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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.64, No.1, 117 ~ 134, 2018
Yorick’s “besoin de Voyager”: Mobility and Sympathy in Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey
Ja Yun Choi
This article examines Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey in the context of eighteenth-century British travel literature. While literary critics generally read Sterne’s work as a sentimental novel, contemporary readers initially interpreted the text as a travel narrative. It is my argument that travel writing, particularly the motion entailed in travelling, plays a significant role in Sterne’s critical examination of sympathy and its cultural function during this period. By narrating in great detail his narrator Yorick’s mobility and the effects it has on his sentimental encounters, Sterne illustrates how sympathy is not only difficult to activate and therefore requires added stimulation in the form of motion, but also does not necessarily result in charitable actions, a moral failure that is dramatized by the literal distance Yorick maintains from the objects of his sympathy. Calling to mind the figurative distance that constitutes an integral part of Adam Smith’s formulation of sympathy in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the distance Yorick establishes through his travels indicates sympathy’s failure to bridge the emotional and socioeconomic distance between individuals, thereby highlighting sympathy’s limitations as a moral instrument. I argue that by using Yorick’s repeated acts of sympathy to explore the problems of sentimentalism, Sterne both draws from and innovates the tradition of employing imaginary voyages to engage in philosophical inquiries.
Key Words
Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey, travel literature, mobility, sympathy
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