Laurence Sterne: A Life

Overview

"I wrote to be famous, not to be fed," said Laurence Sterne upon publication of his comic masterpiece, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. And indeed, almost overnight, Sterne achieved fame beyond his wildest dreams. In this fascinating biography, Ian Campbell Ross shows how the great comic author combined a genius for self-promotion with a clear grasp of the nascent business of publishing to soar across the cultural and social firmament of mid-18th century ...
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Overview

"I wrote to be famous, not to be fed," said Laurence Sterne upon publication of his comic masterpiece, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. And indeed, almost overnight, Sterne achieved fame beyond his wildest dreams. In this fascinating biography, Ian Campbell Ross shows how the great comic author combined a genius for self-promotion with a clear grasp of the nascent business of publishing to soar across the cultural and social firmament of mid-18th century England.

Ross begins with Sterne's childhood in Yorkshire and follows the young gentleman's progress to Cambridge and then to the Church of England and a humdrum rural vicarage. He describes his unhappy marriage to a woman who suffered a nervous breakdown and at one time believed herself to be the Queen of Bohemia, as well as his many scandalous liaisons with other women, experiences that helped inform his Rabelaisian novel. But the heart of the book is Ross's account of the country parson's sudden rise to prominence, swept up in a frenzy of celebrity excessive even by today's standards. Ross draws us into the glamorous world of literary London--a world of power and privilege ruled by fashionable legislators of taste--showing how Sterne marketed himself, as well as his novel, by seeking favors from influential critics, famous authors, and even leading statesmen.

Laurence Sterne: A Life is the first full biography to appear in fifteen years. Ian Campbell Ross makes deft use of recently discovered material, particularly a holograph of Sterne's memoir, to shed new light on the man, his work, and the nature of celebrity.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
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 Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Excellent."--The Economist

"Readable, judicious, and scrupulously researched."--The Independent

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780192804068
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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Table of Contents

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

    Posted July 4, 2003

    Solid, critical biography on the creator of 'Tristram Shandy'

    Ross's writing style is the greatest pleasure of the book. Intelligent, lucid prose of this caliber is refreshing. One does not have to search out well-written passages in and among the laundry lists of 'details' that can overburden a critical bio, as in Cash's two-volume work on Sterne. The 'details' are there, but they are presented with style and grace. His love for his subject is evident, yet his evaluation of the man Sterne remains balanced throughout. Also, this book provides an intriguing overview of the world of an 18th-century cleric struggling for preferment in the Church of England and has the great virtue of ample quotation from L.P. Curtis's edition of Sterne's 'Letters', a work difficult to find these days, outside of academic libraries, and one that I would love to get my hands on, now that I've read Ross.

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