The Beauties of Sterne

WhereGreat Broughton Village HallType of EventTalk
WhenMonday 1st June at 7.30pmTutorPatrick Wildgust
Curator of Shandy Hall

This presentation was always expected to be different. And it did not disappoint. Ostensibly a talk on a local historical figure, it merged into a critique of a significant literary style of a person with a local connection.

Time was a theme of the talk – how to observe it and how to record it. Out came the hour glass. Once the sands had fallen we were told, the talk, wherever it had reached, would end. 

The talk was about Laurence Sterne, vicar.  Appointed in 1738-1760 to a living in Sutton-on-the-Forest, he later moved to Coxwold, at Shandy Hall, thereafter his infrequent home. Sterne was already famous as a writer when he arrived. He died in 1768.

Shandy Hall dates back to c.1430. Nicholas Pevsner describes it as “Brick, very humble, of only one and a half storeys. Big stone chimney in the E wall.” Now a museum it contains emblems from the book, namely a variety of wrought iron rails.

According to Sterne life is largely made up and consists of digressions. Sterne is an experimental writer and questions whether a novel needs to follow rules or can it make up its own rules. It does not need a beginning, middle and end. There is no formal beginning and end to a story and the novel reflects this. Indeed Tristram Shandy, the central figure in the plot, is not born until Volume 2. The sands ran out and the talk stopped, although many questions were prompted. We were entertained and informed by a very competent speaker who, although he captured the sense of digression, was clearly completely familiar with his subject and well prepared.

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