skip to content

Sterne and Sterneana : A sentimental journey Intended as a sequel to Mr. Sterne's Through Italy, Switzerland, and France ... / by Mr. Shandy

Shandy Mr, Sterne, Laurence 1713-1768

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>Written by a self-professed ‘base born son of Yorick’, this 1793 sequel to <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> remains thematically and stylistically faithful to Sterne’s original. The narrative picks up where Sterne left off, at the Inn on the Road to Lyons. In this respect, the pseudonymous Mr. Shandy follows the same narrative strategy as previous adaptations, among them <i>Yorick’s Sentimental Journey, Continued… by Eugenius</i> (1769) and <i>Continuation of Yorick’s Sentimental Journey</i> (1788). This particular Yorick, having ‘caught hold of the fille de chambre’s —’, takes the opportunities offered to him for puns, bawdy metaphors, sentimental moralizing, and good-natured acts of charity. The fusion of these tropes in the work’s opening chapter sets the tone for what follows: Mr. Shandy proves to be an adept imitator of Sterne’s capacity to dwell simultaneously within sentimental and ironic modes of writing. His intent, in this respect, is revealed in his ‘Preface’, where he writes that he ‘has little of <i>originality</i> to recommend him to the public – But, […] there is merit in a good <i>imitation</i>’. The pseudonymous author also claims that in following the spirit of Sterne’s work, he can ‘speak of incidents that would, in all probability have happened in this way, had [Sterne] lived to have trod the ground himself’. </p><p>Yorick’s journey continues through Italy, passing by the river Po and admiring the sights of Turin, before taking the road to Geneva via Moustries. While Yorick may have left the <i>grissets</i> and <i>filles de chambre</i> of France behind him, he encounters their Italian equivalents in the fair fruiterer and in the pastoral peasant girl, Eliza. That she is so named surprises Yorick, who had been contemplating his own Eliza (the fictional counterpart of Sterne’s real-life inamorata) just before meeting her doppelgänger. The original Yorick’s Eliza, already a double of Sterne’s own, is doubled again by Mr. Shandy, both in his imitation of Sterne and in his Yorick’s mistaken recognition of the pseudo-Eliza. This dynamic of associative duplicity recalls moments in Sterne’s <i>Tristram Shandy</i> where the possibility of originality is called into question. Such moments include Tristram’s famous plagiarism of Robert Burton on plagiarism and his implied suggestion that Yorick’s sermon in Vol. II will later be discovered and plagiarised by Sterne himself. Tristram defends Sterne in a manner comparable to the pseudonymous author’s aforementioned defence of himself in his ‘Preface’. Tristram implies that, though Sterne may have plagiarised Yorick’s work, the two men are alike in spirit and, as such, Sterne could have written a similar sermon himself. </p><p>In the work of Jonathan Lamb, such moments are taken to instantiate Sterne’s ‘double principle’, a central aspect of which is the dramatization of the impossible quest for origins. In this light, it might be suggested that questions of imitation and adaptation are already present in Sterne’s originals. Mr. Shandy’s imitation might be taken to channel Sterne’s spirit, therefore, not only in terms of its style, but also in terms of its genre; as Sterneana. What is more, the commodification of Sterne’s fiction after his death is pre-empted, by Sterne, in moments of textual self-commodification. The account of Yorick’s plagiarised sermon, for example, concludes with Sterne’s joking attempt to advertise a volume of his own sermons. </p><p>Encounters with Italian women, like Eliza, also provide opportunities for Yorick to reflect upon the difference in manners between English, French and Italian peoples, particularly in relation to sexual mores. Such comparisons are characteristic of late eighteenth-century travel writing and even more so of adaptations of <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>. These works fed the reading public’s appetite for touristic fantasies, but also served the purpose of reinforcing national identity through the contradistinguishing of British character with that of the nations of continental Europe. In a similar vein, on his travels Yorick finds occasion to satirise religious institutions. At the Turin races, he meets the venerable polymath Le Bon, a former ecclesiastic turned critic of the Catholic church. In this respect, he echoes the anti-Catholic sentiments of many eighteenth-century travel writers. Yorick does not press him to challenge the infallibility of the Pope, due to the hefty fine which such a public declaration might incur. Le Bon is later revealed to be a hapless, melancholic figure. The ambition of his intellectual pursuits, coupled with their tendency to lead nowhere, gives Le Bon something of a Shandean aura. Alongside critiques of the Catholic church, the author also finds occasion to burlesque Scots Presbyterians. In Geneva, Yorick encounters a Professor who, acting as an emissary for the Scottish Assembly, has come to examine the reposited works of John Calvin. The Scots, Yorick discovers, are considering whether or not to abolish their use of the stool of repentance, an elevated seat upon which sinners are subjected to public humiliation. Yorick dispenses with the Professor, realizing that he can be little use for that man in his ‘enquiry concerning Calvin’s Repository and the <i>black stool</i>’. </p><p>Yorick’s final stop is in Verdun, where he is met by the news that Louis XVI has been executed. Like many works of Sterneana written around the time of the French Revolution, this sequel uses the vehicle of the sentimental journey to offer commentary on the events in France. Many adaptations of Sterne’s writing sentimentally critique the cruelty and oppression of the <i>Ancien Régime</i>. This particular author, however, offers a conservative critique of the revolution by invoking a notion of human society as embedded in the great chain of being. While this is the most overtly political moment of the work, it is nevertheless carried out with typical Sternean irony. A Monsieur Guenon, for example, becomes the vehicle for the author’s anti-Republican sentiments. Guenon comments that he should like to call the revolutionaries ‘rats’ and their followers ‘mice’ but that the new rule of equality has taught him not to entertain any distinctions between men. ‘Every <i>thing</i> is now called “<i>Citizen</i>”, at <i>Paris</i>’, Guenon comments. </p><p>It seems that the author of this sequel, while for the most part a faithful imitator of Sterne, was willing to risk historical anachronism in order to intervene, via Yorick, in the political debates of the 1790s. Two points might be drawn from this. Firstly, while Mr. Shandy’s imitation of the spirit of Sterne’s writing is frequently underscored by contextual parallels, treading the ground that Sterne himself trod means, first and foremost for the author, adopting Sterne’s style. Anachronism, from this perspective, does not greatly trouble the fidelity of the adaptation. Secondly, the reception of Sterne in twentieth- and twenty-first-century criticism gives cause for reflection upon the anachronistic nature of Sterne’s writing itself. The question of whether to view Sterne as a belated Renaissance wit or a Postmodern ironist <i>avant la lettre</i> has animated significant discussion in Sterne scholarship. For many contemporary scholars, no less than for Mr. Shandy, Sterne’s fiction seems to possess qualities that make it, on the one hand, adaptable and, on the other hand, applicable to socio-political contexts beyond those inhabited by Sterne himself.</p><p>Alexander Hobday</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Lamb, Jonathan, <i>Sterne’s Fiction and the Double Principle</i> (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)</p><p>Newbould, M-C., <i>Adaptations of Laurence Sterne’s Fiction: Sterneana, 1760–1840</i> (London: Routledge, 2016)</p></p>

Want to know more?

Under the 'More' menu you can find , and information about sharing this image.

No Contents List Available
No Metadata Available


If you want to share this page with others you can send them a link to this individual page:
Alternatively please share this page on social media

You can also embed the viewer into your own website or blog using the code below: