A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy

- Laurence Sterne
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After the bizarre textual antics of “Tristram Shandy”, this book would seem to require a literary health warning. Sure enough, it opens in mid-conversation upon a subject never explained; meanders after a fashion through a hundred pages, then fizzles out in mid-sentence – so, a plotless novel lacking a beginning, a middle or an end. Let us say: an exercise in the infinitely comic. “There is not a secret so aiding to the progress of sociality, as to get master of this short hand, and to be quick in rendering the several turns of looks and limbs with all their inflections and delineations, into plain words.” Sterne calls his fine sensitivity to body language (as we now term it) “translation”. Much of the pleasure to be had from this wonderfully engaging book comes from his unmatched ability to extract random details from the chaos of experience to create comic turns imbued with Feeling. His Parson Yorick is the Sentimental Traveller: certainly a Man of Feeling, but one in whom “Nature has so wove her web of kindness, that some threads of love and desire are entangled with the piece…”

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