Twentieth century British novelist Virginia Woolf, commenting on the style of A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, wrote:The very punctuation is that of speech, not writing, and brings the sound, the associations, of the speaking voice with it. The order of the ideas, their suddenness and irrelevancy, is more true to life than to literature. There is a privacy in this intercourse which allows things to slip out unreproved that would have been in doubtful taste had they been spoken in public. . . . We are as close to life as we can be.
These comments, which could apply to Tristram Shandy as well, underline Sterne’s relationship to the stream-of-consciousness style that Woolf, Irish novelist James Joyce, and others would develop and perfect a century and a half later. Sterne did not set out to develop a style, but in A Sentimental Journey the combination of urgent delight in the flight from morality and easy familiarity with a specific readership create the immediate and intimate style that Woolf describes.
In volume 7 of Tristram Shandy, Tristram recounts his trip through France to escape illness; A Sentimental Journey, in a similar vein, is Parson Yorick’s account of his travels. Sterne’s book is at once a response to contemporary travel books—Tobias Smollett’s had appeared two years before—that criticize the host culture and a burlesque of the Grand Tour of Europe that was a...
(The entire section is 464 words.)