Laurence Sterne

A Sentimental Journey

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A Sentimental Journey Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 58-page guide for “A Sentimental Journey” by Laurence Sterne includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 70 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Sentimentality and Travel.

Plot Summary

A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, a novel by Laurence Sterne first published in 1768, is the story of Reverend Mr. Yorick, who realizes one day that he has never been to France and wishes to compare it to Britain. After a heated argument with a friend, he packs lightly and sets sail the next day from Dover to Calais. En route, he eats and drinks in a tavern, where he meets a Franciscan monk. Though he is determined not to give the monk any money, he finds himself bewitched by the man. The monk leaves once Yorick chastises him for depending on the bread of “other people’s” (9) labor. As soon as the door closes, Yorick regrets his choice of words. While trying to avoid the monk in the hotel courtyard, Yorick searches for a carriage to take him on his journey.

Yorick sits it the carriage and begins to write his travelogue. He describes the various types of travelers, breaking them down into categories. Eventually, he is interrupted and returns to the hotel, where he finds the owner and discusses the purchase of a carriage. While walking to the carriage store, Yorick finds himself caught alone with a young woman. He accidently insults her, eventually deciding that the monk told her a bad story about him. The monk is nearby and he and Yorick exchange snuffboxes; Yorick is desperate to make amends for the non-existent insult.

While waiting to enter the carriage store, Yorick tries to start a conversation with the woman. After a series of failures, the hotel owner returns with the store key and shows off his wares. Yorick and the woman get inside a small carriage and then find themselves locked inside. They share a conversation before the hotel owner returns and informs the woman that her brother has arrived, causing her to depart. Yorick closes the deal for the carriage quickly, remembering a rival travel writer called Smelfungus, whom Yorick dislikes.

Yorick travels to Montriul and, once there, hires a boy named La Fleur as his servant. La Fleur is a pleasant—if not particularly talented—young man who will accompany Yorick throughout his journey. They set off and Yorick is soon joined in his carriage by La Fleur, whose horse is spooked and runs away. Later, they arrive in Nampont and hear the story of the dead donkey that spooked La Fleur’s horse. They then depart for Amiens. Once there, Yorick spies the woman again and eventually writes her a letter and, in turn, agrees to deliver a letter from the woman to her friend in Paris, Madame de R—.

In Paris, Yorick meets a barber and has a new wig fitted. He then visits the opera, where he witnesses a French military officer intervene in a situation to help a dwarf. On the way home, he stops to buy a book and meets a woman who works as a chambermaid for Madame de R—, the person to whom he is meant to deliver the letter. When Yorick arrives back at his hotel, he discovers that the police are searching for him, as he does not have a passport.

The next day, Yorick delays the letter delivery to Madame R— and travels to Versailles, in the hope that he can meet someone who can help with his passport. After a ponderous coach ride, he arrives at the home of a wealthy aristocrat to find that the host is busy and not able to meet with Yorick. After departing, Yorick decides on a whim to visit the home of Count de B—, a man who he talked about with the bookstore owner the previous day. The count admires Shakespeare and meets with Yorick right away. After hearing Yorick’s problem, the count is amused that Yorick shares a name with a character from Hamlet and fetches him a passport, though he mistakenly believes Yorick to be a court jester. Yorick declines to correct the count and accepts his passport, allowing him to travel without fear of arrest.

Over the course of the coming days, Yorick begins to befriend the upper classes in Paris. He is introduced to a string of aristocrats by the count but eventually grows weary with the schedule and decides to move on to Italy.

While travelling to Italy, Yorick stops to meet Maria. She is a young girl whose story was told to him by a friend, Mr. Shandy. Yorick finds Maria in a state of mourning and senses a great tragedy in her life. Moved by her plight, he bids her farewell. The memory of Maria stays with him on the road to Lyon. One night, they stop at a small house in the French countryside. Yorick eats dinner with the family and watches them dance in the evening.

The next day, Yorick finds himself forced to stop in an inn for a night. The inn is full, so Yorick must share his room with a lady and her fille de chambre. The sleeping arrangements cause a great deal of consternation but eventually an agreement is reached, including the proviso that Yorick remain silent the entire night. After he fails to fall asleep, Yorick grumbles aloud. This is considered a breach of the agreement and, as Yorick and the lady argue, the fille de chambre sneaks into the space between the beds. The novel ends mid-sentence, when Yorick reaches out into the darkness and finds the girl.

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Chapters 1-9