Virginia Woolf on Laurence Sterne
The 18th century novelist Laurence Sterne died on 18 March 1768. During a recent trip to Oxford University Press’s out of print library in Oxford, we came across the 1928 Oxford World’s Classics edition of his novel A Sentimental Journey, which included an introduction by none other than Virginia Woolf. In it, Woolf discusses the maturity of Sterne’s writing, his distinctive style, the ways he shifted perspective, and his ability to shock. You can read the introduction in the slideshow below.
Celebrated in its own day as the progenitor of ‘a school of sentimental writers’, A Sentimental Journey has outlasted its many imitators because of the humour and mischievous eroticism that inform Mr Yorick’s travels. Setting out to journey to France and Italy he gets little further than Lyons but finds much to appreciate, in contrast to contemporary travel writers whom Sterne satirizes in the figures of Smelfungus and Mundungus. A master of ambiguity and double entendre, Sterne is nevertheless as concerned as his peers with exploring the nature of virtue; unlike other writers of sentimental fiction Sterne insists on the inseparability of desire and feeling.
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