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Sterne and Sterneana : Continuation of Yorick's Sentimental Journey

Sterne, Laurence 1713-1768

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>This volume, published anonymously twenty years after Sterne's death, evidences Sterne's continued popularity throughout the eighteenth century. It was published, probably not coincidentally, the same year as the dubious <i>Original Letters of the Late Reverend Mr Laurence Sterne</i> (1788), now generally attributed to William Combe. It would be followed, a couple of years later, by the <i>Letters of Maria</i> (1790, attributed to 'Miss Street') and by another much longer two volume <i>A Sentimental Journey. Intended as a Sequel to Mr. Sterne's</i> (1793), collectively illustrating a remarkable <i>fin de siècle</i> renaissance of interest in Sterne demonstrated by the opportunistic impulses of authors and printers alike.</p><p>Unlike the <i>Letters of Maria,</i> the <i>Continuation of Yorick's Sentimental Journey</i> does not purport to be a newly discovered manuscript, but honestly confesses at the outset its true status as an original literary work written in the manner of Sterne by an attentive but unworthy Sterne aficionado. It is, in other words, an example of what twenty-first century readers would recognise as a work of 'fan fiction'.</p><p>The continuation begins directly by resolving the story of the bedroom-sharing joke that concludes Sterne's own <i>Sentimental Journey</i> in terms of a suprisingly placed wig. From this bedchamber, Yorick and his loyal and effusive French servant <i>'Le Fleur'</i> (La Fleur in Sterne's text) are transported almost instantly to Italy where they experience a variety of emotive encounters in Venice, Loreto, and finally Rome where the book concludes, appropriately enough, with a question mark. It delights in idealised sketches of Italian pastoral life and repeatedly illustrates the essential goodness and generosity of those human beings closest to a state of nature. The book is also characteristic of Sterne insofar as it juxtaposes sardonic commentary on institutional Catholicism with indulgent and sympathetic tributes to the simple piety of ordinary plebeian Catholics. The work repeatedly addresses 'Eliza', the Elizabeth Draper with whom Sterne had become infatuated at the end of his life and who had died ten years before this publication in 1778.</p><p>The work accurately reproduces many Sternean techniques, including very short chapters, frequent digressions, and the interweaving of found (truncated) narratives, not to mention satires on the formulaic negativity of contemporary reviewing practice. This continuation even includes a mock dedication (or 'recommendation') to a noble lord, inserted out of place half way through this short book (64-68). The death of 'Maria' is reported somewhat indirectly (109) and there are extended rhapsodic reflections on the nature of filial affection and of death itself.</p><p>Readers will particularly note a more explicit denunciation of the slave trade than anything to be found in Sterne's actual body of work, and the chapter 'Reflections at Breakfast' (13-15) offers a reminder that 1788 was a year in which anti-slave trade capaigning was at its most energetic and confident. The imagined slave (predictably imagined as being of royal blood) is delineated in much the same way as Sterne's famous prisoner in the Bastille. Parson Yorick reflects on the evils of the trade while observing the sugar in his coffee and his reaction anticipates the far more organised sugar boycott of the early 1790s. It is even possible that Yorick's politicised revulsion at his own sweetened coffee may have suggested the idea of a sugar boycott to William Fox and other anti-slavery campaigners.</p><p>Conrad Brunstrom</p><p><i>References:</i></p><p>M-C. Newbould, <i>Adaptations of Laurence Sterne's Fiction: Sterneana, 1760-1840</i> (Routledge, 2016).</p><p>Harlan W. Hamilton, 'William Combe and the Original Letters of the Late Reverend Mr. Laurence Sterne (1788)', <i>PMLA</i> Vol 82, No. 5 (Oct., 1967), 420-429.</p><p>Timothy Whelan, 'William Fox, Martha Gurney, and Radical Discourse of the 1790s', <i>Eighteenth-Century Studies</i> Vol 42, No. 3 (Spring, 2009), 397-411.</p></p>

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