sábado, 16 de enero de 2016

Lawrence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey



Lawrence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey is very much the follow-up after the success of Tristram Shandy. The author does not try to re-create the near anarchy of the earlier work. Indeed, especially when compared with Shandy, Sentimental Journey at times even approaches coherence. But it remains a variety of coherence that might confuse a modern reader, since the book is neither a novel nor a travel book, though at times it aspires to be both. What it is not can be listed, but what exactly it is remains hard to describe.

The Reverend Yorick, apparently, is on a European tour, specifically to France and Italy. Along the way he relates his experiences, but he is less inclined to take in the scenery than chase the local talent, an activity that appears to demand much attention and time wherever it might be pursued.

If any theme does run through Sentimental Journey, then it is this, the Reverend Yorick’s pursuit of skirt. Be they chamber maids or merely ladies of leisure (day or night), the good Reverend is clearly interested. But his exploits are couched in an absurd eighteenth century politeness, an unwillingness to speak directly of the matter in hand, gloved or not. The style, perhaps, was as absurd in its own time as it appears to be today. As a consequence, there are significant passages where the narrator seems to spend much time not discussing the thing he is actually talking about.

Lawrence Sterne is determined that his sentimental traveller should explore the experience of travel. This is a journey to experience as well as within it, but experience here is a process, not a destination. In modern terms, he is the kind of person who wanders past Notre Dame in search of an ice-cream, and would see neither irony nor contradiction in the act. He is perhaps the quintessential British tourist who looks at the stained glass from the outside, proclaims it to be less than it’s cracked up to be and then complains that the ice cream was the wrong flavour.

Yorick does meet several interesting characters, but he rarely lets their diversion come between himself and his pursuits. And some of these prove very humorous indeed, possibly even funny.

Setimental Journey is unfinished. It is probably autobiographical. Much of the material feels like it may have been expanded from a journal kept on the road, kept by Sterne himself, while he made his own travels on the Continent. But there remains the ultimate problem for the modern reader, who will always want to ask, “Where is all this going to lead?” And the answer is, experientially, precisely nowhere. And that’s the point.

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