Sentimental Journey 101

While reading this novel, many questions were in my mind;

How sentimental Yorick is? How would he describe Sentimental feelings?

The connection between the title and the journey is not obvious. So, I googled the word Sentimental to see different definitions listed in different dictionaries. Looking at the words I found similar answers, Emotion, specific notion, view based on feelings, and judgement based on feelings. They are all related to feelings.

Sentimental Journey starts with a reasonable, logical man, Mr. Yorick who has almost no connection to others. As he travels around Europe, he gets to know some people and come close in contact with others. While he might see that sentimental, we find his interaction with these individuals lack sentimental feelings.

My interest is to compare Mr. Yorick before and after, and check his character toward women. Before his journey, this man had almost no emotional attachments to anyone or possibly to anything. He never mentioned passion or missing anyone. According to him, “Sentimental Traveller (meaning thereby myself) who have travell’d and of which I am now sitting down to give an account – as much out of Necessity and the besoin de Voyager, as any one in this class.” (page 13).

Because of different Necessities, travelers like him might not see the necessity to put time on others. I gathered that sightseeing in France or Italy is what defines the world to him. He did not make the sense of the importance of meeting individuals on this trip. Nevertheless, his journey made him more aware of the real world, the world that is full of people and connections. The fact that he almost lacks the emotional connections; he is usually surprised by others’ emotions and notions that he witnesses. He is discovering his senses and feelings towards others, and towards himself, while he views others.

For example, after he was rude to the monk (page 8), he saw the beautiful lady speaking to the monk. At that time, he became more aware of the degree of his rudeness to the monk. He immediately thought that this monk was complaining about him. He wanted to correct his attitude. This is a sentimental act that he took as a reaction to what he observed. The lesson he learned, never be rude because you never know who will hear of your rude reputation.

Although we are not aware of his past relationships, we are aware of his attitude towards women. From his reaction to the monk, I can tell that Mr. Yorick has taste in women. He likes to show the ladies his good side. As much as he was able to face and talk to many men, he was almost always mute with women. It is possible that it was due to his strong feelings for the ladies he met in his journey. He was amused by the ladies, but was not able to describe his feeling in words. He was tied, not in body language but in verbal language. Although he was passive, he was also emotional.

One of the most sentimental feelings he felt was when he came across with the owner of the ass. He was observing the owner of the ass’s reaction to the death of the ass, while he is thinking of the world surrounding him. In volume I, page 40, he says, “Shame on the world! Said I to myself – Did we love each other, as this poor soul but loved his ass- ‘twould be something.-”

A character like Mr. Yorick brings a close look at those who have limited sensations and emotions. Having been on this journey, witnessing some emotional events, Mr. Yorick seems to see himself as an experienced traveler bringing back this Sentimental Journey for those who could not explore the word sentimental.

3 thoughts on “Sentimental Journey 101

  1. I hadn’t actually considered Yorick to have no sentimental feelings, I just regarded him as an observer of others. And I think you’re right that he notices emotions in other people, while maintaining a healthy distance from other people. The way Sterne writes this appears to me to be an observational guide of people on his journey though. In that case, it is not surprising that Yorick maintains a certain distance from those around him, so as to not interfere with his observational skills (and his people skills, which are nill shown in his surprise when he’s thrown out of the hotel after spending a few hours with a woman unaccompanied in his hotel room).

  2. I agree with you, Yorick claims to be a sentimental traveler, yet he does not act like one. Yorick claims to have unchangeable deep love and loyalty to Eliza, yet he tries to have a relationship with each and every good looking female he can see. And he hires a young lad who knows nothing but flirting with girls as his squire, why does it sound like a rich-naive-collage-new-student-of-England, gathering the same kind of people to party 7×24 and gets “sentimental” to all beautiful girls?

  3. This is very interesting, Sana–there’s actually a whole discourse on sentimentalism in literature of the 18th century, Sterne in particular. You might look up work by a scholar named Markman Ellis, and particularly a book of his on the politics of sensibility. Emotionalism is a prominent feature of sentimentalism, but it serves a purpose, as well. Your post goes some way to addressing the function of sentimentalism in the novel, but we can press further. I’m not sure that Yorick “had almost no emotional attachments to anyone or possibly to anything” either before or during his journey, though–much, if not all, of the book is an exploration of Yorick’s affect. Yet, you’re right, that affect is somewhat removed from others’ pain. He sees it, sympathizes, sheds a tear, gives money, feels briefly with and for the other, and then moves on. So, how does sentiment function in the novel?

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