skip to content

Sterne and Sterneana : Voyage sentimental, en France

Sterne, Laurence 1713-1768, Frénais, Joseph-Pierre -1788?

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>Laurence Sterne travelled to France in 1762. By then already a literary celebrity at home, he had nevertheless witnessed the fluctuating fortunes of <i>Tristram Shandy</i>, the third instalment of which (volumes 5 and 6) had been published in December 1761 but met with more muted enthusiasm than the earlier instalments that had secured Sterne's rapid rise to fame. Arriving in Paris in March 1762, however, he was initially thrilled to find himself feted by important and powerful members of French society, including among the nobility and men of letters. Although he was eventually to tire of the whirl of activity - a fatigue he would fictionalise in <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> (1768) - Sterne's embrace by and of significant figures of the day indicates his close alliance with France and continental Europe.</p><p>In fact, his work arguably enjoyed a more long-lasting and warmer reception there than in Britain, where Sterne's fortunes endured greater convolutions. One reason for the high esteem in which French (and German) readers in particular held Sterne was the perception of his skill in pathetic writing: his handling of sensibility appealed to a readership which readily aligned him with admired Francophone proponents of sentimentalism, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Marmontel, even more enthusiastically than he was often referred to as the 'English Rabelais'. Another, partly related reason for Sterne's enduring success in France is the rapidity with which his work entered translation. Both <i>Tristram Shandy</i> and <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> were translated into French soon after their English publication, translations which rapidly went into further editions. The history of Sterne's translation into French is complex, but the example provided here provides some indication of his reception on the continent, and of where French-language items of Sterneana found their seed (see, for instance, 7000.d.215.6 and Oates.499).</p><p>Joseph-Pierre Frénais was a renowned translator of English works into French: besides <i>Tristram Shandy</i> and <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>, he translated Frances Moore Brooke's <i>The History of Emily Montague</i> (1769), Charles Johnston, and others. When it came to Sterne, Frénais first tackled <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>, his version of which - titled <i>Voyage sentimental, en France</i> - appeared rapidly after Sterne's, in 1769. Frénais did not begin work on <i>Tristram Shandy</i> until 1776. His <i>Voyage sentimental</i> incorporates many of the distinctive traits of his apparent theory of translation in practice: interpretation and adaptation as much as 'faithful' rendering of the original, Frénais's version of Sterne reshapes certain elements for its intended readership, although with nowhere near the degree of liberality he was to apply in transforming his later <i>Tristram Shandy</i>.</p><p>The 'Avertissement' to the first edition of 1769 highlights some elements of Frénais's critical appreciation of Sterne, which reflects trends in contemporary responses, but which also justifies the rationale for the ensuing translation - and, indeed, part-explains its considerable popularity. In 1769, Frénais identifies <i>Tristram Shandy</i>'s 'singulaire' and 'extraordinaire' qualities, indicative of Sterne's idiosyncratic writing, but confirms that it is <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>'s deft handling of sensibility which ensures its lasting appeal: not only does it describe the narrator's travel through France, itself appealing to a Francophone readership, but it situates some of the most admirable human traits associated with sentimentalism in this context. <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>, the 1769 'Avertissement' claims, demonstrates the amiable character of philanthropy, beneath a seeming veil of gaiety and jesting, with such fine-tuned traits of genuine sensibility as to provoke tears even while the reader laughs.</p><p>As this new edition of 1774 demonstrates, Frénais had introduced some alterations in his translation: 'Eliza' becomes 'Lisette', 'Lorenzo' becomes 'Laurent', and some chapter titles are changed (and are now numbered); statements are turned into questions, and typographic symbols given in their standardised French version (Sterne's famous dashes become ellipsis marks). Perhaps the most significant alteration is to the ending, which in <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> toys with grammar, typographic layout, and blank space to create a provocative ambiguity about what exactly Yorick's 'hand' catches hold of. In Frénais's version, the Piedmontese lady with whom Sterne's narrator shares a room is now 'une jeune Nantaise'; and, in the final climax of the volume, this Yorick and his room-mate pass through the night into the next day, he setting out on his way to Rennes, the woman and her servant 'where they wished'. This is an addition to <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> which both adds to its equivocations and detracts from them, as found in Sterne's text, where the ambiguous hiatus closing the 'END OF VOL. II' is embedded further up in this final paragraph: 'je saisis la Femme de chambre, &... &c. &c. &c...' (288). These changes are less radical than those Frénais was to introduce in his <i>Tristram Shandy</i>, but they are nonetheless notable - not least for demonstrating the difficulty of translating the suppleness of Sternean irony.</p><p>This edition of 1774 is notable for its extra-textual features: it includes a frontispiece, engraved by Charles Duponchel, depicting Yorick and Madame L*** at Calais encountering the Franciscan monk, Lorenzo (here, Laurent) with whom Yorick is exchanging snuff-boxes - a partial expiation for his guilty conscience in having earlier refused to give the monk alms. A fitting demonstration of the 'philanthropie' seen to govern Sterne's sensibility, setting the tone for the ensuing journey, the frontispiece nonetheless diminishes the ironic convolutions between guilt and consciousness that his meanness may sully the impression he creates on the woman as detailed in Sterne's text. This copy also holds the bookplates of Percy L[ancelot] Babington (1877–1950), lecturer in English at Cambridge and heir to the Cossington estate, Leicester, and of J.C.T. Oates, Librarian at Cambridge University and collector of Sterneana. The contents table is provided after the text proper, following French publication practice. The London imprint on the title-page is false: the volume was published in Paris for Henri Cazin, an established bookseller.</p><p>Mary Newbould</p><p><p><b>References:</b></p></p><p>Arthur H. Cash, <i>Laurence Sterne: The Later Years</i> (London: Methuen, 1986)</p><p>Lana Asfour, 'Movements of Sensibility and Sentiment: Sterne in Eighteenth-Century France', in <i>The Reception of Laurence Sterne in Europe</i>, Peter de Voogd and John Neubauer, (London and New York: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004), 9-31</p><p>Lana Asfour, <i>Laurence Sterne in France</i> (London: Continuum, 2008)</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: