the first-person narrative of Mr Yorick (the Anglican minister character from Tristram Shandy) as he travels from Calais to Turin. We never learn the reason behind Yorick's precipitous flight across the Channel which begins the journey, nor is there a purpose to the travels through France and Italy beyond Yorick's search for sentimental (that is, emotional) experiences. What you learn, mostly, is how an English cleric observes how French women respond to the polite wooing of English clerics, for Yorick flatters and woos nearly every woman he meets in France, all the while reassuring us that his love for Eliza--whom he leaves behind in England--is a pure and undying love.

Journey has the same brisk pace as Shandy, the same digressive style, the same sorts of "Hamlet" references and the same bawdy humor. It's not the experiment in form that Shandy was, and the narrative follows a fairly linear path though Sterne feels free to interrupt Yorick's peregrinations once or twice to give us snatches from other stories. Neither these interrupting tales nor Yorick's narrative go anywhere, in terms of dramatic arc. There is no conflict to be resolved and no answers are supplied to the questions which arise concerning Yorick's doings. We get a lot of beginnings, some middle bits, and no endings whatsoever. I am put in mind of Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveler, where apparently (I have only read about that book, I haven't read it so this is some doubtful scholarship you now witness) the narrative keeps starting over and never concludes. That Sterne, he was a man ahead of his time.

Have I added any value to my original two-sentence post? No? Excellent.

No comments:

Post a Comment