Laurence Sterne

Laurence Sterne (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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Laurence Sterne: The Critical Heritage
Alan B. Howes.
Routledge, 1995
FREE! The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman: Comprising the Humorous Adventures of Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim
Laurence Sterne; Darley.
J.B. Lippincott, 1882
FREE! A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
Laurence Sterne.
Dodd-Mead, 1900
Diderot and Sterne
Alice Green Fredman.
Columbia University Press, 1955
Literature and Legal Discourse: Equity and Ethics from Sterne to Conrad
Dieter Paul Polloczek.
Cambridge University Press, 1999
Laurence Sterne and the Ethics of Sexual Difference: Chiasmic Narration and Double Desire
Kraft, Elizabeth.
Christianity and Literature, Vol. 51, No. 3, Spring 2002
Sermons on Sermonizing: The Pulpit Rhetoric of Swift and Sterne
Fanning, Christopher.
Philological Quarterly, Vol. 76, No. 4, Fall 1997
The Boundaries of Fiction: History and the Eighteenth-Century British Novel
Everett Zimmerman.
Cornell University Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "From Personal Identity to the Material Text: Sterne, Mackenzie, and Scott"
The Columbia History of the British Novel
John J. Richetti; John Bender; Deirdre David; Michael Seidel.
Columbia University Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: "Sterne: Comedian and Experimental Novelist" begins on p. 154
The Good-Natured Man: The Evolution of a Moral Ideal, 1660-1800
John K. Sheriff.
University of Alabama Press, 1982
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Laurence Sterne begins on p. 48
Out of Bounds: Male Writers and Gender(ed) Criticism
Laura Claridge; Elizabeth Langland.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: "Job's Wife and Sterne's Other Women" on pg. 55
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