View all Exhibits

A Sentimental Journey

I have come laughing all the way from London to Paris... It is for this reason, Monsieur le Compte, continued I, that I have not seen the Palais royal—nor the Luxemborg—nor the Facade of the Louvre—nor have attempted to swell the catalogues we have of pictures, statues, and churches—I conceive every fair being as a temple, and would rather enter in, and see the original drawings and loose sketches hung up on it, than the transfiguration of Raphael itself. The thirst of this, continued I, as impatient as that which inflames the breast of the connoisseur, has led me from my own home into France—and from France will lead me through Italy—'tis a quiet journey of the heart in pursuit of NATURE, and those affections which rise out of her, which make us love each other—and the world, better than we do. (80-2)

Sterne's A Sentimental Journey is a one-of-a-kind Grand Tour experience. Yorick's erratic narrative is concerned not with the educational features of the landscape, but with the sentimental, subjective feelings of the traveler—the memorable moments and the people he meets. Yorick's France is full of beautiful shopkeepers and servant-maids, as well as average people with intensely emotional stories and feelings.

There is a gorgeous relativity of time within the narrative—his time in Calais, where he spends only an hour, is perfectly full of adventure and conflict. His first few days in Paris and Versailles seem to take ages—almost as if there were more than 24 hours in a sentimental day—meeting the beautiful shopkeepers and servant-maids that populate his walks and thoughts. La Fleur, too, is afforded time for lengthy, elaborate adventures in the space of Yorick's suppers.

Yet, Yorick spends three weeks further in polite company in France and has very little to say about it. He becomes concerned, on a meta-creation level, that he is pressed for space. Yorick simply must get to Italy, or very close to it, by the end of Volume II. The longest stretches of his journey are glossed over—at one point, Yorick assures the reader he is still having lovely, sentimental adventures, but simply cannot write them all down.

In making this neatline project charting his movements in space and time, I encountered a lot of difficulty with the text. At times, Yorick seems attuned to the reader's desire to know where he's going and how long it takes to get there—he often notes the time of particular events—when he leaves and when he arrives, or just how long the fille de chambre was in his hotel room—and this lends itself to charting on a timeline.

Yet, these details are far from consistent, and they are quick to break down, as Yorick himself is distracted and the order of events, or how he remembers them, get mixed up. When Yorick attends the opera comique, he talks of leaving and observing a dwarf in his wanderings near the Palais Royal, yet the narrative then returns to his observations of a dwarf in the audience of the opera. His observation of the dwarf in the audience comes first in actuality, but his narrative remembers the latter event first, as if priming the first memory with a later one.

For many reasons, I believe this neatline project is particularly valuable and illuminating of the text—not only to aid the reader in placing Yorick's movements and making sense of the text, but also to call attention to where the narrative leaves the linear plot of travel in favor of the lengthy ruminations and preoccupations that enliven his journey.

This exhibit was created by Kurt Jensen, an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia.