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Sterne and Sterneana : Tableau sentimental de la France, depuis la Révolution

Yoryck., Auteur du poëme de Souza et d'Eléonore., Sterne, Laurence 1713-1768

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>['Yoryck', <i>Tableau Sentimental de la France, depuis la Révolution; Par Yoryck, sous le nom de Sterne; Pour servir de suite au Voyage Sentimental, du même Auteur. Traduit de l'Anglois. Par l'Auteur du poëme de Souza, et d'Eléonore</i> (A Londres [?Paris], 1792).]</p><p> Sterne's legacy and influence as a fine proponent of sentimental writing ensured his lasting appreciation in France and continental Europe more widely. One aspect of his pathos that particularly drew French readers was its perceived applicability to the humanitarian and political crises that emerged in the aftermath of the French Revolution.</p><p> The <i>Tableau Sentimental</i> presents itself as a sequel to Sterne's <i>Sentimental Journey</i>, written under the pseudonym 'Yoryck', but it exercises adaptation's ability to transport familiar motifs, characters, sentiments and scenes from one literary and historical context into a new time and place. The world in which this Yoryck – apparently Sterne's nephew (ij/2) -travels is necessarily distinct from that which his ancestor had known. This lineage is explained in the work's preface, where its 'translator' claims that this is a corrected version of <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>, which had been published under Sterne's name but which was in fact written by his nephew. Even that work's French translator, Joseph-Pierre Frénais, had failed to realise this, thereby depriving the public of the journey to Italy which Sterne had promised but failed to deliver due to his untimely death; that volume, nevertheless, does exist, and is promised to appear before the public soon (iij/3). Yoryck's written style, apparently, is as disjointed and disorderly as his uncle's, but while he cannot rival Sterne's capacity for sensibility, he nonetheless has a greater acquaintance with men of letters – and has described a whole world in the <i>Tableau Sentimental</i> without even leaving Paris.</p><p> A dedication to l'Abbé Raynal sets the tone for the ensuing work, with its emphasis on 'l'humanité' (5–6). This quality is sorely needed in describing France as she is now, drastically changed from the country Sterne knew (7). The change in national character to the sombre and sad is paralleled by the noted death of La Fleur, the cheerful servant Sterne's Yorick had employed, and a stimulant for this narrator's 'sensibilité' (9). Against such nostalgic gestures, the narrator places events in a distinctively different here and now, conscious of the very recent historical past and its continuing impact on the present; just three years since the 'liberté' (9) brought by the Revolution, human happiness still lies in the distant future. Such opening sentiments set the tone for 'Sterne'/Yoryck's heavily politicised account of present-day France, which firmly promotes anti-Republican sentiments.</p><p> 'Sterne' is visited by a 'madame de S....' (11), for instance, who declares her desire to see such a celebrated man - a metatextual gesture towards the celebrity Sterne gained through his publications - whom she admires for the 'éloge' (eulogy) to liberty made in 'le <i>Sentimental Journey</i>' (12), referring to the famous passage in which Yorick fails to free a caged starling. This leads him to ponder on captivity in general, whilst trying to rationalise his own potential imprisonment in the Bastille for travelling without a passport. Now, the lady declares, this terrible prison - emblem of oppression and unjust incarceration - has been demolished to raise the (metaphorical) temple of liberty in post-Revolutionary France. 'Sterne', surprisingly, does not rejoice at the news, for although he acknowledges that it was indeed a symbol of arbitrary and despotic government, to which many innocent prisoners fell victim, it also incarcerated general criminals; now, he asks, where will they be kept? The lady's idealistic answer, that the spirit of liberty will now 'purify' all hearts and remove any need for prisons, does not satisfy a more realistic 'Sterne'.</p><p> Such politicised sentiments ripple throughout the <i>Tableau Sentimental</i>, often combining allusions to <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> and its humanitarian philosophy with reflections on the contexts of present-day France. More whimsical moments, in comparing French and English habits of lavishing multiple kisses on the cheek or exercising physical self-restraint respectively (52), for instance, ally this narrative to earlier travel writing, where national difference provided a frequent (and often humorous) strain. An interpolated tale (a common feature of sentimental fiction) describing the separation of two lovers (38ff) provides ample scope for the sentimentalised feeling which coheres with the narrator's lackadaisical sensibility. But the prevailing mood is one of lassitude and sadness, and melancholy nostalgia. 'Sterne' mourns his separation from Eliza (17) – the woman Laurence Sterne had loved in the final year of his life, and to whom he had addressed a celebrated collection of letters published during the 1780s – and the death of the Franciscan Monk with whom Yorick had exchanged snuffboxes in Calais (33). Like La Fleur's demise, that of Father Lorenzo reminds the reader that the happier, more sentimentally pleasurable world Sterne had known and recorded in <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> has passed, and of the desperation of the France in which this 'Sterne' now travels. Touching encounters familiar from Sterne's original text are now recontextualised to reflect a harsher new reality: the narrator meets an impoverished young woman on the streets of Paris, who inspires pity and charity in a way that resembles the numerous trigger-moments familiar from this fictional genre. Now, however, the destitute young woman has been plunged into misery by the unjust incarceration of her father by political tyranny (48–50).</p><p> The mood shifts slightly when, bed-bound by depression and a reluctance to rise, Sterne opens a mysterious package of papers he had received, and transcribes a series of letters exchanged between two lovers (59ff) – an episode reminiscent of Yorick's translation of a 'Fragment' in <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>. Politics rather than love dominate the letters, however, as the young woman relates her fears for her father in the ongoing revolutionary turmoil, while her lover stridently declares his own overriding devotion to 'la patrie', to her consternation: she too loves liberty, she declares, but not when it exposes close relations to danger (59ff). A second packet of letters unravels the suite of this story: the woman now writes to a friend, describing her horror at realising her lover had been the leader of the revolutionary gang responsible for her father's subsequent imprisonment (72).</p><p> Once he has finished reading these letters the narrator decides to quit Paris for Flanders, to visit his recently ill nephew, Yoryck. His journey motivates renewed feelings of hope and sentimentalised reflection as he witnesses the budding signs of spring (73–75). His arrival provides some opportunity for comparing Flemish and French habits. Unenthusiastic about Dunkerque, he and Yoryck soon quit the town and return to Paris, stopping off at Feutry en route; as Yoryck strolls about the town, Sterne encounters a young Englishman reading a book, which happens to be <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> (77). It provides a conversation-opener, Sterne inviting the stranger to share a fricassee with him, as Yorick had enjoyed in the novel, and they strike up a friendship which is nevertheless cut short by Sterne's departure with Yoryck for Lille, which they rapidly quit, and the narrative ends with the travellers stopping for dinner at an insalubrious inn (84). The volume concludes with a note from the 'translator' (87ff) explaining his thoughts on the different approach to sentimentalism adopted by different nations.</p><p>Mary Newbould</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Lana Asfour, <i>Laurence Sterne in France</i> (London: Continuum, 2008)</p><p> Peter de Voogd and John Neubauer, eds, <i>The Reception of Laurence Sterne in Europe</i> (London and New York: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004)</p></p>

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