Laurence Sterne (1713–1768) was the author of Tristram Shandy (1759–1767), a brilliant and often salacious challenge to emerging notions of novelistic Realism. One of the most innovative writers in the English tradition and an inspiration to later writers from James Joyce to Salman Rushdie. Sterne was born in Ireland, where his father was serving in the army. He was sent to school in Yorkshire, the family’s home region, at the age of 10 and eventually earned both a B.A. and an M.A. from Cambridge. He became a clergyman and obtained a reasonably good living, once again in Yorkshire, marrying a few years later. The union was unhappy, and Sterne is known to have had a number of affairs. He published the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy in 1759, enjoying immediate and enormous success with the book. He took full advantage of his celebrity, posing for a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds and appearing at court. Later volumes appeared in bunches: four in 1761; two more in 1765; another, the last to be published, in 1767. It is not certain that Sterne intended to conclude the book with the ninth volume, though American literary critic Wayne Booth made a convincing argument in support of that proposition. In addition to Tristram Shandy, Sterne also published A Sentimental Journey (1768), a work based on his two tours of the Continent. In an episode he would have enjoyed, his body was stolen from its grave and sold for use in an anatomy class at Cambridge—where the professor recognized the body as Sterne’s and had it returned for reburial.
[Courtesy: Professor Timothy Spurgin]