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From stem to Sterne: how a Yorkshire parson reinvented the novel

250 years since Laurence Sterne's death, Tristam Shandy is as puzzling and entertaining as ever—and not only for its rude jokes

By Lucinda Smyth   October 2018

Radical literary techniques allowed Laurence Sterne to depict the whole of his characters' mind. Image: Wikimedia/National Gallery

“The trouble with life (the novelist will feel) is its amorphousness, its ridiculous fluidity,” writes Martin Amis in his memoir Experience. “Look at it: thinly plotted, largely themeless, sentimental and ineluctably trite. The dialogue is poor, or at least violently uneven. The twists are predictable or sensationalist. And it’s always the same beginning; and the same ending…”

Amis’s words show the extent to which Laurence Sterne was an unorthodox writer, even by contemporary…

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