restricted access Laurence Sterne, ed. by Marcus Walsh (review)
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177 than in Mr. Ross’s approach to Sterne’s faith and his role as a divine. In the absence of surviving proof that Sterne felt a special calling to the ministry, because he happily associated with known religious skeptics, and because a number of readers and reviewers questioned the orthodoxy of the sermons, Mr. Ross finds grounds to doubt Sterne’s personal commitment to Christianity. Seemingly unable to equate divinity as profession with sincerity of belief, Mr. Ross discovers in Sterne’s efforts to gain preferment acompromising opportunism. Thus, the combined attack on Catholicism and Methodism in a number of the sermons—a commonplace polemical strategy with roots in Restoration homilies—is read as Sterne’s effort to ingratiate himself with Archdeacon Blackburne. Bizarre as such a speculation is, it is trumped by areading of ‘‘The Prodigal Son’’ that finds in its digression on the Grand Tour a coded ‘‘advertisement for Sterne’s merits as a travelling tutor.’’ What kind of opportunist , one wonders, would presentsocryptic an advertisement that Mr. Ross is the first to notice it? Determined to present Sterne warts and all, Mr. Ross begins to see warts everywhere . Sterne’s sexual infidelities render him ‘‘wholly unsuited by both temperament and moral character to be a clergyman.’’ Speculating that Sterne dumped Catherine Fourmantel when fame brought him more interesting diversions , Mr. Ross imagines her, like the heroine in a sentimental novel, ‘‘a victim in the story of his success.’’ Warming to thetaskofexplainingSterne’ssexualpeccadilloes , Mr. Ross seeks to link the fiction ’s play with impotence and thevicar’s own sexuality. Reviving Saintsbury’s quirky hunch that Sterne caught syphilis in the 1740s, Mr. Ross adds gonorrhoea for good measure, links it (without a shred of meaningful evidence) to reports of Elizabeth Sterne’s miscarriages and stillbirths, and infers from this ‘‘apsychic cause of Sterne’s possible impotence.’’ Walter Shandy, eat your heart out. Long before Hayden White highlighted the roles of emplotment and formal argument in narrative history, Sterne had Tristram appeal to the deities of the ‘‘empire of biographical freebooters’’to show him where to begin his story ‘‘and where . . . to end it,—what he is to put into it,— and what he is to leave out,—how much of it he is to cast into shade,—and whereabouts he is to throw his light!’’ Such choices, and the concomitant implication that the biographer might be merely inventing his subject, are intrinsic to biography . The gloomy conclusion that all is fiction can, nonetheless, be avoided if thebiographerrestrainstheimpulsetoextrapolate a personality when the facts are too limitedtosustainit.Elegantlywritten, informed and highly readable, Laurence Sterne: A Life is compromised by decisions about light and shade that seem to be more about telling a new story than a true story. J. T. Parnell Goldsmiths College, University of London Laurence Sterne, ed. MarcusWalsh.London : Longman, 2002. Pp. ix ⫹ 215. $24. Since Sterne parodies intellectual systems and fictional forms, Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey provoke but resist approaches informed by particular theories. To represent recentdebates, Mr. Walsh collects ten important discussions published between 1975 and 1998, ranging from ‘‘the self-consciously theoretical ’’ to ‘‘the historical/contextual.’’ For each of five major topics, he pairs a generalizing critic with one morenarrow- 178 ly focused. In the first section, ‘‘Sociality and Sensibility,’’ for example, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick provocatively theorizes from a passage in A Sentimental Journey (‘‘Sexualism and the Citizen of the World,’’ stripped of its Wycherley half), while John Mullan displays his genial intimacy with eighteenth-century habits of reading in an extract from his Sentiment and Sociality. In the final section, ‘‘Narrative and Form,’’ J. Hillis Miller speculates about narrative middles in a 1978 essay, ‘‘no doubt the seminal deconstructive account,’’ according to Mr. Walsh, while Christopher Fanning, in the most recent (1998) and one of the most historically specific essays, considers the spatial layout of Sterne’s page. In ‘‘Feminism/Gender/Sexualities,’’ Melvyn New in ‘‘Job’s Wife and Sterne’s Other Women’’ respectfully skirmishes with Ruth Perry’s feminist critique of Tristram, ‘‘Words for Sex.’’ On ‘‘Sterne and the Body,’’ Juliet McMaster on the uncrystallized body in Tristram Shandy rubs shoulders with Carol Houlihan Flynn on that body exercised. For...