#BookBingo 2020 – A Place I Dream of Visiting

Book Bingo Challenge Completed

This is the final round of Book Bingo and I am checking off the very last square, A Place I Dream of Visiting with A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy by Laurence Sterne. France and Italy are just two European countries I would love to visit one day although it looks like Covid 19 has put that dream off for the foreseeable future. A Sentimental Journey was published in 1768 after Sterne had taken a journey through France and Italy. Unfortunately Sterne died within weeks of its publication but his novel helped to launch the travel writing genre. If you are looking for an interesting and detailed memoir of a journey through Italy and France, then this book is not for you. It is however, a very amusing tale of the narrator’s amorous exploits and misadventures while travelling in France and Italy.

The English narrator, Reverend Yorick, not only heads off on his journey without a passport, he completely forgets that England and France are currently at war, meaning he risks being accommodated in the Bastille. However this does not prevent him in his pursuit of love. Believing that the French had “got the credit of understanding more of love and making it better than any other nation upon earth,” he is in high hopes of finding love. Noting that it was “ One of the singular blessings of my life, to be almost every hour of it miserably in love with someone,” much of his journey seems to consist of eyeing off, flirting and pursuing a series of women.

Yorick’s tale begins with a puzzling scene of a prisoner locked up in a dungeon and you might well wonder what this has to do with a journey through France and Italy. Until you get to the end of the book which ends suddenly with a cliffhanger. In a perhaps not-so-happy accident, Yorick is caught in a compromising and scandalous scene with a woman in the middle of the night. It is left up to the reader to imagine what happens next. Remember, this is the late 18th century and European society was rather obsessed with the protection of women and their honour, in particular.

One of the funniest parts of the story is Yorick’s engagement of a French manservant to accompany him and see to his needs throughout his journey. He very quickly hires La Fleur believing “a Frenchman can do everything.” In the case of La Fleur, however, he was to be sadly disappointed as “poor La Fleur could do nothing in the world but beat a drum and play a march or two upon the fife.” Nevertheless, Yorick describes La Fleur as a faithful, affectionate, simple soul who, “notwithstanding his talents of drum beating and spatter-dash making, which though very good in themselves, happened to be of no great service to me.

Yorick also relates some very humorous inner conversations that he has with various virtues. Avarice, Caution & Cowardice warn him against a woman at the hotel, while Wisdom sardonically remarks, “And so… you have hired a drummer to attend you on this tour of yours through France and Italy.” 

It is suggested that Sterne wrote the novel as a satire of the English tradition of The Grand Tour, in which young men of means would embark on a tour of Europe to gain knowledge, experience and wisdom. Sterne’s novel suggests The Grand Tour was more about men behaving badly than actually learning anything about art, history and culture. Early in the book Sterne muses on the reasons for travelling abroad, noting “infirmity of body” and “imbecility of mind” as two of the main reasons and goes on to suggest that most travellers can be described as vain, delinquent or unfortunate, and concludes that people could be just as wise without any foreign travel at all.

A very amusing read.

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