A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy [with Biographical Introduction]
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Tis a fiddle-stick, said the other. God's power is infinite, cried the Nosarians, he can do any thing. He can do nothing, replied the Antinosarians, which implies contradictions. He can make matter think, said the Nosarians. As certainly as you can make a velvet cap out of a sow's ear, replied the Antinosarians.
Such philosophical frivolities prompted Sterne's antagonist "Christopher Flagellan" to place Tristram Shandy squarely in the context of "the incredulity and scepticism of the times. One denies the existence of motion, another that of matter, and a third that of spirit. A Sentimental Journey is the unfinished product of a series of events that began late in when, his lungs having hemorrhaged, Sterne hastily made plans to travel to the more salubrious climate of southern France.
Early in January , having seen volumes V and VI of Tristram Shandy through the press, he left England for Paris in what he believed to be a race with Death — a race he could have no hope of winning. As it happened, however, he gave that "long-striding scoundrel of a scare sinner" a good run for his money. As I have suggested elsewhere, Sterne's friendship with the philosophes — he was especially close to Baron d'Holbach and Diderot, who were among the most radical of the circle of atheistical materialists with. By the end of that same year the first stage in the evolution of A Sentimental Journey was complete; Sterne, after an interval of three years, resumed Tristram Shandy's narrative, publishing a fourth pair of volumes.
Volume VII, colored throughout by a sort of desperate facetiousness that betrays the anxious circumstances in which it was written, recounts Tristram's travels to the south of France by way of Paris. But Sterne here collapses the time he spent in the City of Light to a mere "three days and two nights," dismissing the experiences of half a year in Paris in five perfunctory pages. In the autumn of , when, his health worsening, Sterne returned to France en route to Italy — and again in the spring of as he made his way home for the last time — he once more sought out the circle of convivial atheists in Paris, among whom he then found the notorious Scots "Infidel" David Hume.
The two men engaged in bantering debates on questions of religion; but Sterne came to love his antagonist well enough to call him familiarly by his Christian name: "In my life," Sterne wrote to William Combe, "did I never meet with a being of a more placid and gentle nature; and it is this amiable turn of his character that has given more consequence and force to his scepticism, than all the arguments of his sophistry.
Against this personal and philosophical background — Sterne's heightened sense of his own mortality and of materialist doctrines of the Enlightenment that threatened his faith — we can better understand the sense in which he intended A Sentimental Journey as his "Work of Redemption. In this attempt he abandoned the philosophy of Locke for the moral system of his friend Hume, turning Hume's emphasis on sentiment and sympathy to his own spiritual purpose.
As Sterne declared in Tristram Shandy, though "it was [Locke's] glory to free the world from the lumber of a thousand vulgar errors," he was "bubbled" in one crucial respect Locke had erred by preferring judgment, the rational and analytic faculty of the mind, to the synthesizing powers of wit and imagination as a means of bridging the gulf that separates one individual from another.
In one notable respect, moreover — that is, in his assertion of the potentially redemptive powers of sexual desire and the sexual imagination — Sterne took an entirely original turn, developing a theme heard only briefly in Tristram Shandy at the end of Volume VII, when Tristram enjoys a liberating moment of communion dancing with Nannette on the plains of Languedoc: "Viva la joial was in her lips — Viva la joial was in her eyes.
A transient spark of amity shot across the space betwixt us. A century and a half later, D. Lawrence would shock post- Victorian sensibilities by making a similar proposal — though, like Walter Shandy's bull, he would go about the business with a graver face invoking darker, pagan gods. Even though he began composing A Sentimental Journey in the last few months of his life as the spectre of Death drew ever closer, Sterne, characteristically, chose not to enter gravely into this final, philosophic debate. That he should resurrect his alter ego, the jesting Parson Yorick, to conduct his "Work of Redemption" has bewildered most critics of the novel for the past fifty years.
With few exceptions — the most important being Gardner Stout, Jr. Far from advocating sentimentalism, Sterne, as Rufus D. Putney argued in the s, perpetrated "a hoax by which [he] persuaded his contemporaries that the comedy he must write was the pathos they wished to read. But this as we may call it "hard" approach to Yorick is unconvincing.
For one thing, it reduces the complexity of Sterne's theme to mere foolery — a "bite," as Swift might say, upon the reader.
But for any number of other reasons it is highly improbable. To begin with, it disregards the biographical and philosophic contexts which shape the narrative from its enigmatic opening to the famous broken sentence that stops the story in mid-career.
A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy Study Guide | GradeSaver
In order to accept the satiric interpretation we must ignore the fact that Sterne repeatedly identified himself with Yorick. We must ignore the importance to him of philosophers and divines we know he read and admired — intellectual influences that help us understand that, in his sermons, Sterne preached a doctrine of benevolism while at the same time warning his listeners of the ways in which self-love inhibits altruism and leads to the "abuse of conscience" the title of his best-known sermon, read aloud by Trim in Tristram Shandy 43 and praised by no less formidable a judge than Voltaire as "the best thing perhaps that was ever said" on the subject of how ready we are to deceive ourselves by rationalizing our faults.
The "hard" approach — though it makes much of Yorick's preoccupation with matters sexual as if this somehow set him apart from his author! Indeed, the "hard" approach to A Sentimental Journey requires that we ignore both the grim circumstances in which Sterne conceived the novel and his own declared intentions in writing it- As he penned the famous passages that open the narrative, Sterne was hardly in a mood to mock, in any terminal way, either Yorick, his narrator and surrogate, or the comforting doctrines of his religion.
From Coxwold on 9 June he wrote a friend:. I am now seriously set down to it — that is, I began this morning; a five weeks illness, which by the by, ought to have killed me — but that Imade a point of it, not to break faith with the world, and in short would not die, for in some case I hold this affair to be an act of the will. I have now set to, and snail not take my pen from my paper till I have finished. It was not until a month later, however, that he could assure his friends the Jameses that he was "beginning to be truly busy at my Sentimental Journey — the pains and sorrows of this life having retarded its progress — but I shall make up my lee-way, and overtake every body in a very short time.
By September, when Richard Griffith saw him at Scarborough, he had written "but about Half a Volume" of the novel he was then calling "his Work of Redemption. The months in which Sterne labored to see Yorick through the first half of his sentimental journey brought to a final period the long, debilitating disease with which he had struggled since Cambridge. Like the condemned man in Dr. Johnson's chilling metaphor, the knowledge that death was imminent no doubt concentrated Sterne's mind, but it never broke his spirit.
Montagu, "or some unknown Spring only sufferd to act within us, when, we are thus in the house of Bondage. In mid-November, Sterne could assure Mrs. James that A Sentimental Journey would please both her and his daughter Lydia:. It is a subject which works well, and suits the frame of mind I have been in for some time past — I told you my design in it was to teach us to love the world and our fellow creatures better than we do — so it runs most upon those gentler passions and affections, which aid so much to it.
This, he added, is "the doctrine I teach," and which his friends the Jameses exemplified in their lives. But it was not the only doctrine Sterne taught. He never allows us to forget that men and women are less often moved by selfless, social passions than by selfish interests and desires — and that, in our vanity preferring to suppose otherwise, we are laughable.
Three days after writing to Mrs. In A Sentimental Journey, Sterne meant to find a place for the soul in the body; he meant to reconcile the powerful and alluring arguments of the materialists with the doctrines of his religion. To achieve this purpose he had to solve two problems posed by the new philosophy. On the one hand, Locke's account of the mental mechanisms by which a multiplicity of random sensations are combined to form the consciousness of individual men and women seemed to imply the extreme subjectivist condition of solipsism. On the other hand, experiments of physiologists such as La Mettrie seemed to substantiate the claims of atheists — among them Sterne's friends d'Holbach, Diderot, and Hume — that human beings were nothing more than soulless automata who bear a striking resemblance to M.
Vaucanson's duck. To solve these problems in his "Work of Redemption" Sterne begins by acknowledging the cogency of these twin tenets of the new. If Locke had freed the world of "a thousand vulgar errors," he was nonetheless "bubbled" in preferring judgment to wit;56 for, as Sterne's narrative will show in theme and in form, sentiment and eroticism — the sympathetic and the sexual imagination — can at least mitigate the condition of solipsistic self-enclosure, and by enabling us to "feel some generous joys and generous cares beyond [ourselves]" , argue for the existence of a soul.
The symbols of solipsism in the novel are two: first, the Desobligeant — the single-seat carriage in which Yorick, "discontented with himself" 76 after rejecting the Franciscan's appeal for alms, sits alone, writing a Preface on the difficulties of communication; second, the bird whose image Yorick bears as the crest to his coat of arms — a poor starling, trapped inextricably in a cage and crying, "I can't get out, I can't get out" In the scenes that famously open the novel — and that provoked the prevailing sardonic reading of Yorick's character — Sterne's narrator behaves as if he were a case-study drawn from La Mettrie's L'Homme machine.
After a good dinner and a bottle of burgundy, he is so flushed with altruistic impulses he concludes,. I'm confident, said I to myself, I should have overset her creed. Rather than oversetting La Mettrie's doctrine, however, Yorick at once seems to demonstrate its validity as he spurns the monk's appeal for alms and, to excuse his selfishness, invokes the exculpatory doctrine of moral determinism — "the ebbs and flows of our humours. But Yorick, it will soon appear, is not a mere machine, but a man of conscience; he knows he has behaved badly, and he resolves to make amends: "I have only just set out upon my travels; and shall learn better manners as I get along" And so he does.
As his journey through France nears an end, Parson Yorick — ashamed of having prostituted himself intellectually in order to win the approval of the free-thinking beaux esprits of Paris — leaves the capital to journey south. Near Moulines, he seeks out Maria, whose pathetic story Sterne had related in the last volume of Tristram Shandy — where, however, Maria had found it difficult to distinguish Tristram from her goat, symbol of lechery.
Now, in contrast, there will be no sniggering.
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Maria's goat, Sterne pointedly observes, has been replaced by a little dog, symbol of fidelity; and the tears she sheds are not for a faithless lover, but for her father, who died of grief a month earlier:. I sat down close by her; and Maria let me wipe [her tears] away as they fell with my handkerchief. I am positive I have a soul; nor can all the books with which materialists have pester'd the world ever convince me of the contrary.
A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy by Sterne, First Edition
Yorick's conviction that he has a soul is reinforced in the chapters that follow his encounter with Maria. But though Sterne clearly intends to affirm the fundamental doctrines of his religion, he does so, remarkably, by adapting to his own purpose the shocking theories of the materialists. In "The Bourbonnois," the famous apostrophe to "Dear sensibility! In the two following chapters, entitled "The Supper" and "The Grace," Sterne proceeds radically to humanize one of the most sacred mysteries of his Anglican faith, the eucharist — by parliamentary statute the Test by which one's orthodoxy had been officially determined for a century.
In "The Supper," a simple meal of bread and wine becomes for Yorick "a feast of love" , uniting him in communion with the peasant and his family. In "The Grace," which follows, Yorick believes he has seen "Religion" mixing in the family's dance of Thanksgiving; and the cheerful gratitude this simple act expresses seems to him more acceptable to Heaven than the pompous pieties of a bishop That Yorick, as he promised, has indeed learned better manners in his sentimental journey from Calais to Lyons should by now be obvious; yet the final chapter of Sterne's we must remember unfinished novel abruptly returns us to a mood of irreverent bawdry that seems to mock Yorick's pious meditations on his soul and his religion.
As I have suggested elsewhere,58 however, even "The Case of Delicacy," for all its hilarious pruriency, has a place in Sterne's "Work of Redemption," which has been all along an attempt to sanctify, as it were, the matter of which we human beings are made, by finding in the physiology of feeling and imagination the means of transcending the self.
What Yorick has sought all along is relationship — the means by which the self might escape the confinement of the symbolic Desobligeant. What is new in Sterne's system if one can call it that is its emphasis on the ameliorative, liberating function of human sexuality.
Yorick is forever touching the attractive young women he encounters — holding their hands, feeling their pulse, exciting in himself and in his readers ill-defined fantasies of sexual congress. But Eros and the irrepressible activity of their imaginations will not be controlled by such paltry defenses: neither Yorick nor the lady can sleep a wink for thinking of each other. But she disputes the point so warmly that "she weakened her barrier by it" , and the curtains part in a shower of corking pins. Upon my word and honour, Madame, said I — stretching my arm out of bed, by way of asseveration —.
So that when I stretch'd out my hand, I caught hold of the Fille de Chambre's. Yorick's prayerful ejaculation notwithstanding, it must be said that, as a "Work of Redemption," A Sentimental Journey is decidedly a curious thing. The major literatures written in English outside the British Isles are treated separately under American literature,…. Novel, an invented prose narrative of considerable length and a certain complexity that deals imaginatively with human experience, usually through a connected sequence of events involving a group of persons in a specific setting.
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