Laurence Sterne 1713–68

  • Ian McGowan
Part of the St. Martin’s Anthologies of English Literature book series (AEL)


Sterne was born in Ireland, the son of an army ensign, but lived in England after 1723. After Jesus College, Cambridge, he was ordained in the Church of England, holding a Yorkshire living from 1738, and marrying. Nearly twenty years later, he wrote A Political Romance (1759), a satire on local church politics, and began his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, the first two volumes of which were published at York in 1759. From 1760, Sterne was lionised in London society as his eccentric fiction created a sensation: nine volumes were published at intervals until 1767. He published his sermons, and travelled in France (1762–4; and, with Italy, 1765). Always an admirer of women, and now physically apart from his wife, he marked his ‘separation’ from a new love, Mrs Draper, in the unpublished Journal to Eliza. His continental experience was used in A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768), from which the cultivation of emotional experience was widely imitated. Tristram Shandy, an extraordinary blend of traditional learning and technical innovation, wittily parodies as a precursor of modernism the conventions of the new novel form: although it does have action and characters, it disrupts narrative chronology, jumping to disgressions through associations of ideas; the ineffectual narrator-hero is not born until Volume III; the reader is constantly made aware of the physical book.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 1989

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  • Ian McGowan

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