A Sentimental Journey
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"A Sentimental Journey" Summary

By Laurence Sterne

classics | 134 pages | Published in NaN

A furiously witty response to Tobias Smollett's curmudgeonly 'Travels through France and Italy', Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy became a hugely influential work of travel writing in its own right. This Penguin Classics edition includes an introduction and notes by Paul Goring.When Yorick, the roving narrator of Sterne's innovative final novel, sets off for France on a whim, he produces no ordinary travelogue. Jolting along in his coach from Calais, through Paris, and on towards the Italian border, the amiable parson is blithely unconcerned by famous views or monuments, but he engages us with tales of his encounters with all manner of people, from counts and noblewomen to beggars and chambermaids. And as drama piles upon drama, anecdote, flirtation and digression, Yorick's destination takes second place to an exhilarating voyage of emotional and erotic exploration. Interweaving sharp wit with warm humour and irony with genuine feeling, A Sentimental Journey paints a captivating picture of an Englishman's adventures abroad.In his introduction, Paul Goring discusses Sterne's literary career and his semi-autobiographical depiction of Yorick, and sets the novel within the context of eighteenth-century travel writing and the vogue of sentimental fiction. This edition also includes a chronology, updated further reading and notes.Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) graduated from Cambridge in 1737 and took holy orders, becoming a prebend in York Cathedral. His masterpiece, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman made him a celebrity but ill-health necessitated recuperative travel and A Sentimental Journey grew out of a seven-month trip through France and Italy. He died the year it was published, 1768.If you enjoyed A Sentimental Journey, you might like Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, also available in Penguin Classics.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

"A Sentimental Journey" is a travelogue that follows the whimsical and amorous adventures of its protagonist, as he navigates through various European cities.


"A Sentimental Journey" is a novel written by Laurence Sterne, first published in 1768. The book is known for its innovative narrative style and is considered a significant work of English literature. The story follows the travels and encounters of the protagonist, Mr. Yorick, as he embarks on a journey through France. Through a series of encounters and experiences, the novel explores themes of human connection, emotions, and the complexities of life.

Brief Synopsis

The novel is set in the 18th century and follows the journey of Mr. Yorick, a sentimental and compassionate character, as he travels through France. The narrative unfolds in a series of vignettes, each depicting an encounter or experience that Mr. Yorick has during his travels. The story is characterized by its episodic structure and the focus on the emotional and psychological experiences of the protagonist.

Plot Overview and Setting

The novel is set in France during the 18th century, a time marked by social and political upheaval. Mr. Yorick's journey takes him through various towns and villages, providing a glimpse into the diverse landscapes and cultures of the country. The setting serves as a backdrop for the protagonist's encounters and experiences, shaping the tone and atmosphere of the narrative.

Main Characters

Mr. YorickThe protagonist of the novel, known for his sentimental nature and compassionate outlook on life.
Madame de R***A French lady whom Mr. Yorick meets during his travels, sparking a brief but impactful connection.
The MonkA monk whom Mr. Yorick encounters, leading to a philosophical discussion about life and morality.

Chapter Summary

Chapter 1: Mr. Yorick's Departure

Mr. Yorick sets out on his journey through France, filled with a sense of curiosity and wonder as he encounters various individuals along the way.

Chapter 2: The Passport

Mr. Yorick encounters an English lady who has lost her passport, prompting him to reflect on the nature of identity and documentation.

Chapter 3: The Letter

Mr. Yorick receives a letter from a lady, leading to a contemplation on the power of written communication and its emotional impact.

Chapter 4: The Remise

Mr. Yorick is involved in a carriage accident, leading to an unexpected encounter with a French lady and her maid.

Chapter 5: The Passport Again

Mr. Yorick assists an Italian lady in obtaining a passport, reflecting on the arbitrary nature of bureaucratic rules.

Chapter 6: The Temptation

Mr. Yorick faces a moral dilemma when he is propositioned by a woman, leading to a reflection on the complexities of human desires.

Chapter 7: The Desobligeant

Mr. Yorick travels in a coach with a talkative French officer, leading to humorous and insightful conversations about life and society.

Chapter 8: The Shirt

Mr. Yorick encounters a woman in distress, leading to a poignant and empathetic moment that highlights the fragility of human emotions.

Chapter 9: The Fool

Mr. Yorick converses with a monk, delving into philosophical discussions about life, death, and the nature of existence.

Chapter 10: The Passport Concluded

Mr. Yorick reflects on the arbitrary nature of borders and documentation, contemplating the artificial divisions that separate people.

Main Events

  1. Mr. Yorick's departure on his journey through France.
  2. Encounters with various individuals, including Madame de R***, the Monk, and a talkative French officer.
  3. Reflections on the nature of identity, communication, and human desires.
  4. Philosophical discussions about life, death, and the complexities of existence.
  5. Moments of empathy and emotional connection with strangers.

Themes and Insights


  1. Sentimentality: The novel explores the emotional and sentimental nature of the protagonist, highlighting the depth of human emotions and connections.
  2. Human Connection: Through the encounters and experiences of Mr. Yorick, the novel delves into the significance of human relationships and the impact of brief interactions.
  3. Existential Reflection: The narrative prompts contemplation on the philosophical and existential aspects of life, including mortality, identity, and the nature of existence.
  4. Social Observation: The novel provides a glimpse into the social and cultural landscape of 18th-century France, offering insights into the diversity and complexity of society.


  • The episodic structure of the narrative allows for a multifaceted exploration of human emotions and experiences.
  • The novel's focus on fleeting encounters highlights the profound impact of brief connections on individuals.
  • Through philosophical discussions and introspective moments, the narrative prompts readers to contemplate the deeper meaning of life and human existence.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers of "A Sentimental Journey" are invited to immerse themselves in the emotional and philosophical journey of Mr. Yorick as he traverses the landscapes of France. The novel offers a unique exploration of human sentimentality, the significance of fleeting connections, and the complexities of existence. It prompts readers to reflect on their own emotional experiences and contemplate the profound impact of human interactions.


"A Sentimental Journey" by Laurence Sterne is a captivating and thought-provoking novel that weaves together themes of sentimentality, human connection, and existential reflection. Through the episodic narrative and the experiences of the protagonist, the novel offers readers a profound exploration of emotions, relationships, and the multifaceted nature of life. With its enduring relevance and insightful portrayal of human experiences, "A Sentimental Journey" continues to resonate with readers as a timeless work of literature.

A Sentimental Journey FAQ

  1. What is 'A Sentimental Journey' about?

    A Sentimental Journey is a novel by Laurence Sterne that follows the journey of the protagonist, Mr. Yorick, through France and includes various encounters and experiences along the way.

  2. When was 'A Sentimental Journey' first published?

    A Sentimental Journey was first published in 1768, two years before Laurence Sterne's death.

  3. Is 'A Sentimental Journey' a sequel to 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman'?

    Although 'A Sentimental Journey' is often considered a separate work, it is sometimes seen as a continuation of Laurence Sterne's earlier novel, 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.'

  4. What is the writing style of 'A Sentimental Journey'?

    The novel is known for its distinct and experimental narrative style, marked by digressions, humor, and sentimentality.

  5. Is 'A Sentimental Journey' considered a significant work in literature?

    Yes, 'A Sentimental Journey' is considered a significant work in the development of the novel as a literary form, particularly for its innovative narrative techniques and emotional depth.