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A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy by Laurence Sterne (review)

From: The Scriblerian and the Kit-Cats
Volume 45, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 253-255 | 10.1353/scb.2013.0025

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Broadview Press’s “publishing program” is guided by “a broad range of academic approaches and political viewpoints”—singling out “feminist perspectives” for special notice—and aiming to provide “pedagogically valuable books that make a real contribution to scholarship.” Its new edition of A Sentimental Journey succeeds in at least one primary aim by introducing the student to Sterne’s text and to its literary and historical contexts.

Following generally accepted editorial practice, Ms. Turner chooses as copy-text the first edition, printed by Becket and Dehondt in 1768, and makes the usual alterations (to the long “s,” to running quotation marks) lest they “disturb the modern reader’s engagement with the text.” Ms. Turner’s edition thus sits in line with probably the two most significant modern publications of A Sentimental Journey: Gardner D. Stout’s 1967 edition, and the Florida text, edited by Melvyn New and W. G. Day (2002); she is particularly indebted to the latter’s rich scholarly annotations. Distilling the invaluable researches of the Florida editors in footnotes brings students into contact with a scholarly edition that may otherwise be inaccessible to them, and to which other trade copies may not pay tribute (as Mr. New observed of the Penguin and Oxford World Classics editions in an earlier number of this journal). Ms. Turner’s edition thus complements the accessible paperback published by Hackett in 2006, in which New and Day condense their Florida notes. Her footnotes are “generally explanatory, not interpretive,” although I regretted that the final page’s visual joke about the (Fille de Chambre’s) “END OF VOL. II” is spoiled by the footnote reference-number telling us about the editorial “tradition” of committing a similar trespass on the text, by inserting a dash after “Fille de Chambre.”

In the Introduction, Ms. Turner stresses that Sterne’s second novel should be discussed in relation to his first, and with eighteenth-century travel writing (her own area of expertise) and the novel more generally. She explains how Sterne’s narratives reconfigure various strands of the novel genre (summoning the usual list of suspects as counterexamples—Smollett, Defoe, Richardson, Fielding), but also highlights his role as “the inheritor of Swift’s skeptical techniques of disorientation.” She identifies “Sensibility” as the principal feature differentiating A Sentimental Journey from Tristram Shandy, providing a general account of the “idea” and its literary manifestations. Recent “resurgence of interest in sensibility” may help to bring A Sentimental Journey to greater critical appreciation, Ms. Turner argues, Tristram Shandy having dominated Sterne scholarship. There is also a “brief chronology” of Sterne’s life.

Her Introduction also promotes an ideological agenda. While suggesting that A Sentimental Journey satirizes existing stereotypes and “xenophobic tendencies,” Broadview’s encouragement of “feminist perspectives” perhaps underlines her claim that it “reinforces British chauvinism.” While castigating the familiar behemoth of Thackeray’s “denunciation” of Sterne’s “impurity,” a hint of it lingers in Ms. Turner’s picture of the “Yorkshire clergyman” who “had staved off provincial boredom through a series of extra-marital affairs”; this savors of the “rustic Don Juan of the district” persona mocked by Leslie Stephen. More significantly, in accounting for A Sentimental Journey’s genesis and nature by comparing it with Tristram Shandy, Ms. Turner caricatures the earlier text as “the bawdy one”: it is rather flippantly dismissed as being filled with double entendres, “male genitals,” and “salacious accounts of nuns and monks, a lusty widow, and various accidents involving breeches,” its narrator’s “humorous wickedness” too readily contrasted with Yorick’s “more sensitive virtues.”

The Appendices nevertheless balance the introductory material to reveal the broader literary, social, and historical contexts. Ms. Turner thematically groups extracts from Locke, Hume, and Hartley in an Appendix entitled “Sensibility—Philosophical Sources.” The literary background is outlined by examples of sensibility, including Tristram Shandy itself, although here the selection is perhaps surprising: Yorick’s death and Trim’s oration on mortality following Bobby’s death, but no Le Fever or Maria episodes, which were among the most widely anthologized “sentimental” extracts from Sterne’s novel; instead, Tristram Shandy’s Maria appears in an Appendix on “Travel Writing,” alongside passages from Nugent, Smollett, and Sharp. Other sections include “Sensibility and...

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