Analysis of the Prologue of “A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy”

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Within the Prologue of A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, the author includes a keen interplay of multiple characters without clearly defining who is speaking. While the second opening line “You have been in France?” clearly relates to the reader that there is discourse happening, the rest of the paragraph leaves the reader a bit confused as to who is speaking (Sterne). Consequently, this forces the reader to carefully pay attention to the context of the conversation and asses the perspective. There is further confusion in terms of this matter because the second character is referred to as simply a gentleman. Despite a very clear indication that he is debating with someone else in the room, the main speaker also stated that he was debating the matter with himself. Again, the reader is in a state of confusion because while traditional novels and readings clearly differentiate character based on language, tone and context, the two are blurred together here, almost intentionally. Even more daunting is the use of quotation marks to outline specific parts of conversation. In saying that “the coat I have on…will do” within quotation marks only for that piece of conversation, the reader is once again at odds regarding the fundamental question: who is he talking to and why is this being emphasized while other portions are not? 

While the answer to that may not be clear, it becomes more relevant when we consider that this novel was written differently in the sense that it was a travel account. Within travel accounts, different rules of thematic elements surely apply. For instance, some of the normally less relevant details are included in order to formulate a rich account of the trip. In including what he ate such as a “fricasseed chicken” and his daily schedule, the main character risked potentially boring the reader. Because this style of writing does not fit the context of traditional novels, the reader is forced to draw value and conclusions from a different approach. Any lessons or morals learned would not come through the general situations of the plot; instead, the reader would have to pick up details and ultimate conclusions from the micro events such as mannerisms and reactions. As a quick example, in dealing with the treachery of losing one’s assets, this character lamented personally and then provided an in depth dramatization of how it affected him: “Eliza, I would carry with me into my grave, would have been torn from my neck.-Ungenerous!” This epitomizes an example where the raw emotion and character of the traveler is manifested through his thoughts and reactions, not by major plot occurrences. 

Another very clever aspect of the opening chapter is the use of first person and clear chronology to make the reading experience very personal and detailed. For instance, as the author is describing both the thoughts and events of the main character, there is a clear indication that the person is showing what is going on in a real time perspective. There is no use of the past tense and there is a strong emphasis on the character’s emotions and reactions. Another clear indication that the scene is happening in real time is the fact that even the most petty thoughts and obscure details are mentioned. For example, as the author went into a tangent regarding the confiscation of his items to the King of France, you can tell that there is a clear voice and tone of anger and discontent as he was thinking out loud. This clearly emphasizes the notion that this story does not focus solely on common literary themes like plot, setting and climax; instead, the true emphasis is the internal discourse and thought process that the character actually has. As a literary style, this shifts the attention away from the general theme of the novel and iterates the smaller instances that we often miss in life because they do not seem to be relevant.

Work Cited

Stern, Laurence. "A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy." Project Gutenberg - free ebooks. Project Gutenberg, 1 Feb. 1997. Web. 26 Sept. 2011. <>.