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This essay uncovers an overlooked link between literary sentimentalism and formalist theory by reflecting on the unusual contours of Laurence Sterne’s Russian reception. Sterne experienced two distinct moments of canonicity in Russia, both coinciding with seminal moments in literary history—first, during the sentimental movement at the turn of the nineteenth century, when his works inspired an influential body of prose fiction, and second, during the formalist movement in the early twentieth century, when Viktor Shklovskly famously enshrined Tristram Shandy as “the most typical novel in world literature.” While previous studies of Sterne’s European reception have studied these movements in isolation or as contingent episodes in a longer arc, I argue that they cannot be fully understood without each other. The desire for sensibility lies at the very center of the formalist project, and the process of defamiliarization drives sentimentalism many years before its full articulation as an aesthetic philosophy. This essay thus joins a body of criticism interested in excavating the longer genealogies of sentimentalism and formalism by arguing that these particular genealogies are in fact historically and ideologically intertwined.