This masterpiece of eighteenth century narrative, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent., was written by a man who never reconciled his sentimental nature with his roguish tendencies and who never tried to reconcile them. Laurence Sterne was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he met John Hall-Stevenson, a young aristocrat who shared and encouraged his taste for erotic subjects and exaggeration. After taking holy orders, Sterne received an ecclesiastical appointment in Sutton through family connections, but he was temperamentally completely unsuited for the clerical life. In fact, the only part of religion he mastered was sermon writing, but at that he excelled. Eventually, he turned his pen to miscellaneous journalism in York periodicals. In 1759, he published A Political Romance, which included many elements that would characterize his masterpiece: allegory, multiple levels of meaning, verbal fanfare, whimsical use of scholastic learning, profanity, and great stylistic versatility.
Nevertheless, it was the appearance of the first two volumes of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. (commonly known simply as Tristram Shandy) that made Sterne an instant celebrity, despite the immediate denunciation of Samuel Johnson, Samuel Richardson, Horace Walpole, Oliver Goldsmith, and other literary establishment figures who condemned Sterne’s iconoclastic style and frankly mercenary attitude for both...
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