Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.
Laurence Stern (1713 -1768) was an author whose work divided opinion during his lifetime and has continued to do so ever since. His most notable work, 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy' was a ground-breaking novel which experimented with new forms of narration, parodied other authors and included some bawdy humour for good measure. Dismissed as a novelty by some critics, his book has been cited as an influence on Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and many others.
Laurence Sterne was born on 24 November 1713 at Clonmel in County Tipperary. He spent his childhood wandering from place to place in Ireland and England, following in the wake of his father’s regiment.
In 1723 at the age of 10, he was sent to school in Halifax where he learned Latin and Greek. After his father’s death in March 1731, Sterne left school and two years later was admitted as a student of Jesus College Cambridge. He detested the curriculum he had to study at Cambridge, especially mathematics and logic, but he read with enthusiasm the ancient and modern literary classics.
In his last year, a haemorrhage of the lungs was the first sign of the tuberculosis that was to trouble him for the rest of his life. In 1738 he was ordained and became vicar at Sutton-in-the-Forest. In 1741, he married Elizabeth Lumley, in York Minster, and in 1747, a daughter Lydia, was born. For twenty years Sterne resided with his family at Sutton, living the life of a rural parson. Sterne’s lungs remained weak and the wet climate and low-lying situation of Sutton exacerbated his ill health. Moreover, his marriage, which had never been happy, reached a crisis in 1758, when his wife, after learning of an affair with a maid-servant, fell into a state of temporary insanity and was eventually placed under the care of a doctor in a private house in York. It was in this atmosphere of gloom and despondency that Sterne began to write The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.
When the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy were published, in York and London, in January 1760, Sterne became instantly famous. In the first week of March, he travelled to London and took lodgings in St Alban’s Street. Sterne continued to publish several more volumes of Tristram Shandy and travelled back and forth to France.
In October 1765, Sterne set out for a seven months’ tour through France and Italy, while his wife and child stayed in the family home in France. After separation from his wife he fell in love with Eliza Draper and their passion dominated what remained of his life. By December 1767, two volumes of A Sentimental Journey were completed. However, in March 1768, he fell ill with influenza, and died in London on 18 March 1768.
*** Tristram Shandy includes a number of visual jokes by the author, including black pages, blank pages, patterned pages and a missing chapter. We get regular requests for replacement copies, as readers believe they have been sold a defective book.***