A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy
Feelings in Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
Travel literature became, after the novel, the most famous literary genre in the eighteenth century. Thanks to the geographical discoveries made by important navigators of that time, enlightened people finally could explore with their imagination a ‘new World’. Inevitably, the growing interest in knowing the other lands brought people to travel around the world not only for health reasons, but also for pleasure and to complete their cultural education – this was called by the British, Grand Tour, and it became very popular especially among the leisured classes. In this way, people travelled and recorded their own experiences in their books, becoming then travel literature very useful to those who wanted to know something about the world out of Britain. However, travel books had some important rules that writers must observe: firstly, they must provide a detailed description of costumes and traditions of the visited countries; and secondly, travel’s records must be objective – no space for the author’s impressions. Nevertheless, a real change was taking place in the second half of the century concerning the ‘sentimental novel’, and it was made just by Laurence Sterne who wrote his books with ‘feeling’.Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy was published in 1768, and it wants to be a satire of traditional travel books in which objectivity was the only protagonist. In fact, in this book the author presents to us a new protagonist, that is, the traveler’s feeling while he is travelling around the world. The author therefore focuses his attention on traveller’s sensibility and impressions during his journey through France and Italy.In the first volume Yorick, the protagonist, says that travelers belong to different ‘Heads’, so that we can find ‘idle travelers’, ‘proud travelers’, ‘travelers of necessity’ and so forth. He belongs, however, to none of these classes because he is a “[…] Sentimental Traveler who have travelled, […] as much out of necessity, and the besoin de Voyager”, and that his travel’s accounts will be different from the others. Therefore, he foregrounds his impressions and sensations received during his journey from people, saying that “an English man does not travel to see English men”, and focusing then on human relationships originated from his meetings with people of ‘France and Italy’ – it is not then based on ‘practical aspects’ of a country that had characterized most traditional travel books. In this way, Sterne disrupts novel’s traditional rules giving also a new meaning to the word ‘sentimental’ and to Eros concept in general.“But what were the temptations, (as I write not to apologize for the weaknesses of my heart in this tour, – but to give an account of them) – shall be described with the same simplicity, with which I felt them”: Sentimental Journey is full of this veiled Eros made by double meanings, which creeps into book’s pages and also into our imagination. This was strongly in contrast “con l’esaltazione della castità e della ‘delicatezza’ predicate come essenziali in un particolare contesto culturale” ; nevertheless, it is just this kind of slyness that appealed to most readers of that time.“Disguise thyself as thou wilt, still slavery! – still thou art a bitter draught, and though thousands in all ages have been made to drink of thee, thou art no less bitter on that account”: this is Yorick’s thinking about slavery, one of the most important topics during Enlightenment. He exclaims these words in the Starling episode, in which he is interrupted by the ‘voice’ of a starling who wants to get out of the cage while he is making one of his soliloquies. He then tries to free him in vain, and this leads the protagonist to imagine a slave locked up in a prison without having the courage to go on because, as Yorick himself says, “I burst into tears – I could not sustain the picture of confinement which my fancy had drawn”.To conclude, Sentimental Journey is a real journey into Yorick’s feelings and impressions, but he is different from the other “enlightened British […] shocked by the misery they met” on Grand Tour, because he reacts to every aspect of the World with smile, feeling and above all sensibility, so that he can really learn something from his sentimental experience. BIBLIOGRAPHYBertinetti, Paolo (2000) (a cura di) Storia della letteratura inglese, Vol. 1, Torino, Einaudi (Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi Nuova Serie), pp. 373-375Outram, Dorinda (2006) L’illuminismo. Trad. di G. Arganese. Bologna, Il Mulino [tit. orig. The Enlightenment], pp. 65-79Porter, Roy (2001) Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World, London, Penguin Books, pp. 1-23
The Unfulfilled Climax: Eroticism, Sentimentalism and Narrative Form in Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey
In the “Narrative Desire” chapter of his larger work, Reading for Plot, author Peter Brooks discusses the different modes of desire that exist within a reader. He argues that these desires are the forces of momentum brought to a text that in fact structure plot and carry/create the thrust of the discourse. “Desire,” he writes, “is always there at the start of a narrative, often in a state of initial arousal, often having reached a state of intensity such that movement must be created, action undertaken, and change begun” (Brooks 38). Desire, therefore, initiates narrative. But, desire also devours the discourse it creates, this narrative “diminishing as it realizes itself, leading to an end that is the consummation…of its sense making” ( 52). “The paradox of narrative,” then, is that narrative desire is ultimately…desire for the end” (52). In other words, one reads only to reach an inevitable conclusion. At the same time, however, one is never quite able to arrive or articulate this “terminus,” for the end contains both the meaning and the destruction of the narrative (Brooks 58). Therefore, the “end” is substituted by way of metaphor, by an absence that allows the driving desire behind narrative to continue pushing the discourse forward.Although Brooks centers his analysis of narrative desire mainly on the 19th-century novel, similar dynamics are at work in Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey. In this text, Yorick the “hero-traveler” (and a semiautobiographical figuration of Sterne) is constantly initiating encounters that he does not see to a definite conclusion. Desire sets off his journey, as he decides to travel through France in order to settle an argument with a mate (who questions whether Yorick has ever seen France). This initial desire, this Eros, is extended and dilated throughout the text as a result of the narrative’s reluctance to end, or its “substituting” of the end with various formal absences: digressions, pauses, the story fast-forwarding or stepping over reveling details (prolepses), etc. Because the narrative refuses to name the end that cannot be articulated, because it refuses to bring moments Eros to fruition in climax, it is prohibiting the pronouncement/expression of the word “sex.” Such a repression, which Michel Foucault identifies as beginning in the seventeenth century, leads not to a disappearance of the term, but, rather, to an incitement to discourse. The more sex is not named openly, the more it keeps reappearing in various other discourses, popping up in unexpected places.In this paper, I will demonstrate how three elements of A Sentimental Journey’s narrative form – its travelogue style, its use of embedded narrative, and its refusal to name or depict sex (but not renounce passion altogether) – are 1) all ways in which the narrative resists arriving to an end and 2) formally reflect this text’s interest with foreplay, with the extension of arousal and dissipation of Eros. In this way, Sterne is offering sentimentalism as an alternative to (although not complete renunciation of) libertinism. In the latter, sex is an immediate event capped (and deemed successful) upon achievement of climax. On the contrary, in A Sentimental Journey, libertine desire is polymorphously rechanneled. Eros is staggered and diverted into different kinds of pleasure, bound up both in the personal pursuit for titillation, and a more virtuous sense of good will towards mankind. One of the ways in which the form of A Sentimental Journey achieves its themes of sentimental erotic enjoyment and the rechanneling of libertine desire, is reflected in the travelogue style of the narrative (a classic motif that, in covering a kind of spatiality and temporality, thereby constructs narrative). A Sentimental Journey documents the travels of Yorick through France, but the travelogue is much more interested in recording the details of Yorick’s meandering journey – the individual characters and unique experiences he encounters along the way – than the concrete facts of any particular destination or locale. A Sentimental Journey emerged from a period in the 18th-century when the genre of the travel narrative (especially travels from Europe) was particularly popular. The novel is in fact a satire of Tobias Smollet’s Travels Trough France and Italy (1766), in which Smollett’s memories of his travels are so negative, so tainted with acrimony and disgust, that a reader would never be inspired or excited (i.e., pleased) by these visions from abroad. Smollet appears in Sterne’s novel as the character Smelfungus, a man whose misery and abundance of negative feelings “discoloured or distorted” his accounts of the many objects and sites he passed on his travels (28). For Smelfungus, travelling is a solipsistic, self-absorbed activity. Yorick (and thus Sterne), on the other hand, view travelling as opportunity for social, affecting experiences. “What a large volume of adventures,” says Yorick, “may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in every thing, and who, having eyes to see, what time and chance are perpetually holding out to him as he jouneyeth on his way, misses nothing he can fairly get his hands on” (28). Yorick will vary course, will take detours, will focus on the minutia of his surroundings, because such an indeterminate path prolongs the sentimental pleasure of the path, giving him total access to his environment. For example, he initially plans to travel to Versailles in order to meet with Monsieur Le Duc de C and secure a passport. However, he never quite makes it to see Monsieur Le Duc, deciding instead to seek out the Count de B, a gentleman he has been told about over the course of his travels. Explaining his decision, Yorick says, “so I changed my mind a second time – In truth, it was the third” (76). Yorick does not arrive at his end, at his intended destination. In this way, the narrative turns back upon itself, moving sideways and cyclically, but never in a straight linear path. Therefore, the dynamic travelogue style occasions the opportunity for Yorick to experience an exciting variety of instances of good will towards men, and a multitude of small, erotic encounters. For example, it is in his wandering, indeterminate travels that he meets a character like his “valet” La Fleur, whose main defining characteristic is that “he is always in love” (33). From La Fleur, Yorick is reminded of the beauty, the happiness of falling in love, and recognizes that it is in these moments of passion that he is at his (moral) best. “The moment I am rekindled,” says Yorick, “I am all generosity and good will again; and would do anything in the world either for or with any one” (34). It is in the figure of La Fleur the lover, the random character he meets on his journey, that Yorick imagines loves as a motive for generosity (and not self-fulfillment). On the other hand, his travels place him into contact with several lovely women, and thus several mini-scenes of erotic excitement (which is all about self-interest and self-fulfillment.). For example, Yorick meets Madame de L in Calais when he runs into the Monk he had previously denied charity. From this chance encounter, Yorick invites Madame de L into his carriage, and they hold hands. For the libertine, holding hands would be a waste of time, an unnecessary step blocking the rake’s entry to the female body. But this is where sentimentalism differs, for Yorick is gaining pleasure more from discreet sexy touches and erotic moments here and there, rather than in a full-blown sexual encounter. It is more than lust he feels for Madame de L – he responds to her visible melancholia and expresses the he “pitied her from [his[ soul” (20). Erotic pleasure and moral good-will are coupled in this paradigm of sentimentalism, a diversion of libertine desire The reluctance of A Sentimental Journey to admit an end, and its engagement as a kind of foreplay text, is also evident across the novel’s narrative levels. An example of how the discourse is being interrupted and extended, and thus the close of Yorick’s erotic/sentimental journey delayed (i.e. the climax deferred), is the digressions the main text of A Sentimental Journey takes in order to tell a seemingly unrelated story. This technique of embedded narrative is exemplified by the tale of the notary Yorick discovers printed on a sheet of waste paper. The details of the tale are less important than how much is actually narrated and available to the audience. In this story (“the fragment”), a hapless notary is wandering the streets until he is called in to record the last will and testament of a dying gentleman. The gentleman promises that he has quite the “uncommon,” compelling story to confess, and the discourse says that the notary was “inflamed with a desire to begin” (100). However, before the titillating, tantalizing story can begin to unfold, Yorick realizes that he has run out of paper. This is a three-way denial of satisfaction, a three-way deferral of climax: the notary, Yorick, and the outside reader of the text are all prevented from reaching total narrative/erotic fulfillment. However, desire here is not being denied, but rather dissipated through different chains of society. When Yorick learns that La Fleur used the last of the waste papers to wrap a bouquet for his love, Yorick demands that he find the piece of paper. La Fleur returns, empty handed, because that single sheet of waste paper that contains the climax of the notary tale, representing the end to desire in this end of narrative, has passed through several hands. “His faithless mistress had given his gage d’amour to one of the Count’s footmen—the footman to a young sempstress—and the sempstress to a fidler” (101). The form of A Sentimental Journey is here enacting the activity of foreplay, of teasing and gently touching the reader without surrendering all its narrative secrets. However, because all single parties were denied full climax, the desire contained within the lines of the notary tale has remained active (desire remains alive with the lack of a narrative end). Again, desire has here been polymorphously rechanneled away from the libertine individual (extreme self-interest), and cast outward over an expanse of pleasure-seeking plurality, dissipated through a benevolent spread of Eros.It is important to note that, while the narrative text may be deferring the sexual moment of climax for Yorick, A Sentimental Journey is in no way renouncing sex. The moment between Yorick and the fille de chambre seems to be a classic scene of libertine seduction. In their initial encounter at the Parisian bookstore, Yorick refrains from kissing the young maiden, wishing instead to teach her a lesson about virtue, and “bid God bless her” (66). On the second encounter, there seems to be some unresolved sexual tension between the two parties, which is manifested in a sexually-connoted interaction of their hands (they pass the maid’s green purse back and forth, and she slides her hand across Yorick’s neck when attempting to fix a tear in his clothing). The scene continues: [The purse] was in her right pocket at last – she pulled it out; it was green taffeta, lined with a little bit of white quilted satin, and just big enough to hold the crown – she put it into my hand – it was pretty; and I held it ten minutes with the back of my hand resting upon her lap – looking sometimes at the purse, sometimes on the side of it. (89)This moment is illustrated in fine detail, a level of magnification and precision that itself reflects the polymorphous rechanneling of a desire that in libertinism would have been embodied by the climax. Here, the narrative focus in on the small moments of physical contact and flirtation, evidence itself of how eroticism, in sentimentalism, appears in the tiniest details and in small, contained, titillating doses (restrained but also extra-sensuous). Then, suddenly, the narrative breaks. There is an interruption of this foreplay scene and the crucial moment of successful seduction. The discourse jumps to a new section, ironically entitled “The Conquest,” which for a moment leaves ambiguous whether or not Yorick has consummated the flirtation. He has not; again, Yorick is denied sexual climax by a narrative that refuses to provide an end to desire and erotic experience. Although Yorick (or the narrative,) circumvents sex, he/it does not reject sexual love. Yorick actually makes a case for passion, defending his erotic passion:Yes—and then—Ye whose clay-clod heads and luke-warm hearts can argue down or mask your passions – tell me, what trespass is it that man should have them? or how his spirit stands answerable, to the father of spirits, but for his conduct under them? (90) Yorick displays possession of libertine desires. Yorick does not renounce erotic pleasure –he just demonstrates the capacity for restraint that both reflects and fuels his alliance with sentimentalism. He (or the narrative) wants to make sure his audience knows he is a man of sexual pleasure. But, in this era of sentimentalism, away from the comedies and love plots of the Restoration era, being a man of sexual pleasure is no longer enough. Restraint, manners, and civility were of increasing importance, integral to this developing notion of the cultivated, refined personality. To return to the “Narrative Desire” chapter, Brooks develops a resolution to the paradox of the death drive in narrative, the problem inherent to the idea that the reader seeks an end which cannot be named. “Narration,” he writes, “…is seen to be life-giving in that it arouses and sustains desire, ensuring that the terminus it both delays and beckons towards will offer what we might call a lucid repose, desire both come to rest and set in perspective” (Brooks 61). In other words, narration itself satisfies the desire which initiated the discourse. In his study of the 19th-century novel, Brooks wonders, if the end is the thing, why there is such a need for a middle in text? By avoiding the admission of “ends” at all costs, A Sentimental Journey is nothing but “middle.” It seems that the refusal to allow an ultimate sexual pleasure, increases the richness and scope of narrative pleasure. The more that ends and climaxes are deferred, the more that Yorick’s journeys continue, there more that narrative choices emerge. Narratives include meaningful absences which it then invites readers to fill. It encourages enjoyment (and employment) of one’s own thoughts and feelings, and offers several opportunities for sense stimulation. In constantly deferring the moment of climax or termination, A Sentimental Journey is simply extending the opportunity for arousal and titillation over the expanse of its discourse, demonstrating how narrative is itself an articulation of sensual desire.]]
Controlling Exchange: Money in A Sentimental Journey
In A Sentimental Journey, Laurence Sterne places a peculiar emphasis on the exchange of money. An intentional stress on this topic is clear in the monetary terms found throughout the text, especially as metaphors in unexpected places. The process of buying and selling provides opportunities for social interaction between men and women. Characters of both sexes capitalize on this de-sexualized setting to speak freely to each other. For Yorick, these interactions exist in a realm outside of commerce. It seems that the exchange, money aside, is the crucial aspect for him in these moments. Yorick is searching for simple human interaction. He desperately wants to believe that sentiment, or at least something emotional and romantic, drives human action. But his own narration betrays his true vision of the world. Everything is commerce, including human beings themselves.Sterne litters Yorick’s narration with well-disguised reminders of the world of commerce lurking behind any kind of exchange. Monetary terms are found referring to anything but money. For example, Yorick will say “cost the honest fellow a heartache,” (98) or “cost me infinite trouble to make anything of it” (126). Moments like these serve to subtly remind a reader of the inherent loss and gain of any situation, not simply the economic. A slightly different use of this tactic occurs in the metaphors that involve a monetary vocabulary. He says “I always perceive my heart locked up – I can scarce find in it, to give Misery a sixpence,” (57) to refer to his feelings when he is between loves. Later, Yorick proclaims to a count that “A polished nation…makes every one its debtor” (114). When the Count does not understand, the language dwells in monetary terms, as Yorick makes use of “a few king William’s shillings as smooth as glass in [his] pocket” (114) and illustrates his point by making the coins stand for the French. He uses similar language when telling of a woman that “did not care a sous,” (134) once again incorporating this terminology. His language is gradually becoming a strange money-slang. And as much as he openly discusses his obsession with sentiment, he seems less aware of his obsession with money. Here, the author’s hand is seen as the narration becomes a commentary on its speaker’s character.A crucial complexity in the novel is the nuances in the author and the narrator’s treatment of the money theme. Sterne uses the familiarity of monetary terms to communicate with the reader but also to allow communication without chaperones between characters. One example is “The Remise,” (48-50) in which Yorick is able to speak with a shy widow while shopping for a new “chaise.” The first several paragraphs closely describe the process of shopping, giving detailed images of several purchases that Yorick isn’t going to make. He tells of “a couple of chaises…[that] were too good,” so he “pass[es] on to a third…and forthwith [begins] to chaffer for the price” (48). This tactic could be considered Yorick’s own sly attempt to convince the reader that this process is winning his attention as much as the woman who he is permitted to speak with because of this exchange of coins.The use of the necessary everyday commerce is a successful mask for Yorick’s inappropriate flirting. Unsupervised interactions between men and women are obviously more acceptable when some sort of actual monetary exchange is involved. This is clearly illustrated when a maitre d’hotel explains his reluctance to forgive Yorick for having “a young woman locked up with [him] two hours that evening” (120). Although “[He owns] it is necessary…that a stranger in Paris should have opportunities presented to him of buying lace and silk,” it is only rendered inappropriate if “Monsieur…has bought nothing” (121). Social taboos like this explain the role of money in bringing men and women together. Yorick makes use of this potential often. When he stops in a glove shop to ask for directions, and finds himself smitten with the “handsomest Grisset…[he] ever saw,” (74) he cannot leave without buying something. When her assistant arrives to help him with the directions he was supposedly looking for, he suddenly decides that “A propos,…[he] want[s] a couple of pair [himself]” (77). The term “a propos” means of course, or naturally, and therefore suggests that paying for anything is the appropriate behavior in this moment. The sensuality of Sterne’s language in the ensuing moments only proves the absolute lack of importance in the exchange of money that is occurring. Two people go through the motions of normal commerce as “The beautiful Grisset measure[s] them one by one across [his] hand…She [begs he] would try a single pair, which [seem] to be the least – She [holds] it open -[his] hand slip[s] into it at once – It will not do, [says he], shaking [his] head a little – No, [says] she, doing the same thing” (77). In the end, Yorick buys the gloves even though they do not fit, only proving that he relies on exchanging goods to flirt with women in public.The careful de-emphasis of money in these situations reveals their actual role in Yorick’s journey. His instinct to buy something he doesn’t need suggests that he is perhaps confused about his own intentions. Sometimes, he is consciously using money as a vehicle for something else. He admits this understanding when he says “When a virtuous convention is made betwixt man and woman, it sanctifies their most private walks” (90). But in narrating his encounters, he does not discuss monetary rewards so much as “sentimental” ones. When he sees a beggar asking only women for money, and getting it without fail, he is immediately very curious to know “what kind of story it was, and what species of eloquence it could be, which softened the hearts of the women” (119). He cannot forget this spectacle, and he later explains that “[he] would have given anything to [get] to the bottom of it; and that, not out of curiosity – tis so low a principle of inquiry, in general, [he] would not purchase the gratification of it with a two-sous piece – but a secret…which so soon and so certainly soften[s] the heart of every woman you [come] near, [is] a secret at least equal to the philosopher’s stone” (123). It is interesting to note that once again, he narrates in displaced monetary terms. His excessive interest in this man’s “secret” betrays his desperate search for any opportunity to successfully steer any kind of exchange. His prize is different than the beggar’s: He wants to learn how to get whatever he wants from a woman. He is obsessed with an act that bears all of the characteristics of a sale, without the actual passing of money.People and emotions are the preferred currency in most of Yorick’s exchanges. The stress on money is simply a stress on reward. The reward varies in each situation, but it is rarely the actual object bought. Gratitude is one commodity deemed valuable in his unique bartering. He is immediately smitten when the beautiful Grisset in the glove shop rises to answer his initial question: “Très volontiers; most willingly, said she, laying her work down upon a chair next her, and rising up from the low chair she was sitting in, with so chearful a movement and so chearful a look, that had [he] been laying out fifty louis d’ors with her, [he] should have said – This woman is grateful” (73). And he also seems fulfilled by behavior such as “The young girl [who] [makes him] more a humble curtsy than a low one – twas one of those quiet, thankful sinkings, where the spirit bows itself down – the body does no more than tell it – [he] never gave a girl a crown in my life which gave [him] half the pleasure” (90). In both of these exchanges, Yorick finds compensation that he calls priceless, in a strictly monetary sense. It is crucial to note the slight hypocrisy of making such a claim by attaching specific numerical prices to both revelations. Nonetheless, in both cases he reveals the existence of a reward existing outside the bounds of standard currency.Most of Yorick’s rewards demand a power relation that gives him control. In all of the above examples, he glories in situations where he is being curtsied to or helped by humble, grateful women. This is not an equal exchange by its very nature. In an encounter with yet another Grisset, he is taken by her servile manner, and convinced to buy despite a firm conviction not to spend anything with her. He explains the thrill of his feelings with “I might buy – or not – she would let me have everything at my own price…and laid herself out to win me…” (121). The excitement here is clearly in his control over the situation, which makes him so happy that he buys yet another item he doesn’t need before the scene is over. Yorick actually prefers unequal exchanges if they somehow place him above the other party involved. He says this at the end of the glove shop scene, when he notes that “[he is] sensible that the beautiful Grisset had not asked above a single livre of the price – [he] wishe[s] she had asked a livre more, and [is] puzzling [his] brains how to bring the matter about” (78). Essentially, these scenes fulfill him more the less equal they are. His inability to give as he receives is finally secured by his experience in French society. He decides to make friends by flattery, thus placing himself in the semi-servile position. After becoming extremely popular by constant bowing (a symbol of humility, thus a loss of some power), his reaction is violent. He decides that “’twas a dishonest reckoning – [he grows] ashamed of it – it was the gain of the slave – every sentiment of honour revolted against it – the higher I got, the more I was forced upon my beggarly system…and one night after a most vile prostitution of myself…I grew sick — went to bed – ordered La Fleur to get me horses in the morning to set out for Italy” (136). Here, the word “prostitution” makes a strong claim. Any kind of power yielded is vile and shameful for him. Yorick is clearly unable to perform the simple humility he demands from practically every woman he sees.Essentially, Yorick’s “sentimental” needs are no different than those of the average consumer, and even defined in the same terms. His exchanges may be unequal, but he chooses them for this reason. He simply insists on control. Although his treatment of women is certainly unjust, he is not exactly meeting much opposition on their part. Sterne uses this character to draw disturbing parallels in familiar institutions. Money and power are both forces that steer people in their actions. And both forces demand inequality. In the saturated emotion of A Sentimental Journey, Yorick’s endless need for control is not surprising. This speaks volumes to the reader living in our consumer world, driven through a series of encounters, always in search of profit. Sterne presents complex ideas about the nature of interaction between the sexes that still resonate in today’s society, in terms we can easily comprehend.