Cover image for Laurence Sterne : a life
Laurence Sterne : a life
Ross, Ian Campbell.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
xiii, 498 pages ; 24 cm
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PR3716 .R67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Laurence Sterne was in his mid-forties when the publication of Tristram Shandy catapulted him from obscurity into unprecedented literary fame. The story of how a provincial clergyman became the most fashionable writer of his day is extraordinary, and all the more remarkable for having beenengineered by its subject. 'I wrote not to be fed, but to be famous', Laurence Sterne declared of his comic masterpiece, and in order to achieve his ambition he became an assiduous networker, as astute a self-publicist as any modern author could hope to be. Shocked critics of Tristram Shandydenounced his bawdy novel as a scandal to the cloth but Sterne revelled in the celebrity his age's obsession with novelty and fashion allowed him. He at last found compensation for a life characterized by alternating moods of gaiety and gloom. Unhappily married to a woman who suffered a nervousbreakdown and at one time believed herself to be the Queen of Bohemia, Sterne became notorious for his sexual and sentimental liaisons with other women. His second book, A Sentimental Journey, transmuted his experiences into literary expressions of moral feeling. Dependent for so much of his life on patrons, it was the patronage of the reading public that was to secure his livelihood. Tristram Shandy remains one of the most innovative and influential novels in world literature, and Ian Campbell Ross makes full use of important new materials to examineSterne's life and career and the cult of the celebrity author.

Author Notes

Ian Campbell Ross, Senior Lecturer in English and Fellow, Trinity College, Dublin.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Acclaimed by Goethe and Dickens, censured by Johnson and Thackeray, the novelist Laurence Sterne contained as many contradictions as his fictional hero Tristram Shandy. In this lively portrait, Ross exposes the capriciousness and probes the ironies that have divided public opinion about the irreverent cleric-author ever since his eccentric masterpiece first elevated him to unexpected fame. Focusing chiefly on the writer rather than the writings, Ross illuminates the forgotten years when Sterne tried with meager success to win ecclesiastical and political patronage. In showing how Sterne finally resolved to make his way through personal initiative in the newly burgeoning world of commercial literature, Ross identifies a pivotal shift in British culture. He highlights a second and later cultural shift in noting how the pathos in Sterne's fiction, which so pleased his contemporaries, is now largely passed over by modern readers, who delight instead in its anarchic energy. With his cogent analyses, Ross is sure to attract serious students of eighteenth-century letters and culture. --Bryce Christensen

Library Journal Review

Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy is one of the enduring masterpieces of comic literature, justly compared to Don Quixote. Sterne himself is a problematic individual a husband and rake, an Anglican priest and author who has inspired a number of biographies. The standard scholarly biography is Arthur H. Cash's two-volume work, Laurence Sterne: The Early and Middle Years (1975. o.p.) and The Later Years (LJ 12/86). Ross, a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and editor of the Oxford World's Classics edition of Tristram Shandy, is well prepared for the task. His new biography offers a thorough, well-researched, and gracefully written account, bringing to it a deep love and appreciation of Sterne's work. Like Cash, Ross takes a chronological rather than a psychological or deconstructive approach. Cash is more detailed and analyzes and interprets sources, with results that Ross silently incorporates into the body of his text to create a smoother narrative flow. If Ross does not supersede Cash though he is up-to-date he breaks no major new ground he is comparable, important to scholars, and a pleasure for general readers. T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: 'Tristram is the Fashion'p. 1
1. Ireland and England, 1713-1738p. 20
2. Priest and Husband, 1738-1741p. 49
3. Political Journalist, 1741-1742p. 62
4. Sutton and Stillington, 1742-1745p. 91
5. The Jacobite Rebellion, 1745-1746p. 122
6. Sutton and Stillington, 1746-1759p. 142
7. Ecclesiastical Politics, 1747-1759p. 168
8. Tristram Shandy and the Queen of Bohemia, 1759p. 197
9. Tristram Shandy and Parson Yorick, 1760p. 215
10. Coxwold and London, 1760-1761p. 250
11. France, 1762-1764p. 274
12. England, 1764-1765p. 310
13. France, Italy, and England, 1765-1767p. 334
14. London, 1767p. 360
15. Coxwold and London, 1767-1768p. 384
Epilogue: 'Alas, poor Yorick!'p. 416
Notesp. 433
List of Works Citedp. 469
Indexp. 479