Sentimental Journey and Language

The eighteenth century was a time for exploration and travel. Much literature was written within this period which explored the many sights seen and individuals encountered. This type of literature was called, Travel Literature. In Sentimental Journey, we find the narrator as a traveler, who takes out his “pen and paper” and begins to write about his “sentimental journey.” In some ways, the novel reminds me of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in that the narrator is on a pilgrimage with others. Within this text, the narrator travels and meets various individuals. In Chaucer’s tale, the speaker has a competition of who can tell the best story. Even in Sentimental Journey, we meet many characters on the narrator’s travel. What is called within question as readers read the novel is who is the narrator addressing? He seems to have to justify his travel. For example, he has to explain what kind of traveler the speaker exhibits. He states that there are many types of travelers who travel for various purposes. The narrator states there are “idle travelers, inquisitive travelers, lying travelers, proud travelers, vain travelers…then follow the travelers of necessity…the unfortunate and innocent traveler, the simple traveler, and last of all the (if you please) the sentimental traveler…who have travelled and of which I am now sitting down to give an account-as much as Necessity…(12-13). He discusses how most travelers set out to see new places and objects, he states, “As an English man does not travel to see English men, I retired to my room” (14).
Most of the descriptions which we find of other individuals which the narrator encounters are mostly based on a description of their personality. For example, he discusses the Monk. When describing the Monk, the narrator goes into detail about his humble demeanor. For example he states, “I had scarce utter’d the words, when a poor monk of the order of St. Francis came into the room to beg something for his convent. No man cares to his virtues the sport of contingencies-or one man may be generous, as another man…The moment I cast my eyes upon him, I was predetermined not to give him a single sous; and accordingly I put my purse into my pocket-button’d it up-set myself a little more upon my centre, and advanced…The monk, as I judged from …a few scatter’d…hairs upon his temples, being all that remained of it, might be about seventy-but from his eyes, and that sort of fire which was in them, which seemed more temper’d by courtesy than years, could be no more than sixty-Truth might lie between-He was certainly sixty-five, and the general and of his countenance, notwithstanding something seem’d to have planted wrinkles in it before their time, agreed to the account..” (7). These descriptions presented are in “realistic terms,” and we see that each experienced is based on the individual (Watts).
As I have learned with the emergence of the novel, came a new “readership.” It is interesting how the new readership (based on entertainment) has come to be defined. Readers are forced to ponder, how Sterne goes about writing the piece and for what purposes and for what audiences? As I learned the “new readership” was defined for its new “habits for reading.” It is interesting how Sterne plays a part in this “new readership” and how reading habits were influenced. Its importance is seen in how the novel is seen as a “cultural object.”
Maybe an answer to these questions is found in the language used by Sterne. The language used in Sterne’s piece is different as compared to the romances. It is not like the romances, where every description was the ideal, but it still retains the sense of elevation, as seen in the terms used and the allusions made (“scatter’d hair, temper’d courtesy). Ian Watts notes the “rhetoric tradition, in which he states the “new writers. Would still have remained a strong literary expectation that they would use language as a source of interest in its own right, rather than as a purely referential medium” (28). Hence, the language used by the early novelists, pointed to other ideas and terms. Watts notes that the language used by novelists of the time were “unadorned realistic descriptions” (28). He notes that many authors as they described things as they happened, as being ironical” (28). It is definitely present within Sterne’s Sentimental Journey in which he describes the individuals he comes into contact. Watts argues that former language of the romance novels, was “too stylish to be authentic” with its elegance and concision” (30). In other words, when reading the novels such as Sterne’s work, we have to go beyond the denotative and literal meaning to what is implied. In other words, there is more to the Monk, than meets the eye. This is seen in the fact that Sterne’s describes the Monk as humble, but on the verge to make a living off of other individual’s labor, and therefore the narrator hides his purse. Language was an important feature of the novel, as seen in Sterne’s Sentimental Journey.

3 thoughts on “Sentimental Journey and Language

  1. While I would like to agree that Chaucer’s tales and this book have a lot in common, as you suggest, I am not entirely convinced. Chaucer’s tales seem to be more about contrasting stories between characters so reveal each character’s true nature; whereas Yorick is really just milling about Europe to buy stuff, judge people, and write. Admittedly, he is revealing characteristics about the people he meets, but it comes through the filter of his perspective. I think as readers we have to be skeptical of what Yorick is telling us and what it actually means (long story short, I agree with you about that).

  2. The language Sterne used is certainly very indirect, I saw many different explains about what he actually means about the parts that Virginia Woolf claims to be pure poetry, I was rather shocked, as I couldn’t see anything as a second language… But I did like his ironical, becoming the finest wit in Paris by agrees with everyone 🙂

  3. I’m glad you wrote about Sterne’s style here–I think we can press on this, too. What is the nature of his style? What characterizes it, specifically, and how might it be related to the context of travel–which is where your post begins? This definitely is a book with a style that seeks actively to engage the reader, on an emotional level. How do we see that functioning?

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