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Sterne and Sterneana : The letters of Maria; to which is added, an account of her death

Street Miss

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>This continuation of Sterne's <i>Sentimental Journey</i> was part of the extensive fashion for all things Sternean, Shandean and, especially, all things to do with Maria that swept across Europe in the decades following his death, a craze that saw not only book publications and painting and prints, including Angelica Kauffman's 'Maria' of the late 1770s and Joseph Wright's 'Maria and Her Dog Silvio' of 1781, but also all manner of objets d'art, mementos, tourist attractions and even graves. There are other literary works in this collection that are also part of the craze: the anonymous <i>Sterne's Maria: A Pathetic Story,</i> probably of 1800; the anonymous <i>Maria: Or, A Shandean Journey of A Young Lady</i> of 1832; and the song by John Moulds, <i>Moulines Maria: a favourite ballad taken from Sterne composed by Mr. Moulds</i> of around 1785. Many of these productions were of course simply cashing in on this wave of enthusiasm, but some, like the Kauffman and the Wright, became recognised as works of art in their own right. <i>The Letters of Maria</i> is not in this category, but is nevertheless effective in plausibly filling in gaps in Maria's story, albeit with less than perfect artistry.</p><p>The text takes the form of a series of short letters between, first, Maria and her beloved St. Flos and then, after the forbidding of their marriage and his enforced departure to join, supposedly, the army overseas, with her friend Annette, who is an invention of the author for the purpose of narrating the story. There are also editorial interventions where the author can find no other way of imparting information - including the final description of the death of Maria herself. Probably the most effective feature of the narrative is the gradual deterioration of Maria's writing style (Letter XIV onwards), as St. Flos's absence and his failure to reply to her letters sends her into the kind of insanity that is such a feature of Sterne's depicitons of her. This is perfectly in keeping with other contemporary uses of the character, and what made her such a readily exploitable figure. Equally, once her pilgrimage to Rome, as described in letters to Annette, is completed, the consolidation of her writing (Letter XXXVI), sustained by her sense of having satisfied her vow to God, and indeed of a reassertion of the effectiveness of faith, demonstrates some degree of settling of her previously disordered mind.</p><p>What works less well is the one-sidedness of the correspondence with Annette and such questions as how the letters were sent, or even written, during the deprivations of Maria's trek across the Alps. Equally, the extraordinary episode of the unfortunate Adelaide at the convent of St. Genevieve in Letter XXXII is wholly out of place, albeit a more tragic echo of Maria's own circumstance. The presence of the Editor who, as he tells us in the Preface, has visited Italy in an attempt to avenge the murder of his brother, verges on implausibility. Would-be sentimental narration is marred by the intrusion of the sensational in the latter instances, and by the unexplained figure of a fresh recipient of letters in the former. Such a presence is underlined by the lack of reference to, let alone inclusion of, Maria's parents. Why, for instance, is she not writing to her mother instead?</p><p>Nothing is known about the author, 'Miss Street', except that she (and we must assume her to be female) published a second novel, <i>The Recluse of the Apennines, A Tale,</i> in 1793. This is another epistolary work, with a wider range of correspondents. On its title page it is cited as being 'By the author of The Lake of Windermere', which is presumably lost.</p><p>Allan Ingram</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Bourdeau, Debra Tyalor, and Elizabeth Kraft, eds, <i>On Second Thought: Updating the Eighteenth-Century Text</i> (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2007)</p><p>Gerard, W.B., <i>Laurence Sterne and the Visual Imagination</i> (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006)</p><p>Newbould, M-C, <i>Adaptations of Laurence Sterne's Fiction: Sterneana, 1760-1840</i> (London & New York: Routledge, 2013)</p><p>de Voogd, Peter and John Neubauer, eds, <i>The Reception of Laurence Sterne in Europe</i> (London: Athlone Press, 2004)</p></p>

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