Melvyn New, W. G. Day. A Sentimental Journey; and, Continuation of the Bramine's Journal: The Text and Notes. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002. lxxii + 567 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8130-1771-6.
Reviewed by Lea Davis (Division of Humanities, Miles College)
Published on H-Florida (July, 2004)
Laurence Sterne's Sentimental Journey through France and Italy and Continuation of the Bramine's Journal: The Text and Notes Vol. 6 is a wonderful example of the novel form's malleability. While still writing his better known novel, Tristram Shandy, Sterne conceived the idea of trying his hand at the popular travel narrative genre. He seems to have begun the book as he ended his writing on Tristram Shandy and finished it just before his death due to tuberculosis in 1768. Editors W. G. Day and Melvyn New have produced an edition that teachers interested in including Sterne in a course will find useful. While it includes informative notes and glossary, it does not distract the reader, particularly the student reader, with descriptions of textual variance and eighteenth century life as do other versions.
Prior to this project, Dr. New has edited the Florida Editions of Tristram Shandy and Sterne's Anglican sermons. He and Dr. Day have continued the apparatus from these previous collections of Stern's work into Sentimental Journey. Stern's writing is presented with few noticeable edits. They explain the book's history and any line variances in the appendix. This approach allows students to focus on Rev. Sterne's wonderfully odd stories and writing style. In addition, most junior or senior level college students should be able to follow Sterne's language despite the differences between eighteenth-century and contemporary phrasing.
Sterne mixed satire, pathos, scatological humor, and the picaresque to create his novelistic travel narrative. As with Tristram Shandy, the book is constructed out of individual, page-long passages that offer short descriptions and must be connected by the reader to form the larger narrative. This construction gives his writing an interesting modernist feel. Our narrator is the traveler "Mr. Yorick," and as our poor clown travels first to France and then Italy, he finds much to comment upon. Sterne's narrator reminds me of Mark Twain in his Innocents Abroad--where the emphasis is upon the traveler's impressions of what he sees and feels, or conversations he has with people he meets, rather than descriptions of the notable places he visits.
One example of the manner in which Sterne mixes humor and sorrow may be found when Yorick arrives at the post house in Nampont and witnesses "The Dead Ass." Here he meets a fellow traveler, who mourns the death of a much beloved donkey. Along with Yorick, we learn that the mourner is returning from a religious pilgrimage. The ass was as much beloved pet as beast of burden. And the mourner blames himself for overtaxing his animal companion. Sterne uses a deft touch as he describes the man's inconsolable sadness and grief. Then Yorick comments upon the meaning of this moment--we should love each other as much as this man loved his own ass. Yorick, our adventuring hero, learns important lessons and shares those lessons with us as should a good picaresque narrator.
In addition, this edition contains Sterne's journal, which Dr. New titles Bramine's Journal, written in 1767. The journal was intended for Eliza Draper and is usually titled "Journal for Eliza" in other versions. She was the wife of a man in the India service and in her flirtatious letters to Sterne called him Bramin (a reference to his status as a minister). He returned the compliment and called her Bramine in feminized form. The journal was begun after she returned from England to her husband in India and was meant to be given to her when she and Sterne met again. They never did. He seems to have written to her for four months and then abandoned the project. As with the Sentimental Journey, the language and style of the journal is easily followed by an undergraduate. Also, the topic of a journal written to a beloved far away might be of interest to a student reader even in these jaded times.
The Florida Edition will be useful in a class on eighteenth-century novels or travel narratives. An astute teacher, looking for something to attract the interest of college readers, can use Sterne's earthy humor and emotional affectations to open up a conversation about his writing. A narrator who understands the importance of a good ass joke is a useful tool in the classroom.
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Lea Davis. Review of New, Melvyn; Day, W. G., A Sentimental Journey; and, Continuation of the Bramine's Journal: The Text and Notes.
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