restricted access Laurence Sterne: A Life by Ian Campbell Ross (review)
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175 Adams showed ‘‘influence,’’ English Travel Narratives investigates issues of intertextuality, genre, unstable categories , ambivalences, tensions, and revision of historical periods—the usual postmodernist suspects. Mr. Viviès looks at travel literatureand novels in a narrow range from 1760 to 1780 (not strictly adhered to), revealing an archaeological approach that will appeal to a graduate seminar rather than the general reader (Alain Bony’s strained Preface focuses on Addison’s much earlier travel accounts as a crucial influence for subsequent eighteenth-century travel writing). In ‘‘The Vagaries of the Picaresque ,’’ Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722), Gil Blas (1715–1735), and Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) receive attention. Curiously , Joseph Andrews, a novel structured as a travelogue, does not. While there is no doubt that the picaresque tradition became influential, the travelogue aspect of this type of story seems debatable . This chapter, while interesting,isfar from relevant to Mr. Viviès’s central thesis : ‘‘The purpose here is to combine and conflate texts frequently classified and categorized apart: Novels on one side, travel narratives on the other.’’ He finds blurred boundariesandunfixedtexts,‘‘no dichotomous divide . . . but rather a gradation ,’’ and many different prisms and problematical plots and structures. Concerning A Sentimental Journey, he affirms that ‘‘Sterne appears to break with the empiricist conventions of travel writing ’’ and thus produces a ‘‘radically innovative travelogue,’’ anticipating the Romantic movement. Thoroughly analyzing Humphry Clinker, Mr. Viviès concludes persuasively that the earlier Travels through France and Italy (1766) ‘‘may be interpreted as a formal experiment or trial run for Smollett’s epistolary novel.’’ Mikhail Bakhtin’s ideas about the so-called ‘‘dialogic interaction of multiple voices, languages and modes of discourse’’ are employed , usefully at first glance, to explain Smollett’s methods avant la lettre. ‘‘Polyphony’’ is a term Mr. Viviès relies upon to capture the spirit of an enterprise where‘‘no onediscourseprevails’’—‘‘no monologic truth’’ emerges. The reader puts the work together (isn’t that always true?) from the ‘‘parts.’’ But polyphony is a musical device present extensively in the baroque style of the eighteenth century, where the composer cleverly juxtaposes two or three lines of melody simultaneously—think of Bach’s or Handel’s compositions; ultimately , however, these different voices are harmonized, reconciled, and developed into a very pleasing pattern like an oriental rug. Humphry Clinker may be a novel of harmonies arising out of contrarieties , marriages, relocated parents, national differences reconciled, lives affirmed , melancholy and anger assuaged. This is a truth not affirmed in this study. While Mr. Viviès’s book fits neatly into postmodernism, it hardly revises the criticism of the eighteenth-century novel. Arthur J. Weitzman Northeastern University IAN CAMPBELL ROSS. Laurence Sterne: A Life. Oxford: Oxford, 2001. Pp. xiii ⫹ 498. £25; $40. Arthur H. Cash’s fine two-volume biography was so thorough that few biographical facts have emerged since the publication of The Later Years in 1986. Tacitly acknowledging that Cash is a hard act to follow, Mr. Ross’s prefatory comments stress important developments in Sterne scholarship since the mid1980s —especially Melvyn New’s edi- 176 tion of the sermons and Kenneth Monkman ’s discoveries and attributions—as well as new interpretations of the ‘‘commercialization of eighteenth-century culture ’’ epitomized in the recent work of John Brewer. Promising as such new perspectives sound, however, their role is strictly limited in a narrative that returns us to an image of Sterne as a man of ‘‘pharisaical utterances and lax principle ’’ familiar in constructions of the author from Thackeray to Fitzgerald. Disagreeing with New’s argument for the orthodoxy of the pulpit discourses, Mr. Ross ignores the wealth of contextual material gathered in the Florida edition and builds his own reading ofthesermons on the implications of their contemporary reception and speculations aboutSterne’s hidden agenda of personal advancement. Less contentiously, having subjected the various pieces of political journalism newly ascribed to Sterne to computer analysis, Mr. Ross sensibly rejects all but one ofMonkman’sattributions.Thestock of new material thus begins to look rather meager. More problematically, the reader seeking to track Mr. Ross’s contributions to the archive will be thwarted by his decision to cover his trail. ‘‘I am pleased,’’ writes Mr. Ross, ‘‘to acknowledge my...