History: This book was written and first published in 1768, In 1765, Sterne travelled through France and Italy as far south as Naples, and after returning determined to describe his travels from a sentimental point of view.The novel was extremely popular and influential and helped establish travel writing as the dominant genre of the second half of the 18th century. Unlike prior travel accounts which stressed classical learning and objective non-personal points of view, A Sentimental Journey emphasized the subjective discussions of personal taste and sentiments, of manners and morals over classical learning. Throughout the 1770s female travel writers began publishing significant numbers of sentimental travel accounts. Sentiment also became a favorite style among those expressing non-mainstream views including political radicalism.
Because Sterne died before he could finish the novel, his long time friend John Hall-Stevenson (who is also identified with the name Eugenius in the novel) wrote a continuation. It is titled Yorick's Sentimental Journey Continued: To Which Is Prefixed Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mr. Sterne.
Plot: Yorick's journey starts in Calais, where he meets a monk who begs for donations to his convent. Yorick initially refuses to give him anything, but later regrets his decision. He and the monk exchange their snuff-boxes. He buys a chaise to continue his journey. The next town he visits is Montreuil, where he hires a servant to accompany him on his journey, a young man named La Fleur.
During his stay in Paris, Yorick is informed that the police inquired for his passport at his hotel. Without a passport at a time when England is at war with France (Sterne traveled to Paris in January 1762, before the Seven Years' War ended), he risks imprisonment in the Bastille. Yorick decides to travel to Versailles where he visits the Count de B**** to acquire a passport. When Yorick notices the count reads Hamlet, he points with his finger at Yorick's name, mentioning that he is Yorick. The count mistakes him for the king's jester and quickly procures him a passport. Yorick fails in his attempt to correct the count, and remains satisfied with receiving his passport so quickly.
Yorick returns to Paris, and continues his voyage to Italy after staying in Paris for a few more days. Along the way he decides to visit Maria – who was introduced in Sterne's previous novel, Tristram Shandy – in Moulin. Maria's mother tells Yorick that Maria has been struck with grief since her husband died. Yorick consoles Maria, and then leaves.
After having passed Lyon during his journey, Yorick spends the night in a roadside inn. Because there is only one bedroom, he is forced to share the room with a lady and her chamber-maid ("fille de chambre"). When Yorick can't sleep and accidentally breaks his promise to remain silent during the night, an altercation with the lady ensues. During the confusion, Yorick accidentally grabs hold of something belonging to the chamber-maid. The last line is: "when I stretch'd out my hand I caught hold of the fille de chambre's...End of vol II". The sentence is open to interpretation. You can say the last word is omitted, or that he stretched out his hand, and caught hers (this would be grammatically correct). Another interpretation is to incorporate 'End of Vol. II' into the sentence, so that he grabs the Fille de Chambre's 'End
Review: Sterne is best known for his Rabelaisian tour-de-force Tristam Shandy, a novel which I had the "pleasure" to struggle through for the best part of a year back in 2008. Shandy is a sprawling, discursive comic masterpiece which has more in common with novels of the 20th century then those which followed it in the 19th. But Sterne also wrote another, minor, classic, A Sentimental Journey. First published in 1768, six months before the author's death, A Sentimental Journey was one of the first "novels of sentiment and sensibility" a genre which rose and fell by the turn of the 19th century, but one which would have a decisive impact on the Brontean/Austen wave of fiction which would define the 19th century.
Sterne's A Sentimental Journey was published three years before Henry MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling. Man of Feeling was in instant hit, selling out within two months and being reprinted six time in the following decade. Both novels echo the on-going debate in 18th century about the impact of modernity on the nature of man. As G.J. Barker-Benfield persuasively argued in his book, The Culture of Sensibility, "popular novels written by men in the 1760s and 1770s were preoccupied with the meanings of sensibility for manhood...and the ambiguity we now tend to read into the novels of Laurence Stern or Mackenzie reflects this contemporary ambivalence."
Regardless of how one interprets the underlying debate OR the role of the "novels of sentiment" in the 18th century, it's clear that these tales had an audience. Of course, in light of the rise of female novelists in the 19th century, I am left wondering who was buying all the copies of MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling. Was it men, interested in getting a fix on their identity in a rapidly changing world? Or was it largely women, interested in men who were depicted behaving in a traditionally "feminine" manner?
Sterne's Sentimental Journey is a clear way-station on the way to MacKenzie's mincing, sobbing Man of Feeling. Unlike MacKenzie, Sterne is a comic genius, and his book is filled with episodes of satire and wit that are sorely missing in Man of Feeling. There is also an element of bawdiness in A Sentimental Journey that is so clearly an element of Sterne's Rabelaisian style- something lacking in MacKenzie, let alone the oft humorless novels of sentiment that were published after the turn of the century. Blame the Victorians, or don't, it matters little.
However it's clear to me that the "Sentimental Man" was a cultural trend with all the complexity and force of later trends like Rock and roll, and it's interesting because it was one of the FIRST such modern trends whose influence was reflected in a contemporary art form that was ITSELF just rounding into form (the novel.) For that reason it's worth thinking about, because by learning about people then, we can learn about ourselves now.
Opening Line: “They order, said I, this matter better in France. - You have been in France? said my gentleman, turning quick upon me, with the most civil triumph in the world.”
Closing Line: “So that when I stretch’d out my hand I caught hold of the fille de chambre’s –“
Quotes: “I was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy with a voice which I took to be that of a child, which complained: ‘it could not get out,’ …and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung up in a little cage. I stood looking at the bird, and to every person who came through the passage, it ran fluttering towards the side which they approached it, with the same lamentation of its captivity—‘I can’t get out,’ said the starling. God help thee!—said I—but I’ll let thee out, cost what it will; so I turned the cage about to get at the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces… The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, pressed his breast against it…—I fear, poor creature, said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.—‘No,’ said the starling; ‘I can’t get out—I can’t get out.’ I vow I never had any affections more tenderly awaked…”
Rating: No Opinion.