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A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy

A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy by Laurence Sterne
By: (1713-1768)

After the bizarre textual antics of “Tristram Shandy”, this book would seem to require a literary health warning. Sure enough, it opens in mid-conversation upon a subject never explained; meanders after a fashion through a hundred pages, then fizzles out in mid-sentence – so, a plotless novel lacking a beginning, a middle or an end. Let us say: an exercise in the infinitely comic.

“There is not a secret so aiding to the progress of sociality, as to get master of this short hand, and to be quick in rendering the several turns of looks and limbs with all their inflections and delineations, into plain words.”

Sterne calls his fine sensitivity to body language (as we now term it) “translation”. Much of the pleasure to be had from this wonderfully engaging book comes from his unmatched ability to extract random details from the chaos of experience to create comic turns imbued with Feeling. His Parson Yorick is the Sentimental Traveller: certainly a Man of Feeling, but one in whom “Nature has so wove her web of kindness, that some threads of love and desire are entangled with the piece…”

First Page:

A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY

They order, said I, this matter better in France. You have been in France? said my gentleman, turning quick upon me, with the most civil triumph in the world. Strange! quoth I, debating the matter with myself, That one and twenty miles sailing, for 'tis absolutely no further from Dover to Calais, should give a man these rights: I'll look into them: so, giving up the argument, I went straight to my lodgings, put up half a dozen shirts and a black pair of silk breeches, "the coat I have on," said I, looking at the sleeve, "will do;" took a place in the Dover stage; and the packet sailing at nine the next morning, by three I had got sat down to my dinner upon a fricaseed chicken, so incontestably in France, that had I died that night of an indigestion, the whole world could not have suspended the effects of the droits d'aubaine; my shirts, and black pair of silk breeches, portmanteau and all, must have gone to the King of France; even the little picture which I have so long worn, and so often have told thee, Eliza, I would carry with me into my grave, would have been torn from my neck! Ungenerous! to seize upon the wreck of an unwary passenger, whom your subjects had beckoned to their coast! By heaven! Sire, it is not well done; and much does it grieve me, 'tis the monarch of a people so civilized and courteous, and so renowned for sentiment and fine feelings, that I have to reason with!

But I have scarce set a foot in your dominions... Continue reading book >>


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