Laurence Sterne

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Related to Laurence Sterne: Henry Fielding

Sterne, Laurence

(stûrn), 1713–68, English author, b. Ireland. Educated at Cambridge, he entered the Anglican church and was given the living of Sutton-in-the-Forest, Yorkshire, in 1738, where he remained until 1759. He came to London the following year and was a great social success. Unhappily married, he was involved with various women during his lifetime, most notably Mrs. Eliza Draper, for whom he wrote the Journal to Eliza (1767). He led a somewhat dissolute life and much of the time was plagued by ill health, dying finally of tuberculosis. In 1760 the first volume of his masterpiece Tristram Shandy appeared. Although it was denounced on moral and literary grounds by Dr. Johnson, Horace Walpole, and others, the book was a popular success and eight subsequent volumes followed (1761–67). As a result of his travels to the Continent (1762–66) he wrote, but left unfinished, A Sentimental Journey (1768). He also published in his lifetime several volumes of sermons. One of the most entertaining and original literary works in English, Tristram Shandy is, in a sense, a parody of a novel. It is a hodgepodge of character sketches, blank pages, dramatic action, transposed chapters, and various digressions. Sterne constantly obtrudes himself into the novel and is by turns witty, satiric, sentimental, knowledgeable, and obscene. Beneath this apparent chaos, however, is a structure based on the association of ideas. In Tristram Shandy Sterne enlarged the scope of the novel from the mere recording of external incidents to the depiction of a complex of internal impressions, thoughts, and feelings.


See the Shakespeare Head Press edition of his works (7 vol., 1926–27); his letters (ed. by L. P. Curtis, 1935); his memoirs ed. by D. Grant (1950); biographies by W. L. Cross (3d rev. ed. 1967), W. B. Piper (1965), D. Thomson (1973), and A. H. Cash (2 vol.,1975–86); studies by L. C. Hartley (1966), J. M. Stedmond (1967), J. Traugott, comp. (1968), and Valerie G. Myer (1984).

Sterne, Laurence


Born Nov. 24, 1713, in Clonmel, Ireland; died Mar. 18, 1768, in London. British writer; most prominent representative of sentimentalism.

Sterne graduated from the school of divinity at Cambridge University in 1738 and became a clergyman. In his parodie novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (vols. 1–9, 1760–67; Russian translation, vols. 1–6, 1804–07), Sterne polemically exaggerated and reduced to absurdity Enlightenment pretensions of having reached a rational understanding of life. Following D. Hume, he also expressed doubt as to the infallibility of the “heart,” the chief category of sentimentalist ethics. The novel’s chaotic composition, eccentricity of narrative manner, and violation of moral taboos called forth a fierce polemic against it. Sterne’s reconsideration of literary canons and traditional concepts of man was continued in his unfinished A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768; Russian translation, 1793). The mechanism of sharp changes in mental states, the capricious play of emotions, and the narrator-hero’s ironical self-analysis all serve to expose the incompleteness and one-sidedness of concepts coming both from the Enlightenment and sentimentalism. Another experiment in psychological studies was the Sermons of Mr. Yorick (vols. 1–2, 1760–69).

Sterne’s influence was particularly strong in France (on Diderot) and Germany (Jean Paul). In Russia, he influenced A. N. Radishchev, N. M. Karamzin, and V. F. Odoevskii; A. S. Pushkin and L. N. Tolstoy expressed their high opinion of him. In the early 20th century, the formal-experimental features of Sterne’s poetics had a revival in “stream-of-consciousness” literature.


Works and Life, vols. 1–12. New York, 1904.
Letters. Oxford, 1935.
Zhizn’ i mneniia Tristrama Shendi, dzhentl’mena. Sentimental’noe putesheslvie po Frantsii i Italii. Moscow. 1968.


Tronskaia, M. L. Nemetskii sentimental’no-iumoristicheskii roman epokhi Prosveshcheniia. Leningrad, 1965.
Elistratova, A. A. Angliiskii roman epokhi Prosveshcheniia. Moscow, 1966.
Cross, W. Life and Times of Laurence Sterne. New Haven, 1929.
The Winged Skull London [1971].
Thomson, D. Wild Excursions: The Life and Fiction of Laurence Sterne. London [1972].
Hartley, L. Laurence Sterne in the Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill [1966].


References in periodicals archive ?
For similar readings of the politics of Toby's Bowling Green, see Ann Campbell, "Tristram Shandy and the Seven Years' War: Beyond the Borders of the Bowling Green," Shandean: An Annual Devoted to Laurence Sterne and His Works 17 (2006): 106-20; and Madeleine Dobie, "The Enlightenment at War," PMLA 124.
O humor de Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) e transgressor e vem de um homem que, provavelmente, se sentia excluido, como condiz a um protestante irlandes no interior da Inglaterra, observando de certa distancia as realidades sociais, religiosas e politicas da Londres de seu tempo.
The literary legacies that Woolf acquires both from her father and from Laurence Sterne pose something of a challenge to establishing her own independence and originality.
So far, Laurence Sterne in France is the most accomplished monograph on the afterlife of Sterne's fiction.
The bizarre account is of the death of Laurence Sterne, celebrated author of Tristram Shandy, and his burial in the graveyard of St Georges Church, Hanover Square, London on 22 March 1768, his body to be recognised two days later in the dissecting halls of Cambridge, he being the victim of body snatchers.
To pursue a more 'literary' field trip model, I'd like to take you to Shandy Hall in Coxwold, North Yorkshire, the extraordinary house--and now registered museum--where Laurence Sterne lived and wrote The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
The Winged Skull: Papers from the Laurence Sterne Bicentenary Conference.
Screenplay, Martin Hardy, based on a novel by Laurence Sterne.
Hats off to Naxos for knocking the novel off its ivory pedestal by recognizing that if Laurence Sterne were alive today, he'd almost certainly be writing for Monty Python.
Such an exchange, however, can also make the delineation of the characteristic artistry of Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Laurence Sterne more difficult for students to apprehend.
We may consider ourselves lucky that Laurence Sterne did not have the modern musical greeting-card at his disposal.
We discuss the difference between a novel and a novella ('length'), Jewish humour (Self describes his Jewish mother in 'feeding frenzy' as 'a bovine wearing bifocals and cracking wise') and the love of good digression in general (and Laurence Sterne taking five pages to get us from the carriage door to the pavement in Sentimental Journey, specifically).